My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Moon Mullican

Album Review: The Whites – ‘Old Familiar Feeling’

old-familiar-feelingSadly, far too little of the Whites’ music is available digitally, including most of their most commercially successful work. This album, originally released in 1983, has somehow found its way onto iTunes – it would be good if its successors were to follow it. In many respects it was their debut as The Whites, since previous music had been billed as Buck White, mostly with The Down Home Folks. Following Buck’s daughter Sharon’s 1981 marriage to rising superstar Ricky Skaggs, the band (now consisting of Buck with daughters Sharon and Cheryl) was signed to Curb/Warner Brothers, and the album (which Skaggs produced) was released in June 1983.

Half of the album’s ten tracks ended up as singles, as the label was trying to break a group whose old-time traditional roots flew in the face of the then popular Urban Cowboy sound. An initial single, a cover of the classic ‘Send Me The Pillow You Dream On’ did not do well, and was never included on an album, but the next attempt, the lovely ‘You Put The Blue In Me’ was a top 10 country hit in 1982. Sharon White’s honeyed voice is backed up by the group’s gentle harmonies on this pretty but sad song.

The more upbeat ‘Hangin’ Around’ and ‘I Wonder Who’s Holding My Baby Tonight’ (a beautiful ballad) both reached #9, also featuring Sharon’s lead vocals. Like many groups who have multiple lead singers, one of them is clearly superior to the others, and in the case of the Whites, it was Sharon, who sang lead on all the singles from this album. ‘When The New Wears Off Of Our Love’, written by Paul Craft, was less successful, peaking at only #25, but it is a pretty tune. The final single, and almost-title track, the slow and wistful ‘Give Me Back That Old Familiar Feeling’ took them back to the top 10.

Sister Cheryl took the lead on the upbeat gospel ‘Follow The Leader’ and the gentle romantic ballad ‘I’ll be Loving You’. While she lacks Sharon’s lovely natural tone, she is nonetheless a fine singer.

Buck takes over on the retro ‘Blue Letters’, with the trio harmonising together on the chorus. Son law Ricky Skaggs can also be heard in the harmonies on ‘Old River’. Buck also sings the blues authentically, on the old Moon Mullican tune ‘Pipe Liner Blues’.

Ricky Skaggs produced the set beautifully with clean, sparkling arrangements allowing the vocals to shine. The musicians include the great Jerry Douglas.

This is a charming album which I warmly recommend.

Grade: A

After this album, Curb moved the Whites to an affiliation with MCA, and regrettably none of the albums they made for that label is commercially available today apart from their Greatest Hits, which I would also recommend.

Album Review: Asleep At The Wheel – ‘Back to the Future Now: Live at Arizona Charlie’s Las Vegas’

0000076113Asleep At The Wheel released their fourth live album, Back To The Future Now: Live At Arizona Charlie’s Las Vegas back in May 1997. The project, consisting of twelve tracks, opened with a spirited take on “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens.” They followed with “Miles and Miles of Texas” and “Roly Poly,” and “Ida Red,” which are equally excellent and feature guest vocals from Tracy Byrd.

The album was culled from a club date in December 1996. The sound of the concert captures the intimacy of the night perfectly, and there truly isn’t a wasted moment in the whole set. I very much enjoyed their spirited reading of “My Baby Thinks He’s A Train,” a song I tend to associate solely with Rosanne Cash’s hit recording. They tear through the Moon Mullican classic “Cherokee Boogie” and more than prove their prowess on “Fat Boy Rag.”

“The Letter That Johnny Walker Read” is a highlight and one of the strongest additions to their set. “Hot Rod Lincoln” is far more charged than the most traditional fare but the breakneck lyric fits in just fine. They also stun on “Boggie Back to Texas” and album closer “House of Blue Lights.”

The centerpiece of the show is the set’s sole ballad, “God Bless The Child.” The song is perfection, clocking in at seven plus minutes. It also uses the fullness of the band in all its glory. There aren’t enough good things I can say about the project, one I strongly recommend. It may be redundant as far as Asleep At The Wheel live albums go, but on its own, it’s definitely worth seeking out.

