colonel snow wrote:The original version was recorded on 27 september 1959 by Thomas Wayne (Fernwood 122).
Elvis left for the Army in March of 1958 and work for Scotty, Bill and DJ dried up with the completion of King Creole. Back in Memphis, Bill went to work for Ace Appliances and Scotty, collecting unemployment for about a week bought into in a startup recording studio and label, Fernwood Records. They stayed in contact however and occasionally worked together on recording projects.
Fernwood got its start in 1956 when Ronald ''Slim'' Wallace, a part-time truck driver and night club owner, partnered with Jack Clement to start a recording studio in the garage behind his home at 152 Fernwood Drive in Memphis. They had played together in a western swing band called the Dixie Ramblers along with Billy Lee Riley. One of the first recordings they did was for Billy and after Jack brought it to Sam Phillips at Sun for mastering Sam offered Billy a contract and Jack a job which ended their association with Slim and Fernwood. Sam purchased the masters and issued Riley's debut single in May 1956. Scotty, as Vice-President of Fernwood was also made studio producer. [...]
Among the sessions Scotty produced was one for Travis Wammack backed by Eddie Bond's Stompers which also had Reggie Young on guitar and Smokey Joe Baugh on piano. Scotty became good friends with Reggie and would often book him for sessions at Fernwood, which more often than not wound up with them drinking Thunderbird wine out on the curb. Scotty also recorded a single of his own, Have Guitar Will Travel, an instrumental that also included Bill on bass and Joe Lee on sax. The biggest, if not only hit however, for Fernwood was by Thomas Wayne.
Thomas Wayne Perkins was originally from Batesville, Mississippi and was the younger brother of Luther Perkins who, along with Marshall Grant, comprised Johnny Cash's Tennessee Two. He used to deliver newspapers to Scotty when he lived on Belz Street next to Bill. While still a senior at Humes High School in 1958 he auditioned for Scotty at his home. Scotty liked what he heard and brought him to Fernwood. One of their first demos was a song written by a newcomer to Memphis, Chips Moman, called This Time. It was was picked up by the Mercury label though a deal signing Thomas with them never materialized.
His next single, and the one that was the biggest hit [‘Tragedy’] was a song brought to and written buy a deejay from Kentucky that Scotty had met previously while touring, Gerald Nelson and Fred Burch, a college student. The title came from a course Burch had been taking on Aristotelian tragedies. Chet Atkins had heard it heard it in Nashville first and liked it, as well as Sam Phillips but both declined to use it. Gerald played it for Scotty on the sidewalk with a Ukulele and Scotty immediately thought of it for Thomas.
Instead of Slim's garage though Scotty decided to record it at Hi Records' studio on S. Lauderdale Street where they had recently installed new equipment. It was reputedly the first time the tape machine was used though Scotty later took the tape to WMPS, the station Bob Neal worked, where they had two Ampex recorders so that he could add echo ("slapback") like Sam used to. The song also featured Thomas' girlfriend Nancy Reed, and her two friends, Sandra Brown and Carol Moss, (the DeLons) singing backup. Scotty and Bill were the only musicians. In September Fernwood released it as a single, the B side to the up-tempo Saturday Date, also by Nelson and Burch.
Though Saturday Date was not making much of an impact Scotty pushed the record, taking Thomas to regional radio stations and record hops. At one in Poplarville, MS, they were backed by Sid Holmes and the Cavaliers, who were promoting their own single. Sid's sister Sylvia was a disc jockey in New Orleans and she, Sid and Thomas rode together back to New Orleans getting a flat on the Pontchartrain bridge. Scotty put in a good word for her when he got back Memphis.
Originally from West Texas, and then New Orleans, Sid and Tommy Ruble the lead singer for the Cavaliers had relocated to Memphis when Sylvia started there as a disc jockey. There he rebuilt the band with Memphis area musicians. Ace Cannon would sit in with their band on Sundays and then Ed Logan became their sax player. Both would go on to become part of Bill Black's Combo at times. The Cavilers would also record at Fernwood in 1960. Tommy Ruble eventually went on to become one of Memphis' popular club acts.
In the spring of 1959 a disc jockey in Kentucky started playing the B side in heavy rotations. By March, Tragedy had risen to #8 on the national charts. Lacking adequate means to promote it they hired Steve Brodie of Buffalo, NY, to push it nationally and paid him five cents a record. They added Memphis attorney Robert Buckalew as a third partner who along with Brodie convinced record pressing plants to give them credit. It eventually reached #5 in the Billboard Hot 100 and #20 in the R&B charts and Fernwood grossed about $600,000, of which $150,000 went to the pressing plants.
Scotty sent a copy to Colonel Parker, who responded with a letter of congratulations. Most of the money was funneled back into Fernwood Records and they rented an office downtown in the Columbian Mutual Tower Building, at 60 N. Main (now called the Lincoln American Tower) where Bob Buckalew was located. They also built a fully equipped studio in a rented building at 297 North Main Street. It was near the river on the corner of Commerce Street, not far from Lauderdale courts.
Scotty then put together a touring band behind Thomas consisting of himself, Bill, D. J. and Reggie Young. Scotty was coming and going so fast, he sometimes lost his sense of direction. Reggie remembers one night when they returned to Memphis at three o’clock in the morning. We pulled up in front of Scotty’s house, stopping out in the middle of the street, said Reggie. He just got out, left the car running, and went into the house and went to bed. Bill or someone slid over and took us home.
There were subsequent Fernwood releases by Thomas, including several more written by Fred Burch and Gerald Nelson who would later write several songs for Elvis and others, but none that were as successful as Tragedy. Scotty then recorded a couple of instrumentals from songwriter Sharri Paullus with Bill again on bass but Ace Cannon on Sax. The songs The Gambler and It’s Not Fun Loving You were released on Rave Records, Sharri's husband's label, and were reminiscent of the style recorded later by Bill Black's Combo.
By the end of the year the money brought in by Tragedy was starting to run out and when Elvis got out of the Army in March Scotty had hopes of going back on the road with him. They had a session at RCA Studio B scheduled and an appearance in Miami on Frank Sinatra's special. Bill had been approached about returning as well but by this time was doing very well with Bill Black's Combo, the band he and Reggie had started with sessions at Hi Records. Though he very much enjoyed playing with Elvis he was still disappointed in the treatment they had received. Elvis also asked Scotty if he would run a studio a Graceland that RCA had offered to build but that too was something that never materialized or mentioned again.
By the summer of 1960 Scotty sold his interests in Fernwood and went to work for Sam Phillips at his new studio on Madison Avenue as studio production manager and chief cutting engineer where he produced Jerry Lee Lewis and others. Thomas Wayne released one single at Sun and eventually moved into production work. Elvis recorded a song written by Thomas, The Girl Next Door Went A Walking. He died in a car accident in Memphis on August 15, 1971.
Billboard's review offered room for optimism : "Fine warble by Wayne on a haunting ballad with a beat that is nicely backed by a fem chorus. It can attract." This prescience proved well founded. Something of a 'sleeper', "Tragedy" did not reach Billboards's chart until February 1959 eventually peaking at #5.
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