My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Tag Archives: Elvis Presley

Fellow Travelers – Carl Perkins

‘One For The Money – Two For The Show – Three To Get Ready – And Go Cat Go’
carl perkins

If Elvis was the King, Carl Perkins was the commoner who became a widely respected elder statesman of rock and roll music. Much more of a country boy than Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins perhaps saw his shot at superstardom ruined by a car accident that killed Carl’s brother Jay and put Carl out of commission just as his hit “Blue Suede Shoes” ascended to the top of the country charts (it would reach #2 on the pop charts).

Who Was He ?

Carl Perkins (1932-1998) was talented songwriter, singer and musician who perhaps owed more to the country side of rockabilly than to the R&B influences of most early rock and rollers. Carl had only five songs chart on the pop charts with “Blue Suede Shoes” easily the biggest hit spending four weeks at #2. His other pop hits were “Boppin’ The Blues (#70), “Your True Love” (#67), “Pink Petal Pushers” (#91) and “Pointed Toes Shoes” (#93). Although his chart success was limited these songs, as well as non-charting songs such as “Matchbox”,”Honey Don’t” and”All Mama’s Children” were covered and performed by countless rock and roll and rockabilly acts for the next three decades. The Beatles recorded a large number of his songs. As a guitarist Perkins was revered and respected by some of the biggest names in the music business many of whom would eventually record tracks with him, including George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, NRBQ and Paul Simon. He appeared in live concert with Dave Edmunds and Eric Clapton. The list actually is endless so I’ll stop listing names now

What Was His Connection to County Music ?” (#70)

Carl was from the small Tennessee town of Tiptonville and remained a country boy at heart. Carl had fifteen country chart hits with six reaching the top twenty

He was well liked in the music community and while Carl was at a low point in his career (and in battling personal demons), Johnny Cash added Carl as parting of his road show package. Carl would spend ten years touring with Cash. While part of the Cash show, Carl penned “Daddy Sang Bass” which would spend six weeks as a country number one for Johnny Cash, and Tommy Cash would have a top ten record with another Perkins composition “Rise and Shine”. In 1991 the New Nashville Cats (Mark O’Connor, Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs and Steve Wariner took Carl’s “Restless” back into the country top thirty.

Unlike some singers who sound good only when performing their own hits, Carl seemed to be able to sing anybody’s material and make sound as if it was especially composed for him. Virtually any Carl Perkins recording is worth hearing.

Classic Rewind: Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Carl Perkins – ‘This Train’

Classic Rewind: Elvis Presley – ‘Moody Blue’

Fellow Travelers: Elvis Presley

elvis presleyHe was known as the “Hillbilly Cat”, but whether you know him as the “Hillbilly Cat”, the “Tupelo Mississippi Flash” or simply as “The King”, there is no doubt that Elvis Aron Pesley was the most important American Pop Singer during the second half of the twentieth century.

Some thought of him as the white hillbilly singer who sounded black, but that really wasn’t true. Elvis was the singer who, more than anyone else, helped meld the three great strains of American pop music (Tin Pan Alley, Rhythm & Blues and Country) into a unified whole. Who else could idolize Hank Snow, adore the music of Dean Martin and yet adapt the songs of artists such as Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup and “Big Mama” Thornton into hits played by everyone.

Who Was He?

Elvis Presley (1935-1977) was the biggest star in American pop music during the second half of the twentieth century – for the period from 1930 onward, only Bing Crosby surpassed him in the number of hit records. According to Billboard reseacher Joel Whitburn through the year of his death (1977) Elvis had 113 top 40 pop hits with 38 top ten singles and 20 that reached number 1. If you include charted songs that missed the top forty, there are at least another 20 songs plus some songs that charted on various genre charts. Although singles were the primary focus during his peak years, he sold hundreds of million album units world-wide during his career.

Elvis Presley’s early hits such as “Don’t Be Cruel”, “Blue Suede Shoes” and “(You Ain’t Nothing But A) Hound Dog” continue to be staples of rock acts and rockabilly revival acts to this day.

What Was His Connection to County Music?

Elvis Presley had a magnificent voice with a wide range enabling him to cover the entire tenor and baritone ranges thus opening up to him the ability to sing country music, gospel music and pop standards, something many of his contemporaries could not do.

His first country #1 came in 1955 with “I Forgot To Remember To Forget” , a straight country song that did not chart on the pop charts. Such monster pop hits as “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Don’t Be Cruel” reached #1 on the country charts and lingered there for many weeks.

Along the way, songs that were not aimed at the country charts continued to chart country and his songs remained on DJ playlists throughout his career.

Through the end of 1977, Elvis charted 68 songs on the county charts of which 57 reached the top 40. Toward the end of his career he consciously had turned to county music and in 1977 three of his singles reached #1 on the Billboard and/or Cashbox County Charts (“Moody Blue”, “Way Down” and “My Way”).

More importantly, the entire generation of country stars who followed him for the next three decades, knew his songs, performed them in live concert and often recorded his songs.

His records and albums continue to sell world-wide to this day and continue to chart on occasion. He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and is fully qualified for both honors

He was something special indeed.

Album Review: Gene Watson – ‘Because You Believed In Me’

becauseyouBecause You Believed In Me was Gene’s second major label album, following on the heels of his successful major label debut Love in the Hot Afternoon. While there weren’t any blockbuster hits on the album, the album was the affirmation of the arrival of a superior vocalist with staying power

“Because You Believed In Me” was a song that originally appeared on Gene’s 1969 debut album on the World Wide label. The original recording was good, but Gene had developed as a vocalist in the ensuing five years. Written by the legendary A.L. ‘Doodle’ Owens, this song was a straightforward ballad which reached #20 as a single.

I would have picked “If I’m A Fool For Leaving (I’d Be Twice The Fool To Stay)” for release as a single. Written by Skip Graves and Little Jimmy Dickens, the song showcases the fiddle of Buddy Spicher and the steel guitar of Lloyd Green to good effect, coupled with a superb vocal. This track is my favorite track on the album but, of course, I like my country music a little more country than most.

This morning I am leaving, I’ve been up all night long
You’re right I’m tired of waiting for you to come home
I’ve begged and tried to change you but you’ve grown worse each day
If I’m a fool for leaving I’d be twice the fool to stay

Larry Gatlin penned and had a minor hit in 1974 with “Bitter They Are, Harder They Fall”, a great song that was also recorded by the likes of Elvis Presley, Anne Murray and Dottie West and various others. This is the best rendition of the song, bar none, although I would have preferred that they not used a fade-out ending for the song.

“My World Left Town” is a fairly typical my-girl-left-me song written by Tom Ghent and R. Paul, that in the hands of a typical artist would be nothing special. With a nice fiddle and steel arrangement and Gene’s vocals, the song is elevated beyond that. It’s not an immortal classic, but the song reaches its full potential with this recording.

Roger Miller penned “Sorry Willie” and while it is sometimes thought to be about Willie Nelson (and Roger & Willie recorded the song on their Old Friends album), I don’t think Roger would ever have visualized Willie Nelson as the loser portrayed in this song. The song is a slow ballad with the piano of Hargis ‘Pig’ Robbins being a highlight of the arrangement.


See her dancing see there Willie see how reckless she is
She’s a wild one as everyone knows
Why what’s wrong Willie why you’re cryin’ what have I done
Sorry Willie I didn’t know you didn’t know

And I wouldn’t have said all those things that I’d known
That she was your darling your sweetheart your own
Don’t ask how well I know her I might lie I don’t know
Sorry Willie I didn’t know you didn’t know

Canadian Ray Griff was a prominent singer-songwriter of the late 1960s – mid 1970s. Although he had some mostly mid-chart success as a vocalist on the American Country charts (he was a far bigger star in his native Canada with 41 chart records), his U.S. success came in the form of the hits that he wrote for others such as Faron Young, George Hamilton IV and Jerry Lee Lewis. Gene rounded up four of Ray’s songs for this album. “How Good A Bad Woman Feels” would have made a good single.

I’d forgotten how good a real passion can be
In a honky tonk girl’s warm embrace
I’d forgotten the sound of a woman’s soft sigh
And that how-did-you look on her face

Griff’s “Her Body Couldn’t Keep You (Off My Mind)” was the second single released from this album. It stalled at #52, but perhaps Capitol learned something from the relative failure of this song because the next twelve singles all made the top twenty (mostly) the top ten. I not sure what it was they learned because I though this was a pretty good song.


