Thomas Wayne

TrackSingle
You're The One That Done ItMercury 71287X45
This TimeMercury 71287X45
TragedyFernwood 45-109
EternallyFernwood 45-111
Girl Next DoorFernwood 45-122
The Quiet LookPhillips International 3577

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Thomas Wayne photo 1

Thomas Wayne with the DeLons

 

 

THOMAS WAYNE:

ANATOMY OF A ONE HIT WONDER #12

Artists who flickered briefly then disappeared.

One Hit Wonders, the media called them. Part of the fascination of fifties and sixties music.

 

Contributor: Dave Stephens

TRAGEDY

One of the greatest single word song titles ever …

From a man who recorded not one, but two, one hit wonder tracks …

From a city and a time that was redolent of rockabilly rather than doom discs.

Thomas Wayne (Perkins) was the younger brother of Luther “Played The Boogie” Perkins, famed axeman for Johnny Cash.

Scotty Moore was the even more famous axeman for Elvis Presley. When Elvis disappeared for his stint in the US Army in March 1958, the other two members of “Elvis Presley, Scotty and Bill” realised that they needed something to do to earn a living. Bill Black went to work for Ace Appliances but didn’t totally drop his musical career. He played with a group of Memphis based musicians, which, by 1959, had evolved into Bill Black’s Combo. Scotty Moore did some Sun session work but found himself more of a permanent role, in both management and production, at a new Memphis label, Fernwood Records. Another Sun alumnus, “Cowboy” Jack Clement, was already involved with Fernwood.

While he was at Humes High School, Thomas Wayne Perkins used to deliver papers to Scotty Moore. And when he decided that he wanted to get into the music world, it was Moore he went to for an audition. At this time, Thomas was working with a three girl vocal group from school – Nancy Ross, Sandra Brown and Carol Moss – plus a guitarist who’d recently moved into the area called Lincoln Wayne Moman, nicknamed Chips.

Scotty was duly impressed. Well you kind of expected that – or all that build up would have been for nothing. He got him signed up with Fernwood and a recording session duly ensued. The two tracks recorded formed Thomas’s first single.

The A-side, You’re The One That Done It, was a rocker, a paint stripping rocker. Usually referred to as rockabilly but it also reflected the heavier sound starting to come into the music. Hubcap stealing stuff.

A good record but the B-side was more interesting. This Time was a doom ballad, written by Chips Moman. If you wanted a category for it, it would have been rock ballad, or rock-a-ballad in fifties speak. Touches of El in there but not in-your-face, hints of country and, moving cross the tracks, even some resemblance to blues ballads (or is that my imagination?). Should have been a hit. When you consider that major label Mercury picked this record up for distribution but failed to shift any copies, that was just not good enough.

This time we’re really breaking up
This time we said way too much
This time’s for all time
How about this time

But that wasn’t the end of This Time. In 1961, Troy Shondell – real name Gary Shelton – picked this song to record. Or, to be more precise, Al Russell, a DJ in Fort Wayne brought the song to the attention of Troy and pushed him to record it (source: Rockabilly Hall Of Fame). Shondell had been recording, albeit under his own name, since 1957 with no serious success, and this was just about his last attempt at the big time. You’ve guessed the rest. It sold all right – #6 in the US and #22 in the UK. But that was it. Fifteen minutes of success or more succinctly, One Hit Wonder.

Here’s Troy, and, yes, he did put his stamp on it:

 

Record #2 for Thomas was the big one.

TRAGEDY

Written by local DJ Gerald Nelson and college student, Fred Burch: “The title came from a course Burch had been taking on Aristotelian tragedies.” “Gerald played it for Scotty on the sidewalk with a ukulele and Scotty immediately thought of it for Thomas Wayne.” (source for both quotes: scottymoore.net). This time however, rather than using the Fernwood garage studio, they went to Hi Records who had a rather more professional affair on S. Lauderdale St. The three girls already mentioned were used as back up and were credited on the record as The DeLons. The only other support came from Scotty himself plus Bill Black who he’d roped in to assist.

Wind and storm
Gone’s the sun
From the stars my dark has come
You’ve gone from me, oh, oh, tragedy

This was it, the One Hit Wonder smash, and, yes it really was. It got to #5 in the Hot 100 and sold a million copies, earning Thomas a gold disc.

The flip, a teen pop concoction, was entitled Saturday Date. I’m only including the clip to demonstrate that Nelson & Burch, who wrote this one along with a co-writer, could produce things that weren’t based on Aristotelian tragedies:

True to one hit wonder form, nothing that followed from Thomas and co. did anything chart wise. There were some interesting discs though. Broadly they can be divided into two categories: the songs from the Tragedy writers, Nelson and Burch, almost all of which were ballads – and the rest. Post Tragedy, Fernwood maintained a near consistent policy of one Nelson/Burch song per single and one other. In my opinion, nearly all the Nelson/Burch songs, or Tom’s readings of them, had merit, but none quite had the magic of the hit single. In part it was the “Oh, oh, tragedy” hook but there was also something more elusive.

I’ve selected a couple. First, Eternally – yes, another one word title but Fred & Gerald did extend to more. It can’t be accused of being a copy of Tragedy though similar minor key chords do appear. The backing of lightly strummed guitar and DeLons vocals is also present and correct. What is different is that, after a couple of verses, Tom soars off onto what you assume is going to be a middle eight but it never returns. Instead it builds to a climax, resembling nothing less than a prototype for one of those Orbison ballads of the early sixties with their unique non-repeating melody lines. It’s considerably more basic than that but I can forgive any stiffness in arrangement for that neat way it drops into silence at the end.

My second, The Quiet Look, is, melodically, the same song as Tragedy. Whether the production guys told Nelson and Burch to do this or whether they sort of fell into it without realising what they’d done, who knows, but my bet would be on the former. But what do you know, it doesn’t matter. I find I like this almost as much as ‘the original’. The production is different; the ladies, presumably the same ones, are sotto voce, making Tom sound more emphatic – he even throws in some Hollyish semi-hiccups. And, yes, it could be a different song.

I should interrupt myself to state that Thomas switched labels somewhere between 1960 and 1962. That last one came out on the Phillips International subsidiary of Sun so there would have been (probably but not necessarily) a different production team involved.

Moving on to “the rest” as I termed them: these were, with one notable exception, less interesting than the Nelson/Burch efforts. They ranged in style from a good version of a semi-obscure standard – and I’m only saying semi-obscure because I’d not heard it previously – to a cover of a Charlie Rich song which is definitely obscure, nothing semi about it, but it’s instantly recognisable as a Charlie cover – might even have been a dry run for Lonely Weekends.

But let’s focus on the good ‘un first. Girl Next Door was a little cracker. Intriguingly, the record itself showed two writers, Messrs Rice and Perkins. However the song reappeared on El’s Elvis Is Back LP where the writers (according to AllMusic) are listed as Bill Rice, Sid Wayne and Thomas Wayne. Bill Rice was a fellow Fernwood artist and song writer. I don’t know who Sid is/was but he would seem likely to be a member of the Thomas Wayne family. And Thomas Wayne was you know who. Here’s Thomas’s Girl Next Door followed by that standard I mentioned just now, Because Of You. (This was the only version of Thomas’s Because Of You on YouTube though there is one from Tony Bennett.)

And, since you’re curious, here’s Elvis, (with an extended title line)

It’s even in the same key.

Fed up with his lack of success, Thomas largely retired from the mike and took more of a sound engineering role, behind the scenes, but still in the music industry. He did start a record label, Chalet, and amongst other offerings, released two singles from himself. Unfortunately, they disappeared without trace – there’s no track of any of the sides on YouTube. In August 1971, at the age of 31, he was killed in a car accident.

Thomas Wayne wasn’t one of the all time greats of the music world but, with the help of a couple of guys who’d done a lot more than walk and talk with the greats, plus three young ladies from high school, he managed to create a record that was “beyond Classic”.

 

Thomas Wayne photo

 

FOOTNOTES

1. If you Google Thomas Wayne, you’re very likely to require the addition of ‘singer’ or ‘vocalist’, otherwise you’ll get the fictional father of Batman. Interesting stuff but not what you were looking for.

2. Luther played the boogie?

3. “Elvis Presley, Scotty and Bill” was the label credit on the five Sun singles recorded by Presley (with, of course, Scotty Moore and Bill Black supporting him in the studio). During this period they were also billed briefly as the Blue Moon Boys, a reflection of the B-side of their first single, Blue Moon Of Kentucky.

4. I have simplified the break up of Elvis, Scotty and Bill which, at least in part, was caused by the way Colonel Parker treated Moore and Black which had caused resentment some time before El’s army spell.

