Rarest Northwest Records: Rollie Webber (& Buck Owens) “Tired of Living” (1959)
Among the thousands of records produced in the Pacific Northwest since the very first musical recording was cut here in Seattle way back in 1923, are a number that cross-over into two notable categories: awesome music and rare as hell. I mean: music which is so outstanding that its obvious merits would be acknowledged by anyone with functioning ears and an open mind – but music that was originally issued on a vinyl (or shellac) disc that is so exceedingly scarce that almost nobody has ever seen, owned, or heard it.
Today’s example of such a specimen is: “Tired of Livin’” / “If I Knew Then” a 45rpm disc issued in 1959 by the Country Records label and credited simply to Rollie Webber. If the name seems at all familiar, perhaps it is because he was an early musical associate of Bakersfield, California’s eventually-famous honky-tonk band-leader, guitarist, and singing star, Buck Owens. And that is really where this little story begins.
It was in 1958 that the then-young and still-struggling Owens heard from one of California’s finest steel guitarists, Dusty Rhodes, that there might be better opportunities to make a living up in the Northwest. That advice quickly proved to be true. Owens moved up here, found work at a tiny Puyallup-based radio station, KAYE (1540 AM), and began meeting all the players on the Sea-Tac country scene. In seemingly no time at all, Owens recruited a fine band comprised of Don Ulrich (fiddle), “Shot Gun” Red Hildreth (upright bass), Nokie Edwards (guitar), and Dusty Rhodes.
Before long the group was drawing crowds to gigs in towns including Tacoma, Fife, Sumner, Steilacoom, and Seattle – and they also found their way into a local recording studio or two. The most prominent studio in the area at that time was Joe Boles Custom Recorders in West Seattle – the home of those hit recordings just then breaking out nationally for local teenage rock ‘n’ roll groups including the Fleetwoods, the Frantics, and the Ventures. Boles kept a Guest Log in his basement studio and many clients signed-in during their visits with him.
Thus it was around January 1959 that Owens and the boys – which now included guitar ace, Rollie Webber, as a replacement for Edwards (who’d quit to join the Ventures) – inscribed a few brief messages for Boles. Owens wrote: “I’ve never worked in a better studio or with a more cooperative fellow – You’re a great Guy.” Rhodes agreed: “Thanks for that good ‘Country’ Sound.” Hildreth noted: “Thanks for a fine job in our recordings. Let Country Music Live.” The teenaged Ulrich gushed: “It was sure an experience to record in your ‘studio’, it is a swell set-up.” And Webber expressed his gratitude: “Thanks for the fine session. Best wishes Joe.”
It is my best guess that the result of that session was today’s “Rarest Record.” Backing that theory is the fact that many local records produced by Joe Boles feature matrix codes etched into the dead-wax just outside each side’s paper labels. Numerical codes preceded by two alphabetical letters: the audio engineer’s initials, “JB.” And, sure enough, this Country Records single bears these codes: “JB 2371D1” and “JB 2371D2.” Another interesting detail, as we shall soon see, is that the A-side song’s composer credit is given solely to Webber, while the B-side gives credit to Owens, and both tunes were published by “Blue Book Publishing BMI.”
Moving right along, it was on March 16, 1959, that Billboard magazine noted: “Country Records, new diskery with headquarters in Tacoma, Wash., has as its first release, ‘If I Knew Then’ b/w ‘Tired of Livin’,’ by Rollie Webber, formerly on the Pep label. The firm is interested in hearing from deejays who would like to be placed in its mailing list.” Around that same point in time Owens was called down to Hollywood to begin a few recording sessions for Capitol Records.
That foray southward yielded “Second Fiddle” a tune cut with session players at Capitol Recording Studio – a song that would become Owens’s first genuine (No.2) hit. Meanwhile he returned back to the Northwest and continued gigging. On June 1st Billboard again noted: “Buck Owens, currently stirring considerable action with his new release, ‘Second Fiddle,’ on the Capitol label, is being featured in a new 30-minute seg, ‘The Bar K Jamboree,’ simulcast each Saturday afternoon via KTNT radio and TV, Tacoma, Wash. Other features on the show are Dusty Rhodes and Rollie Webber, with guests spotted on occasion to support the regular Bar K gang.”
