My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Arthur Smith

Album boxed set review: The Mac Wiseman Story

the-mac-wiseman-storyBorn in 1925, Malcolm “Mac” Wiseman is the renaissance man of county and bluegrass music – singer, songwriter, musician, A&R man, record producer, disc jockey, co-founder of the Country Music Association. Mac was an early pioneer of country music, performing with Molly O’Day, and was a very early member of Flatt & Scruggs’ Foggy Mountain Boys, and later performed with Bill Monroe.

Mac survived polio, changing musical trends, changes in the structure of the recording industry, yet through it all, he has remained “the voice with a heart”, possessor of a slick Irish tenor with just enough “down home” in his voice to enable him to sing any form of music convincingly. Mac Wiseman is my absolute all-time favorite bluegrass vocalist.

Mac was elected into the International Bluegrass Hall of Honor in 1993 and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2014, one of only three bluegrass acts (the others are Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs) to be inducted.

Mac Wiseman has recorded for a wide variety of record labels with performers as diverse as John Prine, Lester Flatt, Merle Haggard and Doc Watson. It would be presumptuous of any box set comprised of only six CDs and 153 songs to claim to tell the Mac Wiseman story, but this set gives it an awfully good try.

The Mac Wiseman Story is comprised of all of the albums that Mac recorded for the CMH (originally County Music Heritage) label from 1976 to 1982, plus some recordings Mac obtained from minor labels.

Disc One is comprised of The Mac Wiseman Story, a collection of twenty songs recorded with the Shenandoah Cutups, the band which accompanied the late great Red Smiley after his split from Don Reno. These are amiable straight-ahead bluegrass recordings of Mac’s most famous songs such as “Love Letters In The Sand”, “I Wonder How The Old Folks Are At Home” and “Tis Sweet To Be Remembered”. I think these are Vetco recordings from 1976-1977, but whatever the source, these are fine recordings.

I should note that in order to ensure that each disc is chock full of music, that tracks from the 1979 CMH double album The Essential Bluegrass Album (with the Osborne Brothers ) are scattered at the end of CDs 1,2,4,5 & 6.

Disc Two is comprised of Country Music Memories and Mac Wiseman Sings Gordon Lightfoot. The former is a 1976 set of classic, mostly 1950s, country music songs ably backed by Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith and Clay Smith as well as some other acoustic instruments. The latter, released in 1977, contains Mac’s renditions of some of Canadian folk Singer Gordon Lightfoot’s classic songs as well as some lesser known songs. In addition to Arthur & Clay Smith on guitars, Eddie Adcock appears playing five string banjo.

The entirety of Disc Three is given to one of my favorite albums, The Clayton McMichen Story. Clayton McMichen (January 26, 1900 – January 4, 1970) was an American fiddler and country musician, whose band, the Georgia Wildcats, played a mix of country, pop, jazz and swing tunes. Clayton was regarded as one of the hottest fiddlers of his time. This album, in reality a tribute to Clayton and his band, finds Red Herron taking the role of Clayton McMichen, with Mac taking the role of vocalist Jack Dunnagan, Joe Maphis as tenor banjo player Jerry Wallace and Merle Travis as guitarist Slim Bryant. This album is a cohesive representation of what Clayton and his band sounded like, with an assortment of the reels, rags, blues and thirties pop tunes played.

Disc Four contains the excellent 1982 album Grassroots To Bluegrass. Some of the songs come from the early days of country music before bluegrass split off from country music. Included in this group would be “Kentucky”, “Short Life of Trouble”, and “Don’t Give Your Heart To A Rambler” and the rest are early bluegrass songs such as “I’m Using My Bible For A Roadmap”. Mac is accompanied by a stellar band that includes Eddie Adcock (banjo, guitar), Kenny Baker and Jim Campbell (fiddle), Martha Adcock (rhythm guitar), Josh Graves (dobro), Jesse McReynolds (mandolin) and Missy Raines (bass)

Disc Five finds Mac in the role of hard country/western swing artist on the 1980 album Songs That Make The Jukebox Play. The musicians with Mac on this album include a bunch of guys that played with Bob Wills or with Merle Haggard during his big band days – Johnny Gimble (fiddle & co-producer) , Jim Belken (fiddle), Dick Gimble (bass), Will Briggs (sax), Curley Hollingsworth (piano) , Herb Remington (steel guitar), Eldon Shamblin (lead guitar) and Bill Stone (trumpet). If you ever wondered how Mac does with western swing, wonder no more. Other than Hank Thompson and Tommy Duncan, I can’t think of any better swing vocalists than Mac Wiseman. I bought the vinyl version of this when it came out and kept hoping that Mac would revisit the genre. Among the classics covered are “Bubbles In My Beer”, “Time Changes Everything” , “Driving Nails In My Coffin” and “Wild Side of Life”.

