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My name is actually Jody Gibson. Monty Bruce, the short sighted owner of TETRA records,
was also my manager (as well as Bill Flagg's). He didn't think that "Jody" was a real name, so,
the name on the label of my only TETRA release was "Joe D. Gibson".
Until 1960, my entire recording career was while I was a T/Sgt USAF Air Traffic Controller.
My recording for TETRA was when I was Chief Air Trafic Controller and Station Chief at Suffolk
County AFB, on Long Island, New York, the station responsible for the air defence of New York City
where the 52d Fighter interceptor group, the decendants of WWII's "Flying Tigers", was located.
Monte Bruce (Montgomery Bruce Eisenkrantz) was my Parents' next door neighbor in Brooklyn.
Let's face it, I'm a very good singer, it runs in my family. Bruce
signed me to a 3 year exclusive contract with TATRA and as my manager.
We did three sessions at Bell Sound Studio in New York. I was backed up by the legendary Tom
Paley, at one, and by Roger Sprung at another. Tom and I have been friends since we were teenagers.
Roger and I met in between enlistments in the USAF in 1956. I played bass and banjo for the also
legendary Elton Britt during this same enlistment break, when he toured Canada.
We recorded some fine material for TETRA well before the Everly Brothers and the Kingston Trio.
When we were wrapping up the last of these sessions, Bruce asked me to do the "hokiest and
corniest" song I knew. I did my own innovative version of "Muleskinner Blues". Up until that
time, the only way anyone sang this song was the way Jimmy Rogers and Bill Monroe did it.
This new version, which Bruce released as "Good Morning Captain" is now the way everyone sings
this old folk song.
The TETRA record, Good Morning Captain, was an instant success. ONLY RELEASED IN NEW ENGLAND,
NEW YORK, NEW JERSEY AND PENNSYLVANIA, it sold 400,000+ 45's and 100,000 78's. It was on all the juke
boxes and got a lot of play oon the AM pop and Rock and Roll stations.
I performed this song, in uniform, on the NBC Tonight show on Armed Forces Day of 1957.
Sheb Wooley covered this record, note for note and yodel for yodel, as did Dolly Parton (years later).
If Bruce had recognized the signs, we could have had the jump on the Folk Music revival; which the
Kingston trio began, but he dropped the ball. Actually, Pete Seeger and the Weavers had grabbed
the public's interest a few years earlier but, tragically, were black balled by the Joe McCarthy
Communist witch hunt.
I was transferred to England later in 1957. I was introduced to George Martin (now Sir.
George Martin) who was A&R manager of the "Parlophone" company at the time, by (another legend,
recently deceased) Wally Whyton, leader of the Vipers Skiffle Group, with whom I had struck up
a friendship. Parlophone's USA Affiliate is Capitol. I did an audition session for George with
my group, "The Muleskinners" which I had formed at RAF (station) Bruntingthorpe. After only
one take, Mr Martin came out of the booth and said, "Well, I don't think we have to hear any
more" and said he would get the necessary approval from the British Government if I would do
likewise with the USAF. I got the approval, but Monty Bruce would not release me from the three
year contract with TETRA. As a consequence, the Parlophone records didn't start being released
until late 1959.
I rotated back to the U.S. in 1960. George Martin had told me to
contact Capitol Records when I got home. I called the A&R office of
Capitol and was told that they never negotiated with artists as they
were too irresponsible. I tried to tell them about the very responsible
work that I did in USAF (Air Traffic Controller) and I already
had recorded for Parlophone (one of Capitol's UK Affiliates) but it
made no difference. Due to my previous experience with a US recording Co,
(TETRA) and their irresponsibilty, I decided not to pursue any connection with them.
I left the USAF in 1963 and eventually settled back in Rhode Island. I
made my living as a folk singer. I did sign up with a new manager, Justine
Eggleston of Providence. Justine booked me at the, now famous,
Black Pearl Tavern in Newport. The Black Pearl had just
opened and I performed there six nights a week starting in May of
1967. Within a month, The Black Pearl became "the" nightspot in Newport
and it was standing room only from then on. Barclay
Warburton, the owner, said that the "Pearl's" success was due to my
performance. It's clientele included the crews of the America's Cup
races, Australia's "Dame Patty" and the U.S. Defender's "Intrepid",
commercial fishermen, other sailboat yachtsmen, U.S. Navy sailors
and the "upper crust" of Newport society. This included a U.S.
Senator (Claiborne Crust) Jackie Kennedy, a couple of Rockefellers
and Vanderbuilts, Frank Sinatra and the (then) King of Greece. It was not
uncommon to see things like Senator Pell and a scruffy commercial
fisherman siting at the same table exchanging view on international affaires.
