Born Farrell H. Draper, 25 January 1923, Kirksville, Missouri
The late Rusty Draper was basically a pop singer, with occasional excursions into rock and roll, country and folk. He recorded very prolifically for the Mercury label (51 singles and nine albums over a 10-year period) and had his biggest success between 1953 and 1957.
Draper entered showbusiness at the age of twelve, singing and playing guitar on KTUL in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After five years of radio work in Tulsa, Des Moines and Quincy, Illinois, he became the singing MC at the Mel Hertz Club in San Francisco. Then followed a seven-year long spell at Hermie King's Rumpus Room in the same city.
In 1944 Draper recorded two singles for the Coast label in San Francisco, but his career didn't really take off until he signed with Mercury in early 1952. It was his sixth Mercury single that gave him his first chart entry : a cover of the Carlisles' # 1 country hit "No Help Wanted" went to # 10 on the Billboard pop charts in March 1953. This was soon followed by another cover, of the Jim Lowe song "Gambler's Guitar", which Draper took to # 6 on both the country and the pop charts. Curiously, in both cases ("No Help Wanted" and "Gambler's Guitar"), the original version of the song was also on Mercury! Jim Lowe was not amused. A German version of "Gambler's Guitar" by Fred Bertelmann ("Der Lachende Vagabund"), issued in 1957, became one of Germany's all-time best sellers, with sales over two million.
Two years and many singles went by before Rusty returned to the charts, this time with a cover of Boyd Bennett's "Seventeen" (# 18). Then, in the autumn of 1955, came the biggest hit of his career, the semi-spoken "The Shifting, Whispering Sands" (# 3), which was also a Top 10 hit for Billy Vaughn. It was Draper's second and last million seller.
Five further chart entries followed in 1956-57 (including the Top 20 hits "Are You Satisfied?" and "In the Middle Of the House") before Draper had his last Top 10 hit and, as usual, it was a cover. "Freight Train" had been a # 5 UK hit for Charles McDevitt's Skiffle Group. Rusty's version went to # 6 in mid-1957. That was the end of his period as a major chart act. His style had become old-fashioned. During the 1950s and 1960s, Draper was often seen in TV series, usually in cameo roles, and he made guest appearances in "77 Sunset Strip" (1958), "Rawhide" (1959) and "Laramie" (1959). Also he performed in stage musicals, including "Oklahoma" and "Annie Get Your Gun".
After "Freight Train", three years would pass before he saw the charts again. And guess what? It was another cover, of Hank Locklin's "Please Help Me I'm Falling" (# 54). The other side of this single (the first-ever record that ace producer Shelby Singleton supervised) was much more interesting and was the plug side in the UK. It was a storming version of "Mule Skinner Blues" (then, in 1960, a hit for The Fendermen), with a fantastic backing by the Nashville A-Team and by far Draper's best rock & roll release. It became his only UK hit, peaking at # 39.
The 1948 Cowboy Copas hit "Signed, Sealed and Delivered" was Draper's last chart entry on Mercury (# 91, September 1961).
In 1963 Rusty signed with Fred Foster's Monument Records and his first single for the label, the Willie Nelson composition "Night Life", was a # 57 hit, but also his chart swan song (at least on the pop charts). He stayed with Monument until 1970 and had four minor country hits between 1967 and 1970. In the 1970s he recorded two albums for Clark Galehouse's Golden Crest label and had his final country hit with the pop standard "Harbor Lights" (# 87) in 1980, on the KL label. Draper did not record after 1980, but remained a steady concert draw in the 1980s.
Rusty Draper died of pneumonia in 2003, at the age of 80, after having been in poor health for a number of years.
More info : http://www.allmusic.com/artist/rusty-draper-mn0000222720/biography
Discography / sessionography : http://countrydiscography.blogspot.nl/search/label/Draper%20Rusty
Acknowledgements : Jason Ankeny, William P. Davis, Joel Whitburn.
Dik, August 2014
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