My Kind of Country

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

Category Archives: Book Reviews

Revelations from Music Vendor/ Record World

Hit_Country_RecordsAs the ‘last man standing’ Billboard‘s country charts have taken on an almost mythical importance, yet for most of the 1940s and 1950s, Billboard did a relatively poor job in recording the history of country singles in that their various country charts only went 10-15 places deep.

Music Vendor (later Record World) started tracking country music in 1954 and immediately started tracking 55 chart places for country records, a depth of country charts Billboard wouldn’t approach until 1964 when Billboard went to 50 places. For purposes of simplicity, I will always refer to Music Vendor/ Record World as ‘Record World‘.

Joel Whitburn’s new volume Hit Country Records 1954-1982: Music Vendor/Record World performs a valuable service in restoring to the known discography of country music a staggering 1700 songs and 200 artists that Billboard failed to chronicle.

I always thought that the Wilburn Brothers had a relatively thin representation on the Billboard charts with 31 chart entries from 1954-1972, with many songs that I knew to have been at least mid-level hits not being tracked by Billboard. Turns out that the Wilburn Brothers were the poorest served of all country artists by Billboard with a staggering 30 songs not tracked by Billboard. Other artists with huge holes in their Billboard chart discographies include Hank Snow (26 songs), Eddy Arnold (23 songs), Kitty Wells (21 songs), Hank Thompson (21 songs), Johnnie & Jack (20 songs) and Ernest Tubb, Marty Robbins, Ferlin Husky and George Jones (each with 19 songs).

Among Bluegrass artists, Flatt & Scruggs pick up an extra 15 chart entries, Mac Wiseman (13), Jimmy Martin (6), Bill Monroe (4), and the Osborne Brothers (4).

There were also apparently differences in how artists were classified. Country audiences always loved Brenda Lee, Elvis Presley, George Hamilton IV and Conway Twitty, a fact Billboard somehow failed to acknowledge. After missing “Jambalaya”, Billboard tracked “One Step At A Time”, and then missed the next eleven consecutive Brenda Lee songs including such monsters as “Dynamite”, “Sweet Nothings”, “Fool #1” and “Break It To Me Gently”.

The track record on Elvis was worse as Billboard failed to track “That’s All Right” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky” and “Blue Suede Shoes”, along with 15 more songs.

Record World tracked six George Hamilton IV singles before Billboard got around to recognizing “Before This Day Ends” as a country single. Ditto for Conway Twitty who Billboard picked up as country with “Guess My Eyes Were Bigger Than My Heart”, after ten singles had already been tracked by Record World.

While most of the songs that Music Vendor/Record World picked up were second tier hits, there were some surprising Billboard misses uncovered such as the George Jones favorites “Tall Tall Trees”, “Eskimo Pie” and “Nothing Can Stop Me (Loving You)”. A very famous song from 1955 was Bobby Lord’s 1955 hit “Hawkeye”; Billboard missed the song entirely on any of its charts, whereas Record World had it charting for twelve weeks, reaching #16.

I mentioned that approximately 200 artists show up in this book that Billboard never tracked on its country charts. These include Carl Dobkins Jr (three songs including “My Heart Is An Open Book” which Record World has as a #2 country hit, and Billboard had reach #3 pop), Pete Drake (three instrumental singles), and Buddy Holly (four singles including “Peggy Sue” and “Maybe Baby”).

I’ve only had this fascinating book for two days and I will probably report further as time permits, but it would be remiss of me not to further examine the song that initially got me interested in charts. Yes – I do mean “Groovy Grubworm” by Harlow Wilcox and The Oakies. Cashbox had the record reach #1 on its country chart (#24 pop) for two weeks whereas Billboard had the record stall out at #42 on the country chart while reaching #30 on the pop charts. This was the biggest chart disparity ever between singles that reached #1 on either the Billboard or Cashbox country chart but not the other chart.

The record was hugely successful, selling a million copies between the US and Canadian markets (it was a top ten hit on several Canadian regional pop charts), so I was curious to see how Record World treated “Groovy Grubworm” on its country charts, recalling that Record World had the song chart higher on its pop chart (#23) than did either Cashbox or Billboard.

Drum roll please :

Record World had the song reach #3 for one week on its country chart during its thirteen week chart run.

Book Review: ‘Buck Owens – The Biography’ by Eileen Sisk

The following review was written by MKOC reader and commenter Ken Johnson:

Buck Owens – The Biography

Author: Eileen Sisk
Publisher: Chicago Review Press

If you only know about Buck Owens via his amazing catalog of hit recordings and songs or his hayseed “Hee-Haw” persona, you truly don’t know the REAL Buck Owens. Author Eileen Sisk went behind the public facade to reveal a complicated, difficult, contradictory, vindictive, manipulative yet occasionally generous man who knew how to completely control his image long before publicists became a required member of every country performer’s staff. Singer/songwriter Gene Price perhaps summed up the Buck Owens story best when he told Sisk that she was about to “write a book about a very bad man who made very good music. “

Sisk relates how she began writing her book with Buck’s blessing after a face-to-face meeting at his Bakersfield, California headquarters in early 1997. Concerned that focusing primarily on his music would make for a boring read, Buck desired an entertaining book that would concentrate on his unpredictable and occasionally sensational personal life. True to form, three years later permission to write his story was abruptly withdrawn without warning or explanation. Rather than abandon the three years that she had already invested in the project, Sisk decided to label her work as an “unauthorized” biography. She enlisted the assistance of a former member of Buck’s “Buckaroos” band Doyle Holly who acted as her liaison to former Owens’ subordinates and encouraged them to go on the record and be forthcoming with their memories.  Because Holly was quoted “everything with Buck is fifty percent bullshit and fifty percent truth” the resulting story is probably closer to reality than if Buck had fully participated and exercised complete editorial control.

Born just two months before the stock market crash that caused the Great Depression, Alvis Edgar “Buck” Owens entered the world in Sherman, Texas on August 12, 1929. The book details how despite two birth defects and serious childhood illnesses including a serious brain infection, Buck persevered. By his early teens he had become proficient on several musical instruments. Buck loved to tell about dropping out of school to help his poor struggling family and often compared his own story to the Steinbeck classic The Grapes Of Wrath. However it was the first of many fabricated tales that Buck would create throughout his career. Despite the hard times, his father was always able to find work to fully support his family. Though life may have been difficult it was far from the dire situation that many other depression-era families faced.

Young Buck found plenty of time for female companionship, an activity that would continue in excess throughout his lifetime. Contrary to what Buck wanted his fans to believe, Bonnie Owens was not his first wife. Sisk uncovered Buck’s first marriage at the age of sixteen that produced a daughter that he never knew. Buck would sire at least eight more children, both in and out of wedlock, but only publicly acknowledged three of them.

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