My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Ray Baker

Album Review: Donna Ulisse – ‘Trouble At The Door’

There was a lot of great music in 1991, and the debut album by Virginia-born Donna Ulisse fell through the cracks. Produced by Ray Baker, Josh Leo and Larry Michael Lee and released on Atlantic Records, which was dipping its toes into country music, it showcased Donna’s beautiful alto voice.

Lead single ‘Things Are Mostly Fine’ is an understated mournful ballad about not getting over an ex, which Donna sings beautifully. It is one of four songs written by John Adrian, whose other writing credits appear to be for Billy ‘Crash’ Craddock. Sadly it peaked in the 70s on the country charts. Also gorgeous is his tender steel-laced ‘Fall Apart With You’, about seeking consolation in a one night stand with some guy who a looks a little like her true love. The gentle waltz ‘My Broken Hearts Breaking All Over Again’ has lovely fiddle and an exquisite vocal. ‘Legend In My Heart’ is another ballad, a tender tribute to a real life hero who is better than fictional characters, with a beautiful melody.

The bright fiddle-led up-tempo ‘When Was The Last Time’ did a little better as the second single, with its #66 peak making it Donna’s most successful stab at radio. The Buck Moore/Frank D Myers song urges the protagonist’s husband to keep their love life fresh despite struggling through hard times. It is a really nice song which deserved to be a hit.

The title track failed to chart. Written by husband and wife team Kerry and Lynn Gillespie Chater, it is an emotionally intense but subtly sung story about a wife who answers the door to her husband’s secret lover:

She says she knows you
And she’s got the right address
She’s talkin’ crazy
So I didn’t catch the rest
She wouldn’t tell me
Just what her name is
There’s one thing for sure
Boy, you’ve got trouble at the door

I tried to tell her
That you’ve been out of town
She seems to know that
But she still won’t calm down
I even mentioned that it was business
She tells me it was more
Boy, you’ve got trouble at the door

Tell me she’s crazy
Tell me she’s wrong
Say that she’s mistaken
Say that you were strong
Tell me she’s lyin’
Then tell me one thing more
Tell me that’s not trouble at the door

This is a great song which should have been a career making record.

Bob McDill and Jim Weatherly contributed ‘Fire In An Old Flame’s Eyes’, a fine ballad about yearning for an ex, with regret for the path not taken replaced by a rekindling of that early passion. ‘Guess Who’s Back In Town’, written by Ernie Rowell and Dave Lindsey, is an up-tempo tune bewailing an on-and-off relationship. ‘Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind’ is a determinedly positive song about moving on after a breakup.

‘You Always Take Her Memory Out On Me’, written by R C Bannon, is another excellent emotional ballad, about dealing with the overpowering shadow of her partner’s ex:

I’m not the one who lied to you
Made you fall apart
I didn’t find someone else
And leave you in the dark
I’ve tried my best to heal the wounds and ease your misery
Then you turn around and take her memory out on me

How long before you let go of who let go of you?
How can you be blind to all her faults,
Then find fault in everything I do?

This album should have made Donna a star. Perhaps being on Atlantic was the problem, and a label with greater influence would have helped. Donna retired into obscurity, only emerging years later as a bluegrass singer-songwriter. I like her current work, but this is still my favorite of her albums. It does not appear to be available on iTunes, but used copies of the CD can be found cheaply. It is highly recommended.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Moe Bandy – ‘Cowboys Ain’t Supposed To Cry’

Released in late 1977, Cowboys Ain’t Supposed To Cry was Moe’s fifth Columbia album and third to be released in 1977. While six of Moe’s seven albums had cracked the top twenty, this one stalled at #22, a harbinger of things to come. From this point forward, most of Moe’s albums would miss the top twenty and many would not crack the top forty. Despite the declining album sales, Moe would continue to crack the top twenty with his singles, and starting in 1978 would put together a decent run of top ten singles.

