My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Speedy West

Album Review: ‘Here’s Loretta Lynn’

lorettaHere’s Loretta Lynn appeared in April 1968 on the Vocalion label, one of two budget labels Decca used at the time for either reissuing older material or releasing recordings acquired from buying out another label’s inventory of recordings for artists currently recording for Decca. In this case, the recordings came from the small Zero label. The songs were recorded in 1959 or 1960. It appears that Loretta recorded a dozen songs for Zero, but this album gathers up only ten of the songs, conspicuously omitting both sides of her one charting single for Zero, “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” backed with “Whispering Sea”.

None of the songs on this album charted although Zero released both “New Rainbow” and “Darkest Day” as singles. Interestingly enough, rather than hedge their bets with covers, Zero allowed Loretta to record strictly her own compositions.

The album opens with “Blue Steel”, a ballad about being as blue as the sound that a steel guitar makes. This song shows an unmistakable Kitty Wells influence as do most of her vocals on the album.

The album is mostly slow and mid-tempo ballads the exceptions being track 5 & 9 (“Stop” and “My Life Story”) , which pick up the tempo, and track 6 (“Heartaches Meet Mr. Blues”) which has much more of an R&B feel to it with some B.B. King-like guitar licks.

The backing could be described as standard non-Nashville Sound country, meaning fiddle, steel guitar and lead guitar being the dominant sounds – no strings or vocal choruses, but also no real interplay between the instruments. The album was recorded in Los Angeles and at times the steel has a real Speedy West sound to it, although I doubt that Speedy was actually playing on this album.

My copy of the album is Vocalion VL-73853, supposedly a stereo recording but I did not notice much channel separation. The album has been reissued on several occasions, on other MCA labels. I think a monaural version of the Vocalion album also may exist but I doubt that it sounds much different than the stereo version.

    Track List

Blue Steel
My Love
Whispering Sea
New Rainbow
Stop
Heartaches Meet Mr. Blues
Darkest Day
My Angel Mother
My Life Story
Gonna Pack My Troubles

For first recordings this was an impressive effort by Loretta. I would like to have heard Loretta revisit some of these songs after her own style became more fully developed.

Grade: B to B+

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Album Review: Dale Watson – ‘The Truckin’ Sessions’

truckin sessionsOnce upon a time, a long time ago, on a faraway planet similar to, yet very different from our own, existed a genre of music called Country Music. Within that genre was a subgenre know as Truck Driving Music, a subgenre mostly populated by big men with deep rumbling voices that sounded of too many cigarettes and too much coffee consumed at 3 AM at truck stops and diners around the country. This subgenre was populated by legendary singers such as Dick Curless, Del Reeves, Red Simpson, and Red Sovine. The king of the genre, the man so loved by truck drivers that the Teamsters Union awarded him a gold membership card, was Dave Dudley.

Meanwhile back on our own planet, the genre of Truck Driving Music barely exists at all, at least to judge from what is played by radio and CMT. What we have instead is songs about ruttish young males with their pickup trucks searching for scantily-clad females. Most of it is garbage and almost none of it is memorable.

That the genre of Truck Driving Music exists at all is largely due to the efforts of one brave man, Dale Watson, who has issued three complete albums of Truck Driving Music, starting with The Truckin’ Sessions, issued in 1993. With this album Watson brings the feel of classic Truck Driving Music front and center for the first time in at least a decade and a half , or since the decline of the CB era.

Dale Watson wrote all fourteen of the songs on The Truckin’ Sessions, and while it might have been interesting to hear Dale’s take on some of the old classics of the genre, the product presented here is more than satisfactory , and is a worthy successor to the tunes of Dave Dudley, Red Simpson, et al.

Most of the songs on the album are taken at an up-tempo reminiscent of Dave Dudley’s “Six Days On The Road” or “There Ain’t No Easy Rides”; however, the overall feel of the album owes more to the ‘Bakersfield Sound’ of Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Speedy West and Red Simpson, than to anything produced in Nashville.

