My Kind of Country

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

Category Archives: Country Heritage

Classic Rewind: Elvis Presley – ‘Moody Blue’

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Fellow Travelers: Elvis Presley

elvis presleyHe was known as the “Hillbilly Cat”, but whether you know him as the “Hillbilly Cat”, the “Tupelo Mississippi Flash” or simply as “The King”, there is no doubt that Elvis Aron Pesley was the most important American Pop Singer during the second half of the twentieth century.

Some thought of him as the white hillbilly singer who sounded black, but that really wasn’t true. Elvis was the singer who, more than anyone else, helped meld the three great strains of American pop music (Tin Pan Alley, Rhythm & Blues and Country) into a unified whole. Who else could idolize Hank Snow, adore the music of Dean Martin and yet adapt the songs of artists such as Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup and “Big Mama” Thornton into hits played by everyone.

Who Was He?

Elvis Presley (1935-1977) was the biggest star in American pop music during the second half of the twentieth century – for the period from 1930 onward, only Bing Crosby surpassed him in the number of hit records. According to Billboard reseacher Joel Whitburn through the year of his death (1977) Elvis had 113 top 40 pop hits with 38 top ten singles and 20 that reached number 1. If you include charted songs that missed the top forty, there are at least another 20 songs plus some songs that charted on various genre charts. Although singles were the primary focus during his peak years, he sold hundreds of million album units world-wide during his career.

Elvis Presley’s early hits such as “Don’t Be Cruel”, “Blue Suede Shoes” and “(You Ain’t Nothing But A) Hound Dog” continue to be staples of rock acts and rockabilly revival acts to this day.

What Was His Connection to County Music?

Elvis Presley had a magnificent voice with a wide range enabling him to cover the entire tenor and baritone ranges thus opening up to him the ability to sing country music, gospel music and pop standards, something many of his contemporaries could not do.

His first country #1 came in 1955 with “I Forgot To Remember To Forget” , a straight country song that did not chart on the pop charts. Such monster pop hits as “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Don’t Be Cruel” reached #1 on the country charts and lingered there for many weeks.

Along the way, songs that were not aimed at the country charts continued to chart country and his songs remained on DJ playlists throughout his career.

Through the end of 1977, Elvis charted 68 songs on the county charts of which 57 reached the top 40. Toward the end of his career he consciously had turned to county music and in 1977 three of his singles reached #1 on the Billboard and/or Cashbox County Charts (“Moody Blue”, “Way Down” and “My Way”).

More importantly, the entire generation of country stars who followed him for the next three decades, knew his songs, performed them in live concert and often recorded his songs.

His records and albums continue to sell world-wide to this day and continue to chart on occasion. He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and is fully qualified for both honors

He was something special indeed.

Country Heritage: Lacy J. Dalton

lacy j daltonWith one of the more recognizable voices in the genre, Lacy J. Dalton blazed across the skies of country music during the 1980s, producing a number of memorable songs along the way. While not an overwhelming commercial success (only nine of her songs made the Billboard country Top 10) as an artist she impressed with her heartfelt vocals and gritty song interpretations. People magazine referred to her as “Country’s Bonnie Raitt,” a description with which few would differ.

Lacy J. Dalton (born Jill Byrem on October 13, 1946 in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania), was born into a musical family. Her father, mother and sister all played musical instruments and sang. Like many of her generation, Dalton’s early influences included the classic country sounds of her youth, the sounds of the folk music revival of the early 60s known as the “Hootenanny” era (artists such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez), and the jazz/blues of artists such as Billie Holiday and Big Mama Thornton.

Following completion of high school, Dalton briefly attended Brigham Young University. But her restless spirit prevailed, and she dropped out and drifted around the country for a time, eventually arriving in Los Angeles and then Santa Cruz, where she performed as a protest-oriented folksinger. During the later ’60s, she sang with a Bay Area psychedelic rock band called Office, becoming Jill Croston when she married the group’s manager. This marriage did not last long as her husband died in a swimming pool accident.

During the late 1970s Lacy reinvented herself as a country singer adopting the stage name of Lacy J. Dalton. After an initial rock recording on the Harbor label in 1978, in 1979 she landed a recording contract with Columbia after Billy Sherrill heard a demo tape of her singing country music. Her Columbia debut, “Crazy Blue Eyes,” reached #17, followed by her recordings of “Tennessee Waltz” (#18) and “Losing Kind of Love” (#14).

The first three singles helped Lacy win the CMA’s Best New Artist Award. After that, her career kicked into high gear with a string of top ten records that took her through 1983, including “Hard Times” (#7) , “Hillbilly Girl With the Blues” (#8), “Whisper” (#10) and her biggest record “Takin’ It Easy” (#1 Cashbox/#2 Billboard). Everybody Makes Mistakes,” backed with “Wild Turkey,” was a double-sided hit with the A side reaching #5.

While not her biggest hit, 1982’s “16th Avenue” is probably her best remembered song, reaching #7. A 1983 cover of Roy Orbison’s “Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream)” concluded her visits to the top ten, although she continued to record for Columbia through 1987. The changing tastes of the country music market, away from her ‘blue-eyed soul‘ style toward a more traditional style, greased her slide down the charts. A change of record labels, to Universal in 1989 and Capitol/Liberty in 1990 failed to arrest the slide, although “The Heart” in 1989 and “Black Coffee” in 1990 both reached the top 15, the latter song being her last appearance on the Billboard charts.

Lacy J. Dalton continues to write and record music, and tours the United States and Europe.

You can keep up with Lacy J. Dalton on her website.

Discography

Vinyl
As is always the case, all vinyl is out of print. You can sometimes find her records at used record shops, thrift shops or on the internet. MusicStack seems to be the best source for vinyl on the internet as it is a clearinghouse for many dealers.

Lacy issued nine albums on Columbia. One of these albums is a greatest hits collection, but they are all good albums. Trust me – if you like Lacy’s voice, you’ll like the albums. If you find any albums on Universal, Liberty or Capitol, you may as well buy them too.

CD
The Ernest Tubb Record Shop currently has her Greatest Hits available for $9.95. A ten song CD, this one has ten of her Columbia era songs and indeed is accurately titled. ET also has Best of the Best CD on the King label – same songs but I think these are remakes.

Lacy’s most recent release of new material is a Hank Williams tribute album titled Here’s To Hank. Released in 2010, the album finds Lacy tackling a dozen Hank Sr. classics. While Lacy sticks to the obvious songs such as “Your Cheating Heart”, Hey Good Looking” and “You Win Again”, the fact remains that if (1) you take a really good and soulful singer (2) have her sing twelve of the greatest songs ever written and (3) add an appropriate crew of musicians and careful arrangements by Steven Swinford that update but do not lose the feel of the originals, then you will have a really good album. Such is the case with this album.

Highly recommended to fans of Lacy J Dalton, fans of Hank Sr., and fans of really good country music.

Lacy’s website has a newer CD (from 2004/2008) Last Wild Place which has some newer material plus five of her old hits. This album is (more or less) acoustic.

In late 2012 the Morello label released a two-fer comprised of two of Lacy’s Capitol albums from 1989 and 1990, Survivor/Lacy J. These albums found Lacy writing only three songs, but the lack of original material does not mean lack of quality as there are some imaginative covers to be found here including Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years”, Kris Kristofferson’s “The Heart” and the classic Guy Clark song “Old Friends”. Amazon and Ernest Tubb Record Shop both have this album available.

In the past other CDs have been available including a hits collection on the Capitol/Liberty material.

Amazon has most of Lacy’s material available as digital downloads, but be sure to listen to the samples as some of the tracks are re-makes.

Country Heritage: Patsy Montana

Patsy MontanaAs we enter the holiday season, I thought it might be worthwhile to remember one of the true female pioneers of country music.

The recently departed Kitty Wells may have had the first number one single for a solo female country artist, and she undoubtedly deserved her crown as the “Queen of Country Music,” but she was not the first country female to sell a million copies of a single release. That honor belongs to Patsy Montana, who in 1935, during the depths of the Great Depression, recorded a song that sold well over a million copies in “I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart.” A steady seller for years, the song even became a top ten pop hit in 1936 (there were no country charts until January 1944).

Patsy Montana was born with the name Ruby Rebecca Blevins on October 30, 1908, in Hot Springs, Arkansas (there is some controversy about the year of birth) the only girl of eleven children born to Augustus Blevins and Amanda Meeks. Growing up with 10 brothers, Montana inevitably grew up a tomboy, but a tomboy with musical inclinations. Later famous for her yodeling abilities, she listened to her parents’ Jimmie Rodgers records, learned and absorbed his yodels, and also learned to play the fiddle.

