When Syd Nathan started King Records in 1943 with a couple of poorly-recorded, badly-pressed 78s by ‘the Sheppard Brothers’ and ‘Bob McCarthy’, he could barely have imagined that his small-time operation would grow into one of the most important independent recording concerns, nor that those aliases hid future Hall Of Famers Louis Marshall “Grandpa” Jones and guitar giant Merle Travis (who masqueraded solo as ‘McCarthy’). This cross-section of Grandpa’s best early King recordings – many of which also feature his Kentucky homeboy Merle – form STEPPIN’ OUT KIND, the latest in our series of CDs mastered directly from transfers of the original King acetates.
A number of Grandpa’s early glass-based acetates were either too cracked to copy, completely broken, or simply lost. Heroic work by the Sound Mastering team has restored of many items that would have been worthless even five years ago. Thanks to them, I was able to make a repertoire selection that spans virtually the whole of the ‘acetate era’ that fully demonstrates the diversity of Grandpa’s work on King.
For most people, the highlights of this set will be those tracks where Grandpa is accompanied by Merle Travis and all that have survived are included here. Although Grandpa is not generally regarded as one of rockabilly’s founding fathers tracks such as It’s Raining Here This Morning and You’ll Make Our Shack A Mansion are among the best early examples of what would soon grow from hillbilly bop into full-on rockabilly. Merle Travis was not playing much guitar on his own Capitol hits of this period, so he used these sessions as a means of displaying his prowess. He also features on Eight More Miles To Louisville – the first and best version of a song that Grandpa recorded over and over throughout his career. Old Rattler does not feature Travis but this best-seller is one of the first recordings Grandpa made that featuring his ‘frailing’ technique on the banjo.
Merle Travis was not the only great guitarist to work with Grandpa. You’ll also hear the early lead work of future Nashville session legends Billy Grammer, Hank “Sugarfoot” Garland and a man whose own King Recordings are justifiably collected and celebrated by any fan of hillbilly boogie and bop, the great Zeb Turner. I was also delighted to be able to include a selection of vocal duets. Grandpa was teamed with Cowboy Copas no less than three times, probably most successfully on their cover of Hank Williams’ Move It On Over. Grandpa also recorded two terrific duets with the Delmore Brothers. I’m especially pleased to include both, as the acetates for this session were thought lost when I was putting together the Delmore Brothers’ “Fifty Miles To Travel” CD last year.
This is Grandpa Jones’ first ever UK CD release, and the first release of his King material that sounds as it did on the day it was recorded. Grandpa was all of around 30-35 years old when he made these recordings, and full of the vim and vigour that was to help him sustain a career that lasted almost until the day he died, by now a ‘real’ Grandpa – at the age of 85, in 1998. The real star of everything on this CD is the larger-than-life personality of Grandpa himself.
For any fan of everything from proto-rockabilly to early bluegrass or just plain ol’ happy hillbilly music, “Steppin’ Out Kind” will be a real must.
By Tony Rounce