Grade: A

Album Review: Asleep At The Wheel – ‘Comin’ Right At Ya’

comin-right-at-yaUnited Artists released the first Asleep At The Wheel (“AATW”) album in 1973. The album featured a mix of straight ahead country and honky-tonk, along with western swing. No doubt United Artists felt a need to mix the western swing with country as it had been a good dozen years since western swing had been a viable force in the marketplace, aside from the small band swing novelties of Hank Thompson and his Brazos Valley Boys.

The core of this early version of AATW was Ray Benson on lead guitar and vocals, Leroy Preston on guitar, drums and vocals, Lucky Oceans on steel guitar, Jim Haber (aka Floyd Domino) on piano and Chris O’Connell on vocals and rhythm guitar. Guests Johnny Gimble, Buddy Spicher and Andy Stein augment the band on fiddle, with Gimble also playing electric mandolin.

The album opens with a Bob Wills-Tommy Duncan composition “Take Me Back To Tulsa”. The arrangement on this track swings but not nearly as much as it would in later years.

Track two is the Leroy Preston composition “Daddy’s Advice”, a straight ahead country song with a very traditional steel guitar sound paired with the fiddles. The vocal sounds like it may be Preston singing.

Leroy Preston also contributed “Before You Stopped Loving Me” is a nice ballad handled by the inimitable Chris O’Connell. I think that Chris may have been the best female vocalist AATW ever had.

Jerry Irby’s “Drivin’ Nails In My Coffin” was a hit for Ernest Tubb. Although Ernest was not a western swing artist, his recording of the song straddled the line between western swing and honky-tonk, as does this recording.

The Hank Williams classic “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive” is given a straight-ahead country arrangement. Again, the vocal sounds like Leroy Preston.

Lucky, Leroy and Floyd wrote “Space Buggy” which has a barrelhouse boogie sound. Ms. O’Connell handles the lead vocals on this bright up-tempo song.

“Cherokee Boogie” was one of Moon Mullican’s great songs, one that was a hit for Moon and has graced the charts several times since them. Since Mullican was one of the great piano influences on Jerry Lee Lewis, it is only appropriate that Floyd Domino’s piano is featured heavily on this track.

Track eight on album is another Leroy Preston original titled “Hillbilly Nut”, a bit of a novelty with some instrumental snippets of other famous tunes. Preston sings this song.

Ray Benson and Leroy Preston collaborated on “Your Down Home Is Uptown”, a country ballad sung by Chris O’Connell.

Preston also penned “I’m The Fool (Who Told You To Go)” another straight ahead country ballad with Chris O’Connell shining on harmony vocals on the chorus. Ray Benson sings the lead.

Geoff Mack, an Australian country singer, penned “I’ve Been Everywhere”. The song originally featured Australian place names; however, with American place names, the song became a massive hit for Hank Snow. Leroy Preston takes the lead vocals on this song, which are NOT taken at the breakneck speed often associated with the song. The vocals of this song frequently have been rewritten to reflect the nationality of the singer.

The album closes with “The Son Shines Down On Me”, a nice gospel ballad sung by Chris O’Connell. The songwriter is credited as ‘L. Lee’ but I know nothing further about that person.

Comin’ Right At Ya is an album which sees the band finding itself. The album produced no hit singles, and while there are traces of western swing styled elements throughout the album, the album is less western swing than any of their future efforts would be. As a vocalist Leroy Preston isn’t all that good and his vocals would be less prominent on future albums. I liked this album (I picked up a copy on vinyl when it first came out) but it is mostly a harbinger of things to come. I’d give it a B.

Koch paired this with Texas Gold (a much better album) on a CD reissue in 2000. Texas Gold, released on Capitol in 1975, would feature the band’s biggest hit “The Letter That Johnnie Walker Read”.

Classic Rewind: Moon Mullican – ‘I’ll Sail My Ship Alone’

Album Review: Hank Williams Jr – ‘Live At Cobo Hall Detroit’

live at cobo hallAfter fifteen assorted albums in roughly a five year period, MGM finally got around to releasing a live album on Hank Jr. Released in July 1969, MGM SE-4644 was the third of five albums MGM would release in 1969. To my knowledge the album has never been released in any digital format, although Polygram did reissue it on vinyl a few years later.

