My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: The Wilburn Brothers

Classic Rewind: Loretta Lynn and the Wilburn Brothers – ‘Angel Band’

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Spotlight Artists: Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton

DollyleavesPorterWagonerShowThere was a time, in the not too distant past, when finding country music on television meant finding a syndicated television show that one of your three or four local stations happened to carry. There was no cable television (so no MTV, VH1, CMT or GAC) and no network shows such as Hee Haw. Occasionally, one of the bigger country stars, riding a hit record, might turn up on a network variety show, but that was very much the exception to the rule.

There were syndicated variety shows such as That Good Ole Nashville Music or Pop! Goes The Country and there were syndicated shows hosted by individual country artists such as Ernest Tubb, Carl Smith, Bill Anderson, Billy Walker, Arthur Smith, The Wilburn Brothers, Faron Young, Buck Owens and Flatt & Scruggs. The problem was that not every show was available in every television market (most of these seemed to run on 50-75 stations and lasted for a year or two), and many stations that carried the programs had no set hour at which they might air. On many stations the programs were frequently pre-empted for sporting events and many stations would simply air the show whenever they had a half hour hole in their schedule. Most of the shows aired in the southeast and the southwest far more than they aired in other parts of the country.

I lived my teen years mostly in the Tidewater region of Virginia, where The Ernest Tubb Show, The Wilburn Brothers Show and The Porter Wagoner Show were shown. Of these The Porter Wagoner Show was the most successful in that it ran for nearly twenty years, tended to have a stable time slot on our local stations, and apparently was the most widely syndicated of all of these shows.

The Porter Wagoner Show would be considered an ensemble show, with normally eight (often truncated) songs and some comedy routines each half hour. I think a large part of the success of the show was Wagoner’s decision to always have a featured female singer. In 1961 Pretty Miss Norma Jean became the first woman to be featured, but she left to raise a family in 1965. Jeannie Seely joined the show as Norma Jean’s replacement but left one year later after recording a hit record called “Don’t Touch Me”, written by her then-husband Hank Cochran.

After Seely left, Porter Wagoner auditioned several female, ultimately selecting the then-unknown Dolly Parton for the show. Although Porter had been featuring female singers, before Dolly’s arrival, Porter had never really sung duets or harmonized with his female singers. For whatever reason, Porter recognized that Dolly had a voice that could blend well with his own, so Porter began singing duets with Dolly and arranged to get her on his record label so that they could record together. This is where our story begins.

For my money, Porter Wagon and Dolly Parton are the very best male-female duo in the history of the genre. In retrospect, it may seem inevitable that the pairing would be success, since both artists are now members of the Country Music Hall of Fame, but unlike a lot of other such duets, usually of established stars, at the time this duo was put together, Porter Wagoner was a journeyman country singer who had charted 27 times (twelve Top 10 records and fifteen other songs that cracked the Top 30). He did have a good stage show and a syndicated television show that make him a familiar figure to households across the south, but after his first four chart hits had hit the top ten in 1954-1956, only eight more top ten records had graced the charts for Porter. Meanwhile, Dolly Parton was essentially a nobody as far as national recognition was concerned.

It is rather difficult to pinpoint exactly what sets Porter and Dolly apart from the other male-female duos. On the liner notes of The Best of Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, Nashville publicist Paul Soelberg attempted to explain the magic as follows:

“… Another phrasing technique they’ve mastered is the ability to emphasize the beginning of a key word followed with a superbly timed withdrawal of that emphasis. The impact is overwhelming.

They do all this in perfect harmony. Generally Dolly sings the melody (lead), and Porter sings tenor harmony. But the effect seems reversed, for Porter, whose voice is lower, sounds as if he’s singing melody while Dolly’s high soprano seems to be carrying the harmony. It seems like we are getting four vocal parts out of two people!”

I’m not sure that explanation makes much sense to me, but then again, it does not need to make sense. All that is needed is to listen to the recordings – your ears will tell you that something special was happening. So sit back and enjoy our trip through the catalog of the inimitable Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton. This catalog features the best music either artist ever made.

Album Review: Loretta Lynn – ‘Fist City’

fist cityThe lead single of Loretta’s 1968 album Fist City, ‘What Kind Of Girl (Do You Think I Am)?’, a plaintive tune written by Loretta with Teddy Wilburn, was a top 5 single in 1967. It’s a nice song, but not one which is remembered today – perhaps because its subject matter now seems old fashioned, with the demure protagonist reproving her sweetheart for wanting to anticipate their wedding vows:

You want me to prove my love for you
I’m surprised that’s the way you’re askin’ me to
You’ve known me so long I can’t understand
What kind of a girl do you think I am?

What kind of a girl do you want for a wife?
Do you want a girl who knows that much about life?
Well, if that’s what you want
Take me out of your plan
What kind of a girl do you think I am?

What kind of a girl would do the things
You’re askin’ me to, without wedding rings
Is it what you must do to prove you’re a man?
What kind of a girl do you think I am?

It was also soon overshadowed by the title track, which became the record’s second single, and is one of Loretta’s classic self-penned hits. Positively aggressive in its takedown of a real life romantic rival who apparently had eyes for Loretta’s husband Doolittle, it typifies the sassy attitude and self-confidence which Loretta had previously exhibited on ‘You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)’:

You’ve been makin’ your brags around town that you’ve been a lovin’ my man
But the man I love when he picks up trash, he puts it in a garbage can
And that’s what you look like to me and what I see’s a pity
You’d better close your face and stay out of my way
If you don’t wanta go to Fist City

If you don’t wanna go to Fist City you’d better detour round my town
Cause I’ll grab you by the hair of the head and I’ll lift you off of the ground
I’m not a sayin’ my baby’s a saint cause he ain’t
And that he won’t cat around with a kitty
I’m here to tell you gal to lay off of my man if you don’t wanna go to Fist City

Come on and tell me what you told my friends if you think you’re brave enough
And I’ll show you what a real woman is since you think you’re hot stuff
You’ll bite off more than you can chew if you get too cute or witty
You better move your feet if you don’t wanna eat a meal that’s called Fist City

Loretta’s vocal has an almost playful quality to it which belies the violence, and makes the song highly enjoyable.

‘I’m Shootin’ For Tomorrow’, another Lynn composition, is a vivacious mid-tempo number about writing off an old relationship:

Well I used to think you was the only man
But I’ve found out you’re not
So I’m a shootin’ for tomorrow
‘Cause today’s already shot
I used to keep the home fires burnin’
But I let ’em all go out

No song on this album is longer than three minutes; this one is under two minutes, as is ‘You Didn’t Like My Lovin’, written by Loretta with Teddy Wilburn and Joe “Red” Hayes. This one’s protagonist has happily moved on to someone new and sends her ex away with a flea in his ear. Loretta also covers Hayes’ country gospel classic a Satisfied Mind.

‘Somebody’s Back In Town’ was a hit for the Wilburn Brothers in 1959, although for some reason iTunes credits Loretta as their co-writer (I believe it was really Don Helms). This is an excellent song I know from Chris Hillman’s 1980s cover, and Loretta does the pained ballad justice with an emotional reading.

The best-known cover, Tammy Wynette’s recent #1 hit ‘I Don’t Wanna Play House’, is also sung very believably; if Loretta had got the song first I am sure she could have ahd a hit with it herself. Tammy and Norma Jean both had contemporary cuts of ‘Jackson Ain’t A Very Big Town’, a ballad about a newly wed in a small town where the dating pool is small and rumours fly.

Loretta’s brother Jay Lee Webb contributed ‘You Never Were Mine’, a nice resigned ballad about a breakup.

‘I’ve Got Texas In My Heart’ is a Western style tune which doesn’t really suit Loretta, and ‘How Long Will It Takes’ is s filler with dated backing vocals.

Overall, though, this is an excellent album from Loretta at her peak.

Grade: A

Album Review: Loretta Lynn – ‘Sings’

loretta lynn singsLoretta Lynn Sings was Loretta Lynn’s debut album on Decca Records. Released in December 1963, the album followed on the heels of an uncharted single 1961 (“I Walked Away From The Wreck”), two 1962 singles including her first chart single “Success”, and another uncharted single (“World of Forgotten People”), and in 1963 another charted single, “The Other Woman”. There would be another single released in 1963, the #4 “Before I’m Over You” (not found on this album) before this album was released.

The album opens up with “Success” written by Johnny Mullins, who was a high school custodian. “Success” was a lament about how a husband’s career success was undermining their marriage. The song went to #6 as would “Blue Kentucky Girl”, another Johnny Mullins-penned song a few years later.

Since Loretta was a new artist that Decca was trying to break into the country markets, this album, more so than most country albums of the time, is full of covers rather than a few covers and some filler.

For many years Jimmy Gateley was the front man for Bill Anderson’s band. He was also an adept song-writer, as “The Minute You’re Gone” proves. Sonny James would have a top ten country hit with the song in 1963, and British rocker Cliff Richard would take the song to #1 on the UK pop charts (and top ten in seven other countries). Needless to say, Loretta sounds nothing like Cliff Richard but her presentation is strong and clear.

Betty Sue Perry would provide Loretta with quite a few songs during the 1960s. “The Other Woman”, not to be mistaken for the Ray Price song of the same title, tells the love triangle story from the perspective of the mistress.

According to Billboard, “Alone With You” was Faron Young’s biggest hit, spending a whopping ten weeks at #1. While I don’t think it was Faron’s biggest seller, it was a great song and Loretta acquits herself well on the song.

“Why I’m Walking” was writing by Stonewall Jackson and Melvin Endsley. A big hit for Stonewall Jackson, it resurfaced decades later as a hit for Ricky Skaggs. Again Loretta acquits herself admirably.

The first of Loretta’s own compositions “The Girl That I Am Now” is next. Although not released as a single, I think it would have made a good single and it demonstrates how proficient Loretta already was as a songwriter. This song is bout a wife who cheated on her husband and is racked by guilt and the hope that he never finds out about what she did.

He loves the girl I used to be
But could he love the girl I am now

I don’t think I need to say anything about the lineage of “Act Naturally’. Loretta tackles the song with aplomb. The instrumental arrangement remains up-tempo but the acoustic guitars have a very hootenanny era feel.

Another Loretta Lynn composition follows, “World of Forgotten People”. I don’t remember it being a hit single for anyone but everybody and his cousin recorded the song including the Osborne Brothers, George Jones, Conway Twitty, Vernon Oxford, The Wilburn Brothers, Ernest Tubb and countless others:

I live in the world world of forgotten people
Who’ve loved and lost their hearts so many times
I’m here in the world of forgotten people
Where every heart is aching just like mine

“The Color of The Blues” was written by George Jones and Lawton Williams and was a hit for George Jones. Lawton Williams, of course, wrote “Fraulein” and “Farewell Party”. Loretta handles the song effectively.

“Hundred Proof Heartache” is another of Loretta’s compositions. This works as an album cut but would not have made a good single for Loretta.

I’ve got a hundred proof heartache and a case of the blues
My baby’s gone and left me I’ve lost all I can lose
I’ve got a hundred proof heartache my world keeps turnin’ round
This hundred proof heartache’s got me down
You waded through my tears and said goodbye
You didn’t seem to care how much I’d cry
You made your home the tavern down the street
And this old heart cries out with every beat

Cindy Walker was a great songwriter, being a favorite writer for Bob Wills, Jack Greene and countless other country stars. “I Walked Away from the Wreck” equates a failed love affair with an automobile accident. Although released as a single, the song did not chart.

Justin Tubb’s “Lonesome 7-7203″ proved to be the only #1 record for Hawkshaw Hawkins, and a posthumous one at that for “The Hawk”, who died in the same plane crash that killed Cowboy Copas and Patsy Cline. The song would also be a hit for Tony Booth about a decade later. Whoever arranged the song took it at a far too slow tempo. Taken at a faster tempo I think Loretta could have really nailed the song.

There was a distinctive “Decca Records” sound during the 1960s that tends to permeate all of the label’s recordings. Since the same studio musicians and same arranger (Owen Bradley) were used on most of the major artists recordings, this is understandable. There was a little bit of an attempt to vary Loretta’s sound through occasional use of banjo or acoustic guitar on Loretta’s recordings but it was still basically a formulaic background production. Set apart Loretta’s recordings was her voice which could never be anything but country, no matter the pop trappings applied to the final product.

Loretta Lynn Sings would reach #2 on Billboard’s country albums chart. This album is a solid B+ but better albums would follow.

Classic Review: Stonewall Jackson – ‘Stars Of The Grand Ole Opry’ (1981)

stars of the grand ole opryDuring the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s major labels trimmed their rosters, shedding veteran artists who were no longer cranking out the hits or generating decent album sales. Sometimes these veteran artists would find another major label deal but mostly these artists wound up on minor / independent labels. Even those artists who managed to find a major label deal found their stay at the new label to be a short one that lead to landing on a minor label (for example, Jimmy Dickens: Columbia > Decca > Gusto / Charlie Walker: Columbia > RCA > Plantation).

While on the minor / independent labels, most of the veteran artists recorded very little new material, usually producing an album or two of dreary remakes of their older hits with perhaps some covers of other big hits from artists (it is astounding how many artists issued albums listing songs such as “San Antonio Rose”, “There Goes My Everything” and “There Stands The Glass” among their greatest hits).
Most of these albums featured low budget production, thin sound, and were recorded with minimal numbers of disinterested musicians accompanying a bored vocalist singing songs sung literally thousands of times before.

First Generation Records was owned by Pete Drake (1932-1988), one of the great steel guitar players, and a musician who was not about to settle for the bored and tired performances described above. Producing the records himself, and often playing steel guitar on the recording sessions, Pete gathered a group of excellent musicians to play on his recording sessions. Rather than merely re-recording an artist’s older hits, Pete’s Stars of the Grand Ole Opry series generally featured five songs new to the artist (and often simply new songs) followed by five of the artist’s older hits but with a difference, that difference being energized singers and musicians. Among the artists featured on the series were Ferlin Husky, Jan Howard, Vic Willis, Stonewall Jackson, Billy Walker, Ernest Tubb, George Hamilton IV, Ray Pillow, Jean Shepard, The Wilburn Brothers and Charlie Louvin. While all were decent to very good albums, the album with Stonewall Jackson is the standout among the series.

Prior to this album, Stonewall Jackson has not spent much time in the recording studios since his last new Columbia album was issued in 1971. There had been an album in 1976 for GRT (I think the tracks were leased from MGM, intended for a never released 1973 album) reprising his Columbia hits in the manner of most remake albums, plus a deplorable new song from Foster & Rice titled “Herman Schwartz”. There was a pair of 1979 albums for Little Darling with little to recommend them. One of the Little Darlin’ albums was remakes and the other was largely undistinguished new material, although two of the songs had clever song titles, “The Pint of No Return” and “The Alcohol of Fame”.

For Stonewall Jackson’s First Generation sessions, in addition to playing steel himself, Pete gathered up an all-star lineup of Nashville session men including Jimmy Capps, Billy Sanford, Pete Wade and Bill Hullett (guitar), Jimmy Crawford and John Hughey (steel), Hargus “Pig” Robbins and Bobby Emmons (piano), Tommy Williams (fiddle), Bob Moore and Randy Best (bass).

The album opens up with the Billy Joe Shaver composition “I’m Just An Old Chunk of Coal”, a very recent hit for John Anderson (I think it is possible that Jackson’s version pre-dates Anderson’s recording, but I’m not certain); Billy Joe’s album also hit the streets in 1981. Whatever the timing, I feel that the Stonewall Jackson recording is the best recording I’ve ever heard of the song, far better than Billy Joe’s version and slightly better than John Anderson’s version. Stonewall sings the song with great enthusiasm as the lyric fits the ‘hardscrabble-pull up your own bootstraps’ upbringing of Stonewall’s youth:

Hey, I’m just an old chunk of coal
But I’m gonna be a diamond some day
I’m gonna grow and glow till I’m so blue, pure, perfect
I’m gonna put a smile on everybody’s face
I’m gonna kneel and pray every day
At last I should become vain along the way
I’m just an old chunk of coal now, Lord
But I’m gonna be a diamond some day

R.J. Jones and M. Kosser wrote “Full Moon, Empty Pockets”, a song that several artists subsequently recorded. The song tells a tale of woe that many of us have encountered – time on our hands but no money.

Full moon empty pockets
Stone broke on a Saturday night
Full moon empty pockets
Won’t a lady treat a cowboy right

Next up is “There Are No Shortcuts (To Get Me Over You)”, a good heartbreak ballad that of the kind that Stonewall Jackson always tackled well. This is followed by a song from Ben Peters and Curly Putman, “Breaking Up Breakdown”, a song that I could see as a successful single had it been issued in 1966 rather than 1981. The song is an up-tempo barroom ballad in which the narrator asks for the band to keep playing that song about breaking up.

The last of the newer songs is ”Let The Sun Shine On The People” by Frank Dycus and Larry Kingston. Frank Dycus, of course, wrote some of George Strait’s hits and Larry Kingston provided a number of songs to Johnny Bush and other singers.

At this point the nostalgia trip begins, but with an enthusiastic Stonewall Jackson leading the way on excellent new versions of some of his classic hits, starting off with his biggest hit (#1 Country / #4 Pop) “Waterloo”. For those familiar only with the ABBA hit of the same name, this song is a bit of a romp through history referencing Adam, Napoleon and Tom Dooley:

Now old Adam, was the first in history
With an apple, he was tempted and deceived
Just for spite, the devil made him take a bite
And that’s where old Adam met his Waterloo

Chorus
Waterloo, Waterloo
Where will you meet your Waterloo
Every puppy has his day and everybody has his day
Everybody has to meet his Waterloo

Waterloo was such a big hit that Homer & Jethro took the time to spoof it:

The Lone Ranger and Tonto rode the trail
Catching Outlaws and putting them in jail
But the Ranger shot Tonto for it seems
He found out what ‘kemosabe’ means

Perhaps Stonewall’s most enduring song, “Don’t Be Angry,” is up next. Written by Stonewall’s brother Wade Jackson, not only was it a big hit for Jackson, but Donna Fargo took the song to the top during the 1970s and the song has been covered by many artists and remains in the active repertoires of county bar bands across the USA.

Don’t be angry at me darling if I fail to understand
All your little whims and wishes all the time
Just remember that I’m dumb I guess like any foolish man
And my head stays sorta foggy cause you’re mine

Well, I recall the first time that I flirted with you dear
When I jokingly said come and be my bride
Now that time has turned the pages it’s the sweetest joke on earth
That I have you near forever by my side

Joe Babcock authored the next Stonewall Jackson classic “I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water”, which also was a major hit for pop crooner Pat Boone and has also been a favorite of the R&B crowd and many of the rock & roll crowd as well, including Elvis Presley and Johny Rivers

I was born in Macon Georgia
They kept my daddy over in Macon jail
He told me if you keep your hands clean
You won’t hear them bloodhounds on your trail

Well I fell in with bad companions
Robbed a man, oh up in Tennessee
They caught me way up in Nashville
They locked me up and threw away the key

Chorus
I washed my hands in muddy water
Washed my hands, but they didn’t come clean
Tried to do what my daddy told me
But I must have washed my hands in a muddy stream

Next up is Bill Johnson’s “A Wound Time Can’t Erase”, a sad and tender ballad that was a big hit for Stonewall and later for Gene Watson.

The fifth and final Stonewall Jackson classic is the Melvin Endsley / Stonewall Jackson composition “Why I’m Walkin’”, a song Ricky Skaggs covered during the 1980s. Melvin Endsley was a disabled person who wrote several classic country songs including “Singling the Blues” and “Knee Deep In The Blues”. Some readers may remember an alternate title “Got My Angel On My Mind”, but however you label this ballad, it’s a good one.

I’ve got an angel on my mind, that’s why I’m walkin’
There’s such an aching in this old heart, now I ain’t talkin’
The little hand that held mine tight, just waved goodbye tonite
I’ve got her sweet love on my mind, that’s why I’m walkin’

This album is still readily available on CD, as are most of the other albums in the series. Unfortunately, Pete Drake began experiencing health problems in 1985 and passed away in 1988. I would like to have seen Pete issue new albums on the next generation of veteran artists released by the major labels. It would have been much better music than much of what was actually released by other minor/ independent labels over the next decade. Anyway, almost unique among this class of minor label albums by veteran artists, this album rates a solid A, the first album for Stonewall in many years that I would rate that highly.

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.

Album Review: Ricky Van Shelton – ‘RVS III’

RVS IIIRVS III appeared in January 1990, a little more than a year after Loving Proof. Like its predecessors, it was produced by Steve Buckingham and was a mixture of both new material and some carefully selected covers of older songs that were suddenly back in vogue during the New Traditionalist era. This time around, however, there was slightly less emphasis on rockabilly-style numbers on more on ballads which were proving to be Ricky’s strong point.

Preceding the release of RVS III was a maginificent cover of “Statue of a Fool”, which had been a #1 hit for Jack Greene in 1969. Ricky’s version just missed the top spot, peaking at #2, but it remains one of the standout singles of his career and is his greatest moment of this album. The uptempo “I’ve Cried My Last Tear For You”, written by Tony King (who was engaged to Wynonna Judd at the time) and Chris Waters was the next single. This one did reach #1, but it’s not one of my favorites, which is a not a criticism of the song, but a testament to the strength of the rest of the album. Another great ballad “I Meant Every Word He Said”, in which the protagonist is forced to watch the woman he loves marry another man, also topped out at #2. The album’s fourth and final single was a cover of “Life’s Little Ups and Downs”. The blues-tinged track was an underperforming single for Charlie Rich in 1969. Ricky’s version reached #4, and although it provides a change of pace, it’s my least favorite track on the album.

There are only two rocking numbers on RVS III – “Love Is Burnin'”, which is in the same vein as “Crime of Passion” and a cover of Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman”. The rest of the album was comprised of ballads, most of which could have been hit singles, but Columbia was likely reluctant to release too many ballads in a row to radio. Among these choice tracks are “You Would Do The Same For Me”, a Rory Bourke-Mike Reid composition that I would have preferred to see as a single in lieu of “Life’s Little Ups and Downs”, “I’m Starting Over” written by Kix Brooks with John Wesley Ryles and Mark Sherrill, and a fantastic version of Cindy Walker’s “Not That I Care”. This beautiful waltz had been a minor hit for Jerry Wallace in 1966 (peaking at #44) and had also been recorded by The Wilburn Brothers.

Another standout is album’s closing track “Sweet Memories”, which had been an adult contemporary hit for Andy Williams in 1968 and covered by Willie Nelson in 1979. Ricky is joined by Brenda Lee, who was long past her commercial peak, but her voice was still strong and lovely and complemented his nicely. The track features a tasteful string arrangement which gives it a little more countrypolitan feel than the rest of the album.

Despite a couple of weak spots, namely “Life’s Little Ups and Downs” and the self-penned and forgettable “I Still Love You”, RVS III is packed with top-drawer material and it quickly attained platinum status as its two predecessors have. However, by this time the formula of a few rockabilly numbers and a lot of ballads, a few old songs and a few new was starting to become predictable and may partially account for Shelton’s relatively brief reign at the top of the charts. Nevertheless, it is an album well worth listening to and I enthusastically recommend it.

Grade: A

Spotlight Artist: Gene Watson

Gene-WatsonGene Watson, one of country music’s best and most underappreciated male vocalists, is our spotlight artist for the month of June. Gary Gene Watson was born in Palestine, Texas, on October 11, 1943 to itinerant farm worker parents. He dropped out of school in the ninth grade to join his parents working in the fields on farms all over Texas.

When he was 15 he and his younger brother Jessie formed The Watson Brothers and auditioned for a producer and talent scout who unfortunately turned out to be a scam artist. Undeterred, Gene recorded his first single “If It Was That Easy” in 1962. The record went nowhere, but he landed a spot working in The Wilburn Brothers’ road show in 1964. When that brief stint came to an end, he returned to Texas and performed in honky-tonks and recorded a few more independently-released singles.

Gene and his songwriter cousin Bill Watson decided to give Nashville a try around 1966 or 1967. Success was slow in coming; it was 1974 before his eponymous debut album was released on the independent World Wide label. Though not commercially successful, that project caught the attention of Capitol Records, who signed Watson to its roster and released his first major label album, Love in the Hot Afternoon, in 1975. That album produced Watson’s first two Top 5 hits, and started a string of primarily Top 10 and Top 20 hits that lasted through 1984, after which his popularity began to wane a bit. Among his best remembered hits are “Love in the Hot Afternoon”, “Paper Rosie”, his signature song “Farewell Party”, and “Fourteen Carat Mind”, his only Billboard #1 hit.

After leaving Capitol in 1981, Watson signed with MCA and later with Epic and Warner Bros. His last major label release was 1990’s At Last. After that he continued to record on a regular basis for a variety of independent labels. His most recent project, My Heroes Have Always Been Country, was released this month on his own label, Fourteen Carat Music.

Despite his considerable talent and an impressive catalog of songs, Gene Watson is not as well remembered today as he ought to be, and as such many younger fans may not be familiar with his music. We hope to rectify that as we look back at the highlights of his career during the next month. We hope you’ll enjoy it.

Album Review: Chris Hillman & Herb Pedersen – ‘Bakersfield Bound’

chrishillmanAlthough not marketed as such, 1996’s Bakersfield Bound is, in many ways, a Desert Rose Band reunion album, as it finds Chris Hillman working with both Herb Pedersen and DRB steel guitarist Jay Dee Maness again. The music is decidedly more traditional and less commercial than anything that the Desert Rose Band ever attempted and that may be why Hillman and Pedersen avoided labeling it as such.

Despite its title and Hillman’s and Pedersen’s west coast roots, this is not, strictly speaking, a salute to the Bakersfield sound in the same vein as many of the tribute albums that have been released since Buck Owens died in 2006. There is a healthy dose of Bakersfield, to be sure, but there are plenty of non-Bakersfield influences as well. Hillman and Pedersen harmonize on the albums 13 tracks in ways that are in reminiscent at times of The Everly Brothers, The Louvin Brothers, and the Willburn Brothers as well as Buck Owens and Don Rich. The album’s first track “Playboy” was written by Eddie Miller, who was more famous for having written “There She Goes” for Carl Smith, “Thanks a Lot” for Ernest Tubb, and “Release Me” which was recorded by Kitty Wells and countless others. Hillman and Pedersen effectively channel The Louvin Brothers with an excellent cover of “My Baby’s Gone”. Also excellent is their version of “Lost Highway”, a 1948 composition by Leon Payne, which was most famously recorded by Hank Williams in 1949..

Perhaps the most surprising cover here is “Time Goes So Slow”, a beautiful waltz that was written by Skeeter Davis and Marie Wilson, which finds Herb Pedersen harmonizing at what has to be the very top of his register.

These songs aside, the meat and potatoes of this album are the Bakersfield tunes, which pay tribute to such legends as Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. Owens is saluted with covers of “He Don’t Deserve You Anymore”, “There Goes My Love”, and “Close Up The Honky Tonks”, which was written by Red Simpson. Haggard is represented by a cover of the Hank Cochran and Glenn Martin-penned “It’s Not Love (But It’s Not Bad)”. The album closes with two Hillman co-writes, “Just Tell Me Darlin'” and the title track.

