My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Elvis Presley

Spotlight Artist: Glen Campbell

glen campbellAs he slowly fades away due to Alzheimer’s, I think it appropriate that we take a look at the long and illustrious career of Glen Campbell.

Assessing Glen’s career is very difficult because he was so very talented. As a singer and musician he probably was as talented as anyone who ever graced the American musical stage. Over the course of his career Glen placed eighty songs on Billboard’s Country, Hot Hundred and Adult Contemporary charts with many of the songs appearing on multiple charts. Many of his singles charted in England, Australia and Ireland, with scattered hits in non-English speaking countries.

Glen could sing anything and sing it well, be it rock and roll, country, pop standards, rhythm and blues or folk. Jimmy Webb heard an early Glen Campbell single on the radio and decided that he wanted Glen Campbell to sing his songs.

As a musician you can hardly name a stringed instrument that Glen Campbell couldn’t play. He was a wizard on the twelve string guitar, six string guitar (electric and acoustic), bass, banjo, fiddle, If you can name it, Glen Campbell probably could play it.

Although Glen was not especially known as a songwriter, he did pen a few songs. He might have written more songs, but with the top songwriters of the day pitching their best material to him, there wasn’t a compelling need for him to do so.

Glen Travis Campbell was born in 1936 in the town of Billstown, Arkansas; however, he was usually billed as being from the nearby town of Delight, Arkansas. He started playing guitar as a teen and moved to Albuquerque in 1954 to play in his uncle’s band and later to form his own band. In 1960 he moved to Los Angeles to become a session musician, playing on recordings by artists as diverse as Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Jan & Dean and Ricky Nelson. He also became part of a group known as the Champs and obtained a recording contract with Crest Records.

In 1962 Glen signed with Capitol Records. Capitol had great faith in the Glen allowing to record five non-charting albums and a bunch of relatively unsuccessful singles before finally achieving his first solo top twenty country single with “Burning Bridges” in 1966. Along the way he became a touring member of the Beach Boys, filling in for Brian Wilson on road dates.

Capitol Records teamed Glen with producer Al DeLory in 1966. The first collaboration, “Burning Bridges” got the ball rolling for Glen. From that point forward over a decade’s worth of hit singles and best-selling albums would follow, along with a television show, movie roles and many concert appearances . Although Glen’s recording career would cool off during the 1980s, he would continue to place singles and albums on the charts through the end of the decade and into the early years of the 1990s. A brief renaissance would occur after 2005.

Our spotlight series will start with Glen’s first platinum album Gentle On My Mind, but the five albums that preceded it are worth investigating as they will show Glen in a variety of setting of musical settings from bluegrass to traditional country to folk to rock to pop country. I would particularly recommend checking out The Astounding Twelve String Guitar of Glen Campbell and The Big Bad Rock Guitar of Glen Campbell to get a dose of Glen’s awesome instrumental prowess.

We are proud to present Glen Campbell as our November Spotlight artist.

Classic Review: Stonewall Jackson – ‘Stars Of The Grand Ole Opry’ (1981)

stars of the grand ole opryDuring the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s major labels trimmed their rosters, shedding veteran artists who were no longer cranking out the hits or generating decent album sales. Sometimes these veteran artists would find another major label deal but mostly these artists wound up on minor / independent labels. Even those artists who managed to find a major label deal found their stay at the new label to be a short one that lead to landing on a minor label (for example, Jimmy Dickens: Columbia > Decca > Gusto / Charlie Walker: Columbia > RCA > Plantation).

While on the minor / independent labels, most of the veteran artists recorded very little new material, usually producing an album or two of dreary remakes of their older hits with perhaps some covers of other big hits from artists (it is astounding how many artists issued albums listing songs such as “San Antonio Rose”, “There Goes My Everything” and “There Stands The Glass” among their greatest hits).
Most of these albums featured low budget production, thin sound, and were recorded with minimal numbers of disinterested musicians accompanying a bored vocalist singing songs sung literally thousands of times before.

First Generation Records was owned by Pete Drake (1932-1988), one of the great steel guitar players, and a musician who was not about to settle for the bored and tired performances described above. Producing the records himself, and often playing steel guitar on the recording sessions, Pete gathered a group of excellent musicians to play on his recording sessions. Rather than merely re-recording an artist’s older hits, Pete’s Stars of the Grand Ole Opry series generally featured five songs new to the artist (and often simply new songs) followed by five of the artist’s older hits but with a difference, that difference being energized singers and musicians. Among the artists featured on the series were Ferlin Husky, Jan Howard, Vic Willis, Stonewall Jackson, Billy Walker, Ernest Tubb, George Hamilton IV, Ray Pillow, Jean Shepard, The Wilburn Brothers and Charlie Louvin. While all were decent to very good albums, the album with Stonewall Jackson is the standout among the series.

Prior to this album, Stonewall Jackson has not spent much time in the recording studios since his last new Columbia album was issued in 1971. There had been an album in 1976 for GRT (I think the tracks were leased from MGM, intended for a never released 1973 album) reprising his Columbia hits in the manner of most remake albums, plus a deplorable new song from Foster & Rice titled “Herman Schwartz”. There was a pair of 1979 albums for Little Darling with little to recommend them. One of the Little Darlin’ albums was remakes and the other was largely undistinguished new material, although two of the songs had clever song titles, “The Pint of No Return” and “The Alcohol of Fame”.

For Stonewall Jackson’s First Generation sessions, in addition to playing steel himself, Pete gathered up an all-star lineup of Nashville session men including Jimmy Capps, Billy Sanford, Pete Wade and Bill Hullett (guitar), Jimmy Crawford and John Hughey (steel), Hargus “Pig” Robbins and Bobby Emmons (piano), Tommy Williams (fiddle), Bob Moore and Randy Best (bass).

The album opens up with the Billy Joe Shaver composition “I’m Just An Old Chunk of Coal”, a very recent hit for John Anderson (I think it is possible that Jackson’s version pre-dates Anderson’s recording, but I’m not certain); Billy Joe’s album also hit the streets in 1981. Whatever the timing, I feel that the Stonewall Jackson recording is the best recording I’ve ever heard of the song, far better than Billy Joe’s version and slightly better than John Anderson’s version. Stonewall sings the song with great enthusiasm as the lyric fits the ‘hardscrabble-pull up your own bootstraps’ upbringing of Stonewall’s youth:

Hey, I’m just an old chunk of coal
But I’m gonna be a diamond some day
I’m gonna grow and glow till I’m so blue, pure, perfect
I’m gonna put a smile on everybody’s face
I’m gonna kneel and pray every day
At last I should become vain along the way
I’m just an old chunk of coal now, Lord
But I’m gonna be a diamond some day

R.J. Jones and M. Kosser wrote “Full Moon, Empty Pockets”, a song that several artists subsequently recorded. The song tells a tale of woe that many of us have encountered – time on our hands but no money.

Full moon empty pockets
Stone broke on a Saturday night
Full moon empty pockets
Won’t a lady treat a cowboy right

Next up is “There Are No Shortcuts (To Get Me Over You)”, a good heartbreak ballad that of the kind that Stonewall Jackson always tackled well. This is followed by a song from Ben Peters and Curly Putman, “Breaking Up Breakdown”, a song that I could see as a successful single had it been issued in 1966 rather than 1981. The song is an up-tempo barroom ballad in which the narrator asks for the band to keep playing that song about breaking up.

The last of the newer songs is ”Let The Sun Shine On The People” by Frank Dycus and Larry Kingston. Frank Dycus, of course, wrote some of George Strait’s hits and Larry Kingston provided a number of songs to Johnny Bush and other singers.

At this point the nostalgia trip begins, but with an enthusiastic Stonewall Jackson leading the way on excellent new versions of some of his classic hits, starting off with his biggest hit (#1 Country / #4 Pop) “Waterloo”. For those familiar only with the ABBA hit of the same name, this song is a bit of a romp through history referencing Adam, Napoleon and Tom Dooley:

Now old Adam, was the first in history
With an apple, he was tempted and deceived
Just for spite, the devil made him take a bite
And that’s where old Adam met his Waterloo

Waterloo, Waterloo
Where will you meet your Waterloo
Every puppy has his day and everybody has his day
Everybody has to meet his Waterloo

Waterloo was such a big hit that Homer & Jethro took the time to spoof it:

The Lone Ranger and Tonto rode the trail
Catching Outlaws and putting them in jail
But the Ranger shot Tonto for it seems
He found out what ‘kemosabe’ means

Perhaps Stonewall’s most enduring song, “Don’t Be Angry,” is up next. Written by Stonewall’s brother Wade Jackson, not only was it a big hit for Jackson, but Donna Fargo took the song to the top during the 1970s and the song has been covered by many artists and remains in the active repertoires of county bar bands across the USA.

Don’t be angry at me darling if I fail to understand
All your little whims and wishes all the time
Just remember that I’m dumb I guess like any foolish man
And my head stays sorta foggy cause you’re mine

Well, I recall the first time that I flirted with you dear
When I jokingly said come and be my bride
Now that time has turned the pages it’s the sweetest joke on earth
That I have you near forever by my side

Joe Babcock authored the next Stonewall Jackson classic “I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water”, which also was a major hit for pop crooner Pat Boone and has also been a favorite of the R&B crowd and many of the rock & roll crowd as well, including Elvis Presley and Johny Rivers

I was born in Macon Georgia
They kept my daddy over in Macon jail
He told me if you keep your hands clean
You won’t hear them bloodhounds on your trail

Well I fell in with bad companions
Robbed a man, oh up in Tennessee
They caught me way up in Nashville
They locked me up and threw away the key

I washed my hands in muddy water
Washed my hands, but they didn’t come clean
Tried to do what my daddy told me
But I must have washed my hands in a muddy stream

Next up is Bill Johnson’s “A Wound Time Can’t Erase”, a sad and tender ballad that was a big hit for Stonewall and later for Gene Watson.

