My Kind of Country

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

Category Archives: Spotlight Artist

Album Review: Charley Pride – ‘A Sunshiny Day With Charley Pride’

A Sunshiny Day With Charley Pride was released in 1972, and produced as usual by Cowboy Jack Clement. The album’s sole single, sitting on top of the country charts for three weeks in the summer of 1972, was the Ben Peters song, ‘It’s Gonna Take A Little Bit Longer’, set to a jaunty medium tempo, it proclaims the narrator’s enduring love despite his lady’s departure. It’s a highly likeable recording with a Cajun flavor, which still stands up very well today. Peters also contributed the title track, a suitably sunny tune about happiness which is pleasant to listen to but a little bland lyrically.

‘She’s Helping Me Get Over You’ is a classic country song, written by A L “Doodle” Owens and Hal Bynum about finding a new love and getting past an older, stronger but toxic one which still has a pull on him. This is my favorite song on the album. The same pair wrote ‘One More Year’, a powerful plea from a husband to his wife to last through some more hard times:

Sweetheart, I know I’ve never made one dream come true for you
If you’ll just walk through one more storm our sunshine may appear
But if we wake up tomorrow and you don’t see a rainbow
Sweetheart, why can’t we try it one more year?

Texan rockabilly artist Al Urban provided a couple of fine ballads. ‘When The Trains Come In’ is an excellent ballad about loneliness with a haunting whistle and harmonica accompaniment. Even better is the steel led ‘You’re Wanting Me To Stop Loving You’, a gentle but firm reproach to the wife who is leaving him.

Johnny Duncan’s ‘Nothin’ Left But Leavin’’ is another highlight, an excellent song with echoes of a more bitter version of the classic ‘My Elusive Dreams’:

Tonight it’s so cold, the rain is fallin’
But it’s still not as cold as your love for me
That’s why I’m walking down this highway
And a diesel going my way
Will take me far from you and you’ll be free

There was nothin’ left but leavin’ for us in Tulsa
But then again the same was true out in LA
Seems like trouble always finds us
So I broke the tie that binds us
There was nothin’ left but leavin’ anyway

We tried to find our dreams in New Mexico
But the answers just weren’t there in Santa Fe
And we could blame it all on Texas
But the problem now with us is
We never had what we thought anyway

There was nothin’ left but leavin’ any longer
And I finally found the strength to walk away
Tell the kids their daddy loves them
They’ll understand I’m thinkin’ of them

‘Put Back Your Ring On My Hand’, written by Glenn Ash, is another excellent track, a regretful song in which the protagonist is desperate for a second chance. Also good is the melodic ‘Seven Years With A Wonderful Woman’, a wedding anniversary paean optimistically hoping for another 70 years together. (Charley had actually been married to wife Rozene since 1956 and they are still happily married, so this one was clearly heartfelt.) It was written by the Reverend Roland W Davisand is set to a hymnlike tune.

‘Back To The Country Roads’, written by Richard Jarvis, is quite nice, but the most disposable track on the record.

Charley is in excellent voice throughout, and Jack Clement knew how to keep the Nashville Sound relatively restrained. This is a strong album which is worth hearing, and can be found now on one of those excellent value multiple-album CDs we have mentioned before.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Charley Pride – ‘I’m Just Me’

In many respects, Charley Pride was the George Strait of his day: a consistent hit maker who frequently hit #1, whose music rarely offered surprises but never disappointed his fans. 1971’s I’m Just Me was no exception. It reached #1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart and also produced two number one singles: “I’d Rather Love You” and the title track. The former spent three weeks at the top of the chart and was written by Johnny Duncan. It finds Pride speculating about how things might have turned out had he never met the live his life. The title track, written by Glen Martin, is a catchy, feel-good fiddle and steel number that is as unpretentious as the title suggests. It has a slight Bakersfield feel to it, despite the occasional chiming in by the Nashville Sound-style vocal chorus. In between these two singles, RCA released “Did You Think to Pray” from Pride’s gospel album, which broke his string of consecutive #1s.

In addition to “I’d Rather Love You”, Johnny Duncan contributed two other numbers. “(In My World) You Don’t Belong”, about a married man who struggles to come to terms with his infidelity. It includes a subtle string arrangement which is a bit of a departure for a Pride recording. “Instant Loneliness” is more traditional. I’m not sure why it wasn’t released a single; perhaps Duncan wanted to release the song himself, though he does not appear to have done so.

