Country Music

Professor Knowall

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When I said 'stay tuned' on my last post, I should've added "with just a tad of patience", as my next guest will not be one of those names. But I'm up to c1956 in this history - and as I guess you well know, a helluva lot happened in 1956, that irrevocably changed country music ... and a whole, lot more

I know this is an "official" day off but for any interested further in Ray Price, I found this promo video for Willie Nelson's 2016 album "For The Good Times: A Tribute To Ray Price". As well as Willie it also features Vince Gill and highlights the two innovative careers of Ray Price, first in hard core honky tonk and the 'Ray Price beat' then with his later orchestral backed mature aged music. Willow talks of his friendship with Ray (the episode of Willie shooting and eating Price's prized rooster wasn't mentioned). It also had a few really good music samples from the album. I liked the comment near the end of the need for present day country musicians to be exposed to this sort of music, or they wouldn't know of what once existed -

And now something from a contemporary country singer - seen as a rising star in 2015, he briefly, under pressure
from his record company (Curb) flirted with the now dominant pretend country/suburban pop that's marketed as
country music, but decided he'd rather sing good music than the present Nashville sh*t (maybe not his precise
words, but the meaning). Hence you probably won't hear that much of this real country traditionalist

Anyway in 2015, a tribute to Ray Price was held in Nashville, hosted by Bill Anderson and Ray Price's widow (the two sitting together in the prime location). Many of Price's old band members played and a who's who of musicians sang.
But it was a young Mo Pitney that stole the show with his rendition of this standard, 60 years after Price made it a hit -
 

Professor Knowall

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Elvis Presley is arguably the single most important figure in 20th-century popular music. Not necessarily the best, and definitely not the most consistent, but he was the musician most responsible for popularizing rock'n'roll music and its associated youth culture. Because he's so well known and his history is all over the Internet (including various docos),
I won't rehash it all here except the parts that relate directly to our subject of country music.

Born 1935 in the northern Alabaman town of Tupelo, Elvis lived the first 13 years of his life there, a lone child of poor parents in a tiny house. He was raised on country and gospel music, listening to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio (as everybody did in the south back then). Moving to Memphis at age 13 was the key, as its large black population had its own 'race' radio stations (as they were called back then), playing blues and R&B and like some other white teenagers in that city he became an avid listener, with blues man Arthur Crudup his particular favourite.

In the early fifties, Memphis had become a hotbed of young musicians experimenting with fusing traditional country with blues (by now electric), R&B, gospel and bluegrass, helped along by the influence of local D.J. Dewey Phillips and record producer Sam Phillips, whohad already cut the first records by blues artists such as the Hank Williams influenced Howlin' Wolf and Junior Parker. He thought a combination of black blues and country boogie-woogie music would be very popular among white people, if presented in the right way. Also influential was the stage show, 'The Saturday Night Jamboree' where these young musicians, including Presley and another then young unknowns such as Charlie Feathers, Reggie Young and Barbara Pittman got to strut their stuff.

Elvis brought all of those influences with him when he stepped into Sam Phillips' Sun Studio in 1954 to record his early music. His music had the soul of blues music and the twang of country, and because the term "rock'n'roll" was still in
its infancy, not yet recognised as a distinct genre of its own, Elvis' music was initially labeled and was also charted as country. In fact, as shown by his extensive country music record collection, Elvis loved playing, listening to and recording country music, even if his name became synonymous with rock'n'roll. Elvis spent much of his early career on tour with great American country stars. He performed at the Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Auditorium in 1954 where he sang Bill Monroe's bluegrass classic "Blue Moon of Kentucky." His rock'n'roll swagger and uptempo rendition without any fiddle
or slide guitar wasn't a hit with then very traditional country crowd (not like today's Opry tourist crowds). The reception deeply upset Elvis and a few weeks later he joined the Opry's competitor, the more innovative and receptive Louisiana Hayride.

Between the Hayride and other tours through the south, Elvis toured and shared the stage with the likes of Hank Snow (who managed and mentored him for a while until he made the mistake of introducing him to Tom Parker), Slim Whitman, Faron Young, Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash and The Carter Sisters. Elvis performed at the Hayride for 18 months, where
he attracted a younger, increasingly fervent audience while on tour he gradually worked his way from opening support
act to be the main act - and the audiences became ever younger and much more aminated to the point of hysteria. At
one Hayride show, Hank Snow was singing when the many teenagers starting chanting for Elvis. Snow abruptly stopped, shouted "Listen you little motherf***ers, you ain't getting Elvis until I finish my set, and I'm gunna stay here until you all shut up and let me finish". They did as they were told, though Hank got a rap over the knuckles by the management for his language.

Elvis' big breakthrough came in 1956 when RCA bought out his recording contract and when he went from being a regional country music star to a national and then an international superstar in what, not initially but within a year
or two, came to be known as a distinctly separate genre of rock'n'roll, through his crossover hit 'Heartbreak Hotel', charting # 1 in both country and pop charts (rock'n'roll was not yet recognised as a distinct separate genre). But for
all the groundbreaking rock and roll he did (the best rock and roll ever done by anyone, anytime) in those few years before he was first drafted to the army in Germany and then lost his way for too long in Hollywood, he never completely abandoned his country music roots - and indeed he returned to it years later after finally escaping from Hollywood (if not Las Vegas) as we shall see soon enough.

But for now, from the person who altered the course of country music and a whole lot more, is Elvis' country music. His first hit (albeit a southern regional hit only) in 1954, was his cover version of 'That's Alright Mama', originally written and performed by his biggest idol, delta blues singer-songwriter Arthur Crudup. Phillips, who uniquely in the segregated south recorded both black and white artists rang around the local black and white radio stations for airplay. The white stations rejected the recording as a 'race' (ie recorded by a black) while the black stations rejected it as a white country influenced number . Finally, Dewey Phillips became the first DJ to broadcast the 19 year old's recording and also interviewed him live on air, getting Presley to reveal his race by asking which (segregated) high school he had attended. It's somewhat faithful to Crudup's original, but with a country band, who had never played anything but country, in support (no wonder it confused so many at the time) -


What's often overlooked is the B-side, an up-tempo cover of bluegrass founder Bill Monroe's classic 'Blue Moon of Kentucky', but delivered like nothing before - not Bluegrass, not traditional country (no fiddle or steel), and sang with
an energy and echo unexpected for this bluegrass standard. This was the song that got Elvis a tepid reception at the conservative Grand Ole Opry in conservative Nashville but really became a bedrock song for what was to come in rockabilly and rock'n'roll - more so than the better known but somewhat more conventional A-side -


A song written and recorded by blues guitarist Arthur Gunter in 1954, Elvis changed up its arrangement and some lyrics, starting the song with the chorus instead of the first verse, and he replacing the line "... You may get religion ..." with
"... You may have a Pink Cadillac... ", referring to his custom-painted '55 Cadillac that Elvis was using to transport the band. Recorded in April 1955 Elvis transformed the blues original into a rockabilly classic that hit #5 in July 1955 -


Recorded in July 1955, while Elvis was still with the Louisiana Hayride and touring the South with other country artists including his mentor, Hank Snow, this is the most traditionally country sounding record that Presley cut while he was still with Sun, and it became his first single to reach # 1 in February 1956. But while it may have been country in form, the song, written by Stan Kesler and Charlie Feathers, was all Elvis in style, colouring shades of expression with a bluesy croon and showing his elastic vocal range. So here is Elvis, now known as "The Hillbilly Cat" or "The King of Western
Bop", at his most country -


I also can't miss the B-side of that - 'Night Train' was written by Memphis blues singer-songwriter, Junior Parker in 1953 who sung it in the Memphis rhythm and blues style (obvious for a Memphis blues singer). Elvis changed it into another rockabilly standard and it's reputation has only grown over the years. As to why it was called 'Mystery Train' when these words don't appear in the lyrics? - well that's a mystery. This video has 1950's train clips (I like trains) and early clips of early Elvis live performances -


Soon after, with the release of 'Heartbreak Hotel', everything changed - irrevocably. This superhit, # 1 on the country charts for weeks (as there was no separate rock'n'roll chart yet), crossed over to the pop charts, and later, Hound Dog topped the country, pop and R&B charts - while Elvis went to NYC for his famous Ed Sullivan Show performance in October 1956 and also made his first movie, 'Jailhouse Rock' (his best). He was no longer the southern 'western bop' country star, but the new national, and soon international face of the exploding new youth force of 'rock'n'roll music. There will be more about Elvis tomorrow (with a continuing country music focus), but this time skipping forward to a different era.
 
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Professor Knowall

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Having declined from being the 'King of Rock'n'roll' to an increasingly irrelevant actor in worsening movies to dissipating audiences, Elvis finally emerged from his Hollywood sixties stupor. Presley’s 1968 TV Christmas special gave the rock'n'roll relic a new lease on life. Still only 33, it was the first time in nearly a decade he had been his raw, unfettered self in front of a live audience, and it spurred him to a rare act of rebellion. Breaking free of the Parker's grip, he headed home to Memphis to record one of his greatest LP's, "From Elvis in Memphis" in January 1969. Mostly an album of soul and rock, Presley included a swinging version of “Gentle on My Mind,” which Glen Campbell had taken to # 1 two years prior. Fleshed out by strings and soulful backup singers (a nod to Memphis' Stax Studio?), Presley is back to his swaggering, swashbuckling best, a ready to take on the world -


A haunting, eerie tale about a wanderer looking for a long lost love on a rainy Kentucky day. The song was held back
for single release and was not included on either of the American Sound Studio albums, finally released in January, 1970. Like some other great Elvis recordings, 'Kentucky Rain' blurred the lines between rock, pop and country and did well on all 3 charts becaming one of the most played songs of the year, but in hindsight it should have charted higher -


Presley decamped for Nashville in June 1970, setting up shop in RCA famed Studio B on Music Row – now a must visit site if you find yourself in Nashville. He begins 5 days of recording, starting each evening at 6.00pm and working until dawn (not unusual for Elvis). The original plan was to cut just 18 songs but on the fourth night, all of a sudden, a country album (one of 3 from this most productive session, in which Elvis chose all the songs) emerged after it was noticed so many of the songs he chose were country. The remaining of today's Elvis country samples are from this album, titled "Elvis Country (I’m 10,000 Years Old)" (which, as per Gough's post above, has just had a remastered box set released with some extra recordings thrown in as well).

We've seen Faron Young's Willie Nelson written hit 'Hello Walls' (post #262) and Ray Price's 'Nightlife' (#272). In 1961, Jimmie Elledge had his one and only hit with Willie Nelson’s 'Funny How Time Slips Away', selling over a million (and was later covered by Price in 1965). From the album, here's Elvis' interpretation of this Nelson standard. Is this song selection by Elvis his way of reflecting on those musically wasted Hollywood years? -


Written by Cowboy Joe Babcock and recorded by Stonewall Jackson in 1965, reaching # 8, this his version is a rollicking cover where Elvis and the band just cut loose and have some fun -


At last - an Elvis live performance video with an audio quality acceptable enough to include. As per his introduction,
Elvis is performing this standard not long after completing the album. The breakup song, sang at a time when Elvis and Priscilla's marriage was fracturing, is best known in the 1966 version by Jack Greene which spent 7 weeks at # 1 and a total of 21 weeks on the chart. Engelbert Humperdink had an international pop hit in 1967, reaching # 20 in the U.S. Released as a single, Elvis scored a top 10 -

Tomorrow I'll have one more from the Elvis country album, but as he still continued to sing plenty of country to the end, I'll also include a selection of his late country songs.
 
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Professor Knowall

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Presley's 1970s recordings, when he was 'on' (which wasn't all the time) was the equal of anything he did, especially in terms of artistic diversity. His output was pretty eclectic, running from all-out rock to power ballads, pop, blues, country and gospel (Elvis periodically recorded gospel-only releases, going all the way back to 1957). Again, here only selections of his country songs are presented. One thing I noted is that Elvis, with his strong vocal strength and range wasn't afraid to tackle songs fro. Country music's best ever vocalist such as Ray Price, Eddy Arnold, George Jones and Waylon Jennings (and throw in Tom Jones as a top pop vocalist).

The final song here from the "Elvis Country (I’m 10,000 Years Old)" album, a Hank Cochran gem and a hit for Ray Price
in 1963, then an even bigger crossover hit and signature song for Eddy Arnold in 1965 (see post # 189), 'Make the World Go Away' becomes a robust cry for Elvis, one of many songs he’d cut in the seventies that reflected his own struggles with the increasing confines of fame and his isolation from any 'normal' life -


Written by Kris Kristofferson, 'Help Me Make It Through the Night' had become an instant country standard when Sammi Smith covered it in 1970. That made it prime fodder for Elvis to record it the following spring for "Elvis Now", the fourth
LP he had recorded in less than a year. Somewhat splashdash but heartfelt, in the midst of his deteriorating marriage to Priscilla, Elvis' singing carries a smoldering melancholy beneath its surface. He and Priscilla officially separated 3 days after Elvis Now‘s release in February 1972. This clip has good sound and is also good if you want to sing along to in Italian-


From July 1973 to October 1976 Presley recorded 6 albums. Five of those albums made the top 5 of the country chart and three went to number 1 - "Promised Land" (1975), "From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee (1976) and Moody Blue (1977).

From 1975, this country classic, first recorded by Johnny Darrell in 1965, was first popularised by Porter Wagoner in the same year, reaching #4. It was also recorded by Bobby Bare then by Jerry Lee Lewis, in his album "Country Songs for City Folks". Tom Jones learned the song from Lewis' version, and in 1966, had a worldwide # 1 hit with it. A favorite song of Presley’s – especially the Tom Jones’ version – it was probably inevitable that Elvis would record his own rendition of it. Elvis' take is akin to Jones’, favoring bombast over bare-boned country. Cut in Hollywood, it’s a soaring performance,
with Elvis imbuing the lyrics about a doomed, daydreaming prisoner with an extra dose of the bittersweet -


'You Asked Me To' is a song written by Billy Joe Shaver and Waylon Jennings and was originally recorded by Jennings on his 1973 album "Honky Tonk Heroes". Shaver recorded his own version in 1977 for the album "Gypsy Boy", with Willie Nelson on guitar and backing vocals! 'You Asked Me To' also appeared as the closing song on Elvis Presley's 1975 album "Promised Land", recorded in December 1973 at Stax Records studios in Memphis and released on Presley's 40th birthday.

