Showing posts with label willie nelson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label willie nelson. Show all posts

Friday, November 4, 2022

Reviewing The Top Ten Country Singles From This Week In 1980

 

I didn't get out of the house much in 1980. I had a two-year-old and a four-year-old at home and up 'til May I was working part-time at a retail store ~ and by "part-time", I mean three or so hours a few weeknights and six hours on Saturdays. We needed to supplement our meager income, yet I wasn't comfortable leaving my children in the hands of a stranger. Thus, I found an evening job at a recently-erected catalog store located approximately one minute away from my house. Looking back, the pay was barely worth the gas fumes it took to motor there, and while I did get a ten per cent discount on merchandise, I really couldn't afford to buy anything. Like every job I've ever had, I only landed this one because I possessed one (just one) of the skills listed on the job description ~ I knew how to run a cash register. Thinking back over my long and varied career, if I had (or could bullshit through) at least one of the required competencies, I was pretty good at glossing over the ones I didn't have**.

**Note to job-seekers: Learn how to type. 

By May I'd landed a high-paying (for my town and my skill set) job as a Communications Clerk at the hospital where I'd delivered my boys. I think my success lay again in my typing skills, plus I was interviewed by a lovely, compassionate lady, who may have noted my earnestness (I really needed to make more money). My shift was from 3:00 to 10:00 p.m., which eliminated the need for paid child care, although my live-in caretaker wasn't necessarily vigilant. I loved that job. It was right up my alley. I worked on the medical floor, transcribing doctors' orders, getting the necessary forms ready for each patient, scheduling surgeries for the next day, preparing menu orders, assigning rooms to new admissions. I was often called upon to help lift or reposition patients due to staff shortages. I found the entire medical world fascinating. Plus, I even managed to sock a little money away every two weeks in my hospital credit union account to save up for a yearly vacation. 

Occasionally, my mom invited me to see a movie with her, which was odd because she and I weren't the best of friends. I guess my older sister must have been busy. We saw Coal Miner's Daughter together that year, and in 1977 Saturday Night Fever, which made me slink down in my seat when I got to witness the "sex in a car" scene with my mom. In 1980 (again for unknown reasons) my dad and I saw Ordinary People together. The film was great, but afterward I had to listen to Dad enumerating the many ways the film's cold mother reminded him of Mom. All in all, my movie outings with my parents were uncomfortable. But Mom and I also caught Urban Cowboy, which began with an uptempo Charlie Daniels song accompanying the scene of a black pickup barreling down a dusty country road.  The film was mediocre at best, and the music mostly ehh. But, oh, what a fad that movie wrought.

I'm curious as to whether any of those Urban Cowboy tracks made the top ten this week. My source is the American Country Countdown Wiki.  If you've been reading along, you know my rules:

  • I review each single as a first-time listener.
  • I must listen to the entire track before offering my critique.  
  • I stick with the Top Ten only, because this is unbelievably time-consuming.
  • I do my best to find music videos. If all else fails, I use a video of the recorded song

 

Grab that mechanical bull by the horns! Let's go!

 

#10 ~ Pecos Promenade ~ Tanya Tucker

As 1980 songs go, this is okay. I like the fiddles and the two-step beat and (of course) the singer has plenty of chops and attitude. The familiar voice of her (reputed) boyfriend can be heard singing one line ~ "needs a cowboy". This track would be a great one to dance to in a country bar, if I ever had the chance to dance in a country bar, though it doesn't match the quality of Tanya's earlier hits. People Magazine tells me she's apparently going through a period of abandon right now. I hope she gets her mojo back in the future.

B

 

#9 ~ Steppin' Out ~ Mel Tillis


I'm willing to bet that the 2022 me will have no recollection of this track, even though I apparently own the album from which it came. For some reason this song reminds me of something a future country star who I'm imagining is named George might record. It's got a nice shuffle beat and the requisite country instrumentation. I don't even have to guess whether Mel wrote it, but it's a filler song. It really says nothing new and worse, doesn't say the old in an interesting way. I'm a huge Mel Tillis fan, but it's no wonder I won't remember it.

B-


#8 ~ Hard Times ~ Lacy J. Dalton


I don't know this gal, but I'm not a fan of the tremulo. For my musical taste, this track has nothing to recommend it. It seems important to the singer to belt out those lyrics, but she slaps on a nothing tom-tom accompaniment. Apparently Bobby Braddock, who is a much better writer than this song demonstrates, penned the tune. And unfortunately, it's so unremarkable that I've already forgotten it.

D


#7 ~ Lady ~ Kenny Rogers


Oh, is this the one written by Lionel Richie? That explains a lot. Kenny has apparently been able to hustle the country music charts, I guess on the strength of his actual country hits. 

Disclaimer: I saw Kenny Rogers in concert one summer on vacation with my immediate family and my parents. We were in Duluth, Minnesota, and there are only so many times one can traverse the boardwalk and wave at the ore ships that breach the harbor. My mom learned from the local paper that Kenny was appearing at the waterfront arena, so we purchased last-minute tickets. I honestly wouldn't even remember the show except for that white suit.

I don't hate Kenny Rogers, but I can't say I'm a fan of even his country tracks. It's just that "you gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em" is so ubiquitous that's it's turned into an earworm. 

And I certainly am not a fan of this. The Commodores probably could have done it better, and at least they'd stay in their lane. I'm a country fan, so...

D

 

#6 ~ Old Habits ~ Hank Williams, Jr.


 Was this melody cribbed from Merle Haggard?

 

I fully admit my bias. I rarely like anything Hank does, and yes, I did walk out on his concert once in the 70's. That said, his uptempo songs are far better than this. It's dull and not in his wheelhouse. I don't know what else to say about this. It's a nothing.

D


#5 ~ I Believe In You ~ Don Williams


Don Williams is kind of the Perry Como of the eighties. He's impossibly laid back, which is actually a nice contrast to the more bombastic tracks spun by local DJ's. And Don picked a good one to record, written by Roger Cook and Sam Hogin. It definitely confers a vibe, a "snuggle under a blanket", "sip hot cocoa" ambience, and what's wrong with that? 

What the song has going for it: First, melody, Second, singer. Third, memorable chorus. Fourth, a nice warm feeling. I think this is one that will be remembered.

A


#4 ~ Could I Have This Dance ~ Anne Murray


Ahh, Urban Cowboy weighs in.

I read somewhere that Anne recorded this in a lower register because it was supposed to be a duet with Kenny Rogers. I like it as it is.

The first thing one can say about this track is that it is country. The second thing is, Anne Murray is one of the seminal voices of her generation. Thirdly, I'm a sucker for waltzes. This could and most likely will be the first wedding dance of just-married couples everywhere. The lyrics are lovely and the melody hits the sweet spot. Good songs don't have to be complicated; just honest.

A


#3 ~ I'm Not Ready Yet ~ George Jones


Like the Mel Tillis track, I'm willing to bet that I'll have zero recollection of this forty years in the future. It's got the required Jones recitation, which is kind of a lazy affectation, unless the song is Detroit City. The melody is pedestrian, the sentiment has been recounted countless times, in much better ways. Granted, unlike other die-hard country fans, I don't think George Jones is the best thing that's ever happened to country music, but I like a ton of his songs. Just not this one.

C-

 

#2 ~ On The Road Again ~ Willie Nelson


The first two or three times one hears this song, it's fine. Pedestrian, but fine. The third through the nine hundred and ninety-ninth time, it becomes grating. For a master songwriter, this must have been a throwaway written for his bandmates on the bus. A lark. Then somebody hollered out, "Hey! You should record this!" And the rest is history. I imagine that Willie will collect tons of future royalties from all the future commercials that'll use this track. Everything from cars to first-aid kits (?) to probably dog food. An amateur songwriter could pen something like this, but he'd be afraid everyone would laugh at him. Kudos, though, Willie, for your success!

C


#1 ~ Theme From The Dukes Of Hazzard (Good Ol' Boys) ~ Waylon Jennings

 




I have a four-year old this year (1980) who somehow knows when it's Friday, at which time he plops himself on his stomach in front of the TV, his chin propped on his hand, to watch his favorite show of all time, The Dukes Of Hazzard. He, of course, doesn't know whose hands on the guitar are being shown on the screen, but his mom does. He's far more interested in Luke and Bo and the General Lee, which magically flies through the air in every episode. He knows all the characters, including the one he refers to as "Roscoe Peeko Train". 

I'm assuming most adults are like me, and only tolerate the goofy show for their kids, but I do appreciate hearing Waylon Jennings on my TV once a week.

Waylon wrote the song, and it's got something that the monotonous On The Road Again doesn't. Number one, it's got Waylon Jennings, one of country's legendary singers; but it's also got changes, appealing instrumentation, and creative lyrics. It's far more interactive than simply snoring along the highway on cruise control. This one is barreling down the road, feeling every bump, offering a wave (or the finger, depending on the situation) to fellow travelers.

Sure, the lyrics don't exactly relate to the average man's or woman's circumstances, but it still makes them feel good when they hear it.

A


Much to my surprise, only one track from Urban Cowboy appears in this week's Top Ten. I'm not dumping on the movie's soundtrack. There were actually several good songs inserted into the film; not just Could I Have This Dance. "Darlin'" by Bonnie Raitt, "Look What You've Done To Me" by Boz Scaggs, Charlie Daniels' "Devil Went Down To Georgia", and even "Love The World Away" from Kenny Rogers and "Here Comes The Hurt Again", a Mickey Gilley tune. 