The album opens up with the title track, Doodle Owens’ “Cowboys Ain’t Supposed To Cry”. The song was a #13 hit that is sort of a sequel to “Bandy The Radio Clown”

Oh I am just a cowboy on my way back to Houston
I used to play the rodeos but I can’t play ‘em like I used to
I’ve given it up, I’m layin’ it down
I’ve had enough of bein’ a rodeo clown
So if you see a tear runnin down my face
Don’t ask me why, cause cowboys ain’t suppose to cry

Doodle Owens co-wrote “She Finally Rocked You Out of Her Mind” with Whitey Shafer. This song is a mid-tempo ballad about a lad’s mom who gave up on his father and apparently lost her mind. The song is not a typical song for Moe, but it is a thoughtful song that makes for a good album track:

Papa, it’s so good to see you seeing you off of the wine
Papa, you barely miss mama she won’t try to hold you this time
One day her tears did stop falling she gave up on walking the floor
She just sat down in her rocker and never got up anymore.

Papa, some people just came and took mama
She was rocked in on that old rocking chair
It seemed like mama just couldn’t stop rocking
And her green Irish eyes held the stare

“Up Till Now I’ve Wanted Everything But You” is a good mid-tempo honky-tonk recrimination barroom ballad. It is a little unusual that the song was written by a woman, Phyllis Powell, but Phyllis shows that she truly understands …

Up till now I’ve wanted everything but you
Well it’s happened I finally got what I’ve been asking for
I know you’re leaving I can tell by the way you slammed the door
It’s over and I’m asking me what can I do

Up till now I’ve wanted everything but you
Up till now I’ve wanted everything but what I had
Should have made the best of loving you and just been glad
But it’s just like me who want my share and someone else’s too
Up till now I’ve wanted everything but you

The next two songs are covers of a pair of great country classics in Jerry Reed’s “Misery Loves Company” (made famous by Porter Wagoner) and the Hank Williams classic “Why Don’t You Love Me Like You Used To Do”. Needless to say, Moe handles both of these with aplomb.

Side two of the original vinyl release was “She Loved The Cheatin’ Out of Me”. This was the second single released from the album, reaching #11 in the US; however, our Canadian cousins rocketed this song to #2. For whatever reason, I seemed to miss this song when it was receiving radio airplay. Written by Whitey Shafer & Doodle Owens, this jog-a-long ballad clearly deserved the success it received:

Once I had a warm and willing woman
And it never crossed my heart to cross the street
But lately baby’s left me cold and hungry
For the kind of love that made me want to cheat

Her woman’s intuition must have told her
That I was in to wishing I could leave
Cause the woman just came out in my lady
She just loved the cheatin’ out of me

When a man gets blinded by his passion
His conscience wants to look the other way
Tonight she gave me more than I’d been missing
Cause she loved me till my conscience felt ashamed

“No Deal” was written by Larry Gatlin. As far as I can recall, Larry never recorded the song himself – actually it sounds like a song intended for George Jones. The song is a great slow ballad that should have been a hit for someone. The production on this album sounds like it was meant for the Jones, but Moe does a fine job with the song.

Jim Owens wrote the up-temp “All I Can Handle At Home”, a nice fidelity song with a strong western swing feel:

Came in here to do some drinkin’, not what you’re thinkin’
A little relaxin’s all I got on my mind
But I tell by the way you’re lookin’ at me you are lonely
Honey, you picked up a wrong man this time.

‘Cause I got all I can handle at home
I got me a lovin’ machine won’t leave me alone
It wouldn’t be any help to you even if I wanted to
I got all I can handle at home.

Steve Collum wrote “Till I Stop Needing You”, a standard country ballad that I can envision being a hit if released as a single by George Jones, Gene Watson or Moe Bandy.

The album closes out with another Hank Williams classic in “I Could Never Be Ashamed of You”, an excellent song and excellent performance. Truthfully, I cannot imagine Moe making a mess of a Hank Williams song. He’s recorded a bunch of them and his ability to inhabit the songs always shines through. This wasn’t one of Hank’s bigger hits but it is a very fine love song:

Everybody says you let me down
I should be ashamed to take you ’round
Makes no difference what you used to do
Darlin’, I could never be ashamed of you

Maybe you were reckless yesterday
But together, we can find a brighter way
In my heart, I know that you’ll come through
Darlin’, I could never be ashamed of you

All the happiness I’ve ever known
Came the day you said you’d be my own
And it matters not what we go through
Darlin’, I could never be ashamed of you

Maybe you’ve been cheated in the past
And perhaps those memories will always last
Even though you proved to be untrue
Darlin’, I could never be ashamed of you

