No, Tutti wasn't part of his given name. Our hero was born Rudy Jiminez Grayzell to mom & pop Juanita & Jose on June 8, 1933 in a tiny Texas town of Saspamco, just south of San antonio on Hwy. 181. He did his growing up in the offbeat musical climate of San Antone, diggin' the Tex/Mex and country sounds that thrived in the area. His prime goal in life was to be a baseball player 'till Cupid tagged him out at the tender age of thirteen.
"I liked this chick named Norma," explains Rudy, "But she liked some guy who played guitar and that just tore me up! So I had my folks buy me a guitar and I learned to play it." Rudy and a couple of high school buddies put together a combo called the Silver Buckles, playing, as Rudy put it, "That kind Country & Western that was hot before rock & roll hit. See, I can sing country, but that's not really me. I've got the beat in my songs. Always have." Rudy hadda "date" his algebra teacher in order to graduate high school, but once he got out, music became his sole meal ticket.
The Buckles - who eventually evolved into the Texas Kool Kats earned enough of a local name to land a daily radio show at San Antone's KMAC under the sponsorship of Pearl Beer. "I started out in a joint called the Barn in San Antonio," sez Rudy, "I guess it must've been 1953, and this guy Charlie Walker who was a big DJ in town was on the show, too. He took me to see Fabor Robinson and he liked the way I sounded, so we all went over to KWKH in Shreveport. I recorded my first record there, baby, "Lookin' At The Moon, Wishing On A Star" on Fabor's record company, Abbott. They had Jim Reeves at the time, too, and he was on some of my records, baby, playin' guitar."
In all, Rudy recorded three singles for Abbott which earned him tours through Nashville playing the Grand Ole Opry and Ernest Tubb's Record Shop's midnight shows, and on to the Louisiana Hayride stage. Sez Rudy, "I didn't dig what I was doin' for Abbott. I was more into the rockabilly thing, man, I needed to rock!"
Capitol records offered Rudy a chance to do just that: "Ken Nelson was the big man, he signed me up. Capitol felt "Grayzell" was too long, so they told me, 'You're Rudy Gray' now, baby!' Ken Nelson told me, 'Rudy, you're the type of performer we gotta nail down on just the right record'. I'm a showman. I'm fantastic in person, but on record I might not come across unless I'm caught in just a certain way." Anyone who's dug "Let's Get Wild" or "Duck Tail" can surely agree with that!
Rudy's first release for Capitol was "Hearts Of Stone" cut at Jim Beck's studio in Dallas. "Oh, man, was Ken Nelson hot on that, 'Rudy,' told me, 'This song is gonna make you!' But we recorded it too slow. A month after my record was released, a group out of LA called the Charms came out with their recording of it and upped the beat, baby, I lost a million bucks!"
After two more releases on Capitol, Rudy moved over to the fabled Starday label where he'd ultimately cut his wildest sides. Unfortunately, Rudy didn't get to go hog wild right off the bat, as Starday paired him with their house session combo for "The Moon Is Up," a good, but nondescript country warbler. Still, Rudy was impressed with the atmosphere at Starday. "I had a lotta great musicians play with me," he recalls, "Junior Pruveda, Jerry Carnes, Johnny Olenn, Greg Nunas, Rusty Locke, Dave Smith, Ernest Cortes, Eddie Dugosh, Doug Sahm . . . Little Doug, he opened for me a lot - he was a natural musician even then, when he was oh, eleven or twelve years old. I took Doug on tour with me in Houston and he tore the house down! He could play any instrument good and sing, too. A helluva talent!"
