Short Takes on R & B Pioneers©2005JCMarion


Frank "Floorshow" Culley -

Frank Culley was born in August of 1917 in Salisbury, Maryland. At about the age of ten he decided he would like to try his hand at music. His instrument of choice at that early age was the saxophone, and by the time he reached the age of twenty he was part of a band in the Richmond, Virginia area. By the mid forties he led his own small combo and playing a mix of swinging jazz and Rhythm & Blues he began to make the rounds of recording studios. He recorded for some small independent labels and also recorded as a back up band for sessions at King Records in Cincinnati. In 1948 he was signed to Atlantic Records in New York and his star began to rise.

In early 1949 he recorded "Cole Slaw" and "Central Avenue Breakdown" on Atlantic # 874. This was his first big seller making the R & B top ten best sellers. The next record for Atlantic was "Floorshow" from which Culley gained his show business nickname for which he was known from that time on. The flip side was called "The Snap" and was released on # 880. "After Hours Session" and "Rhumboogie Jive" on # 888 was another top ten seller for Culley and he became one of the top R & B tenor sax men in the R & B field. "Waxey Maxie Boogie" and "Hop 'N Twist" on #902 was next ( even though trade ads listed "Fish Tail" as the flip side to "Boogie"). "My Silent Love" and his version of the pop hit "Mona Lisa" were released in September of 1950 on # 918, and was followed on # 922 by "Little Miss Blues" with vocal by Arlene Talley and "Gone After Hours".

In April of 1951 Culley recorded "I've Got You Under My Skin" and an original called "Culley-Flower" on Atlantic # 935. In September of 1951 Frank Culley moves to Coral Records, part of the Decca Records company. Nothing much results in this arrangement and by September of 1952, Joe Davis signs Culley to RCA Victor Records. In April of 1955 Baton Records a New York R & B independent label signs Culley who has concentrated on club dates for the past two years. In July of 1955, Baton Records releases one of the very first R & B LP albums called "Rock "N Roll - Instrumentals For Dancing" on LP# 1201 featuring the music of Buddy Tate and Frank Culley.

In February of 1956, Culley's band takes part in the first rock 'n roll stage show in The Bronx hosted by Hal Jackson. Headliners are The Cadillacs, Heartbeats, Valentines, Ruth McFadden, and Screamin Jay Hawkins. In May of the year Baton releases "After Hours Express" ( parts one and two) on # 226. Frank Culley continued on the club circuit for a time, and there were no further recordings that had any success. In a few years he left the music business entirely and passed away, a dimly remembered pioneer of the frantic school of R & B tenor sax men.


Van "Piano Man" Walls -

The man the world would know as Vann "Piano Man" Walls was born Harry Eugene Vann in August of 1918 in Middlesboro, Kentucky. He grew up in Charleston, West Virginia, and took to the piano from an early age. His mother was a piano teacher and so young Vann got a good start on his future vocation. His stepfather was named Walls and so he took the name Vann Walls. He left home as a teenager and toured the South joining up with traveling shows such as carnivals, circuses, and variety caravans. He returned to Charleston in his mid twenties and played as a solo pianist in local clubs and on WCHS radio. In the early forties he joined the territory band of Cal Greer for a while, and then formed his own small band that played local gigs in Columbus, Ohio. In 1948 he was heard by sax player Frank "Floorshow" Culley who convinced Walls to come to New York and join the new Atlantic Records label.

Beginning in 1949 Vann Walls became the pianist for the house band at Atlantic Records. You can hear his distinctive piano on a host of the biggest hits for the label in the early fifties. Some of these are Joe Turner's "Chains Of Love", Ruth Brown's "5-10-15 Hours", "One Mint Julep" by The Clovers, "Tomorrow Night" by LaVern Baker, and Laurie Tate's " Any Time, Any Place, Anywhere". Back in 1950 Atlantic released a record under Vann Walls own name. It was "Tee Nah Nah" featuring a vocal by Spider Sam on # 904. The flip side was "Ain't Gonna Scold You". Walls also recorded for the Derby label that year with "Easter Parade" and "Air Mail Boogie" featuring tenor sax man Freddie Mitchell on # 733. "Chocolate Candy Blues" on Columbia # 30220 also was released in 1950. From that time on Vann Walls was credited on all of Atlantic's early recordings by Joe Turner. Later in December of 1952 "After Midnight" and "Blues Sender" are released as by Vann "Piano Man" Walls on # 980. In April of 1953 "Big Leg Mama" and "Open The Door" as by The Rockets and Vann Walls is released by Atlantic on # 988.

Vann Walls did many sessions for a variety of labels. In 1954 he joined the Philadelphia based band called The Night Riders. He remained with this group for nearly a decade, much of the time in Canada mostly in Montreal. The members of the band were James "Doc" Starkes leader and bass, Mel Smith vocals and sax, Joe Sewell tenor sax, Vann Walls piano, Harry Grafton guitar, and Jimmy Johnson drums. The Nite Riders recorded for the Apollo label with "Women And Cadillacs" and "Say Hey (Willie Mays)" on # 460 and "Doctor Velvet" and "Rags" on # 466 in 1954. In 1955 and early 1956 the band recorded for Teen Records with "Apple Cider" / "In The Middle Of A Dream" on # 114, "Starlight And You" / "I Know You're In There" on # 116, Don't Hang Up The Phone" and the irresistible title "Got Me A Six Button Benny" on # 118, and "Waitin In The School Room" / "When A Man Cries" on #120. They continued with "Vacation Time" / "Night Riding" on Sound # 119 and "Tell The Truth" / "Never" on Sound # 128. In 1957 they recorded a one off for a major label MGM Records with "Tank Town" / "Sippin' Coffee" on # 12487, and then "Love Me Like Crazy" / "Rockin To School" on Linda # 109 and "Pretty Plaid Skirt" and "I'll Never Change" on Sue # 713 in 1959. Into the sixties they recorded for the Cherry, Chime, Smash, and Courtesy labels. When the Nite Riders broke up in the early sixties Vann Walls remained in Canada and formed his own group called Captain Vann & The Pirates. They remained in Montreal for a number of years. In the late eighties and into the nineteen nineties, Van Walls played a number of blues and jazz festivals in the United States and Canada. In 1997 he was recognized by the Rhythm & Blues Foundation with a Pioneer Award for his many years of performing and recording. From his home base in Montreal he played with Canadian blues musicians Michael Jerome Browne and The Stephen Barry Band. There is a great CD by these musicians called "In The Evening" which was produced in Montreal that is a fitting introduction to those that have never heard this stylist. Unfortunately for all of us, Vann "Piano Man" Walls passed away in January of 1999.


Day, Dawn, & Dusk -

At one time there was a vocal - instrumental trio called Day, Dawn, and Dusk. They were very much in a style of other small combos that we have chronicled on this site such as the Three Bits of Rhythm, D0-Ray-Me Trio, and the Three Peppers. They occupy a small niche in the history of the music and are hard to define. Not quite R & B, not quite jazz, not quite pop, but a curious mixture of all three with a bit of classical or even country thrown in. Day, Dawn, and Dusk were comprised of Bob Carver the pianist for the trio, Eddie Coleman, and Gus Simmons. They did not have an extensive recording history but they did put out records for a number of different labels.

They began their recording career for a label called Collectors Items which was located in New York City. These sides date from the late nineteen forties and include "Basin Street Blues" and "Rigoletto In Harlem" on # 805. This was followed by "Bones Bones Bones" and "Mein Stetela Belz" on # 806. The next mention of the trio in the trade press announces that they are doing good box office for an extended club date in Denver, Colorado in December of 1953. During the following summer, a recording for the Herald label shows up as selling moderately well in the Los Angeles area. This is "The Kiss That Broke My Heart" and "All through The Years" recorded with the Orchestra of Charles LaVern and released on Herald # 1000. The next year finds the trio recording for the Apollo label with "Let The Tears Fall" and "Miss Petunia" on # 476. A year later they show up on Josie Records with "Anytime" and "Who Are You Kidding?" on # 794. Oklahoma City reports that "Anytime is one of the top ten best selling records in the R & B field in may of 1956. That seems to be the last mention of Day, Dawn, and Dusk.

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