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Professor Knowall

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On the Alt side that crosses the lines of rock, punk and country but I've really fallen in love with American Aquarium and especially their lead BJ Barham.


49 Winchester another band I've started to listen


Vandoliers are another alt band that blends punck rock with country

These have a lot more country authenticity than a lot of contemporary mainstream pop country and both rock and punk - early punk in particular - trace back to the raw 1950's rockabilly.
 
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THE A5

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These have a lot more country authenticity than a lot of Contemporary mainstream pop country and both rock and punk - early punk in particular - trace back to the raw 1950's rockabilly.
100% these guys may venture to other genre's but at core country. Heck Waylon/Willie and accused in the day of not being country .

American Aquarium early days was a blend of rock/punk but as BJ Barham has got older/ sober he become more country.
 

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THE A5

Norm Smith Medallist
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Tyler Childers not far off from dropping his new albulm


Not the biggest fan of this but my gosh his voice is unreal
 

Professor Knowall

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Tyler Childers not far off from dropping his new albulm


Not the biggest fan of this but my gosh his voice is unreal

Childers is another example of the most authentic country artists being now rarely found at the top of the charts, with the record companies ensuring the country chart is now a very thinly disguised pop chart aimed at the pop market, while genuine country music has been relegated to so-called "Americana". Tyler himself had something to say on this at at the 2018 Americana Music Honors & Awards, saying in his acceptance speech - "as a man who identifies as a country music singer, I feel Americana ain't no part of nothing and is a distraction from the issues that we're facing on a bigger level as country music singers. It kind of feels like purgatory."
 
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Professor Knowall

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This history now heads back to Texas (from now onwards, Texans will tend to dominate this history) to find an artist who broke through with his first big hits in 1974. His straightforward yet smooth bass-baritone voice, soft tones, and imposing build earned him the nickname "The Gentle Giant". A crooner, influenced by Eddy Arnold (see posts # 189-190) and Jim Reeves (see posts # 383-386), and a domesticated country lover man, à la Reeves and Arnold, too, but, in contrast to those 2, who between them possessed the smoothest, most precise pitch perfect vocals of country music history, our new artist scuffed up the complete smoothness of their vocals with his own gentle brand of cautious. His songs and delivery style have in turn influenced a range of artists, from The Who's Peter Townsend and blues rock great, Eric Clapton right up to Joe Nichols to Keith Urban.

Don Williams was born in 1939 in a small town on the high plains of West Texas, but the family moved to the large
South Texas city of Corpus Christi when he was still a young child. His father was a mechanic, but his mother was musical and taught him how to play the guitar by the time he was 12. Though he always enjoyed country music, Williams, as a teenager, also liked the sounds of rock'n'roll stars such as Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry. As a teenager, he played in a variety of country, rockabilly, folk, and rock'n'roll bands. But he didn't begin to work on music as a career until after serving in the U.S. Army for 2 years. While supporting himself with odd jobs in the area of Corpus Christi, South Texas, including driving a truck and working in oil fields, Williams and a friend, Lofton Kline, started singing in dingy bars as the Strangers Two.

One night in 1964, the duo played a college dance and found themselves on the same bill with singer Susan Taylor.
The 3 became acquainted and Taylor joined Williams and Kline to form the folk pop trio, The Pozo Seco Singers.
They released a single, 'Time' on an independent label, which became a hit in their home state, Texas, and led to
them being signed by Columbia Records. By 1966, 'Time' had become a national hit. highlighted by two Top 40 hits
in late 1966, 'I Can Make It with You' and 'Look What You've Done'. But despite the honour of being asked to sing
at President Lyndon Johnson's ranch in 1968, by the dawn of the 1970s their mellow folk pop sound was out of
fashion and Williams and his friends were reduced to singing back in dingy bars. Disilusioned, Williams, who had
married back in 1960 and had 2 children, quit the group and his music career in 1971 to open a furniture store in
Corpus Christi with his father-in-law.