I could call her up again tonight
And chances are she’ll see me
She’d be ready like she was the other time
She was willing with her warm red lips
And she kept nothing from me
But her body couldn’t keep you off my mind

Her body couldn’t drive my love for you out of my sight
Her kisses weren’t enough to make me wanna spend the night
It’s been two long years since I came home
And found your goodbye letter
Still I can’t get over what you left behind
I tried turning to a woman who was burning up with passion
But her body couldn’t keep you off my mind

Hank Cochran was the writer on “When You Turned Loose (I Fell Apart) “, a slow ballad that to me is just another good Hank Cochran song made better by Gene’s vocals.

Yes I’m down and might be here forever
I could get up but I don’t have the heart
‘Cause you’re all that held me together
And when you turn loose I fell apart

And baby I can’t get me back together
‘Cause without you I don’t even want to start
‘Cause you’re all that held me together
And when you turn loose I fell apart

A pair of Ray Griff compositions, “Hey Louella” and “Then You Came Along” close out the album.
“Hey Louella” is an up-tempo number with a Cajun feel to it. It’s fun but it’s a song that any half decent singer could have sung and doesn’t really give Gene a chance to demonstrate his vocal prowess. “Then You Came Along” is a nice jog-along ballad of the kind that Gene always performs well.

Gene would go on to bigger and better things, but this album maintained the momentum from his major label debut album. Although I’ve pointed out their contribution in conjunction with specific songs, the contributions of Buddy Spicher, Lloyd Green and Pig Robbins to the overall sound of the recording cannot be overstated. There are vestiges of the ‘Nashville Sound’ production (strings and choruses) but those are kept to a minimum and are unobtrusive. Capitol released this album in May 1976. Currently it is available on CD paired with Beautiful Country, an album that will be reviewed next.

Grade: A

Spotlight Artist: Tom T. Hall

tom t hallSongs that told a story were once a staple of country music, unlike the majority of today’s songs which seems to celebrate beer, girls and pickup trucks without there being much point to it.

Think of the country songs that have endured from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s – “PT 109”, “Big Bad John”, “El Paso”, “Sink The Bismarck”, “The Battle of New Orleans”, “Cross The Brazos At Waco”, “Wreck On The Highway”, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and countless others. They weren’t just lyrics slapped together – they had something specific to say. While not every song was a story song, many of them were and they were among the most memorable songs of Country Music’s ‘Golden Age’ (roughly 1948-1975).

Even by the standards of Country Music’s ‘Golden Age’ our May Spotlight Artist, Tom T. Hall was unique. It is one thing to tell the story of great historical events (real or imagined) or of heroic figures such as soldiers and cowboys. It is something entirely different to tell the story of everyday people and make their stories seem interesting.

Tom T Hall wrote about waitresses, grave diggers, bluesmen, guitar pickers, fathers and blind children, wonder horses, people with two left feet, janitors, factory workers, single mothers wearing miniskirts, cheap motels, odd and/or deranged people, army experiences, and oh so many more, making their stories pop off your record player and into your conscience.

Thomas Hall was born on May 25, 1936, in Olive Hill, Kentucky. Solid biographical information on Hall is scarce as he has kept his personal life as private as possible. It is known that as a teenager, Hall organized a band called the Kentucky Travelers that performed before movies for a traveling theater. The band had some success, recording a number of songs, although Tom doesn’t appear on any of the recordings, having left the band to join the Army in 1957. He was stationed in Germany at the same time as Elvis Presley, and remembers that Elvis would buy hamburgers for the entire platoon on the day before payday. While in Germany he performed on Armed Forces Radio Network. His army experiences served as the inspiration of several of his later songs. After leaving the army in 1961 Hall served as an announcer or disk jockey for several radio stations in Kentucky and West Virginia, as well as performing live and writing songs.

A friend of Hall’s took some of Tom’s songs to Nashville with him, where they came to the attention of Jimmy Keys, the head of Newkeys Music, a company co-owned with Jimmy “C” Newman and Dave Dudley. Keys saw something there as he forwarded “D.J. For A Day” to Jimmy “C” Newman and offered Hall a draw against royalties to move to Nashville and become a staff writer. Newman’s recording of “D.J. For A Day” reached #9 in early 1964 becoming Newman’s first top ten recording in nearly four years. Newman was to record many more of Tom’s songs.

To augment his songwriting income, Hall went on the road with Dave Dudley. The two of them became good friends and before long, Hall was co-writing with Dudley and also giving Dudley first crack at his new solo compositions. Among the many hits Dave Dudley had with Tom T compositions were “Mad” (#6), “What We’re Fighting For” (#4), “There Ain’t No Easy Runs” (#10) and Dave’s sole #1 record “The Pool Shark”.

In 1965 Hall caught two big breaks as a songwriter when Johnny Wright took “Hello Vietnam” to #1, the first Tom Hall composition to reach #1. At approximately the same time, the Statler Brothers recorded “Billy Christian” a song which few remember but which sold millions of copies. “Billy Christian” was a fine song but it was the B-side of the record; however, the A-side, “Flowers On The Wall” kick-started the Statler Brothers recording career and provided Hall with substantial songwriting royalties.

In 1967, after several years of Hall supplying songs for other artists, Jimmy Keys thought it was time for Tom Hall to start recording his own songs. Tom had served as his own demo singer and Keys approached Mercury producer Jerry Kennedy with the idea of signing Hall to Mercury Records. Feeling that “Tom Hall” lacked oomph as a stage name, Keys relabeled Tom as “Tom T. Hall”.

The first few Tom T. Hall recordings were modest hits but before Tom T could score a big hit on his own, a song that Tom T. had written for Margie Singleton, the ex-wife of Shelby Singleton (Jerry Kennedy’s boss at Mercury), made a huge splash on the pop and country throughout the English speaking world. The song lay idle for a few years before Shelby Singleton, by then the owner of Plantation Records , had Jeannie C. Riley record “Harper Valley PTA”. Jerry Kennedy played dobro on the record, which would sell over six million copies, and won both a Grammy Award and CMA award for the singer.

Hot on the heels of “Harper Valley PTA, Tom T would have his first top ten recording as a recording artist when “Ballad of Forty Dollars” reached #4 in early 1969. This would kick off a solid string of top twenty hits that would run through 1980.

During his years on Mercury Tom T. Hall’s albums were more than merely collections of songs, they were slices of life set to music, telling the stories of everyday people doing the various things that people do. There were songs about winners, losers, and eccentrics, about situations mundane, heroic, ridiculous and implausible. People who bought the albums wore them out from frequent playing and absorbed the lyrics of the songs and the stories as if by osmosis.

Tom T. Hall, being from rural Kentucky, had grown up with and loved bluegrass music. Some of his album tracks had a bluegrass feel to them, and in 1976 Tom T came out of the bluegrass closet and released The Magnificent Music Machine, a collection of some originals cast as bluegrass, some classic bluegrass standards, and one rock song, “Fox On The Run” which had been a late 60s pop hit in England for Manfred Mann.

As far as mainstream country fans are concerned, Tom T Hall is a nearly forgotten figure who has been inactive for many years. While it is true that he took an extended hiatus from performing, in recent years Tom T Hall has emerged as a very active bluegrass songwriter, usually with his wife Dixie. Tom and Dixie record occasionally, perform rarely but supply a seemingly endless supply of hit records for many bluegrass artists. The most recent issue of Bluegrass Unlimited (April 2014) shows Hall as having three songs in the Bluegrass Top 30 – “I’m Putting On My Leaving Shoes” (#1 as recorded by Big Country Bluegrass), “That’s Kentucky (#7 By Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road), and “I Want My Dog Back” (#12 by The Spinney Brothers).

Tom T Hall was inducted to the country music Hall of Fame in 2008, an honor long overdue. In his career charted fifty-four songs, ten reaching #1 on one or more of the Billboard, Cashbox or Record World charts. Along the way he won numerous BMI songwriting awards, hosted a syndicated television, made numerous appearances on network television shows ands made millions of people reflect and smile as a result of his keen eye for detail and ability to fit it into songs that told many small truths about you and your friends and your neighbors.

