AN INTERVIEW WITH JESS HOOPER
By Billy Miller
From KICKS Magazine – Issue # 3 (1984)
Yes, Virginia, there is a Jess Hooper. For some time it was believed that Jess‘ "All Messed Up"/"Sleepy Time Blues" (Meteor 5025) was Charlie Feathers moonlighting during his Sun days. It sure as hell sounded like him and to add fuel to the fire, Charlie never said it WASN'T him.
Now, KICKS gives the real Jess Hooper a shot at unravelling the mysteries behind one of the coolest and most elusive platters to ever grace a hi-fi.
I gave Jess a buzz at home in Texas and although he wasn't a whirlwind of facts and dates, I found him to be an unassuming, friendly guy who was glad to hear that people still dug him...
Billy: Hi. Er, is this Jess Hooper?
Jess: Yes, it is.
Billy: Jess, my name' s Billy and I'm doing a series of articles on some of the early rockabilly singers and I'm a big fan of "All Messed Up". Wou1d you mind if I asked you a few questions about it’?
Jess: Sure, uh huh.
Billy: Okay, how’d you start in music?
Jess: Oh, I dunno. I was just a young boy out of the service, playing with a little group out of Memphis.
Billy: That‘ s where you're from?
Jess: No, I‘m from a little town called Marks, Mississippi about 65 miles south of Memphis. Mostly I did gigs around Memphis and through northern Mississippi. Not anything big. We copied some of the big country stars and did our own rockabilly stuff. Now I think I like the blues best but we weren' t doing any back then.
Billy: Who were you working with at the time?
Jess: God, I don‘t remember offhand. (Laughs) There was one guy I remember - Billy Riley. He played guitar for me.
Billy: Oh, wow!
Jess: Yeah, he and I worked together. Then he came out with a song, "The Green Hen" or something.
Billy: The Little Green Men was his band.
Jess: Right, the song went real big for him back then.
Billy: You mean "Red Hot".
Jess: Yeah, like I said, it did real good for him, ‘course I didn' t stay in it long, and I got right out of it. Now I'm trying to get back in it again, but that's kinda hard to do.
Billy: Before you made the record, did you try Sun?
Jess: No, I didn' t try Sun. There was a number of other companies there and believe it or not as the saying goes, I went studio to studio looking for an audition. I didn' t have a band at the time. I was just the walkin’ the streets.
Billy: What labels did you try?
Jess: Oh, I've forgotten ‘em by now. Just little labels.
Billy: So what happened when you got to Meteor?
Jess: Oh, when I got to Meteor, um, he listened to it and said yes and told me to come back in a week, I believe it was, and he had a band there.
Billy: So that wasn't your performing band on the record?
Jess: No, uh some of ‘em was. Billy Riley.
Billy: He's on the record?
Jess: He's the one playing the lead guitar.
Billy: Great. It's a nice sound he had.
Jess: Uh huh. Sure is.
Billy: Do you recall the other guys on it?
Jess: Uh, well, I got it written down. Hang on. (Goes and looks) Hello, Bill, believe it or not, here's one of my old songbooks. I was messin' with some songs when you ca1led. Now the group was Clyde Rush -- I don’t know what they was playin’ -- then you had Tommy Sealy, Bill Turant, and Miller Toe and Johnny Tate.
Billy: They were guys that Meteor hired?
Jess: I think they were, although some of ‘em were new and I think they were out lookin' for some gigs too.
Billy: Did you record more than just the two titles?
Jess: No, I didn't. That one record was all I did.
Billy: But I mean did you record any more songs at the Meteor session?
Jess: We taped out...gosh, seven or eight songs and he picked those out.
Billy: What songs were they?
Jess: Gosh, one of ‘em was "Diamonds and Gold." (Pauses)
Billy: They were all your songs?
Jess: Yeah, all mine. I wrote ‘em and copyrighted them. ‘Course "All Messed Up" and "Sleepy Time Blues" was released but I don't remember the others.
