Doo-Wop group formed in State Penitentiary Tennessee
About The Prisonaires you could write multiple books, even make a movie that shows more action than you see nowadays. As their name suggests, this doo-wop group was formed while each member was in the State Penitentiary, Tennessee, USA. The founding member was lead singer Johnny Bragg.
While in prison the group was paraded around a variety of receptions and civic functions as demonstration of the jail’s enlightened rehabilitation programme. Back in the day they played a mix of blues, gospel and pop songs under armed guard. It was the new warden James E. Edwards who arranged two talent scouts from Sam Phillips’ Sun Records to see the group. They were subsequently driven down to Memphis in June 1953 to record a song written by Bragg and fellow inmate Robert Riley, “Just Walkin’ In The Rain”. (source Sun Records)
Formed while serving 594 years
The Prisonaires were formed when Bragg joined up with two prison gospel singers, Ed Thurman and William Stewart (each of whom was doing 99 years for murder), and two new penitentiary arrivals, John Drue Jr. (three years for larceny) and Marcell Sanders (one-to-five for involuntary manslaughter).
About the life and legacy of the Prisonaires Cass Paley made a beautiful documentary which includes interviews with Sam Phillips Jonny Bragg. and warden James E. Edwards. A thing you probably did not know about Bragg was his training technique by putting a bucket on his head, to enlarge the echo of his voice. It gained him the Nickname “Buckethead”.
Director – Producer Cass Paley
Filmmaker and director Cass Paley is president of Cassel Productions, an independent, full-service production company that has produced numerous documentaries for American television and international broadcast over the past 20 years, including the Saga of Western Man series for ABC television and the Emmy Award winning National Geographic special, Journey to the Outer Limits.
You might know Paley as the archivist for the Roy Orbison Estate and has produced three DVD projects: Austin City Limits Concert, Roy Orbison’s Greatest Hits, and The 1973 Australian Concert.
I can highly recommend this documentary to all roots, blues and doo-wpo lovers. I have watched in any case with a whole lot of pleasure.
The Documentary about “The Prisonaires”. The Prisonaires were a vocal singing group in the 1950’s made up of incarcerated inmates serving time at the maximum penal facility in Nashville, Tennessee. The Prisonaires recorded several tracks at the now famous Sun Records and several hit songs including “Just Walkin in the Rain”. Johnny Bragg and Sam Phillips brought the vocal perfection of The Prisonaires to the public through very extraordinary measures and difficult political times. Thanks to the ernest efforts of then Governor Clement’s prison reform, The Prisonaires forever changed the landscape of music history.”
©2012 CASSEL PRODUCTIONS
Picture credit: By dbking from Washington, DC (Sun Studio, Memphis, TN Uploaded by LongLiveRock) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons