JIMMY HEAP INTERVIEW
with RAY CAMPI
Ray Campi conducted this interview with Jimmy Heap in Taylor, Texas, on September 4, 1971. It is presented here as printed in the booklet for Ray's CD "Taylor, Texas 1988: Ray Campi Remembers Jimmy Heap," released by Bear Family Records. Used by permission of Ray Campi.
RAY: Jimmy, you're originally from Taylor here. I wonder if you'd tell me how you got started in music?
JIMMY: Ray, it's sort of unusual. Back when I was about 18 years old, I was working at a service station and a fellow used to come in there who had a guitar with him; he'd sit there for hours and play and sing Ernest Tubb songs to me. I became interested in the guitar myself, so I bought one and wound up learning how to play a little bit of it. About the time I thought I learned enough to start playing in a band, World War II started and I had to go to the service, and so that interrupted my playing and singing until I got out of the service. I played a little in the service, but didn't get to play like I wanted to. I wasn't in the Special Services or anything. When I came back home in 1947 I really went at music in a big way.
RAY: Yes, and around that time you met some of the fellows that were to be part of the first Melody Masters group.
JIMMY: Right. There was one of the fellows I went to school with who played in the high school orchestra. I never did thought he played bass horn and would up playing acoustic and later electric bass in my band. He's been with me now for 25 years. That's "Big Bill" Glendening. The rest of the boys - "Butterball" Cecil Harris is a local boy from Devilla, not too far away. We're the only three original ones that's still left.
RAY: You started working dances in the area and eventually you decided you wanted to record. What were the circumstances that led to your first recording?
JIMMY: Well, our first recording session was about a big dance hall we played every Saturday night near Austin called Dessau Hall. One of the boys in the band, Horace Barnett, wrote a song called "The Dessau Hall Waltz" and we made a demonstration dub of it and Dessau Hall had a radio program every afternoon for about fifteen minutes advertising their dances and they started playing it on there and the response was so great that a recording company called Lasso Records contacted us, and also Republic Records out of New York, and wanted to buy the master of it. We didn't have a master so we cut them a master and that was our first recordings, and that did so well from there we went to Imperial Records. About that time, 1947-48, our fiddle player quit and we hired another one named Perk Williams who turned out to be our lead vocalist. He did most of the singing on he Imperial and Capitol Records.
RAY: What year was the first Imperial record?
JIMMY: About 1949.
RAY: When did you do "Wild Side of Life"?
JIMMY: Around 1950.
RAY: And your piano player Arlie Carter was a co-writer on it?
JIMMY: Right. The other boy was William Warren from Cameron, Texas.
RAY: What was the response to "Wild Side of Life"?
JIMMY: Well, we sold here in Texas about 10,000 records of it real fast, and us and Billy Briggs were the first country artists on Imperial. It was a small label then, didn't have much distribution. It was good in Texas but that was about all. Texas was the only place we sold it because Hank Thompson picked it up and did it on Capitol and covered us up with it.
RAY: How many sides did you do for Imperial?
JIMMY: I was with them about four years and we were doing four or five releases a year. About 24 or 25 sides.
RAY: You used many of the band including yourself as vocalist for Capitol.
JIMMY: Oh, yes. In fact, our bass man, Bill Glendening, sang one song called "Make Me Live Again," which Ferlin Husky ended up putting in a movie for us. I wrote it with Tommy Bland in Marlin, Texas. Bill sang that song on Capitol. I sang a few, but Perk sang most of them.
RAY: "Ethyl In My Gas" is one I always associated with you singing.
JIMMY: We originally cut that with Perk for Imperial, but Ken Nelson liked the song so much we re-recorded it on Capitol.
RAY: How did "Release Me" come about?
JIMMY: Perk Williams found a recording of that on Four Star, I believe. It had been released by Eddie Miller who wrote it but he had put a risqué tune on the back side called "Motel Time" and the disk jockeys threw the record to one side and wouldn't play either side. Perk liked it so well he learned it and started singing it at our dances and we got so many requests for it, we recorded it for Capitol. Of course, it was our first big hit. It was then covered by Ray Price.
RAY: What were the sales of "Release Me"?
JIMMY: I kept count of them for a while and at the last it sold around 500,000 to 600,00 records - around half a million.
RAY: You in turn covered Jimmy Newman's "Cry, Cry Darlin'"?
JIMMY: We were both starting around the same time. He was on a smaller label and we cut his "Cry, Cry Darlin'" on Capitol. He did it on a small label and cut it again on a larger label (Dot).
RAY: Pretty good for country boys from Taylor, Texas. You got your feet into the big time with this one and "Wild Side of Life." What caused Hank Thompson to cut "Wild Side of Life"?
JIMMY: Well me and a boy named Charlie Adams were up in Dallas. Charlie cut for Imperial and Columbia, I believe, and possibly Decca. We were in Dallas at Jim Beck's studio and we were promoting "Wild Side of Life" and had records with us. Hank's wife Dorothy asked us for a copy of it, giving it to Hank, and she talked him into recording it. It was a long-running Top Ten hit.
RAY: Did he rewrite one of the verses?
JIMMY: Yes, the one which starts, "The glamour of the gay nightlife has lured you..."
RAY: You have appeared all over the country and in Las Vegas and your band has changed over the years with the times. What are some of the changes you've made?
JIMMY: Well, at certain dances, at the service clubs you play 95% rock 'n' roll, rockabilly tunes, pop music. We play it all now as we have sax and trumpet in the band.
RAY: You mentioned trumpet. Maybe you'd like to talk about the great Bill Taylor?
JIMMY: Bill Taylor worked with us about three years, and of course he's the boy that wrote some of Jerry Lee Lewis's hits as "Invitation To Your Party" and "One Minute Past Eternity." He actually wrote those back when he was working with our band. When he quit our band, he thought he'd try to promote his songs and gave them to Jerry Lee who did record them, but I don't think they were released until six or seven years after they were recorded.
RAY: Maybe you'd like to talk some about Ken Idaho?
JIMMY: Well, Ken took Perk Williams' place when Perk left. He was from South Carolina. When we started playing Las Vegas we found out we had to do a lot of show, comedy stuff, and Ken wrote and performed a lot of comedy. He ended up becoming associate editor of a joke magazine called "Sex-To-Sexty." He writes jokes for the magazine and is our featured comedian on our personal appearances.
RAY: And his albums are on your Fame label?
JIMMY: Right! We had the label and publishing for quite a few years, about fifteen years.
RAY: Well, thanks alot, Jimmy Heap, for this pleasant visit and trip into the past.
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