Born Andrew Jackson Rhodes, 12 January 1907, Gedden, East Texas
Songwriter / producer / guitarist.
Jack Rhodes is probably best known for writing or co-writing a number of highly esteemed 1950s rockabilly tracks, particularly some songs recorded by Gene Vincent.
Rhodes didn't take up songwriting in earnest until the early 50's by which time he was in his mid-forties. While working on a shipyard he fell from a gantry in 1944 and broke his back. He was confined to bed for months on end with only a radio for company. He mostly tuned into country music stations and this led him to think that he might write songs that were no worse than the ones he heard on the Grand Ole Opry. In 1947 he formed a bluegrass band, Jack Rhodes' Ramblers. The group backed Leon Payne (Rhodes' stepbrother and the writer of "I Love You Because") on several of his recordings.
During 1949-50 Rhodes built a motel complex (the Trail '80' Courts) in Mineola, a hamlet about 90 miles east of Dallas. By 1953, he had more or less ceased performing with the band. Jack constructed a demo studio behind the motel's kitchen and encouraged local talent to record there. He focused more heavily on his songwriting and some of his songs were recorded by artists on Fabor Robinson's Abbott Records roster, including Jim Reeves. In 1955, Rhodes had his first success as a songwriter. "A Satisfied Mind" (now a country classic, co-written with Red Hayes) became a giant country hit (# 1 by Porter Wagoner, # 3 by Red & Betty Foley, # 4 by Jean Shepard). This success brought Rhodes to the attention of Central Songs, a Hollywood publishing firm jointly owned by Lee Gillette, Ken Nelson and Cliffie Stone, all of whom were affiliated with Capitol Records. Jack signed an agreement that gave Central Songs first option on his songs, but he was free to place his material elsewhere if Central took a pass.
1955-57 were Rhodes' halcyon years. All the big names on Capitol's country roster recorded his songs (Sonny James, Jean Shepard, Faron Young, Ferlin Husky, Tommy Collins et al.) and there were major hits with "Beautiful Lies" (Jean Shepard, 1955), "Waltz Of the Angels" (Wynn Stewart, 1955) and "Conscience I'm Guilty" (Hank Snow, 1956). "Silver Threads And Golden Needles", a minor country hit for Wanda Jackson in 1956, was popularized by the British group The Springfields who reached the US Top 20 with the song in 1962.
One weekend in March 1956, Rhodes asked his friend and protégé Jimmy Johnson to come over and demo a couple of his songs, among which "Woman Love". He sent the demos to Cliffie Stone at Central Songs, but when Jack didn't hear anything for three weeks, he became impatient and asked Starday Records of Houston to press up a few hundred copies of "Woman Love"/ "All Dressed Up" on its custom series (Starday 561). Meanwhile, Ken Nelson had found someone to cut "Woman Love" for Capitol, an unknown vocalist from Norfolk, Virginia, named Gene Craddock, who recorded the song with his own band on May 4, 1956, along with three other songs. "Woman Love"/ "Be-Bop-A-Lula" was rush-released on May 26, credited to Gene Vincent and his Bluecaps. The contrast with Jimmy Johnson's restrained country version of "Woman Love" could hardly be greater. Gene transformed the song into an intense rockabilly opus that oozed lustfulness. Perhaps it was too horny for the deejays, most of whom went for "Be-Bop-A-Lula" (sent out as the B-side) and it was that song that would catapult Gene Vincent to stardom, peaking at # 7.
Vincent's first LP was released so quickly that Rhodes didn't have time to hitch a ride on that particular gravy train, but by August Jack had some new songs ready, most penned with Vincent in mind. Ken Nelson, Gene's producer, had great faith in "Missing Persons", but it proved unsuited to Gene's style and was abandoned. Nelson recorded the song a month later (in November 1956) with Ferlin Husky on the B-side of his pop smash "Gone". But Vincent did lay down blistering takes of "Red Blue Jeans And a Pony Tail" (included on his second LP), "Five Days, Five Days" (on which Nelson cut himself in as co-writer under the pseudonym Billie Willie) and "B-I-Bickey-Bi Bo-Bo-Go". The latter two cuts were held back and paired on a single in April 1957, but failed to make the charts.
Rhodes wisely kept as many balls in the air as he could. While the Central Songs connection enabled him to access the mainstream, he was equally happy running with the obscure honky-tonk singers and neighbourhood rockabillies who looked to him for inspiration. Thus for every "Woman Love" or "Satisfied Mind" there were a dozen songs by minor artists on small labels that came and went without making any impression. Probably the best known of these artists are Derrell Felts, Johnny Dollar, Johnny Fallin and Elroy Dietzel. The latter recorded the original version of "Rock-N-Bones" (co-written by Rhodes), better known as "Rockin' Bones" in the 1959 Ronnie Dawson version. Dawson also covered Rhodes' composition "Action Packed", first recorded by Johnny Dollar (1933-1986), who remained obscure for most rockabilly fans until the release of his CD "Mr. Action Packed" in 1999. Johnny Fallin is best known for his Capitol rocker "Party Kiss" (1959) and co-wrote (with Rhodes) "Crazy Beat", which was recorded by Gene Vincent in January 1961.
Rhodes slowed down during the 1960s, sustained by income from both the motel and his song royalties. He produced a garage band called the Bad Seeds and some minor country acts, including a woman called Billie Jo Moore, who would later find fame as Billie Jo Spears. For some time he lived in Nashville, pushing his songs, but returned to Mineola in October 1968, where he suffered a fatal heart attack a few days later.
Jack Rhodes was posthumously inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall Of Fame in 1972. In 2004 Ace Records in the UK released the Various artists CD "Gene Vincent Cut Our Songs : Primitive Texas Rockabilly & Honky Tonk", which contains 26 previously unreleased demos recorded at his motel studio, plus the singles "Woman Love"/"All Dressed Up" by Jimmy Johnson and "Rock-N-Bones"/"Shang-Hai Rock" by Elroy Dietzel. Rhodes' own taste was more inclined toward country and hillbilly music and it has even been alleged that he hated rock n roll. Nevertheless, he played a significant role in the rise of rockabilly.
More info : http://www.acerecords.co.uk/content.php?page_id=59&release=426 (abbreviated liner notes for Ace CDCHD 1018).
CD : Gene Vincent Cut Our Songs (Ace 1018), 2004. 30 tracks. Liner notes by Rob Finnis. Not many Ace CD's are available on Spotify, but this one is.
Acknowledgements : Rob Finnis, Richie Unterberger (All Music Guide).
Dik, April 2012
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