My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Charlie Rich

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

The best reissues of 2015

As is always the case, most of the best reissues of American Country Music come from Europe. There are several reasons for this:

1 – Until recently, European copyrights on recordings were only good for 50 years. This changed recently to 70 years, but the change was not retroactive. What this means is that all recordings made before 1963 have lost their copyright protection in Europe.

2 – The European customer for country music is more traditionally oriented than American audiences. This holds true for many forms of music including rockabilly, rock & roll, rhythm & blues, pop standards, you name it. European audiences, unlike their American counterparts, have not discarded the past.

3 – American Record labels simply don’t care – I’d elaborate, but there’s no point to it.

It should be noted that some of these albums may have been issued before 2015 but became generally available during 2015 through various markets.

We’ll start off with two box sets from the gold standard of reissue labels, Bear Family:

chuck wagon gang1. THE CHUCK WAGON GANG – THE COMPLETE RECORDINGS (1936-1955)

Released in late 2014, but not generally available until this year, this Bear Family five disc set compiles the gospel recordings of Dad Carter’s family gospel group. Marty Stuart wrote the forward to the accompanying book.

This Carter Family is NOT related to the Carter Family clan associated with A.P., Sara, Mother Maybelle, and June Carter, but was a successful gospel group that was with Columbia Records from 1936 to 1975, selling thirty-nine million records in the process. Consisting of D.P. (Dad) Carter and son Jim (Ernest) and daughters Rose (Lola) and Anna (Effie), this group was formed in 1935 in Lubbock, Texas, and became one of the most popular gospel groups of its time, performing a very traditional form of country gospel music. They were the first group to record Albert Brumley’s “I’ll Fly Away”.

The group continues to this day, although all of the original members have since passed away. This set won’t be to everyone’s taste in gospel music so I’d suggest that you listen to a few tracks before purchasing the set. The humble sincerity and beauty of the singing will likely have you reconsidering your idea of gospel music.

singing fisherman2. JOHNNY HORTON – THE SINGING FISHERMAN: THE COMPLETE RECORDINGS OF JOHNNY HORTON
Also released in late 2014, this nine disc set chronicles the recording career of one of the brightest stars of the Louisiana Hayride, whose life was cut short in 1960 when he was killed in an automobile accident. Some may recall that Johnny Cash was one of his best friends and some may remember that his widow was also the widow of Hank Williams Sr.

To the extent that Johnny Horton is remembered today, it is for the recordings he made with Columbia Records starting in 1956 with “Honky Tonk Man” and “I’m A One Woman Man”, songs thirty years later covered for hits later by Dwight Yoakam and George Jones.
Johnny’s biggest hit was “The Battle of New Orleans” which reached #1 on both the pop (six weeks) and country charts (ten weeks)in 1959. He had two other #1 records in “When It’s Springtime In Alaska” (1959) and “North to Alaska” released ten days after his death.

Those great Columbia Recordings are all here, but Johnny was an active recording artist from 1952 forward, recording with Abbott Records and Mercury Records, as well as some smaller labels. The Abbott Recordings were pretty pedestrian but Johnny cut some real treasures for Mercury, some of which were regional hits. Those long-lost earlier recordings are here as well, sounding as good as they will ever sound. These recordings encompass Johnny singing straight country , western, rockabilly and historical saga songs. The set comes with two hardcover books.

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Album Review: Waylon Jennings – ‘Just To Satisfy You’

just to satisfy youWaylon’s first album release of 1969 was Just To Satisfy You. Released in March, the album would eventually reach #7 on Billboard’s country album chart and would result in one single, “I Got You”.

Just To Satisfy You is an eclectic mix of covers and new material that shows Waylon’s versatility, if nothing else.
The album opens with “Lonely Weekends”, a song that Charlie Rich wrote during his years on Sun Records. The song never charted for Charlie on the country charts but it was an integral part of his stage show for years and did have some pop success. Waylon gives the song a strong vocal reading, but the presence of a ‘wah-wah’ guitar riff is a bit off-putting.

“(Come On Home and) Sing the Blues to Daddy” was one of those songs that had ‘hit’ written all over it but it just didn’t happen for anyone. Bob Luman got the song up to #24 Billboard/#13 Record World, and many artists used the song as an album track. Waylon’s version is slower and a bit more bluesy than most versions I’ve heard, and I think the organ could be eliminated. My ears tell me that Bobby Bare is singing along with Waylon on this song, although I haven’t see him credited.

