Born Tommie Lee Guthrie, 27 December 1937, Amarillo, Texas
Had he shown a preference for pop rather than country music and more ambition, Tom Tall might have made it as a teen idol on his looks alone. Born Tommie Guthrie, he grew up with a passion for hunting and fishing and a prodigious talent for singing. By the time he was twelve, he was listening closely to his major influences, Hank Williams and Hank Thompson, and had his own radio show over KSNY in Snyder, Texas. The next year his family moved to California, where in 1953 Tom was spotted by Fabor Robison at a talent contest. Tom recalls how he met Robison: "I won the talent show , and he was there and saw me. He asked me to come out to his place and make a demonstration record. We made the demo at Western Recorders on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood ; it was a major studio then. Fabor liked the demo, offered me a contract, and about six months later we did our first session, at the same studio. We did four songs, the ones that were on my first two releases : "I Gave My Heart To Two People", a sort of gospel-flavoured song I had written, "Please Be Careful", another original called "I Want To Walk With You", and a slow number of mine called "You Loved Another One Better Than Me". To back me on these, Fabor brought in the Louisiana Hayride Band, who were on tour in California. Jimmy Day played steel, Floyd Cramer piano and D.J. Fontana was on drums ; then Fabor brought in a guy he knew in Los Angeles, named Gene Davis, and he played lead guitar."
The first release (Fabor 108) came out on May 15, 1954, the second in late September (Fabor 115). Meanwhile, Fabor Robison had got the idea of partnering Tom with one of the label's more attractive girl singers, Ginny Wright (born 1936, Twin Cities, Georgia), who the year before had a national hit with Jim Reeves, "I Love You" (# 3 country). By late 1954, Fabor and Reeves had reached a parting of the ways (Reeves would soon sign for RCA), and Fabor was doubtless looking for a replacement. He thought he had found the next duet song in "Are You Mine", which he had already recorded and released on the Abbott label, by two Canadian singers, Myrna Lorrie (the song's composer) and Buddy Deval. He wanted, however, to cover the song on his own Fabor label, which he totally owned (he only owned 50% of Abbott), and one evening called Ginny Wright in Shreveport, asking her to take the next plane out to cut "Are You Mine" with Tom. She agreed and in November 1954, she and Tom did their first session together. "Are You Mine" (Fabor 117) went to # 2 on Billboard's country chart in 1955 and was followed by another duet, "Boom Boom Boomerang", which was only a regional hit. One problem was that Tom and Ginny didn't get much chance to tour and promote the records. When Ginny quit the business abruptly in 1955, Tom went back to doing solo work. In spite of the fact that some of his Fabor recordings bear the legend "accompanied by the Louisiana Hayride Band", they were all cut in California with a battery of studio musicians rounded up by Fabor. "Most of them were Hollywood musicians that I didn't even know", says Tom. "Fabor had a recording studio set up at the time in his house in Malibu, and we'd all go out there and spend a week at a time, rehearsing and practicing and writing songs.". Tom found two other duet partners this way at the Fabor studio. One was Ruckus Tyler, a Louisiana singer. Tom met him at Malibu, and the pair worked up a pair of nice rockabilly tunes, "Don't You Know" and "If You Know What I Know" (Fabor 139), somewhat reminiscent of the Buddy Holly and Bob Montgomery duets before Buddy became famous. They actually became Tom's last recordings for the label, being issued in July 1956. Tom and Ruckus never worked together outside of the studio, and Tyler had at least one solo release on Fabor 135, "Rockin' and Rollin'" and "Rock Town Rock". A similar situation existed with the Creel Sisters, who backed Tom on two cuts, "Hot Rod Is Her Name" and "Whose Little Pigeon Are You". Tom recalls "Fabor had recorded them on some pop song. I just met them out at his house, and they started singing background with me on this song I had, "Hot Rod", and Fabor said, ´Yeah, let's record that'. I don't know where they were from, and never saw them again after that record." The two cuts with the Creel Sisters came close to straightforward rock 'n' roll and in fact "Whose Little Pigeon Are You" was issued in Abbott's pop series, on the flip of the Creels' "Stop the Clock Rock" (Abbott 3022).
Tom left Fabor in mid-1956, moving to the Sage label, a small Hollywood outfit which already had Tall's sister Myrna Jay under contract. Next he signed with the Los Angeles-based Crest Records, where he befriended Eddie Cochran. The first of Tom's two Crest singles, "Stack-A-Records" (Crest 1038, 1958), is his most rocking recording (even to the extent that an SAO feature was named after the song!). In a bid to replicate Eddie Cochran's guitar sound, Tall played the guitar licks (which are a bit too close to those on Buddy Knox's "Party Doll" for comfort) himself on a Gretsch bought shortly before the session. Tom went on to record for Chart, Sundown, Petal (a # 25 country hit with "Bad Bad Tuesday" in 1964), Decca, Columbia, Blue Book and Scorpion. From 1955 to 1959 he appeared on the "Big D Jamboree" in Dallas, as well as on Town Hall Party, Ozark Jubilee and the Grand Ole Opry. By 1979 Tom had decided to retire from music and work as a business executive in Las Vegas, but was lured back into the studio for a 1985 session.
Bear Family has just reissued the complete Fabor recordings by Tom Tall and Ginny Wright ("Are You Mine", BCD 16741): http://www.bear-family.de/mailorder/showoneproduct.html?lang=de&p=BCD+16741
Much of the above was adapted from the liner notes (by Charles K. Wolfe) of an earlier Bear Family release, now out of print: Tom Tall, Hot Rod Is Her Name (BFX 15189, vinyl).
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