Track 1 – Number 9 Train Track 2 – Wildcat Tamer
Alden Bunn, aka Allen Bunn, Tarheel Slim, was born in the country side outside of Rocky Mount, North Carolina in 1924, and grew up working in the tobacco fields and listening to his mom’s Blind Boy Fuller 78’s. Eventually he learned to play guitar, and by around 20, was singing and playing in church right by Thurman Ruth, the leader of a local gospel quartet called the Selah Jubilee Singers. But before we ride on the Number 9 Train, there was quite a journey that “Slim” lead, with other groups and ventures, that we should know about.
THE JUBILATORS – THE LARKS
The story of The Larks begins sometime around 1927, when singer Thermon Ruth founded the Selah Jubilee Singers in Brooklyn, New York. Later in the 40’s, The Selah’s based themselves in North Carolina where they had a radio show…a daily program of jubilee music that aired over WPTF in Raleigh. In 1945, Ruth tried to persuade Eugene Mumford (from The Four Interns) to join the Selah Jubilee Singers, but before he could do so, Mumford was falsely charged and convicted with quite an ugly crime (1*). His incarceration would put his life on an unpleasant hold.
Allen Bunn who had joined The Southern Harmonaires in 1945, soon joined Thermon Ruth in the Selah Jubilee Singers as the group’s guitarist and second lead singer. The group recorded for Decca from 1939 to ’44, with their most well remembered recording I Want Jesus To Walk Around. Three years later, Ruth and Bunn decided to break away to form a new group, The Jubilators. They linked up with Mumford, now released from prison, and with three members of The Southern Harmonaires, David McNeil, Hadie Rowe Jr., and Raymond “Pee Wee” Barnes.
Thermon hired two teachers to get them into shape according to his standards, and for a few months they were taught how to sing together and also got a few lessons on stage presence. The Jubilators then competed against other gospel and jubilee groups in the state, even winning a 50 pound cake in a contest with the Selah Jubilee Singers!
Finally, the Jubilators decided it was time to get on record. So all six of them piled into Bunn’s car and drove up to New York. They stayed with some of Ruth’s relatives on 143rd Street in Harlem and for about a week they rehearsed constantly. Then, on October 5, 1950, they were ready, and they set out for what was possibly the most amazing day of recording in history. In one single day, they recorded 17 songs for four different labels, under four different names (2*). Apollo owner Bess Berman recognised the realm of possibilities, and signed them to a contract which allowed the other companies to release the other recordings, but wanted to promote them as an expansive R&B group rather than a gospel group. So the Jubilators faded into history (at least for several years), and “The Five Larks” emerged (even though there were still six of them). Thermon Ruth deliberately selected the name to fit in with the Ravens and Orioles, as a “bird group.”
The Larks were then booked on their first tour, and drove down to Washington, D.C., when they lost Hadie Rowe to the army (after receiving his draft notice, he was no longer able to continue on with the group…this probably is the reason why the “5” was dropped from the group’s name). In December 1950, they had their first session for Apollo, featuring Mumford on lead vocals. The session produced two masters, Coffee, Cigarettes And Tears and a cover of My Heart Cries For You (3*), but in the end, the recording didn’t even hint at the greatness inherent in the group. But on January 18, 1951, they returned to the studios to cut a couple of new tracks, which would prove far more successful and are really now Larks “classics”. With Gene on the lead once again, they laid down It’s Breaking My Heart (a pretty ballad that Apollo chose never to issue), When I Leave These Prison Walls, and Hopefully Yours. The latter two songs had been written by Gene when he was in jail and show a certain hope for the future.
On February 14, 1951, they got national exposure by singing Lucy Brown on the Perry Como TV show, a Norfolk Jazz Quartet original, which was recorded in 1938 and known as Suntan Baby Brown. Their take is a much more upbeat snappier version, and it’s dynamite! While Thermon would sing lead on the recorded version, it’s Gene out in front on the Como show. Please I beg you, look it up on you tube…Allen Bunn plays the guitar, but rarely opens his mouth to sing. If you’re into 78’s, try and get Lucy Brown as it has the great I Ain’t Fattening Frogs For Snakes on the flip.
