Rusty Isabell

Born ca. 1940, Phoenix, Arixona, US.

Rusty Isabell maybe a footnote in the history of Rock & Roll, but nevertheless he made some wonderful rockin' 45's during the late fifties. Fellow musician Mike Baker told "...he played many instruments: oboe, piano, organ, soprano-/alto-/tenor-/bass-sax and drums! His first love is piano and he played classical as well as Rock and Roll styles. "Rusty" is short for Russell (he had a big head of curly, red hair) and was named after his father who had a housing construction company in Phoenix...".
During his highschool years in Phoenix, Arizona, Rusty met Don Cole, who had already made his first record ("Snake Eyed Mama", RPM 502, 1957). On January 3, 1958, Rusty and Don had a recording session at Frank Porter's studio in Phoenix, with support of local musicians. They recorded four tracks, to be used on two forthcoming singles: "Mexicali Baby" and "Mexican Rock 'n' Roll" were leased to Capitol (F3884, February, credited to The Rio Rockers) while Frank Porter decided to release "Stop" and "Pedro Joe" on his own label (Porter 5012, March, credited to Red (Hot) Russell).
During 1958 a second session was held at Floyd Ramsey's studio, but nothing was released at the time. Porter records ceased operations in early 1959.
In 1959, Rusty joined Ritchie Hart and the Heartbeats, the line-up was: Ritchie Hart (vocals) ; Mike Baker and Bob Nisley (guitars) ; Pete Magadini (drums) and Rusty Isabell (piano). During the year more tracks were recorded at Ramsey's Recording studio for the local MCI label. The musicians were various members of Ritchie Hart's group, and Rusty may have played both piano and sax (overdub). A surviving testpressing from this session has the name "I.V. Rockers" as the recording group! MCI made a licensing-deal with label-owner Bob Shad in New York. In June he released "The Blast" / "Firewater (sew dew)" (Brent 7001, June 1959). Despite a positive review in Billboard, the record was only a regional hit. More surprising, it was also issued in Holland on the newly formed Top Rank label (HTR 524). In October Bob Shad released "I Give Up"/ "Man Hunt" (Brent 7006).
On August 11, 1959, Ritchie Hart and the Heartbeats recorded "The Great Duane" at Floyd Ramsey's studio, a great song about Duane Eddy. It was licensed (together with "I'm Hypnotized") to Felsted (8593, September 1959). In October, Ritchie, without the Heartbeats, flew to Philadelphia to perform it on American Bandstand.
The next year, Rusty, Mike (and possibly other members of the Heartbeats) went to Las Vegas for a long spell. Mike returned to Phoenix in 1963, Rusty stayed on and played with the Charles Shaffer Trio for awhile. By the late 60s Rusty he was working at The Showboat in Las Vegas, and he even recorded a live album of honky tonk piano favourites ("Honky Tonk At the Showboat", Showboat SLP 1000). And that's the last we've heard of him, nothing is known about his present whereabouts.

With thanks to Mike Baker, Dik de Heer and Adrian DeBee.

Recommended CDs (all "various artists" compilations):
“The Porter Records Story” (German Bear Family BCD 16272, released 1998)
“Rockin' And Boppin' In The Desert - Arizona Rockabilly, vol. 1” (German Bear Family BCD 16230, released 1999)
“Rockin' And Boppin' In The Desert - Arizona Rockabilly, vol. 2” (German Bear Family BCD 16683, released 2008)
“Rockin' On Broadway - The Time, Brent, Shad Story” (UK Ace CHD 758, released 2000)
“More Rockin' On Broadway - The Time, Brent, Shad Story” (UK Ace CHD 853, released 2002)
On “The Porter Records Story” you'll find the eight tracks Rusty recorded for Frank Porter.
Each volume of “Rockin' And Boppin' In The Desert” contains one track by Rusty: "Firewater (sew dew)" (vol. 1, which also includes Ritchie Hart's "The Great Duane") and the hitherto unreleased "Morbid Institution" (vol. 2). According to compiler John P. Dixon, the MCI-vaults contain more unreleased MCI recordings by Rusty!
"Firewater (sew dew)" is also included on “Rockin' On Broadway”, while “More Rockin' On Broadway” contains "The Blast" and "I Give Up".

Selective vinyl discography

7" 45 rpm singles

date title                             ---- USA ---       --- Holland ---- 

1958 Mexicali Baby                     Capitol F3884
     Mexican Rock 'n' Roll                   -- 

     Stop                                Porter 5012
     Pedro Joe                               --

     Slinky                             not released 
     Jaybi                                   --      
     Little Miss Butte                       --
     Yi Yi                                   --

1959 The Blast                            Brent 7001      Top Rank HTR 524
     Firewater (sew dew)                     --                   -- 

     I Give Up                            Brent 7006
     Manhunt                                 --                          

     Morbid Institution                 not released 

???? Rusty's Boogie                     not released

12" 33 rpm LPs

date title                            ------ USA ------       ----- France ------

196. "Honky Tonk At the Showboat"     Showboat SLP 1000
     Here Comes the Showboat
     The Old Piano Roll Blues
     Wooden Heart
     Shine On Harvest Moon
     Colonel Bogey March
     The Waltz You Saved For Me
     Rusty's Boogie
     Honky Tonk
     Five Foot Two
     Meet Me In St Louie Louie
     Rusty's Lament
     Yes Sir That's My Baby
     Alley Cat
     Twelfth Street Rag

1975 "Rock And Roll At The Capitol Tower"                    Capitol 2C 184-81970
     Mexicali Baby
     Mexican Rock 'n' Roll 
     plus 30 tracks by other artists

Some label-shots from 1959.
left: The hard to find Dutch release on Top Rank (courtesy of Henk Gorter)
center: A rare test-pressing, made by Floyd Ramsey, and attributed to the "I.V. Rockers" (courtesy of Mike Baker)
right: A regulare US release on Brent (courtesy of Henk Gorter)