Country Music

Professor Knowall

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The early 1970s should have been a great time for Jerry Lee Lewis, but the beginning of the decade was marred with arrests, deaths of family members, and divorces. His behavior became volatile, fueled by alcohol and drug use. Amid all this darkness, he still managed to place singles at the top of the country charts and his concerts continued to draw large crowds. Jerry Lee had now more than proven himself as a pioneering rock & roll artist, as well as a chart-topping country star, but there was still one thing that he had not conquered. He had never played the Grand Ole Opry.

In my initial Lewis introduction, I mentioned he was spurned by Nashville recording companies before heading to Memphis and Sun Studio. Lewis didn't forget. And it took an unusually long 5 year period from when he started to churn out a long line of top 5 country hits in 1968, and not before a specific request from his manager, before he finally received the long overdue invitation to perform at The Grand Ole Opry, For his 1973 debut on the revered show, the rock-gone-country singer was invited to perform with two stipulations: refrain from rock songs and four-letter words.

“Let me tell ya something about Jerry Lee Lewis, ladies and gentlemen: I am a rock and rollin’, country-and-western, rhythm and blues-singin’ motherf***er,” the music icon known as “The Killer” told the Grand Ole Opry audience (and live radio). And with that, Lewis broke Opry Rule Number Two: no cursing. The first was broken as he stomped on all sorts of unwritten rules, playing Just one of the hits that lifted him out of a career slump, 'Another Place, Another Time', followed a rip roaring rendition of his rock'n'roll staples, including 'Great Balls of Fire' and 'Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On' (which he correctly pointed out topped the country charts in the 1950's), ignoring his allotted time constraints (thus the commercial breaks) to play for 40 minutes, finishing with his favourite song - Hank Williams immortal 'I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry'. (The average Opry performance is two songs, for about 8 maximum minutes of stage time). The audience loved it - the Opry management not so much. To this day, 48 years later, he has never been invited back.

There's a hundred other stories to be told, about his 7 wives, family tragedies, his wild ways, legendary parties at his Memphis mansion (nicknamed "Disgraceland" as a parody on Elvis' Gracelands), his on-going fear of going to hell because of playing the "devils music", the time in 1976 he turned up in his car drunk (or on something) at Elvis' Gracelands gates, crashing the gates then hurling a champagne bottle - not realising the car window was up, smashing both the bottle and window, before Elvis ordered his arrest once he started waving a gun around - the list is endless, buts it's all out their on the net for those interested. Time for some more music, from where we left Lewis, riding high in the charts, in 1970.

Pulled from Lewis’ album "She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye", this 1970 hit 'Once More With Feeling' has Lewis lamenting his feelings about a relationship that had grown stale (at the time his fourth marriage was disintegrating).
The Kristoffosen written song just narrowly missed the top spot, hitting # 2. THis live version is introduced by his old
Sun Studio stablemate, Johnny Cash (on his own TV show), with strong words of praise for Lewis -


This 1971 release 'Would You Take Another Chance On Me', wound up becoming one of Lewis' finest song moments of his entire career, let alone his country numbers. Some fans might complain of the "lush" arrangements (as lush arrangements have spoiled many a good country song), but in this case, it all just works. This is such a beautifully constructed song and highlights Lewis' powerful and emotion laden voice at its best - proof he was much more than just a loud rock'n'roller. As great as the lyrics and Lewis’ performance of the song were, it wouldn't quite have had as much power were it not for the dramatic intro - straight out of the 1970's era -


Lewis handled his transition to straight-ahead country so well that one might have forgotten that he was one of the greatest pioneers of rock and roll. But this 1972 cover of the Big Bopper hit 'Chantilly Lace' reminded listeners just
how lethal 'The Killer' could be when the tempo was fast. This also somehow sounds just a little bit more "adult"
than the Bopper's original-

Sonny Throckmorton’s wistful lyrics about a man realizing that time is swiftly passing him by a little quicker each day, found the perfect interpretation in 42 year old Lewis’s heartfelt delivery, as this track 'Middle Age Crazy' which went to # 4 in 1977. Now if you're 25 and you just can't seem to relate to this song, don't worry - just revisit it again in 25 years or so time and the lyrics will all make sense. This is one of those adult country songs that reveal the truths lurking beneath our public veneer -


The last major singles hit of Lewis’s country career, this 1981 hit 'Thirty Nine and Feeling', on a similar theme to 'Middle Age Crazy', features a man in search of his lost youth. Recorded when Lewis was 45, you can almost tell the singer felt each and every word of the lyrics of this track from his album "Killer Country" -


After his major surgery in 1981, Lewis managed to clean himself up, getting off the booze and drugs that came so close to claiming his life. He continued touring and recording, mixing his country with his old rock'n'roll. In 1989, a major motion picture based on his early life in rock and roll, Great Balls of Fire!, brought him back into the public eye, especially when he decided to re-record all his songs for the soundtrack. Showing everyone who the real Killer was, Lewis sounded energetic enough to make you believe it was 1957 all over again with the pilot light of inspiration still burning bright. Lewis released "Last Man Standing" in 2007 which featured duets with Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Willie Nelson, Rod Stewart and Jimmy Page amongst others. He followed it up in 2010 with another album of duets, "Mean Old Man", which saw him teaming with Eric Clapton, Merle Haggard, John Fogerty, and Kid Rock, among others. After suffering a stroke in February 2019 which left his right hand basically useless until late 2019 when he suddenly found he could still play the piano with both hands, in 2020, still racked with uncertainty about his fate after death, he recorded a gospel album and enjoyed the all star cast that celebrated his 85th birthday on line.
 

Professor Knowall

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Over the past few days we've seen that, aside from his legendary career in rock'n'roll, Jerry Lee Lewis also loved, performed and had a profound impact and influence on country music. He has had (so far) 3 top 10 all-genre songs,
17 top 10 country albums, 6 # 1 country hits and 30 top 10 country songs.

Lewis was rightfully inducted in the inaugural Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, along with Elvis Presley, Little Richard,
Buddy Holly, The Everly Brothers, Fats Domino, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, James Brown, and Chuck Berry; moreover,
he is the sole living member of the "Million Dollar Quartet" with Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins. Rolling
Stone Magazine honoured him as one of the "25 Greatest Artists of All Time." He is the only artist with a major country recording career that is in this "Top 25 all-genre artist list." If that weren't enough, Rolling Stone listed him in the "40 Greatest Country Artist of all time".

And yet (just like Slim Whitman), Jery Lee Lewis has shamefully not yet been admitted into the Country Music Hall of Fame - despite loads of lesser lights being inducted over the last 20 years. The secret society (yes - its members who decide on this really are unknown but have long been presumed to be the bastions of the Nashville music establishment), presumably have never forgiven Jerry Lee for his one and only 1973 Grand Ole Opry performance. I can't think of any other reason.

Let's farewell Jerry Lee Lewis and wish him good health, with this performance for his 85th birthday from the incredibly talented boogie-woodie pianist and young Jerry Lee lookalike, Jacob Tolliver, from just 3 months ago as he performed this number in Jerry Lee Lewis' living room for an appreciative host -


Time for another break - and when I return it will be to feature someone who wasn't a chart topper (at least not with his own music), yet is a music (though not singing) legend, and who also changed the sound of Nashville. I've got to figure out how to tell his story - it's kinda like playing 2 tunes simultaneously - but that was one of his party tricks.
 

Professor Knowall

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The time has come to introduce someone just a bit different- not known for their singing, yet has won more Grammies (14) than any other country artist and is a deadset legend, bestowed the name "Mr Guitar" and, by reputation, one of America's greatest, and definitely about the most influential of any, guitarists. And on top of that, he also changed the course of country music, starting from 1957 - but I'm leaving that story for tomorrow.

By common consent, Tommy Emmanuel is Australia's greatest ever guitarist (classical guitarist John Williams being his only real competition for that title). So, yet again, never mind any uneducated opinion from me, this is what Emmanuel says about our next guest - "Chet, of course, blew everyone’s mind when he came along. When I was a kid, Chet Atkins was the name on everyone’s lips; everyone wanted to be like him. His early recordings, especially a lot of his solo stuff, were so incredibly arranged and recorded. No-one had his kind of abilities. His abilities were on a level that most of us
had never heard before." Or how about Mark Knofler - "For guitar players, Chet Atkins was always way out there, he
was always something else. ... Working with Chet ... really helped my playing".

Born Chester Atkins in 1924, on his grandfather's 50-acre farm in the music rich and dirt poor Clinch Mountains of eastern Tennessee, I'll let Chet himself, from his 1975 autobiography, tell you how poor he was - ''We were so poor and everybody around us was so poor that it was the 40's before any of us knew there had been a Depression,'' But music was central to his upbringing. His grandfather was a champion fiddler, his father, a music teacher, piano tuner and church singer. His older brother, Jim, became the rhythm guitarist in the famed Les Paul Trio in the 1930's, and his other brother, Lowell, also played guitar.

A severe asthmatic as a child, Atkins learned how to play the banjo on days when he had to stay home from school. ''I'd play it until the strings broke,'' he wrote. ''When that happened, I'd just rip a wire out of the screen porch and tune 'er up again''. According to stories, he traded either a pistol or a farm wagon for his first guitar at age 9, having already learned to play the ukulele, mandolin and fiddle, and he played at local parties and roadhouses. Meanwhile, he was learning guitar styles by listening to the Sons of the Pioneers (posts # 123-124) on radio, and often being laid up at home by his chronic asthma, racked up many hundreds of hours of almost constant practice.

At 11, Atkins moved to Columbus to live with his natural father and his stepmother. Listening to a Cincinnati radio station, the young Chet Atkins became enthralled by the unique playing style of guitarist great Merle Travis (posts # 184-186) and in 1941 he purchased equipment to make his acoustic guitar electric. To get even closer to the Travis style, he devised his own method of picking with a thumb and three fingers - a technique that would later influence a galaxy of other guitarists. He didn't know that Travis got his own sound with a thumb and just one finger.

Aged 18, Chet was hired as a fiddler by Archie Campbell and Bill Carlisle - so his first professional music job was as a fiddler! But he soon switched to guitar and by 1942 he had his own little solo instrumental spot on Knoxville radio and by 1943 he was touring with Kitty Wells. After performing at radio stations in Cincinnati, Raleigh, Richmond and Springfield, Atkins got his big break when hired by the Carter Sisters and Mother Maybelle (post # 222), travelling extensively and appearing every Saturday night on the radio program ''Tennessee Barn Dance'' in Knoxville. They moved to Springfield, where ''The Carter Family and Chet Atkins Show'' on KWTO proved so successful it was nationally syndicated.

Atkins was now becoming nationally known and his reputation grew even more when he and the Carter Sisters began appearing as stars of the 'Grand Ole Opry'. Initially The Carter Sisters were invited to appear without Atkins as the session guitarists in Nashville feared Atkins would put them in the shade and get the best guitarist gigs on offer. However The Carter Sisters manager (Anita's husband) insisted on Atkins inclusion and the Opry management relented. Atkins thus came to Nashville and promptly put all other Nashville guitarists in the shade and got all the best guitarist gigs on offer. He also began recording for RCA Victor in 1946. He had his first hit, ''The Galloping Guitars', in 1949.

As Atkin's guitar ability was right across the board (he also mastered jazz, Spanish and classical guitar) and also displayed an expert ability at music arrangement, he not only scored the most in demand jobs as a studio musician,
he was hired as an artists-and-repertory man for Steve Sholes, the chief producer of country records for RCA Victor.
Chet Atkins thus rapidly rose to the top of the Nashville music industry, as his guitar picking, sweeping and/or tapping techniques became the bedrock for most popular music (including rock'n'roll) to come, and he also came to stamp his own brand on the whole direction of country music. Let's leave his story at that for now and go to some clips showing
him playing in his prime.

Mr Sandman was released as a single and reached # 4 in 1954. Even at the cost of sound quality (you can get several recordings in youtube if you want), I thought it more interesting to show this live version from 1954, by which time he had established himself as Nashville's king guitarist (Merle Travis, battling alcoholism and singing great Hank Snow being his only realistic competitors for this title). But Atkin's reputation just kept rising and rising -


This has a great collection of live Chet Atkins highlights from the 1950's and 1960's -


From the Johnny Cash Show c1970 - just like Earl Scruggs with the banjo, Atkins, quite deliberately, made the very difficult somehow appear easy, in a way only he could - which was another of his great skills-


The caption to this video reads - This 1975 clip features guitar great Atkins performing Scott Joplin's 'The Entertainer' (from the classic 1972 film "The Sting" -


From the "Nashville Now" TV show, probably 1989 - proof, if ever more proof as needed, that Atkins mastery of the guitar went way beyond "just" country music. Atkins played jazz guitar at pretty much all the top jazz venues - and classical guitar at great concert halls like Carnegie Hall and with some of the world's great symphony orchestras -


From the caption to this video - The grandmaster of fingerstyle guitar, nobody was smoother or more versatile than the great Chet Atkin - just look and listen to this masterclass as Chet does Blue Angel, Tahitian Skies and Cascade on Austin City Limits (c1993/94) -


Tomorrow will feature not so much feature Chet Atkins the great guitarist but on Chet Atkins the powerful visionary and pragmatist who (for better or for worse) changed the sound of country music - and justified it all purely on business grounds.
 

Professor Knowall

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If you've been following this thread for a while, you might've noticed the term "Nashville sound" used a dozen times
or more, and we've already seen examples e.g. by Eddy Arnold, the later works by Ray Price and even Johnny Cash.
But what is meant by the "Nashville sound", and how and why did it come around. This is the story here. Owing to
his aptitude for music arrangements and his musical knowledge ofall mainstream formats, in early 1957, RCA Victor
in New York appointed Chet Atkins the manager of recording operations in Nashville. It was a fateful decision. Atkins
was immediately faced with a big problem, even approaching a crisis.

Country music was originally, logically and naturally, music from rural people (and we've seen virtually every single
artist I've covered have come from poor rural backgrounds), and the target audience was largely the 50% of America
that lived in towns and farms - an enourmous market, that is until the 1950's, when farm mechanisation, better roads,
a massive post-war economic (especially industrial) boom mainly in the Northern cities and the resulting increased
wealth and mobility in the general populace led to a mass migration from farms and small towns to the big cities - or more correctly, to the suburbs of the big (mainly northern) cities. This meant that even amongst an overall population
and economic boom, the traditional country music market of small towns and farms actually shrunk.

Now consider the last 10 artists I've just covered, highlighting the year 1956 - Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Ray Price, The Louvin Brothers, Johnny Horton, Sanford Clark, Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, Charlie Feathers and Jerry Lee Lewis. Notice anything? Eight of those ten were doing rockabilly/rock'n'roll through 1955/56 (even Marty Robbins was one of the first with a rock'n'roll album). Of the two that didn't, Ray Price introduced the Western swing inspired 4/4 shuffle beat in his great hit 'Crazy Arms', while the Louvin Brothers had a new bluegrass inspired harmony sound. As for the traditional honky tonk greats like Hank Snow, Red Foley, Lefty Frizzell, Carl Smith, Webb Pierce and Faron Young, well they were
still sometimes charting - but no longer amongst the top 5, and often not much at all. A seismic change in the music market had occurred.

Just as the small town and farm populations started shrinking, the youth population of these areas (remember that rockabilly and rock'n'roll mostly started around Memphis and spread through the South first) found rock'n'roll, with it's repetitive high energy back beat and simple lyrics instantly appealing (helped by the dynamic 1956 Elvis, Perkins, Horton, Cash and Lewis. They caught the new wave and rode it to success - but the "traditionalists" as anyone who didn't play the new music were soon to be labelled, were being left behind. What could be done?

RCA had just built a recording studio in Nashville, and there Atkins, who had left the ''Grand Ole Opry'' to concentrate
on his recording career, guided many of the most famous country artists to success. Among the singers whose career-enhancing records were produced by Atkins were Don Gibson, Hank Snow, Jim Reeves, Roger Miller, Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton and Charley Pride. Don Gibson had failed with 4 record companies before Atkins signed him for RCA. His
first single under Atkins guidance was a megahit. Atkins also got RCA to outbid Columbia Records and sign Elvis Presley
to a contract. RCA made millions of dollars from that decision.

Atkins was regarded as the consummate pop professional in American music. He used his own wide taste, his mastery
of every kind of music, from the classics and jazz to religious music and flamenco, and his familiarity with electronic instruments and sound to totally change the sound of country music in the 1950's and 60's. As rock'n'roll made enormous inroads into country music, sales of country music declined and many radio stations switched to rock. Atkins was pivotal
in adapting country music to changing American tastes, deliberately appealing to the burgeoning middle class suburban market with a suburban pop style of strings and vocal choruses.

Atkins is credited with creating the sub-genre, and he worked to appeal to the middle class by getting rid of country music’s blue collar roots, namely honky tonk. Honky tonk lyrics were rife with typical working class problems such as alcoholism, failed marriages, and adultery. Many Americans didn’t want to hear about real life issues, preferring to escape into a romantic fantasy. Atkins brought in heavy string sections and backing vocals to make songs more sophisticated
and introduced the crooning singing style, establishing a more personal audience and singer relationship. The Nashville Sound kept the theme of heartbreak, but without the angsty, uncontrolled honky tonk style. Also, songs that were about traditional country elements evoked romanticized images of the Old West like cowboys and horses. Under the guidance of Atkins and Owen Bradley, who copied Atkins success at Columbia Records, a small group of studio musicians learned the new style and sound and played on almost every country album recorded in Nashville. This tight knit group of musicians created consistency in the Nashville Sound, so the sub-genre is easily recognized for it’s instrumentation.

This softer sound, which Atkins liked to call ''uptown" soon became more widely known as ''the Nashville Sound.'' It was specifically created so that country music could have an identity separate from rockabilly, but the softening also took place because Atkins and a few other influential producers believed that the sounds of steel guitars and country fiddles had become too old-fashioned.

Under his guidance, ''progressive'' country music achieved its intended commercial crossover. It's credited with saving country music from the rock'n'roll juggernaut at the time, by bringing the music to middle-America and turned Nashville into Music City U.S.A., gradually taking over from New York (remember that Marty Robbins went to NYC to record with the Ray Conniff backing singers) as the centre for the most sophisticated recording techniques and backing talent. “I wasn't trying to change the business,” Atkins once said, “just sell records.” And thus we see Nashville is a business, not some sort of traditional country music preservation society.

Now for more of Atkins guitar virtuosity. This concert from Oslo, Norway in 1964 has Atkins when he was at his prime. The performance includes a Spanish flamenco number some 9 minutes in -


Now for Atkins on the classical guitar, playing 'Recuerdos de la Alhambra' with the Boston Pops Orchestra in 1972. While he might'nt quite have been in the John Williams class, this ain't bad at all for someone who only played classical guitar on an occasional basis -


Atkins chatting and playing a medley of 'House of the Rising Sun', 'Windy and Warm and Mr. Sandman'. The “guitar
amp swimming pool” joke (hint -a guitar amp is rectangular, just like a normal pool) is a reference to Webb Pierce
(posts # 240-250) who built a pool in the 1970's shaped like a guitar, which became a Nashville tourist attraction -
"If it wasn't for this guitar, I might be running the streets, practicing law or medicine " -


Atkins playing a Beatles medley -
I'm not sure when this was, but he did release an album of Beatles covers in 1968 -


'Mrs Robinson', live on the TV show, Nashville Live, must be around 1980. Here he actually strikes one false note 1.59 in, proving he's human - then immediately follows with a lovely little improv -



Tomorrow will cover the remainder of Chet Atkins extraordinary career.
 

Professor Knowall

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There were many critics of the Nashville Sound, and some people even called for boycotts of the music so that artists
and producers would not continue prospering off a style that listeners deemed not country. At the center of the criticism
is Nashville sound’s commercial success, crossover trends, and polish. For example, Chet Atkins referred to the Nashville sound as “a way to sell records and make money”. Others argued that Nashville sound was a natural evolution of country music driven by the social and economic facors covered yesterday. Some said the Nashville sound was great music but that it took away authenticity and tradition and ultimately would result in an opposing style emerging (which, as we shall see providing I keep this history going, is precisely what happened in time).

Many purists complained that the drive to become more mainstream (albeit more profitable) meant forsaking the raw, homespun roots that had always distinguished country music. But there was no disputing how well the Atkins inspired
new sound sold. “What is the Nashville Sound?” Atkins was once asked. He reached into his pocket and jingled his
change. “That,” he said, “is the Nashville Sound.”

Atkins became vice president in charge of music for RCA in 1967, but 3 years later he began to phase himself out of
that end of the business. ''Producing can be so stressful,'' he said later. ''I couldn't handle it. It wasn't fun anymore.''
Years later, when Atkins' "Countrypolitan" touch was no longer fashionable, he was often asked by journalists whether
he went too far. There were no breast-beating recantations but he did admit he had reservations about how far afield he took country music from its relatively unadorned authentic sound, saying - "We almost do lose our identity sometimes. But somebody'll come along and get us back where we need to be." By then, the "Outlaw" movement, which Atkins had initially resisted, had swept through country music.

Atkins made concert tours of Europe, Asia and Africa and played at the Newport Jazz Festival, the White House and on numerous television programs. He always played with a thumb-pick and his fingers, rather than a flat pick, and he liked
to show off his dexterity by playing two melodies simultaneously on different strings. He took up the classical guitar and was a guest artist with many symphony orchestras and the the Boston Pops orchestra. Though he was offered honorary degrees by various universities, he never accepted one; he preferred instead the degree he bestowed on himself, Certified Guitar Picker or C.G.P. - a title he bestowed on 5 other guitarists - including Australia's own Tommy Emmanuel.

Atkins gave up his vice-presidential job at RCA in 1982 and thereafter recorded for Columbia, primarily on jazz guitar for much of the 1980s & 90s working only on projects that attracted or him Ever since 1970, when he won a Grammy for his album Me and Jerry, with Jerry Reed, Atkins had enjoyed duet sessions with guitar-picking friends, and he added to his Grammy collection with awards for albums with Merle Travis in 1974 Les Paul (remembering that Chet's older brother, Jim, was a member of the Les Paul Trio decades earlier), Mark Knopfler (1990), Reed again (1992) as well as Mark Knopfler, singer Suzy Bogguss and, of course Tommy Emmanuel in 1997 (by which time Atkins was in poor health).

Atkins received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in 1973, was elected to both the Country Music and Rock and Roll Hall of Fames, won a Pioneer Award from the Country Music Academy in 1982, was named Instrumentalist of the Year a record 9 times by the CMA, collected 14 Grammies and innumerable Best Guitarist awards in magazines from Cash Box to Playboy. In 1996 Atkins was diagnosed with cancer, and in 1997
he had a tumour removed from his brain. However the cancer spread, eventually making Atkins inactive, passing away
in 2001 at his Nashville home, age 77.

Today will just feature some of Atkins duets with a few other world class guitarists, including fellow country guitarist,
Jerry Reed. But before Reed come along, there was another country music singing legend good enough to pick guitar along with Atkins - Hank Snow - and I've already featured some video of his picking along with singing (see posts
# 144-148). Unfortunately I couldn't find any video of Atkins and Snow picking together, but just listen and detect
the distinct differences in these master pickers -


Another Atkins devotee was the now criminally underrated Jerry Reed (though not by Tommy Emmanuel who rates him, along with Atkins, as one of the top 5 guitarists ever), country music's greatest guitar picker apart from Atkins and just maybe Merle Travis and here is Atkins and Reed are picking together (with Atkins also doing some arpeggio work) from 1975 -


Mark Knopfler recorded an album with Atkins in 1990. Despite Knopfler's long experience and reputation by this point,
he said he still learned a lot from playing with Atkins (though some insist this is really Jerry Seinfeld playing with George Bush) -


Atkins, age 72 with the great country, jazz and blues guitarist, Les Paul at age 81 at the Iridium Jazz club at Times Square, NYC. They had known each other since Chet's older brother, Jim, played in the Les Paul trio in the 1940's,
and had recorded an album together in 1978. This clip has 2.30 of small talk if you want to fast forward it -


Perhaps Atkins greatest admirer was (and is) Tommy Emmanuel, and in 1997 Emmanuel fulfilled a life long ambition to record an album with Atkins. This performance together to promote the album unfortunately shows 73 year old Atkins clearly unwell and well below his best (by his own admission in the interview after the performance), having already been diagnosed with the cancer that was to take his life. This video also has a second part on YouTube where Emmanuel speaks about Atkins enormously influence. Look out for 'Waltzing Matilda' -


When I return, it will be to cover an artist who performed professionally under 3 different names, though primarily under one name we've already seen, and who has the distinction (now that I've written all that stuff about the Nashville Sound over the past 3 days), of having the first "Nashville Sound" produced big hit.
 

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There were many critics of the Nashville Sound, and some people even called for boycotts of the music so that artists
and producers would not continue prospering off a style that listeners deemed not country. At the center of the criticism
is Nashville sound’s commercial success, crossover trends, and polish. For example, Chet Atkins referred to the Nashville sound as “a way to sell records and make money”. Others argued that Nashville sound was a natural evolution of country music driven by the social and economic facors covered yesterday. Some said the Nashville sound was great music but that it took away authenticity and tradition and ultimately would result in an opposing style emerging (which, as we shall see providing I keep this history going, is precisely what happened in time).

Many purists complained that the drive to become more mainstream (albeit more profitable) meant forsaking the raw, homespun roots that had always distinguished country music. But there was no disputing how well the Atkins inspired
new sound sold. “What is the Nashville Sound?” Atkins was once asked. He reached into his pocket and jingled his
change. “That,” he said, “is the Nashville Sound.”

Atkins became vice president in charge of music for RCA in 1967, but 3 years later he began to phase himself out of
that end of the business. ''Producing can be so stressful,'' he said later. ''I couldn't handle it. It wasn't fun anymore.''
Years later, when Atkins' "Countrypolitan" touch was no longer fashionable, he was often asked by journalists whether
he went too far. There were no breast-beating recantations but he did admit he had reservations about how far afield he took country music from its relatively unadorned authentic sound, saying - "We almost do lose our identity sometimes. But somebody'll come along and get us back where we need to be." By then, the "Outlaw" movement, which Atkins had initially resisted, had swept through country music.

Atkins made concert tours of Europe, Asia and Africa and played at the Newport Jazz Festival, the White House and on numerous television programs. He always played with a thumb-pick and his fingers, rather than a flat pick, and he liked
to show off his dexterity by playing two melodies simultaneously on different strings. He took up the classical guitar and was a guest artist with many symphony orchestras and the the Boston Pops orchestra. Though he was offered honorary degrees by various universities, he never accepted one; he preferred instead the degree he bestowed on himself, Certified Guitar Picker or C.G.P. - a title he bestowed on 5 other guitarists - including Australia's own Tommy Emmanuel.

Atkins gave up his vice-presidential job at RCA in 1982 and thereafter recorded for Columbia, primarily on jazz guitar for much of the 1980s & 90s working only on projects that attracted or him Ever since 1970, when he won a Grammy for his album Me and Jerry, with Jerry Reed, Atkins had enjoyed duet sessions with guitar-picking friends, and he added to his Grammy collection with awards for albums with Merle Travis in 1974 Les Paul (remembering that Chet's older brother, Jim, was a member of the Les Paul Trio decades earlier), Mark Knopfler (1990), Reed again (1992) as well as Mark Knopfler, singer Suzy Bogguss and, of course Tommy Emmanuel in 1997 (by which time Atkins was in poor health).

Atkins received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in 1973, was elected to both the Country Music and Rock and Roll Hall of Fames, won a Pioneer Award from the Country Music Academy in 1982, was named Instrumentalist of the Year a record 9 times by the CMA, collected 14 Grammies and innumerable Best Guitarist awards in magazines from Cash Box to Playboy. In 1996 Atkins was diagnosed with cancer, and in 1997
he had a tumour removed from his brain. However the cancer spread, eventually making Atkins inactive, passing away
in 2001 at his Nashville home, age 77.

Today will just feature some of Atkins duets with a few other world class guitarists, including fellow country guitarist,
Jerry Reed. But before Reed come along, there was another country music singing legend good enough to pick guitar along with Atkins - Hank Snow - and I've already featured some video of his picking along with singing (see posts
# 144-148). Unfortunately I couldn't find any video of Atkins and Snow picking together, but just listen and detect
the distinct differences in these master pickers -


Another Atkins devotee was the now criminally underrated Jerry Reed (though not by Tommy Emmanuel who rates him, along with Atkins, as one of the top 5 guitarists ever), country music's greatest guitar picker apart from Atkins and just maybe Merle Travis and here is Atkins and Reed are picking together (with Atkins also doing some arpeggio work) from 1975 -


Mark Knopfler recorded an album with Atkins in 1990. Despite Knopfler's long experience and reputation by this point,
he said he still learned a lot from playing with Atkins (though some insist this is really Jerry Seinfeld playing with George Bush) -


Atkins, age 72 with the great country, jazz and blues guitarist, Les Paul at age 81 at the Iridium Jazz club at Times Square, NYC. They had known each other since Chet's older brother, Jim, played in the Les Paul trio in the 1940's,
and had recorded an album together in 1978. This clip has 2.30 of small talk if you want to fast forward it -


Perhaps Atkins greatest admirer was (and is) Tommy Emmanuel, and in 1997 Emmanuel fulfilled a life long ambition to record an album with Atkins. This performance together to promote the album unfortunately shows 73 year old Atkins clearly unwell and well below his best (by his own admission in the interview after the performance), having already been diagnosed with the cancer that was to take his life. This video also has a second part on YouTube where Emmanuel speaks about Atkins enormously influence. Look out for 'Waltzing Matilda' -


When I return, it will be to cover an artist who performed professionally under 3 different names, though primarily under one name we've already seen, and who has the distinction (now that I've written all that stuff about the Nashville Sound over the past 3 days), of having the first "Nashville Sound" produced big hit.
I've been listening to Frank Black's (Pixies) Nashville albums,Honeycomb and Fast Man,Raider Man.Alot of really good bluesy/alt country tunes.
Big list of Nashville players in the credits including Reggie Young (Elvis) and Steve Cropper (Blues Brothers).
Fave would have to be a cover of "Dirty Old Town".
Have to say it's better than the original.
 

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Having just looked at Chet Atkins and the creation of the "Nashville Sound", today will feature the very first recognised Nashville Sound hit (and the biggest hit of 1957, fighting back against the rock'n'roll onslaught). Then we go on to one of the biggest gospel hits of all (one of the "holy trinity" of gospel hits). This isn't the first time we've seen him here - refer to post # 251 (right at the top of page 11 of this thread), where he had a # 1 duet with Jean Shepard and also the lead guitarist in the live video of the 4th song. Apart from his music, Ferlin Husky also became a nationally known TV star, was in a string of Hollywood movies, recorded under 3 different names, created a popular rustic comic character and retained long popularity for his all round entertaining concert performances.

Born in 1925 in rural Missouri to sharecropper parents, and so continuing the almost endless line of artists brought up
in dire rural poverty, Ferlin Husky learned to play the guitar from an uncle and began singing at parties and dances as a teenager. He served in the Merchant Marine in WW2 before moving to St. Louis in 1946, performing in public using the name Tex Terry, as his parents didn’t want him to be a musician. He moved to Bakersfield, Calif in 1947 to work as a DJ and cut his first record in 1948, using the name Terry Preston, being advised his given name sounded too rural. He also began singing in honky tonks, using the Preston name. Husky finally secured a record contract at a major label, Capitol Records, in 1952, and reverted to his real name. He was also hired him to replace Tennessee Ernie Ford on the TV variety show “Hometown Jamboree.”, the start of his long and successful TV career. As the first major country star to come out of the Bakersfield scene that later produced Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, Husky helped Buck Owens and Dallas Frazier in their first career steps.

His first records were generally ignored until his 1953 duet and # 1 hit with Jean Shepard - 'A Dear John Letter' followed by a sequel # 4 hit 'Forgive me John' a few months later. However Husky didn't have a solo hit until 1955, when 'I Feel Better All Over' reached # 4. Around the same time, he developed his comic alter ego, "Simon Crum". Husky signed Crum to a separate record contract with Capitol and began releasing records under that name. He then moved back to Missouri in 1955 to host the televised "Ozark Jubilee" and then scored an invite to perform on the Grand Ole Opry, recognised not just as a singer and lead guitarist but also for his all round skills as an entertainer, both serious and comic.

Having already seen Husky's hit duet with Jean Shepard, his first solo hit 'I Feel Better All Over' from 1955 is a curious mix of traditional country, with fiddles and steel guitar (though not the newly introduced pedal steel) along with a proto rock'n'roll sound, much more evident in the second half of this live performance, with a high kick and all. Husky toured with Elvis around this time and years later he claimed Elvis was influenced by his live performance acts. But note the complete contrast between this pre-Nashville Sound offerings and the next song to come some 18 months later -


Now for the very lavish, expensively produced historic very first Nashville Sound hit - and it was a huge hit, the biggest
of 1957. In 1956, Husky re-recorded this song that he had earlier released as Terry Preston 4 years earlier in 1952 - which failed to chart. For this recording, the renowned Jordanaires quartet provided the backing vocals along with
famed soprano vocalist, Millie Kirkham. 'Gone" stayed at the top for 10 weeks with a total of 27 weeks on the charts.
Not only that, as hoped, 'Gone' also crossed over to the pop charts, peaking at # 4, selling over one million -
This is basically a song of monumental regret, perfect for Husky's plaintive, expressive voice


'Gone' propelled him to network television appearances on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts - including spots as guest host-Kraft Television Theater, The Ed Sullivan Show, and eventually the top rating talk shows hosted by Steve Allen, Johnny Carson, and Merv Griffin. Husky had to give up his Opry slot, but TV exposure introduced him to millions of viewers.

After 'Gone' Husky struggled to score another big hit until 1960, when he was approached to record a new gospel song that required a wide vocal range and ability to convey emotion, both of which he possessed. However, Husky at first rejected it, as he had never sang gospel and not being religious, didn't intend to start now. He was persuaded by his management to relent - and thus recorded a song that ended being up his biggest hit, one of the big 3 country gospel songs - the others being 'Peace in the Valley' by Red Foley (post # 222) and 'I See the Light' by Hank Williams (post # 233). This is definitely an upbeat pop oriented melody in contrast to the other 2, more influenced by black spirituals. This spent 10 weeks at # 1, one of only 4 songs to reach # 1 in 1960 - and it crossed over, reaching # 12 on the pop charts.

The song, written by RCA producer, Bob Montgomery, working for Chet Atkins, in 1958, has lyrics based on the Biblical story of Noah's Ark. 'Wings of a Dove' from 1960 -


The big success of this hit (since covered by many other, most notably by Charley Pride and Dolly Parton), led to Ferlin Husky "finding" religion, and, from one who never wanted to record any gospel song, he went on to record several gospel albums through the 1960's.

From the album "I Could Sing All Night" released in May 1966, 'There Goes My Everything' which Husky recorded in November 1965 was strangely not released as a single. This proved a costly mistake as Jack Greene pounced on it, releasing his cover as a single in September 1966 which became a runaway # 1 hit and a country music standard,
since covered by many including Elvis Presley, Loretta Lynn, Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck, Charley Pride and
Tammy Wynette. Husky had a voice had a tone and quality that suited sad and lonely songs better than most -


Husky didn't have any more # 1 hits after 'Wings of a Dove', but he continued his TV appearances, touring extensively including Europe and Australia, and charting consistently until the mid-seventies. His last big hit was from 1968, reaching # 4. This still maintains the Nashville Sound, 11 years after his song 'Gone' first introduced it -

Recording success landed Husky featured roles in a number of movies. These included Mr. Rock & Roll (1957), Country Music Holiday (1958), Forty Acre Feud (1965), Hillbillys in a Haunted House (1967), Las Vegas Hillbillys (1966), and Swamp Girl (1971). From 1953 to 1975 Husky amassed 11 top 10 and 41 top 40 hits, but he probably made his most lasting impression as a live performer. He toured widely in the U.S. and worldwide. "There were a lot of years when nobody in the business could follow Ferlin Husky," Merle Haggard once said, "He was the biggest live act of the day.
A great entertainer."

Husky had 6 wives (one for 30 years), 9 children and for the last 6 years of his life he lived with Merle Haggards ex-wife, He was finally, after a public campaign and protests, elected to the Country Music HoF in 2010 for his vocal and comic prowess and all around showmanship that left a legacy as "one of the best entertainers country music has ever produced". A year later, at age 85, he died of heart failure in 2011.
 

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For more on Ferlin Husky, here's a quick look at his other identities - first as the pre-Nashville Sound honky tonk singer, Terry Preston and then the country hayseed comic and singing impersonator, Simon Crum. In fact, so popular did Husky's alter ego, Crum, become in the 1950's that he even had his own record contract under that name, seperate from his Ferlin Husky recordings and Crum nearly became as well known as Husky, having "his own" hit records.

Here's the original version of Husky's great 1957 Nashville Sound hit 'Gone', as "Terry Preston" in 1952. Actually Husky sings this well but the acompianment could be better. Yet for all the shortfalls, I actually, reflecting my honky tonk bias, prefer this simple but still heartfelt version to the later, lavish and more sophisticated 1957 Nashville Sound version
shown yesterday. But this "authentic country" version didn't chart, whereas the Nashville Sound pop-country version
was a smash hit that cracked new suburban markets -


I stumbled on this 1955 rockabilly gem which, for some reason, went unreleased, but is welll worth a listen - hillbilly bop at its best -


What follows was, believe it or not, a # 2 hit in 1958 for Husky's alter ego, Simon Crum, who had his own separate record contract and had already achieved a top 5 hit in 1954 with 'Cuzz Yore So Sweet'. Here we have a live version of 'Country Music Is Here To Stay' and at first viewing the humour hasn't aged well - so I'm showing this more for historical than for. entertainment purposes. To make sense of it all, Husky had a great talent for impersonating other country stars as well
as rustic or hayseed comedy. 1958 was a time when rock'n'roll seemed to be a big threat to country and many thought country music was in trouble. So Crum is reassuring them, 'Country music's here to stay'. It starts with a Lum and Abner parody (a radio comedy duet) and is delivered in a series of voices that actually does a skilfull job of impersonating some of big stars of traditional country music of the time - starting with Webb Pierce (posts # 240-250), then Ernest Tubb (posts # 161-165) followed by Kitty Wells (posts # 238-239) and Red Foley (posts # 173-178) -


Ironically, on the B-side of that # 2 hit championing traditional country music, Simon Crum had a full-on rockabilly number - typical of that time when loads of artists like Husky, and even traditionalists like Red Foley, hedged their bets
on the country music market by recording both traditional and rockabilly. In fact, Husky, who toured extensively with Elvis through 1955/56, either under his own name, the earlier Terry Preston or the comic Simon Crum, recorded several dozen rockabilly or rock'n'roll songs, and these pioneering works have been increasingly recognised over the last 20 years. It would be remiss not to include at least one, and this rock'n'roll number, 'Bop Cat Bop' from 1956 is notable for the fine soloing - actually the sax and electric guitar solos are the high point of this -


And to finish up, this is Ferlin Husky with Heath Shepard in 1999, re-doing their # 1 hit from 1953 (see post # 251) at
a Grand Ole Opry Reunion, a nostalgic performance 48 years after it was released at the end of the Korean War (which provided the original context for the song) -


My next act, when the history reappears, will be a singing trio of siblings who were inspired by The Louvin Brothers and who have all passed away just within the past 5 years.
 

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Jerry Lee at his best...
Such a great entertainer ... and if anyone wonders what he did next after he had that swig of coca-cola at the end of that clip, well here it is -

In case anyone here missed it, Jerry Lee's potted history and music are on posts # 349-352. I probably didn't give him enough credit for his piano skills. Little Richard might've pounded the keyboards as hard or harder but no way could he match Jerry Lee's playing ability with his brilliant off the cuff piano riffs.
 
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The Browns - a trio formed with sisters Maxine and Bonnie and the middle brother, Jim Ed - were the most important and influential vocal act of the Nashville Sound era. Their harmonic singing, honed from childhood, was heavily influenced by The Louvin Brothers (posts # 294-295), and in turn, their harmonies influenced the Beatles and the Osborne Brothers right up to the music of more recent vocal groups including Lady Antebellum and Little Big Town.

Born as Ella Brown in 1931, Jim Edward Brown in 1934 and Bonnie Brown in 1938, the Brown siblings grew up in rural Arkansas, where their father owned a sawmill and a large farm (so, unusually for our country heroes of that era, they weren't really poor). With the encouragement of their parents, the Brown children began singing and developing their close harmonies early on. In their teens they performed in school and began appearing at local events.

Jim Ed started playing guitar for Square Dances whilst still at school and singing on local Radio with Maxine. The first break came when he entered a talent contest in Little Rock. He only came second was hired as a regular to Little Rock's top music radio show. In 1953, greatly influenced by broadcasts of the Louvin Brothers on the Grand Ole Opry, Maxine and her brother began singing as a duo on Little Rock radio.

In 1954 they recorded a top 10 US hit with their own song -‘Looking Back To See’ (Jim Reeves - remember this name - actually played rhythm guitar on the recording). Boosted by appearing on the nationally televised "Ernest Tubb Show", The Browns very first hit, as a duo, with simple yet quite clever lyrics, reached # 8 and spent months in the charts -


Bonnie joined her siblings in 1955 after graduating from High School, completing The Brown family's trio. They were signed to The Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport and became a featured act on telecast Red Foley’s nationally telecast "Ozark Jubilee" Their recording of ‘Here Today And Gone Tomorrow’ became their first hit as a trio, given a boost by
their national appearances on "The Ozark Jubilee" TV show, reaching # 7 in 1955 -


The success of 'Here Today, Gone Tomorrow' led, with help from Jim Reeves, to The Browns signing with major label,
RCA in 1956, and they soon had 2 more major hits, the first 'I Take the Chance' being a cover of a Louvin Brothers
written song that showed The Browns closely following traditional harmony textures with this # 2 hit from 1956 -


'I Hear the Bluebirds Sing' had been around since 1952, recorded by several artists. However it only became a major hit in 1958 when The Browns nailed it under the guidance of RCA producer genius, Chet Atkins, using his newly established Nashville Sound production values. The Browns exquisite cover reached # 4, turning it into a country standard and paved the way for their mega-hit to come-


And now The Browns signature song and the one they were always remembered for - the biggest selling hit of 1959, a year which was disastrous for rock'n'roll (but more on that another day) but was the right time for this story of the life of little Jimmy Brown, summed up with 3 bells - in fact, a translated cover of a pop hit for French chanteuse Edith Piaf. This simple song - but with a sophisticated Nashville Sound makeover - is from and of a bygone era and soaked through with 1950's sentimentalism - yet it's just beautiful to listen to and raced up all the charts, # 1 for 11 weeks, crossing over and topping the pop charts and even reaching # 10 on the R&B charts (strange because R&B it ain't, just a great little 1950's harmony to quietly sit back and listen to). It was also a big international hit e.g # 1 in Australia, # 6 in the U.K., #4 in the Netherlands etc, selling over a million and establishing The Browns name worldwide. -


As a result of the runaway crossover success of 'Three Bells', The Browns appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Jimmy Dean Show, and American Bandstand. With their career now at a highpoint, known worldwide and touring across Europe and the US, we'll leave them for now until tomorrow.
 

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We're back with The Browns, having left off in 1959 at the height of their worldwide success. The biggest hit of all
in 1959, 'The Three Bells' captured fans from the burgeoning folk scene of cerca 1960 as well as pop fans and led to
prime time network TV appearances like the Ed Sullivan Show, tours to Europe and finally, in 1963, Grand Ole Opry membership. During these years the Browns’ smooth sibling harmony helped country music broaden its audience
beyond its traditional rural and blue collar confines, increasing its record sales and broadcasting exposure to middle
class suburbia, just as The Browns RCA producer, Chet Atkins had planned for by the Nashville Sound production.

'Three Bells' was followed by another cover hit, 'Scarlet Ribbons', sung in perfect unison. Originally sung by Jo Stafford
in 1949, then Harry Belafonte in 1952, but it was The Browns version that was by far the most successful and enduring. Now I know this is a syrupy sentimental number, essentially a Christmas song, a children's song ... and for girls (a good one for dads to sing at night to their little darlings). But listen to this in or with the right spirit (Tennessee whiskey?) and you never know, your eyes might just get a little moist - either that or throw-up - # 7 from 1959, 'Scarlet Ribbons' -


I don't usually go to this detail, but here I'm listing the backing musicians utilised by Chet Atkins for this and the next song - Hank Garland guitar, John D. Loudermilk guitar, Bob Moore bass, Buddy Harman drums, Floyd Cramer piano and the Anita Kerr Singers. Those names were all A-listers of the Nashville Sound session musicians - in fact Garland and Cramer in particular were world class. This all contributed to the success of these hits.

This song was about a figure who many back then would've still remembered - the gas lamplighter (there were even
some rural areas in the late 1950's still not yet electrified, such as Dolly Partons family house). This reached #20 but
its folk element made it much more successful on the pop charts, charting at # 5 in 1960 -


The next wasn't a hit - it wasn't even released as a single but only issued on the LP "Our Favorite Folk Songs" - but once
I stumbled on this, I had to include it here. This American folk song aka 'Birmingham Jail' is based on an old Irish tune 'Connemara Cradle Song', from 1961 -


'Then I'll Stop Loving You' was written by Jim Reeves (keep remembering this name) and first recorded and released by him in 1954 with modest success. With Chet Atkins still producing and Floyd Cramer on piano, this reached # 12 in 1964 -



From the LP, "Our Kind Of Country" released in 1966, this reached # 16 as a single. It also features little sister Bonnie singing solo, as Jim Ed had by now started to pull back from being the main singer to concentrate on his new solo career. - 'I'd Just be Fool Enough' -


Jim Ed, who you have probably noticed stood out as the principal singer of the trio, began recording as a solo artist in 1965, going on to overshadow the trio's recordings. Maxine sang lead vocal on the group's final singles released in 1968. Maxine and Bonnie returned to Arkansas to raise their young children, while Jim Ed pursued a successful solo career - and then formed an even successful duet in the 1970's - but more on that later. Maxine also had one minor hit in 1968 before retiring in 1969. In 2006 The Brown trio reformed for a one-off performance, singing 'The Old Lamplighter' & 'The Three Bells' for the PBS Special "Country Pop Legends". But tomorrow will feature Jim Ed Brown's solo career - and in contrast
to the last 2 days, it'll be starting with a couple of drinking songs!
 
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Jim Ed Brown began his solo career in 1965, two years before The Browns disbanded. Initially, he didn't have much success, just scraping the bottom of the top 40. Once The Browns disbanded, Jim Ed's career took off, highlighted
by one of the great drinking songs - the beer-drinking anthem 'Pop a Top', which climbed to # 3 in 1967 -
"... Home for me is misery and here I am wasting time
'Cause a row of fools on a row of stools is not what's on my mind
But then you see her leaving me it's not what I prefer
So it's either here just drinking beer or home remembering her
. ..."


Brown followed up straight away with next drinking sing 'Bottle, Bottle', actually not so much a drinking song as the lament of an alcoholic (a bit ironical as Brown is one of the minority on this history who wasn't a heavy drinker). Also
from 1967 -
"... You give me the strenght to go on day to day / You help keep the mem'ries of a lost love away /
She left me crippled but I've found my crutch / Bottle, bottle, why do I love you so much?
..."


Brown didn't have any major hits for the rest of the 1960s. As his chart performance stagnated in 1968, he formed
a backing group called The Gems and began performing at the Sahara Casino. But in 1969 he hosted the nationally televised show "The Country Place" until 1970. Just as this show was ending its run, Brown had his first major hit
since 'Pop a Top' with the # 4 'Morning'.

One of the things that makes the best of country music is how one can relate to the story told by the lyrics in a plain, straightforward, not too artful and remote, way. This song explores the feelings one has - or can have - about a one
night stand, with a strong undertone of sadness and regret that there's nothing more, that's it, after they go their separate ways -
"... I know so well, that this is all there is / And when we leave this room it's gone ..."


Again, Jim Ed wasn't able to immediately follow 'Morning' with another top 10 hit, but he charted frequently. In 1973, he had 2 top ten hits, including # 4 'Southern Loving'. Here he makes the claim, in a lighthearted upbeat song, that southern (American) women make for better umm...loving, than northerners. From my experience, he's absolutely right! -


Finally, Jim Ed had another top 10 hit 'It's That Time of Night', in 1974. This is another of those country adult songs, not for 20 year olds. Those who have lived a life might relate to this -
"... Your bedside light is shining on the teardrops in your eyes / And I hold you just the way I always do /
Your trembling body tells me so much more than any words / That you need me just as much as I need you
..." -
If someone writes a song with such lyrics today, Nashville will be sure to ignore it -


Jim Ed Brown had no more solo hits - and yet he had an even more successful career (his third distinct music career) ahead of him. Tomorrow we'll farewell him on the last leg of his career.
 

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Jim Ed Brown had his greatest success in the late 1970s, and I'll let him tell the story - “Chet Atkins found this song,
and gave it to my producer Bob Ferguson. It was a great song - ‘I Don’t Want to Have to Marry You.’ I wanted to do it solo, but he wanted me to do it as a duet. I told him I wasn’t so sure I wanted to get back into a duet situation because
I had a hard enough time making a solo career after The Browns. He said he wanted me to cut it with Helen Cornelius. I didn’t know who she was. But we met in the studio (the famous RCA Studio B), and the rest is history.”

Helen Cornelius was born Helen Johnson in 1941 and grew up on a Missouri farm with older brothers who played in
bands. She and her sisters Judy and Sharon formed a harmony trio while,still,at school, and their father took the girls
to their gigs. Eventually Cornelius left her sisters and began touring with her backup band, the Crossroads. After finishing high school and still a teenager she married and worked as a secretary. She returned to touring during the 1960s and in 1970 she became a songwriter after submitting a demo tape and was signed as a writer to Columbia Records. In 1973 she came to Nashville and recorded 2 unsuccessful singles, later signing to RCA. She released her first single in 1975; neither it nor its follow-up charted. It was at that stage she was teamed up with Jim Ed Brown.

'I Don't Want To Have To Marry You', a now quaint morality song where he wants to have it off now and she tells him to wait til they've walked down the aisle (still the done thing in those days in the South, and remember, they met at church). When "the outlaw" movement was still going strong, they never had a monopoly on the charts, showing the divergent country music tastes - and this type ain't really my taste, being essentially a pop-country number, but I have to acknowledge it's a good song, really well sung and produced and reached # 1 in 1976 -


They quickly followed up with another that reached # 2 in 1976. As the song itself ain't so exciting, I've gone for this live version. Here, Jim Ed's rhinestone embroidered shirt clearly identifies him as not being part of the Outlaw movement (as obviously does the music itself). But the other thing to notice here is the chemistry between these two as they sing (in seeming contradiction of the lyrics of their first hit) of the carnal delights of a short term relationship. Jim Ed and Helen were now Nashville’s hottest acts, all thetheir longing gazes were . The liner notes on their first album repeated the old line “They are both happily married but not to each other" -


If you're in to the very 1970's pop country harmony sound, you might like this # 2 hit (I'm really trying to be objective and positive here). The lyrics play on the words lying and lieing sounding the same and by this time, it's probable that both could relate well to the lyrics -


Here I've opted for another live version - the sound is quite good and so is the jangled guitar work - and then there's
the obvious chemistry between the two. This song reached # 3 in 1979. With the knowledge of hindsight, this is laced
with irony -
"... Fools never learn / You play with fire / You’re gonna get burned / You and I are fools / We played with love /
And we’re gonna get burned
...”. So Jim Ed and Helen couldn't say nobody warned them.


Now to 1980 and (subjectively) their best - I really appreciated this one. Jim Ed really made use of his low baritone,
it's a perfect song of its type for these two and it's really well produced - even the dubbing effect works here to enhance, instead of subtract from the sound. It seems a shame this was to be about their final production together when I think they had finally really achieved their "right sound", but other events then unfolded -


No doubt, you've guessed correctly where my commentary was heading - they were busted for having an affair. The
story headlined the cover of The Tennessean and the Nashville Banner and the evening news. It was a humdinger of a mess made spicier by the fact their wives and children (Helen had 3 kids, Jim Ed 2 and all of them aged between 12-18) were friends, attending the same Baptist Church together. The upshot was that both got divorced but Jim Ed was torn up and after a while was forgiven and returned to his wife and family - but on the condition and at the cost of giving up his highly successful partnership (and love) with Helen. In all, they had 6 top 6 hits between 1976 and 1980.

After the breakup with Helen Cornelius, Jim Ed Brown pretty much retired from recording, but, having already a lot
of media hosting experience, he hosted a lot of TV game and talent shows and nationally syndicated radio shows and occasionally appeared on The Grand Ole Opry. His wife even allowed him to sometimes reunite with Cornelius for TV performances (and even toured nationwide in 1988, but this time, with the kids now grown up, Jim Ed's wife went with him, just to be sure). In 1989 he opened the Jim Ed Brown Theater near Opryland in Nashville, performing regularly
there for years.

Jim Ed Brown died from lung cancer in 2015 at age 81, but not before he was inducted into the Hall of Fame by Bill Anderson at his hospital bed, the ceremony brought forward 5 months. Bonnie Brown also died from lung cancer in
2016 at age 77 while Maxine Brown (who I noticed made many nice comments on some of the Youtube videos of
their songs) died in 2019 at age 87 - so all 3 died within 4 years of each other. As for Helen Cornelius, she lives on
still, aged 79. Her career never really recovered after the split, but she did appear regularly at the Grand Ole Opry.
She is now retired. Jim Ed's wife of 54 years (disregarding that temporary breach in 1981), Becky also lives on and
wrote a biography of Jim Ed "Going Our Way" in 2018 from which I sourced some of the above info.

Anyway, that's it for the Browns and the 3 careers of Jim Ed. I'm now taking the next 7-10 days or so off from the history as I've got a few things to do and places (leaving right now before any lockdown) to go. I may do some "normal" short posts, but the history part will wait til I return - back to the late fifties era.
 

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OK - I just said before I'd be away for a week or so with things to do and places to go - and I planned this some weeks back - and now all those plans have been wrecked by the full state lockdown, I've got nowhere to go, but I'll still take a few days off the history. Now all there's left to do is to console myself with the son of Hank Jnr and join him in getting wasted with our country heroes -
 

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R.I.P Richie Albright
Well noticed and posted. It's very rare, maybe unique, for the passing of a drummer to be recognised in a country music thread, but Richie Albright had about the most prominent role alongside Waylon Jennings in the Outlaw Movement (as
did the recently departed Billy Joe Shaver as reported here just a few months ago). Albright was country music's most influential drummer and it ain't close. Sad to see another Outlaw gone.
 

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