Archive | November, 2012

Sun Records

29 Nov

Here’s Hank Davis, one of the three Sun Records experts who are producing Bear Family’s trio of box sets (coming next year). Hank is checking proofs of his own Bear Family platter, ‘One Way Track’ – available now at the record shack round the corner from you.

To give you some idea of the efforts that went into these projects, here’s the story how they tracked down Hannah Fay. During the research for a previous Bear Family project, a tape box with two songs turned up at the Sun Records vaults. Over to Hank:

“Now we were faced with identifying and finding the singer. Surprisingly, her sides had escaped the Sun reissue boom and her name appears in no Sun discography.

Who was Hannah Fay? The best clue we had was an obvious connection to Biloxi, Mississippi. One of her songs (The Miracle Of You) was known to us. It was composed by Biloxi songwriter/producer Pewee Maddux. Ernie Chaffin, also from the Biloxi/Gulfport area had recorded a version of Miracle for Sun in June, 1958, which was released on Sun 320 the following year.  Also, two records by Hannah Fay (or Hanna Faye, as she had been billed) appeared on the Fine label in 1956 (Fine 1008 – It Pays To Be True / Easy To Remember; Fine 1012 – Oh Why / Searching For Someone Like You). Fine Records was owned by three Biloxi residents: Yankee Barhonovich, Marion ‘Prof’ Carpenter, and Pee Wee Maddux. Unfortunately, all three principals are deceased so I turned to their living relatives for information. Winona Carpenter, Prof’s widow who still administers Singing River Music, remembered Hannah Fay as a “very attractive, slim brunette.” That was it. Encouraging, but no last name, and no forwarding address. Sid Maddux, Pewee’s brother, thought he recalled a singer named Hannah Fay, although several phone calls and interviews later it was clear that Maddux had ‘Ann Raye’ in mind. It was an understandable mistake. Ann Raye? Hannah Fay? Two women singers, approximately the same age, both with a Biloxi connection, and both of whom had recorded for Fine records. (Ann Raye had also recorded for Starday and Decca). And, it turns out, Ann Raye was label-owner Yankee Barhonovich’s daughter. Ann Raye, who still lives and works in Biloxi, could not initially recall anything about Hannah Fay. About a week later she recalled a young singer whom her dad was very excited about. “In 1957, I married and gave up my career. The book was closed on me so they were picking up on someone else. I remember a girl. It was probably Hannah Fay. Daddy said she had a great voice and was going to go places.”

At this point in the search, I enlisted the aid of a local reporter from Mississippi’s ‘The Sun Herald.’ Kat Bergeron was a seasoned newspaper journalist who knew the area and, in her words, “loved a history mystery.” She had found one. Then we got our first break. Pee Wee’s daughter told us (through her uncle Sid) that she recalled Hannah Fay. Ms. Maddux confirmed that Hannah was indeed attractive, slim and brunette, and then – for the first time – she provided us with a last name: Harger. This began a series of phone calls to Hargers in Mississippi. There are a lot of them. Some of them had kin in Florida and Indiana. They had to be called as well. All to no avail. We learned that a woman named Hannah Harger invented the screen door in 1887. After that, the trail ran cold. Finally, with less than a week to go before deadline, we played our trump card. Kat Bergeron wrote a special column for the Sunday paper. ‘Hannah Fay, Where Are You?’ it cried out to the residents of six southern Mississippi counties. We figured if we didn’t have a reply within 24 hours, the search was – for all intents and purposes – over.

On Sunday night, the telephone rang. A cousin of Hannah Fay’s who had never met her saw the piece in the paper. He could hardly believe it. He dug out Hannah’s telephone number in Baton Rouge where she had spent the past 42 years living quietly as a housewife, and called to give her the news. Then the dam broke, with phone calls flying almost non-stop between Canada, Mississippi and Louisiana. Finally, Hannah Fay got to tell her story. “I was just a kid. I started singing when I was about 11 with my brother Buddy’s band. He played steel guitar. I remember when I was quite young we all made a trip to Nashville and appeared at the Corral, a western apparel store that was owned by Hank Williams and his wife. I still have an old newspaper clipping about that. I made my records when I was no more than 16. By 1960, that chapter of my life was over. I got married and I stopped singing. My whole life changed. I put Hannah Fay away somewhere in an album. That was the end of it. I became a housewife and a mother. I have two sons and seven grandchildren. When anybody refers to me as Hannah Fay, I know they knew me from before 1960.”

Read more in the book accompanying ‘The Sun Rock Box’!