Venturing into the Heart of Rock 'N' Roll: Don Hosea's Memphis Adventure
When you think of Memphis and Rock 'N' Roll, a handful of iconic names immediately spring to mind: Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash. And when it comes to recording studios, it's hard to ignore the legendary trio of Sun, Stax, and Hi.
But hold onto your hats, folks, 'cause today we're taking a detour off the beaten path. We're leaving behind the glitz and glam of the major labels, studios, and superstars to shine a spotlight on a name you might not have heard before—but trust me, you'll want to remember it. His name? Don Hosea. And let me tell ya, this guy's got soul for days, not to mention he looks effortlessly cool with a guitar in hand.
Picture this: it's 1956, and our man Don is making moves from Cape Girardeau, Missouri, bound for the musical mecca of Memphis. Now, Cape Girardeau might not ring any bells for you, but fun fact—it's also the hometown of a certain five-year-old Rush Limbaugh. Now, I can't confirm whether Don ever babysat little Rush, but hey, let's just roll with it for the sake of a good story, shall we?
Now, Don's faced with a classic dilemma: head north and pledge allegiance to the Cardinals or venture south for some finger-lickin' good barbecue and the sweet sounds of Elvis. Spoiler alert: the lure of Memphis music was just too strong to resist. So, armed with nothing but a guitar and a few threads in his car, Don hit the road, ready to make his mark on the city that sings.
As Don ventured into the heart of Memphis, he would soon prove himself to be a true Memphis Music Maverick, carving his own path in the rich tapestry of the city's musical history.
Swinging into the Memphis Music Scene
Don's musical journey kicked off at none other than The Cotton Club—an iconic hotspot nestled just across the Mississippi Bridge in Arkansas. Trust me, folks, if you wanted to catch the pulse of Memphis music, this was the place to be. Picture it: a smoky haze hanging in the air, the strum of guitars weaving through the crowd, and a vibe so infectious, you couldn't help but groove along.
And let's talk about the atmosphere for a minute. The energy at The Cotton Club was electric, with every note strummed on stage met with cheers and applause from the crowd. I mean, just take a look around—every eye in the joint is glued to the guitar player, soaking in every riff and chord like it's the last song on Earth. And as for that guy on the floor? Well, let's just say he's in for a long night of dancing 'cause once the music starts, there's no stopping this party train!
Now, onto the main event—the Snearly Ranch Boys. These cats weren't just a band; they were a force to be reckoned with. And check out those matching shirts—talk about style for miles! It's clear these boys knew how to make an entrance, and with Stan Kesler leading the charge, they were the talk of the town.
Speaking of Stan Kesler, he was the man with the plan—the key to unlocking the door to Memphis music stardom. With more connections than a switchboard operator, Stan wasted no time in offering Don a spot in the Snearly Ranch Boys. And before he knew it, Don found himself rubbing shoulders with the likes of Elvis Presley, Scotty Moore, and D.J. Fontana. Now that's what I call making it in the Memphis music scene!
And as for Don's fashion sense? Well, let's just say I hope his shirt matched the drapes when he joined the Snearly Ranch Boys. Hey, when you're sharing the stage with music royalty, you've gotta dress the part!
First Jam Session: Don Hosea Drops His Debut Tune
Fast forward a couple of years of strumming with the Snearly Ranch Boys, and Don Hosea is itching to lay down his first track. In February 1958, the stars align, and he steps into the studio to unleash his debut single: "Everlasting Love." But here's the kicker—guess who penned that catchy tune? None other than the head honcho of the Snearly Ranch Boys himself, Stan Kessler! Talk about keeping it in the family.
Now, let's dish out a little backstory on the label behind the magic—the Crystal Label. Owned by the big cheese of Memphis, Drew Canale, this guy had some serious clout. Not only did he run the show at the National Tobacco Company and Canale Amusement, but he also had the keys to the Crystal kingdom. And who did he trust to steer the ship? You got it—good ol' Stan.
