ALTON AND JIMMY (By Jimmy Harrell)
Jimmy Harrell, of the Rockabilly duo Alton and Jimmy, was born James Howard Harrell, on November 16, 1936, at the home of his grandfather John W. Harrell, in Hillsboro, Scott County, Mississippi. Three and a half years later on June 17, 1940, in the same bed in the same room, his first cousin Alton Autrey Lott (named after Alton Delmore and Gene Autrey) was born. Jimmy's father, Monroe Harrell and Alton's mother Peggy Harrell Lott were brother and sister. Both Monroe and Peggy were excellent musicians and each played in hillbilly bands. One of Alton and Jimmy's fondest memories is of sitting and listenening to their aunts and uncles playing and singing ole timey music at their Papa Harrell's house. In1949, Jimmy moved north with his family to Hernando, Mississippi, just south of Memphis, where he spent the next few years listening to rhythm and blues, gospel, and country music on Memphis and Nashville radio stations.
Jimmy was a member of a southern gospel quartet in high school and appeared with the Blackwood Brothers on radio and in two concerts with the Blackwood Brothers and Statesmen Quartets. Soon after high school graduation in 1954, Jimmy joined the U. S. Navy and was sent to southern California. While there he and two Navy buddies, Bob Coen (lead guitar) and Bob Allen (bass) attended a Gene Vincent concert in San Diego which inspired them to form the "Jim-Bobs." The group entered a local talent contest playing country and early rock music and finished in second place. The publicity which followed led to local radio, club, and other appearances. When not playing their own gigs on Saturday nights, the boys frequently went to the "Town Hall Party" in Compton, California, enjoying Joe and Rose Lee Maphis, The Maddox Brothers and Rose, Lefty Frizzell, Johnny Bond, Tex Ritter, The Collins Kids, Freddie Hart, and many others.
Jimmy left the Navy in 1957 and returned home to Hernando. Times were hard in the area at the time and good jobs were scarce so when Jimmy's Aunt Peggy invited him to move to Jackson, Mississippi, and live with them, Jimmy jumped at the chance. During this stay is when Alton and Jimmy was formed and they started writing and performing in local clubs, at dances and recreational centers and on radio and t.v. Back in those days everybody wanted to "make a record" so one day they got bold and walked into the studio of Ace Records in Jackson and asked Johnny Vincent for an audition. He obliged, said "he liked their harmony singing," and set up a recording session at Cosimo Matassa's studio in New Orleans. This was in September 1958 when Alton and Jimmy recorded "Looking For Someone" and "I Got It Made In The Shade." Huey "Piano" Smith played piano. No single was released and the first time either song saw the light of day was in the 80's when "I Got It Made..." was released on a White Label LP, later on a R & C Label LP, and most recently on the LP and CD (Ace 2026) "The Greatest Rockabillies Of The 50's." "Looking For Someone" is yet to be released. Westside Records, London, now owns the Ace catalog. Shortly after the New Orleans session, a personal manager, Melvin Cox, was signed. Melvin was a good friend of Curly Herndon, who was playing with Slim Whitman on the "Louisiana Hayride" in Shreveport. Melvin took the boys to Curly's home, he liked what he heard and put them in touch with Tillman Franks, a big "Hayride" promoter. Tillman set up an audition, put Alton and Jimmy on the "Hayride" the same night and made a quick phone call to Sam Phillips at Sun Records, Memphis. A recording session at Sun on April 5, 1959 resulted in the release of "Have Faith In My Love" and "No More Crying The Blues" as Sun 323.
"What's The Use" and "I Just Don't Know" were recorded at a second session on June 5, 1959 (the month Sun 323 was released). These songs were never released by Sam Phillips but have since been issued on various artist compilations. Alton and Jimmy were offered a contract to appear full- time on the "Louisiana Hayride" and to tour with Johnny Horton whom Tillman Franks was managing at the time. Neither occurred because in August 1959 Jimmy was recalled to active duty in the Navy where he served until 1993. Alton continued in the business for the next eighteen years. He was a session musician, played lead guitar with several bands, and formed a group called "Faux Pas" based in Akron, Ohio, with whom he toured for 14 years. In 1998, Alton and Jimmy were inducted into the Rockabilly Hall Of Fame and in September of that year returned to the legendary Sun Studio, 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, where they recorded a tribute song "Rockin' In The Shadow Of Sun" for The Rockabilly Hall of Fame CD Volume 2. In 2000, they recorded "Who Put The Rock N Roll" which is included on Rockabilly Hall Of Fame CD Volume 5.
More information is available at:
Jimmy Harrell, November 2002
For the availability of their recordings see:
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