Born 30 January 1934, Drasco, Arkansas
Died 16 August 2004, Drasco, Arkansas

Melvin Endsley is best known as the composer of "Singing the Blues". That was his biggest selling composition, but he wrote many other equally fine songs, with simple, catchy melodies. He was also a singer, with a rich, clear voice, but unfortunately his recordings were commercially unsuccessful, even though he recorded for major labels (RCA, MGM).

Endsley was born in Drasco, Arkansas (near Heber Springs), a very small town with a population of 1858 at the last Census. He contracted polio when he was three and was to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. His condition was so severe that, from the age of 11, he had to spend two years in the Crippled Children's Hospital in Memphis, where the radio became his best friend. Melvin developed a love for country music and, inspired by Wayne Raney and the Delmore Brothers, started playing the guitar. He returned to Drasco, graduated from Concord High School in 1954, and was determined to make it as a songwriter. By then he had already written "It Happens Every Time", which was recorded by Don Gibson in 1956 and by Dorsey Burnette in 1973.

"Singing the Blues" was also written in 1954. Melvin introduced the song on Radio KWCB in Searcy, where he had a regular spot on a Saturday afternoon. It was well received and after reading an article about the steps that amateur songwriters should take to protect their rights, Endsley had the song registered (along with five other songs he'd written) with the Library of Congress for $ 4, the best money he ever spent! Melvin was also aware of the value of publishing, so the next step was to find a publisher for his songs and have them recorded. In July 1955 he travelled to Nashville, hoping to pitch his songs to Webb Pierce, but before Webb could be found, Melvin stumbled upon Marty Robbins, who loved "Singing the Blues". Robbins was signed to Acuff-Rose as a songwriter and took Endsley to Wesley Rose who listened to his songs and signed him to Acuff-Rose. So, sooner than he had imagined, Endsley had found himself a publisher. Marty Robbins recorded "Singing the Blues" on November 3, 1955, but the record was not released until August 1956. Three months later, it topped the country charts and could have been a big pop hit as well, had Robbins not been scooped by his own record company, Columbia. Mitch Miller covered "Singing the Blues" with Guy Mitchell for the pop market and while Robbins sat at # 1in the country charts and sold some 600,000 copies, Guy Mitchell was number one in the pop charts and sold over two million copies. In the UK, the song was also a # 1, in versions by both Mitchell and Tommy Steele. The next Marty Robbins single, "Knee Deep In the Blues", also written by Endsley, was again covered by both Mitchell (# 16 pop US, # 3 UK) and Steele (# 15 UK).

Endsley convinced Wesley Rose that he deserved a break as a singer and with Rose's help he got a recording contract with RCA, where he was produced by Chet Atkins. His first session for the label took place on December 18, 1956 and yielded two singles, "I Ain't Gettin' Nowhere With You"/"Bringin' the Blues To My Door" and "I Like Your Kind Of Love"/"Is It True". "I Like Your Kind Of Love" was quickly covered by Andy Williams as the follow-up to his # 1 record "Butterfly", and this version went to # 8 on the pop charts in mid-1957, another nice little earner for Endsley. Unfortunately, his own records, good as they were, did not sell well. His style was certainly rooted in country, but he could have crossed over as easily as Marty Robbins eventually did. He had the misfortune to arrive at RCA at a time when RCA's salesmen could just sit back while they reached their monthly target sales with just one artist : Elvis Presley. With hindsight, Melvin reckoned that RCA was not really interested in him as a singer : "They just wanted me for my songs". Dissatisfied with the lack of promotion, Endsley left RCA after his two-year contract ran out, and was signed to MGM by Wesley Rose. There was no drop in quality (he was still accompanied by the Nashville A-team) and I'm particularly fond of "Oh Yeah Baby" (MGM 12806), which wasn't even the A-side of the record. But none of the three MGM singles came close to charting and Endsley was dropped after one year. In 1960 and 1961 he recorded for Hickory, Acuff-Rose's in-house label, with Wesley Rose producing. After four unsuccessful singles Melvin left the label and Acuff-Rose, signing with Marty Robbins's publishing companies instead. There were a few more releases on Endsley's own Mel-Ark label, but by the late 1960s he had ceased recording altogether. His last major writing success was "Why I'm Walking" by Stonewall Jackson (# 6 country, 1960). Other artists who recorded his songs include The Morgan Twins ("TV Hop", probably his most rocking song), The Browns and Johnny Cash (both "I'd Just Be Fool Enough"), Don Gibson ("It Happens Every Time", "Let's Fall Out Of Love") and Bud Deckelman ("I Love You Still"). "Love Me To Pieces" was recorded by Janis Martin, Jill Corey and Rusty and Doug. "Singing the Blues" has been recorded by at least 120 different artists. The period from late 1956 through 1957 remains the high spot in Melvin Endsley's career. His acknowledged his disability, but never used it as an excuse. He wrote one of the most memorable songs in country music and even if he never achieved the success that he felt was his due as a performer, he can look back on a hell of a consolation prize. He never moved to Nashville, preferring to stay in his native Drasco and there he died of heart complications in 2004, aged 70. If you're unfamiliar with his music, do yourself a favour, and try some clips at Terry Gordon's RCS site:
I had hardly heard of him until I bought his Bear Family CD ; now it's one of my favourites.

CD : Melvin Endsley, I Like Your Kind Of Love (Bear Family BCD 15595). 29 tracks (RCA, MGM, Hickory). Released in 1991. Not a weak track among them.

Acknowledgements : Colin Escott (liner notes for the Bear Family CD), Spencer Leigh (obituary in The Independent), Phil Davies.

Discography :


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