But Williams was not contented with his new life outside of music and the following year he went to Nashville,
ironically seeking work as a songwriter as he didn't think his singing style would have commercial appeal. He was
hired by Jack Music Publishing, both to write and to sell his songs to country artists. After a short time of having
these artists almost buy his songs but reject them because they thought his work as being just too different to be
popular with country fans, Williams heeded their advice about recording them himself. He signed with JMI Records,
which, like Jack Music, belonged to Jack Clement, who believed Williams had something. Though he did perform his
own compositions, Williams wisely didn't restrict himself to them, but developed strong links with a few up and coming Nashville based songwriters, especially Bob McDill and Wayland Holyfield.

Williams' debut single 'Don't You Believe', went nowhere, but The Shelter of Your Eyes' climbed to # 14 in early 1973, quickly followed by 'Come Every Morning' reaching # 12. His solo debut album, "Don Williams, Volume One", which got
to # 3, featured the now-classic 'Amanda'. It’s one of the classic arguments for longtime fans of Country Music - Waylon Jennings’ 1979 chart-topper or Don Williams’ 1973 original? Either way, the choice is one of a classic. But, Don’s recording of 'Amanda' (a charted B-side of early hit of his early single 'Come Early Morning') Bob McDill evergreen made plenty of positive impressions early on in his career -


In 1974, at age 35, Williams scored a string of minor hits before he had his breakthrough, 'We Should Be Together',
reaching # 5. This to a contract with ABC/Dot, and his next single, 'Wouldn't Want to Live If You Didn't Love Me'
went all the way to # 1 in mid 1974. After Williams’ breakthrough in 1974, he went even better in 1975 with the
release of 'You’re My Best Friend'. The album’s title track brought him a second #1 hit and marked the beginning
of a long and fruitful partnership with songwriter Wayland Holyfield. It was the first time Holyfield topped the U.S.
charts in a career that would see him pen hits for everyone from Charley Pride to Anne Murray to George Strait.
'You’re My Best Friend' was quintessential Williams – a plaintive, loping ode of gratitude to his wife, with a gentle,
soothing string accompaniment. The song also marked Williams’ true beginning as a commercial juggernaut, as it
also topped the Canadian country chart and even cracked the UK Top 40, while the album’s next single, '(Turn Out
the Light and) Love Me Tonight', also went to # 1 just 3 months later -


Williams’ easygoing proclamations of love had a way of feeling timeless, as though their sense of calm was rooted
in the knowledge that the universe would always come around. So ‘Til the Rivers All Run Dry' took that theme from implication to outright declaration, as Williams vowed his love would last as long as the sun was in the sky. Reuniting
him with songwriter Holyfield, with whom Williams shared a co-writing credit for the first time, the song – at once spare and lush with its warm electric guitar leads – opened the # 1 selling 1976 album "Harmony". ‘Til the Rivers All Run Dry', another # 1 hit, demonstrated just how far Williams’ influence now extended, particularly in the U.K., where The Who’s Pete Townshend and The Faces’ Ronnie Lane showed their softer sides with an earnest cover of the song on their "Rough Mix" collaboration later that year - -


In spite of its breezy tune, light-as-a-feather production and Williams’ toasty-warm vocals, 'Some Broken Hearts Never Mind' offers 2 verses about lost love that also let Williams sing with a tinge of sadness and regret in his voice. Another
# 1 Williams song in 1977 from the pen of Wayland Holyfield, actor Telly Savalas (aka Kojak) also had a sizeable hit with it in Switzerland, Austria and the Netherlands, and others who’ve recorded it, in contrasting styles, include the Bellamy Brothers (to a reggae beat) and the Cox Family (as a bluegrass number) -


'Rake And Ramblin' Man', a # 3 hit in 1978 is a song that many men have identified with at one time or the other – about that moment where you find out that parenthood is just around the corner. Edgy by Williams' standards, this partially-narrated tale about a free spirit tells of a rambling man with enough common sense to know he wouldn't make a reliable father. It's one of several Williams classics penned by Bob McDill. Williams handled the song with just the right amount of wry humor in interpreting McDill’s lyrics -


By 1978, the Williams style had developed - gently paced songs with straightforward arrangements, lyrics and sentiments. Williams was mining the same vein as Jim Reeves, but he eschewed Reeves' smartness by dressing
like a ranch-hand - his one and only nod to the influence of the Outlaw era then in full swing. Despite having had
7 Top 5 albums and 7 # 1 singles in justn5 years, his biggest success - and biggest hit -still lay ahead, but for now,
we leave Don Williams off in 1978 - until tomorrow.
 