During this period, Curley Putnam was having much success as a songwriter. While “Change My Mind” never really had any potential as a single, it is a very good song, a slow ballad, that Waylon
performs very effectively.

If I should get a look of leavin’ in my eyes
Put your arms ’round me, woman, and change my mind
If I ever seem too restless or dissatisfied
Put your arms ’round me, woman, and change my mind

Don’t let me separate your love from mine
Don’t let me leave you, I might get the urge some time
If I do, you’ll know what to do to keep me by your side
Put your arms ’round me, baby, and change my mind

Many artists recorded the Lawton Williams song “Farewell Party” before Gene Watson finally turned it into a hit single, among them Jimmy Dickens and Ray Price. Waylon’s effort would not have been a good single lacking the dramatic presentation that Watson gave it. Waylon’s version is a straight forward ballad, with piano and organ seeming to dominate the instrumental arrangement. Waylon’s version also lacks the key change at the start of the second verse that Watson’s version made the standard interpretation.

“Rings of Gold”, written by Gene Thomas, was a song that reach #2 as a duet by label-mates Don Gibson and Dottie West. Waylon is joined by Anita Carter and their version could have worked as a single. Both Waylon and Anita had better voices that Don & Dottie so I don’t doubt that Waylon & Anita would have had at least as big a hit as their label-mates managed. I believe that this track was recorded a year or so before most of the tracks on the album.

Isn’t there anyone who’ll take me like I am‘ is the question asked in “Alone”, a Dee Moeller composition sung to perfection by Waylon. The song is a slow ballad with a mostly acoustic feel that needs to be heard several times in order to get the full impact of this very sad song.

Isnt there anyone
Who’ll take me like I am?
Someone who is willing
To take the blue in man

Someone that’ pleased enough
With herself to let me be
Someone who would love me
And try to understand my needs

No, I guess there isn’t
And theres no place
I can go, I guess
I’m destined to be alone

Waylon and pal Don Bowman collaborated on “Just to Satisfy You”, easily the best song on the album. I love the song and I feel that RCA missed a real bet in not choosing the song for single release.

Someone’s gonna get hurt before you’re through
Someone’s gonna pay for the things you do
How many hearts must break,how many will it take
To satisfy you,just to satisfy you
Another love,another fool
To play your game
Another love,another fool
They’re all the same
Someone’s gonna get hurt before you’re through
Don’t be surprised if that someone is you
You’re gonna find when it’s too late,a heart that just won’t break
To satisfy you, just to satisfy you

Helen Carter was one of Mother Maybelle’s daughters and sister to June Carter and Anita Carter. She was a fine singer and better song writer. I think that Waylon does on outstanding job on this thoughful ballad:

You tear me down a hundred times a day I’ve cried enough to wash the world away
I’ve tried so hard to be what you’ve wanted me to be
Till somewhere along the way I lost me
To give and keep on giving I have learned
There’s no way but yours where you’re concerned
I tried till finally I lost my own identity and somewhere along the way I lost me

I usually associate Ben Peters with upbeat songs like “Kiss An Angel Good Morning” but he was capable at the slower ballads, too. “I’ve Been Needing Someone Like You” is wistful but given a believable treatment by Waylon with harmonica prominent in the mix.

Although often remembered for novelties, with “For the Kids”, Shel Silverstein shows that he can tackle serious topic as well. This song tells of the breakup of a marriage with focus on the affects of divorce on the children. Again, this is another slow ballad that Waylon nails.

Ricci Mareno is probably best known for the string of successful hit records he wrote and produced for Tommy Overstreet in the early 1970s. “I Got You”, a Ricci Mareno- Gordon Galbraithvco-write was the only single released from this album. Waylon is joined by Anita Carter on this medium tempo ballad that reached #4 on the Billboard charts. At the time this record was produced, RCA was looking for reasons to use the Nashville Brass on their country recordings. There are trumpets in evidence toward the end of this single. When RCA tried to have Danny Davis, the leader of the Nashville Brass produce his records, Waylon rebelled.
The album closes with another Dee Moeller composition in “Straighten My Mind”, a mid-tempo ballad with brass instrumental breaks. The song is a a good one which Waylon sings well:

A tiger always walks at night and marks his prey while everything’s still
He waits until it’s unaware and then he strikes and makes his kill
That’s the way you’ve done me girl you never let me breathe
Couldn’t feel the way I felt so you’d tried to punish me
Baby it’s time to straighten my mind

Waylon’s vocals are strong throughout this album and while there are a few dubious instrumentation choices, Waylon’s vocals are strong enough to salvage minor mistake. The album could use a few more up-tempo songs. I would rate this album in the B+/A- range – the substitution of a few faster songs and elimination of the organ would turn this into an A album.

