My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: John Conlee

Classic Rewind: John Conlee – ‘Ain’t No Way To Make A Bad Love Grow’

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November Spotlight Artist: Conway Twitty

For the last twenty years of his life, Conway Twitty was introduced on stage as “The Best Friend A Song Ever Had”. The conceit was not new to Conway – during the 1960s classic pop singer Jerry Vale was frequently called “A Song’s Best Friend” – and Ray Price and Gene Watson certainly could make a case for being called that – but certainly few artists were as versatile singers as Conway Twitty.

Conway Twitty was born as Harold Lloyd Jenkins ( September 1, 1933 – June 5, 1993) was born in Friars Point, Mississippi. His family moved to Arkansas when he was ten, and he grew up listening to country and rhythm & blues music, and eventually becoming a performer. After a hitch in the army, Conway (as we shall refer to him) mde his way to Memphis where he worked with Sam Phillips but did not record any records for commercial release

In 1957 Conway selected his stage name with the aid of a road atlas using Conway, Arkansas and Twitty, Texas as his inspiration. In the interim, Conway has been signed to Mercury Records where several rockabilly singles were released without much success (“I Need Your Lovin’” reached #93)

Moving over to MGM in 1958, Twitty released his signature song “It’s Only Make Believe”. The song, a powerful ballad that many assumed was an Elvis Presley recording, broke out first in Canada where Conway was working road dates. In the US it took longer for the record to hit as MGM has initially pushing “I’ll Try” as the A side but eventually the record broke out in Columbus Ohio, ultimately becoming a #1 pop hit in both the US and Canada, It also reached #5 in Australia.

During his tenure with MGM, Conway continued to issue rockabilly records, some of which charted, but his bigger successes were with ballads pointing the way for his later country music success. In 1959 “Danny Boy” (#10) and “Lonely Blue Boy” (#6) reached the top ten, the only other MGM singles to do so, although a rocked up recording of “Mona Lisa” would become a number one record in Australia.

The ‘British Invasion’ is often blamed for the demise of many American artists’ chart careers, but the truth is Conway’s major pop success ended in 1959. Six singles were released in 1960, but none of them cracked the top twenty, and the four MGM singles released after 1960 failed to crack the top sixty.

Conway and his band (“The Lonely Blue Boys”) continue to tour, but Conway , who claimed that his heart was always in country music, shifted his focus toward Nashville, where he was met with some skepticism. His songwriting skills got his foot in the door when Ray Price took “Walk Me To The Door” to #7 on the country charts in 1962. From there Conway eventually got Owen Bradley on his side and signed a contract with Decca in 1965. The first Decca album was released in 1966 and throughout 1966 and 1967 Conway’s singles also charted with four of the five singles reaching the top forty.

In 1967, “The Image of Me” reached #5, starting a string in which 52 of 53 solo singles reached the top ten (and of those top tens only three missed the top five).

Conway Twitty was nothing if not adaptable, being able to adjust to the changing trend in music. When rockabilly died out as a chart force, Conway switched to more conventional rock and roll and pop ballads. As country grew less traditional, Conway changed with it. At various points in his country career Conway changed producers, labels and even his appearance to avoid become dated.

During the periods 1985-1986 and 1989-1990, Conway’s records were charting minimally but he was able to re-gear and achieve more top tier hits. Toward the end of 1991 Conway realized that he had again lost traction with radio and spent the next year searching for material to take him to the top again. His final album, fittingly titled Final Touches, was released after his death in June 1993 – it probably would have taken him back near the top again if Conway had been around to promote the record. As it was, MCA was not interested in promoting n artist who was no longer around to tour and help push album sales

Conway Twitty’s career is sometime compared to that of George Strait, the man who surpassed the number of #1 chart recordings that Conway achieved. It really isn’t an apt comparison as Strait was basically a singer who found a groove and stayed there, but for most of his career didn’t write his own material, and whose singles never reached the top twenty of the Billboard Hot 100.

In contrast, Twitty wrote many of his album tracks and some of his biggest singles including “It’s Only Make Believe” and “Hello Darlin’”. The variety of types and tempos of songs that Conway Twitty took to number one is staggering plus Twitty has a number of successful singles as a duet partner. Moreover, many artists raided Conway’s albums for singles material. For instance the following:

1 – Oak Ridge Boys – “I Wish You Could Have Turned My Head (And Left My Heart Alone)”, originally from Twitty’s 1979 album Crosswinds. The song went #1 Cashbox/#2Billboard

2- Statler Brothers – “You’ll Be Back (Every Night in My Dreams)”, from Twitty’s 1980 album Rest Your Love On Me. This song reached #3

3 – Lee Greenwood – “It Turns Me Inside Out”, from Twitty’s 1982 album Southern Comfort – this was Lee’s first hit reaching #17

4 – John Conlee – “In My Eyes”, from Twitty’s 1982 album Dream Maker – this reached #1

5 – John Schneider – “What’s a Memory Like You (Doin’ in a Love Like This?)”, from Twitty’s 1985 album Chasin’ Rainbows – #1

There are other examples of artists snatching hit songs off Conway’s albums, something which did not happen much with Strait’s albums.

Our November Spotlight Artist is one of the most open-minded, capable and enduring artists in the history of the genre. If you’ve not encountered Conway Twitty before prepare to be amazed. If you are familiar with his material you may find yourself surprised by the breadth and depth of his recordings. Either way you may find yourself agreeing that Conway Twitty was indeed” the best friend a song ever had”.

Classic Rewind: John Conlee – ‘Backside Of Thirty’

Classic Rewind: John Conlee – ‘Friday Night Blues’

Classic Rewind: John Conlee – ‘Before My Time/Lady Lay Down’

Classic Rewind: John Conlee – ‘He Touched Me’

Week ending 9/24/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

steve-holy-countrymusicislove1956 (Sales): Crazy Arms — Ray Price (Columbia)

1956 (Jukebox): Hound Dog/Don’t Be Cruel — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Disc Jockeys):Crazy Arms — Ray Price (Columbia)

1966: Almost Persuaded — David Houston (Epic)

1976: I Don’t Want to Have to Marry You — Jim Ed Brown & Helen Cornelius (RCA)

1986: Got My Heart Set on You — John Conlee (Columbia)

1996: So Much For Pretending — Bryan White (Asylum)

2006: Brand New Girlfriend — Steve Holy (Curb)

2016: Peter Pan — Kelsea Ballerini (Black River)

2016 (Airplay): Peter Pan — Kelsea Ballerini (Black River)

Album Review: Lorraine Jordan and Caroline Road – ‘Country Grass’

country-grass-2016If you like real country music, the kind that was played before 2005, with meaningful lyrics written by master craftsmen like Dallas Frazier, Cindy Walker, Harlan Howard, Hank Cochran, Merle Haggard and Tom T Hall, where do you go to hear it live?

Unless you live in Texas, your best choice is to visit a bluegrass festival. Today’s bluegrass acts are vitally concerned about finding good songs, regardless of the copyright dates. They are not concerned about the feeding and watering of mediocre songwriters simply because they are part of the pool of co-writers. A typical bluegrass group will include anywhere from 20% upwards of classic country songs in their repertoire.

Exhibit number one is the most recent album, Country Grass, by Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road. This album is a bit of an outlier, because all of the songs are classic country, but one listen to this album and you will plainly hear that the legacy of 60s-90s country music is in good hands.

Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road are a veteran act, having performed at the bluegrass festivals for over fifteen years. Lorraine plays mandolin and handles most of the lead vocals. She is joined by Ben Greene (banjo), Josh Goforth (fiddle), Brad Hudson (dobro) and Jason Moore (upright bass).

In putting this album together of classic country songs, Lorraine assembled a fine cast of guest stars, obtaining the services of the original artist where possible.

The album opens up with the Kentucky Headhunters’ song “Runnin’ Water”, a track from the Kentucky Headhunters’ fourth album. Doug Phelps of the Kentucky Headhunters sings lead on this entertaining track with bandmate Richard Young contributing harmony vocals. This track is straight ahead bluegrass.

Eddy Raven had a #1 record in 1984 with “I Got Mexico” and he chips in with the lead vocals on a track that is more bluegrass flavored than actual bluegrass.

“Darned If I Don’t, Danged If I Do” was a Shenandoah song. Shenandoah’s lead sing Marty Raybon has spent much of the last decade on the bluegrass circuit performing bluegrass versions of Shenandoah hits with his band Full Circle. The song is done in overdrive, but Marty remains one of the premier vocalists.

John Conlee is a long-time Opry veteran who had a decade (1978-1987) long run of top ten hits, including his 1983 #1 hit “Common Man”, taken at about the same tempo as his 1983 hit. Brad Hudson takes a verse of the lead vocal.

country-grass-2015Crystal Gayle had a #1 Country / #18 Pop hit in 1978 with “Waiting For The Times To Get Better”. Crystal and Lorraine trade verses on this one, an elegant sounding song and arrangement.

Lee Greenwood had a #1 record with “Dixie Road” in 1985. Unfortunately, Lee’s voice has eroded over the years so having Troy Pope sing a verse is welcome.

Jim Ed Brown has a top twenty recording of “You Can Have Her” back in 1967. This was probably one of Jim Ed’s last recording before his recent death, but he was in very fine voice indeed. Tommy Long takes part of a verse and harmonizes on this jazzy ballad.

“Boogie Grass Band” was a big hit for Conway Twitty in 1978, the title explaining the feel of the song completely. Unfortunately, Conway has been gone for over twenty years so Lorraine simply got everyone involved in this project to take short vocal turns, preserving the original tempo.

Randy Travis was in no shape to perform so Tommy Long handles the vocals on “Digging Up Bones”. Meanwhile T. G. Sheppard is still with us, so he and Tommy Long handle the vocals on “Do You Want To Go To Heaven”. The instrumentation here is bluegrass, but the tempo remains that of the country ballad that T.G. took to #1 in 1980.

Jesse Keith Whitley is the son of Lorrie Morgan and the late great Keith Whitley. Jesse sounds quite similar to his father and acquits himself well on “Don’t Close Your Eyes”. Jeannette Williams contributes gorgeous harmony vocals to this track which is taken at the same tempo as Keith’s original.

It would be hard to conceive of a bigger country/pop hit than Joe South’s “Rose Garden”, taken to the top of the charts in 1970-1971 by Lynn Anderson. Not only did the song top the country and pop charts in the USA, it went top four or better in nine foreign countries. Lynn Anderson and Lorraine Jordan share the lead vocals on this song, which probably sounds the least similar to the original of all the tracks on this album. Lynn passed away last summer, so this is one of the last tracks (perhaps the last track) she ever recorded.

Lorraine’s band shines on the last track of the album “Last Date”. Although there were several sets of lyrics appended to Floyd Cramer’s piano classic, I don’t really like any of the lyrics I’ve heard, so I appreciate that this was left as an instrumental.

I picked up this disc about a month ago and it has been in heavy rotation in my CD player since them. I was inspired to write this when Jonathan Pappalardo posted a video of John Anderson singing with Lorraine and Carolina Road. John is not on the original (2015) version of the album, but his performance can be purchased on Lorraine’s website http://www.carolinaroadband.com/, and is on the new re-released version.

Even if you do not particularly care for bluegrass you might really like this album, chock full of solid country gold songs, fine vocals and exquisite musicianship. I give it an A-, docking it very slightly for the eroded voices of a few of the guests.

Album Review: Craig Morgan – ‘My Kind of Livin”

unnamed2005’s My Kind of Livin’ stands as Craig Morgan’s most successful album to date. His second release for Broken Bow, it remains his only album to be certified gold and features his biggest charting singles.

Morgan’s previous album established him as a syrupy balladeer of emotional story songs. He gained moderate traction with hits like “Almost Home” and “Every Friday Afternoon,” but he still hadn’t found his footing. That changed when “That’s What I Love About Sunday” hit radio in November 2004. The warm ballad, with ribbons of dobro and a pure bright melody, skyrocketed to #1. The track held the top spot for four consecutive weeks, went on to become Billboard’s number-one song on the year-end country chart and gave Broken Bow their first multi-week chart topper. I quite like the song, which manages to maintain a spiritual bent while celebrating the Sabbath without overwrought clichés.

I adore the album’s second single, the infectious banjo, fiddle and steel guitar-heavy “Redneck Yacht Club.” The song foreshadows bro-country with themes of summertime, partying and scantly glad women but it mostly focuses on the fun (and innocence) of being out on the lake with your friends and doesn’t even hint at hookups, sex or gender objectification. Listening in to it again for the first time in many years, I’d almost forgotten that a song this country was able to score major radio airplay just a few short years ago. I’m not suggesting “Redneck Yacht Club” is even close to the greatest song ever written, but it illustrates what summertime country music should aspire to sound like. It makes me sick how far we we’ve devolved in the decade since and even more perplexed as to why we even had to change so much in the first place (I’d add Blake Shelton’s “Some Beach,” co-written by Rory Feek, to this conversation, as well).

Morgan co-wrote the album’s third and final single while on tour with Keith Urban with the hopes he would put it on his next project. After cutting the demo, he felt “I Got You” fit his own style and decided to keep it for himself. The song is a somewhat unremarkable uptempo love song that Morgan saves with his sincere vocal and arrangement that borderlines muscular, but saves enough breathing room for the steel guitar to nicely shine through. Those benefits weren’t enough for the song to gain traction, though, and it stalled at #12.

Morgan also had a hand in co-writing six more of the album’s tracks. The album’s title comes from “I’m Country,” a mid-tempo laundry list of southern clichés that has traditional elements but little else by way of appeal. “Ain’t The Way I Wanna Go Out” explores cheating, a scorned husband and murder with cluttered production values that grate on the listener.

“Rain For The Roses” is a workingman’s anthem about The Roses, a farming couple in a southern town. I would’ve enjoyed it more without the title’s cutesy play-on-words and Morgan’s insistence of turning the chorus into a power ballad. “That’s When I’ll Believe That You’re Gone,” returns Morgan to the syrupy emotional ballads from his previous set, with mixed results. The production is good, but the lyric is too middle-of-the-road to reach maximum emotional complexity.

“If You Like That” is reminiscent of turn-of-the-century Mark Chesnutt and is one of the better songs amongst his co-writes. I love the simple arrangement and heartfelt lyric. Morgan’s final co-write “Blame Me” is a terrible duet with John Conlee and Brad Paisley that joins “I’m Country” in wasting space with uninspired southern signifiers.

“Lotta Man (In That Little Boy)” gives a lot away by its title and offers little more as a song. The ballad just isn’t as compelling as it could be with a story that settles for predictable rather than surprising. “Cowboy and Clown” centers around friendship on the rodeo circuit and despite a stupid title is a slightly above average song. The album’s final number, “In My Neighborhood” is nothing more than a ‘where I’m from’ type of song.

My Kind of Livin’ mostly gets the sonic overtones right. I have to give Morgan and his co-producer Phil O’Donnell credit for sticking with production values that lean heavy on actual country instrumentation. That’s unfortunately all for not since they got the music wrong. Besides the three singles, there’s hardly anything here worth salvaging. My Kind of Livin’ isn’t an embarrassingly bad album, it’s just wrought with clichés and tries too hard to play up the southern themes it panders to. This is squarely mid-2000s country lacking in imagination and originality. Check it out if you want to, I always recommend people come to their own conclusions, but it did little for me.

Grade: B-

Artist Spotlight: Craig Morgan

craig-morgan-456nm062411Craig Morgan Greer was born July 17, 1964 in Kingston Springs Tennessee. In his early life he was an army brat, serving on active duty for nine and half years and spending six and half years in the reserves. He got serious about a music career once he returned home to The Volunteer State.

Morgan worked odd jobs, including stents as a construction worker and security guard, before landing a gig as a demo singer. It led to a recording contract with Atlantic Records, where he released his eponymous debut in 2000. Morgan signed with Broken Bow Records in 2002, a year after Atlantic’s Nashville division shuttered.

He would enjoy his greatest success with the three albums he released for the label. “Almost Home,” the second single from his sophomore album was his first top ten single. His relationship with country radio remained rocky until 2005, when the spiritual “That’s What I Like About Sunday” skyrocketed to #1 for four consecutive weeks. He followed with the #2 “Redneck Yacht Club.”

In 2006, Morgan was awarded the USO Merit Award in recognition of his tireless support for U.S. Soldiers and their families. He’s performed numerous USO Tours and has been active in raising funds for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.

2008 was another transitional year for Morgan. He departed Broken Bow in February and signed with BNA Records shortly thereafter. His first single for the label, “Love Remembers,” peaked inside the top 10. He was performing on the military base at Fort Bragg when John Conlee surprised him with an invite to join The Grand Ole Opry. Morgan was formally inducted in late October.

While Morgan never reached those heights again, he enjoyed moderate success until “Still A Little Chicken Left on that Bone” peaked outside the top 30 in 2010. He would leave BNA for Black River shortly after that single tanked.

In recent years he’s enjoyed two top twenty hits: “This Ole Boy” and “Wake Up Lovin’ You” as well as success on the small screen. Morgan is the host (going on seven seasons) of Outdoors Channel’s popular Craig Morgan’s All Access Outdoors, which chronicles his life both on stage and as an avid outdoorsman. In his personal life he resides in Nashville with his wife Karen and their six children.

Morgan’s third album for Black River, A Whole Lot More To Me, will be released early this month. It’s proceeded by the singles “When I’m Gone” and “I’ll Be Home Soon,” which shipped to radio in Mid-May of this year.

Classic Rewind: John Conlee – ‘Busted/Doghouse’

Album Review: Shelby Lynne – ‘Sunrise’

sunriseShelby Lynne was teamed up with veteran producer Billy Sherrill for her first album in 1989. Her duet with George Jones and a cover of Buck Owens’ ‘Under Your Spell Again’ which had been her solo single debut were left off the tracklisting, which leans a little less traditional than either of those tracks. Shelby was only 20 when the album was released, but sounds considerably older.

Her big booming voice was front and center in ‘The Hurtin’ Side’, the album’s lead single, which just cracked the country top 40. Written by Mike Reid and Rory Michael Bourke, it’s a solid song about facing heartbreak. Reid and Bourke wrote two additional songs on the album, one of which is my favourite: ‘Till You Were Gone’, also recorded by John Conlee, is an agonized expression of regret at love discovered too late:

Every night right about now
I grow uneasy
Kinda restless somehow
It starts out like thunder on a slow steady roll
And I hit the floor half out of control

Baby I wonder if you look the same
Do you have children?
What are their names?
Does the one that you’re with
Need you all night long?
Like I never did
Until you were gone

Their third song, ‘Your Love Stays With me’ is a big ballad, more AC than country, and although it is well performed it doesn’t have a big impact.

The album’s only other single, ‘Little Bits And Pieces’ is a fine ballad recalling a broken relationship, penned by Dean Dillon and Hank Cochran, but unfortunately it did not catch on at radio. It is quite heavily strung and Shelby emotes intensely, perhaps a little too much. ‘Thinking About You Again’ is a slightly more understated but still deeply emotional ballad with a despairing lyric abut failing to move on after a breakup, written by Stephony Smith and Mike Porter.

Sherrill contributed one song, ‘This Time I Almost Made It’, an older song previously recorded by Barbara Mandrell, cited by Shelby as one of her big influences. A yearning cheating song, it had also been recorded by Tammy Wynette with Billy Sherrill at the helm, so perhaps it was his choice for Shelby, whose version stands up well to her illustrious predecessors.

The assertive ‘What About This Girl’, written by Randy Boudreaux with Madeline Stone, picks up the tempo but is not particularly country. The same goes for the bluesy ‘That’s Where It Hurts’, which starts out slow and then turns bold and brassy as she belts out a tale of heartbreak wherever she goes.

A languid jazzy take on Floyd Tillman’s classic ‘I Love You So Much It Hurts’ is effective, but the similarly jazz-inflected version of standard ‘I’m Confessin’’ is a little dull and feels self-indulgent.

Shelby’s voice and emotional intensity belied her youth, and this was an interesting debut. Although she did draw on the heritage of country music, her eclectic tastes and the fact that her retro tastes leaned more to the Nashville Sound and other genres, I wonder if she would have done better if she had been five or ten years older rather than making her debut during the heyday of the neotraditional movement. If you have eclectic tastes this is worth picking up: the vocals are strong, the songs pretty good, and the production suits her. But it was a little out of place in 1989.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: John Conlee – ‘A Lot Of Things Different’

This Bill Anderson/Dean Dillon song is probably best known by Kenny Chesney.

Classic Rewind: John Conlee – ‘Clinging To A Saving Hand’

Week ending 5/31/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

melba1954 (Sales): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Jukebox): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Disc Jockeys): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1964: My Heart Skips A Beat — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1974: No Charge — Melba Montgomery (Elektra)

1984: As Long As I’m Rockin’ With You — John Conlee (MCA)

1994: Don’t Take The Girl — Tim McGraw (Curb)

2004: Redneck Woman — Gretchen Wilson (Epic)

2014: Play It Again — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

2014 (Airplay): Play It Again — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

Classic Rewind: John Conlee – ‘I’m Only In It For The Love’

Classic Rewind: John Conlee – ‘Old School’

Week ending 1/25/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

John Conlee1954 (Sales): There Stands The Glass — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Jukebox): There Stands The Glass — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Disc Jockeys): There Stands The Glass — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1964: Love’s Gonna Live Here — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1974: I Love — Tom T. Hall (Mercury)

1984: In My Eyes — John Conlee (MCA)

1994: Wild One — Faith Hill (Warner Bros.)

2004: There Goes My Life — Kenny Chesney (BNA)

2014: Drink A Beer — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

2014 (Airplay): Stay — Florida Georgia Line(Republic Nashville)

Week ending 9/14/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

GHIV1953 (Sales): A Dear John Letter — Jean Shepard & Ferlin Husky (Capitol)

1953 (Jukebox): Hey Joe!— Carl Smith (Columbia)

1953 (Disc Jockeys): Hey Joe!— Carl Smith (Columbia)

1963: Abilene — George Hamilton IV (RCA)

1973: You’ve Never Been This Far Before — Conway Twitty (MCA)

1983: I’m Only In It For The Love — John Conlee (MCA)

1993: Thank God For You — Sawyer Brown (Curb)

2003: It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere — Alan Jackson with Jimmy Buffett (Arista)

2013: That’s My Kind Of Night — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

2013 (Airplay): Little Bit Of Everything — Keith Urban (Capitol)

Classic Rewind: John Conlee – ‘Amazing Grace’