by Rockin' Robin Brown
Singer, songwriter and guitarist Robin Brown was part of the Amarillo-Canyon scene in the mid to late sixties. When not playing onstage he hawked the best bands of the area and heard (and knew) some of the better musicians. Late in life he now enjoys reliving those memories through his personal articles which appear in print often.
Preface: "How many records were produced on 'local labels' in the heyday of the 45 rpm record, out in West Texas," you might ask? Let me try and answer this queston this way. Back in the fifties and sixties there were about as many local musicians in West Texas (and elsewhere) wanting to be on a record as there were local writers wanting to publish a book!" If you had the dollars (or could find financing) you and your band could make your music public by having a record pressed. All you had to do was hire someone to press your taped music into 45 rpm records or a long-play album. It was that simple! Did you need talent and skill to make a record? Not necessarily! Basically all you needed was 2 songs on a magnetic tape and some money to have your songs pressed into a record. Did you need a Record Label Company to make your record legit? It might help but once again, not necessary at all! You could dream up a 'fancy name' for your record label and hire a pressing company in Dallas, Houston or Nashville and let them do the rest! In about 60 days a little box of 45 rpm records would be waiting at your local post office mailed to you COD! This is probably how many West Texas 'Record Labels' began. This is not to imply that there were not some schrewd business people who started labels in a very business fashion. Some of course did!
Caprock records of Big Spring
Caprock is an early West Texas label that deserves some mention. A disc jockey named Hank Harral established the Caprock label down in Big Spring, Texas. where he was employed at a local radio station. In 1958-59 he released a number of CAPROCK 45's by Texas musicians from that area including Hoyle Nix, Jimmy Haggett and Durwood Haddock (also known as Durwood Daly). Hank Harral also appears to have been a singer/musician as he is listed on several of the releases himself. According to a discography of CAPROCK records, there were at least 11 different artists who had releases on the CAPROCK label in 195859. This sure sounds as though Mr. Harral was trying to make a business out of his label. And at least one song titled 'Big Balls in Cowtown' played by Hoyle Nix and his West Texas Cowboys' became a hit and something of a cowboy anthem, but did this occurr after another label had picked it up? Nevertheless, CAPROCK was one of the most active and successful of the West Texas labels during the late fifties, because of Nix's country standard.
Banner Records, Lubbock and San Antonio
Banner Records seems to have originated in either San Antonio or Lubbock and this label released a number of recordings by various Lubbock and area artists during the mid-sixties, before moving on to Nashville. My intuition says that Banner was probably associated with one of the local radio stations or record shops in Lubbock and was owned by one Bill Crawford. I do know that Sky Corbin a disc jockey had one of the first releases on Banner records (around1963) and his family had owned KLLL radio in Lubbock at the time. Another disc jockey working in Lubbock also had a release on Banner in about 1965. His name was Jack Reno and he was a country singer also. Later he became a regular on the Ozark Jubilee. This labels seems to have catered to Country Acts but there were some rock oriented songs also including "Afraid of the Dark" by Sylvia Marie. Two other artists that had releases on Banner were Jim Peters and Lee Harmon. Harmon's singles are collected by some traditional country buffs today. This label may have still been in business in 1975 and perhaps later in Nashville after their final move.
Ruff Records of Amarillo
In circa 1964 rockabilly singer Ray Ruffin (aka Ray Ruff) opened Checkmate recording studio in Amarillo, Texas. It was here that he began making 'master tapes' of his band and other local and regional rock bands. Groups as faraway as Colorado and Kansas traveled to Amarillo to make recordings with Ruff. One such band was the Trolls of Pueblo, Colorado who recorded here in around1965. At about this same time Ruffin started a new record label 'Ruff' and became associated with Buddy Knox. It seems possible that Ruff had initially used the label in one of his previous releases before he signed Knox but since Knox's single (Jo Ann / Don't Make a Ripple) is listed as Ruff-101 this might be the first record released on the Ruff label. Nevertheless this label was used to release several singles by 'Ray Ruff and his Checkmates'.
The Trolls who eventually recorded at Petty's studio in Clovis (1966) may not have had a release on the Ruff label but they did record at Ruff's Checkmate studio. Also a Hayes, Kansas group (The Blue Things) signed with the Ruff label and had a single or two released during these years on the Ruff label. Later, Ruff seems to have bought the Sully label and some Blue Things also had releases on this second label.