In celebration of his 78th birthday, we present to you May’s Spotlight Artist, “The Storyteller” – Tom T Hall.

Album Review: Willie Nelson – ‘To All The Girls’

to all the girlsThe newest Willie Nelson album finds Willie treading familiar ground, recording eighteen duets with various female partners. These partners range from young to old, famous to fairly unknown and across a wide array of genres.

The album opens up with the “From Here To The Moon And Back”, an introspective ballad from the catalogue of duet partner Dolly Parton. This song has a very quiet arrangement with piano being the dominant sound, along with a very light string arrangement – very nice song.

Another very quiet song is “She Was No Good For Me” with the normally boisterous Miranda Lambert assisting Willie on an old Waylon Jennings tune. It is nice to hear Miranda sing a song that requires nuance and restraint.

She was a good looking woman no doubt
A high steppin’ mover that men talk about
Everything bad in me she brought it out
And she was just no good for me

[Chorus:]
Don’t be taken by the look in her eyes
If she looks like an angel
It’s a perfect disguise
And for somebody else she may be
But she was just no good for me

“It Won’t Be Very Long” opens with a harmonica intro which comes to a dead stop and then starts to a song with a very country gospel feel – something either Roy Acuff or the Nitty Gritty Dirt band might have tackled. The Secret Sisters aren’t really very well known but probably do the best job of any act on the album of actually harmonizing with Willie. Willie and producer Buddy Cannon wrote this song.

“Please Don’t Tell Me How The Story Ends” is a Kris Kristofferson song that originally was a top ten hit for new Country Music Hall of Famer Bobby Bare (it reached #1 on Record World) in 1971. In 1974 it reached #1 on Billboard for Ronnie Milsap. I always preferred Bare’s version as I think the song benefited from Bare’s more laid back approach to the song. Nelson and duet partner Rosanne Cash adopt the more relaxed approach to the song, with Willie’s guitar being the dominant sound of the background, but with a tasteful organ undertone by Moose Brown. Willie and Rosanne’s voices really don’t mesh well together and Willie’s eccentric phrasing is difficult for any singer to handle, but actual harmonizing on this tune is kept to a dead minimum.

“Far Away Places” is one of the classics of the American Pop Standards canon. The song was written by Joan Whitney and Alex Kramer way back in 1948, and was an immediate hit by three artists in late 1948-early 1949, reaching #2 for the legendary Bing Crosby, #3 for Margaret Whiting and #6 for Perry Como. The Como version is probably the best remembered version since RCA kept the song available for most of the last 65 years whereas the other versions have frequently been out of print. Willie and partner Sheryl Crow harmonize well and recreate the dreamy feel of the 1948 versions. This is my favorite track on this album:

Far away places with strange soundin’ names
Far away over the sea
Those far away places with the strange soundin’ names
Are callin’, callin’ me

Goin’ to China or maybe Siam
I want to see for myself
Those far away places I’ve been readin’ about
In a book that I took from the shelf

I don’t know how many times Willie has recorded his own “Bloody Mary Morning” but this version must be the fastest version on disc. I’m not a big Wynonna Judd fan but this is the kind of song she handles well. Mike Johnson (steel) and Dan “Man of Constant Sorrow” Tyminski (acoustic guitar) really shine on this track.

Writers Wayne Carson, Mark James and John Christopher, Jr cashed in big time with “You Were Always On My Mind” as it was a hit thrice (Brenda Lee, Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson) and appeared on many albums generating many millions of sales (and royalties for the songwriters). On this recording Willie is joined by Carrie Underwood in a nice version with fairly minimal backing.

During the 1960s and 1970s semi-permanent male-female duos abounded, nearly all of whom tackled Merle Haggard’s “Somewhere Between”. It’s a great song and Willie is joined by the legendary Loretta Lynn, singing in better voice than anything I’ve heard from her recently. Willie and Loretta trade verses (usually in different keys) and do not harmonize except one line at the end. It’s a great song and full justice is done to the song.

“No Mas Amore” written by Keith Gattis and Sammy Barrett, is given the Mexican treatment by Willie and partner Alison Krauss complete with trumpets. Willies band member Mickey Raphael plays chord harmonica and bass harmonica; Alison’s band member Dan Tyminski adds background vocals and plays mandolin. Usually Alison Krauss duets produce a certain magic, but this one is merely pleasant listening.

“Back To Earth” features Melonie Cannon on this Willie Nelson ballad, taken at a languid pace. The song is nothing special but Melanie and Willie execute it well.

Mavis Staples is one of the best known gospel singers, carrying on the fine tradition of the legendary Staples Family. “Grandma’s Hands” was penned by Bill Withers, probably best known for his monster hits “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Lean On Me”. The song was about Wither’s own grandma and is an affectionate look at a loved one, now departed. Willie and Mavis give it a bit of a ‘swamp blues pop’ treatment that fits the song exactly.

“Walkin” features Wiliie’s good friend Norah Jones on a Willie composition. This is a bluesy slow ballad about leaving.

“Till The End of World” is an old Vaughn Horton standard given an up-tempo western swing arrangement. Back in 1949 Ernest Tubb, Jimmy Wakely and Johnny Bond all had top twelve hits with the song, then in 1952 Bing Crosby and ace guitarist Grady Martin took it back into the top ten. Shelby Lynne reestablishes her country credibility with this effort.

“Will You Remember Mine” is a lovely ballad from Willie’s pen. I don’t know anything about Lily Meola but she is a perfect complement to Willie on this song.

Gone are the times when I held you close
And pressed your lips to mine
Now when you kissed another’s lips
Will you remember mine?

I’m sure we’ve all had this thought – indeed.

“Dry Lightning” comes from the pen of Bruce Springsteen. Emmylou Harris can sing with anyone. Therefore it is no surprise that this song works as a duet. It’s another slow ballad, but Emmylou, as usual is exquisite.

I first ran across Brandi Carlile some years ago when the late and lamented Borders chain distributed sampler CDs of her work. On “Making Believe” she proves both that she can sing effective harmony and can sing country music with feeling. This song was written by Jimmy Work but is best remembered as a major hit for Kitty Wells in 1955, with Emmylou Harris taking it back to the top ten in 1977.

“Have You Ever Seen The Rain” is a John Fogarty composition given a slow folk arrangement that enables Willie and (I think) daughter Paula Nelson to convey the lyrics in an uncluttered manner. I really like this recording.

Tina Rose is the daughter of Leon & Mary Russell. Willie recorded an album with Leon Russell in 1979, so it seems only proper that he should record a song with Leon’s daughter. I’m not that impressed with Ms Russell’s vocals, but they work well enough on the vehicle chosen, L.E White’s “After The Fire Is Gone”, which White’s boss, Conway Twitty took to the top of the charts with Loretta Lynn in 1971. Willie and Tina don’t have the chemistry Conway and Loretta had (few do) but the end result is worthwhile.

It remains true:
There’s nothing cold as ashes
After the fire’s gone

All told, there is a very pleasant offering from Willie – I’d give it a B+, mostly because a few more up-tempo numbers were needed. Willie, of course, is always Willie, and as always, he was chosen well in his selection of female guests.

Album Review: Willie Nelson – ‘Always On My Mind’

alwaysVoices like Willie Nelson’s are an often-cited reason why many people don’t like country music, so in many respects Willie was an unlikely pop star. Nevertheless, with albums like Stardust, he proved that he could not only handle non-country material, but that he could also appeal to worldwide audiences much broader than the typical country music fan base. 1982’s Always On My Mind is one of his most AC-leaning albums. Like Stardust, it reached outside the country genre for material, though the selections this time around were more contemporary.

The title track had first been introduced to country audiences by Brenda Lee a decade earlier. Her version peaked outside the country Top 40. A cover version by Elvis Presley the same year reached 16 on the AC charts, but the song remained relatively unknown despite being recorded by numerous other artists, until Willie’s version came along. His recording of the song became the biggest hit of his career; it topped the Billboard country singles chart in May 1982 and was the magazine’s #1 country single of the year. It also reached #5 on the all-genre Hot 100 chart and earned three Grammy Awards — one for Willie for Best Male Country Vocal Performance as well as Best Country Song and Song of the Year for its writers Mark James, Johnny Christopher and Wayne Carson Thompson. It was also widely honored by the Country Music Association, winning Single of the Year in 1982 and Song of the Year in both 1982 and 1983. Willie also took home the 1982 Album of the Year trophy.