5. Record producer Jack Clement and part-time truck driver and night club owner, Slim Wallace, formed Fernwood Records in 1956. The studio was in Wallace’s garage at 152 Fernwood Drive in Memphis. The first artist recorded was Billy Lee Riley and the number, Think Before You Go. Clement took the masters to Sun Records to cut but Sam Phillips was so impressed that he bought both the masters and Billy Lee’s contract. Scotty Moore joined Fernwood early in ’58 and became vice president. He was heavily involved in both production and arrangement capacities (source: Rockabilly Hall Of Fame on Fernwood plus scottymoore.net).

6. The 45cat list of records released by the Fernwood label is incomplete. A full list of the 42 singles issued up to 1965, when they effectively closed down, is available in the Wiki feature on Fernwood Records (but other than the list, the feature is in German).

7. “Cowboy” Jack Clement was a producer and recording engineer who worked at Sun reporting to Sam Phillips. In the seventies he produced albums for Waylon Jennings and Townes Van Zandt among others. He was also a performer and songwriter. In the latter role he created several great songs for Johnny Cash including Ballad Of A Teenage Queen and Guess Things Happen That Way. The clip has a mature Jack singing that song on the Johnny Cash Memorial Tribute – “Here’s a song I wrote for Dean Martin. He didn’t like it but Johnny Cash did.”

8. The most famous pupil to attend Humes High School was one Elvis Presley.

9. “Chips” Moman worked as guitarist in several bands including those led by Thomas Wayne, Warren Smith, Johnny Burnette and Gene Vincent and took on session work prior to helping in the set-up of Satellite, later Stax, Records in Memphis. He worked as recording engineer and producer for Stax/Volt and then, in 1964, set up his own recording studio, American Sound. Among the better known albums recorded at American Sound are From Elvis In Memphis and Dusty In Memphis. He continued to pursue a song writing career, sometimes working with Dan Penn. Songs included Luckenbach, Texas for Waylon Jennings, The Dark End Of The Street for James Carr and Do Right Woman – Do Right Man for Aretha Franklin.

10. Ray Scott, composer of You’re The One That Done It, was a somewhat obscure country and rockabilly singer and songwriter. His place in rockabilly history is 100% secure due to him having written Flyin’ Saucers Rock And Roll for Billy Lee Riley. According to Scott himself (as reported in Black Cat Rockabilly Europe) it was based on a true incident which occurred when Scott was standing outside his car at a drive-in movie and saw a UFO flying in 1952. He also wrote Tonight Will Be The Last Night which got recorded by Warren Smith but didn’t see release at the time. This is Scott’s own version:

11. I did pick up one story about Troy Shondell in the Rockabilly Hall Of Fame that’s worth repeating: in their words:

“One cold Sunday, February 1, 1959 to be exact, Troy and his band were entertaining at a club in Davenport, Iowa. Just before closing a group walked in, sat down, and sent a note up to the stage. The note asked Troy to acknowledge them and sing a song from their show. A young and extremely nervous Troy, very familiar with the group sitting in front of him, happily fulfilled their request and performed “That’ll Be The Day” – a song that to this day is still part of his repertoire.”

Might be more truth to that than the Dylan version.

12. Gerald Nelson and Fred Burch went on to songwriting careers, writing either together or separately. The 1961 cover version of Tragedy by the Fleetwoods reached #10 in the US charts. While their songs got recorded by some good artists including Presley, Matt Monro, Perry Como and Stonewall Jackson, none of them are terribly well known, or not to me. There is one exception that I spotted and that’s In The Meantime, recorded by Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames. The song was written by Fred Burch solo. Of less interest to me, but possibly of some to the reader, was the JFK story immortalised, if that’s the right word, as P.T.109, and sung by Jimmy Dean. Fred was a co-writer on it.

13. Hi Records was the Memphis label which gave Bill Black a useful second career via his band Bill Black’s Combo. No disrespect to Bill but it’s better known for artists like Al Green and Ann Peebles.

14. It’s a rather weird coincidence (and certainly not intentional) that I’ve found myself making reference to the Elvis Is Back album whilst writing two sequential Toppermost features. The other one is on Little Willie John. I reviewed the Legacy version of the album on Amazon UK and opened with the words:

“There are many who’d say that this is Presley’s best album. If not that it must at least be amongst his best though it could be said that albums weren’t really the man’s forte – he’s more remembered for his singles. It was the first album to emerge after his stint in the US Army – hence the title – and, along with a whole host of other tracks many of which were to be released as singles plus the tracks that went to form the follow up album “Something for Everybody”, it was the result of just a few days recording with the Nashville session team including Scotty Moore and drummer DJ Fontana.”

