My Kind of Country

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Tag Archives: Billy Sherrill

Album Review: Johnny Paycheck – ‘Slide Off Of Your Satin Sheets’

Although his first “outlaw” album, 11 Months and 29 Days didn’t exactly set the Billboard charts on fire, Johnny Paycheck and producer Billy Sherrill continued in a similar vein with his next album, the much more successful Slide Off Of Your Satin Sheets, which marked the beginning of a commercial resurgence for Paycheck, albeit a brief one. The album spawned two hit singles, which carried him into the Top 10 for the first time since “Song and Dance Man” peaked at #8 four years earlier.

The first single was the title track, penned by Wayne Carson and Donn Tankersley, which finds the protagonist only too happy to reunite with an ex for clandestine meetings, despite the fact that she had jilted him for a richer suitor. The bouncy number landed at #7. The follow-up was the equally enjoyable “I’m The Only Hell (Mama Ever Raised)”, which revisits the tried-and-true “Mama Tried” theme. The protagonist’s mother tried to “turn him on to Jesus” but he “turned on to the Devil’s ways” and by the end of the song he has been arrested for armed robbery. It peaked at #8. Both of these numbers are among Paycheck’s most memorable songs; it’s a little surprising that they didn’t chart a little higher.

This collection is considered one of Johnny Paycheck’s “outlaw” albums, although only one track , “Woman You Better Love Me” is what I would consider a true outlaw song in the sense that it sounds like something Waylon Jennings would have done. The rest, for the most part have an in-your-face attitude but I’d classify them more as honky-tonk than outlaw. One track — Bobby Braddock’s “I Did The Right Thing” is an outlier on the album in that it is a tender ballad that shows Johnny’s sensitive side as he laments ending an extramarital affair and returning to his wife. It is more conventional than the rest of the album, retaining some of the countrypolitan trappings of the day (strings, vocal choruses) for which Billy Sherrill was well known. The rest of the album, however, is more hardcore country and is certainly more traditional than anything Sherrill was doing with other male stars like Charlie Rich and George Jones during the 70s.

I particularly enjoyed Johnny’s take on “You’re Still On My Mind”, which had charted at #28 for George Jones in 1962 (an updated duet version with Marty Stuart was included on Jones’ 2008 album Burn Your Playhouse Down.) “Hank”, in which Johnny sings about those mansions on the hill that Hank Sr. sang about is also quite good. I’d have made this the album’s opening song instead of the fourth track, since it reads like a prequel to “Slide Off Of Your Satin Sheets” — Johnny’s lost the girl of his dreams to a richer man, but she hasn’t yet come crawling back. Those are my two favorites, along with the two singles. All of the tracks are quite good, though if pressed I’d rank the slightly maudlin “I Did The Right Thing” as my least favorite.

Throughout the 50s and 60s, and for about the first half of the 70s, albums were of significantly less importance than singles in country music. By the latter half of the 70s, however, some artists were beginning to make more of an effort to create quality albums from start to finish, instead of just finding some filler to accompany a hit single or two. Slide Off Of Your Satin Sheets seems to be a reflection of that change in attitude. It’s a surprisingly solid album and my only real beef with it is that it plays for a scant 28 minutes.

Grade: A

Album Review: Johnny Paycheck – ’11 Months 29 Days’

Johnny Paycheck released his first outlaw album, 11 Months 29 Days in 1976. He hadn’t yet caught on in this vein, proven by the fact the album spawned four low-charting singles and peaked at #40 upon release.

Frank Dycus and Larry Kingston wrote the lead single, “The Feminine Touch,” an odd critique on manhood. The dreary arrangement and Paycheck’s vocal are eerily reminiscent of George Jones, which I can’t tell is on purpose or not. The track itself just isn’t very good. It peaked at #56.

“Gone At Last,” the second single, is better although I could’ve done without the dated female voices on the chorus. I did enjoy the jaunty melody, which is brimming with flourishes of harmonica. The track stalled at #49.

The title track, which hit #44, was the album’s next radio offering. The prison-themed lyric, which Paycheck co-wrote with Billy Sherill, is very good. The track itself is dated beyond repair, with what sounds like an annoying horn throughout the proceedings.

The final single, “I Can See Me Loving You Again” was a Jerry Foster and Bill Rice co-write that reached #44. It’s nice ballad that makes good use of Paycheck’s honest and tender vocal performance. The production, complete with piano, is dated to modern ears, but the track is very good.

As for the remaining songs, the album finally kicks into high gear with “The Woman Who Put Me Here,” an excellent barroom anthem complete with a welcomed backing of steel guitar. “I Sleep With Her Memory Every Night” is another high point, a ballad, complete with nice touches of fiddle to accompany a lyric about a lost love. “I’ve Seen Better Days,” also another ballad, is slightly dreary but very good as well.

11 Months 29 Days is an average album at best, with songs that may be okay on their own but are taken down by dreary uninviting production trappings. While I didn’t like this one very much, it may appeal to Paycheck collectors’ more than average fans.

Grade: B-

Album Review: Johnny Paycheck – ‘Someone to Give My Love To’

While the Little Darlin’ Recordings served to get Johnny’s name known, at some point the label lost steam and was folded by Aubrey Mayhew. In fact the last of the Mayhew-Paycheck collaborations was released on the Certron label. Once again Paycheck found himself on the outside looking in.

There´s an old saying that ‘The honky-tonk life kills off the honky-tonk singers’, In Johnny Paycheck’s case, that almost proved to be true as the twin demons of alcohol and drug abuse momentarily brought his career to a halt. Fortunately for Johnny, a talent as formidable as he was, rarely stayed forgotten in Nashville during the early 1970s. While he was drying out, the country music genre was undergoing some changes. Bands such as Creedence Clearwater Revival, Matthews Southern Comfort, The Byrds, Poco and Pure Prairie League were adding country sounds to their forms of rock music. Meanwhile, former rockers like Jerry Lee Lewis and Conway Twitty were experiencing success on country radio. Hoping to capitalize on the new energy affecting country music, CBS record executive and fan Nick Hunter tracked Paycheck down (there are stories of him sleeping under freeway bridges and on park benches). Hunter brought Paycheck to the attention of producer Billy Sherrill, who signed him to Epic Records and recorded him as a straight-ahead country balladeer. Success came immediately as the first single “She’s All I Got” reached #2 Billboard/#1 Cashbox/#1 Record World, and the album of the same name reached #4 upon its release in December 1971.

Someone To Give My Love To was Johnny’s second release for Epic, released in May 1972. The title track, released as the first single from the album replicated the success of his first Epic single reaching #1 on Record World (#2 Cashbox /#4 Billboard). This song was written by the successful songwriting team of Bill Rice and Jerry Foster. Paycheck would record many more of their songs.

I could search from now till the end of time
And never find another you
I’m so glad because I know you’re mine
Someone to give my love to

Now I believe my love that you’re one of a kind
For there’s no one else like you
You’re the light of my life so let it shine
Someone to give my love to

[Chorus]
I found happiness is loving you
And I’ll do my best to make your dreams come true
I will follow you to the end of the earth
For my place will be with you
I have taken you for better or worse
Someone to give my love to

Tracy Byrd would cover this song 30 years later.

Next up is “Smile Somebody Loves You”, a generic ballad that makes a decent album track. “Something” by English songwriter George Harrison is a song that has been covered hundreds of times. Welsh torch singer Shirley Bassey had a huge hit with the song while I was living in England, reaching #4 on the UK pop charts while being a top ten record in numerous other countries. Johnny does a nice job with the song, but with the exception of a little steel guitar, the arrangement is nearly a clone of Bassey’s recording.

Johnny wrote “Your Love Is The Key To It All”. A nice ballad that has a generic instrumental backing that sounds like it was intended as a Tammy Wynette track.

The sun always shines in my world down even when the rain should fall
The light of happiness is always shining and your love is the key to it all
One day you just walked into these arms of mine
Lift me up and with your love made me stand tall
Now I know what happiness in life is all about and your love is the key to it all

Your love is the key that fits every lock to every single door in failure’s wall
Now I’m strong enough to do anything I have to and your love is the key to it all
One day you just walked…
Your love is the key to it all

Jerry Jeff Walker never had any real hit records, but he sure wrote a winner in “Mr. Bojangles”. Walker has said he was inspired to write the song after an encounter with a street performer in a New Orleans jail, after he was jailed for public intoxication. Contrary to popular belief the song was not inspired by famed black dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, but by a homeless white man who called himself “Mr. Bojangles” to conceal his true identity from the police.

Walker’s own 1968 recording of the song died at #77, but the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band pushed the record to #9 on the US pop charts (and #2 on the Canadian pop charts) and performers such as Sammy Davis, Jr. and William Shatner have performed the song. Paycheck’s version is performed in a straight-forward manner – it makes a nice album track.