Elvis was in an increasingly dark place by the time he recorded this. He’d overdosed twice, spent 3 days in a coma, and had a further hospital visit that year, all while undergoing the most rigorous concert schedule of his life. Two months before he cut the song, his divorce with Priscilla had been finalized. Yet Presley mustered a performance that crackled
with emotion, particularly through the key change of the final wah-soaked verse..”


In 1976, Elvis brought a mobile recording studio into Graceland and summoned his band to the Jungle Room to cut what would be his final sessions. At his most comfortable in his own surroundings – too comfortable, in hindsight – Elvis let loose, recording a number of country-leaning songs, including the last # 1 single of his life, 'Moody Blue', which topped the charts in February of 1977. But the vocalist again chose to interpret the hits of other country stars: Jim Reeves’ 'He’ll Have to Go', Willie Nelson’s 'Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain' and George Jones’ 'She Thinks I Still Care'. Elvis' version, a B-side to 'Moody Blue', is particularly heart-wrenching, especially when he sings the line “Just because I’m not the happy guy I used to be” – a real-life glimpse into the life of an increasingly unhealthy, isolated and addicted man -


In Elvis' final years, his behavior became increasingly unstable. His weight fluctuated wildly; his marriage broke up; he became dependent upon a variety of prescription drugs supplied by a quack doctor (ironically Elvis was fiercely opposed
to illegal drugs like cocaine, LSD and even weed). Worst of all, he became isolated from the outside world except for professional purposes (he continued to tour until the end), rarely venturing outside of his Graceland mansion. He even stopped leaving his home for recording - his final 2 albums, "From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee (1976) and Moody Blue (1977), were both recorded at Graceland using an RCA Records mobile recording truck. He died in August 1977 aged 42. In the decades to come, Michael Jackson and Prince had eerily similar deaths.

I was planning a quiet day tomorrow until I realised I neglected a specific country music genre (mentioned a couple of times in my Elvis spiels here, but without providing any examples), that Elvis covered throughout his career - so there'll be just a bit more on Elvis tomorrow to plug that gap.
 

Professor Knowall

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When I first started this history, I undertook to cover all genres of country music and listed gospel amongst those. But
I haven't done much at all of gospel, despite it having one of the pivotal roles in forming the sound and soul of country music, an American (thus world) popular music in general. I mentioned that A.P. Carter sought out both white and black gospel music when looking for source material for his pioneering country music. I included Red Foley's million selling version of 'Peace in the Valley' and Hank Williams alltime gospel classic 'I See the Light', but that's about it.

Though it's obviously not my favourite type, I'm living proof one doesn't have to be religious to appreciate the musical qualities and historical significance of gospel music (though I suppose being religious gives it yet another quality). Elvis, who grew up attending a small pentacostal church where he sang and played guitar, loved and was heavily influenced by gospel music. He always had gospel groups as his backup singers and toured with him when he gave concerts; when Elvis wanted to relax or when he wanted to warm up for recording sessions he used gospel music to get him in the mood. He sang gospel music and his own personal record collection - the records he actually listened to contained a large portion
of gospel records, particularly Southern Gospel quartets (the rest were mostly country and blues).

Elvis' love for gospel music continued throughout his life. In the documentary film 'Elvis on Tour' he said, "We do two shows a night for five weeks. A lotta times we'll go upstairs and sing until daylight - gospel songs. We grew up with it...
It more or less puts your mind at ease. It does mine."
During his career, Elvis released 11 gospel records — 4 LP albums, 1 EP album and 6 singles.

A million selling smash gospel hit for Red Foley in 1951 (see post #178) 'Peace in the Valley' was written in 1937 by the great African-American blues and gospel composer, Thomas Dorsey for Mahalia Jackson. Elvis recorded this as the title song of his first gospel record in early 1957. He had sung it a week earlier during his final appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in New York. Elvis’s delivery on the song was not as polished as it would be during his 1960 gospel LP "His Hand in Mine" but it did disarm somewhat many of his arch conservative critics that were accusing him of corrupting America's youth through his provocative and "immoral" rock'n'roll stage performances. Here is Elvis' 1960 version -



Written by Artie Glen for his son, Darrell Glen who recorded it in 1953, the song became a local hit and then went nationwide. In 1960, Elvis recorded his version of the song and planned to put it on his gospel album, "His Hand in
Mine
". Elvis used the The Jordanaires as background vocals but after 3takes, neither party was satisfied with the
outcome, deciding to shelf the recording and move on. It wasn’t until 1965 that the recording was released as a
special Easter single.

Even though the song was held back from release for 5 years (or maybe because), it became Elvis’ most successful
gospel song, quickly selling millions of copies. The song stood out among the then current pop songs with its restrained, old-fashioned sound - something that may not have happened had it been released half a decade earlier. The melody is beautifully “plain and simple” (like the church in the song. Its simple, strip-down production allows for Elvis’ heartfelt performance to shine through.


Now the title track of the album "How Great Thou Art", 1967. The song won Elvis his first Grammy in 1967. Elvis won his third Grammy in 1975 for a live performance of ‘How Great Thou Art’ that was on his album "Elvis Recorded Live on Stage in Memphis". It’s seems the hymn impacted Elvis, as it became a staple of his live shows right up to and including his last ever performance before his death in 1977. He starts it a little subdued, slowly building the atmosphere ... then wham! -


Elvis Presley was inducted into the Country Music HoF in 1998.

I'll take tomorrow as a day off then return back - in that pivotal year of 1955.
 
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Professor Knowall

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We're back in the transformative year 1955 and meeting a performer admired by Elvis Presley and befriended by Johnny Cash later and later held in high esteem by such acts and artists as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and John Fogerty while others from Jimi Hendricks to Bono have cited him as having a major influence on their music, and rightly so. An innovative singer, songwriter, and guitarist, Carl Perkins was dubbed “King of Rockabilly”, a music genre he helped popularise and the spark that ignited rock ‘n’ roll. And yet, despite writing and performing the first song to top all three country, R&B and pop charts and is still renowned as an early rockabilly or rock'n'roll classic, and being revered by so many fellow musicians for his pioneering music and guitar licks, enduring stardom just seemed to elude him, through tragedy or misfortune.

From the civil war in the 1860's right up to the 1970's the American South was overall quite poorer than the rest. The rural south (for both blacks and whites) was poorer than the cities, and at the lowest rung of all, the poorest of the poor, were sharecroppers. Add on to this the Great Depression of the 1930's, and you get abject poverty where even getting enough to eat could be a battle. Perkins was born into this poverty in 1932 to struggling sharecroppers, growing up in a
3 room shack in western Tennessee. By age 6, Perkins was picking cotton with his older brother Jay for as long as daylight allowed. They hummed along to the gospel songs of the African-American workers in the field and on Saturday nights, listened to the sounds of the Grand Ole Opry through their battery-operated radio, their only luxury and distraction from the hard work just for basic subsistence, like so many others in the rural south.

Perkins’ father made Carl's first "guitar" from a discarded cigar box, a broken broomstick and baling wire. Later he bought a battered Gene Autry guitar from a neighbor in need for $3 and a chook to seal. That “real guitar” allowed Perkins to sense his destiny. Perkins got lessons from a black fieldhand, saying - “Uncle John, another field hand, showed me how
to place my fingers on the strings and feel the vibration that each note made. That vibration is what moved me
.” Too
poor to buy new guitar strings, Perkins knotted his when they broke. To prevent the knots from cutting into his fingers,
he discovered how to bend notes into what became known as a “blue note”, part of his signature playing style. Perkins’ distinctive guitar style laid the groundwork for all of rock guitar.

Although Carl Perkins is now regarded as one of the seminal figures of Memphis rock’n’roll, he came from a solid country background and his albums were always dotted with pure country songs along with his rockabilly (as we will see below). At age 14, Carl and Jay Perkins began playing in local honky tonks and were joined by younger brother Clayton slapping the upright bass to round out their sound. Playing every available opening on local radio, the self-taught musicians soon became the hottest band in the area.

When Perkins heard Elvis Presley’s version of 'Blue Moon Of Kentucky' playing on the radio, he recognized the up-tempo, country-blues shuffle as a sound similar to what his band was playing. After learning that Presley recorded at Sun Studio, the Perkins brothers headed to Memphis. Phillips gave the “boys who drove so far” an audition and found he liked Perkins’ country vocals and original material (something Elvis never had, not being a song-writer). Just 4 months later, in March 1955, Phillips released 'Movie Magg' on the 'Flip' label, which was marketed to the traditional country audience, rather then the 'Sun' Label aimed at the youth market.

Perkins wrote the song at just 13 and it became well known around Jackson through his performing. The record was a regional hit. Perkins later recalled - “After that, I was booked with those Sun stars, Elvis and Johnny Cash, all through
the South and Southwest. Those tours really got me going".
A country/rockabilly hybrid and based on the true story of Perkins' girlfriend Maggie and their weekend trips to the movies, Perkins didn't have a car, so they rode on the back of
his mule, Becky. Obviously Maggie's father didn't approve of Carl -
"... It's just that doggone man / And that double barrel behind the door / It waits for Carl I know ..."

Paul McCartney recorded a cover of 'Movie Magg' on his 1999 album "Run Devil Run".

On the B-side was this fine, pure country honkytonk number sang in the Hank Williams style (and solid proof of Carl Perkins' grounding in traditional country music) -


Now 7 months on to October 1955, and Perkins has moved on to a harder, more 'classic' like rockabilly sound with 'Gone, Gone, Gone', this time released under the more youth oriented Sun label. It features some fine interplay between Perkins vocal and his nuanced, pioneering guitar playing and again it became a regional hit, which was about the best to be expected by Sun Studio, given its limited reach audience (remember that Elvis also only sold to a regional audience throughout 1955 until RCA bought out his contract at the start of 1956) -


And on the B-side it's straight back to traditional honky tonk again with fiddle, steel guitar and all. Although for the first 25 seconds it seems like this could've been potential hit material, the rest probably needed a just little more work with its inconsistent tempo, which it might've got from a major Nashville recording studio, bit not at the modest Sun Studio at that time-


I'll leave it at this for today - obviously Carl's most successful and influential work lies ahead for tomorrow. Today showed the foundation he laid for that success and establishes beyond doubt his country music credentials.
 
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Professor Knowall

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Fan Paul McCartney once said without Perkins the Beatles would never even existed. However, if it wasn't for one sing
in particular, it's probable they may never have got to hear any of Perkins pioneering music. We're now in 1956, the
year the music revolution really took hold. Elvis' move to major record company RCA and the massive success of his
hit 'Heartbreak Hotel' and the later introduction of the Ray Price 4/4 shuffle beat with 'Crazy Arm' generally dominated
the charts. But it was our man of the moment, Carl Perkins, that had the first song to reach the top 2 of all three charts - country (# 1 for 8 weeks), R&B (# 2) and pop (# 2).

While on tour with Perkins, fellow Sun Studio stablemate, Johnny Cash, told him a story about a military airman he
met who referred to his standard issue military shoes as "blue suede" shoes" and suggested Perkins write a song about this new fashion item in the teen-age wardrobes. Perkins replied that he didn't know nothing about shoes but shortly afterwards, playing for a dance, he overheard a couple arguing. ''Don't step on my suedes,'' the boy growled at his
good looking girlfriend over the scuffed shoe. Struck that the boy was more concerned with his shoes than his hot date, after the show, at 3am, Perkins wrote the lyrics on a paper bag for a song with a boogie-woogie beat, and recorded it in December 1955 in just 2 takes. Recalling his guitar solo on the song, Perkins said, ''I never had played what I played in the studio that day. I know God said: 'I've held it back, but this is it. Now you get down and get it'," -

'Blue Suede Shoes' was also recorded by Elvis, whose contract Phillips had recently sold to RCA Records. It's ironic, but inevitable, given Elvis' subsequent superstardom and iconic status, contrasting with Perkins future struggles, that Elvis' cover version of 'Blue Suede Shoes' eventually became far more famous. But the fact is, not only did Perkins write and first record the song, but as the pair battled it out, his original version comprehensively outsold Elvis' cover across the charts, selling well over a million.

The B-side features another rockabilly standard, 'Honey Don't'. Bill Dahl of Allmusic commented - "'Honey Don't' actually outclasses its more celebrated platter-mate in some ways." -

The Beatles recorded their cover in 1964 for "Beatles for Sale". John Lennon had previously sung the song live, but Ringo Starr performed it for the album. As part of the 1985 televised concert "Blue Suede Shoes: A Rockabilly Session", Starr joined Carl Perkins on stage to perform vocals and drum for the song. Starr also performed a live version of the song,
as a tribute to Harrison for their joint fondness of Perkins, at the 'Concert for George' at London's Royal Albert Hall in 2002. 'Honey Don't' is one of the very rare songs that all 4 Beatles had separately recorded or performed on stage.

Ready to cash in on a national basis, Carl and the boys headed up to New York for the first time to appear on the nationally broadcast Ed Sullivan and Perry Como TV shows, before Elvis made his famous appearance. While enroute,
their car, with their manager asleep at the wheel, rammed the back of a poultry truck, killing the other driver and putting Carl in hospital with a fractured skull and his brother Jay with a broken neck (which he never fully recovered from before dying just 2 years later). While in traction, Perkins saw Elvis performing his song on the Dorsey Brother Stage Show, his moment of fame and recognition snatched away from him, his chance of further promotion stalled just at the crucial "strike while you're hot" moment. His career momentum stalled, though he and the band were able to return to Sun Studio barely a month later for more recordings.

Now to June 1956 and the release of the # 7 hit, 'Boppin the Blues', a mid to uptempo rockabilly number with Perkins' fluid guitar including a fine solo, rhythmic slap bass and drumming making the performance swing along nicely behind
an energetic vocal from Carl describing how all his friends have caught the rhythm bug that is going around -


And on the B-side more rock solid rockabilly with All Mama's Children. Co-written with friend Johnny Cash, Perkins later recorded versions of this with NRBQ in 1970 and with John Fogerty in 1996 -


In September 1956, another rockabilly standard and #10 hit, 'Dixie Fried'. The 1958 Sonny West song 'Rave On' (popularized by Buddy Holly) was based on 'Dixie Fried', using its refrain "rave on" -

Tomorrow will have more from this rockabilly and rock'n'roll pioneer (seemingly better remembered or regarded by a raft of famous musicians rather than by the general public).
 
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With the national success of 'Blue Suede Shoes', Carl Perkins appeared destined for major stardom - maybe even becoming a rival to Elvis. But this didn't happen. 'Blue Suede Shoes' was easily the high point of Perkin's career and becoming an established star eluded him, despite writing and recording more really good material (whereas Elvis never wrote a song in his life). Throughout his career, he seemed to be dogged by bad luck and poor timing that kept him just short of the star acclaim that his talent so richly deserved. Besides the fatal 1955 car crash (see previous post) he once caught his left hand in the blades of a fan, losing the use of his pinky and a year later, accidently shot himself in the left ankle while hunting, leaving him with a permanent limp.

While Carl was recording in December 1956, Perkins's father suggested he write a song based on snatches of lyrics that he remembered from the 1927 song by Blind Lemon Jefferson - 'The Matchbox Blues'. As Perkins sang the few words his father suggested, Sun Studio session player, Jerry Lee Lewis, began a boogie-woogie riff while Carl picked out a melody on the guitar and improvised lyrics. Perkins maintained that he had never heard Jefferson's song when he recorded "Matchbox". The songs have different melodies, lyrics (except for a couple of lines) tempo and theme, with Jefferson's song is about a mean spirited woman whereas Perkins' is about a lovelorn poor boy with limited prospects. This Blues infused rockabilly standard, released in February 1957, didn't chart much then, but lives on today as a rockabilly classic -

The Beatles performed 'Matchbox' during their shows in 1961 and 1962, with drummer Pete Best on vocals until his sacking, when Lennon took over. A live version from December 1962 was included on the 1977 album "Live! at the
Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany; 1962"
. In 1963, the Beatles performed 'Matchbox' with Ringo Starr on lead vocals
for their BBC radio show "Pop Go the Beatles". This version was included on the 1994 compilation "Live at the BBC".
Starr also sang lead vocals when the band recorded the song for their "Long Tall Sally" EP in 1964. While touring the
UK with Chuck Berry, Perkins, at The Beatles personal invitation, attended their recording session of this in June 1964.

British rockabilly revival band, Matchbox, formed in 1971, took their name from this song (in Australia they took the
name "Major Matchbox" and I still have their 1979 album). The day ''Matchbox'' was recorded, Elvis visited the studio. Along with Cash (who left early to go shopping), Perkins, pianist Jerry Lee Lewis and Presley spent more than an hour singing gospel, country and R&B songs while a tape rolled. The impromptu session was called ''The Million Dollar Quartet'' by a local newspaper the next day, and was eventually released on a disk in 1990. There is now a very large photo of these four hanging out together prominently displayed at Sun Studio.

The A-side (for 'Matchbox' was, in fact the B-side!) also has a rockabilly gem. The (albeit blurry) video has Carl and his band performing live but with the crappy TV sound removed and replaced with sound taken from the actual master recording -

Lifelong Carl Perkins devotee, George Harrison sang this song at Carl Perkins' funeral in January 1998.

'Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby' is a rockabilly rework of a 1936 Rex Griffin song of the same title and using much
the same lyrics. The melody is taken from Hank Williams pioneering 1946 hit 'Move it on Over' (often cited as the first rockabilly song) which was also used in Bill Haley's 'Rock Around the Clock, but it's more blues-based in style, like 'Blue Suede Shoes'. Recorded in 1956 and released on the 1957 album "Dance Album of Carl Perkins" -

The Beatles recorded 'Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby' in 1964 for the "Beatles For Sale" album, with George Harrison
on vocals, while Perkins was in the studio watching them.

'Glad All Over' was the last single Carl Perkins released on Sun Records. Here is a clip From the 1957 film 'Jamboree', where Carl Perkins and his band perform the song in a recording studio. Carl's brothers, Jay on rhythm guitar and
Clayton on upright bass don't show too much excitement at being there, and despite his best efforts, Carl himself,
his hairline now visibly receding, just doesn't quite have the same moves and vibe of Elvis -

The Beatles recorded 'Glad All Over' twice in 1963 for BBC radio, with George Harrison (of course) on lead vocals. The first of these was released in 1994 on "Live at the BBC". Harrison also performed the song with his hero on the 1985 "Blue Suede Shoes: A Rockabilly Session with Carl Perkins".

Today's last number, 'Put Your Cat Clothes On', might seem a bit out of order, being recorded in 1956, but for reasons unknown to me, this classic Perkins track from 1956 wasn't released until the 1970's and covered by Brian Setzer of The Stray Cats. This is not only Carl at his finest but here we have a great pianist in then Sun Studio session player, Jerry Lee Lewis and a great guitarist dueling on the instrumental breaks with Perkins wild vocals propelling along a song that flows like hot oil -


Tomorrow we'll farewell Perkin's with a couple of his later collaborative performances with other music legends who cited him as a major influence.
 

Professor Knowall

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Disillusioned with the lack of follow-up success after 'Blue Suede Shoes' and poor royalty rates, Perkins left Sun to Columbia Records in 1958, but without any success due to Columbia overproducing his rockabilly releases, thus losing their raw spontaneity, and then rockabilly itself went out of fashion. From the late 1950's, Perkins, like a few other stars
of the fifties, was seemingly forgotten - at least in the U.S. He performed regularly at the Golden Nugget Casino, Las Vegas in 1962/63 and also toured honky tonks in the Midwest while he drank heavily and thought about quitting.

A turning point of sorts came in 1964 when Chuck Berry persuaded a reluctant Perkins to tour the UK with him, reassuring him that as the 'original rockers', they were still revered in the UK and Europe despite being largely
ignored in their home country (we've seen this before on this thread with Slim Whitman being hugely popular in
the UK while forgotten in the US for many years). Chuck was right - they played to packed out audiences at major venues. Furthermore, Perkins was visited by The Beatles, who revealed themselves as big long time fans who knew
all his music - George Harrison in particular being besotted with meeting his hero, who he based his guitar technique
on. The Beatles invited Perkins to their recording sessions where, as we saw yesterday, they recorded a number of his rockabilly standards.

In 1967, Perkins joined his old friend, Johnny Cash’s band as lead guitarist and was allotted a guest singing spot
during each of Cash’s concerts and television shows. He and Bob Dylan collaborated on a song called ''Champaign, Illinois,'' which Perkins recorded in 1969. In 1970, he recorded an album together with rockabilly revival group NRBQ.
In 1968, he quit drinking after a real heavy binge, tossing his last whiskey bottle into the Ocean at Santa Monica. He and Cash helped each other in quitting their addictions. In 1974 his brother Clayton committed suicide and their father died. Perkins left Cash in 1976 and went on the road with a band consisting of His two sons, with whom he was still performing in the 90s. A tribute single to the late Presley, ‘The EP Express’, came in 1977 and a new album was released in 1978.

