Click to listen

Click to listen

Sept. 15: Bristol, Tenn., native Ernest J. Ford capitalized on the post-World War II boogie craze on several of his early records for Capitol. Those hot numbers pointed the way to rock ‘n’ roll, and this one — recorded on a lark and held back for release — made the biggest splash of all.

According to the booklet for Ford’s Masters 1949-1976 box set (1994), Ford wrote “Shot Gun Boogie” while dove hunting in the woods near his home in Southern California. He offered it up to fill out time on a recording session on July 27, 1950. The late steel guitar virtuoso Speedy West recalled that producer Lee Gillette seemed doubtful, exclaiming, “SHOT GUN BOOGIE? What the hell’s that?” West said the label folks didn’t want to release it. When they did put it out late that year, it surprised them all by becoming Ford’s second No. 1 hit, topping the Billboard country chart for 10 weeks. It also reached No. 14 on the pop chart.

Aside from Ford’s great vocal styling, what stands out is the quality of the musicianship. The hottest players in California country music — West, electric guitarist Jimmy Bryant, fiddler Harold Hensley, pianist Billy Liebert, drummer Roy Harte, bassist (and Capitol executive) Cliffie Stone — accompanied Ford on his records and turned in outstanding work every time. (Watch them in action on this YouTube video.)

This record, cut almost 60 years ago, holds up great today, as do many of the early Capitol releases. For that, we can thank the label’s early move to a new technology: magnetic tape. Capitol started using tape in the late 1940s, while other labels were still cutting directly to disc. The sonic difference is remarkable.

Almost two decades after it was recorded, “Shot Gun Boogie” pointed Pennsylvania teenager Rich Kienzle down the path that would make him a leading authority on country and roots music. He writes in the Masters 1949-1976 booklet:

In 1968 while playing records at a friend’s house, I found his mother’s copy of the Sixteen Tons album. I took Jimi Hendrix off the turntable and put Ernie on. … “Shot Gun Boogie,” recorded before I was born, destroyed me. Ernie’s sassy vocal with the boogie beat, swinging fiddle and blazing guitars … swung. It bopped along like early rock and roll. I’d never heard that kind of country music before and I didn’t quite understand what it was. But after that I sought it out wherever I could find it.

— Kevin Paulk, 3 Chords a Day

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