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Harold Thomason Harry Thomas Odom was born in Paris, Tennessee, in 1923. A gifted guitarist, his take off (or lead) playing on records was comparable to the best western swing pickers on recordings. He learned his licks from local jazz guitarist Bob Mitchell, playing jazz standards and country throughout his career. Although he played guitar in Detroit for more than three decades (1940s through 1970s), younger generations recognized Odom for his vocal on a risqué novelty called “She Won’t Turn Over For Me,” which first appeared as a jukebox single on Fortune Records subsidiary Renown, performed by Floyd Compton’s Western Troubadours in 1951 (see discography below). In 2001, when this interview was done at his apartment in Detroit, Odom had suffered a stroke and no longer played guitar. He died in September 2010. The following features excerpts from a lengthier conversation. 
Do you remember making those records with Roy Hall?
Yeah. There was a studio and a guy with the records. I played there sometimes with Roy Hall, and sometimes with Freddie Bach. We made some good records. Five or six, and I just heard them. I never did get one of them, for some reason or another. I never did know what happened to them. There was a woman and a man. That woman, she played them for me. He died first.
Yeah, down there on Third Street. …
Your playing on some of those records was really hot. It had a lot of punch, and it was clean.
I played different with every band. Every band has different music. You gotta learn … The band where I played better was when I was playing twin guitars with Tommy Craig. Boy, we had some good ones. … I worked every damn bar all over. On Third, Second, Woodward. I used to work that bar over there, where Eddie Jackson used to play a lot.
Yeah. His bass player was …
Bob Norton. I went down there to stay with him one night, and two or three days later … Bob Norton used to play with me, over at the West Fort when I was playing over there. … He went to the theater and fell dead. 
At the movie theater.
Yeah. It was just two or three days [later]. … I knowed Bob Norton’s younger brother. He used to play sax. But he never did work some. He worked at that big company down there … He was an electrician. He made good money. I used to work with Chief [Redbird], he used to work down there. I used to play down on Third with a guy who went back to Texas. His name was … There was so many guys I played with, I just can’t remember all of them.
You sang on one record, “She Won’t Turn Over For Me.” Do you remember that?
Probably that’s me and Frankie [Brumbalough] singing on that.
It was on a guy’s record named Floyd Compton and his Western Troubadours. It was on Renown Records.
Floyd Compton. I remember that name, but I can’t place what he looks like. …
Another guy that played in Detroit for years and years … He played fiddle and steel. Roy Hall played with him, too. I’ll think of it. A car fell on him, out in the garage, when he was working on it.
Oh, Eddie Jackson told me about him, too.
… Well, his wife put her boyfriend up to it. He pulled the … car off onto him. … They never did prove it, but they knew damn well it was so. She’d go out and stay about eight hours, and you know if she’s going out for eight hours, she ain’t “going out.” It was a put-up job. What the hell is his name? I almost said it. He played all over. He played fiddle at first, then he played steel. He played on 8 Mile. He was playing in Detroit when I was still working at White Castle. That’s how long ago. 
Danny Richards used to tell me about him, too.
Danny Richards. Is he still living? … When I played over at the Roosevelt Lounge, Danny was playing there. And this [other] guy who was playing steel guitar, when he died, we went to his funeral. His brother, he came over here …
Was it Whitey Franklin?
Yeah. He died [in 1974]. I played with him. He was a nice guy. …
[About pianist Freddie Bach …] He really got good on that piano. He could play every damn thing … modern songs. … When we first started at Rose’s Bar, he was playing there and we just couldn’t keep him. And then, later on I saw him, and he was like Liberace. It’s like me. Bob Mitchell taught me all them runs and everything. But his fingers was twice as long as mine. Bob would make a chord, and my fingers could make just half of it. Bob, he’d make them long reaching chords, and I’d have to jump back and forth [on the frets]. I couldn’t play it like him, ’cause he could reach it all. But I could reach some of them. I learned to stretch my fingers.
Last five years, I’d go to [my brother’s] and he’d say, “You can strum on my guitar.” I hurt my fingers when I tried to mash the strings down. I said, “That guitar ain’t no good.” He said, “I can play it.” He could play it okay, and he could mash ’em down. He plays some every day. I couldn’t play it like I wanted to, so I said, “To hell with it.” I could play anything I wanted until that damn stroke. …
For how long did you play with Frankie Brumbalough? Did you guys play together for a few years?
We played together … We went to work at that … eventually it was the Caravan, but it used to be another place out there. I used to go up Livernois and turn right. … They got that highway there.
Davison. There used to be a bar down there. That’s where a lot of them used to play. I think that’s where Eddie Jackson played.
Six Mile and Davison.
