Ray Sharpe

TrackSingle / Album
Oh, My Baby's GoneHamilton 45-0002
That's The Way I FeelHamilton 45-0002
Linda LuJamie 1128
Red Sails In The SunsetJamie 1128
For You My LoveJamie 1155
JustineTrey 3011
Help Me (Get The Feeling)Atco 45-6402
Mary JaneAtco 46-6437
You're Not The Only OneTexas Boogie Blues
Caress Me BabyLive At The Bluebird Vol.1

 

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Ray Sharpe photo

Ray Sharpe

 

Contributor: Dave Stephens

FACT: Black artist Ray Sharpe had a minor US hit with his self-composed song Linda Lu in 1959. By “minor” I mean that it reached #46 in the Billboard Hot 100 so didn’t get high enough for Ray to be seen as a One Hit Wonder in Toppermost terms.

FACT: In almost every write-up I’ve seen on Ray he’s referred to as / classified as / stated as sounding like a black rockabilly singer. In addition several people have gone on record as saying things about him like “the greatest white-sounding black dude ever” (source: Wiki) which is a pretty strange compliment in the world of R&B in which Ray operated.

The pedant in me comes to the fore with the black rockabilly claim in relation to Ray. I don’t disagree that it’s a legitimate sub-genre. I also don’t disagree with the fact that there were elements of blues in Linda Lu and several of Ray’s attempted (and failed) follow-ups along with some topping which was present in order to aim his records more at a white teen audience. It’s merely that that mix which in someone else’s hands might have come out as rockabilly, didn’t in the case of Ray. Check out any of the tracks in this piece and you’ll see what I mean. End of rant.

Take another listen to Linda Lu itself. The first thing that you notice is that riff. In terms of the notes that went together to create it, the combination would reappear roughly a year later, as the underpinning to Johnny Kidd and the Pirates’ Shakin’ All Over, arguably the greatest rock‘n’roll record to emerge from little old UK. I don’t think that there was any attempt to copy the Sharpe disc by Johnny and strangely enough he and the Pirates put out a version of Linda Lu less than a year later. I hardly think they would have done that so blatantly if they’d been guilty of cribbing first time around. The reason why the similarity doesn’t hit the listener strongly is that Ray or whoever plays his version of the riff does so over a Texas Blues Shuffle, a loping kind of rhythm which immediately identifies the artist as being of Texan origin or, as having been strongly influenced by Texas blues. But it certainly doesn’t sound like rockabilly.

A second listen to Linda Lu also reveals the strange repeated phrases thing that Ray indulges in, sometimes referred to as an attempt to simulate stuttering. Quite where that came from we don’t know though it would seem, from the results of the only lengthy interview with Ray (which appears in “Texas Blues: The Rise Of A Contemporary Sound” by Alan B. Govenar), that Ray himself isn’t prone to stuttering/stammering and that he threw such things in for comedic effect. One quote we do have from him on Linda Lu which appears in Colorado Blues Society entry on Ray and a few other places, is:

“A buddy of mine named Mike had asked me to write a song about his girlfriend, Linda, who used to come into the club to dance. I wrote the song to rib her a little bit. You see she had a fascinating rear end, so to speak. When she danced, people watched.”

Thank you Ray and on with the plot. Edward Ray Sharpe was born in Fort Worth, Texas on 8th February 1938. When he was a child there was no electricity in the Sharpe household but Ray spent a lot of time with another family who had kids his age, plus electricity. Their radio seems to have been on all the time judging by Ray’s memory of what music was programmed when. It was from this source that he picked up on local blues musicians: he quotes names like Lucky Millinder, Buddy and Ella Johnson, T-Bone Walker, Pee Wee Crayton and Ivory Joe Hunter. But the variety of music played was wide and it was from the radio Ray picked up his love of country; Jimmie Rodgers was an early hero. Ray was around 15 when he got his first guitar. It was a Stella and it cost him “about fourteen dollars and fifty cents” according to the man himself. Amongst the earliest numbers Ray remembers playing were Jimmie Rodgers’ version of Frankie And Johnnie, Lil’ Son Jackson’s You See Me Coming, Go Get Your Rockin’ Chair, Frankie Lee Sims’ Lucy Mae Blues and Jimmy Reed’s You Don’t Have To Go. It was these numbers and their like which would form much of Ray’s repertoire when he started playing the clubs. Before too long he was part of a band, sharing the singing role with another member and playing a regular circuit of clubs in the Forth Worth area.

