My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Fats Domino

Legends (and others) lost in 2017

For one who grew up on the country music of the period (1960-1975) the last few years have been tough as we have seen many legendary figures come to the end of the road. 2017 was no exception. Let’s take a look back with a few words about the various stars that were dimmed in 2017. I should note that I’ve included a few non-country personal favorites.

Junior Barber
, a fantastic dobro player died at the age of 73. He worked with the Gibson Brothers bluegrass for seven years and his son Mike has played bass for the Gibson Brothers for the last twenty-five years.

Chuck Berr
y, 90, was a pioneer of rock ‘n roll and while many would not regard him as country, Buck Owens thought that Berry wrote great country songs, and the bluegrass duo of Jim & Jesse McReynolds recorded an entire album of his songs (Chuck wrote the liner notes) so who am I to disagree with them?

Sonny Burgess, 88, rockabilly pioneer and early Sun Records artist. There is a younger country artist with the name Sonny Burgess, whom I don’t believe is related. This guy was a great on-stage performer.

Glen Campbell
, 81, singer and guitarist who first came to my attention as a session musician for Frank Sinatra and the Beach Boys (with whom he sometimes toured). Glen, who died after a long bout with Alzheimer’s, could play anything with strings and could sing anything. My favorite tracks by him include “Galveston”, “Wichita Lineman”, “Wherefore and Why” and “I’m Gonna Love You”. Glen hosted a television show, appeared in movies and was simply one of the giants of the industry.

Antoine “Fats” Domino, 89, wasn’t a country singer but his music was infectious fun and enjoyed across the board. His hits were too numerous to list and many of them were covered by country singers.

Dave Evans, 65, had one of the best voices in bluegrass music being a great tenor singer, as well as being a good banjo player. It would be difficult to find another singer who sang with as much heart as Dave Evans.

Troy Gentry, 50, of Montgomery Gentry duo, died in a helicopter crash in Medford, New Jersey. I wasn’t a big Montgomery Gentry fan, but they had some good numbers and performed with enthusiasm.

Michael Johnson, 72, singer and guitarist whose country hits included “Give Me Wings” and “The Moon Is Still Over Her Shoulder”. Michael was a terrific acoustic guitar player and had a major pop/adult contemporary hit with “Bluer Than Blue”.

Pete Kuykendall, 79, banjo champion and editor and publisher of Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. I have subscribed to Bluegrass Unlimited for many years and think it is the finest magazine in the world of music.

Miggie Lewis
, 91 was a part of the first family of bluegrass gospel, the Lewis Family. The group disbanded years ago but youngest brother “Little” Roy Lewis a dynamic banjo player, comic and personality who still plays the bluegrass festival circuit.

Sam Lovullo, 88, was the producer and casting director of the long-running Hee Haw TV series (1969-1992). If he was only remembered for Hee Haw that would be sufficient legacy, but his son Torey Lovullo played major league baseball for eight years and then became a major league manager (he was the National League Manager of The Year for 2017). I am not ashamed to admit that I watched Hee Haw every chance I had, and that I know dozens of verses to “Pffffft, You Were Gone”.

Geoff Mack, 94, composer of the tongue-twisting and widely recorded “I’ve Been Everywhere,” in his native Australia. The lyrics familiar to American listeners were not the original lyrics, but a rewritten version to reflect North American place names.

Kevin Mahogany, 59 was a brilliant jazz baritone singer. He appeared and performed in Robert Altman’s 1996 movie, Kansas City.

Jo Walker Meador, 93, as executive director built the Country Music Association from a tiny, ragged startup into one of the nation’s most visible and successful trade organizations. Jo is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, and I can make a pretty good case for her being one of the two or three most important women in the history of country music.

D.L. Menard, 85, singer and songwriter widely known as the “Cajun Hank Williams” and most celebrated for his 1962 recording of “La Porte en Arriere,”. He died in his native Louisiana.

Tom Paley
died in England at the age of 89. Tom was a founding member (along with Mike Seeger and John Cohen) of the New Lost City Ramblers, a group that did much to further the acceptance of bluegrass among folk audiences. I saw them once in 1962 and they were terrific.

Leon Rhodes, 85, was the lead guitarist for Ernest Tubb’s Texas Troubadours and later played in the Grand Ole Opry and Hee Haw staff bands. He was also a successful session musician.

Kayton Roberts
, 83, steel guitarist in Hank Snow’s Rainbow Ranch Boys band from 1968 to 1999. His son Louie Roberts also had a career in country music.

Curley Seckler who died in late December at the age of 98, was one of the last links to the first generation of bluegrass musicians, having performed with Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs. Curley was old enough to remember Jimmie Rodgers and the Original Carter family being played on the radio. He also appeared on several segments of the Marty Stuart Show on RFD.

There was nothing country about Keely Smith, 89, but she was a fine singer with a terrific comedic touch. Her act with ex-husband Louis Prima played to packed houses in Las Vegas for the better part of a decade.

Tammy Sullivan died at the much too young age of 52, of cancer. Tammy was a marvelous singer best known for her work with the Sullivan Family, a bluegrass gospel band.

Wendy Thatcher, 69, was a formidable singer who is best remembered for her years with Eddie Adcock’s various bands.

Mel Tillis, 85, songwriter, singer, actor, comedian and member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, died in Ocala, Florida. Mel first came to prominence as a songwriter, with early efforts becoming hits for the likes of Webb Pierce and Ray Price during the early 1960s. It would be a decade before his career as a performer went into overdrive, but when it did he racked up many hits and won the CMA Entertainer of the Year Award. I liked many of his songs but my favorite is “Would You Want The World To End (Not Loving Me)”. I saw Mel live on several occasions.

Don Warden, 87, was a former steel guitar player in Porter Wagoner’s band and subsequently Dolly Parton’s manager. You can sometimes catch Don in RFD’s reruns of the Porter Wagoner Show.

Don Williams, 78, was a singer and songwriter who regularly topped the country charts during the 1970s and ’80s. Starting out with the folk-country Pozo Seco Singers, Don’s solo career made him an international star and landed him in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Norro Wilson, 79, producer, songwriter and former recording artist, whose hit compositions included George Jones’ “The Grand Tour” and Charlie Rich’s “The Most Beautiful Girl,” died in Nashville.

Bob Wooton
, 75, Johnny Cash’s lead guitar player from 1968 until Cash’s retirement in 1997, died in Gallatin, Tennessee. Bob was the replacement for Luther Perkins.

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Album Review: Wynonna – ‘Sing, Chapter 1’

81hrny-Ha0L._SX522_I always felt that Wynonna was miscast as a country singer but was otherwise a great vocal performer. This album is the proof of my latter assertion, a twelve song collection of great songs perfectly executed by a master singer.

The album opens up with a thirty’s classic “That’s How Rhythm Was Born”, a Boswell Sisters hit from the 1930s, long forgotten but well worth reviving. The Boswell Sisters pre-dated and were an inspiration for the Andrews Sister. The song sounds very Andrews-ish with Vickie Hampton and Wynonna doing harmonies to create that trio sound. There is an old-time, non-bluegrass banjo in the mix played by Ilya Toshinsky.

Next up is the greatest country song ever written, Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”. While there are versions I prefer to Wynonna’s, she does an excellent job with the song. The Nashville String Machine provides tasteful and effective orchestral accompaniment.

Wynonna gives the sisterhood some wise advice in the very bluesy “Women Be Wise”.

Dave Bartholomew was a noted New Orleans songwriter closely associated with the legendary Fats Domino. “I Hear You Knocking” was a big R&B hit for Smiley Lewis in 1955 (#2 R&B) and a big pop hit (#2) for actress Gale Storm. Fats Domino also recorded the song a few years later, and because of his sustained success, Fats’ version is probably the best remembered. Wynonna’s version has a more New Orleans style rock feel. It is quite good

Larry Henley and Red Lane penned “Til I Get It Right”, a major Tammy Wynette hit from 1973. The focus is on Wynonna’s vocal with spare but graceful accompaniment that includes unobtrusive strings.

Another country classic follows, Merle Haggard’s “Are The Good Times Really Over For Good”. Not one of my favorite Hag songs, but still a good song. I do like the brass instrumentation in Wynonna’s arrangement.

I was not a big Stevie Ray Vaughan fan but I could take him in small doses and Wynonna’s take on “The House is Rockin'” is just enough Stevie Ray for me. Wynonna’s take on this song rocks just enough.

The almost forgotten Bill Withers had a relatively short career as a recording artist (he is still alive) but the music he did produce was exceptional leading to his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “Ain’t No Sunshine” was one of those classics and Wynonna gives it the appropriately moody reading.

Jerry Lieber & Mike Stoller are arguably one of the two or three greatest pop songwriting tandems in history. “I’m a Woman” was initially released in 1962 by Christine Kittrell, but is best remembered as a classic Peggy Lee track. Wynonna’s version is as good as any of them albeit very different from Peggy Lee’s sexy rendition, Wynonna’s being a very assertive R&B track

I am not a big fan of most Burt Bacharach-Hal David compositions, other than those written for the great Gene Pitney. That said, “Anyone Who Had A Heart” had a distinguished pedigree with British songbird Cilia Black taking her George Martin-produced record to #1 in the UK for three weeks in 1964. Cilla’s version also went to #1 in Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa, but I don’t think it was released in the US. Dionne Warwick also had a notable hit (#8 pop/ #2 adult contemporary) with the song in the US but only got as high as #47 in the UK. Both versions competed in various global markets, basically to a draw in Europe. Wynonna’s version is a pretty standard, but effective presentation.

“When I Fall In Love” is a pop standard that has been recorded by many artists, most notably Jeri Southern and Doris Day. Wynonna gives it a fairly standard interpretation with the Nashville String Machine setting the mood for Wynonna’s strong vocal.

The album closes with a Rodney Crowell original “Sing”. I think that this is the weakest song on the album, but I would also give it a B+ which should tell you what I think of this album

Of all the Wynonna albums I’ve heard, this one is my favorite, both in terms of the strength of Wynonna’s vocals and the quality of the material. To me this is a definite A+.

Album Review: Hank Williams Jr – ‘Living Proof: The MGM Recordings (1963-1975’

living proof mgmFor the listener wanting a good overview of Hank Junior’s career with MGM Records, the best place to start is with this 3 CD boxed set released in 1992 by Polygram, the successor label to MGM.

The set is not perfect, far from it, but within its 82 tracks , it does a good job of showing the maturation process of Hank Williams, Jr. as a singer and as an artist. For a record label trying to give an overview of a major artist of the 1960s and 1970s the task is a daunting one. Not counting Christmas albums and hit collections, George Strait released 24 albums between 1981 and 2005. Using the same criteria, Hank released 29 albums between 1963 and 1975. Hank recorded quite a few more songs in thirteen years than did modern day icon Strait in twenty-five years. That’s a lot of songs for MGM/Polygram to wade through.

The set is essentially chronological, although it gives short shrift to the very earliest recordings. In one sense, this is a good thing in that it avoids the ridiculous pop duet album recorded with Connie Francis. In another sense, it is a bad thing in that it misses some of Hank’s efforts to break away from being a clone of his father. Missing are some of the more interesting album tracks from the albums Blue’s My Name and Ballads of The Hills and Plains and essential tracks from My Own Way (“I’m In No Condition”) and My Songs (“I Ain’t Sharin’ Sharon” and “I Wouldn’t Change A Thing About You [Except Your Name]”).

That’s not to say that the track on the collection are not worthy as they most certainly are worthy. It’s simply that the set should run one disc longer. If you listen carefully, you will find that this collection of songs represents Hank’s autobiography up to 1975 – it’s that powerful.

Included are twenty-five of Hank’s forty-one chart hits for MGM (including all six of his #1 singles), examples of Hank as a clone of his father, examples of Hank’s recordings while struggling with the ‘Nashville Sound’ (particularly “All For The Love of Sunshine”, a #1 hit with the Mike Curb Congregation), and the entire Hank Williams and Friends album that closed out his MGM career.

Along the way Hank showed sign of his versatility recording country classics, pop songs (“Endless Sleep”, “Splish Splash”), R&B classics such as Fats Domino’s “Aint That A Shame”, Joe Liggins’ “I’ve Got A Right To Cry”, Tony Joe White’s “Rainy Night In Georgia”, Smokey Robinson’s “My Girl” and a bunch of songs that he wrote himself, some of them really fine efforts. Not meaning to pick on George Strait, but there is more diversity of material and more challenging material in this box, than George has tacked in his thirty-five year recording career. Only Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard ever tackled such a far ranging repertoire.

This box set, for all my quibbles with it, is still an A+. It is still available and I would recommend it to anyone.

Spotlight Artist: Hank Williams Jr.

hqdefault-3The life story of Hank Williams Jr. is a familiar one. Hank was born on May 26, 1949 in Shreveport, the son of the legendary Hank Williams. Although referred to as ‘Hank Williams, Jr.’, Hank was born as Randall Hank Williams and his father was born as Hiram King (Hank) Williams. After his father’s untimely death on January 1, 1953, he was raised by his mother, Audrey Williams, who essentially forced Hank into the life of a singer, attempting to mold him into a clone of his father. Williams made his stage debut singing his father’s songs when he was eight years old. In 1964, he made his recording debut with “Long Gone Lonesome Blues”, one of his father’s classic songs.

The idea of Hank as a clone of his father became a more awkward fit as Hank grew older. Physically much sturdier that his father, Hank also did not have his father’s thin reedy voice. Hank could yodel but it was an effort. He also had a broader musical education since his mother Audrey could count various musical titans as friends and acquaintances. Hank himself has mentioned Fats Domino and Johnny Cash as strong musical influences.

At some point Hank rebelled against his mother’s efforts to turn him into a clone of his father. While Hank has always sung his father’s songs, he started to develop into a major mainstream country artist and remained there for over a decade.

His initial record label, MGM, had been his father’s label, so for much of Hank’s tenure with MGM the label would push for Hank Sr./Hank Jr. projects. Some of them, like Father & Son and Hank Williams/Hank Williams Jr. Again are gimmicky projects with Hank Jr. grafted onto his father’s recordings (if the masters still exist for these recordings, modern recording technology could make these sound far better than they do). Others like Songs My Father Left Me (unfinished songs completed and set to music by Hank Jr.) are first class efforts. There are two soundtracks, three duet albums (Connie Francis, Lois Johnson), two Luke The Drifter Jr. albums, a live album plus hit collections. Along the way there are at least fourteen albums of Hank Williams Jr. developing into a first rate mainstream country artist.

If you are fifty years old or younger, Hank Williams Jr. probably came onto your radar in 1979 with the release of “Family Tradition”. At the time was thirty years old, emerging from a transitional period in which he had not had a top ten single in over five years. From this point forward Hank would have a dozen year run of gold and platinum albums, with his 1982 Greatest Hits reaching quintuple platinum status. During that same stretch Hank would have an endless string of top ten singles with eight Billboard #1s. After a near fatal accident in 1975, Hank set out find his own muse and get his producers off his records, finally developing his own country/rock R&B hybrid.

The January Spotlight will focus on the early efforts of Hank Williams Jr., a period which saw Hank emerge from his father’s shadow and develop into a very successful artist in his own right. It was a period in which the ‘Nashville Sound’ dominated country production so there will be records with strings and choral accompaniments, but Hank’s voice is strong enough and distinctive enough to cut through the clutter. Many of my favorite Hank Williams Jr. singles come from this period, so kick back and enjoy.

Fellow Travelers: Eric Hilliard “Ricky” Nelson (1940-1985)

Ricky NelsonThe late 50s and early 1960s saw many so-called heart throb artists pushed off on the American teenage population. Most of them were very attractive guys who had a strong visual appeal to teenage girls, but had minimal singing talent, which meant that they had a few hits before their fans moved on to other artists .

Ricky Nelson was one such artist, who also had the advantage of a weekly platform on his parents popular television show THE ADVENTURES OF OZZIE AND HARRIET. Unlike most of his teen-throb counterparts, Ricky Nelson had real talent and was able to sustain his musical career throughout his short life, charting 53 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 between 1957 and 1973.

WHO WAS HE ?

