My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Patsy Montana

Country Heritage: Patsy Montana

Patsy MontanaAs we enter the holiday season, I thought it might be worthwhile to remember one of the true female pioneers of country music.

The recently departed Kitty Wells may have had the first number one single for a solo female country artist, and she undoubtedly deserved her crown as the “Queen of Country Music,” but she was not the first country female to sell a million copies of a single release. That honor belongs to Patsy Montana, who in 1935, during the depths of the Great Depression, recorded a song that sold well over a million copies in “I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart.” A steady seller for years, the song even became a top ten pop hit in 1936 (there were no country charts until January 1944).

Patsy Montana was born with the name Ruby Rebecca Blevins on October 30, 1908, in Hot Springs, Arkansas (there is some controversy about the year of birth) the only girl of eleven children born to Augustus Blevins and Amanda Meeks. Growing up with 10 brothers, Montana inevitably grew up a tomboy, but a tomboy with musical inclinations. Later famous for her yodeling abilities, she listened to her parents’ Jimmie Rodgers records, learned and absorbed his yodels, and also learned to play the fiddle.

A year after graduating from high school in 1928, Montana moved to Los Angeles and began music studies at the University of the West (later the UCLA). In addition to the “highbrow” music taught in college, she associated with hillbilly musicians and after winning first place in a singing contest, performed on radio station KTMR as Rubye Blevins, “the Yodeling Cowgirl from San Antone.”

Eventually Montana came to the attention of future gospel great Stuart Hamblen, who invited her to sing for more money on a rival radio station. She joined Lorraine McIntire and Ruthy DeMondrum as the Montana Cowgirls. This is the point at which the name change to Patsy Montana occurred, given to her by Hamblen upon learning that she was of Irish descent, and not wanting a “Ruthie” and a “Rubye” in the same group.

In the summer of 1932, she returned home for a vacation, and received a week’s booking on KWKH in Shreveport, Louisiana. Following these performances, Jimmie Davis (future two-time Governor of Louisiana and also a future Country Music Hall of Fame member) called her and invited her to travel to New York to record. Initially skeptical, she changed her mind when one of her brothers advised her that Davis was an important Victor recording artist. During the next two years, Montana sang backup for Davis on some recordings and recorded her first single, “When the Flowers of Montana Were Blooming.” She eventually returned to California and rejoined the Montana Cowgirls. When the group dissolved in 1933, she returned home to Arkansas.

Montana stayed home only briefly, as her brothers Kenneth and Claude decided to enter a huge watermelon into competition at the Chicago World’s Fair. She tagged along and upon arrival she sought out Dolly Good of the Girls of the Golden West, who tipped her off to a band looking for a new lead singer. She auditioned and began an eight-year relationship with the (soon to be named) Prairie Ramblers. During this period, Montana and the band would record dozens of songs and make hundreds of personal appearances. Although based in Chicago at WLS’s National Barn Dance, the band also performed for a year on WOR in New York. In 1934 she married Paul Rose, an organizer of the traveling portion of the WLS program. With Rose, she would have two daughters: Beverly and Judy.

Although record sales during this period plunged precipitously, the American Record Company (ARC) decided to record Patsy Montana and the Prairie Ramblers in New York during August of 1935. They recorded “Nobody’s Darling but Mine,” which became one of the biggest hits of the decade. Future Columbia A&R director “Uncle” Art Satherly, suggested that she record a song she had written titled “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart.” The rest is history. While not a hit right out of the box, the recording slowly built momentum eventually becoming an intrinsic part of the American culture. The song, a paean of love and independence, is still loved and performed to this day.

While Montana never again had another huge hit recording, she stayed busy as an entertainer for another 60 years, appearing in a Gene Autry movie in 1939, recording with groups such as the Sons of the Pioneers and the Light Crust Doughboys, and hosting an ABC network radio show in 1946-47, Wake Up and Smile (which featured her trademark greeting, “Hi, pardner! It’s Patsy Montana,” accompanied by the thunder of horses’ hooves). She continued to make personal appearances and occasionally recorded new material. She became an influence on many cowgirl wannabes and an idol to many female singers during the ensuing years. Montana received the Academy of Country Music’s Pioneer Award in 1970. Her signature song “I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart” has been recorded many times in recent years, most notably by Suzy Bogguss in 1988 and by Montana herself, during her last recording sessions in 1995. In fact the song is played over the end credits of John Sayles’s 1996 film Lone Star, which was released just weeks after Montana’s death.

Patsy Montana passed away on May 3, 1996 in San Jacinto, CA and was elected that same year into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Her autobiography The Cowboy’s Sweetheart was published posthumously. Read more of this post

Spotlight Artist: Suzy Bogguss

Suzy BogusAledo, Illinois native Susan Kay “Suzy” Bogguss was born on December 30, 1956. She was performing in a hometown church choir by age five and playing piano, drums, and guitar by the time she was a teenager. In high school Bogguss was active in the theater program and was crowned homecoming queen in her senior year. She would go on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in metalsmithing from Illinois State University.

Bogguss played guitar and drums in Quad City area coffeehouses during her college years and began touring the United States after graduation in support of Suzy, a now rare LP she sold at her shows. She moved to Nashville in 1985 where her work as a demo singer landed her a job as feature female performer at Dollywood. The high profile gig encouraged Bogguss to record a demo cassette of her own that she sold at the theme park. The cassette caught the attention of famed record exec Jim Foglesong, who quickly signed Bogguss to a recording contract with Capitol Nashville.

