Houston Wells (b. Andrew Smith, 1938, Northumberland, England) left school at 14 years of age and worked in a timber mill. He then became a tree-feller for the Forestry Commission and, after a spell in the merchant navy, worked in a pulp mill in Vancouver, Canada. On returning to England, he and his family moved to Wickford, Essex. In nearby Southend, Pete Willsher (lead guitar, lap steel guitar) had formed a country band, the Coasters, which comprised Brian Gill (bass), Norman Hull (guitar) and Peter Nye (drums). When Wells joined them in 1959, they became Andy Smith And The Coasters. Because of the American group of the same name, the Coasters changed to the Marksmen, while Parlophone Records decided that ‘Smith’ was too plain, and renamed him Houston Wells. Record producer Joe Meek was impressed with their sound and their first two singles were ‘This Song Is Just For You’ and ‘Shutters And Boards’, which was backed by Meek’s ‘North Wind’. Their third single, ‘Only The Heartaches’, made the UK Top 30 in August 1963. They recorded further singles, an EP, Ramona, and Western Style, for Meek. They were particularly popular in Ireland where ‘Only The Heartaches’ made the Top 10. However, the Marksmen felt that they were being exploited by Wells and his management, and on a trip to Ireland, they tore up Wells’ return ticket home in his presence. Wells continued to record using another group, the Outlaws, as the Marksmen. Meek was fascinated by dead performers and so his resident songwriter, Geoff Goddard, wrote a tribute to Jim Reeves, ‘We’ll Remember You’, for Wells. However, Goddard and Meek became embroiled in an argument regarding the credits for ‘Have I The Right?’, and the song remained unreleased until 1964 when the Honeycombs took the song to the UK number 1 spot and the US Top 5. Wells continued with his Irish success and had a number 6 single in 1966 with ‘Above And Beyond’; he also revived ‘Hello Mary Lou’. Of the Marksmen, Pete Willsher has become one of the UK’s top country steel guitarists. The 28 released tracks that Houston Wells recorded with Joe Meek have never been reissued, largely because of problems with Meek’s estate. Once this is resolved, listeners will be able to hear one of the UK’s first professional country bands. As it stands, their records are more collectable than many of their American counterparts.
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