The Fable of Faye Bull

Faye Bull, what a name! It has to be a pseudonym, surely? No one can be called Fable! A quick search has found me a Brenda Faye Bull, an Alison Faye Bull, a Ginger Faye Bull. A Donna Faye Bull and a Shirley Faye Bull all living in and around the Carrollton area at some point, so maybe it’s not a pseudonym at all.

Still, here’s an oddity from 1971 penned (and, on the flip Don't Blame The Children, sung/spoken) by Miss or Mrs. Faye Bull of Carrollton Alabama. What makes this doubly interesting is that the a-side, The Legend of Henry Wells is sung by Halmark song-poem regular Jack Kim (a.k.a. Kimmel). Although it does not feature one of the usual Halmark backing tracks and the name of label supremo Ted Rosen does not appear anywhere on the disc, I’ll bet my bottom dollar that our Ted was involved somewhere down the line. Producer credit is given to one Josh Kane, of Sterling, Illinois.

Issued by Escambia Records (ES 112), the A-side tells the story, in Jack’s inimitable, over-the-top style, of the ghostly image that appears in an upstairs window of the Pickens County Courthouse in the county seat of Carrollton, Alabama, which was built in 1877-1878. The image is claimed to be the face of freed slave Henry Wells.

According to a common version of the myth, Wells was alleged to have burned down the previous courthouse that stood in the town in 1876 (the first had been destroyed in 1965 by Union forces during the Civil War). He was arrested but escaped and went on the run. When found two years later, he was again arrested (in January 1878) and, while waiting for his ‘trial’ (Wells was, in fact, lynched by a white mob soon after his arrest) lightning struck the window he was staring out of and left an impression of his face. It’s a great story, but sadly it does not conform to the known historical facts: the windows of the newly-built courthouse were not installed until after Wells was lynched, so could not contain his image.

The story of Wells' face in the courthouse window seems to have been based on two separate historical events, the lynching of African American Nathaniel Pierce, and the arrest of Henry Wells. Pierce was being held on charges of murder when, on September 26, 1877, an armed mob forced their way into the jail where he was being held, took him outside the city, and lynched him. Pierce's lynching was not reported as having anything to do with the burning of the courthouse, but Wells – already suspected of both the arson and of an armed robbery - later confessed to burning it down.

Wells’ accomplice in the robbery was arrested in January 1878. He confessed to the burglary and blamed Wells for the burning of the courthouse. Wells was caught a few days later. When confronted by the police, he tried to flee and was shot twice. He confessed to burning the courthouse, likely under coercion, including beatings. He died from his wounds five days later.

I’ve not been able to find much info about Escambia Records, but the company (and Faye) had a few mentions in Billboard between September 1971 and July 1972. The first mentions that “an upcoming release… will feature a country band living in Czechoslovakia,” the second (January 1972) confirms that “Faye Bull has turned out another story-song for Escambia Records. She first did ‘the Legend of Henry Wells’ and has followed with ‘Fare-Thee Well, Mary Jane Clowers’, recorded by the Cool Tatoo from Sterling, Ill.” The company’s final mention tells us that “President Marve Hoerner [of De Grande Music and Crus de Oro Productions] has recorded a recitation single, both sides of which were written by Faye Bull, and put out on Escambia Records.”

I should not need to tell you that I am now in the process of tracking other Escambia releases down. The Cool Tatoo disc is actually correctly credited “Fare-The-Well (Mary Jane Clowers)”, and the group’s name appears on the disc as Coal Tattoo (Escambia ES 116). There are also a couple of singles by Zyndall Wayne Raney, including Cellblock Number 3 (again composed by our Faye) backed with Tried, Lied and Lost (ES 113) and Field Hand Man/I'm On My Way (ES 114). The Zyndall Raney Band is still gigging today.


Download Henry Wells HERE

 Download Children HERE

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