My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Roy Clark

Classic Album Review: Roy Clark — ‘Roy Clark Live!’

Back in 2011, I wrote an article 25 GREATEST LIVE COUNTRY ALBUMS. In that article I had this album pegged as the ninth greatest album, an assessment I stand by today. At the time I said the following:

Roy Clark released a number of live albums over the years, but this one, released on Dot Records in 1972, is the one Roy Clark album. This album showcases Roy’s instrumental prowess and his innate sense of comedy – even when he’s not trying to be funny, Roy can be hilarious. The album is worth buying if only for the “Great Pretender medley” but there’s so much more to this album including his then-hit “The Lawrence Welk – Hee Haw Counter-Revolution Polka”, earlier hits such as “I Never Picked Cotton” and “Thank God and Greyhound” as well as some very flashy instrumentals plus his two biggest pop hits “Tips of My Fingers” and “Yesterday When I Was Young”. Parts of this album have been released on CD, but unfortunately, not the “Great Pretender medley”.    

Roy Clark is an all-around entertainer who became a superstar without being a big hit-maker on the charts. He had a few top ten hits scattered across a fifteen year period, but he was huge concert draw, a great instrumentalist, a frequent guest on many local and national television shows, and of course Hee Haw which he hosted for over twenty years. It is possible that for three decades Roy Clark was the most familiar face in country music.

This album is so much fun that I find myself pulling it out frequently (I digitized it about fifteen years ago so I could play it in my car – before that I had dubbed it to a cassette). The album was one of Roy’s more successful albums, reaching #4 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart. While there was only one single issued from the album, local radio stations played several of the tracks from the album, especially the “Great Pretender” medley. The album was recorded at the Landmark Hotel in Las Vegas, so Clark is backed by a typical Vegas sage show orchestra. Fortunately, Clark is in the front and center of the sound mix.

The album opens with the introduction of Clark and Clark’s hyperkinetic guitar work (and vocals) on “Alabama Jubilee”. From here Clark moves into funky town with his take on Wilbert Harrison’s “Kansas City”.

“Thank God and Greyhound” was a top ten country single for Roy in 1970 and even crossed over onto the pop charts. The song starts off as a breakup ballad, but the chorus is a spirited up-temp kiss-off:

 I’ve made a small fortune and you squandered it all

You shamed me till I feel about one inch tall

But I thought I loved you and I hoped you would change

So I gritted my teeth and didn’t complain

 

Now you come to me with a simple goodbye

You tell me you’re leaving but you won’t tell me why

Now we’re here at the station and you’re getting on

And all I can think of is thank God and Greyhound you’re gone

 

Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone

I didn’t know how much longer I could go on

Watching you take the respect out of me

Watching you make a total wreck out of me

That big diesel motor is a-playing my song

Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone

 

Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone

That load on my mind got lighter when you got on

That shiny old bus is a beautiful sight

With the black smoke a-rolling up around the taillight

It may sound kind-a cruel but I’ve been silent too long

Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone

Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone

Roy closes out side one of the album with three instrumentals: “Under The Double Eagle” (guitar), “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” (banjo) and “Orange Blossom Special” (fiddle). I always felt that Roy could play anything with strings and he proves it here.

Side two opens with Roy’s biggest hit “Yesterday When I Was Young”. Released in 1969 and written by France’s legendary singer-songwriter Charles Aznavour, the song was both a country (#1 Cashbox & Record World, #9 Billboard) and pop hit (#19 USA – #7 Canada) and sold well over a million copies. While not released as a single in England, I heard the song many times on the BBC. For those who have never heard the song, I guess I would describe it as the ultimate self-recrimination ballad, easily one of the saddest and most intense songs I’ve ever heard:

Yesterday when I was young

The taste of life was sweet as rain upon my tongue

I teased at life as if it were a foolish game

The way the evening breeze may tease a candle flame

 

The thousand dreams I dreamed, the splendid things I planned

I always built, alas, on weak and shifting sand

I lived by night and shunned the naked light of day

And only now I see how the years ran away

Yesterday when I was young

Roy Clark always had a knack for finding humor everywhere so there will be little more seriousness from this point forward. “Green Green Grass of Home was a recent hit for Johnny Darrell and for Tom Jones. Roy gives it almost a straight treatment. After that, he launches into the “Lawrence Welk-Hee Haw Counter-Revolution Polka about the actions of ABC and CBS in canceling the Lawrence Welk Show and Hee Haw despite excellent ratings (‘attracting the wrong demographic’). Both shows went into immediate syndication and were seen on more stations and larger audiences than they ever had been on the networks. This song was the only single released from the album and was a top ten hit As the chorus states “… they still play the polka in Milwaukee, still play the waltz in Tennessee…” – indeed they do!

