My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Billy Edd Wheeler

Album Review: Glen Campbell – ‘Wichita Lineman’

220px-Glen_Campbell_Wichita_Lineman_album_coverWichita Lineman, Glen Campbell’s twelfth album, was his sixth working with producer Al De Loy. The project was immensely successful and spent multiple weeks atop both the Billboard Country Albums and all genre 200 charts.

Two singles were released from the record. “Dreams of The Everyday Housewife” came first, peaking at a respectable #3. Written by Chris Gantry, the track spells out a tale of sacrifice:

Oh, such are the dreams of the everyday housewife

You see everywhere any time of the day

An everyday housewife who gave up the good life for me

The classic title track, written by Jimmy Webb, was the other single. A multi-genre smash, “Wichita Lineman” topped the Country and Adult Contemporary Charts. On the U.S. Pop Chart, it peaked inside the top five. Webb was inspired to write the workingman’s anthem after spotting a lone lineman worker atop a telephone poll while on a drive through rural Oklahoma. He wrote from the perspective of that man:

I am a lineman for the county and I drive the main road

Searchin’ in the sun for another overload

I hear you singin’ in the wire, I can hear you through the whine

And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line

The remainder of the eleven-song album is peppered with tracks composed by some of the biggest artists of the day. The Bee Gees co-wrote the lush ballad, “Words,” a heartfelt plea from a man to the woman for which he wishes to spend his life.

Sonny Bono contributed “You Better Sit Down Kids,” which was a major hit for his then-wife Cher the year prior. The lyric brilliantly details a father’s sit down with his children as he tells them he and their mother are getting a divorce:

You better sit down kids I’ll tell you why, kids

You might not understand, kids

But give it a try, kids

Now how should I put this I’ve got something to say

Your mother is staying but I’m going away

No, we’re not mad, kids it’s hard to say why

Your mother and I don’t see eye to eye

 

Say your prayers before you go to bed

Make sure you get yourself to school on time

I know you’ll do the things your mother asks

She’s gonna need you most to stay in line

Keep in mind your mother’s gonna need your help

A whole lot more than she ever did before

No more fights over little things

Because I won’t be here to stop them anymore

The slow string-heavy ballad “If You Go Away” is considered a pop standard, which Campbell delivers in his signature smooth style. A paint-by-numbers cover of Otis Redding’s “(Sitting On) The Dock of the Bay” gives the album some pep, but lacks imagination. Campbell is much better on “Ann,” a lovely Billy Edd Wheeler love song bursting with energy. I much prefer the grittier 1993 Rod Stewart version of “Reason To Believe,” which gives the track a bit more life than Campbell does here.

Campbell wrote only one track on the album, the string-drenched ballad “Fate of Man.” It’s a rather excellent song in which Campbell traces a life’s trajectory through the ages and stages of a man’s life:

When a man is one and twenty, he thinks he knows it all

He can’t see down the road of life where he’ll ever fall

But fall he will as he travels through life

With all its pitfalls troubles and strife

 

Now at fifty, he’s going real strong

He has him a family and a nice little home

But old age is creeping up his spine

And the day is coming when the sun won’t shine

 

Now at sixty, he won’t have to guess

He’s already missed the boat that leads to success

But he’s done his best and he can’t see why

The fame of life just passed him by

 

Now at seventy, he can see the light

And he knows he’s never been very bright

But he’s done his best as he’s travelled by

And now all he can do is just sit and sigh

I’ll admit that when I review an album released more than forty-seven years ago, (Wichita Lineman came out in 1968) I have trouble truly getting into what I’m hearing. Although this album came out long before my generation, I can appreciate it for what it is. Wichita Lineman is very good, with some exceptionally strong material.

Grade: A-

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Fellow Travelers – The Kingston Trio

kingston trioThe Kingston Trio were pop stars for about a decade starting in 1957. While the number of hit singles they had was fairly small, they sold enormous numbers of albums and had a large and enthusiastic following, so much so that the group continues to perform to this day, although none of the original members are still in the group.

