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The Prisonaires

The Prisonaires were just that, five African-American male singers who also happened to be inmates of the Tennessee State Penitentiary in Nashville. Despite what normally would be considered circumstances too onerous to start a pop music career, the Prisonaires were celebrities, albeit briefly, after the recording of the one and only hit record, "Just Walkin' in the Rain," which Sam Phillips released on Sun in 1953 -- a song that three years later became a million seller for Johnnie Ray. The band was formed by lead singer Johnny Bragg, who had been a penitentiary inmate since the age of 17 after being convicted of six charges of rape. A singer since childhood, Bragg had joined a prison gospel quintet soon after his incarceration, but after a falling out, Bragg took two of its singers, Ed Thurman and William Stewart, each of whom were doing 99 years for murder, and hooked up with recent penitentiary arrivals John Drue (three years for larceny) and Marcell Sanders (one-to-five for involuntary manslaughter), and the Prisonaires were born.

They were discovered by radio producer Joe Calloway, who heard them singing while preparing a news broadcast from the prison. Calloway suggested to warden James Edwards that the group be allowed out to perform on the radio. Edwards, a liberal reform-minded warden who saw this as part of his strategy of rehabilitation, agreed. In the meantime, Bragg was busy selling songs to music publisher Red Wortham, who sent a tape of the Prisonaires' radio performance to Jim Bulliet, a minority shareholder in Sun Records. Bulliet sent the tape to Phillips, and despite his initial reservations (Phillips was not a huge fan of the group's Ink Spots-style close harmony crooning), arranged to have the groups transported under armed guard to Memphis to record. A few weeks later, "Just Walkin' in the Rain" was released and quickly sold 50,000 copies, a small success that was not without long-term ramifications. Peter Guralnick notes that "Just Walkin' in the Rain" was likely the record that captured the attention of a young Elvis Presley as he read about the studio, the label, and more importantly, Phillips. The attendant publicity was more than had been predicted, and soon warden Edwards was allowing the group out on day passes to tour throughout the state of Tennessee. The band became favorites of the state's governor, Frank Clement, and frequently performed for assembled guests at the governor's mansion.

The group never had another hit, and within a year they were finished, the result of the rise of rock & roll and Phillips' preoccupation with a young singer from Tupelo, MS, named Presley. Most of the Prisonaires had no careers outside of the prison with the notable exception of Bragg, who, despite remaining in jail off and on until 1969, recorded some marginal R&B and country for small labels in Nashville. ~ John Dougan
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Doo Wop Pops (Volume Two)

