My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Roy Rogers

Album Review: Marty Stuart – ‘Way Out West’

Way Out West, the new album by Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives is one of the more eclectic albums I’ve encountered in recent years. I’m not sure who the target audience is, or even if there is a target audience.

There are those who would assert that the West has as much of a claim to the origins of country music as does Bristol, Nashville and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Certainly the cowboy heritage has made its way into the country persona, perhaps more so with the fashion than the music, but in any event Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and the Sons of The Pioneers are safely enshrined in the Country Music Hall of Fame, as is Bob Wills.

It is hard to know how to assess this collection of songs. There are vocal tracks and instrumental tracks, some tracks which are traditional sounding western ballads and at least two which seem almost psychedelic. The band flits between sounding like a good country band to having overtones of The Ventures, Duane Eddy, Don Rich, Grady Martin and more.

The album opens up with “Desert Prayer – Part 1” which sounds like some sort of chant with what sounds like sitar. This is followed up by “Mojave” an instrumental track that sounds like Nokie Edwards meets Duane Eddy.

The third track is “Lost On The Desert” is the story of an escaped robber who heads to the desert to reclaim the money he stole, tormented by the devil before he can find the money. I can mentally hear Marty Robbins singing this song, but I don’t think Marty Robbins ever recorded the song. Johnny Cash did, record the the Billy Mize-Dallas Frazier song, however, on his 1962 album The Sound of Johnny Cash.

A burnin’ hot su,n a cryin’ for water, black wings circle the sky
Stumblin’ and fallin’, somebody’s callin’, you’re lost on the desert to die
I had to give up and they took me to jail but I hid all the money I got
Way out on the desert where no one could get it and I left a mark at the spot
Then I got away and I ran for the desert the devil had taken control
I needed water but he said I’d make it near the money is a big waterhole
A burnin’ hot sun…

Just up ahead is where I left my mark or it may be to the left or the right
I’ve been runnin’ all day and they’ll catch up tomorrow, I’ve got to find it tonight
Then up jumped the devil and ran away laughin’, he drank all the waterholes dry
He moved my mark till I’m running in circles and lost on the desert to die
A burnin’ hot sun…
(Lost on the desert to die) lost on the desert to die (lost on the desert to die)

“Way Out West” is 5:42 long, and is a strange tale of the narrator having (or hallucinating) a number of experiences, while under the influence of pills. Somehow I mentally can hear Jefferson Airplane singing this song.

“El Fantasma Del Toro” sounds like Santo & Johnny are providing the music for this instrumental.

“Old Mexico” might be likened to “El Paso” in reverse, with the cowboy heading to Mexico where there isn’t a price on his head. There is some nice vocal trio work – this may be my favorite song on the album, and could have been a hit forty years ago, especially if Marty Robbins recorded it.

“Time Don’t Wait” is a good song, a little more rock than country, with a lyric that speaks the truth as we all know it.

“Quicksand” has a very martial sounding introduction before lapsing into a more standard rock sound.

“Air Mail Special” is the oldest song on the album, having been composed by Benny Goodman, James Mundy and Charlie Christian. For those not aware of the writers, Benny Goodman was probably the greatest jazz clarinetist ever and Charlie Christian was the first great electric guitar player. I assume that Mundy wrote the lyrics later since neither Goodman nor Christian were lyricists.

Left New York this morning early
Traveling south so wide and high
Sailing through the wide blue yonder
It’s that Airmail Special on the fly
Listen to the motors humming
She is streaking through the sky
Like a bird that’s flying homeward
It’s that Airmail Special on the fly
Over plains and high dark mountains
Over rivers deep and wide
Carrying mail to California
It’s that Airmail Special on the fly
Watch her circle for the landing
Hear her moan and cough and sigh
Now she’s coming down the runway
It’s that Airmail Special on the fly

Marty’s band is indeed superlative, and with “Torpedo” they are in their best Ventures mode. As far as I know the Ventures were strictly an instrumental group, and Torpedo is a fine instrumental.

“Please Don’t Say Goodbye” reminds me of something the Wagoneers might have recorded a couple of decades ago.

If you like the Flying Burrito Brothers “Whole Lotta Highway (With A Million Miles To Go)” definitely fits that vibe. Marty does a fine job. I must admit that it is nice to hear a new truck driving song again – the subgenre has nearly disappeared.

