My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Hargus “Pig” Robbins

Album Review: Kenny Rogers – ‘Daytime Friends’

Released in July 1977, Daytime Friends was Kenny’s third album as a solo act, and his second album to go platinum. For the most part, this starts out as a solid country album with such stalwarts as Billy Sanford, Dave Kirby, Jerry Shook, Jimmy Capps, Jim Colvard, Johnny Christopher, Larry Keith and Reggie Young on guitar; Pete Drake on pedal steel guitar; Bob Moore, Joe Osborn and Tommy Allsup on bass; and Pig Robbins on piano to help keep things country for the first half of the album. The album would reach #2 on Billboard’s Country Album chart and crack the top forty on the all genres album chart. I suspect that Kenny’s actual position on the all genres chart would have been much better had Sound Scan been around.

I remember Kenny from his days with the First Edition (they even had a television show) and while Kenny’s first few country singles had a strong country feel, I always felt that he would drift into being a lounge, pop or pop-country balladeer. Unfortunately, I was correct and his output became less country as he went along. After 1979’s “You Decorated My Life”, it would be a long time before I really cared about any of Kenny’s recordings.

The opening track was the title track, written by Ben “Kiss An Angel Good Morning” Peters, and the first single released on the album, giving Kenny his second #1 country single. This song is a modern take on an ancient theme:

And he’ll tell her he’s working late again
But she knows too well there’s something going on
She’s been neglected, and she needs a friend
So her trembling fingers dial the telephone

Lord, it hurts her doing this again
He’s the best friend that her husband ever knew
When she’s lonely, he’s more than just a friend
He’s the one she longs to give her body to

Daytime friends and nighttime lovers
Hoping no one else discovers
Where they go, what they do, in their secret hideaway
Daytime friends and nighttime lovers
They don’t want to hurt the others
So they love in the nighttime
And shake hands in the light of day

Next up was a rather lame take on the Glenn Frey-Don Henley composition. I’ve heard many better versions, including Johnny Rodriguez’s #5 country single from earlier in 1977. I’ve always thought of this as a song about desolation and was disappointed that Kenny’s producers gave this a cocktail lounge arrangement. Kenny sings the song well, and with a little more muscular arrangement I would have really liked this song

Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses,
Come down from your fences- open the gates.
It may be rainin, but there’s a rainbow above you.
You’d better let somebody love you,
LET SOMEBODY LOVE YOU.
You’d better let somebody love you,
before it’s too late.

Kenny O’Dell is probably best remembered as the composer of the Charlie Rich smash “Behind Closed Doors”, but “Rock and Roll Man” is a respectable effort as well. A mid-tempo ballad with some pop trappings, Kenny handles the vocals well.

“Lying Again” was written by respected Nashville producer/songwriters Chips Moman and Larry Butler. Kenny does a nice job with this song about cheating, misgivings and regrets.

“I’ll Just Write My Music and Sing My Songs” fits within the context of the album, but is nothing more than a passable album track.

“My World Begins and Ends With You” would be a #4 hit in 1979 for Dave & Sugar [Dave Rowland, Sue Powell, Vickie Baker]. Kenny handles this love song well but I actually prefer the Dave & Sugar version.

My world was no more than a dream
And waitin’ on a dream can sure get lonely
Your love just fell right into place
And filled and empty space to overflowing, overflowing

My world begins with havin’ a friend when I’m feeling blue
My world would end if ever I heard you say we were through
Just don’t know what I’d do
‘Cause my world begins and ends with you

Kenny wrote “Sweet Music Man”, the second single released from the album. Rather surprisingly, the single stalled out at #9 on the US country charts, while reaching #1 on the Canadian country and adult contemporary charts:

But nobody sings a love song quite like you do
and nobody else could make me sing along
and nobody else could make me feel
that things are right when I know they’re wrong
( that things are right when you’re wrong with the song )
nobody sings a love song quite like you.

Larry Keith’s “Am I Too Late” points the pop/schlock direction Kenny’s music would take. The song is drenched in strings and has a very cocktail lounge feel to it. In fact the last four songs all lean a pop direction (“We Don’t Make Love Anymore”, “Ghost of Another Man” and “Let Me Sing For You”), although “Let Me Sing For You”, written by Casey Kelly and Julie Dodier has an interesting lyric and rather gentle folk-pop arrangement:

One bright, sunny day I set on my way to look for a place on this Earth.
My life was a song just 3 minutes long. And, that’s about all it was worth.
I wandered around. Unlost and unfound, unnoticed and misunderstood.
Each thing that I tried just lessened my pride. Guess I didn’t do very good.
Then I saw you lookin’ just like I felt. So, I walked up to you and I said.

Let me sing for you.
It’s not much to ask after all I’ve been through.
Let me sing for you.
At least there’s still one thing I know that I know how to do.

I found you alone, no love of your own. I gave you a shiny new toy.
I made you feel good as best as I could. And, I was your rainy-day boy.
I held you so near. But, you held this fear. And, felt like you’d been there before.
The spell that was cast was too good to last. Soon the toy wasn’t new any more.
So, I asked for some time. And, you gave me a watch.
If it’s that late already again….

Let me sing for you.
It’s not much to ask after all we’ve been through.
Let me sing for you.
At least there’s still one thing I know that I know how to do.

It is tough for me to evaluate this album. I liked, in varying degrees, the first seven songs, but by the time I got to “Am I Too Late” I was getting bored with the album. The tempos tend to be rather similar throughout, and the last songs on the album tend to be more pop, less country and, other than the last song, less interesting. I would give this album a B, but it is a very uneven B as far as I am concerned.

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Retro Album Review: Daryle Singletary – ‘Straight From The Heart (2007)

straight from the heartBack in the days writing for the 9513 Blog, I would post occasional reviews on Amazon. We are republishing updated versions of some of those reviews here.

Daryle Singletary never managed to become a megastar, mostly because he has too much soul and integrity for today’s Nashville. Simply put, Daryl is “too country”.

This album picks up where Daryl’s 2002 album That’s Why I Sing This Way left off, with one original song “I Still Sing This Way”, one cover of a recent hit, the Larry Cordle-penned Rebecca Lynn Howard hit “Jesus and Bartenders”, and ten classic country covers sung with feeling.

The cover songs are as follows:

“The Bottle Let Me Down” – a Merle Haggard hit from 1966

“Black Sheep” (w/John Anderson) – a #1 for John Anderson in 1983

“Some Broken Hearts Never Mend” – a #1 for Don Williams in 1977

“Promises” – a minor Randy Travis hit which Randy co-wrote

“I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail” (w/Ricky Skaggs) – a Buck Owens classic from 1965

“These Days I Barely Get By” – a top ten George Jones record

“Miami, My Amy” – Keith Whitley’s first top twenty record from 1986

“Lovin’ On Back Streets” – a #5 record for Mel Street in 1973. Like Daryle , Mel Street was ‘too country’, and like Daryle, he was a fine, emotive singer.

“Fifteen Years Ago” – Conway Twitty’s immediate follow up to “Hello Darling”, I always thought that Conway’s performance was better than the song’s rather maudlin lyric. Daryle also handles it well, although it’s still a silly song.

“We’re Gonna Hold On” (w/Rhonda Vincent)- a George & Tammy classic from 1973 that comes off very well. No surprise, really since Rhonda is a superior singer to Tammy, and Daryle hold up his end of the bargain.

The presence of legendary pianist Hargus “Pig” Robbins lends a strong sense of authenticity. Best of all no electronic keyboards or synthesizers – this is real country music played on real country instruments.

I’ve heard a bunch of good albums this year and this was my favorite album so far this year, better even, than the Nelson – Haggard – Price collaboration. This is not to say that Singletary is quite in their league as a singer, but his pipes are at least 30 years younger and in better shape.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Clay Walker – ‘Fall’

fallI have always liked Clay Walker as a performer and admired his courage in pursuing his career in the face of adversity, in the form of multiple sclerosis which was diagnosed in 1996 when Clay was twenty-seven years old.

A similar fate befell country superstar Donna Fargo in 1978, definitely affecting her career; however, by 1996 significant progress had been made in the treatment of the illness, so that Clay was not forced to restrict his live appearances to the same extent that Fargo had been forced to do. Accordingly his career surged on, seemingly without missing a beat (although there were lifestyle and dietary changes that Walker made in combating his illness).

Fall was released in April 2007, on Asylum/Curb records, nearly four years after his previous album, A Few Questions, was released on RCA. Clay had signed with Asylum/Curb in July 2005 but, following its usual pattern, it took until February 2007, before the label got round to issuing any new music on Clay.

That brings us to the current album with the first single release being the humorous “‘Fore She Was Mama”. The song tells the story of a ten year old boy who discovers a “box of forget-me-nots” (or old memorabilia) in his parents’ closet.

There was one of her, flippin’ the bird
Sittin’ on a Harley
And a few with some hairy hippie dude
Turns out his name was Charlie
Her hair, her clothes, her drinkin’, smokin’
Had us boys confused
I’ll never forget the day us nosy kids got introduced…

To mama ‘fore she was mama
In a string bikini, in Tijuana
Won’t admit she smoked marijuana
But I saw mama ‘fore she was mama

I was stunned to find that this song only made #21 on Billboard’s country charts, since the song received very heavy airplay throughout most of the southeastern USA. In fact I know of four radio stations where the song soared to #1 on the local survey. The song was Clay’s first chart record since 2004.

Track two is the title track, which was the second single released. “Fall” would return Clay to the top ten reaching #5. The song is a nice mid-tempo ballad which the narrator offers moral support to a partner who has had a bad day. The song might have had crossover potential, but Curb released a pop version of the song by Kimberly Locke, another artist signed to Curb, thus killing Clay’s shot at a crossover hit.

Hold up, there you go again
Puttin’ on that smile again
Even though I know you’ve had a bad day
Doin’ this and doin’ that
Always puttin’ yourself last
A whole lotta give and not enough take

But you can only be strong so long before you break

So fall, go on and fall apart
Fall into these arms of mine
I’ll catch you every time you fall
Go on and lose it all
Every doubt, every fear, every worry, every tear
I’m right here
Baby, fall

Released ten years earlier, the third track “Workin’ Man” would have made a good single. Unfortunately by 2007, country radio was looking for music more in line with the schlock being produced by Rascal Flatts or Jason Aldean.

