My Kind of Country

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

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Classic Album Review — ‘The Carl Smith Anniversary Album: 20 Years of Hits’

During the late 1960s-early 1970s, Columbia Records tried to mine their back catalog of songs by releasing two album sets with gatefold covers. These typically took three different directions:

A) Mixed artists compilations of singles, album tracks (often Columbia artists covering hits of artists on other labels).

B) Compilations of an artists’ miscellaneous older singles and album tracks into a two-album set. In some cases (The World of Ray Price comes to mind) the singles would represent remakes of the original hits recorded in stereo and often with slick ‘Nashville Sound’. In other cases (such as The World of Johnny Cash, The World of Lynn Anderson, The World of Tammy Wynette or The World of Flatt & Scruggs) the compilation consisted of album tracks from out of print albums with perhaps a few singles mixed in 1960. C) Re-recordings of an artist’s greatest hits, but not utilizing the slick ‘Nashville Sound” production often associated with country production of the period. I can think of only two albums that fit

C) Re-recordings of an artist’s greatest hits, but not utilizing the slick ‘Nashville Sound” production often associated with country production of the period. I can think of only two albums that fit in this category. One of these albums was The World of Johnny Horton, where Columbia had some material in the can which had light post-production applied to some tracks after Horton’s premature death in 1960.

The other album was The Carl Smith Anniversary Album: 20 Years of Hits. 

Largely forgotten today, or remembered as the father of Carlene Carter, during the 1950s Carl Smith was a huge star, ranking behind only Webb Pierce, Eddy Arnold and, Hank Snow among the stars of the 1950s. His songs were solidly country; however that was nothing revolutionary or pioneering about his sound as many of Carl’s hits could have fit comfortably on 1940s country playlists. Although his success fell off sharply after rock & roll hit, still he persevered long enough to roll up 93 chart hits by the time he retired in the mid-1970s.

Although Carl had a very good voice, there was too much east Tennessee in Carl’s voice for him to make the Jim Reeves/Eddy Arnold/Ray Price turn toward pop balladry and his voice was far too deeply masculine for him to record the effeminate sounds of rock & roll or doo wop. Still he continued to have a number of top twenty hits during the 1960s. Although Merle Haggard is given deserved credit for the western swing resurgence of the 1970s, Carl’s music had been turning toward western swing sounds during the latter 1960s.

With this album, many of Carl’s biggest hits were recast as western swing, with other songs given a more jazzy feel just short of western swing.

Here are the songs on the album with some comments on each:

“Hey Joe” was a 1953 hit for Carl, spending eight weeks at #1 in 1953. This recording has a definite swing arrangement.

“Back Up Buddy” reached #2 for Carl in 1954 

“She Called Me Baby” was a minor hit for Carl (#32 Billboard / #20 Record World) in 1965. The song was a cover of a Patsy Cline hit from 1962 and Charlie Rich would take the song to #1 in 1974. The arrangement on this version differs little from Carl’s 1965 recording with some extra horns being the main difference.

“Deep Water” would prove to be Carl’s biggest hit of the 1960s, reaching #6 on Record World and #10 on Billboard in 1967. Written by Fred Rose and recorded by Bob Wills (among others), this version differs little from Carl’s 1967 recording, with some extra horns being the main difference. 

“Foggy River” was the follow-up to “Deep Water” breaking into the top twenty. The arrangement is an up-tempo modern country arrangement minus the strings of the Nashville Sound. Kate Smith had a pop hit with the song in 1948.

“Pull My String And Wind Me Up” was a top twenty hit for Carl in 1970. I recall hearing this on the radio so I think that this was the jazzy version released as a single. 

“Heartbreak Avenue” was released as a single in1969. The song is a slow ballad and features a bluesy arrangement and vocal by Carl. 

“Good Deal Lucille” was a single released in 1969 that broke into the top twenty. The version on this album swings a little harder than the single release.   

“It’s All Right” was not released as a single but has a nice swing feel with some nice saxophone. 