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Professor Knowall

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Don William's run of # 1 hits from 1974 through 1975 propelled him into Hollywood - playing a band member himself in the 1975 Burt Reynolds film "W.W. & the Dixie Dance Kings" and, having developed a friendship with Reynolds and having by now racked up an extraordinary 12 # 1 hits and 8 other Top 5 songs, he also appeared in "Smokey and the Bandit 2" in 1981, which didn't demand too much of his character acting skills - he simply played himself and provided a few songs for the movie (probably the only good thing about that terrible sequel).

Williams always maintained tight artistic control over his material. He refused to consider sing any songs about the common country music themes of fighting, marital infidelity or drinking/drugs. Apparently it wasn't so much to take a high moral tone as to be true to his own experiences, with Williams once saying - "I've never really done those things, they haven't been a part of my life, so I guess I just don't relate to them very well." This clean cut, domestic living, devoid of any advice (apart from tobacco) made Williams a somewhat unusual country music star. Instead he preferred love ballads or storytelling songs, much like his early influencers, Eddy Arnold and Jim Reeves.

The “Gentle Giant” toughened up his sound on 'Tulsa Time', from 1978’s "Expression" LP. Driven by a gritty, funky rock'n'roll beat that sounded more like it was out of Waylon Jennings’ playbook than his own, Williams reveled in songwriter Danny Flowers’ hard-luck tale of trying and failing to make it in the big city. Pushing his baritone to a higher-than-normal register, his voice felt like it might just flutter away on the up-beat, hand-clapping chorus. This was Williams at his most versatile, a fact that didn’t go overlooked by the country music establishment - 'Tulsa Time', his 8th # 1 single (and soon-to-be favorite of Eric Clapton’s), was named ACM Song of the Year, while the CMA gave Williams the Male Vocalist award - the only time he would earn either honour -


'Lay Down Beside Me' was, like many of Williams’ early recordings, composed by Williams himself. Before he had a chance to release it himself, Kenny Rodgers cut a version for his 1976 self-titled album. It took Williams to turn it into a Top 5 hit though, which he did in style in 1979 -


'Good Ole Boys Like Me' is for me, fascinated as I am with Southern culture, with all its virtues ... and vices, is, lyrically, Williams best song. This sweet, openly nostalgic tune from Bob McDill, a # 2 single in 1980, offers a number of glimpses of vintage Southern life that's now mostly fading. There are complicated memories of a father “... with gin on his breath and a Bible in his hand...", cherished nights listening to legendary deejays John R. and Wolfman Jack on the radio and wisdom imparted by “... those Williams boys, Hank and Tennessee.” (making sure his listeners understood he wasn't referring to himself but the 2 legendary performers) What this Williams boy does with those memories is simply magical, and although the song also name-checks Thomas Wolfe, who wrote "You Can’t Go Home Again", Williams’ delivery suggests that home really is anywhere you leave your heart -


Likely the song that stands as Williams’ most identifiable classic, 'I Believe in You' was the biggest selling record of Williams’ career – an international country chart-topper and platinum album title track. It was also explicitly, if subtly, political. The song, written by Roger Cook and Sam Hogin, lets Williams, in a relaxed "rap", shake his head at the absurdities and contradictions of modern life (so it's still just as relevant today), expressing disbelief at a host of hard life transitions and troubles – from getting old to religious fundamentalism to “... the high cost of getting by...” In opposition to all that nonsense, Williams avers that “I believe in love…I believe in you.” this was an across the board, yet another # 1 country hit (naturally) in both the U.S. and Canada, but also # 8 and # 7 on the U.S. and Canadian AC charts respectively and even reaching # 24 on the U.S. pop chart. Moreover, the song’s success stretched across the world, hitting the charts in Europe, a Top 20 hit on the Australian chart and even reaching # 4 in New Zealand-