I even referred to Girl Next Door (with its extended title) in my second para – talk about damning with faint praise though!

“Elsewhere we have the opener, “Make me Know It”, which is reminiscent of some of the Sun Carl Mann tracks – pop more than rock but oodles of charm – plus “The Girl Next Door Went A’Walking” which is also poppy with a hint of rock.”

Although I fully recognise I’m disappearing off on a tangent I feel I have to reassure the reader that very few of the tracks on that set fall below the level of awesome, and those that do, not by much.

15. There doesn’t seem to be one totally comprehensive discography for Thomas Wayne. The usually reliable 45cat has some omissions in its version but those missing discs are present in the one from RCS (Rockin’ Country Style). However the RCS discography doesn’t include a couple of late discs which are in 45cat. I’d add that there’s no trace of these late tracks on YouTube so I’ve no idea what they’re like. Add in also that there have been no albums released on Thomas Wayne and, probably as a result, there’s very little on Spotify, so he would seem to be something of a forgotten man. Shame.

16. The “beyond classic” quote came from ‘Bobzyeruncle’. It can be found in the 45cat entry for Tragedy.

17. It wasn’t unusual for the life of a one hit wonder artist to have a serious downside. A very short period of adulation followed by rapid withdrawal of the same, was a recipe for potential disaster for someone very young and/or very ambitious. I’ve hardly alluded to this in previous one hit wonder Toppermosts but I’m extremely grateful to Our Esteemed Editor for unearthing certain facts/reports surrounding the later life and death of Thomas Wayne.

It’s documented that Thomas was troubled by alcohol and family problems in the last few years of his life. In his autobiography, “Scotty and Elvis: Aboard The Mystery Train”, Scotty Moore reports that in these years Wayne’s behaviour had become increasingly erratic. Scotty, himself, was very supportive, recording and releasing records with Thomas on a record label he’d set up (Belle Meade). On August 15th 1971, Thomas drove down the entrance ramp on Interstate 240 in Memphis, crossed four lanes, went right across the partition straight into traffic coming from the other direction. He died seven hours later in hospital. Although the death was recorded as accidental, it was surely suicide. Another source, “Gravesites Of Southern Musicians” written by Edward Amos, reports that, shortly before his death, he had told others that “… he had parked his car across both lanes of an Interstate and turned off the car. Someone happened to notice and the police arrived before a virtual tragedy occurred”.

Thomas was buried next to brother Luther on August 17th 1971

 

Thomas Wayne (1940–1971)

 

Thomas Wayne photo 3

(front l to r) Thomas Wayne, Scotty Moore; (back l to r) Carroll Smith (bass) and Ron Stovall (drums) of The Cavaliers

 

Thomas Wayne discography at 45cat

Thomas Wayne discography at Rockin’ Country Style

Fernwood Records (with Thomas Wayne) facebook

Thomas Wayne biography (iTunes)

 

ONE HIT WONDERS ON TOPPERMOST
#1 Jody Reynolds
#2 James Ray
#3 Richie Barrett
#4 Mickey & Sylvia
#5 Scott McKenzie
#6 Blue
#7 Chris Kenner
#8 Dawn Penn
#9 Shep and the Limelites
#10 The Poni-Tails
#11 The La’s
#12 Thomas Wayne
#13 Don Gardner & Dee Dee Ford
#14 Carl Mann

 

Dave Stephens had a long career in IT – programming, consultancy, management etc. – before retiring in 2007. After spending time on the usual retiree type activities he eventually got round to writing on one of his favourite subjects, popular music, particularly, but not only, the sort that was around in his youth. He gained experience at ‘the writing thing’ by placing CD reviews on Amazon. This led to his first book “RocknRoll” which was published for Kindle in 2015. He followed this up with “London Rocks” in July 2016. You can follow him on Twitter @DangerousDaveXX

Read the Toppermosts of some of the other artists mentioned in this post:
Waylon Jennings; Elvis Presley; Charlie Rich; Townes Van Zandt; Gene Vincent

TopperPost #634

1 Comment

  1. Andrew Shields
    Jun 16, 2017

    Dave, thanks for this fascinating piece. Up to this point the only “Tragedy’ I knew was the Bee Gees overwrought song. Wayne’s is a far superior one and the background story to it is a very interesting one. And Wayne had a fine voice.

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