THE ALVIS WAYNE STORY







It seems strange when you consider that Tony Wayne's name appears on the records although he never even played on the tracks. He did not co-write 'Lay Your Head On My Shoulder' with James Bacon nor did he write 'You're The One' that was down to Alvis himself and no contract was ever signed. I asked Alvis whether or not if perhaps Tony Wayne was ripping him off a little. "That's very possible,Ó Alvis says. "He was basically a good old boy but he was hungry and the fact that his name was on those records as a writer, well I don't know how that happened and it's too late to do anything about it now because Tony Wayne's dead. So that's just part of our history, part of the past and its something we have to forget about I guess."

It seems 'incredible that over the years that no one has tried to trace Alvis to interview him or try to bring him over to the UK to do some shows. That was the case until now. Speak to him today and he will tell you it's always been one of his ambitions to perform outside the States. Well, by the time you read this, we should have the details of two exclusive shows for Alvis as well as news of some new rockin' tracks the great man will be recording. Watch this space!! Finally I asked Alvis if he had any idea that his records were regarded as classics over here in Europe. He replied "Well I didn't until you told me they were. I didn't think anybody over there had ever even heard of them."

SWING BOP BOOGIE


John Kennedy, Alvis Wayne and Perry Williamson

by John Kennedy

Alvis Wayne may not be the greatest name in the history of rock'n'roll and he certainly was not the most prolific when it came down to recording, but the half a dozen or so sides he recorded for Westport in the fifties remain classics of the genre and are revered by true rockabilly fans the world over. It's a shame it has taken over forty years for someone to actually interview the man and tell the real story more or less in his words. What you are about to read is the result of six months hard work. As far as I am aware, this is the first time Alvis's story has been told at any great length and of course it's brought to you exclusively by your favourite rockin' mag 'ROCKET'. My thanks to John Beecher, AI Turner and Phillip Tricker for their assistance and finally to Perry for all his enthusiasm.

Alvis Wayne Samford was born in Puduka, Texas on December 31st 1937 to Alva N and Nona Mae Samford. He was the eldest of five children with one sister Barbara, and three brothers who were Norvin, Robert and J.W. "That stood for James Wallace," Alvis recalls. "Although, when he was born, it didn't stand for anything. He was actually called J.W. and when he went into the military later on, they said, you can't have a name like that, two initials, it has to stand for something. He said, how about James Wallace, and that's what they put on his military records and that's been stuck with him ever since, although he is dead now of course."

The Samfords, who were extremely poor, left Puduka shortly after Alvis was born. One of fourteen children, Alvis's father was a carpenter by trade, but he had to go anywhere where there was work, which during the depression of the 30's was very scarce indeed. He worked in a machine shop, picked cotton, chopped cedar, worked on a Dairy farm, in fact anything at all, which would enable him to support his growing family. Alvis's mother stayed at home most of the time raising the family although she occasionally worked as a waitress to bring in a few extra dollars. His constant quest for work meant the family moved around many times. They lived out in Martin Springs, West Texas and several little towns around San Antonio until finally settling down in Corpus Christi in early 1953. Alvis went to Sundeen High School in Corpus Christi and really began to take his music more seriously.

"My early childhood was just like anybody else's of that time period" Alvis remembers. I fought a lot with my brothers and my sister, well she could whip all of us, but I don't think my life was any different to any other child's life at that time. We kids slept in a small bunkhouse behind the main house and I had a small radio that I would listen to until the early hours of the morning. Jimmie Rodgers, the Mississippi Blue Yodler, Hank Snow, Eddy Arnold and Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys were early influences. I was twelve years old when I got my first live radio show from KBOP in Pleasanton, Texas. I also listened to a station out of Del-Rio, Texas as well as an R & B station in Shreveport, Louisiana. On Saturday nights we listened to WSM and the Grand Ole Opry."

Music was to become an important part of Alvis's life as a young boy. Although he did other things such as going hunting and fishing with his dad and uncles, it was to be his music and his guitar that gave him his greatest interest. He pulled corn all summer on his aunt and uncle's farm to earn enough money for his first guitar. Alvis was ten years old when his aunt ordered him one from the Sears & Roebuck Catalogue for the princely sum of $18.98 plus shipping and handling. He taught himself how to play from a 'How to Play Guitar' book and the first song he remembers knowing all the chords to was 'Goodnight Irene'.

