Tag Archives: Wanda Jackson

Hillbilly Music Straight Outta Compton

I would imagine most people know Compton as the epicenter of late ‘80s hip-hop and a city dominated by crime and gang violence. Smack in the middle between Long Beach and Los Angeles, just south of Watts, back in the ‘50s and ‘60s it became a suburban destination for middle class blacks attracted to both its location and the affordable single-family homes that were available after a Supreme Court case knocked out segregation laws. But with a small commercial area, a shrinking tax base, and a corrupt government, by 1969 Compton held the distinction of having the highest crime rate in California.

 

There’s another side of musical history from Compton that pre-dates local gansta rap and g-funk. Town Hall Party began in 1951 as a radio broadcast and eventually became a television show that lasted for almost ten years before going off the air. The old Town Hall building at 400 South Long Beach Boulevard was being booked occasionally for country-and-western “barn dances” when it was taken over by promoter William B. Wagnon Jr. It was his idea to get the dances broadcast live on local radio, and the success soon led to a television show concept that started and stopped, but didn’t really become cohesive until August 29, 1953.

 

The website Hillbilly-Music Dawt Com has done a great job in researching the history of Town Hall Party, which I would encourage you to check out, but here’s an excerpt:

“The lineup on that first show was to be Tex Ritter, Les (Carrot Top) Anderson, Wesley and Marilyn Tuttle, Jack Lloyd, Joe Maphis, Rose Lee Maphis and Texas Tiny (a disc jockey at KFOX who had a three hour a day show). Tex Williams and his band were to provide the musical backing for performers. Jay Stewart was to be the announcer.”

There were a number of country stars that either joined the cast for short periods or were simply guests, including Lefty Frizzell, Johnny Cash, Jim Reeves, Sons of the Pioneers, Smiley Burnette, Patsy Cline, Eddie Cochran, George Jones, Wanda Jackson, Carl Perkins and Gene Autry. The Collins Kids, Larry and Lorrie, became show regulars with their rockabilly beat and harmonies. Just two years apart, by age ten Larry was a guitar whiz, playing a double-neck Mosrite guitar like his mentor, Joe Maphis.

 

According to Country Song Round-Up in August 1954, “the 10-piece Town Hall Party band featured Joe Maphis, Merle Travis, superb steel guitarist Marian Hall, Billy Hill and Fiddlin’ Kate on violins, PeeWee Adams on drums, Jimmy Pruitt on piano, and other excellent musicians who created a Town Hall Party sound also heard on many country sessions produced by Columbia Records in Hollywood in the 1950s.”

 

In 1957 Screen Gems filmed a series of 39 half-hour shows that they syndicated and re-named the Ranch Party. The Collins Kids were given co-star billing with host Tex Ritter. In his  book Reflections, country performer Johnny Bond, who was also involved in the program, wrote that “traditional country entertainers, singing cowboys and rock singers never shared the spotlight in a more harmonious manner than on the Town Hall Party and syndicated Ranch Party shows.”

 

Columbia Records released a Town Hall Party album in 1958 that included many of the regular cast members who soon departed the show because NBC decided to discontinue the Saturday night radio broadcasts. In late December 1958, the newly opened Showboat Hotel in Las Vegas began to put on Town Hall Party shows featuring Tex Ritter, The Collins Kids, and Town Hall regulars, thus drawing them away from the Saturday night telecasts on Los Angeles station KTTV. In December 1960 they were dropped from the lineup, and the final performance at the old Compton Town Hall was on Jan. 14, 1961.

 

 

Beginning in 2002, the Germany-based Bear Family Records began to release a series of Town Hall Party DVDs that now includes 25 titles. Most feature various artists, but they’ve also brought out an artist spotlight series that includes Joe Maphis, The Collins Kids, Johnny Cash, Eddie Cochran, Merle Travis, and others. There are a few dozen clips and also complete shows available to view on YouTube, with some posted from Bear Family and others from private collectors. It was a great time period for country music in California, and it came straight outta Compton.

 

This article was originally published as an Easy Ed’s Broadside column over at No Depression: The Journal of Roots Music.

When Lemmy Kilmister Met Wanda Jackson

Lemmy and WandaThe last time I saw Lemmy Kilmister, we were sitting in a small room just off the side of the stage at Amoeba Records on Sunset Boulevard. He was holding a bottle of Jack Daniels with one hand while a too-young blonde, who was trying awfully hard to look older, sat on his lap. He was dressed as he usually dressed — black denim and a cowboy hat. Across from us on the couch was Wanda Jackson and her husband, Wendell.

I believe it was a week or two before Thanksgiving in 2003, and Jackson had just released Heart Trouble, her first album in 15 years. She was known back in the late 1950s as the Queen of Rockabilly, and had toured with — and briefly dated — Elvis Presley. Elvis encouraged her to add a rock beat to her traditional country repertoire, and for the next 10 years she scored with a number of hit singles. By 1965, Jackson had transitioned back to country music, toured all over the world, had a TV show, did the Vegas thing, and eventually began to release gospel albums. By the ’80s, she’d returned to rockabilly once again, and toured extensively in England and throughout Europe, including Scandinavia.

Heart Trouble was released on CMH Records, and it was a solid effort that featured both old and new songs. It included a number of collaborations and duets with artists like Rosie Flores, Dave Alvin, Elvis Costello, the Cramps, and Cadillac Angels.

On this particular day at Amoeba in Hollywood, I was there representing the label and Wanda was going to perform a few songs and sign some albums. The band that backed her featured Danny B. Harvey and (possibly…a scratchy memory chip here) Slim Jim Phantom — both members of Lemmy’s rockabilly band the Head Cat.

I admit I initially felt a bit protective of Wanda and Wendell, who looked and talked like they stepped out of central casting in the role of Everybody’s Grandparents. I’d first met Lemmy a dozen years earlier and knew he could be a bit rough around the edges, but he spoke softly and clearly had respect and a deep knowledge of Jackson’s work. She seemed utterly charmed and fascinated by him as well, although she admitted to never having heard of Motörhead.

It was a very gentle conversation, and during her set she got cheers and laughter from the audience when she mentioned meeting “Mr. Lemmy,” noting what a lovely young man he was. I remember looking over and seeing him laugh as well and while he was still holding onto the blonde, the bottle was nowhere in sight. Just another day in Hollywood.

Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister died on December 28, 2015, in Los Angeles at age 70.

Wanda Jackson turned 78 last October and resides in Oklahoma City with Wendell. She continues to tour.

Photo Above: Uncredited. Lemmy Kilmister, Wanda Jackson and Danny B. Harvey. Amoeba Records. 2003.

This was originally published at No Depression dot com, as an Easy Ed’s Broadside column.