But despite the hype, "Everlasting Love" didn't exactly set the charts on fire. Still, it was a solid start for Don Hosea, who now had a shiny new record under his belt after two years of soaking up the Memphis scene. And with that, he set his sights on greener pastures, making a beeline for the big boss of Memphis music himself—Sam Phillips.
Sunset on Sun: A Musical Odyssey
In May of 1958, Don caught the attention of Sam Phillips, the legendary owner of Sun Records. Phillips, known for his keen ear and eye for talent, decided to give Don a shot. The chosen track? An old folk tune called "John Henry," along with a couple of original songs penned by Don himself. Now, this was no ordinary time for Phillips—just weeks earlier, his star artist, Jerry Lee Lewis, had stirred up quite the scandal by tying the knot with his 13-year-old cousin. Talk about drama in the music biz!
For the recording session, Don enlisted the help of some familiar faces. Playing bass was none other than his old boss, Stan Kesler, who had taken up residence at Sun Studios. And on guitar? None other than Roland Janes, a name you'll want to remember for later. These guys were the backbone of the Memphis music scene, and with them by his side, Don was ready to lay down some tracks.
But alas, despite their efforts, Sam ultimately decided against releasing the songs. It was a setback for Don, but he wasn't about to let it deter him from his musical dreams.
Fast forward to August 1960—Billboard charts are dominated by Bobby Lewis' infectious hit, "Tossin' And Turnin'," and Don knows he needs something equally catchy if he wants to make it big. So what does he do? He revisits an old favorite—none other than "John Henry." I mean, who can resist the allure of a steel-driving man?
Enter Rita Records, a label formed by none other than Jerry Lee Lewis' own guitar player, Roland Janes, alongside Billy Lee Riley. Yep, I told you Roland would play a pivotal role! Rita Records operated out of Hi Studio in Memphis, a place that would soon become known as Royal Studios, where they churned out hits for the likes of Al Green. Talk about making musical history!
(Click on the record to listen)
Echoes of the Blues: Don Hosea's Rhythm and Rhyme
Get ready to groove to the beat of Don Hosea's musical journey, where the blues reign supreme and rhythm takes center stage.
Don's path took a soulful turn when Sam Phillips, the legendary owner of Sun Records, dialed him up in August of 1961. Sam was drawn to a folk tune Don had previously recorded called "John Henry" under the Rita label. It was time for Don to take another shot at the spotlight.
Echo Studio, nestled close to Sun Records and quietly co-owned by Sam himself, set the stage for Don's next hit. But before diving into the recording booth, let's take a moment to nod to the blues roots that inspired this venture.
Meet Willie Cobbs, a blues maestro hailing from Smale, Arkansas. His breakout hit "You Don't Love Me," crafted under the Mojo label spearheaded by Billy Lee Riley and Stan Kesler, made waves in the music scene. Vee-Jay Records propelled it to even greater heights, with notable covers by iconic groups like The Allman Brothers and The Grateful Dead, not to mention a surprisingly groovy rendition by Sonny & Cher.
Why does Willie's tale matter in Don's story? Because "You Don't Love Me" became Don's muse. He embraced the rhythm and blues vibe, determined to put his own spin on it before anyone else did. And boy, did he deliver.
With "You Don't Love Me" as his anthem, Don ventured into the recording booth, ready to make magic at Echo Studio. The result? A soulful rendition that breathed new life into the blues scene.
But like many gems, Don's record didn't receive the recognition it deserved. Despite the lack of commercial success, Don's passion for music burned bright. In 1967, he bid farewell to Memphis, heading for Nashville to pursue his songwriting dreams.
(Click on the record to listen)
Reflecting on his Memphis days, Don once remarked, "We weren't out for money, we were out to entertain." His words echo the sentiment of a bygone era, where music was about soul, not sales. As we ponder Don's legacy, one thing's for sure: his spirit lives on in the rhythm of the blues, a timeless melody that transcends generations.
So, the next time you journey through the heartland, pause for a moment to remember Don Hosea, the blues troubadour who dared to dance to his own rhythm.
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