'If I Needed You' was written by one of America's greatest songwriters, the late, great and legendary Townes Van Zandt (see posts # 551-555). Williams did hardly any collaborations in his career. But when Emmylou Harris comes calling, offering to duet a Van Zandt song, Williams simply couldn't refuse. This beautiful, moving ballad was first heard on Van Zandt’s 1972 LP "The Late Great Townes Van Zandt". Nine years later, Harris recruited Williams for the duet, which she included on her LP "Cimarron". Though Williams may never have intended to perform as a duet, here his smooth baritone and Harris’ gentle folk-country vocal blend beautifully, creating one of the most romantic pairings in the country canon. A # 3 single in the U.S., and topping the chart in Canada -


By 1981, the quietly spoken Williams was at the very height of his success, his songs dominating the charts. Yet it was around about this time that, like a few , heroes like Lefty Frizzell, Don Gibson and Townes Van Zandt, the celebrity lifestyle really wasn't for him. He started cutting back on promotional work such as going on various radio stations, avoided TV shows, cut back his concert schedule by half (though he continued giving concerts until near the end of his life), and instead spent more time at home with his wife and kids, tinkering around or relaxing on his favourite hobby of fishing. The hectic celebrity party lifestyle and chasing ever more success just wasn't for him. Yet his run of sucess wasn't over yet - that will be concluded tomorrow.
 

Professor Knowall

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Among country’s major acts, Don Williams was perhaps the least enamored of his success. Commenting on his reputation
as a superstar, he said, “The only way that I would be comfortable with that sort of title is when people tell me that my
music has helped them through some stage of their life ... But as far as that whole approach to special treatment and
people carrying on over you, I never have been too big on that
.” At heart a private person, he avoided music industry
parties, he gave few interviews and TV appearances, didn't do any promotions and deliberately limited his tour schedule
so he could spend time on his farm with his family. Yet despite deliberately keeping a low profile, his hits continued right
through the 1980's and into the early 1990's.

Despite his quiet demeoner (he wasn't one to talk or banter with an audience, just go up and song his songs), onstage,
Don Williams built a large and loyal following. In addition to his domestic audience, he won fans worldwide, selling records
and touring extensively in the British Isles, Europe, Latin America, and Australia. He is one of the few singing stars of any
genres who toured through Africa - South Africa, Kenya, Zambia Zimbabwe and Ivory Coast.

Williams sang so softly and easily, and his records were arranged so sparsely, that listeners were all but forced to attend to every word. Strange then that 'Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good', usually regarded as an ordinary man’s humble morning prayer - or hope - hasn’t been more widely recognized for what it is - a great expression of all-too-human hubris. Williams comes off as just a regular Job here, accusing God of perhaps forgetting him, suggesting specific plans to replace his mysterious ways, even flattering the Lord a little bit (“... It would be easy for you!...“), the better to get him to do the singer a solid and make this day a good one. Slyest of all is that Williams’ down-on-his-knees delivery leaves us endorsing this everyday sacrilege – and even singing along to it - in this # 1 in both the U.S. and Canada in 1981 -


Williams had his 13th # 1 U.S. hit and also topped the chart again in Canada, with Bob McDill’s 'If Hollywood Don’t Need You', released in 1982 from the "Listen to the Radio" album. It’s a classic trope in country songwriting that persists even today - the narrator is pining over a woman who’s ditched him for the bright lights of Tinseltown. He’s feeling a bit stuck (“... Things back here they never change at all ...” he admits) and unable to enjoy himself without her (“...'Cause all that I can think about is you ...“), but Williams sings it with an air of calm, sad acceptance. He wishes her the best and leaves an offer on the table that he’ll have her back if things don’t pan out in California, asking her to shake Burt Reynolds’ hand if she ever meets him – funny, considering Williams had his own Hollywood moment (albeit it was all filmed in Florida) with his friend, Reynolds in 1981's "Smokey And The Bandit 2" -


