Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A Starr is Born!

That 'Harlen County' cut below yonder has put me in a ole' hickory mood as of late, and what better reason to cut a corner piece of this-here Rockabilly classic!

The essence of rockabilly is so indicative of it's region, era and cultural factors, that it seems almost pointless to try and duplicate it's sneer and cock-sure posturing, not that plenty haven't tried. Seeing as how I never could get galvanized over a pale imitation when the genuine article is always ever just a spin away, marvel with me as Mr. Starr, a man who lived every cliche associated with being an Arkansas rube, beats the 'King' (God rest his soul) to the punch w/ this 1956 cut.

Born Franklin Delano Gulledge near Combs, Arkansas, in 1932, he grew up in dire poverty, and was never far from the edge of delinquency, going over the edge, according to scholar Wayne Russell, when he pulled a pistol on a teacher -- by 14, in 1947, he had left school and was riding the rails and living life as a hobo. According to those who knew him, Starr had one talent in those days beyond a knack for survival, and that was playing guitar, something he'd picked up in his abbreviated time at home and never forgotten. He was 17 when the Korean War exploded and he signed up; luckily for him, someone noticed his musical ability and he was assigned to special services rather than to a combat unit, where his fate might have been very different. He formed the Arkansas Plowboys from the ranks of fellow southerners and survived his two years in South Asia, coming out a little bit straighter in life than he'd gone in -- he still drank, sometimes to excess, but he tried regular work in a factory in Kansas before moving to California. There, he and his brothers Bob and Clark formed a new group, also christened the Arkansas Plowboys. Billing himself as Frank Starr, he played lead guitar in the band and soon so outstripped his siblings in skill and seriousness that he left them behind, musically and literally. He packed up for Texas, and in the early 1950's was scratching out a living around Denison for two dollars a night, working some of the worst roadhouses and shanty-town clubs in the state, catering to military personnel and anyone else brave enough to enter -- by some accounts, nights without barfights and flying beer bottles and chairs were rarer than those with. But he hung on and built a reputation for doing an exciting show and generating a hot rockabilly sound, and in 1955 he parlayed a spot on local radio into an audition for Joe M. Leonard Jr., of Lin and Kliff Records. Leonard was impressed enough to cut four sides with Starr, two of which, "Dig Them Squeaky Shoes" and "The Dirty Bird Song (You Can't Hardly Get Them No More)", become his debut single. Although neither his first nor his second singles were hits, Starr managed to get work on the same bills with the likes of Porter Wagoner and Grandpa Jones. He also occasionally wrote songs, including "Rockin' Reelin' Country Style." Then, in 1956, he was forced to change his name -- he and Leonard got word of a performer using the name Frank Starr working out of California, which led to the Arkansas-born singer changing his name to Andy Starr. Joe M. Leonard Jr. was unfazed by the momentary pause, and was prepared to continue recording his most promising rock & roll act. He got Andy Starr placed with MGM Records, which opened his national recording career with the best record of his whole life, "Rockin' Rollin' Stone", co-written by Starr, who also played lead guitar on top of singing -- in the former department, he was no Cliff Gallup, but he had a distinctive style and a very raw, visceral sound. The B-side was the almost equally fine "I Wanna Go South."

Rockin' Rollin' Stone - Andy Starr

I Wanna Go South - Andy Starr

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