The fifth and final Stonewall Jackson classic is the Melvin Endsley / Stonewall Jackson composition “Why I’m Walkin’”, a song Ricky Skaggs covered during the 1980s. Melvin Endsley was a disabled person who wrote several classic country songs including “Singling the Blues” and “Knee Deep In The Blues”. Some readers may remember an alternate title “Got My Angel On My Mind”, but however you label this ballad, it’s a good one.

I’ve got an angel on my mind, that’s why I’m walkin’
There’s such an aching in this old heart, now I ain’t talkin’
The little hand that held mine tight, just waved goodbye tonite
I’ve got her sweet love on my mind, that’s why I’m walkin’

This album is still readily available on CD, as are most of the other albums in the series. Unfortunately, Pete Drake began experiencing health problems in 1985 and passed away in 1988. I would like to have seen Pete issue new albums on the next generation of veteran artists released by the major labels. It would have been much better music than much of what was actually released by other minor/ independent labels over the next decade. Anyway, almost unique among this class of minor label albums by veteran artists, this album rates a solid A, the first album for Stonewall in many years that I would rate that highly.

Album Review: Waylon Jennings – ‘Honky Tonk Heroes’

honky tonk heroesWaylon’s 1973 album Honky Tonk Heroes was his tribute to the songs of hellraising singer-songwriter Billy Joe Shaver, who was new to Nashville and wrote every song but one. The songs proved ideally suited to Waylon’s increasingly rebellious persona.

The one non-Shaver tune, ‘We Had It All’, perhaps included as a more commercial option for a single, was only a modest hit, sneaking into the top 30. A fairly heavily strung emotional ballad penned by Troy Seals and Donnie Fritts, it is well sung by Waylon, but the arrangement makes it feel out of place on this particular album.

The mid-tempo ‘You Ask Me To’, a Jennings/Shaver co-write, was more successful, peaking at #8. It is a charming declaration of unconditional love, which was also picked up by Elvis Presley.

The rollicking harmonica-led title track pays cheerful tribute to those

“Lovable losers, no account boozers
And honky tonk heroes like me”

The more subdued and regretful steel-laced ballad ‘Old Five And Dimers (Like Me)’ is perhaps the best song on the album. It also served as the title track for Shaver’s own debut album the same year, which included the writer’s take on a number of the songs chosen here.

‘Willy The Wandering Gypsy And Me’ paints the portrait of a pair of wild-living ramblers, following the mantra,

“Movin’ is the closest thing to bein’ free”.

The same theme is visited in ‘Low Down Freedom’, with the narrator ready to run out on his latest girl, despite realising his quest for “freedom” has actually cost him “everything I’ll ever lose”.

Shaver wrote ‘Omaha’ with Hillman Hall (brother of the more famous Tom T.). The roamer in this song has started to feel homesick for Nebraska after a spell in California, part of it in jail, and is going back home. Another jailbird, the protagonist of ‘Ain’t No God In Mexico’ finds himself in trouble south of the border.

‘Ride Me Down Easy’ is yet another song about the hardships of a good hearted rambling man’s life:

It’s been a good month of Sundays and a guitar to go
Had a tall drink of yesterday’s wine
Left a lot of good friends some sheeps in the wind
And satisfied women behind.

Ride me down easy Lord, ride me on down
Leave word in the dust where I lay
Say I’m easy, come easy go
And easy to love when I stay

’Black Rose’ is a dramatic story song about temptation and sin:

When the Devil made that woman
Lord, he threw the pattern away
She were built for speed
With the tools You need
To make a new fool every day.

Way down deep and dirty
On the darker side of shame
I caught a cane cuttin’ man and a bottle of gin
With a rose of a different name.

The Devil made me do it the first time
The second time I done it on my own
Lord, put a handle on a simple headed man
Help me leave that black rose alone.

This classic album is the real dawn of Waylon the “Outlaw”. It is also a genuinely great record which deserves to be heard.

Grade: A+

Revelations from Music Vendor/ Record World

Hit_Country_RecordsAs the ‘last man standing’ Billboard‘s country charts have taken on an almost mythical importance, yet for most of the 1940s and 1950s, Billboard did a relatively poor job in recording the history of country singles in that their various country charts only went 10-15 places deep.

Music Vendor (later Record World) started tracking country music in 1954 and immediately started tracking 55 chart places for country records, a depth of country charts Billboard wouldn’t approach until 1964 when Billboard went to 50 places. For purposes of simplicity, I will always refer to Music Vendor/ Record World as ‘Record World‘.

Joel Whitburn’s new volume Hit Country Records 1954-1982: Music Vendor/Record World performs a valuable service in restoring to the known discography of country music a staggering 1700 songs and 200 artists that Billboard failed to chronicle.

I always thought that the Wilburn Brothers had a relatively thin representation on the Billboard charts with 31 chart entries from 1954-1972, with many songs that I knew to have been at least mid-level hits not being tracked by Billboard. Turns out that the Wilburn Brothers were the poorest served of all country artists by Billboard with a staggering 30 songs not tracked by Billboard. Other artists with huge holes in their Billboard chart discographies include Hank Snow (26 songs), Eddy Arnold (23 songs), Kitty Wells (21 songs), Hank Thompson (21 songs), Johnnie & Jack (20 songs) and Ernest Tubb, Marty Robbins, Ferlin Husky and George Jones (each with 19 songs).

Among Bluegrass artists, Flatt & Scruggs pick up an extra 15 chart entries, Mac Wiseman (13), Jimmy Martin (6), Bill Monroe (4), and the Osborne Brothers (4).

There were also apparently differences in how artists were classified. Country audiences always loved Brenda Lee, Elvis Presley, George Hamilton IV and Conway Twitty, a fact Billboard somehow failed to acknowledge. After missing “Jambalaya”, Billboard tracked “One Step At A Time”, and then missed the next eleven consecutive Brenda Lee songs including such monsters as “Dynamite”, “Sweet Nothings”, “Fool #1” and “Break It To Me Gently”.

The track record on Elvis was worse as Billboard failed to track “That’s All Right” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky” and “Blue Suede Shoes”, along with 15 more songs.

Record World tracked six George Hamilton IV singles before Billboard got around to recognizing “Before This Day Ends” as a country single. Ditto for Conway Twitty who Billboard picked up as country with “Guess My Eyes Were Bigger Than My Heart”, after ten singles had already been tracked by Record World.

While most of the songs that Music Vendor/Record World picked up were second tier hits, there were some surprising Billboard misses uncovered such as the George Jones favorites “Tall Tall Trees”, “Eskimo Pie” and “Nothing Can Stop Me (Loving You)”. A very famous song from 1955 was Bobby Lord’s 1955 hit “Hawkeye”; Billboard missed the song entirely on any of its charts, whereas Record World had it charting for twelve weeks, reaching #16.

I mentioned that approximately 200 artists show up in this book that Billboard never tracked on its country charts. These include Carl Dobkins Jr (three songs including “My Heart Is An Open Book” which Record World has as a #2 country hit, and Billboard had reach #3 pop), Pete Drake (three instrumental singles), and Buddy Holly (four singles including “Peggy Sue” and “Maybe Baby”).

I’ve only had this fascinating book for two days and I will probably report further as time permits, but it would be remiss of me not to further examine the song that initially got me interested in charts. Yes – I do mean “Groovy Grubworm” by Harlow Wilcox and The Oakies. Cashbox had the record reach #1 on its country chart (#24 pop) for two weeks whereas Billboard had the record stall out at #42 on the country chart while reaching #30 on the pop charts. This was the biggest chart disparity ever between singles that reached #1 on either the Billboard or Cashbox country chart but not the other chart.

The record was hugely successful, selling a million copies between the US and Canadian markets (it was a top ten hit on several Canadian regional pop charts), so I was curious to see how Record World treated “Groovy Grubworm” on its country charts, recalling that Record World had the song chart higher on its pop chart (#23) than did either Cashbox or Billboard.

Drum roll please :

Record World had the song reach #3 for one week on its country chart during its thirteen week chart run.

Album Review: Dwight Yoakam – ‘Second Hand Heart’

61TTBEi0Q3LI was singularly unimpressed with Dwight Yoakam’s last album 3 Pears, which I reviewed when it was released in September 2012. The B- rating I gave it seems generous in retrospect. The project was so lackluster that I greeted the release of Yoakam’s new album with some trepidation and didn’t even bother to listen to it until well after a week after I downloaded it.

I’m pleased to report that my fears were totally unfounded, as Second Hand Heart, Dwight’s second album since returning to the Warner Bros. Nashville roster, is infinitely superior to its predecessor. While not as traditional as his 80s and early 90s work, it is more in line with the type of music he was making in the early 2000s, a la Tomorrow’s Sounds Today. Produced by Dwight with Chris Lord-Alge, it is best described as Buck Owens and Johnny Cash meet the Beatles and Phil Spector. The trademark Bakersfield sound is still there — particularly on tracks like “Off Your Mind” and “The Big Time”, but others are more reminiscent of 1960s rock with their emphasis on electric guitars, Wall of Sound-like production, and a little more reverb than I would have liked.

Despite his reputation as a New Traditionalist, Dwight has always pushed the boundaries of country music, so it’s no surprise that there are a variety of musical influences heard on this album. The guitar work on “Dreams of Clay”, a remake of a cut on his 2000 album Tomorrow’s Sounds Today is slightly reminiscent of Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds” (which Yoakam covered in the early 90s), and as one of the few songs on the album without excess reverb, it’s one of my favorites, along with “Off Your Mind” and the title track. The Beatles influence is most apparent on “She” and “Liar”.

There are only two songs on the album that Dwight did not write — a cover of the traditional “Man of Constant Sorrow” and the beautiful closing track “V’s of Birds”. The former is done as a rockabilly number and doesn’t quite work; I prefer a more traditional “high lonesome” interpretation. The latter, with its piano intro is a pure pop number without the rock influences that pervade the rest of the album. It is very well done and might have been a hit for Dwight earlier in his career. Predictably, the title track and lead single has so far been ignored by radio; however, the album itself is doing quite well, selling 21,000 in its first week and debuting at #2 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. It’s Yoakam’s highest charting album since 1988’s Buenos Noches From A Lonely Room and deservedly so. While I would have preferred something a little closer to that 1980s classic, Second Hand Heart is a welcome return to form for one of country music’s most talented and enduring artists.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Country Music of Your Life

country-music_good-brightTime-Warner has long been a trusted name for providing excellently re-mastered music in various genres of music. Country music fans may remember the Country USA series that covered each year for the period 1950-1972 with 24 songs, including some interesting songs that weren’t necessarily the biggest hits (usually because they weren’t on major labels).

The R&B market was covered by a similar series and the Easy Listening market hit the jackpot with the Your Hit Parade series that exhaustive covered the years 1940-1960 by year plus a bunch of CDs that grouped music together by theme or topic and extended the series into the 1960s, I don’t know whether or not I have the entire Your Hit Parade series but I do have forty-one CDs of the series covering about 1000 recordings.

Subsequent Time-Life series have featured the same digital mastering and useful notes but have been less exhaustive in scope. The Contemporary Country series would cover a three or four year period with a single disc of 22 songs, so the lesser known and minor label songs largely were gone. The latest Time-Life series is a collaboration with Music of Your Life, a radio format largely devoted to the easy listening/adult contemporary music market. Time-Life has collaborated before with Music of Your Life in assembling CDs of the music usually associated with the format. The actual label for this set is Star Vista/Time Warner.

Titled Country Music of Your Life, this latest set is a group of five two-CD sets in standard CD jewel boxes that hold two CDs. The booklet in the jewel box gives only the songwriting and publisher credits and billboard chart information . Additional information is contained in the 36 page book enclosed in the box. The titles of the CD sets are Talking In Your Sleep, Satin Sheets, I Believe In You, For The Good Times and Sweet Country Ballads. All but the last set are named after a song featured on one of the discs of the set.

By and large the first four sets are just random assortments of songs. All of the songs are big hits performed by the artists that enjoyed the hit, and the songs cover a wide range of dates. The first set has Hank Williams’ posthumous 1953 hit “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and Kenny Rogers’ 1980 hit “Lady” with sixteen of the tracks from the 1970s. The second set follows a similar pattern with Lefty Frizzell replacing Hank Williams as the token early 1950s representative.

The fifth set would please any fan of traditional country music (aside for the two Elvis Presley tracks, one a cover of “Green Green Grass of Home”). This set includes such gems as “Crazy Arms”, “Once A Day”, “Ring of Fire”, “Walk Through This World With Me” and “Please Help Me I’m Falling”. In theory the set consists of four two-CD sets with the fifth set as a “free bonus” (the television advertising was misleading). Accordingly, the enclosed book, although truly excellent, only covers the first four sets. The book is concise and well-written, giving interesting tidbits of information about the song and/or the performance, there are eight full page photographs of some of the stars (I think they reversed the image of the Glen Campbell photograph, which I recognized as the cover photo from Glen’s Wichita Lineman album) . Here’s an example of the book’s tidbits, this one about Sammi Smith’s “Help Me Make It Through The Night”:

“Whatever criticism that had been leveled against Nashville’s conservative approach to how records sounded, there’s no question that the songs themselves were getting edgier. Sammi Smith moved to Music City in 1967 and befriended songwriter Kris Kristofferson. County fans bought into the sexual frankness of ‘Help Me Make It Through The Night’; the single went gold,earning Grammys for both Smith and Kristofferson. Smith’s record also boosted Kristofferson’s reputation as one of the best songwriters of his generation.”

Here’s another, this one on Waylon Jennings’ “Amanda”:

“Bob McDill called ‘Amanda’ an apology to his wife, Nan, and it almost became the hit that got away for Waylon Jennings. McDill sent the demo to Waylon’s office, where it got lost. Jennings, who first heard the song when Don Williams’s version came out in 1973, recorded ‘Amanda’ for his 1974 album The Ramblin’ Man. RCA added overdubs nearly five years later; the “new and improved” ‘Amanda’ gave Waylon his seventh No. 1 hit as a solo artist.”

The booklet in the jewel box for the fifth or “bonus” set is flawed in that it only gives information for the first disc in the set.

If you are new to country music and suspect that there is more to the genre than Rascal Flatts, Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and (ugh) Florida Georgia Line, this set is a good starting point. With the notable exceptions of Ernest Tubb, Carl Smith and Webb Pierce, most of the most significant artists of the period 1952-1988 are represented here, even if there is a bit more Elvis Presley and Olivia Newton-John than I feel is justified. The sound quality is terrific – you won’t hear better recordings of these songs.
Apparently there is a deluxe edition available for purchase which features 270 songs on eighteen discs. In either version the discs average 15 songs per CD (30 songs per set) and cost about $15 per disc or $30 per two disc set. Payment installments are available.

I would give the following grades:

Sound Quality:    A+
Book & Booklets:  A-
Song Selection:  B-
Value:   B-

The song lists as well as ordering information can be found at the Time-Life website.

Album Review: Dean Dillon – ‘I’ve Learned To Live’

i've learned to liveMost fans will know Dean Dillon as a fine songwriter, who cranks out hits for other artists. Unfortunately, this album will do nothing to dispel that notion. By the time this album came along in 1989, Dillon had already largely figured out his fate in life (although he still harbored some delusions of grandeur as a singer) and mostly had quit trying to save his best material for himself. I’ve Learned To Live consists largely of material he had not been able to pitch elsewhere. That is not to say that there aren’t some good songs here, just that the material with real hit potential had already been channeled to George Strait, Vern Gosdin and other top-shelf artists. That said, I really enjoyed this album, which I regard as his best solo effort.

The album opens up with “Just In Time” an up-tempo song co-written with Frank Dycus. There is some nice mandolin playing on the track by Randy Scruggs.

“Changes Comin’ On” is a slow ballad that probably is the best song on the album. Co-written with Jimmy Darrell and Buddy Cannon. Alabama and Gene Watson recorded this song on albums.

Well, I’m still hooked on Haggard
But the Beatles can’t come back like we hoped they would
In Memphis, Tennessee, King is gone
As I put my kids to bed, oh, I wonder what lies ahead for them to see
‘Cause I can feel the change comin’ on

I can feel changes comin’ on
People still are singin’ different songs
They’re searchin’ for the place where they belong
I can feel changes comin’ on

“Who Do You Think You Are”, co-written with Frank Dycus, is a nice ballad that would have made a good single for someone.

“Don’t You Even Think About Leaving” features the great Tanya Tucker duetting with Dean. The song is quick, sassy and well suited for a duet. Johnny Gimble plays fiddle as only he can.

“I’ve Learned To Live”, co-written with Frank Dycus, is a nice ballad that Shelby Lynne also recorded. Dean does a nice job with the song

Like a child lost in the wilderness I knew not where to go
Surrounded by the emptiness of a love that left me cold
I stumbled through the darkness of nights that have no stars
And days that have no sunshine to warm my naked heart

Like a bird in flight brought down by stones from an unknown assailant’s sling
A stranger took you from my arms and I lost everything
In days to come I nearly ran out of ways to stay alive
But through it all I never lost the will to survive

But I’m not over you and I doubt that I’ll ever be
So I’ve learned to live and you won’t be the death of me oh no
Yes I’ve learned to live and I’m doing well but I’m not over you

“It’s Love That Makes You Sexy” was one of two singles issued from the album. It’s not a bad song (actually the Dean Dillon / Frank Dycus pairing didn’t write any bad songs) but Dean just wasn’t a marketable singer. Despite Sonny Garrish’s nice steel guitar work, this one died at #61 in 1989.

The next single “Back In The Swing of Things” fared even worse, dying at #89 (it reached #70 on the Canadian Country charts). Dean’s version of the song really does swing – with Johnny Gimble on fiddle and Sonny Garrish on steel, how can it not swing? Co-writer Vern Gosdin also recorded the song on an album. The song really should have been a hit – I would rate it as the second best song on the album.

Hank Cochran collaborated with Dean on “Summer Was A Bummer”. It’s a nice song but nothing special.

“Her Thinkin’ I’m Doin’ Her Wrong” sounds like a country song from the 1965-1975 period with the steel guitar serving as the lead instrument with Johnny Gimble lending a few flourishes with his fiddle. Glenn Martin co-wrote this song and also wrote a bunch of hits for people like Charley Pride and Merle Haggard, either of whom would have had a hit on this song during their heydays.

Her thinkin’ I’m a doin’ her wrong
Ain’t a doin’ me right

The album closes with “Holdin’ Pattern, a nice ballad that Dean sings well.

Dean’s prior album Slick Nickel reeked of 1980s production values. In contrast, this album has more authentically country production with but slight traces of the sound that characterized the early 1980s. He has an ace fiddle player in Johnny Gimble, a superb steel player in Sonny Garrish, a multi-instrumental wizard in Randy Scruggs, and a solid second fiddler in Paul Anastasio. Unfortunately, if this album couldn’t produce any hits for Dean, it would seem unlikely that he could ever break through as an artist. I’d give this album a B+.

