My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: George Morgan

Five songs and some recollections from 1968

Although I had been listening to country music all of my life, 1968 was the first time I ever really focused on the genre.

There were several reasons for this, including the fact that with part-time and summer jobs I had some spending money for the first time in my life. One of my jobs was in Virginia Beach where there was a record store next door that actually carried a decent selection of country 45s.

The summer of 1968 may have been “the Summer of Love” for many but in my opinion pop music had started getting a bit weird for my taste so I started keeping my radio on either WCMS in Norfolk (“Where Country Music Swings”) or WTID in Newport News (“Top Gun”). Both of these were AM stations as the FM bands were reserved for classical music.

Mostly I listened to WCMS which was the stronger station (50,000 watts) and had better disc jockeys, folks such as “Hopalong” Joe Hoppel and “Carolina” Charlie Wiggs. Disc jockeys had more latitude in what they played, and local listener requests figured heavily in airplay. While I won’t pretend that the radio stations were perfect (there were lots of dumb commercials and sometimes really silly contests),radio station DJs could play records by local artists and other non-charting records without running afoul of corporate mucky-mucks. Local DJ Carolina Charlie had two records in “Pound By Pound” and “Angel Wings” in 1968 that received frequent airplay on WCMS and also received airplay on other stations throughout the area in which Charlie played live shows.

Most of the larger country radio stations had their own top forty charts and many of them had a local countdown show on Saturday or Sunday afternoon. At one time I had several years worth of top forty charts for WCMS AM-1050. Mom, God rest her soul, threw them out long ago without telling me, so to some extent I am operating on memory but there were five songs that were huge hits in the Norfolk area in 1968 that have stuck in my memory, songs that were not necessarily big hits nationally, but that the local audiences, composed largely of US military personnel and families loved (there were three local Navy bases plus an army base).

Undo The Right”, sung by Johnny Bush and written by Johnny’s good buddy Willie Nelson, was a big hit nationally, reaching #10 on Billboard’s Country chart. In the Norfolk area, the song was huge staying at the #1 slot for five weeks. The song, with its heavy dose of fiddle and steel, was more country sounding than 95% of the songs (mostly countrypolitan or Nashville Sound productions) to chart that year. The single was issued on Pete Drake’s Stop label and led to Bush being signed to RCA, where a mysterious throat problem derailed his career for a number of years

The big hits basically had long since stopped by 1968 for George Morgan, although “Sounds of Goodbye”, released on the Starday label, might have become a big national hit for him had not two other artists recorded the song, thus splitting the hit. Although the song only reached #31 nationally, it did spark off a bit of a renaissance for Morgan. In the Norfolk area the song was a top five hit, reaching #2. The song, probably the first hit on an Eddie Rabbitt composition, also charted for Tommy Cash at #41 and was a top twenty hit for Cash on the Canadian Country charts. Vern & Rex Gosdin had a successful record with the song on the west coast of the US in late 1967. Cashbox had the song reach #15 but their methodology in 1968 was to combine all versions of the song into a single chart listing. I’ve heard the Gosdins’ version of the song, but Tommy Cash’s version for United Artists never made it to an album and I’ve never found a copy of the single, so I’ve not heard his recording.

“Got Leavin’ On Her Mind” was probably my favorite recording of 1968. Written by the legendary Jack Clement, the song was issued on the MGM label by newly minted Country Music Hall of Fame member Mac Wiseman. As far as I know, the song was a ‘one-off’ for MGM and Wiseman. Long known as “the voice with a heart” and a legendary bluegrass singer, this record had the feel of bluegrass without actually being a bluegrass record in that the instrumentation was standard country without Nashville Sound trappings. Bluegrass artists rarely have huge chart hits and this was no exception, reaching only #54 for Mac. In the Norfolk area, demand for the single was strong and while it only reached #5 on the WCMS charts, the record store I frequented had difficulty keeping the record in stock, reordering new supplies of the single on several occasions.

Carl and Pearl Butler were archaic even when their music was new, but “Punish Me Tomorrow” seemed to catch the ears of the servicemen in our area. It only reached #28 nationally, but it was top ten on WCMS and might have reached higher but the DJs on WCMS made the mistake of playing the flip side “Goodbye Tennessee” resulting in the station receiving a lot of requests for that song, too.

Drinking Champagne” went top ten on WCMS, anticipating by four years the huge success that Cal Smith would achieve starting in 1972. Written by legendary disc jockey Bill Mack, the song reached #35 on Billboard’s country chart but went to #1 for a week on WCMS. Years later George Strait would have a successful record with the song. Cal’s was the better version and this might have been a huge national hit if released a few years later after Smith hit the big time.

I realize that most of our readership wasn’t born in 1968 and if they think about country music in 1968 at all, it is for pop-country singles like “Honey“, “Harper Valley PTA” and the various Glen Campbell and Sonny James singles that received some pop airplay. There were good solid country records being made but aside from the aforementioned and some Johnny Cash recordings, they weren’t receiving pop airplay. In 1968 there were large sections of the country that had no country stations at all; moreover, many country stations went off the air at sundown or cut power significantly so that they reached only the most local of audiences.

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Album Review: Lorrie Morgan: ‘A Moment In Time’

a moment in timeHer first album in five years, and only her second in a decade, A Moment In Time was billed as Lorrie’s version of a classic country tribute. Unlike many of its type, Lorrie’s vision leaned more to the Nashville Sound and the sophisticated pop country associated with her father George Morgan, with some outright pop material from the same era. It was released on James Stroud’s Stroudavarious Records in association with Country Crossing, and produced by James Voorhis and Wally Wilson.

For something so long anticipated, A Moment In Time was a massive disappointment. Sadly Lorrie’s voice was showing marked signs of deterioration, thickened, sometimes coarse and lacking the flexibility and tone of her youth. The album was recorded in two live sessions, which may have been a mistake given the changes to Lorrie’s vocal power. This is one record when picking one of several takes might have led to a better result.

A few tracks are simply unlistenable, even with Lorrie’s voice muffled by heavy orchestration, particularly the opening number, ‘Cry’ (a pop standard which was a country hit for Lynn Anderson in 1972 and then Crystal Gayle in 1986) where she sounds like a foghorn. Sequencing the worst track at the start was a bad idea, but things (and Lorrie’s voice), do improve. She also sounds shaky vocally on an otherwise gutsy stab at ‘Wine Me Up’, but ‘Til I Get It Right’ works quite well, with Lorrie’s vocal issues suiting the song’s weary vulnerability.

Lorrie’s voice is harder to take at times on the classic country duet ‘After The Fire Is Gone’ although fellow 90s star Tracy Lawrence sounds fairly good. Raul Malo’s high tenor seems to lift Lorrie to one of her best performances on the record, as her duet partner on a passionate ‘Easy Lovin’’.

Traditional honky tonk ballad treatment of Mel Street’s hits ‘Borrowed Angel’ and ‘Loving On Back Streets’ are surprisingly successful. ‘Alright, I’ll Sign The Papers’ has a lovely retro arrangement and the vocal is pretty good. The Patsy Cline hit ‘Leavin’ On Your Mind’ is also very good, with a sweeping string arrangement and Lorrie’s best vocal on the album. This was the single selected to promote the record, although predictably it didn’t get a lot of attention as it is as far from current as one could imagine. These four are the pick of an uneven collection, together with ‘I’m Always On A Mountain When I Fall’ (a Haggard album cut written by Chuck Howard) which has quite attractive instrumentation with a Western feel and is well sung.

Falling into the mediocre category, ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ is crooned and whispered without much shading in the delivery. ‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’ is okay although it plods a bit compared to the soaring original. The AC ‘Break It To Me Gently’ is sung well enough but is rather boring, and ‘Misty Blue’ is even less interesting.

I was very disappointed by this album when it came out, mainly due to the deterioration of Lorrie’s voice. Revisiting the record for this review, I found it wasn’t as bad as I had remembered it, with a handful of decent tracks. However it remains one of her less stellar efforts, and is certainly not essential listening for any but the most ardent of fans.

Grade: C+

Spotlight Artist: Lorrie Morgan

lorrie-morgan-07During Monday night’s broadcast of An Intimate Evening with Eddy Stubbs featuring Vince Gill and Paul Franklin, Gill said:

“Our very earliest memories of why we love country music so deeply is because of when it hit us.” 

I’ll never forget hearing Lorrie Morgan sing “What Part of No” when I was five and being hooked. I was a fan of the Eagles before then, but Morgan’s 1993 #1 hit was my first exposure to country music and began a reverence for 1990s country that still holds strong today. From Morgan I discovered Alan Jackson, Collin Raye, and George Strait. Needless to say, the music seeped into my soul and became an integral part of who I am.

But Morgan was the artist who started it all. She was born, ironically, Loretta Lynn Morgan June 27, 1959 about a year before that other Loretta Lynn charted with “I’m A Honky Tonk Girl.” She was born in Nashville to country singer George Morgan, who’d taken his sole #1, and signature song, “Candy Kisses” to the top ten years earlier. I remember hearing Morgan say the similarities between their names were pure coincidence.

Morgan made her Grand Ole Opry debut at age 13 singing “Paper Roses,” and her father passed away in 1975. She subsequently took over his band, only to leave two years later and join Little Roy Wiggins. Morgan then held a receptionist and songwriting job at Acuff-Rose Music before joining Ralph Emery’s morning television show as a featured vocalist.

Her music career began in 1978 when she charted a single with minor success. A similarly received and electronically dubbed duet with her dad followed, as did opening slots on tours featuring the likes of Jack Greene and Jeannie Seely. Morgan was also a regular singer on Nashville Now, part of the Opryland USA Bluegrass Show, and a touring duet partner of George Jones. She scored another minor hit in 1984, the same year she became the youngest person to ever join the Grand Ole Opry.

Morgan was already divorced from George Jones’ former bass player when she met and married up and coming country singer Keith Whitley in 1986. The couple had a son, her second child, a year later. Whitley was notoriously known for his drinking and Morgan was said to have handcuffed them together with a bathrobe tie while they slept, in order to keep him from getting up to drink. She hit the big time when, now under the care of RCA Nashville, her single “Trainwreck of Emotion” went top 20 in 1988. The follow-ups were more successful – “Dear Me” hit #9 and “Out of Your Shoes” went to #2.

She was in the middle of an international tour and on her way to Alaska when she received the call that Whitley had died May 9, 1989. Morgan rushed back to Nashville. Two days later, May 11, her debut record Leave The Light On was released. That week Morgan gave an emotional performance of her hit “Dear Me” on the Grand Ole Opry, and famously accepted his CMA Single of the Year Award for “I’m No Stranger To The Rain” that fall.

Morgan reached another milestone when her single “Five Minutes” became her first #1 in 1990. That same year she charted with “Till A Tear Becomes A Rose,” a duet with Whitley. They’d win the CMA Vocal Event of the Year Award for their record that same year. She also married a one-time truck driver for Clint Black, and released Something In Red in 1991. The title track, a top 15 hit, would become her signature song.

Her third album Watch Me dropped in 1992, featuring her second #1 “What Part of No.” She divorced her third husband the following year and took up with Dallas Cowboys Quarterback Troy Aikman. Watch Me became Morgan’s third consecutive platinum album, making her the first female artist to reach that feat.

Morgan was now a hit with the fans, as displayed in her win for Female Vocalist of the Year at the 1994 TNN/Music City News Awards (a win she’d repeat several times), the fan voted award show that’s since morphed into the CMT Video Music Awards. Her fourth album War Paint, released that May, saw three singles tank on the charts. A Greatest Hits album and her final #1, “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength” followed a year later. She was also romantically involved with US Senator and Actor Fred Thompson.

A fourth marriage, to country singer Jon Randall, took place in 1996. A duet between the pair, “By My Side,” went top 20 and led Morgan’s Greater Need album, which also included the top 5 “Good As I Was To You.” Morgan embarked on a headlining tour with Pam Tillis and Carlene Carter that summer. Her final big hits came from Shakin’ Things Up in 1997 – “Go Away” went top 5, while “One Of These Nights Tonight” peaked top 15. She released her autobiography, Forever Yours, Faithfully that fall.

Her hits may’ve dwindled, but the spotlight was shining bright. A duet with Sammy Kershaw (1999’s “Maybe Not Tonight”) led to the pair’s wedding in the fall of 2001. They released a duets album and Morgan said she’d never get divorced again. Their tumultuous six-year marriage (Morgan’s fifth) was a mess – they constantly fought, he allegedly tried to kill her, and broke up only to make up numerous times. She released an independent album, Show Me How in 2004.

The past decade has been the tamest of Morgan’s career. She filed for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in 2008, and married her sixth husband beachside in 2010, the same year she was set to perform on Broadway in Pure Country, a part that never came to fruition. She’s currently touring as one half of the duo Grits and Glamour with Tillis. The pair released their long-awaited duets project Dos Divas late last month.

Hope you enjoy our (drama free) look back at Lorrie Morgan’s career throughout the month.

Spotlight Artist: Pam Tillis

pamtillisBeing related to a famous country entertainer can be a mixed blessing. Although the family ties can open doors for the aspiring singer, they can also serve to set unrealistic expectations. Just ask Roy Acuff Jr., Ronnie Robbins (billed as Marty Robbins, Jr.), The Lynns (daughters of Loretta Lynn), Riley Coyle (daughter of Jeannie C. Riley), Pake McEntire (Reba’s brother), Jay Lee Webb (Loretta Lynn’s brother), Peggy Sue (Loretta Lynn’s sister), and Hillman Hall (Tom T. Hall’s brother), each of whom issued an album or two and then disappeared. John Carter Cash has avoided the problem entirely by working behind the scenes.

Then there are those who achieve modest success and carve out respectable careers but never achieve top-drawer status, such as Shelly West (daughter of Dottie West), David Frizzell (brother of Lefty Frizzell), Tommy Cash (brother of Johnny Cash), Carlene Carter (daughter of Carl Smith and June Carter) and Thom Bresh (son of Merle Travis). Jazz guitarist Lenny Breau, son of country stars Hal Lone Pine and Betty Cody, might have fit into this category had he not died young.

True superstar success for those with famous kinfolk is indeed rare. The three biggest that come to mind are Crystal Gayle (Loretta Lynn’s sister), Lynn Anderson (the daughter of songwriter Casey & singer-songwriter Liz Anderson) and Hank Williams Jr. Pulling up behind these three are George Morgan’s daughter Lorrie, Rosanne Cash and this month’s spotlight artist, Pam Tillis.

Pamela Yvonne Tillis was born on July 24, 1957 in Plant City, Florida, the daughter of singer-songwriter-actor-comedian Mel Tillis.

As the daughter of one of the best-known songwriters around, and living in Nashville, Tillis was exposed to the elite of the country music industry even before her father had achieved recording star status. She made her Grand Ole Opry debut at the age of eight in an appearance with her father singing “Tom Dooley.” She grew up wanting to be a performer and tried her hand at songwriting at an early age and also found some work as a background singer. The results of an automobile accident at age 16 derailed her career for a while as several years of reconstructive facial surgery were needed to restore her appearance. Following her surgeries, Tillis enrolled at the University of Tennessee; then later at Belmont University in Nashville, TN, forming her first band. Since her only real interest was music, she eventually dropped out of college to pursue her own musical career.

Wanting to make it “on her own,” Tillis went to San Francisco where she joined a jazz-rock band Freelight.

After tiring of the San Francisco scene, she returned to Nashville and found work as a demo singer. She signed with Warner Brothers. in 1982, where she took a shot at pop success. Her sole album for Warner Brothers was Above and Beyond The Doll of Cutey. During the period between 1983 and ’87, Warner Brothers would issue at least eight singles on Tillis, five of which charted on Billboard’s Country chart, although none made the Top 50–not surprising since they were not being marketed as country singles. Unreleased were early versions of several of her later hits, which were released after she achieved success.

During this period, Tillis signed on as a staff songwriter with Tree Publishing in Nashville, where she shifted her focus to contemporary country music and achieved much success as a songwriter, with artists as diverse as Chaka Khan, Martina McBride, Gloria Gaynor, Conway Twitty, Holly Dunn, Juice Newton, Sweethearts of the Rodeo, Dan Seals, and Highway 101 recording her songs.

Her visibility was greatly improved when she started making regular appearances on shows aired on the late lamented Nashville Network, especially on Nashville Now, a nightly variety show hosted by Ralph Emery. By 1991 she had signed with Arista Records, where her career took off. For part of this period (until 1998) she was married to fellow songwriter Bob DiPiero.

The Arista years saw Tillis emerge as a steady and reliable hit-maker as the following list demonstrates:

•“Don’t Tell Me What To Do” / “Melancholy Child” – #5 (1990)

•“One Of Those Things” / “Already Fallen – #6 (1991)

•“Put Yourself In My Place” / “I’ve Seen Enough To Know” – #11 (1991)

•“Maybe It Was Memphis” / “Draggin’ My Chains” – #3 (1991)

•“Blue Rose Is” / “Ancient History” – #21 (1992)

•“Shake The Sugar Tree” / “Maybe It Was Memphis” #3 (1992)

•“Let That Pony Run” / “Fine Fine Very Fine Love” – #4 (1992)

•“Cleopatra Queen Of Denial” / “Homeward Looking Angel” – #11 (1993)

•“Do You Know Where Your Man Is” / “We’ve Tried Everything Else” – #16 (1993)

•“Spilled Perfume” / “Till All The Lonely’s Gone” – #5 (1994)

•“When You Walk In The Room” / “Till All The Lonely’s Gone” – #2 (1994)

•“Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life)” / “Ancient History” – #1 (1994)

•“I Was Blown Away” / “Calico Plains” – #16 (1995)

•“In Between Dances” / “They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To” – #3 (1995)

•“Deep Down” / “Tequila Mockingbird” – #6 (1995)

•“River And The Highway” / “All Of This Love” – #8 (1996)

•“It’s Lonely Out There” / “You Can’t Have A Good Time Without Me” – #14 (1996)

•“All The Good Ones Are Gone” / “Land Of The Living” – #4 (1997)

•“I Said A Prayer” / “Lay The Heartache Down” – #12 (1998)

•“Every Time” / “You Put The Lonely On Me” – #38 (1998)

After 1998, the hits started drying up as the next wave of young performers arrived.

Tillis’ Arista albums were generally quite successful, starting with 1991’s Put Yourself In My Place which had three Top 10 hits in lead single, “Don’t Tell Me What to Do,” “One of Those Things” and “Maybe It Was Memphis.” The album ultimately reached gold status.

Her 1992 follow-up Homeward Looking Angel was equally successful, with “Shake the Sugar Tree” and “Let That Pony Run” reaching the Top 5. Homeward Looking Angel reached platinum status. In 1993, she won her first major award: the CMA Awards’ Vocal Event of the Year with George Jones and Friends for “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair.”

In 1994, her third Arista album, Sweetheart’s Dance, was released, reaching #6 on the Billboard’s Country Album chart (her highest placement). Singles “Spilled Perfume” and “When You Walk in the Room” both became Top 5 hits and she had her only #1, “Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life),” helping push the album to platinum status.

Issued in late 1996, All of This Love, became Tillis’ last gold non-compilation album. The only single to reach Top 10 status was “The River and The Highway.” It was the first album she produced on her own.

In 1997, Arista released her first (actually only) Greatest Hits album. The compilation featured two new tracks, both released as singles: “All the Good Ones Are Gone” and “The Land of the Living,” both of which reached the Top 5 in 1997. This collection also went platinum.

After 1997, the country music market shifted, becoming more youth-oriented and less country, with a resultant drop in both chart and sales success for Tillis. Her 1998 album Every Time featured “I Said A Prayer”, which just missed the Top 10 and was her last Top 20 single. Her last Arista album, issued in 2001, Thunder & Roses performed reasonably well on the album chart (both it and Every Time reached #24) but generated no real hit singles.

Since 1998 Pam Tillis has remained active, both in live appearances, occasionally performing with her father Mel, and occasionally recording. She became a Grand Ole Opry member in 2000, which was several years before her father, and had the honor of inducting him into Opry membership. She has tried her hand at acting, both on stage and on television, with considerable success.

She still records occasionally. In 2002 she fulfilled a lifetime dream of recording an album of songs written by or associated with her father. Titled It’s All Relative, the album found Pam ignoring the Mel Tillis template and giving her own interpretation of her father’s material, most notably on “Heart Over Mind”.

She started her own record label, Stellar Cat, and issued her album Rhinestoned under that imprint in 2007. One of the singles from the album, “Band In The Window,” earned considerable acclaim, although the album ultimately yielded no hits.

All told, Pam Tillis had over 30 chart records including 13 Top 10s. In 1994 she was named the Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year. In 1999, she earned a Grammy Award for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals. When CMT did their countdown of the 40 Greatest Women of Country Music in 2002, Tillis ranked at #30. Kevin Coyne of Country Universe ranked her at #35 in his 100 Greatest Women of Country Music countdown in 2008.

Discography

With the exception of the Warner Brothers album, which originally was issued on vinyl and audio cassette, all of Tillis’ subsequent recordings have been released on CD. Most of the titles remain in print, others can be located used with a little bit of effort. Unlike country singers from generations before, the Pam Tillis catalog is fairly shallow with a total of a dozen original studio albums, plus some anthologies (Greatest Hits, Super Hits, Best Of, etc.) and whatever unreleased tracks may be lying around in somebody’s vault. Accordingly, collecting a fairly complete Pam Tillis collection isn’t that difficult, especially since her Warner Brothers debut recently was reissued on CD by Wounded Bird. All of her post-Warner Brothers albums are worthwhile and even her debut album (which I originally purchased on vinyl) has its moments.

The Ernest Tubb Record Shop currently has seven of her albums available as well as several anthologies.

There is a need for a decent two-disc set containing about 40 of her songs. Lately, the German label Bear Family has been issuing some less-than-exhaustive sets. Maybe they will step up to the plate –she’s worth a decent anthology.

Pam Tillis is still actively performing – you can catch  up with her at her website http://www.pamtillis.com/ . She does have some product for sale there as digital downloads including a Christmas album and a duet single (with Kris Thomas)  titled “Two Kings” which is about Elvis Presley and Martin Luther King, Jr. Her long-awaited duet album with Lorrie Morgan comes out later this month.

Spotlight Artist: Vern Gosdin

The April Spotlight Artist is one of the truly great vocalists in the history of the genre, Vern Gosdin. There are very few male recording artists who deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Geoge Jones, Ray Price and Gene Watson. It takes the ability to convey the depths of despair, the heights of jubilation and the serenity of an abiding faith – that’s all that is required to be known as “The Voice” and Vern was one of the few to fit the bill.

Born in Woodland, Alabama, Vern (1934-2009) and his brother Rex (1938-1983) first surfaced in the American conscious during the 1960s in various capacities in the Southern California music scene. Despite inclusion in the Byrds’ inner circle of musicians and friends, the Gosdin Brothers bluegrass/country/rock hybrid never achieved great success.

The Gosdin brothers grew up with their seven siblings on a farm. Since money was never in great supply, they, like many other poor rural children, turned to music to escape the drudgery of everyday life. Energized by their discovery of the Louvin Brothers, Rex and Vern (and a third brother) started singing together, mastering the art of vocal harmony, and performing regularly on local radio station WVOK as teenagers. In 1953 Vern moved to Atlanta and in 1956 he moved again to Chicago where he ran a country music nightclub. Meanwhile Rex had moved to California.

Vern moved to Los Angeles in 1961, where he joined up with Rex and they expanded their musical horizons as they found their way into a bluegrass group led by Chris Hillman called the Golden State Boys. The group later changed its name to the Hillmen. Their association with master musician Hillman led to their acceptance into the Los Angeles music scene from which the Byrds and such later stars as Poco, Linda Ronstadt and the Eagles emerged. During this period, the Gosdin Brothers picked up gigs when available, performed on recording sessions, and recorded a few songs as a duo. The duo expanded their musical repertoire, moving into an area somewhere between the folk-rock of the pre-Gram Parson Byrds and the Country-Rock that would emerge in the early 1970s.

In 1966 Vern and Rex contributed vocal harmonies to Gene Clark’s album Gene Clark and the Gosdin Brothers. In 1967 a single, “Hangin’ On,” cracked the charts, leading to the release of the duo’s only album, Sounds of Goodbye on Capitol in 1968. The title song, written by up and coming songwriter Eddie Rabbit was a hot commodity-so much so that three different acts recorded and released the song as a single, ensuring that no one would have a big hit with the record, although Opry veteran George Morgan came closest as his version was a big hit in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic areas. Tommy Cash’s record also made the national charts with the song. The Gosdin Brothers version did not chart nationally, but it did well on the left coast.

Since country music was a singles-driven genre, the failure of “The Sounds of Goodbye,” the most radio-friendly cut on the album, spelled finis to their recording career on Capitol. This was truly a pity as the album contains many great harmonies and otherwise worthwhile moments including original material in “For Us To Find” and “The Victim.” While the Gosdin Brothers sounded good collectively, Vern’s sparkling vocals were the highlight of the album. Discouraged, the Gosdin Brothers split up with Vern largely dropping out of the entertainment business for a while when he returned to Atlanta, where he ran a glass and mirror shop. Rex continued to perform.

Never Give Up – The Voice Returns

Vern Gosdin never entirely stopped performing. In 1976, he returned to recording for the Elektra label, charting his first solo chart hit, a solo version of “Hangin’ On” and enjoying Top 10 hits with “Yesterday’s Gone” (both featuring harmony vocals by Emmylou Harris, a friend from his California days) and “Till The End.” By this time he was forty-two years old. He left his sons to run the glass and mirror business and rejoined brother Rex for touring. Unfortunately, Rex died in May 1983 at the age of 45, some two weeks before his own solo recording of “That Old Time Feelin'” entered the charts.

Elektra’s country division folded in 1980 and Gosdin landed on smaller labels AMI (which folded) and Compleat where he enjoyed continued success. After landing with Compleat, Gosdin joined forces with songwriter Max D. Barnes (whose son Max T. Barnes also was a successful songwriter) to write some truly classic honky-tonk laments. In 1983 Gosdin had two top five hits (“If You’re Gonna Do Me Wrong” and “Way Down Deep”) and in 1984 he had his first #1 single with “I Can Tell by the Way You Dance (You’re Gonna Love Me Tonight)” and had two additional top 10 hits.

After 1984, his career hit a temporary lull, but the “New Traditionalist” movement lured Columbia into signing him in 1987 where he justified Columbia’s faith in signing him with a top 10 hit in the tormented “Do You Believe Me Now.” In 1988 Gosdin returned to the top of the charts with his Ernest Tubb tribute “Set ‘Em Up Joe.” The next year “Chiseled In Stone,” co-written with Barnes, won the Country Music Association’s Song of the Year and cemented his reputation as one of the all-time great song stylists. His 1989 album, Alone, chronicled the breakup of his own marriage.

As a solo artist, Vern Gosdin charted 41 country chart hits, with 19 top ten records and 3 chart toppers.

Vern was hospitalized in 1995 with a stroke and subsequently dropped by Columbia. He continued to record sporadically after that, most notably the 2004 album Back In The Swing of Things and the four CD set 40 Years of The Voice issued just months prior to his death in April 2009. In 2005, Gosdin was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. Perhaps the Country Music Hall of Fame will see fit to do likewise.

“The Voice” is now silenced but he left behind an incredible legacy of recorded performances. Join us now as we explore the music of April’s Spotlight Artist, the incomparable Vern Gosdin.

Country Heritage: Freddie Hart

If asked in 1969, a casual country music fan likely would have been unable to identify Freddie Hart. A more knowledgeable county music fan might have identified him as a good journeyman country singer, one who had made a lot of solid country recordings without ever scoring a major hit.

In 1969, “journeyman” would have been an extremely accurate description as Hart had been knocking about Nashville for nearly 20 years, chalking up some hits as a songwriter and charting a few records himself here and there on various labels without ever achieving sustained success. During that period he recorded for Capitol, Columbia, Monument and Kapp.

Born in Loachapoka, Alabama – an early Christmas present to his parents on December 21, 1926 – Fred Segrest arrived in a world of near poverty, one of 15 children from a poor sharecropper’s family that struggled to make ends meet. While money was in short supply, however, a love of music, particularly country music ran deep in the Segrest family. Hart began playing guitar at the age of five, and joined the Civilian Conservation Corps at 12. At just 14 years of age he managed to enlist in the Marines and fought in the Pacific Theater of Operations during World War II, which included action at Guam and Iwo Jima. While in the military, he earned black belts in judo and jujitsu, and made his first public appearances singing at officers clubs.

After leaving the military in 1946, Hart pursued a career in country music, both as a performer and as a songwriter. In 1948, he had the opportunity to meet Hank Williams, who apparently taught him something about songwriting. As Hart himself puts it, “I try to put down in my songs what every man wants to say, and what every woman wants to hear.” One of his songs, “Every Little Thing Rolled Into One,” was recorded by George Morgan during this period.

In 1951, Hart joined Lefty Frizzell’s band. By this time Freddie Segrest had adopted the name Freddie Hart. With the help of Frizzell and Wayne Raney, he was signed to Capitol Records in 1953. At an early Capitol session he recorded a song he had written titled “Loose Talk.” While Freddie did not score a big hit with the record, Carl Smith, one of the three or four biggest stars of the time, covered the song, taking it to #1.

Hart moved to Columbia Records in 1956 and appeared regularly on the Town Hall Party, a Los Angeles television program with Lefty Frizzell, Johnny Bond, and other country stars. Unfortunately, his records did not sell especially well for Columbia, either, although he still was writing songs that other artists recorded. During the late 1950s and early 1960s modest chart success finally occurred when songs such as “The Wall,” “Chain Gang” and “The Key’s in the Mailbox” charted. “The Wall,” a self-penned number, is probably best remembered today as one of the songs sung by Johnny Cash on the classic Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison album.

During this same period, a number of Freddie Hart-penned songs became hits for other artists including “Willie the Weeper,” a #5 hit for Billy Walker; “Loose Talk,” a #4 hit for the duo of Buck Owens & Rose Maddox; “My Tears Are Overdue,” a #15 hit for George Jones; and, although not a hit, a significant copyright in “Lovin’ In Vain,” the B-side of Patsy Cline’s #1 hit “I Fall To Pieces.”

Hart moved to Monument Records in 1963 for two singles, followed by a move to Kapp Records in 1965, where he recorded some more great material, but found only modest hits with “Hank Williams’ Guitar” (1965), “Born A Fool” (1968) and “Togetherness” (1968). During this period, Porter Wagoner scored a #3 hit with Hart’s “Skid Row Joe.”

Hoping for bigger and better things, he re-signed with Capitol in 1969, where the first three singles issued showed some promise, leading Capitol to issue an album titled New Sounds. This was quickly followed by California Grapevine, with the title track being issued as the first single off the album. Unfortunately, “California Grapevine” stiffed as a single, reaching only #68 on the charts, far worse than any of three singles Capitol had previously released on Hart and worse than the singles on Kapp had performed. Consequently, Capitol dropped Freddie Hart from the label.

During the months following his drop from Capitol, disc jockey Jim Clemens at WPLO in Atlanta started playing an album track, buried on side two of the album, which he found interesting. Soon, other disc jockeys followed suit and before long the song was receiving massive airplay in some areas. The song contained the rather daring phrase (for the time) ‘so sexy looking’ in its lyrics. Capitol hastily re-inked Hart to the label and issued the former album track “Easy Loving” as a single (#1 Country/#17 Pop) and issued an album by the same name that gathered up all of the previous recent Capitol singles and about half of the California Grapevine album. This kicked off a six year run at the top for Freddie Hart that included a dozen top-five singles (including six #1s), two CMA awards, two ACM awards and a Grammy. Concurrent with signing to Capitol, Hart signed with Buck Owens’ management and publishing companies and provided the Buck Owens-Susan Raye duet with a #12 hit in “Togetherness.”

Since Hart was already nearly 45 years old by the time he hit it big, he figured to have a relatively short shelf life at the top, although he continued to have decent sized hits throughout the 1970s, and continued charting into the 1980s. His last top twenty hit occurred with “Sure Thing” on the Sunbird label in 1980.

Freddie Hart is now 85 years old and hasn’t been an active performer in recent years. His 1970s successes set him up financially to get into other endeavors, including recording some Gospel music. Somehow, I doubt that too many of today’s performers would have the patience to persevere for the 18 years it took Freddie Hart to break through, and I doubt that many would be given the opportunity to try. While he is largely forgotten today, Freddie Hart did get to experience his day in the sun and is still remembered by some including the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, where he was inducted in 2001.

He made some truly unforgettable music.

Discography

Singles

Freddie Hart charted 48 times from 1953 to 1987. Here are some of the biggest hit singles:

•“The Wall” (1959 – #24)

•“Chain Gang (1960 – #17)

•“The Key’s In The Mailbox” (1960 – #18)

•“Hank Williams Guitar” (1965 – #23)

•“Togetherness” (1968- #24)

•“Born A Fool” (1968 – #21)

•“Easy Loving” (1971 – #1 for three weeks)

•“My Hang Up Is You” (1972 – #1 for six weeks)

•“Bless Your Heart” (1972 – #1 for two weeks)

• “Got The All Overs (For You All Over Me) ” (1972 – #1 for three weeks)

•“If You Can’t Feel It (It Ain’t There)” (1973 – #3)

•“Super Kind of Woman” (1973 – #1)

•“Trip to Heaven” (1973 – #1)

•“Hang In There Girl” (1974 – #2)

•“The Want-To’s” (1974 – #3)

•“My Woman’s Man” (1975 – #3)

•“The First Time” (1975 – #2)

•“I’d Like To Sleep Till I Get Over You” (1975 – #5)

•“The Warm Side of You” (1975- #6)

•“You Are The Song Inside Of Me” (1976 – #11)

•“That Look In Her Eyes” (1976 – #11)

•“Thank God She’s Mine” (1977 – #11)

•“The Pleasure’s Been All Mine” (1977 – #13)

•“Toe to Toe” (1978 – #21)

•“Why Lovers Turn to Strangers” (1977 – #8)

•“Sure Thing” (1980 – #15)

Albums

Freddie Hart released a number of worthwhile albums while with Kapp and Capitol, plus there are scattered albums on other labels.

Columbia issued only one album, The Spirited Freddie Hart, while Freddie was with the label, but subsequently issued several albums on the budget Harmony label

For my money, the best albums were on Kapp Records. Look for the titles Straight From The Heart, The Hart of Country Music, A Hurtin’ Man , Born A Fool, Togetherness and The Neon and The Rain.

The biggest hit recordings are on Freddie’s various Capitol albums. The Sunbird label release,

Sure Thing, contains Freddie’s last hits. The Capital albums sold well and are fairly easy to find and are generally named for the hit single contained within it. “Easy Loving” made its debut on California Grapevine, an album I liked better than the Easy Loving album.

The best single source for vinyl hunting (CDs too, for that matter) is Music Stack

www.musicstack.com

CDs

Like many 1970s County Music stars, Freddie Hart has been poorly served on CD.

There is an excellent Bear Family CD covering his early Capitol and Columbia years (1953-1962) titled Juke Joint Boogie. The CD is expensive (roughly $24) but it does contain 33 tracks and Bear’s product is always terrific.

For the Capitol years, in 1995 the Dutch label Disky issued a CD of the Capitol albums Easy Loving and its follow-up My Hang-Up Is You. There is also a self-produced CD (the “label” is Richard Davis Management) of the Capitol hits (original recordings) titled Hart to Hearts, containing 25 tracks including eleven of Freddie’s Capitol era hits, plus 14 other tracks. Hart to Hearts has tracks that sound as if they were dubbed from vinyl albums

Various EMI/Capitol labels have issued smaller hit collections containing ten songs (Ten Best, Best Of…, etc).

(Memo to Richard Weitze at Bear Family: a Freddie Hart box-set is needed!)

The Sunbird years at the end of Freddie’s career are represented by a Best of Freddie Hart collection issued by CEMA Special Markets in 1994.

Nothing is available for Freddie specifically covering the Kapp years.

Freddie does have an official website http://mreasylovin.com/ where he does have an online store which sells a small selection of CDS. The most recent CD is titled I Wouldn’t Trade America For the World.  Despite the title, this album contains only two patriotically themed songs. The remaining tracks are remakes of some of his hits plus a few covers.

Favorite country songs of the 1970s: Part 5

For part five of this series, as always, just some songs I liked, one song per artist, not necessarily the biggest hit, (although I feel free to comment on other songs by the artist).

Let’s All Go Down To The River” – Jody Miller & Johnny Paycheck (1972)

A nice country cover of an old gospel song – how could you go wrong with this duo? Jody Miller would have a number of hits during the 1970s, although her single biggest record was in 1965 when “Queen of The House” (an answer song to Roger Miller’s “King of The Road”) went #12 pop / #5 country. I don’t know that Jody viewed herself as a country singer, but she had a sassy & sexy voice and was quite easy on the eyes.

Tom Green County Fair” – Roger Miller (1970)

Roger Miller’s career had largely run out of steam by this time, but the imagery in this song makes it one of my favorites. Alas, this song only reached #38. Roger would experience a significant renaissance in the mid-1980s writing the music for the Broadway play Big River.

Music Box Dancer” – Frank Mills (1979)

I have no idea why this song charted country as Frank Mills was an orchestra leader and this instrumental song was no more country than Lady Gaga. It was a huge pop hit reaching #3 and selling millions in the process.

Pure Love” – Ronnie Milsap (1974)

Written by Eddie Rabbitt, this was Ronnie’s first #1. How can you not like a song that contains a line like “Milk and honey and Captain Krunch and you in the morning?”

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Classic Rewind: Mel Tillis and George Morgan- ‘I’m Tired’

Classic Rewind: George Morgan – ‘Room Full Of Roses’

Week ending 5/2/09: #1 this week in country music history

judds-86ssb1949: Candy Kisses — George Morgan (Columbia)

1959: White Lightning — George Jones (Mercury)

1969: Galveston — Glen Campbell (Capitol)

1979: Backside of Thirty— John Conlee(ABC)

1989: Young Love (Strong Love) — The Judds (RCA/Curb)

1999: How Forever Feels — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

Week ending 4/25/09: #1 this week in country music history

Charley Pride

Charley Pride

1949: Candy Kisses — George Morgan (Columbia)

1959: White Lightning — George Jones (Mercury)

1969: Galveston — Glen Campbell (Capitol)

1979: Where Do I Put Her Memory — Charley Pride (RCA)

1989: The Church on Cumberland Road — Shenandoah (Columbia)

1999: How Forever Feels — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

Week ending 4/18/09: #1 this week in country music history

George Morgan (1924-1975)

George Morgan (1924-1975)

1949: Candy Kisses — George Morgan (Columbia)

1959: White Lightning — George Jones (Mercury)

1969: Woman Of The World — Loretta Lynn (Decca)

1979: All I Ever Need Is You — Kenny Rogers & Dottie West (United Artists)

1989
: The Church on Cumberland Road — Shenandoah (Columbia)

1999: How Forever Feels — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

Class of ’89 Album Review: Lorrie Morgan – ‘Leave The Light On’

leavethelighton1Lorrie Morgan was one of the ‘Class of ’89’ who had been around on the fringes of the country world for a while, but who made a major breakthrough that year. Her father George Morgan was a minor country star of the 1950s, who sold a million copies of his biggest hit, ‘Candy Kisses’, and Lorrie’s first single, in 1979, was a posthumous duet with him. Thanks largely to her family connections she became an Opry member in 1984, before she had had any hits in her own right, and five years before the release of her debut album. Sadly, the release of Leave The Light On was overshadowed by the death shortly before of Lorrie’s husband, Keith Whitley, and she received a certain amount of criticism at the time for continuing to perform.

Lorrie’s warm alto voice is very good, but her qualities as an artist rest more in her interpretative ability than in the voice itself. She was fortunate in the material she and producer Barry Beckett found for Leave The Light On, because the majority of it provided a great showcase for her. Her style was rather more contemporary than many of her peers, certainly compared to her husband Keith Whitley, which may explain why she did not record any of his songs on this release.

Almost half the tracks relate to unhappy marriages past the point of repair, and given the circumstances under which it was first heard, it would be very tempting, if perhaps not altogether fair, to read a lot into the choice of material. Sequenced differently, one could almost see this as a concept album.

Lorrie’s first top 10 hit was the lovely piano-led ballad ‘Dear Me’, as the singer addresses a letter to herself, reflecting on a lost lover, a lyric delicately delivered by Lorrie. An equally beautiful and even sadder song is ‘Far Side Of The Bed’, with the narrator packing to leave an unsuspecting and sleeping husband and reflecting on the “raging love” they once shared and have now lost. Again, Lorrie interprets it perfectly.

Beth Nielsen Chapman’s beaty mid-tempo ‘Five Minutes’ tackles the same theme with a bit more energy, and gave Lorrie her first #1 hit. Yet again, she is packing to leave with the magic long gone from the relationship, but this time gives her husband a (slim) chance at winning her back – before her taxi arrives.

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