A year after graduating from high school in 1928, Montana moved to Los Angeles and began music studies at the University of the West (later the UCLA). In addition to the “highbrow” music taught in college, she associated with hillbilly musicians and after winning first place in a singing contest, performed on radio station KTMR as Rubye Blevins, “the Yodeling Cowgirl from San Antone.”

Eventually Montana came to the attention of future gospel great Stuart Hamblen, who invited her to sing for more money on a rival radio station. She joined Lorraine McIntire and Ruthy DeMondrum as the Montana Cowgirls. This is the point at which the name change to Patsy Montana occurred, given to her by Hamblen upon learning that she was of Irish descent, and not wanting a “Ruthie” and a “Rubye” in the same group.

In the summer of 1932, she returned home for a vacation, and received a week’s booking on KWKH in Shreveport, Louisiana. Following these performances, Jimmie Davis (future two-time Governor of Louisiana and also a future Country Music Hall of Fame member) called her and invited her to travel to New York to record. Initially skeptical, she changed her mind when one of her brothers advised her that Davis was an important Victor recording artist. During the next two years, Montana sang backup for Davis on some recordings and recorded her first single, “When the Flowers of Montana Were Blooming.” She eventually returned to California and rejoined the Montana Cowgirls. When the group dissolved in 1933, she returned home to Arkansas.

Montana stayed home only briefly, as her brothers Kenneth and Claude decided to enter a huge watermelon into competition at the Chicago World’s Fair. She tagged along and upon arrival she sought out Dolly Good of the Girls of the Golden West, who tipped her off to a band looking for a new lead singer. She auditioned and began an eight-year relationship with the (soon to be named) Prairie Ramblers. During this period, Montana and the band would record dozens of songs and make hundreds of personal appearances. Although based in Chicago at WLS’s National Barn Dance, the band also performed for a year on WOR in New York. In 1934 she married Paul Rose, an organizer of the traveling portion of the WLS program. With Rose, she would have two daughters: Beverly and Judy.

Although record sales during this period plunged precipitously, the American Record Company (ARC) decided to record Patsy Montana and the Prairie Ramblers in New York during August of 1935. They recorded “Nobody’s Darling but Mine,” which became one of the biggest hits of the decade. Future Columbia A&R director “Uncle” Art Satherly, suggested that she record a song she had written titled “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart.” The rest is history. While not a hit right out of the box, the recording slowly built momentum eventually becoming an intrinsic part of the American culture. The song, a paean of love and independence, is still loved and performed to this day.

While Montana never again had another huge hit recording, she stayed busy as an entertainer for another 60 years, appearing in a Gene Autry movie in 1939, recording with groups such as the Sons of the Pioneers and the Light Crust Doughboys, and hosting an ABC network radio show in 1946-47, Wake Up and Smile (which featured her trademark greeting, “Hi, pardner! It’s Patsy Montana,” accompanied by the thunder of horses’ hooves). She continued to make personal appearances and occasionally recorded new material. She became an influence on many cowgirl wannabes and an idol to many female singers during the ensuing years. Montana received the Academy of Country Music’s Pioneer Award in 1970. Her signature song “I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart” has been recorded many times in recent years, most notably by Suzy Bogguss in 1988 and by Montana herself, during her last recording sessions in 1995. In fact the song is played over the end credits of John Sayles’s 1996 film Lone Star, which was released just weeks after Montana’s death.

Patsy Montana passed away on May 3, 1996 in San Jacinto, CA and was elected that same year into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Her autobiography The Cowboy’s Sweetheart was published posthumously. Read more of this post

Classic Rewind: Tracy Lawrence – ‘Texas Tornado’

Country Heritage: Jean Shepard

jean shepard 1You gaze at that guitar on your knee
In a way that you never look at me
This love affair of yours has gone too far
And I’m tired of playing second fiddle to an old guitar

— From “Second Fiddle (To an Old Guitar),” Capitol Records, 1964

Kitty Wells may have been the reigning Queen of Country Music during the 1950s, but in the eyes of many (including myself) Jean Shepard had at least as good a claim to the title. Whereas Kitty Wells, after the uncharacteristically defiant “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” reverted back to songs of domestic bliss and of being the “wronged woman,” Jean Shepard kept pushing the boundaries for female country singers. Jean may not have pushed things as far as Loretta Lynn did during the late 1960s and 70s, but she laid the groundwork for Loretta and those to follow. Among Europeans, whose tastes in country music run to more traditional sounds, many regard her as the greatest of all female country singers, a sentiment that was echoed by such leading British county music journalists as Pat Campbell, Bob Powell, and David Allen. While I don’t regard Shepard quite that highly, on my personal list of the greatest female country singers of all time, she would be in my top three (greatest, as opposed to most popular or most influential) singers. During her peak years (roughly 1953-75) she was a definite force of nature

Born Ollie Imogene Shepard on November 21, 1933 in Oklahoma, she was the child of parents who moved to Bakersfield, California, as a result of the Dust Bowl that engulfed the midwest during the 1930s. Since Shepard has been staunchly performing modern traditional country music for over sixty years, it seems only fitting that she grew up and started her career in the area surrounding Bakersfield, California.

Jean began her career as a bass player in the Melody Ranch Girls, an all-female band formed in 1948. Not long thereafter, she came to the attention of Hank Thompson, who, impressed by her talents, helped her get a record deal with Capitol Records–where she worked with Thompson’s producer, Ken Nelson. At the time she inked her deal, Shepard was still a teenager.

On her Capitol recordings, Shepard was a honky-tonker whose hard-core sound could rival any of her male counterparts. While her first single “Crying Steel Guitar Waltz” failed to chart, it showed enough promise for Capitol to team her with another promising singer, Ferlin Husky, for the 1953 chart-topper “A Dear John Letter,” a song which resonated with many returning Korean War veterans. After this, the solo hits started coming with “Beautiful Lies” and “A Satisfied Mind” being among the biggest hits of 1955 ( “A Satisfied Mind” was also a major hit for Porter Wagoner and Red Foley, but after you’ve heard Jean Shepard’s version, you will forget about the others).

Along the way, Shepard became a part of Red Foley’s Ozark Jubilee (broadcast from Springfield, MO on ABC TV) from 1955 to 1957, and she was inducted as a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1956, where she has remained a member to this day. It was during this period that Jean released what may have been country music’s first album centered around a theme in Songs of a Love Affair. Shepard had a hand in writing all twelve songs on this album.

She continued to have hits throughout the fifties and sixties, although like many other traditional country singers her hits became increasingly smaller as rock ‘n roll and the Nashville sound came into prominence. Lost in the shuffle were such excellent singles as “Act Like A Married Man,” “Tomorrow I’ll Be Gone,” “I Used To Love You,” and “Have Heart, Will Love.”

In 1960 Shepard married Hawkshaw Hawkins, a minor star whose forte was his live stage shows rather than recording success. Jean was pregnant with his son Hawkshaw Hawkins, Jr. at the time of the 1963 plane crash that claimed Hawkins’ life (as well as those of Lloyd “Cowboy” Copas and Patsy Cline).

After her son’s birth, Shepard dealt with the tragedy of her husband’s death by pouring herself back into her career. In 1964 she rebounded back near the top of the charts with the feisty “Second Fiddle (To an Old Guitar),” a song which spotlighted her yodeling ability. The next few years would produce more hits including “Seven Lonely Days,” “Many Happy Hangovers To You,” and a rare ballad “Another Lonely Night.” She also teamed up with Ray Pillow for several duets, including the big hit “I’ll Take the Dog” in 1966.

Between 1965 and 1970 Shepard charted fifteen Top 40 hits. Eventually, though, Capitol –- blessed with a deep roster that included Wanda Jackson, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Glen Campbell and Sonny James –quit pushing her recordings to radio.

A switch to United Artists (UA) in 1973 re-ignited her career as her first single for the label, the Bill Anderson-penned “Slippin’ Away,” went to #4  Billboard /#1 Cashbox /#1 Record World  , and was followed by such great singles as “At The Time,” “I’ll Do Anything It Takes (To Stay With You),” “Poor Sweet Baby,” “Tip of My Fingers,” and “Another Neon Night.” One of her UA albums, Poor Sweet Baby, was composed entirely of songs written by Bill Anderson.  Shepard remained with UA for five years.  Since then she has recorded only occasionally for various minor labels.

Along the way, Shepard married Benny Birchfield, (best known for his tenor harmonies during his tenure with the Osborne Brothers bluegrass group). She also served as president of the Association of Country Entertainers, the perfect spokesperson for this very traditionalist organization.

In 2010, Jean was inducted into the Oklahoma Country Music Hall of Fame. Then in 2011, Jean was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, an honor three decades overdue.

Jean Shepard has been a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1955 and continues to perform regularly on the Grand Old Opry where she is indeed, the “Grand Lady of the Opry,” and a national treasure. She also tours occasionally, (in the past she sometimes performed with her son Hawkshaw Hawkins, Jr. but I haven’t heard much about him recently).  She’s lost a little off her vocal ‘chops’ over the course of time, but even 85% of Jean Shepard is a lot more than 100% of most singers.

Discography

Vinyl

Capitol Records issued twenty-one albums on Jean Shepard from 1956 to 1975 (one of these was a duet album with Ray Pillow) plus there were some budget reissues released on the Hilltop label. United Artists issued five albums plus a Greatest Hits collection from 1973 to 1976.

Albums on either Capitol or United Artist  will capture Jean at the peak of her vocal prowess. Later albums will still catch Jean in good voice but with less care given to the accompaniment and production, although the album Stars of the Grand Ole Opry issued in 1981 on Pete Drake’s First Generation Records, is a pretty good effort.

CD / Digital

The CD catalog for Shepard isn’t what it should be, although the Bear Family boxed set titled Melody Ranch Girl is available. The folks at Collector’s Choice Music described it thus, “151 legendary Capitol sides from the woman who broke through the thick gender barrier in country music without looking back! This is everything Jean recorded from 1952–1964—from ‘A Dear John Letter’ up through ‘Second Fiddle (to an Old Guitar)’—including her landmark album Songs of a Love Affair, the first concept album recorded by a female country artist, plus her Got You on My Mind, Lonesome Love and Heartaches and Tears albums. A 36-page book with a newly researched biography, discography and rare photos completes the story.”

For folks wanting to sample Jean’s work without shelling out over $100, there are some decent alternatives available.

The Ernest Tubb Record Shop currently lists nine titles available, including the above-mentioned Melody Ranch Girl boxed set and the CD version of Stars of the Grand Ole Opry and an outstanding two disc set released recently by the UK label Jasmine titled The First Lady of Country, which is composed of four of Jean’s early Capitol albums (Songs of A Love Affair, Lonesome Love, This Is Jean Shepard, and Got You On My Mind).

I am not sure of the vintage of the recordings on the other sets available from Ernest Tubb, but if you call them, the folks taking your order often can give useful information.

The Country Music Foundation in 1995 issued the stellar Jean Shepard: Honky-Tonk Heroine, which has 24 songs taken from her tenure at Capitol. It may still be possible to obtain this disc. That same year Castle Communications (Australasia) issued A Satisfied Mind which has 26 tracks (17 Capitol recordings and 9 United Artist recordings)– this is the only set (of which I am aware) that contains original United Artist recordings.

Other collections available are of uncertain vintage. Jean has issued some CDs herself (Jean, Personal Favorites, and perhaps other titles) that are often remakes but contain some song titles otherwise unavailable. I have several of these discs and they are worth obtaining.

Amazon (and probably other sites, as well) have some of Jean’s music available as digital downloads. The available music appears to be a mixed bag of originals and remakes but fortunately you can hear samples before purchasing.   While recording quality can vary, there are no bad Jean Shepard vocal performances on any of the recordings that I’ve heard.

Country Heritage: Earl Thomas Conley

ETCEarl Thomas Conley was the oldest and most successful of the triumvirate of somewhat similarly named country artist of the 1980s. Born on October 17, 1941, in Portsmouth, Ohio, ETC (as he was often called) had an extended run of success, both as a recording artist and as a songwriter. Between 1980 and 2003, ETC recorded ten studio albums, including seven for RCA. During this same period he charted more than 30 singles on the Billboard country charts, with 18 reaching #1.

Earl was raised in a working class family that had a love for music and the arts, and painting – which he started when he was 10 – was Earl’s first love. At age 14, Earl’s father lost his job with the railroad and Earl went to live with an older sister in Dayton, Ohio, where he continued to paint and develop his skills as an artist. While painting was his first love, Earl’s father had introduced him to music and Earl began to be more aware of it as an influence in his life.

After graduating high school, Earl decided against college, joining the Army instead. While in the Army, Earl became a member a Christian-influenced trio, where his musical talent and vocal ability were first placed on public display. At some point Earl decided that performing might not be a bad way to make a living. Accordingly, he delved more deeply into the classic country sounds of artists such as Merle Haggard and George Jones. During this period Earl first tried his hand at songwriting. In 1968, some time after his discharge from the Army, Earl began commuting from Dayton to Nashville.

With nothing happening for him in Nashville (and tired of back and forth commuting), Earl moved to Huntsville, Alabama, to be 150 miles closer to the recording industry. While in Nashville on a song-plugging visit in 1973, Earl met Dick Herd, who produced the great Mel Street. This meeting eventually led to the Conley-Herd collaboration on the song “Smokey Mountain Memories”, which Street took into the top 10 in early 1975.

Prior to Street’s recording Earl had moved to Nashville, where he met record producer Nelson Larkin, who signed Earl to his publishing house and helped sign him with independent label GRT in 1974. Larkin placed one of Earl’s songs with his brother Billy Larkin, “Leave It Up to Me”, which Larkin took to #22 in late 1975. Nelson Larkin would produce Earl’s sessions through the end of the 1980s.

GRT released four of Earl’s singles without much success. Meanwhile, Earl placed “This Time I’ve Hurt Her More Than She Loves Me,” with Conway Twitty, who took it all the way to the top in 1975, giving Earl his first #1 record as a songwriter.

On the strength of his successful songwriting, Warner Brothers signed Earl to a recording contract. Unfortunately, the three singles Warner Brothers issued in 1979 on ‘Earl Conley’ failed to achieve much traction.

After his stint at Warner Brothers was over, Earl Thomas Conley (as he was now billed) trod water briefly before signing with the independent label Sunbird Records, where he recorded the album Blue Pearl, reuniting with producer Nelson Larkin. “Fire & Smoke,” released as a single and given a decent promotional push to radio, emerged as Earl’s first major hit, eventually reaching the top of Billboard’s county chart, thus giving Earl his first #1 record as a performer at the relatively old age of 40.

The success of “Fire and Smoke” caused RCA to pick up Earl’s contract and purchase the rights to Earl’s Sunbird recordings for release on RCA. Ultimately RCA became his home for the next decade during which time the following songs reached #1:

•“Somewhere Between Right and Wrong”
•“Your Love’s On The Line”
•“Holding Her and Loving You”
•“Don’t Make It Easy For Me”
•“Angel In Disguise”
•“Chance of Loving You”
•“Love Don’t Care (Whose Heart it Breaks)”
•“Nobody Fall s Like A Fool”
•“Once In A Blue Moon”
•“I Have Loved You Girl”
•“I Can’t Win For Losing You”
•“That Was A Close One”
•“Right From The Start”
•“What She Is (Is A Woman In Love)”
•“We Believe In Happy Endings” (w/Emmylou Harris)
•“What I’d Say”
•“Love Out Loud”

While Earl Thomas Conley tended to regard himself as a straight country artist, his rather smoky voice helped gain him acceptance across the board. Earl appeared on the television show Soul Train in 1986, and to the best of my knowledge he is the only country artist to be so featured.

Chart success basically ran out for Earl at the end of the 1980s although there were a few minor chart hits as late as 1991. Since then, Earl has continued to tour occasionally and write songs but has done relatively little recording, with a seven year recording hiatus 1991-1997. This hiatus was due to a number of factors, including vocal problems, disenchantment with record label politics, road fatigue and mental burnout. Earl finally emerged with another album in 1998, aided and abetted by long-time friends Randy Scruggs and Curly Corwin. Earl still performs occasionally, typically two or three dates a month.

Read more of this post

Country Heritage: Tompall Glaser

tompall glaser

RIP Tompall Glaser (1933-2013)
This Country Heritage feature is reposted today as a tribute to the late Tompall Glaser, who died earlier this week.

It really is too bad the Glaser Brothers couldn’t get along with each other on a more sustained basis, as they truly were an amazing act to see live. The three Glaser brothers had voices that overlapped, and with their near identical phrasing they could take a lyric that started at the lowest notes and work their way up and down the scales, taking over from each other in mid-word. It was wondrous to see and required an audience’s full attention to know who was singing at any given moment. Moreover, the Glasers were capable of vocal harmony equal to that of any other great brother group. I only saw Tompall and the Glaser Brothers live one time, and yet that one occasion (at the 1st International Festival of Country Music in Wembley, England, in 1969) remains as indelibly etched in my memory as if it occurred yesterday.