Finally chart success would come later in 1951, with the bluesy Eyesight To The Blind, with Bunn on lead vocals and guitar… it made # 5 on the R&B charts. This was followed up by another R&B top ten hit Little Side Car, a reworking of Smokey Hogg’s Too Many Drivers, and again with Bunn on lead vocals. This is one sweet 45 and has the drifting Hey, Little Girl on the flip.
Another standout track that has to be mentioned is Shadrack written by Robert MacGimsey in 1938. While Louis Prima, Louis Armstrong and even The Wanderers all do amazing versions of this biblical classic, The Lark’s jiving version is so super! Again live footage out there with Allen Bunn singing lead! This period was the height of The Larks’ popularity, however, Bunn decided this was also the right time to go out own his own.
Going Solo – His first solo sessions were for Apollo in ’51 where he recorded two sessions that produced four singles, and were issued under the name Allen Bunn (accompanied by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee). Amongst the recordings were The Guy With The .45, Wine, Discouraged, Baby I´m Going to Throw You Out and the very down and dirty Two Time Loser. He was still touring with The Larks when he cut his first session for Bobby Robinson Red Robin label. One of these tracks is the amazing Too Much Competition (reissued in ’73), which stands mighty and tall, and you could call it the big brother to Betty James’ I’m a Little Mixed Up (it really makes me wonder sometimes, if that is in fact Bunn on that killer Betty James track).
The Lovers – Around 1955, Bunn married his sweetheart Lee Sanford, who were intertwined with deep love and affection for one another, but they also shared a strong musical chemistry. “Little Ann” and Bunn sang and recorded together, first as The Lovers, for Lamp, Aladdin’s subsidiary in 1957. Together the tight partnership would go on to release a string of 45’s for other labels including Fire, Fury and Port. They’d also have name variations on some releases, and while Bunn was now pretty much going by the name “Tarheel Slim”, his writing credits were mainly represented as Bunn. The earlier Lovers tracks were slow dancers and appropriately very cutesy love songs. Once they ditched the “Lovers” tag, I feel it was then, that they got a bit more “down with it” so to speak. Can’t Stay Away and the charming dancer Security, proved they both could let their hair down some and get a bit shakey. The heart wrenching 1959 It’s Too Late, is a stunning blues ballad with a broken hearted poor little Ann weeping hysterically… literally (this song would get a reworking as Two Time Loser a few years later, only this time it’s Slim who breaks down). I Submit To You is also high on recommendation.
Bunn also released a couple of 45’s with a group called The Wheels whom he evidently managed. Let’s Have A Ball was on Premium in 1956 and the upbeat Clap Your Hands was released on Folly in 1959.
Tarheel Slim – So now to the real reason why we’re here reading all this. While “Slim” made his official entrance in 1958 with his wife Little Ann, it was the next year when he would release his solo and most desired red hot screamin’ 45 on Fury. The A side Wildcat Tamer is a perfect rhythm and blues dancer. Nice and raw and perfectly tempo-ed. But despite the track name, it’s more of a tempting entree of what’s to come steaming your way when you journey to the flipside. And the monster that awaits is named Number 9 Train. Tarheel’s vocals and rhythm here is sharp and classic blues rocker material. But there’s another element going on here underneath, that’s adding even more to the fire, and the name of that wild spark is Wild Jimmy Spruill. Although session guitarist Spruill is best known as a sideman (4*), he was a wild and sought after guitar player. His sound was unconventional, notable for its hard attack and sense of freedom, unexpectedly going from assertive lead parts to rhythmically dynamic, scratching rhythms. At no time did Spruill use picks or any effects on his guitar – his sound was solely the result of his fingers. You can hear more of his impeccable finger work on his solo recordings, notably Hard Grind from ’59, The Rooster and Cut and Dried from ’64 and I believe he also played on Tarheel Slim’s Security. Together these two cats mix up a storm, and make both sides of this 45 hard to pass. Train really does come to life when it’s up loud on a worthy amplifier…and preferably with a dance floor close by!
Unfortunately Taheel Slim and Little Ann’s career seemed to fade away around the early 60’s and nothing was heard from them until the early 70’s when blues researcher Peter Lowery dug up Tarheel Slim to play a few gigs where he performed with an acoustic guitar in the style of “folk blues”. Slim played a few festivals in 1974 and was well received, and even got back into the studio and would release a couple albums for Pete Lowry’s Trix label, which harked back to Bunn’s Carolina blues heritage. The 1972 single release No Time At All is a beautiful melon collie finger picking instrumental which I believe was his last 45. These later sessions would prove his last. In 1977 he was diagnosed with throat cancer and died from pneumonia brought on by the chemotherapy.
(1*) On July 1945, Mumford had been arrested and jailed by the army Military Police who were rousting people looking for marijuana. They turned him over to civilian authorities, whom he satisfied of his innocence. But just as he was leaving police headquarters, a white woman pointed him out as a recogniseable criminal. Subsequently re-arrested, he was charged with attempted rape, housebreaking, and assault. The case took a year to come to trial and, in spite of an alibi, he was found guilty, a conviction that was upheld in the subsequent appeal. Sent to prison, Mumford spent two and a half years on a prison work gang. Finally, enough evidence came to light that he was granted a full pardon from the governor of North Carolina. (This was treated as a miracle; a black man in the 1940s South being pardoned after having been accused by a white woman.) On June 1949, after having served 29 months in jail, Gene Mumford was a free man. For a more detailed account of his sentence, click onto Marv Goldberg’s in-depth Larks entry below.
(2*) Initially, billing themselves as the Selah Jubilee Singers, they recorded four gospel songs for Jubilee Records, before moving on to record as The Jubilators for Regal Records in New Jersey. Then they drove to Newark, recording four secular blues songs, including Lemon Squeezer, as The 4 Barons for Savoy Records. Finally, they drove back to Apollo Records in Manhattan, where, as The Southern Harmonaires, they recorded four more gospel tracks. For a more detailed account of this day, click onto Marv Goldberg’s in-depth Larks entry below.
(3*) My Heart Cries For You was a hit for Guy Mitchell, Dinah Shore and Vic Damone.
(4*) Other notable Wild Jimmy Spruill moments are The Happy Organ by Dave “Baby” Cortez, Wilbert Harrison’s Kansas City, and Bobby Lewis’s no.1 hit Tossin’ and Turnin, which by the way, Peter Criss from KISS covered on his solo album! Also check out Dale Hawkins version of Number 9 Train!
Referencing and recommendations…
The Larks photo from top left clockwise…Allen Bunn, Gene Mumford, Raymond Barnes, Thermon Ruth and David McNeil
Caprice 120 US Year 1963
Born Alonzo W. Lucas, 16 August 1914, Pritchard, Alabama, Buddy moved to Stamford, Connecticut, at the age of three. In years to come, a good neighbour noticed the young 11 year old’s interest in music and gave him a clarinet. This kind act must have been the true begins of where it all really started for Buddy! In the late 1940s he went to New York City, where he met drummer Herman Bradley, who helped him get his gigs and record dates.
But it wasn’t until ’51, when Lucas would make his first vocal recording on Soppin’ Molasses, for Jerry Blaine’s Jubilee label. Jubilee specialized in rhythm and blues and was the first independent record label to reach the white market with a black vocal group, when The Orioles recording of Crying in the Chapel reached the Top Twenty on the Pop charts in 1953. Lucas became leader of the house band and renamed his combo “The Band Of Tomorrow”. Scoring a #2 hit on the R&B charts in 1952 with the slow revived Diane, may have given the saxophonist some attention, but the flip Undecided is far more foot tapping and exciting! This set the pattern for most of his following Jubilee singles : a lush ballad on the A-side and an R&B sax led instrumental on the flip.
Lucas had one other hit on Jubilee, Heavenly Father (I Love You is the much preferred flip), sung by Edna McGriff (# 4 R&B in 1952), before moving on to RCA and its subsidiary Groove. Releasing a handful of 45’s, including the raw Greedy Pig, my pick of this bunch would have to be the Groove two sider My Pinch Hitter (along side Almeta Stewart, who I honestly have to say, I do not know enough about) and of course the great flip I Got Drunk! The title alone tells you that this here track was always going to be good! Also No Dice (flip to High Low Jack), should NOT be ignored, as Buddy really gets the opportunity to have some sexy fun with his sax and harmonica skills here!
