The “Golden Hits Of The 50s” 

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(Robert “BOBBY DAY” Byrd)

Aladdin 3398

No. 6    November 11, 1957


“I pick ’em up and sell ’em,” said Thurston Harris of his search for empty bottles in garbage cans.

“Some­times you can make enough to get by,” People magazine’s Patricia Freeman and Mitchell Small

were told.  “Sometimes you don’t.   I manage.    Just some days I don’t eat.”


Thurston Theodore Harris (b. July 11, 1931, Indianapolis, IN) began singing in church as a six-year-old

member of the Canaan Crunders.   Years later, Thurston and brother William sang in the Indiana

Wonders.   After his return from military service, Harris started singing secular in a hometown joint

named the Sunset Terrace.   There, guitar man Jimmy Liggins­–noted for his “Tear Drop Blues” (R&B: #7,

1948) and “Drunk” (R&B: 14,1953)–caught Thurston’s act.   Liggins liked what he heard and hooked

Harris up with his brother, Joe Liggins of  “The Honeydripper” fame.   “I toured with Joe around the

Midwest for a while; Harris told Goldmine’s Jim Dawson, “and I came out West with him to Los Angeles.

 As soon as we got there, the band broke up.”


Once in L.A., Harris allegedly went around passing himself off as the lead vocalist on the Five Royals’

“Help Me Somebody” (R&B: II, 1953), bluffing his way onto Hunter Hancock’s popular R & B radio

show and into talent shows.   While appearing at the Club Alimony, Harris and a rag-tag group soon

called the Lamplighters (Matthew Nelson, Willie Blackwell, and Leon Hughes, the latter an original

Coaster) were spotted by A.J. Frazier.   Drawn to their wildness and Thurs’ voice, AJ landed a recording

contract for the group with Federal.   The label released 13 Lamplighter singles between 1953 and 1956.

Nothing charted, but all of these churners are now highly sought after disks.


On several occasions, Harris and the guys would have a falling-out.  ”(They) were too interested in wine,

women and dope,” reported Now Dig This’ Pete Bowen.   After one of their breakups, Thurston returned

to Indianapolis.   Variations of the Harris-less Lamplighters recorded as the Tenderfoots, the Sharps

(backing Duane Eddy on “Rebel Rouser”), and still later as the Rivingtons, forever to be remembered

for their delightfully idiotic “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow.   The Lamps reunited on a few occasions with Harris,

and “Little Bitty Pretty One” was the result of one of these gatherings.


Thurston was released from a mental hospital the night before he and his Sharps (AI Frazier, John

“Sonny” Harris, Matthew Nelson, and Carl White) recorded their moment of truth, “Little Bitty Pretty

One”–actually a cover version of a song originally written and recorded by BOBBY DAY.   Apparently, as

Frazier told Bowen, ‘Thurston [had] gotten drunk and broke somebody’s windows or something, and

instead of calling the police they called the hospital.”


“Little Bitty” made Thurston a star overnight; with stops on “American Bandstand,” “The Ed Sullivan

Show” and tours with Fats Domino, Buddy Holly, and the Everly Brothers.


“I didn’t get nothin,'” Harris told People of his bitter deal with the now-defunct Aladdin Records.

“Nothin’, you hear?    Still not.   They caught me when I was young and dumb and took advantage of me.”


Thurston’s follow-ups to “Pretty One” were as good, if not still better, than that hit, but sales were

relatively paltry.   “Do What You Did” (#57, 1958) and another Bobby Day cover, “Over and Over” (#96,

1958), charted, but “Be-Baba·Leba,” “(I Got Loaded At) Smokey Joe’s,” “Runk Bunk,”  and other efforts

slipped into obscurity without notice.   Aladdin Records folded, and Thurston moved on to recording

some one-off sides for Imperial, Dot, Cub, and Reprise.   The last of these was issued in 1964.


Harris was homeless, moving between friends and relatives-for years.   By the ’90s, he was staying with

his sister.   “I’m lucky, I guess.   I could be sleeping in cars and eating air like I used to when I quit music.”


Jim Dawson interviewed Harris for Goldmine and produced a limited-release Harris EP in 1984.   He

reported that during the interview Harris did not say much about the years, but that it was plain that

there were a few hospitals and jails along the way, as well as a drug habit that he eventually shook.


Harris’ dream–to “do it” once again.   “I can still sing.” he told People, “and I never stopped writing.”   “In

a voice seasoned by malt liquor and Lucky Strikes,” wrote the magazine writers, Thurston launched into

a new tune, “Head of Lettuce,” the tale of what drink had done to him.   “I think it’s gonna be a hit,” said



On April 14, 1990, Thurston Harris died of a heart attack at his sister’s place in Pomona, California.