JERRY JAYE (By Tony Wilkinson)
Born Gerald Jaye Hatley, 19 October 1937, Manila, Arkansas
Around 6.45 p.m. on 13 April 1995, Jerry Jaye, his wife Darlene Battles and a small entourage arrived at a hall located in the countryside north of the Swedish city of Varberg and seemingly miles from anywhere. Only a few people were about but after five minutes, and in a seeming re-run of the start of the movie ”Rock Around The Clock”, a multitude commenced appearing - they streamed across the fields or up the road with seemingly all holding carrier bags emitting the clanking sound of bottles. Come 7.00 p.m. the joint was full and the air was pregnant with excitement as the audience, who ranged from puberty to pensioners, anticipated six hours of fun music and the first European performance of Jerry Jaye. Following on from two local bands, Jerry and Darlene took the stage and launched straight into the first of four spots with “My Girl Josephine”. The place erupted and a half-hour later people were standing on, or falling from, table tops swigging from the aforementioned bottles and cheering like demented demons. Jaye stood on the stage, with a pair of ladies knickers hanging from the end of his guitar, smiling from ear to ear and remembering back to the late sixties when he hit real big with “My Girl Josephine” in a styling that proved to be an acknowledged inspiration to John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Jerry Jaye was born Gerald J Hatley on 19 October 1937 in the small Arkansas town of Manila and was raised into a family of sharecroppers who undertook the back breaking work of growing cotton and similar. From the beginning, he assimilated the rich musical and cultural veins of both hillbilly and blues music and soon was making music. To quote Jaye: "I began playing music around the bars at night and I picked cotton during the day. People today look upon cotton picking through rose tinted glasses but man it was hard work, something that I do not want ever to have to return to. It was soul destroying and generally we only just managed to scrape a living."
In 1954, Jerry joined the Navy for four years to do his duty for Uncle Sam and, upon his demobilisation, vowed that he would not return to the cotton fields. When he arrived back home, he set about playing music for a living. Linking up with Tommy Baker on bass and Carl Fry on drums and featuring himself on guitar and vocals, the trio soon built up a strong local reputation as the band “to go and see” playing an eclectic mixture of rock ‘n’ roll, R&B and country. Acknowledging their increasing popularity, Joe Thompson (a disc jockey at station KBIB in Monette, Arkansas) suggested that they cut a single for local airplay, show promotion and as a road record to sell at gigs. Joe was acquainted with Roland Janes and made arrangements for the combo to drive up to Memphis in late 1966 to cut some sides at Roland’s Sonic Studio. Handing over the total sum of $13.00 for the privilege, the outfit cut two tunes - namely the Mickey Newbury song “Five Miles From Home” as the intended A-side which was laid down in four takes together with a tune that was proving popular on live appearances and which they knew as “Hello Josephine”. The latter was recorded in just one shot and was/is better known as the Fats Domino song “My Girl Josephine” .
Jaye recalls: “We did the song in one take because we’d been doing it so much on the club dates we played. I said to Roland “There’s just three people on here and when I take the guitar ride in the middle of the song, it’s gonna be empty”. He replied “Let’s get to it and we’ll see”. So I did the thing and I had reverb on my amp to make it sound a little better and when we go to the guitar ride, Roland jumped up and jammed some reverb through the board in the studio and there was a squeal … a clash. We didn’t pay no attention to it until the mix at the end and I said, “Roland, what’s that squeal in there?”. He said, “I guess it came through the board when I turned the reverb up”. I said, “We need to take that out, don’t we?” He laughed and responded “Nah… just leave it in there, it sounds all right”. As events turned out, I guess he was right!”
500 copies of the single were pressed on Jaye’s own Connie label, still bearing the title “Hello Josephine”, and when these had very quickly nearly sold out, Jerry took 25 copies of the disc to Joe Cuoghi who, apart from running Hi Records, owned Popular Tunes (the leading record store in Memphis) and from where he operated a jukebox supply service and one stop. These were passed out to various radio stations including Hal Suit at WMC in Memphis who made the disc his pick of the week. The record was hot and still heating. Jerry: "All of a sudden they got to ordering records from me through the club where I was working but it was the 'Josephine' song they were asking for. It wasn’t long before I’d sold nearly all the 500 copies."
None of this was lost on the enterprising Cuoghi who wrote to Jerry suggesting that as the record was starting to break, he may care to visit Hi Records to discuss a deal. The same day that the letter dropped into Jerry’s mailbox, Joe Cuoghi and fellow Hi Records luminary Ray Harris (the ex Sun label rocker) arrived on his doorstep and offered to purchase the record outright for $100.00. Jaye was a business-man and declined.
“$100.00 was quite a bit of money to me in those days but I told him “No. I’m still selling those things … I could do better than that by just pressing another 500 copies and selling them to jukebox operators. Of course at the time, I didn’t know that I was talking to one of the biggest operators in the business!”
