As we expand, these three genres will have their own pages and many more individuals. For now they are grouped together. None of them can be said to have originated in the region, but all of them were profoundly influenced in our area and certainly rock, in the form of rockabilly, was here and prominent on the verge of its rise to national and world prominence. Without boogie woogie, which originated in our area, there would have been no jazz. Dr. John Tennison of our Advisory Group states that without boogie woogie, none of the genres that originated in the United States would exist, or would be very different from what we have.
Peppermint Harris on the cover of his 1950 chart topping hit "I Got Loaded."
Harrison D. "Peppermint Harris" Nelson Jr. (July 17, 1925 - March 19, 1999) grew up in Texarkana where he would have been exposed to the boogie woogie and blues that flourished in the saloons and entertainment houses in the area. These could be heard easily for many blocks in a time when windows and doors were left open in good weather and there were no motors or other loud noises.
By the late 1940s he was friends with the great Lightnin' Hopkins, who accompanied him on his first recordining. In 1950 he became "Peppermint Harris" when, so it is said, producer Bob Shad forget his actual name when he released "Raining In My Heart."
His fame peaked in 1951 with the release of "I Got Loaded" which reached #1 on the Billboard charts. His later releases did well, but never reached the top of the charts.
Peppermint Harris worked with a number of greats, including Ray Charles.
In his later years he recorded in Shreveport and New Jersey, his last album being on the "Home Cooking" label in 1995. He died at the age of 73 in New Jersey.
Lead Belly is one of the greatest influences in American music, and was idolized by many greats to come including many of the "British Invasion."
Huddie Ledbetter, better known to the world as "Lead Belly," is said to have been born on the Jeter Plantation near Mooringsport, LA. His birthplace is listed as Freeport, LA on his 1942 draft card. There is no such known place name. It is conceivable that someone filled it out for him and misunderstood "Shreveport," as many locals still pronounce it "Shreeport." He lists his date of birth as January, 1889. Huddie is one who spent time in all three of the key cities of our regional music heritage, Shreveport, Texarkana, and Marshall. When he was five, his family moved to near Texarkana in Bowie County. He is yet another who was very likely exposed to boogie woogie and blues that could be heard almost around the clock there on visits to town. He lived for a time in Harrison County, where boogie woogie was born. His earliest known performances were in the notorius St. Paul's Bottoms of Shreveport. There are few people who have not heard his greatest songs which include "Rock Island Line," "Goodnight, Irene," "The Midnight Special" and "Cotton Fields." - as well as his prowess on the 12-string guitar which he developed while working in the Dallas area with the great Blind Lemon Jefferson. Some of his songs were based on older songs, but all those associated with him are those he brought to light and stamped with his own personality.
From 1917 through 1930 he spent a lot of time in prison, and returned to Bowie County for a while under a pseudonym as an escapee. He was pardoned in Louisiana due to his singing, and with the help of the great recordists John and Alan Lomax was also pardoned in Texas after charming the governor.
Lead Belly shows us the way in this fine statue that stands on Texas Street in downtown Shreveport.
Lead Belly then moved to New York City at the Lomax's instigation and served as John's driver while doing a bit of performing. He soon came to the attention of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. He adopted their leftist philosophies and spent a lot of time singing at various events and rallies. Here he became known as "the King of the Twelve-String Guitar." Lead Belly die of Lou Gehrig's disease in 1949, just before the Weavers multi-million selling recording of "Good Night Irene" was released. Pete Seeger commented later that "It's one more case of black music being made famous by white people."
John Eargle was a giant in the recording industry. Here is John with Klipsch Sales VP Don Davis at the 36th Annual AES Conference, 1969.
John Eargle graduated from Arkansas High in Texarkana in 1948, with honors. During those years he worked with the "Legend in Sound" Paul Klipsch in Hope, AR and learned both the science of loudspeaker design and the art of recording from the master. It should not be a surprise that Paul Klipsch was heavily involved in recording as he was extremely critical of most recordings and acutely aware that no matter how good his speakers they could never be better than the source material heard through them. When the Klipsch listening area opens at the Regional Music Heritage Center, you will be able to listen to recording made by Paul Klipsch with John Eargle at his side.
These skills were put to use by Delos International and are largely responsible for the fame and success of that company. We will not post any of his recordings here both for legal reasons as well as feeling that they must be heard at the original quality levels to be fully appreciated. If you are curious about what the best in recorded sound can be, we'd recommend "Engineers Choice" containing a variety of what John Eargle felt were his very best recordings.