“Love Is A Good Thing” is another song from the Foster-Rice songbook. According to Billboard the song only reached #12 (#13 Record World/#11 Cashbox). Given how frequently I heard the song on country radio, I suspect that the song was more popular in some areas than others. It is a great song

Girl, you give your precious love to me and we’ve got a good thing goin’
There’s no end in sight that I can see cause our love just keeps on growin’
Bring on happiness let us sing love is a good thing
We can take what life may offer us and when trouble comes around
There’s no way it’s gonna break us up nothing gets a good love down
Bring on sunshine let us sing love is a good thing
Yeah love is a good thing let us sing love is a good thing

“A Heart Don’t Need Eyes” and “She’ll All I Love For” are a pair of Paycheck’s compositions, both decent album tracks. The former is a standard weeper that would have made a decent, but not great single for Paycheck (or George Jones for that matter.) The latter is a upbeat love song to his wife .

“The Rain Never Falls In Denver” is a mid-tempo upbeat Foster & Rice love song. It could have made a decent single for someone but as afar as I know, it was never released by anyone as a single.

Oh, the rain never falls in Denver
‘Cause you make the sun shine all the time
Oh, the rain never falls in Denver
Since you came along and brought your love to this heart of mine

One time in Chicago, Illinois
A pretty woman turned my head around
That city woman said she love this poor country boy
Any cloudy in Chicago and the rain came pouring down

But the rain never falls in Denver
‘Cause you make the sun shine all the time
Oh, the rain never falls in Denver
Since you came along and brought your love to this heart of mine

“High On The Thought of You” is a interesting song about a love that is gone. Johnny does an effective job of singing the song

I don’t need the help of the red wine in the glass to ease my mind
I found out the way to forget the way you left me here behind
I drink up a mem’ry and it takes me back to places that I’ve been
I just think about you and I’m high on the thought of you again

The album closes with “It’s Only A Matter of Wine”, the title a takeoff on the title of an old Brook Benton classic. The song itself, written by Frank Dycus and Larry Kingston, has nothing to do with Benton’s song.

They’re stackin’ the chairs on the table again they block down the Budwiser sign
`Soon they’ll be callin’ a taxi for me it’s only a matter of wine
Yes it’s only a matter of wine till I’m something that words can’t divine
Yes she’ll soon be out of my mind and it’s only a matter of wine

Outside a big truck is washing the street leaving our dream world behind
While inside I’m washing your mem’ry away cause it’s only a matter of wine
Yes it’s only a matter of wine…
Yes it’s only a matter of wine

Johnny Paycheck was a very distinctive vocalist whose voice could occasionally (but only rarely) be mistaken for George Jones – but for no one else. His ability to put across emotion could be matched by few and exceeded by none. The albums released by Epic are generally very good, but that distinctive instrumental sound and style of the Little Darlin’ years had been lost, replaced by the “country cocktails” sound of Billy Sherrill. Unfortunately, album covers from this era did not routinely list musician credits and I haven’t been able to find them elsewhere.

On a few of the tracks, it sound as if tracks were produced first; then a vocalist selected to sing the song. With an artist as distinctive as Paycheck, the vocals cut through the clutter and produce recordings worth hearing.

Grade: B+

Spotlight Artist: Johnny Paycheck

Our June Spotlight Artist is perhaps the most interesting artist we’ve featured in terms of personality and the ability to reinvent himself.

Born Donald Eugene Lytle, and later known as Donnie Young, Johnny Paycheck, John Austin Paycheck, Johnny PayCheck and perhaps a few other names that have slipped by me, Paycheck (5/31/1938 – 2/19/2003) was possessed of enormous talent as a vocalist and songwriter, but not as much talent at keeping himself in check. As a result, he continually found himself in hot water.

Johnny Paycheck was born in the small rural town of Greenfield, Ohio. Greenfield, located about 70 miles to the northeast of Cincinnati and 60 miles south of Columbus, is a typical Midwest small town, the sort of place Hal Ketchum sang about in his song “Small Town Saturday Night”, It’s the kind of town people either remain in forever or can’t wait to leave. For a restless spirit like Paycheck, leaving was first and foremost in his thoughts.

He hit the road in 1953 with his clothing and his guitar, serving a not too successful hitch in the US Navy and eventually winding up in Nashville where he obtained work as a sideman in the bands of several prominent Nashville stars such as Ray Price, Faron Young, Porter Wagoner and George Jones.  He also appeared as a harmony vocalist on numerous recordings.

Paycheck cut a couple of country and rockabilly sides for Decca and Mercury in the late ´50s under the moniker Donnie Young. Interestingly enough, Paycheck/Young´s first single, “On This Mountain Top” was billed as a duet with another restless soul – Roger Miller (although Miller functions basically as a background singer). The single gave Johnny his first chart success as the single reached #31 on Cashbox´s country chart. While this was a promising start, it would prove to be a false start.

Our story will begin with the classic recordings that Johnny recorded for Aubrey Mayhew’s Little Darlin’ label (1966–1969) and carry us through his recordings with Epic Records. The Little Darlin’recordings will reveal some of the archest hard-core honky-tonk recordings ever made, recordings (mostly featuring Lloyd Green on steel guitar) with a taste for bizarre, sometimes humorous and/or violent songs that tempered their serious nature with upbeat instrumentation.

The Epic years will reveal two more sides of Johnny. The early Epic years (1971–1975), sometimes called the “Mr. Love Maker” years after an early 1970s hit, will find Johnny cast as a romantic balladeer complete with the ubiquitous “country cocktails” trappings of producer Billy Sherrill. The later Epic years (1976–1982) will find Johnny reinvented as an “outlaw” with songs such as “(Stay Away From) The Cocaine Train”, “Colorado Kool-Aid” and “Take This Job and Shove It”.

Throughout this entire period, Johnny Paycheck remained an outstanding and distinctive vocalist, fearless in his choice of material and basically unique in his approach to his music.

In writing about Don Williams last month I wrote: ”So kick back and enjoy our overview of May Spotlight artist Don Williams”. There is nothing laidback about our June spotlight artist, it’s hold onto your hats – here comes Hurricane Johnny.

Johnny’s only child recently set up this useful website.

Album review: Tammy Wynette – ‘Til I Can Make It On My Own’

til-i-can-make-it-on-my-ownTil I Can Make It On My Own was Tammy Wynette’s fifteenth studio album since 1967, and represents a brief renaissance in album success, reaching #3 after her two previous albums failed to crack the top twenty of Billboard’s Country Albums chart. Her next album You and Me would reach #4, making it the last Tammy Wynette album to crack the top ten.

The album opens with the title track, which would prove to be her penultimate #1 country single, co-written by Tammy with George Richey and Billy Sherrill. Tammy often indicated that this was her favorite song of the many songs she recorded. The song depicts the vulnerability that Tammy excelled in conveying.

I’ll need time,
To get you off my mind.
And I may sometimes bother you;
Try to be in touch with you.
Even ask too much of you from time to time.

Now and then,
Lord you know I’ll need a friend.
‘Til I get used to losing you,
Let me keep on using you.
‘Til I can make it on my own.

“Just In Case” is a slow ballad given the full country cocktail treatment. The song makes a nice album track but had no potential as a single. The song is about a breakup in which the protagonist offers herself as a fallback position:

It’s over I know you’re going away
If you can’t stay I don’t want you to
I won’t miss you, no I don’t care where you go
But let me know just in case I do

I’m glad you’ve got a friend here in town
And I hope he’ll be good to you
Don’t you worry
Now I won’t worry about you
Just in case I do

It’s good you’re gonna be happy
You’re right it’s the right thing to do
And you couldn’t really be happy
If you thought I still care for you.

Charley Pride had a #1 single on “She’s Just An Old Love Turned Memory” in early 1977. The song was written by John Schweers, a songwriter who provided several hits to Charley. Originally cut by Nick Nixon, Tammy heard Nixon’s track and covered it. Reportedly she was considering releasing the song as a single. Her version is good, but it seems to work better from the male perspective.

I phoned him today, an accidental mistake
And his name slipped out to some friend
Forgotten old feelin’s brand new today’
‘Cause I’m right back where I’ve always been

He’s just an old love turned memory
And now I seldom see him around
He’s just an old love turned memory
But he still turns my world upside down

“The World’s Most Broken Heart” is another slow ballad, again given the full country cocktail treatment. The first verse reminds one of the opening to “The Grand Tour” (a George Jones hit) but the song isn’t nearly as well crafted or interesting.

Step right this way, here’s our main attraction
Direct your eyes to the centre of the room
She walks, she talks, she cries real tears,
Now the show’s about to start
Now presenting, the world’s most broken heart

See her cry when she remembers that her love’s gone bad
Watch her body ache as she recalls all the sleepless nights she’s had
She’s the greatest wonder of the world’s and her soul’s been torn apart
Now presenting, the world’s most broken heart

“If I Could Only Win Your Love” is next up. The song is a Louvin Brothers classic written by Ira and Charlie Louvin. Emmylou Harris took the song to #4 in 1975 for her first top forty chart hit. I don’t believe that the Louvin Brothers ever issued the song as a single, but their recording remains the definitive version. Their version originally appeared on their 1958 album Country Love Ballads. Tammy’s version is very good although the lead electric and steel guitar arrangements seem more honky-tonk than I’m accustomed to hearing for this particular song.

