Born Luther Bradley Suggs, circa 1933, near Raleigh, North Carolina
Guitarist/vocalist Brad Suggs had no less than eight records released on Sun and Phillips International. Only Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Charlie Rich had more singles released on Sam's labels. Yet the name Brad Suggs isn't even mentioned in the index of the standard history of Sun Records, "Good Rockin' Tonight", by Colin Escott and Martin Hawkins.
Brad Suggs (also called "Pee Wee", "L.B." or "Junior") had his first professional affiliation with the Loden Family, around 1950. Sonny Loden, the later Sonny James, sang and played fiddle with the group. He wanted Suggs to go on the road with him, but Brad was married and had family obligations, so he chose not to. Instead, he went to work with the Slim Rhodes band, once again joining a family group of musicians. Suggs played with them when he first got to Memphis until he went into the Army. They were going to send him to Korea, but he had two brothers who had already died in the war (Suggs came from a family of twelve), so he was allowed to stay Stateside. After his demob, probably in 1954, he went back to work for Slim Rhodes. Suggs played guitar with the Rhodes band on all their Sun recordings, appearing as a featured vocalist on three of them in 1955-56: "Don't Believe" (Sun 216), "Are You Ashamed Of Me" (Sun 225) and "Bad Girl" (Sun 238), all country ballads. Like several other Sun alumni (Charlie Feathers, Malcolm Yelvington, Little Milton, Jimmy Haggett), Suggs also made a brief trip across town to record a rockabilly single for Lester Bihari's Meteor label in 1956 ("Bop Baby Bop"/"Charcoal Suit", Meteor 5034). But his true home territory was 706 Union Avenue. Brad hung around Sun a lot in those days. One thing led to another and he started doing studio work as a guitarist. Among the records he plays on are "Ubangi Stomp" by Warren Smith and "Hillbilly Fever" by Jerry Lee Lewis.
In 1959, Suggs began to function for Sun in the semi-official capacity of producer and bandleader, in much the same way as the recently-departed Bill Justis. Five singles were issued under his name on the Phillips International label, eight instrumentals and two vocals ("Ooh Wee" and "Sam's Tune"), on which he does not sing himself. The first and best of these singles is "706 Union"/"Low Outside" (Phillips International 3545), which was issued in September 1959. Two excellent slices of instrumental rock 'n'roll, recorded with the usual Sun crew (Roland Janes on guitar, Charlie Rich on piano, Martin Willis on sax and J.M. Van Eaton on drums). The next single "Ooh wee"/"I Walk the Line" (P.I. 3549) was credited to "Brad Suggs Orchestra and Chorus" and had been recorded before "706 Union" and "Low Outside". "Cloudy"/"Partly Cloudy" (both sides written by Suggs in cooperation with Charles Underwood) was a very atmospheric single, with overdubbed sound effects. "Sam's Tune" was another homage to Brad's employer. The other side, "My Gypsy" is a strange record that sounds like an instrumental backing track that has mysteriously lost its vocal. The final Phillips International single (3571) came out in November 1961. On the A-side, "Elephant Walk" could have been a Stax record, with Larry Mohoberac on organ. The flip, "Like, Catchin' Up" is a very fast piece, with guitar and piano alternating solos and occasional shrieks from a very high female voice. The ten P.I. sides display a wide variety of styles. There was no distinct Brad Suggs sound.
Suggs backed up Elvis Presley during the King's Memphis concert on February 25, 1961. This and the Hawaiian benefit a few weeks later would be Elvis's last live performances until 1969.
Brad Suggs chose a course that allowed him to combine family, steady day work at Sears, and music. He has three daughters and seven grandchildren.
The info for this bio comes mainly from an interview by Hank Davis (held in 1998) for Bear Family's "From the Vaults" project. It is published in the book accompanying "From the Vaults : The Original Sun Singles, Vol. 6" (Bear Family BCD 15806).
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