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/

Reissues wish list: part 3 – RCA and Columbia

carl smithWhen speaking of the big four labels we need to define terms
Columbia refers to records originally issued on Columbia, Epic, Harmony or Okeh labels. Okeh was used for so-called minority interest recordings. Columbia also owned Vocalion for a while. RCA refers to recordings on the RCA Victor and RCA Camden labels.

RCA

In addition to folks such as Chet Atkins, Jim Reeves, Dolly Parton, Eddy Arnold, Connie Smith and Charley Pride, RCA had a fine group of second tier artists including Kenny Price, Porter Wagoner, Jim Ed Brown, Stu Phillips, Nat Stuckey, Jimmy Dean, Norma Jean, Skeeter Davis, Dottie West, Bobby Bare, The Browns and Jerry Reed.

Bear Family has released multiple boxed sets on several RCA artists including Connie Smith, Don Gibson, Waylon Jennings and Hank Snow who have multiple boxed sets (essentially everything Hank Snow recorded while on RCA – forty plus years worth of recordings is available on Bear). Enough Waylon has been released that what remains doesn’t justify a wish list.

What is really needed is for someone to issue decent sets on Kenny Price, Jim Ed Brown (without his sisters or Helen Cornelius), Norma Jean, Dottsy, Liz Anderson and Earl Thomas Conley. There is virtually nothing on any of these artists. Jimmy Dean recorded for RCA for about six years but nothing is available from his RCA years which saw some really fine recordings, including the best version of “A Thing Called Love“.

I would have said the same thing about Charley Pride but recent years have seen various Charley Pride sets become available, so we can take him off our wish list.

COLUMBIA RECORDS

When you think of Columbia Records, names such as Johnny Cash, Ray Price, Carl Smith, Stonewall Jackson, Flatt & Scruggs and Marty Robbins spring immediately to mind, but the well is deep and that doesn’t even count sister label Epic which boasted names like David Houston, Tammy Wynette, Charlie Rich, Jody Miller, Johnny Paycheck and Bob Luman.

By and large foreign and domestic reissues abound for most of the bigger names, but even here there are some major shortfalls.

Carl Smith recorded for Columbia through the early 1970s and while his 1950s output has been thoroughly mined, his sixties output has barely been touched and his seventies output (“Mama Bear”, “Don’t Say Goodbye”) completely neglected. Smith’s recordings increasingly veered toward western swing as the sixties wore on, but he recorded a fine bluegrass album, and a tribute to fellow East Tennessean Roy Acuff. His outstanding Twenty Years of Hits (1952-1972) recast twenty of his classic tunes as western swing. A good three CD set seems in order.

I could make a good case for electing David Houston to the Country Music Hall of Fame. From 1966 he had thirteen #1 hits and a bunch more top ten and top twenty recordings. “Almost Persuaded” was his biggest hit but there were bunches of good songs scattered across his many albums. A good two CD set is a must, and I could easily justify a three CD set.

While Sony Legacy issued a decent Johnny Paycheck single disc hits collection, it is long on the later stages of his career and short on the earliest years. Paycheck released over thirty singles for Epic from 1972–1982 and it’s about time someone collected them on a good two (or preferably three) disc collection along with some key album cuts.

Moe Bandy achieved his greatest commercial success while recording for Columbia. Between chart singles and album cuts Moe warrants at least a decent two CD set, and please leave the ‘Moe & Joe’ nonsense out of the mix.

Columbia has a lot of artists that would justify a single or double disc hits collection: David Wills, Al Dexter, Ted Daffan, David Rodgers, Connie Smith, Carl & Pearl Butler, Tommy Cash, David Frizzell, Bob Luman, Jody Miller, Barbara Fairchild, Barbara Mandrell, Charlie Walker and Sammi Smith.

Album Review: Shelby Lynne – ‘Tough All Over’

51T5LRAmzsLI first became aware of Shelby Lynne when Reba McEntire predicted that she would be country music’s next big female superstar, during a 1990 appearance on Larry King Live. After hearing Shelby’s music for the first time shortly thereafter, my impression was that she definitely had promise but her material fell considerably short of her talent. Twenty-five years later my musical tastes have evolved so that I can appreciate her material a little more, but my overall assessment remains the same.

