My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Art Talmadge

Fellow Travelers: Gene Pitney (1941-2006)

gene pitneyThis is the fifth in a series of short articles about artists who, although not country artists, were of some importance to country music.

WHO WAS HE? : Gene Pitney was a successful singer-songwriter whose peak American success occurred during the 1960s. As a songwriter, Pitney supplied hits to a number of prominent artists including “He’s a Rebel” (The Crystals) “Today’s Teardrops” (Roy Orbison), “Rubber Ball” (Bobby Vee) and “Hello Mary Lou” (Ricky Nelson).

As a singer, Gene was a very dramatic balladeer, whose powerful voice bought the songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David to prominence with such hits as “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence”, “Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa” and “Only Love Can Break A Heart”. “Only Love Can Break A Heart” was Gene’s biggest US pop hit, reaching #2, kept from the top, ironically enough by the Crystals’ recording of “He’s A Rebel”. All told Gene charted twenty-four tunes in the US Hot 100 with four songs reaching the top ten.

Although Gene had considerable success in the USA, he was even more successful in the UK with eleven songs reaching the top ten including his 1963 recording of “That Girl Belongs To Yesterday”, the first ever hit for the songwriting duo of Mick Jagger & Keith Richards, and a #1 duet with Marc Almond in 1989 of “Something’s Got A Hold of My Heart”. Gene died of an apparent heart attack in 2006 while on a successful tour of Great Britain.

WHAT WAS HIS CONNECTION TO COUNTRY MUSIC? : Gene listed Moon Mullican among his early influences. Although he was raised in Connecticut, he recalled listening to the WWVA Big Jamboree on some Saturday nights.

Gene was the flagship artist for Art Talmadge’s Musicor label, which had only two consistently bankable artists in Gene Pitney and (after 1965) George Jones. Both artists were grossly over-recorded, often releasing five or more albums per year. Somewhere along the line, someone had the bright idea to record George and Gene together, releasing the records under the name ‘George & Gene’. This duo charted four songs on the country charts, the biggest being a #16 charting remake of the old Faron Young hit “I’ve Got Five Dollars and It’s Saturday Night” (it also reached the Billboard Hot 100). George Jones and Gene Pitney would record a total of seventeen songs together; however, all of their work together was in the recording studio as they never appeared in concert together.

Gene would also have another duet country chart hit, this time with another Musicor label mate, Melba Montgomery, on “Baby Ain’t That Fine”. Gene and Melba recorded several songs together.

Although Gene’s success on the country charts was limited, several of his pop classics were covered by country artists with success. Sonny James took “Only Love Can Break A Heart” to #1 Cashhbox/#2 Billboard in 1972 and in 1979 Kenny Dale took it to #7. Randy Barlow took “Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa” to the top twenty in 1977 and several other artists had some lower places with covers of Gene’s hits, plus his songs show up as album tracks on country albums throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

There is an official website where you can find out more about Pitney and listen to samples of his music. If you’ve never heard Gene Pitney, you’re in for a treat. He’s not really comparable in style to anyone I can think of, maybe somewhere between Jackie Wilson and Roy Orbison, but unique and distinctive.

Album Review: ‘She Thinks I Still Care: The George Jones Collection’

George Jones’ landmark 1960 recording “The Window Up Above” was the apex of his years with Mercury Records. It marked his transition from a singer of honky tonk barn burners to a Nashville Sound ballad crooner. By 1962, he made the switch to United Artists Records and continued to perfect his craft. This collection, released in 1997 by Razor & Tie, focuses on his tenure with United Artists, which lasted from 1962 until 1964. Though his stint with the label was a short one, it yielded 151 recordings, including a handful of true classics that are the best of his career prior to his period with Epic Records (1971 to 1991). Twenty-two of those 151 recordings were released as singles, and twenty-one of them are represented here; the sole omission is 1963’s non-charting “Ain’t It Funny What A Fool Will Do.”

United Artists at the time was a fledgling label that had been started primarily to release soundtrack albums of UA films. It later branched out into jazz, and when Mercury executive Art Talmadge was recruited to start a country division, Pappy Dailey and George Jones joined him. They hit paydirt straight out of the box with “She Thinks I Still Care”, his first release for the label. It was his third #1 hit and the biggest record of his career to date. Originally intended as a pop ballad, it was pitched to Jones by former Sun Records producer Jack Clement, who altered the melody to make it sound more country. It has been covered many times by artists such as Elvis Presley, Anne Murray, and Patty Loveless.

George’s next few releases — all released in 1962– didn’t fare quite as well. “Sometimes You Just Can’t Win” reached #17, “Open Pit Mine” peaked at #13, and “You’re Still On My Mind” petered out at #28. His fortunes turned around by year-end, with “A Girl I Used To Know”, a #3 hit written by Jack Clement that is better known in its slightly re-tooled duet version. As “Just Someone I Used To Know”, it has been recorded many, many times, most notably by Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton in 1969. Jones closed out 1962 with “The Big Fool Of The Year”, which peaked at #13. He greeted 1963 with the somewhat similar sounding “Not What I Had In Mind”, a somewhat forgotten and definitely underrated number that reached #7 on the charts.

