|Charlie Feathers, Rockabilly's Main Man
Charles Arthur Feathers, born June 12, 1932, was rockabilly personified. Although popular myth and Charlie's own tall tales sometimes clouded the truth surrounding his career, one fact is certain, Feathers possessed an uncanny feel for rockabilly music, unmatched by few performers. This ambience that he embued each of his records and live shows with placed his music within a focal position from which rockabilly music has since been judged. But this is only a retrospective view begging the question of Charlie's lack of success. Why did Feathers not reap the benefits of a million selling record? Colin Escott may have the answer, "In a very real sense, Charlie Feathers has been his own worst enemy", which he substantiated by stating "...a mixture of impatience, bad luck and misjudgment brought him back to the bitter reality of playing the lowlife bars and eking out an existence on the fringes of the local music scene". Peter Guralnick, in his work 'Lost Highway', drew a similar conclusion, "Most of all, though, what seems to have held Charlie Feathers back was an absence of polish, an inability to adapt, the same forthright and unsophisticated manner that creates a wall of isolation around him even today". It was probably this 'wall of isolation' that prevented his name from ever appearing on Billboard's Hot 100, let alone receiving a mention in any of the other trade papers of the day. Nevertheless, his records, whether they be his early outings on Sun, Meteor and King or his later efforts for Philwood and Pompadour, are testament to the true genius of the late, great Charlie Feathers, rockabilly's main man.
Charles Arthur Feathers was born in Slayden, Mississippi, just outside of Holly Springs and around fifty miles southeast of Memphis on June 12, 1932. Growing up on his parents farm, he became interested in music at a young age, singing in church and regularly tuning in to WSM's 'Grand Ole Opry'. The Opry offered Charlie his first fleeting taste of Bill Monroe, who would soon become a formative influence on him, along with the Negro sharecropper's who worked the fields in the Mississippi backwoods. One field hand in particular, Junior Kimbrough (and not Kimball as previously stated) introduced Charlie to the acoustic guitar, providing him with valuable lessons which he eagerly absorbed.
By the age of nine, Feathers had become an adept guitarist. He then began developing his unique vocal style which, no doubt, was strongly patterned after that of Bill Monroe whose seminal bluegrass records for Columbia from the late forties were probably well known to him. Feathers was also fortunate enough to glimpse Monroe at close range who, on more than one occasion, toured through nearby Hudsonville with his tent show. These live performances left an indelible mark on Charlie and would remain with him for the rest of his life, as he mentioned to Peter Guralnick, "And Bill Monroe, he used to come through Hudsonville, set up tents and all, man I thought it was the greatest thing I ever heard. Well, you see, I loved bluegrass all my life, but I never did know how to play it".
Honky tonk great Hank Williams' MGM recordings of the period also impressed Charlie greatly. He could understand and appreciate the feeling in Hank's lonesome hillbilly whine, and it soon rubbed off on him. He was fond of saying how he was drawn to music with, as he put it, "filling". A few years later, Feathers would amalgamate all these influences, combining Monroe's high pitched hollering with the atmosphere expounded on a Hank Williams record, then adding a cotton patch twelve bar guitar riff to form a country music style unique to Charlie Feathers.
Charlie left school after the second or third grade (which would account for his illiteracy) and then, during either '48 or '49, since he could not find full-time employment in Memphis, packed his grip and traveled to Cairo, Illinois to work the oil pipeline's with his father. This work later took him to Texas where Charlie, guitar in hand, hit the honky-tonks and juke joints in his spare time, providing him with valuable experience in playing the live circuit.
Barely two years later Feathers returned to Memphis. He married at 18 and soon took up work at a local box-manufacturing factory. It was around this time that he contracted spinal meningitis, an affliction that confined him to a hospital bed for a number of months. While bed ridden, Charlie listened to the radio incessantly, a medium that proved to be the impetus behind his decision to choose a career in music once he had recuperated. After fully recovering, Charlie leapt headfirst into the burgeoning Memphis music scene.
In January 1950 a twenty seven-year-old radio engineer named Sam Phillips opened a recording studio on 706 Union Avenue, called the Memphis Recording Service. He immediately began seeking out and recording local blues acts, scoring an early hit with the Jackie Brenston/Ike Turner number, "Rocket 88". Despite the fact that the master was leased to the Chicago based blues label, Chess, it was a penny in Phillips pocket nonetheless, and set him and his business on a premature road to success. It is at this stage of Sun's growth (as the company was later renamed) that Charlie Feathers entered the equation. According to numerous interviews conducted with Feathers, he claims to have been lingering around the studio during it's first floundering days, assisting Phillips with out-of-studio work and, if Charlie is to be believed, aided in the development of some of the now innovatory equipment that Sam used in the studio. Added to this is Feathers' claim to have discovered, in conjunction with Phillips, the slap-back echo technique. Fact or fiction? Charlie's affirmations are refutable, but, regardless of this, Peter Guralnick managed to unravel the circumstances surrounding Feathers' arrival at Sun. Apparently, Charlie's brother-in-law, KWEM program director Dick Stuart (a.k.a. Uncle Richard), introduced Feathers to Memphis blues shouter Howlin' Wolf (Chester Burnett), who performed at the station daily on a local advertiser's bill. At the time, the Wolf was also recording at Sam Phillips' studio. Sam, in turn, was leasing the Wolf's sides to Chess. Howlin' Wolf may have spoke of Sun to Charlie, who then decided to head on down to 706 Union on a regular basis and, most likely, did assist Phillips' with studio related and extracurricular work.
Phillips eventually became aware of Charlie's latent ability as a hillbilly singer and late in 1954, as his roster of blues artists began to diminish, decided to delve into the local country market. After experiencing considerable success with Elvis Presley's debut Sun seven incher ("That's All Right" coupled with "Blue Moon Of Kentucky", Sun 209), released in July 1954, Phillips redirected his Flip subsidiary label to release country. Assigning the Alabama born duo of Quinton Claunch and Bill Cantrell (who had earlier brought Phillips the Bud Deckleman demo of "Daydreamin'", to which he refused!) the responsibility of overseeing the project, Feathers (along with Carl Perkins and Maggie Sue Wimberley) was summoned to the Claunch/Cantrell home studio to cut a brief demo session, which included his first raw working of "I've Been Deceived". Soon after, the pair brought the unmastered dubs to Phillips attention, who decided to cut a session on Charlie early the next year.
Backed by Claunch and Cantrell, with Sun all rounder Stan Kesler on steel and Marcus Van Story plucking the string bass, Charlie cut his debut record date for Phillips on February 17, 1955. Held at 706 Union, Feathers launched the session with a hopped up boogie number titled "Peepin' Eyes", a song peculiarly similar to Bill Monroe's reading of "Rocky Road Blues". A further five cuts were waxed the same day, but are hitherto unissued and were, presumably, lost. "Peepin' Eyes" was slated for release and, barely two weeks later, a bottom deck was recorded in "I've Been Deceived", a Hank Williams inspired country weeper that wove the story of a mistreating woman doing her man wrong.
Released in April as Flip 503, the coupling initially faired reasonably well on regional charts, selling approximately 2585 copies with sales continuing strongly into May. However, shortly after the disc was launched onto the market, Sam Phillips was forced to re-release the record on Sun proper (Sun 503), as he was threatened with legal action from one Ed Wells (owner of the L.A. based Flip label) over improper use of label name. The Miller Sisters' "Someday You Will Pay" (on which Charlie can be heard tapping spoons) and "You Don't Think I Would" (Flip 504) was also affected and re-issued on Sun.
Now, with one record under his belt and his local popularity rising, Feathers began cutting demos of his own material, with the assistance of Stan Kesler, at the Sun Studios. Consistent with available evidence, Charlie recorded his first demo session for Phillips on June 24th, resulting in four unknown titles that have since been lost, the tapes probably reused by Sam when dollars were sparse. This decision to use tapes over again proved to be the fate for a great portion of Charlie's early work at Sun. Luckily, atleast a few of his demo recordings survived, notably his first rendition of "Bottle To The Baby", cut late in 1955 and a raw take of the Feathers/Kesler composition "I Forgot To Remember To Forget", originating from a previous date (possibly the June session, as Presley recorded his version on July 11th). The circumstances surrounding the evolution of "I Forgot...", though, are far from clear. Feathers himself claimed to have co-inked the song with Kesler, but Stan has since recounted that he wrote the song alone and gave fifty percent of the copyright to Charlie for singing the demo. Feathers then elaborated further on his claim by stating that Kesler began working on the song, then passed it on to Charlie who completed the lyrics and formulated the arrangement that Presley eventually used at his July recording date with the Blue Moon Boys. What ever the real truth may be, BMI has recorded "I Forgot To Remember To Forget" as a Charlie Feathers and Stan Kesler composition.
