Levon and the Hawks: “A Real Treat in Store”

Levon Helm takes lead vocals with The Hawks with “Further On Up the Road.”

This blog has been rampant with references to Ronnie Hawkins, one of the Ozarks’ most famous rock ‘n’ rollers, even if he’s more of a household name in Canada than the United States. It can’t be stopped. He was, and still is, an interesting character.

As Hawkins settled for a music career up north, his backing band, comprised of mostly Canadians, became a household name in the United States. But there was one member, anGhosts of the Rockwood Club Arkansan, who also stood out, both through his music and, later, his acting roles, which included blockbuster movies like “The Right Stuff” and “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”

But it’s unlikely that Levon Helm, an Arkansas Delta native who spent considerable time in the Arkansas Ozarks, had any idea what direction his career would take once his music partners – Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Robbie Robertson and Richard Manuel – would break away from Hawkins to start their own group. So, by the end of 1964, Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks became Levon and the Hawks.

This was a risky move.

Levon and Hawks Ad

An an open-letter advertisement encouraging people to check out the new version of The Hawks with Levon Helm as front man, replacing Ronnie Hawkins. (Click on photo to enlarge.)

Hawkins had always been  the star of the group, with his outrageous stage antics, which often included body flips and other gymnastics. He took lead vocals with the group’s only major hit song, “Mary Lou.” People came in droves to Hawks concerts in anticipation of what “The Hawk” might do next.

An open letter advertisement taken out by Dayton Stratton, owner of The Rockwood Club in Fayetteville, shown to the left, indicates there was some worry about this new incarnation of the band. Here, Stratton made a plea to the public to come listen to the group, which was scheduled to perform a Christmas Eve show, even if it no longer had its original front man:

“This will be the first time the HAWKS have toured this area without their former leader and no doubt many will be hesitant to attend some of the dances for which they will be playing because of the absence of Ronnie Hawkins,” the open letter said. “For those of you who do not let skepticism stand in the way, however, there is, I believe, a real treat in store.”

Four years later, the group would be known as The Band.

From there, the group’s music would continue to evolve profoundly following their association with Bob Dylan as his backup musicians as well as the influences of Woodstock, New York, where they spent much of their time. The album Music from Big Pink would birth majestic pieces like “The Weight” followed by a self-title album that birthed more classics such as “Up on Cripple Creek” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” There were many others.

But long before The Band would give its 1976 historical performance as shown in Martin Scorsese’s documentary, “The Last Waltz,” five musicians were just hoping there would be a good showing on an early winter’s night at The Rockwood Club.

Posted in Arkansas, Levon Helm, Rock and Roll, Ronnie Hawkins, The Band, The Hawks | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Ozark Mountain Folkfair: ‘Chicken Train’ Went Into Hyperspace

The Earl Scruggs Revue perform in this unidentified concert that would have been very similar to the one they gave in 1973 at the Ozark Mountain Folkfair near Eureka Springs.


New York had its Woodstock. Monterey, California, had its Pop Festival. In 1973, Arkansas, always a few years behind the rest of the nation, was about to have its own megafestival.

A very impressive concert lineup was announced for the Ozark Mountain Folkfair, a three-day event to take place that Memorial Day weekend at Oak Hill Eco Park, 10 miles north of Eureka Springs near the Arkansas-Missouri border. Performers included The Earl Scruggs Revue, James Cotton Blues Band, Clifton Chenier Cajun Band, Johnny Shines, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Big Mama Thornton, John Hartford, Jimmy Driftwood, Mason Profitt, Rambin’ Jack Elliot, and John Lee Hooker. (Photo galleries of the festival can be found here and here.)

Filmmaker Les Blank, known for his music documentaries, would be honored each night. Also featured at the event would be an arts and crafts village consisting of several master artisans through the Midwest with demonstrations and a farmer’s market.

Helping build the excitement was the approval of the Arkansas State Legislature, which presented to the event’s sponsor, the Ozark Mountain Folklore Association, a citation where it expressed its “full endorsement and appreciation.”

