The Rocking Casuals!
Been immersed in the biography of Brenda Lee lately (“Little Miss Dynamite”). I’ve just completed her chapter entitled “Nashville’s First Rock ‘N’ Roll Band”. Quite a story. Here are some of the highlights:
Little Brenda had a truly amazing career. At an almost unbelievably early again, she hit the scene with a style that was ground breaking at the time – a full-fledged female rock-a-billy dynamo. She started off on a Nashville show called “The TV Ranch Show” (1952) at the age of six! From there it was onto “The Ozark Jubilee”, where she came into contact with many Nashville stars and shakers. One was cowboy singer Red Foley who was mesmerized by Brenda’s style, poise, and talent. This led in short order to a recording contract with Decca records.
Brenda’s story is voluminous in itself – but here is a little sidebar that I find very interesting. In the mid 1950’s Brenda meets Nashville entrepreneur Dub Allbritten who’s background could fill a volume by itself. Dub worked in traveling carnivals in the 1930’s, was a military paratrooper, and a promoter who booked athlete Jesse Owens to perform as a vocalist with jazz bands! He also managed professional wrestlers. He would work his way into the Grand Ole Opry family where he did some promotion work for the legendary Hank Williams. Next, he would represent Ernest Tubb and Hank Snow for a short time before moving onto representing Red Foley. Never landing for long – Dub would work with movie cowboy Lash Larue and then – through a friendship with country personality Charlie Lamb – Dub met Brenda. He became her long-time agent and trusted friend.
The Casuals – Not so Casual
Now we move ahead to 1958 with Brenda now performing to sold out audiences, in spite of not having a major hit record. Brenda is backed in the Decca recording studios by a group of high-octane musicians who would come to be called “The A-Team” – a conglomeration of first rate musicians who would create “The Nashville Sound” (another topic for another Blog Post). But Dub realized that Brenda needed her own road band. It was up north in Illinois in 1958 when he came into contact with an exciting group of teenagers who were on the same bill. They were unpolished, wild and wooly, and personified raw rock ‘n’ roll! This was the group (also from Nashville) known as the “Casuals”, a name mocking their actual riotous stage act which included crawling on the ground, playing instruments on their backs, electrifying the young teenage aged audiences.
Dub made them an offer to become Brenda’s backing band and they quickly accepted. The original Casuals backing Brenda included keyboardist Richard Williams, drummer Billy Scott, Joe Watkins on sax, John McCreery on guitar along with James (“Buzz”) Cason. Not long after, Wayne Moss would join as well Bobby Watts and John Orr in the succession of members. Generally, The Casuals would work as a six-man unit. The band had a local break out hit with “My Love Song for You” which was first released on Nashville’s “Nu-Song” label but quickly picked up on the national label “Dot”. The song was written by group leader Buzz Cason along with Richard Williams.
Look for Star (Mills vs. Miles)
The next step was to form a “rock ‘n’ roll’ review of “stars”. Dub figured out this one easily enough. He would do some clever stage slight of hand by first leading off with a solo act – “Garry Miles” who in reality was Buzz Cason. He had recently been signed by Liberty records to mimic a up and coming release of “Look for a Star” by the British singer Garry Mills. The idea was that of Liberty song producer Snuff Garrett, who also choose the nearly identical moniker for Cason. The ploy worked with Cason’s version going all the way to number 16 in the U.S. surpassing the Miles version which peaked at number 26. Paralleling the creation of “Miles”, Liberty also signed a trio called The Statues (“Statues of Liberty” – Get It?), who were in reality Buzz Cason, with fellow Casual Richard Williams and Hugh Jarrett who was just coming off a four year stint with the Jordanaires (1954-1958). The “review” formula was rounded out when Dub Allbritten brought Decca recording artist Bob Beckham on-board his stable of “stars”. Beckham had yet to chart, but soon would with “Just as Much as Ever” in 1959 and then again with “Crazy Arms” in early 1960. Years later in 1967 he would place a lone single on the Country Charts “Cherokee Strip”.
The “review” was now in place. “Gary Miles” would lead off with a few of his songs followed by The Casuals, (who for a time performed as “The Casualteens”), where Buzz would now have donned eye glasses and changed his hair style to appear as a different musician. Gary could easily be accompanied by “The Statues” followed by Beckham. Then the premier act would hit the stage ‘ “Little Miss Dynamite” – Brenda Lee.
Allbritten’s first “all star lineup” was supplemented by The Hollywood Argyles and Johnny Preston. The tour was an enormous success, selling out to screaming teen audiences in Texas and Georgia. The Casuals and Brenda would become very close for many years. The members of the group were expected by Allbritten to be overly protective of their young teen star and they did just that. The final current for the group called the Casuals came in 1975 when the last member, Richard Williams hung up his rock ‘n’ roll shoes. Along the way, a few members of The Casuals did compose sides for Brenda Lee.
“Buzz” Tiger-A-Go-Go” Cason
All members of the Casuals went onto lucrative careers, some inside the music business and others outside. But the standout had to be Buzz Cason. After his Brenda Lee, Garry Miles and Statue days, Buzz became a prolific song composer as well as continuing to record under his own name and often under many others. One of his most interesting endeavors was linking up with the hot rod musical group “Ronny and the Daytonas”, were he penned or co-penned several sides for them including “Beach Boy”, “No Wheels”, “Sandy” (#27 1965), “Somebody to Love Me”, “I’ll Think of Summer”, “Young”, and “Brave New World”.
A song that I personally loved and was always curious about was a local hit called “Tiger-A-Go-Go” which was a Ronny/Daytona soundalike and indeed was written and performed by group leader John “Ronny” Wilkins and I suspect Buzz Cason as the record was credited to “Buzz and Bucky”. Some accounts just attribute the song to Ronny and the Daytonas, but at a minimum Buzz Cason was co-writer of the song. Joel Whitburn does attribute Wilkins and Cason along with studio musicians. Whitburn also points out that the recording Daytonas were all professional studio musicians, and that the touring road group as a totally different assembly.
Below are several singles released by Cason, a few from Casual Wayne Moss and a few including Cason compositions for Robert Knight, The Hollywood Argyles, The Daytonas, Jan and Dean, Troy Shondell and the Oak Ridge Boys.