31 tracks The Best of Spade Records There have been many colorful characters in the record business, Bennie Hess should be added to the list. The third of four children, Bennie was born February 10, 1914 in Chriesman, Texas, of a father who had worked on the railroad with the legendary 'Singing Brakeman', Jimmy Rogers. It's only natural that Rogers' famous yodeling and blues influenced style can be distinctly heard on most of the records Bennie produced on himself and others. At the age of fourteen, he left school and formed The Rhythm Wranglers, broadcasting their shows over KYFO in Lubbock. In 1945, Bennie recorded a #1 hit in the country field. 'Tonight and Every Night' on Black & White Records was on the same label that featured blues and R&B greats such as T-Bone Walker. Next he submitted a new tape to Mercury Records which licensed it for national release, but, typical of the shenanigans for which Bennie became notorious, he decided if Mercury Records could do something with it, so could he — so Bennie released it himself at the same time. Needless to say, mighty Mercury was not amused and the matter brought about an abrupt end to Bennie's national career. Nevertheless, he did become a well-known figure on a regional basis, performing on the Louisiana Hayride, Cooks Hoedown, the Big D Jamboree in Dallas and later the Grand Ole Opry of Nashville. In 1950, Bennie moved to Houston and recorded several sides at ACA Studios, known far and wide for its high quality sound. Once again he outsmarted himself. Renting a hole-in-the-wall building on Washington Avenue, down the street from ACA Studios, Bennie and a welder named Leo Holmes launched Bennie Hess & Co., Inc., 'Voice & Music Recording'. They invested a total of $1,500, which gives an idea of the quality they were capable of. They set up Jet Records to issue country products by artists such as Doyle Jones and Houston Slim, as well as Hess himself. With the outbreak of Rock & Roll he formed the Spade and the sub Major labels and he couldn't have chosen a better time to do so. The independent record scene was booming and all sorts of Texans were scoring hits on small labels: Link Davis, Kenny Rogers, Herb Remington, George Jones, Frankie Miller, Glen Campbell, Eddie Noack, Johnny Bush, Mickey Gilley, Sleepy LaBeef and Sonny Fisher. Furthermore, the sides Bennie issued on his Spade label were right in the happening bag. Some commentators have labled them rockabilly, but they lack the thumping bass and youthful exuberance of true rockabilly. Bennie's output was more akin to the blues-influenced country that had sold so well for Jimmy Rogers, Hank Williams and Elvis Presley. A little known fact is that the latter's career began in Houston in late 1954, when deejay Biff Collie took up Elvis' management, brought in his first hit on KNUZ/Houston with 'That's All Right Mama' and secured his bookings at Magnolia Gardens, the Eagle's Hall, the Palladium Club, Cooks Hoedown etc., as well as the Louisiana Hayride and the deejay's own Collie's Corner. Biff Collie firmly believed that Hess had what it took, just like Elvis. Thus, Hess and the other Spade personalities appeared on the shows Collie promoted, right behind the King! The problem sales wise was that Spade Records had limited distribution, while Elvis was on the larger and betterfinanced Sun label. Spade's sole distributor, 'Papa' Dailey, spent all its efforts on its own discovery, George Jones. Spade Records/Bennie Hess & Co., Inc. dissolved in December of 1957. Broke, Bennie took a new wife, Pearl, and released All his previous records under the new Pearl label. One of its artists was Vern Pullins, a country/blues performer who migrated from Bogalusa, Louisiana. Another, Royce Porter, worked and lived in Houston as did Houston Slim, Sleepy Skidmore and Maurice Corley. Pearl's other two artists, Doyle Jones and Ray Doggett, both owned local recording studios. By now, musical tastes were changing and Pearl Records never really got off the ground. Bennie cut a few sides for Musico and Maylo Records to no avail, so he moved to Nashville and once again reissued the earlier numbers, this time in a series called 'Golden Treasured Favorites'. He also recorded unknowns such as Paul Cross, Carl Gillian and Carl Greene. Ever the hustler, Bennie returned to Houston briefly around 1970 and called on Bill Holford, whose ACA Studios was bigger than ever. Bill recalls, 'Bennie possessed several tape recordings of when Biff Collie interviewed Elvis in 1954-1955. He had worked out a script whereby he wanted me to edit Elvis' words so that when they were played in the sequence he worked out, Elvis would appear to be congratulating Bennie for discovering him, rather than Biff! It wasn't possible to do. Even if it was, I wouldn't have done it. I don't think his intentions were honest.' Bennie hastened his retreat to Nashville and spent the rest of his life touting ' his son Troy as the world's youngest country and western singer. Apparently, the C&W world wasn't ready for a six-year-old honky tonk singer and Bennie died without ever having achieved the success he so doggedly pursued. In retrospect, it can be said that he produced some mighty good recordings, the four sides he released under his alter ego, Terrapin Jackson, are probably the most appealing to modern ears. An impressive body of work for someone who was his own worst enemy. Incidentally, Royce Porter went on to become a highly successful songwriter, recorded for Mercury # 71314 the rockabilly classic 'Good Time' in 1958 and scoring numerous hits with Conway Twitty, Tanya Tucker, George Strait and others. Vern Pullens lost in obscurity.