Sunday, April 26, 2020

The bizarre story of Delta Records of Nashville, TN (1967-78)

Stock fraud, a shooting, and a lot of oddball country records. That's the story of Delta Records, a small Nashville, Tennessee, label that released a number of unusual and obscure country singles in the 1970s, almost all of which featured unknown singers. 

When looking at the Delta discography, even serious country fans won't recognize many, if any, of the artists' names other than Clyde Moody, who had a couple Top 10 country hits for King Records in 1948-50, and Big Jeff (Bess), who has been anthologized by Bear Family Records. Big Jeff's wife, Tootsie, also recorded for Delta, and her Tootsie's Orchid Lounge in Nashville is a landmark in country music history. Those were Delta's big names.

Despite an almost total lack of success, the label kept cranking out releases throughout the 1970s. But because Delta didn't advertise, was almost never mentioned in any music trade magazines, and had no hits, it's hard to pinpoint even the years in which most of its records were released.

How did the label keep churning out singles year after year in a commercial vacuum? It was able to do it because Delta wasn't a typical record label. It didn't rely on record sales for survival—it essentially operated as a vanity label and a platform for stock fraud. Artists had to pay Delta to record and release their records, and many of them bought unsecured stock in the label at a price of $1 a share in the hope of receiving some promotional TLC. Complaints by these artists, many of whom who said Delta didn't honor its promises to release and promote records, eventually brought the label down.

In the beginning...

Delta was formed by Ken Galloway in Nashville, Tennessee, in the late 1960s, possibly to release his own records. A brief item in Record World in 1967 said that Ken's recording of "Knockin' on the Door" on Delta Records was—according to Ken, at least—"beginning to pick up renewed action." Around the same time, in addition to running Delta and attempting to establish himself as a country singer, Galloway was managing, producing, and writing songs for the 5 Williamson Bros., who recorded for North Carolina's Gold Star label. In 1970, he was listed in Record World's directory of personal managers.  

A 1970 ad for
two Delta singles.
For reasons that will soon become obvious, not many artists recorded more than one single for Delta, which throughout its history had a generic white label that said DELTA in block letters. Ken's sons Bobby and Jimmy also recorded and wrote songs for the label.

After several years of steadily releasing records that went unnoticed by the mainstream country audience, Delta came under the scrutiny of the Tennessee State Insurance Department in 1976 in an investigation of alleged music-industry "ripoffs."

Delta was targeted for selling unregistered securities, stocks that aren't registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. In a front-page story in 1977, Nashville newspaper The Tennessean reported that Delta had been selling unregistered securities since incorporating the previous year, many of them "to hopeful recording artists."

In addition to going after Delta for selling unregistered securities, the State Insurance Department charged Delta with misrepresenting the value of the stock, failing to inform investors of pending legal action against the label, and leading artists to believe that their purchase of Delta stock would result in more robust promotion of their records.

Galloway was unrepentant and blamed the artists. "They come here to record," he told The Tennessean, "then they go home and realize that the money is gone and they come up with every excuse in the world to try to get it back."

The lawsuits

The aggrieved artists included the aforementioned Tootsie Bess of Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, who recorded one of the final Delta records listed in the discography below and took Galloway to court over the rights to the composition. Galloway failed to appear in court and Tootsie won a $4,500 judgment.

Also named was Rita Gay McMurray, who recorded a single for the Music Mountain label with Galloway's help, and Violet Cole, who wrote two songs that were recorded by Bill Haney, also under Galloway's guidance, for what seems to have been the only release on Bayou Records, a subsidiary of Delta. 

Cole's story was especially tragic. A 60-year-old operator of a nursing home in Daniels, West Virginia, she came to Nashville in the hope of placing some songs she'd written with a publishing company or recording artists. She was referred to Galloway, who told her that she had "the wildest imagination of any songwriter that ever came to Tennessee." He cajoled her into paying for more session time than she intended, telling her that she would soon recoup all the money she spent. Galloway and his sons had a publishing company, Openwide Publishing, that buttered up Cole by giving her certificates for "best songs published in 1973" and "most songs recorded with hit potential in 1973." She racked up over $13,000 in studio and promotion fees, a debt that forced her to close her nursing home and sell five of her eight acres of land.

She eventually took Galloway to court and won a $63,000 judgment, which included Galloway's fees plus $50,000 in punitive damages. The court's ruling referred to Cole as "a victim of [Galloway's] confidence scheme" and said that Galloway was "guilty of gross, willful and wanton fraud, to the point of outrage." Galloway, for his part, again failed to appear in court and maintained his innocence in the press.

This judgment led to the dissolution of Delta. On February 16, 1978, The Tennessean reported that Delta had closed its doors the previous week. One of the label's final and most ambitious releases was Patty Sexton's Elvis on My Mind Sung by Patty Sextona full-length album of tributes to Elvis Presley recorded after his death and produced by Galloway.

