Friday, June 29, 2007

Lillian McMurry's radio shop

Radio has strange and tenuous links to music history above below and beyond the obvious ones for broadcasting it. Take for example Holson's radio shop in Mississippi. There's no such thing as a radio repair shop these days, you can buy parts at a radio shack or the like, but in general, radios are either embedded in larger devices, or disposable. So think back before cable, satellite radio and to the hot new technology of the rotary phone...
Lillian McMurry's husband bought a radio repair shop. Lillian herself was the owner and proprietor of Trumpet records. Her big signing was Sonny Boy Williamson, whom she found through his radio show, King Biscuit Time on KFFA Helena, AR. In 1941, Williamson, along with guitarist Lockwood, began broadcasting his show from the Floyd Truck Lines building.
Ten years later would form her label and invite him to record. He stayed with Lil until the label went bankrupt in 1955. Creditors got ahold of Sonny Boy's recording contract and sold it to Chess Records in Chicago. Williamson recorded about 70 more songs for Chess Records then had to flee the country for stabbing a man Chicago.
Elmore James worked at the shop in 1949 fixing radio's until Ms. McMurry started the label. Thereafter he was employed as a rhythm guitarist until he began his own solo career. In 1952 Elmore's dong "Dust My Broom" appeared on Billboard's "Best Seller" R&B chart at #9. At the time Elmore was still working at Holston's radio repair shop. Talent scout Joe Bihari hunted him down there to alter record him at a local night club backing up Ike Turner. Fame was inevitable.
Sonny wrote about Lillian in two songs specifically. Pontiac Blues was about Lillian's Pontiac. And the song 309 was named for 309 Farish Street, Trumpet records street address. In the lyrics he actually gives out Lillian's home phone number. They couldn't have parted too sourly, in 1977 it was Ms. McMurray who paid to erect Williamson's headstone.  Lillian Obit here.

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