Joseph Manuel was born in 1912 in Town Creek, Lawrence County, Alabama. He passed away in Memphis, Tennessee 15 Jul 1959.
Joe Manuel was born in rural Alabama. He moved to the Arkansas delta with his family as a young boy and was raised on farms in the area until he was a teenager. His family were sharecroppers. When he was a teenager, he left home and started his career in show business by joining a carnival. A vaudeville comedian by the name of Dave Perkins took Joe under his wing and taught him the art of entertaining an audience. Joe learned to play the guitar and sing. In the early thirties, Joe was performing on radio stations in the Arkansas Delta country. By 1933 Joe had moved to Memphis and was broadcasting on W.N.B.R. Later the station was bought by the Memphis Press Scimitar and the call letters changed to W.M.P.S. The station also became the Memphis affillate of the Blue Network, which was the forerunner of A.B.C.
For a period of time Joe Manuel’s broadcasts were carried on the Blue Network – Prior to World War 2. In the middle forties, Joe moved to Dallas Texas and began broadcasting on a radio station there. The station’s call letters are unknown because so much time has passed, but the station made Joe an offer he couldn’t refuse. After a short period of time, because of family matters, he returned to Memphis. He was immediately hired by W.H.B.Q., where he stayed until 1950.
Freddie Burns, a historian of WHBQ and a former radio star of that era, relates this story: “When WHBQ changed owners in the middle forties, they increased their power from 500 watts to 5000 watts. Since the station was at the lower end of the band (56 on the dial), it had a much stronger signal than had it been on the higher end of the band … say 1000, 1250 or 1400.”
At this time, WHBQ moved Joe’s broadcast to the 5:30 am slot. His show would be broadcast between 5:30 and 6:00 am daily. When Joe’s show was moved to this time slot, it became one of the most popular radio programs in the south at that time. What happened was the farmers around the countryside would get up around 4:00 to 4:30 am to do their chores and come in to eat breakfast about 5:30. They would turn their radios to 56 on the dial and listen to Joe’s broadcast with their families while they ate their breakfast.
This show built up a tremendous listener following. Joe received fan mail from Georgia, Louisiana, the panhandle of Florida, Illinois, Kentucky and points east and west. That 5000 watt station was blasting out all over the south. There were not that many radio stations the time, and being that early in the morning and being that low on the band, they had tremendous coverage. During this time WHBQ ran a promotional event to promote their shows. They would send out pictures of the radio stars if the listeners would write in and request them. Freddie Burns says that during this event WHBQ was receiving over a thousand letters a day for Joe’s pictures. Sometimes Joe would take his band out for personal appearances and they would draw huge crowds.
During this period, the people who handled the advertising for the Holsum Bread Company approached Joe about writing a commercial jingle. Joe wrote and recorded “Holsum Bread Boogie.” a full length song which the advertisers condensed into a commercial. The jingle became so popular in Southern Illinois that the Holsum Bread Company brought Joe and his band up to Anna Illinois to do a show. He walked on stage in front of 11,000 people. It was a tremendous crowd for a country music singer in the forties.
Television came to Memphis in 1948 and the popularity of the radio shows, in general, faded quickly. Joe did not make the transition to television and ceased broadcasting his show in 1950. He stayed out of broadcasting for about two years, then moved across the river to KWEM in West Memphis, Arkansas and started doing a daily radio broadcast on this station. He stayed with this station off and on until his death in 1959.
Jimmy Rodgers was a hero of Joe’s and his influences can be heard in some of Joe’s music, particularly “Alimony Blues.” which Joe wrote and introduced on his radio broadcast around 1940. It became his most requested song. Joe was renowned as an accomplished yodeler and was the inventor of the Four Triple Swiss yodel.
In 1950, because of the vast amount of talent in Memphis, Joe convinced the idea of a stage show similar to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. He wanted to bring this talent to the attention of the public. Out of this idea was born the Saturday Night Jamboree at the old Goodwyn Institute Auditorium at Third and Madison. The Saturday Night Jamboree ran for two years (1953-54), and a lot of young Memphis musicians made some of their first public appearances on this show.
A unique thing about this was – that the young players and singers that appeared were going into the recording studios that had recently sprung up all over town. The artists were experimenting with their new found sounds. This sound combined country, blues and gospel. The world would soon call it “rockabilly.” Some of these singers and musicians would go on to become legends in the music industry.
