Joe Stampley brought innovative shades of blue-eyed soul and rock to his enviable string of country hits during the 1970s and 1980s. It all came naturally for the Louisiana native, who began his career with a rock 'n' soul band called the Uniques. During both careers, his sound was grounded in heartfelt country music, big beat rhythm and blues, and the goodtime release of early rock 'n' roll. A consistent chart presence, his greatest fame came via a series of bestselling novelty duets with fellow country star Moe Bandy.
Born in Springhill, Louisiana, on the Arkansas border, Stampley's boyhood home was just fifty miles away from Shreveport, where the youngster heard Red Sovine and Hank Williams Sr. on the Johnny Faire's Syrup Sopping Show. When he was seven, the family moved to Baytown, Texas, just down the street from a country radio station where Stampley enjoyed a memorable meeting with Hank Williams Sr. "My mom took me down there to meet them," Stampley told the author in an interview for his book, Country Music Changed My Life. "I was a big Johnny Horton fan too. They were going to go fishing out on the bay out there, they're both big fisherman. Anyway, I told Hank Williams Sr. that I loved his songs—I could sing every song that he put out. He said, 'Well I'll tell you what, don't try to sing like me or anybody else. Just be yourself and sooner or later it may pay off for you.' I remembered that from then until now."
As a teenager growing up in the 1950s, Stampley also began to absorb the blossoming sounds of rock 'n' roll—Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and especially Ray Charles. "I also listened to WNOE when we moved back to Springhill, Louisiana during my high school years," he recalled. "Man, I heard people like Art Neville, Clarence 'Frogman' Henry, all the New Orleans sound. All of that was rhythm and blues and soulful music. I guess part of my sound came from listening to that music."
Stampley's soulful touch garnered the attention of disc jockey and songwriter Merle Kilgore—later known for co-writing Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" and Claude King's "Wolverton Mountain—who got the fifteen-year-old a deal with Imperial Records. Unfortunately, the coupling of "Glenda" and "We're Through" stiffed, although being on the same label as Fats Domino and Ricky Nelson made him a minor local celebrity. Never giving up, the aspiring singer landed another one-shot single on Chess Records in 1961, but his lone recording for the Chicago based outfit ("Creation of Love" paired with "Teenage Picnic") fared no better. Fortunately, a chance meeting at a local dance would lead to bigger things.
First Achieved Fame with the Uniques
Speaking with great affection, Stampley recalled how he joined the band that made him a star. "When I was in the tenth grade, a little band came down from Magnolia, Arkansas and played our rec center down in Springhill. Some of the kids said, 'Hey, you ought to get Joe up to sing a song or two with you.' The name of the band at that time was the Cut-Ups." Unrehearsed, the combination of the Cut-Ups and Stampley proved an overwhelming success with the local teens. "So they said, 'Man, would you like to join up with us and be our front man?' I said, 'Yeah, I'd love it!' Later on, we changed our name from the Cut-Ups to The Uniques."
From the get-go the Uniques—later known as Joe Stampley & the Uniques—proved a hit at college fraternity parties, teen centers, and high school hops. They played a crowd pleasing mix of R&B and rock 'n' roll cover songs accenting Stampley's bluesy country voice, a style known as blue-eyed soul. However, the band's dreams were bigger than the Ark-La-Tex sock hop circuit. They knew if they were to ever establish a national reputation, they needed a hit record.
A&R executive Dale Hawkins, who cut the hit "Oh Suzy Q" for Chess in 1957, listened to Stampley's spiel and directed the youngster to play something he had written. "That's when I cracked down on a song that me and Merle Kilgore had written a few years back called 'Not Too Long Ago,"' Stampley explained. "I got about halfway through with the song and Hawkins said, 'I'll tell you what I'll do. Get your band together and meet me in Tyler, Texas, at Robin Hood Brian's Studios next Thursday. I'll record that song and one more.' Sure enough, we got it together, pulled our little trailer out there, went to the studio, and we cut the first recording for the pop label they formed, Paula Records. I remember well, it was Paula record 219. They had this woman's cameo head as the logo—that was Stan Lewis' wife, her name was Paula."
