Born Thomas M. Spurlin, 12 January 1928, Elba, Alabama
Tommy Spurlin's "Hang Loose" (1956) became hugely popular during the British rockabilly revival of the late 1970s, when it was reissued in the UK on the specialist RM label. Spurlin had a half-brother called George 'Benny' Dumas, who was born to a different father in Allan, Alabama in 1931. They spent their early childhood in Jackson, Alabama before moving to Glenmora, Louisiana in their early teens. Spurlin's grandfather retired to Miami in 1948 and the remainig members of the family followed suit a year later. By this time Dumas and Spurlin had started making music together. In 1952 they formed a semi-pro hillbilly band, Tommy Spurlin & the Southern Boys, comprising Spurlin on vocals and rhythm guitar, Dumas on bass, Virgil Powell on violin, Jimmy Slade on lead guitar and Bill Johnson on steel. In 1954 they made their first record, "Been Livin' Wrong"/"My Address Is the Same", released on Jiffy 205. Jiffy Records was a tiny label based in West Monroe, Louisiana, near Shreveport, where the band had picked up some work.
In the summer of 1955 they signed with Perfect Records, owned by Harold Doane in Miami, Florida. Doane, who had previously been involved in the motion picture industry, was using quite sophisticated recording techniques for the time and appears to have been one of the earliest studios to use tape rather than acetate discs as a recording medium. The first Perfect single by Spurlin and his group was "Danger!"/ "Ain't Had No Lovin'", both sides written by Spurlin. This was still firmly in the C&W mould.
Like many other country ensembles, they fell upon hard times when rock 'n' roll started exploding in 1956. They decided to drop the fiddle and the steel guitar and started incorporating rock material into their stage shows. Their next single, released in August 1956, was "Hang Loose"/"One Eyed Sam" (Perfect 109). Both sides were pure rockabilly, with a sparse guitar / bass accompaniment. Later in 1956 the record was reissued on ART 109 (ART was Doane's second label), with an overdubbed drum. It is this overdubbed version that was reissued in the UK. The original undubbed version can be heard on the Ace CD "Miami Rockabilly" (released in 1998), along with three other tracks by Tommy Spurlin and the Southern Boys.
Doane mailed some of Spurlin's songs to music publisher Bill Lowery in Atlanta, Georgia. Lowery bought the publishing rights to "Heart Throb" (but not the other material), which he gave to one of his staff writers, Jerry Reed, who polished the lyrics a little, in return for a co-writing credit. Lowery then placed "Heart Throb" with one of his protégés, Ric Cartey, who recorded the song for RCA in January 1957. It wasn't a hit, but the pay-off for Lowery came in 1982, when "Heart Throb" was included in the movie smash "Porky's". Spurlin's own version of "Heart Throb" (recorded in 1956) was first included on a 1979 album called "Miami Rockabilly" (AFS LP 1001). By 1957, Spurlin's growing disenchantment with rock 'n' roll had made him increasingly unreliable. He was sacked from the band in late 1957, after which Dumas assumed Spurlin's identity for performing purposes, which extended the band's life for a few more years. In 1963 Dumas started a successful manufacturing business in Jackson, Alabama. In 1969, as Benny Dumas, he cut some country sides for a small Nashville label (Fiddlin' Bow) before quitting the music business altogether in the early 1970s. The real Tommy Spurlin moved to Mississippi, where he died in 2005, completely unnoticed by the rest of the world. At least, I did not see his demise mentioned in any music paper, nor on the Internet. (The death date comes from the Social Security Death Index.)
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