DICK FLOOD'S musical career actually began at a YMCA summer camp in the mountains of Pennsylvania.. Born in Philadelphia in 1932, for years he spent his summers as a camper, and later as a counselor at Camp Carson, near Fredericksburg in the Blue Mountains. At night, after all the campers were in bed, and hopefully asleep, the counselors would gather at the farm house across the road, chatting, writing letters home, and just passing the time. Joe was teaching himself to play the guitar. He had become ‘hooked’ on Country Music. His favorite singers of the time were Hank Williams, Hank Snow, Carl Smith, and Kitty Wells. He tried to pattern his ‘pickin’ after Hank Snow’s style, but says he "never quite mastered it". He’d practice his singing and playing out in the woods, and often for his fellow counselors, admittedly sometimes driving them out of the room. But that was the beginning of Dick’s career.
After leaving the Army in the early fifties, Dick organized a Country group in Philadelphia, known as ‘The Four Denims’. Dick had begun writing songs in the Army, and the group was practicing some of them, along with the current Country hits. The group did not get very far. Things just did not ‘click’. After a year or so of trying, Dick left the group.
He teamed up with an old Army buddy by the name of Billy Graves. This association would ‘click’, and big things were about to happen. The duo became known as ‘THE COUNTRY LADS’, and in 1956 was given a regular spot on the ‘JIMMY DEAN TV SHOW’. This program, originating out of Washington DC, aired on CBS each weekday morning, and was an instant hit! The Country Lads began to receive mail from all over the world. A contract with Columbia Records was signed, and two singles, ‘Alone In Love’, and ‘I Won’t Beg Your Pardon’ were released in 1957..
For two years the ‘Dean’ show would receive rave reviews. Each week a special, (usually famous), guest was featured. Since the guest would spend the entire week in DC, Dick and the cast were given the wonderful opportunity to get to know many of them. Homer & Jethro, Andy Williams, The Diamonds, Johnny Cash, Grandpa Jones, Hank Thompson, Webb Pierce, Carl Smith, Wanda Jackson, Ferlin Husky, June Valli, and many more. As Dick has often put it, “It was a soldier’s dream come true”.
After almost three years the Dean Show left the air in 1958. The Country Lads, being no longer employed, split up. But this was not the end of their friendship, and certainly not the end of Dick Flood’s career.
Dick had begun to have success with his songwriting. He had made friends with Fred Foster, (creator and owner of MONUMENT RECORDS). Monument Records had recorded several of his tunes with various artists. Among them: Roy Orbison, Billy Grammar, Cil Turner, Kathy Linden, The Holidays, and Billy Graves. As a matter of fact, Dick had invested in, and owned a percentage of Monument Records. Monument went on through the years producing hit after hit.
Dick Flood believed he had found his nitch as writer, and began to devote his full time to creating songs. A few of his most memorable tunes are ‘Cold, Cold Winter’, (sung by Anita Bryant), ‘GEE’, (sung by George Hamilton IV, and hit #1 in the charts in 1959), ‘THE SHAG’, (co-written with Fred Foster), recorded by Billy Graves in 1958, and rose high in the charts, and ‘TROUBLE’S BACK IN TOWN’, (sung by The Wilburn Brothers, voted by Cashbox and Billboard as the #1 Country song of 1962. In later years, this song would put Dick Flood’s name in the COUNTRY MUSIC HALL OF FAME in Nashville). His material can be found on the ‘flip’ side of several million sellers such as ‘Only The Lonely’ by Roy Orbison, and ‘Gotta’ Travel On’ by Billy Grammar. Among the folks at Monument, and within a close circle of friends, he had been nicknamed ‘Flip Side Flood’. As it turned out, in later years, songwriting would become a side line for him though, and through necessity, being an entertainer would have to come first.
He had recorded several songs for Monument Records.. One of which became responsible for a few ‘firsts' on the Nashville scene. The song, (not written by Dick), was ‘THE THREE BELLS’. It was released almost a month after RCA Victor’s version of it with THE BROWNS had been out.. For the first time in history the ‘cover’ version of a song rode separately in the charts, (The Browns version went all the way to #1, while Dick’s went to #40). This was also the first time THE NASHVILLE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA was used on a Country session. And for the first time THE JORDANAIRES and THE ANITA KERR SINGERS worked together as a choral background. Dick’s version sold over 600,00 copies. This was in 1959 and again, as Dick would often put it, “It was a soldier’s dream come true”. But dreams have a way of fading, and nothing lasts forever.
His follow-up recordings on Monument, (‘It Only Costs A Dime, and ‘Cowpoke’), received little air-play. His career as singer was short lived. He really wanted to be a songwriter anyhow, and his thoughts were now of leaving the DC area..
In 1960 Dick sold his interest in Monument Records, and moved to Nashville with the idea of making contact with the major recording artists, and pitching songs to them. He already knew quite a few of them from their guest appearances on the Jimmy Dean Show.
