Hickory Records

Don Gibson,Bob Luman,Sue Thompson,Kris Jensen,Don Everly,Donovan…

HICKORY – The Little Label That Could

Back in the day when vinyl had it’s REAL heyday, it was often the little labels that produced the best stuff.  These were sometimes   subsidiaries or ‘feeder’ labels of the big boys (MGM, Columbia, RCA, etc)  – often used by their owners to record less popular,    lesser-known styles and   artists or bigger names between big labels or artists on the way down.  Whether One hit wonders like Kris Jensen (Torture) or  Sue Thompson   or Don Everly when he wasn’t recording with his brother, Phil or Don Gibson when he wasn’t having big hits with MGM/Mercury, Hickory  offered some top notch ‘countripolitan’ music,  some of which you may not have heard on the radio.  Though Hickory Records had a solid run    in the late 50s and early 60s  it was the mid 60s and 70s that  gave Hickory it’s most success , particularly with Gibson and Donovan(!). Mickey Newbury was perhaps the diamond in the rough of all, a highly regarded folk artist who somehow never found a major label, as far as we know.

HIckory was begun by famed country artist Roy Acuff in the early 1950s and later run by Roy Orbison‘s manager of the late 60s/early 70s, Wesley Rose (who also happened to be the son of one of the major country players . Orbison was closely associated with  many of these artists including his writing partner, Joe Melson and some would record his songs, those such as Kris Jensen and Bob Luman, who had quite a career as a country-rocker. Later, even a non-country act, Donovan , would have unlikely success on the small label, albeit with distribution help from MGM. Similar story for popular country artist Don Gibson   for whom Roy Orbison was a protege.  Orbison recorded many of Gibson’s songs and even did an entire LP of them.  Eventually, Orbison would leave Monument to sign with Rose, but recorded at the larger, affiliated MGM label.

In the early days, Hickory had a very identifiable   sound, much like Monument Records, where Orbison recorded his early work in the early 1960s. It featured the big  ‘Nashville’ or countripolitan sound,  with noted studio musicians, probably the same ones who were on the Monument sessions, people like Floyd Cramer on keybaords, Grady Martin on guitar, Boots Randolph on sax.

Hickory shuttered it’s doors  around 1974 with Don Gibson’s ‘Snap Your Fingers,’ it’s last notable song. Forty years later publisher Acuff-Rose would re-open the label to feature American Idol singers such as Ruben Stoddard and Elliot Yamin.

In many ways, Hickory Records was like Monument Records, a small label able to survive with only one or two main artists and a lot of lesser  yet talented  acts that couldn’t get a chance with the larger labels.  Perhaps      Fred Foster (Monument) wasn’t totally original in going after the marginal, downhill or undiscovered talent, even offering much the same ‘sound’ and musicians. It was unusual to have such small labels see success  without major distribution, though Hickory would later feel the pressure to do so and Monument, which had to close before  re-opening in 1977 as a  true CBS records affiliate.

Today, with the return of vinyl, we’re seeing not only more re-issues of such classic, little labels like Hickory(as below)  but new labels popping up again. Who knows? Maybe we’ll see some new Don Gibsons and Sue Thompsons again

Hickory Records – Classic Small Label Gave Voice to ‘Forgotten’ Artists

Hickory Records artists

Notable releases

Hickory Records

(TOP) HICKORY COMPILATION offers a nice, if incomplete representative sampling of HIckory label-mates including Thompson’s two Hickory hits, Don Everly solo effort, Kris Jenson’s hit, Don Gibson … 1. Torture – Kris Jensen 2. Morning Girl – Neon Philharmnic 3. Playboy – Gene And Debbie 4. Bread And Butter – The Newbeats 5. Country Green – Don Gibson 6. Touch The Morning – Don Gibson 7. Sad Movies (Make Me Cry) – Sue Thompson 8. James Hold The Ladder Steady – Sue Thompson 9. Louisana Man – Rusty And Doug 10. Talk Back Trembling Lips – Ernie Ashworth 11. No Help Wanted – Bill Carlisle 12. Yesterday Just Passed My Way Again – Don Everly 13. Rings Of Gold – Don Gibson And Sue Thompson 14. The File – Bob Luman 15. Country Girl With Hot Pants On – Leona Williams 16. Don’t Worry ‘Bout The Mule – Glenn Barber 17. Wall To Wall Love – Bob Gallion 18. There’s A Big Wheel – Wilma Lee And Stoney Cooper

(THIRD) LP listed is pure country, featuring Don Gibson Ernie Ainsworth, Lorie Morgan, etc …

1. Talk Back Trembling Lips – Ernie Ashworth
  2. Everybody But Me – Ernie Ashworth
  3. Poor Old Heartsick Me – Margie Bowes
  4. Once More – Roy Acuff
  5. A Mansion On The Hill – June Webb
  6. There’s A Big Wheel – Wilma Lee, Stoney Cooper
  7. This Ole House – Wilma Lee, Stoney Cooper
  8. Country Green – Don Gibson
  9. Woman (Sensuous Woman) – Don Gibson
  10. Two People In Love – Lorrie Morgan
  11. Wall To Wall Love – Bob Gallion
  12. Yesterday Just Passed My Way Again – Don Everly
  13. I Love You Because – Don Gibson
  14. Poor Boy Blues – Bob Luman
  15. Kissed By The Rain – Glenn Barber


Format: Audio CD

Nashville establishmentarian Roy Acuff started his independent Hickory label ‘way back in the mid-’50s, but most of its output came in the late ’60s and early ’70s, when countrypolitan was in full swing. Most longtime record hunters probably think of Hickory as the label that sheltered crooners like Don Gibson after their major label careers faltered, and generally speaking, serious collectors don’t prize those admittedly iffy albums. What might be surprising about this 18-song compilation, though, is how heavily Hickory’s producers were into straight pop material, particulary bouncy, California-styled sunshine pop. Sure, nobody today remembers acts such as Kris Jensen or the Neon Philharmonic, but their marginality is in large part what makes this collection worth checking out. Also of interest is Bill Carlisle’s jittery 1966 remake of “No Help Wanted,” made at a time when Carlisle was jumping from label to label, trying to recapture the commercial success of his early ’50s heyday… I sure wish some brilliant producer somewhere could track all this material down and compile it somewhere… in the meantime, check out Carlisle here, along with other searchers in the wilderness, such as Don Everly and Doug Kershaw, who were struggling along with their own solo careers around the same time… A nice historical sampler!


BLUE HEARTACHES by DON ARGO was pretty prototypic of the Hickory sound and very Orbison-esque. A would-be hit yet  little known of Don Argo today but the ‘memory of you and me’ lives on through this song.

‘I’D BE A LYIN’by LARRY HENLY was NOT proto-typic of the Hickory sound but a fine solo effort, nonetheless, by the late, lead of the NewBeats (Bread and Butter). Could be mistaken for Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Not sure who came up with the sound first, also Dick and Dee Dee had similar. Henley and the NewBeats were probably the most popular group to record with Hickory. Henley was a talented writer who worked with Joe Melson and Roy Orbison and would later write the hit ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’for Bette Middler

‘Come Back To Me my love’ KRIS JENSEN actually came out prior to Orbison’s move to MGM. Had hit quality but never made it nor did this fine version that WAS recorded on Hickory by Kris Jensen, under the auspices of Wesley Rose. ‘They’ (Fred Foster) say the song, written by Orbison, was too similar to his previous hit to be another hit.

‘Yesterday Just Passed My Way Again’ DON EVERLY from his solo career at Hickory , presumably 2000s.

Everly classic redone by Don Everly