1990’s Tough All Over, Shelby’s sophomore release, was meant to be more mainstream than the previous year’s debut album. While it may have been a tiny step in the right direction from a commercial standpoint, it was still significantly out of step with the mainstream country music of its day, which was dominated by New Traditionalism. Produced by Bob Montgomery, the album is built around three singles, none of which reached the Top 20: “I’ll Lie Myself To Sleep” (#26), “Things Are Tough All Over” (#23), and “What About The Love We Made” (#45). It seems odd that three ballads were chosen as singles when an uptempo number might have received a warmer reception from radio. “I’ll Lie Myself To Sleep” is more AC than country, which was at odds with the commercial demands of the day, and “What About The Love We Made” is a power ballad that is marred by Shelby’s over-singing. While it allows her to show off her vocal prowess, the record would have benefited from some restraint.

Among the album cuts, the best are “Baby’s Gone Blues”, which had previously been recorded by Patty Loveless and was later covered by Reba McEntire. Shelby’s version is better than either of them. She also does a nice version of “Don’t Mind If I Do”, a Skip Ewing number which had been recorded by George Strait a few years ago. “Till A Better Memory Comes Along” is the album’s best and most country-sounding track. The rest of the album is an eclectic array of songs ranging from the rockabilly of Charlie Rich’s “Lonely Weekends” and an ill-advised cover of Johnny Cash’s “I Walk The Line”, to the jazzy “Dog Day Afternoon” and a cover of Duke Ellington’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” which closes out the set.

With the exception of “I Walk The Line”, these songs are all very good but they underscore that Lynne had not yet discovered her musical direction (it could be argued that she still hasn’t) and that Epic had no idea whatsoever how to market her. It’s the sort of album that I wasn’t particularly interested in back in 1990 but it would be a huge improvement if Nashville were to release more in this vein today.

Grade: B+

Week ending 12/13/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

rich_charlie_13771154566831954 (Sales): More and More — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Jukebox): More and More — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Disc Jockeys): More and More — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1964: Once A Day — Connie Smith (RCA)

1974: She Called Me Baby — Charlie Rich (Epic)

1984: Chance of Lovin’ You — Earl Thomas Conley (RCA)

1994: If You’ve Got Love — John Michael Montgomery (Atlantic)

2004: Nothing On But The Radio — Gary Allan (MCA)

2014: Shotgun Rider — Tim McGraw (Big Machine)

2014 (Airplay): Girl In A Country Song — Maddie & Tae (Dot)

Album Review: Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives – ‘Saturday night/Sunday Morning’

saturday night sunday morningMarty Stuart’s latest album is something of a departure. It is really a double album: one disc, representing Saturday night, mixes a return to the kind of energised country rock he was doing in the 90s with the more traditional country of recent albums; the second, for Sunday morning, is gospel – not the country gospel of his other gospel album this year, but Southern church gospel.

Of the rocking country songs, the driving ‘Jailhouse’ (a metaphor for a bad marriage) which opens is by far the best. ‘Sad House, Big Party’ is also pretty good. The rockabilly ‘Geraldine’ is a bit too loud and busy for me, although the performance is committed and it’s fairly catchy. The echoey ‘Look At That Girl’ is definitely too loud, and boring besides, and I didn’t like it at all.

There are several effective covers of classic country songs, which are among my favourites. I liked a wailing version of ‘I’m Blue, I’m Lonesome’ (written by Hank Williams and Bill Monroe), complete with train whistle effects to illustrate the song’s imagery.

Best of all is a lovely sensitive cut of an obscure George Jones song, ‘Old Old House’, with lovely steel. Marty and the band do another great job on the less well remembered ‘Talking To The Wall’, written by Warner Mack and recorded by Loretta Lynn among others.

His soulful version of Charlie Rich’s sultry ‘Life Has Its Little Ups And Down’ is also excellent, but I wasn’t as keen on the blues of ‘Streamline’ which closes disc 1, although the band plays with real virtuosity.

‘Rough Around The Edges’ is a great honky tonker written by Marty himself about a man whose honky tonk lifestyle is caching up with him. ‘When It Comes To Loving You’ is a mid-paced ballad about helplessly loving one who has left and is another very fine new Stuart song, but the instrumentation is a bit loud at times, occasionally swamping the excellent vocal.