From ’56 to ’57, Buddy had seven 45’s released on Bell Records, a budget label specializing in covers of the big hits of the day, including Hound Dog….okay stuff. BUT also in ’57, he comes out with the hammering Bo-Lee, on the Luniverse Records label. Established in 1956 by struggling songwriters Bill Buchanan and Dickie Goodma, but ceasing production in 1959, this label, with a few exceptions, were nearly all Buchanan-Goodman titles. As much as I admire Budy’s instrumentals, I think his vocal releases are just the bomb, as is the case with Bo-Lee!
in 1958, he became the nucleus of the Gone All Stars, George Goldner’s session band for his Gone Label. Fun stuff, but no real earth shaking releases, well especially compared to the previous Luniverse monster.
Carlton released Beulah in ’59…fantastic stuff, but incredibly similar, if slightly more bizarre, to Bo-lee!
Many more releases were to come in the next few years from Lucas on various labels including Vim, Tru-Sound and Pioneer (I recommend Get Away Fly on the latter label), but let’s move to 1963 and this mind blowing Caprice release!
At just age 28, Gerry Granahan became the youngest record executive in the music biz to that time, when he formed his own company, Caprice Records. He was a former disc jockey at WPTS in Pittston and in 1957, he was the first white artist on the Atlantic’s subsidiary label, Atco. He had a lot of success with numerous solo and group projects (including as pseudonym Dicky Doo and the Don’ts and group The Fireflies), but in 1960, he found being a performer, composer and producer for all his different acts, was too much to handle and realized his future success would come from sitting on the other side of the desk. Granahan had used Buddy’s talents on some of his own previous recordings, so it’s no surprise he brought him over to his new label. I can’t really find out much about the Gerry Granahan Orchestra that accompanies Buddy’s composition. While the label did have some major successes (and why this track wasn’t one of those I’ll never understand…although I have to suspect poor marketing perhaps?), the label folded in ’63 due to some dodgy “off the books sales” from a business partner.
I Can’t Go is an absolute Big Buddy gem! He writes about finding love and fame, and not holding onto to either tight enough. It’s blues…I guess…but so contradictorily upbeat! The cheeky keyboards, the wriggling bass and the outstanding dry production are all perfectly synced. Sometimes I really struggle to understand how music can be this great! And I’d love to find out who is responsible for the fabulous backing vocals…perhaps again former Granahan collaborators?
After researching this great musician, it seems evident that Buddy is much more known and credited for his prolific tenor sax and harmonica contributions, than as the cool cat vocalist that he certainly was. And he did put down some mean grooves with plenty of talent. In the 50’s he worked with Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers on Why Do Fools Fall In Love, and also with Little Willie John on his remarkable Fever take! He would work with blues and soul queens Big Maybelle, Big Mama Thornton, Aretha Franklin, Roberta Flack and Nina Simone! He would also get wild with Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, Yusef Lateef, Jimmy Smith and Count Basie. It’s obvious that here was a man with incredible talent to share, and I’m sure many friendships were made in his lifetime. And while his recording credits can be all laid out to a point without too much unraveling, it kinda saddens me that I can’t seem to find out much more about the man himself, behind those great notes, with such an important historic relevance to soul and blues. There must be interviews out there somewhere with either himself or collaborators. Even some photos?!
Buddy would continue to work with countless more musicians including Hendricks and George Benson, offering his harp and sax skills. In 1980, Buddy had his right lung removed after cancer was discovered, but continued to play alongside his old friend Herman Bradley, that he meet back in the ’40’s. In December 1982, due to ill-health, he finally had to give up doing what he loved most. He passed away on March 18th, 1983.
Referencing Dik from Black Cat Rockabilly
Also great Buddy discography here at Hallelujah Rock ‘n’ Roll
…and here at WangDangDula
And some definitive reading on Caprice Executive Gerry Granahan
As I’m researching this fabulous piece of R&B dance floor femme gem, I quickly discover that there is actually a lot of conflicting and confusing information (again!) out there, regarding this 5 pc. Miller Sisters vocal group and Sun’s Rockabilly sibling partnership that were around at a similar time, with the same name. Two completely different groups yet both so brilliant. I will be posting on the Elsie Jo and Mildred Miller sisters soon I promise!
The Miller Sisters (from Long Island, NY) are Jeanette, Maxine, Nina, Sandy and Vernel, and were the talented daughters of music entrepreneur William Miller, A&R director for Hull Records.
They first recorded Hippity Ha with the adorable flip Until You’re Mine for Herald back in 1955, the same year they also scored a starring role in Fritz Pollar’s R&B picture Rockin’ the Blues, which also included the Harptones, Hurricanes, Wanderers and the great Lula Reed.
In ’56, after releasing Guess Who / How Am I To Know on Ember, they moved to Hull Records, which was the label former Herald Records executive Blanche (Bea) Kaslin’s established along with Billy Dawn and Mr. Miller (apparently Kaslin had just had enough of seeing artists being mistreated, not paid appropriately, and being taken advantage of with contracts). The label had some great R&B success with their very first release from The Heartbeats Crazy For You / Rockin-‘n-Rollin-‘n-Rhythm-‘n-Blues-‘n in ’55. While the sisters were at Herald records, their father obtained their release from an exclusive contract that they held with the label and would thereafter freelance for Hull, ACME, Onyx, Riverside, Roulette, Capri and others.
Moving forward to ’61, and it was hully gully fever that was scuffing the dance floors, and the Glodis release Pop Your Finger (flip to You Got To Reap What You Sow) certainly would have been getting some heavy rotations around the dance halls.
1962 brought some crackers for the girls, firstly Rayna’s superb release Dance Little Sister (flipped with I Miss You So), and this is the stuff that just thrills me. Slow and swinging, but heavy on the rhythm, and brutally charming vocals with more sass than one can handle. Then on Riverside, the dizzyingly beautiful ballad Tell Him (flipped with Dance Close).
But the year also brought out this beast…The Hully Gully Reel! It’s a mass of rhythm delivered by a thundering steam train. A good one to drop when the dance floor is all warmed up and salivating. Feels very Eddie Bo…it’s got that empowering rhythm, but it’s the legendary Big Joe Burrell with his big Sax driving the orchestration with full pelt. Burrell would work with the Sisters on tour and other recordings for a big part of their career, and it’s obvious a match made in heaven. If 2.15 minutes of non stop frantic hully gullying rocks your boat, then you’re getting you money’s worth here on this 45! Not for the faint hearted! And by the way, how good is that electric organ?! It’s on fire!
In ’64, Big Joe and the ladies struck again with Cooncha – Hey You which they recorded in Quebec for Capri in ’64, supposedly while on tour together…driving stuff! (Their father was credited as “Pop Miller” on the label). The Sisters weren’t done though as far as killer 45’s go. A much more soulful I’m Telling It Like It Is on GMC from ’65 is also very desirable!
The Miller Sisters recorded around 22 singles for various labels, and as is the case with this one, some are not easy to find. I feel very fortunate to have my hands on this one, and have made an oath to share it on as many dance floors as I can!
Discography : (as far as I can make out from Goldmine and other sources)
1955 – Hipetty Ha / Until you’r mine (Herald 455)
1956 – Guess Who / How am i to know (Ember 1004)
1956 – Please Don’t Leave / Do You Wanna Go (Hull 718)
1957 – Sugar Candy / My Own (Onyx 507)
1957 – Let’s Start Anew / The Flip Skip (Acme 111)
1957 – You Made Me A Promise / Crazy Billboard Song (Acme 717)
1958 – Let’s Start Anew / The Flip Skip (Acme 721)
1960 – Oh Lover / Remember that (Miller 1140)
1960 – Pony Dance / Give me some old-Fashioned love (Miller 1141)
1960 – Just Wait And See / Black Pepper (Instrumental) (Hull 736)
1961 – You got to reap what you sow / Pop your finger (Glodis 1003)
1962 – I miss you so / Dance little sister (Rayna 5001)
1962 – Walk on / Oh Why (Rayna 5004)
1962 – Roll Back The Rug (And Twist) / Don’t You Forget (Hull 750)
1962 – Cried All Night / Hully Gully Reel (Hull 752)
1962 – Dance Close / Tell him (Riverside 4535)
1963 – Baby your Baby / Silly girl (Rolette 4491)
1964 – Cooncha / Feel good (Stardust 3001)
1964 – Cooncha / Hey You (Capri 950) Quebec
1965 – Looking over my life / Si Senor (Yorktown 75)
1965 – Your Love / Please Don’t Say Goodbye Dear (GMC 10003)
1965 – I’m telling it like it is / Until you comme home, I’ll walk alone (GMC 10006)