Further discrepancies surround atleast one other Feathers demo, a tune called "We're Getting Closer To Being Apart", probably cut late in '55. Once again from the pen of Feathers and Kesler, the song was intended for Elvis Presley who, according to Charlie, was about to record the tune for Sun when Sam Phillips sold his contract to RCA in November '55. However, there is no solid evidence to support Charlie's claim, apart from his own word. Charlie's own word was also the starting point for other rumors that have abounded over the years, such as his prolific work as an arranger at Sun. Apparently, he structured the arrangements for Presley's recordings of "Blue Moon Of Kentucky" (Sun 209) and "Good Rockin' Tonight" (Sun 210) and was behind the glass directing Presley through his rendition of "Baby, Let's Play House" (Sun 217) during a February '55 session. There may be some truth in this latter claim, though, as Johnny Cash exclaimed to Billy Millar, "I should know, 'cause I was there!"
Regardless of the fact that Charlie may or may not have worked as an arranger at Sun or had a full hand in writing certain songs, his work at this time was important, and highlighted his superb talent as a performer and songwriter. "We're Getting Closer..." smacks of early Decca era Webb Pierce, while "I Forgot..." was (in the context of Presley's interpretation) a truly masterful honky tonk styled slow shuffler. Feathers now seemed to be on the road to success. His Flip seven incher had sold well and Elvis Presley had taken "I Forgot To Remember To Forget" to the top of Billboard's country charts in September, so Sam Phillips brought Charlie back into the studio on November 1, 1955 for a second session.
With Claunch, Cantrell and Kesler once again in tow, the rhythm section was bolstered by the addition of Blue Moon Boy string bass player Bill Black, though Bill's younger brother, Johnny, professed to be the bass player on the session. However, the elder Black was a union member, whereas Johnny was not, so it was most likely Bill performing on the session. Only two titles were waxed during the November date, "Defrost Your Heart" and "Wedding Gown Of White", both of which were paired for release in January '56 as Sun 231. Colin Escott described both songs as being "...achingly pure and impassioned", a vivid depiction that rings true on hearing the record. Stan Kesler's wonderfully atmospheric crying steel leads both songs, from start to finish, with the rhythm section providing a compelling, yet almost restrained beat, reminding one of Hank William's starkly realistic country weeper's of a few years previous. Charlie's vocals are, of course, outstanding. A true genius in the making. Sam Phillips also drew a similar conclusion, considering Feathers a country talent to be reckoned with, comparing him with honky tonk great George Jones. So, when Sun 231 hit the market to a less than emphatic reception, Sam was duly stunned. Turning over only 919 units, the records lack of success was certainly a mystery, albeit unjust, as "Defrost Your Heart" and "Wedding Gown Of White" were just as strong as Charlie's previous Sun outing.
The November session proved to be Feathers' final official recording date for Sun records, with Sun 231 his final disc on the label. Also, his contract with Phillips was due to expire soon into the new year, with anything more than local success on the yellow label eluding him. To Feathers detriment, Sam was unwilling to renew his commitment to Charlie for a second term, as he was now devoting much of his time to Sun's latest stars, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, whose flames were shining far more brightly than Feathers'.
