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Professor Knowall

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In the 2 decade period 1960 to 1979, Sonny James spent more time in the # 1 position than any other artist in country music - a total of 57 weeks, including the 5 year period of 16 Consecutive #1 Singles, a feat never before accomplished by any solo artist in Country Music, Pop or Rock ‘n Roll. If incorporating the same criteria used today for determining #1 singles, James would have had an unbelievable 25 consecutive # 1 hits. His fanbase (absolutely not teenagers but mostly their parents in suburbia) could depend on him to deliver the type of music they wanted.

Following on from yesterday's 'There'll Never Be Another You', 'A World of Our Own' is a 1965 single also written by Tom Springfield and was another international hit for the Seekers, who went to England as a folk group, only to find the folk craze had subsided, but were fortunate to collaborate with Springfield. Springfield gave the old folk melodies he found a modern pop beat and lyrics to match, perfect for the times. James again uses his flat-top guitar picking to full effect on this, which reached # 1 in 1968. Springfield only heard James cover after it became a hit and was so impressed that he met up with James and wrote several songs specifically for him, who included them on subsequent albums -


Country runs the gamut, from basking in the reflecting glory of romantic love to sinking into the pit of unquenchable despair. This song is exemplary of the former - there's not a whole lot of Sonny James songs that weren't of a cheerful nature, and like his greatly gifted contemporary, Slim Whitman (see posts 252-254), he refused to record any cheatin' or drinkin' songs (a pity - cheatin' and drinkin' songs are mostly my country favourites). This hit # 1 for Sonny in 1968 - and was then covered by Slim Whitman -


Still in 1968 and another of those peaceful, restful feeling songs of domestic bliss that appeal so much to a certain type -


On to 1969 and more # 1's. Here is what Sonny James said about 'Only The Lonely' - "This again fit my style of guitar playing and also the repeats in the background. They were just perfect for using the sounds that I use on record and this was a case of I was really looking for material to fit this style and about that time I wanted to do a song that really did fit me. Of course the song was written by two ... one I've known for years since Odessa Texas, Roy Orbison ... and it had never been a Country record and I just applied it to my style of singing. Where Roy, when they were doing it they used kind of a big drum sound ... it was definitely pointed toward the Pop Rock field and I just figured the song was so good that it would be a Country record and it turned out that way." -


'Running Bear', about a Native American love affair doomed by too many obstacles, was written by Jiles Richardson (aka The Big Bopper) and sung most famously by Johnny Preston in 1959. But I think Sonny had the better version that went # 1 in 1969 -


So we leave off for now in 1969 with Sonny James having now just surpassed Buck Owens to be the biggest contemporary star in country music.
 

Professor Knowall

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Yesterday I said that in the 2 decade period 1960 to 1979, Sonny James spent more time in the # 1 position than any other artist in country music. Here's the top 5 (stats from Billboard) for that period (2 tied for 5th) -
Sonny James 57 weeks
Buck Owens 44 weeks
Merle Haggard 43 weeks
Charley Pride 41 weeks
Conway Twitty 37 weeks
Tammy Wynette 37 weeks

Having left off Sonny in 1968, having already had 10 consecutive # 1 hits, here's 5 more from 1969 to 1971 -

Having already become the first country artist to cover an (African-American) R&B hit with Adam Wade's 'Take Good Care of Her' (see post # 475), 'Since I Met You Baby' is another R&B song written and recorded by pianist Ivory Joe Hunter. The song, which Hunter recorded in 1956, saw renewed popularity in 1969 when James released his # 1 hit version, recorded live at a concert at the Houston Astrodome -


Brook Benton, Belford Hendricks and Clyde Otis established themselves as a songwriting team in the late 1950s, penning hits for Nat King Cole and Clyde McPhatter. In one session, Benton expressed frustration that they were not hitting on any good ideas, to which Otis replied, "It's just a matter of time, Brook". Those words inspired them to write a R&B love song from the point of view of a man who misses his love, but believes she will come back to him. This became a big # 1 hit
for Brook Benton in 1959. Ten years later, Clyde Otis approached James, who had already covered an R&B hit and said
the song would be perfect for him to cover - and James obliged by making it a #1 country hit in 1970 -


This time an original, co-written by Sonny with Carol Smith, this was one of James 3 # 1 hits in 1970 -


'Endlessly' is a 1959 R&B single by Brook Benton, the follow-up to his breakthrough hit 'It's Just a Matter of Time'. This became the second Brook Benton R&B song that James took to # 1 in 1970. This is a live clip from "The Johnny Cash Show . Note the words Cash uses about James' sound when introducing the song -


All up, James took 7 R&B songs to the country charts - something no other country singer attempted, let alone succeed. This is the 4th of them. 'Empty Arms' is a song composed and first recorded by Ivory Joe Hunter which became an R&B
hit in 1957. This original version reached # 2 on the R&B chart. James' country version reached # 1 in 1971 -


That's all for now - leaving off in 1971 with James on his record breaking run of # 1 hits. His farewell will be tomorrow - along with my thoughts on his music .
 

Professor Knowall

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We're up to 1971, continuing to follow Sonny James' stellar run of chart toppers - but his formula for success, crafted
by his lifetime in the industry and honed initially by his 1963 collaboration with Nat King Cole and by subsequent tweaks, couldn't keep him on top for ever. In fact, the wonder to me is that his distinctive sound was so popular for so long. It was no doubt a result of his high production values (along the way he developed himself into a highly skilled record producer), in addition to his vocal skills and being one of the best flat-top picking going around. Though he was also an accomplished fiddle player, fiddle and steel hardly ever featured in his formula.

'Bright Lights, Big City' is a classic blues song which was written and first recorded by American bluesman Jimmy Reed in 1961. Besides being "an integral part of the standard blues repertoire, Bright Lights, Big City" has appealed to a variety of artists, including country and rock musicians, who have recorded their interpretations of the song. But non before or since emulated the success of James' cover which reached (of course) # 1 in 1971. In it, James displays his virtuosity in flat top picking - there are live videos on YouTube of James performing this, but the sound wasn't great, hence why I chose this superior audio version -


'That's Why I Love You Like I Do' had two runs of popularity for James, one in 1956 and the other in 1972, each under a different title and with a distinctive arrangement. James' original version was recorded in 1956 as 'You're the Reason I'm In Love'. An electric guitar-heavy, slow-tempo song, it was the B-side to his great hit 'Young Love'. It concurrently fared, reaching # 6.

In late 1971, James wrapped up a hugely successful stay at Capitol Records, where he scored the 16 consecutive # 1
hits. In 1972, his cover of Gene Pitney's 'Only Love Can Break a Heart'stopped at # 2, the first song that failed to reach
# 1 since 1967. James, meanwhile, re-recorded "You're the Reason I'm In Love' in a faster tempo with a horn section.
The new version was retitled "That's Why I Love You Like I Do". The song became James' 22nd # 1 hit in 1972. He went on to have 2 more # 1 hits (including the follow-up, 'When the Snow is on the Roses' and several more Top 10 hits.


'A Little bit South of Saskatoon' was released in 1975 and featured in the best sports comedy flic ever made - "Slapshot", which Paul Newman described as the most enjoyable movie he ever worked in (made in a gloriously politically incorrect era - the on-field violence is fantastic). This has James shedding some of his formula with a paired back arrangement ditching his standard vocal backing. I really like this one - the 'pop' element has been removed - but alas, his loyal suburban fanbase weren't so loyal to this more countrified sound, nor did it attract many new country fans, with the Outlaw era now in full swing. It only reached # 6, a sign his chart topping days had to an end -


One of the most rare prison albums to find, "In Prison, In Person" is also one of the most unique. Instead of Sonny bringing his own band to perform at the Tennessee State Prison (just out of Nashville), he used prison-supplied inmates, and not just petty criminals. Sitting in with Sonny were two convicted murderers and three rapists who were serving life sentences, as well as five other convicts serving a total of 118 years. Prisoners even were used to take the photos for the album’s cover and insert. Since the law excluded Sonny from paying the inmates royalties for their efforts, he instead upgraded the prison’s stock of guitars, amplifiers, and other instruments for the prison population.

James commented at the time - “It’s not unusual for an artist to visit a prison. But it was to my knowledge the first time this kind of thing has been undertaken, and I’ve never enjoyed anything more. We didn’t strive for perfection. We didn’t do it for the critics. It is, as they say, ‘listenable,’ though what makes this LP unique and pleasurable is that it’s real.”

Dating to the start of the 20th century but made famous by Jimmie Rodgers in 1928, 'In The Jailhouse Now' has a couple of destitute characters that would feel at home living in future honky-tonk songs in this classic about the wages of sin and the consequences of crime. It was a good choice for James to open with at his prison concert and I really enjoyed this live rendition, even with (or maybe because of) its lack of sophistication. It reached # 15 in 1977


'Abilene' was originally recorded by George Hamilton IV and was a # 1 hit in 1963, and crossed over to # 15 on the pop charts - however as George IV didn't make my cut of featured artists, and this was its most successful cover, it provided the perfect reason to include it here. Like many others, I had thought this song was about the city of Abilene in Texas. Turns out it's about the small cattle town of Abilene in Kansas. Neither Abilene rates as the "... prettiest town that I've ever seen ...", but it's true that "... women there don't treat you mean in Abilene" - it's just that they are more ... forthcoming in the Texan Abilene. Anyway, this went # 24 for Sonny in 1977 -


As with many artists from his era, the hits slowed down as the seventies came to an end, and he reached the top 10 for the 43rd and final time in 1977, with the appropriately titled 'You're Free to Go'. By the early '70s, James had moved into producing and music publishing. He oversaw 3 of Marie Osmond's albums while still managing occasional top 10's himself.

Despite the obvious quality of Sonny James' music and his domination of the charts (23 # 1 hits and a few more near misses from 1964 to 1976), I noticed none of his songs during this period were big, memorable hits - and in listening, there became a certain sameness to his music - pleasurable to listen to, and I appreciated the technical proficiency behind them - yet for me they tended to lack any real emotional connection of the best country music. It worked for James at the time in terms of massive commercial success, yet he did not, over time, quite attain the status of greatness accorded to others in his time such as George Jones, Marty Robbins, Ray Price or Johnny Cash. However, from well before he formulated his own distinctive sound, there is one song James is still remembered for and remains his signature song - the great 1950's anthem 'Young Love'

Having previously been the first country artist to earn a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame back in 1961 (before his great run of # 1 hits started), he picked up the prestigious "Male Artist of the Decade" award from Record World in 1977. However he had to wait until 2007 to be inducted into the Country Music HoF. The day it was announced, Kix Brooks (of Brooks And Dunn), accurately said - "This is an artist who really dominated his time in history."

James retired in 1983 at age just 55 (which no doubt also lessened his popularity compared to others who continued on with their career) and thereafter raised cattle in Alabama. His reputation has revived since and when he died in Nashville in 2016, age 87, it was widely publicised.

Now I was meant to take a 2 week or so break now and head to WA, (my second unsuccessful attempt in 2 months, but once again my plans have been ruined by a lockdown, so I guess I'll be back here in a few days - with an artist unlike I've featured before, who in between some (albeit really good) novelty songs, along with heartfelt ballads, also recorded an all time country classic.
 
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Professor Knowall

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In the mid 1960s, while most of America was getting caught up in rock’s British invasion, a Texan born but Nashville-based singer-songwriter was topping both the country and pop charts. In 1964 he dominated the country music category in the Grammy Awards, with 5 awards including Best Song and Best Male Vocal Performance. Incredibly, the following year he swept the board with another 6 awards, including (believe it or not) Best Rock-and-Roll Male Vocal Performance. And yet, despite being one of the finest and prolific songwriters and recording sad-tinged country ballads, he rapidly (and unfairly) became known to the public as a wacky guy with a guitar who sang funny songs and made weird noises.

Though Roger Miller was born in the best large American city, Fort Worth, Texas in 1936, at age 3 his father died and he was sent by his ailing mother to be raised by an aunt and uncle in the small farming town of Erick, Oklahoma. Influenced by the singing of Hank Williams when listening (as did everyone) to the Grand Ole Opry, as well as by his brother-in-law, Sheb Wooley, by the time he was 10 he had earned enough money picking cotton to buy himself a guitar. Roger was a dreamer, and his heart was never in picking cotton or working on a farm. “It’s a good thing that he made it in the music business, ’cause he would have starved to death as a farmer”, Sheb Wooley would later say.

Determined to get out of the grinding farm labouring, the adolescent Miller played music in addition to working the
ranch. Soon, he mastered not only guitar and fiddle but also piano, banjo and drums. He spent 3 years in the army in Korea, after which he moved to Nashville in the mid-1950s to begin his musical career. He met with Chet Atkins, who asked to hear him sing, loaning him a guitar since Miller didn't own one. Out of nervousness, Miller played the guitar
and sang a song in two different keys. Atkins advised him to come back later, when he had more experience. Miller
then began learning the craft and business of writing songs. He spent a year as a bellboy at a Nashville hotel and
began to get some of his songs recorded by others.

He was signed as a songwriter for Tree Music Publishing and Ray Price had a # 3 1958 hit with 'Invitation To The
Blues' (see post # 272). Soon after Jim Reeves hit # 1 hit with Miller’s Billy Bayou (see post # 384) and Ernest Tubb, Faron Young and George Jones all successfully recorded his songs. He recorded unsuccessfully with several labels in a traditional country music styling delivered with brawny vocals and a fresh perspective. They were musically about as traditional a country work as possible, with fiddle and steel breaks coming in almost every tune, and no hints of any
pop or rock influences or aspects.

For a time he was a drummer for Ray Price (with Willie Nelson on bass), played fiddle with Minnie Pearl then became
the drummer for Faron Young (see posts # 261-266) and joined Young's infamous group of hell-raisers that hang out at Tootsies Honky Tonk in Nashville, where they sang, drank, brawled and took interesting substances and included Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash when he was in town and later Kris Kristoffosen He was signed to RCA in 1960
and cut a few records scoring his first top 10 hit with 'When Two Worlds Collide' in 1961. He then moved to Hollywood briefly to appear regularly on "The Jimmy Dean Show" (see posts # 428-429) and "The Merv Griffin Show", two of the most popular television shows. It was at this time he started developing his goofy persona, singing silly novelty songs.

'Dang Me' defied the odds - despite being a novelty song with lyrics including “... Roses are red and violets are purple / Sugar is sweet and so is maple surple ...", jazz style skat singing and clocking in at under 2 minutes, it became a big hit for Miller, his first # 1, spending 25 weeks in the chart, and also a # 7 pop crossover hit. Released in 1964, it also won Miller the Grammy for Best Country Song -


Miller wrote a lot of good, wholesome songs, but make no mistake - was a hell-raisng party boy who liked to drink, do other stuff and have a lot of (sometimes too much) fun. 'Chug-a-Lug' is the perfect representation of that part of Miller -
a scatchy song, the only goal of which is to celebrate the storied history of getting plastered young. And then there's the classic drinking chorus - “Chug-a-lug, chug-a-lug / Make you want to holler 'Hi-de-do!' / Burns your tummy, don’tcha know / Chug-a-lug, chug-a-lug". When it comes to Miller's cheeky story-songs, none can top this fast-driving tune about the perks and perils of teens learning to drink hard liquor. It stands up well against some of the more serious drinking songs made popular around the same time by Merle Haggard. Given its humorous approach to underage drinking
(we've all been there back in the day), this sort of song would never be allowed in these neo-puritanical times -


Of all of Miller's best songs, 'Do-Wacka-Do' used his vocal skills to really nail those nonsense syllables just right to make this a hit. Envy in a humorous way, 'Do-Wacka-Do' reached # 15 and crossed over to the Pop top 40. The expression "do-wacka-do" is a way of saying "do-like-I-do". The lyrics are written like a letter to a friend or former friend with whom the singer would like to trade places -
"I hear tell you're doing well, good things have come to you ... I wish I had your good luck charm,
and you had a do-wacka-do, wacka-do, wacka-do, wacka-do, wacka-do
..." -


'King Of The Road', Miller’s celebration of a vagabond or hobo, living a free life on the road is one of the few songs that transcend the boundaries of time and culture. Its appeal, like all classic songs, is cross generational. Miller wrote the jazz-influenced tune in 1964, and when released as a single in 1965, it sold over 500,000 copies in its first 2weeks, going on to chalk up world wide sales in excess of 5 million, the biggest hit of his career. It instantly became a crossover hit across the country, pop and Easy Listening charts and won Miller 3 Grammys - Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Best Vocal Performance. It is an all-time American classic, now preserved in the library of Congress.

