My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Roy Drusky

Merle Haggard: An Appreciation

haggard4I cannot say that I was surprised to hear of Merle’s death yesterday, but I was tremendously saddened as Merle’s music has been an important part of my life since I was about 13 when “(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers” hit the airwaves in versions by Roy Drusky and Merle Haggard. The Billboard charts say that Drusky had the bigger hit, but the DJs in Virginia mostly played the Haggard version with its driving telecaster and incomparable vocals. At the time I didn’t have much money but by 1968 I had a summer job and purchased the 45 RPM records of “Legend of Bonnie and Clyde” and “Mama Tried”, great songs both. Unlike most 45s, however, the B sides were hardly throwaways. In fact the B side of “Legend of Bonnie and Clyde” was “Today I Started Loving You Again”, arguably Haggard’s most famous and most covered song.

It didn’t take me long to switch to buying the Hag’s albums and I eagerly obtained each new Merle Haggard album as soon as it was available for purchase. Haggard issued a great many albums, and to me they are all cherished friends, although I do prefer the early Capitol albums. Although Merle was a great songwriter, he was also good at selecting material from other writers. Plus he had a strong sense of the past paying proper homage to the likes of Lefty Frizzell, Ernest Tubb, Jimmie Rodgers and Bob Wills. Merle’s tribute to Bob Wills A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player In The World (or, My Salute to Bob Wills) kicked off the western swing revival that continues to this day,

I had three opportunities to see Haggard live and the shows I saw in 1968, 1975, and 1982 were all great shows, although they differed greatly from each other. The 1968 show was that of a tight little honky-tonk band with a young and enthusiastic Merle as the vocalist and rhythm guitar player. The 1975 show featured a slightly larger band with more western swing elements and featured Merle playing fiddle on some of the numbers. The 1982 featured a much bigger band with whatever survivors of Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys were still playing, and the band featured horns and reeds. In 1968 Haggard may have had a set list but for the later two shows Hag was clearly winging it – and the audience ate it up.

I could cite a number of statistics to support my contention that Merle Haggard was the greatest country artist of all time. I could do that, but I won’t – all that is needed is to listen to the recordings. Kevin over at Country Universe listed the Hag as the #1 male country artist of all time and listed thirteen essential singles. I made the following comment on Kevin’s blog:

“Every Haggard album is filled with treasures that never made the radio, and most of the Haggard singles had very strong B-sides. Kevin’s list of essential singles doesn’t include my two favorite singles and that’s okay – they’re all essential and you can’t have a list that long.”

I still stand by that comment and as Merle makes his way up to that heavenly choir, I will leave you with the lyrics from my favorite Merle Haggard song, “I Can’t Be Myself”

It’s a way of mine to say just what I’m thinking

And to do the things I really want to do

And you want to change the part of me I’m proud of

So I can’t be myself, when I’m with you

CHORUS
I can’t be myself and be what pleases you

And down deep inside, I don’t believe that you’d want me to

And it’s not my way to take so long deciding

But I Can’t Be Myself When I’m With You
Oh, you never liked the clothes I wear on Sunday

Just because I don’t believe the way you do

But I believe the Lord knows I’m unhappy

‘Cause I can’t be myself when I’m with you

RIP.

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Fellow Travelers: Neil Diamond

neil-diamond-01Neil Diamond has had an almost continuous presence on the various Billboard charts since 1965. Possessed of an excellent voice that covers the entire tenor-baritone continuum, Neil has been a titan of the pop and adult contemporary charts with some scattered play on jazz, R&B and country stations along the way.

Who Was He?

Neil Diamond started out as a songwriter, part of the legendary ‘Brill Building’ cadre of songwriters. Success for Neil came slowly until November 1965, when “Sunday and Me,” became a #18 hit for Jay and The Americans. Shortly thereafter the producers for the pre-fab four (a/k/a the Monkees) took interest in Neil’s music, recording several of his tunes including “I’m a Believer,” “A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You,” “Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)” and “Love to Love “. The radio and television exposure generated by the Monkees did wonders for Neil’s checkbook. “I’m A Believer” spent seven weeks at #1 and sold over 10 million copies for the Monkees.

Neil’s own hits started soon thereafter, with “Solitary Man” becoming a modest success in 1966 (but a top ten record in several regional markets. The next single “Cherry, Cherry” sealed the deal reaching #6 on the pop charts. While not every subsequent single would become a top ten record, for the next twenty five years nearly every single charted on one of Billboard’s charts, and many charted globally. He ranks behind only Sir Elton John and Barbra Streisand on the Billboard Adult Contemporary charts.

What Was His Connection to Country Music?

The first Neil Diamond single I can recall hearing was “Kentucky Woman”, a #22 pop hit in 1967. At the time I heard the song, I thought it was a country song, and that Neil should be performing country music. Indeed, Neil’s record received some airplay on WCMS-AM and WTID-AM in Norfolk, VA and it wasn’t long before some of his songs were being covered on country albums.

Waylon Jennings had a great terrific version of “Kentucky Woman” on his Only The Greatest album area, Roy Drusky had a top twenty county hit in 1972 with “Red Red Wine”, and T.G. Sheppard had a top 15 country hit in 1976 with “Solitary Man”. “I’m A Believer” showed up as an album track on many country albums.

In 1978-1979 Neil had a pair of songs chart in the lower reaches of the country charts in “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” (billed as Neil & Barbra) and “Forever In Blue Jeans”. “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” was , of course, a huge pop hit but Jim Ed Brown & Helen Cornelius covered it in the country market for a #1 record.

In 1996 Neil targeted the album Tennessee Moon at the country market and it reached #3 on the Billboard Country albums chart, although it generated no hit singles for the fifty-five year old Diamond. The album featured duets with Raul Malo , Hal Ketcham and Waylon Jennings. This would be the only time that Neil Diamond would target an album at the country music market, although many of his albums featured songs that would fit easily into the county format at the time the album was recorded.

Neil Diamond Today

Neil is still alive and recording, his most recent album being the 2014 release Melody Road. His website does not show any current tour dates, but he has not announced his retirement from touring, and he toured in 2015 so I presume he will be back touring shortly.

Spotlight Artist: Alabama

alabamaA long time ago, back in 1969, there were three cousins in Fort Payne, Alabama, who decided to form a band. The band kept practicing and perfecting their craft, eventually becoming a proficient bar band, traveling the southeastern US and landing an extended gig at the Bowery in Myrtle Beach, SC. For part of this period they used the name Wildcounty but eventually the band became known simply as ‘Alabama’. They not only wrote some of their own material, but came up with a unique sound that eventually attracted the interest of the Dallas-based MDJ label. The release in 1979 on MDJ of “My Home’s In Alabama” reached #17 and got the folks at RCA Records interested in them, so much so that they signed to RCA in March 1980, beginning an extended period of huge success.

At the time they arrived on the national scene in 1980, I was not a big fan of the band, but as time went by, I developed a strong respect for the band and a deeper appreciation of their music and their status as trailblazers in vocal group country music.

This is not to say that there had not been vocal groups in country music before. Far from it, as groups such as the Sons of The Pioneers, The Willis Brothers, The Four Guys, The Oak Ridge Boys and, most notably, the Statler Brothers had been having considerable success for years before Alabama arrived.

The Willis Brothers and Sons of the Pioneers came out of the western (or western movies) tradition and really are separate and distinct from mainstream country music. The Four Guys, The Oak Ridge Boys and The Statler Brothers came out of the gospel music traditions, and even when performing mainstream country music they frequently still sounded like gospel groups. In the case of the Oak Ridge Boys and The Statler Brothers, when commercial country success abandoned them, they turned back to recording more gospel music.

Alabama was unique. They did not arise out of the western or gospel traditions but were a bar band that played in front of noisy barroom audiences, wrote their own material, covered the likes of Merle Haggard, and developed a synthesis of soft rock and country music that brought a new audience to country music. That new audience was a younger audience that had grown up on rock music but perhaps felt that rock had become too weird or perhaps simply had grown up with both rock music and country music and appreciated the synthesis that Alabama had developed.

Unlike most rock music of the time, Alabama’s music was both melodious and harmonious. Unlike most country music of the 1960s and 1970s, Alabama’s music was good dance music in a way that the music of Jimmy Dickens, Roy Drusky and Jim Reeves never could be. Plus Alabama had three really good vocalists, even if RCA insisted that Randy Owen be the lead vocalist on most tracks.

In addition to bringing a younger audience to country music, they were a huge influence on the genre as over the next decade, more and more vocal bands entered the scene, cautiously at first with Atlanta coming on the scene in early 1983, followed by more significant bands such as Exile, Restless Heart, Shenandoah, Diamond Rio, Sawyer Brown and many others.

Alabama would have an uninterrupted run of success from 1980 thru 1999, after which time the top ten hits ceased. Along the way they would enjoy thirty-three #1 singles with six other singles reaching #2, six more reaching #3 and two more getting stranded at #4. Many of their singles reached #1 in Canada including a few late 1990s singles that did not reach #1 in the US (eh?).

Alabama was lead singer Randy Owen (b. 1949) and his cousins, Teddy Gentry (b. 1952) and Jeff Cook (b. 1949). For many years it was thought by most fans that drummer Mark Herndon was a member of the group, but years after the group retired, it was revealed that he was but a paid employee of the group.

Some of my older comrades may disagree, but when I listened to Alabama’s music, I always felt that I was listening to country music, if a somewhat different form of the genre. There are many album tracks which have a far more traditional sound than some of the singles. There are fiddles and steel guitars on many tracks and while the three members of Alabama were good songwriters, they did not hesitate to record good outside material.

Join us as we look back at the career of Alabama.

Week ending 8/29/15: # singles this week in country music history

do-not-reuse-glen-campbell-1970-bb35-billboard-650-21955 (Sales): I Don’t Care — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Jukebox): I Don’t Care — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): I Don’t Care — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1965: Yes, Mr. Peters — Roy Drusky & Priscilla Mitchell (Mercury)

1975: Rhinestone Cowboy — Glen Campbell (Capitol)

1985: Real Love — Dolly Parton with Kenny Rogers (RCA)

1995: You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone — Brooks & Dunn (Arista)

2005: As Good as I Once Was — Toby Keith (DreamWorks)

2015: House Party — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2015 (Airplay): Loving You Easy — Zac Brown Band (Southern Ground/BLMG/Republic)

Week ending 8/22/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

tumblr_lq9ewnZ1pX1qa9uo9o1_1280-21955 (Sales): I Don’t Care — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Jukebox): I Don’t Care/Your Good For Nothing Heart — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): I Don’t Care — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1965: Yes, Mr. Peters — Roy Drusky & Priscilla Mitchell (Mercury)

1975: Wasted Days and Wasted Nights — Freddy Fender (ABC/Dot)

1985: Highwayman — The Highwaymen (Columbia)

1995: You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone — Brooks & Dunn (Arista)

2005: As Good as I Once Was — Toby Keith (DreamWorks)

2015: House Party — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2015 (Airplay): Kiss You In The Morning — Michael Ray (Warner Bros./Atlantic)

Reissues wish list part 2: MCA and Decca

webb pierceFor most of the Classic Country era, the big four of country record labels were Decca /MCA, RCA, Columbia and Capitol. Of these labels, MCA/Decca has done the poorest job of keeping their artists’ catalogues alive in the form of reissues.

When speaking of the big four labels we will need to define terms.
MCA/Decca refers to recordings released on MCA, Decca, Brunswick and for some periods, Vocalion.

During the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, Decca (later MCA) can be argued as having the strongest roster of artists. Such titans as Ernest Tubb, Red Foley, Webb Pierce, Conway Twitty, Jack Greene, Bill Anderson, Jimmy Martin, The Osborne Brothers, Bill Monroe, Patsy Cline, Kitty Wells and Loretta Lynn frequently dominated the charts with many strong second tier acts such as The Wilburn Brothers, Jimmie Davis, Roy Drusky, Jimmie C. Newman, Johnny Wright, Cal Smith, Bill Phillips, Crystal Gayle, Jeanie Seely, Jan Howard and Red Sovine passing through the ranks at various times. Crystal Gayle, of course, became a major star in the late 1970s and 1980s

In the early digital days MCA had virtually nothing of their classic artists available aside from some Loretta Lynn, Bill Monroe and Conway Twitty discs. Then in 1991 they started their County Music Hall of Fame Series, showcasing artists elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, because of industry politics, their biggest stars, Webb Pierce and Conway Twitty, had not yet been elected.

Each of the discs contained fifteen or sixteen tracks or about 38 minutes of music. Many of the CDs featured artists who had not been on Decca for many years, and many featured artists who just passed through on their way to bigger and better things or had been bigger stars in the past. Among the CDS in the series were The Carter Family (on Decca 1937-1938), Jimmie Davis, Red Foley, Grandpa Jones (with Decca in the late 1950s – several remakes of King label hits), Loretta Lynn, Uncle Dave Macon (a real old-timer), Tex Ritter (1930s recordings), Roy Rogers, Sons of The Pioneers (with Decca during the 1930s and again in 1954), Hank Thompson (ABC/Dot recordings of the late 1960s and 1970s – MCA purchased the ABC & Dot labels – Hank never actually recorded for MCA/Decca). Floyd Tillman (1939-1944), Ernest Tubb, Kitty Wells, Bill Monroe and Bob Wills (Bob’s best years were on Columbia and MGM). The Bob Wills recordings were 1955-1967 recordings on the Decca & Kapp labels – the Kapp recordings usually featured Nashville session players with no real feel for swing and are the least essential recordings Wills ever made.

Each of the CDs mentioned above are undeniably worthy, but are either inadequate or not representative of the artists’ peaks.

Some MCA/Decca artists have been covered by Bear Family, most notably Ernest Tubb, Kitty Wells, Bill Monroe, Bill Anderson, Jimmy Martin and The Osborne Brothers. One could wish for more on some of these artists, but what is available generally is enough; however, it is expensive. Good two-disc sets would be desirable.

During the 1960s, Decca had their artists re-record their hits in order to take advantage of modern stereo technology, since for artists who peaked before 1957, such as Kitty Wells, Ernest Tubb, Webb Pierce and Red Foley, their biggest hits were recorded in monaural sound. An additional consideration for Ernest Tubb was that his then-current band was larger and better with musicians such as Billy Byrd and Buddy Emmons (to name just two) being members of the band. In the case of Ernest Tubb, the re-recordings were superior to the original string band recordings.

In the case of most other artists, I think the originals were better BUT for many years the original recordings were not available and listeners of my generation grew up hearing the stereo remakes whether on records or on the radio. Since the digital era began the stereo remakes have been unavailable except on Bear Family sets. It would be nice if the stereo remakes were available, and it would be nice if MCA/Decca artists were available on decent domestic collections.

Webb Pierce – several domestic releases of Webb Pierce’s hits are available but they generally contain about a dozen songs, all from the 1950s. There is a Bear Family set that covers up to 1958 – it’s great but it misses all of Webb’s lesser later hits. Webb was the #1 country artist of the 1950s according to Billboard, and while he slipped thereafter, he was still the sixth ranked artist of the 1960s with many hits, including a couple of Record World #1s. None of this has been released on CD. What is needed is a good three CD set gathering up Webb’s 1960s (and early 1970s) chart hits plus key album tracks and the stereo remakes of the fifties hits.

For as widely popular as she was. you would expect much of Barbara Mandrell‘s output to be available. Barbara moved from Epic to ABC/Dot and when ABC/Dot was absorbed by MCA, her music was issued on that label. Barbara had 30+ hits for ABC/Dot/MCA with many #1 and top five recordings. Currently, not much is available and she warrants a boxed set.

Jack Greene and Cal Smith both had fairly late starts to their solo careers. While there exist a few hit collections for each artist (on foreign labels), neither is very complete, leaving off key songs. For Cal Smith, since Kapp and MCA are both owned by the same company, a two disc set collecting Cal’s Kapp & MCA/Decca singles should suffice (possibly a single disc with about thirty tracks would be okay).

For Jack Greene, more is needed since Jack had over thirty chart singles for Decca and issued at least fourteen albums plus a hits collection while on MCA/Decca. Jack was a superior vocalist and his albums contain recordings of others’ hits that often were better than the original hits. While not a hit for Jack, his version of “The Last Letter” is the definitive recording of the song.

The Osborne Brothers were bluegrass innovators, developing an almost unique (Jim & Jesse were doing something similar) bluegrass and country hybrid with bluegrass instruments augmented by electric guitar, steel guitar and sometimes other amplified instruments. After leaving MCA/Decca for CMH and other labels, the Osborne Brothers went back to a more traditional bluegrass approach. Almost none of that classic hybrid material is available except for a gospel CD and an excellent but short (ten songs) collection titled Country Bluegrass which seems randomly put together. No bluegrass group ever has huge numbers of hit records on the country charts, but the Osborne Brothers did chart quite a few and they should be available domestically. I would think a single disc set of thirty tracks would be acceptable, although more would be better, of course.

Johnny Wright is better know as part of the duo Johnny & Jack (with Jack Anglin), but after Anglin’s death in 1963, Wright embarked on a successful solo career which saw the release of at least six albums on MCA/Decca plus twelve chart singles including the #1 “Hello Vietnam” , the first chart topper for a Tom T. Hall song. Johnny’s wife was Kitty Wells, and while he never reached her level of success as a solo artist, apparently it never bothered Wright as he and Kitty were married from 1937 until his death in 2011 at the age of 97. A good single disc collection would suffice here.

The bulk of Little Jimmy Dickens’ career occurred for another label, but his time on MCA/Decca saw the release of two albums of new material plus an album featuring remakes of his earlier hits. The Decca albums featured a staple of Jimmy’s live shows “I Love Lucy Brown” and an amusing novelty “How To Catch An African Skeeter Alive”. I think most of this would fit on a single CD.

Wilma Burgess was an excellent singer who came along about four decades too soon. While Wilma did not flaunt being lesbian, neither did she particularly hide it. Consequently, she never got much of a commercial push from her label. Many have recorded “Misty Blue” but none did it as well as Wilma Burgess. She recorded at least five albums for MCA/Decca plus some duets with Bud Logan, former band leader for Jim Reeves. A decent two disc set of this outstanding singer should be easy to compile.

I would like to see a collection on Loretta Lynn’s siblings, Peggy Sue and Jay Lee Webb. Since Loretta’s other well known sibling started on MCA/Decca as well, it should be possible to do a good two CD set of Loretta’s kinfolks. Jay Lee Webb’s “She’s Looking Better By The Minute” is an all-time honky-tonk classic.

My reissues wish list – part 1: Kapp, Mercury and Plantation/Sun

portergibson

roger millerIt should be no surprise to anyone that my tastes in country music run very traditional. While much of the music of the “New Traditionalists” movement of 1986-1999 remains available, as it should since it was digitally recorded, the music of the “Old Traditionalists (roughly 1925-1975) is another story.

When radio converted to digital starting in 1986, most radio stations, particularly FM stations, refused to play anything that was not on compact disc. As a result, a country oldie to these stations meant Alabama, Crystal Gayle, Ronnie Milsap and Kenny Rogers (artists whose back catalogue made it to digital formats) while the likes of such superstars as Charley Pride, Sonny James, Ray Price, Carl Smith, Ernest Tubb and Webb Pierce were lost to posterity.

Over time, the older country music began to be available, although often the availability was that of a four plus discs sets from Bear Family that was decidedly overkill for all but the most diehard fans. I am not knocking Bear, which in recent years has begun to issue some single disc collections. The Bear sets are as good as humanly imaginable, terrific sound, fabulous books and many of the discs have 85-87 minutes of music. They are great, but they run $22-$25 per disc.

Eventually more reissue labels emerged, mostly in Europe where the copyright laws had copyright protection lapse after fifty years. This changed recently to 70 years resulting in slowdown in reissues. I think recordings made in 1963 or later have the new 70 year copyright protection.

American record labels started to mine their back catalogues after 1991, but generally only for their biggest stars. A number of decent box sets have been issued, but again, only on the biggest stars.

Enough with my complaining – let’s start with a couple of relatively minor labels, in the first of a new series.

KAPP RECORDS

Kapp was a minor label that was eventually purchased by MCA. The biggest star on the label was pop balladeer Jack Jones, truly a fine singer. In the world of country music it was more of a launching pad for new artists and a resting place for over-the-hill singers.

Bobby Helms (“My Special Angel” & “Fraulein“) was on the label after his pop success waned. One could put together a nice CD of his Kapp recordings.

After many years of knocking about, Freddie Hart landed on Kapp. While I regard Freddie’s Kapp material as his best, he really had no big hits. Eventually Hart landed at Capital where “Easy Loving” made him an ‘overnight’ star. Kapp issued six albums on Freddie Hart, plus a hits collection. The six studio albums probably could fit on a nice two CD set

Mel Tillis released nine albums (plus two hit collections) while on Kapp. It’s not his best material but there were some classic songs (“Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town” / “Something Special” / “All Right (I’ll Sign The Papers)” / “Who’s Julie” / “Goodbye Wheeling” / “Life Turned Her That Way” / “Stateside“/ “Heart Over Mind“) that were as good as anything he ever recorded elsewhere, A nice set with about sixty songs would suffice.

Ernest Tubb was sure that Cal Smith would be a star someday. Someday was about six years later. Meanwhile Kapp released seven albums plus a hits collection on Cal. One of Cal’s Kapp hits (“Drinking Champagne” would be a big hit for George Strait many years later. After a long wait, a decent collection of Cal’s MCA/Decca hit eventually emerged but none of his Kapp classics are available. Cal had some really good songs including “Drinking Champagne”, “You Can’t Housebreak A Tomcat“, “Destination Atlanta G.A“, and “Heaven Is Just A Touch Away“.

MERCURY RECORDS

Foreign labels have done a good job of getting Jerry Lee Lewis and Tom T. Hall back into circulation, but Dave Dudley and Roy Drusky have been badly neglected. Mercury had an additional label, Smash, but artists occasionally moved from Smash to Mercury in midstream.

Mercury released eighteen albums plus three hits collections on Dave Dudley and all we have available is one stinking CD collection with twelve songs on it, two of the tracks being remakes of “Six Days On The Road” and “Cowboy Boots”. Dave had thirty-one chart hits for Mercury. C’mon, if nothing else a nice two CD set with the thirty-one chart hits plus some key album cuts. The King of The Truckers deserves no less – so beloved by truck drivers was Dave that the Teamsters Union gave Dave a gold union membership card.

Roy Drusky was a smooth voiced balladeer who had over forty chart records, eight with Decca and thirty two with Mercury. Same comment applies to Ray as applies to Dave Dudley – a nice two disc set is needed.

Roger Miller may have been the most talented performer to ever record in the country music genre. Roger barely even need a guitar to keep folks entertained. Back in 1991 & 1992 Polygram (the label that purchased Mercury ) issued a pair of two twenty song CDs, one featuring songs Roger wrote that were hits for other artist and the other featuring Roger’s hits. Eventually a modest boxed set was issued, but those are long out of print. Although they were good efforts, Roger’s albums deserve to be reissued intact.

PLANTATION/SUN INTERNATIONAL

During the late 1960s – early 1970s, Plantation became kind of an old folks’ home for country artists on the way down. Many a fading star re-recorded their greatest hits for label owner Shelby Singleton. For many of these older artists, it was the only way for them to keep their music available for their fans. Webb Pierce, Jimmie Davis, Jimmy C. Newman, Hank Locklin, Charlie Walker, Kitty Wells, Dave Dudley and Roy Drusky were among the artists that had twenty song cassettes issued, and for some artists, there was some new material recorded. I don’t think Plantation has much more than thirty or so songs recorded for these veteran artists (except Webb Pierce), so they should just take everything they have on a given artist and issue a CD. True, the original recording were better but all of these recordings were at least decent.

I do not pretend that this is an exhaustive list as there are many more artists whose artistry justifies more than is currently available. I noticed that Country Universe recently posted a Wish List segment on their Daily Top Five Feature. This series was not inspired by their article as I had this nearly completed before they posted their feature.

Favorite Country Songs Of The 80s: Part 7

It seems to me that I never did finish off this series, the last installment being posted on February 11, 2014 (and the installment before that appeared April 9,2013). Here are some more songs from the 1980s that I liked. This is an expanded and revised version of the February 11, 2014 article which was a rush job :

Shame On The Moon” – Bob Seger
Bob’s 1982 recording of a Rodney Crowell song charted on the country charts in early 1983, reaching #15 in the process. The song was a bigger hit on the pop charts, reaching #2 for four weeks.

Finally” – T. G. Sheppard
He worked for Elvis, sang background for Travis Wammack, and eventually emerged with a solo career worth noting, racking up 42 chart singles from 1974-1991. This 1982 single was one of fourteen #1 record racked up by Sheppard, eleven of them reaching #1 during the 1980s.

Doesn’t Anybody Get High On Love Anymore” – The Shoppe
The Shoppe was a Dallas based band that hung around for years after their 1968 formation. In the early 1980s they had eight chart records, but this was the only one to crack the top forty, reaching #33. They had a record deal with MTM Records in 1985, but that label vanished, taking the Shoppe with them.

Crying My Heart Out Over You” – Ricky Skaggs
Ricky Skaggs was one of the dominant artists of the first half of the 1980s with his bluegrass/country hybrid. Starting with 1981’s “You May See Me Walking” and ending with 1986’s “Love’s Gonna Get You Some Day“, Skaggs ran off sixteen consecutive top ten singles with ten of them reaching number one, This 1982 classic was the first chart topper. Eventually Ricky returned to straight bluegrass, but I like the hybrid recordings better. In my original article I spotlighted “Honey (Open That Door)“, a straight forward country Mel Tillis song recorded by Webb Pierce.

Don’t Stay If You Don’t Love Me” – Patsy Sledd
Stardom never really happened for Patsy, who was a good singer marooned early in her career on a bad label. She was part of the George Jones-Tammy Wynette show in the early 1970s. This song reached #79 in 1987.

“Nice To Be With You” – Slewfoot
This band replaced Alabama as the feature band at the Bowery Club in Myrtle Beach. This was their only chart single, a cover of Gallery’s #4 pop hit from 1972 that reached #85 in 1986.

King Lear” – Cal Smith
The last chart hit for the former Texas Troubadour. This song reached #75 in 1986.

“A Far Cry From You” – Connie Smith
After a six year recording hiatus, the greatest female country recording artist of all time returned with this one-shot single on the Epic label. It’s a great song but received no promotional push at all from the label landing at #71 in 1985. Unfortunately, this single has never appeared on an album.

“The Shuffle Song” – Margo Smith
Exactly as described – a shuffle song that reached #13 for Margo in early 1980. Margo had a brief run of top ten hits in the middle and late 1970s but the string was about over. In my prior article I featured “He Gives Me Diamonds, You Give Me Chills” but The Shuffle song is actually my favorite 80s hit from Margo. She lives in The Villages in Florida and still performs occasionally.

Cheatin’s A Two Way Street” – Sammi Smith
Her last top twenty song from 1981. Sammi only had three top ten hits but made many fine records. This was one of them.

Hasn’t It Been good Together” – Hank Snow and Kelly Foxton
The last chart record for the ‘Singing Ranger’. The record only got to #78 for the 65 year old Snow in 1980 but I couldn’t let pass the opportunity to acknowledge the great career of the most successful Canadian country artist. By any legitimate means of chart tracking, his 1950 hit “I’m Moving On” is still the number one country hit of all time. Hank had perfect diction and was a great guitar player.

Tear-Stained Letter” – Jo-El Sonnier
A late bloomer, this was the forty-two year old Jo-El’s second of two top ten records and my favorite. It reached #8 in 1988. There were brief periods in the past when Cajun music could break through for a hit or two. Eddy Raven was the most successful Cajun artist but most of his material was straight-ahead country.

Sometimes You Just Can’t Win” – J.D. Souther and Linda Ronstadt
George Jones charted this record twice, but it’s such a good song it was worth covering. This version went to #27 in 1982. J.D had a big pop hit in 1980 with “You’re Only Lonely” which reached #7.