Despite his discontent, change was on the way for Charlie, as Colin Escott noted, "He sensed a new day dawning, and was determined to 'Get With It'". RCA's latest acquisition, Elvis Presley, was setting the popular music charts on fire with his unique hybridization of country music and rhythm and blues, termed western bop or by it's contemporary name, rockabilly, and Feathers' keen ear quickly picked up on the new sensation. Now tired of being cast in the hillbilly mould, Charlie set about reforming his band in order to cut this new sound. Bill Cantrell and Quinton Claunch were literally cast aside, with steel guitarist Jody Chastain brought into the fold, direct from playing with Fuller Todd on KWEM. Details on other members of the group are speculative, but the consensus appears to name Jerry Huffman as the guitarist and one Shorty Torrance as string bassist. Huffman, most likely, was a member of the group at this early stage, as he had met Feathers previously at Quinton Claunch's home in Memphis in '55 after leaving the army and performed with Charlie regularly in Paragould, Arkansas throughout the remainder of that year and had also played in Fuller Todd's band along side Jody Chastain.
Eager to record rockabilly, Feathers worked new material with his reformed line-up and approached Sam Phillips to cut another session and, hopefully, convince Phillips to extend his contract with Sun for another term. Booking studio time for January 31st, Charlie and his band headed to 706 Union where they cut four proto-rockabilly styled numbers. The shackles tying Feathers to a hillbilly stereotype proved difficult to break as two of the four cuts from the session, "Honky Tonk Mind" and "So Ashamed", were unbridled country. The influence of Bill Monroe was strongly evident on these sides, with Charlie rising into high notes but not once breaking into a falsetto. The backing, which possibly included Sun mainstay Johnny Bernero on drums, seemed sparse, further, emanated a solid rhythm lending to a bare bones rockabilly sound that Feathers intensified for the final sides waxed at the session, the traditional blues "Frankie And Johnny" and Charlie's own "Bottle To The Baby". This early rendition of "Bottle...", the first to feature the support of a full band, eclipsed everything that Feathers had so far achieved at Sun. It was pure rockabilly, with an almost lazy backwoods feel.
Unfortunately, Phillips failed to recognize the propensity of the songs. In Sam's eyes, Charlie was not a rockabilly singer, he was a country performer, through and through. After listening to the demos, he passed the tape onto Feathers' manager who, in turn, peddled the songs to various local labels to no avail. Unperturbed, Charlie once again reformed his band, in an attempt to re-try his hand at rockabilly. With Jerry Huffman assuming lead guitar duties and Jody Chastain switching from steel guitar to string bass, the group was rounded out by drummer Jimmy Swords. It was this line-up that Feathers' brother-in-law, Dick Stuart, booked to play gigs throughout the mid-south during the coming weeks, an opportunity that offered the young musicians a prime opportunity to lay down a solid repertoire and perfect their style with the new sound.
After barely a month on the road, Charlie now felt confident to return to Memphis and persuade Sam Phillips that he had the goods to cut it as a rockabilly singer. Sam eventually relented, an indication that he had some faith in Feathers, allowing the group, now dubbed the Musical Warriors, to cut another session. Only one title seems to have surfaced from that meeting, an interpretation of Joe Turner's take on the traditional "Corrine, Corrina", which he had recorded for Atlantic on February 24th for release on March 31st. According to Huffman, The Musical Warriors waxed their version before Turner's was released, pointing to a possible late February or early March recording date. Phillips retained an acetate of the tune, which he eventually circulated to Dewey Phillips but chose, due to commercial reasons, not to release it himself, a decision that acutely frustrated Charlie. Luckily for Feathers, though, his talent had not passed completely unnoticed.
Les Bihari, head of Sun's cross-town rival, Meteor, had become aware of Charlie's intentions and invited him to visit his studio on Chelsea Avenue to cut a demo session. Feathers readily agreed, much to the dismay of Huffman and Chastain, who felt more comfortable remaining with Sam Phillips at Sun. Nevertheless, they attended the session which was held, according to Huffman, on April 1st and waxed two new arrangements, "Tongue-Tied Jill" (an original composition based on a form of catch phrase that Charlie knew) and "Get With It", which was a simple re-working of "Corrine, Corrina". Acetates of the two songs were sent back to Phillips who was, by all accounts, uninterested in either song but, particularly "Tongue-Tied Jill" which he considered degrading to the vocally impaired. On the other hand, Bihari showed a keen interest, and coupled both songs for release in June (Meteor 5032). Selling well throughout Memphis, Charlie's Meteor single became the record for which he would be remembered and revered. Comprised of a scattered yet compulsive back beat that perfectly adapted to Charlie's formative and innovative vocal technique which, in itself, was a far cry from Bill Monroe or Hank Williams, this third attempt by Feathers to cut rockabilly was nothing short of genius. Although "Tongue-Tied Jill" was a novelty number, it proved to be the first glimpse of Charlie's vocal gimmickry that he would shortly bring to the fore on his King recordings, while "Get With It", expounding a jovial atmosphere, was probably one of the first records, in Colin Escott's words, "...to self-referentially celebrate the new music".
Despite the quality of the record and the surprisingly good sales, royalty statements were poor, prompting Huffman to state "The first check was such a pittance. We told him [Bihari] what he could do with it". Now, with no contract the trio began to flounder. That is, until they were approached by Syd Nathan's strong Ohio based independent label, King records. A Memphis based distributor for King had heard the Musical Warriors Meteor disc, spurring him to contact and notify head office of his new discovery. Nathan then dispatched King's country division A&R head, Louis Innis, to the southern locale to audition Charlie and his band and immediately organize a contract.
With the ink barely dry on the agreement, the group, reunited with Jimmy Swords (although Adam Komorowski and Michel Ruppli have indicated that the drummer for the Musical Warriors at this time was Ramon Maupin), were in King's Cincinnati studio to cut their first session for the label on August 18. Huffman and Chastain had formulated their sound so completely by this stage that constructing arrangements to effectively parallel Charlie's vocals required little effort, a fact that is evident on the first cut from the session, the rockabilly anthem "One Hand Loose". Further songs recorded the same day highlighted Feathers' unique creativity and absolute originality, such as "Can't Hardly Stand It", a masterful example of his vocal trickery that so intrigued the engineer overseeing the session. His inventiveness was also brought to bare on a severely re-worked "Bottle To The Baby", an old Feathers composition played by Huffman at a quick tempo, and "Everybody's Lovin' My Baby", another fast-paced echo laden tune, proving that Feathers' could not be touched in terms of recording rockabilly songs with "fillin'". Huffman and Chastain thought otherwise. Contracted as both staff writers and performers, they were receiving little reward for their efforts and had been forced to tow the line in accordance with what King's producer's had stipulated for the August session. Huffman surmised that the recordings lacked professionalism and Charlie had overdone the vocal gimmickry to the point of sounding drunk. In later years Feathers would also express antipathy towards these songs, although, at the time, he could not have been happier.
All four King sides from this initial recording date were later released in October and December, at around which time Jody Chastain entered the Army. What could have potentially become a major setback for Feathers and his combo was thwarted when Chastain managed to pigeonhole a discharge (due to a back injury) just in time to attend a second session for Syd Nathan in Nashville. Cut on January 6th, 1957 and with Buddy Harman replacing Jimmy Swords on skins, another four titles were waxed. Louis Innis again oversaw the session and attempted to polish Charlie's sound, by adding a vocal group fronted by Johnny Bragg, who are evident on "Too Much Alike", "When You Come Around" and "When You Decide". In Innis' hands, these songs, along with "Nobody's Woman", became simple pop arrangements, a style that certainly did not suit Charlie, whose isolated vocals contradicted the flush backing led by Huffman. Nevertheless, the four titles were released over subsequent months, but did little to improve Charlie's reputation and popularity.
Be that as it may, record sales were a defining factor to a performers success. So, in an attempt to expose Charlie to a wider audience and, possibly, sell more records, he was booked by Bob Neal's 'Stars Inc.'. After playing gigs with Sun label luminaries such as Warren Smith, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison, then performing on the 'Big D Jamboree' in Dallas on July 13th, Feathers' King records were still selling poorly and he was dropped from the company's roster later that year.
During the remaining months of 1957 live shows began to taper away. Limited to occasional gigs in Arkansas and a regular Saturday night performance at a skating rink in Cairo, Illinois the trio began to slowly fall apart. This pattern continued into 1958, by which time Huffman had acquired a math degree, married and taken up work with the United States Air Force as a civilian employee. Thus, by the time Charlie had signed a one-off deal with Charlie Kahn's Kay label in Memphis late in '58, the trio was virtually in tatters.