Mike “Supe” Granda, bass player and vocalist for the Springfield, Missouri-based Ozark Mountain Daredevils, recalled in his book, It Shined: The Saga of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, that the performers were housed in Eureka Springs’ Crescent Hotel, where impromptu music jams ensued as thunderstorms and tornado warnings hampered performances on that opening day. Concert-goers – somewhere from 20,000 to 30,000, according to newspaper accounts – were less fortunate and had to hunker down in their tents and cars. But when the rain subsided, the music resumed … with plenty of mud in the hills.

“When we hit the stage that Saturday afternoon, we were ‘the local boys make good’ portion of the show. A wonderful congregation of friends and neighbors gathered on the mountain. The sight of them, stretched out on a hill in front of us, put lumps in our throats and shot us into overdrive. The music elicited wild dancing. ‘Chicken Train’ went into hyperspace, transforming into a tribal chant. We stomped the shit out of our set. The crowd stomped the shit out of the mountain.”

But an Associated Press article about the event presented a slightly less cosmic view. The big news wasn’t that local service had run out of gasoline as a result of the crowds. Higher up in an article was a report of a woman being removed by ambulance from complications of a botched abortion three weeks earlier. The Crisis Intervention Center reported few bad drug trips – just three had to be “talked down” from LSD. That there were only three reported drug problems in an audience of up to 30,000 was still too many in the eyes of a few locals, who viewed the festival differently. A letter to the editor in the Eureka Springs Echo decried the event:

“I weep for these young people, not for what they do to me, but for what they apparently are doing to themselves. They seem to be rushing headlong into an abyss of hollow laughter and synthetic good times. The abyss may become deep and wide, and everlasting.”

While the author of the letter was disgusted, the Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce was livid. It was reportedly uncooperative with the event from its inception. Following the festival, the chamber’s sentiment prompted the resignation of its president, possibly the only sympathetic member to the festival, 26-year-old Don Watson, the Harrison Daily Times reported. Watson told the Chamber he would have liked to have had an opportunity to consult with Folkfair organizers to make the festival “more appealing to families and less appealing to longhairs.” To prove he hadn’t defected to the other side, possibly to appease chamber members, he added, “The board members don’t like hippies.”

The Chamber was apparently more than glad to see Watson step down and accepted his resignation unanimously, adding that their decision to lambaste the festival was “in harmony with a firm resolution pass earlier by the chamber.”

The resolution was probably related to an advertisement the chamber had placed in The Eureka Springs Echo:

“The Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce believes that the Memorial Day Folkfair that took place 10 miles north of Eureka Springs, as conducted, was detrimental to our future growth as a retirement community, our tourist industry, and our general economy. If you share these feelings … voice your opinions. Write your State Representative and State Senator and urge them to work for passage of legislation or taking other possible steps which would help to control such events.”

The Associated Press reported the Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce officials released a poll among its members showing there was “overwhelming support” of the chamber’s opposition to the festival. Adding to the controversy was festival organizer Edd Jeffords’ attempt to join the chamber, which was being stalled, and his claim that the poll was distributed to members who were known opponents of the festival.

But that didn’t stop folks from trying to put on another festival, Granda wrote. There was talk, but that’s all there was. The Ozark Mountain Folkfair never returned.

(Note: For more information, check out the blog entry about the Ozark Mountain Folkfair by April Griffith, library assistant for the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History in Springdale, and her connection to it.)

Posted in Arkansas, Eureka Springs, Rock and Roll | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Those Lonely Weekends Spelled Short Stint at University of Arkansas

In the late summer of 1951, the University of Arkansas was gearing up for the onslaught of students preparing to further their education. They came from every corner of the state, including a hamlet outside of Forrest City called Colt.

Charlie Rich UA

Photo taken of Charlie Rich while a student at the University of Arkansas.

There was no easy commute from the Arkansas-Mississippi Delta. Interstate 40, which now runs through Forrest City, was barely an idea. But one young student from the St. Francis County town made the journey after he lost his  football scholarship to what is now Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. The young musician, listed in the Arkansas Razorback yearbook as Charles Allan Rich, switched gears and enrolled at the University of Arkansas in the Ozark foothills of Fayetteville. While there, he successfully pledged the Kappa Sigma fraternity on Dickson Street, where he lived in Room 121, and became a saxophone player for the Arkansas Razorback band. He also would have been one of the first students to take music classes on the top floor of the university’s new fine arts building, designed by famed architect Edward Durell Stone.

