In the 1940s and 50s, the Cincinnati recording scene was dominated by the legendary King label, whose gritty R&B and country catalogue made it a major player among post-war independents. Living in its shadow - but a world away in philosophical outlook was Harry Carlson's Fraternity label, a far smaller concern founded on a set of values as wholesome as mom's apple pie.
A man of the utmost probity (a quality which set Carlson apart from most of his competitors), the debonair 50 year old set about building an artist roster which, initially at least, reflected his own leanings towards the conservative musical values of middle-aged, middle America. Carlson soon got lucky. A couple of major hits in the MOR mould, Cathy Carr's Ivory Tower (#2 in 1956) and Jimmy Dorsey's So Rare (#2 in 1957) established Fraternity as an indie to be reckoned with.
It wasn't until late 1956 that Fraternity signed its first authentic rock'n'roller, an unknown teenager from Omaha, Nebraska named Sparkle Moore who sported velvet pantaloons, snazzy tops and peroxide blonde hair teased into a frothy concoction. She was flown to Chicago to record five sides under the direction of Dan Belloc, a local bandleader who served as Fraternity's MD. Three of these, Killer, Rock-A-Bop and the eerie Flower Of My Heart appeared on Volume 1 of All American Rock 'n' Roll - (Ace CDCHD 316). The remaining two, Tiger and Skull And Crossbones, are re-issued here for the first time.
In late 1958, future country star Bobby Bare fell in with Bill Parsons, an old friend from Coalton, Ohio who was trying to get on record. 26 year-old Parsons had just come back from army service in Germany and was working in small Ohio night-spots for $10 a night. Parsons and a 40 year old half-Irish, half-Cherokee drifter named Orville Lunsford had penned All-American Boy, a talking blues parodying Elvis' rise to fame and his subsequent call to duty. Parsons actually had greater faith in another song Rubber Dolly, a trite rocker adapted from a folk song, and set up a session at the King Records studio in Cincinnati in November 1958. Thinking him better suited to the task, Parsons asked Bare to perform the drawling first-person narrative on All-American Boy while Parsons himself delivered the vocal on Rubber Dolly. Fraternity purchased the masters but when the record came out, both sides were credited to Parsons.
Bare, meanwhile, having reported for duty, was unaware of these developments. In the event, All-American Boy caught the public's imagination and reached #2 on the Hot 100, becoming Fraternity's third mega-hit in as many years - by strange coincidence, both Ivory Tower and So Rare had also hit the #2 spot. Collectors will be delighted with the unissued first take of this classic which differs considerably from the master. Also included are a couple of previously unissued sides from later sessions by Parsons and Bare.
A country vocalist with an inherent feel for rock'n'roll, Johnny Scoggins performs with an infectious gusto on the three sides heard here (including the previously unissued High Blood Pressure), creating a joyous empathy with the band, which makes for rewarding listening. Rock'n'roll doesn't come any better than our opening cut, Talk To Me Baby.
Fiercely ambitious from an early age, Jackie DeShannon entered the record business at the dawn of the rock era. She made her first record as Sharon Myers (her real name) for Marvel, a tiny Illinois-based country label back in 1956. A couple of years later, Myers fetched up in Cincinnati, Ohio where she fell in with Rusty York, a gangling local lad who was making a name for himself in Cincinnati music circles. York's manager took her under his wing and produced Just Another Lie with Rusty York's band. This was leased to Fraternity with an instrumental Cajun Blues propping up the B-side and came out as by the Cajuns with Jacquie Shannon. Within a year, Shannon had moved to California, dyed her hair blonde and re-invented herself as Jackie DeShannon. The resourceful York later ran his own recording studio and production company across town. Among his discoveries was Glenn Mooney, who recorded the Fraternity single Go Steady With Me with the houseband at York's studio in 1962.
Bing Day was a young rock'n'roller from Chicago who was brought to the fore by his pushy mother. He had made his recording debut with Pony Tail Partner on King's Federal subsidiary in early 1958. (This can be heard on King Rockabilly - Ace CDCHD 777). However, nothing came of the record and Day began sitting in with Dan Belloc's band as a token rock'n'roll turn, a gesture towards pleasing the younger patrons who came to Belloc's shows. Rain Silver Dollars came out on Fraternity in October 1958.
Ohio-born Donnie Bowser (real name Bowshier) was confined to a wheelchair, a legacy of childhood polio affliction, but this handicap failed to dampen his ambition and by his mid-teens he was performing in local country bands alongside far older musicians. Bowser's I Love You Baby was recorded for Sage, a Los Angeles country label in late 1957 and re-issued by Fraternity in May 1958. By this time he had changed his name to Bowser because as he put it, "DJs had a hard time trying to pronounce it".
The Jive-A-Tones were among the lesser known prot?©g?©s of the Atlanta-based music publisher and record producer Bill Lowery, the mastermind behind the careers of Joe South, Jerry Reed, Tommy Roe and Ray Stevens and other 60s stars. Their wild and woolly debut disc, Flirty Gertie can be heard on Rockin' From Coast To Coast Vol 1 (Ace CDCHD 496). (The) Wild Bird, an instrumental cast from the same mould, was leased to Fraternity in late 1958. It's very similar to Casual by the Carnations, another tough instrumental released on Fraternity a year later.
In 1960, Fraternity signed Cecil McNabb, a country-rock vocalist who had cut a session for King Records back in 1958. McNabb had been in the studio once before as a backing vocalist on Fraternity's first rock hit, She's Neat by his hometown pal, Dale Wright. This reached #37 on the US charts in February 1958 and can be heard on All-American Rock'n'Roll Vol 1.
McNabb only made one record for Fraternity, Old Black Joe c/w These Tender Years, a ballad penned by Bobby Bare. McNabb was billed as Cecil Mack on the label. He also recorded what he describes as a 'prep cut' of Lovin' Up A Storm, a song popularised by Jerry Lee Lewis. It's heard here for the first time together with Old Black Joe.
In the early 60s, a trio of black girls, the Charmaines were signed to the label along with an R&B duo, Bob & Jerry, and the Canadian vocalist Max Falcon whose barnstorming Money Back Guarantee is one of this CD's highlights. However, these artists failed to restore the label's fortunes and it wasn't until 1963 that Fraternity once again tasted chart success with Lonnie Mack's instrumental classic, Memphis.
This, then, is thoroughbred American rock'n'roll from the Golden Age of the 45. Virtually every track appears on CD for the first time and there are some which have never been issued before including Knock Me Out, a pounding rocker by a vocalist whose identity we were unable to establish!
By Rob Finnis