After negotiations, the three agreed that ownership of the single would pass to Hi Records in return for a contract as a Hi recording artist together with standard royalties:
“That was just Joe’s alley and he said “Fine, let’s do it. Just come into my office to sign the papers. I did just that”.
Hi Records had national distribution in the USA via London Records, a subsidiary of the UK-based Decca Records Company, and with effective promotion, the record (now re-titled under its correct name of “My Girl Josephine”) started to climb the national charts when reissued on Hi in February 1967 and eventually peaked at position 29 on the hitparade. In early 1967, the music world was awash with psychedelia and other sorts of weirdness when like a breath of cleansing purification along came the back to basics rockin’ southern sounds of Jerry Jaye and his paean to Josephine - a styling that was subsequently reworked to considerable success by John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival. At one point, southern regional sales were so strong that Cuoghi’s outlets were selling more of this waxing than the then current Beatles release. The disc went on to sell, after adjustments for returns, around 800,000, not bad for a record that cost $13.00 to make. (There was an ensuing album and four follow up singles through to 1969).
As the record broke, Jaye was signed to Ray Brown’s National Artists Agency - with whom he stayed until 1976 - and was quickly assigned to a package tour. The other acts were Booker T and The MGs, Spanky and Our Gang, Lou Rawls and Lou Christie along with local support. At Jaye’s first date on the tour, he appeared before 15,550 souls at Charlotte, North Carolina - quite a change from the previous club dates where he’d play for an audience of between 50 to 100 people. The next night was in front of 10,000 fans in Detroit, with this pattern continuing for the remainder of the tour.
“That was more people than I’d ever seen in my life in one building. The town that I was from had a population of 1,700!. But it was great fun and I got to liking it. The kids at the time were into new “rock” music but they still liked what I was doing”.
When this tour concluded, he went on a sweep of 28 one-nighters throughout the mid-west region and thereafter, using his own band, played a series of dates in Canada, Texas and Oklahoma. Jerry recalls:
“It was fun but it was real hard work. When I finally got through with that tour of one-nighters, it felt like I’d been on the road for six months. The glamour had faded after the first few weeks of the tour because at some of the places we didn’t even get to have time to take a shower before we got on stage - and we were travelling between 300 to 700 miles a day! I used to have an electric razor that I’d plug into the back of my amplifier and I’d shave behind the curtains just before we went on”.
London Records were pressing Hi for an album to latch on to the success of “Josephine” and a recording session was quickly arranged at the Royal Studio, Memphis. Along with the likes of Reggie Young, Ace Cannon and Bobby Emmons, the entire album was cut in one session. The album was engineered by Ray Harris, and the desire to get the finished product on the market whilst the “Josephine” single was still hot resulted in a cartoon drawing on the cover.
“We cut the album in one day. We started around two in the afternoon, took a break around ten and went for a bite to eat, came back and by four the next morning we had the album cut. It was really rushed. They were in so much of a hurry that there was no time for a photographic session”
Despite the haste in the production, the music stands up well. Consisting of covers from the heyday of rock ‘n’ roll, the ease and consummate professionalism of Jaye and the regular Hi house band are a joy to the ears. All are done in the “Jaye” sparse styling style and are representative of the Hi sound - which was previously personified by the recordings of such as the Bill Black Combo and The Raunchtones (i.e. the aforementioned Hi studio musicians). The concentration on the Fats Domino back hit catalogue is pretty obvious with Jaye’s sparkling interpretations of “When My Dreamboat Comes Home” , “I’m Gonna Be A Wheel Someday”, “Ain’t That A Shame” and the exceptionally good version of “Let The Four Winds Blow”. In fact Jerry had no say in the choice of material for this album or any of the subsequent follow-up singles, the material being selected by Joe Cuoghi who was a big time Fats Domino fan. Jerry advises that Cuoghi received the complete Fats Domino catalogue from Dave Bartholomew for his consideration after the “Josephine” hit.
Melvin Endsley’s “Singing The Blues” is taken at a slower pace from the previous hit versions but the guitar work on the lower strings , presumably by Reggie Young, is exemplary. Both “Kansas City” and “”White Silver Sands” are served up with a Bill Black Combo styling, not too surprising really as both had been hits for the instrumental outfit. The versions of Clarence Frogman Henry’s “Ain’t Got No Home” and Jerry Lee’s “Whole Lot Of Shakin’ Goin’ On” both rock along nicely whilst “What Am I Living For”, previously a hit for Chuck Willis but recorded by countless other acts, has a tasty bluesy feel. The version of “My Girl Josephine” that appears on the album is a stereo re-cut, as the original was laid down in mono only - what does one expect for $13.00 - but is faithfully close nevertheless.