“I Love You Because” was a #3 pop hit for Al Martino in 1963 and was recorded as an album track that same year by Jim Reeves (and was released as a posthumous Jim Reeves single in 1976). The song was written by blind country singer Leon Payne and reached #4 for Leon in 1949. Carl’s 1969 release reached #14 – the single was very similar to this recording. Basically, the steel guitar is the lead instrument for much of this track.   

“I Overlooked An Orchid” was an early recording for Carl Smith. Released in 1950, the song never charted but was a regional hit for Carl, and apparently sold quite well despite its lack of chart activity. The song would become a #1 hit for Mickey Gilley in 1974.   

‘Mister Moon” was Carl’s second hit from 1951, a song that reached #4 and spent 17 weeks on the charts. The song features standard country production but no strings or background singers.

“I Feel Like Cryin’” reached #7 in early 1956 as the B side of “You’re Free To Go” which topped out at #6. Again the song features standard production minus strings, but with some harmony vocals. 

“There She Goes” reached #3 for Carl in 1955 and spent 25 weeks on the charts. Jerry Wallace would have a pop hit with the song in 1961. Once again the song features standard production minus strings, but with some harmony vocals. 

“Let Old Mother Nature Have Her Way” was Carl’s fourth chart hit for 1951 and his biggest ever hit reaching #1 for eight weeks and spending thirty-three weeks on the charts. This recording is a slow ballad with a jazzy, but not western swing, feel to it.   

“Loose Talk” was Carl’s last #1 single reaching the top in early 1955 and staying there for seven weeks during its thirty-two week chart run. The song would be a big hit for the duo of Buck Owens & Rose Maddox in 1961 and become a country standard. The song was written by Freddie Hart and verges on western swing in this version.

“Are You Teasing Me” is a cover of a Louvin Brothers song that reached #1 for Carl in 1952, his third consecutive #1 record. This version is given a jazzy arrangement. 

“Don’t Just Stand There” was the following up to “Let Old Mother Nature Have Her Way” and it also spent eight weeks at #1, although it faded off the charts after only twenty-four weeks. I would describe this recording as solidly western swing. 

“If Teardrops Were Pennies” reached #8 for Carl in 1951, his third charted single of the year. Porter & Dolly would take the song to #3 in 1973. 

“I Betcha My Heart I Love You” dates back to Bob Wills, and while no one ever had a hit with the song, it was a staple of many country bands for years. Wanda Jackson had a nice recording of the song, but Carl’s rendition here really swings. Carl himself recorded the song in 1950 but without any chart action.

The Carl Smith Anniversary Album: 20 Years of Hits remains one of my favorite albums, one that I pull out and play frequently. Over the years I have dubbed it onto cassette tapes and also made digital copies of the album. To my knowledge, it has only ever been released on vinyl.

Carl Smith is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and while his 1950s output has been adequately available his post-1950s output has been shamefully under-represented in the digital era.

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Album Review: Tammy Wynette – ‘Take Me To Your World/I Don’t Wanna Play House’

take-me-to-your-worldReleased in January 1968, Take Me To Your World/ I Don’t Wanna Play House, was Tammy’s second solo album and represented another step forward in Tammy Wynette’s career, rising to #3 on the Country Albums chart. Not only that, but the two singles released from the album both rose to #1 giving Tammy her first two solo #1 records and her third overall #1 (her duet of “My Elusive Dreams” with David Houston reached #1 in 1967).

For me, the apogee of female country singers was reached in the late 1960s and early 1970s. While female singers may have achieved better chart penetration later, qualitative the major label crop of female singers was abundant and excellent with the likes of Connie Smith, Wilma Burgess, Kitty Wells, Loretta Lynn, Jean Shepard, Dottie West, Skeeter Davis, Lynn Anderson, Liz Anderson, Norma Jean, Rose Maddox, Jeanie Seely, Jeannie C Riley, Barbara Mandrell and Wanda Jackson being among the competition. There also were a host of second-tier artists on the major labels and many female artists on minor and independent labels. Within a few years the likes of Tanya Tucker and Barbara Fairchild would appear on the scene. The ghost of Patsy Cline was also on the scene.

While Tammy Wynette did not have the sheer vocal power of a Jean Shepard or Loretta Lynn, she did have the advantage of a record producer who was perfectly able to overcome Tammy’s vocal limitations and devise accompaniments to perfectly frame the essential teardrop in Tammy’s voice, and to write (when necessary) to showcase the voice and the production.

(As an aside, when I refer to the term “Nashville Sound”, I am referring to recordings where steel guitars and fiddles are accompanied (or sometimes replaced) by symphonic arrangements and choral accompaniments. The chief architects of this style were Chet Atkins at RCA, Owen Bradley at Decca, and Billy Sherrill at Epic. In Sherrill’s hands the arrangements were sometimes referred to as ‘country cocktails’. The style was very effective in covering up a singer’s lack of range, particularly in the higher registers.)

The album opens with “I Don’t Wanna Play House” a Billy Sherrill-Glen Sutton composition that won the 1968 Grammy for Best Female Country Performance. In the song, the narrator, a woman whose husband has left her, hears her daughter tell a neighbor boy that she doesn’t want to play house and the reason why she doesn’t want to play. This is a very compelling song:

Today I sat alone at the window
And I watched our little girl outside at play
With the little boy next door like so many times before
But something didn’t seem quite right today

So I went outside to see what they were doing
And then the teardrops made my eyes grow dim
‘Cause I heard him name a game and I hung my head in shame
When I heard our little girl say to him.

I don’t want to play house; I know it can’t be fun
I’ve watched mommy and daddy
And if that’s the way it’s done
I don’t want to play house; It makes my mommy cry
‘Cause when she played house
My daddy said good-bye.

Next up is “Jackson Ain’t A Very Big Town”, a minor hit for Norma Jean in 1967. Tammy does as nice job with the song.

“Broadminded” comes from the pen of Leona Williams and Jimmy Payne. At some point Leona would become one of Merle Haggard’s wives and would have some success on the country charts, although never as much as her talent would have warranted. The Leona Williams version of the songs is far superior to Tammy’s rendition, but if you’ve not heard Leona’s version you will likely like Tammy’s recording. At this point in her career Tammy really hadn’t become quite assertive enough to give this sassy up-tempo song the proper reading.

Broadminded, narrow minded man
Every night I catch you sleepin’ with a smile on your face
And a-callin’ names that I don’t even know
If it ain’t Carmel, Pat and Gracie
Aand drinkin’ down at Stacey’s
It’s making plans to see a girly show

Broadminded, I just don’t understand
A broadminded, narrow minded man

“Cry” was a big 1950s hit for male pop singer Johnnie Ray. Tammy gives it a straight ahead reading, but the song works better in the hands of someone with a bigger voice – both Lynn Anderson (#3 in 1972) and Crystal Gayle (#1 in 1986) would have big hits with the song in the upcoming years.

“The Phone Call”, written by Norris “Norro” Wilson, is just album filler, a phone call between a daughter and her mother, telling her mother her tale of woe about a man who mistreated her.

“Take Me To Your World”, a Glen Sutton-Billy Sherrill collaboration, is given the full Nashville Sound treatment by Sherrill. The song is an outstanding effort and showcases Tammy vocals perfectly.

If you can find it in your heart to just forgive
I’ll come back and live the way you’ve wanted me to live
All I want is just to be your girl
Please come and get me, and take me to your world

Take me to your world, away from bar rooms filled with smoke
Where I won’t have to serve a drink, or hear a dirty joke
All I want is just to be your girl

“(Or) Is It Love” was written by Buddy Ray. It too, is given the full Nashville Sound treatment, turning a piece of filler into a worthwhile effort. Harry Mills’ “Fuzzy Wuzzy Ego” is a song about a woman essentially talking her man off the ledge and into returning home. The production on this song is very country, including use of a dobro.

With one elbow on the bar you’re drinking double
Tryin’ hard to drown up my memories
And you’re tellin’ all your buddies all your troubles
Layin’ the blame smack upon me.

If you set that bottle down and while I listen
You lose your pain inside that hurts you so
Neither one of us is all to blame baby
It’s your foggy woggy, wishy washy, fuzzy wuzzy ego.

My vinyl album contains “It’s My Way” a song credited to Wayne Walker and Webb Pierce. It is a good song, but it does not appear on my digital version of the album.

Glen Sutton’s “Good” would have made a good single, a tale of a woman torn between good and bad, who simply cannot keep herself in line. The production is subdued Nashville Sound.

Now I’m back here in a barroom,
A waitress again.
The good world I’ve lived in,
Just came to an end.

For temptation comes easy
To a woman like me.
And regardless of my chances,
I know that I’ll never be.

Good like I used to be;
I guess it’s just not in me.
With all my heart how I wish I proved
I’ve been good like he wanted me.

“Ode To Billy Joe” is a cover of the Bobbie Gentry hit from a few years earlier. Tammy gives the song a satisfactory rendition, but she does not have the soulful Gothic feel of Gentry’s original.

“Soaking Wet” is the bonus track on my digital copy of the album, a straight ahead country treatment devoid of Nashville Sound trappings. I have no other information concerning this song.

At this point in Tammy’s career she and Billy Sherrill were still looking for that magic formula that would turn Tammy into a full-fledged star. Consequently this album features songs with the full Nashville Sound treatment, some songs with scaled back Nashville Sound treatments and a few straight ahead country arrangements.

While Tammy and Billy were still experimenting here, the very next album would answer all the questions and set the trajectory for subsequent albums.

Grade: B+

Country Heritage: Freddie Hart

If asked in 1969, a casual country music fan likely would have been unable to identify Freddie Hart. A more knowledgeable county music fan might have identified him as a good journeyman country singer, one who had made a lot of solid country recordings without ever scoring a major hit.

In 1969, “journeyman” would have been an extremely accurate description as Hart had been knocking about Nashville for nearly 20 years, chalking up some hits as a songwriter and charting a few records himself here and there on various labels without ever achieving sustained success. During that period he recorded for Capitol, Columbia, Monument and Kapp.

Born in Loachapoka, Alabama – an early Christmas present to his parents on December 21, 1926 – Fred Segrest arrived in a world of near poverty, one of 15 children from a poor sharecropper’s family that struggled to make ends meet. While money was in short supply, however, a love of music, particularly country music ran deep in the Segrest family. Hart began playing guitar at the age of five, and joined the Civilian Conservation Corps at 12. At just 14 years of age he managed to enlist in the Marines and fought in the Pacific Theater of Operations during World War II, which included action at Guam and Iwo Jima. While in the military, he earned black belts in judo and jujitsu, and made his first public appearances singing at officers clubs.

After leaving the military in 1946, Hart pursued a career in country music, both as a performer and as a songwriter. In 1948, he had the opportunity to meet Hank Williams, who apparently taught him something about songwriting. As Hart himself puts it, “I try to put down in my songs what every man wants to say, and what every woman wants to hear.” One of his songs, “Every Little Thing Rolled Into One,” was recorded by George Morgan during this period.

In 1951, Hart joined Lefty Frizzell’s band. By this time Freddie Segrest had adopted the name Freddie Hart. With the help of Frizzell and Wayne Raney, he was signed to Capitol Records in 1953. At an early Capitol session he recorded a song he had written titled “Loose Talk.” While Freddie did not score a big hit with the record, Carl Smith, one of the three or four biggest stars of the time, covered the song, taking it to #1.

Hart moved to Columbia Records in 1956 and appeared regularly on the Town Hall Party, a Los Angeles television program with Lefty Frizzell, Johnny Bond, and other country stars. Unfortunately, his records did not sell especially well for Columbia, either, although he still was writing songs that other artists recorded. During the late 1950s and early 1960s modest chart success finally occurred when songs such as “The Wall,” “Chain Gang” and “The Key’s in the Mailbox” charted. “The Wall,” a self-penned number, is probably best remembered today as one of the songs sung by Johnny Cash on the classic Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison album.

During this same period, a number of Freddie Hart-penned songs became hits for other artists including “Willie the Weeper,” a #5 hit for Billy Walker; “Loose Talk,” a #4 hit for the duo of Buck Owens & Rose Maddox; “My Tears Are Overdue,” a #15 hit for George Jones; and, although not a hit, a significant copyright in “Lovin’ In Vain,” the B-side of Patsy Cline’s #1 hit “I Fall To Pieces.”

Hart moved to Monument Records in 1963 for two singles, followed by a move to Kapp Records in 1965, where he recorded some more great material, but found only modest hits with “Hank Williams’ Guitar” (1965), “Born A Fool” (1968) and “Togetherness” (1968). During this period, Porter Wagoner scored a #3 hit with Hart’s “Skid Row Joe.”

Hoping for bigger and better things, he re-signed with Capitol in 1969, where the first three singles issued showed some promise, leading Capitol to issue an album titled New Sounds. This was quickly followed by California Grapevine, with the title track being issued as the first single off the album. Unfortunately, “California Grapevine” stiffed as a single, reaching only #68 on the charts, far worse than any of three singles Capitol had previously released on Hart and worse than the singles on Kapp had performed. Consequently, Capitol dropped Freddie Hart from the label.

During the months following his drop from Capitol, disc jockey Jim Clemens at WPLO in Atlanta started playing an album track, buried on side two of the album, which he found interesting. Soon, other disc jockeys followed suit and before long the song was receiving massive airplay in some areas. The song contained the rather daring phrase (for the time) ‘so sexy looking’ in its lyrics. Capitol hastily re-inked Hart to the label and issued the former album track “Easy Loving” as a single (#1 Country/#17 Pop) and issued an album by the same name that gathered up all of the previous recent Capitol singles and about half of the California Grapevine album. This kicked off a six year run at the top for Freddie Hart that included a dozen top-five singles (including six #1s), two CMA awards, two ACM awards and a Grammy. Concurrent with signing to Capitol, Hart signed with Buck Owens’ management and publishing companies and provided the Buck Owens-Susan Raye duet with a #12 hit in “Togetherness.”

Since Hart was already nearly 45 years old by the time he hit it big, he figured to have a relatively short shelf life at the top, although he continued to have decent sized hits throughout the 1970s, and continued charting into the 1980s. His last top twenty hit occurred with “Sure Thing” on the Sunbird label in 1980.

Freddie Hart is now 85 years old and hasn’t been an active performer in recent years. His 1970s successes set him up financially to get into other endeavors, including recording some Gospel music. Somehow, I doubt that too many of today’s performers would have the patience to persevere for the 18 years it took Freddie Hart to break through, and I doubt that many would be given the opportunity to try. While he is largely forgotten today, Freddie Hart did get to experience his day in the sun and is still remembered by some including the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, where he was inducted in 2001.

He made some truly unforgettable music.

Discography

Singles

Freddie Hart charted 48 times from 1953 to 1987. Here are some of the biggest hit singles:

•“The Wall” (1959 – #24)

•“Chain Gang (1960 – #17)

•“The Key’s In The Mailbox” (1960 – #18)

•“Hank Williams Guitar” (1965 – #23)

•“Togetherness” (1968- #24)

•“Born A Fool” (1968 – #21)

•“Easy Loving” (1971 – #1 for three weeks)

•“My Hang Up Is You” (1972 – #1 for six weeks)

•“Bless Your Heart” (1972 – #1 for two weeks)

• “Got The All Overs (For You All Over Me) ” (1972 – #1 for three weeks)

•“If You Can’t Feel It (It Ain’t There)” (1973 – #3)

•“Super Kind of Woman” (1973 – #1)

•“Trip to Heaven” (1973 – #1)

•“Hang In There Girl” (1974 – #2)

•“The Want-To’s” (1974 – #3)

•“My Woman’s Man” (1975 – #3)

•“The First Time” (1975 – #2)

•“I’d Like To Sleep Till I Get Over You” (1975 – #5)

•“The Warm Side of You” (1975- #6)

•“You Are The Song Inside Of Me” (1976 – #11)

•“That Look In Her Eyes” (1976 – #11)

•“Thank God She’s Mine” (1977 – #11)

•“The Pleasure’s Been All Mine” (1977 – #13)

•“Toe to Toe” (1978 – #21)

•“Why Lovers Turn to Strangers” (1977 – #8)

•“Sure Thing” (1980 – #15)

Albums

Freddie Hart released a number of worthwhile albums while with Kapp and Capitol, plus there are scattered albums on other labels.

Columbia issued only one album, The Spirited Freddie Hart, while Freddie was with the label, but subsequently issued several albums on the budget Harmony label

For my money, the best albums were on Kapp Records. Look for the titles Straight From The Heart, The Hart of Country Music, A Hurtin’ Man , Born A Fool, Togetherness and The Neon and The Rain.

The biggest hit recordings are on Freddie’s various Capitol albums. The Sunbird label release,

Sure Thing, contains Freddie’s last hits. The Capital albums sold well and are fairly easy to find and are generally named for the hit single contained within it. “Easy Loving” made its debut on California Grapevine, an album I liked better than the Easy Loving album.

The best single source for vinyl hunting (CDs too, for that matter) is Music Stack

www.musicstack.com

CDs

Like many 1970s County Music stars, Freddie Hart has been poorly served on CD.

There is an excellent Bear Family CD covering his early Capitol and Columbia years (1953-1962) titled Juke Joint Boogie. The CD is expensive (roughly $24) but it does contain 33 tracks and Bear’s product is always terrific.

For the Capitol years, in 1995 the Dutch label Disky issued a CD of the Capitol albums Easy Loving and its follow-up My Hang-Up Is You. There is also a self-produced CD (the “label” is Richard Davis Management) of the Capitol hits (original recordings) titled Hart to Hearts, containing 25 tracks including eleven of Freddie’s Capitol era hits, plus 14 other tracks. Hart to Hearts has tracks that sound as if they were dubbed from vinyl albums

Various EMI/Capitol labels have issued smaller hit collections containing ten songs (Ten Best, Best Of…, etc).

(Memo to Richard Weitze at Bear Family: a Freddie Hart box-set is needed!)

The Sunbird years at the end of Freddie’s career are represented by a Best of Freddie Hart collection issued by CEMA Special Markets in 1994.

Nothing is available for Freddie specifically covering the Kapp years.

Freddie does have an official website http://mreasylovin.com/ where he does have an online store which sells a small selection of CDS. The most recent CD is titled I Wouldn’t Trade America For the World.  Despite the title, this album contains only two patriotically themed songs. The remaining tracks are remakes of some of his hits plus a few covers.

Album Review: Patsy Cline – ‘The Rockin’ Side: Her First Recordings, Volume 3′

Commercial success eluded Patsy Cline throughout the 1950s in no small part due to Owen Bradley’s sometimes radical (for the day) experimentation with a wide variety of musical styles, as they searched to find her niche. In an era in which Kitty Wells was the primary example of what a girl singer, as they were known at the time, should sound like, Patsy’s more polished vocal style was a hard sell to country audiences, despite her obvious talent. Patsy resisted Bradley’s efforts to push her in a more pop direction, for which he felt her voice was better suited. The emergence of rock and roll and the tremendous success of Elvis Presley perhaps made it inevitable that Patsy and Bradley would experiment with rockabilly. The final volume of Rhino Records’ trilogy of Patsy’s early recordings for Four Star, titled The Rockin’ Side, focuses on those rockabilly efforts.

The thirteen tracks were recorded between 1955 and 1959, spanning the duration of Patsy’s Four Star contract. W.S. Stevenson, which was the pseudonym for Four Star Music’s owner Bill McCall, shares songwriting credits on eight of the tracks. Despite her expressed preference for singing honky-tonk, Patsy sounds perfectly at ease with the rockabilly material, and one suspects that had any of these recordings caught on commercially, her career might well have taken a very different direction. She could easily have been a rival for Wanda Jackson and Rose Maddox for the title Queen of Rockabilly.
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