Unfortunately, of those, only Charlie Daniels hit the jackpot. Instead we got Johnny Lee's "Lookin' For Love" ad nauseum. And it beget an unsavory fad that eclipsed more quality country songs. 

Still, this week included three A's. I think that's a record. Sometimes we forget that certain musical times were better than our cluttered brains recall.

 





 





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.











Friday, June 23, 2017

1983 Was Not A Red-Letter Year In Country Music


In 1983 I was still driving my '76 Chevy Malibu. I liked it. It fit. It was also the first brand-new car I'd ever owned, so I felt like I had moved up in the world. I'd graduated from a used powder blue 1966 Chevrolet Impala to a they-saw-me-coming '74 Chevy Vega hatchback with the hue and texture of a can of Campbell's Cream of Tomato soup. Each of those cars had cost a couple hundred dollars at the most; the Malibu I had to finance! Sign papers for! The Malibu had a sometimes-it-works air conditioning system and tan folding faux leather seats. It was perfect, and it wasn't orange!

I didn't have far to travel in my tiny town -- my longest drive was north along Ninth Street to Mom and Dad's house; a fifteen-minute cruise if the stoplights didn't hit just right. I visited Mom and Dad a lot on sunny afternoons  -- my kids were in elementary school and I worked second shift. My days were free and Dad and Mom were my tether. Easing the Malibu into their driveway and spying Dad bent over in the front yard, yanking weeds from the flower bed, felt like home, even though I'd never ever lived in that house. I knew Mom would be upstairs in the kitchen, running a damp rag across the counter top, checking the Mr. Coffee to determine if it'd stopped dripping. I'd pull out a chair from the dining room table and Mom would offer me coffee and a slice of pie and we'd talk about nothing much. Dad would broach the stairs, swiping a handkerchief across his brow; pour himself a cup and ease his butt into an adjoining seat. I have no recollection of what those conversations entailed, but I remember that when I turned to go home, I always felt better -- stronger somehow.

Music was in the doldrums. I was on the verge of giving up on country, and soon I would. Shelly West was still basking in the after-glow of the Urban Cowboy fad and Crystal Gayle was a novelty, famous for her ridiculously long hair and the fact that she was Loretta Lynn's little sister. Sylvia was a producer's creation -- another try at Chet's Nashville Sound that was a long-time gone and hardly lamented. Alabama was still hanging around, as they were wont to do. Merle was on a down-slide; Charley Pride was still grasping onto the tattered shreds of his once-red-hot career. Even the artists I loved, like Ronnie Milsap and the Oaks, were looking at their careers in the rear-view mirror. John Conlee had exhausted his one big hit. Much like the late sixties, producers paired male and female voices, but the result was pop pap; as opposed to "After The Fire Is Gone". Country was lost and needed someone to save it. That someone hadn't yet ridden over the horizon.

Still, like any year in music, there were gems.

Alabama was on it's next-to-last gasp:


I think the first time I became aware of the Oak Ridge Boys was when they recorded Rodney Crowell's "Leavin' Louisiana In The Broad Daylight". Then I did a bit of digging and found that they were once a gospel band. As a Midwesterner, I was oblivious to gospel music. Alice and I, though, had seen the Statesmen as an opening act at one of the many country concerts we'd attended, and we'd gotten on board. The deep bass voice, the tenor, and the harmony parts had roped us in. The call and response.

For a time, country gospel became our new obsession. Of course, we were fourteen, so everything to us was brand new.

That history cemented my love for the Oak Ridge Boys, who had this hit song in 1983:


Along about July, a couple of old hands rode to the rescue:


Along about 1979, I talked Mom into attending an indoor rodeo with me. I told her that a new country artist would be performing in between the barrel racing and the calf roping. In the west, rodeos were not considered weird or corny. I'd been to lots of rodeos -- I was familiar with the eight-second rule for bull riders. It's not so much that I was a rodeo fan, but that live entertainment was sorely lacking in our town. We went to whatever the box office put forth. I was, however, enamored with Reba McEntire and had never seen her in person, so....


 Later, I would resent Reba for unnaturally expanding the boundaries of what could be called "country". She took advantage of her fame. She loved on-stage costume changes and male background dancers. But she was country once, and I'm happy I could introduce Mom to her voice.

