My Kind of Country

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Tag Archives: Jack Clement

Album Review: Charley Pride – ‘Sweet Country’

Charley Pride released his seventeenth album, Sweet Country, via RCA Victor in 1973. It was helmed, as per usual, by Jack Clement.

The album spawned two singles, both of which topped the charts. The honest, “A Shoulder To Cry On,” a ballad about a man taking advantage of a friend’s emotional support, was lovingly written by Merle Haggard (he recorded his own version, on It’s Not Love (But It’s Not Bad) a year earlier). “Don’t Fight the Feelings of Love,” written by John Schweers, is an excellent country shuffle.

No less than three of the album’s ten tracks were penned by Ben Peters, who had given Pride his career hit (“Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’”) just two years earlier. “The Happiest Song on the Jukebox,” a bright traditional tune, is both a study in familiarity and contrast. This is Pride’s signature style, yet the lyric contradicts everything we’ve come to know about jukebox songs. Trading sad songs for happy ones isn’t something you hear every day. Peters also contributed “Just To Be Loved By You,” a pleasant string-laced ballad and “Tennessee Girl,” a mid-tempo ode to the woman and lifestyle left behind in hopes of greener pastures that never materialized.

Don Williams is responsible for “The Shelter of Your Eyes,” which he recorded the following year on his Volume One album. Pride does a surprisingly decent job with the dobro accented ballad, especially since he and Williams don’t have similar styles at all (in all fairness, no one captures the mellow conversational tone Williams brought to his music).

“I’m Learning to Love Her,” written by Johnny Duncan, is as honest and forthright a love song as I’ve ever heard. The protagonist is talking with his old love about his new flame, admitting that he’s simply “learning to love her in time.” George Strait knows “You Can’t Make A Heart Love Somebody,” but with a little patience, Duncan and Pride believe it’s possible to come around.

“Along the Mississippi,” an ode to happy memories along the titular river, is an engaging and ear-catching mid-tempo number. “Love Unending” is a sonically adventurous love song, with a man making promises to the woman he hopes will confess her love to him. “Pass Me By” is a piano and steel drenched ballad in which a guy wants something more, but if the woman can’t give it to him, he hopes she’ll just leave him alone.

Of the three albums I reviewed this month, Sweet Country shows the most progression in Pride’s development as an artist. The Nashville Sound era trappings are gone, due to the changing tides in mainstream country, and the music itself is less cheesy. This is the style of Pride’s music I prefer and thus Sweet Country is indeed excellent.

Grade: A

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Album Review: Charley Pride – ‘Did You Think to Pray’

Produced by Jack Clement and released in 1971, Did You Think To Pray was Charley Pride’s first gospel album. The album, which emerged at the height of Pride’s popularity, hit #1 and was certified Gold.

Despite his goodwill with country radio, his previous six singles had been chart toppers,  Pride could only get the album’s sole single to #21. “Let Me Live” has a strong lyric about the guidance of God’s love, but a melody that leaves much to be desired. The song takes a bizarre and jarring turn halfway, turning from a simple ballad into a gospel rave and back again.

The title track, which opens the album, preaches about the power of prayer. The track is somewhat overwrought and brought down by the heaviness of the background vocalists and what appears to be a low humming throughout.

The album kicks into high gear with Pride’s spirited take on “I’ll Fly Away.” The fiddle is a perfect accompaniment for the backing vocalists who join Pride throughout. Also fantastic is his banjo-drenched take on “Angel Band,” one of the album’s strongest tracks. “Whispering Hope” is also fantastic, with Pride channeling Jim Reeves.

Pride gets back to preaching on “Take Time out for Jesus,” which is heavy-handed but otherwise excellent. The melody is inviting and draws you right in. The confessional “Jesus, Don’t Give Up On Me,” finds Pride hoping for redemption after failing to heed his own advice.

“The Highway Leads to Glory” is about the journey, and it’s glorious. His take on the oft-covered “The Church In The Wildwood” is of similarly high quality. The album closes with “Lord, Build Me a Cabin in Gloryland,” which retains the album’s winning ways.

Apart from a couple of moments that get the album off track, Did You Think To Pray is an excellent recording, gospel, secular or otherwise. It’s well worth checking out if you want to hear it again after many years or are just discovering it for the first time.

Grade: A

Album Review: Charley Pride – ‘Songs of Pride, Charley That Is’

Songs of Pride, Charley That Is was Charley Pride’s second LP of 1968. Boasting no fewer than four producers — Chet Atkins, Jack Clement, Bob Ferguson, and Felton Jarvis — it featured his highest charting hit to date, the #2 peaking hit “The Easy Part’s Over”, which was written by Jerry Foster and Bill Rice.

There weren’t any other singles released from the collection, but there were a few that could have been worthy contenders. Among them was “She Made Me Go”, another Foster-Rice composition, which casts Charley in the role of a spurned spouse is assumed to be the party at fault for the breakup of his marriage. “The Right To Do Wrong” written by Fred Foster, the legendary founder of Monument Records, is another that could have been commercially successful on its own. My personal favorite is the upbeat “I Could Have Saved You The Time”, written by Jack Clement.

The album’s second half is equally strong, with a number of steel-drenched songs that won me over immediately, from Red Lane’s “Both of Us Love You” and Vincent Matthews’ “One Of These Days” (not the same song as Emmylou Harris’ 1976 hit). The Mel Tillis and Wayne Walker number “All The Time” is a bit schmaltzy, and the album opener “Someday You Will” (another Jerry Foster/Bill Rice effort) is a bit pedestrian but those are the album’s only two week links. The production is firmly traditional, with plenty of pedal steel and it is not as dependent on vocal choruses as many other recordings of the day.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Charley Pride – ‘Make Mine Country’

Make Mine Country, Charley Pride’s fourth album, was released via RCA Victor in 1968. The album didn’t produce any singles but featured covers of many notable songs that have become classics. It was produced by Chet Atkins along with Jack Clement, Bob Ferguson, and Felton Jarvis.

The album opens with Jack Clement’s “Now I Can Live Again,” a minor hit for Mickey Gilley the previous year. The uptempo track, about a newly-single man finally putting the sorrow behind him, is brimming with sunshine.

“A Word or Two to Mary,” written by Vince Bulla and Peter Cotton, is a ballad between friends in which a man asks his buddy to compose a letter to the woman he’s leaving behind in death. The track, typical of the era, is beyond creepy and has an inappropriate sing-song melody that clashes with the subject matter.

“If You Should Come Back Today” was also recorded by Johnny Paycheck although I couldn’t find the year he released his version. The honky-tonk uptempo number returns the album to the sunny disposition of the opening track, with a lyric (written by Johnny Mathis and Harlan Howard) about a guy who would forgive his ex if she came back into his life.

Clement also solely wrote “Guess Things Happen That Way,” which Johnny Cash took to #1 the year previous. Pride’s version is slicker sounding than Cash’s, which is the sole difference between the recordings.

The album’s fifth song is “Before The Next Teardrop Falls,” which appears here seven years before Freddy Fender had an international hit with it. Pride’s version is terrible by comparison, a by-the-numbers take that lacks the nuance Fender was able to find within the lyric.

Make Mine Country continues with Clement’s arrangement of “Banks of the Ohio.” The track, drenched in mandolin, feels rushed and like the song before it, lacks any care to bring the emotional qualities out in the lyric.

“Wings of a Dove” was already eight years old when Pride released his version. It’s a solid take, although the arrangement is far too cheesy for my tastes.

“A Girl I Used To Know” was six years old by 1968, a top 5 hit for George Jones that would top the charts as “Just Someone I Used to Know” in a duet recording by Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton the following year. Pride’s version is very good, but hardly an essential take on the song.

“Lie To Me,” which only saw this version by Pride, is another sunny uptempo number. This one is about a guy who wants his woman to confess her love to him, even if she doesn’t truly feel it deep inside.

The regretful “Why Didn’t I Think of That” appears next, with Pride taking on the role of voyeur, watching the way his ex’s new love shows his affection towards her. The track is merely good.

Eight years after Buck Owens took it to #3, Pride unleashes his rendition of “Above and Beyond (The Call of Love).” He handles the song beautifully, allowing it to stand out among the twelve tracks on the album. “Baby Is Gone,” a mid-tempo ballad, closes out the record.

Make Mine Country is a very strong album, with solid takes on some of the hits from the day. Given that it didn’t have any singles, I can only guess it was an obligatory record aimed at fulfilling some clause of his recording contract. I found the album to be bogged down by a few second-rate relationship songs that could’ve been swapped out for a bit more meaty material.

Grade: B

Album Review: Charley Pride – ‘The Country Way’

Released in December 1967, Charley’s third album was his first to reach #1 on Billboard’s Country Albums charts and even hit #199 on the all-genres chart, starting a run of fourteen consecutive top ten albums, all but one of which were top five or better.

The album opens up with the Jack Clement composition “Too Hard To Say I’m Sorry”, a plodding ballad that in the hands of (almost) anyone else, would have been a complete misfire. In Charley’s hands this song of self recrimination conveys the story of a man whose pride gets in the way of apologizing and perhaps salvaging the most important relationship in his life.

Just two words were all that she would ask of me
And I could have the world and all it holds for me
Of love and tender care, not the pain and the sorrow
That will be mine tomorrow, but I just can’t seem to say it – I’m sorry

I know exactly what I should do admit I’m wrong, it wouldn’t take long
And she’d forgive me
And I know exactly what I ought to say, but I’m not built that way
Wish that I could say I’m sorry

Next up is another Jack Clement ballad, “The Little Folks”, a song that assesses who the real losers are in a divorce. I’ve heard Willie Nelson perform the song but I’m not if he ever recorded the song.

“Crystal Chandeliers” was written by Ted Harris, but the hit went to the great songwriter Carl Belew. For whatever reason, other than “Kiss An Angel Good Morning”, this has become Charley’s most requested song, even though it was never a Charley Pride single in the USA (I think it was a single for Charley in parts of Europe). Charley would repeat the song in his Live At Panther Hall album released in January 1969.

Oh, the crystal chandeliers light up the paintings on your wall
The marble statuettes are standing stately in the hall
But will the timely crowd that has you laughing loud help you dry your tears
When the new wears off of your crystal chandeliers

“Act Naturally” was a cover of a huge Buck Owens hit from a few years earlier. Johnny Russell wrote the song and certainly saw considerable royalties from the records sold by Buck and The Beatles, let alone all the other covers. Charley’s version is good but not electrifying as was Buck’s version.

“Does My Ring Hurt Your Finger”, a Robertson/Crutchfeld/Clement collaboration, reached #4, his third straight top ten single. This song of a wayward wife just drips with understated irony.

Does my ring hurt your finger when you go out at night?
When I bought it for you, darling, it seemed to be just right
Should I take it to the jeweler so it won’t fit so tight?
Does my ring hurt your finger when you go out at night?

Did you enjoy yourself last night, dear, how was the show?
You know that I don’t mind it when you go
I understand sometimes we all need time alone
But why do you always leave your ring at home?

This is followed by “Mama Don’t Cry For Me” which the underrated Johnny Seay (or Sea) released as a non-charting single a few years later. I really liked Seay’s version, and Charley does a fine job with the song as well, although with a slightly less dramatic reading of the song. Fred Foster and Johnny Wilson wrote this song:

I’ve seen the big fish jumping, mama, I’ve heard crickets sing
And I’ve felt my heart start pounding at the side of New Orleans
I’ve seen the New York City with her lights aglow
I’ve been a lot of places always on the go
I’ve seen most everything I cared to see, so mama, when I’m gone, don’t cry for me …

I’ve climbed the highest mountains covered with snow
I’ve seen most everything I cared to see, so mama, when I’m gone, don’t cry for me
I’m sending you this message, mama, I must say goodbye
I live the life you gave me, mama, I’m not afaid to die

Even though I’m dying, mama, the hands of death are strong
I don’t want you crying, mama, after I’m gone
I’ve seen all of this old world I cared to see, so mama, when I’m gone, don’t cry for me
So mama, when I’m gone, don’t cry for me

The second single released from this album was the Jerry Foster/Bill Rice collaboration “The Day The World Stood Still”. This ballad of lost love reached #4.

For one day in my life
You brought me happiness
You stopped the lonely world
With all your tenderness

I can’t get over you
I guess I never will
Time was a precious thing
The day the world stood still

The next song, another Jack Clement composition, is one of my favorite Charley Pride recordings. In the middle of the song Charley calls out ‘here’s Big Joe Talbot and his electric Hawaiian steel guitar’ by way of introducing Big Joe’s instrumental break. Charley did not release this song as a single but later in the year, the Jack Clement produced Tompall & The Glaser Brothers released it as a charting single, and they too made the same introduction of Big Joe Talbot (and basically used the same arrangement).

Someday I think I’ll take up thinking and try my best to understand
How she could be loving me forever and leaving on the other hand
Last night I thought I’d see a movie to help me get my thoughts in hand
I think what I saw was the western preacher or James Bond on the other hand
I placed the ring upon one finger of her left hand
The one who said she’d stay forever is gone on the other hand

Next up is a sad ballad about a love that can’t be, written by Country Johnny Mathis. “You Can Tell The World” is pleasant enough listening, but would never be regarded as singles material.

Mel Tillis and Danny Dill provided “I’ll Wander Back To You”. This song is a cover of the Earl Scott single that reached #30 in 1965. It’s a nice, but not terribly exciting, tale of wanderlust:

They say I’m like my daddy, always on the roam
I know he loved my mama but he couldn’t stay at home
I vowed to not be like him but somewhere I went wrong
Cause I’m a thousand miles from nowhere and the girl I love at home
One of these days I’m gonna quit my wandering
One of these days I’ll wander back to you

Younger listeners may remember Ricky Van Shelton’s 1988 #1 single of the Harlan Howard classic “Life Turned Her That Way”. Older listeners may remember the 1967 Mel Tillis recording that just missed the top ten or perhaps an earlier recording by Little Jimmy Dickens. Charley does a very good job with the song.

No one could out-Haggard Merle Haggard on one of his compositions, and Charley couldn’t either. His version of “I Threw Away The Rose” is a pleasant jog-along ballad but nothing more than that.

I liked this album, but think that the song selection was not quite as strong as on his debut album. The vocal choruses remain, but the songs are string-free and the vocal accompaniments are not too obtrusive. Nothing about this album suggest that this is anything but a country album, and while the big blockbuster singles were still on the horizon, it was clear that they were coming.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Charley Pride – ‘Country Charley Pride’

RCA took an unconventional approach in introducing Charley Pride to country audiences. Legend has it that they avoided putting his picture on the sleeves of his singles, in order to conceal his race and increase the likelihood that radio would play them. However, his debut album Country Charley Pride, which does have his photo on the cover, was released in 1966 before he’d scored any charting singles.

Produced by Jack Clement, Country Charley Pride consists mostly of covers of well-known songs of the day. The only original song is Pride’s debut single, the non-charting “The Snakes Crawl at Night”, a tale of infidelity and revenge, written by Mel Tillis and Fred Burch. Given the subject matter, it is a surprisingly upbeat number about a cuckolded husband who sentenced to hang after shooting his unfaithful wife and her paramour. The album’s other non-charting single was “Before I Met You”, one of my favorite Charley Pride songs. Originally a hit for Carl Smith a decade earlier, the song was later recorded by Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton. Reba McEntire also covered it in 1984 on her My Kind of Country album.

It was unusual in the 1960s (and now) to release a full album for a new artist that had yet to prove himself at radio but for whatever reason, RCA did sanction an album release. Interestingly, the lack of a radio hit did not impede the album’s sales. It reached #16 on the album charts and earned gold status — a rare feat for a country album, particularly one as traditional as this one. Clearly audiences connected with Pride’s voice. It also didn’t hurt that Clement and Pride played it safe and went with mostly well-known songs of the day, beginning with Harlan Howard’s “Busted”, and including credible covers of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” and Bobby Bare’s “Detroit City” (another Mel Tillis tune co-written with Danny Dill). Curly Putman’s “Green, Green Grass of Home” is also included, as are a pair of Jack Clement tunes, “Miller’s Cave” and “Got Leavin’ on Her Mind”, which closes out the disc.

None of these tunes lent themselves particularly well to 1960s Nashville Sound orchestral arrangements, so strings are mercifully absent from the album. Most of the songs do contain vocal choruses, though, which are quite intrusive at times as they tend to drown out Pride’s voice. That is my sole complaint about an otherwise stellar album. In addition to very strong material and wonderful singing by Pride, there is also a lot of prominent steel guitar work throughout.

Charley Pride is one of those artists, who despite being a huge star in his hey-day, is not as well remembered today as he ought to be. This is partially because he peaked before the CD era and for decades RCA did a poor job of managing its back catalog and allowed most of his work (and many of their other artists) to go out of print. That error is finally being rectified. Country Charley Pride is available on a 2-disc import set that also contains three of Pride’s other early albums, all of which are worthy of a listen.

Grade: A

Spotlight Artist: Charley Pride

Our July Spotlight shines on one of the true giants of the genre, a Country Music Hall of Famer whom Cashbox rated as the top country artist of the quarter century 1958-1982 despite the fact that his recording career did not begin until 1965.

Charley Pride was the first commercially successful African-American country music star. So successful was Pride that an incredible string of 35 consecutive secular songs reached #1 on the Billboard and/or Cashbox Country Charts (virtually all of these songs also reached #1 on Record World’s charts) . Starting with 1969′s “Kaw-Liga” and ending with 1980′s “You Almost Slipped My Mind”, every Charley Pride single (except the 1972 gospel record “Let Me Live”/”Did You Think To Pray” and the 1979 “Dallas Cowboys” NFL special souvenir edition) reached #1. After the streak ended, Charley would have another six songs that were #1 on either Billboard and/or Cashbox. “Kiss An Angel Good Morning” released in 1971, would, of course become his signature song. His forty-one #1s ranks him behind only Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty and George Strait.

Charley achieved his great success despite that fact that he does not write his own material and is not an especially talented instrumentalist. All he had going for him was a sincere love for country music, a terrific ear for great songs and, of course, one of the best male voices to ever sing country music.

Originally planning on a career in Major League Baseball, Pride grew up in the cotton fields near Sledge, Mississippi, where he listened to the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday nights. For whatever reason, Pride’s taste in music leaned towards country. While pitching in semi-pro baseball in Montana, Pride was “discovered” by Red Sovine, who urged him to try his luck in Nashville. Pride did just that after his hopes of a career in baseball were gone, and soon he came to the attention of legendary producer Jack Clement. Clement did everything within his power to get Pride recorded and on a label, going so far as to self-producing the singer’s early recording sessions and shopping the masters. Clement eventually persuaded Chet Atkins to add Pride to RCA.

Racial relations have come a long way since Pride emerged as country music’s top star and its first African-American superstar. The situation in America was so tense in 1965 that RCA issued his first few singles without the customary picture sleeves and promotional information, hoping to get country audiences hooked before they realized his race. To get the disk jockeys to play the records, they made them as hard-core country as was possible for the time, and listed the label’s four big name producers (Chet Atkins, Jack Clement, Bob Ferguson and Felton Jarvis) as the co-producers on the singles. Disc Jockeys of the ’60s might not have known who Charley Pride was, but Atkins, Clement, Ferguson and Jarvis were known to all within the industry, so the records were destined to get at least some airplay.

Eventually country audiences tumbled onto Charley’s “permanent suntan” (as he put it), but it was too late. They simply loved his singing and would demonstrate this love by purchasing millions of his albums over the next 30 years, pushing four albums to gold status, a rarity for country albums with no cross-over appeal.

As a pure vocalist Charley Pride ranks with Gene Watson and Ray Price as my favorite male singers. Since it has now been three decades since Charley received any significant airplay, most of readers will not be familiar with his distinctive baritone, sometimes described as ‘tart’ or ‘chicken-fried’. However it is described, he has a fabulous voice too long been overlooked by modern listeners. Welcome to our July Spotlight artist, an artist who could never be mistaken for a pop singer, Mr. Charley Pride.

Album Review: Don Williams – ‘Volume One’

After briefly retiring from the music business, Don Williams reemerged as a songwriter and performer for Jack Clement, with the first album being released in June 1973*.

Despite JMI (Jack Music Inc.) being a bit player in the industry, Jack Clement was already a legendary figure with established contacts so this album features the cream of Nashville’s musicians. Allen Reynolds is listed as the album’s producer.

The album opens up with a song from the pen of Bob McDill, “Come Early Morning”.  This song was released as the second single reaching #12 on Billboard’s country chart and #9 on Cashbox. This is a laid back look at love

I been walking, walking in the moonlight
Tripping in the starlight, Lord and I’m feeling down
Walking in the shadows, sneaking down a side road
Come early morning I’ll be there on the edge of town

I was a thinking, thinking about a good thing
Thinking bout a sweet dream, in my honey’s eyes
And I was a sinking’, feeling kind of lonesome
Come early morning I’ll be home at my honey’s side

Next up is a Don Williams-Allen Reynolds composition “Too Late To Turn Back Now”. This is a nice mellow ballad about falling in love. This song is not to be mistaken for the pop hit by the Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose – it is a good song but not worthy of release as a single

Don covers a pop oldie with “Endless Sleep”, a huge hit for its writer, Jody Reynolds. The song was an interesting teen near-tragedy song that went to #5 pop in 1958. Many country artist covered the song as an album track, and Don’s is among the better covers

The night was black rain fallin’ down
I looked my baby she’s no where aroun’
Chased her footsteps down to the shore
Afraid she’s gone for ever more

Well I looked at the sea, seemed to say
I took your baby from you away
I heard a voice cry in the deep
Come join me baby in my endless sleep

“Shelter of Your Eyes” by Don Williams was the first single released from the album reaching #14 Billboard / #11 Cashbox. Like most Don Williams recording, this is taken at a relaxed tempo, but it tells a complete story and probably would have been a bigger hit had there been a major label pushing it forward.

In the shelter of your eyes
I have finally learned the song
It took so long to realize
I just can’t make it all alone

Words are only what they say
But this feeling isn’t wrong
I’m so glad I found my way
It’s good to be where I belong

And I’m, gonna stay,
Right here ’cause I’m
In rhythm with your mind

Tune out the world
And rest my head
‘Neath the shelter of your eyes

Although things had been slowly changing, country music at this time was still largely perceived of as the “endless ballads of booze and broads”. While a few county artists eschewed such topics (Slim Whitman comes to mind) most country artists would spend at least some time with those kind of songs. Don Williams mostly stayed away from the barroom songs.

“I Recall A Gypsy Woman” by Bob McDill and Allen Reynolds would have made a good single. Tommy Cash (1973) and BJ Thomas (1981) both released singles on the song, but neither had a big hit with it. In Central Florida several radio stations gave some airplay to Don’s version of the song, back in the days when Billboard did not chart album tracks. I love the imagery of the song:

Silver coins that jingle jangle
Fancy shoes that dance in time
Oh the secrets of her dark eyes,
They did sing a gypsy rhyme

Yellow clover in tangled blossoms
In a meadow silky green
Where she held me to her bosom,
Just a boy of seventeen

I recall a gypsy woman
Silver spangles in her eyes
Ivory skin against the moonlight
And the taste of life’s sweet wine

“No Use Running”, “How Much Time Does It Take”, “My Woman’s Love” and “Don’t You Believe” are pleasant ballads that Don penned.

The album closes with the Bob McDill classic “Amanda”. The song was the B-side of “Come Early Morning” and managed to chart, reaching Billboard #33/Cashbox #18, as many disc jockeys played both sides of the record. I think it could have been Don’s first top ten single if JMI had issued it as a separate single. Six years later Waylon Jennings would take the song to #1 on all of the country charts, and while Waylon’s version was good, I and many others preferred Don’s recording of the song

It’s a measure of people who don’t understand,
The pleasures of life in a hillbilly band.
I got my first guitar when I was fourteen,
Well I finally made forty, still wearing jeans.

Amanda, light of my life.
Fate should have made you a gentleman’s wife.
Amanda, light of my life.
Fate should have made you a gentleman’s wife.

Don Williams Volume One is a really fine album that I frequently revisit. It contains solid country production, well written songs sung with honest but not overwrought emotion. Don would have bigger chart hits and better selling albums upon movement to a major label but the foundation was laid here and few debut albums have been as impressive and satisfying as this one. Despite the lack of up-tempo songs, Don Williams is one of the few artists that can stay in a slow groove forever, without it becoming boring

Grade: A-

Musicians:

Bass – Joe Allen
Drums – Kenny Malone
Electric Guitar – Jimmy Colvard, Reggie Young
Fiddle – Buddy Spicher
Organ – Chuck Cochran
Piano – Bobby Wood, Chuck Cochran
Rhythm Guitar – Chip Young, Don Williams, Jimmy Colvard
Steel Guitar – Lloyd Green
Trumpet – Don Sheffield

* When Don moved over to ABC/Dot, this album was purchased by ABC/Dot and reissued on the ABC/Dot label.

Spotlight Artist: Don Williams

Our May Spotlight features Don Williams, an artist who had two successful careers in music. Don was born in 1939 grew up in Texas and started up the first of two successful singing careers in music. Aloing the way, he would amass many hit singles, successful albums, become a successful and beloved artist in the US, Canada, Ireland and England and achieve induction in the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2010.

The first career was that of a folk/rock artist with the Pozo Seco Singers (later Pozo Seco), a trio consisting of Don Williams, Susan Taylor and Loftin Kline, with Don and Susan as the primary lead singers. This career lasted from 1964 to 1970, and saw release of four albums and the following dozen singles:

“Time” (1966) – Pop #47, A/C #3, Canada #9
“I’ll Be Gone” – (1966) Pop #92, A/C #34
“I Can Make It With You” – (1966) Pop #32, Canada #21
“Almost Persuaded” – (1967) – RW Pop #51
“Look What You’ve Done” (1967) – Pop #32, Canada #33
“Morning Dew” (1967) – U.S. – did not chart
“I Believed it All” (1967) – Pop #96, A/C #8.
“Excuse Me Dear Martha” (1967) – Pop #102
“Louisiana Man” (1967) – Pop #97
“Creole Woman” (1968) – did not chart
“Comin’ Apart” (1970) – did not chart
“Strawberry Fields/Something” (1970) – Pop #115

During the latter part of the 1960s the folk/rock lost momentum as a subgenre of music as reflected in Pozo Seco’s declining chart success. The group disbanded in 1970, having worked as a duo the last couple of years after Kline and Kline’s replacement Ron Shaw had left. The last single, “Strawberry Fields/Something” was released after the group had already disbanded. Most of the Pozo Seco recordings are available between two CDs currently available and are worth the effort to find. While of a different genre, Don’s own singing style really never changed, so some of Don’s Pozo Seco recordings received some airplay on country radio after Don achieved success in the country field.

After the group’s breakup, both Don Williams and Susan Taylor (now known as Taylor Pie) eventually associated with JMI, the record label owned by the legendary Jack Clement. Taylor achieved success as a songwriter and was involved in the production of Williams’ early singles with JMI. Williams briefly dropped out of the music business after Pozo Seco, signing with JMI as a songwriter in late 1971 and as a recording artist in 1972.

Williams would issue two albums for JMI, the first (Volume One) being released in June 1973 with the second one (Volume Two) following in January 1974. This started a long string of successful albums with the next seventeen (including three hit collections) reaching the top twenty on Billboard’s Country Albums chart. Of these, twelve would reach top ten status.

Of course, there were limits to the promotional push that could be achieved by a small label like JMI so in 1974, Don signed with ABC/Dot (possibly pushed there by Clement) where he released the album Volume III, from which came the first of his seventeen Billboard #1 singles (another nine singles went to #1 according to Record World and/or Cashbox) with “I Wouldn’t Want To Live If You Didn’t Love Me”.

From that point forward Don would push his string of chart singles to 46, of which only four failed to make the top twenty. The string of chart singles ran out in 1992, but Williams continued to release albums of new music through 2014. I cannot say I’ve heard every Don Williams album, but of the many albums I have heard, I have yet to hear a track I really disliked.

Don Williams is now retired (his second announced retirement) but I suspect that this time he will stay retired. Certainly he has nothing left to prove, having left in his wake a tremendous discography of simple yet often highly sophisticated songs performed in a relaxed manner by the “Gentle Giant” of country music. He has been married to the same woman since 1960, raised two kids and certainly has earned the right to rest on his considerable array of laurels.

A complete discography is available here.

So kick back and enjoy our overview of May spotlight artist Don Williams.

Album Review: Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton – ‘Just Between You and Me’

Just_Between_You_and_Me_(Dolly_Parton_and_Porter_Wagoner_album_-_cover_art)Just Between You and Me was released in January 1968 and is notable for being the first collection of Porter Wagoner/Dolly Parton duets, as well as Dolly’s first recordings for the RCA label. Bob Ferguson is the credited producer; however, it has been revealed that Porter, not Ferguson, was the actual producer of Dolly’s early solo recordings for RCA, so it’s not unreasonable to assume that Porter was also involved with the production of the Porter/Dolly duets.

The album contains just one single – a common practice in those days — which was released a few months ahead of the album. “The Last Thing on My Mind” was a remake of Tom Paxton’s folk-pop smash that was recorded by dozens of artists in various genres. It is quite different from the rest of the album, as well as Porter and Dolly’s future work, which was almost always solidly in the traditional country camp. The single charted at #7 and paved the way for many more duets which would occur over the next decade or so.

The title track is one of my favorites. Written by Jack Clement, it had been a hit earlier that year for another recent RCA signee by the name of Charley Pride. Another favorite, “Before I Met You” had been a hit for Carl Smith in 1956. Charley Pride also covered this one shortly after arriving at RCA. Pride’s version did not chart, but his version is the one I’m most familiar with. Porter and Dolly’s version is also quite good but it inexplicably omits the song’s last verse.

One of the reasons given for the eventual demise of the Wagoner/Parton partnership was Porter’s domineering attitude; it was apparently made abundantly clear from the start that he was the employer and Dolly was the employee. Porter never denied the accusation; however, none of that is apparent from listening to this collection of songs. Porter was clearly the bigger, more established star at this stage of the game, but there is no hogging of the spotlight. In fact, there seems to have been a concerted effort to use this album to promote Dolly’s career. It includes several songs penned by Dolly, including “Love is Worth Living” (the B-side of “The Last Thing on My Mind”), and “Mommie, Ain’t That Daddy” which is my least favorite song on the album. The melodramatic tale of a hopelessly alcoholic husband and father (who doesn’t seem to have done anything to remedy his circumstances) is a crass attempt to tug at the heartstrings. It was not the last song of this type that Porter and Dolly would record together, although most of their future songs of this ilk involved dying children. It’s a dud, but thankfully it’s the only album’s only misfire.

The album also includes several songs that Dolly co-wrote with her uncle Bill Owens. “Because One of Us Was Wrong” and “Two Sides of Every Story” are typical of the type of song Porter and Dolly would become famous for. “Put It Off Until Tomorrow” had been the most successful Owens/Parton composition up to that time. Bill Phillips had scored a Top 10 hit with it in 1966 (featuring Dolly as the uncredited harmony vocalist). Dolly recorded the song herself for her one and only Monument album. This remake with Wagoner is unusual in that it is not a duet; Dolly sings the lead throughout, while Porter harmonizes. Another observation: unlike most modern “duets” where the artists sing around each other, Porter and Dolly actually sing and harmonize together much of the time.

Just Between You and Me might not contain any of Porter and Dolly’s most famous hits, but it was a more than satisfactory introduction to one of country music’s best male-female duos.

Grade: A-

The best re-issues of 2014

pathway of my lifeAs is always the case, most of the best reissues of American Country Music come from Europe. There are several reasons for this:

1 – Until recently, European copyrights on recordings were only good for 50 years. This changed recently to 70 years, but the change was not retroactive. I am not sure what the cut-off point is for application of the 70 year copyright as I’ve seen varying reports, but it appears that recordings already out of copyright protection will remain in the public domain, but recordings released after 1962 will have the longer copyrights applicable (at least in the UK).

2- The European customer for country music is more traditionally oriented than American audiences. This holds true for many forms of music including rockabilly, rock & roll, rhythm & blues, pop standards, you name it. European audiences, unlike their American counterparts, have not discarded the past.

3- American Record labels simply don’t care – I’d elaborate, but there’s no point to it.

It should be noted that some of these albums may have been issued before 2012 but became generally available during 2014 through various markets.

We’ll start off with two box sets from the gold standard of reissue labels, Bear Family:

1. HANK THOMPSON – THE PATHWAY OF MY LIFE (1966-1984)
Released in late 2013, but not generally available until this year, this Bear Family extravaganza grabs Hank’s recordings made for Warner Brothers, Dot , ABC, Churchill and MCA/Dot in a Deluxe 8 CD set with a booklet compiled with the assistance of Hank himself.

Hank Thompson’s biggest hits were recorded during his years with Capitol, but he still had a large number of hits after that. More importantly, he still was making great recordings. Although there are other artists I prefer to Hank Thompson, I regard Hank Thompson and Doc Watson as the two most consistent country artists of all time – neither of them ever made a bad recording. Hank’s four biggest hits of the post-Capitol era were “On Tap, In The Can or In The Bottle” (#8) , “Smoky The Bar” (#5), “The Older The Violin the Sweeter The Music “ (#8) and “Who Left The Door To Heaven Open” (10). They are all here along with six more top twenty hits and a bunch of other chart records.

If you wonder how significant Hank Thompson was just ask George Strait. Ol’ George made one of his few guest appearances (and probably his first such appearance) with Hank Thompson on a mid 1980s recording of “A Six Pack To Go”.

just between you and me2. PORTER WAGONER & DOLLY PARTON – JUST BETWEEN YOU AND ME – 1967-1976
Porter & Dolly were roughly contemporaries of the teams Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty and George Jones & Tammy Wynette. I have always regarded Porter & Dolly as the best male-female duet pairing ever. Their hits were not quite as big as those of the other two duets, but consider this: Loretta, Conway, George and Tammy were all top-tier stars. At the time these recordings were made, Porter Wagoner was a journeyman country singer who had a major label contract, an over-the-top personality and a syndicated television show to cover the fact that his big hits were fairly few, although he had experienced a bit of a revival in 1964-1969. Meanwhile Dolly Parton was an up and comer with no major hit records until 1970.

What made the pairing so special was the chemistry they had between them. George & Tammy may have been married for a while, but that spark that made the most trivial of songs special for Porter & Dolly was missing (I always regarded George’s best duet partner as Melba Montgomery, and although they did not especially get along, I felt Tammy’s best duets were with David Houston)

Conway & Loretta had more chemistry than George & Tammy but were never as involved in being a duet as Porter & Dolly as both had ‘big star’ careers to maintain.

Porter and Dolly recorded a lot of songs, and they are all here: sad songs (“Jeanie’s Afraid of The Dark“, “Just Someone I Used To Know”), happy songs (“Lost Forever In Your Kiss”), totally ridiculous songs (“Her and The Car and The Mobile Home Were Gone”, “Run That By Me One More Time”) and a plethora of simply good country songs from songwriters as diverse as Jack Clement, Dave Kirby, Tom Paxton and dozens of others. Six CDs worth of the best harmonies ever recorded with lavish book and the superb sound engineering for which Bear Family is famous.

Next some American labels get into the act …

ronnie milsap -the rca albums collection3. RONNIE MILSAP – THE RCA ALBUMS COLLECTION
Charley Pride was one of early supporters and many subsequent singers have cited Ronnie Milsap as a primary influence, including Vince Gill and Hunter Hayes. Since Milsap is a musical chameleon who can cover the gamut from Cajun to R&B to stone cold country and classic pop, it figures that he would have influenced a wide range of artists. Ronnie rang up a staggering number of hits including 40 #1 records in his long career. This set , consisting of 21 CDs covering his RCA output is overkill, but for a performer as gifted as Ronnie Milsap perhaps the overkill can be justified.

4. ZAC BROWN BAND – GREATEST HITS SO FAR …
They may look like something from Duck Dynasty but these fellows have a lot of talent. Moreover, this is an honest hits collection – no previously unissued tracks, jut fourteen hit singles starting with their first #1 from 2008 in “Chicken Fried” and finishing with “Sweet Annie” from 2013. If you haven’t purchased any of their albums yet, this is a ‘must-have’ (and if you haven’t purchased any of their albums yet, shame on you).

back to the Europeans …

the louvin brothers - complete recorded works5. THE LOUVIN BROTHERS – COMPLETE RECORDED WORKS 1952-1962
This is one of those European sets consisting of six CDs (143 songs) encompassing the Louvins’ output on Capitol Records – generally available for $20.00 or less. I don’t know much about the label (Enlightenment), and their product comes with fairly bare bones packaging but it is the music that matters, and few acts ever mattered as much as Ira & Charlie Louvin. The digital sound is quite decent. The set encompasses twelve of the Louvins’ albums, several of which are primarily religious material. The set isn’t quite complete as there were a few singles which did not make it to an album until much later including “When I Stop Dreaming” and “Must You Throw Dirt In My Face”.

6. GEORGE JONES SINGS HANK AND BOB
Hank Williams and Bob Wills were two of the country greats and George Jones paid tribute to them in three albums recorded in the late 1950s – early 1960s. Collected here on the Not Now label are the Mercury album George Jones Salutes Hank Williams and the United Artist albums George Jones Sings Bob Wills and My Favorites of Hank Williams. Supposedly, George wasn’t much of a Bob Wills fan, but you couldn’t prove it by me. If George felt he didn’t have much feel for western swing he must be judging by an impossibly high standard as this is great stuff. Every album should be like this: great music sung by a master singer.

My biggest complaint about this set is the sequencing – two CDs each with 12 Hank songs followed by six of Bob’s songs.

7. JOHNNY CASH – THE SUN SINGLES COLLECTION
This collection, also on the Not Now label, is comprised of two CDs containing 38 songs. This is material that has been endlessly available over the last 50+ years and now it is available again. Available for under $20, if you don’t have this material already, this is a good value – the sound is good and the songs contained herein are beyond essential. This is where it all started for the man in black. IMHO, there is no such thing as too much Johnny Cash. There have been better collections of the Sun recordings, but this one is available now, and at a nice price.

8. CARL PERKINS – THE ROCKABILLY YEARS
This collection, on the One Day label, is comprised of two CDs containing 40 songs. As with the Cash collection above, this is material that has been endlessly available over the last 50+ years and now it is available again. No complaints about the material, the performances or the sound quality. Available for under $20, if you don’t have this material already, this is a must – just don’t step on my blue suede shoes in your haste to buy this set.

eddy arnold -the complete chart singles9. EDDY ARNOLD – THE COMPLETE CHART SINGLES (1945-1962)
In terms of the number of weeks his singles stayed at #1 (143 weeks according to Billboard) Eddy Arnold is the all-time country music leader, 33 weeks ahead of Webb Pierce and miles ahead of George Strait, Dolly Parton or anyone else. This three CD set collects 77 of Eddy’s chart hits through 1962 which means that it pulls up just short of Eddy’s mid 1960s revival that started with “What’s He Doing In My World” and “Make The World Go Away”. No matter – the 1940s material was better than anything Eddy contrived to record during the 1960s and the 1950s recordings, while not always the biggest hits , were usually fairly interesting as Eddy experimented with his sound and expanded his repertoire to include folk and pop material. I would consider the first to CDs to be absolutely essential and the third CD as very good. The folks at Acrobat released this fine collection and included a fine booklet to go with the set.

10. JOHNNY HORTON – NORTH TO ALASKA AND OTHER GREAT HITS (The Early Albums)
Johnny Horton (1925-1960) was one of Johnny Cash’s best friends (and fishing buddy) and had a brief period of time in which his material dominated the country charts and made serious inroads onto the pop charts. This set collects his earlier (and largely unsuccessful) recordings for Dot and his initial recordings for Columbia. Don’t let the ‘early albums’ description fool you – since Horton was killed in a car crash in 1960, there are no later albums except label creations.

The set contains two CDs and 60 songs including all of the Columbia hits including “The Battle of 1814” and “North To Alaska” – good stuff. This is on the Jasmine label – apparently briefly available in 2012 and now available again in the USA

I didn’t review any of the Gusto/Starday/King/ Cindy Lou recordings this time around but check out the Gusto website. Gusto has the habit a repackaging earlier albums into nice box sets – for instance a few years ago they combined three Mel Street albums into a 58 song boxed set. Another label to check on is Heart of Texas Records which has reissued old Capitol and Step One sets on artists such as Tony Booth and Curtis Potter.

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.

Album Review: Neal McCoy – ‘Pride – A Tribute to Charley Pride’

prideNeal McCoy has never been one of my favorite artists as his taste in material at times has been questionable. The Neal McCoy songs that I like, I tend to like quite a lot; the ones I dislike, I tend to really dislike. That said, I’ve seen him in concert and he is an excellent and quite high energy performer.

Neal was a protégé of sorts of Charley Pride and toured with Charley for a number of years. While there is very little of Charley’s influence in Neal’s singing, particularly in songs like “Billy’s Got His Beer Goggles On”, “24/7/365” and “The Shake” , Neal has always spoken highly of Charley Pride and of the positive influence Charley has been on his career

Until 2005, Neal had never recorded any of Charley’s songs. Then in 2005, he recorded a live duet with Charley on “You’re My Jamaica” that appeared on Neal’s That’s Life album. Since then, nothing more of Charley songs had been recorded – until now.

Given good material, Neal is a fine singer. Charley Pride, who was not himself a songwriter, recorded one of the greatest catalogues of songs during his long and successful career with RCA so it stands to reason that a Charley Pride tribute could prove to be an artistic success.

Neal does not attempt to clone Charley’s vocal style or song arrangements, a wise move since Charley Pride can truly be said to be inimitable. Moreover, Neal could never be described as a stone-cold traditionalist. Instead, Neal McCoy makes these songs over to fit his own singing style, updating some of the songs with a modern take on the traditionalist arrangements Charley used, and in other cases going for something entirely different. Neal wisely stays away from Charley’s “poor boy” songs, going mostly for Charley’s post-1970 songs.

Neal kicks off the album with a rockin’ version of “Is Anybody Goin’ To San Antone” that probably owes as much to Doug Sahm’s later version as to Charley’s version. Instead of the staccato violins of Charley’s rendition, harmonica tends to dominate this recording.

“I’m Just Me” was Charley’s second biggest hit. Neal gives it a pretty straight-forward vocal treatment, but the instrumental background is mixture of zydeco and country, which really works. That extra male voice you hear on this track is Raul Malo of the Mavericks.

It takes a brave man to tackle Charley’s signature song “Kiss An Angel Good Morning”. You don’t want to do a carbon copy of Charley’s arrangement, but since everyone with any interest in country music knows the song, you don’t want to take too many liberties with the song. Neal slows the song down very slightly and extends the song by allowing the musicians somewhat longer instrumental breaks than on the original recording which used short ‘turn-arounds’. Darius Rucker joins Neal on this track.

“Kaw-Liga” was Charley’s first #1 record reaching the top on Cash Box. The song, itself a cover of one of Hank Williams’ songs (the other side of Hank’s single was “Your Cheatin’ Heart”) is Neal’s only misstep on the record. The arrangement is a bit melodramatic and Neal can’t quite get Charley’s sound effects going vocally. It’s not a bad track (I’d give it a C+) but it’s not up to the rest of the album.

Most people have forgotten about “You’re So Good When You’re Bad”, one of Charley’s last #1 records from 1982. The song was about as close to R&B as Charley let his records get, and Neal relaxes the tempo a bit and gives in to that soulful R&B groove. Piano seems to be the predominant instrument on this track.

“It’s Gonna Take A Little Bit Longer” had more twang to it than did any other major label single released in 1972. Released in late spring, radio stations everywhere played the song constantly, many playing it every hour as the pent up demand for real country sounds cascaded upon disk jockeys. The song spent three weeks at #1 with lead guitar, steel guitar and fiddles twanging away in unison through the choruses and instrumental breaks. Neal gives the song a very heavy-handed hard country approach but uses a more acoustic sound featuring harmonica, piano and dobro to achieve the effect. I love this recording.

Charley Pride focused on heart songs for much of his career, particularly after getting past the ‘poor boy’ classics of the mid to late 1960s. Rarely did he till the pastures of nostalgia, but when he did, he did so effectively. “Roll On Mississippi” from 1981 was one of those efforts. The song reached only #7 on Billboard, breaking a string of 35 consecutive songs to reach #1 on Billboard, Cashbox and/or Record World. It is, however, a nice song with Neal ably assisted by Trace Adkins.

“Just Between You And Me” was Charley Pride’s first chart hit reaching #9 in early 1967. Written by the legendary Jack Clement and released after a couple of singles that didn’t chart but were well received, it kicked off a long string of top ten records that wouldn’t end (excluding a gospel record and a special Dallas Cowboys tribute limited release) for the next 52 records. Neal gives the song a modern traditionalist treatment with piano and fiddle on the verses and tasteful steel guitar on the choruses and instrumental breaks. The relaxed tempo suits Neal’s voice well and the track is a standout.

“Mountain of Love” was written by Harold Dorman, who had a decent sized hit with the song in 1960 and enjoyed the royalties from a number of successful covers. This song is not necessarily identified as being a Charley Pride song so Neal’s somewhat rockin’ blues rendition isn’t likely to bother Charley’s fan too much.

“Someone Loves You Honey” is a quintessential Charley Pride heart song from 1978 which Neal pairs with a classic ‘Nashville Sound’ arrangement complete with steel guitar shadings and a rather languid delivery that suits the song perfectly. I consider this the best track on the album.

Neal closes out the album with his take on Charley’s #1 record from 1979, “You’re My Jamaica”. Charley’s take on the song had a very Caribbean feel to it and Neal has focused more heavily on the Caribbean elements of the song.

One thing that has changed since the time Charley Pride recorded these classics is the length of the tracks. Other than “You’re my Jamaica”, none of Charley’s recording ran more than 3:06 and most were in the 2:15 to 2:45 range. In contrast only two of these tracks are less than three minutes long, the shortest track being “It’s Gonna Take A little Bit Longer” at 2:46 (Charley’s version ran 2:35). On average Neal’s recordings are about 45 seconds longer than the Charley Pride originals.

Garth Fundis was the producer of this project which is fitting since he was a studio engineer on many of Charley’s earliest recordings. Between Neal’s vocals and Garth’s production, they have achieved what any tribute album should seek to achieve: a properly respectful but not imitative album chock full of good music. This album will stay in my CD player for quite a while.

Grade: A

Country Heritage: Tompall Glaser

tompall glaser

RIP Tompall Glaser (1933-2013)
This Country Heritage feature is reposted today as a tribute to the late Tompall Glaser, who died earlier this week.

It really is too bad the Glaser Brothers couldn’t get along with each other on a more sustained basis, as they truly were an amazing act to see live. The three Glaser brothers had voices that overlapped, and with their near identical phrasing they could take a lyric that started at the lowest notes and work their way up and down the scales, taking over from each other in mid-word. It was wondrous to see and required an audience’s full attention to know who was singing at any given moment. Moreover, the Glasers were capable of vocal harmony equal to that of any other great brother group. I only saw Tompall and the Glaser Brothers live one time, and yet that one occasion (at the 1st International Festival of Country Music in Wembley, England, in 1969) remains as indelibly etched in my memory as if it occurred yesterday.

Tompall Glaser (b. 9/3/33) was the fourth oldest of six children born to Louis and Marie Glaser in the farming community of Spalding, Nebraska. As a child, he taught his younger brothers Chuck (b. 2/27/36 – baritone) and Jim (b. 12/16/37 – high tenor) to sing harmony to his lead vocals and developed the trio into an accomplished vocal act during the mid 1950s. As often occurred in those days, the act was just getting rolling when Tompall received his “invitation” to enter the army, where he served during 1956-57. During this interlude, brothers Jim and Chuck performed on radio in Hastings, Nebraska, and, assisted by their father Louis, performed on various local shows. Their big break occurred in late 1957 when the boys, with brother Tompall again available, earned an appearance on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, a national radio show on CBS. Their performance caught the ear of Marty Robbins, who signed the boys to his Robbins Records label and released the single “Five Penny Nickel.” This record failed to make any waves, and with Robbins unable to devote much attention to promoting their career, he sold their contract to Decca Records (later MCA) in 1959.

By this time Tompall and the Glaser Brothers had made the move to Nashville, but again were sidelined by Uncle Sam who extended an invitation to Chuck to join the U S Army (1959-61). During this period, the Glaser Brothers found frequent studio work as background singers, the most notable example of this being Jim Glaser’s trio work on “El Paso” and other songs on Marty Robbins’ mega-hit album Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs. Tompall and Jim Glaser wrote one of the tracks on the album, “Running Gun”.

After Chuck was released from the US Army, the Glaser Brothers landed a spot on Johnny Cash’s road show, which brought as a side benefit an association with Cash’s longtime friend and business associate Jack Clement. In 1966, Clement got them a contract with MGM Records, which wasn’t a major player in Country Music but a label with a good pedigree (Hank Williams Sr. & Jr., Marvin Rainwater, Sheb Wooley/Ben Colder). One of the songs the group recorded was “Streets of Baltimore” which was co-written by Tompall Glaser and Harlan Howard. Unfortunately, the hit version of the song went to Bobby Bare. During this time Clement produced the group’s records and provided them with material.

While with MGM the brothers (always billed as Tompall and the Glaser Brothers) had a number of moderately successful singles and recorded a number of terrific album tracks. Their biggest success on the label were “California Girl (And the Tennessee Square)” which made it to #11 (#93 pop) and, in 1971, “Rings,” a cover of a pop hit by Cymarron. “Rings” went to #7 on Billboard, #5 on Cashbox and #1 on Record World. The accompanying LP, Rings and Things, was first rate, with a heavy western swing feel to many of the songs, including “Back In Each Other’s Arms Again.” Unfortunately, “Rings” failed to generate further commercial success and the group disbanded in 1973, but not before establishing a publishing company, spurred on by Chuck Glaser’s discovery of John Hartford, and later, Dick Feller. Also, in 1968, Jim Glaser saw one of his compositions, “Woman, Woman,” become a major hit for the pop group Gary Puckett and the Union Gap.

After the group’s breakup, Tompall Glaser opened his recording studio, Hillbilly Central, which became one of the incubation chambers for the “outlaw” movement of the 1970s. It was at Hillbilly Central that Waylon Jennings recorded his landmark album Honky Tonk Heroes. Other free spirits such as Billy Joe Shaver and Richard “Kinky” Friedman also recorded albums there. In 1975, in a shrewd marketing ploy, RCA issued the landmark album Wanted! The Outlaws which coupled current tracks from Jessi Colter & Waylon, some old Willie Nelson tracks and a couple of leased tracks of Tompall Glaser. The resulting mishmash was the first Gold Album in country music history. Unfortunately, Tompall was unable to capitalize on the success of the album, and his often prickly personality (coupled with Waylon’s drug use) ultimately led to his split with Waylon. As a solo artist, Tompall had only one real hit single, the politically incorrect ditty “Put Another Log on the Fire (Male Chauvinist National Anthem)”. This song peaked at #21, making it Tompall’s biggest solo hit. Albums for MGM and ABC failed to generate much attention.

During this same period, Jim Glaser plugged on, but failed to achieve any hits, while brother Chuck ran the publishing company, his singing career derailed by a stroke in 1975 that affected his vocal cords and left him temporarily unable to sing. Chuck had success as a producer, producing artists such as Hank Snow.

In 1978, the brothers achieved an uneasy reconciliation and reformed Tompall and the Glaser Brothers. One big hit followed, a cover of the Kristofferson song “Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again)” which went to #2 on the country charts for both Billboard and Cashbox. Unfortunately, this rapprochement was only temporary, as in 1983 Jim Glaser split to pursue a solo career. Jim was replaced by Shaun Neilson, an arrangement that continued only briefly.

After the group split, Tompall continued to produce records for a while but by the end of the 1980s he sold Hillbilly Central and has been largely retired since then. He died on August 13, 2013, aged 79. Chuck Glaser continued to work behind the scenes but has since largely retired, as well.

Jim Glaser saw some momentary success as a solo artist. In the early 1980s, Jim began recording as a solo artist for the newly-formed independent label Noble Vision Records. The first release, “When You’re Not A Lady,” stayed on the national charts for 34 weeks and in 1984 “You’re Gettin’ To Me Again” reached the top of the charts, the only Billboard #1 single achieved by any of the Glasers. That same year Jim Glaser was voted “Top New Male Vocalist of the Year” by the Academy of Country Music. Jim’s first solo album, The Man In The Mirror, ultimately had six top-twenty singles that were pulled from it. Shortly thereafter, Noble Vision Records was no more and with it vanished Jim Glaser’s solo career.

Discography

Vinyl

Most of the albums issued by Tompall and the Glaser Brothers were on MGM. The following are recommended but there are also some other albums on Decca and MGM that might be found:

Tompall and the Glaser Brothers (1967) contains the hit single “Gone On The Other Hand” (#24 Billboard/#20 Cashbox), a song that featured Big Joe Talbot on steel guitar, plus the group’s recordings of “The Last Thing On My Mind” and “Streets of Baltimore.”

Through The Eyes of Love (1967) features the title track (#27) plus “Moods of Mary” (#42) and the group’s take on “Woman, Woman.”

Wonderful World (1968) features minor hit singles in “One of These Days” (#36) and a nice recording of Jack Clement’s “Got Leavin’ On Her Mind,” a minor national/major southeast regional hit in 1968 for Mac Wiseman.

Now Country (1969) showcases “Wicked California” (#24) and “California Girl” (#11).

Award Winners (1971) is mostly covers with an excellent take of “Faded Love” released as the single (#22).

Rings and Things (1972) is the group’s masterpiece, with “Rings” (#5 Cashbox/#7 Billboard/#1 Record World) and “Sweet Love Me Good Woman” (#19 Cashbox/#23 Billboard) plus an eclectic mix of swing and vocal harmony efforts. My favorite of all the group’s tracks, “Back In Each Other’s Arms Again”, is on this album.

Charlie (1973) is ostensibly a group effort but in actuality a solo album by Tompall Glaser.

After the MGM years Tompall reunited with his brothers in 1981 for Loving Her Was Easier, followed by one last album in 1982, After All These Years, both on Elektra.

I don’t know of any solo albums by Chuck Glaser.

Jim Glaser issued three albums on Noble Vision: 1983’s Man In The Mirror, which has all four of Jim’s top twenty hits (“The Man in The Mirror” “If I Could Only Dance With You”, “You’re Getting To Me Again”, and “Let Me Down Easy”), Past The Point of No Return (1985), and Everybody Knows I’m Yours (1986). This last album is on Noble Vision/MCA, the masters purchased after Noble Vision went under.

Virtually all of Tompall Glaser’s solo efforts are available on CD from Bear Family (see below).

CD

There are two readily available CDs of Tompall and the Glaser Brothers. The Best of Tompall and the Glaser Brothers, issued on Collector’s Choice Music,  has 18 hits from the group plus six solo recordings by Tompall Glaser. This CD is now out of print, but can be found with a little effort.

The other CD was released in April 2012 and is a two-fer released on the Hux label,  Award Winners/Rings And Things.

You may be able to find the out of print twofer of the Electra years titled Lovin’ Her Was Easier/After All These Years.

Jim Glaser has one CD currently available titled Me And My Dream.  This appears to be  recordings from around 2002.  With luck you might find the CD of The Man in the Mirror, but that is all that is available.

On the other hand, Tompall Glaser’s solo efforts are well covered by Bear Family in the form of four CDs: The Rogue, The Outlaw, My Notorious Youth (aka Hillbilly Central V1), and Another Log On The Fire (aka Hillbilly Central V2). These can be obtained from the Bear Family website

A group called The Brothers Glaser issued Five Penny Nickle, a tribute album to Tompall and the Glaser Brothers. This foursome consists of sons of an older Glaser brother who was not part of the Tompall and the Glaser Brothers. They have a website at www.thebrothersglaser.com –in looking at their photographs, there is no denying the family resemblance – no one could doubt that they are nephews of the Glaser Brothers.

Album Review: Rhonda Vincent – ‘The Storm Still Rages’

A year and a half after her triumphant return to bluegrass, Rhonda Vincent did the unthinkable and released an album that was actually better than 2000’s excellent Back Home Again. Like its predecessor, it is a collection of contemporary and traditional bluegrass songs, along with a handful of covers of country classics with acoustic arrangements. Slightly more traditional than Back Home Again, The Storm Still Rages was self-produced. Ronnie Light, who shared production duties on Back Home Again, acts as engineer this time around. Rhonda’s brother Darrin is once again in tow, playing bass and singing harmony. Also present are some of Nashville’s most prestigious musicians, including Stuart Duncan on fiddle, and Sonya Issacs and Alison Krauss whose harmonies are what really give this album an edge over Back Home Again.

By 2001, bluegrass was on a hot streak and the rising tide that lifted albums by Alison Krauss and the O, Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack to the top of the charts also benefited Rhonda, who had an album on the charts herself for the very first time. The Storm Still Rages reached #59 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart and #9 on their Top Bluegrass Albums chart.

In addition to her roles as lead singer, mandolin player and producer, Rhonda is also credited as a songwriter, having had a hand in creating three of the album’s songs — the opening track “Cry of the Whippoorwill” and “On Solid Ground”, which she co-wrote with Terry Herd, and “When The Angels Sing” which she co-wrote with Herd and her brother Darrin.

One of the album’s standout tracks is “Is The Grass Any Bluer”, which is a tribute to the late Bill Monroe. Addressing the father of bluegrass directly, Vincent asks:

Is the grass any bluer on the other side?
Did it look like old Kentucky when the gates swung open wide?
Bet the good Lord’s got you playin’ somewhere up there every night.
Is the grass any bluer on the other side?

Rhonda also pays tribute to Lester Flatt with the album’s closing track “The Martha White Theme”.

My favorite song on the album is “Don’t Lie”, which had been a single for Trace Adkins two years earlier and ranks among his most underrated recordings. Rhonda’s version was also released as a single but it did not chart. The album produced two more non-charting singles, “I’m Not Over You” and a cover of the Hank Williams classic “My Sweet Love Ain’t Around”. Also among the country classics Rhonda covers is a version of the Jack Clement tune “Just Someone I Used To Know”, which was originally recorded by George Jones and is best remembered as a hit for Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton. Rhonda’s version reminds me of the version Lee Ann Womack would record a few years later for her There’s More Where That Came From album.

Two gospel tunes are included in the set, the aforementioned “When Angels Sing” and “If You Don’t Love Your Neighbor You Don’t Love God”, a rousing toe-tapper that is probably the best known of Rhonda’s religious tunes.

The Storm Still Rages is one of those rare albums without a single misstep; the singing, playing, production and the songs themselves are all top-notch. Even if you think you don’t like bluegrass, give this one a listen and you may find that you’ve changed your mind.

Grade: A+

Album Review – Marty Stuart – ‘This One’s Gonna Hurt You’

By the summer of 1992, Stuart was finally in favor with mainstream country music. Released in late 1991, “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin,” the inaugural duet between him and Travis Tritt, peaked at #2, the highest peak Stuart would ever see. The duo would also go on to win a Grammy for Best Country Collaboration that same year, marking Stuart’s first such win.

Capitalizing on his recent success, Stuart released “This One’s Gonna Hurt You (For A Long, Long Time),” another duet with Tritt in June. The title track for his third album with MCA Records, it would prove successful as well peaking at #7. Written by Stuart, it’s just as good, if not better, than their previous collaboration. The tale of love gone wrong is framed in a stone cold arrangement complete with steel and piano that helps accentuate the mournful and clever lyrics.  I love how she’s the one who’s going to hurt, not him.

Released next, the bluesy “Now That’s Country,” written solely by Stuart, would peak at #18. A honky-tonker complete with electric guitar and steel flourishes, it depicts the ways in which Stuart was raised:

Well, that’s country,

I was born, yes, a country child

Now that’s country, but baby that’s my style

The almost dirty production is very good and helps elevate the song. But with very little to hold onto lyrically, the tune isn’t particularly memorable.

“High On A Mountain Top” came next, peaking at #24. Written by Alex Campbell and Ola Belle Reed, it isn’t to be confused with the Loretta Lynn song of the same name. This “High On A Mountain Top” is a rocker complete with accents of mandolin that details the story of a man reflecting on the journey that led to the current moment:

High on a mountaintop, standing all alone

Wondering where the years of my life have flown

High on a mountaintop, wind-blowing free

Thinking about the days that used to be

It’s too bad producer Tony Brown saw fit to create such a cluttered arrangement, as this could’ve been a wonderful song. The screaming guitars hinder Stuart’s vocal and nearly drown it out.

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Album Review: Lee Ann Womack – ‘There’s More Where That Came From’

2005’s There’s More Where That Came From is a pivotal album in the discography of Lee Ann Womack that helped to erase memories of the disastrous Something Worth Leaving Behind and to re-establish much of the credibility that she had lost with that ill-advised flirtation with pop diva-dom. Three years after her last full-length studio release, Lee Ann was back in a big way, with a new producer and a new sound. Or, perhaps a more accurate way to put it would be a new old sound. There’s More Where That Came From pays homage to a bygone era, with a retro sound and artwork that made it resemble a Tammy Wynette album from the 1970s. The disc itself even has the same design that MCA had used on its vinyl releases in the 70s and 80s, with a rainbow coming out of the clouds.

The country music landscape had changed considerably since Lee Ann’s debut just eight year earlier. Whereas her first album arrived at a time when it appeared that the genre might be swinging back toward its roots, There’s More Where That Came From was released at a time when things had moved decidedly toward the pop end of the spectrum and when the youth movement was in full force, leaving artists over the age of 40 at a distinct disadvantage. It is therefore, a little surprising that Lee Ann was allowed to release what could only have been viewed at the time as a non-commercial album, but her career had nosedived so badly by that time, her label perhaps felt that there was nothing left to lose.
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Country Heritage Redux: Narvel Felts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Country Heritage Redux: Charley Pride (1938 – )

An updated version of the article originally published by The 9513:

While he’s not exactly forgotten, it’s been twenty-five years since Charley Pride received much airplay on country radio – which seems unbelievable considering the dominant force he was on the charts. For the ’70s, Billboard has Charley listed as its third ranking singles artist behind only Conway Twitty and Merle Haggard. Pride also shows up as fourth on the Billboard Country Album chart for the same decade, while Cashbox has him as its number one artist for the period of 1958-1982.

Younger listeners who have not previously heard Pride will have a real treat coming when they sample his music from the ’60s and ’70s. He has a very distinctive voice; one not easily forgotten once it’s been heard.

Originally planning on a career in Major League Baseball, Pride grew up in the cotton fields near Sledge, Mississippi, where he listened to the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday nights. For whatever reason, Pride’s taste in music leaned towards country – perhaps he sensed (correctly) that his voice fit the genre perfectly. While pitching in semi-pro baseball in Montana, Pride was “discovered” by Red Sovine, who urged him to try his luck in Nashville. Pride did just that after his hopes of a career in baseball were gone, and soon thereafter he came to the attention of legendary producer Jack Clement. Clement did everything within his power to get Pride recorded and on a label, going so far as to self-producing the singer’s early recording sessions and shopping the masters. Clement even eventually persuaded Chet Atkins to add Pride to RCA.

Racial relations have come a long way since Pride emerged as country music’s top star and its first African-American superstar. The situation in America was so tense in 1965 that RCA issued his first few singles without the customary picture sleeves and promotional information, hoping to get country audiences hooked before they realized his race. To get the disk jockeys to play the records, they made them as hard-core country as was possible for the time, and listed the label’s four big name producers (Chet Atkins, Jack Clement, Bob Ferguson and Felton Jarvis) as the co-producers on the singles. DJs of the ’60s might not have known who Charley Pride was, but Atkins, Clement, Ferguson and Jarvis were known to all within the industry, so the records were destined to get at least some airplay.

Eventually country audiences tumbled onto Charley’s “permanent suntan” (as he put it), but it was too late. They simply loved his singing and would demonstrate this love by purchasing millions of his albums over the next 30 years, pushing four albums to gold status, a rarity for country albums with no cross-over appeal.

The first album, appearing in 1966, was Country Charley Pride; it had solid country arrangements and contained no hit singles as it was basically an album designed to introduce Pride to the marketplace. The songs included:

“Busted” — a 1963 hit for Johnny Cash & the Carter Family, and later a successful single for Ray Charles and John Conlee. It was written by the Dean of country songsmiths, Harlan Howard.

“Distant Drums”
— this Cindy Walker-penned song was a posthumous #1 for Jim Reeves in early 1966–the first of several such songs for Reeves.

“Detroit City” was a 1963 hit for Bobby Bare. Earlier in 1963, Billy Grammer had a hit with the song, recording it under the title “I Want To Go Home.” Mel Tillis and Danny Dill wrote this classic song.

“Yonder Comes A Sucker” — Jim Reeves took this self-penned song to #4 in 1955.

“Green Green Grass of Home”
— Johnny Darrell and Porter Wagoner hit with this Curly Putman classic in 1965, Porter scoring the much bigger hit of the pair.

“That’s The Chance I’ll Have To Take”
— label mate Waylon Jennings had a minor hit with this in 1965.

“Before I Met You”
— charted at #6 for Carl Smith in 1956. Smith’s star had faded by 1966, but he had been one of the biggest stars in the genre during the 1950s. This was Charley’s second single, issued in mid-1966. It would be the last non-charting single for Charley Pride for the next 28 years.

“Folsom Prison Blues”
— this was not as obvious a trendy pick as you might think. Johnny Cash took this song to #4 in 1956 – the #1 hit version and album were still 18 months away at the time this album was issued.

“The Snakes Crawl At Night”
was Pride’s first single, and while it did not chart nationally, it got significant regional airplay in the south and southwest. It was, in fact, the song that introduced me to Charley Pride.

“Miller’s Cave”
— Hank Snow had a hit in 1960 and Bobby Bare had one in 1964 with this Jack Clement-penned song (both top ten records). Clement was not simply padding his coffers by having Charley record his songs, as he was a top-flight songsmith. He wrote several Johnny Cash hits, including “Ballad of a Teenage Queen,” (Cash’s top charting record), and “I Guess Things Happen That Way.”

“The Atlantic Coastal Line”
— this was the “B” side of “The Snakes Crawl At Night” but it got some radio airplay. Mel Tillis wrote this song.

“Got Leavin’ On Her Mind”
— Jack Clement wrote this song, which was never a big hit, although Mac Wiseman had a terrific record on the song in 1968, and many others recorded it as well.

Normally, the strategy of introducing an artist to the public through an album entirely composed of oldies does not succeed. This time, however, the “country classics” strategy worked to perfection in priming the demand for more. Subsequent Charley Pride albums would feature newer songs and more of Pride’s own hits – lots of hits. Before long, all of Nashville’s leading writers were pitching their best material to him, with Dallas Frazier being his early favorite. So successful was Pride that an incredible string of 35 consecutive songs reached #1 on the Billboard and/or Cashbox Country Charts. Starting with 1969′s “Kaw-Liga” and ending with 1980′s “You Almost Slipped My Mind”, every Charley Pride single (except the 1972 two-sided gospel record “Let Me Live”/”Did You Think To Pray” and the 1979 “Dallas Cowboys” NFL special souvenir edition) reached #1. After the streak ended, Charley would have another 6 songs that were #1 on either Billboard and/or Cashbox. “Kiss An Angel Good Morning” released in 1971, would, of course become his signature song.

In addition to the above milestones, Charley Pride recorded a live album in 1968 at Panther Hall in Dallas, simply one of the best live albums ever. During his career, RCA issued three best of Charley Pride albums and two Greatest Hits albums with absolutely no overlap between the albums; moreover, several major hits were left off completely. He won the CMA Entertainer of the Year award, induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, the ACM’s Pioneer Award (a fitting award, if ever there was one), and several Grammy awards. Global sales reportedly brought 30 of his albums up to gold status.

During the CD era, Pride was very poorly served, at least until recently. At one point in the mid-1990s, he re-recorded 25 of his classic songs for Honest Entertainment, using the original arrangements, producer Jack Clement, and as many of the original musicians as he could find. For several years these re-makes were the only versions available, as RCA neglected its back catalog of anyone not named Elvis Presley.

Charley Pride continues to perform and record. While his voice has lost some tonal quality over the years, he still sings very well indeed. His success did not herald a phalanx of African-American singers into county music. Perhaps, that was an unrealistic expectation, since voices as good as that of Charley Pride rarely come around.


Charley Pride on Vinyl

Charley’s peak period coincides with the period in which the biggest stars issued three or four albums per year. From 1966-1979 RCA released 31 albums – 28 regular albums plus 3 ‘Best of’ collections. Generally the albums from before 1972 are the best, although all of them are worthwhile. After Pride hit the big time the albums became more formulaic and contained more filler, but the hit singles remained top-notch.

From 1980 to 1986 RCA issued 11 albums including two Greatest Hitscollections. A switch to 16th Avenue saw three more albums released before the end of the vinyl era.

After leaving RCA at the end of 1986, Charley recorded for 16th Avenue Records where he charted eight singles through 1989 when the label folded. His albums on 16th Avenue were released on vinyl and audio cassette. His two biggest hits for 16th Avenue were “Shouldn’t It Be Easier Than This” (1988 – #5) and “I’m Gonna Love Her On The Radio” (1988 – #13) and he released three albums while on 16th Avenue in After All This Time, I’m Gonna Love Her On The Radio and Moody Woman.


Charley Pride’s RCA recordings on CD

The Essential Charley Pride – BMG 1997 — an adequate overview with 20 songs, 19 hits plus a cover of “Please Help Me I’m Falling.”
The Essential Charley Pride – BMG 2006 – this two CD set replaced the prior entry and contains forty of Charley’s hits. An excellent set and an excellent value.
Charley Pride’s Country – Readers Digest 1996 — for years this was best available American collection. Containing 72 songs, 20 or so hits plus some good album cuts and cover versions.
The Legendary Charley Pride — BMG Australia 2003 — 50 songs, 40 hits plus a few other songs. Now out of print, this collection still is as good as any hits collection .
36 All Time Greatest Hits — RCA Special Products 193 — 36 songs — about 50-50 hits and other songs.

Several of Charley Pride’s other RCA albums have been available on CD over the years including Greatest Hits, Greatest Hits V2 (both truncated versions of the vinyl albums), There’s A Little Bit of Hank In Me (his Hank Williams tribute) and Charley Pride In Person at Panther Hall .


Other CDs and Recent Output

The 16th Avenue recording have been available on CD under a variety of names and for a variety of labels. The Curb CD The Best of Charley Pride is mostly 16th Avenue Recordings.

As noted above, so little of his music was available during the 1990s, that Charley re-recorded twenty-five of his biggest hits for Honest Entertainment. He also recorded some newer material, along with some other songs. These recordings have been licensed to a variety of labels including the Gusto, King, Tee Vee family of companies. These aren’t bad recordings but the originals are better.

Charley continues to record, although only occasionally. Three noteworthy albums from recent years include the following:

A Tribute To Jim Reeves (2001) – Charley recorded many Jim Reeves songs during his early peak years, so this album of all Jim Reeves songs was a natural for him to record. Charley does right by Jim’s memory.

The Comfort of Her Wings (2003) – new material – a pretty good album, although it produced no hits.

Choices (2011) – more new material, given a good run by one of the most distinctive voices in the business.

Album Review: ‘She Thinks I Still Care: The George Jones Collection’

George Jones’ landmark 1960 recording “The Window Up Above” was the apex of his years with Mercury Records. It marked his transition from a singer of honky tonk barn burners to a Nashville Sound ballad crooner. By 1962, he made the switch to United Artists Records and continued to perfect his craft. This collection, released in 1997 by Razor & Tie, focuses on his tenure with United Artists, which lasted from 1962 until 1964. Though his stint with the label was a short one, it yielded 151 recordings, including a handful of true classics that are the best of his career prior to his period with Epic Records (1971 to 1991). Twenty-two of those 151 recordings were released as singles, and twenty-one of them are represented here; the sole omission is 1963’s non-charting “Ain’t It Funny What A Fool Will Do.”

United Artists at the time was a fledgling label that had been started primarily to release soundtrack albums of UA films. It later branched out into jazz, and when Mercury executive Art Talmadge was recruited to start a country division, Pappy Dailey and George Jones joined him. They hit paydirt straight out of the box with “She Thinks I Still Care”, his first release for the label. It was his third #1 hit and the biggest record of his career to date. Originally intended as a pop ballad, it was pitched to Jones by former Sun Records producer Jack Clement, who altered the melody to make it sound more country. It has been covered many times by artists such as Elvis Presley, Anne Murray, and Patty Loveless.

George’s next few releases — all released in 1962– didn’t fare quite as well. “Sometimes You Just Can’t Win” reached #17, “Open Pit Mine” peaked at #13, and “You’re Still On My Mind” petered out at #28. His fortunes turned around by year-end, with “A Girl I Used To Know”, a #3 hit written by Jack Clement that is better known in its slightly re-tooled duet version. As “Just Someone I Used To Know”, it has been recorded many, many times, most notably by Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton in 1969. Jones closed out 1962 with “The Big Fool Of The Year”, which peaked at #13. He greeted 1963 with the somewhat similar sounding “Not What I Had In Mind”, a somewhat forgotten and definitely underrated number that reached #7 on the charts.

In 1963, Jones was paired with another Pappy Dailey client, Melba Montgomery, for a series of successful duets, seven of which are represented here. The best known is “We Must Have Been Out Of Our Minds”, which Melba wrote, but all of the Montgomery duets included in this collection are worthwhile. Melba’s raw bluegrass harmonies matched Jones more polished vocal style quite nicely on tunes such as “She’s My Mother”, “Let’s Invite Them Over”, “Blue Moon of Kentucky” and “What’s In Our Hearts.” All of the Jones-Montgomery duets were recorded live in the studio with no overdubs, and George reportedly considers them to be the best duets of his career, trumping even his better-known later work with Tammy Wynette.

After “She Thinks I Still Care”, the best known record from Jones’ UA period is “The Race Is On”, an upbeat number that reached #3 and has also been covered many times by artists such as The Grateful Dead and pop singer Jack Jones (no relation). In 1989 the song revived the flagging career of Sawyer Brown.

In addition to the aforementioned big hits, this two-disc collection is rounded out by some religious songs and a few covers of other artists’ songs, most notably “Faded Love”, which was included on Jones’ 1962 Bob Wills tribute album.

Only a small handful of Jones’ recordings from the United Artists era are considered essential, but it’s my favorite phase of his career from the pre-Epic years. This particular collection is currently out of print. Used copies are available from third-party sellers on Amazon, but they are quite expensive. Bear Family Records released the entire UA catalog in a five-disc box set called She Thinks I Still Care: The Complete United Artists Recordings: 1962-1964, but it too is quite expensive and only of interest to diehard fans. More economical is a single-disc, ten track 2003 collection released by Capitol, also called She Thinks I Still Care. Like the Razor & Tie collection, this one is also out of print, but cheap used copies are available. The song selection on the Capitol disc is meager and there some glaring omissions such as “The Race Is On” and “A Girl I Used To Know.” It’s difficult to find a decent compilation of the United Artists years without breaking the budget, but any money used to purchase any of these recordings is money well spent.

Grade: A