It’s exceedingly difficult to follow up a career record, but Willie’s next two singles, while not matching the success of “Always On My Mind”, turned in respectable chart performances. His cover of the Everly Brothers’ “Let It Be Me” reached #2 on the country charts and #11 on the AC charts and just cracked the Top 40 on the Hot 100. “Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning”, a song that I did not initially like but now consider a favorite, also reached #2 on the country chart but did not enjoy any crossover success.

Aside from some harmonica and Willie’s trademark guitar, there is no country instrumentation on this album. The fiddle and steel guitar are absent, and the saxophone is used instead on tracks like “Let It Be Me” and “Old Fords and a Natural Stone”, and most of the non-single album cuts come from outside of country music. The opening track “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man”, written by the album’s producer Chips Moman and Dan Penn, had been an R&B hit for Aretha Franklin in 1967. The song had been covered for the country market previously, by Barbara Mandrell whose version went to #17 in 1971, and surprisingly, it was also recorded by Kitty Wells at some point. “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”, on which Willie is joined by Waylon Jennings, is a remake of a 1967 psychadelic rock hit by the British group Procul Harum. Willie also does a very nice version of Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”.

Always On My Mind was clearly designed with one eye on the pop market, but it avoids the excesses and overproduction that was typical of most recordings of the era that had crossover aspirations. Sufficient concessions were also made to keep country fans happy. Among the more country-sounding material are two songs penned by Willie: “Permanently Lonely” and “The Party’s Over”, a remake of his own earlier recording, which like some of the other remakes on this album, dates back to 1967. It’s my favorite track on the album.

Legacy Recordings reissued Always On My Mind in 2008, with two new tracks: “The Man Who Owes Everyone” and “I’m A Memory”, both of which are enjoyable, though they would have fit in better on one of his more country-sounding albums.

Selling more than 4 million copies in the United States and another 2 million in Canada, Always On My Mind is second only to Stardust in terms of commercial success. It’s always been a favorite of mine, primarily for nostalgic reasons, but due to its reliance on pop, R&B and rock material, it’s not an especially important album in terms of country music, aside from the three singles, which are widely available on numerous compilations. That being said, it is an enjoyable record, country or not, and a cheap used copy is well worth picking up.

Grade: A

Fellow Travelers: Gordon Lightfoot (1938-)

gordon lightfootThis is the sixth in a series of short articles about artists who, although not country artists, were of some importance to country music.

WHO WAS HE?

Gordon Lightfoot arguably is Canada’s most successful folk performer with a long string of pop successes in the United States and Canada and some hits in Australia and the UK as well. Gordon had many hits in Canada before breaking through as a singer in the US, but many of his compositions were made hits by American artists including songs such as “Ribbon of Darkness” (Marty Robbins) and “Early Morning Rain” (Peter, Paul & Mary, George Hamilton IV) . Among the other artists who have recorded Lightfoot’s songs are Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Jr., The Kingston Trio, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, Barbra Streisand, Johnny Mathis, Viola Wills, Richie Havens, The Dandy Warhols, Harry Belafonte, Tony Rice, Sandy Denny (with Fotheringay), The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, Scott Walker, Sarah McLachlan, John Mellencamp, Toby Keith, Glen Campbell, Anne Murray, The Irish Rovers and Olivia Newton-John.

As a singer, Gordon’s most successful records were “Sundown”, “If You Could Read My Mind” and “The Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald”, the first two reaching #1 in the US and Canada and the latter (a Canadian #1) reaching #2 in the US despite its six-minute length.

WHAT WAS HIS CONNECTION TO COUNTRY MUSIC?

Although Gordon Lightfoot charted eight times on Billboard’s Country charts, only “Sundown” cracked the top fifteen. His real importance to country music is in the huge number of country artists who recorded his songs. George Hamiliton IV recorded many of his songs on various albums scoring hits with “Steel Rail Blues” and “Early Morning Rain”. As noted above, Marty Robbins scored a #1 hit with “Ribbon of Darkness, a song also recorded by Connie Smith, Jack Greene and countless others. Glen Campbell had a hit with “Wherefore and Why”. Legendary bluegrass artists Mac Wiseman and Tony Rice each recorded entire albums of nothing but Gordon Lightfoot songs. Country albums of the late 1960s and the 1970s frequently included a Gordon Lightfoot song.

Gordon doesn’t seem to have an official website but there is a fan site. The site is a bit disjointed but contains much information about Lightfoot, including tour dates.

Country Heritage: Ed Bruce

ed bruceFor a brief period in the late 1970s to mid 80s, Ed Bruce seemed to be everywhere–hit songs as a songwriter, hit records as a recording artist and regular appearances on the television show Bret Maverick.

Like many other artists, Ed Bruce got his start as a rockabilly singer signed to Sun Records; however, for him the sun would not shine while at Sun. Indeed, it would take twenty years of plugging away for him to become known in the world of country music.

William Edwin Bruce, Jr. was born in Keiser, Arkansas, in 1939; however, the family moved to Memphis when Ed was quite young. Ed started writing songs as a teenager and, as Edwin Bruce, he cut his first sides for Sun in 1956 at the age of 17. With Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and other great artists signed to Sun, Ed was lost in the shuffle. A cut on the B-side of Tommy Roe’s million seller “Sheila” provided Ed with the funding necessary for a move to Nashville in 1962.

The next year, Charlie Louvin recorded “See The Big Man Cry,” earning Ed his first BMI award, with other cuts to follow including Kenny Price’s recording of “Northeast Arkansas Mississippi County Bootlegger”. He also became a member of the Marijohn Wilkin Singers, performing live and as a backing vocalist. His warm, friendly voice made him a natural for voiceovers and he soon achieved success singing advertising jingles; his best-known advertising campaign cast him as a character called the Tennessean.

Recording success came more slowly. In 1966, Ed Bruce signed with RCA, notching his first chart hit with the single “Walker’s Woods”. After that he recorded for Monument Records, releasing the singles “Song For Ginny” and “Everybody Wants To Get To Heaven.” In 1973, a deal with United Artists resulted in the minor chart hit “July, You‘re A Woman”. Ed spent four years hosting an early morning TV show on Nashville’s WSM.

Finally, in 1975, Ed’s composition “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” made it into the Top 20. The song, Ed’s best-known, became a huge hit when covered by Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson in 1977. The song was nominated for, and won, a Grammy in 1978. That same year, “Texas When I Die”, as recorded by Tanya Tucker, was nominated for Grammy and CMA Awards.
After a brief tenure at Epic Records between 1977 and 78, Ed Bruce finally achieved real success as a recording artist with MCA in the 1980s.

Ed Bruce’s string of hits on MCA
Year Charted Singles Peak
March 1980 Diane #21
June 1980 Last Cowboy Song #12
October 1980 Girls Women And Ladies #14
February 1981 Evil Angel #24
June 1981 (When You Fall In Love) Everything’s A Waltz #14
October 1981 You’re The Best Break This Old Heart Ever Had #1
February 1982 Love’s Found You And Me #13
July 1982 Ever Never Lovin’ You #4
November 1982 My First Taste Of Texas #6
April 1983 You’re Not Leaving Here Tonight #21
July 1983 If It Was Easy #19
October 1983 After All #6
July 1984 Tell ‘Em I’ve Gone Crazy #45

Although not his biggest hit, the imagery in “The Last Cowboy Song” tells you a lot about Ed Bruce’s skills as a songsmith:

Remington showed us how he looked on canvas
And Louis L’Amour has told us his tale
And Willie and Waylon and me sing about him
And wish to God we could have ridden his trail

Ed returned to RCA for a pair of albums in 1984, with two songs cracking the top twenty: “If It Ain’t Love” (#20 in 1985) and “Nights” (#4 in 1986). After his 1986 album Night Things and a 1988 self-titled follow-up, Bruce made the conscious decision to cut back on his music to focus on his acting career, appearing in several made-for-TV films. With a resume that included a role in the CBS mini-series The Chisolms, the NBC movie The Return of Frank and Jesse James and, of course, as co-star of the television show Bret Maverick with James Garner, this seemed the rational thing to do. More film roles followed, as well as a stint as the host of American Sports Cavalcade on The Nashville Network. He also hosted the seven seasons of Truckin’ USA, also on TNN. Ed continued to record music occasionally, as well.