Tompall Glaser (b. 9/3/33) was the fourth oldest of six children born to Louis and Marie Glaser in the farming community of Spalding, Nebraska. As a child, he taught his younger brothers Chuck (b. 2/27/36 – baritone) and Jim (b. 12/16/37 – high tenor) to sing harmony to his lead vocals and developed the trio into an accomplished vocal act during the mid 1950s. As often occurred in those days, the act was just getting rolling when Tompall received his “invitation” to enter the army, where he served during 1956-57. During this interlude, brothers Jim and Chuck performed on radio in Hastings, Nebraska, and, assisted by their father Louis, performed on various local shows. Their big break occurred in late 1957 when the boys, with brother Tompall again available, earned an appearance on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, a national radio show on CBS. Their performance caught the ear of Marty Robbins, who signed the boys to his Robbins Records label and released the single “Five Penny Nickel.” This record failed to make any waves, and with Robbins unable to devote much attention to promoting their career, he sold their contract to Decca Records (later MCA) in 1959.

By this time Tompall and the Glaser Brothers had made the move to Nashville, but again were sidelined by Uncle Sam who extended an invitation to Chuck to join the U S Army (1959-61). During this period, the Glaser Brothers found frequent studio work as background singers, the most notable example of this being Jim Glaser’s trio work on “El Paso” and other songs on Marty Robbins’ mega-hit album Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs. Tompall and Jim Glaser wrote one of the tracks on the album, “Running Gun”.

After Chuck was released from the US Army, the Glaser Brothers landed a spot on Johnny Cash’s road show, which brought as a side benefit an association with Cash’s longtime friend and business associate Jack Clement. In 1966, Clement got them a contract with MGM Records, which wasn’t a major player in Country Music but a label with a good pedigree (Hank Williams Sr. & Jr., Marvin Rainwater, Sheb Wooley/Ben Colder). One of the songs the group recorded was “Streets of Baltimore” which was co-written by Tompall Glaser and Harlan Howard. Unfortunately, the hit version of the song went to Bobby Bare. During this time Clement produced the group’s records and provided them with material.

While with MGM the brothers (always billed as Tompall and the Glaser Brothers) had a number of moderately successful singles and recorded a number of terrific album tracks. Their biggest success on the label were “California Girl (And the Tennessee Square)” which made it to #11 (#93 pop) and, in 1971, “Rings,” a cover of a pop hit by Cymarron. “Rings” went to #7 on Billboard, #5 on Cashbox and #1 on Record World. The accompanying LP, Rings and Things, was first rate, with a heavy western swing feel to many of the songs, including “Back In Each Other’s Arms Again.” Unfortunately, “Rings” failed to generate further commercial success and the group disbanded in 1973, but not before establishing a publishing company, spurred on by Chuck Glaser’s discovery of John Hartford, and later, Dick Feller. Also, in 1968, Jim Glaser saw one of his compositions, “Woman, Woman,” become a major hit for the pop group Gary Puckett and the Union Gap.

After the group’s breakup, Tompall Glaser opened his recording studio, Hillbilly Central, which became one of the incubation chambers for the “outlaw” movement of the 1970s. It was at Hillbilly Central that Waylon Jennings recorded his landmark album Honky Tonk Heroes. Other free spirits such as Billy Joe Shaver and Richard “Kinky” Friedman also recorded albums there. In 1975, in a shrewd marketing ploy, RCA issued the landmark album Wanted! The Outlaws which coupled current tracks from Jessi Colter & Waylon, some old Willie Nelson tracks and a couple of leased tracks of Tompall Glaser. The resulting mishmash was the first Gold Album in country music history. Unfortunately, Tompall was unable to capitalize on the success of the album, and his often prickly personality (coupled with Waylon’s drug use) ultimately led to his split with Waylon. As a solo artist, Tompall had only one real hit single, the politically incorrect ditty “Put Another Log on the Fire (Male Chauvinist National Anthem)”. This song peaked at #21, making it Tompall’s biggest solo hit. Albums for MGM and ABC failed to generate much attention.

During this same period, Jim Glaser plugged on, but failed to achieve any hits, while brother Chuck ran the publishing company, his singing career derailed by a stroke in 1975 that affected his vocal cords and left him temporarily unable to sing. Chuck had success as a producer, producing artists such as Hank Snow.

In 1978, the brothers achieved an uneasy reconciliation and reformed Tompall and the Glaser Brothers. One big hit followed, a cover of the Kristofferson song “Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again)” which went to #2 on the country charts for both Billboard and Cashbox. Unfortunately, this rapprochement was only temporary, as in 1983 Jim Glaser split to pursue a solo career. Jim was replaced by Shaun Neilson, an arrangement that continued only briefly.

After the group split, Tompall continued to produce records for a while but by the end of the 1980s he sold Hillbilly Central and has been largely retired since then. He died on August 13, 2013, aged 79. Chuck Glaser continued to work behind the scenes but has since largely retired, as well.

Jim Glaser saw some momentary success as a solo artist. In the early 1980s, Jim began recording as a solo artist for the newly-formed independent label Noble Vision Records. The first release, “When You’re Not A Lady,” stayed on the national charts for 34 weeks and in 1984 “You’re Gettin’ To Me Again” reached the top of the charts, the only Billboard #1 single achieved by any of the Glasers. That same year Jim Glaser was voted “Top New Male Vocalist of the Year” by the Academy of Country Music. Jim’s first solo album, The Man In The Mirror, ultimately had six top-twenty singles that were pulled from it. Shortly thereafter, Noble Vision Records was no more and with it vanished Jim Glaser’s solo career.

Discography

Vinyl

Most of the albums issued by Tompall and the Glaser Brothers were on MGM. The following are recommended but there are also some other albums on Decca and MGM that might be found:

Tompall and the Glaser Brothers (1967) contains the hit single “Gone On The Other Hand” (#24 Billboard/#20 Cashbox), a song that featured Big Joe Talbot on steel guitar, plus the group’s recordings of “The Last Thing On My Mind” and “Streets of Baltimore.”

Through The Eyes of Love (1967) features the title track (#27) plus “Moods of Mary” (#42) and the group’s take on “Woman, Woman.”

Wonderful World (1968) features minor hit singles in “One of These Days” (#36) and a nice recording of Jack Clement’s “Got Leavin’ On Her Mind,” a minor national/major southeast regional hit in 1968 for Mac Wiseman.

Now Country (1969) showcases “Wicked California” (#24) and “California Girl” (#11).

Award Winners (1971) is mostly covers with an excellent take of “Faded Love” released as the single (#22).

Rings and Things (1972) is the group’s masterpiece, with “Rings” (#5 Cashbox/#7 Billboard/#1 Record World) and “Sweet Love Me Good Woman” (#19 Cashbox/#23 Billboard) plus an eclectic mix of swing and vocal harmony efforts. My favorite of all the group’s tracks, “Back In Each Other’s Arms Again”, is on this album.

Charlie (1973) is ostensibly a group effort but in actuality a solo album by Tompall Glaser.

After the MGM years Tompall reunited with his brothers in 1981 for Loving Her Was Easier, followed by one last album in 1982, After All These Years, both on Elektra.

I don’t know of any solo albums by Chuck Glaser.

Jim Glaser issued three albums on Noble Vision: 1983’s Man In The Mirror, which has all four of Jim’s top twenty hits (“The Man in The Mirror” “If I Could Only Dance With You”, “You’re Getting To Me Again”, and “Let Me Down Easy”), Past The Point of No Return (1985), and Everybody Knows I’m Yours (1986). This last album is on Noble Vision/MCA, the masters purchased after Noble Vision went under.

Virtually all of Tompall Glaser’s solo efforts are available on CD from Bear Family (see below).

CD

There are two readily available CDs of Tompall and the Glaser Brothers. The Best of Tompall and the Glaser Brothers, issued on Collector’s Choice Music,  has 18 hits from the group plus six solo recordings by Tompall Glaser. This CD is now out of print, but can be found with a little effort.

The other CD was released in April 2012 and is a two-fer released on the Hux label,  Award Winners/Rings And Things.

You may be able to find the out of print twofer of the Electra years titled Lovin’ Her Was Easier/After All These Years.

Jim Glaser has one CD currently available titled Me And My Dream.  This appears to be  recordings from around 2002.  With luck you might find the CD of The Man in the Mirror, but that is all that is available.

On the other hand, Tompall Glaser’s solo efforts are well covered by Bear Family in the form of four CDs: The Rogue, The Outlaw, My Notorious Youth (aka Hillbilly Central V1), and Another Log On The Fire (aka Hillbilly Central V2). These can be obtained from the Bear Family website

A group called The Brothers Glaser issued Five Penny Nickle, a tribute album to Tompall and the Glaser Brothers. This foursome consists of sons of an older Glaser brother who was not part of the Tompall and the Glaser Brothers. They have a website at www.thebrothersglaser.com –in looking at their photographs, there is no denying the family resemblance – no one could doubt that they are nephews of the Glaser Brothers.