Joe’s stage presence was strong and he knew how to entertain an audience. Whether he walked out on stage with his band or with just his guitar, his ability to hold an audience is still talked about today by old timers in the music business. Joe’s medium was live radio, therefore, there is very little recorded material today with his voice on it.
If Joe left a legacy, it was the inspiration that he gave to the young musicians of that era to do the best that they could do when they walked up to this microphone and the spotlight fell upon their shoulders.
Recently the State of Arkansas erected an historical marker in front of the building in West Memphis, that housed the k.w.e.m. studios until 1955. The Marker is dedicated to k.w.e.m. radio for the period 1949-1955. There is a picture of Joe and his band on the front of the Marker.
THE BEGINNING The Saturday Night Jamboree was a local stage show held every Saturday night at the Goodwyn Institute Auditorium in downtown Memphis, Tennessee in 1953-54. It was founded by Joe Manuel, a popular Hillbilly Radio Star of the 1930’s and 40’s.
A lot of young musicians around Memphis grew up listening to Manuel’s radio broadcasts and as young adults would congregate around him during their off time. Manuel recognized the talent in a lot of these young people. He realized that they they might succeed in the music business if given the opportunity. What they needed was a forum to show their talents to the public. He conceived the idea the idea of a stage show similar to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. From this idea came the Saturday Night Jamboree.
The First show consisted of Joe Manuel and his band and Marcus Van Story and his band. (Joe and Marcus were old friends). Marcus would open the show, then, after intermission, He would come back on stage (hat turned around backward, front teeth blackend, tattered clothes,etc.), Joe would play straight man, and they would do a comedy routine. Then Joe and his band would close the show
After a few weeks several of the young singers and musicians from the area started coming on the show. They were rapidly joined by others. Even entire bands began coming on the show. Soon the audience began to fill the Goodwyn Institute Auditorium. K.W.E.M. radio began broadcasting the jamboree. The show took off far beyond anything Joe Manuel expected.
Some of the Memphis area musicians who later became major artists, made some of their first public appearances on the Jamboree. Johnny and Dorsey Burnette were early performers before joining Paul Burlison to form the Rock N Roll Trio. Eddie Bond and his band came on the show. Charlie Feathers was a weekly performer. Johnny Cash was a regular the second year. He sang gospel at the time. This was before he signed with Sun Records.
Lee Adkins, Bud Deckleman, Harmonica Frank Floyd, Barbara Pittman, The Lazenby Twins, Lefty Ray Sexton, Lloyd (Arnold) McCoulough, Tommy Smith, Major Pruitt, Johnny Harrison and Larry Manuel (Joe’s son), were all regulars on the jamboree.
A very young and totally unknown Elvis Presley performed on several of the early shows in 1953.
But of more historical significance was something that was going on backstage in the dressing rooms. Every Saturday night in 1953, this was a gathering place where musicians would come together and experiment with new sounds – mixing fast country, gospel, blues and boogie woogie. Guys were bringing in new “licks” that they had developed and were teaching them to other musicians and were learning new “licks” from yet other musicians backstage. Soon these new sounds began to make their way out onto the stage of the Jamboree where they found a very receptive audience.
Within a year these musicians were going into the recording studios around town and recording these sounds. A couple of years later these sounds were given a name: “rockabilly.” The Saturday Night Jamboree was probably where the first live rockabilly was performed.
THE BUSINESS END
As the show became a success, Joe Manuel knew he would need help in the business end. Joe was a highly talent entertainer, but he was not a businessman. He approached an old and close friend, M.E. Ellis to ask his help running the business. Ellis had experience in business matters, owning a barber shop, half interest in another, and at one time was involved in the automobile business. He was both a fan and a friend of Joe’s, and had been trying for some time to become Manuel’s manager. After several discussions, the men reached a handshake agreement. Ellis would become Manuel’s manager and in return would step in and help with the business needs of the Jamboree. M.E. Ellis played a valuable role in the success of the Saturday Night Jamboree.
CLOSING DOWN THE SHOW
The show lasted for two years. At the end of 1954 the Goodwyn Institute owners informed Joe Manuel that they were closing the auditorium for a year for remodeling. Also, by the end of 1954, many of the performers had signed recording contracts, were having hit records played on the radio, and were going out on the road on Saturday nights. With no other appropriate location available to hold the Jamboree and the talent dwindling, Joe decided to close it down.
The Saturday Night Jamboree was never intended to play an important role in the launching of the Memphis rockabilly movement, but it did. It was an event that was in the right place at the time. Not only did many performers become major rockabilly recording artists, many members of the various bands became session musicians at different recording studios around the Memphis area. Many of the sounds that were born in the dressing rooms backstage at the Jamboree were making their way into the studios and would soon be heard around the world.
After closing the, Joe Manuel began a slow withdrawal from doing stage shows on the road, but continued doing radio broadcasts. He and M.E. Ellis dissolved their management agreement but maintained their close friendship until Joe’s death in 1959 (from melanoma cancer).
Joe Manuel died, never realizing the unique role he had played in the conception of rockabilly music. He did, however, know that he had proven his point, that these young musicians that he saw around Memphis, could succeed in the music business if given the opportunity.
CASES IN POINT
LEE ADKINS – Became a SUN recording artist.
JOHNNY and DORSEY BURNETTE – Teamed with Paul Burlison to from the Rock N Roll Trio, winning Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour 3 times, then becoming the Grand National Champions. They signed with CORAL Records and had a hit called, “Tear It Up.”
EDDIE BOND – Signed with MERCURY Records and had a huge hit, “Rockin’ Daddy.” Eddie became a major rockabilly recording artist of the middle and late ’50s.
JOHNNY CASH – became an American music institution.
BUD DECKLEMAN – Signed with METEOR Records and had a big country hit with “Day Dreaming.” This song gave Bud the opportunity to became a star on the Louisiana Hayride radio show.
M.E. ELLIS – Became an independent record producer, owning both the RIVERFRONT and the ERWIN labels. He produced a hit record on Kimball Coburn, “Dooby Oby Pretty Baby.” He Also produced “It’s a Little More Like Heaven Where You Are,” by an unknown singer-songwriter Hoyt Axton. The song was such a country hit in the middle ’50s that M.E. Ellis’ estate still receives royalties on it over 40 years later.
CHARLIE FEATHERS – Signed with METEOR Records and had am early rockabilly hit called “Tongue Tied Jill.” Charlie is not only regarded as a pioneer of rockabilly music, he is considered a music legend in many countries.
HARMONICA FRANK FLOYD – Although a drifter as his legend suggests, Frank made several records for SUN including “Rockin’ Chair Daddy,” which was released released three weeks before Elvis’ “That’s All Right Mama.” He is considered a legend in several countries.
JOHNNY HARRISON – Moved to Nashville and became a songwriter. He wrote the B side of several Louvin Brothers hit records.
ROBERT “DROOPY” HOWARD – Comedian in Joe Manuel’s band. Went on to be a comedian in Eddie Bond’s band and became comic relief for western movie star Sunset Carson.
THE LAZENBY TWINS – Signed with PEPPER Records and had a top forty record, “Ooh Ooh La La I Fooled You.”
LARRY MANUEL – Continued to work in the music scene around Memphis in the late ’50s. In 1959 Larry made a record for STOMPER TIME Records, “Don’t Try to Call Back Tomorrow.” It was a fairly commercial record receiving a lot of radio play and getting on the Top Forty in some areas. Larry became Memphis’ last new artist of the ’50s to actually make a record and take their band out out on the road doing shows.
LLOYD McCOULOUGH – Changed his name to Lloyd Arnold and became a big recording star in Canada, middle 1950’s.
BARBARA PITTMAN – Signed with SUN Records and had a huge hit with “Two Young Fools in Love.”
ELVIS PRESLEY – Became the most famous recording star of the second half of the Twentieth Century.
MAJOR PRUITT – Worked the music scene around Memphis and became a Disc Jockey.
LEFT RAY SEXTON – Continued to work in the music scene in Memphis with his band throughout the ’50s.
TOMMY SMITH – Signed with DACCA Records and had a big hit in the middle ’50s with a song he wrote, “I’m a Fool.”
MARCUS VAN STORY – Switched from playing guitar to bass fiddle and became a session musician at SUN Records. He played on my of their hit records. In later years, he toured the world as a member of the SUN RHYTHM SECTION.
Joe Manuel sing, Alimony Blues SUN 1954 [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1NoOEXdsW84]
Larry Manuel sings, Pin Stripe Suit [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IfS10eLTUn0]