This remains one of the greatest songs about life on the road. Miller recalled that the song was inspired when he was driving and saw a sign on the side of a barn that read - "Trailers for sale or rent". This became the opening line of the song. Few tales of cowboys, truck drivers, railway freight hopping hobos ... or touring musicians better glamorize a drifter's freedom and lonelines -

The song has since been covered by over 300 artists in all styles of music from jazz through reggae to soul, country and rock. When Miller was posthumously inducted into the Country Music HoF, it's the song that Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Marty Stuart and Dwight Yoakam chose to perform to honor him at his funeral.

The B-side to 'King Of The Road' is also well worth a listen. 'Atta Boy Girl' exemplifies the clever turns-of-phrase that
make lines in Miller's songs memorable. Toss in the song's hyperactive feel, and it might be the best entry point to
Miller's catalog for anyone approaching from a rockabilly, punk, or garage rock background -


What a unique artist Roger Miller was. There's more tomorrow, but it'll show more of Miller's serious, poignant side.
 
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Professor Knowall

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By the summer of 1965, Roger Miller was officially a star. The first royalty check he received from Tree Publishing was for $160,000 - Miller, remembering his years of poverty, wept when he found out. 'King Of The Road' proved so successful that Miller went into business with the "Kings Of the Road" Motor Inns chain. His ascension to the top of both the country and pop charts was sudden and staggering, after years on the side track, he was now on the main line. His endearing mixture of humour and musicianship continued to pay dividends throughout the 1960's. His personality was very well known, with his quick one-liners and unique songs filling air time on the radio. Life Magazine called him a "cracker-barrel philosopher", while Time Magazine said he was the "unhokey Okey". In 1966, the "Saturday Evening Post", featuring a piece on the big boom in country music, put his head on the cover. Journalists loved him for his endlessly quotable sayings. After all, who could resist a chart-topping Oklahoma boy who called his music "depressive jazz".

However, beneath the surface, Miller wasn’t comfortable with his newfound popularity as the "down-home jester of pop". He didn’t want to appear to people as a lightweight hick and fought against the unwanted label by continuing to write and record more serious music. Whenever he recorded serious adult and often sad songs, such as 'Husbands and Wives' or 'The Last Word in Lonesome is Me', the results were astounding. But Miller also seemed to record songs with the sole purposeof communicating his boundless joy, such as 'England Swings' and 'Walkin’ in the Sunshine' - although even
these songs aren't really what they first appear once one considers the lyrics.

By the end of 1966, Roger was in danger of becoming over-exposed. In September of 1966, Roger was given his own national NBC TV variety show but the show was cut after just 13 weeks. In the final episode, Roger blew up the train
set that was part of his show - he didn’t want anyone else to use it. But time for more of his music from 1965/66.

First we have a complex song of sadness and lost love. The singer is trying to rationalize the fact she left him, by thinking there's a faint chance she will be dissuaded from embarking on her journey, even though, in reality there is absolutely no chance of her changing her mind (they never do). Miller shines on this cut from 1965. Of course this adult song goes way over the heads of the teen girls in this clip, who look like they've taken a wrong turn on the way to a Beatles concert. The song 'Engine, Engine Number 9' peaked at # 2 on both the country and Adult Contemporary charts in 1965 -


'Kansas City Star' was of its time in a sense, as Miller's fake satirical bravado came from an era of regional TV stars
(even Ballarat (BTV) once had one in Fred Fargher). Like Miller, these stars could crack jokes, sing songs and introduce Popeye cartoons with the best of them - and in this instance, piss-off Kansas City's rival city of Omaha. This same jokey self-awareness could serve as the impetus today for some pretty solid rap lyrics. This reached # 7 on the the country and # 3 on the Adult Contemporary charts in 1965 -


Although numerous Miller songs proved to be pop-accessible, 'England Swings' sounds like an earnest stab at mirroring mainstream sounds beyond Nashville. It's also (if one really considers the lyrics) a biting satire on "swinging London", a popular term for the progressive youth-centric cultural scene in London at the time, as in the opening line of the refrain: "England Swings, like a pendulum do". However, the lyrics do not convey any of this progressiveness, but instead has stereotypes of traditional England, with references to "bobbies on bicycles", Westminster Abbey and Big Ben, plus, the "Rosy-red cheeks of the little children...". For those who noticed (and in a message just as relevant today), it's a subtle commentary on the transient vacuossness of youth culture. This was another hit across the charts, # 3 on the country,
# 8 on the pop and # 1 on the Adult Contemporary charts in 1965 -


Remember with Sonny James, I talked about young love and marriage in the 1950's and especially in the American South? Miller was no exception, having married at age 17 and by 1965 he was in his second of three marriages (and
had just had his 5th of 8 children, Dean Miller who went on to be a country singer-songwriter). So here we have one of those country songs for adults who have experienced the ups and downs of life. Miller's more serious side shined brightest with 'Husbands and Wives', a song about how pride comes before the fall of some - or too many - marriages. It led to
some great cover versions over the years, by artists ranging from Ringo Starr to Brooks & Dunn. Another cross-over
hit, it reached # 5 on the the country and # 2 on the Adult Contemporary charts in 1965 -


Roger Miller, being Roger Miller, still couldn't resist showing his quirky side. 'You Can't Rollerskate in a Buffalo Herd', a cross chart top 40 hit in 1966, is one of Miller's more whimsical standards that stray far from his more serious country
hits of the time. That's not to discount the deep roots of this and other songs with the carefree, analogy-driven feel of
an old-time bluegrass or string band's go-to novelty material - and the basic facts presented are hard to argue against! -


We leave off until tomorrow, with Miller in 1966 at the peak of his popularity - with some challenging times ahead for him.
 
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Professor Knowall

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After the watershed years of 1965/66, Miller's career dipped slightly. Although other artists were still having hits with his songs - Eddy Arnold took 'The Last Word in Lonesome Is Me' to # 2 - Miller had trouble breaking the Top 40 following the number five hit 'Husbands and Wives' in early 1966. He continued to record throughout the late 1960's but fewer of his songs became hits - and his suppressed insecurities and flighty nature started to bubble up to the surface. Bill Anderson (see posts # 449-452) later said - "Roger was the most talented, but least disciplined person, that you could imagine" citing the attempts of Miller's Tree Publishing boss, Buddy Killen to force him to finish a piece. He was known to give
away lines, inspiring many Nashville songwriters to follow him around since, according to Killen -"everything he said
was a potential song
."

Anyway, let's look at more of his music, proceeding from 1966, starting with the raspy 'My Uncle Used To Love Me
But She Died'. On paper, Miller seemingly weaved together a string of down-home sayings, blended it with borderline nonsense, and call it a song. In practice, he calculatedly brought surreal lyrics to mainstream country music right as the genre's serious and heartache themes made it acceptable for cosmopolitan audiences - and along the way he seemingly anticipated the present day gender fluidity movement by many decades! -


From the 1966 album "Words and Music", Miller's 4th studio album 'Train of Life' is one of Roger's "truthtelling" songs. Unlike his humorous parodies, this song speaks to a life situation that must've resembled the actual plight of many of
his listeners in the countryside, sidelined by economic hardship and the inability to rise. And it also potentially speaks to many of us in our lives today, as surely as it was deeply personal for an increasingly troubled Miller. A mini masterpiece -


Also from the 1966 album "Words and Music" is the very personal 'Dad Blame Anything A Man Can't Quit'. Miller
excelled at singing what he knew firsthand. Remember that repeating line from 'King Of The Road' - "... I ain't got
no cigarettes
..."? He knew all about being a "two-pack a day man," as sadly, for all his heavy drinking, pills and other such substance abuse, it was his real-life struggles with cigarettes that was ultimately fatal for him, succumbing to lung cancer at just 56 years old -


Released at the time of the Summer of love in San Francisco, at the peak of the flower-power hippie era, 'Walkin' in
the Sunshine' got to # 7 in 1967. This song seems to embrace the new times. But it isn't really what it appears. On
the surface this is a happy cheery, song by an equally happy, cheery singer. It isn't. Listen carefully at the lyrics and Miller's truth is revealed - the happiness in the song is all a show, a lie. Consider - "Put a smile upon your face as if
there's nothing wrong
" is pretty explicit. "... Think about a good time had a long time ago ...". He's not singing about being happy now - "... Think about forgetting about your worries and your woes...". He's trying to drag himself out of
the problems of the now by remembering better days long ago. As he says at another point - "... pretending can make
it real
..". Miller was revealing his own hidden depression here -


From Miller 1968 onwards, Miller increasingly recorded songs written by others, including emerging songwriters such as Bobby Russell and Kris Kristofferson. Bobby Russelll wrote both songs 'Honey' and 'Little Green Apples' as "an experiment in composing", anticipating a potential market for existential true-to-life story songs..."with more 'meat' in the lyrics than was standard" for current hits. Russell wrote 'Little Green Apples' for Miller to record. Released as the lead single from the album "A Tender Look at Love", this poignant reading of Russell’s ‘Little Green Apples’ perfectly suited his understated vocal style. It was Miller's his final Top 10 hit at #6 and also his final Top 5 adult contemporary crossover -


So we leave Roger Miller in 1968, the start of a decline that took its toll on him, physically and emotionally, as he sank into the snake pit of drugs and alcohol. But before his career and life ended, there were still some surprising twists and turns and an unexpected triumph to cap his career to come - tomorrow.
 

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A most popular man with his fellow artists, Roger Miller was also a great humorist and his general outlook was once
neatly summed up when he told the backing band on the Grand Ole Opry - "I do this in the key of B natural, which is
my philosophy in life
".

Like many country legends, Miller was not only great at writing original songs but also interpreting others' material. His best known treatment of a fellow artist's song was with Kris Kristofferson's 'Me and Bobby Mcgee'. Miller was the first artist to record the song, which reached # 12 in 1969. After Miller's success, many others followed him in recording the song, including Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, the Grateful Dead, Loretta Lynn, Kenny Rogers, Gordon Lightfoot, Dolly Parton, Olivia Newton-John, Johnny Cash, and finally Kristofferson himself.

The song is the story of two drifters, the narrator and Bobby McGee (named after the recording studio secretary, Barbara "Bobbie" McKee, but Kristofferson had misheard her surname). The pair hitch a ride from a truck driver and sing as they drive through the American South. They visit California and then part ways, with the song's narrator expressing sadness afterwards. Due to the singer's name never being mentioned and the name "Bobby" being gender-neutral (especially in America), the song has been recorded by both male and female singers - and most memorably the definitive soulful blues filled version by Janis Joplin, released posthumously in 1971,


It feels good to have a song about me on the list. Coming at a time when Miller was returning to his traditional honky tonk roots, this sentimental ode to everyday people, 'Where Have All the Average People Gone', # 14 in 1969, reveals a softer, contemplative side to classic country music's court jester. Instead of making listeners laugh, Miller chose a song that questions why we're all a little guilty of stereotyping strangers based on geography or their career choices. Written by Dennis Linde, it's an ode to the worth of the "average" everyday person -


Though he continued to perform live, Miller, increasingly felt his work wasn't being properly appreciated and from the late 1960's he turned ever more to alcohol and pills (years later, friend and fellow hellraiser, Waylon Jennings half-joked about Miller taking 2 suitcases on the road - one for his clothes, the other for his pills). Miller didn't write a whole lot wrote during the 1970s, a decade memorable to only for his vocal characterisation in the 1973 animated Disney film "Robin Hood". A man of many talents, and he put several of them - songwriting, singing and acting - together for the 1973 animated Disney film "Robin Hood". Miller voiced Alan-a-Dale, the rooster who narrates the story, and wrote and performed 3 songs for the movie, including the walking song that drove the film, 'Oh-De-Lilly' -
Robin Hood and Little John, walking through the forest / Laughin’ back and forth and what the other has to say / Reminiscin’, this-and-thattin’, havin’ such a good time / Oo-de-lally, oo-de-lally, golly, what a day”
Makes one feel like being right in Sherwood Forest -


On to 1982 and, at age 47, the start of a late career revival for Miller. In 1981, Roger got a call from old friend Willie Nelson, who had been recording a series of duet albums with his friends. When Willie asked Roger, he said, “But, Will, you’ve done a duet with about everyone.” Willie replied, “I know, but we’re down to the M’s.” Roger then agreed and offered a new song 'Old Friends' which he had already written for his parents back in Oklahoma. 'Old Friend' is a good song all on its own, but it also has an important place in country music history. The Texas country "supergroup" of Roger Miller, Willie Nelson and Ray Price made this slice of nostalgia a hit in 1982.

Their old band leader Ray Price (remember Willie was his bassist, Roger his drummer) joined them for the recording session - they literally were old friends), and the sweetly melancholy tune is well-loved by traditional country music fans. The proto-Highwaymen proved money could be made by team-ups of living country music legends. 'Old Friends' was Miller’s last Top 20 hit. It became important again decades later, too - Nelson recorded a new version for 2019’s "Old Friends (Live)" album, this time featuring 2 more of his old friends, Kris Kristofferson and Merle Haggard. It would turn out to be the last song Haggard recorded before his death -


'Old Friends' was the last people heard of Roger Miller until 1985 when "Big River" showed up on Broadway. "Big River" was Mark Twain's classic novel “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” brought to life, a story that resonated very strongly with Miller. Going where no country musician had gone before, Miller was entrusted with the score. It took him over a year and a half to finish writing for the musical’s first phase - “I was writing from every corner of my heart" Roger said. "Big River" opened at New York’s prestigious Eugene O’Neal’s Theather in 1985. The musical was a huge hit and Roger became the first Country artist to win a Tony Award. In all "Big River" won 7 Tony Awards, includin best score. It's best known song is 'River In The Rain' and it goes straight the heart - the river here being a metaphor for life. Like the river in this song, so many people I have known have slowly winded away, and out of my life. Roger Miller made so many good songs, and this one, from near the end of his life is, in my view, is one of his best.


In 1990, Miller embarked on a now legendary tour, unlike any he had ever done before - just him and a guitar. The first show was 90 minutes of Miller being himself and left the audience laughing the entire time. But tragically, the artist who sang about the hobo who "... ain't got no cigarettes ...", had too many in real life - a "two pack a day" man. Roger found out he had lung cancer in 1991 and performed one last time during CMA week in Nashville.After a year of treatment and one short-lived remission, Roger Miller passed away in Los Angeles in 1992, age 56 years old.

A week later, a memorial service was held for him at country music's motherchurch, the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville to a packed out crowd. They told their favorite Roger Miller stories and listened to his music, a fitting tribute to a man who was equal parts laughter and soul and a poet of the average person. Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Marty Stuart and Dwight Yoakam were among those who sang at the service.

In 1995, Roger was posthumously inducted into the Country Music HoF. His wife, Mary said - “This would have been his dream come true. The ultimate recognition of his songwriting and musical artistry”.
 

