My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: J. P. Richardson

Spotlight Artist: Waylon Jennings – the early years

waylon jennings 1960sAlthough Waylon Jennings didn’t quite make it to age sixty-five, he led a full and adventurous life, as related in his ‘warts and all” autobiography Waylon Jennings: An Autobiography. Starting out as a protégé of Buddy Holly (but not a member of the Crickets, as some have stated) and working his way thorough musical relationships with Herb Alpert, Bobby Bare, Jessi Colter, Johnny Cash, Chet Atkins, Willie Nelson and countless others, Waylon brought rock and roll sensibility without ever losing or burying the finest traditions of country music.

Waylon was first brought to prominence as a band member for Buddy Holly. When Holly died in that famous plane crash sometimes described as ‘the day the music died’, Waylon was racked by guilt as he had been slated to fly on that fateful flight that killed Holly, J.P. ‘Big Bopper” Richardson and Richard Valenzuela (aka Richie Valens) but had given up his seat to the Big Bopper. It took Waylon a while to get his bearings after that but he eventually landed with Herb Alpert, co-founder of A&M Records who produced some recordings on Waylon. While still on A&M, Bobby Bare brought Waylon to the attention of Chet Atkins at RCA and Alpert graciously released Waylon from his A&M contract.

I first had heard Waylon Jennings on the radio long before 1968, but the summer of 1968 was the first time I ever had money enough to buy record albums. During the 1960s and early 1970s most artists put out only one or two singles per album, so if you didn’t purchase the albums, the depth of a performer’s artistry could remain hidden.

In July of 1968, “Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line” was released on an unsuspecting radio audience. Tougher and meaner than anything else on the radio, it gave Waylon his first #1 record reaching #1 on Record World’s country chart. The song didn’t quite reach the top on Billboard, reaching #2 for five weeks . The song also coincided with my increased exchequer so when the album Only The Greatest became available, I purchased it, the first of many Waylon Jennings albums I would purchase. Over the course of the next few years, I caught up on his RCA back catalogue and purchased the new albums as they became available. I still listen to those albums today and regard them as his finest endeavors.

Our August spotlight artist is the ‘pre-outlaw’ Waylon Jennings. While he didn’t have the raw sound of his stage band on these recordings, Waylon made a bunch of strong albums with rarely a dud track, let alone any dud albums, among them.

While the ‘outlaw’ recordings of Waylon Jennings are generally better remembered, what is overlooked is that generally Waylon, like his contemporary Willie Nelson, was not unhappy about the songs he was recording, but about the way the songs were being presented on his recordings. The 1960s were the era of the ‘Nashville Sound’ with its full complement of background singers (usually the Anita Kerr Singers on RCA), orchestral arrangements and RCA’s studio musicians, with resulting records that the artist could not replicate in live performance. Waylon was rebelling against all of the accoutrements and striving to achieve a more basic and more organic sound. The so-called ‘outlaw movement’ was about the singer having greater control over the music but there was also a strong ‘forward to the past’ element to it.

Most people, including my colleagues here at MY KIND OF COUNTRY, will be making their first acquaintance with many of these recordings. I envy them the thrill of discovery they will have upon first encountering these recordings, for in my opinion these recordings are ONLY THE GREATEST.

Country Heritage: Hawkshaw Hawkins

In Rock & Roll, February 3, 1959, is known as “The Day The Music Died.” On that date a small plane crash in Iowa claimed the lives of Charles Hardin “Buddy Holly” Holley, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and Richard “Richie Valens” Valenzuela. Holly was already a superstar, The Big Bopper was a songwriter with a few hits of his own, and Valens was a rising star, en route to becoming the first Latino Rock & Roll star.

If country music can be said to have a “Day The Music Died,” that date surely is March 5, 1963, when a plane crash claimed the lives of Virgina Hensley (aka Patsy Cline), Lloyd “Cowboy” Copas and Harold Franklin “Hawkshaw” Hawkins.” At the time of the crash Cline had arrived as a major country star with huge pop success on the horizon and Cowboy Copas was a major star in the late 1940s and early 1950s, who had experienced a late career renaissance in 1960 with “Alabam.” The third victim, Hawkshaw Hawkins, was a veteran artist who had been recording for 15 years but was on the verge of a major breakthrough at the age of 41.

