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Aubrey Mayhew, J.F.K., RIP.

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Aubrey Mayhew 1970 signing papers for the Texas School Book Depository.jpg Aubrey Mayhew in 1970, signing papers for the Texas School Book Depository.

2:30 p.m. Sat Mar. 28--

Aubrey Mayhew has checked out of the library.
Mayhew, 81, died last weekend at hospice care facility in Nashville.
He was one of the nation's biggest collectors of 1960s JFK memorabilia, with more than 300,000 Kennedy related items in his possession. He was so obsessive about Kennedy, he purchased the infamous Texas School Book Depository at a 1970 auction.

Mayhew also was the left-of-center producer at Little Darlin' Records.
The renegade country label sprang came from the big dreams of the 1960s. Bodacious songs such as Stonewall Jackson's "Pint of No Return," Groovy Joe Poovey's "He's in a Hurry (To Get Home to My Wife)" and Johnny Paycheck's "(Pardon Me) I've Got Someone to Kill" were drenched in steel guitar, edgy vocals and pop-top bass.
I spoke with Mayhew in 2005 when Koch Records/Nashville reissued the Little Darlin'
catalog. Here's some excerpts from a very memorable conversation...........

Little Darlin's hard mid-1960s country is truly renegade, especially since it was recorded when Nashville was steeped in the lush strings and fancy arrangements of the countrypolitian movement. There are nearly 5,000 unreleased sides of Little Darlin' material, including live tracks from bluesman Lightnin' Hopkins, gospel songs from Johnny Paycheck and material from an unlikely source, Clint Eastwood.

"Clint always said he was a singer," Mayhew told me. "But he got trapped into doing an album by some slick guys in Philadelphia. This is when he was doing the 'Rawhide' thing." In 1961, the singing cowboy got off to an inauspicious start when he cut the country-pop single "Unknown Girl" that was more Bobby Goldsboro than Clint Eastwood. "That put a bitter taste in his mouth," Mayhew said.

Eastwood decided to give music another try when an industry friend told Eastwood that Mayhew could be trusted. By 1970, Little Darlin' had morphed into Certron Records. And so Eastwood went to Nashville to cut the Certron single "Burning Bridges," featured in his movie "Kelly's Heroes" (which also co-starred roots singer Harry Dean Stanton) and "six or eight other things," according to Mayhew.

"Little Darlin'" started out as a New York-based "hip pocket operation," in Mayhew's words. "Little Darlin' was a country phrase people used," said Mayhew, who hails from Gretna, Va. "Well, maybe I used it more than anybody."

Mayhew was a lifer in the record business. In 1961, he was working at Pickwick Records, then a 99-cent budget line based in New York. Mayhew had heard about a down-on-his-luck Nashville singer named Donald Lytle. After a little investigating, Mayhew found Lytle sleeping under the Shelby Street Bridge in Nashville. He soon changed Lytle's name to the more renegade-sounding Johnny Paycheck. (The first Johnny Paycheck was a Des Moines boxer who was one of Joe Louis' tomato cans in his "Bum of the Month" fights.)

With Paycheck on board, Mayhew asked Pickwick to start a country label. "They didn't want to do it, but they allowed me to release a record ['The Girl They Talk About'] with him, which got some action," Mayhew said. "Then we recorded 'A-11' in New York with George Jones' band. That took off and that's when I started building Paycheck."

After "A-11" hit, Mayhew quit Pickwick and set up his own office in New York, and then in 1966 moved to Nashville, where he formally launched Little Darlin'.

While at the label, Paycheck wrote "Apartment #9," which became a huge hit in December 1966 for Tammy Wynette. Mayhew and Paycheck also wrote "(Pardon Me) I've Got Someone to Kill."

"I didn't want to do what anybody else was doing, so we came up with the most extreme things we could," said Mayhew, who lived and worked in the renovated Roxy movie theater in East Nashville during the time of our conversation. "Most of it came natural. Paycheck was a writer like Hank Williams. Williams was a songwriting icon, but he didn't write songs. Fred Rose [Williams' publisher] wrote songs. Williams had great ideas but he didn't know how to complete them. Fred would finish them up. That was like Paycheck. He was one of the best songwriters I ever met, but he was so loose and unsettled that he didn't have the patience to finish the songs."

Paycheck died in February 2003, after a long battle with emphysema. He was 64.

Paycheck did his share of hell-raising. Mayhew wrote "The Pint of No Return," which would become a signature song for Stonewall Jackson, after a night out with Paycheck. Early in his career, Paycheck was playing a nearly empty club in Secacaus, N.J. "Two girls were at a table and I went over and started talking to them," Mayhew said. "During his break, Paycheck came over. We all ended up going out after the show. Paycheck was driving. We had no idea where we were. We went down this long road and came to a pier on the seashore. It was 5 in the morning. There was a sign that said 'Point of No Return.'

"I looked at Paycheck, he looked at me. He was drunk. I wasn't. I said, 'Paycheck, you've just reached the pint of no return.' We took the girls home, went to the hotel and wrote the song. It had to be pretty important to turn down two pretty-looking women."

The ringer of the Little Darlin' reissues was "The Little Darlin' Sound of Stonewall Jackson (The Mighty Stonewall Jackson Sings Modern Hits & Original Favorites)." Now 77, Stonewall Jackson -- his real name -- occasionally still appears at the Grand Ole Opry.

"He was with Columbia for years and put out over 60 albums," Mayhew said. "I revived Little Darlin' in 1979 after it laid dormant for 10 years. Nothing was happening with Stonewall, so I asked if he'd like to start recording again. He's pure country. I wanted to change him to the outlaw image, which was the thing going in country music at the time. I gave him a big black cowboy hat. We gave him different songs. And, boy, he resisted all of that."

Jackson was assigned to sing "Spirits of St. Louis," "Alcohol of Fame," Mayhew and Paycheck's "We're the Kind of People That Make the Jukebox Play" and Jackson's own "Listening to Johnny Paycheck."

Jackson, who has lived in the Nashville area since 1956, now lives on a 27-acre gentleman farm in Brentwood, Tenn., purchased from crooner Eddy Arnold. In a separate interview, Jackson recalled with a sigh, "Oh, the boy from New York [Mayhew]. I didn't like that hat they put on me. It looked like I had been out on the range for quite some time. But I didn't mind the songs much. I wrote 'Listening to Johnny Paycheck' because an attitude like 'Take That Job and Shove It' could get you in a lot of trouble in real life. You can get in trouble listening to Paycheck.

"'The Pint of No Return' goes along with country music. Hank Williams would have loved that song. My first No. 1 record was 'Life to Go' [1958] that talked about the honky tonk in town. There was a time at the Opry when they frowned about you singing anything about drinking."

Conversely, Little Darlin's reissues with Lightnin' Hopkins were modest field recordings that Mayhew made in 1968-69 with Hopkins when he was living in Houston. "I cut five albums on him," Mayhew said. "It's good stuff nobody has heard. It's just him and his guitar. There's a lot of conversation on it. I couldn't convince him I was from Nashville. He always thought I was from New York, so he wrote a song called 'The Man From New York.'

As fate would have it, the Man from New York was in Houston in November 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. At the time, Mayhew was working for the New York-based Diplomat Records. "I was staying at the Shamrock Hotel in Houston, trying to buy some George Jones tapes from Pappy Daily [the owner of Jones' Starday record label]," he said. "The Kennedy assassination happened right there on television. I immediately called a friend in Houston, who brought over two tape recorders and all the tape he could carry.

"We recorded everything off the television for about 12 hours. I rushed the material back to New York, and we put out the first 'Kennedy Speeches' album. At that time, we had 300 Woolworth stores in our pocket. We got prime display. We sold about 3 million albums in four months."

This incident led Mayhew to his affinity for Kennedy memorabilia. His prize possession is the Texas School Book Depository. "Why did I buy it?" he asked me. "It was a premium item for my collection. I paid $600,000 for it."

Mayhew removed the original window where Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly shot Kennedy. Mayhew claims the window is stored in Nashville, but some in Dallas argue that it is not the original window. "There's a debate over everything in life," Mayhew said emphatically. "I don't lie! I don't cheat! I don't steal! I saw them take that window out."

In a somewhat ironic footnote, Mayhew began his Kennedy collection by purchasing hundreds of metal objects that were created with JFK's likeness. It made sense for a rebel country producer with an extreme sense of mettle.

At the time of his death Mayhew was involved in a lawsuit with Caruth Byrd, who argued that he inherited the book depository window from his father, who owned the Texas School Book Depository building and removed the window shortly after the assassination. Mayhew argued he had the true window because the elder Byrd removed the wrong one. According to the Associated Press, Paul Fourth, Mayhew's attorney said his client did not leave a will. The trial in Dallas was recently delayed until April.

Former Little Darlin' singer Dugg Collins told me about Mayhew's passing. He wrote, "'No will' says it all about the way Aubrey lived his life. He figured he'd live forever and didn't anyone to take care of things. That's one of the reasons he lost all rights to everything Little Darlin' He was trying to be his own lawyer.
"May he rest in peace. I knew him for 40 years and got along with him for 32 of those years. Like most of his relationships, he drove me away, too."

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Dave Hoekstra

Dave Hoekstra has been a Chicago Sun-Times staff writer since 1985. His collection of Sun-Times travel columns, "Ticket To Everywhere," was published in 2000 by Lake Claremont Press. He was lead writer for "Farm Aid: Song for America" (Rodale Press, 2005) which commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Willie Nelson inspired effort.
He won a 1987 Chicago Newspaper Guild Stick O-Type Award for Column Writing. Hoekstra wrote and co-proudced the WTTW-Channel 11 PBS special: "The Staple Singers and the Civil Rights Movement," nominated for a 2001-02 Chicago Emmy for a documentary program/cultural significance.
He lives in Chicago.


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