He slips on his warn out jeans
She buttons up his shirt
A sleepy smile and a goodbye kiss
And he’s up and off to work

He puts in a forty hour week
But she’s on his mind full-time
And he’ll give it everything he’s got
And he’s all her’s at five

‘Cause he’s a workin’ man
He don’t mind workin’ overtime
For the trust and the touch of a woman
Come rain or shine

“Miami and Me“ is a mid-tempo song about a love that couldn’t be

Meet her in Miami
Conversation turned to wine
We talked and we talked
Yeah we hit it off, just fine
Stayed down by the water
Slept beneath the stars
We laughed and we danced
Made love in the sand
I held her in my arms

But I couldn’t make her stay
California called her away
And tonight the moon turned as blue as the sea
And she left Miami and me

Track five, “She Likes It In The Morning” is a lovely slow ballad that proved to be the third and final single released from the album. For reasons I will never understand, the song died at #43.

And she likes it in the morning
And I run my fingers through her hair
And she smiles when I call her darling
She looks like a angel laying there

And she wants me in the evening
To listen close to how she feels
She needs to know I need her
And Heaven knows I always will

‘Cause she loves me every single day and night
And she says we are everything that’s good in her life
She says she loves me more than anything on earth
And that’s almost as much as I love her

Track six “Mexico” is an up-tempo island-vibe track that makes for a good album track. Ditto for track seven “You’re My Witness”, a gentle ballad.

Track eight “Average Joe” is a mid-tempo ballad about the average Joes in any town. The lyrics are a bit of a laundry list, but the song has a nice melody and the song hangs together well

I don’t mind working
I don’t mind drinking
When I need to unwind
And I like listening to a
Country song on a Friday night

I’m a welder in the shop downtown
The drywaller in your brand new house
Yeah I’m your Average Joe
I’m the guy that fixed your van
I’m the painter
I’m your concrete man
Yeah I’m your Average Joe

Track nine, “It Ain’t Pretty (But It’s Beautiful)”, is a tender ballad about, well, various things including appreciating the good things in our lives

Got home and told my wife bout what I’d seen
She grabbed her purse, took me by the hand and said come with me
We drove around until we found the three of them
I wondered who was blessing who when they got in
We bought them food and clothes and drove to a toy store
And the little girl said I don’t need a brand new doll
As she hugged the broken armless one they found before
She said this one needs me more

She ain’t pretty, but she’s beautiful
She ain’t perfect, but she’s wonderful
She might be broken, but she’s lovable
She ain’t pretty, but she’s beautiful

Track ten, “Before The Next Teardrop Falls” features the late great Freddy Fender in a duet with Clay. The song was a country and pop #1 in 1974. This would prove to be Freddy’s last recording before his death on October 14, 2006. The duet comes off very well and it is nice to know that Freddy’s last recording was a really good one.

The album closes with a pair of nice ballads in “I’d Love To Be Your Last” and “I Hate Nights Like This”.

My friend Brady Vercher of the 9513 blog gave this album three stars and most reviewers at the time of the release had this at 3 to 3.5 stars. My review on Amazon (4/19/2007) was as follows:

“Clay’s first album of new material in several years delivers the solid country sound that one has come to expect from Clay. The first single “‘Fore She Was Mama” received considerable airplay, and seems to hold up well upon repeated listening. I am surprised that “Mama” topped out on Billboard at around 21, because its appeal in the Sunshine State was considerably stronger than that. If radio stations still maintained their own charts, I would expect that this would have been a top five song on stations throughout the Southeastern and Southwestern parts of the USA, perhaps tanking north of the Mason-Dixon line.

The album features a nice mix of slow and up-tempo songs. One of the slower songs “It Ain’t Pretty (But It’s Beautiful)” is a bit maudlin, but for me it’s the best song on the album. Another highlight is Clay’s recording of “Before The Last Teardrop Falls”, a duet with the late Freddy Fender. Freddy’s death isn’t acknowledged anywhere in the CD booklet, but I’m pretty sure it was his last recording.

The current single “Fall” is receiving substantial airplay. I would not have picked it as a single, but I can see where its lyrics would have a strong appeal to female listeners with its strongly supportive message to the wife (or girlfriend).

“Average Joe” is a song that should resonate with many, and it features legendary pianist Hargus “Pig” Robbins. Paul Franklin plays steel on all tracks, but several fiddlers share the spotlight on the various tracks (Rob Hajacos, Stuart Duncan, Larry Franklin).

Welcome back Clay – four stars”

My opinion of the album has not changed since then, although I do not regard “It Ain’t Pretty (But It’s Beautiful)” as the best song on the album anymore.

Track Listing
1. “‘Fore She Was Mama”
Casey Beathard, Phil O’Donnell
3:43
2. “Fall”
Sonny LeMaire, Shane Minor, Clay Mills
3:37
3. “Workin’ Man” M. Jason Greene, Clay Walker 3:55
4. “Miami and Me” Greene, Walker 4:02
5. “She Likes It in the Morning”
Greene, Walker 3:50
6. “Mexico” Greene, Walker 2:41
7. “You’re My Witness” Greene, Walker 3:38
8. “Average Joe” Ed Hill, Don Poythress, David Frasier 3:09
9. “It Ain’t Pretty (But It’s Beautiful)” Doug Johnson, Nicole Witt, Kim Williams 4:00
10. “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” (duet with Freddy Fender)
Ben Peters, Vivian Keith
2:39
11. “I’d Love to Be Your Last” Rivers Rutherford, Annie Tate, Sam Tate 3:24
12. “I Hate Nights Like This” Walker 4:20

Album Review: Hank Williams Jr – ‘Ballads Of The Hills And Plains’

balladsBy 1965, it was becoming apparent that Hank Williams, Jr. would not be content to simply remake his father’s songbook. The first shot across the bow was this album of western and folk songs and similar songs by Nashville songsmiths. While it was a rebellion of sorts, it was a gentle rebellion as Hank gathered his own footing with this, his fourth album, and first not to feature any songs written by his father.

The band for this album was billed as the Cheatin’ Hearts but in reality it was a group of session musicians consisting of Grady Martin, Jerry Kennedy, Harold Bradley and Ray Edenton on guitars, Bob Moore on electric bass, Hargus “Pig” Robbins on piano with the Jordanaires providing vocal accompaniment. While Hank did have a touring band of Cheatin’ Hearts in future years, I doubt that this group ever backed Hank on stage unless it was on the Opry stage, since Hank was still only 16 years old.

The great outdoors, the old west and cowboys are themes Hank would turn to at many points in the future. This was the starting point.
Side One of the album opens with “The River”, an early Mack Vickery co-write with Cliff Friend and Jack Sanders that is a slow ballad about a young lad going after the man who gunned down his father. Unlike the lad in Johnny Cash’s “Don’t Take Your Guns To Town”, the young man here heads back home to his mother.

Next up is “Doc Holiday”, John Paulovic’s tale about Wyatt Earp’s old sidekick. This song is not about the famous Gunfight at the OK Corral, but simply an incident (probably fictional) in the life of Doc Holiday. The dominant instrument in this arrangement is Pig Robbins honky-tonk piano.

Have another drink on me, Doc Holiday
The kid ain’t gonna shoot you down

“Cowpoke” comes from the pens of Tillman Franks and David Houston. Houston was about to emerge as a first tier star, at least for a few years, but this song is western fare, which finds Hank displaying his cowboy yodel/falsetto:

I’m lonesome but happy,
Rich but I’m broke,
And the good Lord knows the reason,
I’m just a cowpoke.

From Cheyenne to Douglas,
All the ranges i know,
I drift with the wind,
No one cares where i go.

Well I ain’t got a dime,
In these old worn out jeans,
So i’ll quit eatin’ steak,
And go back to beans.

“Blood’s Thicker Than Water” by ace songwriters Danny Dill and Wayne P. Walker is a western ballad with a Mexican feel to the guitar work about a gunfight between two brothers that is broken up, at great personal cost by the boys’ mother. A very dramatic ballad.

Jim Reeves had a major hit with Harlan Howard’s “The Blizzard” in 1961. Hank is not a smooth balladeer in the same league as Reeves (very few are in that class) but this song is a narration rather than a crooner’s ballad and so Hank is very much in his element.

“Stampede” by Jim Dale and Frances Paulin is a nice western ballad that closes out side one of the vinyl album.

Side Two starts with “The Rainmaker”, another song from the trio of Cliff Friend, Jack Sanders and Mack Vickery. This narrative song is about a stranger who shows up in the town of Dry Gulch promising to make it rain. This lyric has an interesting twist to the lyric.

Nearly every folk singer and cowboy singer has sung “The Streets of Laredo”, a tune which appears in the folk music of nearly every English-speaking culture, albeit sometimes with very different lyrics. Hank’s vocal is very effective and the backing is very sparse as befits the stark nature of the song.

“Black Lightning” is a jog-along ballad about a gunfighter on the run, speaking to his horse (and himself) as he is about to be run down by the posse chasing him.

“Big Twenty” is another ballad, the story of a muleskinner being pursued by the Apache , the title referring to his twenty mule team pulling a load of borax.

“The Eyes of Death” written by Danny Dill is the story of an inmate who knows that the brother of the man he killed is an inmate in the same prison, but he doesn’t even know what the brother looks like and the anticipation of being killed is worse than actually being killed.

The album ends with “I’m Afraid” by Allen Nelson and Carolyn Stringer. This is an up-tempo about an impending gunfight with a former friend. The dispute, of course, is over a woman.

Unfortunately this album has never been released in a digital format and only “The Blizzard” and “The River” are to be found on the MGM boxed set Living Proof.

All is not lost, however, as ten of the songs have been posted to You Tube as audio clips.

This album is essentially a western or cowboy album, a genre that Hank handles very effectively. The accompaniment is appropriately subdued and Hank is in great vocal form. The musicians and arrangements are all top flight and this is an album I greatly enjoy. As a first attempt at getting away from being a clone, this is a solid effort – at least a B+ or maybe an A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Album Review: Tom T. Hall – ‘I Witness Life’

i witness life - 100 children1970 would prove to a year of steady development for Tom T Hall as two he would release two albums, I Witness Life and One Hundred Children, that would both crack Billboard’s top forty country album chart. The albums in turn would provide him with four chart singles. I mention the two albums together because the German reissue label Bear Family coupled them on a fine CD which, aside from engaging in a vinyl hunt, is the only format in which you will find either album. This article is about I Witness Life.

The instrumentation for the album finds the Mercury ‘A’ Team at work of Jerry Kennedy on guitar and dobro, Harold Bradley on guitar, Bob Moore on bass, Buddy Harman on drums and Hargus ‘Pig’ Robbins on piano with other artists such as Randy Scruggs (banjo), Pete Drake (steel guitar) and Charlie McCoy (harmonica) appearing on some tracks. All but one of the tracks were recorded in February or March of 1970.

One of the most unusual songs ever to grace the country airwaves opened the album as “Salute To A Switchblade Knife” gave Tom T his fifth top ten single, reaching #8. The song is based on Hall’s U.S. Army service in West Germany. As he put it ‘not necessarily an incident one would want to write Mother about ..’

Me and Yates an army buddy of mine
Were doin’ three years in Germany at the time
We came upon these Frauleins in the bar
Yates said, “Darf ich Sie begleiten?”, they said “Ja”
(spoken) And ‘Darf ich Sie begleiten means?’, ‘Can we sit with you all?’
Oh we must have drunk ten quarts of German beer
My conscience and my sinuses were clear
I asked that Fraulein if she was a spy
She said, “Nein but do bis ain bissel high”
(spoken) A condition not uncommon to the American soldier
***
And the army has a new policy if you can’t move it, paint it
If it has a switchblade knife, salute it
(spoken) Not necessarily an incident one would want to write mother
about, Germany being full of good soldiers …

I guess everyone has to start somewhere and for Tom T Hall, after his stint in the army ended in 1961, he headed to the Connorsville, Indiana home of an army buddy and started his career in earnest. In “Thank You, Connorsville, Indiana” Hall recalls his early days of playing all night for near peanuts

Well, after seven hours of ‘Cheatin’ Heart’ and ‘Wildwood Flower’
I had my seven dollars, eighty cents
I gave it to a waitress who was going to have a baby;
She said she needed just that much to help her pay her rent

“Do It To Someone You Love” was a nice song that became a top twenty hit for Norro Wilson, a record producer for various labels and a fine songwriter in his own right with the Charlie Rich classic “A Very Special Love Song” among his credits.

The words I love you come easy to the lips of a liar or a fool
If love talking is what you’re thinking of then do it to someone you love
Do it to someone you love

Some little things to let them know they’re all you’re thinking of
This day and time a little thing you do could mean so much
So do it to someone you love

“The Ballad of Bill Crump” is based on a true story, according to Hall. Whether or not there is any truth to the story, it makes for a fine song. Tom T plays some harmonica on this track joined by Charlie McCoy (overdubbed at a later date):

Now I hear a lot of tall stories since my business is writin’ songs
And every now and then if you listen real close
A good true one comes along
And this is the story of old Bill Crump from the North Carolina Hills
Nat Winston of Nashville knew this man real well

He built the church and he built the pews
He built the cradles and the furniture for the schools
Folks in Avery County say that he was better than good
Probably one of the reasons the Lord made wood

Now men have faults and Bill’s fault was
He loved to sip that corn
He lived ninety some years that way
Don’t guess it was hurtin’ him none

The end of the song finds Crump building his own casket !

If Tom’s music often has the feel of bluegrass, “Chattanooga Dog” makes no bones about it with Randy Scruggs (Earl’s son) prominently featured on banjo. Pete Drake supplies some delicate steel guitar shadings that do not detract from the bluegrass feel.

There’s a fairground down in Chattanooga
Where a kiddy train runs up and down the track
There’s an old black hound that always hangs around
And he chases that train down and back
And I’ve been chasing you like that Chattanooga dog
Even though I know you don’t care
I’ve been chasing you like that Chattanooga dog
And it ain’t gonna get me anywhere

The War in Vietnam (aka LBJ’s War) was one of the great tragedies in American history. Tom T. Hall describes the Vietnam War memorial in Washington D.C., as ‘an ongoing eternal funeral’. “Girls In Saigon City” reflects the situation that many a soldier found himself in during the Vietnam War. Apparently the idea came from one of Tom’s friends.

There’s a place called Da Nang Village cross the ocean far away
In deep concern for one young woman that’s where I abide today
Today, I got a dear-John-letter from that young woman in the USA

When I was called I knew I’d lose her it don’t matter anyway
There are girls in Saigon City waiting there with open arms
On my leave I may go see them in this other world called Vietnam

“Hang Them All” is a very up-tempo song, with a comic sense that tends to obscure the serious message. Hall describes it as the first protest song he ever wrote.

