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.
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 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 Sexton, a 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
“Knockin’ on the Door” / ?
“A Fallen King” / “Branded Man”
“Wink Em, Blink Em, and Nod” / “Hurt After Hurt”
“Walk With Me (Little One)” / “She’s Got Me Crying Again”
“Move Over Music City” / “Paradise 404”
Dick Root Jr.
“Surprise” / “Lie’s [sic] on My Lips”
“This Man” / “Passion and It’s [sic] Truth”
“Easy Baby” / “Got a Chigger on My Digger”
“I Was Born for You” / “L-O-V-E Love”
“It’s Gonna Be Hard” / “As Time Goes By”
“Pedro Hi-Jacked Santa Claus” / “Billy’s Christmas”
“Too Many Irons in the Fire” / “That Side of Life”
“What Kind of World (Am I Living In)” / “I Want To”
“You” /“I’m Out to Get Even”
“My Sacrifice Ain’t Nice” / “If My Mama Was With Me”
“I Can’t Seem to Get Her Off My Mind” / “Hello Mister Lonesome”
“She’s No Angel” / “If You Need Me, I’ll Be Around”
“Will You Be Sorry (For Loving Me Tonight)” / “I’m Gonna Love the Devil out of You”
“We Wonder if Mr. Nixon Knew” / “Assassination of J.F.K.”
“The Legend of the Ghost Town” / “Squaw Girl”
“Pass With Care” / “I’ve Got to Be Free”
“My Woman Wait’s [sic] at Home in New Orleans” / “Canyon’s [sic] of My Mind”
“If a Man Could Live on Love” / “A Little Bit of Money Makes a Whole Lot of Change”
“They’ll Be No Need for Tomorrow (If There’s No Yesterday in My Heart” / “Sweet Good Lookin’ Woman”
“Just As Long As I Have You (I’m Satisfied)” / “The Kind of Man I Am”
“Ode to the Politician’s Society Choir of Monotony (Same Old Song)” / “Windy”
“This Is the End Forever” / “Someday We’ll Make It”
Haven Clark (Truck Stop Granny)
“Wacky Sally” / “Memories Will Make You Pay”
“Humpin’ to Please” / “Taste of Heaven”
“The Love I Found” / “Mama Said”
“Mr. M.I. Jackson” / “Thanks to Granddad”
“It Ain’t as Long” / “Greener Pastures”
“Call on Me” / “Love Was All I Needed”
“Thank You for Coming” / “Da Do Man”
“Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge” / “The Funniest Feeling”
“Walkin’ Shoes” / “Bury Me Halfway Between”
“Winter” / “Iron Horse”
“I Need a Ride” / “Tied to a Dream”
“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”
“Mama Likes to Swing” / “Remember You Promised”
“Christmas Without Elvis” / “Christmas Card for Elvis”
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.