Who Were They?

Although often mistakenly classified as folk singers, and often excoriated by purists for not being sufficiently authentic, the Kingston Trio actually was a pop act that used folk instruments and dipped into the entire song-bag of popular music for their recordings. The group never regarded itself as a folk act.

The group was formed in 1956 by Dave Guard, Bob Shane and Nick Reynolds. Initially performing in northern California, the trio performed at the Italian Village Restaurant, where they developed a significant following for their unique blend of music and comedy. Their big break came in March when Phyllis Diller cancelled a week long engagement at the Purple Onion in June 1957 and the trio was asked to take the gig.

From here their fame spread quickly with appearances at the Village Vanguard in New York, Mr. Kelly’s in Chicago and Storyville in Boston. Signed to Capitol Records in 1958, their first album was a surprise hit in the form of “Tom Dooley” (an updated version of the old folk song “Tom Dula”), which sailed to #1 on Billboard’s pop charts on November 17, 1958.

While the Kingston Trio would never again have a hit of that magnitude, they would score ten top forty hits through 1963, with “The Reverend Mr. Black” reaching #8 in 1963.

The strength of the Kingston Trio was in album sales as they had five #1 albums, two #2 albums and three number three albums form 1958-1962.

Along the way the group received a Grammy for Best County & Western Song in 1959 for “Tom Dooley” and a Grammy in 1960 for Best Traditional Folk Album for AT LAST.

Dave Guard, who actually was a bit of a folk purist, left the group in late 1961, to be replaced by John Stewart. The group would continue until June 1967 when they disbanded. All told they charted twenty albums before the 1967 disbanding.

What Was Their Connection to County Music?

The Kingston Trio never actually landed an single or an album on the country charts. Their importance to country music is that they recorded many country songs. Billy Edd Wheeler, who wrote such county classics as “Jackson” and “Coward of The County” got his first real exposure through Kingston Trio recordings such as “The Reverend Mr. Black”. Other country songwriters had songs on various Kingston Trio, country songsmiths such as Bill Monroe, Danny Dill, and Hoyt Axton.

Country audiences liked the Kingston Trio and their songs would occasionally get played on country radio – I heard “Reverend Mr. Black” and “MTA” with some frequency over the years. Moreover, many of the Kingston Trio records had a strong bluegrass feel to them as several members of the band played the banjo (and played it well). This country/bluegrass feel of Kingston Trio records became more pronounced after John Stewart replaced Dave Guard.

Favorite Country Songs Of The 80s: Part 6

Here are some more songs from the 1980s that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records:

Memory Machine“– Jack Quist
This 1982 song about a jukebox reached #52. I don’t know anything about Jack Quist other than that he originally was from Salt Lake City, but I am familiar with the song’s writer Ted Harris as he wrote such classics as “Paper Mansions” and “Crystal Chandeliers”.

eddie rabbittOn Second Thought” – Eddie Rabbitt
Released in 1989, this song peaked at #1 in early 1990. This was Eddie’s most traditional sounding hit and my favorite of all of Eddie’s recordings.

Don’t It Make Ya Wanna Dance” – Bonnie Raitt
This song was from the soundtrack of Urban Cowboy and reached #42.

Right Hand Man” – Eddy Raven

Eddy had sixteen consecutive top ten records from 1984-1989. This song is my favorite although it only reached #3. Eddy would have five #1 records during the decade with “Joe Knows How To Live” and “Bayou Boys” being the biggest hits.

She Got The Goldmine (I Got The Shaft)” – Jerry Reed
There are few artists that could get away with recording a song with such a title but Jerry Reed was that one of a kind who could. The song reached #1 in 1982, one of Jerry’s few #1 records. There are those who consider Jerry to have been the best guitar player ever (Chet Atkins among them). Jerry passed away a few years ago perhaps depriving the genre of its greatest all-around talent.

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Country Heritage: Billy Edd Wheeler

billy edd wheelerIf anyone in Country Music can truly be said to be a “renaissance man” that person would be Billy Edd Wheeler. Poet, painter, playwright, author, songwriter, singer, artist, lecturer and ecologist would be but a few of the hats that accurately (and comfortably) fit onto his head.

Billy Edd Wheeler fits into the realm between folk music, pop music and country music as his songs have been covered by artists in all three genres. Folk artists such as the Kingston Trio (“The Reverend Mr. Black,” “Desert Pete”), Judy Collins (“The Coming of the Roads,” “Coal Tattoo”), Judy Henske (“High Flying Bird”) and pop artists such as Glen Campbell (“Ann”), Kenny Rogers (“Coward of the County”), Nancy Sinatra-Lee Hazelwood (“Jackson” ), and Jim Nabors (“Hot Dog Heart”) have all enjoyed success with his songs.

Meanwhile, on the country side of the ledger, artists such as Hank Snow (“Blue Roses”), Johnny Cash (“Blistered,” “Jackson”), Jerry Reed (“Gimme Back My Blues”) and Johnny Darrell (“I Ain’t Buying,” “Ain’t That Living”) were among the artists who enjoyed success with his songs. Kathy Mattea’s recent album, Coal, featured several of his songs including “Coal Tattoo” and “The Coming of the Roads.” Moreover, he had one major country hit of his own (“Ode To The Little Brown Shack Out Back”) and several lesser hits including “I Ain’t The Worrying Kind” and “Fried Chicken and a Country Tune”. Wheeler was a long-time friend of Chet Atkins and they wrote a number of songs together including the amusing “I Still Write Your Name in the Snow”.

Born on December 12, 1932, in Whitesville, West Virginia, Billy Edd Wheeler was raised in Boone County, West Virginia, and an artistic bent showed up early. After high school, he headed to North Carolina where he graduated from Warren Wilson Junior College in 1953, and then to Berea College in Kentucky where he graduated in 1955.

After an interlude in the military in the Naval Air Corps, he did graduate studies at Yale’s School of Drama under John Gassner, majoring in playwriting. During this time, he became acquainted with the famed team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and collaborated with them on some songs, including “Jackson,” “The Reverend Mr. Black,” and “(The Girl Who Loved) The Man Who Robbed The Bank At Santa Fe (And Got Away)”, which was a Top 10 hit for Hank Snow.

Billy Edd Wheeler is a warm and engaging performer whose singing is more folk than country. His career as a singer emerged at the end of the “Hootenanny” era so he has had a relatively low profile as a recording artist. Living in Swannanoa, North Carolina since 1971 has kept him out of the Nashville spotlight but he has remained busy. During his career, he has received 13 awards from ASCAP for songs recorded by the likes of Judy Collins, Bobby Darin, The Kingston Trio, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, Kenny Rogers, Elvis, and 90+ other artists. Wheeler estimated a few years ago that his songs sold over 57 million units. By now the total is over 65 million units. “Jackson” was featured in the soundtrack to I Walk The Line, a very successful movie.

He has written a dozen plays, including 4 outdoor dramas that include the long-running Hatfields & McCoys at Beckley, West Virginia, and Young Abe Lincoln at Lincoln City, Indiana. His most recent play, Johnny Appleseed, premiered at Mansfield, Ohio in 2004. He also has authored or co-authored several books of humor, most recently Real Country Humor – Jokes From Country Music Personalities.

If that isn’t enough, Billy Edd Wheeler also is an accomplished painter. He was featured in Appalachian Heritage magazine’s 2008 winter issue, which included 16 of his original paintings, and the North Carolina Our State magazine featured him in their December, 2007 issue.

Billy Edd Wheeler was inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame in 2007 and the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2011. He also is a member of the Nashville Association of Songwriters International’s Hall of Fame, and has won awards in various other fields of endeavor.

Discography

Vinyl

Billy Edd Wheeler issued a number of albums for Kapp and other labels. All of them contain interesting songs and any that you happen to come across will be worth the purchase.