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Since Patsy Cline's tragic death in 1963, which female country singer has had the best vocals? Again, ignore any uneducated opinion I might have and leave it to those who might know a bit. Dolly Parton once noted, famously, there were just three real female singers around - Barbra Streisand, Linda Ronstadt and Connie Smith - "The rest of us are
only pretending
." It's less-well known that when Connie Smith was introduced to country music devotee, Keith Richards, he grabbed fellow Connie Smith fan, Ron Wood and brought him up to meet her, too, exclaiming "She's the real deal!" Parton, George Jones, and Chely Wright cited Smith as either the best vocalists in the music industry or their favorite female artist. Eddie Stubbs of Nashville radio station WSM and the Grand Ole Opry dubbed Smith "The Rolls-Royce of Country Singers". And even at age 80, she still retains an impressive strength in her voice.

But despite her success, Smith is considered by many music critics to be the most underrated vocalists in country music history due to the decision not to pursue super stardom with the non-country general media market and the single mined determination and ambition of such contemporaries as Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, and Tammy Wynette.

Constance Meador was born in rural Indiana in 1941, her parents being poor migrant farm workers. When Connie was a little girl, her mother divorced her abusive father and remarried to an amateur musician. She grew up in West Virginia and Ohio in a large family of 14 Siblings . Despite the poverty of her family, Connie was a very bright high achieving student. Desperately poor (the shoes she wore to high school graduation were bought with money taken up in a class collection), her family moved back to their home state of West Virginia and then to nearby Ohio, when Connie was still
an infant. She grew up listening to country music, especially hard core honky tonker Ernest Tubb (see posts # 161-165 - her step father's favourite) and smooth pop-country crooner, Eddy Arnold (see posts # 189-190 - her mother’s favourite).

Like most back then (as I've noted quite a few times), she did the usual thing of getting married young, soon after
leaving school, thus becoming Connie Smith. As a young music fan, Smith taught herself to play acoustic guitar at age
18 while recovering from a lawnmower accident. She began singing at local events, graduating to the cast of a local TV show, Saturday Night Jamboree, in Huntington, West Virginia. In August 1963, Smith won a talent contest in Columbus, Ohio, earning a performing spot that evening in a concert featuring members of the Grand Ole Opry. During the concert, headliner Bill Anderson (see posts # 449-452) noticed Smith’s talent and then heard her sing again on a shared New Year’s Day bill in Canton, Ohio. After the show he arranged for her to come to Nashville.

With Anderson’s help, Smith performed on the Ernest Tubb Record Shop’s Midnite Jamboree in March of 1964. In May,
she returned to Nashville and cut four demos of Anderson’s songs and when Chet Atkins (yeah - him yet again) heard the demos he was so impressed he immediately signed Smith to RCA Records. She went into the studio still unknown outside her local region and cut the Anderson-written 'Once a Day' in July 1964 at RCA Studio B. It became an instant classic - and Smith an "overnight" star (in contrast to most back then, who usually spent years or a decade or more toiling away before they found success).

Even back then, some country music fans craved genuine country sounds over pop-friendly radio hits (some things never change). The Anderson-penned 'Once A Day' (now a favourite singalong standard in many an old school honky tonk) was tailor-made to emphasize the permanent catch in Smith’s voice. She addresses the song to a former love, whom she has struggled to forget. At first, she insists that "time has taken all the pain away / until now, I’m only hurtin’ once a day". But as so often happens in great melancholic country ballads, there’s a twist - she may only be crying “once a day,” but that “once a day” lasts “all day long” (not to mention, “once a night, from dusk till dawn”). A rare vocal performance on par with the great Patsy Cline herself - and also a signature example of Weldon Myrick’s pedal steel sound which disrupted the Nashville Sound’s ownership of the charts -

'Once a Day' became the first debut single by a female artist to top the country singles chart - and no other woman would even manage the same feat until Trisha Yearwood nearly 30 years later.) Likewise, the 8 weeks that 'Once a Day' was at #1 held the record for the longest chart-topping stint by a female country singer for 48 years, until very controversially broken by Taylor Swift’s 2012 boppy teen pop hit 'We are Never Ever Getting Back Together' was somehow charted as a country song (and the country chart has never really been actual country since).

Smith's follow up single 'Then and Only Then', # 4 in 1965, again was specifically written for her by Bill Anderson and is one of her better songs, again featuring the great Weldon Myrick on steel. This is classic 1960's country just as it should be -


HoF steel guitar master, Weldon Myrick played a key role in Smith's success, and no singer probably worked so closely with the steel guitar, as acknowledged by Smith herself, saying - "The guy was responsible for creating the Connie Smith sound. Weldon was so creative. He was always working on a new lick or a new sound, and he was so loyal to me". 'I Can't Remember', about a rather confused and forlorn female, went to # 9 in 1965 -


Smith's next release, 'If I Talk To Him' again reached # 4 in 1965. At Bill Anderson's instigation, In 1965, Smith joined
the Grand Ole Opry, where she has performed regularly for decades ever since (and still does), so this time (as I think
the sound here isn't too bad, albeit not studio quality), I'm showing Connie live at the Grand Ole Opry in 1965 -


'Nobody But A Fool', yet again written by Anderson, was Smith's 5th release and 4th top 5 hit, again reaching # 4 in 1966. In this song, the woman is less helpless and naive, but more outspoken, angered how her lover has cheated on
her and angrily says back to him - "nobody but a fool would love you" -



Tomorrow we'll look at why Connie Smith never became well known outside of the confines of the country music world - unlike the likes of Lynette Lyn, Tammy Wynette or Dolly Parton who attracted much broader success..
 
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Although she would stay a fixture of the top 10 until the early ’70s and continues recording to this day, and despite being widely recognised by her peers such as Dolly Parton, George Jones, Merle Haggard etc (as listed yesterday) as country music's best female vocalist since Patsy Cline, why was Connie Smith not as popular or highly regarded as those same peers. There's several reasons.

From the sources - after having relative overnight success, when she was already married with a child. Smith looked
upon stardom at best with ambivalence. She didn’t focus on scaling the heights of the entertainment industry with
the single-minded tenacity shown by some artists of her generation. She struggled with the demands of professional entertaining, especially leaving her children to travel and perform - she basically only performed around Nashville except for a select few TV performances in NYC. Because of her lack of interest in courting pop audiences, avoiding thenmore luctrative pop- country road, sticking to pure country, she had no crossover hits (unlike Dolly Parton amongst others). Even (and maybe because) her first marriage fell apart even as she became a star, she also took periodic time off from her singing career to raise her family.

Furthermore, Smith hated the unsavory elements of the music business, from the unscrupulous behavior of DJs and club owners she encountered to her favorite country stars' self-destructive habits of too much booze, pills and other stuff (of which we've already seen lots of examples in this history with plenty more to come). This, and the failure of her short second marriage led her to her embracing evangelical religion full-on in the early 1970's, recording less mainstream
music and instead getting it written into her contract to record a gospel album every year.

Now from me - first, Smith wasn't a song-writer, which didn't matter early in her career but starting from the latter 1960's, the market swung towards preferring singer-songwriters. An much bigger factor for me was that, in listening
to Connie's music of the 1960's, while each individually showed her powerful vocals and no-one worked better with a
steel guitar, a certain collective sameness emerged - not just in her sound but in the lyrics of the songs she recorded.
She too often sang about hapless, naive females who tearfully wondered why there man had just shot through, where and, amongst more tears, when he would they return (why would he?). One can contrast this to the types of sassy, sometimes angry, always stand-up-for-themselves interesting women that Lynette Lynn sang about.

Now back to Connie's music, starting off from when we left off in 1966 Smith came as close as she ever come to the
pop-friendly, strings-adorned mainstream party and further cemented herself as the best vocalists to hit Nashville in
years with 'Ain't Had No Lovin'. Written by Dallas Frazier, the songwriter known for the future Oak Ridge Boys hit 'Elvira' and the Southern gospel standard 'The Baptism of Jesse Taylor', this reached #2 in 1966 -


'The Hurtin's All Over', written by master country songwriter, Harlan Howard, its title a clever play on words, got to
# 3 in 1966 -
"... Yes, the hurtin's all over, all over my body / It started in my heart and it's spread all over me ..."


'Cincinnati Ohio' was one of the many Coniie Smith hits written by Bill Anderson. This more upbeat positive song about improving one's situation by moving from Louisville to Cincinnati (hence much more popular in Cincinnati than Louisville - in fact Cincinnati declared their own "Connie Smith Day" in June 1967), reached # 4 in 1967. This one is live from the Grand Ole Opry at the Rynam -


Coming at a time when Smith was really battling with her fame, her personal life in turmoil, 'Burning A Hole In My Mind', written by Cy Coben, # 5 in 1967, is when she started to show some extra depth to her music’s content and delivery - coming just at the time she started to pull back on her commitment to stardom -


And now for a Connie Smith song about a woman whose man actually did return to her - and is she happy about it!
This Betty Jean Robinson penned song 'Baby's Back Again', reached # 7 in 1967


So Smith’s name remained largely unknown to the mainstream public outside of country music. Nevertheless, she remained very highly respected among those in the know, namely fans of traditional country and from the 1970's onwards, gospel music fans. As her second marriage also quickly fell apart, she did, in time, bring more depth to
her music’s emotional content - ironically after her popularity had peaked.

Tomorrow, however will see that after years of virtual retirement, Connie Smith, helped greatly by finally choosing the right man to marry after 3 divorces, as well as retaining much of her vocal strength into old age, has seen a late career revival and renewed respect for her country credentials.
 

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In 1968, after rushing through a busy period of concerts and TV appearances, had something of a breakdown or ephinany (depending on ones interpretation of it). She basically decided to get herself off the hectic roller coaster of fame, escaping the pressures of constantly touring, recording, and making movie and TV appearances by concentrating on raising her 5 children and becoming more involved in her church. She didn't cease her career altogether but chose to just keep herself in Nashville with limited public exposure, apart from her regular Grand Ole Opry performances. Obviously this limited her popularity, but her priorities were elsewhere - her biographer Colin Escott wrote that Connie rarely speaks about herself, and her living room is lined with portraits of children and grandchildren – not her many awards and glossy on-stage shots.

'Heartbreak Avenue' was from the 1968 album 'Sunshine And Rain', wasn't released as a single but I've included here as
a perfect example of 1960's "classic country" - a combination of Connie Amith's vocals and, of course, that crying steel guitar -


Back when pretty much every country album included multiple cover songs, it was easy to judge how singers handled material sung by their peers. For instance, Smith’s take on this Gordon Lightfoot standard, 'Ribbon of Darkness', stacks
up well against the versions by Marty Robbins and Crystal Gayle. Surprisingly it only got to # 13, but to # 1 in Canada -


As Smith’s career entered a new decade, her sound became even more of a throwback. This statement was true of both her growing gospel catalog and her secular singles, including this Bill Anderson and Jan Howard written ode to the 1950s honky tonk, 'I Never Once Stopped Loving You', which went to # 5 in 1970 -


'Just One Time' was written and originally recorded by Don Gibson in 1961, going to # 2 - one of his string of classic heartbreak songs (see post # 401 at the top of page 17). In 1971, Connie decided to record it and also took it to # 2 -
"... Lips that used to thrill me so / They now thrill someone else I know /
Gone is the love that once was mine / Wish I could see you just one time
..."


Connie's most successful year during the 1970's was 1972. She recorded three big top 10 hits, the most successful being the # 5 'Just What I Am', her strong vocals bringing drama and emotion to the song -


By 1972, Smith began to incorporate more gospel into her act. With the help of her third husband, evangelist Marshall Haynes, she turned her live show into a traveling gospel road show and signed with Columbia, which permitted her to record more straight gospel songs. Though the material didn't score as well on the charts as her secular singles had, she managed to stay in the top 20 during much of the '70s but after she signed with the small label Monument in 1977, most of her singles dropped out of the Top 40 as she went into semi-retirement. She still performed regularly at the Grand Ole Opry as it was handily close to her home, but little else.

But - just when Connie Smith had gone far into middle age and virtual obscurity, seemingly to be forgotten, there came another unexpected twist in her tale - but that's for tomorrow's farewell.
 

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So we return with Connie's career seemingly fading away as the 1970's gave way to the '80's. Her final chart appearance (to date) came with asong written by Steve Earle, 'A Far Cry From You'. This bluegrass-flavored single proved that Smith still belonged atop the list of all-time great female vocalists. This is a fantastic song, her last single to make it onto the country charts, when it reached a much too low (in my opinion) #71 back in 1985 -


Connie's third marriage, after 24 years and 3 daughters, went the same way as her first two. After her 1993 divorce, she vowed never to marry again. But way back in 1970, an 11-year-old fan approached Connie at one of her concerts. That fan was young aspiring musician and mandolin prodigy, Marty Stuart, who loudly proclaimed to his mother that one day he was going to marry Connie Smith. In 1997, that’s just what he did. The 17-year age gap between Connie Smith and Marty Stuart didn't stop the pair from falling in love. The two fell for each other while collaborating on Smith's touted comeback album "Connie Smith", in 1998, her first new album in 20 years. The pair have lived happily (apparently)
ever after since.

Her self-titled 1998 comeback album - just her second full-length release since 1978 - was co-produced by Marty Stuart. Since then, the couple have considerably bolstered each other's careers as co-stars of "The Marty Stuart Show" and as two of the most visible ambassadors for classic and honky tonk country music. Hence, at age 80 (in 2 weeks time) Connie Smith is much more highly regarded now than she was through the 1980's and 90's (and no doubt helped by the ever growing revolt in country music circles against the straight out fake-country pop currently pushed by the industry giants that's polluting the so-called country charts).

And now we skip 36 years to July 2021! Yes - here we have Connie's just released single, from her new album "The Cry
of the Heart'', about to be released in 3 weeks time on August 20th. At age 80 though looking about 25 years younger), her voice (perhaps helped by avoiding moonshine, cocaine and other such stuff along the way) has held up amazingly
well - and her sound and song choice still hasn't fundamentally changed since the 1960's -


Another one from the new album - 'A Million And One' was a # 2 hit for Billy Walker in 1966. Now here's the context
for this video (which maybe would've been better without the groupies). Back in March 1964, as an unknown Nashville newcomer but "discovered" by Bill Anderson, through Anderson’s help, Smith performed on the Ernest Tubb Record Shop’s "Midnite Jamboree" radio show in the very same room as shown in this video (though the great Texan honky tonk pioneer, Ernest Tubb, is now long departed, his shop remains a Nashville icon). Hence this spot has special significance for Connie. The start of the video has Tubb perform one of his honky tonk standards before he introduces Connie 57 years ago.


In March 2021, the U.S. Library of Congress, inducted Connie's classic Bill Anderson written 'Once a Day' into the National Recording Registry as worthy of historic preservation. So to conclude Connie Smith's history, I have two videos of Smith performing her classic hit live - 56 years apart! The first is from 1965 when this song transformed her from near obscurity to instant stardom. The backing singers here are Sonny James' The Southern Gentlemen. Back then Roy Acuff christened Connie the "Sweetheart of the Grand Ole Opry" -

What a "smasharoo"!

Just one month ago, on June 26th, in an unprecedented event in front of a packed audience, Connie “took over” the Grand Ole Opry as the whole show was dedicated in her honour. So here she is, 56 years after she first performed her signature song at the Opry, again showing that even at age 80, she can still deliver -


Smith’s high standing in the country music world was acknowledged in 2011 when she became the first woman to be named artist-in-residence by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Smith's legacy as a country artist finally
landed her a deserved spot in the Country Music HoF in 2012.

Merle Haggard was one of those country legends who held Connie Amith in the highest esteem, proclaiming - “If you’re talking about a country singer, there ain’t nobody better". acclaimed, more than once, he verified Smith’s bona fides in 'Too Much Boogie Woogie', a song on his 2011 album "Working in Tennessee" - “... Some of this mess they call country music ought to be down in the big abyss. There’s too much boogie woogie, and not enough Connie Smith ...".

When I'm next back with this history, it'll be on another major sixties star - but one who really has been pretty much forgotten.
 

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Our next artist who rose to stardom in the 1960's is unusual in several ways - first, instead of our usual rural dirt poor born and raised artist, he came from a wealthy family with famous southern aristocracy ancestors - and had a close connection to a once famous singer of the 1920's. Second, he had a high tenor voice, not unusual in itself but rare in country music. Third, though not as dominant as Buck Owens or Sonny James, he was a major star with a string of
# 1 hits from the mid sixties to 1969, more top 10 hits in the seventies and still charted right through the eighties -
yet, with the possible exception of 2 songs, he's now seemingly forgotten - there's not much about him out there.

Born in 1938 near Shreveport, Louisiana, David Houston’s forefathers included Sam Houston, the general who led
the fight for Texas’ independence from Mexico (and for whom the city of Houston is named after), and the Civil War confederate general Robert E. Lee. His parents were friends of the big 1920's singing star, Gene Austin (of 'My Blue Heaven' fame), who was his godfather and encouraged his talent. Growing up in Shreveport, home of the Louisiana Hayride which, thanks to Hank Williams and a young Elvis Presley, had by the mid-fifties come to rival the Grand Ole
Opry itself in popularity, particularly amongst the young, certainly helped (as it did to another Shreveport native in
Faron Young).

At age 12, Houston won a guest spot on the Hayride, later joining the cast as a regular member. During his teen years,
he completed his college education, then in the late 1950s began touring and appearing on local TV and radio shows.
He made his debut single 'Blue Prelude' in 1955 and encouraged by his manager, Tillman Franks (who's had quite a few mentions in this history already as the manager of Louisians Johnny Horton, Webb Pierce and Claude King) he made a one-off single for Sun Records in Memphis, ‘Sherry’s Lips’.

Apparently Houston's soaring tenor voice (surely influenced by his old mentor, Gene Austin) wasn't totally appreciated -
it certainly wasn't what Sam Phillips was looking for at Sun Records, and (with the "Singing cowboy" era having passed) neither was anyone else in country music circles. Thus, despite his high society family connections, he found trouble getting further work in the music business, and ended up as an insurance underwriter. But record producer and song-writer, Billy Sherrill, brought Houston back into the fold when Epic Records was still a young label in 1963 and wanted
to enter the country market. Houston repaid Sherrill's judgement with its first real hit, 'Mountain of Love', which reached
# 2 in 1963 (held out of # 1 spot by Buck Owens' by 'Love's Gonna Live Here').

This song is very unlike all the other Houston hits to come - here Houston uses his night tenor to make a fun piece of "mountain music", with a deliberately exaggerated yokel accent in a high, Bill Monroe like, bluegrass key - an astute choice for his tenor voice and one that got him high on the chart in 1963 -


Following his breakthrough hit (albeit more a novelty song), Houston's next single sounded far too much like Johnny Horton's 'Battle of New Orleans' from 4 years earlier (see post # 308), only not as punchy and was lucky to make the
top 40. His next was a yodelling number which made the top 20 and further top 20 hits followed where he developed
his sound until he finally struck back near the top again with ‘Livin’ In A House Of Love’ which made # 2 in 1965.
Coming at a time when British Pop Beat had swept through the U.S. - even into parts of the South - this must've
appealed to a lot of those missing their rockabilly from the 1950's -


Now we come to Houston's biggest ever hit by far - one still remembered by some, with over 2 million combined downloads on YouTube over the past decade. Again written by his producer Billy Sherrill, ‘Almost Persuaded’, not only topped the country charts but also crossed over into the pop top 30. It established Houston as one of country music’s
top balladeers, spending 9 weeks atop the chart. For 46 years, no song equaled or bettered this feat until Taylor Swift controversially matched the 9 week record in 2012, when the totally pop non-country song 'We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together' was cynically put on the country charts - and it's been happening ever since, so that the country chart
now rarely include actual country music, but filled with pappy soft pop!

But back to the topic here - this is a terrific song of nearly cheating - put yourself in the situation of the singer - you're
far away from home, perhaps on a business trip, hitting the hotel bar alone, feeling a bit lonely ... it happens all the time somewhere (apart from covid lockdowns and travel bans) ... so you meet a lonely travelling stranger, chat over a few drinks and what happens next? - well the outcome of this song was inevitable in 1965, otherwise it wouldn't have been given any airtime back then -

Houston won 2 Grammy Awards for Best Country Recording and Best Male Country Performance in 1967 for 'Almost Persuaded', back when these awards didn't have a hundred different categories and meant a lot. 'Almost Persuaded'
also began a long string of top 5 Houston singles through to 1973, including 6 more # 1's, making him one of the
most successful artists in that period.

'With One Exception' was also written by Billy Sherrill with Glenn Sutton, and in 1967 was Houston's second # 1. After the runaway success of 'Almost Persuaded', Houston (or his producer and songwriter, Sherrill) clearly decided to go to the well again with another "almost cheating" song - but this one, though it again showcases Houston's tenor voice, is just a bit too sentimental and hasn't endured like 'Almost Persuaded' -


'You Mean the World to Me', yet another written by Billy Sherrill with Glenn Sutton as the title track from the album "You Mean the World to Me", and was Houston's third # 1 hit in 1967. This is one of those upbeat happy romantic songs and in more than any other of his songs, he really gets to show off the control of his tenor voice -


So after having a string of hits, including 3 # 1', all written by his producer, Billy Sherrill, we leave David Houston in 1967 and will return tomorrow to follow him to his end.
 

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For someone who had 7 # 1 hits and 22 top 10 hits in the ten years from 1966 to 1975, David Houston seems little remembered these days - of the dozens of artists I've covered, a number of whom weren't so commercially successful
as Houston, he has the least amount of information about him out there - nothing about his personal life except he had
a son and not even one semi-interesting story, let alone hint of any scandal, sorry to say.

Reasons would include that he didn't write his own songs (but he wasn't alone back then when, but came to be seen as a factor later), he didn't appear to have had any sort of interesting personality or lifestyle, unlike so many other stars, and his music, especially after his first hit - which happened to be his biggest and his best with 'Almost Persuaded', came to
be somewhat generic and didn't date well. Another important factor is he didn't die young enough while still in his prime like Johnny Horton, Patsy Cline or Jim Reeves to become immortalised or live long enough to become a revered elder statesman of the 1960's "classic country" era. Anyway it's time to travel back to 1967 again.

In 1967, Tammy Wynette had just secured her first # 10 hit when she recorded a duet with the established star,
Houston, which became her first # 1, and his fourth. 'My Elusive Dreams' was (yet again) written by Billy Sherrill and Curly Putman. Putman recorded his song in March 1967 which peaked at #41. The song was then recorded by a number of major artists (as was the standard practice back then before copyright laws were tightened). By far the most successful cover was the one by Houston and Wynette, reaching # 1 hit in 1967.

This road song follows a restless dreamer and his wife, as he attempts to find an ever-elusive and lasting happiness pursuing various dreams and schemes, all which fail. His futile attempts at success include stops in at least 6 states - Texas, Utah, Birmingham Alabama, Memphis Tennessee (where the wife gave birth to their child) and later Nashville, Nebraska and finally Alaska (it seems their child died and was buried there). He finally admits to his resigned wife that
he recognizes she's tired of following him around the country as he chases his useless dreams. I've met a few along the way that fit this solid country song of unfulfilled dreams -

In her autobiography, Tammy later said she would never record another song with David Houston again "even if he was the last man left alive". This seemed to have the kernel of a good story but alas it was only about the money - Houston, as the incumbent star, had a contract which screwed Tammy out of virtually all the royalties - par for the course in the music industry. Tammy should've blamed her manager instead.

On to 1968 and, yes, another Billy Sherrill written song 'Already it's Heaven', Houston's sixth # 1 in just 2 years. Sherrill knew how to write songs specifically for Houston so as to use his strong tenor vocal skills to full effect. This song is one that captures that excitement of having a new love -


'Where Love Used to Live' continues the long run of big hits for Houston written by Billy Sherrill and Glenn Sutton,
peaking at # 2 in 1968. Another of those country songs about stuff that happens in real life, like an innocent catch-up, (supposedly), a massive misunderstanding and resultant mistrust, strife and heartbreak - only this one also features an unlikely happy ending -
"... I had stopped off for a drink on my way home / Saw an old girl friend at a corner all alone /
She said let's have a drink just for old time sake / I sat down with her and that was my mistake
..."


Now a song not written by Billy Sherrill. 'Baby, Baby (I Know You're a Lady)' is notable for 2 reasons - it was Houston's 7th and final # 1 hit, spending 4 weeks atop the chart in 1969. It was also the first song to hit # 1 (of so many over the next 4 decades) for Nashville songwriting great, Norro Wilso -


For the last Houston song, I chose one that wasn't released as a single but was a cover of a truly great songwriter. One
of the many interesting aspects of country music albums of the 1960's and 1970's is the sheer number of cover tunes
on them - a legacy both of looser copyright laws back then and accepted practice. It'd be amusing if that was allowed to happen today - and the advantage for the music consumer (if not for the original artist) was one had a choice versions to choose from - especially, as in this case, the cover was by a much better vocalist than the orig Mal songwriter. Anyhow, Houston tackled the 1969 #5 hit by Tom T. Hall on his 1970 "Baby, Baby" album and does a pretty good job! Tom T. Hall was a great songwriter but not much of a singer. Houston was no songwriter but a great vocalist. The lyrics of this song compelled me to include it -


During his career, Houston had 7 # 1 hits, 22 in the top 10 and 61 chart entries from 1963, the last, ‘A Penny For Your Thoughts Tonight Virginia’, a minor hit on the Country International label in 1989. In 1991, Houston appeared in the UK
at Wembley’s International Festival of Country Music. Houston, who joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1972, made his last appearance on the show on 6 November 1993. He then suffered a ruptured brain aneurism and remained in a coma
until his death 5 days later in his home town of New Orleans, just a week before his 58th birthday.

Yet for all his success, Houston hasn't been admitted into the Countey Music HoF and it seems he won't be - his time having passed, his music mostly forgotten. One primary source I used concluded - "He is remembered by his country music associates for his knowledge of the music and its artists", which really is faint praise.

When I next return with the history, it'll be about an absolute A-grade legend (and a living one at that) - especially with traditional countries music fans.
 
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Professor Knowall

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Dolly Parton is amongst the popular contenders for the title of "America's greatest living female singer". However, for country music purists, I think our next artist would get the nod even over Dolly. Her life story reads more like fiction
than fact and ticks all the country music cliques. Born in a one-room log cabin in a remote Appalachian "holler" (one of hundreds of narrow Appalachian valleys or hollows), the second of 8 children, raised in dire poverty with no electricity or sewerage and with no real education, married at age 15 (the average marriage age in her county back then), a mother at 17, a housewife with 4 children by age 20, she became one of country music’s most revered songwriters and performers - and remains so. Her life would make a good Hollywood movie.

Born Loretta Webb in 1932 in Butcher Hollow, a small coal mining town in far East Kentucky, deep in the Appalachian moonshine country, into a large musical family (as pretty much all Appalachians families were, being about the only source of entertainment), at age 15 she attended a pie social, bringing an apple pie she had baked using salt instead
of sugar. The highest bidder not only won the pie but also got to meet the girl who had baked it. “Doo” was a 21-year-
old war veteran with a well deserved reputation as a hell raiser. A month after they first met, Loretta and Mooney Lynn married. A year later, the couple moved right across the nation to Washington State, where Mooney had heard that job opportunities were better. It was the first time the 7 month pregnant Loretta, at age 16, had ever left her home town! Mooney found work while Loretta had their first child. By the time she was 20, she had 4 children.

Like everyone she knew, Loretta had grown up surrounded by country music and often sang around the house, recalling later - “I thought everybody sang, because everybody up there in Butcher Holler did. Everybody in my family sang. So I really didn’t understand until I left Butcher Holler that there were some people who couldn’t. And it was kind of a shock.”

Isolated from her native culture and burdened with domestic work, she turned to music for solace - “Before I was singing, I cleaned house; I took in laundry; I picked berries. I worked 7 days a week. I was a housewife and mother for 15 years before I was an entertainer. And it wasn’t like being a housewife today. It was doing hand laundry on a board and cooking on an old coal stove. I grew a garden and canned what I grew. That’s what’s real. I know how to survive". Doo heard her singing at her chores and declared she sounded better than anyone he heard on the radio except Kitty Wells (see posts
# 238-239).

Inspired, Doo bought Loretta a $15 guitar so she could play as she sang and also told her to write down songs she
made up - “After he got me the guitar, I went out and bought a Country Song Roundup. I looked at the songs in there and thought, ‘Well, this ain’t nothing. Anybody can do this.’ I just wrote about things that happened. I was writing about things that nobody talked about in public, and I didn’t realize that they didn’t. I was having babies and staying at home. I was writing about life. That’s why I had songs banned.” Her songs were so forthright because she didn’t know any better.

After Loretta had taught herself to play guitar, Doo next booked her to play at the local hall, bragging that his wife could sing better than anyone. Soon Loretta was performing with a local band and within months formed a band of her own. Doo pushing her to perform in area honkytonks then nightclubs. Executives from Zero Records heard her in a nightspot in Vancouver, Canada and soon recorded her debut single, 'I’m a Honky Tonk Girl' for the tiny label. Doo paid for a hundred discs which he posted out to country music radio stations nationwide. Loretta made herself a fringed cowgirl outfit, and she and Doo drove right across the country to Nashville in his old Mercury sedan (which they lived in) promoting the single by dropping in at radio station after station (Loretta changing in the car into her cowgirl outfit at each visit). It worked - at a convenience store, they heard her song on the radio and at their next radio station they called in, they found out it had become a hit.

'I’m a Honky Tonk Girl' is essentially an extension of Kitty Wells’ pioneering single 'It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels' (see post # 238) the story of a woman whose tough luck has made honky tonkin’ the best available option. It served as both an effective mission statement – here’s a woman who plans to sing frankly about what it’s like to be a woman – and an explosive showcase of Lynn’s vocal talent - Merle Haggard once said this, the first song Lynn ever recorded, at age 28, simple, without any sophistication, was his favourite - her purest country song -
"... So fill my glass up to the rim / To lose my memory of him /
I've lost everything in this world / And now I'm a Honky Tonk Girl
..."

On the strength of this hit Lynn, upon her arrival in Nashville, still living in their car, secured an invite to perform at the Grand Ole Opry in September 1960. She and Doo slept in their car parked right at the front of the Rynam for the night. Loretta had a bigger hit with 1962’s 'Success'. It became the first of her 51 top-10 hits and led to an invitation to join the Grand Ole Opry cast later that year. Her fellow Opry cast member Patsy Cline taught her how to dress, style her hair and wear make-up. The Wilburns began featuring her on their nationally syndicated TV series. She sang a series of sassy domestic ditties with her childhood hero, Ernest Tubb. As a solo, she hit her stride with 'Wine, Women and Song' in
1964 and 'Happy Birthday' in 1965, both of them feisty, don’t-step-on-me numbers.

A more modern version of the sentiment in her 1964 # 3 hit 'Wine, Women and Song' is “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll,” and right out of the gate, Lynn didn’t shy away from calling it like she saw it. The swing-style tune is heavy on the honky-tonk piano, glossy pop harmonies and tumbling drums with a decidedly R&B influence - “Well one of these nights you gonna come home you find it’s comin’ home to you / You see what you’ve done and what’s good for one it’s also good for two” rings the hook. The song unwinds smoothly until she bites hard with some of her most honest lyrics. “When you in the doghouse with the mingy ole pup, you may start to thinkin’ and a givin’ up your wine women and song,” she smirks on
the final stanza. This functions as a thematic precursor to her later work. The protagonist here is dreaming of one day making sure her no-good, money-spending husband will get his just desserts - a promise she later fulfilled with songs such as 'Don't Come Home a-Drinkin' (With Lovin' on Your Mind)' -


Lynn's 'Happy Birthday' isn't a cover of the standard celebratory greeting. Written by Ron Kitson, the gently loping song is a very pointed message to an ex with a wandering eye and a new lady. Lynn wishes him well on all holidays, not just his natal anniversary, but is firm that she's leaving him and no longer taking any disrespect. A pitch-perfect kiss-off, this song epitomized the kind of brash wit that she was already becoming known for - “... Guess who doesn’t care?” was sung with gusto. It became a surprise smash, staying in the top 10 for 15 weeks, peaking at # 3 in 1964 – crystallizing Lynn’s status as a rising star to be reckoned with. -


Here, Loretta Lynn’s voice is at its earthy, rich best as she laments a love lost to the charms of the big city. 'Blue Kentucky Girl' was written specifically for the Kentucky native by Johnny Mullins and got to # 7 in 1965. It also later inspired Emmylou Harris’ country breakthrough album of the same name. -


The second Loretta Lynn written song to enter Billboard’s country chart and was most topical at that time - the patriotic title 'Dear Uncle Sam' belieing the heartbreaking conflict Lynn depicts within its lyrics - that of a woman who, despite loving her country, wishes her husband hadn’t had to go fight in Vietnam. Despite being released 56 years ago, the sentiments within the song remain just as relevant in the modern world - including Australia. The unnamed protagonist
is penning a letter to the titular patriotic figure, explaining that her beloved is happy to be serving his country. You can guess how it ends - she's writing with sad news and as a mournful trumpet plays 'Taps', she reveals a telegram has arrived with terrible news, implied to be her beau's death. Reaching # 4 in 1966, the song was one of the earliest examples of Lynn’s ability to convey her own distinctive but relatable political perspective via a few plain-spoken
lyrics. There's a reason why Lynn still sang 'Dear Uncle Sam' in concert 50 years later -
"Dear Uncle Sam I know you're a busy man / And tonight I write to you through tears with a trembling hand /
My darling answered when he got that call from you / You said you really need him but you don't need him like I do
..."


Tomorrow we will see Loretta Lynn ascend to the very top with some of her best known songs, transforming her into a country music superstar - but with a look at the then secret reason behind her feisty lyrics.
 

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Lynn was married for almost 50 years until her husband died at age 69 in 1996 - to the general public, it appeared to be the perfect marriage. Lynn has always credited Doo for pushing her into a singing career, and for doing a great job as her manager (despite having absolutely no previous show biz experience). In her 2002 autobiography "Still Woman Enough" she wrote "I married Doo when I wasn't but a child, and he was my life from that day on. But as important as my youth and upbringing was, there's something else that made me stick to Doo. He thought I was something special, more special than anyone else in the world, and never let me forget it. That belief would be hard to shove out the door. Doo was my security, my safety net. And just remember, I'm explainin', not excusin'... Doo was a good man and a hard worker. But
he was an alcoholic, and it affected our marriage all the way through".
She recounted how Doo cheated on her regularly and once left her while she was giving birth. They fought frequently but she said ".. he never hit me one time that I didn't hit him back twice as hard". And with this, you have the (once) inspiration for the lyrics of son many of her songs - she took out her frustrations and anger with her binge-drinking, cheating (but otherwise supportive) husband in her songs.

So we start today with a feisty track that proved to any doubters that Lynn was not to be messed with and again inspired by real-life events, 'You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)' calls out the other woman in Lynn’s own unapologetic and humorous way. In 2016, Lynn explained the background of the song, which is based on a backstage encounter with a fan who confided that a rival was hitting on her husband. When Lynn returned to her dressing room following the show, in a fit of anger, she wrote the song in 10 minutes. It’s hard to beat the wordplay of this Lynn classic, showing how efficient and sharp Lynn’s songwriting had already become, just a few years into her storied career, as well as just how powerful her voice was - powerful enough to cut through the still male-dominated airwaves and reach # 2 in 1966 -
“... Women like you they’re a dime a dozen, you can buy ‘em anywhere /
For you to get to him I’d have to move over and I’m gonna stand right here /
It’ll be over my dead body so get out while you can
..." -


Liquor and love they just don’t mix ...”, Lynn avows in the 1966 honky tonk hit, 'Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With
Lovin’ on Your Mind', one of the many songs inspired by her husband and her first # 1, a milestone for both her and
for country music more broadly - it was the first time a woman had both written (co-wrote with her sister Peggy Sue Wells) and performed a # 1 song (and only the seventh time a solo woman artist had topped the chart at all). She claimed those trophies with typical panache - the song was controversial for its sordid implication that women might
have sex - or refuse.

It's Lynn's high-strung brashness that pulls the story along in a boozy haze, and the sharpness of her pen was no doubt destructively real for her. Her free-wheeling beau is out slinging drinks with the boys until the early hours of the morning - or worse (for the singer) - "… Just stay out there on the town and see what you can find / 'Cause if you want that kind
of love well you don't need none of mine
...". In no uncertain terms, she tells her man that she's tired of playing second fiddle to his drunken carousing and barhopping - "... You never take me anywhere because you're always gone ..." she sings, while stressing that he better not be looking for any sweetness when he arrives home. She gives her drunken, cavalier husband an ultimatum to either “... leave a bottle or me behind...". She soaks her pillow in tears - there is an edge of sorrow glistening across the resolve of her signature vocal - "... Many a night I've laid awake and cried dear all alone ..." - but she remains steadfast and while the story never fully plays out, I suspect she ended up dumping all his belongings on the front lawn (I won't say why I think that) as she again sings - “... Just stay out there on the town, and see what you can find ...". Of course, no profanities were allowed back then - but they can be easily imagined -


While out on tour, Lynn caught wind Doolittle was "catting around with a kitty.” With a truly spectacular title befitting the vivid imagery that lies within, the battle cry 'Fist City' was Loretta Lynn’s second # 1 in 1968 (and probably the first to include the threat of hair-pulling). One of her sassiest songs ever, 'Fist City', a take-no-prisoners warning shot in which Lynn is ready to do battle with the woman who provided special attention to her husband. It was inspired by a real-life woman who attempted (and was woman enough to apparently succeed) in seducing Doolittle while she was onstage, giving “... I’m Gonna Hurt Her On The Radio... ” a whole new meaning.

The song's title alone shows her fighting feelings toward the matter, but it's Lynn's blatant insults toward the other
woman (e.g. comparing her to trash) and the not-so-vague threats of a knuckle sandwich that make this song such a fierce, empowering anthem. The singer doesn’t mince her words - “... I’ll show you what a real woman is since you think you’re hot stuff... ,” she affirms, dolling up the mistress trope with a gutsy wit. Later, she maintains, “... I’ll grab you by the hair of the head and lift you off of the ground...”. Lynn is first to admit she knows her man ain’t a saint, but she warns the other woman better “... lay off of my man if you don’t want to go to fist city...” One can imagine a helluva cat fight -


Lynn was always proud of her Kentucky holler mountain roots and she made it clear in her 1971 # 5 hit 'You're Lookin'
at Country'. “Well I like my lovin’ done country-style,” might now seem nothing more than a cliché country lyric, but at the time it was an unexpected rallying cry from Lynn, who had mostly made her name telling off no-good drunken and cheating men (and women) and lamenting lost love. Lynn penned this clever song that uses subtle double entendres
to espouse the joys of the actual country life and compare herself to the idea of it. She self-describes herself as "old-fashioned" and "a little green" but admits - "I'll show you around if you'll show me a weddin' band." Carrie Underwood covered this song in 2010, and Lynn herself performed the song with Kacey Musgraves at the 2014 CMA Awards. The song, which Lynn wrote on a tour bus, looking at rolling country hills, remains one of her most enduring hits –


Written by Shel Silverstein, the 1972 # 1 'One's On The Way' is a half-harried, half-slapstick take on the chaos and exasperation of motherhood and marriage - also the cult of celebrity (it existed back then too), done with cunning and wit. The protagonist is perpetually pregnant and living in the unremarkable middle America city of Topeka, Kansas, where she's trying to keep some comtrol over her growing brood. The dissimilarities of rearing many children and trying to keep a marriage intact amongst the flashy fantasies of Jackie Kennedy and Elizabeth Taylor are compounded greatly by Lynn’s sheepish portrayal of middle America. Even so, she made sure to express her gratitude for the workingwoman. Musing on pivotal women of the time, she sings, “... I’m glad Raquel Welch just signed a million dollar pact / And Debbie’s out in Vegas workin’ up a brand new act..." - which kind of alludes to her own path out of poverty to stardom.

While “The Pill” really did “change the world tomorrow,” (as she unwittingly predicted the subject of a future big hit), this mostly upbeat ode to the trials of being a housewife (when that was still the norm) hints at some of the same struggles Lynn would paint a darker picture of on her 1980’s 'Pregnant Again' - what the American Dream looks like when you’re a working class woman. Lynn’s producer Owen Bradley believed the fact this catchy tune topped the chart was only possible because of Lynn's ability to inhabit the songs character - which wasn't much of a stretch, given she had 4 kids by age 20 and 2 more (twins) after she became a star - giving the song a convincing reality - "... The girls in New York City, they all march for women's lib / And better homes and garden shows the modern way to live / And the pill may change the world tomorrow, but meanwhile, today / Here in Topeka, the flies are a buzzin' / The dog is a barkin' and the floor needs a scrubbin' / One needs a spankin' and one needs a huggin' Lord, one's on the way ..." -
Here is Lynn performing it live at the Grand Ole Opry -
 

Professor Knowall

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Though largely unknown in Australia and the U.K., where pop country ruled the genre, the straight down the line honky tonk country singer, Loretta Lynn became the biggest female country star and from 1967 she began picking up various "Female Vocalist of the Year" trophies. The industry showered her with BMI songwriting honors, Gold Record plaques, a Grammy Award and other accolades. In 1972, she became the first woman in history to win the CMA "Entertainer of the Year" trophy. By the mid-1970s, Lynn was an undeniable superstar. She was featured on the covers of Newsweek (1973), Redbook(1974) and many other mainstream national publications. With her quick, down to earth humor, scrambled grammar and unpretentious manner, she became a TV talk-show favorite. She also became known for taking country music into topics never go s i to before. It's hard to imagine now but in the 1970's 14 of her songs were banned from radio - mostly in the conservative south - “Every time I had a song banned,
it went number one,
” she said later. “So I didn’t worry about it anymore.”

The third of Loretta Lynn’s 4 most controversial songs, 'Rated X' takes its theme from Jeannie Riley’s massive hit, 'Harper Valley P.T.A.' (of which Lynn had already done her own version). Written and recorded by Lynn in 1972, 'Rated X' detailed the double standards placed upon women. Though regarded controversial at the time, that didn't stop it from going to
# 1. It was released a few weeks after Lynn became the first woman ever to win "Entertainer of the Year" at the CMAs, almost seeming like an open rebuke to the music establishment despite the fact Lynn had simply penned it to describe
the challenges facing any woman who had been divorced back in the 1970's, when the legal concept of "no-fault divorce" was still being introduced state by state - and the sexually experienced divorced woman (at a time in the South when
pre-marriage sex still wasn't all that common) was an object of suspicion by other women and of sexual desire by men -
"... Well nobody knows where you're goin' / but they sure know where you've been /
All they're thinkin' of is your experience of love / their minds eat up with sin /
The women all look at you like you're bad and the men all hope you are /
But if you go too far you're gonna wear the scar of a woman rated X
..."


Loretta Lynn’s first regular duet partner was Ernest Tubb in the mid 1960's. Although Tubb was nearly 20 years older than Loretta, together they hit with 'Mr. and Mrs. Used to Be' and 'Sweet Thang'. However, as her career began to rise, it was suggested she record duets with someone closer to her age. The result was someone she actually adored as a teenager - former rock and roller Conway Twitty. From 1971 to 1981, they teamed up for nearly a dozen studio records. Twitty was still better known as an R&B and rock singer than a country star when he began what became a decade long duetting partnership with Lynn. A series of 5 consecutive # 1 songs together helped cement both of their status at the top of the country heap. Lynn and Twitty also won a long string of "Duet of the Year" awards starting from 1971. 'Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man' from 1973 was their third hit # 1 hit. It has a distinct up-tempo Louisiana Cajun sound, including a Cajun accordion -


Lynn's 1973 # 1 hit 'Hey Loretta' was penned for by Shel Silverstein (yes, that one again), but on record she sounds just as convincing as if she’d written every word herself. It was one of the most commercially-successful examples of the kind of sharp, unexpected songs Lynn frequently recorded from esteemed writers like Kris Kristofferson and Tom T. Hall. This features some of the singer's more daring lines. Fed up with being treated like a maid by her husband, the song's narrator threatens to leave him for a brand new life filled with new men and more glamour -
"... You can feed the chickens / you can milk the cow / This woman's liberation is gonna start right now..."


'As Soon As I Hang Up The Phone' remains one of Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty's most aching collaborations, a rare sung/spoken duet with Twitty’s spoken interjections as Lynn delivers the slow-building melody. It’s a visceral concept to display the final moments of their relationship, and as they reflect on the rumors, their love crumbles underneath the insurmountable weight - “I knew you’d tell me they were wrong as soon as I picked up the phone,” Lynn sings, longing
for the hearsay to be false. But it’s not. “... I can’t believe that we’re through...,” she later weeps. Twitty replies, through the static of an old landline (the song was actually recorded with Twitty in another room on the telephone to Lynn in the recording booth) - “... I really thought that I loved you, and you know that….I never meant to hurt you.” -


One of the few country songs to openly discuss birth control, 'The Pill', with its subject matter of a wife getting on birth control because she's sick of having babies with her husband and wanting to go out and enjoy life like her husband was one of Lynn's most controversial songs. The song was a top 5 hit in 1975 and is now one of her signature songs. The pill itself only became available - for married women only - in the 1960's and was only legalised for single women in the U.S. by the supreme court in 1972. Unsurprisingly (for back then in the South, mid-west and rural America), the song was banned by more than 60 radio stations (despite the lyrics making clear the woman in the song was married) but, as recorded by "People" magazine, when a Kentucky preacher condemned the song "the effect was to send much of the congregation scurrying out to buy the record".

The song itself has a hint of funk and a strident vocal performance. Lynn hints at her own personal life in the song (having had 6 kids herself, 4 by age 20 to her husband who loved to go out on the town and womanise) as she has had enough of getting pregnant every year and she’s now ready and able to make “... up for all those years...”. It’s quirky, clever and uplifting, as she marvels in her newfound sense of freedom -“... Mini-skirts. Hot pants. And a few little fancy frills,” she lists off, antsy for all the trendy fashions she’ll now be able to wear. Later, she smirks, “And you can’t afford to turn it down ‘cause you know I’ve got the pill!


Tomorrow will bring the remainder of Loretta Lynn's history up to the present day.
 

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Loretta Lynn published her first autobiography, Coal Miner's Daughter, in 1976. In 1980, the book was adapted for the screen, with Sissy Spacek as Loretta and Tommy Lee Jones as Doolittle Lynn. Showing how she was raised in dire poverty in a remote Appalachian Kentucky hamlet, living in a mountain cabin with her 7 brothers and sisters, but surrounded by music as a child, and how Doo took her away, it was one of the most critically acclaimed and successful films of the year, and Spacek won the Academy Award for her performance. All of the attention surrounding the movie made Lynn a household name within the American mainstream.

Lynn wasn't the only musician in the family. Of her 7 siblings, her younger brother, Jay Lee, also pursued a music career, starting in Loretta's band before becoming a well known country singer, with his most popular song being 'I Come Home A-Drinkin' (To a Worn-Out Wife Like You)', a comeback to Loretta's 1967 hit 'Don't Come Home A Drinkin'. The fifth in the brood, Donald Webb, was a songwriter who penned 'Clock on the Wall'a song recorded by the youngest of the siblings, Crystal Gayle. Younger sister, Peggy Sue Wright was a prolific singer with 5 country music albums. She also co-wrote Lynn's 'Don't Come Home A-Drinkin' (With Lovin' On Your Mind)' and did background vocals for the youngest, Crystal Gayle. Starting as a backing singer in Loretta's band, with Loretta helping her get her own recording contract, Gayle became a huge star in her own right, crossing over to pop country market and, like Loretta, she has had a long and distinguished career.

"The coal miners daughter" Lynn continued to dominate the charts as the 1970's drew to a close, however as the market became much more pop flavoured in the 1980's, she finally fell from the heights of the charts. She never “sold out,” as the purists put it, remaining more or less country even when that meant her sales took a hit – and ultimately, as we have seen with some other steadfast and long lived artists like Bobby Bare and Connie Smith, that singular focus and remaining true to her musical roots helped revitalize her career in the 2000's and 2010's. A new generation of younger fans across genres got to know her impossible-to-replicate sound via even more timeless records featuring artists from fellow country legend Willie Nelson to Jack White of "White Stripes" garage rock revival fame.

Loretta Lynn’s 10th # 1 in 1976, 'Somebody Somewhere' penned by Lola Jean Dillon, is an unusual country song without
a villain (like a no-good husband) – it was simply about a lonely woman drowning her sorrows in drinks and sad songs, fighting off loneliness by convincing herself she'd be the perfect match for somebody out there somewhere - that she just hadn’t met yet. As Lynn put it later - “I just thought that if that wasn’t a great jukebox song, somebody somewhere wasn’t listenin’ too good.” -


Following her husband Doolittle's death in 1996, Lynn returned to solo recording after a hiatus of more than 10 years. "Van Lear Rose" was an award-winning top selling album by Loretta Lynn, released in 2004 and produced by Jack White
of the garage rock band The White Stripes. The album was initially intended as a musical experiment, blending the styles of country singer-songwriter Lynn and producer White, who wrote one track, sings a duet with Lynn, and performs on the whole album as a musician. It was hard to imagine an odder couple than Jack White and Loretta Lynn when they began collaborating – at the time of the album's release, Lynn was 72 and White was 28, but the resulting album was not only
a commercial blockbuster, going to # 2, and critically acclaimed, it marked a stripped-down, hard-edged, uncompromising artistic renaissance for the then-72-year-old Lynn.

The albums title refers to Lynn's origins as the daughter of a miner working the Van Lear coal mines and is a collection of Lynn's memories of growing up in Van Lear, Kentucky. From heartbreak ('Miss Being Mrs.') to spellbinding spoken word ('Little Red Shoes'), the album is Lynn at her best. But perhaps the album's brightest moment is the revved-up duet between Lynn and White, 'Portland, Oregon'. The pair duet on this grungy track, Lynn sounding as vibrant and forceful
as she had 40 years prior -


In 2016, Loretta’s first new studio album in over 10 years was released. Produced by her daughter, Patsy Lynn
Russell (named after Patsy Cline) and John Carter Cash (some of Johnny) and recorded at the Cash Cabin Studio in Hendersonville, Tennessee, the aptly named 'Full Circle" took listeners on a journey through Loretta’s musical story,
from the Appalachian folk songs and gospel music she learned as a child, to new interpretations of her classic hits
and country standards, to songs newly-written for the project.

According to Lynn, 'Whispering Sea' is the first song she ever wrote - it’s definitely the first song she ever released, way back in 1960 as the B-side of her first single, 'I'm a Honky Tonk Girl' when she and her husband were living in the back of their Buick, traversing the nation and sending singles to radio stations. The song – which Jack White asked her to revisit during their recent collaborations – has more in common with the wistful, authorless English ballads that formed so much American folk music than the Nashville sound, showing Lynn’s rootedness in the very heart of Appalachia, the birthrock of country music -


The most deeply personal albums of Loretta Lynn’s career, 'Wouldn’t It Be Great' from 2018 communicates in song the hard truths and spiritual insights Loretta has gathered throughout her long life and reflects the resilience that sustains her still. Comprised entirely of songs written (or co-written) by Loretta, the album has new compositions alongside soulful reinterpretations of enduring classics from her catalog.

Loretta Lynn liked the title track 'Wouldn’t It Be Great' so much she recorded it thrice - first on her own, for her 37th
solo album in 1985, then with Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette for their 1994 "Honky Tonk Angels" album of and finally for the 2018 album of the same name. In spite of the optimistic tone Lynn uses, the song is a tragic one – especially when one considers that she wrote it to her husband before he died. “My husband liked to drink a lot" she said simply by way of explanation when the most recent version was released – the rest is clear from the song itself -


I'm finishing with 'Who’s gonna wanna follow in my footsteps, maybe?' As Lynn slyly sings, seemingly a nod to George Jones’ 1985 hit 'Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes' (see post # 412). There is a raw simplicity in the lyrics that makes the
song among her finest moments from 2016’s 'Full Circle'. The echoing, lonesome fiddle drives home the song’s darker, emotional edge. Lynn opines on her impact on the world, not as a musical icon but as a human being. The sorrow is somehow as uplifting as it is devastating, thanks in part to the shimmering melody and production style, as she admits - “Don’t want to move an ocean. Just trying to do my pushing.” -


Lynn owns a huge ranch 70 miles outside of Nashville, which has the whole town of Hurricane Mills in its grounds. Another part of the property, the "Loretta Lynn Dude Ranch", is an iconic tourist attraction for true country music fans with camping facilities. In 1988 Lynn was elected to The Country Music HoF. She published her second autobiography, "Still Woman Enough", in 2002, and in 2003 she received the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors for her lifetime contributions to the arts.
 

Professor Knowall

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Now bringing this home, like with a few others like Hank Williams and Marty Robbins, I've held one song back. When
'Coal Miner’s Daughter' was released in 1970, Loretta Lynn had already racked up 10 years of hits. Through the years, Lynn always wanted to write a song about her childhood, and the chance came while she was waiting to do some TV
work. While on break one day, she headed to her dressing room and wrote 9 verses about her life. Trimmed down to
6 verses in the studio, the song became the most significant record of her career, plus the title of a best-selling book
and a big box-office hit Hollywood movie.

Undoubtedly Loretta Lynn’s best-known and best-loved song, the composition stands as a hallmark of plain-spoken, beautiful country storytelling. As Lynn wove her own origin story, she introduced America to Butcher Holler (and a thousand other hard-scrabble small towns like it) The personal story eventually bred a book and blockbuster movie
by the same title, but it’s Lynn’s sung recollection of her hard-won success (and nostalgia for the simple life that’s
long since passed her by) that remains most powerful.

Lynn's narrative song remains her crowning lyrical and musical achievement. Despite her meteoric rise to fame, she
never lost sight of or stopped paying tribute to her roots. Ripped straight from the American heartland, the heartfelt
tune strengthens the ties of the working class - bloodshed, resilience and family. As the pedal steel sets the background mood, she pulls out scenes from childhood - getting a new pair of shoes each winter, remembering her mum reading the Bible by coal oil light - and reminisces about how things changed when she visited again as an adult. The pride Lynn has in her upbringing, as well as the respect that she has for her parents and how they cared for the family, shines through loud and clear - and no doubt explains why 'Coal Miner's Daughter' endures (and has since been covered by Miranda Lambert and Sheryl Crow). 'Coal Miner's Daughter' captures Lynn's talent, songwriting prowess, honesty and appreciation for her roots. In just 3 minutes, the song sums up Lynn's incredible life and the career that made her a country icon -


And one last number which seems appropriate to end with - a duet by 2 of the greatest living American music legends. 'Lay Me Down' comes off Lynn's 2018 "Full Circle" album, the song was is a reflection on life and a musing on an inevitable approaching mortality for then 83 year old Lynn and 82 year old Nelson, both knowing that their life is mostly behind them with limited years left - but they have both made their mark and can go with few regrets. Filmed in the backstage halls and dressing rooms of Nashville's Municipal Auditorium, Lynn is dressed in one of her iconic gowns, and Nelson has his trusty guitar, Trigger. The song is unhurried, and so are the moments within the video. Lynn and Nelson aren't rushing to get onstage; rather, they're taking their time and living in the moment -


Always remaining true to her country music, at age 89 (even older than Willie Neilson) Loretta Lynn continues to work and record, her latest album, 'Still Woman Enough', featuring new versions of some of her classic hits, was released in March 2021. This is her 50th studio album, not including her 10 studio albums with her late duet partner Conway Twitty.

Loretta Lynn has had 24 # 1 singles, 60 other charted hits, 15 # 1 albums and numerous awards, despite never seeking pop success. Lynn is also one of the most awarded musicians of all time. She has been inducted into more music Halls of Fame than any female recording artist, including The Country Music Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and was the first woman to be named the CMA's Entertainer of the Year in 1972. Lynn received the Kennedy Center Honors in 2003 and a Presidential Medal Of Freedom awarded by President Obama in 2013. Her Grammy Awards include a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010 and she has sold more than 45 million records worldwide - overwhelmingly in the U.S - so far. To take a line from one of her hits - "... If your eyes are on me, you're lookin at country!..."
 

Professor Knowall

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Jack Greene makes my history essentially because of one classic country standard that he took to the top of the
charts. Never a major star and perhaps too modest and unambitious to ever be one, he nevertheless wasn't just a
"one hit wonder." He was a gifted vocalist, and talented all-round musician who scored 5 # 1 hits in the late 1960s.
Known as the “Jolly Greene Giant” because of his amiable, pleasant demeanor and tall stature, Greene also has the distinction of being the very first CMA's male vocalist of the year, first awarded in 1967.

Born in 1930 near the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, Jack Greene developed an interest in music when still a boy,
taking guitar lessons at age 8, then adding drumming to his abilities. As a teenager, he worked as a dj on a local radio station, then performed on the Tennessee Barn Dance radio program. He moved to Atlanta in the late 1940's and became part of the "Cherokee Trio", in which he sang and played guitar or drums. He then joined the "Rhythm Ranch Boys" and was a popular radio entertainer on the "Georgia Jublilee". His career was interrupted for a 2 year stint of military service in Korea as a combat engineer and mechanic, but he returned to Atlanta and joined the "Peachtree Cowboys" as the lead vocalist, drummer, and guitarist (he could've been a one man band), while also working as a salesperson and construction worker to help pay the bills.

In 1959 Greene finally moved back to Tennessee, settled in Nashville and formed his own band, "The Tennessee Mountain Boys". One day in 1961, the band opened for honky tonk pioneer, Ernest Tubb (see posts 161-165), who noticed Greene's talents and asked him to join his band - which he did. For the next few years, he was a drummer, guitarist, vocalist, and M.C. in Tubb's band, "The Texas Troubadors". He was soon opening shows for Tubb, playing guitar and singing. Tubb liked Greene’s singing and urged him to pursue a solo career (though it's also claimed that Tubb, who, as I noted in my history of him, wasn't much of a vocalist, started to get annoyed at his audience continually asking for Greene to keep singing when Tubb entered the stage).

In 1964, Greene released his first solo record with 'The Last Letter' which first appeared on one of Tubb's live albums. Another single followed in 1965 with 'Don't You Ever Get Tired Of Hurtin' Me' which may have become his first big hit - unfortunately it came out at the same time as established star Ray Price's superior version (competing versions being a common practise back then) and so it didn't chart. For all his talent, and getting into his late 30's, it seemed that Greene was one of those many artists who had the talent but not quite the luck or drive to be a star.

But in late 1966, Greene recorded what became an instant country classic. This time luck (along with talent) was on his side as Ferlin Husky (see posts # 362-364) had actually recorded this song a year earlier but (surprisingly given his vocal skills and experience) Ferlin's original version really missed the mark, failing to extract the songs potential - whereas Jack Greene absolutely nailed it, his vocals expressing the desolation contained in the lyrics - making it a country, and even a pop, standard that was soon covered by the likes of Elvis Presley and Engelbert Humperdinck, who had an international pop hit with it. But it's Greene's version that remains THE cover. That song spent 7 weeks at # 1 in 1966 and stayed on the charts for 21 weeks.

The song itself, written by Dallas Frazier, is about a couple who are splitting up, but there's a mystery element to it. The totally despolate singer is adamant the split up will be forever, despite the other person being his "reason for living", his "only possession" and his "everything". Then the other person still (so he says) calls him "darling", despite the seemingly irrevocable split. Has he only just come to realise his feelings towards the other as the door closes? Or is there more to this? - has his other half died and he imagines her addressing him as "darling"? Whatever the case, this is a magnificent country song, one of the very best from the 1960's classic period that's soon to end, and the enduring highlight of Jack Greene's career -

'There Goes My Everything' led to Greene being honoured by the CMA at its first awards presentation in 1967, awarded with the male vocalist, best single, and best album of the year. Frazier was honored with song of the year.

The great success of 'There Goes My Everything' was quickly followed by an LP of the same title, released in December 1966 and reaching # 1 by February 1967. The album was a combination of Greene's previous single releases and (mostly) covers of recent hits by other artists. For me, the pick is the Bill Anderson written heartbreaker, 'Think I'll Go Somewhere And Cry Myself To Sleep', dovetails perfectly as a follow-up to 'There Goes My Everything' (though I think the lyrics would've been more realistic and effective as "Think I'll Go Somewhere And Drink Myself To Sleep") -


Greene's next single release was never likely to match his instant classic, 'There Goes My Everything', and in truth, it's far inferior. The syrupy 'All The Time', at least makes demands on his vocal skills, still managed to hit # 1 again in 1967. This live version from the Grand Ole Opry doesn't actually have back-up singers from Star Treks USS Enterprise - it just looks that way. It's Anita Kerr and her singers, who along with the Jordanaires and the Southern Gentlemen, provided all the back-up sound that permeated 1960's country -


I'm sure one of the reasons Greene's follow-up, 'All The Time' got to # 1 was it's B-side, which for me, is the better
song, 'Wanting You But Never Having You', with it's timeless country theme of being helplessly in love with another
man's woman (at least it ain't his best mates woman) -


'What Locks The Door', written by Vic McAlpin and released as a single in 1967 from the album of the same
name, reached #2 in 1967. This song asks the question of how to get to a woman's heart ... or something -
"What locks the door to the world you're living in?
What kind of key do I need to get in?
I try anything from solid gold to sin
..." -


That's enough for today, leaving off in 1967 with Greene having just had two # 1 and one # 2 hits, including
his one all time classic 'There Goes My Everything'. Greene's career will be concluded tomorrow.
 

Professor Knowall

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I mentioned yesterday that Greene may have lacked the ambition to do what it takes to ascend to enduring stardom. Despite being an obviously gifted vocalist and also an accomplished guitarist and drummer, and originally raised in Tenessee, instead of doing the obvious thing and going to Nashville, he based himself in Atlanta until age 30. There
are multiple references to his laidback, genial nature. It was Ernest Tubb, clearly recognising his talent (and perhaps
not wanting a much better vocalist than himself as his back-up) that pushed him into a sole career - and it wasn't until 'There Goes My Everything' topped the charts for 2 months in 1967, that he finally left Tubb's band - but only with the promise that he could always return to his spot behind the drums if things didn't work out! That's not the sort of stuff to become a superstar. He also relied on others to write his songs and his albums were nearly all covers - factors that became more important into the 1970's. But now it's back to 1969 and the remainder of Green's career.

