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Professor Knowall

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Mel Tillis' regular guest appearances in the late sixties and early seventies on the nationally broadcast country music TV shows Hee Haw and The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour confirmed that he had well honed comic skills (well honed since childhood to avoid mockery of his stutter), using his stutter to get laughs - as well as his singing skills, and soon he was touring the country with an enormous band and an elaborate stage show. At one point his touring band contained 17 pieces, including 4 fiddles. Through the 70s, he averaged 250 concerts annually In addition to his much in demand for appearances on network TV shows. After years of writing high quality hits for others and growing notoriety as comic
relief on TV, Tillis finally landed his first # 1 hit as a performer in 1972 at age 40.

So just 3 days ago we had Webb Pierce's 1959 # 2 hit 'I Ain't Never', in which both Tillis and Pierce were credited as co-writers. but according to Tillis he wrote the song himself and agreed to credit Pierce as a co-writer in exchange for a pair of boots Pierce was wearing when Tillis pitched him the song (Webb was famous for his flamboyant Nudie suit outfits and boots). In Tillis' words -"Them old boots cost me over $800,000" in royalties. Perhaps to make up that loss, 13 years later Tillis re-recorded and released the song as a single. With it's lovelorn, lyrics, honky-tonk piano accompaniment, chorus harmonies and some pretty sweet guitar work, Tillis made this a neo-traditionalist hit a decade before neo-traditionalist hits were cool. Tillis’ 1972 recording finally resulted in his first # 1, in both the U.S. and Canada -


Originally written by Tillis in 1959 for Faron Young, following the success of 'I Ain't Never' Tillis re-recorded and
released 'Sawmill' - and was rewarded with it reaching # 2 in 1973 This unlikely Top 5 hit celebrates the working
man as effectively as the contemporary recordings by working class hero Merle Haggard and others at the time,
singing one of the traditional country themes of the blue collar worker, willing to work hard, manual labor for an
honest living (this was the era before most of those jobs were shut down by Wall St and moved to China) -


Written by Jerry House, from the album "Stomp Them Grapes", 'Midnight, Me and the Blues' also just missed topping the charts, reaching # 2 in the U.S. and Canada in 1974. Here we have Tillis again displaying his versatility as he adopts a more relaxed, laidback sound that had been made famously popular by Dean Martin - probably not coincidental, given that Tillis frequently appeared on Dean Martin's then top rating TV show -


The title song of the album, 'Stomp Them Grapes' reached # 3 in in the U.S. and Canada in 1974. The song might
have a classic theme of losing a woman leading to the demand for more wine to drown the memories - but despite
the 4/4 country shuffle beat, this song still has a somewhat blues feel to it (so much so, I'd like to see this covered
as a full on blues version) -


'Memory Maker' also reached # 3 in both the U.S. and Canada in 1974. Tillis tackles two of the ugliest four-letter words - pain and love - with this catchy, bass-led stroll. As one of the better breakup songs of its era this time, the singer is the one cheated -and yet still can't help still wanting the serial cheater, who obviously made some seriously good memories -
"... Cause I'm still in love with the girl that didn't do me right / But there ain't no way for me to forget her /
Cause I ain't never been cheated any better / And I bet she's cheatin' someone else tonight
..."


By 1974, Mel Tillis was consistently making top 5 hits and was a frequent guest on the top American TV variety shows like the Johnny Carson Show - mainly for his singing but also his humour. He was approaching his career peak so tomorrow will bring more.
 
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Professor Knowall

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Through the ‘70's, Tillis’ often “aw, shucks” demeanor and versatile baritone voice kept him relevant as country music shifted from the last remnants of the Nashville Sound, through the "Outlaw" era and on to the "Urban Cowboy" craze (a different wave of pop-country) and on to the neo-traditionalist movement of the eighties. The highlight of Tillis's career came in 1976, when he was named Entertainer of the Year by the CMA and was also inducted into the Songwriters HoF.

In 1976, 'Good Woman Blues' became Tillis’ second career # 1 (and eleventh top 5) hit. Keeping up with the times, the song appealed to fans of Waylon Jennings’ rough-edged outlaw material on its way up the charts. A few years later, it appealed to the line-dancing fans of the more cosmopolitan "Urban Cowboy" soundtrack -


The 1977 # 3 hit 'I Got The Hoss' ranks among the most whimsically weird chart hits of its time, with heavily suggestive, obvious double entrendes that really only meant one thing. It even features Tillis stuttering in a spoken bit. Think of it as 'Old Town Road' with less debatable country music credentials - not that it matters much when it comes to this type of light-hearted singalong song -


Burning Memories 1977 Ray's version is #1, but this is as close as it can get. song about moving on from a relationship by destroying all evidence it ever happened was a Top 10 country hit for in 1977, not long after he was crowned CMA Entertainer of the Year and inducted into the Songwriters HoF -


With the 'Outlaw' movement now in decline, Tillis’ versatility as a baritone singer and country stylist allowed him to
revisit the Nashville Sound crooner style for the chart-topper, 'I Believe In You'. It was the title song of his album
released in 1978 and reached # 1 on the US and Canadian charts and the top 40 on the US Adult Contemporary
chart. A regular on many a TV music show, this clip (and the following clip) shows Tillis on "The Marty Robbins
Spotlight" show, which featured the music of one guest each episode -


Written by Sterling Whippl at a time when California was still seen as something like the promised land and a desirable place to go (and not the craphole place to flee from that it has now become), 'Ain't No California' reached # 4 in 1978. Here, California stands for some sort of mythical nirvana that the singer - a self-confessed rambling man - "Well I live
my life on highways from sea to shining sea
...", fears his listener is fixated on following his example and warns against going rambling out on the road but instead - "... Find yourself a woman get a job and settle down ...". Personally, I wouldn't take that advice - though he's right in that California ain't "no blue heaven" (unless one is filthy rich) -


Now on Friday I'll be hitting the road again for some more rambling, this time through SE NSW, so I decided I'll just do a bit more on Mel Tillis until I head off. So there's more on Mel tomorrow, looking at his last big hits, as well as a very brief overview of his burgeoning movie career that was in addition to his numerous TV appearances.
 

CliffMcTainshaw

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John Prine. Great writer, great musician and great person. Sadly another lost to Covid.




If you found his opening patter interesting, this interview with Sarah Kanowski from the ABC Conversations podcast is a beauty. Listen to it online or download the file and listen to it later.
John Prine — from Paradise to Nashville
 
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Professor Knowall

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Even as Mel Tillis was topping the charts as a performer, being named as Entertainer of the Year and inducted into
the Songwriters HoF on 1976, and a familiar face on TV ( as already outlined), known for his humour as well as his
music, he was also becoming a Hollywood movie star, being appearing in a number of films, including 1975's "W.W.
and the Dancekings" (with Burt Reynolds and Jerry Reed), 1977's "The Villain" (starring Kirk Douglas and Arnold
Schwarzenegger), Clint Eastwood's "Every Which Way But Loose" in 1979, 1980's all-star "Smokey and the Bandit II",
the all-star "Cannonball Run", "Cannonball Run II" and "Uphill All the Way". Many of these comedic dramas were set in the South and all featured country music in their soundtracks.

With all these projects, in addition to touring an average of 250 days per year, something had to give - and in Tillis'
case, it was his songwriting - instead of providing hits for other artists as he had in the fifties and sixties, Mel, by
the late 1970's and aged in his late 40's, now found himself increasingly dependent on other songwriters providing
his own hits. No matter - as mentioned 5 days back, Tillis signed as a songwriter to the Cedarwood Music publishing company back in 1957 and became their major songwriter. Tillis remained with this major Nashville company and eventually bought it outright - so he had a whole team of songwriters working for him!

'Send Me Down to Tucson' was written by Steve Dorff and Cliff Crofford, released in 1979 as the first single from the album "Are You Sincere" and reached #2. Now I don't know about you, but I'm a real sucker for this old type of adult country story song - I can relate to it, including the being sent by the boss bit, all to well -


Written by Dee Gaskin, 'Charlie's Angel' was the b-side to 'Send Me Down to Tucson'. The title was obviously taken from a hugely popular light comedic TV drama at the time "Charlie's Angels". But this song wasn't actually about the TV show but about the idiocy of a bloke called Charlie, who lost his angel to the singer. Just another country song telling the truth - some men are idiots like the Charlie in this song -


Tillis’ standout song from his "Mr Entertainer" album puts down its lover-on-the-run narrator and name-drops Clint Eastwood. Released in 1979, the song was featured in Clint Eastwood’s movie "Every Which Way But Loose", a trucker-and-orangutan buddy comedy named for an Eddie Rabbitt song, and the film "Bandit Goes Country" (which also had
Tillis in the film) starring Brian Bloom. Tillis' 5th # 1 and remains one of Tillis’ signature songs, with a gem of a line -
"... You walked across my heart like it was Texas / and taught me how to say I just don't care... "


'Lying Time Again' was written by Chance Walker, and released in 1980 as the second single from the album "Me and Pepper". Yet another of this country songs that tell it like it really is in plain, straight forward lyrics, no metaphors, nothing allegorical, just the plain truth. This reached #6 -


Tillis fitted the neo-cosmopolitan sound of the early 1980's without changing much about his sentimental songs and
by now his trademark vocal delivery. The evocative (of the South, that is) 'Southern Rain', went on to become his last
# 1 hit in 1980 -
"... When were young we want to get away when we're old we want to go back
And we spend our lives replacing all the things we leave behind
..." -


By now a wealthy man with extensive business interests, in the early 1980s Tillis returned to his roots in uptown honky tonk with several well-received, though no longer commercial chart-topping, recordings. Tillis was never married to one style, but was equally at home with Western swing, pure country ballads and, of course, honky tonk. In Stereo Review, Nash labeled him as "one of music's real vocal masters." In his 1984 auto-biography, "Stutterin' Boy", Tillis wrote -
"... I'd like to ask why - without it sounding like sour grapes, which it's not, since my career is pretty well set, why the CMA, of which I'm a long-standing member, is hell bent on inviting the whole pop performing world into the country music business?". It's a question far more relevant today! The answer, of course, all comes back to marketing and, naturally, ultimately to money.

Tillis had more top 10 hits in 1983 and 1984 but then, as he aged into his fifties, his sales gradually declined and his last charting single was in 1989, though he continued touring for another 25 years. Though I've finished with Tillis' performing career, I'll finish off the Mel Tillis story tomorrow.
 
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Professor Knowall

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From 1972 to 1980, Mel Tillis, after years of writing top-selling hits for other artists, charted six # 1 hits of his own and from 1968 to 184 he chalked up 33 top 10 hits, of which 22 made the top 5. Even after his big hits started to fade, other artists still found success with Tillis written songs, so today as his story is concluded, we'll look at a few more of his songs.

Frequent performer of Tillis written songs, Webb Pierce, originally recorded 'Honey (Open That Door)' in 1974, but it was ultimately the traditional revivalist, Ricky Skaggs, that claimed it as an enduring hit. Released in 1984 from the album "Don’t Cheat in Our Hometown", it became Skaggs’ Seventh # 1 during his unstoppable early Eighties run. Tillis’ innate sense of humor is on display here – his narrator is no heartbroken hero, having gambled everything away and hitched his way back from Dallas only to find that his lady took off during his absence. It never dawns on him, but it seems pretty obvious to the rest of us that the titular “Honey” was smart to pack up and leave without a trace -


The 6 million-selling "Pure Country" soundtrack to George Strait’s 1992 film remains his biggest selling album, and amongst the top few in country music history, buoyed and “I Cross My Heart.” But the deeper cut 'Thoughts of a Fool' can't to be overlooked. A hit 31 years earlier for Ernest Tubb, the song also illustrates one of Tillis’ most prominent gifts, the ability to voice his inner dialogue out loud in song (in spite of a lifelong stutter), expressing himself without hesitation and with clarity. George still used the traditional elements of the shuffle beat, pedal steel and fiddles in his version -


In 1984, Tillis, co-writing with novelist Walter Wager, released his autobiography, Stutterin’ Boy. In 1990 Tillis opened
his own theater in Branson, Missouri, and kept it through 2002. He continued to play extended runs at the Welk Resort Theatre in Branson, and he toured nationally with the Statesiders. In 1998, Tillis, along with other veteran artists Bare, Waylon Jennings, and Jerry Reed formed the "Old Dogs" for a single recording session, produced a self-titled album. In the Nineties, his daughter, Pam Tillis, became a highly simple successful country music star in her own right. She paid tribute to Mel with a 2002 release, "It’s All Relative: Tillis Sings Tillis", on which she recorded her own versions of his compositions. Mel Tillis Jr is also an accomplished songwriter.

Surprisingly, one thing Tillis hadn't done until then was to be inducted into the Grand Ole Opry. “I always wanted to be a member of the Opry,” Mel once told interviewer Edward Morris, “but I was always gone. I was doing the Johnny Carson show, the Merv Griffin show, the Mike Douglas show - every show you could name - the Dean Martin show, Hollywood Squares and 13 movies. I just didn’t have the time to commit to being a member.” So the year 2007 was especially eventful for Tillis. First, he was finally inducted into the Grand Ole Opry by his daughter, Pam, who had been an Opry member since 2000. A few months later, 31 years after his admittance to the songwriters HoF in 1976, he was (somewhat belatedly) inducted into the Country Music HoF.

Also in 2007, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss recorded his 'Stick With Me Baby' for their great (and Grammy-winning) 2007 album, "Raising Sand" -


Tillis released a comedy album, "You Ain’t Gonna Believe This", in 2010. President Barack Obama honored Tillis with the National Medal of Arts award in 2012. He still performed regularly until he underwent heart surgery in 2014 and was later hospitalized in Nashville after being diagnosed with diverticulitis. In January 2017, Tillis returned to his Florida home after spending most of the previous year undergoing medical treatment and rehabilitative therapy in Nashville. He died in November 2017 of respiratory failure. He was aged 85.

He was survived by 6 children, 3 of whom followed him into show business - Pam Tillis, songwriter Mel “Sonny” Tillis Jr. and actress Carrie Tillis.

I'm hitting the road again right now and I'm unsure when I'll be back - all I know is I'll be travelling around a lot -so more hotel rooms and bars to check out at night - and pretty much flat out with with little spare time in the next 2 months, so I'll just say I'll be back to continue with more country music history (presently it's at around 1972/73) - but don't know when. In the meantime, y'all have another merciful break from it.
 

Professor Knowall

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John Prine. Great writer, great musician and great person. Sadly another lost to Covid.




If you found his opening patter interesting, this interview with Sarah Kanowski from the ABC Conversations podcast is a beauty. Listen to it online or download the file and listen to it later.
John Prine — from Paradise to Nashville

Now this is a most prescient post for this thread - I'm going to refer back to this when the time comes.
 

CliffMcTainshaw

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Here's one for you Prof, Wanita Bahtiyar. She has a documentary out, with an amazing storyline. Hard to know what to believe when you hear it. Great voice though.





Thanks for that, Cliff. I haven't yet seen the Wanita doco but hope to. She sure has a strong voice and an original take to some old classics - e.g. the New Orleans Jazz style accompiament to the Hank Williams 'You Win Again' (the first song), and the blues bordering on soul treatment (she has the voice for it) on the Sanford Clark rockabilly standout 'Tne Fool'.

The doco is on Wed this week at 8-30 on the ABC.
Bit of a Country night with a documentary on country music at 7-30 on NITV, finishes at the perfect time of 8-30.
 

Professor Knowall

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The doco is on Wed this week at 8-30 on the ABC.
Bit of a Country night with a documentary on country music at 7-30 on NITV, finishes at the perfect time of 8-30.
Thanks for the heads up - I've just arrived back home in time to watch it. As for the NITV doco, that's a continuation of the Ken Burns documentary that's been mentioned a few times on this and other threads. Tonight's episode covers the years 1964-1968. The following is what I've previously posted on the 9 part series -

This top quality documentary, from the best there is in Ken Burns, is still on SBS catch-up - for free. I'd recommend
it to anyone with a general interest in the history of American music, including the blues and jazz, as their history is all intertwined (as the first episode shows), and later on the birth of rock from country and blues. The only downer is that the SBS version only has half of the original American PBS material (the episodes are edited back to 1 hour episodes),
so some of the greats are absent. But check it out, it's not just for country music lovers.
 

Professor Knowall

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The Queensland floods delayed my return home by a few days (a bit of an inconvenience for me, but a major disaster
for so many up there), so I just have enough time to squeeze in a few more days of history before I'm on the road again. And once again, like Whispering Bill Anderson, Townes Van Zandt and Mel Tillis, it features an artist far better known as
a songwriter thana singer. This gifted artist excelled in seemingly everything he did, be it in academia, sports, figuring, womanising, you name it, everything except singing. I consider him the worst vocalist in this entire history (an opinion
he would agree with), with no auto tuned microphones back then to disguise his inability to hit, let alone hold, a note.
But as a songwriter, well he was right up there with the very best of all time.

As I've tried to made clear, by emphasising the often abject poverty of the vast majority featured in this history, most prominent country musicians viewed music as a way out of poverty and struggle. Despite being a child of privilege, academically and physically gifted and seemingly supremely talented in everything he tried his hand in, our next artist was among the first country music stars (along with Townes Van Zandt and Gram Parsons) to remove the silver spoon from his mouth and seek an artistic destination.

His work ethic was evident from an early age, celebrated by his parents who encouraged - or demanded - he be the best at everyhing he did, when as a teenager, made to earn his own money by labouring, the supervisor told him he was the best worker on a construction crew. He later said - “I took pride in being the best labourer or the guy that could dig the ditches the fastest. Something inside me made me want to do the tough stuff . . . Part of it was that I wanted to be a writer, and I figured that I had to get out and live. I know that’s why I ran in front of the bulls in Pamplona.”

Born in the Texan border town of Brownsville in 1936, the son of a tough, stern, hard marking major general and a
social-minded mother, Kris Kristofferson spent his childhood learning lessons in honour and civility, though he arrived
at different notions of these things than did his parents. His father's military career took the family to California, where
he graduated high school in 1954, then attended College, where, despite his small size, he starred as a defensive back
in American football and also won the collegiate golden gloves boxing tournament. He studied literature and writing
under Dr. Frederick Sontag, winning a prestigious Atlantic Monthly collegiate short-story contest.

His excellence at both academic studies and sports earned him a highly prized Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University.
At Oxford, he wrote stories and examined the works of William Blake - while also becoming it's best boxer. He earned his master’s degree but, bored and disillusioned with Oxford student life - he found his fellow students thought they knew everything (as students always think) but in fact had a profound lack of real life experiences - rather than pursue a doctorate that was there for the taking, in 1960 he returned to California, married his high school sweetheart and
joined the Army.

For a time it appeared Kristofferson would follow in his father's footsteps, as he effortlessly moved through the elite level U.S. ranger school, parachute-jump commando school and pilot training, becoming an able helicopter pilot. When his first tour of duty ended he re-enlisted for another 3 years and was sent to Germany, his career to high command seemingly laid out. But the golden youth who excelled at everything had one Achilles heel. He was passionately fond of country music, especially Hank Williams, and he liked to sing folk songs and accompany himself on guitar. While studying literature at Oxford had managed to sing and tour as Kris Carson, even appearing on British TV. In the Army, he
wrote funny songs inspired by Hank Williams, until he fell under the sway of folk maestro Bob Dylan - “The direction Dylan was pointing in made it a respectable ambition, a respectable thing to do,” Kristofferson later said.

The Army assigned Kristofferson to teach literature at West Point, a duty that dismayed him once he found that
he’d have to turn in lesson plans, explaining to superiors exactly what he’d be teaching in class. He said, “It sounded
like hell to me.
” And so, in 1965, he came to Nashville to visit Marijohn Wilkin, the songwriter of Lefty Frizzell's classic
hit 'Long Black Veil' (see post # 218) and a relation of Kristofferson’s Army platoon leader. On his first Nashville night,
he met Cowboy Jack Clement, a renegade creative who would become a lifelong friend. Soon after, Wilkin helped Kristofferson get a backstage pass to the Grand Ole Opry, where he met a pill popping pacing panther named Johnny Cash. In less than 2 Music City weeks, Kristofferson decided to resign his Army post and move to Nashville to write
songs, making full use of his elite literary skills. Soon after, he met successful songwriter Tom T. Hall in a Nashville
bar. Kristofferson introduced himself to Hall, who said “Good to see you . . . this is a hairy-legged town.

