My Kind of Country

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Tag Archives: Gene Pitney

Album Review: The Mavericks – ‘Brand New Day’

Lawrence Welk, Flaco Jimenez, Jimmy Sturr, Gene Pitney, Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley, Marty Robbins, Louis Prima, Charles Magnante, Jacques Brel, Earl Scruggs, Tito Puente, Perez Prado and countless others inhabit the music on this album. None of them actually appear on this album, but all of them are among the influences apparent in the newest Mavericks album Brand New Day, the group’s first album to be released on their own Mono Mundo label.

[Note: Unfortunately the digital download of the album did not come with songwriter or musician credits, although I think Max Abrams handles the saxophone throughout the album and Michael Guerra is on the accordion. Malo usually writes most of his own material, so I would assume that he wrote most of this album.]

The album opens with the upbeat “Rolling Along”. Like polka band leader Jimmy Sturr, Mavericks lead singer and guiding force Raul Malo discovered long ago that Polka, Tejano, Cajun and Western Swing are essentially the same music, just played on different instruments. This basically falls within that group of genres with banjo, accordion, fiddle and trumpets all featured within the mix.

Life isn’t easy, it’s uphill, believe me
Whether you’re weak or you’re strong
Sometimes you feel like you’re back on your heels
And everything’s going all wrong

Through the confusion and all disillusion
Somehow life still goes on
I found a cure I know works for sure
And we just keep rolling along

So bring on the trouble and burst every bubble
I promise it won’t change a thing
I always find that my peace of mind
Still flies like a bird on the wing
What’s going to happen is still going to happen
The one thing that you can count on
Don’t fix what ain’t broken while Willie’s still smoking
We’ll just keep rolling along

Next up is the title track “Brand New Day” written by Raul Malo and Allen Miller, a big rock ballad love song of the kind that greats Gene Pitney might have recorded in the 1960s or Roy Orbison in the 1980s. It is derivative but gives Malo a chance to show that he is one of the few singers who should be allowed anywhere near this material.

Baby tomorrow’s a brand new day
We’re gonna love all our troubles away
I don’t wanna live like a ghost from the past
You’re not the first but you will be my last

There’ll come a time when all of your dreams
Will all disappear like a thief in the night
(A thief in the night)
It’s never too dark to keep out the light
There’s never a wrong that you couldn’t make right
(You couldn’t make right)

Baby tomorrow’s a brand new day
We’re gonna love all our troubles away

“Easy As It Seems” has a bossa nova arrangement with a lyric that one of Motown’s fine staff writers could have written:

Things are getting crazy, I beg to understand
The more I think I know, the more I know I can’t
So tell me what the point is with everything you say
Nowhere near the truth almighty a bunch of nothing said

Do you want to get mean?
Do you want to get cruel?
Do you think it’s wise
To play the fool?

I can mentally hear either Louis Prima or Dean Martin singing “I Think of You”, the arrangement and saxophones saying Prima but the actual lyric screaming Dino. Since I am a huge fan of both Louis Prima and Dean Martin, I would probably single this song out as my favorite track on the album.

“Goodnight Waltz” evokes the images of Parisian Café Society. Sung softly and taken at a slow waltz tempo, the lyric can be taken several ways, depending upon the frame of mind of the listener.

Here I stand before your eyes
I’m just a man who’s realized
Another dream has come to light
So I’ll say goodnight

I’ll say goodnight to you
I’ll say goodnight to you
So farewell but not goodbye
So I’ll say goodnight

Time has come and gone too soon
Tomorrow brings another tune
I’ll sing them all ’til the day I die
So I’ll say goodnight

“Damned (If You Do)” reminds me of a lot of other songs I’ve heard over the years, both lyrically and melodically (the first few bars had me wondering if I was about to hear the theme from the Munsters television show and there seem to be hints of that theme at several points in the song):

And sure as you are
Of lessons you’ve learned
Decisions you’ve made
Will all be overturned
But life all alone
Is a life unfulfilled
You may not miss the hurt
But you sure do miss the thrills

You’re damned if you do
And damned if you don’t
Damned if you will
And damned if you won’t

Next up is “I Will Be Yours”, a romantic ballad that a younger Engelbert Humperdinck would have recorded as an album track in the late 1960. I can even imagine Elvis Presley or Marty Robbins tackling this song.