Discography

Vinyl
Ed was not the most prolific recording artist. He issued four RCA albums, one on Monument, one on United Artists, two on Epic and six on MCA. These, of course, are all out of print (but are worth the effort to find used copies). Ed also issued a number of 45 RPM singles, on various labels – good luck in tracking those down!

CD
The Ernest Tubb Record Shop currently has six titles by Ed Bruce available for sale. Three of the titles are of religious material on the EB label; I’ve not heard these, so I won’t comment on them.

12 Classics (Varese) issued in 2003 consists of re-recorded tracks from Ed’s years with MCA, including his biggest hits. These recordings are not bad, but they do not measure up to the now out-of print Varese set issued in 1995 titled The Best of Ed Bruce, which had 15 original MCA tracks and three RCA hits from his second stint with the label.

Puzzles, a Bear Family CD issued around 1995, gathers up the music Ed recorded for RCA between 1966 and 1968. “Walker’s Woods” is the biggest hit collected here, but his recording of the Monkees’ hit “Last Train to Clarksville” is also worthwhile.

The Tennessean / Cowboys & Dreamers is a two-fer released by British label Hux. This pairing takes a pair of recordings released in 1978 & 1979 on the Epic label, just before Ed’s breakthrough on MCA. Ed charted six records while on Epic, none of which reached the top forty, but there are some great song on this pairing.

This Old Hat is a CD produced and released by Ed in 2002, consisting of 11 new tunes, plus new renditions of “You’re The Best Break This Old Heart Ever Had” and “My First Taste of Texas.” The physical CD is out of print, but it is available on Amazon MP3 and iTunes.

Spotlight Artist: Pam Tillis

pamtillisBeing related to a famous country entertainer can be a mixed blessing. Although the family ties can open doors for the aspiring singer, they can also serve to set unrealistic expectations. Just ask Roy Acuff Jr., Ronnie Robbins (billed as Marty Robbins, Jr.), The Lynns (daughters of Loretta Lynn), Riley Coyle (daughter of Jeannie C. Riley), Pake McEntire (Reba’s brother), Jay Lee Webb (Loretta Lynn’s brother), Peggy Sue (Loretta Lynn’s sister), and Hillman Hall (Tom T. Hall’s brother), each of whom issued an album or two and then disappeared. John Carter Cash has avoided the problem entirely by working behind the scenes.

Then there are those who achieve modest success and carve out respectable careers but never achieve top-drawer status, such as Shelly West (daughter of Dottie West), David Frizzell (brother of Lefty Frizzell), Tommy Cash (brother of Johnny Cash), Carlene Carter (daughter of Carl Smith and June Carter) and Thom Bresh (son of Merle Travis). Jazz guitarist Lenny Breau, son of country stars Hal Lone Pine and Betty Cody, might have fit into this category had he not died young.

True superstar success for those with famous kinfolk is indeed rare. The three biggest that come to mind are Crystal Gayle (Loretta Lynn’s sister), Lynn Anderson (the daughter of songwriter Casey & singer-songwriter Liz Anderson) and Hank Williams Jr. Pulling up behind these three are George Morgan’s daughter Lorrie, Rosanne Cash and this month’s spotlight artist, Pam Tillis.

Pamela Yvonne Tillis was born on July 24, 1957 in Plant City, Florida, the daughter of singer-songwriter-actor-comedian Mel Tillis.

As the daughter of one of the best-known songwriters around, and living in Nashville, Tillis was exposed to the elite of the country music industry even before her father had achieved recording star status. She made her Grand Ole Opry debut at the age of eight in an appearance with her father singing “Tom Dooley.” She grew up wanting to be a performer and tried her hand at songwriting at an early age and also found some work as a background singer. The results of an automobile accident at age 16 derailed her career for a while as several years of reconstructive facial surgery were needed to restore her appearance. Following her surgeries, Tillis enrolled at the University of Tennessee; then later at Belmont University in Nashville, TN, forming her first band. Since her only real interest was music, she eventually dropped out of college to pursue her own musical career.

Wanting to make it “on her own,” Tillis went to San Francisco where she joined a jazz-rock band Freelight.

After tiring of the San Francisco scene, she returned to Nashville and found work as a demo singer. She signed with Warner Brothers. in 1982, where she took a shot at pop success. Her sole album for Warner Brothers was Above and Beyond The Doll of Cutey. During the period between 1983 and ’87, Warner Brothers would issue at least eight singles on Tillis, five of which charted on Billboard’s Country chart, although none made the Top 50–not surprising since they were not being marketed as country singles. Unreleased were early versions of several of her later hits, which were released after she achieved success.

During this period, Tillis signed on as a staff songwriter with Tree Publishing in Nashville, where she shifted her focus to contemporary country music and achieved much success as a songwriter, with artists as diverse as Chaka Khan, Martina McBride, Gloria Gaynor, Conway Twitty, Holly Dunn, Juice Newton, Sweethearts of the Rodeo, Dan Seals, and Highway 101 recording her songs.

Her visibility was greatly improved when she started making regular appearances on shows aired on the late lamented Nashville Network, especially on Nashville Now, a nightly variety show hosted by Ralph Emery. By 1991 she had signed with Arista Records, where her career took off. For part of this period (until 1998) she was married to fellow songwriter Bob DiPiero.

The Arista years saw Tillis emerge as a steady and reliable hit-maker as the following list demonstrates:

•“Don’t Tell Me What To Do” / “Melancholy Child” – #5 (1990)

•“One Of Those Things” / “Already Fallen – #6 (1991)

•“Put Yourself In My Place” / “I’ve Seen Enough To Know” – #11 (1991)

•“Maybe It Was Memphis” / “Draggin’ My Chains” – #3 (1991)

•“Blue Rose Is” / “Ancient History” – #21 (1992)

•“Shake The Sugar Tree” / “Maybe It Was Memphis” #3 (1992)

•“Let That Pony Run” / “Fine Fine Very Fine Love” – #4 (1992)

•“Cleopatra Queen Of Denial” / “Homeward Looking Angel” – #11 (1993)

•“Do You Know Where Your Man Is” / “We’ve Tried Everything Else” – #16 (1993)

•“Spilled Perfume” / “Till All The Lonely’s Gone” – #5 (1994)

•“When You Walk In The Room” / “Till All The Lonely’s Gone” – #2 (1994)

•“Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life)” / “Ancient History” – #1 (1994)

•“I Was Blown Away” / “Calico Plains” – #16 (1995)

•“In Between Dances” / “They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To” – #3 (1995)

•“Deep Down” / “Tequila Mockingbird” – #6 (1995)

•“River And The Highway” / “All Of This Love” – #8 (1996)

•“It’s Lonely Out There” / “You Can’t Have A Good Time Without Me” – #14 (1996)

•“All The Good Ones Are Gone” / “Land Of The Living” – #4 (1997)

•“I Said A Prayer” / “Lay The Heartache Down” – #12 (1998)

•“Every Time” / “You Put The Lonely On Me” – #38 (1998)

After 1998, the hits started drying up as the next wave of young performers arrived.

Tillis’ Arista albums were generally quite successful, starting with 1991’s Put Yourself In My Place which had three Top 10 hits in lead single, “Don’t Tell Me What to Do,” “One of Those Things” and “Maybe It Was Memphis.” The album ultimately reached gold status.

Her 1992 follow-up Homeward Looking Angel was equally successful, with “Shake the Sugar Tree” and “Let That Pony Run” reaching the Top 5. Homeward Looking Angel reached platinum status. In 1993, she won her first major award: the CMA Awards’ Vocal Event of the Year with George Jones and Friends for “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair.”

In 1994, her third Arista album, Sweetheart’s Dance, was released, reaching #6 on the Billboard’s Country Album chart (her highest placement). Singles “Spilled Perfume” and “When You Walk in the Room” both became Top 5 hits and she had her only #1, “Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life),” helping push the album to platinum status.

Issued in late 1996, All of This Love, became Tillis’ last gold non-compilation album. The only single to reach Top 10 status was “The River and The Highway.” It was the first album she produced on her own.