Every Friday night would find him at ‘The Friday Night Frolics’ in the studios of WSM Radio. Some of those nights he was asked to do a guest spot. And Saturday nights he’d be back stage mingling with all the Country Music acts at THE GRAND OLE OPRY, or across the alley at TOOTSIE’S ORCHID LOUNGE. He was often a guest on THE ERNEST TUBB RECORD SHOP, which aired late on Saturday evenings after The Grand Ole Opry. This was giving him the golden opportunity to meet and make friends, on a first name basis, with people he had admired from a distance for years. Just to mention a few; Bill Anderson, Eddy Arnold, Hank Snow, Minnie Pearl, Wilma Lee & Stony Cooper, Stringbean, June Carter, Jean Shepard, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Jim Reeves, Marty Robbins, Ray Price, Martha Carson, Bill Monroe, Roy Acuff, Faron Young, Loretta Lynn, Archie Campbell, Lonzo and Oscar, Jimmy C. Newman, and many many more. Then the unbelievable happened!
One Saturday night he was invited to sing on the Grand Ole Opry!
Even more unbelievable is that after his first performance that night, for over a year, almost every Saturday night the Opry would invite him to perform again! This was in 1960-1961.
As he recalls it, “I had no hit record. I did not even have a record contract. I couldn’t do any of the latest hits because those were all being done by the people who actually recorded them. So I sang the brand new songs I was writing, which no one had ever heard before. One Saturday night I was on following Ferlin Husky’s standing ovation for his latest single ‘On The Wings Of a Dove’, and another time right after Hank Locklin received the same for his ‘Please Help Me I’m Falling’. Both of those times I was almost embarrassed to come out on the stage. How do you top, or even compare with a performance such as that? I would not have given a leopard those spots.”
He’ll tell you himself though, that “it was a great honor, and an extremely exciting experience”, and that he is “Forever grateful” for those spots on the Opry.
He was having little success getting his songs recorded. Obviously it was going to take a lot longer than he had anticipated.. Almost all of his earnings from his previous success were gone. Ironically, he was now getting more exposure as a singer than as a songwriter. In order to support his family, he decided to concentrate again on becoming a recording artist, and an entertainer.
He had been doing those guest spots for almost nothing. He organized a three piece group he called ‘THE PATHFINDERS’, and began working the military club circuit. He has always had, and still does have a feeling of comradeship toward our people in the Military, stemming from his own experiences in the Army. In later years he would refer to himself as ‘A poor man’s Bob Hope’. His bookings would take him away from town quite a bit, and he had little time to pitch songs, or try for a recording contract. He likes to tell the story of what happened next, this way.
“I was reading a book of poems, looking to ‘steal’ some song ideas, when I came across one that read ‘author unknown’. I thought the story line in this poem would make a fantastic song. While out on the road, I worked on it whenever I found a few minutes, and re-wrote it. I used some of the lines as they were, and added others where I thought necessary. Then I added a melody to it. The result was, a truly great piece of material, that I believed would be perfect for Johnny Cash. Since it was Public Domain, and ‘Author unknown’, I copyrighted the arrangement only. (Just in case it made a hit, and the ‘unknown author’ suddenly showed up.)”
“I took time out from booking my shows, and set up an appointment with Don Law of Columbia Reords, (Cash’s A&R man at time). He listened to the song, and politely asked to be excused to make a phone call. I was thinking, “It’s a brush - off.
But Don came back into the room smiling, and said,
'How would you like to record for Columbia Records?'
Thus another chapter in the career of Dick Flood had begun.
The name of the song is ‘THE HELL BOUND TRAIN’. It was released on EPIC RECORDS, (a subsidiary of Columbia Records), in October, 1961.
It was the custom of Columbia Records, during the Annual Disc Jockey convention held in Nashville each year, during October, to invite the DJ’s to ‘The Columbia Luncheon’. Each Columbia artist would perform his, or her latest record. When Dick finished singing ‘The Hell Bound Train’, for what seemed an eternity there was utter silence. Then all Hell broke loose. He received a standing ovation from all those present. It looked as if, this time he was really on his way!
But although the record was given nation-wide distribution, and promotion, it was banned in all but one state in the Union. The DJ’s simply were not allowed to play it. The song started with the lyrics; “After drinkin’ all night I could drink no more, and I made my bed on the bar room floor. I fell asleep with a troubled brain, and I dreamed I rode on the Hell Bound Train”. Remember, this was the sixties, and things like that were just not said on the air. Some of the other ‘shocking’ lyrics were; “The boiler was filled with liquor and beer, the Devil himself was the engineer, the passengers were a mixed up crew, Christian, Atheist, Muslim, and Jew.” The message of the song was that the man woke up, found God, repented for his sins, and did his best to never sin again. But most radio stations never got past the first few lines. Of course a well established artist, who could give it a haunted sound like the voice of Johnny Cash, would probably have broken that barrier, and gotten away with it. But to Dick’s knowledge Cash never heard the song. The outcome? Dick Flood’s first big chance on Epic was a big ‘Flop’.
But as he says, even with the disappointments, and the heartbreaks, “All of this was still a soldier’s dream come true".
Now he had to make the decision as a recording artist, to hold all of his best material for himself, and not be pitching it to other artists. Thus, at least for now, putting aside his desire once again to just be a songwriter. He was now a full time entertainer.