Unfortunately my copy of this album was on an audiocassette which I have dubbed onto a CD-R, so the information on it was minimal. From PragueFrank’s Country website, I gathered the following information:

Moe Bandy – vocals / Dave Kirby, Ray Edenton, Reggie Young, Tommy Allsup , Bunky Keels, Leo Jackson, guitars / Weldon Myrick – steel guitar / Bob Moore – bass / Kenny Malone –drums / Johnny Gimble –fiddle / Hargus “Pig” Robbins – piano / Charlie McCoy – harmonica / Ray Baker – producer

It’s a very good album, country through and through with some really good songs and production.

GRade: A-

Album Review: Moe Bandy – ‘Soft Lights and Hard Country Music’

Moe Bandy released his eighth album, Soft Lights, and Hard Country Music, via Columbia Records in 1978. It was produced, as per usual, by Ray Baker. Both of the album’s singles were excellent honky-tonk numbers. The title track hit #13, while “That’s What Makes The Jukebox Play” stalled at #11.

Divorce plays a central role in the second and third songs on the album. “Darling Won’t You Marry Me Again” has Bandy playing a dad who recently sobered up, and after three years is face-to-face with his kids and the ex who asks him to take her back. The engaging “Paper Chains” is an uptempo number, about a marriage at the point where it falls apart and the couple is on the brink of divorce. “This Haunted House” is a clever take on the well-worn theme of the man dealing with the memory of his ex. Bandy knows his ex is gone and even has a woman to take her place on “If She Keeps Loving Me,” but he’s still in love with her and can’t let her go.

“There’s Nobody Home on the Range Anymore” is a classic western with an impeccable lyric crafted by Ed Penney and Robert Shaw-Parsons. It’s the tale of an old farmhand dreaming of days gone by:

The old man used to dream of the fortune he’d seek

Now he lives in the room where you pay by the week

His hands are all bothered and his pony’s gone lame

And his bones always ache when the sky looks like rain

 

Well he dreams of the old days with bronc bustin’ tails

And the wide open spaces where buffalo plays

Deep in his mem’ry wild horses ride on

But he knows the good times have all come and gone

There’s nobody home on the range anymore

 

They closed down the bunkhouse and had locked the door

Now there’s oil wells and motels and folks by the score

But there’s nobody home on the range anymore

 

Now the eagle stop flyin’ the night wind is still

And the last cayou’s hawlin’ on some lonely hill

The old man is longin’ to lay all down

In his final box canyon the poor side of town

 

‘Cause he knows his last mantel is two flights two stairs

And his saddle’s turned into an old rocking chair

Mornings he wakes up and wonders what for

‘Cause there’s nobody home on the range anymore

I don’t care much for the arrangement on the song, which hasn’t withstood the test of time. “Are We Making Love or Just Making Friends” finds Bandy portraying a man who cannot get affection from the woman he’s dating. “A Wound Time Can’t Erase” is an excellent weeper, but the heavy production and intrusive background vocalists don’t do the track any justice.

“A Baby and a Sewing Machine” has a gorgeous melody, but the lyric seems backward to me. She dreams of being a mother and a homemaker as though that’s all she can aspire to be in life. I’m thrilled the guy definitely wants more for her, but she seems limited in her perspective.

Soft Lights and Hard Country Music is a very strong album from Bandy. I thoroughly enjoyed most of the album’s tracks. The album isn’t widely available but all the tracks are on YouTube if you search for them.

Grade: A- 

Album Review: Moe Bandy – ‘Here I Am Drunk Again’

Moe Bandy released his fifth album, Here I am Drunk Again, on Columbia Nashville in 1976. The album, produced by Ray Baker, had two charting singles, both of which peaked at #11. The title track, a classic country shuffle, peaked first.

Sanger D. Shafer solely wrote the album’s second single, “She Took More Than Her Share,” as well as two other songs on the record. His three solo contributions are brilliant, and range from the delightful Texas fiddle tune “She’s Got That Oklahoma Look” to the excellent (and stone cold) “The Bottle’s Holding Me.” His final contribution, the steel-drenched “What Happened To Our Love” was a co-write with Bandy.

