Don Epperson

Courtesy Jason Odd - January 15, 2007

Date of Birth: January 23, 1938
Date of Death: March 17, 1973

Don Epperson - Singer, songwriter and actor Don Epperson was born in Kentucky and later moved to California. The earliest musical venture I know of is the Don Epperson And His Kentuckians single You're Gone, Again b/w The Clock On The Mantle (Excel 132) from 1961. The A-side appears on the various artists CD comp More Boppin .. More Rockin' (Collector 2875)

Some time in the mid 1960s he becomes well known to the Palomino crowd. Based in North Hollywood from 1949 to 1995, the Palomino was the most popular country venue on the West Coast and one of the greatest networking venues in the area. By 1967 Red Rhodes had taken over the band, and in those days you could see the likes of Epperson, Gram Parsons, Mayf Nutter, George Jones, Roger Miller, Clint Eastwood, Brian Hyland, Del Shannon, Dorsey Burnette, Johnny Paycheck, Terry Stafford, and Garland Frady hanging out at the venue.

Billy Graham, the the bassist for Glen Campbell recalled of Epperson, "Don was a super-nice guy. Good singer and funny, too. Roger Miller loved his humour. He used to hang out at the Palomino club a lot. He was good riends with Garland Frady and Brian Mark. He died on location in a jeep accident at night, he was a passenger as best I recall.

Local bandleader and television personality Sammy Masters once told me "I remember Don Epperson from the Palomino. I hosted the Thurs Night Talent for about a year. Don would drop in once in a while to check things out. I did not get to know him well, but he did frequent the Palomino."

I think around this time he met fellow performer Terry Stafford who'd had a bit hit with Suspicion, around 1964, but had no more hits and was struggling as much as Don. The two became fast friends, starting a song writing partnership that would last until Don's death. Don's daughter Brenda wrote to me "Terry Stafford was a great friend of my das as well as us the family." Terry Stafford was recording for Sidewalk Records in 1966-67, and it seems fair to think he might have had a hand in getting Don to the label.

For the uninitiated, Sidewalk Records was a record label based in Hollywood, formed around 1966, by up and coming record producer Mike Curb. It evolved from his Sidewalk Productions which evolved into Sidewalk Records, as a subsidiary label of Capitol Records. Many recordings by Sidewalk Productions also appeared on the related label Tower Records, another subsidiary of Capitol.

Most of the LPs released on Sidewalk Records were soundtrack albums, mainly those of films released by American International Pictures. Most of these were B-movies having to with motorcycle gangs, auto racing or psychedelic exploitation movies. These included Thunder Alley, The Wild Racers, Psych-Out, and The Trip. Surf-psyche Guitarist Davie Allan and his group Davie Allan and The Arrows made several appearances on Sidewalk Records, and related films, although Allan and the Arrows' main releases were on Tower Records. Other notable releases on the Sidewalk label were the first single by Linda Ronstadt (with the Stone Poneys) and a novelty album by hippy street singer Gypsy Boots. Songwriter-arranger Harley Hatcher was also a frequent contributor to the Sidewalk projects.

Don released a single for Sidewalk, 'Gonna Have A Good Time' b/w 'Please Mrs. Peckinpaw' (SIDEWALK 933) 1967.

Both tracks were related to a budget film that Mike Curb was involved with; Albert Peckingpaw's Revenge aka Jeannie: Wife/Child. Originally directed by James Landis the film was originally released in 1965 by Talent Arts under the title Tender Grass. The film is basically an exploitation film about supposed hillbilly lifestyles, a very, very low budget film. By the time Curb and Sidewalk became involved the film it's drive-in run had run it's course. Scenes were added to lengthen the film, musical numbers. Don Epperson can be seen twice performing the song Gonna Have A Good Time with backing by Davie Allen & The Arrows, decked out with double neck guitars and shades, no less. Davie Allen & The Arrows also contribute instrumentals to the soundtrack with 'Mario's Theme, Lulu's World, Peckingpaw's Theme.'

The film was released again, this time retitled 'Albert Peckingpaw's Revenge' with mored additions to the soundtrack. There was a related soundtrack album by Harley Hatcher with performances by Davie Allan & the Arrows, Don Epperson, Jimmy August, Lydia Marcelle and Jan Sweet.

