About The Artist
Charles Edward "Rusty" York left his mark in three forms of country music. He started playing the bluegrass bars in Cincinnati, moved with changing times to rockabilly without abandoning bluegrass, while keeping his hand in country music through his long association with Jimmie Skinner and Bobby Bare. In addition, he operated a successful recording studio for more than three decades.
Charles York was a native of Harlan County, Kentucky where he absorbed musical sounds of the country music of his day. He fell in love with bluegrass almost from its beginning years, hearing Earl Scruggs at an early personal appearance in Jackson, Kentucky. In May 1952, the Yorks followed the pathway of thousands of Appalachians, going north to Cincinnati. The elder York died within a few weeks of their relocation.
The youth did not return to school in September, but took a low level job at Walt's Restaurant. Within a few months, he moved upward to being an errand boy in a stockbroker's office. Given his later life he probably learned something about economics while there. He also found out about music in the Queen City's active club scene. He and another youth transplanted from Kentucky named Willard Hale formed a banjo and guitar combination and began working in the clubs with York typically playing banjo. When an elder sister bought him a better guitar with the name "Rusty" already painted on it, patrons in the clubs began calling him Rusty and the name stuck.
Rusty also made the acquaintance of Jimmie Skinner, one of his boyhood heroes. He began working with him at his store, on radio and at personals. When not otherwise employed the youth worked in the mailroom as the Jimmie Skinner Music Center did a large mail order business.
Meanwhile, while continuing to work in the clubs, audience requests began to change. Having virtually witnessed the birth of bluegrass as a child, he now became immersed in the birth of what was becoming rockabilly. Requests for "Your Cheating Heart" or "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" were turning to "Mystery Train" and "Hound Dog." Rusty began adapting to new songs and styles without abandoning the old ones.
In 1957, Syd Nathan of King Records fame contacted Rusty about doing a cover of the Buddy Holly hit "Peggy Sue." This became young York's first record release. A few months later Nathan called again for a cover of "La-Dee-Dah" made with Midwestern Hayride star Bonnie Lou. More recordings came out on the California-based Sage label. As a rockabilly he became known as the "Cincinnati Fireball."
Working more closely with Jimmie Skinner after he and Ray Lunsford split, he played lead guitar on Connie Hall's "I'm the Girl in the USA" which was coupled with Rusty's original "Banjo Strut" on a Mercury single.
Then in 1959 Rusty cut the song "Sugaree" that Marty Robbins had written but never recorded. He backed it with an uptempo instrumental version of "Comin' Around the Mountain" that he retitled "Red Rooster." Initially released on the small P J label, it was soon picked up by Note and then Chess, the major R & B label. It entered the charts and ultimately got Rusty on American Bandstand, major rock and roll tours including the Michigan State Fair and the Hollywood Bowl, a giant show that also had such figures as Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon on the program.
Not all of Rusty's personal appearances were one performance. In March of 1960, The Billboard reported that the Rusty York Trio (Rick Sticks on drums; Hap Arnold on electric bass and Rusty York on guitar) were doing a four week appearance at the Town Lounge in Rockford, IL.
In 1962, Rusty displayed another talent on the steel guitar. Jimmie Skinner had done an album tribute to Jimmie Rodgers. The Billboard said that Jimmie kept listeners in the 'right mood' but using Rusty on the steel guitar the way Jimmie Rodgers used Cliff Carlisle on his recordings.
In early 1964, Rusty teamed up with Bobby Bare and opened a two week engagement at the Holiday Hotel in dowtown Reno on January 30, 1964.
Meanwhile, Rusty continued to play some bluegrass with Willard Hale on Starday, work with Jimmie Skinner, and cut some bluegrass standards with a studio band called the Kentucky Mountain Boys as part of a Skinner special mail offer. In 1961, Rusty did another session for King backed by R &B star Hank Ballard's band the Midnighters. He also played steel guitar on Skinner's Jimmie Rodger's tribute album. From 1964 until 1966, he worked as an opening act for Bobby Bare who was then at the height of his popularity. He had one single each on the major label Capitol and the small label REM.
In 1961, Rusty's name appeared in a news story about a concert being promoted for a Saturday night at the Raleigh County Memorial Building in Beckley, West Virginia. The show was being promoted by Charles (Chuck) Nary and Price Hill. Originally it was claimed the Cancer Society was to 'benefit' from the concert or telethon, but that organization had cancelled and they tried to move the concert to Beckley. However, the problem was that they were promoting all of the stars on the show as "Grand Ole Opry" stars when in fact none of them were on the Opry. The scheduled or promoted performers were Jimmie Skinner, Connie Hall, Rusty York and his Midwestern Hayriders, Esco Hankins and Milly, Tex Bellin, Carol Jean, Eddie Rick and Cowboy Howard Vokes. Word got back to the performers and Connie Hall, who was relatively new at the time, found out and told the newspaper she could not perform under false pretenses. Things got so bad that Albert Cecere, who was manager of Associated Music Enterprises in Beckley barred Mr. Nary from using his office any longer; he had been letting them use his phone number to promote the show. An article touting the benefit concert for the local Heart Fund indicated that Rattlesnake Hogan and his Playboys, a local group, would provide the background music. The article indicated that 60 per cent of the profits from the sale of a program as well as 10 per cent of the gate receipts before expenses would be donated. Nary was arrested in Fayetteville, WV on a charge of obtaining money under false pretenses. The Opry issued a statement from Ott Devine noting that none of its performers were a part of the advertised show.
By 1971, Rusty cut back on touring and concentrated on upgrading the small studio he started in his garage some time before. He eventually built a larger facility in suburban Mt. Healthy, Ohio. His Jewel Studio recorded all kinds of music ranging from black gospel quartets to classic bluegrass by such figures as J. D. Jarvis, Hylo Brown and Mac Wiseman, and also TV show themes. One sacred album featured York on one side and Jarvis on the other. In 1973, he did a bluegrass banjo instrumental album for Queen City with guitar support from rock musician Lonnie Mack. In between times, he released some of his unreleased rockabilly numbers such as "Great Balls of Fire" on his own Jewel label. Rusty moved the Jewel Recording Co. to a new loacation at 1594 Kinney Avenue in Cincinnati in the fall of 1967.
Rusty operated his studio until 2008 when he retired. In 2012, a Cincinnati rockabilly historian reported that he was in ill health. Moving to Florida Rusty died two years later. He was buried back in the east Kentucky highlands from whence his musical heritage was born.
Credits & Sources
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