Sound of Fury - interesting items 

The Chase Webster Story (Gary Daniel Bruce)

by Chris Eley


The following tribute is an amended version of sleeve notes I wrote in 2012 for a Bruce family only CD release taken from variable condition 45s. The hope was that an official release would follow but to date regrettably this has not happened. A couple of years ago a 'European Import' CDR ,Teenage Dreams present Chase Webster and Alan Vallone, on Farmer Teenage Dreams FR 1053 turned up and copies may still be around. Chase has been trying for some time to locate the studio masters but so far has had no luck, especially because of the number of labels he recorded on. This is tragic, because his recorded output is infinitely superior to many chart successful singers of the period-many of whom, on both sides of the Atlantic, were just pretty boys who could not carry a tune. The reason this article and the other ephemera is on is because of the connection with Billy Fury (Like I've Never Been Gone) and because of the respect that Chase has for the music of Billy, Mary Wilde and Cliff. It is also because he is a great friend of mine and wrongly neglected.

The Story

Surely one of the most inexplicable events in the history of American popular and country music is that Chase Webster is not a household name right across that nation, and indeed abroad. Having said that his output is now highly sought after worldwide if prices on-line are any indication. In terms of being a star, Chase, born Gary Daniel Bruce on December 23rd 1938 in Franklin Tennessee, of Scottish and part Cherokee descent, had it all.
A fine baritone voice in the Elvis mould, but distinctive in its own right, the ability to write some great songs, coupled with matinee idol looks; all of which should have guaranteed great national chart prominence. In the event Chase did enjoy major local success and chart hits in the Southern states with a distinguished career in pop and country stretching from around the late 50's to the late 80's. He then retired to farm just outside his native Franklin, apart from undertaking occasional benefits such as the one for his great friend Del Reeves, host of the highly successful TV country music show Country Carnival on which Chase was resident anchor artist for about two years.
Some film from those shows reveals a professional and highly personable entertainer more than holding his own, some would say often outshining the major guest artists-just check out Chase's great live TV version of Memphis Tennessee.
The artists with whom Chase once worked reads like a veritable who's who of American music and Western stars. It included, among many others, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers, the mighty Arthur Alexander, Jackie Wilson, Dan 'Hoss' Blocker and 'Little Joe' Landon. Chase once met Elvis, being invited to attend a movie show in a rented theatre in Memphis around 1962/63, and also watched Roy Orbison record.

He has a fund of great stories about some of the above artists and recalls "There were two people in the business that I've been around and that I've thought were damned near perfect, and that was Roy Orbison and Marty Robbins." Whilst living and working in California and on a night out with Dot and Randy Wood, the head of Dot records, Chase met the sadly quite recently deceased Clint 'Cheyenne' Walker, the childhood hero of so many people worldwide, not least in the UK, and including me. Chase made several radio appearances and together with many other live shows was part of two tours organised by the legendary Dick Clark, regrettably never made it onto Bandstand due to lack of a national hit.
Chase also witnessed Jerry Lee Lewis literally demolishing a sub-standard piano he had been asked to use for a performance! There is surely a great book about these tours, shows and meetings to be written by this very modest, self-effacing, and highly talented man, who claimed to always be at the bottom end of the Totem Pole when touring! One of the greatest honours he recalls was unexpectedly having to make an introduction for Johnny Cash-who later said that Chase was an up and coming star.

As a child Chase was influenced by his father who was a dancer and musician, favouring blue grass and country, and who bought Chase his first guitar when he was aged ten. "We didn't have a car so I walked about a mile to get it and walked all the way back with it swinging around my neck!" He still has that guitar. Growing up he heard a lot of blues on the radio and then rock'n'roll in the mid-fifties. "Yes, well that was really living. I tell you I wore out a whole bunch of radios in cars listening to Presley, Perkins and Cash, the whole bunch out of Memphis-Joe Turner, Lavern Baker was real big too, and boy I really lived for that music". Soon after on stage with his band Chase would himself be rocking out, " Yes, I did a lot of the Elvis stuff, a lot of the Chuck Berry stuff, I also did a lot of the Jerry Lee stuff even after I started doing country shows, like Whole Lotta Shakin'and Great Balls of Fire.
I used to do Me and Bobby McGeeand we just kind of mixed it up whatever we thought would go." Chase is still great friends today with his former bass player and neighbour, Harley Alsom.

