Bill Robbin & The Blue Jays – White Christmas

Pink 708

After this one popped up on the ol’ Christmas jukebox last night, I started thinking about who might be playing that funky organ. We had featured the flip, Rockin’ Bells, a couple of years ago and, after I posted it, Charlie Chalmers chimed in and told us that was him on sax. Way Cool! I mentioned the obvious Bill Black influence, and he told me it was really the other way around! Bill Robbin was actually a Memphis guitar player named Bill Robley, who had come up with that ‘pencil’ method of whacking the guitar strings with his band, The Blue Jays, and Bill Black saw it and brought the concept back to Reggie Young at Hi. I asked Reggie about Robley, and he said he’d never heard of him, which is entirely possible. Satch Arnold told us Bill Black had him and Reggie over to his house to practice the Smokie Part 2 riff before they cut it, and pretty much as soon as the record hit, Reggie was drafted and sent to Ethiopia.

Bobby Manuel then commented, “I’m pretty sure that’s Bill Robley on guitar playing or ‘slapping’ it with a pencil. He was the leader of Bill Robbin and the Blue Jays. He was a kind hearted guy who took time with a 13 year old kid trying to learn how to play… surely no one can take away from Reggie’s creativity and craftsmanship. He was and is the best and he taught us all.” As you all know, I’m right there with that.

Both sides of the record were given a (B) in Cash Box when it was released in November of 1960, agreeing that it was a ‘strong Bill Black Combo-flavored reading’ and had a ‘sound that will interest the kids’. There ya go. The review goes on to say that the Pink label was ‘handled’ by Ace Records, as in Johnny Vincent Imbragulio, Jackson Mississippi Ace Records? Hmmm…

I was able to get a hold of Charlie Chalmers again (bless his heart) and ask him about the personnel on this ‘sock-rock vehicle’, and he told me it was no small wonder that it sounds like a Bill Black record, because in addition to Robley on guitar and Bobby Stewart on bass, it features the aforementioned Jerry ‘Satch’ Arnold on drums and Carl McVoy on the organ – in other words, half of Bill’s combo! He went on to say that they cut the record at Hi which, in light of the fact that the record’s producer, Quinton Claunch, had recently left the company seemed nothing short of amazing.

Despite repeated attempts on our (and many others) part, no-one has ever gotten Quinton to talk about the actual circumstances of his departure. We spoke a little about all this in our Clarence Nelson investigation, and I’d like to feature an excerpt from the case here:

In Sweet Soul Music, Peter Guralnick says “By this time Claunch, to his eternal regret, had left Hi for a number of cogent reasons…” Huh? According to Colin Escott in Good Rockin’ Tonight“Claunch left Hi with considerable ill will on all sides in 1960 after he recorded a Bill Black sound-alike for another label.” Which is echoed on a Black Cat Rockabilly page where it goes on to say that “Carl McVoy bought Claunch’s share for $7000….” According to Colin Escott, “Cantrell and Claunch had something to do with Walter Maynard. …”

…Maynard had released a Christmas 45 on Robbin, featuring the same kind of ‘untouchable’ arrangement, this time called Rockin’ Bells… By then, Claunch’s name was printed plainly there on the label for all to see, so I imagine the final break with Hi (and the sale of his share in the label to Carl McVoy) must have come somewhere right around in here. It is also interesting to note that Pink (which had been originally distributed by Ember) was now a part of the Johnny Vincent Ace empire…

Let’s just pause here a moment and consider how important a figure Quinton Claunch really is. Perhaps the most independent of the ‘independent record men’, when he didn’t like the way things were going at Sun, he had no problem leaving Sam Phillips behind and starting up his own label with his friends. Then, as far as Hi Records is concerned, in the liner notes of The Complete Goldwax Singles Volume 1, Claunch says “I did not think things were moving along fast enough, so I moved on to some independent projects…”  I’m sure Quinton felt that what was good for the goose should have been good for the gander, and if it was OK for Cuoghi to lease copycat records to other labels, then his projects should have been given the green light as well. When they weren’t, he cashed in his chips and walked away. This idea that he was somehow ‘muscled out’ appears to be a misconception… one which Claunch has done little to dispel over the years. After all, why should he?

Why indeed. Quinton turned 99 on December 3rd. Imagine that… he said “When I reach 100, I’m gonna start over!” I’ll tell y’all what, if he makes it we’re gonna throw one hell of a party!

