Defining that New Orleans Sound has become an important part of preserving a city that might be lost specialy after Katrina's huge damages. New Orleans is a unique focal point for the mixing of cultures, musical styles, food and languages. It can be said, it is the starting point for a universal brotherhood based on music, freedom of creativity, and "good times. This universal language was on my own side the start of the process that lead me to a worldwide collaboration with magazine and web sites. The New-Orleans' sound is inclusive of the spirit, vibrations, and authenticity of it's people whatever they could be spanish, caribeans, french, cajun , Caddos indians, Anglo American or African America.
Lewi Werly Fairburn was born in the Charity Hospital, New Orleans on November 27, 1924 although his family lived out on a farm across Lake Ponchartrain, near Folsom, Louisiana. His father was a farmer and a wood cutter who bought a guitar for his sons. An old black guy across the fields had taught the boys how to play what Werly termed 'blue" guitar. His father passed away when Werly was thirteen. The oldest son Morris took over the farm and that's where Werly, who was the youngest son, worked until war broke out. Werly went to New Orleans to work in Higgins shipyard. There was a lot of work to help in the war effort and Hank Williams himself joined the Alabama Dry Dock & Shipbuilding Company in Mobile, Alabama, from November 1942 to January 1944. By then Werly had married his first wife, Yvonne Myers. He joined the Navy's maintenance division in 1943 and was posted to Honolulu where he spent the remainder of the war. After the war, having cut hair in the Navy, and using the GI Bill facilities he goes to Muller's Barber School in New Orleans.
Werly began playing hillbilly music and a promo man for WJBW radio, in New Orleans, came up in 1948 and makes him know as The Singing Barber after making some broadcasting from the barber shop. Later Werly had a daily show on WWEZ, still in New Orleans, and enrolled at the Grunewald School of Music like did Eddie Bo, Earl Palmer, Warren Battiste, Tommy Ridgley or Huey Piano Smith. Located on 827 Camp Street (Lafayette Square District) that school was integrated. A first paper about Werley, who lived 4032 Prytania street in New-Orleans, was published in Country Song Roundup in them October 1952 issue. Not far from Werly's home at number 5339 was located the Prytania Theatre that is now the oldest operating theatre in New-Orleans being opened in 1915. In November 17, 1952 there was a first session for Trumpet, a record label located in Jackson (Mississippi), done on Scott Radio Service, Jackson. Nothing is known about the musicians or the songs cut that day and the association with Trumpet was published in The Billboard issue dated January 10, 1953. Then Werly was living at 4032 Prytania Street in New Orleans. The next session for that label owned by Madam Lillian McMurry since April 1950 was set on February 3, 1953 at ACA Studio located in Houston (Texas). Werly was backed by Jimmy Swan's band The Range Riders with R.B Mitchell (lead gtr), Charley Ward (steel gtr), Hilton Giger (bass) and Clayton Parker (fiddle). Four self penned songs were cut on that day, two being issued on Trumpet 195 "Camping With Marie" and "Let's Live It Over" with the mention Folk vocal and two others "Baby, Call On Me" and "I Feel Like Crying", scheduled for release on Trumpet 196, but never issued. Those two recordings may have being sold outright to Capitol records. Jimmy Swan on his own side had already two releases cut in April 1951 issued as Trumpet 176 and 177, and will have two other more, Trumpet 197 and 198, from that very same February 3, 1953 session. On its releases, Werly got the tag of "The Delta Balladeer" and bring us on "Camping With Marie" with some Cajun patois that sounded really great and not far from Hank Williams' "Jambalaya". "Let's Leave It Over" is a standard country weeper carrying the mention "Folk Vocal". Some 45 rpm pressings of that single carries the famous push mark associate with some Sun releases. In the June 20, 1953 Billboard issue, Lillian Mc Murry put a very nice advert for her set of Country releases by Jimmy Swan, Werly Fairburn, Luke McDaniels and Lucky Joe Almond. That regional label started with Gospel (St Andrews Gospelaires/Southern Sons Quartette) before bringing in Hillbilly (Kay Kellum and his Dixie Ramblers/The Hodges Brothers) and blues (Sonny Boy Williamson/Willie Love/Elmo James). The last release on "Trumpet" (233) was recorded on January 18, 1954 by Lucky Joe Almond and his Hillbilly Rockers and the last session was done on November 12, 1954 for Sonny Boy Williamson and his Houserockers (228). From there Lillian Mc Murry worked on a new label named "Globe" (it was also the name of her BMI publishing company) until 1956 when she turned her back on the capricious world of music business. "Trumpet" record was an essential label in those early 50's blending Hillbilly and Blues like did Sam Phillips at "Sun" records. I just give you for free the good advice to read "Trumpet Records - Diamonds on Farish Street" by Marc W. Ryan (University Press of Mississippi). In 1969, Breathless Dan Coffey was selling new copies of "Camping With Marie" in the category "Rock-a-Billy" with the mention "Great Hillbilly". A large part of Lillian remaining stock of records had found its way in Europe and were also sold by Egleton and Chalmers in England.