Disc Six is a so-called bonus disc titled Mac Wiseman – Most Requested. This album contains a few songs not found earlier in the box set, plus it contains the remaining track from the Wiseman – Osborne Brothers collaboration.

This box set is released under the Wise Records label which is Mac’s own label. Mac has apparently obtained the rights for many of his recordings from the past. This set retails for $49.98 but you can obtain it for about five bucks less online.

Maybe this isn’t quite a comprehensive account of Mac’s career, but it is a really fine collection and an excellent place to start if you would like to explore Mac’s music. One thing is for sure – after listening to this collection, you will have no doubts as to why he is known as “the voice with a heart”.

Grade: A+

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Spotlight Artists: Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton

DollyleavesPorterWagonerShowThere was a time, in the not too distant past, when finding country music on television meant finding a syndicated television show that one of your three or four local stations happened to carry. There was no cable television (so no MTV, VH1, CMT or GAC) and no network shows such as Hee Haw. Occasionally, one of the bigger country stars, riding a hit record, might turn up on a network variety show, but that was very much the exception to the rule.

There were syndicated variety shows such as That Good Ole Nashville Music or Pop! Goes The Country and there were syndicated shows hosted by individual country artists such as Ernest Tubb, Carl Smith, Bill Anderson, Billy Walker, Arthur Smith, The Wilburn Brothers, Faron Young, Buck Owens and Flatt & Scruggs. The problem was that not every show was available in every television market (most of these seemed to run on 50-75 stations and lasted for a year or two), and many stations that carried the programs had no set hour at which they might air. On many stations the programs were frequently pre-empted for sporting events and many stations would simply air the show whenever they had a half hour hole in their schedule. Most of the shows aired in the southeast and the southwest far more than they aired in other parts of the country.

I lived my teen years mostly in the Tidewater region of Virginia, where The Ernest Tubb Show, The Wilburn Brothers Show and The Porter Wagoner Show were shown. Of these The Porter Wagoner Show was the most successful in that it ran for nearly twenty years, tended to have a stable time slot on our local stations, and apparently was the most widely syndicated of all of these shows.

The Porter Wagoner Show would be considered an ensemble show, with normally eight (often truncated) songs and some comedy routines each half hour. I think a large part of the success of the show was Wagoner’s decision to always have a featured female singer. In 1961 Pretty Miss Norma Jean became the first woman to be featured, but she left to raise a family in 1965. Jeannie Seely joined the show as Norma Jean’s replacement but left one year later after recording a hit record called “Don’t Touch Me”, written by her then-husband Hank Cochran.

After Seely left, Porter Wagoner auditioned several female, ultimately selecting the then-unknown Dolly Parton for the show. Although Porter had been featuring female singers, before Dolly’s arrival, Porter had never really sung duets or harmonized with his female singers. For whatever reason, Porter recognized that Dolly had a voice that could blend well with his own, so Porter began singing duets with Dolly and arranged to get her on his record label so that they could record together. This is where our story begins.

For my money, Porter Wagon and Dolly Parton are the very best male-female duo in the history of the genre. In retrospect, it may seem inevitable that the pairing would be success, since both artists are now members of the Country Music Hall of Fame, but unlike a lot of other such duets, usually of established stars, at the time this duo was put together, Porter Wagoner was a journeyman country singer who had charted 27 times (twelve Top 10 records and fifteen other songs that cracked the Top 30). He did have a good stage show and a syndicated television show that make him a familiar figure to households across the south, but after his first four chart hits had hit the top ten in 1954-1956, only eight more top ten records had graced the charts for Porter. Meanwhile, Dolly Parton was essentially a nobody as far as national recognition was concerned.

It is rather difficult to pinpoint exactly what sets Porter and Dolly apart from the other male-female duos. On the liner notes of The Best of Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, Nashville publicist Paul Soelberg attempted to explain the magic as follows:

“… Another phrasing technique they’ve mastered is the ability to emphasize the beginning of a key word followed with a superbly timed withdrawal of that emphasis. The impact is overwhelming.

They do all this in perfect harmony. Generally Dolly sings the melody (lead), and Porter sings tenor harmony. But the effect seems reversed, for Porter, whose voice is lower, sounds as if he’s singing melody while Dolly’s high soprano seems to be carrying the harmony. It seems like we are getting four vocal parts out of two people!”

I’m not sure that explanation makes much sense to me, but then again, it does not need to make sense. All that is needed is to listen to the recordings – your ears will tell you that something special was happening. So sit back and enjoy our trip through the catalog of the inimitable Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton. This catalog features the best music either artist ever made.