That Charlie Rich would be known as “The Silver Fox” in the 1970s when he had a string of hit songs from “Behind Closed Doors” to “Most Beautiful Girl” was on nobody’s radar, let alone his. But his music and style was evolving as a Kappa Sig. Unlike his 1970s persona as a “countrypolitan” crooner, his main influence was straight-up jazz, which was evident in some of his early recordings in the late 1950s at Sun Studio in Memphis, where he drew an easy comparison to Frank Sinatra and other jazz singers before delving into rock ‘n’ roll and R&B, such as this song here:

There’s a strong likelihood that Rich was also exposed to some of Fayetteville’s music talent. New pledges and their dates were honored with an informal dance at the Uark Bowl on Fayetteville’s Dickson Street with jazz musician Buddy Hayes, who inspired many area performers, including Ronnie Hawkins.

The Kappa Sigma fraternity president at the time was Charles Allbright, a journalism student who remembered Rich as a young pledge. (Years later, Allbright would become a household name statewide as the Arkansas Traveler columnist for the Arkansas Gazette and, later, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.) Allbright, in 1995, wrote how fellow fraternity brother Charlie Jones — yes, also a Charlie —  and Rich attempted to write a song after Jones was inspired by seeing “Singing in the Rain” several times. The song writing session occurred one afternoon at the fraternity house’s living room.

“We spent all that Sunday afternoon at the piano in the living room,” Jones recalled. “He was trying to write music and I was pacing about, trying to write words. After five hours he had maybe three bars, and I had two words — `beautiful waterfalls’ — and that was it. We gave up on being songwriters.”

Rich, shortly thereafter, gave up on college.

He was missing his high school sweetheart, Margaret Ann, and was failing his freshman English class (though he was reportedly making A’s in his music classes). He dropped out of school, joined the Air Force and got married. When his military service ended, he moved to West Memphis to take up farming. Rich didn’t give up music, however. In the evenings, he performed at the local nightclubs only to till the fields bleary-eyed the next day.

Just across the Mississippi River, a Memphis studio owner named Sam Phillips, the man who gave Elvis Presley his first recording contract, saw talent in Rich and hired him to be a session musician. Rich played piano on numerous musicians’ recordings, including Jerry Lee Lewis, wrote a hit song for Johnny Cash (“The Ways of a Woman in Love”) and had a hit song himself with the Elvis Presley-inspired “Lonely Weekends.” His career, however, ran dry until 1965, when he had his second Top 40 hit, “Mohair Sam.” (Trivia: This was the song Elvis Presley listened to repeatedly on his jukebox when The Beatles paid him a visit to his Los Angeles home in 1965.)

Rich managed to stay connected to the University of Arkansas, at least musically. Around the time of “Mohair Sam,” he recorded a 45 rpm record titled “Callin’ the Razorbacks,” written by his wife, Margaret Ann, which was reportedly a promotional record given out by RCA television dealers in Central Arkansas shortly after the Arkansas Razorbacks took the national football championship. The musical act was listed as The Hog Callers, but Rich’s voice is unmistakable, along with the song’s melody, which is strongly similar to “Mohair Sam.” We also hear Rich give a rousing “soooooie!”

Rich returned to the University of Arkansas at least once. Again, after the release of “Mohair Sam,” Rich had difficulty getting back on the charts. In 1967, the Northwest Arkansas Times ran a small article noting that Rich would perform a “psychedelic concert” at the University of Arkansas Men’s Gymnasium. Why the psychedelic reference? There would be a vast assortment of colored lights for the show, the article noted. At this point, Rich had temporarily abandoned jazz and pop music to focus on R&B and, yes, even funk. Having lost contracts with RCA and Smash (A Mercury subsidiary), he was now recording for Hi Records, a smaller, soulful Memphis label that would be best known for its star performer, Al Green. While there, Rich recorded his own material as well compositions by up-and-coming songwriters Isaac Hayes and David Porter. His 1967 UA concert may have included this song:

Rich, however, was on the eve of success. In the late 1960s, he signed with Epic Records, had solid premature white hair, grew massive lamb chop sideburns and had a string of hits from “Behind Closed Doors” to “Keep on Rollin’ with the Flow” (written by Springdale, Arkansas, native and musician Jerry Hayes).

