Showing posts with label don gibson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label don gibson. Show all posts

Thursday, October 10, 2019

A Country Album Primer

The word is that Ken Burns' "Country Music" series has sparked a sudden surge in country album sales. Folks who heretofore disdained country music are suddenly interested because it was featured on PBS. But where to start? Hank Williams? His songs, while superbly written, have that old-timey, antiquated sound. Johnny Cash? Download one track ~ they all sound the same. Don't waste precious dollars on a whole album until you understand what you're getting into. Nothing too twangy ~ the neighbors might be appalled. That eliminates Dwight Yoakam. Patsy Cline is pretty safe; her songs were "pretty" and featured lots of strings.

My advice:  Start with 1975. Emmylou Harris's second album, Elite Hotel, was a revelation to a jaded country fan like me. There is little good to say about country music in the nineteen seventies ~ it had lackadaisically bumped up against the doldrums. However, every decade of music has at least one breakout star, and Emmylou Harris was that. I don't recall, but I think I first heard a single by Emmylou, "If I Could Only Win Your Love", on my car radio. I had no idea who the singer was, and if I didn't catch the DJ's patter at the right time, I wouldn't find out until the next time the track was played. She was definitely country, updated; with the voice of an angel. Elite Hotel, featuring songs written by the likes of Buck Owens, newcomer Rodney Crowell, Gram Parsons, Hank Williams, Don Gibson, and even Lennon/McCartney; the album combined old and new and still sounded "old". Or perhaps "classic" is a better term. Emmylou was a vocalist who didn't dismiss country or try to change it. She simply improved upon it.

For the country novice, what could be better? It combines Hank and Patsy and Buck; it introduces a soon-to-be classic songwriter; it harks back to the sixties country-rock sound of bands like The Byrds.

To wit, here is a country primer for the newly-converted:

"Amarillo" ~ co-written by Emmylou and Rodney Crowell:

"Together Again" ~ Buck Owens:

"Feelin' Single, Seein' Double" ~ the awesome Wayne Kemp:

"Sin City" ~ Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman:

"One Of These Days" ~ Earl Montgomery:

"Till I Gain Control Again" ~ Rodney Crowell (again):

"Here, There and Everywhere" ~ some guys named John and Paul:

"Ooh, Las Vegas" ~ Gram Parsons and Ric Grech:

"Sweet Dreams" ~ Don Gibson:

"Jambalaya" ~ Hank Williams:

"Satan's Jewel Crown" ~ Edgar L. Eden:

"Wheels" ~ Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons:

My favorite? For sheer beauty, it's "Together Again". For reminiscence, "One Of These Days". But I think I like "Wheels" the best.

Elite Hotel combines everything a country lover or country novice could ask for in a classic album. For a forty-four year-old album, that's damn good.

I would start here.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

"Country Music" ~ What Ken Missed

At the outset, Ken determined that the focus of his country music series would be Johnny Cash. I don't know why, but I can guess. As a non-country fan who probably is a subscriber to Rolling Stone Magazine, Cash took on a sheen; became a sort of demigod in Burns' eyes. Ken needed someone to wrap his episodes around, and who better? Cash led a melodramatic life. He had it all ~ family tragedy, rockabilly roots, substance abuse, infidelity; plus he sired a hugely successful daughter. The continuum.

The commenters on the one country music site I frequent invariably mentioned their dismay with Burns' absorption with Johnny Cash, to the exclusion of many deserving artists. It's a shame, really. A lost opportunity.

I've already talked about the complete disrespect shown to George Strait, but there are others.

Here, to me, are the most glaring omissions:

Jerry Lee Lewis ~ Ken spent a lot of time, quizzically on Elvis Presley. Not once was there a time when Elvis was even remotely country. His label-mate on Sun Records, however, not only is one of the most phenomenal artists of all time, but Jerry Lee Lewis actually had a successful country career. Nowhere in this eight-part series did Jerry Lee get a single mention. And, unlike Elvis, Jerry Lee actually loves music, country or otherwise. Jerry Lee is not a caricature.

Ray Price ~ We caught a glimpse of Ray Price somewhere within episode five or six, or something. I don't remember, but it was in the context of talking about some other artist. Had Ken been at all curious, he would have found that Ray Price was the country singer of the fifties and early sixties. No, not Hank Snow or Roy Acuff ~ Ray Price. And since Ken seems to have a fascination with Nudie suits, who better? But let's be frank:  Willie can thank his lucky stars that Ray Price recorded Night Life, and Roger Miller would not have had a career at all without Invitation To The Blues. Bill Anderson? How about City Lights? I could go on, but Ray can speak for himself:


Don Gibson ~ I'm not a fan of Don's singing, but that's not what made him iconic. He wrote many of the songs that were heavily featured (by other artists) in the series: I Can't Stop Loving You (Ray Charles), Sweet Dreams (Patsy Cline); as well as (I'd Be A) Legend In My Time (Ronnie Milsap) and Just One Time (Connie Smith), and many others. To feature those artists and not include the man who wrote the songs is inexcusable.

Don Rich ~ I've heard Buck Owens' recording of Together Again when he sang harmony with himself. Trust me, Don Rich hit that song out of the park. There wasn't enough focus on iconic bands overall in this series. The Strangers (and Bonnie Owens' contribution to Merle's sound) received no mention. The declaration that Roy Nichols was in someone else's band when Merle snatched him up went mostly unnoticed.

Don Rich was the heart of the Buckaroos, and if Buck was still alive, he'd say the same. Everything changed after Don died. He was the bandleader, he was the Telecaster master, he was the harmony singer extraordinaire.

Gene Watson ~ Country music was soooo in the doldrums in 1975. We had Tanya Tucker and...well, that's about it. I was working a menial job that allowed me to carry my portable radio around with me when I heard Love In The Hot Afternoon, and I was transfixed. This guy could sing, and he hadn't even yet shown off his best stuff:

Glen Campbell ~ Glen wasn't just some guy who had a network television show, but that's what one would glean from Ken Burns' dismissive reference to him. In the late sixties, one could not flip on their radio without hearing a Campbell song, ad nauseum, I would add. But damn ~ he deserved some love in this series, and he got zero.

Marty Robbins ~ come on! I know Ken is not a country aficionado, but Marty Robbins? Did Ken at least watch Breaking Bad?

Tanya Tucker ~ She was thirteen and I was seventeen and hotly jealous when my radio started playing Delta Dawn. Ken talked about Brenda Lee (who I love), but no reference to this phenom? Ken, Ken.

There are other niggling points, but these are the standouts to me; in addition to George, of course, who deserved far better. I could forgive a few, but it seems so obvious to me that country icons, regardless of whether they did or didn't sing about prisons, shouldn't have been ignored.

A couple less seconds about Johnny's Rick Rubin recordings and a few more about artists that country fans revere could have sent this series into the stratosphere.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

50 Years Ago! Top Country Hits Of 1958

Okay, fifty years ago - really? Geez, it seems like only yesterday, or maybe 20 years ago at the most. Okay, it doesn't really seem like yesterday, because I was only 3 years old in 1958, so I hardly remember these songs when they were hits.

I thought it might be fun to see what was hitting the charts, lo those 50 years ago. And to contrast the country music of then to the country music of now.

Well, we all sorta know where country music is now, and it's not pretty.

I think this quote from Jennifer Nettles (of Sugarland) in the latest Entertainment Weekly pretty much sums up the general attitude in Nashville today:

At the very least, Nettles sees Nashville changing.

"What is country anymore?" she asks.
What, indeed?
The article goes on to call Sugarland's third album "an unusually diverse CD that attempts to expand the template of mainstream country by embracing old-school R.E.M, Marvin Gaye, even hair metal.

"We've earned the space to express ourselves," says (Kristian) Bush.
O-kay! So, now we know, I guess.

So, let's cleanse our palates with some offerings from the year 1958.

This first video is one of many hits for Johnny:


"We've earned the space to express ourselves". Give me a break.

Ray Price had a bunch of hits in 1958. Here's one of the best:


Recognize the harmony singer? Look closer. Why, it's the songwriter himself, ROGER MILLER!

Well, here is one of my all-time favorite singers:


Here is someone you don't see anymore (well, he's passed away, but you know what I mean.) Don Gibson had FOUR number one hits in 1958. Here's one:


I think this song was covered numerous, numerous times by many artists. Good for Don.

Remember this? Yes, this is not the 1958 performance. Conway did re-record this song a few years after he made this song a HUGE hit. The 1958 performance was grainy and had poor sound quality. The one here will just make you dizzy (sorry). But I still like the sound better on this one:


You know, people tend to forget Webb Pierce, but there was no one bigger in country music in the late 1950's. Not to cast any aspersions, but he did insist on a co-writing credit for any song that he recorded. But I guess it was a win-win situation for all. At least Mel Tillis holds no hard feelings about that (I read his autobiography). I guess either you accepted Webb as a "co-writer", or you didn't get your song recorded at all. Not a hard decision when you have a family to feed.

Here's one written by Mel:


Again, not a video from 1958, but still worth watching! Yea, I'm a huge Marty Robbins fan. Here he is, singing:


Well, this is not a 1958 rendition of this song (because Hank Locklin wasn't old and bald in 1958), but you have to give this guy credit! Much like Ray Price, even at an advanced age, he's still going strong!


Interestingly, a lot of artists we think of as "rock" actually had big hits on the country charts in 1958. Elvis, for one. I can't find any of those videos, but his hit songs from that year were:

Hard-Headed Woman
I Beg Of You
Wear My Ring Around Your Neck

By the same token, the Everly Brothers were major country stars that year:

All I Have To Do Is Dream
Devoted To You

And this one:
(No, this video is not from 1958. The one from '58 was very poor quality.)


Oh yea, there was one other guy who seemed to have racked up a bunch of hits that year. He was sort of country, then rock, then country again.

Let's have a gander, shall we?

Oh yea, and THIS one:

One more time:

Okay, so where were we? Oh yea.

"We've earned the space to express ourselves."
Ha ha ha ha!

You ain't earned nothin' yet, honey.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Blast From The Past - Top Country Songs Of 1961

I thought we might look back to the year 1961 tonight. I sort of grabbed that year at random; however, it occurred to me that there could well have been some classic country songs that were hits in 1961, so, in consulting my trusty Wikipedia, I found that I was right! There were a bunch of them!

Oddly, my old friend, Wikipedia, does not seem to want to tell me which song was the TOP hit of 1961, but I could take an educated guess. More on that later.

Let's start with this one, shall we?


What can I say about Marty Robbins that I haven't already said in a previous post? But, without even reading that, this video speaks for itself. It captures the essence of Marty in concert; his personality, and above all, his wonderful voice.

Merle Haggard cites Marty Robbins as one of his influences. You can hear a bit of Marty in Merle's singing. Merle always did have excellent taste.


Sorry about the buzzing in this video. This was the only one I could find. Old Willie is still counting his money from Patsy's recording of this song - the money he's hidden from the IRS, of course.

Patsy also had another number one hit in 1961 - I Fall To Pieces. There is, unfortunately, no video available of that one.

You'll notice that Patsy is wearing some kind of weird headband in this performance. That's because she was injured in a car crash shortly before this song became a hit. You remember the scene in Coal Miner's Daughter - Beverly D'Angelo lying in her hospital bed, drinking beer from a straw. Ahh, if we didn't have movies, how would we learn about history?


Talk about a blast from the past! Here's Leroy in all his long sideburned glory and his patchwork sweater and Elvis bouffant, hiding behind some sliding panels, to sing his big hit song from 1961.

Have you ever seen a more disinterested audience? One girl actually looked away, trying to get the barmaid's attention, because, alas, no one had any drinks on their tables. What kind of b***sh** bar is this?? And the main act doesn't even work from a stage. He has to sneak out from the coat closet to sing his song.

And that one helmet-haired woman right next to him will barely make eye contact. She really doesn't approve of the subject matter of the song. She gives him some tepid applause at the end, but she's steaming. "Where'd he meet this hussy, she's wondering. Probably at some sleazy bar. Oh wait, I'M at some sleazy bar."


Sorry, but this was the only video I could find. He starts out with that old chestnut, "Bill Bailey", but eventually, if you stick with it, he does get to "Big Bad John".

Whatever happened to Jimmy Dean? I mean, yea, he's got his sausages and his breakfast bowls, but what about the man himself? Remember when he had a variety show on ABC? He even had one of the earliest Muppets as a regular on his show. Okay, yes, I'm dating myself, but is Jimmy still around? Still out doing grocery conventions, hawking his wares? He does have good sausage, I'll grant you that. But, you know, he did music, too. Or at least, "talk-music".


Here's Elvis, with the Leroy Van Dyke sideburns and bouffant -- oh wait, that's the ELVIS sideburns and bouffant.

I could have used the clip of the bloated, drug-addled Elvis doing this song, but that seems kind of disrespectful. Let's remember Elvis in his more youthful days.

And yes, this was a hit on the COUNTRY charts.


Yes, this is a later version, but I always like to include the Buckaroos, featuring Don Rich, whenever possible.

I wonder, in watching this, if Dwight Yoakam is imitating Buck, or is he actually imitating Don Rich, in his singing style? Listen to some of the phrasing and compare.

This song and performance is a prime example of simplicity in songwriting. Nothing much to it, really, but it made a big impact. We really don't need to over-think these things.


At one time, Wanda Jackson was considered the "Female Elvis". Long before Tanya Tucker.

This clip proves that the voice is still as strong as ever. Yes, she now sings the song in a lower key, but give me a break! We all get older. Geez!

I'm not crazy about the spangled plus-sized blouse, but you know, it's not easy losing weight when you get to a certain age. Believe me. I'm fighting valiantly against that. I've lost 26.4 pounds in the last 4 months, but it's hard work! But kudos to Wanda Jackson! She still sounds great.

Here's a couple of top hits from 1961 for which I cannot find performances by the original artists, but I didn't want to exclude these songs, because they're really good. So, I'll label these with the artists performing in the video, but I'll also list the original artist in parentheses.



I really hate to leave out Don Gibson (Sea Of Heartbreak and Sweet Dreams) and Roger Miller (When Two Worlds Collide), because they are both classic, CLASSIC songwriters. But I couldn't find any videos of these songs.

Which leads me, finally, to what I THINK was the top song from 1961. I don't know this for a fact, but I'm willing (willie) to bet money on it:


It just doesn't get much better than that. One of my favorite singers; one of the world's best songwriters.

I guess 1961 was a red-letter year for country music.