Showing posts with label haggard. Show all posts
Showing posts with label haggard. Show all posts

Friday, July 3, 2020

Why I Am A Country Fan

Like all children of the sixties, I lapped up all the music on top forty radio. I was in love with The Beatles and oh so many other pop acts ~ The Beach Boys, The Righteous Brothers, The Dave Clark Five, to name but a few. Had my parents not uprooted me when I was eleven, I may have continued on my merry pop ways, although music was changing by 1966-1967; becoming less fun and more angry. 

As the new kid in a new town and an excruciatingly shy kid to boot, transitioning to my new life was agonizing. I had no friends and I didn't even know who the best friends to cultivate were. I rode the city bus every school day from home to a worn hotel, then hoofed it the remaining three blocks to my turn-of-the-century schoolhouse. Everything in my new town smelled old. We'd moved in the middle of December, so my panorama was dirty snowbanks.and grey gloom.

Back home I was a cool kid. I was a leader; I could be counted on to play a major role in any and every school pageant . I'd had the same school friends since first or second grade. Here I was nobody. I kept my head down and dreaded walking through my sixth grade classroom door, sure everyone was staring at me. I could only remember three or four classmates' names, though it rarely mattered. At recess. I hugged the brick wall until the bell rang. I tried to scheme a way to move back home, but all my plans had kinks. We'd sold our house. Who would I live with? Would my best friend Cathy's mom let me move in? Would my parents allow it? Of course not. I hated my parents for putting me through this. And they were so nonchalant about it all.

I inhabited a teeny-tiny bedroom that I shared with my little brother and sister ~ they cocooned in the bottom bunk while I claimed the top. The narrow torture chamber had recessed shelves behind a walnut door, and I kept my battery-powered turntable on one of them, along with my paltry collection of 45's. When the little kids were out and about, I played records or listened to AM radio while scribbling my homework. Perhaps the worst part of my new existence was the suffocation. On the farm, I'd inhabited a capacious pink bedroom on the second floor. The breeze wafting through the chiffon curtains was exhilarating. My world was vast. Here five people hunkered, piled atop each other in near-windowless rooms.

It may have been January or February when I exchanged a smirk in Miss Haas' classroom with a girl whose name I didn't know. One of the boys had uttered a ridiculous response to a question. That smirk commenced a six-year best friendship. It's funny how friendships happen. I think you just know. Her name was Alice and she turned out to be a kind, down-to-earth person with a wicked sense of humor.

Suddenly my torturous existence transformed into a new-friend lifeline.

Inevitably our talks turned to music. "I like country music", she said. "I'm in a band with my brother and my uncle."

I wracked my brain for country music references. Country wasn't alien to me ~ it was my parents' music of choice and I'd spent most of fourth grade living one closed door away from a country bar with a country jukebox. I knew who Buck Owens and Ray Price were, and Roger Miller. I'd heard a twangy girl named Loretta on the Wurlitzer. I also knew Bobby Bare.

Turns out a true country fan was required to have a much more in-depth acquaintance with hillbilly. I was ready to take the leap. "Snoopy Versus The Red Baron" wasn't cutting it for me anyway. Frankly, some of the artists my new friend introduced me to were too cheesy, even for me. At twelve I could appreciate George Jones' music, but not venerate him. In Alice's defense, she had to rely on her parents' albums, which were from a bygone era ~ Carl Butler and Pearl, Grandpa Jones, Porter Wagoner. I gleaned as much knowledge as i could from those LP's, and Alice and I discovered a new girl singer together ~ Porter's new duet partner; a tiny bee-hived blonde named Dolly Parton.

I went home and tuned my FM dial to the country station. Alas, it only played deep tracks by Willie Nelson and Glen Campbell. In 1967 I hated them both. This was not the country music I was supposed to be learning!

In short order, Alice and I heard some new singers on AM radio ~ Waylon Jennings, Charley Pride...and Merle Haggard. Once I heard Merle, I was a goner. Suddenly everything fit. All the corny tracks I'd sat through, cross-legged in front of Alice's parents' hi-fi made sense. I was no old-time music girl. I was a soon-to-be teen and my music needed to match my surging hormones.

It took no time at all for me to purchase that twenty-five-dollar red acoustic guitar hanging in Dahmer Music's window. I wanted ~ needed ~ to play along with Merle Haggard songs.

Alice came over every Saturday for a few weeks to teach me how to chord. I learned how to change broken strings and how to tune. Eventually I stopped dropping my pick inside the soundhole and having to turn my guitar upside down and shake it out.  I immediately learned about burning fingers. My thirst for guitar-playing knowledge stretched as far as learning the chords I needed in order to strum along with my favorite hits of the day -- primarily A, E, D, G, C, B flat, and the sevenths.I stumbled into some minor chords -- but country songs didn't use minors.

The first country LP's I bought were:

Yes, I knew Waylon Jennings before he was Waylon Jennings.

Once I adopted country music, I embraced it with my whole heart. The truth is, it wasn't just peer, or best friend, pressure. I am able to go along...for a while...if going along assuages someone else's feelings; but eventually I'm going to alight on what I like and stay there.No, there was something about country that felt comfortable; something that was lacking in sixties pop hits. Soul; truth. A weeping steel guitar riff pierced my gut; twin fiddles made me cry with joy. The thumping bass guitar was a pulsing heartbeat. Even in sadness, country had so much joy...the joy of pouring out one's guts.

I met country at an opportune time. The mid-to-late sixties was rife with promise. Merle, Waylon, Tammy Wynette, Lynn Anderson, Faron Young, Connie Smith, David Houston, even Buck Owens and Ray Price. Had country and I been introduced a mere ten years later, I would have laughed disdainfully and quickly abandoned it. As it was, I became a country snob. I knew what was good and what was pap, and I took great offense at the pap. I resented interlopers. Fifties country artists weren't my cup of tea, but I shared their appall when someone like John Denver came along and started winning country awards. This pipsqueak folk singer? I was so adamant in my principles I refused to acknowledge I actually liked "Let Me Be There" by Olivia Newton-John. Sure, there were country elements to the tune, but a pop singer? Sorry.

My all-time favorite moment from the CMA Awards:

Like many things I've obsessed over in my life, in my teens I became rabid. I stayed up late just to tune into clear channel, real country stations like WHO in Des Moines, with overnight DJ Mike Hoyer, who actually, around 2 a.m., played complete new albums. It was a rare night when WSM in Nashville pierced the static, but sometimes I actually had the opportunity to listen to Ralph Emery, who'd have artists like Marty Robbins perform live in the studio. More often I got to listen to Bill Mack on WBAP in Fort Worth, whose preferences were stone country, a revelation for me.The seminal country disc jockeys were Mike Hoyer, Ralph Emery, and Bill Mack ~ when DJ's actually mattered.

Though Alice and I were essentially conjoined twins, I had my own musical preferences and she had hers. We agreed most of the time. Rarely did one of us fall in love with a song when the other didn't like it. True country has a genetic code that those who share it feel in their bones.

I don't think she was ever crazy for Faron Young, but I was. Some voices resonate, and his did with me. I usually cringe when I watch his live performances ~ Faron was a recording artist foremost; his live shtick was too hammy for me. This one is pretty good, though:

For years and years when someone asked me who my favorite country singer was, the answer was Faron Young. I remember traveling with my family somewhere when I was sixteen. We decamped in a motel and I knew that Faron was going to appear on Hee Haw that night.. My ultimate quest was to get that black and white rabbit-eared TV tuned to CBS in time to watch him.

Flipping through my LP's from those years (alas, some of them have been lost), my tastes ran from lots and lots of Connie Smith and Lynn Anderson, practically every album Merle Haggard released, Faron (of course), The Statlers, reams of Porter and Dolly, Tanya Tucker, Johnny Rodriguez, Mel Street, David Houston, Tammy Wynette, Conway and Loretta, Mel Tillis, Barbara Mandrell. Buck Owens and Susan Raye, Bobby Bare, Johnny Paycheck. Even one-offs like Kenny Price, LaWanda Lindsey, and Tom T. Hall.

By the time Alice and I graduated from high school, along with the predetermined rock songs that blasted out of her car radio, we sang along with:

I wasn't always wedded to the classic country sound, but that's what stirred my soul. 


Finding it, however, became more difficult for me as country began to change.

It wasn't as if country went to hell just like that as the seventies rolled around. Some classic acts emerged mid-decade:  Ronnie Milsap, Gary Stewart, The Oak Ridge Boys, Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, Eddie Rabbitt,  GENE WATSON. And a girl singer who tipped country on its ass. Her name was Emmylou.

I still purchased mainly singles, and there were some classics scattered here and there: "Rose Colored Glasses" by John Conlee; "Heaven's Just A Sin Away" by The Kendalls; "Party Time" from TG Sheppard; most any Johnny Rodriguez release.


The trouble with the seventies was that so much bad country dominated the airwaves. Producers chased the latest fad and created monsters like Sylvia and Billy "Crash" Craddock. 

Ronnie Milsap and Gary Stewart knew what country was about, but their battle was ultimately lost in the record companies' drive to get "acceptable" artists on The Midnight Special.

It hurt my heart to abandon country, but I was driven to it. I'd lost Alice as a friend sometime in the mid-seventies. We mutually, albeit unspokenly realized our life paths had diverged. We simply stopped pretending. I don't know what her life became, but mine morphed into a a hard-fought adult; and most importantly, a mom. Music never lost its sheen for me, but it assumed a lesser importance. I was supremely poor and could only afford an occasional LP. Had it not been for a hand-me-down console stereo, music would have only streamed from a battery-powered radio or my car. 

Thanks to network television, I still knew what was going on in country and it wasn't pretty. Urban Cowboy wasn't even that good of a movie, much less the fad it spawned. It was soon after that Kenny Rogers appeared and dominated country with his Lionel Ritchie-penned tunes. I did not regret my decision to turn away. 

I've recounted this tale before, but it bears repeating. Visiting my parents on a Friday night, I found that instead of their usual Friday fare of JR Ewing, they'd popped in a VCR tape of some white-hatted cowboy singer. "Who's this?" I asked derisively. Mom answered George somebody. I was less than impressed. Granted, this guy had all the right instruments in his band, but I didn't know any of the songs. What George Whoever did, however, was pique my interest in checking out this "new" country. It didn't happen immediately. On a lazy Saturday I stopped in at Musicland and picked up a couple of cassettes. As I ritually circled my house with a dust rag, I listened.

This was the first tape I bought:

This was the second:

I didn't even know why I'd picked these two. I knew nothing about current country. But I played those tapes over and over.

My conversion was gradual. As I waited outside the elementary school for my kids' classes to dismiss, instead of Y93, I took the leap and twirled the dial to the local country station. I knew none of the names of the artists. So I just listened.

There was this one guy with a nasally voice and a kick-ass band ~ I didn't know who he was, but I liked his songs. Some sisters, Forrester, I think the DJ said. And some other family group; Judds maybe? That George guy kept popping up, too. The local station played him a lot.

This new country was like the old country, except the instruments were upfront and the bass thumped louder. And damn, the songs actually said something! I was suddenly hooked. I wasn't giving up my MTV, but I was suddenly home.

I discovered new artists named Randy, Dwight, Steve, Wynonna and Naomi, Clint, Alan, Patty, Rodney, Earl Thomas, Highway 101. My musical existence became a cornucopia of revelations. I chastised myself for giving up so easily. But somehow I knew that had I not surrendered I wouldn't have unearthed this wonder. While I was gorging on Huey Lewis and The News, country had sprouted and bloomed.

And this guy (the one with the nasally voice) stands alone:

As a country fan since the nineteen sixties; as someone who'd simply given up, I was now granted my due. I'd waited the requisite amount of years and my award at last arrived. It was as if I had to give up in order for country to catch a clue. 

And that George guy? I now possess twenty-three of his albums and a boxed set. Mom and Dad were onto something.

As the eighties rolled into the nineties, the delicacies continued to slam the airwaves. Patty, Vince, Joe Diffie, Kathy Mattea, Pam Tillis, Mary Chapin, Marty Stuart, Tracy Lawrence, Diamond Rio, Brooks and Dunn, Travis Tritt, MARK CHESNUTT, Restless Heart. 

Before even the halfway mark, however, country began to slide downhill. The songwriting became less crisp. Established stars were calling it in. I hung on until 1999; then I stopped listening forever, never to return. This time I meant it. 

I don't know what "country" is like now, but from the bits I've heard, it's no longer country. That's okay. I had forty years, with some stops in between. I don't need new music; I've got more old music than I could listen to for the rest of my life. 

(And that's after filtering out the ones I will never again listen to.)

It's a funny thing about music: I've held onto my albums from the sixties, even though I'll probably never play them again, but when I pick one up, I'm holding my history in my hands. Seeing my maiden name scribbled on the back reminds me of the person I was then and the emotions I experienced lo those eons ago. Music is so impersonal now. Even my CD's don't evince the raw emotion that an LP does. 

It's impossible to sum up my life with country. So much of it is tied to where I was, who I was, where I was going.

A glimpse of my musical heart (draw your own conclusions) can be found here:

The two songs I remember hearing for the very first time on the radio and swooning over:

It's been a great run. I'm not sorry for any of it.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Blast From The Past - Top Country Hits Of 1970

I always enjoy traveling back in time, to revisit the days of country music of yore.

Today, I chose the year 1970, because I think I've forgotten a lot of the music from way back then, when I was but 15 years old, and thereby is the challenge....find some good stuff from the year 1970.

As you know by now, I always like to start these things off on a high note, so here's a high note:


Anyone who knows me, knows that Merle Haggard is, to me, the best thing that ever happened to country music. That said, this is not my favorite Merle song, not by a long shot. But it does have its charm.

And it was a huge hit in 1970, leading millions of country music fans to the false assumption that Merle was a conservative.

But, doesn't he look cute here? Nice, wavy hair. Young. Shy smile.

And here's Bonnie Owens in the background, smiling. Probably thinking, "You a**hole. Oh sure, on stage, you make everyone think that you're such a nice, sweet, genteel guy. Try living with you! You and your black moods. And I can't even get away from you, since, when you go out on tour, I go."

I'm just conjecturing here, of course. But I know the type.

Now, for something completely different, remember this? It was a big hit in 1970:


This video proves two things:

1. In 1970, even a lounge act could have a major hit.
2. People were awfully easy to please back then.

And to think that I was kind of lukewarm about "The Fightin' Side Of Me"!

Here, you've basically got a duo with their dueling synthesizers, a really corny song, and big hair. What more do you need for a hit? And poor Tanya Tucker is trying to look enthusiastic.

Alas, Jack and Misty are now residing on SoundClick. Hey, even we're on SoundClick! It's not the most discerning site for music. But, you know, things happen.


I've always been ambivalent about this song. I mean, it's okay. It has a nice twin fiddle opening. But it's kind of boring, really. No offense to the writers - and it apparently took two people to write this song. It's simply a matter of divergent tastes, I guess, because it was a number one hit. So, more power to them! The best part of the song is Charley's whistling at the end. Of course, that's not actually a part of this video.

One note, though. I would really have hated to be in Charley's band, because I think I might have just fallen asleep during these numbers. Charley had a lot of potential, but his song choices just weren't the best. After "The Easy Part's Over", things sort of went downhill.


I always love watching Marty Robbins concert videos. As Marty notes here, he won the Grammy for this song, and "I don't want you to think that I feel that my song was the best song of the year....I heard many songs that year, but I never heard any that I liked better than mine".....(heh heh)

When you listen to the lyrics of this song, you almost want to break down in sobs, in sympathy for this poor woman's life......

Hands that are strong but wrinkled
Doing work that never gets done
Hair that's lost some of the beauty
By too many hours in the sun

Now, maybe it's just me, but it seems like Marty was making a pretty good living. Did he have his wife living in some run-down shack without running water? Good god. Maybe Marty had the "main house", and the "woman, woman, wife" was relegated to the abandoned chicken coop out back. Seems kinda cruel.

But, in the end, while the little woman is out mowing the grass, Marty is here doing a superb job as usual. I particularly love the way Marty kind of "slides" up to the high notes. It's sort of his signature. I do not, however, understand why his bandmate (Bill Johnson, is it?) is shuffling index cards behind him. Maybe he was practicing for his upcoming toastmaster speech.

Maybe we could learn more about that here: Country Music Hall of Fame Panel Discussion: The Story of My Life: Friends and Family Remember Marty Robbins

I can't seem to find which recording from 1970 was the number one record of the year, but I've got two finalists in mind. Here is the first one:


I'll just admit it and get it over with. I never really "got" Conway Twitty. Sort of like George Jones. I know that both of these guys are revered in many country circles. I guess it's just a matter of taste.

Don't get me wrong. Conway had some earlier hits that I liked a lot, including this one. Then, sometime later, he got all "curly permed" and started remaking Pointer Sister songs and other crimes against humanity, and all the while, he kept building up his fan base. I just don't get it. I liked him way better before he became a sex symbol for the blue-haired ladies.

And, admission number two. I went to a package show that included Vince Gill and somebody (?) and Conway Twitty, and I actually left before Conway came on. A short time later, he passed away, so I still feel kind of guilty about walking out - in hindsight.

Anyway, kudos to Conway for this huge hit. And it was HUGE. And I can definitely see where it would be a fun song to sing.

BLOGGER'S NOTE: I'm going to break from the topic at hand for a moment, because, while Tammy Wynette had three number one songs in 1970, and while Tammy won the female vocalist award at the 1970 CMA Awards, none of her three hit songs from 1970 are available on YouTube.

Therefore, since I happen to think that Tammy is one of the best female singers of all time (second only to Patsy Cline), I felt it warranted including a Tammy video here, even if the song is not technically from 1970. So, here is (and I happen to love this song):


Okay, now back to 1970. Well, here's another top hit of the year - maybe this one was #3; I don't know; can't tell. Nobody will tell me. But it's a great song and a great performance, nevertheless. A song written by Kris Kristofferson.


Not much to say about this. Just a classy performance.


The most interesting aspect of this performance is that the recording itself is this performance. If I remember correctly, this was the first time that Johnny actually performed Kris's song, and it was recorded to be released as a single. I guess this is one of the few times in history in which a live performance sounds exactly like the record.

Oh, and he promised not to say, "stoned". But, of course, he did. That's Johnny.


I apologize for the relatively poor quality of this video. Unfortunately, it was the only live performance by Jerry of this song that I could find.

Rest in peace, Jerry Reed (March 20, 1937 - August 31, 2008)

And now for something completely different.

Am I the only person who remembers Susan Raye? She and Buck Owens had some duet hits back in the seventies, and a really nice album, titled, "We're Gonna Get Together". Susan also had a string of hits of her own. Unfortunately, all I can find on Amazon are LP's! Hey, I don't have a turntable anymore. Somebody needs to reissue these. Sundazed, maybe?

This is apparently Susan's first number one hit. She had a lot of others I liked better, but here is:


I have since learned, through searching the net, that Susan subsequently retired from the music business, and became a marriage, family, and child counselor. She also married Jerry Wiggins, Buck's drummer (I knew that) and had six children. I didn't think anyone ever retired from the music business. I thought they just went to Branson. Kudos to Susan.


I always love watching Waylon's performances, be they the "clean cut Waylon" or the "shaggy Waylon". Waylon was great. And notice Jessi Colter here on the keys? This is just a real nice performance.


Okay, maybe For The Good Times wasn't number three. Maybe this was number three. Because it was HUGE. This was, of course, Anne Murray's first number one single.

I've always liked and admired Anne Murray. She seems so real. Doesn't buy into that show biz stuff. Just a great, great singer.


Campy schtick aside (just slide that little slider button closer to the end to get to "Goin' Steady"), make no mistake, Faron Young was a tremendous performer. If you consider that Faron started out in the late forties on the Louisiana Hayride, and here he was, in 1970 with three number one songs (Goin' Steady, Occasional Wife, and "(If I Ever Fall In Love With A) Honky Tonk Girl), that's not too shabby of a career. And, at this time, he hadn't yet released "Four In The Morning".

Of course, Faron is essentially forgotten by people who should know better, but he was my favorite country singer, and an astute businessman. Sadly, he reached a tragic end. But I always smile when I see videos such as this one.


Before I talk about what a great duet team Porter and Dolly were, did you notice the introduction to this number?? What the ?? This performance is from the Wilburn Brothers TV show, and Doyle (or Teddy - who knows?) says to Porter, "Why don't you tell us about this song that Dolly wrote?" Well, ahem, Dolly's standing right here! Wow, sexism was alive and well in 1970. I bet she just wanted to shove him out of the way, after he and his brother horned in on their (her) song. She could have used those long fingernails to stab him. But no, she just smiled sweetly. I don't even know anything about Doyle (or Teddy - who knows?), but man, I really don't like him. I think I heard that Loretta wasn't crazy about the brothers, either, after she finally got out of her contract with them.

But all sexism aside, I would venture that Porter and Dolly were probably the best country duo ever. And it wasn't just because of Dolly. People sort of like to push Porter aside (like Dolly should have done to Doyle - or Teddy), and give Dolly all the credit, but I've heard Dolly sing duets with other artists, and the mix doesn't sound as good. I don't think just anyone's voice can match up with hers. Porter's did. And her voice did not overpower the songs. His parts come through loud and clear. They had the right combination (yea, that was corny).

Yes, this post is very long. I hope you just skipped the parts you weren't interested in. But, number one, there turned out to be a lot of good songs and/or available videos from 1970; and, two, I had a lot of free time. : )

So, I will leave you with what I think was probably the top single of 1970. Absent an official chart, it's just a guess on my part, but if you consider how many times this song was played over and over and over and over, so that you just wanted to grab your plastic-cased table-top radio and smash it to smithereens, while simultaneously banging your head into the wall, WELL! That sounds like a HIT!

Don't get me wrong. I like Lynn Anderson! And I'm even distantly related to her (or that's some old family tale that was invented and passed along - I could go either way on that).

And the song itself, written by Joe South, is pleasant enough, the first 5,000 times you hear it.

But hey, you be the judge. Watch it once. Then tell me if you could stand to watch it again and again the rest of the day. And you already have certain parts in your head, even before you watch it, don't you? How about, "or let go - o - o - oh" ?

But Lynn does look awfully cute here, with her feathered dress.

So, here we go:


This now concludes our look back to the year 1970.