Galloway was philosophical about the scandals, portraying himself as both the real victim and just an ordinary wheeler-dealer:
"The real ripoff comes when people leave Nashville and go somewhere else to some little studio where the people don't know nothing. ... There's not a damn company on Music Row that you can't find skeletons in the closet. But is it worth ruining the whole of Music Row to expose one or two people that might do something they ought not to?"

An odd coda

That wasn't the end of the Delta story. Delta was ordered to repay the artists with interest, but no payments were forthcoming. This was predictable, because as The Tennessean noted, "Attorneys who have sued Galloway in the past have complained that it is impossible to collect judgements against him since he has signed most of the stock in the company over to his three sons."

Even though Galloway had insisted that the label's assets were worth more than $3 million, a court-appointed attorney who took over the assets of Galloway and Delta in an attempt to compensate the victims told The Tennessean, "There was nothing there of any immediate commercial value, and Galloway had no personal assets sufficient to make any kind of substantial payment to stockholders." The only asset of Galloway's that could be located was a 1972 automobile. When a reporter asked Galloway for specifics about Delta's alleged $3 million in assets, Galloway said, "You just don't understand the music business. I'm going to start charging $50 an hour to explain it to you."

The only thing missing from this story was gunplay, at least until 1979. Galloway turned up in the newspapers again that year when he shot a 24-year-old bouncer at a motel lounge where his son, Bobby, was playing guitar with a band. Bobby and the bouncer got into an argument that culminated in the elder Galloway shooting the bouncer in the chest. The bouncer didn't die and refused to press charges, saying that the shooting was "an accident," so Galloway again avoided facing any legal consequences.

Delta Records discography

Delta catalog number
Song titles
Ken Galloway
“Knockin’ on the Door” / ?
Ken Galloway
“A Fallen King” / “Branded Man”
Rene’ Merritt
“Wink Em, Blink Em, and Nod” / “Hurt After Hurt”
Darryl Massey
“Walk With Me (Little One)” / “She’s Got Me Crying Again”
Edna Dee
“Move Over Music City” / “Paradise 404”
Dick Root Jr.
“Surprise” / “Lie’s [sic] on My Lips”
Vivian Dawn
“This Man” / “Passion and It’s [sic] Truth”
Bobby Galloway
“Easy Baby” / “Got a Chigger on My Digger”
Bernie Stevens
“I Was Born for You” / “L-O-V-E Love”
Jeannie Dee
“It’s Gonna Be Hard” / “As Time Goes By”
Jeannie Dee
“Pedro Hi-Jacked Santa Claus” / “Billy’s Christmas”
Hal Phillips
“Too Many Irons in the Fire” / “That Side of Life”
Tommy Gaebler
“What Kind of World (Am I Living In)” / “I Want To”
Big Jeff
 “You” /“I’m Out to Get Even”
Janette Monday
“My Sacrifice Ain’t Nice” / “If My Mama Was With Me”
Jimmy Galloway
“I Can’t Seem to Get Her Off My Mind” / “Hello Mister Lonesome”
Clyde Moody
“She’s No Angel” / “If You Need Me, I’ll Be Around”
Gaylon Wayne
“Will You Be Sorry (For Loving Me Tonight)” / “I’m Gonna Love the Devil out of You”
Big Jeff
“We Wonder if Mr. Nixon Knew” / “Assassination of J.F.K.”
“The Legend of the Ghost Town” / “Squaw Girl”
Billy Somers
“Pass With Care” / “I’ve Got to Be Free”
Bobby Galloway
“My Woman Wait’s [sic] at Home in New Orleans” / “Canyon’s [sic] of My Mind”
Chuck Penny
“If a Man Could Live on Love” / “A Little Bit of Money Makes a Whole Lot of Change”
John Adcock
“They’ll Be No Need for Tomorrow (If There’s No Yesterday in My Heart” / “Sweet Good Lookin’ Woman”
Clyde Moody
“Just As Long As I Have You (I’m Satisfied)” / “The Kind of Man I Am”
Mickey Fortune
“Ode to the Politician’s Society Choir of Monotony (Same Old Song)” / “Windy”
Kirt McGee
“This Is the End Forever” / “Someday We’ll Make It”
Haven Clark (Truck Stop Granny)
“Wacky Sally” / “Memories Will Make You Pay”
Mickey Fortune
“Humpin’ to Please” / “Taste of Heaven”
Linda Lee
“The Love I Found” / “Mama Said”
Del Warren
“Mr. M.I. Jackson” / “Thanks to Granddad”
Mike Kirby
“It Ain’t as Long” / “Greener Pastures”
Gail Kight
“Call on Me” / “Love Was All I Needed”
Betti Hart
“Thank You for Coming” / “Da Do Man”
Donny Tapp
“Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge” / “The Funniest Feeling”
Monte Davidson
“Walkin’ Shoes” / “Bury Me Halfway Between”
Sandra Rossfield
“Winter” / “Iron Horse”
Jim Hsieh*
“I Need a Ride” / “Tied to a Dream”
Sue Blaine
“Clean Up Your Act” / “On Again Off Again”
Dorothy “Everybody’s Mother”
“220 Mama” / “Music of the People”
“Tootsie’s Wall of Fame” / “The Wettest Shoulder in Town”
Patsy Clay
“Mama Likes to Swing” / “Remember You Promised”
Patsy Sexton
“Christmas Without Elvis” / “Christmas Card for Elvis”
D 1002
Patsy Sexton
Elvis on My Mind Sung by Patty Sexton LP