Although it only hit number 66 nationally, the 1965 recording of "Not Too Long Ago" sold several hundred thousand copies throughout the Southwest, establishing both the Paula label and Stampley's band. At that same session, the Uniques backed another hit—Nat Stuckey's "Sweet Thang," which rose to number four on the country charts. The band's follow-up was Stampley's self-penned "All These Things," which barely scraped into the national Hot 100, but was re-crafted into a major country hit years later. Most of the Uniques' best work segued from the inspired garage rock of "You Ain't Tuff" and "How Lucky Can One Man Be" to impassioned soul ballads such as William Bell's "You Don't Miss Your Water." Perhaps the band's most enduring release was their version of Charles Brown's "Please Come Home For Christmas," which hit number 32 on the pop charts and still enjoys some seasonal play today.
Asked about the appeal of the Uniques and their sound, Stampley laughed. "I'll be honest with you, it was just raw." That raw sound fit right in with the Top 40 sounds of the 1960s, and at their peak the group enjoyed guest shots on American Bandstand, Lloyd Thaxton's Show and shared the bill with the Kinks, the Hollies, and Little Richard at a big Easter show at the Paramount Theater hosted by peaking kid show host Soupy Sales.
However, as pop music made the transition from the danceable go-go sounds of the early to mid-1960s to the psychedelic stylings of the late 1960s, the band's appeal diminished. Eventually, the members began to develop interests that would keep them closer to home, while Stampley still nurtured dreams of stardom.
Became a Country Star at ABC-Dot
The Uniques' last stab at a mainstream career came courtesy of Nashville song publisher/manager Al Gallico, whom Stampley had met through old friend Merle Kilgore. Gallico simultaneously placed the band with Paramount Records for a final single in 1970 and Stampley with ABC-Dot as a solo artist. After their record flopped, the Uniques quietly disbanded, but Stampley's career eventually caught fire. "Well, I have to give Al Gallico credit, he's a great song plugger and publisher and he knew a great song when he heard it," explained Stampley. "He found a lot of the songs that I had approval of and I would bring a lot of the songs in too, but I think that was the secret to our success. We put out three or four songs before 'If You Touch Me (You've Got to Love Me),' and we thought for a while there that we weren't even going to get the deal signed with ABC-Dot. Once we hit the top ten, then things started happening."
Asked if the Music City establishment voiced any resentment of his entering country music via rock 'n' roll, Stampley responded: "No, not really, because a lot of these people didn't even know where I came from in the first place. They just enjoyed the music I was doing." The singer gives much of the credit for his breakthrough to his producer at ABC-Dot. "I was the first male country act Norro Wilson produced, and so we kind of worked it up together. There I was, fresh into it, and Norro was a fresh producer. He kind of liked the soulfulness of my voice, so he wrote a lot of songs that were especially made for me."
For the Record …
Born on June 6, 1943, in Springhill, LA; son of R.C. and Mary Sue Stampley; married, wife's name Jo Anne; children: Tony, Terri Jo, Tim.
Began recordings for Imperial while still in high school, 1957; recorded for Chess, 1961; joined the Cut-Ups, which soon morphed into the blue-eyed soul band the Uniques, 1961-1971; with the Uniques, recorded first hit record for Stan Lewis' Paula Records "Not Too Long Ago," 1966; signed with Nashville song publisher Al Gallico, who placed him as a solo act with Paramount-Dot, 1971-1974; recorded for Epic, 1974-1986; teamed with fellow country star Moe Bandy for a series of buddy records on Columbia Records, 1979-1986; recorded for Evergreen records, 1988-1989; started his own label, Critter Records, 2001; began Arrowhead Records, 2003.
Awards: Billboard's Singles Artist of the Year, 1976; Country Music Association's Vocal Duo of the Year (with Moe Bandy), 1980; Academy of Country Music Vocal Duo Award, 1979, 1980.
