My Kind of Country

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

Category Archives: Fellow Travelers

Fellow Travelers: Neil Diamond

neil-diamond-01Neil Diamond has had an almost continuous presence on the various Billboard charts since 1965. Possessed of an excellent voice that covers the entire tenor-baritone continuum, Neil has been a titan of the pop and adult contemporary charts with some scattered play on jazz, R&B and country stations along the way.

Who Was He?

Neil Diamond started out as a songwriter, part of the legendary ‘Brill Building’ cadre of songwriters. Success for Neil came slowly until November 1965, when “Sunday and Me,” became a #18 hit for Jay and The Americans. Shortly thereafter the producers for the pre-fab four (a/k/a the Monkees) took interest in Neil’s music, recording several of his tunes including “I’m a Believer,” “A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You,” “Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)” and “Love to Love “. The radio and television exposure generated by the Monkees did wonders for Neil’s checkbook. “I’m A Believer” spent seven weeks at #1 and sold over 10 million copies for the Monkees.

Neil’s own hits started soon thereafter, with “Solitary Man” becoming a modest success in 1966 (but a top ten record in several regional markets. The next single “Cherry, Cherry” sealed the deal reaching #6 on the pop charts. While not every subsequent single would become a top ten record, for the next twenty five years nearly every single charted on one of Billboard’s charts, and many charted globally. He ranks behind only Sir Elton John and Barbra Streisand on the Billboard Adult Contemporary charts.

What Was His Connection to Country Music?

The first Neil Diamond single I can recall hearing was “Kentucky Woman”, a #22 pop hit in 1967. At the time I heard the song, I thought it was a country song, and that Neil should be performing country music. Indeed, Neil’s record received some airplay on WCMS-AM and WTID-AM in Norfolk, VA and it wasn’t long before some of his songs were being covered on country albums.

Waylon Jennings had a great terrific version of “Kentucky Woman” on his Only The Greatest album area, Roy Drusky had a top twenty county hit in 1972 with “Red Red Wine”, and T.G. Sheppard had a top 15 country hit in 1976 with “Solitary Man”. “I’m A Believer” showed up as an album track on many country albums.

In 1978-1979 Neil had a pair of songs chart in the lower reaches of the country charts in “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” (billed as Neil & Barbra) and “Forever In Blue Jeans”. “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” was , of course, a huge pop hit but Jim Ed Brown & Helen Cornelius covered it in the country market for a #1 record.

In 1996 Neil targeted the album Tennessee Moon at the country market and it reached #3 on the Billboard Country albums chart, although it generated no hit singles for the fifty-five year old Diamond. The album featured duets with Raul Malo , Hal Ketcham and Waylon Jennings. This would be the only time that Neil Diamond would target an album at the country music market, although many of his albums featured songs that would fit easily into the county format at the time the album was recorded.

Neil Diamond Today

Neil is still alive and recording, his most recent album being the 2014 release Melody Road. His website does not show any current tour dates, but he has not announced his retirement from touring, and he toured in 2015 so I presume he will be back touring shortly.

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Fellow Travelers – Jimmie Rodgers

jimmie rodgersJimmie Rodgers was an American pop singer who had considerable success on the pop and country charts during the 1950s. Although not related to Jimmie Rodgers (the “Singing Brakeman”), the most famous country singer of the 1920s and 1930s, this Jimmie Rodgers was born in 1933, the same year that his namesake passed away.

Who Was He?

Starting in 1957, Jimmie Rodgers had a three year run of enormous pop success with several of his songs receiving heavy country airplay. In 1957 “Honeycomb” went #1 on the pop and R&B charts and its follow-up “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” went #3 pop and #8 R&B. In 1958 Jimmie had seven songs chart on Billboard’s pop charts with “Uh Oh, I’m Falling In Love Again reaching #7 pop and #19 R&B, “Secretly” reaching #3 pop and #7 R&B and “Are You Really Mine” reaching #10 pop. Rodgers charted another eight song on the pop charts in 1959 although none of them went top ten.

As musical tastes changed during the 1960s, the hits slowed down with only 13 pop chart hits during the 1960s although he had several significant hits on the Adult Contemporary charts during the 1960s with his cover of Rod McKuen’s “The World I Used To Know” reaching #9 in 1964 and his own composition “It’s Over” (not to be mistaken for the Roy Orbison song of the same name) reached #5.