If I could only win your love
I’d make the most of everything
I’d proudly wear your wedding ring
My heart would never stray one dream away
If I could only win your love
I’d give my all to make it live
You’ll never know how much I give
If I could only win your love

Next up is “The Heart”, another slow ballad. It is a nice song, but at this point the album is getting overrun with slow ballads.
“You Can Be Replaced” doesn’t vary the tempo or the generally downbeat feel of the album, being another breakup song. The narrator says the departing boyfriend can be replaced but not in the manner you’d think:

Somebody new is loving you
And your gonna go with her I know
But there’ll be no tears running down my face
Go on with her you can be replaced

Take back your ring and everything
Let’s both forget we even met
There is no love time can’t erase
The minute you’re go, you can be replaced

You can be replaced by lonely days
By sleepless nights and all the rest
I’ll miss you so but none the less
You can be replaced by loneliness
You can be replaced by loneliness

“Love Is Something Good For Everybody” starts out as a slow ballad but after the introduction, it picks up the tempo to mid-tempo. It’s not a classic song, but represents a welcome relief from an album full of rather sad songs.

Not to worry, the next track takes the listener back to the depths of despair with another breakup song with another slow song, given the full Sherrill treatment on “Where Some Good Love Has Been”:

There’s your ring, my ring on the table
Now they won’t ever hurt our hands again
Cause when the lights go out tonight, we won’t be together
So let’s take a good look where some good love has been

Your love and my love is almost over
And it won’t be long till memories begin
Only in our minds we’ll find the times we found each other
So let’s take a good look where some good love has been

The original vinyl version of the album closes with “Easy Come Easy Go”, a rather bland ballad that sounds like something the Carpenters might have recorded.

Love just walked on down the road
I guess it had to be
Wish he wouldn’t walk so slow
Too much time to see
All that love leaving me

It’s easy come and easy go
That’s all he knows
So much sunshine in his smile
For a while he made my love the song

Lord he’d sing to me
Oh, he’d cling to me
And I loved him so
Easy come and easy go

Many listeners consider this to be one of Tammy’s best albums, but I disagree, since the album is basically comprised on a string of slow sad ballads with little relief. I think that if Wynette and Sherrill had interspersed another one or two up-tempo songs (not necessarily happy songs) I would like the album much more. The songs are mostly good and the performances good to very good but the album adds up to less than the sum of its parts.

Grade: C+

Album Review: Tammy Wynette – ‘My Man’

my-manTammy’s second release of 1972 produced two chart topping singles – three, if you count ‘Good Lovin’ (Makes It Right)’, which was a #1 single the previous year, but was originally released to promote Tammy’s Greatest Hits Volume II rather than this album.

The title track, ‘My Man (Understands)’ is not one of my favorite Tammy Wynette songs, a mid tempo love song which is just not terribly interesting and is given a brassy production. The second song has held up much better over time. ‘Til I Get It Right’ is a beautiful ballad written by Red Lane and Larry Henley with an inspiring message about facing a disastrous love life with optimism.

‘Walk Softly On The Bridges’ is an excellent song written by the legendary Dallas Frazier and A L “Doodle” Owens. It was a hit single for Mel Street the following year, and has been covered a number of times, but Tammy’s subtly emotional version was the first and arguably the best, as she offers advice to a friend tempted to cheat:

Don’t be careless with your darling
If you love him, don’t let him down
If you’re faithful he won’t leave you
Lost and wasted the way I am

Walk softly on the bridges that you’re crossing
Don’t break his heart then cry cause it won’t mend
Be careful not to slam the door behind you
You may need to knock upon his door again

She covered a recent hit for her husband George Jones, ‘Loving You Could Never Be Better’, a nice love song which works well for Tammy who gives it a hushed sensual reading. Maybe they should have cut the song as a duet. Donna Fargo’s breakthrough hit ‘The Happiest Girl In The Whole USA’ has aged distinctly less well, although Tammy sings it with enthusiasm.

Tammy wrote the subdued ballad ‘Things I Love To Do’ with Earl Montgomery, about a happy housewife . She sings it beautifully, but the song does not go anywhere. She also co-wrote the brassier ‘Hold On (To The Love I Got)’, another piece of filler.

She is more assertive telling her man ‘You Can’t Hang On’ if he isn’t going to give her enough loving; or that if he cheats on her she’ll be ‘Gone With Another Man’.

‘The Bridge Of Love’ (written by Jae J Kay) has a folky nursery rhyme quality, and combines a progressive message about a multiracial America with a sense of impending failure, which is a bit of a departure for Tammy:

Watch the happy children go round and round
Some are black, some are brown
The bridge is strong but when things go wrong
It’s down, down, down

Hear the little children singin’ their song
Everything’s right and they belong
All the little children are gonna be sad
When the bridge falls down, no mom, no dad

When the bridge of love starts fallin’ down
Fallin’ down, fallin’ down
The bridge is strong but when things go wrong
It’s down, down, down

One hand a-reachin’ out to another
Makes a bridge of love – will you be my brother?…
Look at our country, what do you see
The bridge of all colors standing free
The bridge is strong but when hearts go wrong
It’s down, down, down

There may be a few too many upbeat filler tunes, but there is some excellent material as well, and this is worth seeking out. It is available on a 2-4-1 deal with Bedtime Stories.

Grade: B

Album Review: Tammy Wynette – ‘The First Lady’

tumblr_ls3bvtwziu1qf01xeo1_500The First Lady, Tammy Wynette’s eighth album, was her third and final release in 1970. The project’s sole number one was the chart topping cautionary tale, “Run Woman Run,” in which a woman advises a friend to work it out with her ex-lover:

Run woman, run

Go back to him and fix things up the very best you can

Tell him you missed him while you were gone

Run woman, run back to your man

 

You’re a young girl, so understand, it’s so hard to find a man

Who comes home every night to only you

You may not find true love again, so go home while you still can

And find a way to work it out with your man

While no other singles were released, The First Lady is notable for containing six songs written or co-written by Billy Sherill. Barbara Mandrell simultaneously covered the excellent “Playin’ Around With Love,” which was issued as the second single from her debut album. Jody Miller released a version of the similarly upbeat “Safe In These Lovin’ Arms of Mine,” which wasn’t released to radio. Wynette does a superb job on both songs, even surpassing Mandrell with a superior vocal performance.

Given Wynette’s success with songs regarding domestic life and marriage, it’s no surprise to find most of Sherill’s contributions cover similar thematic ground. “He’s Still My Man” finds Wynette devastated by the philandering spouse she chooses to forgive. On another she’s “The Lovin’ Kind” to a man who favors the emotionally detached.

She’s a next-door neighbor on “I Wish I Had a Mommy Like You,” one of Sherill’s creepier contributions. Wynette is left to comfort a boy abandoned by his father and left home alone by his mother. A twist ending only makes matters harder to swallow:

There lives a little boy in the house next door to me

And as usual his mommy was gone

So he came over this morning and sat down next to me

And asked why does mommy leave me alone

 

But he’ll find out someday why his mommy stays away

And why a woman needs arms to hold her tight

And that she would stay at home and not leave him all alone

If his daddy didn’t stay away at night

 

He said I wish I had a mommy like you just like you

To hold me in her arms the way you do

When I lay me down to sleep I pray the Lord my soul to keep

And I ask for a mommy like you

 

Though a tear fell from his eye he was trying not to cry

I said don’t worry everything will be all right

So you just wait and see and I held him close to me

Just like I held his daddy last night

As if that wasn’t enough, Sherill and Wynette team with Carmol Taylor for “My Daddy Doll,” in which Wynette observes her daughter explaining to her friend how she’s transferred the love she’s lost from the father that’s abandoned her:

My little girl was playing with her friend from down the street

She took her by the hand and said there’s someone you should meet

And then they went into her room to play another game

She picked up all her dolly’s and told them all by name

 

I listened as she said their names here’s Betty Sue and Kay

Jack and June and Mary Jo and then I’ve heard her say

This one is my Daddy Doll and she sat him on the floor

I make believe he’s daddy since he don’t live here no more

 

My daddy doll is always near to help put me to bed

He kisses me and says goodnight like my real daddy did

He talks with me and never failes to answer when I called

My Daddy Doll is special and I love him most of all

My Daddy Doll is special and I love him most of all

Taylor’s solely written “Buy Me A Daddy” plays as a companion piece to the aforementioned song, albeit in a much tamer way. The lyric, in which a little girl offers a simple request, is more heartbreaking than eerie:

I buy toys for my little girl almost every day

To try and keep her happy

Since her daddy went away

But today she looked so lonely

As she climbed upon my knees

And in her sweet tiny voice she said this to me

 

Mommy I love you and all of my toys

But I want a daddy like the other girls and boys

Then she gave me her pennies her nickels and dimes

And the next thing she told me broke this heart of mine

Buy me a daddy, he don’t have to be new

Just as long as he loves me any daddy will do

 

And we’ll make him promise daddy won’t go away

Please buy me a daddy let’s go get one today

Buy me a daddy let’s go get one today

Taylor’s final contribution is the serviceable yet bland “True and Lasting Love.” Also included on The First Lady is Wynette’s version of Bill Anderson and Jan Howard’s “I Never Once Stopped Loving You,” a #5 peaking hit for Connie Smith that very year.