In 1997, Arista released her first (actually only) Greatest Hits album. The compilation featured two new tracks, both released as singles: “All the Good Ones Are Gone” and “The Land of the Living,” both of which reached the Top 5 in 1997. This collection also went platinum.

After 1997, the country music market shifted, becoming more youth-oriented and less country, with a resultant drop in both chart and sales success for Tillis. Her 1998 album Every Time featured “I Said A Prayer”, which just missed the Top 10 and was her last Top 20 single. Her last Arista album, issued in 2001, Thunder & Roses performed reasonably well on the album chart (both it and Every Time reached #24) but generated no real hit singles.

Since 1998 Pam Tillis has remained active, both in live appearances, occasionally performing with her father Mel, and occasionally recording. She became a Grand Ole Opry member in 2000, which was several years before her father, and had the honor of inducting him into Opry membership. She has tried her hand at acting, both on stage and on television, with considerable success.

She still records occasionally. In 2002 she fulfilled a lifetime dream of recording an album of songs written by or associated with her father. Titled It’s All Relative, the album found Pam ignoring the Mel Tillis template and giving her own interpretation of her father’s material, most notably on “Heart Over Mind”.

She started her own record label, Stellar Cat, and issued her album Rhinestoned under that imprint in 2007. One of the singles from the album, “Band In The Window,” earned considerable acclaim, although the album ultimately yielded no hits.

All told, Pam Tillis had over 30 chart records including 13 Top 10s. In 1994 she was named the Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year. In 1999, she earned a Grammy Award for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals. When CMT did their countdown of the 40 Greatest Women of Country Music in 2002, Tillis ranked at #30. Kevin Coyne of Country Universe ranked her at #35 in his 100 Greatest Women of Country Music countdown in 2008.

Discography

With the exception of the Warner Brothers album, which originally was issued on vinyl and audio cassette, all of Tillis’ subsequent recordings have been released on CD. Most of the titles remain in print, others can be located used with a little bit of effort. Unlike country singers from generations before, the Pam Tillis catalog is fairly shallow with a total of a dozen original studio albums, plus some anthologies (Greatest Hits, Super Hits, Best Of, etc.) and whatever unreleased tracks may be lying around in somebody’s vault. Accordingly, collecting a fairly complete Pam Tillis collection isn’t that difficult, especially since her Warner Brothers debut recently was reissued on CD by Wounded Bird. All of her post-Warner Brothers albums are worthwhile and even her debut album (which I originally purchased on vinyl) has its moments.

The Ernest Tubb Record Shop currently has seven of her albums available as well as several anthologies.

There is a need for a decent two-disc set containing about 40 of her songs. Lately, the German label Bear Family has been issuing some less-than-exhaustive sets. Maybe they will step up to the plate –she’s worth a decent anthology.

Pam Tillis is still actively performing – you can catch  up with her at her website http://www.pamtillis.com/ . She does have some product for sale there as digital downloads including a Christmas album and a duet single (with Kris Thomas)  titled “Two Kings” which is about Elvis Presley and Martin Luther King, Jr. Her long-awaited duet album with Lorrie Morgan comes out later this month.

Week ending 4/27/13: #1 albums this week in country music history

george strait - if you ain't lovin1968: Eddy Arnold – The Everlovin’ World of Eddy Arnold (RCA)

1973: Elvis Presley – Aloha from Hawaii: Via Satellite (RCA)

1978: Kenny Rogers – Ten Years of Gold (United Artists)

1983: Alabama – The Closer You Get (RCA)

1988: George Strait – If You Aint Lovin’, You Ain’t Livin’ (MCA)

1993: Billy Ray Cyrus – Some Gave All (Mercury)

1998: Shania Twain – Come On Over (Mercury)

2003: Dixie Chicks – Home (Open Wide/Columbia)

2008: George Strait – Troubador (MCA)

2013: Brad Paisley – Wheelhouse (Arista)

Week ending 4/20/13: #1 albums this week in country music history

ricky van shelton - wild eyed dream1968: Eddy Arnold – The Everlovin’ World of Eddy Arnold (RCA)

1973: Elvis Presley – Aloha from Hawaii: Via Satellite (RCA)

1978: Kenny Rogers – Ten Years of Gold/a> (United Artists)

1983: Alabama – The Closer You Get (RCA)

1988: Ricky Van Shelton – Wild Eyed Dream (Columbia)

1993: Billy Ray Cyrus – Some Gave All (Mercury)

1998: Shania Twain – Come On Over (Mercury)

2003: Chris Cagle – Chris Cagle (Capitol)

2008: George Strait – Troubador (MCA)

2013: The Band Perry – Pioneer (Republic)

Favorite Country Songs Of The 80s: Part 6

Here are some more songs from the 1980s that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records:

Memory Machine“– Jack Quist
This 1982 song about a jukebox reached #52. I don’t know anything about Jack Quist other than that he originally was from Salt Lake City, but I am familiar with the song’s writer Ted Harris as he wrote such classics as “Paper Mansions” and “Crystal Chandeliers”.

eddie rabbittOn Second Thought” – Eddie Rabbitt
Released in 1989, this song peaked at #1 in early 1990. This was Eddie’s most traditional sounding hit and my favorite of all of Eddie’s recordings.

Don’t It Make Ya Wanna Dance” – Bonnie Raitt
This song was from the soundtrack of Urban Cowboy and reached #42.

Right Hand Man” – Eddy Raven

Eddy had sixteen consecutive top ten records from 1984-1989. This song is my favorite although it only reached #3. Eddy would have five #1 records during the decade with “Joe Knows How To Live” and “Bayou Boys” being the biggest hits.

She Got The Goldmine (I Got The Shaft)” – Jerry Reed
There are few artists that could get away with recording a song with such a title but Jerry Reed was that one of a kind who could. The song reached #1 in 1982, one of Jerry’s few #1 records. There are those who consider Jerry to have been the best guitar player ever (Chet Atkins among them). Jerry passed away a few years ago perhaps depriving the genre of its greatest all-around talent.

Read more of this post

Country Heritage: Billy Edd Wheeler

billy edd wheelerIf anyone in Country Music can truly be said to be a “renaissance man” that person would be Billy Edd Wheeler. Poet, painter, playwright, author, songwriter, singer, artist, lecturer and ecologist would be but a few of the hats that accurately (and comfortably) fit onto his head.

Billy Edd Wheeler fits into the realm between folk music, pop music and country music as his songs have been covered by artists in all three genres. Folk artists such as the Kingston Trio (“The Reverend Mr. Black,” “Desert Pete”), Judy Collins (“The Coming of the Roads,” “Coal Tattoo”), Judy Henske (“High Flying Bird”) and pop artists such as Glen Campbell (“Ann”), Kenny Rogers (“Coward of the County”), Nancy Sinatra-Lee Hazelwood (“Jackson” ), and Jim Nabors (“Hot Dog Heart”) have all enjoyed success with his songs.

Meanwhile, on the country side of the ledger, artists such as Hank Snow (“Blue Roses”), Johnny Cash (“Blistered,” “Jackson”), Jerry Reed (“Gimme Back My Blues”) and Johnny Darrell (“I Ain’t Buying,” “Ain’t That Living”) were among the artists who enjoyed success with his songs. Kathy Mattea’s recent album, Coal, featured several of his songs including “Coal Tattoo” and “The Coming of the Roads.” Moreover, he had one major country hit of his own (“Ode To The Little Brown Shack Out Back”) and several lesser hits including “I Ain’t The Worrying Kind” and “Fried Chicken and a Country Tune”. Wheeler was a long-time friend of Chet Atkins and they wrote a number of songs together including the amusing “I Still Write Your Name in the Snow”.

Born on December 12, 1932, in Whitesville, West Virginia, Billy Edd Wheeler was raised in Boone County, West Virginia, and an artistic bent showed up early. After high school, he headed to North Carolina where he graduated from Warren Wilson Junior College in 1953, and then to Berea College in Kentucky where he graduated in 1955.

After an interlude in the military in the Naval Air Corps, he did graduate studies at Yale’s School of Drama under John Gassner, majoring in playwriting. During this time, he became acquainted with the famed team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and collaborated with them on some songs, including “Jackson,” “The Reverend Mr. Black,” and “(The Girl Who Loved) The Man Who Robbed The Bank At Santa Fe (And Got Away)”, which was a Top 10 hit for Hank Snow.