So, anyway, in light of all this, the question of how on earth Quinton could have cut this at Hi, in the midst of all that ‘considerable ill will’ appears to be answered. As part owner of the company, Carl McVoy was now calling the shots, and could do whatever he wanted… I can almost see the sardonic grin on Claunch’s face.

Merry Christmas, folks!

…and don’t forget to check out the red kelly Christmas Index – Ho-Ho-Ho!

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6 replies »

  1. Thanks so much, again, Red. I just love your dedication to this stuff. For a Memphis ‘nerd’ like me it’s an invaluable source of information for my radio show. After your release of the latest 1967 notes I took the chance to do another Reggie show last Saturday. The listeners couldn’t believe the breadth and quality of the records and it was almost impossible for me to edit down over 300 sessions into 30-odd tracks in 2 hours. (All on 45s). Merry Christmas to you and yours… and I look forward to the next instalment. PB

    PS: I’ve added some links to the show you inspired below… including the playlist.



    • Thanks for the encouragement, my brother! Yes, I am truly humbled by the sheer amount of great music Reggie and Bobby Emmons helped create in 1967 alone… like you said, after pick out 30 tracks (all great selections, by the way), you still have over 450 to choose from! As I mentioned, I’ll be writing the ‘liner notes’ in installments, or episodes if you will, and posting them here. Be on the lookout!

      – and yeah, man, MERRY CHRISTMAS!!


  2. Hi Red. I was googling for information on my father, Don Landon, and his good friend Quinton Claunch, and I came across this article. This sparked a memory of my father telling me about how they thought they had found something that others would scratch their heads over when they tried to duplicate the sound – “their” guitar player had been using a pencil (I think he said it was a mechanical pencil) to make a unique sound on his guitar. He was still peeved years later (he was telling me about this in the late ’60s – when I was about 9 years old) that someone had seen “their” guitar player using this “pencil” technique and copied it so quickly. As he said, everybody finds out eventually, but they wanted their “secret” to last a little longer than it did. Thank you for filling in the names and “the rest of the story”. And if someone is going to have someone “borrow” their technique, Bill Robley had to at least feel honored it was the great Reggie Young doing the borrowing!


    • Hey Tim – thanks for the confirmation of that story… I guess ol’ Bill Black himself was the culprit, as I believe Reggie’s assertion that he had never heard of Robley. If you don’t mind me asking, what instrument did your Dad play in the band? -red


      • Hi Red,
        He was not a member of the band. He was very good friends with Quentin Claunch, and I THINK (not sure) that they were in business for a while. My father was an excellent singer and good piano player, and he would sit in at their jam sessions sometimes. He was a co-composer on several songs and helped on some arrangements. I remember when I was young that we would go over to the Claunches and they would work on things in Mr. Claunch’s home studio. My older sister remembers him taking her to Muscle Shoals and introducing her around, but we were all too young to remember much. There is one story I do remember, and it included the aforementioned Bill Black. Bill Black and some other guys were in our living room playing, and when they left, there was a cigarette burn on our piano, and my mother was not happy. She was told that it was Bill Black, and as I understood it, Bill was never allowed back in our house again. 🙂 My father was also VERY good friends with Johnny Angel (I never knew his real last name until I was in my 20’s). My father said he was the best singer he had ever heard. I remember listening to A Million Miles from Nowhere about a million times as a kid. We had stacks of Goldwax, Bingo, and other records around the house as well as a ton of reel to reel tapes. He left the music business behind when we moved from Memphis in 1963, but he kept in touch with Mr. Claunch and their family for years. He ran into Ronnie “Stoots” many years later at a show Ronnie was doing in Jackson, Tennessee. He said it was like yesterday – their close friendship and Ronnie’s great voice. Your article has sure rekindled a lot of memories for my siblings and me. Thank you. (Sorry so long a response. Thanks for listening to an old man who is very proud of his father.)


      • I’m fine with the long response, that’s what keeps the history alive. I knew I remembered the name ‘Landon’ from something i had written about Quinton, and I found it here: http://souldetective.com/case8part3.html

        He had been credited as Quinton’s co-writer on ‘Rockin’ Bells’ and ‘Boll Weevil’ both recorded in 1960. The BMI Repertoire lists one more tune co-written by him, ‘Come On Baby Give Me A Little Love’ this time with someone named Freddie Van. Does that ring any bells with you?

        Thanks again for getting in touch. -red


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