Favorite Country Songs Of The 80s: Part 7

It seems to me that I never did finish off this series, the last installment being posted on February 11, 2014 (and the installment before that appeared April 9,2013). Here are some more songs from the 1980s that I liked. This is an expanded and revised version of the February 11, 2014 article which was a rush job :

Shame On The Moon” – Bob Seger
Bob’s 1982 recording of a Rodney Crowell song charted on the country charts in early 1983, reaching #15 in the process. The song was a bigger hit on the pop charts, reaching #2 for four weeks.

Finally” – T. G. Sheppard
He worked for Elvis, sang background for Travis Wammack, and eventually emerged with a solo career worth noting, racking up 42 chart singles from 1974-1991. This 1982 single was one of fourteen #1 record racked up by Sheppard, eleven of them reaching #1 during the 1980s.

Doesn’t Anybody Get High On Love Anymore” – The Shoppe
The Shoppe was a Dallas based band that hung around for years after their 1968 formation. In the early 1980s they had eight chart records, but this was the only one to crack the top forty, reaching #33. They had a record deal with MTM Records in 1985, but that label vanished, taking the Shoppe with them.

Crying My Heart Out Over You” – Ricky Skaggs
Ricky Skaggs was one of the dominant artists of the first half of the 1980s with his bluegrass/country hybrid. Starting with 1981’s “You May See Me Walking” and ending with 1986’s “Love’s Gonna Get You Some Day“, Skaggs ran off sixteen consecutive top ten singles with ten of them reaching number one, This 1982 classic was the first chart topper. Eventually Ricky returned to straight bluegrass, but I like the hybrid recordings better. In my original article I spotlighted “Honey (Open That Door)“, a straight forward country Mel Tillis song recorded by Webb Pierce.

Don’t Stay If You Don’t Love Me” – Patsy Sledd
Stardom never really happened for Patsy, who was a good singer marooned early in her career on a bad label. She was part of the George Jones-Tammy Wynette show in the early 1970s. This song reached #79 in 1987.

“Nice To Be With You” – Slewfoot
This band replaced Alabama as the feature band at the Bowery Club in Myrtle Beach. This was their only chart single, a cover of Gallery’s #4 pop hit from 1972 that reached #85 in 1986.

King Lear” – Cal Smith
The last chart hit for the former Texas Troubadour. This song reached #75 in 1986.

“A Far Cry From You” – Connie Smith
After a six year recording hiatus, the greatest female country recording artist of all time returned with this one-shot single on the Epic label. It’s a great song but received no promotional push at all from the label landing at #71 in 1985. Unfortunately, this single has never appeared on an album.

“The Shuffle Song” – Margo Smith
Exactly as described – a shuffle song that reached #13 for Margo in early 1980. Margo had a brief run of top ten hits in the middle and late 1970s but the string was about over. In my prior article I featured “He Gives Me Diamonds, You Give Me Chills” but The Shuffle song is actually my favorite 80s hit from Margo. She lives in The Villages in Florida and still performs occasionally.

Cheatin’s A Two Way Street” – Sammi Smith
Her last top twenty song from 1981. Sammi only had three top ten hits but made many fine records. This was one of them.

Hasn’t It Been good Together” – Hank Snow and Kelly Foxton
The last chart record for the ‘Singing Ranger’. The record only got to #78 for the 65 year old Snow in 1980 but I couldn’t let pass the opportunity to acknowledge the great career of the most successful Canadian country artist. By any legitimate means of chart tracking, his 1950 hit “I’m Moving On” is still the number one country hit of all time. Hank had perfect diction and was a great guitar player.

Tear-Stained Letter” – Jo-El Sonnier
A late bloomer, this was the forty-two year old Jo-El’s second of two top ten records and my favorite. It reached #8 in 1988. There were brief periods in the past when Cajun music could break through for a hit or two. Eddy Raven was the most successful Cajun artist but most of his material was straight-ahead country.

Sometimes You Just Can’t Win” – J.D. Souther and Linda Ronstadt
George Jones charted this record twice, but it’s such a good song it was worth covering. This version went to #27 in 1982. J.D had a big pop hit in 1980 with “You’re Only Lonely” which reached #7.

Honey I Dare You” – Southern Pacific
Southern Pacific was a bunch of guys who previously played with other bands such as Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Doobie Brothers and Pablo Cruise, making some real good country music in the process. This was one of their four top ten hits of the 1980s. “A Girl Like Emmylou” from 1986 only reached #17 but the song tells you where this band’s heart was located.

Lonely But Only For You” – Sissy Spacek
Loretta Lynn wanted to Spacek to portray her in the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter, and it turns out that Sissy can really can sing. This song reached #15 in 1983.

Standing Tall” – Billie Jo Spears
Billie Jo Spears, from Beaumont, Texas, was incredibly popular in England and Ireland, where “Blanket On The Ground” and “What I’ve Got In Mind” were top five pop hits in the mid 1970s and she had many more lesser successes. Many of her later albums were not released in the US but she had a substantial US career with thirty-four charted records, including two #1 hits. “Standing Tall” reached #15 in 1980.

Chain Gang” – Bobby Lee Springfield
More successful as a songwriter than as a performer, Springfield had two chart sings in 1987 with “Hank Drank” (#75) and “Chain Gang” (#66) which was NOT the Sam Cooke hit. Bobby Lee was both too country and too rockabilly for what was charting at the time. I really liked All Fired Up, the one album Epic released on him.

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Album Review: Raul Malo – ‘Lucky One’

51unuMG0UHLLike much of Raul Malo’s solo efforts — as well as his later work with The Mavericks — 2009’s Lucky One is not a country album, but that’s not to say that there isn’t much to recommend it. In fact, I would much rather listen to it over pretty much anything that gets airplay on today’s country radio. If pressed to categorize the album under a neat label, I would probably say that it is the type of music that used to be marketed to adults before pop music became overly bland and dependent on electronic sounds and studio technology, the sort of music that could regularly be heard on Top 40 radio 30 or 40 years ago, but is largely without a commercial outlet today.

Malo co-produced the album with Steve Berlin and had a hand in writing all of its 12 tracks. The album produced two non-charting singles. The first was the somewhat bland title track, which opens the set. I was a bit apprehensive upon hearing it the first time, thinking that it was the first of a dozen tedious songs to get through, but things took pleasant change of direction beginning with the second track, “Moonlight Kiss”, which was the album’s second single. Malo’s voice is often compared to Roy Orbison, but his performance on this track is reminiscent of Elvis Presley. The background vocals are a little kitschy but overall the song is very catchy and enjoyable.

Malo channels Dean Martin on the easy-going and relaxing “You Always Win”. But on the majority of tracks he is back to his trademark Orbison-esque sound. The standout track is the ballad “Crying For You”, on which he delivers a stunning vocal performance. The rockabilly-flavored “Lonely Hearts” is about the closest Malo comes to country music on this album.

I can only take adult contemporary music in limited doses; the lack of country instrumentation usually results in a sound that is too bland for my liking. Malo avoids falling into that trap with Lucky One. The songs are all well sung and the album is tastefully produced, and the restrained use of horns compensates for the lack of fiddle and steel. Malo’s tenor, however is the glue that holds the album together. He and Berlin wisely let his voice shine, never letting the production overwhelm it.

Lucky One is one of the best non-country albums I have ever listened to. It’s extremely rare that a non-country album gets a thumbs up from me, but this one does. It may not be to everyone’s taste but it certainly deserves a listen.

Grade: A

Album Review: Raul Malo – ‘After Hours’

51tOoPsggiLThere is always risk in releasing an album of “covers”. First, the possibility always exists that the material is too familiar to attract much attention. Second, there is the risk of being unfavorably compared to the earlier versions of the material being covered.

After Hours mostly avoids the first risk by focusing on material from before 1973, ensuring that most of the audience will not be terribly familiar with the material. The second risk is more problematic as there are some definite misfires in the tempos at which some of the songs are performed.

The album opens with “Welcome To My World”, a ballad generally associated with either “Gentleman” Jim Reeves or Dean Martin, two of the premier balladeers of the twentieth century. Jim Reeves had a smooth, velvety voice capable of conveying warmth like few others (Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Ray Price) ever could. Dean Martin was the King of Cool with great warmth but a more casual feel to his vocals than Reeves could achieve. If you have not heard either Reeves or Martin perform this song, then you will really like Malo’s performance. Raul does not have the warmth of his predecessors, but does an admirable job with the song and the accompaniment is excellent.

“(Now and Then) There’s A Fool Such As I” is a slight misstep, taken at a tempo that is too fast and bouncy for the sad lyrics. This song was a big hit for Hank Snow in 1952 and was covered by some guy named Elvis Presley (himself a big Hank Snow fan) a few years later. A honky-tonk style piano takes a break in the song but the basic arrangement is big band swing.

Malo gets back on track with the Kris Kristofferson classic “For The Good Times”, a song which revitalized Ray Price’s career in the early 1970s. Again, I prefer Ray’s version, but Raul’s take is very nice.
Steel Guitar is heard on this song toward the very end of the song

The two newest songs on the album come from the pen of Dwight Yoakam. The first of these is “Pocket of A Clown”, a song that just missed the top twenty for Dwight in 1994 (it reached #4 on the Canadian country chart). Raul’s arrangement is a little slower than the original and has a 40s/50s feel to the horn arrangements.

“Crying Time” was written by Buck Owens, who regarded the song as album filler. A few years later Ray Charles resurrected the song causing Buck to add it to his set list (usually as part of a medley). It’s a great song, and Malo does it justice, although he can’t deliver it with the same soul that Ray did (no one else could either).

