He Co-wrote "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On"

By Ida Holyfield, Post Editor - February 06, 2006

             BIG STONE GAP, VA - Geneva O'Quinn at the Heart of Appalachia Tourism Authority is looking for information or family background history on a singer and songwriter who was born in Big Stone Gap on May 7, 1922, but apparently left the area at about age 21.
           Tourism authority volunteer Richard Whitt came across the information about James Faye "Roy" Hall on the Internet, O'Quinn said, but nothing else is known about Hall beyond that.
           According to a 1984 article, "Roy Hall, Pumpin' and Drinkin'," written by Nick Tosches and published in Unsung Heroes of Rock 'n' Roll by Tosches (available from Amazon.com), Hall, using the pseudonym "Sunny David," co-wrote the tune "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," which became a huge hit for Jerry Lee Lewis in 1957.
           Hall died on March 2, 1984 in Nashville, Tenn., at the age of 61, the article states.

           According to Tosches, Hall was born in Big Stone Gap, where "an old colored man taught him to play piano, and to drink." He moved on to the Bristol area at age 21, "pumping boogie-woogie in every Virginia, Tennessee or Alabama beer-joint that had a piano.
           "He played those pianos fast and hard and sinful," Tosches writes, "but he sang like the hillbilly that he was."
           He organized a five-piece band, Roy Hall and his Cohutta Mountain Boys, with Tommy Odum on lead guitar, Bud White on rhythm guitar, Flash Griner on bass and Frankie Brumbalough on fiddle, the article by Tosches states.
           In 1949, the band cut its first records in Detroit on the "Fortune" label. "Over the next year, Fortune released six sides by Roy Hall: Dirty Boogie, Okee Doaks, Never Marry a Tennessee Girl, We Never Get Too Big to Cry, Five Years in Prison and My Freckle Face Gal. Most of these recordings were slick hillbilly blues, similar to the sort of music with which Hank Williams had recently risen to fame," Tosches states.
           In 1950, the article states, he recorded two singles, Mule Boogie and Ain't You Afraid, for "Bullet," one of Nashville's most active independent labels, but they failed to sell, Tosches writes.
           "He opened a joint in Nashville called the Music Box (later named the Musicians Highway). There he played piano and drank. One of Roy Hall's most loyal customers was Webb Pierce, who, following Hank Williams' death on New Year's Day 1953, became the undisputed king of the country singers. Pierce hired Roy as his piano player, using him on most of his recordings in 1954-55. Roy also recorded with Marty Robbins and Hankshaw Hawkins," Tosches writes in the article.
           "In the summer of 1954, Elvis Presley came to Roy Hall's club looking for work. Roy recalled, 'I fired him after just that one night. He weren't no damn good.' Towards the end of that same year, another young man came to the club looking for work. He was Jerry Lee Lewis, and Roy kept him on for a few weeks. Roy hired Jerry for $15 a night. They did a lot of duets together," Tosches continues.
           Tosches notes that when Lewis recorded "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" in 1957, Hall never received the financial windfall that should have come to him in the form of royalties, because his ex-wife sued him and the court awarded her his share of the royalties.
           O'Quinn is looking for several pieces of information. Who were Hall's family members and where did he live? Whitt could find no mention of him in local high school yearbooks from that time period, but he may not have attended high school. A photo of Hall is featured on the Rockabilly Music Association website, http://www.rockabilly.nl/artists/royhall.htm.
           Who taught Hall to play the piano in Big Stone Gap? Where is "Cohutta Mountain," which Tosches states "was part of the Appalachians, in the shadows of whose foothills (Hall) had been raised up."
           Are any of the recordings Hall made still in existence? If so, where? Hall was divorced, according to Tosches. Did Hall have any children? Hall died in Nashville in 1984. Where was he buried? Anyone with information is asked to contact the The Post newspaper by email at iholyfield@coalfield.com, call 276/523-1141 or write to P.O. Box 250, Big Stone Gap, Va. 24219. We'll pass the information on to O'Quinn, the Southwest Virginia Museum, and to our readers.

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