Ray was at the Penguin Club when his first recording opportunity appeared out of the blue. A white gent called Artie Glenn came in and introduced himself. Artie was the man who was famous for writing the song, Crying In The Chapel, which, when recorded by his son, Darrell, had become a massive hit. Artie explained that, in the search of further success for Darrell, he was intending to move him more in a rock and roll direction and that he wanted Ray’s services as a guitarist for a session along those lines. In return he was happy for Ray to use the rest of the booked studio time to cut tracks himself, essentially for demo purposes. History doesn’t record a return to glory for the Glenn father and son partnership but the result of the session, as far as Ray was concerned, was a demo single with one side devoted to an instrumental he called Presley, and the other to a semi-comedic song he had written entitled That’s The Way I Feel. The latter roused interest and gained Ray a session recording with independent producers Lee Hazlewood and Lester Sill, in Phoenix, Arizona. Reportedly – Blackcat Rockabilly EuropeDuane Eddy was in the support team on the session.

Hazlewood and Sill leased the single that emerged from the session, a coupling of That’s The Way I Feel plus another Sharpe song, Oh, My Baby’s Gone, to Hamilton Records, a subsidiary of Dot. As a debut single it held up well with both tracks being medium to fast tempo numbers that could loosely be described as blues or R&B. Oh, My Baby’s Gone featured Ray answering his repeats of the title line on guitar while the more upbeat That’s The Way I Feel had a bassline riff, very likely to have been played by Duane, carrying lead singer Ray who introduces several of his stuttering/repetition techniques to a whole new audience.

 

For the second Sharpe recording session under the supervision of Hazlewood and Sill, three songs were recorded: an oldie, Red Sails In The Sunset, a rocker from Ray called Monkey’s Uncle which might have owed the odd debt to Chuck Berry and Neil Sedaka (think I Go Ape, recorded in ’58), and a third track which Ray is a bit hazy about but it might have been Silly Dilly Millie which didn’t see release at the time. Lee had decided on “Red Sails” for release but they needed a B-side. Ray came up with something which he hadn’t played them before. That something was Linda Lu. The band maintained the same Texas Shuffle approach that they’d deployed for “Red Sails”, Ray reused his stuttering approach, first heard on That’s The Way I Feel and Lee liked the result. Red Sails In The Sunset / Linda Lu was released in June 1959.

You can guess the rest. “Red Sails” was doing reasonably well if not brilliantly until one day a DJ took it into his head to turn it over and promote the flip. “Linda” took off and in the process caused the early death of “Red Sails” via collateral damage (see Footnotes for more on that remark). OK, “Linda” wasn’t massive but it made several people happy for a while.

For a while.

Unfortunately, a gremlin then hit the Hazlewood production line; it was the same gremlin that had seen Lee utterly unable to turn a more-than-decent hit from Sanford Clark (The Fool) into a recording career for the artist. Arguably with Sharpe it was an even greater failure. Very few of the Sharpe sung & Hazlewood produced singles warranted more than a few listens. T.A. Blues (sung as Teenage Blues) was one of the better ones even if it was a little like School Day, but that female chorus was just too shrill – better production might have helped. In a similar manner, Gonna Let It Go This Time grooved along very nicely but wasn’t overly helped by a sax which got perilously close to Benny Hill territory.

That sax was back on For You My Love but it was less confrontational and Ray was more relaxed. The impression you came away with from this one was of a nice easy roll, the sort of thing that Fats Domino achieved even on his more obscure flip sides.

My other selection from this timeframe is Justine which combined a latin rhythm with that familiar riff as heard in records from Berry, Reed and a whole host more. Intriguingly, the flip was devoted to the Sharpe version of The Street Where You Live on which that Texas Shuffle in the backdrop was toned back a tad. Ray Sharpe went Vic Damone and didn’t make any major boobs.

Circa 1961, Ray and the Hazlewood & Sill duo parted ways. A few records of no great interest followed, some of which haven’t even found their way onto YouTube. However, you certainly couldn’t use the phrase “of no great interest” about his 1966 two-parter Help Me (Get The Feeling). Them’s Gloria had been released in the US in the preceding year and Ray was infatuated by it to the extent that this record was little more than vocal extemporising over a Gloria rhythm. The “little more” factor came from King Curtis who led the backing band; he’d worked up a horn arrangement and it was that arrangement which gave the record some distinction. Credited as song composers were Ousley, Dupree and Sharpe. Curtis Ousley was the actual name of King Curtis and “Dupree” was Cornell Dupree who was on first guitar for the session. There’s also a strong rumour – and I say “strong” because it’s been repeated in so many places one tends to accept it as fact – that one Jimi Hendrix was on second guitar. There are those who claim to notice traces of the Hendrix axe in Part 2 but while I wouldn’t name myself among them, I note that there are a couple or so lunges, for want of a better word on guitar just before the end which might just have come from Jimi. Notwithstanding the Hendrix story though, “Help Me” was still a splendid single and somewhat unexpected given Ray’s recording history.

