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Square Dancin' Papa
The first time I heard of Bob Gallion was My Square Dancin' Mama (She's Done Learned To Rock 'n'
Roll) and Baby, Love Me on the MGM Rockabilly Collection album. His vocals on them are pure
country and despite the excitement of the backing, it was pretty much his only stab at rock 'n'
His voice is country, fair and square, and though the songs sometimes veered slightly (very
slightly) to the poppy sound, his voice never did. He enjoyed half a dozen or so country hits in
the early sixties on Hickory records, but sadly remains an overlooked artist.
Bob Gallion was born on 22 April 1931 in Ashland, Kentucky, an area steeped in country music
history and it was little surprise that he took up the guitar at an early age. The family moved
to Columbus, Ohio and he continued to play, turning pro before his 20th birthday. He worked
local gigs and radio programmes around the Tri-State towns of Ashland, Huntington, Ironton,
Portsmouth and Columbus before joining Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper's Clinch Mountain Clan on
Wheeling's WWVA Jamboree. In 1951 he formed his own band, the Country Boys and stayed on the
Jamboree until '56 when he became a regular performer on the Louisiana Hayride.
He was signed to MGM in 1955 and penned a songwriting contract with Acuff-Rose. He recorded for
MGM until February 1959 and the quality of his recordings was always far better than the record
His first release was Your Wild Life's Gonna Get You Down, but although it failed to sell for
Gallion was a number 12 hit for Kitty Wells on Decca. Other songs he got covered were Love Pains
and Sweethearts Again for the Osborne Brothers.
A February 2nd 1956 MGM session in the RCA Victor studio in Nashville with Chet Atkins the
axeman. A Fool In Love is typical hillbilly of the time, engaging vocals complete with hot
picking and fiddle work. Trademark On What I've Found was even better with Chet unmistakable on
his tasty solo. You're Wild Life's Gonna Get You Down comes from the lonesome street that Hank
Williams used to walk down.
The best of the session though, and the reason for this page being in the Rockabilly Hall of
Fame is the great My Square Dancin' Mama
(She's Done Learned To Rock 'n' Roll). Rock 'n' roll was in it's infancy with Elvis Presley just
starting to hit it nationally, and MGM started to put it's country singers in a rock 'n' roll
environment. This was a prime example. Gallion sounds completely at ease without ever feeling
the need to turn his collar up and wiggle his hips. It's no surprise that the teens spent their
money elsewhere, but when the song was reissued during the big rockabilly revival of the '70s it
sounded magic, pure rocking hillbilly with guitars and sawing fiddle.
Gallion moved to WKAB in Mobile, Alabama and became a regular performer on the Louisiana
Hayride. He returned to Nashville for his second session on November 7th and again laid down
four tracks. The band this time included ex-Drifting Cowboy Don helms and fiddle maestro Benny
Martin. The first single chosen from the session was a strong one, but for some reason Hey Mr
Bartender and You've Gotta Have A Heartache (To Know How To Love) failed to register. The follow
up was equally strong but Out Of A Honky Tonk and I Want Her Blues. They were as hard country as
anyone was producing at the time, but lady luck chose to overlook them. Out Of and Bartender
were both co-writes with new buddy Luke McDaniel, who himself was a prolific artist who received
scant rewards for his considerable talent.
It was another 16 months before recorded again, with producer Jim Vienneau at the helm. Foolish
Young Heart and I Miss You were poppier than he'd sounded before. The pick of the session was
undoubtedly Baby, Love Me, a prime-time slab of rockabilly. The backing is a solid drive and
even the backing vocals are unobtrusive. Gallion sounds convincing in the role of rocker and the
guitar work is sterling throughout.
A couple of months later he was back to cut the single That's What I Tell My Heart and Run Boy.
I love the top side, his first use of the Nashville sound that was starting to dominate the
noises of Music City. It became a minor hit, and should have gone higher.
The next single, cut on 6th February 1959 produced his biggest hit to date, You Take the Table
(And I'll Take the Chairs). After the poppier sound of That's What I Tell My Heart, it was a
surprise that Gallion and MGM to cut in a such a pure honky tonk style as Table was. It worked
though, climbing to number 18 on the Billboard Country charts.
For some reason his last session at MGM was a novelty affair with Froggy Went A'Courtin' and a
hayseed reading of Hey Joe. I'd love to know the logic behind this session, suggestions on a
When his MGM contract expired, he joined WGUN Atlanta as a deejay and stayed with the Big Gun
for six years. As an artist he signed for Hickory Records, an obvious choice as they were the
house label of Acuff-Rose who Gallion still wrote for and did promotional work. Whilst the MGM
years are readily available on the excellent Bear Family CD, Out Of A Honky Tonk (Bear Family
BCD 16439), the Hickory recordings have not been subject to the same type of reissue. Picking up
second hand copies of the original releases seems to be the only way.
The Hickory hits I've heard are straight ahead country with no-nonsense backing and vocals. It
was typical early '60s production and this time he was justly rewarded. Loving You (Was Worth
This Broken Heart) hit the top 10 immediately and was followed over the next three years by One
Way Street, Sweethearts Again, Wall To Wall Love and Ain't Got time For Nothin'.
He left Hickory in 1968 and joined United Artists where he scored a minor hit with Pick A Little
Happy Song. He also returned to the Wheeling Jamboree where he stayed for nigh on twenty years.
He toured with songstress Patti Powell and the duo had a small hit in 1973 with Love By
Appointment on Metromedia Country. According to writer Ivan Tribe, they also cut a Greatest Hits
album for Starday-Gusto containing re-cuts of eight Gallion solo's and four of their duets.
Bob Gallion died on August 20th, 1999 in Wood, West Virginia. If you have any memories of him
please feel free to email me. He would have been 75 this month, so keep his memory alive by
giving the MGM or Hickory stuff a spin.
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