If they hang ’em all they get the guilty
If they hang ’em all they cannot miss
If they hang ’em all they get the guilty
Been a lot of problem solved like this
Indeed

“Coming To The Party” is the story of a man who is trying to get over an old love by heading to a party to try to find a new love. It has somewhat of the quality of the George Jones hit “She Thinks I Still Care”.

Coming to the party tonight
And I’ll find someone new to hold me tight
She thinks I’m home crying won’t she be surprised
Cause I’m coming to the party tonight

“America The Ugly” is probably the most thought provoking song on the album. It’s not really a protest song, although some at the time thought of it that way. As Tom T Hall explains in the liner notes for the Bear CD: ‘This song is not simply about injustice in America, but also points out that those internal injustices hurt us abroad’.

There was a man, came to see the USA from a foreign land
To photograph the progress of dear old Uncle Sam
He got off the boat in New York, went down to the Bowery
I know what the man went to photograph and to see

There were hopeless, hungry living dead
Winos who sell their souls for a bottle of a cheapest red
That’s the picture that he wanted
And that’s what he got they say, America the ugly today

***

There were some folks, had plenty and some had none at all
The enemy knows when a heart gets hard, the country is bound to fall
If we get heads and hearts together we won’t have to hear them say
“America the ugly today, America the ugly today”

The album closes with “That’ll Be All Right With Me”, a nice reflective song which apparently came from an earlier recording session than the rest of the tracks on this album. Regardless, it’s a nice song and a fitting end to the album.

It’s not my sun, man, and if it’s not shinin’
When I wake up tomorrow morning, hmm, that’ll be all right with me
They’re not my birds, man, and if they’re not singin’
When I wake up tomorrow morning, hmm, that’ll be all right with me

One Hundred Children was not one of the albums we planned on presenting this month, but since it is paired with I Witness Life on the Bear Family CD, I though I’d say a few words about the album. Even though the album was recorded only seven months later in August and September 1970, you can hear an evolution in the arrangements of producer Jerry Kennedy. While the basic ‘talking blues man’ accompaniment is largely maintained, there are tracks where string overdubs are used to augment the basic accompaniment – yes, the dreaded ‘Nashville Sound’. Tom T Hall’s voice is distinctive enough that the strings don’t drown him out or change the fundamental qualities that made him such a distinctive artist. Temperate use of such embellishments would make Hall more accessible to a wider audience. Although neither of these two albums broke the top thirty, for the next five or so years, Hall’s albums would reach the top ten.

The singles from 100 Children were the title song, which reached #14 and “Ode To A Half A Pound of Ground Round” which reached #21.

The title track is one of those fairly meaningless family of man songs, akin to the later “We Are The World”. The synthesis of Randy Scruggs on banjo with a full string arrangement make this track sound better than the song actually is, but the rest of the album is full of much better songs.

The three standouts on the album are “I Can’t Dance” which is the story of my life (“I can’t dance, I never could, I guess my feet don’t match”), “Pinto The Wonder Horse Is Dead” (a nostalgic look at childhood) and “Ode To A Half A Pound of Ground Round”.

I think many of us have experienced circumstances similar to the narrator in “Ode To A Half A Pound of Ground Round”.

(spoken) This song is about the time I nearly starved to death in Roanoke Virginia

I woke up Wednesday morning in my little motel bed
Knowing I would die the minute that I moved my head
I felt around to make sure I was in my bed alone
I meet some friendly people when I’m stoned

My payday was on Friday I had two more days to go
Even in my agony I knew that I was broke
Lemme pay the check I said and keep the change my friend
She wiggled out of sight with my last ten

At noon I realized there wasn’t any way to eat
For lunch I just went out and shuffled up and down the street
At four o’clock I had a funny feeling in my chest
How long’s it take to starve a man to death

I found some pennies in a jar and bought a candy bar
Divided it in pieces and I ate one every hour
I just rolled into town and didn’t know a single soul
There wasn’t any way to make a loan

The next album would be In Search of A Song, Tom T’s first top ten album and featuring (arguably) Hall’s most famous solo hit, “The Year Clayton Delaney Died”.

Country Heritage: David Houston

A person surveying the country music scene at the beginning of 1973 could be forgiven for thinking that David Houston was en route to a career that would culminate in eventual induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. His most recent single, “Good Things,” would reach #1 on Cashbox and complete a decade in which 13 of his singles topped one or more of the Billboard, Cashbox and/or Record World country charts. His 1966 hit, “Almost Persuaded,” was the biggest country hit of the decade (1966-75) and another 17 singles cracked the top 20 during that span. Eight of his songs cracked Billboard’s pop charts.

Instead, Houston’s career would come to a screeching halt with only two more top 20 singles to follow.

Charles David Houston (December 9, 1935 – November 30, 1993) was born and died in Bossier City, Louisiana. Between those dates, he compiled a career worthy of his antecedents who include former Revolutionary War hero (and Virginia governor) “Lighthorse” Harry Lee, General Robert E. Lee and Texas hero Sam Houston. His godfather, 1920s pop singer Gene Austin (“My Blue Heaven”), co-owned an auto dealership with Houston’s father and took an active role in encouraging David’s musical career. Like Gene Austin, Houston was very much at home with pop music. Eventually, he came to the attention of Slim Whitman, who recorded his first session in 1955 and got him placed on Imperial Records. A spot on the Louisiana Hayride soon followed.