One of Amarillo's finest rock bands 'The Illusions' (Mark Creamer-lead guitar, Johnny Stark-drums, Dale Gardner-vocals) also had recorded at Checkmate studio and had one single on the Ruff label, The record was credited to the crazy name...Y'all! Other local bands that recorded here also included Mike and Eddie Poole of Canyon with Mike Rhodes (bass) and Reggie Reeves (drums) playing. It is unknown (to the author) if their original songs were ever released however.
Je-Wel Records of Odessa, Texas
When Roy Oribson and his band from Wink, Texas (The Teen Kings) first recorded in Clovis, NM in 1955 they couldn't find a national label to release their songs. So, businessman Chester Oliver and DJ Weldon Rogers of Odessa decided to give the boys a hand and had the two songs (Ooby Dooby / Trying To Get To You) released on a private label which they named Je-Wel. The songs received some air play locally and this produced sales across West Texas. This prompted someone to mail a record to Sam Phillips of Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee. According to history, Phillips seems to have liked Orbison's voice but not the recording quality. He therefore offered a contract to Orbison if he would come to Memphis and re-cut his favorite of the two songs, Ooby Dooby.
The short of the story is that the Sun Recording became a minor hit for Roy Orbison and it launched his great career. Sometime after this, Chester Oliver left the Je-Wel record label and Weldon Rogers continued to release a few more singles on the modified Jewel label mainly promoting himself and his relatives (the Western Melodiers). Thanks to the businessman and disc jockey that created the original label, the unknown rock'n roller from Wink, Texas became an international star. The original Je-Wel label seems to have produced only one group (The Teen Kings / with Roy Orbison) and the two songs (Ooby Dooby / Trying To Get To You) during their time. So this record is now the rarest and most valuable Orbison record. Wish I still had my copy!
Triple-D Records of Seminole, Texas
Another similar story is the Buddy Knox and Jimmy Bowen release on the Triple-D Record label. These two songs (Party Dolls / I'm Stickin' With You) were recorded in 1956 in Clovis, New Mexico also with Norman Petty, but he opted not to accept them for promotion. He was stated to have been offended by the Party Doll lyrics ("and I'll make love to you"). Since the Rhythm Orchards had no way to get a national release, a man in Seminole, Texas (Chester Oliver) wanted to release a single for them on his "Blue Moon" label. He also may have wanted them to pay a portion of the pressing fee. And since two of the band members were from Dumas, Texas where the local radio station was KDDD this may have encouraged Oliver to use the Triple-D label instead. It seems Jimmy Bowen (or Donnie Lanier) was also employed at KDDD as a disc jockey and had often used the call letters as K-triple D on the air! Whatever the reason, that's the way the record was labeled and after it received some good, local response, Lanier decided to send a copy to his sister in New York City. She may have worked for the newly founded company "Roulette Records" or nearby. Anyway Roulette liked the songs and decided both had potential so they split the 2 songs apart and released them as their first two singles! "Party Doll" went to #2 and Bowen's song "Stickin' with You" peaked at #14. Chester Oliver was obviously quite sorry that he had sold-out to the New York label. But, instead of abdoning the Triple-D label he went on to release at least two singles by a good female singer of Lubbock 'Hope Griffith'. She previously had a release on Oliver's "Blue Moon" records also.
Alliance label of Amarillo
Around1964 a surf and rock band of Amarillo did some recording in Clovis and also in Amarillo. They were the Tiaras and one of their members had a previous release as a 'Fayro' on the big RCA label. Nevertheless, they decided to release some of their songs on their own label...Alliance. So Jackie (Dallas) Carter and Earl Whitt began having their songs pressed up on Alliance so they could sell them at Dances, Parties, etc. Doing it this way meant they could make a higher percentage and it was also immediate cash! Some of their released songs included "Mexican Rock" and the classic "Red Sails in the Sunset". They had mutiple singles on Alliance and the band was still together as late as 1969. Whitt has stated that once their first record came out they immediately became 'recording artists' and their booking prices also sky-rocketed.