'Until My Dreams Come True' was another hit for Greene written by Dallas Frazier. It was Greene's fourth # 1, in 1969 - and no wonder, it's another example of a beautifully sung 1960's classic country number -


Greene's fifth and last # 1 hit (but for me, his second best) was 'Statue Of A Fool', written by soul singer David Ruffin, former member of "The Temptations" when he was only 17 in 1958, under the name "Little Eddie Bush". The lyrics made it perfect for a country song and Greene had been trying on and off for 2 years to make something of it - and under the brilliance of Owen Bradley (which you many recall was Chet Atkins chief rival in producing the Nashville Sound), this soulful version was the result, hitting # 1 in 1969 -


A country album cut that's over 4 minutes long from the 1960's? You only find that rarely, but you get it on Greene's 1969 "Back In The Arms Of Love", album where this fine tune is found on. 'I Love You Because' was written and recorded by Leon Payne way back in 1949. The song has since been covered by numerous artists, including Ernest Tubb, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash but by far the most successful versions were by pop singer Al Martino in 1963 and by Jim Reeves, who had a big international hit with it, in 1964 (see post # 385). Greene also had the vocal skills to do this country standard justice, even at this slow tempo - and for lovers of the pedal steel guitar -


A country music standard, 'The Last Letter' was written and recorded way in 1937 by Rex Griffin and covered by many since, most notably by Jimmie Davis in 1939, who first popularised it, followed by The Carter Family and then Ernest
Tubb in 1963 for his Rex Griffin tribute album and also by Willie Nelson the same year. In 1964, Greene released his
first version on the album "Ernest Tubb Presents the Texas Troubadours", becoming a solo a t after its success. 'The
Last Letter' was also covered by Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard and Glen Campbell while Ray Price did a superb cover
- but Greene's version stacks up well against these greats - and he obviously liked this song as he re-recorded it in 1968 and again in 1972. The song tells the story of a suicide letter written by a not so rich man to a woman who prefer a rich husband and the finer things in life (there's no shortage of them around). It described his bitterness and pain for the end of their romance, with a warning about her future happiness -

I note the slideshow shows pics of Greene with a number of country legends like Ernest, Merle, Willie, George, Charley and Loretta (first name basis here) amongst others.

I'm finishing with a "hidden gem", 'Another Bridge To Burn', a song that Greene recorded (obviously) but was never released, either as a single or on any album - despite it being a superb number. From listening, I have determined it
was recorded with Ernest Tubb's "Texas Troubadours" band, the giveaway being the pedal steel guitar style of Buddy Charleston. From this, I'm going with 1964 as the recording date, when Greene was still with the Troubadores, but just before he embarked on his solo career - which may explain why this recording wasn't released commercially. Anyway that's my take (it may be wrong) but the recording mysteriously re-surfaced on YouTube in 2009, just as Greene was having something of a late career popularity revival -
"... Sometimes one must love enough for two / And that's how it's been with me and you /
I see your face in every way I turn / But our love's just another bridge to burn
..." -


In 1969, Greene had a # 2 hit with Hank Cochran’s song ‘I Wish I Didn’t Have To Miss You’, on which he was partnered
by Cochran’s wife, Jeannie Seely. She became part of his road show and they continued to record together - years later she said the partnership probably impeded both their solo careers. From 1970 to 1974, Greene scored another 9 top 20 hits - but none in the top 10. Then, trying to capitalise on the popularity of "outlaw country", he changed the name of the band from the "Jolly Greene Giants" to the "Renegades", but stayed with middle-of-the-road country music. Despite growing his hair long and a beard, Greene, both by his sound and his mellow genial temperament, didn't make for a convincing outlaw.

After his chart success ended, Greene continued to record, tour, and perform regularly on the Grand Ole Opry, where he first became a member in 1967. He and Jeannie Seely became the first-ever artists to record a live concert album at the Grand Ole Opry in 1974. His last album, "Precious Memories, Treasured Friends", was released in 2010. It consisted of duets with numerous artists, including greats George Jones, Merle Haggard, Charley Pride, Vince Gill and Jeannie Seely - showing the respect he had amongst even the greatest stars.

Greene was a regular and popular Opry presence for more than 40 years before retiring in 2011 after being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. But even as he began suffering from the disease, he kept his voice and ability to expressively sing his signature hits. He played the Opry for the final time in December. 2011, performing 'There Goes My Everything", the classic song that had launched his career, an emotional public farewell to a packed out, tearful audience. Greene died from the effects of Alzheimer disease in 2013.

Greene scored five 5 # 1 hits, 9 top 10 and 18 top 20 hits from 1966 to 1974. He was awarded the CMA's very first vocalist of the Year. He also recorded a string of duets with fellow Opry member Jeannie Seely, including the first live album ever recorded at the Opry. Despite his sucess, he is amongst those group of artists that still haven't been inducted into the country music HoF - but should be.

As for the next artist to be featured - in 2017 Rolling Stone Magazine rated him as the Greatest Of All Time , and though I may not quite agree with that (Hank Williams for me), he absolutely has ro be close to it - a top 3 in any worthwhile list.
 

Professor Knowall

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Just in case there's an outside chance someone out there is really "in" to this history, then in order to properly appreciate the background for tomorrow's featured artist, a giant of country music and rivalling Hank Williams as the greatest, you can do some homework by looking back over the greats that (by his own admission) had enourmous influence over his music. These were
Jimmie Rodgers - posts # 120-122 - from whom he got his blues.
Bob Wills - posts 132-130 - from whom he got his swing.
Hank Williams - posts # 205-214 - from whom he got his real life inspired songwriting.
Bakersfield Sound - post # 455 - this influence will become obvious tomorrow.
Buck Owens - post # 456-462 - his electric sound.
Lefty Frizzell - posts # 216-219 - from whom (like George Jones) he got his vowel bending singing style from (when I covered Lefty Frizzell, I said he had arguably the most influential singing style in country music, but didn't really show how. Perhaps, having now covered Georg Jones (posts 405-412) and with tomorrow's legend, this influence will be very clear.
Seeya tomorrow.
 
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Influenced by greats, Jimmie Rodgers, Bob Wills, Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell, our next artist stands, with the arguable exception of Hank Williams, as the single most influential singer-songwriter in country music history. A true American treasure his work often reflected his complicated life – his problems with the law, prison, booze, drugs, poverty, unemployment, drifting and rambling, hard labour, 5 marriages, 6 children and all the complexities a life. Known as the "the working man’s poet", a key bridge between the Bakersfield Sound and Outlaw movement and a fiercely independent artist who influenced country music like few others, he composed and performed about the greatest repertoire in country music, capturing the American condition with his stories of the poor, the lost, the working class, heartbroken and hard-living. He was also, along with Marty Robbins, the genre’s most versatile artist, stylistically mining honky tonk, blues,
jazz, pop, and folk. His influence on true country music is simply immense.

All the above can only describe Merle Haggard and if some here are only familiar with his late 21st century career
revival, what follows today and in the next few may come as something of a revelation. Haggard's parents lived in Oklahoma but, like so many other Oklahomans decided to relocate to Bakersfield for a better life (see post # 455).
His father was a railway worker who converted an old boxcar into a family home. Merle was born in 1937 in that
very boxcar, where he spent his childood. His life was fairly normal until his father died suddenly of an aneurysm
when Merle was just 9 - a crushing blow that delivered far reaching results - the boy just had no more use for any
discipline or authority and no desire to attend school. Merle' mother was a fundamentalist Christian and a stern, overprotective mother. Unsurprisingly, Merle grew quickly to rake-hell. The year after his father died, he hopped
his first of many freight trains with schoolmate Billy Thorpe (not the Aztecs one) to become a hobo, riding to Fresno.
Of course they were caught and Merle had his first of many stints in "reform school" (i.e. a juvenile detention centre).

Merle's mother described him as "incorrigible" when she dropped him off at a juvenile detention center - when he was age 11 year and already regularly hopping onto freight trains with hobos and hopping freight trains to places as far away as Texas. In 2010, Haggard used the word to describe himself, saying "I was probably the most incorrigible child you could ever meet. I was already on the way to prison before I realized it, actually. I was really kind of a screw-up". School no longer interested Haggard, but music definitely did. His mother started him on violin at an early age but Merle stubbornly insisted upon learning the fiddle - which served him well in the future. Then when his older brother brought a beat up guitar home when Merle was 12, he taught himself to play and noticed people paid attention. For a shy boy, he found
the guitar helped give him a voice.

By age 14, Haggard had been in and out of juvenile detention several times for truancy - mostly out because he kept escaping. Therefore in 1952 he was sent to a medium security detention center, surrounded by barbed wire - however it couldn't stop Haggard and after a series of more escapes, and after further convictions for truancy, larceny, and escaping, he served 15 months in a high security centre, from which he only escaped from once. Out of prison, Haggard saw Lefty Frizzell in concert in Bakersfield. Before the show he sneaked in backstage and sang a few songs for Frizzell, who was so impressed that he refused to go on stage until Haggard sang a song. Haggard's performance was so well received by the audience that it convinced him to seriously pursue a musical career.

In 1956 he married the first of his 5 wives. Plagued by financial problems, Haggard returned to crime. After a botched drunken robbery attempt in 1957 he was sentenced to a 15 year term in California's infamous San Quentin Prison. But prison didn't immediately straighten him out. Two years into his sentence he found out that his wife was pregnant with another man's child. Haggard reached a breaking point. He and his cellmate started a gambling scheme and brewed
beer in their cell. He reached an all-time low when he was caught drunk and placed in isolation, but while there, he
got to know Caryl Chessman, an author who was on death row. Their series of conversations convinced Haggard to
turn his life around - and that's exactly what he did. Once out of isolation, he started working in the prison's textile
plant, took high school courses, was further inspired by attending Johnny Cash's first prison concert, performed at
San Quentin, and joined the prison's band. In 1960, his sentence was reduced and he left prison 3 months later.

Fresh out of prison, he moved back in with his wife and worked hard manual labouring jobs, including ditch digging,
while performing at night. He joined a band that played at Bakersfield's most popular club and soon he was making enough money to quit his day job. It wasn't long before Haggard was making a name for himself just as Bakersfield
was coming into prominence as a music hotbed through the rise of the Bakersfield Sound and success of Buck Owens, leading to a slot on a local music TV show.

Early in 1962, Haggard traveled to Las Vegas to see Wynn Stewart's club show. Stewart (see post # 455) was not at the club, having left to find a replacement bass player. One of Stewart's guitarists knew Haggard and invited him to sing a couple of songs on-stage. Stewart walked in while Haggard was singing and was so impressed he asked him to join his band as a bassist. For 6 months Merle performed with Stewart's band. During this time, Haggard heard Stewart's song 'Sing a Sad Song' and asked him if he could record it. Stewart gave him the song and Merle recorded it. Despite the
small label having minimal distribution, it became a hit, reaching # 19 early in 1964.

Haggard's second single, 'Sam Hill', wasn't as successful, but a duet with Bonnie Owens, the former wife of Buck Owens, called 'Just Between the Two of Us' broke into the Top 40 - and ushered the start of a partnership between the two, and eventual marriage - which lasted through Haggard's most productive era. The next year, his version of Liz Anderson's
'(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers' broke him into the Top 10 and established him as a budding star.


After Haggard's first top 10 success, major label, Capitol Records, bought out his contract and Haggard recruited a backing band and named them "The Strangers" (after his first top 10 hit). His first single for Capitol wasn't a success,
but his next single, 'Swinging Doors', was a big hit, rocketing to # 5 in 1966. One of the greatest honky-tonk rave-ups ever written, 'Swinging Doors' is a missive from an estranged lover to his former partner, informing them that he can
be found night and day in his new digs - the bar down the street. Haggard modernized the stereotypical "tear in my beer" type of country song for the 1960s and beyond with his vision of a local bar and the sad, complicated patrons entering through those "swinging doors" every evening. A landmark early Haggard recording, this is the full flowering of his own Bakersfield sound, buttressed by Ralph Mooney’s unmistakable pedal steel and Bonnie Owens’ indelible harmonies. It is
an utterly idiosyncratic sound that would be endlessly imitated in the decades to follow -


Next, equal parts winsome and tragic and a sequel to 'Swinging Doors' is this great 1966 # 3 Haggard classic 'The Bottle Let Me Down', displaying his literary gifts, as the emotionally broken narrator blames his romantic frustrations on the inanimate - namely the liquor he relies upon to drown the memory of his lost love. Haggard sounds young, smooth but sad on this 1966 hit. Here he deals with memories so bitter and sorrow so great that a drunken night just makes things worse. Written and delivered to woeful perfection by Haggard the song starts at closing time, when he realizes the blissful amnesia he’s been drinking toward all night isn’t coming. Her memory won’t fade and that reliable wine has turned out to be like everything else “... The one true friend I thought I’d found / tonight, the bottle let me down...” The out-front steel guitar laughs and cries along with him. Haggard has a deft comic touch, and verses like - “... I’ve always had a bottle I can turn to / And lately I’ve been turning every day/ But the wine don’t take effect the way it used to / Now I’m hurting
in a old familiar way
... ” roll out as one classic relatable (at least to me) punchline after the next. However the rollicking mood only barely papers over the underlying sadness of an abandoned suitor so deluded that he thinks of the bottle as
his “one true friend.” - but a deceitful friend -


Though so perfect for Haggard, Liz and Casey Anderson actually penned this song which connected with Haggard
because of his past prison stints - though the writers didn't know of his history when they played it for him, for up
until then Haggard had hidden his crime and prison background when he first broke through to stardom, only to "come clean" on his past after this song came out. So here, Haggard fills the shoes of an escaped convict, trying to live life on the run from the authorities. As a fugitive, he knows that trying to settle down or start a relationship are too risky - either his new friends would dob him in or would slow him down as the authorities catch up - and is resigned to living a lonely life on the road as a "rolling stone". He sells each line with the conviction of a man who has literally been there. 'The Fugitive' (aka 'I'm a Lonesome Fugitive') became Haggard's very first # 1 song following its release in early 1967 -
"Down every road, there's always one more city / I'm on the run, the highway is my home" -


'Branded Man' was an autobiographical Haggard written hit and his second # 1, in 1967. Having only recently "come out" with his troubled criminal past and prison stints, he tells the story of an ex-con (himself) trying to change and make his way back into the world. Just try to imagine the experiences and emotions that led up to the writing of this - it was this type of personal songwriting that at first set Haggard apart and then imitated - but rarely with the realism and simple honesty that Merle could evoke -
"I'd like to hold my head up and be proud of who I am, / But they won't let my secret go untold.
I paid the debt I owed them, but they're still not satisfied, / Now I'm a branded man out in the cold
..." -


So we leave off in 1967 with Merle Haggard having gone from a career criminal to an established major star, tapping into the sounds of past country greats, along with the newly established Bakersfield Sound, but using all these influences to develope his own sound - and starting to draw on his own life events (and even at a young age, he had plenty of events to draw upon) to inspire his songwriting. But the best is yet to come.
 
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Professor Knowall

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Merle was married 5 times, his first at age 18, lasted from 1956 to 1964, during which he had four children. Shortly after his divorce, in 1965, he married singer Bonnie Owens, who had divorced Buck Owens. Haggard credited her with helping him make his big break as a country artist - and it was during his marriage to Bonnie, that lasted until 1978, that Merle was at his most stable in his personal life, and at his very best both creatively and in his singing, and it was his most energetic period of life, where the star became the legend, and made his greatest contribution to the whole genre of country music.

When he was 20, Haggard landed in San Quentin after accumulating a rap sheet featuring hot-cheque writing and armed robbery. He chose prison as the setting for this # 1 hit from 1967, about the pull of home and the power of music. The title track to Haggard’s album "Sing Me Back Home", finds Haggard taking on the role of a guitar-playing inmate. As he rises to watch as another inmate is taken to be executed, that inmate asks to hear one final song. Is it heartbreaking?
You bet - it's one of the saddest country songs ever written and recorded. Haggard imbues his subject with dignity, tearing down the walls between inmates and listeners to reveal empathy and shared experience.

A moving ballad portraying a condemned prisoner’s final moments and last wishes is a typically humane Haggard take
on a member of a marginalized and even despised sub-group. In keeping with his frequent themes of transgression and redemption, Haggard does not suggest that the condemned man is innocent, or even that he should be pardoned. He merely finds the humanity in the last minutes of a misspent life that allows his subject to regain some semblance of connection to a better time and place. It’s called mercy, and Haggard’s songs have it in spades. And yes, it really happened - his name was James's Rabbit. He was executed in 1961 for murder. But not before Haggard, at his
request, sang him home - taking the prisoner back to his hometown, where he remembers the church he grew
up in, his friends and his mama, back home to his final resting place -
"... Let him sing me back home with a song / And make my old memories come alive
And take me away and turn back the years / Sing me back home before I die ..."