The remaining cut on The First Lady is the fabulous Chet Atkins and Curly Putman composition “Sally Trash.” Wynette channels Loretta Lynn with a lyric that finally gives her woman-scorned persona a backbone:

The whole big town of Knoxville is your playground every night

It seems I’m just your everyday plaything and honey that ain’t right

But my kinda love turns strong and steady not off and on like a neon flash

But if you don’t like my sweet kinda love then baby

Then go on out and pick up Sally trash

 

She’s been picked up many times then dropped like a hot potatoe

And she’s been squeezed and handled like an overripe tomatoe

But she don’t really love your lovin’ she just likes your cash

So if you don’t want my sweet kinda love then baby

Then go on out and pick up Sally trash

Evaluating The First Lady isn’t as easy a task as it might seem. Despite just one single, the album is a complete body of work. The listener never gets the sense that Wynette or Sherill padded the project to rush a release full of filler to the marketplace. Despite the subject matter, which leaves a bad taste in my mouth, there honestly isn’t a throwaway track in the bunch.

Songs like “I Wish I Had A Mommy Like You” and “My Daddy Doll” aren’t necessarily to my tastes, and will likely alienate the majority of the audience, but they aren’t as poorly constructed as they are sinister. The twist in the former is actually kind of genius. I’m just glad country music has evolved away from these types of songs. It proves that some evolvement, in which the genre is correctly pushed forward, only benefited later generations.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Tammy Wynette – ‘The Ways To Love A Man’

the-ways-to-love-a-manBy the time The Ways To Love A Man, Tammy’s sixth solo album, was released in January 1970, Tammy and producer Billy Sherrill had found and perfected the formula for her recordings. Unlike fellow ‘Nashville Sound’ producers such as Chet Atkins at RCA, Owen Bradley at Decca/MCA and Don Law at Columbia, who made considerable use of symphonic strings and choral arrangements, Sherrill’s use of symphonic strings was minimal but his use of background voices was very aggressive indeed. Sherrill also used the steel guitar to shade the musical accompaniment in similar fashion to the way Owen Bradley would use string arrangements.

The Ways To Love A Man follows the usual formula with two singles, both of which went to #1, some covers of recent hit singles, and some filler. The album reached #3 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, making it the fifth album to do so (a religious album in 1969 only reached the top twenty).

The album opens with the title track and second single, a song credited to Tammy, Billy Sherrill and Glen Sutton as co-writers. It’s a fairly sappy song that in the hands of another artist wouldn’t be very believable, but the song was crafted with Tammy’s vocals in mind and it soared to the top of the charts.

There are so many ways to love a man and so many things to understand
And if there ever comes a time you decide to change your mind
I’ll need a way to hold you and I can
Cause I’ll know all the ways to love a man
But there’s so many ways to lose a man so quickly
He can slip through your hands
One little thing goes wrong then all at once he’s gone
I’d have no way to hold him like I planned
It takes more than just one way to love a man
With my hands my heart anything I can find
My child my home my soul and my mind
I’ll know that I can hold him yes I can
If I know all the ways to love a man

Next up is “Twelfth of Never”, a late 1950s top ten pop hit in the USA and Australia for Johnny Mathis. The lyrics were written by Jerry Livingston and Paul Francis Webster and appended to an old English folk melody. The song and was recorded by many other artists, most notably Cliff Richard, who had a major hit with the song in the UK, Australia, Hong Kong, Ireland, Holland, Malaysia and Norway during the mid 1960s. My favorite version of the song was that recorded by Glen Campbell on his 1968 album A New Place In The Sun. It’s a very nice song, but not particularly well suited to Tammy’s voice. That said, Tammy and Sherrill acquit themselves well on this crooner ballad.

“I’ll Share My World With You” was a major hit for her then-husband George Jones in 1969. Written by Ben Wilson, the record reached #2 for George when released by Musicor. Tammy is not in George’s league as a singer (very few are) but the song works.

“Enough of A Woman” comes from the husband and wife team of Leon Ashley and Margie Singleton. Both Leon and Margie had some success as singers (Margie as a duet partner for George Jones and Faron Young) but I don’t remember this song being a hit for anyone.

“Singing My Song” was the first single from this album, although it appears that the song may have first appeared on Tammy Wynette’s Greatest Hits which was released just before this album. This song has a triumphant feel that isn’t that characteristic of her music.

Here’s a song I love to sing,
It’s about the man that wears my ring.
And even though he’s tempted, he knows,
I’ll make sure that he gets everything.
‘Cause when he’s cold, he knows I’m warm,
And I warm him in my arms.
And when he’s sad, oh, I make him glad.
And I’m his shelter from the storm.
I’m his song when he feels like singing.
And I swing when he feels like swinging.
I don’t know what I do that’s right,
But it makes him come home at night.
And when he’s home, I make sure he’s never alone.
And that’s why I keep singing my song.

“He’ll Never Take The Place of You” was written by Charlie Daniels, Bob Johnson and Billy Sherrill. The song is a slow ballad and while she does a nice job with it, it’s just album filler. Ditto for “I Know”, a ballad composed by George Jones and Tammy Wynette.

“Yearning (To Kiss You)” was a hit for George Jones in 1957 (released as a duet with Jeanette Hicks), his first top ten duet single. George co-wrote the song with Eddie Eddings. It’s worth hearing although the original was better. “These Two” was also composed by George and Tammy, another mid-tempo ballad.

“Where Could You Go (But To Her)” is a definite misstep, a Glenn Sutton-Billy Sherrill ballad that was a charting B side hit for David Houston with “Loser’s Cathedral” as the A side. Tammy sings the song alright but Sutton and Sherrill could have done a much better job of rewriting the lyrics to suit the feminine perspective.

“Still Around” was written by Billy Sherrill is another slow ballad. It is a nice song, gently sung by Tammy with perhaps the most subdued production of any song on the album. I think this could have been a successful single for Tammy:

To make you stay I’ll never try
And when you go I will not cry
But for a time I might be found somewhere live still around
But may you find a love that’s true
Someone to love and cherish you
And if you love your whole life through
And may you love as I love you
But if you’ll ever feel alone
With no true love to call your own
And if you’ll need a place to hide
These arms of mine are open wide
And if a troubled love brings you pain
My love is all like summer rain
Always remember I’ll be found still around

A solid effort for ‘The First Lady of Country Music’, a strong A-

Album Review: Tammy Wynette – ‘Stand By Your Man’

51-kr28ttwl-_ss500Tammy Wynette’s fifth album is somewhat of a departure from her earlier efforts in that it relies much less on cover material made famous by other artists and also shows her beginning to develop as a songwriter. The highlight, of course, is the title track, which is her undisputed greatest moment on record and as well as her biggest commercial achievement. “Stand By Your Man” was written in about fifteen minutes when producer Billy Sherrill invited Tammy to help him finish a song that he’d started writing. Tammy had deep reservations about the final product, as well as her ability to hit the high notes at the end. When her then-husband George Jones also did not care for the song, she wanted to pass on it but Sherrill ultimately persuaded her to record it. “Stand By Your Man” was recorded on August 28, 1968 and released shortly thereafter. It topped the country chart for the week of November 23, 1968 and remained there for three weeks. It also became a Top 20 pop hit and made Tammy Wynette a household name both at home and abroad.

Stand By Your Man the album was released in early 1969. There were no singles released from it aside from the title track; it was probably selling well enough without the need for any additional hits to support it. However, the other songs, though not well remembered today, are all quite enjoyable. “I Stayed Long Enough” had been the B-side of “Stand By Your Man” and is one of the few songs that Wynette wrote all by herself. She puts in a strong vocal performance, supported by plenty of steel guitar and not as much of Sherill’s “country cocktail” production that would prevail on most of her later records. It was covered by Billie Jo Spears in 1970 and was a minor hit for her.

Divorce and the toll it takes on children is a recurring theme in Wynette’s catalog. The trend begun with “I Don’t Wanna Play House” and “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” is well represented here from the Liz Anderson/Dick Land tune “Cry, Cry Again” which finds Tammy begging her estranged husband to come home for the sake of their daughter to “Joey”, written by Tammy’s ex-husband Don Chapel, in which the title character laments that “all the other kids he knows have daddies every day.” “Don’t Make Me Go To School” similarly deals with a young girl who feels out of place because her classmates all have two full-time parents.

“It’s My Way” is the album’s only remake, having originally been a hit for Webb Pierce in 1957. Sherrill’s use of a double-tracked vocal is reminiscent of “Apartment No. 9” from a few years earlier.

