My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Bud Logan

Album Review: John Conlee — ‘Friday Night Blues’

The title track was the first of three singles released off of John Conlee’s third album Friday Night Blues, which came out in May 1980. The excellent mid-tempo ballad tells the story of a lonely housewife desperate for the affection of her oft-absent husband:

He’s been working all week

he’s got mental fatigue

and that old couch sure looks fine

All week he’s been gone

she’s been sitting alone

slowly going out of her mind

As he kicks off his shoes for the six o’clock news

she’s getting all prettied up

Oh she’s wanting to boogie

he’s wanting to lay there

she’s got the Friday night blues

 

And the Friday night blues

they get in your shoes and

they work to get you down

Oh and there ain’t a lady that I ever knew

who didn’t need her a night on the town

But the hills and the bills and a week’s worth of deals

has got him feeling more than used

Oh, he’s kicking his shoes off she’s putting hers on

she’s got the Friday night blues

 

there once was a time she was top of the line

her nights like teenage dreams

Now it’s operas at noon,

dancing round with her broom

talking to the washing machine

Oh, the girl down the street

says her old man is neat and

she makes it sound so true

Now she’s feeling lonely thinks

she’s the only one

with the Friday night blues

It’s a great story song that deservedly peaked at #2. The follow-up single, “She Can’t Say That Anymore,” a ballad about a cheating man, matched it. The alluring, yet much slower, “What I Had With You” stalled at #12.

“Honky Tonk Toys” is the story of a mother, her daughter, and the bar they call home:

Annie Mae Johnson gave birth to a child

In a room, at the back of this bar

She named her Rainbow, cause she came at midnight

In the light of a blue neon star

 

Rainbow brought sunshine to Annie Mae’s life

While Annie served drinks to the boys

She’d sit on the floor, in the back of this bar

And play with her honky tonk toys

 

And there were honky toys, like beer tops and beer clocks

But her most favourite toys of all

Was a beer carton cradle and a table cloth blanket

And a little brown beer bottle doll

 

Rainbow turned eighteen, two summers ago

Old enough to go out on her own

She wanted to know, what her Daddy was like

So she left her honky tonk home

 

Annie Mae still loved the man she divorced

Til he became Rainbow’s first choice

Now all that’s left, of Annie Mae’s Rainbow

Are three little honky tonk toys

 

And there were honky toys, like beer tops and beer clocks

But her most favourite toys of all

Was a beer carton cradle and a table cloth blanket

And a little brown beer bottle doll

The song, which was later covered by Red Sovine in 1980, is typical of its era, complete with the horrid twist. It’s certainly memorable.

Conlee is quizzical on “Old Fashioned Love,” questioning whatever happened to the idea of making a life-long commitment to someone. He follows with the splendid “Misery Loves Company,” a classic barroom anthem for the down and depressed. Conlee’s hot streak continues on “Let’s Get Married Again,” which finds a couple headed towards the ultimate reconciliation.

A nice dose of fiddle and twang provide the backdrop on “When I’m Out of You.” A strong conviction from a man to his woman is at the heart of “We Belong in Love Tonight” and “Always True” is about a man’s steadfast loyalty to his lady.

Friday Night Blues is a splendid album from start to finish, without a single throwaway track in the bunch. Conlee’s sound was beginning to change by the end of the decade. He was still retaining the producing prowess of Bud Logan, but his album’s, especially this one, aren’t suffocated by heavy orchestration. The songs are given their rightful place and are allowed to shine, just like they richly deserve.

Grade: A+

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Album Review: John Conlee – ‘Forever’

Forever, John Conlee’s second album, and first for MCA, was released in 1979, produced by Bud Logan. The album’s excellent pop-leaning first single “Before My Time” is a ballad about a woman scared by a previous relationship, just like the guy in Trisha Yearwood’s equally wonderful “The Woman Before Me.” The song peaked at #2.

MCA sought fit to release just one more single from the album. “Baby, You’re Something” is a mostly unremarkable and dated heavily-orchestrated ballad. It reached #7.

“Let’s Keep It That Way” finds a man pleading with his would-be mistress to end things before the affair even starts. Devotion leads the way on the title track, which finds Conlee as a man declaring his loyalty to his woman.

“You Never Cross My Mind” finds him trying to convince himself he’s over his love, despite crying himself to sleep at night. The album’s first truly great song is “I Wish That I Could Hurt That Way Again,” which was recorded by Kenny Rogers on The Gambler a year earlier. Conlee’s version is excellent, despite the heavy orchestration.

The uptick in quality continues on the wonderful “No Relief In Sight,” which was also recorded by Conway Twitty and Dawn Sears. He doesn’t slow down on “The In Crowd,” which finds him coming home to his wife and kids at the end of a long work day.

