Sunday, December 13, 2009

Coeur d’Alene’s Souvenir Records: A Brief History

By Patrick Jacobs

In the modern era of amazing interwebs and electronic thingyboxes, it’s no big deal for local musicians to commit their songs to history and promote their gigs. For both amateurs and professionals, it’s as easy as downloading some recording and mixing software such as ProTools and using social networking sites like MySpace or Facebook to get the word out about the undeniable brilliance of your musical endeavors and make a bit of noise on the Spokane/North Idaho music scene. It’s not even necessary to bother pressing up a batch of old fashioned CDs as long as you’ve got a good handle on the internet thing.

It wasn’t always so effortless. In the dark ages of the record industry, songs actually had to be recorded on-the-fly in a studio and pressed onto circular slabs of vinyl in order to capture the attention of local dance halls and radio stations. In the mid-1950s there weren’t a lot of options when it came to finding a recording studio in the Inland Northwest, in fact Spokane’s Sound Recording Company was pretty much it, and as mainly a Country music label, they had little interest in capturing the sound of the burgeoning Rock n’ Roll scene.

Recognizing an opportunity to take up a new hobby and make a few bucks, rockabilly music fan Chester D. Adkins set up some recording gear in a small space in the back of his wife’s downtown Coeur d’Alene record shop. Genevieve Adkins had opened Souvenir Records at 215 Sherman Avenue a few years earlier but eventually relocated to a larger space across the street in the plaza of the Greyhound bus station, where the 3rd and Sherman entrance of the Resort Shops now sits, giving Chester some space to tinker around with his new recording toys.

My mother has vivid memories of the store, recalling that she bought her first record album there as a teenager; Elvis Presley, of course. She remembers Genevieve as a friendly redhead with pointy, horn-rimmed glasses and says that the Adkins’ kids were “big wheels” around town because their parents ran such a hip record store. She says there was quite a live music scene in Coeur d’Alene back then, and she recognized some of the names of the bands that Chester eternalized, having caught their performances at high school dances and amateur nights around town.
It didn’t take long for Adkins to recognize that once a recording was in the can, someone needed to press up some records and promote it. In 1957, after Spokane’s Charlie Ryan laid down an early version of his tune “Hot Rod Lincoln”, inspired by a road race on the “spiral highway” of US95 near Lewiston, Adkins recognized a potential hit and the idea for the Souvenir Records label was born. SOUV-101 was the first of a short series of 45 RPM singles eventually released by the imprint, and was backed with another Ryan original, titled “Hank Williams Goodbye”.

The record started to catch on locally, but Souvenir didn’t really have the necessary means to handle the demand or to properly promote it, so Ryan and his band The Timberline Riders performed a new version of the song in a different studio and took it to Hollywood, CA’s 4 Star Records. A mild hit on radio stations across the USA, “Hot Rod Lincoln” didn’t actually bother the Billboard pop charts although Commander Cody managed to dent the top ten with his version in 1972.

Perhaps as a way to return the favor to Adkins for giving him his big break, Charlie Ryan recorded another single for Souvenir in 1959, “Glittering Steel” b/w “Mountains of Montana”, but his star had already faded and the record sank into obscurity. The next Souvenir release fared a bit better with the listening public. The Playboys released “Believe It Or Not” coupled with “Hawaiian War Chant”, and Adkins came up with the cash to buy a small ad in Billboard to generate excitement about the debut release by the popular Coeur d’Alene act. At the time, the national magazine also ran a small blurb about Souvenir having joined their “label parade”. My mother remembers Playboys singer Johnny Clark as “the closest thing we had to Elvis, all the girls adored him.”

Alas, like the other bands that eventually released records on Souvenir, any significant fame and fortune would never come for the Playboys. The label released two 45’s in 1960, the first being the Presley-esque “Blue Moon of Kentucky” by Cheney, WA’s The Stompers, whose brief career ended when singer Perry Buster joined the Army. “Kathy Jo” by Kayo & the Trinities probably didn’t cause much of a stir back then, however like some of the other Souvenir titles, copies have been known to change hands between rockabilly collectors on eBay for upwards of $100.

Two singles by Spokane's The Blue Jeans followed in 1961, containing four rather eerie sides. With its moody saxophone and wordless vocals from singer Candy Schumaker, “Moon Mist” is a standout of the label’s releases, and can be heard in full on YouTube, along with an image of the blue Souvenir record label listing “CDA Publishing Co.” as the rights holder of the composition. The Trebletones released “Guitar Movement” b/w “Little Laurie” in 1963, which began and ended the band’s recording career, and would be the final chapter in the Souvenir story.

The record shop would close a few years later, and Chester moved into a new career as a maintenance man at the newly opened North Shore Hotel. The facility would eventually morph into the Coeur d’Alene Resort, which would finally bring Coeur d’Alene the national attention that Souvenir Records couldn't seem to muster.

Mp3 Samples:

Charlie Ryan - Glittering Steel

Charlie Ryan - Mountains of Montana

The Stompers - Blue Moon of Kentucky

The Blue Jeans - Cool Martini

The Trebletones - Guitar Movement

The Trebletones - Little Laurie


GioThomas said...

My mother says that the singer of The Playboys was Clark Frandsen; and a member of his group was Robert (Bob) Evans.
My guess would be that Frandsen (who is credited on the label as the author of the song) took the name of Johnny Clark (the vocalist) in anticipation of "hitting it big". She further states that she use to go to dances at a "teen club" in the basement of 385 Sherman Ave. (approx.) where Clark Frandsen would play.

Carlo said...

You can find a label shot of Charley [sic] Ryan's Souvenir single here:
(scroll down to "Hot Rod Lincoln"). Quite different design/lettering compared to the other Souvenir singles you featured in your post. Note that the Playboys single has #1001! Was Ryan's really the same Souvenir Records? I doubt it, but sadly Ryan died in 2008 so we can't ask him!
Regards, Carlo

Erik said...

Thanks for the story! Stumbled across "Moon Mist" on YouTube weeks ago and was instantly blown away. Have been listening to it ever since!

Anonymous said...

Well it's good to hear someone still likes our music. I was lead singer for the Trebletone (from Spokane).
larry Wilson