My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Pappy Daily

George Jones remembered

george-jones-200a-072408mbWith the passing of George, all the radio heroes of my early childhood, except Ray Price, have gone from the scene. I can’t tell you exactly when I became cognizant of George Jones, as he seemed to have always been there. I remember radio playing songs such as “White Lightning”, “Who Shot Sam?”, “Don’t Stop The Music” , “Just One More” and You Gotta Be My Baby” during the 1950’s and liking the sound of the records, although not necessarily understanding what they were about.

I can tell you when I became a real fan of George Jones and when I started understanding what his music was about. In 1961 I turned nine years old and lived across the street from a kid whose father manifested all of the bad behavior that was revealed in George’s songs. While many sang “the endless ballads of booze and broads” in those less politically correct days, George brought a depth of emotion that few could achieve. But while many singers mined those same waters, few were also as good at singing of other matters such as love and faith. Let’s face it, George Jones could sing even the most mediocre and most maudlin songs with convincing sincerity, so when he had good material to work with, the results transcended what everyone else was doing.

For my money, the very best recordings George Jones ever recorded came during the 1960s. Yes, he became a more nuanced singer later, but he was already 98% at his nuanced peak and his voice was at its absolute peak.

During the 1950s George recorded for Starday and/or Mercury (there were some collaborative efforts between the two labels) and while there was considerable youthful enthusiasm there, the polish had not yet been applied. Towards the end of his run on Mercury a few songs were released that heralded the direction George was going – “The Window Up Above”, “She Thinks I Still Care”, “Tender Years”, and “You’re Still On My Mind”. These songs exhibited a little more careful production than was often the case and were far more introspective than the usual “ballads of booze and broads”. While “You’re Still On My Mind” was not released as a single until after George left Mercury (and accordingly received no promotional push) it was an impressive effort and earned the songwriter Luke McDaniel some additional money when the Byrds included it on their Sweetheart Of The Rodeo album.

I have said many times the 1960s were my favorite era for George Jones recordings. In 1961 George’s recordings started appearing on the United Artists label. While perhaps a bit heavy on the strings and vocal choruses, these recordings feature strong material and find George in fine voice throughout. This era kicked off with a magnificent single, “She Thinks I Still Care” b/w “Sometimes You Just Can’t Win” as the B side. The A side shot to #1 where it stayed for six weeks. I thought the song on the B side was the stronger song – and it proved its worth by shooting to #17. (A new recording of the song would reach the top ten in 1971 for Musicor, plus it would be covered by many other artists) . What better description can you have of despair than

Just when the suns shines the brightest
And the world looks alright again
Then the clouds fill the skies
You can’t believe your eyes
Sometimes you just can’t win

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Sounds just like…

The music distribution website CDBaby, where I sometimes go to get hold of more obscure independent artists, has a “sounds like” search function, where you can enter the name of a famous artist you already like, and find music by someone who supposedly sounds similar (at least according to that artist’s publicity). While this more often applies to general style than to real “soundalikes”, I’ve been thinking lately about the latter – when a new artist is more than just reminiscent of an established act.

Virtually every review to date of newcomer Easton Corbin has commented on his obvious debt to George Strait, although personally I would say he owes almost as much to Alan Jackson, and isn’t really a copycat of either. General awareness of this similarity does not seem to be hampering his career momentum – if anything it gives him some instant credibility in setting him apart from the pop-inspired hordes on country radio.

Many successful artists in the past have been compared to stars of the past – when Sammy Kershaw emerged in the early 90s his vocal similarity to George Jones was noted, and part of the significance of country music’s respect for its roots is that the influence of stars of the past has always been acknowledged. Listen to Randy Travis, and you can hear the effect of years listening to Merle Haggard, Merle owed much to Lefty Frizzell and Jimmie Rodgers, and so on, but each of these artists was also able to develop their own spin on a common base. There is a fine line between being part of a tradition, and influenced by your predecessors’ vocal stylings, and coming across as a mere carbon copy. George Jones started out his career copying his childhood idol Roy Acuff, to the extent that his first producer Pappy Daily once asked him,

‘George, I’ve heard you sing like Roy Acuff, Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell. I just want to know one thing: Can you sing like George Jones?’

As it turned out, he certainly could, but had he not been able to develop his own distinctive voice, he would not now be regarded as the greatest country singer of all time. But with the rapid pace of country music careers today, and the industry’s fascination with very young performers, there is not always time for a young singer to develop his or her own style before being judged and found wanting.

This year’s country contender on American Ido is a 17-year-old who sounds quite remarkably like Josh Turner – not only that, young North Carolinian Scotty McCreery auditioned with Turner’s hit ‘Your Man’, repeated it during the lengthy televised selection process, and also sang Josh’s classic ‘Long Black Train’. Turner himself used his website to admit to being flattered by the choice. I understand that he branched out and sang a John Michael Montgomery song last night – I haven’t heard it yet, so I don’t know whether he achieved triumph or disaster or something in between. If he survives this week’s first vote, I think he has a voice which will be worth tuning in for, although perhaps not a fully polished style – unsurprising given his youth. But as a potential star in the real world, I wonder if he’s not a bit too similar to Turner for his own good. Would he be able to make his own music distinctive enough to get played in its own right, should he make it far enough on the show to guarantee a major label record deal? That seems all the more of an issue as the Idol franchise has now cut its longstanding ties with Sony, and first dibs on any stars created by this season will go to the Universal Music Group – parent of Josh Turner’s label MCA.

Do you think a new artist is harmed or helped by sounding like an old favorite?

Album Review: George Jones – ‘Step Right Up 1970-1979: A Critical Anthology’

George had become disillusioned with Pappy Daily’s business practices. His marriage to Tammy Wynette in 1969 encouraged him to make the momentous decision to move to her label Epic, and to co-opt her producer Billy Sherrill. George was forced to buy himself out of his Musicor contract, but it was money well spent, even though his chart record remained somewhat inconsistent. George’s move to Epic saw him at the peak of his vocal prowess, married to Billy Sherrill’s smooth, Nashville Sound production.

This superb compilation contains six of George’s last tracks for Musicor, and over 20 of the finest tracks he recorded in his first eight years on Epic. These were the years of his troubled marriage to and divorce from Tammy Wynette, and the years his intensifying battles with drugs and alcohol earned him the inglorious nickname ‘No Show Jones’ and saw his health break down, but in the studio George Jones was creating magic and leading up to what many will call his finest moment on record. Step Right Up mixes classic hits with some well-chosen lesser known album cuts. The material is almost uniformly great here, concentrating on the sad songs at which George Jones has always excelled. Vocally George does not put a foot wrong, although some aspects of the production, mainly the backing vocals, now sound a little dated. The only reason to debate whether this album is worth buying is whether you might not try to get hold of the constituent albums, at least some of which are available on CD reissues.

George’s first single of the 70s, as he approached the end of his time with Musicor, was ‘Where Grass Won’t Grow’, a bleak, echoey tale of rural poverty in Tennessee,

Trying to grow corn and cotton on ground so poor that grass won’t grow

culminating in the death of the protagonist’s wife, buried in that same soil. The song, written by George’s old friend and drinking partner Earl Montgomery, was perhaps too downbeat to chart higher than the lower reaches of the top 30, but its quality led it to become regarded as a classic Jones record.

The exquisite expression of emotional devastation in ‘A Good Year For The Roses’ (written by Jerry Chestnut) is one of George’s most masterly vocal performances, reaching #2 on Billboard.

A handful of less well-known late Musicor cuts are also included. The tender steel-laced ballad of love for the protagonist’s motherless child, ‘She’s Mine’, co-written by George with Jack Ripley, was a top 10 hit. Slightly less successful, peaking at #13, was a great Dallas Frazier/Sanger D Shafer composition ‘Tell Me My Lying Eyes Are Wrong’, in which George manfully tries to pretend everything’s alright and his wife isn’t cheating on him, unusually featuring the Jones Boys’ backing. Another Dallas Frazier song (this time with A L Owens), ‘She’s As Close As I Can Get To Loving You’, has another great lead vocal, but is marred by excessive Nashville Sound backing vocals. Wayne Kemp’s ballad ‘Image Of Me’ has the protagonist confessing his shame that he has “dragged down” a simple old-fashioned country girl and made her into a honky-tonk angel, with another very fine vocal performance. Earl Montgomery’s ‘Right Won’t Touch A Hand’, a passionate confession of regret for jealousy which destroyed a relationship, was yet another top 10 hit in 1971.

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Album Review: George Jones – ‘The Definitive Collection 1955-1962’

We’re starting our look at the career of George Jones with an overview of his early years, courtesy of this compilation, which covers his spells on the Starday and Mercury labels (focussing on the latter). Starday was a Texas label with limited resources which mainly released singles, but it managed to give George his first hit singles. After he moved on, they would release a number of albums containing back catalog material. It was co-owned by George’s first manager and producer (at least in name) Harold ‘Pappy’ Daily, who was to stay with him through several label moves, always having a significant financial interest himself. In fact George later stated that Pappy had little musical input, most of the arrangements being worked out live in the studio by George and the musicians.

Just out of the Marine Corps, George had not quite developed his own artistic voice, as he started out singing mainly up-tempo material in a slightly higher register than he later settled into, displaying the influences of Roy Acuff and Hank Williams, but he is credited with writing much of his own material while on both Starday and Mercury, including a handful of songs which stand today as genuine country classics. The style is generally hard honky-tonk, with some Nashville Sound influences in the last few recordings.

George’s first hit single, the insistent ‘Why Baby Why’ reached #4 in 1955, although a rival cover by the more established Webb Pierce and Red Sovine went all the way to #1 at the end of the year. George wrote the song with his friend Darrell Edwards, one of his main songwriting partners through the 1950s and 1960s, and it is probably better known than many of his recordings from this period simply because it was the first.

‘Just One More’, George’s biggest Starday hit (it reached #3 in 1956), is a ballad with the protagonist drinking away the memories of a lost love, one drink at a time. It is a fine song which deserved to be a hit, but shows George had not yet refined his vocal ability as he was to do soon thereafter. Also from the Starday years is the first version George recorded of an old blues number, ‘I’m Ragged But I’m Right’, a song he was to re-do later on (and more than once). This version is the rawest. He also recorded some rockabilly sides on Starday under the pseudonym Thumper Jones, but these are not represented here, and it was not really the right direction for him.

In 1957 Daily had George’s singles contract transferred to Mercury, and the next few years saw him become a genuine star in country music, and develop the quintessential George Jones vocal style.

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