My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Hillary Rodham Clinton

Country Heritage: Con Hunley

In an article which appeared on the9513.com in March of 2010, titled Forgotten Artists: Ten from the ’80s, Pt. 1, I had the following to say about Con Hunley:

“I have no idea why Con Hunley didn’t become a big star. He had an excellent voice and the look that 1980s record labels were seeking. Perhaps his voice was too distinctive, as it was smoky with strong blues flavoring. At any rate, he charted 25 times (11 Top 20 hits) from 1977-86, with his biggest national hit being “What’s New With You,” which reached #11 in 1981. I doubt that anyone remembers him for that song, however, as other songs such as “Week-End Friend” (#13), “I’ve Been Waiting For You All My Life” (#14), “You’ve Still Got A Place In My Heart (#14), “Since I Fell For You” (#20) and “Oh Girl” (#12) were all huge regional hits, reaching Top 5 status in many markets.”

That doesn’t seem like enough to say about this superlative vocalist so here goes:

Conrad Logan “Con” Hunley (born April 9, 1945) was born in Union County, Tennessee, an area which also produced such country legends as Roy Acuff and Carl Smith. Con was born into a musical family and at age nine his parents bought him a used “Stella” guitar for Christmas. Con soon taught himself to play Chet Atkins thumb-style guitar; however, his biggest early influence was to be found among R&B artists, particularly Ray Charles.

Con’s first professional job came in 1964, courtesy of the Eagles Lodge in downtown Knoxville. In 1965 Con joined the United States Air Force in 1965. After basic training, Con was sent to a tech school at Chanute AFB in Illinois where he was taught aircraft hydraulic and pneumatic systems. Con learned so well that he was made an instructor. While there, he played area bars and clubs with a local band. Later Con was transferred to Castle AFB near Atwater, CA, where he found a job playing piano at the Empire Lounge in Atwater.

After his tour of duty was finished Hunley returned to Knoxville and began performing weekly at a local nightclub owned by Sam Kirkpatrick, who formed the independent label Prairie Dust Records to showcase Hunley’s talents. After some minor success on the country music charts with three 1977 singles charting in the lower regions outside the top fifty, Hunley caught the attention of Warner Brothers Records (WB), who signed him in 1978.

Hunley’s first WB single, a cover of Jimmy C. Newman’s  “Cry Cry Darling”, cracked the top forty, reaching #34. From this point forward, Con Hunley had eleven straight singles that reached the Billboard Top Twenty, although none reached the top ten.  This singles were all on the border between Country and R&B (this during a time when R&B was actually music). “Weekend Friend” started the parade, reaching #13 in October 1978. This was followed by a cover of the Leon Payne classic “You’ve Still Got A Place In My Heart”  which reached #14 . This was followed “I’ve Been Waiting For You All Of My Life” which also reached #14 (although according to Cashbox the record reached #10 and was Con’s biggest hit – this squares with my recollections of the record and its airplay in Central Florida). Paul Anka would have a pop hit with the record two years later in 1981.

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Spotlight Artist: Merle Haggard

There is a small group of performers, without whom it is impossible to imagine what country music would be like. Near the very top of this list is Merle Haggard, one of country music’s most talented and prolific singer/songwriters, and whose tremendous impact on the genre is indisputable.

He was born in Oildale, California on April 6, 1937, to parents who had migrated from Oklahoma during the Great Depression. His father Jim, who worked as a carpenter for the Santa Fe Railroad, died from a stroke in 1946. This traumatic and devastating event set nine-year-old Merle on the path of juvenile delinquency. He spent the next few years in and out of reform schools. At age 20, he was arrested for the attempted burglary of a tavern in Bakersfield, and was sentenced to one to fifteen years in the state penitentiary at San Quentin.

A few years before his burglary conviction, when he was 14 years old, Merle had the opportunity to attend a Lefty Frizzell concert, which helped to spark his interest in a career in music. Despite his tender age, Merle had already begun performing in local bars. During his incarceration at San Quentin, he was encouraged to pursue a music career by a fellow inmate nicknamed Rabbit. Rabbit escaped from the prison and was later returned and executed for killing police officer. This was one of the events that helped young Haggard to turn his life around. It was also the inspiration for his 1968 hit, “Sing Me Back Home”.

Haggard was released from San Quentin in 1960. He returned to Bakersfield and worked a variety of manual labor jobs while pursuing his musical dreams. He eventually got a gig playing at a Las Vegas club owned by Wynn Stewart, where he caught the attention of producer Fuzzy Owen, who signed Merle to his independent label, Tally Records. His first release was the modestly successful “Skid Row”, which was followed by a cover of Wynn Stewart’s “Sing A Sad Song”, which reached #19 in 1963. In 1965, he scored his first major hit with the Liz Anderson composition “(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers”, which became his first Top 10 record, despite a competing version by Roy Drusky which was on the charts at the same time. In addition to providing Merle with a name for his road band, it also led to a contract with Capitol Records, which would be his label home for the next 13 years.

During these early years of his career, Haggard was based on the west coast and, along with Buck Owens, was instrumental in forging the Bakersfield Sound, which was a backlash against the more polished and highly-orchestrated Nashville Sound. In 1967 he scored his first #1 hit with another Liz Anderson (co-written with Casey Anderson) number called “I’m A Lonesome Fugitive”. Though Haggard is well-known today for his convict songs, he was initially reluctant to sing and write about his incarceration, but was eventually convinced by Johnny Cash that doing so would prevent his past deeds from becoming tabloid fodder. His second #1 was the self-penned “Branded Man”, which was followed by “Sing Me Back Home” which also topped the charts. In 1968 he topped the charts with another prison song, “Mama Tried.”

