By Tim Neely
Question: I have been looking for an album for about 30 years to no avail. It came out about 1968-69 and was by an artist named John Wesley Ryals or Rials [sic]. The feature song was a ballad called “Kay.”
— Jess P. “Mongo” Webb
Answer: John Wesley Ryles (note the spelling) had his only Hot 100 hit in late 1968 and early 1969 with “Kay” on Columbia 4-44682 (later reissued as part of the Columbia Hall of Fame Series as 4-33179). It peaked at #83, but it was a much bigger hit in certain places (it made the Top 30 in Los Angeles, for one example). And it was a smash on the country charts, where it got up to #8. Unusually, he was credited on the 45 of the song “Kay” as “John Wesley Ryles I,” a moniker he would continue to use into the early 1970s. (He eventually dropped the Roman numeral.)
Ryles never again made the pop charts, but he had 27 country hits. The biggest was in 1977 with “Once in a Lifetime Thing,” which peaked at #5. He also re-recorded “Kay” when he was on the ABC label, but the new version got only to #50 on the country charts in 1978. Today, Ryles is busy in Nashville as a session musician.
The original version of “Kay” was successful enough that Columbia released an album, also called Kay, in early 1969 with the catalog number CS 9788. It peaked at #22 on the Billboard country album chart, but it did not make the main LP chart. It’s never been issued on CD, at least not in the United States. The hit song itself has been on country-related various-artists CDs, including a budget 3-CD set from Sony Music Special Products called Sing Me A Story: 36 Great Country Story Songs, which seems to be out of print.
In making a cursory search of the Internet, it’s not an easy album to find, but it’s out there, and it doesn’t seem to be that expensive. But when you are looking for something that refuses to reveal itself to you, it might as well be the rarest record in the universe. I hope this information helps in your search.
Question: I was wondering if you could assist with a value on a 78 RPM. I found a copy of what some say is the first jazz record ever recorded, the Original Dixieland “Jass” Band’s “Dixieland Jass Band One Step”/ “Livery Stable Blues” on Victor 18255. I’ve read that it was recorded in January 1917, but I cannot find a value. It’s in VG condition. I paid 50 cents for it at the flea market.
— John Peluso
Answer: There’s little question that this Original Dixieland Jass (later Jazz) Band 78 was the first jazz record ever made; if any were made before this, they are lost to history. Several variations of Victor 18255 exist. At first, the group was listed as “Original Dixieland Jass Band”; later, the name was changed to “Original Dixieland ‘Jazz’ Band” with “jazz” in quotes; still later, it became simply “Original Dixieland Jazz Band.” Also, “Dixieland Jass Band One Step” was involved in a copyright infringement lawsuit, which resulted in a change in the title to “Dixie Jass Band One Step” and an added note, “Introducing: That Teasin’ Rag,” making reference to the song the ODJB “stole.”
From your description, it sounds as if you have the original edition. For a record so important in the history of music, it’s not that valuable, as it was in print for many years and sold probably hundreds of thousands of copies. Depending on condition, I’ve seen copies go for as little as $4 and as much as $20 in the collector’s market. Earlier editions in better condition could go for more.
Two added footnotes: In 1997, BMG issued a promo-only small-holed 45 rpm 10-inch single in a picture sleeve commemorating the 80th anniversary of this record; it sells for $10-$20. And believe it or not, there is still a version of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band performing today, led by Jimmy LaRocca, the son of one of the founding members, Nick LaRocca.