Kristofferson, who could've excelled in any number of high-flying careers, be it in the military, aviation, academia, even professional sport, scuffled for more than 4 years in Nashville as a struggling songwriting bum, entering his 30's as what his parents considered a ne’er do well who was dragging down the family name - his father, who considered all country music as just plain trash, cut him from his inheritance - and as a result, Kristoffosen never had any contact with his parents ever again. He worked as a janitor at CBS’s Nashville studio, happy to empty trash cans and make coffee in exchange for access to recording sessions by Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, and others. He rode around on a banged up
Honda motorbike (at a time when anything Japanese made was dirt cheap) and neglected his own family and doomed
his first marriage in ways that came to haunt him. He joined the hard drinking (amongst other substances) and often
hard fighting Tootsies saloon gang led by Faron Young, containing regulars like Willie Neilson and Waylon Jennings . He was heartened by praise from the people whom he hoped would become peers. When his 'From the Bottle to the Bottom' was recorded by Grand Ole Opry star Billy Walker in 1969, Tom T. Hall said, “God, that’s a great song” to which Kristofferson later remarked - “That kind of thing was enough to keep me going back then.

'My Heart Was the Last One to Know' was one of the first songs that Kristofferson wrote. At the time, he was working
as a helicopter pilot transporting workers to and from off-shore oil rigs, nursing wounds from another failed relationship and feeling discouraged about his inability to fully pursue his passion of songwriting. Shel Silverstein was credited as a co-writer, but Kristofferson later said - "I probably wrote more with Shel than anybody. I didn’t co-write much and not much even with Shel. He’d give me the idea for a song, and I’d go down to the Gulf of Mexico, where I was flying helicopters to the oilrigs every other week, and try to work on the song. Then we’d come back, and I remember laughing about it. Shel had even convinced himself that he co-wrote the song, but actually I’d written the whole song. He’d given me the idea for it. But we did co-write some songs together." The song was supposed to be on the 1967 album "Downtown Country" but for reasons now unknown, somehow didn't make it, but was "discovered" in 2001 -


One of the most underrated songs in his catalog was this number that Faron Young took to # 4 in 1969. The humorous take on a man who stole a woman from someone else – who finds out that turnabout is only fair – was the first major hit for a Kristofferson written song -


Kristofferson’s inspiration for 'Me And Bobby McGee' came from a phone call to Fred Foster at Monument Records, who (given Kristoffosen's reputation as the supreme lady's man) told him he was only calling as an excuse to speak to his secretary, Bobby McKee. Kristofferson switched McKee to McGee and thus created a modern classic. One of Krisrofferson's songwriting heroes, Roger Miller, had the first big hit with the song, taking it to # 12 in 1969. There will also be a post script for this song to come, but not today -


Kristofferson wrote 'For the Good Times' during a road trip to the Gulf of Mexico, drawing on his past experiences of the end of a love affair to create one of the most tender and romantic songs in country music. Like most of his songs, it was a hit for someone else before he got the chance to record it himself. In this instance, the artist who first recorded it was Bill Nash in 1968. In 1970, Kristofferson made his recording debut with it, but it was the superlative vocals of Ray Price, who fully realised the depth of the lyrics, that took it to # 1 - and even crossed over to # 11 on the pop charts. Since then, numerous artists have covered it, including Al Green. Never before – nor after – has a song about “one last time for old times’ sake” sounded as tender and romantic as Price’s 1970 recording of the song that stands tall as not just one of the greatest Kristofferson song moments of all time – but a highlight of Country Music history. A dramatic statement, for sure, but just take a listen - there's no better song written of one last tender farewell, for those who have lived this in real life -


Perhaps the most sexual song of its’ time, fortunately, Kristofferson’s clever lyrics kept things subtle enough for it not to be slapped with a ban, but instead became a classic recording for Sammi Smith. Kristofferson was inspired to write this song after reading an interview with Frank Sinatra, in which Sinatra said that he believed in "booze, broads or a Bible … whatever helps me make it through the night." Kristofferson, who was living with Dottie West and her husband at the time, offered the song to West first - and she foolishly declined it.

'Help Me Make It Through the Night', a song that for me evokes the loneliness of travel relieved by the comfort of a night's company, earned Kristofferson his first Grammy, for Best Country Song. West ultimately recorded the song, as did Elvis Presley, Ray Price, Lynn Anderson, Loretta Lynn, Charley Pride, Andy Williams, Olivia Newton-John, Cash and his wife June Carter Cash but it was Sammi Smith that had the definitive version, a million selling # 1 crossover hit in 1970 and she also won the Grammy, for Best Female Vocal Performance -


With the # 1 hits, 'For the Good Times' by Ray Price and 'Help Me Make It Through the Night' by Sammy Smith, Kristofferson, at age 34 in 1970, had finally broken through to become one of Nashville's premier songwriters, with
his mature themed songs also crossing over to the adult contemporary charts and even the pop charts. With these adult themed songs, with their extraordinary internal rhymes, Shakespearean iambic pentameter, and socially progressive subject matters that reflected internal personal thoughts, Kristofferson changed the language of country music. This
is where we leave off his career for today.
 
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Professor Knowall

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After the breakthrough success of his songs, Kristoffeson was encouraged by his friends and pressured by his record company exec, Fred Foster to record his material for himself. But under no delusions about his limited vocal strength and range (he was his own worst critic), he argued with Foster about his validity as a recording artist - Kristofferson saying , “I sing like a ****ing frog", to which Foster replied, “Yes, but like a frog that can communicate.” Kristofferson eventually consented and first solo album came out in 1970. It contained now-classics including 'Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down', 'Me and Bobby McGee', 'To Beat the Devil', 'Help Me Make It Through the Night', 'Just the Other Side of Nowhere', 'Darby’s Castle' and 'Best of All Possible Worlds'. It began with 'Blame It On the Stones', a song that opened with the decidedly non-traditional line - "Mr Marvin Middle Class is really in a stew / Wonderin’ what the younger generation’s coming to...”.

Kristofferson wrote 'Sunday Morning Coming Down' while living in a run-down tenement in Nashville when he was still working as a lowly janitor for Columbia Records - a strange occupation considering he had a master's degree from Oxford University and risen to the rank of captain in the US Army. But, as detailed yesterday Kristofferson decided on being a songwriter, so he turned down a professor position at the US Military Academy at West Point and swept floors at Columbia and flying helicopters to oilrigs, waiting for his break.

Ray Stevens recorded 'Sunday Morning Coming Down' first in 1969, only reaching # 55 - but it was one of the first
times Kristofferson heard someone singing his material on radio, later saying - “At the time Ray cut it, nobody had
ever put that much money and effort into one of my songs. He’s a wonderful singer. The first time I heard it, I had
to leave the publishing house. I went out and sat on the steps and wept. Of course, the record company didn’t want
him to put it out and go in that direction, because he was having success with those novelty songs at the time
..."

Of course, Cash also recorded 'Sunday Morning Coming Down', taking it all the way to # 1 in 1970 - and there's a
famous story attached. In the military Kristofferson learned to fly planes and he worked as a commercial helicopter
pilot in Louisiana flying to oilrigs in the gulf (alternating between there and Nashville every second week), and the
story of how he got his demo tape of this song to Cash has become legend - He flew a National Guard helicopter to
Cash's front yard, where he landed and delivered the tape in one hand and a beer in another - or so Cash used to
tell it. The story was also skewed to imply that Cash had never met Kristofferson, but in fact they had known each
other since 1965.

In a 2008 interview, Kristofferson admitted - "I knew John before then. I'd been his janitor at the recording studio,
and I'd pitched him every song I ever wrote, so he knew who I was. But it was still kind of an invasion of privacy
that I wouldn't recommend. To be honest, I don't think he was there. He had a whole story about me getting out
of the helicopter with a tape in one hand and a beer in the other. John had a pretty creative memory but I would
never have disputed his version of what happened because he was so responsible for any success I had as a
songwriter and performer. He put me on the stage the first time I ever was, during a performance at the Newport
Folk Festival
." The truth was that Cash wasn't even in Nashville at the time, so June Carter took the tape - and Kristoffeson never heard back from Cash until he next met him at the studio, where Cash admitted he hadn't even
listened to it. Cash's version is still a much better story, regardless of the actual facts.

The song also landed the Cash in hot water with ABC brass who had asked Him not to replace the line “Wishin’ I
was stoned
” with “Wishin’ I was home” during his performance of the song on his weekly national TV series. When
the camera rolled, Cash took the defiant stance of being a songwriters’ kind of artist – and sang it the way it was
written, even emphasising "stoned" - and making a lifelong fan of Kristofferson, who was in the audience, in the
process. The song itself nails the deadly combination of addiction, loneliness, alienation and hopelessness that so
many - including even the talented, rich and famous like Kristoffeson himself - can fall into -


Now it's time to hear Kristoffeson's own voice (even if Cash's version of this song is, of course, superior). An early example of Kristofferson’s gift for songwriting, 'To Beat the Devil' might be one of the most realistic songs about the
art of songwritng. As a new writer to town in the 1960's, the Texas native had seen it all – and it shows in each and every line here. Written for Cash after Kristofferson found the Man in Black drunk or doped in a recording studio, Kristofferson says of the song - "While he was reciting some poetry to me that he'd written, I saw that he was about a step away from dyin', and I couldn't help but wonder why. And the lines of this song occurred to me. I'm happy to say he's no longer wasted, and he's got himself a good woman (June Carter)." Released on Kristofferson’s debut 1970 album, the song tells the story of a young songwriter who’s fallen on hard times. He wanders into a bar where he meets the devil, who buys him a beer, grabs his guitar, and sings him a song. The singer leaves, satisfied in the knowledge that while he may not have beaten the devil, he at least got a beer and a song out of him - and the suggestion of a Faustian pact, selling his soul for success -


Kris Kristofferson’s debut album enjoyed a warm reception from the critics but it flopped in the charts - he was quite right to describe his voice as sounding like a frog. However after that he did some serious vocal training, including personal lessons from Johnny Cash, for his follow-up, 1971’s "The Silver Tongued Devil And I", which fared much better, peaking
in the top 5. He could now mostly hit, if not quite hold, a note and he also learned the trick of writing songs to suit his roughened and limited vocals. One of the albums highlights is the titular track, a semi-autobiographical song that draws on Kristofferson’s (well deserved) reputation for turning into a silver-tongued devil around the ladies after a few drinks. The song takes place in a bar with a man trying to pick up a woman and watching her waltz off in the arms of someone else. But, he surmises they're not that different in their personalities - to the point where it emerges the "other" is seemingly the singer himself. The mystery of the song is whether he’s sorry or not for his actions. Fifty one years
later, we’re still not sure! I'm going with no sorrow - but residual guilt -


'When I Loved Her' is another deeply emotional Kristofferson composition that proved another # 1 for Ray Price, after he had first taken a Kristofferson song to # 1 with 'For the Good Times', as we saw yesterday. Now Ray Price (see posts # 269-275) is rightfully regarded as one of country music's greatest vocalists, whereas Kristofferson was about the worst. So Kristofferson’s own performance of the song, much of which he narrates rather than sings, contrasts to the top selling Price version, is a lot more ragged and unpolished than Price’s smooth and strong vocals - but if anything, Kristofferson’s limited vocals only serve to enhance the heartbreak of the lyrics -


Kristofferson's second album is a treasure trove of masterful songwriting, which attracted a new, younger market outside the normal bounds of country music. One of the standout cuts is 'The Pilgrim, Chapter 33'. The song was inspired by an encounter with Johnny Cash and ultimately written as an homage to all of the gifted, difficult artists who had served as an inspiration to Kristofferson, including Dennis Hopper, Bobby Neuwirth and Ramblin' Jack Elliott. The song's lyrics shows that Kristofferson knew his way around a bar or tavern, the characters who inhabit them and how it leads to many a strangers bed for the night - he much later said the song told a lot of truths about himself. The song is a poetic masterpiece and contains one of Kristofferson's most iconic lyrics - "... He's a walkin' contradiction, partly truth
and partly fiction / Takin' every wrong direction on his lonely way back home..." -



By 1971, Kristofferson had graduated from master song-writer for others to being able to carve out some career as a performing artist in his own right - though he still doubted his own singing, suffered from intense stage fright every time before performing and despite having a successful album under his belt, had not yet charted any singles himself. But greater success was still to come - before another career change took him away to another, albeit highly successful, career. ... and then there were his increasing problems that success seemingly couldn't help salve him ... coming.
 
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Professor Knowall

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Wonderful KK stuff Prof.

Have you considered putting this all together as a book?
Now that's something I never thought of ... it was only ever meant to be something to occupy some of my mind and time during the lockdowns (you may notice that with the lockdowns over, I travel around everywhere a lot, so I wasn't used to spending time at home) but it's now become more like a quest without a definite end. I've probably already written enough for a book, but because it was only intended as a strictly amateur project, hidden away in Bigfooty, I've only rarely bothered acknowledging the many sources I've used. But maybe, one day after I decide to finish this, I may think more about what to do with it all ...
 

Professor Knowall

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Taking note of his rugged good looks, his intelligence, talent and charm (particulately when it came to women) and his appeal even to the young beyond country music boundaries, Hollywood discovered Kristofferson in the early 1970's, and he added numerous film appearances to his already-busy schedule of touring and recording. Unlike many country stars in this history series, who might've appeared in the odd film here or there, or even in a number, Kristoffeson, at least for a couple of years, became a serious A-grade star attraction at the box office, right up there with the likes of Paul Newman, Robert Redford, winning a Golden Globe best actor award for his role in "A Star Is Born" remake (without the aid of auto-tune, unlike the latest remake), alongside Barbara Streisand and appearing in numerous films including "Semi-Tough", "Songwriter", "Pat Garrett" and Billy the Kid", "The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea", "Lone Star" and "Blade", until he had had enough of the whole Hollywood BS. He never really did take acting seriously, just getting by on his good looks, charm and natural talent.

He also toured the world with his band and with Rita Coolidge, his wife from 1973 until 1980, moving from Nashville to California. They performed as a country-pop duo, earning a number of Grammy nominations and awards together. He still managed to record 9 albums between 1972 and 1979, but Kristofferson's peculiar insecurity led to near panic in the face of adulation and stardom and the quantity and quality of his songwriting noticeably declined. Plagued with drug and alcohol abuse, he divorced Coolidge in 1980 and tried to set his life straight. The process took almost 5 years. But for now, let's get back to where we left off in 1971 with Kristofferson's not only writing timeless songs for others, but also establishing himself as a performer.

Two days back, I said there would be a post-script to Kristofferson's first charting hit, 'Me and Bobby McGee, which Roger Miller took to # 12 in 1969. However the world would really discover the depth of this song due to the incomparable Janis Joplin version (and I don't care hers wasn't a country version but instead a powerful soul infused R&B classic - it simply must be included in this history). There is tragic tale to tell here.

Kristofferson and Joplin first met through performer Bobby Neuwirth in mid 1970. After playing a show in NYC, Neuwirth suggested that they fly out to California where Joplin was staying. Several weeks passed and the trio was still residing at Joplin’s place – where she became very fond of Kristofferson (maybe the "man's man" Kristofferson compared all too well to the usual bunch of doped out self-absorbed useless San Francisco hippies she was used to). Kristofferson later said - “I dug her, but I had itchy feet. I’d get up intending to get out, and in she comes with the early morning drinks and pretty soon you’re wasted enough and you don’t care about leaving.” As the pair got closer, their romance blossomed. The two Texan natives shared a few weeks together before the "itchy feet" inevitably got the better of Kristofferson and he moved on, leaving a saddened Joplin, knowing it was over and looking back on the good times (sounds like a certain Kristofferson song, doesn't it). Just a few weeks later, Joplin OD'd on heroin and died.

Unknown to Kristofferson, after he left her, Joplin recorded 'Me and Bobby McGee' to be included on her posthumous classic album "Pearl". Tragically, she OD'd on heroin and died just a few days after she recorded the song. She never got to see how big it would become, hitting # 1 on the pop charts, her only # 1 hit and living on to become hailed in time as an all-time American classic (and along the way, cementing Kristofferson's position as one of the most important songwriters of his generation).

Kristoffeson himself was cut to the core, later saying - “The first time I heard Janis Joplin’s version was after she died. Paul Rothchild, her producer, asked me to stop by his office and listen to this thing she had cut. Afterwards, I walked all over L.A., just in tears. I couldn’t listen to the song without really breaking up. So when I came back to Nashville, I went into the Combine [Publishing] building late at night, and I played it over and over and over again, so I could get used to it without breaking up." -

'Me and Bobby McGee' was also recorded by Kenny Rogers and his band in 1969 and by Canadian folk country great, Gordon Lightfoot who had a top 20 hit with it in Canada in 1970. Jerry Lee Lewis had a top 40 hit with it on the Pop charts in 1971. While the list of artists who have recorded the song is far too many to include all, the ones I would mention include great versions by The Grateful Dead, Joan Baez, Melissa Etheridge, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, The Highwayman, and of course the seriously good version released by Kristofferson himself. But in truth, none compare with the great, but tragic, Janis Joplin version. I can't help but think that in the emotion she poured into her version, she was, just maybe, thinking her very own "Bobby McGee" who had just slipped through her fingers.

Kristofferson collaborated with Shel Silverstein (who would go on to find fame as the author of children's books) on 'The Taker', which appeared on his second album in a horn-laden rendition that has a Tex-Mex flair. That same year, Waylon Jennings cut a much better-known version and made it the title song of his album "The Taker/Tulsa", which featured 4 Kristofferson songs. His take on the song reached # 5 in 1971, so here I've opted for Waylon's great version here - actually it's not his original 1971 cover, but his 1974 live recording, which I enjoy even more -


Unlike a lot of his early songs that got farmed out to other artists before he got a chance to record them himself, Kristofferson was the first one to record Lovin’ Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again) and it was his first single from his 1971 album "The Silver Tongued Devil and I". Interestingly, the song was never promoted to country radio - instead, it became a hit in the Adult Contemporary format. Roger Miller also cut the song. It reached # 26 on the pop chart and did even better on the Adult Contemporary chart, peaking all the way up to # 4. A year later, country legend Roger Miller spent 11 weeks in the charts with his version, which peaked at # 28. Though the song became a # 2 hit for Tompall and The Glaser Brothers in the early 1980s, the definitive version of this is from the writer, Kristofferson, himself - and for me, this is a most beautifully written song, with an equally beautiful, deceptively complex, melody -


Now for Kristofferson's first, and only, # 1 as a singer. He is known for the gritty realism of many of his best songs, but 'Why Me' is a stark contrast, a country-gospel song written straight from the heart and without the poetic bent or hard-nosed world view of most of his other efforts, reaching #1 in 1972 and # 16 on the pop chart. He was inspired to write it after attending a church service - he explained that he was never one to attend church but was taken there by the great country vocalist (and straight laced, good living conservative), Connie Smith (remember from 2 days back she sang the first Kristofferson song featured). Why the hard drinking, womanising Kristofferson, who by his own admission avoided church like the plague) suddenly found himself in this situation I haven't quite nailed down - perhaps he told Connie of his demons and this was her way of trying to help him. Anyway, Kristofferson later recalled how deeply the church visit shook him - "The pastor askedIs anybody feeling lost? Are you ready to accept Christ? Kneel down there. It was just a personal thing I was going through at the time. I had some kind of experience that I can’t even explain". This experience didn't instantly "cure" him of his demons (he had much more troubled times ahead), but maybe it was the first step - a public acknowledgment that he needed to find help for the emptiness and unhappiness he felt.

At the church service, Larry Gatlin (before he became a star) sang a song called 'Help Me Lord' and was recruited by Kristofferson's to sing backing vocals on the track. The song itself (and believe me, one doesn't have to be religious to appreciate it) starts slowly, with Kristofferson confessing his own worthiness - "Why me Lord, what have I ever done / To deserve even one Of the pleasures I've known / Tell me Lord, what did I ever do That was worth loving you / Or the kindness you've shown..."

As we all know, Kristofferson's vocal range was never the greatest. But, what sets him apart from as a performer has nothing to do with a pristine vocal approach. In his shining moment as a performer, this plain-spoken take on the song simply works because it showcases a man who is as rough around the edges vocally as are the lyrics. The song builds as he makes his cry for help, acknowledging he can't do it on his own - "...Lord help me, Jesus / I've wasted it so help me Jesus / I know what I am / Now that I know that I've needed you / So help me Jesus, my soul's in your hands...". The themes in this song, of one's feeling of emptiness, unworthiness and needing help (be it divine or human) are universal, not just religious -

'Why Me' was also recorded by Johnny Cash, George Jones, David Allan Coe, Merle Haggard and Conway Twitty - all artists who had their own mental demons and addictions to deal with (as so many of our country heroes did).