In 1954, Ken Nelson who had already spotted Faron Young and Jimmy Lee (Fautheree), brings Werly on Capitol. A first session was set on March 5, 1954 in New Orleans. Nelson tried a cover of "Good Deal, Lucille", originally cut by Al Terry for Hickory (1003), and three originals from Werly's pen. "Baby He's A Wolf", a very attractive boppin' Hillbilly ditty, was issued back to back with "Good Deal, Lucille" (Cap 2770) in April 1954 and "Love Spelled Backwards is Evol" with "Nothin' But Lovin'" (Cap 2844), another rhythm hillbilly in Hank Williams' style, in June 1954. "Good Deal Lucille" was also covered by Moon Mullican (King 1337) and Jimmy Logsdon (Decca 29075). Goodbye Lou, cherchez vous another man, Say 'l'amour pour toujours' if you can. For that session, like the others done for Capitol, the only musicians know should have been Johnny Bonvillain (steel gtr) and Joe Martin (bass). The band that included a fiddler and steel guitar player was named "The Delta Boys". About Joe Martin, I don't know if it is the same dude featured on Coral "I Want To Be Blue Milk Cow Blues" (64116) and "Your Love (Is a Pain in my Heart/"It's The Same Old Thing" (64132) issued in 1952 but it may be him 'cause Red Smith, a well know country DJ on WBOK (505 Baronne Street - New-Orleans) from 1952 to 1956, had a record on Meladee 102 and another one, in 1954, on Coral 61312 "You Upset Me Baby"/"Whoa Boy". Johnny Bonvillain, whose radio program was broadcast from Big Easy WWL radio, was member of Vin Bruce's first band. Vin Bruce remember in a recent Bear Family CD dedicated to his Columbia recordings made from 1952 to 1954: "I used to hear Johnny and say:"Boy, I'd like to play with that man one day'. In those days we didn't hear too many steel guitar player and Johnny was one of the top. He had a Hillbilly band, it wasn't no country band in those days, you know?".
Werly was still working his regular daytime show on WWEZ and playing nights at the local joints. On June 19, 1954, another session in New Orleans produced "Prison Cell of Love" (Cap 2963),"Spiteful Heart" (Cap 3101) and two unissued sides "Won't It Be Nice" and "A Little Bit Of Nothing". "Prison Cell of Love", a superb song, was released on October 1954. The last session on September 1954 brings two bluesy songs "I Feel Like Cryin'" (Cap 2963) and "It Is A Cold Weary World" (Cap 3101) issued in May 1955 and the song publishing right were given to Mallory Music. In September 1954, Werly had a Fan Club started by Joyce Matson (Shreveport) and the FC quarterly journal was named "Werly's Corral". I had never seen any stuff printed by that Fan Club.
