My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Arthur Godfrey

Country Heritage: Pop Stoneman and the Stoneman Family

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

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

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

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Country Heritage Redux: Dick Feller

An expanded and updated version of an article originally published by The 9513.

About eight years ago I was attending a performance by the late great Vermont singer/songwriter Bernie Whittle when he launched into “I Just Don’t Look Good Naked Anymore.” I wasn’t familiar with the song but it seemed to me that it could have come from the pen of only one writer – Dick Feller. A little research confirmed my assumption.

Dick Feller was never a big recording star, but during the 1970s he provided numerous hits for other people. Possessed of rare wit and sensitivity (a product of his rural Missouri upbringing), Feller could write poignant ballads and novelties with equal facility. For a period of time, he was a staff writer for Johnny Cash. Prior to that, he was the touring band leader/lead guitarist for Warner Mack. He even played lead guitar on most of his own recordings and appeared as guitarist on sessions by a number of other artists, including Mel Tillis and Mike Auldridge. From my exposure to Dick’s guitar playing, I rate him just barely below the Chet Atkins class as a fingerpicker guitarist.

Among Feller’s serious songs, John Denver hit with “Some Days Are Diamonds (Some Days Are Stone)” (#10 Country / #36 Pop), Johnny Cash had success with “Any Old Wind That Blows” (#3 Country) and “Orleans Parish Prison” (#52 Country), and Ferlin Husky recorded “A Room For A Boy – Never Used,” (#60 Country) a song that should have been a much bigger hit than it was.

I’m not sure whether to classify Dick’s biggest copyright as serious or humorous, but there are few songs more familiar than “East Bound and Down,” a huge country hit (#1 Cashbox /#2 Billboard) for co-writer Jerry Reed that was featured in the 1977 film Smokey and the Bandit, and received continuous play by country bands everywhere for at least the next 25 years. I know of at least 33 cover versions, most recently by the Road Hammers.

Despite his facility with the serious songs, Dick Feller seemed to prefer looking at the humorous side of life with his music. Songs such as “Lord, Mr. Ford” (a #1 Country hit for Jerry Reed) and “The Night Miss Nancy Ann’s Hotel For Single Girls Burned Down” (a minor hit for Tex Williams) seemed more in keeping with that outlook.

He issued three albums during the 1970s with four songs charting on Billboards Country charts : “The Credit Card Song” (#10), “Makin’ The Best of A Bad Situation” (#11), “Biff, The Friendly Purple Bear” (#22 – a song that appeals to all ages), and “Uncle Hiram and the Homemade Beer” (#49). The first three saw some action on Billboards Pop charts, as well.

Feller mostly wrote on his own, but when he did co-write, it was usually with writers who shared his humorous outlook on life, such as Sheb Wooley (a/k/a Ben Colder), Jerry Reed and most notably the late, Atlanta humorist Lewis Grizzard. Dick toured with Grizzard and was the opening act for the “Evening With Lewis Grizzard” stage show. Their most notable musical collaboration was “Alimony,” a subject Grizzard knew well.

In addition to the aforementioned artists, Dick Feller’s songs have been recorded by a diverse group of artists that include Bobby Bare, The Kingston Trio, Ray Stevens, Earl Scruggs, Mac Davis, Lee Greenwood, Ed Bruce, Burt Reynolds, Julie Andrews, Arthur Godfrey, Hank Snow, Hank Thompson, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Aaron Tippin, June Carter Cash and countless others.

Wouldn’t you love to hear Trace Adkins, Brad Paisley or George Strait tackle these lyrics:

I stepped out of the shower and I got a good look at myself
Pot bellied, bald-headed, I thought I was somebody else
I caught my reflection in the mirror of the bathroom door
I just don’t look good naked anymore!

So… I’m goin upstairs and turn my bedroom mirror to the wall
I hung it there back when I was trim and tall
I’d stand there and smile and flex and strut until my arms go sore
But I just don’t look good naked anymore!

From “I Just Don’t Look Good Naked Anymore”, available on Centaur Of Attention.