On December 1, 1967, Jimmie Rodgers was discovered by a friend, alone in his car with traumatic head injuries from a savage beating. Jimmie had sustained a fractured skull and required several surgeries, which placed his career on hold for several years. The assailants remain unknown to this very day. His original record label Roulette had known mob ties and the suspicion remains to this day that mob retribution was involved, Jimmie having changed record labels a few years earlier; however, the possibility of police misconduct is believed by many to have occurred.

What Was His Connection to County Music?

Jimmie Rodgers had four songs reach the country top ten in 1957-1958 (“Honeycomb” – #7; “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” – #6; “Uh-Oh I’m Falling In Love Again” – #5 and “Secretly” – #5). Several more of his songs reached the country top twenty. Although he fell off the country charts entirely during the 1960s a late 1970s comeback saw four more country chart singles for Rodgers.

Even though Rodgers county chart success was sporadic after 1957-1958, his four biggest hits were played as oldies on various country stations and some of his later material was covered by country artists. Johnny Darrell had an acclaimed album track of “Child of Clay” that would likely have charted if Billboard had charted album tracks back in 1968, Eddy Arnold had a successful single on “It’s Over” (#4 country) and Eddy would cover several of Jimmie’s singles as singles or album tracks.

Jimmie recorded for A&M Records during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Many of the tracks on the A&M albums would have fit comfortably on country radio.

Jimmie Rodgers Today

Jimmie is still alive, although spastic dysphonia has largely curtailed his singing career. Jimmie has a website http://www.jimmie-rodgers.com/ which gives more details of his life and has some of his product available.

Classic Rewind: Jimmie Rodgers – ‘Uh Oh, I’m Falling In Love Again’

The pop artist’s biggest country hit:

Fellow Travelers – Olivia Newton-John

olivia newton johnOlivia Newton-John is a British-born Australian singer who, while never really a country singer, sang a version of Australian folk-pop that fit comfortably into country radio’s format during the early 1970s.

Who Was She?

For a few years, Olivia Newton-John was a major international pop star and briefly, a movie star. Olivia’s recording career began in Australia, where her parents had emigrated in 1954, when she was six years old. Around 1965, Olivia won a contest where the prize was a trip to England for a recording contract. Her first single, released in 1966 by the English Decca label, “Til You Say You’ll Be Mine” did nothing chart-wise, but over the course of the next few years her career built some momentum.

Olivia’s first album IF NOT FOR YOU, was released in 1971 and contained two singles. “If Not For You” went top ten in Australia, Canada, England, and topped the US Adult Contemporary charts. The next single “Banks of The Ohio” (a rather morbid American folk song) went to #1 in Australia and charted in various other countries. Neither of these singles charted on the US Country charts although both did receive some country airplay.

From 1974 through 1982 Olivia Newton-John was a major pop star around the world with her records routinely going top ten. Her success accelerated for a few years after her successful movie role in GREASE in 1978.

After 1982 the hits started decreasing in size although she would continue to chart around the world until around 1992.

In addition to success in the singles market, Olivia Newton-John’s albums sold well. All told, she had twelve US albums that went at least gold (500,000 copies sold) with four of those albums going platinum (at least 1,000,000 copies sold). Although not specifically Olivia Newton-John albums, the soundtracks to Grease and Xanadu were hugely successful, with Grease selling over 8,000,000 copies in the US alone.

What Was Her Connection to County Music?

Starting with 1973’s “Let Me Be There”, country radio started charting Olivia’s records with six of the next seven singles reaching the country top ten. While none of her singles reached #1 on Billboard’s country chart, “If You Love Me (Let Me Know)” reached #1 on Cashbox and “I Honestly Love You went to #1 on Record World. After 1976’s “Come On Over” her style changed, becoming more suggestive and with a harder beat that made it harder for country radio to justify playing her songs.

During her brief run as a country artist Olivia Newton-John won the 1974 CMA Female Vocalist of The Year and the 1973 NARAS Grammy for “Let Me Be There”. Both choices were highly controversial and remain so to this day as she never more than dabbled in country music and didn’t normally play the venues frequented by country fans. Still she did have a total of fifteen songs chart on Billboard’s Country Charts from 1973 to 1979 (Cashbox had a sixteenth song “Making A Good Thing Better” chart in 1977) and that’s more than Ray Charles or most of our other Fellow Travelers charted and more than many career country acts managed to chart.