We now skip to 1985 (the intervening years since his # 1 hit being filled with big time Hollywood stardom and then battles with depression, alcohol and drugs). By 1985 though, his life was back in order. 'They Killed Him' was included on Kristofferson's 1985 "Repossessed" album as an homage to his own heroes, including Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr and Jesus Christ, all martyrs. Kristofferson turned more and more to themes of politics and social justice for his later work, including many of the songs on "Repossessed". Though it (inevitably) didn't have the chart success of many of the earlier top Kristofferson songs, 'They Killed Him. still stands as one of his best. The lyrics pay tribute to his heroes and Kristofferson builds the narrative masterfully, explaining how each of those men came in peace, and ending each story with the powerful refrain. The passionate song, which includes the lines- "But he knew his duty, and the price he had to pay / Just another holy man who tried to make a stand / My God, they killed him," was also recorded by Cash and Bob Dylan.


As mentioned, Kristofferson's celebrity did not ease his mind, which was prone to depression, or his problematic drinking habit. The heady years of grand success proved to be the most difficult of his life - “The darkness is driving me farther away from the shore/ Throw me a rhyme or a reason to try to go on,” he wrote and sang in 'Shipwrecked in the 80s'. He also once said - "Getting high was supposed to be a method of opening the doors of perception for me, and what it was doing was shutting them ... It took me 30 years to admit I had a problem."

He found rhyme and reason in Lisa Meyers, who married Kristofferson in 1983 and helped him get his life under control. The couple had 5 children together, and Kristofferson became the doting father that he hadn’t been for his first three kids in the 1960s and 70s. With his newfound sobriety, Kristofferson gravitated back to country music. In 1985, Kristofferson joined old friends (that harkened way back to his early wild Nashville Days when he hung out with Faron Young's infamous Tootsies Saloon gang) in Cash, Willie and Waylon to form the supergroup The Highwaymen. The group returned Kristofferson’s voice to radio, and offered him great joy, once saying - “Every time I look at a picture of Willie and me and John and Waylon, I find it amazing that they let the janitor join in".

In 1987 Kristofferson released a new album, "Repossessed", that earned widespread praise. Once again he found himself in demand for live performances, and he also made several well-received films, including "Amerika" and "Trouble In Mind". Kristofferson's resurgence was described as "a middle-aged gent who's dead serious about his fathering, husbanding, songwriting, acting, record-making, and concert-giving". Until the Covid pandemic in 2020, Kristofferson toured incessantly in the 21st century, a quiet man in worn brown boots, commanding stages with only his guitar and harmonica for accompaniment. His Gibson acoustic might go out of tune - no matter. As he aged into his eighties, he might forget a song lyric - audience members were there to fill it in. His charisma and his songs outshone the brightest of spotlights.

In 2003, Kristofferson received the Free Speech Award from the Americana Music Association and in 2004 he was inducted into the Country Music HoF. He has also received lifetime achievement honors from BMI, The Recording Academy, the CMA and the ACM, among many others. “When I got started, I was one of the people hoping to bring respect to country music,” he said. “Some of the songs I had that got to be hits did that. I imagine that’s why somebody might vote me into a Hall of Fame. I know it’s not because of my golden throat.”

if you think I've stinted on Kristofferson's history, compressed to just 3 days, you'd be right - it's only because I'll be literally back on the road again in an hour. I may have just enough time to post a little more of his later works in a few days time when I return home for a few hours before heading off again, or, if not, then in about a weeks time after I return from a Sydney trip. Until then - cheers.
 

Professor Knowall

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I'm back from soggy Sydney, and with just a couple of spare days. So last time here, I confessed to shortchanging the Kristofferson contribution to country music due to having to hit the road, so here's a bit more to fully complete his history - and bearing his mind, he was first and foremost a song-writer (and leading Hollywood movie actor) rather then a singer, given his limited vocal tange and strength.

As already mentioned, Kristofferson was married to singer Rita Coolidge from 1973 to 1978 (they were actually together for 8 years since meeting on a flight from LA to Memphis in 1971). Both later said the marriage wasn't good for them, both partying hard with plenty of alcohol and drugs - and Kristofferson didn't stop his by now notorious womanising while on the road - as a leading Hollywood star with rugged good looks, intelligence and charm, he just couldn't resist the many hot young things that came his way. In her memoir, Coolidge details their “volatile” marriage - “People were fascinated with us as a couple but his drinking and infidelity proved too much to bear...”. This did not stop them having professional success as a duet. 'Loving Arms' was a single from their debut 1973 album, "Full Moon", which reached # 1. In later years, Dobie Gray, Elvis Presley, Petula Clark, and Olivia Newton-John would all go on to score hits with this song -


Like a large number of Kristofferson's songs that deal with breaking up (something Kristofferson had plenty of experience in, given his countless affairs), 'Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends' is about the feeling one canhave in a love affair when you just know it has an end date coming soon - but you avoid talking about it, instead just living in the moment). Kristofferson and Coolidge, recorded a duet version of it in 1978, the year before they divorced. But it was Ronnie Milsap's recording that brought it to the public's attention, first recording it for his debut album in 1971, then re-recorded it for his "Pure Love" album in 1974. This version reached # 1 - only his second of what would become a flood of # 1 hits for that great vocalist. Willie Nelson, Bobby Bare, Joan Osborne and even Sammy Davis, Jr. are among the other artists who have recorded this song, with it's classic country theme of love doomed to end - but making the most of it while one still can -


Kristofferson wrote 'Good Morning John' in response to his good friend Johnny Cash's ongoing struggle with addiction. At a party celebrating Cash's sobriety, friends were invited to write a letter, but Kristofferson instead chose to write a song instead, later saying - "Everyone was supposed to say something inspirational, so I wrote a song. I tried to record this once before with Wilie Nelson and my band. When I sang the chorus, they echoed me when I would sing "Good morning John." When I got to the line that said"I love you, John," Willie said "He loves you, John," and we all cracked up laughing. We never finished it, so I finished it myself." It was another close friend of Cash (they shared a flat together for a short while in the sixties, where they partied too hard for their own good), in Waylon Jennings with the definitive version for his 1985 "Turning The Page" album. Ironically, Cash could've sang much the same lyrics about Waylon, given Waylon's own serious addiction problems which he eventually overcame. Kristofferson himself didn’t record 'Good Morning John' until 2009, 5 years after Cash, a fellow Highwaymen, died -


In his concerts Kristofferson always introduced 'The Promise', from his 1995 (not 1993) album, "A Moment Of Forever", by saying he wrote this song for all his kids ... and their mothers (he has 8 children from his 3 marriages). That explains the lyrics, for by now, his wild ways were a decade behind him (see below) -


'A Moment Of Forever' was written as the title song for his 1995 album. This album reflected the stability and happiness Kristofferson had long sought for and finally found after his third marriage to Lisa Meyers in 1983. Gone now was his binge drinking and constant womanising as they went on to raise a family of 5 children. Kristofferson's previous songs of passing and lost love now replaced with the lyrics of contentment and permanency. Fellow "Highwaymen", Willie Nelson recorded the song for his similarly titled 2008 album, "Moment Of Forever", and I can't go past his emotive version -


On the back cover of "The Silver Tongued Devil and I", Kristofferson advised that his songs were “Echoes of the
going ups and coming downs, walking pneumonia and run-of-the-mill madness, colored with guilt, pride, and a
vague sense of despair
.” Sometimes divine communion, then, is holy hell. Kristofferson brought some of that hell
on himself, and he lived through times when guilt and despair were anything but vague, and when pride was hard
to conjure. Asked about regrets, he said, “Listen, I have those. But my life has turned out so well for me that I
would be afraid to change anything".


Kristofferson last performed at age 84 in 2020 before covid stepped in. His retirement from 5 decades of performing
was formally announced in January 2021, but Kristofferson still lives on, now age 86, so who knows if this junior sport
star, Rhodes Scholar, Oxford masters graduate, U.S. army ranger, helicopter pilot, A-list Hollywood heart throb and
song writing legend still hasn't still got a song left him in.

There will now be another enforced break for about 3 weeks (I have to go to Tasmania again for a couple of weeks
(I always enjoy my time there), until I return with another great songwriter - and terrific all-round musician who
emerged to prominence in the early 1970's.
 
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Professor Knowall

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This is a great album. Well worth getting. Full album, check it out.

It's pretty extraordinary that Parton is still writing such good songs at age 76, for most song-writers are pretty
much creatively washed-up by age 50 (or much earlier in many cases). Her strong voice also sounds little different
than 30 years ago. But her new album is actually different in that it serves as a sound track for the just released
novel "Run, Rose, Run" that she co-wrote with James Patterson, about a young, poor, country female performer
coming (or escaping) to Nashville with the ambition of becoming a star (sounds familiar). I'm assuming Dolly
provided plot ideas and background factual information, given her decades of real life Nashville experiences,
while Patterson contributed his novel writing skills to put the story together.

As for the album itself, being a soundtrack results in much of the music and lyrics having a theatrical like feel to it.
I can't say I love it all - including the title track 'Run' and 'Drive'. But it also has absolute gems that make this a
terrific album overall. For me, the stand-out songs were 'Demons' (nothing to do with the AFL premiers), a duet
with Ben Haggard, who sounds just like his legendary dad, the "classic country" sound of 'Lost and Found' with Joe
Nichols and the driving bluegrass of 'Dark Night, Bright Future' (not totally traditional bluegrass, with a little snare
and electric guitar, but it allworks well). While not quite to my own taste, I suspect 'Woman Up (And Take It Like A
Man)', with it's clever lyrics (classic Dolly Parton song-writing) and contemporary rather than classic country sound,
may prove the most popular cut from the album.

What's the bet that the novel and its original soundtrack next becomes a movie or musical ... or both.
 

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Kris Kristofferson had flaws but I reckon one of the most well rounded person to ever walk this earth.
 

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Taking note of his rugged good looks, his intelligence, talent and charm (particulately when it came to women) and his appeal even to the young beyond country music boundaries, Hollywood discovered Kristofferson in the early 1970's, and he added numerous film appearances to his already-busy schedule of touring and recording. Unlike many country stars in this history series, who might've appeared in the odd film here or there, or even in a number, Kristoffeson, at least for a couple of years, became a serious A-grade star attraction at the box office, right up there with the likes of Paul Newman, Robert Redford, winning a Golden Globe best actor award for his role in "A Star Is Born" remake (without the aid of auto-tune, unlike the latest remake), alongside Barbara Streisand and appearing in numerous films including "Semi-Tough", "Songwriter", "Pat Garrett" and Billy the Kid", "The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea", "Lone Star" and "Blade", until he had had enough of the whole Hollywood BS. He never really did take acting seriously, just getting by on his good looks, charm and natural talent.

