Melvin Endsley

Composer of 'Singing the Blues'

The greatest testimony to Melvin Endsley's composition "Singing the Blues" is that anyone in any bar could start singing the song and be assured that others would join in. Its melody is playful, inventive and memorable. It is immense fun to sing, and most people do not realise that it is a sad country song.

Melvin Endsley, songwriter: born Drasco, Arkansas 30 January 1934: married (one son); died Drasco 16 August 2004.

The greatest testimony to Melvin Endsley's composition "Singing the Blues" is that anyone in any bar could start singing the song and be assured that others would join in. Its melody is playful, inventive and memorable. It is immense fun to sing, and most people do not realise that it is a sad country song.

"Singing the Blues" first topped the US country chart for Marty Robbins before becoming a pop hit for both Guy Mitchell (in both the US and the UK) and Tommy Steele. It went on to become a standard and the hundreds of versions include those by Black Oak Arkansas, Frank Ifield, Jerry Lee Lewis, Paul McCartney and Randy Travis. The song returned to the charts via Dave Edmunds in 1980 and Daniel O'Donnell in 1994.

Endsley was born in Drasco, Arkansas in 1934. He contracted polio when he was three and was to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. His condition was so severe that, from the age of 11, he spent three years in the Crippled Children's Hospital in Memphis. His best friend became the radio and he acquired a love of country music. Although his hands were too stiff to play the guitar conventionally, he had an instrument especially tuned for him and he would slide a steel bar up and down the frets. He even formed a band while he was in hospital.

Endsley returned to Drasco and despite having missed so much schooling was determined to graduate, which he did in 1954. He became a regular performer on Wayne Raney's radio show and included his own songs. His hero was Hank Williams, who had died in 1953, and he wrote in that style. "Singing the Blues", with its semi-yodelling, can be seen as an extension of Williams's "Lovesick Blues".

Knowing he had written a potential hit, Endsley decided to take it to Nashville. He asked his friend, Jimmy Doug Grimes, to drive him there with the aim of contacting the artists on the Grand Ole Opry. In particular, Endsley considered that the song would be ideal for Webb Pierce but when they got to Nashville, Pierce was too busy to see him. Endsley did, however, play some songs to Marty Robbins. As soon as Robbins heard "Singing the Blues", he said he would record it, and he arranged for Endsley to meet his music publisher, Wesley Rose of Acuff-Rose.

Marty Robbins's "Singing the Blues" topped the US country chart, and Mitch Miller, Guy Mitchell's producer, realised it could be a pop hit. Mitchell's version topped the US charts for nine weeks in 1956, in the process dethroning Elvis Presley who had been ensconced there for 16 weeks with first "Hound Dog" and then "Love Me Tender".

In the UK, Mitchell had to contend with a cover version from a rising rock'n'roll star from Bermondsey, Tommy Steele. Steele's version was helped by his slurred phrasing on the first line - it is his one true rock'n'roll moment. Both Steele and Mitchell topped the UK chart in 1957.

Endsley wrote a follow-up for Marty Robbins, "Knee Deep In the Blues", which was dutifully copied by both Steele and Mitchell. All three did well with the song, but it was a pale imitation of "Singing the Blues".

During 1957/58, Endsley recorded for the producer Chet Atkins at RCA and then made further singles for MGM and Hickory. Although these records did not sell, he had sufficient royalties from "Singing the Blues" to buy a farm in Drasco and to start his own label, Melark. He sometimes performed on the Grand Ole Opry although he found the trip from Arkansas painful.

Despite publishing 200 songs, Endsley had few more successes. Andy Williams reached the UK Top Twenty with the novelty "I Like Your Kind of Love" (1957) and Cliff Richard performed his wild "At the TV Hop" on the television show Oh Boy! (1958). "Why I'm Walkin'" was a US country hit for Stonewall Jackson (1960), and "It Happens Every Time" was recorded by Don Gibson and "I'd Just Be Fool Enough" by Johnny Cash.

Spencer Leigh



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