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
Little Miss Butte --
Yi Yi --
1959 The Blast Brent 7001 Top Rank HTR 524
Firewater (sew dew) -- --
I Give Up Brent 7006
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
Shine On Harvest Moon
Colonel Bogey March
The Waltz You Saved For Me
Five Foot Two
Meet Me In St Louie Louie
Yes Sir That's My Baby
Twelfth Street Rag
1975 "Rock And Roll At The Capitol Tower" Capitol 2C 184-81970
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)