Disc 2 is clearly a labour of love; but it has little to offer the country fan. I did quite like ‘Boogie Woogie Down The Jericho Road’ and the slow ‘Long Walk To Heave’ .If you like traditional Southern gospel do check it out, as it’s very well performed with guests including gospel legend Mavis Staples. However, I doubt I’ll be revisiting it as it’s just not the kind of music I choose to listen to.

I rather wish the two projects had not been conceived of as a pair, but released as separate albums. The Saturday Night section is some of the best music Marty has ever made; Sunday Morning is very well done, but it’s not country.

Grade: Disc 1 A+
Disc 2: B+

Week ending 10/11/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

tobykeith1954 (Sales): I Don’t Hurt Anymore — Hank Snow (RCA)

1954 (Jukebox): I Don’t Hurt Anymore — Hank Snow (RCA)

1954 (Disc Jockeys): I Don’t Hurt Anymore — Hank Snow (RCA)

1964: I Guess I’m Crazy — Jim Reeves (RCA)

1974: I Love My Friend — Charlie Rich (Epic)

1984: Everyday — The Oak Ridge Boys (MCA)

1994: Who’s That Man — Toby Keith (Polydor)

2004: Days Go By — Keith Urban (Capitol)

2014: Burnin’ It Down — Jason Aldean (Broken Bow)

2014 (Airplay): Hope You Get Lonely Tonight — Cole Swindell (Warner Bros.)

Country roads and greener pastures

TaylorI was really happy to hear about the release of Taylor Swift’s new single last week. Now there’s something you never thought you’d hear me say. But (you knew there had to be a “but” coming, didn’t you?) I should qualify that comment by saying my mood was not affected so much because I was looking forward to listening to new Taylor Swift music, but because the single “Shake It Off” is a watershed moment in Swift’s career, as the artist, her label and her publicists acknowledge that 1989, Swift’s forthcoming album, is not country, but pop.

I will be the first to argue that this is hardly news and that Swift’s music was never really country to begin with, but it’s nice to hear the people responsible for marketing her finally admit it. While Swift’s defenders have argued for years that she was bringing new fans to the country genre, I always maintained that her youthful fanbase was unlikely to embrace the genre at large, and that Swift herself would eventually decide that the pop world was a better fit for her. The shift began with the release of 2012’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”, which became the first Taylor Swift single to be deemed not country enough for country radio. It spent nine weeks at #1 anyway, due to a ridiculous change in Billboard’s chart tabulation methodology, but that is a separate topic.
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Week ending 6/21/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

eddy raven1954 (Sales): I Don’t Hurt Anymore — Hank Snow (RCA)

1954 (Jukebox): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Disc Jockeys): Oh Baby Mine (I Get So Lonely) — Johnnie & Jack (RCA)

1964: My Heart Skips A Beat — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1974: I Don’t See Me In Your Eyes Anymore — Charlie Rich (Epic)

1984: I Got Mexico — Eddy Raven (RCA)

1994: Wink — Neal McCoy (Atlantic)

2004: Redneck Woman — Gretchen Wilson (Epic)

2014: This Is How We Roll — Florida Georgia Line ft. Luke Bryan (Republic Nashville)

2014 (Airplay): Play It Again — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

Album Review: Tom T. Hall – ‘I Witness Life’

i witness life - 100 children1970 would prove to a year of steady development for Tom T Hall as two he would release two albums, I Witness Life and One Hundred Children, that would both crack Billboard’s top forty country album chart. The albums in turn would provide him with four chart singles. I mention the two albums together because the German reissue label Bear Family coupled them on a fine CD which, aside from engaging in a vinyl hunt, is the only format in which you will find either album. This article is about I Witness Life.

The instrumentation for the album finds the Mercury ‘A’ Team at work of Jerry Kennedy on guitar and dobro, Harold Bradley on guitar, Bob Moore on bass, Buddy Harman on drums and Hargus ‘Pig’ Robbins on piano with other artists such as Randy Scruggs (banjo), Pete Drake (steel guitar) and Charlie McCoy (harmonica) appearing on some tracks. All but one of the tracks were recorded in February or March of 1970.

One of the most unusual songs ever to grace the country airwaves opened the album as “Salute To A Switchblade Knife” gave Tom T his fifth top ten single, reaching #8. The song is based on Hall’s U.S. Army service in West Germany. As he put it ‘not necessarily an incident one would want to write Mother about ..’