Rudy reserved the highest praises for Starday label prez Pappy Daily: "Pappy was tremendous! A great man. Pappy stood behind me all through the Starday years. He told me, 'Rudy, you've got a message in there somewhere and we're gonna find it!'" And boy, did they find it! In the spring of '56, Starday released Rudy's immortal "Duck Tail", which could very well be THE ultimate rockabilly disc. "I did NOT base "Duck Tail" on "Blue Suede Shoes" like someone once suggested," explains Rudy. "Most of the teenagers had ducktails in their hair and hell, so did I! I just kinda got the idea for the song from that." "Duck Tail," with the bonus of the fantastic flip "You're Gone," was a Lone Star smash, reaching the #7 slot on the Houston charts. Louisiana rocker Joe Clay was quick to cover "Duck Tail, with his fabulous version on Vik records, though amazingly Rudy hadn't heard it until just recently. Equally amazing is Rudy's assessment of Joe's frantic reading: "I dig it, man, but it's a little too Bluesy for me!" Rudy tried to contact Joe this past summer but hasn't heard back from him. "Maybe he's afraid he owes me money!" laughs Rudy. (Joe Clay recently swung through New York for the first time since he cut "Cracker Jack" here in '56 and we had Joe pump a buncha quarters in the pay phone at the night club for his first-ever yak with Rudy. It was sure a blast to witness the two Duck Tail cats whittle away at each other's earwax! - ed.)
The success of "Duck Tail" enabled Rudy to tour as a rock & roll singer. "See, I was doin' that stuff for a year and a half before "Duck Tail" onstage," he insists, "But I didn't cut loose on record until 1956. The songs I did on shows were almost all mine, except of course I hadda do some Elvis and Carl Perkins, Big Joe Turner, basically rhythm & blues and rockabilly. I remember poor ol' Hank Locklin, man. We'd all moved on to rock 'n' roll and on one show we did he got up and did his straight country thing and the kids let him have it with hotdogs and paper cups!"
Rudy was a hit on the Louisiana Hayride and appeared several times with Elvis. "Baby, I performed with Elvis for about a year and a half before he became famous. I knew he was great, but I didn't know how great! I had a lotta pictures of him and me together but gave most of 'em to chicks. You showed a picture of yourself with Elvis to these dolls and baby, you were IN!! Elvis, baby, the chicks were tearing' off their brassieres for him to sign 'em! He was the one who really started callin' me Rudy Tutti, so I billed myself that way for a few years. I loved "That's All Right Mama" and "Blue Suede Shoes." To me, it was all Elvis."
Starday's roster was growing with more cats on Rudy's wavelength. "Link Davis, Sonny Fisher, Bill Mack - we kept meeting each other on the road. Great guys. I didn't really run together with 'em, but I remember one time in '56, me and Link Davis got chased by a ten-foot alligator in Lake Charles, Louisiana!" Other strange things happened to Rudy while "Duck Tail" was hot. "One night, I was driving home from a concert when my car stalled and I was forced to hitch-hike. Three girls drove by, recognized me from the show and picked me up and drove to a cemetery where they demanded I sing "Duck Tail" for them in private - IN THE NUDE!!" Not one to disappoint his public, Rudy complied by standing on a tombstone, clad only in a beanie and clutching a guitar, beltin' out "Duck Tail" to these three well intoxicated gals! The girls had their car headlights pointed at nudie Tutti, which drew the attention of an old geezer in a pick-up who happened to be driving by. He called the cops who broke up the action by givin' Rudy a towel and tossing' the girls into the drunk tank! This was far from Rudy's only problem with the ladies. A gal named Judy once auditioned for his band and Rudy took a shine to her, seein' her on the sly. When his steady girlfriend caught him, she locked a drunken Rudy outta her house wearin' only his underwear! Judy lived on a ranch, so for revenge Rudy stole one of her sheep and drove off with it. The next day, Rudy's band found him in his shorts asleep in the car with a sheep in the back seat! "Believe me, man, I never heard the end of that one!"
