Gene Darrell "Bud" Deckelman (1927–1998)
Gene Darrell “Bud” Deckelman was a country and rockabilly musician who had brief success in Memphis, Tennessee, in the 1950s. His most popular recording was “Daydreamin’,” which was issued on the Meteor record label in Memphis. While his output was relatively small, he toured with artists such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Wanda Jackson.
Bud Deckelman was born in Harrisburg (Poinsett County) on April 2, 1927, to Louisiana native George Deckelman (1904–1984) and Arkansas native Lillian Agnes Ellezy Deckelman (1906–1999). He grew up in a poor farming family and with limited education in Scott (Poinsett County). He had four sisters and three brothers. According to the 1940 census, his father owned the family’s house, but it was valued at only $200. The family grew corn and cotton, and Deckelman’s education did not go past the sixth grade.
On September 6, 1945, Deckelman enlisted in the military, just after World War II ended. As was true of his contemporary Johnny Cash, Deckelman learned music while killing time in the service; specifically, he learned how to play bass guitar while he was in the U.S. Air Force. After leaving the military, he moved to Chicago, Illinois, where he met Bill Cantrell, a violin player. He moved from Chicago to Mississippi before landing in Memphis.
There, Deckelman worked putting up sheetrock during the day. In his spare time, he was playing in a band with his brother Thaddeus, who went by the nickname “Dood.” At the time, Memphis was the largest city in Tennessee, with a thriving music scene. Cantrell said of Deckelman, “He was a natural. He had a voice that just knocked me out. He had a great tonal quality and he could sing rings around some of the star names, like Webb Pierce.” Deckelman auditioned for Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Records, who had discovered Howlin’ Wolf, Ike Turner, and Elvis Presley. His tryout did not go well. Phillips urged Deckelman to change his style, which Deckelman was unwilling to do. He instead ended up recording at the now defunct Meteor Records, another Memphis label. Unfortunately, Meteor’s resources were not as extensive as Sun’s. Deckelman actually had to fix some of the recording equipment before he started playing.
His time at Meteor, however, was not wasted. Cantrell and Quinton Claunch had been playing in their own band called the Blue Seal Pals. In 1954, they had written “Daydreamin’,” which they gave to Deckelman to record. Sam Phillips might have passed on recording the song, but Deckelman found a more sympathetic listener in Les Bihari at Meteor. Bihari released the song in September 1954. “Daydreamin’” was not a national smash, but it became a number-one hit in Memphis. It also sold well in some northern cities and in New Orleans, Louisiana. Given the success of the song, Deckelman changed the name of his band to the Daydreamers. Deckelman was also a songwriter and co-wrote the song “Now She Cares No More for Me,” which was recorded by Dough Poindexter at Sun Records.
In 1955, Deckelman was signed to the MGM label, where he cut sixteen songs, though none proved as successful as “Daydreamin’.” He continued to record and tour for several years, appearing on the Louisiana Hayride program and such popular northeastern Arkansas clubs as the Silver Moon. In July 1956, he played at Porky’s Roof Top Club on a bill that listed him playing with an orchestra.
Deckelman gradually drifted away from the music business. He continued to play music, including a stint as a bass player on Eddie Bond’s Memphis television show. For the most part, though, Deckelman worked as a common laborer after his music career faded. He died on February 28, 1998, of lung cancer. At the time, he was living in Olive Branch, Mississippi. He is buried in Forest Hill Cemetery east in Memphis. He had four children: Sharon, Peggy, Kathy, and Gene.
Deckelman was the second cousin of the rockabilly singer and Arkansas native Sonny Deckelman. Both are members of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, based in Jackson, Tennessee.
For additional information:
“Bud Deckelman.” Bopping. http://www.bopping.org/bud-deckleman (accessed November 20, 2020).
Floyd, John. Sun Records: An Oral History. New York: Avon Books, 1998.
Guralnick, Peter. Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll. New York: Little, Brown, 2015.
Pasmore, Victoria Micklish. Stars of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Highway. Little Rock: Plum Street Publishers, 2015.
Colin Edward Woodward
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