Me and Yates an army buddy of mine
Were doin’ three years in Germany at the time
We came upon these Frauleins in the bar
Yates said, “Darf ich Sie begleiten?”, they said “Ja”
(spoken) And ‘Darf ich Sie begleiten means?’, ‘Can we sit with you all?’
Oh we must have drunk ten quarts of German beer
My conscience and my sinuses were clear
I asked that Fraulein if she was a spy
She said, “Nein but do bis ain bissel high”
(spoken) A condition not uncommon to the American soldier
***
And the army has a new policy if you can’t move it, paint it
If it has a switchblade knife, salute it
(spoken) Not necessarily an incident one would want to write mother
about, Germany being full of good soldiers …

I guess everyone has to start somewhere and for Tom T Hall, after his stint in the army ended in 1961, he headed to the Connorsville, Indiana home of an army buddy and started his career in earnest. In “Thank You, Connorsville, Indiana” Hall recalls his early days of playing all night for near peanuts

Well, after seven hours of ‘Cheatin’ Heart’ and ‘Wildwood Flower’
I had my seven dollars, eighty cents
I gave it to a waitress who was going to have a baby;
She said she needed just that much to help her pay her rent

“Do It To Someone You Love” was a nice song that became a top twenty hit for Norro Wilson, a record producer for various labels and a fine songwriter in his own right with the Charlie Rich classic “A Very Special Love Song” among his credits.

The words I love you come easy to the lips of a liar or a fool
If love talking is what you’re thinking of then do it to someone you love
Do it to someone you love

Some little things to let them know they’re all you’re thinking of
This day and time a little thing you do could mean so much
So do it to someone you love

“The Ballad of Bill Crump” is based on a true story, according to Hall. Whether or not there is any truth to the story, it makes for a fine song. Tom T plays some harmonica on this track joined by Charlie McCoy (overdubbed at a later date):

Now I hear a lot of tall stories since my business is writin’ songs
And every now and then if you listen real close
A good true one comes along
And this is the story of old Bill Crump from the North Carolina Hills
Nat Winston of Nashville knew this man real well

He built the church and he built the pews
He built the cradles and the furniture for the schools
Folks in Avery County say that he was better than good
Probably one of the reasons the Lord made wood

Now men have faults and Bill’s fault was
He loved to sip that corn
He lived ninety some years that way
Don’t guess it was hurtin’ him none

The end of the song finds Crump building his own casket !

If Tom’s music often has the feel of bluegrass, “Chattanooga Dog” makes no bones about it with Randy Scruggs (Earl’s son) prominently featured on banjo. Pete Drake supplies some delicate steel guitar shadings that do not detract from the bluegrass feel.

There’s a fairground down in Chattanooga
Where a kiddy train runs up and down the track
There’s an old black hound that always hangs around
And he chases that train down and back
And I’ve been chasing you like that Chattanooga dog
Even though I know you don’t care
I’ve been chasing you like that Chattanooga dog
And it ain’t gonna get me anywhere

The War in Vietnam (aka LBJ’s War) was one of the great tragedies in American history. Tom T. Hall describes the Vietnam War memorial in Washington D.C., as ‘an ongoing eternal funeral’. “Girls In Saigon City” reflects the situation that many a soldier found himself in during the Vietnam War. Apparently the idea came from one of Tom’s friends.

There’s a place called Da Nang Village cross the ocean far away
In deep concern for one young woman that’s where I abide today
Today, I got a dear-John-letter from that young woman in the USA

When I was called I knew I’d lose her it don’t matter anyway
There are girls in Saigon City waiting there with open arms
On my leave I may go see them in this other world called Vietnam

“Hang Them All” is a very up-tempo song, with a comic sense that tends to obscure the serious message. Hall describes it as the first protest song he ever wrote.

If they hang ’em all they get the guilty
If they hang ’em all they cannot miss
If they hang ’em all they get the guilty
Been a lot of problem solved like this
Indeed

“Coming To The Party” is the story of a man who is trying to get over an old love by heading to a party to try to find a new love. It has somewhat of the quality of the George Jones hit “She Thinks I Still Care”.

Coming to the party tonight
And I’ll find someone new to hold me tight
She thinks I’m home crying won’t she be surprised
Cause I’m coming to the party tonight

“America The Ugly” is probably the most thought provoking song on the album. It’s not really a protest song, although some at the time thought of it that way. As Tom T Hall explains in the liner notes for the Bear CD: ‘This song is not simply about injustice in America, but also points out that those internal injustices hurt us abroad’.

