Tuesday, September 9, 2008

What the Heck Is a Mostest?

Recently I offered you both sides of a 45 I could not recall ever hearing. I’ll do that again in November, with two sides by a different obscure artist. Today I am going to discuss one side of a 45 I remember but almost never played.

It seems that four-year-old caithiseach relegated this 45 to the bottom of the box almost immediately, and I never got over that aversion to it. When I note that Bear Family Records in Germany considers the artist significant enough to have released 25-track and 30-track retrospectives with little overlap, and then included him on 11 rockabilly anthologies, I begin to wonder what that little kid was thinking.

I take into account also that I didn’t know rockabilly when I was little—as much as I liked my music to be high-energy fare, not many of the cutouts Uncle Tom bought me had a lot of twang to them. So I didn’t get familiar with the genre until Don McLean brought Buddy Holly to my attention in his megahit “...” Oops, can I mention the name of his song here? He somehow managed to trademark the song title years after he made all his money by writing a musical biography of Buddy Holly et al. I had better be careful about using the title.

Well, it’s time I gave this artist, so obscure in my musical world, his due. Worldly listeners that you are, you will probably snicker at my early ignorance of, and resistance to, “You Mostest Girl” by Bobby Lee Trammell (Fábor 127).

Bobby Lee Trammell seems to have been a merger of those two other Lees, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley. He gyrated his hips on stage to such a degree that Elvis began to seem tame. Bobby Lee was motivated to succeed; he talked his way onstage at different times with Carl Perkins and Bobby Bare, and he attracted enough attention to earn a recording contract with Fabor Robison’s label, after first blowing off Sam Phillips because of artistic impatience.

His first single, “Shirley Lee,” sold well enough for ABC Paramount to pick up its distribution, and there is strong evidence that he sold a quarter of a million copies, so slowly, though, that he didn’t chart. Ricky Nelson covered “Shirley Lee,” and Ricky offered to look at more of Bobby Lee’s songs, but the latter didn’t follow up and lost the opportunity.

“You Mostest Girl” was Bobby Lee’s second single, and while Fabor Robison tried to produce it with full orchestration, eventually he pared it down to the tight band you’ll hear here.

Born to musical parents on a cotton farm in Jonesboro, Arkansas in 1934, Bobby Lee kept up his rowdiness in spite of lessons he should have learned from it: Ozzie Nelson wouldn’t let him appear on his show; Bobby Lee was banned from performing in California; his antics at the Louisiana Hayride cost him a shot at the Grand Ole Opry; and, in a really senseless move, he fought with Jerry Lee Lewis before a show and busted the Killer’s piano. That earned him a cold shoulder from nearly every promoter in the country, and he was pretty much done.

An attempted 1984 European comeback ended when, in an attempt to live up to his wild reputation, Bobby Lee tried to jump on the piano, slipped, and broke his wrist.

After that, there was nothing to do but return to Arkansas and enter politics. He was elected in 1997 as a Democrat to the Arkansas House of Representatives, where he served until 2002. Unfortunately, he died this past February 20, at the age of 74, in his hometown.

When you listen to the song, you will hear a fairly crisp piece of rockabilly that deserved better than to wind up in the discount bin at the Big Top department store, a few feet south of Gary, Indiana. If you look at the label scan, you will see that this 45 still carries its Big Top price tag, though the price of the record would have dropped to a nickel when Uncle Tom bought it as part of a lot of 20 singles.

I’m pretty sure that, had I known in 1964 what I know now about music, I would have played this record fairly often. I never gave it enough of a chance, and that seems, unfortunately, to fit in with every other aspect of Bobby Lee Trammell’s music career. Godspeed, Bobby Lee.

For Saturday, I’ll bring you the other tune and discuss the producer of the sides, Fabor Robison. See you on the flip side!

Bobby Lee Trammell, You Mostest Girl

You Mostest Girl label scan

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