On to 1983 and yet another # 1 in both the U.S. and Canada. On this Roger Cook and John Prine co-write, 'Love Is On A Roll', Williams smoothed out his down-home drawl with some rolling Jimmy Buffet style rhythms and a delivery that might convince
you could do as well - at least until you try - remaining in perfect pitch is a deceptively difficult art that only an elite few like
Eddie Arnold, Jim Reeves and Williams himself, truly mastered. He stood alone in this ability at this time - no-one else sounded like Don Williams -


Williams had passed the peak of his popularity by the late 1980's, but the hits never stopped drying up. In 1988, aged almost 50, proving age was no barrier to success, Williams released probably his best single of his later years, with 'Another Place, Another Time'. This tender ballad was the nearest thing Williams sang, or was willing to sing, about cheating - a song about a love that should've been, could've been - but wasn't - as the timing wasn’t right, due to the relationships that the singer and the other were already in. So fidelity triumphed over temptation, despite the very strong strand of regret. Of course, strong lyrics were nothing new to the great song-writer, Bob McDill, who co-wrote this gem with Paul Harrison. The song hit # 5 -


Williams continued to have hits, but his streak came to an end in 1992, following his last Top 10 single, 'Lord Have Mercy on a Country Boy'. Although he continued to perform in the mid-'90s, he had effectively retired to his Nashville farm, returning to recording in 1998 with his "I Turn the Page" album. After some limited touring, Williams resumed his recording career with "My Heart to You" in 2004, followed in 2006 by his "Farewell Tour of the World" concert tour throughout the U.S. and Europe, then another retirement. This one lasted until 2010, when he re-commenced touring and in 2012 released the acclaimed "And So It Goes" album. Enjoying a big career revival as an elder statesman of country music, Williams continued recording and performing, and released his last album, "Reflections" in 2014 - which provided a popular music video.

OK, we've seen this one before (see post #498). 'Sing Me Back Home' was written and recorded by country legend, Merle Haggard in 1967 and was his 3rd # 1 hit. A moving ballad portraying a condemned prisoner’s final moments and last wishes is a typically humane Haggard take on a member of a marginalized and even despised sub-group. There's no suggestion the condemned man is innocent, or even that he should be pardoned. He merely finds the humanity in the last minutes of a misspent life that allows his subject to regain some semblance of connection to a better time and place. And yes, it really happened - his name was James's Rabbit. He was executed in 1961 for murder. But not before Haggard, at his request, sang him home - taking the prisoner back to his hometown, where he remembers the church he grew up in, his friends and his mama, back home to his final resting place. Here, Williams, at age 75, 3 years before his death, still showed his masterly voice control -
"... Let him sing me back home with a song / And make my old memories come alive
And take me away and turn back the years / Sing me back home before I die ..."
-


In 2016, Williams retired again, this time for the final time - saying he was ready "to spend some quiet time at home". In honour of his hugely successful career and music, a tribute album, "Gentle Giants: The Songs of Don Williams" was released in 2017, featuring an all-star lineup, including John Prine, Garth Brooks, Brandy Clark, Jason Isbell & Amanda Shires, Alison Krauss, Lady Antebellum, Keb’ Mo’, Pistol Annies, Chris and Morgane Stapleton and Trisha Yearwood. The Grand Ole Opry then put on a very rare special show, featuring Alison Krauss, John Prine, Jason Isbell, and Amanda Shires, all in honour of Don Williams, who was
in attendance. Just 4 months later, he was dead.

Williams rarely drank alcohol and never took drugs - he even once interrupted his concert to get 2 audience members thrown out because he notice they were smoking reefers - but he did indulge in tobacco and it got him in the end. He unexpectedly died in his retirement home on the Gulf Coast in Mobile, Alabama, in September 2017, at age 78, from emphysema. He was survived by his wife of 57 years of marriage and their 2 sons.

Williams was elected to the Country Music HoF in 2010. Over his career, he had a super impressive 17 # 1 hits and a further 22 Top 5 singles. He was also one of the minority of country singers that toured internationally extensively and enjoyed considerable world wide success.

I'm heading back to the bush for at least a week. When I'm back, moving into 1975, we'll head deep down into South Texas to find an artist, the second of his type in this history, who finally broke through to the big time, 15 years after his music career was stalled on the cusp of success by being busted for a small bit of marijuana.
 
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