Larry Donn's Rockabilly Days - That's What I Call A Ball

Rockabilly Days

LARRY DONN writes for Now Dig This

A letter from reader Barry Scholes four or five years ago mentioned that I had "hinted" several months before that I would give some background infromation on my Collector Records CD of the above title, but had not done so. He suggested that the Editor "give me a nudge". Well, Barry, I was nudged, but I did not want to be accused of using this space to promote my own recordings, so I decided to wait until it had sold all it was going to sell. That point has apparently arrived. Actually, I intended to write the story, then hold onto it until the proper time, but I kept putting it off. I did manage to get some notes on paper, but couldn't find the time to sit down with the CD and listen for details that might be interesting... where the track was recorded, the musicians, who was drunk who wasn't, name and description of girls present, etc.

Having reduced this pile of handwritten notes on the right side of my desk to only a few sheets, I started on the left pile, and a half-inch below the surface, I found the notes I'd made for this story.

The title song, THAT'S WHAT I CALL A BALL, has been covered here before, but I will summarise, for those who missed the previous mentions. The song was written by Richard Manning, who also played piano on Bobby Lee Trammell's 'Arkansas Twist'. He now lives in Williford, Arkansas, which is near Hardy in the "foothills" of the Ozarks, and I talk to him occasionally on the phone. Richard, Jimmie Coleman (guitar), Gary Creason (drums), Jay Arnold (bass fiddle) and I were trying to come up with some songs a session at Sun, which was to be produced by Billy Lee Riley. We went through a couple of mine, which gave everybody a good laugh, then Richard told us to get out and he would write something. We were rehearsing in a back room at Jimmie's house in Jonesboro, Arkansas, at 2209 Circle Drive. It was about eight o'clock on a Saturday morning, August 13th 1958, and we were due at Sun with two good songs at eleven. It took Richard about fifteen minutes to write it, and another ten to write one called MOLLY-O, both on an unlined blue writing pad with a blue ball-point pen. I still have both originals.

We recorded THAT'S WHAT I CALL A BALL but the second song was several steps removed from the "greatest" category, and after a couple of cuts, Riley told us to go write another song as good as the first and Sun would release the record. For one reason or another, we didn't pursue it. Billy Lee has since told me that they rarely erased tapes with finished cuts, so it's possible that the cut of "Ball, Y'all" is still in existence somewhere in the boxes of old Sun tapes.

The recording that is on the flip of HONEY BUN was recorded at KLCN radio station in Blytheville, Arkansas, probably sometime in Febuary of '59. Arlen Vaden of Vaden Records had offered us a record deal... "us", meaning Benny Kuykendall, and his brother Scotty and me. Arlen had heard us do 'Ball, Y'all' at Bob King's club a week before, and it was recorded first. We needed something for the other side, but nobody liked my songs, so Benny did a verse of 'Honey Bun', then anounced that it wasn't finished. Arlen enquired as to how long it would take to finish it, and Benny suggested fifteen minutes. He and I went into the record library and wrote the second verse, and you can imagine what a chore it was. Probably took every bit of a minute to compose those two lines. Then it was back to the studio and in three takes it was finished. For the record, the musicians on both songs were, besides Benny's lead guitar and Scotty's electric bass: Tommy Holder (electric rhythm guitar), Johnny Welker (drums), Teddy Redell (piano), Roy 'Speck' Mullenix (bass fiddle), and I was playing my Gibson LGO guitar while I sang. It can be seen in some of the pictures that accompany the CD. The engineer was Joe 'Joe Blow' Nearns, a disc-jockey and the station's engineer. The session was recorded on a Magnecorder tape recorder, which I used several times in '63 when I was DJ at KLCN. The building was gutted by fire several years later, probably in the late '60s, and the station was moved a block south. Incidentally, Johnny Cash asked for a job there in the early '50s, after he took a course in radio announcing at a school in Memphis, but was not hired. I think the Program Director told me it was because they didn't need anybody at the time. Several of Arlen Vaden's releases, almost all of which can be heard on a CD from Sweden called 'The Vaden Rock n Roll Story', were recorded at KLCN.

DOWN THE LINE was recorded at KNEA radio station in Jonesboro, Arkansas, probably in '64. The musicians were Thurman Hopkins (drums), Larry Joe Patton (electric bass), me on piano, and an unknown guitar player. I hear him but I can't remember who it was, and I can't recall ever hearing him again. Hold on, I'll phone Thurman... okay, he says he thinks it was Wayne Toombs, who was a radio announcer and local musician. He later made some records with a Memphis label, and had a music store in Blytheville for many years, and it may still be there. (Does anybody have any information on Wayne's recordings?)

SURF TWIST is one side of an Alley Records single my band did in '62. The other side was called SAHARA. Both sides were instrumentals, and the band was called The Cotilions, which was Joe Lee's idea. I think the band at the time was actually called The Clicks, a name Jimmie came up with when he booked our first job. He said when the potential employer asked for the name of the band, "Clicks" was the first thing that came to mind. The musicians are Jimmie Coleman, Thurman Hopkins, Earls Scroggins (bass) and me on piano. The session was engineered by Joe Lee. The record was released in Belgium on the EmCee label, and I think we made something like a dollar-and-a-half each off it, which effectively put the brakes on our orders for the new Cadilacs.