Two bonus tracks were added to the album when it was finally reissued on CD in the late 1990s or early 2000s. Neither is particularly exciting. “I’m Only a Woman” is noteworthy only because it was written by Dottie West. “There’s Quite a Difference” is a filler track in which Tammy warns a wandering husband not to choose his bit on the side over his wife and family.

It could certainly be argued that Stand By Your Man contains nothing essential aside from its title track; however, I would counter argue that the remaining songs, while not regarded as classics today, are all well done and allow the listener to enjoy Tammy at her vocal peak.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Tammy Wynette – ‘D-I-V-O-R-C-E’

mi0003064266Tammy Wynette, once again, teamed with Billy Sherill for her third album, D-I-V-O-R-C-E, released in 1968. It would be Wynette’s first chart-topping album, fueled by the success of the now-classic title track.

The Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman penned ballad was Wynette’s fastest rising single to date and quickly topped the charts. She had gained a reputation for selecting material highlighting the woman’s perspective, a fascist sorely lacking in mainstream country music at the time. I first became familiar with the song through Rosanne Cash, who recorded a more contemporary take for Tammy Wynette Remembered following her death in 1998.

As was customary at the time, the album features a bevy of covers. Wynette turns in a rather strong rendition of “Gentle On My Mind” and a fantastic cover of “Honey,” which I’d never heard from a woman’s perspective before. I wasn’t as crazy about “Yesterday,” which with a country arrangement just doesn’t work. “The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde,” however, is one of the record’s strongest cuts. “Sweet Dreams,” on the other hand, is much too maudlin for my tastes.

George Richey, Wynette’s widower co-wrote “Come On Home,” an excellent ballad about an ‘old faithful’ wife perfectly content with her husband’s cheating. Sherrill co-wrote “Kiss Away,” a fabulous steel-soaked showcase for Wynette’s impressive vocal range. The jaunty “When There’s A Fire In Your Heart,” also wonderful, was co-written by Merle Kilgore. The final cut, “Lonely Street,” another very good ballad, was co-written by country singer Carl Belew.

D-I-V-O-R-C-E is the rare 1960s country album that hits all the right notes. The covers worked well with Wynette’s voice and I really liked the arrangements. If you haven’t heard this one before, I highly recommend seeking it out.

Grade: A

Album Review: Tammy Wynette – ‘Take Me To Your World/I Don’t Wanna Play House’

take-me-to-your-worldReleased in January 1968, Take Me To Your World/ I Don’t Wanna Play House, was Tammy’s second solo album and represented another step forward in Tammy Wynette’s career, rising to #3 on the Country Albums chart. Not only that, but the two singles released from the album both rose to #1 giving Tammy her first two solo #1 records and her third overall #1 (her duet of “My Elusive Dreams” with David Houston reached #1 in 1967).

For me, the apogee of female country singers was reached in the late 1960s and early 1970s. While female singers may have achieved better chart penetration later, qualitative the major label crop of female singers was abundant and excellent with the likes of Connie Smith, Wilma Burgess, Kitty Wells, Loretta Lynn, Jean Shepard, Dottie West, Skeeter Davis, Lynn Anderson, Liz Anderson, Norma Jean, Rose Maddox, Jeanie Seely, Jeannie C Riley, Barbara Mandrell and Wanda Jackson being among the competition. There also were a host of second-tier artists on the major labels and many female artists on minor and independent labels. Within a few years the likes of Tanya Tucker and Barbara Fairchild would appear on the scene. The ghost of Patsy Cline was also on the scene.

While Tammy Wynette did not have the sheer vocal power of a Jean Shepard or Loretta Lynn, she did have the advantage of a record producer who was perfectly able to overcome Tammy’s vocal limitations and devise accompaniments to perfectly frame the essential teardrop in Tammy’s voice, and to write (when necessary) to showcase the voice and the production.

(As an aside, when I refer to the term “Nashville Sound”, I am referring to recordings where steel guitars and fiddles are accompanied (or sometimes replaced) by symphonic arrangements and choral accompaniments. The chief architects of this style were Chet Atkins at RCA, Owen Bradley at Decca, and Billy Sherrill at Epic. In Sherrill’s hands the arrangements were sometimes referred to as ‘country cocktails’. The style was very effective in covering up a singer’s lack of range, particularly in the higher registers.)

The album opens with “I Don’t Wanna Play House” a Billy Sherrill-Glen Sutton composition that won the 1968 Grammy for Best Female Country Performance. In the song, the narrator, a woman whose husband has left her, hears her daughter tell a neighbor boy that she doesn’t want to play house and the reason why she doesn’t want to play. This is a very compelling song:

Today I sat alone at the window
And I watched our little girl outside at play
With the little boy next door like so many times before
But something didn’t seem quite right today

So I went outside to see what they were doing
And then the teardrops made my eyes grow dim
‘Cause I heard him name a game and I hung my head in shame
When I heard our little girl say to him.

I don’t want to play house; I know it can’t be fun
I’ve watched mommy and daddy
And if that’s the way it’s done
I don’t want to play house; It makes my mommy cry
‘Cause when she played house
My daddy said good-bye.

Next up is “Jackson Ain’t A Very Big Town”, a minor hit for Norma Jean in 1967. Tammy does as nice job with the song.

“Broadminded” comes from the pen of Leona Williams and Jimmy Payne. At some point Leona would become one of Merle Haggard’s wives and would have some success on the country charts, although never as much as her talent would have warranted. The Leona Williams version of the songs is far superior to Tammy’s rendition, but if you’ve not heard Leona’s version you will likely like Tammy’s recording. At this point in her career Tammy really hadn’t become quite assertive enough to give this sassy up-tempo song the proper reading.

Broadminded, narrow minded man
Every night I catch you sleepin’ with a smile on your face
And a-callin’ names that I don’t even know
If it ain’t Carmel, Pat and Gracie
Aand drinkin’ down at Stacey’s
It’s making plans to see a girly show

Broadminded, I just don’t understand
A broadminded, narrow minded man

“Cry” was a big 1950s hit for male pop singer Johnnie Ray. Tammy gives it a straight ahead reading, but the song works better in the hands of someone with a bigger voice – both Lynn Anderson (#3 in 1972) and Crystal Gayle (#1 in 1986) would have big hits with the song in the upcoming years.

“The Phone Call”, written by Norris “Norro” Wilson, is just album filler, a phone call between a daughter and her mother, telling her mother her tale of woe about a man who mistreated her.

“Take Me To Your World”, a Glen Sutton-Billy Sherrill collaboration, is given the full Nashville Sound treatment by Sherrill. The song is an outstanding effort and showcases Tammy vocals perfectly.

If you can find it in your heart to just forgive
I’ll come back and live the way you’ve wanted me to live
All I want is just to be your girl
Please come and get me, and take me to your world

Take me to your world, away from bar rooms filled with smoke
Where I won’t have to serve a drink, or hear a dirty joke
All I want is just to be your girl

“(Or) Is It Love” was written by Buddy Ray. It too, is given the full Nashville Sound treatment, turning a piece of filler into a worthwhile effort. Harry Mills’ “Fuzzy Wuzzy Ego” is a song about a woman essentially talking her man off the ledge and into returning home. The production on this song is very country, including use of a dobro.

With one elbow on the bar you’re drinking double
Tryin’ hard to drown up my memories
And you’re tellin’ all your buddies all your troubles
Layin’ the blame smack upon me.

If you set that bottle down and while I listen
You lose your pain inside that hurts you so
Neither one of us is all to blame baby
It’s your foggy woggy, wishy washy, fuzzy wuzzy ego.

My vinyl album contains “It’s My Way” a song credited to Wayne Walker and Webb Pierce. It is a good song, but it does not appear on my digital version of the album.

Glen Sutton’s “Good” would have made a good single, a tale of a woman torn between good and bad, who simply cannot keep herself in line. The production is subdued Nashville Sound.

Now I’m back here in a barroom,
A waitress again.
The good world I’ve lived in,
Just came to an end.

For temptation comes easy
To a woman like me.
And regardless of my chances,
I know that I’ll never be.

Good like I used to be;
I guess it’s just not in me.
With all my heart how I wish I proved
I’ve been good like he wanted me.

“Ode To Billy Joe” is a cover of the Bobbie Gentry hit from a few years earlier. Tammy gives the song a satisfactory rendition, but she does not have the soulful Gothic feel of Gentry’s original.

“Soaking Wet” is the bonus track on my digital copy of the album, a straight ahead country treatment devoid of Nashville Sound trappings. I have no other information concerning this song.

At this point in Tammy’s career she and Billy Sherrill were still looking for that magic formula that would turn Tammy into a full-fledged star. Consequently this album features songs with the full Nashville Sound treatment, some songs with scaled back Nashville Sound treatments and a few straight ahead country arrangements.

While Tammy and Billy were still experimenting here, the very next album would answer all the questions and set the trajectory for subsequent albums.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Tammy Wynette – ‘Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad’

your-good-girls-gonna-go-badTammy’s first single, ‘Apartment #9’, written by Johnny Paycheck, had helped her to get her record deal with Epic Records in 1966, but it was only a modest success, peaking outside the top 40. Mainly due to Tammy’s later superstardom in subsequent years, the song has become a country classic. Laden with steel guitar, it is a doleful tune about a woman abandoned by her lover which is an excellent fit to Tammy’s voice.

