'A Fallen Star'
A lot has changed since song's recording 50 years ago
MUSCLE SHOALS It really never dawned on a teenage Bobby Denton that history was being made when he recorded "A Fallen Star" 50 years ago this month.
"We didn't realize we were doing anything," Denton said.
Denton, today a state senator representing the Shoals, was a senior at Cherokee High School at the time and had made a name for himself as a local singer.
The recording and subsequent release of the song as a single is looked at by some to mark the beginning of the recording industry in the Shoals.
"It was a very primitive time for recording," Denton said.
Quality recording equipment was uncommon in the area. WLAY radio had the best equipment, he said, in the form of a reel-to-reel tape recorder.
They utilized two microphones and the track was engineered by WLAY disc jockey Joe Heathcock, Denton said.
"I was blown away as a kid being asked to sing the song," Denton said. "I didn't know it would be any kind of-history-making event."
The song was written by the late James Joiner, who shares the distinction of jumpstarting the Shoals recording industry.
In 1956, Joiner, guitarist Kelton "Kelso" Herston and two other partners founded Tune, Alabama's first record company.
Joiner, who died in July, told the TimesDaily in 1999 that the inspiration for the song came to him after he saw a particularly bright falling star.
At the time, Joiner was working for his family's bus company.
He was driving a busload of Rogers High School basketball players back to school from a game and had the song written in his head by the time he arrived home.
Joiner explained that the song had to be recorded while another record was being played on air at WLAY.
"As soon as he put that needle on the turntable, he'd point and we'd start," Joiner said. "We had to finish before that record ended and Joe had to go back on the air."
The song was eventually published by Buddy Killen's Tree Music in Nashville, Tenn., and the single was released on the Tune label.
Denton went on to record another single with Tune, "You'll be the Last to Know."
He had two other singles that were released on Judd Records, which was started by Florence native Jud Phillips, brother of the late Sam Phillips, the founder of Sun Records in Memphis, Tenn.
Denton also appeared on "The Dick Clark Show," but eventually chose his family over a career in music.
"I just feel honored to be a small part of that," Denton said.
In 1997, Denton returned to the music business and has since released two gospel music albums and three albums of contemporary music.
A remake of "A Fallen Star" was included on the album "Love Songs."
Denton said he's sold many of his albums through his Internet site.
"People will look up a song, like an old gospel song, and it will refer them to my Web site," Denton said. "It's really amazing to me. I told someone the other day that I was doing pretty good. I was making tens of dollars."
Joiner's widow, Gale Joiner, said her husband realized the importance of his early musical endeavors.
"Most people don't realize, but James helped out just about all the musicians around here," Joiner said. "Rick (Hall) said at the night of the funeral, 'you know, if it wasn't for this man lying here I wouldn't be where I am.' " she added.
Hall is the founder of FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals.
Joiner said her husband had written songs and poems since he was a young child and had continued writing songs up until the time he became ill.
James Joiner died July 21 at the age of 78.
David Johnson, director of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, said the tape recorder used to record "A Fallen Star" is on display in the hall of fame's museum.
"It's an old Concertone-quarter-inch reel-to-reel," Johnson said. "James gave it to us."
Johnson agreed that the occasion marked the beginning of the recording industry in the Shoals.
"Absolutely," he said.