Known to his fans as ‘The Ultimate Rebel’, Andy Starr, born Franklin Delano Gulledge, in Arkansas in 1932, (named after the 32nd President of the USA, i.e. Roosevelt), was a rockabilly musician. He was once described, unflatteringly perhaps, by Billboard as, “one of the more noteworthy Presley disciples.” (Gee, thanks Billboard). He had a colourful upbringing and adolescence, a childhood scarred by poverty culminating in his pulling a pistol out on a teacher, followed by a travelling, hobo lifestyle across the country, which he embarked on from the age of 14. Starr eventually formed the Arkansas Plowboys with his brothers, Bob and Chuck, playing regularly in California until Starr headed for Dennison, Texas, where he got a slot at the KDSX radio station. The manager at KDSX advised him to seek out Joe Leonard, who owned the Lin record label in nearby Gainesville. Leonard was duly impressed, and a session recorded in early 1955 produced four songs. The first two Lin singles, Dig Them Squeaky Shoes“and Tell Me Why were credited to Frank Starr and his Rock-Away Boys. However, “Frank Starr” became “Andy Starr”, in order to avoid confusion with a country singer of the same name.
It was after sharing the stage with Elvis in Gainesville in April 1955 that Starr changed his style from honky-tonk to rockabilly. Joe Leonard saw a promising future for Starr, and tried to place him with a major label via a lease deal. He approached the influential Aberbach brothers, who took Starr to MGM. Eight songs came out on MGM in 1956 – the four Lin masters in August and another four in September. In spite of all the raw energy that these recordings evidenced, they were not successful, largely because of poor promotion. MGM had apparently wanted to nurture their own label’s version of Elvis, but didn’t want to pay the promotional and other costs involved, and sent out only 200 promo copies of each new release. In 1959 he single-handedly brought rock n roll to Alaska, with riotous live shows with his band, The Blue Notes. The owner of the Hi-Hat Club in Anchorage booked him for six months, but Starr, (now again calling himself “Frank Starr”), actually stayed there for five years in total. A strip act was apparently incorporated into his stage performance. Delightful.
The Just a Walkin’ single was issued on Valiant Records in 1960, (and re-issued by Norton Records in recent years). It displays the classic rock n roll-influenced rockabilly sound of the time – Duane Eddy guitars and simple, plaintive lyrics about sweethearts, dances, and so on. The record is well-produced, with the just right mixture of rawness and musical competence that is the hallmark of many a good song. I love it. (Play loud).
Starr also recorded for other labels, recording one single and two tracks for Kapp in 1957 that were shelved, amazingly, until 1995, and one single for Holiday in 1961. He also returned to Lin in 1963 with a remake of Lin’s biggest hit, Ken Copeland’s Pledge of Love, but by now the rockabilly style had been abandoned in favour of a poppy, produced sound. Returning from Alaska in 1965, Starr spent most of the next 20 years in a maelstrom of alcohol and drug abuse, lots of sex, (he once claimed to have slept with more than 5,000 women), and weird religion. However, he recorded a handful of records for his own Starr label during this period, including a live album at Idaho State Penitentiary, a religious LP and a, frankly, X-rated album. He was still performing in the 1990s, and his final recordings were made in Nashville in mid-2002. He died in 2002 of complications from pneumonia, at the age of 70. He was one of these guys who should’ve been a star(r), but because of bad luck and bad choices by record labels and by himself, he wasn’t. Shame.
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