His next record, ‘King Or A Clown’, showed up in the top 40. The following release, ‘Another Stretch of Track’ reached the top 20. That same year, (1962), he was voted by both Cashbox and Billboard Magazines, as the most likely to succeed, up and coming young Country Music artist. This was the same year that The Wilburn Brothers recording of his song “Trouble’s Back In Town” was voted the #1 song in Country Music. He knew that all the DJ’s he’d made friends with, and all the fans he had won over in the past few months were eagerly awaiting his next release. Good things were happening! He was on his way again!
To this day he believes that his next release on Epic would have been a smash hit. The whole country was ready for it. It was a heart breaking ballad entitled “I’ll See You to the Door”. But Epic never released it. Such are the breaks in the music business.
Epic had just released Bobby Vinton’s record of ‘Roses Are Red’. It was hitting big in the ‘Pop’ field, selling 5,000 records a day. For Epic this beat selling 40 or 50 Country records a day. Dick, along with several other ‘up and coming’ Country artists, was dropped from the label immediately. But Dick and the others were never notified of this. For months Dick hounded Epic for a release date on ‘I’ll See You To The Door’. He was told over and over again that it would be released soon. But it never came to be. This is the way of the music business. It can break your heart, when you realize just how cold and calculating it really it can be.
After more than a year Dick finally gave up on Epic Records. All the momentum of his career had long since stalled out. As the song says, “When you’re hot you’re hot, when you’re not you’re not”. And he was definitely not. So, what next?
The plus side of this experience was, that on the strength of the exposure of his few releases with Epic, for the next several years, aside from the military circuit, he was booked on many Grand Ole Opry tours. Some of the head liners he worked with were; Ferlin Huskey, Ray Price, George Morgan, Conway Twitty, Faron Young, Little Jimmy Dickens, George Jones, The Duke of Paducka, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, and others. He also toured with Country Music greats not connected with the Opry such as Red Foley and Buck Owens.
It was 1965 when he finally landed another recording contract. Almost three years had gone by since his last release, and he had been all but forgotten by the DJ’s. In a real sense he was starting all over again.
This time it was KAPP RECORDS out of New York. After four releases which, because of distribution problems, did not sell, he was dropped by Kapp Records. At least this time the company was good enough to notify him. Some of his recordings on Kapp were, ‘Trouble’s Back In Town’, (his own version of it), ‘I Need All The Friends I Can Find’, ‘Never Has So Much Been Lost’, and ‘These Things Make A Heartache’.
In 1966 Dick Flood and The Pathfinders toured the Far East, playing the U. S. Military Bases. They visited Okinawa, Guam, The Philippines, and Viet Nam. It was in ‘Nam’ that Dick fell sick with an illness most of us never heard of. It’s an insect borne disease known as Dengue Fever. According to the Army doctor who treated him, this disease almost crippled the U. S. army’s campaign in the Philippines during World War Two. He was carried to the 93rd EVAC field hospital at Fuk Bin.
“I had a fever of 106 degrees.” He says,
“I could hear the Army doctors talking not far from my bed. What they were saying gave me to understand that they did not expect me to live. One of them said my bed would be empty before morning, making room for some other casualty from the field. I decided to fight back. I would not let myself die. I do not really know how I did it, but my mind would not let me die. Sometime later I looked up. Sitting and standing all around me were several young wounded soldiers. Apparently they had been watching me for me to die. They had been told I would not make it. My fever must have broken because I could sit up, and I could speak. Surprisingly, the first question one of the soldiers asked is;”
“What Prison Camp did you escape from?”
“Because my hair was so long, (not like a GI), and I had been deeply tanned by the sun, and I was in civilian clothes, they thought I’d escaped from somewhere, or been out in the bush hiding."
It took a while to recover from that experience. In some ways he has still not recovered.
When he arrived back in the States, since no record label seemed interested, and he had so little time to search for one, he created his own. He named it TOTEM RECORDS. He was able to scrape up enough money to put out two releases. Neither of which sold. The first release was called ‘Miung Sun Lee’, (an account of an incident in Viet Nam), and ‘Willow In The Wind’. It was now 1967.
During the next few years, 1968 - 1971, he was able to get one release on NASCO RECORDS, entitled ‘Speak My Name’, and. one release on NUGGET RECORDS, called ‘Woman Leave Me Alone’. One release now and then is just not enough to light a fire with the public. Sadly neither of these recordings seemed to help his sagging career.
He continued working with his band in the Military Bases, squeezing in tours of Europe, Hawaii, Bermuda, Newfoundland, Greenland, and Puerto Rico. All for the military. He was still writing songs, and would pitch one now and then, when he could, but he had little time for that anymore. Things were changing. He was getting tired.
His ‘Soldier’s dream’ had faded.. He never again captured that momentum of the early sixties. In 1972, after almost two decades of trying, and at times coming so close, at the age of forty-one, he left it all behind. DICK FLOOD the entertainer, the ‘would be’ singer, and songwriter disappeared forever, into the Great Okefenokee Swamp in Southeastern Georgia.