Favorite country songs of the 1970s, Part 8

Here are some more songs that I like; one song per artist, not necessarily his or her biggest hit. As always, I consider myself free to comment on other songs by the artist.

Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” – Billy Joe “B.J.” Thomas (1975)
His biggest country hit reached #1 and also topped the pop charts. Despite his long-time appeal to country audiences this song was his first to chart country.

Next Time I Fall In Love (I Won’t)” – Hank Thompson (1971)
This song got to #15, Hank’s 59th chart hit. Hank never lost his vocal chops. Hank charted records from 1948 to 1983, a total of seventy-nine songs, including two top tens in “The Older The Violin, The Sweeter The Music” and “Who Left The Door To Heaven Open”. Hank Thompson was so highly regarded in his day that George Strait made one of his very few guest appearances on one of Hank’s albums.

Smooth Sailin’”/ “Last Cheater’s Waltz” – Sonny Throckmorton (1976)
Sonny wasn’t much of a singer and this record only reached #47. He was, however, one heck of a songwriter, and T. G. Sheppard took both of these songs into the top ten. His most famous copyright probably is “I Wish I Was Eighteen Again” which was a major hit for George Burns in 1980.

What Time of Day” – Billy ThunderKloud & The Chieftones (1975)
Billy and his group were native Indian musicians from Northwest British Columbia. This song reached #16, the biggest of their five chart hits.

“Midnight, Me and the Blues” – Mel Tillis (1974)
Just a song I happened to like, one of 24 top ten hits Mel would chart during the 70s. This song reached #2, one of twelve top ten hits on MGM. Mel had a long career in country music, with a recording career that saw chart records from 1958-1989, but he was never better than during his years with MGM.

It’s A Man’s World” – Diana Trask (1973)
Australian born singer, first charted in 1968 with “Lock Stock and Tear Drops.” This record reached #20, one of four top twenty hits.

“I’ve Got All The Heartaches I Can Handle” – Ernest Tubb (1973)
The last MCA/Decca chart hit for the legendary Texas Troubadour. This record only reached #93 for the then 59 year-old Tubb. His recording career was kaput by this time, but not his legacy. This wasn’t quite the end of his recording career as he charted several more songs on other labels, the most noteworthy being “Leave Them Boys Alone” (with Hank Williams, Jr. and Waylon Jennings) which reached #6 in 1983.

As long as there’s a honky-tonk, people will play “Set Up Two Glasses, Joe,” “Waltz Across Texas” and “Walking The Floor Over You.”

Delta Dawn” – Tanya Tucker (1972)
What else? Record World had this record reach #1 (Billboard #6/Cashbox #3). Tanya’s recordings through the end of 1974 are sometimes described as “American Gothic’s last stand.”

Sometimes” – Mary Lou Turner & Bill Anderson (1976)
This record reached #1 in early 1976, one of only two top ten records for Ms. Turner, both of them duets with “Whispering Bill” Anderson.

This Time I’ve Hurt Her More Than She Loves Me” – Conway Twitty (1976)
One of many #1 records Conway would enjoy during this decade. Yes, I know “Hello Darlin’“ was the biggie, but Conway had many records I liked better, including “I See The Want To In Your Eyes,” “I Can’t See Me Without You” and “How Much More Can She Stand.”

“Johnny One Time” – Kathy Twitty (1976)
This cover of a minor Willie Nelson hit works, but Kathy is not a compelling singer. The label on the 45 has her billed as ‘Jessica James.’ Kathy had three charting singles.

It’s a Heartache” – Bonnie Tyler (1978)
Raspy-voiced pop singer from Wales, this song reached #10 on the country charts, selling a million copies in the process.

Just When I Needed You Most” – Randy Vanwarmer (1979)
A few country stations gave this song some airplay, enabling it to reach #71 en route to selling a million copies.

“Until The End of Time” – Sharon Vaughn with Narvel Felts (1974)
Sharon isn’t a great singer and had much more success as a songwriter than as a performer. Narvel Felts, however, is a great singer and he salvages the record. This record was Sharon Vaughn’s only top 40 hit.

What Ain’t To Be Just Might Happen” – Porter Wagoner (1972)
Hard as it is to believe, this was Porter’s last solo top 10 recording, reaching #8 on Billboard and #6 on Cashbox. Another interesting record for Porter during this period is “The Rubber Room,” a record which Billboard failed to chart, but which spent seven weeks on Cashbox’s country chart (just missing the top 40).

When A Man Loves A Woman (The Way That I Love You)” – Billy Walker (1970)
Billy was never a dominant chart performer but he did have three consecutive singles reach #3 in 1970-71 and continued to have occasional top forty singles until 1975. In 1975, Billy signed with RCA–his short stint there produced “Word Games,” Billy’s last top ten single and one of my favorites.