Unlike many albums of the era, I’m Just Me doesn’t rely too heavily on covers of recent hits by other artists. The one exception is a very nice rendition of “Hello Darlin'” which rivals Conway Twitty’s original version. The entire album is a solid effort, though it is slightly more heavily produced than Charley’s previous work. Thankfully these old albums are finally being re-released so they can be heard by fans of traditional country who are too young to remember when they were first released. I’m Just Me is available on an import collection with three other early Charley Pride albums.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Charley Pride – ‘I Wonder Could I Live There Anymore’

Album Review: Charley Pride – ‘Did You Think to Pray’

Produced by Jack Clement and released in 1971, Did You Think To Pray was Charley Pride’s first gospel album. The album, which emerged at the height of Pride’s popularity, hit #1 and was certified Gold.

Despite his goodwill with country radio, his previous six singles had been chart toppers,  Pride could only get the album’s sole single to #21. “Let Me Live” has a strong lyric about the guidance of God’s love, but a melody that leaves much to be desired. The song takes a bizarre and jarring turn halfway, turning from a simple ballad into a gospel rave and back again.

The title track, which opens the album, preaches about the power of prayer. The track is somewhat overwrought and brought down by the heaviness of the background vocalists and what appears to be a low humming throughout.

The album kicks into high gear with Pride’s spirited take on “I’ll Fly Away.” The fiddle is a perfect accompaniment for the backing vocalists who join Pride throughout. Also fantastic is his banjo-drenched take on “Angel Band,” one of the album’s strongest tracks. “Whispering Hope” is also fantastic, with Pride channeling Jim Reeves.

Pride gets back to preaching on “Take Time out for Jesus,” which is heavy-handed but otherwise excellent. The melody is inviting and draws you right in. The confessional “Jesus, Don’t Give Up On Me,” finds Pride hoping for redemption after failing to heed his own advice.

“The Highway Leads to Glory” is about the journey, and it’s glorious. His take on the oft-covered “The Church In The Wildwood” is of similarly high quality. The album closes with “Lord, Build Me a Cabin in Gloryland,” which retains the album’s winning ways.

Apart from a couple of moments that get the album off track, Did You Think To Pray is an excellent recording, gospel, secular or otherwise. It’s well worth checking out if you want to hear it again after many years or are just discovering it for the first time.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Charley Pride – ‘I’m So Afraid Of Losing You Again’

Album Review: Charley Pride – ‘The Sensational Charley Pride’

Produced by Jack Clement with Felton Jarvis (best known for his work with Elvis Presley), The Sensational Charley Pride was released in May 1969. The record is in the same style which fans had come to expect from Charley – solid country with a restrained version of the Nashville Sound.

It produced only one single, the #4 ‘Let The Chips Fall’. Written by Clement, it is a dramatic, slightly ponderous, ballad about a suspicious husband prepared to fond out the worst. It is not among my favorite Charley Pride hits, but Pride’s vocal is excellent. Another Clement tune, ‘She’s Still Got A Hold On You, is a nice song about not getting over an old love.

A song that perhaps should have been a single (and was by Mickey Gilley), ‘(It’s Just A Matter Of) Making Up My Mind’, is my personal favorite song on the album. A slow ballad about coping with a breakup, it is one of two Foster & Rice songs on the set. The other, ‘Even After Everything She’s Done’, serves as a kid of sequel to the former, and is also pretty good. Here the protagonist realises the day after a tumultuous goodbye that love endures despite all the angst:

I said I could despise her by the dawn of another day
But there’s the sun and I don’t hate her
Even after everything she’s done

I tried to make myself believe that I’m much better off
I’ve told myself she’s nothing special
And still I find that she’s the only one

‘Come On Home And Sing The Blues To Daddy’ is an enjoyable midpaced song, addressed to an ex whose new romance has faltered, with Charley once more playing the protagonist we met in ‘I Know One’, but sounding a little less rueful:

You’re like a child who’s found a brand new plaything
Each one is more fun than those before
But there’s a faithful one who’s always waiting
To be picked up and kicked around some more

It was also recorded by several the artists including Waylon Jennings, Faron Young and Bobby Bare.

Charley goes playfully Cajun for a pair of songs – a cheery cover of the classic ‘Louisiana Man’, and the less well remembered Jim Reeves hit ‘Billy Bayou’ (a Roger Miller penned tune). Both recordings are great fun, with Charley tackling them them with the same joie de vivre he showed in his live take on the Hank Williams song ‘Kaw Liga’, not included on this album but a #3 hit for him in 1969.

There are three songs written by Alex Zanetis, all quite good. ‘Never More Than I’ is a ballad with an attractive melody, comparing the poor man’s love to his richer rival. The steel-dominated ‘Let Me Live Again’ pleads a former love to take him back. In ‘Take Care Of The Little Things’ he regrets neglecting home and wife, versed as a message to the man who has taken his place.

