Mark V Meets the Public

In the early 1960’s WMRB disc jockey Bob Poole was branching out. Poole had spent 1960 hosting the Championship Wrestling program on Greenville television station WFBC.

After leaving that program he started a Sunday morning gospel television program that would bring the great gospel quartets of the 1950’s and early ‘60’s into the homes of Americans in television markets across the country.

 Groups such as the Speer Family, the Blackwood Brothers and the Statesmen were established national stars. Broadcasting performances of these groups on television was a ratings boon for the local station

The Trav’lers were a local quartet who bore the influence of these classic groups. They became regulars on Bob Poole’s Gospel Favorites. The Trav’lers and the Bob Poole’s Gospel Favorites show would be the linchpin in the expansion of Mark V Studios.

In 1961 the Trav’lers were a young group. Pianist Otis Forrest was just nineteen years old, the oldest members only in their mid-twenties. The groups talent for harmonizing was already gaining recognition in the gospel music world, though, and they quickly established themselves as a draw among gospel quartet fans.  When Poole had the group on his show the response was positive enough that the Trav’lers got to thinking about making a record to build on the momentum. Mark V Studios was still working out the bugs when the Trav’lers approached them.

“We had done a couple of little country things,” Joe Huffman remembers. “But it was all experimental at that point. We weren’t charging any dollars for anything.”

The Trav’lers sessions were in this category. The group came into the studio and recorded their record The Trav’lers Sing Songs You Have Requested with the staff musicians and engineers of Mark V backing them. They did numbers that were hits from Bob Poole’s Gospel Favorites. No money changed hands for the sessions.

The sound of the recordings was pleasing enough that the Trav’lers wanted to feature the Mark V band on their future television appearances. The Huffman brothers sensed a door opening for them, but there were some issues to be worked out first.

“We had watched Bob Poole’s show and, to us, the sound was terrible,” Bill says. “So, we had talked to Poole through (Trav’lers members) Tommy Brown or Jack Pittman, I can’t quite remember who. But we got with them and decided that we would assist their sound engineers to get the sound right. The Trav’lers wanted their TV appearances to be like the record. But if it didn’t sound good, we didn’t want any part of it. That was our thing; sound.”

Joe Huffman finishes the story. “He asked us what we wanted for performing on the show. What we wanted was to be the staff musicians. And we wanted him to talk about how” we’re proud of our staff musicians from Mark V” on the show. Not Joe Huffman, not Bill Huffman; Mark V.”

“Back then Poole had a sidekick, Bill Hefner. Bill Hefner was with the group the Harvesters Quartet out of Charlotte. Hefner and Poole were kind of like Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon. Now, Bill Hefner would work it in where he would ask Bob Poole something like, “What do you think of our music.” And Poole would say something like, “I tell you what these old boys from Mark V can play. If you need any recording done you should go down and see these guys.”

Their appearances on Bob Poole’s Gospel Favorite’s television program are what put Mark V Studios on the map in the gospel music industry. The studio and its musicians gained a level of notoriety that made it the place to record for gospel entertainers in the 1960’s and into the ‘70’s. This was, in no small part, due to the caliber of players at Mark V. The Bob Poole publicity helped the studio assemble the players who would become it’s stable of session musicians.

“After that we were able to attract the attention of the best players in town who had the desire to work and do something in recording. These guys would come in and volunteer their time to rehearse. We started working on how to do a recording session. I’d write this out and I’d hand it to the band. Now, how fast can we get it to sound like professionals have been working on it for days. These musicians would train with us; no money involved. The Poole show was how we started to attract musicians other than us. Because we couldn’t do it all.”

A group of the best musicians from the Upstate began to coalesce at Mark V. The names of these players appear again and again on records that came out of the studio from 1962 until the mid-1970’s. Michael Burnette appears as art director, drums, bass and guitar, Pee Wee Melton on lead guitar, steel guitar players Larry Orr and Tommy Dodd, Joe, Bill and Harold Huffman on guitars and bass, Jesse Evatt writing and playing guitar, , Bill Medlin drumming or engineering, Buster Phillips, Billy Reynolds and Mitch Humphries on drums, Steve Mauldin on bass or as arranger, his brother Russell on drums and arrangements, and former Trav’lers pianist Otis Forrest on piano or handling orchestral arrangements.