Yeah. I played out there. … A brother of mine (he’s dead now), he went in there one time, and he told the [bartender], “Tommy told me to come by here and get fifty dollars.” “Okay.” He didn’t know my brother, but he just give it to him. I didn’t know a thing about it. When he complained to me, “I’m short fifty dollars,” I said, “What the hell are you talking about?” He said, “You sent your brother out here after it.” I said, “My brother? Who?” He said, “Lewis.” I said, “Lewis? I didn’t send him.” I didn’t say a thing, but I knew what was up. He needed fifty dollars [to take a woman out for a date]. And he knowed where to get it. [laughs]
Roy Hall and his Cohutta Mountain Boys “The Dirty Boogie” b/w “No Rose In San Antone” (Fortune 126, 1949)
Roy Hall and his Cohutta Mountain Boys “The Dirty Boogie” b/w “Okee Doaks” (Fortune 126, 1949) 
Roy Hall and his Cohutta Mountain Boys “Never Marry A Tennessee Gal” b/w “We Never Get Too Big To Cry” (Fortune 133, 1949)
Roy Hall and his Cohutta Mountain Boys “Five Years In Prison” b/w “My Freckle Face Gal” (Fortune 139, 1950)
Roy Hall and his Cohutta Mountain Boys “Mule Boogie” b/w “Old Folks Jamboree” (Bullet 704, 1950)
Roy Hall and his Cohutta Mountain Boys “Turn My Picture To The Wall” b/w “Ain’t You Afraid” (Bullet 712, 1950) 
Floyd Compton and his Western Troubadours “She Won’t Turn Over For Me” (vocal by Tommy Odom) b/w “Careless Lover” (vocal by Floyd Compton) (Renown 5002, 1951) 
May Hawks “Jealous Love” b/w “Year After Year” (Fortune 173, 1953) 
- Tommy Odom interviewed by Keith Cady and Craig Maki in 2001.
- Eddie Jackson said he thought that Norton had a heart problem that caused his death.
- The musician’s name was Taft “Rosebud” Blevins.
- Fortune 126 was issued twice, with different songs backing “The Dirty Boogie.”
- In Keith Cady’s 2001 interview with Bud White, White said Odom traveled with the Roy Hall band to Nashville for the recording session for Bullet.
- It sounds as though Tommy Odom also played guitar on the Compton record, when he wasn’t singing (between verses, and on the song by Floyd Compton). Around 1941 the Detroit-based Universal label issued “She Won’t Turn Over For Me” (masters 114/115 together on one 78 rpm disc) by local pop singer Chick Fowler, backed by a hot jazz band. The guitarist on Fowler’s record sounded very much like Odom’s friend Bob Mitchell, who may have introduced the song to him. Bob Mitchell’s story is included in the book, “Detroit Country Music: Mountaineers, Cowboys, and Rockabillies.”
- Due to his association with Roy Hall at the time, Odom could have played on Fortune 173. The band sounds like Hall’s.
After a lifetime of playing music in Detroit, Johnny Clem’s recollections form a winding trail through Detroit nightclubs, bars and lounges whose past existence is now only evidenced by photos and stories, such as the time he worked with bandleader Danny Richards at a barn dance staged in the legendary Graystone Ballroom during the 1950s, or when he recorded for Joe Von Battle in the back of Joe’s Record Shop on Hastings Street.
From Alabama to Detroit
Tiny Elkmont, Alabama, near the southern border of Tennessee, sits almost the same distance from Nashville to the north, and Birmingham to the south. The Delmore Brothers, renowned for making hillbilly blues and boogie woogie popular during the 1930s, were born there, as was Johnny Clem on September 7, 1929, the year that the Delmores started their act. A few years later, during the Great Depression, Clem’s father took a job with the Tennessee Valley Authority, and moved the family to east Tennessee.
Clem’s friendly personality and ability to learn multiple musical instruments led him to sit in with many groups at a moment’s notice. In 1946, Clem picked electric guitar for the Golden West Cowgirls (Gladys and Ann) during early morning radio broadcasts at WROL Knoxville. He joined the U.S. Navy the following year, and after completing two years of service, moved to Detroit to work in Chrysler’s facilities on the east side of town. (Clem remained active in the navy for another six years.)
While living in a dense area of the city populated by thousands of people who had arrived from the South for work, Clem found loads of opportunities to play music in local bars. Jeff Durham, a guitarist, singer, and comedian, led a band at a nightclub on Jefferson Avenue and St. Jean, where Clem played his first Detroit gig, strumming a Hawaiian steel guitar in the group. “Jeff would do comedy, and put makeup on his face,” remembered Clem. “Then he shined a black light on himself, to make his face glow.”  Durham also had a reputation for finger style (or Travis) picking, as he had grown up in Muhlenburg, Kentucky, and had been acquainted with guitarists Mose Rager, Ike Everly, and Merle Travis. (Watch for an upcoming story about Jeff Durham and his brother Bob.)
An eager participant in country-western jamborees held at bars such as Ted’s Ten-Hi [you can see him in the group photo at the front of the chapter on Eddie Jackson in the “Detroit Country Music” book], Clem also taught himself how to play piano. “I never learned to read music, but I still got pretty good,” he said. “[Piano] became my main instrument for many years.”
According to Clem, his early gigs in Detroit included:
ca. 1950 — Al Dorman’s Bar, with Pioneer Playboys: Johnny, Chuck, Bill, and George Upton (14800 Mack, near Alter)
1950 — Caravan Gardens, with Eddie Jackson (Woodrow Wilson and Davison)
1951 — Torch Bar, with trio (East Jefferson Avenue, across from Hudson Motor Car facilities)
1951 — [Unknown club], with Waldo Walker (East Jefferson Avenue and Kitchener)
1952-53 — Torch Bar, with Swannee Caldwell (bass) and Red Peterson (guitar) 
A tattle on Von Battle
In 1953, Clem worked briefly with African American record shop owner Joe Von Battle. In the back of Joe’s Record Shop at 3530 Hastings, Von Battle built a recording studio. Clem said he often visited a restaurant across the street from the shop, and he got to know Von Battle by running into him there. “After our gigs, after the clubs closed, the boys and I’d go to the Checker Bar-B-Q near Hastings Street,” said Clem. “I don’t remember how we met, but [Von Battle] wanted me to cut a country version of a song called, ‘Another Soldier Gone.’ Eventually, we visited the studio he had in the back of his shop and cut it. I sang and played piano on it. I don’t think it was released, but Joe gave me a dub of it on a record.”
From around 1948, Von Battle had been recording local blues, jazz, and gospel performers. He had just cut “Another Soldier Gone” by a vocal group called the Violinaires, issued on the Drummond label of Detroit, and he wanted to explore the idea of making a “crossover” record of it with Clem. At the time, record companies often directed their pop and country-western artists to remake popular rhythm and blues songs, and vice versa. While the artists and instrumental style of these records differed, the songs themselves often appeared on multiple charts.
Clem’s version of “Another Soldier Gone” wasn’t released commercially. But the memory of this small episode in Clem’s career provides us with one of the earliest accounts of black and white musicians collaborating in Detroit.
Astronaut of Detroit rock
When it came to music, Clem approached it with an open heart and mind, and his reputation kept him working. More bookings included the following with local bandleaders:
Not surprisingly, Clem was an early adopter of rock’n’roll, which was popular in the city from the mid-1950s through the 1970s. One of his first rocking gigs was at the Shamrock Bar on Third Street and Selden, a rough area in 1957-59, but each musician (Sonny Croft – drums, vocals; Leon Chessire – lead guitar) earned $20 a night, which amounted to big bucks in those days.
After Casey Clark ceased production of the Lazy Ranch Boys Barn Dance in the union hall at 12101 Mack Avenue in 1957, Clem, vocalist Randy Sea and six other musicians worked dances there on weekends.
Clem’s next move was to play piano with vocalist Carl Parker. They had a steady gig at the Scenic Inn (Fort and Miami) with a man named Ted on saxophone around 1960, reportedly earning $300 per week. Then he joined Randy Sea, with Norm Sands on drums, and Leon Chessire on guitar at the Rose Bar (Vernor and Morell). Clem’s own band, Johnny and the Astronauts, worked Joe’s Bar at Jefferson and Chene, from around 1960-64, and for a while included guitarist and songwriter Jimmy Johnson, who later worked in Nashville with the Louvin Brothers, Leroy VanDyke, Jimmy Dickens and others, and spent four years on the “Grand Ole Opry” (Johnson died in 2014).
Clem also worked at Joe’s Bar with guitarist Bill Merritt, who played in town for many years. From there, Clem gigged at Ted’s 10-Hi on Jefferson and Fairview with Deano DelRay, and then to the O’Mack Bar (Mack and St. Jean) with Waldo Walker and Whitey Franklin. From about 1964-68, Clem worked the 509 Club downtown with Franklin and his brother Jimmy.
With Clem on piano, Carl Parker cut some recordings for which they didn’t find a commercial outlet. The recording presented with this story was made during a gig by guitarist Al Allen and the Sounds at Jerry’s Show Bar in 1960, and features Parker, with Clem on piano, sitting in with the band.
Some country recordings were put on tape with Jay Preston for the Clix label, based in Troy, Michigan, which seem to be lost, as well as a session at Fortune Records in Detroit. Although Johnny Clem didn’t release records of his own, he made a contribution to the Detroit scene, like many others who shared space on local bandstands (for another example, see Happy Moore’s story). Through the decades, Clem worked with vocalist Danny Richards at the Red Robin on Jefferson Avenue and at the Hazel Park Eagles with Richards and guitarist Chuck Oakes. In 1978 Clem had a steady gig at Rose Lounge on West Vernor with bandleader Jimmy Kelley (Luke Kelley’s son). He played at the Clinton Gables Hotel on the Clinton River near downtown Mount Clemens, with Tony Gee and the Continentals during the 1970s, as well as Castaways near 23 Mile and VanDyke with Jay Preston and guitarist Dave Morgan.
