Lowell Fulson : Tulsa Red Sings
Lowell Fulson, still another Oklahoman, was born in Tulsa in 1921. He was a self taught guitarist and got his first musical experience as part of the territory bands of Dan Wright and Texas Alexander. After military service in World War II, he moved to California settling in the San Francisco Bay area. He formed a small combo with his brother Martin. By late 1946 he began to record for labels run by Bay area producer Bob Geddins on the Big Town and Trilon labels. The first releases were on Big Town - #1068-"Crying Blues" / "You're Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone", #1070-"Miss Katie Lee Blues", #1071-"Ramblin' Blues" / "Fulson's Blues", #1072-"San Francisco Blues" / "Bad Luck And Trouble", #1074-"Trouble Blues" / "Going To See My Baby", and #1077-Black Widow Spider Blues" / "Don't Be So Evil".
The next few releases by Lowell Fulson were released on the Trilon label. The combo consisted of Fulson on vocals and guitar, Eldridge McCarthy on piano, Bob Johnson on bass, and Dickie Washington on drums.Trilon #185-"Jelly Jelly" / "Mean Woman Blues", #186-"9:30 Blues" / "Thinking Blues", #187-"Down Beat Shuffle" / "Fulson Boogie", #192-"Trying To Find My Baby" / "Let's Throw A Boogie", #193-"Hiway 99" / "Whiskey Boogie". The next few records were originally issued on Big Town and Trilon, but the masters were purchased by Jack Lauderdale and issued on his Downbeat label based in Los Angeles. Downbeat #118-"Midnight Showers Of Rain" / "So Long So Long", #119-"My Gal At Eight" / "Wee Hours Of Morning", #120-"Bad Luck Blues" / "I'm Going Away". Now with King Solomon on piano and Count Carson on drums the trio recorded #121-"The Blues Got Me Down" / "Black Cat Blues", #122-"Just A Poor Boy" / "My Baby", #123-"Sweet Jenny Lee" / "Blues And Women", and in early 1948-#133-"Television Blues" / "Don't You Hear Me Calling You", #134-"Demon Woman" / "Blues At Sunrise", and #135 as Tulsa Red-"Blues And Misery" / "Jam That Boogie".
In late 1948 in Oakland, Lowell and his brother Martin record for another Geddins Bay area label, Down Town Records. #2002 is "Three O'Clock Blues" / "I'm Wild About You". This is the break through record for Fulson as "Three O'Clock Blues" is a big seller on the West coast and is an influential tune which is later covered by B.B. King. The follow up is #2021-"I'm Prison Bound" and "My Baby Left Me". By now Fulson gains notoriety as a fine R & B performer and the bookings start to roll in. Lauderdale now makes a concerted effort to sign him away from Geddins, and soon he is part of the roster of Swing Time Records in Los Angeles. Aladdin Records also sees the promise in the style of Fulson and purchases some masters from Geddins and issues them in early 1949. Aladdin #3088-"Double Trouble Blues" and "Good Woman Blues", and #3104 is "Night And Day" and "Stormin' And Rainin'".
With Earl Brown on alto, Lloyd Glenn on piano, Billy Hadnott on bass, and Bob Harvey on drums the Fulson combo records Swing Time #196-"Everyday I Have The Blues" / "Rockin' After Midnight". The record jumps out as a two sided hit across the country. "Cold Hearted Woman" / "Mama Bring Your Clothes Back Home" is the followup, but #196 is such a huge smash that it swamps release #197. The tremendous success of "Everyday" leads Fulson to expand his combo.The new Lowell Fulson Orchestra consists of Fulson on vocals and guitar, Vernon Smith-trumpet, Maxwell Davis-tenor, Vernon Hill-alto, Jay McShann-piano, Tiny Webb-guitar, Ralph Hamiltone-bass, and Jessie Sales-drums. "Western Union Blues" is issued on #201, and "River Blues" parts one & two are on #202. "Jimmy's Blues" and "Ain't Nobody's Business" is out on #203. "The Blues Is Killing Me" / "Did You Ever Feel Unlucky" is paired on Swing Time #220. Fulson and his combo sell out the Avodon Ballroom in L.A. and the Savoy in Oakland. There are widespread raves for a new member of the Fulson band, a blind pianist named Ray Charles. Southern California is still going big for "Everyday" and "Cold Hearted Woman".