Eddy Raven is responsible for “Please Take Her Home,” a cautionary tale from our protagonist to the lover of the woman he finds too tempting to resist. “The Man You Once Knew,” a tale regarding a guy falling on hard times, was from Dallas Frazier. J.R. Cochran contributed “If I Had Someone To Cheat On,” a reverse barroom anthem where the guy wishes he had someone’s memory to drink away, the excuse to actually be in the joint in the first place.

“Mind Your Own Business” is the Hank Williams classic. The production is a bit slicker than the rest of the album, and slightly cluttered in places, but Bandy executes it was ease. “Then You Can Let Me Go (Out of Your Mind)” is far more sparse, with steel guitar to accentuate the melody.

Here I Am Drunk Again is an incredible album from start to finish, a collection of ten perfectly chosen tunes and not a clunker in the bunch. I have a love/hate relationship with country music from this era, I find a lot of what we’ve spotlighted through the years to be dated and not my kind of country, but this I love. If you missed this album the first time around, or need to revisit it after all these years, I implore you to check it out. You most certainly won’t be disappointed.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Moe Bandy – ‘It Was Always So Easy (To Find An Unhappy Woman)’

The second of two albums Moe Bandy released in 1974 was It Was Always So Easy (To Find An Unhappy Woman). It was his second release for GRC and was produced by Ray Baker.

The album saw an uptick in commercial fortunes for Bandy. It was his first to peak inside the top ten, at #9, and give him a major hit at country radio. That hit, the title track, finds Bandy unsuccessfully scouring bars to find a lonesome gal to call his own. It peaked at #7.

The final single, “Don’t Anyone Make Love At Home Anymore,” was one of two compositions by Dallas Frazier. A mid-tempo ballad in which Bandy makes an inquiry regarding the dating habits of married men, it stalled at #13. Frazier’s other contribution, “I’m Gonna Listen To Me” is a wacky moment of self-reflection.

Eddy Raven was another notable name with two songwriting credits. He co-wrote “Somebody That Good,” about a man with keen observation skills, with Baker. “One Thing Leads To Another,” about a loveless relationship, found Raven writing solo.

“How Can I Get You Out of My Heart (When I Can’t Get You off My Mind)” is a bit self-explanatory. “Loving You Was All I Ever Needed” is as it sounds, a ballad about a man who didn’t know what he had until it was gone. The Western Swing influenced “Home Is San Antone,” written by Floyd Jenkins, is delightful, and the only truly uptempo songs on the album.

“I’m Looking For A New Way To Love You,” which Bandy co-wrote with Sanger D. “Whitey” Shafer, centers on a man out of options, trying to impress the woman he loves. Bandy is back in the barroom on “It’s Better Than Going Home Alone” and hating every second he’s there. The lyric, co-written by Truman Stearnes and Guy Coleman, is excellent but it’s Hargus “Pig” Robbins’ gorgeous piano licks that steal the show.

It Was Always So Easy (To Find An Unhappy Woman) was exquisitely produced by Baker, who’s production choices have helped the album age extremely well. The sound is fantastic, but I didn’t feel all the songs were sharply written and some were a bit weaker than I would’ve liked given the breadth of talent that wrote them. But this is still a very solid album I would highly recommend checking out.

Grade: A-

February Spotlight Artist: Moe Bandy

Marion “Moe” Bandy was born in Meridian, Mississippi, in 1944, and moved to San Antonio, Texas, at the age of six. His grandfather had known and worked with country pioneer Jimmie Rodgers on the Mississippi railways, while both Moe’s parents were musical, and his father had a part time country band. As a teenager, Moe’s main interest was rodeo riding, until he was 18 and had endured one broken bone too many, when he turned seriously to music. His brother Mike continued to ride competitively.

He had a day job in a sheet metal factory (working for his dad) while playing small local venues with his band, and getting some work on local TV. However, he did not make a real breakthrough until 1973, when Ray Baker, a music publisher and aspiring record producer, who had been impressed by demo recordings, encouraged him to move to Nashville. Moe’s musical partnership with Baker kickstarted both their careers, as Baker would go on to work with Connie Smith, Merle Haggard and a young George Strait.

Moe issued an independent single, ‘I Just Started Hating Cheating Songs Today’ on the Footprint label, and songs about drinking and cheating became something of a signature theme for him. His contract was then picked up by a slightly larger independent label, GRC, who released three albums and a number of hit singles. Country legend Lefty Frizzell was another to be impressed by the singer, and write a song especially for him (‘Bandy The Rodeo Clown’).

This success gave Moe a springboard to greater things, and he signed to Columbia Records in 1976. He enjoyed a string of hit singles, although perhaps surprisingly only one went all the way to #1. From 1979 he also had a side project as a largely comic duo with labelmate Joe Stampley. He also had individual duet hits with Janie Fricke and the underrated Becky Hobbs.
In the 1980s Moe’s hardcore traditional style relaxed a little. Declining sales saw Columbia drop him in 1985 after nine years on the label, and a shortlived deal with MCA saw him chart again but failed to revive his career significantly. A couple of albums on Curb were the end of his commercial streak, but he was one of the artists to see the appeal of his own permanent show at Branson, Missouri.

In recent years he has been touring with Gene Watson, and he has just released an autobiography, Lucky Me. https://moebandybook.com/
We hope you enjoy our coverage of Moe Bandy’s music this month.

Album Review: Merle Haggard – ‘That’s the Way Love Goes’

51f3QpNJP2L._SS280The early 1980s were a prolific time for Merle Haggard. The beginning of the new decade saw him releasing two new albums for MCA and then fulfilling his contract for the label with a live album and a Gospel collection before signing with Epic in 1981. Then over the next two years he released two regular solo albums, a Christmas album and duet albums with both George Jones and Willie Nelson. 1983’s That’s the Way Love Goes was his third (excluding the Christmas collection) solo album for Epic and his sixth album overall for the label.

Hag co-produced the album with Ray Baker. Never one to follow trends, Haggard had avoided the era’s propensity towards overproduction. That’s the Way Love Goes is a collection of ten laid-back ballads, the type of album that would not gain any traction at radio today, if it even managed to get made at all. It wasn’t exactly in sync with the commercial tastes of its time, either; the production is tastefully understated throughout. It did however, perform quite well commercially, spawning three hit singles, two of which were chart-toppers. The album also marked the beginning a mellowing of Merle’s sound and he began experimenting with adding horns and saxophones to the mix, something that would characterize his music for the remainder of the decade.

Commercially Haggard was riding high, but he was entering an era that would be very dark for him personally, involving both marital and substance abuse problems. His rocky marriage to Leona Williams finally ended that year, and it seems to have been foreshadowed in a few of the album’s songs, particularly the bleak and introspective lead single “What Am I Gonna Do (With the Rest of My Life)”, a self-penned number that landed at #3. He also penned “Someday When Things Are Good” with his soon-to-be ex-wife Leona. The #1 hit finds him contemplating walking out on his marriage, but unable to find the right time to do it.

Sandwiched in between these two hits is a remake of “That’s the Way Love Goes”, a Lefty Frizzell and Sanger D. Shafer composition that had been a #1hit for Johnny Rodriguez in 1973. Hag also took the tune to the top of the charts and it remains one of my favorites of his recordings from this era.

There are no uptempo songs on this album and for that reason some may find it a bit difficult to listen to all the way through. However, they are all well done and for the most part they have aged well with the possible exception of Red Lane’s “Carryin’ Fire”, which has a dated-sounding keyboard intro. “The Last Boat of the Day”, also penned by Lane with Hank Cochran has a subtle Calypso feel to it and is a bit of an artistic stretch for Merle. Beach songs were not yet a staple of mainstream country and this one stands head and shoulders over almost ever contemporary example I can think of.

Merle had a hand in writing all of the remaining songs on the album. I particularly liked “(I’m Gonna Paint Me) A Bed of Roses”, which finds him trying to make the best of things after a break-up. It has a radio-friendly feel and might have been a hit, but it was highly unusual to release more than three singles from an album in those days. “Don’t Seem Like We’ve Been Together All Our Lives” is about a long-term relationship that is still going well — decidedly at odds with Merle’s real-life situation at the time. “If You Hated Me” is possibly semi-autobiographical, a song in which he questions how bad things would have been if his wife had hated him, considering how badly she treated him when she supposedly loved him. I like this one a lot. Red Lane and Dean Holloway were the co-writers. The album closer “I Think I’ll Stay” is a bluesy number that close with an extended jam session.

Overall, That’s the Way Love Goes is very good, but it does not quite rise to the level of Big City and Going Where the Lonely Go. It is not great but it is very good and worth investigating.

Grade: B+

Country Heritage: Moe Bandy

Moe Bandy. If ever there was a name appropriate for a country singer, a western singer or a rodeo rider, Moe Bandy would be it. Moreover, Moe would fit all three categories and was elected to the Texas Rodeo Hall of Fame in 2007.

Emerging during a time when the “Nashville Sound”, the dominant sound of the prior decade and a half, was on the decline and the so-called “Outlaw” movement was on the rise, somehow, Moe Bandy would emerge on GRC records sliding through the cracks to produce some of the finest hard-core country music of its time, music with true honky-tonk heart and soul. After a few albums Moe would leave GRT and sign with giant label Columbia and the Nashville establishment would eventually absorb his music back into the mainstream, but before it did, he produced some of the most glorious country music imaginable

Marion Franklin Bandy, Jr.was born on February 12, 1944 in Meridian, Mississippi, the hometown of the legendary “Blue Yodeller” Jimmie Rodgers. The nickname Moe was given to him by his father. Moe’s grandfather, like Jimmie Rodgers, was a railroad man who, at one time, was reputed to him been Jimmie Rodger’ boss in the railway yard in Meridian. When Moe was only six years old, his family moved to San Antonio, Texas. His mother played piano and sang and his father played the guitar by his father.

As a teen Moe occasionally played with his father’s country band, the Mission City Playboys, but Moe didn’t turn to music professionally until first trying his hand at rodeo – by the age of 16, he was competing in rodeos all over Texas. After a few years of bumps and bruises, Moe’s better sense prevailed and he turned to music for a living working some nights with his father’s band and some nights at whatever venues he could arrange while working days doing sheet metal work. During the early 1970s he formed a group called Moe and the Mavericks.

In 1972 Moe caught his big break when some demos he had recorded came to the attention of record producer Ray Baker. In 1973 Ray suggested that Moe come to Nashville. Bandy scraped together the money for a recording session and recorded a song called “I Just Started Hatin’ Cheatin’ Songs Today”. Initially released on Footprint Records, the record came to the attention of larger independent GRC which was based in Atlanta. In March 1974, it entered the US country charts, eventually peaking at #17 on Billboard and #6 on Cashbox . Four more hits followed: “Honky Tonk Amnesia” (#24 BB / #20 CB), “It Was Always So Easy To Find An Unhappy Woman” (#7BB & CB), “Don’t Anyone Make Love At Home Anymore” (#13 BB / #11 CB), and the Lefty Frizzell-penned “Bandy The Rodeo Clown” (#7 BB #2 CB).

Moe Bandy would release three albums on GRC, I Just Started Hating Cheatin’ Songs Today, It Was Always So Easy (To Find An Unhappy Woman) and Bandy The Rodeo Clown, all filled with strong lyrics and simple arrangements of hard-core honky-tonk music. When first released, they made everything else being released at the time, including the “back to the basic” outlaw music of Waylon and Willie, seem overproduced in comparison.

With as much success as Moe was having with GRC, it was inevitable that a major label would eventually hook up with Moe, and in 1975 Moe Bandy landed on Columbia. The first few albums retained the hard-core sound but as time passed Moe and his producer Ray Baker softened up Moe’s sound somewhat, although it would remain reasonably honky-tonk during the entirety of the Columbia years. Since Columbia purchased Moe’s GRC recordings, the first hit collection released on Columbia , 1977’s The Best of Moe Bandy was mostly GRC material.

Read more of this post

Album Review: George Strait – ‘Right Or Wrong’

george strait right or wrongIn October 1983, the month and year I was born, George Strait was riding a wave of success from his first 2 albums, the second housing his first set fo chart-toppers, when his third album, Right Or Wrong, was released.  It would be his first #1 charting album, and continue his hot streak on the Country Singles chart as all 3 singles from this record would reach the top spot.  Right Or Wrong was Strait’s first teaming with producer Ray Baker, and his last that doesn’t list George Strait as a co-producr, and despite the album’s success, it would be their only collaboration – Strait would team with label-head Jimmy Bowen for the rest of his 1980s releases.

The lead single was also used to make George’s first music video.  ‘You Look So Good In Love’ is a romantic-sounding ballad about a man who is observing his former lover as she shines in the arms of another man.  The spoken-word bridge was something Strait rejected at first, but apparently the producer won out and it stayed in the song.  But he had similar feelings about the music video, saying years later that he “lobbied to get that thing pulled off the air so no one would ever have to watch it again.”  He also credits the making of that first music video with his aversion to music videos, a medium George Strait has notably ignored throughout his career.  ‘You Look So Good In Love’ shot to the top of the charts, becoming his third single to reach the summit.

The album’s title cut would become the album’s second-single, and second consecutive chart-topper.  The song itself is a jazz tune dating back to the early 1920s, and has been recorded by dozens of singers.  Bob Wills had long been performing the song, and had recorded a version of his own.  But it was Strait’s recording that made the song famous again – becoming the biggest hit recording the the western swing standard and winning the songwriter, Haven Gillespie, an ASCAP Award for it, some 65 years after it was written.

‘Let’s Fall To Pieces Together’ is a crying honky-tonk number with a hard intro, ‘Pardon me, you left your tears on the jukebox, and I’m afraid they got mixed up with mine‘.  The fiddle-laden number sounds as good today as it did 26 years ago and is still one of my favorite Strait singles.  It’s also one of the first instances of him employing the easy crooning style he would become known for in later years.  The tune was written by Dickey Lee, Tommy Rocco, and the legendary Johnny Russell.

Read more of this post

Album Review: George Strait – ‘Strait From The Heart’

straitfromtheheartGeorge Strait’s sophomore effort finds him repeating the same winning formula of his debut, from teaming up once again with producer Blake Mevis, to working a pun based on his last name into the album title. Released in June 1982, Strait From The Heart attempts to strike a balance between Strait’s traditional country roots and the Urban Cowboy sound that was prevalent in the early 80s.

“Fool Hearted Memory”, written by Byron Hill and Blake Mevis was the album’s first single. Released a month in advance of the album, this mid-tempo number holds the distinction of being the first in what was to become a very long string of #1 hits for George Strait. It was his fourth single release in total, and the third to peak inside the Top 10. By this time, Strait was beginning to develop a solid reputation as a traditionalist singer, so the next single release, took some by surprise. “Marina Del Rey” was written by Dean Dillon and Frank Dycus, and no one was more surprised than they when Strait fell in love with the song. They’d figured he wouldn’t be interested in this contemporary-sounding romantic ballad. A big departure from Strait’s previous work, “Marina Del Rey” employed a full string section, while the fiddle and steel that had figured so prominently on his earlier singles took a back seat. Despite being more in line with what radio was playing at the time, “Marina Del Rey” didn’t perform quite as well on the charts as Strait’s previous two singles, missing the Top 5, but still peaking at a very respectable #6. Though it was a pivotal record in Strait’s career at the time, “Marina Del Rey” hasn’t aged as well as most of his other hits; the production sounds dated to modern ears, particularly the singing seagull sound effect employed at the end, which is something that Strait objected to at the time. “Blake promised me that he would take the singing bird out at the end of it, which he didn’t do,” Strait said. ” And I’ve always hated that.”
Read more of this post

Playlist: Favorite George Strait songs

George Strait

George Strait

Thursday, April 23rd, is St. George’s Day. George is the name of the patron saint of England. One of the most prominent of the military saints, legend has it that George slayed a dragon that had been terrorizing the people of Silene, in modern-day Libya, doing so on the condition that they convert to Christianity.

And of course, George is also the name of a few very important figures in country music, so this seemed like a good opportunity to dig a little bit into the back catalog of one of them. What follows is a chronological listing of some George Strait songs that, while not necessarily essential or definitive, are my personal favorites:

1. Amarillo By Morning (1983). Included on Strait’s 1982 sophomore album Strait from the Heart, “Amarillo by Morning” was released as a single in early 1983. It had previously been recorded by one of its co-writers Terry Stafford in 1973, Chris LeDoux in 1975 and Asleep at the Wheel in 1981. All of those renditions, however, were eclipsed by Strait’s. This is the first George Strait song I can remember hearing on the radio that really made an impact on me. At the time I didn’t realize it was a song about a rodeo rider. The lines “I hope that judge ain’t blind”, and “I ain’t rich, but Lord I’m free” made me think it was a song about someone who had been wrongfully imprisoned and was hoping to appear before a judge to have the conviction overturned. Eventually, I figured out that wasn’t what the song was about, but it remained a favorite anyway.

2. Right or Wrong (1984). This old Bob Wills classic has been recorded countless times. My collection includes versions by Merle Haggard and Reba McEntire with Asleep at the Wheel, but Strait’s version was the first one I ever heard. It is the only version to have gone to #1 on the Billboard Country Singles chart. It topped the chart in early 1984, becoming Strait’s fourth #1 hit.

3. Let’s Fall To Pieces Together (1984). The follow up to “Right or Wrong”, this was Strait’s fifth #1 hit. I’ve always thought it was a shame that he and producer Ray Baker only made one album together.

4. Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind (1984). The title track to Strait’s 1984 album, this marks the beginning of the “modern” George Strait. It was his first single to be produced by Jimmy Bowen, and by this time he’d begun to develop his trademark crooning-style, which was a much more relaxed style than some of his earlier releases. This song had been turned down by Reba McEntire, who didn’t feel comfortable singing it because of the line about “cold Fort Worth beer.”

5. Nobody In His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her (1986). The lead single to the album #7, this song was previously recorded by its composer Dean Dillon, who has written many, many hits for George Strait. It was also included on Keith Whitley’s 1985 album L.A. to Miami, but wasn’t released as a single. This is one of Strait’s best vocal performances. He captures perfectly the pain and torment of the protagonist, who regrets having walked out on a woman that he comes to realize too late that he still loves.

Read more of this post

Heart, soul and talent: Connie Smith’s recipe for great country music

conniesmithmyspace1A few days ago, I had the great honor and privilege of sitting down for a conversation with the legendary Connie Smith:

RX: Your entry into the country music world seems to be something that just sort of happened, instead of something that you spent a lot of time pursuing. Prior to meeting Bill Anderson, had you given any serious thought to going to Nashville to pursue a career in country music?

CS: No. It was always a dream I had to sing on the Grand Ole Opry. I remember when I was about 5 saying that, but I never thought I really would. If I hadn’t met Bill I probably wouldn’t have pursued it because I already had a young son. The way I met him was I went up to that park because I’d heard that George Jones would be there. But they’d given my husband and me the wrong date, so when we got there Bill was there. I hadn’t gone to sing, I just wanted to hear George because he was my favorite male singer. When we got there we found out that they had a talent contest every week, and my husband and friends talked me into entering. The biggest holdback was that you had to do your own accompaniment, and I can only play the guitar in the key of C, so I had to pick a song that I could do in C. And I think the reason I won was because the winner for the prior seven weeks was a seven-year-old banjo player and I guess they just wanted something different. I’d like to think it was my talent that won but I’m really not so sure. I know it wasn’t my guitar playing (laughs).

RX: But it was definitely your talent that caught the attention of Bill Anderson. You went to Nashville at his invitation, and “Once a Day”, your debut record, was a megahit – the kind that every new artist dreams of having right out of the box. Was it difficult to adjust to that kind of overnight success?

CS: I was just very lucky to have come along at the right time and to have gotten such a great, great song. But it was difficult being thrust into the spotlight so quickly. I just wanted to hear my record on the radio but I was never really career-driven.

RX: Most artists from that era, particularly women, seem to have been almost completely controlled by their labels and producers.  Did you have any say in what you got to record or how your records sounded?

downtown-country CS (emphatically):  Absolutely. I never recorded anything I didn’t want to. I was very fortunate to get to work with Bob Ferguson as my producer for the first 9 years. Any attempts to force me to record something I didn’t want to wouldn’t have gone down well with me. If he really, really wanted me to do something, I did it but I was never forced. RCA did say to me, “You can do things besides just country,” and I said, “I’m not sure that I want to.”  That wasn’t Bob or Chet forcing me – that was coming more from New York. They really wanted me to do some middle-of-the-road stuff. So we did the whole Downtown Country album. But those really weren’t the best songs for me.

Read more of this post