Gaylo records of Big Spring,Texas
When Ben Hall opened his new studio in Big Spring in 1958 one of his first customers appears to have been a singer named Sammy Lara of San Angelo. After they had cut a couple of rockabilly songs ( titled 'Silly Sally' and 'Mister Moon') Hall and Lara decided to release them on a 45 on Hall's new label 'Gaylo'. Lara's efforts became the first release on this label which would have numerous releases over the next ten years, by various Rock and Country artists who recorded in Big Spring. Hall's studio band included his wife Dena on bass and Weldon Myrick on steel guitar and himself initially. Of course, steel guitar was seldom used on the Rock'n Roll cuts but Myrick became so skilled at his craft that in the mid-sixties he joined the house-band at the Grand'ol Opry in Nashville and went on to record with the biggest artists of his era. West Texas bands and singers that appeared on the Gaylo label include among others: The Continentals, The Elgins, Sammy Lara, Rusty Griffin and Ben Hall. Hall had written one of Buddy Holly's first released songs (on Decca) and Hall's version was also released on Gaylo. It is titled 'Blue Days and Black Nights'. In recent years a CD has been released entitled "Hep Cats from Big Spring" and it contains songs from the Gaylo label.
Joed label of Big Spring
A man named Ted Groebel established the Joed label in c.1960 and it was definitely active in 1962. It was located in Big Spring, Texas and perhaps later in Midland. Anyway, this West Texas label seems to have released a single by the Lubbock singer David Box at about this time. Box had first traveled to Big Spring to record at Ben Hall's High Fidelity House studio and then he also recorded in Nashville. Perhaps he met Groebel while recording here. The unusual part was that Box had a voice that was about as good as Roy Orbisons and he did sound a lot like him. One song titled 'I'll Do the Best I can' (Joed) hit the charts big in Houston and it looked as though Box was on his way to a great career in music. Unfortunately he was killed in a plane crash while on a tour, not long afterwards. Aside from David Box other noted singers that had releases on Joed include Dean Beard (songs: Coffee Break/Tropical Night), B.J. Thomas and the Triumps (songs: Keep it Up/Vietnam).
Veeda label of Amarillo
In 1958-60 an Amarillo musician and singer Bob Baker released three singles on a new label Veeda. He well may have been the owner of the label and by sixty another artist or band 'Royce Clark and the Corvairs' also had their first release on this label. Clark's songs may have followed the New York Brill Building sound as background singers were used, a group called the Starletts. AT least one of these songs by Clark have been re-issued on a CD compilation 'Buffalo Bop' in recent years. One of Amarillo's earliest rockers also had a release in this year 'Rick Tucker and the Turks'. Tucker had been playing rockabilly since Elvis arrived in 1956 and one of his songs has also been re-issued. He played standup bass and had sit-in with Holly on at least one Amarillo performance before Buddy became famous. Finally 'Kenneth Trent and the Continentals' also had a couple of singles on Veeda in 196062. Two of Trent's songs are now common on collector CD's of early West Texas Music. They are titled 'The Way I feel about You ' and 'I'm in Love'. In conclusion I must say that some early Amarillo Rock'n Roll would have been lost forever if not for the Veeda label.
TIME records, Dalhart and Amarillo
Perhaps the oldest label from our region may be the TIME label. Somewhere between 1946 and 1951 this company released a number of 78 rpm records which were by 'Billy Briggs and the XIT Boys' among others. On at least one of these records it states: Allender's Midwest Records, Dalhart, Texas. According to this notation I feel that the owner of the Time label, was also possibly the owner of a record outlet in Dalhart and his/her name was probably Allender. Anyway, Billy Briggs wrote 'Chew Tobacco Rag', which became a national hit during this same time frame and if his first version was on TIME records the Dalhart label cannot be dismissed as being totally irrelevent! But I'm not sure on this point. Nevertheless, another artist and band called Tommy Elliott and the Line Riders also appeared on the TIME label, during this same time period as did several other artists including Keith Lloyd and Sons of the Golden West, Gene Armstrong and the West Texas Nitehawks.
Some of these same recordings (by both Elliott and Briggs) have recently been re-issued on a modern CD Texas Dance Hall Music, which adds validity to the old Time label.
Ohn-J and Norm labels of Plainview
The Ohn-J label was the creation of Plainview business man John Sands. He was a native of nearby Floydada, Texas and had begun writing songs as a child on the family farm. By the 1960's he was a middle-aged and successful businessman with money to spend. He began hiring varous local singers/musicians to record his songs but he had trouble getting a national label interested in the recordings. Therefore he launched his own label and in 1964 he released 'Possum Hollar' as possibly the first single on Ohn-J label (which is pig latin for JOHN). After the the String-a-Longs broke up in the mid-sixties, a new band was formed by Keith McCormack and some of the Torres brothers, Jake and Jimmy. They eventually called themselve 'The Strings of Fortune' but at the time were using the name 'New String-A-Longs.' Sands approached this band about recording on his label in c.1966 so they appeared on the Ohn-J label with two original rock songs Sands had a hand in writing. At least one of these songs 'I think it's gonna Rain' is a vocal written by Sands and has an english influence provided by the band.