Odds And Ends (Bits And Pieces)” – Charlie Walker (1974)
By 1974, it had been seven years since Charlie had a top 20 single. This was Charlie’s last charting song, dying at #66. The song and performance are quite effective, a remake of a Warren Smith hit from 1961 but by this time his recording career was completely dead.

If You Leave Me Tonight I’ll Cry” – Jerry Wallace (1972)
Jerry Wallace was more of a pop singer than a country singer. He had several huge pop/easy listening hits during the 1960s, but then hit lean times causing Jerry to re-launch his career as a country singer. This song got to #1 on all of the country charts, fueled by exposure on an episode of the popular television show Night Gallery.

Big Blue Diamond” – Jacky Ward (1972)
Recorded on the Target label, this song only got to #39 although it was really huge in some markets. This song landed him at Mercury where he had some bigger hits. The original version of this song has not been available for many years and none of the remakes have the sizzle of the original.

I’m Already Taken” – Steve Wariner (1978)
An early version of a song Wariner had more success with fifteen years later. This charted at #63, the first of many chart hits for Steve Wariner.

“Bottle of Wine” – Doc & Merle Watson (1973)
Legendary blind guitarist Doc Watson only charted twice, both times accompanied by his equally talented son Merle (1949-85). Anyone who has not heard Doc Watson truly has a gaping hole in their musical education. Fortunately, many of his fine albums remain in print.

The Old Man and His Horn” – Gene Watson (1977)
This is absolutely my favorite Gene Watson song, although it’s close between this song and 75 others. Gene was never quite the chart presence a singer of his enormous talent deserved, but he had a pretty strong run of top 10 records from 1975 to 1984, with four records making it to #1 on Billboard, Cashbox or Record World. This wasn’t one of the bigger hits, reaching #11 on both Billboard and Cashbox, but its strong New Orleans feel makes it perhaps Gene’s most distinctive hit record. My recommendation for those who want to delve deeper into Gene’s music is … buy everything!

I’ll Still Love You” – Jim Weatherly (1975)
Much better known as a songwriter; Ray Price recorded one album of nothing but Jim Weatherly songs and another album of mostly Jim Weatherly songs. Jim’s most famous song was “Midnight Train To Georgia,” which was a huge hit for Gladys Knight and the Pips. This was Jim’s only top 10 hit.

“The Happiness of Having You” – Jay Lee Webb (1971)
This was the last of three chart records for Loretta Lynn’s brother. Charley Pride would have a much bigger hit with this in 1976.

Dueling Banjos” – Eric Weissberg & Steve Mandell (1973)
Featured in the movie Deliverance, this song was written by Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith during the mid 1950s. There is an interesting back story arising out of the movie, as the producers of the movie tried to use the song without paying Smith any royalties. Smith sued (after first trying to negotiate and being stonewalled) – Weissberg testified at trial that he originally learned the song from a record his grandfather had of Don Reno and Arthur Smith playing the tune!

“Ballad of A Hillbilly Singer” – Freddy Weller (1972)
Freddy Weller was part of Paul Revere and The Raiders from 1967-71. He launched his country career in 1969 with a #1 Cashbox hit in “Games People Play” and continued to have top 10 country success for the next four years. A very successful songwriter with songs such as “Jam Up Jelly Tight” and “Dizzy” both being big pop hits for Tommy Roe. His biggest country copyright was “Lonely Women Make Good Lovers” which was a big hit for both Bob Luman and Steve Wariner. John Michael Montgomery, Reba McEntire, George Jones and countless others have recorded his songs.

This song was somewhat of an insider joke, containing instrumental signatures of artists such as Roy Acuff, David Houston, Johnny Cash, Ernest Tubb and Marty Robbins. Consequently it only reached #26, but I love the song. I would also commend “Perfect Stranger” to anyone who wants to check out Freddy Weller.

“Wild Side of Life” – Kitty Wells and Rayburn Anthony (1979)
Kitty Wells had no top forty hits during the 1970s. This was Kitty’s last charting record, her 81st chart hit. This record reached #60, and found Kitty interjecting answer verses into Rayburn’s recording of the old Hank Thompson hit. By the time this record hit, Kitty was 60 years old. In a few months she will turn 93. She still is the Queen of Country Music.

Country Sunshine” – Dottie West (1973)
Record World had this record reach #1, Cashbox and Billboard both had it at #2. If I recall correctly, this song was inspired by a Coca Cola commercial. Dottie was lost in the shuffle at RCA and later signed with United Artists where she had some huge hits on some of the most contrived material I’ve ever heard.

Una Paloma Blanca” – Slim Whitman (1977)
A cover of an international pop hit by the Dutch band George Baker Selection, Slim’s version did not chart, but it certainly showed off his vocal prowess.