Business expanded quickly after the brothers started taking clients and Mark V Studios soon outgrew the Mayberry Street location. A team of the studio’s musicians came together to create a new space that would accommodate the growth. Michael Burnette worked a day job as an architect. He designed a building on Michael Drive, just off of White Horse Road, to house the studio’s ever-growing arsenal of equipment. The studio team all put in time as laborers and the team turned to one of their own for construction as well, tapping Horace Mauldin’s firm as the builder.

Moses Dillard

Moses Dillard began a recording career at Mark V Studios that would put him in the company of many of the legends of soul and R’n’B music and win him a Grammy and a Dove award. The bands he organized helped launch the careers of some of the biggest names in music to emerge from Greenville. The story of his life and career parallel the changes that were taking place throughout the United States. It is a life impressive in its scope and accomplishments

Dillard was born in Greenville. His daughter, SC State Representative Chandra Dillard, recounts memories of his childhood that have been shared with her.

South Carolina District 23 Representative Chandra Dillard

“He started on guitar when he was twelve and he was something like a little prodigy,” said Rep. Dillard. “He started under the tutelage of a man named Bill Dover, the Bill Dover Band. My grandmother would let him go play with Mr. Dover because my father was such a good guitar player and Mr. Dover was the adult in the situation. He could look out for him. They would play at weddings and at the country club. And even going back 70 years, the country club crowd will tell you that they knew my father. My grandmother told him, “You go play on Saturday night as long as you’re in church on Sunday.”

Church for the Dillard family was the United House of Prayer for All People. The United House of Prayer is an Apostolic Holiness denomination with a unique musical tradition. The church, founded in Charlotte, NC by the Reverend Charles Manuel Grace, arose from the Pentecostal Holiness movement of the 1910’s and 20’ s. A singular musical style developed in their worship services that centered on syncopated rhythms and emotive, trombone-led brass bands. The style is a close cousin to early New Orleans jazz, but it developed on its own and is still played in Houses of Prayer today. It is hard to imagine that his experiences with this music did not make a significant impact on the young Moses Dillard.

A Virginia United House of Prayer band

Art Adams is a Greenville drummer with a long musical resume. He played in Dillard’s groups through the 60’s and 70’s and formed the proto- hip hop/funk group Point of View in the 80’s. He continues to perform with his group, the Carolina Beach Boyz today.

 While he and Dillard were still in high school, Adams started drumming for a local singer named Cornell Blakely. Blakely had recorded a single for Barry Gordy’s other label, Rich records. Blakely enjoyed some local fame.

“At first it was just a summer job with Cornell, just me and a guitar player named Billy Joe Goodman, great guitar player and singer. Cornell took us to Cleveland, TN and then we went to play in Chattanooga. While we were there, we had to get Billy Joe a guitar because he pawned his in Cleveland and didn’t tell anybody. Anyway, when we got back to Greenville, I told Cornell that I knew a trombone player in the high school band named Moses Dillard and they say he plays guitar too.”

They added Dillard and keyboardist Jesse Boyce to the band and continued working in Tennessee. The band soon decided they could do just as well back home, though, and they left Cornell Blakely and returned to Greenville.

Back in town, they picked up Dillard’s brother Henry on saxophone and booked a regular Wednesday night gig at the Ghana Club and Sunday nights at Spartanburg’s Robin Hood Club. 

“Then we started recording at Mark V studios with Joe Huffman at the old studio that was right there by the Meadowbrook ball park. First song we recorded was with a guy named James Poole, J. Poole, and a guy named Dwight McCombs. They were both from West Greenville, young kids. Then we went to Mark V on White Horse Road after they got big and started making money. That’s when we started doing most of the recording with the Moses band.”

 The “Moses band” was Moses Dillard and The Dynamic Showmen. This group cut a handful of singles at Mark V Studios. Records like Pretty as a Picture and I’ll Pay the Price walk a line between tightly arranged soul and funky pop, somewhat reminiscent of Motown records from that period.

Jack Clark worked the boards at Mark V for a period in the mid-60’s. He remembers Moses Dillard as a talented guitarist and a consummate professional in the studio.

“Moses was a great guitar player. One day Moses just happened to be in the studio with me and he picked up an acoustic guitar. He sat there and played an absolutely great arrangement of Malaguena. Playing that on guitar is quite an accomplishment, something very few guitar players ever master.”

Pianist and engineer Jack Clark shared this track from the Mighty Silvertones at the Mark V Reunion. Dillard’s guitar soars.