In 1963, Jones was paired with another Pappy Dailey client, Melba Montgomery, for a series of successful duets, seven of which are represented here. The best known is “We Must Have Been Out Of Our Minds”, which Melba wrote, but all of the Montgomery duets included in this collection are worthwhile. Melba’s raw bluegrass harmonies matched Jones more polished vocal style quite nicely on tunes such as “She’s My Mother”, “Let’s Invite Them Over”, “Blue Moon of Kentucky” and “What’s In Our Hearts.” All of the Jones-Montgomery duets were recorded live in the studio with no overdubs, and George reportedly considers them to be the best duets of his career, trumping even his better-known later work with Tammy Wynette.

After “She Thinks I Still Care”, the best known record from Jones’ UA period is “The Race Is On”, an upbeat number that reached #3 and has also been covered many times by artists such as The Grateful Dead and pop singer Jack Jones (no relation). In 1989 the song revived the flagging career of Sawyer Brown.

In addition to the aforementioned big hits, this two-disc collection is rounded out by some religious songs and a few covers of other artists’ songs, most notably “Faded Love”, which was included on Jones’ 1962 Bob Wills tribute album.

Only a small handful of Jones’ recordings from the United Artists era are considered essential, but it’s my favorite phase of his career from the pre-Epic years. This particular collection is currently out of print. Used copies are available from third-party sellers on Amazon, but they are quite expensive. Bear Family Records released the entire UA catalog in a five-disc box set called She Thinks I Still Care: The Complete United Artists Recordings: 1962-1964, but it too is quite expensive and only of interest to diehard fans. More economical is a single-disc, ten track 2003 collection released by Capitol, also called She Thinks I Still Care. Like the Razor & Tie collection, this one is also out of print, but cheap used copies are available. The song selection on the Capitol disc is meager and there some glaring omissions such as “The Race Is On” and “A Girl I Used To Know.” It’s difficult to find a decent compilation of the United Artists years without breaking the budget, but any money used to purchase any of these recordings is money well spent.

Grade: A

Spotlight Artist: George Jones (Part 1 of 3)

“If we all sounded like we wanted to, we’d all sound like George Jones” — Waylon Jennings

Country music has produced many legends, but one name in particular is at the top of nearly everyone’s list — George Jones. Frequently acclaimed as country music’s greatest living singer, we are proud to announce that he is our spotlight artist for the month of July.

George Glenn Jones was born in a log cabin in Saratoga, Texas, near Beaumont, on September 12, 1931, the youngest of eight children. The family got its first radio when George was seven years old, and when he was nine, his father bought him a guitar, and his lifelong love affair with country music began. He quickly learned that he could earn money through his music, often getting free bus rides in exchange for entertaining the other passengers. By age eleven, he was busking in the streets of Beaumont, earning as much as twenty-five dollars a day — and in what was to become a lifelong habit — blowing the money in an arcade as soon as it was earned.

When George was 17, he married Dorothy Bonvillion. The union lasted less than a year; they were divorced by the time their daughter Susan was born. In order to make the court-mandated child support payments, George joined the Marine Corps. He didn’t see combat, but he obtained some gigs singing on Saturday nights and continued to hone his craft.

After leaving the Marine Corp in 1953, Jones returned to Beaumont and got a job as a disc jockey at radio station KTRM. He caught the attention of Jack Starnes and H.W. “Pappy” Dailey, the owners of Starday Records. His earliest records didn’t have much impact beyond East Texas, but by 1955 he had his first bonafide hit with “Why Baby Why”, which peaked at #4 on the Billboard chart, and might have charted higher had it not been that Red Sovine and Webb Pierce recorded a cover version for Decca Records (their version went to #1). In 1956, Jones was invited to join the Grand Ole Opry.

Starday was eventually sold to Mercury Records, and George remained with the label until 1962. Pappy Dailey continued to be George’s manager and record producer (although Jones later said that Dailey had done very little in his role as producer and that Jones himself performed most of the production duties). While he was at Mercury, George had such hits as “White Lightnin'”,(his first #1), “Color Of The Blues” , and “The Window Up Above.” During that time, he developed a more polished vocal style, and his records’ production shifted from a raw honky-tonk style to the more sophisticated Nashville Sound of the day. In 1962, he followed Pappy Dailey to United Artists Records, where he scored such classic hits as “She Thinks I Still Care,” “The Race Is On” and a number of memorable duets with Melba Montgomery, including “We Must Have Been Out Of Our Minds.”

In 1964, Pappy Dailey and former Mercury executive Art Talmadge bought out United Artists’ share in New York-based Musicor Records, and Dailey’s clients, including Jones and Melba Montgomery, were transferred to the new label. Jones’ first sessions at Musicor were duets with the label’s flagship artist, Gene Pitney. Their hit duets together included “Things Have Gone To Pieces” and “I’ve Got Five Dollars And It’s Saturday Night.” As a solo artist, George recorded almost 300 songs during his Musicor tenure, and scored 25 hits, including “Love Bug”, “Walk Through This World With Me”, “If My Heart Had Windows”, “Say It’s Not You”, “When The Grass Grows Over Me”, and “A Good Year For The Roses.”

George had remarried in 1954 to Shirley Corley. Although the marriage lasted fourteen years and produced two sons, the two were not well suited for each other. Shirley showed little interest in George’s career and opted to remain in Texas when he moved to Nashville. Her lack of support, combined George’s alcohol abuse took its toll on the marriage, and the couple divorced in 1968. Shortly thereafter, George met a young up-and-coming singer named Tammy Wynette.