By the '80s Perkins’ reputation as one of rock’s pioneers had grown. He recorded an album with Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis, "The Survivors", followed by "Class of '55" with Cash, Lewis and Roy Orbison, Class Of ’55 in 1986. Perkins spent much of the 80s touring and working with younger musicians who were influenced by him, among them Paul McCartney and the Stray Cats. Perkins triumphant moment came in 1986 with a major TV special "A Rockabilly Session: Carl Perkins And Friends" to mark the 30th anniversary of ‘Blue Suede Shoes’. It co-starred Harrison, Ringo Starr, Dave Edmunds, Rosanne Cash and Eric Clapton and some Stray Cats.

A prolific composer throughout his career, Perkins wrote a number of country hits including 'So Wrong' (Patsy Cline), 'The Ballad of Boot Hill' and 'Daddy Played Bass' (Johnny Cash), 'Silver and Gold' (Dolly Parton), 'Let Me Tell You About Love' (The Judds) and 'A Man On His Own' (George Strait).

In 1969, Perkins had one last top 20 hit with 'Restless'. This clip shows him performing it at the mother church of country music, the Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, introduced by old friend, Johnny Cash (on the Johnny Cash TV show). Perkins' really bad wig is balanced by a good performance -


The 1986 'Birth of Rock and Roll' was part of the 1985 Class of '55 album that marked the 30th anniversary of the emergence of rock and roll when Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis began their careers at
Sun Records . The sessions were also a reunion of the "Million Dollar Quartet", Perkins, Lewis, Cash, and Roy Orbison replacing the deceased Elvis Presley, being the surviving members of the 1955-1956 period when Sun Records was at
its zenith of success. In the song, Perkins recounts that early history when Sun was instrumental in the emergence of
rock and roll. He was awarded a Grammy for his lyrical reminences, despite it charting a modest #31 -
"... I was here when it happened/ I watched Memphis give birth to rock and roll..." -


And now a clip from the landmark 1986 TV special "A Rockabilly Session: Carl Perkins And Friends" featuring a happy and seemingly star struck George Harrison, always in awe of his teenage hero, Ringo Starr, Dave Edmunds, Rosanne Cash, Eric Clapton and a couple of Stray Cats - and Carl Perkins with his quite spectacular wig -


Just watch this - all the way through -

In 1986, the Academy of Country Music gave Perkins its Career Achievement Award, and in 1987 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in only its second year despite having only one major hit single and no hit albums, thus was he so highly regarded by fellow musicians. He died of complications related to a recent series of strokes in January 1998, aged 65, survived by his wife of 45 years and family.

Tomorrow is a day off, but I'll back ... with something a bit different and probably unexpected.
 
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Professor Knowall

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Interrupting my 'day off' with sad news of the passing of one of the greats. Just a month ago, Charley Pride sang his biggest of many big hits 'Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’ at the CMA awards show, but he died overnight of complications
from covid, age 86. Here is an outline of his achievements, breaking through the racial barriers -
 

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Long regarded as the finest close-harmony duo in the history of country music, the Louvin Brothers were standard
bearers of the traditions of Appalachian music, at a time when Memphis, thanks to Elvis and Carl Perkins, had shaken
the foundations of country music and, in response, Nashville was pushing country music into a more modern direction.
In 1956, where 'new music' through Elvis, Perkins and Price was so dominant, the Louvins still managed a # 1 hit.

Born in impoverished rural Alabama (Ira In 1924; Charlie in 1927), The Louvins (real name Loudermilk), were raised tough on a tiny Depression-era cotton farm in southern Appalachia. Their mother taught them songs from a hyminal, while their father worked them hard on the farm and beat them, mercilessly, with thick wooden chunks until they felt
they had no choice but to sing their way off the farm. “We were two determined little bastards,” Charlie once said, “We were no good at quitting at all. Whether or not he meant to, I’d say that’s one of the greatest gifts Papa gave us.”

They sung gospel songs in church and their mother encouraged their music, despite their poverty. Ira began playing mandolin, Charlie the guitar, and the two began harmonising, being influenced by then-popular close-harmony country brother duets The Blue Sky Boys, The Delmore Brothers and, most of all, The Monroe Brothers. They began performing
at a small Chattanooga radio station. Drafted for World War 2, their musical career was interrupted for several years. Returning after the war, they picked up where they left off, now appearing on radio in the mountain music capitol of Knoxville, Tennessee and adopting the name Louvin, as it sounded better. In 1947 they moved to Memphis for another radio show and made their first record, a single for Apollo Records.

On the brink of success, their career was again interrupted by war with Charlie recalled to military service in Korea. It took a couple of years for them to re-establish themselves, but by 1955 their reputation led to them being invited to join the Grand Ole Opry, which really put them in the spotlight. In 1956 they had 3 top 10 hits and released what became their most famous album, "Tragic Songs of Life", which did indeed live up to its name of "tragic songs".

Charlie was reasonably straight laced for a country musician, but Ira's original ambition was to be a preacher, and he compensated for his materialistic path in life by injecting the close harmonies and bluegrass melodies with fire and brimstone lyrics. Songs like 'I Like the Christian Life', 'Are You Washed in the Blood' and 'The Word Broad-Minded is spelled S-I-N' seemed to starkly spell out Ira's puritan views - and yet Ira never seemed able to live up to his lyrics;
one of the biggest of all country music hell-raisers (and as we've often seen here, that bar was set really high), the temptations of fame and life on the road led him into an endless cycle of alcohol abuse, womening, violence and
shame. He became famous for smashing his mandolin in onstage tantrums, sometimes as many as four a month
(about the least of his vices). But enough for now - time to hear maybe the best harmonising you'll ever hear -

I expected to start in 1955 with their first top 10 hit, then I found this non-charting 1952 song that's both awesome and (in our times) ridiculous. But place yourself in 1952, with the USSR now with the H-bomb and the Cold War now hitting top gear, so Ira came up with this cheerful song about how we're all about to face a nuclear holocaust and die, so make sure you're ready to meet your maker! (see, I told you this is awesome, and so are the harmonies). The brothers were still no-names at this point, so this song went nowhere, but it's now amongst there most popular -
"... Do we know the time or hour / When a terrible explosion / May rain down upon our land / Meting horrible destruction / Blotting out the works of man ..."


The brothers had reached a point of desperation when the Grand Ole Opry hired the duo in 1955. Prior to joining the Opry, the duo had been marketed as gospel artists, but as soon as they joined the Opry the tobacco company sponsoring its broadcast told the Opry and the Louvins "you can't sell tobacco with gospel music." While they didn't abandon gospel, they began writing and performing secular material again, starting with 'When I Stop Dreaming'. The single became
a breakthrough #8 hit upon its release in the and, with its mixture of bluegrass, honky tonk and traditional country, eventually became a country standard -


To March 1956, and this is the number that knocked Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins off # 1 for 2 weeks. Written by
1950's Rockabilly star Autry Inman (who also wrote songs for Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash) Ira
with his quivering mile high tenor and masterful mandolin (so obviously influenced by Bill Monroe in this) allied with Charlie's low notes and guitar, create simply the most perfect harmony -


People who saw the Louvin Brothers perform were often mystified by the experience. Ira was a full head taller than Charlie, played the mandolin like Bill Monroe and sang in an high, tense tenor while Charlie strummed the guitar and handled the low notes. But in the middle of a song, as if by some hidden signal, the brothers switched places, with Ira swooping down from the heights, and Charlie ascending upward and even the most careful listeners would lose track
of who was carrying the lead. This was more than close-harmony singing; “It baffled a lot of people,” Charlie once said. “We could change in the middle of a word. Part of the reason we could do that was that we’d learned to have a good
ear for other people's voices ... But the other part is that we were brothers.”.
Released April 1956, here's the follow-up
to their # 1 hit, this one reached #7 at a time when Ray Price and Elvis ruled the charts -


As a sign of the brother's traditionalism, their first 3 top 10 singles, 'When I Stop Dreaming', the # 1 'I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby' and 'Hoping That You’re Hoping', didn’t include drums. This one, does, but softly. The harmony is
as good as it gets. Released in September 1956, this also reached #7 -


We'll farewell the brothers tomorrow with a quick overview of their lasting influence and the increasingly dark cloud hanging over their career.
 