In 1968 he was involved in another budget film related to Sidewalk productions. Killers Three (1968 ) Produced by American International with director Bruce Kessler (who, by this point, had directed episodes of the Monkees and Flying Nun for television ) Dick Clark who was credited for screen story and as producer, was part of American International and appears in the film as well. Others musical cameos include appearances by Merle Haggard, Bonnie Owens, and their band The Strangers (billed as a "Singing Group"). Mike Curb, Harley Hatcher and Jerry Styner were credited for the music score under Sidewalk Productions, Inc.

The soundtrack album (ST-5141) Killer's Three Original Motion Picture Soundtrack was also issued in 1968. The songs were Killer's Three, performed by Merle Haggard (penned by Haggard and Harley Hatcher), Mama Tried performed and penned by Haggard, this time they got Kay Adams to sing Harley Hatcher songs Gonna Have A Good Time, Love Me Now And Forever and Maybe You'll Appreciate Me Someday. Like Kay Adams and Haggard, most of the artists were from the Sidewalk Tower - Capitol group of labels.

Tower artist Dick Curless sang Tears Instead Of Cheers and Hatcher's All I Need Is You, and Capitol's Bonnie Owens who sang Yes, I Love You. Don Epperson had two numbers, Jerry Styner's The Way He's Gettin' To You and Candlelight, which was penned by Harley Hatcher.

1968 seems to be the end of Don's releases on Tower as he moved on to RCA. His RCA single 'Sittin' By The Highway' b/w 'How I Feel For You' (RCA 9661) from 1968, reportedly has Glen Campbell singing backround vocals on "Sittin on the Highway." Don's daughter's website and press release mentions her father's career and claims that he charted on RCA with two top 10 hits. I've been unable to confirm any more singles, or any hit status for this single.

His next RCA release is the Wild Wheels Soundtrack album (RCA Victor LSO-1156) in 1969, with Harley Hatcher, Don Epperson, Terry Stafford, Thirteenth Committee, Billie & Blue, Three of August, and the Saturday Revue.

Wild Wheels, the film, was released the same year and directed by Kent Osborne. The film stars the likes of Dovie Beams, Robert Dix, Epperson, Terry Stafford, Casey Kasem (yes.. that Casey Kasem) and Bruce Kimble. The plot follows a town at the mercy of an ongoing battle between a biker gang and dune buggy enthusiasts. By most accounts the sound quality of the film is rather poor, although it improves for the numerous musical interludes and band cameos. As usual these musical scenes were a way to fill out time, but for music obscurity fans, a veritable delight. And yes, Don Epperson plays a singer.

In the late 1960s Epperson became part of the Al Adamson film crowd, Director - producer Adamson was famous for making low-budget exploitation and horror films during the 1960s and 1970s, his directing debut was with Two Tickets to Terror in 1964. Other Adamson regulars included Robert Dix and John Carradine. Dix, who had been active since the mid 1950s, earliest appearances were in swashbucklers and westerns; notably the role of Frank James in 1960's Young Jesse James. As time progressed he found less work on either side of the Atlantic and moved into low-budget cycle flicks like Satan's Sadists, Rebel Rousers and Cain's Cutthroats. In 1970, Dix even wrote a screenplay, for the exploitation melodrama Five Bloody Graves.

John Carradine, the classic character actor and father of actors David, Keith, and Robert Carradine, started working his way to acting in the mid 1920s. He hitchhiked to Hollywood in 1927, but found only stage work until 1930. His early film work was small, using the name John Peter Richmond, until he changed to John Carradine when signed by Fox in 1935. Following his role in director John Ford's The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936), he went on to appear in nine more of Ford's films and in the '30s and '40s he landed many fine character roles. As the years progressed, the aging thespian switched to cheapie horror flicks, often seen playing a mad doctor type of character. He also played Dracula three times. Naturally this path would lead to Adamson who switched between unknowns, singers and aging actors. Adamson in particular mixed veterans with amateurs. Adamson's Dracula Vs. Frankenstein (1970) featured the final performances of horror veterans Lon Chaney Jr. and J. Carrol Naish.

Like fellow cheapie director Kent Osborne, Adamson films often came with came with more than one title, eg: the horror film Psycho-a-Go- Go was also titled Blood of Ghastly Horror, The Fiend With the Atomic Brain and The Love Maniac. Adamson, Osborne and the most famous of all, Roger Corman, would add new or stock footage to existing films, then change their titles.

Through his connections with Dick Clark, Sidewalk Productions, Kent Osborne, the Palomino crowd, Terry Stafford, actor Robert Nix and Adamson, Epperson gained a character niche of the 'hillbilly' singer in budget films.

The Female Bunch (1969) directed by Al Adamson, featured small roles by Epperson (as a singer of course) and Lon Chaney, Jr. (who appears as a ranch hand in what is supposedly his final role before his death in 1973), has been called a psychedelic exploitation-western among other things. The plot tells of five women who live on a ranch with no men and how they deal with interlopers. Basic gore, lesbianism and drug use abound. This low-budget number was shot at the Spahn Movie Ranch at the time that it was occupied by the Manson Family. In true Adamson fashion, it was shot in 1969 issued immediately, then re-released in 1971 under another name (A Time to Run).

Don's next film Cain's Way (1970/Fanfare) provided another musical role. This exploitation piece by director Kent Osborne (who also co- produced with Budd Dell) featured Scott Brady, John Carradine, Robert Dix, Bruce Kimball and our boy Don Epperson. An interracial revenge film set during the American Civil War, was intercut with shots of contemporary bikers. A surreal and violent take on the western genre, it was reissued several times, firstly as Cain's Cutthroats (1971), then The Blood Seekers and Justice Cain in the following years.

It also produced a spin-off single for Don, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid b/w Going Back to Georgie (Amaret 116) in 1970. The A- side written by Terry Stafford has been described as a progressive country-rock number. (mind you that source is Ebay) The B-side is a Vietnam War-era type topical song from Cain's Way and was penned by Harley Hatcher who produced both numbers.

One of Epperson's better roles was a small one, but a big film, a John Wayne vehicle titled Big Jake. A Batjac Production, Big Jake was released in 1971 and remains a fairly popular western. It told the story of a frontier family reunited to find a stolen son, it covers all the classic western bases, redemption, family (blood-is thicker- than-water), an evil gang, and the outcast aging cowboy whose anti- social talents are sorely needed.

Don moved on to another cheapo flick, Killer Commandos (70's), in which a group of soldiers for hire train a commando unit to eliminate a racist dictator in Africa.

He also performed in the film The Devil and Leroy Bassett (1973), this film not only had Epperson, but former Palomino house band member Don Holiman, who was at the time leading his own group in Las Vegas.

Don recalls, "I did sing the sound track for the film. Don and I were good friends. I first met him at the Palomino. I did some recording with him on a few tunes. We hung out away from work also. I did the sound track for the film after I moved to Vegas. I flew into L.A. recorded all day then flew back to Vegas and worked at the Silver Dollar that night."

Don Epperson apparently became buddies with John Wayne and worked on A Whale of a Tale, an animated feature, released in 1976. One can only assume that Don, was a voice actor or sang in this production.

Sadly on March 17th 1973, don was killed in a road accident in Cottonwood, Arizona. He left wife Sherry, and two daughters, Brenda and Deborah.

That same year his friend Terry Stafford released his debut album for Atlantic Records, a label that had just started it's own country division. In October of 1973 Stafford's Nashville recorded album Say, Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose (Atlantic LP SD 7282) featured the Stafford - Epperson number Road House Country Singer. At the time Terry was riding a small hit with the title track of the album. The following year he recorded another Stafford-Epperson song Don't Knock It Till You've Cried It. It was to be issued on Stafford's second album for Atlantic in late 1974, however, Atlantic shut it's country division down and the album never saw the light of day.

I can't help but think that a label like Sundazed Records might be able to make a nice package deal of these various tracks, and their current reissue series of Tower artists has certainly paved the way. I can even see the title: KILLERS, CUTTHROATS AND WILD WHEELS.

J.


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