Barclay Warburton was the owner of the Brigantine "Black Pearl,"
after which the tavern had been named. I have always been
fascinated with square rigged sailing ships and went out on the Black
Pearl a few times to watch the America's Cup races. I asked Capt.
Warburton to sign me on as a deck hand. His reply was, "Gibson, you
were born a landlubber, will die a landlubber and what's more, you
have all the instincts of a 'farmer.'"
While watching one of the races, he gave me permission to watch from the
foretop (high in the foremast rigging) and when he saw that I was comfortable up in the
rigging, he changed his mind and signed me on, not as a deck hand,
but a foretopman. I was eventually promoted to boatswain. On a
sailing ship, the boatswain is responsible for the operation and
maintenance on the rigging and is also in chrage of the crew.
In August of 1967, Capt. Warburton asked me if I knew anyone I'd like
to join me in the performance at the tavern, and I told him about
Roger Sprung, the legendary 5-string banjo player. Roger and I worked together
from then on.
In 1970 the full and very accurate replica of H.M.S. Rose was
built in Lunenburgh, Nova Scotia by John Millar of Newport who had
become a close personal friend. The original frigate H.M. S. Rose had
played prominently in Newport's history during our War of Independence.
John hired my wife and I to do the rigging on the Rose and
to train her crew. None of the Rose's crew had any experience with
square rigging. I was the Rose's first boatsawin and also her chanteymen.
I'd better explain about just what a chanteyman is and what "sea chanteys" are.
In the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, a regular and
experienced member of a ship's hired crew was given the
responsibility of coordinating work done by more than one sailor. He
was called a chanteyman'. The tools that this person used were a
special group os songs, each one of which fit the rhythm and timing
of whatever job they were engaged in. Sea Chanteys are not just
songs that sailors sing, as most people assume. British and
American ships were (and are) the only ones that used sea chanteys.
The precise timing and coordination of these chanteys gave "English
speaking" ship owners the ability to hire fewer crewmen, thereby
allowing them to cut their prices. Crew requirements are the biggest
operating cost for a shipping company. Lower shipping costs resulted
in the U.S.A and British nations having huge fleets of commercial
sailing ships, way out of proportion to our population. The rest of the
world has never caught on to this.
Sea chanteys (pronounced "shanteys) came into being in the 18th
century when British (including colonial) ships hired African sailors
because they were obviously not British subjects and therefore not
subject to being impressed into the Royal Navy. A ship's owner could
therefore be expected to keep the same crew from the time a voyage
started until it finished. These African sailors brought with them the
age old custom of singing to coordinate work. The resulting
effciency caught on with the other sailors, English words were
written to the African melodies and the Sea Chantey tradition was
born. I may well be the last full time professional chanteymen.
How does fit in with "Rockabilly"? Here's one example. The first
year that Rose spents the winter in the Newport area, it was tied up in
one of the old Jamestown Ferry slips. The Rose didn't have an engine in
those days and I had to wharp the ship from one ferry slip to another
because an old "Staten Island" ferryboat was on it's way from New
York to be used as a floating motel and restaurant-bar, and, it needed
the machinery in the ferry slip where Rose was. Wharping involves
moving a ship by using the capstan to haul on a line attached to the
place where you are going.
I had no crew to help so I recruited a
bunch of High School kids from the drug store they hung out in.
I attached a wharp line to the new ferry slip and let the wind and tide
take us out into the channel. I neglected to tell the boys that I was
going to sing while we operated the capstan. When I started singing
a traditional capstan chantey, they started jumping up in the air and
yelling "yahoo" and as soon as all the slack was out of the wharp
line we came to a stop. I gathered them around me and explained
that if we had to keep in step with the singing or we would starve to
death out in the middle of Narragansett Bay.
They understood this philosophically but still jumped up and yelled "yahoo". So I decided
to sing something more familiar to them and started singing, "Come on
over baby, whole lot a shakin' goin' on." Then they got in step, and
immediately felt the difference. I finished "Whole Lot of Shakin' Goin' On'
and went back to the traditional capstan chanteys, and the "Rosie" moved nicely
into the new ferry slip.
Incidentally, sea chanteys are done a-cappella (unaccompanied) for a
very good reason. You can't haul on a line or push a capstan bar
and still play guitar at the same time.
Since then I've earned my living as a folk singer, rigger, and
boatswain, etc. on various "tall ships" and have had quite a few exciting adventures.
I've also become somewhat of an authority on Martitime Folk Music. If you're
interested, I'll relate some of these adventures.
Although I'm known for Maritime folk music, more than half of performances
include "rockabilly" and other old country songs. Lately I've
been playing 5-string banjo with a rock group and a whole
new style of banjo playing seems to be evolving. In addition to
"old timey" claw hammer banjo stuff, I introduced Maritime folk music to
hardcore bluegrass fans at some of Bill Flagg's Bluegrass festivals in 2002. They
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Page posted February, 2003
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