My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: The New Christy Minstrels

Spotlight Artist: Kenny Rogers

Our October spotlight artist has had a career spanning more than fifty years and has enjoyed tremendous success in a variety of musical genres. Kenneth Ray Rogers was born on August 21, 1938 in Houston, Texas. His recording career dates back to the 1950s. After enjoying a minor hit in 1957 with “That Crazy Feeling” he joined a jazz group called The Bobby Doyle Three. After the group disbanded in 1965 he had a brief stint with the New Christy Minstrels. A year later, he and some of his bandmates formed a new group, Kenny Rogers and The First Edition. Marketed primarily as a rock group, The First Edition dabbled in a variety of styles, including psychedelic pop, folk, and R&B. In 1969 the group enjoyed a Top 40 country hit with the Mel Tillis-penned “Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town”. Although it was only a modest success on the country charts, it reached the Top 10 on both the pop and adult contemporary charts.

After The First Edition disbanded, Rogers reinvented himself as a country artist, signing a solo deal with United Artists Records 1n 1975. His first single for the label, “Love Lifted Me” reached the Top 20 on the country charts. Two more minor hits followed, and in 1977 he enjoyed his breakthrough hit “Lucille”, a story song about an aborted one-night stand that occurs shortly after the narrator witnesses the breakup of his partner’s marriage in a bar. It reached #1 on the country charts and #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and enjoyed international success as well. For the rest of the 1970s and well into the 1980s, Kenny Rogers was country music’s best selling artist. Most of his records enjoyed success on both the pop and country charts.

He recorded a number of hit duets with United Artists labelmate Dottie West in the late 1970s, beginning with 1978’s “Every Time Two Fools Collide”. The exposure not only revived West’s solo career; it took it to new heights. In 1980 she enjoyed her first solo #1 hit, twenty years into her recording career.

Also in 1978, Rogers released the song with which he is most closely identified today: “The Gambler”, which led to a number of made-for-TV movies with Rogers in the starring role. In 1980 he teamed up with Lionel Richie, who wrote and produced “Lady”, Rogers’ only solo record to top the Billboard Hot 100.

United Artists was sold to EMI in 1978 and was renamed Liberty Records in 1980. Rogers remained with the label until 1983, when he signed a $20 million deal with RCA (a huge sum in those days). His last #1 hit for Liberty was a remake of Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got Tonight” performed as a duet with Scottish singer Sheena Easton. After signing with RCA, Rogers teamed up with Barry Gibb, who produced and wrote most of the material for Eyes That See In The Dark,
the debut album for his new label. The first single from that project was “Islands in the Stream”, which found Kenny collaborating for the first time with Dolly Parton. Although country in name and marketing only, the tune quickly topped the country charts and reached the top of the Hot 100 as well, marking the second and last time that either artist would top that chart. It went on to become a global hit.

At the same time, Liberty Records was still releasing Kenny Rogers singles, and “Scarlet Fever”, his final release for his former label, became a #5 country hit at the same time “Islands in the Stream” was climbing the charts. Rogers remained with RCA through the end of the decade. During his tenure with the label, his music became more adult-contemporary oriented while the rest of country music went in the opposite direction when the New Traditionalist movement got underway. In 1989, Kenny moved to Reprise Records (his label during his First Edition days), and his chart success began to become less consistent.

The 1990s marked the beginning of a long dry spell. He left Warner/Reprise and eventually started his own label Dreamcatcher. In 1999 he enjoyed a surprise late-career hit when “The Greatest”, a tune about a young boy dreaming of becoming a professional baseball player, reached #26 on the country charts. Many regarded the surprise hit as an outlier, but country music had not yet heard the last of Kenny Rogers. He enjoyed another unexpected hit in 1999 when “Buy Me a Rose” went to #1, making the 61-year-old Kenny Rogers the oldest artist to ever top the Billboard country chart. The record was broken a few years later when 69-year-old Willie Nelson topped the chart with his Toby Keith duet “Beer For My Horses”.

The success of “Buy Me a Rose” was enough to make the major labels take another look at Kenny Rogers. He released “Water & Bridges” for Capitol in 2006 and You Can’t Make Old Friends for Warner Bros in 2013. The title track of the latter paired him up once again with Dolly Parton. That same year he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Two years later he announced his retirement and embarked on a farewell tour that is scheduled to conclude in Nashville at the end of this month.

Critics have often derided Kenny Rogers as not authentically country, and there is no doubt that because he tried to maintain a presence on both the pop and country charts, not all of his music will appeal to everyone. That being said, there is no denying his contributions to and impact on the country genre. We can’t possibly do justice to a 50-year career in just one month, so we’ll be focusing mainly on his country successes of the 1970s and 1980s.

Album Review: Glen Campbell – ‘Galveston’

galvestonReleased in March 1969, Galveston was the thirteenth album Capitol released on Glen Campbell, an astounding number of albums considering that Glen had been in the public consciousness for only two years.

Released hot on the heels of the song of the same name, and following the very successful Wichita Lineman album and single, Galveston soared up the charts, spending eleven weeks at #1 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart and reaching #2 on Billboard’s Hot 200 (all genres) chart, the album reached platinum, sales status, the last Glen Campbell album to do so on original release, although he would continue to be a highly successful singles artist, with his biggest singles hits yet to come.

Caveat: my vinyl copy of this album was issued on the English Ember label and has fourteen tracks. In describing this album, I know I have the correct tracks as released on the US Capitol label, I’m just not sure that I have them in the correct sequence.

The album opens with “Galveston”, a Jimmy Webb composition that soared to the top of the Country and Easy Listening charts and reached #4 on the pop charts. Released during the Vietnam War years, apparently Webb conceived of the song as an anti-war song but Campbell’s reading of the song need not be interpreted in that way. I was living in London when this song was released and was surprised that it failed to do better than #14 in the UK (“Wichita Lineman” reached #7 in the UK). Perhaps the interpretation of the song as an anti-war song detracted from its universal appear. I think it is a great song:

Galveston, oh, Galveston
I still hear your seawaves crashin
While I watch the cannons flashin’
I clean my gun, and dream of Galveston

I still see her standing by the water
Standing there looking out to sea
And is she waiting there for me
On the beach where we used to run
Galveston, oh, Galveston
I am so afraid of dying
Before I dry the tears she’s crying
Before I watch your sea birds flying
In the sun, at Galveston, at Galveston

Buffy Sainte-Marie, a Native Canadian singer-songwriter who achieve prominence in the 1960s, wrote “Take My Hand For A While”, a gentle song of heartbreak that was covered by many artists, although none better than Glen Campbell (George Hamilton IV’s version was also outstanding)

Take my hand for a while
Explain it to me once again
Just for the sake of my broken heart

Look into my eyes and maybe I will understand
How love I counted on was never there
You see, I thought that you might love me

So you caught me it seems off balance with a heart
So full of love and pretty dreams that two should share
And so I know but please before you go

The nest two songs are “If This Is Love”, written by Glen with Bill Ezell which I regard as simply album filler. The following track is “Today”, a Randy Sparks composition that was performed by Randy’s group the New Christry Minstrels, and was in the repertoire of many folk groups of the era . If the song wasn’t so overly familiar, it would have made a good single.

Today while the blossoms still cling to the vine
I’ll taste your strawberries, I’ll drink your sweet wine

A million tomorrows shall all pass away
Ere I forget all the joy that is mine today

I’ll be a dandy and I’ll be a rover
You’ll know who I am by the song that I sing
I’ll feast at your table, I’ll sleep in your clover
Who cares what the morrow shall bring?

Side One of the album closes with.”Gotta Have Tenderness”, a Mitchell Torok composition that makes a classy album track, but wasn’t what radio was looking for at the time.

The sun comes up in the morning
Over the neighboring hill
Breeze sings the song in the tree top
In tune with Mr. Whippoorwill

Got to have tenderness
Got to have tenderness
We’ve got to have love

Side Two opens with another Jimmy Webb composition, “Where’s The Playground, Susie”, a relatively unsuccessful song that reached #28 Country, #26 Pop and #10 Adult Contemporary . I must confess that I regard this as the weakest song on the album, a rare Jimmy Webb misfire.

The carousel has stopped us here
It twirled a time or two and then it dropped us here
And still you’re not content with something about me
But what merry-go-round can you ride without me
To take your hand ? How would you stand?

Where’s the playground, Susie,
If I decide to let you go and play around?
Where’s the playground, Susie,
If I don’t stay around? If I don’t stay around?

This is followed by .”Time”, written by Michel Merchant. Glen performs it competantly, but it’s just another song.

Another Buffy Saint-Marie song, “Until It’s Time for You to Go”, follows. I always liked Buffy’s compositions, although I am not wild about her as a singer, and this song is no exception. Essentially the song is about a man and woman who are in love with each other, but cannot stay together because they come from differing cultures.

You’re not a dream
You’re not an angel
You’re a woman
I’m not a king,
I’m a man,

Take my hand
We’ll make a space
In the lives that we planned
And here we’ll stay
Until it’s time for you to go

Yes, we’re diff’rent worlds apart
We’re not the same
We laughed and played
At the start like in a game

You could have stayed
Outside my heart
But in you came
And here you’ll stay
Until it’s time for you to go

Glen does a masterful job with Buffy’s compositions, but I would urge you to check out some of Buffy’s albums for yourself.

“Oh What a Woman” is a Jerry Reed romp that Glen handles well. Jerry Reed was one of the world’s greatest guitar players (Chet Atkins considered him to be the greatest) and Glen acquits himself well on this number, both vocally and on the guitar.

The US version of the album closes with .”Every Time I Itch I Wind Up Scratchin’ You”, a Glen Campbell co-write with Jeremy Slate. It’s an amusing song but hardly essential.

Between Al DeLory’s orchestrations and the efforts of some of the finest session musicians in Los Angeles, the sound of this album has a very polished feel to it, maybe too much so. The album features Glen Campbell on vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, Hal Blaine and Bob Felts on drums, Al Casey on acoustic guitar, Dennis McCarthy on piano and Joe Osborn on bass guitar.

As I noted above, this would be Glen’s final album to achieve platinum sales. Razor X had asked me how the Gentle On My Mind album had reached such staggering sales with NO hit singles. Below was part of my reply:

“You know the old saying, a rising tide lifts all boats ? I think that is what occurred here. Campbell made five or six appearances on the Smothers Brothers Show during the second and third seasons, hosted a summer replacement show for the Smothers Brothers and then was given his own show. He appeared as a guest on many shows including The Tonight Show (Johnny Carson) and if I recall correctly, the Ed Sullivan Show. He was ubiquitous and he was better than good. He was an ideal guest for any variety or talk show – a good conversationalist who sang really well and could absolutely dazzle with his instrumental prowess…

The next several singles [after “Gentle On My Mind”] were huge and the single was reissued and made another chart run. Moreover, Cash Box had the single reach #21 and Record World #26 … The song won four Grammy Awards, two of them for writer John Hartford, who appeared on the Smothers Brothers and Glen Campbell shows (plus others) and had the song in his active repertoire.

I think the increased prominence and success of follow up singles and albums caused people to go back and pick up his past albums. The single “By The Time I Get to Phoenix” reached #1 about the same time that the GENTLE ON MY MIND album hit #1 on the album charts. I know in my case, I went back and purchased his older albums after buying A NEW PLACE IN THE SUN, a nice album that reached #1 despite the fact that NO singles were released from the album. Billboard did not chart album tracks at the time but radio stations around the country apparently played tracks from the album.

During this period a country album could go #1 without being an enormous seller, but in Campbell’s case his albums stayed on the charts forever, selling steadily ([Gentle On My Mind spent] 88 weeks on the country album charts / 75 weeks on the pop album charts). Much the same thing happened with other Campbell albums – HEY LITTLE ONE’s singles “Hay Little One” and I Want to Live” are barely remembered today but that album hung onto the charts for about a year”

I think the market had become saturated with Glen Campbell albums by the time Galveston was released. Capitol had released a lot of albums, many of which became huge sellers, some of them on a delayed basis.

Anyway I would give this album a solid B+.

1.”Galveston” (Jimmy Webb) – 2:39
2.”Take My Hand for a While” (Buffy Sainte-Marie) – 2:41
3.”If This Is Love” (Glen Campbell, Bill Ezell) – 2:08
4.”Today” (Randy Sparks) – 2:29
5.”Gotta Have Tenderness” (Ramona Redd, Mitch Torok) – 2:09
6.”Friends” (Dick Bowman, Campbell) – 2:31
Side 21.”Where’s The Playground Susie” (Webb) – 2:55
2.”Time” (Michel Merchant) – 2:42
3.”Until It’s Time for You to Go” (Sainte-Marie) – 3:02
4.”Oh What a Woman” (Jerry Hubbard) – 2:39
5.”Every Time I Itch I Wind Up Scratchin’ You” (Campbell, Jeremy Slate) – 1:51