My Kind of Country

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

Fellow Travelers: Frankie Laine (1913-2007)

frankie-laine-09Born Francesco Paolo LoVecchio, Frankie Laine didn’t see his career as a professional singer reach high gear until after the end of World War II, by which time he was already past thirty years old. Despite this, Frankie Laine put together a recording career that lasted over sixty years, recording for Mercury during the 1940s, Columbia during the 1950s and ABC during the 1960s with numerous one-offs thereafter for a variety of smaller labels.

WHO WAS HE?

Frankie Laine was arguably the biggest pop star of the period between the end of World War II and the breakthrough of rock and roll in 1956. From 1947 through 1956 he charted 60 songs with three #1 records and an additional thirteen that reached the top ten. His biggest hits of the period “That Lucky Old Sun”, “Mule Train” and “Cry of The Wild Goose” became standards covered hundreds of times. During that period he was the most successful American artist on the British pop charts, charting nineteen times between 1952 and 1956 with three chart toppers on different songs than reached #1 in the US.

Frankie Laine made numerous television appearances during the early days of television and had his own shows in 1950, 1954-1955 and 1955-1956. He had a very distinctive voice that lent itself well to pop ballads, rhythm & blues, jazz and country songs. He also recorded songs for a number of movie soundtracks, including the films High Noon and Blazing Saddles.

Frankie Laine had a strong sense of right and wrong. In addition to recording rhythm and blues songs, he was an early supporter of the civil rights movements of the 1950s and ’60s. He was the first white artist to appear on The Nat King Cole Show, waiving his fee for appearing and he joined several African-American artists who gave free concerts for Martin Luther King’s supporters during the march to Washington.

WHAT WAS HIS CONNECTION TO COUNTRY MUSIC?

Although he never charted on the country charts, Frankie Laine recorded many country songs and some of his hits were covered by country artists such as Tennessee Ernie Ford for major country hits. Frankie’s last #1 record (1969 – #1 Easy Listening / #24 pop) “You Gave Me A Mountain” was written by Marty Robbins. One of his #1 records on the British charts, “Hey Joe” was a cover of Carl Smith’s 1953 hit.

In 1990 and 1991 the German Bear Family label collected Frankie’s more western-oriented country songs (mostly Columbia recordings) onto two CDs titled On The Trail and On The Trail Again. I highly recommend both of these collections. While the arrangements are often more Hollywood than country, in the hands of a master craftsman like Laine, they are masterful performances.

2 responses to “Fellow Travelers: Frankie Laine (1913-2007)

  1. luckyoldsun September 9, 2014 at 4:04 pm

    Laine had a big hit with “High Noon,” but as I’m sure you know, Paul, the song on the movie soundtrack was sung by country star Tex Ritter.
    Movies where Laine sung the title songs include “3:10 to Yuma,” “Gunfight at OK Corral,” “Blowing Wild,” and the ridiculous “Blazing Saddles.” He also sang the title song for the TV series “Rawhide,” which gave him something of a resurgence in the ’60s.”

    Laine had big pop hits with “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and, with Joe Stafford, “Hey Good Lookin’.”

  2. luckyoldsun September 9, 2014 at 9:38 pm

    According to Laine’s autobiography, Marty Robbins personally pitched him “You Gave Me a Mountain” and said that he’d been trying to get it to Laine for a couple of years. Frankie said he knew that he could make a hit with that song as soon as he heard it and had to fight his record label to let him record it. Frankie said he was still seething that his label had made him turn down “The Impossible Dream” a few years earlier (Jack Jones and Robert Goulet grabbed it) and he was not going to let “You Gave Me a Mountain” get away from him.
    I don’t know if Marty had already released his own version of “Mountain” when Frankie had the big easy listening hit with it.
    Given how Laine has fallen out of favor in recent years, I suspect that the most heard version of “You Gave Me a Mountain” now is Elvis Presley’s cover.

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