This an outstanding album with impeccable song choices and excellent singing and picking throughout. It’s virtually impossible to select any favorite tracks, because they are all so good. It is a must-have for fans of Chris Hillman, The Desert Rose Band, and fans of roots music in general.

Grade: A+

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.

Country Heritage Redux: Ernest Tubb (1914-1984)

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

Disclaimer: Expect no objectivity at all from me with this article. Along with Webb Pierce and Merle Haggard, Ernest Tubb is one of my all-time favorite country artists. Yes, I know he started out most songs a quarter tone flat and worked his way flatter from there, and yes, I know that 80% of The 9513s readership has technically better singing voices than Tubb had. But no one in country music (and few outside the genre, Al Jolson, Louis Armstrong, Louis Prima, Phil Harris among them) was ever able to infuse as much warmth and personality into his singing.

Ernest Tubb, known as E.T. to nearly everyone, was born in 1914 in Crisp, Texas, a town in Ellis County which is no longer even a flyspeck on the map. Tubb grew up working on farms and used his free time learning to play guitar, sing and yodel. As with many who grew up in the rural southeast and southwest, E.T. grew up listening to the music of the legendary “Singing Brakeman” Jimmie Rodgers (1897-1933), and like such contemporaries as Gene Autry, Jimmie Davis , Bill Monroe, Jimmie Skinner and Hank Snow, E.T. started his career sounding like a Jimmie Rodgers clone. In Ernest’s case, he eventually met Jimmie’s widow, Carrie Rodgers, who was sufficiently impressed with Tubb to sponsor his career and give him one of Jimmie’s guitars to play. Tubb played clubs around Texas and the southwest and, with Mrs. Rodgers’ help, secured a record deal with RCA. As there had already been one Jimmie Rodgers, Tubb’s sound-alike records sold only modestly.

Good luck can take many forms. In Tubb’s case, his good luck came in the form of illness. In 1939 E.T. suffered a throat infection that necessitated a tonsillectomy, robbing him of his ability to yodel and thereby forcing him to develop a style of his own.

Moving to Decca Records in 1940, Tubb continued to record. Nothing happened initially, but his sixth release–a self-penned number titled “Walking the Floor Over You”–turned him into a star. The song was released in 1941, before the advent of Billboard’s country music charts. It did, however, appear on the pop charts, selling over a million records in the process. The song was covered by such luminaries as Bing Crosby and became Tubb’s signature song. Over the years the song has been recorded hundreds of times with artists including Pat Boone, Hank Thompson, Patsy Cline, Asleep at the Wheel and Glen Campbell being among the more notable.
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Classic Rewind: Loretta Lynn (with the Wilburn Brothers) – ‘Put It Off Until Tomorrow’

Album Review: Loretta Lynn – ‘You Ain’t Woman Enough’

Loretta’s sixth studio album was released on Decca in September 1966. It marks a significant advance in her career, as her first album to hit #1 on the country album chart. Produced by Owen Bradley, there is no doubt that this record is solid country from the first note to the last. Loretta wrote half the twelve tracks, mostly without assistance.

The title track is one of Loretta’s classic hits, a confident rebuttal to a woman making moves on Loretta’s husband, and one of my personal favorites, as she firmly declares:

Sometimes a man’s caught lookin’
At things that he don’t need
He took a second look at you
But he’s in love with me

This song strikes the perfect attitude, balancing awareness of male frailty with faith in love, and like many of Loretta’s best songs, drawn from real-life experience (although not directly autobiographical – it was inspired by a couple at one of her shows). It was the only hit from the album, but it was a significant one, reaching #2.

Equally assertive is a sassy country cover of Nancy Sinatra’s then-current pop hit ‘These Boots Are Made For Walkin’’, written by Lee Hazlewood. Loretta’s own ‘Keep Your Change’ is a cheerfully assertive up-tempo riposte to an ex wanting to crawl back; it is not as good as the title track but still entertaining and full of attitude as Loretta tells the guy she doesn’t want him back, and asks witheringly,

What happened to the scenery
That looked so good to you?
Did you get tired of the change you made –
Or did she get tired of you?

Not everything is assertive. The B-side of ‘You Ain’t Woman Enough’ was the hidden gem ‘A Man I Hardly Know’ (covered a few years ago by Amber Digby). This song has a honky tonk angel as the protagonist, a woman seeking refuge from her heartbreak in the arms of strangers.

‘God Gave Me A Heart To Forgive’, which Loretta wrote with Bob and Barbara Cummings (her only co-write on the album), shows a more vulnerable side to Loretta as she plays the long-suffering wife of a husband who stays out all night leaving his wife lonely at home, with the attitude of the title track sadly wanting; the protagonist of this song is more of a doormat:

You brought me every misery that there is
But God gave me a heart to forgive

You hurt me as much as you can
Then you tell me that you’re just weak
Like any other man
Still you’re the only reason that I live
And God gave me a heart to forgive

Although it wasn’t written by Loretta, Bobby Harden’s ‘Tippy Toeing’ (about getting a restless baby to sleep) feels autobiographical for the mother-of-six, and has a bouncy singalong nursery rhythm perfectly suited to the subject matter.

An interesting inclusion is Loretta’s take on the then unknown Dolly Parton’s plea to a lover planning to leave, ‘Put It Off Until Tomorrow’, which is rather good, with Loretta’s voice taking on more vibrato than usual. This may be one of Dolly’s first cuts as a writer. Dolly’s own version of the song was released as a single in 1966 (and appeared on her debut album the following year), but failed to chart. Loretta’s ‘The Darkest Day’ is a less memorable look at a woman left by her man.

Another fine song with a classic feel is ‘Talking To The Wall’, about a woman who leaves the man she believes is not happy with her, and is trying not to admit she regrets it:

But I might as well be talking to the wall
When I tell myself I’m not missing you at all

It was customary for country artists to record covers of current and recent hits by other artists in the 1960s, and the songwriter Warner Mack had his own hit with the song in 1966 (#3 on Billboard). Loretta also chose to cover one of his older hits, the pained ‘Is It Wrong (For Loving You)’, which was a top 10 hit in 1957.

‘It’s Another World’ is a not very memorable perky love song, a cover of a hit for Loretta’s mentors the Wilburn Brothers (#5 in 1965), with double tracked vocals retaining the duo feel of the original. A much better Wilburn Brothers cover is their 1966 top 10 hit ‘Someone Before Me’, a classic style lovelorn ballad here given a gender switch in the lyrics so that it is about a woman loving a man still hung up on his ex, which is another one I like a lot. It was a top 10 hit for the Wilburn Brothers in 1966, but Loretta’s version is superior:

Someone before me still turns you inside out
When we’re together she’s all you talk about
You’re always wanting me to do the things she used to do
Someone before me sure left her mark on you

I’ve tried to get inside your heart but I don’t have a chance
Now I can see she’s still on your mind with every little glance
You’re living on old memories
My love can’t get through to you
Someone before me sure left her mark on you

The Osborne Brothers recorded a beautiful version the following year for their album Modern Sounds Of Bluegrass Music.

Loretta at her peak has the reputation of being more of a singles artist than an albums one, but this classic album is pretty solid throughout and one which I really enjoy. It has been re-released in its entirety on a budget CD and is also available digitally.

Grade: A-

Spotlight Artist: Loretta Lynn (Part 2)

The 1970s were Loretta Lynn’s most productive and most successful decade. She opened the decade by releasing her signature hit “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and “After The Fire Is Gone”, the first of a long string of successful duets with Conway Twitty. In 1972, she won her second Female Vocalist of the Year award from the Country Music Association. She’d previously won in 1967; Tammy Wynette took the trophy home for the next three years, and in 1971 it was awarded to Lynn Anderson. Conway and Loretta also took home the Vocal Duo of the Year trophy in 1972, but the icing on the cake that year was when Loretta Lynn became the first female artist to become the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year. To commemorate the occasion, her label released an album in 1973 called Entertainer of the Year, which produced another #1 hit, “Rated X”. It was Loretta’s first release on the MCA label, which had purchased Decca and absorbed its artist roster. In 1973 she also became the first country artist to grace the cover of Newsweek.

The hits kept coming; it was during this period that Loretta released “One’s On The Way”, “I Wanna Be Free”, “You’re Lookin’ At Country”, and “Love Is The Foundation”, among others. In 1975 she released “The Pill”, her most controversial record, completely eclipsing the controversy that had surrounded “Rated X” two years earlier. Believed to be the first song about birth control, “The Pill” was considered very risque and was banned by many radio stations. Nevertheless, it managed to crack the Top 5.

During the early part of the 70s, Loretta severed her ties with the Wilburn Brothers. As her song publishers, they owned the rights to all of her compositions and Loretta saw very little in financial renumeration. While the matter was being fought out in court, Loretta stopped writing songs altogether, rather than to continue lining the Wiburns’ pockets. As a result, the music she released in the latter part of the 70s had a more polished, pop influenced sound in comparison to her earlier work.

In 1976, Loretta published her autobiography, Coal Miner’s Daughter, which became a New York Times bestseller. A film based on the book was released in 1980, earning some high-profile mainstream attention for Loretta, and an Academy Award for Sissy Spacek for her portrayal of the country star. Tommy Lee Jones co-starred as Mooney. As the 70s came to a close, she was named Artist of the Decade by the Academy of Country Music.

The 1980s were marred by the beginnings of a career decline and personal tragedy. It was the age of the Urban Cowboy, and Loretta’s style of country had begun to fall out of favor with country radio. Her records continued to chart, but she was no longer consistently making the Top 10 with her solo efforts. “I Lie” became her final Top 10 solo hit in 1982. She fought with her label, which wanted to push her in a more pop direction. She refused to renew her contract; MCA eventually relented, but by that time it was clear that Loretta’s reign at the top of the charts was over. She racked up her final Top 20 hit, “Heart Don’t Do This To Me” in 1985, and in 1988 she released her final album for MCA. That same year she was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

A few years earlier, in 1984, Loretta’s 34-year-old son, Jack Benny Lynn drowned in a river near the family ranch. In her second book, Loretta says that she believes she suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of this tragedy, but she did not receive any medical treatment for it. She became less focused on her career, and although she continued to tour, she recorded less frequently.

Loretta spent most of the 1990s out of the spotlight. She no longer had a record deal and she stopped touring for the most part in order to care for Mooney, whose health had begun to fail. In 1993 she collaborated with Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette for the Honky Tonk Angels album. Though it received virtually no radio airplay, the album reached #6 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart and earned gold certification. In 1995 she did a brief series for TNN called Loretta Lynn & Friends. Mooney Lynn died in 1996 from complications from diabetes.

In 2000, Loretta released her first solo album in twelve years, titled Still Country. It was produced by Randy Scruggs and released on the Audium label. The lead single, “Country In My Genes”, on which she was joined by half of Nashville on the chorus, received enough airplay to reach #72 in Billboard. The subsequent singles, which included “I Can’t Hear The Music”, which she’d written as a tribute to Mooney, did not chart. Despite being largely ignored by country radio, the album was generally well received by critics. However, it was her next album, 2004’s Van Lear Rose, that is considered her true comeback. Produced by Jack White of the White Stripes, it was an interesting fusion of country and alternative rock and a radical departure from her previous work. At nearly 70 years of age, Loretta Lynn was suddenly hip again. Van Lear Rose earned her two Grammy Awards in 2005: one for Best Country Album, and one for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals for “Portland, Oregon”, a duet with producer Jack White.

In between Still Country and Van Lear Rose, Loretta found time to publish a second autobiography, Still Woman Enough in 2002. In 2001, CMT ranked her at #3, behind Patsy Cline (#1) and Tammy Wynette (#2) on their 40 Greatest Women of Country Music special. She was a Kennedy Center Honors recipient in 2003, and in 2008 she was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. She received a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2010.

At age 75, Loretta is showing no signs of slowing down. She remains a concert draw and is reportedly working on two new albums which will tentatively be released later this year, though no dates have been announced.

The term legend is used much too freely these days, but Loretta Lynn truly belongs to an elite inner circle of performers, without whom it is difficult to imagine what country music would have been like. We hope that you will enjoy our look back at the life and career of a woman who has become an American icon, and who is arguably the most important female artist in the history of country music.

Spotlight Artist: Loretta Lynn (Part 1)

Our look back at the legends of country music continues as we turn the spotlight on Loretta Lynn.

The story of her hardscrabble origin and subsequent rise to fame is well known. She was born in Van Lear, Kentucky, on April 14 in 1934 or 1935. (There is conflicting information about the year of her birth, but most evidence points to 1934 being the correct year). The second of eight children, she grew up in extreme poverty, “in a cabin on a hill” without electricity or running water. Her father was a coal miner. When she was only 13 years old, she married Oliver “Mooney” Lynn (always referred to as “Doolittle” or “Doo” by Loretta), and gave birth to four of her six children before she was 19.

A year after their marriage, in an effort to break away from poverty-stricken Kentucky, Mooney relocated his young family to Washington State, breaking a promise he’d made to Loretta’s father not to take her too far from home. Mooney’s shortcomings as a husband and father were considerable; however, it was he who recognized Loretta’s potential and practically forced her into the music business. He bought her a $17 guitar for her eighteenth birthday and told her to learn how to play it. She did, and soon was singing in honky-tonks on weekends for $5 a night. Eventually she earned a guest spot on Buck Owens’ television show, which originated from Tacoma, Washington. A wealthy Canadian businessman named Norm Burley saw the show and offered to finance Loretta’s career. He formed a label called Zero Records, and signed Loretta, promising to release her from her contract if she ever managed to secure a deal from a major label.

The Lynns traveled to Los Angeles for Loretta’s first recording session, where she recorded her own compositions “I’m A Honky Tonk Girl” and “Whispering Sea”, which became the A and B sides of her first single. The Lynns themselves mailed out 3,500 copies of the record to radio stations, and traveled by car down the west coast to promote it, visiting radio stations along the way. By July 1960, “I’m A Honky Tonk Girl” had reached #14 in Billboard, and Loretta Lynn was on her way to Nashville.

In October 1960, Loretta made her debut appearance on the Grand Ole Opry and was such a hit with the both the audience and the Opry management, she was invited back for 17 consecutive weekends. She would become an Opry member in 1962. She signed a songwriting and management contract with the Wilburn Brothers, who offered her a spot on their syndicated television show. They also took a demo recording of one her songs to Owen Bradley and secured a six-month contract with Decca Records. Bradley wasn’t initially interested in signing Loretta; he felt she sounded too much like Kitty Wells, who was already on the Decca roster. Bradley was interested in the song on the demo, but the Wilburns would not allow him to have it unless he offered Loretta a contract. Bradley relented and signed Loretta to Decca. The song on the demo, “Fool #1” went on to become a smash pop hit for Brenda Lee.

Loretta’s first release for Decca, “I Walked Away From The Wreck” did not chart, but her next release, Johnny Mullins’ “Success” reached #6. The vast majority of her subsequent releases reached the Top 20, and most of those reached the Top 10. She hit the #1 spot for the first of 16 times in 1966 with “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)”, which she co-wrote with her sister Peggy Sue Wells. The album of the same title became the first by a female country artist to earn gold certification from the RIAA.

In 1970, Loretta released the autobiographical “Coal Miner’s Daughter”, which became her signature hit. Unlike anything she’d previously recorded, it told the story of her humble origins in Kentucky. It became her fourth #1 single and second gold album. Also that year she recorded a duet with Conway Twitty called “After The Fire Is Gone”, which also went to #1 and earned a Grammy Award for Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group. Her partnership with Twitty was one of the most successful, if not the most successful, duos in country music history.

Classic Rewind: George Jones & Tammy Wynette – ‘Milwaukee, Here I Come’

George Jones released this song as a single in 1968. The record reached #12 on the Billboard country singles chart; however, this is a record that suffered from timing. It would have been a much better recording if it had been done a few years earlier — or a few years later. George’s duet partner Melba Montgomery had left Musicor Records for Capitol, and his future duet partner Tammy Wynette was signed to Epic. As a result, both women were contractually prohibited from recording the song with him. Instead, a singer named Brenda Carter, who was on the Musicor roster, was brought in to be George’s duet partner. To put it charitably, she was no Melba or Tammy. Still, it’s a good song. This 1969 performance with Tammy on the Wilburn Brothers Show shows what the record might have been like had Tammy been available to record it.

Special thanks to Paul Dennis for some of the background information.