Eargle won multiple Grammy's for his work, including a posthumous honor for Technical Achievement
Mark Gander, Vice President of Marketing, JBL Professional Division said in accepting the honor on John's behalf "John Eargle left an everlasting and profound impression on the audio industry. He was a brilliant engineer, musician, author and teacher."
Eargle loved jazz, an his recording of Joe Williams for Delos, "Nothin' but the Blues" won a Grammy in 1984 for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Male, and in 1989 his recording of Ruth Brown "Blues on Broadway", the Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Female.
John's early experience and interest in 4 channel stereo paid off when he was instrumental in establishing the standards for THX sound for the motion picture, and eventually, for your TV set.
Carl "Cheesie" Nelson was one of the first in the region to find rockabilly and Elvis, according to some credible reports even doing a duet with him in 1954 at the AMA. Left to right as Cheesy stands in for the tardy Elvis on April 22, 1955 are Jimmy Day, Scotty Moore, Carl "Cheesie" Nelson, DJ Fontana and unidentified bass player on stage at the Municipal Auditorium.
Rockabilly is intimated tied to boogie woogie, and in the 40s began to morph towards rock n' roll as we know it today. Of course, it is Elvis Presley that comes to mind for most people when they think of the birth of modern rock n' roll, but he was not operating in a vacuum. There were those in our own region who were his contemporaries and some locals even preferred to Elvis. While we want to include all of them, like much of this site at the moment we are just hitting the high points and will fill in as time allows.
One of those was Carl "Cheesie" Nelson. Well remembered KOSY personality Jim LeFan was quoted in Billboard Magazine's May 21, 1955 issue "A youngster named Cheesie Nelsonbrought down the house here Nelson has a stylesimilar to Presley's and he's just as great." Cheesie filled in for Elvis with Elvis band when Elvis was delayed. Nobody seemed to mind. Cheesie went on to get his PhD and served as head of Texarkana College for three decades. Some reports have Cheesie and Elvis double dating local girls after the show. Another report says Elvis heard part of Cheesie's performance and told him he could do well in the business. Clearly, the future Dr. Nelson had other plans.
These walls have vibrated with the music of those who would be the "Golden Age" of American popular music including Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins,
Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and others graced the AMA stage in those great days just before they all ascended to national prominence. The RMHC wishes the Arkansas Memorial Auditorium Commission full success in restoring this great hall so old memories can be relived and new ones made.
Pat Cupp and Flying Saucers in 1956. Left to right are J.O. Livsey, drums; Pat Cupp, rhythm guitar and vocals; Ruth Cupps, piano; Pete Waller, bass; Johnny Gatlin, lead guitar.
Some may wonder why we devote so much space to Pat Cupp and so little to Elvis. The Elvis story is well told everywhere you look, but Pat is of our region and lived the dream. Unlike Elvis, his story goes on after a wonderful life. Some cups are to be sampled and not swallowed whole. Pat's life is an example of the former. He worked with giants and gained their respect. But for an ignorant producer Pat and his band might have ascended to the heights. But those who did are no longer with us while Pat and his beloved wife Gaye live on in comfortable retirement in Texarkana.
Pat was a member of the family band by age 5. In 1953 his family moved to Texarkana and he went to Arkansas High School. At that time he met Carl "Cheesie" Nelson and he learned about country music for the first time as they formed a band that was popular in the region. Cheesie also introduced him to rockabilly, the rock/blues/boogie/country fusion genre that was spreading in the south.
Next thing you know, Elvis is on the bill at the AMA, and just south of town Scotty Moore wrecks the Cadillac. The producer talks Pat and Cheesie into keeping the audience happy while they wait. Apparently the audience isn't a bit sorry. Elvis finally gets there and listens with interest.
Pat got face time with Elvis after the show and came away a converted rockabilly performer. Touring along with Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, he worked solo until Perkins as Cupp worked as a solo act. Perkins both admired his act and thought he'd sound better with a bit more depth...like Carl Perkins. So, off they went along with Johnny Cash's bass player Marshall Grant and they sounded like they'd been together for years. However, both Marshall and already had gigs so that was it. Pat formed his own band, pictured to the right, and soon signed a recording contract with RPM records.