Despite all the rush, the LP was a reasonable commercial success with sales around the 225,000 level and was issued in Canada as well as the USA.
For the all-important follow-up single, Cuoghi consulted with several top disc jockeys and after Art Roberts at station WLC offered to promote “Let The Four Winds Blow” (c/w “Singing The Blues”), this was the title selected for release on Hi 2128 in 1967. Despite good promotion that included appearances on top television shows such as “Shindig” and “Hullabaloo” - but not “American Bandstand” for some unknown reason - the record failed to make its expected impact and only made the "Bubbling Under" section of the Billboard charts at # 108. However Jaye even today shows no sign of bitterness:
"I maintain a high regard for Joe Cuoghi, he stayed with me as an artist long after the impact of “Josephine” had subsided. He always paid regular royalties."
Around this time, Jerry and his band linked up with Ace Cannon and toured together as a mini-package. Cannon had originally cut the instrumental “Tuff” as the first release for Bill Black’s Louis label (number 2001) but secured a massive hit with the tune when it was reissued on Hi. Jaye recalls that they made a regular living.
There were a further three single releases after “Let The Four Winds Blow” but none caught on with the record buying public in any significant quantities. However that does not mean that the music contained thereon is poor, far from it. Hi 2139 was the next attempt at chart success, which is a first rate stab at Chuck Berry’s “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” coupled with a delightful country rocker, “In The Middle Of Nowhere” from the pen of noted Memphis producer Bill Cantrell. This was followed by a lovely updating of Lefty Frizzell’s “Long Black Veil” and Merle Haggard’s “Today I Started Loving You Again” (Hi 2150).
The final single before this phase of Jaye’s contract with Hi Records expired was “Never Going Back/You Got To Go” on Hi 2171 in 1969. Jerry Jaye’s music has a sparkling simplicity but succeeds in capturing the feel and vitality of the spiritual home of rock ‘n’ roll, namely Memphis Tennessee. .
Jerry’s contract with Hi expired in 1970, shortly after Cuoghi died and, whilst negotiating another record deal, he and his band (now known as The Jaywalkers) entered the studio to record the road album “Souvenir Album Of Most Requested Songs” which was released on Bejay Records. The label search concluded in 1971 with Jaye signing for the Nashville based Mega/Raintree set up. Jerry recalls : "I was playing in a club one night and Bob Tucker came in with Paul Loveless, a guy who worked at a local radio station. Bob told me that he knew Larry Rogers ( who is the brother of Kenny Rogers) who was the guy at the Lyn-Lou studio in Memphis and that he might be interested. So I went over there with my little four piece group which at the time had Bobby Neal playing guitar. Bobby later went with Ricky Nelson and was killed in the plane crash with him on New Year’s Eve in 1985. That was a tragedy as Bobby was a first rate picker. Anyway, we set up in the studio and started playing for Larry who liked what he heard and wanted to produce me."
Jaye recorded prolifically for the next four years for the Mega/Raintree group, including the unreleased Rick Nelson inspired “I Wanna Put On My Boogie Shoes”, and a total of seven singles were issued. These all made an impact on the lower reaches of the country charts: "We had a couple of regional hits but nothing big. When Larry Rogers signed a production deal with Columbia, I went with him. I laid down a multitude of tracks there but only one single was issued." This is a continuing source of bewilderment to Jerry as the top side, a revival of Tommy Edward’s “It’s All In The Game” enjoyed healthy sales when released in 1975 and the portent for future releases looked good. "Columbia was such a big label and they had an artist roster that was out of this world. My record reached No. 51 on the Billboard charts but I don’t think that Columbia even knew I recorded for them!”.
Jerry also fronted the Bill Black Combo during 1974 - 1974 as vocalist. The combo was led by Bob Tucker who took over the reins after the death of Bill Black in 1965 but which apparently has recently now been retired by Tucker.
Nick Pesce, who had become president of Hi Records after the death of Joe Cuoghi, approached Jerry in 1976 with a view to his returning to the label in return for efforts being undertaken to secure another hit record. This was like the proverbial son coming home and sessions were carried out at Lyn-Lou studio in Memphis with overdubs at the Columbia Studios in Nashville. The resulting product was the rockabilly orientated “Honky Tonk Women Love Redneck Men” which, true to Pesce’s word received good promotion and made the Top 30 on the country charts. An ensuing album with the same title was released which (unlike the “My Girl Josephine” LP with its cartoon drawing) bore colour photographs of Jerry - indeed he was shown in the company of three Memphis belles in most politically incorrect poses.