Rich, who went into semi-retirement in the 1980s and 1990s, recorded a highly acclaimed jazzy R&B album, “Pictures and Paintings,” in 1992. Though not commercially successful, many consider it to be one of his best.

Sadly, Rich’s career was cut short. He died in 1995 from a blood clot to his lung at the age of 62.

Posted in Arkansas, Rock and Roll | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Ghosts of The Rockwood Club: The Emcees

In the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, The Emcees were mainstays in the Northwest Arkansas music scene. They made regular appearances at Fayetteville’s Rockwood Club and followed the footsteps of Ronnie Hawkins by going to Canada to play before enthusiastic crowds. On a historic note, at least for Arkansas, they performed at a New Year’s Eve party in Dallas, Texas, sponsored by the University of Arkansas Alumni Association in late 1964 thatGhosts of the Rockwood Club also served as a pre-Cotton Bowl celebration. (One journalist described the event to be divided by those who did the fox trot and others who danced the Watusi. More partying would ensue the next day as the Arkansas Razorbacks clenched the national championship by defeating the Nebraska Cornhuskers.)

No doubt, people dug The Emcees or, The MC’s, as they were sometimes billed early in their career. Led by Tommy McClelland, a trumpet player and singer, he first performed in The Dixieland Rebels in the 1950s. The group evolved into the McClelland Combo with his brothers, Leon and Mel, in the lineup — hence, the name MC’s, or Emcees, as they would become known.

At this point, not enough can be said about Leon McAuliffe’s promotion of rock ‘n’ roll in Northwest Arkansas and, arguably, being a rock ‘n’ roll pioneer in his own right as evidenced by some of his rockabilly-swing compositions. A steel guitarist for Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, McAuliffe and his manager G. Don Thompson, who co-owned with McAuliffe radio station KAMO in Rogers, announced through Billboard magazine in June 1959 that they were resurrecting their music label, Cimarron Records, based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, by signing The Emcees as Cimarron expanded its repertoire to include both country and western and pop.

A 1961 ad for The Emcees at the Rockwood Club. Note the announcement at the bottom of the ad about Ronnie Hawkins.

A 1961 ad for The Emcees at the Rockwood Club. Note the announcement at the bottom of the ad about Ronnie Hawkins.

The first release of the restructured Cimarron Records was The Emcees’ tune, “IFIC,” named for “American Bandstand” host Dick Clark’s IFIC Club. A sponsor for the show was Beech Nut chewing gum, which had a slogan of being “flavor-IFIC.” The song title indicates The Emcees, McAuliffe and Thompson may have saw a strong potential with getting the single played on the show. (This was not an uncommon ploy. Arkansas native and former Fayetteville resident Charlie Rich, before he turned to country music, wrote and recorded a rock ‘n’ roll song around that time called “Philadelphia Baby” with hopes that “American Bandstand,” which was based in Philly, would give it some attention.)

At least one other Emcees’ single, “Wine, Wine, Wine,” appeared on the Cimarron label (shown above). Several lineups took place throughout the 1960s as well, as detailed in this article about Fayetteville’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Pioneers by Bill Wright, who later became a band member.

While The Emcees may not have received any attention from Dick Clark, one can only assume that they, and other Cimarron recording artists, received considerable airplay on KAMO.

Posted in Arkansas, Music, Ozarks, Rock and Roll, Ronnie Hawkins | Tagged , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Taking a Chance on Fayetteville’s Talent

In the 1950s and 1960s, Sam Phillips and Leonard Chess both started small record labels (Sun and Chess records respectively) that made big stars. Arkansas was filled with small record labels, too, such as Rimrock, founded by musician Wayne Raney, who was profiled the other day. Surprisingly, several of the small Arkansas record labels received press in Billboard magazine, the famous music trade publication.

A 1960 ad for a John Tolleson, who performed in the area throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s.