During the 1990s, Clem moved just north of Palm Beach, Florida, and entertained crowds of retirees “as much as I could stand it,” he said with a chuckle. As of this writing, Clem is back in Michigan to be near family, and retired from entertaining.
Update: Johnny Clem passed away June 3, 2018.
- John Clem interviewed by Craig Maki in January 2016.
- Many nightclub owners booked extended contracts with bands for weeks of steady entertainment.
Speak with any steel guitar fan, and one name they always know is Buddy Emmons. On Saturday, Sept. 21, starting at 2:30 p.m., the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville will host a “concert and conversation” with “the Big E.” If you can’t make the scene in person, check out the live video stream on the Hall of Fame’s website. Although Emmons isn’t planning to perform, the great Duane Eddy, Dan Dugmore, and Hargus “Pig” Robbins will be there for the program.
At that age, Emmons was “ready to play any time, anywhere,” he said.  Indeed, many veteran Detroit musicians recalled jamming with the teen-aged steel guitarist at jamborees, barn dances, and private homes throughout Detroit.
“I ended up living in Belle Isle park – or a place close to there, because that’s where I tipped a canoe over one time, and lost an expensive watch and rings and all that. So it was close to Belle Isle park,” said Emmons, who settled on the east side, near Clark’s home. “I lived a couple blocks from Casey, for a while. I guess I moved into a house where the tenants were going on vacation for a few months, so I had to stay there until I got on my feet and started looking for another place.”
Emmons lived in Detroit, working with the Lazy Ranch Boys, through mid-1955, when Jimmy Dickens hired him. Read all about the Lazy Ranch Boys, including other stellar steel guitarists such as Jim Baker, Terry Bethel, and Chuck Rich, in the book “Detroit Country Music: Mountaineers, Cowboys, and Rockabillies.”
- Buddy Emmons interviewed by Keith Cady in 2007.
I found this video from the 1980s over on YouTube. Ernie Lee, wearing glasses at right, started his career in 1940 at John Lair’s Renfro Valley barn dance. Bronson “Barefoot Brownie” Reynolds, playing bass and singing in this clip, followed Lee up to Detroit in 1944 (as did steel guitarist Jerry Byrd), where they formed the WJR radio “Goodwill-Billies.” With fiddle player Casey Clark, and vocalist John “Smilin’ Red” Maxedon, they performed daily over the Goodwill Station through 1946.
After hosting the WLW radio Cincinnati “Midwestern Hayride,” Lee landed a TV gig in Florida where he spent the rest of his life. Reynolds eventually returned to Detroit with Casey Clark, where their band, the Lazy Ranch Boys, entertained all over the region during the 1950s. In 1959 Reynolds joined Lee in St. Petersburg, Florida, working with him until the end. (During the 1980s, Casey Clark joined them for a brief time.)
The story of the Goodwill-Billies, Reynolds, and Clark appear in the book “Detroit Country Music – Mountaineers, Cowboys, and Rockabillies.”
Comedian, old-time fiddle and bass player, and dancer James “Chick” Stripling traveled in and out of Detroit, Michigan, with extended stays, from the late 1940s through the 1960s.
Detroit guitarist Fran Mitchell, who worked with Eveline Haire and her Swingtime Cowgirls when she first met Stripling in 1947 at the Masonic Temple, recalled his opening line to her: “There’s the girl I want to meet!” At the time, Stripling was working with Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys. Mitchell claimed he was the funniest man she ever saw. 
For several weeks in 1950, Stripling worked with Jimmy and Whitey Franklin, Dimples Darlene, and Chuck Carroll as the Georgia Cotton Pickers at the Roosevelt Lounge on Mack Avenue. At the end of the engagement, the group moved to CKUA radio in Edmonton, Alberta. 
Stripling returned to Detroit several times, sometimes on tour with well-known acts, sometimes working with Detroit-based groups and living in town. Casey Clark told local historian Don McCatty that he spotted Stripling sitting alone in a doorway along Michigan Avenue’s “Skid Row,” an area that existed between downtown and Corktown before the city demolished it in the early 1960s. When he recognized Stripling, Clark stopped his vehicle and picked him up. Clark purchased new clothes for Stripling, and hired him to appear in his shows. Stripling worked for Clark for a short while before heading south again. 
Here’s a video of 1960s television footage featuring the brilliance of Chick Stripling combined with the Stanley Brothers. Besides Bill Monroe, and the Stanley Brothers, Stripling worked with groups such as Jim and Jesse, Flatt and Scruggs, and Ernest Tubb. He died in Virginia, in 1970.