Looking at the album’s track list I could only wonder if “Crazy” was indeed the song I thought it would be. I have no idea why MCA and/or Conlee would feel the need to include the country standard here, updated to fit within the trends of the late 1970s, except to introduce it to younger audiences who might not be familiar with it. He does handle it well.

Conlee concludes the album with “Somebody’s Leavin,’” which is a stereotypical breakup song, but very good nonetheless. Listening through Forever, I can say the same about the album. There are some excellent tracks, namely those also recorded by other artists, mixed in amongst some filler. In retrospect the singles are among the album’s weakest offerings, especially with more worthy candidates sprinkled throughout.

Forever is very pop-leaning, with heavy orchestration and little to no elements traditional to country music. At least the songs are good to great, which helps a lot.

Grade: B+

Album Review: John Conlee – ‘Rose Colored Glasses’

The title track was a surprise hit for John Conlee, and a career-defining hit. Swathed in strings, but allowing his powerful voice to cut through, the insightful lyrics are about a man who is almost fooling himself about a woman who is obviously over their relationship. It was written by Conlee with George Baber. The single peaked at #5 on Billboard, but its influence outweighed that by far.

The album elicited two even more successful hits, now that John Conlee was a known quantity. ‘Lady Lay Down’, written by Rafe VanHoy and Don Cook, is an emotional ballad in which the protagonist begs the woman who is threatening to leave to sleep with him again, to make up for all his past neglect. This and the final single made it all the way to #1.

The last single, ‘Backside Of Thirty’, is another self-penned tune about a successful man whose life ‘all comes undone’ when his wife leaves him and feels he no long has anything to look forward to:

Makin’ money at thirty with a wife and a son
Then a short five years later it all comes undone
She’s gone back to mama with the boy by her side
Now I’m wine-drunk and running with them on my mind

I’m on the backside of thirty and back on my own
An empty apartment don’t feel like a home
On the backside of thirty,
The short side of time
Back on the bottom with no will to climb

It’s dawn Monday morning and I just called in sick
I skipped work last Friday to drink this much red
And when my friends ask me, Lord, I’ll tell them I’m fine
But my eyes tell a story that my lies can’t hide

Conlee wrote another couple of songs on the album, but they fall into the filler category. ‘I’ll Be Easy’ is addressed to a woman who wants to take things more slowly than he does. ‘Hold On’
‘Something Special’ is a nice mid-paced love song written by Dave Loggins. ‘Let Your Love Fall Back On Me’ is a very good song addressed to an ex who has found new love:

I hear you’ve put your happiness
In the hands of someone new
That’s alright I guess
I want the best for you

If all I hear is true
There’ll soon be wedding bells
I guess you’ve set the date
I guess I wish you well

If you find the road you’re on
Hard to travel any way at all
If you should stumble and fall
Let your love fall back on me

Max D Barnes and Rayburn Anthony wrote ‘She Loves My Troubles Away’, a cheerily positive love song about making it through the hard times:

Lost my job down at the docks
My old Chevy’s up on blocks
I got holes in both my socks
But she loves me
Her ol’ washing machine still squeaks
Our hot water heater leaks
I ain’t worked in 14 weeks
But she loves me

And she loves my troubles away
Every night she makes my day
Troubles get me down
But they never stay
Cause she loves my troubles away

I can’t give her fancy things
Pretty clothes or diamond rings
Nor the pleasure money brings
But she loves me
Late at night she takes my hand
Says “you know I understand
You just do the best you can”
Then she loves me

The legendary “Doodle” Owen contributed two songs. ‘Just Let It Slide’ urges reconciliation and tolerance within a relationship:

I don’t even know what started the fight we just had
One minute we’re happy
Next minute we’re both fighting mad
And what does it get us
Outside of this hurting inside?
Cause we’re not forgiving,
We’re never willing
To listen and just let it slide.

Wild accusations lead us to a quarrel every time.
And then comes that game of
Who’s right and who’s wrong in our minds.
When the trigger of temper is pulled by the finger of pride.
Baby lets be forgiving and try to be willing
To listen and just let it slide

Just think of the time we’ve already wasted on hate
And count out the hours when love had to stand back and wait
Then the next time our anger puts us on opposite sides
Baby let’s be forgiving and try to be willing
To listen and just let it slide

‘Some Old California Memory’ is an excellent song written by Owens with Warren Robb, which had been a minor hit (#28) for Henson Cargill in 1973. It sees a loved one leaving by plane.

The production, courtesy of Bud Logan, bears all the hallmarks of its era, with a string section adding sophistication, but it is just subtle enough laid over a country basis to allow Conlee’s voice and the strong material to shine. It is available digitally.

Grade: A-

Reissues wish list part 2: MCA and Decca

webb pierceFor most of the Classic Country era, the big four of country record labels were Decca /MCA, RCA, Columbia and Capitol. Of these labels, MCA/Decca has done the poorest job of keeping their artists’ catalogues alive in the form of reissues.