Billy Edd Wheeler is a warm and engaging performer whose singing is more folk than country. His career as a singer emerged at the end of the “Hootenanny” era so he has had a relatively low profile as a recording artist. Living in Swannanoa, North Carolina since 1971 has kept him out of the Nashville spotlight but he has remained busy. During his career, he has received 13 awards from ASCAP for songs recorded by the likes of Judy Collins, Bobby Darin, The Kingston Trio, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, Kenny Rogers, Elvis, and 90+ other artists. Wheeler estimated a few years ago that his songs sold over 57 million units. By now the total is over 65 million units. “Jackson” was featured in the soundtrack to I Walk The Line, a very successful movie.

He has written a dozen plays, including 4 outdoor dramas that include the long-running Hatfields & McCoys at Beckley, West Virginia, and Young Abe Lincoln at Lincoln City, Indiana. His most recent play, Johnny Appleseed, premiered at Mansfield, Ohio in 2004. He also has authored or co-authored several books of humor, most recently Real Country Humor – Jokes From Country Music Personalities.

If that isn’t enough, Billy Edd Wheeler also is an accomplished painter. He was featured in Appalachian Heritage magazine’s 2008 winter issue, which included 16 of his original paintings, and the North Carolina Our State magazine featured him in their December, 2007 issue.

Billy Edd Wheeler was inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame in 2007 and the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2011. He also is a member of the Nashville Association of Songwriters International’s Hall of Fame, and has won awards in various other fields of endeavor.

Discography

Vinyl

Billy Edd Wheeler issued a number of albums for Kapp and other labels. All of them contain interesting songs and any that you happen to come across will be worth the purchase.

While he had recorded previously, Memories of America/ Ode to the Little Brown Shack Out Back (Kapp, 1965) was the album that brought Billy Edd Wheeler to the attention of most people. This album contains most of the songs for which he is remembered including “Jackson” and “The Reverend Mr. Black.” Joan Sommer is the female lead on several songs and the Coasters (yes, those Coasters) provide the harmony on “After Taxes.” This album had previously been issued under the title A New Bag of Songs, but when the title song became a surprise hit, the album was reissued minus two songs and adding the title song and “Sister Sara” which the Kingston Trio had recently turned into a hit.

I Ain’t the Worryin’ Kind (Kapp, 1968) is the other vinyl album to look for, as it contains most of the other songs for which he is known, and some of the best examples of Billy Edd’s wry wit. “Gladys (The Anatomy of A Shotgun Wedding)” is not to be missed, nor is “I Ain’t The Worryin’ Kind.”

CD

CDs are available can be purchased from Billy Edd’s website www.billyeddwheeler.com

None of his vinyl albums have made it to CD intact, but Milestones contains some original versions of his songs. I would also recommend Songs I Wrote With Chet, a collection of songs co-authored by the great Chet Atkins. Actually go ahead and buy every CD and book he has for sale on his website. They are all great fun.

The Ernest Tubb Record Shop has available one CD not available from Billy Edd’s website titled A Big Bag of Songs. Released in 2010 on the Omni label, the disc contains most of the A New Bag of Songs album, please an interesting array of Wheeler’s other work. A significant portion of this album is in monaural and some of the tracks were remastered from secondary sources as much of the Kapp audio library was destroyed in a Universal Studios vault fire some years back. This CD contains 28 tracks.

Album Review: Travis Tritt – ‘T-R-O-U-B-L-E’

Travis TrittIn the early 1990s, the major Nashville labels signed a seemingly endless string of cookie-cutter male artists that became known as “hat acts.” Travis Tritt was a notable exception. Not only did he not look like his contemporaries, he was less restricted by the musical boundaries of the era, offering up a healthy dose of Southern rock with more traditional country fare.

T-R-O-U-B-L-E was his third album for Warner Bros., released in the summer of 1992. Like his two previous albums, it was produced by Gregg Brown. It produced five singles, beginning with the blue collar anthem “Lord Have Mercy On The Working Man”, which featured a chorus of guest artists including Brooks & Dunn, T. Graham Brown, George Jones, Little Texas, Dana McVicker, Tanya Tucker, and Porter Wagoner. The Kostas-penned tune, unlike the cliched “I’m country” songs that plague the airwaves today, paints a sympathetic picture of the protagonist and makes him someone to which the listener can relate. It reached #5 on the Billboard country singles chart, and was followed by the #1 hit “Can I Trust You With My Heart”, a song he co-wrote with Stewart Harris. Tritt has always been a strong, if somewhat underrated ballad singer and nowhere is that more evident than on this song, which shows his more vulnerable side.

The pace changes dramatically with the uptempo title track, which was a cover of a 1975 Elvis Presley single. Travis does the song justice, but it has never been one of my favorites. It was somewhat surprising to learn that it only peaked at #13, since it seemed to me that it was overplayed on the radio. “Looking Out For Number One”, a kiss-off number in the vein of “Here’s A Quarter, Find Someone Who Cares”, is much better. In no uncertain terms, Travis announces that no longer will he be anyone’s doormat. This is another one of his own compositions, co-written with Troy Seals. Surprisingly, it only reached #11. The final single, “Worth Every Mile”, which he also wrote, only reached #30, possibly due to a lack of promotional push by the label. It deserved to chart higher.

Also quite good are the Marty Stuart number “A Hundred Years From Now” and the self-penned “Blue Collar Man”, on which he revisits the working class theme again, this time with a more Southern rock arrangement. Less enjoyable is the bluesy “Leave My Girl Alone”, a cover of a Stevie Ray Vaughan hit that closes the album. Clocking in at just under nine minutes, it is self-indulgent and overly long. But even though it is not to my personal tastes, Tritt deserves credit for pushing the envelope. It’s hard to imagine any of the other top male acts from the era trying to tackle this number.

Though T-R-O-U-B-L-E contains many fine cuts, I’m not much of a Southern rock fan so it makes for a somewhat uneven listening experience. However, it is worth seeking out a cheap copy if you don’t already own a copy.

Grade: B+

Country Heritage: Jack Greene

jack greeneAlthough I had listened to country music for many years and had occasionally been able to purchase a 45 rpm or two, the summer of 1968 was the first time I had a summer job and was able to purchase records on a regular basis. My place of work, the Beach Theater on Atlantic Avenue in Virginia Beach, was about a thirty second walk away from a record store that carried a good supply of country 45s. Although I quickly switched over to collecting albums, my first purchase that summer was the Jack Greene single “Love Takes Care of Me,” a song which remains one of my all-time favorites. In fact, I had the lyrics of the song memorized by the time I’d heard it twice.

Jack Greene was born on January 7, 1930, in Maryville, Tennessee. From there he moved to Atlanta where he performed for a number of years before moving to Nashville in 1959, where he formed his own band — The Tennessee Mountain Boys, serving as drummer and lead singer. Jack’s big break came in 1961 when his band opened for Ernest Tubb. Jack Drake, Ernest’s bass player and band leader, noticed Greene’s talents and auditioned him for the band (Greene told Tubb biographer Ronnie Pugh that his knowledge of diesel mechanics may have played into the hiring decision as well). For the next few years, he was a drummer, guitarist, vocalist, and front man for the Texas Troubadours.

Before long, he was playing guitar and singing as an opener for Tubb, who believed in promoting his band members’ careers. Various members of Tubb’s band received occasional spots on his albums and he also had the band record several albums of their own on Decca. In 1964, Jack released his first solo record on Decca with “The Last Letter,” which was followed by “Don’t You Ever Get Tired of Hurtin’ Me” in 1965 (the Ray Price version, released at the same time received most of the radio spins). Jack’s first Top 40 hit came in early 1966 with “Ever Since My Baby Went Away.” Later that same year, while still a member of the Texas Troubadours, he released his career-making record with the Dallas Frazier composition “There Goes My Everything.”

To say it was just a hit would be understating it considerably. The song stayed on top of the Billboard country chart for 7 weeks and crossed over onto the pop charts. The album of the same name stayed #1 for 9 weeks. The song and the singer won single of the year, song of the year, male vocalist and album of the year awards at the First Annual Country Music Association awards in 1967, as well as numerous BMI, Billboard and Cash Box awards. The song also generated a pop cover in 1967 by Engelbert Humperdinck that went top twenty pop in the USA and reached #2 in the UK. Elvis Presley recorded the song in 1971 and had a top ten country hit, as well.

