Friday, September 12, 2008

Do Me a Fabor

Over the course of this blog year, I have talked about artists who concocted the songs on my 45s, and when the situation warranted it, I have discussed behind-the-scenes figures who got the performers from nowhere to vinyl. Bobby Lee Trammell, the writer and singer of today’s song, “Uh Oh” (Fábor 127), made a respectable number of recordings and earned the admiration of many rockabilly fans. However, my perspective on him reminds me of the time I stayed at a reasonably appointed hotel at Niagara Falls, Ontario: the view beyond the object in the foreground is pretty amazing.

I didn’t know it until I researched this post, but Bobby Lee’s producer, Fabor Robison (1911-1986), informed my early listening, and yours (if you’re old enough to remember the 1968 Democratic National Convention), to a surprising degree. If you don’t already know what you owe this man, here you go.

First of all, I have to tell you that much of the following information comes from BlackCat Rockabilly Europe, a site that seems to be laden with amazing data. The facts I checked pan out, so you can read up on Fabor Robison there with confidence. I provide you with my perspective on the facts as a public service. No, thank you.

We begin with Fabor’s first post-World War II gig, as agent to Johnny Horton. Fabor believed so much in this guy that in 1951 he started a label, Abbott Records, to get Horton on vinyl. Consider for a moment how fortunate any artist, then or now, would be to have such strong backing. Even more remarkable is the fact that, when Fabor couldn’t get decent distribution for the Abbott recordings, he found Horton a better deal with Mercury in 1952. While selling off his right to record Horton would have been worth something to Fabor, the willingness to relinquish control is not common in talent management.

Fabor seems to have had an incredible ear for talent, and his contact with the Louisiana Hayride people in Shreveport allowed him to nurture the career of piano player Floyd Cramer, who constituted the Nashville Sound with Chet Atkins and Boots Randolph (to oversimplify), and who scored three Top Ten hits in 1960-61, including the #2 smash “Last Date.”

In 1953, tiny Abbott Records released “Mexican Joe” by Jim Reeves, and that single was a 9-week Country #1 hit. Later in the year, Mitchell Torok (to be featured here in October) topped the Country chart for 2 weeks with “Caribbean.” Each song spent half a year in the Country Top 40.

Fabor started a namesake label, and the Browns (Jim Ed, Maxine and Bonnie) provided Fábor Records with two Top Ten Country hits in 1954-55. Others in the Abbott/Fábor/Radio Records stable included Bonnie Guitar (mentioned in January) and Ned Miller, whose 1962-63 hit “From a Jack to a King” reached #6 on Fábor. A Phoenix kid named Robert Luke Harshman (coming to the blog peripherally later this month) would go on to record for A&M as Bobby Hart with Tommy Boyce. Apart from their string of hits, these two were the first Monkees mentors and quite the songwriting duo.

So, you see, Fabor Robison’s legacy is not only all over this blog, it’s all over your listening experiences. If, at first glance, Bobby Lee Trammell on Fábor Records sounded like the sort of obscurity I associate with Davi on Stark Records, I know better now. The Bobby Lee Trammell 45 I own is a two-sided gem, which points to the fact that Fabor was a pretty decent producer, on top of knowing whom to sign to his labels.

Fabor was prone to chucking it all when he became unhappy, and he sold off his holdings a number of times. He always came back, though, and he always worked his way back to the top. Not bad for an Army cook from Arkansas who evidently had what it took to be a musical kingmaker. I’m going to keep digging into his world, and at some point, I’ll bring you what I find.

I don’t want to give short shrift to Bobby Lee today, but his story has been told, and “Uh Oh” speaks for itself. A note about the recording: unlike the digital version of “You Mostest Girl” I posted, “Uh Oh” comes from my 45. I played the song so rarely, and it sat buried for so long, that it has fewer pops than virtually all of my Survivor 45s. There is just a bit of surface noise that shows up rarely. Fabor and Bobby Lee really did a good job recording this song.

Next time, I will confess to a fondness for a certain type of rhythm, and I’ll discuss its most notable purveyor. See you Wednesday!

Bobby Lee Trammell, Uh Oh

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