Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Frank Ifield - Tobacco Road 1961 and the story behind the song.

Frank Ifield  - Tobacco Road 1961
by Trev Teasdel

Coventry born Frank Ifield recorded a cover of JD Loudermilk's Tobacco Road  in 1961, long before Micky Most produced the Nashville Teens hit version in 1964!

Frank Ifield, born in Coundon, Coventry 30 November 1937, to Australian parents. Ifield emigrated to Dural, 50 km (31 mi) from Sydney, with his parents in 1946. At the age of 13 he recorded "Did You See My Daddy Over There?", and by 19 was the No. 1 recording star in Australia and New Zealand. He returned to the UK in 1959 after being demobbed from his National Service which had interrupted his musical career.

Frank gained a two-year contract with Norrie Paramor, A&R man for Columbia EMI after appearing on BBC TV. His first single was 'Lucky Devil' in 1960 and it made the lower regions of the UK pop charts and with it came his first major booking - a summer season in the Isle of Jersey with comedians Mike & Bernie Winters.

During the 1960's Frank made about 30 singles, mostly for Columbia with the last two of the decade for Decca.

Frank Ifield verses Elvis and the Beatles.
His first major hit was of course I Remember You in 1962 which topped the charts for seven weeks.  Wayward Wind, in 1963 made him the first UK-based artist to reach No. 1 three times in the UK in succession. The only other person to have done so at that point was Elvis Presley. In 1962 it was usual for Elvis to knock Frank off the top spot (usually after a long run) when his latest single came out but mid 1963 Ifield's Confessin' (That I Love You)  kept Elvis's Devil in Disguise off the top spot (at least in the NME charts in which Devil in Disguise only reached the No2 spot). In the Official Charts UK however, Devil in Disguise did make the No 1 spot. In the NME UK singles chart Ifield's Wayward Wind shared the top spot for one week only with the first Beatle single Please Please Me.

Note - Youtube of  the various versions of Tobacco Road below this article.

Tobacco Road by JD Loudermilk

I was born in a trunk.
Mama died and my daddy got drunk.
Left me here to die alone
In the middle of Tobacco Road.

Growin' up rusty shack,
All I had was hangin' on my back.
Only you know how I loathe
This place called Tobacco Road.

But it's home, the only life I ever known.
Only you know how I loathe Tobacco Road.

Gonna leave, get a job
With the help and the grace from above.
Save some money, get rich and old,
Bring it back to Tobacco Road.

But it's home, the only life I ever known.
Only you know how I loathe Tobacco Road.

Bring that dynamite and a crane,
Blow it up, start all over again.
Build a town, be proud to show.
Gives the name Tobacco Road

Tobacco Road is a blues song written and first recorded by John D. Loudermilk in 1960.
Most people will know the song as a hit by The Nashville Teens and produced by Micky Most in 1964 and an uptempo version many would regard as the best. The Nashville Teens version went to no 6 on the UK chart (No 5 in the NME chart) and No 14 in the US.

However, there were 7 version produced before the Nashville Teens got hold of the song, including John D Loudermilk's own version by Lou Rawls and one by Frank Ifield.

Originally framed as a folk song, Tobacco Road was a semi-autobiographical tale of growing up in Durham, North Carolina. Released on Columbia Records, it was not a hit for Loudermilk, achieving only minor chart success in Australia. His original version was issued in 1960 as the B Side to Midnight Bus. Other artists, however, immediately began recording and performing the song.

Midnight Bus - JD Louderm

In An Avid's Guide to Sixties Songwriters 1999 - 2017, Peter Dunbavan  "The song is partly autobiographical, Tobacco Road being in East Durham where he was raised, but he wasn't 'born in a dump', his 'momma didn't die when he was young',nor did his 'daddy get drunk'.Tobacco Road was Marvin's Alley, a street in East Durham that's now called Morven Place, and in the fifties the alley was a crime haven dominated by prostitution and gambling. It was a road used for rolling hogsheads of Tobacco down to the cigarette factory where JDL worked, and he knew Tobacco Road's reputation."

Loudermilk himself said in American Songwriter Magazine January/February 1988): "I got the idea for writing that song from a road in our town that was called Tobacco Road because it was where they rolled the hogsheads full of Tobacco down to the river to be loaded onto barges. Along that road were a lot of real tough, seedy-type people, and your folks would have just died if they thought you ever went down there."

Marvin's Alley (Morvens Alley) - believed to be the inspiration for the 'Tobacco Road' of the song in East Durham,North Carolina.

Hogsheads of Tobacco

"The English group The Nashville Teens' garage rock / blues rock rendering was a bold effort featuring prominent piano, electric guitar, and bass drum parts and a dual lead vocal. Mickie Most produced it with the same tough-edged-pop feel that he brought to The Animals' hits. "

JD Loudermilk also wrote Indian Reservation, a hit for former Coventry band - The Sorrows' lead singer - Don Fardon, reaching No 2 November 28th 1970.

Frank Ifield's version was the B side of his fifth UK single for Columbia in May 1961, Life is a Holiday. It was one of the early covers of the song but it wasn't a hit wasn't a hit however. The arrangement was by Ken Jones.

Pete Chambers, Director of Coventry Music Museum with Frank Ifield.

Tobacco Road by JD Loudermilk

Frank Ifield Tobacco Road 1961

Lou Rawls Tobacco Road

Nashville Teens Tobacco Road

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