There was a man, came to see the USA from a foreign land
To photograph the progress of dear old Uncle Sam
He got off the boat in New York, went down to the Bowery
I know what the man went to photograph and to see

There were hopeless, hungry living dead
Winos who sell their souls for a bottle of a cheapest red
That’s the picture that he wanted
And that’s what he got they say, America the ugly today

***

There were some folks, had plenty and some had none at all
The enemy knows when a heart gets hard, the country is bound to fall
If we get heads and hearts together we won’t have to hear them say
“America the ugly today, America the ugly today”

The album closes with “That’ll Be All Right With Me”, a nice reflective song which apparently came from an earlier recording session than the rest of the tracks on this album. Regardless, it’s a nice song and a fitting end to the album.

It’s not my sun, man, and if it’s not shinin’
When I wake up tomorrow morning, hmm, that’ll be all right with me
They’re not my birds, man, and if they’re not singin’
When I wake up tomorrow morning, hmm, that’ll be all right with me

One Hundred Children was not one of the albums we planned on presenting this month, but since it is paired with I Witness Life on the Bear Family CD, I though I’d say a few words about the album. Even though the album was recorded only seven months later in August and September 1970, you can hear an evolution in the arrangements of producer Jerry Kennedy. While the basic ‘talking blues man’ accompaniment is largely maintained, there are tracks where string overdubs are used to augment the basic accompaniment – yes, the dreaded ‘Nashville Sound’. Tom T Hall’s voice is distinctive enough that the strings don’t drown him out or change the fundamental qualities that made him such a distinctive artist. Temperate use of such embellishments would make Hall more accessible to a wider audience. Although neither of these two albums broke the top thirty, for the next five or so years, Hall’s albums would reach the top ten.

The singles from 100 Children were the title song, which reached #14 and “Ode To A Half A Pound of Ground Round” which reached #21.

The title track is one of those fairly meaningless family of man songs, akin to the later “We Are The World”. The synthesis of Randy Scruggs on banjo with a full string arrangement make this track sound better than the song actually is, but the rest of the album is full of much better songs.

The three standouts on the album are “I Can’t Dance” which is the story of my life (“I can’t dance, I never could, I guess my feet don’t match”), “Pinto The Wonder Horse Is Dead” (a nostalgic look at childhood) and “Ode To A Half A Pound of Ground Round”.

I think many of us have experienced circumstances similar to the narrator in “Ode To A Half A Pound of Ground Round”.

(spoken) This song is about the time I nearly starved to death in Roanoke Virginia

I woke up Wednesday morning in my little motel bed
Knowing I would die the minute that I moved my head
I felt around to make sure I was in my bed alone
I meet some friendly people when I’m stoned

My payday was on Friday I had two more days to go
Even in my agony I knew that I was broke
Lemme pay the check I said and keep the change my friend
She wiggled out of sight with my last ten

At noon I realized there wasn’t any way to eat
For lunch I just went out and shuffled up and down the street
At four o’clock I had a funny feeling in my chest
How long’s it take to starve a man to death

I found some pennies in a jar and bought a candy bar
Divided it in pieces and I ate one every hour
I just rolled into town and didn’t know a single soul
There wasn’t any way to make a loan

The next album would be In Search of A Song, Tom T’s first top ten album and featuring (arguably) Hall’s most famous solo hit, “The Year Clayton Delaney Died”.

Week ending 4/26/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

JohnnyLane1954 (Sales): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Jukebox): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Disc Jockeys): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1964: Understand Your Man — Johnny Cash (Columbia)

1974: A Very Special Love Song — Charlie Rich (Epic)

1984: The Yellow Rose — Johnny Lee with Lane Brody (Warner Bros.)

1994: If The Good Die Young — Tracy Lawrence (Atlantic)

2004: When The Sun Goes Down — Kenny Chesney with Uncle Kracker (BNA)

2014: Play It Again — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

2014 (Airplay): Drink To that All Night — Jerrod Niemann (Sea Gayle/Arista)

Week ending 4/19/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

kendalls41954 (Sales): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Jukebox): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Disc Jockeys): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1964: Understand Your Man — Johnny Cash (Columbia)

1974: A Very Special Love Song — Charlie Rich (Epic)

1984: Thank God For The Radio — The Kendalls (Mercury)

1994: If The Good Die Young — Tracy Lawrence (Atlantic)

2004: When The Sun Goes Down — Kenny Chesney with Uncle Kracker (BNA)

2014: This Is How We Roll — Florida Georgia Line ft. Luke Bryan (Republic Nashville)

2014 (Airplay): Doin’ What She Likes — Blake Shelton (Warner Bros.)

