My Kind of Country

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

Fellow Travelers: Dean Martin

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

WHO WAS HE?
If Michael Jackson was the King of Pop (which I doubt) then Dean Martin was the King of Cool, a suave urbane singer and actor, one of the two leaders (Frank Sinatra was the other) of the “Rat Pack” . Born in Steubenville, Ohio in 1917 as Dino Crocetti, Dean Martin was about as famous as is humanly possible.

Dean’s career in show business was delayed by a stint in the US Army during WW2. After being released from the US Army (he was drafted in 1944), Dean became a lounge singer on the east coast. At some point he met up with Jerry Lewis and the pair became a duo singing (mostly Dean) and comedy (mostly Jerry) for sellout crowds across the nation. The Martin-Lewis duo also made several successful motion pictures. During this period Dean had a number of hit records as a solo performer including “That’s Amore” (#2 – 1953) and “Memories Are Made of This (#1 – 1955)

Going solo in 1956, Dean recorded a number of successful records. Although rock and roll had largely wiped out the market for classic pop, Martin persevered. “Volare” went to #12 in 1958; then after a dry spell, Dean signed with his pal Frank Sinatra’s Reprise label in 1961. A few singles had minor success; then someone had the notion to recast a song on the acoustic Dream With Dean album using a big band arrangement. To the surprise of everyone, “Everybody Loves Somebody“ nudged The Beatles out of the #1 slot on August 15, 1964. The song stayed at #1 for one week on the pop chart and eight weeks on the adult contemporary chart. While Dean never again had another #1 pop hit, his songs continued to chart on the pop charts and five more reached #1 on the adult contemporary charts (“The Door Is Still Open To My Heart”, “You’re Nobody Til Somebody Loves You”, “In The Chapel In The Moonlight” and “In The Misty Moonlight”). Another fifteen songs reached the top ten on the adult contemporary charts after 1964, including his 1969 recording of “Gentle On My Mind” which reached #2 on the British pop charts and stayed in the top ten there for many weeks.

In 1965 NBC TV launched The Dean Martin Show, a musical variety show which ran for nine seasons and 264 episodes. Although the genre was already largely dead, Dean’s show was in the top twenty-five shows for five of its nine seasons and in the top ten for two of those seasons. After this show was off the air, NBC ran occasional celebrity roasts under the title The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast for another ten years, approximately three times per year.

Dean also had great success in motion pictures appearing in a number of successful westerns and starring in the Matt Helms series of spy movie spoofs.

WHAT WAS HIS CONNECTION TO COUNTRY MUSIC?
Although Dean only had one recording chart on Billboard’s country charts, a 1983 recording of “My First Country Song” which was written by Conway Twitty and featured a guest vocal by Twitty on the last chorus, Dean Martin recorded many country songs, introducing them to audiences which would otherwise been unaware of them. Reprise albums such as Dean “Tex” Martin: Country Style, and Dean “Tex” Martin Rides Again were at least 50% country songs, and most subsequent albums prominently featured country songs, with six straight albums being named for a country song contained within the album. Many of Dean’s recordings were covered by country singers, Charlie Walker enjoying a big hit with “Little Ole Wine Drinker Me”.

Dean’s son Dino (of Dino, Desi & Billy fame) died in a plane crash in 1987, completely killing off Dean’s interest in performing, and life in general. Dean died in 1995. All of his Capitol and Reprise recordings have been in print at some time during the last fifteen years. Nearly eighteen years after his death, he is still the King of Cool.

There is an official website but for more than anybody would likely ever want to know about Dean check out ilovedinomartin.

6 responses to “Fellow Travelers: Dean Martin

  1. Andrew June 25, 2013 at 11:58 am

    He also starred alongside John Wayne in a pair of movies, “Rio Bravo” and “The Sons of Katie Elder”, singing a couple songs in the former. Maybe not directly country music related, but certainly tied to the cowboy culture that’s traditionally been part of the genre.

  2. Ken Johnson June 25, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    Great choice to spotlight an amazingly talented guy who is not usually equated with country music but in fact served as one of the best ambassadors that the genre has ever had. Because he truly loved country music Dean’s interpretation of country songs was never done tongue-in-cheek or demeaning as often happened when pop artists attempted to sing them. He understood the pure honesty of the lyrics and never “overacted” when performing them in the recording studio. His easygoing delivery was a perfect match for country material. Dean included many country performers as guest stars on his NBC TV show and accorded them the same courtesy as his L.A. show biz pals. He never treated country music nor it’s stars as second class citizens.

    It should be mentioned that Jimmy Bowen was Dean’s producer for most of Dean’s tenure at Reprise Records. Of course Bowen later went to Nashville in the late 1970’s where he created an extremely influential role as both a record producer and label executive. Though “Houston” never became a country chart hit in 1965 Bowen’s production sounded like it was created on Music Row. Bowen capitalized on Dean’s affection for country music by suggesting that country songs be included on most of his albums. Even as a dyed in the wool country music fan my record collection has quite a few Dean Martin albums from that era shelved alongside Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, George Jones and Johnny Cash.

    To expand on your info – while Dean Martin had pop success with “Little Old Wine Drinker Me,” actor Robert Mitchum actually scored the country hit. Mitchum recorded his version after hearing Charlie Walker’s Epic single on the radio. Walker’s record missed charting in Billboard and floundered for four weeks in the lower rungs of Cashbox in mid-1966. Mitchum’s Monument version climbed to #9 in Billboard in late July 1967. Dean made his recording on June 23, 1967 while Mitchum’s single was already climbing the country charts.

  3. J.R. Journey June 28, 2013 at 6:51 pm

    All I know about Dean Martin is that Loretta Lynn refused to sit on his lap when she appeared on Dean’s TV show.

    • Ken Johnson June 29, 2013 at 3:04 pm

      To be clear that wasn’t at Dean’s request. That was a bit that had been created by Dean’s writers. Dean pretty much just showed up at the studio for the Sunday tapings of his shows. A stand-in was used at the rehearsals so that he could spend more time on the golf course. Dean usually rehearsed just the songs because he loved spontaneity and felt that rehearsals took that away. It’s obvious that a lot of stuff just happened on the fly but that’s what made the show so much fun. Dean read his lines off of cue cards so both he and the viewers were hearing them for the first time. The viewers loved it when things did not go perfectly and of course it fit Dean’s half-inebriated image to a tee.

  4. dino martin peters July 1, 2013 at 5:00 pm

    Mr. Dennis, thanks ever so much for this great post accentin’ our most beloved Dino’s passion for singin’ country. Never was, never will be anyone as cool as the King of Cool…oh, to return to the days when Dino walked the earth. And, likes btw, thanks for such a great nod to the ol’ ilovedinomartin blog when your reflections have been posted this very Dino-day!

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