On November 13, 1954, Werly and Ray Price shared the bandstand at The Cadillac Club located in North Rampart Street in New Orleans. It seem he was booked in that club using only hillbilly talents three night a week by Charlie "Jolly Cholly" Stokely, a DJ at WWEZ who spined two hillbilly shows a day, "Delta Parade" and "E.Z Hoedown" and had on Sunday "Grand National Hillbilly Hit Parade" that helped him to promote artists. Jolly Cholly was formely on KWKH in 1953 being on air with "Red River Roundup". Jimmy & Johnny and Wayne Walker (late 1954), Lonzo & Oscar and Billy Walker (early 1955) played The Cadillac Club too booked by Jolly Cholly. Among his guests at WWEZ were Curtis Gordon, Tibby Edwards, Martha Carson, Elvis, Ray Price, Webb Pierce, Vin Bruce and many others. Jolly Cholly discovered, in 1956, the great rock-a-billy cat Joe Clay and may have been pallbearer for Jim Reeves. By November or December 1954, "I Feel Like Cryin" was number one on Jolly Cholly's Country Disk Jockey regional Records Report published in The Cashbox ahead Hank Snow, Faron Young and Jimmy and Johnny. Werly was also on Red Smith, a New Orleans DJ at WBOK, report but number nine. In 1954, Floyd Cramer had "Jolly Cholly" issued on Abbott 159 and that recording his probably tied up with the DJ.
Werly played some gigs in Louisiana (Springfield, Covington) and in Mississippi (Kiln, Bay Saint Louis). Then Werly still had his moustache and was wearing country outfit having as manager Keith Rush - 2709 General Pershing road - New Orleans- a local DJ for WWEZ who booked since 1952 many Louisiana Hayride performers.
The year 1955 began with Ken Nelson's notification that he wouldn't pick up his option on Werly's contract even if the label gave him some exposure in the trade papers in May 1955. However "I Feel Like Cryin'" turned into a money-spinner when recorded by Carl Smith and issued on Columbia 4-21462. Werly was on the Louisiana Hayride on March 19 and next on May 7 1955 to promote his last Capitol single with the support of Melvin A. Mallory, "Capitol" distributor in New Orleans and owner of "Mallory Music" musical editions. On April 30, 1955 Werly played the Grand Ole Opry. Werly first annonced appearance for the Louisiana Hayride seems to be on September 12, 1955 with Jimmie Davis as special guest. From then and until December 1957, he was a regular sharing the stage with George Jones, Leon Payne, Johnny Cash, Johnny Horton, Tex Ritter, Roy Orbison, Eddie Bond, Sonny James, Sid King, Carl Perkins, Al Ferrier ... In September 1955, he played the VFW Hall (Veteran of Foreign Wars) in Baton Rouge. In December 1955, Werly gave two performances at the Trio Club, in Pine Buff (Arkansas), a place owned by The Brown's parents, and a regular hang out for Elvis or Harold Jenkins, not Conway Twitty yet. The same month, he played also in Odessa (Texsa) with George Jones, The Brown, Jeanette Hickx and Johnny Cash.
Late 1955, a friend of mine remembers Werly Fairburn getting drunk at a party she held on Saturday night after the Hayride and stumbling, falling down her flight of stairs to entrance hall. He doesn't hurt him but his wife was screaming bloody murder. That night George Jones was too drunk to drive and slept all that night in his old blue Caddy parked on lot. Next day he was gone and that friend with Margie Collie (former wife of Texas DJ/promoter/dinger Biff Collie) and Tommy Sands' Mom were really worried to know if he makes it back to Beaumont... Wild wild days but maybe also the result of them surrounding! I won't throw any stone at anybody having myself my funny and crazy days long time ago. Around the same time Werly needed a guitarist and hired Fred Carter jr after hearing him jamming backstage at the Municipal Auditorium. This engagement lasted for one year and included a lot of appearances at the Louisiana Hayride. Born in December 1933, Fred Carter had grow up playing fiddle and mandolin before switching for the guitar. He worked with Slim Whitman and Dale Hawkins before joining Ronnie Hawkins and Conway Twitty. He later settled in Nashville becoming one of the highest prized session men. Sadly, Fred Carter jr passed away on July 17, 2010 in Nashville.
