Carl Mann

The youngest million selling star in Sam Phillips' Sun-helmed stratosphere of genius, few rock 'n' roll singers matched the relaxed vocal style of Carl Mann. Not so much the anarchy-fuelled rockabilly that was Phillips' regular calling card, Mann's lilting approach was completely original, drawing listeners in rather than simply knocking them down. Raised in the backwoods of rural Huntingdon, Tennessee, by 1952 guitar picking Carl had his own radio spot on Jackson's WDXI. He soon picked up the piano and formed his first band which—after ruling the middle Tennessee airwaves for a few years—led to an audition with Jimmy Martin's now legendary Jaxon label. At his first Jaxon session Mann met guitarist Eddie Bush and the pair sparked magic when they debuted with "Gonna Rock 'n' Roll Tonite' b/w "Rockin' Love." Though pressed in a small quantity of 350 copies, the disc set the template for the Mann style, with Carl patterning his vocals after Bush's unique six string licks.

Mann broke up his current band the Kool Kats, put together a new combo with Bush and the two forged a musical relationship that would soon lead the way to Sam Phillips' Recording Service in Memphis. "We started playing clubs and Eddie and I became real close," he recalled. "We got so close, we could just look at each other and pretty much tell what the other was going to do next." So when Bush suggested that they rock up Nat "King" Cole's "Mona Lisa" one night on a gig, it's hardly surprising that the electricity in the air drove the audience wild. When former Carl Perkins drummer W.S. Holland became Mann's manager he used his Sun connections to arrange an audition, and with the encouragement of promo man Cecil Scaife and former Sun artist Conway Twitty, Phillips released "Mona Lisa." Pioneering disc jockey Dick Biondi (who also happened to be a big Hayden Thompson fan) successfully broke the record in Buffalo, New York and it went on to reach the national top twenty.

The Mann hallmarks that framed "Mona Lisa"—soaring vocals, pulsating rhythms and electric guitar that clicked along one moment and blistered into an unforgettable, Spanish-inflected solo the next—shone on its follow-up "Pretend," a remake of "Rockin' Love" and a smokin' version of Hank Williams' "Take These Chains From My Heart." Likewise, Mann's rendition of "Some Enchanted Evening" was simply amazing, retooling the former South Pacific pop song into a rocker of the first order. He cut Charlie Rich's "I'm Comin' Home," which Elvis Presley covered, while Bush's own release, "You're So Square (And Baby I Don't Care)," also became fodder for the King, not to mention Buddy Holly. In 1963 Mann toured as pianist with Tennessee homeboy Carl Perkins, with whom he'd written the beautiful "Look At That Moon." Though nothing else he recorded reached the heights of "Mona Lisa," Mann's hefty unreleased Sun output was as good as what Phillips saw fit to issue. Likewise, seven unreleased Jaxon sides—as well as one each by Bush and cohort Kenny Parchman—are now available on Stomper Time's The Jaxon Records Story.

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