Singles Going Steady: A Survey of Knoxville’s Forgotten 45s

In Inside the Vault by Eric Dawsonleave a COMMENT

There are hundreds of 7-inch 45 singles in the Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound collection, all with some connection to Tennessee. Many of these are by forgotten artists on small labels that operated out of East Tennessee, with scant information available. We can do some Internet digging, and collectors and eBayers have done an amazing job listing information about the most obscure records, which can help us track down some of the artists or their families. Failing that, we can turn to obituaries and birth and death records, but we don’t have the time to do that with everything we come across, so the origins of some records remain a mystery. Here are a few; to listen to these records, visit TAMIS’s YouTube channel.


Frankie Davis
“Time Will Take My Mind From You” b/w “Pretending So Well” (Spann Records, circa early 1960s)
There were thousands of doo-wop singles released in the 1950s and 1960s, many on fly-by-night labels that might release only a handful of records. So it makes sense that we’ve come across several Knoxville-spawned doo-wop records and this great single out of Chattanooga. Frankie Davis sounds awfully young, almost feminine, and has the perfect voice for this kind of music. Spann Recording Company is mentioned as a new label in the February 1959 issue of Billboard, along with Vak Records at the same address on South Broad Street. (To give you an idea of how prolific small labels were then, 42 new labels were announced in Billboard that week.) Google Maps shows an empty lot there now. Someone in Chattanooga probably knows all about Spann and Frankie Davis; it’s just a matter of finding the right person.

Marlene Denton
“Softly He Calls Me” b/w “Tennessee Sun” (Red Hed Records, circa 1970s)
Red Hed Records was Red Speeks’ label, which he used to release his own records as well as those by acts that he shared the stage with on his Saturday Nite Radio Show out of Clinton. He ran it out of his house on East Morelia Avenue, a few houses down from Chicken City on Central Street. The Red Hed records we’ve come across tend to be mostly country or rockabilly, but “Tennessee Sun” is something else. Starting off with a plaintive flute solo, the song kicks into what is probably best described as Native American country funk, with lyrics lamenting the fate of the Cherokee people. We have yet to locate Marlene Denton, but this is such a bizarre release for Red Hed that we’d like to find out more. It has a small reputation outside of Knoxville; someone uploaded the “incredible” track to YouTube, and a seller on Collectors Frenzy went so far as to describe it as “psych country,” which was done more for the sake of marketing than accuracy. Anyway, it’s a great track, just waiting to be rediscovered and reissued by the Numero Group.

Dale Evans
“I Love You” b/w “When My Memory of You Flashes on Again” (Betty Jo Records, circa 1960s)
This is the most recent 45 to enter the TAMIS collection, on the new-to-us Betty Jo Records label. Both sides are produced and published by Betty Jo O’Dell, of Route 1 in Speedwell, Tenn. Dale Evans (not the famous one) is a pretty good singer, and she nails both the upbeat love song and the slow-tempo tearjerker. The songwriting credits go to the mysterious Tennessee Carson, who managed to make the B-side title both ungainly and grammatically incorrect. We found this at an estate sale just last week, so we haven’t looked into it yet, but I would love to hear more from Betty Jo.

E.F.J. Siegel
“Our Heritage” b/w “Letter to the President” (Patriotic, 1976)
This record is as advertised, from the song titles to the label name. At first listen you might think you’ve come across the most elaborate John Bean prank yet, a thickly Southern-accented bicentennial record made to slip into a thrift store and be unearthed years later. Probably inspired by Barry Sadler’s album Ballads of the Green Berets, “America the Beautiful” plays in the background while Siegel recites proto-Tea Party patriotic prose. This was self-released, and Siegel put his home address on the label, so we could probably find out more. But it may be best to leave it alone for now.

Ben Silver
“Good Neighbor Ben” b/w “Crawl to Me” (Slipper Records, circa 1960s)
Recorded in Nashville, “Good Neighbor Ben” is a pretty decent backdoor-man rockabilly number, but “Crawl to Me” is the attention-getter here. Silver comes off like the poor man’s Roy Orbison in his peak early-’60s days, from the forlorn lyrics to the cha-cha rhythm to the faux Spanish guitar runs to the vocals. Silver didn’t really have the chops to completely pull this off, but he was obviously enamored of Orbison and managed to create a pretty great two-minute simulacrum. The catalog number is 1001, so this could well be a vanity record and his only release.


Inside the Vault features discoveries from the Knox County Public Library’s Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound, a collection of film, video, music, and other media from around East Tennessee.

Eric Dawson is Audio-Visual Archivist with the Knox County Public Library's Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound, and with Inside the Vault combs the archive for nuggets of lost Knoxville music and film history to share with us. He's also a longtime local music journalist, former A&E editor of the Knoxville Voice and a board member of the nonprofit performance venue Pilot Light.

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