Born Sid Erwin, 15 October 1936, Denton, Texas
Sid King and his group, the Five Strings, were among the first rockabilly bands of the 1950s. Sid was in the right place at the right time : he had a major label recording contract, youthful good looks, ambition aplenty, and some great songs. Yet he never enjoyed anything more than a taste of the big league.
Sid Erwin and his brother Billy (born 1938) were still in high school when they formed a country/western swing band in 1952. Sid took care of the vocals and played rhythm guitar, Billy was the lead guitarist while Mel Robinson acted as second vocalist and played steel guitar. About a year later the lineup was completed with the addition of Ken Massey on upright bass and Dave White on drums. They were influenced by Lefty Frizzell, Webb Pierce, Hank Williams and the Essex recordings of Bill Haley, but also by black acts like the Drifters and the Clovers. A TV appearance in 1953 in Dallas led to a one-year contract with Starday. One single was released in 1954, the novelty “Who Put the Turtle In Myrtle’s Girdle”, which was credited to The Western Melody Makers. The disc was recorded at the studio of Jim Beck in Dallas. Beck had discovered and / or recorded several of Columbia’s biggest stars, like Lefty Frizzell and Marty Robbins. He saw some potential in the Western Melody Makers and played their tape to Don Law, head of country music A&R at Columbia, who signed them in late 1954. Sid and his group were happy to leave Starday, as they never received any money or royalties from the label.
Renamed Sid King and the Five Strings, they would do seven sessions for Columbia between December 1954 and September 1957, resulting in nine single releases. Craig Morrison (author of “Go Cat Go! Rockabilly Music and its Makers”) calls their music “restrained and controlled rockabilly, with a certain hillbilly charm”. Their first single was “I Like It” (released in March 1955), followed by “Drinking Wine Spoli Oli” (a thinly disguised rewrite of Sticks McGhee’s “Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee”) and “Sag, Drag and Fall” (a title inspired by both “Shake Rattle & Roll” and “Flip Flop and Fly”). The fourth A-side, “Purr, Kitty Purr”, showed the influence of Bill Haley. Next, in 1956, two Sun hits were covered in quick succession, first Carl Perkins’s “Blue Suede Shoes”, then Roy Orbison’s “Ooby Dooby”. The latter was their first record to feature a sax and had an arrangement that was reminiscent of the Drifters’ hit “Money Honey”. Another R&B influence was the use of a deep bass voice, sung by Dave White.
Until mid-1956 all records by King and the Five Strings had been recorded in Dallas, but in August 1956 the two Erwin brothers recorded four sides in Hollywood, all originals, with bass, drums and piano played by studio musicians. Two singles came out of this session, “Gonna Shake This Shack Tonight”/“Good Rockin’ Baby” and “When My Baby Left Me”/ “It’s True, I’m Blue”. Thirteen months later, the Five Strings cut their last session, this time in Fort Worth. The heyday of rockabilly was already over, and, for the first time, two of the four tracks remained in the vaults. “I’ve Got the Blues”/“What Have Ya Got To Lose” was the final Columbia single. Their contract was not renewed.
In 1957 the band was still very active, with its own TV show in Houston and its own club in nearby Conroe. By 1958, however, disillusion set in. The group had appeared on the Big D Jamboree, the Louisiana Hayride and the Grand Ole Opry, had toured in almost every state and crossed paths with big stars like Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent and Carl Perkins, but all this exposure had failed to get them a hit record.
The group went back into the studio on their own dime in May 1958. “I Cried” and “Oh, What You Do To Me” were in a lighter pop-country style, but they couldn’t find a buyer and the tracks remained unissued until the tapes were acquired by Bear Family in 1991. The group disbanded later in 1958. Sid King’s last shot at recording during the Golden Era came in 1959, when Pat Boone (ex-resident of Sid’s birthplace, Denton, Texas) arranged a deal with Dot. “Hello There Rockin’ Chair” was a pleasant little number, but Dot didn’t release it until November 1961. Sid stayed in the music business until 1965, when he bought a hairdressing business in Dallas with his brother Billy. They turned “Sid’s Haircutting” into a big success and the barber shop still exists today, now run by Sid’s son, Sid Junior.
The rockabilly revival of the 1970s led to a new album by Sid King, “Let’s Get Loose”, recorded in Dallas in late 1979 and early 1980. Dave White and Mel Robinson, former members of the Five Strings, contributed background vocals and Billy King played guitar. It was issued in 1987 on the Dutch Rockhouse label, but has not been reissued on CD. By then Sid and Billy had made several trips to Europe and continued to do so until 2008, when they performed at the 41st Hemsby Rock ’n’ Roll Weekender in England.
Some pictures and a little more info at http://www.rockabillyhall.com/SidKing1.html
Discography / sessionography :
Acknowledgements : Colin Escott, Craig Morrison, Jean-Marc Pezet.
Dik, July 2015
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