- Fran Mitchell interviewed by Keith Cady in 2003.
- Johnny Sippel “Folk Talent and Tunes” Billboard (June 9, 1951. Vol. 63, No. 23) 30.
- Don McCatty conversation with Craig Maki in 2013.
It took a community to help write the Detroit country music book. I’ve always been crazy about music and records, and record collectors got me started on this project by whetting my appetite for vintage Detroit music. (Thanks to all, including Cappy Wortman, Sal and Dottie Leczynski, Bob Silverberg, Carl Pellegrino, Tony Fusco, and Bo Brown.)
Some of my earliest boosters who played music (not records) included the gentlemen in these photos. Don Rader (in hat) joined me at the legendary WCBN-FM radio Ann Arbor, Michigan studio in December 1994. Rader and I visited Dan Moray while he hosted an edition of “The Down Home Show.” A 45rpm record of Rader’s 1958 “Rock And Roll Grandpap” sits on the turntable in front. At the time, I hosted “The Rockabilly Show” at WCBN.
The photo with Jackson was taken by Sandra Weyer on the day I first met him in person, during the summer of 1995. Sandra’s husband, guitarist Marv Weyer, stands at right. We were in Jackson’s basement, standing in front of an amazing wall of photos of Jackson, his musician friends, and country music stars with whom he shared Detroit stages during his 50-year career. Jackson’s sunny personality, his funny stories, and the images on these walls renewed my inspiration with every visit. Within a year, Jackson and Weyer had me playing guitar and singing with them at public appearances. Through Jackson, I met Fran Mitchell*, Cliff Gilbert, Chuck Oakes*, Swanee Caldwell, and many others.
* Biographies featured in the book
Remember? Michigan Ave. Gardens? Most likely you won’t, but if you do, you will remember that it was the first bar in Canton to receive their beer and wine license after prohibition in 1932. If you remember the bar, you will also remember they had outside toilets, and chickens and goats that would roam through the building while you were having your favorite drink. You would also remember that entertainment was a thing back then that was not known, or at least to be paid for, so some of the local people would bring their fiddles and guitars and once in a while, someone would bring in their banjo and have a regular old barn dance. Well, after all, that’s what it was. The old Michigan Avenue Gardens was in fact an old BARN! 
So begins a feature on the Club Canton, also once known as the Canton Tavern, originally printed in the December 1980 edition of Country In The City News. Club Canton will be the setting of the next author book sale and signing for “Detroit Country Music: Mountaineers, Cowboys, and Rockabillies,” on Sunday, January 19, 2014, from 3 to 7 p.m.
Special guests include Behind The Times, Detroit-based old-time and bluegrass musical trio. After they perform a set of music, the floor will be opened to musicians in attendance. Club Canton has graciously offered to prepare a buffet for a nominal charge, as well.
Since 1932 (and legend has it, BEFORE 1932), Club Canton has witnessed the evolution of country music from folk and old-time fiddle dances to cowboy and western, rockabilly to bluegrass, and what’s now referred to as traditional and modern. Local disk jockey and bandleader Farris Wilder was a mainstay on the Club Canton stage from 1951 to 1963. Other famous entertainers who appeared within its welcoming walls include Charlie Louvin, Dottie West, Ernest Tubb, and Johnny Paycheck.
The 1980 article continues
It has changed from when [patrons] used to be bothered by chickens, goats, mules and other assorted farm animals. It has changed from the days when you and your friends could bring in your guitars, banjo’s, fiddles and the likes and hold your own barn dance, but the friendliness has not changed. The warmth of fellow men and women from the deep south meeting and getting married has not changed. The packed houses have not changed …
In 1957 Helm and Jean Hunt purchased the Canton Tavern and renamed it Club Canton. Their son and his wife continue the operation, 57 years later. Our event on January 19, 2014, is the perfect opportunity to get acquainted with the legendary Club Canton!
- [Possibly Mary Clark] “Remember Michigan Avenue Gardens?” Country In The City News Country In The City, Inc. December 1980 (Vol. 4, No. 1) 14.
One of the most talented musicians in Detroit during the 1950s, the dynamic, charismatic – and some say enigmatic – Chuck Hatfield played the fire out of a standard (non-pedal) steel guitar. His story, as well as that of his wife, Boots Gilbert, and their group the Treble-Aires, is finally told in the book “Detroit Country Music: Mountaineers, Cowboys, and Rockabillies.”
After leaving his home in Flint, Michigan, in 1948, Hatfield worked in the Southwest with Texas-based musicians such as Bob Manning, Billy Gray, and Hank Thompson, before returning to Detroit, where he played in nightclubs, radio, and TV. Here is a discography, compiled with the help of Kevin Coffey, listing the titles of records Hatfield is known to have played on.
