Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

September 29, 2019

Malcolm Yelvington, “Rockin’ With My Baby” (Sun-Charly UK, CD)

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MALCOLM YELVINGTON, “Rockin’ With My Baby”

Charly/Sun/Complete Rock’n’Roll CD, 26 tracks, released 2010

original recordings made at Sun Studios, Memphis, 1954-1957

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Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee

Just Rollin’ Along

Yakety Yak (Alt.2)

I’ve Got The Blues (Blues In The Bottom Of My Shoes) (Alt.2)

Gonna Have Myself A Ball

Rockin’ With My Baby

It’s Me, Baby

First And Last Love

Mr. Blues (Alt.1)

I Ask You To Stay (Alt.1)

Trumpet (Alt.3)

Goodbye Marie (Alt.2)

Goin’To The Sea (Ocean)

Let The Moon Say Goodbye

Yakety Yak (Alt.1)

I’ve Got The Blues (Blues In The Bottom Of My Shoes) (Alt.1)

Rockin’ With My Baby (Alt.1)

It’s Me Baby (Alt.1)

Mr. Blues (Alt.2)

I Ask You To Stay (Alt.2)

Trumpet (Alt.1)

Goodbye Marie (Alt.1)

Rockin’ With My Baby (Alt.2)

Trumpet (Alt.2)

It’s Me Baby (Home Demo)

Rockin’ With My Baby (Home Demo)

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Malcolm Yelvington was a bit older than the typical Sun artist, in his 30’s when he recorded the first of his two released Sun singles, and he had a rich background, playing the mid-South area for at least a decade prior to this recording and having his own radio show. Write-ups on him mention his early musical heroes as being Bob Wills and Ernest Tubb, and that’s quite clear when you think about it, although he certainly transformed those influences into something unique. Like Wills, he’s got the jive-talk patter, floating over the beat, down cold, and his work always swings; like Tubb, he can reach down inside himself for a cavernous baritone when he needs to. He knows from his years of experience with small-town audiences the appeal of a good novelty song, a catchy-tagline, and a kind of self-deprecating ‘aw, shucks’ tone to his vocals. Strangely, the person he reminds me of most is western sidekick Guy Wilkerson, who played Panhandle Perkins (see B&W pic)


in a series of PRC “Texas Rangers” westerns, starring James Newill (in the earlier ones), Dave O’Brien (in all of them), and Tex Ritter (replacing, Newill in the final 8). Something about the stance and the timing evokes “Panhandle Perkins,” although Wilkerson did not sing. There’s also a bit of Smiley Burnette in Yelvington, which is no surprise since the 40’s and 50’s, Yelvington’s prime period of live performance in the Mid South, was the period of country “entertainers,” when comedy was part of the show (it even was in Elvis’ early days) and you had to entertain everyone, from five to seventy-five, and also Yelvington got his start playing at a movie theater in between shows. As with Bill Haley, it’s likely that a lot of those shows were westerns, and with Columbia’s Durango Kid (Charles Starrett) westerns, featuring the novelty songs and comedic antics of Smiley Burnette, dominating the marketplace in the late 40’s, Malcolm and crew may well have been the supporting act to Smiley and Durango more than once. There is a certain humorous quality bubbling under the surface on most of Yelvington’s material that sets him apart from most of the Sun roster and gives his records a special sound that would surely have been appealing to record buyers, though they might not have been able to define what that mysterious but appealing quality was. Yelvington’s vocals are always entertaining and have the kind of “country hepcat” authenticity that can’t be faked. Again, he was a unique presence at Sun, but in the larger marketplace such distinctive and multi-talented, but older, artists such as Yelvington (or Onie Wheeler) could not compete with an Elvis or even a Carl Perkins or a Johnny Cash. Fortunately, a good body of work survives on Mr. Yelvington….14 songs, and with alternate takes and the like, enough for a 26 (Charly) or 28 (Bear Family) CD.

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Yelvington’s STAR RHYTHM BOYS are the perfect example of how a small Western Swing-based unit, with strong honky tonk and country boogie roots, can effortlessly put one foot into the rock and roll world without ever leaving behind the fact that they are first and foremost a country band.

As with the CD collections of Sun artists such as Barbara Pittman and Jack Earls, when there is only a dozen or so “songs” surviving, the albums are extended to CD length by alternate versions, and at Sun those usually differed from each other significantly. The albums mentioned above, along with this one, present all the songs once before any alternate versions are introduced, and that’s probably the best approach for the general audience. I myself enjoy albums where the alternate versions are presented one next to the other so we can compare the differences and similarities more clearly, but I know (based on the reaction of family and friends when I play such albums) that not everyone prefers that approach. Whoever compiled this CD did front-load the album with the “best” versions of the songs, the most rocking and with the most confident and character-filled vocals, and it’s a nice touch to finish off the album with the two home demos, with a band but probably recorded in the artist’s living room. I’d had Yelvington’s album on Collector-White Label of later recordings, but somehow this album  of prime Sun material (which has been out for 9 years) flew under my radar until I saw a sealed copy for $4.99 at the Half-Price Books in San Marcos, Texas, and my life is richer now because of it. Malcolm Yelvington’s recordings, the two original singles issued at the time, and the many other tracks and alternates, ALL have the rich, downhome, echoed Memphis sound that Sun did better than anyone (M.Y. also recorded for Meteor under a pseudonym, though that got even less exposure than the Sun singles). There’s not a weak or even average track here. If you are into Sun Records but don’t have this collection, you need it (and it’s cheap….I saw it on Discogs for $4.50, and there were a few sealed copies at Half-Price Books, so I’m guessing that the album has hit the netherworld of remaindered/cut-price distribution, which we used to call cut-outs).


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On a personal note, I was once in the same room with Malcolm Yelvington. Mary Anne and I made a trip to Memphis in 1996, and of course we stopped at Sun Studios. After we bought tickets for the tour, we sipped a soda in the waiting area/gift shop, and a lanky  older man came up to speak with the manager of the Sun operation….and that voice was instantly recognizable, even 40 years after his Sun records and while talking, not singing.  He did not say his name, but he talked about what days he’d be working there in the coming week and asked about some items he had for sale on consignment, and somehow I knew, turning to Mary Anne and excitedly whispering in her ear, “that’s Malcolm Yelvington!” I didn’t want to bother him, and he went on his way a few minutes later, but I asked the manager if it was actually M.Y., and he said it was and mentioned that he appeared from time to time to chat and reminisce with Sun fans and what a kind and jovial fellow he was. By the way, when my son was recently passing through Memphis and asked me if Graceland was worth seeing (it certainly is), knowing what an Elvis fan I am, I told him yes it was, BUT if he had time to visit only one thing in Memphis, it should be Sun Studios, not Graceland. I would still say that to anyone reading this.

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1987 Japanese “P-Vine Special” LP of Yelvington tracks backed with material from Sun drummer Johnny Bernero

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the Bear Family (Germany) compilation of Yelvington’s complete Sun recordings predates the Charly by a few years and contains a few more alternate versions, but lacks the home demos found at the end of the Charly CD reviewed here

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