They’re goin’ through a music revolution

The hippies say they’ll overcome us all

While they’re blowin’ smoke and air pollution

We’re hangin’ in with help from Geritol.

 

They’re rounding up the squares in California

They’re picking off our heroes in New York

But they’ll never take away our champagne music

As long as Lawrence Welk can pop his cork

 

And they still do the polka in Milwaukee

Still, do the waltz in Tennessee

Still pickin’ bluegrass in Kentucky

With old-fashioned country harmony

So give me some beer drinkin’ music

And play that double eagle march for me

For they still do the polka in Milwaukee

So let me hear that one ah two ah three

 

The big wheels at the network started spinnin’

The verdict was that Hee Haw had to go

Cause city slickers don’t believe in grinnin’

And who the hell needs jokes in Kokomo

 

So they canceled all the singin’ and the pickin’

But the stubborn little donkey wouldn’t leave

And that little fella’s still alive and kickin’

And Hee Haw is laughin’ up its sleeve = hee haw

 

And they still do the polka in Milwaukee

Still, do the waltz in Tennessee

Still pickin’ bluegrass in Kentucky

With old-fashioned country harmony

So give me some beer drinkin’ music

And let me hear that one or two or three

While we swing to that good old country music

For Hee Haw is good enough for me

Yes, Hee Haw is good enough for me

It is difficult to describe “The Great Pretender” medley. “The Great Pretender” was a huge hit (#1 Pop & R&B in 1955) for legendary 1950s R&B/Pop Vocal group the Platters   It starts off conventionally enough (sort of), with Roy doing all the vocal parts of all five of the Platters. As the song moves along, Clark starts kidding about, with most of the jokes being aimed at himself.

A couple of minutes into the track eleven minute track (and while near the end of the final verse) Roy launches into instrumental versions of “High Noon”, “Loch Lomond”, Turkey In The Straw”, “Lara’s Theme” (from the movie DR ZHIVAGO -a/k/a “Somewhere My Love”) and “Honky-Tonk” before returning to “The Great Pretender” – at the same point from which he had departed the song.

Roy had been sending up “The Great Pretender” for several years (without the medley interjections) prior to recording this album and you can check out the shorter version on YouTube

This album is hugely funny, with lots of interesting vocals, good musicianship, and lots of laughs. I wish I’d been there to see it – a definite A+ in my book.

Advertisements

Album Review: Willie Nelson – ‘Last Man Standing’

While Willie Nelson isn’t the last of the great country music stars of the 1950s and 1960s (Roy Clark, Jan Howard, Stonewall Jackson, Connie Smith, Charley Pride and Bill Anderson are still around), the title still seems appropriate as Willie is one of the few still active, albeit less active than previously.

Last Man Standing is the 2018 release for Willie, containing original songs co-written by Willie with the album’s producer Buddy Cannon. Most of these songs were penned shortly after the release of last year’s Nelson release God’s Problem Child.

The album opens up with the title track, a song which poses the dilemma faced by the aging – we want to keep living but there are times when it seems that all of our friends are disappearing. This is a great song that country radio won’t play but which can be heard on Sirius XM and other sources.

I don’t wanna be the last man standing

Or wait a minute maybe I do

If you don’t mind I’ll start a new line

And decide after thinking it through

Go on in front if you’re in such a hurry

Like heaven ain’t waiting for you

I don’t wanna be the last man standing

On second thought maybe I do

 

It’s getting hard to watch my pals check out

Cuts like a wore out knife

One thing I learned about running the road

Is forever don’t apply to life

Waylon and Ray and Merle and old Harlan

Lived just as fast as me

I still got a lotta good friends left

And I wonder who the next will be

The next track is “Don’t Tell Noah”, a funky number somewhat difficult to characterize, but which reminds somewhat of the sort of lyrics that Mose Allison penned. This is not a religiously themed song.

I suppose all of us have been plagued with “Bad Breath” at one time or another, but as Willie notes “bad breath is better than no breath at all”. This song features the harmonica playing of Mickey Raphael. This song is about more of the problems associated with aging.

“Me and You” reflects the state of affairs that I think everyone experiences at one time or another. For most of us, after all it really comes down to one trusted companion.

Turn the sound down on my TV

I just can’t listen anymore

It’s like I’m in some foreign country

That I’ve never seen before

 

So come now here to think about it

What in the hell are we goin to do?

after all is said and all is done

It’s just me and you

 

It’s just me and you

And we are definitely outnumbered

There’s more of them than us

Just when you think you made a new friend

They throw you under the bus

So it’s just me and you

It’s just me and you

Willie slows down the tempo for the contemplative “Something You Get Through”. This song deals with the emotional effects of loss. Mike Johnson plays some lovely steel guitar on this track.

“Ready To Roar” kicks up the tempo for this western-swing flavored track. We’ve all been there – “It’s Friday and we’re ready to roar”.

“Heaven Is Closed” is Willie’s take on reasons to keep living after his girl has left him. It’s an odd perspective but rather appropriate anyway.

Heaven is closed and hell’s overcrowded

So I think I’ll just stay where I am

So many people, well it sure is lonely

But who even gives a damn?

I hear someone callin’, “Come in from the craziness”

But there ain’t nobody around

Heaven is closed and hell’s overcrowded

So I think I’ll just stay where I am

 

Heaven left for California on a midnight plane

Hell stayed behind so I wouldn’t be lonely

For reasons that’s hard to explain

Could it be hell is heaven and that heaven is hell

And each one are both the same thing?

Well I hope heaven finds what she’s lookin’ for

And that hell treats us both just the same

“I Ain’t Got No Nothin’ “ is a rollicking mid-tempo honky-tonk ballad that might as easily been played by Fats Domino, Bob Wills, or Amos Milburn with only slight changes of instrumentation.

  I got a dog, I got a cat

An I-phone and a hip-hop hat

But I ain’t got nothin’ ’cause you ain’t here with me

 

I got house, I got a barn

A big truck and a red Jaguar

But I ain’t got nothin’ ’cause you ain’t here with me

Willie remains in this mid-tempo honky-tonk mode with “She Made My Life” then shifts gears with “I’ll Try To Do Better Next Time”, a somewhat religiously themed slow song about trying to keep to the God’s path.

“Very Far To Crawl” closes out the album, a song about the end of a relationship and the desperation of someone looking to rekindle it. The instrumentation is very bluesy and I can see this song being picked up by blues performers, should they chance to hear the song.

 I knew that you had hurt me bad

The brokest heart I ever had

And I’m still right where you let me fall

So I don’t have very far to crawl

 

You kicked me right in the heart, babe

I shouldn’t even be here at all

Tryin’ hard to get back to you

I don’t have very far to crawl

In recent years Willie would release three or four albums per year and while those days are probably gone, what we have here is an excellent album, which found Willie (mostly) good voice, accompanied by a group of musicians who truly understand what Willie is all about

I would give the album as described above an A- ; however, the version of the album I have was purchased at the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain and contains three bonus cuts that add value to the album:

The Front Row – another Nelson & Cannon collaboration that I love

Who’ll Buy My Memories – a piano and acoustic guitar remake of an older Nelson tune

Summer of Roses / December Day – also piano and acoustic guitar, originally Willie’s RCA years

Classic Rewind: The World’s Most Famous Unknown Band

Album Review: Hank Williams Jr – ‘Live At Cobo Hall Detroit’

live at cobo hallAfter fifteen assorted albums in roughly a five year period, MGM finally got around to releasing a live album on Hank Jr. Released in July 1969, MGM SE-4644 was the third of five albums MGM would release in 1969. To my knowledge the album has never been released in any digital format, although Polygram did reissue it on vinyl a few years later.

Cobo Hall (now the Cobo Center) in Detroit might seem a strange venue in which to record a country album, but judging from the album that emerged from the concert it was just fine. Built in 1960 and named for Albert E Cobo (Detroit Mayor 1950-1957), Cobo Hall was one of the nation’s first really large convention centers and I believe that Hank Williams Jr. – Live At Cobo Hall was the first time a major recording label had recorded an album at such a venue.

This 1969 album catches Hank Jr. at a time when he was beginning to be his own man, and not merely a clone of his famous father. While the album has the obligatory Hank Sr. songs, it also features his own hit “Standing In The Shadows” and some covers of more recent material
Side One of the album opens with “Jambalaya”, one of Hank Sr.’s hits. Written by Hank Sr. (possibly with Moon Mullican as co-writer although not so credited) Hank Jr. tackles the song with the proper tempo and enthusiasm.

Next up is the Mel Tillis – Danny Dill classic “Detroit City” which was a hit twice in 1963 by Billy Grammer (under the title “I Wanna Go Home”) and by Bobby Bare. Hank does a nice job with the song.
Hank shows his total comfort with rock songs on his fast take on the Joe South composition “Games People Play”. This would have made a good single but Freddy Weller, a member of the rock group Paul Revere & The Raiders who was attempting to forge a career in country music, beat Hank to the punch taking the song to #1 on the Cashbox and Record World country charts a few months earlier.

That Hank chose to record the song at all was a harbinger of things to come in country music. Until 1968 what some would describe as songs of social consciousness had been rare in country music, in fact aside from Johnny Cash’s songs, they been virtually non-existent. In 1968 three songs, Roy Clark’s “Do You Believe This Town”, Henson Cargill’s “Skip A Rope” and Jeannie C. Riley’s “Harper Valley PTA”, had cracked the door open further for this kind of material:

Oh the games people play now
Every night and every day now
Never meaning what they say now
Never saying what they mean

While they wile away the hours
In their ivory towers
Till they’re covered up with flowers
In the back of a black limousine

Chorus
La-da da da da da da da
La-da da da da da de
Talking ’bout you and me
And the games people play

Oh we make one another cry
Break a heart then we say goodbye
Cross our hearts and we hope to die
That the other was to blame

But neither one ever will give in
So we gaze at an eight by ten
Thinking ’bout the things that might have been
And it’s a dirty rotten shame

It would be unthinkable for Hank to have done a live album without showcasing one of this own hits, so “Standing In The Shadows” is up next. The song got a rousing ovation from the audience.

I know that I’m not great
And some say I imitate
Anymore I don’t know
I’m just doing the best I can

After all I’m standing in the shadows
Of a very famous man

The band is feature on an instrumental, the recent Flatt & Scruggs hit (from the movie Bonnie and Clyde)”Foggy Mountain Breakdown”. It is a good rendition although the banjo player is definitely not in Earl Scrugg’s league. Snippets of several other songs are performed within this track (in jazz they call these ‘signatures’).

Side One closes out with an effective version of another Hank Sr. classic “You Win Again”.

Side Two opens with a classic George Jones song penned by Dickey Lee Lipscomb & Steve Duffy, “She Thinks I Still Care”. Hank Jr. isn’t George Jones (who is?) but he handles the song quite well.

Conway Twitty had a many #1 records in his illustrious career but “Darling You Know I Wouldn’t Lie” (#1 Cashbox / #1 Record World / #2 Billboard) is barely remembered today. Hank’s version opens with a nice steel guitar intro – in fact, the steel dominates the whole arrangement. This Wayne Kemp-Red Lane classic is the kind of song Conway Twitty really excelled at, and I really like Hank’s take on the song:

Here I am late again for the last time
And like I promised I just told her goodbye
Please believe me for this time it’s really over
And darling you know I wouldn’t lie

Didn’t I come and tell you about her
How temptation lured she and I
Now I know it was only fascination
And darling you know I wouldn’t lie

I had to let her down easy as slow as I could
After all she’s got feelings too
But it took a little longer than I thought it would
But this time she knows we’re really through

She wanted to hold me forever
And this lipstick shows her final try
And these tears on my shoulders are proof that she failed
And darling you know I wouldn’t lie
And darling you know I wouldn’t lie

The album closes with three Hank Sr. songs. In his earliest recordings Hank Jr. tried to be a clone of his father, but by now he was putting his stamp on the material.

There are many who consider “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” as the greatest country song ever written (personally I’m torn between this song, “El Paso”, and “The Last Letter”), but it is a great song, even if Hank Jr.’s version does not live up to his father’s version (no one else’s version does either). It’s a great song and should be appreciated for what it is.

This is followed by “Your Cheatin’ Heart”; again Hank Jr. cannot quite get that lonesome sound in his voice that his father does, but he does a fine job. For whatever reason, “Your Cheatin’ Heart” is not listed on the album cover, which caused me to think this was a shorter album than is actually the case.

The album closes with “I Saw The Light”. Country albums and live country shows frequently closed with gospel songs during this period of time. Unfortunately that tradition faded away in the 1970s
Unfortunately I was unable to find definitive information on the musicians playing on this album. Even PragueFrank’s website did not provide any information. Suffice it to say, it’s a very good band with a proficient steel player, a competent banjo and an excellent honky-tonk style pianist. I hope someday this gets released in a digital format with the missing tracks restored as bonus tracks. By the time this album was issued Hank Jr. had already scored a few more hits on non-Hank Sr. material, so I presume he might performed a few of them.

A few years ago I did an article on the twenty-five greatest live country albums. At that time, I placed this album sixteenth on my list, docking it a bit for the short playing time (based on the album’s back cover). The actual playing time is actually around thirty-two minute, which still seems too short – the album ended with me wanting more.

Obviously I give this album a solid A.

Classic Rewind: Roy Clark – ‘It’s All Over, All Over Again’

Country Heritage: Kenny Price (1931-1987)

kenny priceFans of the long running television show Hee Haw may remember Kenny Price. He played various roles in Hee Haw’s skits, including the over-protective father of a pretty teenage daughter (whose suitor, Billy Bob, did not meet his approval), a backwater sheriff and a country bumpkin lounging on the lawn in front of the general store. He also appeared in two of the regular musical spots, the “Gloom, Despair and Agony” snippets and the glorious Hee Haw Gospel Quartet segment wherein Kenny, Grandpa Jones, Buck Owens and Roy Clark would lend their talents to old-time gospel favorites. Many viewers considered the Hee Haw Gospel Quartet to be their favorite portion of the show. He also appeared as Kenny Honey, the father on the spin-off Hee Haw Honeys and hosted a travel show on TNN called Wish You Were Here with his wife Donna.

Unfortunately, few today remember Kenny Price as a country music recording star for Boone and RCA records. A solid journeyman performer, known as ‘The Round Mound of Sound’, he charted 34 singles during his 15 year chart run, but never had a number one record or a sustained run of top ten records.

Standing six-feet tall and weighing well over 300 pounds, Kenneth James Price is remembered by fellow performers and fans alike as one of the nicest individuals to ever sing a country song. Born near Florence in Boone County, Kentucky, he was raised on a ranch and learned to play the guitar when he was only five. Initially at least, Price aspired to be a farmer but eventually he changed the focus of his endeavors. He got his start in 1945 playing on WZIP-Cincinnati and over the next few years, played a few dates in the Kentucky-Ohio border area. Uncle Sam called in 1952 and Price spent the next two years in the military. While stationed in Korea, he auditioned for a USO show. By the time he was discharged in 1954 Price had decided on music as a career and studied briefly at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. From there he appeared on Midwestern Hayride at WLW-Cincinnati and by 1957 was appearing on Hometown, a Cincinnati television show hosted by Buddy Ross. Meanwhile, in 1955, he issued two singles on the “X” label (an RCA subsidiary) called “Cold Hearted Love” and “Worryin’”. Neither single charted.

Nearly nine years passed before Price again landed a recording contract, this time with Boone Records, out of Boone, NC. After four non-charting singles he finally hit it big with his third single, “Walking on the New Grass”, which cracked the Top 10 in 1966–as did his next single “Happy Tracks”. While none of his following Boone singles charted in the top ten nationally (“Southern Bound” came close), they did well enough in regional markets to land him a recording contract with RCA. Moreover, RCA thought highly enough of him that they purchased the masters for his two albums on Boone and reissued them as his first two RCA albums.

The first RCA hit was achieved in 1969 when “Northeast Arkansas Mississippi County Bootlegger” reached #17. This was followed by two more top ten hits in “Biloxi” (#10 in 1970) and “The Sheriff of Boone County” which reached #8 at the end of 1970 and appeared briefly on the pop charts (the song was inspired by a series of amusing Dodge automobile commercials). After that, Top 10 success eluded Price, although he did have a few more minor hits. His tenure with RCA ended in late 1975, but he kept busy when Hee Haw beckoned in 1976. He remained a member of the cast until his death in 1987.

I never had the pleasure of seeing Kenny perform live, but I’ve met several musicians who worked with him and all of them had fond memories of him. Read more of this post

Week ending 5/18/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

royclark1953 (Sales): Kaw-Liga — Hank Williams (MGM)

1953 (Jukebox): No Help Wanted — The Carlisles (Mercury)

1953 (Disc Jockeys): Your Cheatin’ Heart — Hank Williams (MGM)

1963: Still — Bill Anderson (Decca)

1973: Come Live With Me — Roy Clark (Dot)

1983: Whatever Happened To Old-Fashioned Love — B.J. Thomas (Columbia)

1993: I Love The Way You Love Me — John Michael Montgomery (Atlantic)

2003: Have You Forgotten? — Darryl Worley (DreamWorks)

2013: Cruise — Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

2013 (Airplay): Get Your Shine On — Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

Country Heritage: Pop Stoneman and the Stoneman Family

stoneman familyMost people trace the dawn of recorded country music back to the famous Bristol sessions of 1927, from which Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family rose to prominence. While I am not sure that even Ernest V. Stoneman (May 25, 1893 – June 14, 1968) represents the dawn of recorded country music, he has a far better claim to it than do Jimmie Rodgers and the Carters.

Born in 1893 in Carroll Country, Virginia, near the mining community of Iron Ridge, Ernest Van Stoneman was raised by his father and three cousins who taught him traditional Blue Ridge Mountain songs. Ernest married Hattie Frost in 1919. He and his wife set about having a family, eventually having 23 kids, of which 13 lived to be adults. Stoneman worked at various jobs and played music for his own entertainment. He was a talented musician who could play (and make) a variety of instruments, including banjo, guitar, fiddle and autoharp, although the autoharp would become his trademark during his recording career.

Legend has it that Stoneman heard a recording by Henry Whittier, a popular artist of the time and a friend of her father’s (according to daughter Roni), and swore he could sing better. In 1924 he traveled to New York and received a recording contract. The first single, “The Sinking of the Titanic”, was issued on the Okeh label and became the biggest hit he ever had. Sales figures for the 1920s are not terribly reliable, but several sources have sales pegged at four million copies sold – a remarkable total for the time and certainly one of the biggest hits of the 1920s. Read more of this post

Classic Rewind: Roy Clark – ‘You Tried To Ruin My Name’

Album Review: Vern Gosdin – ‘Never My Love’

In 1976 Gary S. Paxton coaxed Vern Gosdin out of his self-imposed retirement and got Vern into the recording studio, producing the excellent Till The End, which was released in August 1976. Of course, even then the world of country operated on a ‘what have you done lately’ basis and in those days that meant issuing albums annually.

‘What Have You Done Lately’ arrived in the form of Never My Love, released in June 1978. Unlike Till The End, which featured a bunch of Gary S. Paxton originals plus the title cut written by his then-wife Cathy, Never My Love featured a diverse bunch of songs, taken from sources both pop and country.

“Never My Love” was a #2 pop hit for The Association in 1967. The Association’s version is good, but Gosdin gives the song a more dramatic reading.

You ask me if there’ll come a time
When I grow tired of you
Never my love
Never my love

You wonder if this heart of mine
Will lose its desire for you
Never my love
Never my love

The production for all of these songs has the “Nashville Sound” feel with strings and voices. For this song there is a prominent backing performance by rising star Janie Fricke, whose first chart single would arrive three months after the release of this album. Released as a single, this song was Vern’s third top ten hit, reaching #9.

“Catch The Wind” was, of course a massive world-wide hit for Donovan Leitch, and has been covered by nearly every folk singer on the planet.

In the chilly hours and minutes
Of uncertainty, I want to be
In the warm hold of your loving mind

To feel you all around me
And to take your hand along the sand
Ah, but I may as well try and catch the wind

Vern’s version of the song is simply different from every other version of the song that I’ve heard. Rather than the soft gossamer treatment usually accorded the song, Vern gives it a soulful but wry reading, which gives strong emphasis to the lyrics. I think this could have been a major hit had it been released as a single.

“Anita You’re Dreaming” was a minor hit for Waylon Jennings in 1966. I listened to his version and Waylon’s version while writing this article. The arrangement on Vern’s version is very similar to that on Waylon’s record, but Vern has the better voice.

“When I Need You” was a wimpy Carole Bayer-Sager / Albert Hammond ballad that Leo Sayer took to #1 in the US, UK and Canada. I don’t much like the song, but I guess Vern Gosdin can turn anything into a worthwhile recording.

“I Sure Can Love You” is a slow ballad written by Gary S. Paxton and R. Karen Paxton. The song is nothing special, but again, Vern can render even indifferent material worth hearing.

The five songs listed above constituted Side 1 of the album as it was released on vinyl. All five were in the medium-slow tempo that Gosdin seemed to prefer.

Side two of the original vinyl release opened with “Break My Mind”, a medium-fast John D Loudermilk composition that everyone recorded in the late 1960s, but none scored a huge hit with it. George Hamilton IV came closest reaching # 6 in 1967. The lyrics to this tune sound a bit dated, having a definite sixties feel to them:

Baby oh baby
Tell the man at the ticket stand that you changed your mind
Go and run outside and tell the man to keep his meter flying
Cause if you say goodbye to me, babe you’re gonna break my mind

Break my mind, break my mind
Lord I just can’t stand to hear the big jet engines whine
Break my mind, break my mind, oh Lord
Cause if you leave you’re gonna leave a babbling fool behind

The faster tempo comes at just the right time and the use of horns in the arrangement enhances the feel of the song. This was the second single released from this album, reaching # 13.

“Forget Yesterday” was written by Wayne Bradford and is just another slow ballad. The trailing call and chorus effect and other vocal harmonies supplied by Janie Fricke make the song seem more interesting than actually is the case.

Vern’s then-wife Cathy never did Vern wrong with any of the songs she supplied him, and “Without You There’s A Sadness In My Song” is just another example.

Brother Rex Gosdin co-wrote “The Lady She’s Right” with Vernon Reed. I don’t know the vintage of the song, but it is clear that Rex’s early death robbed Vern of a good source of songs. This is another mid-tempo song that Vern wraps his voice around to good effect.

“Something’s Wrong In California” comes from the pen of Rodney Lay, a fine songwriter and singer who never quite broke through to be a star but had a long career as part of Roy Clark’s organization. Yet another slow ballad that sounds fine coming from Vern Gosdin.

Something’s wrong in California, I can tell by the letters she don’t write
Gotta get back to California, something’s just not right in California
Stranded here in Kansas, ain’t got a nickel to my name
Gotta get back to see my baby, just the same to California
.

Waylon Jennings also recorded this song, albeit with slightly different lyrics

I wouldn’t regard this as one of Vern’s better albums, mostly due to the lack of up-tempo material. Granted, Vern could probably sing the Orlando Yellow Pages and make it sound acceptable, but I did find myself wishing for a few more tempo changes. This album was made at the end of the “Nashville Sound” era so there are strings and background singers on most of the material, but they are not overused and so do no harm to the sound of the recordings. Anyway, I’d much rather hear the trappings of the “Nashville Sound” than put up with the Southern Rock guitars that mess up so much of today’s country music. The one thing that is true of the production of this album, whatever the embellishments used, the voice of Vern Gosdin is front and center throughout. That is a very good thing. I would give this album a B+.

This album originally was released on Elektra, one of three albums Vern would release for the label. Rhino, in conjunction with the British label Edsel, released this as part of a three albums on two CDs set encompassing all three of the Elektra albums (no bonus tracks, just the tracks from the original albums Till The End, Never My Love and You’ve Got Somebody.

Favorite country songs of the 1980s, Part 1

The 1980s were a mixed bag, with the early 1980s producing some of the lamest country music ever recorded, as the Urban Cowboy movie wrecked havoc on the genre. Fortunately, there was still good country music being released. The first flowering of the late 1980s “New Traditionalist” movement arrived in 1981 with the first hits of Ricky Skaggs and George Strait, but they remained outliers until 1986 as far as good new artists were concerned. The latter part of the decade, however, produced some truly excellent country music with the 1986 arrival of Randy Travis and company.

This list is meant neither to be a comprehensive list of great country songs from the 1980s, nor any sort of ranking of records. It’s just a list of some songs that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records.

If You’re Gonna Play In Texas (You Gotta Have A Fiddle In The Band)“ – Alabama
Alabama made excellent music during the 1980s, although the country content of some of it was suspect. Not this song, which is dominated by fiddle. One of the few up-tempo Alabama records that swings rather than rocks.

I’ve Been Wrong Before” – Deborah Allen
An accomplished songwriter who wrote many hits for others, particularly with Rafe VanHoy, this was one of three top ten tunes for Ms. Allen, reaching #2 in 1984. This is much more country sounding than her other big hit “Baby I Lied”.

Last of The Silver Screen Cowboys” – Rex Allen Jr.
After some success as a pop-country balladeer, Rex Jr. turned increasing to western-themed material as the 1980s rolled along. This was not a big hit, reaching #43 in 1982, but it featured legendary music/film stars Roy Rogers and Rex Allen Sr. on backing vocals.

“Southern Fried” – Bill Anderson
This was Whispering Bill’s first release for Southern Tracks after spending over twenty years recording for Decca/MCA. Bill was no longer a chart force and this song only reached #42 in 1982, but as the chorus notes: “We like Richard Petty, Conway Twitty and the Charlie Daniels Band”.

Indeed we do. Read more of this post

Classic Rewind: Roy Clark – ‘The Lawrence Welk Hee Haw Counter Revolution Polka’

Favorite country songs of the 1970s: part 1

A revised and expanded version of a post first published on The 9513:

The 1970s were not my favorite decade for country music but it was the decade in which I did my largest amount of listening to country radio, having the good fortune to have such country giants as WSUN AM- 620 in St. Petersburg, FL, WHOO AM-1090 in Orlando and WCMS AM-1050 in Norfolk, VA for my listening pleasure, plus I could tune in WSM AM – 650 in Nashville at night. I did a lot of shift-work during this decade so my radio was on constantly.  This list is meant neither to be a comprehensive list of great country songs from the 1970s, nor any sort of ranking of records. It’s just a list of some songs that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records:

Cowboy Convention” – Buddy Alan

A silly record with some great trumpet work, “Cowboy Convention” is a cover of a Lovin’ Spoonful record from the mid 60s, about the villains of the silent movie era who were always tying Sweet Nell to the railroad track. The Buddy Alan title credit on the label is misleading as this is really a Buddy Alan/Don Rich duet with the Buckaroos. Buddy Alan, of course, is the son of Buck Owens. Read more of this post

25 Greatest Live Country Albums

All readers of this website are fans of recorded music. I would assume that most also enjoy seeing and hearing music performed live. After all, there is electricity which permeates a live performance, the interaction of performer and audience coupled with the ambiance of the venue. Tempos are usually faster, there is banter between the performer and the band and/or audience, and often songs are performed that never are recorded by the artist.

That said, it can be very difficult to capture that electricity and the landscape is littered with poor live recordings, victims of either poor recording technology, poor venue acoustics or sub-par backing bands (I had a cassette copy – probably a bootleg – of a live Chuck Berry performance in France where he was backed by what was essentially a polka band, complete with tuba and accordion). Below is my  listing of the greatest live country albums.  My list is solid country, without too many fellow travelers such as Americana or alt-country artists. I may admire John Prine and Townes Van Zandt as songwriters but I cannot stand to listen to either of them sing. The less said about the Eagles and Gram Parsons, the better.  In putting my list together, I’ve limited any given artist to one album, although I may comment on other live albums issued by the artist.

Yes, I know that bluegrass and western swing are underrepresented in my list as are modern era artists, although if I expanded to a top forty list, I’d have albums by Alabama, Tracy Lawrence, Tom T. Hall, Brad Paisley, The Osborne Brothers, Glen Campbell, Bob Wills, Hank Thompson, Rhonda Vincent and Hank Williams to include. Moreover, over time there have been improvements in recording technology and the sound of live recordings has improved, so sonically, some of the albums I’ve left off will sound better than some I’ve included.

Read more of this post

Album Review: Steve Wariner – ‘I Am Ready’

During his six-year stint with MCA Records, Steve Wariner racked up an impressive eight #1 hits, and all of his single releases during that period made the Top 10, with the exception of “There For A While”, his final release for the label. But despite his success at radio, his album sales remained modest. By the time he signed with Arista in 1991, he was ready, as his debut album for the label boldly proclaimed, to finally take his career to the next level. He teamed up with Scott Hendricks and Tim DuBois, for I Am Ready, which sounds fresher and more energized than Steve’s last few albums for MCA.

Steve wrote or co-wrote half of the album’s ten songs, though the biggest hits were provided by outside songrwiters. First up was “Leave Him Out Of This”, a passionate plea to a lover to let go of the past. Written by Walt Aldridge and Susan Longacre, the steel guitar-drenched track with background vocals provided by Vince Gill, climbed to #6 in Billboard. It was succeeded by a cover of Bill Anderson’s 1960 hit “The Tips Of My Fingers”. The song had been recorded many times in the past. Anderson’s original version had peaked at #7. In 1963, Roy Clark resurrected it and took it to #10, and in 1975 Jean Shepherd took it to #16. Steve’s version, like Eddy Arnold’s 1966 rendition, reached #3. It’s my favorite track on the album and the best single of Wariner’s career. “A Woman Loves” didn’t score quite as high, peaking at #9, but it is probably the best remembered track from this collection, thanks to a lot of recurrent airplay.

Two more singles were released — the presumably autobiographical or at least semi-autobiographical “Crash Course In The Blues” and the beautiful but not radio-friendly ballad “Like A River To The Sea”. Both singles peaked in the 30s. Steve had a hand in writing both, and was in fact the sole writer of “Like A River To The Sea”. Both tracks also allowed him to show off his guitar-playing skills.

Over the years, Steve’s music has had a tendency to lean strongly towards adult contemporary at times. By and large this is not the case with I Am Ready, with the exception of “Everything’s Gonna Be All Right”, a very generic and nondescript number that is the weakest link in this collection. The others, such as the opening track “On My Heart Again” to “When Will I Let Go” are solid mainstream 90s country, though “My, How The Time Don’t Fly” is a bit on the bland side.

The underrated gem in this collection is “Gone Out Of My Mind”, a new-at-the-time number that sounds like it hails from a bygone era. Written by Bob Morrison, Gene Dobbins and Michael Huffman, it is the most traditional song on the album. It was covered by Doug Stone in 1998 for the multi-artist collection Tribute To Tradition, but sadly, it failed to crack the Top 40. I prefer Doug’s version to Steve’s, but this is a beautiful song no matter who is singing it, the type of song that made me fall in love with country music.

Country music in the early 90s was just beginning to flex its commercial muscle, and Steve like most other artists who were still getting radio airplay at the time, benefited from the rising tide. After 13 years as a major label recording artist, he finally scored a gold album. The fact that an album that only reached #28 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart could sell 500,000 units is a somewhat grim reminder of how much stronger country album sales were 20 years ago than they are now.

I Am Ready
is Steve Wariner at his very best. If there is only room for one of his studio albums in your collection, this is the one to get. It is still easy to obtain from Amazon and used copies are very inexpensive.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Doug Stone – ‘I’d Be Better Off In a Pine Box’

This was one of the first country songs I remember really loving.  Somehow the melody just sucked me in and I didn’t even know how dark the lyrics really were until I was much older.  There are lots of 90s country songs like that for me, those I memorized and then later learned what they meant.  One of my favorite things about this video is the audience is made of country music legends – you’ll see Vince Gill, Roy Clark, Bill Anderson, Janie Fricke, John Conlee, Little Jimmy Dickens, and many more – and they are all in the moment, enjoying the song.   I’m right there with ’em.