Huelyn Duvall recorded some superb rockabilly in the 1950s which only found great acclaim in the revival, when he became one of the venerated veteran performers, headlining festivals internationally. In my book Go Cat Go ! Rockabilly Music and Its Makers, I wrote “Duvall recorded a handful of appealing pop rockabilly songs in Nashville and Hollywood in 1957 and 1958 for the Challenge label, owned by Gene Autry, the singing cowboy movie star. The Nashville tracks, cut at Owen Bradley’s studio, included such familiar names as Grady Martin, Floyd Cramer, Hank Garland, Buddy Harman, and the Jordanaires, who provide firm and in-the-groove backing.” At the time, I had not yet had the privilege of seeing him perform. When I heard that he was coming to Montreal to headline at the Red Hot & Blue rockabilly festival, I asked promoter Nathalie Laverne for his email address. She kindly provided it and Huelyn agreed to be interviewed. I picked him up at his hotel and brought him back to my place for the interview, on September 2, 2011. He did a great performance that night, backed by local legends The Howlin’ Hound Dogs.. To go to Huelyn Duvall’s website, click here.
Craig Morrison : What is your birth date and place ?
Huleyn Duvall : August the 18th 1939, in Garner, Texas, a very, very small community. It still exists.
CM : Do you ever go back ?
HD : Yeah, I only live about 45 minutes away.
CM : What got you interested in music ?
HD : The sound of the country acoustic guitars when played by people like Hank Snow. Later, I got into electric guitars. Those sounds just interested me when I was about 12, 13, or 14 years old.
CM : Where did you hear them ?
HD : Just on the radio at home or in the car.
CM : Was the Grand Ole Opry a part of your growing up ?
HD : I knew about it, but it was not something we sat around on Saturday night to listen to. My dad played a little bit of acoustic guitar, gospel songs like “Farther Along.” That had a bit of an influence, but there was nothing really going on. He was a superintendent for schools, so I moved to different small communities. I just liked the sound of the acoustic guitar.
CM : What were some of the first songs you learned how to play on the guitar and sing ?
HD : When I was about 13, my dad bought me a Harmony, probably a $15 guitar. Across the street was a guy maybe twice my age or a little more that was known around the little community as a player and a singer. He invited me over, ’cause we knew his family, and the first song that I ever did was “Hand Me Down My Walking Cane.” I’m sure he suggested it. I would get the chords down, then run home to mom and she would sit down and I couldn’t play that song. So I’d go back across the street. This went on until I could run through the chords of a song. Once I did that, then everything started to click and I would just pick a song I would hear. I never had words to songs even when I started singing with a band. I mean they were never written down, they were all from memory. Some of those songs must have sounded strange because I never got all the words right.
Then we’d move somewhere else and somebody in high school would say, “He likes to play.” It was all country because I didn’t hear anything else. In the early ’50s, my brother, three and a half years older than me, used to listen to this powerful station out of Mexico. They were playing bop music, like Smiley Lewis and some they thought were a little bit risquÃ©, like [Hank Ballard and the Midnighters’] “Annie Had a Baby” and “Work With Me Annie.” He liked that. He called it bop music. I don’t know what it was.
CM : It was rhythm and blues.
HD : Yeah, that’s what it was, but I didn’t know that at the time. I liked that ; that was good. I would’ve liked bluegrass had I heard it then. The guys over here [rockabilly fans] think I should know everybody and everything. We only heard what we got through the radio and the TV.
CM : I want to ask you about Danny Wolfe. How did you meet him ?
HD : Before our first band got together when I was a senior in high school, I was in the same town or close to the same town that Danny Wolfe had his business. It was called Wolfe Nursery, the first mail order business in Texas that shipped trees, big plants, and little plants all over the country. His dad had started that company. He was at the University of Texas and graduated with a business degree and he took over that. His brother had the car dealerships in town. I met Danny through this little group I was playing with. Somebody mentioned him to me, and he heard that somebody was out there that he should meet. So we got together. It was probably late ’56 or maybe early ‘57 that I met him.
CM : Were you friends or was just a business thing ?
