Sunday, December 12, 2021


This novel is NOT about Sun Records or Elvis Presley. Not exactly.

The names have been changed. And the city. And a lot of the facts.

Yeah, HIVE RECORDS is fiction. But it was unabashedly inspired by the history of Sun Records, its founder Sam Philips and some of the label’s most famous artists. And for anyone interested in those subjects, it’s a fascinating read.

Instead of Nashville, the Hive Records studio is in Tupelo, Mississippi, and instead of Sam Philips, the doer and shaker is a guy named Hank Howard. Other major players include Cccil Madison, a young black songwriter who soon becomes an integral part of the business, and recording artists Rusty Gordon, a guy known only as Snake Eyes, and The Lonesome Shadow (an obvious stand-in for Howlin’ Wolf). Also on on hand are recording technician Chuck Honeycutt, a “hot little number” of a secretary, and—in far off Chicago—the Cross brothers of Cross Records (read Chess), who license some of Hive’s recordings.

Into this family comes a brash, skinny white kid who loves the blues. He’s named Cam Cottner, and has a new sound that knocks everyone on their ears. Yep, he’s the Elvis substitute. Cecil thinks of him as a peacock, but the guy really sing, and he and his two friends sign with Hive as “Cam and the Cool Cats.” Cam has more personal devils—and way more personality flaws—than Elvis, making for plenty of drama as he begins his meteoric rise as rock ‘n’ roll star.

Despite the presence of Cam Cottner and Hank Philips, the soul of the book really belongs to Cecil Madison. We’re up close and personal as he struggles with racial prejudice, and see him become an ever more important force in Hive and the music industry. His career reminded me much of Willie Dixon’s. A major subplot involves Cecil’s writing—and the recording of—a song called “Hangman’s Blues,” his response to a report of two black high school boys found hanging from an oak tree. The song causes as much sensation as Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.”

Author Frank Young knows more about recording techniques, record making and music history than I knew there was to know, and treats us to a big chunk of it here. It’s an enlightening ride.

There’s much, much more, of course. The novel delves deeply into the personal lives of Hank and Cam, and there are many cool references to commonly-used products and the pop culture of the day. Much of the fun is trying to guess which characters are based upon real people, which songs are cleverly twisted references to real songs, and which are composites invented entirely by the author.

HIVE RECORDS is a novel approach to roll history—a musical mystery wrapped in an enigma, you might say—and a blast to read. 

P.S. Our regularly schedule movie poster extravaganza will return next Sunday!


Frank M. Young said...

The price will be restored to the original 15 dollars soon, so get it on the cheap while you can! And thank you for the thoughtful look at my book!

Rick Robinson said...

Sounds great! I’ve ordered a copy.