The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #3154   Message #469274
24-May-01 - 01:34 AM
Thread Name: Lyr Req: WWII and Patriotic Songs
Subject: RE: Song Lyrics
In between enlistments in the USAF I worked for Elton Britt. I played bass and 5-string banjo and sang two or three songs each set. Mostly we toured Canadian cities. At the "Brass Rail" in London, Ontario, we were downstairs and there was a 19 year old girl who was just starting out, singing upstairs. First time I heard her I knew that she was going to make it BIG. She had a unique singing style that kinda made me tingle. Her name was (and still is) Della Reese.

Elton Britt used one of Woody Guthrie's songs as his theme song. I understand that it was the only one of Woody's compositions that made any real money, "Oklahoma Hills". I knew that Elton had a gold record (it hung on his living room wall) and he said that it really worked on his phonograph. I did not know that it was the first one ever given to a hillbilly singer. (The term "country and western" hadn't been invented yet.) I liked him a lot.

This was in 1956. I was doing hillbilly music exclusively in those days, wore a "Stetson", high heeled cowboy boots, frontier pants and embroidered shirts on stage. A picture of me in 1955 and one in 1999 is on the cover of "Spanning the Decades." If I can figure out this E-mail thing, I'll send a couple of pictures to Dick Greenhaus along with a drawing of my "Bass Foodle" During this time I weighed about 130 lbs, (I'm 5 ft 10 1/2 inches tall) In other words I was skinny. Well, from the time I re-enlisted in the Air Force in May 1956 (I really liked my job, very interesting and challenging) I didn't see Elton Britt until 1973 or 4. In the meantime I'd learned sailing (square rig style) and was the half-brig "Black Pearl's" boatswain and chanteyman. I was married to Donna and we'd rigged and sailed the full rigged ship "HMS Rose" when it was new. We were driving home from a week long gig in Mattapoisett, Mass (Ugh!!) and as we drove by the "Newport Motor Inn" which had live shows on stage in their lounge, The Marquis read, "Elton Britt and Eddie Zack in person" It had been 25 years since I'd seen Elton and had undergone a radical metamorphosis. For one thing, I'd put on a few pounds of beef (I weighed 175) and was dressed like someone out of the 18th century. I had on a monkey jacket, "Seafarer" bell bottom jeans, topsider shoes (no socks) a blue and white striped French navy shirt and a tarpaulin hat, a stiff brimmed shiny black "boater" (The real thing, made out of tarred and varnished canvas) I also had a rigging knife on a lanyard in my back pocket.

We got Elton's room number from the desk clerk who knew me from my performances at the "Black Pearl Tavern" and accepted my explanation that I was a friend of Elton's. We went up, knocked on the door and when Elton asked who it was, I replied, "Jody Gibson" He was mumbling something like, "I'll be a son of a bitch" as he unlocked the door. When he caught sight of me he yelled, "Whoa, Nellie" and as we shook hands he said that except for Hank Williams I had been the skinniest person he'd ever seen. We talked a while and I told him about what I'd been doing and about the kind of music I was doing. He was really interested, especially about chanteys and asked some good intelligent questions. Of course he was smitten with Donna. He'd known my ex-wife, "Bobbie" (Joyce Kate and David's mother) and remarked that I still had excellent taste. Then he asked me to sing a couple of sailor songs during his next set. I did, "While cruising 'Round Yarmouth" and "Fiddler's Green." There were a lot of people in the audience who had seen us at "The Pearl" and were familiar with the material, and, of course, they joined in the choruses. Eddie Zack was surprised at this. I guess he thought that "hillbilly singer" and "windbag sailor" were mutually exclusive terms.

This was one of the most enjoyable evenings I'd ever had. After the show, he went home with us. We lived in an apartment house on 2nd street in Newport where all the other tenants were musicians or folk singers, and we sat around and swapped songs until the wee hours of the morning.

I was led to believe that Elton Britt was from Oklahoma, not Arkansas.

Let's see if I can figure out the electronic magic necessary for sending scanned images and/or music via E-Mail. Then I'll send Dick some stuff. I think I know him too.

Jody Gibson

Newport, Rhode Island.