The contract with Imperial didn’t lead anywhere, nor did subsequent recording contracts with RCA and Atlanta-based National Recording Corporation. Finally, in 1963, Tillman Franks, former manager of Johnny Horton and Claude King, pitched a song to Houston and got him on the Epic label. The song, “Mountain of Love” (not the same song that Johnny Rivers and Charley Pride recorded), rose to #2 on Billboard. After a couple of minor hits, Billy Sherrill took over Epic’s Nashville operations and provided Houston with a song he penned (with Glen Sutton) titled “Livin’ in a House Full of Love,” which hit #3 in late 1965.

In 1966, Sherrill had Houston record a waltz that he and Glen Sutton had written as a possible B-side. The song, a tale of a married man struggling (and succeeding) in fighting off temptation, became an A-side and a sensation. “Almost Persuaded” jumped to #1 that August and spent nine weeks at the top of Billboard’s country chart and reached #24 on the pop chart (no record since 1966 has topped the country charts for as long a period). Aided by the piano signatures of Hargus ‘Pig’ Robbins, “Almost Persuaded” garnered two Grammys for Houston (Best Country & Western Recording and Best Country & Western Performance, Male) in 1967. The CMA Awards did not start until the next year so his biggest record went unrecognized by the CMA.

“Almost Persuaded” launched a string of hits that lasted through 1973 and created the template that Sherrill used on his future recordings with Tammy Wynette, George Jones and numerous other artists. Sometimes referred to as “country cocktails,” the Sherrill arrangements would come to dominate country music until the outlaw movement came to the fore in the mid ’70s. Such David Houston solo hits as “With One Exception” and “You Mean the World to Me” (1967); “Have a Little Faith” and “Already It’s Heaven” (1968); “Baby, Baby (I Know You’re a Lady)” (1970); and the 1967 duet of “My Elusive Dreams” with the then-largely unknown Tammy Wynette served to demonstrate how well the arrangements could work in the hands of an expressive singer. Along the way, Houston also provided Barbara Mandrell with her first major hit in “After Closing Time” (#6 in 1970). Read more of this post

Album Review: Vern Gosdin – ‘You’ve Got Somebody’

Vern’s third solo album was released in 1979. Produced as before by Gary Paxton, it boasts some excellent songs and stellar vocals, but is marred by rather dated production. The Jordanaires sing backing vocals, legendary steelie Pete Drake and piano man Hargus ‘Pig Robbins’ all contribute, but the overwhelming presence is that of the string section.

The title track is an excellent almost-cheating song, with a catchy tune and great vocals, which is my favourite track. As the lead single it performed respectably, peaking at #16. A middle aged singer meets up with a married woman in a bar after his show, but after they swap photos of their kids, decides their hearts really aren’t in it any more:

You’ve got somebody
I’ve got somebody
What are we doing here?
This scene was fun when we were single and young
Now we’re just fighting the fear

You got somebody
I got somebody
Why can’t we go home?
When you’re trying to prove you’ve still got what it takes
You’re afraid to walk out alone

The follow-up single, ‘All I Want And Need Forever’ is a nice love song which Vern sings intensely, and which faltered just outside the top 20. The third and last single was one of four songs written or co-written by Vern on the album. ‘Sarah’s Eyes’ is a story song typical of 70s country with another beautifully judged vocal, but was not a success, failing to make the top 50.

‘Til I’m Over Gettin’ Over You’, another co-write, is an okay song with rather intrusive jerky production. ‘Fifteen Hundred Times A Day’, which Vern wrote alone, is a fine song about having trouble getting over someone, with some interesting instrumentation.  The beaty ‘Took It Like A Man, Cried Like A Baby’ is quite entertaining although the cheerily upbeat sound does not quite fit the heartbroken lyrics.

‘He Must Be Lovin’ You Right’,also co-written by Vern, is a the story of a man who sees his ex is happy with another man. The asong is a classic heartbreaker and the vocal is excellent, cutting through a rather poppy production with strings and loud brass. In the equally strung ‘The Rock I’m Leanin’ On’, Vern plays the contrasting role, that of the man who has stepped in when another man has let down the woman.  Producer Paxton wrote the melancholy ‘She’s Gone’, where all joy has gone out of the world for the protagonist.

Vern’s instantly recognisable vocals are great throughout, but the heavy handed Nashville Sound production with extensive use of string sections, if not an entire orchestra, make this less essential than Vern’s later classics.  One of the few let-ups from the orchestra comes with a lively slice of rock and roll in the form of a surprisingly effective cover of ‘Shake, Rattle And Roll’.