Dillard and the band were around Mark V Studios a lot in those days. They backed up gospel quartets and Dillard wrote and produced for vocal talent that he brought into the studio. Studio manager Joe Huffman tells the story of one singer.

“I remember Moses brought in this one girl, Carolyn Sullivan. He said she had a great voice but he didn’t really have a song for her. Well, he started pumping on this thing on the organ, this rhythmic thing and I spewed out some words. About fifteen minutes later we had a song. We were working with a guy in Texas and he shot it out and Phillips Records picked it up. It went to number one in San Francisco for like six weeks.”

Dillard and the band moved on from Greenville to Pensacola, Florida and became the studio band there for Don Schroeder’s record label, Amy/Mala/ Bell Records. There they backed up many of the biggest names in soul music in the late 60’s and 70’s; James and Bobby Purify, Sam and Dave and others.

“In fact, Moses had to go out with Sam and Dave and sing as Dave because Dave was drunk all the time,” remembers Adams.

Amy Mala Bell Records logo

The musicians settled back in Greenville eventually and reformed their band as The Tex-Town Display, adding Bill Wilson from Charleston along with Greenville’s Peabo Bryson.

Bill Wilson still performs in Charleston and released the album Stand Up! in 2018 at the age of 76
Grammy winner Peabo Bryson

While performing at Vorhees College in Denmark, SC, The Tex Town Display made the acquaintance of a young man named Lenny Springs. Springs graduated from Vorhees in 1968, moved to Greenville and rekindled his acquaintance with Dillard and the band. He soon began to manage the group’s business affairs. He also connected with Dillard in another area of mutual concern, civil rights. The two men became leading members of the Black Council for Progress. The organization was a grassroots effort to expand voting rights and end some of the persistent segregation that still plagued some Greenville institutions. Rep. Chandra Dillard highlighted the significance of the Black Council for Progress’s work.

“They were so progressive. They are the ones who really ushered in single member voting districts like the district that I represent. So, I am able to serve as a result of the work of the Black Council for Progress. And they helped African Americans get into corporate jobs. I remember seeing golf clubs in the house and I figured that daddy was always doing strange things. But, he was actually going out trying to integrate (Greenville’s) Bonnie Brae golf course.””

Notable civil rights activist and future NAACP national chairperson William Gibson was also a member of the Council. Lenny Springs would also go on to membership in the NAACP national board and a successful business career.

 The Tex Town Display had a hit with the song Got to Find a Way to Hide My Hurt in 1970. This led to a gig performing with the Miss Black America Pageant and a tour with the winner, Gloria O. Smith. They toured the world with the pageant on a USO package, even travelling to Vietnam to perform for the troops there.

Miss Black America, Gloria O. Smith

The band moved around extensively in the early 70’s. They went to Atlanta and recorded for Bill Lowry’s Ken-Tell Records. From there they went to Chicago and recorded with Curtis Mayfield, playing on his seminal track Move On Up.

 Eventually, Jesse Boyce left the band to work at Muscle Shoals studio and perform on records by Aretha Franklin. Boyce then joined the touring band of Little Richard and performed with him for years. He and Dillard settled in Nashville later and formed the duo Dillard and Boyce, releasing a few records.

Peabo Bryson signed on with soul label Bang records, moved on to Capitol and recorded several hits before performing in Disney movie soundtracks and winning two Grammy awards.

Moses Dillard continued working in music, cutting records with Dillard & Boyce as well as performing and producing gospel and soul records. Somehow, in between all his musical exploits, Dillard found a way to attend Vanderbilt University, receive a degree in divinity and become a minister. He won a Grammy and a Dove award for a gospel record he produced for soul legend Al Green in 1983. He died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1993. His longtime business manager, Lenny Springs, remembers getting the news.

“I had spoken to Moses just before I left to go to the NAACP national convention in Houston. He told me that he had just finished an album for a gospel singer and that he was going to send me a track. So, I left to go to Houston and while I was there, I got a call telling me Moses was dead, that he had a heart attack. Man, it rocked me,” he pauses. “Well, when I got back (home) to Charlotte there was the track and a note from Moses in the mail. I still have it.”

The life of Moses Dillard was that of a man with many facets and a very big heart. His cultural and historical importance to Greenville goes too often unsung.

