Showing posts with label ken burns country music. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ken burns country music. Show all posts

Thursday, August 13, 2020

2020 Country Music Hall Of Fame Inductees


In a curious lack of enthusiasm, The Country Music Hall of Fame today announced its 2020 inductees via a press release. The HOF might think that with the pandemic consuming everyone's thoughts, no one would care. Quite the opposite. Good news is coveted now more than ever. 

Regardless, I am here to celebrate the newcomers. The HOF has three categories of inductees: veteran era, modern era, and non-performing. One can peruse my past posts to learn how very wrong I was to predict that The Judds would be inducted this year. I am happy to report that in the modern category -- ta da! -- Marty Stuart takes the honors.

I was first introduced to Marty Stuart via CMT. I was fascinated by Hillbilly Rock -- his laconic pointy-booted performance in the video seemed to convey "this is a dumb idea, but I'll play along."

But honestly, I liked the pointy-boot thing.

Marty may not have been the world's greatest country singer, but he had "something". In the eighties I followed along happily when he teamed up with Travis Tritt:

Marty's albums were so-so. I bought the first three or four, but found them a mixed bag. It seemed Marty had little focus. As it turned out, he wasn't doing what he wanted. This was proven out by the release of his masterpiece "The Pilgrim" in 1999. I'd kind of forgotten about Marty -- he went three years without releasing an album, and I don't know that I even noticed he wasn't being played on the radio. Concept albums can be hit or miss, and they've been rare in country. Merle Haggard's "Let Me Tell You About A Song", released in 1972, was more of an autobiographical journey than one cohesive construct. "Wanted: The Outlaws" was not a concept album, contrary to the fable. It was cobbled together by producer Jerry Bradley from disparate tracks by Jennings, Nelson, and Tompall Glaser; throwing Jessi Colter in for good measure.

"The Pilgrim" was a true concept; an actual story recounted in song. Marty called on friends like Cash, Jones, Emmylou, and Ralph Stanley to lend their voices, but truly the best tracks are Marty's. "Hobo's Prayer", "Sometimes The Pleasure's Worth The Pain", "Red Red Wine And Cheatin' Songs", among others are standouts. (My personal favorite is the short mandolin reprise of "The Greatest Love Of All Time". Just beautiful.)


Naturally, the album flopped. No radio singles! the suits cried. I truly would have been unaware of The Pilgrim had my husband, who is not a country fan, not brought it to my attention. He was trying to find any country music he could actually like, and he liked Marty. It was in late '99 when we saw Marty in concert for the first time in a small theater venue. I was still reminiscing about his eighties singles, but the songs from The Pilgrim were growing on me. 1999 was when Marty Stuart found his true calling. His next album release was "Country Music", one of my all-time favorite records. Again, none of the songs charted, but there was a mostly silent fan base who gobbled up everything Marty released.


The prevailing theory is that Stuart was inducted into the HOF due to his preservation of country music history, as if he's just a memorabilia collector. (He also featured legendary artists on his series, The Marty Stuart Show, although I never found a station that carried it. Thank goodness for YouTube.) Ken Burns' sometimes misguided country music documentary was significantly enhanced by Marty's contributions.

Yes, Marty is preserving the history, and thank God, but he deserves his due as a great songwriter and a superlative musician. Speaking of superlative, our second Marty concert was again in a small venue (the only way to see an artist) and by then he had formed his Fabulous Superlatives. I am not proficient enough to find the correct adjective to describe this band. Superlative fits nicely.

Frankly, Marty could also have qualified in the veterans category based on this:

In searching YouTube videos, I stumbled across this tribute to Marty Robbins. Please bear with the long intro; it'll be worth it:

Needless to say, I have tons of respect for Marty Stuart and I am thrilled that he is a 2020 Hall Of Fame inductee.

Stay tuned for posts dedicated to the remaining inductees.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Diamond Rio

Over the years, I've seen a lot of country bands. To be clear, a band in country terms is distinct from a rock band. In the sixties a country band played "backup" to the star. That said, some bands distinguished themselves ~ The Buckaroos and The Strangers, to name two. I would add the little-known Po' Boys, who backed Bill Anderson, and get zero mention.

By the seventies things began to change. Alabama was self-contained; Randy Owens was the lead singer, but the band in its entirety was the star. In the eighties, NGDB (The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) were iconic. The Mavericks, in the nineties, distinguished themselves as seminal musicians.

But the best true band I ever saw live was Diamond Rio. It was a small, intimate venue, in a casino many miles from home. Having dinner in the restaurant prior to the concert, I spied Gene Johnson at a table alone, endeavoring to eat his steak and baked potato, when a couple of frenzied female fans accosted him, and I thought, wow, leave the poor man alone. He was gracious, but I would never do that to another human being. It was an eye-opening revelation; thus when my then-husband and I passed by his table on our way out, I deliberately ignored Gene.

At half past eight o'clock, we settled into our third-row seats in the venue and proceeded to be wowed by a phenomenal band. I think there was actually a red velvet curtain as a backdrop.

Marty Roe was a true bluegrass singer who tucked himself into the country genre and embraced the role of showman. Lead guitarist Jimmy Olander exuded perfection and personality. Gene Johnson, despite the heartburn interference, was a master. The band was rounded out by Brian Prout on drums, Dan Truman caressing the keys, and Dana Williams plunking the bass. 

There are great artists who are duds at live performance. See: Alan Jackson. I wouldn't even remember the Jackson concert I attended except for a skinny elm tree perched in front of the mic wearing a white cowboy hat.

Diamond Rio was no Alan Jackson.

I love this song:

I'm partial to this one, too:

Barney Fife and a country band? C'mon!

Sadly, I don't know if DR was oblivious, but they never made an official video of this song?

All Rio's songs weren't about the fun.

Yes, George Strait did it, but Diamond Rio did it first:

The nineties can be summed up for me in two words ~ Diamond Rio.

This is what the nineteen nineties were about.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Restless Heart

I've been watching a Netflix documentary about Laurel Canyon and rock music of the nineteen sixties ~ please check it out ~ it's awesome.

All genres of music have lapped over the edges of others. What the documentary, Echo In The Canyon, labels "folk rock" I would call country rock. The Byrds would have been country had they come on the scene twenty years later. The Eagles aren't folk rock ~ they're country rock.

I'm a sucker for the many manifestations of country; Honky Tonk, Neo-Traditional, the Bakersfield Sound, Western Swing, Americana, some forms of Bluegrass. But I began life as a rock 'n roll child and remnants of a past life linger. While I love and appreciate what can be accomplished with three simple chords, I've always been drawn to more complex melodies and harmonics. Restless Heart wasn't exactly country rock, but they were close. The first track I ever heard from the group was this one, and it sucked me in:

I love "Wheels". There is no live performance video to be found, but this is country rock at its finest:



Larry Stewart left the band in 1992, and Restless Heart essentially ended. Larry had one number one hit:

Bands don't last much more than a decade unless you're the Rolling Stones. But a decade is a long-ass time. A decade can be a seminal pillar in one's life.

I thank Larry Stewart and the band for one hell of a seminal pillar.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Clint Black

For a variety of reasons, barroom songs are the best songs. I grew up around bars, or what one might now call "tap rooms", with a juke box and a local band playing on weekend nights. The whiff of stale tobacco mixed with gin and bourbon smells like home. There's nothing like the morning after, when tables need to be cleared, to soak in that cloud of obliterated good times.

As a kid I only knew about the music and that people seemed to be having tons of fun. I could perch right outside the entrance of my uncle's bar, and later my dad's bar and take in the abandon displayed before me and the thumping of an electric bass and the crash of drums; even though I couldn't quite discern which song the band was playing. I didn't even think to make judgments about the masses inside ~ the sad men bumped up against the bar nursing a tall frosted glass or the wiry arms draped around hairspray-stiffened fake blondes in red booths in dark corners. Once a quarter got dropped into the juke box slot, men who had, after three whiskey sours, developed a certainty of their dancing prowess would coax the ladies into their arms and onto the dance floor, and they would two-step to Ray Price's "Crazy Arms" or Buck Owens' "Foolin' Around".

It was all exciting to me because it was different; foreign.

For reasons that all pointed back to my dad, I renounced bars for a couple of decades thereafter. The fun is fleeting; the repercussions are piercing daggers that stab for a lifetime. But sometime around 1987, I felt a craving to re-immerse myself in the fun times ~ experience the abandon as a fully-grown woman. There was a renowned country bar in my town called The Dakota Lounge that brought in all the best regional bands on weekends and had a scrolling neon sign inside that flashed all the upcoming acts. The club was dark, as all bars should be. Faux cowboys strolled in around eight o'clock, black hats perched atop their sideburned coiffes; shiny pointed boots inadvertently pinging against bar stools. The gals would saunter in as a clutch around nine; red kerchiefs circling their slender necks, a powder puff of Jovan Musk wafting off their breasts. The cowboys began to circle, scoping out the prettiest, and then the juke box would kick in as weary bar maids took drink orders.

Decades had passed since Ray Price had boomed out of a Wurlitzer's speakers, but the tableau was just the same. It requires a special vibe to commence the ritual; mystic, yet immediately agreed upon. The song is a toasty embrace with a pulsing heartbeat.

This was that song:

Had Clint Black never recorded another song, "A Better Man" would still be celebrated as the ultimate country hook-up song of the nineteen eighties.

But he did record more:

What Clint did was, he didn't forget country music:

And Clint was no flash in the pan. This track, from 1997, is as good as it can be:

Thanks to Saving Country Music, I found this wholly original video:

Ken Burns may have brushed Clint Black aside, but I won't.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Clay Walker

I had a friend and co-worker, Lynnette, who was in love with Clay Walker. I wasn't in love with him (shoot, I didn't even know him!) but I heard a song on my car radio in 1993 as I was pulling into a parking spot at West Acres Mall in Fargo (yea, memory is inexplicable) and I thought I knew the singer, but I actually didn't. (Remember the days when you'd hear a new song on the radio and you'd try to pinpoint the artist, and then it turned out it was someone brand-new? Clay Walker was brand-new.)

I stopped before I turned off the ignition and listened:

There was an exhilaration in his voice that was mesmerizing. I can understand why Lynnette loved him.

Clay's recordings were eternally optimistic and that was refreshing.

This one is a bit different, and I like it almost as much as I like "What's It To You":

Shall we date ourselves?

Clay Walker is still going strong, as evidenced by the news on his site.

I like that we don't just go away; that we keep going. That latest twenty-year-old can't erase us. I was older than Clay when I first him on my car radio and I'm still here.

I'm not impressionistic like Clay Walker was in his heyday, but I like to be reminded that brightness still exists.

I wonder if Clay is still that idealist.

I hope so.

Travis Tritt

The period from the late eighties to early nineties was so rife with exciting new music that I almost took it for granted. Like a spoiled child, I expected more and more. I'd heard "Country Club" on my local FM station ~ it had a good beat; you could two-step to it; but it didn't strike me the way a spanking-new George Strait single did. "I'm Gonna Be Somebody" was actually a better track than I gave it credit for at the time.

But it wasn't until 1991, when a new show on NBC called "Hot Country Nights" appeared out of nowhere as a summer replacement that I really sat up (on my couch) and took notice of Travis Tritt. He sat on a stool in center-stage with just his acoustic guitar, and this is the song he performed:

For a voice with so much soul, his performance was heartbreaking in its simplicity. Sometimes it's not the bells and whistles that grab you ~ sometimes it's the quiet. This sure wasn't "Country Club".

Then he did a complete turnabout and released this song, which is sort of the nineties' kiss-off answer to "Take This Job (And Shove It):

Soon Travis teamed up with Marty Stuart to record a duet that embodied the time-honored tradition of the bass-thumping country shuffle. And I loved it:

I will readily admit that my favorite Travis Tritt recording is a remake of an Elvis song that was awash in insipid artificiality, like most Elvis songs. THIS version, however, is extraordinary:

Like most artists of the period, Travis parted ways with his label, but never fear ~ he's still out there and making music. I learned, in fact, that he just did a concert with my latest obsession, Tracy Lawrence. I discovered this via Travis's website, which is an actual site and not a tiny-fonted slap-together page like poor Ricky Van Shelton's.

Travis Tritt is a musical chameleon. I can't pigeon-hole him, and I bet he likes not being tucked inside a neat package.

The last track that caught my ear, when I still listened to terrestrial radio, was one that sums up most of our philosophies as we glide through this big blue ball of ether:

And Ken Burns be damned ~ Travis Tritt represents everything about the nineties that Ken forgot.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Ricky Van Shelton

I think it was my older sister who first introduced me to Ricky Van Shelton. Carole was not necessarily a music aficionado; she just liked what she liked. She'd breeze in from Texas once a year and lay down the gauntlet of songs we all needed to hear. As an example, she was an early fan girl of "The Devil Went Down To Georgia", and I thought, well, okay...

Like all music people tell me I need to like, I was naturally resistant to Ricky Van Shelton. I think he had a cover song on the charts at the time, and I was inherently scornful of artists who earned their chops by copying someone else. Grudgingly, however, I went out and purchased Van Shelton's debut CD, "Wild-Eyed Dream". I was buying CD's like they were candy gumballs anyway, so what was one more pointless purchase? Turned out the album had some original tracks that beat the covers all to hell. A hot artist, I'm assuming (maybe naively) should have his pick of songs; so why Ricky recorded so many cover songs perplexes me. Maybe he simply wanted to memorialize the classics. Regardless, I preferred the songs I'd never before heard, like this one (of course the official video is unavailable ~ because we need to scrub the late eighties/early nineties from everyone's consciousness):

 Much like this one:

Those two tracks alone, never mind all the covers, made the album an A plus for me.

There's myriad reasons why shiny careers fade ~ the label loses confidence; tastes change. Not everyone can be a George Strait, with choice songwriters breaking down their door. Ricky Van Shelton's career suffered from either the lack of good original song choices or his own proclivities. I would have loved to see Ricky perform in a bar setting ~ his natural milieu was stacked speakers, a thumping bass, and a telecaster.

That aside, he recorded a great rendition of "Statue Of A Fool", whose original recording by Jack Greene suffered from the lack of a great singer:

My sister was right. I'll cop to it.

After all these years, he deserves more than a faint memory. Number one, he needs a website that isn't lame ~ Ricky, are you listening? I would link to it, but I don't want anyone to be embarrassed. Wix dot com is essentially free ~ even my band has a site.

Granted, Ricky retired in 2006, which is almost unheard of in the music business. Retire? The brittle-boned Rolling Stones are still touring, for God's sake! According to his pitiful website, he's a painter and a collector (still need a site to sell your paintings, though.) Maybe the good songs weren't forthcoming; maybe he just wanted to enjoy life off the road. More power to him.

Nevertheless, Ricky Van Shelton is worth remembering.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Tracy Lawrence

I'm beginning to get a bit pissed off about nineties country artists being ignored. It may have begun with Ken Burns' "Country Music" series, which completely overlooked the most iconic artists of a decade when country music was at its best (see: George Strait). For me, country was represented by artists like Tracy Lawrence, Mark Chesnutt, Clint Black, Diamond Rio, Dwight Yoakam, Patty Loveless, Collin Raye, Randy Travis, Travis Tritt, Clay Walker, Restless Heart, Earl Thomas Conley, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Foster and Lloyd, Ricky Van Shelton, Trisha Yearwood, et al.

The nineties was when country and our hearts soared. Even the sad songs made one at least feel alive. I don't know what country's like now; and frankly, from everything I've read, I don't care to know. Country for me was laid to rest somewhere around 1999. I'm told, though, that it's a pallid imitation of the genre formerly known as country.

So for the uninitiated, I'm bringing the nineties back. Mark Chesnutt warranted his own singular post, but let's not overlook the others. In posts to come, I will introduce novices to actual country music and remind those of us in the know of artists who may have slipped our minds.

I'm a big booster of Tracy Lawrence, as described here. 

In case you've forgotten or never knew, watch these:

Yep, I'm bringing nineties country back. Stay tuned.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Anatomy Of A Great Country Song

I'm not a stickler for profundity in music. In fact, to me the message is beside the point. That's why it's called music; not poetry. It's such a simple concept, I am befuddled why so many "experts" miss it. The message is in how the song makes you feel in the pit of your gut. Really, the words are superfluous. If a good singer with a good band sang, "bah bah bahhhhh" with just the right chord progression and change-ups, I'd proclaim that it deeply touched my heart. And I'd be right.

Granted, a meaningful message paired with soulful singing and the right melody is an added plus. That's country's aspiration. And that's what also makes a great country song gossamer.

There are a ton of country songs that people consider classics, but the majority of them make you feel the words but not that punch. Sometimes it's soaring violins that do it ~ think "He Stopped Loving Her Today". Or the duh-duh-duh-DUM of the steel guitar in "Stand By Your Man". Or the searing harmonies in "Sing Me Back Home".

There are no step-by-step guidelines for creating a classic country song. If there were, we'd be gulping water in a roiling sea of perfection; and then what would we have to compare? It's not even the truly bad songs that allow us to recognize a great one; it's the banal ones. A thousand different artists went into the studio and recorded songs that they thought were, "Hey, pretty good!" Except they weren't. Those are the songs we hear, but don't really hear, on the radio. They're static at best.

The worst conceit is a song the artist wrote him/herself. There's nothing worse than a self-absorbed songwriter (take it from one who knows). Songwriters equate the sweat that went into creating a song to its relative quality. Not many can carry that off ~ Kristofferson can; Yoakam can. Haggard could.

When I was writing my retrospective of country in the nineties as a companion (or counterpoint) to Ken Burns' documentary series, I re-found "Sticks and Stones", and remembered how much I'd loved it. Silly me; I'd always thought Tracy Lawrence had written the song. That's wrong, wrong. The songwriters were Elbert West and Roger Dillon.

Maybe it's just me; maybe it's not. I categorize Sticks and Stones as a classic country song. It's not static. And it provides that gut-punch that a great country song requires.

You can take the house and everything in it
Keep the diamond ring 'cause that's how I meant it
Sticks and stones are all they ever were to me
This material life with all it's value
Don't mean a thing to me without you
The love that we once had is all I need
So take everything we have if it makes you happy
But darling let me say before I leave
These sticks and stones ain't all that makes a home
They don't have arms to hold you when love goes wrong
Now you say we are through
Those sticks and stones may break me
But the words you said just tore my heart in two
Remember when we didn't have a dime between us
You took my hand and said we don't need much
Just as long as we're together we would be fine
Now we've acquired all I thought would please you
I gave everything you know that I could
And still you're telling me you're not satisfied
So take everything we have if it makes you happy
But darling let me say before I leave
These sticks and stones ain't all that makes a home
They don't have arms to hold you when love goes wrong
Now you say we are through
Those sticks and stones may break me
But the words you said just tore my heart in two
These sticks and stones may break me
But the words you said just tore my heart in two

Tracy Lawrence became one of those "disposables", when Nashville again decided that real country was passe. "Bro country, man! That's where it's at!", said the fifty-year-old label exec whose Wranglers were a bit too snug when he tried to pull them on for an industry event. You will be pleased to know that Tracy is still out there and recording music. He doesn't have a label, of course, like Mark Chesnutt doesn't have a label, and Clay Walker doesn't have a label. Apparently all the classic artists have transcended labels.

The nineteen nineties was the last time that country music was country music. Country is mostly gone now; a tyrannosaurus rex in a world that subsists on EDM and synthesizers. Static in the extreme.

But that's why I'm here ~ to memorialize true country before everyone forgets.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Sixties Country Album Recommendations ~ For The Uninitiated

 If non-country viewers of Ken Burns' "Country Music" are still with me after my previous post highlighting country album recommendations, congrats! You're ready to take the next step!

It's not necessarily that country music became more refined in the decades that followed the sixties, but recording techniques evolved and the music wasn't as "crunchy". That may or may not be a good thing, but to me it made all the difference between seeing a great bar band and dropping an opaque curtain to separate the audience from the artist.

Country albums in the nineteen sixties were a dull lot. Nashville decreed that the rundown of an album was, two hits (tops) and nine cover tracks. Female artists' albums were the most predictable. I got to hear "You Ain't Woman Enough" rendered by at least three vocalists other than Loretta Lynn. Tammy covered Loretta's songs and Loretta covered Tammy's. Lynn Anderson covered both. I bought a lot of greatest hits albums then, because anything else was a waste of scarce dollars.

The first concept album I recall discovering was "Let Me Tell You About A Song", by Merle Haggard. Naturally it took someone outside of Nashville to shatter the mold.

Some people like live albums; others despise them. Today a live album is filler, a contract satisfier. In the sixties, though, a live album was an event. It takes a deft touch for a producer to deliver a superior live product and capture the thrill of a once-in-a-lifetime happening.

Capitol Records' Ken Nelson achieved the ultimate in recording Buck Owens and The Buckaroos performing live at Carnegie Hall. In his AllMusic review, Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote:

Buck Owens and the Buckaroos' 1966 concert at Carnegie Hall was a landmark not only for the band, but for country music: It signaled that it had firmly integrated itself not only into America's popular music mainstream, but also urban centers like New York. Buck and the Buckaroos had to deliver a stellar performance, and they did -- the group sounded like dynamite, tearing through a selection of their classic hits with vigor. Several decades removed from the performance itself, what really comes through is how musical and gifted the Buckaroos were, particularly Don Rich. For dedicated fans, it's a necessary addition to their collection.

When I was eleven, I didn't read reviews, had there actually been any. I just knew what I liked. I like, however, that the reviewer gives Don Rich his due. The true leader of the band, Don Rich was the glue. That's not to negate the pure perfection of Tom Brumley on steel and Doyle Holly's bass and stage presence. Willie Cantu was the Buckaroos' drummer on the album; the band's glue.

Don Rich, ladies and gentlemen:

Live "bar band" music:

Merle Haggard, not to be outdone, in 1970 recorded a live album at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Officially titled, "The Fightin' Side Of Me", I will always know it as "Live In Philadelphia". I'd seen Merle with Bonnie and the Strangers live in 1968, a life-altering experience in many, many ways; but this album captured the experience of sitting in the first row of a Haggard concert, only flashier. Merle was on top of the world in '70, and rightfully so.

"The Fightin' Side Of Me" was recorded on Valentine's Day, and has been derided by music critics -- which affirms my opinion of critics. To them every single solitary song ever recorded must have profound meaning, which is beside the point of music. It's as if reviewers are mathematicians ~ dry and humorless...and a bore to be around. As the saying goes (in my interpretation), if you can't do, nitpick. Any critic who misses the sheer joy in this album is missing the point of music.

Before I offer a few tasty selections from the album, I want to give props to The Strangers, the best country band outside of the Buckaroos. Roy Nichols (who Merle judiciously stole away from The Maddox Brothers and Rose and Wynn Stewart, as Ken Burns' documentary series told us) was a singular lead guitarist. As Merle said, Nichols, (along with legendary guitarist Chet Atkins) "were the two most influential guitar players in [the last] century. Because of Roy, my career commenced, He was the stylist that set the pace of the records I recorded in my high period."

Norman (Norm) Hamlet, aside from Pete Drake and Lloyd Green, and let me add, Sonny Garrish, is the creme de la creme of steel players.

On this album, Biff Adams kept the beat, Dennis Hromek played bass, and Bobby Wayne played rhythm and sang harmony. Combined, these five guys created a country band pinnacle.

And then there was Bonnie Owens. One may not know that Bonnie was the ex-wife of Buck Owens. Relationships were unnaturally close in Bakersfield, I guess. That's neither here nor there. It's about time that Bonnie gets her due. Bonnie's contribution to Merle's success cannot be underestimated. When one hears Merle, they're subconsciously hearing Bonnie's spot-on harmonies. As a soloist, Bonnie wasn't strong; her forte was adding harmonic touches that shot a song into the stratosphere.

Bonnie (so she forgot the words?):

The Strangers (by the way, their solo album was superb):

The most oft-remembered segment of this performance is Merle's impersonations. In hindsight, the impressions were middling, but we loved them:

Everybody obsesses over this song ~ it was just a song; get over it. But it is the "official" title of the album, so here you go:

Country albums in the late sixties/early seventies didn't offer much. These two are different. They capture the sheer joy of live music. One can't go wrong buying these (if you can get your hands on them). Luckily, I have the originally-pressed LP's; not to brag.

These are two that sum up the decade for me.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Country Album Recommendations For The Uninitiated

Ken Burns' "Country Music" series has apparently sparked unprecedented interest among casual music dabblers. I don't picture regular PBS viewers as popular music connoisseurs; which is unfair, because I watch PBS. I will (with confidence), however, assume that the average public television watcher is unfamiliar with country music; or was, until Ken Burns came along.

I'd like to think this sudden interest isn't as fleeting as the "O Brother, Where Art Thou" soundtrack fad was in 2000; when it was suddenly considered hip to embrace Appalachian music. I'm not optimistic.

But for those uninitiated curiosity-seekers who may actually want to click an album download or two on Amazon, welcome! My recommendations won't be too country, because I understand that country music is an acquired taste.

If you liked "O Brother, Where Art Thou", you'll like Marty Stuart's "The Pilgrim" even more. Today The Pilgrim is regarded as a classic, even though it performed poorly on the charts when it was released in 1999. A concept album, it features the likes of George Jones, Earl Scruggs, Johnny Cash, and Emmylou Harris, among others ~ all names familiar to Ken Burns' viewing audience. Marty will be reissuing the album this year on its twentieth anniversary.

 My favorite:

"Buenos Noches From A Lonely Room". Dwight Yoakam has released too many albums to count, and most of them offer delicacies. This album, though, is perhaps my favorite. This was Dwight's third release, and I was just getting to know him when it came out. For country, Yoakam was definitely unconventional ~ in a good way. At least eight of the eleven tracks on this LP are keepers. That so rarely happens.

Don't ever forget that Dwight can rock:

Folks who watched "Country Music" may think that the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band was only about the circle being unbroken. Au contraire! In the nineteen eighties, there was no better country band than NGDB. "More Great Dirt" is a so-called greatest hits album, but let's be frank: most of us had never heard these songs before the LP came along.

I'm happy to report that I got to see NGDB in concert in their heyday. What began as a country-rock outfit happily came to embrace country in its entirety. This is a band to get to know! The album, released in 1989, boasts, by my count, seven out of ten superb tracks.

I regret that I can't find any live performances of the songs I like best from the album, but please enjoy:

Yep, these are all male artists (shoot me). But remember, I devoted a whole post to Emmylou Harris.

I do have more recommendations, but be forewarned: they're country.

Those will wait until we meet again.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

A Country Album Primer

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

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

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

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

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

"Together Again" ~ Buck Owens:

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

"Sin City" ~ Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman:

"One Of These Days" ~ Earl Montgomery:

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

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

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

"Sweet Dreams" ~ Don Gibson:

"Jambalaya" ~ Hank Williams:

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

"Wheels" ~ Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons:

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

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

I would start here.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

"Country Music" ~ What Ken Missed

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

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

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

Here, to me, are the most glaring omissions:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 27, 2019

Ken Burns "Country Music" ~ Episode Five

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 26, 2019

What I Learned From The First Three Episodes of "Country Music"

Somebody in those first episodes uttered something like, "Country music is about looking a better time..." I thought, yes, that's very astute. I wasn't looking back in 1968 or 1974, but I have devoted an entire blog to looking back. Partly it's reminiscence, but it's also my attempt to ensure that certain artists and influences are not forgotten. Pop culture forges ahead, relentlessly; but to truly understand music, one should steep themselves in what came before. All music, whether artists realize it or not, is stirred by those who plowed the road.

I'm no expert ~ there's lots I learned from Ken Burns' series I didn't know. I knew how Ralph Peer ventured into Appalachia with his rudimentary equipment and found The Carter Family. And I know that country music had to start somewhere ~ thus The Carters. I didn't know, but I suspected The Carters didn't exactly write all those songs they recorded, and they didn't. Copyright was a foreign concept in the nineteen thirties. I also learned that melodies were exchanged like candy drops back then, and no one seemed to mind. It was just the way of music. Woody Guthrie stole the melody to This Land Is Your Land from The Carters' "When The World's On Fire", which was no doubt stolen from some unsuspecting hillbilly's lost-forever original composition. The Carters weren't "all that", except for Maybelle, who could definitely pick a mean acoustic guitar. They were, however, one of the very first.

I learned that hillbillies can call each other hillbillies, but otherwise it's an epithet. It's sort of how I feel when somebody says, "country and western music". It's like nails on a chalkboard.

I learned that Bob Wills had a keen eye for talent, but a bad eye for wives (which numbered about five). It would have been nice had Ken featured some of Bob's music. Whoever authored the episode, it seems, had a distinct preference for Gene Autry, and therefore, an inordinate number of minutes were devoted to this singing cowboy who was apparently as influential to kids in the thirties as Elvis movies were to me in the early sixties (that is to say, we just didn't know any better).

I gained a grudging respect for Roy Acuff, who I'd always viewed with a modicum of disdain. Turns out, Roy was a record-selling phenomenon; and even he admitted he wasn't the world's greatest singer. He was the best ambassador country music ever had, according to the series; and I now get that.

Ernest Tubb was bigger than I realized. I saw Tubb in concert; one of those one-offs that my best friend Alice and I bought tickets for sometime around 1967 because it was the only game in town.

I knew that Merle Haggard idolized Jimmie Rodgers ~ he did record a tribute album, after all. I was of a mind that all Rodgers' songs basically sounded the same (they did), but my husband pointed out that he was actually doing the blues. All the stars from that era, just like Merle, worshiped Rodgers. I do like California Blues (as performed by Merle), but all that yodeling can only be tolerated for so long. It was a different time.

I learned that Bill Monroe was a first-class asshole; but I rather respect that. He had high standards, but mostly he was just an asshole. There was a time I detested bluegrass music ~ now I like some. And Monroe invented it. How many people can claim to have invented a genre of music?

The Maddox Brothers and Rose were simply a name to me before I watched this series. I still don't get the attraction ~ I guess you had to be there ~ but if they helped to influence the Bakersfield Sound, many many kudos to them.

Kitty Wells got a mini-shout-out, even though she deserved more. She was the first mainstream female country star. (Alice and I also saw a Kitty Wells concert ~ again, we saw anyone who came to town, truly.)

The biggest impact for me of the first three episodes was the story of Hank Williams. I knew that Hank wrote some elegant country songs, plus some awesome up-tempo giddy ones, like "Settin' The Woods On Fire" and "Jambalaya". I knew that the end was tragic. I didn't know what a sad soul Hank was. When I watched the clips of Williams performing, all I saw was sorrow. Maybe the best songs are written from pain ~ if that's true, no wonder we have so many Williams classics. Hank was a "hillbilly" and a poet, even if that flummoxes certain culture snobs.

Hear that lonesome whippoorwill
He sounds too blue to fly
The midnight train is whining low
I'm so lonesome I could cry
I've never seen a night so long
When time goes crawling by
The moon just went behind the clouds
To hide its face and cry
Did you ever see a robin weep
When leaves begin to die
That means he's lost the will to live
I'm so lonesome I could cry
The silence of a falling star
Lights up a purple sky
And as I wonder where you are
I'm so lonesome I could cry

Yes, I'm watching somewhat out of order ~ I have watched half of Episode Five now and I'm anxious. I hope they got it right. That was my era; I'll know if they messed it up. I don't recall ever watching a series and being half-fascinated, half on-edge; hungry for new knowledge, ready to pounce when they botch it.

I forgive Ken for his obsession with Johnny Cash, as long as he gets the rest right.

Stay tuned (or, I guess I should. You've no doubt already watched it.)

Friday, September 20, 2019

Ken Burns' Country Music ~ So Far

I unfortunately don't have two hours to devote to watching a documentary each night. I have a full-time job, and I'm frankly tired by the end of the day. That said, I wish I could keep up with Ken Burns' Country Music. I'll catch up eventually. I've watched most of Episode One and most of Episode Four. My husband, who is no country music fan, clicked on the fourth episode last night and rather than quibble that we were out of order (which generally makes me out of sorts), I decided to just be thankful he was willing to watch at all.

The first episode recounted the (ancient) history of the genre, and it was fascinating in an historical way, rather than a musical way. I like history, and the photographs reminded me of Burns' other series, Civil War. That said, I could easily enjoy the rest of the installments without finishing Episode One.

Episode Four was more up my alley. It covers the time period 1953 - 1963, when things in country became interesting. I'm not quite old enough to remember much before 1960, but I do know the music ~ Marty Robbins, Ray Price (who was lucky to get a ten-second clip!), Patsy Cline, of course; the emergence of Loretta Lynn. Aside Patsy, the most fascinating star of the episode is Brenda Lee. Brenda began her career at the age of nine, and was there to witness it all. I relished watching Mel Tillis recount stories of driving the touring car and little Brenda keeping him awake on late nights leaning over the car seat, telling him corny kid jokes.

As expected, the installment leaned heavily on Johnny Cash tales ~ Cash, the country singer those who dislike country always cite as their favorite country artist. I'm okay with the emphasis on Johnny; it was pre-ordained. A documentarian who isn't seeped in the subject matter would naturally feel obliged to exalt him. We country fans know he was essentially inconsequential, at least during the time period. What was unexpected was the time eaten up by Elvis stories, to the exclusion of actual country artists. Yes, Sun Records produced stars, but of the quartet of Cash, Presley, Orbison, and Perkins, the only real country artist of the bunch was Cash. My readers know that I'm not an Elvis fan ~ let's face it, the guy was strange and only a middling vocalist. What he most certainly was not was country. I would have rather, given a choice between the four, watched a segment about a true phenomenon, Roy Orbison, even though he wasn't country, either.

The Nashville Sound was talked about, rightfully. Wrongfully, Chet Atkins, who invented the term, ruined country music. Owen Bradley was Atkins' competition. The difference between the two was that Bradley played to the artists' strengths ~ he didn't try to citify Loretta Lynn, and he steered Patsy Cline in a direction she didn't even know she needed to travel. Chet Atkins made every recording sound exactly the same. The only recording Atkins got right was "Detroit City" (which, by the way, wasn't referenced).

It was appropriate to highlight the Everly Brothers. Their music was country ~ I don't care how they were labeled; it was country. Felice and Boudleaux Bryant can take credit for that (The Bryants, by the way, had more than 900 of their songs recorded!)

We got to see Faron Young doing Hello Walls, which introduced the Willie Nelson segment. I was sad to learn that Willie had sold some of his songs, including Night Life, just to survive. A songwriter should never have to sell his songs. Faron, though, even though Willie offered, wouldn't buy Hello Walls. He instead loaned Willie five hundred dollars and let Nelson retain his copyright. (Oh, that dastardly Faron Young, they always say.)

The Willie introduction naturally led to a segment about Patsy recording Crazy (which was originally titled, "Stupid" ~ a fortunate change). My husband said, "So you like that song?" Uh, yea. Crazy is the best country song of all time. "But what about the 'cosmopolitan' sound?" I said, there's a difference between doing it wrong and doing it right. Crazy was done right.

One of Merle's favorites, Lefty Frizzell, was mentioned. Rosanne Cash talked about her dad, Mel talked about Roger Miller (who hopefully gets his due in Episode Five). A lot of people, including Brenda Lee, talked about Patsy. Cline was before my time, so stories about her fascinate me. Merle also thought Honky Tonk Girl was Loretta Lynn's best song (I agree ~ I generally agree with Merle).

It's the stories, the reminiscences, that fascinate me. I know the bare details. I know Merle was in the San Quentin audience when Cash appeared there in 1959, but hearing Merle recount it brings it to life. I cherish the memories relayed in these episodes, because they will eventually be gone (like Mel and Merle are gone).

Ken Burns has accomplished a remarkable feat. Yea, I have my quibbles, but who else but Burns would even endeavor to tackle country music?

Based on my limited viewing (at this writing), I'm giving Ken Burns a million thumbs up.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Ken Burns' Country Music ~ Tonight It Begins

I hope Ken doesn't let me down. I'm a fan of his documentaries, but let's face it ~ this is PBS, and PBS has an agenda that's not necessarily about the glory of country music.

I have a lot of hopes for this series. I hope it doesn't zero in too much on artists who are known to the world at large simply due to over-exposure, rather than their musical influence. I hope actual artists that real country fan love get a shot at inclusion. I hope Ken doesn't go all sociological, but instead focuses on the music.

I will stay tuned.

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...