Born Samuel Todd Lawmaster, 18 July 1930, Sasakawa, Oklahoma
The son of an oil field worker, Sammy Masters was born in Sasakawa, Oklahoma. He showed an early aptitude for music, making his first radio appearance at the age of twelve, singing live at Cain's Academy Dance Hall in Tulsa with Johnnie Lee Wills (one of Bob Wills' brothers). His parents travelled through Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico before finally settling in Los Angeles in 1947. There, at Fremont High School, Masters formed his first band, which included future Champs guitarist Dale Norris. After a stint with western swing bands (Ole Rasmussen, Spade Cooley), Sammy cut his first record, "Lost Little Nickel"/"May I Call You Darling" (Cormac 1171, 1951), which is extremely rare. Deke Dickerson reissued "Lost Little Nickel" in 1998 on his Ecco-Fonic label, as part of an EP. Praguefrank mentions a second Cormac single (1172) on his website, "I'm Gonna Cry An Ocean Full Of Tears"/"Her Soul Was Full Of Hope", but there is no proof that this record actually exists. After serving in the Korean War, Masters gained further experience on shows such as Cliffie Stone's Hometown Jamboree.
In 1955 he began demo-ing material for 4 Star, a Pasadena-based label and publishing company, owned by Bill McCall. Soon he made his mark when Patsy Cline recorded his song "Turn the Cards Slowly" (Coral 61523, released in November 1955). McCall then gave Sammy the chance to cut some self-penned rockabilly tunes for Four Star. The great double-sider "Pink Cadillac"/"Some Like It Hot" came out in May 1956 on 4 Star 1695, with Jimmy Bryant on lead guitar. ("Pink Cadillac" was covered by Rusty Draper on Mercury.) Unbeknownst to Masters, Bill McCall made a deal with Modern Records, which reissued "Pink Cadillac" in September 1956 (Modern 1003), with overdubbed drums, a different flip-side ("What's Up" - not sung by Sammy) and label credit going to one Johnny Todd. Neither release achieved significant sales. From the same session as "Pink Cadillac" came his next single, "Whop-T-Bop" (4 Star 1697), which was released with two different B-sides ("Flat Feet" and "2-Rock A-4"). Again no sales to write home about. There would be a few more sides recorded at Four Star which appeared on singles, EP's and on a 1957 Decca 45 ("Tall Grows the Sycamore"). By the end of 1957 his contract with Bill McCall's label was up.
Meanwhile Masters kept on writing songs and cutting demos. In 1959 he went to work for the small Lode label, owned by his good friend Terry Fell (of "Truck Drivin' Man" fame), who ran Lode out of his home in the L.A. suburb of Downey. Sammy's first release for the label was an adap- tation of an old folk song from 1907, "Red Wing". Retitled "Rockin' Red Wing", it would become his only hit, peaking at # 64 in Billboard in April 1960. Initially Fell leased the master to Warner Bros who put it out in September 1959 after adding a swathe of echo, but it didn't make the charts. In February 1960 "Rockin' Red Wing" was reissued on Lode without the additional reverb, and this time it resulted in a national chart placing, helped by an appearance on American Bandstand. In the UK the record reached # 36.
Subsequent singles on Lode went nowhere. One of them featured Terry Fell's composition "Never", which had been recorded by Eddie Cochran in 1957, but this version was not issued until 1962. In 1961 Masters set up his own label, Galahad Records, for which he recorded until 1968. Some of the masters were leased to Kapp and Dot and "A Big Man Cried"/ "I Fought the Law" (Kapp 613) saw a UK release on London HLR 9949, but nothing charted. In 1964 Sammy recorded a gospel album for Galahad.
Gradually Masters began to devote more and more time to TV production work. From 1959 until its demise in 1972 he co-hosted "Cal's Corral", a country and western variety show on KCOP TV in L.A., featuring guests such as Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell. He also produced Top 40 shows and talent shows. His biggest earner as a songwriter was "Who Can I Count On", first recorded by Jewel [Akens] and Eddie [Daniels] in 1959 (with Eddie Cochran on guitar), subsequently released as the B-side of Patsy Cline's biggest hit, "Crazy" (1961), and covered later by Bobby Darin (on a Capitol LP), Wayne Newton and others.
More recent times have seen him cut an album, "Everybody Digs Sammy Masters" (1997) for the Dionysus label, with Deke Dickerson and Ray Campi among the supporting crew. In 1998 he made his long awaited European debut at Hemsby (on the same bill as Merrill Moore, Joe Clay and Otis Williams) where he was accompanied by his long-time guitarist Carl Walden. Sammy Masters died peacefully in his sleep on March 8, 2013, aged 82.
Discography / sessionography :
CD : Rockin' Red Wing (Jukebox CDR 8265102). 31 tracks from 1951-66. Released in 2006. Annotated by Paul Vidal. Probably hard to get, but Goofin' in Helsinki still has copies.
Acknowledgements : Paul Vidal, Gary Myers, Rob Finnis.
Dik, March 2013
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