Professor Knowall

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The Louvin Brothers’ exceptional, even extraordinary, vocal interplay made them the most influential harmony duet
in country music history, especially with 2 young siblings from Iowa, the Everly Brothers, and later with Gram Parsons
and the Byrds, Emmylou Harris and on to the cowpunk band Rank & File. However, from the time they broke through to major success in 1956, and despite Ira writing and singing some of the strongest, hard core gospel songs of the eternal damnation awaiting unrepentant sinners, a darkness was gathering around the brothers - and it was all due to Ira.

From Charlie's later accounts, Ira, as the oldest brother endured a cruel childhood, not only having his hands scarred from having to pick cotton and work the fields all day from the age of 6 but also living in constant terror of being beaten by his father with thick firewood chunks - and these beatings were severe, leaving him scarred physically and evidently mentally. He found it impossible to live up to his almost extreme religious belief, and sank into alcohol and physical violence as part of his coping.

Elvis was an early fan of the brothers and had them open for him on the southern concert circuit. However a drunk
Ira made a crude racist remark to Elvis (their background from rural Alabama is also telling here) which Elvis reacted
to, resulting in a fistfight. It's not recorded who won the fight but Elvis got them banished from the tour and swore never to cover their songs. Decades later, Charlie said that Ira's crude remark to Elvis probably cost them between 2 to 3 million in lost royalties.

In the late 1950s a changing market and Ira’s erratic behavior sees the brothers’ commercial fortunes sinking. Pressure was brought to bear on them to update their sound from the basic acoustic guitar and mandolin style they had perfected. They attempted rockabilly, totally unsuitable for them, then tried unsuccessfully to adapt to the pop-laden Nashville Sound, but it sat uneasily with their unique harmony sound. It was suggested they dispense with Ira’s mandolin, which was very much the cornerstone of their sound. Charlie rejected this but Ira, already a tortured soul and a heavy drinker, took this suggestion from a long time friend to heart, sinking deeper into alcoholism. He was a bad, violent drunk, causing marital problems and divorces, disagreements with Charlie as he started physically assaulting drunken audience members or missing shows altogether, leading to cancellations of prime bookings and their sacking from the Grand Ole Opry.

But for now, let's go back to 1956 and after #1 and 2 # 7 hits played yesterday, the brothers scored a third consecutive #7 with the B-side of 'You're Running Wild' - 'Cash on the Barrelhead', unusual in that it has a honky tonk theme of an unfortunate rogue and even a honky tonk feel, with less harmony than expected. Add to this some bluegrass with Ira's tenor and mandolin and more than a hint of the in-vogue rockabilly (sounds like I'm describing a fine red wine). This
gave it a life as one of the more covered Louvin Brothers songs -


The Louvins' success in 1956 was particularly impressive when considering that rock'n'roll was breaking big that year, denting the sales of many established country stars, but it didn't last. After a couple of top 20 hits in 1957, their last
top 10 hit came in 1958 with 'My Baby's Gone' -


From the acclaimed 1956 Album "Tragic Songs Of Life", this old traditional ballad was released as a single in 1959. In honky tonk music you lose your wife, your house or, if things are really bad, even your dog. In traditional ballads, you
just kill everyone who crosses you. The lyrics in this are like gangsta rap (except the music here is 10,00 times better)
"... I picked a stick up off the ground and knocked that fair girl down / She fell down on her bended knees, for mercy she did cry / "Oh Willy dear, don't kill me here, I'm unprepared to die" /She never spoke another word, I only beat her more / Until the ground around me with her blood did flow .." -

In 1963, Ira wrapped a telephone cord around his wife’s neck, so she shot him 6 times with a .22-caliber pistol, nearly killing him. When the police arrived she told them, “If the son-ofa-b*tch don’t die, I’ll shoot him again.” Ira lived, and Charlie stuck by him (and, amazingly, the wife) and ignored Ira’s threats to quit the duet. But the Louvin Brothers broke up that year when Charlie finally decided enough was enough and they went their separate ways.

In 1965 Ira was traveling with a new wife (his fourth) In Missouri on the way to a gig with a DUI warrant out for his arrest. Unusually, he was sober that night, when he was hit by a car and killed. The driver of the car that hit him was
nine times over the legal limit. Ironically, given his habit of smashing mandolins, Ira’s new mandolin - a four-stringed, electric instrument he’d designed himself — was the only thing that wasn’t smashed to splinters.

Charlie went on to a long and reasonably successful solo career, having 2 top 10 hits - 'I Don't Love You Anymore' (# 4, 1964) and 'See the Big Man Cry' (# 7, 1965) - as well as a series of minor hits. He continued performing and recording into the 21st century, and had a late career renaissance with the 2007 album "Charlie Louvin", featuring stars including George Jones, Elvis Costello, Marty Stuart, Tom T. Hall, and Jeff Tweedy. It was nominated for a Grammy, prompting him to release new material. A gospel "Steps to Heaven", was released in 2008, then just 2 months later came the tragedy-themed "Charlie Louvin Sings Murder Ballads and Disaster Songs". Two more albums were released in 2010 - "The Battles Rage On" with songs about war and redemption; and "Hickory Wind", a live set recorded in Waycross, Georgia in 2009. Charlie Louvin died of pancreatic cancer in January 2011, age 83 years.

The Louvin Brothers were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.

Now for some extras. In 1959, the brothers released the album, "Satan Is Real", featuring fire and brimstone songs warning about the eternal punishments awaiting unrepentant sinners, mostly penned by Ira, who knew all about
sinning. This album is best remembered for its distinctive sleeve cover, also designed by Ira. The cover shows the
brothers standing in a rock quarry in front of a 2 metre tall Devil amongst a scene of fire and brimstone. Regarded
now as one of the most iconic - or kitsch - album covers of all time, it became an inspiration for many heavy metal
album covers in the years to come -



The opening verse of the album's title track 'Satan Is Real' was inserted at the beginning of Hank Williams III's 'Medley: Straight to Hell / Satan Is Real', on his landmark 2006 "Straight to Hell" album -

Next time I'm back, still in the mid-fifties, it'll be time again for some more rockabilly ... and beyond.
 

Professor Knowall

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OK, we're still in 1956 (like 1951, it was a big year in country music) and it's time I showed some love for one of rank and file's favourites - Johnny Horton. There was never any doubt he'd make the cut for inclusion here - the only question was when, as his biggest hits and popularity were in the years 1959 to 1960. But some say his best works were actually from 1956 to '57 - and it so happens I'm one of those in that camp, so here he is from 1956.