Swing Time re-releases "Jam That Boogie" by Fulson as Tulsa Red on #135. In September #305 is out-"Some Old Lonesome Day" and "Doin' Time Blues". In October Fulson has a show at the Elks Hall that is expected to break a ten year attendance record set by Freddy Slack and Ella Mae Morse. "Everyday" passes one hundred thousand in sales, with ten thousand at Dolphin's Of Hollywood Record store alone. In November, Fulson boasts two of the top five records in sales in Chicago-"Low Society Blues" at number one and "Blue Shadows" at number five. The Avodon Ballroom in L.A. features a battle of the bands with Bull Moose Jackson and Fulson. Swing Time #237 has "Sinner's Prayer" and "Old Time Shuffle Blues" with Lloyd Glenn. A majority of record sales for the Swing Time label (almost 75%) belong to Fulson. At the end of the year the seasonal "Lonesome Christmas" is released on #242.
On February 1, 1951, Swing Time #227-"Back Home Blues" and "Mama Won't You Jump With Me" by Lowell Fulson is the first 45rpm release for the label. In May "Double Trouble Blues" and "Good Woman Blues" on Aladdin #3188. In June #243 "I'm A Night Owl" (parts one and two) is released. This record is a hit in New Orleans. "Lonesome Christmas" is re-released, and in October another Aladdin master purchase is issued-#3104-"Night And Day" and "Stormin' And Rainin'" which does well in the Midwest. In November Fulson signs a five year recording contract with Swing Time despite the Aladdin releases. In December #272-"Blues With A Feeling" / "Why Can't You Cry For Me" and #289-"Best Wishes" are released. Earl Brown, alto sax player leaves Fulson's band and plans to record on his own with Swing Time.
New York's Apollo Theater sets up for a big "Battle of the Bands" show in February of 1952. The bands that will be featured are Lowell Fulson, his recently departed piano player Ray Charles and his new combo, and the band of Hal Singer. Expectations are that it will be one of the big events at the Apollo in the past few years. Fulson's newest for Swing Time, "Let's Live Right" starts out big nationally. In May Fulson is joined by Ruth Brown for a tour of one nighters in Texas and Louisiana. Swing Time #295, Lowell Fulson's version of "Guitar Shuffle" is a big seller in Texas and the Southwest. After the Texas tour with Ruth Brown, Fulson has just enough time to catch his breath before he is off for another series of one nighters with another R & B star from the Atlantic label, Joe Turner. They will set off right after Labor Day and be in Florida and Georgia. When the swing through the South with Turner ends, Fulson decides to disband his backing combo and go it alone on the road. The extra pressures of managing, arranging, and assorted other responsibilities are the reasons. Fulson will now go out as a solo performer and his plans are to join up with the Joe Morris Blues Cavalcade with Laurie Tate and Doc Willie Jones and do a schedule of sixty one nighters through the South. Swing Time #308 re-issues two former Fulson sides-"Midnight Showers Of Rain" and "Black Widow Spider Blues". The next Swing Time outing features Dell Graham on "Raggedy Daddy Blues" and "Goodbye Baby". Fulson and the Morris Cavalcade are joined by the Five Keys for a two week tour of theaters in the Northeast, and the powerful R & B show is a good draw in all locations. The seasonal "Lonesome Christmas" on #242 is issued again and becomes a good seller for Swing Time in Texas.
Swing Time continues its great output of recorded material by Lowell. In February of 1953 #325 - "Upstairs" and "Let Me Ride Your Little Automobile" is out. It is followed in April by #330 - "The Blues Come Rollin' In" / "I Love My Baby". In late April, a Southwestern tour begins featuring R & B veteran performers T-Bone Walker, Lloyd Glenn, and Fulson. The tour kicks off with a great show in Houston, Texas. On Memorial Day, Fulson and Glenn are in Milwaukee and do some other dates in the Midwest. Rumors in the late summer concerning the fate of the Swing Time record company prove out in late October when the demise of the label becomes official. The long and profitable association between Lowell Fulson and Jack Lauderdale at Swing Time is at an end. The economic realities of running the label make it apparent that all of the successes of Fulson were not enough to save the company. In November Fulson is picked up by Aladdin Records, a surviving Southern California independent, and Lowell does not miss a beat. In December Aladdin #3127 is released-"Chuck With The Boys" and "Don't Leave Me Baby".