Fellow Travelers: Harry Lillis “Bing” Crosby (1903-1977)

bing crosbyBy many measures, Bing Crosby was the most successful entertainer of the 20th century. As such he dabbled in many forms of popular music be it pop, jazz, country, cowboy and rhythm & blues.

WHO WAS HE?

Bing has been dead long enough that if he is remembered at all by the under fifty set, it is for old black and white movies like GOING MY WAY and THE ROAD TO MOROCCO or as the artist singing “White Christmas” on their parents’ (or grandparents’) favorite Christmas album.

Bing was much more than that; he was for many years the most famous entertainer on Planet Earth.

According to Billboard historian Joel Whitburn, Bing Crosby was the number one recording artist for the entire decades of the 1930s and 1940s with some success spilling into the 1950s. He recorded 383 chart hits with 41 number one records and another 152 that landed in the top ten. His recording of “White Christmas” is the biggest selling single in US history. He introduced many songs now known as pop standards.

If that isn’t enough, Bing Crosby was among the top ten movie box office stars fifteen times and from 1944 through 1948 he was the number one box office star. He won an Academy Award for his role in GOING MY WAY. By any measure except dollars (due to ticket price inflation) Bing ranks in the top three of all-time movie stars with 1,077,900,000 movie tickets sold.

Moreover he was a successful radio star and at one time was part owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team and owned a number of successful racehorses.

WHAT WAS HIS CONNECTION TO COUNTRY MUSIC ?

Bing Crosby was a major factor in popularizing the western side of country music, making a number of movie westerns and introducing many western themed songs to the greater American public. Bing had hits on songs such as “Don’t Fence Me In”, “Along The Navajo Trail”, “Sioux City Sue”, “Blue Shadows On The Trail” , “Mule Train”, “Riders In The Sky”, “I’m An Old Cowhand”, The Last Round-up” and “Home On The Range”. He was elected to the Western Music Hall of Fame in 2008.

On the country side of the ledger, Bing covered such songs as “Walking The Floor Over You”, “San Antonio Rose” and “It Makes No Difference Now” for the pop market. When Billboard finally started tracking country music as a separate genre in January 1944, the very first number one record was “Pistol Packing Mama” by Bing Crosby accompanied by the Andrews Sister. It would stay there for five non-consecutive weeks, trading places with Al Dexter’s version (Dexter wrote the song). Bing would only chart one more record on Billboard’s country charts in 1952 when his recording (with Grady Martin & His Slewfoot Five) of “Till The End of The World” reached number ten.

Before his death in 1977 Bing Crosby would record many country songs as album tracks and would record at least one entire album of country music, for Capitol Records in 1963.

Classic Rewind: Pure Prairie League ft Vince Gill – ‘Let Me Love You Tonight’

Fellow Travelers: Pure Prairie League

pure prairie leagueThere were many rock groups during the late 1960s and early 1970s that straddled the line between rock and country music. Most of them (Poco, The Byrds – but only for one album, Matthews Southern Comfort, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Crosby Stills & Nash) were definitely more rock than country.

My favorite of these rock-country/country rock groups was Pure Prairie League. The fact that they were my personal favorite probably explains their relative lack of commercial success.

Who Were They?

Pure Prairie League (“PPL”) was formed in the mid-1960s by Craig Fuller with the band carrying a number of names before then-band member Tommy McGrail came up with Pure Prairie League, named after a fictitious temperance union featured in the 1939 movie DODGE CITY starring Errol Flynn. From 1970 onward (and occasionally before), the band lineup featured a steel guitar.

During the early 1970s Pure Prairie League never received the country airplay they deserved, although many country stations would play an occasional track or two, but their success at college radio stations kept them in the public eye and in 1975 caused their initial label RCA for whom they had cut two albums in 1972 (PURE PRAIRIE LEAGUE and BUSTIN’ OUT) to track them down and re-sign them to the label to do some more recording. The single released by RCA from BUSTIN’OUT benefited from the additional promotion from RCA and charted in 1975 reaching #27 on Billboard’s Pop chart and making a bigger impact in Canada reaching #40 on the Canadian Pop chart and # 19 on the Canadian Adult Contemporary chart. Although “Amie”, with Craig Fuller on lead vocals, did not chart on the country charts, it did become a staple as a country ‘oldie’ on country stations everywhere. One single, their 1976 cover of Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be The Day” did creep into the lower reaches of the Country chart.

