Wednesday, April 3, 2013
A guy at work posted a classified ad, looking for old 45's; specifically country singles from the 1940's through the 1960's. I contacted him, because I have a trunk of old singles, for which I have no use. I told him, though, that the oldest singles I have are most likely from the seventies.
He responded with an odd (to me) statement: The 1940's through the 1960's were the best times for country music. Really? This guy is younger than me! I can get on board with the sixties. After all, that was my time ~ you know, Merle Haggard, Tammy Wynette, Loretta, to some extent. But that's as far back as I go. I didn't even know they made 45 rpm records in the nineteen forties!
It got me to thinking ~ was there actually good country music in the nineteen forties? Yes, I am familiar with Hank Williams; thank you. I mean, besides Hank.
Wikipedia to the rescue!
Off the bat, I will admit to having a sonic bias. While I detest the current trend of recording songs "hot"; I also do not like "tinny". I'm sure Hank and the boys sounded great at the barn dance, but, had the technology been available at the time, it would have jazzed things up a bit.
(Also, I do not understand how they made do, mostly, without drums. Apparently, the Opry, at the time, banned them; because I guess they were the devil's handiwork or something. Ahhh, times were different....)
Nevertheless, let's travel back about seventy (!) years and see what was hot in country when my mom and dad got married.
This video is apparently a mash-up of news footage and random Hank mutterings and/or singings (sort of like when Hank, Jr. did the Tear in My Beer video). I am assuming that there is little actual film documentation of Hank, Sr. performing. Shame.
Wikipedia is rapidly teaching me that there were but a handful of big country stars in the 1940's. One of them was obviously Eddy Arnold, because he seems to pop up all over the '40's record scene.
My dad was a big fan of "Make the World Go Away", but that song was recorded in the sixties.
This is 1948:
In 1947, Merle Travis had a hit record with Steel Guitar Rag. Astonishingly (to me) this song actually has lyrics! The only version of Steel Guitar Rag that I knew was an instrumental. It really was an old standby for any guy (and later for Barbara Mandrell) who could play the steel guitar. My friend Alice's band's steel guitar player did this number for a statewide competition and won first prize for instrumentalist.
This video is not the Merle Travis version, but it is from the 1940's. In all honesty, it was the only song title I recognized from the list for 1947. This is Leon McAuliffe and the Cimmaron Boys, YouTube tells me:
1946 seems to be the year of Bob Wills. Now, I wouldn't really know anything about Bob Wills (and his Texas Playboys) if it wasn't for Merle Haggard and Asleep at the Wheel introducing them to me. But make no mistake; this guy and his band were huge in the forties, especially in Texas; which to Texans is the be-all and end-all of the world. Just ask them.
In this video, we apparently find Bob and the boys setting up to play a concert in the county jail. I do not know why ~ perhaps they didn't have money for bail, so they had to work it off. I'm just conjecturing. The ways of the world in 1946 are foreign to me.
Interestingly, a big, big hit in 1945 was a song called, Smoke on the Water. I'm guessing it was a different song from the Deep Purple hit, but I would be flabbergasted if it had a guitar intro as memorable. Nevertheless, I don't know that song, so I have to pick one that I've actually heard of.
In the 1940's, too, covering other artists' records ran rampant. My Wikipedia list shows hits of the same name by two, and sometimes three different artists. Which leads me to ask, were songwriters not yet invented? You know, songwriting isn't rocket science. Seems like pretty much anyone could have done it; had they put their mind to it.
This song was written by Woody Guthrie, and became a hit for his cousin, Jack. But I remember the Hank Thompson version (also a big star in the nineteen forties), so I'll go with that one:
Cindy Walker wrote tons (by which I mean about 400) top hits. So, Ah Ha! There was a songwriter in the 1940's! But just one. I only learned a bit about Cindy Walker through an album of her songs that Willie Nelson later recorded. It's good that guys like Willie and Merle educate people like me; or we'd be musical imbeciles.
Cindy had a top hit in 1944 with this song:
1943 found a man named Jimmie Davis topping the charts with a song that we all, unfortunately, had to stand up on risers in the second grade and sing, as an ensemble. (Thanks, Jimmie!)
Jimmie Davis later became the governor of Louisiana, solely because Louisiana voters really liked sunshine. No, I'm sure there were other reasons.
Let me say, off the bat, that 1942 was a very patriotic year, judging by the list of hit records. I like patriotic. Too bad we lost that somewhere. Titles like "Goodbye Mama, I'm Off to Yokohama", "I'm a Prisoner of War", "Mussolini's Letter to Hitler" (bet that was a bouncy tune), "Remember Pearl Harbor", "There's a Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere", etc.; dominated the charts.
I'm not going to feature any of those songs. Because Texans TOTALLY RULE! ~ I wanted to showcase this song by Gene Autry. I do know that Gene Autry was a Hollywood cowboy. His horse was named Champion (I looked up), but the only famous Hollywood horse I am familiar with (besides Mr. Ed) is Trigger, because I once saw some black and white episodes of Roy Rogers' TV show, featuring his wife with a man's name, Dale Evans. (I really wasn't into TV westerns at all as a kid).
Patsy Montana, I've read, was considered the first female country singer. In reading her Wikipedia page, I learned that she grew up near Hope, Arkansas (I think there was some guy who also grew up there ~ can't put my finger on his name, though). She went out to Hollywood and worked with those famous pseudo-cowboys, Gene Autry and Pat Buttram; and also with Red Foley (another huge country star of the forties).
I like this song from 1941. Yodeling really is a lost art, isn't it? Remember those TV commercials with Slim Whitman, hawking his album of yodeling songs?
He yodeled every song! And yet, he sold more records than the Beatles and Elvis combined! (they said). When you think about it, though, it's quite a feat to turn every song into a yodel. I would love to hear his yodeling version of something like Norwegian Wood or Jailhouse Rock (speaking of the Beatles and Elvis combined).
Yes, I have digressed. Sorry.
But back to Patsy Montana, Suzy Bogguss also did a great version of this song on one of her albums.
1940 found the charts being topped by that good ol' country boy, Bing Crosby (?) Here was another guy who bugged the hell out of me. He was always walking around with his stupid pipe and his stupid golf club; wearing his stupid Scottish hat. My sum total of knowledge regarding Bing Crosby: He played a priest in some movie; he had some kind of vocal tic that made him pronounce "B" words as ba-ba-ba. Or maybe that was SCTV. I get my history mixed up sometimes.
Regardless, he, like singers who came after him, such as Pat Boone, liked to appropriate other artists' songs and turn them into bland cocktail-party hits.
The most famous version, though, of Tumbling Tumbleweeds was recorded by the Sons of the Pioneers, who were also apparently featured in TV westerns; understandable since Roy Rogers was a prominent member of the group.
For someone like me, who loves to blog about music, this was certainly the most excruciating exercise I have ever done.
I don't want to offend anyone who may still be alive from that time period, but aside from Hank Williams and maybe Bob Wills, the music was....let's just say, "not good".
I would imagine that people like my mom and dad probably preferred listening to the Glenn Miller Orchestra, but I may just be projecting my own tastes onto them. I have a sneaking suspicion, though, that if I have good taste in music, I must have gotten it from them.
Too, there was no differentiation in music back then. Much like the early sixties, one heard ~ maybe not on the radio, but let's say, on the juke box ~ both b-b-b-Bing Crosby and Hank Thompson. And people accepted what they liked, and discarded what they didn't.
In a future post, I will explore the nineteen fifties in country music. You and I both know that the fifties will be better.
But that guy who told me the '40's totally rocked? I guess we'll just agree to disagree on that.