The similarly titled ‘It’s The Little Things’ is a tender love song, paying tribute to a wife’s care. Lots of steel guitar ornaments the song beautifully. The album closes with ‘We Had All the Good Things Going’, a wistful look back at love. This song was a minor hit for Jan Howard in 1969, and also recorded by Dolly Parton.

This album is another strong offering from Charley Pride, and well worth finding. It is available individually or on a bargain 4-on-1 CD and has been certified gold.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Charley Pride – ‘Let Me Live In The Light Of His Love’

Classic Rewind: Charley Pride – ‘All I Have To Offer You Is Me’

Album Review: Charley Pride – ‘Songs of Pride, Charley That Is’

Songs of Pride, Charley That Is was Charley Pride’s second LP of 1968. Boasting no fewer than four producers — Chet Atkins, Jack Clement, Bob Ferguson, and Felton Jarvis — it featured his highest charting hit to date, the #2 peaking hit “The Easy Part’s Over”, which was written by Jerry Foster and Bill Rice.

There weren’t any other singles released from the collection, but there were a few that could have been worthy contenders. Among them was “She Made Me Go”, another Foster-Rice composition, which casts Charley in the role of a spurned spouse is assumed to be the party at fault for the breakup of his marriage. “The Right To Do Wrong” written by Fred Foster, the legendary founder of Monument Records, is another that could have been commercially successful on its own. My personal favorite is the upbeat “I Could Have Saved You The Time”, written by Jack Clement.

The album’s second half is equally strong, with a number of steel-drenched songs that won me over immediately, from Red Lane’s “Both of Us Love You” and Vincent Matthews’ “One Of These Days” (not the same song as Emmylou Harris’ 1976 hit). The Mel Tillis and Wayne Walker number “All The Time” is a bit schmaltzy, and the album opener “Someday You Will” (another Jerry Foster/Bill Rice effort) is a bit pedestrian but those are the album’s only two week links. The production is firmly traditional, with plenty of pedal steel and it is not as dependent on vocal choruses as many other recordings of the day.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Charley Pride – ‘Make Mine Country’

Make Mine Country, Charley Pride’s fourth album, was released via RCA Victor in 1968. The album didn’t produce any singles but featured covers of many notable songs that have become classics. It was produced by Chet Atkins along with Jack Clement, Bob Ferguson, and Felton Jarvis.

The album opens with Jack Clement’s “Now I Can Live Again,” a minor hit for Mickey Gilley the previous year. The uptempo track, about a newly-single man finally putting the sorrow behind him, is brimming with sunshine.

“A Word or Two to Mary,” written by Vince Bulla and Peter Cotton, is a ballad between friends in which a man asks his buddy to compose a letter to the woman he’s leaving behind in death. The track, typical of the era, is beyond creepy and has an inappropriate sing-song melody that clashes with the subject matter.

“If You Should Come Back Today” was also recorded by Johnny Paycheck although I couldn’t find the year he released his version. The honky-tonk uptempo number returns the album to the sunny disposition of the opening track, with a lyric (written by Johnny Mathis and Harlan Howard) about a guy who would forgive his ex if she came back into his life.

Clement also solely wrote “Guess Things Happen That Way,” which Johnny Cash took to #1 the year previous. Pride’s version is slicker sounding than Cash’s, which is the sole difference between the recordings.

The album’s fifth song is “Before The Next Teardrop Falls,” which appears here seven years before Freddy Fender had an international hit with it. Pride’s version is terrible by comparison, a by-the-numbers take that lacks the nuance Fender was able to find within the lyric.

Make Mine Country continues with Clement’s arrangement of “Banks of the Ohio.” The track, drenched in mandolin, feels rushed and like the song before it, lacks any care to bring the emotional qualities out in the lyric.

“Wings of a Dove” was already eight years old when Pride released his version. It’s a solid take, although the arrangement is far too cheesy for my tastes.

“A Girl I Used To Know” was six years old by 1968, a top 5 hit for George Jones that would top the charts as “Just Someone I Used to Know” in a duet recording by Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton the following year. Pride’s version is very good, but hardly an essential take on the song.

“Lie To Me,” which only saw this version by Pride, is another sunny uptempo number. This one is about a guy who wants his woman to confess her love to him, even if she doesn’t truly feel it deep inside.

The regretful “Why Didn’t I Think of That” appears next, with Pride taking on the role of voyeur, watching the way his ex’s new love shows his affection towards her. The track is merely good.

Eight years after Buck Owens took it to #3, Pride unleashes his rendition of “Above and Beyond (The Call of Love).” He handles the song beautifully, allowing it to stand out among the twelve tracks on the album. “Baby Is Gone,” a mid-tempo ballad, closes out the record.

Make Mine Country is a very strong album, with solid takes on some of the hits from the day. Given that it didn’t have any singles, I can only guess it was an obligatory record aimed at fulfilling some clause of his recording contract. I found the album to be bogged down by a few second-rate relationship songs that could’ve been swapped out for a bit more meaty material.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Charley Pride – ‘Kaw Liga’

Album Review: Charley Pride – ‘The Country Way’

Released in December 1967, Charley’s third album was his first to reach #1 on Billboard’s Country Albums charts and even hit #199 on the all-genres chart, starting a run of fourteen consecutive top ten albums, all but one of which were top five or better.

The album opens up with the Jack Clement composition “Too Hard To Say I’m Sorry”, a plodding ballad that in the hands of (almost) anyone else, would have been a complete misfire. In Charley’s hands this song of self recrimination conveys the story of a man whose pride gets in the way of apologizing and perhaps salvaging the most important relationship in his life.

Just two words were all that she would ask of me
And I could have the world and all it holds for me
Of love and tender care, not the pain and the sorrow
That will be mine tomorrow, but I just can’t seem to say it – I’m sorry

I know exactly what I should do admit I’m wrong, it wouldn’t take long
And she’d forgive me
And I know exactly what I ought to say, but I’m not built that way
Wish that I could say I’m sorry

Next up is another Jack Clement ballad, “The Little Folks”, a song that assesses who the real losers are in a divorce. I’ve heard Willie Nelson perform the song but I’m not if he ever recorded the song.

“Crystal Chandeliers” was written by Ted Harris, but the hit went to the great songwriter Carl Belew. For whatever reason, other than “Kiss An Angel Good Morning”, this has become Charley’s most requested song, even though it was never a Charley Pride single in the USA (I think it was a single for Charley in parts of Europe). Charley would repeat the song in his Live At Panther Hall album released in January 1969.

Oh, the crystal chandeliers light up the paintings on your wall
The marble statuettes are standing stately in the hall
But will the timely crowd that has you laughing loud help you dry your tears
When the new wears off of your crystal chandeliers

“Act Naturally” was a cover of a huge Buck Owens hit from a few years earlier. Johnny Russell wrote the song and certainly saw considerable royalties from the records sold by Buck and The Beatles, let alone all the other covers. Charley’s version is good but not electrifying as was Buck’s version.

“Does My Ring Hurt Your Finger”, a Robertson/Crutchfeld/Clement collaboration, reached #4, his third straight top ten single. This song of a wayward wife just drips with understated irony.

Does my ring hurt your finger when you go out at night?
When I bought it for you, darling, it seemed to be just right
Should I take it to the jeweler so it won’t fit so tight?
Does my ring hurt your finger when you go out at night?

Did you enjoy yourself last night, dear, how was the show?
You know that I don’t mind it when you go
I understand sometimes we all need time alone
But why do you always leave your ring at home?

This is followed by “Mama Don’t Cry For Me” which the underrated Johnny Seay (or Sea) released as a non-charting single a few years later. I really liked Seay’s version, and Charley does a fine job with the song as well, although with a slightly less dramatic reading of the song. Fred Foster and Johnny Wilson wrote this song:

I’ve seen the big fish jumping, mama, I’ve heard crickets sing
And I’ve felt my heart start pounding at the side of New Orleans
I’ve seen the New York City with her lights aglow
I’ve been a lot of places always on the go
I’ve seen most everything I cared to see, so mama, when I’m gone, don’t cry for me …

I’ve climbed the highest mountains covered with snow
I’ve seen most everything I cared to see, so mama, when I’m gone, don’t cry for me
I’m sending you this message, mama, I must say goodbye
I live the life you gave me, mama, I’m not afaid to die

Even though I’m dying, mama, the hands of death are strong
I don’t want you crying, mama, after I’m gone
I’ve seen all of this old world I cared to see, so mama, when I’m gone, don’t cry for me
So mama, when I’m gone, don’t cry for me

The second single released from this album was the Jerry Foster/Bill Rice collaboration “The Day The World Stood Still”. This ballad of lost love reached #4.

For one day in my life
You brought me happiness
You stopped the lonely world
With all your tenderness

I can’t get over you
I guess I never will
Time was a precious thing
The day the world stood still

The next song, another Jack Clement composition, is one of my favorite Charley Pride recordings. In the middle of the song Charley calls out ‘here’s Big Joe Talbot and his electric Hawaiian steel guitar’ by way of introducing Big Joe’s instrumental break. Charley did not release this song as a single but later in the year, the Jack Clement produced Tompall & The Glaser Brothers released it as a charting single, and they too made the same introduction of Big Joe Talbot (and basically used the same arrangement).

Someday I think I’ll take up thinking and try my best to understand
How she could be loving me forever and leaving on the other hand
Last night I thought I’d see a movie to help me get my thoughts in hand
I think what I saw was the western preacher or James Bond on the other hand
I placed the ring upon one finger of her left hand
The one who said she’d stay forever is gone on the other hand

Next up is a sad ballad about a love that can’t be, written by Country Johnny Mathis. “You Can Tell The World” is pleasant enough listening, but would never be regarded as singles material.

Mel Tillis and Danny Dill provided “I’ll Wander Back To You”. This song is a cover of the Earl Scott single that reached #30 in 1965. It’s a nice, but not terribly exciting, tale of wanderlust:

They say I’m like my daddy, always on the roam
I know he loved my mama but he couldn’t stay at home
I vowed to not be like him but somewhere I went wrong
Cause I’m a thousand miles from nowhere and the girl I love at home
One of these days I’m gonna quit my wandering
One of these days I’ll wander back to you

Younger listeners may remember Ricky Van Shelton’s 1988 #1 single of the Harlan Howard classic “Life Turned Her That Way”. Older listeners may remember the 1967 Mel Tillis recording that just missed the top ten or perhaps an earlier recording by Little Jimmy Dickens. Charley does a very good job with the song.

No one could out-Haggard Merle Haggard on one of his compositions, and Charley couldn’t either. His version of “I Threw Away The Rose” is a pleasant jog-along ballad but nothing more than that.

I liked this album, but think that the song selection was not quite as strong as on his debut album. The vocal choruses remain, but the songs are string-free and the vocal accompaniments are not too obtrusive. Nothing about this album suggest that this is anything but a country album, and while the big blockbuster singles were still on the horizon, it was clear that they were coming.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Charley Pride – ‘Jesus, It’s Me Again’

Album Review: Charley Pride – ‘The Pride Of Country Music’

Charley Pride’s second album was released in June 1967, and was the record which broke him through into stardom. There were two top 10 singles, both of which were written by Charley’s producer Cowboy Jack Clement and became instant classics. ‘Just Between You And Me’, the breakthrough hit, which peaked at #9, is an excellent song about a broken heart. Perhaps better known today thanks to the Garth Brooks cover, is the ultra-traditional ‘I Know One’, which reached #6. The song is almost perfect in its simplicity.

Another Clement tune, ‘Spell Of The Freight Train’, is a pleasant song about a rambler who doesn’t want to settle down, with some nice harmonica. The endearing ‘Best Banjo Picker’, about an aspiring musician, features some great banjo (some deliberately faltering to illustrate the song), played by bluegrass great Sonny Osborne who also gets a name drop.

‘Take Me Home’, written in slightly tongue in cheek fashion by Clement with Allen Reynolds, is about a wanderer’s rather more rueful longing to return home:

Well, I’ve slept all night in a water trough
Had the flu and the croup and the whoopin’ cough
Had the mumps and the measles and the seven year itch
And I can’t count the times that I’ve had a cold (and sore throat)
Not to mention all the times that I cut my fingers on a sardine can

Take me home
My heart is heavy and my feet are sore
Take me home
I don’t want to roam no more

It had also been recorded by Johnny Cash and Bobby Bare.

As was customary at this date, Charley included a selection of recent and older covers, which make for enjoyable listening but cannot be described as essential. The delightful mandolin-led ‘A Good Woman’s Love’ was first recorded by Hank Locklin in 1955 but has also become a bluegrass standard following Bill Monroe’s recording. The mandolin is played by Bobby Osborne, brother of Sonny. There is a slow, emotional version of the Johnny Paycheck-penned ‘Apartment #9’, which was Tammy Wynette’s debut hit. ‘Touch My Heart’ is a broken hearted ballad which had been a big hit for Ray Price in 1966.

Tom Paxton’s contemporary folk classic ‘The Last Thing On My Mind’ was a popular choice of cover for country artists in the 60s, and Charley’s version is nice but forgettable set next to Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton’s hit version same out the same year. ‘The Middle Of Nowhere’ also has a somewhat folky feel, with its melancholy tale of a return to a childhood home where the narrator is now a stranger out of place.

