My Kind of Country

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

Henson Cargill remembered

The summer of 1968 was the first year in which I had a steady summer job, meaning that it was the first year in which I had a little cash which with to purchase record album. Thanks to being a Navy brat, I had access to the Navy Exchange where I could purchase current albums for $2.50 apiece and budget albums (RCA Camden, Pickwick, Harmony) for around $1.49 each.

After a couple of weeks work and saving up money for more important things, I had about seven bucks to spare and purchased my first three albums – Country Charley Pride ($2.50), According to My Heart – Jim Reeves ($1.49) and Skip A Rope – Henson Cargill ($2.50).

Most of our readership should be familiar with Reeves and Pride, but Henson Cargill is largely out of the public’s memory.

The summer of 1968 was an interesting period in American popular music, but it was also a transitional time for country music as some of the winds of change swept across the genre. Not only was the product becoming increasing string-laden with many producers eschewing fiddle and steel all together but for the first time there were songs of social consciousness permeating the airwave as songs such as “Harper Valley PTA”, “Do You Believe This Town” and “Ballad of $40” were hits. Leading the charge was a young man named Henson Cargill, whose first Monument single “Skip A Rope” soared to #1 on the country charts for five weeks and broke into the top 25 (Billboard) or top 15 (Record World) on the pop charts.

Skip a rope, skip a rope
Oh, listen to the children while they play
Ain’t it kind of funny what the children say?
Skip a rope

Daddy hates mommy, mommy hates dad
Last night you should have heard the fight they had
It gave little sister another bad dream
She woke us all up with a terrible scream

Skip a rope, skip a rope
Oh, listen to the children while they play
Ain’t it kind of funny what the children say?
Skip a rope

Cheat on your taxes don’t be a fool
What was that they said about the golden rule?
Never mind the rules, just play to win
And hate your neighbor for the shade of his skin

Skip a rope, skip a rope
Oh, listen to the children while they play
Ain’t it kind of funny what the children say?
Skip a rope

Stab ’em in the back that’s the name of the game
And mommy and daddy are who’s to blame

Henson Cargill was a smooth-voiced native of Oklahoma whose first album Skip A Rope followed the usual template for country albums of the day – some covers of the other big hits of the day, plus some filler, but with the difference being the intelligent lyrical content of the filler. Monument label head Fred Foster, the genius behind Roy Orbison’s biggest hits saw potential is Cargill’s singing and allowed producer Don Law free reign.

The next two albums followed the same pattern, Coming On Strong featuring an antiwar song “Six White Horses” (not the Tommy Cash hit) and “She Thinks I’m On That Train” about a man being executed for a crime he didn’t do; and None of My Business continuing the leftward drift with “This Generation Shall Not Pass” and the title track.

Little kids sleepin’ with rats in their bed well it’s none of my business
It’s been a long time since they’ve been fed but it’s none of my business
Some more bad news from Vietnam and China’s playin’ with a great big bomb
I better take a pill to stay dumb cause it’s none of my business

People are afraid to walk their own streets but it’s none of my business
Cops can even walk on their beat but it’s none of my business
I read about a girl I forgot her name, she was screamin’ for help but nobody came
It seems like kind of a shame but it’s none of my business

Ten more billion on a national debt, well it’s none of my business
People in the slums are a little upset – that’s none of my business
Kids gripin’ out of school lookin’ for a thrill, learnin’ the law’s kill or be killed
I better take another pill cause it’s none of my business

Now the preacher’s sayin’ somethin’ bout good man vow, well it’s none of my business
He said we got troubles that we gotta have sow oh it’s none of my business
Now I go to church and I meditate I don’t even mind when they pass the plate
But they stuff about my fellow man’s fate well ‘s none of my business
(They stuff about my fellow man’s fate) Lord it’s none of my business

With his fourth album The Uncomplicated Henson Cargill, Henson, already nicknamed the “Zen Cowboy”, may have finally drifted too far for country audiences. The lead single was the title track, an offbeat number written by Dallas Frazier and Sanger Shafer about the girl who left the narrator. In the tale, girl is ironing his shirts while telling him that this would be the last he ever saw of her. The song reached #18, but was essentially the end of the line for Henson’s chart success. An bitter album track titled “Reprints (Plastic People)” had the narrator of the song viewing the people around him as automatons, essentially copies of each other and incapable of independent thought.

After four albums, Henson Cargill left Monument for Mega for a 1972 album titled On The Road. From there he bounced from label to label and eventually drifted to the periphery of the music business, operating a night club.

Decreasing chart success did not mean a lack of quality in subsequent recordings. Cargill continued to record songs with thoughtful lyrics that reflected a degree of social consciousness rarely encountered in country singers of that era. Cargill was classified as folk-country and marketed to both areas. Production on his Monument recordings wasn’t hard country, usually lacking steel guitar and fiddles.

I only saw him on TV once, and he didn’t seem to be a terribly charismatic performer, although with his excellent vocals that should not have mattered. His voice had just enough grit in it to make him distinctive. Perhaps if he had been more mainstream country he might have lasted longer. He died in 2007 at the age of 66 having left behind some fine recordings.

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