When speaking of the big four labels we will need to define terms.
MCA/Decca refers to recordings released on MCA, Decca, Brunswick and for some periods, Vocalion.

During the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, Decca (later MCA) can be argued as having the strongest roster of artists. Such titans as Ernest Tubb, Red Foley, Webb Pierce, Conway Twitty, Jack Greene, Bill Anderson, Jimmy Martin, The Osborne Brothers, Bill Monroe, Patsy Cline, Kitty Wells and Loretta Lynn frequently dominated the charts with many strong second tier acts such as The Wilburn Brothers, Jimmie Davis, Roy Drusky, Jimmie C. Newman, Johnny Wright, Cal Smith, Bill Phillips, Crystal Gayle, Jeanie Seely, Jan Howard and Red Sovine passing through the ranks at various times. Crystal Gayle, of course, became a major star in the late 1970s and 1980s

In the early digital days MCA had virtually nothing of their classic artists available aside from some Loretta Lynn, Bill Monroe and Conway Twitty discs. Then in 1991 they started their County Music Hall of Fame Series, showcasing artists elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, because of industry politics, their biggest stars, Webb Pierce and Conway Twitty, had not yet been elected.

Each of the discs contained fifteen or sixteen tracks or about 38 minutes of music. Many of the CDs featured artists who had not been on Decca for many years, and many featured artists who just passed through on their way to bigger and better things or had been bigger stars in the past. Among the CDS in the series were The Carter Family (on Decca 1937-1938), Jimmie Davis, Red Foley, Grandpa Jones (with Decca in the late 1950s – several remakes of King label hits), Loretta Lynn, Uncle Dave Macon (a real old-timer), Tex Ritter (1930s recordings), Roy Rogers, Sons of The Pioneers (with Decca during the 1930s and again in 1954), Hank Thompson (ABC/Dot recordings of the late 1960s and 1970s – MCA purchased the ABC & Dot labels – Hank never actually recorded for MCA/Decca). Floyd Tillman (1939-1944), Ernest Tubb, Kitty Wells, Bill Monroe and Bob Wills (Bob’s best years were on Columbia and MGM). The Bob Wills recordings were 1955-1967 recordings on the Decca & Kapp labels – the Kapp recordings usually featured Nashville session players with no real feel for swing and are the least essential recordings Wills ever made.

Each of the CDs mentioned above are undeniably worthy, but are either inadequate or not representative of the artists’ peaks.

Some MCA/Decca artists have been covered by Bear Family, most notably Ernest Tubb, Kitty Wells, Bill Monroe, Bill Anderson, Jimmy Martin and The Osborne Brothers. One could wish for more on some of these artists, but what is available generally is enough; however, it is expensive. Good two-disc sets would be desirable.

During the 1960s, Decca had their artists re-record their hits in order to take advantage of modern stereo technology, since for artists who peaked before 1957, such as Kitty Wells, Ernest Tubb, Webb Pierce and Red Foley, their biggest hits were recorded in monaural sound. An additional consideration for Ernest Tubb was that his then-current band was larger and better with musicians such as Billy Byrd and Buddy Emmons (to name just two) being members of the band. In the case of Ernest Tubb, the re-recordings were superior to the original string band recordings.

In the case of most other artists, I think the originals were better BUT for many years the original recordings were not available and listeners of my generation grew up hearing the stereo remakes whether on records or on the radio. Since the digital era began the stereo remakes have been unavailable except on Bear Family sets. It would be nice if the stereo remakes were available, and it would be nice if MCA/Decca artists were available on decent domestic collections.

Webb Pierce – several domestic releases of Webb Pierce’s hits are available but they generally contain about a dozen songs, all from the 1950s. There is a Bear Family set that covers up to 1958 – it’s great but it misses all of Webb’s lesser later hits. Webb was the #1 country artist of the 1950s according to Billboard, and while he slipped thereafter, he was still the sixth ranked artist of the 1960s with many hits, including a couple of Record World #1s. None of this has been released on CD. What is needed is a good three CD set gathering up Webb’s 1960s (and early 1970s) chart hits plus key album tracks and the stereo remakes of the fifties hits.

For as widely popular as she was. you would expect much of Barbara Mandrell‘s output to be available. Barbara moved from Epic to ABC/Dot and when ABC/Dot was absorbed by MCA, her music was issued on that label. Barbara had 30+ hits for ABC/Dot/MCA with many #1 and top five recordings. Currently, not much is available and she warrants a boxed set.

Jack Greene and Cal Smith both had fairly late starts to their solo careers. While there exist a few hit collections for each artist (on foreign labels), neither is very complete, leaving off key songs. For Cal Smith, since Kapp and MCA are both owned by the same company, a two disc set collecting Cal’s Kapp & MCA/Decca singles should suffice (possibly a single disc with about thirty tracks would be okay).