If you should want to, or ever need to
Find yourself someone who would be true
I know the right one, to be that someone
And he has fallen in love with you

If you surrender to love so tender
Until forever I will be yours
Don’t ever leave me, darling believe me
Until forever I will be yours

“Ride With Me” has an early rock ‘n roll feel to it (with brass and accordion added), although the song also reminds me of Bobby Troup’s classic song “Route 66”. Basically a travelogue, it is a good song anyway. If you listen closely you will hear some Bob Wills style asides from Malo.

When I’m in New York City, I never sleep a wink
When I’m in New York City, I never get to sleep a wink
But when I cross that river all I want to do is drink

Well I have been to Chicago, they said it was the promised land
You know I’ve been to Chicago, they said it was the promised land
When I arrived as a child they promised that I’d leave a man

Phoenix, Arizona; Memphis, Tennessee
Southern California, Washington DC
I gotta go… a whole world to see
So pack your bags up baby
Come along and ride with me

Of all the songs on this album “I Wish You Well” is the one that I would describe as being like a prototypical Roy Orbison song. Malo does a fabulous job singing it and conveying the regret and angst of the lyric.

This is where the road divides
This is where we have to say goodbye
Say goodbye

After all that we’ve been through
How I wish for more than this to say to you
This to say to you

Here’s to all the good times
That we’ve ever known
To the memories
Yours and mine alone

Now you lie before me
Like a star that fell
Oh I wish you well
Oh I wish you well

The album closes with “For The Ages”, a celebratory love song, with an arrangement that, with the exception of the choral coda, could be called country, the only song on the album I would so describe, although like every other song on the album, accordion is in evidence.

For the ages… that’s what our love will be
For the ages… through all of history
For the ages… who could ask for more
For the ages… that’s what our love is for

I’ve never known a love to make me feel like this
I’ve never tasted wine sweeter than your kiss
I’ve never seen a star shining in the sky
Nearly half as bright as the twinkle in your eye

Describing the music of The Mavericks has always been difficult somewhat akin to trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole, only in their case the peg had a trapezoid shape. This album is no exception. It has been categorized as rock, which it is not, and I have seen it called country which it most certainly isn’t.

There is nothing new or revolutionary about any of the music on this album, and many of the songs on the album will remind long-time fans of songs on other Mavericks albums. Even so, this is one of the better albums that will be released this year, with its wide array of songs and musical styles. Raul Malo is in excellent voice throughout. My only criticism is that the album could be a little longer (it runs about 38 minutes).

Graded strictly in terms of the excellence of execution, this album is an A+. Graded on other criteria you might downgrade it to a B+ (shame on you if you do, though)

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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: Faron Young – ‘You Don’t Know Me’

you don't know meThe friendly folks at Cracker Barrel have released something I thought I would never see – a new album of Faron Young recordings.

This album is somewhat similar to CONNIE SMITH – THE LOST TAPES in that it is taken from live takes, old radio shows and some studio recordings that never were released. Unlike the Connie Smith recordings, these were one track recordings, not in a finished state.

Producer Scott Oliver of Country Rewind Records, took the incomplete tracks and added additional instrumentation, vocal backings and some orchestration to create recordings that would fit comfortably on country radio during the last wave of neo-traditionalism (roughly 1986-2001). Many of the tracks were cut on acetate pressings that were intended for a single play on the radio. As such, some of the tracks required painstaking repair efforts. If I had to guess. most of the vocals were originally recorded in one take resulting in vocals that sound spontaneous and alive.

The basic sound is crisp and clean and modern. Faron’s vocal performances are very good. There is no information as to the additional musicians used on the collection, but Faron’s son Robyn Young wrote the liner notes. I would guess the original radio tracks and demos came from the mid-to-late 1960s as none of the songs feature hits from the 1970s. Because the tracks were meant for radio shows, a few of the tracks run under two minutes (“Alone With You” runs only ninety seconds) so the total playing time of the disc is just over 35 minutes.

The songs are as follows:

“I’ve Got Five Dollars (and It’s Saturday Night)” – this song was #4 hit for Faron in 1956 (the duo of George Jones & Gene Pitney also had a hit with it in 1965) and is taken at a very brisk tempo.

“Hello Walls” – this Willie Nelson-penned song was Faron’s biggest seller spending nine weeks at #1 in 1961 and selling over a million records. The 1961 hit recording was not very country, having been aimed squarely at the pop charts (it reached #12). This recording turns it back into a country song with country fiddles and steel guitar being featured prominently in the mix.

“A Place For Girls Like You” – this song was Faron’s third chart single, reaching #8 in 1954. This version picks up the tempo a bit from the original version.

“She Went A Little Bit Farther” – Faron recorded for Capitol; Records until 1962, switching over to Mercury in 1963. This song reached #14 for Faron in 1968. Faron’s chart success was very up and down during his first five years with Mercury as he sought to repeat the pop success of “Hello Walls”. In 1969 Faron went back to being a traditional country singer. This version is a little faster than the recorded single version and a little more country.

“You Don’t Know Me” was written by the legendary Cindy Walker from an idea supplied by Eddy Arnold. Eddy had a top ten hit with the song in 1956 and Ray Charles had a #2 pop hit with it in 1962. This recording would have made a great single for Faron had it existed and been released during Faron’s lifetime.

“I Guess I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night” – I love the steel guitar work on this recording. Faron’s 1967 single only reached #48. This is a much better recording, a likely top five record had this been the released version.

“Goin’ Steady” was Faron’s first charted single in 1953, probably written by Hank Williams (1). The single reached #2 in its first trip to the charts. Apparently Faron wasn’t completely satisfied with the original hit version as he re-recorded the song numerous times during the next decade, gradually picking up the tempo until he issued a new single of the song for Mercury in 1970. The Mercury version reached #5 and features aggressive use of fiddles and steel guitar. On the version featured here, Faron’s vocals have just about reached the tempo of the Mercury recording, Although I like the Mercury version better than this recording, this is a very good recording

“Unmitigated Gall” reached #7 in 1966 for Faron. This is a good version although not a revelation and not terribly different in its net effect from the released single version

“I Miss You Already” went top five for Faron in 1957. This version was taken from a radio show and is quite good, again nothing revelatory but quite interesting. Nice steel and fiddle work

To younger minds, it must be impossible to conceive of this song being a hit single. Be that as it may, “I Just Came To Get My Baby (Out of Here)” went to #8 for Faron Young in 1968. The arrangement here is a little more country sounding that the hit single.

Faron Young had the first hit single on “Sweet Dreams” back in 1956, charting about six weeks before writer Don Gibson’s version hit the charts. Faron’s version reached #2 on the charts. This is a solid country version. For my money Faron Young was the best interpreter of this song, better than Don Gibson, Patsy Cline or anyone else that followed.

“If You Ain’t Lovin (You Ain’t Livin’)” was Faron’s fourth chart single back in 1954 reaching #2 in early 1955. This Tommy Collins tune was recorded by many artists during the 1950s and 1960s. I like this version very much.

“Alone With You” – according to Billboard, this was Faron’s biggest hit spending thirteen weeks at #1 in 1958. This version is taken at a very fast tempo, finishing up in ninety breath-taking seconds. Very solid fiddle and steel guitar on this track. I love this track, I just wish it lasted a little longer.

I don’t remember “You Had A Call” – it wasn’t a single and if I heard it before, it passed by unnoticed. Not so this version, which caught my attention the within the first few notes. Unlike most of the songs on this collection, this is a slow ballad with a mostly understated arrangement that lets Faron’s voice take center stage.

“Live Fast Love Hard Die Young” was Faron’s first #1 single back in 1955, spending three weeks atop the charts. This version, from a radio show, is slightly faster than the original recording. The instrumental breaks on the recording are very good and very country. The song is a perfect ending to a very entertaining album. I just wish they had found a few more songs to lengthen the album a bit.

