They set up their equipment and started playing country standards like "Tennessee Waltz." It was quite crowded that night and they were a bit nervous. After playing the standard tunes for a while, they decided to play some rock and roll, which the crowd really seemed to like. Towards the end of the set, they decided to play a song called "Mule Skinner Blues." It sounded the same that night as it did when they recorded it, according to Jim. It brought the house down. It turned every head in the place and the crowd couldn't stop applauding. They ended up playing there for three or four months. After the gig at the Oats Bin, they traveled back to Madison and appeared at the Ideal Bar until they graduated.
While they were performing at the Ideal Bar, they were approached by William Draeger, who owned a music store in Middleton, Wisconsin. Jim had noticed him coming in almost every night they played, for a month. Draeger asked them if they ever considered recording "Mule Skinner Blues." He ended up selling his music store to get the song released on the Cuca label. It was recorded at 71/2 speed in Bill Draeger's basement. The flip side was a tune called "Janice," which Jim had written for his wife. After the record was released, Bill tried to get it going. As fate would have it, none of the DJ's would play it. Bill went down to Nashville and sat at Mercury Records for days. No one would give it a listen.
Jim and Phil were playing theaters in Michigan and all around that area. They came to the attention of Lindy Shannon, a DJ over WKBH in La Crosse, Wisconsin. It was one of the hottest radio shows around. He had a Caravan of Stars Show he was putting together. The Fendermen got on the show at the last minute. They were hot that night. They did "Don't You Just Know It" and it brought the crowd to their feet. When they did "Mule Skinner Blues," it drove the audience wild. Lindy Shannon came over at the end of their performance and said that they ought to cut that song. Jim and Phil told him they had and handed him a box of Cuca records. Lindy played it on his radio show and it was his pick hit of the week. It sold 8,000 records in two days.
Shortly after, the Fendermen were signed to Soma Records, which was owned by Amos Heilicher. They went into Kay Bank studio in Minneapolis and re-recorded "Mule Skinner Blues" and a new flip side," Torture" which was written by Jim and Phil.
In May of 1960, Soma released "Mule Skinner Blues." On May 15, the Fendermen Appeared at the Minneapolis Auditorium on the Johnny Cash Show. The show featured Cash, Johnny Horton, Kitty Wells and others. According to Sundquist, they were booked on the show at the last minute because their record was being played constantly by the DJ's in Minneapolis.
When they walked out on the stage that night, they were surprised at the thunderous applause. It was just the two of them with their guitars-no drums and no bass. When they saw the huge crowd they were petrified. There were 10 or 20,000 people out there in the audience. Jim was so scared he just started laughing. He looked over at Phil and they almost died laughing. The Fendermen worked through a few songs and then blasted the crowd with "Mule Skinner Blues." The place went crazy and they got four or five curtain calls. Jim said it was just the biggest thrill of his life.
In June of that year, the Fendermen appeared on the Dick Clark Show along with Bobby Darin, Paul Evans, the Crests and the Skyliners. They played a show at Fort William Gardens with Bobby Vee and Donnie Brooks. They appeared in Des Moines, Iowa at the Val Air Ballroom.
"Mule Skinner Blues" peaked at number five on the Billboard charts. Their second release on the Soma label was "Don't You Just Know It" and "Beach Party." It was reviewed in Billboard magazine on August 15, 1960 and Cashbox in September of that year. This was followed by the third single in February of 1961, "Heartbreakin'Special" backed with "Can't You Wait." Jim did not appear on this single. The flip side was written by Dorsey Burnette. Neither of these two records climbed the charts like their first outing, "Mule Skinner Blues."
Soma released their one and only album which included "Don't You Just Know It," "Bertha Lou," "High Noon," of course "Mule Skinner Blues" and eight other selections. Today, this LP is a rare collector's item and demands a very high price.
Jim and Phil parted ways in 1961. Humphrey kept the name and went back out on the road. A little later, Jim recorded a song called "Molly And Ten Brooks" as Jimmy and the Radiants. It was released on the Cuca label. The last time Jim and Phil saw each other was around 1964.
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