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Clip: Hoekstra on Little Darlin'

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  • Carl Zimring
    Pardon me, Little Darlin January 16, 2005 BY DAVE HOEKSTRA Staff Reporter If you like
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 16, 2005

      Pardon me, Little Darlin'

      January 16, 2005

      BY DAVE HOEKSTRA Staff Reporter

      If you like Kenny Chesney and Rascal Flatts, you'll hate Little Darlin'

      The renegade country label sprang came from the big dreams of the 1960s.
      Bodacious songs such as Stonewall Jackson's "Pint of No Return," Groovy Joe
      Poovey's "He's in a Hurry (To Get Home to My Wife)" and Johnny Paycheck's
      "(Pardon Me) I've Got Someone to Kill" were drenched in steel guitar, edgy
      vocals and pop-top bass.

      Aubrey Mayhew, now 78, is the colorful producer of Little Darlin'. He's
      also known as one of the nation's biggest collectors of 1960s JFK
      memorabilia, with more than 300,000 Kennedy related items in his
      possession. He's so obsessive about Kennedy, he purchased the infamous
      Texas Book Depository at a 1970 auction.

      Mayhew is overseeing the Little Darlin' reissues, which will roll out
      through 2005 and 2006 via Koch Records/Nashville. Due next month are feisty
      tunes from Jeannie C. Riley and raw Don Williams material.

      Little Darlin's hard mid-1960s country is truly renegade, especially since
      it was recorded when Nashville was steeped in the lush strings and fancy
      arrangements of the countrypolitian movement. There are nearly 5,000
      unreleased sides of Little Darlin' material, including live tracks from
      bluesman Lightnin' Hopkins, gospel songs from Johnny Paycheck and material
      from an unlikely source, Clint Eastwood.

      "Clint always said he was a singer," Mayhew recalled from Koch's Nashville
      office. "But he got trapped into doing an album by some slick guys in
      Philadelphia. This is when he was doing the 'Rawhide' thing." In 1961, the
      singing cowboy got off to an inauspicious start when he cut the country-pop
      single "Unknown Girl" that was more Bobby Goldsboro than Clint Eastwood.
      "That put a bitter taste in his mouth," Mayhew said.

      Eastwood decided to give music another try when an industry friend told
      Eastwood that Mayhew could be trusted. By 1970, Little Darlin' had morphed
      into Certron Records. And so Eastwood went to Nashville to cut the Certron
      single "Burning Bridges," featured in his movie "Kelly's Heroes" (which
      also co-starred roots singer Harry Dean Stanton) and "six or eight other
      things," according to Mayhew.

      Today, Little Darlin' has a sympathetic ear in Nick Hunter, the general
      manager of Koch Records/Nashville and a regular face at Wrigley Field. They
      go way back; Mayhew first hired Hunter in 1967 as sales head at Little

      The seeds of "Little Darlin'" go back even further; it started out as a New
      York-based "hip pocket operation," in Mayhew's words. "Little Darlin' was a
      country phrase people used," said Mayhew, who hails from Gretna, Va. "Well,
      maybe I used it more than anybody."

      Mayhew is a lifer in the record business. In 1961, he was working at
      Pickwick Records, then a 99-cent budget line based in New York. Mayhew had
      heard about a down-on-his-luck Nashville singer named Donald Lytle. After a
      little investigating, Mayhew found Lytle sleeping under the Shelby Street
      Bridge in Nashville. He soon changed Lytle's name to the more
      renegade-sounding Johnny Paycheck. (The first Johnny Paycheck was a Des
      Moines boxer who was one of Joe Louis' tomato cans in his "Bum of the
      Month" fights.)

      With Paycheck on board, Mayhew asked Pickwick to start a country label.
      "They didn't want to do it, but they allowed me to release a record ['The
      Girl They Talk About'] with him, which got some action," Mayhew said. "Then
      we recorded 'A-11' in New York with George Jones' band. That took off and
      that's when I started building Paycheck."

      After "A-11" hit, Mayhew quit Pickwick and set up his own office in New
      York, and then in 1966 moved to Nashville, where he formally launched
      Little Darlin'.

      While at the label, Paycheck wrote "Apartment #9," which became a huge hit
      in December 1966 for Tammy Wynette. Mayhew and Paycheck also wrote "(Pardon
      Me) I've Got Someone to Kill."