But there was more to the “Help Me” story: Aretha Franklin’s second UK Atlantic single consisted of Respect coupled with Save Me with the latter number being a change from the equivalent US release which had Dr. Feelgood on the flip side. Take a listen to Save Me and you’ll immediately notice a strong resemblance backing-wise to Ray’s “Help Me”. The official story is that King Curtis replicated the arrangement that he’d worked up for “Help Me”. However, there are others who’d go further and state that Aretha’s Save Me was her vocal plus the backing track for “Help Me” from which the Sharpe vocal had been removed. Without having conducted detailed listening to the pair of records I do have to admit to some sympathy for the alternate view (see also Footnotes). I’d add that the Sharpe release Help Me (Get The Feeling) was the first of a couple from the man on the Atlantic subsidiary Atco which gives a little more credence to the possibility of an Atco backing track being used for an Atlantic (Aretha) single.

Ray’s second Atco single, I Can’t Take It/Mary Jane, is also of musical interest though it doesn’t have anything remotely like that great story running through it. The Them influence is still present on both sides but I’ve opted for the flip since it’s the less derivative of the pair. Texas blues to lounge to garage, this lad Ray Sharpe certainly displayed quite a range!

There weren’t a lot more singles but by the late seventies, Ray was back with the blues, playing clubs in the Fort Worth area. Flying High Records recorded a couple of albums with him, Texas Boogie Blues in 1980 and Live At The Bluebird Vol.1 in 1982. They’re good if not sensational albums and I felt a track from each would help to round out this picture of Ray. You’re Not The Only One from Texas Boogie Blues is a spirited run-though of a number from Little Johnny Taylor. For my second I was tempted by Ray’s rendition of the standard, Worried Life Blues but settled instead for his take on the Jimmy Reed ultra slowie, Caress Me Baby:

Sentimental perhaps but it was Ray’s start on a music career playing tracks like Mr Reed’s You Don’t Have To Go which came to mind.

Ray wasn’t the world’s greatest blues artist. Nor was he the greatest rock and roller. But he’s entertained plenty of people over the years and put out some good records. He’s still going strong to the best of my knowledge and life for the rest of us would have been just that little bit duller without those immortal words:

They call my baby Patty, but, her real name, her real name, her real name is Linda Lu

 

Ray Sharpe photo 2

Ray Sharpe

 

FOOTNOTES

1. For completeness I should note that Linda Lu was issued in the UK on London Records in September 1959 according to 45cat. I don’t recall it getting any radio plugging. Indeed, the first time I came across the number was on a Sir Douglas Quintet compilation CD many years later. Over the years the song had become something of a bar band favourite in Texas and beyond leading to covers like the one from the SDQ plus several more.

2. I should mention that the Texas Blues Shuffle had/has an equivalent in country music though it’s usually referred to as the Ray Price Shuffle after the Texas artist who first recorded in that manner.

3. I’m aware that certain rockabilly artists of whom Charlie Feathers is the best known example, employed a kind of stuttering technique occasionally but the resulting sound, certainly in the case of Feathers, was distinctly different from the Sharpe sound.

4. I’m indebted to the book “Texas Blues: The Rise Of A Contemporary Sound” by Alan B. Govenar. The writer documents 110 Texas blues artists, where possible using their own words. The full section on Ray Sharpe is available for perusal via Google Books.

5. My words on the early songs that Ray played came almost verbatim from the man’s account in the book described in the paragraph above. I’m guessing that Lil’ Son Jackson’s You See Me Coming, Go Get Your Rockin’ Chair was actually Rockin’ And Rollin’ which was recorded by Jackson in 1950. It was the source for B.B. King’s Rock Me Baby plus variants like Muddy Waters’ Rock Me. Both Melvin “Lil’ Son” Jackson and Frankie Lee Sims were Texas blues men and were contemporaries of Lightnin’ Hopkins; Frankie Lee was actually Lightnin’s cousin. Rockin’ And Rollin’ and Frankie Lee’s 1953 record Lucy Mae Blues were regional hits, which was a good reason for Ray to be playing the numbers in Fort Worth in the early to mid fifties.