Country Heritage: Kenny Price (1931-1987)

kenny priceFans of the long running television show Hee Haw may remember Kenny Price. He played various roles in Hee Haw’s skits, including the over-protective father of a pretty teenage daughter (whose suitor, Billy Bob, did not meet his approval), a backwater sheriff and a country bumpkin lounging on the lawn in front of the general store. He also appeared in two of the regular musical spots, the “Gloom, Despair and Agony” snippets and the glorious Hee Haw Gospel Quartet segment wherein Kenny, Grandpa Jones, Buck Owens and Roy Clark would lend their talents to old-time gospel favorites. Many viewers considered the Hee Haw Gospel Quartet to be their favorite portion of the show. He also appeared as Kenny Honey, the father on the spin-off Hee Haw Honeys and hosted a travel show on TNN called Wish You Were Here with his wife Donna.

Unfortunately, few today remember Kenny Price as a country music recording star for Boone and RCA records. A solid journeyman performer, known as ‘The Round Mound of Sound’, he charted 34 singles during his 15 year chart run, but never had a number one record or a sustained run of top ten records.

Standing six-feet tall and weighing well over 300 pounds, Kenneth James Price is remembered by fellow performers and fans alike as one of the nicest individuals to ever sing a country song. Born near Florence in Boone County, Kentucky, he was raised on a ranch and learned to play the guitar when he was only five. Initially at least, Price aspired to be a farmer but eventually he changed the focus of his endeavors. He got his start in 1945 playing on WZIP-Cincinnati and over the next few years, played a few dates in the Kentucky-Ohio border area. Uncle Sam called in 1952 and Price spent the next two years in the military. While stationed in Korea, he auditioned for a USO show. By the time he was discharged in 1954 Price had decided on music as a career and studied briefly at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. From there he appeared on Midwestern Hayride at WLW-Cincinnati and by 1957 was appearing on Hometown, a Cincinnati television show hosted by Buddy Ross. Meanwhile, in 1955, he issued two singles on the “X” label (an RCA subsidiary) called “Cold Hearted Love” and “Worryin’”. Neither single charted.

Nearly nine years passed before Price again landed a recording contract, this time with Boone Records, out of Boone, NC. After four non-charting singles he finally hit it big with his third single, “Walking on the New Grass”, which cracked the Top 10 in 1966–as did his next single “Happy Tracks”. While none of his following Boone singles charted in the top ten nationally (“Southern Bound” came close), they did well enough in regional markets to land him a recording contract with RCA. Moreover, RCA thought highly enough of him that they purchased the masters for his two albums on Boone and reissued them as his first two RCA albums.

The first RCA hit was achieved in 1969 when “Northeast Arkansas Mississippi County Bootlegger” reached #17. This was followed by two more top ten hits in “Biloxi” (#10 in 1970) and “The Sheriff of Boone County” which reached #8 at the end of 1970 and appeared briefly on the pop charts (the song was inspired by a series of amusing Dodge automobile commercials). After that, Top 10 success eluded Price, although he did have a few more minor hits. His tenure with RCA ended in late 1975, but he kept busy when Hee Haw beckoned in 1976. He remained a member of the cast until his death in 1987.

I never had the pleasure of seeing Kenny perform live, but I’ve met several musicians who worked with him and all of them had fond memories of him. Read more of this post

Classic Rewind: Ferlin Husky – ‘Gone’

Country Heritage: Ed Bruce

ed bruceFor a brief period in the late 1970s to mid 80s, Ed Bruce seemed to be everywhere–hit songs as a songwriter, hit records as a recording artist and regular appearances on the television show Bret Maverick.

Like many other artists, Ed Bruce got his start as a rockabilly singer signed to Sun Records; however, for him the sun would not shine while at Sun. Indeed, it would take twenty years of plugging away for him to become known in the world of country music.

William Edwin Bruce, Jr. was born in Keiser, Arkansas, in 1939; however, the family moved to Memphis when Ed was quite young. Ed started writing songs as a teenager and, as Edwin Bruce, he cut his first sides for Sun in 1956 at the age of 17. With Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and other great artists signed to Sun, Ed was lost in the shuffle. A cut on the B-side of Tommy Roe’s million seller “Sheila” provided Ed with the funding necessary for a move to Nashville in 1962.

The next year, Charlie Louvin recorded “See The Big Man Cry,” earning Ed his first BMI award, with other cuts to follow including Kenny Price’s recording of “Northeast Arkansas Mississippi County Bootlegger”. He also became a member of the Marijohn Wilkin Singers, performing live and as a backing vocalist. His warm, friendly voice made him a natural for voiceovers and he soon achieved success singing advertising jingles; his best-known advertising campaign cast him as a character called the Tennessean.

Recording success came more slowly. In 1966, Ed Bruce signed with RCA, notching his first chart hit with the single “Walker’s Woods”. After that he recorded for Monument Records, releasing the singles “Song For Ginny” and “Everybody Wants To Get To Heaven.” In 1973, a deal with United Artists resulted in the minor chart hit “July, You‘re A Woman”. Ed spent four years hosting an early morning TV show on Nashville’s WSM.

Finally, in 1975, Ed’s composition “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” made it into the Top 20. The song, Ed’s best-known, became a huge hit when covered by Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson in 1977. The song was nominated for, and won, a Grammy in 1978. That same year, “Texas When I Die”, as recorded by Tanya Tucker, was nominated for Grammy and CMA Awards.
After a brief tenure at Epic Records between 1977 and 78, Ed Bruce finally achieved real success as a recording artist with MCA in the 1980s.

Ed Bruce’s string of hits on MCA
Year Charted Singles Peak
March 1980 Diane #21
June 1980 Last Cowboy Song #12
October 1980 Girls Women And Ladies #14
February 1981 Evil Angel #24
June 1981 (When You Fall In Love) Everything’s A Waltz #14
October 1981 You’re The Best Break This Old Heart Ever Had #1
February 1982 Love’s Found You And Me #13
July 1982 Ever Never Lovin’ You #4
November 1982 My First Taste Of Texas #6
April 1983 You’re Not Leaving Here Tonight #21
July 1983 If It Was Easy #19
October 1983 After All #6
July 1984 Tell ‘Em I’ve Gone Crazy #45

Although not his biggest hit, the imagery in “The Last Cowboy Song” tells you a lot about Ed Bruce’s skills as a songsmith:

Remington showed us how he looked on canvas
And Louis L’Amour has told us his tale
And Willie and Waylon and me sing about him
And wish to God we could have ridden his trail

Ed returned to RCA for a pair of albums in 1984, with two songs cracking the top twenty: “If It Ain’t Love” (#20 in 1985) and “Nights” (#4 in 1986). After his 1986 album Night Things and a 1988 self-titled follow-up, Bruce made the conscious decision to cut back on his music to focus on his acting career, appearing in several made-for-TV films. With a resume that included a role in the CBS mini-series The Chisolms, the NBC movie The Return of Frank and Jesse James and, of course, as co-star of the television show Bret Maverick with James Garner, this seemed the rational thing to do. More film roles followed, as well as a stint as the host of American Sports Cavalcade on The Nashville Network. He also hosted the seven seasons of Truckin’ USA, also on TNN. Ed continued to record music occasionally, as well.

Discography

Vinyl
Ed was not the most prolific recording artist. He issued four RCA albums, one on Monument, one on United Artists, two on Epic and six on MCA. These, of course, are all out of print (but are worth the effort to find used copies). Ed also issued a number of 45 RPM singles, on various labels – good luck in tracking those down!

CD
The Ernest Tubb Record Shop currently has six titles by Ed Bruce available for sale. Three of the titles are of religious material on the EB label; I’ve not heard these, so I won’t comment on them.

12 Classics (Varese) issued in 2003 consists of re-recorded tracks from Ed’s years with MCA, including his biggest hits. These recordings are not bad, but they do not measure up to the now out-of print Varese set issued in 1995 titled The Best of Ed Bruce, which had 15 original MCA tracks and three RCA hits from his second stint with the label.

Puzzles, a Bear Family CD issued around 1995, gathers up the music Ed recorded for RCA between 1966 and 1968. “Walker’s Woods” is the biggest hit collected here, but his recording of the Monkees’ hit “Last Train to Clarksville” is also worthwhile.

The Tennessean / Cowboys & Dreamers is a two-fer released by British label Hux. This pairing takes a pair of recordings released in 1978 & 1979 on the Epic label, just before Ed’s breakthrough on MCA. Ed charted six records while on Epic, none of which reached the top forty, but there are some great song on this pairing.

This Old Hat is a CD produced and released by Ed in 2002, consisting of 11 new tunes, plus new renditions of “You’re The Best Break This Old Heart Ever Had” and “My First Taste of Texas.” The physical CD is out of print, but it is available on Amazon MP3 and iTunes.

