Country Music

stax on the mull

Club Legend
Dec 26, 2010
2,935
3,969
AFL Club
Fremantle
Other Teams
Matildas
jo jo.jpg

Jonathan Richman albums are pretty patchy but there'll be a few tracks that are keepers. His venture into country from 1990 was the most embarrassing thing I had in my record collection, but I held onto the LP mostly for the front & back covers (the pictures are a kind of metaphor for the music i.e. like he's saying, I'm not so sure its a good idea but i'll try it out). Its old timey country, the sounds prior to the dishonest slick Nashville commercialism that would screw up the genre in the 1970's. I especially like the opener - "Since She Started To Ride" and the cover of the Marty Robbins song "Man Walks Among Us"


 
Last edited:

Professor Knowall

Club Legend
Sep 24, 2006
2,978
1,752
Wimmera
AFL Club
Collingwood
Thanks to the oppressive great Melbourne covid lockdown, I've been left with a bit to much spare time for my liking (I ought to be passing somewhere through the middle of the U.S. in my job now) so to keep up my spirits I thought I'd try a little project on the side, being a potted very brief, bare history of sorts of Country Music - not that I'm any sort of expert on it (please ignore my avatar). It's basically something for my mental health in this lockdown as much as anything else.

My basic idea is to post a couple of samples (or three or maybe four for a select few) of the music of the country greats, starting with popular recordings that actually began in the 1920's and gradually work forward from there. I don't know for how long I'll keep it up, when and at what stage this will end, but my intention is to include the stars from all the main genres like mountain/traditional, country blues, western swing, bluegrass, southern gospel, country rock, neo-traditional etc (though maybe not so much of the so called pop "country" stuff that comes out of Nashville in recent years). I'll be as objective as I can be (which, of course, means my posts will be full of my own biased opinions).

Anyway, I'll prepare and put up my first post before too long (hopefully it won't be the last!) and see how it all goes (though it doesn't matter at all to me if I get no reaction whatsoever).
 
Last edited:

Professor Knowall

Club Legend
Sep 24, 2006
2,978
1,752
Wimmera
AFL Club
Collingwood
It all started with a train wreck! (appropriately for country music).

In 1903, the Southern Railway 'Fast Mail' train, while enroute from Monroe, Virginia, to Spencer, North Carolina, derailed, tragically resulting in 11 deaths. This soon lead to a ballad being written (just by who is still disputed).

However, recording at that time was only done acoustically, and it had to be done by singing really loudly into a sound catching cone - OK for true opera singers, naturally loud, but for singers of popular music it meant basically shouting, rather than singing - nor could musical instruments be recorded with singing - it had to be one or the other and guitars weren't loud enough to be recorded viably at the time and, of course, dubbing was still in the future. So opera dominated recordings prior to 1924 as about the only music capable of being recorded at (just) sufficient quality to be actually enjoyable to listen to.
Not found
If you want more detail on early recording technology - https://charm.rhul.ac.uk/history/p20_4_1.html

This all changed in 1923/4 with the introduction of electric recording, which revolutioned the whole recording industry, and was quickly taken advantage of beyond the confines of opera. Despite being born in Texas, Vernon Dalhart was schooled in classical music and opera - by 1924 he had already recorded over 400 mostly light classical songs when he did the very non-classical ballad 'Wreck of the old 97'. This had been set to the tune of "The Ship That Never Returned", written by Henry Clay Work in 1865. It became an instant monster hit - selling over 7 million and became an enduring country classic, subsequently recorded by many artists, most noticeably by Roy Acuff, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, Hank Snow, Johnny Cash, Boxcar Willie (with his signature 'steam whistle'), Hank Williams iii (a slow steamy start before bringing it home full throttle) and not to forget our own The Seekers ripping rendition.

The B side also became the first country 'prison song', aptly called 'The Prisoner's Song', yet another enduring theme of country music, so two great country music subjects were crossed off on the very first popular country music record!. He also recorded another very popular train song in 1925 "The Runaway Train".

