Just as the Louisiana Hayride played such a seminal part in the history of rock'n'roll, for bringing Elvis Presley to his first mass radio public (and hence the phenomenon of rockabilly), and for bringing the new beat-driven country music that the Grand Ole Opry refused to touch, so Mira Smith's little Ram label and her Shreveport studio should be almost as well known. But they're not. Even the other Louisiana studios, J D Miller's in Crowley, Cosimo's in New Orleans, Eddie Shuler's Goldband studio and label in Baton Rouge (may as well throw in Gold Star in Houston while we're in the Gulf) are all household names (if you live in a rockin' house!). But few know of Mira Smith's little set-up.
Ace follow up the Ram Records Story Vol 1, Shreveport Stomp, with this second volume. This time around there's a lot of excitement for rockabilly/hillbilly fans with no less than ten cuts by the legendary Lonesome Drifter. We get all four of his released sides on the K subsidiary, including an alternative take of Eager Boy, plus six cuts that first saw the light of day on a Collector LP back in 1974. You'll hear pristine sound quality straight from the master tapes on all the Thomas Johnson favourites, like Teardrop Valley, Honey Do You Think Of Me and No Loving No Rocking Blues. Listen to Johnson's high keening and primitive vocal style influenced by Bill Monroe and go straight to hillbilly heaven.
Mira Smith was also a top session guitarist in a town that spawned some of the finest in the field, including James Burton, Tillman Franks, Carl Adams and Jerry Kennedy. Most of these players appear somewhere on these selections, as does Mira herself. Perhaps Mira's own musicianship, and most of her artists' association with the Louisiana Hayride, was what attracted so many fine players to her studio. In the same way, it may be the fact of
Mira Smith being a woman that attracted so many female singers and songwriters to her label, an unusual number for the world of rockabilly and rockin' blues. The first Ram release featured Carol Williams singing You Never Mention My Name. On this volume women are very much in attendance. There's the brother and sister act, Mack and Gwen-.-two tracks by Margaret Lewis, who later teamed up with Mira to forma successful Nashville song-writing team writing for the likes of Dolly Parton, Jeanni C Riley and Johnny Adams-.-Linda Brannon, whose Just Another Lie was leased to Chess (Chess 1720) and sold very well-.-and Charlotte Hunter, whose I'll Be True was originally recorded by Faye Adams, though Bill Haley covered it too. Her Wherever You Are was written by yet another female songwriter, Laura Nell Martin.
Charlotte's sides feature Mira Smith at the piano and that prodigy, James Burton, on guitar. Other female writers here are Nolene Summit and Nadine Qualiss, writing for the Lonesome Drifter, and the aforementioned Lewis and Smith team, who wrote for Toby Johnson and a song by Margaret Lewis herself. By the way, the Lewis and Hunter sides hold their own with best of the Wandas and Janises. Margaret Lewis and Linda Brannon were both seventeen when they cut their first sides for Ram, and Brannon married Jerry Kennedy at this tender age. Her Chess hit was covered by Brenda Lee and Jackie DeShannon, among others.
For instumental fans there are two stormers. Joe Osborne's Rovin' was previously unreleased. Many people will be unfamiliar with Joe as a guitarists, as he's known for playing bass guitar for Rick Nelson. Joe started out as a Shreveport guitar-slinger before joining Bob Luman's band on electric bass. Ricky had poached James Burton and the upright bass player, James Kirkland, from Luman's group in 1957, while Nelson and Luman were both on Imperial. When Ricky decided to replace the upright with electric bass in 1961, he turned to Luman's band and poached Joe Osborne. Poor Bob! But back to Louisiana. Joe's early years as a guitartist found him playing for both Dale Hawkins and his brother, Jerry Hawkins, in their bands. He hung out with James Burton in the Ram days (rejoining him in California in the Rick Nelson group). Both Joe Osbourne and James Burton were working at Mira Smith's studio as early as 1956. The other great, and also unreleased instro is by Leon Post, who played piano on the Hayride, and also in the Dale Hawkins' band with Joe and James. The Hawkins' band had a residency at the Skyway Club in Bossier City, and by association with the fine musicians who played there and on the Hayride, Leon ended up cutting Dollie In The Dirt Boogie for Ram. The cut includes Burton on guitar.
If anybody has the various artists EP on Ram that includes Endom Spire's version of I Wonder Where You Are Tonight, please call Ace Records immediately! Your name will be kept confidential! Everyone who likes rockabilly in a Delmores-esque spirit with Travis-style guitar, can savour the cut on this CD.
Toby Johnson another guitarist friend of James Burton, had none of his Ram recordings released until this CD. The two cuts featured here are very blues influenced. Margaret Lewis threw light on this choice - she told Ray Topping that Toby and James would just swallow up the blues sides that Mira Smith spun for them at the studio. Linda Brannon was another R&B fan, who turned Charlotte Hunter onto Faye Adams' I'll Be True, Ray Topping's notes reveal Toby was another musician who worked at the Hayride.
This collection includes thirteen tracks unreleased at the time they were recorded. Seven of these are seeing release for the first time on this CD. For ALL the tracks it's the first time out in this format. All this and a thoroughly engrossing booklet with Ray Topping's informed and enlightening sleeve notes, and great illustrations.
By Brian Neville