HD : Well, he wrote prolifically. He loved that style of music. From the first time we got together, we just clicked. I liked him. He was older ; I’m not sure how much, at least 10 years. One time, he took me to Mexico with him on a nursery business trip. I’d never been anywhere. Then he began bringing his songs out. I began to help, ’cause recording was really interesting to me. I’m not technical, but it has always fascinated me, how you can reproduce things. We were 10 miles apart and we became real friends, and his wife and his children. When he later put in a studio, I spent more time with him, more time there than anywhere else.
CM : Is he still alive ?
HD : No, he passed, some years ago . I moved to Houston when I married and spent 10 years down there and just lost contact with him.
CM : I think he was an excellent songwriter.
HD : I appreciate you for saying that. I don’t think he gets anywhere close to the credit [he deserves]. The things he wrote, in my opinion, have so much more to them, the structure and everything, than a lot of other songs. I really like this stuff.
CM : I also wanted to ask you about Tooter Boatman. He died in a car accident [in 1964] and so a lot of people don’t know about him. He’s another one that did Danny Wolfe songs and seems to have been a part of your circle there. What was your relationship with him and what kind of guy was he ?
HD : He had, in my opinion, the best dance band, a full professional band. This is out west of Fort Worth-Dallas, not far but an hour or two. They played clubs out in the rural areas more than they played in Dallas. They were the best dance band because they played everything. They opened every club show on the piano with “Canadian Sunset.” He was one of the best Jerry Lee Lewis vocalists that I’ve ever heard. As a matter of fact he’s one of the best vocalists of that era. He had a way with words. He was right on with everything. Anyway, I met him and the band through Danny Wolfe.
CM : What was the band called ?
HD : Tooter Boatman and the Chaparalles. He had the best drummer and one of the best piano players of that period. I got him on a session in 2000 or something. And he had a great slap bass player. The band was professional. They were tight, they were good, and they could play good dance music, up-tempo or slow. He was a little different. I never met a singer like him. If he was playing somewhere, he would be the bouncer of the club. He was about 5’10”, not fat, but stocky built and if trouble started he’d just go throw the guy, or guys, out of the club. He was that strong and tough. You did not want to pick a fight with Tooter Boatman. He was just that kind of guy. We rotated at the same club for a long time, in the late ’50s. I met them after Danny, after I started recording the first session in June of ’57. They came on the scene later and they recorded a 45 out on Twinkle, a little label, Danny Wolfe’s label. It has the old “Beautiful Dreamer” rocked up on one side, the follow up to “Little Boy Blue,” which was supposed to be a hit record.
CM : That’s your record.
HD : That’s my record, yeah. We already had that in the can, with “Tear Stained Letters.” It was already there because everybody thought that “Little Boy Blue” was going to be a hit. The Chaparalles played on the “Beautiful Dreamer” track. They played the music track and I later sang on the song ; I only ever did that once. And most of the guys did “It’s No Wonder” [a Huelyn Duvall 45 from 1959] in Danny Wolfe’s studio in Stephenville, Texas. Tooter and I weren’t bosom buddies but we saw each other all the time. I had already moved to Houston in 1960 and he was killed later. There’s been a lot of stories, but the truth was he was just walking down a rural road. It was really strange. When I heard about it I thought it was really weird. You’ve heard some of their music ?
CM : Yes, I have the CD actually.
HD : Well I think things like “The Will of Love”…
CM : “Susie’s House”…
HD : “Thunder and Lightning” and two or three others they did really good work on them. But he was a great guy to be around. If you were in trouble, that’s who you wanted in your corner, always. They had a sax player out of Mississippi that came in and played with them for a while. The bass player, the second bass player they had, wound up with Glen Campbell. He’s in Nashville right now, and he told me, in recent times, he left Glen Campbell because he said, “If I play ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix’ one more time, I am going to be a raving lunatic,” so he quit. He played all his TV shows, every one, for several years I think. Bill Graham was his name. He was on a couple of my records. He wasn’t a slap player like Shorty was in The Chaparalles, but he was a good bass player. He knew where to go. Everything wasn’t slap [bass] back then. Most of the stuff was not, to tell you the truth.