Spotlight Artist: Pam Tillis

pamtillisBeing related to a famous country entertainer can be a mixed blessing. Although the family ties can open doors for the aspiring singer, they can also serve to set unrealistic expectations. Just ask Roy Acuff Jr., Ronnie Robbins (billed as Marty Robbins, Jr.), The Lynns (daughters of Loretta Lynn), Riley Coyle (daughter of Jeannie C. Riley), Pake McEntire (Reba’s brother), Jay Lee Webb (Loretta Lynn’s brother), Peggy Sue (Loretta Lynn’s sister), and Hillman Hall (Tom T. Hall’s brother), each of whom issued an album or two and then disappeared. John Carter Cash has avoided the problem entirely by working behind the scenes.

Then there are those who achieve modest success and carve out respectable careers but never achieve top-drawer status, such as Shelly West (daughter of Dottie West), David Frizzell (brother of Lefty Frizzell), Tommy Cash (brother of Johnny Cash), Carlene Carter (daughter of Carl Smith and June Carter) and Thom Bresh (son of Merle Travis). Jazz guitarist Lenny Breau, son of country stars Hal Lone Pine and Betty Cody, might have fit into this category had he not died young.

True superstar success for those with famous kinfolk is indeed rare. The three biggest that come to mind are Crystal Gayle (Loretta Lynn’s sister), Lynn Anderson (the daughter of songwriter Casey & singer-songwriter Liz Anderson) and Hank Williams Jr. Pulling up behind these three are George Morgan’s daughter Lorrie, Rosanne Cash and this month’s spotlight artist, Pam Tillis.

Pamela Yvonne Tillis was born on July 24, 1957 in Plant City, Florida, the daughter of singer-songwriter-actor-comedian Mel Tillis.

As the daughter of one of the best-known songwriters around, and living in Nashville, Tillis was exposed to the elite of the country music industry even before her father had achieved recording star status. She made her Grand Ole Opry debut at the age of eight in an appearance with her father singing “Tom Dooley.” She grew up wanting to be a performer and tried her hand at songwriting at an early age and also found some work as a background singer. The results of an automobile accident at age 16 derailed her career for a while as several years of reconstructive facial surgery were needed to restore her appearance. Following her surgeries, Tillis enrolled at the University of Tennessee; then later at Belmont University in Nashville, TN, forming her first band. Since her only real interest was music, she eventually dropped out of college to pursue her own musical career.

Wanting to make it “on her own,” Tillis went to San Francisco where she joined a jazz-rock band Freelight.

After tiring of the San Francisco scene, she returned to Nashville and found work as a demo singer. She signed with Warner Brothers. in 1982, where she took a shot at pop success. Her sole album for Warner Brothers was Above and Beyond The Doll of Cutey. During the period between 1983 and ’87, Warner Brothers would issue at least eight singles on Tillis, five of which charted on Billboard’s Country chart, although none made the Top 50–not surprising since they were not being marketed as country singles. Unreleased were early versions of several of her later hits, which were released after she achieved success.

During this period, Tillis signed on as a staff songwriter with Tree Publishing in Nashville, where she shifted her focus to contemporary country music and achieved much success as a songwriter, with artists as diverse as Chaka Khan, Martina McBride, Gloria Gaynor, Conway Twitty, Holly Dunn, Juice Newton, Sweethearts of the Rodeo, Dan Seals, and Highway 101 recording her songs.

Her visibility was greatly improved when she started making regular appearances on shows aired on the late lamented Nashville Network, especially on Nashville Now, a nightly variety show hosted by Ralph Emery. By 1991 she had signed with Arista Records, where her career took off. For part of this period (until 1998) she was married to fellow songwriter Bob DiPiero.

The Arista years saw Tillis emerge as a steady and reliable hit-maker as the following list demonstrates:

•“Don’t Tell Me What To Do” / “Melancholy Child” – #5 (1990)

•“One Of Those Things” / “Already Fallen – #6 (1991)

•“Put Yourself In My Place” / “I’ve Seen Enough To Know” – #11 (1991)

•“Maybe It Was Memphis” / “Draggin’ My Chains” – #3 (1991)

•“Blue Rose Is” / “Ancient History” – #21 (1992)

•“Shake The Sugar Tree” / “Maybe It Was Memphis” #3 (1992)

•“Let That Pony Run” / “Fine Fine Very Fine Love” – #4 (1992)

•“Cleopatra Queen Of Denial” / “Homeward Looking Angel” – #11 (1993)

•“Do You Know Where Your Man Is” / “We’ve Tried Everything Else” – #16 (1993)

•“Spilled Perfume” / “Till All The Lonely’s Gone” – #5 (1994)

•“When You Walk In The Room” / “Till All The Lonely’s Gone” – #2 (1994)

•“Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life)” / “Ancient History” – #1 (1994)

•“I Was Blown Away” / “Calico Plains” – #16 (1995)

•“In Between Dances” / “They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To” – #3 (1995)

•“Deep Down” / “Tequila Mockingbird” – #6 (1995)

•“River And The Highway” / “All Of This Love” – #8 (1996)

•“It’s Lonely Out There” / “You Can’t Have A Good Time Without Me” – #14 (1996)

•“All The Good Ones Are Gone” / “Land Of The Living” – #4 (1997)

•“I Said A Prayer” / “Lay The Heartache Down” – #12 (1998)

•“Every Time” / “You Put The Lonely On Me” – #38 (1998)

After 1998, the hits started drying up as the next wave of young performers arrived.

Tillis’ Arista albums were generally quite successful, starting with 1991’s Put Yourself In My Place which had three Top 10 hits in lead single, “Don’t Tell Me What to Do,” “One of Those Things” and “Maybe It Was Memphis.” The album ultimately reached gold status.

Her 1992 follow-up Homeward Looking Angel was equally successful, with “Shake the Sugar Tree” and “Let That Pony Run” reaching the Top 5. Homeward Looking Angel reached platinum status. In 1993, she won her first major award: the CMA Awards’ Vocal Event of the Year with George Jones and Friends for “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair.”

In 1994, her third Arista album, Sweetheart’s Dance, was released, reaching #6 on the Billboard’s Country Album chart (her highest placement). Singles “Spilled Perfume” and “When You Walk in the Room” both became Top 5 hits and she had her only #1, “Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life),” helping push the album to platinum status.

Issued in late 1996, All of This Love, became Tillis’ last gold non-compilation album. The only single to reach Top 10 status was “The River and The Highway.” It was the first album she produced on her own.

In 1997, Arista released her first (actually only) Greatest Hits album. The compilation featured two new tracks, both released as singles: “All the Good Ones Are Gone” and “The Land of the Living,” both of which reached the Top 5 in 1997. This collection also went platinum.

After 1997, the country music market shifted, becoming more youth-oriented and less country, with a resultant drop in both chart and sales success for Tillis. Her 1998 album Every Time featured “I Said A Prayer”, which just missed the Top 10 and was her last Top 20 single. Her last Arista album, issued in 2001, Thunder & Roses performed reasonably well on the album chart (both it and Every Time reached #24) but generated no real hit singles.

Since 1998 Pam Tillis has remained active, both in live appearances, occasionally performing with her father Mel, and occasionally recording. She became a Grand Ole Opry member in 2000, which was several years before her father, and had the honor of inducting him into Opry membership. She has tried her hand at acting, both on stage and on television, with considerable success.

She still records occasionally. In 2002 she fulfilled a lifetime dream of recording an album of songs written by or associated with her father. Titled It’s All Relative, the album found Pam ignoring the Mel Tillis template and giving her own interpretation of her father’s material, most notably on “Heart Over Mind”.

She started her own record label, Stellar Cat, and issued her album Rhinestoned under that imprint in 2007. One of the singles from the album, “Band In The Window,” earned considerable acclaim, although the album ultimately yielded no hits.

All told, Pam Tillis had over 30 chart records including 13 Top 10s. In 1994 she was named the Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year. In 1999, she earned a Grammy Award for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals. When CMT did their countdown of the 40 Greatest Women of Country Music in 2002, Tillis ranked at #30. Kevin Coyne of Country Universe ranked her at #35 in his 100 Greatest Women of Country Music countdown in 2008.

Discography

With the exception of the Warner Brothers album, which originally was issued on vinyl and audio cassette, all of Tillis’ subsequent recordings have been released on CD. Most of the titles remain in print, others can be located used with a little bit of effort. Unlike country singers from generations before, the Pam Tillis catalog is fairly shallow with a total of a dozen original studio albums, plus some anthologies (Greatest Hits, Super Hits, Best Of, etc.) and whatever unreleased tracks may be lying around in somebody’s vault. Accordingly, collecting a fairly complete Pam Tillis collection isn’t that difficult, especially since her Warner Brothers debut recently was reissued on CD by Wounded Bird. All of her post-Warner Brothers albums are worthwhile and even her debut album (which I originally purchased on vinyl) has its moments.

