My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: J.D. Crowe and the New South

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Album Review: Keith Whitley — ‘Don’t Close Your Eyes’

dontcloseyoureyes1985’s L.A. to Miami provided Keith Whitley with some badly needed radio hits, but the slick pop-oriented production didn’t sit well with him. Wanting to return to his traditional country roots, he asked RCA executive Joe Galante to shelve the follow-up album that was nearly ready to release and to allow him to start working on a new album that was more in line with his musical tastes. Galante agreed, and Keith chose Garth Fundis to be his co-producer. The result was 1988’s Don’t Close Your Eyes, which was Whitley’s most critically acclaimed and commercially successful album up to that time.

Two tracks from the scrapped album were salvaged and released as singles to maintain Whitley’s presence on the radio while he and Fundis were working on the new album. “Would These Arms Be In Your Way”, which featured harmony vocals by Vern Gosdin (one of the song’s co-writers) and Emmylou Harris peaked at #36 on the Billboard country singles chart in 1987. It was followed by “Some Old Side Road” which reached #16. Both of these tracks were eventually included on the new album, though “Would These Arms Be In Your Way” appeared only on the CD version.

The album opens with the mid-tempo “Flying Colors”, which is a decent song, but not quite up to the standards of the rest of the album. The second track “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now”  is one of my favorites.  Co-written by Keith with Curly Putman and Don Cook, it’s one of the few instances in which Keith recorded a song he’d written himself. In this interview with TNN’s Shelly Mangrum, he mentioned that it was being considered for release as a single, but that never happened.

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Spotlight Artist: Keith Whitley (July 1, 1955 – May 9, 1989)

keithwhitleyLast month we spotlighted the Class of ’89, noting the many creative and commercial triumphs that occurred during that landmark year for country music. The same year brought one of country music’s great tragedies — the untimely death of Keith Whitley from alcohol poisoning. May 9th marks the 20th anniversary of that sad day. This month My Kind of Country will spotlight Keith Whitley and look back at the great musical legacy he left behind.

Jesse Keith Whitley was born in Sandy Hook, Kentucky, on July 1, 1955. Many sources cite 1954 as the year of his birth, but 1955 is what is engraved on his headstone. When young Keith was a teenager, he entered a talent contest with his brother Dwight. Also entered in the contest was another teenage prodigy by the name of Ricky Skaggs. The two became lifelong friends. Together, they became the opening act for the bluegrass band The Clinch Mountain Boys. Whitley went on to play and sing for the bluegrass band J.D. Crowe and the New South. The group released an album in 1982 called Somewhere Between, featuring Whitley on lead vocals. The album eventually led to a solo deal for Whitley with RCA Records.

Whitley’s RCA debut was the mini-LP A Hard Act To Follow, which was released in 1984. The mini-LP didn’t make much of an impact on the charts. The lead single “Turn Me To Love” peaked at #59 on the Billboard country singles chart. It’s worth noting that the harmony vocals on this recording were provided by an unknown and unsigned singer by the name of Patty Loveless. Despite his very traditional voice, heavily influenced by Carter Stanley and Lefty Frizzell, RCA was pushing Whitley in a more country-pop direction, which was evident on his next project.

A Hard Act to Follow was followed up in 1985 by the album L.A. to Miami. Featuring a more contemporary sound, the album provided Keith with his first top 20 single, “Miami, My Amy”, followed by three top 10 hits: “Ten Feet Away”, “Homecoming ’63”, and “Hard Livin’.” The pop influences were still dominant, although the album also contained two more traditional songs: “On the Other Hand” and “Nobody In His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her”, which went on to become huge hits for Randy Travis and George Strait, respectively.

During this time, Whitley met and married Grand Ole Opry star Lorrie Morgan. Their son, Jesse Keith Whitley, Jr. was born in June 1987. Whitley was also working on a new album for RCA. The project was near completion, but he was unsatisfied with the way it was turning out. He approached label head Joe Galante, and asked for and received permission to shelve the project and start over again. He was also granted the right to have a bigger say in the production of his records.

Whitley teamed up with a new producer, Garth Fundis, and began working on a new album. The result was Don’t Close Your Eyes, his most traditional album yet for RCA. The title track not only went to #1, it was Billboard’s #1 country record of the year in 1988. The album also produced two more #1 hits for Whitley, and was certified gold.

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