My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Conway Twitty

Album Review: Earl Thomas Conley – ‘Blue Pearl’

After only very minor chart success (according to Record World) and only modestly better success at Warner Brothers, Earl Thomas Conley (as he was now billed) signed with the independent label Sunbird Records, where he recorded the album Blue Pearl, reuniting with his producer at GRT Nelson Larkin.

Although largely forgotten, Nelson Larkin was a talented songwriter and independent record producer and studio owner who seemed to truly understand what Conley was about.

Three singles were released from the album: “Dreamin’s All I Do” (#32), “Middle Age Madness” (#41) and “Stranded On A Dead End Street” (#26); and while this did not represent overwhelming chart success, for a minor independent label it was quite respectable and enough to push the album to #20, a very significant achievement which caught the attention of major label RCA, which purchased all of Earl’s Sunbird masters.

“Fire & Smoke”, released as a single and given a decent promotional push to radio, emerged as Earl’s first major hit, eventually reaching the top of Billboard’s county chart, thus giving Earl his first #1 record as a performer at the relatively old age of 40. Meanwhile, the album reached #20, a rare occurrence for an album released on one of the smaller independents.

The album opens with “Too Much Noise (Trucker’s Waltz)” a slow ballad which is not really a truck driving song despite the title.

There’s a hell raising cowboy
In your truck driving heart
You’ve got the world narrowed down
To four lanes
But how could diesel blooded horses
Ever drag you apart
From the only girl who could ever
Ease your pain
She would follow your dreams
To the farthest extremes
But she needs more than just someone
To be true to
While it seems you just need someone sane
Who can drive all that noise
From your brain

Next up is “Silent Treatment” which RCA would later release as a successful single on the first RCA album Fire And Smoke.

“Dreamin’s All I Do” was the first single from the album, and likely would have been a major hit had it been an RCA release. I love the song, which is a bit of a dreamy ballad.

I woke up crying, I thought I had a dream
But you would not answer up when I called your name
I ran to my window but all I saw was rain
I know you’re going somewhere girl I can feel the pain
But I wouldn’t dream of sleeping with anyone but you
And anyone who knows me knows that I love you
No I wouldn’t dream of sleeping with anyone but you
But anyone can tell you dreamin’s all I do

“Stranded On A Dead End Street” was the album’s third single and built on the momentum of the first two singles. A up-tempo love song, it represents the kind of material I wish Earl had tackled more often.

“You Don’t Have To Go Too Far” features rather more steel guitar than most of Earl’s songs. This song is a mid-tempo declaration of love.

“Fire And Smoke” would prove to be Earl’s first #1 record when released on RCA. “Played This Game Enough To Know The Score” is a medium-fast ballad about a fellow who knows that his current romance won’t last.

“Blue And Green” is gentle ballad about a romance that has failed and the participants far apart.

“Middle Age Madness” is about an older woman who still dreams of a romance that may never occur. This was the second single and likely would have been a bigger hit with a major label behind it.

“This Time I’ve Hurt Her More Than She Loves Me” is a song that Earl wrote and pitched to Conway Twitty, who took it to the top of the charts. I like Earl’s recording, which is the most traditional sounding Earl Thomas Conley track I’ve ever heard. It is nearly as good as Conway’s version.

She wore that falling out of love look
I even swore upon the Good Book
Still the last lie I told her was
The one she couldn’t believe
No more crying on her shoulder
She won’t even let me hold her
Cause this time I’ve hurt her more than she loves me

Four of these tracks would appear on Earl’s first RCA album, further proof of the strength of the album, which I would give an A-.

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Spotlight Artist: Earl Thomas Conley

Born in October 1941, Earl Thomas Conley is the quintessence of the term “late bloomer” as far as becoming a country music star. Although he had some very modest chart success starting in 1975 with GRT Records and again with Warner Brothers in 1979, it wasn’t until Conley reached independent label Sunbird in late 1980, that Earl (or ETC as he was often called) began to achieve real success as a recording artist. By then, he was thirty-nine years old.

Earl Thomas Conley was the oldest and most successful of the triumvirate of somewhat similarly named country artist of the 1980s (the others were Con Hunley and John Conlee), each of whom had very distinctive voices. Earl had an extended run of success, both as a recording artist and as a songwriter. Between 1980 and 2003, he recorded ten studio albums, including seven for RCA. During this same period he charted more than 30 singles on the Billboard country charts, with 18 reaching #1.

Earl was raised in a working class family that had a love for music and the arts, and painting – which he started when he was 10 – was Earl’s first love. At age 14, Earl’s father lost his job with the railroad and Earl went to live with an older sister in Dayton, Ohio, where he continued to paint and develop his skills as an artist. While painting was his first love, Earl’s father had introduced him to music and Earl began to be more aware of it as an influence in his life.

After graduating high school, Earl decided against college, joining the Army instead. While in the Army, Earl became a member a Christian-influenced trio, where his musical talent and vocal ability were first placed on public display. At some point Earl decided that performing might not be a bad way to make a living. Accordingly, he delved more deeply into the classic country sounds of artists such as Merle Haggard and George Jones. During this period Earl first tried his hand at songwriting. In 1968, after his discharge from the Army, Earl began commuting from Dayton to Nashville.

With nothing happening for him in Nashville (and tired of back and forth commuting), Earl moved to Huntsville, Alabama, to be 150 miles closer to the recording industry. While in Nashville on a song-plugging visit in 1973, Earl met Dick Herd, who produced the great Mel Street. This meeting eventually led to the Conley-Herd collaboration on the song “Smokey Mountain Memories”, which Street took into the top 10 in early 1975.

Prior to Street’s recording Earl had moved to Nashville, where he met record producer Nelson Larkin, who signed Earl to his publishing house and helped sign him with independent label GRT in 1974. Larkin placed one of Earl’s songs with his brother Billy Larkin, “Leave It Up to Me”, which Larkin took to #22 in late 1975. Nelson Larkin would produce Earl’s sessions through the end of the 1980s.

GRT released four of Earl’s singles without much success. Meanwhile, Earl placed “This Time I’ve Hurt Her More Than She Loves Me,” with Conway Twitty, who took it all the way to the top in 1975, giving Earl his first #1 record as a songwriter.

On the strength of his successful songwriting, Warner Brothers signed Earl to a recording contract. Unfortunately, the three singles Warner Brothers issued in 1979 on ‘Earl Conley’ failed to achieve much traction.

After his stint at Warner Brothers was over, Earl Thomas Conley (as he was now billed) signed with the independent label Sunbird Records, where he recorded the album Blue Pearl, reuniting with producer Nelson Larkin. “Fire & Smoke,” released as a single and given a decent promotional push to radio, emerged as Earl’s first major hit, eventually reaching the top of Billboard’s county chart, thus giving Earl his first #1 record as a performer at the relatively old age of 40.

The success of “Fire and Smoke” caused RCA to pick up Earl’s contract and purchase the rights to Earl’s Sunbird recordings for release on RCA. Ultimately RCA became his home for the next decade during which time the following songs reached #1:

•“Somewhere Between Right and Wrong”
•“Your Love’s On The Line”
•“Holding Her and Loving You”
•“Don’t Make It Easy For Me”
•“Angel In Disguise”
•“Chance of Loving You”
•“Love Don’t Care (Whose Heart it Breaks)”
•“Nobody Fall s Like A Fool”
•“Once In A Blue Moon”
•“I Have Loved You Girl”
•“I Can’t Win For Losing You”
•“That Was A Close One”
•“Right From The Start”
•“What She Is (Is A Woman In Love)”
•“We Believe In Happy Endings” (w/Emmylou Harris)
•“What I’d Say”
•“Love Out Loud”

While Earl Thomas Conley tended to regard himself as a straight country artist, his rather smoky voice helped gain him acceptance across the board. Earl appeared on the television show Soul Train in 1986, and to the best of my knowledge he is the only country artist to be so featured.

Chart success basically ran out for Earl at the end of the 1980s although there were some decent chart hits through 1992, including the 1991 recording of “Brotherly Love” a duet with Keith Whitley released after Keith’s death.

Since then, Earl has continued to tour occasionally and write songs but has done relatively little recording, with a seven year recording hiatus 1991-1997. This hiatus was due to a number of factors, including vocal problems, disenchantment with record label politics, road fatigue and mental burnout. Earl finally emerged with another album in 1998, Perpetual Emotion, aided and abetted by long-time friends Randy Scruggs and Curly Corwin. His last albums were Should Have Been Over By Now, released in 2003, and Live at Billy Bob’s, released in 2005.

Earl is now 76 years old and no longer maintains a website, although he does maintain a Facebook page. Earl retired from performing about a year ago.

Various artists continue to record his songs, and Blake Shelton released Earl’s “All Over Me” as a single in 2002. Earl has always eschewed fads, not becoming a ‘hat act’ during the late 1980s and continuing to write thoughtful, non-gimmicky songs.

The digital age has seen much of Earl’s recorded legacy restored to the catalogue, so finding his songs should not be difficult. We hope you enjoy discovering (or rediscovering) the music of our very distinctive Spotlight vocalist Earl Thomas Conley.

Classic Rewind: Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty – ‘Easy Lovin”

A half-dozen songs that never really were big hits (but may have been famous)

It is not so much true since the late 1970s but in all genres of music (except rock) there was a strong tendency for songs that were really big hits to be covered by many artists.

Here we will be looking at three really well-known country songs that never really were major hits for anyone, yet were so frequently covered that they became well-known hits, two songs that had Billboard not discontinued its regional charts, would have been recognized as big regional hits, and one song that was a huge copyright for a well known singer that isn’t well known and never charted at all.

1) Back in 1968, I purchased a few 45 rpm records. Lacking the patience to fool around with flipping records every 2:35, I soon switched to purchase of LPs. Among the few 45s that I purchased was Merle Haggard’s “The Legend of Bonnie & Clyde”. This record certainly was a hit reaching #1 on the Billboard and Record World country charts, but the B side was the revelation for me.

Back then I often didn’t get around to playing the B side of a 45 until later, but Dad had the Branded Man album that Haggard had issued the year before and every song on it was really good, so I flipped over the single to find one of the truly great country songs in “Today I Started Loving You Again”,

Back then Billboard did not usually track B sides and album tracks, so as far as Billboard is concerned the real hit on the song was Sammi Smith’s single from 1975 that reached #9. Kenny Rogers, Arthur Prysock and Emmylou Harris all issued singles that failed to crack the top forty. Record World, which did track B sides, had Haggard’s version reach #25.

I have no idea how many artists recorded “Today I Started Loving You Again” as an album track. Certainly, dozens of country artists did it (I probably have thirty country albums from the late 1968-1972 period that contain the song) and untold numbers of singers from other genres such as pop singer Al Martino, R&B singers Bobby Bland and Bettye Swann. I still hear country bands perform the song to this very day. For me, it’s a song I memorized on first hearing it and it has stuck in my memory since then

 What a fool I was to think I could get by

With only these few millions tears I cry

I should have known the worst was yet to come

And that crying time for me had just begun

2) Almost as well known as “Today I Started Loving You Again” is “Silver Wings”, which was an album track on Hag’s 1970 album A Portrait of Merle Haggard and was the flipside of “Working Man Blues. I can basically make the same comments about “Silver Wings” as I did about “Today I Started Loving You Again”. I heard the song frequently on the radio, but it never charted for Haggard. In fact, the only time the song ever charted was by the Hager Twins, Jim and Jon, who took it to #59 in late 1970.

 Silver wings shining in the sunlight

Roaring engines headed somewhere in flight

They’re taking you away, leaving me lonely

Silver wings slowly fading out of sight

“Don’t leave me,” I cried

Don’t take that airplane ride

But you locked me out of your mind

Left me standing here behind

3) Felice and Boudleaux Bryant wrote many famous songs that were big hits for the likes of the Everly Brothers, Carl Smith, Jimmie Dickens and countless others. While “Bye Bye Love” surely is their best-remembered song, I suspect that “Rocky Top” may be their second most famous song. The bluegrass duo of Sonny & Bobby Osborne got the song up to #33 on Billboard’s country chart in 1968 and Lynn Anderson got it to #17 in 1975 but that is it as far as chart success is concerned. The song ’s fame has spread far and wide beyond its limited chart placements it is an official Tennessee State Song, it is the University of Tennessee’s unofficial fight song, and has been recorded hundreds of times. The progressive bluegrass duo of Doug Dillard & Gene Clark (with Donna Washburn on vocals) issued the song in 1969, and that remains my favorite version of the song. Artists as diverse as Phish, Buck Owens, and Conway Twitty have recorded the song. Everybody knows the song and everybody sings along whenever the song is played

 Rocky Top you’ll always be

Home Sweet Home to me

Good ol’ Rocky Top

Rocky Top Tennessee

Rocky Top Tennessee

4) Bob Luman’s 1969 recording of “Come On Home And Sing The Blues To Daddy” probably was a regional hit in the southern states, reaching #24 on Billboard’s country charts (it reached #13 on Record World). Written by Ray Corbin, Luman’s record was featured in heavy rotation as a oldie when I returned to the US in August 1971; during its chart run WHOO DJ Clay Daniels told me that it often was the most requested song on the station and I know from personal experience that nearly every county cover band in Central Florida kept it in their playlist for a good decade after the song’s chart run.

Charley Pride, Wynn Stewart, Waylon Jennings and Bobby Bare recorded the song as an album track (so did many others) and I have heard Waylon and Bare perform it on stage.

 I hear say your new romance has faded

Just the way ours did some time ago

I’ve lost count of all the times I’ve waited

For you to tell me that you’ve missed me so

Come on home and sing the blues to daddy

If things don’t work out the way you planned

Come on home and sing the blues to daddy

Tell it all to one who understands

Just like a child that’s found a brand new plaything

Each one is more fun than those before

But there’s a faithful one that’s always waiting

To be picked up and kicked around some more

5) Nobody much remembers Pat Daisy, and RCA artist who got lost in the shuffle at RCA, but her recording of “Everybody’s Reaching Out for Someone” reached #20 on the Billboard country chart in 1972 (it reached #13 on Record World). Written by legendary songwriter Dickey Lee, the song reached #1 on the WHOO and WSUN Countdowns and I suspect that the tale for both Luman’s song and Daisy’s song is that either a station played the song and played it a lot, or simply never added the song at all (or perhaps added a different recording of the song). Whatever the case, the song was recorded by numerous artists including Lynn Anderson, Brenda Lee, Dickey Lee and Kitty Wells

Everybody’s reaching out for someone

Everybody’s knocking at some door

And long before I ever found you

You’re the one that I was reaching for

 

Just like the trees along the river bend

Lift up the branches to the sun above

We spent our lifetimes reaching for a friend

Cause everybody reach someone to love

 

And everybody’s reaching out …

Interestingly enough the song was revived in 1993 when the Cox Family recorded the song as the title cut for their first album on Rounder. The album was produced by Alison Krauss, and through their efforts, the song made its way into the bluegrass repertoire, where it is occasionally heard to this day.

6) Until “Harper Valley PTA” was released on August 24, 1968, Tom T Hall’s biggest copyright was a song that you may have never heard. By 1968 Tom had written a number a number of hits for other artists, including Johnny Wright’s #1 country hit “Hello Vietnam”, and had written a couple of minor hits for himself. “Hello Vietnam” received no pop airplay and sales of county singles in that era could be 50,000 copies.

On September 25, 1965, The Statler Brothers released a Tom T. Hall song as the B side of their debut single for Columbia. The single, “Flowers On The Wall” went #2 country, #4 pop and #1 in Canada, selling nearly a million copies in the process. The album Flowers On The Wall also sold well and for each 45 or album sold, Tom T Hall picked up a songwriting royalty. The song “Billy Christian” did not receive much airplay (I heard it a few times on WCMS) but I’m sure it helped keep the wolves away from Tom T’s door

It’s a pretty good song and is (or has been) available in a digital format

 If you’re listenin’ Billy Christian come on home

Are you listening Billy Christian if you are then go on home

Everything is like you left it she spends all the time alone

All that music never thrills her like it did when you were there

 

Go on home Billy Christian if you care

What a team they were together Billy Christian and his wife

People loved to hear them singin’ that was their success in life

But the eyes of Billy Christian were the wild and wandering kind

 

Now Billy’s wife sings solo all the time

Are you listening Billy Christian…

All the fellows tried to date me but she never blinked an eye

Every night she sings her same sad song and cries

 

Now where is Billy Christian does he ever hear the song

Does Billy Christian know he’s welcome home

Are you listening Billy Christian…

Go on home Billy Christian if you care

Classic Rewind: Conway Twitty – ‘Grand Ole Blues/I May Never Get To Heaven’

Classic Rewind: Conway Twitty – ‘She’s Got A Single Thing In Mind’

Album Review: Daryle Singletary – ‘That’s Why I Sing This Way’

By the end of the 90s, Daryle’s hits had dried up at radio as the industry moved away from his pure country sound, and Giant decided to drop him from the label. He moved to independent label Koch Records, and released Now And Again, an album which mixed his Giant hits with a handful of new songs (including two of his own co-writes, the title track and ‘I’ve Thought Of Everything’, a very good mournful ballad which is worth downloading).

2002 saw Daryle pay tribute to his roots with a set of mainly classic country covers. Not everyone likes this kind of project, but if nothing else it proves definitively that Daryle was a great country singer who would have been an enormous star had he been born a few decades earlier.

Two singles were released, both peaking in the 40s. The title track was the album’s sole new song, and was written by the great Max D Barnes. Set to a cheerful mid-tempo, the tongue-in-cheek song recalls a childhood devotion to country music:

My mama used to tell me
“Son, you better get your work done
Your Daddy’s coming home at five
And if you ain’t all through with the chores you gotta do
Boy, I’m gonna tan you alive”

I was glued to the radio, listening to my hero
Singing them sad old songs
Singing them sadder than a one car funeral
Nobody sings like Jones

I’d take that old kitchen broom up to my room
And I’d play it like an old guitar
Or sit out on the porch tryin’ to sing like George
Dreaming of becoming a star

Well, things I never did when I was just a kid
Made me what I am today
You see, Mama used to whoop me with a George Jones album
That’s why I sing this way

‘I’d Love To Lay You Down’, Daryle’s last ever charting single, is a sensual love song to a wife, which is a cover of a Conway Twitty hit.

George Jones, namechecked in the title track, also receives tribute in the form of a cover of, not one of his heartbreak classics, but his trustingly romantic ‘Walk Through This World With Me’, a hit in 1967. The arrangement is gorgeous, with piano, steel and fiddle prominent, and Jones himself sings harmony.

Merle Haggard makes a guest appearance on his ‘Make Up And Faded Blue Jeans’, in the form of a couple of lines near the end. Johnny Paycheck provides a similar cameo on one of the highlights, an intense version of ‘Old Violin’; the fiddle on this is suitably beautiful.

John Wesley Ryles is one of the most ubiquitous of backing singers in Nashville, but he started out as an artist in his own right, with the song ‘Kay’, a top 10 hit in 1968, when he was only 17 years old. Daryle’s version of this fine song about the man left behind to a life driving a cab, when his sweetheart makes it big in country music is excellent, and Ryles adds harmonies.

Rhonda Vincent joins Daryle on a superb version of one of my favorite classic country duets, ‘After The Fire Is Gone’. The final guest, Dwight Yoakam, plays the part of Don Rich on the Buck Owens classic ‘Love’s Gonna Live Here Again’. Daryle also covers Buck’s Hank-Cochran-penned hit ‘A-11’ in authentic style. I think Darrin Vincent may be among the backing vocalists here.

A measured version of ‘Long Black Veil’, a mournful ‘I Never Go Around Mirrors’ and ‘Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (and Loud, Loud Music)’ are all also highlights.

Grade: A

This album set the tone for the remainder of Daryle’s career, focussing on great traditional style country music. We have reviewed all his subsequent albums.

Album Review: Daryle Singletary – ‘Ain’t It The Truth’

 

Released in February 1998, Ain’t It The Truth was Daryle’s third, and most successful album release, reaching #18 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, his only album to crack the top forty. This seems strange in that Daryle’s days of producing hit singles were over. There were three singles released from this album, only one of which cracked the top thirty country singles.

Despite the lack of singles success, this is a really fine country album with a cast of stalwart country musicians plying their trade on the album, headed by the following:

Larry Byrom – acoustic guitar, electric guitar

Joe Chemay – bass guitar

Larry Franklin – fiddle

Paul Franklin – dobro, steel guitar

Sonny Garrish – steel guitar

Steve Gibson – acoustic guitar, electric guitar, mandolin

John Hobbs – keyboards, synthesizer

Dann Huff – bass guitar, electric guitar

The album opens up with “The Note” a fine song that had been recorded by the likes of Conway Twitty, Tammy Wynette and Doug Supernaw before Daryle got around to releasing the song as a singleDaryle’s version reached #28 on the Country chart but also reached #90 on Billboard’s Hot 100.

The note was short, but lord so strong
It simply said I can’t go on
And live a lie with someone I don’t love
She couldn’t tell me face to face

Oh, but how my world was changed
By the hand that held the pen
That wrote the words that broke the heart
Of the one the only one that really loves her

My tears fell down like falling rain
But they can’t wash away the pain
How will I go to sleep without her in my arms
She never meant to break my heart

Oh,but how my world was torn apart
By the, hand that held the (f) pen
That wrote the words that broke the heart
Of the one the only one that really loves her

This is followed up by “Love or the Lack Of” by Mary Ann Kennedy and Rich Wayland, a mid-tempo ballad of what life really is about.

Jeff Crossan’s “That’s Where You’re Wrong” is a nice ballad, sung well by Daryle, and serves this album well by keeping the tempos on the album mixed. I don’t think the song had real potential as a single but it was released as the second single on the album, just cracking the top fifty.

 You said, what you had to say, would come as a surprise

You were right, honey, you were right

You told me, nothing I could do was gonna change your mind

I knew then, you’d be right again

But, when you said we were through, I knew that wasn’t true

 

[Chorus]

That’s where you’re wrong, that’s where you’re wrong

Deep down inside love lingers on, it won’t let go, it’s still too strong

That’s where you’re wrong

Daryle was never timid about tackling classic country ballads, and in Jerry Reed’s “A Thing Called Love” he has picked a good one. The song was originally released as a single by Jimmy Dean back in 1968 (still my favorite version of the song), taken to #1 (Record World) in 1972 by Johnny Cash, and covered by countless artists as an album track. Daryle gives this mid-tempo ballad a straight-ahead country treatment that does credit to the song.

Dwayne Blackwell’s rather tongue-in-cheek “I’d Live For You” would have made an excellent single:

 I won’t climb the highest mountain I won’t swim the deep blue sea

I won’t brave a raging river I’m no hero on TV

Well there are other ways to prove my love if you’re not too choosy

I’d swim the deep blue swimming pool climb the highest barroom stool

Brave the raging waters of a hot tub or Jacuzzi

 

Honey I’d live for you that’d be a lot more fun

Work and give to you vacations in the sun

No I wouldn’t die for love like the poets say they’d do

I love you so much honey I’d live for you

“A Miracle In The Making” finds Daryle as a duet partner with Kerry Singletary (now Kerry Harvick), his then- wife. Kerry’s not a bad singer, her voice somewhat reminiscent of Dolly Parton and I think this recording would have made a decent single

So I’m told it happens every day

Common as a wedding in the month of May

It’s something my heart won’t soon forget

There was nothing ordinary in that moment we met

 

We may not have seen the sea parted

We may not have tasted water turned to wine

And it may not appear all that earth shaking

Oh but I believe we could be a miracle in the making

Delbert McClinton’s “My Baby’s Lovin’ “ was the third and final single released from the album, reaching #44. Mc Clinton is a fine song-writer wih a bit of a bluesy touch to his ballads. This song is taken at a medium fast tempo and I’m surprised that it did not chart better.

The album closes with two songs on which Daryle has co-writing credit. “The Real Deal” is a good up-tempo song about the state of the narrator’s love (‘it’s the real deal’), whereas the title track is a ballad that pays homage to past country classics. I love the song, it definitely tells it like it is for Singletary and it would have made a great single. The track received some airplay here in Central Florida.

Born in this country red white and blue

From church pews to bar stools it’s always been true

From up in the mountains way back in the pines

From Crazy to Sweet Dreams to Yesterday’s Wine

 

All of my heroes from Lefty to Jones

Some are still with us and some have gone home

Oh precious are the memories of the music they made

Forever living not held by the grave

 

Forever and Always Chiseled in Stone

Like honky tonk prophets their words linger on

If you don’t believe me if you need some proof

Ask any old jukebox hey ain’t it the truth

 

Honest and simple never ashamed

Lord help us Jesus never to change

One day I’ll see Lefty when my work is through

He’ll say son you were country oh ain’t it the truth

 

Forever and Always Chiseled in Stone…

Ask any old jukebox hey ain’t it the truth      

 

I really like this album, and I play it with some regularity – I actually had been listening to the album the week before Daryl’s death. I’d call it a solid “A”

Johnny Cash: A Look Back

We lost Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter Cash within months of each other back in 2003, so 2018 marks a very sad 15th-anniversary farewell to the “Man In Black”.

The release last year of UNEARTHED, a nine album 180 gram vinyl box set (originally released on CD two months after his death) of unreleased tracks recorded by Rick Rubin, (it features some interesting pairings such as Fiona Apple providing guest vocals on Cat Stevens’ “Father & Son,” and the late Joe Strummer’s duets with Cash on Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”) provides us with a excuse to take another look back at his career.

While modern country radio has no use for the likes of Johnny Cash, preferring more commercial fodder, other sections of the music industry have kept his music alive, whether on Willie’s Roadhouse (Sirius XM Radio) or through the musical press. Cover bands continue to play his music and while younger so-called country singers play music that bears little connection to country music, his music remains a staple of Roots-Rock, Texas Red-Dirt and Bluegrass performers

Make no mistake about it: Johnny Cash was a huge commercial success, despite his own apparent lack of concern about how commercial his music was at any given moment–Cash’s inquisitive artistry meant that he flitted from realm to realm, sometimes touching down in areas with limited commercial appeal.

Cash had 24 songs reach #1 on the Billboard, Cashbox or Record World country charts (often all three), but unlike more chart-oriented artists including Webb Pierce, Buck Owens, Sonny James, Alabama, Conway Twitty or George Strait, Cash never ran off a long string of consecutive #1s, with his longest streak being four during 1968 when “Roseanna’s Going Wild,” “Daddy Sang Bass,” “A Boy Named Sue,” and his iconic “Folsom Prison Blues” all reached the top of one of the charts.

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Occasional Hope’s top 10 albums of 2017

While the mainstream sinks further away from country music, I have found some great music this year. It is marked, however, that much of the best music harks back to the past in one way or another. Another difference from radio trends is that half of the top 7 are female artists. Here are my favourite full length albums of 2017:

10. John Baumann, Proving Grounds

An overlooked gem I never got round to reviewing in the summer, this release from a young Texas singer songwriter of the troubadour type was full of high quality songs. Definitely an artist to watch.

Highlights: ‘Old Stone Church’, ‘Lonely In Bars’, ‘Here I Come’, ‘The Trouble With Drinkin’’, ‘Meg’

9. Chris Stapleton, From A Room, vols 1-2

While his music is not traditional country, it is a lot better than most mainstream efforts these days. Chris Stapleton has a great voice and is a superb songwriter, and wife Morgane’s harmonies add the final touch. I am counting these two almost-full length albums as one for the purpose of this list.

Highlights: ‘Up To No Good Livin’’, ‘Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning’, ‘Either Way’, ‘Drunkard’s Prayer’, ‘Scarecrow In The Garden

8. Conway Twitty – Timeless

The recently re-released recordings are a delightful reminder of what country music used to be. Arrangements laden with steel, great songs and Conway’s emotive vocals all contribute to a wonderful album, with only a couple of less stellar moments.

Highlights: ‘Lost Her Love) On Our Last Date’, ’15 Years Ago’, ‘Next In Line’


7. Gene Watson – My Gospel Roots

This only came out on 8 December, just in time to make my year-end list. It is an excellent religious album from one of the best living country vocalists, with an interesting selection of material. The full review will be posted on Friday.

Highlights: ‘Fit For A King’, ‘Help Me’, ‘Old Roman Soldier

6. Charley Pride – Music In My Heart

The legend’s 2017 album is his best music in years. He is in fine voice and the songs are great.

Highlights: ‘Standing In My Way’, ‘I Learned A Lot’, ‘The Way It Was In ‘51’, ‘It Wasn’t That Funny

5. Jason Eady – Jason Eady

A thoughtful, often compelling collection of songs from one of my favorite singer-songwriters.

Highlights: ‘Barabbas’, ‘Where I’ve Been’, ‘No Genie In This Bottle’, ‘Black Jesus’, ‘Why I Left Atlanta’, 40 Years


4. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy

The Texan singer-songwriter released another great record this year, mixing attitude and heartbreak in eqal measures.
Highlights: ‘Bottle By My Bed’, ‘I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight’, ‘Trophy’, ‘Pass The Pain’

3. Alison Krauss – Windy City

Alison Krauss’s beautiful voice on a country leaning collection of standards, beautifully prodiced and exquisitely sung. Flawless.

Highlights: ‘You Don’t Know Me’, ‘River In The Rain’, ‘Losing You’, ‘Gentle On My Mind’, ‘All Alone Am I’, ‘Please Don’t Tell me How The Story Ends’


2. Rhonda Vincent and Daryle Singletary – American Grandstand

A delightful pairing of one of bluegrass’s best female vocalists with country traditionalist Daryle Singletary. Rhonda’s voice blends even better with Daryle than it did with Gene Watson https://mykindofcountry.wordpress.com/2011/06/02/album-review-gene-watson-and-rhonda-vincent-your-money-and-my-good-looks/ a few years ago. Magnificent.

Highlights: ‘We Must Have Been Out Of Our Minds’, ‘One’, ‘A Picture Of Me Without You’, ‘After The Fire Is Gone’, ‘American Grandstand


1. Erin Enderlin – Whiskeytown Crier

The singer-songwriter’s latest album is a superb collection of story songs. My only reservation is that several of the songs have appeared upon her previous releases, but this is a truly excellent album.

Highlights: ‘Broken’, ‘Caroline’, ‘His Memory Walks On Water’, ‘The Coldest In Town’, ‘Ain’t It Just Like A Cowboy

Classic Rewind: Conway Twitty – ‘Goodbye Time’

Classic Rewind: Conway Twitty – ‘That’s My Job’

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Timeless’

I guess there really is a Santa Claus because I just received the “new” Conway Twitty album from Country Rewind Records, Timeless, just in time for Christmas.

These aren’t really new recordings. During the 1960s and 1970s it was not uncommon for the various branches of the US Military to put together fifteen or thirty minute radio shows for use on country radio stations. Mostly these shows aired on smaller radio stations, usually in air slots where it was difficult for them to sell advertising. Some of these shows, such as COUNTRY MUSIC TIME (a recruiting tool for the US Air Force) and COUNTRY COOKING WITH LEE ARNOLD (a recruiting program for the Army Reserves) featured some chatter with the weeks’ musical guests followed by some records by the musical guest. Others, such as NAVY HOEDOWN, featured some minimal chatter with the featured artist followed by live performances with the program’s band, or occasionally with the artist’s own band. These recordings were not made available for public purchase

Timeless comes from recordings made for an unspecified military recruiter program. The recordings were made at Scotty Moore’s Music City Recorders on May 24, 1972. The songs feature Conway’s tight road band of Joe E. Lewis on bass, Tommy Markham on drums, and the legendary John Hughey on steel guitar. Conway played rhythm guitar on the recordings and the band was augmented by Hargus “Pig” Robins on piano. At this time Conway normally did not have piano on his live performances.

The songs featured here are songs from the first half dozen years of Conway’s career with MCA. In other words, this is a real county album with none of the MOR trappings that contaminated Conway’s later recordings. The revelation here is that most of these songs were originally recorded with studio musicians and occasional Owen Bradley strings and chorus production. Here we get the real stage sounds of Conway Twitty.

Originally recorded after a brief rehearsal, in a single take, these recordings were typically played once or twice in a given geographical area and then returned or discarded. Many years later pristine recordings were found and forwarded to Thomas Gramuglia at Country Rewind Records. Gramuglia contacted Conway Twitty United, a company dedicated to preserving Conway’s legacy, comprised of Conway’s four children. Gramuglia presented his idea to find a producer to update and modernize the sound for release to Joni Twitty.

After the family listened to the tapes, they felt that releasing them would not dishonor Conway’s memory at all, but Joni suggested that they do the new production in-house. Joni was a talented artist herself, and her husband John Wesley Ryles had several hits on his own and has appeared as a harmony singer on literally thousands of tracks.

The end result is an album they could have been released during the mid-1990s. Co-producers Joni Twitty Ryles and John Wesley Ryles have produced a great album. For the most part the post-production is limited to John Wesley Ryles providing some background vocals, Ron Oates adding a bit of keyboards, and some additional acoustic guitar, most notably on “15 Years Ago”. To me the most important difference between the studio recordings of the songs on this album, and these recordings is the gigantic presence of steel wizard John Hughey.

The song list is as follows:

(Lost Her Love) On Our Last Date – a #1 single with lyrics grafted onto a Floyd Cramer’s instrumental
Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (and Loud, Loud Music) – album track from 1968’s Here’s Conway Twitty
Hello Darlin’ – Conway’s biggest country hit
How Much More Can She Stand – a #1 single from 1971
Working Girl – an album track from the 1967 album Conway Twitty Country
I Can’t See Me Without You – a #1 single (according to Record World) from early 1972
I Love You More Today – a #1 single from 1969
Crazy Arms – nice cover of the Ray Price classic
15 Years Ago – the follow up to Hello Darlin’ – it hit #1
Honky-Tonk Man – cover of the Johnny Horton classic
The Image of Me – Conway’s first top ten country single
If You Were Mine To Lose – an album track from the 1966 album Look Into My Teardrops
Proud Mary – cover of protégé Anthony Armstrong Jones’ hit from 1969
Next In Line – Conway’s first country number one from 1968

A-

Classic Rewind: Conway Twitty – ‘Tight Fittin’ Jeans’

Classic Rewind: Conway Twitty – ‘Don’t Call Him A Cowboy’

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Final Touches’

Conway had enjoyed his last top 10 single in 1990 as younger artists came to the fore. One of the most successful producers of the early 90s, Don Cook, took over production duties for what was perhaps hoped to be a comeback but was instead to prove Conway’s final studio album, released two months after his sudden death in June 1993.

His final charting single, ‘I’m The Only Thing I’ll Hold Against You’, peaked at a disappointing #62. That was a shame, as it is a great ballad co-written by Joe Diffie, who also recorded it some years later. The keyboards have dated a bit, but the vocal remains excellent (although I prefer Diffie’s own cut). ‘Don’t It Make You Lonely’, written by Jackson Leap, is a midpaced song about missing an ex, quite nice but not memorable enough to be an effective single, especially in the circumstances. It is not entirely surprising that it failed to chart at all.

Perhaps the best track on the album is ‘An Old Memory Like Me’, written by producer Cook with John Barlow Jarvis). The downbeat ballad, filled with precisely remembered details, has Conway appealing wistfully to his ex-wife that maybe it isn’t over, and that her taste for old possessions might yet stretch to him:

There’s an old satin gown
Been twice handed down
You were saving for your wedding day
But you married in haste
What a terrible waste
And it never got used anyway


Is there room in your heart
For an old memory like me?

Also excellent, ‘I Hurt For You’ is a lovely, empathetic ballad (written by Deborah Allen and Rafe VanHoy, and previously recorded by Allen), in which Conway offers his unrequited love a shoulder to cry on. Conway does the song full justice with a tender, emotional vocal:

I can’t blame you for feeling cheated
Being so in love and so unneeded
But the reason you keep trying
Is a feeling that I know

Oh, I hurt for you
Every time he breaks your heart
Baby I hurt for you
And it’s tearing me apart
To care the way I do
Maybe I’m a fool
I watch you long for him
And I hurt for you

So love won’t work out the way you planned it
Darlin’, all too well I understand it
But I’ll be right here to console you
If that’s the only chance I’ll have to hold you
But you’re so lonely being stranded
With a dream you can’t let go…

If you could want the one who loves you
Oh, maybe you would want me now

‘The Likes Of Me’ is a more forgettable, up-tempo song on the same theme of hopefully replacing an unworthy ex with “more than a shoulder”. ‘Two Timin’ Two Stepper’, a tartly observed toe tapper written by hitmaker Kostas and Bobby Byrd about a wannabe cheater trawling the honky tonks, is pretty good. ‘I Don’t Love You’ is a dour breakup song of self-denial. The melodic title track is quite a nice love song with Southern color, while ‘You Are To Me’ (a Don Schlitz/Billy Livsey song) is quite pretty.

The closing ‘You Ought To Try It Sometime’ is Conway’s attempt at getting in on the line dance fever which was hot at the time. It is not entirely successful, but Conway delivers it with energy and a honky tonk piano saves the track.

This is a pretty solid record and not too hard to find as it was released on CD.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewnd: Conway Twitty – ‘Who Did They Think He Was?’

Classic Rewind: Conway Twitty – ‘I Don’t Know A Thing About Love (The Moon Song)’

Classic Rewind: Conway Twitty – ‘We Did But Now You Don’t’

Album Review: Conway Twitty – ‘Crazy In Love’

One of the reasons for Conway Twitty’s longevity as an artist was his knack for adapting to new musical trends. In the 1980s, as country music entered the Urban Cowboy era and adopted a slicker, more pop-oriented sound, Conway did likewise, and maintained his position at the top of the charts. His new sound was particularly evident on the Warner/Elektra recordings. Interestingly, though, he did not follow country music’s trend back toward a more traditional sound in the latter half of the decade. For whatever reason, it seemed to work. His albums from this era only sold modestly but he continued to have radio hits, although somewhat less consistently, and remained relevant to the genre.

Crazy In Love was Conway’s first full-length album of the 1990s. He produced it with his wife Dee Henry and MCA label chief Jimmy Bowen. Like his other recent efforts, there is nary a fiddle nor a steel guitar to be found, although the album itself encompasses a variety of styles from pop and R&B to more traditional country fare. The title track and lead single was perhaps his most pop-leaning single ever. It had originally been included on a Joe Cocker album in 1984 and Kim Carnes took it to #13 on the AC charts in 1988. Kenny Rogers had a competing version from his 1990 Love Is Strange album, which reached #9 on the AC charts. Conway’s version reached #2 on the country charts, a position where many of his singles had landed since he’d rejoined MCA in 1987. Written by Randy McCormick and Even Stevens, there is nothing even remotely country about this song, but it is very good nonetheless. The upbeat “I Couldn’t See You Leavin'”, written by Rory Michael Bourke and Ronny Scaife reached #3, making it the last bonafide hit single of Conway’s career. None of his subsequent efforts would chart in the Top 20. There was one last single released from Crazy In Love, though — the traditional-leaning “One Bridge I Didn’t Burn”, which peaked at a disappointing #57, despite being the best song on the album. It is, however, a track that is crying out for the fiddle-and-steel treatment. The album cut “What’s Another Goodbye”, written by Kent Robbins is another very good track that would have benefited from more traditional instrumentation.

I wasn’t as enamored by Conway’s cover of the 1978 Dr. Hook hit “When You’re In Love With a Beautiful Woman” (another Even Stevens composition) or the slightly overblown power ballad “Just the Thought of Losing You”, written by Michael Bolton and Jonathan Cain. Both are well executed but with so many good country songs available in Nashville at the time (unlike today), one wonders why these two were chosen. The upbeat closing track “Hearts Breakin’ All Over Town” is not bad but is only truly noteworthy because of its co-writer Pam Tillis who was about to enjoy her own commercial breakthrough.

Conway Twitty’s long career saw him embracing a number of different musical styles and as such it is inevitable that everything he did will be to everyone’s taste. While I wouldn’t rate Crazy In Love as highly as his early 70s albums, it is a solid effort for its era. I don’t think I’ve ever truly hated anything Conway Twitty did — aside from his unfortunate treatment of “Danny Boy” during his rock-and-roll days. Crazy In Love is not essential listening, but it is a worthwhile late career effort from a true legend, who truly was the best friend a song ever had.

Grade: B+