Working On A Building

The seed was planted at WESC and the Huffman brothers set out looking for the tools to commit their guitar noodling to tape. It was not aspirational yet. They were hobbyists, pure and simple.

“(Bill) and Harold found somebody in Atlanta that had an Ampex recorder and two or three little items that made up basic recording,” Joe Huffman remembers. “We set it all up at Bill’s house, but we soon realized we would need somewhere to play where we wouldn’t disturb his family. We needed a place where we all had a key and we could go play anytime we wanted to.”

Henry Simpson, one of the owners of the Belk Simpson department store chain, held an interest in radio station WMRB.  There was an empty building on a lot on Mayberry Street where the transmitter was located. Bill paid a visit to Belk-Simpson’s downtown offices.

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Downtown Greenville, SC in 1960

“Seems like Harold had a connection with him, maybe through daddy,” waxes Joe.” Our dad was a taxi driver in downtown Greenville and somehow, we found out that building was for rent. And somebody knew Henry Simpson well enough to talk to him.”

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The Mayberry Drive building that originally housed Mark V Studios

“It’s the Mayberry Street building, by the old Meadowbrook ballpark,” Bill recalls.” The condition was we had to clean it out. But acoustically, it was already set up to be a radio station. I think he rented it to us for $100. So, the three of us worked out that we would each put up whatever a third of it is, not thinking that it would be an income producing thing. It was our hobby.”

On May 16, 1960, the studios of Spartanburg station WSPA had a fire. The station’s president, Walter Brown, estimated the damage at around a quarter of a million dollars.

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Don Dudley had a production credit on a minor hit by another WESC staffer, Allen Riddle’s The Moon Is Crying and he had his engineering chops from radio that he could expand upon. Looking to get in on the Huffman brothers recording project, Dudley drew on his radio contacts to inquire about any equipment that might be salvaged from the WSPA fire.

The Moon Is Crying on Greenville label Plaid Records

 “(Bill) was playing with Dudley when WSPA had the fire. Dudley said he knew some people over there and he thought he could get their Gates console, though it would have to have some restoration. And Dudley loved music, in his way, just like we did. So that’s how (Bill, Harold and Joe Huffman) came together with Dudley. So now, there’s four of us. So, sure enough, Dudley was able to get that recording console, I think it was for three hundred dollars.”

Bill corrects, “I thought it was a hundred and twenty,”

“It could be,” Joe allows. “It was not much. It was almost like it was meant to be.”

“A guy named Don Tompkins was an engineer at WESC. And he cleaned up all the contacts and restored that recording console for us. So now we got three musicians and a DJ and all this equipment and nobody knows where anything goes.”

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1950’s Gates recording console

In the early 60’s the recording industry was switching over from monaural to stereophonic recording. Anticipating the shift, Dudley and the Huffman’s came up with ingenious methods of using their ragtag equipment

“There was a left studio and a right studio that they used for the radio station and then (the building) had a little control room. They would switch back and forth between left and right studios so that, at the end of a thirty-minute program, the mics in one room would go dead and the mics in the other studio would go live. We never connected those two rooms, so we would just have the singers in one room and the musicians in the other and run them both through the control room so they could hear each other.”

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“Dudley was a DJ, so he had worked the WESC console. He knew how the buttons worked, but he was also figuring it out as he went along.” recalls Joe. “But the first thing we did was re-wire the console because it was monaural, which means you only had one output. And we knew that stereo was on its way.”

“What we did, we took that radio console that had the left and the right for the two different studios and we made it so the feed would go from left to right. So, it would be on the left track or the right track on stereo. We used that as our direction for sending it out to the tape machine in stereo.”

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The Mauldin family has a long association with Mark V Studios going back to the earliest days. Harold Mauldin was a vocalist with a wide vocal range who billed himself as the “One-Man Quartet.” In this example, Harold Mauldin sings all four parts of a four-part harmony himself, using the inventive multi-tracking method described by Joe Huffman.

The Huffman’s had a valuable mentor as they worked out all these technical bugs. Across the road from their brother Sam’s Carolina Plating Company facilities was a manufacturing concern owned by Robert Rigby. Rigby had worked as electrical engineer with Les Paul when Paul was developing his innovations in recording technology.