Rudy's adventures don't stop there. "We were tourin' New Mexico in 1956 and me and four guys in the band got drunk and took a tour of Carlsbad Caverns. We got lost and wandered around for hours tryin' to get out!" Rudy claims to have stolen a "pimp wagon" in Laredo, Mexico and got thrown in jail with two hookers ("I loved it!") besides getting nailed with a $250 fine. Then there was the time Rudy was makin' love to a gal in a trailer home in Helotes, Texas when a small tornado hit and he was flung into another room and wound up on top of the girl's mother! "Man," he marvels, "The power of that wind!" And speakin' of tornados, Rudy the Romeo once "dated" Wanda Jackson. Somewhere in all this, Rudy found time to get married . . . "a whole buncha times!"
On the heels of "Duck Tail" came "Jig-Ga-Lee-Ga," again a fine rocker, although in a different style. "I wanted an R&B type sound for that one, so I got a group of friends called the Imperials to back me up." Rudy closed out '56 with his final Starday waxing, a frantic original called "Let's Get Wild." From the first lines: "Open up the bottle/Let's have a party/Call all the girls/Hello Miss Clawdy!" to the unintelligible mid-song hollerin' about doin' the Chinese Mambo & the Cuban Cha Cha Cha, it sounds like Rudy and the gang turned on the tape machine at the high point of the world's hairiest bash! "We didn't get much airplay on it. I kinda think it was too wild for radio at the time."
Rudy broke off with Starday and spent most of 1957 concentrating on radio and stage appearances. Early the following year he left for Memphis to record for Sun records. "Charlie Walker hooked that up for me. I was hoping we'd do more than just one record, "Judy". By the way, that wasn't about the Judy who got me in trouble with the sheep! Anyway, Bill Justis produced it and Jerry Lee Lewis' boys backed me up. (Actually, only Roland Janes appears from the Killer's group. -ed.) I met Jerry Lee On the Louisiana Hayride and I said to myself 'Is this guy strange or what?' I mean he's very talented, don't get me wrong, but strange!"
"Judy" is an underrated rocker in Ray Smith's Sun style and aside from the B-side "I Think Of You" (which Cashbox preferred), the memphis session yielded a second, more frantic take of "Judy" (which has recently been released) and two more titles that remain unissued. "When Sam Phillips handed me the paycheck for Judy, he told me, 'Now Rudy, it's a little different from Elvis, so don't get discouraged.' He wasn't kiddin'!"
By the end of '58 Rudy had relocated to California where he hooked up with the Award label, for whom San Antonio wildcat and ex-bandmate Eddie Dugosh also recorded. Dugosh, known for "Strange Kinda Feeling" on Sarg and "One Mile" on Award, was a close friend of Rudy's and they remain good friends to this day. "Eddie Dugosh," laughs Rudy, "Man, the times we had! Me and Eddie were workin' San Jose, California in '58. We were stayin' at the same place and we had a party and Roy, my drummer, he gets this mannequin. Now dig this: we're asleep, me and Eddie - half drunk - and Roy puts this dummy between us. Now he's got a camera on us and me and Eddie are both tryin' to screw the same broad - A MANNEQUIN! The funny thing was - thank God - Roy didn't have any film in the camera! You coulda printed that picture - imagine what that'd do for my popularity!"
"F-B-I Story" which he calls a "novelty tribute to J. Edgar Hoover with a rockabilly and R&B type kick". This wacky disc is peppered with machine gun sound effects and has a vocal group called the Scarlets doin' some crazy falsetto work behind his Coasters-type delivery, while Rudy's new combo the Thunderbirds pound out the rhythm. Considering how strangely unique and truly oddball the Award disc is, it's all the more wild that Elvis' right hand dingaling Red West ended up covering it on the Jaro label.
While on tour, Rudy met Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens. "I met Ritchie in California in '58 and he told me he had a new song called "Donna." I asked him what was on the flip and he told me, 'Aw, just a little folk song called "La Bamba." Probably won't do anything.' Well, look what happened! Anyway, we became good friends and would check out each other's shows. It was a shame what happened to him and Buddy and the Bopper. After that I started doing "La Bamba" in my shows as a tribute to Ritchie. I played it in the clubs in L.A. in '59 and Trini Lopez was in the audience. Now, I dunno if he got it from me, but he was definitely there every night."