CM : You mentioned the song “Beautiful Dreamer.” Did you know that Stephen Foster wrote that song ? He wrote “Camptown Races” - “Camptown ladies sing this song, doo dah, doo dah.” And “way down upon the Swanee River" – the actual title is “The Old Folks at Home.”
HD : No I didn’t put that together.
CM : It’s archaic. How did you know that song, was it just around ?
HD : I just knew it. I don’t know who suggested it, probably Danny. Before “The Twist”, we actually put a “Twist” beat to that song. It’s almost got a little bit of a Latin [beat]. It’s up tempo, but I sing it real nice. I quite like the song. But we did a different version. I love the music track on “Beautiful Dreamer” that I did. The band was really tight on it, and there’s sax in it, a pretty good sax player that came in, Billy Tackett from Mississippi, that sounded good. As much as Danny wanted to push his own material, he wasn’t against something like that, if it worked. I think that was about the time that “Mona Lisa” was redone. Maybe he heard that.
CM : There’s always been room for people to redo old songs in a new way, but once Carl Mann did “Mona Lisa” there were more. Of course Fats Domino had done “Blueberry Hill” in ’56 and that song came out in the early ’40s, by Glenn Miller and some others.
HD : That’s true.
CM : Elvis and Carl Perkins and all those guys had come our around that time you were making your own music. Did you see those guys then ?
HD : No, and where I was playing in ’57 with this little band called The Troublesome Three—Johnny Cash had the Tennessee Two— we couldn’t play any Elvis songs in the theatre in Fort Worth. It was a show called the Cowtown Hoedown. It was on the radio, and it was country music. Buddy Starcher and Jack Henderson from the Louisiana Hayride were the MCs, and they just strictly forbid it. Every once in a while Johnny Horton would stop in. He was a big influence, because I always liked his music. I only heard about three of his songs, but it just fit my ear. It was relatively simple to play and easy to sing, and I liked him. I met him one time and he was an extremely nice gentleman. We could do Horton, Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, some of his stuff like “White Sport Coat.”
The Troublesome Three, even though there was a drummer with us for a while, was really two brothers, twins, doing backup vocals, one playing the rhythm [guitar], and [the other playing] the lead guitar. And an upright bass. One night we built up a crowd of young people, and I said, “I’m going to rock this place.” They said, “You’re gonna lose your job.” I said, “I didn’t care when we came and I don’t care if we leave.” We took Kitty Wells’ “Whose Shoulder Will You Cry On” and we slicked it. We actually did that on the spot. This was really strange for us ’cause we weren’t good musicians. You’re gonna find it on that CD I gave you. And out comes the MC from behind the curtains and he gets in front. With the bright lights, you couldn’t see the audience—six to eight hundred people on a Saturday night and it’d be full ’cause it was a lot of good entertainment, with a stage band and everything. I’m trying to figure out [what the MC is doing], but I don’t stop singing. I didn’t think he was big enough to throw me out off the stage so I didn’t care. So we finished our little bit and finished the show. There were a lot of musicians like Frankie Miller and guys like that [also on the show]. We found out later what he was doing. He was looking to see who was going wild out there - just our 50 [fans] in the front rows or [the general audience]. Well, everybody was clapping. After the show he comes back to us and all he did was walk in and say, “Okay, from now on just play whatever you want to play.”
From then on we played anything we wanted. Then here came Groovey Joe Poovey. Groovey was like me, trying to do some country stuff on that show. Well, that woke him up and all of a sudden he began get into that. So we started that on there and it was a lot more fun for everybody. It’s not like we were blowing the doors out at the back, these little amplifiers.
We went to the Big D Jamboree one time. It was a funky venue, a wrestling arena. My lead guitar player asked the stage manager, “Say would you mind, could we just plug into your amp so I don’t have to bring this stuff in ?” And the guy said, “Blankety blank no. You cats ain’t gonna blow my amp up.” We didn’t play as loud as they did. But the thought was back then, that most of the guys that were rocking out were a little louder. But it wasn’t that loud. That came on later.
