Wednesday, November 25, 2015

T­-V SLIM AND HIS HEARTBREAKERS - To Prove My Love (Speed, 1958)

T­-V SLIM AND HIS HEARTBREAKERS - To Prove My Love (Speed, 1958)

While living in Shreveport in the mid-1950s, Oscar Wills (aka T. V. Slim), established Speed Records to release his own blues recordings.  As his nickname alludes, Wills worked as a television repairman.  He explained to music researcher Darryl Stolper in 1968: Shreveport record store owner “Stan [Lewis] suggested that as long as he was a television technician, and he was tall and slender, why not call himself T. V. Slim!”

In 1958, Wills issued a record featuring “To Prove My Love” as the b-side of “You Can’t Buy A Woman.”  Both songs listed writing credits shared between Wills and Stan Lewis.  Only a few months earlier, Wills had experienced his greatest success with the song “Flatfoot Sam.”  More on that later.

Billboard (July 23, 1958), page 50.

Blues fans have long celebrated the recordings of Wills, pieced together his biography, and cataloged his vinyl records.  Nevertheless, the early details of his profession and recording career remain somewhat obscure.  Here’s a few details that fill in some of the gaps.

A decade before his vinyl debut, Wills worked in the radio repair business.  In the summer of 1945, he opened the Oscar Wills’ Radio Shop located at 1011 Caddo Street.  At the time, he was twenty-nine years old and a veteran of the United States Army.  He placed the following advertisement in the Shreveport Sun newspaper.

Oscar Wills' Radio Shop advertisement,
Shreveport Sun (Shreveport, La.), July 7, 1945.

Additional advertisements document Wills’ work between 1945 and 1947.  Due to the poor quality of the originals, these text-heavy ads are transcribed below.
Wills and Anderson Radio Shop wish to announce their new location at 1212 Park Avenue; old location was 1101 Caddo St.  We wish to thank our many customers for their business, and their recommendations to their friends.  Because of this and our increasing business, it was necessary for us to move to a larger building.  We are now able to give you quicker service.  You can be assured that we will continue to do better work, dollar for dollar, than you can obtain elsewhere.  We have stood and will continue to stand behind our work.  All radios are checked and inspected by Oscar Wills, expert radio technician and manager before leaving the shop.  For PICK UP AND DELIVERY CALL OUR NEW PHONE NUMBER 2-4476” (Shreveport Sun, October 6, 1945).

“For full, complete radio repair services call Wills & Anderson Radio Shop, 1212 Park Ave. -- Phone 2-4476, where you can obtain the following services promptly.  Quick one day repair services or while you wait if you desire.  We do not run from our work because all our work is guaranteed.  Complete overall job that carries a 90-day guarantee.  We specialize in changing battery sets over to electric ones (one day service on this if you desire).  We do not pick out jobs.  Any radio make or model.  Bring it in.  Good second hand radios for sale.  We are expecting some new radios in soon.  DON’T BUY UNTIL YOU SEE OUR NEW MODELS.  You can place your order now and be among the first to receive a new radio.  We are army trained technicians and we know our business.  We  appreciate your business.  Oscar Wills, Manager (Shreveport Sun, February 23, 1946).

Wills & Anderson’s Radio Shop, 1212 Park Avenue, Phone 2-4476, Shreveport, La., Mr. Wills is back on the job after being away for 10 months doing repair, engineer and experimental work, to give you one week’s free service.  This means all radios brought in the shop before the 26th of April you only pay for the part used in repairing your set.  No charge for repairs.  This means also that you can get your radios completely overhauled with a 90-day guarantee for what a normal repair job would have cost you” (Shreveport Sun, April 19, 1947).
Shreveport city directories continue to list Wills employed at the Wills & Anderson Radio Shop through the 1948-1949 volume.  Then, the trail goes cold.  He next appears in the 1957 and 1958 editions of the Shreveport city directory.  At the time, he worked for the Square Deal Radio & TV Service.  Clarence Lane owned this business located at 4431 ½  Broadway Avenue.  The 1957 edition of the Shreveport city directory also includes the first reference to Clara N. Wills, the wife of Oscar Wills.

It seems 1957 was a good year for T. V. Slim.  At this point, he had already issued a couple releases on his Speed record label.  Then in February 1957, Duke Records released Little Junior Parker singing a song written by Wills -- "My Dolly Bee."  It appeared as the b-side to Parker's hit song "Next Time You See Me."  One advertisement proclaimed, “3,000 ordered first two days."

Billboard (February 2, 1957), page 57.

By the summer of 1957, T. V. Slim's most successful song was released.  Written by his wife Clara, "Flatfoot Sam" debuted on the short-lived Shreveport record label, Clif.  Billboard music magazine was not impressed.  "Rated 65 or less," stated the review with no further details.

Billboard (July 7, 1957), page 64.

Less than two months later, though, record label owner Leonard Chess in Chicago licensed and released "Flatfoot Sam" twice.  One release of "Flatfoot Sam" (Checker 870) is an exact repressing of the original recording on Clif.  This time, Billboard  rated the song higher -- 77 -- and decided to actually write a review for the "gutbucket material with amusing lyrics."
Billboard (August 26, 1957), page 102.

Leonard Chess's second release of "Flatfoot Sam" (Argo 5277) involved re-recording the song with a fuller sound.   It featured Oscar Wills singing alongside Paul Gayten’s orchestra from New Orleans.  The review for this record appeared on the same page as the Billboard review of Checker 870.  However, this updated recording received a lower rating -- 75.  Another twist to the Argo version of "Flatfoot Sam" relates to the song's composer credit, which had previously listed Clara Wills.  One Argo pressing lists Clara as the songwriter of a misspelled “Flat Footsam.”  Another pressing lists the songwriters as “Oscar Wills and Stan Lewis.”  For those interested in the extended life of the song, numerous cover versions exist.  Shreveport rockabilly singer/guitarist Tommy Blake recorded a rendition as "Flat Foot Sam" (Sun Records 278, released 1957).

Billboard (August 26, 1957), page 102.

Billboard (August 26, 1957), page 98.

By 1959, Oscar Wills had moved to Los Angeles, California.  He continued recording music, releasing records, and fixing televisions until his untimely death in 1969.  For further reading on Wills:
T. V. Slim promotional photograph (undated)

Friday, September 18, 2015

"Stan's the Record Man" commercials (1971-1973)

"Stan's the Record Man" reel-to-reel tape box (1972)

In 1973, music historian Mike Leadbetter wrote, “‘Locally owned and nationally known,’ wails the radio commercial for Stan’s Record Shops and if you’re anywhere in the South you’re bound to agree: Stan Lewis is the record man down there, with several record labels, retail outlets and a distribution set-up that links Shreveport, Louisiana (his home) with Memphis and New Orleans” (“Serving the South,” Blues Unlimited, December 1973/January 1974).

Lewis used multiple radio commercials to advertise his record stores. These six jingles from the early 1970s share a great deal in common – similar (or identical) music and lyrics. The main difference is the singer. Be sure not to miss Shreveport soul singers Eddie Giles and Reuben Bell on the two commercials designated “rhythm and blues.”

The Stan Lewis festival takes place in Shreveport on September 26, 2015. For more information, visit the Shreveport Regional Arts Council.

Stan Lewis business card (1974)

Friday, June 5, 2015

Hank Williams: Photographs from the Gutter, circa 1948-1952

Hank Williams, circa 1948-1952

One night around 2003, Hank Williams was lying in the gutter on Boulevard Street in Shreveport.  Well, it was more like hundreds of discarded photographs were lying in the gutter.  We scooped up all of them…businessmen, historic homes, and plenty of weird-looking babies.  Hank Williams was in there somewhere.  Four times, in fact.  It appears that three of those photographs remain unpublished.  Enjoy.

If you want to hear live recordings from Hank Williams' time living in Shreveport, check out:
  • Hank Williams ‎- Shreveport Sessions, August 1948- May 1949 2xLP (Doxy, 2010)
  • Hank Williams - The Complete Hank Williams 10xCD (Mercury, 1998)
  • various - Louisiana Hayride: Classic Country Radio, Volume 1 CD (Music Mill, 2000)

Thanks to the three editors of The Hank Williams Reader (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014) for inspiring the hunt to dig these photographs out of storage.  Great work, Patrick Huber, Steve Goodson, and David Anderson!