The Number Eighty-Seven song of the year flew past me, because I'd by then long abandoned country music (as it had abandoned me).  It's funny how life works. Eighty-seven? Truly? This song rests firmly within my top twenty country songs of all time, and it only reached eighty-seven on the charts? Country fans needed a firm shake. (And speaking of rodeos):


The truth, though, sad as it may be, is that on my drive up Ninth Street to Mom and Dad's, with the seventeen-story Capitol Building casting its shadow across my sun visor, is that THIS is the song that 1983 will be remembered for. 

I remember that drive, and that day, so succinctly. I remember muttering to myself, "If I hear this song one more time, I'm going to stab my radio with a serrated carving knife."

Funny how time works. The song doesn't seem so bad now, thirty-four years after the fact. 










 










Friday, May 20, 2016

Merle ~ Who Says My Best Days Have Passed Me By?


Upon Merle's passing, I read virtually every writerly tribute -- I guess to find out if anyone "got it" -- got the importance of Merle to people like me, and, frankly, to see how wrong they got it. I'm cutting these guys some slack. They're probably tasked with summarizing the careers of disparate artists, from Paul Kantner to Prince, and who could know them all? Besides, those articles are written for the casual pop culture observant; the people who've maybe "heard of this guy", but don't really know what he's all about.

The thing is, though, don't go throwing around the "ten best" recordings of somebody unless you know what you're talking about, because that's a heavy burden.

I've already nailed down most of the best of Merle in my previous posts. But I'm no ideologue. I can be wrong. I can be shortsighted. After all, I grew up on Merle -- that's a completely different mindset from the guy who writes obituaries for the New York Times. So, I'm willing to bend, and I don't have to bend very far. The songs featured here are good; damn good, but you see, Merle was all about the good. It's a matter of whittling down a fifty-plus year career, and that's nigh impossible.

So, I'll stop prattling and just get to the music.

If We Make It Through December:




Tulare Dust:


Carolyn (with Glen Campbell, like it was meant to be done):


 Everybody's Had The Blues* (live, like I remember it):

*a personal favorite


If We're Not Back In Love By Monday:




Footlights (a perennial on the "best of" lists, but probably one of, sadly, my least favorite Merle songs):


I remember saying to my mom, when this song came on the radio, how much I loved it, and she said, "Really? I don't see what's so great about it." I was right, Mom. Sorry.

Misery and Gin:


Merle and Marty Stuart ~ Farmer's Blues:


I wondered where Merle had gone, and then, suddenly, there he was, with Willie:


Honestly, I could go on for miles. There are deep album cuts, cover songs (especially those of Lefty Frizzell), Stranger jams, nuggets that've currently escaped my mind. I've tucked them all safely away inside the creases of my memory even if I haven't included them here, in these four (?) Merle Haggard posts.

I'm still mourning his loss. I guess I always will. I had the chance to see Merle in concert a few times in recent years, but I refused. I stubbornly wanted to remember him on my terms. That was probably dunder-headed. Because now it's too late.

So, I'm going to let Merle end this with a paean to the life both of us longed for. Maybe I'll reach it someday. I know Merle has.


I guess, thank you. Thank you, Merle, for my musical life. And actually for saving my life. I don't know what my young existence would have been if fate hadn't hammered me. I do know I was miserable. Until I found you. That's a heavy burden, but I think you can handle it.

And when you play Misery and Gin for my mom, she might just change her opinion.









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."

Story

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 21, 2013

Chet Flippo Made Country Music Cool

In the midst of all the sad passings this week, the death of Chet Flippo sadly sank beneath the radar.

An inherent trait of the true country believer is that, if someone outside the country music whirl acknowledges the credence of country music, then it absolutely has to be legit. Country music lovers have long suffered from feelings of inferiority.

Chet Flippo wrote most notably for Rolling Stone magazine. He wrote articles about the album, Wanted: The Outlaws. He wrote a lot about Willie Nelson. He contributed to the liner notes for Will The Circle Be Unbroken. He penned words about Waylon Jennings.He wrote a biography of Hank Williams.

For a guy who began his career covering Janis Joplin and Keith Richards, Chet probably surprised and confused his colleagues by veering off into the world of country. But, if Chet wrote it, they took it to heart.

Us rubes, who grew weary of defending ourselves against a world that considered itself too way cool could point to Chet Flippo's byline in Rolling Stone and say, see? Chet Flippo likes it!

Eventually, Chet moved on from Rolling Stone. He moved to CMT online, and he wrote a column called Nashville Skyline. I've had a link to Nashville Skyline on this blog forever. I don't know what to do with it now. I think I will just keep it where it is.

Chet, in his Nashville Skyline column, called bullshit bullshit. Chet wasn't namby-pamby. I liked that about him.

I've written about Wanted: The Outlaws before. Truth is, it was a slapped-together album; a sum of its disparate parts. Nobody actually knew that when the album was released, however.