1. You

2. Gloria

3. Night Train

4. Come Back My Love

5. Honey Dew

6. I'll Be Back

7. Darlene

8. How Blind Can You Be

9. It's Written In The Stars

10. No More Tears

11. My Gal

12. I Yi

x

Track List: Night Train To Nashville: Music City Rhythm & Blues 1945-1970

Disc 1

1. Nashville Jumps

2. Buzzard Pie

3. Skip's Boogie

4. L&N Special

5. Sittin' Here Drinking

6. Just Walkin' In The Rain

8. Baby Let's Play House

9. Christene

10. It's Love Baby (24 Hours A Day)

11. Rollin' Stone

12. You Can Make It If You Try

13. Rockin' The Joint

14. Let's Trade A Little

15. Say You Really Care

16. Somebody, Somewhere

17. Pipe Dreams

Disc 2

1. Monkey Doin' Woman

5. Anna (Go To Him)

6. Snap Your Fingers

9. Sunny

10. I Want To (Do Everything For You)

13. The Chokin' Kind

14. She Shot A Hole In My Soul

15. Gotta Get Yourself Together

16. Soul Shake

17. Reconsider Me

18. Everlasting Love

x

Track List: Nuggets Of The Golden Age Of Gospel 1945-1958

Disc 1

2. I'm Tramping

5. He Knows My Heart

8. Each Day

9. Lead Me To That Rock

11. Mother's Song

12. Jesus Is The Name

13. Same Train

14. Lord's Prayer

16. One Day

17. I'd Rather Serve Jesus

18. At The Cross

19. Lord's Gospel Train

20. Bedside Of A Neighbor

21. There Is Rest For The Weary

23. On The Highway

25. Jesus Be My Keeper

26. Walking In Jesus Name

Disc 2

1. Let Us Run

2. Come Over Here

5. No Matter How You Pray

7. Ship Of Zion

8. Jesus Bears The Cross

9. My God Is Real

11. Another Soldier Gone

12. Trouble In Mind

13. Toll The Bells

14. I Need Thee

15. There'll Be No More Sorrow

16. One Day When I Was Walking (I'm In His Care)

18. Angel

19. Lord Have Mercy

22. Cry Sometime

26. Old Time Religion

Disc 3

2. Our Prayer

5. Prayer For Tomorrow

6. Yes It's Me Lord, That Came To Thee

7. Who So Ever Will

8. Pilgrim Of Sorrow (Take 1)

10. He's Alright With Me

11. I Was So Happy

13. Lord, Will I Meet Them Again

14. I Want To Go To Heaven

15. Burying Ground

24. Come Home

Disc 4

1. I Can See So Much

2. Sit Down And Rest Awhile

3. Didn't It Rain

6. Glad To Be In The Number

7. Walk With Me

14. Roll, Jordan, Roll

15. Didn't It Rain

16. Rock My Soul

19. Hard To Get Along

20. Mother Bowed

23. When I Lay This Body Down

25. I Never Knew

x

Track List: Snatch And Grab It!

1. Snatch And Grab It

2. Boogie Woogie Blue Plate

4. For You My Love

5. Baby Please Don't Go

6. I'm Gonna Dig Myself A Hole

7. Ain't Gonna Do It

8. Mr. Highway Man (Cadillac Daddy)

9. That Chick's Too Young To Fry

10. It Went Down Easy

11. Hydramatic Woman

12. Little Richard Boogie

14. Tiger Man

15. No Place Like Home

16. Don't Knock

17. Night Life

18. Don't Change Your Pretty Ways

19. ...What That Is!

21. Poor Me

22. Tom, Dick 'n' Harry

23. Zoom

24. Goin' Round In Circles

25. Dearest

26. I Want You To Be My Girl

27. Oh My Baby's Gone

28. Goodnight Sweetheart, It's Time To Go

29. Yes Sir

30. Tim Tam

32. The Wobble

33. Beach Party

x

Track List: The Best Of Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour Volume 2

