Herbie Duncan died recently. I don’t know what killed him or the exact date that he died. Does it matter?
Herbie Duncan cut three 45’s: Hot Lips Baby b/w Little Angel (Mar-Vel, 1958, re-issued and still available from Norton Records), Escape b/w Roll Along (Glenn, 1959) and That’s All b/w End Of The Rainbow (Glenn, 1960).
Hot Lips Baby is one of rock’n’roll’s pinnacle moments. It turns up on dozens of rockabilly compilation LP’s and CD’s, both legal and bootleg*. It’s my favorite type of record, one where you ask yourself, “did this guy really think he was gonna be the next Elvis”? and/or “how the hell did this even get recorded”? It’s discs like Hot Lips Baby that make record collecting worth it; all those hours around fat, smelly guys who still live with their parents, creepy record dealers trying to pass of bootlegs as rarities, hours spent digging through dusty piles of junk (the knees are really feeling it these days). When you find a record like this (and you don’t find ’em like this too often) it’s like winning Lotto, or the Olympics. You know that you haven’t wasted your time (and life) tracking this stuff down.
In 1986, Deke Dickerson (Untamed Youth, Deke Dickerson Combo, etc.), President of the Herbie Duncan Fan Club (yes, such people exist) tracked him down and found him and his wife living in a trailer camp in Olathe, Kansas. Of that visit he wrote:
“I’ll always remember Herbie most from this visit, when he took his old guitar out of the case, sat on his La-Z-Boy chair, and began warbling “Me And Bobby McGee” in his trademark vocal style. His body, his hands, his head, remained almost motionless as the words and music spilled out from his voice and guitar. Strangely, almost inhumanly, the La-Z-Boy chair began violently rocking back and forth, as if it was levitating, though Herbie remained almost motionless. My friends and I looked at this and remarked on it later, and to this day I have no idea how he did that. There was magic–magic that few understood, but undeniable magic–contained in the body and soul of Herbie Duncan“. Magic indeed. Take that Aliester Crowley! By the sounds of this record it’s magic that the band all manage to finish the song at almost the same time. In fact, the guitar, bass player and drummer all end up stopping on different beats.
Mar-Vel and Glenn, the labels that issued Duncan’s 45’s were both owned by the same guy– Harry Glenn. Glenn would press up records and sell them out of his truck which had exterior speakers attached to it so that he could blast out the sounds of ultra primitive rockabilly and hillbilly rock’n’roll to the world, and try to ’em his sell records. Unfortunately this vehicle never passed my house. I guess this method of combining promotion and distribution saved $ on payola end, but it didn’t exactly deliver the hits. He did issue some incredible discs though, including such classics as Chuck Dallis’ Moon Twist and Billy Hall’s Ooga Booga Boo (a copy of which I found on Astor Place for a quarter in the early eighties, the route that took it there I’d love to know, kinda like the coin in No Country For Old Men) Glenn believed in Duncan enough to issue three singles. And half a century later, we’re are still talking about him. Who would of guessed?
* In the eighties Cowboy Carl Records issued three LP’s of Marvel-Glenn rockabilly, and Rykodisc later issued a CD compilation called Get With The Beat, these are legit and taken from the original master tapes (as is the Norton re-issue 45) are are well worth searching out. The above quote from Deke Dickerson was taken from a Norton Records e-mail update.