P. S. Thanks to Johnny Wessler for helping identify the other people in these photos.

left to right:
Hank Williams, Billie Jean Jones Eshliman Williams,
Clyde Perdue (Williams' manager), Jean Jones, and Al Jones

 at the Alamo (San Antonio, Texas), September 1952

left to right: Anita Carter, Grady Martin, Marjorie ?, and Hank Williams
at the Stork Club (New York City), March 1952

Saturday, April 18, 2015

BLUES KINGS - Half Baked (K-Dee, circa 1965)

BLUES KINGS - Half Baked (K-Dee, circa 1965)

Time to highlight another record that seems to have slipped through the cracks.  Clocking in at 99 seconds, the Blues Kings' instrumental "Half-Baked" brings to mind the mid-1960s sounds that jarred ears on the Bossier Strip.*  The record's label indicates the involvement of Dale Hawkins, whose performances on the Strip in the late 1950s are well-documented in Shreveport newspapers.  As for arranger Maurice Varnado, according to his obituary, he worked as a school teacher in Bossier City and passed away April 13, 2015.  But who were the Blues Kings?  We could use your help solving this mystery.

K-Dee 1000 (circa 1965)
Produced by Dale Hawkins, Arranged by Maurice Varnado
711-1 Blues Stay Away From Me (Glover - Rainey - Delmore - R. Delmore) Lois Publishing Company
711-2 Half-Baked (Dale Hawkins) Bossier Music Co.

*Travelers headed east from Shreveport's downtown meet the Long-Allen bridge, which takes them over the Red River.  On the other side sits Bossier City.  In 1963, author Erskine Caldwell wrote, "After dark, when the rainbow-colored, plastic-encased, rocket-shaped neon lights burst into all their crazy-crystal glory, Bossier City is a dazzling three-mile strip of booze, girls, and ear-jarring nightlife" ("Bossier City, La., Quakes And Quivers At Nightfall," Toledo Blade [Toledo, OH], December 29, 1963, p. G-3).

Monday, March 9, 2015

DOROTHY WHITEHEAD - Rain, Rain, Rain (HySign, 1973)

DOROTHY WHITEHEAD - Rain, Rain, Rain (HySign, 1973)

Dear readers, you have helped solve a few Shreveport music mysteries over the years. Time for a new one. Who was Dorothy Whitehead?

Gospel shouter Dorothy Whitehead’s songs “Rain, Rain, Rain” and “Jesus, Just Jesus” appear on a 45 released on HySign Records in 1973. Regular readers will recognize this label as one run by Harding Guyon Demarais (aka Dee Marais). In “Rain, Rain, Rain” Whitehead tells the biblical story of Noah including references to ancient “creepin’ things” plus modern-day dope smokers and wine drinkers. It’s powerful stuff.

HySign 711 (1973)
La Dee Music BMI
711-X Rain, Rain, Rain (D. Whitehead)
711-Y Jesus, Just Jesus (D. Whitehead)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

January 13, 2015: Romp and Stomp’s annual all-Shreveport radio show

The tenth annual all-Shreveport radio show on Romp and Stomp is scheduled for Tuesday, January 13, 2015, from 5:00 to 6:00 pm. Tune in to KSCL 91.3 FM or listen live online at You’ll hear songs by Shreveporters, songs about Shreveport, songs recorded in Shreveport, and songs released on Shreveport record labels.

Featured musicians include: the Douglas Williams Four, Hot Rod Happy, Norman Nettles, Pete Hardin, Merle Kilgore, Blues Kings, Wolfman Jack and the Boogie Kings, Johnny Bullock & the Jamboree Showboys, Gay Poppa, Dorothy Whitehead, UPC Trio, and more.

KSCL 91.3 FM | Shreveport, Louisiana
Romp and Stomp | Tuesdays, 5:00 - 6:00 pm
listen live online: