My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Tex Williams

Country Heritage: Merle Travis

merle travisIt troubles me no end that the artistry of Merle Travis has been lost in the sands of time. It troubles me, but does not surprise me, as Travis–the victim of changing tastes and a lifelong battle with John Barleycorn–had largely disappeared from the airwaves by the time I started really following country music in the mid-60s. Although the general public lost sight of Merle’s genius, he has fared better in the esteem of Nashville’s pickers and singers and has been cited as a primary influence by many of the world’s best pickers, including Chet Atkins, Doc Watson, Earl Hooker, Scotty Moore and Marcel Dadi.

Chet Atkins admired and initially tried to emulate the Travis style, once commenting that it was fortunate that he did not have as much opportunity to hear Travis growing up as he would have liked or his own style might have become a clone. The great Arthel “Doc” Watson thought so much of Travis that he named his son Merle after him. Glen Campbell’s parents were such big fans that they reportedly gave their son the middle name “Travis.” The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band had him as a featured performer on their classic Will the Circle Be Unbroken album issued in 1972.

Travis was born and raised in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, a coal mining center that would prove to be the source of inspiration for many of his finest musical compositions. In the hard and bleak life of a coal mining town, he found escape in the guitar–an instrument played by his brother Jim, who was also believed to have made Merle’s first guitar.

Music was one of the few recreations available in the area of western Kentucky, particularly during the heights of the Great Depression. There were many guitar players in the vicinity of Muhlenberg, and Travis freely acknowledged his debt to such earlier players as black country blues guitarist Arnold Shultz, and more directly to guitarists Mose Rager, a part-time barber and coal miner, and Ike Everly, the father of Don and Phil Everly. The Travis style eventually evolved into the ‘Travis Pickin’’ style of playing a steady bass pattern with the thumb and filling out some syncopated rhythms with the fingers of the right hand. Meanwhile, he developed a “talking bluesman” style of singing that was instantly recognizable by the perpetual smile in his voice. Read more of this post

Favorite country songs of the 1970s, Part 9

Some more songs that I liked, one song per artist, not necessarily the biggest hit. As always, I consider myself free to comment on other songs by the artist.

Arkansas”– Teddy & Doyle Wilburn (1972)
The last chart hit for a duo that was of more importance as businessmen than as recording artists. This song got to #47 (#29 on Cashbox). The Wilburns remained important for many years to follow through their publishing companies and other enterprises. One of their protégées, Patty Loveless is still actively recording and performing.

One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show” – Little David Wilkins(1975)
This song got to #11; it figures that an equally large performer, Johnny Russell, was his closest friend in the business.

“We Should Be Together”– Don Williams (1974)
This was Don’s first top five recording. The single issued immediately prior to this “Come Early Morning” b/w ”Amanda” was a double sided hit , with the two sides splitting the airplay. This record was issued on the small JMI label – within a year Don would be signed by a major label and his career would jet into the stratosphere.

Why Don’t You Love Me” – Hank Williams(1976)
I don’t know why MGM reissued this 1950 single that spent 10 weeks at #1 in its original release. It only got to #61 this time around, but any excuse to list a Hank Williams single is welcome.

“Eleven Roses” – Hank Williams, Jr. (1972)
This Darrell McCall-penned song spent two weeks at #1. I was torn between listing this song or “I’ll Think of Something”, which Mark Chesnutt took to #1 in 1992. The pre-outlaw Hank Jr. was a pretty good straight ahead country singer.

“He Will Break Your Heart” – Johnny Williams (1972)
Johnny Williams was a soul singer from Chicago. This song reached #68. Country audiences became familiar with this song as Johnny Paycheck recorded it in 1971 on his first album for Epic. Although Billboard did not track album cuts at the time, country DJs gave the song so many spins off Paycheck’s album that I was sure that that Epic would issue the song as a Paycheck single.

“Country Girl With Hot Pants On” – Leona Williams (1972)
Great singer/songwriter, better remembered as one of the Hag’s ex-wives. While it’s been 26 years since she charted, she still is issuing great albums for the Heart of Texas label. ”Country Girl With Hot Pants On” only reached #52 but did much better in some markets. Her biggest hit was “The Bull and the Beaver” which reached #8 in 1978.

“I Wanna Go Country” – Otis Williams and The Midnight Cowboys (1971)
One of several black singers to attempt to follow Charley Pride, this all-black band from the Cincinnati area was led by the former lead singer of The Charms, who had several pop hits during the 1950s including “Hearts of Stone”. This was the only record to chart country but it, and the album from which it came, were both excellent.

“The Night Miss Nancy Ann’s Hotel For Single Girls Burned Down“ – Tex Williams (1972)

Tex was a big star during the 1940s, both as part of Spade Cooley’s band and on his own, with a mega-hit with “Smoke, Smoke, Smoke (That Cigarette)“ which went #1 country (16 weeks) and pop (6 weeks) in 1947. This amusing story reached #29 Billboard /#18 Cashbox, his last real hit. Tex died in 1985 of lung cancer.

“Ida Red” – Bob Wills (1976)
New version of Bob’s 1938 hit – reached #99 for one week. Bob had chart hits throughout the 1940s. His most famous song, “New San Antonio Rose, was nearing the end of its pop chart run when Billboard started their country charts on January 1, 1944. Had the charts been started six months earlier the song would have spent many weeks at #1.

“There’s A Song On The Jukebox” – David Wills (1975)
This was one of two top ten records for Wills, a protégé of Charlie Rich, who produced his first three singles. I don’t hear any resemblance to Rich, but he was a fine singer.

“Do It To Someone You Love” – Norro Wilson (1970)
The only top twenty record for one of Nashville’s leading producers and songwriters. Charlie Rich had huge hits with his “The Most Beautiful Girl”, “Very Special Love Song” and “I Love My Friend”.

“Johnny’s Cash and Charley’s Pride” – Mac Wiseman (1970)
Mac is probably the best bluegrass vocalist – ever. Known as ‘The Voice With A Heart’, this amusing record went top forty, a major feat for 50 year old bluegrass artist.

“The Wonders You Perform” – Tammy Wynette (1971)
Just a song I happen to like. This record reached #1 on Record World and #2 on Cashbox.

“Goin’ Steady” – Faron Young (1971)
A remake of his 1952 smash, this speeded up version is probably my favorite Faron Young track. From 1969 to 1971, Faron had six songs reach #1 on one or more of the major charts. “Step Aside”, “Leavin’ And Sayin’ Goodbye” and “Four In The Morning” were also classic songs from this period.

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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Country Heritage Redux: Dick Feller

An expanded and updated version of an article originally published by The 9513.

About eight years ago I was attending a performance by the late great Vermont singer/songwriter Bernie Whittle when he launched into “I Just Don’t Look Good Naked Anymore.” I wasn’t familiar with the song but it seemed to me that it could have come from the pen of only one writer – Dick Feller. A little research confirmed my assumption.

Dick Feller was never a big recording star, but during the 1970s he provided numerous hits for other people. Possessed of rare wit and sensitivity (a product of his rural Missouri upbringing), Feller could write poignant ballads and novelties with equal facility. For a period of time, he was a staff writer for Johnny Cash. Prior to that, he was the touring band leader/lead guitarist for Warner Mack. He even played lead guitar on most of his own recordings and appeared as guitarist on sessions by a number of other artists, including Mel Tillis and Mike Auldridge. From my exposure to Dick’s guitar playing, I rate him just barely below the Chet Atkins class as a fingerpicker guitarist.

Among Feller’s serious songs, John Denver hit with “Some Days Are Diamonds (Some Days Are Stone)” (#10 Country / #36 Pop), Johnny Cash had success with “Any Old Wind That Blows” (#3 Country) and “Orleans Parish Prison” (#52 Country), and Ferlin Husky recorded “A Room For A Boy – Never Used,” (#60 Country) a song that should have been a much bigger hit than it was.

I’m not sure whether to classify Dick’s biggest copyright as serious or humorous, but there are few songs more familiar than “East Bound and Down,” a huge country hit (#1 Cashbox /#2 Billboard) for co-writer Jerry Reed that was featured in the 1977 film Smokey and the Bandit, and received continuous play by country bands everywhere for at least the next 25 years. I know of at least 33 cover versions, most recently by the Road Hammers.

Despite his facility with the serious songs, Dick Feller seemed to prefer looking at the humorous side of life with his music. Songs such as “Lord, Mr. Ford” (a #1 Country hit for Jerry Reed) and “The Night Miss Nancy Ann’s Hotel For Single Girls Burned Down” (a minor hit for Tex Williams) seemed more in keeping with that outlook.

He issued three albums during the 1970s with four songs charting on Billboards Country charts : “The Credit Card Song” (#10), “Makin’ The Best of A Bad Situation” (#11), “Biff, The Friendly Purple Bear” (#22 – a song that appeals to all ages), and “Uncle Hiram and the Homemade Beer” (#49). The first three saw some action on Billboards Pop charts, as well.

Feller mostly wrote on his own, but when he did co-write, it was usually with writers who shared his humorous outlook on life, such as Sheb Wooley (a/k/a Ben Colder), Jerry Reed and most notably the late, Atlanta humorist Lewis Grizzard. Dick toured with Grizzard and was the opening act for the “Evening With Lewis Grizzard” stage show. Their most notable musical collaboration was “Alimony,” a subject Grizzard knew well.

In addition to the aforementioned artists, Dick Feller’s songs have been recorded by a diverse group of artists that include Bobby Bare, The Kingston Trio, Ray Stevens, Earl Scruggs, Mac Davis, Lee Greenwood, Ed Bruce, Burt Reynolds, Julie Andrews, Arthur Godfrey, Hank Snow, Hank Thompson, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Aaron Tippin, June Carter Cash and countless others.

Wouldn’t you love to hear Trace Adkins, Brad Paisley or George Strait tackle these lyrics:

I stepped out of the shower and I got a good look at myself
Pot bellied, bald-headed, I thought I was somebody else
I caught my reflection in the mirror of the bathroom door
I just don’t look good naked anymore!

So… I’m goin upstairs and turn my bedroom mirror to the wall
I hung it there back when I was trim and tall
I’d stand there and smile and flex and strut until my arms go sore
But I just don’t look good naked anymore!

From “I Just Don’t Look Good Naked Anymore”, available on Centaur Of Attention.

Discography

The Dick Feller discography is pretty slim but each album is filled with wry (and sometimes silly) humor, clever lyrics and songs full of profound thoughts, sometimes disguised as humor

VINYL
All vinyl, of course, is out of print but worth hunting down. To the best of my knowledge Dick Feller issued only four vinyl albums

Dick Feller Wrote… (United Artists, 1973)
No Word On Me (Elektra, 1974)
Some Days Are Diamonds (Elektra/Asylum, 1975)
Audiograph Alive (Audiograph, 1982)

DIGITAL
Centaur Of Attention (Cyberphonic, 2001)
Although originally released as a CD, it currently is available only as a digital download from http://www.cdbaby.com. The album contains versions of all four of Dick’s charted hits, plus some other humorous songs

Check out www.dickfeller.com for more information on Dick Feller.