SugarHill (Actually Gold Star) In the '50s, The Decade It Became A House Of Hits
[Ed Note: All this week, to celebrate the release of Dr. Roger Wood and Andy Bradley's new book House of Hits: The Story of Houston's Gold Star/SugarHill Recording Studios and preview this weekend's related festivities at Sig's Lagoon and the Continental Club, Rocks Off and Lonesome Onry and Mean are looking at the history of the legendary Houston recording compound, decade by decade. Monday, we did the 1940s. Today, the '50s.]
The 1950s were a truly golden decade for Gold Star Studios, which had not yet become SugarHill, as Pappy Daily's Starday Records (later D Records) scored hit after hit. Beginning with "Release Me," a No. 5 smash in 1954 by Jimmy Heap and the Melody Masters with Perk Williams, the studio was the site of 20 charting hits before the decade ended with Claude Gray's "Family Bible" (No. 7). In between, George Jones cut his first honky tonk classic, "Why, Baby, Why" (1955) and had six more charting hits before moving his recording time to Nashville in 1958. But Jones wasn't the only mega-talent who recorded for Daily's labels, and later the Mercury imprint. Beaumont tonker Benny Barnes scored a No. 2 in 1956 with "Poor Man's Riches," and Dailey struck gold with Johnny Preston's 1959 No. 1 pop hit, "Running Bear." Listen closely to the background vocals on "Running Bear" and you can hear Jones and Sleepy LaBeef.
But that barely scratches the surface of the talent Dailey discovered and brought to the studios in southeast Houston to record. Another Beaumont boy, J.P. Richardson - a.k.a. the Big Bopper - cut "Chantilly Lace" (No. 6) and two more hits in a 1958 session at Gold Star. And one of the hugest talents to emerge in the Dailey artist stable was Frankie Miller. Miller's instant classic "Blackland Farmer" went to No. 5 in 1959, and only six months later "Family Man" charted at No. 7 and established Miller as a star.
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