Ricky Nelson was the younger son of big band leader Ozzie Nelson and Ozzie’s featured singer (and later wife) Harriet Hilliard Nelson. Ozzie’s band was very successful, having many hits including a #1 record in 1935 with “And Then Some”. From 1944 onward, Ozzie & Harriet were involved in the THE ADVENTURES OF OZZIE AND HARRIET, initially on radio and then from 1952 to 1966 on television. Starting in 1949 Ricky and his brother David had roles as themselves on the show.

After his death, Ricky’s sons would score a #1 record recording as the group ‘Nelson’, making the Nelson family one of two answers to the trivia question “what musical family had #1 pop records in three consecutive generations?”.

Ricky Nelson’s recording career began in 1957 when he covered the Fats Domino hit “I’m Walking'” b/w “A Teenager’s Romance”. Both sides charted in the top four. From there Ricky would have eighteen top ten records through the end of 1963 including two #1s in “Poor Little Fool” (1958) and “Travelin’ Man” (1961). Ricky’s records were always noted for having a really tight band with ace guitarist James Burton featured on most of his records.

In addition to his family’s television show, Ricky Nelson appeared in several films including the classic western RIO BRAVO with John Wayne.

WHAT WAS HIS CONNECTION TO COUNTRY MUSIC ?

Ricky Nelson recorded and release many country songs both as singles and as album tracks. County radio played many of his singles with five of them charting country including his #10 cover of Hank Williams’ “My Bucket’s Got A Whole In It” and “Poor Little Fool” which reached #3.

Several of Ricky’s pop hits that did not chart on the country charts, were either country songs such as “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You” or songs written by songwriters such as Baker Knight who came to be identified with country music. Moreover, many of Ricky’s songs have been covered as album tracks by country acts including such songs as “Hello Mary Lou” , “Travelin’ Man”, “Lonesome Town” and “Never Be Anyone Else But You”.

After the “British Invasion” wiped out the early rock & rollers and the “Philly Cream Cheese” doo-woppers, Ricky Nelson went more overtly country in his musical quests, recording a pair of straight ahead country albums for Decca, BRIGHT LIGHTS AND COUNTRY MUSIC and COUNTRY FEVER, both really solid albums.

Toward the end of the 1960s and tired of being considered an “oldies” act, Nelson revamped his name and image, becoming Rick Nelson and putting together the Stone Canyon Band, a country-rock band which featured former Buck Owens’ Buckaroo Tom Brumley on steel guitar. The band issued five albums, all of which charted. The fourth and most successful album 1972’s GARDEN PARTY charted both pop and country and also charted in Canada. The featured single “Garden Party” was Rick’s first top ten single in nine years reaching #6 (also #1 on the adult contemporary chart and #1 on the Canadian pop chart). “Garden Party” would prove to be Rick’s last real hit.

When Rick died in a small plane crash on December 31, 1985, millions mourned. He was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, and has also been elected to the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.

Favorite country songs of the 1970s: Part 3

The 1970s were not my favorite decade for country music but it was the decade in which I did my largest amount of listening to country radio, having the good fortune to have such country giants as WSUN AM- 620 in St. Petersburg, FL, WHOO AM-1090 in Orlando and WCMS AM-1050 in Norfolk, VA for my listening pleasure, plus I could tune in WSM AM – 650 in Nashville at night. I did a lot of shift-work during this decade so my radio was on constantly.

    

This list is meant neither to be a comprehensive list of great country songs from the 1970s, nor any sort of ranking of records. It’s just a list of some songs that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records

Silver Wings” – Jim & Jon Hager (1970)

Since Hag issued the song as a B side (“Workin’ Man Blues” was the A side), this version is the only charting version of Hag’s classic. The Hager Twins do a nice job with the song, although it only reached #59 on the charts . Fans of Hee Haw will remember this duo well.

I Can’t Be Myself” – Merle Haggard (1970)

My all-time favorite Merle Haggard recording, this song went to #1 on Cashbox. Frankly, picking an all-time favorite Hag song is a hopeless proposition as he is the most consistently great artist of all time. Hag wrote about fifty #1 songs, the most of any songwriter. The flip side of this record “Sidewalks of Chicago” also received a lot of airplay and likely would be in my top ten favorite Haggard recordings.   Read more of this post