A serious misstep follows with the Hank Williams classic “Cold Cold Heart”. It certainly is possible to treat the song as a pop song (Tony Bennett sold millions of copies with his cover) but here the tempo is much too fast and much too happy for such a morose set of lyrics

“You Can Depend On Me” is the oldest song on the album written sometime before 1931 by Charles Carpenter, Louis Dunlap and jazz piano great Earl “Fatha” Hines. The song was recorded by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and Nat King Cole. In 1961 Brenda Lee took it to #6 on the pop charts. Malo handles this song quite effectively. The basic arrangement would be that of cocktail lounge jazz.

Oh if you ever, if you ever need a friend
I’ll be right by your side until the end
And you can depend on me
You can depend on me

My favorite song on the album is “Husbands and Wives”, which was written by Roger Miller and went top five country, #2 adult contemporary and top thirty pop for Roger in 1966. Subsequently, the duo of David Frizzell and Shelly West had a top twenty county hit with it in 1981, and Brooks & Dunn took it to #1 country and #36 pop in 1998. This song features steel guitar as part of the instrumentation, the only truly country sounding song of the album. For me, it as a toss-up whether Neil Diamond’s album track from his 1971 album Stones or Raul’s version on this album is my favorite version of this song.

The angry words, spoken in haste
Such a waste of two lives
It’s my belief, pride is the chief cause and the decline
In the number of husbands and wives

Speaking of Roger Miller, one of the last songs Roger wrote was a co-write with Dwight Yoakam on “It Only Hurts Me When I Cry” a #7 country hit for Yoakam in 1991. Again, Malo uses an arrangement very similar to Dwight’s original and performs the song well. There are horns on this track and they serve to create a swinging effect, even though the tempo is no faster than the Yoakam original.

The album closes with a very nice rendition of the Hy Heath-Fred Rose composition “Take These Chains From My Heart”, best known as a posthumous #1 hit for Hank Williams in 1953, and in 1963, a #8 pop hit Ray Charles (Ray’s version also reached #5 in the UK). The accompaniment on this final track starts out with just a single guitar then expands with the subsequent verses, but remains at all times uncluttered, with tasteful saxophone and piano solos between the vocals.

After Hours is an enjoyable album which I would rate as good, but not great, as it is marred by the tempo errors noted above. Malo is in good voice throughout and he is accompanied by what could be essentially described as a jazz quintet of himself on guitar, Robert Chevrier on piano, Jay Weaver on bass, Tom Lewis on drums and Jim Hoke on sax, clarinet and steel guitar. The album was recorded live, with only Hoke being overdubbed occasionally (it’s tough to play three instruments simultaneously). Malo and producer Evan York, keep the focus on the melodies and lyrics, never obscuring either.

Grade: B+

Album Review: The Mavericks – ‘ Trampoline’

61AdyrEL0RL._SS280The Mavericks’ fifth studio album, Trampoline was their most successful album globally, not reaching only #9 on the US country chart, but unlike any of their other albums, before or after, also having significant success  in other countries. The album reached #3 on the Canadian country charts, #43 on the Canadian pop charts, #10 on the British and New Zealand pop charts and charting on the album charts of Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands.

This was fueled by the success of “Dance The Night Away”, which while not a big hit on the US or Canadian country charts, reached #4 on the British pop chart, #25 in the Netherlands. Another British single from the album, “I’ve Got This Feeling” also cracked the top thirty.

As time went on, The Mavericks’ albums focused less on the band as a whole, and more on lead singer Raul Malo. I suppose this was inevitable, given the unique vocal talents of Malo, and this album completed that progression. Less country than its predecessors, Trampoline seamlessly blends together all of Malo’s musical influences. Of the albums thirteen songs, Malo either wrote or co-wrote twelve, the only exception being “I Hope You Want Me Too” from the pens of “Big” Kenny Alphin and Jaime Hanna.

Some of the songs feature a lot of musicians. In addition to the band members, twenty-one other musicians plus the Nashville String Machine play on the album. This includes a full complement of horns and reeds., as well as banjo and steel guitar.

The album opens up with the Latin-flavored “Dance The Night Away”, which while not an across the board hit on the US country charts (#63 US country  / #72 Canada country) received huge radio airplay in Florida (and I suspect other markets with large Latino populations).  The song is about what the singer is doing since his girl left him.

“Tell Me Why” , co-written with Al Anderson, has a strong 70s soul/ R&B ballad flavor to it  This is followed by the Latin-tinged “I Should Know” which despite the horns and steel guitars sounds like something from one of the British invasion bands of the 1960s

Every night alone
Every night I spent without you
Every little thing about you
Runs right through my mind
I wonder where you are
And do you ever think about me
And if you get the feeling that
There’s something missing too
But I should know
You’ll never come back to me
Even though I will always love you
I should know

“Someone Should Tell Her”, also co-written with Al Anderson, didn’t chart on the US and I am not sure that it was released as a single here. It was a single in the United Kingdom, reaching #45 and is probably my favorite song on the album.

Someone should tell her
How much I love her
Before she goes and
Runs away with him
If you should see her
Tell her I need her
Maybe then
She’ll come back to me
Ever since I broke her heart
She won’t talk to me
All I need is a one last chance
To make up and say I’m sorry

“To Be With You” is a nice country love ballad, devoid of Latin flavoring that would likely have been a hit had it been issued during the period from 1965- 1985. The Nashville String Machine is prominently featured on this track.

The next track is a bluesy curve ball, the languid “Fool #1” , which sounds like something you might hear on a modern (but not too modern) jazz album or perhaps in some cocktail lounge somewhere, except Malo is a better singer than anyone you would likely hear in such a setting. The Nashville String Machine is tastefully employed in service of this song.

“I Don’t Even Know Her Name” also sounds like British Invasion pop, which may explain why it was issued as a single in the UK , reaching #27. On this song, Malo dials down his vocals a bit to sound more like a typical British invasion vocalist.

All in all this is a very interesting album flitting from genre to genre and reflecting a wide array of influences. I’ve pretty much covered the highlights of the album, but the entire album is worth hearing.  “Melbourne Mambo” probably comes closest to the sound of Malo’s Cuban heritage. Really , the only misstep is “Dolores”, which has a 1890s sound (piano and clarinet are the dominant instruments) with Malo singing into a megaphone – shades of “Winchester Cathedral” by The New Vaudeville Band of the 1960s, or earlier still, Rudy Vallee in the late 1920s/early 1930s. The track is not terrible but it is a waste of Malo’s unique voice.

The two closing tracks “Save A Prayer” which has that tent-revival sound and feel to it, and “Dream River” which has the feel of a Pat Boone or Elvis Presley ballad from the 1950s.

I really like this album and would give it an A+ but as what ?

A country album ??

A pop album ??

An easy listening/adult contemporary album ??

Classifications can be so meaningless. Just sit back and enjoy the album !

A look back at 1989: Part 1 – George Jones

one woman manThe year 1989 saw the debuts and/or emergence of a fine crop of new artists that would continue the neo-traditionalist movement that flickered in the early 1980s with the arrival of Ricky Skaggs and started building up steam in 1986 when Randy Travis and Dwight Yoakam arrived. Garth Brooks, Clint Black, Alan Jackson and Travis Tritt were the biggest names to emerge in 1989, but there were others as well.

This is not to say that the old guard didn’t produce some excellent records that year, even if they were having difficulty getting playing time. I will look at three of the old guard whose records particularly appealed to me in 1989 starting with the acknowledged master of the genre, the one and only “King George” – Jones, that is.


The decade of the 1980s was a good one for George Jones as he finally got himself clean and remained in good voice; however, Father Time waits for no one and as the 1990s approached George’s chart success was beginning to wane.

By 1989 when ONE WOMAN MAN was issued, George was 58 years old and beginning to struggle for airplay as he was crowded out by the vaunted “Class of 89”.

George Jones albums during the 1980s tended to follow the formula of three or four singles (some of which were covers of old country classics) plus some other songs – often some more covers of old country classics – and some top grade new material. Even though the hot young songwriters weren’t necessarily pitching their good stuff at him, he was still finding enough good material to make some great albums.

My favorite George Jones album of the 1980s was ONE WOMAN MAN. More so than any of his earlier albums in the decade, this album relied on older material.

“One Woman Man”, the first single off the album would prove to be George’s last top twenty single as a solo artist, peaking at #5, this after a run of five consecutive singles that had missed the top twenty. The song, written by Johnny Horton and Tillman Franks had reached #7 for Horton in 1956. I liked Horton’s version but there is a decided difference between a pretty good singer like Horton and a great singer like George Jones.

Track 2 on the album was a Louvin Brothers classic, “My Baby’s Gone. You really can’t beat the Louvins at their own material (although this song was written by Hazel Houser), but George does quite well with the song. The Louvins had that brotherly harmony going for them but the vocal harmony singers here are put to good use and the steel and fiddle are used effectively. My one criticism of the song is that it is taken at a slightly too fast tempo.

Track 3 is the old Hank Cochran classic “Don’t You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me”, recorded previously by, among others, Ray Price, Ronnie Milsap, Jack Greene. The Greene version remains my favorite version, but Jones never did wrong by a good song.

Track 4 is “Burning Bridges” another old-timer, but this one originally by rock/pop star Jack Scott. Jack Scott’s version was excellent, as was that of Ray Price, but George takes a back seat to no one in being able to wring the pathos and emotion out of a song.

Track 5 is a novelty song, originally titled “Yabba-Dabba-Do” but changed to “The King Is Gone (and So Are You)” in order to avoid threatened copyright litigation (which the songwriter & publisher would likely have won, but at great expense). In the song, a man whose girl has left him, laments the fact by pulling the head of Elvis off a Jim Beam decanter, pouring it into a Flintstones jelly bean jar and drinking up, imagining conversations with Elvis Presley and Fred Flintstone in the process. He eventually comes to the realization that his girl was never coming back. The song wasn’t a big hit but in the hands of almost anyone else, it would have been a total flop – it seems that only George Jones and Hank Thompson could get away with recording novelties (some of them really ludicrous) and scoring hits with them. This was the second single off the album and it reached #31 on the charts. The track features some nice dobro or slide guitar.

George gets back to serious songs on Track 6 with “Radio Lover”. Thematically this song is very similar to Porter Wagoner’s “Cold Hard Facts of Life”, except that the protagonist is a radio disk jockey rather than a truck driver and the song has a less ominous set up than Porter’s classic. Our hero pre-tapes his show so he can spend his first wedding anniversary with his wife, walks in on her with her lover in bed with her and he dispatches with both of them – meanwhile his radio show is playing on her radio. This was the fourth single and it topped out at #62. Here in Central Florida the song seemed to get the radio airplay one would expect of a top ten single.

I know I heard someone else perform Track 7, “A Place In The Country” before George Jones wrap his vocal cords around it. This song is about a man who worked in the city for thirty years but whose dream was to retire to the country.

Track 8 was a Patsy Cline song, “Just Out of Reach”. It was not released as a single but was taken as the title track for Patsy’s third Decca album and became well known in the years following her death. While I prefer Patsy’s version, George has nothing for which to apologize here.

The album closes with some original material in “Writing On The Wall” (track 9) and “Pretty Little Lady from Beaumont, Texas” (track 10). In the hands of most other performers, these songs would be filler, but in the hands of George Jones they are decent songs . They also point out why George was turning to so much older material – he simply wasn’t being pitched the best new material.

“Writing On The Wall” was the third single taken from the album and it reached #31. The year before the song had reached #96 for Kenny Carr.

For his next album, 1990’s YOU OUGHTA HERE WITH ME, George reversed course and obtained a batch of new songs. None of them would become hits (and the two singles released from the album would not chart at all) but one of the songs, “Ol’ Red” would reach #14 for Blake Shelton in 2002.

YOU OUGHTA BE WITH ME marked the end of the line for George Jones with Epic. From here Jones would go to MCA for a few albums and then to MCA and various other labels, eventually settling into elder statesman status. George’s solo albums from here would be spottier affairs, but there would be a number of special projects involving guest artists that would keep his face in front of the public.

Still, his penultimate album for Epic was a fine effort well worth digging out to play, and I do, periodically. It would be in my top ten albums for 1989.

Fellow Travelers – Carl Perkins

‘One For The Money – Two For The Show – Three To Get Ready – And Go Cat Go’
carl perkins

If Elvis was the King, Carl Perkins was the commoner who became a widely respected elder statesman of rock and roll music. Much more of a country boy than Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins perhaps saw his shot at superstardom ruined by a car accident that killed Carl’s brother Jay and put Carl out of commission just as his hit “Blue Suede Shoes” ascended to the top of the country charts (it would reach #2 on the pop charts).

Who Was He ?

Carl Perkins (1932-1998) was talented songwriter, singer and musician who perhaps owed more to the country side of rockabilly than to the R&B influences of most early rock and rollers. Carl had only five songs chart on the pop charts with “Blue Suede Shoes” easily the biggest hit spending four weeks at #2. His other pop hits were “Boppin’ The Blues (#70), “Your True Love” (#67), “Pink Petal Pushers” (#91) and “Pointed Toes Shoes” (#93). Although his chart success was limited these songs, as well as non-charting songs such as “Matchbox”,”Honey Don’t” and”All Mama’s Children” were covered and performed by countless rock and roll and rockabilly acts for the next three decades. The Beatles recorded a large number of his songs. As a guitarist Perkins was revered and respected by some of the biggest names in the music business many of whom would eventually record tracks with him, including George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, NRBQ and Paul Simon. He appeared in live concert with Dave Edmunds and Eric Clapton. The list actually is endless so I’ll stop listing names now

What Was His Connection to County Music ?” (#70)

Carl was from the small Tennessee town of Tiptonville and remained a country boy at heart. Carl had fifteen country chart hits with six reaching the top twenty

He was well liked in the music community and while Carl was at a low point in his career (and in battling personal demons), Johnny Cash added Carl as parting of his road show package. Carl would spend ten years touring with Cash. While part of the Cash show, Carl penned “Daddy Sang Bass” which would spend six weeks as a country number one for Johnny Cash, and Tommy Cash would have a top ten record with another Perkins composition “Rise and Shine”. In 1991 the New Nashville Cats (Mark O’Connor, Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs and Steve Wariner took Carl’s “Restless” back into the country top thirty.

Unlike some singers who sound good only when performing their own hits, Carl seemed to be able to sing anybody’s material and make sound as if it was especially composed for him. Virtually any Carl Perkins recording is worth hearing.

Classic Rewind: Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Carl Perkins – ‘This Train’

Classic Rewind: Elvis Presley – ‘Moody Blue’

Fellow Travelers: Elvis Presley

elvis presleyHe was known as the “Hillbilly Cat”, but whether you know him as the “Hillbilly Cat”, the “Tupelo Mississippi Flash” or simply as “The King”, there is no doubt that Elvis Aron Pesley was the most important American Pop Singer during the second half of the twentieth century.

Some thought of him as the white hillbilly singer who sounded black, but that really wasn’t true. Elvis was the singer who, more than anyone else, helped meld the three great strains of American pop music (Tin Pan Alley, Rhythm & Blues and Country) into a unified whole. Who else could idolize Hank Snow, adore the music of Dean Martin and yet adapt the songs of artists such as Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup and “Big Mama” Thornton into hits played by everyone.

Who Was He?

Elvis Presley (1935-1977) was the biggest star in American pop music during the second half of the twentieth century – for the period from 1930 onward, only Bing Crosby surpassed him in the number of hit records. According to Billboard reseacher Joel Whitburn through the year of his death (1977) Elvis had 113 top 40 pop hits with 38 top ten singles and 20 that reached number 1. If you include charted songs that missed the top forty, there are at least another 20 songs plus some songs that charted on various genre charts. Although singles were the primary focus during his peak years, he sold hundreds of million album units world-wide during his career.

Elvis Presley’s early hits such as “Don’t Be Cruel”, “Blue Suede Shoes” and “(You Ain’t Nothing But A) Hound Dog” continue to be staples of rock acts and rockabilly revival acts to this day.

What Was His Connection to County Music?

Elvis Presley had a magnificent voice with a wide range enabling him to cover the entire tenor and baritone ranges thus opening up to him the ability to sing country music, gospel music and pop standards, something many of his contemporaries could not do.

His first country #1 came in 1955 with “I Forgot To Remember To Forget” , a straight country song that did not chart on the pop charts. Such monster pop hits as “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Don’t Be Cruel” reached #1 on the country charts and lingered there for many weeks.

Along the way, songs that were not aimed at the country charts continued to chart country and his songs remained on DJ playlists throughout his career.

Through the end of 1977, Elvis charted 68 songs on the county charts of which 57 reached the top 40. Toward the end of his career he consciously had turned to county music and in 1977 three of his singles reached #1 on the Billboard and/or Cashbox County Charts (“Moody Blue”, “Way Down” and “My Way”).

More importantly, the entire generation of country stars who followed him for the next three decades, knew his songs, performed them in live concert and often recorded his songs.

His records and albums continue to sell world-wide to this day and continue to chart on occasion. He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and is fully qualified for both honors

He was something special indeed.

Album Review: Gene Watson – ‘Because You Believed In Me’

becauseyouBecause You Believed In Me was Gene’s second major label album, following on the heels of his successful major label debut Love in the Hot Afternoon. While there weren’t any blockbuster hits on the album, the album was the affirmation of the arrival of a superior vocalist with staying power

“Because You Believed In Me” was a song that originally appeared on Gene’s 1969 debut album on the World Wide label. The original recording was good, but Gene had developed as a vocalist in the ensuing five years. Written by the legendary A.L. ‘Doodle’ Owens, this song was a straightforward ballad which reached #20 as a single.

I would have picked “If I’m A Fool For Leaving (I’d Be Twice The Fool To Stay)” for release as a single. Written by Skip Graves and Little Jimmy Dickens, the song showcases the fiddle of Buddy Spicher and the steel guitar of Lloyd Green to good effect, coupled with a superb vocal. This track is my favorite track on the album but, of course, I like my country music a little more country than most.

This morning I am leaving, I’ve been up all night long
You’re right I’m tired of waiting for you to come home
I’ve begged and tried to change you but you’ve grown worse each day
If I’m a fool for leaving I’d be twice the fool to stay

Larry Gatlin penned and had a minor hit in 1974 with “Bitter They Are, Harder They Fall”, a great song that was also recorded by the likes of Elvis Presley, Anne Murray and Dottie West and various others. This is the best rendition of the song, bar none, although I would have preferred that they not used a fade-out ending for the song.

“My World Left Town” is a fairly typical my-girl-left-me song written by Tom Ghent and R. Paul, that in the hands of a typical artist would be nothing special. With a nice fiddle and steel arrangement and Gene’s vocals, the song is elevated beyond that. It’s not an immortal classic, but the song reaches its full potential with this recording.

Roger Miller penned “Sorry Willie” and while it is sometimes thought to be about Willie Nelson (and Roger & Willie recorded the song on their Old Friends album), I don’t think Roger would ever have visualized Willie Nelson as the loser portrayed in this song. The song is a slow ballad with the piano of Hargis ‘Pig’ Robbins being a highlight of the arrangement.

See her dancing see there Willie see how reckless she is
She’s a wild one as everyone knows
Why what’s wrong Willie why you’re cryin’ what have I done
Sorry Willie I didn’t know you didn’t know

And I wouldn’t have said all those things that I’d known
That she was your darling your sweetheart your own
Don’t ask how well I know her I might lie I don’t know
Sorry Willie I didn’t know you didn’t know

Canadian Ray Griff was a prominent singer-songwriter of the late 1960s – mid 1970s. Although he had some mostly mid-chart success as a vocalist on the American Country charts (he was a far bigger star in his native Canada with 41 chart records), his U.S. success came in the form of the hits that he wrote for others such as Faron Young, George Hamilton IV and Jerry Lee Lewis. Gene rounded up four of Ray’s songs for this album. “How Good A Bad Woman Feels” would have made a good single.

I’d forgotten how good a real passion can be
In a honky tonk girl’s warm embrace
I’d forgotten the sound of a woman’s soft sigh
And that how-did-you look on her face

Griff’s “Her Body Couldn’t Keep You (Off My Mind)” was the second single released from this album. It stalled at #52, but perhaps Capitol learned something from the relative failure of this song because the next twelve singles all made the top twenty (mostly) the top ten. I not sure what it was they learned because I though this was a pretty good song.

I could call her up again tonight
And chances are she’ll see me
She’d be ready like she was the other time
She was willing with her warm red lips
And she kept nothing from me
But her body couldn’t keep you off my mind

Her body couldn’t drive my love for you out of my sight
Her kisses weren’t enough to make me wanna spend the night
It’s been two long years since I came home
And found your goodbye letter
Still I can’t get over what you left behind
I tried turning to a woman who was burning up with passion
But her body couldn’t keep you off my mind

Hank Cochran was the writer on “When You Turned Loose (I Fell Apart) “, a slow ballad that to me is just another good Hank Cochran song made better by Gene’s vocals.

Yes I’m down and might be here forever
I could get up but I don’t have the heart
‘Cause you’re all that held me together
And when you turn loose I fell apart

And baby I can’t get me back together
‘Cause without you I don’t even want to start
‘Cause you’re all that held me together
And when you turn loose I fell apart

A pair of Ray Griff compositions, “Hey Louella” and “Then You Came Along” close out the album.
“Hey Louella” is an up-tempo number with a Cajun feel to it. It’s fun but it’s a song that any half decent singer could have sung and doesn’t really give Gene a chance to demonstrate his vocal prowess. “Then You Came Along” is a nice jog-along ballad of the kind that Gene always performs well.

Gene would go on to bigger and better things, but this album maintained the momentum from his major label debut album. Although I’ve pointed out their contribution in conjunction with specific songs, the contributions of Buddy Spicher, Lloyd Green and Pig Robbins to the overall sound of the recording cannot be overstated. There are vestiges of the ‘Nashville Sound’ production (strings and choruses) but those are kept to a minimum and are unobtrusive. Capitol released this album in May 1976. Currently it is available on CD paired with Beautiful Country, an album that will be reviewed next.

Grade: A

Spotlight Artist: Tom T. Hall

tom t hallSongs that told a story were once a staple of country music, unlike the majority of today’s songs which seems to celebrate beer, girls and pickup trucks without there being much point to it.

Think of the country songs that have endured from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s – “PT 109”, “Big Bad John”, “El Paso”, “Sink The Bismarck”, “The Battle of New Orleans”, “Cross The Brazos At Waco”, “Wreck On The Highway”, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and countless others. They weren’t just lyrics slapped together – they had something specific to say. While not every song was a story song, many of them were and they were among the most memorable songs of Country Music’s ‘Golden Age’ (roughly 1948-1975).

Even by the standards of Country Music’s ‘Golden Age’ our May Spotlight Artist, Tom T. Hall was unique. It is one thing to tell the story of great historical events (real or imagined) or of heroic figures such as soldiers and cowboys. It is something entirely different to tell the story of everyday people and make their stories seem interesting.

Tom T Hall wrote about waitresses, grave diggers, bluesmen, guitar pickers, fathers and blind children, wonder horses, people with two left feet, janitors, factory workers, single mothers wearing miniskirts, cheap motels, odd and/or deranged people, army experiences, and oh so many more, making their stories pop off your record player and into your conscience.

Thomas Hall was born on May 25, 1936, in Olive Hill, Kentucky. Solid biographical information on Hall is scarce as he has kept his personal life as private as possible. It is known that as a teenager, Hall organized a band called the Kentucky Travelers that performed before movies for a traveling theater. The band had some success, recording a number of songs, although Tom doesn’t appear on any of the recordings, having left the band to join the Army in 1957. He was stationed in Germany at the same time as Elvis Presley, and remembers that Elvis would buy hamburgers for the entire platoon on the day before payday. While in Germany he performed on Armed Forces Radio Network. His army experiences served as the inspiration of several of his later songs. After leaving the army in 1961 Hall served as an announcer or disk jockey for several radio stations in Kentucky and West Virginia, as well as performing live and writing songs.

A friend of Hall’s took some of Tom’s songs to Nashville with him, where they came to the attention of Jimmy Keys, the head of Newkeys Music, a company co-owned with Jimmy “C” Newman and Dave Dudley. Keys saw something there as he forwarded “D.J. For A Day” to Jimmy “C” Newman and offered Hall a draw against royalties to move to Nashville and become a staff writer. Newman’s recording of “D.J. For A Day” reached #9 in early 1964 becoming Newman’s first top ten recording in nearly four years. Newman was to record many more of Tom’s songs.

To augment his songwriting income, Hall went on the road with Dave Dudley. The two of them became good friends and before long, Hall was co-writing with Dudley and also giving Dudley first crack at his new solo compositions. Among the many hits Dave Dudley had with Tom T compositions were “Mad” (#6), “What We’re Fighting For” (#4), “There Ain’t No Easy Runs” (#10) and Dave’s sole #1 record “The Pool Shark”.

In 1965 Hall caught two big breaks as a songwriter when Johnny Wright took “Hello Vietnam” to #1, the first Tom Hall composition to reach #1. At approximately the same time, the Statler Brothers recorded “Billy Christian” a song which few remember but which sold millions of copies. “Billy Christian” was a fine song but it was the B-side of the record; however, the A-side, “Flowers On The Wall” kick-started the Statler Brothers recording career and provided Hall with substantial songwriting royalties.

In 1967, after several years of Hall supplying songs for other artists, Jimmy Keys thought it was time for Tom Hall to start recording his own songs. Tom had served as his own demo singer and Keys approached Mercury producer Jerry Kennedy with the idea of signing Hall to Mercury Records. Feeling that “Tom Hall” lacked oomph as a stage name, Keys relabeled Tom as “Tom T. Hall”.

The first few Tom T. Hall recordings were modest hits but before Tom T could score a big hit on his own, a song that Tom T. had written for Margie Singleton, the ex-wife of Shelby Singleton (Jerry Kennedy’s boss at Mercury), made a huge splash on the pop and country throughout the English speaking world. The song lay idle for a few years before Shelby Singleton, by then the owner of Plantation Records , had Jeannie C. Riley record “Harper Valley PTA”. Jerry Kennedy played dobro on the record, which would sell over six million copies, and won both a Grammy Award and CMA award for the singer.

Hot on the heels of “Harper Valley PTA, Tom T would have his first top ten recording as a recording artist when “Ballad of Forty Dollars” reached #4 in early 1969. This would kick off a solid string of top twenty hits that would run through 1980.

During his years on Mercury Tom T. Hall’s albums were more than merely collections of songs, they were slices of life set to music, telling the stories of everyday people doing the various things that people do. There were songs about winners, losers, and eccentrics, about situations mundane, heroic, ridiculous and implausible. People who bought the albums wore them out from frequent playing and absorbed the lyrics of the songs and the stories as if by osmosis.

Tom T. Hall, being from rural Kentucky, had grown up with and loved bluegrass music. Some of his album tracks had a bluegrass feel to them, and in 1976 Tom T came out of the bluegrass closet and released The Magnificent Music Machine, a collection of some originals cast as bluegrass, some classic bluegrass standards, and one rock song, “Fox On The Run” which had been a late 60s pop hit in England for Manfred Mann.

As far as mainstream country fans are concerned, Tom T Hall is a nearly forgotten figure who has been inactive for many years. While it is true that he took an extended hiatus from performing, in recent years Tom T Hall has emerged as a very active bluegrass songwriter, usually with his wife Dixie. Tom and Dixie record occasionally, perform rarely but supply a seemingly endless supply of hit records for many bluegrass artists. The most recent issue of Bluegrass Unlimited (April 2014) shows Hall as having three songs in the Bluegrass Top 30 – “I’m Putting On My Leaving Shoes” (#1 as recorded by Big Country Bluegrass), “That’s Kentucky (#7 By Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road), and “I Want My Dog Back” (#12 by The Spinney Brothers).

Tom T Hall was inducted to the country music Hall of Fame in 2008, an honor long overdue. In his career charted fifty-four songs, ten reaching #1 on one or more of the Billboard, Cashbox or Record World charts. Along the way he won numerous BMI songwriting awards, hosted a syndicated television, made numerous appearances on network television shows ands made millions of people reflect and smile as a result of his keen eye for detail and ability to fit it into songs that told many small truths about you and your friends and your neighbors.

In celebration of his 78th birthday, we present to you May’s Spotlight Artist, “The Storyteller” – Tom T Hall.

Album Review: Willie Nelson – ‘To All The Girls’

to all the girlsThe newest Willie Nelson album finds Willie treading familiar ground, recording eighteen duets with various female partners. These partners range from young to old, famous to fairly unknown and across a wide array of genres.

The album opens up with the “From Here To The Moon And Back”, an introspective ballad from the catalogue of duet partner Dolly Parton. This song has a very quiet arrangement with piano being the dominant sound, along with a very light string arrangement – very nice song.

Another very quiet song is “She Was No Good For Me” with the normally boisterous Miranda Lambert assisting Willie on an old Waylon Jennings tune. It is nice to hear Miranda sing a song that requires nuance and restraint.

She was a good looking woman no doubt
A high steppin’ mover that men talk about
Everything bad in me she brought it out
And she was just no good for me

Don’t be taken by the look in her eyes
If she looks like an angel
It’s a perfect disguise
And for somebody else she may be
But she was just no good for me

“It Won’t Be Very Long” opens with a harmonica intro which comes to a dead stop and then starts to a song with a very country gospel feel – something either Roy Acuff or the Nitty Gritty Dirt band might have tackled. The Secret Sisters aren’t really very well known but probably do the best job of any act on the album of actually harmonizing with Willie. Willie and producer Buddy Cannon wrote this song.

“Please Don’t Tell Me How The Story Ends” is a Kris Kristofferson song that originally was a top ten hit for new Country Music Hall of Famer Bobby Bare (it reached #1 on Record World) in 1971. In 1974 it reached #1 on Billboard for Ronnie Milsap. I always preferred Bare’s version as I think the song benefited from Bare’s more laid back approach to the song. Nelson and duet partner Rosanne Cash adopt the more relaxed approach to the song, with Willie’s guitar being the dominant sound of the background, but with a tasteful organ undertone by Moose Brown. Willie and Rosanne’s voices really don’t mesh well together and Willie’s eccentric phrasing is difficult for any singer to handle, but actual harmonizing on this tune is kept to a dead minimum.

“Far Away Places” is one of the classics of the American Pop Standards canon. The song was written by Joan Whitney and Alex Kramer way back in 1948, and was an immediate hit by three artists in late 1948-early 1949, reaching #2 for the legendary Bing Crosby, #3 for Margaret Whiting and #6 for Perry Como. The Como version is probably the best remembered version since RCA kept the song available for most of the last 65 years whereas the other versions have frequently been out of print. Willie and partner Sheryl Crow harmonize well and recreate the dreamy feel of the 1948 versions. This is my favorite track on this album:

Far away places with strange soundin’ names
Far away over the sea
Those far away places with the strange soundin’ names
Are callin’, callin’ me

Goin’ to China or maybe Siam
I want to see for myself
Those far away places I’ve been readin’ about
In a book that I took from the shelf

I don’t know how many times Willie has recorded his own “Bloody Mary Morning” but this version must be the fastest version on disc. I’m not a big Wynonna Judd fan but this is the kind of song she handles well. Mike Johnson (steel) and Dan “Man of Constant Sorrow” Tyminski (acoustic guitar) really shine on this track.

Writers Wayne Carson, Mark James and John Christopher, Jr cashed in big time with “You Were Always On My Mind” as it was a hit thrice (Brenda Lee, Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson) and appeared on many albums generating many millions of sales (and royalties for the songwriters). On this recording Willie is joined by Carrie Underwood in a nice version with fairly minimal backing.

During the 1960s and 1970s semi-permanent male-female duos abounded, nearly all of whom tackled Merle Haggard’s “Somewhere Between”. It’s a great song and Willie is joined by the legendary Loretta Lynn, singing in better voice than anything I’ve heard from her recently. Willie and Loretta trade verses (usually in different keys) and do not harmonize except one line at the end. It’s a great song and full justice is done to the song.

“No Mas Amore” written by Keith Gattis and Sammy Barrett, is given the Mexican treatment by Willie and partner Alison Krauss complete with trumpets. Willies band member Mickey Raphael plays chord harmonica and bass harmonica; Alison’s band member Dan Tyminski adds background vocals and plays mandolin. Usually Alison Krauss duets produce a certain magic, but this one is merely pleasant listening.

“Back To Earth” features Melonie Cannon on this Willie Nelson ballad, taken at a languid pace. The song is nothing special but Melanie and Willie execute it well.

Mavis Staples is one of the best known gospel singers, carrying on the fine tradition of the legendary Staples Family. “Grandma’s Hands” was penned by Bill Withers, probably best known for his monster hits “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Lean On Me”. The song was about Wither’s own grandma and is an affectionate look at a loved one, now departed. Willie and Mavis give it a bit of a ‘swamp blues pop’ treatment that fits the song exactly.

“Walkin” features Wiliie’s good friend Norah Jones on a Willie composition. This is a bluesy slow ballad about leaving.

“Till The End of World” is an old Vaughn Horton standard given an up-tempo western swing arrangement. Back in 1949 Ernest Tubb, Jimmy Wakely and Johnny Bond all had top twelve hits with the song, then in 1952 Bing Crosby and ace guitarist Grady Martin took it back into the top ten. Shelby Lynne reestablishes her country credibility with this effort.

“Will You Remember Mine” is a lovely ballad from Willie’s pen. I don’t know anything about Lily Meola but she is a perfect complement to Willie on this song.

Gone are the times when I held you close
And pressed your lips to mine
Now when you kissed another’s lips
Will you remember mine?

I’m sure we’ve all had this thought – indeed.

“Dry Lightning” comes from the pen of Bruce Springsteen. Emmylou Harris can sing with anyone. Therefore it is no surprise that this song works as a duet. It’s another slow ballad, but Emmylou, as usual is exquisite.

I first ran across Brandi Carlile some years ago when the late and lamented Borders chain distributed sampler CDs of her work. On “Making Believe” she proves both that she can sing effective harmony and can sing country music with feeling. This song was written by Jimmy Work but is best remembered as a major hit for Kitty Wells in 1955, with Emmylou Harris taking it back to the top ten in 1977.

“Have You Ever Seen The Rain” is a John Fogarty composition given a slow folk arrangement that enables Willie and (I think) daughter Paula Nelson to convey the lyrics in an uncluttered manner. I really like this recording.

Tina Rose is the daughter of Leon & Mary Russell. Willie recorded an album with Leon Russell in 1979, so it seems only proper that he should record a song with Leon’s daughter. I’m not that impressed with Ms Russell’s vocals, but they work well enough on the vehicle chosen, L.E White’s “After The Fire Is Gone”, which White’s boss, Conway Twitty took to the top of the charts with Loretta Lynn in 1971. Willie and Tina don’t have the chemistry Conway and Loretta had (few do) but the end result is worthwhile.

It remains true:
There’s nothing cold as ashes
After the fire’s gone

All told, there is a very pleasant offering from Willie – I’d give it a B+, mostly because a few more up-tempo numbers were needed. Willie, of course, is always Willie, and as always, he was chosen well in his selection of female guests.

Album Review: Willie Nelson – ‘Always On My Mind’

alwaysVoices like Willie Nelson’s are an often-cited reason why many people don’t like country music, so in many respects Willie was an unlikely pop star. Nevertheless, with albums like Stardust, he proved that he could not only handle non-country material, but that he could also appeal to worldwide audiences much broader than the typical country music fan base. 1982’s Always On My Mind is one of his most AC-leaning albums. Like Stardust, it reached outside the country genre for material, though the selections this time around were more contemporary.

The title track had first been introduced to country audiences by Brenda Lee a decade earlier. Her version peaked outside the country Top 40. A cover version by Elvis Presley the same year reached 16 on the AC charts, but the song remained relatively unknown despite being recorded by numerous other artists, until Willie’s version came along. His recording of the song became the biggest hit of his career; it topped the Billboard country singles chart in May 1982 and was the magazine’s #1 country single of the year. It also reached #5 on the all-genre Hot 100 chart and earned three Grammy Awards — one for Willie for Best Male Country Vocal Performance as well as Best Country Song and Song of the Year for its writers Mark James, Johnny Christopher and Wayne Carson Thompson. It was also widely honored by the Country Music Association, winning Single of the Year in 1982 and Song of the Year in both 1982 and 1983. Willie also took home the 1982 Album of the Year trophy.

It’s exceedingly difficult to follow up a career record, but Willie’s next two singles, while not matching the success of “Always On My Mind”, turned in respectable chart performances. His cover of the Everly Brothers’ “Let It Be Me” reached #2 on the country charts and #11 on the AC charts and just cracked the Top 40 on the Hot 100. “Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning”, a song that I did not initially like but now consider a favorite, also reached #2 on the country chart but did not enjoy any crossover success.

Aside from some harmonica and Willie’s trademark guitar, there is no country instrumentation on this album. The fiddle and steel guitar are absent, and the saxophone is used instead on tracks like “Let It Be Me” and “Old Fords and a Natural Stone”, and most of the non-single album cuts come from outside of country music. The opening track “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man”, written by the album’s producer Chips Moman and Dan Penn, had been an R&B hit for Aretha Franklin in 1967. The song had been covered for the country market previously, by Barbara Mandrell whose version went to #17 in 1971, and surprisingly, it was also recorded by Kitty Wells at some point. “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”, on which Willie is joined by Waylon Jennings, is a remake of a 1967 psychadelic rock hit by the British group Procul Harum. Willie also does a very nice version of Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”.

Always On My Mind was clearly designed with one eye on the pop market, but it avoids the excesses and overproduction that was typical of most recordings of the era that had crossover aspirations. Sufficient concessions were also made to keep country fans happy. Among the more country-sounding material are two songs penned by Willie: “Permanently Lonely” and “The Party’s Over”, a remake of his own earlier recording, which like some of the other remakes on this album, dates back to 1967. It’s my favorite track on the album.

Legacy Recordings reissued Always On My Mind in 2008, with two new tracks: “The Man Who Owes Everyone” and “I’m A Memory”, both of which are enjoyable, though they would have fit in better on one of his more country-sounding albums.

Selling more than 4 million copies in the United States and another 2 million in Canada, Always On My Mind is second only to Stardust in terms of commercial success. It’s always been a favorite of mine, primarily for nostalgic reasons, but due to its reliance on pop, R&B and rock material, it’s not an especially important album in terms of country music, aside from the three singles, which are widely available on numerous compilations. That being said, it is an enjoyable record, country or not, and a cheap used copy is well worth picking up.

Grade: A


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