However, it was not long before Alvis's ambition of becoming a performer was causing some trouble back at home. "I became the black sheep of the family. My grandparents were very religious and in the church that I was raised in believed that Saturday was the Sabbath and they believed the Sabbath started at 6 O'clock on Friday afternoon, so you couldn't go to the movies or play in Honky Tonks. They didn't believe in any of that kinda stuff and it was strictly against the religion. When I got up to be twelve and thirteen years old I started playing in the nightclubs and all that stuff. Friday was the busiest night of the week so there was a whole bunch of them who didn't take to kindly to it all. At that same time one of my aunts, who was supposed to be part of this thing, encouraged me along and that's the same aunt who bought me that guitar. Most of the big stars came to San Antonio; it was one of the swinginest towns in the state. I remember going; I guess when I was about ten years old. I got on the bandstand with Bob Wills in a little old town called Macdona, about thirty miles out of San Antonio. They all came, George Jones, Ray Price you name it and if they were in the business, they played in San Antonio."

The High School that Alvis attended as a teenager was Sundeen High in Corpus Christi, although a fairly bright student, he had no interest in school whatsoever and he eventually dropped it to go out on the road. In the evening and at weekends Alvis was performing locally in Honky Tonks and nightclubs for little more than beer money when a local musician approached him called Anthony (Tony) Wayne Guion who had a group called the Rhythm Wranglers. "My mom and dad were not very happy about me going out on the road, but I had an opportunity to do so with a band, which was the only thing I ever wanted to do. As I said they weren't very happy about it at all and we talked about it for several days but I just had to go and they eventually went along with it all and didn't hold me back."

Unfortunately, not a lot is known about Anthony (Tony) Wayne Guion and the Rhythm Wranglers except that he led a four piece band consisting of drums, bass, lead guitar and Tony himself on rhythm and vocals. In 1957 he cut his one and only release on Westport Records called 'Many Ways'/'Together Forever' (Westport 134). So in early 1956 Alvis set out on his first ever tour down through South Texas but he was to soon realise that life on the road was not very glamorous after all. The band stayed in three or four regular places at that time that had been previously booked by Guion. Accommodation was sparse with nothing more than a dressing room with a bed and a wash basin. At that time Alvis was singing mostly country music with a smattering of Rock'n'Roll from the likes of Elvis and Jerry Lee, but mainly just country that was popular at that time. Life on the road was to prove a real disappointment. The band never earned much money and even went without food on some occasions. Tired, hungry and totally disillusioned, the band decided to call it a day and head back home to Corpus Christi.

It wasn't long before Alvis was asked to join another local band called 'AI Hardy and the Southernaires' and once again he started doing gigs virtually seven nights a week. In fact AI Hardy had one of the finest country and western swing bands in the state and he owned a nightclub in Corpus Christi, and Alvis himself considered it an honour to work with and perform at AI's club. Meanwhile, Tony Wayne Guion was still in regular contact and during the summer of 1956 he approached Alvis with a view to doing some recordings. Alvis himself takes up the story. " Tony got, I don't know how, but he got in touch with them and he came up to me and said 'hey I got us a recording contract with Westport records in Kansas City, Missouri, and they want some Rock'n'Roll records. He said I got five songs already written for you and all you gotta do is go in there and sing. As far as I know Tony never sung or performed those songs on stage, he wrote them just for me. I had to sit down and drum them into my brain and learn them. I think it was probably Tony who suggested that I change my name from Wayne Samford to Alvis Wayne because he said Elvis has already got this thing going and your name is Alvis and all that. I said OK whatever, you know more about this than I do so let's go for it."

Westport records were based in Kansas City, Missouri and the label was set up in 1955 by the Ruf brothers, as an outlet for The Westport Kids, who were the sons and daughters of the two men. The label released just over twenty singles from 1955 to 1962 by artists such as Jimmy Dallas, Milt Dickey, Big Bob Dougherty, Lee Finn, The Home Folks, Elmo Linn, Ronnie & Marlene and Gene Chapman. Alvis and Lee Finn were the only artists who recorded rockabilly for the label.

Alvis never had to make the trip to Kansas City to record, in fact he only had to travel a few miles from his home to a converted, soundproof studio in a Corpus Christi machine shop. One afternoon in around July 1956, Alvis went into the studio in Corpus and cut his first record. With AI Hardy's band backing him he laid down three tracks onto tape in what Alvis thought was merely a session to record some demos. With Chuck Harrison on lead, Danny Walker on drums, Hank Evans on bass, Dusty Rhodes on steel, a blind pianist called Wally Bright and Alvis himself on rhythm guitar they recorded the classic 'Swing Bop Boogie/Sleep Rock-A-Roll Rock-A-Baby, to form Westport 132. Both songs featured some great steel guitar playing from Dusty Rhodes and both titles have Alvis superb slurred vocals over the slap bass and chugging rhythm, pure heaven! The other title, recorded in a similar vein, was 'I Gottum' which was to remain unissued for some sixteen years.

It's a total misconception to think that Anthony (Tony) Wayne Guion's Rhythm Wranglers played on these tracks, even though he is credited on the actual records. Perhaps it was something to do with royalties? Who knows but we will probably never find out the real reason why this was." Tony and I never had an actual owned paper type contract. We were friends and we worked together and he was trying to help me get fired up and get going and I went along with it all I could."

Alvis's first Westport record was released, apparently without his knowledge, around September 1956. The record itself was pressed at the King pressing plant in Cincinnati in both 45 and 78 rpm formats on two different colour labels with either the more common red on white or the rarer silver on blue being available. Despite frequent local airplay it never really got out of the Corpus Christi area, selling probably no more than two thousand copies. Two months later he returned to the studio for his second session. 'Don't Mean Maybe Baby/I'd Rather Be With You' (Westport 138), was to be Alvis's biggest record, and was surprisingly released in England around 1959 - 1960, on the small Starlite label (Starlite 104). This label, operating from a basement in Bedford Avenue, West London also released tracks by other rockabilly singers such as Aubrey Cagle and Curley Jim Morrison. Although in all fairness none of the Starlite releases never had a cat in hell's chance of charting because the British record buying public at that time were to busy buying the latest Russ Conway hit.

'Don't Mean Maybe Baby' is without any doubt one of the greatest rockers ever to come out of the fifties. Released in late 1957, it contained some great vocal work from the man himself as well as some inspired guitar and piano work. It even got reviewed in November's edition of 'Cashbox' which read, "The Westport label could have a hit on its hands with this terrific rock and roller, that Alvis Wayne drives out in dynamic fashion. It has the sound that the kids in all markets should go wild for. Now heading for the charts". Obviously that elusive hit never materialised but it was probably Alvis's best chance of success. This release along with his next single was pressed at the RCA pressing plant and it was quite possibly Westport's biggest seller. It remains a classic and an essential record for anyone's collection.

"When I did those records I thought I was just going in to do some demos to mail to Westport to see if they liked them and if they did we would go back in and do the masters. From what I know Westport Enterprises was a real estate firm and I always thought that the record business was just a kind of hobby for its owner, who was Dave Ruf, and it was just something he liked fooling with in his spare time.

I remember the day not long after we had recorded 'Swing Bop Boogie'. I was driving down the street in Corpus Christi listening to my radio and 'Swing Bop Boogie' started playing and I almost wrecked my car. I had goose bumps and I went through all different kinds of emotions because that was the first time I had heard it on the radio."

Alvis soon became something of a local celebrity and he held the number one record in South Texas for six weeks knocking a certain Mr Presley off the top spot. "The chart was mostly in South Texas". Alvis says. "I don't think it ever got over here to Houston because after I moved here several years later, nobody had ever heard of it. My records tended to be played by a lot of the small radio stations in the valley but at least it got me recognition on the Hayride and we worked a live show out of Victoria every Friday night. "

A local fan called Laura Lee Fred (soon to become his first wife) had even started the Alvis Wayne Fan Club recruiting members from Corpus and through out South Texas. He does not particularly have fond memories of wedded bliss first time round. "Obviously after I married her she became Laura Lee Samford but that didn't last too long because I was always on the road and never at home and she was a young lady who needed attention and I don't think I need to carry that any further."

Alvis' new found local celebrity status ensured he had no trouble obtaining regular work and he toured quite extensively through out the South, playing one nighters in towns such as Houston, Edingburg, Beaumont, and Port Arthur. "We backed several star names in the old Palladium because we were the opening act before the big names came on and did their thing. I knew Elvis; I worked with him on five separate shows and also on the Louisiana Hayride. I got to talk to him although not for very long because the girls would keep pushing you out of the way tryin to get a kiss or whatever. But during the times we did get to speak I thought he was a real good old boy and he seemed a real nice guy to me". I also worked with Bob Luman, Johnny Horton, Slim Whitman and all the old timers back then as well as all the package shows for the Hayride."

With two singles under his belt and months of touring and a series of one nighters behind him, Alvis was due to return to the studio to cut what would turn out to be his final Westport release. A local white musician named James Bacon had a Doo Wop type group in Corpus Christi who would perform songs by such artists such as the Platters and the Five Satins etc. In 1957 he had written a song called 'Lay Your Head On My Shoulder' but he couldn't figure out the best way to approach the song, so he asked Alvis if he would be interested in recording it as his next single for a forthcoming session in Houston. Alvis himself was by no means a prolific songwriter, although he did manage to come with a flip side, which was a song, called 'You're the One'.

"When we came to Houston the studio that we had been recording at in Corpus, well that old man shut it down and he wasn't doing it there no more. Tony had phoned over to Houston and arranged a recording session, (possibly at the Quinns or Melco studio). James Bacon had written 'Lay Your Head On My Shoulder', offered it to me and said he would back me up on the record and that's what he did. We made arrangements to go and there was a whole tribe of us maybe three or four cars and we drove over and did that session. Anyway, when I walked in there I sang this song for all these musicians I had never seen before in my life, but they were studio musicians and they knew what they were doing. I told them I wanna do this song and I want it to sound different. Then the drummer said wait a minute and he jumped up and went out the back door of the studio and there was a big pile of trash out there in the alley. He found an old bean pot and brought it back and sat on the stool and he started out beatin' on the bottom of that old bean pot and that's where that sound on the beginning of 'Lay Your Head On My Shoulder' came from."

'Lay Your Head On My Shoulder'/'You're the One' (Westport 140) was released in early 1958 and once again it probably sold no more than a couple of thousand copies. The record itself is a classic rockabilly record and James Bacon's group can be easily heard in the background, although thankfully it doesn't spoil the end product too much. The record seemed to have a more commercial sound compared to the earlier efforts. Sadly it still didn't give Alvis the success he craved and he began to become a little disillusioned and he had lost contact with his mentor, "Tony". It got to a point where he couldn't keep up with it anymore and about that time he fell in love with this pretty little thing and got married so he didn't have time to fool with music anymore".

In 1960 Alvis entered the U. S. Airforce aged 22 years old where he was to spend the next four years of his life to train as a mechanic, and obtain his GED (General Education Diploma). Alvis did not give up performing altogether whilst he served. He was stationed at Warner Robins air force base, which was about eighteen miles out of Macon, Georgia. While he was there he teamed up with Jimmy Harris and his band and they did a live broadcast on WCRY radio every Saturday afternoon and also played in his nightclub in the evenings and at weekends. 'I became discouraged with my music before I went into the AirForce' Alvis says, and I was discouraged when I got out. Before I went in, I was so close to being where I wanted to be and when I came out four years later I could never get anything going again. I couldn't get anything off the ground and it was just a battle and then I started having kids and I started thinking about making a living and that changed my whole world right there. I got married in late 1956 when I was eighteen years old. I got married again when I was 20 and I got married again when I was 22 and that one lasted for fourteen and a half years. Then there was a short break and then I got married again and this one's been twenty-three years now. I'm either growing up or I'm finding better wives.

Although by the mid sixties Alvis had settled down and was working for Braniff Airlines as a mechanic, his desire to sing and perform was still apparent. At this time he had a small country and western outfit along with local musician Lee Harmon, which sang in the bars and clubs in and around Corpus Christi. He would even get the opportunity to go on and release some more records. We were playing a night club in Corpus one night when this old boy called O. B. O'Brian came up to the bandstand and shook my hand and introduced himself and said when you get an intermission I sure would like to speak to you. So when the intermission came I went over and sat down and he said I am a booking agent and I'm looking for some more groups to handle. So we talked for a while and made an agreement and so he started booking me and my band after that."

This new collaboration ensured Alvis would go on to record and release a further two 45s that would be in the country style, in another attempt to try and make a success of his music career. The first was 'Storm in my Heart'/'I Don't Believe I'll fall in love Today' (Kathy 103) from 1966 and 'Sweet Tender Care'/A Million and Two' (Brozos 002) released in 1969. "He released these tracks under his full name of Alvis Wayne Samford." I can recall those sessions with Lee Harmon's band. He owned a big nightclub in San Antonio, which is where I was living at that time. The sessions only took about an hour and a half because I had been singing these songs with the band in the clubs so we didn't have to practice. We just walked in there, turned on the tape recorder and did them. We couldn't go out on the road at that time because I was working for Braniff Airlines full time, so we just played in the places we could get to at weekends. Needless to say Alvis's two country efforts never set the music world alight and once again he went back to concentrate on raising his family.

Around 1972 two English collectors, Piers Chalmers and Trevor Engleton, had started their newly formed Injun label and Alvis was to be one of their first releases. 'I Gottum/'Lay Your Head On My Shoulder' (Injun 113) was released in 1973 and it was probably the first time his records had been available legally here in the UK. The pair were also intending to release a rockabilly LP (with half his songs and half of somebody else's) but sadly this idea never materialised. Around this time it was reported in the now defunct 'Rockville International' magazine that Engleton and Chalmers had taken various tapes and photos etc, not only from Alvis but from Ray Campi as well and they didn't return the items or pay any royalties after releasing their records. There was never any evidence to support this. Alvis himself has no recollection of ever meeting the pair and if it was anybody who didn't pay Alvis his royalties it would have been the Ruf family.



Meanwhile over in Hollywood, rock 'n' roll fanatic, the great Ronny Weiser was in the process of compiling an Alvis Wayne LP for his twelfth release on his legendary Rollin' Rock' label. In 1974 Ronny had flown over to Texas not only to interview and meet people such as Jim Shell, Mac Curtis, Johnny Carroll, Howard Reed and Grady Owen but also do some recording with the likes of Sid King and Alvis himself of course. With Texas rockabilly legend Mac Curtis present as well, Alvis recorded three new sides just singing and accompanying himself on guitar. The sides were the risqu' 'I Wanna Eat Your Pudding'/'It's Your Last Chance To Dance' (Rollin' Rock' 032) and 'She Won't See Me Cry Anymore' which appeared on the compilation Rollin' The Rock Volume One. (LP 009) 'Pudding' even managed to find it's way onto a Rollin' Rock porn spoof 'Teenage Cruisers' (Rhino LP 016). The tapes were then taken back to Hollywood where Ray Campi overdubbed bass and percussion, Ronny himself on additional vocals and Jimmy Lee Maslon on piano. The recordings themselves demonstrate the classic 1970s sound of Rollin' Rock and although they were not the best thing Ronny ever produced, they do have a certain amount of charm.

On December 27th 1975, Joe Gracey in Austin, Texas interviewed Alvis along with Ray Campi and Johnny Carroll on KOKE - FM. The same night they did a rockabilly show at the local Ritz Theatre but unfortunately both Alvis and Johnny had drunk too much and couldn't sing one song wholly. This was a shame because earlier in the day Alvis had performed a storming version of 'Don't Mean Maybe Baby' on KOKE radio. 'It's Your Last Chance To Dance' was co-written by Alvis and Ron Anderson, who also wrote 'Sweet & Tender Care'. "Ron worked with me for Braniff Airlines and he wanted to be a songwriter and sing a little bit. The only problem was that he couldn't sing. So he tried writing a little and in fact I sold him his first guitar he ever had. So he could sit down and pick a little to help write his songs but it never did amount to anything but he gave it a shot."

"Ronny had contacted Dave Ruf and he did a deal to lease or buy or whatever, the master tapes of everything I had done at Westport and he put out an LP but this deal was done before I ever found about it. Ronny told me about the record when he came to see me and I got mail and royalties and stuff from him and told me what was going on. He flew to San Antonio and brought with him a little old tape recorder. We set up in my living room with just me and my flat top guitar and we did those songs. What did I think about Ronny? Well, I thought he was a little bit weird. When that 'Pudding' record came out my brother 'J.W.' heard it and said "Boy, I don't know what the hell you were smokin' when you recorded that song but I hope I don't ever get hold of none of it."

Weisers LP came out in 1973 in a cool picture sleeve and complete with a spoken message from Alvis himself. He thanked fans for being loyal to the music and he also said that he hoped the release would be a tremendous success so that he could come over and thank the fans personally. The tracks on the LP were 'Sleep Rock 'n' Roll /Swing Bop Boogie/I Gottum /Lay Your Head On My Shoulder (Rollin' Rock 012) It was a fantastic release and a must for anyone's collection. Unfortunately when the Engleton & Chalmers duo heard Ronny was intending to release the tracks, they tried to stop him and there was a certain amount of ill feeling between everyone, which was a shame although it's all water under the bridge now. No one was able to release 'Don't Mean Maybe Baby' because 'Esquire Music' owned the rights to the song and it was left to the Vintage Record Mart to release the track on a legal repro in 1977 complete with a picture sleeve with the words 'A Rock Classic', how right they were.

As the rockabilly revival really gathered momentum in the late 1970s, many of the early pioneers were rediscovered and they were soon dusting down the old guitar and squeezing into their old stage clothes.

Both Mac Curtis and Ray Campi toured here for the first time in December 1977 for the historic Rollin' Rock tour and it was not long before a whole new generation of rockabilly fans were listening and dancing to the music. Meanwhile Alvis himself was alive and well and still living in Texas, totally unaware that the rockabilly fans over in Europe regarded his records as all time classics. Unlike many of his contemporaries he never gave up performing and even today over forty years since he walked into that sound proof studio in Corpus, he is still performing and the dream is still there.

"Right now I've got my own group together again and we're tryin' to struggle around here. We are basically playing the same clubs but we can only do it at weekends because there's so much other stuff going on during the week and I'm currently holding down a ten hour day so weekends are the only time I have free. My parents are both still alive and they now live in Kerrville, Texas in a nursing home. They're both getting pretty old now and they don't get around good anymore but they're still with us. I got one sister living right out on Lake Corpus Christi and I have a brother Norvin, who lives in Kerrville and he does work for the Schreiner College and my other brother Robert lives in Columbus just a few miles down the road and he drives a truck for a living. I'm a construction engineer and we build oil refineries and chemical plants. I have my good wife Fritzy, and my kids and I got my three grand babies and I'm enjoying life but there's still something missing. I have to be honest about this, but I still want to play music. I have not ever given up and I'm not going to give up until they start shovelling dirt on me. I think I still may have the chance to get one record in the top forty. I'm not shouting for number one, just the top forty will do me. I have several regrets I'm sad to say. If I could go back and change anything I would never have got married the first time and I wouldn't have had to worry about all that family stuff I gave up my music for and I just might have made it. But I just couldn't keep my self from falling in love." (Alvis's first wife had resorted to cutting up all of his scrapbooks that were full of his photos, newspaper articles etc.)

In September 1994, Perry Williamson of 'Pink & Black Records' fame had acquired his licence from the MCPS and he decided that one of his first ventures would be to issue an Alvis Wayne album, something that had never been done before. With the help of Ronny Weiser and John Beecher the LP collected together all of his Westport and Rollin' Rock material (Although it strangely omits 'She Won't See Me Cry Anymore'). For the first time and it included the unissued track 'Heartbeat'. I believe this slow country ballad is an unissued Westport master, which was cut at that first session in Corpus and Tony probably wrote it. The LP also contained a so-called radio cut of 'Pudding' but I think this is probably the standard 45 version but with extra studio chat. (There are also some compilations that boast an alternative cut of 'I Gottum' but there was only one version of this song released).

Our thanks go to JOHN KENNEDY and Gwena Munson








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