My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Ferlin Husky

Week ending 11/2/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

georgejones_tammywynette_v_e1953 (Sales): I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know — Davis Sisters (RCA)

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

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

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

1973: We’re Gonna Hold On — George Jones & Tammy Wynette (Epic)

1983: Islands In The Stream — Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton (RCA)

1993: Easy Come, Easy Go — George Strait (MCA)

2003: Tough Little Boys — Gary Allan (MCA)

2013: That’s My Kind Of Night — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

2013 (Airplay): It Goes Like This — Thomas Rhett (Valory)

Week ending 10/12/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

Ernest_Ashworth_Photo21953 (Sales): A Dear John Letter — Jean Shepard & Ferlin Husky (Capitol)

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

1953 (Disc Jockeys): Hey Joe!— Carl Smith (Columbia)

1963: Talk Back Trembling Lips — Ernest Ashworth (Hickory)

1973: You’re The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me — Ray Price (Columbia)

1983: Don’t You Know How Much I Love You — Ronnie Milsap (RCA)

1993: One More Last Chance — Vince Gill (MCA)

2003: Real Good Man — Tim McGraw (Curb)

2013: That’s My Kind Of Night — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

2013 (Airplay): Night Train — Jason Aldean (Broken Bow)

Week ending 10/5/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

tanya1953 (Sales): A Dear John Letter — Jean Shepard & Ferlin Husky (Capitol)

1953 (Jukebox): Hey Joe!— Carl Smith (Columbia)

1953 (Disc Jockeys): Hey Joe!— Carl Smith (Columbia)

1963: Abilene — George Hamilton IV (RCA)

1973: Blood Red and Goin’ Down — Tanya Tucker (Columbia)

1983: New Looks From An Old Lover — B.J. Thomas (Columbia)

1993: Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til The Sun Comes Up) — Garth Brooks (Liberty)

2003: It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere — Alan Jackson with Jimmy Buffett (Arista)

2013: That’s My Kind Of Night — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

2013 (Airplay): Night Train — Jason Aldean (Broken Bow)

Week ending 9/28/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

crystal1953 (Sales): A Dear John Letter — Jean Shepard & Ferlin Husky (Capitol)

1953 (Jukebox): Hey Joe!— Carl Smith (Columbia)

1953 (Disc Jockeys): Hey Joe!— Carl Smith (Columbia)

1963: Abilene — George Hamilton IV (RCA)

1973: You’ve Never Been This Far Before — Conway Twitty (MCA)

1983: Baby What About You — Crystal Gayle (Elektra)

1993: Holdin’ Heaven — Tracy Byrd (MCA)

2003: What Was I Thinkin’ — Dierks Bentley (Capitol)

2013: That’s My Kind Of Night — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

2013 (Airplay): Round Here — Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

Week ending 9/14/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

GHIV1953 (Sales): A Dear John Letter — Jean Shepard & Ferlin Husky (Capitol)

1953 (Jukebox): Hey Joe!— Carl Smith (Columbia)

1953 (Disc Jockeys): Hey Joe!— Carl Smith (Columbia)

1963: Abilene — George Hamilton IV (RCA)

1973: You’ve Never Been This Far Before — Conway Twitty (MCA)

1983: I’m Only In It For The Love — John Conlee (MCA)

1993: Thank God For You — Sawyer Brown (Curb)

2003: It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere — Alan Jackson with Jimmy Buffett (Arista)

2013: That’s My Kind Of Night — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

2013 (Airplay): Little Bit Of Everything — Keith Urban (Capitol)

Week ending 9/7/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

sawyerbrown1953 (Sales): A Dear John Letter — Jean Shepard & Ferlin Husky (Capitol)

1953 (Jukebox): Hey Joe!— Carl Smith (Columbia)

1953 (Disc Jockeys): It’s Been So Long — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1963: Ring of Fire — Johnny Cash (Columbia)

1973: Everybody’s Had The Blues — Merle Haggard (Capitol)

1983: A Fire I Can’t Put Out — George Strait (MCA)

1993: Thank God For You — Sawyer Brown (Curb)

2003: It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere — Alan Jackson with Jimmy Buffett (Arista)

2013: That’s My Kind Of Night — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

2013 (Airplay): Little Bit Of Everything — Keith Urban (Capitol)

Week ending 8/31/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

ronnie-mcdowell1953 (Sales): A Dear John Letter — Jean Shepard & Ferlin Husky (Capitol)

1953 (Jukebox): Rub-A-Dub-Dub — Hank Thompson (Capitol)

1953 (Disc Jockeys): It’s Been So Long — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1963: Ring of Fire — Johnny Cash (Columbia)

1973: Everybody’s Had The Blues — Merle Haggard (Capitol)

1983: You’re Gonna Ruin My Bad Reputation — Ronnie McDowell (Epic)

1993: Can’t Break It To My Heart — Tracy Lawrence (Atlantic)

2003: It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere — Alan Jackson with Jimmy Buffett (Arista)

2013: That’s My Kind Of Night — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

2013 (Airplay): Don’t Ya — Brett Eldredge (Atlantic)

Country Heritage: Jean Shepard

jean shepard 1You gaze at that guitar on your knee
In a way that you never look at me
This love affair of yours has gone too far
And I’m tired of playing second fiddle to an old guitar