Hawkshaw Hawkins was born in 1921, in Huntington, West Virginia.  The nickname ‘Hawkshaw’ dates to his childhood when he successfully helped a friend track down a pair of missing fishing poles. The friend dubbed him Hawkshaw the Detective based on a comic strip. The nickname was to stick with him throughout his life (he was also sometimes called “The Hawk”). At the age of 13, he is alleged to have traded five rabbits for a homemade guitar and taught himself to play it. Within a few years he had become sufficiently proficient with the guitar that he won a talent contest at local radio station WSAZ. Following his win, he began working at the station, eventually moving to WCHS in Charleston by the end of the 1930s.

In 1940 he married Reva Barbour, a 16 year old beauty from Huntington; the marriage lasted until 1958. During 1941, he traveled the United States with a wild west revue, but in late 1942 Hawkins entered the army and served as an engineer, stationed near Paris, Texas where he and friends would sneak out on Friday and Saturday nights to perform at local clubs. Later stationed in Europe, by now attaining the rank of Staff Sergeant, he participated in the Battle of the Bulge, winning four battle stars during his 15 months of combat duty. Afterward he spent time in Manila in the Philippines and had a radio show on WVTM.

Discharged from the military in late 1945, he returned to West Virginia and gained a spot on the WWVA Wheeling Jamboree, where he remained for over eight years. A large man (6’6″) with a deep voice, Hawkins became a popular performer due to his engaging personality. In fact, he became a huge star without becoming a recording star, although his recording career started shortly after joining the Jamboree in 1946. Hawkshaw and Reva adopted a daughter, Susan Marlene, in 1947, but, to the best of my knowledge, had no other children.

Hawkshaw had a few chart hits on King from 1948-51, then disappeared from the charts. The hits were “Pan American” (#9), “Dog House Boogie” (#6), “I Wasted A Nickel” (#15), “I Love You A Thousand Ways” (#8), “I’m Waiting Just For You” (#8) and “Slow Poke” (#7). Although his chart success was small, his records sold well and many were regional hits that did not chart nationally, including his signature song “Sunny Side of The Mountain.”

In 1953 he signed with RCA Victor, and by 1955 Hawkins had become a regular member of the Grand Ole Opry. He made some great recordings while with RCA but scored no hit records. A switch to Columbia in 1959 found “Soldiers Joy” reach #15 but there was no further action on the Billboard charts, although four of his other Columbia singles charted on Cash Box, most notably “Darkness On The Face of The Earth,” which reached #11 on the Cash Box country chart. He married future Country Music Hall of Fame member  Jean Shepard in 1960. In mid-1962, after an absence of nine years, he re-signed with King Records. The first two singles “Silver Threads And Golden Needles” and “Bad News Travels Fast (In Our Town)” received considerable acclaim, although neither charted on Billboard (“Bad New Travels Fast” did crack the Cash Box Top 40). On March 2, 1963, King released a Justin Tubb-penned song, “Lonesome 7-7203,” that they had high hopes would be Hawkins’ breakthrough single, just as “Alabam” had been for Cowboy Copas in 1960.

Unfortunately, that’s the end of the story as on March 5, 1963 Hawkshaw Hawkins died in the crash that took the lives of Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas and Randy Hughes (pilot, Patsy’s manager, and Copas’ son-in-law). At the time of his death Jean Shepard was pregnant with son Harold “Hawkshaw Jr,” who would be born a few weeks after the crash. The couple also had a son born the year before they named Don Robbin Hawkins after Don Gibson and Marty Robbins.

“Lonesome 7-7203” did everything King Records and Hawkins had hoped it would do, flying to #1 on both Billboard and Cashbox for four weeks. Unfortunately, King did not have much unreleased material in the vaults and so there were no further chart singles for Hawkshaw Hawkins.

Discography

Vinyl

Relatively few Hawkshaw Hawkins albums were issued during his lifetime; most of his recorded output before 1963 was in the form of 45 rpm and 78 rpm singles. In 1958 and 1959, King finally issued a pair of albums collecting old singles, Volume 1 (1958) and Volume 2 (1959). After Hawkins re-signed with King in 1962, the label released All New (1962), which included “Lonesome 7-7203,” the third single to be released from the album. After his death, King, RCA and Columbia emptied their vaults, releasing whatever material they had.

CD

Hawkshaw Hawkins received the usual neglect during the digital era, although King issued a few budget-line CDs with 10 songs, and threw his material on various anthologies with other artists. Finally in 1991, Bear Family released a comprehensive, three-disc overview of his RCA and Columbia Records called Hawk that sells for around $80.

If $80 is too rich for your budget, Collectibles has issued a set titled Country Gentleman: Hawkshaw Hawkins Sings that collects two old RCA Camden albums. Also, Bear Family has finally relented and started issuing smaller sets. Car Hoppin’ Mama, part of their “Gonna Shake This Shack” series has 16 older King tracks and 17 RCA tracks.

Other than that there isn’t much except for the miscellaneous Gusto/King/Starday/Federal/TeeVee/Cindy Lou/Nashville reissues that generally contain 9-12 tracks and overlap each other considerably–and are variously in and out of print. The Collectibles and Bear Family set are highly recommended. The other sets are variable in terms of digital remastering but worth picking up if you can find them cheaply enough.

If you don’t mind high quality CD-R recordings the British Archive of Country Music, an obsessive bunch who carry much otherwise unavailable country / roots music from the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, have two Hawkshaw Hawkins recordings available. Their product can obtained from their website – look around a little – you’ll be astounded at what can be obtained from them.

Hawkshaw’s widow, Jean Shepard, eventually remarried and continues to perform, mostly at the Grand Old Opry, although at 78 years old she is not as active as once was the case. Sometimes she performs with her son Hawkshaw Hawkins, Jr., who strongly resembles his father facially, although he is about six inches shorter. He’s a fine singer and has recorded several CDs which you may be able to find at the Ernest Tubb record shop.

Album Review: George Jones – ‘The Definitive Collection 1955-1962’

We’re starting our look at the career of George Jones with an overview of his early years, courtesy of this compilation, which covers his spells on the Starday and Mercury labels (focussing on the latter). Starday was a Texas label with limited resources which mainly released singles, but it managed to give George his first hit singles. After he moved on, they would release a number of albums containing back catalog material. It was co-owned by George’s first manager and producer (at least in name) Harold ‘Pappy’ Daily, who was to stay with him through several label moves, always having a significant financial interest himself. In fact George later stated that Pappy had little musical input, most of the arrangements being worked out live in the studio by George and the musicians.

Just out of the Marine Corps, George had not quite developed his own artistic voice, as he started out singing mainly up-tempo material in a slightly higher register than he later settled into, displaying the influences of Roy Acuff and Hank Williams, but he is credited with writing much of his own material while on both Starday and Mercury, including a handful of songs which stand today as genuine country classics. The style is generally hard honky-tonk, with some Nashville Sound influences in the last few recordings.

George’s first hit single, the insistent ‘Why Baby Why’ reached #4 in 1955, although a rival cover by the more established Webb Pierce and Red Sovine went all the way to #1 at the end of the year. George wrote the song with his friend Darrell Edwards, one of his main songwriting partners through the 1950s and 1960s, and it is probably better known than many of his recordings from this period simply because it was the first.

‘Just One More’, George’s biggest Starday hit (it reached #3 in 1956), is a ballad with the protagonist drinking away the memories of a lost love, one drink at a time. It is a fine song which deserved to be a hit, but shows George had not yet refined his vocal ability as he was to do soon thereafter. Also from the Starday years is the first version George recorded of an old blues number, ‘I’m Ragged But I’m Right’, a song he was to re-do later on (and more than once). This version is the rawest. He also recorded some rockabilly sides on Starday under the pseudonym Thumper Jones, but these are not represented here, and it was not really the right direction for him.

In 1957 Daily had George’s singles contract transferred to Mercury, and the next few years saw him become a genuine star in country music, and develop the quintessential George Jones vocal style.

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