After eighteen months away from a recording studio, the chance to cut another disc was a welcoming prospect, and also relieved the tediousness of playing hole-in-the-wall juke joints. With Ramon Maupin added to the line-up, Feathers and his group traveled to the WHBQ radio studio in Memphis to lay down four sides for Kay in December. Charlie's originality had not worn away, as "Jungle Fever" attests, which a trade publication described as a "Rocker with African sound gets strange blues vocal which has its charms". "Jungle Fever", along with it's flip "Why Don't You" (Kay 1001), possessed more than just charming qualities, these songs radiated a raw intensity that only Charlie could bring to a performance. Jody Chastain led the group through the final sides cut at the session, that also included an unknown pianist and sax player. Chastain's "My My" and "Jody's Beat" (Kay 1002) were rather more subdued than Feathers cuts but, nonetheless, were interesting. Unfortunately, Charlie Kahn did not seem to appreciate the originality of the recordings, deciding to leave them in the can for almost two years, before they first saw the light of day in June 1960.
Without a release forthcoming on Kay, Feathers and his cohorts moved to Hi Records in 1959, where Huffman was utilized to good effect as a session guitarist. Charlie brought a few of his compositions with him to Hi, including the Feathers/Huffman penned "Lovin' Lil'" and the Feathers/Claunch/Cantrell original "Man In Love", which he had demoed at Sun the previous year. Tommy Tucker, newly signed to the label, expressed an interest in both tunes, recording them for Hi that year (Hi 2014) accompanied, ironically, by Jerry Huffman on guitar. Tucker's rendition of these tunes was good, particularly with the bare Johnny Cash styled backing on "Man In Love", except he could not compete with the stark, lonesome feeling that Charlie had evoked on his earlier demo.
Tucker's Hi debut was only a minor success for Charlie, though. The real reason he had come to the Memphis based label was to cut another record. To this end he teamed with Hi co-founders and former Sun session men Bill Cantrell and Quinton Claunch to record two folk inspired numbers that were as much a contrast to his previous work as they were to the Kingston Trio, who Charlie was supposedly imitating. "Dinky John" and "South Of Chicago" harked back to Feathers' Bill Monroe influence and out shone the bland, typecast folk material of the day, yet he was unable to find a label to release the songs. Cantrell and Claunch approached Hi label boss Joe Cuoghi to issue the record; unfortunately, he declined due to his distributor's unwillingness to push the disc. Not to be easily thwarted, Charlie hawked the songs to Walter Maynard, who eventually put the record out in July 1960 on his Wal-May label under the pseudonym of Charlie Morgan.
"Dinky John" and "South Of Chicago" proved to be Feathers' final recordings for the nineteen fifties and also the last occasion that he would perform, on record or otherwise, with Jerry Huffman and Jody Chastain. In 1961, Huffman moved to Huntsville, Alabama, while Chastain acquired his own studio where he devoted much of his time working with Buford Cody and his Memphis label before fading into obscurity.
Charlie ushered the new decade by recording a handful of oddball records for various local labels, such as Memphis ("Today And Tomorrow", Memphis 103) and Holiday Inn ("Deep Elm Blues", Holiday Inn 114). He continued recording demos of original compositions on his home recorder, allowing him to further evolve and diversify his songwriting abilities and continued playing live gigs, signing with the Gene Williams Booking Agency in 1965. However, by this stage of his career he was performing to ever dwindling crowds, as Billy Millar illustrated, "...his performing schedule thinned out considerably and his priorities shifted elsewhere, like car racing and softball. In fact, Charlie gained such a rep around town as a top fast pitch hurler that many of his teammates were unaware of his musical exploits". Providentially, the thought of succumbing to the murky depths of namelessness rarely entered his mind, despite being inactive for a number of years, in terms of recording and performing, Charlie was never far from his guitar and tape recorder. This persistence held him in good stead when he was re-discovered by English rockabilly fanatic 'Breathless' Dan Coffey in 1967. Convincing Charlie that he should reactivate his career, Coffey organized a session at the Memphis Select-O-Hit studio on Lookout Drive where Feathers revived his heyday at Meteor and King when he cut an impeccable version of Hank Thompson's "Wild Side Of Life". Johnny Bond's "I Wonder Where You Are Tonight" was transformed into "Where's She At Tonight" (a song Charlie would later re-record as "Rain") with a Feathers original, "Don't You Know", a slow but driving country ballad, rounding out the session. This session was rapidly followed by further dates at Select-O-Hit into 1968, where Charlie churned out one tune after another like the old hand that he was. The five or six years away from a studio seemed like a matter of days, as he brought his "fillin'" to bare on country weepers and uptempo rockabilly numbers alike, and witnessing atleast one release on Tom Phillips' (Sam's brother) Philwood label.