Werly joined "Columbia" records and a first session at The Castle Studio, Nashville, was set on June 24, 1955. With Chet Atkins (gtr), Eddie Hill (gtr), Harold Cavalerro (steel gtr), Ernie Newton (bass), Tommy Vaden (fiddle) and Farris Coursey (drums), Werly cut four of its own compositions "That Sweet Love of Mine"/"I Guess I'm Crazy (For Lovin'You) (Col 21432), issued the following month, and "Broken Hearted Me"/"Stay Close To Me" (Col 21483) issued in January 1956. "I Guess I'm Crazy", a beautiful country song from Werly's pen, was recorded one week earlier by Tommy Collins and issued on Capitol 3190. Tommy's recording with Buck Owens on guitar was a # 13 chart hit for him late 1955 while "It's Nobody's Fault But Yours', still from Werly recorded at the same session stayed in the vaults until 1992. "I Guess I'm Crazy" was also recorded by Jim Reeves in May 1964. After Jim tragic death on July 31, 1964, the song went number one in August. In addition, it appears on the Brown's 1956 album RCA Victor LPM 1438 "Jim Edward, Maxine and Bonnie Brown" as well as Porter Wagoner's 1956 album RCA Victor LPM 1358 "A Satisfied Mind". All those songs are straight slow country songs well played but nothing outstanding. In December 1955, Werly's name appeared on the bottom of the Cashbox "Most Promising Country Mal Vocalist of 1955" behind Elvis, Jimmy Newman, Bobby Lord, Al Terry ...
A second session for "Columbia" was set at Jim Beck Studio in Dallas on April 12, 1956. On that session Werly was backed by fellows Louisiana Hayriders Tommy Tomlinson (gtr), James Trammel (steel guitar) and Freddie Dawson (bass). On drums was Williams Pecchi who played also for Sid King & The Five Strings, Lew Williams, Mac Curtis, Andy Starr and Sonny James. A kind of local J.M. Van Eaton. "I'm Jealous", a great boppin' song, and "Old Mem'ries Come Back" stayed unissued while "Everybody's Rockin'", an ultimate rock-a-billy performance, was issued with "It's Heaven" (Col 21528) in June 1956. Well, I wanna rock, a-bop-a-be-bop, Gonna jump in my rockin' shoes, Just pull off your coat when you come in the door, kick off your high heels too Everybody's rockin' rockin' rockin'... All is said here about the blend of mountain music and rockin' rhythm. Those two songs were sung on its July 14, July 28 and August 4, 1956 performances for the Louisiana Hayride. The others songs were "All The Time" (not recorded yet), "I'm In Love Again" (borrowed to Fats Domino), "I Guess I'm Crazy" and "Stay Close to Me". Once again nothing happened and Werly had to move to another label. Then Werly played as far as Beaumont (Texas) but also some local places like The Fannie Circle Inn or The Skyway Club, both located on Highway 80. «It's Heaven », writen with Arnold Hillard, was covered by Dale Hawkins as "Heaven" and issued on Chess LP 1429. Here we got a strong rhythm and blues feel with different lyrics. Much more than a quick cover!
Werly got an offer for "Savoy", the New-Jersey based Rhythm and Blues and Jazz label, and was sent to Cosimo Matassa's studio, located 523 Grovenor Nicholls Street on New Orleans for a first session with its band on September 13, 1956. Joe Martin was back on bass and Eddie Landers is on drums. We don't know who's on lead gtr but it should be Fred Carter Jr. That session produced four sides and the all-time classic "I'm A Fool About Your Love"/"All The Time" (Savoy 1503 - and The Delta Boys) while "Love Routine" and "Cryin' Shame" were lost and never issued. The publishing right for "I'm A Fool About Your Love" were located to Mallory Music owned by Melvin Mallory. That hot single with a never heard before slap bass intros was issued in UK on London 8349 in November 1956. A very rare record like is US counterpart in 78 rpms format. In the Billboard issue dated 13 October 1956 we can read from Savoy boss Herman Lubinsky: "We've converted Werly (Fairburn) into a rockabilly". Two weeks later still in the Billboard, an advert carrying Werly's picture states "New Rock-Billy Star! 2 back-to-back hits that rock and roll out of this world!". Believe me, friends, that's the pure true. Then Werly Fairburn was booked by the KWKH Artists Service Bureau run by Horace Logan and still had its fan club run by Joyce Matson at 211 East 73rd Street - Shreveport - with 80 members or so. On his November 17, 1956 performance at The Louisiana Hayride, Werly dedicated "Speak To Me Baby" to Fred Carter's Mother and to Joyce Matson. Earlier the Horace Logan acting as MC introduced Werly as playing rockabilly music and Werly informed the crowd about a new record coming out with "Baby My Heart's on Fire" before giving a great rendition of that song. Werly may have been a country cat at heart, he could adjust mighty good to the rockin' sound of the time. So I think the session that produced "My Heart's On Fire" and "Speak To Me Baby", two wildies written by E. Myers, was not from early 1957 but late 1956. Both songs were issued on Savoy 1509 on February 1957.