Bob Manning and his Riders of the Silver Sage
“Lola Lee” b/w “Old Folks Boogie” Dude 1605 (1948)
Bob Manning and his Riders of the Silver Sage
“The Green Light” b/w “I Left My Heart In Texas” Dude 1606 (1948)
Texas Rhythm Riders (all recorded for the Royalty label, ca. 1948-49)
“I Turned And Slowly Walked Away”
“A Handful Of Kisses”
“The Green Light”
“Tennessee Saturday Night”
“12th Street Rag”
“Red Sails In The Sunset”
“I’m A Fool To Care”
“Blues In My Heart”
“Your Cheatin’ Heart”
“Cryin’ Steel Guitar Waltz”
Previously unissued WJR radio transcription (ca. 1953) / Bear Family Records BCD 15722 (1993)
“You’re Gone” (swinging version)
“Sorrow And Pain” (fast version)
Previously unissued studio recordings (1953) / Bear Family Records BCD 15722 (1993)
“Sorrow And Pain” b/w “Kaw-Liga” Fortune 174 (1953)
Note: Band erroneously credited to Roy Hall
“Heartbreak Ahead” b/w “Steel Wool” Fortune 175 (1953)
Note: “Steel Wool” credited to Chuck Hatfield and his Treble-Aires
Boots Gilbert and Bob Sykes with Chuck Hatfield and his Treble-Aires
“Take It Or Leave It” b/w “Man! Turn Me Loose” Fortune 176 (1954)
Note: Different takes of “Man! Turn Me Loose” were issued on 78rpm and 45rpm records.
May Hawks with Chuck Hatfield and his Treble-Aires
“Meet Me Down In Nashville (At The Opry Tonight)” b/w “Wasted Years” Fortune 178 (1954)
Boots Gilbert and Bob Sykes with Chuck Hatfield and his Treble-Aires
“Fickle Heart” b/w “Please Mister Bartender” Fortune 181 (1954)
May Hawks and Lester Thomas with Chuck Hatfield and his Treble-Aires
“Straighten Up And Fly Right” b/w “Baby You’re A Bygone Now” Fortune 182 (1954)
Boots Gilbert and Bob Sykes with Chuck Hatfield and his Treble-Aires
“Sadie And The Cop” (a.k.a. “The Club Song (Nite Club Song)”) b/w “When The Senorita Comes To Hear The Senor Play” Fortune 184 (1955)
Note: “When The Senorita Comes To Hear The Senor Play” was reissued with “You Can’t Stop Me From Loving You”
“He’s A Mighty Good Man” Fortune LP 3001 (recorded ca. 1955)
Friends, it’s with an abundance of goodwill and happiness that I write this post. The University of Michigan Press has begun fulfilling online orders for the book, and delivering review copies. The press received so many pre-orders and review requests that they could give Keith Cady and me only a couple of copies each, last week.
Here’s a snapshot of me standing in the Press archive, holding the hardcover version. Let me tell you, it was a sweet moment. Years of research and writing finally came together in an exceptional presentation we all can be proud of. As I held the book, two decades of memories from working on this project rattled my mind. Some musicians I wrote about had to wait a lifetime for their stories to be shared like this, and … we did it – with the help of many, many good people.
Thank you to all who ordered the book ahead of its publication. I was told nearly 250 orders had been placed online, which was a pleasant surprise. Here’s a link to the book’s page at the U of M Press website. It’s available in hardcover, softcover, and an e-book.
We’re planning some events, including an official book launch party in Detroit, and another at a legendary C&W nightclub. I’ll share more information when I can, so keep checking in, won’t you?
Of course, one would need weeks or months to present the connections between the labor movement and country-western music in Detroit during the 20th century. On this Labor Day, I’m reaching for low-hanging fruit by showing a couple of union-operated social halls used for country shows in Detroit 60 years ago.
12101 Mack Avenue is an address remembered fondly by longtime country music fans in Detroit. The site of the weekly “Lazy Ranch Boys Barn Dance” from 1952 to 1957, the union hall at 12101 Mack held many weekend stage shows by Casey Clark’s group (all members of local musician unions), which in turn hosted famous entertainers and guests from across the U.S.A. and Canada. Originally a Hudson local, the hall became the base for a Chrysler local after the demise of the Hudson Motor Car Company.
Photos from the past demonstrate Clark’s band’s popularity. When Clark and his partners first arrived to head the WJR “Big Barn Frolic” in 1952, the Saturday night show was held at the Dairyworkers Hall on 2nd Avenue in Highland Park (see a contemporary photo below).
Within a year, Clark and company moved to a larger space at 12101 Mack, where they packed in audiences with their stage shows, followed by square and round dances. Its location off Connor, near Chrysler’s east side facilities, easily drew country music fans who worked for Chrysler, many of whom lived in the surrounding area.
