Monday, November 11, 2013

Not My Buddy: Blue Days, Black Nights

Released as Buddy Holly’s first single in April 1956, “Blue Days, Black Nights” was not a Buddy Holly composition; however, he was the first to record this Ben Hall song – and thus would be the artist normally associated with this rockabilly classic. Hall would not release his own version of “Blue Days, Black Nights” until 1960 when he and his Circle 4 Ramblers collaborated on a country version of the song complete with steel guitar and his characteristic nasally vocals.

Personally, I prefer Holly’s version, but the original sold less than 20,000 units. Interestingly, a near mint single copy of “Blue Days, Black Nights” has been valued at $500+, while a near mint copy of the pink label promo single fetches over $600. Because of the single’s value, both versions have been often bootlegged and passed off as original releases.

“Blue Days, Black Nights” was one of two singles released by Holly on Decca in 1956 that failed to chart; therefore, Decca shelved the project which also included a nascent and slower version of “That’ll be the Day.” Once The Crickets and Buddy Holly started having hit records on Decca’s own subsidiaries of Brunswick and Coral, Decca finally released an album of the 1956 sessions recorded at Owen Bradley’s studios in Nashville.

To capitalize on The Crickets’ 1957 number one release of “That’ll Be the Day,” Decca used that as the album’s title. This 1958 LP was repackaged twice on Vocalion Records, another Decca (MCA) subsidiary, as “The Great Buddy Holly” and “Good Rockin’.” I have both, but do not own the original Decca release. Three subsequent singles were released from the Decca sessions; however, they proved as lackluster in chart performance as did Buddy’s first single:  “Blue Days, Black Nights.”

By 1957, fellow Texan Bob Luman and the Shadows took a cue from Buddy Holly and recorded a similar version of “Blue Days, Black Nights” for Imperial Records. For the Luman recording, James Burton, who would later play guitar for Ricky Nelson, recreated a sound similar to Sonny Curtis’ chord leads from the original. Unfortunately, Imperial was unable to generate any interest in Luman after three single releases, and so the other recordings from these sessions were shelved. Are we seeing a pattern here?

In 1988, Bear Family Records was able to get its paws on the Imperial recordings and released an LP entitled “Wild Eyed Woman.” With this long overdue album of Luman material from the 50s, the public got its first taste of Luman’s take on Holly’s rendition of Ben Hall’s song “Blue Days, Black Nights.” Sold American, whew!

Bear Family has reissued “Blue Days, Black Nights” on several compilations of Luman material. Unlike the original, Luman’s version features a rockin’ piano. And for the record, I like Luman’s version better than Ben Hall’s. Frankly, I don’t think I’ll ever like Hall’s release.

Luman, who recorded for more labels than Carter’s had Little Liver Pills, finally had one top 10 pop hit in 1960 and one top 10 country hit along with several mid-charting country singles in the early 70s. This rockabilly legend never achieved the fame that his talent deserved. In 1978, Luman died from pneumonia at age 41.

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