‘I‘m Not The Boy I Used To Be’, written by Curly Putman, is a shamefaced confession from an ex-con on his way home:

You see, mama,
I’ve spent time in prison
For a crime that I’m too ashamed to tell
And when you meet me there tomorrow
Don’t be surprised at what you see
Cause mama I’m not the boy I used to be

For I’ve been gone away too long
And I’ve done everything that’s wrong
But I think I’ve finally found myself at last
And just you wait and see
Another chance is all I need
But mama I’m not the boy I used to be

Charley is a little too clean cut to completely sell the part of the guiltridden sinner. ‘Silence’, written by Margie Singleton and Leon Ashley, is a steel laced ballad about loneliness and missing an ex.

The music on this record stands up pretty well today, although it is the singles which have endured the best. The Nashville Sound trappings of the arrangements do not overwhelm what is essentially solid country music from one of the great country singers. You can find it on a joint CD with three other early Pride albums.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Charley Pride – ‘Country Charley Pride’

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: A

Spotlight Artist: Charley Pride

Our July Spotlight shines on one of the true giants of the genre, a Country Music Hall of Famer whom Cashbox rated as the top country artist of the quarter century 1958-1982 despite the fact that his recording career did not begin until 1965.

Charley Pride was the first commercially successful African-American country music star. So successful was Pride that an incredible string of 35 consecutive secular songs reached #1 on the Billboard and/or Cashbox Country Charts (virtually all of these songs also reached #1 on Record World’s charts) . Starting with 1969′s “Kaw-Liga” and ending with 1980′s “You Almost Slipped My Mind”, every Charley Pride single (except the 1972 gospel record “Let Me Live”/”Did You Think To Pray” and the 1979 “Dallas Cowboys” NFL special souvenir edition) reached #1. After the streak ended, Charley would have another six songs that were #1 on either Billboard and/or Cashbox. “Kiss An Angel Good Morning” released in 1971, would, of course become his signature song. His forty-one #1s ranks him behind only Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty and George Strait.

Charley achieved his great success despite that fact that he does not write his own material and is not an especially talented instrumentalist. All he had going for him was a sincere love for country music, a terrific ear for great songs and, of course, one of the best male voices to ever sing country music.

Originally planning on a career in Major League Baseball, Pride grew up in the cotton fields near Sledge, Mississippi, where he listened to the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday nights. For whatever reason, Pride’s taste in music leaned towards country. While pitching in semi-pro baseball in Montana, Pride was “discovered” by Red Sovine, who urged him to try his luck in Nashville. Pride did just that after his hopes of a career in baseball were gone, and soon he came to the attention of legendary producer Jack Clement. Clement did everything within his power to get Pride recorded and on a label, going so far as to self-producing the singer’s early recording sessions and shopping the masters. Clement eventually persuaded Chet Atkins to add Pride to RCA.

Racial relations have come a long way since Pride emerged as country music’s top star and its first African-American superstar. The situation in America was so tense in 1965 that RCA issued his first few singles without the customary picture sleeves and promotional information, hoping to get country audiences hooked before they realized his race. To get the disk jockeys to play the records, they made them as hard-core country as was possible for the time, and listed the label’s four big name producers (Chet Atkins, Jack Clement, Bob Ferguson and Felton Jarvis) as the co-producers on the singles. Disc Jockeys of the ’60s might not have known who Charley Pride was, but Atkins, Clement, Ferguson and Jarvis were known to all within the industry, so the records were destined to get at least some airplay.

Eventually country audiences tumbled onto Charley’s “permanent suntan” (as he put it), but it was too late. They simply loved his singing and would demonstrate this love by purchasing millions of his albums over the next 30 years, pushing four albums to gold status, a rarity for country albums with no cross-over appeal.

As a pure vocalist Charley Pride ranks with Gene Watson and Ray Price as my favorite male singers. Since it has now been three decades since Charley received any significant airplay, most of readers will not be familiar with his distinctive baritone, sometimes described as ‘tart’ or ‘chicken-fried’. However it is described, he has a fabulous voice too long been overlooked by modern listeners. Welcome to our July Spotlight artist, an artist who could never be mistaken for a pop singer, Mr. Charley Pride.

Classic Rewind: Johnny Paycheck – ‘Old Violin’

Album Review: Johnny Paycheck – ‘Mr Hag Told My Story’

Nowadays when a tribute album is released, often it is more of a multi-artist gala event than an honest tribute with many of those paying tribute being mere poseurs. This was not always the case. Prior to the Urban Cowboy movement, it was common to see single artist albums that paid tribute to another artist. Kitty Wells, Faron Young and Del Reeves paid tribute to Jim Reeves. Similarly, Stonewall Jackson, Ernest Tubb and Charley Pride issued Hank Williams tribute albums and Loretta Lynn cut a tribute album to Patsy Cline. Even the great Merle Haggard issued tribute albums to Bob Wills and Jimmie Rodgers, as did Willie Nelson with his a salute to Lefty Frizzell. Most of these single artist tribute albums were sincere tributes, but they were seldom innovative or particularly soulful endeavors, just albums of adequate cover versions.