Honey I Dare You” – Southern Pacific
Southern Pacific was a bunch of guys who previously played with other bands such as Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Doobie Brothers and Pablo Cruise, making some real good country music in the process. This was one of their four top ten hits of the 1980s. “A Girl Like Emmylou” from 1986 only reached #17 but the song tells you where this band’s heart was located.

Lonely But Only For You” – Sissy Spacek
Loretta Lynn wanted to Spacek to portray her in the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter, and it turns out that Sissy can really can sing. This song reached #15 in 1983.

Standing Tall” – Billie Jo Spears
Billie Jo Spears, from Beaumont, Texas, was incredibly popular in England and Ireland, where “Blanket On The Ground” and “What I’ve Got In Mind” were top five pop hits in the mid 1970s and she had many more lesser successes. Many of her later albums were not released in the US but she had a substantial US career with thirty-four charted records, including two #1 hits. “Standing Tall” reached #15 in 1980.

Chain Gang” – Bobby Lee Springfield
More successful as a songwriter than as a performer, Springfield had two chart sings in 1987 with “Hank Drank” (#75) and “Chain Gang” (#66) which was NOT the Sam Cooke hit. Bobby Lee was both too country and too rockabilly for what was charting at the time. I really liked All Fired Up, the one album Epic released on him.

Read more of this post

Classic Rewind: Liz Anderson and Roy Drusky – ‘Just Between The Two Of Us’

Fellow Travelers: Val Doonican

Val_Doonican_1971Unlike Engelbert Humperdinck, who achieved world-wide fame, our next fellow traveler’s popularity is largely confined to the United Kingdom and Ireland and parts of the British Commonwealth, with some popularity in the Netherlands. Like Humperdinck, Michael Valentine “Val” Doonican was born elsewhere (Ireland) but migrated to England where he achieved great success.

Val Doonican was born in Waterford, Ireland in 1927, where he started performing in his late teens as part of the Irish folk scene where he appeared on radio and on Waterford’s first television broadcast. Val moved to England in 1951 as part of a group called The Four Ramblers. Eventually Anthony Newley noticed Val’s singular vocal talents and pushed him into a solo direction. In 1963 Val appeared on Sunday Night At The London Palladium leading him to be offered his own television show on the BBC.

    Who Was He ?

The closest analogy to Val Doonican’s career is that of Perry Como, an American pop singer whose hits spanned decades and whose television shows spanned four decades. Like Como, Doonican had a very relaxed style (Val was known for sitting in a rocking chair while singing on his television shows), but unlike Como who came from the Italian belle canto tradition and mostly performed songs from the Italian and American pop standards catalog, Val emerged from the Irish folk tradition and sang a wider variety of music. Doonican’s career on British television lasted for over twenty years. Val Doonican had remarkable recording success given that his recording career launched during the “British Invasion” years of the Beatles, Kinks and Rolling Stones. While Val never had a number one record in England, he did have five top ten records with “What Would I Be” reaching #2 in 1966. “Walk Tall” reached #3 in 1964 and “If The Whole World Stopped Loving” reached #3 in 1967. In all, Val charted 14 hits on the British charts.

    What Was His Connection to Country Music ?

Val Doonican emerged from the Irish folk tradition, one of the key elements of Appalachian and early country music. Doonican’s repertoire consisted of folk songs, pop songs and American country songs. Two of Val’s biggest hits were covers of American country hits in “Walk Tall” (Faron Young) and “If The Whole World Stopped Loving” (Roy Drusky) and he issued several other country songs as singles (his cover of Jim Ed Brown’s “Morning” reached #12 in England and #5 in Ireland).
Val Doonican issued many albums during his career. Twelve of his albums reached the British charts with six of them reaching the top six, and one album Val Doonican Rocks But Gently going to #1 in 1967. Val’s albums featured many country songs, some of which featured arrangements that could have been played on American country radio. Val Doonican issued many albums during his career and gently introduced British audiences to American country songs. Moreover, several of his albums were released in the United States and Val would feature American country artists as guests on his television show.

I made the analogy of Doonican’s career to that of Perry Como, but as a vocalist a better comparison would be Jim Reeves or (to a lesser extent) Roy Drusky. It doesn’t appear that Val ever tried to conquer the US market although Americans who lived in England for a few years (such as myself) would have loved to have seen him do it. ABC TV ran The Val Doonican Show as a summer replacement from June 5, 1971 to August 14, 1971.

Val retired five ago from performing (he is now 87) but his much of his musical output is still in print and worth seeking.

Country Heritage: Ferlin Husky

ferlin husky

I hear Little Rock calling
Homesick tears are falling
I’ve been away from Little Rock way too long
Gonna have a troubled mind
Til I reach that Arkansas line
I hear Little Rock calling me back home

From “I Hear Little Rock Calling” — music and lyrics by Dallas Frazier

In a career in which he was a humorist, a singer, a dramatic actor on Kraft TV Theater, a movie star and talent scout, it seems only appropriate that Ferlin Husky was one of the first to record and take a Dallas Frazier lyric up the country charts. Moreover, Husky is one of the few country stars to have three career songs in “A Dear John Letter”, his 1953 duet with Jean Shepard that spent 6 weeks at #1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Chart (and reached #4 on the pop charts); “Gone”, a 1957 hit that spent 10 weeks at #1 on Billboard (and also reached #4 on the pop chart); and finally, in 1960, “The Wings Of A Dove”, a massive hit that Cashbox lists as the biggest country song of the period 1958-1984 with 19 weeks at #1 (Billboard had it at #1 for 10 weeks).

Ferlin Husky (December 3, 1925 – March 17, 2011) was born on a farm midway between the Missouri towns of Flat River, Hickory Grove and Cantwell. As a youngster, Ferlin obtained a guitar and, aided by his uncle Clyde Wilson, he learned to play it. Upon graduation from high school, Ferlin moved to the region’s biggest city, St. Louis, where he briefly worked odd jobs to survive before joining the US Merchant Marines in 1943. Ferlin would spend five years in the Merchant Marines, where in his off hours he would entertain shipmates with his vocals and musicianship. In 1948 Ferlin left the Merchant Marines to return to St. Louis where he worked for over a year with Gene Autry’s sidekick Smiley Burnett at radio station KXLW.

Moving to California in 1949, Husky landed some bit parts in western movies before moving to Bakersfield, where he sang at local clubs and worked as a disc jockey. By 1950 he was recording for Four Star Records under the name ‘Terry Preston,’ a name Ferlin felt less contrived than his given name. While none of the Terry Preston recordings became hits, they favorably impressed Cliffie Stone, a Southern California disc jockey whose television show Hometown Jamboree was quite popular. Stone played the Terry Preston records on his morning show on KXLA and eventually got Ferlin signed to Capitol Records, still under the name Terry Preston. Recording for legendary Capitol producer Ken Nelson, several fine singles resulted, including a cover of an old Roy Acuff hit “Tennessee Central #9,” none of which charted.

Nelson urged Ferlin to use his real name and the first single released under that name (“Huskey”–with an E–being the spelling used on records until 1957) hit the jackpot as the 1953 recording of “A Dear John Letter,” sung by Jean Shepard with recitation by Ferlin, resonated with returning Korean War veterans and launched both careers.

A follow up record with Ms. Shepard, “Forgive Me John”, also went Top 10 in late 1953, but it took another year for the solo hits to start. Finally, in 1955, Ferlin hit with four songs, two Top 10 records in “I Feel Better All Over” and “Little Tom”, a Top 20 record in “I’ll Baby Sit With You,” and a #5 hit recorded under the name of his comic alter-ego Simon Crum, “Cuzz Yore So Sweet”.

Growing up in the Great Depression and coming of age during World War II gave Ferlin a sense of the importance of helping others. As one of the first artists to reach Bakersfield, Ferlin was an influence and mentor to such struggling entertainers as Tommy Collins, Billy Mize, Dallas Frazier, Buck Owens and Roy Drusky. In fact, it was Ferlin who renamed Leonard Sipes as Tommy Collins.
During his years with Capitol, Ferlin Husky would push the boundaries of country music, whether by the sophisticated balladry of “Gone”, or the gentle ribbing of his #2 hit “Country Music Is Here To Stay” (as recorded by Crum).

Ferlin would stay with Capitol Records until 1972 charting forty-one records along the way, although after “The Wings of A Dove” in 1960 Top Ten hits would be scarce for the singer, with only “Once” (1967) and “Just For You” (1968), both which reached #4, scaling the heights. (“Heavenly Sunshine” reached #10 on Cashbox in 1970, stalling out at #11 on Billboard.)

After 1972, Ferlin would sign with ABC where he would chart nine times with hits including “Rosie Cries A Lot” (#17). A very nice record called “A Room for A Boy … Never Used” got lost in the shuffle; it peaked at #60 but is well worth hunting down.
After his stint with ABC, Ferlin would record sporadically for minor labels, often remaking earlier hits but sometimes coming up with new material. In 2005, at the age of eighty, Ferlin issued an excellent new CD, The Way It Was (Is The Way It Is), on the Heart of Texas label. This CD featured both old and new material, with Leona Williams on two tracks, and backed by a cast of fine Texas swing musicians.

Ferlin Husky was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2010. Many years before that, he became one of the first country artists to get his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Read more of this post

Classic Rewind: Roy Drusky – ‘(All My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers’

This Liz Anderson song is best known as Merle Haggard’s first top 10 hit, but this rival version was a slightly bigger hit at the time:

Classic Rewind: Roy Drusky – ‘Three Hearts In A Tangle’

Country Heritage: Roy Drusky

I am not sure why this should be true, but the 1960s produced an enormous number of silky-smooth male vocalists. Perhaps it was due to the crossover success of artists such as Eddy Arnold and Jim Reeves. More likely it was the result of the Rock ‘n Roll revolution of the mid-50s wiping out the radio market for classic pop, so that artists who would have aspired to become the next Eddy Howard, Johnny Ray, Julius LaRosa or Frank Sinatra, found themselves looking toward a Nashville that was attempting to broaden its appeal by co-opting the easy listening market.

The end result often was some of the blandest music Nashville ever produced – no fiddle, no steel, pleasant but unmemorable voices and songs played at slow to medium-slow tempos. Most of these pleasant male voices made an album or two and faded from sight. This, not Hank and Lefty and ET, was the music that fueled the outlaw revolt of the mid-1970s.

Still, there were a few of the pleasant crooners who had something to distinguish themselves from the crowd – a little grit in their voice, some soul in their musical interpretations and something that set their voice apart from the crowd. Roy Drusky — the country Perry Como — was one of those few.

A true southerner, Drusky was born on June 22, 1930, in Atlanta, GA. His mother, a church organist, attempted to interest her son in music but like most boys of his era, Drusky’s first love was baseball. It wasn’t until he enlisted in the US Navy in the late 1940s that he shifted his focus to music, although even after leaving the Navy, he first tried out for the Cleveland Indians. In 1951, he put together a country band, the Southern Ranch Boys, who played in the Decatur, GA area. In Decatur, Drusky landed a job as a disc jockey. He continued to perform in local clubs after his band broke up, and on the strength of a 1953 Starday single, “Such a Fool,” he was signed to Columbia Records in 1955. Several singles were issued for Columbia, but now album until 1965 when an album, The Great Roy Drusky Sings,  was released on the budget Harmony label. This album is of interest mostly to fans and collectors of Roy Drusky recordings.

From Georgia, Roy moved to Minneapolis to continue his work in radio. Shortly after arriving, Drusky began headlining at the Flame Club, where he was able to showcase his talent as a singer and a songwriter. His songs came to the attention of Faron Young, who recorded two of Roy’s songs: “Alone With You,” released in 1958, was Young’s biggest Billboard chart hit spending 13 weeks at #1 (oddly, it only reached #2 on Cash Box’s country chart), and “Country Girl,” released in 1959, which also reached #1.

Soon thereafter, Roy moved to Nashville, signed with Decca and worked with legendary producer Owen Bradley. In 1960, a pair of successful ballads, “Another” (#2) and “Anymore” (#3), led to an invitation to join the Grand Ole Opry. That same year, he also released a Top 30 duet with Kitty Wells, “I Can’t Tell My Heart That.”

In 1961, Drusky released the double-sided hit “I’d Rather Loan You Out” (#10)/”Three Hearts in a Tangle (#2)” and also issued his first LP, Anymore With Roy Drusky. The next year, he reached the Top 10 again with “Second Hand Rose” (#3), and after a 1963 switch to Mercury records, the amusing “Peel Me A Nanner” (#10). Drusky continued to chart records, finally achieving that elusive #1 in 1965 with the “Yes, Mr. Peters,” a duet with Priscilla Mitchell (aka Mrs. Jerry Reed). Interestingly enough, in 1965, Roy’s version of the Liz Anderson-penned “Strangers” outperformed Merle Haggard’s version of the same song. Both versions reached the Top 10 (Roy’s reached #6, Hag’s reached #7), even though the song seems tailor-made for Haggard.

Roy Drusky appeared in his first film, White Lightnin’ Express, in 1965 and also sang the feature’s title song. He later appeared in two other films: The Golden Guitar and Forty Acre Feud. Roy also served as a producer for several acts, most notably Brenda Byers.

His recording success faded after 1965. Although he released 11 chart hits between 1966 and 1969, only two (“Where the Blue and Lonely Go” and “Such a Fool”) reached the Top 10. In 1970, he had a brief renaissance with “Long, Long Texas Road” (#5 Billboard/#3 Cash Box /#1 Record World) and “All My Hard Times” (#9). In 1971 he made his last trip to the Top 20 with a cover of Neil Diamond’s “Red, Red, Wine,” which reached #17. After that it was all downhill.

Drusky’s last Mercury album was released in 1973, followed by a pair of albums on Capitol in 1974 and ’75. After that period he recorded for smaller labels, including a stint on Plantation, where he re-recorded his biggest hits. In all, he had 42 charted singles on Billboard’s country charts.

He continued to perform and record, increasingly turning to gospel music in his later years. He also appeared on various country reunion projects. Roy Drusky passed away September 23, 2004 at the age of 74.

Discography

Vinyl

Roy Drusky was never a major star so his output was not quite as prolific as some performers of his generation. He released 18 albums on Mercury (plus 3 hit collections). On Decca there were two albums released, and on Capitol, two more for a total of 22 major label albums. There are also a number of off-label recordings and budget releases on labels such as Vocalion and Hilltop. Since Roy was recording during the era in which albums consisted of one or two hits singles, some covers of other artist’s hits, and some filler, the song titles should tell you whether or not a particular Roy Drusky album will be of interest to you. Please note that Roy’s recordings never went so far ‘uptown’ as to eliminate steel guitar and other country instrumentation. If you like Roy’s voice and the song selections, you will like his albums, especially the ones on Decca and Mercury.

Here are some representative albums:

Songs of The Cities (Mercury, 1964) – Detroit City | Columbus Stockade Blues | Kansas City | El Paso | Abilene | Battle Of New Orleans |Texarkana Baby |St. Louis Blues | Down In The Valley (Birmingham Jail)| I Left My Heart In San Francisco | Chattanooga Shoeshine Boy|Waterloo

In A New Dimension (Mercury, 1966) – Rainbows And Roses |Don’t You Ever Get Tired (Of Hurtin’ Me) | Workin’ My Way Up To The Bottom | You’re My World | Today | I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry | Unless You Make Him Set You Free| Crying Time |Try To Remember |Unchained Melody | World Is Round |You Don’t Know Me

Jody and The Kid (Mercury 1968) – Jody And The Kid | Let’s Put Our World Back Together | By The Time I Get To Phoenix | When The Snow Is On The Roses | Your Little Deeds | You’d Better Sit Down Kids |You’ve Still Got A Place In My Heart | When I Loved Her | Shadows Of Her Mind |Through The Eyes Of Love | Yesterday

A Portrait of Roy Drusky (Mercury, 1969) – Where The Blue And Lonely Go |Little Green Apples | Dreams Of The Everyday Housewife | I’m Gonna Get You Off My Mind |Today I Started Loving You Again | Memphis Morning | Portrait Of Me |I Wouldn’t Be Alone | Set Me Free | Country’s Gone | True And Lasting Kind

Roy was always adept with gospel music and his first Capitol album includes Peaceful Easy Feeling includes nice versions of “One Day At  A Time” and “The Baptism of Jesse Taylor”. The rest of this album is secular music, a little more pop than his Mercury albums, the title track being a recent Eagles hit.

CD

Drusky is very poorly represented in the digital era. Currently only one collection is available: Greatest Hits Volumes 1 & 2. This is a straight reissue of two albums which catch his Mercury hits through 1967 and have a few remakes of earlier Decca hits. This disc was released in 2007 by Collectors Choice Music.

In 1995, Polygram released a collection titled Roy Drusky: Songs of Love and Life. This CD is out of print but can be found with a little effort. It contains 13 songs, including the three later hits “Long, Long Texas Road,” “All My Hard Times” and “Jody and The Kid”–the latter is a nice early recording of a Kristofferson song. Only five of the songs overlap with Greatest Hits Volumes 1 & 2 so this disc is a worthwhile acquisition.

There are some digital downloads available via Amazon.com plus a couple of albums described as CD-R (manufactured upon demand).

Favorite country songs of the 1970s: Part 4

For part four of this series, I’ll be using the same criteria as before – just some songs I liked, one song per artist (although I will feel free to comment on other songs by the artist). This part stops in the middle of the letter M.

“Joy To The World” – Murray Kellum (1971)

A nice country cover of a #1 pop hit for Three Dog Night, this reached #26 and was Murray’s biggest hit. He died in a plane crash in 1990 at the too-young age of 47. Hoyt Axton wrote this song.

Honky Tonk Wine” – Wayne Kemp (1973)

Wayne Kemp was better known as a songwriter who penned major hits for the likes of George Jones (“Love Bug”), Conway Twitty (“The Image of Me”) and countless others. This song reached #17, and was Wayne’s biggest hit.

Sweet Desire” – The Kendalls (1978)

A father and daughter duo, Jeannie took on most of the lead vocals while father Royce sang harmony. The Kendalls kept the radio airwaves safe for real country music during the middle and late 1970s. I liked everything the Kendalls ever sang, and have no idea why the new traditionalist movement of 1986 failed to re-ignite their career.

Mama’s Got The Know-How” – Doug Kershaw (1974)

For someone as famous as he is, Doug Kershaw had only seven chart hits as a solo act, to go with his five hits as part of Rusty & Doug. This one got to #77, a fairly normal placing for his solo efforts. Although I liked this song, his Warner Brothers albums of the 1970s were mostly laconic efforts. Read more of this post

Favorite country songs of the 1970s: Part 2

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:

Everybody’s Reaching Out For Someone” – Pat Daisy (1972)

Beautiful and blessed with a great voice, she never did break through as a major star since she was buried at RCA behind Connie Smith, Dolly Parton, Dottie West and Skeeter Davis for promotional attention. This song reached #20 on the country chart and #112 on the pop chart and was covered on albums by many country artists. Pat pulled the plug on her own career to raise a family. Read more of this post

Country Heritage Redux: Eddie Rabbitt (1941-1998)

Edward Thomas (Eddie) Rabbitt had a seventeen year run as a recording artist on the Billboard country charts with some success on the pop charts. He also enjoyed success as a songwriter, writing many of his own hits and supplying songs to other artists. Ultimately, 20 of his recordings reached #1 on either Billboard or Cashbox (usually both).

Rabbitt was the son of Irish immigrants, born in Brooklyn, New York, but raised in nearby East Orange, New Jersey. His father was an oil refinery worker who played accordion and fiddle, and who performed Irish and country music in local venues. Surrounded by music, Rabbitt learned the guitar at an early age and by 12, he had become quite proficient. By his teen years, Rabbitt was extremely knowledgeable on Irish and country music; in fact, to the end of his life he regarded country music as an extension of Irish music, and often used minor chords to create an Irish feel.

When Rabbitt was 16, his parents divorced. After the divorce he dropped out of school, hoping to make music his career. Later, however, he would take courses at night school and earn his diploma.

Rabbitt was employed briefly as a mental hospital attendant during the late 1950s, performing music locally whenever possible. As a result of winning a local talent contest, he was given an hour of Saturday night radio show time to broadcast a live performance from a bar in Paterson, New Jersey. In 1964, Rabbitt signed his first record deal with 20th Century Records and released the singles “Next to the Note” and “Six Nights and Seven Days,” neither of which charted.

In 1968, Rabbitt moved to Nashville where he began his career as a songwriter. According to legend, on his first night in Nashville, he wrote “Working My Way Up to the Bottom,” which Roy Drusky recorded as an album track for his In A New Dimension album. In order to survive, Rabbitt worked at miscellaneous odd jobs such as driving a truck and picking fruit. Eventually, he was hired as a staff writer for the Hill & Range Publishing Company and received a reported salary of $37.50 per week.

The first blush of real success for Eddie Rabbitt occurred in 1969 when Elvis Presley recorded his song “Kentucky Rain.” The song charted #16 pop and #31 country for Elvis, selling over a million copies in the process. Rabbitt continued to write, with the next milestone occurring with a song idea that came to him while eating some breakfast cereal. Something about the lyric “…Milk and honey and Captain Krunch and you in the morning…” appealed to record producer Tom Collins, who was working for Charley Pride at the time. Collins saw Rabbitt perform the song live, and brought the song to Pride, who thought it would be perfect for Ronnie Milsap, at that time opening shows for Pride. “Pure Love” would hit #1 for Milsap in 1974, and lead to a contract offer from Elektra Records for Rabbitt later that year.

His first single for Elektra, “You Get To Me,” hit #34 and the next two singles, both released in 1975, “Forgive And Forget” and “I Should Have Married You,” barely missed the top 10. These three songs, along with a recording of “Pure Love,” were included on Rabbitt’s self titled debut album in 1975.

The next single, the very traditional “Drinkin’ My Baby (Off My Mind),” kicked off a long series of hits that included four songs that also charted among the top 10 pop songs “Drivin’ My Life Away,” “Step By Step,” “You And I”” (with Crystal Gayle), and “I Love A Rainy Night.” The latter song also topped Billboard’s pop and adult contemporary charts.

As the seventies wore on, Eddie’s music began drifting away from traditional country music into the more pop-flavored sounds of the 80s, such as the three biggest pop hits cited above. After 1982’s “You And I,” his singles and albums were issued on the Warner Brothers label, the result of a label merger with Elektra. In late 1985, Eddie moved over to RCA, where his success continued unabated. Following the death of his infant son in 1985, Rabbitt put his career on hold, although RCA had some recordings to release, issuing four top ten singles. In 1986, a duet with Juice Newton, “Both To Each Other” soared to #1.

Rabbitt returned to recording in 1988, scoring #1 records with “I Wanna Dance With You” and a remake of Dion Denucci’s 1961 pop hit “The Wanderer.” In 1990, he moved to Universal/Capitol, and with the leap came a return to a more traditional country sound; especially notable from this era is “On Second Thought,” his last #1 and my favorite of all of his recordings.

Eddie Rabbitt would issue four albums on Capitol before exiting the label.

In 1997, Rabbit was diagnosed with lung cancer. While seemingly on the rebound he issued his final album titled Against All Odds on the Intersound label. Sadly, it was not to be. Rabbitt passed away in May, 1998, at the age of 56.

For his career, Eddie placed forty-three songs on the Billboard country charts (twenty-six top five entries), with fourteen of his songs placing on Billboard’s pop charts.

Rabbitt was one of the phalanx of Nashville songwriters who entered into the realm of more introspective and contemplative material. He felt a personal responsibility as an entertainer to serve as a good role model and was an advocate for many charitable organizations including the Special Olympics, Easter Seals, Muscular Dystrophy Association and United Cerebral Palsy. Rabbitt was active in politics and gave permission to Senator Bob Dole to use his song “American Boy” during Dole’s presidential campaign in 1996.

Discography

Vinyl

Eddie Rabbitt issued many vinyl albums. Since he was a big seller, most of his albums should be available online (or, perhaps, in your favorite used record store). The earlier albums (1970s) are more traditional sounding than their later (post 1978 counterparts), until you get to his output on Capitol. All of his albums contain interesting songs; the variable is the production and the way they are framed. Unfortunately, Eddie did not live long enough to recast his later Elektra/Warner Brothers recordings with more traditional settings, or perhaps as bluegrass.

CD

Currently, Rabbitt is woefully under-represented on CD, with only some Greatest Hits collections being available (mostly of the Elektra/Warner Brothers years, but also some Intersound remakes). During his lifetime, many of Rabbitt’s later recordings were released on cassette and CD, so used record shops may have copies of music from the RCA and Capitol years. None of the Capitol or RCA material is in print.

The best available collection is the Rhino Platinum Collection which has twenty-two songs from the Elektra/Warner Brothers years of 1975-1980, including Eddie’s version of the rarely reissued “Pure Love”, which was a major hit for Ronnie Milsap. This collection is about half hits and half album tracks. Among the more significant omissions is “Step by Step”, Eddie’s second biggest pop hit.

A few years ago, there was a better representation of Eddie Rabbitt material available on CD. Most of the following CDs are out of print, although it may be possible to find them in used record shops or from online dealers specializing in cutouts and used discs. Among the treasures worth searching for are the Warner Brothers albums Horizon (“I Love A Rainy Night” and “Drivin’ My Life Away”); Rocky Mountain Music (title song plus “Two Dollars In The Jukebox” and “Drinkin’ My Baby”); and 36 All-Time Greatest Hits. Formerly available from places like Costco, Sam’s Club and Collector’s Choice Music, the three-disk 36 All-Time Greatest Hits is misnamed as it has only about a dozen actual hits, with the rest being album cuts from the Electra/Warner Brothers years. Several double-packs of his Elektra/Warner Brothers albums also were issued in recent years.

The Intersound album Beating The Odds was reissued after Rabbitt’s death as From The Heart–The Last Recordings. It had six new songs and six pretty decent remakes of older hits. Until recently, it was the only place to get any CD versions of two of the Capitol hits “On Second Thought” and “American Boy.”

In 2009, Rhino released Eddie Rabbitt: Number One Hits, which contains the original versions of all of Eddie’s hits to chart at number one on Billboard. This is the album to get if you want only one Eddie Rabbitt CD. Unfortunately, it seems to have gone out of print, so if you see a copy, grab it.

Country Heritage Redux: Liz and Lynn Anderson

An updated version of an article previously published by The 9513:

There have been a number of country singers named Anderson who have graced the genre. During the 1960s and 1970s “Whispering” Bill Anderson placed an impressive number of songs on the charts, both as a songwriter and as a performer. John Anderson graced the scene during the 1980s and 1990s, mostly as a performer. Concurrently Pete Anderson served as a musician, songwriter, producer and performer. What this group of Andersons has in common is that none of them are related to each other.

Such is not the case with the subjects of this article. Liz Anderson and her daughter Lynn both had success on the country music charts and as live performers, although Lynn is one of the true superstars of the genre whereas Liz was basically a good journeyman performer. Liz, however, had enormous success as a songwriter. Liz’s husband (and Lynn’s father), Casey Anderson, also was involved in music, working mostly behind the scenes.

Born in 1930 in Roseau, Minnesota, but raised in Grand Forks, North Dakota, Liz married Casey Anderson in 1946 after Casey’s return from military service. The following year their daughter Lynn was born. Eventually the family moved to California where our story begins.

Liz was a relatively late entrant to the music business, not really getting her career in high gear until the early 1960s when she started traveling to Nashville. During this period Liz recorded demos and wrote many songs. Things started rolling in 1961 when Del Reeves recorded “Be Quiet Mind” and reached fifth gear in 1964 when Roy Drusky recorded “Pick of the Week”. In 1965, Merle Haggard recorded her song “All My Friends Are Gonna Be Strangers”, which was to be his first top ten hit, reaching #7 (Roy Drusky also recorded the song – his version reached #6). Liz won a BMI award for this song.

Also during 1965, Chet Atkins signed Liz to a recording deal with RCA. Liz’s first two singles, “Go Now , Pay Later” (#23) and “So Much For Me, So Much For You” (#45) both charted and her third single, “Game of Triangles”, with label-mates Bobby Bare and Norma Jean, became a Top 5 hit. Her next solo release, “The Wife of the Party reached #22 and then in April 1967, Anderson again had a Top 5 Country hit with “Mama Spank”. This was to be Liz’s last top twenty recording, although she continued to chart for a few more years, switching to Epic in 1971. Among Anderson’s other popular recordings were “Tiny Tears” (#24 -1967), “Thanks A Lot For Tryin’ Anyway” (#40 – 1968), her duet with daughter Lynn, “Mother May I (#21 -1968) and “Husband Hunting” (#26 -1970).

Although she would never say so, I believe that Liz’s fall from the top of the charts can be explained in two words: Lynn Anderson. It appears that, starting in 1966, Liz was funneling her best material to her daughter Lynn. Eight of the songs on Lynn’s first album, Ride Ride Ride, were written by Liz (one a co-write with Casey) including three of the four charting singles. Liz also wrote four of the songs on Lynn’s second album, Promises, Promises and five of the songs on Lynn’s third album, Big Girls Don’t Cry.

Although her own hit records were relatively few, Liz Anderson had a significant impact on the country charts as a songwriter. Here are some of the songs she wrote that were recorded by other artists and reached the top forty of Billboard’s Country Charts:

“Strangers” – Merle Haggard (#10) and Roy Drusky (#6) both in 1965
“Be Quiet Mind” – Del Reeves (#9 – 1961) and Ott Stephens (#23 – 1964)
“Big Girls Don’t Cry” – Lynn Anderson (#12 – 1968)
“Flattery Will Get You Everywhere” – Lynn Anderson (#11-1969)
“Guess My Eyes Were Bigger Than My Heart” – Conway Twitty (#18 – 1966)
“I Cried All the Way to the Bank” – Norma Jean (#21-1965)
“(I’m a Lonesome) Fugitive” – Merle Haggard (#1-1967, Hag’s first of 38 Billboard #1s)
This song was a co-write with husband Casey Anderson
“If I Kiss You” – Lynn Anderson (#5-1967)
“Just Between the Two of Us” recorded by Merle Haggard and Bonnie Owens (#28-1964)
“Promises, Promises” – Lynn Anderson (#4 Billboard, #1 Record World – 1968)
“Ride Ride Ride” – Lynn Anderson (#38 – 1966) and Brenda Lee (#37 pop -1966)

LYNN ANDERSON is, of course the better known of this pair. Lynn reached superstar status during the late 1960s and early 1970s. For the decade of the 1970s, Lynn ranks fourth among female singers, behind Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette. Lynn was born in 1947, making her mother Liz just over 17 years old when Lynn was born. Although born in Grand Forks, North Dakota, Casey & Liz moved to California while Lynn was still small. Lynn first became interested in singing around the age of six, but her first Anderson became interested in singing at the young age of six, but she had her first success equestrian activities winning many trophies in and around California including becoming the California Horse Show Queen in 1966. Lynn remains active in equestrian pursuits to this very day, having achieved great success as a rider and breeder.

Being the daughter of two songwriters, Lynn took naturally to performing, landing roles on local television programs, singing background harmony on her mother’s demo recordings and working at KROY Radio in Sacramento. On one of her mother’s trips to Nashville, Lynn traveled with her to Nashville and was allowed to participate in an informal hotel room sing-a-long with various country singers such as Freddie Hart and Merle Haggard, among others. It is reported that Slim Williamson, owner of Chart Records, was present at the informal jam session and invited Lynn to record for Chart, which she did from 1966-1969. While signed to Chart, Lynn came to the attention of Lawrence Welk, who signed her for the 1967-1968 season. While with Welk, Lynn appeared on the television show and toured with the show’s touring company. During 1968, Lynn married Glenn Sutton, a noteworthy songwriter who wrote David Houston’s mega-hit “Almost Persuaded”.

Many people are under the impression that the Lynn Anderson story begins with her million selling hit “Rose Garden” and her Glen Sutton-produced recordings on Columbia. That impression is quite mistaken in that by the time Lynn signed with Columbia in 1970, she had already recorded thirteen charting records, four of which were top ten records with “Promises, Promises” reaching #1 on Record World (#4 Billboard) and “That’s A No No” reaching #1 on Cash Box (#2 Billboard) and another five records reaching the top twenty, not bad for an artist signed to a minor label. During the Chart years, much of Lynn’s material was penned by Liz Anderson. Even after the switch to Columbia, one or two of Liz’s compositions appeared on each of Lynn’s albums except Rose Garden, until near the end of her tenure with Columbia . Although Liz and Lynn were signed to different labels, in 1967 and 1968 Chart had some sort of manufacturing and distribution deal with Chart that enabled the mother-daughter duets.

Lynn’s first single for Columbia was the lively “Stay There Til I Get There” which reached #7, despite Chart issuing a competing single, a cover of Hank Snow’s “I’ve Been Everywhere” that reached #16. Her next single “No Love At All” only reached #15 (it would be a pop hit for BJ Thomas the following year) as it was sandwiched by two more Chart releases “Rocky Top” and “I’m Alright” both of which hit the top twenty. During this period Chart would add trumpets and strings to existing Lynn Anderson tracks before issuing then as singles, apparently to make them sound more like her current Columbia output.

Finally in late 1970, “Rose Garden” was released. A somewhat unusual choice for a single as it seemed to be (1) told from a masculine perspective and (2) was penned by pop/rock songwriter Joe South, this single made it clear to the public which label was providing the current Lynn Anderson as it soared to #1 for five weeks, reaching #4 on the pop charts and selling over a million copies in the process. The record also went to #1 in Canada, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Switzerland, reached #3 in England and went top ten in a number of other countries.

Lynn’s follow up to “Rose Garden” was “You’re My Man” penned by husband Glen Sutton which spent two weeks at #1. While Chart continued to release old material as singles throughout 1971, the only Chart release to reach the top twenty was Lynn’s cover of “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels”. As for the Columbia releases, from “Rose Garden” until the end of 1974, Lynn had an terrific run of success as twelve of thirteen singles made the top ten with five Billboard #1s (“Rose Garden”, “You’re My Man”, “How Can I Unlove You”, “Keep Me In Mind” and “What a Man My Man Is”) plus a Cashbox #1 (“Top of The World) and a Record World #1 (“Cry”). Along the way ten of Lynn’s songs crossed over onto the pop charts. She won a Grammy in 1971 for “Rose Garden” and was the CMA’s Female Vocalist of the Year for 1971.

After 1975, Lynn continued to record, but she really didn’t fit the outlaw movement that came into vogue during the second half of the 1970s (although she was undoubtedly more comfortable on a horse than any of the outlaws). Consequently the really big hits tailed off although there were still nine top twenty hits to follow with her 1979 hit “Isn’t It Always Love” reaching #10 and her late 1983 duet with Gary Morris “You’re Welcome To Tonight” reaching #9. Her marriage to Glenn Sutton came undone in 1977. Her tenure at Columbia ended in 1980 and she did not chart during 1981 and 1982. In 1983 she emerged on Permian Records and later recorded for Mercury (also, there was a duet with Ed Bruce on RCA).

After falling off the charts in 1989, Lynn continued in equestrian activities where she has one 16 national and eight world titles. Never fully retired from recording or performing music, Lynn issued a bluegrass album in 2004. Since 2006 she has been involved in recording for her mother’s Showboat label.

Lynn has been married twice. She had two children with second husband Harold Stream III, whom she divorced in 1982. At last report she lives in Taos, New Mexico, with long-time boyfriend Mentor Williams, a songwriter who wrote “Drift Away”, a huge hit for both Dobie Gray and Narvel Felts

DISCOGRAPHY

Liz Anderson
As always, all vinyl is out of print. Liz recorded eight albums for RCA, plus an album on the Tudor label released in 1983. Liz’s RCA albums all feature songs that she wrote alone or with Casey as co-writer. I assume that the Tudor album My Last Rose contains some of her compositions, but I cannot be certain of this.

Liz also recorded four singles for Epic, all of which charted, none of which made the top fifty. The most interesting of these was the single “Astrology”. Unfortunately, Epic never collected these onto an album.

Unfortunately, none of Liz’s vinyl output has made it onto CD. Liz does have her own record label Showboat Records and has issued several CDs of relatively new material. Liz and Casey can be heard on the Sons of the Guns CD and on the CD titled The Cowgirl Way .
Liz also has available a couple of holiday CDs.

Liz is an accommodating sort, and at my request she put together a greatest hits collection for me several years ago. Her available recorded output is to be found at http://www.showboatrecords.com/

Liz Anderson was hospitalized October 27, 2011, due to complications from heart and lung disease. No other information currently is available.

Lynn Anderson

VINYL

Lynn had a very prolific career during the vinyl era. Chart issued 13 albums of which three albums were compilations. Her Chart career contains a lot less of the ‘country cocktail’ that characterized her Columbia recordings and more straight-ahead country. My favorite Lynn Anderson recordings come from this period. All of the Chart Albums are worthwhile, and all feature songs written by her mother. Look for Songs My Mother Wrote which features Lynn singing her mother’s most famous songs.

Columbia released twenty studio albums on Lynn Anderson. Additionally, a Christmas album and several compilation albums were released. Greatest Hits contains most of the biggest hits; Greatest Hits Volume 2 is mostly lesser hits documenting Lynn’s slide down the charts. As far as the various albums go, if you like the ‘country cocktail’ production, you’ll like all of Lynn’s Columbia albums. Lynn was always adventurous in her choice of material, sampling material from various genres of music in order to avoid becoming stale.

After leaving Columbia, Lynn issued two more vinyl albums: 1983’s Back on the Permian label and the 1988 effort What She Does Best on Mercury. The Permian album contains Lynn’s last top ten hit “You’re Welcome To Tonight” and the Mercury album contains her last top twenty-five single, a remake of the Drifters classic “Under The Boardwalk” . Both albums vary considerably from the sound of her Columbia albums.

COMPACT DISC
Currently there are several Lynn Anderson CDs available. Collectors Choice Music has issued Greatest Hits which gathers eight of her Chart label hits with sixteen of her Columbia hits – this is the best currently available collection. The Columbia/Legacy 16 Biggest Hits has two of the Chart hits along with fourteen Columbia hits. Her 2004 project The Bluegrass Sessions is still in print and finds Lynn in good voice as she recasts her biggest hits as bluegrass. Collectibles has reissued two of Lynn’s Columbia albums on one CD – the albums Rose Garden/You’re My Man were the two biggest albums of her career. Although now out of print, you may be able to find the two outstanding collections issued by the now defunct Renaissance label – Anthology – The Chart Years and Anthology – The Columbia Years. There is also available a Lynn Anderson – Live At Billy Bob’ Texas which showcases Lynn in a live setting. Plus, there are two albums of western music recorded for her mother’s label , Cowgirl and Cowgirl 2.

You may be able to find some other CDs of Lynn’s recordings. Beware of the off-labels (Dominion, Delta, Country Stars, etc) as these will normally feature remakes of the earlier hit recordings.

There are , however, two off-label CDs worth checking out :
(1) Laser Light CD Cowboy’s Sweetheart that features original recordings of cowboy and western songs. Issued in 1992, it finds Lynn in good voice and is a worthwhile acquisition
(2) Lynn Anderson Live At Billy Bob’s Texas, a good representation of what it is like to attend a live Lynn Anderson concert

The Ernest Tubb Record Shop has a listing for a CD released on 9/26/11 by TBird titled Rose Garden – Country Hits 1970-1979. This import contains twenty-one songs and appears to be original Columbia recordings.
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Album Review: Merle Haggard: ‘Strangers’ and ‘Swinging Doors And The Bottle Let Me Down’

Haggard’s debut single was a cover of Bakersfield star Wynn Stewart’s ‘Sing A Sad Song’ which was released on independent West Coast label Tally. Although it crept into the top 20 on Billboard, Merle sounds as if he is trying too hard to copy Stewart vocally, breaking into an uncomfortable falsetto, and there is a very heavy handed string arrangement.

He followed that up with a song penned by another Bakersfield boy, Tommy Collins’s perky novelty story song ‘Sam Hill’, which is certainly memorable, but now sounds very dated, particularly the backing vocals, and it performed less well than its predecessor. On the flip side was the pained ballad ‘You Don’t Have Very Far To Go’, which Haggard wrote with fellow Bakersfield singer-songwriter Red Simpson. This is an excellent song, addressed to although the string section is overdone again.

The third and last single for Tally, the rueful ‘(All Of My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers’, was the one which really kickstarted his career. The first of many genuine classics Haggard was to make hits, it is unusual in that it was not one of his own songs, but was written by fellow Californian Liz Anderson (mother of Lynn), to whom he had been introduced by Bonnie Owens. A Bakersfield bar room take on lost love, it was his first top 10 hit single and gave him the name of his backing band, the Strangers. Even though a competing version by the more established Roy Drusky may have cut into sales, it was a big enough success that it persuaded major label Capitol to buy out his Tally contract. Six Tally sides were packaged with newly recorded material in the same vein, produced by Ken Nelson, for Haggard’s debut album in 1965.

The malicious ‘I’m Gonna Break Every Heart I Can’ (a Haggard original) was his first single actually released on Capitol, although it failed to break into the top 40 on Billboard. It is an energetic, personality-infused response to “get even with womankind” by breaking the hearts of every girl he meets.

Typically, country albums in the 60s featured one or two singles, a lot of filler, and covers of other artists’ hits. Haggard was much more album-oriented, even at this early stage, writing five of the album’s dozen tracks, and there are other songs which could have been hit singles given the exposure.

I really like ‘Please Mr DJ’, a disconsolate plea for the radio to play a specific song for “someone who broke my heart today”. ‘If I Had Left It Up To You’ is another very good song with the protagonist regretting his earlier fighting for a doomed relationship, as if he had not done so,

It’d all be over now except the crying
I’d be used to spending all my nights alone

A couple of tracks are still filler, with overdone string-laden productions. The heartbreak ballad ‘You Don’t Even Try’ was written with Haggard’s friend (and Bonnie Owens’s then boyfriend) Fuzzy Owen, co-owner of Tally, while steel guitarist Ralph Mooney’s romantic and sophisticated sounding ‘Falling For You’ is not a patch on ‘Crazy Arms’.

A cover of Ernest Tubb’s classic ‘Walking The Floor Over You’ is taken at a disconcertingly brisk, almost cheerful pace, which doesn’t quite work. Rounding out the set are rather better versions of another fine Liz Anderson song, the depressed ‘The Worst Is Yet To Come’, and Jenny Lou Carson’s sad but pretty sounding lament for lost love ‘I’d Trade All Of My Tomorrows’.

The West Coast based Academy of Country Music recognized this bright new star by naming him Best New Male Vocalist for 1965 and also gave him the Best Vocal Duo award for his duet album with Bonnie Owens. A year later he had advanced to the title of Best Male Vocalist. Haggard was definitely on the right track with his debut, but had not quite found his distinctive voice yet.

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Spotlight Artist: Merle Haggard

There is a small group of performers, without whom it is impossible to imagine what country music would be like. Near the very top of this list is Merle Haggard, one of country music’s most talented and prolific singer/songwriters, and whose tremendous impact on the genre is indisputable.

He was born in Oildale, California on April 6, 1937, to parents who had migrated from Oklahoma during the Great Depression. His father Jim, who worked as a carpenter for the Santa Fe Railroad, died from a stroke in 1946. This traumatic and devastating event set nine-year-old Merle on the path of juvenile delinquency. He spent the next few years in and out of reform schools. At age 20, he was arrested for the attempted burglary of a tavern in Bakersfield, and was sentenced to one to fifteen years in the state penitentiary at San Quentin.

A few years before his burglary conviction, when he was 14 years old, Merle had the opportunity to attend a Lefty Frizzell concert, which helped to spark his interest in a career in music. Despite his tender age, Merle had already begun performing in local bars. During his incarceration at San Quentin, he was encouraged to pursue a music career by a fellow inmate nicknamed Rabbit. Rabbit escaped from the prison and was later returned and executed for killing police officer. This was one of the events that helped young Haggard to turn his life around. It was also the inspiration for his 1968 hit, “Sing Me Back Home”.

Haggard was released from San Quentin in 1960. He returned to Bakersfield and worked a variety of manual labor jobs while pursuing his musical dreams. He eventually got a gig playing at a Las Vegas club owned by Wynn Stewart, where he caught the attention of producer Fuzzy Owen, who signed Merle to his independent label, Tally Records. His first release was the modestly successful “Skid Row”, which was followed by a cover of Wynn Stewart’s “Sing A Sad Song”, which reached #19 in 1963. In 1965, he scored his first major hit with the Liz Anderson composition “(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers”, which became his first Top 10 record, despite a competing version by Roy Drusky which was on the charts at the same time. In addition to providing Merle with a name for his road band, it also led to a contract with Capitol Records, which would be his label home for the next 13 years.

During these early years of his career, Haggard was based on the west coast and, along with Buck Owens, was instrumental in forging the Bakersfield Sound, which was a backlash against the more polished and highly-orchestrated Nashville Sound. In 1967 he scored his first #1 hit with another Liz Anderson (co-written with Casey Anderson) number called “I’m A Lonesome Fugitive”. Though Haggard is well-known today for his convict songs, he was initially reluctant to sing and write about his incarceration, but was eventually convinced by Johnny Cash that doing so would prevent his past deeds from becoming tabloid fodder. His second #1 was the self-penned “Branded Man”, which was followed by “Sing Me Back Home” which also topped the charts. In 1968 he topped the charts with another prison song, “Mama Tried.”

Haggard’s best known song came in 1969. “Okie From Muskogee” was apparently intended as a joke, but struck a chord with those were fed up with the turbulence and protests of the sixties. Along with the follow-up release, the more combative “The Fightin’ Side of Me”, “Okie” established Haggard as a conservative icon. This image was further solidified with later records such as “Are The Good Times Really Over” and “Me and Crippled Soldiers”, a tune about flag burning which led to Merle’s split with Epic Records in 1989. In 1972 he received an unconditional pardon from California Governor Ronald Reagan. Ironically, in recent years Merle’s politics seem to have shifted considerably to the left, as he became an outspoken critic of the Iraq War and endorsed Hillary Rodham Clinton for president in 2008.

Merle Haggard was named Entertainer of the Year by both the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music in 1970. He has won 13 ACM awards, five CMA awards, and three Grammys, and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1994. He has also scored 38 #1 hits, a feat surpassed only by Conway Twitty and George Strait. Although his commercial success began to decline dramatically beginning in the late 1980s, he has never stopped making music and remains an important and respected artist today. His latest album, Working in Tennessee, will be released on October 4th. We hope you will enjoy our spotlight coverage of the career of this iconic and sometimes controversial figure.