My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Nancy Jones

Book Review: Randy Travis – ‘Forever And Ever, Amen’

Randy Travis was the first artist I fell in love musically, and one who saved country music in the second half of the 1980s from declining into pop-influenced irrelevance.

Randy’s new autobiography take us briskly through his childhood, blighted by a father who was an alcoholic bully, sometimes violent towards his wife and children, his youthful off-the-rails behaviour, and his joining forces with Lib Hatcher, the married mid-30s club owner who took charge of him and his career when he was barely 17. He admits he was sleeping with her when she was his court-appointed legal guardian when he was just 17 – we would certainly be calling this an abusive relationship if the genders were reversed, with no question. And that doesn’t even take into account the way Randy eventually discovered (post-divorce) just how badly she had been taking advantage of their relationship financially.

After they moved to Nashville Little Jimmy Dickens, a customer at the Nashville Palace, spotted his talent and gave him a chance to sing on the Opry. Ralph Emery was another early supporter. The young Randy, with only an eighth grade education, and not a very committed one at that, was rather naïve, signing anything Lib told him to. He comes across as very modest concerning his remarkable talent.

There is a lot of interesting detail both on Randy’s recordings and his touring. He comes across as a very nice, genuine person but not a very strong character, easily guided by his long term partner, who was in many respects the driver of his career. As we see his catapulting into stardom, it is clear that Lib Hatcher took advantage of Travis, viewing his success as her own. At times she undermined him, both controlling him by convincing everyone he had a number of allergies (he didn’t), and arguing with business contacts. On one occasion she had something close to a standup fight with George Jones’s wife Nancy, the latter coming off better. Randy wasn’t even allowed his own phone.

He did not think about breaking away until Lib’s attentions were distracted by another young man she could control, a young Irish pop singer. He found support from an old friend whose marriage was also on the rocks, and this blossomed into love. It was only after Randy filed for divorce that he began to see how much Lib had been taking advantage of his success financially. However, the divorce also led him into excessive drinking and things soon spiralled out of control, as we all remember from the lurid newspaper reports of public nudity while in a drunken fugue. Kyle Lehning and George Jones both tried to tell Randy he was drinking too much. When George Jones tells you you have a drinking problem – you really, really do.

The book is very well written, with the help of Ken Abraham. Randy is frank about his failings, accepting some responsibility for letting Lib control him, and acknowledging that he handled the new relationship with Mary a little irresponsibly at its outset. There is a bit too much medical detail following the stroke; while Randy appears to want to dispel thoughts that it was due to the drink problem, the level of detail is boring for the non-medical professional.

We end with details of Randy’s continuing recovery, and his gratitude for the support of fellow artists, with an element of redemption as he has mended some bridges burnt by Lib in earlier years. There are a couple of albums’ worth of unreleased recordings which may be released in due course, and my bet (given financial concerns set out in the book) is that this will be sooner rather than later; recent single ‘One In A Row’ is clearly one of these tracks.

This book is enlightening in many ways, and well worth reading.

Grade: A

Album Review: Leona Williams – ‘By George This Is… A Tribute To George Jones’

Despite her lack of real commercial success, George Jones once called Merle Haggard’s ex-wife Leona Williams “the greatest female singer to have ever stepped up to a microphone” – a quotation she naturally likes to repeat. She was also one of his chosen duet partners in Ladies’ Choice, the duet album he did with assorted female singers in 1985. On her own New Patches album on Heart of Texas a few years back, Leona included a warmhearted tribute to Jones and his wife Nancy, and her latest venture is a full-scale tribute album to the man she, and I, would call the greatest country singer of all time.

She resurrects that original tribute song, ‘Ol’ George’ (which she also wrote), as the lead-in to a nice set of covers of some of Jones’s greatest hits, given traditional country arrangements.

Leona delivers an emotional version of the brooding ‘Window Up Above’ which is very good. Working equally well are her version of ‘A Picture Of Me (Without You)’ and (given a gender switch) ‘He Thinks I Still Care’. ‘You Comb His Hair’ is beautifully sung, and lyrically perhaps works a little better interpreted by a woman than the original. This is a highlight for me.

The romantic ‘I’ll Share My World With You’ and ‘Walk Through This World With Me’ are also very well done, and don’t prompt unfavorable comparisons at all.

Tribute versions often show just how good the subject of that tribute is, and this is no exception. ‘Color Of The Blues’ sounds pretty but lacks the hopeless intensity of heartbreak of the original. The same goes for ‘I’m Not Ready Yet’, ‘Things Have Gone To Pieces, and ‘When The Grass Grows Over Me’. They are quite effective on their own terms, but the originals are hard, if not impossible, to match. She makes a good stab at ‘He stopped Loving her Today’, with a low key approach which works quite well, but inevitably falls a little short of Jones.

A bouncy up-tempo hillbilly medley of ‘Race Is On’/’White Lightnin’’/’Why Baby Why’ is quite enjoyable, but my favorite track is an invested take on ‘Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?’, which is rather lovely.

I think in some ways any one of these covers would have been a delightful addition to a collection of otherwise new material, but brought together as a tribute, comparisons are unavoidable. The sympathetic production, helmed by Bruce Hoffman, who did the same job on last year’s super bluegrass Grass Roots, help to make this a thoroughly pleasant listening experience. On the whole, though, it is a nice but inessential tribute from a fine older singer still near the top of her game, but George Jones’s originals are insurmountable.

Grade: B+

Album Review: George Jones – ‘Wine Colored Roses’

Released in 1986, The Possum’s 18th solo outing for Epic is another stellar entry in his extensive catalog that generated a pair of top 10 hits and earned him the third gold album of his career. The title track, written by Dennis Knutson and A.L. “Doodle” Owens, tells the unlikely story of an alcoholic who sends a bouquet of wine colored roses to his ex, as a not too subtle way of letting her know that he still hasn’t cleaned up his act. In real life, however, Jones had begun to get his life on track, and the album’s next single, “The Right Left Hand”, also written by Knutson and Owens, is likely a tribute to his wife Nancy, whom he credits as the one who helped him reform his ways. A third single, the beautiful “I Turn To You”, from the pens of Max D. Barnes and Curly Putnam, fared less well at radio, peaking at #26.

Billy Sherrill’s production is firmly in the new traditionalist style, likely a result of the massive success that both Dwight Yoakam and Randy Travis had experienced at country radio that year. Jones sounds more relaxed and content than he had on previous albums. “Don’t Leave Without Taking Your Silver” is sort of “A Good Year For The Roses” revisited, though the newer song lacks the intensity of the 1970 classic. This time around George doesn’t make any attempts to stop his wife from leaving, blaming her for the silver in his hair. The light-hearted “The Very Best Of Me” provides a well-timed change of pace as George reveals to his wife what he plans to leave to whom, when his time comes to meet his maker:

Give my dry lips to Jack Daniels
Give the jukebox both my ears,
Plant one foot in Texas, one in Tennessee.
Send my backside to my ex-wife,
Tell her, seal it with a kiss,
Girl, I’m leaving you the very best of me.

My favorite song on the album is “Hopelessly Yours”, a beautiful ballad written by Don Cook, Curly Putnam, and Keith Whitley, that became a hit for Lee Greenwood and Suzy Bogguss a few years later. A close second is a track contributed by Max D. Barnes and the great Harlan Howard. “Ol’ Frank” tells the story of a May-December romance:

She was just seventeen but she was all woman
When Ol’ Frank slipped the ring on her hand
My God, he was wealthy, owned half the county
But he’d never see sixty again.

After ten years of heaven and long nights of love
His ol’ heart couldn’t keep up the pace.
But friends you can bet that he had no regrets,
Ol’ Frank ran one hell of a race.

She cried all the way to the chapel,
Like she really cared for Ol’ Frank
She cried all the way to the grave where he lay,
But she smiled all the way to the bank.

Slightly disappointing is “You Never Looked That Good When You Were Mine”, on which Jones is joined by pop singer Patti Page. The song itself is good and both Jones and Page are in good vocal form, but together they lack the chemistry that made George’s duets with Melba Montgomery and Tammy Wynette so memorable. Weaker still is “If Only Your Eyes Could Lie”, which would have been better suited for Jimmy Buffett than George Jones.

The album closes on a poignant note with “These Old Eyes Have Seen It All” in which an old man reminisces about seeing Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams and Elvis Presley onstage, as well as recounting memories of his service in World War II, the moon landing in 1969, and his fifty year marriage to his now-deceased wife.

Though Wine Colored Roses didn’t produce any classic hits of the caliber of “The Grand Tour” or “He Stopped Loving Her Today”, it is still a solid collection of songs that hold up well nearly a quarter century after its release, and it is well worth adding to your collection.

Grade: A-

It is currently out of print in CD form; used copies are available, but they are a little more expensive than usual. It is also available digitally from Amazon and iTunes.