Read all about Casey Clark and the Lazy Ranch Boys, along with other artists who appeared on the “Big Barn Frolic,” such as Chuck Hatfield, Boots Gilbert, Al Allen, Roy Hall, May Hawks and the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers in the book “Detroit Country Music: Mountaineers, Cowboys, and Rockabillies.”
For years, admirers of Jimmy Franklin’s “Hey Mr. Presley,” issued as by Pete DeBree and the Wanderers on Detroit’s Fortune label, had no idea where he’d gone after cutting that record. Fans will be glad to know he remained true to his artistic callings – which included painting! – after moving back home to Kentucky in 1971.
Morgan County Jamboree
West Liberty, Kentucky, is a small city nestled in the heart of Morgan County, where it serves as county seat. In 1971 Jim Franklin’s father died, and he returned to his hometown to live close to his mother. After entertaining across North America, Franklin continued playing music with friends and family on a mostly local basis.
“Jimmy played on a Saturday night jamboree at the county courthouse, that was broadcast on WLKS, the local radio station,” said historian Lynn Nickell. “I believe the station went on the air in 1964.” 
During the early 1940s, Franklin and his brother Marvin (known as “Whitey” in Detroit) performed with a group called the Morgan County Jamboree. Unaffiliated with a radio station, the band played schools, halls, and events around the region. The lineup sometimes included famed fiddle and banjo player Santford Kelly (1898-1973). After World War II, the brothers moved to Dayton, Ohio, to play music in nightclubs. With guitarists Chuck Oakes and Happy Moore, they broadcast over WSAZ radio Charleston, West Virginia.  From there, they moved to Detroit, Michigan (see Part 1 and Part 2).
In 1971, Morgan County boosters introduced the Sorghum Festival, an annual celebration of bluegrass and mountain music, traditional Appalachian food, art, and crafts. Franklin participated as an emcee and pickup bass player. Around 1973 he met teen-aged musicians Robbie, David, and Jamie Wells. “Jimmy was real well-known around the area,” said Robbie Wells.  “I guess he liked our group, and he helped and inspired us. … For a man from east Kentucky, he was different. I mean, he dressed up in flashy stage clothes. … He really knew how to entertain a crowd. He’d play his bass rockabilly style. He’d lay it down and get on top of it while he played with bluegrass bands.”
Franklin recorded the Wells brothers as Wells Fargo at the WLKS radio studio. He issued a 45rpm record on his own Kinfolk label, featuring the bluegrass instrumental “Cuttin’ The Cane” and “Morgan Sorghum,” a tribute to the music festival. In front of a single microphone, Robbie played lead guitar, David the banjo, Jamie second guitar, and Franklin played bass. “It was just a little project that Jimmy organized,” said Wells. “I guess he saw some talent in us, and wanted to help our careers.”
“We cut that for a documentary film about the Sorghum festival,” said Franklin’s cousin, Langley Franklin. “The music was used in the documentary.” 
My Lonely Nights
In 1972 Franklin visited Rusty York‘s Jewel Recording Studio in Cincinnati, Ohio, and remade “Help Me Make It Through The Night” backed with “He’ll Have To Go,” issued on the Jewel label in its custom series (no. 966). The arrangements included banjo and guitar supporting Franklin’s expressive voice, and the instruments may have all been played by York himself.
In 1974 Franklin and his cousin Langley produced a country version of the 1963 Japanese pop hit “Sukiyaki.” They traveled to Nashville to cut the song with English lyrics as “My Lonely Nights (Sukiyaki)” (not to be confused with the Jewel Akens version titled “My First Lonely Night”). Along with another Franklin original, “Fill My Empty Arms,” “Sukiyaki” was pressed on the Atlanta, Georgia, label Great World of Sound (no. 4064).
“We tried to shop the record to a bunch of labels,” said Langley Franklin, “including Capitol, who had the original version [in America], but no one picked it up.” It was Jim Franklin’s final venture into the record business.
That same year, Franklin returned briefly to Detroit, to witness his brother Whitey’s funeral. It was probably Franklin’s last visit to the Motor City, whose nightclub scene, filled with a new generation of country musicians, included fewer and fewer musicians who remembered him.
Playing the brushes
After living separately from his first wife Dimples for many years, Franklin remarried. He worked at the Sound Shop music store in West Liberty, supported the Morgan County Sorghum Festival as emcee and an entertainer, operated a barber shop, and painted.
“Ricky Skaggs had a show nearby [in 1984], and Jim went to see him with a painting he’d done of Santford Kelly, who was an early influence of Ricky’s,” said Langley Franklin. “Ricky bought the painting.”