Jack, by now on his own as a solo performer, continued rolling in 1967 with another #1 record, “All The Time” (on top for 5 weeks), and a #2 hit (#1 on Cash Box) with “What Locks The Door.” He also became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1967.

In 1968, he enjoyed a #1 single with “What Locks The Door” and a #4 (#3 Cashbox) with “Love Takes Care of Me.” The year 1969 saw more of the same. “Until My Dreams Come True” and “Statue of A Fool” (possibly his best remembered song today) reached #1, and “Back In The Arms of Love” went to #4. It was that year he began a professional association with Jeannie Seely, which saw the release of a number of duet singles, and roughly a decade of joint stage shows. The first single, “Wish I Didn’t Have To Miss You,” was released in late 1969 and reached #1 on Record World, #2 on Billboard but only #9 on Cash Box.

In 1970, Jack recorded a song that I regard as his masterpiece — the Dallas Frazier penned “Lord Is That Me.” In retrospect, the song was a career killer. The hedonistic late ’60s to early ’70s saw radio stations shy away from music with overtly religious themes. Where Kristofferson’s 1973 hit “Why Me” was a very positive and uplifting song and can be appreciated in a secular context, “Lord Is That Me” is a song of despair and foreboding:

I can see a long line of cars with their headlights on
I can see kinfolks cryin’ cause somebody’s gone
Then they gather around as they let the sinner men down
I can see an old preacher prayin’ there with a frown

Chorus
Lord is that me, tell you bout this vision I see
Lord is that me, if it is have mercy have mercy on me

Many radio stations wouldn’t play the song, or would only play it if specifically requested by a caller. Our esteemed colleague Ken Johnson also noted that the song was roughly four minutes long in an era in which country songs rarely ran over three minutes.

Although Jack was coming off a run of nine consecutive top 4 records, after “Lord Is That Me” he never again had a top ten record. Even great songs like 1970’s “The Whole World Comes To Me,” 1971’s “There’s A Whole Lot About A Woman (A Man Don’t Know)” and 1973’s “I Need Somebody Bad” stalled outside the top ten. All three could have been top five records had they been recorded and released before “Lord Is That Me.” By the end of Jack’s Decca/MCA tenure he had charted twenty-nine times with seventeen records reaching the top twenty. It should be noted that recordings are typically purchased by younger listeners with chart success following the same dynamic. In 1970 Jack Greene was forty years old and looked even older.

Jack left Decca/MCA after 1975, quit recording for a few years and then emerged on Frontline Records in 1980 where he had a few minor chart placements. In 1983-1984 he had a few more minor hits for Step One Records.

Since then, he has continued to record occasionally — mostly self-produced albums or for reissue/remake labels such as Gusto. His focus largely has been on gospel music and most of his gospel albums have been available on CD at one time or another. Jack, a lifelong Christian, had Dallas Frazier recast his biggest hit into “He Is My Everything” and often segues from “There Goes My Everything” into “He Is My Everything” in his live performances.

Now 82 years old, Jack rarely performs anymore due to declining health. When he does perform it is mostly on the Grand Ole Opry. When he came to the now-defunct Florida Sunshine Opry (Eustis, FL) as recently as 2008 he was still in very good voice. He has a website where you can catch up with him. His newest album is available for sale there, as well as a thousand-plus photographs for your viewing enjoyment. Read more of this post

Favorite Songs of the 1980s: Part 5

The 1980s got off to a poor start with the early 1980s producing some of the lamest country music ever recorded, as the Urban Cowboy movie wrecked havoc on the genre. Fortunately, there was still good country music being released. The first flowering of the late 1980s “New Traditionalist” movement arrived in 1981 with the first hits of Ricky Skaggs and George Strait, but they remained outliers until 1986 as far as good new artists were concerned. The latter part of the decade, however, produced some truly excellent country music with the 1986 arrival of Randy Travis and company.

Here are some more songs that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records.

the okanes“When You Leave That Way You Can Never Go Back” – Sam Neely
This 1983 song reached #77 for a talented performer who spent many years playing the clubs and honky-tonks of Corpus Christi. The song, the reflection of a condemned inmate’s life, looks back at all the bridges he burned beyond repair. The song also was recorded by Bill Anderson and Confederate Railroad.

Dream Lover” – Rick Nelson
Epic reissued Rick’s 1979 cover of a Bobby Darin classic after Rick’s death in a New Years Eve 1985 air crash. It only reached #88 but it gives me a chance to mention one of the fine rock ‘n roll / country singers one last time.

Save Me” – Louise Mandrell
Louise never quite emerged from her big sister’s shadow but this #6 single from 1983 shows that a lack of talent wasn’t the problem.

Wabash Cannonball” – Willie Nelson with Hank (Leon Russell) Wilson
This song is at least as famous as any other song I’ve mentioned in any of my articles. Although the song is often attributed to A.P. Carter, it really is much older than that. Willie and Hank took this to #91 in 1984.

American Trilogy”– Mickey Newberry
Mickey issued a new version of his classic 1971 pop hit in 1988. While it only reached #93, it was good to hear it again on the radio. Glory, Glory Hallelujah forever.

The Sweetest Thing (I’ve Ever Known)“– Judy Kay ‘Juice’ Newton
This #1 hit from 1982 was Juice’s biggest hit. As great as this recording is, the song sounds even better when she performs it acoustically.

Dance Little Jean” – The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Perhaps my favorite recording by NGDB, it only reached #9 in 1983 but I still hear the song performed today by various and sundry acts, not all of whom are country. The song was the group’s first top ten country hit there would be sixteen in all), although they had pop chart hits dating back to the 1960s.

“Let’s Go All The Way ” – Norma Jean and Claude Gray
A pair of veteran performers teamed up to release this 1982 hit which charted at #68. The song was Norma Jean’s first chart hit back in 1964. This was her last chart hit; in fact, she hadn’t charted since 1971 when this record was released on the Granny White label.

Elvira” – The Oak Ridge Boys
Although not their biggest chart hit, this cover of a Dallas Frazier-penned song from the 1960s , was easily their biggest selling song, reaching #1 in 1981 while hitting #5 on Billboard’s pop charts. Has anyone really forgotten the chorus?

So I’m singin’, Elvira, Elvira
My heart’s on fire, Elvira
Giddy up, oom poppa, omm poppa, mow mow
Giddy up, oom poppa, omm poppa, mow mow, heigh-ho Silver, away!

I didn’t think so …

Oh Darlin’” – The O’Kanes (Kieran Kane and Jamie O’Hara)
This coupling of a couple of singer-songwriters who had not had solo success, resulted in a half dozen top ten records that had a fairly acoustic sound and feel that sounded like nothing else currently being played on the radio. This song reached #10 in 1986. Their next single “Can’t Stop My Heart From Loving You” would reach #1.

Read more of this post

Week ending 12/15/12: #1 albums this week in country music history

shania twain - up 1967: Eddy Arnold – Turn The World Around (RCA)

1972: Merle Haggard – The Best of the Best of Merle Haggard (Capitol)

1977: Elvis Presley – Elvis In Concert (RCA)

1982: Alabama – Mountain Music (RCA)

1987: Randy Travis – Always & Forever (Warner Brothers)

1992: Garth Brooks – The Chase (Capitol)

1997: Garth Brooks – Sevens (Capitol)

2002: Shania Twain – Up! (Mercury)

2007: The Eagles – Long Road Out of Eden (Lost Highway)

2012: Taylor Swift – Red (Big Machine)

Week ending 12/8/12: #1 albums this week in country music history

 merle haggard - best of the best of1967: Eddy Arnold – Turn The World Around (RCA)

1972: Merle Haggard – The Best of the Best of Merle Haggard (Capitol)

1977: Elvis Presley – Elvis In Concert (RCA)

1982: Alabama – Mountain Music (RCA)

1987: Randy Travis – Always & Forever (Warner Brothers)

1992: Garth Brooks – The Chase (Capitol)

1997: Shania Twain – Come On Over (Mercury)

2002: Shania Twain – Up! (Mercury)

2007: Garth Brooks – The Ultimate Hits (Pearl)

2012: Taylor Swift – Red (Big Machine)

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