Mr. Hag Told My Story is different. For one thing Paycheck, a somewhat kindred spirit to Haggard, inhabits these songs, making them very personal indeed. Moreover, instead of merely recording a collection of Haggard’s hits, Paycheck goes deep catalog, recording some relatively obscure songs that were mostly album tracks for Haggard.

While Haggard and Paycheck had some similarities such as tough childhoods which resulted in both being hellions during their younger years, Haggard outgrew his demons and never was regarded as being part of the outlaw movement. This may be at least partially due to Haggard’s producer at Capitol, Ken Nelson, giving Haggard free reign to release some very personal albums with less commercial viability. Consequently, Haggard did not have much cause for rebellion.

I am not convinced that Johnny Paycheck ever truly conquered his demons, except when he grew too old to continue his self-destructive ways.

Haggard was a huge star with over 20 years of sustained chart success while Paycheck had three scattered periods of success scattered over a 15 year period. Both were successful songwriters and both got started in the bands of the biggest stars of the time.

For a brief period of time Haggard and Paycheck recorded for the same label, Epic, toured together and were able to record together.

Released in 1981, Mr. Hag Told My Story is an album of moody and/or introspective songs all of which were written by Haggard except for “Carolyn” a Haggard hit written by Tommy Collins. There were no hit singles released from the album, but there are a lot of classic performances, with Haggard’s band The Strangers providing much of the instrumental backing.

The structure of the album is that Paycheck introduces each of the songs with a spoken introduction. Haggard himself weaves in and out of the album, sometimes as a lead or harmony singer, sometimes as part of a conversation and sometimes playing his guitar. Make no mistake – this is a Johnny Paycheck album but Haggard’s presence is significant.

The album opens up with “(I’m) Turning Off A Memory”, the B-side of Haggard’s 1971 hit “Grandma Harp”. This is a great song that I think should have been an A-side for Haggard. Haggard adds some asides and sings on the choruses and takes on one of the verses.

You can find me in a dim lighted bar room
If your coldness should ever turn warm
But the chances of you ever changing
Are as slim as your two loving arms

So I’m turning off a memory
As quickly as time will allow
Yes, I’m turning off a memory
And the wine seems to help me somehow

“I’ve Got A Yearning” was an album track on Haggard’s 1978 Capitol album Eleven Winners. Taken slightly up-tempo, the song is another tale of loneliness:

I’ve got a yearning to hold you tight
A burning desire I live with day and night
Everything I lose keeps on hanging on
This feeling isn’t leaving and by now it should be gone.

I keep on thinking those thoughts that keep making me want you all the time
I should be trying to find me a way I can drive you from my mind
I know that you wanted to give and I know that you gave all you could
Wish I could accept what is over and done with for good.

Tommy Collins wrote “Carolyn”, a classic song of frustration and angst, that Haggard took to the top of the charts in 1972. Here Paycheck sings the verses and Haggard does the narrations. Don Markham’s horns give the song a more jazzy feeling than on Haggard’s earlier single.

Yes, Carolyn, a man will do that sometimes on his own
And sometimes when he’s lonely
I believe a man will do that sometimes out of spite
But Carolyn, a man will do that always
When he’s treated bad at home

“I’ll Leave the Bottle on the Bar” comes from Haggard’s 1968 album Sing Me Back Home. This song is another featuring a quicker tempo. The steel guitar sounds like that of Big Jim Murphy, Paycheck’s regular steel guitarist:

A loser doesn’t always know he’s losing
Till he’s lost the game and it’s too late to win
I hope I’ll call in time and you’ll forgive me
‘Cause I want so much to come back home again
And I’ll leave the bottle on the bar
If you’ll take me back to start anew
I’ll leave the bottle on the bar
I’ll sober up and come back home to you

I’m not sure that “All Night Lady” was ever issued on a Merle Haggard album. This song is about Death Row, not the first time Haggard wrote about the subject. Paycheck does a masterful job of singing the song.