For Jack Greene, more is needed since Jack had over thirty chart singles for Decca and issued at least fourteen albums plus a hits collection while on MCA/Decca. Jack was a superior vocalist and his albums contain recordings of others’ hits that often were better than the original hits. While not a hit for Jack, his version of “The Last Letter” is the definitive recording of the song.

The Osborne Brothers were bluegrass innovators, developing an almost unique (Jim & Jesse were doing something similar) bluegrass and country hybrid with bluegrass instruments augmented by electric guitar, steel guitar and sometimes other amplified instruments. After leaving MCA/Decca for CMH and other labels, the Osborne Brothers went back to a more traditional bluegrass approach. Almost none of that classic hybrid material is available except for a gospel CD and an excellent but short (ten songs) collection titled Country Bluegrass which seems randomly put together. No bluegrass group ever has huge numbers of hit records on the country charts, but the Osborne Brothers did chart quite a few and they should be available domestically. I would think a single disc set of thirty tracks would be acceptable, although more would be better, of course.

Johnny Wright is better know as part of the duo Johnny & Jack (with Jack Anglin), but after Anglin’s death in 1963, Wright embarked on a successful solo career which saw the release of at least six albums on MCA/Decca plus twelve chart singles including the #1 “Hello Vietnam” , the first chart topper for a Tom T. Hall song. Johnny’s wife was Kitty Wells, and while he never reached her level of success as a solo artist, apparently it never bothered Wright as he and Kitty were married from 1937 until his death in 2011 at the age of 97. A good single disc collection would suffice here.

The bulk of Little Jimmy Dickens’ career occurred for another label, but his time on MCA/Decca saw the release of two albums of new material plus an album featuring remakes of his earlier hits. The Decca albums featured a staple of Jimmy’s live shows “I Love Lucy Brown” and an amusing novelty “How To Catch An African Skeeter Alive”. I think most of this would fit on a single CD.

Wilma Burgess was an excellent singer who came along about four decades too soon. While Wilma did not flaunt being lesbian, neither did she particularly hide it. Consequently, she never got much of a commercial push from her label. Many have recorded “Misty Blue” but none did it as well as Wilma Burgess. She recorded at least five albums for MCA/Decca plus some duets with Bud Logan, former band leader for Jim Reeves. A decent two disc set of this outstanding singer should be easy to compile.

I would like to see a collection on Loretta Lynn’s siblings, Peggy Sue and Jay Lee Webb. Since Loretta’s other well known sibling started on MCA/Decca as well, it should be possible to do a good two CD set of Loretta’s kinfolks. Jay Lee Webb’s “She’s Looking Better By The Minute” is an all-time honky-tonk classic.

Album Review: T. Graham Brown – ‘Brilliant Conversationalist’

UnknownT. Graham Brown released his second album for Capitol Nashville, Brilliant Conversationalist, in 1987. He reteamed with producer Bud Logan and scored three top ten hits from the project.

Horns and piano drench the title track, which hit number 9. Brown gives a commanding performance on the tune about a guy picking up a girl in a bar. “She Couldn’t Love Me Anymore,” a contemporary styled tune, peaked at number four. Brown’s gruff vocal cuts through the shellac, which isn’t pleasant enough to save the overall recording. Capitol saved the best single, “Last Resort” for last. The most restrained of the three, but still contemporary, Graham sells the story with ease. Like its predecessor, the track also topped out at number four.

The rest of the album is a mixed bag of upbeat jams mixed with a couple of ballads that display very little trademarks of actual country music. “RFD 30529” chugs along courtesy of electric guitar riffs and synthesizers that weren’t out of place with some of the pop styles of the day. “Save That Dress” is terrible, a contrived lyric about a guy pleading for his girlfriend to save some items from being sold at a yard sale, mostly because they’re skimpy or low cut. “Talkin’ To It” sounds like nothing more than a bad karaoke rip-off of Huey Lewis and The News. “Walk on Water” is more restrained, but still not much better.

The ballads are far more listenable, but that isn’t saying much. “Anything to Lose” goes the gospel route, while “The Power of Love” is far more AC than country. From that angle it isn’t half bad. His cover of “Sittin’ On The Dock of the Bay” is okay, but the ocean sound effects are more cheesy than effective.

Simply put, Brilliant Conversationalist has so little to do with country music, New Traditionalist or otherwise, I’m surprised it was marketed to the genre at all. Brown has a good voice, but the horns and synthesizers are so out of place and cheesy to my ears, twenty-seven years later. This project is long forgotten because it wasn’t very good to begin with, and save one or two songs, isn’t worth revisiting. You shouldn’t judge a product by its cover, but in this case, I think it says it all.

Grade: C