Born Howard Elton Hausey, 25 December 1925, Yellow Pine, Louisiana
The recent release of a Bear Family CD by Howard Crockett is a good opportunity to feature this little known artist, who is ignored by every country music encyclopedia that I have seen. Howard Hausey was born into a family of farmers and sharecroppers. He looked set for a major career in baseball. By 1942, when Howard was only sixteen, talent scouts came to see him play. He pitched in the Brooklyn Dodgers' farm system, until a shoulder injury forced him out.
After a short stint with the U.S. Navy, Hausey turned to music and began writing songs. In late 1955, he went to the Louisiana Hayride with three songs he had penned. Two of them were ballads, which he sang for Johnny Horton, but Johnny was looking for something uptempo. Howard then came up with "Honky Tonk Man", his third composition. Horton liked it and so did his manager, Tillman Franks. However, to get the song recorded, Howard had to give one third of the publishing to Horton and another third to Franks (who claims that he earned his share by refashioning the melody). "Honky Tonk Man" became Horton's first hit (# 9 country) and on the strength of this, Howard moved to Texas (Fort Worth). During the next Horton session (May 23, 1956), they recorded another composition by Howard Hausey, "Sugar Coated Baby", but this wasn't released until 1963, when Johnny Horton was already three years in his grave.
Howard also tried to land his own recording contract as a singer. In 1957, he was signed to Dot Records by Mac Wiseman, who gave him the name Howard Crockett. At the first session, four tracks were recorded in Nashville, with the city's finest session men (Chet Atkins, Grady Martin, Bob Moore, Floyd Cramer, Buddy Harman, the Jordanaires). Two of the four songs remained unissued until the appearance of the Bear Family CD ; the other two "You've Got Me Lying" and "If You'll Let Me" were issued on Dot 15593 in June 1957. A very good single, verging on rockabilly, close to the style of Johnny Cash. Floyd Cramer really shines on "You've Got Me Lying". The second Dot 45, "Branded"/"Night Rider" (15701, early 1958) is not quite up to the same standard, but still good. Howard named his band the Night Riders and they played regularly on the Louisiana Hayride in 1958-59. He continued to supply Johnny Horton with songs : "Counterfeit Love", "All Grown Up", "Whispering Pines" and "Ole Slew Foot". This last song was first recorded by Crockett himself, as "Slewfoot the Bear" (Manco 1002, 1959). Again, Horton wanted half of the composer credit, waving a large cheque under Howard's nose (Horton had money to burn after the giant success of "Battle Of New Orleans"), but this time Crockett didn't budge.
Meanwhile, Howard's recording career continued, though it was far from successful. Dot had dropped him after those first two singles and after that there were releases on Solar, Hamilton, Dixie and Manco. All small labels, but in 1961 he was signed to Smash Records, a subsidiary of Mercury, where his records were produced by Shelby Singleton and accompanied by Jerry Kennedy (guitar), Buddy Killen (bass), Ray Stevens (piano) and Buddy Harman (drums). Of the three Smash singles, the first two are certainly worthwhile : "Deep Elm Dave" (Smash 1721) and "Break Away Billy Boy" (Smash 1750). On the latter he sounds more like Johnny Horton than Horton himself.
Crockett had to wait until 1973 for his one and only hit, "Last Will And Testimony (Of A Drinking Man)" (Dot 17457), which peaked at # 52 on the Billboard country charts and at # 45 in Cash Box. This was his comeback single after five years of retirement. He had been labelled as too close to Johnny Horton or Johnny Cash and after all those years, he had began to believe it himself. This hit encouraged him to try again, but his fortunes were short-lived and he distilled much of his bitterness into a song called "Don't Go To Nashville In the Summer, Songwriter, Or You'll Freeze To Death And Won't Know Why".
In 1986, Dwight Yoakam had a # 3 country hit with a remake of "Honky Tonk Man". By then, Howard had been out of the business for a while. After the death of his wife in 1989, he once again became active as a songwriter, until he died two days after his 69th birthday, after a long struggle against cancer. In 1999, he was inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall Of Fame. "Crock", as he was called by his friends, was a prolific songwriter, with 343 titles in the BMI database. On his Bear Family CD there is much to enjoy, especially for fans of Johnny Horton and Johnny Cash.
CD : Howard Crockett, Out of Bounds : The Johnny Horton Connection (Bear Family BCD 16794). Release date : November 5, 2007. 36 tracks, his complete output 1957-1962, including demos. With a playing time of 81:46, it is the longest CD in my collection. The accompanying booklet was written by Claes-Hakan Olofsson, Bo Berglind and Colin Escott and served as the main source for this piece. Discography by Richard Weize. http://www.bear-family.de/mailorder/showoneproduct.html?lang=de&p=BCD+16794
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