CM : I have a CD of live performances from the Big D Jamboree, all 1950s recordings. It came out in 2000. I’ll show it to you.
HD : We didn’t play there very much. We weren’t regulars or anything, just now and then we’d get the chance. [Looking at the CD…] I tell you that’s an interesting thing. Yeah, that’s it. It’s a wooden building [the Dallas Sportatorium]. It was a pretty big deal [with a capacity around 4,500]. It burned once [in 1953] ; they rebuilt it back during this time. They finally tore it down [in 2003]. Ed McLemore was the promoter. Sid King has some things of back then from the Big D.
CM : Did you ever know him ?
HD : I do now. I didn’t then.
CM : Here are some of the names on the CD : Cowboy Copas, Ferlin Husky, Hank Locklin.
HD : Yeah see, that was the big timers.
CM : Kentucky Mountain Boys, Sherry Davis, Leon Payne.
HD : Now Leon Payne used to come over there to this other place I mentioned. He was blind. Yeah, he came to the Hoedown. The Hoedown was just a lesser Big D, kind of like the shows I did in Fort Worth - Dallas. They had the local [versions of] American Bandstand. Every time I put a record out, I’d go and pantomime on TV. But they erased all that.
CM : We’d love to have that now.
HD : They taped it, but then they reused it. [Recognizing some names on the CD…] Charline Arthur, she played on there a lot. The Belew Twins, I played with them. Ronnie Dawson, he played there quite a bit.
When you live out in rural Texas you just didn’t spend all your time in Dallas if you’re trying to play music. It just wasn’t the way it was. Where I worked for years in Texas was at a little community called Mineral Wells, out where The Chaparalles, Tooter Boatman’s group, were from. They played a lot in that area. The place had the mineral water, to take baths and drink, and people came from Hollywood and New York, everywhere. They had a hotel there, the Baker Hotel, where CBS used to broadcast from back in the ’30s and ’40s. They had a Crazy Water Hotel, ’cause the water supposedly either cured crazy people or made ’em crazy, one or the other. That hotel is still there. It’s not in use, but it was a fantastic place for a little town. It was well known and some of the big timers, big time stars, not just in music, came. See, they’d set the bottle for drinking—I have a couple of those brown bottles—in front of their hotel door, and they had the baths that you got in.
You couldn’t sell liquor or anything in some counties and in some counties you could. So the bands had to pick these where they had clubs. A lot of the good clubs, and some of them were actually famous, like the Trio Club in Mingus, Texas, have a huge history. I never would play there. They had chicken wire up in front of the bandstand. I went there looking for a place to play and the guy says “Oh yeah, that would be great.” I just looked around and said, “What’s that ?” And he said, “Oh that’s just some chicken wire.” I said, “I know what chicken wire is, a little wire so the chickens can’t get out, but why is it up there ?” He said “Oh, occasionally they throw a bottle or two at the band.” I said, “Well, thank you for your time.”
Tooter Boatman, he wouldn’t care. We played that same area. We rotated at a club that was more of a supper club, dinner club, really good food. The college kids came all the way from Stephenville because it’s the only place you could have a drink. You either had to go to Fort Worth, which was further, or you could come there and have a drink, have some really good food and listen to some really good music, including what we were playing. I had two guitar players at that time. I had Jimmy Green, a Chet Atkins [-style] guitar player, very proficient. He worked at it for hours and hours and weeks and months and years, extremely good. He was as good as I’ve still ever run into. And I had this kid from West Texas, who was going to college at the University there in Stephenville. He played a Sears Silvertone and he could also play anything, but he liked that blues, like Jimmy Reed and all that. So here’s a totally diverse [band] : we got a guy that’s country through and through and this other guy, and they match up and they play harmonies and lead-ins to songs and things like that. I thought it was marvelous.
That’s not this first group that I was with. When I went to record in Nashville in ’57, in October, I didn’t play again with the Troublesome Three. It was kind of sad, but I realize now that there’s no way they could’ve recorded the songs. This [band] was a little bit later, but I was still in Stephenville. I’d recorded and was still [recording], but these guys, when I could get them together, that was really a good band. But I don’t have anything [that we] recorded together.