Her real breakthrough came with the title track to her debut album in 1967, which reached #3 on the Billboard country chart. Written by her producer Billy Sherrill and Glenn Sutton, it is a tongue in cheek riposte to a husband’s partying ways, with the unspoken implication being that he might not care to see his wife behaving the way he does himself, and a little nod to the classic ‘Wild Side Of Life’:

I’m gonna be the swingin’est swinger you’ve ever had
If you like ’em painted up
Powdered up
Then you oughta be glad
‘Cause your good girl’s a-gonna go bad

I’ll even learn to like the taste of whiskey
In fact, you’ll hardly recognize your wife
I’ll buy some brand new clothes and dress up fancy
For my journey to the wilder side of life

As was usual in the 60s, much of the rest of the material comprises covers of current or recent hits for other artists. ‘Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind’) was the current hit for Loretta Lynn (just established as a star); it’s a great song but Tammy’s version is basically a carbon copy of Loretta’s. Hank Cochran’s ‘Don’t Touch Me’ had been a #1 hit for his wife Jeannie Seely, whose career song it would be, the previous year, and was awarded a Grammy in 1967. Tammy’s vocal is exquisite on this yearning song, but once more it is not very different from the original.

Tammy is able to bring a different slant with the covers of hits by male artists: she does a nice job with Jack Greene’s 1966 emotional hit ballad ‘There Goes My Everything’ (another classic, this time from the pen of Dallas Frazier). ‘Walk Through This World With Me’ was the current big hit for Tammy’s future husband George Jones. ‘Almost Persuaded’ was the Grammy-winning career song of David Houston, and as it was written by Sherrill and Sutton, is an unsurprising choice of cover for Tammy; her vocal is outstanding on this song.

Less familiar was ‘Send Me No Roses’, a gently melancholy tune about separation from a married lover:

The doorbell rings
You’re sending roses again
In my room old petals fall
But darling that’s not all
I read your card
Then a million tears begin

Though the love we once knew
Still lives inside of you
The one who holds you now
Won’t set you free
To see me you don’t dare
But roses say you care
Tell her goodbye
Then please return to me
But send me no roses
Please, no more roses

‘I’m Not Mine To Give’ is an excellent song about forbidden love, with Tammy’s conscience preventing anything more:

If I’d met you sooner things might not be the same
But life is one thing you just can’t relive
Please go on without me and find someone to love
It can’t be me cause I’m not mine to give

‘I Wound Easy (But I Heal Fast)’, written by Bonnie Owens, comes from the point of view of the betrayed wife, who knows her husband will stay with her in the end.

This was an excellent debut for Tammy, and one which deservedly set her on the path to superstardom.

Grade: A-

Spotlight Artist: Tammy Wynette (1942-1998)

tammy-wynette-200-030612One day in 1966, a receptionist was absent from her desk and the course of country music was forever altered. It sounds like an unlikely scenario, but an unattended receptionists’ desk is what prompted Wynette Byrd, an aspiring singer and divorced mother of three, to knock on the office door of producer Billy Sherrill.  Sherrill tried to brush her off, telling her to leave a tape that he would listen to later.  She didn’t have one, so she offered him a live audition, right then and there.  He listened to her and then politely dismissed her, but shortly thereafter had a change of heart.  He had been trying to obtain the rights to an independent label recording of “Apartment No. 9”, a tune written by Bobby Austin and Johnny Paycheck.  When his efforts failed, he decided to have one of his own artists record the song instead.  He offered it to Wynette, who, having been turned down by every major label in Nashville, was about to return home to Birmingham, Alabama and abandon her dream of becoming a singer.

“Apartment No. 9”, produced by Sherill, was a modest hit for Tammy Wynette, as she was now known, reaching #44 on the Billboard country singles chart.  It performed well enough to secure her a contract with Epic Records.  Her second single, “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad”, reached #3, was followed by a string of #1s, and a star was born.  Tammy Wynette was eventually credited by her label as the first female country artist to have a million-selling album and became known as The First Lady of Country Music.

She was born Virginia Wynette Pugh on May 5, 1942 in Tremont, Mississippi.  Her father died from a brain tumor when Wynette was nine months old.  She was raised by her grandparents when her mother obtained work in a Memphis defense plant. After World War II ended, her mother remarried and returned to Mississippi.  Like many mother s and daughters, they did not always get along.  The desire to get out from under her mother’s control played a large part in Wynette’s ill-advised decision to marry Euple Byrd a month before she was to graduate from high school.  Unsurprisingly, the union was not a happy one and Wynette left him prior to the birth of their third daughter.  Shortly after obtaining work as a hairdresser in Birmingham, Alabama, she began to pursue her dream of becoming a country singer.

After securing her deal with Epic, success came quickly for Tammy.  “I Don’t Wanna Play House” became her first #1 hit in 1967.  That same year, “Take Me To Your World” also chopped the charts, as did “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” in early 1968.  Then, one day in the recording studio she helped Sherrill finish a song that he had been writing.  She had some reservations about the final product, but he convinced her to record “Stand By Your Man”, which became her signature hit and one of the most recognized songs in country music.  In 2003, CMT ranked it at #1 on its list of top 100 country songs of all time.

Although very successful professionally, Wynette’s personal life continued to be tumultuous.  She married her childhood idol George Jones in 1969, shortly after her brief second marriage to songwriter Don Chapel was annulled.  She and Jones had a daughter together, Tamala Georgette Jones, who was born in 1970, and they also recorded a number of successful duet records.  They divorced in 1975, primarily because of Jones’ alcoholism.  Another brief marriage to Michael Tomlin ended after only 44 days.  In 1978 Tammy married producer and songwriter George Richey, to whom she remained wed for the rest of her life.

Beginning in the 1970s Tammy was frequently plagued with ill health, which began with complications from a hysterectomy that she underwent shortly after Georgette’s birth.  She was frequently hospitalized for bile duct infections and underwent dozens of surgeries, which led to a dependency on prescription painkillers.  She entered the Betty Ford Center in 1986 to overcome her addiction.

Tammy’s hits began to taper off in the early 1980s, although she remained a concert draw.  She continued to work a grueling schedule despite her continuing health problems.  She landed a role on the CBS daytime soap Capitol in 1986.

The entire nation mourned when Tammy Wynette passed away peacefully in her sleep on April 6, 1998, at age 55.  The initial cause of death was said to be a blood clot in her lung, but like her life, her death was shrouded in drama.  Her daughters alleged that Wynette’s husband George Richey had overmedicated her and filed a wrongful death lawsuit against him.  Wynette’s body was disinterred and an autopsy cited cardiac arrythmia as the cause of death.  The lawsuit against Richey was subsequently dropped.

In 1998 the Country Music Hall of Fame voted to induct her into its hallowed halls. Wanting to keep the decision a surprise, her family kept the news from her. Sadly, she passed away shortly before her induction, unaware of the honor that had been bestowed on her.

Along with Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette was a trailblazer for women in country music during the 1960s and 1970s.  While we cannot do her rich legacy justice in a single month, we are attempting to cover at least some of the highlights as we spotlight her career during the month of November.  Keep the Kleenex at hand.

Album Review: Lonestar – ‘Lonestar’

lonestarLonestar kicked off their recording career with the eponymous album Lonestar. Released in October 1995, the album hit the streets on the strength of the successful single “Tequila Talkin’” which was released in August 1995 and reached #8. There would be four more singles issued after the album was released. The album received mixed reviews upon its release, more than a few critics viewing the band as a lightweight version of Shenandoah, a comparison I did not feel to be very valid.

The album was definitely decent honky-tonk country music, with the band augmented by a solid corps of Nashville session men such as Bruce Bouton (pedal steel ), Mark Casstevens (acoustic guitar), Brent Mason (electric guitar) and Rob Hajacos (fiddle) and such distinguished vocal harmonists as Curtis Young and John Wesley Ryles. Unless otherwise stated, Richie McDonald handles the vocals on the singles.

The album opens up with the up-tempo ballad “Heartbroke Every Day” from the pens of Bill LaBounty, Cam King and Rick Vincent. This album track featured John Rich on lead vocals, and would be the fifth single released, reaching #18. I like Rich’s vocal, which has a bit of a bluegrass feel to it.

Why do I do this to myself
Why do I want the one that wants somebody else
Don’t you know
I’d get my heart broke every day if I could

Why do I always take the fall
I’d rather have you hurtin’ me than not have you at all
Don’t you know
I’d get my heart broke every day if I could
If I could
Don’t you know
I’d get my heart broke every day if I could

Track two was the first single released, “Tequila Talkin’” penned by Bill LaBounty and Chris Waters (the brother of Holly Dunn). This single reached #8, the first top ten recording for the group:

I don’t know what they put in Cuervo that got me to say those things
Usually I wouldn’t care so much or make such a scene
But seeing you there in that dress you were wearing just drove me right out of my head
So don’t hold me responsible for anything I might’ve said

It was just the tequila talkin’
When I told you I’m still not over you
I get a little sentimental when I’ve had one or two
And that tear in my eye was the salt and the lime
Not the memory of you walkin’
If I said I’m still in love with you
It was just the tequila talkin’

John Rich, Don Cook and Wally Wilson wrote “I Love The Way You Do That’ – a good song but the intro sounds too much like the intro to track two.