*Jim Hsieh's "I Need a Ride" (Delta 1118) is included on the 2010 anthology Ears of Stone: 1960s Folk Country & Pop from the Nashville Indies, even though it was recorded in the 1970s.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Pat Boone's country years: 1973-80

A surprising number of veteran pop stars tried their hand at country music late in their careers after the pop hits dried up, and Pat Boone was one of them. 

Why would pop artists—many of whom used to strive for big-band and cool-jazz sophistication and had professional images that were about as country as a soy-milk latte—suddenly pull on cowboy boots and start droppin' their Gs? Probably for the same reason that fading old-timers made embarrassing attempts at singing rock 'n' roll in the 1950s. For showfolk, the show must go on, whatever it takes.

The country field, at least in the 1960s-80s, was fairly welcoming toward these expatriates from the Las Vegas Strip. The country audience tended to respect tradition more than the Top 40 pop crowd did, so it was willing to welcome pop veterans into the country fold, and some of these temporary county singers had moderate success: Patti Page, Bobby Vinton, Tom Jones, etc. 

Pat had been casting about for a new artistic direction even before he turned to country music. As his pop hits began to wane in the mid-to-late '60s, he first experimented with other kinds of pop/rock music, like Beach Boys-style hot-rod and beach musicHe even recorded a Biff Rose song and an all-whistling record, "I Was Kaiser Bill's Batman.In fact, his final pop hit on the Hot 100 wasn't even a pop song. It was "July, You're a Woman," a single from an oddball folk-rock album he recorded for Bill Cosby's Tetragrammaton label in 1969. It peaked at #100.

Sensing—or facing the reality—that his days as a mainstream pop star were finished, Pat concentrated on religious music for a few years. In 1972-73, he recorded some albums with The First Nashville Jesus Band for the Christian imprint Lamb & Lion Records. These albums contained gospel and country-gospel material as well as a few songs, like Frankie Miller's "Blackland Farmer," that are mainstream or traditional country songs that have religious themes.

The Lamb & Lion albums continued Boone's evolution away from pop music and toward his new image as a mainstream country singer, which culminated in a brief record deal with MGM Records in 1973 to record secular country material. For MGM, he recorded the album I Love You More and More Every Day, which included songs such as "Golden Rocket" and "Jambalaya." MGM released three singles, none of which charted. The Billboard review of his MGM album remarked that "Pat has been making the transition to country, and here is very close to the mark."

After a year at MGM, Boone was picked up in 1974 by Motown's country imprint Melodyland. After that, he moved to another Motown subsidiary, Hitsville, before ending his country music career on the Warner/Curb label in 1980.

In these six years from 1974-1980, he scored five hits on the Billboard country chart, only one of which, "Texas Woman," managed to reach the lower rungs of the country Top 40. On the Cash Box country chart it fared a bit better, going all the way to #26.

This late-career transition to country music didn't come entirely out of the blue. Pat began his career in Nashville (although his earliest records didn't sound like anything you'd associate with Nashville), and throughout the '50s and '60s he occasionally recorded pop renditions of country songs like Hank Williams' "Cold, Cold Heart" and Cowboy Copas's "Alabam," including a complete album of pop-ified country hits in 1965. He also married the daughter of Country Music Hall of Famer Red Foley and recorded a tribute album to Foley in the 1980s. But, as mentioned previously, defecting to country music wasn't his first choice of career move.

While playing country music, Pat sometimes recorded songs that weren't quite in keeping with his squeaky clean image. For a guy who famously wanted to change the lyrics of "Ain't That a Shame" to "Isn't That a Shame" so they would be grammatically correct, songs like his 1977 single "Whatever Happened to the Good Old Honky Tonk" seemed out of character.

Pat's minor 1980 hit "Colorado Country Morning" was his last hurrah as a mainstream chart artist until he recorded his 1997 novelty album of heavy metal songs, In a Metal Mood, which registered on the Billboard pop album chart and again showed Pat's willingness to record music that is wildly inconsistent with his image as long as it might rack up some sales. Other than that odd digression, Pat spent most of his post-country years cutting religious music and remakes of his old hits for independent labels and for his own label, Pat's Gold.

Pat's country hits 

"Indiana Girl" (#72, 1975)

"I'd Do It With You" (#84, 1975) – Duet with Shirley Boone

"Texas Woman" (#34, 1976)

"Oklahoma Sunshine" (#86, 1976)

"Colorado Country Morning" (#60, 1980)