CM : When you were playing with them, would you play the songs that you had recorded ?
HD : No. Well, maybe one or two. We probably did “Teen Queen” and we might’ve even done “Little Boy Blue.” But we didn’t do them like you would think we would’ve done them. And yet they were played all over that area. One of the biggest DJ [disc jockey] fans that I had was at a black radio station : Jivin’ Jerry on KNOK [in Dallas]. Right in the middle of all of the rhythm and blues, all black music : “Jivin’ with Jerry and we’ve got Huelyn Duvall with ‘Teen Queen.’” If we showed up there with a record, he’d play it on the air. He didn’t care what side it was. A-side B-side, he played the one he liked. He would lean back on that chair with a smile on his face, in the radio station, live.
CM : Did you ever know, either then or now, a guy named Lew Williams ?
HD : I know him now. I didn’t know that music existed, what they call the cat music. He was a really nice guy. I met him in Green Bay [Wisconsin, at one of the festivals].
CM : He’s a sweet fellow. I met him there too and we did an interview. But that was the thing, the radio and a little bit the TV had alerted people all over the place that this music was out there, and people were doing it in their towns and cities. There wasn’t a tremendous amount of networking. This also happened in other fields, so it’s not unique to rock and roll or rockabilly, but the ones that survived and got a chance to do these revival shows, they meet each other and they find out, wait a minute, they’re the same age and grew up 50 or a hundred miles away from each other, and maybe they heard of you or maybe they didn’t, but it’s almost like a class reunion of a class that never actually met before.
HD : That’s a good way of looking at it. Well, one thing, if you were in a bigger town, which I never was. Let’s take Buddy Holly as a good example, in Lubbock, a pretty good-sized town.
CM : How far away was that from you ?
HD : Four hours west, in West Texas. I’m sure he knew a lot more musicians than I did because there was a lot more of them around him than there was around me. Danny Wolfe came in one day and said, “I wish we could both see the look on Buddy Holly’s face - he’s fixing to get his first royalty check.” Danny said it was 50 grand. He said “I would love to see the look on his face that night.” The Stray Cats—they covered a Gene Vincent song that Danny wrote—tracked Danny down, years later.
CM : “Double Talking Baby.”
HD : Yeah. They’d been trying to find him. He got a check for 80 grand off that.
CM : He must’ve been happy about that.
HD : No kidding.
CM : I’d have liked to have seen the look on his face ! Do you have any regrets ?
HD : I don’t have any. I’m not one of these guys that looks back and I’ve met so many bitter. Have you met any guys that were bitter ?
CM : I have.
HD : And everybody screwed ’em back in the ’50s. Well, that’s not really true. For one thing the money wasn’t flowing to anybody like everybody thinks it was. Oh sure, the true million selling records, somebody made a bunch of money. But on the road, as far as what you’d call big money, it wasn’t out there. I don’t care who you were. If you had a known song and if you were travelling and you were making, say, a grand a night or something, to play, that would’ve been a lot of money. It was big money then, but it still required some money to get there. They didn’t do it like the European bands, all get there and they’re going to get their food, their gas, their drinks, they’re going to make sure all that’s covered besides what they’re getting paid. It really wasn’t like that.
There were two or three things that I thought might have changed. I never understood what [the record label] Challenge was doing. It’s the strangest situation to me. Gene Autry had as much money as most of the big recording companies. The guy was into radio and into television, but I to this day cannot figure it out. Challenge did a couple of shows with Eddie Cochran ; I did a couple of shows out in the West Coast. I did a big deal in New Orleans with some name people and all that. But why would you spend the money that paid for the recording sessions, and why wouldn’t you put the guy out in the open ? ’Cause see, in my early days, don’t take this wrong, but I was a decent looking kid. I was clean cut ; I fit the mold. Half of it would’ve just been putting you out in front of people, but if you don’t do that and you and everybody just waits for that record to take off.
