My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Liz Anderson

The best reissues of 2018

It wasn’t a great year for reissues but there were some bright spots. As always our British and European friends lead the way. Also, please note that these can take a while for foreign titles to become available from US suppliers, so it may be into 2019 before these are generally available.

In those cities that still have adequate recorded music stores (sadly, a rare commodity these days), it can be a real thrill finding a label you’ve not encountered before reissuing something you’ve spent decades seeking. It can be worthwhile to seek out the foreign affiliates of American labels for recordings that the American affiliate hasn’t reissued. For example, there are Capitol recordings not reissued in the US that are available on the UK or European EMI labels. For the rest of us, scanning the internet remains the best alternative.

Unfortunately as the sales of physical CDs continue to plummet, so does the willingness of labels, domestic and foreign, to invest in reissuing material by second and third tier artists. Still missing in action are the catalogues of such significant artists as Liz Anderson, Wilma Burgess, Johnny Darrell, Jack Greene, The Hager Twins, Freddie Hart, Warner Mack, Kenny Price and David Rogers. While there has been a slight uptick in vinyl sales and reissues, most of that has been of only the very top selling artists (and at $22 to $33 per title).
Anyway …

The British label Jasmine issued a number of worthy country releases:

Billy WalkerWell, Hello There – The Country Chart Hits and More 1954-1962. The album features most of Billy’s biggest Columbia hits in decent sound.

Johnny CashChange of Address – The Single As and Bs 1958-1962. This release is somewhat redundant as it collects the A&B sides of Cash’s first sixteen Columbia singles. The songs are available elsewhere, but it is nice to have the singles all in one place.

Kitty WellsI Heard The Juke Box Playing. This two CD set features Kitty’s 1950s solo hits plus a bunch of (not readily available) duets with the likes of Roy Acuff, Webb Pierce and Red Foley. While much of this material had been available in the past, it had been allowed to slip out of print so it is nice to have it available again.

The Collins KidsRockin’ and Boppin’. Lorrie and Larry Collins were teenage rockabilly artists backed by the cream of California’s country musicians. Their material has been unavailable for quite a while.

Jasmine isn’t specifically a country label with much of their output being R&B and Rock ‘n Roll, but their country reissues are always welcome. Jasmine also issued an early Homer & Jethro collection from their recordings on King Records, a Lee Hazlewood collection and several mixed artists albums during 2018.

Another British label, Ace Records, usually does a nice job with reissues. Unfortunately, 2018 was a sparse year for country reissues with a Johnny Lee Wills reissue (available only as a digital download) being about it this year.

The British Hux label had a light year as far as country reissues was concerned issuing nothing (that I have been able to find), but they did have a mid-2017 release that slipped my notice last year, a nice Dickey Lee reissue comprised of Dickey’s first two RCA albums from 1971 & 1972 in Never Ending Song Of Love / Ashes Of Love. Dickey Lee was far more successful as a songwriter than as a recording artist, but this pair features four of his hits plus some other songs he wrote including “She Thinks I Still Care”.

The British Humphead label has received criticism for using needle drops but they’ve gotten better at the process and in many cases, theirs are the only available (non-remake) recordings by the artist.

In October Humphead issued the Connie Smith collection My Part of Forever (Vol. 1), comprised of mainly her 1970s recording including tracks recorded for Warner Bros., in the mid-1990s, Sugar Hill in 2011, and rare lost radio performances from the early 1970s. Many of these tracks have been previously unavailable – a real find.

Humphead also had released a three CD Ed Bruce collection and a two CD best of the Kentucky Headhunters collection.

The British BGO label finished its reissue series of Charley Pride’s RCA catalogue with its two CD set consisting of The Best of Charley Pride Volumes 1-3 and Charley Pride’s Greatest Hits VI. At this time virtually everything from Charley Pride’s landmark RCA tenure is now available on CD, either from BGO or from other sources.

BGO also released a two CD set of Charlie McCoy’s first four albums on Monument (The Real McCoy / Charlie McCoy / Good Time Charlie / The Fastest Harp In The South). They are good, but rather more harmonica than I care to listen to at one sitting,

Other BGO sets can be found here.

Germany’s Bear Family Records has been the gold standard for reissues; however, this was a rather quiet year on the country side of the business. On the other hand, the one truly significant set released is a doozy. Bear had previously released vinyl and CD boxed sets on the legendary Lefty Frizzell. In October Bear released a greatly expanded twenty CD set titled An Article From Life – The Complete Recordings. The original Bear set was beyond great and if I had unlimited cash reserves I would buy this set which includes the following:

• Every 45, 78, and LP track from Lefty’s entire career. Every unissued session recording
• Newly-discovered demos and non-session recordings
• Newly-researched biography and discography
• Many previously unseen photos from the Frizzell family’s archives
• A new designed 264 page hardcover book!
• Many previously unissued recordings – a total of 12 CDs of music.
• An audio book on 8 CDs with Lefty’s life history, written and read by his brother David.

As for domestic reissues our friend Ken Johnson helps keep the folks at Varese Vintage on the straight and narrow for their country releases. This year Varese only had one country album released which occurred in November, when Varese issued the John Denver collection Leaving On A Jet Plane. This isn’t really country, but Denver was heavily played on country radio., These tracks come from the 1960s when Denver was part of a late edition of the Mitchell Trio and part of the successor group Denver, Boise and Johnson. The collection features John’s first recordings of “Leaving On A Jet Plane”.

Although not really a reissue, Yep Rock released a nice Jim Lauderdale/ Roland White collaboration that had never before been released. We reviewed it in September 2018 here.

Sony Legacy controls the rights to Columbia/CBS, Epic, RCA, Monument and some other labels as well. In May 2018, Sony Legacy released Outlaws & Armadillos: Country’s Roaring ’70s, a nice two CD set of “Outlaw Era” country. The thirty-six song collection is hardly essential but it is a nice introduction to the era, showcasing the obvious artists along with the likes of Marcia Ball, Rodney Crowell, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Willis Alan Ramsey. This label seems to be Willie Nelson’s current label for new material

Omnivore Recordings spent several years releasing the recordings of Buck Owens. In May of this year they released The Complete Capitol Singles: 1967-1970, a two CD set that seems to have completed their coverage of Buck’s peak period. Since then they have issued Country Singer’s Prayer, the never released last Capitol album, and Tom Brumley’s Steelin’ The Show, featuring Buckaroo and Buck Owens tracks on which Tom’s pedal steel was prominently featured. Neither of the latter two albums are essential but the Brumley collection highlights just what a great steel player was Tom Brumley.

Earlier in 2018, Omnivore released a Don Gibson collection featuring most of Don’s hits on Hickory plus some album tracks.

***

I suppose I should again say a few words about the Gusto family of labels. It appears that Gusto still is in the process of redesigning their website, but plenty of product can be found from other on-line vendors or from retail outlets such as Pottery Barn and various truck stops along the Interstates.

As I mentioned previously, with the exception of the numerous gospel recordings made by Porter Wagoner during the last decade of his life, there is little new or original material on the Gusto Family of labels. Essentially, everything Gusto does is a reissue, but they are forever recombining older recordings into new combinations.

Gusto has accumulated the catalogs of King, Starday, Dixie, Federal, Musicor, Step One, Little Darlin’ and various other small independent labels and made available the music of artists that are otherwise largely unavailable. Generally speaking, older material on Gusto’s labels is more likely to be original recordings. This is especially true of bluegrass recordings with artists such as Frank “Hylo” Brown, The Lonesome Pine Fiddlers, Stringbean and Curley Fox being almost exclusive to Gusto.

After 1970, Gusto’s labels tended to be old age homes for over-the-hill country and R&B artists, and the recordings often were remakes of the artists’ hits of earlier days or a mixture of remakes of hits plus covers of other artists’ hits. These recordings range from inspired to tired and the value of the CDs can be excellent, from the fabulous boxed sets of Reno & Smiley, Mel Street and The Stanley Brothers, to wastes of plastic and oxides with numerous short eight and ten song collections.

To be fair, some of these eight and ten song collections can be worth having, if they represent the only recordings you can find by a particular artist you favor. Just looking at the letter “A” you can find the following: Roy Acuff, Bill Anderson, Lynn Anderson, Eddy Arnold, Leon Ashley, Ernie Ashworth, Chet Atkins and Gene Autry. If you have a favorite first or second tier country artist of the 1960s or 1970s, there is a good chance that Gusto has an album (or at least some tracks) on that artist.

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Album Review: Moe Bandy – ”I’m Sorry For You, My Friend’

1977 saw the release of another solidly traditional honky tonk album for Moe. The title track, the album’s sole single, was a faithful Hank Williams cover with a very authentic steel-laced arrangement, which was a top 10 hit for Moe. The song offers sympathy and fellow-feeling to a friend with marital woes.

A notable inclusion is what I believe is the first recorded version of ‘Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind’, later one of George Strait’s biggest hits. It was written by Sanger D Shafer, a regular writer for Moe, and his wife Darlene Shafer. Moe’s version is fine in its own terms – a great traditional honky tonk ballad, and one is left wondering if it might have been a major hit single for him, but Strait fans are likely to prefer that more familiar version.

Sanger Shafer also co-wrote one song with Moe, the closing ‘She’s Everybody’s Woman, I’m Nobody’s Man’, which could easily have been a hit. It is about a former cheater obsessing after the tables have been turned:

As I watch her at the bar with all those men around
I know before closing time one or two won’t be turned down

Once she thought I was the only man
But when I cheated every night
It made her understand
That she don’t have to live a life
Of staying home alone

I’m starving for her love
But she’s got more than she can stand
I’m watching my world melt like castles in the sand
She’s everybody’s woman and I’m nobody’s man

‘She’s An Angel’ is on much the same theme, with an added side of self-delusion, written by Harlan Howard and Lola Jean Dillon. Here Moe insists “she’s a good girl, overacting”.

‘A Four Letter Fool’ is another fine song, with some pretty Spanish guitar, and a regretful lyric about a man who has thrown away domestic happiness in favour of “a few forbidden pleasures”.

‘So Much For You, So Much For Me’, an anguished look at the division of spoils following a divorce, is a cover of a Liz Anderson single from the 60s. Bill Anderson and Mary Lou Turner write ‘All The Beer And All My Friends Are Gone’, in which the protagonist finally has to face the cold hard truth about his broken heart. ‘Someone That I Can Forget’ is a sad ballad previously recorded by Jim Ed Brown, loaded with steel guitar.

‘The Lady From The Country Of Eleven Hundred Springs’ is a bouncy up-tempo number about a woman who can outdrink the protagonist and his purse. Moe turns his attention to the rampant hyper-inflation which plagued the 70s in ‘High Inflation Blues’, in a Jimmie Rodgers style country blues, complete with yodel:

It could drive a man to drinkin’
But I can’t afford the booze
I got those heart breakin’, escalatin’, high inflation blues

The cost of livin’ keeps goin’ up
And taxes ain’t goin’ down
I’m just treadin’ water and trying not to drown
Mr Carter I know you’re up there
And I sure could use a hand
So won’t you please have mercy on
The common working man

This is an excellent album. It is not readily available as such, but the tracks can be found on iTunes (in the relatively poorer quality reproduction noted previously).

Grade: A+

Album Review: Conway Twitty Sings

Conway Twitty’s first country album was released by Decca in 1966. It shared its title with his first rock-and-roll album that had come out seven years earlier. Unlike other rock-and-roll artists like Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, none of Conway’s rock records had crossed over to the country charts. Although he had grown up listening to country and professed that it was his first musical love, he was initially viewed by many in the country music community with skepticism and suspicion. Later in his career he would introduce influences from pop and R&B into his music, but at this early stage he and producer Owen Bradley bent over backwards to establish his country credibility. This is a hardcore, steel guitar drenched country album from start to finish, that largely eschews the Nashville Sound trappings that were prevalent in the 60s. The vocal choruses are kept to a minimum. Stylistically, the album reminds me of the music that Connie Smith and Charley Pride were making at the time over at RCA.

Conway Twitty Sings contains Conway’s first charted country hit, “Guess My Eyes Were Bigger Than My Heart”, written by Liz Anderson. A mid tempo number with a rich melody and plenty of pedal steel, this would probably have been a bigger hit had it been released a few years later. It charted at a modest #18, but that was enough to give Conway a toehold on the country market. There were no further singles released from the album and it would be another two years and five more singles before Conway reached the Top 20 again (with 1968’s “The Image of Me”, which would peak at #5).

The rest of the album follows the standard 1960s practice of covering other artists’ recent hits. The Gordon Lightfoot-penned “Ribbon of Darkness” had been a #1 hit a year earlier for Marty Robbins — and would be a hit again in 1969 for Connie Smith. Twitty’s version is too reminiscent of the original Robbins recording; even some of Conway’s enunciations sound like he was channeling Marty. I was a little disappointed in this one; nor did I care for his take on the Johnny Horton (and 20 years later, Dwight Yoakam) hit “Honky Tonk Man”. One would think that this rockabilly number — the only one of its kind on the album — would be tailor-made for Conway Twitty, but this version just doesn’t work.

The rest of the album, however, is stellar and his versions of these songs are all at least equal to the original artists’ renditions — from the Curly Putman-penned Porter Wagoner hit “Green, Green Grass of Home” and Bill Anderson’s “Tip of My Fingers” to “Truck Driven’ Man” which had been a hit for Terry Fell in 1954. A young Buck Owens had sung harmony on the Fell recording and Buck later went on to record “Together Forever”, which Conway also covers on this album.

My favorite track is the country weeper “I’ll Have Another Cup of Coffee (Then I’ll Go)”, in which the protagonist is trying to prolong a visit with his soon to be ex-wife and children. I wasn’t previously familiar with the one but it was a Top 5 hit for Claude Gray in 1961.

Conway Twitty Sings is not one Twitty’s best remembered works, nor is it essential listening. It provides only a glimpse of what Conway would go on to become, but the material is exceptionally strong and it’s always interesting to look back at a legend at the very beginning of his or her career. It is available on a 2-for-1 CD along with his next Decca LP Look Into My Teardrops. These sound like needle-drop recordings; the original masters may have been destroyed in the infamous Universal fire, but the sound quality, while not stellar, is quite adequate.

Grade: A

Album Review: Lisa McHugh – ‘Wildfire’

Unlike Robert Mizzell, with whom I had some familiarity, Lisa McHugh was totally unknown to me. Wildfire is her third studio album, released in September 2015 on the Sharpe label. Because my purchase was via digital download, the album came with no information beyond the song titles and timings.

Like most country albums from outside the USA, there are a large number of covers of US hits, but why not? Many of the songs are new to their target audiences and those that aren’t new are crowd favorites.

I am surprised that neither of the two earlier reviews mentioned how similar in tone and timbre Ms. McHugh’s voice is to Dolly Parton, especially on certain songs. Obviously, Lisa does not have Dolly’s East Tennessee accent.

The album opens with “Mean”, a Taylor Swift composition. McHugh’s version has a very bluegrass feel to it with banjo and fiddle dominating the mix with some mandolin thrown in. McHugh is very much a superior vocalist to Swift, so I actually enjoyed the song.

Someday I’ll be living in a big old city
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean
Someday I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean
Why you gotta be so mean?

“Bring On the Good Times” is an upbeat, uptempo song with a sing-along quality to it. I’m not entirely sure about the instrumentation but there are portions with either a subdued brass section, or else synthesizers mimicking brass. This song has a 1990s country feel to it, and appears to have become a line dancing favorite.

Next up is “Never Alone”, a piano oriented slow ballad that is a cover of a 2007 Jim Brickman single that featured Lady Antebellum:

May your tears come from laughing
You find friends worth having
With every year passing
They mean more than gold
May you win but stay humble
Smile more than grumble
And know when you stumble
You’re never alone

“57′ Chevrolet” is one of the better known songs of the late great Billie Jo Spears, an artist who was underappreciated in her native USA but was venerated in the UK and Ireland. This is a very nice update of Billie Jo’s 1978 classic, a song numerous Irish artists have covered.

Come and look at this old faded photograph.
Honey, tell me what it brings to mind.
It’s a picture of that ’57 Chevrolet.
I wish that we could ride it one more time.

I still get excited when I think about,
The drive-in picture shows you took me to.
But I don’t recall a lot about the movie stars:
Mostly that old Chevrolet and you

[chorus]
They don’t make cars like they used to.
I wish we still had it today.
The love we first tasted,
The good love we’re still living:

We owe it to that old ’57 Chevrolet.
Remember when we used to park it in the lane,
And listen to the country radio?
We’d hold on to each other while the singer sang,
And we’d stay like that ’til it was time to go

“Wrong Night” was written by Josh Leo and Rick Bowles and was a 1999 single for Reba McEntire. The song reached #6 for Reba:

Suddenly I heard love songs.
Playing real soft on the jukebox.
Somebody ordered up moonlight.
And painted stars all across the sky.
Is it gravity or destiny.
Either way there’s nothing I can do.
Looks like I picked the wrong night.
Not to fall in love with you.

Lisa’s vocal resemblance to Dolly is very pronounced on both “Wrong Night” and the next song “Blue Smoke”, a Dolly Parton song from 2012. This song is given the full bluegrass treatment. I very much like this track.

Blue smoke climbin’ up the mountain
Blue smoke windin’ round the bend
Blue smoke is the name of the heartbreak train
That I am ridin’ in

“Dance With the One” was written by Sam Hogin and Gretchen Peters and featured on Shania Twain’s first major label release for Mercury back in 1993 (before Mutt Lange). When I first heard the song, I thought it would be Shania’s breakthrough song – it wasn’t topping out at #55. Lisa does a nice job with the song.

Well he shines like a penny in a little kid’s hand
When he’s out on a Saturday night
He’s a real go-getter and the best two-stepper you’ll see
But when I’m sittin’ alone at a table for two
Cause he’s already out on the floor
I think about somethin’ that my mama used to say to me

You got to dance with the one that brought you
Stay with the one that want’s you
The one who’s gonna love you when all of the others go home
Don’t let the green grass fool you
Don’t let the moon get to you
Dance with the one that brought you and you can’t go wrong

“Favourite Boyfriend of the Year” comes from the song-bag of the McClymonts, a very attractive Australian sister trio. The McClymont version was a little sassier than McHugh’s version, but she does a fine job with this up-tempo romp. I would have liked Lisa’s voice to be a little more up front in the mix. Again, this sounds like 1990s country to my ears.

I’m a little fussy
But I got a little lucky
When the boss from the corner store
He took me out to dinner
And the waiter was a winner
And the boss he was out the door
You’re the one who’s caught my eye
This could be something worth your while

Hey it’s not a waste of time
You’re maybe one of many but you will never
Be the last in line
Hey I’m really glad you’re here cuz you’re one
Of my favourite boyfriends of the year

Nathan Carter (the next artist up in our spotlight) is featured on “You Can’t Make Old Friends”, a quiet ballad that was a Kenny Rogers-Dolly Parton duet back in 2013. While Lisa sounds a lot like Dolly, Nathan does not remind me of Kenny Rogers, although he is a fine singer. Anyway the voices blend nicely.

What will I do when you are gone?
Who’s gonna tell me the truth?
Who’s gonna finish the stories I start
The way you always do?

When somebody knocks at the door
Someone new walks in
I will smile and shake their hands,
But you can’t make old friends

You can’t make old friends
Can’t make old friends
It was me and you, since way back when
But you can’t make old friends

Carly Pearce currently has a song on the radio titled “Every Little Thing” but this is NOT that song. The song Lisa McHugh tackles here is the up-tempo #3 Carlene Carter hit from 1993. Lisa’s voice does not have the power of Carlene’s voice (the daughter of country legends June Carter and Carl Smith should have very substantial pipes) but she does an effective job with the song:

I hear songs on the radio
They might be fast or they might be slow
But every song they play’s got me thinkin’ ’bout you
I see a fella walkin’ down the street
He looks at me and he smiles real sweet
But he don’t matter to me
‘Cause I’m thinkin’ ’bout you

Every little dream I dream about you
Every little thought I think about you
Drives me crazy when you go away
I oughta keep you locked up at home
And like a wild horse I want to break you
I love you so much I hate you
Every little thing reminds me of you
Honey when you leave me here all alone

“The Banks of the Ohio” is an old warhorse, a murder ballad that has been covered by everyone from Ernest Stoneman, The Monroe Brothers and Charley Pride to Olivia Newton-John. Lisa gives this song a very slow folk-Celtic treatment after a spoken narrative. It is very nice and does not sound very similar to any other version I recall hearing.

Lisa gives “Livin’ In These Troubled Times” a Celtic/bluegrass touch with accordion, mandolin taking it at a somewhat faster clip than Crystal Gayle did in her 1983 top ten recording of this song, written by Sam Hogin, Roger Cook and Philip Donnelly. It’s probably heresy to say I like Lisa’s version better than the original, but in fact I do.

It takes all the faith that’s in you
Takes your heart and it takes mine
It takes love to be forgiven
Living in these troubled times

When it rains on the range
And it snows in the Spring
You’re reminded again
It’s just a march of the dying
Living in these troubled times

When I saw the song list for the album, I wondered whether this was the Michael Martin Murphey classic about a horse or the Mac Wiseman bluegrass romp or even possibly the Demi Lovato song from a few years back. As it turns out this “Wildfire” is an entirely different song, by someone named John Mayer. It’s taken at a very fast tempo and given a quasi-bluegrass arrangement.

Don’t get up just to get another
You can drink from mine
We can’t leave each other
We can dance with the dead
You can rest your head
On my shoulder if you want to
Get older with me
‘Cause a little bit of summer makes a lot of history

And you look fine, fine, fine
Put your feet up next to mine
We can watch that water line
Get higher and higher
Say, say, say
Ain’t it been some kind of day
You and me been catchin’ on
Like a wildfire

I got a rock from the river in my medicine bag
Magpie feather in his medicine bag

Say, say, say
Ain’t it been some kind of day
You and me been catchin’ on
Like a wildfire

“Thinking Out Loud” comes from the pen of Ed Sheeran. I don’t know anything about Sheeran (or John Mayer, for that matter) except that my stepson says both are good singers. This is a nice song, a slow ballad nicely sung but I don’t like the instrumentation which strikes me as smooth jazz or cocktail lounge R&B

When your legs don’t work like they used to before
And I can’t sweep you off of your feet
Will your mouth still remember the taste of my love
Will your eyes still smile from your cheeks
And darling I will be loving you ’til we’re 70
And baby my heart could still fall as hard at 23
And I’m thinking ’bout how people fall in love in mysterious ways
Maybe just the touch of a hand
Oh me I fall in love with you every single day
And I just wanna tell you I am

So honey now
Take me into your loving arms
Kiss me under the light of a thousand stars
Place your head on my beating heart
I’m thinking out loud
Maybe we found love right where we are

I’m not a huge Dolly Parton fan so I thought that I would find Lisa’s vocal resemblance to Dolly Parton off putting. I should note that the Parton resemblance only shows up on some songs – on other songs she reminds me of Liz Anderson (mother of Lynn Anderson and a fine songwriter). I’ve listened to this album constantly for the last two days and find that I really like it. With the exception of the last song, the instrumentation is solidly country and while the focus is on faster songs, Lisa varies the tempos sufficiently to keep it interesting and sticks within her vocal range.

With the possible exception of “Bring On the Good Times” for which I could not find any information, all of the songs are covers of earlier recordings. That does not bother me in the least as I’ve always preferred a cover of a great song, than a recording of an unworthy new song.

I’d give this album an “A” – with a better arrangement on the the last song, I’d be tempted to give it an “A+”

Album Review: Tammy Wynette – ‘Stand By Your Man’

51-kr28ttwl-_ss500Tammy Wynette’s fifth album is somewhat of a departure from her earlier efforts in that it relies much less on cover material made famous by other artists and also shows her beginning to develop as a songwriter. The highlight, of course, is the title track, which is her undisputed greatest moment on record and as well as her biggest commercial achievement. “Stand By Your Man” was written in about fifteen minutes when producer Billy Sherrill invited Tammy to help him finish a song that he’d started writing. Tammy had deep reservations about the final product, as well as her ability to hit the high notes at the end. When her then-husband George Jones also did not care for the song, she wanted to pass on it but Sherrill ultimately persuaded her to record it. “Stand By Your Man” was recorded on August 28, 1968 and released shortly thereafter. It topped the country chart for the week of November 23, 1968 and remained there for three weeks. It also became a Top 20 pop hit and made Tammy Wynette a household name both at home and abroad.

Stand By Your Man the album was released in early 1969. There were no singles released from it aside from the title track; it was probably selling well enough without the need for any additional hits to support it. However, the other songs, though not well remembered today, are all quite enjoyable. “I Stayed Long Enough” had been the B-side of “Stand By Your Man” and is one of the few songs that Wynette wrote all by herself. She puts in a strong vocal performance, supported by plenty of steel guitar and not as much of Sherill’s “country cocktail” production that would prevail on most of her later records. It was covered by Billie Jo Spears in 1970 and was a minor hit for her.

Divorce and the toll it takes on children is a recurring theme in Wynette’s catalog. The trend begun with “I Don’t Wanna Play House” and “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” is well represented here from the Liz Anderson/Dick Land tune “Cry, Cry Again” which finds Tammy begging her estranged husband to come home for the sake of their daughter to “Joey”, written by Tammy’s ex-husband Don Chapel, in which the title character laments that “all the other kids he knows have daddies every day.” “Don’t Make Me Go To School” similarly deals with a young girl who feels out of place because her classmates all have two full-time parents.

“It’s My Way” is the album’s only remake, having originally been a hit for Webb Pierce in 1957. Sherrill’s use of a double-tracked vocal is reminiscent of “Apartment No. 9” from a few years earlier.

Two bonus tracks were added to the album when it was finally reissued on CD in the late 1990s or early 2000s. Neither is particularly exciting. “I’m Only a Woman” is noteworthy only because it was written by Dottie West. “There’s Quite a Difference” is a filler track in which Tammy warns a wandering husband not to choose his bit on the side over his wife and family.

It could certainly be argued that Stand By Your Man contains nothing essential aside from its title track; however, I would counter argue that the remaining songs, while not regarded as classics today, are all well done and allow the listener to enjoy Tammy at her vocal peak.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Tammy Wynette – ‘Take Me To Your World/I Don’t Wanna Play House’

take-me-to-your-worldReleased in January 1968, Take Me To Your World/ I Don’t Wanna Play House, was Tammy’s second solo album and represented another step forward in Tammy Wynette’s career, rising to #3 on the Country Albums chart. Not only that, but the two singles released from the album both rose to #1 giving Tammy her first two solo #1 records and her third overall #1 (her duet of “My Elusive Dreams” with David Houston reached #1 in 1967).

For me, the apogee of female country singers was reached in the late 1960s and early 1970s. While female singers may have achieved better chart penetration later, qualitative the major label crop of female singers was abundant and excellent with the likes of Connie Smith, Wilma Burgess, Kitty Wells, Loretta Lynn, Jean Shepard, Dottie West, Skeeter Davis, Lynn Anderson, Liz Anderson, Norma Jean, Rose Maddox, Jeanie Seely, Jeannie C Riley, Barbara Mandrell and Wanda Jackson being among the competition. There also were a host of second-tier artists on the major labels and many female artists on minor and independent labels. Within a few years the likes of Tanya Tucker and Barbara Fairchild would appear on the scene. The ghost of Patsy Cline was also on the scene.

While Tammy Wynette did not have the sheer vocal power of a Jean Shepard or Loretta Lynn, she did have the advantage of a record producer who was perfectly able to overcome Tammy’s vocal limitations and devise accompaniments to perfectly frame the essential teardrop in Tammy’s voice, and to write (when necessary) to showcase the voice and the production.

(As an aside, when I refer to the term “Nashville Sound”, I am referring to recordings where steel guitars and fiddles are accompanied (or sometimes replaced) by symphonic arrangements and choral accompaniments. The chief architects of this style were Chet Atkins at RCA, Owen Bradley at Decca, and Billy Sherrill at Epic. In Sherrill’s hands the arrangements were sometimes referred to as ‘country cocktails’. The style was very effective in covering up a singer’s lack of range, particularly in the higher registers.)

The album opens with “I Don’t Wanna Play House” a Billy Sherrill-Glen Sutton composition that won the 1968 Grammy for Best Female Country Performance. In the song, the narrator, a woman whose husband has left her, hears her daughter tell a neighbor boy that she doesn’t want to play house and the reason why she doesn’t want to play. This is a very compelling song:

Today I sat alone at the window
And I watched our little girl outside at play
With the little boy next door like so many times before
But something didn’t seem quite right today

So I went outside to see what they were doing
And then the teardrops made my eyes grow dim
‘Cause I heard him name a game and I hung my head in shame
When I heard our little girl say to him.

I don’t want to play house; I know it can’t be fun
I’ve watched mommy and daddy
And if that’s the way it’s done
I don’t want to play house; It makes my mommy cry
‘Cause when she played house
My daddy said good-bye.

Next up is “Jackson Ain’t A Very Big Town”, a minor hit for Norma Jean in 1967. Tammy does as nice job with the song.

“Broadminded” comes from the pen of Leona Williams and Jimmy Payne. At some point Leona would become one of Merle Haggard’s wives and would have some success on the country charts, although never as much as her talent would have warranted. The Leona Williams version of the songs is far superior to Tammy’s rendition, but if you’ve not heard Leona’s version you will likely like Tammy’s recording. At this point in her career Tammy really hadn’t become quite assertive enough to give this sassy up-tempo song the proper reading.

Broadminded, narrow minded man
Every night I catch you sleepin’ with a smile on your face
And a-callin’ names that I don’t even know
If it ain’t Carmel, Pat and Gracie
Aand drinkin’ down at Stacey’s
It’s making plans to see a girly show

Broadminded, I just don’t understand
A broadminded, narrow minded man

“Cry” was a big 1950s hit for male pop singer Johnnie Ray. Tammy gives it a straight ahead reading, but the song works better in the hands of someone with a bigger voice – both Lynn Anderson (#3 in 1972) and Crystal Gayle (#1 in 1986) would have big hits with the song in the upcoming years.

“The Phone Call”, written by Norris “Norro” Wilson, is just album filler, a phone call between a daughter and her mother, telling her mother her tale of woe about a man who mistreated her.

“Take Me To Your World”, a Glen Sutton-Billy Sherrill collaboration, is given the full Nashville Sound treatment by Sherrill. The song is an outstanding effort and showcases Tammy vocals perfectly.

If you can find it in your heart to just forgive
I’ll come back and live the way you’ve wanted me to live
All I want is just to be your girl
Please come and get me, and take me to your world

Take me to your world, away from bar rooms filled with smoke
Where I won’t have to serve a drink, or hear a dirty joke
All I want is just to be your girl

“(Or) Is It Love” was written by Buddy Ray. It too, is given the full Nashville Sound treatment, turning a piece of filler into a worthwhile effort. Harry Mills’ “Fuzzy Wuzzy Ego” is a song about a woman essentially talking her man off the ledge and into returning home. The production on this song is very country, including use of a dobro.

With one elbow on the bar you’re drinking double
Tryin’ hard to drown up my memories
And you’re tellin’ all your buddies all your troubles
Layin’ the blame smack upon me.

If you set that bottle down and while I listen
You lose your pain inside that hurts you so
Neither one of us is all to blame baby
It’s your foggy woggy, wishy washy, fuzzy wuzzy ego.

My vinyl album contains “It’s My Way” a song credited to Wayne Walker and Webb Pierce. It is a good song, but it does not appear on my digital version of the album.

Glen Sutton’s “Good” would have made a good single, a tale of a woman torn between good and bad, who simply cannot keep herself in line. The production is subdued Nashville Sound.

Now I’m back here in a barroom,
A waitress again.
The good world I’ve lived in,
Just came to an end.

For temptation comes easy
To a woman like me.
And regardless of my chances,
I know that I’ll never be.

Good like I used to be;
I guess it’s just not in me.
With all my heart how I wish I proved
I’ve been good like he wanted me.

“Ode To Billy Joe” is a cover of the Bobbie Gentry hit from a few years earlier. Tammy gives the song a satisfactory rendition, but she does not have the soulful Gothic feel of Gentry’s original.

“Soaking Wet” is the bonus track on my digital copy of the album, a straight ahead country treatment devoid of Nashville Sound trappings. I have no other information concerning this song.

At this point in Tammy’s career she and Billy Sherrill were still looking for that magic formula that would turn Tammy into a full-fledged star. Consequently this album features songs with the full Nashville Sound treatment, some songs with scaled back Nashville Sound treatments and a few straight ahead country arrangements.

While Tammy and Billy were still experimenting here, the very next album would answer all the questions and set the trajectory for subsequent albums.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Waylon Jennings – ‘Waylon’

Waylon_waylonWaylon Jennings began the 1970s with the self-titled Waylon. Nashville Brass founder Danny Davis joined Chet Atkins, Jennings sole producer until that time, to co-produce the project.

Waylon is best remembered for its only single, a spirited cover of Chuck Berry’s “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” that quickly rose to #3. Another significant track is Mickey Newbury’s “The Thirty-Third of August,” a dated and dreary ballad. The track was an early cut for the Texan, who would go on to key prominence in the Outlaw Movement and even be elected to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

The jaunty harmonica drenched “Yellow Haired Woman” gave Jennings his sole writing credit on Waylon. Jennings co-wrote the tune, about his third wife Barbara Hood, with Red Lane. Lane solely contributed “Just Across The Way,” a schmaltzy ballad about a man, his lover, and the geographical distance that keeps them apart.

Jennings featured a heavily pop leaning version of Liz Anderson’s “Yes, Virginia” on his 1967 album The One and Only. An alternate take on the tune was featured here three years later. The confessional lyric is far better suited to the guitar-heavy production, which puts the man’s transgressions front and center.

“I May Never Pass This Way Again” is a cautionary tale written by Ray Buzzeo. The lyric focuses on a man’s warnings to a ‘little girl’ not to throw her virginity at him for the taking. Jennings’ commanding baritone only haunts the already creepy proceedings.

Another tale with a warning label is George Pollock’s “Don’t Play The Game.” Jennings is a man burned by a woman who doesn’t love him back. He has to learn the hard way that ‘if you don’t like the rules, don’t play the game.’

The heartache continues on “Shutting Out The Light,” which finds Jennings so fed up with his lady’s cool response that he puts an end to the relationship. The Nashville Sound signifiers, namely the background singers, date the recording significantly after forty-five years.

“This Time Tomorrow (I’ll Be Gone)” has Jennings in the role of a man realizing the woman he married is just like all the rest. He gives a mournful vocal on the tune about a man’s decision to leave town as a result of his enlightenment.

Waylon features two tracks that stand above the rest. Jim Owens’ “Where Love has Died” is an excellent ballad about a man trapped in a dead end marriage. The other highlight rests on a happier note as Anita Carter joins Jennings on Merle Haggard’s “All of Me Belongs To You.” Carter’s spirited vocal helps the delightful duet shine.

Jennings’ twelfth recording is a very, very good collection of ballads concerning various states of relationships as they reach their end. It’s a project that’s well worth seeking out, especially if you’re unfamiliar with this era of Jennings’ career.

Grade: A-

Reissues wish list: part 3 – RCA and Columbia

carl smithWhen speaking of the big four labels we need to define terms
Columbia refers to records originally issued on Columbia, Epic, Harmony or Okeh labels. Okeh was used for so-called minority interest recordings. Columbia also owned Vocalion for a while. RCA refers to recordings on the RCA Victor and RCA Camden labels.

RCA

In addition to folks such as Chet Atkins, Jim Reeves, Dolly Parton, Eddy Arnold, Connie Smith and Charley Pride, RCA had a fine group of second tier artists including Kenny Price, Porter Wagoner, Jim Ed Brown, Stu Phillips, Nat Stuckey, Jimmy Dean, Norma Jean, Skeeter Davis, Dottie West, Bobby Bare, The Browns and Jerry Reed.

Bear Family has released multiple boxed sets on several RCA artists including Connie Smith, Don Gibson, Waylon Jennings and Hank Snow who have multiple boxed sets (essentially everything Hank Snow recorded while on RCA – forty plus years worth of recordings is available on Bear). Enough Waylon has been released that what remains doesn’t justify a wish list.

What is really needed is for someone to issue decent sets on Kenny Price, Jim Ed Brown (without his sisters or Helen Cornelius), Norma Jean, Dottsy, Liz Anderson and Earl Thomas Conley. There is virtually nothing on any of these artists. Jimmy Dean recorded for RCA for about six years but nothing is available from his RCA years which saw some really fine recordings, including the best version of “A Thing Called Love“.

I would have said the same thing about Charley Pride but recent years have seen various Charley Pride sets become available, so we can take him off our wish list.

COLUMBIA RECORDS

When you think of Columbia Records, names such as Johnny Cash, Ray Price, Carl Smith, Stonewall Jackson, Flatt & Scruggs and Marty Robbins spring immediately to mind, but the well is deep and that doesn’t even count sister label Epic which boasted names like David Houston, Tammy Wynette, Charlie Rich, Jody Miller, Johnny Paycheck and Bob Luman.

By and large foreign and domestic reissues abound for most of the bigger names, but even here there are some major shortfalls.

Carl Smith recorded for Columbia through the early 1970s and while his 1950s output has been thoroughly mined, his sixties output has barely been touched and his seventies output (“Mama Bear”, “Don’t Say Goodbye”) completely neglected. Smith’s recordings increasingly veered toward western swing as the sixties wore on, but he recorded a fine bluegrass album, and a tribute to fellow East Tennessean Roy Acuff. His outstanding Twenty Years of Hits (1952-1972) recast twenty of his classic tunes as western swing. A good three CD set seems in order.

I could make a good case for electing David Houston to the Country Music Hall of Fame. From 1966 he had thirteen #1 hits and a bunch more top ten and top twenty recordings. “Almost Persuaded” was his biggest hit but there were bunches of good songs scattered across his many albums. A good two CD set is a must, and I could easily justify a three CD set.

While Sony Legacy issued a decent Johnny Paycheck single disc hits collection, it is long on the later stages of his career and short on the earliest years. Paycheck released over thirty singles for Epic from 1972–1982 and it’s about time someone collected them on a good two (or preferably three) disc collection along with some key album cuts.

Moe Bandy achieved his greatest commercial success while recording for Columbia. Between chart singles and album cuts Moe warrants at least a decent two CD set, and please leave the ‘Moe & Joe’ nonsense out of the mix.

Columbia has a lot of artists that would justify a single or double disc hits collection: David Wills, Al Dexter, Ted Daffan, David Rodgers, Connie Smith, Carl & Pearl Butler, Tommy Cash, David Frizzell, Bob Luman, Jody Miller, Barbara Fairchild, Barbara Mandrell, Charlie Walker and Sammi Smith.

Classic Rewind: Liz Anderson and Roy Drusky – ‘Just Between The Two Of Us’

Classic Rewind – Brenda Lee – ‘Too Many Rivers’

One of Lee’s many classics, she recorded “Too Many Rivers” with Owen Bradley for Columbia Records in Jan 1964. The B Side of her single “No One,” radio favored this Harlan Howard penned tune to the official single and played it instead.  Lee would have a #13 peaking it with the tune. The Forester Sisters would take the tune up the charts again 22 years later where it would peak at #5.  Many other versions from the likes of Claude Gray, Eddy Arnold, Liz Anderson, Jean Shepherd, and a host of others exist as well.

Album Review: Lorrie Morgan – ‘Classics’

classicsJust like her current tourmate and last month’s Spotlight Artist, Pam Tillis, Lorrie Morgan had recorded a number of sides for Hickory Records before her rise to fame, and saw those early recordings cynically re-released in an attempt to capitalize. Licenced to Curb and packaged as the optimistically titled Classics in 1991, the music shows Lorrie could definitely sing beautifully (perhaps a little too sugar-sweet at times on the ballads), but shows little artistic individuality, with the music typical of the pop-country of the latest 70s and early 80s.

‘The First Few Days Of Love’ is a mellow ballad written by Sanger D Shafer and Eddy Raven and smothered in strings. It’s a little sleepy, and now sounds very dated, but Lorrie sings it well. Along similar lines is ‘In For Rain’, although that one works a little better than the rather boring ‘Let It Be Yesterday’.

The best tracks are all up-tempo. ‘Say The Part About I Love You’ is a beaty up-tempo number with a cynical lyric about a one night stand with a sexy but obviously shady man. The production does sound dated, as is often the case with material with a pop-country influence, but Lorrie’s committed, energetic vocal makes it quite enjoyable.

I also liked the assertive demand to a spouse, ‘Who Do You Know In California’, which like ‘Say The Part About I Love You’, was written by Eddy Raven. The catchy ‘Ain’t Got Time To Rock No Baby’, a withering putdown of a needy and juvenile lover is another winner:

I only meant to love you, not to raise you
I thought you were already grown

Liz Anderson’s ‘Tell Me I’m Only Dreaming’ is not bad, although the dated production hampers it a bit, It charted in the lower reaches of the country charts in 1979.

Only the first seven tracks are on the iTunes version (no doubt a copyright issue). The CD version adds another three fairly forgettable cuts, which I think come from 1984. ‘Don’t Go Changing’ is a bland ballad with strings and choir-style backing vocals which was a flop single; ‘Easy Love’ is equally bland mid-tempo pop-country song; and ‘Someday We’ll Be Together’ is a boring cover of a pop hit for R&B group the Supremes (which Lorrie may have known from the Bill Anderson/Jan Howard country hit version). None is worth tracking down separately.

At this point in her career, Lorrie was showing few signs of star quality, and this compilation is of historical interest only.

Grade: C-

Spotlight Artist: Pam Tillis

pamtillisBeing related to a famous country entertainer can be a mixed blessing. Although the family ties can open doors for the aspiring singer, they can also serve to set unrealistic expectations. Just ask Roy Acuff Jr., Ronnie Robbins (billed as Marty Robbins, Jr.), The Lynns (daughters of Loretta Lynn), Riley Coyle (daughter of Jeannie C. Riley), Pake McEntire (Reba’s brother), Jay Lee Webb (Loretta Lynn’s brother), Peggy Sue (Loretta Lynn’s sister), and Hillman Hall (Tom T. Hall’s brother), each of whom issued an album or two and then disappeared. John Carter Cash has avoided the problem entirely by working behind the scenes.

Then there are those who achieve modest success and carve out respectable careers but never achieve top-drawer status, such as Shelly West (daughter of Dottie West), David Frizzell (brother of Lefty Frizzell), Tommy Cash (brother of Johnny Cash), Carlene Carter (daughter of Carl Smith and June Carter) and Thom Bresh (son of Merle Travis). Jazz guitarist Lenny Breau, son of country stars Hal Lone Pine and Betty Cody, might have fit into this category had he not died young.

True superstar success for those with famous kinfolk is indeed rare. The three biggest that come to mind are Crystal Gayle (Loretta Lynn’s sister), Lynn Anderson (the daughter of songwriter Casey & singer-songwriter Liz Anderson) and Hank Williams Jr. Pulling up behind these three are George Morgan’s daughter Lorrie, Rosanne Cash and this month’s spotlight artist, Pam Tillis.

Pamela Yvonne Tillis was born on July 24, 1957 in Plant City, Florida, the daughter of singer-songwriter-actor-comedian Mel Tillis.

As the daughter of one of the best-known songwriters around, and living in Nashville, Tillis was exposed to the elite of the country music industry even before her father had achieved recording star status. She made her Grand Ole Opry debut at the age of eight in an appearance with her father singing “Tom Dooley.” She grew up wanting to be a performer and tried her hand at songwriting at an early age and also found some work as a background singer. The results of an automobile accident at age 16 derailed her career for a while as several years of reconstructive facial surgery were needed to restore her appearance. Following her surgeries, Tillis enrolled at the University of Tennessee; then later at Belmont University in Nashville, TN, forming her first band. Since her only real interest was music, she eventually dropped out of college to pursue her own musical career.

Wanting to make it “on her own,” Tillis went to San Francisco where she joined a jazz-rock band Freelight.

After tiring of the San Francisco scene, she returned to Nashville and found work as a demo singer. She signed with Warner Brothers. in 1982, where she took a shot at pop success. Her sole album for Warner Brothers was Above and Beyond The Doll of Cutey. During the period between 1983 and ’87, Warner Brothers would issue at least eight singles on Tillis, five of which charted on Billboard’s Country chart, although none made the Top 50–not surprising since they were not being marketed as country singles. Unreleased were early versions of several of her later hits, which were released after she achieved success.

During this period, Tillis signed on as a staff songwriter with Tree Publishing in Nashville, where she shifted her focus to contemporary country music and achieved much success as a songwriter, with artists as diverse as Chaka Khan, Martina McBride, Gloria Gaynor, Conway Twitty, Holly Dunn, Juice Newton, Sweethearts of the Rodeo, Dan Seals, and Highway 101 recording her songs.

Her visibility was greatly improved when she started making regular appearances on shows aired on the late lamented Nashville Network, especially on Nashville Now, a nightly variety show hosted by Ralph Emery. By 1991 she had signed with Arista Records, where her career took off. For part of this period (until 1998) she was married to fellow songwriter Bob DiPiero.

The Arista years saw Tillis emerge as a steady and reliable hit-maker as the following list demonstrates:

•“Don’t Tell Me What To Do” / “Melancholy Child” – #5 (1990)

•“One Of Those Things” / “Already Fallen – #6 (1991)

•“Put Yourself In My Place” / “I’ve Seen Enough To Know” – #11 (1991)

•“Maybe It Was Memphis” / “Draggin’ My Chains” – #3 (1991)

•“Blue Rose Is” / “Ancient History” – #21 (1992)

•“Shake The Sugar Tree” / “Maybe It Was Memphis” #3 (1992)

•“Let That Pony Run” / “Fine Fine Very Fine Love” – #4 (1992)

•“Cleopatra Queen Of Denial” / “Homeward Looking Angel” – #11 (1993)

•“Do You Know Where Your Man Is” / “We’ve Tried Everything Else” – #16 (1993)

•“Spilled Perfume” / “Till All The Lonely’s Gone” – #5 (1994)

•“When You Walk In The Room” / “Till All The Lonely’s Gone” – #2 (1994)

•“Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life)” / “Ancient History” – #1 (1994)

•“I Was Blown Away” / “Calico Plains” – #16 (1995)

•“In Between Dances” / “They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To” – #3 (1995)

•“Deep Down” / “Tequila Mockingbird” – #6 (1995)

•“River And The Highway” / “All Of This Love” – #8 (1996)

•“It’s Lonely Out There” / “You Can’t Have A Good Time Without Me” – #14 (1996)

•“All The Good Ones Are Gone” / “Land Of The Living” – #4 (1997)

•“I Said A Prayer” / “Lay The Heartache Down” – #12 (1998)

•“Every Time” / “You Put The Lonely On Me” – #38 (1998)

After 1998, the hits started drying up as the next wave of young performers arrived.

Tillis’ Arista albums were generally quite successful, starting with 1991’s Put Yourself In My Place which had three Top 10 hits in lead single, “Don’t Tell Me What to Do,” “One of Those Things” and “Maybe It Was Memphis.” The album ultimately reached gold status.

Her 1992 follow-up Homeward Looking Angel was equally successful, with “Shake the Sugar Tree” and “Let That Pony Run” reaching the Top 5. Homeward Looking Angel reached platinum status. In 1993, she won her first major award: the CMA Awards’ Vocal Event of the Year with George Jones and Friends for “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair.”

In 1994, her third Arista album, Sweetheart’s Dance, was released, reaching #6 on the Billboard’s Country Album chart (her highest placement). Singles “Spilled Perfume” and “When You Walk in the Room” both became Top 5 hits and she had her only #1, “Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life),” helping push the album to platinum status.

Issued in late 1996, All of This Love, became Tillis’ last gold non-compilation album. The only single to reach Top 10 status was “The River and The Highway.” It was the first album she produced on her own.

In 1997, Arista released her first (actually only) Greatest Hits album. The compilation featured two new tracks, both released as singles: “All the Good Ones Are Gone” and “The Land of the Living,” both of which reached the Top 5 in 1997. This collection also went platinum.

After 1997, the country music market shifted, becoming more youth-oriented and less country, with a resultant drop in both chart and sales success for Tillis. Her 1998 album Every Time featured “I Said A Prayer”, which just missed the Top 10 and was her last Top 20 single. Her last Arista album, issued in 2001, Thunder & Roses performed reasonably well on the album chart (both it and Every Time reached #24) but generated no real hit singles.

Since 1998 Pam Tillis has remained active, both in live appearances, occasionally performing with her father Mel, and occasionally recording. She became a Grand Ole Opry member in 2000, which was several years before her father, and had the honor of inducting him into Opry membership. She has tried her hand at acting, both on stage and on television, with considerable success.

She still records occasionally. In 2002 she fulfilled a lifetime dream of recording an album of songs written by or associated with her father. Titled It’s All Relative, the album found Pam ignoring the Mel Tillis template and giving her own interpretation of her father’s material, most notably on “Heart Over Mind”.

She started her own record label, Stellar Cat, and issued her album Rhinestoned under that imprint in 2007. One of the singles from the album, “Band In The Window,” earned considerable acclaim, although the album ultimately yielded no hits.

All told, Pam Tillis had over 30 chart records including 13 Top 10s. In 1994 she was named the Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year. In 1999, she earned a Grammy Award for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals. When CMT did their countdown of the 40 Greatest Women of Country Music in 2002, Tillis ranked at #30. Kevin Coyne of Country Universe ranked her at #35 in his 100 Greatest Women of Country Music countdown in 2008.

Discography

With the exception of the Warner Brothers album, which originally was issued on vinyl and audio cassette, all of Tillis’ subsequent recordings have been released on CD. Most of the titles remain in print, others can be located used with a little bit of effort. Unlike country singers from generations before, the Pam Tillis catalog is fairly shallow with a total of a dozen original studio albums, plus some anthologies (Greatest Hits, Super Hits, Best Of, etc.) and whatever unreleased tracks may be lying around in somebody’s vault. Accordingly, collecting a fairly complete Pam Tillis collection isn’t that difficult, especially since her Warner Brothers debut recently was reissued on CD by Wounded Bird. All of her post-Warner Brothers albums are worthwhile and even her debut album (which I originally purchased on vinyl) has its moments.

The Ernest Tubb Record Shop currently has seven of her albums available as well as several anthologies.

There is a need for a decent two-disc set containing about 40 of her songs. Lately, the German label Bear Family has been issuing some less-than-exhaustive sets. Maybe they will step up to the plate –she’s worth a decent anthology.

Pam Tillis is still actively performing – you can catch  up with her at her website http://www.pamtillis.com/ . She does have some product for sale there as digital downloads including a Christmas album and a duet single (with Kris Thomas)  titled “Two Kings” which is about Elvis Presley and Martin Luther King, Jr. Her long-awaited duet album with Lorrie Morgan comes out later this month.

Classic Rewind: Roy Drusky – ‘(All My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers’

This Liz Anderson song is best known as Merle Haggard’s first top 10 hit, but this rival version was a slightly bigger hit at the time:

Country Heritage: Roy Drusky

I am not sure why this should be true, but the 1960s produced an enormous number of silky-smooth male vocalists. Perhaps it was due to the crossover success of artists such as Eddy Arnold and Jim Reeves. More likely it was the result of the Rock ‘n Roll revolution of the mid-50s wiping out the radio market for classic pop, so that artists who would have aspired to become the next Eddy Howard, Johnny Ray, Julius LaRosa or Frank Sinatra, found themselves looking toward a Nashville that was attempting to broaden its appeal by co-opting the easy listening market.

The end result often was some of the blandest music Nashville ever produced – no fiddle, no steel, pleasant but unmemorable voices and songs played at slow to medium-slow tempos. Most of these pleasant male voices made an album or two and faded from sight. This, not Hank and Lefty and ET, was the music that fueled the outlaw revolt of the mid-1970s.

Still, there were a few of the pleasant crooners who had something to distinguish themselves from the crowd – a little grit in their voice, some soul in their musical interpretations and something that set their voice apart from the crowd. Roy Drusky — the country Perry Como — was one of those few.

A true southerner, Drusky was born on June 22, 1930, in Atlanta, GA. His mother, a church organist, attempted to interest her son in music but like most boys of his era, Drusky’s first love was baseball. It wasn’t until he enlisted in the US Navy in the late 1940s that he shifted his focus to music, although even after leaving the Navy, he first tried out for the Cleveland Indians. In 1951, he put together a country band, the Southern Ranch Boys, who played in the Decatur, GA area. In Decatur, Drusky landed a job as a disc jockey. He continued to perform in local clubs after his band broke up, and on the strength of a 1953 Starday single, “Such a Fool,” he was signed to Columbia Records in 1955. Several singles were issued for Columbia, but now album until 1965 when an album, The Great Roy Drusky Sings,  was released on the budget Harmony label. This album is of interest mostly to fans and collectors of Roy Drusky recordings.

From Georgia, Roy moved to Minneapolis to continue his work in radio. Shortly after arriving, Drusky began headlining at the Flame Club, where he was able to showcase his talent as a singer and a songwriter. His songs came to the attention of Faron Young, who recorded two of Roy’s songs: “Alone With You,” released in 1958, was Young’s biggest Billboard chart hit spending 13 weeks at #1 (oddly, it only reached #2 on Cash Box’s country chart), and “Country Girl,” released in 1959, which also reached #1.

Soon thereafter, Roy moved to Nashville, signed with Decca and worked with legendary producer Owen Bradley. In 1960, a pair of successful ballads, “Another” (#2) and “Anymore” (#3), led to an invitation to join the Grand Ole Opry. That same year, he also released a Top 30 duet with Kitty Wells, “I Can’t Tell My Heart That.”

In 1961, Drusky released the double-sided hit “I’d Rather Loan You Out” (#10)/”Three Hearts in a Tangle (#2)” and also issued his first LP, Anymore With Roy Drusky. The next year, he reached the Top 10 again with “Second Hand Rose” (#3), and after a 1963 switch to Mercury records, the amusing “Peel Me A Nanner” (#10). Drusky continued to chart records, finally achieving that elusive #1 in 1965 with the “Yes, Mr. Peters,” a duet with Priscilla Mitchell (aka Mrs. Jerry Reed). Interestingly enough, in 1965, Roy’s version of the Liz Anderson-penned “Strangers” outperformed Merle Haggard’s version of the same song. Both versions reached the Top 10 (Roy’s reached #6, Hag’s reached #7), even though the song seems tailor-made for Haggard.

Roy Drusky appeared in his first film, White Lightnin’ Express, in 1965 and also sang the feature’s title song. He later appeared in two other films: The Golden Guitar and Forty Acre Feud. Roy also served as a producer for several acts, most notably Brenda Byers.

His recording success faded after 1965. Although he released 11 chart hits between 1966 and 1969, only two (“Where the Blue and Lonely Go” and “Such a Fool”) reached the Top 10. In 1970, he had a brief renaissance with “Long, Long Texas Road” (#5 Billboard/#3 Cash Box /#1 Record World) and “All My Hard Times” (#9). In 1971 he made his last trip to the Top 20 with a cover of Neil Diamond’s “Red, Red, Wine,” which reached #17. After that it was all downhill.

Drusky’s last Mercury album was released in 1973, followed by a pair of albums on Capitol in 1974 and ’75. After that period he recorded for smaller labels, including a stint on Plantation, where he re-recorded his biggest hits. In all, he had 42 charted singles on Billboard’s country charts.

He continued to perform and record, increasingly turning to gospel music in his later years. He also appeared on various country reunion projects. Roy Drusky passed away September 23, 2004 at the age of 74.

Discography

Vinyl

Roy Drusky was never a major star so his output was not quite as prolific as some performers of his generation. He released 18 albums on Mercury (plus 3 hit collections). On Decca there were two albums released, and on Capitol, two more for a total of 22 major label albums. There are also a number of off-label recordings and budget releases on labels such as Vocalion and Hilltop. Since Roy was recording during the era in which albums consisted of one or two hits singles, some covers of other artist’s hits, and some filler, the song titles should tell you whether or not a particular Roy Drusky album will be of interest to you. Please note that Roy’s recordings never went so far ‘uptown’ as to eliminate steel guitar and other country instrumentation. If you like Roy’s voice and the song selections, you will like his albums, especially the ones on Decca and Mercury.

Here are some representative albums:

Songs of The Cities (Mercury, 1964) – Detroit City | Columbus Stockade Blues | Kansas City | El Paso | Abilene | Battle Of New Orleans |Texarkana Baby |St. Louis Blues | Down In The Valley (Birmingham Jail)| I Left My Heart In San Francisco | Chattanooga Shoeshine Boy|Waterloo

In A New Dimension (Mercury, 1966) – Rainbows And Roses |Don’t You Ever Get Tired (Of Hurtin’ Me) | Workin’ My Way Up To The Bottom | You’re My World | Today | I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry | Unless You Make Him Set You Free| Crying Time |Try To Remember |Unchained Melody | World Is Round |You Don’t Know Me

Jody and The Kid (Mercury 1968) – Jody And The Kid | Let’s Put Our World Back Together | By The Time I Get To Phoenix | When The Snow Is On The Roses | Your Little Deeds | You’d Better Sit Down Kids |You’ve Still Got A Place In My Heart | When I Loved Her | Shadows Of Her Mind |Through The Eyes Of Love | Yesterday

A Portrait of Roy Drusky (Mercury, 1969) – Where The Blue And Lonely Go |Little Green Apples | Dreams Of The Everyday Housewife | I’m Gonna Get You Off My Mind |Today I Started Loving You Again | Memphis Morning | Portrait Of Me |I Wouldn’t Be Alone | Set Me Free | Country’s Gone | True And Lasting Kind

Roy was always adept with gospel music and his first Capitol album includes Peaceful Easy Feeling includes nice versions of “One Day At  A Time” and “The Baptism of Jesse Taylor”. The rest of this album is secular music, a little more pop than his Mercury albums, the title track being a recent Eagles hit.

CD

Drusky is very poorly represented in the digital era. Currently only one collection is available: Greatest Hits Volumes 1 & 2. This is a straight reissue of two albums which catch his Mercury hits through 1967 and have a few remakes of earlier Decca hits. This disc was released in 2007 by Collectors Choice Music.

In 1995, Polygram released a collection titled Roy Drusky: Songs of Love and Life. This CD is out of print but can be found with a little effort. It contains 13 songs, including the three later hits “Long, Long Texas Road,” “All My Hard Times” and “Jody and The Kid”–the latter is a nice early recording of a Kristofferson song. Only five of the songs overlap with Greatest Hits Volumes 1 & 2 so this disc is a worthwhile acquisition.

There are some digital downloads available via Amazon.com plus a couple of albums described as CD-R (manufactured upon demand).

Country Heritage Redux: Liz and Lynn Anderson

An updated version of an article previously published by The 9513:

There have been a number of country singers named Anderson who have graced the genre. During the 1960s and 1970s “Whispering” Bill Anderson placed an impressive number of songs on the charts, both as a songwriter and as a performer. John Anderson graced the scene during the 1980s and 1990s, mostly as a performer. Concurrently Pete Anderson served as a musician, songwriter, producer and performer. What this group of Andersons has in common is that none of them are related to each other.

Such is not the case with the subjects of this article. Liz Anderson and her daughter Lynn both had success on the country music charts and as live performers, although Lynn is one of the true superstars of the genre whereas Liz was basically a good journeyman performer. Liz, however, had enormous success as a songwriter. Liz’s husband (and Lynn’s father), Casey Anderson, also was involved in music, working mostly behind the scenes.

Born in 1930 in Roseau, Minnesota, but raised in Grand Forks, North Dakota, Liz married Casey Anderson in 1946 after Casey’s return from military service. The following year their daughter Lynn was born. Eventually the family moved to California where our story begins.

Liz was a relatively late entrant to the music business, not really getting her career in high gear until the early 1960s when she started traveling to Nashville. During this period Liz recorded demos and wrote many songs. Things started rolling in 1961 when Del Reeves recorded “Be Quiet Mind” and reached fifth gear in 1964 when Roy Drusky recorded “Pick of the Week”. In 1965, Merle Haggard recorded her song “All My Friends Are Gonna Be Strangers”, which was to be his first top ten hit, reaching #7 (Roy Drusky also recorded the song – his version reached #6). Liz won a BMI award for this song.

Also during 1965, Chet Atkins signed Liz to a recording deal with RCA. Liz’s first two singles, “Go Now , Pay Later” (#23) and “So Much For Me, So Much For You” (#45) both charted and her third single, “Game of Triangles”, with label-mates Bobby Bare and Norma Jean, became a Top 5 hit. Her next solo release, “The Wife of the Party reached #22 and then in April 1967, Anderson again had a Top 5 Country hit with “Mama Spank”. This was to be Liz’s last top twenty recording, although she continued to chart for a few more years, switching to Epic in 1971. Among Anderson’s other popular recordings were “Tiny Tears” (#24 -1967), “Thanks A Lot For Tryin’ Anyway” (#40 – 1968), her duet with daughter Lynn, “Mother May I (#21 -1968) and “Husband Hunting” (#26 -1970).

Although she would never say so, I believe that Liz’s fall from the top of the charts can be explained in two words: Lynn Anderson. It appears that, starting in 1966, Liz was funneling her best material to her daughter Lynn. Eight of the songs on Lynn’s first album, Ride Ride Ride, were written by Liz (one a co-write with Casey) including three of the four charting singles. Liz also wrote four of the songs on Lynn’s second album, Promises, Promises and five of the songs on Lynn’s third album, Big Girls Don’t Cry.

Although her own hit records were relatively few, Liz Anderson had a significant impact on the country charts as a songwriter. Here are some of the songs she wrote that were recorded by other artists and reached the top forty of Billboard’s Country Charts:

“Strangers” – Merle Haggard (#10) and Roy Drusky (#6) both in 1965
“Be Quiet Mind” – Del Reeves (#9 – 1961) and Ott Stephens (#23 – 1964)
“Big Girls Don’t Cry” – Lynn Anderson (#12 – 1968)
“Flattery Will Get You Everywhere” – Lynn Anderson (#11-1969)
“Guess My Eyes Were Bigger Than My Heart” – Conway Twitty (#18 – 1966)
“I Cried All the Way to the Bank” – Norma Jean (#21-1965)
“(I’m a Lonesome) Fugitive” – Merle Haggard (#1-1967, Hag’s first of 38 Billboard #1s)
This song was a co-write with husband Casey Anderson
“If I Kiss You” – Lynn Anderson (#5-1967)
“Just Between the Two of Us” recorded by Merle Haggard and Bonnie Owens (#28-1964)
“Promises, Promises” – Lynn Anderson (#4 Billboard, #1 Record World – 1968)
“Ride Ride Ride” – Lynn Anderson (#38 – 1966) and Brenda Lee (#37 pop -1966)

LYNN ANDERSON is, of course the better known of this pair. Lynn reached superstar status during the late 1960s and early 1970s. For the decade of the 1970s, Lynn ranks fourth among female singers, behind Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette. Lynn was born in 1947, making her mother Liz just over 17 years old when Lynn was born. Although born in Grand Forks, North Dakota, Casey & Liz moved to California while Lynn was still small. Lynn first became interested in singing around the age of six, but her first Anderson became interested in singing at the young age of six, but she had her first success equestrian activities winning many trophies in and around California including becoming the California Horse Show Queen in 1966. Lynn remains active in equestrian pursuits to this very day, having achieved great success as a rider and breeder.

Being the daughter of two songwriters, Lynn took naturally to performing, landing roles on local television programs, singing background harmony on her mother’s demo recordings and working at KROY Radio in Sacramento. On one of her mother’s trips to Nashville, Lynn traveled with her to Nashville and was allowed to participate in an informal hotel room sing-a-long with various country singers such as Freddie Hart and Merle Haggard, among others. It is reported that Slim Williamson, owner of Chart Records, was present at the informal jam session and invited Lynn to record for Chart, which she did from 1966-1969. While signed to Chart, Lynn came to the attention of Lawrence Welk, who signed her for the 1967-1968 season. While with Welk, Lynn appeared on the television show and toured with the show’s touring company. During 1968, Lynn married Glenn Sutton, a noteworthy songwriter who wrote David Houston’s mega-hit “Almost Persuaded”.

Many people are under the impression that the Lynn Anderson story begins with her million selling hit “Rose Garden” and her Glen Sutton-produced recordings on Columbia. That impression is quite mistaken in that by the time Lynn signed with Columbia in 1970, she had already recorded thirteen charting records, four of which were top ten records with “Promises, Promises” reaching #1 on Record World (#4 Billboard) and “That’s A No No” reaching #1 on Cash Box (#2 Billboard) and another five records reaching the top twenty, not bad for an artist signed to a minor label. During the Chart years, much of Lynn’s material was penned by Liz Anderson. Even after the switch to Columbia, one or two of Liz’s compositions appeared on each of Lynn’s albums except Rose Garden, until near the end of her tenure with Columbia . Although Liz and Lynn were signed to different labels, in 1967 and 1968 Chart had some sort of manufacturing and distribution deal with Chart that enabled the mother-daughter duets.

Lynn’s first single for Columbia was the lively “Stay There Til I Get There” which reached #7, despite Chart issuing a competing single, a cover of Hank Snow’s “I’ve Been Everywhere” that reached #16. Her next single “No Love At All” only reached #15 (it would be a pop hit for BJ Thomas the following year) as it was sandwiched by two more Chart releases “Rocky Top” and “I’m Alright” both of which hit the top twenty. During this period Chart would add trumpets and strings to existing Lynn Anderson tracks before issuing then as singles, apparently to make them sound more like her current Columbia output.

Finally in late 1970, “Rose Garden” was released. A somewhat unusual choice for a single as it seemed to be (1) told from a masculine perspective and (2) was penned by pop/rock songwriter Joe South, this single made it clear to the public which label was providing the current Lynn Anderson as it soared to #1 for five weeks, reaching #4 on the pop charts and selling over a million copies in the process. The record also went to #1 in Canada, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Switzerland, reached #3 in England and went top ten in a number of other countries.

Lynn’s follow up to “Rose Garden” was “You’re My Man” penned by husband Glen Sutton which spent two weeks at #1. While Chart continued to release old material as singles throughout 1971, the only Chart release to reach the top twenty was Lynn’s cover of “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels”. As for the Columbia releases, from “Rose Garden” until the end of 1974, Lynn had an terrific run of success as twelve of thirteen singles made the top ten with five Billboard #1s (“Rose Garden”, “You’re My Man”, “How Can I Unlove You”, “Keep Me In Mind” and “What a Man My Man Is”) plus a Cashbox #1 (“Top of The World) and a Record World #1 (“Cry”). Along the way ten of Lynn’s songs crossed over onto the pop charts. She won a Grammy in 1971 for “Rose Garden” and was the CMA’s Female Vocalist of the Year for 1971.

After 1975, Lynn continued to record, but she really didn’t fit the outlaw movement that came into vogue during the second half of the 1970s (although she was undoubtedly more comfortable on a horse than any of the outlaws). Consequently the really big hits tailed off although there were still nine top twenty hits to follow with her 1979 hit “Isn’t It Always Love” reaching #10 and her late 1983 duet with Gary Morris “You’re Welcome To Tonight” reaching #9. Her marriage to Glenn Sutton came undone in 1977. Her tenure at Columbia ended in 1980 and she did not chart during 1981 and 1982. In 1983 she emerged on Permian Records and later recorded for Mercury (also, there was a duet with Ed Bruce on RCA).

After falling off the charts in 1989, Lynn continued in equestrian activities where she has one 16 national and eight world titles. Never fully retired from recording or performing music, Lynn issued a bluegrass album in 2004. Since 2006 she has been involved in recording for her mother’s Showboat label.

Lynn has been married twice. She had two children with second husband Harold Stream III, whom she divorced in 1982. At last report she lives in Taos, New Mexico, with long-time boyfriend Mentor Williams, a songwriter who wrote “Drift Away”, a huge hit for both Dobie Gray and Narvel Felts

DISCOGRAPHY

Liz Anderson
As always, all vinyl is out of print. Liz recorded eight albums for RCA, plus an album on the Tudor label released in 1983. Liz’s RCA albums all feature songs that she wrote alone or with Casey as co-writer. I assume that the Tudor album My Last Rose contains some of her compositions, but I cannot be certain of this.

Liz also recorded four singles for Epic, all of which charted, none of which made the top fifty. The most interesting of these was the single “Astrology”. Unfortunately, Epic never collected these onto an album.

Unfortunately, none of Liz’s vinyl output has made it onto CD. Liz does have her own record label Showboat Records and has issued several CDs of relatively new material. Liz and Casey can be heard on the Sons of the Guns CD and on the CD titled The Cowgirl Way .
Liz also has available a couple of holiday CDs.

Liz is an accommodating sort, and at my request she put together a greatest hits collection for me several years ago. Her available recorded output is to be found at http://www.showboatrecords.com/

Liz Anderson was hospitalized October 27, 2011, due to complications from heart and lung disease. No other information currently is available.

Lynn Anderson

VINYL

Lynn had a very prolific career during the vinyl era. Chart issued 13 albums of which three albums were compilations. Her Chart career contains a lot less of the ‘country cocktail’ that characterized her Columbia recordings and more straight-ahead country. My favorite Lynn Anderson recordings come from this period. All of the Chart Albums are worthwhile, and all feature songs written by her mother. Look for Songs My Mother Wrote which features Lynn singing her mother’s most famous songs.

Columbia released twenty studio albums on Lynn Anderson. Additionally, a Christmas album and several compilation albums were released. Greatest Hits contains most of the biggest hits; Greatest Hits Volume 2 is mostly lesser hits documenting Lynn’s slide down the charts. As far as the various albums go, if you like the ‘country cocktail’ production, you’ll like all of Lynn’s Columbia albums. Lynn was always adventurous in her choice of material, sampling material from various genres of music in order to avoid becoming stale.

After leaving Columbia, Lynn issued two more vinyl albums: 1983’s Back on the Permian label and the 1988 effort What She Does Best on Mercury. The Permian album contains Lynn’s last top ten hit “You’re Welcome To Tonight” and the Mercury album contains her last top twenty-five single, a remake of the Drifters classic “Under The Boardwalk” . Both albums vary considerably from the sound of her Columbia albums.

COMPACT DISC
Currently there are several Lynn Anderson CDs available. Collectors Choice Music has issued Greatest Hits which gathers eight of her Chart label hits with sixteen of her Columbia hits – this is the best currently available collection. The Columbia/Legacy 16 Biggest Hits has two of the Chart hits along with fourteen Columbia hits. Her 2004 project The Bluegrass Sessions is still in print and finds Lynn in good voice as she recasts her biggest hits as bluegrass. Collectibles has reissued two of Lynn’s Columbia albums on one CD – the albums Rose Garden/You’re My Man were the two biggest albums of her career. Although now out of print, you may be able to find the two outstanding collections issued by the now defunct Renaissance label – Anthology – The Chart Years and Anthology – The Columbia Years. There is also available a Lynn Anderson – Live At Billy Bob’ Texas which showcases Lynn in a live setting. Plus, there are two albums of western music recorded for her mother’s label , Cowgirl and Cowgirl 2.

You may be able to find some other CDs of Lynn’s recordings. Beware of the off-labels (Dominion, Delta, Country Stars, etc) as these will normally feature remakes of the earlier hit recordings.

There are , however, two off-label CDs worth checking out :
(1) Laser Light CD Cowboy’s Sweetheart that features original recordings of cowboy and western songs. Issued in 1992, it finds Lynn in good voice and is a worthwhile acquisition
(2) Lynn Anderson Live At Billy Bob’s Texas, a good representation of what it is like to attend a live Lynn Anderson concert

The Ernest Tubb Record Shop has a listing for a CD released on 9/26/11 by TBird titled Rose Garden – Country Hits 1970-1979. This import contains twenty-one songs and appears to be original Columbia recordings.
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Album Review: Merle Haggard & The Strangers – ‘I’m A Lonesome Fugitive’ and ‘Branded Man’

Merle Haggard released two albums in 1967, I’m A Lonesome Fugitive in March and Branded Man in August. Both were produced by Ken Nelson and appear to have been recorded concurrently at Capitol Recording Studios in Hollywood. Like his previous two LPs, the 1967 offerings broke with the day’s usual practice of building albums around one or two hit singles and cover versions of recent hits by other popular artists. Instead, Haggard’s albums consist primarily of original material written by the artist himself, occasionally co-written with Bonnie Owens, and a few select entries from other well-known songwriters including Tommy Collins, Hank Cochran and Liz and Casey Anderson.

The Andersons penned “The Fugitive” (also known as “I’m A Lonesome Fugitive”), which had been released the previous December. It is noteworthy not only because it became Haggard’s first #1 hit, but also because it was his first convict record, a theme he would revisit many times over the next 40 years. Inspired by the popular television series “The Fugitive” doesn’t reveal whether the antagonist is guilty or wrongly accused, which contrasts with Haggard’s later prison songs, in which the narrator is usually guilty and remorseful. The version on the current CD is an alternate take but isn’t significantly different from the better-known hit version. Initially reluctant to discuss his past transgressions, Merle was persuaded by Johnny Cash to face the issue head on rather than giving the tabloids the opportunity to do so. “Life In Prison”, in which the protagonist concludes that a life sentence is perhaps worse than execution, is perhaps his earliest self-penned effort about life behind bars. Although “The Fugitive” was the only single released from this set, many of the album’s other cuts were possible contenders. “Someone Told My Story”, with Bonnie Owens’ prominent and familiar harmony vocals, is a particular favorite of mine, as is “My House of Memories.” There are two covers on the album — a remake of his own “Skid Row” which had been his Tally Records debut a few years earlier, and Jimmie Rodgers “My Rough and Rowdy Ways”, which is only one of three tracks on the album in which Merle did not have a hand in writing (the other two are “Mary’s Mine” and the title track. The original album closed with the spirited “Mixed Up Mess Of A Heart”, which Merle wrote with Tommy Collins. The Buck Owens influence is readily apparent on this track. The current 2-for-1 release includes two bonus tracks: alternate tracks of “Life In Prison” and “Someone Told My Story”, which while nice to have, don’t add much value to the collection.

Branded Man, released five months after I’m A Lonesome Fugitive, is a stronger set than its predecessor. This time around Merle relied a little more on outside songwriters, with Tommy Collins contributing three entries, and co-writing a fourth with Merle. The great Hank Cochran wrote “Loneliness Is Eating Me Alive”. But the highlights of this album are the two singles, both penned by Haggard. “I Threw Away The Rose”, which was perhaps inspired by the 1962 film The Days Of Wine And Roses, was Merle’s follow-up hit to “The Fugitive”. Peaking at #2 in Billboard, it just missed becoming his second #1 hit. Instead, that honor went to the next single, the album’s title track, which topped the chart in September 1967. The semi-autobiographical number deals with an ex-convict’s unsuccessful attempts to wipe the slate clean and get on with his life.

Though it was never released as a single, “Somewhere Between”, co-written with Bonnie Owens, is a well-known album cut that has been covered many times by artists such as Suzy Bogguss and Keith Whitley, and is on my short list of favorite Haggard tunes. Tommy Collins’ “Don’t Get Married” is the best of the non-Haggard penned tunes, but Merle’s cover of the classic “Long Black Limousine” is surprisingly pedestrian and the weakest cut on the album. The album closes with two bonus tracks: alternate versions of “I Threw Away The Rose” and “Loneliness Is Eating Me Alive”. Both are quite different from the better-known versions. They sound as though they were recorded live in the studio, and I suspect that both are previously unreleased Tally recordings.

Because neither album was recorded in Nashville, many of the usual names are absent from the session musician credits, although the great Ralph Mooney plays steel guitar on both albums. Glen D. Hardin, who would later become well known through his association with Emmylou Harris, plays piano. Oh yeah, and some guy named Glen Campbell plays guitar.

This 2-for-1 release, available on CD and as a digital download, is excellent value and well worth adding to your collection.

Grades:

I’m A Lonesome Fugitive: A-
Branded Man: A

Classic Rewind: Merle Haggard – ‘I’m A Lonesome Fugitive’

Another Liz Anderson song gave Merle his first Billboard #1:

Album Review: Merle Haggard: ‘Strangers’ and ‘Swinging Doors And The Bottle Let Me Down’

Haggard’s debut single was a cover of Bakersfield star Wynn Stewart’s ‘Sing A Sad Song’ which was released on independent West Coast label Tally. Although it crept into the top 20 on Billboard, Merle sounds as if he is trying too hard to copy Stewart vocally, breaking into an uncomfortable falsetto, and there is a very heavy handed string arrangement.

He followed that up with a song penned by another Bakersfield boy, Tommy Collins’s perky novelty story song ‘Sam Hill’, which is certainly memorable, but now sounds very dated, particularly the backing vocals, and it performed less well than its predecessor. On the flip side was the pained ballad ‘You Don’t Have Very Far To Go’, which Haggard wrote with fellow Bakersfield singer-songwriter Red Simpson. This is an excellent song, addressed to although the string section is overdone again.

The third and last single for Tally, the rueful ‘(All Of My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers’, was the one which really kickstarted his career. The first of many genuine classics Haggard was to make hits, it is unusual in that it was not one of his own songs, but was written by fellow Californian Liz Anderson (mother of Lynn), to whom he had been introduced by Bonnie Owens. A Bakersfield bar room take on lost love, it was his first top 10 hit single and gave him the name of his backing band, the Strangers. Even though a competing version by the more established Roy Drusky may have cut into sales, it was a big enough success that it persuaded major label Capitol to buy out his Tally contract. Six Tally sides were packaged with newly recorded material in the same vein, produced by Ken Nelson, for Haggard’s debut album in 1965.

The malicious ‘I’m Gonna Break Every Heart I Can’ (a Haggard original) was his first single actually released on Capitol, although it failed to break into the top 40 on Billboard. It is an energetic, personality-infused response to “get even with womankind” by breaking the hearts of every girl he meets.

Typically, country albums in the 60s featured one or two singles, a lot of filler, and covers of other artists’ hits. Haggard was much more album-oriented, even at this early stage, writing five of the album’s dozen tracks, and there are other songs which could have been hit singles given the exposure.

I really like ‘Please Mr DJ’, a disconsolate plea for the radio to play a specific song for “someone who broke my heart today”. ‘If I Had Left It Up To You’ is another very good song with the protagonist regretting his earlier fighting for a doomed relationship, as if he had not done so,

It’d all be over now except the crying
I’d be used to spending all my nights alone

A couple of tracks are still filler, with overdone string-laden productions. The heartbreak ballad ‘You Don’t Even Try’ was written with Haggard’s friend (and Bonnie Owens’s then boyfriend) Fuzzy Owen, co-owner of Tally, while steel guitarist Ralph Mooney’s romantic and sophisticated sounding ‘Falling For You’ is not a patch on ‘Crazy Arms’.

A cover of Ernest Tubb’s classic ‘Walking The Floor Over You’ is taken at a disconcertingly brisk, almost cheerful pace, which doesn’t quite work. Rounding out the set are rather better versions of another fine Liz Anderson song, the depressed ‘The Worst Is Yet To Come’, and Jenny Lou Carson’s sad but pretty sounding lament for lost love ‘I’d Trade All Of My Tomorrows’.

The West Coast based Academy of Country Music recognized this bright new star by naming him Best New Male Vocalist for 1965 and also gave him the Best Vocal Duo award for his duet album with Bonnie Owens. A year later he had advanced to the title of Best Male Vocalist. Haggard was definitely on the right track with his debut, but had not quite found his distinctive voice yet.

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Classic Rewind: Merle Haggard – ‘(All My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers’

Merle’s first top 10 hit was written by Liz Anderson. It was to inspire the name of his backing band, The Strangers.

Spotlight Artist: Merle Haggard

There is a small group of performers, without whom it is impossible to imagine what country music would be like. Near the very top of this list is Merle Haggard, one of country music’s most talented and prolific singer/songwriters, and whose tremendous impact on the genre is indisputable.

He was born in Oildale, California on April 6, 1937, to parents who had migrated from Oklahoma during the Great Depression. His father Jim, who worked as a carpenter for the Santa Fe Railroad, died from a stroke in 1946. This traumatic and devastating event set nine-year-old Merle on the path of juvenile delinquency. He spent the next few years in and out of reform schools. At age 20, he was arrested for the attempted burglary of a tavern in Bakersfield, and was sentenced to one to fifteen years in the state penitentiary at San Quentin.

A few years before his burglary conviction, when he was 14 years old, Merle had the opportunity to attend a Lefty Frizzell concert, which helped to spark his interest in a career in music. Despite his tender age, Merle had already begun performing in local bars. During his incarceration at San Quentin, he was encouraged to pursue a music career by a fellow inmate nicknamed Rabbit. Rabbit escaped from the prison and was later returned and executed for killing police officer. This was one of the events that helped young Haggard to turn his life around. It was also the inspiration for his 1968 hit, “Sing Me Back Home”.

Haggard was released from San Quentin in 1960. He returned to Bakersfield and worked a variety of manual labor jobs while pursuing his musical dreams. He eventually got a gig playing at a Las Vegas club owned by Wynn Stewart, where he caught the attention of producer Fuzzy Owen, who signed Merle to his independent label, Tally Records. His first release was the modestly successful “Skid Row”, which was followed by a cover of Wynn Stewart’s “Sing A Sad Song”, which reached #19 in 1963. In 1965, he scored his first major hit with the Liz Anderson composition “(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers”, which became his first Top 10 record, despite a competing version by Roy Drusky which was on the charts at the same time. In addition to providing Merle with a name for his road band, it also led to a contract with Capitol Records, which would be his label home for the next 13 years.

During these early years of his career, Haggard was based on the west coast and, along with Buck Owens, was instrumental in forging the Bakersfield Sound, which was a backlash against the more polished and highly-orchestrated Nashville Sound. In 1967 he scored his first #1 hit with another Liz Anderson (co-written with Casey Anderson) number called “I’m A Lonesome Fugitive”. Though Haggard is well-known today for his convict songs, he was initially reluctant to sing and write about his incarceration, but was eventually convinced by Johnny Cash that doing so would prevent his past deeds from becoming tabloid fodder. His second #1 was the self-penned “Branded Man”, which was followed by “Sing Me Back Home” which also topped the charts. In 1968 he topped the charts with another prison song, “Mama Tried.”

Haggard’s best known song came in 1969. “Okie From Muskogee” was apparently intended as a joke, but struck a chord with those were fed up with the turbulence and protests of the sixties. Along with the follow-up release, the more combative “The Fightin’ Side of Me”, “Okie” established Haggard as a conservative icon. This image was further solidified with later records such as “Are The Good Times Really Over” and “Me and Crippled Soldiers”, a tune about flag burning which led to Merle’s split with Epic Records in 1989. In 1972 he received an unconditional pardon from California Governor Ronald Reagan. Ironically, in recent years Merle’s politics seem to have shifted considerably to the left, as he became an outspoken critic of the Iraq War and endorsed Hillary Rodham Clinton for president in 2008.

Merle Haggard was named Entertainer of the Year by both the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music in 1970. He has won 13 ACM awards, five CMA awards, and three Grammys, and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1994. He has also scored 38 #1 hits, a feat surpassed only by Conway Twitty and George Strait. Although his commercial success began to decline dramatically beginning in the late 1980s, he has never stopped making music and remains an important and respected artist today. His latest album, Working in Tennessee, will be released on October 4th. We hope you will enjoy our spotlight coverage of the career of this iconic and sometimes controversial figure.