Even though he cut some demos for small West coast labels that he can't recall, the Award disc would unfortunately be Rudy's last rock 'n' roll recording. By 1960, Rudy had relocated to Oregon. "There was a helluva lotta talent up there, baby. The Wailers, remember them? Wild, baby! I was on the same circuit as Paul Revere & the Raiders before they went national and they were doin' strictly rhythm & blues." Rockabilly star Clayton Watson (a/k/a Lord Dent, a tip to his poor drivin' habits!) drummed for Rudy a while plus he became pals with the late Jimmy "Okie's In The Pokie" Patton, but despite fallin' in with the right crowd, his managers persuaded him that the grass (and money) was greener elsewhere and Rudy was groomed to be a (gulp) entertainer. "I spent years doin' the Vegas thing," he complains, "When you're young and you have a manager pushin' you in one direction, it's hard to resist, baby. It was a mistake, I admit it. If I could do it again, I'd never have quit makin' the kinda music I like. Rock & Roll music!"
Rudy is Ready to Rock You
By ERIC BARTELS (11/7/2003) The Portland Tribune - He never had a Top 40 hit, and he didn't make "The Ed Sullivan Show." Some of the foremost authorities on rock music in the '50s have never even heard of him. Rudy "Tutti" Grayzell's show at Duff's Garage could be looked at as a novelty act - but only if 50 years in the entertainment business, some of it in close quarters with the very inventors of rock ’n’ roll, can be written off.
It's hard to say success has eluded Grayzell when he’s darting around his roomy '50s-style Gresham ranch house with the energy of a man half of his 70 years. He rushes a visitor over to a makeshift shrine, a paneled wall plastered with the march of his personal history: Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ritchie Valens - he knew them all.
There's a picture of Rudy with Abbott Records label mates Jim Reeves, Floyd Cramer and Gene Autry sidekick Smiley Burnett. There's a poster advertising his appearance at the Hemsby Rock and Roll Weekenders, a huge, twice-yearly festival of early rock culture on the English coast. And there he is, draped with the left arm of a young Elvis Presley, the collar - and the lip - of the future king rakishly upturned.
He grabs an acoustic guitar to demonstrate how he and Roy Orbison stumbled across a new sound out back of a Shreveport, LA, motel room one night in the early '50s. "We were doing gigs. You know, dance halls," he says. He strums a country rhythm, then abandons it for a jumpier tempo akin to a horse at a gallop. "Roy said, 'Rudy, what was that?’ " he recalls. "I said, 'I don't know. I did it by accident. " He seems to be suggesting that rockabilly was invented that night on the bayou.
Grayzell was getting ready to record for Abbott Records when Charlie Walker, a disc jockey in San Antonio, tipped him off to a possible gig. "He said, 'Rudy, there's a guy called Elvis Presley. He's got country bands opening for him, and he doesn't like 'em. They’re passing through here, and I recommended you. Is that OK?’ I said, 'Sure.’"
Grayzell says his band was playing in a supermarket parking lot when Presley pulled up in a Cadillac: "He had sunglasses on. I had goose bumps when I met him. He threw his arm around me. He said, 'How'd you like to go out on tour?’" Grayzell says Elvis later gave him the nickname Tutti.
The 5-foot 6-inch Grayzell looks like he could still box or play the middle infield as he did as a scrappy Mexican-American youth in San Antonio. Born Rudolfo Jimenez, he's a disarming charmer who revels in retelling bawdy tales of alcohol-fueled misadventures involving public nudity, angry hermaphrodites and run-ins with the law. He raced through five marriages to women he calls his "best friends."