Anyway, Danny Wolfe told me one day, about five years after all that, he said, “Huelyn, I shouldn’t even tell you this.” It was about Lew Chudd at Imperial [Records]. I don’t know which song it was, but I usually did demos and Danny would send them places, I didn’t even know where. I think he sent it to Rick Nelson or somebody, and he said, “Lew told me, ‘send me the guy singing the song and I’ll decide what he sings.’” Well, Challenge had a part of me, Danny had a part of me and they wouldn’t tell me because they knew I would probably pack up and go anyway.
CM : You could’ve been on Imperial.
HD : Yeah, but see that was the whole thing. Lew Chudd, I don’t know him, but he had to be a smart man. Imperial knew how. That would have been an opportunity. I signed a movie contract in Dallas. If that hadn’t‘ve folded, ’cause the company was a subset of Republic or something, I think that could’ve been a real promotional opportunity.
CM : What were you lined up to do ?
HD : They were going to do some short films. They took me to places, mansions in Dallas, I didn’t know, I’d never been in. It’s like driving for five minutes after you got in the gate, unbelievable. We’re not talking about 60 year-old people, were talking about 30 year-old married couples, but money had to be flowing like crazy. Danny, he tells me, “Huelyn, let’s sign this contract. They got you tied up for seven years, but they gotta pay you if they keep you. If they don’t, you’re out.” Now I said, “Danny, whatever you want to do.” So I bought a car, paid me upfront money. And I never heard another word. They took 1000 pictures of me pretending up on stage and all that, which I never minded doing. That one mansion that I went to, I’d go in there and they’d say, “Get your guitar and sing the ladies some songs.” I’d just get the thing and get down on my knees or sit down on the floor or on a stool and I’d break into a song. It seemed like everybody was enthralled and the ladies, were like, “That’s cool.” And the same way with Challenge’s groups, well-off people it seemed like, and the wine’s flowing, but I don’t get no places to play.
The other one was if I had been a lead guitarist. They asked me to play lead on the “Tequila” session, ’cause they had an instrumental called “Train to Nowhere.” And I said I just can’t do it. I was out there [in Los Angeles] to record and spend a week or two. Do you know the name Dave Burgess ? I don’t know if you’d call it well off, but his family was a normal family. They weren’t like most of the other guys that were out there starving to death, that had nothing.
CM : Is he the guy who was in the Champs ?
HD : Yeah, that he formed. He kind of headed up the musical side of Challenge. I stayed there a couple of weeks with him. We get along really good. The guy [a disc jockey] flipped that record over up in Cleveland and “Tequila” took off and the next time I saw them was at the session in Nashville. But that would’ve given me a chance to vocalize and Lord knows he wishes he had taken me because, I guess you think you’re just gonna play “Tequila” all night long. They had to sing and drum and those guys were so beat. They’d been up here in Canada.
CM : So they’d wished that they’d taken you out on the road with them.
HD : Well, Dave did because he lost his voice and he couldn’t just reach out in the audience and pick a vocalist out. But those are the things that crossed my mind that could’ve been a break.
And do I, did I want that break ? I don’t know because a lot of stuff went on in that business. I’m totally satisfied with my life. My family I wouldn’t trade nothing for nothing. It’s just you have to think about it sometimes. You wonder what if, because it wasn’t all about talent in the ’50s. It was about a little bit of everything, and maybe Lew Chudd had writers, well more than that, he had the distribution and he had the promotion. I never had the star desire. The movie thing just enthralled me. I would have done it in a heartbeat. I would’ve probably been a failure. But when you’re recording and everybody’s telling you the music is good and you do it again and again, but you’re not getting the opportunity to showcase it, that’s what hit me. That’s why I brought those things up. I’m not bitter, I just didn’t quite... Most of those little recording groups, they barely didn’t have any [success].
CM : But look at you now. We’re in Montreal and I’ve already seen you perform in New Orleans, at the Ponderosa Stomp festival. Some of the guys I’ve interviewed said, “Now I’m glad I didn’t have it, because the guys I know that got it, they didn’t see their kids grow up, they got on the booze or they got on the dope or they burnt out or they died in a plane crash or a car crash.” One guy said, “I went home. I did it for a few years and went home. Then I lived my life at home.”
