The Bihari Brothers (Joe, Saul and Jules) who founded the Modern group of labels, were arguably the smartest of the young businessmen who got into the independent record business in the late 40s, if only because they never got their motives confused or allowed pride or sentiment to cloud their judgement, the simple mono recording processes of the day being a means to an end, not a conduit for creating great art. If one of their new labels failed to deliver, it was immediately wound down or, if a new line in music was proving unprofitable or difficult to sell (as was the case with the Biharis' brief flirtation with "hillbilly"), it was simply abandoned in favour of the tried and tested - usually rhythm and blues. And this is the area of music where they really came into their own, rapidly creating one of the great inventories of post-war blues and R&B recordings.
The rock'n'roll explosion of 1956 brought the company its first pop hits as R&B records such as Stranded In The Jungle by the Cadets, Eddie My Love by the Teen Queens and Girl In My Dreams by the Cliques crossed over into the pop field. Despite these successes and the prospect of further hits as rock'n'roll swept the nation, the Biharis took the view that the expenditure and effort involved in marketing rock'n'roll wasn't justified by the return in an increasingly competitive market. Therefore, in December 1957, they decided to wind down RPM and Modern and focus on their profitable Crown budget album line which was manufactured in-house at the Modern plant on North Robertson.
However, in March 1958 the Biharis launched a new singles label, Kent (randomly named after the cigarette brand), essentially as a vehicle for
B B King whose popularity among black record buyers virtually guaranteed substantial sales with every release. Scattered among the early Kent releases were several rock'n'roll discs by Danny Flores, Lee Denson aka Jesse James, Don Cole and the Barker Brothers, the best of which form part of this set along with rockabilly sides recorded for RPM by Pat Cupp and storming black rockers by Big Duke, Van Robinson, Clarence Garlow and others.
Joe Bihari stumbled across Pat Cupp and his band, the Flying Saucers in Louisiana in early 1956 when the record industry was being rocked on its heels by Elvis. Though lacking in physical stature, Cupp was an accomplished rockabilly vocalist whose handful of recordings for RPM are rightly regarded as being among the best of their kind.
The legendary Lee Hazlewood began his long and varied career producing rockabilly records for small labels in the mid-50s. In 1957 he persuaded the Biharis that there were dozens of would-be Elvises out in the sticks waiting to be discovered and delivered the goods in the form of two successive singles by Phoenix-born rocker Don Cole. Around the same time he recorded Hey Little Mama by the Barker Brothers (a mean-assed version of the Everlys) for Kent. Two unissued sides from the same session are heard here for the first time. Soon after making these recordings, Hazlewood hit a winning streak with twangmeister Duane Eddy and ended his association with the Biharis.
In yet another bid to mine the rockabilly lodestone, Modern purchased Sammy Masters' Pink Cadillac c/w Some Like It Hot from a fellow independent, 4 Star Records of Pasadena. Modern brought in a session drummer to overdub a pronounced snare drum beat onto the original masters prior to releasing them as by 'Johnny Todd'. True to our ethic, we have chosen to re-issue the original (undubbed) 4 Star versions, directly from the master tapes, for the first time since 1956.
During the 80s, a 45rpm re-issue of Clarence Garlow's Crawfishin c/w Some Like It Hot on the specialist Detour label, became a dance floor hit on the European rock'n'roll circuit. First issued in 1953 on the Biharis' Flair label, both sides displayed a passion and momentum that was effectively rock'n'roll in all but name and their inclusion is to be greatly welcomed.
Jesse Lee Denson and his brother, Jimmy, probably never recovered from the near-transcendental experience of spending their adolescence as the next door neighbours of a fey, inarticulate youth whose future prospects seemed limited until he emerged from some mystical divide as Elvis Presley.
Denson's folks were residing at Lauderdale Courts (a housing project) when the Presleys moved next door in 1947. Jesse's father ran the nearby Poplar Street Mission where the impoverished Presleys obtained most of their household possessions. "Gladys Presley and Elvis worshipped the ground Jesse Lee and I walked on", insists Jimmy Denson, "and our mother was Gladys and Elvis' and Grandma Minnie's best friend and advisor and caretaker, seven nights a week at the Poplar Street Mission which was a Pentecostal Church". Over the next two or three years, Jesse gave Elvis (his junior by some two and a half years) informal guitar tuition, and bestowed upon him fringe membership of the crowd he ran with which included Jimmy, and the Burnette brothers, none of whom thought Elvis had much on the ball, musically, if any of them noticed him at all.
Six years later when Elvis was poised on the brink of global stardom Denson could scarcely believe it. He and the Burnettes headed straight for New York and embarked on a frantic round of self-promotion. The Burnettes broke through on a modest scale but Denson made slower progress. While in LA in 1957, he cut a record for the Vik label on which his friend Eddie Cochran played lead guitar. Returning to Memphis Denson cut a handful of raw acoustic demos including a (previously unissued) barnstorming rockabilly try-out of South's Gonna Rise Again before returning to California and signing for Kent for whom he recorded the rousing High School Hop. Later in the year he followed through with his classic double-sided Red Hot Rockin' Blues / South's Gonna Rise Again as Jesse James. All these, together with the unissued demos, are heard here.
The vast majority of tracks on Long Gone Daddies have never appeared on CD before and some such as Van Robinson's infectious pounder, Basis Of Rock'n'Roll - an out-take from the obscure vocalist's only session for RPM in 1957 - have only recently come to light. In essence, Long Gone Daddies represents virtually the sum total of the Biharis' short-lived flirtation with rock'n'roll and rockabilly and, as such, it's an essential acquisition.
By Rob Finnis