When Robert Williams walked into Archie Elkin's Broad Street record shop in 1959, he was pushing a hot-rod song. The 20-year-old Fredericksburg lad, leader of a trio called the Groovers, had grown up singing and "decided at 14 that I wanted to make some money at it."
Elkin introduced Williams to the Sinshimer brothers, owners of Richmond's Tip Top Records and Allen Record Distributors. During the previous decade, Tip Top had released numerous pop and country songs by regional talent. The Sinshimers agreed to release Williams' "Loud Mufflers," but there was a catch. "They said, 'What we really want is a song about cranberries,'" the singer recalls. "Archie Elkin told me that cranberries had been tainted by harmful fertilizer and there wouldn't be any for Thanksgiving or the Christmas season. ... It wasn't my idea."
Williams didn't even write "Cranberry Blues" until the group was in the car on the way to record in the makeshift studio in the back of Elkin's store. "I wrote the song out on a scratch pad. ... Never played it till we got to the studio." The health scare didn't scare up many record buyers but "Loud Mufflers" / "Cranberry Blues" stands as one of Richmond's most enduring, and oddest, rock 'n' roll artifacts. — Don Harrison
You can hear the songs on the compilation, "Virginia Rocks," a two-CD set that contains liner notes by Style Weekly arts editor Don Harrison and contributor Brent Hosier. For information, go to blueridgeinstitute.org.