Addresses: Record company—Arrowhead Records, P.O. Box 150006, Nashville, TN 37215, phone: (615) 371-0257. Website—Joe Stampley Official Website: http://www.joestampley.com.
Indeed, rather than shy away from Stampley's pop and soul leanings, Wilson accentuated them for the artist's first number one country single, "Soul Song." A string of solid hit country records followed and the former Uniques vocalist was a star in his own right. The singer laid down an abundance of quality tracks for ABC-Dot, a move that would haunt his career in the years to come.
Signed a Major Deal with Epic
After Stampley's ABC-Dot contract expired in 1975, Gallico moved his client to Epic, where he was produced by both Norro Wilson and the legendary Billy Sherrill. Right out of the gate they cut a bona fide classic, although Stampley says that he didn't understand the song's appeal at first. "When Norro Wilson presented 'Roll on Big Mama' to me, I said, 'I don't think so. I just don't get it.' He said, 'Well, if you just trust me—I'm going to put air horns, a truck cranking up, and the guitar going, and it's going to feel good.' He said, 'You just wail it out there—I guarantee you that we've got a hit here.' He was absolutely right. It's one of those songs that will last forever." The recording hit number one and became a mainstay on truckstop jukeboxes all around the country. But while Stampley was trying to establish his new Epic label recordings, he found that he was being undermined by his former label.
"During 1976 I think it was, I won the Billboard Singles Award because I had four charted singles in one year. The reason for that, after I left ABC-Dot, every time Epic would put out a single, [ABC-Dot] would throw out a single and they would all chart. There's only been two people to have a number one record after they've left a label. Charlie Rich and me. Charlie Rich—RCA put out 'There Won't Be Anymore,' it hit number one after he had struck with 'Behind Closed Doors' and 'The Most Beautiful Girl In the World.' Mine was 'All These Things'—that was put out after I left the label."
"All These Things" remains the quintessential Joe Stampley performance, just the right mixture of soulful passion, rock tension, and country sentiment. The song is his unofficial theme, the number he turns to at every phase of his career. Yet at the time, its success blunted his chart momentum. Country program directors, facing increasingly limited room on their playlists, were either playing Stampley offerings from one label or the other, but not both. As a result, Stampley didn't hit the top ten again until 1978, when Billy Sherrill took full charge of his recordings and issued the heartbreak ballad "Red Wine and Blue Memories." The two continued to strike a hot commercial groove with such tunes as "If You've Got Ten Minutes (Let's Fall In Love)," "Do You Ever Fool Around," and "Put Your Clothes Back On," but all that success would be eclipsed by an off-the-cuff duet idea.
Teamed with Moe Bandy
Columbia recording artist Moe Bandy, best known for such hits as "Bandy the Rodeo Clown," "Hank Williams, You Wrote My Life," and "It's a Cheatin' Situation," was appearing with Stampley at the Wembley Festival in England when the two men joked about teaming up. "One night Moe and I, [producer] Ray Baker, and my piano player, Ansley Fleetwood, went out to supper at the Hard Rock Cafe. Of all things, Willie and Waylon had just come out with 'Good Hearted Woman.' I said, 'It's amazing, Waylon and Willie ring a bell. It's a man and a man singing together. I'll bet you if Moe and Joe recorded a song we would register with the fans out there.' My piano player, Ansley Fleetwood, picked up on it and when he got back to Nashville, he wrote 'Just Good Ol' Boys,' and that's how it all came about."
Bandy and Stampley proved to have a natural rapport, playing both friends and rivals the way Ernest Tubb and Red Foley did during country's early era. The result was a string of well-received radio hits, "Holdin' the Bag," "Hey Joe (Hey Moe)," and the Boy George/Culture Club parody "Where's the Dress?" The partnership proved extremely popular—perhaps too popular. Stampley said that their hit duets and popular tandem videos completely overshadowed their respective solo careers, although both men continued to chart hits into the late 1980s.