Haggard’s best known song came in 1969. “Okie From Muskogee” was apparently intended as a joke, but struck a chord with those were fed up with the turbulence and protests of the sixties. Along with the follow-up release, the more combative “The Fightin’ Side of Me”, “Okie” established Haggard as a conservative icon. This image was further solidified with later records such as “Are The Good Times Really Over” and “Me and Crippled Soldiers”, a tune about flag burning which led to Merle’s split with Epic Records in 1989. In 1972 he received an unconditional pardon from California Governor Ronald Reagan. Ironically, in recent years Merle’s politics seem to have shifted considerably to the left, as he became an outspoken critic of the Iraq War and endorsed Hillary Rodham Clinton for president in 2008.

Merle Haggard was named Entertainer of the Year by both the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music in 1970. He has won 13 ACM awards, five CMA awards, and three Grammys, and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1994. He has also scored 38 #1 hits, a feat surpassed only by Conway Twitty and George Strait. Although his commercial success began to decline dramatically beginning in the late 1980s, he has never stopped making music and remains an important and respected artist today. His latest album, Working in Tennessee, will be released on October 4th. We hope you will enjoy our spotlight coverage of the career of this iconic and sometimes controversial figure.

Country Heritage Redux: Jim and Jon Hager

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

Our culture today seems to create personalities famous mostly for being famous, persons with little discernible talent who nevertheless capture the public eye for a while. Paris Hilton and the Kardashians come to mind, but there are others. At first glance the Hager Twins might seem to fall into this category, particularly since they didn’t have the big hit records or have a television show of their own, but a second look reveals an act composed of two of the greatest showman ever to grace a country music stage.

Jon Hager (August 30, 1941 -January 9, 2009) and his twin brother, Jim (August 30, 1941–May 8, 2008), had a long, successful career entertaining audiences for a period of nearly forty years.

Born in Chicago, the brothers were adopted by Jack and Frances Hager. Jack Hager was a Methodist minister; Frances was a schoolteacher. Raised in the Chicago area, Jim and Jon attended Maine Township High School in Park Ridge (Class of 1959), graduating one year ahead of Harrison Ford. Hillary Rodham Clinton also graduated from Maine Township High School, albeit a half-dozen years later.

As might be expected, Jim and Jon first sang in their father’s church choir. Later, as teenagers, they sang on a Saturday morning television show on WGN-TV. Both brothers served in the United States Army and while in the military performed at Officers’ Clubs and NCO Clubs in the United States and Europe.

After leaving the military, the Hager brothers moved to California and performed at Ledbetter’s Night Club in Los Angeles. They also worked at Disneyland, where their unique act caught the attention of Alvis Edgar “Buck” Owens, the biggest name in country music at the time. Owens signed them to contracts with his organization, and the Hagers served as an opening act for Buck for several years and occasionally opened for other Capitol acts such as Tex Ritter (father of the late John Ritter), Billie Jo Spears, Lefty Frizzell and Wynn Stewart.

In 1969, the Hager Twins became regular cast members on Buck Owens’ biggest ever vehicle Hee Haw. The Hagers appeared on the first episode and stayed with the show for 19 years. They also signed with Buck’s label, Capitol Records, landing a few hits starting with “Gotta Get To Oklahoma (‘Cause California’s Gettin’ To Me)” which reached #41 and according to Billboard, became their biggest single. According to Cashbox, their third single “Goin’ Home To Your Mother” was their biggest hit, reaching #41 on Cashbox. I suspect that “Goin’ Home To Your Mother” is their best remembered song as that is the one I’ve heard most played in the years since it was released.

Interestingly enough, the Hagers had the only charted version of Merle Haggard’s song “Silver Wings” (Haggard’s recording was on the B-side of “Working Man Blues”).  While the big hit records never materialized for Jim and Jon Hager, various other opportunities presented themselves; the duo found work in Hollywood and on television, including appearances on an episode of The Bionic Woman, the television-movie Twin Detectives, and spots in many TV commercials. In 1987 they co-hosted Country Kitchen with Florence Henderson on The Nashville Network.

I had the pleasure of seeing the Hager Twins perform live twice since 2000. Prior to that, I saw them with Buck Owens on two of his appearances in London in 1969 and 1970. Whether appearing as a supporting act or as headliners, Jim and Jon Hager were two of the most effective entertainers ever to grace a stage. Equally adept at music or comedy, anyone who ever saw them will concur that they could have received numerous CMA “Entertainer of the Year Awards.” They were that good.

Jim Hager died in May 2008 as a result of a heart attack. This proved to be a crushing loss from which his brother Jon never recovered. Jon’s health went into a spiral, until he was found dead in his Nashville apartment eight months later. Jon is survived by a daughter.

Discography

There is nothing available by the Hager Twins on CD except for two songs (“I’m Jesse James” and “Six Days On The Road” on the Sundazed release Buck Owens Live In Scandinavia. At their live shows the Hagers sold a CD issued on the Southern Star Records label that contained none of their hits. This may have been a self-issued disc as it came in a clamshell cover with no printed insert.

On vinyl, there apparently are six Hagers albums; however, I’ve only seen (and purchased) three album:

The Hagers, Capitol ST-438 (1969)
Two Hagers Are Better Than One, Capitol ST-553 (1970)
The Hagers, Elektra 7E-1021 (1974)

Musicstack currently lists a bunch of 45s plus a few albums, including one issued on the Barnaby label titled Music From The Country Side (1972) that I’ve never seen.

Probably the best way to obtain music from the Hager Twins is by purchasing the various Time-Life DVDs of Hee Haw. While the Hagers are not the stars of the shows, they do appear with some frequency. These are available from various sources.