This cut of THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, which was released on AD-BUR Records sometime in late '61 or early '62, was recorded at KNBY radio in Newport, Arkansas. The musicians are: Sonny Burgess (lead guitar), Tommy Tims (drums) and Gene McIntosh (electric bass). It was recorded at night, and Joe Long, a DJ and the station's engineer, was the session engineer. The label was Sonny's creation, with the AD from one of his reletives named Adams, and the BUR from Burgess. Bob King, who owned the B&I Club near Swifton, where Sonny, Tommy and I played every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday, gave us two hundred dollars to cut the record, but wouldn't take the money back from the sales. In the early '90s, original copies were listed in a record collectors' book at $150 each, but I haven't checked the book since then.

ONE BROKEN HEART was a demo for Alley Records cut at KNEA sometime in late '61 or early '62. I'LL NEVER FORGET YOU, track number 18 on the CD, was recorded at the same time, and both songs were re-recorded in Alley's studio and released on the label in '62. The musicians on the KNEA session were Jimmie Coleman, Thurman and Larry Joe. On the master session, Fred Douglas played lead guitar and we had no drummer. Fred played guitar left-handed, but with the strings strung up for a right-handed player, and made all his chords upside-down. He had bought Carl Perkins' echo amplifier some time before, and used it on the session. Larry Joe was playing a four-string Danelectro bass, which I used later playing with Joe Lee's and Ray Coble's bands, and I was playing my Gibson LGO on both demo and master sessions. I don't remember much about ONE MORE TIME, except that it was recorded at KNEA with Jimmie and Larry Joe, and engineered by Mike Powell. I don't remember writing it, and I barely remember the session.

BABY, LET'S PLAY HOUSE is apparently the same track that is on the "green album" ('Sonny Burgess & Larry Donn - Rock Rockabilly' - White Label 8817, released in 1979). All of the "early Elvis" songs on the LP and CD were recorded at Jimmie Coleman's house at 2209 Circle Drive in Jonesboro with Jimmie on lead guitar, Larry Joe on his four-string Danelectro bass and me playing rhythm guitar. These cuts were not done for any kind of commercial perpose, but just for me. I liked Elvis and I liked his records, and I wanted to hear myself singing his songs. I took the master tape to KBTM radio station in Jonesboro and had Bill McCaughn make a copy and add the echo. When White Label expressed an interest in them in '78, I figured I didn't have anything to lose, so I agreed to a release. But they're certainly not anything I'm proud of. As this information covers all of the "Elvis" cuts on the CD, I won't list the rest.

SKINNIE MINNIE was recorded at KNEA, with Jimmie, Thurman and Larry Joe, probably in '60 or '61. I'm not sure why.

GOOD GOLLY MISS MOLLY was recorded on my first tape recorder, a Concord, which cost me a hundred dollars. I think I gave it to a lad who was studying electonics a few years ago. The track was cut at Mike Hulen's 67 Club, just outside of Alicia, Arkansas, sometime in '62. Sonny Burgess is playing lead guitar, Tommy Tims is the drummer, Ray Dacus is playing a Gibson electric bass and I am playing a large, black, old upright piano. I hadn't done the song until I heard Jerry Lee do it on some shows we did with him, then I added it to my list, blatantly copying his arrangement and performance.

ROCK AND RHYTHM. Sonny, Tommy, Ray and me, at the 67 Club, just jamming. Sonny started playing and the rest of us joined in. The title was composed by White Label Records. The piece has already begun when I turned the tape recorder on, so the first few notes were missed.

GREAT BALLS OF FIRE. In 1969, Kenny Owens came to me with the idea that he and I should be partners. He was good at booking jobs, and I had a good band, so we joined forces. In '70, we went to Wayne Raney's studio in Concord, Arkansas, and recorded an album for road sales ('Kenny Owens & The Travellers With Mid-American Music' - Ork LP 1003). Kenny did one side and I did five songs on the other side, including this one. The musicians were, if I remember correctly, Dub Phelps (bass), an uncle of the Phelps brothers who started the Kentucky Headhunters band that was popular a few years ago, Ronnie Harris (drums), who sings two songs on my side of the LP, Eddie Slusser, a fine guitar player who has lived in Memphis for several years, and I'm playing piano.

SHE'S MINE was recorded at KBTM radio station in Jonesboro, sometime in the early '60s, with Jimmie, Thurman and Larry Joe, with Bill McCaughan engineering. Bill now operates a fleet of fishing boats for charter on the Gulf of Mexico, near Houma, Louisiana. This cut was supposed to have been on "the green album", and the title was printed on the label and cover, but for the song on the record is TOO YOUNG FOR LOVE. On the end of the CD track, you can hear a spot where the tape was stretched causing the sound to wobble a bit.

TROUBLE BOUND. Billy Lee asked for this one. We were preparing for a session at the Hi Studio on Lauderdale in Memphis for Roland Jones and B.L.'s new Rita label. While discussing some possible songs to record, he asked us to do a demo of it. It was recorded in Jonesboro in a large room at what is now The Earl Bell Center, named for an Olympic gold medal winner from this area. At the time, it was the Jonesboro Community Center. It housed the YMCA and wrestling matches were held there in the '50s and '60s. It is located on Church Street in Jonesboro. Elvis played there in '55, and I won fourth place in a talent contest there in '57, and played a show with Conway Twitty there in '70. Jimmie Larry and Thurman played on this cut.

I'll leave it there for now. I will continue this trip through my recorded back catalogue in the next issue. Bet you can't wait!

Larry Donn's Delta Musicians Page

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