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April 2024
Vol. 23, No. 7

Recordially, Lou Curtiss

About Old Records and What People Collect and What They Don’t

by Lou CurtissOctober 2013

I’ve been in the rare record business for better than 48 years now and I’ve seen collecting fads come and go. Mostly I go along with things. There’s always going to be a market for Patsy Cline, Billie Holiday, Hank Williams, and others because of the tragedy connected with their lives and careers as well as a remarkable talent each one of them had, but if that’s the case I can name very talented performers (equally touched with tragedy) that folks don’t care about. Billie sells, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughn, Big Maybelle, Dakota Staton don’t to any kind of extent. Why is that? Patsy Sells, why doesn’t Connie Smith, or Norma Jean, or even Kitty Wells? Why is that?

Then there are the artists who pass on and immediately there’s a run on their records. When Nina Simone passed people started looking for her records and that’s continued up to today (how long it will last, no one knows, certainly not me). However, there are so many well-recorded artists that leave this mortal coil with not so much as a flip of anyone’s turntable. I can’t explain it. I don’t think anyone can. Every kind of music has its superstars, and those who will be remembered from all the kinds of rock ‘n’ roll, funk, reggae, soul, Cajun, bluegrass, polka, and even easy listening.

Some of those stay in folks’ collective interest and others just click off with their passing. Sometimes they don’t even have to pass on, they just have to drop out of the performing scene a bit. Sometime comebacks are staged and folks get back up to where they were or even someplace else. That’s called promotion. It can happen to dead folks too, with box sets of their records and books about them (particularly with naughty bits included).

I always tell folks to listen to some kind of music that they’ve never heard before, because they might find out that they like it. That same holds true for recording artists. If you like Billie, Nina, or Ella Fitzgerald, you are going to find something to like in Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughn, or even Anita O Day, or Irene Kral. That is for sure. If you like Hank Williams, you are going to like Webb Pierce, Lefty Frizzell, or Bill “Cannonball” Lewis. You’ll probably also like Ernest Tubb, Hank Snow, or Roy Acuff. And that is for sure too. I didn’t get into a lot of different kinds of music here but the same holds true in most all kinds. There’s an awful lot to like out there and you haven’t heard even a portion of it if you stick to what you think you know.
I’ve gotten to see some great music in San Diego at a variety of venues large and small. Some of these we’ve talked about before and some not. I don’t even remember the names of some of them, but the shows I saw there I surely remember. There was a roller rink downtown in San Diego where I saw a couple of remarkable shows. One was led by Ernest Tubb with Billy Byrd and all the Texas Troubadours and the opening act was the great Larry and Lorrie Collins. Also on the bill was Sonny James (who was better than I’ve ever heard him on record). I remember they called a “young feller up out of the audience to do a number.” It was Carl Perkins & he did “Honey Don’t” and the audience booed him off stage. I’ll bet I was one of the only ones in the audience that appreciated his work (I understand he went over to the College Inn a few blocks away and jammed with Dorsey and Johnny Burnette later. I didn’t get to see that show. I wish I had). The roller rink audience was Ernest’s “honkytonk” crowd and they weren’t up for Carl (although they went for the Collins Kids who always threw some Chuck Berry and Wanda Jackson into their act, but they were Southern California’s own and they were “young and cute.” I remember telling my friend Dexter that Perkins was going to be a star. The other show I saw there was headlined by Hank Snow; Hank Thompson was also on the bill. Aside from two Hanks on the bill, it also featured Gee Nee Sterling and Joe and Rose Lee Maphis from “Town Hall Party.”

I saw about three or four shows at the San Diego arena down on the west side of Pacific Highway. Along with the Elvis show (his first in San Diego) there was one headlined by Buddy Knox and Jimmy Bowen and the Rhythm Orchids with a whole bunch of one hit wonders on it (Danny and the Juniors, etc). I also went to a Jack Schuler evangelist show because he had Carl Story and the Rambling Mountaineers bluegrass gospel band with him. I think that’s the only time Story ever played out this way. It was worth it to put up with Schuler to get to see the great Carl Story in his prime.

Down in National City right in the center of town was a place called the Westerner. I got to see Lefty Frizzell and Little Jimmie Dickens (not together) there. Also in National City (down toward the south end) the Maddox Brothers and Rose owned a club for awhile called the 21 Club. They would do extended gigs there to try new material and sometimes Cliff, or Cal, or Henry would lead a band of their own.  When they were all on the road they’d bring in a friend from LA or San Diego to run things ( I remember seeing Merle Travis, Johnny Bond, Charlie Aldrich, Roy and Don Hogsed and Billy Strange and Gene O’Quin). The Maddoxes didn’t stay club owners too long (they also owned one in Oceanside) — about 1958 and 1959 and that was it.

It seemed like with all these places plus the Bostonia Ballroom, the Lakeside Hotel (although it was a bit rough), the Pacific Ballroom, and the eight downtown clubs owned by Mr. Kennedy, 30th and Imperial’s Black and Tan, the Sportsman Club, and the Crossroads at 5th and Market, you could always find something to do on ANY GIVEN NIGHT.

Lou Curtiss

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