My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Charley Pride – ‘Country Charley Pride’

RCA took an unconventional approach in introducing Charley Pride to country audiences. Legend has it that they avoided putting his picture on the sleeves of his singles, in order to conceal his race and increase the likelihood that radio would play them. However, his debut album Country Charley Pride, which does have his photo on the cover, was released in 1966 before he’d scored any charting singles.

Produced by Jack Clement, Country Charley Pride consists mostly of covers of well-known songs of the day. The only original song is Pride’s debut single, the non-charting “The Snakes Crawl at Night”, a tale of infidelity and revenge, written by Mel Tillis and Fred Burch. Given the subject matter, it is a surprisingly upbeat number about a cuckolded husband who sentenced to hang after shooting his unfaithful wife and her paramour. The album’s other non-charting single was “Before I Met You”, one of my favorite Charley Pride songs. Originally a hit for Carl Smith a decade earlier, the song was later recorded by Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton. Reba McEntire also covered it in 1984 on her My Kind of Country album.

It was unusual in the 1960s (and now) to release a full album for a new artist that had yet to prove himself at radio but for whatever reason, RCA did sanction an album release. Interestingly, the lack of a radio hit did not impede the album’s sales. It reached #16 on the album charts and earned gold status — a rare feat for a country album, particularly one as traditional as this one. Clearly audiences connected with Pride’s voice. It also didn’t hurt that Clement and Pride played it safe and went with mostly well-known songs of the day, beginning with Harlan Howard’s “Busted”, and including credible covers of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” and Bobby Bare’s “Detroit City” (another Mel Tillis tune co-written with Danny Dill). Curly Putman’s “Green, Green Grass of Home” is also included, as are a pair of Jack Clement tunes, “Miller’s Cave” and “Got Leavin’ on Her Mind”, which closes out the disc.

None of these tunes lent themselves particularly well to 1960s Nashville Sound orchestral arrangements, so strings are mercifully absent from the album. Most of the songs do contain vocal choruses, though, which are quite intrusive at times as they tend to drown out Pride’s voice. That is my sole complaint about an otherwise stellar album. In addition to very strong material and wonderful singing by Pride, there is also a lot of prominent steel guitar work throughout.

Charley Pride is one of those artists, who despite being a huge star in his hey-day, is not as well remembered today as he ought to be. This is partially because he peaked before the CD era and for decades RCA did a poor job of managing its back catalog and allowed most of his work (and many of their other artists) to go out of print. That error is finally being rectified. Country Charley Pride is available on a 2-disc import set that also contains three of Pride’s other early albums, all of which are worthy of a listen.

Grade: A

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10 responses to “Album Review: Charley Pride – ‘Country Charley Pride’

  1. Ken July 5, 2017 at 1:10 pm

    Charley’s rise to fame started slowly but with the release of his third single he consistently scored country hits on RCA through the early 1980’s. Though “The Snakes Crawl At Night” did not chart nationally upon it’s initial release after Charley gained popularity in the late 1960’s quite a few radio stations added that song to their oldies rotation, Charley included the song on his concert set list too so it became familiar to his fans despite no chart ranking. That is my favorite track on this album and the major reason why I purchased this LP back in the late 60’s.

    To expand on how RCA Victor publicized Charley’s early records a key point is that they billed him as “Country Charley Pride” so there would be no mistake that a black man was indeed singing country music. “Country” preceded his name on his singles through 1967 and was also used for his first two albums. RCA refrained from including photos of Charley in promotional materials distributed to radio stations and in music trade ads for his early singles. Their concern was that in the south where the biggest concentration of country listeners was located there would be reluctance to play Charley’s music based on his race. Several articles have have also noted that Charley’s 45 RPM singles were not released with picture sleeves. But the fact is that very few of RCA’s country acts ever had them at that time. RCA issued picture sleeves mostly for their pop acts like Elvis and some crossover singers like Eddy Arnold but mainstream RCA country acts from that era including Porter Wagoner, Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings, George Hamilton IV & Connie Smith did not have picture sleeve releases.

    I am a bit suspicious of how Charley’s debut album climbed to #16 on the album chart in late 1966 without benefit of a hit single to drive awareness. His subsequent album in 1967 only made it to #33 and that LP contained his first two top ten hits. I suspect that RCA may have pulled some strings at Billboard to get a higher chart position to create a buzz at retail and get the first album onto the shelves. It should be noted that Charley’s debut album was not certified “Gold” until 1975 as that LP likely did not sell that well initially. As his fan base grew Pride’s fans purchased his earlier recordings. Some of Charley’s early albums were later reissued with new cover photos/artwork to cash in on his burgeoning popularity.

    I like this album even a bit more than Razor did in his thoughtful review. It was one of the first Charley Pride LP’s that I purchased in the late 1960’s. Although the album primarily featured remakes I really loved the arrangements. I agree that given Charley’s status as an unknown act the producers were looking to balance that with the use of familiar songs. My conjecture is that strings and excessive production were avoided to keep Charley Pride “country” as well as to keep the production costs low for a brand new and unproven act. Especially loved the cajun fiddle arrangement for “Busted” and the great version of “Got Leavin’ On Her Mind” that his labelmate Bobby Bare had previously released on an album earlier that year. “Before I Met You” was also a favorite that I did not realize had been a single release until several years later when it was included on the album “The Best Of Charley Pride” in 1969.

    I’m a solid A+ on this LP

    • Paul W Dennis July 5, 2017 at 9:28 pm

      This album remains one of my very favorite albums – one that I still pull out occasionally 49 years after I first purchased it

  2. Andrew L. July 5, 2017 at 10:33 pm

    I heard this album for the first time earlier this year when I began exploring Charley’s discography in-depth. Wonderful album.