Chase learned to play and whilst in high school and working nights in a factory ran the streets of Nashville trying to get a deal. He kept pestering people and finally around 1960, thanks to disc jockey Noel Ball got a deal with Southern Sound records. Out of the recording session came a self-penned song issued around March 1961, Moody River, which soon went to No 1 in the southern charts. When asked how the song came about Chase responded "We needed a song for the session that was real different and Noel Ball said, "There's one thing that will always sell and that's sex and death! He said write a song that's got both."
Regrettably Southern Sound, a little like Sun records in Memphis, did not have the financial and influential clout to take the hit nationally and it was covered by Pat Boone, who had a world-wide major hit with it. Since then it's been covered numerous times, by the likes of Johnny Burnette, Johnny Rivers, Frank Sinatra, several country acts and latterly by John Fogerty. It has also graced a film soundtrack, The Last Boy Scout with Bruce Willis, and been recorded in Finnish by a top Finnish country style singer, Kari Tapio, who sadly passed away in December 2010. From the one single on Southern Sound Chase moved on to Dot where he cut at least twelve numbers, ten released and two still 'in the can.' All of the released tracks are highly enjoyable slices of early 60's pop. There is a touch of doo-wop in the cover of the Dubs Could This Be Magic, which was the B-side of the charming country-styled Sweethearts in Heaven, and like many artists Chase recorded a dance track. Something of a novelty the self-penned number, The Patty Cake has since, rather strangely become the most sought after of his singles output. The reverse side For Saleis a plaintive and beautifully sung ballad with a spoken bridge. The next release, Handful of Friends is truly superb and was deserving of a Top 10 placing; the vocal performance is impeccable, the backing dramatic, and this song is as good as the genre gets. Chase wrote the sorrowful B-Side, with a lyric reminiscent of Moody River, I Can't Walk Away. The follow-up Like I've Never Been Gone c/w, I'll Light A Candle, the latter recorded in 1962 from a demo from New York, made for a superlative single and should have been a smash. Both sides of the single received a favourable review in the USA indicating that it could become a double-sided hit like several Elvis ones, but it's the faster tempo number that we are interested in here. This was described in the USA by a reviewer; "A strong medium tempo with a good melody handed a first rate performance by the singer, sparked by a fine arrangement and strong production. This could take off."
And so it should have! In the UK it became a Number 3 hit and possibly the best ever recording for Billy Fury, Britain's major early 60's artist after Cliff Richard, and someone for whom Chase has since developed a high regard. If Billy had ever heard Chase's original no doubt the feeling would have been mutual, because the U.S. original, whilst a little different in arrangement is truly superb also. No hit resulted for Old Love Letters/The Town Sleeps Through It, the latter being Moody Riverre visited, especially as regards the piano.The unreleased and self-penned Walk Out, with its dramatic middle section, coupled with the mid-tempoFor The Last Time, were also deserving of release. A period with the famous Cameo label resulted in two singles, Where Are You/Uptown, Cry, Cry,Darling/Suitcase. The first track was written by Chase and the other side is an excellent cover of the Orbison classic. This version of Cry, Cry, Darlingwas later released on the Hickory label and could well have been a Johnny Tillotson recording; it's very good and has the same feel. The sorrowful Suitcase is very like the country classic, Four Walls.
Following Cameo the spell on Hickory brought some nice country/pop singles; the aforementioned Cry, Cry, Darling c/w Find Out, and Where Is Your Heart Tonight/Life Can Have Meaning. All well performed, the standout is surely one of the finest recordings Chase ever laid down, Find Out. A dramatic country/pop number with a particularly strong and good vocal, this was surely deserving of a hit. One of Chase's UK fans, Richard Furnell, who had the pleasure of meeting Chase in Nashville, rates this track so highly that when Chase heard about it he sent Richard a copy, which says a lot about the kind of man this fine artist is.
A move to Showbiz saw five 45's issued. The standard of these recordings is very high and why they failed to really dent the country charts is a mystery. The re-recording of Moody River alone deserved wide recognition and all of the other tracks make for good listening. Reuben James is a cross between Bob Luman and Conway Twitty, great country, and the lovely Strange Dayis perhaps a country equivalent to the Bobby Goldsboro hit, Honey.You're So Easy To Love sounds like a nod towards that great rockabilly and country artist Narvel Felts, and is very well handled, as is the wonderfully maudlin, Love Or The Wine. There was an excellent county album recorded, featuring as it does a mixture of songs written by Chase and country classics. Strange Places and Strange Faces, one of four numbers penned by Chase, is an especially standout track. It was recorded to sell at 'gas' stations and gigs, and has appeared on at least two labels. An anomaly was the release of Twenty Wasted Dayson the Country & Western label out of Nashville, and crediting the vocal by Chase as being one Jack Rogers. The final stab at recording came with the 'country-disco' novelty number, Bell Bottomed Trousers, also written by Chase and released on the Battlewood label. It would be ideal if the world could enjoy a double CD album of all of Chase's fine body of work, re-mastered, but finding the masters has proved challenging to Chase. As the film clips show he was a class act and his fine body of work is living proof of that. Perhaps he may do a Jerry Fuller, get into a studio one more time, (Jerry still sounds great) recut Like I've Never Been Gone in the county-pop idiom and an album of 'oldies' that he wished he had recorded back in the sixties - we can only hope! According to Chase there is out there somewhere, a good version of Like I've Never Been Gone by a country band-whether from the 70's or 80's he is not sure. Efforts to track it have failed so if anyone comes across it, please do let us know, we would like information or even better a copy, even on CDR or download.

