Showing posts with label kris kristofferson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label kris kristofferson. 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.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Merle Haggard Primer

There are a couple of songwriters I always wished I could write like: Kris Kristofferson and Merle Haggard. And they are such different writers. Kris is, not more cerebral, per se, but more enigmatic. He doesn't just come out and say it -- he leaves you to wonder; ponder. Merle didn't write like that. Merle said exactly what he wanted to say. Philosophers didn't need to delve deeply into his songs' meanings.

Both kinds of writing are hard. I perhaps once wrote a song like Kris would write, only not even a smidgen as good. I don't think I ever wrote a song that was even in Merle's ballpark. In fact, I know I didn't.

It's funny how talent seeks out talent. Merle toured with Kris Kristofferson and he toured with Willie Nelson and he toured with Bob Dylan. Higher standards. Principles. From what I've read, these guys all respected the hell out of one another. I think they raised each other's game. It's all fun and frolic to mentor new kids -- shoot, I do that in my day job -- but sometimes one craves a peer. Someone who "thinks right". These four had that.

In the retrospectives I've read about Merle's career, the writers were all eager to latch onto songs that meant little to us fans -- Okie From Muskogee, for one. When that record hit the airwaves in 1969, true Merle aficionados kind of scratched our heads and thought, well, that's different; kind of "out there", not the greatest song in the world, but it was Merle, so...sort of like "The Fightin' Side Of Me", which came next. I didn't know (albeit I was just a teenager) what that even meant. What's a "fightin' side"? Shoot, when I listen to Merle songs today, I don't even consider playing that one. There are so many choices that are so much better! Yes, Merle garnered Entertainer Of The Year honors in 1970 based on those two singles, and we fans were ecstatic about that, but we chose to believe that the suits had finally (finally!) recognized Merle's overall greatness; not that these two songs were representative of his career. Because they weren't.

I never was an "album gal" until Merle came along. Country LP's were sad. Nobody put any thought into them. It was all singles, singles, singles. A country album was a hit single and a bunch of cover songs. It was apparently an exercise in earning some coin for the artist, while satisfying the record-buyer's conceit that, hell, I love this artist! After all, I bought their album! Loretta Lynn covered Tammy Wynette songs and Lynn Anderson covered Loretta Lynn songs and Tammy threw in some "Don't Come Home a'Drinkin'".  I pity the 1960's songwriter, unless he was Billy Sherrill, because everybody just covered the same songs, over and over.

Merle, however, did concept albums. He did "Let Me Tell You About A Song", in which he talked about each song and its meaning, by way of introduction. Heck, even Dylan didn't do that! Merle's albums were actually albums, and they made me think about music; not just feel it. I tucked that notion away subconsciously, and didn't haul it out until decades later when I began writing, and specializing in a lot of biographical shi stuff. Merle released "Hag", with its stark white cover and a pencil-likeness of him; an album that got little acclaim, but one that I listened to deeply. It remains one of my personal favorites.

One can't overlook, however, how Merle's recording career began. Some of his earliest hits weren't written by him. People, in their reverence, tend to overlook that. I don't think Merle ever did. After all, his band was named The Strangers for a reason. "(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers" was one of the songs that put Merle on the country music map. It was written by Liz Anderson (Lynn Anderson's mom), as was "(I'm A) Lonesome Fugitive". I love both of those songs. They melded a songwriter's sense of the man and the man himself's honest performance. Most people forget that. I don't.

Let's take a look:

Wynn Stewart wrote "Sing A Sad Song". I always loved this, and it's so typical of what Wynn Stewart would write. But Merle did it like no one could.

It was around that time that Merle found his voice. This is what we fans remember; not "Okie From Muskogee":

Liz Anderson apparently inspired Merle to write about his own life. Funny how that works:

If you've ever been to a honky tonk and you haven't heard this song, then you haven't been to a honky tonk. Everyone who's ever plunked on a guitar has played this song. Cuz, why wouldn't you?

This is Merle Part I. I've got lots of parts to go.

Miles to go.

Bear with me.

This is just getting started.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Ray Price

If Ray Price wasn't the first country voice I ever heard, I can confidently say he was the second.

When I was a little, little kid, my parents owned exactly two record albums - Together Again/My Heart Skips a Beat by Buck Owens and Burning Memories by Ray Price. I had a little record player but I rarely had money to buy 45's, so I etched grooves in those two albums. I think, even today, I could reel off the track listings, in order, from Burning Memories.

On the album, released in 1965, Ray was beginning to teeter between his signature twin fiddle sound and the tinkling piano keys and sweet strings. The tracks were still clearly country, but it was evident then that Ray's sound was evolving. I wonder if the individual tracks were recorded several months apart, such was the dichotomy.

One of the best country songs ever was included on that album - Here Comes My Baby, written by Dottie West (track two, in case you're keeping score):

Being a little kid, I wasn't familiar with Ray's earlier work, but eventually I began to hear it on oldies hours and on reruns of syndicated country music TV shows. The twin fiddles were in rare form back then. For example, this song (extra points for the Nudie suit):

 And this song, written by Roger Miller (and Ray is coincidentally backed by Roger Miller on this performance!):

Time, of course, marched on, and I became a sullen teenager, slamming the bedroom door behind me to spin my Monkees 45's. Out of the blue one day, my mom came out of her bedroom holding an eight-by-ten glossy of Ray Price, swooning about how "handsome" he was. Handsome? That old guy? He must have been, I don't know, forty? Ray Price was the only entertainer my mom ever had a crush on, at least as far as I know.

By that time, Ray had shrugged off the twin fiddles completely and had adopted the countrypolitan sound. I wasn't a fan. Although I had one foot in tween pop and the other foot planted in country music, I still liked my country to sound country. I never actually voiced it, but I felt a bit betrayed by Ray. Now he was some guy wearing a smoking jacket, sitting in his den, sipping a martini. Frank Sinatra-lite.

But then I heard this song, which, I think, was the B side of one of Ray's current hits. I never admitted to anyone that I liked it, but it was pretty groovy.

Thanks to Willie Nelson:

Naturally, everybody knows Ray's biggest hit. It rolled around in the year 1970, written by some unknown Nashville hanger-on named Kris. Wonder if that guy ever wrote any other hit songs.

Here's Ray in his ostentatiously-decorated living room:

By the 1980's, Ray had either moved on or lost his record deal with Columbia, and he was considered too old for the "hip" country market, which, when you think about it, is an oxymoron. Country music was never hip. He and Willie did record a duet album of country standards, a lot of them old Bob Wills songs, and I bought it and I still have it...somewhere. Here's a taste:

Seeing as how Ray was "washed up" by the early 1980's, it's unimaginable that he kept going for another thirty-odd years, but that's exactly what he did.

Here's what Merle Haggard had to say about Ray Price:

"He was probably the first outlaw," Haggard said. "I think Willie (Nelson) will agree. He was out there fighting for what he believed and doing it his way, and being criticized and all that. I remember when he laid the guitar down and started hiring violin players and all that, and everybody thought he was crazy. Crazy like a fox. He knew what he was doing."


My mom and dad saw Ray and his Cherokee Cowboys in concert at Panther Hall in Fort Worth, Texas. I don't think I was there. I wish I was. I can never hear a Ray Price recording without thinking about my mom and dad. They're forever intertwined.

When I found out that my dad had died, I was living far away. A couple of nights before we set out to travel to my dad's funeral, I sat in the rocker in my bedroom and played this song over and over, and I cried:

Soft rain was falling
When you said goodbye
Thunder and lightning
Filled my heart inside
A love born in heaven
Had suddenly died
And the soft rain was teardrops
For the angels all cried

c: Ray Price


I'm feeling pretty melancholy knowing that Ray Price has passed away, but I feel sort of happy, too. I think he's putting on a concert right about now, and my mom is in the front row, swooning, and my dad is beside her, singing along.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Everything's Been Said

My husband told me to write a protest song.  So I did.  I don't like it.  But at least I can say I wrote one song in 2012.

The trouble is, the songs I write when I'm pissed off are ugly to me.  I want to write something pretty.  If I write something.

Everything has been said.  It's been said the same way, with minor variations, ten zillion times.

Thus, the old axiom comes into play.  PLEASE YOURSELF.

This whole music thing is just a scam; a delusion.  Everybody wants to get rich off their music.  Nobody's getting rich.  Nobody is making one thin dime.

Neil Young is recording old folk tunes.  Just like Springsteen did awhile back.  "This Land Is Your Land"?  I sang that in my third grade music recital.  And just as good as Neil does it.  Maybe better.

Even Neil Young has forgone his Harvest Moon days.  If Roy Orbison was alive today, he'd be recording Diane Warren songs.

Because it's all been done.

I think maybe music has an expiration date.  After, say, sometime in the late nineteen eighties, music expired.  Like sour milk.

Why do we all keep going back to the trough of "oldies music"?  Because that's the last time music was good.

I was reading an article in Entertainment Weekly (which is becoming increasingly irrelevant to me), about this HUGE hit song, "Call Me Maybe".  It's supposedly one of the best songs ever created, in the annals of all mankind.

So, curiosity got the best of me, and I checked out the song on YouTube.  I'm always on the lookout for good new music.

What the hell?  