“Desert Prayer – Part 2” is just an interlude.

I really liked “Wait For The Morning” which features really nice vocal harmonies with a song that is a slow western-styled ballad, although not especially western in its subject matter. Lovely steel guitar work closes out the song.

“Way Out West” (Reprise) closes out the album – the reprise is largely instrumental and sounds like something from one of the spaghetti western soundtracks.

Unfortunately I do not have the booklet for the songs on this album, so mostly I don’t know who wrote which songs, or what additional musicians played on the album besides the Fabulous Superlatives. Mike Campbell, former guitarist for Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, produced and achieved a remarkable panoply of sounds. The Fabulous Superlatives are superlative, and Marty is in good voice throughout. I wouldn’t especially cite this album as being particularly thematic – it’s more a collection of songs loosely based on western themes.

B+

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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.

Concert Review: Willie Nelson & Family and Alison Krauss and Union Station along with Kacey Musgraves

“That is the most random pairing of acts I’ve ever seen in one show together in my life”

300x_062014If not my exact words, that’s at least what I was thinking when I logged into Engine 145 Feb 10 to Ken Morton Jr’s headline – “Willie Nelson, AKUS announce co-headlining tour.” Why in the world would two seemingly completely different acts share a stage unless for a one off benefit show somewhere in Texas or Nashville? Well I didn’t get my answer June 17 at The Blue Hills Bank Pavilion on the Boston Waterfront, but I was treated to four hours worth of music across the span of three acts.

I was most excited about tour opener Kacey Musgraves, the only act on the bill I hadn’t previously seen live. Her thirty-minute set was short, and we came in while she was performing a perfect rendition of her live-your-life mid-tempo ballad “Silver Lining.”

She plucked away on the banjo during “Merry Go ‘Round” and tried to get the crowd going during the chorus of “Follow Your Arrow,” which worked surprisingly well. Both were good, but Musgraves stunned with “It Is What It Is,” wrapping her voice around the lyric brilliantly. She gave her underrated steel player a gorgeous solo – and an “I love Pedal Steel” shout out – that easily trumps the recorded version.

The main concern people have with Musgraves is her burgeoning friendship with Katy Perry, a move that could transition her away from country. But the set showcased her country bonafides wonderfully, from her naturally twangy voice to her love of western themes (trademark neon cacti). As proof, Musgraves and her band closed their set with a glorious a Capella rendition of the Roy Rogers classic “Happy Trails To You” featuring the refrain “Till We Meet Again.” I know I’ll be meeting her again, hopefully as a headliner, real soon.

Alison Krauss and Union Station were next, bringing their comforting bluegrass picking to the hungry audience. From the first notes of opener “Let Me Touch You For A While,” I was home. Their 90-minute set was spectacular, with Krauss wrapping her otherworldly voice around their signature songs – “The Lucky One,” “Every Time You Say Goodbye,” “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You,” to “You Will Be My Ain True Love,” “Sawing On The Strings,” “Ghost In This House,” and “Paper Airplane.”

While their set was familiar, it was heavy on uptempo material, which I found surprising, given Krauss is known for her ballads. It worked though, as a whole night of ballads would’ve been too much. Even more startling was Dan Tyminski’s heavier-than-usual role acting like a second lead singer more than just a band member. He ripped through many of songs he fronts including “Dust Bowl Children” and got a charge out of some venue workers with “Boy Who Wouldn’t Hoe Corn.” Krauss showcased her trademark wit when talking about “Hey Brother,” his collaboration with EDM mastermind Avicii and the mainstream exposure it’s afford him, including a prime spot over the speakers at Kohl’s stores. Tyminski played that, too, along with his classic rendition of “Man of Constant Sorrow.” He’s a great singer but his prominence was likely do to Krauss’ vocal troubles over the past year.

Her master Dobro player Jerry Douglas also got a solo, plucking away on covers including one by Paul Simon. He’s incredible and the obvious master of his craft. They closed their set with an encore highlight, gathering around in a semi-circle to gift the audience short snippets of “When You Say Nothing At All,” “Down At The River To Prey,” the chorus of “Whiskey Lullaby” and a fabulous take on “The Long Journey,” which Krauss recorded with Robert Plant. The inventive encore was the highlight, a surprise moment of magic. At this point, especially since they haven’t released new music in three years, Krauss and Union Station is a well-oiled machine, albeit an exquisite one.