(1) The legend says Hank gave Faron the rights to “Goin’ Steady” in exchange for which Faron would give up dating Billie Jean Eschelman, a young lady both had been dating. Billie Jean would become the second Mrs. Hank Williams and in a bizarre twist of fate, would also be the widow of Johnny Horton.

Album Review: The Mavericks – ‘The Mavericks’ (1990)

the mavericksThe Mavericks’ debut album, released in early 1991 on the Miami-based Cross Three label, was not widely circulated until after their major label debut on MCA in mid-1992, but those who had the opportunity to hear the album, see the band in live performance, or hear the single “This Broken Heart” played on the radio in South Florida and Central, could tell that something interesting was about to happen.

As a band, the Mavericks were an oddity, coming from South Florida, hardly a hotbed for country music, with a Cuban-American lead singer who wrote all of the songs on the debut album, and had a voice reminiscent of Gene Pitney or Roy Orbison, a pair of prominent pop singers of the 1960s.

Often, early efforts by performers result in albums prove to be embarrassing when revisited later. Not so with The Mavericks which features an array of interesting songs four of which (“Mr. Jones”, “The End of the Line (Jim Bakker)”, “This Broken Heart” and “A Better Way”) would be reprised on their major label debut album From Hell To Paradise. The lead vocalist, Raul Malo, was still finding his voice, but it was clear that he was getting there. The band at this time consisted of singer Raul Malo, guitarist Ben Peeler, bassist Robert Reynolds; and drummer Paul Deakin. This would be the only album on which Peeler, a competent but somewhat pedestrian electric guitar player, would appear. By the time the next album appeared, he had been replaced by David Lee Holt.

In fairness to Ben Peeler, when he was playing acoustic guitar, steel guitar, dobro, mandolin or banjo, his work was very nice.

The album opens with “You’ll Never Know” an upbeat song that would have fit in the repertoire of Ricky Nelson during the 1950s & 1960s. It’s a very rock & roll but with fiddle and steel featured prominently in the mix.

“End Of The Line (Jim Bakker)” would be repeated on From Hell To Paradise using essentially the same arrangement. Another up-tempo song, Malo’s vocal is a bit more tentative on this album and the guitar is more acoustic.

“This Broken Heart” is a great song that would be repeated on From Hell To Paradise and likely would have charted if released as a single on a major label. This initial version features a somewhat more languid arrangement that would appear on the next album and Malo puts a little less muscle in his vocal than would later be the case. Disc jockeys around Central Florida would occasionally play either this track or the version from the following album, after the band reached prominence.

“Mr. Jones” would also appear on From Hell To Paradise with a nearly identical arrangement but with a more assertive vocal by Malo. It’s a good mid-tempo song.

“Tomorrow Never Comes” is a nice up-tempo jog-along country ballad of the kind that Buck Owens might have tackled in the 1960s. Debbie Spring’s fiddle is featured prominently at points throughout the song.

This is followed up by “The Lonely Waltz” which is, as advertised, a waltz. It’s not a great song but it is a good song with some nice mandolin work by Ben Peeler and harmonica by Homer Wills. I should note that Peeler seems most effective when playing acoustic guitar or mandolin on this album.

“Watch Over Me” is a very up-tempo number that kicks off with a fiddle, quickly joined by banjo – the melody and tempo are really too upbeat for the rather melancholy lyrics.

“A Better Way” has a kind of 50s country feel to it, a ballad with steel guitar serving as the lead instrument. This song would be reprised on From Hell To Paradise taken at a very slightly faster tempo but again with more forceful vocals by Malo.

In contrast “Another Lonely Life (Paul’s Song)” feels more like a folk ballad with a nice harmonica work by Homer Wills.

“I Don’t Care (If You Love Me Anymore)” is another loping ballad followed by the very up-tempo “Keep Moving On”, again with a melody that doesn’t quite fit the lyrics. I think that if Malo were to record this song again he would slow it down and put a little more emotion in the his vocals, which sound very detached emotionally.

“I’ll Give You Back (When You Belong To Me)” features some nice fiddle on a western swing melody. Again, sad lyrics coupled with a happy melody that does not quite fit the lyrics.

The album closes out with the very folk sounding “Strength To Say Goodbye”.

I like this album, which I purchased just before their major label debut, and would give it a B but if Malo were to simply strip out his original vocals and re-record them with his more mature vocal style of just a few years later, this would be a much better album, worthy of a B+.

Comparing this album with From Hell To Paradise which was issued just a year and a half later, the most striking thing is the growth in Malo’s vocal prowess. For an apt comparison check out Roy Orbison’s rather wimpy vocals on his Sun Records recording of “Ooby Dooby” with Roy’s powerful vocals on “Only The Lonely”. This is a group that started out good and got much better quickly predicated mostly upon the lead vocalist’s rapid maturation process and the decision to use some outside material, rather than sticking with exclusively Malo’s compositions.

Grade: B

Fellow Travelers: Gene Pitney (1941-2006)

gene pitneyThis is the fifth in a series of short articles about artists who, although not country artists, were of some importance to country music.

WHO WAS HE? : Gene Pitney was a successful singer-songwriter whose peak American success occurred during the 1960s. As a songwriter, Pitney supplied hits to a number of prominent artists including “He’s a Rebel” (The Crystals) “Today’s Teardrops” (Roy Orbison), “Rubber Ball” (Bobby Vee) and “Hello Mary Lou” (Ricky Nelson).

As a singer, Gene was a very dramatic balladeer, whose powerful voice bought the songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David to prominence with such hits as “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence”, “Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa” and “Only Love Can Break A Heart”. “Only Love Can Break A Heart” was Gene’s biggest US pop hit, reaching #2, kept from the top, ironically enough by the Crystals’ recording of “He’s A Rebel”. All told Gene charted twenty-four tunes in the US Hot 100 with four songs reaching the top ten.

Although Gene had considerable success in the USA, he was even more successful in the UK with eleven songs reaching the top ten including his 1963 recording of “That Girl Belongs To Yesterday”, the first ever hit for the songwriting duo of Mick Jagger & Keith Richards, and a #1 duet with Marc Almond in 1989 of “Something’s Got A Hold of My Heart”. Gene died of an apparent heart attack in 2006 while on a successful tour of Great Britain.

WHAT WAS HIS CONNECTION TO COUNTRY MUSIC? : Gene listed Moon Mullican among his early influences. Although he was raised in Connecticut, he recalled listening to the WWVA Big Jamboree on some Saturday nights.

Gene was the flagship artist for Art Talmadge’s Musicor label, which had only two consistently bankable artists in Gene Pitney and (after 1965) George Jones. Both artists were grossly over-recorded, often releasing five or more albums per year. Somewhere along the line, someone had the bright idea to record George and Gene together, releasing the records under the name ‘George & Gene’. This duo charted four songs on the country charts, the biggest being a #16 charting remake of the old Faron Young hit “I’ve Got Five Dollars and It’s Saturday Night” (it also reached the Billboard Hot 100). George Jones and Gene Pitney would record a total of seventeen songs together; however, all of their work together was in the recording studio as they never appeared in concert together.

Gene would also have another duet country chart hit, this time with another Musicor label mate, Melba Montgomery, on “Baby Ain’t That Fine”. Gene and Melba recorded several songs together.

Although Gene’s success on the country charts was limited, several of his pop classics were covered by country artists with success. Sonny James took “Only Love Can Break A Heart” to #1 Cashhbox/#2 Billboard in 1972 and in 1979 Kenny Dale took it to #7. Randy Barlow took “Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa” to the top twenty in 1977 and several other artists had some lower places with covers of Gene’s hits, plus his songs show up as album tracks on country albums throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

There is an official website where you can find out more about Pitney and listen to samples of his music. If you’ve never heard Gene Pitney, you’re in for a treat. He’s not really comparable in style to anyone I can think of, maybe somewhere between Jackie Wilson and Roy Orbison, but unique and distinctive.

George Jones remembered

george-jones-200a-072408mbWith the passing of George, all the radio heroes of my early childhood, except Ray Price, have gone from the scene. I can’t tell you exactly when I became cognizant of George Jones, as he seemed to have always been there. I remember radio playing songs such as “White Lightning”, “Who Shot Sam?”, “Don’t Stop The Music” , “Just One More” and You Gotta Be My Baby” during the 1950’s and liking the sound of the records, although not necessarily understanding what they were about.

I can tell you when I became a real fan of George Jones and when I started understanding what his music was about. In 1961 I turned nine years old and lived across the street from a kid whose father manifested all of the bad behavior that was revealed in George’s songs. While many sang “the endless ballads of booze and broads” in those less politically correct days, George brought a depth of emotion that few could achieve. But while many singers mined those same waters, few were also as good at singing of other matters such as love and faith. Let’s face it, George Jones could sing even the most mediocre and most maudlin songs with convincing sincerity, so when he had good material to work with, the results transcended what everyone else was doing.

For my money, the very best recordings George Jones ever recorded came during the 1960s. Yes, he became a more nuanced singer later, but he was already 98% at his nuanced peak and his voice was at its absolute peak.

During the 1950s George recorded for Starday and/or Mercury (there were some collaborative efforts between the two labels) and while there was considerable youthful enthusiasm there, the polish had not yet been applied. Towards the end of his run on Mercury a few songs were released that heralded the direction George was going – “The Window Up Above”, “She Thinks I Still Care”, “Tender Years”, and “You’re Still On My Mind”. These songs exhibited a little more careful production than was often the case and were far more introspective than the usual “ballads of booze and broads”. While “You’re Still On My Mind” was not released as a single until after George left Mercury (and accordingly received no promotional push) it was an impressive effort and earned the songwriter Luke McDaniel some additional money when the Byrds included it on their Sweetheart Of The Rodeo album.

I have said many times the 1960s were my favorite era for George Jones recordings. In 1961 George’s recordings started appearing on the United Artists label. While perhaps a bit heavy on the strings and vocal choruses, these recordings feature strong material and find George in fine voice throughout. This era kicked off with a magnificent single, “She Thinks I Still Care” b/w “Sometimes You Just Can’t Win” as the B side. The A side shot to #1 where it stayed for six weeks. I thought the song on the B side was the stronger song – and it proved its worth by shooting to #17. (A new recording of the song would reach the top ten in 1971 for Musicor, plus it would be covered by many other artists) . What better description can you have of despair than

Just when the suns shines the brightest
And the world looks alright again
Then the clouds fill the skies
You can’t believe your eyes
Sometimes you just can’t win

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Country Heritage Redux: Narvel Felts

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

“Give me the beat, boys, and free my soul
I want to get lost in your country song
And drift away”

Sam Phillips’ Sun Studios in Memphis had quite a roster of performers during the mid 1950s: Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Harold Lloyd Jenkins (aka Conway Twitty), Jerry Lee Lewis, Charlie Rich, Carl Mann, Warren Smith, Billy Lee Riley and Narvel Felts. Unfortunately only Carl Mann, Jerry Lee Lewis and Narvel Felts remain with us, and only Narvel Felts continues to perform on a regular basis and can still be considered at his vocal peak, his soaring tenor and high falsetto undiminished by the ravages of time. Among male artists who have had commercial success in Country Music, only Slim Whitman had a comparable ability to hit the high notes. Expand the discussion to include pop and rock music and you can add Jackie Wilson, Gene Pitney and Roy Orbison to the list. None, however, had quite the range that “Narvel the Marvel” possesses.