While he had recorded previously, Memories of America/ Ode to the Little Brown Shack Out Back (Kapp, 1965) was the album that brought Billy Edd Wheeler to the attention of most people. This album contains most of the songs for which he is remembered including “Jackson” and “The Reverend Mr. Black.” Joan Sommer is the female lead on several songs and the Coasters (yes, those Coasters) provide the harmony on “After Taxes.” This album had previously been issued under the title A New Bag of Songs, but when the title song became a surprise hit, the album was reissued minus two songs and adding the title song and “Sister Sara” which the Kingston Trio had recently turned into a hit.

I Ain’t the Worryin’ Kind (Kapp, 1968) is the other vinyl album to look for, as it contains most of the other songs for which he is known, and some of the best examples of Billy Edd’s wry wit. “Gladys (The Anatomy of A Shotgun Wedding)” is not to be missed, nor is “I Ain’t The Worryin’ Kind.”

CD

CDs are available can be purchased from Billy Edd’s website www.billyeddwheeler.com

None of his vinyl albums have made it to CD intact, but Milestones contains some original versions of his songs. I would also recommend Songs I Wrote With Chet, a collection of songs co-authored by the great Chet Atkins. Actually go ahead and buy every CD and book he has for sale on his website. They are all great fun.

The Ernest Tubb Record Shop has available one CD not available from Billy Edd’s website titled A Big Bag of Songs. Released in 2010 on the Omni label, the disc contains most of the A New Bag of Songs album, please an interesting array of Wheeler’s other work. A significant portion of this album is in monaural and some of the tracks were remastered from secondary sources as much of the Kapp audio library was destroyed in a Universal Studios vault fire some years back. This CD contains 28 tracks.

Album Review: Kathy Mattea – ‘Coal’

Kathleen Alice (Kathy) Mattea was born June 21, 1959, in South Charleston, West Virginia, the daughter of a coal miner and steeped in the lore and culture of the coal mines. While some think of her as a country singer and others regard her as folk, bluegrass or neo-Celtic, I prefer to think of Kathy Mattea as a quintessentially American singer and just leave it at that.

While Kathy had an extended run of top-twenty chart success running from 1986 to early 1993, Kathy’s records became increasingly more interesting once the focus on chart success subsided and she focused more on music she found interesting. With Coal, Kathy reached her career apogee, at least as far as artistic success is concerned.

Coal has always been a subject of great interest, whether to folklorists, economists or politicians. Coal is one of America’s greatest natural resources and the source of heated debate on how to mine it, how to utilize it and indeed whether or not to mine and utilize it all. While I have always been either an urban or suburban dweller, my grandfather, Otto Jetzork, was a coal miner who died at the young age of forty-three from “black lung” disease, so at a young age I started reading about coal miners and coal miners.

Ms. Mattea selected an excellent group of songs for her album and an excellent group of pickers including Marty Stuart (mandolin, acoustic guitar), Stuart Duncan (fiddle, banjo) and Byron House (acoustic bass).

The lead-off track is “The L&N Don’t Stop Here In Anymore”, a Jean Ritchie composition that some may remember as the title track of a New Coon Creek Girls album from 1994. Quite a few artists have recorded the song including Johnny Cash. Kathy does an excellent job with the song which, with slightly modified lyrics, could apply to the fate of many company towns, whatever the industry

I was born and raised at the mouth of Hazard Hollow
The coal cars rolled and rumbled past my door
But now they stand in a rusty row all empty
Because the L & N don’t stop here anymore

This is followed by another Jean Ritchie song, “Blue Diamond Mines”. I think I heard the Johnson Mountain Boys do this song on the radio but I wasn’t very familiar with the song; since I find Jean Ritchie’s voice rather annoying I’ve tended to avoid her recordings. Given the quality of these two songs, I may reconsider and seek out some of her recordings. Kathy, as always, is excellent. This track features vocal harmony by another Kentucky girl, Patty Loveless:

You old black gold you’ve taken my lung
Your dust has darkened my home
And now I am old and you’ve turned your back
Where else can an old miner go

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