My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Pat Campbell

Country music in the United Kingdom and Ireland part 1: 1950s-1972

Since American folk and country music, particularly that of the of the Appalachian region, had its roots in the English and Irish folk traditions, it seems only fair that the American product crossed back over the Atlantic Ocean to the home of its forbears.

The age of recorded music dates back over a century but it appears that the cross-pollination of English pop music with American Country music began in earnest in 1952 when Slim Whitman, a smooth-voiced American country singer with a wide vocal range and outstanding ability as a yodeler released “Indian Love Call” as a single. The song reached #2 on the US country charts but also got to #9 on the US pop charts and #7 on the British pop charts. Then in 1954, “Rose Marie” topped the British pop charts. While Whitman would have only one more top ten British hit, his recordings continued to chart occasionally through 1957, and received some airplay thereafter. The BBC played Slim’s 1968 single “Livin’ On Lovin’ (And Lovin’ Livin’ with You)” with some frequency.

Although no longer a pop singles charts factor, Slim’s albums would continue to sell well with the last charting album falling off the British album charts in 1978. Red River Valley charted at #1 in 1977 and Home On The Range reached #2. Slim would tour the UK and Europe for the next several decades.

Because of his highly individual style, perhaps Slim isn’t a good exemplar; however, a few years later the heavily country-influenced rockabilly artists such as Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent Craddock, Carl Perkins and Eddie Cochran began making their presence felt. Initially the presence was to be found in the work of skiffle artists such as Lonnie Donegan and the Vipers. Skiffle was an amalgam of American blues, folk and country, and would fuel the early English rock ‘n roll movement. One American act, Johnny Duncan and the Bluegrass Boys, also would thrive as skiffle artists.

While the skiffle artists were not, per se, country artists (and like rockabilly, the movement was short-lived), Nashville songwriters were beginning to have success in England with country songs, even if not necessarily performed as country music. During the 1960s artists such as Max Bygraves, Val Doonican, Ken Dodd, Des O’Connor, Englebert Humperdinck and a dynamic singer from Wales, Tom Jones, were having huge success with American Country songs.

One of the first English groups to actually feature American style country music was the Hillsiders. Signed to RCA, they found their way to Nashville to record an album with country great Bobby Bare. The album The English Countryside reached #29 on the US country album charts and spawned the single “Find Out What’s Happening” that went to #15 on the US country chart and reached #5 on the Canadian country chart. While neither the album nor the single charted in England, the album reputedly sold decently and the single received some airplay. While there were no further chart hits, the Hillsiders remained an integral part of the English country scene through the mid-1990s.

Thanks to a pair of BBC radio programs, Country Meets Folk (hosted by Wally Whyton) and Country Style (hosted initially by David Allan and later by Pat Campbell), there were weekly shows that featured country music. Country Meets Folk was a live program that was about 50-50 folk and country whereas Country Style mostly featured recorded music with an occasional live performance by a local act. Through Country Style, I became familiar with such entertaining acts as Tex Withers, Roger Knowles, Nick Strutt, Brian Golbey, Pete Stanley and a host of Irish acts such as Larry Cunningham, Big Tom & The Mainliners, Dermot O’Brien and Joe Dolan. I should mention that Irish Country music often came in the form of an Irish Showband, with the music sometimes resembling that of modern day American polka star Jimmy Sturr.

The First International Festival of County Music at Empire Pool – Wembley, was organized by Mervyn Conn and took place on April 5, 1969 and featured a number of prominent American country artists such as Conway Twitty, Bill Anderson and Loretta Lynn (my father and I both attended) and also showcased a number of fine English and Irish country acts as follows: Phil Brady & The Ranchers, Larry Cunningham and the Mighty Avons, The Hillsiders, and Orange Blossom Sound (a fine bluegrass group).

The Second International Festival of Country Music was held March 28, 1970, and my father and I again were both in attendance, to see the Roy Acuff, Tompall & The Glaser Brothers and Lynn Anderson, along with other American acts and the English acts Orange Blossom Sound, The Hillsiders, and Country Fever.

These festivals continued through 1991 and gave such fine English and Irish acts as Brian Coll, Lee Conway, Ray Lyman & The Hillbillies, Patsy Powel and The Honky Tonk Playboys, The Jonny Young Four and Frank Yoncho exposure.