“Good Luck ‘n’ Good Truckin’ Tonite” opens the album with one of those up-tempo songs referenced above. This track is followed by “Big Wheels Keep Rollin’ ” a song which reminds me of the Merle Haggard classic “White Line Fever”

Big wheels keep rollin’
Feel the rumble ‘neath my feet
Big wheels keep rollin’
The feelin’s a part of me

This is followed by “Heaven In Baltimore” an upbeat number about the girl waitin for him in Baltimore. The arrangement is similar to the ‘freight train’ sound that Buck Owens used during the 1960s.

Heaven in Baltimore
Heaven in Baltimore
Put the pedal to the metal
She’s waitin’ by the door
My Heaven in Baltimore

“Have You Got It On” is a mid-tempo ballad featuring some really nice steel guitar work by band member Ricky (C-Note) Davis. In fact, Davis shines through the album.

I see you roving up by tough look side
You got a six foot Shakespeare stickin’ in the sky
You’re smiling at me from your side view mirror
We might be closer than we appear

Babe, have you got it on?
Babe, have you got it on?
Come on, come on, come back
Babe, have you got it on?

“Makin’ Up Time” picks up the tempo as does “Flat Tire”, a song about a trucker stranded by a flat. The arrangement on this song would fit nicely onto many of Dave Dudley’s efforts.

“Drag Along and Tag Along” is a bluesy ballad in which Davis runs some steel guitar runs that remind one of Speedy West.

“Exit 109″ finds our hero being seduced by a female on the CB radio for a tryst, whereas ” Help Me Joe” tells the tale of a trucker far away from home who is fueled by coffee in his efforts to survive

“Everyday Knuckleclutchin’ Gearjammin’ Supertruckin’ Loose Nut Behind The Wheel” is a trucker’s self-description of himself and his life.

Stopped to grab a cup of Pick-Me-Up
At the Pink Poodle Coffee Shop
I had a pow-wow with a couple of pals
I said I’d meet there on the flip flop
We started tradin’ stories with a little added glory
You’d think we were made of steel
Just your everyday knuckleclutchin’ gearjammin’ …

“You’ve Got A Long Way To Go” is an older truckers words of advice to a young driver.

“Longhorn Suburban” is a mid-tempo ballad extolling the joys of the open road.

The up-tempo arrangement, reminiscent of Del Reeves’ “Looking At The World Through A Windshield”, belies the sad lyrics of “I’m Fixin’ To Have Me A Breakdown”, a tale of a truck driver whose girl has left him.

Despite the solitary nature of the job, most truck drivers are family men and the reason why they persevere is exemplified by “I Gotta Get Home To My Baby”. It’s a topic that has been dealt with many times, and Dale does it as well as anyone.

That big eyed smile and a long hard hug
That’s what I got waitin’ for me
Move out of my way
I gotta get there today
She’s got her heart countin’ on me

I really liked this album and the full and tight sound Dale’s band achieves with only four musicians. Because Dale plays his own lead guitar, he seems to let the steel guitar carry more of the melody lines than might otherwise be the case. Preston Rumbaugh plays bass and Brian Ferriby plays the percussion as it should be played – strictly to keep the rhythm.

Grade: an easy A+

Ten best reissues of 2012

2012 wasn’t a great year for reissues, but there were ten that struck me as exceptional enough to make a ten best list. Here is a list of my favorites (note: some of the foreign CDs may carry a 2011 date but did not hit the American market until 2012). My list is a mixed bag of single volume releases, affordable multi-disc sets and two rather expensive boxed sets

janiefricke Janie Fricke – The Country Side of Bluesgrass

An excellent set of Janie Fricke’s 1970s and 1980s hits recast as bluegrass. This album was advertised as the follow-up to her 2004 Bluegrass Sessions album, but it is actually a reissue of that album minus the bonus DVD – same songs, same “bonus track”, same musicians and producer. Only the packaging differs, so if you have the earlier CD you don’t need this one. If you don’t have the earlier version then you do need this one as Janie is one of the few female singers whose vocal chops have gotten better as she aged.

loudermilkSitting in the Balcony – The Songs of John D. Loudermilk

Although John D. Loudermilk wrote a large number of hit records for other performers, his hit songs (“Abilene”, “Waterloo”, “Talk Back Trembling Lips”, “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” , “Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian”, “Tobacco Road” , “A Rose And A Baby Ruth”, etc) were not at all typical of the material with which he filed his albums. A first cousin of Ira & Charlie Louvin (they were actually the Loudermilk Brothers before the name change), John D. Loudermilk had a decidedly offbeat outlook on life as evidenced by the songs in this two CD set. Loudermilk didn’t have a great singing voice and his offbeat songs resulted in no top twenty hits for him as a performer, but his songs are treasures.