The Ernest Tubb Record Shop currently has seven of her albums available as well as several anthologies.

There is a need for a decent two-disc set containing about 40 of her songs. Lately, the German label Bear Family has been issuing some less-than-exhaustive sets. Maybe they will step up to the plate –she’s worth a decent anthology.

Pam Tillis is still actively performing – you can catch  up with her at her website http://www.pamtillis.com/ . She does have some product for sale there as digital downloads including a Christmas album and a duet single (with Kris Thomas)  titled “Two Kings” which is about Elvis Presley and Martin Luther King, Jr. Her long-awaited duet album with Lorrie Morgan comes out later this month.

Classic Rewind: George Hamilton IV – ‘Abilene’

Country Heritage: George Hamilton IV

george hamilton iv

I’ve been travelin’ down the highways with my guitar for so long
Shakin’ hands and meetin’ lots of folks
Living my life my way with a handshake and a song
Caring little if I was rich or broke
Cause there’s country music in my soul
People music for the young and the old
I’ll keep on singing my song keep on keeping on
Cause there’s country music in my soul

From “County Music In My Soul” written by Bobby Bond

Many musicians who have met Freddie Hart have commented to me that he is the one of the nicest people that they have ever encountered. I‘ve never had the pleasure of meeting Freddie Hart, but if he is nicer person than George Hamilton IV, he must qualify for sainthood. I’ve met George IV on a number of occasions over the last 39 years, and a finer gentleman can’t be found.

George Hamilton IV has always had country music in his soul, although his recording career, like that of a number of country stars, started off in pop. Unlike other country boys such as Conway Twitty, Johnny Cash, Narvel Felts and Billy Craddock, who started off as rockabilly stars, George’s early endeavors were straightforward pop rather than rockabilly or rock and roll.

Hamilton was born on July 19, 1937 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He was raised on the country music loved by his grandfather, George Hamilton II, and he learned to play the guitar at the age of 12. While in high school he formed a country band, and while still a freshman at the University of North Carolina, he met John D. Loudermilk, first cousin of Ira and Charlie Louvin (formerly Loudermilk), at the time a struggling songwriter. Landing a contract with the Colonial label, Hamilton recorded “A Rose and a Baby Ruth,” Loudermilk’s first attempt at teen pop. The single did very well regionally during 1956 and was picked up by ABC-Paramount later that same year. Since the song hit #6 on the pop charts and sold over a million copies in the process, ABC-Paramount signed Hamilton to a regular contract. During this time he transferred to American University in Washington DC to continue his studies.

Since Hamilton was never really comfortable recording pop music, subsequent efforts failed to achieve the heights of “A Rose and a Baby Ruth,” although the next four singles made the pop top 40, with “Why Don’t They Understand” reaching #10 in early 1958. After an appearance on The Jimmy Dean Show 1957-58, Hamilton was given his own short-lived show by ABC-TV in 1959.

Even while signed to ABC-Paramount, Hamilton was recording country songs such as “Why I’m Walking,” “Even Tho’” and at least seven songs associated with Hank Williams. His first entry on the country charts (“Before This Day Ends”) rose to #4 in late 1960.

In 1961 George switched labels, moving to RCA Victor, where Chet Atkins promised that he could record as a country artist. After top ten entries in 1961 (“Three Steps to the Phone,” “Millions of Miles”) and 1962 (“If You Don’t Know I Ain’t Gonna Tell You”), Hamilton finally hit the top of the country charts in 1963 with “Abilene,” a song penned by his old friend John D. Loudermilk. The single topped the country charts for four weeks in June and crossed over to #15 on the pop charts. During 1964, Hamilton charted three singles and returned to the top ten with “Fort Worth, Dallas or Houston.”

Deeply influenced by the folk music artists of the “Hootenanny Era,” George became a major conduit for introducing such future folk deities as Gordon Lightfoot, Ian Tyson, and Joni Mitchell to American audiences. Indeed, Hamilton probably recorded more Gordon Lightfoot songs during the mid 1960s to early 1970s than any other artist including such classics as “Steel Rail Blues” and “Early Morning Rain,” both hits in 1966. George’s version of “Urge for Going” (written by Joni Mitchell) hit #7 in 1967; “Break My Mind,” another John D. Loudermilk song, hit #6 later in the year. During this period Hamilton recorded songs by the likes of Leonard Cohen, James Taylor, Buffy St. Marie and countless other singer-songwriters. Not ignoring his country favorites, in 1965 he recorded an album in tribute to Ernest Tubb, enjoying a hit with “Walking The Floor Over You.”

George continued to record for RCA until 1974, but major chart success largely eluded him except for the #3 hit “She’s a Little Bit Country” in 1970. This is not to say that he quit making great records, as some of my personal favorite Hamilton tracks such as “Ten Degrees (and Getting Colder)”, “West Texas Highway” and “Country Music In My Soul” came after 1970.

While his stature as a singles star waned, George took on a greater prominence as the “International Ambassador of Country Music” thanks to his several world tours, 10 visits to Great Britain, numerous visits to Europe, and his BBC television programs (seven seasons). He became the first country artist to perform behind the Iron Curtain, and also toured Africa, Asia, New Zealand, Australia, and even the Middle East.

In recent years Hamilton has focused on gospel music, although he still plays dates in which he performs secular music. I saw George five years ago at the Florida Sunshine Opry in Eustis, Florida; he still put an an excellent show, and hung around as long as anyone wished to speak with him. Two years later I saw him at the Rolling Hills Moravian Church in Longwood, Florida where he performed an excellent show that was about 2/3 religious material – just GH4 and his guitar. Hamilton once mentioned to me that he’d like to live long enough to meet George Hamilton VII. It seems that GH1 (his great grandfather) was alive long enough for George to remember him, and son George Hege Hamilton V has a son George Hege Hamilton VI who should soon be of age to start a family.

Imagine that – getting to know seven generations of George Hege Hamiltons. I hope he makes it.

Read more of this post

Classic Rewind: Cal Smith – ‘Country Bumpkin’

Country Heritage: Cal Smith

the best of cal smith

I just came home to count the memories that I’ve been countin’ in my mind
I just come home to count the memories from a better day and time

“I Just Came Home To Count The Memories” (written by Glen Ray, 1974)

When the recently closed Florida Sunshine Opry (Eustis, FL) booked its first “name” (non-local) act back in 1999, the act they chose was Cal Smith. No wonder, since Cal is an excellent singer, musician, storyteller and showman.

Born Calvin Grant Shofner on April 7, 1932, in Gans, Oklahoma (but raised in Oakland California), Smith began his music career performing in San Francisco at the age of fifteen, but was not able to sustain himself professionally as a singer. Accordingly, he continued working at various day jobs–which included stints driving trucks and bronco busting – all the while working on and off as a musician.

After his discharge from the military in the mid 1950s, Smith played in a San Francisco area band while awaiting his opportunity. His big break came in 1961, when the legendary Ernest Tubb heard Smith perform and hired him to join Tubb’s equally legendary Texas Troubadours. It was during this period that “Shofner” started using the stage name “Cal Smith”, although the name did not become firmly affixed until Tubb helped the singer get his own record deal with Kapp in 1966.

The Texas Troubadours of the 1960s may have been the greatest small country band ever assembled. Consisting of Bud Charlton on steel guitar, Jack Greene on drums, Jack Drake (brother of legendary steel guitarist Pete Drake) on bass, Leon Rhodes on lead guitar and Smith on rhythm guitar, the Texas Troubadours could play fast or slow, hot or romantic, and could swing with the best of them. In Jack Greene and Cal Smith, the band boasted two superior vocalists, both of whom would have successful solo careers.

The Texas Troubadours cut three LPs of their own from 1964 to 1966, which exposed both Greene and Smith to wider audiences, with each taking care of two or more vocals per album.

While still a Texas Troubadour, Smith starting issuing records on Kapp, having chart success immediately, although the big hits were slow arriving. The first single released, “I’ll Just Go Home,” didn’t chart but made some impact on the public. The next single, “The Only Thing I Want”, hit #58 on Billboard and #41 on Cash Box, and When “Drinking Champagne” cracked the Billboard Top 40 in 1968, Smith left Tubb to start a solo career.

During his several years with Kapp he had eight more moderate hits, including “Heaven Is Just a Touch Away” which hit #47 on Billboard and “It Takes Me All Night Long” which reached #12 on Cash Box, although it only peaked at #51 on Billboard.

