Sammy Masters dug back to 1907 to find the song that put him on the charts in 1960. The original tune, “Red Wing (An Indian Fable),” had been popularized by Frank Stanley and Henry Burr of the Peerless Quartet (Columbia 3681). Masters made the public domain melody into a rockabilly recording that spent five weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100. It peaked at #64 about the time that Elvis’ “Stuck On You” was bumping Percy Faith’s “Theme From A Summer Place” from the top spot.
Born Samuel Todd Lawmaster (7/18/30) in Sasakawa, Oklahoma, Masters was the son of an oil field worker. While the family traveled throughout Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico, the youngster grew up on the music of Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys. He made his first radio appearance singing live with Johnny Lee Wills at Cain’s Academy dance hall in Tulsa. He subsequently did more live radio at KVOO and KTUL. A final family move took Masters to south central Los Angeles in 1947. While attending Fremont High he formed his first band, in which he played rhythm guitar (eventually he switched to bass). The lead guitarist was Dale Norris who, several years later, became one of the original Champs of “Tequila” fame.
Masters appeared on Cliffie Stone’s Hometown Jamboree along with Tennessee Ernie Ford and many others. After some early recording for a small Santa Ana company, he landed some work singing demos for Four Star Music and, in late 1955, Patsy Cline recorded his tune, “Turn The Cards Slowly” (Coral 61523). “Her first recording was the first song I ever wrote,” Masters said. “I did a lot of demo records for them. I did the demo for ‘Stop The World (And Let Me Off)’ (A top‑ten country hit for Johnny & Jack in 1958), for ‘I Fought The Law,’ and for most of Carl Belew’s stuff.” Eventually Four Star began to release some of Masters’ cuts. The first two, “Pink Cadillac” and “Whop-T-Bop” have commanded high prices among rockabilly collectors. “Pink Cadillac” featured guitar ace Jimmy Bryant. Rusty Draper covered the tune on the flip side of his top 20 hit, “In The Middle Of The House” (Mercury 70921). The biggest oddity is a release of Masters’ original on Modern under the name Johnny Todd. Masters first learned of the record nearly 40 years later in early 1996.
Masters recorded a takeoff on the then-current Davy Crockett show for DJ Gordon Calcoate of Glendale’s KIEV. The Calico label on the release is not related to the East Coast company that scored with the Skyliners. 1957 brought a major label release, with “Tall Grow The Sycamores” on Decca. Back on Four Star for one more release, Masters saw “If I Could See The World (Through The Eyes Of A Child)” become one of his more successful tunes. “I wrote that song in about ten minutes,” he said, “and it was covered by Patsy Cline, Bobby Darin, Wayne Newton and Lawrence Welk.”
The “Rockin’ Red Wing” story is a bit unusual. Apparently it was released on Lode and began to get action. Masters went on tour with it and Warner Brothers picked it up. It did not sell for Warner Brothers so they relinquished it to Lode. That’s when it finally charted. “It sold big in Chicago and Baltimore,” recalled Masters. “We did shows in Minneapolis, the Howard Theater in Washington, D.C., the Dick Clark Show with Chubby Checker and Bobby Rydell.” (The flip side, “Lonely Weekend,” is not the Charlie Rich tune).
It appears that, since Masters achieved success with such an old song, he decided to go back even further for a follow-up. However, “Golden Slippers,” a minstrel-style tune out of 1894 by Silas Leachman, had been cut at the same session as “Rockin’ Red Wing.” It came out on Lode and got enough response to be picked up by Dot. The next release, “Pierre The Poodle & The Puppy Dogs,” was a novelty written for the owner of American Music Publishing who had a dog by that name. The tune was co-written by Jimmy Bowen, a hit recording artist (“I’m Stickin’ With You,” 1957) who later enjoyed great success as a record company executive.
Masters enjoyed one of his biggest writing successes when “Who Can I Count On” was coupled with Patsy Cline’s “Crazy (Decca 31317). “I was doing a TV show one afternoon and Willie Nelson was playing bass with Ray Price’s band,” he recalled. “Willie and I were in the back and he said, ‘I want to sing a song for you.’ He picked up his guitar and he started singing ‘Crazy.’ He said, ‘I just wrote this song, and Patsy Cline’s going to record it back in Nashville.’ So I said, ‘I’ve got a little up-tempo song I wrote,’ and I sang ‘Who Can I Count On’ for him. He said, ‘If you’ve got a tape, I’ll take that back to Nashville,’ and Willie Nelson got Patsy Cline to record it.” Bobby Darin also covered the song in 1963.
That same year Masters formed his own label, Galahad. The first release was “On Tour In Heaven,” a song he wrote after the plane crash that took the lives of Cline, Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas. “A Big Man Cried” got some play and was picked up by Kapp. Although Masters claimed the song went to #17 nationally, it actually never appeared on any Billboard or Cash Box charts. There was a follow-up on Kapp, and then Masters returned to Galahad for “All Alone In San Antone.” Snuff Garret made a deal for Dot to pick it up, using a different flip side owned by Garret’s publishing company.
In 1959 Masters began hosting and producing Cal’s Corral, a Sunday afternoon television show sponsored by automobile dealer Cal Worthington. The show ran until about 1970. Worthington was a Southern California phenomenon with his humorous late-night used car commercials. He gained some national recognition when Johnny Carson poked fun at the commercials and eventually invited him on the show. Masters was involved with the writing and singing of Worthington’s jingle (“If you need a better deal, go see Cal,”), which continues running to this day.
Masters had also made an appearance on the Jack Benny Show, backing “Cousin Emmy,” Benny’s country cousin who came to visit him. Next came Country Music Time, Saturday nights on Channel 13 from 1972-77. He recorded and released a gospel album, and benefited from British reissues of at least two of the early Four Star sides.
About 1967, while continuing to appear at clubs - including the Palomino, the Foothill and many others - Masters also began working days for his brother’s company in Orange County. “I was working six days a week and five nights in a club and the TV things,” he said. He finally left the club business around 1976 and eased off to playing weekends at Elks Clubs, Moose Lodges and mobile home clubhouses. He retired from the day job in early 1994, but soon began another part time job delivering automobiles. Masters continued to do the weekend gigs with a three or four‑piece band until about 2007. Relying mostly on well-worn country standards, he rarely sang “Rockin’ Red Wing.” He released a new rockabilly CD, produced by Deek Dickerson, and appeared at the 1998 Hemsby Festival in England.
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Masters’ right‑hand man in the band for many years was multi-instrumentalist Carl Walden (11/27/36; Palatka, FL). Walden, who played guitar, steel guitar, fiddle and keyboard, also recorded as a solo artist. He worked for several years with Larry & Lorrie Collins, played on the Grand Ole Opry and Louisiana Hayride, and backed dozens of well‑known country artists. He first worked with Masters about 1962 and had been with him off and on ever since.
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