Stampley's final top ten record was a remake of the Swingin' Medallions' "Double Shot of My Baby's Love" in 1983. Three years later he was without a major label deal. He finally signed with the independent Evergreen label in 1988, reaching the bottom third of the country charts with "Cry Baby," "You Sure Got this Ol' Redneck Feelin' Blue," and "If You Don't Know Me by Now." During the years that followed, Stampley stayed active as a songwriter, independent producer, and touring act, but didn't return to the recording studio until he formed his own label, Critter Records, in 2001.The resultant album, Somewhere Under the Rainbow, proved he had lost none of the deft touches of southern soul and country rock that highlighted his best early work.
As of 2004, Stampley was dividing his time between producing new sides on his Arrowhead label, playing country package shows with and without Bandy, helping guide his son Tony Stampley's career, and playing reunion dates with the original Uniques. "But," warns country's original blue-eyed soul man, "whether it's country music or rock 'n' roll music, whatever sounds good to my ear, I'm going to appreciate it because I'm not going to get clogged up in one area of music."
"If You Touch Me (You've Got To Love Me)," 1972.
"Soul Song," 1972.
"Bring It on Home (To Your Woman)," 1973.
"I'm Still Loving You," 1973.
"Take Me Home to Somewhere," 1974.
"Roll on Big Mama," 1975.
"All These Things," 1976.
"Red Wine and Blue Memories," 1978.
"If You've Got Ten Minutes (Let's Fall in Love)," 1978.
"Do You Ever Fool Around," 1978.
"Just Good Ol' Boys" (with Moe Bandy), 1979.
"Put Your Clothes Back On," 1979.
"Holding the Bag" (with Moe Bandy), 1979.
"I'm Gonna Love You Back to Loving Me Again," 1981.
"Hey Joe (Hey Moe)" (with Moe Bandy), 1981.
"Double Shot of My Baby's Love," 1983.
If You Touch Me (You've Got to Love Me), Dot, 1972.
Soul Song, Dot, 1973.
I'm Still Loving You, Dot, 1974.
Take Me Home to Somewhere, ABC-Dot, 1974.
Billy Get Me a Woman, Epic, 1975.
Joe Stampley, Epic, 1975.
All These Things, MCA, 1976.
Ten Songs About Her, Epic, 1976.
The Sheik of Chicago, Epic, 1976.
The ABC Collection, ABC-Dot, 1977.
Saturday Night Dance, Epic, 1977.
Red Wine and Blue Memories, Epic, 1978.
Hey Moe-Hey Joe, Columbia, 1979.
I Don't Lie, Epic, 1979.
After Hours, Epic, 1980.
Memory Lane, Epic, 1984.
The Good Ol' Boys—Alive and Well, Columbia, 1984.
I'll Still Be Loving You, Epic, 1985.
Moe and Joe: Live from Bad Bob's, Memphis, Columbia, 1985.
Good Ol' Boy: His Greatest Hits, Razor & Tie, 1995.
The Best of Joe Stampley, Varese, 1995.
Pure Country, Sony, 1998.
Somewhere Under the Rainbow, Critter, 2001.
Singles with the Uniques
"Not Too Long Ago," 1965.
"All These Things," 1966.
"Please Come Home for Christmas," 1967.
Albums with the Uniques
Uniquely Yours, Paula, 1966.
Happening Now, Paula, 1967.
Playtime, Paula, 1968.
The Uniques, Paula, 1969.
You Don't Miss Your Water, Charly, 1980.
Golden Hits, Paula, 1970; reissued on Flyright, 1994.
McCloud, Barry, Definitive Country—The Ultimate Encyclopedia if Country Music and Its Performers, Perigree, 1995.
Stambler, Irwin and Grelun Landon, Country Music: TheEncyclopedia, St. Martin's Griffin, 1997.
"Joe Stampley" All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (August 29, 2004).
Joe Stampley Official Website, http://www.joestampley.com (August 29, 2004).
Additional information was obtained from an interview with Joe Stampley on May 1, 2003.
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