On January 18, 1957,Werly and The Delta Boys played at the Austin Coliseum (Texas) (already using the Jack Hammer's alias) with Johnny Horton, Buddy Thompson and Jimmy & Johnny for a DJ night that included Jerry Green (KVET - Austin), former Louisiana Hayrider having cut two records for Specialty late 1952, Charlie Walker (KMAC - San Antonio) and few other DJs. A live recording of "Speak To Me Baby" done for the Louisiana Hayride still survive and must have been done shortly after that Texas performance 'cause Werly may be heard giving thanks to Jerry and Betty Green. That performance, probably with Sonny Harville on piano, can be heard on "You Tube". On January 25, 1957, Werly played with that same Louisiana Hayride unit at Corpus Christi's Memorial Coliseum (Tx).
On March 21, 1957, Werly played Marthaville (Louisiana) High School Auditorium with Margie Singleton and Gene Wyatt. He also had a weekly Monday night serie over KSLA-TV (Shreveport) with an oil company sponsoring. The success of that show leads the station to start a new half-hour show on Friday night featuring "Louisiana Hayride" artist exclusively. In April 1957, like Margie Singleton did, he took as manager Dee Marais - 3958 Huston Street - Shreveport. Dee Marais had a whole lot of friends and got Paul Kallinger's help to promote his "stars" on his XERF radio (Del Rio) broadcasting. The last session was set on summer 1957 and, from the pen of E. Myers, were cut the stunning "Telephone Baby" and "No Blues Tomorrow" issued on Savoy 1521 by september. That last single don't feature any piano, the hard bass line being remplaced by strong drumming and chorus were added. Those three singles deserve to be in every rockin' cat library. In 1959, Savoy issued few other records by white Louisiana cats like Gene Terry ( Fine-Fine) or Billy Randall (Bye Bye Teacher) but nothing that could compete with the great sound of Werly and The Delta Boys.
Werly played on May 18, 1957 and Oct 5, 1957, the Big D Jamboree in front of 6000 people at the Million Dollar Sportatorium, Dallas, with Gene Rambo & The Flames and The Belew Twins, two local acts. He may have sung "All By Myself" borrowed to Fats Domino and issued on Dragon Street record/Rollercoaster records CD "Live At The Big D Jamboree" by David Dennard. Here the New Orleans sound is coming to Dallas without sax but with real razor back guitar lick and slap bass. Beside those performances at the Sportatorium, he may have played at Bob's Barn, at Al Dexter Bridgeport Club, Dewey Groom's Longhorn Ballroom, at the Roundup Club or at the Silver Spur owned by Jack Ruby. Those shows done for free were part of the ED McLemore's deals. By this point, Werly was getting seriously disillusioned both by its career and by the life on the road even if he was pictured with his band in Folk And Country Songs - March 1958 issue. His picture was also in display in Mira Smith's record shop in Shreveport with those of Bob Luman, Ricky Nelson, James O'Gwynn, Linda Brannon or Warner Mack.
In 1959 he packed up and moved to Los Angeles - California - where he founded with three partners "Milestone Records". In four years that label produced 18 singles starting with "Doggone That Moon"/"Black Widow Spider" (Mil 2001) by Werly but issued under the name of Jack Hammer & The Pacers in June 1959. Both songs were cut in April or May 1959 with The Paradons taking care of the vocal chorus on an old Jimmie Davis' song. "Doggone That Moon" was reissued with "You Are My Sunshine", from the same session, on Milestone 2013 in 1962 under Werly real identity. Nothing exceptional here ... That small label had a Top 30 Rhythm & Blues hit in October 1960 with "Diamonds and Pearls" by The Paradons and a hot 100 entry in September 1961 with The Blue Jays "Lover's Island"/"You're Gonna Cry" (Mil 2008). The Blue Jays were put in touch with Werly after an appearance at an amateur show at the Fox Theater in Venice. Milestone issued 5 singles by The Blue Jays and 4 by The Paradons. In 1961, Milestone produced a single by Buddy White "Betty Jean"/"Unlucky Man" (Mil 2006). Buddy "Butch" White was with Gene Vincent when he left with Bill Mack to form with Gerry McGee The Knights and recorded "Teenage Ball/"Betty Jean" (Murco 1017) in 1959. He also played drums for Bob Luman, Ricky Nelson, Hank Thompson and Paul Peek. The last release for Milestone was "The Ebbing of the Tide"/"Got A Good Feeling" (Mil 2018) in 1963.