6. I referred to the record Crying In The Chapel by Darrell Glenn as being a massive hit. That might be understating things. It was the only song of significance that his father Artie wrote and it was the only record of any significance that Darrell recorded. Artists who also achieved major success with the song included early doo wop “bird” group, the Orioles (1953), Elvis Presley (1965) and Bob Marley & the Wailers (1968). Among the one hundred plus other artists to record the number were Ella Fitzgerald, Eddy Arnold, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Johnny Burnette, Mahalia Jackson, the Platters, Little Richard, Jimmie Rodgers, Tammy Wynette and Aaron Neville.

7. To explain the “collateral damage” remark in relation to the Sharpe recording of Red Sails In The Sunset: the Hazlewood/Sill duo weren’t at all unhappy with the success of Linda Lu but they didn’t own the publishing rights to “Red Sails” (which would have paid out royalties to the publisher) whereas they did to Ray’s songs. So they reissued the single Linda Lu but with Ray’s song Monkey’s Uncle on the flip. The same serial number was used for both records giving the impression that the first release never existed.

8. The Help Me (Get The Feeling) story has a third part not mentioned in the main text. In 1969, a number called Instant Groove appeared as title track to the King Curtis album of that name. The track is nothing more than portions of “Help Me” with added musical overdubbing and vocal commentary. It tends to give credence to the story of “Help Me” being used as backing track for Save Me as in, if it worked once it’s worth doing again.

9. While the reader will have realised that Help Me (Get The Feeling) song often shortened to “Help Me” has nothing to do with the Sonny Boy Williamson II Help Me song, he or she might still have a query regarding the origin of Justine. Consequently, I should state that the number was penned by Ray himself; it has no connection to the Don & Dewey single of that name which was released in 1958.

10. A view of the range of Mr Sharpe can be gleaned from some of the single sides I chose not to mention in the main text. 1963’s The Day You Left Me was a teen ballad with a heavy layering of doo wop while 1971’s Another Piece Of The Puzzle (Just Fell In Place) was pop country right down to the brackets. Maybe we should bracket Ray along with other Texan mavericks like Lyle Lovett and Doug Sahm who had a habit of flitting in and out of multiple genres.

 

 

Ray Sharpe at Discogs

Ray Sharpe biography (iTunes)

Dave Stephens is the author of two books on popular music. His first, “RocknRoll”, is described by one reviewer as “probably the most useful single source of information on 50s & 60s music I’ve come across”. Dave followed this up with “London Rocks” in 2016, an analysis of the early years of the London (American) record label in the UK. You can follow him on Twitter @DangerousDaveXX

TopperPost #760

4 Comments

  1. Andrew Shields
    Jan 11, 2019

    Dave, thanks for a fascinating Toppermost on an artist I knew almost nothing about before reading it. Some fine music here and interesting to see that Van was influencing artists as good as Sharpe so early in his career.

  2. Dave Stephens
    Jan 11, 2019

    Thanks Andrew. I have to admit that I knew nothing of the Gloria / Help Me / Save Me story before embarking on this piece but it was a good story to come across.

  3. Cal Taylor
    Jan 11, 2019

    Another well written and well researched Toppermost by Dave. I hadn’t heard of Ray Sharpe before a couple of months ago. I didn’t really get into music until 1960, so some lesser known artists from the late 1950’s are still in a bit of a ‘black hole’ in my knowledge. Ray, unfortunately, fell into that category.
    ‘Linda Lu’ is really good. I was aware of the Johnny Kidd version in 1961 but didn’t realise it was a cover. I think Ray’s career maybe didn’t blossom because he or his advisors tried too many different styles, without concentrating on his strengths.
    As Dave mentioned ‘Linda Lu’ was released in the UK in 1959 and his only other release here was a song referred to in Footnote 10 ‘The Day You Left Me’. It was released on the United Artists label in 1963, having originally been released on the Garex label in the US. I found this grows on me the more I hear it. As a teenager in 1963, if I had heard it, I think I would have bought it. It’s quite soulful and it has a good guitar break. Take a listen here. Great article, Dave.

    • Dave Stephens
      Jan 11, 2019

      Cal, thanks very for those words and don’t kick yourself for not having come across Ray Sharpe. Not many have (unless they have some musical interest and reside in Texas – the late Stevie Ray Vaughan has mentioned him in dispatches). I was totally unaware of the man in the fifties and only looked into him after I’d become a very late convert to the cult of Doug Sahm. The latter, of course, celebrated all things Texan – and I do mean that musically I hasten to add – and was one of many people, the Stones included, who made a cover of Linda Lu.

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