Born 5 March 1938, Booneville, Mississippi
Hayden Thompson is one of the original rockabilly cats who recorded for Sam Phillips's legendary Sun label in the 1950s. Born a few miles north of Elvis Presley's birthplace Tupelo in 1938, Hayden was given a guitar at the age of five by his musically active parents. He quickly learned how to play and music became his main interest. Country was his favourite genre, but he also liked blues. He formed his first band in high school, the Southern Melody Boys, playing mainly covers of country hits. Soon they attracted the attention of Booneville's local record label, Von Records, on which Johnny Burnette also made his debut. Thompson's first record was "I Feel the Blues Coming On"/"Act Like You Love Me" (Von HT 1001, 1955). After graduation in 1956, Hayden hit the road with his group, but the band soon fell apart. Influenced by Elvis, Thompson wanted to play rock 'n' roll, wheras most of the others wanted to stick with country music. Not ready to give up his dreams, Hayden moved to Memphis where he found temporary salvation with Billy Riley's band. With the nucleus of this band (including Jerry Lee Lewis on piano) he recorded "Love My Baby" on December 20, 1956 in the Sun studio (originally recorded by Junior Parker in 1953, Sun 192). Sam Phillips waited nine months before releasing it, among the first batch of Phillips International singles. Thompson was ready for the acclaim that would surely follow, but, as Escott and Hawkins put it so well, "he fell prey to the premier illusion of the record business. Virtually everyone who puts a record out gets at least one good review or a slot on a playlist. The problem is in the capriciousness of the market : the following week there is a new crop of records, a new set of reviews, a new set of playlists. Last week's Best Bet is next week's unreturned phone call."
Bill Justis's "Raunchy" turned out to be the hit from those first releases on Phillips International, Sun's new subsidiary. "Love My Baby" was too primitive for the ever more sophisticated teenage market. Before it was released, Thompson had already recorded two further sessions for Sun ("Rockabilly Gal", "Fairlane Rock", "Blues, Blues, Blues" and others), but Phillips never issued a second Hayden Thompson single and disillusioned, Hayden headed north to Chicago in 1958. There he worked the clubs and recorded for some small labels (B.E.A.T., Profile, Arlen), but nothing caught on. His best chance came in 1966, when he had three singles and an LP ("Here's Hayden Thompson") released on Kapp Records. These recordings (fine uptown country) secured him a guest appearance on the Grand Ole Opry, but Thompson could never quite capitalize on his opportunities. Being based in Chicago in a Nashville-dominated country scene didn't help either.
The late sixties and the 1970s saw the odd single release, but his career lay dormant until the rockabilly revival in Europe, where his unissued Sun recordings had become available, little by little. In 1984, he made his first trip to Europe and was stunned by the size of the audiences and their enthusiastic reactions. Since then he has made several return visits, but he never gave up his day job as a limo driver. Occasionally he recorded albums with new material, including the "Rockabilly Rhythm" CD on the St. George label (2005), which got an excellent review in Now Dig This.
To this day, Hayden has never understood why he didn't make it as an artist back in the fifties, but he is grateful that he got a second chance. Though he never scored a hit, his place in the history of rockabilly is assured, just on the basis of his Sun recordings.
More info : http://www.rockabillyhall.com/HaydenThompson1.html Acknowledgements : Shaun Mather, Martin Hawkins.
CD : Rock-A-Billy Gal : The Sun Years Plus (Bear Family BCD 16131). 35 tracks. Annotated by Martin Hawkins. Released in 2008.
The quote is from "Good Rockin' Tonight : Sun Records and the birth of rock 'n' roll" by Colin Escott and Martin Hawkins (1991), page 179-180.
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