“Look What You Done to Me” — Little Willie John
“Peppermint Twist” — Joey Dee & The Starlighters
“Mutants of the Monster” — Black Oak Arkansas
“My Immortal” — Evanescence
“Pocket Full of Money” — Frank Frost
Perhaps one of the first quality exhibits of Arkansas musicians — not to mention a rare official sanction of Arkansas pop culture — was the the Old State House Museum’s “Our Own Sweet Sounds” show in fall 1995. The University of Arkansas Press published Robert Cochran’s companion book the following spring, adding the subtitle “A Celebration of Popular Music in Arkansas.”
Patsy Montana played at the Old State House Museum’s celebration of the exhibit opening. She died less than a year later. But her cowgirl boots were part of the museum exhibit and rate a full-page photograph in the book. Other exhibit items pictured in the book are Louis Jordan’s saxophone and a harmonica owned by Frank Frost. (In 1996, Frost played a show at the Old State House Museum.)
In 2003, the “Our Own Sweet Sounds” exhibit returned to the since renovated Old State House Museum bigger and better than before and ran until April of this year. It featured such artifacts as a Scott Joplin-owned piano, Rosetta Tharpe’s resonator guitar, a bicentennial stage outfit worn by Johnny Cash and Jim Dandy’s washboard from his Black Oak Arkansas days. The variety of musicians featured “brought in one of the most diverse audiences we’ve had,” said museum spokesman Amy Peck.
A second edition of the “Our Own Sweet Sounds” book, published in April, contains dozens of additional artists.
“I’ve tried to do a thorough job, but I had no real models,” author Cochran, director of the Center for Arkansas and Regional Studies and an English professor on the Fayetteville campus, said.
Cochran said he worked “for most of a year on the first exhibit, and maybe 18 months on the second. … I knew a good bit about Arkansas music, [but] ... not nearly as much then as I know now.”
The author said a glaring omission from the first edition was R&B singer Little Willie John of Ouachita County. With Henry Glover of Hot Springs producing, John cut the classic “Fever,” one of the more enduring songs of the pop era. Glover, who wrote and produced “Peppermint Twist,” “Drown in My Own Tears,” and many other hits, still rates less than two paragraphs in the book, but one sentence states he may be the most important figure of Arkansans involved in early rock ’n’ roll.
The best part of the “Our Own Sweet Sounds” book may be the “Featured Performers” section, which chronicles major Arkansas artists with brief biographies and photographs. According to the UA Press, the section has expanded by one-third from the first edition. The “Featured Performers” start with Black Oak Arkansas, Elton Britt, Big Bill Broonzy and Alfred E. Brumley, continues through Emma Dusenbury, Tracy Lawrence, Roberta Martin, K.T. Oslin and Point of Grace, and concludes with Lucinda Williams and Sonny Boy Williamson II. Acts who gained fame after 1996 were featured in the second exhibit and are mentioned in the second edition of the book, such as country music’s Joe Nichols of Rogers and rock’s Evanescence of Little Rock.