This powerful 1968 # 1 hit is about the guilt Haggard felt for the pain he caused to his mother due to his youthful wild ways, finally resulting in his incarceration at San Quentin. When you hear a purist talk about country music not being "real" anymore - it’s a Merle Haggard song like this that they often point to - it has as much passion and depth as anything he ever recorded. 'Mama Tried' became the now-icon's biggest # 1 hit to date. Inspired by his own life as a
wild, reckless lawbreaking teenager, Haggard honored his widowed mom, Flossie, with this song that reflected his own story that saw him land in prison. Most of the song is true to his life, although he wasn’t doing life in prison as the song states. Taut, catchy and short, it still manages a classic riff, a family history, and a novel’s worth of drama and regret - with the blame put only on himself. The proceedings are abetted by tremendous performances from Haggard’s band the Strangers, and included the phenomenal work of guitar ace James Burton. Haggard’s economy of language and eye for detail are an absolute marvel here, signaling his uncanny ability to bring vivid characters to life within the span of a few short verses. And we have Merle singing it live to his mum (who still seems stern until the end) -

'Mama Tried' was awarded a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1999 and has been preserved in the U.S. National Recording Registry as a song of special significance.

'Today I Started Loving You Again' was released in 1968 as the b-side of then# 1 hit 'The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde', that was released for the Hollywood movie. Haggard was in Dallas and asked his wife, Bonnie Owens, to go down the street to get him a burger. By the time she returned, he had had written the song. The song would become an American Songbook standard thanks to renditions by Al Martino, Sammi Smith, Emmylou Harris, Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, amongst many other.

Co-written with Bonnie Owens, the song posits romantic love as being impervious to reason and immutable through time. The tone is one of curious resignation, as though love itself were a kind of malignancy: “I got over you long enough to let my heartache mend / then today I started loving you again.” This is Haggard at his most insidiously perverse - what appears at first a tenderly devotional song, reveals itself as something more like a cry for help. There is no 12-step program for recovering from romance, but if there were the singer may well belong there -


The next year, the 1969 # 1 'Hungry Eyes' became another beautiful tribute to Haggard's selfless mother, who raised
(or tried to) him alone following the sudden death of his father when Merle was age 9. The song about a faithful mother trying to do her best to raise her family on little money, even when that means going without things she wanted, struck
a chord with fans across all demographics, and became one of the best-loved ballads in Country Music history. The song
is mostly autobiographical but by the time Merle was born, the family no longer lived in a labor camp tent, but had moved on to a converted railway boxcar. That part of the story pays tribute to the tens of thousands of Okies' who had to flee the "dustbowl" to Californian tent camps to survive the Great Depression (see the Bakersfield Sound post # 455) -


Haggard hit the Country Music scene in the late 1960's with perhaps the biggest artistic bang of all time. Not only
were these songs "hits," but they wound up influencing a generation. Maybe none more so than this 1969 tribute to the working class that is bound to be played somewhere on Broadway in downtown Nashville tonight (now their lockdown is over), classic guitar riffs and all! Honoring the core base of his loyal following, at the height of his career, Merle Haggard recorded this anthem for the overworked and underpaid everyday blue-collar worker (back before the U.S. elites closed most of the factories for cheap Chinese sweatshop products with greater profits for the elites, making things much worse now). It's also a superb example of the Bakersfield sound that, albeit after Buck Owens, Haggard helped popularize. The song soared to # 1 in 1969 but its message has endured with country music fans.

This clip is from the 1978 album "Live from Austin, Texas" has guitar great, Roy Nichols, who was the first person hired by Merle when he formed "The Strangers" doing a superb guitar solo - and Merle has his cigarette between his fingers as he does his own solo, ready to go -


Tomorrow will see more of "the Hag" in his prime as we move into the 1970's, including his 2 famous "political " songs - both huge hits - from the Vietnam War era.
 
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Haggard had a keen sense of the place he wished to occupy in its grand narrative. In 1969, he released "Same Train, a Different Time", an album of songs associated with Jimmie Rodgers. A year later, he made a similar tribute to another venerated artist, the western swing legend Bob Wills, for which he reacquainted himself with the fiddle. Four years after that, in 1974, he produced Wills’s final album, "For the Last Time".

The respect for country music’s history evinced by these projects was both genuine and informed. For the Wills tribute, Haggard recruited former members of Wills’s Texas Playboys, including fiddler Johnny Gimble and guitarist Eldon Shamblin who continued to play in The Strangers. Bob Wills gifted Merle the fiddle he had played down the decades in appreciation for how he had introduced his Western swing to a whole new generation - something that has resonated down to this day, especially in the country music of Texas and Oklahoma, which typically swings more than what comes out of Nashville.

Another significant sideman was the master guitarist Roy Nichols, a veteran of the Bakersfield Sound scene. Haggard recruited him direct from Wynn Stewart's band to become the first member of The Strangers. He served with them for more than 20 years, a period in which they were voted touring band of the year by the Academy of Country Music an unprecedented 8 times. But back to 1969, with Merle churning still more chart topping hits.

Released in 1969 on the album "A Portrait of Merle Haggard". A touchingly straightforward ballad of romantic love and loss, as exemplified by the sight of an airplane fading from view, slowly delivering a loved one to a faraway destination. Merle wrote 'Silver Wings' on a flight out of Phoenix going to LA with his wife, Bonnie Owen, looking out at the wing of
a Boeing 707. He said "... those silver wings were just gleaming. I thought, what a great premise for a song..." Over a gently rolling melody, Haggard juxtaposes the beauty of the plane’s glimmering arc with the singer’s nosedive crash into misery. Haggard updated the old, sorrowful tale of watching an ex-lover leave town, sending her off on an airplane instead of a train (an alternate title could be 'I Wonder Why Planes Make Me Lonesome?'). Simple, elegant, and stunning -


Though born and raised in Bakersfield, California, Haggard always identified (as did so many from Bakersfield back then) as an Oklahoman, like his parents. Haggard once again hit a nerve with his fanbase when he recorded what became his signature song - the # 1 1969 hit 'Okie From Muskogee', a litany of anti-hippie putdowns celebrating the Oklahoma town “where even squares can have a ball”. The song was inspired when Haggard and his band members saw a road sign for Muskogee, and one of them joked (or he may have been serious) that they probably didn’t smoke marijuana. They began feeding off that line, drawing on stereotype mid-west conservative view. With the Vietnam war raging on and a spirit of protest permeating pop music, Haggard sang a hit that referenced draft-dodging, long haired pot-smoking hippy types. The resulting song wasn't intended for any release until Merle started performing it in Oklahoma - starting in Muskogee - and noticed the audience always reacted with applause and loved it - hence it's release.

It stayed at # 1 for 4 weeks in 1969, when anti-Vietnam riots in the big northern cities were tearing the nation apart. Though the song wasn’t meant to be taken literally, many listeners took it to be a chest-thumping anthem against the hippie counterculture, praising those who don’t burn their draft cards or smoke marijuana. Either way, the song became one of Haggard’s most enduring hits. So was the song a salute to the counter-culture era of the late 1960s, a biting piece of social commentary - or just piss take? Well, only Haggard knew the answer for sure and he made some contradictory statements about it down the years - and ultimately it really doesn’t matter. The song captivated audiences, and became his ultimate calling card. Here is Haggard performing the song for the first time ever in Muskogee - and for me, he is clearly tongue-in-cheek, with a bit of laughter, even if his audience take it for the real thing -

'Okie From Muskogee' was named the CMA's Song of the Year in 1970. Ironically, some 10 years later, Haggard had
grown his hair long and a beard, started smoking lots of weed and progressed onto cocaine - but, irony, he never
stopped singing 'Okie From Muskogee' - and it remained a fan favourite, its irony appreciated.

In the wake of "Okie's" run as a country hit, Capitol Records sought a follow-up in the same vein from Haggard. Instead, Haggard wanted a song about an interracial couple titled 'Irma Jackson' as his next single. That song didn't see the light of day for 2 years due to its then controversial content. Instead, Haggard was hassled into cutting another chart-topping, patriotic song. Haggard left nothing to the imagination on how he felt about America in this 1970 classic that served as the follow-up to 'Okie.' This became yet another # 1 in 1970, and featured longtime Haggard friend (and Bakersfield Sound pioneer) Tommy Collins as one of the session musicians.

"The Fightin’ Side of Me," aimed at Vietnam protesters who were attacking and spitting at returned Vietnam vets was a controversial recording. Years later, Merle explained - "During Vietnam, there were all kinds of protests. Here were these [servicemen] going over there and dying for a cause ... And here are these college kids, that were free, bitching about it. There’s something wrong with that and with the attacks and disparaging of those poor guys. These soldiers were giving up their freedom and lives to make sure others could stay free. I wrote the song to support those soldiers. ". This is the type of Haggard song that was a # 1 hit in the U.S. but but unknown beyond -


When discussing timeless Merle Haggard songs, this one doesn’t get as much attention as others in his catalog, but
the vocal performance on this 1970 single 'I Can't Be Myself When I'm With You', stands as one of his best, despite only reaching # 3. About a man who feels restrained by his new relationship, this song definitely made an impact, having since been covered by Vince Gill & Paul Franklin, as well as by LeAnn Rimes. Another "real life" country song that plenty can relate to -


When it comes to Haggard songs, most of his chart hits came from his own pen. However, in 1972, the singer turned to veteran tunesmith Hank Cochran and legendary instrumentalist Grady Martin for a song that has classic written all over it - 'It's Not Love But It's Not Bad'. The song definitely sounded like something that could have been done a decade before, earning his 13th # 1 -


So we leave off in 1972 with Merle Haggard now the biggest name in country music, his legend now established and he's still at the top of his game when I return tomorrow with more.
 

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For much of his career, Haggard operated outside of the Nashville system that generated smooth - some would say
too-smooth - country music. Instead, he used a rougher honky-tonk sound as the backdrop for songs that turned the problems of ordinary people into works of art. Despite his stature as one of the titans of country music, like fellow Bakersfield music giant, Buck Owens, Merle largely spent remarkably little time holed up in Nashville, once saying - “They’ve always treated me with a lot of respect in that town, but I just didn’t want to live there. I lived there in ’76.
It was like living in the middle of a circus, and very much overbearing
...". Instead, he bought himself a rural retreat of 365 hectares just out of Redding in Northern California, well away from any city bustle, where he spent a lot of his spare time fishing.

Given his adolescent life of crime and imprisonment, musical talent is credited with saving Haggard from a life of run-ins with the law, and it certainly helped him clear his record - in 1972, California's then Governor Ronald Reagan, granted
him a full pardon for all his previous crimes. Merle was so touched he even mentioned it when he performed for President Reagan 10 years later. At the concert, he said, "I hope the president will be as pleased with my performance today as I was with his pardon 10 years ago", and even years later he rated his pardon as a life highlight.

Writing songs about hard times was Merle Haggard’s forte. A great example was the song that spoke of family struggles over the Christmas period. 'If We Make It Through December' first appeared on Haggard's 1973 Christmas album, but ain't a happy Christmas tune. Factory lay-offs hit hard at any time of the year. Haggard considers a worker laid off just Christmas time, forcing him to dream of a better life for his young daughter after the new year. A wonderfully rendered story of a working man trying to keep his family’s spirits up after being laid off, this is Haggard at his social realist best, compellingly reminding the world of those who have been left behind and left in the shadows through no fault of their own. Lamenting that December should be a happy time of year, and gutted that he cannot afford Christmas presents,
the narrator reasons that better times lay ahead if they can just make it through to a new year. The song serves as a quiet prayer, and all the more poignant given that there seems to be no clear sense how this prayer will be answered.

'If We Make It Through December' is still a perennial favorite each December in American country radio all these years later, due in part to the fact that many hard-working parents can still relate to the message of hoping to just make it through what is supposed to be "the most wonderful time of the year", the track's realism still striking a chord. It
earned Haggard another # 1; it also found its way onto his next 1974 (non- Christmas) album, as its title track.
"If we make it through December / Everything's gonna be alright, I know,..."


Depending on tastes and reference points, this uptempo nod to the bar hopping working man may excite you more because of Lynyrd Skynyrd's cover. If so, that's a reminder of how Haggard and his Bakersfield peers' influence expanded beyond country music (in fact Lynyrd Synyrd openly acknowledged Merles influence on their southern rock sound). But the original version of this great song was released on "Merle Haggard Presents His 30th Album" in 1974 and featured
the great Roy Nichols on guitar, with the bass line by Johnny Meeks and Roy and Norman Hamlet's great solos (copied pretty closely by Skynyrd, who recorded it as a tribute to Merle) -


'Always Wanting You' was Merle's 20th #1 hit back in 1975. The legend goes is he wrote the song about Dolly Parton because he fell in love with her while recording her song 'Kentucky Gambler' but knew he could never have her as both
he and Dolly were married to others. Sounds like a cool story, but around the mid 1970s, Haggard did do some touring with Dolly and maybe he might've became infatuated with her and then went a step further, penning this song confessing his love. Anyway that's the story and it's almost certainly crap, but regardless of that, Merle wrote another really good country song about an all too familiar feeling we all have from time to time, if we're honest - desiring someone we can't have -


After hearing of his death, Dolly Parton said of Haggard - "We've lost one of the greatest writers and singers of all time. His heart was as tender as his love ballads. I loved him like a brother. Rest easy, Merle."

One of the more underrated gems in Merle Haggard's song catalog was this beautifully exquisite performance 'It's All In The Movies', a hit that topped the chart -his 22nd # 1 - in 1975. A very understated performance, one aspect that made this song stand out was the great sax work by Strangers member Don Markham, giving this wistful (or wishful) country song, contrasting a sad movie with a happier reality, a delicate touch of smooth jazz -
"They were so much in love with life, happy in every way /
But love the movie began with, some how got lost in the play /
Like a fire burning out of control, /You got caught up in the actor's role, /
And you cried on my shoulder when it came to an end /
But that's all in the movies, / It won't happen to you and I
..." -


'Ramblin' Fever' reached #2 in 1977. From hobos with no place to live (who Haggard had got aquented with in his freight train hopping days when not yet even a teenager) to cowboys on the range, many great country songs celebrate the freedom of those not tied down to a regular 9-to-5 job. In this case, Haggard celebrates something else he knew first hand - a musician's unquenchable need to live out of a van, guitar case and backpack -


During the period covered today, it might be going too a little too far to say Haggard saved western swing from oblivion, but Merle Haggard's efforts to honor Bob Wills introduced a whole new generation to the sound. His 1970 LP "A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World", dedicated to Bob Wills, helped spark a permanent revival and even expanded the audience for Western Swing. His tribute album displayed his love for the great dance music genre that Wills created in Texas in the 1930's and brought to Bakersfield (where a 10 year old Haggard sneaked a look at one of his concerts) and the entire West Coast in the 1940's.

In 1973, Haggard collaborated with 6 of the remaining members of the Texas Playboys to record with Bob Wills on his final album "For The Last Time, Bob Wills & his Texas Playboys". But sadly, Wills suffered a massive stroke after the first day of recording. Merle arrived on the second day, devastated that he would not get to record with him, but the album helped return Wills to public consciousness, and set off a Western Swing revival across the country. Haggard did other tribute albums to Bob Wills over the next 40 years. In 1994, Haggard collaborated with "Asleep at the Wheel" and other artists influenced by Bob Wills on an album entitled "A Tribute To The Music of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys". To this day, Western swing remains an intregal part of Texan and Oklahoman country music - thanks to Merle. His legendary career will be continued tomorrow as we move into the 1980's
 

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