He also toured the world with his band and with Rita Coolidge, his wife from 1973 until 1980, moving from Nashville to California. They performed as a country-pop duo, earning a number of Grammy nominations and awards together. He still managed to record 9 albums between 1972 and 1979, but Kristofferson's peculiar insecurity led to near panic in the face of adulation and stardom and the quantity and quality of his songwriting noticeably declined. Plagued with drug and alcohol abuse, he divorced Coolidge in 1980 and tried to set his life straight. The process took almost 5 years. But for now, let's get back to where we left off in 1971 with Kristofferson's not only writing timeless songs for others, but also establishing himself as a performer.

Two days back, I said there would be a post-script to Kristofferson's first charting hit, 'Me and Bobby McGee, which Roger Miller took to # 12 in 1969. However the world would really discover the depth of this song due to the incomparable Janis Joplin version (and I don't care hers wasn't a country version but instead a powerful soul infused R&B classic - it simply must be included in this history). There is tragic tale to tell here.

Kristofferson and Joplin first met through performer Bobby Neuwirth in mid 1970. After playing a show in NYC, Neuwirth suggested that they fly out to California where Joplin was staying. Several weeks passed and the trio was still residing at Joplin’s place – where she became very fond of Kristofferson (maybe the "man's man" Kristofferson compared all too well to the usual bunch of doped out self-absorbed useless San Francisco hippies she was used to). Kristofferson later said - “I dug her, but I had itchy feet. I’d get up intending to get out, and in she comes with the early morning drinks and pretty soon you’re wasted enough and you don’t care about leaving.” As the pair got closer, their romance blossomed. The two Texan natives shared a few weeks together before the "itchy feet" inevitably got the better of Kristofferson and he moved on, leaving a saddened Joplin, knowing it was over and looking back on the good times (sounds like a certain Kristofferson song, doesn't it). Just a few weeks later, Joplin OD'd on heroin and died.

Unknown to Kristofferson, after he left her, Joplin recorded 'Me and Bobby McGee' to be included on her posthumous classic album "Pearl". Tragically, she OD'd on heroin and died just a few days after she recorded the song. She never got to see how big it would become, hitting # 1 on the pop charts, her only # 1 hit and living on to become hailed in time as an all-time American classic (and along the way, cementing Kristofferson's position as one of the most important songwriters of his generation).

Kristoffeson himself was cut to the core, later saying - “The first time I heard Janis Joplin’s version was after she died. Paul Rothchild, her producer, asked me to stop by his office and listen to this thing she had cut. Afterwards, I walked all over L.A., just in tears. I couldn’t listen to the song without really breaking up. So when I came back to Nashville, I went into the Combine [Publishing] building late at night, and I played it over and over and over again, so I could get used to it without breaking up." -

'Me and Bobby McGee' was also recorded by Kenny Rogers and his band in 1969 and by Canadian folk country great, Gordon Lightfoot who had a top 20 hit with it in Canada in 1970. Jerry Lee Lewis had a top 40 hit with it on the Pop charts in 1971. While the list of artists who have recorded the song is far too many to include all, the ones I would mention include great versions by The Grateful Dead, Joan Baez, Melissa Etheridge, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, The Highwayman, and of course the seriously good version released by Kristofferson himself. But in truth, none compare with the great, but tragic, Janis Joplin version. I can't help but think that in the emotion she poured into her version, she was, just maybe, thinking her very own "Bobby McGee" who had just slipped through her fingers.

Kristofferson collaborated with Shel Silverstein (who would go on to find fame as the author of children's books) on 'The Taker', which appeared on his second album in a horn-laden rendition that has a Tex-Mex flair. That same year, Waylon Jennings cut a much better-known version and made it the title song of his album "The Taker/Tulsa", which featured 4 Kristofferson songs. His take on the song reached # 5 in 1971, so here I've opted for Waylon's great version here - actually it's not his original 1971 cover, but his 1974 live recording, which I enjoy even more -


Unlike a lot of his early songs that got farmed out to other artists before he got a chance to record them himself, Kristofferson was the first one to record Lovin’ Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again) and it was his first single from his 1971 album "The Silver Tongued Devil and I". Interestingly, the song was never promoted to country radio - instead, it became a hit in the Adult Contemporary format. Roger Miller also cut the song. It reached # 26 on the pop chart and did even better on the Adult Contemporary chart, peaking all the way up to # 4. A year later, country legend Roger Miller spent 11 weeks in the charts with his version, which peaked at # 28. Though the song became a # 2 hit for Tompall and The Glaser Brothers in the early 1980s, the definitive version of this is from the writer, Kristofferson, himself - and for me, this is a most beautifully written song, with an equally beautiful, deceptively complex, melody -


Now for Kristofferson's first, and only, # 1 as a singer. He is known for the gritty realism of many of his best songs, but 'Why Me' is a stark contrast, a country-gospel song written straight from the heart and without the poetic bent or hard-nosed world view of most of his other efforts, reaching #1 in 1972 and # 16 on the pop chart. He was inspired to write it after attending a church service - he explained that he was never one to attend church but was taken there by the great country vocalist (and straight laced, good living conservative), Connie Smith (remember from 2 days back she sang the first Kristofferson song featured). Why the hard drinking, womanising Kristofferson, who by his own admission avoided church like the plague) suddenly found himself in this situation I haven't quite nailed down - perhaps he told Connie of his demons and this was her way of trying to help him. Anyway, Kristofferson later recalled how deeply the church visit shook him - "The pastor askedIs anybody feeling lost? Are you ready to accept Christ? Kneel down there. It was just a personal thing I was going through at the time. I had some kind of experience that I can’t even explain". This experience didn't instantly "cure" him of his demons (he had much more troubled times ahead), but maybe it was the first step - a public acknowledgment that he needed to find help for the emptiness and unhappiness he felt.

At the church service, Larry Gatlin (before he became a star) sang a song called 'Help Me Lord' and was recruited by Kristofferson's to sing backing vocals on the track. The song itself (and believe me, one doesn't have to be religious to appreciate it) starts slowly, with Kristofferson confessing his own worthiness - "Why me Lord, what have I ever done / To deserve even one Of the pleasures I've known / Tell me Lord, what did I ever do That was worth loving you / Or the kindness you've shown..."

As we all know, Kristofferson's vocal range was never the greatest. But, what sets him apart from as a performer has nothing to do with a pristine vocal approach. In his shining moment as a performer, this plain-spoken take on the song simply works because it showcases a man who is as rough around the edges vocally as are the lyrics. The song builds as he makes his cry for help, acknowledging he can't do it on his own - "...Lord help me, Jesus / I've wasted it so help me Jesus / I know what I am / Now that I know that I've needed you / So help me Jesus, my soul's in your hands...". The themes in this song, of one's feeling of emptiness, unworthiness and needing help (be it divine or human) are universal, not just religious -

'Why Me' was also recorded by Johnny Cash, George Jones, David Allan Coe, Merle Haggard and Conway Twitty - all artists who had their own mental demons and addictions to deal with (as so many of our country heroes did).

We now skip to 1985 (the intervening years since his # 1 hit being filled with big time Hollywood stardom and then battles with depression, alcohol and drugs). By 1985 though, his life was back in order. 'They Killed Him' was included on Kristofferson's 1985 "Repossessed" album as an homage to his own heroes, including Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr and Jesus Christ, all martyrs. Kristofferson turned more and more to themes of politics and social justice for his later work, including many of the songs on "Repossessed". Though it (inevitably) didn't have the chart success of many of the earlier top Kristofferson songs, 'They Killed Him. still stands as one of his best. The lyrics pay tribute to his heroes and Kristofferson builds the narrative masterfully, explaining how each of those men came in peace, and ending each story with the powerful refrain. The passionate song, which includes the lines- "But he knew his duty, and the price he had to pay / Just another holy man who tried to make a stand / My God, they killed him," was also recorded by Cash and Bob Dylan.


As mentioned, Kristofferson's celebrity did not ease his mind, which was prone to depression, or his problematic drinking habit. The heady years of grand success proved to be the most difficult of his life - “The darkness is driving me farther away from the shore/ Throw me a rhyme or a reason to try to go on,” he wrote and sang in 'Shipwrecked in the 80s'. He also once said - "Getting high was supposed to be a method of opening the doors of perception for me, and what it was doing was shutting them ... It took me 30 years to admit I had a problem."

He found rhyme and reason in Lisa Meyers, who married Kristofferson in 1983 and helped him get his life under control. The couple had 5 children together, and Kristofferson became the doting father that he hadn’t been for his first three kids in the 1960s and 70s. With his newfound sobriety, Kristofferson gravitated back to country music. In 1985, Kristofferson joined old friends (that harkened way back to his early wild Nashville Days when he hung out with Faron Young's infamous Tootsies Saloon gang) in Cash, Willie and Waylon to form the supergroup The Highwaymen. The group returned Kristofferson’s voice to radio, and offered him great joy, once saying - “Every time I look at a picture of Willie and me and John and Waylon, I find it amazing that they let the janitor join in".

In 1987 Kristofferson released a new album, "Repossessed", that earned widespread praise. Once again he found himself in demand for live performances, and he also made several well-received films, including "Amerika" and "Trouble In Mind". Kristofferson's resurgence was described as "a middle-aged gent who's dead serious about his fathering, husbanding, songwriting, acting, record-making, and concert-giving". Until the Covid pandemic in 2020, Kristofferson toured incessantly in the 21st century, a quiet man in worn brown boots, commanding stages with only his guitar and harmonica for accompaniment. His Gibson acoustic might go out of tune - no matter. As he aged into his eighties, he might forget a song lyric - audience members were there to fill it in. His charisma and his songs outshone the brightest of spotlights.

In 2003, Kristofferson received the Free Speech Award from the Americana Music Association and in 2004 he was inducted into the Country Music HoF. He has also received lifetime achievement honors from BMI, The Recording Academy, the CMA and the ACM, among many others. “When I got started, I was one of the people hoping to bring respect to country music,” he said. “Some of the songs I had that got to be hits did that. I imagine that’s why somebody might vote me into a Hall of Fame. I know it’s not because of my golden throat.”

if you think I've stinted on Kristofferson's history, compressed to just 3 days, you'd be right - it's only because I'll be literally back on the road again in an hour. I may have just enough time to post a little more of his later works in a few days time when I return home for a few hours before heading off again, or, if not, then in about a weeks time after I return from a Sydney trip. Until then - cheers.