Over the years PPL recorded for a number of record labels and had various musicians flowing in and out of the band. PPL has disbanded and reunited at several points along the way. Although “Amie” is the best remembered of their songs, 1980’s “Let Me Love You Tonight” was their biggest hit reaching #10 Pop and #1 Adult Contemporary. From 1975-1981 the band charted eight pop singles. As of 2014, the band is still intact and performing about 100 dates annually. PPL also charted nine albums from 1972 to 1981 with TWO LANE HIGHWAY reaching #24 on Billboard’s POP album chart.

What Was Their Connection to County Music?

PPL’s importance to country music can be summarized as follows:

1) “Amie

2) Vince Gill – vocalist from 1978-1981 and lead vocalist on “Let Me Love You Tonight”

3) “I’ll Change Your Flat Tire, Merle” – track on 1975 album TWO LANE HIGHWAY, a track which does more than simply name-check the greatest singer in country music history

4) TAKIN’ THE STAGE – really fine two album live set from 1977 that shows that PPL wasn’t a studio creation as the bad nearly replicates the sound of their studio albums. I didn’t list this in my list of the greatest live country albums a few years back because I regard PPL as not quite country, but I sure was tempted to list it

Classic Rewind: John Fogerty and Wynonna Judd – ‘Proud Mary’

Fellow Travelers: Creedence Clearwater Revival / John Fogerty

john fogertyFor a Californian who had never resided in the southeastern United States, John Fogerty sure sounded like someone from that region of the country and his band reeked of a swamp-rock vibe. For a few years, Creedence was an overwhelming force on both Billboard’s singles and albums pop charts. After an acrimonious break up, Fogarty soldiered on alone, continuing his successful ways

Who Were They?

Creedence Clearwater Revival was basically a garage band with a very talented singer-songwriter in John Fogerty. The real breakthrough for CCR came with the 1968 single “Proud Mary” which hit #2 in the US and Canada (and reached #1 in Austria). The next single “Bad Moon Rising” also reached #2 (#1 in Great Britain). This was followed by “Lodi” (#52), “Green River” (#2), “Down On The Corner” (#3), “Who’ll Stop The Rain” (#2) and “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” (#2). Curiously , CCR never had a #1 single in the US although various singles went to #1 outside of the US.

CCR’s first six albums were all certified by the RIAA as platinum or multiple platinum. Their final album, released in 1972 was certified gold.

By 1973 the group was no more, racked by internal disagreements and squabbles with their record label. Their label, Fantasy, continued thereafter reissuing various hit collections and anthologies.

John Fogerty had considerable success as a solo artist issuing a number of successful singles and albums

What Was The Connection to County Music?

While CCR only landed one single on the country charts (a reissued album track “Cotton Fields” in 1982), country acts recorded many of their songs as singles and album tracks. Anthony Armstrong Jones had a country hit with “Proud Mary”, Buddy Alan Owens hit the country charts with “Lodi”, and such stalwarts as Dave Dudley recorded “Bad Moon Rising” and Proud Mary”. “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” established CCR’s country credibility with the lyric:

There’s a giant doing cartwheels, a statue wearing high heels
Look at all the happy creatures dancing on the lawn
Dinosaur Victrola, listenin’ to Buck Owens
Doot doot doot lookin’ out my back door

John Fogerty was never afraid of anything as he battled record labels and bandmates over the years. He also, at a time country wasn’t cool, wasn’t afraid to show his country roots. In fact his first solo album (a one-man band effort) titled THE BLUE RIDGE RANGERS featured John singing a bunch of classic country songs, including the 1973 single “Jambalaya” which charted in 1973.

Fogarty would wait awhile before doing another country album but 2009’s BLUE RIDGE RANGERS RIDE AGAIN proved worth the wait. In some ways this album was better than the original as he eschewed the one-man band gimmick and used some of the genre’s finest sidemen in addition to having some vocal partners like Don Henley and Bruce Springsteen.

