My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Al Dexter

Reissues wish list: part 3 – RCA and Columbia

carl smithWhen speaking of the big four labels we need to define terms
Columbia refers to records originally issued on Columbia, Epic, Harmony or Okeh labels. Okeh was used for so-called minority interest recordings. Columbia also owned Vocalion for a while. RCA refers to recordings on the RCA Victor and RCA Camden labels.

RCA

In addition to folks such as Chet Atkins, Jim Reeves, Dolly Parton, Eddy Arnold, Connie Smith and Charley Pride, RCA had a fine group of second tier artists including Kenny Price, Porter Wagoner, Jim Ed Brown, Stu Phillips, Nat Stuckey, Jimmy Dean, Norma Jean, Skeeter Davis, Dottie West, Bobby Bare, The Browns and Jerry Reed.

Bear Family has released multiple boxed sets on several RCA artists including Connie Smith, Don Gibson, Waylon Jennings and Hank Snow who have multiple boxed sets (essentially everything Hank Snow recorded while on RCA – forty plus years worth of recordings is available on Bear). Enough Waylon has been released that what remains doesn’t justify a wish list.

What is really needed is for someone to issue decent sets on Kenny Price, Jim Ed Brown (without his sisters or Helen Cornelius), Norma Jean, Dottsy, Liz Anderson and Earl Thomas Conley. There is virtually nothing on any of these artists. Jimmy Dean recorded for RCA for about six years but nothing is available from his RCA years which saw some really fine recordings, including the best version of “A Thing Called Love“.

I would have said the same thing about Charley Pride but recent years have seen various Charley Pride sets become available, so we can take him off our wish list.

COLUMBIA RECORDS

When you think of Columbia Records, names such as Johnny Cash, Ray Price, Carl Smith, Stonewall Jackson, Flatt & Scruggs and Marty Robbins spring immediately to mind, but the well is deep and that doesn’t even count sister label Epic which boasted names like David Houston, Tammy Wynette, Charlie Rich, Jody Miller, Johnny Paycheck and Bob Luman.

By and large foreign and domestic reissues abound for most of the bigger names, but even here there are some major shortfalls.

Carl Smith recorded for Columbia through the early 1970s and while his 1950s output has been thoroughly mined, his sixties output has barely been touched and his seventies output (“Mama Bear”, “Don’t Say Goodbye”) completely neglected. Smith’s recordings increasingly veered toward western swing as the sixties wore on, but he recorded a fine bluegrass album, and a tribute to fellow East Tennessean Roy Acuff. His outstanding Twenty Years of Hits (1952-1972) recast twenty of his classic tunes as western swing. A good three CD set seems in order.

I could make a good case for electing David Houston to the Country Music Hall of Fame. From 1966 he had thirteen #1 hits and a bunch more top ten and top twenty recordings. “Almost Persuaded” was his biggest hit but there were bunches of good songs scattered across his many albums. A good two CD set is a must, and I could easily justify a three CD set.

While Sony Legacy issued a decent Johnny Paycheck single disc hits collection, it is long on the later stages of his career and short on the earliest years. Paycheck released over thirty singles for Epic from 1972–1982 and it’s about time someone collected them on a good two (or preferably three) disc collection along with some key album cuts.

Moe Bandy achieved his greatest commercial success while recording for Columbia. Between chart singles and album cuts Moe warrants at least a decent two CD set, and please leave the ‘Moe & Joe’ nonsense out of the mix.

Columbia has a lot of artists that would justify a single or double disc hits collection: David Wills, Al Dexter, Ted Daffan, David Rodgers, Connie Smith, Carl & Pearl Butler, Tommy Cash, David Frizzell, Bob Luman, Jody Miller, Barbara Fairchild, Barbara Mandrell, Charlie Walker and Sammi Smith.

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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.