Im an unashamed Waylon fan but I reckon this one here was one of Waylons greatest covers
 

softtiger9

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I'm back from soggy Sydney, and with just a couple of spare days. So last time here, I confessed to shortchanging the Kristofferson contribution to country music due to having to hit the road, so here's a bit more to fully complete his history - and bearing his mind, he was first and foremost a song-writer (and leading Hollywood movie actor) rather then a singer, given his limited vocal tange and strength.

As already mentioned, Kristofferson was married to singer Rita Coolidge from 1973 to 1978 (they were actually together for 8 years since meeting on a flight from LA to Memphis in 1971). Both later said the marriage wasn't good for them, both partying hard with plenty of alcohol and drugs - and Kristofferson didn't stop his by now notorious womanising while on the road - as a leading Hollywood star with rugged good looks, intelligence and charm, he just couldn't resist the many hot young things that came his way. In her memoir, Coolidge details their “volatile” marriage - “People were fascinated with us as a couple but his drinking and infidelity proved too much to bear...”. This did not stop them having professional success as a duet. 'Loving Arms' was a single from their debut 1973 album, "Full Moon", which reached # 1. In later years, Dobie Gray, Elvis Presley, Petula Clark, and Olivia Newton-John would all go on to score hits with this song -


Like a large number of Kristofferson's songs that deal with breaking up (something Kristofferson had plenty of experience in, given his countless affairs), 'Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends' is about the feeling one canhave in a love affair when you just know it has an end date coming soon - but you avoid talking about it, instead just living in the moment). Kristofferson and Coolidge, recorded a duet version of it in 1978, the year before they divorced. But it was Ronnie Milsap's recording that brought it to the public's attention, first recording it for his debut album in 1971, then re-recorded it for his "Pure Love" album in 1974. This version reached # 1 - only his second of what would become a flood of # 1 hits for that great vocalist. Willie Nelson, Bobby Bare, Joan Osborne and even Sammy Davis, Jr. are among the other artists who have recorded this song, with it's classic country theme of love doomed to end - but making the most of it while one still can -


Kristofferson wrote 'Good Morning John' in response to his good friend Johnny Cash's ongoing struggle with addiction. At a party celebrating Cash's sobriety, friends were invited to write a letter, but Kristofferson instead chose to write a song instead, later saying - "Everyone was supposed to say something inspirational, so I wrote a song. I tried to record this once before with Wilie Nelson and my band. When I sang the chorus, they echoed me when I would sing "Good morning John." When I got to the line that said"I love you, John," Willie said "He loves you, John," and we all cracked up laughing. We never finished it, so I finished it myself." It was another close friend of Cash (they shared a flat together for a short while in the sixties, where they partied too hard for their own good), in Waylon Jennings with the definitive version for his 1985 "Turning The Page" album. Ironically, Cash could've sang much the same lyrics about Waylon, given Waylon's own serious addiction problems which he eventually overcame. Kristofferson himself didn’t record 'Good Morning John' until 2009, 5 years after Cash, a fellow Highwaymen, died -


In his concerts Kristofferson always introduced 'The Promise', from his 1995 (not 1993) album, "A Moment Of Forever", by saying he wrote this song for all his kids ... and their mothers (he has 8 children from his 3 marriages). That explains the lyrics, for by now, his wild ways were a decade behind him (see below) -


'A Moment Of Forever' was written as the title song for his 1995 album. This album reflected the stability and happiness Kristofferson had long sought for and finally found after his third marriage to Lisa Meyers in 1983. Gone now was his binge drinking and constant womanising as they went on to raise a family of 5 children. Kristofferson's previous songs of passing and lost love now replaced with the lyrics of contentment and permanency. Fellow "Highwaymen", Willie Nelson recorded the song for his similarly titled 2008 album, "Moment Of Forever", and I can't go past his emotive version -


On the back cover of "The Silver Tongued Devil and I", Kristofferson advised that his songs were “Echoes of the
going ups and coming downs, walking pneumonia and run-of-the-mill madness, colored with guilt, pride, and a
vague sense of despair
.” Sometimes divine communion, then, is holy hell. Kristofferson brought some of that hell
on himself, and he lived through times when guilt and despair were anything but vague, and when pride was hard
to conjure. Asked about regrets, he said, “Listen, I have those. But my life has turned out so well for me that I
would be afraid to change anything".


Kristofferson last performed at age 84 in 2020 before covid stepped in. His retirement from 5 decades of performing
was formally announced in January 2021, but Kristofferson still lives on, now age 86, so who knows if this junior sport
star, Rhodes Scholar, Oxford masters graduate, U.S. army ranger, helicopter pilot, A-list Hollywood heart throb and
song writing legend still hasn't still got a song left him in.

There will now be another enforced break for about 3 weeks (I have to go to Tasmania again for a couple of weeks
(I always enjoy my time there), until I return with another great songwriter - and terrific all-round musician who
emerged to prominence in the early 1970's.
Now that's something I never thought of ... it was only ever meant to be something to occupy some of my mind and time during the lockdowns (you may notice that with the lockdowns over, I travel around everywhere a lot, so I wasn't used to spending time at home) but it's now become more like a quest without a definite end. I've probably already written enough for a book, but because it was only intended as a strictly amateur project, hidden away in Bigfooty, I've only rarely bothered acknowledging the many sources I've used. But maybe, one day after I decide to finish this, I may think more about what to do with it all ...
Saw KK at the palais in late 2019,just a great presence,doesn't say boo to the audience though
 

Professor Knowall

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I'm finally back from Tassie (taking a few days longer than expected) to continue the history - but I've been ordered
to South Australia from next Wednesday, so with time once again limited, I've decided to swap the song-writing and performing great I was to cover now with something very different in this history - a band. And not a band of good
old boy southerners, but of Californians who didn't even start as a country group in the 1960's (albeit there was
some country influence from the start), but who in 1971 recorded one of the most historically significant country
albums of all time - an album which set up their career for the next 50 years.

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (henceforth shortened to the NGDB) were born out of the burgeoning Southern California folk-rock scene of the late '60s and early '70's, starting in Long Beach in 1966 as the folk-duo New Coast Two with members Jeff Hanna and Bruce Kunkel. Both were in high school when the group started. Known first as New Coast Two and the Illegitimate Jug Band, when in college, they did jam sessions at a neighborhood guitar shop. While there, they met and recruited guitarist-washtub bassist Ralph Barr, guitarist-clarinetist Les Thompson, harmonicist and jug player Jimmie Fadden and songwriter, guitarist-vocalist Jackson Browne. The band name was then changed to the NGDB (due to time constraints, I'm omitting any background details of these band members here, but Jackson Browne in particular is someone you may most likely know something about).

When the group started, Southern California was dominating the music scene with an eclectic mix of artists. The
NGDB made a great addition to the area and started playing their blend of folk and rock songs and jug band at local
bars. However, Browne shortly left to pursue his solo career, replaced by multi-instrumentalist, John McEuen. He was
the son of the band’s new manager Bill McEuen who helped the group get a recording contract with Liberty Records in 1967. The band released their eponymous debut disc and won themselves enough attention to score a Top 40 hit, appear on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and open for a mixed melange of performers that ranged from the Doors to Jack Benny.

We open with the band’s first single. The folk/country/pop song 'Buy For Me The Rain' was released in 1967 on the band’s first album entitled "The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band". The song, written by Steve Noonan and Greg Copeland was the album's opening opening song. The song’s message of hope and appreciation of being simply alive every day instantly captivated that late 1960’s audience during the turbulence and often violent divisions of the Vietnam War era -


Their first album gave the group some exposure. However, trying too quickly to cash in, the group’s rushed, poorly produced second album flopped. Reacting to this failure, Klunkel suggested the group try going electric. However,
none of the other members, who were skilled instrumentalists, thought this a good idea, so he left the band. Chris
Darrow joined NGDB after his departure. The following year, 1968, the group relented and released "Rare Junk", their
first (in part just to sound "modern") electric album - it also flopped but it did have one song well worth a listen. Original group member Jackson Browne wrote 'These Days' while in school at age just 16. Nico first recorded it on her album "Chelsea Girl" in 1967, but it was spoiled with over-dubbed strings (added without Nico's knowledge). The song itself describes a feeling of loss and regret, and has lived on, recorded by dozens of artists, most recently by Miley Cyrus
and Cat Power in 2022 -
"Well I've been out walking / I don't do too much talking these days / These days /
These days I seem to think a lot / About the things that I forgot to do /
And all the times I had the chance to
..." -

Nearly a half century later, 2015, Jackson Browne performed this self-penned song with the NGDB, at the motherchurch of country music, the Ryman Auditorium, Nashville to celebrate the bands 50th year.

Despite the 2 successive album failures, the group kept going. In 1969, they released "Alive!", in which Liberty forced them to record campy novelty songs. After that album also (inevitably) failed, the group split, but reformed just 6 months later. McEuen, Hanna, and Thompson returned, adding singer songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Jim Ibbotson to the lineup. Upon returning to the studio, the NGDB adamantly insisted they needed complete control for the next album. Liberty agreed, and Bill McEuen became manager as well as producer. The change, with no more novelty songs, paid
off - "Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy" sounded much like the group’s earlier sound, a mix of folk, country and pop rock.

From the 1970 album "Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy", 'Some Of Shelley's Blues' was written by the guitar-playing
singer-songwriter, ex-Monkee and now recently deceased, (December 2021) Michael Nesmith -

There are music fans who might claim they don't know any NGDB songs - except this. 'Mr Bojangles' was a huge
hit for the band. It was written and first recorded by country music artist Jerry Jeff Walker, but it was the NGDB
version, released as a single from the 1970 album "Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy" album, that became the big hit, reaching # 9 on the pop charts - and having a very long afterlife. The title was a nickname used by Bill Robinson,
a black tap dancer who starred with Shirly Temple in "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm". Walker wrote the song after
getting drunk in New Orleans and making a fool of himself trying to impress a girl, but ended up spending a night
in jail. His cellmate was an older black man who made his living as a street performer.

