Born 24 October 1935, Tulsa, Oklahoma
Tulsa-born Sanford Clark moved with his family to Phoenix, Arizona, at age nine and began playing guitar at the age of twelve. Until 1953 he played around Phoenix, then he enlisted for a four-year hitch in the U.S. Air Force, which initially took him to Johnston Island in the Pacific. His next assignment was back home in Phoenix where he returned to the clubs when off-duty. Guitarist Al Casey, Clark's lifelong friend, persuaded him to get on stage at the Arizona Hayride. Casey brought along Lee Hazlewood, a 27-year old deejay from KTYL who was looking for someone to record a song he had written. Hazlewood liked Clark's style and in March 1956 the three men pooled $ 215 to cut "The Fool" at a Phoenix studio owned by Floyd Ramsey. The song was credited to Naomi Ford, Hazlewood's wife. "At that time you couldn't be a producer and a manager and a songwriter and publisher all as one, so he put the song in his wife's name", Clark explained.
"The Fool" was meant to be a country song, but after Al Casey came up with a guitar riff out of an R&B song ("Smokestack Lightning" by Howlin' Wolf), Hazlewood felt that the song shouldn't be released on his own Viv label, which was strictly country, but on MCI, a label jointly owned by Hazlewood, Floyd Ramsey, Jimmy Wilcox and Connie Conway. Wilcox, who played bass on the session, remembers that it took more than 100 takes of "The Fool" before Hazlewood was satisfied. This wasn't Clark's fault, though, it was more a matter of Hazlewood experimenting with all kinds of tape echo, trying to get a certain sound.
1500 MCI copies were pressed, with "Lonesome For A Letter" (from a rockabilly point of view, Clark's finest record) on the B-side. Nothing was happening until influential Cleveland deejay Bill Randle started pushing the record. Randle also tipped off Randy Wood, who reissued "The Fool" on Dot in June 1956. With Dot's superior distribution behind the record, it reached # 7 on the Billboard pop charts in September. (Also # 5 R&B and # 14 country.)
Clark and Casey hit the road (after an early discharge from the Air Force), with big names like Gene Vincent, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins. The follow-up record, "A Cheat" (released in November 1956), had the same dark air of mystery that "The Fool" had, but got no higher than # 74 on the charts. Five more Dot singles followed in 1957-58 (of which I like "Modern Romance" best), but nothing charted. Sanford was having trouble with Dot honcho Randy Wood, who tried to turn him into another Pat Boone. In the spring of 1958, Clark, Hazlewood and Casey moved to the Jamie label, where Duane Eddy was just starting his long string of hits. Duane played on some of Clark's Jamie recordings, but to no commercial avail. Al Casey quit touring with Sanford in the summer of 1958 to join Duane on tour as a bassist. All of the ten Jamie sides were released in the UK, on London American (three singles and an EP), unlike the Dot recordings, which were limited to one single ("The Fool", of course) and one EP on London.
After leaving Jamie in 1960, Clark recorded only sporadically for several years : one single for 3-Trey in 1961 and another one-off single for Project Records in 1964. After moving to Hollywood, he and Lee Hazlewood tried their luck at Warner Bros Records in 1964. Clark nearly had a hit in 1965 with Hazlewood's composition "Houston", until Dean Martin covered it later that year, scoring a # 21 hit. Next, Sanford had five country-tinged singles released on Floyd Ramsey's Ramco label in 1966-67, including a remake of "The Fool", with Waylon Jennings on guitar, but "A Cheat" would remain Clark's last chart entry. There were enough Ramco tracks for an album, but Ramsey didn't release one at the time. It was up to Ember Records in the UK to package these titles on "They Call Me Country" in 1968.
Lee Hazlewood had gone to the big time at Warner/Reprise, producing Frank and Nancy Sinatra, Dean Martin and doing his own successful solo recordings in Hollywood. But he stayed in touch with Sanford and eventually Clark wound up on Hazlewood's independent LHI label, for which he cut an album ("The Return Of the Fool") in 1968. It included one of the first versions of "The Son Of Hickory Holler's Tramp" (not the first, as Sanford claims, that was Johnny Darrell), soon an international hit for O.C. Smith. Clark was far from happy with the hasty way he had to record his vocals over the pre-recorded backing tracks. By the 1970s he was no longer playing music full-time and made his living in the construction business and in gambling, as a highly skilled blackjack player.
In March 1982 he recorded again, with his old buddies Al Casey and Lee Hazlewood, in Los Angeles. But only two of the eleven recordings were released at the time, a single ("Mother Texas"/"Now I Know I'm Not In Kansas") on Clark's own Desert Sun label. The remaining nine tracks stayed in the can until Bear Family released them in 1993. In the 21st century Sanford has occasionally returned to the stage, with performances at Hemsby, England (2001, 2009), Viva Las Vegas (2002) and Green Bay, Wisconsin (2002), joined by Al Casey, his original guitar player.
For the past two decades Clark has been living in Epps, Louisiana, the hometown of his wife, Marsha. Though he had only one major hit, it's unfair to call him a one-hit wonder. Sanford is a genuine artist who has recorded strong and varied material over a long period. His understated vocal style had a strong influence on Ricky Nelson.
More info : http://www.rockabillyhall.com/SanfordClark.html
Discography / sessionography : http://countrydiscography.blogspot.nl/search/label/Clark%20Sanford
Acknowledgements : Rich Kienzle, John P. Dixon, Rob Finnis, Johnny Vallis.
Dik, November 2012
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