The album did not sell very well, and failed to chart. Elektra released a Best Of compilation, but no more new material. You’ve Got Somebody was re-released on its own on CD a couple of years ago (but isnt easy to find), and is also on the new 3-on-1 bargain reissue with its Elektra predecessors. While it’s not his very best work, that voice is in fine form and makes the record worth getting hold of.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Patsy Cline – ‘Sentimentally Yours’

Sentimentally Yours was the second full-length album of Patsy Cline recordings released by the Decca label, and her third overall.  After its release in August of 1962, it would hold the distinction of being her final album released in her lifetime.  Producer Owen Bradley had made no secret of his ambition to make Patsy a pop star, as well as having country hits with her.  The virtuoso did just that when he was finally able to ink Cline to a contract with Decca.  The resulting first album, Showcase, spawned two quintessential American standards with the hits ‘I Fall to Pieces’ and the sublime ‘Crazy’.  Their success on the popular music charts had made Cline a star beyond Nashville and Sentimentally Yours, a collection of mostly cover songs made famous by the pop singers of the day, aimed at continuing that success.

The only two new songs on the album were the single ‘She’s Got You’ and its B-side ‘Strange’.  The former was Patsy’s second and final #1 on the Country Singles chart, known then as How C&W Sides.  ‘She’s Got You’ also went to #14 on the U.S. Pop chart and was her first charting hit in the U.K., peaking at #43 in the nation.  Writer Hank Cochran pitched the song to Patsy at her house one night in late 1961.  Patsy loved the song and recorded it at her next session.  Bradley employed The Jordanaires as backing singers again, and a jazzy piano provided by Hargus ‘Pig’ Robbins accompanies Patsy’s own sweeping vocals.  It’s been re-recorded several times over the years, most notably by Loretta Lynn, who had a #1 hit with the song in 1977 as a single from the I Remember Patsy tribute album.

Mel Tillis and Fred Burch wrote ‘Strange.  The kiss-off number is an interesting listen in itself with its almost-calypso beat.  Patsy’s singing is more restrained on this.  I get the impression she wasn’t close enough to the microphone or wasn’t belting it out like she usually did.  From these two originals, we are treated to Patsy’s interpretation of ten standards.

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Album Review: Keith Whitley – ‘Sad Songs and Waltzes’

keithwhitley-sadsongsThere are very few that can sing a sad one like Keith Whitley. At least that’s what I’ve discovered in our recent Spotlight Artist feature on Keith in May. So it’s appropriate that one of the posthumous releases featuring Keith’s vocals is titled Sad Songs and Waltzes. As a relatively new fan of country music, I fell in love with this album on a number of levels.

First, there’s the story behind the album’s production. To be honest, I sometimes love the stories behind the songs as much as I love the songs themselves and this album has many.

Keith sang with several bands early in his career before striking out on his own. J.D. Crowe and the New South was the band that provided his launching pad into country as a solo artist, and their LP Somewhere Between was the ignition.

Keith joined the band in 1978 after singing and playing with the bluegrass band Ralph Stanley’s Clinch Mountain Boys along with his friend Ricky Skaggs during their teens.

According to Crowe, Keith didn’t realize when he joined The New South that Crowe was also into country having met Lefty Frizzell when he himself was in his teens. So when Keith eventually approached Crowe about the band doing a country album, Crowe was more than open to it. He offered to produce one and Somewhere Between got its start featuring some great classics like Frizzell’s ‘I Never Go Around Mirrors,’ Merle Haggard’s ‘Somewhere Between’ and ‘Long Black Limousine’ released in 1968 by Jody Miller.

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Album Review: John Anderson – ‘John Anderson 2’

1981_john_anderson_2countryAs the title suggests, John Anderson 2, was the singer’s second studio album for Warner Brothers, released in 1981. Produced by Norro Wilson, it picked up where the previous year’s debut album left off, calling on some of Nashville’s premier songwriters and musicians, and stood in stark contrast to the typical Urban Cowboy fare of the day. Among the legendary musicians contributing to the album were Harold Bradley (Owen’s brother), Jerry Reed, and Fred Carter, Jr. (Deana’s father) on guitar, Pete Drake on steel guitar, and Hargus “Pig” Robbins on piano.

The opening track, “I’m Just An Old Chunk of Coal (But I’m Gonna Be A Diamond Someday)”, an instant classic composed by Billy Joe Shaver, was the first single released from the album. It brought Anderson to the Top 5 for the first time, peaking at #4.

It was followed up by “Chicken Truck”, composed by Anderson, Ervan James Parker, and Monroe Fields. This is a light-hearted tune about a motorist who is stuck on the highway behind a truck transporting chickens, which it is unable to pass. It’s my least favorite song on the entire album; the lyrics are foolish, and it has some rock overtones, which make it seem out of place with the rest of the album. It is also an indication of things that were to come in the relatively near future; it’s somewhat similar to 1983’s “Swingin'”, the biggest — and worst, from an artistic standpoint — hit of Anderson’s career. The production on “Chicken Truck” isn’t as obnoxious as the tune it foreshadows, but it wears thin after repeated listenings. Radio programmers apparently agreed; even though it reached #8, this song had a short shelf-life. I don’t ever remember hearing it on the radio, which suggests that it didn’t have any staying power as a recurrent once its chart run was finished.

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