  3. Luckyoldsun July 6, 2017 at 7:20 pm

    I think Charley Pride might not be as well-remembered today as maybe he ought to be because his recordings were somewhat spotty. The biggest ones don’t have the generations-spanning raw, honesty of the bedrock country artists like Hank, Lefty, Faron, Cash, Jones, Loretta, Merle, Dolly, Buck–or even not quite-so-huge artists like Horton and Houston. He sometimes sounds like he’s a bit constrained by his unique situation of being a black artist singing to conservative, white southern audiences at the end of the segregation era. (That’s my opinion. Others may hear it differently.)
    Still, one can’t deny Pride’s success. On top of the #1 singles, eight of his albums issued between 1966 and 1972 went Gold. That may not sound huge, but between them other non-crossover country artists like Jones, Haggard, Owens (and even Sonny James) gold albums in the ’60s and ’70s (excluding a few Greatest Hits compilations) comes to a combined grand total of zero!

    • Ken July 7, 2017 at 11:11 am

      In your constant misguided efforts to comment on artists and an era of music that you obviously know nothing about you’ve once again embarrassed yourself.

      To state that Charley Pride is not well remembered today is ridiculous. His hit records spanned three decades – he scored 52 top ten hits including 29 number one records. He is in the Country Music Hall Of Fame. Not to mention that he is country music’s most successful black artist and first black superstar. Anyone who can’t remember any of that is obviously living in a cave.

      To compare Charley Pride to Hank, Lefty, Cash, etc. is ridiculous. All were incredibly gifted songwriters as well as performers and could create their own material custom made for themselves.Pride had to rely on writers to provide his songs. But he and his producers chose wisely primarily focusing on love songs that everyone could relate to for his singles. Eventually he also added songs with some rural themes that mirrored his own life and occasionally revived some great country classics that he turned into hits all over again. To cite just one example Kiss An Angel Good Mornin'” is one of the best known country songs of all time. I’ve never perceived that Charley was “constrained’ in any way regarding his song choices and cannot imagine what on earth you are referring to. Once again you’re attempting to create some crazy narrative that does not exist.

      As for Charley’s Gold albums he was incredibly popular with his fans and they purchased his albums in huge numbers. But to be clear many of his early albums took years to accrue enough sales to be certified as Gold. His label- RCA Victor – had the foresight to keep his albums in print and available for sale for many years longer than most other acts on other labels. RCA even updated the photos & artwork on his early albums in the 1970’s to reflect Charley’s current image. Many of his contemporaries had their earlier LP’s deleted from the catalog. Capitol was notorious for deleting titles including those by Buck Owens, Sonny James and even Merle Haggard just a few years after they were released. Had their albums remained available they may have sold significantly more units too. Even so during the 1966-1972 era Buck Owens earned a Gold album for his Best Of Buck Owens LP and Merle Haggard earned Gold records for his live albums “Okie From Muskogee” and “The Fightin’ Side Of Me.” so that total is not ZERO.

  4. Luckyoldsun July 9, 2017 at 11:22 pm

    Kenny,
    So, first you said RX’s review was “thoughtful.”
    Then, I commented on one line from the review–accepting it as true for the purpose of discussion–and suddenly it comes to you that line is no longer thoughtful–It’s now “ridiculous.” But that’s OK, Kenny. The reason I love you is that you’re so transparent.

    • Ken July 10, 2017 at 1:52 pm

      I agree with the thoughtful review of the contents of the album. I do not agree that Charley is not well remembered although today’s so-called country listeners do not know nor do they care about any country acts from the past. But for those of us who were there Charley played a very significant role in mid-20th century country music. Too bad that you weren’t there to witness it then perhaps you would not constantly be creating false narratives about things that never happened. Not to mention posting statements that are factually incorrect.

      • Razor X July 10, 2017 at 4:58 pm

        It’s not that he isn’t well remembered; it’s that he isn’t as well remembered as he ought to be. I would rank him right up with Haggard, Jones and Twitty. I personally don’t think he’s gotten the same respect that those others have.

        • Luckyoldsun July 11, 2017 at 12:40 am

          There’s no way Pride ranks up there with Haggard, Jones and Twitty as an artist. Just about anything that Merle did, from “Strangers” to “I Am What I Am,” remains highly listenable, and personal, up to half a century later. (As has been pointed out, Hag’s writing was a major dimension of his talent.) Jones brought an evocative vocal style that was copied by succeeding country artists for two decades. Conway was an innovator and pushed boundaries in terms of bringing sexuality to commercial country.
          Charley Pride was a fine artist, and he certainly deserves a lot of credit for breaking racial barriers in the genre, but apart from that aspect, his music did not have the influence or lasting impact of the others mentioned.

        • Ken July 11, 2017 at 10:01 am

          Pride was not a songwriter so he did not have credentials comparable to Hank Williams or Johnny Cash or Merle Haggard. But as a vocalist he stood toe to toe with country’s best singers. When he sang a Hank Williams song it sounded authentic. Like all artists with careers that spanned several decades Charley’s repertoire had it’s peaks and valleys, Toward the end of his hit-making days his songs had much less impact. But during the first decade-and-a-half of his career he recorded superb, memorable country music that has indeed stood the test of time and remains “highly listenable.” Charley was not George Jones or Conway Twitty but had his own distinctive style & sound. Like Conway & George he recorded songs that touched people’s hearts and reflected their lives and have become part of the fabric of country music history.

          To diminish Charley’s contributions to country music to only that of breaking a racial barrier is completely misguided. But that would not be the first time unluckyoldsun has posted comments that are completely untrue – except according to his uninformed and oddball viewpoints that he constantly places on public display.

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