The article went on and on about how this song got wedged into everyone's brain, and they couldn't shake it, no matter how hard they tried.

I couldn't recite one line of that song to you now, if my life depended on it.

This is what passes for genius nowadays?

You be the judge:

I take it, one just has to come up with a three-word hook, and the world will beat a path to their door.

I could probably cobble something together like that, but geez, I just don't want to.

I want to say something, not necessarily profound, but meaningful.  At least to me.

That's where the "please yourself" mantra comes into play. 

If I was to write a song, it would be something pleasing to my ear.  It would be personal.  Not universal, because what is universality nowadays, but another word for crap?

I prefer something like:

I have seen the morning burning
Golden on the mountain in the sky
Achin' with the feelin' of the freedom
Of an eagle when she flies

Neil may have abandoned his Harvest Moon days for oddly-construed renditions of Oh Susanna, but not me. 

The next song I write will be something nice; something that makes me happy to sing it.

And I will make millions of dollars.  In my imagination.  But that's okay. 

I'm going to go old school.  When people wrote songs for the love of music.  Not for the love of riches.

When all bets are off, that's the time when inspiration soars.

I've got no one to let down, except myself.  I don't intend to do that.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Yet More Great Country Artists from the Seventies ~ Faron Young

I don't know how I talked my dad into driving 100 miles to the State Fair to see Faron Young in concert.

At the age of fifteen or sixteen, I was barely even talking to my parents.  I was a sullen teenager with a giant chip on my shoulder.  I don't clearly remember those years, but I do remember being perpetually mad at my mom and dad for something they did, or something they didn't do, or just because.  They needn't have taken it personally, though.  I was mad at everything, including myself. 

Teenaged girls are the worst.  Maybe it's all those hormones.  I have sons.  My sons were nothing compared to me at the same age.  I don't know how my parents refrained from killing me.  I remember a lot of slamming doors (by me).  That was always a favorite.  Those hollow wooden doors would make just the right "crack!", with a delicious echo.  They were the punctuation on a sentence that I never uttered.

It's not that my parents did anything to me.  They just were.  They were perfectly fine people.  Although unreasonable.  At least my mom.  At least to me.  Then. 

But I must have managed to utter a sentence, at least, to my dad, which most likely contained the words, "please, please!" in it, because, you see, Faron Young, at one time, was my very favorite singer.

I don't even know why my dad agreed to the whole scheme, because, while he was a music lover, he never expressed any particular love of Faron Young's music, nor did my mom.  My mom and dad liked whatever they heard on the radio.  They weren't buying records in those days.  They listened to the radio in the car.

I, however, had my component stereo system, purchased at JC Penney, with my own earnings.  I don't think it was cheap, either.  I think it cost about $100.00.  Bear in mind, I was fifteen-ish, and this was the early 1970's.  $100.00 was a lot of moolah to me.

My "sound system" had those detachable speakers, that I could separate within the room space, for maximum sound quality.  It had a turntable.  It had AM/FM radio.  I also had a reel-to-reel tape recorder that I'd bought earlier for, I'll say, about $40.00, so I was constantly recording stuff off the radio, too.

I listened to WHO from Des Moines, Iowa, with Mike Hoyer, "from coast to coast, border to border, and then some".  I sometimes listened to Ralph Emery on WSM out of Nashville, when I could actually get the signal.  I listened to Bill Mack out of Fort Worth, Texas.  WBAP.

And I heard a lot of songs I liked by Faron Young.

Faron had a storied history in the music business.  He started out in the 1950's, on Capitol Records.  He was best friends with Hank Williams.  Faron's stories are legendary in Nashville.

Willie talked him into "Hello Walls" one night at Tootsie's Orchid Lounge.  Faron thought it was corny.  He kidded Willie about "hello lamp, hello table", etc.  Willie and Faron, though, laughed all the way to the bank.  "Hello Walls" is likely the song that Faron will be remembered by.

By the late sixties, early seventies, Faron had moved on to Mercury Records.  He had a new producer, the renowned Jerry Kennedy.  And he had a bunch of great songs.

Do you know a bar band that hasn't done this song?

This song was written by Jeannie Seely:

Faron had been in a car accident shortly before he recorded this next song.  (Don't ask ~ okay, yea, there was drinking involved ~ there was always drinking involved with Faron Young).  He ended up with a lacerated tongue, and still had to go into the studio to record the song.  He joked about it later ~ saying that he sang the song like Sylvester the Cat.  And on the record, one can definitely hear him singing, "Thhep attthide".  But it's still great, regardleth:

There was a bit of Dean Martin in Faron.  And yet, his voice is unmistakably country.  I think a country voice is an intangible, but you know it when you hear it.  Faron was from Shreveport, Louisiana, after all.  It was hard to not sound country.   I don't think it was an affectation, and if it was, then everybody was copying Faron, considering he'd been around for a long while, but he sang his words much like Marty Robbins.  "To-noight" for "Tonight".  "Toime" for "time".

Faron also recorded a song by a young, unknown songwriter, named Kris Kristofferson.  Kris was sweeping floors, and writing songs, and getting nowhere.  People think Johnny Cash launched Kris's career.  I beg to differ:

Nobody, except Faron Young geeks, will remember "(I've Got) Precious Memories".  I, of course, am raising my hand, because, after all, that was the title of the album, and yes, I have it.  Some, however, may remember, "I Just Came To Get My Baby", mostly because George Strait covered it.  Yes, George Strait covered Faron Young.

I was not surprised to find that there is no performance video of my very, absolute favorite, Faron Young recording.   No, it wasn't a number one song.  It was a number four.  Maybe, I guess, other people didn't love it like I did, so that's why there is no YouTube performance video.

I remember the first time I heard the single.  Ralph Emery played it.  I swooned over it.  I just wanted to hear it again.  But, alas, this was AM radio.  It would come around again when it came around again.

Tom T. Hall wrote the song.  Tom ("no chorus") T. Hall.  For not writing a chorus, I think this was a damn good song.  Or, at least, it was, after Faron got hold of it:

Alas, my trip to the State Fair and to the Faron Young concert was sort of a letdown.

Faron, you see, was a drinker.  And I think (I'm conjecturing) that he was kind of bored.  So, his live performances were silly; a joke that nobody was in on.  He couldn't seem to get through a song without breaking out in the giggles.  That's all well and good, if you're Marty Robbins. I saw Marty Robbins in concert, and while he was semi-silly, he made sure to include the audience in the joke.  Faron didn't. 

So, I went home in the back seat of the car, sort of embarrassed that I'd cajoled my dad into driving all those miles; knowing that he and my mom were thinking, well, this was time well wasted.

I went back to my Faron records and to WSM radio, and to Bill Mack, and to Mike Hoyer.

I never held it against Faron.  I just chalked the whole concert up to a (slightly seamy) slice of life.

And, later, my dad became somewhat enamored of this song, which, aside from "Hello Walls", became Faron's biggest hit.  And, to be honest, I don't like it that much.  I can't tell you why (as the Eagles said).  Maybe I just like the "twin fiddles Faron"; not the "cheesy strings Faron".

But here is "Four In The Mornin'":

I'm not, however, going to just leave it here.

As I said, Faron started out in the nineteen fifties.  And he had some great records, even if I obviously heard them as oldies.

This is one that he re-recorded, thankfully, in the seventies, because I would have known nothing about it, if he hadn't.

If you're ever looking for a great country karaoke song, you could not go wrong with this next song.  Connie Smith recorded it, and that's good enough for me.  And it's a good song!

Much as my dad liked, "Four In The Mornin'", if we're going to nominate one song as Faron Young's best (or at least, "best known"), we have to choose this one, written by Willie:

Faron Young's life ended wrongfully.  He killed himself with a shotgun.  I understand he was in ill health.  But I also understand how the music industry tossed aside the legends, unless their name was Johnny Cash.

The Country Music Hall of Fame, in its benevolence, elected Faron to the Hall of Fame after he died.  Would that they had had the foresight to elect him while he was still around to accept.

I was visiting my mom during the CMA Awards that year.  We had the TV on, and my mom said to me, "I bet that makes you feel good, that Faron Young's been inducted into the Hall of Fame".  She actually remembered that the geeky teenager, the belligerent one, had once worshiped Faron Young.  My dad was, well, not gone, but his being was gone.  But my mom remembered.

I mumbled something about, "yes, he was a great artist", but I was mourning, and I couldn't bring myself to share that.

How could I put into words what Faron's music meant to me? 

Even now, today, when I watch these videos, I'm transformed.  It's a combination of a bunch of things.  My dad, driving those hundred miles, in his white Ford LTD, just to satisfy a geeky teenager's longing to see her idol.  A selfless act, for a daughter who was self-absorbed, self-centered; self-indulgent.

My dad, and Faron, somehow, are intertwined in my memory.

I leave the topic of the great artists of the nineteen seventies here.  I have no more to say about that.

Friday, June 10, 2011


During these, the dog days of summer

If the dog days are at the end of summer, what kind of days are at the beginning?

During these, the cat days of summer, when my songwriting inspiration is at a low ebb, I've been thinking about revisiting some of my older songs.

Sure, I've said in the past that songs are "either there or they're not". And I'm not arguing with myself (or am I?) I do argue with myself quite frequently, but that's, thankfully, only in my head, and not out loud. If I argued with myself out loud, that would be grounds for involuntary confinement, and I, frankly, get enough involuntary confinement 40 hours a week.

So, I've digressed once again.

What I started to say was, yes, I have said that songs are either there or they're not, but by revisiting old songs, I'm talking about finished songs. Ones that I did think were "there" when I wrote them.

Normally, I shudder at the thought of going back to a song that's finished. First of all, the inspiration that was there then, is really not here now. It's like, okay, let's say, typing a long email to a friend (I was going to say writing a letter, but HA! Who does that anymore?) And getting interrupted in the middle of typing, and for whatever reason, not being able to get back to it for a week (of course, you have saved a draft, because you are not a moron).

You were really on a roll there; shooting the breeze about all the quirky things that happened to you on your recent vacation. You started to share a really funny anecdote about the mix-up with your hotel reservations, and all the hilarity that ensued, and then.....oh oh......power outage! (Luckily, your email provider saved a draft of the email, because Yahoo is not a moron).

So, after a week of ditching spoiled food from your refrigerator, and washing two tons of dirty laundry, you finally get back to that email you started.

And you read what you wrote, and awkwardly add, "...and then we got our room, and we went in and put our bags down, and it was fine".

You kind of lost your mojo there, eh?

Well, that's how the human mind works. We have short attention spans, and even shorter creative attention spans. I've walked through the door of my workplace in the morning, thinking, I've got to remember to do _______. Oh, I'd better write that down as soon as I get to my desk, because I know me; I'll forget to do it. Well, whaddaya know? I forget to even write it down! And that's after walking approximately 20 steps from the door to my desk. Our minds are crammed with so much "stuff", it's like our brain cells are having a pillow fight.

And it's even worse when those brain cells get interrupted. Something that seemed so engrossing at the time, now, we're thinking, eh. Really? I actually found this interesting?

Thus, returning to a song I wrote in October of 2010 just doesn't have the cache that's required to pique my interest.

That said (and here I go, arguing with myself again), it's better than wasting my time trying to find six more lines to go with the already written six lines of my latest song that will probably actually never be a song, because it's so woefully uninspired that my cat took one look at the lyrics on my screen and promptly fell into a deep snooze (and Bob is preternaturally fascinated by anything having to do with computers, especially printers spewing out mysterious paper sheets).

The reason the Summer of '67 (the October-written song) sprang to mind is, (a) I like the sentiment....a lot; and (b) it's all true, and it happened to me!; and (c) well, I wrote the words in a way that really show the story (you know that old axiom; "show, not tell". I really hate old axioms, because they're boring and repetitious).

I remember the night that I wrote it. I was feeling pretty sentimental about my best childhood friend, Alice. I think I had just written another song about her (yea, I've written at least five songs about her, I believe). And I got to thinking about the times we'd shared, especially in the summer, when we were really just kids (which basically encompasses the whole time I spent with Alice, because we did grow up together, before our lives diverged).

Anyone who's lost someone knows that there's a big hole in your heart, but more than that, especially if that person is someone you grew up with, anytime you think about experiences, funny or poignant or anything, really, that suddenly leaps into your mind, and you wanna say, "Remember the time...?", and that person is no longer even in this world, it's like your memories don't quite mean as much, because nobody is here who understands, who relates to, or can even fathom what you're babbling about. And I think it's even more difficult if those memories are from the time you were growing up, because studies will tell you (invent your own link here to some relevant scientific study), those experiences are the most vivid of any you will ever have in your life, and they are the ones that shape you, to a large extent, as a person.

I find, though, in light of the fact that I don't have anyone to share those memories with, that if I write them in the form of a song, they kind of become universal. They become real; not just to me, you know?

The problem I always had with "Summer of '67" was that it was, for all intents and purposes, really a narrative. I tried to come up with a chorus, to break things up, but it seemed forced and not true to the story. That always bugged me.

Maybe it is what it is. A guy named Kristofferson wrote some songs that were really just (and I don't mean "just") narratives. For example, okay, this one does have a chorus, but it's really similar to the verses. There's not much differentiation (and yet, I really like this song. Chalk it up to the fact that Faron Young, to me, was one of the best country singers of all time, plus I am a Kristofferson believer).

And, of course, this one:

I guess if you can write lines like those in Sunday Morning Comin' Down, then choruses be damned (and yes, I know there is a chorus in this song. It's just that it doesn't really, in actuality, create a whole lot of diversity within the song itself). My song isn't anywhere near this one, and in fact, if anyone was to say it was, their body would spontaneously burst into flames, and they would be committed to the same institution in which I have been incarcerated (and fare warning, I do snore).

Thus, I do need a decent chorus.

Why bother? Well, I like the song, and it has meaning for me. Nobody in the world is going to care, because of the two people in the world who would, I'm the only one left. So, I care.

I'm only sharing the link to demonstrate that the song isn't finished. It needs work.

If you weren't there, you couldn't even know. I, however, want to know. And I want to write a song that's worthy of me knowing.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The CMA Awards - 1970 - At Last! - Something I Can Get Behind!

The 1970 CMA awards, I believe, marked a turning point in country music.

Why? Well, I got nothin' against Johnny Cash, and he's held up by many as the ultimate bright shiny symbol of country music, but let's face it, he's no Merle Haggard.

Let's just start this thing off right, shall we? With the:



Merle Haggard - Okie From Muscogee

Now, it took me almost 40 years to realize that this song was meant to be ironic. Maybe it was the delivery. He certainly presented it with a straight face. How were we supposed to know? I wasn't totally on board with the sentiments that Merle expressed here, although, speaking of irony, I am more on board with them now. Even though he, apparently, had the last laugh.

And, you know, I don't even really give a damn if he was making fun of us, or if he meant what he said at the time.

Yes, I know (now) that Merle is more a liberal than a conservative. But, you know, one can overlook the shortcomings of loved ones, and I love Merle Haggard.

You see, Merle and I go back a long time. Of course, Merle doesn't know this, and he probably wouldn't care. But, aside from Buck Owens, who was of another time, a time of my parents, Merle is the one person who made me love country music. The one who's allowed me to stick with it; to acknowledge that maybe all music doesn't suck. The one who has shown me that one can write about stuff that means something, and prevailing winds be damned, we're gonna write it anyway, because it's honest.

So, if Merle was just playing with us, and making us think one way, when he was leaning the opposite way, well, it's the one transgression in music that I will forgive. Cuz all I have to do is click on "Silver Wings" or "Sing Me Back Home", and all that political stuff goes out the window.

I guess it's the way that some people feel about Dylan. Merle is my Dylan. Merle is country music's Dylan.


Merle Haggard

Along with "Okie From Muscogee", Merle had some major hits leading up to the 1970 award season, including "Workin' Man Blues" and "Mama's Hungry Eyes", both recorded in 1969. Alas, couldn't find 'em on YouTube. So, let's go with this one, recorded in 1968, which is a sentimental favorite of mine.

You gotta feel bad for Merle, stuck on the fake front porch, in front of the lace-curtained window, singing about how he got life without parole. Now, I don't know what prison this is, but it's pretty nice! Each inmate has their own little cottage! If this is prison, sign me up! I don't know what they're bitchin' about. "Mama" probably drops by every week or so, to cook up some fried chicken and mashed potatoes. That's better than I eat! Better than my bowl of corn flakes and dry toast.

So, we've actually learned something here. Prison's not so bad. Thanks, Merle.


Sunday Morning Coming Down
- recorded by Johnny Cash, written by Kris Kristofferson

I like this version a lot. Kris'll be the first to admit that he's not the world's best singer, but he was in pretty good form here. He even handled the harmony parts quite nicely. It's always a treat, I think, to hear the writer sing his own songs, plus this version has a little more "get up and go" than the original recording. I think the original kind of dragged a bit, in comparison.

I wonder if Kris is still writing songs. Of course, he'd have to release them himself, considering that they don't have bridges and all the bells and whistles (which is basically, what you hear on recordings lately - a bunch of bells, a bunch of whistles). And, you know, his songs just wouldn't cut it nowadays. Too simple. They say too much. And they're not "ME-centric". I hate to break it to Kris, but that's the way the old ball bounces.


Tammy Wynette

Obviously, from perusing the pages upon pages of videos that fans have posted of Tammy, she is held in very high esteem. One note, though.....she did record other songs besides "Stand By Your Man". I mean, c'mon. I wonder if Tammy's up in heaven, wondering, "Is this the only song they remember me for? You know, I did have others. I think I'll just go back down there and set the record straight."

So, I couldn't find embeddable videos of any songs that helped Tammy win this award (again) in 1970, such as "Singing My Song" or "I'll See Him Through". So, since I've posted a bunch of Tammy videos already, I'm going to go with a recording from 1966, "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad" (If you keep winning, Tammy, I'm afraid I'm going to run out of choices.)


Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton

1970 was the first year that the CMA decided that two people do not make a "group", and therefore, they created the vocal duo category. A spin-off, shall we say. Porter & Dolly were previously the vocal "group" of the year, so now, in 1970, they have been downsized.

This single was released in 1969, so again, this probably put them over the top for the 1970 awards season:

Nice performance, on the old Porter Wagoner Show, or, as his guitar strap indicates, the "Goner" Show. I wonder if anyone looked back at the tape later and said, "Hey Porter, you might want to adjust that strap. Do you really want people referring to you as a 'goner'?" I do also wish that Porter & Dolly had coordinated their outfits better beforehand. Porter's green and yellow kind of clash with Dolly's powder blue. But that's sort of nitpicky, I guess.


Tompall & The Glaser Brothers
I don't blame you if you don't remember these guys. They definitely had their time, and that time was the early seventies. But they actually were around a lot earlier than that; apparently starting in the 1950's. As brothers do, these three guys had great harmonies. I don't think they had a lot of chart success, however. I do remember a recording they did of the Bob Wills song, "Faded Love", and I liked their version. "Tompall" is an unusual name, though, don't you think? I wonder if his parents quibbled over what to name their firstborn. "Tom!", Daddy said. "No, I like Paul!", Mama retorted. It was only after a 19-hour labor that Mom & Dad finally came to a consensus. And thus, "Tompall" came into the world.

Tompall, you may recall, was featured on the hit "Outlaws" album, along with Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. The fact is, none of the three even knew that this album had been created. The producer slapped a bunch of tunes on an album and released it as "Wanted: The Outlaws". I bet Tompall didn't even know that he was an outlaw. But he reaped the benefits of the album's unexpected success.

Here's the only representation I could find of the group, and this is not a 1970 performance, but rather from 1985. And sadly, there's a fake Jim Glaser singing here, and I'm sure there's a logical explanation for this, but I have no idea what that might be.


Jerry Reed

Here's a "guitar duet", you might say, featuring Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed. I guess Chet is passing the torch (or the guitar pick), since Chet had owned this award in years prior.

I think they were both really good musicians. I say "I think", because what do I know? It all sounds really good to me, but I'm certainly no guitar connoisseur. I can barely hold a pick without dropping it inside the guitar hole (is that the technical term?) and then I have to hold the guitar upside-down and shake it to get the pick out, because I only own one pick.

So, take it from me, these guys are WAY better guitar players than me. God rest your soul, Jerry Reed.......and Chet.


Danny Davis and the Nashville Brass

As you know from my previous post, there are no videos available for Danny and his Brass, but I liked them, and there were a bunch of guys in this group, so they had to split the earnings several ways, which kept them relatively poor over the years, except for Danny, I'm sure, who got a bigger share of the pot.


Roy Clark

Thankfully, 1970 was the last year that this award was given out. And really, by then (after only four years), they were scraping to come up with a winner (not to mention five nominees).

I just don't think of Roy Clark as a "comedian". Great guitar player, yes. Decent "Hee Haw" co-host, okay. Had a nice recording called, "The Tips Of My Fingers", agreed. But I don't really know how he qualifies as a comedian.

But, you know, I could just be missing something. I know he made a lot of weird facial contortions when he was performing, so maybe that's it.

I was just thinking - what if you won an award for comedian of the year, and you were never trying to be funny? How embarrassing that would be! "What do you mean, comedian of the year?" And you'd slink up to the podium and say something serious, and everybody would be rolling in the aisles. I think ol' Roy probably just rolled with it....and that's how his career as a comedian began......


Merle Haggard

No surprise here, after the year that Merle had. And, fyi, I saw Merle Haggard in concert back in 1968, and yes, he deserved to be named Entertainer of the Year for 1970, and for a whole bunch of other years.

Strangely (ha!), Merle only had that one year in which he grabbed a whole bunch of awards. You'd think his career stopped in 1970 or something. Nothing could be further from the truth. But all things are cyclical, I guess. So, the CMA moved on to someone else.

And he didn't even get into the hall of fame until 1994. I don't know if there's a waiting period or what. They could have just slapped him in there in 1970, but I guess they wanted to give others a chance.

This is a nice video performance. Merle didn't actually release this single until 1970, but I've done a bunch of Merle videos, so I had to change things up a bit. So, even though he won the entertainer of the year award technically prior to releasing this song, I'm sure the CMA voters knew that he was going to come up with another great one, so they were ahead of the curve, let's say.


The Carter Family

There were a couple of true pioneers inducted into the hall of fame in 1970, the Carter Family, certainly fitting that bill. Hard to think that this is where country music originated, since it's nothing like this anymore (obviously), but without Ralph Peer traveling around the country to document the original American music of the day in 1927, maybe there would be no country music at all.

The original group consisted of A.P., Sara, and Maybelle. I can't find any early videos of the original Carter Family, but here is one with Maybelle and daughters Helen and Anita. (Note that June is not included here. Truth be told, June was by far the worst singer in the family, but that's really neither here nor there.)

Bill Monroe

Bill Monroe was the father of bluegrass music. I don't know exactly how that works. How do you invent a new genre of music? There's not too much precedence for that. Could that happen now? I really don't think so. What could be different enough from the established forms of music to be considered something new? So, that's quite an accomplishment. That'd be something to put on your resume: "I invented a new style of music". "Hey, you're hired then!"

Admittedly, before I knew anything about Bill Monroe, other than his name, I imagined his singing voice to sound quite different from how it actually sounded. I was taken aback by his high tenor. Now, of course, it seems natural. But one generally doesn't expect a guy to sing like that.

So, 1970 was a watershed year for country music.

I don't know exactly how it was a watershed year, but I like using the word "watershed".

Oh, wait. I know. It's when electric guitar-dominated music came to the fore. Because prior to 1970, it was that "string" thing that good old Chet advocated. And so, in 1970, country music got real.

If only that were to last. Country fans had to suffer through a bunch of crummy stuff in years to come, before the music "swung back" to what it was supposed to be. That was just before it finally took the fatal plunge into Crap Land.

So, it's nice to look back, isn't it?

You may be asking, how long can I keep going with this year-by-year recap? I don't know yet. I haven't gotten disillusioned yet, although I know that disillusionment is on the horizon. The seventies are upon us, and the seventies were brutal.

But we'll keep on keeping on........for now.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Danger Of Critiquing Lyrics

There are tons of songwriting forums on the net. Trust me ~ Try doing a Google search sometime. I'm not saying there are tons of good songwriting forums. (By the way, if anyone knows of a really good one, please let me know.)

These forums are places where folks get together to mingle. Someone will post their lyrics for review, and the rest of the folks proceed to rip them to shreds:

"Oh, it would be so much better if you used 'the' instead of 'a'."

Or, someone will have a nice turn of phrase, and someone will respond, "That doesn't make sense. Can't you just say, 'Jane went to the store'?"

I rarely read posted lyrics. Frankly, it's about as much fun as drinking a can of Diet Coke that's lost its fizz.

I guess the main problem I have with reading lyrics is, they just tend to drone on and on. I'm sure, with music added, the experience would be much more enjoyable. And I'm not criticizing other writers. I don't like reading my own lyrics.

That's not to say that I
never like lyrics. If someone is a really good writer, it certainly makes me want to hear the song.

But, aye, there's the rub. There'd better be a song to go with it. Otherwise, it's just a poem. And I'm not a poetry fan. Most of that stuff is just too precious for me.

But I have digressed once again.

The problem with critiquing lyrics is that they're out of context. I bet there are a million hit songs with words that either don't make any sense, or really say nothing at all. But the songs were still hits!

As a lyricist, I hate to say this, but the words are generally the
least important component of a song. There are obvious exceptions to this rule. Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, Kris Kristofferson, Don Henley are a few exceptions that readily come to mind.

But most songwriters aren't poets (and in this instance, I mean "poets" in a good way).

Imagine if someone on one of those songwriting sites posted lyrics like this:

You see I’ve been through the desert
On a horse with no name

It felt good to be out of the rain

In the desert you can remember your name

’Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain

La la la la la la la

Or this:

I am, I said

To no one there
And no one heard at all
Not even the chair

People would be like, "Ohh-KAY! Have you ever thought of taking up a different hobby?"

(My theory on that last one is, it was late; Neil just wanted to go to bed, but he had to come up with a last line first. "Okay, dammit. 'Not even the
chair'! Good enough!")

So, while I still think it's important to at least write words that make sense, don't limit yourself.

Don't write, "Jane went to the store", unless that's the vibe you're going for. It's okay to dress up your words, even if the "experts" don't get it.

And the words have to fit the music! Didja ever try to put music to something that was the length of a novel? Edit, people! And Don McLean, I'm talking directly to you! Yes, I know it was a big hit song, but eight and a half minutes??

Don't be so in love with your words that you can't bear to part with any of them. There's nothing wrong with short, concise lines. In fact, they're easier to put to music.

Lastly, if you insist on posting lyrics on a songwriting forum, take the feedback for what it's worth. Consider the source. If these guys were hit songwriters, they wouldn't be hanging out on internet forums.

I am, I said
To no one there

And no one heard at all

Not even the chair

Saturday, November 17, 2007

20 Best Country Songs Of All Time (In My Opinion)

From time to time, I thought I would talk about the 20 country songs that I think are the best, if I had to narrow it down.

I did this as an exercise a couple of years ago, and it's pretty tough! I edited my list quite a bit before I was through. And I'm not sure I'm completely happy with my final choices, even now.

The criteria? Completely subjective. It's not just the songs; it's also the performances. But the song is the main ingredient.

So, here is one of those songs.

Written by Kris Kristofferson, and recorded by Sammi Smith in 1971, this song was a number one hit.