RUSTY AND DOUG
The music of Rusty and Doug Kershaw blends elements of Cajun, country and rock n roll. The brothers made their best recordings for the Hickory label in Nashville between 1955 and 1961, interrupted by a two-year stint in the US Army.
Born on the tiny island of Tiel Ridge, Doug and Rusty Kershaw had a difficult childhood. Their father, an alligator hunter, committed suicide in 1943, soon after which the family moved to Crowley, Louisiana. Their older brother Nelson ‘Pee Wee’ Kershaw formed a band called the Continental Playboys, which the younger boys would later join. Rusty played rhythm guitar, while Doug began to excel at fiddle (he eventually claimed to have mastered 29 instruments). The band became popular and was appearing on KLPC-TV in 1953, as well as KSIG radio.
In 1953 Rusty and Doug started performing as a duo. Soon they teamed up with singer- pianist Wiley Barkdull, whose deep bass voice would be featured prominently on most of the duo’s recordings of the 1954-58 period. Early in 1954 the three men started recording for J.D. Miller’s Feature label in Crowley. Though at least 25 tracks were recorded for Feature, Miller issued only one single by Rusty and Doug, “No No, It’s Not So”/“It’s Better To Be A Has-Been” (Feature 2003) and one under Barkdull’s name, the last release on Feature (early 1955) before Miller discontinued the label. The unissued recordings would later be released on two LPs on the British Flyright label, in 1981 and 1988. (Also available on a Flyright CD from 1991 with 21 tracks.)
Male vocal duos were regaining popularity in country music, especially thanks to the 1954 hit record “If You Don’t, Somebody Else Will” by Jimmy and Johnny. It is likely that the success of this record led Rusty and Doug to develop their own vocal harmony act. It was a forceful and distinctive style. Soon they were invited to perform at the Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport.
In April 1955, Rusty, Doug and Wiley made the transfer to Nashville and started to record for Wesley Rose’s Hickory label, intended as an outlet for Acuff-Rose copyrights. Four tracks were laid down on May 18, 1955, all co-written by J.D. Miller, who had a very good working relationship with Wesley Rose. The first Hickory single by Rusty and Doug, “So Lovely Baby”, was an immediate success, peaking at # 14 on the country charts. However, two years would pass before the duo had another chart entry, this time with a cover of Janis Martin’s “Love Me To Pieces” (also # 14 country, autumn 1957). In the time between they had made a string of top-notch records, like “Look Around”, “See My Baby”, “Going Down the Road” and “I Never Had the Blues”. While the 1955-56 recordings still showed obvious Cajun influences, in the shape of Doug’s fiddle and some Louisiana musicians in the backing, this was no longer the case on the 1957-58 tracks, which contain ingredients of rock & roll. As a result they began to sound much like the Everly Brothers, who used the same backing musicians (the Nashville A-Team). There was no drop in quality, though.
In November 1957 the Kershaws joined the Grand Ole Opry. Four months later the duo recorded two songs that have become firm favourites with rock and roll fans, “Hey Sheriff” ( a # 22 hit) and “Hey Mae”. An extra long session was held on December 4, 1958 (eight tracks, including the last two from Wiley Barkdull) because Doug had been called up for military service. Both brothers decided to serve at the same time. By the time that they were able to record again, in October 1960, the ‘Nashville Sound’ had come to full blossom. But Rusty and Doug, now without Barkdull, wanted to return to their Cajun and bluegrass roots and Wesley Rose gave them a free hand. Doug picked up his beloved fiddle again and two excellent Cajun-styled A-sides were the result. Both “Louisiana Man” (now a standard, recorded by countless artists) and “Diggy Liggy Lo” did well on the country charts in 1961, peaking at # 10 and # 14 respectively. But it would be the last of their chart entries. One last Hickory session followed in December 1961, which included a splendid remake of their first hit, “So Lovely Baby”.
In 1962 the brothers signed with RCA-Victor, but the label didn’t seem to know what to do with them. Four unsuccessful RCA singles were released in 1963-64. Rusty and Doug had different ideas regarding the musical direction in which they wanted to move and they split up in July 1964.
Doug went on to win fame as the “Cajun Hippie”, whose outrageous stage antics and driving performance style made him a favourite of the musical counter-culture during the 1970s, with recordings for Mercury, MGM and Warner Bros. Despite the success of his solo career, Doug Kershaw was plagued by depression. Until 1984 he battled drug and alcohol abuse and was known for erratic behaviour. He has made many albums and is still active. He was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2009.
Rusty also continued to perform and record on his own. He released a good, but poor-selling album in 1970, “Cajun in the Blues Country”, which featured Charlie Daniels on fiddle. He figured prominently on Neil Young’s 1974 album “On the Beach”, playing fiddle and slide guitar and also providing the liner notes. Young later returned the favour by performing on eight tracks of Kershaw’s award-winning 1992 album “Now and Then” on Domino Records. Also playing on that album were Art Neville and Ben Keith. Rusty Kershaw died of a heart attack on October 23, 2001, in New Orleans.
More info : http://www.bopping.org/rusty-doug-kershaw-louisiana-men-1954-1964/
Discography : http://countrydiscoghraphy2.blogspot.nl/2014/03/rusty-and-doug.html
CD recommendation :
Acknowledgements : Dave Sax, Bruce Bastin, John Broven.
Dik, June 2017
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