"There's almost none of those guys left," says Duff's Garage owner Jon Wallace. "Rudy is one of those original Sun Records, Starday Records guys. He was there in the day. He almost made it." Wallace says Grayzell, who held down regular gigs in Las Vegas for years, is typical of early rock 'n' rollers who, having missed the break that might have led to stardom, carved out a living on the nightclub circuit.
Last spring, Wallace assembled a group able to play authentic rockabilly behind Grayzell for a show at Duff's Garage, a venue which leans toward American roots music. "He goes over really well," Wallace says. "People who come down and see him are astounded when they see him do the real stuff. They really want to hear the original material."
Grayzell says he recently disarmed a skeptical crowd at an East Los Angeles nightspot merely by introducing himself in Spanish as a "lowly" San Antonio native. "They started that slam dance, bouncing into each other," he says. "The bouncers said, 'Hey, Rudy, take it easy.’ The young kids love the rockabilly."
Contact Eric Bartels at firstname.lastname@example.org
A TYPICAL "TUTTI" TALE . . . .
SLEEPY LaBEEF: "Oh yeah, Rudy Grayzell, Starday Records. He put on quite a show! That guy was WILD! This one night he called my whole band out in front of the parking lot and beat up all four guys at once!" RUDY: "Hey, man, I never beat up nobody! I was a nice guy! Squeaky La Beef? I don't remember him, but who knows? Hey, I'm five-foot-six. Baby, if I beat up four guys, they'd have hadda been real small guys! I bet he's thinking' of Billy Frizzell, Lefty's brother. Man, that guy useta beat up EVERYBODY!!"
RUDY: Elvis liked what he sawTHE SUNDAY OREGONIAN, APRIL 21, 1996
and offered the performer a job
By John Tottenham
Special Writer, The Oregonian
A singer, accompanying himself on guitar, stands in front of the plastic dartboard in a Portland neighborhood bar and restaurant called the Jolly Roger. After a while he takes a break from country-western standards to perform a song of his own.
"This was one of my first records," says Rudy "Tutti" Grayzell, a short, trim, effervescent guy who looks a decade younger than his 60-odd years. He begins "It Ain't My Baby" (And I Ain't Gonna Rock It)," one of those early '50s songs that define the middle ground between hillbilly boogie and rock 'n' roll. But it doesn't make much of an impression on the patrons, most of whom are unaware of Grayzell's reputation as one of the unsung pioneers of rock.
At the end of the set he walks through the room, receiving backslaps from the regulars as he heads for the bar. "Yeah, I cut that in Shreveport," says the ebulient Grayzell, taking a seat. "I had Jim Reeves and Floyd Cramer behind me on that one." At the time, he was recording for Capitol. Though still a teenager, he appeared on some of the most prestigious shows in the south, including the Louisiana Hayride and the Grand Ole Opry. But he wasn't satisfied playing straight country: Other elements were reshaping his music. "I was listening to a lot of Big Joe Turner," he says.
Grayzell wasn't the only one. Throughout the South, white country boys were hot-wiring their sound with black rhythm and blues, creating the menacing and blatantly erotic hybrid out of which rock 'n' roll evolved. And Grayzell was among the first. It was the kind of music he was playing around his native San Antonio when a stranger stopped by one night to check out his performance. "This guy walks in wearing a pink jacket, white slacks, a black shirt and two-tone shoes," says Grayzell. "I was just a Texas boy, and I'd never seen anything like it. He looked like something from outerspace."
The man was Elvis Presley. He was at the peak of his powers and blazing his first trail through Texas. He also happened to be looking for a support act. A hot tip from singer Charlie Walker led him to the Club where Grayzell was performing. Elvis offered Grayzell the job on the spot. "I was still in high school," Grayzell says, "and I had to get special permission to go with him." It was during this heady period that he received his nickname. "Elvis was clowning around one night singing "Tutti Frutti,' and he turns around and says to me, 'You should have recorded that.' "The name stuck. Grayzell had been crowned by the king of rock 'n' roll.