In about 1968 one of Sands original songs finally appeared on the RCA label but it wasn't a hit so he released an album (of his songs) on a new label 'NORM'. The album was by a female singer of the name Wanda Conklin I believe and it sold 3,000 copies Sands had once stated. Finally in the seventies this die-hard writer sent a trio of musicians from Plainview to Nashville to record a single for one of his labels. This was Travis and Amy Thornton (with Keith Longbotham) but their record was erroneously issued as being by 'The Thortons' on the Norm label. The main song was titled 'Do I love You' and had some hit potential I believe. Whether any further releases came from Sand's labels is unknown (by this writer) but in 1996 Sands was featured in the Lubbock Avalanche Journal and still hadn't given up his song-writing ambitions, at age 77. Unfortunately he died just two years later.
BO-KAY records of Lamesa and Odessa, Texas
An ambitious man named Jesse Smith was the founder/owner of BO-KAY records. This label was active from 195767 according to my notes. It may have begun in Lamesa, Texas and moved later to Odessa which is just down the road. Anyway, Smith seems to have had an interest mostly in country music but did release some significant songs for Elroy Dietzel, a rockabilly artist. His version of 'Rock-N-Bones' is now a rockabilly classic! Elroy Dietzel and the Rhythm Bandits had at least 2 singles on BO-KAY during the early days of the label. Neither of the records by him were national hits but these recordings are quite collectible today and have some value!
Smith also had at least two musicians on his label that played in famous bands and were quite talented. They were the noted fiddler-songwriter Red Hayes and the singer-guitarist Billy Thompson. Both could sing well and their country records were very well done, in a country-pop vein. I especially like the songs 'Next to Jimmy' by Red Hayes and 'Walzing with Sin' as sung by Billy Thompson. Although they played in clubs around Odessa and Midland they eventually played the 'Golden Nugget' in Las Vegas with Billy Thompson fronting the band. BO-KAY also released an album titled "Billy Thompson" in 1965. Aside from the song mentioned above by him, it also contained another fine song "Love Gone Blind" from the related single.
Other artists on BO-KAY include a local night club act, 'Red and Betty Stewart' and one artist that had recorded for Capitol in 1954, Patsy Elshire Blane. Some other artists that also appeared on BO-KAY with singles include: Terry White, Cecil McCullough, Ronnie Blackwell and Johnny Goff. (reference: A.O.K.: Record Labels of West Texas and New Mexico/ 2nd reference: The author's personal record collection.
Even though BO-KAY does not appear to have been afilliated with a particular studio (like Ruff, AOK and Gaylo labels were) some of their songs were recorded in Clovis and Jesse Smith had a hand in producing a lot of it's singles. This label was one of the most consistent producers of records in West Texas during their decade of existence it appears.
Token label of Midland
Token label deserves mentioning not for it's longevity or fame but for its musical taste. Founded in 1963 by Steve Drummond it seems to have been in existence for only about three years. Drummond seems to have been intent on producing a hit as he had also released one single on the local COIN label. However during this time Token's first release was a song by teenager Tommy Crider titled 'Sandy'. This was a song that could have been featured in any Surf and Beach movie of the day! It is one of my favorite recordings of original West Texas music. And another singer and group 'Mike Malone and the Misters' also did release a very good song on the Token label titled 'It must be Raining'. Malone would go on to have a record on the SIMS label of Nashville by1966 which was a national release. The Token label was probably defunct by then but it is stated to have released at least six singles before it faded into the past. Token's last release by country singer Fred Cowen would garner Nashville distribution, but I suppose it was too little, too late.
Unijohn and Hare labels, Andrews, Texas
Aside from Fred Drummond, Harry Bray and others there were several local labels that were operated by people that virtually had just a 'dream' of being associated with a 'hit record'. People who seem to have had no connection with either a professional studio. I guess they could best be described as 'promoters' of local music and musicians.