Fellow Travelers – The Kingston Trio

kingston trioThe Kingston Trio were pop stars for about a decade starting in 1957. While the number of hit singles they had was fairly small, they sold enormous numbers of albums and had a large and enthusiastic following, so much so that the group continues to perform to this day, although none of the original members are still in the group.

Who Were They?

Although often mistakenly classified as folk singers, and often excoriated by purists for not being sufficiently authentic, the Kingston Trio actually was a pop act that used folk instruments and dipped into the entire song-bag of popular music for their recordings. The group never regarded itself as a folk act.

The group was formed in 1956 by Dave Guard, Bob Shane and Nick Reynolds. Initially performing in northern California, the trio performed at the Italian Village Restaurant, where they developed a significant following for their unique blend of music and comedy. Their big break came in March when Phyllis Diller cancelled a week long engagement at the Purple Onion in June 1957 and the trio was asked to take the gig.

From here their fame spread quickly with appearances at the Village Vanguard in New York, Mr. Kelly’s in Chicago and Storyville in Boston. Signed to Capitol Records in 1958, their first album was a surprise hit in the form of “Tom Dooley” (an updated version of the old folk song “Tom Dula”), which sailed to #1 on Billboard’s pop charts on November 17, 1958.

While the Kingston Trio would never again have a hit of that magnitude, they would score ten top forty hits through 1963, with “The Reverend Mr. Black” reaching #8 in 1963.

The strength of the Kingston Trio was in album sales as they had five #1 albums, two #2 albums and three number three albums form 1958-1962.

Along the way the group received a Grammy for Best County & Western Song in 1959 for “Tom Dooley” and a Grammy in 1960 for Best Traditional Folk Album for AT LAST.

Dave Guard, who actually was a bit of a folk purist, left the group in late 1961, to be replaced by John Stewart. The group would continue until June 1967 when they disbanded. All told they charted twenty albums before the 1967 disbanding.

What Was Their Connection to County Music?

The Kingston Trio never actually landed an single or an album on the country charts. Their importance to country music is that they recorded many country songs. Billy Edd Wheeler, who wrote such county classics as “Jackson” and “Coward of The County” got his first real exposure through Kingston Trio recordings such as “The Reverend Mr. Black”. Other country songwriters had songs on various Kingston Trio, country songsmiths such as Bill Monroe, Danny Dill, and Hoyt Axton.

Country audiences liked the Kingston Trio and their songs would occasionally get played on country radio – I heard “Reverend Mr. Black” and “MTA” with some frequency over the years. Moreover, many of the Kingston Trio records had a strong bluegrass feel to them as several members of the band played the banjo (and played it well). This country/bluegrass feel of Kingston Trio records became more pronounced after John Stewart replaced Dave Guard.

Fellow Travelers: Jack Scott (1936-)

jack scottMost of the artists featured here previously were big stars here or elsewhere with many hit records, if not many country chart hits. Our current Fellow Traveler could best be described as a “cult favorite”. He sounded tough, like someone you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley, but he was also an effective gospel singer and could handle country music and rock and roll with equal aplomb, and he was a powerful balladeer.

Jack Scott, born Giovanni Domenico Scafone, Jr. was of Canadian birth (Windsor, Ontario) but emerged from the Detroit rock and roll scene. His first ten years were spent in Windsor, but at age ten his parents moved across the river to Detroit where his musical career. He grew up listening to hillbilly music and the nascent sounds of early rock and roll, By the time Rock and Roll arrived in the form of 1954’s “Rock Around The Clock” Jack was already 18 years old, so his musical influences primarily come from other sources.

WHO WAS HE?

Although classified as a rock and roll or rockabilly singer, Jack Scott was really a big-voiced balladeer who scored with a couple of large hits, while mostly recording for minor labels such as Top Rank and Carlton. He wrote most of his own material, especially his singles and has been elected as a member of the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Jack’s first records were on the Carlton label. Although the record did not chart nationally, an early Carlton release “Greaseball” was a regional success, that helped focus attention on Scott.

Jack first hit the charts with a song he wrote titled “My True Love” which hit #3 in 1958. The flip side, “Leroy” also charted reaching #11. Later in 1958, the tough-minded “Goodbye Baby” reached #8. Jack spent 1959 in the US Army, which slowed down his career, although a record released during his military service, “The Way I Walk” , reached the top forty.