Meanwhile Lucky Records was formed to provide an outlet for local artists. One of my most treasured albums was by acoustic country artist Brian Golbey titled The Old & The New Brian Golbey.

At about the same time The Nashville Room opened in Kensington, which featured music by local country acts with an occasional Nashville star such a Hank Locklin dropping in.

I moved away from England in 1971 and lost track of the English and Irish country music scenes. In the days before the internet it was difficult to keep up with what was going on across the sea.

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Country Heritage: Jean Shepard

jean shepard 1You gaze at that guitar on your knee
In a way that you never look at me
This love affair of yours has gone too far
And I’m tired of playing second fiddle to an old guitar

— From “Second Fiddle (To an Old Guitar),” Capitol Records, 1964

Kitty Wells may have been the reigning Queen of Country Music during the 1950s, but in the eyes of many (including myself) Jean Shepard had at least as good a claim to the title. Whereas Kitty Wells, after the uncharacteristically defiant “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” reverted back to songs of domestic bliss and of being the “wronged woman,” Jean Shepard kept pushing the boundaries for female country singers. Jean may not have pushed things as far as Loretta Lynn did during the late 1960s and 70s, but she laid the groundwork for Loretta and those to follow. Among Europeans, whose tastes in country music run to more traditional sounds, many regard her as the greatest of all female country singers, a sentiment that was echoed by such leading British county music journalists as Pat Campbell, Bob Powell, and David Allen. While I don’t regard Shepard quite that highly, on my personal list of the greatest female country singers of all time, she would be in my top three (greatest, as opposed to most popular or most influential) singers. During her peak years (roughly 1953-75) she was a definite force of nature

Born Ollie Imogene Shepard on November 21, 1933 in Oklahoma, she was the child of parents who moved to Bakersfield, California, as a result of the Dust Bowl that engulfed the midwest during the 1930s. Since Shepard has been staunchly performing modern traditional country music for over sixty years, it seems only fitting that she grew up and started her career in the area surrounding Bakersfield, California.

Jean began her career as a bass player in the Melody Ranch Girls, an all-female band formed in 1948. Not long thereafter, she came to the attention of Hank Thompson, who, impressed by her talents, helped her get a record deal with Capitol Records–where she worked with Thompson’s producer, Ken Nelson. At the time she inked her deal, Shepard was still a teenager.

On her Capitol recordings, Shepard was a honky-tonker whose hard-core sound could rival any of her male counterparts. While her first single “Crying Steel Guitar Waltz” failed to chart, it showed enough promise for Capitol to team her with another promising singer, Ferlin Husky, for the 1953 chart-topper “A Dear John Letter,” a song which resonated with many returning Korean War veterans. After this, the solo hits started coming with “Beautiful Lies” and “A Satisfied Mind” being among the biggest hits of 1955 ( “A Satisfied Mind” was also a major hit for Porter Wagoner and Red Foley, but after you’ve heard Jean Shepard’s version, you will forget about the others).

Along the way, Shepard became a part of Red Foley’s Ozark Jubilee (broadcast from Springfield, MO on ABC TV) from 1955 to 1957, and she was inducted as a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1956, where she has remained a member to this day. It was during this period that Jean released what may have been country music’s first album centered around a theme in Songs of a Love Affair. Shepard had a hand in writing all twelve songs on this album.

She continued to have hits throughout the fifties and sixties, although like many other traditional country singers her hits became increasingly smaller as rock ‘n roll and the Nashville sound came into prominence. Lost in the shuffle were such excellent singles as “Act Like A Married Man,” “Tomorrow I’ll Be Gone,” “I Used To Love You,” and “Have Heart, Will Love.”

In 1960 Shepard married Hawkshaw Hawkins, a minor star whose forte was his live stage shows rather than recording success. Jean was pregnant with his son Hawkshaw Hawkins, Jr. at the time of the 1963 plane crash that claimed Hawkins’ life (as well as those of Lloyd “Cowboy” Copas and Patsy Cline).

After her son’s birth, Shepard dealt with the tragedy of her husband’s death by pouring herself back into her career. In 1964 she rebounded back near the top of the charts with the feisty “Second Fiddle (To an Old Guitar),” a song which spotlighted her yodeling ability. The next few years would produce more hits including “Seven Lonely Days,” “Many Happy Hangovers To You,” and a rare ballad “Another Lonely Night.” She also teamed up with Ray Pillow for several duets, including the big hit “I’ll Take the Dog” in 1966.

Between 1965 and 1970 Shepard charted fifteen Top 40 hits. Eventually, though, Capitol –- blessed with a deep roster that included Wanda Jackson, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Glen Campbell and Sonny James –quit pushing her recordings to radio.

A switch to United Artists (UA) in 1973 re-ignited her career as her first single for the label, the Bill Anderson-penned “Slippin’ Away,” went to #4  Billboard /#1 Cashbox /#1 Record World  , and was followed by such great singles as “At The Time,” “I’ll Do Anything It Takes (To Stay With You),” “Poor Sweet Baby,” “Tip of My Fingers,” and “Another Neon Night.” One of her UA albums, Poor Sweet Baby, was composed entirely of songs written by Bill Anderson.  Shepard remained with UA for five years.  Since then she has recorded only occasionally for various minor labels.

Along the way, Shepard married Benny Birchfield, (best known for his tenor harmonies during his tenure with the Osborne Brothers bluegrass group). She also served as president of the Association of Country Entertainers, the perfect spokesperson for this very traditionalist organization.

In 2010, Jean was inducted into the Oklahoma Country Music Hall of Fame. Then in 2011, Jean was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, an honor three decades overdue.

Jean Shepard has been a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1955 and continues to perform regularly on the Grand Old Opry where she is indeed, the “Grand Lady of the Opry,” and a national treasure. She also tours occasionally, (in the past she sometimes performed with her son Hawkshaw Hawkins, Jr. but I haven’t heard much about him recently).  She’s lost a little off her vocal ‘chops’ over the course of time, but even 85% of Jean Shepard is a lot more than 100% of most singers.

Discography

Vinyl

Capitol Records issued twenty-one albums on Jean Shepard from 1956 to 1975 (one of these was a duet album with Ray Pillow) plus there were some budget reissues released on the Hilltop label. United Artists issued five albums plus a Greatest Hits collection from 1973 to 1976.

Albums on either Capitol or United Artist  will capture Jean at the peak of her vocal prowess. Later albums will still catch Jean in good voice but with less care given to the accompaniment and production, although the album Stars of the Grand Ole Opry issued in 1981 on Pete Drake’s First Generation Records, is a pretty good effort.

CD / Digital

The CD catalog for Shepard isn’t what it should be, although the Bear Family boxed set titled Melody Ranch Girl is available. The folks at Collector’s Choice Music described it thus, “151 legendary Capitol sides from the woman who broke through the thick gender barrier in country music without looking back! This is everything Jean recorded from 1952–1964—from ‘A Dear John Letter’ up through ‘Second Fiddle (to an Old Guitar)’—including her landmark album Songs of a Love Affair, the first concept album recorded by a female country artist, plus her Got You on My Mind, Lonesome Love and Heartaches and Tears albums. A 36-page book with a newly researched biography, discography and rare photos completes the story.”

For folks wanting to sample Jean’s work without shelling out over $100, there are some decent alternatives available.

The Ernest Tubb Record Shop currently lists nine titles available, including the above-mentioned Melody Ranch Girl boxed set and the CD version of Stars of the Grand Ole Opry and an outstanding two disc set released recently by the UK label Jasmine titled The First Lady of Country, which is composed of four of Jean’s early Capitol albums (Songs of A Love Affair, Lonesome Love, This Is Jean Shepard, and Got You On My Mind).

I am not sure of the vintage of the recordings on the other sets available from Ernest Tubb, but if you call them, the folks taking your order often can give useful information.

The Country Music Foundation in 1995 issued the stellar Jean Shepard: Honky-Tonk Heroine, which has 24 songs taken from her tenure at Capitol. It may still be possible to obtain this disc. That same year Castle Communications (Australasia) issued A Satisfied Mind which has 26 tracks (17 Capitol recordings and 9 United Artist recordings)– this is the only set (of which I am aware) that contains original United Artist recordings.

Other collections available are of uncertain vintage. Jean has issued some CDs herself (Jean, Personal Favorites, and perhaps other titles) that are often remakes but contain some song titles otherwise unavailable. I have several of these discs and they are worth obtaining.

Amazon (and probably other sites, as well) have some of Jean’s music available as digital downloads. The available music appears to be a mixed bag of originals and remakes but fortunately you can hear samples before purchasing.   While recording quality can vary, there are no bad Jean Shepard vocal performances on any of the recordings that I’ve heard.