Born Theodore DeLano Riedel, 7 June 1937, Quitman, Arkansas
Singer-pianist Teddy Redell was born in North Central Arkansas in 1937. The family name was and still is Riedel. His grandfather emigrated from Vienna, Austria, to Arkansas in the 1890s and his father was a strawberry farmer, who suffered badly from the Great Depression. But the family did own an old upright piano and Teddy took piano lessons for eight years, from the age of six until he was fourteen. His piano teacher, Annie Witt, not only taught him classical pieces, but also boogie woogie and ragtime. There wasn't much demand for a classical pianist in rural Arkansas, so Teddy soon turned to western swing and hillbilly music. Moon Mullican became his idol and his principal influence. At the age of 15, he made his radio debut on station KWCB in Searcy, Arkansas. This was a success and Lloyd Sutherland asked Teddy to join his band for their weekly radio program on KWCB. His talent reached the ears of Wayne Raney, a major hillbilly star in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Raney asked him to work with him and featured Teddy on his regular TV show in Jefferson City, Missouri. On March 21, 1955, Redell went into Cincinnati's King studio with Raney and played piano on four tracks, including "Bootleg Boogie" and "Gone With the Wind This Morning". He toured with Raney's band until late 1956. In the summer of 1957 he auditioned for Sam Phillips, but as we all know, Phillips released only a fraction of what he recorded and these Sun recordings are not only unissued, but also untraceable. Redell did session work as a pianist for the small Dub and Stylo labels in Little Rock and, starting 1958, also for the fledgling Vaden label in Trumann, AK, owned by Arlen Vaden. In February 1959 he was asked to back up singer Tommy Wagner for a Vaden session at a radio station in Blytheville, but Wagner showed up with a bad case of laryngitis and was unable to talk, let alone sing. Vaden asked Teddy if he could sing. Redell struck a chord on the piano and roared into "Knockin' On the Backside". This became Teddy's first release (Vaden 110), coupled with "Before It Began" (aka "Shame Shame"), both his own compositions. In March 1959, he played piano on Joyce Green's "Black Cadillac" and Larry Donn's "Honey Bun", two of Vaden's finest releases, both pure rock n roll. For Redell's second session, Arlen Vaden took him to the King studio in Cincinnati, where Otis Williams and the Charms provided vocal backups. The resulting single, released in late 1959, was the excellent "Gold Dust"/ "Corrina Corrina", again two Redell originals. Teddy's next single is the one on which his reputation is primarily built. "Judy"/"Can't You See" (Vaden 116) was picked up for national distribution by Atlantic (Atco 6162). This gave Redell the nation-wide exposure that Vaden could not give him. Although it wasn't a hit, "Judy" has become a minor classic, especially since Elvis Presley recorded the song in March 1961 for his LP "Something For Everybody" (issued as a single in 1967, peak position # 78). Redell's "Judy" was also issued in the UK (London HLK 9140), but I can't recall hearing it on the radio back in 1960. Anyway, the Presley version ensured that Teddy would receive a handsome writer's royalty cheque every six months for the rest of his life.
Redell's fourth single was a rocking version of Moon Mullican's "Pipeliner" coupled with "I Want To Hold You" (Vaden 301). Again initial response was such that it was picked up by a bigger company (Hi Records in Memphis) and the record was even a "Spotlight winner of the week" in Billboard, but failed to chart. This single was my first encounter with the music of Teddy Redell (in 1968, after Cees Klop brought back large quantities of the record from his second trip to the US) and it's still my favourite of his records. Both sides feature top-notch accompaniment and are well sung. For his final Vaden single, he took another trip into the Moon Mullican songbook, with "I'll Sail My Ship Alone", which had also been recorded by Jerry Lee Lewis some 18 months earlier.
With his days at Vaden over, Teddy went back to see Sam Phillips and this time the recordings ("Me And My Blues", "Stop" and "Tired Of Love") did survive, although they remained unissued until the 1990s. In the autumn of 1960, Teddy was drafted and spent two years in the US Army, serving in Missouri and Texas. Back in civilian life, Redell resumed his musical career, doing session work and touring. Solo recording was limited to a single on the Razorback label with the Pacers (Sonny Burgess's group) in 1963 and a strong single ("Crawling Back To You") for Wayne Raney's Rimrock label in 1966.
Tired of the constant travelling for average pay, Teddy retired temporarily from live performing. He concentrated on piano tuning (having followed a course at the University of Illinois) and on a cattle ranch he had bought. Then, in 1978, Dutchman Cees Klop came knocking on his door. He had reissued the A- and B-sides of the five Vaden singles plus the 1966 single on his Collector label in 1973 (LP "The J.LL. Sound By Teddy Redell", Collector CL 1011, reissued as "The Teddy Redell Sound" on White Label LP 8813 in 1979) and asked Teddy to record an LP for him. Amazed by Klop's interest, but inspired by his enthusiasm, Redell put together a band of old friends and recorded the LP "Teddy Redell Is Back" (White Label LP 8815). Highlight was the frantic "Brain Cloudy Rock", which was also issued as a single (the sleeve says "The Rockin Piano Men Teddy Redell", a typical Klop-ism).
In 1988, Redell undertook his first tour of Europe. Part of the Dutch gig (in Zwolle) was released on the live album "Rockin' on the '88' in 88" (Collector WLP 8933). Klop started releasing CD's around 1990 and "Rockin' Teddy Redell" (Collector CLCD 4406, 30 tracks) was one of his first releases on shiny.
To celebrate Teddy's 50 years in rock n roll, Klop took him back into the studio in September 2001 and January 2002, just Redell and his piano. The 22 recordings from these two sessions make up the bulk of the CD "Young And Still Young" (Collector CLCD 4470, 2002), which also includes seven newly-discovered Redell recordings from 1952-53, which show his piano style already fully developed and his voice stil quite high. For me these early tracks are the best part of the CD. His 21st-century piano playing is still good, but his singing is a far cry from what it used to be.
Nevertheless, Redell's first UK performance, at Hemsby in 2002, went down well. I wasn't there, but I saw Redell in Hilversum in 1997, where the poor amplification of the piano spoilt much of the concert. The year 2005 saw yet another CD release, "53 Years And Still Rockin'" (indepedently released by Teddy). Again this is marred by flat singing, unfortunately, and only two of the twelve tracks are instrumentals.
- Official website : http://www.teddyriedel.com/index.html - Discography : http://www.rocky-52.net/chanteursr/redell_t.htm - Acknowledgements : Dave Travis (liner notes for "Young And Still Young"), Bo Berglind, Tony Wilkinson.
CD recommendation :
Dik May 2010
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