My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Tom Collins

Album Review: Lee Greenwood and Barbara Mandrell – ‘Meant For Each Other’

At his commercial peak in 1984, Greenwood was teamed up with MCA labelmate Barbara Mandrell for a duet album. The pairing was a fitting one: both singers had strong, distinctive voices, but were making mainly bland pop-country music. This album, produced by Mandrell’s producer Tom Collins, represents the worst of 1980s MOR-pop-country, with boring songs swathed in strings, tinny synthesizers, and brass, despite some strong vocal performances.

‘To Me’, the single which followed Lee’s enduring ‘God Bless The USA’, is a romantic love song written by Mike Reid and Mack David. It peaked at #3 on the Billboard country chart. The second single was less successful – ironic, because it is one of the better songs on the album. ‘It Should Have Been Love By Now’, written by Jan Crutchfield and Paul Harrison, has a big melody and wistful lyric as a couple call it quits.

Crutchfield and Harrison also wrote the album’s other half-decent track, ‘Now You See Us, Now You Don’t’, a soulful ballad about a breakup. Greenwood wrote ‘I’ll Never Stop Loving You’, a slow ballad on the same topic, and the very bland and forgettable ‘We Were Meant For Each Other’. Equally bland is the mid-tempo ‘One On One, Eye To Eye, Heart To Heart’.

‘Soft Shoulder’ is an urgent uptempo number about missing a loved one on the road, which is not bad. The pacy ‘Held Over’ is very brassy but quite entertaining. ‘Can’t Get Too Much Of A Good Thing’ is a perky, very pop tune. ‘We’re A Perfect Match’ is similar.

Unless you are a Lee Greenwood or Barbara Mandrell completist, I would avoid this.

Grade: D

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Country Heritage Redux: Eddie Rabbitt (1941-1998)

Edward Thomas (Eddie) Rabbitt had a seventeen year run as a recording artist on the Billboard country charts with some success on the pop charts. He also enjoyed success as a songwriter, writing many of his own hits and supplying songs to other artists. Ultimately, 20 of his recordings reached #1 on either Billboard or Cashbox (usually both).

Rabbitt was the son of Irish immigrants, born in Brooklyn, New York, but raised in nearby East Orange, New Jersey. His father was an oil refinery worker who played accordion and fiddle, and who performed Irish and country music in local venues. Surrounded by music, Rabbitt learned the guitar at an early age and by 12, he had become quite proficient. By his teen years, Rabbitt was extremely knowledgeable on Irish and country music; in fact, to the end of his life he regarded country music as an extension of Irish music, and often used minor chords to create an Irish feel.

When Rabbitt was 16, his parents divorced. After the divorce he dropped out of school, hoping to make music his career. Later, however, he would take courses at night school and earn his diploma.

Rabbitt was employed briefly as a mental hospital attendant during the late 1950s, performing music locally whenever possible. As a result of winning a local talent contest, he was given an hour of Saturday night radio show time to broadcast a live performance from a bar in Paterson, New Jersey. In 1964, Rabbitt signed his first record deal with 20th Century Records and released the singles “Next to the Note” and “Six Nights and Seven Days,” neither of which charted.

In 1968, Rabbitt moved to Nashville where he began his career as a songwriter. According to legend, on his first night in Nashville, he wrote “Working My Way Up to the Bottom,” which Roy Drusky recorded as an album track for his In A New Dimension album. In order to survive, Rabbitt worked at miscellaneous odd jobs such as driving a truck and picking fruit. Eventually, he was hired as a staff writer for the Hill & Range Publishing Company and received a reported salary of $37.50 per week.

The first blush of real success for Eddie Rabbitt occurred in 1969 when Elvis Presley recorded his song “Kentucky Rain.” The song charted #16 pop and #31 country for Elvis, selling over a million copies in the process. Rabbitt continued to write, with the next milestone occurring with a song idea that came to him while eating some breakfast cereal. Something about the lyric “…Milk and honey and Captain Krunch and you in the morning…” appealed to record producer Tom Collins, who was working for Charley Pride at the time. Collins saw Rabbitt perform the song live, and brought the song to Pride, who thought it would be perfect for Ronnie Milsap, at that time opening shows for Pride. “Pure Love” would hit #1 for Milsap in 1974, and lead to a contract offer from Elektra Records for Rabbitt later that year.

His first single for Elektra, “You Get To Me,” hit #34 and the next two singles, both released in 1975, “Forgive And Forget” and “I Should Have Married You,” barely missed the top 10. These three songs, along with a recording of “Pure Love,” were included on Rabbitt’s self titled debut album in 1975.

The next single, the very traditional “Drinkin’ My Baby (Off My Mind),” kicked off a long series of hits that included four songs that also charted among the top 10 pop songs “Drivin’ My Life Away,” “Step By Step,” “You And I”” (with Crystal Gayle), and “I Love A Rainy Night.” The latter song also topped Billboard’s pop and adult contemporary charts.

As the seventies wore on, Eddie’s music began drifting away from traditional country music into the more pop-flavored sounds of the 80s, such as the three biggest pop hits cited above. After 1982’s “You And I,” his singles and albums were issued on the Warner Brothers label, the result of a label merger with Elektra. In late 1985, Eddie moved over to RCA, where his success continued unabated. Following the death of his infant son in 1985, Rabbitt put his career on hold, although RCA had some recordings to release, issuing four top ten singles. In 1986, a duet with Juice Newton, “Both To Each Other” soared to #1.

Rabbitt returned to recording in 1988, scoring #1 records with “I Wanna Dance With You” and a remake of Dion Denucci’s 1961 pop hit “The Wanderer.” In 1990, he moved to Universal/Capitol, and with the leap came a return to a more traditional country sound; especially notable from this era is “On Second Thought,” his last #1 and my favorite of all of his recordings.

Eddie Rabbitt would issue four albums on Capitol before exiting the label.

In 1997, Rabbit was diagnosed with lung cancer. While seemingly on the rebound he issued his final album titled Against All Odds on the Intersound label. Sadly, it was not to be. Rabbitt passed away in May, 1998, at the age of 56.

For his career, Eddie placed forty-three songs on the Billboard country charts (twenty-six top five entries), with fourteen of his songs placing on Billboard’s pop charts.

Rabbitt was one of the phalanx of Nashville songwriters who entered into the realm of more introspective and contemplative material. He felt a personal responsibility as an entertainer to serve as a good role model and was an advocate for many charitable organizations including the Special Olympics, Easter Seals, Muscular Dystrophy Association and United Cerebral Palsy. Rabbitt was active in politics and gave permission to Senator Bob Dole to use his song “American Boy” during Dole’s presidential campaign in 1996.

Discography

Vinyl

Eddie Rabbitt issued many vinyl albums. Since he was a big seller, most of his albums should be available online (or, perhaps, in your favorite used record store). The earlier albums (1970s) are more traditional sounding than their later (post 1978 counterparts), until you get to his output on Capitol. All of his albums contain interesting songs; the variable is the production and the way they are framed. Unfortunately, Eddie did not live long enough to recast his later Elektra/Warner Brothers recordings with more traditional settings, or perhaps as bluegrass.

CD

Currently, Rabbitt is woefully under-represented on CD, with only some Greatest Hits collections being available (mostly of the Elektra/Warner Brothers years, but also some Intersound remakes). During his lifetime, many of Rabbitt’s later recordings were released on cassette and CD, so used record shops may have copies of music from the RCA and Capitol years. None of the Capitol or RCA material is in print.

The best available collection is the Rhino Platinum Collection which has twenty-two songs from the Elektra/Warner Brothers years of 1975-1980, including Eddie’s version of the rarely reissued “Pure Love”, which was a major hit for Ronnie Milsap. This collection is about half hits and half album tracks. Among the more significant omissions is “Step by Step”, Eddie’s second biggest pop hit.

A few years ago, there was a better representation of Eddie Rabbitt material available on CD. Most of the following CDs are out of print, although it may be possible to find them in used record shops or from online dealers specializing in cutouts and used discs. Among the treasures worth searching for are the Warner Brothers albums Horizon (“I Love A Rainy Night” and “Drivin’ My Life Away”); Rocky Mountain Music (title song plus “Two Dollars In The Jukebox” and “Drinkin’ My Baby”); and 36 All-Time Greatest Hits. Formerly available from places like Costco, Sam’s Club and Collector’s Choice Music, the three-disk 36 All-Time Greatest Hits is misnamed as it has only about a dozen actual hits, with the rest being album cuts from the Electra/Warner Brothers years. Several double-packs of his Elektra/Warner Brothers albums also were issued in recent years.

The Intersound album Beating The Odds was reissued after Rabbitt’s death as From The Heart–The Last Recordings. It had six new songs and six pretty decent remakes of older hits. Until recently, it was the only place to get any CD versions of two of the Capitol hits “On Second Thought” and “American Boy.”

In 2009, Rhino released Eddie Rabbitt: Number One Hits, which contains the original versions of all of Eddie’s hits to chart at number one on Billboard. This is the album to get if you want only one Eddie Rabbitt CD. Unfortunately, it seems to have gone out of print, so if you see a copy, grab it.

Country Heritage: Con Hunley

In an article which appeared on the9513.com in March of 2010, titled Forgotten Artists: Ten from the ’80s, Pt. 1, I had the following to say about Con Hunley:

“I have no idea why Con Hunley didn’t become a big star. He had an excellent voice and the look that 1980s record labels were seeking. Perhaps his voice was too distinctive, as it was smoky with strong blues flavoring. At any rate, he charted 25 times (11 Top 20 hits) from 1977-86, with his biggest national hit being “What’s New With You,” which reached #11 in 1981. I doubt that anyone remembers him for that song, however, as other songs such as “Week-End Friend” (#13), “I’ve Been Waiting For You All My Life” (#14), “You’ve Still Got A Place In My Heart (#14), “Since I Fell For You” (#20) and “Oh Girl” (#12) were all huge regional hits, reaching Top 5 status in many markets.”

That doesn’t seem like enough to say about this superlative vocalist so here goes:

Conrad Logan “Con” Hunley (born April 9, 1945) was born in Union County, Tennessee, an area which also produced such country legends as Roy Acuff and Carl Smith. Con was born into a musical family and at age nine his parents bought him a used “Stella” guitar for Christmas. Con soon taught himself to play Chet Atkins thumb-style guitar; however, his biggest early influence was to be found among R&B artists, particularly Ray Charles.

Con’s first professional job came in 1964, courtesy of the Eagles Lodge in downtown Knoxville. In 1965 Con joined the United States Air Force in 1965. After basic training, Con was sent to a tech school at Chanute AFB in Illinois where he was taught aircraft hydraulic and pneumatic systems. Con learned so well that he was made an instructor. While there, he played area bars and clubs with a local band. Later Con was transferred to Castle AFB near Atwater, CA, where he found a job playing piano at the Empire Lounge in Atwater.

After his tour of duty was finished Hunley returned to Knoxville and began performing weekly at a local nightclub owned by Sam Kirkpatrick, who formed the independent label Prairie Dust Records to showcase Hunley’s talents. After some minor success on the country music charts with three 1977 singles charting in the lower regions outside the top fifty, Hunley caught the attention of Warner Brothers Records (WB), who signed him in 1978.

Hunley’s first WB single, a cover of Jimmy C. Newman’s  “Cry Cry Darling”, cracked the top forty, reaching #34. From this point forward, Con Hunley had eleven straight singles that reached the Billboard Top Twenty, although none reached the top ten.  This singles were all on the border between Country and R&B (this during a time when R&B was actually music). “Weekend Friend” started the parade, reaching #13 in October 1978. This was followed by a cover of the Leon Payne classic “You’ve Still Got A Place In My Heart”  which reached #14 . This was followed “I’ve Been Waiting For You All Of My Life” which also reached #14 (although according to Cashbox the record reached #10 and was Con’s biggest hit – this squares with my recollections of the record and its airplay in Central Florida). Paul Anka would have a pop hit with the record two years later in 1981.

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Album Review: Steve Wariner – ‘Super Hits’

Steve Wariner didn’t become a staple at country radio until he signed with MCA in 1984, though he was already a veteran recording artist with six years and 17 charting singles under his belt. Released in 1998 and originally intended as a budget release, Super Hits anthologizes the portion of his catalog controlled by BMG (now Sony) Music. It consists primarily of his early recordings for RCA, along with a few tracks from his early 90s stint with Arista Records. It is the only currently available compilation of his early hits.

These recordings are very much a product of their time, which unfortunately means heavily pop-influenced 80s production that sounds quite dated to modern listeners. However, the songs themselves are quite good, and since Steve was experiencing his first chart successes at about the same time I became interested in country music, they hold great nostalgia value for me.

Wariner had been playing bass guitar in Dottie West’s band for seven years by the time he inked his deal with RCA in 1978. His first release for the label was “I’m Already Taken”, which peaked at #63 and is not included in this collection. A string of low-charting singles followed before he cracked the Top 40 for the first time with 1980’s “Your Memory”, which is the earliest hit included here. Written by Charles Quillen and John Schweers, and produced by Norro Wilson and Tony Brown, “Your Memory” climbed all the way to #7. Its successor, “By Now” did slightly better, reaching #6. “All Roads Lead To You”, produced by Tom Collins who was well known at the time for his work with Ronnie Milsap and Barbara Mandrell, became Steve’s first #1 hit in 1981. It was written by Kye Fleming and Dennis Morgan, who penned many of Mandrell’s early 80s hits, as well as Sylvia’s 1982 smash “Nobody”. Telling the story of a road construction worker struggling in vain to forget about his lost love, “All Roads Lead To You” was one of my very favorite songs from this era. I still like it, though I don’t think quite as highly of it now as I did at the time.

After “All Roads Lead To You”, Wariner’s chart success became inconsistent. “Kansas City Lights”, which was also produced by Collins, stalled at #15, but in spite of its failure to crack the Top 10, it is probably the best remembered of his RCA hits. It was followed by three singles that all failed to crack the Top 20.

In spite of Steve’s success at radio, RCA resisted releasing an album for four years, utilizing a tactic that has more or less become standard operating procedure for major labels today. When they finally did get around to releasing an album, 1982’s Steve Wariner, it consisted of six singles, including all of the aforementioned songs. His second album, 1983’s Midnight Fire, found him once again utilizing the services of Norro Wilson and Tony Brown. Midnight Fire produced two Top 5 hits, the title track and “Lonely Women Make Good Lovers”, as well as “Why Goodbye” which peaked at #12. These tracks sound more country – a fiddle can actually be heard on “Midnight Fire”! – and have aged better than his earlier releases. These represent Wariner’s final commercial successes for RCA. He departed the label for MCA shortly thereafter. RCA released a Greatest Hits collection that included two new tracks that went nowhere on the charts. In 1986, RCA finally got around to releasing Down In Tennessee, which had been recorded in 1978 and intended to be Steve’s debut album.

The remaining three tracks on this album were recorded for Arista in the early 90s, and represent a marked change in style from the RCA recordings. “Leave Him Out Of This”, Steve’s first release for Arista in 1991, reached #6. His remake of Bill Anderson’s “The Tips Of My Fingers” climbed to #3 and is one of the finest recordings of Wariner’s career. Completing the set is “If I Didn’t Love You”, a #8 hit from Steve’s second Arista album, 1993’s Drive.

While most of these tracks are not essential listening except for the die-hard fan, they do provide an interesting look at Steve’s development as an artist.

Grade: B

Super Hits is available on CD from third party sellers on Amazon at ridiculous prices and can be downloaded for a more reasonable $5.99.