“Running Away With My Heart” was penned by Michael Britt, Sam Hogin and Mark D Sanders. This would be the third single released from the album and would reach #8. This song is a mid-tempo ballad, which features some nice steel guitar work by Bruce Bouton.

Hey Buddy can you get me some faster wheels
I got a heartache nippin’ at my heels
I’ll be hurtin’ if she gets a big head start
First that girl stole my attention
Not to mention all my affection
Now she’s running away with my heart

“What Would It Take” was written by Billy Lawson, Larry Boone and Paul Nelson, and is a slow ballad with heavy Nashville Sound string accompaniment of the kind that Billy Sherrill used with George Jones and David Houston. I think that this song, issued 15-20 years earlier, could have been a big single, but by 1995 it was very much an anachronism.

I held the world in my arms
I threw away the moon for the stars
Couldn’t see the forest for the trees
Couldn’t see the love in front of me

What would it take to take me back
Rebuild that bridge, retrace my tracks
I would give all I own
For one little stepping stone
What would it take to take me back

The redoubtable trio of John Rich, Larry Boone and Paul Nelson contributed “Does Your Daddy Know About Me”, an up-tempo honky-tonk song with solid steel and fiddle accompaniment that would have made a good single:

Well you say your daddy is a real cool dude and you keep no secrets from him
Well he knows you got a wild hair, knows your kinda out there and knows about your crazy friends
And he done found out about the night you snuck out with the Cadillac keys
But darlin’ does your daddy know about me

Well he knows you been skippin’ them Sunday School meetings
He’s heard how fast you drive
Knows you got an attitude, seen your little tattoo, but he lets all that slide
And I bet my boots that he think he knows you from A to Z
But darlin’ does your daddy know about me

Billy Lawson’s “Ragtop Cadillac” probably was very popular with line dancers. The lyrics are nothing special but it has a rhythm and feel very similar to “Boot Scootin’ Boogie”.

“No News” was the second single and the first #1 record for the group reaching #1 in both the US and Canada. The song was written by Phil Barnhart, Sam Hogin, and Mark D. Sanders, and tells the story about a man whose woman has left him without telling him.

She said “It’s just a woman thing” and pulled out of the drive
I said not to worry I’m an understanding guy
I’ve heard that when you love someone you gotta let ’em go
She hollered “When I find myself you’ll be the first to know”
Ooh no news

I learned to do the laundry, feed the cat, and clean the house
I promised to be patient while she worked her problems out
When she packed her bags, her destination wasn’t clear
But I sensed that her intentions were honest and sincere
Ooh no news

Chick Rains has written a number of fine songs, but “Paradise Knife and Gun Club” is nothing special, a dance number that makes for a decent album track.

Richie McDonald and Kyle Green co-wrote “When Cowboys Didn’t Dance”, the only song McDonald had a part in writing. The song was the fourth single from the album reaching only #45 (but #18 in Canada). I don’t think I would have released this song as a single, although it makes a decent enough album track.

This would be one of two albums issued by the original lineup of Richie McDonald (lead vocals, acoustic guitar), John Rich (bass, vocals), Michael Britt (lead guitar, background vocals), Keech Rainwater (drums), and Dean Sams (keyboards). Other than John Rich’s contributions, the band relied on outside writers for material. Richie McDonald would emerge as a co-writer on subsequent albums, but I have doubts as to how essential were his contributions to the process.

I would give this album a B+. Of five Lonestar studio albums in my collection, this one is the one I listen to with the greatest frequency as it is the most consistently good album of the bunch.

Album Review: Merle Haggard – ‘Out Among the Stars’

51kVTtcVzZL._SS280Out Among the Stars was Merle Haggard’s second album release of 1986. It was arguably the least successful album of his Epic years, and holds the dubious distinction of being only one of two albums from that era (the other being 1985’s live album Amber Waves of Grain) that failed to produce any Top 10 hits.

Readers who have been following our coverage this month will have noticed a shift in Merle’s sound; this phase of his career was very heavy on ballads and he’d begun to incorporate more jazz elements and instrumentation — including saxophone and horns — into his music. Out Among the Stars is largely a (temporary) reversal of that trend, for the simple reason that the majority of the tracks had been recorded several years earlier while Haggard was signed to MCA. Apparently CBS (then the parent company of Epic Records) was concerned that Merle’s former label would begin mining their vaults and releasing singles which would then be in direct competition with his current output for radio airplay. As a pre-emptive move, CBS bought the rights to several of Merle’s unreleased MCA recordings. Songs purchased from that arrangement make up the majority of the tracks on Out Among the Stars; only three tunes — the title track, “The Show’s Almost Over” and a remake of the old David Houston hit “Almost Persuaded” — were new recordings for this project.

Out Among the Stars is the product of no less than five producers, including Merle himself, and it comes as no surprise that an album comprised mostly of outtakes from recording sessions over a long period of time, is a somewhat incohesive and uneven affair. CBS’ concerns about competition from these tracks seems largely unfounded; while none of them are bad, they are in no way in the same league as Haggard’s best output, and that is likely the reason they had shelved in the first place.

The title track was the first of the album’s two singles. Written by Adam Mitchell, it was somewhat of a departure for Haggard. The production was more contemporary for the era, relying more on keyboards and vocal choruses and less on the Telecaster, fiddle and steel. The story of an angry and economically disadvantaged young man who dies during a botched robbery attempt may have been too heavy for radio; it peaked at #21, becoming one of a very few Haggard singles that did not at least crack the Top 20. The production is bit dated today, but sadly the lyrics sound as though they could have been ripped from today’s headlines. The second single fared even worse. “Almost Persuaded” had been a monster hit for David Houston twenty years earlier. Its co-writer and original producer Billy Sherrill also produced the Haggard version. Merle does a great job with the song, but the song had been recorded by many people over the years, and it seems like a strange choice for a single. However, one does have to bear in mind that during the New Traditionalist era, many old chestnuts were dusted off and presented to a new generation of fans by current artists. However, “Almost Persuaded” still has a dated countrypolitan feel to it, particularly with the strings near the end of the song. Radio didn’t embrace it and died at #58.

The rest of the album is a rather mixed bag. It’s pretty easy to pick out to identify the old MCA recordings,like “Love Keeps Hanging On”, “Why Can’t I Cry” and “Love Don’t Hurt Every Time” which have a “Red Bandana” or “My Own Kind of Hat” feel to them — particularly on the electric guitar solos. They are all pleasant to listen to but not particularly memorable. The exceptions are a Dixieland jazz version of “Pennies from Heaven”, “Bleachers” – a Haggard composition about an aging athlete ready to step out of the spotlight — and “Tell Me Something Bad About Tulsa”, a Red Lane composition that would later be recorded by Merle’s son Noel, and which would go on to become an almost Top 10 hit (peaking at #11) for George Strait in 2003.

The material on Out Among the Stars may not be among Merle’s best, but every Haggard album is precious, particularly in the wake of his recent death. The album has largely been forgotten so it presents a good opportunity for many fans to hear something “new” from Merle while he was still in peak vocal form.

Grade: B

Album Review: Loretta Lynn – ‘Woman of the World/To Make a Man’

516eAlwAOmLAs the 1960s drew to a close, Loretta released her final solo LP of the decade. Woman of the World/To Make a Man was comprised of the two hit singles that composed its title as well as songs penned by Loretta, the Wilburn Brothers and their songwriting staff, and of course, the usual covers of recent hits for other artists.

The album is also the beginning of a slight shift in Loretta’s musical style, away from the honky-tonk she’d sung for most of the decade, towards an ever so slightly more sophisticated but still very country sound. “Woman of the World (Leave My World Alone)”, which became her third #1 hit in April 1969, finds her in the familiar territory of confronting a romantic rival, albeit in a much less combative manner than we saw in “You Ain’t Woman Enough” or “Fist City”. The Loretta-penned “To Make a Man (Feel Like a Man)” is an upbeat number dispensing advice to the sisterhood on how to be a good wife. It’s very different from her usual fare up to that point, and the message is more in the vein of what we were used to hearing from Tammy Wynette. It reached #3, but it’s not one of her better remembered hits today.

“The Only Time I Hurt” is another Loretta original that I very much enjoyed, but “Big Sister, Little Sister”, which she co-wrote with Frances Heighton, can only be classified as a misstep. It is a maudlin number, weighed down by dated-sounding Nashville Sound choruses, which casts Loretta as the victim: an older sister who was raised to indulge her younger sibling’s wishes, and carries the habit into adulthood, going as far as to surrender her fiancé to sister.