Upon his release from the military, Jack signed with Top Rank records which led to two quick top ten records in 1960 with “What In The World’s Come Over You” (#5) and “Burning Bridges (#3).

After this Jack faded off the charts quickly being too rockabilly, too tough and possibly too masculine sounding for the doo-wop and teen idol songs that dominated before the British invasion of 1964.

WHAT WAS HIS CONNECTION TO COUNTRY MUSIC ?

Jack Scott recorded and released many country songs during his career; in fact, his second album for Top Rank was titled I REMEMBER HANK WILLIAMS . Some country radio played his songs, although only 1974’s Dot recording of “You’re Just Gettin’ Better” ever reached the country charts. His single of “Burning Bridges featured a steel guitar, and both of his 1960 top tens were covered by country artist for country chart hits, with Glen Campbell taking “Burning Bridges” to #17 in 1967, and Sonny James having a top ten record in 1975 with “What In The World’s Come Over You”.

Classic Rewind: Rick Nelson and the Stone Canyon Band – ‘She Belongs To Me’

Fellow Travelers: Eric Hilliard “Ricky” Nelson (1940-1985)

Ricky NelsonThe late 50s and early 1960s saw many so-called heart throb artists pushed off on the American teenage population. Most of them were very attractive guys who had a strong visual appeal to teenage girls, but had minimal singing talent, which meant that they had a few hits before their fans moved on to other artists .

Ricky Nelson was one such artist, who also had the advantage of a weekly platform on his parents popular television show THE ADVENTURES OF OZZIE AND HARRIET. Unlike most of his teen-throb counterparts, Ricky Nelson had real talent and was able to sustain his musical career throughout his short life, charting 53 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 between 1957 and 1973.

WHO WAS HE ?

Ricky Nelson was the younger son of big band leader Ozzie Nelson and Ozzie’s featured singer (and later wife) Harriet Hilliard Nelson. Ozzie’s band was very successful, having many hits including a #1 record in 1935 with “And Then Some”. From 1944 onward, Ozzie & Harriet were involved in the THE ADVENTURES OF OZZIE AND HARRIET, initially on radio and then from 1952 to 1966 on television. Starting in 1949 Ricky and his brother David had roles as themselves on the show.

After his death, Ricky’s sons would score a #1 record recording as the group ‘Nelson’, making the Nelson family one of two answers to the trivia question “what musical family had #1 pop records in three consecutive generations?”.

Ricky Nelson’s recording career began in 1957 when he covered the Fats Domino hit “I’m Walking'” b/w “A Teenager’s Romance”. Both sides charted in the top four. From there Ricky would have eighteen top ten records through the end of 1963 including two #1s in “Poor Little Fool” (1958) and “Travelin’ Man” (1961). Ricky’s records were always noted for having a really tight band with ace guitarist James Burton featured on most of his records.

In addition to his family’s television show, Ricky Nelson appeared in several films including the classic western RIO BRAVO with John Wayne.

WHAT WAS HIS CONNECTION TO COUNTRY MUSIC ?

Ricky Nelson recorded and release many country songs both as singles and as album tracks. County radio played many of his singles with five of them charting country including his #10 cover of Hank Williams’ “My Bucket’s Got A Whole In It” and “Poor Little Fool” which reached #3.

Several of Ricky’s pop hits that did not chart on the country charts, were either country songs such as “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You” or songs written by songwriters such as Baker Knight who came to be identified with country music. Moreover, many of Ricky’s songs have been covered as album tracks by country acts including such songs as “Hello Mary Lou” , “Travelin’ Man”, “Lonesome Town” and “Never Be Anyone Else But You”.

After the “British Invasion” wiped out the early rock & rollers and the “Philly Cream Cheese” doo-woppers, Ricky Nelson went more overtly country in his musical quests, recording a pair of straight ahead country albums for Decca, BRIGHT LIGHTS AND COUNTRY MUSIC and COUNTRY FEVER, both really solid albums.

Toward the end of the 1960s and tired of being considered an “oldies” act, Nelson revamped his name and image, becoming Rick Nelson and putting together the Stone Canyon Band, a country-rock band which featured former Buck Owens’ Buckaroo Tom Brumley on steel guitar. The band issued five albums, all of which charted. The fourth and most successful album 1972’s GARDEN PARTY charted both pop and country and also charted in Canada. The featured single “Garden Party” was Rick’s first top ten single in nine years reaching #6 (also #1 on the adult contemporary chart and #1 on the Canadian pop chart). “Garden Party” would prove to be Rick’s last real hit.