But by June 16, 1959, Owens was back at Capitol’s studios cutting another couple songs – which would soon be issued as a Capitol single – one featuring Webber’s “Tired Of Livin’” and the other, a new one: “Under Your Spell Again.” That latter song also has an interesting back-story, in that it was directly inspired by a 1959 Capitol Records (F4168) R&B single: “Castin’ My Spell” by Johnny “Willie And The Hand Jive” Otis. It was in 1996 that I interviewed Owens at his Bakersfield headquarters and he happily told the tale while expounding on the art of songwriting:
“First of all, I’ll tell you: there’s no set way to do it. …There’s no set way. I’ve tried writing songs with people. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Other ways you write a song, where someone says something and it triggers something in you. Then there’s a way: you hear something. Maybe on the radio. I had a song … called ‘Under Your Spell Again.’ And while I was in the Seattle area there, I’m riding along in a car and there’s this Johnny Otis record, who was an old-time big-band guy. And they was doing a song called ‘I’m Going To Cast A Spell On You’ [sic]. Something like that. I think that was the title. And I thought: ‘Spell on you. He’s going…’ And I went home and sat down and wrote [‘Under Your Spell Again’] in about 30 minutes. And came to record it a couple of months later. And so you know, that’s just the way it happens sometimes. Something you hear. Anyway there’s tales and tales about how songs are written. And I’ve written a lot of ways.”
But, scoring a major hit is always a significant milestone for any musician, and this Capitol disc – coming on the immediate heels of Owen’s first Capitol hit, “Second Fiddle” – was an important one for Owens. “Under Your Spell Again” / “Tired of Livin’” (Capitol F4245) was released on July 13, 1959 and the A-side became a strong (No. 4) national smash. As for the B-Side? Well, the evil music biz had its nasty way, and the publishing of “Tired of Livin’” was transferred from Blue Book over to “Central Songs BMI” while the composition itself was now suddenly credited to “Buck Owens-Rollie Webber.”
The two songs would also appear on Owens’s debut Capitol album, Buck Owens, in January 1961, by which time he had moved back to California, and Dusty Rhodes and the Bar-K Gang carried on, playing frequent gigs at Tacoma’s Britannia Tavern, Seattle’s Circle Tavern, and the Evergreen Ballroom near Olympia. For his part, Webber stayed busy locally, cutting a more discs including another Webber-Owens composition, “Flash, Crash and Thunder” (Virgelle Records 725), as issued in 1964.
Decades later, right after I had just completed a couple hours-long interview with Owens, I asked him if he had a few more minutes to listen to a few song snippets that I’d brought along on a cassette. My goal was to have him help me nail down whether or not he’d been involved in a few records that I suspected he had played on. He graciously agreed. About 1.5 bars into Webber’s “Tired Of Livin’” 45 – which I didn’t identify beforehand – Owens exclaimed: “Yep. That’s me.” I said: “Wow! How did you know so quickly?” He said authoritatively: “That’s my guitar playin’ – I just know when I hear it. Where’d you get that?” I explained, again, that I’d been long collecting Northwest records and had a few mysterious ones that I could use his input on. So, we tested a few more songs and he was similarly helpful. But then he suddenly turned to his assistant and sort-of whispered something like: “You stay on this. You get this feller’s information.” Well, I have stayed in contact with Owens’s team over the years – and now everybody has “this feller’s information” about one insanely rare record – and I hope you enjoyed reading about its saga. [PS: the photograph of me shown here playing Buck Owens’s very own guitar, was taken that same day in his private office.]
[Essay originally posted at Peter Blecha’s “Northwest Music Archives” site]