At the time, Skaggs likely had no idea of the painter’s own history as an entertainer, and just as likely he had no time to find it out, because Skaggs was a rising country music star with a full schedule. When Franklin let go of his Santford Kelly painting, a portrait of someone who had an early impact on him as well, he may have secretly felt he was passing a torch to Skaggs, from one Kentuckian to another. A generous soul, Franklin distributed many such torches, through his attention and support to younger musicians in and around Morgan County, until he passed away in 1988.
- W. Lynn Nickell interviewed by Craig Maki in 2013. WLKS radio is based in West Liberty, Kentucky.
- The story of Chuck Oakes appears in the forthcoming book “Detroit Country Music: Mountaineers, Cowboys, and Rockabillies.”
- Robbie Wells interviewed by Craig Maki in 2013. Visit his website at robbiewells.com.
- Langley Franklin interviewed by Craig Maki in 2013. A note on the Kinfolk record label reads “From the Appalshop Documentary / Morgan County Sorghum Festival – 73.”
He was a friendly, caring guy, but music always came first in his life. – Dave Larsh, musician 
Along with Luke Kelly, Forest Rye, and Arlee Barber, Jack Luker had a reputation during the 1940s for leading one of the popular country-western bands in Detroit. Luker’s group, the Tennessee Valley Boys, included guitarists Tommy Odom, Chuck Oakes, and Jeff Durham; rhythm guitarist/singer Lawton “Slim” Williams; bassists Harvey “Flash” Griner and Bill Hayes; fiddle player Frankie Brumbalough, and others.
Willie Thomas “Jack” Luker was born June 26, 1917. Luker’s cousin Lawton Williams was from Troy, Tennessee, in the northwest region of the state, so Luker may have come from the same area. His move to Michigan coincided with an influx of Southerners looking for work in the manufacturing industries of Detroit as the United States participated in World War II.
Luker may have planned to find a job in a factory, but he soon began entertaining in nightclubs such as the Park View, Dixie Belle, and Rose’s, all located on West Vernor in southwest Detroit, an area settled by workers from the South.  A charismatic, fun-loving man, Luker married and had three children.
Perhaps Luker’s first appearance on records was with Roy Hall’s Cohutta Mountain Boys – which included former members of Luker’s Tennessee Valley Boys (Tommy Odom, Flash Griner, and Frankie Brumbalough) – when the group cut “Dirty Boogie” for Fortune Records in 1949. Issued as Fortune 126, the record label listed personnel for the session, and Luker’s name was associated with rhythm guitar.
In late 1951, Luker sang on two records for songwriter Lou Parker’s Citation label (catalog numbers 1158 and 1159), based in Detroit’s Music Hall building. The first release, reviewed by The Billboard magazine in its January 26, 1952, edition, “My Smokey Mountain Gal” (backed with “Whispering Lies”) was a bouncy western swing.  Luker’s vocal projected his easy-going personality and some joy. The music was played by a hot band, which probably included Roy Hall on piano, along with Flash Griner and Bud White (these musicians also recorded for Parker’s label), and unidentified trumpet player, giving the record a sound reminiscent of Merle Travis’ hit records of the late 1940s. Luker’s second Citation single included a slow heart song called “I Wish That I Could Tell You,” backed with another swinging dance number, “You’re A Little Bit Too Late.”
By the 1960s, Luker moved to Bay City, Michigan, and worked as a school bus driver, farmer and carpenter, while playing music at night and on weekends. Detroit guitarist Dave Larsh said Luker also had a radio show in Bay City during those years.
A Bay City record label named Wanda released what was perhaps Luker’s last recordings on vinyl (Wanda single no. 318). “Fool For Loving You,” another heart song, was backed with a revival of the Light Crust Doughboys’ 1939 “I’ll Keep On Loving You.” Judging by Luker’s recorded performances, he sought out the best musicians to work with on stages and studios.
According to Detroit guitarist Chuck Oakes, Luker retired to Northern Michigan. “Jack Luker later worked in Gladwin at several bars,” said Oakes. He worked at the Club 30 for years. I used to sit in with him and have fun.”  (Oakes also spent his retirement years near Gladwin.) In 1982, Luker moved back to Tennessee.
“I heard Jack finally went back to Tennessee and married his first wife all over again,” said Oakes. “He liked hunting and fishing. He went out hunting in the woods and they found him with his hounds out there, propped up against a tree and he was – He done gone.” During a hunting trip with a friend, Luker suffered a heart attack. He lay down beneath an old tree and passed away December 10, 1984.
- Dave Larsh interviewed by Keith Cady in 2002.
- By the late 20th century, the population of southwest Detroit evolved into a community of Mexican immigrants, which brought another cultural change to local restaurants and shops.
- “Best Selling Retail Folk (Country & Western) Records” Billboard (Jan. 26, 1952. Vol. 64, No. 4) 33.
- Chuck Oakes interviewed by Keith Cady in 2000.