My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Merle Kilgore

Johnny Cash: A Look Back

We lost Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter Cash within months of each other back in 2003, so 2018 marks a very sad 15th-anniversary farewell to the “Man In Black”.

The release last year of UNEARTHED, a nine album 180 gram vinyl box set (originally released on CD two months after his death) of unreleased tracks recorded by Rick Rubin, (it features some interesting pairings such as Fiona Apple providing guest vocals on Cat Stevens’ “Father & Son,” and the late Joe Strummer’s duets with Cash on Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”) provides us with a excuse to take another look back at his career.

While modern country radio has no use for the likes of Johnny Cash, preferring more commercial fodder, other sections of the music industry have kept his music alive, whether on Willie’s Roadhouse (Sirius XM Radio) or through the musical press. Cover bands continue to play his music and while younger so-called country singers play music that bears little connection to country music, his music remains a staple of Roots-Rock, Texas Red-Dirt and Bluegrass performers

Make no mistake about it: Johnny Cash was a huge commercial success, despite his own apparent lack of concern about how commercial his music was at any given moment–Cash’s inquisitive artistry meant that he flitted from realm to realm, sometimes touching down in areas with limited commercial appeal.

Cash had 24 songs reach #1 on the Billboard, Cashbox or Record World country charts (often all three), but unlike more chart-oriented artists including Webb Pierce, Buck Owens, Sonny James, Alabama, Conway Twitty or George Strait, Cash never ran off a long string of consecutive #1s, with his longest streak being four during 1968 when “Roseanna’s Going Wild,” “Daddy Sang Bass,” “A Boy Named Sue,” and his iconic “Folsom Prison Blues” all reached the top of one of the charts.

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Album Review: Tammy Wynette – ‘D-I-V-O-R-C-E’

mi0003064266Tammy Wynette, once again, teamed with Billy Sherill for her third album, D-I-V-O-R-C-E, released in 1968. It would be Wynette’s first chart-topping album, fueled by the success of the now-classic title track.

The Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman penned ballad was Wynette’s fastest rising single to date and quickly topped the charts. She had gained a reputation for selecting material highlighting the woman’s perspective, a fascist sorely lacking in mainstream country music at the time. I first became familiar with the song through Rosanne Cash, who recorded a more contemporary take for Tammy Wynette Remembered following her death in 1998.

As was customary at the time, the album features a bevy of covers. Wynette turns in a rather strong rendition of “Gentle On My Mind” and a fantastic cover of “Honey,” which I’d never heard from a woman’s perspective before. I wasn’t as crazy about “Yesterday,” which with a country arrangement just doesn’t work. “The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde,” however, is one of the record’s strongest cuts. “Sweet Dreams,” on the other hand, is much too maudlin for my tastes.

George Richey, Wynette’s widower co-wrote “Come On Home,” an excellent ballad about an ‘old faithful’ wife perfectly content with her husband’s cheating. Sherrill co-wrote “Kiss Away,” a fabulous steel-soaked showcase for Wynette’s impressive vocal range. The jaunty “When There’s A Fire In Your Heart,” also wonderful, was co-written by Merle Kilgore. The final cut, “Lonely Street,” another very good ballad, was co-written by country singer Carl Belew.

D-I-V-O-R-C-E is the rare 1960s country album that hits all the right notes. The covers worked well with Wynette’s voice and I really liked the arrangements. If you haven’t heard this one before, I highly recommend seeking it out.

Grade: A

Album Review: Hank Williams Jr – ‘Country Shadows’

country shadowsHank Williams Jr continued to show artistic growth with the release of his seventh album in April 1967. The album’s title refers to the first song on the album, “Standing In The Shadows (of A Very Famous Man)”. The song reached #3 on Record World and was the first of Junior’s own compositions to become a hit. The lyrics encapsulate Junior’s dilemma completely:

I know that I’m not great
And some say I imitate
Anymore I don’t know
I’m just doing the best I can

After all I’m standing in the shadows
Of a very famous man

The second track, “Almost Nearly, But Not Quite Plumb” is an up-tempo novelty that has Hank sounding quite a bit like Jimmy Dean.

“Is It That Much Fun To Hurt Someone” is a Hank Jr. co-write that sounds more like something Ricky Nelson should have recorded in his teen idol days. It’s a nice song but not well suited to Hank’s voice
Track five of Side One is “I Can Take Anything” a Merle Kilgore-penned ballad; Merle would become very important in Hank’s career, but at this point in his career he was a third tier country artist who was better known as a songwriter. This slow ballad has the full Nashville Sound treatment.

Side One closes out with “Truck Drivin’ Man”, which is not the same song made famous by Terry Fell, Dave Dudley and others. This song is also known as “Ten Ton Load”:

Well, I pulled out of Georgia with a ten ton load
I’m headin’ down the cold stone that black topper road
Looked out the window at the sky up above
Sat back and I thought of the life that I love
Now you can give a banker a nice easy seat
And you can give the sailor all those sea that he meet
But when it comes to drive and just leave that of me
Cause I know in my heart it’s my destiny

I’ll never give up this truck driving life
For a son to call me daddy or a sweet loving wife
All you people have heard my story when I’m in my cab well I’m in my glory
Now it may be hard for some to understand
I was born and I’ll die the truck driving man
I was born and I’ll die the six wheeler man
I was born and I’ll die the truck driving man

Side Two opens with a killer version of the Jody Reynolds classic “Endless Sleep”. The song barely cracked the top fifty for Hank.

Ran in the water heart full of fear there in the breakers I saw her near
Reached for my darling held her to me stole her away from the angry sea
I looked at the sea and it seemed to say you took your baby from me away
My heart cried out she’s mine to keep I saved my baby from that endless sleep
Endless sleep, endless sleep, endless sleep

Next up is a track from John D Loudermilk (a first cousin to Ira & Charlie Louvin) titled “You’re Running My Life”. I’ve been married too long to comment on this song. This is followed by a Mitchell Torok composition “Pecos Jail” . Both songs are good album tracks but neither would have made a good single.

“In The First Place” is a bluesy ballad that is nothing more than album filler.

Hank Jr. had a hand in writing “I Went To All That Trouble For Nothing”. The song has a smart country blues arrangement somewhat reminiscent of the arrangement Jerry Kennedy devised for Tom T Hall. I would have liked this as a single.

He went to all that trouble for nothin’ I hear them say
It’s too bad that things turned out for him that way
You took my love and turned around and made me blue
I went to all that trouble for nothin’ for you
I turned my back on the girl I thought that she was mine
I gave up my friends and now it seems I’m givin’ up my mind
I did everything you wanted me to do I went to all that trouble for nothin’ for you

Side Two of the album closes with “Going Steady With The Blues”. The arrangement contains some brass and has the feel of a rock and roll ballad. I like the song but I’d like it better with a more bluesy arrangement.

Don’t think that I’ve been lonely because you left me
And broke my heart in two
I’ve got company, I’m going steady with the blues

Yes, every evening while you are dancing and you’re romancing
Oh well, I’m busy too
I’ve got company, I’m going steady with the blues

Very few of these tracks are available in any digital format. “Standing In The Shadows”, “Endless Sleep” and “In The First” place are on the MGM Living Proof Box: 1963-1975, and a few of the songs show up on YouTube. Hank is still finding his way with this album, but the Nashville Sound trappings are subdued and Hank is in good voice.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind – Claude King – ‘Wolverton Mountain’

Claude King, best known for his 1962 #1 hit “Wolverton Mountain” died today after being found unresponsive in his bed. He was 90 years old. King wrote the classic tune with the late Merle Kilgore.

Favorite country songs of the 1980s, Part 3

The 1980s got off to a poor start with the early 1980s producing some of the lamest country music ever recorded, as the Urban Cowboy movie wreaked havoc on the genre. Fortunately, there was still good country music being released. The first flowering of the late 1980s “New Traditionalist” movement arrived in 1981 with the first hits of Ricky Skaggs and George Strait, but they remained outliers until 1986 as far as good new artists were concerned. The latter part of the decade, however, produced some truly excellent country music with the 1986 arrival of Randy Travis and company.

Here are some more songs that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records.

Blue Blooded Woman
Alan Jackson
This 1989 ballad was the opening salvo for the career of Alan Jackson. While the song only reached #45, the next year it was released as the flip side of Alan’s first top five record “Here In The Real World”.

She’s Gone, Gone, GoneCarl Jackson
This 1984 cover of a Lefty Frizzell classic reached #44, the top chart performance for an incredibly talented musician better known for his work in bluegrass/ Americana.

Innocent Lies
Sonny James
After a two year chart absence, the Southern Gentleman resurfaced on the Dimension label for one last top twenty tune in early 1982. According to Billboard, Sonny had and forty-three top tens recordings of which twenty-three went all the way to the top.

Just Give Me What You Think Is FairTommy Jennings with Vern Gosdin
Tommy was Waylon’s younger brother. This was the biggest of his three chart hits, reaching #51 in mid-1980.

Theme From The Dukes of Hazzard
Waylon Jennings
Fess up – we all watched the show, mindless as it was at times . This song would reach the top slot in the fall of 1980, also reaching #21 on Billboard’s Pop Charts.

North WindJim & Jesse with Charlie Louvin
This song reached #56, a very good showing for a bluegrass act in 1982.

Give Me Wings Michael Johnson
The late 1970s-early 1980s were Johnson’s peak as a pop artist with “Bluer Than Blue”, reaching #12 Pop/#1 Easy Listening in 1978. A very talented guitarist and songwriter, Johnson found himself classified as country during the mid-1980s although his basic style remained unchanged. “Give Me Wings” and its follow up “The Moon Is Still On Her Shoulders” would both reach #1 in 1987.

Wine Colored RosesGeorge Jones
The 1980s were a huge decade for King George with three number one records and another fifteen songs that reached the top ten. George is at his best with sad songs and this wistful ballad from 1986 is one of my favorites.

Two Story House George Jones & Tammy Wynette
No longer a married couple, George and Tammy still had enough vocal chemistry to take this 1980 entry to #1 on Cashbox. There would be one more single released on Epic but this marked the end for a remarkable duo.

Why Not MeNaomi & Wynonna Judd
I was not a big fan of the Judds, but I liked this #1 record from 1984.

It’s Who You Love Kieran Kane
Basically an Americana artist, this 1982 hit was one of only two top twenty records Kane would have as a solo artist. A few years later he would be part of a more successful duo.

Thank God For The RadioThe Kendalls
I have no idea why the Kendalls faded away during the 1980s as I would have expected the “New Traditionalist” movement to have resurrected their career. The Kendalls had already started to fade away when this 1984 #1 hit returned them to the top ten for one last visit. Jeannie Kendall is about as good a female vocalist as the genre has seen in the last thirty years.

Oklahoma BorderlineVince Gill
It took Vince a while for his solo career to take off after leaving Pure Prairie League. This song reached #9 in early 1986 and was his second top ten recording. The really big hits would start in 1990 with “When I Call Your Name”.

Walk Softly On This Heart of Mine Kentucky Headhunters
This rocked up cover of a Bill Monroe song landed the group their first top thirty hit in 1989. While they would only have one top ten record, the Kentucky Headhunters brought something different and distinctive to county radio.

Cajun BabyDoug Kershaw with Hank Williams Jr.
This song was set to music by Hank Jr., from some lyrics he found among his father’s papers. Hank got to #3 with the song in 1969, but this time it topped out at #52.

Mister GarfieldMerle Kilgore with Hank Williams Jr. & Johnny Cash
Diehard Johnny Cash fans may remember the song from a 1960s album about the Old West. This 1982 record reached #52. Kilgore didn’t have a lot of chart success as a performer, but he wrote or co-wrote a number of huge hits for others such as “More and More”, “Wolverton Mountain” and “Ring of Fire”.

I Still Miss Someone
Don King
A nice take on a Johnny Cash classic, this 1981 recording topped out at #38 in 1981. Don King was a successful songwriter and publisher who was not wild about touring. When he quit working the road, his road band kept going, changing their name to “Sawyer Brown” and had considerable success.

Killin’ TimeFred Knoblock & Susan Anton
Fred Knoblock is a talented singer; Susan Anton was (is) really pretty. This record made it to #10 in 1981. Go figure.

They Killed HimKris Kristofferson
Most of Kris’s best songs date back to when he was a starving songwriter. This 1987 tribute to Jesus Christ, Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King was one of his few later songs that reached his earlier standards. This song deserved a better fate than to be marooned at #67 in 1987, but back then, religious (or even quasi-religious) themes were normally the kiss of death for radio.

Sweet Sexy EyesCristy Lane
The follow up to “One Day At A Time “ (Cristy’s lone #1) this 1980 single saw Cristy returning to the shimmering pop country she had been recording. This record reached #8 in late 1980. This would be Cristy’s last top ten record. She would continue to record pop country for a few more years before turning into a largely religious performer.

Lock Stock and TeardropsKathy Dawn Lang (k.d. lang)
Lang was always a little too left field to have much success at country radio. This single reached #53 in 1988, her third of five charting singles. This song was penned by Roger Miller and this recording is the quintessential recording of the song.

Lady, Lady
Kelly Lang
Her father was Conway Twitty’s road manager, she is married to T.G. Sheppard and she is a very fine singer. Despite all that, this was Kelly’s sole chart entry reaching #88 in 1982.

That’s How You Know When Love’s RightNicolette Larson with Steve Wariner
Basically a pop artist, her “Lotta Love went to #1 on the AC charts in 1978. This song reached #9 in 1986, her only top ten country record. Nicolette sang background on may pop and country recordings. She died in 1997 at the age of 45.

I Wish I Had A Job To ShoveRodney Lay
His biggest hit, this song reached #45 in 1982. Rodney was better known as a musician and was on Hee Haw for a number of years as a member of the house band.

Ten Seconds In The SaddleChris LeDoux
This song reached #96 in 1980, no small feat considering it was pressed on LeDoux’s own label and sold at rodeos. The Garth Brooks tune mentioning him was still five years in the future

Broken TrustBrenda Lee with The Oak Ridge Boys
Brenda’s last top ten record, reaching #9 in 1980. Brenda would continue to chart for another five years, but even if she had ceased charting a decade earlier, she still had a remarkable career.

Cherokee Fiddle
Johnny Lee
Johnny Lee was the ultimate beneficiary of the Urban Cowboy movie. Johnny’s career had gone nowhere in he five years prior to the movie (six chart singles, only one reaching the top twenty). “Looking For Love” kicked off a strong five year run with five #1 records and a bunch more top twenty hits. This record reached #10 in 1982 and remains my favorite of all of his records. Charlie Daniels and Michael Martin Murphey provide backing vocals on this record.

Single Review: Alan Jackson – ‘Ring of Fire’

Some songs take on legendary status nearly as big as their singers.  Of course, even the Music City folk-lore that surrounds the composition and recording of Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring of Fire’ doesn’t rival the Man in Black’s stature, ‘Ring’, however, is a fascinating story in itself.  History tells us that June Carter co-wrote the tune with Merle Kilgore, putting her feelings for Cash down in the process.  Other sources may tell you that it was actually Cash who co-wrote the song and gave half to the financially-strapped Carter.

Whichever side you believe, or who the author of the lyrics are, the fact remains that the blossoming love affair between Johnny Cash and June Carter was the inspiration for the original creation.  Johnny Cash’s passionate delivery of the horn-infused track – according to his biography, the idea to frame the verses with horns came to Cash in a dream – is the kind deemed untouchable by cover standards, as any subsequent recording would almost always walk a fine line between irrelevance and tribute. Alan Jackson’s recent take on the tune, the only previously unreleased track on Jackson’s current 34 Number Ones set, unfortunately falls somewhere in between the two.

Jackson’s own catalog lends him an air of believability few on Music Row can match, and he offers up his best bass vocal here, channeling Cash with all high might. But try as he might, Jackson just can’t fill the shoes he’s planted himself in this time. The addition of Lee Ann Womack’s harmony in the chorus add a depth to Jackson’s own enjoyable performance, but the lack of horns make the melody almost unrecognizable to me, and a chunky guitar fill adds little more than filler noise.  Two of the best neo-traditional country music voices of their generation tackling a timeless country classic all add up here to much less than the sum of their parts.

Grade: C-

Listen here.

Album Review: John Anderson – ‘All The People Are Talkin’

johnanderson-all the people are talkinAfter his wildly successful Wild and Blue album, propelled by the smash crossover hit, ‘Swingin’, John Anderson’s next album featured much of the same formula as the previous release.  So while there are still plenty of stone-country moments here, we also find John branching out into the rock and roll sound that he embraced for the rest of the 1980s.  All The People Are Talkin’ was released in September 1983 and reached the #9 spot on the albums chart as the lead single was climbing the singles charts. ‘Black Sheep’ would reach the top in December of that year and the follow-up single would also reach the top 10 in early 1984.

Danny Darst and Robert Altman penned the growling rocker, ‘Black Sheep’.  This clever tune tells the tale of a truck driver who, in his family’s eyes doesn’t measure up to his professional siblings.  Though his parents don’t seem to understand, he’s just as happy in his own element as they are in their ivory tower lifestyle: ‘Yeah I drive me a big ol’ semi truck I’m makin’ payments on a two room shack/My wife she waits on tables and at night she rubs my back’. It’s a very relatable song.  The message of living your life on your own terms, even though it doesn’t meet your family’s expectations, is very universal.

Another grooving track was released to radio with ‘Let Somebody Else Drive’, and crested at #10.  Merle Kilgore and Mack Vickery wrote the song, which was adopted by Mothers Against Drunk Driving as an anthem for the group.  Though the song’s message is anti-drunk-driving, it’s a rocking tune in zydeco fashion complete with horns and strings.

The album opens with the title track, an uptempo ditty written by Fred Carter Jr.  In this tune, driven by some snazzy sax, the narrator’s friends are all telling him the things his lady has been up to, but he chooses not to believe them.  Love is blind and blindness is bliss.  Twin fiddles kick off ‘Blue Lights and Bubbles’, one of my favorite songs on the album.  A twist on the old ‘get out to a smoky, neon-lit bar to get over you’ tune, you can almost hear the beer caps popping off as it plays.

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