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)