Showing posts with label dolly parton. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dolly parton. Show all posts

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Oh, The Controversy

Granted, Beyonce's rendition of Jolene is awful, but people seem to forget that Dolly Parton's original is no gem, either. I hated the track when it was released in 1973; thus, it was played constantly on radio. All the worst ones are. Don't get me wrong; the original lyrics are fine, but that melody! Not only banal, but depressing. (Don't tell me, well, it's a depressing message. A good song isn't just lyrics. That would be a poem.) Dolly is a decent enough songwriter, but melody is not her strong suit (see: Coat of Many Colors; To Daddy)

I've seen a lot of commentary this week about Beyonce's version. She took the only adequate component of the song, the lyrics, and changed them completely! And need I say that those changes reek? A commentator I admire said it best. "Now the song doesn't mean anything." I agree that it presents no message other than, "I'm gonna whup your ass". Okie-dokie. And really, no one can convey that message quite like Toby Keith. It's not even a contest.

I suppose what annoys me about the commentary, though it really shouldn't, is that these people are suddenly country music experts. I don't doubt that they've heard the original version of Jolene. It's probably the only country song they've ever heard, yet each of them is quick to pronounce their "fondness" for country music. "I like Brad Paisley," said one. I'm surprised no one said, "I shore could use me some of that Hank Williams." It's okay, guys; everyone is not required to like it. 

I freely admit that I'm not a fan of current R&B, or whatever it is that Beyonce does. I'm also not a fan of her voice. It seems to me that she used to at least stretch her vocal cords a bit, but on this album she's singing in a dreary alto.

And why is there any debate over whether Cowboy Carter is a country album? The answer is: It is not a country album. Plain and simple. It's not. There can't possibly be any argument over that. And by the way, why is it so important for her fans to try to label it one? Big George Strait fans or something? Honestly.

What's almost worse are the songwriters/original artists who've praised her cover versions. Sincerity seems lost nowadays. Dolly and Paul McCartney certainly have good musical taste. They can't possibly think these lifeless dirges are "awesome". Was she really tired when she recorded them?

I suppose, like Taylor Swift, Beyonce is a pop culture star; mediocre but with a ton of flash. Flash is what matters. Beyonce's new album has zero impact on my life, so people can call it whatever makes them happy.



Saturday, March 21, 2020

Kenny Rogers

I think Kenny Rogers stumbled into country music.I read his autobiography, and as a musician he was many things, but primarily he was a jazz artist. His career soared when he became a member of the New Christy Minstrels in the sixties and then accidentally became the First Edition's lead singer. His "Just Dropped In" will live forever, thanks to the Coen Brothers and The Big Lebowski. Maybe it was when the group decided to record Mel Tillis's "Ruby" that the thought of a country music career pinged in Kenny's mind.

I don't remember when I became aware of Kenny Rogers as a country artist, perhaps in 1977 when Lucille hit the charts. He didn't exactly sound "country", but Lucille was a damn good song.

By the time "The Gambler" came around in '78, Kenny was firmly ensconced in the folds of country music. Is there a bigger earworm than "you gotta know when to hold 'em; know when to fold 'em"?

Through no fault of his own, or perhaps because of my country proclivities, I came to disdain subsequent Rogers singles. He was exactly what was wrong with country in the late seventies/early eighties.I didn't stop listening to country because of Kenny Rogers - he was simply a symptom of a widespread virus infecting Nashville.Nevertheless, while on vacation in Duluth, Minnesota with my tiny kids and my parents, when my mom learned that Kenny was set to appear in concert, we scooped up the last remaining tickets. We ensconced ourselves in the nosebleed seats and aimed our binoculars. Frankly my only memory of the concert was that Kenny definitely had a command of the stage. I wasn't impressed with Lionel Richie's "Lady" or "You Decorated My Life". This was hardly country.

It was but a year later that Kenny released my all-time favorite Rogers single:

I remember steering my Chevy Malibu up Divide Avenue in 1983 when this next song came on the radio. It sounded eerily like The Bee Gees (duh). Little did I know that I would hear it ten thousand, five hundred and eighty-eight more times. Regardless of its repetitiveness, you gotta give it credit.

I didn't necessarily love Kenny Rogers, but I respected him. Respect is good. He understood the music business like few others.

He has left a legacy. And he never shied away from embracing it:

Rest in peace, Kenny. 

Friday, November 22, 2019

"Women of Country" ~ 2019 CMA Awards

I'd read that the Country Music Association had summarily dismissed Brad Paisley from his regular hosting gig in order to "highlight women". While the sentiment may have been laudable, when one thinks about it, it is rather an insult to female country singers. In what alternate universe were women artists not recognized? I've listened to country since sometime around 1967, which is more than fifty years, and I distinctly remember female singers getting tons of exposure, from Patsy to Loretta to Tammy to Lynn to Connie to Dolly; Tanya in the seventies; Reba McEntire, Pam Tillis, Rosanne Cash and Paulette Carlson in the eighties; Mary Chapin Carpenter, Holly Dunn, Shania Twain, The Judds. The Dixie Chicks in the nineties. But somehow women got short shrift?

Regardless, if 2019 wanted to "right wrongs", there are several issues with this performance:

Number one, if you're "celebrating women", you might not want to have your three stars perform a song written by a man. "Those Memories Of You" was written by Alan O'Bryant and originally recorded by Bill Monroe. You know, women have written songs, too ~ take, for instance, Dolly Parton.

My second impression of this opening is that Carrie really needed to let her seamstress finish adding a skirt to that glittery gold blouson.

The harmonies weren't quite pitch-perfect, but since it was a live performance, a little slack should be granted.

Number three:  Is that Angelina Jolie in the audience, and if so, why?

Four:  Dolly Parton is the ultimate performer. She carried this.

Loretta Lynn is an icon. The gals (whoever they were) who sang "You're Lookin' At Country" are not good singers. Don't they make 'em anymore? I guess, nice hair, though. It seemed that Loretta was in the audience as a prop. One of her twins, Patsy or Peggy, had to whisper in her ear and tell her what was happening. That's sort of disrespectful. New gals, you need to thank your lucky stars Loretta Lynn plowed a path for you.

Some indiscriminate bad singers tackled Tammy's "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad" next ~ poorly. The camera honed in on Natalie Maines in the audience, who could blow all these gals out of the water, even the obviously gay one. I'm not on board with The Dixie Chicks' politics, but talent doesn't belong in the peanut gallery.

Reese Witherspoon? Is this the CMA's or a Hallmark Channel marathon?

Thank goodness for Tanya Tucker. She's younger than me, and showing her age as all of us do, but she can still belt it out. Tanya is an actual star.

Is that goofy Billy Ray Cyrus the camera panned to? If I recall correctly, he hasn't been relevant since 1982, and the mullet, bad as it was, was preferable to...this. And did Billy Ray sire any offspring who aren't crazy?

Pam Tillis is also in the audience, as opposed to on-stage. WTF? Ran out of time?

Gretchen Wilson represented the nineties. Kudos. Not a big splash in the pantheon of country history, but each decade deserves representation.

I'll admit, my curiosity regarding Crystal Gayle was whether she'd kept her freakishly long hair. It seems she has.

Terri Clark, who is an actual bad-ass hat-wearing guitar strummer, is next, and aside from the producers making her sing her song in the wrong key, she is a reminder that some country girls at one time had balls.

Next, Sara Evans does "Born To Fly", irritatingly interspersed with some girl in the audience over-emoting for camera time.

Martina McBride appears onstage to sing a bit of "Independence Day". It is, admittedly, nice to see a few artists who actually impacted country.

Yep, there's Trisha Yearwood in the audience, kept under wraps lest she put the prancers on stage to shame. Kathy Mattea, too. Dang, I guess neither of them fit the predetermined song key.

If Patsy were alive today, she'd sit these ladies down and explain to them the facts of life. "Do you want pity or do you want to sing?" she'd ask. Loretta might talk to them about baking bread with one baby on her hip and three more chasing each other around the kitchen table; and then climbing into a '59 Ford with a guitar bigger than she was and driving fifteen miles on rutted roads to belt out two songs in a smoky dive bar. "What, now, are you squawkin' 'bout?" she might ask.

Dolly should know better. Reba should know better. Spare me the self-indulgence. Either you can compete with men for radio play or you can go sob in a corner. Better still, you can stand up on your own two feet and get judged on your merits.

No time in country music were female artists overlooked. It's a 2019 fiction.

It's admittedly nice to see remnants of the past. That's not a gender thing. For all its imperfections, I enjoyed this video. I personally would have nixed the nondescript artists and focused solely on the stars, but...ratings.

Thanks, CMA's. Next, let's do Clint and Travis and Randy and Alan and George.


Friday, September 27, 2019

Ken Burns "Country Music" ~ Episode Five

Proportionally, "Country Music" has become The Johnny Cash Show. I admit I don't see, and never have seen the allure. If country fans in the nineteen sixties had been tasked with listing their top ten favorite artists, I'm skeptical that Cash would have even made the list, except for sixty-year-old bachelors who lived in a tin shed with a broken-coil mattress and a bottle of Jack.

Now that I've gotten that out of my system, let's move on.

I truly appreciated the minutes dedicated to the Nashville session players. I was quite the scrutinizer of  album liner notes back in the day (what else does one do while the LP is spinning?), and certain names checked in the episode bring back fond memories ~ Hargus "Pig" Robbins, Lloyd Green, even Charlie McCoy, who I was completely unaware played the lead guitar intro to Detroit City (Bobby Bare's voice singing in the background of the segment was the only nod to him in this series ~ the story of his sadly uncelebrated career). We even got to see Green play a few bars of Steel Guitar Rag.

I was heartened that Roger Miller got his due. There was no one bigger in the first years of the sixties, except for Buck Owens. And I always liked Miller ~ the guy ~ as well as his goofy, dizzy songs. I haven't mentioned in past recaps how much I love seeing Ralph Emery, the "DJ Exalted", recount his memories. Ralph knows a lot, and I'm glad he agreed to share some of those secrets with the director. (I suspect there's a bunch that are best kept close to the vest.)

The first bars of Buckaroo gave my heart a jolt. This is my country. As much as I've denigrated what Buck Owens sunk to in later years, he re-ignited a country music that had slumbered into unconsciousness, thanks to Chet Atkins' "Nashville Sound". Based upon the outsize influence Owens had on country, his time on screen was unfairly brief and mostly dedicated to The Beatles having chosen to record Act Naturally. I think Don Rich was mentioned once. People who know country, as opposed to neophytes, know that Don Rich deserved more than a single name-drop.

"I guess you had to be there.". Okay, I was there, and I still didn't quite get what Loretta Lynn did ~ until now. In the moment, one judges music for its immediate appeal. We don't consider the sociological implications (hello?). I used to find Loretta corny. Don't get me wrong ~ I liked her early songs. I saw her in concert a couple of times, the first when I was around ten at Panther Hall in Fort Worth, Texas. And I bought her albums, but again, I pretty much bought what was available. I find Coal Miner's Daughter tedious in its repetition. But Loretta put herself out there ~ all her inner feelings and hurts ~ and didn't care who liked it and who didn't. Today I give her props. She wasn't singing songs penned by men who "imagined" how women felt. She wrote her own, and they were true.

Charley Pride's first album may have been the first country LP I purchased. When Alice and I first heard "The Easy Part's Over" on the radio, we agreed it was a good song. We didn't know he was African-American. Radio hid that, as if we'd care. I vaguely remember learning that fact and being flabbergasted, not because I was racist, but because I didn't think Black artists would stoop to singing country. My one-time favorite singer, Faron Young, became Charley's champion. So much crap has been written about Faron, it's heartening to hear sweet stories, especially coming from Pride himself.

Then there was Merle. Wow, did he get short shrift. How about if Ken re-packages the series and replaces all the Cash segments with Haggard? Let's' just get this out there ~ Merle Haggard was the most influential country artist ever. But thanks, Dwight Yoakam, for tearing up recounting Holding Things Together. I get a lump in my throat every time I see Merle on screen or catch the intro to one of his hundreds of songs.

Surprisingly Connie Smith got her due. Let's be frank ~ I bought far more Connie Smith albums than I ever considered buying by Loretta Lynn. Frankly, Connie Smith was the female artist of the sixties. I'm also glad that Marty Stuart got to relay the story of their relationship. I'm a fan of both of them.

Sooo....then we begin Dolly Parton's story. The episode forgot to mention that Dolly met her future husband, Carl Dean, on her first day in Nashville, at a laundromat. Otherwise, it told her early musical story competently. It kind of brushed past the part about Porter and Dolly's many, many hit albums ("recorded a few duet albums together" ~ okay).

"Ode To Billy Joe" was mentioned, although frankly, that track got played a lot more on pop radio than on country. And how could we escape the sixties without "Harper Valley PTA"? (Tom T, what do you have against writing choruses?) back to Johnny. Yep, he recorded Folsom Prison Blues around '68, live, at a prison. And the rest of us were imprisoned by that song for about one long year (chunka-chunka-chunka).

I'm guessing Tammy Wynette is featured in Episode Six. I'm guessing Lynn Anderson is not. We already know that Bobby Bare is apparently a footnote.

As much as I like and appreciate "Country Music", Ken kind of fumbled this particular era. And no mention of Conway Twitty? I'm no fan, but come on.

But hey, Jeannie Seely, nice to see you! And "Don't Touch Me" is a great song.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

A Look Back At Country Albums ~ 1969

(I used to subscribe to this ~ it had song lyrics!)

By 1969 I could afford to buy albums. Up 'til then I'd been solely a singles gal, because I was penniless. Of course, I was barely a teen, so jobs were hard to come by. Due to family circumstances, however, my mom frequently enlisted me to man the motel office (during the times she was off looking for my dad). Travelers were taken aback by finding a little girl waiting to check them in, but I just did what needed to be done ~ shove the heavy metal bar across the credit card swiper, tear the little side receipt off the registration card and hand it over, answer the beeping switchboard, make change for the Coke machine.

Mom reluctantly determined that I needed to be paid for those nights, when I really needed to be doing homework, so my paying wage became seventy-five cents per hour. Before too long I had enough money saved to buy an album!

Sometimes albums were the only means of obtaining songs I really liked, because our little town's selection of country singles was limited to the top ten. At least JC Penney's basement had a middling country album offering. Often my tastes were dictated by my best friend Alice's inclinations. I was still a relative country music novice; still feeling my way around this new musical world. I liked Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, and Charley Pride (which essentially sums up sixties country music), but I was keen to spread my wings.

There was a pretty new gal on the scene, a beehived blonde who had teamed up with an old guy with a pale pompadour, and this was the album I bought by this duo:

There had been occasional duet pairings before Porter and Dolly, but none so successful or influential. In the "actual" country music world (as opposed to the faux New York/Hollywood lexicon), they were superstars. Any skim of country music charts from the late sixties will reveal a multitude of hit records by one or the other, or both.

In that vein:

 Snigger if you will, but Carroll County Accident was an enormous hit. Granted, Alice and I weren't enamored with it ~ we made up our own, politically incorrect lyrics. But it could not be avoided on AM radio or ignored.

Then there was:

The album cover included a distant shot of Dolly's real-life husband, Carl Dean; the one and only time Carl allowed himself to participate in Parton's musical world.

I fell in love with the sweet voice of Lynn Anderson sometime around 1967. She'd begun moving away from her mom's penned songs (although Liz Anderson was no slouch ~ she did write "Strangers" after all) and was still signed to Chart Records until 1970.

This was an album of covers, but Lynn sang the hell out of them.

No live video, unfortunately:

Not my favorite Hag album, but with few exceptions (see below) I always bought Merle Haggard LP's. I did like this one:

Here's one I didn't buy, and my reasoning is this (if I can remember): I'd heard the single ad nauseam and I didn't need a live version of it. I liked studio recordings, although I never bought this as a single, either. Looking back, I think I had an issue with the title song. At fourteen I was far from sophisticated, but the track seemed almost mocking, and I wasn't on board with that. As for live Haggard albums, "The Fightin' Side Of Me" ranks up there with my favorites of all time, so I had no bias against live recordings.


I also didn't buy this one, and again I will explain. Johnny Cash is the hip country artist that non-country fans always cite. Granted, he had a network TV show in '69 that featured acts that rarely got television exposure, and he had a great gospel group performance (thanks to the Statlers) at the end of each episode. But real country fans weren't real Cash aficionados. All his songs sounded the same, with their thump-thudda-thump beat, over and over.

And speaking of overplayed songs, what could top this?

These last two will get all the kudos, naturally undeserved, but I choose to remember the LP's that touched me as a fourteen-year-old kid, newly seeping herself in country music.

Ahh, fifty years. 


Saturday, December 1, 2018

50 Years of Country Albums ~ 1968

I was thirteen in 1968, so you do the math. I was at that desperately awkward stage ~ I'd somehow managed to slither through seventh grade with only a moderate amount of embarrassment, but it was a struggle. Thirteen-year-olds are like alien beings who must learn how to simulate the movements of a human without an instruction manual. It's a wonder most of us survive past our first decade of life.

I bought multiple tubes of Maybelline concealer in an attempt to mask my zits. To complete my look, I slathered green eye shadow on my lids and liberally applied Cover Girl ivory-tone liquid makeup not only to my face, but my neck as well, so I had perpetual grease stains on the collars of all my polyester dresses. I thought I looked neat.

I pulled on pantyhose each morning and a pair of plastic kitten-heel pumps. I hiked up my half-slip to ensure it didn't peek below my thigh-high skirt. My hair was a disaster. I hadn't yet grown it out and thus was yet to endure the nightly torture of brush rollers with plastic pins jabbed into my scalp. I didn't know how to style hair, so I essentially let my mop do whatever it deigned to do. I did have long bangs that unfortunately obscured my carefully-applied lime eye shadow, but had the fortuitous benefit of camouflaging my forehead pimples.

I grabbed my geography and math textbooks and my spiral notebooks and Bic pen and padded out to await the bus. I was never cool and I painfully knew it. All I could pray for was to be was unnoticed. I think I actually prayed for that.

My only savior was music.

Musically, I was still torn between the pop songs played on KFYR AM and the chosen genre of my new best friend, Alice. Alice was unapologetically a country fan and didn't give a damn who knew it. Unlike me. I did my best to cloak my country proclivities by pressing my transistor up against the bus window and flooding the column of cocoa bench seats with Judy In Disguise. I didn't talk to anyone on the bus and certainly no one talked to me, but John Fred and the Playboys conveyed the desired message.

I had dipped my toe into albums in '67 and by 1968 had garnered quite the collection ~ if twenty is a collection. Granted, I had no means of income other than birthday money, and albums cost a whole three dollars and forty-nine cents. But I did my best.

Historically, few of the 1968 albums I owned have made any "best" lists, but you know, it was country. Country albums weren't exactly concept-driven. I feel a need to explain why none of Merle Haggard's '68 LP's made a home in my row of cardboard treasures. I already owned a tri-fold "Best of Merle Haggard" disc that contained all one could wish for, plus I didn't wait for new albums to be released ~ I needed those '45 singles immediately. So if I had a couple of dollars for an album, I wasn't going to waste it on something for which I already owned the prime track.

Critics (and you know how smart they are) will say that "Live At Folsom Prison" by Johnny Cash is one of the very best country albums of all time. Well, I never was a Cash fan. I found his music simplistic and monotonous. Rolling Stone Magazine loves the Johnny Cash mystique; the hell with the actual music. If I never hear Folsom Prison Blues again, my life will be a success.

Here's what I did buy:

How could one go wrong? "Best Of's" were a poor girl's dream. I knew all the songs were good, and as a bonus, the album included "Buckaroo", which was the only song I ever learned how to pick on a guitar.

Okay, this is performed by Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives, because I can't find a decent video of Don Rich:

Like almost all country albums of that era, this album was filled to the brim with covers. So, I'm just going to go with the big daddy of songs:

This was the second duet album by Porter and Dolly, but not their best. "Porter Wayne and Dolly Rebecca" far outshines it. There was a fascination with this new girl singer in '68 ~ we hadn't seen or heard anyone like her before.

There was not one original song on this album! Not even one hit single. I don't know what the people at RCA records were thinking, but if you're going to release an LP, you might want to have one original song on it. With that in mind, I'm just going to cheat and show a video of one of Pride's actual hits:

I don't think I actually owned this album, but Alice did and we played it at her house over and over. Again, we didn't know what to make of this brash young blonde, but we knew she had something goin' on.

Again, "greatest hits" ~ how can one go wrong? I was always equivocal about Loretta Lynn. She'd been around since I was a tyke and saw her perform at Panther Hall in Fort Worth, Texas. I truthfully still haven't made my mind up about Loretta. I wouldn't go out of my way to play any of her tracks, but she paved the way for other, better female country singers, so...

That about sums up my album purchases from 1968. Not really a "classic" among them, but nobody knows at the time or even gives a damn what will endure. 

I do know, however, that this will:

Saturday, January 13, 2018

1975 And Me And Country

1975 was a bridge year for me. I'd experienced life in the real working world and found I didn't care for it. I was playing at being married but didn't completely grasp the concept. Shoot, I was twenty. Nobody should ever -- ever -- get married at age nineteen. In the seventies, though, it was expected. To be honest, I wasn't even quite nineteen when I got married. I became pregnant in early 1976, so nineteen seventy-five was the last time I lived life in a semi-independent state. I'd gone back to working for Mom and Dad, not so much because I'd failed in the outside world, but because I was more comfortable working alone -- without the drama. Yes, I was cleaning motel rooms, but I had my portable radio that I carried with me from unit to unit, and that was all I needed. Alice had moved on. She worked for the Bank of North Dakota, and frankly, things were never the same with her once I changed my life status by getting hitched. In my defense, at least I found a husband who wasn't two decades older than me, and my marriage lasted far longer than her ill-fated coupling.

Musically, I was alone. It's funny how one gloms onto music based on what others like or buy. Nineteen seventy-five was the first time since 1964 I actually had to rely on myself to choose what music to like or not like.

Not that the music was necessarily good, but one plucks the best from the paltry offerings bestowed upon helpless listeners by the local DJ. It's a misnomer that pop culture wasn't as pivotal in the seventies as it is now. In fact, it was probably more crucial, because there was so much less access to it. One would stay up way past one's bedtime (if they had to get up at six a.m. to get to work) just to see a particular artist on The Tonight Show, because this might be our one and only chance. Record it? On what -- my reel-to-reel? We endured a lot of sickly-sweet variety shows, sat through Gallagher's "comedy" act, simply to see ABBA lip-sync one song. I suffered through Hee Haw for the musical vignettes. Choice? There was no "choice", unless one "chose" to get up off the sofa and flip the dial on the TV to CBS or ABC.

Radio was the same. We had a country station. ONE country station. You took what you got, heard the same pre-recorded local news stories every hour on the hour. Found out that it was "partly cloudy" without even venturing outside whichever room we were currently sanitizing the toilet of, with our scrub brush and a can of Comet.

It's interesting to learn which singles hit the top of the charts in '75 -- and which ones didn't. Funny, the ones I remember best are the ones that didn't. The ones that did, I don't care if I ever hear, ever again.

Like this one:

I remember that Mom and Dad were enamored with this song and I don't know why. Three-chord songs can be great -- shoot, Merle Haggard even recorded a two-chord song that was extraordinary. But a three-chord song needs a bit of oomph -- something to break up the monotony. Freddy Fender's single didn't have that, unless one counts the tink-tinkling of a tiny sad guitar.

This next song would be good if it hadn't been sung by Conway Twitty. Readers of this blog know that I just never got on board with Conway. I can't put my finger on why exactly. People are people; some like chocolate; some detest it. Again, Mom (especially) loved Conway Twitty. Ish. But that was Mom.

I never gave the song a second thought until I watched George Strait perform it in concert. Then I thought, wow, this is a good song! (It's all about the singer, folks.)

Dolly Parton was recording odd things that had queer melodies. I guess it was a phase. "Jolene" was bad enough, but "Bargain Store" was worse. I won't subject you to any of these, but since she charted at number one with the thrift shop ditty, I felt an obligation to mention it. I essentially gave up on Dolly once she parted ways with Porter.

Just like now, even at age twenty I gravitated toward "country" songs. You know, there's country and then there's "country". There's a difference. True lovers of country music know.

I loved Gary Stewart the first time I heard him (and saw him). I was always drawn to artists who were a bit different; intriguing. Those who I wondered, "what's up with this guy?" Gary Stewart didn't have a classic country voice. It was a bit high for the rugged country stalwarts of the time. A tenor, I guess. Of course, I love Faron Young, who was also a tenor, so perhaps my ear is attuned that way. I also appreciated that he played piano. Gary had a sad life, and it's kind of a punch in the gut to know how it all ended. I saw Gary Stewart in concert once, from my perch in the nosebleed seats of the Civic Center. I'm really glad I did.

I don't know why he's not playing piano here, the way I remember him, but here is "She's Acting Single":

I'm not going to wait until the end of this post to feature the song that defines nineteen seventy-five for me. Writers (good writers) would say, save the best for last, but the song has been on my mind. There was this new guy, someone whose name I'd never before heard, that apparently my local DJ really liked, because he played this single a lot. No, it wasn't classic country. Yes, it was good -- captivating. I remember wheeling my maid's cart to the next room down the row and hearing the intro to this song squawk out of my radio; then hurrying into the room with my portable and flipping up the volume:

To me, Gene Watson is like Mark Chesnutt -- sorely underestimated. Except to those of us who know, really know country. If you want your guts ripped out, listen to "Farewell Party". I can't believe that "Love In The Hot Afternoon" only reached number three on the charts. I could have sworn, and that long-ago DJ could attest, that it was a number one -- with a four-decade bullet.

In 1975 I detested John Denver. John Denver was everything that country music wasn't. And to top it off, the stupid CMA rewarded him with the coveted Entertainer of the Year statuette. For what? Yelling, "Far out!"? I mean, come on. I don't know what exactly John Denver was -- my husband's friend could perhaps illuminate, because he loves the guy. My friend Alice also told me, in our sole telephone conversation in '75, about how she was "into" John Denver, and my brain registered, "okay?"

My hatred has since softened, as all hatred naturally does as the years tick by. Guys (and gals) I once detested, I've learned, actually have something to offer. One needs to knock that chip off their shoulder and truly listen. And I will admit (now) that this song had something:

Okay, hello? I just realized that Roger Miller is playing fiddle here, and Glen Campbell is strumming the banjo. What was this? Some kind of country super band?

Another artist I think I saw once live really dominated the early nineteen seventies. I'd first heard Ronnie Milsap in 1974, with his Cap'n Crunch song, and he subsequently had hit after hit after hit. 

This is one of his best:

The first time I remember hearing BJ Thomas was around 1968, with "Eyes Of A New York Woman". His was a voice I tucked inside my pocket and pulled out when I wanted to hear a good, country-pop, but mostly (come on) country singer. 

This song was a number one in 1975, and you know it's catchy. Give it up! I even bought a Chipmunks album for my toddler son sometime around 1980 that featured this song. And divining music critic that he was at age two, he gave it two chubby thumbs up:

So, you can have your Outlaws and In-Laws and Jessie's. Oh, and don't forget your Tompall's. 

That's not what 1975 was for me. And since I was there, I have a say in the matter.

Oh, that picture at the top? Yea, I found this girl by accident. Maybe a snippet of a song played on my local station, and maybe I thought, hmmm, she sounds good! This gal was an album act. One could not experience Emmylou Harris without listening to a full album. "Elite Hotel" was the first of many Emmylou albums I would buy. 

The thing about Emmylou is, she didn't forget. She brought back the old, reveled in the new, but cherished what came before. I like that. Everything isn't new. Sometimes it's old and the old is a treasure. Maybe you just forgot to listen the first time.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Me and Country Music in 1977

Music wasn't foremost in my mind in 1977. My son was born in November of 1976, so I was busy. I had known nothing about babies, but the old adage is actually true -- babies are resilient, despite their parents' ignorance. Unless, of course, you can actually kill them with love (you can't).

I had quit working -- which is sort of amusing. As if one can just quit and magically be able to sustain their family. It would be more accurate to say that I took a break. Considering that we were pitiably poor, taking a break was either a selfless act of motherly love or a dimwitted blunder. Honestly, though, how many material goods does one need? Most every newly-married couple I knew lived in a mobile home (it was the seventies -- thanks to Jimmy Carter, nobody could afford anything).  It's funny how people love to throw around the term "trailer trash", but much like commenters on news sites who are instant experts on health insurance, people in general are ignorant. My house was nice. It was new, for one thing. I guess people are put off by the "shape" of mobile homes. Inside, however, it's a regular home. Morons. I had actual appliances and everything -- a washer and dryer; not a washboard. I will grant you that heating and air conditioning costs were astronomical. That was thanks to the paper-thin walls. But it was a mobile home. If I'd wanted good insulation, I guess we could have rented an apartment -- if we could find one. Apartments in the seventies in my town were practically unheard of. Some homeowners had little apartments on the upper floors of their houses. There were a couple of squat brick buildings that were "apartment houses". They were generally situated in the less-than-desirable areas of town. And they were meant for singles; not for families. The working girls, the State employees who hadn't yet found a husband.

I bought baby clothes at Woolworth's. I was a big Woolworth's consumer. We had a TV and a stereo and a stroller. The drawback of living in a mobile home park was the habitat -- long, long streets that went on forever. And yea, there were undesirable people I encountered while pushing my baby in his stroller down that interminable street. The park was a conglomeration of regular working people, those on their third divorce and their fourth batch of kids, upwardly mobile couples who held their nose and padded their savings accounts until they could afford to get the hell out, groups of party-bros sharing the rent. Yet, in 1977 there was a pastoral horse pasture across the street from my home. A white picket fence and lazy mares sidling up for a snack. That didn't last long -- progress and more lots to develop -- but it was there for a while -- and my baby boy and I saw it.

Music hovered between background minutiae and rare gems. Country music was in flux in 1977 -- the Outlaws and the In-Laws. Sixties holdovers, urban cowboys, and new jewels. I was nearing the end of the line with country music, yet I wouldn't give up on it completely until 1984. I hated most of it, but I kept holding out hope that something magical would happen.

This is what I remember:

Apparently Waylon and Willie saw no need to do a live version of this song. This was the best video I could find, and all in all, it's not bad:

After a time, I grew tired of Crystal Gayle and her hair. I mean, how many times can one watch a girl flipping her four-foot-long tresses? It was odd and led to many questions, such as, how much did she pay for plumber visits? And how much must the plumbers hate getting that call? "Oh, it's Long Hair again. You wanna take this one, Bob?" Nevertheless, this was a nice song the first fifty times I heard it.

George and Tammy got back together briefly in 1977, because they knew a good thing when they heard it. And when we heard it. It's so nice to hear Tammy again. There are two female singers who knew, really knew, how to sing country -- Patsy Cline and Tammy Wynette. It's that indefinable, know-it-when-you-hear-it quality. Tammy had it:

Surprisingly, or unsurprisingly, many of the hits I remember from 1977 are unavailable on YouTube, so I will forego "The Wurlitzer Prize" Instead, let's take a look at a track that was truly country, and sustained my puny faith in country music. Unfortunately, no performance from 1977 can be found (and Emmylou had long black hair then -- not as long as Crystal Gayle's -- just sayin').

If one was to tick off the top singles from 1977, there would be these two. One is catchy -- really really catchy. The other is stuck in time. I'll let you be the judge:

But you know me. I'm a sucker for real country. This song, to me, will always represent 1977. My baby boy won't remember it, but I do:

If one is to remember the good times, music provides that nudge. When I hear these songs, I'm back in my mobile home kitchen with its frilly curtains, the FM radio blaring out of my faux-walnut console stereo, my baby nodding off in his play swing in the living room as I watch him from my perch in front of the avocado GE range. I was but a child then, playing at being a grownup. 

But I had my baby...and music.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Was Country In 1981 Really That Bad?

 Memories are strange, wondrous things. Sometimes a memory of a particular time in one's life is colored by a general "feeling"; perhaps a feeling of melancholy or boredom or apathy. At the ripe old age of twenty-six, I'd grown indifferent toward music. I'd actually begun listening to "oldies", which in that year consisted of fifties music I'd never heard the first time around. I know I'd grown cranky with country music, and it wasn't my fault. The production was sluggish -- soft tinkling pianos, a faint whiff of a violin; everything very quiet -- and producers were bending toward remakes of pop songs. Nashville wasn't even trying anymore; yet they expected me to buy their crap.

Granted, our country was as sluggish as the Nashville music scene, which didn't help. I might still be paying off the twenty-one per cent interest rate on my credit card purchases; I'm not sure. Anything I needed to buy -- for my kids or for the house -- essentially required a bank loan, which was nigh impossible to obtain, seeing as how everybody was defaulting so they could afford to fill their tanks with gas (thanks, Jimmy Carter). I could have done a better job running the country, and I was a dolt. Just when I was at my absolute poorest, our president was on TV lecturing me that it was my own damn fault, and that I just had a bad attitude. Just what I needed in my circumstances -- a stern lecture. He was like my mom. We had hostages in Iran, which Ted Koppel reminded us of every night on Nightline. "This is day four hundred and three."

MTV was created in 1981, but it hadn't hit my airwaves yet. Soon I would abandon country music for Dire Straits and Phil Collins.

What we remember from a particular year isn't necessarily what Google tells us to remember. In browsing the number one country hits from 1981, I find lots of gems. Why don't I remember those, instead of singles by Charly McClain and Sylvia and Crystal Gayle and Alabama? I don't think it's my fault. I blame my radio. It was as if the disc jockeys got together and conspired to play the absolute worst tracks over and over, because, frankly, they hated country and they needed to teach us a lesson. In hindsight, I turned away from country just as country was turning, and I missed the renaissance. I missed George Strait because of those damn DJ's. They kept feeding me, "Your nobody called today" until I found myself bent over the toilet bowl.

Here is a sampling of what the disc jockeys chose not to play over and over:

David Frizzell and Shelly West:

 Rosanne Cash:

The Oak Ridge Boys:

Eddie Rabbitt:

Anne Murray (sorry, no live performance video to be found, but I really like this):

Ronnie Milsap:

TG Sheppard (again, no live performance worth posting, but worth hearing in its glory):

Yes, Barbara Mandrell, when she was still country (when it wasn't cool):

This is what we (I) remember from 1981. Granted, I had a subscription to HBO and a second shift job, so I watched this movie approximately two thousand and fifty-one times in the pre-work afternoons, but the fact remains that this is what, like it or loathe it, will forever represent country music at that precise time:

Dolly Parton:


Country music in 1981 was better than I remember it, no thanks to my local DJ's. Truthfully, I would list at least three of these singles as classics. Which, once again, proves that my memory is woefully deficient and that Jimmy Carter messed with my brain.

I'm giving 1981 one thumb up.

Friday, June 23, 2017

1983 Was Not A Red-Letter Year In Country Music

In 1983 I was still driving my '76 Chevy Malibu. I liked it. It fit. It was also the first brand-new car I'd ever owned, so I felt like I had moved up in the world. I'd graduated from a used powder blue 1966 Chevrolet Impala to a they-saw-me-coming '74 Chevy Vega hatchback with the hue and texture of a can of Campbell's Cream of Tomato soup. Each of those cars had cost a couple hundred dollars at the most; the Malibu I had to finance! Sign papers for! The Malibu had a sometimes-it-works air conditioning system and tan folding faux leather seats. It was perfect, and it wasn't orange!

I didn't have far to travel in my tiny town -- my longest drive was north along Ninth Street to Mom and Dad's house; a fifteen-minute cruise if the stoplights didn't hit just right. I visited Mom and Dad a lot on sunny afternoons  -- my kids were in elementary school and I worked second shift. My days were free and Dad and Mom were my tether. Easing the Malibu into their driveway and spying Dad bent over in the front yard, yanking weeds from the flower bed, felt like home, even though I'd never ever lived in that house. I knew Mom would be upstairs in the kitchen, running a damp rag across the counter top, checking the Mr. Coffee to determine if it'd stopped dripping. I'd pull out a chair from the dining room table and Mom would offer me coffee and a slice of pie and we'd talk about nothing much. Dad would broach the stairs, swiping a handkerchief across his brow; pour himself a cup and ease his butt into an adjoining seat. I have no recollection of what those conversations entailed, but I remember that when I turned to go home, I always felt better -- stronger somehow.

Music was in the doldrums. I was on the verge of giving up on country, and soon I would. Shelly West was still basking in the after-glow of the Urban Cowboy fad and Crystal Gayle was a novelty, famous for her ridiculously long hair and the fact that she was Loretta Lynn's little sister. Sylvia was a producer's creation -- another try at Chet's Nashville Sound that was a long-time gone and hardly lamented. Alabama was still hanging around, as they were wont to do. Merle was on a down-slide; Charley Pride was still grasping onto the tattered shreds of his once-red-hot career. Even the artists I loved, like Ronnie Milsap and the Oaks, were looking at their careers in the rear-view mirror. John Conlee had exhausted his one big hit. Much like the late sixties, producers paired male and female voices, but the result was pop pap; as opposed to "After The Fire Is Gone". Country was lost and needed someone to save it. That someone hadn't yet ridden over the horizon.

Still, like any year in music, there were gems.

Alabama was on it's next-to-last gasp:

I think the first time I became aware of the Oak Ridge Boys was when they recorded Rodney Crowell's "Leavin' Louisiana In The Broad Daylight". Then I did a bit of digging and found that they were once a gospel band. As a Midwesterner, I was oblivious to gospel music. Alice and I, though, had seen the Statesmen as an opening act at one of the many country concerts we'd attended, and we'd gotten on board. The deep bass voice, the tenor, and the harmony parts had roped us in. The call and response.

For a time, country gospel became our new obsession. Of course, we were fourteen, so everything to us was brand new.

That history cemented my love for the Oak Ridge Boys, who had this hit song in 1983:

Along about July, a couple of old hands rode to the rescue:

Along about 1979, I talked Mom into attending an indoor rodeo with me. I told her that a new country artist would be performing in between the barrel racing and the calf roping. In the west, rodeos were not considered weird or corny. I'd been to lots of rodeos -- I was familiar with the eight-second rule for bull riders. It's not so much that I was a rodeo fan, but that live entertainment was sorely lacking in our town. We went to whatever the box office put forth. I was, however, enamored with Reba McEntire and had never seen her in person, so....

 Later, I would resent Reba for unnaturally expanding the boundaries of what could be called "country". She took advantage of her fame. She loved on-stage costume changes and male background dancers. But she was country once, and I'm happy I could introduce Mom to her voice.

The Number Eighty-Seven song of the year flew past me, because I'd by then long abandoned country music (as it had abandoned me).  It's funny how life works. Eighty-seven? Truly? This song rests firmly within my top twenty country songs of all time, and it only reached eighty-seven on the charts? Country fans needed a firm shake. (And speaking of rodeos):

The truth, though, sad as it may be, is that on my drive up Ninth Street to Mom and Dad's, with the seventeen-story Capitol Building casting its shadow across my sun visor, is that THIS is the song that 1983 will be remembered for. 

I remember that drive, and that day, so succinctly. I remember muttering to myself, "If I hear this song one more time, I'm going to stab my radio with a serrated carving knife."

Funny how time works. The song doesn't seem so bad now, thirty-four years after the fact. 


Friday, November 4, 2016

Curly Putman

Curly Putman died Sunday.

His name might not be familiar to you, but it certainly is to me. Putman was a songwriter extraordinaire. 

I suppose Curly Putman first entered my consciousness the same way all behind-the-scenes guys did for me in the sixties -- from reading the backs of album covers. I obviously wasn't a songwriter then, but I was fascinated to learn who wrote the songs I liked best. If they wrote at least two of my favorites (I had kind of a low bar) they were "good". Naturally, like most of my country music discoveries, I first found Curly's name on the back of a Tammy Wynette album. He was co-writer, with Bobby Braddock, of this:

And he wrote this one, again featuring Tammy Wynette, with David Houston (sorry, no David Houston live videos exist, apparently):

I just posted this video last week, and here I am again! I mistakenly thought Dolly wrote the song -- I hate when I mess up like that.

Give credit where credit is due:

Tanya Tucker was a revelation to me, at thirteen, because she was thirteen -- and I didn't do anything except go to school and play records, while she made records. Life wasn't fair. I digress, though. Curly wrote this song:

You know me; I like to throw in a few obscure songs every now and then just to flummox everyone. Actually, no, I like to relive songs that I like and haven't heard in decades. Nobody seems to remember Charlie Rich (I do). Here's another Curly Putman song, sung by Charlie:

Songwriters never know which songs will strike a chord. And how could we? We love our babies; we think they're cute as a button, while strangers take one glance and turn their heads away. Instead, they fixate on the mangy cat balled up in the corner of the living room, huddled under the end table, its fur askew. The cat we picked up at the shelter on a whim because we felt sorry for it. The cat that's howling out this melody:

Speaking of ugly children: this song isn't actually a homely child; it's just not the best country song ever, although many think it is (they're wrong). But like the Green Green Grass of Home, it will live forever, and a songwriter will gladly live with that.

Curly, I'm guessing, wouldn't have cited this as his favorite composition (I'd love to know which one he thought was his best), but ten million fans speak louder than pride, or something.

Here is George Jones:

Curly wrote more than two of my favorite songs, so that makes him a great songwriter. One great song makes one a great songwriter. 

Curly Putman cleared that bar easily.


Friday, October 21, 2016

2016 Country Music Hall of Fame Inductees -- FRED FOSTER

The first time I ever saw Fred Foster's name was on the back of a Dolly Parton album:

Dolly was new. I possessed next-to-no knowledge of country music, but my new best friend Alice had her finger on the pulse and I was a fast learner. Album covers were treasures one held in their hands while the music played. They had heft -- they weren't tiny squares like CD jewel cases; they certainly weren't impossible-to-read like cassette cases. No, album covers were like giant books; books we studied. We read the names of the studio musicians, we learned who wrote each song, and we saw the name of the producer; in this case, Fred Foster. 

I, of course, didn't know what a producer did. He was most certainly the man in charge of the whole outfit, but what he did? In my twelve-year-old mind, he was the one who put the magic together. Ironically, all these years later, I find I was right.

Did you ever sit and listen as a songwriter strummed his newest song on an acoustic guitar and sang? You might think, well, that song has potential -- it could be something with some good sounds surrounding it. As is, though, it's nice but forgettable. I've been there and I've been her. I've written songs I think possess a certain spark, but if one was to listen to me plunk them out on my guitar, they would say, that's the worst thing I've ever heard. I've said that when I listened to a playback of me and my out-of-tune guitar busting out the song. Then my producer sprinkles something akin to fairy dust on it and suddenly it's damn good (it's also not necessarily my song anymore, but I'm so enamored with the final product that I feel righteous claiming credit for it).

That's what a producer does.

Fred Foster was that.

Here's what he did for Dolly:

Little did I know, or maybe I just forgot, that Fred Foster produced the most glorious tracks of all time. I might be a bit biased, but I don't think so. In the pantheon of "voices", this voice, and this sound, is exquisite:

And Fred Foster produced the penultimate rock and roll song:


For a country producer, Fred did rock just right.

If Roy Orbison was alive, he would be inducting Fred Foster into the hall of fame. I hope Dolly does it. I hope Dolly and Ray Stevens and Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson show up that night to do it right. 

Fred Foster made magic, like great producers do; music that will live forever.

God bless you, Fred Foster. Thank you for the sounds of heaven.





Friday, October 14, 2016


I guess this is the 50th anniversary of the CMA awards.

A bit about me:  I was a "countryholic" most of my life (thus the title of this blog), until country music changed and left me behind. I remember settling in, cross-legged, in front of our big living room TV when I was thirteen or so, devouring the CMA's. I rooted for my favorites to win -- I was even geeky enough to join the Country Music Association under false pretenses. (In those days one could claim to be anyone in the music industry and send in their fifteen dollar money order and become a voting member.)

Around the year 2000, things got wacky, as they say. The final nail in my country music coffin was Faith Hill, who had a single on the charts -- something to do with breathing -- and I said, what the hell? This isn't my country anymore!

I'm not ragging on Faith Hill; she was just the catalyst. There was lots of bad country music that year. So I gave up; removed the preset from my car radio, essentially stopped listening to music all together. Where was I going to go? To classic rock? I hate that stuff. And one can only hear the same oldies about a thousand times before they want to plummet off a cliff. Occasionally I would purchase the latest George Strait or Dwight Yoakam CD. Marty Stuart was my redemption angel. I grieved for country music, though -- the country I'd lost. I immersed myself in other interests -- mostly stupid politics, which, for someone like me is a losing game (trust me).

I found Twitter and became addicted. And on a whim, I decided to follow George Strait. That's where I found this video. For wont of anything better to do, I clicked on it.

I didn't plan to cry.

I never even liked some of these artists that much -- Charley Pride was okay; Dolly, too, was fine. I loved her duets with Porter. Randy I loved, yes. And seeing him sitting there, solitary; knowing the ravages he'd suffered, remembering the vibrancy of his stage presence the one time I'd seen him in concert -- well, that started the tears.

Then there was Ronnie Milsap. George, of course. Reba. Martina. Trisha. Brooks and Dunn. My man Alan. Glorious Vince. Even Rascal Flatts.

I don't even know who some of the artists in this video are. But when they started singing, "I Will Always Love You", I thought, hold on. You guys can't do this song -- not without Dolly.

Then there she was.

Dang, I am embarrassed for crying. I shouldn't be. It's good to mourn. And to celebrate, even if what's lost hurts a little.

I have my quibbles with the video -- artists who were left out and shouldn't have been. But shoot, I wasn't in charge.

I'm just thankful somebody actually remembered.