When Rick died in a small plane crash on December 31, 1985, millions mourned. He was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, and has also been elected to the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.

Fellow Travelers: Frankie Laine (1913-2007)

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

WHO WAS HE?

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

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

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

WHAT WAS HIS CONNECTION TO COUNTRY MUSIC?

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

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

Fellow Travelers: Val Doonican

Val_Doonican_1971Unlike Engelbert Humperdinck, who achieved world-wide fame, our next fellow traveler’s popularity is largely confined to the United Kingdom and Ireland and parts of the British Commonwealth, with some popularity in the Netherlands. Like Humperdinck, Michael Valentine “Val” Doonican was born elsewhere (Ireland) but migrated to England where he achieved great success.

Val Doonican was born in Waterford, Ireland in 1927, where he started performing in his late teens as part of the Irish folk scene where he appeared on radio and on Waterford’s first television broadcast. Val moved to England in 1951 as part of a group called The Four Ramblers. Eventually Anthony Newley noticed Val’s singular vocal talents and pushed him into a solo direction. In 1963 Val appeared on Sunday Night At The London Palladium leading him to be offered his own television show on the BBC.

    Who Was He ?

The closest analogy to Val Doonican’s career is that of Perry Como, an American pop singer whose hits spanned decades and whose television shows spanned four decades. Like Como, Doonican had a very relaxed style (Val was known for sitting in a rocking chair while singing on his television shows), but unlike Como who came from the Italian belle canto tradition and mostly performed songs from the Italian and American pop standards catalog, Val emerged from the Irish folk tradition and sang a wider variety of music. Doonican’s career on British television lasted for over twenty years. Val Doonican had remarkable recording success given that his recording career launched during the “British Invasion” years of the Beatles, Kinks and Rolling Stones. While Val never had a number one record in England, he did have five top ten records with “What Would I Be” reaching #2 in 1966. “Walk Tall” reached #3 in 1964 and “If The Whole World Stopped Loving” reached #3 in 1967. In all, Val charted 14 hits on the British charts.

    What Was His Connection to Country Music ?

Val Doonican emerged from the Irish folk tradition, one of the key elements of Appalachian and early country music. Doonican’s repertoire consisted of folk songs, pop songs and American country songs. Two of Val’s biggest hits were covers of American country hits in “Walk Tall” (Faron Young) and “If The Whole World Stopped Loving” (Roy Drusky) and he issued several other country songs as singles (his cover of Jim Ed Brown’s “Morning” reached #12 in England and #5 in Ireland).
Val Doonican issued many albums during his career. Twelve of his albums reached the British charts with six of them reaching the top six, and one album Val Doonican Rocks But Gently going to #1 in 1967. Val’s albums featured many country songs, some of which featured arrangements that could have been played on American country radio. Val Doonican issued many albums during his career and gently introduced British audiences to American country songs. Moreover, several of his albums were released in the United States and Val would feature American country artists as guests on his television show.

I made the analogy of Doonican’s career to that of Perry Como, but as a vocalist a better comparison would be Jim Reeves or (to a lesser extent) Roy Drusky. It doesn’t appear that Val ever tried to conquer the US market although Americans who lived in England for a few years (such as myself) would have loved to have seen him do it. ABC TV ran The Val Doonican Show as a summer replacement from June 5, 1971 to August 14, 1971.

Val retired five ago from performing (he is now 87) but his much of his musical output is still in print and worth seeking.

Fellow Travelers – Engelbert Humperdinck

engelbert humberdinckThus far all of my fellow travelers have hailed from North America. Not so Arnold George Dorsey, who was born of English parents in Madras, India in 1936 and spent his first decade there before his parents moved back to England.

In 1965, after a decade of struggling to establish himself in the music industry, Dorsey teamed up with an old friend, Gordon Mills, who was successfully managing the career of Tom Jones. Gordon suggested a name change, obtained a recording contract with the British Decca label (which released product in the USA under the London and Parrot labels) and helped in other aspects of Englebert’s career.

After a few minor European hits such as “Domage, Domage” Mills and Humperdinck unleashed “Release Me” on an unsuspecting world. The song, a cover of a 1954 Ray Price country hit, featured a sweeping orchestral and choral arrangement topped off by Englebert’s soaring vocals.

