Wednesday, 30 January 2013
Melvin Endsley born 30 January 1934
Melvin Endsley, (30 January 1934 - 16 August 2004) was the composer of one of the most popular songs of the 20th century, Singin' the Blues, perhaps best-remembered in the version by Guy Mitchell which topped the charts in 1957. By rights, Melvin Endsley should have been a major country artist of the late '50s -- he had the talent, and the songs, and the drive, but not the luck to become as well known as, say, Marty Robbins. But he provided Robbins with one of the biggest hits of his career, "Singin' the Blues," and became a popular artist on the Grand Ole Opry and the Louisiana Hayride, performing from a wheelchair.
Endsley was born in Drasco, Arkansas in 1934. He contracted polio when he was three and was to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. His condition was so severe that, from the age of 11, he spent three years in the Crippled Children's Hospital in Memphis. His best friend became the radio and he acquired a love of country music. Although his hands were too stiff to play the guitar conventionally, he had an instrument especially tuned for him and he would slide a steel bar up and down the frets. He even formed a band while he was in hospital.
Endsley returned to Drasco and despite having missed so much schooling was determined to graduate, which he did in 1954. He became a regular performer on Wayne Raney's radio show and included his own songs. His hero was Hank Williams, who had died in 1953, and he wrote in that style. "Singing the Blues", with its semi-yodelling, can be seen as an extension of Williams's "Lovesick Blues".
Knowing he had written a potential hit, Endsley decided to take it to Nashville. He asked his friend, Jimmy Doug Grimes, to drive him there with the aim of contacting the artists on the Grand Ole Opry. In particular, Endsley considered that the song would be ideal for Webb Pierce but when they got to Nashville, Pierce was too busy to see him. Endsley did, however, play some songs to Marty Robbins. As soon as Robbins heard "Singing the Blues", he said he would record it, and he arranged for Endsley to meet his music publisher, Wesley Rose of Acuff-Rose.
Marty Robbins's "Singing the Blues" topped the US country chart, and Mitch Miller, Guy Mitchell's producer, realised it could be a pop hit. Mitchell's version topped the US charts for nine weeks in 1956, in the process dethroning Elvis Presley who had been ensconced there for 16 weeks with first "Hound Dog" and then "Love Me Tender".
In the UK, Mitchell had to contend with a cover version from a rising rock'n'roll star from Bermondsey, Tommy Steele. Steele's version was helped by his slurred phrasing on the first line - it is his one true rock'n'roll moment. Both Steele and Mitchell topped the UK chart in 1957.
Endsley wrote a follow-up for Marty Robbins, "Knee Deep In the Blues", which was dutifully copied by both Steele and Mitchell. All three did well with the song, but it was a pale imitation of "Singing the Blues".
During 1957/58, Endsley recorded for the producer Chet Atkins at RCA and then made further singles for MGM and Hickory. Although these records did not sell, he had sufficient royalties from "Singing the Blues" to buy a farm in Drasco and to start his own label, Melark. He sometimes performed on the Grand Ole Opry although he found the trip from Arkansas painful.
Keep A Lovin' Me Baby (1957)
b/w Lonely All Over Again
Despite publishing 200 songs, Endsley had few more successes. Andy Williams reached the UK Top Twenty with the novelty "I Like Your Kind of Love" (1957) and Cliff Richard performed his wild "At the TV Hop" on the television show Oh Boy! (1958). "Why I'm Walkin'" was a US country hit for Stonewall Jackson (1960), and "It Happens Every Time" was recorded by Don Gibson and "I'd Just Be Fool Enough" by Johnny Cash.
"Singing the Blues" has been recorded by at least 120 different artists. The period from late 1956 through 1957 remains the high spot in Melvin Endsley's career. He acknowledged his disability, but never used it as an excuse. He wrote one of the most memorable songs in country music and even if he never achieved the success that he felt was his due as a performer, he can look back on a hell of a consolation prize.
Endsley was later signed to MGM, and then to Hickory, but by the mid-1960s he had retired from music to farm cattle at Drasco in Arkansas. He had written more than 400 songs, his last hit being Why I'm Walkin', for Stonewall Jackson in 1960. Endsley did subsequently record a version of Singin' The Blues for RCA, but his low opinion of the record industry was confirmed when they lost the master tape.
In 1996 he inducted Cash into the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame, at Pine Bluff, and two years later received the same honour himself. He never moved to Nashville, preferring to stay in his native Drasco and there he died of heart complications in 2004, aged 70.
(Info various mainly www.independent.co.uk and a big thankyou to somelocalloser.blogspot.co.uk for the two mp3's.)