Chet saw something in it, though. He no doubt knew its genesis. Chet was no fool.

Tonight, I'm raising a glass of foamy tap beer to the memory of Chet Flippo.

And I'm listening, in his honor, to this:






Rest in peace, Chet Flippo. Who'm I gonna go to now for my fix of country music sanity?










Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The 1960's in Country Music ~ When Everything Changed


People may have selective (or rather, "limited") memories about the nineteen sixties in country music.

I was there.

Let me tell you about the 1960's in country music.

First of all, everything EXPLODED.   Sure, it started out quite sedate and unobtrusive.  But even at the beginning of the decade, something was different.  The most obvious difference was that Nashville no longer had a stranglehold on country music.  No, a town called Bakersfield was making itself known, whether Chet Atkins liked it or not.

Nobody (mostly) remembers Wynn Stewart, but I bet Merle remembers him, because, aside from Lefty Frizzell, Merle sounded like no one more than Wynn, who also wrote one of Merle's first hits, "(Sing Me A) Sad Song".

The top hits of 1960 were the somnambulistic, "He'll Have To Go",  by Jim Reeves, of whom I never understood the attraction; frankly;  Even as a five-year-old, I recognized that this song was sort of "icky"; and it disturbed me.  

On the more righteous side, Ferlin Husky had a hit with "Wings of a Dove"..  

And, in a continuation of the nasally-voiced singers of the 1950's, Hank Locklin had a hit with "Please Help Me, I'm Fallin'".

But, frankly, not too many people cared about Jim Reeves, or even Ferlin; and if they recognized Hank Locklin at all, it was only for a minute.

No, it was Bakersfield that the true music lovers latched onto.  And here is Wynn Stewart, starting it all off:





1961 dropped a couple of monstrous hits on us.   

Willie, in essence, sold this song to the highest bidder.  And luckily, Faron Young was the winner of the lottery.

Willie's song was great, but if not for Faron's my-eye-eyen'd , the song would have been rather pedestrian.  Clever, sure.  But not heart-tugging.  Faron did that.



Hank Cochran and Harlan Howard (bow down before them) wrote this next song for Patsy Cline.

I don't know what can be said about Patsy Cline that hasn't already been said.  I say, just watch and listen:



Sure, 1962 may have been the year that Hank Snow created a hit with a song that I, in a fit of utter boredom, memorized the words to:



But let's face it:  1962 was Patsy's year.  

This song, naturally, is at the top of my list of the Twenty Best Country Songs of All Time.  And here's Willie again.  I bet he didn't auction off this song, and if he did, he was a blithering idiot.





1963 was rather ripe with country hits.  There was Ring of Fire, of course; written by June Carter and Merle Travis.  There was Abilene, recorded by a guy who deigned to call himself George Hamilton IV (the first time I learned about Roman numerals).  

There was this, and I dare you to not include it on your top twenty list:



I've decided to throw out my predetermined format and post a bunch of 1963 songs, because, speaking of ripe, 1963 in country music is the essence of ripe.  

Here is Skeeter Davis:



I had absolutely no idea who Ned Miller was; never even saw a picture of him; but my dad loved this song.  I'm guessing Ned was a recluse, which is fine, and completely acceptable to me.  Even if he was in his basement, recording this song on a reel-to-reel tape recorder, that doesn't negate the fact that this was a huge hit in 1963; and mostly, it doesn't negate the fact that Dad loved it:



Dave Dudley had a hit with a song that he had absolutely no idea would become an alt-country lover's guilty pleasure, when re-recorded by Steve Earle in the eighties.  No, Dave was an innocent traveling musician when he did this:



I could go on (and on and on and on) about the year 1963 in country music. I have no idea why everything went BLAM! that year.  But it did.

Be that as it may, 1963, for me, is represented by Bobby Bare (and Mel Tillis) with this (and thank you, my good friend Alice, for teaching me how to play this intro on my guitar):



I'm plum exhausted, and exhilarated, from enumerating just the first four years of the sixties, so I think it's time to take a breather.

1964 will come later (and I'm thinking there will be a whole lot of Buck Owens and a bunch of Loretta Lynn; but who knows?  I may surprise myself.) 

Recalling the nineteen sixties in country music is exhilarating for me.

Maybe you had to be there.

 













 

 


 




 

Friday, July 16, 2010

Hank Cochran

One thing that troubles me about amateur songwriting boards is that most of the people posting on them seem to have no knowledge of music history.

How do you know where you're going if you don't know where you've been? This goes for Nashville, too, and its so-called songs. You know, the ones that are tuneless and soulless.

I read the news about Hank Cochran this morning, and browsed on over to the two songwriting sites that I frequent, to read what others had to say. Someone on each of the sites had mentioned Hank's passing, but very few members even bothered to respond. One poster said, "Wow - he wrote, I Fall To Pieces? I didn't know that!"

Really? You didn't know that? And you profess to be a "country music writer"?

Anyway, enough complaining. Let's celebrate the songs of Hank Cochran, shall we?

HANK COCHRAN ~ LIVIN' FOR A SONG



I FALL TO PIECES ~ PATSY CLINE



DON'T TOUCH ME ~ JEANNIE SEELY




DON'T YOU EVER GET TIRED OF HURTING ME ~ RONNIE MILSAP





IT'S NOT LOVE (BUT IT'S NOT BAD) ~ MERLE HAGGARD




MAKE THE WORLD GO AWAY ~ EDDY ARNOLD




UNDO THE RIGHT ~ WILLIE NELSON (The premiere recording was by Johnny Bush)




And my all-time favorite:


THE CHAIR ~ GEORGE STRAIT




Rest in peace, Hank Cochran. Thanks for the songs.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Sad State of Fame

The only reason I ever watched the movie, "Sling Blade" in the first place, was because Dwight Yoakam was in it. I honestly don't think I've seen any other Billy Bob Thornton movies. At least, not intentionally. It's a pretty safe bet I'll never see another.

Oh, you know, if you follow pop culture news at all, about the now infamous radio interview, featuring Billy Bob at his best. Seems that Billy Bob has a band, called the Boxmasters, or, as a satirist called them, the "Boxcutters".

And, it seems that, through Billy Bob's Hollywood/Texas connections, he managed to get the Boxcutters (er, Boxmasters) hitched to the Willie Nelson/Ray Price tour. Nice gig. One that about a bazillion bands would kill for.

Apparently, one of the obligations for the band was to do some radio promotion. Alas, that was asking waaaaa-y too much of an important Hollywood bigwig like Billy Bob.

Billy Bob seemed to not like the "tone" of the questions posed to him by the disc jockey. The DJ had the audacity to mention that BB happened to be an "actor". WELL! The impertinence! BB showed this guy. He sat in his chair and proceeded to make an ass of himself (as his bandmates frantically looked for a table to crawl under).

You be the judge:



The interview left me feeling really bad for the guys in the band. Did they actually sign on for this?

Seems that shortly thereafter, some of the guys came down with the "flu", and thus the Boxcutters had to leave the Willie Nelson tour.

Here's what those who bought tickets missed:



Ahem, "would you ask Tom Petty these questions?"



I definitely see the similarities. Don't you?

They're both "bands". They both are singing "songs". I mean, it's uncanny!

Sadly, for some ungodly reason, this infamous interview has brought attention to the Boxcutters that they could only pray for. And some fool will buy their CD, just so that he or she can feel close to someone famous.

Meanwhile, all those unknown bands, with singers who can actually "sing", are left out in the cold. They're wondering how they can get on the Willie Nelson tour. And they know that, given the opportunity to do a radio interview, they wouldn't be petulant. They'd be polite.

But, then, they don't have that sense of entitlement that only an actor who had one hit movie could have.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I'm listening to someone who's keeping (alt) country music alive. He's not on the Willie Nelson tour.