Cobo Hall (now the Cobo Center) in Detroit might seem a strange venue in which to record a country album, but judging from the album that emerged from the concert it was just fine. Built in 1960 and named for Albert E Cobo (Detroit Mayor 1950-1957), Cobo Hall was one of the nation’s first really large convention centers and I believe that Hank Williams Jr. – Live At Cobo Hall was the first time a major recording label had recorded an album at such a venue.

This 1969 album catches Hank Jr. at a time when he was beginning to be his own man, and not merely a clone of his famous father. While the album has the obligatory Hank Sr. songs, it also features his own hit “Standing In The Shadows” and some covers of more recent material
Side One of the album opens with “Jambalaya”, one of Hank Sr.’s hits. Written by Hank Sr. (possibly with Moon Mullican as co-writer although not so credited) Hank Jr. tackles the song with the proper tempo and enthusiasm.

Next up is the Mel Tillis – Danny Dill classic “Detroit City” which was a hit twice in 1963 by Billy Grammer (under the title “I Wanna Go Home”) and by Bobby Bare. Hank does a nice job with the song.
Hank shows his total comfort with rock songs on his fast take on the Joe South composition “Games People Play”. This would have made a good single but Freddy Weller, a member of the rock group Paul Revere & The Raiders who was attempting to forge a career in country music, beat Hank to the punch taking the song to #1 on the Cashbox and Record World country charts a few months earlier.

That Hank chose to record the song at all was a harbinger of things to come in country music. Until 1968 what some would describe as songs of social consciousness had been rare in country music, in fact aside from Johnny Cash’s songs, they been virtually non-existent. In 1968 three songs, Roy Clark’s “Do You Believe This Town”, Henson Cargill’s “Skip A Rope” and Jeannie C. Riley’s “Harper Valley PTA”, had cracked the door open further for this kind of material:

Oh the games people play now
Every night and every day now
Never meaning what they say now
Never saying what they mean

While they wile away the hours
In their ivory towers
Till they’re covered up with flowers
In the back of a black limousine

Chorus
La-da da da da da da da
La-da da da da da de
Talking ’bout you and me
And the games people play

Oh we make one another cry
Break a heart then we say goodbye
Cross our hearts and we hope to die
That the other was to blame

But neither one ever will give in
So we gaze at an eight by ten
Thinking ’bout the things that might have been
And it’s a dirty rotten shame

It would be unthinkable for Hank to have done a live album without showcasing one of this own hits, so “Standing In The Shadows” is up next. The song got a rousing ovation from the audience.

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 band is feature on an instrumental, the recent Flatt & Scruggs hit (from the movie Bonnie and Clyde)”Foggy Mountain Breakdown”. It is a good rendition although the banjo player is definitely not in Earl Scrugg’s league. Snippets of several other songs are performed within this track (in jazz they call these ‘signatures’).

Side One closes out with an effective version of another Hank Sr. classic “You Win Again”.

Side Two opens with a classic George Jones song penned by Dickey Lee Lipscomb & Steve Duffy, “She Thinks I Still Care”. Hank Jr. isn’t George Jones (who is?) but he handles the song quite well.

Conway Twitty had a many #1 records in his illustrious career but “Darling You Know I Wouldn’t Lie” (#1 Cashbox / #1 Record World / #2 Billboard) is barely remembered today. Hank’s version opens with a nice steel guitar intro – in fact, the steel dominates the whole arrangement. This Wayne Kemp-Red Lane classic is the kind of song Conway Twitty really excelled at, and I really like Hank’s take on the song:

Here I am late again for the last time
And like I promised I just told her goodbye
Please believe me for this time it’s really over
And darling you know I wouldn’t lie

Didn’t I come and tell you about her
How temptation lured she and I
Now I know it was only fascination
And darling you know I wouldn’t lie

I had to let her down easy as slow as I could
After all she’s got feelings too
But it took a little longer than I thought it would
But this time she knows we’re really through

She wanted to hold me forever
And this lipstick shows her final try
And these tears on my shoulders are proof that she failed
And darling you know I wouldn’t lie
And darling you know I wouldn’t lie

The album closes with three Hank Sr. songs. In his earliest recordings Hank Jr. tried to be a clone of his father, but by now he was putting his stamp on the material.

There are many who consider “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” as the greatest country song ever written (personally I’m torn between this song, “El Paso”, and “The Last Letter”), but it is a great song, even if Hank Jr.’s version does not live up to his father’s version (no one else’s version does either). It’s a great song and should be appreciated for what it is.

This is followed by “Your Cheatin’ Heart”; again Hank Jr. cannot quite get that lonesome sound in his voice that his father does, but he does a fine job. For whatever reason, “Your Cheatin’ Heart” is not listed on the album cover, which caused me to think this was a shorter album than is actually the case.

The album closes with “I Saw The Light”. Country albums and live country shows frequently closed with gospel songs during this period of time. Unfortunately that tradition faded away in the 1970s
Unfortunately I was unable to find definitive information on the musicians playing on this album. Even PragueFrank’s website did not provide any information. Suffice it to say, it’s a very good band with a proficient steel player, a competent banjo and an excellent honky-tonk style pianist. I hope someday this gets released in a digital format with the missing tracks restored as bonus tracks. By the time this album was issued Hank Jr. had already scored a few more hits on non-Hank Sr. material, so I presume he might performed a few of them.

A few years ago I did an article on the twenty-five greatest live country albums. At that time, I placed this album sixteenth on my list, docking it a bit for the short playing time (based on the album’s back cover). The actual playing time is actually around thirty-two minute, which still seems too short – the album ended with me wanting more.

Obviously I give this album a solid A.

Fellow Travelers: Gene Pitney (1941-2006)

gene pitneyThis is the fifth in a series of short articles about artists who, although not country artists, were of some importance to country music.

WHO WAS HE? : Gene Pitney was a successful singer-songwriter whose peak American success occurred during the 1960s. As a songwriter, Pitney supplied hits to a number of prominent artists including “He’s a Rebel” (The Crystals) “Today’s Teardrops” (Roy Orbison), “Rubber Ball” (Bobby Vee) and “Hello Mary Lou” (Ricky Nelson).

As a singer, Gene was a very dramatic balladeer, whose powerful voice bought the songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David to prominence with such hits as “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence”, “Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa” and “Only Love Can Break A Heart”. “Only Love Can Break A Heart” was Gene’s biggest US pop hit, reaching #2, kept from the top, ironically enough by the Crystals’ recording of “He’s A Rebel”. All told Gene charted twenty-four tunes in the US Hot 100 with four songs reaching the top ten.

Although Gene had considerable success in the USA, he was even more successful in the UK with eleven songs reaching the top ten including his 1963 recording of “That Girl Belongs To Yesterday”, the first ever hit for the songwriting duo of Mick Jagger & Keith Richards, and a #1 duet with Marc Almond in 1989 of “Something’s Got A Hold of My Heart”. Gene died of an apparent heart attack in 2006 while on a successful tour of Great Britain.

WHAT WAS HIS CONNECTION TO COUNTRY MUSIC? : Gene listed Moon Mullican among his early influences. Although he was raised in Connecticut, he recalled listening to the WWVA Big Jamboree on some Saturday nights.

Gene was the flagship artist for Art Talmadge’s Musicor label, which had only two consistently bankable artists in Gene Pitney and (after 1965) George Jones. Both artists were grossly over-recorded, often releasing five or more albums per year. Somewhere along the line, someone had the bright idea to record George and Gene together, releasing the records under the name ‘George & Gene’. This duo charted four songs on the country charts, the biggest being a #16 charting remake of the old Faron Young hit “I’ve Got Five Dollars and It’s Saturday Night” (it also reached the Billboard Hot 100). George Jones and Gene Pitney would record a total of seventeen songs together; however, all of their work together was in the recording studio as they never appeared in concert together.

Gene would also have another duet country chart hit, this time with another Musicor label mate, Melba Montgomery, on “Baby Ain’t That Fine”. Gene and Melba recorded several songs together.

Although Gene’s success on the country charts was limited, several of his pop classics were covered by country artists with success. Sonny James took “Only Love Can Break A Heart” to #1 Cashhbox/#2 Billboard in 1972 and in 1979 Kenny Dale took it to #7. Randy Barlow took “Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa” to the top twenty in 1977 and several other artists had some lower places with covers of Gene’s hits, plus his songs show up as album tracks on country albums throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

There is an official website where you can find out more about Pitney and listen to samples of his music. If you’ve never heard Gene Pitney, you’re in for a treat. He’s not really comparable in style to anyone I can think of, maybe somewhere between Jackie Wilson and Roy Orbison, but unique and distinctive.

Country Heritage: Jerry Lee Lewis

This article is about country singer Jerry Lee Lewis, who occupies and inhabits the same body as the somewhat demented rock ‘n roller about whom we will speak little further.

Jerry Lee Lewis was born on September 29, 1935 in Ferriday, Louisiana, and is a first cousin to famed evangelist Jimmy Swaggart and a second cousin to fellow country singer Mickey Gilley. Swaggart and Lewis were born in Ferriday, and Gilley across the river in Natchez, Mississippi, all within a ten month span, and grew up together.

Like most of his era Jerry Lee grew up singing in church. He also was influenced by the country and rhythm and blues music that surrounded him. While Jerry Lee has cited few specific influences to his music, one of those cited was Texas-born Moon Mullican, an exuberant performer who frequently toured Louisiana during the 1930s and 1940s. Moon, who is worth an article himself, played a pounding piano, barrelhouse boogie style, that would vibrate beer bottles off the tables.

Jerry Lee made his way to Memphis and the attention of Sam Phillips at Sun Records. While Jerry Lee was to gain great initial success doing other forms of music, Jerry Lee continued to record country music. His 1957 cover of Hank Williams’ “You Win Again” reached #2 for two weeks, and other songs, while not charting, demonstrated an artist comfortable with the most country of country songs. Jerry Lee’s cover of the Ray Price hit “Crazy Arms”, while bearing no strong resemblance to the Price hit, is worth seeking.

A minor scandal that erupted while Jerry Lee was touring England derailed the chart career of the ‘Ferriday Fireball’ after 1958 (Jerry Lee hadn’t actually done anything illegal – or even unusual for folks of his upbringing). While “Cold Cold Heart” would chart at #22 during August 1961, Jerry Lee would only hit the country charts once more time through 1967.

Jerry Lee Lewis never quit performing, playing small southern ‘tank towns’ and the ‘chitlin’ circuit’. After his Sun Record contract expired in 1963, Jerry Lee signed with Smash Records, a subsidiary of Mercury, which had Jerry Lee re-record his old Sun hits and record modern rhythm & blues classics. Several live albums were released that demonstrated that Jerry Lee had lost a thing when it came to live performing but between the lingering effects of scandal and the influence of Berry Gordy’s slick Motown enterprise, and the “British Invasion” of the mid-1960s, American audiences just weren’t buying Jerry Lee’s brand of pop music. Read more of this post

Album Review: ‘A Portrait Of Patsy Cline’

June 1964 saw another posthumous release of previously unreleased Patsy Cline material, in the form of this album. The majority of the songs had been recorded at her final recording sessions, a month before her death, with a handful left over from previous sessions. It does however end up feeling one of her most cohesive albums, and the logical progression from Patsy’s previous studio albums, Showcase and Sentimentally Yours. As was now her trademark, the material mixes country and pop songs, all given orchestral arrangements, and if anything she was moving further away from her country roots.

Opening track ‘Faded Love’ had been a posthumous top 10 country single for Patsy in 1963, and was a Bob Wills cover transformed into an intense torch ballad with a typically exquisite vocal performance wrenching every morsel of regret from the words, and a production laden with strings giving it a sophisticated sheen, but one which supports rather than overwhelms the vocal. ‘I’ll Sail My Ship Alone’ was an old Moon Mullican country song (a #1 hit in 1948) which sounds even more changed under the Cline/Bradley treatment, and the end result is less successful than ‘Faded Love’.

‘When You Need A Laugh’, another single, charted less well, although it is a lovely Hank Cochran ballad of obsessive love, sung beautifully with a melancholy tinge to Patsy’s vocals. The protagonist is so desperate to be with the one she loves, she doesn’t care if he is laughing at her:

At least I’m on your mind when you’re laughing….
Even if the laugh’s on me I don’t mind at all
So when you need a laugh give me a call

It was one of the songs resurrected from a previous recording session (in September 1962), as was ‘Your Kinda Love’ . The latter was also released as a single but did not chart at all despite a beautiful, nuanced interpretation. It was written by Roy Drusky, another country artist who Owen Bradley was producing at the time, and who subsequently went on to a long and reasonably successful career.

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