Monday, December 26, 2011
ORVILLE COUCH - WILD GIRL
As 2011 draws to a close, like many other people I like to sit back and reflect. Unlike many other people, I'm sitting back reflecting on the 1990s, not 2011.
Ah, yes, the 90s. A time when grunge music ruled the airwaves. Eh.
I was in my 20s, working for my father at his service station, pumping gas, changing oil, tuning cars up. It was dirty work, but it was OK - I always had money in my pocket (which I usually drank away at night at some bar), had a good boss (though, at the time, I thought my dad was the WORST guy to work for. Little did I know how great he was) and got to listen to a LOT of radio during the day. Almost always non-commercial radio, natch.
During the week, work was....well, work. People constantly coming in with complaints about their cars, other folks having their cars towed in, me constantly running out from the bays to the island to pump gas or to give directions, etc. The winters were tough - there is nothing colder than the repair bays in a gas station in the middle of January. I'm sure the concrete I spent most of my day standing and kneeling on will someday give me crippling arthritis. I can't even begin to tell you how many scars I have on my hands and arms from being cut so many times while working on someone's old junker.
Saturday, however, was a different story. We never scheduled anything but oil changes and tire rotations on that day, mainly because my father wanted to go home early that day, and my main Saturday job was cleaning the floors in the repair bays - after I was done with everyone's oil changes, of course. But I didn't mind, because Saturday was always a party at the gas station. The regular customers would always come by to shoot the breeze with my dad and I (and, of course, they always brought coffee and doughnuts), the people who wanted gas were never rude (because it was the weekend, so there was no big hurry about anything), and there was great music coming out of the non-commercial radio stations in the NY/NJ area.
I remember the schedule like it was yesterday: I would arrive at the gas station not-so-promptly around 8AM (after being out until 6AM Friday night - those were the days), unlock the door, stumble to the radio, and turn it on to Felix Hernandez on 88.3 FM. About 10 minutes later Schnauzer Eddie would walk in. Eddie was an old friend of my dad's - I called him Schnauzer Eddie because he raised miniature Schnauzers, plus he looked like one. Anyway, Eddie would walk in the door, take one look at me, laugh, and give me a cup of coffee from the deli down the street. That coffee would wake me up enough so that I could make coffee (sort of the ultimate catch-22). By 10AM, I was fully conscious, Felix was in full swing with obscure soul 45s, and life was good. Felix would go off at 1PM, and the dial would be turned to 89.9, WKCR, who would have a blues/soul program called "Mystery Train". Only problem there was that WKCR's schedule was bizarre, to say the least, and "Mystery Train" would get pre-empted a lot. Those weeks I would switch the station to CBS-FM for two hours and listen to the always brilliant Dan Ingram.
But then, at 3PM, I would jerk the dial to the left until it stopped at 91.1, WFMU. That's when I'd listen to The Hound, James Marshall (this was back in the days BEFORE the station became one large commercial for Norton Records). You'd hear that dog growl and then the segue into Esquerita's "Esquerita And The Voola", and you knew you were in for 3 hours of great music! You can still hear The Hound's old shows at his website, http://www.thehound.net/.
One of the best parts of Hound's show was the end. I'm not being snarky here. After The Hound went off, another DJ known as Wildgirl would take the air chair. She would ALWAYS start her show with the same two records - "Highway To Hell" by AC/DC, and, before that played, a great rockabilly song called "Wild Girl" by Orville Couch.
Well, one listen to "Wild Girl" and I just HAD to have the record! Problem was, that was easier said than done. Orville Couch (1935-2002) was sort of a country one-hit wonder. A country/rockabilly singer from Texas, he got his first big break on the "Big D Jamboree" on KRLD radio in Dallas. The show was notable for mixing up country and rockabilly artists, and Orville became personally acquainted with the likes of Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. He soon signed on with the Starday label, cutting records like "Five Cent Candy". He also recorded for Dixie and Mercury. Then in 1962 Orville signed on with Vee Jay Records out of Chicago - strange, since Vee Jay (at least up to that point) was primarily an R&B/doo-wop label. By early 1963, Orville had a top five C&W hit with "Hello Trouble", and also released what was possibly the ONLY country LP in Vee Jay's history, also called "Hello Trouble" (complete with a front cover featuring a sexy peroxided blonde - and Orville nowhere to be found). Unfortunately for Orville, Vee Jay's other recent signing - Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons - became a chart phenomenon, and almost immediately afterward Vee Jay began to ignore its foothold in the C&W market. Orville's other 45s for Vee Jay went nowhere, but he was under contract, and dutifully recorded for them until 1965. After leaving Vee Jay he would make records for Monument, Stonegate, and other labels, but the momentum was all gone.
But in July, 1964, the above record suddenly appeared out of the ether. Which is probably why it took so long for me to find a copy - the sound on this just SCREAMS "50s rockabilly", and I assumed that it was an obscure side on Dixie or Starday that I didn't know about. I do not know the story behind "Wild Girl", but my theory is this - Orville was still popular in Texas, and some enterprising local (or Orville's producer Jim Shell) decided to make a few dollars by putting out an unissued performance of Orville's. They pressed up a few hundred copies, and obscured Orville's name on the right side of the label just in case Vee Jay caught on. At least that's what I think, anyway.
I just think it's the weirdest thing that this record was released in the midst of Beatlemania! But that's what makes collecting records (and blogging about them) so much fun!
Best wishes to everyone for a happy and prosperous 2012. See you next year!
Orville Couch - Wild Girl (Action 108) - 1964