One such man seems to have been John Rowe of Andrews, Texas. He seems to have been interested in both Country and Rock music. He first established the Unijohn label in the mid-sixties and had a release by 'Bobby Price and the Country Ramblers'. One of the songs titled 'Rush on for the Moon' was something of a clever song that might have been considered 'revolting' by hard-core country fans if it had made it to Nashville. Then in the late sixties John Rowe became interested in some rockers called 'The Lynx' and released at least two singles for them on the HARE label. Their songs included 'Just a Friend, Woman of my Dreams, Look at Me, Follow the Rain'. In his promotions of this group's records Rowe went so far as to even run advertisements in Billboard magazine like the big-boys!
AOK and E.M.C.O. labels of Odessa
After Gorman Maxwell and Tommy Allsup began making 'master tapes' in their new studio in the suburbs of Odessa, Texas they soon released 45's on several record labels. There was the E.M.C.O. label and finally the AOK label which seems to date to c.196669. And in between perhaps a Westex label, all of which occurred in 1963968. Tommy Allsup was an excellent guitarist who had previously played with Bob Will's Playboys and also with Buddy Holly and the Crickets. He had also appeared on some of Holly's original recordings of 1958 and had been on the last tour with Holly as a Cricket. His autobiography 'Flip of a Coin' alludes to this tour and Holly's fateful plane crash in Iowa. Anyway, after his experiences of recording with Norman Petty and watching him work he must have decided he wanted a shot at engineering also! The chance came when his weathly brother-in-law Gorman Maxwell became his partner in the new Odessa studio. Then about the time their last label AOK got rolling (c.1966) they managed to sign a national distribution deal for the label! Some of the better known rock groups on the label include the Continentals of Abilene, the New Roadrunners, the Wry Catchers and the Shades (Midland). None of the groups scored a national hit but they were big in their own city and surrounding area.
Some lesser known regional bands on the AOK label include 'Bob and his Agents' (Alpine, Texas), 'Kenneth Cloud and the Stargazers' and a number of country singers. I suppose the best know male country singer on this label might have been Fred Crawford (By the Mission Walls) while the most noted female singer would be 'Edna Lee' (The pleasures all mine). There is a possibility that the demise of the AOK label and it's related studio was due to a divorce, which 'may' have broken up a good partnership. Anyway, the studio was the most prolific producers of West Texas records for about 5-6 years,during the sixties. I'll finish this article on the AOK label with a list of others who had singles on the label which includes: Lord August and Visions of Life, Richard Lynn, Carroll's Mood, Ed Dunlap, Terry: and Tommy, Topper Rawlings, Tom Kizziah, Dennis Ray, Ed Proctor and Joe Foster. (reference: A.O.K.: Record Labels of West Texas and New Mexico/ 2nd reference: The author's personal record collection).
Ironstone and Smashville Sound labels
These fly-by-night labels (Ironstone and Smashville Sound) were the brainchild of yours truly (Robin Brown) of Plainview, Texas. In 1977 at age thirty one I had recorded a rockabilly oriented song titled "Barefoot and Pregnant". It was a real loser but I decided to release a limited edition single anyway. Only twenty copies were ever pressed. My intuition was that this garage recording would never be played on radio or jukeboxes and therefore it had no real appeal to a national label, so I took the alternative course of releasing it on my own label. How I got interested in records and recording is something of a story within it's self. In the early fifties as a small child I became intrigued when Tab Morrison, a family friend had demonstrated a portable 'disc cutting machine' in our living room one sunday afternoon. I think he had purchased it at the PX while in the army overseas. Anyway, my family was something of a musical family and we passionately sang a gospel song into the cheap microphone while the turn-table spun and Tab produced an acetate record for us! This whole process intrigued me so much that I vowed someday that I was gonna play on records. I guess this was the beginning of my life long dream of being a 'recording artist'!
Prior to the record mentioned above, I had also hired the pressing of another original song on a local label. This was in the early seventies that I released a song from Billy Stull's Amarillo studio that was sung by teenager Cherrill Dyson also of Amarillo. It was released on the Smashville Sound label which was another of my brain-babies. The record though played locally went nowhere but Ms. Dyson went on to a singing career in Nashville. She is today known as C.V. Dyson and sings with a dance orchestra, all over the Nashville area. I don't suppose my little label enterprises were a complete failure however as the Smashville Sound label is now being revived by Michael G. Mullin of El Paso for CD compilations.