Felts was born November 11, 1938 in Keiser, Arkansas, and raised in Bernie, Missouri, where he became interested in music at an early age. During his teens Narvel worked in the cotton fields, saving his money to buy a guitar. While attending Bernie High School, Narvel entered (and won) a talent contest held at his school, singing Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes”. A deejay from Dexter, Missouri, was in the audience, and was so impressed that the next day he announced over the air that his station, KDEX, wanted to get in touch with Narvel Felts. Soon Felts was appearing at the station for his own Saturday afternoon show. This lead to further opportunities, especially with buddy Roy Orbison and noted record producer Jack Clement assisting Felts in getting placed on Sun Records. The first harvest came in the form of a rockabilly number titled “Kiss-a Me Baby.” Felts was only 16 years old at the time.
Unfortunately, rockabilly had a short shelf life as the dominant form of American popular music and artists that stayed with the format were quickly forgotten. Even the “King,” Elvis Presley, had to expand beyond rockabilly to keep his career moving forward. Nothing happened for Felts on Sun Records and he soon signed with Mercury where five singles were released without notable success. He recorded with minor labels for the next few years, achieving a minor pop chart success in 1960 with a cover of the Drifters’ “Honey Love.” This success led him to sign with MGM where he cut a number of singles.
Felts continued to perform and record throughout the 1960s with little commercial success as far as record sales were concerned, although he made many excellent records. Despite the lack of success, Felts was able to keep his career chugging forward as a popular gate attraction due to his dynamic stage presence. Hi Records had recording sessions with Felts at scattered times during the 1959-1973 period.
On April 30, 1962, Felts married Loretta Stanfield, a union that produced two children: a daughter Stacia and a son, Narvel “Bub” Felts, Jr. (Bub was a talented drummer, and a part of Felts’s touring band until his death in an auto accident in September 1995.)

Like former label-mate Charlie Rich, it took Narvel Felts until the 1970s for his career to hit high gear. Also like Rich, Felts’ talents were so diverse that it was difficult to pigeonhole him into any particular genre. While no one would ever describe Narvel Felts as being part of the “outlaw movement,” he unquestionably benefited from it as Nashville in the 1970s became more accepting of artists not cut from the Roy Acuff/Ernest Tubb/Merle Haggard mold. Recording on the small Cinnamon label, Felts started producing hit records.

In 1973, while signed with the Cinnamon label, his second single, the Mentor Williams composition “Drift Away” (#8BB/#5CB/#4 RW), became his first top ten country hit. This was followed by “All In The Name of Love” (#13BB & CB), “When Your Good Love Was Mine” (#14BB/#10CB), “Raindrops (#33BB/#30CB) and “I Want To Stay” (#26BB/#23CB).

In 1975 Cinnamon went out of business and Felts moved to ABC Records, where his first single, “Reconsider Me,” exploded onto the charts reaching #1 on the Cash Box and Record World country charts (inexplicably, it only reached #2 on Billboard’s chart), and received many honors both in the USA and abroad, including Cashbox Country Record of the Year, Billboard DJ’s Country Record of the Year and ASCAP Country Record of the Year.

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Spotlight Artist: George Jones (Part 1 of 3)

“If we all sounded like we wanted to, we’d all sound like George Jones” — Waylon Jennings

Country music has produced many legends, but one name in particular is at the top of nearly everyone’s list — George Jones. Frequently acclaimed as country music’s greatest living singer, we are proud to announce that he is our spotlight artist for the month of July.

George Glenn Jones was born in a log cabin in Saratoga, Texas, near Beaumont, on September 12, 1931, the youngest of eight children. The family got its first radio when George was seven years old, and when he was nine, his father bought him a guitar, and his lifelong love affair with country music began. He quickly learned that he could earn money through his music, often getting free bus rides in exchange for entertaining the other passengers. By age eleven, he was busking in the streets of Beaumont, earning as much as twenty-five dollars a day — and in what was to become a lifelong habit — blowing the money in an arcade as soon as it was earned.

When George was 17, he married Dorothy Bonvillion. The union lasted less than a year; they were divorced by the time their daughter Susan was born. In order to make the court-mandated child support payments, George joined the Marine Corps. He didn’t see combat, but he obtained some gigs singing on Saturday nights and continued to hone his craft.

After leaving the Marine Corp in 1953, Jones returned to Beaumont and got a job as a disc jockey at radio station KTRM. He caught the attention of Jack Starnes and H.W. “Pappy” Dailey, the owners of Starday Records. His earliest records didn’t have much impact beyond East Texas, but by 1955 he had his first bonafide hit with “Why Baby Why”, which peaked at #4 on the Billboard chart, and might have charted higher had it not been that Red Sovine and Webb Pierce recorded a cover version for Decca Records (their version went to #1). In 1956, Jones was invited to join the Grand Ole Opry.

