Sunday, August 26, 2007

78s fRom HeLL: Polly Possum and Joe Wolverton - Sin In Satin (1952)

I didn't know a thing about this disc when I found it years ago.
This was another example of my gambling a few cents on a mysterious old record with an intriguing combination of song title and artist name.

As is thankfully often the case, the gamble payed off beautifully!

Polly Possum was the stage name for country vocalist Polly O'Neal.
I'm not able to find much info on her (or The Dog Patch Boys) beyond her involvement with
Joe Wolverton.

Wolverton's name usually comes up in reference to his relationship with guitar and recording legend Les Paul.

Joe Wolverton (1906 - 1994) had mentored Les Paul, and was his guitar teacher in the early 1920s. The two performed together as a duo into the early '30s. They split over artistic differences in 1933 - - Paul wanted to move to playing more jazz and going electric, and Wolverton's interest at the time lay with acoustic country music.

Wolverton played in radio bands in the 1930s, and in 1943 was leading a 'kountry korn' band called The Local Yokels when he was enlisted by Spike Jones to become one of his City Slickers.
He performed with the band on and off between '43 and '46, and his guitar can be heard on some of the 1943 Spike Jones Standard Radio Transcription recordings.

Following his tenure with Jones, he played (now electric guitar) on several Polly Possum records, which all seem to date from the early 1950s.

For much more info regarding Joe Wolverton:
Click over to a bio page written by Eugene Chadbourne at AllMusic*, and there's also a remarkable bit of research on display at this 2003 forum query page at Google Answers. (click for links)

Listen to:
Polly Possum and Joe Wolverton with The Dog Patch Boys
- Sin In Satin

(Columbia 78, 1952)
(click for audio)

- - and by request, the flip side!
Listen to:

Polly Possum and Joe Wolverton with The Dog Patch Boys - Don't Talk To Me About Men
(Columbia 78, 1952)
(click for audio)

- UPDATE, 5.29.09: Bonanza!

Click over now to Uncle Gil's Rockin' Archives for 'Sad Singin', Slow Ridin''; #76 in The Hillbilly Researcher series.

As of this writing, 20 classic Polly Possum and Joe Wolverton tracks tracks are available for download as WMA files.
(I found I was easily able to convert them to mp3s after visiting here.)

- *UPDATE, 5.29.09: Sadly, the Allmusic Guide link to Eugene Chadbourne's Joe Wolverton bio seems to be dead.
Fortunately I was able to grab it from a Wolverton MySpace page erected by a musical protégé, Kathleen Williamson, who studied and played with Wolverton from 1978 - '86.

(There are also a couple of photos of Joe to be seen via her website.)

I've posted Chadbourne's text below...


Every person who straps on a Les Paul guitar owes a debt of gratitude to Joe Wolverton, got that?

This Midwesterner was Les Paul's guitar teacher in the early '20s, but never once tried to take credit for inspiring the invention of the electric guitar, as many a lesser man might. The great man's biographers do not try to dodge the influence of Wolverton, admitting that Les Paul had studied with "regional players like Pie Plant Pete and Sunny Joe Wolverton."

The latter guitarist used Sunny Joe's name while playing in a Western band, which is what he was doing when the youthful Les Paul went to hear him and stood drooling by the bandstand. Wolverton was doing something Paul had never seen a guitarist doing before: playing above the third fret.

Wolverton, impressed with the kid and ticked off with the band's vocalist, convinced his boss to fire his enemy and hire Les Paul in his place. Wolverton apparently gave his new protégé the suggested stage name of Rhubarb Red. Paul continued doing a hillbilly act in Chicago in the '30s as Rhubarb Red and his first records in 1936 were even issued on the Montgomery Ward label as Rhubarb Red. The name did not catch on, or a lot of guitarists might be playing the Rhubarb Red model axe instead.

At any rate, Wolverton and Paul continued working together as a duo, Sunny Joe and Rhubarb Red, with the latter picker covering guitar, jug, harmonica, and piano while the former played guitar, banjo, and fiddle; both sang. The combination became a hit through the two's non-stop Midwest touring, including gigs at radio stations, clubs, fairs, theaters, and dancehalls.

One of the first PA systems ever constructed was built by Paul during these tours as a gadget in order for the duo to announce upcoming shows whenever they would hit a new town. The pair broke up after the 1933 Chicago World's Fair. It was by then an artistic conflict, with Paul wanting to play jazz and go electric, while Wolverton wanted to remain country and acoustic.

Wolverton's country career would largely consist of some recording with Polly O'Neal, a country vocalist who also used the stage name Polly Possum, and led a group called the Dogpatch Boys. Heading for California, the Wolverton story now includes a clear example of him having had an original idea that others took to achieve great success and glory.

He played guitar with Spike Jones & His City Slickers for two years beginning in 1943 and again briefly in 1946, and had been working on the radio behind singer Betty Bennett when the madcap bandleader found him.
But it was apparently Wolverton who gave Jones the entire idea for developing a new kind of band. Wolverton shared Jones' cornpone sense of humor, to the point of already having his own group, entitled the Local Yokels, that played goofy instruments. This novelty combo had already appeared on the NBC radio show One Half Hour. If Jones had had his way, it would have been Spike Jones & the Local Yokels, because this was apparently his first choice for a group name once he heard and saw what Wolverton was up to. He even tried to buy the name from the guitarist, who refused, but did sell Jones some of the wacky instruments his group was using.

Wolverton officially joined the new Jones band on banjo and guitar when it set out on its second concert tour. He was featured with the band on broadcasts of the Bob Burns Show in 1943, much of which was recorded for the Standard Transcription library and later released on CD anthologies.

Following a tenure with Jones, Wolverton worked something of a dream job for a single guy as one of the only male members of the all-girl orchestra, the Polly Ship. He did a tour of Japan with the group in 1953, apparently a rare example of a ship taking a plane.

Around the same time, he was involved with the aforementioned Polly Possum, but whether this was also Polly Ship or whether Wolverton was just plain polly-jolly is unknown. The country recordings, including the songs "Sad Singin' Slow Ridin'", the enticing "Sin and Satin", and "Just Five Years Ago" were issued by labels such as Columbia on various 78s or 45s, and are said to be an interesting blend of country & western swing.

Later that decade, the guitarist returned to the Orient, touring military bases with a solo act. In the late '50s and early '60s, he worked in a guitar duo with Joe Wolfe out of Las Vegas.
~ Eugene Chadbourne, All Music Guide


Timmy said...

I should like to say what a treat it is to have such a thorough exibit as is this record. The label alone is of wonderment... Why, I'm thinking I'll make labels using this as a model. Sure hope Sony won't get pissed...
Anyways, thanx!

MFLECK said...

Re Sonny Joe Wolverton
Please contact re above
Marilyn Wolverton Fleck
May 27th 2009

Freshly-stirred links