Born Otis Wilson Maphis, 12 May 1921, Suffolk, Virginia
Guitarist / singer, nicknamed The King of the Strings
Joe Maphis was one of the most innovative and influential guitarists of the 1950s. The list of guitar pickers who underwent his influence includes Larry Collins, Jimmy Bryant, Dick Dale, Don Rich, Roy Clark, Albert Lee and Deke Dickerson.
Born into a musical family, Maphis took up the guitar at age eleven and also mastered the banjo, mandolin, bass, piano and fiddle. His first guitar idol was Mother Maybelle Carter. In 1938 he joined a western swing band, Blackie Skiles and his Lazy K Ranch Boys. After doing local radio work in Virginia he moved to the Boone County Jamboree on WLW in Cincinnati and the National Barn Dance on WLS in Chicago. Following service in the army in World War II, he became a charter member of the Old Dominion Barn Dance over WRVA in 1948, where he met his future wife, Rose Lee Schetrompf (born December 29, 1922, Baltimore, MD). They began working together by 1951, married, and moved to Los Angeles. There they appeared on "Town Hall Party", a live barn dance stage show. Originally it was a radio show, but from 1953 it was also broadcast on TV (KTTV) and many of the shows have been preserved and issued on DVD's by Bear Family. The Maphises remained part of the regular Town Hall Party cast until the show's demise in early 1961.
Working under the name Rose Lee & Joe Maphis, the duo was signed by Columbia Records in January 1953, as singers, and had many releases all through the '50s, first on the OKeh subsidiary, then on the parent label. None of their singles sold in any great quantities, but the first one, "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud Loud Music)" has become a honky-tonk standard, revived by various country and country-rock acts. In 1954 Joe started playing a double-necked Mosrite guitar, developed by 18-year old Semie Moseley. The instrument became his trademark. Maphis sessioned with several other members of the Town Hall Party cast, like Johnny Bond, the Collins Kids and Skeets McDonald. The rise of rock 'n' roll greatly enhanced Joe's session calls. He did several Capitol sessions between 1956 and 1959 (Wanda Jackson, Skeets McDonald, Tommy Sands, The Four Preps, Dean Reed and others), but rock n roll fans remember him primarily for his rockabilly solos on a number of Imperial recordings. In 1957 Ozzie Nelson asked him to play on Ricky Nelson's early Imperial sides. Maphis can be heard on "Be Bop Baby", "Stood Up" (probably one of the famous guitar solos in rock n roll), "Waitin' In School" and all of Ricky's first LP for Imperial, "Ricky". All four tracks from a February 1958 Imperial session by Johnny and Dorsey Burnette feature excellent rockabilly solos ("Warm Love", "My Honey", "Boppin' Rosalie", "Do Baby Do"). Other notable Imperial recordings with Maphis's involvement include tracks by Laura Lee Perkins, Slick Slavin, Nik Venet and the Jodimars.
At Town Hall, he took 12 year old Larry Collins under his wing. Joe's tutelage made Larry a formidable guitarist. Joe plays on all the Collins Kids 1955-58 Columbia sessions and recorded an EP with Larry (called "Larry Collins and Joe Maphis") in September 1957. Among Maphis's most interesting releases from this period are "Fire On the Strings" (1955), "Guitar Rock and Roll" (1956), "Flying Fingers" (1956) and the 1959 single "Short Recess"/"Moon- shot", featuring an overdubbed sax by Plas Johnson.
In 1958 Joe played on the soundtrack of the films "Thunder Road" and "God's Little Acre". He also supplied background music for a number of 1950s and 1960s TV series (The Virginians, FBI Story, etc.).
Maphis left Columbia in 1960. In June 1960 he did a solitary session for Gene Autry's Republic label, which yielded the splendid "Water Baby Boogie" (not available on YouTube unfortunately, but it can be heard on Spotify). The Maphis family moved to Nashville in 1968 and remained active, with recordings for Capitol, Starday, Chart and CMH and regular appearances on TV's Hee-Haw 1981-85. The 1981 double LP "The Joe Maphis Flat-Picking Spectacular" on CMH was nominated for a Grammy. Son Jody was part of the impressive Earl Scruggs Revue '1972-79 and became a session musician in Nashville. In 1985, Joe's longtime cigarette habit turned on him when it was discovered that he had advanced lung cancer, which was the cause of his death on June 25, 1986 (aged 65).
More info :
Recommended CD: Flying Fingers (Bear Family BCD 16103). 24 of Joe's instrumentals, 1955-1960. Liner notes by Rich Kienzle. Released 1997.
Discography / sessionography : http://countrydiscography.blogspot.com/search/label/Maphis%20Joe
Acknowledgements : Rick Kienzle, Paul F. Wells
Deke Dickerson is editor / publisher of "Flyin' Fingers", a newsletter about the life and times of Joe Maphis (6 issues per year).
Dik, May 2012
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