It is now 1954, the watershed year in which the musical foundations of American pop will begin to crumble and make way for the new direction that is gathering steam all across the country. Lowell Fulson begins the year with a number of personal appearances in the Chicago area including an extended stay at Cadillac Bob's and a March stint at the Crown Propeller Lounge. In late march Aladdin #3233 is release "Blues Never Fail" and "You Gotta Reap" which despite the name of the 'A' side is indeed a failure. Fulson however plugs on with a well attended week at Atlanta's Royal Peacock. By September Aladdin Records feels that Fulson is not in theor plans for the future and let him go, and he finds a new home in the windy city as he is signed by Marshall Chess. They plan an upcoming session for the Checker label. Meanwhile Fulson goes out West and plays L.A. with a big R & B unit that features Floyd Dixon and Wynonie Harris at the Savoy. In October Hollywood Records purchases the Swing Time master of Fulson's "Lonesome Christmas". A tour of the Southwest in November features a big three of early fifties R & B with Lowell along with T-Bone Walker and Ray Charles. At this time his first Checker release is out - "Reconsider Baby" and "I Believe I'll Give It Up" on #804, which featured the tenor sax of David "Fathead" Newman soon to become a mainstay with Ray Charles. At year's end Lowell Fulson is riding the surprising success of his first record for Checker and is signed to a big touring revue called the Top Ten R & B Show that also features The Clovers, Charms, Moonglows, Joe Turner, Faye Adams, Bill Doggett, and the Paul Williams band.
In January of 1955, Hollywood records purchases additional masters from the Swing Time catalog and plans to release Fulson's "Everyday I Have The Blues" and "Guitar Shuffle" on a single record. In February the Top Ten Show embarks on a national seven week tour of one nighters. Lowell's "Reconsider Baby" is a huge national top ten R & B hit and helps draw on the road. In March Checker Records releases #812 : "Loving You" and "Check Yourself". After the end of the Top Ten Show tour, Lowell joins up with Choker Campbell and his band for a tour of Texas. In July Fulson is in southern California and his new Checker release is "Lonely Hours" and "Do Me Right", even as "Reconsider" is still selling seven months after its initial release. In November Hollywood records again re-releases Fulson's "Lonesome Christmas" (parts one and two) with Lloyd Glenn on #1022. The newest Checker record is out in December - #829 : "Trouble Trouble" / "I Still Love You Baby".
In 1956 Lowell Fulson is in the Midwest early in the year with a big show at Gleason's in Cleveland. In march Fulson returns to Fort Worth Texas and plans to reform his own small band after years as a solo performer. In May Fulson and The Moonglows do a tour of one nighters in the South and then go to the West coast where the show does big business at the 5-4 Ballroom in Los Angeles. Checker #841 is out in July - "Tollin Bells" and "It's Your Fault". The side "Tollin' Bells" does surprisingly well (again) for a performer who is seen as having very little sway with record buyers. In fact the tune is rated in the top five sellers in Chicago. In November Hollywood Records is at it again, this time they plan to release a Christmas album by all R & B performers and Lowell's version of "Lonesome Christmas" will be part of the package. After 1956 Fulson stayed with Checker which released "Blues Rhumba" and "Please Don't Go" on #854 in late January of 1957. Fulson plays the 5_4 Ballroom in L.A. and is featured on a live broadcast from the club with dj Charles Trammell. Fulson tours the Southwest with the Jimmy McCracklin band in June and early July. In August Checker releases "You're Gonna Miss Me" and "Don't Drive Me Baby" on #865. In September Lowell Fulson signs on for a Midwestern tour as part of a show that features The Cadillacs, Coasters, Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Ernie Freeman & his band, and others. He closes the year on a tour with Big Maybell and Hollywood Records re-releases his recording of "Lonely Christmas.
Fulson continues to record for Checker Records in the late 50s. In 1959 "It Took A Long Time" and "and "That's All Right" is released on #937 which is his best seller in over two years. However a change of labels in the mid sixties to Kent Records is even more rewarding as, the survivor of the Modern/RPM/Flair family of labels brought forth "Black Nights" and "Tramp", his first hits of any magnitude in over a decade of trying. He was even the subject of the old practice of the cover record when Otis Redding and Carla Thomas came out with a version of "Tramp" for Stax-Volt. In the late sixties Fulson recorded some tunes for Jewel and Ric before fading again and then returning to the blues forefront with CDs for the Blues Bullseye and Rounder labels. A listen to any of these efforts will prove to any listener that the music of Lowell Fulson is as timeless as the blues itself.
This true pioneer of the sound of Rhythm & Blues has been at it for more than a half century and has never ever gone out of style. The sound may not be the kind that generates any multi-million dollar record deals or top grossing stadium tours, but he is one of the biggest reasons that those mentioned events are possible today. Without his musical history there would be NO history to trace back the roots of rock and roll. He is the source from which all who follow will have to search. Believe it !
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