Who Was He ?

Engelbert was the biggest global star in the world of classic pop (or pop standards) for the period through 1970. “Release Me went to #4 n the US pop charts, #2 in Canada, #3 in Australia and #1 in England, Ireland and the Netherlands. It’s follow up “There Goes My Everything” went top 20 in the US and top ten in various countries. The single after that, “The Last Waltz”, went to #25 in the US but went to #1 in England, Ireland, Australia and The Netherlands. The single after that one, “Am I That Easy To Forget” returned Englebert to the US pop top twenty.

After that the hits started decreasing in size although he would continue to chart around the world until the end of he 1980s. He charted on the British pop chart as recently as 2012.

What Was His Connection to County Music?

Three of Englebert’s four biggest hits were covers of Americn country hits (“There Goes My Everything” had been a huge record for Jack Greene and “Am I That Easy To Forget” a hit for Jim Reeves and for writer Carl Belew). In addition to covering country hits for his singles, country songs showed up as album tracks on his albums.

Even though Englebert’s records were not charting as country during the 1960s and early 1970s, his songs were receiving some airplay on country radio stations, especially those stations that billed themselves as “countrypolitan” stations. In 1977 Engelbert’s last top ten US pop hit, “After The Lovin'” charted at #40 on Billboard’s Country charts (it reached #31 on Cashbox). Three more singles would chart country for Engelbert, including 1979’s “Til You And Your Lover Are Lovers Again” which cracked the top forty.

Englebert Humperdinck and Dean Martin were my mom’s favorite singers and although Mom wasn’t really a fan of country music, it is significant that both of her favorites were fans of the genre, favorites who helped expose country music, even if only in a limited manner.

Fellow Travelers – Carl Perkins

‘One For The Money – Two For The Show – Three To Get Ready – And Go Cat Go’
carl perkins

If Elvis was the King, Carl Perkins was the commoner who became a widely respected elder statesman of rock and roll music. Much more of a country boy than Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins perhaps saw his shot at superstardom ruined by a car accident that killed Carl’s brother Jay and put Carl out of commission just as his hit “Blue Suede Shoes” ascended to the top of the country charts (it would reach #2 on the pop charts).

Who Was He ?

Carl Perkins (1932-1998) was talented songwriter, singer and musician who perhaps owed more to the country side of rockabilly than to the R&B influences of most early rock and rollers. Carl had only five songs chart on the pop charts with “Blue Suede Shoes” easily the biggest hit spending four weeks at #2. His other pop hits were “Boppin’ The Blues (#70), “Your True Love” (#67), “Pink Petal Pushers” (#91) and “Pointed Toes Shoes” (#93). Although his chart success was limited these songs, as well as non-charting songs such as “Matchbox”,”Honey Don’t” and”All Mama’s Children” were covered and performed by countless rock and roll and rockabilly acts for the next three decades. The Beatles recorded a large number of his songs. As a guitarist Perkins was revered and respected by some of the biggest names in the music business many of whom would eventually record tracks with him, including George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, NRBQ and Paul Simon. He appeared in live concert with Dave Edmunds and Eric Clapton. The list actually is endless so I’ll stop listing names now

What Was His Connection to County Music ?” (#70)

Carl was from the small Tennessee town of Tiptonville and remained a country boy at heart. Carl had fifteen country chart hits with six reaching the top twenty

He was well liked in the music community and while Carl was at a low point in his career (and in battling personal demons), Johnny Cash added Carl as parting of his road show package. Carl would spend ten years touring with Cash. While part of the Cash show, Carl penned “Daddy Sang Bass” which would spend six weeks as a country number one for Johnny Cash, and Tommy Cash would have a top ten record with another Perkins composition “Rise and Shine”. In 1991 the New Nashville Cats (Mark O’Connor, Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs and Steve Wariner took Carl’s “Restless” back into the country top thirty.

Unlike some singers who sound good only when performing their own hits, Carl seemed to be able to sing anybody’s material and make sound as if it was especially composed for him. Virtually any Carl Perkins recording is worth hearing.

Classic Rewind: Elvis Presley – ‘Moody Blue’

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.

Classic Rewind: Louis Jordan – ‘Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby?’ and ‘Ration Blues’