It’s hard to believe Willie Nelson is a man of 81, when he sings and has the energy of men thirty years his junior. After the show a friend asked me if he still had the goods and with a resounding yes, he does. But really, does he sing well? No, he doesn’t. But much like Kris Kristofferson, that’s to be expected, as Willie will always be Willie.

Like most every other show he’s played, Nelson began his set just as expected, with “Whiskey River.” He has to be the oddest entertainer I’ve ever seen as he doesn’t take breaks between songs, instead he lets song after song bleed into one another so you don’t know where one ends or the next begins. It works for him as he bled “Crazy” into “Night Life” and “Funny How Time Slips Away” into “Always On My Mind.”

He also turned in fantastic renditions of “On The Road Again” and “Good Hearted Woman,” which he dedicated to Waylon Jennings. When he launched into “Beer For My Horses,” I didn’t recognize the song at first given how he’d changed it up, but the lyric caught up to me when he got to the “Pappy told my pappy” line in the second verse. I always love hearing him sing “Me and Paul,” and especially liked the all-too-appropriate line about him singing on a package show with Charley Pride.

Nelson had his family band with him, which included his two sons and sister Bobbie, who gave a nice piano showcase. His guitarist was introduced as simply as Johnny, and revealed late last week to be the actor Johnny Depp, who’s in town playing Mobster Whitey Bulger in the biopic Black Mass.

His son Lukas had a showcase of his own, ripping through the blues on “Texas Flood,” a nine minute set highlight showcasing his masterful guitar playing and powerfully aching booming voice. He later went more restrained and joined his dad for their recent duet “Just Breathe.”

As much as for his own material, Nelson’s set was a showcase for country music. He gifted us with three Hank Williams covers – “Jambalaya,” “Hey Good Lookin,” and “I Saw The Light,” all of which were outstanding. He turned “Mama’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” into a chant, converting the word ‘mama’ into a deep-throated wail, which worked for a sing-along but became grating.

Nelson, who transported the crowd to a 1970s Texas honky-tonk with his unique outlaw sound, closed the show (and evening) with a sing-along that brought out Krauss, Union Station, Musgraves, and her band. With everyone on stage they went through the gospel favorite “I’ll Fly Away” and country standard “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” among others. It was fabulous he included everyone in this and it was a hoot to see Musgraves’ band in their flashy suits that light up like a Christmas tree.

All and all it was a fantastic evening of live music that left this Musgraves, Krauss, and Nelson fan extremely satisfied. Given that Rounder Records began in Massachusetts, it’s wonderful that Krauss gave a shot out to the people who signed her in 1985 – who also happened to be in attendance.

Now, could Nelson have sung “Poncho and Lefty” or “City of New Orleans?” Of course. Should Musgraves have been allowed to play longer? Hell, yeah. Did I want to hear Krauss sing a bit more? Without a doubt. But that’s just nitpicking a near perfect evening of exceptional music from three of the brightest talents country music has to offer. Just a terrific show, and wonderful evening, all around.

Favorite Country Songs Of The 80s: Part 6

Here are some more songs from the 1980s that I liked and remember. See if you recall any of these records:

Memory Machine“– Jack Quist
This 1982 song about a jukebox reached #52. I don’t know anything about Jack Quist other than that he originally was from Salt Lake City, but I am familiar with the song’s writer Ted Harris as he wrote such classics as “Paper Mansions” and “Crystal Chandeliers”.

eddie rabbittOn Second Thought” – Eddie Rabbitt
Released in 1989, this song peaked at #1 in early 1990. This was Eddie’s most traditional sounding hit and my favorite of all of Eddie’s recordings.

Don’t It Make Ya Wanna Dance” – Bonnie Raitt
This song was from the soundtrack of Urban Cowboy and reached #42.

Right Hand Man” – Eddy Raven

Eddy had sixteen consecutive top ten records from 1984-1989. This song is my favorite although it only reached #3. Eddy would have five #1 records during the decade with “Joe Knows How To Live” and “Bayou Boys” being the biggest hits.