— From “Second Fiddle (To an Old Guitar),” Capitol Records, 1964

Kitty Wells may have been the reigning Queen of Country Music during the 1950s, but in the eyes of many (including myself) Jean Shepard had at least as good a claim to the title. Whereas Kitty Wells, after the uncharacteristically defiant “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” reverted back to songs of domestic bliss and of being the “wronged woman,” Jean Shepard kept pushing the boundaries for female country singers. Jean may not have pushed things as far as Loretta Lynn did during the late 1960s and 70s, but she laid the groundwork for Loretta and those to follow. Among Europeans, whose tastes in country music run to more traditional sounds, many regard her as the greatest of all female country singers, a sentiment that was echoed by such leading British county music journalists as Pat Campbell, Bob Powell, and David Allen. While I don’t regard Shepard quite that highly, on my personal list of the greatest female country singers of all time, she would be in my top three (greatest, as opposed to most popular or most influential) singers. During her peak years (roughly 1953-75) she was a definite force of nature

Born Ollie Imogene Shepard on November 21, 1933 in Oklahoma, she was the child of parents who moved to Bakersfield, California, as a result of the Dust Bowl that engulfed the midwest during the 1930s. Since Shepard has been staunchly performing modern traditional country music for over sixty years, it seems only fitting that she grew up and started her career in the area surrounding Bakersfield, California.

Jean began her career as a bass player in the Melody Ranch Girls, an all-female band formed in 1948. Not long thereafter, she came to the attention of Hank Thompson, who, impressed by her talents, helped her get a record deal with Capitol Records–where she worked with Thompson’s producer, Ken Nelson. At the time she inked her deal, Shepard was still a teenager.

On her Capitol recordings, Shepard was a honky-tonker whose hard-core sound could rival any of her male counterparts. While her first single “Crying Steel Guitar Waltz” failed to chart, it showed enough promise for Capitol to team her with another promising singer, Ferlin Husky, for the 1953 chart-topper “A Dear John Letter,” a song which resonated with many returning Korean War veterans. After this, the solo hits started coming with “Beautiful Lies” and “A Satisfied Mind” being among the biggest hits of 1955 ( “A Satisfied Mind” was also a major hit for Porter Wagoner and Red Foley, but after you’ve heard Jean Shepard’s version, you will forget about the others).

Along the way, Shepard became a part of Red Foley’s Ozark Jubilee (broadcast from Springfield, MO on ABC TV) from 1955 to 1957, and she was inducted as a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1956, where she has remained a member to this day. It was during this period that Jean released what may have been country music’s first album centered around a theme in Songs of a Love Affair. Shepard had a hand in writing all twelve songs on this album.

She continued to have hits throughout the fifties and sixties, although like many other traditional country singers her hits became increasingly smaller as rock ‘n roll and the Nashville sound came into prominence. Lost in the shuffle were such excellent singles as “Act Like A Married Man,” “Tomorrow I’ll Be Gone,” “I Used To Love You,” and “Have Heart, Will Love.”

In 1960 Shepard married Hawkshaw Hawkins, a minor star whose forte was his live stage shows rather than recording success. Jean was pregnant with his son Hawkshaw Hawkins, Jr. at the time of the 1963 plane crash that claimed Hawkins’ life (as well as those of Lloyd “Cowboy” Copas and Patsy Cline).

After her son’s birth, Shepard dealt with the tragedy of her husband’s death by pouring herself back into her career. In 1964 she rebounded back near the top of the charts with the feisty “Second Fiddle (To an Old Guitar),” a song which spotlighted her yodeling ability. The next few years would produce more hits including “Seven Lonely Days,” “Many Happy Hangovers To You,” and a rare ballad “Another Lonely Night.” She also teamed up with Ray Pillow for several duets, including the big hit “I’ll Take the Dog” in 1966.

Between 1965 and 1970 Shepard charted fifteen Top 40 hits. Eventually, though, Capitol –- blessed with a deep roster that included Wanda Jackson, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Glen Campbell and Sonny James –quit pushing her recordings to radio.

A switch to United Artists (UA) in 1973 re-ignited her career as her first single for the label, the Bill Anderson-penned “Slippin’ Away,” went to #4  Billboard /#1 Cashbox /#1 Record World  , and was followed by such great singles as “At The Time,” “I’ll Do Anything It Takes (To Stay With You),” “Poor Sweet Baby,” “Tip of My Fingers,” and “Another Neon Night.” One of her UA albums, Poor Sweet Baby, was composed entirely of songs written by Bill Anderson.  Shepard remained with UA for five years.  Since then she has recorded only occasionally for various minor labels.

Along the way, Shepard married Benny Birchfield, (best known for his tenor harmonies during his tenure with the Osborne Brothers bluegrass group). She also served as president of the Association of Country Entertainers, the perfect spokesperson for this very traditionalist organization.

In 2010, Jean was inducted into the Oklahoma Country Music Hall of Fame. Then in 2011, Jean was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, an honor three decades overdue.

Jean Shepard has been a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1955 and continues to perform regularly on the Grand Old Opry where she is indeed, the “Grand Lady of the Opry,” and a national treasure. She also tours occasionally, (in the past she sometimes performed with her son Hawkshaw Hawkins, Jr. but I haven’t heard much about him recently).  She’s lost a little off her vocal ‘chops’ over the course of time, but even 85% of Jean Shepard is a lot more than 100% of most singers.

Discography

Vinyl

Capitol Records issued twenty-one albums on Jean Shepard from 1956 to 1975 (one of these was a duet album with Ray Pillow) plus there were some budget reissues released on the Hilltop label. United Artists issued five albums plus a Greatest Hits collection from 1973 to 1976.

Albums on either Capitol or United Artist  will capture Jean at the peak of her vocal prowess. Later albums will still catch Jean in good voice but with less care given to the accompaniment and production, although the album Stars of the Grand Ole Opry issued in 1981 on Pete Drake’s First Generation Records, is a pretty good effort.

CD / Digital

The CD catalog for Shepard isn’t what it should be, although the Bear Family boxed set titled Melody Ranch Girl is available. The folks at Collector’s Choice Music described it thus, “151 legendary Capitol sides from the woman who broke through the thick gender barrier in country music without looking back! This is everything Jean recorded from 1952–1964—from ‘A Dear John Letter’ up through ‘Second Fiddle (to an Old Guitar)’—including her landmark album Songs of a Love Affair, the first concept album recorded by a female country artist, plus her Got You on My Mind, Lonesome Love and Heartaches and Tears albums. A 36-page book with a newly researched biography, discography and rare photos completes the story.”

For folks wanting to sample Jean’s work without shelling out over $100, there are some decent alternatives available.

The Ernest Tubb Record Shop currently lists nine titles available, including the above-mentioned Melody Ranch Girl boxed set and the CD version of Stars of the Grand Ole Opry and an outstanding two disc set released recently by the UK label Jasmine titled The First Lady of Country, which is composed of four of Jean’s early Capitol albums (Songs of A Love Affair, Lonesome Love, This Is Jean Shepard, and Got You On My Mind).

I am not sure of the vintage of the recordings on the other sets available from Ernest Tubb, but if you call them, the folks taking your order often can give useful information.

The Country Music Foundation in 1995 issued the stellar Jean Shepard: Honky-Tonk Heroine, which has 24 songs taken from her tenure at Capitol. It may still be possible to obtain this disc. That same year Castle Communications (Australasia) issued A Satisfied Mind which has 26 tracks (17 Capitol recordings and 9 United Artist recordings)– this is the only set (of which I am aware) that contains original United Artist recordings.

Other collections available are of uncertain vintage. Jean has issued some CDs herself (Jean, Personal Favorites, and perhaps other titles) that are often remakes but contain some song titles otherwise unavailable. I have several of these discs and they are worth obtaining.

Amazon (and probably other sites, as well) have some of Jean’s music available as digital downloads. The available music appears to be a mixed bag of originals and remakes but fortunately you can hear samples before purchasing.   While recording quality can vary, there are no bad Jean Shepard vocal performances on any of the recordings that I’ve heard.

Classic Rewind: Ferlin Husky – ‘Gone’

Country Heritage: Ferlin Husky

ferlin husky

I hear Little Rock calling
Homesick tears are falling
I’ve been away from Little Rock way too long
Gonna have a troubled mind
Til I reach that Arkansas line
I hear Little Rock calling me back home

From “I Hear Little Rock Calling” — music and lyrics by Dallas Frazier

In a career in which he was a humorist, a singer, a dramatic actor on Kraft TV Theater, a movie star and talent scout, it seems only appropriate that Ferlin Husky was one of the first to record and take a Dallas Frazier lyric up the country charts. Moreover, Husky is one of the few country stars to have three career songs in “A Dear John Letter”, his 1953 duet with Jean Shepard that spent 6 weeks at #1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Chart (and reached #4 on the pop charts); “Gone”, a 1957 hit that spent 10 weeks at #1 on Billboard (and also reached #4 on the pop chart); and finally, in 1960, “The Wings Of A Dove”, a massive hit that Cashbox lists as the biggest country song of the period 1958-1984 with 19 weeks at #1 (Billboard had it at #1 for 10 weeks).

Ferlin Husky (December 3, 1925 – March 17, 2011) was born on a farm midway between the Missouri towns of Flat River, Hickory Grove and Cantwell. As a youngster, Ferlin obtained a guitar and, aided by his uncle Clyde Wilson, he learned to play it. Upon graduation from high school, Ferlin moved to the region’s biggest city, St. Louis, where he briefly worked odd jobs to survive before joining the US Merchant Marines in 1943. Ferlin would spend five years in the Merchant Marines, where in his off hours he would entertain shipmates with his vocals and musicianship. In 1948 Ferlin left the Merchant Marines to return to St. Louis where he worked for over a year with Gene Autry’s sidekick Smiley Burnett at radio station KXLW.

Moving to California in 1949, Husky landed some bit parts in western movies before moving to Bakersfield, where he sang at local clubs and worked as a disc jockey. By 1950 he was recording for Four Star Records under the name ‘Terry Preston,’ a name Ferlin felt less contrived than his given name. While none of the Terry Preston recordings became hits, they favorably impressed Cliffie Stone, a Southern California disc jockey whose television show Hometown Jamboree was quite popular. Stone played the Terry Preston records on his morning show on KXLA and eventually got Ferlin signed to Capitol Records, still under the name Terry Preston. Recording for legendary Capitol producer Ken Nelson, several fine singles resulted, including a cover of an old Roy Acuff hit “Tennessee Central #9,” none of which charted.

Nelson urged Ferlin to use his real name and the first single released under that name (“Huskey”–with an E–being the spelling used on records until 1957) hit the jackpot as the 1953 recording of “A Dear John Letter,” sung by Jean Shepard with recitation by Ferlin, resonated with returning Korean War veterans and launched both careers.

A follow up record with Ms. Shepard, “Forgive Me John”, also went Top 10 in late 1953, but it took another year for the solo hits to start. Finally, in 1955, Ferlin hit with four songs, two Top 10 records in “I Feel Better All Over” and “Little Tom”, a Top 20 record in “I’ll Baby Sit With You,” and a #5 hit recorded under the name of his comic alter-ego Simon Crum, “Cuzz Yore So Sweet”.

Growing up in the Great Depression and coming of age during World War II gave Ferlin a sense of the importance of helping others. As one of the first artists to reach Bakersfield, Ferlin was an influence and mentor to such struggling entertainers as Tommy Collins, Billy Mize, Dallas Frazier, Buck Owens and Roy Drusky. In fact, it was Ferlin who renamed Leonard Sipes as Tommy Collins.
During his years with Capitol, Ferlin Husky would push the boundaries of country music, whether by the sophisticated balladry of “Gone”, or the gentle ribbing of his #2 hit “Country Music Is Here To Stay” (as recorded by Crum).

Ferlin would stay with Capitol Records until 1972 charting forty-one records along the way, although after “The Wings of A Dove” in 1960 Top Ten hits would be scarce for the singer, with only “Once” (1967) and “Just For You” (1968), both which reached #4, scaling the heights. (“Heavenly Sunshine” reached #10 on Cashbox in 1970, stalling out at #11 on Billboard.)

After 1972, Ferlin would sign with ABC where he would chart nine times with hits including “Rosie Cries A Lot” (#17). A very nice record called “A Room for A Boy … Never Used” got lost in the shuffle; it peaked at #60 but is well worth hunting down.
After his stint with ABC, Ferlin would record sporadically for minor labels, often remaking earlier hits but sometimes coming up with new material. In 2005, at the age of eighty, Ferlin issued an excellent new CD, The Way It Was (Is The Way It Is), on the Heart of Texas label. This CD featured both old and new material, with Leona Williams on two tracks, and backed by a cast of fine Texas swing musicians.

Ferlin Husky was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2010. Many years before that, he became one of the first country artists to get his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Read more of this post

Album Review: Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder – ‘Bluegrass Rules!’

When his mainstream career wound down, Ricky Skaggs decided to pick up his mandolin and returned to his roots in bluegrass.  He didn’t do it half heartedly – this is an uncompromisingly hard bluegrass set with high lonesome vocals, tight harmonies and nimble picking.  Produced by Skaggs himself, the album featured and credited his road band Kentucky Thunder, and was released on Rounder Records.

Opens with a spoken statement by the late gospel bass-vocalist J. D. Sumner, “country rocks but bluegrass rules” then the band swings straight into an uncompromising Bill Monroe-composed  instrumental, ‘Get Up John’. There are a couple of other instrumentals, another from Monroe bookending the project, and one composed by Ricky midway through the set.  They break up the vocal tracks but do feel a bit samey.

Virtually all the songs deal with tragedy and lost love.  In his teenage years, Ricky was a member of Ralph Stanley’s Clinch Mountain Boys (along with Keith Whitley), and that experience seems to be the overwhelming inspiration of this album.  The Stanley Brothers are a major source of material, with two songs written by each of Carter and Ralph.  Carter’s ‘Think Of What You’ve Done’ offers a measured reproach to the woman who has broken his heart by leaving him for another man.  It is excellent, as is the rhythmic ‘Ridin’ That Midnight Train’ with another broken heart lyric about leaving town with the blues in similar circumstances.  Ralph’s ‘Little Maggie’ with its high mountain lead vocals has a very pure heritage feel, while the perky ‘If I Lose’ is the record’s sole happy song, with love making gambling losses unimportant.

Although they did not write it (the credit goes to Southern hymn writer Albert Brumley), the somber spiritual classic ‘Rank Stranger’ is probably also best known as part of the Stanley Brothers’ repertoire.  Ricky’s version is a real highlight of this record, with gospel trio vocals from the band.

The quieter but intensely mournful ‘Another Night’ is another fine song dealing with the pain of lost love, as is the Earl Scruggs number ‘Somehow Tonight’.

‘I Hope You’ve Learned’ is a reproach from a man in prison to his cheating wife, wondering if she will wait for him when he is finally released.  A fine song in the high lonesome style, one is, however, left wondering what exactly he did, propelled by his jealousy (wifebeating?), and the fact that he is still blaming her for it is rather troubling.  This is one case where I don’t think I’d be waiting.

In a stern warning to ‘The Drunken Driver’, Ricky relates the story of a terrible accident:

These two dear kids walked side by side
Out on the state highway
Their loving mother, she had died
And their father had run away

They were talking of their loving parents
How sad their hearts did feel
When around the curve came a speeding car
With a drunk man at the wheel

The driver saw these two dear kids
And hooted a drunkard sound
“Get out of the road, you little fools”
And the car had brought them down

The driver staggered from his car
To see what he had done
His heart sank within him
When he saw his dying son

Yes, the drunken driver has managed to run over his own abandoned children.  The little boy then rubs it in for his penitent father, gasping out as he lies dying,

“Take us to our mother, Dad
She sleeps beneath the ground
It was you and her we were talking about
When the car had knocked us down
And please, dear Dad, don’t drink no more
While driving on your way
But meet us with our mother, Dad
In Heaven some sweet day”

The story is so melodramatic it might be hard for some contemporary listeners to take seriously, but Ricky’s dead straight reading gives it some impact, and it fits into a long standing tradition of songs of this kind which are a valuable part of bluegrass (and more general country music) heritage; it was recorded by country star Ferlin Husky in the ‘50s but has the feel of something 20 years older still.

This is a hard record to assign a grade to, as there is nothing to criticise, with excellent musicianship but it is not an easy listen for those with little exposure to bluegrass, and there is not much variety. I did enjoy it a lot, but it isn’t one of my favourite Skaggs albums, as I tend to prefer those where he mixes country and bluegrass.  Those with less of a taste for bluegrass without any country elements may want to pass.

Grade: A-

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

Christmas Rewind: Ferlin Husky and Patsy Cline – ‘Let It Snow’

Album Review: Merle Haggard – ‘My Love Affair With Trains’ and ‘The Roots Of My Raising’

After over a decade on Capitol, 1976 saw Haggard calling a halt to his association with the label. He was still at his peak, and that year he was to release three albums, two of which are avilable on one CD reissue. One of these was his first thematic concept album (as opposed to his tributes to two of the musical heroes who had inspired him), My Love Affair With Trains. Haggard wanted to document his lifelong love of trains at a time when this important element of American history was being swept away, and to pay tribute to the men who had worked and lived on the railroads.

It opens with an acoustic snippet from ‘Mama Tried’ with its reference to his childhood dreams of trains, leading into the first of a series of spoken reminiscences and comments over a selection of genuine train and whistle sounds, which are interspersed with the songs. Proceedings open with the Dolly Parton-penned title track, a cheerful mid-tempo number with solid train rhythms which belies the generally elegiac mood. The subdued and melancholy ‘Union Station’, written by Ronnie Reno (the bluegrass singer and musician who was then a member of the Strangers) about a station threatened with demolition, exemplifies the overall tone.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the obvious personal resonance of the subject matter, only one song is a Haggard original. That self-penned song is the firmly autobiographical ‘No More Trains To Ride’, a catchy mid-tempo song, with somewhat wistful lyrics as Merle reflects on his father’s railroad career and the hoboes in a vanished world. Red Lane’s ‘The Coming And Going Of The Trains’ narrates the story of the railways over history by dipping into the lives of those affected. There is the arrival of the railroads, displacing the Native Americans, providing a lifeline for drought stricken farmers in Texas, giving hope to prisoners measuring time by counting off trains, and finally the regret of an engineer about to be pensioned off. Mark Yeary’s ‘I Won’t Give Up My Train’ is a first person story song about a railroad engineer who can’t bring himself to leave the travelling life even when it conflicts with his family responsibilities. Read more of this post

Country Heritage Redux: Tommy Collins

An updated and expanded version of an article previously published by The 9513.

In the Spring of 1966, the local country music stations in Tidewater, Virginia (WCMS & WTID) were playing the sounds of Tommy Collins’ new single “If You Can’t Bite, Don’t Growl.”

I whistled at pretty girl, on a corner downtown
She saw me when I winked my eye and then she turned around
She came and took me by the arm, I told her that I meant no harm
She said to me with a certain kind of scowl
If you don’t mean it then don’t whistle, if you can’t bite don’t growl

The song was released on Columbia, Tommy’s first release for them after more than a decade recording for Capitol. It appeared to be a career renaissance for Tommy, reaching #7 on the Billboard and Cashbox Country Charts, and his first real hit since 1955. Instead, it proved to be a last hurrah as he never again cracked the top forty as a performer, although a number of his songs continued to chart well for other performers.

Buck Owens and Merle Haggard are the names that immediately come to mind when the term ‘Bakersfield Sound’ is mentioned, as should be expected given their staggering commercial success. While those are the two most prominent names, Tommy Collins and (slightly later) Wynn Stewart were at least as important to the development of the bright and tight electric guitar sound that came to dominate Bakersfield music.

Born Leonard Sipes on September 28, 1930, near Oklahoma City, OK, Tommy Collins was the first of the specifically Bakersfield artists to reach prominence, although there was an active California country music scene before his arrival. His second Capitol single “You Better Not Do That” reached No. 2 (for seven weeks) in 1954 and was the first of a string of six novelty hits that ran through the end of 1955. In contrast, Buck Owens was not to chart until 1959 and Merle Haggard did not chart until 1963.

Collins spent his entire childhood in Oklahoma, graduating from high school in 1948. After that he attended Edmond State Teachers college, recording his first singles for an independent label and working for radio station KLPR radio in Oklahoma City. While at KLPR he met and made friends with Wanda Jackson, who had her own show on the station. Collins served briefly in the military; after discharge, he and Wanda Jackson (and her family) moved to Bakersfield.

Wanda Jackson did not stay long before moving back to Oklahoma, but Collins made friends in the area, including Ferlin Husky (a/k/a Terry Preston and Simon Crum), with whom he roomed for a while. After recording some of Tommy’s songs, Husky convinced his label, Capitol, to sign Collins in June of 1953, at which time he adopted his stage name Tommy Collins. He immediately assembled a band featuring Alvis Edgar “Buck” Owens on lead guitar. Following the success of “You Better Not Do That,” Collins recorded more novelties. “Whatcha Gonna Do Now” was the immediate follow-up, reaching No. 4, followed by “Untied” (No. 10) and “It Tickles” (No. 5). In October 1955, the double A-sided single “I Guess I’m Crazy” and “You Oughta See Pickles Now” charted both sides into the top twenty, but that marked the end as far as his sustained success as a recording artist as he became more religiously oriented. He would not chart again until 1964.

In 1957, he enrolled in the Golden Gate Baptist Seminary with the intention of becoming a minister and did eventually become a pastor in 1959. While he continued to record for Capitol, including some novelties such “All of The Monkeys Ain’t in The Zoo,” his records received little promotion. His Capitol contract expired in 1960 and was not renewed.

In early 1963 Tommy decided he was not meant to be a minister. He headed back to Bakersfield, re-signed with Capitol and in 1964 he returned to the lower rungs of the charts with “I Can Do That,” a duet with his wife Wanda.

Collins then signed with Columbia in 1965 (apparently with an assist from friend Johnny Cash). After the aforementioned “If You Can’t Bite, Don’t Growl,” he had a string of minor hit singles, none of which cracked the country Top 40. Plagued by personal problems, including a drinking problem, Collins muddled through this period touring, at times with Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, usually opening the show for them. Both Owens and Haggard were artists who had recorded songs Tommy had written.

Tommy would not chart again after 1968 and from that point forward his importance to country music would be as a songwriter. In 1972 Haggard had a huge hit with “Carolyn,” and in 1981, Haggard again paid tribute to Collins with “Leonard”, which focused attention back on Collins for the first time in many years.

While all of Tommy’s success as a recording artist came with novelty songs, other artists had considerable success recording some of his more serious songs. Faron Young had a major hit with “If You Ain’t Lovin’ (You Ain’t Livin’),” reaching No. 2 for three weeks in 1955, and George Strait took the same song to No. 1 in 1988. Merle Haggard had hits with “The Roots of My Raising,” “Carolyn” and “Sam Hill.” Mel Tillis took “New Patches” near the top in 1980 and numerous other Tommy Collins songs can be found in various albums recorded by country singers of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.

Tommy Collins died March 14, 2000 at the age of sixty-nine.

Discography

Vinyl

Tommy Collins was not prolific as a recording artist–those who still honor vinyl can occasionally find his Capitol and Columbia albums online or in used record stores. They are all good, so if the album is in decent shape, don’t be afraid to purchase it. None of the Columbia material is available on CD.

CD

Several vendors including PureCountryMusic.com and the Ernest Tubb Record Shop have Tommy Collins material available.

The most exhaustive set available is the Bear Family box set Leonard which covers everything he recorded on Capitol and Columbia. Bear Family always does an excellent job, but these sets are expensive and they are overkill for all but the most diehard fan.

Probably the best single CD collection is titled The Capitol Collection. Released by Koch in 2005, it has 18 songs including all of his Capitol Hits. This collection is now out of print but may be located with some effort.

Tommy Collins/Singer, Songwriter, Comedian is on the Gusto label and includes material Tommy recorded for Starday after his major label days were over. Tommy re-recorded some of his hits for this label–they are okay but lack the sparkle of the originals.

The Best of Tommy Collins is available from Curb. Featuring songs culled from a pair of albums recorded for Tower Records (a Capitol subsidiary) in 1966 and 1968. While the title is misleading, the material is interesting. This CD sells for $5.99.

The British label Cherry Red Records recently released This Is Tommy Collins which is essentially a two-fer of the Capitol vinyl albums This Is Tommy Collins and Music County Style plus six bonus tracks from the religious album Light of The Lord. Although the juxtaposition of the religious material at the end of the disc is a bit incongruous, this is the best single disc collection currently available

The British Archive of County Music (BACM) issued a CD-R on Tommy Collins called Think It Over Boys. It covers 25 songs Tommy recorded from June 1953 to July 1956. This label specializes in the obscure and issues releases in CD-R format–you can order from them through several sources. They basically stick with music that has fallen out of copyright in the UK (50 years or older), but there doesn’t seem to be anything too obscure for them to issue–they feature US, Canadian, UK, Australian and New Zealand country music artists. BACM does not mass issue their high quality CD-Rs – they issue a small supply and then produce more as the demand warrants so you may have to wait a while for your order to be filled – but you will get it eventually.

Country Heritage Redux: Dick Feller

An expanded and updated version of an article originally published by The 9513.

About eight years ago I was attending a performance by the late great Vermont singer/songwriter Bernie Whittle when he launched into “I Just Don’t Look Good Naked Anymore.” I wasn’t familiar with the song but it seemed to me that it could have come from the pen of only one writer – Dick Feller. A little research confirmed my assumption.

Dick Feller was never a big recording star, but during the 1970s he provided numerous hits for other people. Possessed of rare wit and sensitivity (a product of his rural Missouri upbringing), Feller could write poignant ballads and novelties with equal facility. For a period of time, he was a staff writer for Johnny Cash. Prior to that, he was the touring band leader/lead guitarist for Warner Mack. He even played lead guitar on most of his own recordings and appeared as guitarist on sessions by a number of other artists, including Mel Tillis and Mike Auldridge. From my exposure to Dick’s guitar playing, I rate him just barely below the Chet Atkins class as a fingerpicker guitarist.

Among Feller’s serious songs, John Denver hit with “Some Days Are Diamonds (Some Days Are Stone)” (#10 Country / #36 Pop), Johnny Cash had success with “Any Old Wind That Blows” (#3 Country) and “Orleans Parish Prison” (#52 Country), and Ferlin Husky recorded “A Room For A Boy – Never Used,” (#60 Country) a song that should have been a much bigger hit than it was.

I’m not sure whether to classify Dick’s biggest copyright as serious or humorous, but there are few songs more familiar than “East Bound and Down,” a huge country hit (#1 Cashbox /#2 Billboard) for co-writer Jerry Reed that was featured in the 1977 film Smokey and the Bandit, and received continuous play by country bands everywhere for at least the next 25 years. I know of at least 33 cover versions, most recently by the Road Hammers.

Despite his facility with the serious songs, Dick Feller seemed to prefer looking at the humorous side of life with his music. Songs such as “Lord, Mr. Ford” (a #1 Country hit for Jerry Reed) and “The Night Miss Nancy Ann’s Hotel For Single Girls Burned Down” (a minor hit for Tex Williams) seemed more in keeping with that outlook.

He issued three albums during the 1970s with four songs charting on Billboards Country charts : “The Credit Card Song” (#10), “Makin’ The Best of A Bad Situation” (#11), “Biff, The Friendly Purple Bear” (#22 – a song that appeals to all ages), and “Uncle Hiram and the Homemade Beer” (#49). The first three saw some action on Billboards Pop charts, as well.

Feller mostly wrote on his own, but when he did co-write, it was usually with writers who shared his humorous outlook on life, such as Sheb Wooley (a/k/a Ben Colder), Jerry Reed and most notably the late, Atlanta humorist Lewis Grizzard. Dick toured with Grizzard and was the opening act for the “Evening With Lewis Grizzard” stage show. Their most notable musical collaboration was “Alimony,” a subject Grizzard knew well.

In addition to the aforementioned artists, Dick Feller’s songs have been recorded by a diverse group of artists that include Bobby Bare, The Kingston Trio, Ray Stevens, Earl Scruggs, Mac Davis, Lee Greenwood, Ed Bruce, Burt Reynolds, Julie Andrews, Arthur Godfrey, Hank Snow, Hank Thompson, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Aaron Tippin, June Carter Cash and countless others.

Wouldn’t you love to hear Trace Adkins, Brad Paisley or George Strait tackle these lyrics:

I stepped out of the shower and I got a good look at myself
Pot bellied, bald-headed, I thought I was somebody else
I caught my reflection in the mirror of the bathroom door
I just don’t look good naked anymore!

So… I’m goin upstairs and turn my bedroom mirror to the wall
I hung it there back when I was trim and tall
I’d stand there and smile and flex and strut until my arms go sore
But I just don’t look good naked anymore!

From “I Just Don’t Look Good Naked Anymore”, available on Centaur Of Attention.

Discography

The Dick Feller discography is pretty slim but each album is filled with wry (and sometimes silly) humor, clever lyrics and songs full of profound thoughts, sometimes disguised as humor

VINYL
All vinyl, of course, is out of print but worth hunting down. To the best of my knowledge Dick Feller issued only four vinyl albums

Dick Feller Wrote… (United Artists, 1973)
No Word On Me (Elektra, 1974)
Some Days Are Diamonds (Elektra/Asylum, 1975)
Audiograph Alive (Audiograph, 1982)

DIGITAL
Centaur Of Attention (Cyberphonic, 2001)
Although originally released as a CD, it currently is available only as a digital download from http://www.cdbaby.com. The album contains versions of all four of Dick’s charted hits, plus some other humorous songs

Check out www.dickfeller.com for more information on Dick Feller.

Country Heritage Redux: Bonnie Guitar

Born with the last name Buckingham, Seattle native Bonnie “Guitar” was a true renaissance woman who moved from role to role during the course of her long career. You name it, this 88 year old has done it: singer, songwriter, session musician, producer, executive and record label owner.

Bonnie Guitar learned several musical instruments during her adolescent years–becoming especially proficient on guitar–and before graduating high school she had already written several songs. During the early 1950s she recorded for Fabor Robison’s Fabor label, which also featured such artists as Ned Miller, Jim Reeves and Jim Ed & Maxine Brown. By the middle of the decade she had moved to Los Angeles where she worked as a session guitarist, playing on records for a number of big name (or future big name) artists, including Ferlin Husky.

In 1957 Bonnie signed with Dot Records, a label she would be associated with, off and on, for many years. Her big break occurred shortly thereafter when she recorded the Ned Miller-penned “Dark Moon.” Her version soared to #6 on the Billboard pop charts, selling nearly a million copies along the way. Unfortunately, her label also issued a pop version of the song by noted television actress Gale Storm, who appeared on such shows as My Little Margie and The Gale Storm Show. Storm’s very similar version, no doubt aided by her greater fame, reached #5 on the Billboard Pop charts, also selling nearly a million copies (and outselling Ms. Guitar’s version by a few thousand copies). Bonnie made many television appearances in the wake of her success with “Dark Moon.”

In 1958 Bonnie formed her own record label, Dolphin Records (soon to be renamed Dolton Records), where she produced a number of acts, the most successful of which, the Fleetwoods, had a million seller with “Mr. Blue.”

Wishing to focus on her own career, Bonnie sold Dolton Records and went back to recording her own music for Dot (later ABC-Paramount), and eventually became an A&R director for the label on the west coast. After several years of focusing on A&R work, Bonnie got serious about her recording career again, and in 1966 scored several hits including “I’m Living In Two Worlds,” “A Woman In Love” and “I Believe in Love,” which all made it into the top 10. After 1967 the hits fell off – she had no further top 30 chart entries.

Perhaps this was to be expected, as by 1967 Bonnie was already 44 years old – rather long in the tooth, even in those days.

At the first annual Academy of Country Music Awards in 1967, Bonnie Guitar was named Top Female Vocalist, but this was essentially an award for past services and accomplishments. She would continue to perform until 1996, and still makes occasional appearances. According to one source, she is gearing up for a few appearances even as this article is being printed.

Discography
CD

As far as I know, there are only two Bonnie Guitar CDs currently available, both issued by Bear Family (Germany).

Dark Moon features her recordings from 1956 to 1958, so it catches her two biggest pop hits (“Dark Moon” and “Mister Fire Eyes”) but misses her country hits for Dot.

By The Fireside – The Velvet Lounge, released in April 2011, features recordings made in three 1959 sessions at RCA’s Hollywood CA studio as produced by noted performer and songwriter Don Robertson. The album features Bonnie performing country standards, accompanied only by a solo guitar. The recordings on this 15 song CD were billed as previously unreleased; however, eight of the titles match up with the song titles on a 1969 RCA Camden album titled Night Train To Memphis.

VINYL

Other than the above CDs, you’ll need to do some vinyl hunting. While Bonnie Guitar had one of the prettiest voices ever to sing country music, her 60s output has some rather syrupy backing–the full “Nashville Sound” treatment–which sounds more easy listening than country at times (although most of it is vastly superior to today’s pop country). Despite the musical arrangements, Bonnie Guitar is an outstanding singer whose voice shines through–always. Bonnie released fifteen albums on Dot Records from 1957-1969. After 1969 there are some scattered albums on a variety of smaller and reissue labels.

Listen to some of her music at http://www.myspace.com/bonnieguitar

Classic Rewind: Ferlin Husky, 1925 – 2011

Ferlin Husky first topped the country charts in 1953 with the duet ‘Dear John Letter’, also a top 5 pop hit, with current Hall of Fame inductee Jean Shepard. But being a country music star wasn’t all there was to the Missouri-born former radio disc jockey. He began his recording career first as Terry Preston, believing his given name sounded too backwoods for mainstream appeal. Later, Husky would create a comic alter-ego of himself named Simon Crum, and release several albums under the alias.

During his hit-making heyday, Husky would place 10 songs in the country top 10, including the mega-hit ‘Gone’, which spent 10 weeks at #1 on the country chart. ‘Gone’ also hit the top 5 of the pop chart. His final country #1, and last crossover hit, came with his signature ‘Wings Of A Dove’ in 1960, though he continued to churn out hits. From 1961 to his last chart entry in 1975, Husky placed 21 more songs in country’s top 40 (for a total of 36 top 40 hits). He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2010.  Here are a few of our favorite Ferlin Husky performances:

‘Don’t Be Ashamed Of Your Age’:

‘Aladdin’s Lamp’ (with June Carter):

 

And a version of his big hit ‘Gone’, which despite repeated tries, cannot be embedded.  Watch here.

Week ending 2/19/11: #1 singles this week in country music history

1951: There’s Been A Change In Me — Eddy Arnold (RCA)

1961: Wings Of A Dove — Ferlin Husky (Capitol)

1971: Help Me Make It Through The Night — Sammi Smith (Mega)

1981: Who’s Cheatin’ Who — Charly McClain (Epic)

1991: Brother Jukebox — Mark Chesnutt (MCA)

2001: There Is No Arizona — Jamie O’Neal (Mercury)

2011: Voices — Chris Young (RCA)

Week ending 1/8/11: #1 singles this week in country music history

1951: I Love You A Thousand Ways — Lefty Frizzell (Columbia)

1961: Wings Of A Dove — Ferlin Husky (Capitol)

1971: Rose Garden — Lynn Anderson (Columbia)

1981: One In A Million — Johnny Lee (Asylum)

1991: I’ve Come To Expect It From You — George Strait (MCA)

2001: My Next Thirty Years — Tim McGraw (Curb)

2011: Felt Good On My Lips — Tim McGraw (Curb)