Although born in Los Angeles in 1925, his parents were Texans who traveled back and forth between Texas and California, taking jobs picking cotton or fruit, giving Johnny a decidedly rural outlook and love of the outdoors. After high school he considered the Methodist ministry and a basketball career, briefly going to Baylor University on a basketball scholarship before moving back to LA and working in a mailroom (where he met his first wife. In 1949 he moved to Alaska, working as fisherman (not to mine gold as some unreliable sources such as Wikipedia state). But once again, our man didn't sit still for long. Starting to write songs, he returned to Texas to begin a music career.

He started entering talent competitions, winning one hosted by then unknown young dj Jim Reeves in Henderson,
Texas. Further radio exposure through other contests led to a TV gig in 1950 on the Hometown Jamboree TV show
back in LA and his own radio show in Pasadena as The Singing Fisherman. He made his first records in 1951 for a
small label, Cormac, recording pretty stock standard country stuff that didn't chart, but more live bookings came
as a result for Horton and his backing band "The Rowley Trio", later known as "Johnny Horton and the Roadrunners". When Cormac went broke, his manager started Abbott Records and put out a hot tune by Johnny, 'Rhythm in My Baby's Walk' in 1951. Anyway, this is the pre-rockabilly 26 year old still relatively unknown Johnny Horton, and it ain't too bad -


However success was still elusive, unsurprisingly given this was a smalltime make do recording operation up against the big national companies like RCA and Columbia, with their host do big time star performers like Hank Williams, Hank Snow, Lefty Frizzell, Eddy Rnold, Carl Smith, Red Foley and the newly emergent Webb Pierce and Ray Price!! When that failed to chart, Horton moved on to record for larger (but still not very large) companies, Dot and Mercury. Moving back to Texas in 1951, he played various talent contests, small honky tonks and made local radio appearances, while his first wife, tired of the road, left him and returned to LA. Finally he landed a prized regular spot on the famed Louisiana Hayride, moving to Shreveport, where his first claim to fame was marrying Hank Williams’ widow of 10 months, singer Billie Jean (remember she was the one Hank "won" at gunpoint from Faron Young). It was said that Hank had predicted this marriage when they were first introduced and 'hit it off'.

Though popular on the Hayride, his dozen Mercury record releases of traditional country fare only had regional popularity. However, this one did manage to sell over 40,000 (he later, as an established star, re-recorded it with Columbia in 1959, but this is the original 1953 version) -


In 1955, Tillman Franks, a bass-player on the Hayride, but also a manager who helped guide Webb Pierce to the top, became his manager and best friend. They travelled together all over Texas playing the honky tonk circuit and Franks, with the help of his former client and now star, Webb Pierce, successfully negotiated a record deal with Columbia the following year with no advance and a session due in Nashville, the skint duo of Horton and Franks had to borrow young singer, David Houston's dad's car for the journey from Shreveport to Nashville, with the promise that they'd try to get Houston a recording contract (they didn't). On the way to the session, Horton and Franks dropped in on Elvis at his Memphis home, leaving with $10 petrol money and the loan of Elvis' slap bassist, Bill Black.

Franks, wanting the best possible sound for this "do or die" major recording, dumped himself as the bass player and the day after Elvis recorded 'Heartbreak Hotel' there, entered the Bradley Barn Studio with Bill Black and two of Nashville's top pickers, distinctive bassist Grady Martin (we'll be hearing more about him) and Owen Bradley's brother, Harold.
Horton had also spent time around Elvis at the Hayride and something must've rubbed off. His first release, the
rockabilly-flavoured 'Honky Tonk Man' finally, after years of trying and at age 31, took him into the top 10 in 1956 -

The song was successfully revived by Dwight Yoakam in 1986

The Franks and Horton-penned follow-up, 'I'm a One-Woman Man', was recorded at the same breakthrough January 1956 session as 'Honky Tonk Man' with Martin Grady's bass making a telling contribution. It was released in July 1956, reaching #7 and at last showed 'The Singing Fisherman' had made it as a full-fledged hit-making country singer. The next couple of years saw Johnny Horton's rockabilly/honky tonk fusion sound chart regularly in the top 10 -

George Jones made a top 5 cover of this in 1988 and also made it a standard in his concert performances.

Hortons's "overnight" success (in fact, as outlined here, years in the making) saw him in August 1956 booked on a high profile tour of west Texas starting in El Paso with Johnny Cash, Faron Young and Roy Orbison, then flying up to Ontario, Canada for 6 gigs starting, finishing in Detroit. This was followed by further tours together through Florida, Tenessee, Texas and New Mexico before recording again in November 1956. This resulted in the full on rockabilly of 'I'm Coming Home', written by Horton and Franks, with a meatier than anything previously cut. The strength of Bill Black back on
bass and Grady Martin again plucking brilliant, walking that fine line between country and rock, here's the pure rockabilly of 'I'm Coming Home' -

Back tomorrow with more of Johnny Horton.
 
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PoopingHindi

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i don't listen to much country but i stumbled across this 2020 release from Sarah Jarosz and it's a truly gorgeous album.
i'm not sure if its strictly country or folk or Americana, bluegrass or something else....i'm going to call it "country-lite"
also, i really like the cover art.

 

Professor Knowall

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i don't listen to much country but i stumbled across this 2020 release from Sarah Jarosz and it's a truly gorgeous album.
i'm not sure if its strictly country or folk or Americana, bluegrass or something else....i'm going to call it "country-lite"
also, i really like the cover art.
I've never listened to a whole album on Bigfooty before and didn't intend to now - but I just did - the sweet first track kept me listening, loved the mandolin on the second and the third 'Hometown' was the standout for me, being both a Texas lover and from a small town - and the most traditional country number.All up a very nice, soothing album - and
I also liked your 'country-lite' label to sum it all up.

As for your "I don't listen much to country music" comment, well if by that you refer to the suburban-pop pap that Nashville has marketed to the suburban middle class as so-called "country music" over the last 20 years, then I don't blame you - I can't stomach much of it either (I've repeated that little rant a few times here). But if you scratch just a little below the surface, perhaps start by googling 'real country', 'traditional country' or (for some heavier stuff) 'rebel country', then, depending on your own tastes of course, you might be pleasantly surprised with what you find.

Some contemporary ones I like include Tyler Childers, Sturgill Simpson, Cody Jinks, Dillon Carmichael, Charley Crockett, Colter Wall, Caroline Spence, Mo Pitney, Lara Lynn, Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen.
 

Schauermann

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Some contemporary ones I like include Tyler Childers, Sturgill Simpson, Cody Jinks, Dillon Carmichael, Charley Crockett, Colter Wall, Caroline Spence, Mo Pitney, Lara Lynn, Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen.
Good list. Only know half of those names but like the ones I know. Will check a few others out later.
 

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Some contemporary ones I like include Tyler Childers, Sturgill Simpson, Cody Jinks, Dillon Carmichael, Charley Crockett, Colter Wall, Caroline Spence, Mo Pitney, Lara Lynn, Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen.
Any love for the sadly departed Justin Townes Earle? (I need to listen to some of his songs his Dad is covering)
 

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