Disc One (John D. Loudermilk: The Records) contains 32 recordings John made from 1957-1961. Disc Two (John D. Loudermilk: The Songs of John D. Loudermilk) contains 32 recordings made by other artists from 1956-1961, not necessarily big hits (although several are sprinkled in) but interesting songs by a wide array of artists, both famous and obscure (the famous names include Eddie Cochran, Johnny Cash, The Everly Brothers, Kitty Wells and Connie Francis). If you’ve never heard John D. Loudermilk, this is the place to start – it won’t be your stopping point

bradleykincaid Bradley Kincaid – A Man and His Guitar
Released by the British label JSP, this four CD set sells for under $30.00 and gives you 103 songs by one the individuals most responsible for preserving the musical heritage of rural America, through his song collecting and issuance of songbooks. Beyond being a preservationist, Kincaid was an excellent songwriter, singer and radio performer, as well as being Grandpa Jones’ mentor. This collection covers the period 1927-1950. An essential set for anyone interested in the history of country music

bootleg4 Johnny Cash – The Soul of Truth: Bootleg Vol. 4

You can never have too much Johnny Cash in your collection, and this 2 CD set includes the released albums A Believer Sings the Truth and Johnny Cash – Gospel Singer, plus unreleased material and outtakes. Various members of Cash’s extended family appear plus Jan Howard and Jessi Colter.

shebwooley Sheb Wooley –
White Lightnin’ (Shake This Shack Tonight)

Sheb Wooley had several careers – movie star, television actor (Rawhide), singer and comedian. Actually Sheb had two singing careers – a ‘straight’ country as Sheb Wooley and a comic alter-ego, the besotted Ben Colder.

This set covers the post WW2 recordings, recorded under the name Sheb Wooley. Sheb had a considerable sense of humor even when recording under his own name and there are quite a few humorous and offbeat songs in this thirty song collection released by Bear Family. Recorded on the west coast of the USA, many of these recordings feature steel guitar wizard Speedy West and the lightning fingers of guitarist Jimmie Bryant. Sheb’s biggest hit was “Purple People Eater”, which is not on this CD but there are many songs to make you smile including such classics as “That’s My Pa”, “You’re The Cat’s Meow” and “Rover, Scoot Over”, plus a number of boogies and a song titled “Hill Billy Mambo”.

martyrobbinsEl Paso: The Marty Robbins Story (1952-1960)

Marty Robbins was the “renaissance man” of country music. He could sing anything and everything. I always suspected that if rock and roll had not come along and momentarily wiped out the pop standards/classic pop market, Marty might have been competing against Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Julius Larosa and Tony Bennett, rather than competing as a county artist.

Whatever the case, Robbins was a truly great singer and this two CD set from the Czech label Jasmine proves it. This sixty (60) song collections gives us pop standards, rock and roll (“Maybelline”, “Long Tall Sally”, “That’s All Right, Mama”), ‘Mr. Teardrop’ ballads (“I Couldn’t Keep From Crying” , “Mr. Teardrop”, Teen Hits (“A White Sport Coat [And A Pink Carnation]”, “The Story of My Life”) , Country Standards (“Singing The Blues”, and lots of the great western ballads for which he was most famous”

If you don’t have any Marty Robbins this is a good place to start – sixty songs, under twenty bucks. Marty’s songs have been around and available in various configurations so this isn’t an essential album, merely an excellent one.

johnhartford

John Hartford – Aereo Plane/Morning Bugle: The Complete Warner Collection

John Hartford (December 30, 1937 – June 4, 2001) is best remembered for writing “Gentle On My Mind” but he was much more than a songwriter who happened to write a hit for Glen Campbell. Hartford was an extremely talented musician who could play any instruments, although banjo and fiddle were his main tools, a fine singer with a wry sense of humor and a scholar of the lore and history of the Mississippi River. While he sometimes is group settings, John was comfortable performing as a one-man band playing either banjo or guitar along with harmonica while clogging out the rhythm on an amplified piece of plywood while he played and sang.

Warner Brothers released these albums in 1971 and 1972, following his four-year run on RCA. Aereo-Plain has been described as hippie bluegrass, and its failure to sell well caused Warner Brothers to not bother with promoting the follow-up album Morning Bugle. Too bad as Aereo-Plain is chock full of quirky but interesting songs, with musicianship of the highest order with Norman Blake on guitar, Tut Taylor on dobro, and Vassar Clements on fiddle as part of the ensemble. I’ve always regard this album as the first “newgrass” album, and while others may disagree, it certainly is among the first. I don’t recall any singles being released from this album but I heard “Steam Powered Aereo Plane” and “Teardown The Grand Ole Opry” on the radio a few times.

While Aereo-Plain reached the Billboard album charts at #193, the follow-up Morning Bugle didn’t chart at all. Too bad as it is an imaginative album featuring Hartford with Norman Blake on guitar and mandolin, joined by legendary jazz bassist Dave Holland. The album features nine original compositions plus a couple of old folk songs. I particulary liked “Nobody Eats at Linebaugh’s Anymore” and “Howard Hughes’ Blues”, but the entire album is excellent. Following Warner Brothers’ failure to promote this album, Hartford asked to be released from his contract. He never again recorded for a major label, instead producing a series of fine albums for the likes of Flying Fish, Rounder and Small Dog A-Barkin’.

This reissue unearths eight previously unreleased tracks, making it a ‘must-have’ for any true John Hartford fan and a great starting point for those unfamiliar with his music.

bobbybare Bobby Bare – As Is/Ain’t Got Nothin’ To Lose

Bobby Bare was never flashy or gimmicky in his approach to music even though he recorded many novelties from the pen of Shel Silverstein. For Bare songs had stories to tell and that’s how he approached them. Whether the song was something from Shel, Tom T Hall, Billy Joe Shaver, Bob McDill or whomever, Bobby made sure that the song’s story was told. While this approach didn’t always get Bare the big hits, it always gained him the respect of the listener.

This reissue couples two of Bare’s early 1980s Columbia releases plus a few bonus tracks. The great John Morthland in his classic book The Best of Country Music, had this to say about As Is: “… It is the ideal Bobby Bare formula really: give him a batch of good songs and turn him loose. No concepts here, nothing cutesy, just ten slices-of-life produced to perfection by Rodney Crowell”.

My two favorite tracks on As Is were a pair of old warhorses, Ray Price’s 1968 “Take Me As I Am (Or Let Me Go) “ and the Ian Tyson classic “Summer Wages”.

While I Ain’t Got Nothing To Lose isn’t quite as stong an album, it gives Bare’s wry sense of humor several display platforms. The (almost) title track echos thoughts that many of us have felt at some point in our life (the first line is the actual song title:

If you ain’t got nothin’ you ain’t got nothin’ to lose
There ain’t no pressure when you’re singin’ these low down blues
Smokin’ that git down bummin’ them red men chews
If you ain’t got nothin’ you ain’t got nothin’ to lose

Hugh Moffat’s “Praise The Lord and Send Me The Money” is a clever jab at televangelistas . I’ll give you a middle verse and let you guess the rest:

I woke up late for work the next morning
I could not believe what I’d done
Wrote a hot check to Jesus for ten thousand dollars
And my bank account only held thirty-one

I consider virtually everything Bobby Bare recorded to be worthwhile so I jumped on this one the minute I knew of its existence. I already had As Is on vinyl but somehow the companion album slipped by me.

This brings us up to two rather expensive box sets that will set the purchaser back by several bills.

conniesmithThe obsessive German label Bear Family finally got around to releasing their second box set on Connie Smith. Just For What I Am picks up where the prior set left off and completes the RCA years. While many prefer Miss Smith’s earliest recordings, I am most fond of her work from the period 1968-1972, when her material was more adventurous, especially on the album tracks. During this period Smith had shifted from Bill Anderson being her preferred songwriter to focusing on the songs of Dallas Frazier, including one full album of nothing but Dallas Frazier-penned songs. The ‘Nashville Sound’ blend of strings and steel never sounded as good as it did on these tracks. There is a fair amount of religious music on the set, but for the less religiously inclined there is more than enough good solid country music on the set to be worth the effort in programming your CD player to skip the religious tracks. At her peak Connie Smith was the strongest vocalist the genre has ever generated – even today at age 71, she can blow away most female vocalists. Highlights are songs such as “Where Is My Castle”, “Louisiana Man”, “Ribbon of Darkness”, but when I listen to these discs, I just put ‘em on and let ‘em spin.

cashUp to this point, I actually own all of the albums and sets listed above. Not being made of money, I haven’t purchased Sony/Legacy’s massive 63 CD set The Complete Johnny Cash Columbia Album Collection, although the temptation is there. What is stopping me from making the purchase (other than my wife) is that already own 99% of what the set contains in one format or another.

What the set contains is an unbelievable array of material, it’s difficult to think of any singer whose work has been so varied. There are gospel albums, Christmas albums, a children’s album, soundtrack albums from a couple of movies, two Highwayman albums, a collaboration with former Sun label mates Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, a concert from a Swedish prison and other live albums and duet albums – a total of 59 albums as originally released on the Columbia label (no bonus tracks). There set also includes another four CDs of miscellaneous materials – singles and B-sides not originally on albums, Johnny’s guest vocals on other artist’s albums plus various oddities. Some of Cash’s later Columbia albums were not quite as strong as the earlier albums, but even the weaker albums contained some quite interesting material. This set usually sells for around $265 or $4 per disc.

Single Review: Loretta Lynn – ‘I’m A Honky Tonk Girl’

After paying dues in the West Coast honky tonks of Washington, Oregon, and northern California, Loretta Lynn was offered a spot on Buck Owens’ syndicated television show.  This performance was seen by wealthy Canadian Norm Burley.  He offered to help the Lynns jump-start Loretta’s fledgling career by forming his own record label, Zero Records, and pressing some 3,500 copies of her first record.  Mr. Burley also paid for the recording session, financed a promotional road-trip for the couple, and even offered to let her out of the contract if she was offered a major label deal.  The world could use more men like Norm Burley.

In Hollywood, Loretta recorded four of her own compositions: ‘Heartache Meet Mr. Blues’, ‘New Rainbow’, ‘I’m A Honky Tonk Girl’, and ‘Whispering Sea’.  The latter two would be the A and B-side to her first single record.  Loretta says she was inspired to write the song after seeing a woman in a Washington club, drowning her sorrows in the booze.  The song tells the story of a heartbroken woman, alone now that her man has left her.  Penned by Loretta, ‘I’m A Honky Tonk Girl’ would make it all the way to #14 on the Country Singles chart, propelled by the couples self-promotion.  The two greenhorns didn’t know anything about the music industry and it wasn’t until they made it all the way to Nashville that Mooney picked up a copy of Cashbox magazine and found out Loretta had the #14 song in the nation.

The story of Loretta Lynn and her husband Mooney promoting her very first single is the stuff of country music legend.  Their tireless efforts took them from the California coast all the way to Tennessee with the couple stopping at every radio station that programmed country music along the way. Having already mailed out the single to every country station, complete with a one-page biography on Loretta and the now-famous photo of Loretta taken by Mooney in their living room, they would chat up the disc jockeys and ask them to play Mrs. Lynn’s record.

Driven by the pedal steel playing of Speedy West, the track finds Loretta delivering the lyric with a bit of heartache in her twangy vibrato.  They probably didn’t know it at the time, but the session players were creating what would become the signature sound of one of country music’s most influential figures in history.  And even though Owen Bradley and his Nashville Sound are most commonly associated with Loretta Lynn’s success, it was this track that gave Loretta her first minor-hit and the style that would define her music for the next decade.

Grade: B

‘Honky Tonk Girl’ is available on several Loretta Lynn collections. It served as the title track to her 1994 box-set and is available for purchase as a single mp3 download at all major retailers, including amazon.