In November 1963, Shane Wilder, a popular DJ with a four hours daily show on radio and president of Wil-Mar records production with Herb Warme, and Werly had formed Hootemanny Music Publishing Company with office at 7310 Woodley Avenue - Van Nuys - California.
When Milestone flooded, Werly Fairburn found a new business partner, Miss Madelon Baker, who owned a recording studio in Hollywood called Audio Arts, and launched a new label called "Whirlybird". On that label he recorded Leon Peels (formerly member of The Blue Jays) with The Hi Tension and produced two singles by him (Whirl 2002 and 2008). He also recorded Johnny Flamingo (Whirl 2001 - issued in December 1963) who had "Record Hop"/" No One To Talk To" on Imperial X5464 as Jack and Jill (October 1957) and many releases on Caddy, Aladdin, Specialty, Pico and other. That short living label must have been out of business around 1965 with less than 10 releases.
Around this time, Werly divorced Yvonne and married Louise Herman and in 1965 they moved to the San Gabriel Valley, east of Los Angeles. From their home base they started them own label "Fair-Lew" to issue one of his record offering "That's Just How Bad It Is"/"I'm Lost" (Fair-Lew 100). In November1967, Werly recorded his last session produced Carson Smith. "My Crazy World (Of Make Believe)" and"There's Something On Your Mind" were issued on Best in Country 1001. That label was located 182 So. Glendova Ave - West Covina (California). That single was reissued in March 1968 on Paula 295 after Werly had signed a four years contract with Stan Lewis, President of Paula records in Shreveport. On the very same label were Mickey Gilley, Tony Douglas, John Fred, Gene Wyatt, Jimmy Fautheree and Nat Stuckey.
In 1972, Werly developed Reynaud's Syndrome and an operation left him having hard time to play guitar. The same year "Rockville International", a magazine printed in the Netherlands since 1969 with the complicity of Derek Glenister and Ron Weiser, published some nice informations about Werly referring to a previous paper printed in Rock & Roll Collector no 6.
In 1973 came the LP Collector CL 1019 "Rare Rock-a-Billy" with "Everybody's Rockin'", "My Heart's on Fire", "Speak To Me Baby", "All The Time" and "I'm a Fool About Your Love". The next great vinyl to come was in 1980 the bootleg 10 inches LP "White & All Right" (WR 100) packaging the complete Savoy recordings with "Camping with Marie" and "Prison Cell Of Love". A bootleg single on Southern Records 003 was issued around the same time with "Everybody's Rockin'" and "My Heart' on Fire". Around that time, Werly may have played bass with Arlie Graham & The Rebel Express playing at places like Caēco Palace (El Monte), The Silver Saddle (Balwin Park) or Follows Camp (Azusa Canyon) near San Joachim mountains.
In 1982, Werly developed a lung tumour and fought the disease for three years. In 1983, A.J Nightingale wrote a very nice paper with a discography in the UK fanzine "Roll Street Journal" (Autumn issue) and obviously don't knew about Werly's present time. Werly continued to play until he completely lost his voice and died on January 18, 1985 having only "Everybody's Rockin'" reissued in USA in 1982 (LP Epic EG37984). The big tribute to that underrated rockin' handsome man came in 1993 when Bear Family packaged 29 of his best sides on them CD 15578 AH. It's a good deal, Lucille! Recognition was late to come but thanks to Bear Family and died hard fans work, Werly was inducted on Bob Timmers' Rockabilly Hall of Fame® as member 367 on May 8, 2011. A new CD and EP packaging various sides and few live recordings are just out on El Toro.
Hey, Werly! I am a fool about your music.
Dominique "Imperial" ANGLARES
Dec 13, 2011