"Long Gone Daddy" performed as Pat intended. A poor decision by his record producer and being under contractual constraints he had to comply.
There first release on RPM was "Do Me No Wrong" and "Baby Come Back" and was a major hit in the region. The tour was a big success and it looked like they were on thier way. It didn't work out that way. Ever hear of RPM records? No? Not surprising given the cluelessness of their producers who, under contract, ordered Pat to record "Long Gone Daddy" with an R&B backup not of his choosing. Pat was so frustrated he signed a 4 year enlistment with the Air Force to get away from RPM and those commitments. Of course, by his 1961 discharge the world had changed. He settled down to experience a great life raising his family in Texarkana and continuing his music for his own enjoyment and that of the region. He formed a local jazz group called "The Variables" in the late 60s. A 1988 accident severely damaged his hearing making music increasingly difficult. His final public peformance was not in the American that had forgotten him, but for adoring European Rockabilly lovers in Hernsby, England, October 1995. Pat is an honored and valued member of the RMHC Advisory Group.
"That Girl of Mine," a great Pat Cupp classic from 1957.
The Arkansas Municipal Auditorium is a place that for about 2 years in the first half of the decade of the 1950s served as the launching pad for so many. Others will be covered by the RMHC as our research continues, but for the moment we'll concentrate on Elvis Aaron Presley and his remarkable affinity for Texarkana. He made many friends here, and they uniformly report him as honorable, friendly, of high integrity, and humble. He spent a lot of time in the region, especially Texarkana and Shreveport, and seems to have thoroughly enjoyed his experiences and the friends he made here.
Credible reports have Elvis performing several times at the Arkansas Muncipal Auditorium in 1954. It's likely that's how rockabilly came to the attention of Cheesie Nelson and others in the area. But it's likely that history was made in January of 1955 in a show hosted by Texarkana's legendary Uncle Dudley. It's believed that it was Uncle Dudley's report of the crowds enthusiasm that brought Elvis to the attention of Col. Tom Parker and Tom Diskin. Those were, of course, the connections that created Elvis. Elvis next appearance was in May, and likely due to having a Louisiana Hayride show scheduled for Saturday. Most of his Texarkana stays and appearances were due to his filling a Friday before a Hayride performance by doing the AMA. On the 20th of May he's back in Texarkana and then in Shreveport the next day.
On 5 June, Elvis plays Hope and after the show drives his Cadillac with a Texarkana girl back to Texarkana. At Fulton the car catches fire and burns. Some report him sitting on the side of the road with head in hands. His mother reported that she awoke in alarm for him at about the time of this event.
Elvis" burned out Cadillac near Fulton, AR on Sunday, 5 May 1955.
Elvis sincere connection to the people of Texarkana is clear in his August, 1955 interview in Memphis, TN.
Proof that Elvis Cadillacs didn't fair well in our area came only a couple of months later on 5 September when Scotty Moore drove his replacement into another vehicle on US 71 south of Texarkana. The other driver was injured, but Elvis and band were not and arrived late. Pat Cupp and Cheesie Nelson were filling in for them in fine form. Elvis was impressed and befriended them both. Johnny Cash is also on the show that night.
Bob Neal, WMPS Memphis, 31 August, 1955 talks Texarkana
In spite of the prediction in the Neal interview they'd not be back to Texarkana after the September gig, the band returned on Thursday, 17 November and Johnny Cash is on the bill again. Johnny recorded that he was quite impressed that Elvis personally hand washed his car due to rain and mud from the trip.
Last date. Elvis and Johnny Cash 17 November, 1955.
However, Elvis was about to become too big to play the small venues like our region had to offer and he was not to return. 4 days later, Elvis' Sun assets and his contract were sold to RCA where Sam Phillips, legendary Sun producer, were sold to RCA for 6,000.00 with his mother Gladys beaming with pride.
The next day, Elvis sent the following telegram to Colonel Tom Parker, his agent who it is believed came to his attention via the enthusiasm of our own Uncle Dudley:
"Dear Colonel, Words can never tell you how my folks and I appreciate what you did for me. I've always known and now my folks are assured that you are the best, most wonderful person I could ever hope to work with. Believe me when I say I will stick with you through thick and thin and do everything I can to uphold your faith in me. Again, I say thanks and I love you like a father." Elvis Presley
In two months, Elvis would rocket to world prominence and leave the world of his youth forever.