I enjoyed most of the album’s remakes. “Johnny One Time”, which had been an adult contemporary hit for Brenda Lee and a minor country hit for Willie Nelson the year before, is a bit of a stretch for Loretta but she carries it off credibly. “If You Were Mine To Lose” had been the B-side to a Conway Twitty single. It was also recorded by Waylon Jennings, Carl Smith, and Connie Smith. Apparently no one ever had a hit with it, but it’s a very good song that suits Loretta nicely. She also does a very nice cover of Merle Haggard’s “Today I Started Loving You Again”. Her version of “Stand By Your Man” is not bad, but the production is much more scaled back than the treatment Billy Sherrill gave Tammy Wynette’s version. This is one case where less is not more, and to be fair, no one has or ever will sing that song the way Tammy did.

Woman of the World/To Make a Man allowed Loretta to not only wrap up the 1960s on a high note, it also set the stage for the next and most successful decade of her career. She was still about a year away from releasing her signature tune “Coal Miner’s Daughter”, which would be followed by such hits as “One’s On The Way”, “Rated X” and “Love Is The Foundation”. In 1972 she would become the Country Music Association’s first female Entertainer of the Year, and in 1980 she would be named Artist of the Decade for the 1970s by the Academy of Country Music. Woman of the World/To Make a Man was her segueway from honky-tonk singer to American icon, and it is well worth a listen.

Grade: A

Album Review: Barbara Mandrell – ‘This Time I Almost Made It: The Lost Columbia Masters’

81U+RipV8TL._SX522_More than any other performer, Barbara Mandrell is the artist responsible for sparking my interest in country music. Even before there were any local country music radio stations in my area, her weekly TV series was my main source of keeping abreast of what was going on in the world of country music. This was in the early 80s, when she’d just become the first artist to win the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year award a second time. Her contributions to country music were significant, but her catalog has been criminally neglected. Fortunately, that grievance is starting to be addressed. With the reissue of This Time I Almost Made It, courtesy of Real Gone Music, all of Barbara’s solo albums for Columbia are now available on CD.

Barbara was signed to Columbia in 1969 by Billy Sherrill and remained with the label until 1975. During that time, she only released three solo albums, plus a duets album with David Houston. Most major country acts released three albums a year in those days, but like we often see today, the label was waiting for some radio hits before committing to album releases. Her debut album Treat Him Right, was released in 1971 and was a lackluster seller. 1973’s The Midnight Oil reached #8 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart, buoyed by the success of the title track which reached #7 in Billboard and #1 in Cashbox, and “Tonight My Baby’s Coming Home”, which was Barbara’s first Top 10 hit. By the time This Time I Almost Made It was released in 1974, the momentum she had gained seemed to have been lost again; it only reached #41 on the albums chart. By that time, Barbara might have already initiated talks to negotiate her release from her Columbia contract. If so, the label obviously would have had little interest in promoting her records. At any rate, the quality of the material does not seem to have been the issue.

The title track was written by Sherrill when he realized that they didn’t have enough songs for an album. Though in some respects it may have been an afterthought, it is my favorite track on the album. It’s a beautiful ballad, not particularly country in arrangement but the production is tastefully restrained. It was released as a single in advance of the album, as a follow-up to “The Midnight Oil”, but it charted outside the Top 10 at #12. The second single was “Wonder When My Baby’s Coming Home”, another easy-listening style ballad, although it is a little more country thanks to the inclusion of some steel guitar. I wasn’t previously familiar with this one, but I like it a lot. The background vocals give it a slightly dated feel, though they are a lot less intrusive than many records of the era. This one stalled at #39 and was Barbara’s final single for Columbia.

Barbara is well known for making country versions of R&B songs, occasionally delving too far into R&B territory for my taste in later years but her take on “You’re All I Need to Get By”, which has been a 1968 R&B hit for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, is quite good. She also turned in good performances on some pop songs of the day: “Keep On Singing”, which had been a hit for Helen Reddy, The Bee Gees’ “Words”, and The Beatles’ “Something”, which closes out the original album. She also covered her country colleagues Merle Haggard (“Today I Started Loving You Again”) and Charlie Rich (“A Very Special Love Song”).

This CD would be worth buying for the original album alone, but Real Gone Music has included almost another album’s worth of bonus tracks. There are nine in total, seven of which have never been released before. First up is the very country “I Hope You Love Me”, which was recorded during Barbara’s first session with Columbia in 1969. Written by George Jones and Tammy Wynette, it was included on Tammy’s 1970 album The Ways To Love a Man under the title “I Know”. “You Can Always Come Back”, also recorded in 1969 is a cover of a Curly Putman hit. “Coming Home Solider” had been a 1966 pop hit for Bobby Vinton.

Though the album’s liner notes refer to Barbara’s version as “dramatic”, I found it a bit plodding and it’s my least favorite track on the disc. Although a bit tame, her reading of “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (and Loud, Loud Music)” is much better. It was written by Joe and Rose Lee Maphis, who had hired Barbara for a two-week stint in Las Vegas when she was only eleven years old. It’s proof positive that despite her reputation for interpreting pop and R&B material, she was just as adept at tackling traditional country. Ditto for “You Took Him Off My Hands”, a Wynn Stewart/Harlan Howard/Skeets McDonald song that had previously been recorded by Patsy Cline.

Though not one a landmark album in the Mandrell discography, This Time I Almost Made It provides an interesting opportunity to trace Barbara’s development as an artist, and the bonus material is a real treat for her fans. After leaving Columbia, Barbara signed with ABC/Dot, which was later absorbed by MCA. That era of her career, despite being the years of her greatest commercial success, is still largely unavailable on CD aside from a few hits compilations. Hopefully the sales of This Time I Almost Made It will be good enough to entice Universal to finally allowing some of Barbara’s most commercially important recordings a chance to once again see the light of day.

Grade: A

Album Review: Waylon Jennings – ‘Only The Greatest’

only the greatestThe title of Only The Greatest, released in 1968, may suggest a compilation, but in fact it was another new album, produced as before by Chet Atkins. The material focuses on broken hearts.

the initial single, ‘Walk On Out Of My Mind’ was Waylon’s iggest hit to date, reaching #5 on Billboard.

The album’s best remembered track was the booming assertive second single, #2 hit ‘Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line’, the first real example of his mature style. This stands up today as an all-time classic.

The next best song is the Hank Cochran ballad ‘You’ll Think Of Me’, addressed to the protagonist’s ex-wife’s new husband, warning him of what lies ahead:

When the new wears off
And the glamor’s gone
But the ties that bind
Keep holdin’ on –
And they’re strong

You’ll think of me being with her
Like I thought of her
Being with them and you
And God knows who
You’re happy now but wait and see
When she treats you
Like she’s treated me
As you wake to see
Who the next will be
You’ll think of me

The perky ‘California Sunshine’, written by Harlan Howard has the lovelorn protagonist heading west to get over a heartbreak by finding new love. Waylon’s vocal is solid and committed, but the production has dated a bit.

Waylon shows his skills as a tender ballad singer on the Jerry Chesnut-penned ‘Weakness In A Man’. The Nashville Sound backing vocals, while dated, actually work quite well on this song, in which a disturbing threat of murdering his straying wife is masked by a gentle melody.

Waylon co-wrote just a couple of tunes: the pleasant sounding if lyrically doleful ‘Sorrow (Breaks A Man Down)’ is okay, but I really enjoyed the mid-tempo ‘Wave Goodbye To Me’, which he wrote with Don Bowman and Jackson King.

‘Christina’ is a Spanish-flavored number in the style of Marty Robbins, with bright horns. Red Lane wrote ‘Walk On Out Of My Mind’, a sad song about the aftermath of a breakup. ‘Such A Waste Of Love’ is a downbeat tune written by Bobby Bare, while ‘Long Gone’ is a Jerry Reed cover, and quite enjoyable.

One misstep is a cover of pop singer-songwriter Neil Diamond’s ‘Kentucky Woman’, which just doesn’t translate into a country song – Waylon’s version is very similar to the original. While not precisely a misstep, Waylon’s perfectly good version of the beautiful ‘Too Far Gone’ (written by the late Billy Sherrill) pales a little in comparison to Emmylou Harris’s cover a few years later.

On the whole, though, this is a very good album which shows Waylon developing into the artist he was to become.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Martina McBride – Til I Can Make It On My Own’

Legendary songwriter and producer Billy Sherrill has died. Here is Martina McBride singing one of his songs (a hit for Tammy Wynette) at a 2010 event honoring Sherrill.

In Memoriam: Billy Sherrill (1936-2015)

They say that things like this happen in threes. Right on the heels of the deaths of Buddy Emmons and Lynn Anderson, comes the word that legendary producer Billy Sherrill has died. Sherrill was famous for his work with David Houston, David Allan Coe, George Jones, Tanya Tucker and Charlie Rich, but he will be remembered most as the man who discovered Tammy Wynette.

http://www.tennessean.com/story/entertainment/2015/08/04/breaking-legendary-producer-billy-sherrill-dies/31110363/