God knows how long George Gimarc has had these acetates -- "probably 10 years," guesstimates the jock-turned-historian, "maybe longer." Somewhere between then and now, the once-upon-a-rock-and-roll alternative forgot all about the fact he had four songs cut by a country singer and Dallas disc jockey named Woody Johnson in the late '40s in a home studio across the street from SMU. Gimarc found them only a day ago while digging through his archives as he prepares for the July 25 grand-opening of the Texas Musicians Museum in downtown Irving, where he's co-founder and head archivist.
It's a major discovery featuring a minor artist -- four unreleased songs recorded in the Highland Park home studio of Jim Beck, one of country music's greatest producers and, as we debated back in April, the man who might have turned Dallas into the country-music capital had he not inhaled hydrachloride fumes at his Forest Avenue studio in 1956 at the age of 39.
Can't say there's much out there about Woody Johnson (or his Western All Stars). According to The Dallas Morning News archives, in 1953 Johnson hosted a 15-minute morning show on KSKY, which sat at 660 on the AM dial. His show aired at 11:45 a.m. -- in between slots hosted by singer Dewey Groom (one-time owner of the Longhorn Ballroom) and Jack Ruby, who used his 15 minutes to promote his joints, which at the time included the Vegas Club after he parted ways with the Bob Wills Ranch House and the Silver Spur.
He also shows up on a September 20, 1952, bill at Al Dexter's Barn -- on Cadiz and Industrial, across from the legendary Sportatorium. Johnson's name appeared just once in Billboard -- on January 30, 1954, in a single-sentence mention about his move to KGKO.
With Beck, Johnson recorded the four songs you'll hear below: "The Tears Of Shame" (which appears to be an original), two versions of "Lovesick Blues" (at the time a brand-new hit for Hank Williams following its February '49 release) and a cover of Jimmie Rodgers' 1930 song "Jimmie's Mean Mama Blues."
Beck's studio on Ross and Griffin was the landmark; that's where he recorded Lefty Frizzell's "If You've Got the Money I've Got the Time" and Ray Price and Marty Robbins and other C&W immortals. And he cut Johnny Horton sides on Forest Avenue. But best I can tell, these are the first recordings we've ever heard from Beck's original studio, which, according to his 72-year-old daughter Jane Robinson, was located in the servant's quarters behind the house on Mockingbird and Byron across from the SMU campus.
"He also did some recordings in the living room, because we had a real big living room," Robinson told me earlier this year. "That's where he was building all his equipment. Nothing could be sold. He built all his own recording equipment. He built us a TV too. When everyone was getting a nine-inch TV, he built us a 36-inch TV we had in the TV room. That was in the early '50s!"
She also recalls a house full of musicians -- Woody Johnson likely among them.
"They were always out of money," Robinson said. "They had nowhere to go. They had nothing to eat. We had the downstairs TV room, and they slept on the couch. Some of them slept in the studio."
And now, finally, we know what that studio sounded like.
For now, at least, this is the only place you can hear these recordings. But Gimarc's plan is to make his archives accessible at the museum.
"Our intention is to have it so you can sit at a computer and listen to things and go through PDFs -- a real research library," he says. "There's so much of this stuff we can't put it all on display. We'll rotate displays in and out because there's just so much."
Gimarc's hoping someone knows more about Woody Johnson than we do; maybe releasing these cuts will shake loose a few leaves from the family tree.
Until that day, then, enjoy: