This is the ninth edition of Diamonds In The Rough, the Special Feature that gives newer visitors to the GMC the chance to see some of our favorite posts from the past. Come to think of it, our regulars might want to take another look at these too. Sometimes things are just as much fun the second time around.
Of course, some of those same regulars have probably noticed that the series has progressed by date — it other words, we’ve gradually worked our way from posts that first appeared in 2006 to those below, which were published in 2012 and early 2013. That means we’re getting so close to current posts that we might not do these quite as often. But I think this one still works pretty well.
The Diamonds – “The Stroll” (You can also access music in left column.)
3D Has Been Around For A Long Time
Personal experiences with REAL 3D.
The Saga Of Little Georgie Gobel
One of the most-loved guys in show business.
The Little Sparrow – Édith Piaf
She is still a legendary figure in France.
Lucky Strike Sweetheart Dorothy Collins
She was a lot more adventurous that you’d think.
And Another Childhood Icon Bites The Dust
Not exactly ‘PC’ but still fun.
That Scandalous Song
An interesting history for a song with meaning.
Rockabilly’s Sparkle Moore Inspired By Comics
I wonder what Dick Tracy would have thought?
The Mystery Of Charly McClain
One of the most popular posts on the GMC.
Edd ‘Kookie’ Byrnes – Artist With A Comb
Remember when our hair was sort of like that?
Walter Brennan — Recording Star?
He had not just one but two best-sellers.
Most of us know about Sun Records in Memphis, and how stars like Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash and Charlie Rich worked there in the early years — as did a guy named Elvis. But another Sun veteran isn’t quite as well remembered, and yet Bill Justis had a pretty good career too, one that included performing, composing, arranging, and producing. He was also the guy behind what’s generally recognized as the first rock and roll instrumental hit, a Grammy Hall of Fame song with the simple but intriguing title of “Raunchy.”
William Everett Justis Jr. was born in Birmingham, Alabama, but his family moved to Memphis when he was small, and it was there that he grew up surrounded by music. In fact, he studied it in both high school and college while polishing his trumpet and sax skills, and a few years later he found himself working for Sam Phillips at Sun Records. By then he was playing sax in his own group but was also learning the business from the inside out, often working as an arranger and producer for Phillips.
In 1957 Justis and his group recorded a song co-written by him and his guitarist Sid Manker, an instrumental that featured a guitar lead. That was kind of a new thing for early rock and roll, and the record began to build a lot of momentum as it moved up the charts. It also drew a lot of attention from other pros, and before long competing versions began showing up. In fact, for a while there were three different records of “Raunchy” in the Top Ten — the original from Justis and his group, a purely pop version by Billy Vaughn and his orchestra, and a sort of in-betweener from pianist Ernie Freeman’s combo.
Of course, there were a lot of other rock and roll pioneers around in those days. Guys like Duane Eddy and others were adding reverb and pushing the envelope in various ways. As for Justis, he also played around with the song himself and eventually recorded a lot of different versions, and he had a few other good records too (including a minor hit with “College Man”), but as the years passed he turned more and more to working behind the scenes. He continued to perform from time to time and also found some success writing music for the movies, but most of the rest of his unfortunately shortened career was spent in music production and management. He was just 55 when he died of cancer in 1982.
Bill Justis Band – “College Man” (You can also access music in left column.)
Current country music fans might not recognize Cindy Walker’s name, but even though she died at age 87 in 2006, she is still remembered — and revered — by many music pros. A member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, she could hold her own as a performer but her legacy will always be the songs she wrote, many of them the basis for hit records by some of the biggest stars around. It’s estimated that more than 500 of her songs were recorded, and 400 of them made the charts. She was often called “the greatest living songwriter of country music” by her peers.
Even while growing up in Depression-era Texas, Cindy Walker began to show signs of what her future would bring. In addition to a musical upbringing — her mother was a skilled pianist — she also spent a lot of time writing rhymes, possibly inspired by a grandfather who wrote hymns. In any case, it wasn’t long before she was a songwriter herself, and she began to draw some attention while still in her teens, even furnishing some of the music for Paul Whiteman‘s orchestra during his 1936 salute to the Texas Centennial.
Her breakout occurred a few years later, when she accompanied her parents on a trip to Los Angeles and talked her skeptical father into stopping at Bing Crosby‘s office building. One thing led to another and before long she was performing one of her songs for Crosby, who was a huge star at the time. He ended up with a Top Ten record on the song — “Lone Star Trail” — and even better, helped Cindy land her own recording contract. It was the beginning of a period lasting more than a decade, during which she made her home in Los Angeles and flourished as a songwriter and performer. She even found the occasional movie part, often accompanying stars like Gene Autry but sometimes shining on her own. (Video below.)
By the 1950s Cindy Walker was one of the busiest songwriters around. She’d had her own hit record a few years earlier with “When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again,” but as the years passed she became a valuable resource for many performers. Her roster of big songs is too long to list here, but include more than fifty just for Bob Wills, including “Cherokee Maiden” and “You’re From Texas.” Also Autry’s “Blue Canadian Rockies” and several songs for Jim Reeves, including his chart-topper “Distant Drums.” Other best-sellers included “Take Me in Your Arms and Hold Me” and “You Don’t Know Me” for Eddy Arnold and a lot of others, including Ray Charles and Elvis Presley. In fact, she wrote a lot of pure pop hits, among them Roy Orbison’s “Dream Baby” and Dean Martin’s “In The Misty Moonlight.”
But as high as her profile was professionally, she was very private in her personal life. She had moved back to Texas in the 1950s and was based there for the rest of her long life (with occasional stints in Nashville) spending much of it living with her widowed mother, who sometimes helped her compose. She once said that she’d had a brief marriage, but not much else is known about it. She remained active well into her later years, although her mother’s death in 1991 was a difficult time for her. When she died in Texas in 2006, Willie Nelson had just released his loving tribute album, You Don’t Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker.
Cindy Walker – “When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again” (You can also access music in left column.)