 Les Paul demonstrates his recording innovations

“Rigby gave us some advice that we hated to hear at the time, but found out later was right,” Bill says. “Because of Les Paul we kept trying to build gadgets and amplifiers and echo systems and things that would make us sound like Chet Atkins. But (Rigby) laid the cold, hard facts on us. He said, if you guys will practice your guitars you won’t have to do all that.” Both brothers laugh

The Huffman brothers also devised a way to turn a normal tape player into a device to create an echo effect for their recordings. By adjusting the interval of the echo, the space between sounds, they could play music back at slower speeds without losing the pitch of the recording. This way, they could listen to Hank Garland’s and Chet Atkins’ guitar solos note for note and learn their techniques.

“That allowed us to look inside of their playing,” explains Joe.

“We would sit into the middle of the night learning how to play one groove on the record, just to get that one lick right,” remembers Bill

Bill, Harold and Joe had a harrowing experience when they built a reverberation room in the new studio. Bill tells the story.

“We were listening to records and trying to figure out how they got that perfect sound. We decided that a good echo system was it. So, me and Harold and Joe went into the basement of that little radio station and we built our own echo chamber. It was sixteen feet long and three feet wide and we figure it out so all the angles were like they should be. We had that room air-tight. Anyway, me and stupid there got in there with that epoxy paint.”

The epoxy paint they were using emitted highly toxic fumes. In the air-tight echo chamber, the brothers could have easily lost consciousness or worse.

“And the more we painted the happier we got,” Joe interjects. “We could have died. We would have just gone on echoing in there with everything else. We often wonder who was looking out for us.”

At this point the studio was still a hobby for the Huffman brothers, but momentum was building and they started to think about giving their project a name.

“I don’t know why we thought we needed a name, but we had seen the new Lincoln Mark V and we liked that car. We didn’t want to put our name on there. And the Mark with the Roman numeral felt like quality.”

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Brother Sam Huffman had built a very successful business in the Carolina Plating Company. He did not care a lick about his brothers’ musical aspirations, but he was willing to lend some start-up capital, with interest, of course.

“I think it was $1200,” Joe recalls.

Before the departure of Don Dudley, this investment made Sam Huffman the fifth owner. That and the Lincoln solidified the name, Mark V Studios.

Sam’s affiliation was short-lived, however. A close friend and musical partner of Joe’s, Michael Burnette, had become a regular fixture at the new studio. The other four could tell he wanted to get involved. When Sam Huffman asked for the return on his investment, the door opened for Burnette.

“Mike thought he could come up with the money to pay Sam back. So that brought him in. Now, we are five again,” said Joe Huffman.

The relationship was a meaningful one. Mike Burnette was a multi-instrumentalist, an architect and a gifted photographer and designer. A great many of the records from Mark V credit him as art director. He became a key component that the fledgling studio did not even know it would need. 

Don Dudley withdrew from the studio, probably to pursue ambitions on the stage. But the personnel was in place with the inclusion of Michael Burnette, and the studio was set to document the sound of the South, as it was in the 1960’s.

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The Genesis of Mark V Studios

In the 1950’s radio station WESC in Greenville, South Carolina carved out it’s share of the local market with country and gospel programming like Earl Baughman’s Country Earl and Gospel Train shows and Floyd Edge’s Uncle Dudley show.

Joseph Floyd Edge adopted the pseudonym Don Dudley
Country Earl Baughman

Both Baughman and Edge (who would come to be known as Don Dudley) had their eyes on careers outside of the broadcasting booth. Country Earl performed with his band the Circle E Ranch Gang and Don Dudley with The Tunetoppers. These bands shared members plucked from a cast of local pickers and WESC studio musicians. Some of these musicians, like Paul Peek and Johnny Meeks, would ride the rockabilly wave to national stardom. For others, like guitarist Pee Wee Melton, these bands would be the start of long careers behind the scenes of the music business.

Pee Wee Melton album recorded at Mark V

Besides playing guitar, Pee Wee Melton worked the sales floor at Allen’s Music store in downtown Greenville. One day he struck up a conversation there with a young guitarist who was browsing the Stratocasters.

The young guitarist Melton met that day was Bill Huffman. I sat down at Stax Original diner in Greenville with Bill and his brother Joe Huffman to get the whole story.

 “I can’t remember exactly how it happened, but Pee Wee was instrumental in bringing me into WESC and introducing me around to other musicians in town. He was a pretty popular musician in Greenville then,” remembers the then-fledgling player.

Bill was the first of his brothers to test his guitar skills out on the public. But, along with two other Huffman boys, Joe and Harold, he had prepared the hard way.