      "I didn't want to do what anybody else was doing, so we came up with the
      most extreme things we could," said Mayhew, who lives and works in the
      renovated Roxy movie theater in East Nashville. "Most of it came natural.
      Paycheck was a writer like Hank Williams. Williams was a songwriting icon,
      but he didn't write songs. Fred Rose [Williams' publisher] wrote songs.
      Williams had great ideas but he didn't know how to complete them. Fred
      would finish them up. That was like Paycheck. He was one of the best
      songwriters I ever met, but he was so loose and unsettled that he didn't
      have the patience to finish the songs."

      Paycheck died in February 2003, after a long battle with emphysema. He was

      But during his heyday, Paycheck did his share of hell-raising. Mayhew wrote
      "The Pint of No Return," which would become a signature song for Stonewall
      Jackson, after a night out with Paycheck. Early in his career, Paycheck was
      playing a nearly empty club in Secacaus, N.J. "Two girls were at a table
      and I went over and started talking to them," Mayhew said. "During his
      break, Paycheck came over. We all ended up going out after the show.
      Paycheck was driving. We had no idea where we were. We went down this long
      road and came to a pier on the seashore. It was 5 in the morning. There was
      a sign that said 'Point of No Return.'

      "I looked at Paycheck, he looked at me. He was drunk. I wasn't. I said,
      'Paycheck, you've just reached the pint of no return.' We took the girls
      home, went to the hotel and wrote the song. It had to be pretty important
      to turn down two pretty-looking women."

      The ringer of the current Little Darlin' reissues is "The Little Darlin'
      Sound of Stonewall Jackson (The Mighty Stonewall Jackson Sings Modern Hits
      & Original Favorites)." Now 73, Stonewall Jackson -- his real name --
      occasionally still appears at the Grand Ole Opry.

      "He was with Columbia for years and put out over 60 albums," Mayhew said.
      "I revived Little Darlin' in 1979 after it laid dormant for 10 years.
      Nothing was happening with Stonewall, so I asked if he'd like to start
      recording again. He's pure country. I wanted to change him to the outlaw
      image, which was the thing going in country music at the time. I gave him a
      big black cowboy hat. We gave him different songs. And, boy, he resisted
      all of that."

      Jackson was assigned to sing "Spirits of St. Louis," "Alcohol of Fame,"
      Mayhew and Paycheck's "We're the Kind of People That Make the Jukebox Play"
      and Jackson's own "Listening to Johnny Paycheck."

      Jackson, who has lived in the Nashville area since 1956, now lives on a
      27-acre gentleman farm in Brentwood, Tenn., purchased from crooner Eddy
      Arnold. In a separate interview, Jackson recalled with a sigh, "Oh, the boy
      from New York [Mayhew]. I didn't like that hat they put on me. It looked
      like I had been out on the range for quite some time. But I didn't mind the
      songs much. I wrote 'Listening to Johnny Paycheck' because an attitude like
      'Take That Job and Shove It' could get you in a lot of trouble in real
      life. You can get in trouble listening to Paycheck.

      "'The Pint of No Return' goes along with country music. Hank Williams would
      have loved that song. My first No. 1 record was 'Life to Go' [1958] that
      talked about the honky tonk in town. There was a time at the Opry when they
      frowned about you singing anything about drinking."

      And Jackson often frowned upon Mayhew's ideas. "He and I didn't get along
      mainly because of me trying to change his image," Mayhew said. "He's a good
      father and husband and a good singer, but no one would ever want Stonewall
      operating on him, let's put it that way."

      On the recording of "Pint of No Return," Jackson's piercing vocals are
      framed by honky-tonk piano, blues harmonica and pedal steel, all performed
      by the Little Darlin' house band. It featured the late Junior Huskey on
      bass, Pete Wade on lead guitar, Jerry Whitehurst on piano (who went on to
      be pianist on "The Ralph Emery Show"), the late Nashville session whiz
      Kenny Buttery on drums and Lloyd Green on pedal steel. Green started with
      Stonewall Jackson.

      "Hal Rugg [pedal steel player for George Jones and Porter Wagoner] also
      started with me," recalled Jackson before getting on his bus for a casino
      gig with Connie Smith in Mount Pleasant, Mich. "I'm the one who told him to
      put a bite in his playing. He played so smooth, he wasn't getting work.
      Listen to Hank Williams records. He has a bite to everything he does. You
      have to have that bite."