Starday was eventually sold to Mercury Records, and George remained with the label until 1962. Pappy Dailey continued to be George’s manager and record producer (although Jones later said that Dailey had done very little in his role as producer and that Jones himself performed most of the production duties). While he was at Mercury, George had such hits as “White Lightnin'”,(his first #1), “Color Of The Blues” , and “The Window Up Above.” During that time, he developed a more polished vocal style, and his records’ production shifted from a raw honky-tonk style to the more sophisticated Nashville Sound of the day. In 1962, he followed Pappy Dailey to United Artists Records, where he scored such classic hits as “She Thinks I Still Care,” “The Race Is On” and a number of memorable duets with Melba Montgomery, including “We Must Have Been Out Of Our Minds.”

In 1964, Pappy Dailey and former Mercury executive Art Talmadge bought out United Artists’ share in New York-based Musicor Records, and Dailey’s clients, including Jones and Melba Montgomery, were transferred to the new label. Jones’ first sessions at Musicor were duets with the label’s flagship artist, Gene Pitney. Their hit duets together included “Things Have Gone To Pieces” and “I’ve Got Five Dollars And It’s Saturday Night.” As a solo artist, George recorded almost 300 songs during his Musicor tenure, and scored 25 hits, including “Love Bug”, “Walk Through This World With Me”, “If My Heart Had Windows”, “Say It’s Not You”, “When The Grass Grows Over Me”, and “A Good Year For The Roses.”

George had remarried in 1954 to Shirley Corley. Although the marriage lasted fourteen years and produced two sons, the two were not well suited for each other. Shirley showed little interest in George’s career and opted to remain in Texas when he moved to Nashville. Her lack of support, combined George’s alcohol abuse took its toll on the marriage, and the couple divorced in 1968. Shortly thereafter, George met a young up-and-coming singer named Tammy Wynette.

Album Review: Patty Loveless – ‘Sleepless Nights’

Sleepless NightsPatty Loveless was dropped by Epic following disappointing sales and minimal airplay for her last album for the label, Dreamin’ My Dreams. She was in no hurry to make her next move, taking some time off the road to move down to Georgia, and dealing with family deaths and illness, but in 2008 she signed with the independent label Saguaro Road, and in September that year she released a new album, produced as usual by husband Emory Gordy Jr. She cast aside thoughts of regaining her chart-topping status, and instead recorded a tribute to traditional country music. It was heralded as a kind of companion piece or counterpart to 2001’s Mountain Soul, as it was billed on the cover as “the traditional country soul” of Patty Loveless. What resulted was even better than we could have expected. Sleepless Nights is a masterpiece.

Classic cover albums have a tendency to fall into one of two main categories: excessively cautious tributes where the artist sounds frankly overwhelmed by the thought of competing with a much-loved original, and ends up producing a carbon copy or high quality karaoke; and trying too hard to put their own stamp on the material in such a way that the merits of the original song are stifled. Sleepless Nights triumphantly avoids either pitfall. Patty sounds thoroughly invested in the material and style, and makes it sound alive. Her versions of each of these songs sounds as though it could have been the original classic version.

George Jones is a very challenging artist to risk comparison with, although perhaps it is less dangerous for a female vocalist where the comparisons will inevitably be less deleterious. Patty had already successfully tackled one Jones classic in the form of ‘If My Heart Had Windows’ back in the early days, and she chose to open Sleepless Nights with George’s first hit single (in 1955), the honky tonking ‘Why Baby Why’ (with a couple of minor lyric changes to fit the change in gender) which also served as the single released to promote this album. Sadly, if predictably, it was far too traditional for today’s country radio, but it is a perfect opening to the album as Patty tears into the song, the most up-tempo on the set.

Patty also picked three more Jones songs, including a truly lovely version of one of his greatest classics (written by Dickey Lee). ‘She Thinks I Still Care’ is altered here to ‘He Thinks I Still Care’. There is a fantastic take on ‘Color Of The Blues’ on which Patty actually achieves the almost impossible: improving on a song once recorded by George Jones as she infuses the lyric with pain. The most obscure Jones cover is ‘That’s All It Took’, from one of his 1960s duet albums with pop singer Gene Pitney, which is probably best known today from the 1970s cover by Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. Patty’s version features her former guitarist, Australian Jedd Hughes, on harmonies.

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