It started for the Huffman boys in 1943 when older brother James was serving in the Navy. On leave and back in Greenville, he left an instrument with his younger brothers that would shape the rest of their lives

“That’s the first introduction we had to guitar. And that thing got in such bad shape from us trying to learn to play it,” remembers Bill. “It was a cheap guitar and the tension on the strings had caused the neck to (bow). Well, we took a belt and hooked it to the end up where you tune it and brought it around the back to put the tension on it so it pulled the strings down close enough to the fretboard where we could play it. We’d fight over who got to play next. We finally developed a way two of us could play at the same time. One would play the chords and the other would reach under and play the lead. Stupid stuff, but you do what you have to do when you’re trying to learn.”

Eventually Bill, Harold and Joe got their hands on some more playable instruments. By emulating their guitar heroes, they began developing technique and that ineffable quality known as “ear”.

“We both learned to play listening to Chet Atkins records, Merle Travis and Hank Garland,” Joe Huffman told me. “If you weren’t those three people you didn’t play guitar, in our minds.”

Spartanburg, SC native Hank Garland made a big impact on the Huffman boys. “Nobody plays with the speed, with the quality of tone and the beautiful melodic line of Hank Garland,” said Joe Huffman.


After the introductions by Melton, Bill began playing in the WESC studio band and became a regular member of Country Earl’s and Don Dudley’s outfits. When Harold Huffman got out of the Navy he joined in the fun, playing dueling Fender Stratocasters with Bill

“Some way or another I got associated with Country Earl first. Earl became very popular on WESC radio and we did shows around at the local high schools and things like that. We were the local stars, so to speak,” chuckles Bill. “Then I got in with Dudley. They called him Uncle Dudley then”

It was on WESC that the Huffman’s got their first exposure to recording their own music. The station had tape recorders and the bands could listen to play back of their rehearsals.

WESC Morning Show band featuring Don Dudley (standing center), Bill Huffman (seated with electric guitar) and Allen Riddle (back left)

“They had a recorder and we could go in with (the band) and hear ourselves play. Just for our own good. It never went anywhere. But that was the inkling of our exposure to hearing something back.” Joe recalls.  

With Bill and Harold picking in local country bands and that “inkling” of recording planted in there minds, a new avenue was opening up for the Huffman’s and their music.

 

Don Dudley

Don Dudley out spreading the word for country station WESC, circa 1960 (photo courtesy of Candy Poff)

Joseph Floyd Edge, known professionally as Don Dudley, dabbled in several facets of the music business. He was a songwriter, a producer, a disc jockey and a musician. He produced country, rock’n’roll, gospel and soul records. He also played a foundational role in the early days of Mark V Studios.

“In the last half of the fabulous Fifties, Country Earl with his early morning Country Earl Show and mid-morning Gospel Train, Floyd Edge as Uncle Dudley and the Chicken Shack helped make WESC a very successful radio station.” (from the book: Tall Tales, High Towers, Simple Ideas ‘N Stuff, by Wally Mullinax, Wally Mullinax Communications Consultants Inc., 2003 p.89)

In the 1950’s Edge began his broadcasting career at Greenville station WESC. His Uncle Dudley show was instrumental in establishing the country music identity of the station.

As the station grew and rockabilly took over national airwaves, Edge adapted his pseudonym to Don Dudley to achieve a less provincial feel.

Jeremy Edge, Don Dudley’s son, sees the logic. “With his first character he played, basically, a redneck named Uncle Dudley. But then, when he switched to the rock format, in order to keep some of that name recognition and still sound rock’n’roll, he went with Don Dudley. “

Among Don Dudley’s colleagues at WESC was Country Earl Baughman. Don Dudley and Country Earl worked day jobs at WESC while running around by night in a music scene that was gaining momentum in Greenville. The bands these two put together would end up being a training ground for one of the defining groups of the rockabilly era.

Baughman’s Circle E Ranch Gang and Don Dudley’s band, The Tunetoppers, shared a cast of musicians with Gene Vincent and The Blue Caps. Greenville’s Paul Peek, Johnny Meeks, Bobby Jones and Bill Mack all played with the Circle E Ranch Gang and The Tunetoppers at various times. All of them would go on to to play with Vincent and achieve legendary status among rockabilly fans. Meeks , Jones and Peek would appear with the Blue Caps on the Ed Sullivan Show performing Dance To the Bop, written by none other than Floyd Edge (Don Dudley).

Paul Peek claps along to Gene Vincent’s right, Johnny Meeks is the guitarist on the left and Bobby Jones is the one on the right.

Jeremy Edge tells of the night the gang back in Greenville watched their friends perform on Ed Sullivan.

“I think there was some saltiness (on the part of Dudley and Country Earl) because that was half of their band. Bobby Jones was the bass player in my Dad’s band for a long time. A bunch of those guys played with him and with Country Earl. It was hard to see them hitting it big with Gene Vincent while they were still in Greenville.”

Dudley (front left) and some of the Tunetoppers during there residency at the Palomino Club. (photo courtesy of Candy Poff)

It was another set of bandmates that opened the door for Dudley’s next venture. Bill and Harold Huffman had both been Tunetoppers for a spell. Word got to Dudley that they were building a studio. He used his broadcast skills and his contacts in the radio world to help get the project off the ground.

Don Dudley’s Mark V card

Although Dudley’s time at Mark V was brief, he was instrumental in the formation of the studio. He salvaged the first recording console they used from a fire that damaged Spartanburg station WSPA . With the gear they needed in hand, the three Huffman brothers and Dudley had the makings of a recording enterprise in place.

Control Room of WMRB, circa 1960. This is the station that leased Mark V their first building. The Gates console at front left is similar to the fire-damaged model Dudley got from WSPA.

Dudley departed the new studio early on, possibly to pursue his performing career. The Tunetoppers got a regular gig at The Palomino club in Los Angeles around this time. The Edge family followed their patriarch out to California to hobnob with rock’ n’ roll royalty. Jeremy Edge recounts a story he remembers his Dad telling.

“One night at the The Palomino Little Richard came in. After the show he invited the band back to his place to party. My dad said he had the whole place done up in pink satin, and he had heart-shaped beds in all the bedrooms.”

Mr. Pink Satin, Richard Penniman

Dudley’s daughter Candy Poff and son Jeremy Edge both remember their mother being none too keen on the move to LA. The residency at The Palomino must not have produced any great opportunities, because Dudley was back in Greenville soon after.

Dudley already had a producer credit on a record by friend and WESC colleague Allan Riddle (spelled variously Allen, Alan or Allan), 1960’s The Moon Is Crying. The song had reached #96 on the national country charts. It was released on the Plaid record label out of Greenville. Plaid records was the brainchild of a gentleman named Charles Rush.

Around ’60-’61 records began appearing on the Kall label that credit Dudley as producer. Many of these sides list the publisher as Duride. Others are labelled “A Riddle-Rush Production”. A logical conclusion is that Don Dudley, Allen Riddle and Charles Rush sought to capitalize on the success of The Moon Is Crying with Kall Records. Duride Publishing could be a combination of the names Dudley/Riddle. No one knows for sure. Jeremy Edge remembers hearing that his father was, indeed, involved in a label in the early sixties.

” It was Dad, Allen Riddle and a third guy. I can’t remember who he was, but they had a little label recording country and rockabilly stuff,” Edge said.

Kall released a couple more Allen Riddle singles along with a slew of bopping country records from South Carolina musicians who are mostly lost to the ages. Taken together, the Kall Records discography is a snapshot of a time and place where honky-tonk country, rockabilly, mountain music and pop all swirled together. The music conjures images of factory workers, truck drivers and farm hands picking away on the front porches and in the beer joints of mill hill neighborhoods.

The baleful fiddle on this tune by Wallace Hooper and The Dixie Ramblers makes it hauntingly unique. Regular Mark V songwriter and musician Jesse Evatt was one of the songwriters

(For more information on Kall Records, visit Mick Cocksedge’s comprehensive site: Kall Records !: The Kall 45 rpm Discography)

The Huffman brothers do not remember any of Kall Records releases being recorded at Mark V. Some of the later sides proclaim they come from Travelers Rest, SC.

Dudley continued working in radio, bouncing around to a couple of other Upstate stations, and playing with his new group Don Dudley and The Versatiles through the ’60’s.

Joseph Floyd Edge, aka Don Dudley, was a pivotal figure in Greenville music on the ’50’s and ’60’s. His body of work is vast and varied and offers an insight into the listening tastes of the Upstate at that time. He was instrumental in the musical careers of the Huffman brothers and the formation of Mark V Studios. Here’s to him.