Through the window he sits watching his last sunset
Like a blackout curtain closing out the light
It’s now he needs someone’s arms around him
Yes it’s now he needs someone to help him through the night

An all night lady
One who loves me
And won’t leave me when daylight comes
One who’ll stay with me until my life is done

At 9 AM they’re going to lead him to the death-house
And at 10 AM they’ll lay his soul to rest
I can see them giving him his last supper
I can hear him giving them his last request

“I Can’t Hold Myself in Line” was the only single issued from the album, dying at #41. The song originally appeared on Haggard’s Pride in What I Am album released in 1969. This song is basically a very bluesy conversation between Haggard and Paycheck, with twin steel by Jim Murphy and Norm Hamlet, plus some very funky lead guitar by Roy Nichols and terrific horns played by Don Markham.

I’m going off of the deep end
And I’m slowly losing my mind
And I disagree with the way (ha-ha) I’m living
But I can’t hold myself in line

You give me no reason for my drinkin’
But I can’t stand myself at times
And you’re better off to just leave and forget me
Cause I can’t hold myself in line

“Yesterday’s News Just Hit Home Today” is another bluesy track with the sage advice that ‘being a fool is one thing, but not knowing you’re a fool is another thing’.

“You Don’t Have Very Far to Go” was a Haggard co-write with Red Simpson that first surfaced on Haggard’s 1967 album Branded Man. I thought at the time that it would have made a good single for Haggard but then, most of his sixties albums were full of good singles material. Johnny gives it a more honky-tonk treatment that Hag had given it.

You always find the way to hurt my pride
If I’m not crying you’re not satisfied
And I don’t know why you want to hurt me so
If you’re tryin’ to break my heart
You don’t have very far to go
You don’t have very far to go

Before the heartache begins
I already feel the sadness
Of a heartbreak settin’ in
I don’t know why you want to hurt me so
If you’re tryin’ to break my heart
You don’t have very far to go

“No More You and Me” is a fairly generic honky-tonk ballad, executed perfectly by Paycheck.

The album closes with the bluesy title track “Someone Told My Story”:

I played a brand-new record on the jukebox
And I scarcely could believe the song I heard
It told of how you left me for another
It was almost like I’d written every word

Someone told my story in a song
The lyrics told of happiness and home
And then it told of how you’ve done me wrong

Someone told my story in a song
The writer must’ve seen the way you done me
For he told it all and never missed a line
He told of swinging doors and the jukebox

And he even knew I almost lost my mind
Someone told my story in a song

After listening to this album, I think you’d have to say that Haggard definitely told Paycheck’s story in his songs. This album is my favorite of the post-Little Darlin’ Johnny Paycheck. Really, how could this miss?

The great songs of Merle Haggard, as sung by Johnny Paycheck with an amplified version of Haggard’s Strangers providing most of the instrumental backing and Hag himself joining in at times.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Johnny Paycheck – ‘Armed and Crazy’

Johnny Paycheck followed his most successful album, Take This Job and Shove It, with Armed and Crazy exactly a year later. The album was produced, as per usual, by Billy Sherrell.

The record saw two single releases. “Friend, Lover, Wife,” a mid-tempo ballad about a man’s straight-laced other half, peaked at #7. “The Outlaw’s Prayer,” an excellent recitation in which a man is banished from a church because of his appearance, stalled at #27.

The title track is a sonically adventurous mess that fails on every level. The song attempts to extend Paycheck’s outlaw image, but it tries too hard and devolves into a mix of unappealing loud noise. “Mainline” is better, with audible harmonica throughout, but it’s still not very good. “Just Makin’ Love Don’t Make It Love” is an AC-leaning ballad that feels uninspired, to say the least.

“Thanks To The Cathouse (I’m In The Doghouse With You)” has a strong lyric and clever title, but is bogged down by heavy production that intrudes on the overall listening experience. The track would’ve been far more enjoyable if the proceedings had been a bit more tasteful and let the song breathe. “Leave It To Me” isn’t much better, succumbing to Sherrill’s need to get in the way of Paycheck’s performance.

“Me and the IRS” is an excellent workingman’s anthem that perfectly balances comedy and reality. The uptick in quality continues with “Let’s Have A Hand for the Little Lady,” a rocker that succeeds on its melody and Paycheck’s energetic vocal. “Look What the Dog Drug In” is easily the album’s strongest track (along with “The Outlaw’s Prayer”) and would’ve made a terrific single.

Armed and Crazy is a strange album full of adventurous production that usually is not in service of the song. Sherrill used many of the techniques that were popular in the day and they don’t hold up to modern times. I can see why this album wasn’t a smash hit, it just doesn’t have a magical spark. There are a few good tracks, but that’s not enough to save the album as a whole.

Grade: B- 

Classic Rewind: Johnny Paycheck – ‘I’ll Break Out Again Tonight’

At a prison show with Merle Haggard: