Born James Faye Hall, 7 May 1922, Big Stone Gap, Virginia
Singer / pianist / songwriter / producer. Roy Hall would boast that he recorded four million sellers, "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On", "See You Later Alligator", "All By Myself" and "Blue Suede Shoes", omitting to mention that these songs were million sellers for Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Haley, Fats Domino and Carl Perkins respectively. It is typical for the man. He was something of a fantasist. Often there was a lot of truth in his stories as well, but Hall succeeded in obscuring the truth in each of the few interviews he gave over the years, so attempting a reliable biographical sketch is no easy task.
To begin with, Nick Tosches (in his book "Unsung Heroes of Rock 'n' Roll") promoted the legend that Roy learned piano from "an old coloured man", who not only taught him the blues and the boogie, but also how to drink hard liquor. In reality Hall started to play the piano through his mother's influence. He had two lessons from a professional teacher, but found out that he was better at learning by ear. "I could just listen to a tune and play it right off", he told Martin Hawkins in 1974. Hall started playing professionally as a sideman with Uncle Dave Mason from the Grand Ole Opry. By 1949 he had organized his own band, the Cohutta Mountain Boys. Roy played mainly piano with this five-piece outfit and he is not the singer on "Dirty Boogie" (Fortune, 1949) and "Mule Boogie" (Bullet, 1950), the two prototype rockers for which he is best known from this early period. The singer was the group's fiddle player, Frankie Brumbalough, but the record labels had Roy Hall's name out front and the songs are associated with him. These two songs are by no means typical of the recordings that Hall's band made in 1949-50. Most of these were pure country, with some western swing thrown in for good measure. In 1951 Hall formed a new band, the Eagles, which recorded three singles for Detroit's Citation Records. The next year Hall recorded two singles with piano instrumentals (inspired by the success of Del Wood's "Down Yonder") for the Tennessee label in Nashville. None of these early records achieved sales of any significance. Roy opened an after-hours joint in Nashville called the Hideaway where he played piano. Webb Pierce was a loyal customer at Hall's club and hired Roy as his piano player, using him on most of his recordings in 1954-55. Roy also did session work for Marty Robbins, Hawkshaw Hawkins and Patsy Cline. Legend has it that Elvis Presley came to Roy's club one night in 1954, looking for work, but that Hall fired him after just one night. "He weren't no damn good." More reliable is the claim that Jerry Lee Lewis played at the Hideaway for a few weeks in early 1955. According to Hall, that's where Lewis first heard "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On". Hall claims to be the co-writer of this song (under the pseudonym Sunny David), with Dave "Curlee" Williams. It was first recorded by Big Maybelle on OKeh in March 1955 and then by Hall himself on September 15, 1955, after Webb Pierce had helped him to get a Decca record deal. However, a sample copy of this record shows Williams as the sole writer : http://rcs.law.emory.edu/rcs/pics/d01/1817.htm and Williams is currently recognized as the sole composer, after legal action from his side. Still, most of the "experts" seem to give Hall some credit for the writing of "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On". Roy recorded four sessions for Decca in 1955-56 and these yielded some superb rockabilly recordings, like "Three Alley Cats", "Diggin' the Boogie", "Off-Beat Boogie" and "You Ruined My Blue Suede Shoes" (the last two originally unissued). Produced by Paul Cohen, these Decca tracks featured some of Nashville's finest session men, with a special mention for the guitar of Grady Martin.
After another single for the Fortune label in Detroit, Hall recorded two sessions for the Sun label in December 1957. The four resulting songs were not bad at all, but Sam Phillips refused to release them and they did not become available until decades later. His next stop was at Hi-Q Records in Detroit, a Fortune subsidiary. Two singles were released, the first of which (1958) was particularly good. It coupled the humorous talking blues "Bed Spring Motel" with a faster remake of "Three Alley Cats". In 1960, Hall had a release on Pierce Records (Webb Pierce's label), "Flood Of Love"/"One Monkey Can't Stop the Show" and that's where Hall's career as a singer came to a provisional end. For the next two decades Roy would concentrate on production and promotional work. None of his enterprises took off in a big way and Hall developed a drinking problem, but he quit alcohol in 1972. In the 1970s he published the "Nashville Enquirer" newspaper, which primarily dealt with the country music scene. He relaunched the Judd label in 1974 and later recorded an album for Barrelhouse Records of Chicago. He was still working on his big moment, confident that it would come, when he died on March 2, 1984 at the age of 61.
Roy Hall was no great vocalist, but he played a mean boogie piano and he wrote several songs that could easily have made it. In the words of Martin Hawkins : "He was there when it counted, even before it counted. Maybe there was a lot more to Roy Hall than we have been able to piece together, and maybe there was less. (...) He had a raffish charm and left some music that endured from the ruckus of his life."
- CD : Roy Rocks (Bear Family BCD 16747). Released in 2005, 27 tracks from 1949-1960. With 53-page booklet by Martin Hawkins.
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