My personal memories....

In 2007, following over two years of telephone calls (including one where I got my timing mixed up and it was around 5am over there-Chase and Donnie did not demur but just carried on as if I had not just woken them up!), and correspondence, my partner Linda and I were fortunate enough to travel to Nashville and to meet and enjoy the hospitality of Chase, his charming wife Donnie and the quite wonderful family matriarch, Dellie Mangrum. She lives in a large and beautiful house, a living museum reminiscent of Gone With The Wind. The time spent with them all was an experience we shall always treasure (including the local customs of wearing your hat whilst inside a diner or bar and leaving your peanut shells on the floor of the diner!) and I feel highly privileged to be able to call Chase a personal friend. Having said that, riding a bull is a bridge too far Chase! (it seems that in order to authentically wear a cowboy hat and boots one should have first ridden a bull). With my back! One of the most generous of men, years ago Chase gave me his original demo acetate of Like I've Never Been Gone, recorded in New York by an unknown singer, and now one of my most treasured possessions, more for the fact that he has given it to me than for its provenance. It is unfortunately very crackly, but I hope to be able to either stream the track with this article and both Billy's and Chase's versions of this great song, or get it included on future releases.

More recently in September 2017 we again visited with Chase, Donnie and Dellie and spent more time with them, this time on probably the most wonderful holiday of our lives-certainly mine. Chase drove us to various locations around Franklin and the Nashville area associated with the Civil War (I have an abiding interest in Military history and this fascinating and tragic war was about so much more than slavery, repugnant and reprehensible though that aspect of it obviously was).
Donnie helped me to choose (another) cowboy hat, black this time for who wants to be the 'Goodie' when you can be the other guy! We had amazing meals together, walked the streets of lovely Franklin, visited local radio, and later I got to handle Chase's Winchester carbine, bliss! We spent time at both houses and had corn bread, polk salad and okra (picked from the fence) included with our wonderful roast dinner (no sign of Polk Salad Annie but she must have been around somewhere!).
We also met other members of the family and far too soon were kindly driven to our Nashville hotel by Chase and Donnie, later going on to Memphis and wonderful New Orleans. It came as a terrible shock a few months later in June 2018 to be told that Donnie had passed. She was so vibrant and funny and only in her sixties-a terrible loss, and for us the USA (and in particular the wonderful Southern States), can never be the same. The joy of being with them both in that lovely neck of the woods cannot be overstated.

We have our wonderful memories, great photos and videos, and at the time of writing Chase still trying to get some of his back catalogue released. Towards the end of our visit whilst Linda and Donnie were shopping at the Mall, Chase granted me another more focused interview than the telephone one conducted in several parts and edited for printing in December 2005 in magazine number 26. This interview, conducted in Peytonsville on Sunday 17th September 2017 during which, at the very end, Chase spontaneously emphasises his regard for Billy Fury, is copyright Chris Eley/Chase Webster and forms part of this tribute to Chase. It is also a key part of the quite extensive topic of the Billy Fury Connection. I do hope that 'Ya' all enjoy the interview with this special, warm and humorous Southern gentleman, who should have made it big in the way Johnny Cash once believed he would.

Chris Eley, Chichester - UK. June 2020

Interview - Chase Webster with Chris Eley 2017

Chase Webster, Like I've Never Been Gone.

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