She Got The Goldmine (I Got The Shaft)” – Jerry Reed
There are few artists that could get away with recording a song with such a title but Jerry Reed was that one of a kind who could. The song reached #1 in 1982, one of Jerry’s few #1 records. There are those who consider Jerry to have been the best guitar player ever (Chet Atkins among them). Jerry passed away a few years ago perhaps depriving the genre of its greatest all-around talent.

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Spotlight Artist: Clint Black

clint_blackClinton Patrick “Clint” Black was born February 4, 1962 in Long Beach, NJ as the youngest of G.A. and Ann Black’s four children. Black was raised in Houston, moving from NJ to Texas before turning a year old. By age fifteen, Black was playing harmonica and guitar and had joined his brothers in a band. He would drop out of high school (and end his formal schooling) to play with the band full-time.

Black soon became a solo act and in the early 1980s he held gigs playing lounges by night and working construction (among other jobs) during the day. His interest in country music came through Reba McEntire and George Strait, who were bringing the traditional sounds he loved back to the genre. Black had a chance meeting with guitarist Hayden Nicholas in 1987, and was soon sending demos to promoter Sammy Alfano and meeting with ZZ Top’s manager Bill Ham, who quickly signed him as a client.

Not long after RCA Records came calling and signed Black to a record deal. His debut album Killin’ Time was released in May 1989 and success came instantaneously. Black’s first four singles (“A Better Man,” “Killin’ Time,” “Nobody’s Home” and “Walkin’ Away) topped the charts and the album reached multi-platinum status. In addition, he was the first male artist to have his debut single hit #1 in fourteen years and the breakout star in the famed ‘class if ‘89’ which saw debuts from future genre heavyweights including Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, and Travis Tritt among others. The success lead to bountiful recognition from the industry, with the CMA giving him the Horizon Award in 1989 and the ACM showering him with four awards including New Male and Top Male Vocalist and Album of the Year for Killin’ Time in 1990.

His sophomore effort Put Yourself In My Shoes came at the end of that year and he married actress Lisa Hartman in 1991. His second album wasn’t as revered as his debut despite selling more than three million units and containing two #1 hits. He also took part in a Roy Rogers tribute album, collaborating with Rogers on the duet “Hold On Partner.”

Black’s career took a hit in 1992 when he sued Ham for breach of contract, claiming he was being stiffed in royalties for his songs, all of which he had a hand in writing. Black was also hit with a paternity suit from a supposed former girlfriend who claimed Black had fathered her child. Being in and out of court put a strain on Black’s career and caused a one-year delay in the release of his third album, The Hard Way. In that time the country music industry had changed dramatically (Brooks and Tritt were now superstars while Billy Ray Cyrus was a cult favorite), causing RCA to wonder if he’d regain his footing. They need not worry as “When My Ship Comes In” would go #1 in early 1993.

He followed with a sexier image and No Time To Kill in 1994. A duet with Wynonna Judd, “A Bad Goodbye,” was a huge hit at radio and even prompted the ‘Black and Wy’ tour in 1994, the same year he would join Vince Gill as co-host for the CMA Awards. Black took part in winning Album of the Year that evening thanks to his recording of “Desperado” on the multi-artist Eagles tribute, Common Thread: The Songs of The Eagles.

Success continued with One Emotion, and in 1995 he topped the charts with “Summer’s Comin.’” His first Greatest Hits album followed in 1996, and Nothin’ But The Tailights was released in 1997. Black was on top once again, thanks in part to major hits in the title track, “Something That We Do” and “The Shoes You’re Wearin.’” A duet with Martina McBride, “Still Holdin’ On” would be his first single to miss the top 10.

Black was able to keep the momentum going with the all-acoustic D’lectrified in 1999 and had major hits in “When I Said I Do” (a duet with his wife) and the harmonica-laced “Been There” with Steve Wariner. He and Hartman-Black had their only child, Lily Pearl, in May 2001. Black took a three-year hiatus from his career to focus on being a father.

He left RCA during this period to open his own label, Equity Records, and returned with Spend My Time in 2004, producing a top 20 hit with the title track. Another full-length project, Drinkin’ Songs and Other Logic, followed in 2005 and The Long Cool EP was released in 2008. The EP contains Black’s last hit to date, “The Strong One,” which is the first solo single of Black’s career for which he doesn’t have a writing credit.

Equity closed that December amid economic difficulties and the departure of Little Big Town, the label’s only hit-making act. Black’s been very quiet in the years since (although he has been touring quite a bit around New England lately), but I’ve heard he’s working on new music he’s calling the best of his career. The new album is expected sometime this year and from what I understand there’s a push to get him back on the radio again. We shall see how it all turns out, but in the meantime, I hope you enjoy our look back at his career throughout the month.

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

Favorite country songs of the 1970s: Part 6

For part six of this series, as always, just some songs I liked, one song per artist, not necessarily the biggest hit, (although I feel free to comment on other songs by the artist).

Forgive and Forget” – Eddie Rabbitt (1975)

Prior to this, Eddie was known, if at all, as a songwriter. This record got to #12, but did better than that in some markets, and gave Rabbitt his first significant hit. The next song “I Should Have Married You” got to #11; after that the next 33 singles would crack the top 10 with 19 of them getting to #1 on either Billboard and/or Cashbox.

Ladies Love Outlaws” – Jimmy Rabbitt and Renegade (1976)

The title track of a 1972 Waylon Jennings album, for some reason RCA never issued the song as a Jennings single, although it got considerable airplay (it didn’t chart because Billboard did not track non-singles airplay at the time). Jimmy’s version was good (Waylon’s was better) and got to #80, his only chart appearance.

Ain’t She Something Else” – Eddy Raven (1975)

Eddy’s second chart single reached #46 and became a #1 record for Conway Twitty in 1982. It took Raven eight years and 16 singles to have his first top 10 hit. Can you imagine any artist being given that much slack today

“Whatcha Gonna Do With A Dog Like That” – Susan Raye (1975)

Susan Raye had the Buck Owens organization behind her, was very pretty, and sang well. Despite those advantages, she never really became a big star, probably because her heart wasn’t in it. This song got to #9, one of six solo top tens she was to enjoy. In theory “(I’ve Got A) Happy Heart” was her biggest hit, reaching #3, but she got so much pop radio action on “L.A. International Airport” that it sold a million copies.
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Album Review: Merle Haggard – ‘A Tribute To the Best Damn Fiddle Player In The World, Or My Salute To Bob Wills’

Unlike the Jimmie Rodgers tribute which celebrated a long dead and distant figure, this 1970 album was a tribute to a man still alive, and only about ten years removed from having been a viable recording artist.

Even so, by 1970 Western Swing was largely dead as a chart force, the only such artist still charting hit records being Hank Thompson, who had adapted his small-band swing sound into a more contemporary sound with some swing overtones. Spade Cooley was dead (after a stretch in prison for the murder of his wife) in prison, Tex Williams had become a Las Vegas lounge act, and Bob Wills himself had been traveling with a vocalist and using whatever house bands were available, few of whom had any real feel for western swing.

Meanwhile, hot on the heels of “Okie From Muskogee” (and a long string of other major hits), Merle Haggard had emerged as the biggest name in country music, releasing three albums (plus an album featuring his band) between the Jimmie Rodgers tribute and this album.

There would seem to be little to connect the music of Jimmie Rodgers and Bob Wills. Jimmie’s music was that of the Great Depression, hard times and scraping by. Bob Wills’ music was, first and foremost, music for dancing and most of Bob Wills’ venues were dance halls. Both, however, were largely based in the blues. Moreover the two musical forces connected in Haggard’s music, probably because Wills was based in California for many years and his music was the music of the dance halls that Haggard heard growing up.

Emboldened by the success of the Rodgers tribute, Haggard set about working on a tribute to Bob Wills, producing three very commercially successful albums (two of them live albums) before pushing producer Ken Nelson into letting him produce another commercially questionable album. To prepare himself for the project, Haggard learned how to play fiddle, and, within a month of doing so, he started planning the album.

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Album Review: Randy Travis – ‘Wind In The Wire’

1993’s Wind In The Wire is probably the most overlooked album in Randy Travis’ discography. By the early 90s, Randy had begun to dabble in acting, somewhat to the detriment of his singing career. Wind In The Wire was something of a side project, intended to accompany a made-for-TV film of the same title, in which Travis appeared. It is, for the most part, a collection of cowboy and western-themed songs, totally non-commercial in its approach and as such, it was mostly shunned by country radio.

Wind In The Wire was the first Randy Travis album since his major label debut not to earn platinum or gold certification, and the first that failed to produce any Top 40 hits. It was also his first release without longtime producer Kyle Lehning. Instead, production duties were handled by Steve Gibson. The album is in large part, a tribute to the singing cowboys and one can easily imagine Gene Autry or Roy Rogers singing many of the songs. Most of the tunes have a traditional Western sound, though only one — “The Old Chisolm Trail” is actually a vintage song. Others such as the opening track “Down At The Old Corral”, “Blue Mesa” and “Roamin’ Wyoming” were written by the contemporary songwriting team of Roger Brown and Luke Reed, but all three songs sound as though they are much older. “Memories of Old Santa Fe” written by Roger Brown and Rick Peoples is in a similar vein, while Mark Shutte Jr’s “Paniolo Country” is a little more contemporary. “Hula Hands”, as the title implies, has a Hawaiian them, and though it is a very good song, it really doesn’t belong in this collection.

“Cowboy Boogie”, the album’s first single, is not a traditional cowboy song per se. It is more of a Western swing tune, but the lyrics deal with cowboys and the Old West. It was greeted at country radio with a big yawn and stalled at #46 on the charts. It fared much better in Canada, however, reaching #10 on the RPM Country Tracks chart there. The title track, which is the most contemporary song on the album, only reached #65 and no further singles were released.

Clearly, the album’s release was timed to coincide with the broadcast of the film, but the timing was not fortuitous for Randy’s music career. It followed two volumes of greatest hits, which were released simultaneously the preceding year. Those two volumes had produced the #1 hits “If I Didn’t Have You” and “Look Heart, No Hands”, but a third single, “An Old Pair Of Shoes” had peaked outside the Top 20. By the time Wind In The Wire was released, Travis had been absent from the radio airwaves for a while, and with Garthmania at its peak, a collection of cowboy tunes wasn’t what radio programmers wanted. Although Randy rebounded commercially with his next album, 1994’s This Is Me, he never again achieved the level of success that he’d enjoyed up to this point.

The commercial failure of Wind In The Wire notwithstanding, it is a solid album that was a nice antidote to the increasingly pop-oriented fare dominating the charts both now and at the time of its release. It holds up surprisingly well. Travis is in good voice and seems comfortable and at ease with the material. Though it’s not essential listening, it is worth seeking out, particularly since a lot of people may have missed out on this one at the time of its release. It is still in print, though it is a little expensive for a nearly 20-year-old commercial flop, but it is worth downloading, at least. It can be purchased from Amazon or iTunes, with the latter having the better price.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Roy Rogers – ‘Don’t Fence Me In’

Country Heritage: Leonard Slye (1911-1998)

The Billboard Chart career of Leonard Slye ran from 1946 to 1991, a lengthy span of time that only resulted in a total of twelve chart records of which only four hit the top ten and only three more reached the top twenty. Moreover, there were some long gaps in charting records. After a #8 record in 1950 with “Stampede”, Leonard would not chart again until 1970 when “Money Can’t Buy Love” reached #35, followed in 1971 by “Lovenworth” (#12), “Happy Anniversary” (1971 – #47), “These Are The Good Old Days” (1972- #73) and “Hoppy, Gene and Me” (1975 – #15). After that only two more chart singles, one in 1980 and one in 1991 a duet with Clint Black on “Hold On Partner”.

This sounds like I am writing about a singer on the fringes of stardom, and based solely upon his Billboard success, that might be a fair assessment. But please read on …

Leonard Franklin Slye was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, although he raised and grew up in Lucasville, Ohio. In 1921, young Leonard traveled to California where he joined a western group called the Rocky Mountain Pioneers. While with the group, Leonard met Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer, fine singers and writers both. In 1933 Leonard, Bob and Tim split off and formed the Pioneer Trio and performed on KFWB radio. Leonard played guitar and sang lead on many of the trio’s songs. As the group expanded, adding additional musicians and singers, the name was changed to The Sons of The Pioneers. Under this name, the group had many hit records, most occurring before the advent of Billboard’s Country Charts on January 1, 1944.

The Sons of The Pioneers were major recording stars during the period 1935-1949. Moreover, they had the opportunity to appear in many films of the newly emerging “singing cowboy” genre, including major roles in films starring Gene Autry. In at least one of these films, Leonard was billed as Dick Weston and played a villain who turned into a good guy by the end of the film.

In 1938, a studio dispute between Autry and Republic Pictures, left Republic without a star for the upcoming film Under Western Skies. Republic transformed Leonard Slye into Roy Rogers and a star was born. From that point forward Roy left the Sons of The Pioneers as a member but continued his association with them through numerous recordings and films.

Other than Gene Autry, Roy Rogers was the most successful star of western movies and there were years in which Roy was the top dog. Roy was listed in the Motion Picture Herald ‘Top Ten Money-Making Western Stars’ poll, for fifteen consecutive years from 1939 to 1954, holding first place from 1943 to 1954. He was in the top ten for all movie genres in 1945 and 1946. So big a star was Roy, that most of his post-war films were shot in color when most western films were still shot in black and white.

Roy’s first wife Arline died in childbirth in 1946 during the birth of Roy “Dusty” Rogers, Jr. Prior to that, Roy and Arline had a daughter and had adopted a daughter. In late 1947, Roy married Dale Evans, an actress who had appeared in a film with Roy in 1944. They remained married and maintained largely joint careers until Roy’s death in 1998. Roy and Dale adopted several children during their marriage, and had a daughter with Downs Syndrome who died at age two from complications of the mumps. They remained active in charity work and as active advocates of adoption throughout their lives.

Roy’s films were always kid-friendly so it was natural that Roy Rogers would emerge as one of the early stars of television, moving his radio show of nine years duration to television, where it ran from 1951-1957.

All told Roy Rogers appeared in over ninety movies, sold countless millions of records, both as a member of The Sons of The Pioneers and as a solo artist. While best remembered today for his television show and his theme song “Happy Trails To You” (written by his wife Dale Evans), Roy Rogers was a giant figure in the world of county music. Roy was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame as part of the original Sons of The Pioneers in 1980 and elected as a solo artist in 1988, the only artist elevated to the pantheon twice.

DISCOGRAPHY

VINYL
Roy Rogers was most active as a recording artist during the 1930s and 1940s, meaning that much of his original output was on 78 rpm records. During the 1950s and later relatively few albums were issued, including some aimed at children and some religious album. To be honest, I don’t have much Roy Rogers vinyl in my collection.

COMPACT DISC
Roy is fairly well represented on CD. My usual source, the Ernest Tubb Record Shop currently has eight titles available. I’d recommend the following

The Best of Roy Rogers (Curb Records) collects all of Roy’s Capitol singles from the early 1970s, including “Money Can’t Buy Love”, Lovenworth”, “Happy Anniversary” and “These Are The Good Old Days” plus some covers of some classic county songs. Twelve songs in all – budget priced.

Biography: Musical Anthology (Capitol Records) – this was the soundtrack, so to speak, for an episode of television show Biography. This album is a mixed bag, some Capitol songs from the 1970s, some songs with Dale Evans from the 1950s including two songs (“Happy Trails” and “The Bible Tells Me So”) that will always be associated with Roy, and some songs from the 1940s including his biggest Billboard charting record, “My Chickashay Gal” which hit #4 in 1947.

A Cowboy Has To Sing – three CDs – 43 songs – I don’t know the source material but it’s nicely priced and the titles sound like they are from the 1940s.

Other titles have been available in the past and may be found with a little effort. CDs of the Sons of The Pioneers from 1935-1937 often feature lead vocals by Roy Rogers, as well as fabulous harmonies and hot instrumental work.

Not currently in print, but worth finding:

Roy Rogers Tribute – issued in 1991 by BMG. Although not so credited, I think the driving force behind this CD was Clint Black, whose duet with Roy, “Hold On Partner”, was the single released from the album. Other duet partners on the album include The Kentucky Headhunters, Randy Travis, KT Oslin & Restless Heart, Emmylou Harris, Ricky Van Shelton, Willie Nelson (of course), Kathy Mattea, Lorrie Morgan & The Oak Ridge Boys and Dusty Rogers. Riders In The Sky provide background vocals on some of the songs and “Happy Trails” features everyone named earlier plus Daniele Alexander, Baillie & The Boys, Holly Dunn, Roger Miller, Johnny Rodriguez, Eddie Rabbitt and Tanya Tucker.

Classic Rewind: Randy Travis with George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Roy Rogers, and Vern Gosdin – ‘Heroes and Friends’