Upon completion of his Kapp contract, Smith signed with his former boss’s label, Decca, in 1971. The first single, “That’s What It’s Like To Be Lonesome,” only reached #58 on Billboard (#29 on Cash Box), but after that, things started happening quickly for Smith with a three year period of top twenty hits starting with “I’ve Found Someone Of My Own” (#4) in summer of 1972. After a misfire with “For My Baby,” Smith then hit the top spot with “The Lord Knows I’m Drinking,” a Bill Anderson-penned song that rings as true today as it did back then.

After another misfire came Smith’s most famous song, “Country Bumpkin,” a #1 record and the CMA Song of the Year for 1974. The follow-up to that smash hit was “Between Lust and Watching TV,” which stalled out at #11, followed by Smith’s last Billboard top ten, “It’s Time To Pay The Fiddler,” which reached the top of the pile. After that, Smith continued to chart regularly for the next four years, logging increasingly lower chart positions with his hard country sound, as only “Jason’s Farm,” “She Talked A Lot About Texas,” and “I Just Came Home To Count The Memories,” cracked the Billboard top twenty – although “Jason’s Farm” clocked in at #7 for two weeks on Cash Box.

After 1979 the hits stopped for Cal Smith, with the exception of a pair of lower singles on independent labels in 1982 and 1986, neither getting anywhere close to the top fifty.

Cal Smith was 36 years old by the time he achieved solo status as a recording artist, and already 40 years old by the time he had a top ten hit, so he figured to have a fairly short shelf life as a top-charting artist in the increasingly youth–oriented market. By way of comparison, Bobby Bare’s first top ten recording came in 1963. By 1972 Bare had already charted 29 times–and he was still three years younger than Cal Smith. Read more of this post

Classic Rewind: Jeannie C Riley – ‘Harper Valley PTA’

Country Heritage: Pop Stoneman and the Stoneman Family

stoneman familyMost people trace the dawn of recorded country music back to the famous Bristol sessions of 1927, from which Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family rose to prominence. While I am not sure that even Ernest V. Stoneman (May 25, 1893 – June 14, 1968) represents the dawn of recorded country music, he has a far better claim to it than do Jimmie Rodgers and the Carters.

Born in 1893 in Carroll Country, Virginia, near the mining community of Iron Ridge, Ernest Van Stoneman was raised by his father and three cousins who taught him traditional Blue Ridge Mountain songs. Ernest married Hattie Frost in 1919. He and his wife set about having a family, eventually having 23 kids, of which 13 lived to be adults. Stoneman worked at various jobs and played music for his own entertainment. He was a talented musician who could play (and make) a variety of instruments, including banjo, guitar, fiddle and autoharp, although the autoharp would become his trademark during his recording career.

Legend has it that Stoneman heard a recording by Henry Whittier, a popular artist of the time and a friend of her father’s (according to daughter Roni), and swore he could sing better. In 1924 he traveled to New York and received a recording contract. The first single, “The Sinking of the Titanic”, was issued on the Okeh label and became the biggest hit he ever had. Sales figures for the 1920s are not terribly reliable, but several sources have sales pegged at four million copies sold – a remarkable total for the time and certainly one of the biggest hits of the 1920s. Read more of this post

Classic Rewind: Tompall and the Glaser Brothers – ‘Put Another Log On The Fire’

Country Heritage: Billy Edd Wheeler

billy edd wheelerIf anyone in Country Music can truly be said to be a “renaissance man” that person would be Billy Edd Wheeler. Poet, painter, playwright, author, songwriter, singer, artist, lecturer and ecologist would be but a few of the hats that accurately (and comfortably) fit onto his head.

Billy Edd Wheeler fits into the realm between folk music, pop music and country music as his songs have been covered by artists in all three genres. Folk artists such as the Kingston Trio (“The Reverend Mr. Black,” “Desert Pete”), Judy Collins (“The Coming of the Roads,” “Coal Tattoo”), Judy Henske (“High Flying Bird”) and pop artists such as Glen Campbell (“Ann”), Kenny Rogers (“Coward of the County”), Nancy Sinatra-Lee Hazelwood (“Jackson” ), and Jim Nabors (“Hot Dog Heart”) have all enjoyed success with his songs.

Meanwhile, on the country side of the ledger, artists such as Hank Snow (“Blue Roses”), Johnny Cash (“Blistered,” “Jackson”), Jerry Reed (“Gimme Back My Blues”) and Johnny Darrell (“I Ain’t Buying,” “Ain’t That Living”) were among the artists who enjoyed success with his songs. Kathy Mattea’s recent album, Coal, featured several of his songs including “Coal Tattoo” and “The Coming of the Roads.” Moreover, he had one major country hit of his own (“Ode To The Little Brown Shack Out Back”) and several lesser hits including “I Ain’t The Worrying Kind” and “Fried Chicken and a Country Tune”. Wheeler was a long-time friend of Chet Atkins and they wrote a number of songs together including the amusing “I Still Write Your Name in the Snow”.

Born on December 12, 1932, in Whitesville, West Virginia, Billy Edd Wheeler was raised in Boone County, West Virginia, and an artistic bent showed up early. After high school, he headed to North Carolina where he graduated from Warren Wilson Junior College in 1953, and then to Berea College in Kentucky where he graduated in 1955.

After an interlude in the military in the Naval Air Corps, he did graduate studies at Yale’s School of Drama under John Gassner, majoring in playwriting. During this time, he became acquainted with the famed team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and collaborated with them on some songs, including “Jackson,” “The Reverend Mr. Black,” and “(The Girl Who Loved) The Man Who Robbed The Bank At Santa Fe (And Got Away)”, which was a Top 10 hit for Hank Snow.

Billy Edd Wheeler is a warm and engaging performer whose singing is more folk than country. His career as a singer emerged at the end of the “Hootenanny” era so he has had a relatively low profile as a recording artist. Living in Swannanoa, North Carolina since 1971 has kept him out of the Nashville spotlight but he has remained busy. During his career, he has received 13 awards from ASCAP for songs recorded by the likes of Judy Collins, Bobby Darin, The Kingston Trio, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, Kenny Rogers, Elvis, and 90+ other artists. Wheeler estimated a few years ago that his songs sold over 57 million units. By now the total is over 65 million units. “Jackson” was featured in the soundtrack to I Walk The Line, a very successful movie.

He has written a dozen plays, including 4 outdoor dramas that include the long-running Hatfields & McCoys at Beckley, West Virginia, and Young Abe Lincoln at Lincoln City, Indiana. His most recent play, Johnny Appleseed, premiered at Mansfield, Ohio in 2004. He also has authored or co-authored several books of humor, most recently Real Country Humor – Jokes From Country Music Personalities.

If that isn’t enough, Billy Edd Wheeler also is an accomplished painter. He was featured in Appalachian Heritage magazine’s 2008 winter issue, which included 16 of his original paintings, and the North Carolina Our State magazine featured him in their December, 2007 issue.

Billy Edd Wheeler was inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame in 2007 and the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2011. He also is a member of the Nashville Association of Songwriters International’s Hall of Fame, and has won awards in various other fields of endeavor.

Discography

Vinyl

Billy Edd Wheeler issued a number of albums for Kapp and other labels. All of them contain interesting songs and any that you happen to come across will be worth the purchase.

While he had recorded previously, Memories of America/ Ode to the Little Brown Shack Out Back (Kapp, 1965) was the album that brought Billy Edd Wheeler to the attention of most people. This album contains most of the songs for which he is remembered including “Jackson” and “The Reverend Mr. Black.” Joan Sommer is the female lead on several songs and the Coasters (yes, those Coasters) provide the harmony on “After Taxes.” This album had previously been issued under the title A New Bag of Songs, but when the title song became a surprise hit, the album was reissued minus two songs and adding the title song and “Sister Sara” which the Kingston Trio had recently turned into a hit.

I Ain’t the Worryin’ Kind (Kapp, 1968) is the other vinyl album to look for, as it contains most of the other songs for which he is known, and some of the best examples of Billy Edd’s wry wit. “Gladys (The Anatomy of A Shotgun Wedding)” is not to be missed, nor is “I Ain’t The Worryin’ Kind.”

CD

CDs are available can be purchased from Billy Edd’s website www.billyeddwheeler.com

None of his vinyl albums have made it to CD intact, but Milestones contains some original versions of his songs. I would also recommend Songs I Wrote With Chet, a collection of songs co-authored by the great Chet Atkins. Actually go ahead and buy every CD and book he has for sale on his website. They are all great fun.

The Ernest Tubb Record Shop has available one CD not available from Billy Edd’s website titled A Big Bag of Songs. Released in 2010 on the Omni label, the disc contains most of the A New Bag of Songs album, please an interesting array of Wheeler’s other work. A significant portion of this album is in monaural and some of the tracks were remastered from secondary sources as much of the Kapp audio library was destroyed in a Universal Studios vault fire some years back. This CD contains 28 tracks.