My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Jim Nabors

Album Review: Various Artists – ‘King Of The Road: A Tribute To Roger Miller’

Roger Miller was unique in terms of his all-around abilities as an entertainer. He could write off-beat and humorous songs then turn around and write a masterpiece of a straight ahead ballad. The nearest thing to him in terms of his compositional abilities was Shel Silverstein, but unlike Silverstein, who was a terrible singer, Roger was an outstanding vocalist and musician. People who have heard Roger’s concert in Birchmere, VA, about a year before he died can attest that Roger Miller barely even needed a guitar in order to keep and audience entertained.

Because Roger was so offbeat, tributes to him and his music have been rare – many of his most famous songs barely lend themselves to being covered. One of the few tributes I’ve seen was Tim O’Brien’s O’Brien Party of Seven – Reincarnation: The Songs Of Roger Miller, released about six years ago and featuring members of Tim’s family. It is a great album, but Tim and his family mostly stayed away from the more famous songs, and delved deeper into the Roger Miller catalogue.

King of The Road: A Tribute to Roger Miller
is a two disc set featuring snippets of dialogue from Roger along with covers of 34 of his songs as performed by various artists. The covers of straight ahead country songs work best as few artists have the ability that Roger had to let vocal scats and odd phrasings simply roll of his tongue. Among the odder songs tackled on disc one are “Chug A Lug” (Asleep at The Wheel with Huey Lewis), “Dang Me” (Brad Paisley), “Kansas City Star” (Kacey Musgraves), “You Ought a Be Here With Me” /“I’ve Been A Long Time Leaving” (Alison Krauss & The Cox Family) and In The Summertime” (Shawn Camp /Earls of Leicester) . All of these songs are competently performed but sound a bit forced except Shawn Camp’s take on “In The Summertime” since Camp simply treats the song as a straight ahead county song. The Krauss / Cox song would have been better had they performed it as separate songs and not made a medley of it.

For me the disc one the standouts are Loretta Lynn’s take on “Half A Mind”, a hit for her mentor Ernest Tubb, Mandy Barnett’s “Lock Stock and Teardrops” and the religious song “The Crossing” as performed by Ronnie Dunn and the Blind Boys of Alabama.

Dwight Yoakam does a fine job with his co-write “It Only Hurts Me When I Cry” but you’d expect no less since it was a hit for him.

Disc two is more of the same, some banter, goofy songs, and some straight ahead ballads. Cake makes a complete mess of “Reincarnation” (the only decent cover I’ve had was by Jim Nabors as Gomer Pyle, USMC) and I didn’t like Toad The Wet Sprocket’s take on the old George Jones hit “Nothing Can Stop My Loving You” (also decently covered in the 1970s by Patsy Sledd). Jamey Johnson & Emmylou Harris do a nice job on “Husbands and Wives”.

John Goodman, who never claimed to be a singer, reprises “Guv’ment” from the play Big River. Ringo Starr, also not a compelling singer, gives the right vibe to “Hey Would You Hold It Down?”

For me the two best songs on disc two are the Dolly Parton & Alison Krauss recording of “The Last Word In Lonesome Is Me” and Flatt Lonesome’s exquisite “When Two Worlds Collide”, easily the best performance on the album.

This album offers a good overview of the depth and breadth of the songwriting talents of Roger Miller. While I wasn’t all that impressed with all of the performers on the album, all of them clearly gave their performances their best efforts.

I mostly enjoyed this album and would give it a B+ but if this is your first exposure to Roger Miller, I would strongly suggest picking up one of Roger’s currently available collections of Smash/Mercury recordings.

Advertisements

Country Heritage: Billy Edd Wheeler

billy edd wheelerIf anyone in Country Music can truly be said to be a “renaissance man” that person would be Billy Edd Wheeler. Poet, painter, playwright, author, songwriter, singer, artist, lecturer and ecologist would be but a few of the hats that accurately (and comfortably) fit onto his head.

Billy Edd Wheeler fits into the realm between folk music, pop music and country music as his songs have been covered by artists in all three genres. Folk artists such as the Kingston Trio (“The Reverend Mr. Black,” “Desert Pete”), Judy Collins (“The Coming of the Roads,” “Coal Tattoo”), Judy Henske (“High Flying Bird”) and pop artists such as Glen Campbell (“Ann”), Kenny Rogers (“Coward of the County”), Nancy Sinatra-Lee Hazelwood (“Jackson” ), and Jim Nabors (“Hot Dog Heart”) have all enjoyed success with his songs.

Meanwhile, on the country side of the ledger, artists such as Hank Snow (“Blue Roses”), Johnny Cash (“Blistered,” “Jackson”), Jerry Reed (“Gimme Back My Blues”) and Johnny Darrell (“I Ain’t Buying,” “Ain’t That Living”) were among the artists who enjoyed success with his songs. Kathy Mattea’s recent album, Coal, featured several of his songs including “Coal Tattoo” and “The Coming of the Roads.” Moreover, he had one major country hit of his own (“Ode To The Little Brown Shack Out Back”) and several lesser hits including “I Ain’t The Worrying Kind” and “Fried Chicken and a Country Tune”. Wheeler was a long-time friend of Chet Atkins and they wrote a number of songs together including the amusing “I Still Write Your Name in the Snow”.

Born on December 12, 1932, in Whitesville, West Virginia, Billy Edd Wheeler was raised in Boone County, West Virginia, and an artistic bent showed up early. After high school, he headed to North Carolina where he graduated from Warren Wilson Junior College in 1953, and then to Berea College in Kentucky where he graduated in 1955.

After an interlude in the military in the Naval Air Corps, he did graduate studies at Yale’s School of Drama under John Gassner, majoring in playwriting. During this time, he became acquainted with the famed team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and collaborated with them on some songs, including “Jackson,” “The Reverend Mr. Black,” and “(The Girl Who Loved) The Man Who Robbed The Bank At Santa Fe (And Got Away)”, which was a Top 10 hit for Hank Snow.

Billy Edd Wheeler is a warm and engaging performer whose singing is more folk than country. His career as a singer emerged at the end of the “Hootenanny” era so he has had a relatively low profile as a recording artist. Living in Swannanoa, North Carolina since 1971 has kept him out of the Nashville spotlight but he has remained busy. During his career, he has received 13 awards from ASCAP for songs recorded by the likes of Judy Collins, Bobby Darin, The Kingston Trio, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, Kenny Rogers, Elvis, and 90+ other artists. Wheeler estimated a few years ago that his songs sold over 57 million units. By now the total is over 65 million units. “Jackson” was featured in the soundtrack to I Walk The Line, a very successful movie.

He has written a dozen plays, including 4 outdoor dramas that include the long-running Hatfields & McCoys at Beckley, West Virginia, and Young Abe Lincoln at Lincoln City, Indiana. His most recent play, Johnny Appleseed, premiered at Mansfield, Ohio in 2004. He also has authored or co-authored several books of humor, most recently Real Country Humor – Jokes From Country Music Personalities.

If that isn’t enough, Billy Edd Wheeler also is an accomplished painter. He was featured in Appalachian Heritage magazine’s 2008 winter issue, which included 16 of his original paintings, and the North Carolina Our State magazine featured him in their December, 2007 issue.

Billy Edd Wheeler was inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame in 2007 and the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2011. He also is a member of the Nashville Association of Songwriters International’s Hall of Fame, and has won awards in various other fields of endeavor.

Discography

Vinyl

Billy Edd Wheeler issued a number of albums for Kapp and other labels. All of them contain interesting songs and any that you happen to come across will be worth the purchase.

While he had recorded previously, Memories of America/ Ode to the Little Brown Shack Out Back (Kapp, 1965) was the album that brought Billy Edd Wheeler to the attention of most people. This album contains most of the songs for which he is remembered including “Jackson” and “The Reverend Mr. Black.” Joan Sommer is the female lead on several songs and the Coasters (yes, those Coasters) provide the harmony on “After Taxes.” This album had previously been issued under the title A New Bag of Songs, but when the title song became a surprise hit, the album was reissued minus two songs and adding the title song and “Sister Sara” which the Kingston Trio had recently turned into a hit.

I Ain’t the Worryin’ Kind (Kapp, 1968) is the other vinyl album to look for, as it contains most of the other songs for which he is known, and some of the best examples of Billy Edd’s wry wit. “Gladys (The Anatomy of A Shotgun Wedding)” is not to be missed, nor is “I Ain’t The Worryin’ Kind.”

CD

CDs are available can be purchased from Billy Edd’s website www.billyeddwheeler.com

None of his vinyl albums have made it to CD intact, but Milestones contains some original versions of his songs. I would also recommend Songs I Wrote With Chet, a collection of songs co-authored by the great Chet Atkins. Actually go ahead and buy every CD and book he has for sale on his website. They are all great fun.

The Ernest Tubb Record Shop has available one CD not available from Billy Edd’s website titled A Big Bag of Songs. Released in 2010 on the Omni label, the disc contains most of the A New Bag of Songs album, please an interesting array of Wheeler’s other work. A significant portion of this album is in monaural and some of the tracks were remastered from secondary sources as much of the Kapp audio library was destroyed in a Universal Studios vault fire some years back. This CD contains 28 tracks.

Album Review: O’Brien Party Of Seven – ‘Reincarnation – The Songs Of Roger Miller’

reincarnationRoger Miller passed away on October 25, 1992. In the twenty years since his death performers and songwriters have come and gone, but none who had the imagination or wit of Roger Miller. Most of the readers of this blog likely are too young to remember when Miller burst on the scene in the 1964 with his off-the-wall repartee’ in songs such as “King of The Road”, “Dang Me”, “Chug A Lug” and “England Swings” although they may well remember having heard the songs. Miller was also a master at finding songs excellent songs from other writers – he was the first to record Bobby Russell’s “Little Green Apples” and he had the first (and best) recording of Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobbie McGee”.

Fads and fashions change, and Miller’s run as a huge chart artist ended after 1973. After a long hiatus, Miller was talked out of retirement during the early 1980s to provide the music for the successful Broadway musical Big River, which was nominated for ten Tony Awards, winning seven (including Best Original Score for Miller). Big River was based on the exploits of Huckleberry Finn from Mark Twain’s novels.

Miller’s songs continue to be performed to this day, Alan Jackson (“Tall, Tall Trees”) and Brooks & Dunn (“Husbands and Wives”) each reaching the number one spot on country charts in during the middle to late 1990s.

Tim and Mollie O’Brien are excellent performers who work in the folk and bluegrass idioms. Tim O’Brien was a member of the highly acclaimed group Hot Rize, plays virtually any instrument with strings and is an accomplished songwriter having written songs recorded by many artists in the country and bluegrass realms. Mollie O’Brien, more folk than bluegrass, is an accomplished singer who has recorded many albums as a solo artist as well as albums with brother Tim and husband Rich Moore.

Tim, Mollie and Rich are from my generation and remember the depth and breadth of the Roger Miller catalog. They felt Miller’s songs would provide a fine unifying theme for a family recording project for their talented offspring. Rather than dictate the agenda, the parents turned their sons and daughters loose to select songs that appealed to them. The end result is a fascinating selection of songs, which includes several selections from Big River, but only one of Roger’s big hits, the ubiquitous “King of The Road”. Trust me, the lack of the big hits does nothing to diminish the quality of the material.

PERSONNEL: Rich Moore (vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, resonator guitar); Tim O’Brien (vocals, electric guitar, banjo, bouzouki, mandolin, ukulele, fiddle, pump organ); Lucy Moore (vocals, keyboards); Joel O’Brien, Jackson O’Brien, Brigid Moore, Mollie O’Brien (vocals); John Gardner (drums).

Rich Moore is Mollie O’ Brien’s husband – Lucy & Brigid are their daughters. Joel & Jackson are Tim O’Brien’s sons. Read more of this post

Honky Tonk Angels and Texas Troubadours, a look at Loretta Lynn’s singing partners

In the mid 1980s, Dolly Parton came up with the idea of an album pairing herself with her contemporaries Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette.  But for one reason or another, it just never came together for nearly a decade.   Finally, during the country boom of the early 90s, the project came to life. Produced by Dolly Parton and Steve Buckingham, Honky Tonk Angels was a celebration of the sounds of yesterday and a less-than-subtle reminder of the abundance of talent being overlooked by country radio at the time. One single from the album stalled at #68 on the country singles chart in 1993 (a second failed to chart at all), but the album itself would land at #6 on the sales-based albums chart, and would go on to be certified gold, proving the continued demand for legendary stars.

Honky Tonk Angels opens with a graceful take on ‘It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels’, the song that made Kitty Wells a star.  Kitty is even featured as a vocalist here in the song’s second verse, and provides harmony for the rest of the track, to great effect.  Another country female vocalist standard, ‘I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know’, originally a hit for the Davis Sisters, is given the rootsy treatment of a scaled back arrangement and resonant harmonies.  Wells isn’t the only star to make a guest appearance on the album.  Patsy Cline’s vocal is added electronically to a cover of ‘Lovesick Blues’, allowing the departed songstress to take the lead vocal while the trio of Parton, Lynn, and Wynette provide harmony vocals as well as a few cat calls and ad-libs to give the track a live feel.

A music video was made for the punchy version of ‘Silver Thread and Golden Needles’ to promote the album, featuring a veritable who’s who of Music City and beyond as potential suitors turned away by the ladies.  You’ll see Ricky Skaggs, Rodney Crowell, Charlie Chase, Ralph Emery, Bill Anderson, Jim Nabors, Little Jimmy Dickens, Marty Stuart, and Ronnie Milsap all make cameo appearances.  Chet Atkins is the only visitor finally allowed in. A rousing version of the country-gospel standard ‘Wings of a Dove’, originally a hit for Ferlin Husky in 1960, provides some of the disc’s best harmony moments.

All three contribute an original song here as well.  Loretta offers up the optimistic ‘Wouldn’t It Be Great’ while Tammy contributes ‘That’s The Way It Would Have Been’, a melancholy tale of chances lost and unrequited love.  Dolly’s song is the gospel-tinged ‘Let Her Fly’, a song mourning the death of her mother, but celebrating her reunion with God.  Such is the spirit of Dolly Parton, and all three of these exceptional women, and their three sole-compositions tell you volumes about them, just as the maker intended.  Closing with another country standard, an updated take on Tex Ritter’s ‘I Dream of a Hillbilly Heaven’, complete with recitations and plenty of shout-outs.

In true form, all three legendary ladies deliver the goods on Honky Tonk Angels, and offer their own unique input to the sound and the material.  This provides not only an album of traditional country music listening pleasure, but a lesson in how to do it from the architects of the modern country music sound.

Read more of this post