Week ending 4/12/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

LIttle Texas1954 (Sales): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Jukebox): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Disc Jockeys): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1964: Understand Your Man — Johnny Cash (Columbia)

1974: A Very Special Love Song — Charlie Rich (Epic)

1984: Don’t Make It Easy For Me — Earl Thomas Conley (RCA)

1994: My Love — Little Texas (Warner Bros.)

2004: When The Sun Goes Down — Kenny Chesney with Uncle Kracker (BNA)

2014: This Is How We Roll — Florida Georgia Line ft. Luke Bryan (Republic Nashville)

2014 (Airplay): Doin’ What She Likes — Blake Shelton (Warner Bros.)

Week ending 3/22/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

NealMcCoy_sm1954 (Sales): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Jukebox): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Disc Jockeys): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1964: Saginaw, Michigan — Lefty Frizzell (Columbia)

1974: There Won’t Be Anymore — Charlie Rich (Epic)

1984: Elizabeth — The Statler Brothers (Mercury)

1994: No Doubt About It –Neal McCoy (Atlantic)

2004: Watch The Wind Go By — Tim McGraw (Curb)

2014: Bottoms Up — Brantley Gilbert (Valory)

2014 (Airplay): Compass — Lady Antebellum (Capitol)

Week ending 3/15/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

Rich_Charlie_002_c_MOA.jpg1954 (Sales): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Jukebox): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Disc Jockeys): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1964: Saginaw, Michigan — Lefty Frizzell (Columbia)

1974: There Won’t Be Anymore — Charlie Rich (Epic)

1984: Going, Going, Gone — Lee Greenwood (MCA)

1994: Tryin’ To Get Over You — Vince Gill (MCA)

2004: American Soldier — Toby Keith (DreamWorks)

2014: Bottoms Up — Brantley Gilbert (Valory)

2014 (Airplay): When She Says Baby — Jason Aldean (Broken Bow)

Week ending 12/14/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

Mitchell+Torok+111141953 (Sales): There Stands The Glass — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1953 (Jukebox): Caribbean — Mitchell Torok (Abbott)

1953 (Disc Jockeys): I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know — Davis Sisters (RCA)

1963: Love’s Gonna Live Here — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1973: The Most Beautiful Girl — Charlie Rich (Epic)

1983: Tell Me A Lie — Janie Fricke (Columbia)

1993: My Second Home — Tracy Lawrence (Atlantic)

2003: I Love This Bar — Toby Keith (DreamWorks Nashville)

2013: Stay — Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

2013 (Airplay): Sunny and 75Joe Nichols (Red Bow)

Week ending 12/7/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

1953 (Sales): There Stands The Glass — Webb Pierce (Decca)

anne murray1953 (Jukebox): There Stands The Glass — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1953 (Disc Jockeys): There Stands The Glass — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1963: Love’s Gonna Live Here — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1973: The Most Beautiful Girl — Charlie Rich (Epic)

1983: A Little Good News — Anne Murray (Capitol)

1993: American Honky-Tonk Bar Association — Garth Brooks (Liberty)

2003: I Love This Bar — Toby Keith (DreamWorks Nashville)

2013: We Were Us — Keith Urban & Miranda Lambert (Capitol)

2013 (Airplay): We Were Us — Keith Urban & Miranda Lambert (Capitol)

Week ending 11/30/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

charlie rich1953 (Sales):I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know — Davis Sisters (RCA)

1953 (Jukebox):I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know — Davis Sisters (RCA)

1953 (Disc Jockeys): A Dear John Letter — Jean Shepard & Ferlin Husky (Capitol)

1963: Love’s Gonna Live Here — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1973: The Most Beautiful Girl — Charlie Rich (Epic)

1983: Holding Her And Loving You — Earl Thomas Conley (RCA)

1993: Reckless — Alabama (RCA)

2003: I Love This Bar — Toby Keith (DreamWorks Nashville)

2013: We Were Us — Keith Urban & Miranda Lambert (Capitol)

2013 (Airplay): Mine Would Be You — Blake Shelton (Warner Bros.)

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