His name is Robbie Fulks. Buy his CD's. Please. He's one of our last hopes.



~~~

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The CMA Awards - Goin' For More In '84!

Wow, is it 1984 already? Those first few years of the eighties went by fast!

Looking back to the year 1984, one finds that nothing earth-shattering happened in the world of news. But we don't really care about the news anyway, do we? We care about the important stuff, like TV and music. That's the stuff we remember.

So, in pop music, this song was popular and won Grammy awards. Tina was, here, about 72 years old, I believe. So today, that would make her 96 years old, and she's still going out on tour! That's stamina!



A truly classic acceptance speech from the Oscar Awards in 1984 was delivered by somebody we all really, really like.......Sally Field. I mean it; we like her; we really, really like her.



The big three television networks were still serving up their hot piping cauldron of crap; namely prime-time soaps, such as Dynasty and Dallas and any other show that started with the letter "D". There was this show, however, that cracked the top 20:



My brother, and my other brother, were big fans of this show.

But on to the topic at hand - the 1984 CMA Awards.

I bet you can't guess who the INSTRUMENTALIST OF THE YEAR was. No, really. Guess.

If you guessed anyone other than CHET ATKINS, then you haven't been paying attention. Because he, I estimate, won this award approximately 267 times.

For the second straight year, RICKY SKAGGS and his BAND* won the INSTRUMENTAL GROUP OF THE YEAR award.

*band to be named later (actually, Kentucky Thunder)

Here's a gospel tune from the band*:



And, as long as we're talking about two-fers, the MALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR statuette was once again presented to LEE GREENWOOD.

Not surprisingly, if you type "Lee Greenwood" in the YouTube search field, all you get is one song! Over and over. Yes, that one. I can attest, however, that Lee did record other songs. I have a CD of Lee's, and it doesn't just have one track. Just to set the record straight.

So, I switched over to CMT.com, and I did find two Lee Greenwood videos. And yes, one of them is that song. But here's another one (featuring, apparently, Patrick Duffy from that number one prime-time soap, Dallas):





And, after a brief sabbatical, THE STATLER BROTHERS were once again back on top, reclaiming the award for VOCAL GROUP OF THE YEAR.

Yes, Alabama had kind of swooped in for three years and absconded with the award, but now the Brothers were back! Man, can you imagine if someone had pilfered Chet Atkins's award??

Here are Harold, Phil, Don, and now Jimmy Fortune, doing their version of an old ditty:



A new face appeared in 1984 to claim the FEMALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR award. And much like Barbara Mandrell, we would see this artist standing at the podium many, many times in years to come.

I searched hard to find a video of when this lady was still "country" (and before she had some "work done", I'm guessing). After scrolling through many pages, I found one! This song was recorded a few years after the 1984 awards, but my criteria was to find a country song, so here's 1984's female vocalist of the year, REBA MCENTIRE:



The SONG OF THE YEAR was written by Larry Henley and Jeff Silbar. And yes, I know these are country awards, but the one and only video of Gary Morris performing this song has been removed from YouTube. So, here's the version that everyone remembers anyway (sorry, Gary, but it's true). From that weepie movie (and I mean that in a good way), Beaches, here's THE WIND BENEATH MY WINGS, courtesy of Bette Midler:



Both the ALBUM OF THE YEAR and SINGLE OF THE YEAR belonged to Anne Murray this year. For something that was so popular, you'd think there'd be a video available. But no.

But, you know, I can't just NOT include this. It won two awards, for pete's sake. So, here's a picture to look at, while you listen to the album and single of the year, "A Little Good News":



I've been sort of saving the VOCAL DUO OF THE YEAR category, because it's just so odd and quirky. You know, ol' Willie likes to record duets with, well, everyone. So, here he was, just doing his usual thing, recording duets. He had the guy from Spain drop by the studio one day. They slapped together a little number, and lo and behold, they ended up winning the vocal duo award! Yes, that's right. WILLIE NELSON and JULIO IGLESIAS. And here they are! (And sorry, the audio does tend to cut out on this, but it's the only video available).



Of course, whenever I think of this song, I'm reminded of this, and it's a hoot:



On the HORIZON, here comes a duo that sure could sing country like it was meant to be sung. Sometimes we don't appreciate artists enough when they are on the scene. It takes hindsight to realize just how great they were. I'll admit, Naomi annoyed me a lot. But when she was singing harmony with Wynonna, (as opposed to talking and acting out) well, it was sublime. Here are the 1984 HORIZON AWARD winners, The Judds:



That brings us, of course, to the big award of the night, ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR. Yes, these guys kept on winning a whole bunch of awards through the years (although not vocal group in 1984, snickered Harold Reid). And yes, in retrospect, they deserved all the kudos they received. Here's a 1984 song. Just one of many from their multi-decade career. The 1984 ENTERTAINERS OF THE YEAR, ALABAMA:



HALL OF FAME Ralph Peer

Anyone who knows anything about the history of country music surely has heard of Ralph Peer. In 1925, Ralph Peer set out on an odyssey to discover new talent to record for "Victor Records". He traveled to Appalachia, where he found a couple of acts that country-philes may have heard of. And once he found them, he recorded them in the field. Here's one of them:



Here's another:



Without Jimmie Rodgers and without the original Carter Family, well, there wouldn't be country music. And no one would've heard them if it hadn't been for Ralph Peer.

Floyd Tillman

Floyd Tillman came from Willie's old stompin' grounds in Texas, and was an early influence on Willie. Floyd specialized in that musical genre that was indiginous to Texas, western swing. He also had a very distinctive style of singing, as represented here, with his biggest hit song, "Slippin' Around":



Here's another song written by Floyd Tillman, performed here by Shelby Lynne; "I Love You So Much (It Hurts Me)":



So, country music expanded its horizons a bit in 1984, welcoming a pop singer from Spain and a country-pop singer from Canada, while still recognizing the contributions from states such as ALABAMA. 1984 saw the rise of future legends The Judds and Reba McEntire. And we can't forget that Chet Atkins was apparently the most famous country star of the UNIVERSE.

I'm looking forward to 1985, if for no other reason than to find out if Chet wins again!




Friday, November 21, 2008

The CMA Awards - Yippee For 1983!

Greetings once again, fellow time travelers! I'm still here; still countin' 'em down, year by year.

And this time around, it's 1983! Yes, ten years after I graduated from high school!

Looking back to the news of 1983, I see that a record budget deficit was projected - ha! If only they knew! That's small change! Peanuts really, compared to now!

In pop culture, they were still making those new-fangled things called "music videos". This was one of the top hits (videos) of 1983:



On the TV front, apparently (since every time I search for events of 1983, this comes up), it was the final season of M*A*S*H. Now, yea, I watched M*A*S*H, too, but in the larger scheme of things, this was NOT the best television series ever. Not even close.

We lost a couple of music greats in 1983. Here's Karen Carpenter:



Dennis Wilson (and here, he is forced to keep time by clapping his hands):



But, back to country music.

We (again) saw some repeats in 1983; the first being the SONG OF THE YEAR. Now, I'm not here to judge, but I just think that the CMA's needed to stop repeating themselves. It's all well and good that they really (really) liked certain songs and certain recordings. But surely there was enough new material each year to choose something new.

But no. They liked what they liked, and therefore, once again, the SONG OF THE YEAR was this (as written by Wayne Carson, Johnny Christopher, and Mark James - a true group effort):

ALWAYS ON MY MIND (and yes, this is a different video, because I really hate repeating myself)



And yes. CHET ATKINS was (again) the INSTRUMENTALIST OF THE YEAR. And no, I'm not posting any more Chet videos, because frankly, this is getting out of hand.

JANIE FRICKE
was, again, named FEMALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR. As I've mentioned before, the CMA's are but a snapshot in time. And Janie certainly had her time. But to be honest, she didn't really have too many hits. I basically remember Janie Fricke as a duet partner to Johnny Duncan. (That's not necessarily a bad thing to be remembered for).

So, here's a duet:



(Did I say previously that 1982 was the most boring year ever for the CMA's? I want to change my vote.)

We can kill a couple of birds here, with the ALBUM OF THE YEAR and the VOCAL GROUP OF THE YEAR. I promised you earlier that ALABAMA would get their fair share of awards, and I didn't steer you wrong.

VOCAL GROUP OF THE YEAR - Alabama

ALBUM OF THE YEAR - The Closer You Get - Alabama




Luckily for all of us, there was something new on the scene, and that was the SINGLE OF THE YEAR. Good ol' John Anderson.

Here's an acoustic version of the SINGLE OF THE YEAR, "Swingin'":





And, as if that wasn't enough, we also had a new VOCAL DUO OF THE YEAR! Yes kids. Something pretty good.........pret-ty, pret-ty, pret-ty good.



And that was MERLE HAGGARD and WILLIE NELSON:



The INSTRUMENTAL GROUP OF THE YEAR, this year, 1983, was the RICKY SKAGGS BAND. Apparently, they didn't have an actual name back then, but they came to be known as KENTUCKY THUNDER. Here they are, in later years:

EDIT: Okay, this is actually NOT Kentucky Thunder. It's the Del McCoury Band. But Ricky is featured here.



Is it just me, or is this stuff great? There was a time when I hated bluegrass. Now I LOVE it. It is one of the purest forms of music. Kind of reminds you of what music was like before the "suits" got their hands on it.....and ruined it.

The MALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR in 1983 was Lee Greenwood. And it was because of this song:



Yes, I'll admit, I'm a sucker for a good patriotic song. And, as patriotic songs go, this one is pretty hard to beat. I like the Star Spangled Banner, too, but this song ranks right up there.

I didn't even know that Lee himself wrote this song. So kudos to you, Lee Greenwood! This song has served us well in trying times. It kind of says it all. And it's been a staple of Republican stump speeches for lo these many years.

Of course, that leads us to the ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR category. Had I been Randy, Jeff, Teddy, and Mark, I wouldn't have wanted to follow Lee Greenwood. Who would? But, after all, this was the primo award of the evening, and ALABAMA captured it!

Here they go:



As anthems go, this one is pret-ty, pret-ty good, too. It's no God Bless The USA, but it's still good! Congrats to Alabama for winning the entertainer of the year award for 1983!

Hall of Fame

Little Jimmy Dickens

Whereas, in 1982, three folks were inducted into the hall of fame, in 1983, only one person received that honor. Little Jimmy Dickens.

Yes, he's Little. Thus the name.

Here he is, with Brad Paisley, on his 60th anniversary as a member of the Grand Ol' Opry:



So, 1983, much like 1982, was not the most exciting year ever for the CMA awards. But it still had its high points. Namely, Lee Greenwood, John Anderson, and - don't forget - Alabama. A mixed bag, to be sure.

But we've got our fingers crossed for 1984!