Slim and Jerry (The Hayride audition and demos)



Slim and Jerry (The Hayride audition and demos)

Postby Chris Davies » Thu May 28, 2020 6:56 pm

Slim and Jerry (by Chris Davies 28/5/2020)

There are many myths and stories around Jerry Lee which often have a grain of truth but, as with all good myths, the story tends to become more exaggerated with each telling until it becomes almost impossible to separate fact from fiction. One such story concerns Jerry’s audition for Louisiana Hayride late November 1954.

The account of the Hayride audition as published in ‘Hellfire’ (Nick Tosches) has become the established version of the story. ‘Hellfire’ is very widely cited by rock historians who tend to treat it as the gospel truth. However, in this instance I believe the circumstances around the audition and subsequent recording of the acetate (‘I Don’t Hurt Anymore’/’I Need You Now’) are more accurately described by Murray Silver in ‘Great Balls Of Fire’. Murray Silver appears to have thoroughly researched this important event in Jerry’s career and within the acknowledgement section of his book he thanks Horace Logan (founder of the Hayride), Bob Sullivan (KWKH studio engineer) and Slim Whitman for sharing information.

It is important to understand that Jerry’s visit to the Louisiana Hayride/KWKH was purely speculative. There was no pre-arranged audition or plan to cut an acetate:

‘Jerry walked into Horace Logan’s office at KWKH in search of a job with the Hayride as staff pianist. Logan explained to Jerry that they did not have an opening for a staff piano player – they already had Floyd Cramer.’ (‘Great Balls Of Fire’ by Murray Silver & Myra Lewis)
Jerry Lee has recalled on more than one occasion Horace Logan's suggestion that Hayride artist Slim Whitman was looking for a piano player and Jerry should audition for him. [b]However, it appears Logan directed Jerry not to Slim Whitman but to Sonny Harville who was actually Slim Whitman’s regular piano player. [/b ]As well as playing piano for Slim Whitman, Sonny also played piano in the Hayride staff band:
‘Horace sent him to me ‘cause I was playing piano at that time on the Hayride, to listen to him and I told Horace that he wouldn’t work out. He’s too show but no music, you know. Couldn’t play well enough to be on the staff band’. (‘Shreveport Sounds In Black & White’ edited by Kip Lornell & Tracey E. W. Laird)

Why would Horace Logan tell Jerry that Slim Whitman needed a piano player when Slim already had a capable and reliable piano player? A clue could be that whilst Sonny Harville was happy in the studio he did not enjoy touring: "There's a lot of work on that. A lot of travelling. A lot of missed sleep". By November 1954 Slim Whitman had already had a couple of big hits under his belt and was in demand as a touring artist. Perhaps Horace Logan could see a role for Jerry, helping Slim out on the road as well a possible understudy for Floyd Cramer? Cramer was getting itchy feet at the time (he left for RCA the following year). Sonny Harville’s blunt assessment of Jerry Lee seems to have scuppered Jerry Lee’s chances working either as a staff piano player or working for Slim Whitman.

Having listened to Sonny Harville playing on a number Slim Whitman records he does a decent enough job but there is nothing remarkable about his piano playing. His comments about Jerry Lee’s musical abilities are puzzling. The two acetates which would be cut later the same day reveal Jerry Lee’s piano playing to be very highly developed: smooth, varied, orchestral and with musical substance and depth. Perhaps the bluesy feel and freewheeling nature of Jerry’s piano playing was behind Sonny Harville’s belief that ‘it wouldn’t work out’ or could Sonny have viewed Jerry as a potential threat to his own career?

Jerry certainly left the Hayride feeling somewhat dejected and he has recalled on more than one occasion that Slim Whitman said to him ‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you’. I certainly believe those words were said to Jerry but I cannot be certain by whom.
Slim Whitman was adamant that he did not reject Jerry ‘You’ll never convince me I turned you down as a piano player Jerry Lee…’. It seems Slim does not recall auditioning Jerry Lee or being involved in the decision making process at all. The only tangible Slim Whitman connection seems to be the audition with Sonny Harville (curiously he was only a couple of years younger than Slim and not that dissimilar in appearance – possibly a case of mistaken identity on Jerry’s part?)

Another aspect of the well told version of this story is that Slim Whitman was somehow involved in the recording of Jerry’s two demo’s which took place later that day.

Murray Silver describes the recording of the demos as having a purpose quite separate to the audition and does not draw Slim Whitman into the story at all: Horace Logan suggested to Jerry that he should audition for record companies in Nashville and invited him to return to the KWKH studio later that evening after hours, when the radio station had stopped broadcasting, to record a ‘dub’. This would make him sound more professional when approaching record companies for auditions.

Jerry duly went into the KWKH studio to record the two songs. The session was engineered by Bob Sullivan who recorded the songs on a quarter inch Magnacord tape recorder which were then transferred onto a reference disc (a ‘dub’ in musician speak).
In contrast, Nick Tosches account of the making of the dub frames it as a fundamental part of the audition. I do wonder if this was an attempt to fit Slim Whitman into the story given Jerry Lee’s insistence that Slim Whitman turned him down. Tosches wrote:
‘Slim Whitman set Jerry at a piano in the KWKH studio and have a technician make an acetate disc recording of him’. Tosches went on to say that Slim Whitman than listened to the acetate and this was supposedly the point he said to Jerry ‘Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You’.

Rick Bragg, in his biography of Jerry, develops the story further by depicting Slim Whitman as a Hollywood villain who watched and listened to Jerry through the studio glass and rolled his eyes when Jerry added just a little bit too much boogie-woogie to his playing. I don’t know if Rick Bragg actually listened to the recorded tracks but there is not a hint of boogie-woogie in either of them.
The two recordings became widely available to fans in 1991 when they were included on a bootleg CD called ‘The Killers Private Stash’. Certain music historians have listened very closely to the two recordings and have commented that Jerry’s playing is reminiscent of very old piano blues styles which were being played throughout Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s. There are no repetitive boogie-bass lines to be heard, instead we find a complex style featuring constantly changing left-hand patterns, working together with the right hand to create a very full and orchestral piano styling.

Unless evidence emerges to the contrary, I do not believe Slim Whitman was present at, or had any involvement with the recording of the demo acetate whatsoever. I also think it is most likely he didn’t audition Jerry at all and the decision to accept or reject Jerry was left in the hands of Slim Whitman’s then piano player Sonny Harville.
Chris Davies

 
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Re: Slim and Jerry (The Hayride audition and demos)

Postby bailbath » Fri May 29, 2020 3:53 pm

Hi Chris good write up. Sounds like you have researched this well. Hard to disagree with your conclusions.
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