      Mayhew added, "Most Nashville sidemen don't like to break the mold. They
      have a certain pride about them. I knew these guys very well. I wanted to
      do something different, and I didn't want resistance. When I saw a musician
      limit himself, I would push him to things he hadn't thought of doing."

      Conversely, Little Darlin's upcoming reissues with Lightnin' Hopkins are
      modest field recordings that Mayhew made in 1968-69 with Hopkins when he
      was living in Houston. "I cut five albums on him," Mayhew said. "It's good
      stuff nobody has heard. It's just him and his guitar. There's a lot of
      conversation on it. I couldn't convince him I was from Nashville. He always
      thought I was from New York, so he wrote a song called 'The Man From New

      As fate would have it, the Man from New York was in Houston in November
      1963 when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. At the time, Mayhew
      was working for the New York-based Diplomat Records. "I was staying at the
      Shamrock Hotel in Houston, trying to buy some George Jones tapes from Pappy
      Daily [the owner of Jones' Starday record label]," he said. "The Kennedy
      assassination happened right there on television. I immediately called a
      friend in Houston, who brought over two tape recorders and all the tape he
      could carry.

      "We recorded everything off the television for about 12 hours. I rushed the
      material back to New York, and we put out the first 'Kennedy Speeches'
      album. At that time, we had 300 Woolworth stores in our pocket. We got
      prime display. We sold about 3 million albums in four months."

      This incident led Mayhew to his affinity for Kennedy memorabilia. His prize
      possession is the Texas Book Depository. "Why did I buy it?" he asks. "It
      was a premium item for my collection. I paid $600,000 for it."

      Mayhew removed the original window where Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly shot
      Kennedy. Mayhew claims the window is stored in Nashville, but some in
      Dallas argue that it is not the original window. "There's a debate over
      everything in life," Mayhew said emphatically. "I don't lie! I don't cheat!
      I don't steal! I saw them take that window out."

      In a somewhat ironic footnote, Mayhew began his Kennedy collection by
      purchasing hundreds of metal objects that were created with JFK's likeness.
      It made sense for a rebel country producer with an expansive sense of

      And the Mayhew saga takes another ironic twist. After Paycheck left Mayhew,
      Koch's Hunter rediscovered the singer and signed him to Epic Records in
      1970. Longtime colleagues Hunter and Mayhew still like to have a good time.
      The Little Darlin' liner notes promote an upcoming release by Bolivar
      Priff. But there's no such artist. It's a goof-off name for the legendary
      Nashville producer-songwriter "Cowboy" Jack Clement. And yet another
      example of that renegade Little Darlin' spirit.

      Mayhew bebops his way into Parker estate

      Aubrey Mayhew has led an American life that includes running with Johnny
      Paycheck, buying the infamous Texas Book Depository in Dallas and winding
      up with the rights to the Charlie Parker songbook.

      Mayhew met Parker in 1953 when he was running the WCOP Jamboree in Boston.
      "Charlie used to play a jazz club there," Mayhew said in a recent interview
      from Nashville. "[New York disc jockey] Symphony Sid got fired, so we hired
      him in Boston to do our midnight show. Sid would bring jazz artists to
      Boston, but he was slick. He'd bring them up on a bus and pay them $20 to
      play in a club he was running. He would also play them on our station.

      "I went over to the club one night and Parker was sitting at the table. I
      asked him how much he was getting paid for the taping. He said he wasn't
      getting paid anything. So I jumped on Sid about that, went to Parker and
      said, 'Don't you tape anything for anybody unless you get paid.' I offered
      him $1,000 for the taping we did that night. That bonded us together."

      After Parker died in 1955, his widow Doris contacted Mayhew. In 1959,
      Mayhew joined the Parker estate as a music adviser and by 1961 Doris Parker
      and Mayhew launched the Charlie Parker Records imprint. The Parker Records
      roster included saxophonist Cecil Payne, bop pianist Duke Jordan, drummer
      Cozy Cole (of Louis Armstrong's All-Stars) and several Parker sides.

      After the label stopped issuing product in 1965, Doris assigned all the
      rights to Mayhew.

      "And I've owned all the Charlie Parker rights ever since," Mayhew said.

      Dave Hoekstra
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