Discography

The Dick Feller discography is pretty slim but each album is filled with wry (and sometimes silly) humor, clever lyrics and songs full of profound thoughts, sometimes disguised as humor

VINYL
All vinyl, of course, is out of print but worth hunting down. To the best of my knowledge Dick Feller issued only four vinyl albums

Dick Feller Wrote… (United Artists, 1973)
No Word On Me (Elektra, 1974)
Some Days Are Diamonds (Elektra/Asylum, 1975)
Audiograph Alive (Audiograph, 1982)

DIGITAL
Centaur Of Attention (Cyberphonic, 2001)
Although originally released as a CD, it currently is available only as a digital download from http://www.cdbaby.com. The album contains versions of all four of Dick’s charted hits, plus some other humorous songs

Check out www.dickfeller.com for more information on Dick Feller.

Spotlight Artist: Patsy Cline (September 8, 1932 – March 5, 1963) – Part 1

From time to time throughout 2010, we’ll be taking a look at some of country music’s legendary artists. We’re starting with the great Patsy Cline, who was one of the 20th century’s most acclaimed vocalists, and whose influence is felt to the current day.

She was born Virginia Patterson Hensley in Winchester, Virginia, on September 8, 1932. When she was 15, her father abandoned the family, and Ginny, as she was then known, dropped out of high school to help support her mother and two younger siblings. From an early age, she’d wanted to be a singer. She entered a number of local talent shows and sang live on Winchester’s WINC-AM radio. This eventually led to a stint on Connie B. Gay’s Town and Country television show, which originated from Washington, DC. Among the cast members of Town and Country was an up and rising star and future sausage magnate by the name of Jimmy Dean. She even managed to take a trip to Nashville in 1948, landing a guest appearance on Roy Acuff’s Dinner Bell program on WSM-AM.

In 1953 she married a contractor named Gerald Cline, but the marriage ended in divorce after four years, due mainly to Cline’s lack of support of his wife’s (now known as Patsy Cline) career aspirations. In 1954, she met Bill McCall, who owned a song publishing company called Four Star Music. In what would prove to be the biggest mistake of her professional career, Patsy signed a five-year contract with Four Star. She returned to Nashville with McCall, who arranged a leasing agreement with Decca Records, whereby Decca would produce and distribute Patsy’s records, but Four Star would promote and retain ownership of the recordings and would have sole discretion over what material she recorded. This was a very one-sided deal in which Decca did most of the work and saw very little in financial renumeration, but Decca executive Paul Cohen and producer Owen Bradley recognized Patsy’s potential and agreed to McCall’s terms, in order to have the opportunity to sign Patsy to Decca when her Four Star contract lapsed.

This proved to be a disastrous arrangement for all involved. McCall would only allow Patsy to record songs for which Four Star owned the publishing rights. Both Patsy and Owen Bradley felt that much of the Four Star material was substandard, and though they experimented with a variety of musical styles, commercial success eluded them. The sole exception was “Walkin’ After Midnight”, which Patsy performed on the nationally-telecast Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts on January 21, 1957. Not only did Patsy win the competition, “Walkin’ After Midnight” became a smash hit, rising to #3 on Billboard’s country chart and #17 on the pop chart. Patsy became a regular on the Godfrey program, but was eventually fired after she repeatedly clashed with Godfrey over song selection. She wanted to sing country; he wanted her to sing pop.

1957 was also the year that Patsy met and married her second husband, Charlie Dick. After giving birth to a daughter in 1958, the family moved permanently to Nashville, where Patsy and Owen Bradley continued in their quest to find the elusive follow-up hit to “Walkin’ After Midnight”. Success continued to evade them, and by 1959 Bill McCall had written Patsy off as a lost cause and stopped promoting her singles.

Patsy’s fortunes began to change in 1960, which was the year that she was inducted as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. It was also the year that her Four Star contract expired, and she was formally signed to Decca Records. In her first session for Decca, she recorded “I Fall To Pieces”, which was written by Harlan Howard and Hank Cochran. It had been turned down by a number of other singers, and Patsy began to have second thoughts about it herself, after initially agreeing to record it. She feared that it was too pop. Bradley was experimenting with a hybrid style of music that Chet Atkins had pioneered at RCA with great success for artists such as Eddy Arnold and Jim Reeves. A mixture of country and pop, it would eventually become known as “the Nashville Sound”. Bradley wanted to try this style with Patsy. Meanwhile, he and Patsy argued about cutting “I Fall to Pieces”; Bradley prevailed and was eventually vindicated when it became Patsy’s first #1 country hit, and a #12 pop hit in August 1961, ending a four-year dry spell.