The River's Badge

Saturday, October 21, 2017

I Remember 1970


In 1970 I was fifteen and carving out my own, independent life. Things had been bad at home for about four years, and I was frankly tired of it -- tired of being mired in the constant physical and verbal battles between my mom and dad. Too, by fifteen I'd acquired the best thing that ever happened in my life -- my own room. My mom and dad owned a motel, which was the thing that started our lives on the unremitting slide off a slippery cliff. On the plus side, a motel in the sixties meant a ready supply of unoccupied rooms; a fact that I seized upon in order to whine and cajole my mom into finally giving in and agreeing to let me move out of the closet-sized room I shared with my little brother and sister and the bunk bed shoved up against the wall, and into Room Number One, which was a bit further than hollering distance away from our tiny "living quarters" behind the sliding door of the motel office.

My new living arrangements were sublime. I didn't eat, so I was able to avoid family dinners, if we actually had them. What I actually remember is my brother and sister being fed once we'd arrived home from school and my mom grazing throughout the evening. Dad wasn't around. He was busy working on his hobby -- getting drunk out of his skull and passing out anywhere he could find a safe place to land.

I had a best friend and hobbies of my own -- music! And smoking. I'd learned how to chord on a guitar a few years before and by now I was pretty proficient at the basics -- A, D, G, E, and sometimes B (if needed). The callouses on my fingertips were well-developed. If there was such a thing as tuners back then, I was unaware of them. I'd bought a '45 record Buck Owens had issued (I think with one of his songbooks), "How To Tune Your Guitar". That record was my "guitar tuner".  I locked myself behind the locked and chained door of my room and listened to country records and strummed along with them...and sang. Nobody could hear me anyway, so what the heck? I became pretty good at singing harmony, as long as I had the record to prompt me.

I'd latched onto country music because Alice (my best friend) was a die-hard country fan who was also the featured vocalist in a local country band. By 1970 rock was a faint memory and I knew all the top country artists and had developed my own tastes, rather than simply mimicking what Alice liked. I'd discovered all-night country radio, WHO in Des Moines, Iowa, with DJ Mike Hoyer. WHO had the strongest signal. I loved Bill Mack from WBAP, too, but a Fort Worth signal was only audible in the wee small hours. Ralph Emery? Forget it. The night had to be crystal clear and the moon full before I could ever get WSM to be more than a crackle on my radio. Mike Hoyer was my guy. He also played full albums, around two in the morning. (Yea, in the summer, I stayed up and waited for them).

In 1970 we country fans were still worshiping the old guard. It would take about three years before new acts would arrive on the scene and take over. Country music moved at a slow pace.

Don't get me wrong; the old guard was excellent -- Merle, Ray Price,Tammy, Marty. If one was to name the greatest country artists of all time, these four would make the top five...or at least top ten. Merle was hitting his stride in 1970, becoming recognized as a musical phenomenon. If one were to scan his career, however, Merle's best recordings came before '70. The same with Ray and Tammy and Marty Robbins. They were all "mid-career" by that time. But there were other artists, too.

David Houston first hit it big with a song that in 1967 made me cringe. I was twelve and at that awkward stage at which my dad had the car radio tuned to country music and I was held hostage if I ever needed him to traverse me anywhere. David Houston sang about being "almost persuaded" and I knew it was kind of dirty, but I wasn't sure why. Hearing a song about s-e-x at age twelve with your dad in the car is the ultimate nightmare. Nevertheless, David Houston went on to record several tracks that became hits, and by fifteen, I was okay with the story lines.

David Houston lived a short life. He suffered an aneurysm in 1993 and passed away. He was a huge star in the late sixties/early seventies, an artist who would have continued to carry on.

Here is his 1970 hit (very few live performance videos exist of David, mainly those in which he performed duets with Barbara Mandrell, so appreciate this for its music):



And then, of course, there was Merle:


My memories of Ray Price will always be tied up with my dad. There was a time when my dad was my hero, back before the "bad things" happened. Childhood memories are like a hand print on one's brain. They're stamped there for perpetuity. "My" Ray Price was a singer of three-part harmony songs and twin fiddles. The Ray of 1970 was a sort of a betrayal. 

I didn't like this song. I do now. I like it "sort of". It's a Kris Kristofferson song. Kris Kristofferson, at one time, was the most prodigious songwriter in country music. He's no Merle, but he's different. Kris said things that nobody else said in quite the same way. If I was to emulate anyone, as an amateur songwriter, Kris would be the one.

For The Good Times:



Charley Pride is an artist who appeared seemingly out of nowhere. I first became aware of him in 1967 (?) with "Just Between You and Me", which is one of the most excellent country songs ever written. He was just a guy on the radio who sang good songs. By the time Alice and I attended the immortal Merle Haggard concert in 1968, we'd learned that Charley was Black, so we weren't shell shocked when he took the stage as Merle's opening act. Granted, it was odd for a Black man to sing country music, but if he was country, we were okay with that. 

By 1970 we'd settled into a state of comfort with Charley. The production values on his recordings could have used some improvement, but he was still recording good songs:


Johnny Cash had a network TV show on ABC, and Alice and I watched it with religious fervor. I wasn't even a Johnny Cash fan. I was more fascinated by the Statlers. who sang harmony and by Carl Perkins who, by then, was relegated to a backup player in Cash's band. The most memorable thing I remember from Johnny's show was a song called, "I Was There" that featured the Carter Sisters and the Statler Brothers; a gospel song that those in the know label "call and response".

"Sunday Morning Coming Down" was yet another Kristofferson song. I was in my second year of Spanish, so I actually translated this song into the Spanish language as an exercise. I can't listen to this song without hearing, "no fue mal". 


I love Marty Robbins. The first concert I ever attended, when I was five, was a Marty Robbins concert. My mom took me. I have no recollection of how that came to be. I didn't even know my mom liked music. I'm guessing the concert venue was the Grand Forks Armory. I have a vague memory, like a dream, of Marty strumming a teeny guitar. That's all I remember, except for after the show, when Mom tried to cajole me to go up and get Marty's autograph. I was mortified at the prospect and I flatly refused. I note that she didn't get an autograph, either.

I got the opportunity to see Marty again, sometime around 1980, this time in Duluth, Minnesota. We were on vacation, with -- what do you know? -- Mom and Dad. I also had two tiny boys by that time. Not as tiny as the guitar Marty liked to play, however. By then, I wouldn't have been too embarrassed to get Marty's autograph. I would have been sort of embarrassed, but I still would have done it, had we not been perched in the nosebleed section of the auditorium. By the time all of us made our way down to the floor, Marty was no doubt back on the bus, zooming down I35 on his way to the next stop on his tour schedule.

Marty Robbins was a helluva entertainer. I, as a rule, don't like a lot of goofing around by the artist I've paid dollars to see. But Marty was funny. Not in a "canned jokes" kind of way, but in the way he interacted with his audience. He was one of the few artists I've seen (and I've seen many) who seemed to actually enjoy performing. Most of those I've seen treat a live performance like a paycheck they're begrudgingly obliged to dance for. (Randy Travis is an exception to that rule.)

This is, by far, not one of my favorite Marty Robbins songs, but heck...it's Marty:


On the other hand, there are a handful of artists I never connected with. I never could quite figure out Conway Twitty. The blue-haired ladies loved Conway. Of course, they also loved Elvis. Maybe when I'm eighty I will grow an appreciation for Conway Twitty. I'm keeping an open mind. I can't put my finger on what it was -- he did have some good songs. And his early recordings with Loretta Lynn were damn good. 

I attended a concert in my hometown around 1992 - 1993. It was a three-fer:  Vince Gill was the main act, for me at least. Also on the bill was George Jones. And then there was Conway. I'd seen George Jones and Tammy Wynette in 1968 when they were still flirting and hadn't yet left their respective spouses. Strangely, Tammy's then-husband played backup for her on that show. Well, it was country music...

So, after Vince did his set and George did his, I decided it was time to leave. I didn't stay to see Conway. Shortly thereafter, Conway died. I kind of regretted I hadn't hung around long enough to see him perform. I felt a tiny bit guilty, disrespectful.

Conway (nee Harold Jenkins) had his biggest, bestest, hit in 1970. This song defined his career:


Speaking of career-defining songs, I guess 1970 was the year for that. I could recount my attendance at a Loretta Lynn concert...okay, I will.

I was, I will guess, nine years old. My sister was getting married. She'd moved to Fort Worth, Texas, to be near her fiance, who was a Texan. Dad, Mom, my little brother and little sister and I had taken the long car trip from Minnesota to Texas in our trusty Ford Galaxie, the car Dad was so proud of. Amidst all the wedding festivities, we all attended a concert at Panther Hall. Panther Hall was distinctly Texan. Long, long dining tables, where one was seated next to complete strangers. The entree was steak. Just steak. One did not get a choice in the matter. It was steak. Waiters hovered about. Our waiter asked me what kind of dressing I wanted on my salad, and I said, "none". "No salad?" he asked. "No, no dressing.". Yes, I ate my lettuce plain. I did not like foods then. I might have liked toast. 

Panther Hall was "dry", or something. One had to bring in their own booze. The waiters would serve "mix", and patrons would mix their own drinks with the whiskey they'd brought in with them. 

The featured act was Loretta Lynn and her band. I hazily remember hearing, "You Ain't Woman Enough", but I frankly was too focused on my lettuce to pay much attention. Somebody in our party went up after the concert and got Loretta's autograph. I remarked, upon spying the signed photo that it looked like it said, "Buffalo Lynn". Loretta apparently did not have good handwriting. 

In 1970 Loretta released her autobiographical single. I had some issues with the song, such as how she sang "borned" instead of "born". Additionally, the song was rather tedious. It was essentially a recitation of everything that had happened to her in her life, with no chorus. Also, she sang that at night they'd sleep cuz they were "tarred". Regardless, eventually a movie was made of the song and the book that followed, which began my longstanding infatuation with Tommy Lee Jones.

Coal Miner's Daughter:


These songs were not number one hits, but they bear mentioning, because, well, I like these guys...

Jerry Lee Lewis:


Buck Owens and Susan Raye:


Sorry, no live video, but I really, really liked this song...

Del Reeves and Penny DeHaven:


Here's David Houston with Barbara Mandrell, before Barbara became the precursor to Reba McEntire in the desperate claw to become relevant in the world of pop. Barbara Mandrell was so cute then. I wanted to be her:


No one should doubt how iconic and influential this duo was in the late sixties/early seventies. They were the golden fleece all duos yearned to snatch.

Porter and Dolly:



The first time I heard this next song on the radio, on a staticky signal out of Iowa, I fell in love. It was the perfect country song, sung by the best country singer in the world. I didn't know Tom T. Hall had written it, and I was surprised. Tom T. was the Harper Valley PTA guy, the guy who never felt a chorus was necessary to a song. I really, really loved Faron Young, but he was a troubled soul. I talked my dad into driving us up to the State Fair to see Faron in person, and I felt ashamed I'd forced him to make the trip. Faron was possibly drunk; or if not drunk, simply a bad performer. The concert was disillusioning. I didn't know then that Faron had problems and that it took him a while to get a good recording. I only knew the records themselves. I still love him, though. I don't care how many takes he had to do to get it right. I only care that I am in love with Faron's songs.

Sorry (or maybe not sorry) that there is no live performance video of this track:




This post has gone on forever, and it could go on for miles more, because 1970 is perpetually stamped on my brain.

I will end with this....

Lynn Anderson showed up on my adolescent radar by way of Lawrence Welk. My folks watched that ABC show religiously. I was beguiled by Lawrence's accordion player, who I thought was in the navy, because the V that crossed his chest looked like a navy uniform. I hadn't yet begun my accordion lessons, so I apparently thought Myron Floren somehow balanced that behemoth instrument between his hands; an unsuspecting strongman. (Yup, the V was the accordion straps, I, a short while later learned.)

Lynn was from North Dakota -- Grand Forks, to be exact -- just like me! In truth, she was born in North Dakota, but raised in California. However, that minuscule connection convinced Lawrence to hire her for his show. Lynn possessed the sweet voice of an angel. Truly. I loved Lynn's voice. Unlike the country fan latecomers, I knew Lynn Anderson before she moved to Columbia, when she was but a wannabe star contracted to Chart Records. 

To me, the move to Columbia spelled the downfall of her career, but of course, others would say, what in the world are you talking about? She had her biggest, career-defining hit at Columbia!

Yea, she did; that's true. But tell me; how many times are you willing to listen to this song?

Nevertheless, it was the giant song of 1970. Thank you, Joe South. I guess.

Lynn Anderson:




I'm guessing this has been the longest post I've ever written. I have lots to share about 1970. It was kind of a watershed year for me in many ways; ways I don't necessarily like to recall.

I gave the year short shrift, though. It was pretty awesome -- at least in the annals of country music.
















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