The lyrics are wonderful, telling the story of a bloke who is down and out in prison in New Orleans and meets a broken down old alcoholic who used to be a soft shoe dancer. He learns of his love for his dog and of his life. But in that dingy old jail cell, the singer learns Mr. Bojangles' philosophy. He can laugh and dance in the face of all the sorrow and troubles in life. Right there in that old cell he jumps up and lands lightly on this feet, and that, right there, explains everything -


Kenny Loggins wrote the classic song 'House at Pooh Corner' while still in high school. As he looked at looming adulthood and the end of his childhood, he felt inspired by A.A. Milne’s 1928 book and resonated with Christopher Robin’s character. The song, an allegory for loss of innocence and nostalgia for childhood, was first recorded by the NGDB in 1970 for the album "Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy". It was also released a year later on the Loggins and Messina album "Sittin’ In" -


With the success of their 1970 album , "Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy", the NGDB amassed a large fan base, particularly among the college students of the west coast and northern cities, looking for an alternative to mainstream rock that was now dominating the airwaves and charts. However, despite possessing a variety of musical talents - or maybe because
of that - they still hadn't settled on a defined sound or genre, their music wandering over the genres of folk, country (including bluegrass) rock and pop. One thing they were not considered was as a country music band - their music
wasn't charted in the country charts and they were pretty much completely unknown (apart from Mr Bojangles)
in the country music heartlands of the South and Midwest.

But all this was to change in 1971/72 - which we shall see tomorrow.
 
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Professor Knowall

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As we saw yesterday, the NGDB had grown out of the fertile Southern Californian roots music scene of the early 1960s and began making records rooted in folk and jug-band styles in 1966. In 1970, they broke through commercially with
the folk-country-rock flavored album “Uncle Charlie and His Dog Teddy,” which featured their version of Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Mr. Bojangles,” a top-10 hit for them that year. The success of that album gave the band the freedom to do a very special project they long had had in mind. So in August 1971, the band - Jimmie Fadden, Jeff Hanna, Jim Ibbotson, John McEuen, and Les Thompson - came to Nashville with a modest budget and little record company enthusiasm, the group recorded the most historically significant country album ever.

Not released until late 1972, it's 50th anniversary is being celebrated this year with a book by McEuen about it's making and a series of special events. The album, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken", (or “Circle” as it's called by the band) was by a unique undertaking, simultaneously a commercial release in the popular music marketplace and a consciously historical project. The 3 disc album features the band performing with a cross-section of important figures from the foundation of country music, and it introduced these founding performers to a whole new young audience beyond the bounds of country music - as well as becoming a priceless recording of these music pioneers, albeit well past their prime. This profoundly influenced perceptions of this important stream of American roots music in ways that reverberate to this day e.g. the album is credited with a huge bluegrass revival.

The "Circle" showcases lauded country and bluegrass pioneer artists, including "Mother" Maybelle Carter (see # 117-119 & 222), Roy Acuff (# 147-149), Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs (# 181-183 & 194-195), Randy Scruggs, Merle Travis (# 184-186), Pete "Oswald" Kirby, Norman Blake and Jimmy Martin. The performers were much older and more famous from the 1930's to the 1960s, primarily as old-time country and bluegrass players. Many had become known to their generation through the Grand Ole Opry. However, with the rise of rock'n'roll, the emergence of the commercial slick 'Nashville Sound' and changing tastes in music, their popularity had waned from their glory years.

It was recorded in Nashville but has origins in Colorado, where the NGDB were performing. McEuen was able to meet up with his banjo hero, Earl Scruggs, and at the meeting pitched his idea for the album. He recently recalled - "I didn’t have to convince [Scruggs]. I just said ‘Earl, would you record with the Dirt Band on a few songs?’ He said he’d be proud to, and that started the ball rolling to where I’d asked Doc (guitar great Doc Watson) the next week. Eight weeks later, we started recording.” After enlisting the help of Scruggs and Doc Watson, he used that credibility to recruit Merle Travis, “Mother” Maybelle Carter, Roy Acuff, and Jimmy Martin to join them in the recording.

The album was a pure labor-of-love for the band, and a chance to play with many of the people that had pioneered American roots music which had so influenced musicians like the NGDB, even though they were outsiders to the rural, southern and mountain cultures that were the country heartlands. Every track on the album was recorded on the first
or second take straight to two-track masters, so the takes are raw and unprocessed. Additionally, another tape ran continuously throughout the entire week-long recording session and captured all the dialog between the players. On
the final album, many of the tracks begin with the musicians discussing how to perform the song or who should come
in where in any given portion of a song.

The album's theme is perfectly encapsulated by its opening number, the 'Grand Ole Opry Song', which nostalgically evokes the then mostly passed tradition of whole families gathering round the radio on a Saturday night, tuned into the Grand Ole Opry. The history and importance of the Grand Ole Opry is (albeit briefly and relying on videos) covered in post # 146 and I've mentioned the Opry incidentally dozens of times in the history). The singer, Jimmy Martin, was one of the most respected vocalists, and most colourful characters, in bluegrass music (and brought a few of his signature songs to the project). Martin was a veteran of bluegrass patriarch Bill Monroe’s band but Monroe himself unfortunately declined to be a part of the project, reportedly due to his own dislike and distrust of any young, longhaired "hippie" musicians from California who suddenly appear in Nashville.

The song itself, full of nostalgia, names many of the staple Opry performers of the past - Red Foley (#173 & 176-178), Hank Williams (#205-214), Roy Acuff (# 147-149), comedians Minnie Pearl, Rod Brasfield and 'Lazy' Jim Day, 'Little' Jimmie Dickins (a long time Opry star who mixed singing and comedy,whose life size bronze statue now stands outside the Ryman, showing what a short-arse he was), Earl Scruggs (# 194-195), Bill Monroe (# 181-183), Ernest Tubb (161-165), long-time pioneer Opry MC, George D Hay, music duo Lonzo and Oscar, singers George Morgan and Bradley Kincaid, singer/comedian Stringbean (aka David Akeman) and finally Hank Snow (# 202-204) -


Roy Acuff was a largely unknown name to a younger audience, but he had been the biggest country music star from the late ‘30s (# 147-149) until Hank Williams arrived in Nashville in the late 1940's and honkytonk took over. Hank Williams himself said of Acuff "He’s the biggest singer this music ever knew.... For drawing power in the South it was Roy Acuff and then God”. In 1971, he was still a major figure on the Grand Ole Opry, but had not been a part of the country mainstream for some 20 years. A very reluctant Acuff, who had views similar to Bill Monroe on long haired hippie aliens from California, was badgered into doing the album by his manager, in spite of Acuff’s public dislike for the counterculture the band represented. Just a month earlier, in an interview for "Look" magazine, Acuff had stated - “There’s no reason any group with the hippie dress - long hair, beards, dirty clothes - couldn’t sing on the Opry. But it wouldn’t be accepted as if you or I should walk on as we are in our good American way of life. The music is down to earth, for the home - not to get all hepped up and smoke a lot of marijuana and go wild about.”

However, the skeptical Acuff - who at the start of the recording had told the band to "watch your timing" was totally won over by the band’s musical abilities and clear love for the music, and put in a most inspired performance of the immortal Hank Williams gospel classic 'I Saw The Light', seemingly turning the clock back 35 years to his prime. This rendition, done in a single take, is now regarded as a country music classic and the best track on the album. Acuff left the sessions singing the praises of the long haired NGDB and their instrumental mastery -


Guitar virtuoso Doc Watson was a long-time hero to the NGDB, and while he was not himself a country star of earlier eras (hence why he never appeared in this history), he brought early country music styles into the folk revival with stunning ability, and was a universally loved and respected performer. After the folk revival waned during the late 1960s, Watson's career was revived by his performance of the Jimmy Driftwood song 'Tennessee Stud' on the "Circle" album. Afterwards, now more popular than ever, Doc toured the globe in the late 1970's and early 1980's, appearing with his son Merle Watson (named after great guitar pioneer Merle Travis, who Doc Watson first met and be-friended at the "Circle" recording) and made over 20 albums after 1972 to 2002, bringing his unique blend ofacoustic music to millions of
new fans -


“Mother” Maybelle Carter had been there from the very beginning of the country music recording industry as a member
of the Carter Family, with her sister Sara, and Sara’s husband, A.P. Carter (# 117-119). They first recorded as part of the famed Bristol Sessions in 1927 and were extremely popular on radio and records throughout the 1930s. Their music was a huge influence on the folk revival of the 1960s, including Bob Dylan who mined their melodies for his songs, and there are echoes of Maybelle’s unique guitar scratch style throughout country music and acoustic pop to this day. Not long before the “Circle” recordings, she had been featured weekly on her son-in-law Johnny Cash’s ABC television show, leading her 3 daughters as “The Carter Family" (# 222). Maybelle Carter, Jimmy Martin and Roy Acuff each sings a
verse and everyone else joins in for the chorus on the final track.

The final (and title) track of the album had to be 'Will The Circle Be Unbroken' - sung every year at the Country Music HoF, at the conclusion of each medallion induction ceremony. It's performed by the inductees of that respective year as well as any previously inducted members of the HoF who are present. What's more, the country music standard either kicks off or closes every Grand Ole Opry performance on the genre's most iconic stage. It was the last song to be performed on Ryman Auditorium stage before the Opry moved to its current home, the Grand Ole Opry House, in 1974, and the first song to be performed at the Opry House after it re-opened following Nashville's devastating 2010 flood.

The song itself is an anthem of hope and perseverance, a message that life - and music - continues in the face of adversity, and even after death. It connects generations of country musicians and fans, linking the genre's community today to its long-gone heroes of the past -


Although the album celebrated styles of country music whose height of popularity had long past, the album was still an enormous success. The counter-culture world had to a small extent embraced bluegrass and older country music styles before this. The success of “Circle” catapulted some of the featured artists into revived careers and spurred the growth of bluegrass festivals and record sales for all kinds of rural “roots” music.

While none of the celebrated country-oriented albums by people like Bob Dylan or the Byrds had made any dent at all the in the country music world, "Circle" reached # 4 on the charts. It truly did bridge cultural gaps - in a low-key but unmistakable way, it drove home the idea of a musical connection between different generations and genres, crystallizing an idea that had been implicit in so many rock/Nashville collaborations but until then left unexpressed. It was summed up by the subtitle in bold print on the cover: “Music Forms a New Circle.”

Since the excellent Ken Burns country music documentary first aired in the U.S. in 2019, (now on SBS catch-up) the album jumped back on the charts 2.5 years ago and has remained in the charts. Recognised as one of the most historic recordings ever in American music, it's been chosen for preservation in the U.S. Library of Congress and the Grammy HoF.

Also released in 1972 was the NGDB now heavily country influenced album "All The Good Times". I consider the cover of another Hank Williams cover, 'Jambalaya' (for the Hank's original, see post # 209) to be the pick from the album -


Tomorrow will track the NGDB after their epochal “Will the Circle Be Unbroken" album release in 1972 through to the 1980's.
 
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