Three singles were released in the late 80s, although none managed to make a mark on the charts. Somewhere Between, Bogguss’ first album for the label, came in the winter of 1989 and included the top 20 single “Cross My Heart” as well as a cover of Patsy Montana’s anthem, “I Wanna Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart.”

Now under the direction of Jimmy Bowen, a more refined sound followed. Her second album yielded no hits, but a guest appearance on labelmate Lee Greenwood’s album resulted in a top fifteen duet. By her third release she was finally making major headway. Aces, released in 1991, had four hit singles including the mesmerizing tile track and career hits “Someday Soon,” “Outbound Plane,” and “Letting Go.”

At the 1992 CMA Awards Bogguss was given the Horizon Award, an honor she no doubt richly deserved. At the time it was viewed as a shocking upset because she was nominated against Trisha Yearwood, whom the industry deemed the frontrunner and only winner. It got so bad that Yearwood went into the ceremony thinking there was no way she could lose. Then Naomi Judd called Bogguss as the winner and that was that (She and Yearwood were nominated against Brooks & Dunn, Pam Tillis, and Billy Dean).

Two more highly successful albums followed. Voices in the Wind brought Bogguss her highest charting single with the #2 “Drive South.” Something Up My Sleeve brought her two more big hits with “Just Like The Weather” and her signature tune “Hey Cinderella,” which began a friendship with her co-writer Matraca Berg that continues to this day.

Bogguss changed directions in 1994 opting to release a subtle album of duets with Chet Atkins entitled Simpatico. None of the singles charted nor did the record become the commercial success all involved were hoping for. This could’ve been due to a management shift at Capitol or the lingering effects of an ongoing feud with her labelmate Garth Brooks (between him and the label). I’ve also heard that Capitol was accused of spending too much of their promotional muscle on Brooks, thus leaving their ‘quieter’ artists (i.e. not global superstars) in the dust.

In the wake of her declining commercial fortunes, Bogguss retreated from the spotlight in 1995 to begin a family with husband (and songwriter) Doug Crider. Her next release Give Me Some Wheels came during a changing landscape for females in country music and proved her undoing. Her next album, Nobody Love, Nobody Gets Hurt would be her last for Capitol. An eponymous album was released on Platinum Records in 1999, but it didn’t fare any better.

For the better part of the last decade, Bogguss has been recording passion projects. A dream about Asleep At The Wheel vocalist Ray Benson producing a western swing/Jazz album led to their collaborative effort Swing. The more contemporary Jazz infused Sweet Danger followed shortly thereafter. The latter included “In Heaven,” one of the best singles of her career and a stunning return to form. Her latest project, American Folk Songbook was born out of inspiration Bogguss gleamed while on tour with Garrison Keillor. It’s her way of exposing new generations to that catalog of music, including such classics as “Shenandoah,” “Wayfaring Stranger,” “Red River Valley,” and “Ol Dan Tucker.” The album was met with glowing reviews upon release in 2011.

While she doesn’t have any new music on the horizon, Bogguss continues to keep a heavy touring schedule, opting for small intimate venues and even performing at some restaurants off the beaten path. She’s been one of my favorite vocalists since I was a kid and I’m over the moon to join my colleagues in spotlighting her music for the next month.

Classic Rewind: Kitty Wells – ‘Making Believe’

In memory of Kitty Wells, the original Queen of Country Music (1919-2012).

This classic (written by 50s star Jimmy Work, who also had a hit with it) was another of her big 1950s hits:

Class of ’89 Album Review: Suzy Bogguss – ‘Somewhere Between’

somewherebetweenSuzy Bogguss is not one of the names usually associated with the “Class of ’89″, as it was another couple of years before she really broke through commercially, but her debut album Somewhere Between was one of my personal favorite releases of 1989.

The best adjective I can find to describe Suzy’s voice is pure – it is sweet without ever sounding saccharine. Further, she knows how to convey convincing emotion without overacting. In the liner notes to that debut, the legendary Chet Atkins is quoted raving about Suzy, and he says “her voice sparkles like crystal water”. They were later to collaborate on an album together.

One of the things that really distinguishes this album is Suzy’s penchant for western songs and yodeling. Her delightful cover of Patsy Montana’s ‘I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart’ (which sold a million records in the 1930s) must be the most unlikely revival of the period, and was actually the first single released from the album. Unfortunately, even though the neotraditional movement was in full swing in 1989, this was just a little too retro for radio. Suzy also yodels tastefully on the final track, the wistful cowboy song ‘Night Rider’s Lament’, a song with a theme similar to ‘Someday Soon’, which was a hit for Suzy a few years later, once radio had accepted her. ‘Night Rider’s Lament’ itself was later recorded by Garth Brooks. Suzy and her husband Doug Crider co-wrote the charmingly old-fashioned mid-tempo ‘I’m At Home On The Range’ with Verlon Thompson, as Suzy extols the life of an itinerant singer traveling among the cowboys, roughnecks and loggers, singing at small bars, ‘from Billings down to Laramie the cowboys take good care of me‘. This is autobiographical, as before she got her record deal, Suzy had traveled all over the country performing, accompanied only by her dog and cat.

Surprisingly, three of the four singles released from Somewhere Between were covers, even though there were some good new songs on the album. This may say something about the direction the label was trying. The title track is a beautiful interpretation of one of Merle Haggard’s lesser-known songs, a sad waltz about a troubled relationship, which is possibly the best track on this very fine album, and really should be better known. The other choice was Hank Williams’ ‘My Sweet Love Ain’t Around’, which has a high lonesome feel. Sadly, neither of these superb traditional-sounding recordings made the least chart impact, although they were marginally more successful than ‘I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart’. Read more of this post

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