The backing musicians are Bobby Neal on guitar and Ben Jack on steel guitar and dobro from the aforementioned Jaywalkers along with Perry York on percussion, Henry “Butch” Carter on keyboards, future Shylo member Ronnie Scaife on guitar and Charlie McCoy on harmonica. In many ways, this album was years ahead of its time as the sparse feeling about the tracks are well in keeping with the rocking hillbilly music of the mid-eighties to the early nineties. The title track, complete with Billy Swan-styled guitar opening licks, really chugs along and all the musicians are in perfect sync as they are on “Hot And Still Heating” which was the follow-up single to “Honky Tonk Women Love Redneck Men”. The tracks “Standing Room Only”, “What’s Left Will Never Be Right” and “Drinkin’ My Way Back Home” provide a powerful insight into domestic strife and lost love. However it is the Jaye self composed “When Morning Comes To Memphis” - which was the third single released from the LP - that, in a three minute time capsule, paints a powerful and harrowing image of life as a down and out alcoholic.
Jerry had not forgotten his rockin’ hit days with this release as he included credible readings of Clarence Frogman Henry’s “Ain’t Got No Home” and Chuck Berry’s “Thirty Days” which he, like Ronnie Hawkins, re-titled as “Forty Days” - maybe life is that much slower down south. The album is rounded out with good renditions of the Willie Nelson classic song “Crazy” and the Bellamy Brothers' “Let Your Love Flow”. All in all, this was a truly fine body of work.
Both “Hot And Still Heating” and “When Morning Comes To Memphis” secured chart placings and seemingly all the right ingredients were in place for Jaye to become an major country star - but one who remained true to his rockin’ roots. However behind the scenes, Pesce had been negotiating the sale of Hi to the west coast based Cream Records and the bigger the hit-making potential of the artist roster (the label was a major league player in the soul market - as is evidenced by the numerous compilations once again available on UK Hi), the better was the asking price. The sale was concluded around 1977 and all Hi artists had a meeting with new owner Al Bennett who in turn promised continued recordings, releases and promotion. Indeed, Jaye cut various sessions over the next two years recording material which he describes as full of hit potential but nothing was released. "I don’t know what happened but I never did get anything going with Al Bennett - probably because he was not interested in country which is what I was into at the time." In addition, despite several worthy attempts over the years - and seemingly due to its Memphis base - Hi was never effectively able to carve a niche in the country field. Becoming disenchanted, Jerry sought and obtained (by mutual consent) a release from the label in 1979.
In 1980, he and his wife, Darlene Battles, who is a fine singer and composer in her own right, were booked into a series of dates along the Mississippi coast and enjoyed the area so much so that they relocated there and have remained to this very day. Apart from releasing an album and single with his wife on the Bejay label in 1984 to promote their then residency at the Kings Club, there have been no further record releases of new recordings. It is perhaps worth noting that there have been at least four other singers with the same name, including those who recorded for the Swan and Label Records, but they are not the same guy whose fine Memphis recordings we are celebrating with this release.
In 1995 Jerry played his first overseas date in Sweden, that was followed the same year by a series of shows here in the UK. In 1999, the couple returned to Sweden for another successful show and went into the recording studio and laid down a track with Scandinavian rocker Teddy Hill.
In 2005, Jerry linked up again with producer Larry Rogers and the outcome was the CD album ‘One More Time’ on the studio’s own Lyn-Lou label. The content revealed that Jerry had lost none of his effective winning ways and it received very positive reviews. However, there appeared to be a problem with distribution and a lack of promotion and consequently, the CD is today difficult to find – but the effort is well placed when one can succeeds in obtaining a copy of the darn thing and gives the content a listen – it is vintage Jerry Jaye. It is here that we take our leave of the Jerry Jaye story, he is happy living with Darlene in Biloxi but it is to be hoped that he will once again tread those rockin’ boards in Europe.
© Tony Wilkinson, January 2012
Sources: Interviews by Tony Wilkinson, and John Stafford, with Jerry Jaye in 1995 and 1999. Tony Wilkinson’s article which first appeared in the November 1995 issue of Now Dig This.
JERRY JAYE DISCOGRAPHY, compiled by Tony Wilkinson
Connie 101 Hello Josephine/Five Miles From Home 1967
My Girl Josephine Hi HL 12038/SHL 32038 1967
Souvenir Album Of Most Requested Songs Bejay 1370 1970
Honky Tonk Women Love Redneck Men Hi SHL 32102 1976
Kings Inn Presents Jerry Jaye & Darlene Battles Bejay 3089 1984
Hi Records - The Early Years Volume Two Hi DHI 442 1988
My Girl Josephine Combo JJ 32038 1991
My Girl Josephine Hi HIUKCD 122 1992
My Girl Josephine - Jerry Jaye 1967 - 76 Connie Hi 32038 1996
Honky Tonk Women Love Redneck Men…plus Edsel EDCD 629 1999
My Girl Josephine Edsel EDCD 630 2000
One More Time Lyn-Lou records LLRCD 1
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