Don't mess with the ducktail
For a year and a half Grayzell was on and off the road with Elvis. It was a transforming experience, and soon he was cranking out his own high-voltage brand of rockabilly on the Starday label. "If you mess with my ducktail I'll get so mad at you," he snarls on "Ducktail," a frantic celebration of his haircut. The proprietary stance invites comparison with "Blue Suede Shoes." But Grayzell is quick to deny any connection, insisting on a more literal explanation. "Some girl was fooling with my ducktail one night," he says, "and it was making me mad - so I wrote about it. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and I guess a lot of other people thought so, too."
The record caught fire. Similar success greeted his next release, a call to crazed revelry titled "Let's Get Wild." On the strength of these and other recordings, Grayzell's rockabilly credentials were founded. Today these records are prized by collectors as among the finest of the era and are frequently reissued on the Norton label.
Grayzell continued touring through the '50s. For a while he carried an 11-year-old named Doug Sahm in his band, years before the multi-instrumental prodigy went on to achieve renown as leader of the Sir Douglas Quintet and the Texas Tornadoes.
When Grayzell reached Memphis in 1958, operations were winding down at Sun studios. But he managed to record one session for the label, with Jerry Lee Lewis' band behind him. An obscure gem called "Judy" resulted, but despite capturing Sleeper of the Week status in Cashbox, it failed to register with the buying public. Sam Phillips, Sun's mastermind, wasn't joking when he handed Grayzell his paycheck and said "it wouldn't be anything like as much as Elvis.'"
By the late '50s, much of the rawness and vitality had filtered out of rockabilly. Most of the pioneers had moved on, and the music was forgotten by all but a dedicated few. Grayzell spent most of the 60's and '70s performing in Las Vegas. Then, in the mid-'80s, he began receiving calls from Europe. His '50s recordings were being reissued there and appreciated by a new generation of rockabilly fanatics.
A tour was soon arranged and became the first of many to Athens, London, Paris, Germany, Switzerland and points across the continent. "In Europe," says Grayzell, "they know more about me than I know about myself." In recent years he has also played in California and on the East Coast, with New York's finest garage band, the A Bones, backing him up. A domestic CD-length reissue of his classic sides is due this spring on the Norton label. Grayzell rarely broaches the subject of his accomplishments to the patrons of the Jolly Roger. "They wouldn't believe me," he says.
In Portland, where he has lived for 20 years, Grayzell has not been able to find any compatible rockabilly musicians. "I enjoy playing here," he says, "but I'd rather have a crack rhythm section behind me than that drum machine any day." That said, he takes the stage again and launches into a solo rendition of "Ducktail" - proving that 40 years later, he can still deliver the goods up front.
"DUCKTAIL"1996 COMPILATION CD: TRG - 505106
01 - Looking At The Moon, 1953
02 - The heart That Once Was Mine, 1953
03 - Bonita Chiquita, 1953
04 - I'm Gone Again, 1953
05 - It Ain't My Baby, (And I Ain't Gonna Rock It), 1954
06 - Ocean Paradise, 1954
07 - There's Gonna Be A Ball, 1955
08 - Hearts Of Stone, 1955
09 - Ca-Razy, 1955
10 - You Better Believe It, 1955
11 - Please Big Mama, 1955
12 - My Spirit Is Willing, 1955
13 - The Moon Is Up, 1956
14 - Day By Day, 1956
15 - Ducktail, 1956
16 - You're Gone, 1956
17 - Jig-Ga-Lee-Ga, 1956
18 - You Hurt Me So, 1956
19 - Let's Get Wild, Starday-321,1956
20 - I love You So, 1956
21 - Let's Get Wild, Starday Uniss., 1956
22 - Judy, 1956
23 - I Think Of You, 1957
24 - Judy, 1957
25 - Let's Get Wild, Mercury 1957
26 - Remember When, Sun Uniss. 1957
27 - F-B-I Story, 1958
28 - You'll Be Mine, 1958
© Rockabilly Hall of Fame ®