Disc 1

1. Jamaica Hurricane

2. Just Walking In The Rain

3. Mother Fuyer

4. One Mint Julep

5. Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball

6. Forty Cups Of Coffee

7. Folsom Prison Blues

8. My Son Calls Another Man Daddy

10. Divorce Me C.O.D.

12. Bonny Bunch Of Roses

13. Every Woman I Know

14. Get Rich Quick

15. Must Have Been The Devil

16. 20/20 Vision

17. Ain't I'm A Dog?

21. Take Me Back To Tulsa

23. Atomic Telephone

24. Water, Water

25. 24 Hours

26. Shotgun Boogie

Disc 2

1. Hoo-Doo Say

3. I Can't Dance (I've Got Ants In My Pants)

6. Let's Be Friends

7. Tennessee Border

8. Havana Moon

9. 3 X 7 = 21

10. Christmas Morning

11. Peggy Sue

12. Red Headed Woman

13. Uncle Pen

14. Bad Luck Blues

17. Hearts Of Stone

18. Paper In My Shoes

19. Pink Cadillac

20. Drifting Texas Sand

22. All Aboard

23. (Now And Then There's) A Fool Such As I

24. Let Me Off Uptown

25. Tax Payin' Blues

26. Bad, Bad Whiskey

x

Track List: The Sun Records Story

Disc 1

1. Cool Down Mama

2. Boogie In The Park

3. Howlin' Tom Cat

4. Highway Man

5. Juiced

7. Tiger Man

8. Love My Baby

9. Come Back Baby

10. Cotton Crop Blues

11. I'm Gonna Murder My Baby

12. Time Has Made A Change

13. Red Hot

15. Dark Muddy Bottom

16. Hello, Hello Baby

17. Listen To Me, Baby

18. Boogie Blues

20. Gonna Dance All Night

21. Don't Believe

22. Defrost Your Heart

23. Sure To Fall

24. Fool Proof

26. Jump Right Out Of This Jukebox

27. You're The Only Star In My Blue Heaven

28. Fool For Lovin' You

29. I'd Rather Be Safe Than Sorry

30. Come In Stranger

Disc 2

1. Rockin' Daddy

2. Crazy Arms

3. Mean Little Mama

4. Got Love If You Want It

5. Crawdad Song

6. Her Love Rubbed Off

7. Mad Man

8. Love My Baby

9. Miss Froggie

10. Pearly Lee

11. Deep Elem Blues

12. That Don't Move Me

14. Come On Little Mama

15. Rock With Me Baby

16. Fine Little Baby

17. Rockin' With My Baby

18. Baby That's Good

19. My Baby Don't Rock

20. Miss Pearl

21. That's Right

22. So Glad You're Mine

23. Willing And Ready

24. Shake Around

26. Judy

27. Good Rockin' Tonight

29. Tough, Tough, Tough

30. (Take Me From This) Garden Of Evil

31. Have Faith In My Love

Disc 3

2. Just Walkin' In The Rain

3. Bear Cat

4. Blue Suede Shoes

5. When It Rains It Pours

6. Mystery Train

7. Boppin' The Blues

8. Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On

9. Flyin' Saucer Rock 'n' Roll

10. I Walk The Line

11. Ooby Dooby

12. We Wanna Boogie

13. Dixie Fried

14. Great Balls Of Fire

15. Red Hot

16. Big River

17. Rock 'n' Roll Ruby

18. Breathless

19. Honey Don't

20. Red Headed Woman

21. Ballad Of A Teenage Queen

22. High School Confidential

23. Matchbox

24. Lonely Weekends

25. I'm Coming Home

26. Who Will The Next Fool Be?

27. What'd I Say

28. Guess Things Happen That Way

29. Raunchy

30. Mona Lisa

31. Whirlwind

x

Track List: Vocal Groups: Classic Doo Wop

Disc 1

2. Sweet Georgia Brown

3. Sweet And Slow

4. Swing Is The Thing

5. My Walking Stick

6. I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water

7. If I Didn't Care

9. Whispering Grass

11. That's The Rhythm

12. I Like Pie, I Like Cake

13. Milk Shake Stand

15. The Blues Can Jump

17. Hoe Cake, Hominy And Sassafras Tea

19. Wig Blues

20. Write Me A Letter

21. Around About Midnite

22. Ever Lovin' Slick

23. It's Too Soon To Know

24. Five O'Clock Blues

25. Jumping Jack

26. Rival Blues

Disc 2

1. Too Much Of A Little Bit

2. What's The Matter With You

3. Lemon Squeezing Daddy

4. Please Don't Leave Me

5. My Baby's Gone

6. How Could You

7. One More Time

8. Will You Be Mine

9. Sixty Minute Man

10. Make Me Thrill Again

11. Mary Jo

12. Ting-A-Ling

13. Stormy Weather

14. Eyesight To The Blind

15. The Glory Of Love

17. Good Googa Mooga

18. Just Walking In The Rain

19. I Wasn't Thinkin', I Was Drinkin'

20. Money Honey

21. Gee

22. I Found Out

23. A Sunday Kind Of Love

24. Get With It

Disc 3

1. Be Bop Wino

2. Feel So Good

3. Goodnite, Sweetheart, Goodnite

5. Tell Me

6. Big Leg Mama

8. Is It A Dream

11. Hearts Of Stone

12. Baby Let Me Bang Your Box

13. The Stars Are Out Tonight

15. Gloria

16. Riot In Cell Block No.9

17. Oop Shoop

18. Grief By Day, Grief By Night

19. What Do You Do

20. Mary Lee

23. Buick '59

24. Earth Angel (Will You Be Mine)

25. Newly Wed

Disc 4

1. Smokey Joe's Cafe

2. You Didn't Learn It At Home

3. Witchcraft

4. Chop Chop Boom

5. Rollin' Stone

6. No No Cherry

7. My Angel

8. I'm Leavin' (Clickity Clack)

9. The Door Is Still Open

10. That's Your Mistake

11. Baby Let's Play House

12. Be Bop Baby

14. Hug A Little, Kiss A Little

15. I Need You So

16. When You Dance

17. At My Front Door

18. Lonely Nights

19. Red Hots And Chili Mac

20. Bye Bye

21. A Story Untold

22. Don't Play No Mambo

23. Peace And Contentment

24. Nobody Knows

26. The Great Pretender

Comments

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