Coupling a rendition of the Johnny Burnette Trio's "Tear It Up" with a "Tongue-Tied Jill" spin-off, "Stutterin' Cindy", Charlie's Philwood single was fervently snatched up by his English fans, who considered his records to be the equivalent of gold. As a result, Feathers was rarely away from the studio or local Memphis clubs. By the mid-seventies he could be found playing regularly at the Hilltop Lounge in his adopted home town and, in 1974, purchased shares in the Phoenix Club on Lamar Avenue, where he also began playing gigs with a band that now featured his son, Bubba, as lead guitarist. It was also during this period that the pilgrimage of his European fans to Memphis commenced, an occurrence that Charlie was not entirely comfortable with at first, "One night these two Frenchmen came in. Now I'm up there singin' and each of these guys pulls down one of my socks and starts kissin' my feet on the ankles, so I start Kickin' 'em! Hell, I thought they was queers, 'cept I come to found out later, I was their hero and that was their way of honorin' me!"
Over the next few years Feathers continued to record and perform prolifically, cutting a forty-five for Ronnie Weiser's Rollin' Rock label, with much of his early to mid-seventies Tom Phillips' produced recordings issued on the Barrelhouse label. Following an acclaimed performance at London's Rainbow Theatre on April 30, 1977 as part of the 'Sun Sound Show' (that also featured Warren Smith, Jack Scott, Buddy Knox and Crazy Cavan), recorded and released by EMI's Harvest subsidiary, Charlie extended his new found, and much belated, fame to an American audience when he performed on NBC-TV's 'Little Old Show' in 1979. Charlie's appearance on the program, as released on the Lunar label, became the catalyst by which he finally received the respect and admiration of his fellow countrymen, an adoration that had eluded him since he made his first recordings for Sun over twenty years previous.
During the eighties and nineties, Feathers' career proceeded unabated. Records were issued on his 'Feathers' label and, after battling a diabetes related illness, cut a disc for the major Elektra label in 1990. The release of this album, simply titled "Charlie Feathers", was a turning point in Charlie's life. He proved he still had that "fillin'" and was determined to set the history books straight when he sang "We Can't Seem To Remember To Forget", a tune that he probably included on the album out of stubborness and more than just a pinch of malice towards his critics. As important as it was, the Elektra disc met a quiet reception, as did a Billy Poore produced album released by Sunjay a few years later.
Charlie must have been gratified by his achievements, though. The prosperity that he found during the seventies had long been due to him. Consequently, he settled into the nineties content with entertaining die hard fans of the big beat, weaving stories of his life, whether tall or true. His many devotees lapped up these tales and kept coming back for more. But that was Charlie Feathers. Charlie Feathers the man, take him or leave him.
Charlie's own story, rich with consummate acts that needed no embellishment, came to a sudden close on August 25, 1998 when he suffered a stroke and was admitted to the St. Francis I.C.U in Memphis. Falling into a coma a day later, his condition deteriorated and he passed away on August 29.
His passing was a sad, sad loss, not only to his beloved family and relatives, but also to his many admirers worldwide. Charlie Feathers will be sorely missed. He was a character unto himself, as unique as an individual could be and he made damn sure that all those whose paths he crossed knew it. His music will remain as his legacy, a legacy that could not possibly be copied, as he was so incomparably original. Charlie, you will never be forgotten and may you rest in peace.
More info soon at:
[Ads by Google]