(Further correspondence with Jess has revealed that in addition to the three titles mentioned, the following were a also cut at the Meteor session: "Afraid", "This Heart Is Dying Tonight", and "I Think My Baby’s Gone". Jess recalled two other originals from the fifties - "I Am A Sinner" and "Well, Don't You Think", but he wasn't sure if they were recorded for Meteor.)
Billy: “All Messed Up” wasn’t also released on Cherry, was it?
Jess: I heard somebody say it was, but they didn’t have any rights to it.
Billy: It was a bootleg, I guess about ten years ago.
Jess: Yeah, no, that only came out on Meteor.
Billy: Jess, are you aware that for years people thought “All Messed Up” was sung by Charlie Feathers going under the name Jess Hooper?
Jess: No, I didn’t. Charlie Feathers?
Billy: You never heard of him?
Jess: No. Charlie Feathers?
was a Memphis musician who was on Sun and
he had one on Meteor called “Tongue Tied Jill”.
Your styles are so similar people assumed that “All Messed Up”
Jess: Ha! Is that right?
Billy: In fact I’ve got an album here of Charlie's songs and it includes your two cuts. (THE LIVING LEGEND – Redita 107)
Jess: It does?
Billy: Yeah, and the back cover says that "the fact that Charlie could get away with recording under another name testifies to the number of people who were copying him."
Jess: I didn’t know that. Of course, I left Memphis soon after that and wasn’t aware of what was goin’ on, but he definitely did not have the authority to do that.
Billy: No, Feathers didn't do this. A collector put this out and just assumed it was him singing.
Jess: Oh, I see.
Billy: So you left Memphis just as rock & roll was gaining steam.
Jess: Yes, l moved to Texas.
Billy: Did you continue playing?
Jess: We did a few gigs and then I kinda dropped out of the whole thing.
Billy: Were you doing mostly country in Texas?
Jess: Oh, mostly I still did the things from Memphis days. Actually, I’m working on blues stuff right now. I like the blues – Southern blues. It’s out of style but I like to mess with it. I’m writing quite a few songs now.
(Jess and 1 talk about publishing, then we get back to "All Messed Up".)
Jess: I don't even know where the record of it is. I been divorced several times, moved across the country 4 or 5 times, and in the process everything's been lost, you know.
Billy: Did you think you had a good record on your hands at the time?
Jess: Yeah, I was happy with it. It did quite well for me, but I didn't make any money out of it. I did real good at the radio station in Clarkesdale, Mississippi, where 1 was really working at the time. They did a lot for me. I played with some of the country bands that came through the auditoriums and things for about a year before 1 dropped out.
Billy: Did you ever play with any of the Sun acts?
Jess: No, of course Elvis was at Sun at the time, and some of the other Memphis labels had good acts, but no, I didn't play with any of them. 'Course then Carl Perkins came in.
Billy: Did you know Junior Thompson who did "Raw Deal" on Meteor?
Billy: So aside from Billy Lee Riley you had no association with any Sun artist?
Jess: There was 3 or 4 labels I tried. I didn't go up to Sun…well, I did go to Sun's secretary but I couldn't get in the door. At that time, Sun was boomin'...what was his name, Phillips or somethin' like that?
Billy: Sam Phillips.
Jess: Yeah, Sam Phillips. It‘s kinda like today. I've written to I guess 75 people on my music, but most of 'em nowadays aren't interested in outside material at all. I guess the business is pretty rough. You know, I pretty well got out of it, but now my blood's steerin' again and I've written 40-50 songs lately. I guess I'm too old to get on the big end of it, but I enjoy it. You ever hear my song "All Messed Up" getting played up there?
Billy: Not on radio, but a lot of people consider it one of the best rockabilly songs of all time, plus I know a couple of bands that do it.
Jess: At least it's nice to know you're still around in some people's eyes. That was about 30 years ago!
Billy: The record's still great!
Jess: I guess that's true. I appreciate that, Bill.
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