HD : Well, let me tell you why that I would like to have had a big-time record. It’s not for the reasons that I think probably that most people would want. Right now today, it would open doors where I can do some more things than I do locally, in the casinos, things like that. Maybe working my daughter in some harmonies. That is really what, ’cause I don’t have any idea [what stardom would have been like]. I think it would’ve been worse. I think I would’ve fallen in the same trap that everybody else fell into.
CM : What you did in the ’50s, like so many of these other guys, was you put your heart and soul into it. And it shows.
HD : Well thank you. I really appreciate that. I really did, knowingly or unknowingly. That’s the only way I knew to do it. It was all or nothing.
CM : Now, because of distribution, the CDs, the radio, the fans, and the magazines and books, rockabilly found its audience. People hear the heart and soul. Of course, there’s the timing and musical style and the image and all that, but that’s what it’s about. A lot of records that were made then, and now too, don’t have heart and soul in them, and who wants to hear that ? It might sound novel, so this week we kind of like it because it’s a cute sound, but it doesn’t last. The stuff that has that feeling, and you talk about being an emotional singer, but it’s not just the singing, it’s the quality of the writing, it’s the quality of the playing. I’ve been listening for a long time to that CD of yours on the Sundazed label and there’s a 11 songs on it, and there’s not a bad moment—I don’t mean songs—I mean there’s not a bad moment on those records. This bit has been thought out, and that is a nice lick, and there is a nice background and this is a nice composition. It’s very high quality stuff.
HD : Yeah, I think the music is exceptional on those songs. I don’t even know how I got through them. I know there’s flaws in my style and in my vocals, but it either was not glaring enough for them—the engineers, the A and R [artist and repertoire] people—to say anything. That’s another mystery to me.
CM : You can hear mistakes on Beatles records. That’s the sound of humans on earth. We got away from that with computers and sequencers all that, but what comes across is personality, the heart and the soul.
HD : Well that’s very interesting. Where when I re-listen to them now and then I want to go duplicate it on a recording, I realize how difficult that should’ve been for me. I don’t know how difficult it was, but it’s not easy to do that, among strangers and people that you know are your superiors as far as musicians. You just walk in cold turkey and you’re expected to perform. I’m really pleased with those ; I don’t think they are the run of the mill. There was a lot of good stuff back then, but there was a lot of things that were not done as well as that was done.
CM : They’re full of character. You can take a song that has a common structure and it’s like 50,000 other songs that you’ve heard before. These songs, they all have character.
left to right : Izzy Proulx (piano), Noel Thibault (guitar, The Howlin’ Hound Dogs), Huelyn Duvall, Craig Morrison at the Red Hot & Blue rockabilly festival in Montreal, 2011 - photo by Bob Campbell
HD : Do you think that they’re a little too different than what was actually called rockabilly then ? All the musicians that I’ve ever run into think this stuff is right there with any of the name guys. They’ve played with Carl Perkins ; they’ve played with all those guys. I’ve often thought maybe it was not corny enough sometime, but I’ve grown to appreciate the writing and Danny Wolfe more and more as time went on. As I write a little bit and wish I’d written more back then, I really can appreciate what he was doing. They are different, they are not the same.
CM : That’s what I mean about the character.
HD : I don’t want another life ’cause I don’t know where that would turn out. But I would like to be able to play a nice theatre with a nice band every once in a while.
CM : It happens now.
HD : You’re right ; we just played one in Finland. One night in Europe after a big show I just couldn’t wind down at the hotel by myself. There was nobody there so I just went and got my guitar and sat in the lobby, just me and my guitar, singing mostly country-type things, but real nice ballads. Before I knew it, the whole lobby was stacked full of people. I was not doing what I did on the show, and I guy told me, “I wish you’d record that stuff.”
CM : What was it ?
HD : Anything from Merle Haggard to George Hamilton singing “Abilene” and some slow George Jones songs like “A Picture of Me Without You.” By the way, did I give you that old promo picture ?
CM : Yes.
HD : Well, that shirt—anything I had, my mother made, except my pants. I’d give a grand for that shirt right now if I could.
I have also posted several other interviews with veteran and legendary musicians. To go to the index page, click here.