A 1960 ad for a John Tolleson, who performed in the area throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Fayetteville, of course, is a college town and, as it does today, had many rock ‘n’ rollers playing the local clubs and fraternity houses. In the early 1960s, a man named Phil Eagle took advantage of the talent by setting up shop on East Center Street in Fayetteville to form Chance records, which bore a pair of dice in its logo. His first featured artist was John Tolleson (listed as Johnny Tolleson), a musician so popular for his singing and piano playing that even Ronnie Hawkins was intimidated by him (Hawkins would gain much of his fame after relocating from Fayetteville to Canada, where he continues to live today). The result was a 45 rpm record with the songs  “Summer Love ‘N’ Summer Kissin'” and, on the flip side, “You’re in Love with Yourself (And Not in Love with Me),” the latter of which is featured in the video above. A 1961 article in the Northwest Arkansas Times listed the musicians on the two songs to be drummer Charles Conine, guitarist Chalky Dearien, Ken Clark on bass and Troy Brand, a saxophonist who also “handles special effects.”

Ken Owens and the Del Reys Mhoon 71 ad

A 1962 ad for Ken Owens and the Del Reys, the latter of whom would evolve into The Cate Brothers Band.

It was also reported in the Northwest Arkansas Times that Eagle was hitting the road, promoting the record.

At least one other 45 rpm record was released a year later, and it was of Ken Owens and the Del Reys with the songs “You’re for Me” and “That’s Tough.” The Del Reys, which featured Earl Cate on lead guitar and twin brother Ernie Cate on the organ, would evolve into the widely popular Cate Brothers Band. Musicians also listed were Lonnie Watson on bass guitar and Randy Favorite on drums.

Posted in Arkansas, Music, Ozarks, Rock and Roll, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Wayne Raney: Up with Jesus, Down with Rock ‘n’ Roll

Wayne Raney of Wolf Bayou in Cleburne County made a name for himself with his harmonica and 1949 hit song, “Why Don’t You Haul Off and Love Me,” which peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard country music chart. He penned boogie songs (“Lost John Boogie” and “Jack and Jill Boogie”) with harmonica solos that could rival those of many Mississippi bluesmen. His song, “Shake Baby Shake,” is outright rock ‘n’ roll, making him one of those unsung heroes of the genre.

Jack Holt - Wayne Raney ad 1952

Wayne Raney performed at a 1952 campaign rally on the Fayetteville square for Arkansas gubernatorial candidate Jack Holt. In the ad, Raney is billed as a “harmonica wizard from Grand Ole Opry, composer, entertainer and recording star.”

Which is why his 1958 gospel revival single on Starday records is an interesting one. Was he fed up with the direction music was taking, the one he helped create? Or, as has been the case with many recording artists later in their careers, did he feel he could tap into a new market by recording religious material? Whatever the case, it worked. The result was “We Need a Whole Lot More of Jesus (And a Lot Less Rock ‘n’ Roll”), which has since been covered multiple times by many music artists, including, of all people, Linda Ronstadt.

As a child, Raney’s musical ambition was intense. When he was 13, he hitchhiked to Eagle Pass, Texas, to transcribe transcription records at XEPN, a south-of-the-border radio station with a range that covered much of the United States. While still a teen, he teamed up with Lonnie Glosson of Judsonia, with whom he established a mail-order harmonica operation before moving on to record with the Delmore Brothers. The year “Why Don’t You Haul Off and Love Me” became a hit, Raney performed on Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry and, shortly after, toured with country musician Lefty Frizzell. By the early 1960s, Raney returned to Cleburne County, continued to record gospel music and set up his own studio and record-pressing plant. In the 1970s, he made occasional appearances on the TV variety show, Hee Haw, before his health deteriorated, causing him to leave the music business altogether. Raney died of cancer in 1993 in Batesville.

Posted in Arkansas, Music, Ozarks | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Wonder Drug of Berryville

In 1960, Berryville disc jockey Jack Reno of radio station KTCN made a plea in Billboard magazine that his station was spinning three hours of country music a day and was in dire need of some albums and singles. Within six months, he would release a 45 rpm record of his own, an upbeat country weeper called “The Wonder Drug” on the Eureka label where pharmaceuticals from Streptomycin to penicillin are saluted (Dr. Jonas Salk even gets a shout out). But, he asks, why can’t they find a wonder drug to heal a broken heart?

Posted in Arkansas, Music | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment