Showing posts with label george jones. Show all posts
Showing posts with label george jones. Show all posts

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Ken Burns "Country Music" ~ Episode 6 ~ "Non-Country Country"

My guess is that Ken didn't find the period 1968 - 1972 very interesting, country-wise. In between clips of the Viet Nam War, we got to learn a lot about non-country artists traveling to Nashville to record.

Burns did begin strong, with the stories of George Jones and Tammy Wynette. We see Loretta Lynn remarking that when she first heard Tammy on the radio, she said, "Boy, I've got me some competition", and she was so right. In the silly games of "either or" we all play, I was definitely team Tammy, rather than Team Loretta. Loretta was gritty; Tammy was soul. Jeannie Seely remarked, rather cattily, that while Tammy was singing about standing by her man, she was on her third marriage, while Loretta, who was penning feisty odes about her man doing her wrong stuck with Doolittle throughout their fifty-year union. Catty, but you kinda gotta admit, it was true. Nevertheless, songs are not required to be autobiographical.

While I'll probably never spin a George Jones record, I see, through the eyes of the session musicians and his fellow artists why his voice is so revered. Every fan has her preferences, and while Jones' voice doesn't resonate with me, I do feel the emotion in his singing and understand why some consider him the best country singer of all time. I also saw the innate sadness in him, much like that of Hank Williams.

The storytellers glossed over the parts of George and Tammy's early story that weren't exactly PG-13, but I happened to witness their budding relationship from the front row of a concert in (I believe) 1968. Tammy was the girl singer on the roster, and she was performing with her then husband, Don Chapel on guitar and Don's daughter singing harmony. George, of course, was the headliner, and in the middle of his set, when he called Tammy out on stage to sing with him, it was sort of awkward (for Don ~ I imagine). Even through my thirteen-year-old eyes, the chemistry between Tammy and George was evident....and there was Don standing behind them strumming his guitar. It wasn't long after that my local DJ mentioned that Tammy was divorcing her husband and hooking up with George Jones. Shocked! Not.

Kris Kristofferson garnered a large chunk of story time, and rightfully so. There was no better lyricist in country music; poetic yet accessible. Kristofferson's songs paint a scene that the listener can slip inside. Turns out that after Kris abandoned a promising military career to become a janitor at Columbia Studios in Nashville, his mother disowned him via a letter. Country music was too embarrassing for the Kristofferson family to be associated with. I wonder if all Kris's royalty money was, too. 

Merle Haggard got a brief mention for the controversy over "Okie From Muskogee", which I had heard was written as a joke, but according to Merle (when he was interviewed for the series), it was an homage to small-town life. I'm not sure what I believe, but boy, I guess his fellow artists were really pissed at him over the song. It's a song, people! See: Tammy Wynette above.

I did a double-take when Bobby Bare showed up on screen! What?? Of course, he was talking about Shel Silverstein and novelty songs, but still. And of course the Silverstein story directly related to...guess who? Why, Johnny Cash! I will say that to his credit, Johnny had a network television show at this time, when no other country artist could have landed one. It wasn't the greatest show ever, but I did like the weekly gospel finale with the Statlers and the Carters and Carl Perkins.

An artist who pretty much dominated the charts in the late sixties got a teeny tiny mention ~ Glen Campbell. Oh, I hated his pop, heavily-stringed songs back then; don't get me wrong, but to overlook his reign during this era is plain unfair. (For the record, I grew to like Glen Campbell, although the only Webb song I like is Wichita Lineman).

The Byrds, of which Gram Parsons was a member, went to Nashville to record Sweetheart of the Rodeo and apparently when they appeared on the Opry, the audience didn't feel the love. Maybe they were ahead of their time. Their songs from the album sound totally country to my ears, especially Dylan's "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere". And speaking of Dylan, well, I guess this episode should have been titled, "The Saga of Cash and Dylan". My husband liked it, naturally, but when exactly did Bob Dylan make his mark in country music?

Hee Haw got its own little segment. There was a time in the late sixties when CBS loved to laugh at ignorant country rubes, and they developed a whole block of programming to capture that hilarity. The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres with its star, Arnold the Pig, and Hee Haw. I really hated Hee Haw, but you can bet I watched it every week, because the opportunity to see a country performance on TV was rare to non-existent. So I gagged through the corn pone jokes until the featured artist of the week got to do his or her numbers. The hosts, Buck Owens and Roy Clark were vastly different from one another. Buck couldn't pull off the lines with any authenticity, so he awkwardly mugged through them. Roy, on the other hand, was good at being silly, so he just went with it. It was an odd pairing and a bad show, but oh, those performances.
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's album, "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" was heavily featured at the end of the episode. Here's the deal ~ this album is a loser. I don't know who, except seventy-year-old "hipsters" would put it on their retro turntable and listen to it. I understand that Burns is no authority on country music, but he could have sought advice from someone who is.

I read somewhere that this was the weakest episode of the series. I haven't gotten through all of them yet, but I would say this person is correct.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

September Is Country Music Month ~ Oops, Let's Go Back

I was so excited to begin country music month, I realize I gave short shrift to the decade of the sixties. Granted, for part of the sixties I was too young to remember much, but the wonder of music is, one can hear songs from eons before and fall in love with them still.

When I embraced country around 1967, I knew I had a lot of catching up to do. It wasn't that I was oblivious to country music entirely; my mom and dad's tastes had seeped inside my brain. But I was a sixties kid ~ I liked The Beatles and other assorted British Invasion groups. I'd had a brief interlude in the mid-decade of residing at my uncle's restaurant/bar establishment, and what else was there beside the radio and the jukebox? My uncle Howard stocked his machine with the latest country hits of the day, because that was expected by couples who stopped in to sip beer and whiskey sours and chance onto the dance floor for a two-step. So I knew who Buck Owens was, and I was familiar with exactly one Bobby Bare song.

As I researched "old" country, however, I found some gems; so let's stroll through the decade, shall we?

1960. This is not just the best song of 1960, it's one of the best country songs (er, instrumentals) ever. No one records instrumentals anymore ~ they died when the decade ended. It's quite a feat to grab one of the top twenty-five "best country songs ever" slots with a song that has no words. Words equal emotion. How can an instrumental do that? Here's how:


'61 is tough, because there is more than one song that tops the year. There are, in fact, three; and two of them were written by Willie Nelson:

1962. '62 is tough. It wasn't the best year for country singles (sort of like 1981). One looks for songs that later became classics, and there really weren't many. I'm going to pick a couple that I either like for my own reasons or were later re-recorded and became even bigger hits:

Things started getting interesting in 1963. Suddenly Bakersfield was giving Nashville a run for its money, but never fear ~ producer Chet Atkins was on the case, especially with a song written by Mel Tillis:

June wrote a song for Johnny:

Then there was Buck:

Something happened in 1964 ~ a phenomenon. This new guy who was sorta weird, but sorta mesmerizing, suddenly appeared. He was all over every network TV show, and none of the hosts actually spoke to him, because they were too busy having a laugh at his expense. Turns out Roger Miller was no flash in the pan and no joke. He'd written a lot of classic country hits before he embarked on a solo career. But what did network people know? Who's laughing now, idiots?

Take your Lorettas; take your Norma Jeans. This new girl singer (with the songwriting assistance of Bill Anderson) started racking up a string of number ones in 1964, and didn't stop for another decade:

I'm not one of those "George Jones is the greatest country singer of all time" adherents, but this song was pretty cool:

Truly, Roger Miller and Buck Owens dominated 1965, but since I've already featured them, let's find a few other gems.

1966 was rather a transitional year. Buck and Roger and Johnny were still dominating, but a few new voices appeared, such as David Houston and some guy named Merle. A young kid who called himself Hank, Junior, first appeared on the charts. There are those who worship Hank, Jr.; one of those people is not me. The fanatics are unaware of his early recording history ~ not me. But I digress.

You know that Ray Price holds a special place in my heart, and he had three hits in the top 100 in '66. Here's one:

Then there was this new girl singer:

1967 is where I come in, which is a weird time to show up, considering that the charts were dominated by yucky Jimmy Webb songs and pseudo-folk protest tracks like Skip A Rope. The first country albums I bought were by Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, and Charley Pride. Even at age twelve I had good taste.

Here's a bonus:

By 1968 Merle was a superstar, Glen Campbell was still churning out pop hits, Tammy had the hit that would define her career. Johnny Cash had a network TV show.

I've been trying not to repeat artists, but this particular hit has special meaning to me ~ not because I was in prison or anything ~ but because this was a hit the year I actually "met" Merle Haggard:

Just because live performance videos of David Houston are infinitesimal doesn't mean he wasn't huge in the sixties, because he was ~ I was there. It bothers me that simply because an artist died years ago, we tend to erase them from history. I would feature one of Houston's hits, but I can't find them. This phenomenon also applies to Wynn Stewart, who, if you don't believe me, none other than Dwight Yoakam cites as one of his early influences. Here he is, with none other than Don Rich:

Something interesting happened in 1968 ~ a rock 'n roll icon decided he wanted to go country. And if you know anything about Jerry Lee Lewis, you know he does exactly what he wants. I love Jerry Lee:

This new duo showed up in 1968, featuring a girl singer with impossibly high blonde hair. I wonder whatever happened to her:

Lynn Anderson was more (much more) than Rose Garden, a song I came to truly hate after hearing it on the radio one bazillion times. Lynn is another somebody who should not be forgotten. Before her then-husband got his hooks into her and moved her to Columbia Records, she was truly country, and her Chart albums prove it. Here is a hit from '68:

No disrespect to Merle, but this is the best song that came out of 1968. On the rare instances when I hear it on Willie's Roadhouse, I am right there croaking along (he sings higher than I can). Johnny Bush:

1969 was Johnny, Johnny, Johnny. And Merle. You might not know that there were others, and there definitely were. Faron Young was my favorite country singer for years, until George Strait showed up. And speaking of sing-along country songs, well, here you go:

Maybe it was my pop roots peeking through, but I played the hell out of this '45, recorded by a former member of Paul Revere and the Raiders and written by Joe South (curse you, Joe, for Rose Garden).

Freddy Weller:

Yea, the sixties ~ that decade became imprinted on my musical mind and never left. Maybe it was my age; maybe it was simply that country was so good; so pure. So new? The sixties were a renaissance. The nineteen eighties were an epiphany, but they couldn't have happened without the sixties.

And so the river flows...

Friday, November 4, 2016

The CMA'S at Fifty

I have lots of thoughts about fifty years of the Country Music Association awards, and I'm the one to share them, because I watched the very first telecast in 1968.

I didn't watch this year, but I'll catch up on the videos. I'm prepared to be disappointed, but who knows? Maybe I won't be. But I think I will.

Fifty is a momentous milestone. Fifty years of country music!

I remember 1970, when Merle Haggard collected every award except female vocalist of the year. I remember a tipsy Charlie Rich pulling a lighter out of his pocket and setting fire to the card that read, "John Denver". I remember Alan Jackson stopping in mid-song and breaking into a rendition of "He Stopped Loving Her Today" in protest of George Jones not being invited to perform on the awards telecast. I remember when Alabama was a foregone conclusion to be named Vocal Group of the Year and the other four bands just filled out Alabama's dance card. I remember Rodney Crowell winning Album of the Year in 1988 for "Diamonds and Dirt", and thinking, I guess the CMA members do have taste after all.

But that's all for another day.

I will say this, however:  Randy Travis.

Stay tuned....

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.


Saturday, August 15, 2015

Billy Sherrill, Epic Producer

As a kid just getting into country music, I didn't know what a record producer was. I had a vague notion that he was kind of an "overseer", making sure that everything synched up okay; and that the studio musicians rather went their own way, and the singer went his/her own way; and the producer? Well, he sat in the booth and every once in awhile spoke, "One more take" into the mic. Reading my album liners, I was more interested in who wrote the songs, because I figured if I liked one song by somebody, I might want to check out some others. Therefore, I read, "B. Thimble - S. Sanitary" (they never put the first names of the writers on the liner, so I didn't know who these guys - and they were mostly guys - were. And unless he was a songwriting phenom, it was always co-writes - much like now). So I didn't pay much heed to who the producer was; just like I also didn't understand that a movie director was some big deal.

But I always knew the name Billy Sherrill. First of all, Billy Sherrill was also part of a songwriting team - with Glenn Sutton (he, the ex-husband of Lynn Anderson, who didn't apparently grasp Lynn's appeal to country music purists. See this.)

So when Billy's name started showing up on Tammy Wynette albums, I noticed. For example, there was this (sorry, no live performance video, naturally). This song, by the by, was written by Johnny Paycheck:

Billy was David Houston's producer, too. Everybody has forgotten David Houston - he died young - but he had monster hits in the sixties. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I can't embed a performance of his song that made the charts cringe in 1967, "Almost Persuaded", which was a really maudlin dirge only rescued by the tinkling piano riff that caused drunks across the USA to drop a tear into their beer mugs. However, so as to not forget David Houston, here's a song he did with Barbara Mandrell:

Billy Sherrill's obituaries pounced on his embrace of the "countrypolitan" sound, but I disagree. Countrypolitan, to me, was Chet Atkins adding the Anita Kerr Singers to every recording that might have been country had it not been for the Anita Kerr Singers. As if Bobby Bare was going to take this group out on the road with him. He had, I'm sure, enough trouble just making the payroll for the actual players in the Bare band.

No, Billy Sherrill didn't forgo the steel guitar. Not at all. And he didn't add a bunch of chipmunks behind the vocalist to "smooth out" the sound. He was too smart for that. Yes, he liked the piano, and he was right. Get a load of this:

Billy also produced Tanya Tucker, who I hated because she was thirteen and I was thirteen, but she could actually sing, whereas I couldn't (I love Tanya Tucker, actually.)

And this, I don't think, is any kind of "politan":

I'm not gonna say that Billy "inherited" George Jones, but I will point out that George had a different producer before he hooked up with Tammy. George was, no doubt, grateful for serendipity.

There are, of course, two recordings that will forever cement Billy Sherrill in the annals of country music. The first one he co-wrote with Tammy:

Historians will debate for eons the cultural impact of "Stand By Your Man". It was a song of its time, and that time was 1968 - 47 years ago! Calm down, everyone! Claudette Colbert is no longer hitching up her skirt and thumbing a ride on a country road with Clark Gable, either! Yes, Tammy divorced George. How dare she, when she sang like an angel about how she'd forgive every one of his transgressions?

Here's the deal - it was a song! I was around and listening to country radio when that song hit the airwaves. Know what I like about it? I like the last chorus, where Tammy slides up the scale full throttle and sells it. The secret about good music is, the lyrics don't mean a fig. That's why they call it music. It's melodic. And if you've got a great singer, the lyrics don't matter. Just ask Sinatra and his dooby-dooby-do's.

And that song will last centuries longer than Rose Garden or Achy Breaky Heart or any other song one can name that wriggled its way into becoming an ear worm.

The other song that Billy Sherrill will be remembered for is one that, in a poll of folks who mimic what everybody else says, is the greatest country song of all time. Ahh, contraire! But I'm not here tonight to argue. This recording was done piecemeal, because George was rather - battered - and couldn't make it through a three-minute song if his life depended on it. Heck, he often couldn't even show up for his own concerts. George was down and almost out before Billy Sherrill saved his career with his patience and persistence.

The key to this song, in my opinion, is the key change, which naturally builds tension. Secondly, the twin fiddle glissando that stabs you in the gut. The recitation? I'm thinking that was George just not being able to sing. A good song is sound. That's what a good producer creates.

Billy Sherrill was a good, nay, a great producer. Now I know what producers do - they create. Create glory. It doesn't matter if the words are a fairy tale; it doesn't matter if the singer had to come back to the studio fifty times in order to splice it together just right. It's the sound that comes out of our radio, or our turntable, or our computer that matters. We don't care how much peptic distress the creation caused. We care about what our ears, what our heart, hears.

Good job, Billy Sherrill.

And thanks for the magic.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

2013 CMA Awards

Isn't video great? One no longer needs to slog through a boring awards show to get to the good parts. The good parts come neatly packaged on YouTube for the discerning viewer's enjoyment.

I don't even know half of the acts who performed or were nominated for the 2013 CMA awards, which is one of the reasons why I determined not to watch the telecast. Country music has passed me by, and I'm okay with that. I've accepted it now.

I will say, though, that a little history never hurt anybody. Of course, the 2013 awards offered very "little" history, unless you count the one-second wave from Hall of Fame inductee Bobby Bare, who was situated somewhere deep in the audience. At least they didn't shuttle him up to the balcony somewhere. Be grateful for small favors.

I am, believe it or not, well aware of Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood. Carrie, because I did use to watch American Idol, and I was pulling for her all the way in whatever year that was. She was up against some retro-seventies guy who no one has ever heard from since, so there was very little contest, to be honest. I do remember, though, Simon telling Carrie that she needed to acquire a personality. Seems like she did:

Ahh, I love a good Obamacare joke - can't help it. It makes my heart glad.

I did try to watch a lot of the CMA performances. I thought, well, hell, maybe I'm missing out on somebody good, so I gave everybody a fair chance - if "fair chance" means ten to twenty seconds. I have the knack of making up my mind really quickly. Sorry, kids. None of you made the cut.

Unaware as I am, I had no idea that the CMA's actually featured a tribute to a guy nobody under age fifty has ever heard of - George Jones. See, back when country music was square, in a square Bobby Bare sort of way, George Jones was a big star. Some country music artists call him the "the voice". Of course, that was back when country music was country music, and not sort-of-but-actually-not-really-country music.

Nevertheless, it afforded me the opportunity to see the last of the country artists who still, somehow, manage to chart (for now), George Strait ("my" voice) and Alan Jackson (who sounds eerily like George; not saying he's emulated him or anything, but c'mon).

When George and Alan disappear from the scene, who'd going to be the standard-bearer for country music? Rascal Flatts (cough)?

Thus, I enjoyed this performance a lot, even though the cameraman was utterly befuddled, but that's okay. I knew who was singing what:

Sorry I somehow pasted this twice, and I can't seem to delete one, so choose whichever one you want, or better yet, watch it twice. It's worth it.

Unlike Bobby Bare, the other Hall of Fame inductee certainly got his moment in the sun. I'm speaking of Kenny Rogers, of course.

I will give Kenny this, though: he recorded a bunch of readily sung-along songs, and I actually enjoyed this a lot. But I'm a sucker for nostalgia. Don't know why Dolly wasn't there, but I'm not gonna quibble.

You might guess that the highlight of the evening for me was the Entertainer of the Year announcement.

Sure, I know why they gave it to George. He's quitting touring, you know. It was now or never.

I've read people's comments, carping that George isn't really an entertainer. Well, I was lucky enough to see him in concert. If your idea of entertainment is Lady Gaga-type choreography, then no.

If you like seeing somebody sing a song like it's supposed to be sung, then yea - George Strait is an entertainer.

Couldn't have happened to a better guy. I'm thrilled that it happened for George, and for me, before we both ride off into the sunset.

So, you see, while I didn't watch the awards live, I will concede that four pretty good things happened during the telecast.

I'm just glad that YouTube let me see them.

I'm thinking 2013 was my last chance.

Sunday, May 19, 2013


Fifty-eight doesn't feel any different from fifty-seven. 

The most difficult birthday for me was the thirtieth. The rest of them have been a piece of cake (ummm, I like white cake with chocolate frosting; thanks.)

I don't know why I had so much trouble with 30.  I guess I finally realized that I had to be grown-up now; which was kind of a crock, because I'd long before become a mom, so I was pretty responsible.  Something about lost youth, maybe.  

I won't lie to you.  There are a lot of crummy things about getting older.  For one, my bad health habits are coming back to bite me in the butt. I cannot eat like I did when I was a kid and still maintain my girlish figure.  My girlish figure hopped a train to Bye-Bye-Ville about ten years ago, and it didn't buy a round-trip ticket.

I have to worry about retirement now.  Or no retirement; whichever the case may be.  I honestly can't see myself still doing what I do when I'm seventy or so; unfortunately for my bank account.  I'm already crabby.  I'm going to be a real pain in the ass if I still have to train people twelve years from now.   

Surprisingly, though, there are some good things about getting older.

I have more patience.  I go with the flow.  Nothing that happens in the world is earth-shattering.  Even the earth-shattering things aren't earth-shattering.  One makes do.  There are very few things I can think of that would cause me to descend into an irreversible funk.  I'm much more even-keeled than I ever was for most of my life.

I'm not very material-minded.  "Things" take up a lot of space.  I don't have any more room for "things"; and I pretty much like the things I have.  I don't feel the need to switch them out for new things.

I finally have the confidence to pursue writing.  Throughout my life, people would say to me, "You're a really good writer"; yet, I hardly ever wrote enough to justify those opinions.  And I wasn't a good writer.  I was a neophyte writer.  I've now finally settled into my own voice; and I don't frankly care if it's not someone's cup of tea.  It is what it is.      

I love a nice spring morning; with the sun bathing my face; taking Josie out for an early-morning walk.  I notice the early birds singing.  I think about them.  What kind of birds are they?   I don't know if I ever even heard the birds when I was younger.

I have let go of a lot of stuff.   I've always been the kind of person who had to pick at a sore.  I couldn't leave it alone.  Any slight; any cross look; depressed me; reminded me that I was a loser at life.  Now I know that people are just people.  I don't have to internalize everything.  People act a certain way for their own reasons; ninety-nine per cent of those reasons have absolutely nothing to do with me.

I guess, overall, I've just grown comfortable with me.  So, fifty-eight isn't so bad.

Oh, one more thing:  If you don't appreciate my fondness for old country music, that's okay.  I still think it rocks.  Sort of like this:



Friday, April 26, 2013

They Placed a Wreath Upon His Door

I thought George Jones would always be around.  He was always around ~ for my whole life.

My friend Alice and I, when we were tweens, religiously attended whatever cavalcade of stars was playing at the World War Memorial Building.  And, because we were kids with nothing much to do, we always managed to snag front-row seats, because we showed up a couple hours early and plopped ourselves down in the seats of general-admission honor.  In 1968, the same year we encountered Merle Haggard (in more ways than one), we also saw a package show with a new girl singer named Tammy Wynette and a bunch of other people we'd never heard of, including Tammy's husband, Don Chapel.  We liked Tammy ~ she'd had a few hits by then; Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad; Take Me To Your World; I Don't Wanna Play House.  She seemed unnaturally shy for a performer, though.

The star of that show, however, was George Jones.  As the closing act, he took the stage with his Jones Boys band (who'd actually been on stage the whole time, because they were the backup for...everybody), and kicked off hit after hit after hit.  White Lightning, The Race is On, Love Bug (I always preferred George's up-tempo numbers); Walk Through This World With Me, She Thinks I Still Care.  George, with his outdated crew cut, was energetic; having fun.

Midway through his set, George called Tammy back onto the stage.  The two of them sang some duets, and wow!  Tammy loosened up!  Now, she, too, seemed to be having fun.  The two of them locked eyes and sang to one another.  All of us were just bystanders by then.

A few weeks later, we heard a couple of disc jockeys joshing around on the air.  

"D'ja hear that Tammy Wynette is divorcing her husband to marry George Jones?"

"And get this; her next single is called D-I-V-O-R-C-E!"

Har har har har har.

Yep, George Jones definitely had an influence on Tammy.

It seems that George Jones had an influence on a lot of people.  Alan Jackson, for one, idolized him.  Keith Richards was a big fan.  It's said that Neil Young wanted to stop by backstage and meet George after one of his concerts, but George said no, because he'd never heard of the guy.

George had a lot of nicknames:  Possum, No-Show Jones, The Singer's Singer.

George was a stylist.  He didn't have a voice like George Strait; nor did he have a voice like Merle.  What George did have was a way to break your heart.

His instrument was like a rubber band stretched taut.  It dipped and it soared, and it dipped back down again.  George could turn one syllable into three or four; just by climbing that stairway and then descending it.  The reason people liked him so much was because the pain in his voice hit everybody in the gut.  It sounded real.

As I said, when I was a kid, I liked George's up-tempo numbers.  Like these: 

George Strait covered this one:

George, of course, had ballads, too, in the nineteen sixties.  Like this one:

My favorite from the late sixties came from the album surprisingly titled, "Good Year for the Roses".  Here's a remake; a duet with a silly-looking Alan Jackson:

And, naturally, there were the duets with Tammy:

And one many years later (they sure could make beautiful music together):


George recorded this one with James Taylor.  Sadly, there is no video of the two of them performing the song:


I've always contended that, no matter what anybody said, this next song is more gut-wrenching than, you know, that other one.

I saw George Jones live once again, three decades later.  He was on a bill with Vince Gill and Conway Twiitty.  I'd come to see Vince Gill.  George could still bring it, though; boy.  I didn't go to that show with Alice.  Time had passed and lives had splintered.  I don't know if Alice was in the audience that night.  If she was, she, too, was probably there to see Vince.  Vince was the headliner, and his career was glowing hot.  Alice most likely didn't remember the night in 1968 when we watched a romance blooming from the first row.  Life marches on, relentlessly.

Rest in peace, George Jones.  A whole slew of people are never going to forget you.

My dad loved this song...

He stopped loving her today
They placed a wreath upon his door
And soon they'll carry him away
He stopped loving her today




Wednesday, March 7, 2012

More Bad Years In Country Music

I was browsing our local record store with my husband today.  Local record store....that's a term that will cease to exist soon.  Like "pay phone".

I don't really buy music anymore, so I was just keeping my husband company, while he sifted through the shelves of used CD's.  (He insisted I buy something, so we could get the "buy four" special deal, whatever that was.  So, I bought the soundtrack from "Footloose" - $4.50!)

Calling this place a "record store" is to use the term loosely.  They do (still) have CD's and albums (for the pretentious music lover), but the store is mostly filled with tchotchkes of all manner; novelty key chains, little metal tins of "things", I guess; mood rings, t-shirts, posters.  The CD aisles keep getting pushed aside for the real money-making items.

As I was apathetically flipping through the selection of CD's, I saw one titled, "Top Country Hits of 1971", and I thought, were there some?  But thinking about it later, I realized that 1971 wasn't the worst seventies year for country music.  A lot of them were the worst.  You can't really pick just one.

But for fun, tonight I decided to pick on 1974.

What I remember about 1974 is driving around to various mobile home sales lots, to pick out just the right mobile home.  No, we didn't call them trailers, although they weren't exactly "mobile", either.  People like to use the pejorative, "trailer trash", to describe someone who's crude, disreputable, tawdry.  Oh, I could find many more adjectives.  But I don't remember being "trash"; I just remember being "poor".  The interest rate in 1974 was 17%.  Who could afford to buy a real house?  Not me.   And actually, as I was browsing, I found a lot of mobile homes that I thought were cute.  I liked them.  Sure, I didn't realize the issue of little-to-no insulation, which became a problem during the North Dakota winters, but overall, they mimicked a "real house" ~ they had real appliances and everything!  I didn't have to use a wood cook stove or a washboard to do my laundry, believe it or not.  People can be such snobs.

Anyway, I was driving around, looking, then coming back and looking again, and of course, the AM radio was keeping me company in my 1970 blue Chevy Impala.  So, I heard a lot of country music.  But, of course, one did not need to drive around to hear music.  Music was a big thing back then.  We only had about 15 TV channels provided by our cable "service", and you know, most of those were public access or other stuff that you just whipped right past, in order to get to the NBC channel to watch Phil Donahue.  So, we listened to music a lot, even at home.

When I browse the country music charts for 1974, I find a lot of either losers or completely forgotten tunes.  A lot of the songs were either boring or "icky", but we put up with them; tolerated them, because really what options did we have?

In featuring the hits of 1974 tonight, I'm going to randomly mix the good with the bad, and I'm not going to comment (too much), because I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings.  Something that I just hate, hate!  is probably someone else's all-time favorite song.  But if you're unfamiliar with the year, you can certainly make up your own mind.  And, or course, the usual caveat is, I will feature what I can find.  There's not a lot of what you'd call "historical" music available on YouTube, because, you know, technology was so bad back then.  We barely had electricity most of the time.

TOM T. HALL (dueting with Dolly Parton here - which he didn't actually do on the record; fyi.)

Speaking of DOLLY PARTON:

Let me just say that I know a lot of people love this song.  I do not.  I think it's one of Dolly's lesser efforts, but if you listen to a bunch of Janie-come-latelys in the music biz, you would think this is one of the best songs EVER.  While it's always a temptation to write a song completely in minor chords, it rarely turns out well.  Because it's just too depressing.  And I don't like the sing-songy, "Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jo-LEEEN"; it just grates on my nerves.  I said I wasn't going to comment "much".  Sorry.

I always loved JOHNNY RODRIGUEZ.   Here is his version of a song written by Lefty Frizzell.  You may be more familiar with the Merle Haggard version.

The song that probably most defines 1974 for me, was recorded by CAL SMITH.  This was a number one song, and possibly the number one song of the year.  Lord knows, it was played often enough to become the number one song.

I'll just be honest here, and admit that I HATE recitation songs.  Hate them.  They're always maudlin and sickly sweet.  Are they supposed to make you cry?  Of course they are!  But I don't really find them "sad", per se.  Well, yes, they're "sad", but not in a good way.

And I liked Melba Montgomery.  By the way, before Tammy came along, ol' George recorded a lot of duets with Melba.  And I like the name "Melba".  You don't hear that name anymore.  Unless you're having some toast.

So, MELBA MONTGOMERY (not the original performance, obviously):

In 1974, RONNIE MILSAP was a new performer on the scene.  Sometimes somebody comes along who has staying power.  Here's the proof (and have you ever heard Cap'n Crunch referenced in a song before?  Silly question.)

You know, Whitney Houston didn't originate this next song.  While everybody else was oohing and ahhing over this "new" hit song by Whitney, country fans were like, well, that's a different take on an oldie!

Here's DOLLY again:


While not an original MICKEY GILLEY song, it was still a good one.  Again, this is not a 1974 performance, obviously.  My dad always liked this song, and that's good enough for me.  Unfortunately, this performance is a "medley", so you don't actually get the full benefit of what the song was like in its entirety, but doesn't he sound more and more like his cuz all the time (and I don't mean Jimmy Swaggart)?  Mickey had a good run in the Urban Cowboy days, but more power to him, I say.  At least he wasn't Johnny Lee.

BOBBY BARE has never gotten his due.  We're really quick to move on to the next big thing, and we forget people.  Bobby Bare belongs in the Country Music Hall of Fame, but I'm not holding my breath anymore.  I fought that fight, and nobody listened to me, but I keep listening to Bobby anyway.  This is a novelty song, really, but it was a big hit in 1974, and I did have the single.  Of course, I bought a lot of singles back Woolworth's.

I don't know what to say about DONNA FARGO, really.  Let me say that she is, I understand, a really nice person.  I'm sure it's my personal problem that I just can't forgive her for The Happiest Girl in the Whole USA.  I wrote about that song in a post a long time ago, and, let's face it, the lyrics of that song were some of the stupidest, most asinine lyrics ever written ever.

But Donna had other hits, too.  Here's one (but she really should have lost the coveralls):

BILLY "CRASH" CRADDOCK was the precursor to Billy Ray Cyrus, I guess.  That faux-sexiness, that wasn't really sexy at all, unbeknownst to the Billy Rays.  He did try hard, though, and he had dazzlingly white teeth.  Here is "Rub It In":

I know people are going to flog me, but I think this next song is FAR BETTER than He Stopped Loving Her Today.  I know it's heretical to say this, but the truth is the truth.  It's a better song.  Better written; more soulful.  Says the EXACT SAME THING, essentially, as that other song.  Norro Wilson wrote this.  He wrote a great one, and this is a great performance, by GEORGE JONES:

WAYLON JENNINGS was represented (well) in 1974.  Here is Ramblin' Man:

Did I say before that I hated the song, Jolene?  I was maybe too harsh.  If my choices were to listen to Jolene, or to listen to this next song all day long, I'd go with Jolene.  You know that sensation of fingernails on a chalkboard?  Well, here's DOLLY again (and why does she keep wearing that purple jumpsuit every time?  Doesn't she have any other outfits?):

I used to be so biased against JOHN DENVER, back then, in the seventies.  I don't even remember why.  There was something; something going on, but I forget what it was.  Because, actually, in hindsight, this next song is more country than most of the so-called "country" songs that I have featured in this post.  I don't get it.  But I'm not going to lose sleep trying to remember, because I was obviously wrong.  And this song proves how wrong I was.

Another song I blithely dismissed, back then, in 1974, was this next song, recorded by BILLY SWAN.  Because, every time I hear it now, which isn't too often, but occasionally it gets played on oldies radio, lo these 38 years later (seriously?), I like it, and I completely enjoy hearing it.  I'm beginning to think I was just stupid 38 years ago.  Or I had bad taste, or no taste.  But I still hate Love Is Like a Butterfly.  That hasn't changed.

Here is "I Can Help":

So, I scrolled through the list of number one songs from 1974, and then I moved on to what Wikipedia labels "other singles released", and I realized that some of the best songs apparently never hit that number one spot.  Well, there's no accounting for taste, as evidenced by the fact that I hated John Denver, inexplicably.

Here's one of those "other songs".....CONNIE SMITH:

In case you forgot, and you probably did, MEL TILLIS had a slew of hit records in 1974.  Here's one of them:

Speaking of novelties (which I think I did at some point, earlier), here's one.  Do you remember JIM STAFFORD?   Maybe you had to be there.  Jim Stafford was kind of an odd duck, but an entertaining one!  I remember working at my first ever real job, at the State Capitol, and they'd play this song on KFYR (AM) a whole lot.  My Girl Bill:

Can't believe that one is considered one of the "others", because I sure heard it a lot in 1974.

I'll leave you with this, because I'm tired, and there were a lot of songs that charted in 1974; too many for one post, and maybe 1974 wasn't as awful as my selective memory told me that it was.  I will say that, surprisingly,  the "others" were some of the best ones.  I don't get that.  But hindsight is 20/20.



Friday, February 17, 2012

The Music Cycle

I distinctly remember, around 1980 or so, desperately searching for some good music. Anything!

1980 was kind of a seminal year for me, because it was shortly after this time that I just finally GAVE UP on country music. I mean, gave up. I think Charley Pride did it. (Thanks, Charley!)

I remember house-sitting for my parents when they took their trip to Vegas. I had my four-year-old, and my two-year-old, and me just hanging around, kind of faux-housecleaning, and tuning the stupid console stereo to the country station, and longing...yes, LONGING for one, just ONE, decent country song.

I had gotten the Thorn Birds from the library, so that was a nice distraction, but something was still missing. And that missing piece was some decent country music.

You see, there was no such thing as DECENT country music in 1980.

You can look back now, and pinpoint some classic songs, but truthfully, if one is honest, it was all Crystal Gayle and Sylvia, and others. And this chart will point the way.

It was a sad, demoralizing time for country music.

I just scrolled through the chart, and I don't even recognize most of these songs. That's how bad it was.

Sure, I can pick out some good ones. But that really doesn't give you the flavor of 1980.

I would hate to be someone who charted in that year, because, well, if you were still doing concerts, you'd have approximately three people show up for your show, and two of them would have been dragged by their wives, just to keep peace in the family.

Country music in 1980 deserved what it got.

I wonder sometimes about cycles in popular music, and what causes them. Is it societal? Does the culture dictate what kind of music is created?

If we're feeling complacent, and not challenged, is the music complacent and unchallenging? The answer must be yes.

But what about music now?

One would think that the times we're living in would create angst and disharmony. Instead, it's blase. Maybe everyone has just given up.

In the sixties, everyone was ticked off. They were all mad about the war and about this and that, or at least they pretended to be mad, when they weren't prancing around with flowers in their hair. And look at the music of the sixties. It was great!

1980? I don't know. I'm thinking, we were at the tail end of that "long malaise" that the guy in the White House told us we were in. Way to buck everybody up, there, Jimmy! Such inspiring words!

And thus, the music on the radio was still malaise-ackal, as well. The music said, "Really, we just don't care. Don't listen to us ~ we're hideous! Just like the economy!"

Amazingly, after 1980, the music started looking up! Coincidence? I think not.

The nineteen eighties were really some of the best times country music has ever seen. If you don't believe me, check out these songs and artists.

So, maybe if things get better, the music will get better? There's always hope.

Like I said earlier, you can pick out the good songs from any year, even a crummy one. And that's what I'm going to do.

I don't feel like depressing myself, or you, and as you know, my motto is, music should be fun.

So, no Sylvia; no Crystal; no Charley Pride (sorry, Charley).



Sorry about the re-route. I don't know what's up with that, but at least this video works!

One of the best country voices EVER ~ GENE WATSON


Sorry, no performance video available of this song, but I still feel it needs to be included:



It's becoming an unfortunate pattern that I am not finding performance videos of some of the best songs of 1980, but to leave them out would be unthinkable:


I honestly didn't even remember that this song charted on the country charts in 1980, because this isn't a country song. Is it? Yes, to me, it's an homage to Roy Orbison, so I guess, since Roy charted on the country charts, why not JD SOUTHER? Plus, I love this song! So, fine by me!

My son probably wouldn't admit it, but he was obsessed with this TV show in 1980. Remember, he was four.

So, we had to rush home on Friday nights (from Happy Joe's Pizza Parlor) to tune in to CBS to watch Bo and Luke. This was one of the worst shows I was ever forced to watch (ha!), but I did it for my kid.

By the way, my son, Chris, thought the sheriff's name was Roscoe PEE-Co-Train, when, in fact, it was Roscoe P. Coltraine. I'm sure he knows the difference now.

Here is WAYLON JENNINGS (at least here are his hands):

(Note to YouTube posters ~ you can "disable embedding by request" all you want. One can find ANYTHING on the internet. It wasn't hard, really. And by the way, who is requesting that you disable embedding? CBS? This show was 32 years ago, for God's sake! Do you (CBS) think someone is going to steal your "intellectual property"? C'mon).

So, here we are. The best songs from a bad, bad year in country music.

Yes, you think, well, these are pretty good! Sure! I cherry-picked them! Just check out my Wikipedia link to see all the bad ones! You know, ten songs, out of all the records released in a year, is a woefully bad percentage.


Just trust me on this ~ it was a bad year. I was there.

Yes, I know what you're thinking. Aren't you forgetting one, oh Sage?

No, I didn't forget it.

Here's the deal. When anybody says, "This is the best song EVER. The best song that mankind ever created", well, I kind of bristle at that. The truth is, there is no such thing as the best song ever. There could be a best song today. A best song that you like a whole lot, because you heard it on the radio when you were driving to work, and you forgot how much you liked it, but now you think you should get home and download it, because it's the best song EVER. At least, that's how you feel today. Tomorrow, there will be a new best song.

So, I like Bobby Braddock's and Curly Putman's writing a lot. They wrote a ton of classic country songs.

And this is a good song. No doubt. But is it the best country song ever? No.

Because there is no such thing.

But no, I'm not going to leave out GEORGE JONES.

So, eleven. Eleven good songs from 1980. And you could quibble about whether a couple of them are even country songs. That's a bad average.

I guess, though, you could take any year and dissect it, and find that there weren't a whole lot of good songs. But music is meant to be taken in its entirety. Our brains don't sort songs by year (leave that job to me ~ ha).

I do find it interesting, however, that when you take even a bad year like 1980, the usual suspects pop up ~ the classic artists ~ Merle, Gene, Emmylou, Ronnie, George, Roy (of course), Waylon. There aren't any one-hit wonders (and JD Souther, by the way, wrote some classic songs for the Eagles, so no, he's not a one-hit wonder, either).

The cream rises to the top. Even in 1980.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The CMA Awards - Just For Kicks, 1986!

Here 'tis, the day after Thanksgiving, and a long weekend to boot! What better time to check out the happenings of 1986?

In the news, there was a bunch of bad stuff. Did you ever notice that the yearly news recaps never include any good news? For example, the Challenger space shuttle exploded. Then the Chernobyl thing. See? All bad.

No wonder it's more uplifting to check out the pop culture of the day.

For example, in the Nielsen ratings, this show ranked right up there:


In the world of movies, there was a bunch of serious-minded stuff that nobody remembers. The movie that people really remember from 1986 is this:

In pop music, there was a lot of good stuff (the eighties being my favorite time for rock/pop), but I don't think anything beats this one:

With that bit of 1986 background, let's move onwards and upwards to the CMA Awards.

The strangest award of 1986 was for the INSTRUMENTAL GROUP OF THE YEAR. I couldn't actually believe it, so I checked a few other sources, and yes, it's true. The Oak Ridge Boys were the instrumental group of the year! What?? This sort of boggles the mind, because the Oak Ridge Boys are nothing if not a vocal group. I'm thinking, this is the deal. The CMA voters wanted to give the ORB something, and they also wanted to give another group something. So, what to do? Hey! How about this? We'll give the ORB the instrumental award! They won't care. It's an award, after all.

So, yes, the Oak Ridge Boys were the instrumental group of the year. Listen along with me, if you will, and let's see if there's any actual instrumental parts to this song:

Why, yes. There were a couple of brief instrumental interludes. But that was the backup band. I don't care, really. I just enjoyed watching this performance again. After seeing this, though, I think the ORB won for their splendiferous outfits!

The big news, of course, from the 1986 CMA's was that Chet Atkins did not win the INSTRUMENTALIST OF THE YEAR award! I know! I'm flabbergasted, too! The award went, this time, to the hardest working fiddler in country music, Johnny Gimble.

Here's a rare video (although a bit out of sync), featuring Connie Smith (a personal favorite!), along with another one of my personal favorites, Merle Haggard, on fiddle, side by side with Mr. Gimble himself.

The VOCAL DUO OF THE YEAR was another one of those one-time pairings. But at least, unlike Anne Murray and Dave Loggins from 1985, this song was actually country, so two thumbs up for Marie Osmond and Dan Seals.

Ahhh, remember when country music was melodic and pretty? Watching this performance was a treat.

Dan Seals was on a roll in 1986, as evidenced by his win for SINGLE OF THE YEAR. (Was this really 1986? Where the heck does the time go??) I loved hearing this song again, and the video is pretty cool, too. But I'm a sucker for good dancing. And I won't even quibble about Dan having to play his guitar upside down. Geez, I'm left-handed, too, but some things just need to be done the right way. Anyway, here's "Bop":

Ronnie Milsap was back, and just as good as ever in 1986, with the ALBUM OF THE YEAR, "Lost In The Fifties Tonight". Static-y though it is, this video is still worth watching. One of the best voices ever to come out of country music.

Since this was the VIDEO OF THE YEAR, I searched 'til I found the actual video. It's only right. Here is, "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes", by George Jones.

Watch WHO'S GONNA FILL THEIR SHOES in Music Videos | View More Free Videos Online at

I don't disagree with the sentiment, but isn't this song basically just naming off a bunch of names? Well, it didn't win for song of the year; just video, so I guess it really doesn't matter.

This, however, was the SONG OF THE YEAR; written by Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz. And it's a good one. Country; if anyone remembers that genre. "On The Other Hand", recorded by Randy Travis.

Man, I miss country music!

HORIZON AWARD - Randy Travis!

Lucky for me, I get to include one of my top twenty country songs of all time here, "1982":

Wow, Randy looks like a kid here! If you recall, the mid-1980's saw a renaissance in real country music; thanks to artists like Randy, Alan Jackson, Vince Gill, and, of course, George Strait. Remember when you could sing along with the radio to songs like this? I don't even listen to country radio anymore, much less sing along to it. What the hell happened? Randy's great, and I'm glad he's got that second career going now. Geez, how did he become obsolete? I think we're a bit too quick to toss people aside, especially when we've got nothing to replace them with.

The FEMALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR was, again, Reba McEntire. This is a video that really kind of ticks me off. I mean, here she is, the long-suffering wife, being all forgiving and understanding, while jerk-face husband is off throwing snowballs with his latest conquest up in someplace called "New England". I think Reba should have kicked his sorry ass to the curb. Really. Who would want to take him back? A$$hole. Get the alimony, Reba. See how long his snowball-throwing friend will stick around when he has $10.00 to his name. Give me a break.


Yes, it was because of the Judds that the Oak Ridge Boys got relegated to instrumental group of the year. But, you know, the Judds really did deserve the vocal duo award.

Here's a video of a song from 1986:

Hey, I love the Judds. But watching Naomi really gets on my nerves. Flouncing around in her founcy dress. Trying to act like she's 20. I guess we'll just call it "background singer-itis".


Well, what can I say? It's George Strait.

George Strait - The Chair
Video Codes at

You know, I'll just say, that if you were of a mind to go out honky tonkin' in the eighties, this was the song that could get a gal out on the dance floor. I know. It's the most romantic song that George ever sang.


Yup, Reba captured the big award in 1986. Here she is, still curly-permed. Back before she decided that she needed to get some cosmetic enhancements done. Chronologically, of course, this video is not corrrect, but give me a break. I find what I can find.

Hall Of Fame

The Duke Of Paducah

The Duke Of Paducah, aka Whitey Ford (wasn't that a baseball player?) was a country comedian, who was popular from the 1930's through the 1950's. He was a popular staple of the Grand Ol' Opry, as evidenced by this clip (with prelude by Faron Young):

Wesley Rose

Wesley Rose was a country music publisher, and the son of legend Fred Rose, who nurtured Hank Williams' career. Wesley was of a different era from his father, of course, and therefore promoted songs by writers/acts such as the Everly Brothers, Marty Robbins, Boudleaux and Felice Bryant, Don Gibson, John D. Loudermilk, and Mickey Newbury.

Here's a representation of a song written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant:

All in all, 1986 was a pretty good year for country music. I really can't complain. Most likely, one of the best years ever. We had Randy, George Strait, the Judds, Ronnie Milsap, and a whole bunch of others.

We'll probably never see the likes of this again. But hope springs eternal. So, on to 1987.