Sunday, September 4, 2011

JOHNNY HARRIS – Ripsaw (Wanted, 1962)




Johnny ‘Ray’ Harris was born in Louisiana January 9, 1932. By 1960 he found himself a Shreveport fireman looking to crack the music business on his own. In February of that year he released “Tired of Crawling, Gonna Start to Run” b/w “When a New Love is Born, Does an Old Love Die” on his own Ray records via Starday records custom pressing “PD” series. On the night of July 30, 1960 he found himself performing on the famed Louisiana Hayride stage no doubt supporting his newly released “Dog Gone” b/w “Cajun Weekend” (Ray 601, 1960). This performance can be heard in the YouTube clip below.



Johnny’s third and final release on his own Ray label “No More Hurtin’” b/w “In Memory of Johnny Horton” (Ray 602, 1960) paid homage to one of the Hayride’s greatest stars, Johnny Horton, who had just passed away in a horrible car accident in November of 1960 while returning to Shreveport after a show in Austin, TX.

A few other unissued recordings from this period are gathered on the White Label LP “Rockin’ in Louisiana, vol. 2”. These sides show the incredible raw musicianship of players in the area and the varied influences they all draw upon. The sound is a blend of rural Cajun South Louisiana, sophisticated New Orleans, East Texas & Delta Blues combined with the raw yelp of Hillbilly Country & Western all up against the face of a burgeoning Rock n Roll scene.

Which brings us to "Ripsaw" b/w "Cajun Blues" (Wanted, 711) as twisted a piece of swampy-blues-rockabilly to ever step out of the region. The haunting harmonica and off kilter singing weren’t going to land it on the Billboard Hot 100, but something special was captured on this little piece of wax nonetheless. It’s some sort of twisted Davy Crockett tale through the lens of the swamp.

Everything here sounds a little later than 1960, and some clues pop out upon inspection of the label. The name Marais and La Dee Music point to Dee Marais, a local record man who recorded talent at local studios and sometimes in the back of his Bayou Records shop. Dee ran several great Shreveport labels including Murco, Hy-Sign and Peermont, which I’m sure we’ll dig into on this blog soon enough.

As for Johnny ‘Ray’ Harris, not much else is known. He died March 19, 1983 in Shreveport. A fireman and a singer, we have his self-released Ray records and the odd backwoods greatness of RIPSAW to remember him by.

Johnny Ray Harris & Dorothy Mae Raines Harris

P.S. - After seeing this post my buddy Chris Brown dug up this fantastic item - the original lead sheet for RIPSAW!


15 comments:

  1. Austin, great post! Look what I just found on my computer. Must have scanned it in years ago when hanging out with Dee Marais. Feel free to grab the image and stick in the body of your post.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/hotdonuts/6118261982/

    ReplyDelete
  2. Amazing! Thanks for the link. I knew you would dig up something really great that I didn't know about Johnny Harris if I just got you thinking in that direction. That YouTube clip was a revelation to me when I found it. I really can't wait until we start digging into Dee Marais' contributions to the Shreveport music scene. Because I know you have a lot of great stuff!. Loved your Chico Chism post.

    ReplyDelete
  3. “Tired of Crawling, Gonna Start to Run” = great record!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Johnny Ray Harris was my Husband's Grandfather.

    ReplyDelete
  5. GWalk, thanks for the comment. Can you help us shed any additional light on Harris?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. GWalk, I wondered if you or your husband had any special memories or stories about Harris to share. Do you?

      Delete
    2. Chris,
      My Husband, Johnny Ray's grandson, was put up for adoption. JR's wife had died in a car wreck and his daughter was only 16. His daughter Beverly, my Husband's mother, passed away in 1973. We just found his biological family 2 years ago. We have a bunch of pics but can not find any of his records. Wish we had some.
      Geri

      Delete
    3. If you know where any more information, pics, or records of his can be found please let me know!!

      Delete
    4. Feel free to e-mail me. G_walk_lucky@yahoo.com

      Delete
  6. My Dad's youngest brother was my uncle Johnny Ray Harris. For a while after some local fame from making the records and appearing on the Louisiana Hayride, my uncle formed a band, Johnny Ray Harris and his Hawaiian Band. All of the members were dressed in Polynesian dress and my uncle would have a lei around his neck. I can remember the photo of the band. He owned a supper club in Dallas TX where the band would perform. That ended shortly after his kitchen staff robbed him blind. For a while he owned a bar in downtown Shreveport that had a Silver Dollar bar. I remember he told me he could by the club but the bank owned the bar.My uncle always had a smile on his face and was full of life. After bringing so much joy to our family and others, it is heart breaking to know how his life ended in so much suffering due to a bad back and cancer. My sister actually found a couple of his records online and bought them for my Dad. I would love to have copies of any of the songs mentioned here I cannot find online. Thanks for the tribute to one of my favorite people in the world. Everett Harris

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Everett Harris, many thanks for sharing your memories! As for locating additional recordings by Johnny Ray Harris, I'd recommend the following website as a starting place -- http://rcs-discography.com/rcs/artist.php?key=harr4600

      Delete
  7. I was a fan of Johnny Ray Harris in the 1970s. He was playing at the bar in the Ramada Hotel on Highway 80 in east Shreveport. I went there many, many times. He had a following of many Shreveport musicians. Faron Young made a visit one night and sang some songs. I remember several of Johnny's original songs like "Cutting Cane in Angola" and "Sunshine Glen". My wife and I spent many, many hours of enjoyment. I even took a reel-to-reel tape recorded one night and recorded an entire performance. Unfortunately, that tape was lost in a move. Hear some of these songs refreshed many memories.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glenn, thanks for sharing your memories of Johnny Ray Harris!

      Delete