Here are two informative and entertaining videos about the Old 97 train wreck and the resultant song -

 
Last edited:

Professor Knowall

Club Legend
Sep 24, 2006
2,978
1,752
Wimmera
AFL Club
Collingwood
And finally, after all that scene setting, here are the three Vernon Dalhart recordings below. Despite his classical/operatic background, he sings these numbers with a real Texan twang. The massive success of these recordings persuaded Victor Records to look for other possibilities in the virtually untapped market of rural and small town America which, at that time, had over half the country's population. The search for true authentic country music talent was on ...
 
Last edited:

Professor Knowall

Club Legend
Sep 24, 2006
2,978
1,752
Wimmera
AFL Club
Collingwood
Thank you. So I left off with record companies such as Victor now on the hunt for new talent, and especially for blues, gospel and "hillbilly" music. The race is on!

How can I tell of the fateful advise given by one of the very first country artists recorded, Ernest Stoneham, to record producer and publisher, Ralph Peer, convincing him to travel through southern Appalachia and record artists who would have been unable to travel to New York - and in particular to have Bristol, on the East Tennessee border with Virginia? There, in the second and final week of what up to then had been largely unsuccessful recording sessions, where he enticed performers with generous cash payments, he struck gold and diamonds in bucket loads - not just once but twice (but I'm leaving one of these for next time).

Well I can't tell it all, it's beyond me - but this wiki page gives the basic details of the recording sessions that changed country music forever - which in turn changed American music and finally world music - however it doesn't convey at all the full impact of these recordings - https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bristol_sessions

So we come to the Carter Family a.k.a.The First Family of Country Music (indeed of American music period). It's also far beyond my scope to tell of how these dirt poor (they literally - as in the literal meaning of literally - lived in 'Poor Valley') isolated "hillbillies" became the stuff of legend. I can't talk about AP Carter, with the invaluable help of his African-American friend, Esley Riddle, travelled far and wide, obsessively collecting shards of 'roots' lyrics and melody from all around Appalachia, many preserved for over 150 years in their isolated mountain hamlets from when their forbears emigrated from England, Scotland and Ireland - and how all this also brought about the end of his marriage to his wife and lead singer, Sara.

Nor can I explain how Sara's teenage cousin Maybelle, married to A.P's brother, figured out a way to play both rhythm and melody simultaneously on the one guitar, inventing the famous "Carter Scratch", thus becoming one of America's most iconic guitarists. (There's YouTube videos on how to play the 'Carter Scratch', but it's best learnt while young as it's hard to co-ordinate the melody with the rythm fingers).

There's so much to tell, so for those interested in country music history - or music history in general or even just American history, I found this 55 minute documentary which tells a great story and has plenty of Carter music samples inserted. Even the very non HD low quality of the 2005 documentary added to it's charm for me, as it sent me back to the Appalachian hollers of another age. If you have the time, please watch. Try casting it from YouTube if you can - Not found
Here's another of about the same length, from the 2019 Ken Burns 'Country Music' Documentary, this being selected segments about the Carter Family, then the Carter Sisters and eventually on to June Carter with Johnny Cash.
 
Last edited:

Professor Knowall

Club Legend
Sep 24, 2006
2,978
1,752
Wimmera
AFL Club
Collingwood
And now for the Carter Family music (and don't worry if you think I'm neglecting the next generation Carter Sisters. Maybelle and her daughters will get there turn in due course). You've probably already heard more Carter family melodies - or re-worked versions of their melodies - than you think, as they embedded themselves into so many country and blues compositions and then on to rock'n'roll and on to the many genres that spawned, including hard rock and heavy metal.

But the task of selecting just a few from the vast Carter music library was tough. I started with a recording of all the very first 1927 songs. The more I listened and 'got into it', the better I liked it, as I was transported back in time from a locked up Melbourne into a different universe of the Appalachian mountains of another era -

and


Next - you've surely this covered somewhere before, but here's the original -


The poignant true story about the next song, involving romance, separation, heartache, a fairy-tale ending for one, heartbreak for the other, is told on both documentaries. This melody is known better known under the re-written 'Wild Side of Life' covered by a number of country and rock artists -


And finally, the signature tune on their radio programs broadcast from San Antonio and then Mexico, reaching pretty much the whole USA -
 
Last edited:

Professor Knowall

Club Legend
Sep 24, 2006
2,978
1,752
Wimmera
AFL Club
Collingwood
But wait, there's more!! Some may wonder why I neglected the Carter's most popular, beloved hit - Wildwood Flower. It's only because I'm leaving that for a beautiful video rendition by the next generation Carter Sisters with mother Maybelle (also featuring excellent shots of her guitar playing technique). Stay tuned.

Also, I decided on one last 'bonus' track. This one is unusual in that Sara doesn't sing but instead it's a rare solo by AP Carter. My reason for including this however is nothing to do with his singing and everything to do with it being the best example I found of Maybelle's amazing 'Carter Scratch' guitar playing -
 
Last edited:

Professor Knowall

Club Legend
Sep 24, 2006
2,978
1,752
Wimmera
AFL Club
Collingwood
The 'Singing Brakeman' or 'The Blue Yodeller' was a man in a hurry - death already pursued him when he laid down his first recording at Bristol in August 1927, just 3 days after the Carter's seminal recording. In the next 5 years, he packed in as much hard living, singing, touring and recording as he possibly could, while his records sold millions, thus earning the title 'The Father of Country Movie' and (in time) becoming the initial Country Music Hall of Fame inductee (and also inducted into the Blues HoF and Rock and Roll HoF (as an early influencer). He was a colossus of his time - and his timeless influence remains.

But the death Jimmie Rodgers knew was coming was relentless in its pursuit, in the form of tuberculosis, claiming him in May 1933 aged just 35. Just 2 days prior, he finished his last recording session with the help of a nurse and a cot for him to lie down between each recording.

From Meridian, Missouri, Jimmie worked from around the age of 13 to 27, first as a waterboy, then as a brakeman on the railways. There he learned how to pick and strum a guitar and was also exposed to the rhythmic work chants of African American rail workers. Diagnosed with T.B. in 1924, he spent the next 3 years following his heart as a travelling itinierant musician alternating with 2 more stints on the railways, before being fortuitously close to Bristol when he learned of the Victor recording sessions and dropped in. I'll leave the rest of the story and his stellar influence to this terrific 10 minute documentary -

Here's a 9 minute "music video" of 'The Singing Brakeman', with Jimmie singing 'Waiting for a Train', 'Daddy and Home' and 'Blue Yodal No 1 (T is for Texas), while also displaying his guitar picking skill -
 

Professor Knowall

Club Legend
Sep 24, 2006
2,978
1,752
Wimmera
AFL Club
Collingwood
I've yet to find a Jimmie Rodgers song I haven't liked, but apart from those already in 'The Singing Brakeman' video above, I couldn't omit these classics -
... From 1928 about the wages of sin -

Country and jazz not enough for you? Let's throw in some jazz - and not just any jazz, but the great Louis Armstrong on trumpet and Lil Hardin Armstrong on piano. How's that for a triple crossover hit! -

A great sentimental ballad -

Now here's a standard country classic, since covered by so many e.g. Dolly Parton had a #3 hit with it. I present the original -

And here is a very early example of an artist writing what they know based off real-life circumstances -
 
Last edited:

Professor Knowall

Club Legend
Sep 24, 2006
2,978
1,752
Wimmera
AFL Club
Collingwood
But wait, yet again, there's an added extra.

Hank Snow had idolised Jimmie Rodgers since a teenager and developed his guitar skills by playing runs and chord progressions in the style of Jimmie. Later he named his first born son Jimmie Rodgers Snow. In 1955, RCA use daily Hank Snows's band, which was loaded with first rate musicians including the great guitarist, Chet Atkins, to add a richer backing to some of Jimmies most popular song, released as Jimmie Rodgers & the Rainbow Ranch Boys.

The result saw Jimmie Rodgers rocket back up to the top of the charts again. I really like it, but judge for yourself -


 
Last edited:

Professor Knowall

Club Legend
Sep 24, 2006
2,978
1,752
Wimmera
AFL Club
Collingwood
It's time to saddle up your horse and hit the wide open lonesome trails of the West, where fences are scarce and at the campfires of night, we'll hear the wild dingoes ... oops, make that coyotes, call. Here we ride back to 1934 and all the way west to California to discover more gold - in this case, who put the 'Western' into Country and Western music, with two all time western classics. It was a team effort.

It starts with Leonard Slye from Ohio, who was amongst the hundreds of thousands who moved to California at the height of the Great Depression in 1931 (those westbound trails weren't so lonesome by then), working first as a truck driver, and then a fruit picker in California's Central Valley, and living in the squalid labour camp conditions as so vividly described in Steinbeck's 'Grapes of Wrath'. After singing on an amateur contest on a Los Angeles radio station, he was invited to join a group called the Rocky Mountaineers. Sly (dropping the 'e' off his surname) quickly became the band leader.

Shortly thereafter, Canadian expat Bob Nolan, a singer and avid songwriter keen to capture the mood of lonesome trails, hardships and campfires under starry nights, answered a newspaper ad put in by Sly - "Yodeler for old-time act, to travel. Tenor preferred." Sly promptly hired Nolan on the spot at his audition. Nolan only stayed a short time due to other work, but he kept in contact with Sly, who had replaced him with warehouse worker, Tim Spencer. In 1932, Sly and Spencer left the Rocky Mountaineers and went through a series of short-lived groups until Sly scored a gig with Jack LeFevre and His Texas Outlaws, who were a popular act on a local Los Angeles radio station.

In early 1933, Sly, Nolan, and Spencer all got back together, forming a group called 'The Pioneer Trio', rehearsing intensely for weeks honing their harmonies. While Sly continued working with his radio group, Spencer and Nolan wrote new songs. The group was hired by the Warner Bros radio station in L.A., where during one broadcast, an announcer, thinking they were too young to be pioneers and had added a fourth member, introduced them as 'The Sons of the Pioneers' and the name stuck. Rogers, Nolan and Spencer were all rhythm guitarists and the fourth member added to the group was a Texas fiddler named Hugh Farr, from Jack LeFevre's Texas Outlaws. Through radio, their popularity soared, and the four cut their first record for Decca in August 1934. By the time they recorded their fourth session in October, 1934, Hugh's brother, guitarist Karl Farr had been added to the group. Their songs and their singing led to appearances in two shorts and a feature film called "The Old Homestead,"

Over the course of the next two years The Sons of the Pioneers sang in westerns starring Gene Autry, Dick Forrosby. Lloyd Perryman he group in September 1936, replacing original member Tim Spencer, who left due to voice problems. Leonard Sly, who was also an excellent horseman, left in November 1937, to become ... Roy Rogers at Republic Pictures. Sly (Roy Rogers) was replaced by Pat Brady, who was hand picked by Sly as his replacement. In his autobiography, Roy tells about asking Pat Brady to take his place to free up Rogers to film "Under Western Skies," his first Republic motion picture--released in 1938. Lloyd Perryman remained with the Sons of the Pioneers until his death in 1977, making him the most enduring member of the group.

Here are the original 1934 recording of the all time Bob Nolan classics - 'Tumbleweeds' and 'Cool Water' along with some other notable western songs from the 'Sons of the Pioneers' -

This original version below has, for some reason, the very last lines omitted - "Dan's feet are sore / he's yearning for just one thing more than water / Like me I guess he'd like to rest where there's no quest / for water . . ."
However I've posted a full, later edition of this western classic further below -

Is this not the most 'beautiful' genre of country music? This time it's a cover taken from the 1940 movie of the same name - but it's by far my favourite version -

Well known singer (and later 'Gunsmoke' Actor) Ken Curtis joined the Sons of the Pioneers as a lead singer from 1949 to 1952. His big hits with the group included "Room Full of Roses" and (IMO) the best version of "Ghost Riders in the Sky"(although Marty Robbins version is a close second) -

Ghost Riders - not a SOTP original, but this 1949 Ken Curtis lead is my favourite version of it -
 

Professor Knowall

Club Legend
Sep 24, 2006
2,978
1,752
Wimmera
AFL Club
Collingwood
And for today's bonus, as the Sons of the Pioneers continue on to this day (obviously not with original members!) though there heyday has passed long ago, I've chosen later versions of the 2 classics, Tumbling Tumbleweeds and Cool Water. These later versions show the considerable advances in recording technology in the 1940's.

Contrast these with the 1934 recordings. I actually prefer the original 'Tumbling Tumbleweeds' but I do like the later 'Cool Water version as the best -


Unlike the original 1934 version posted earlier, this has all the original lyrics, with Ken Curtis singing -
 

Professor Knowall

Club Legend
Sep 24, 2006
2,978
1,752
Wimmera
AFL Club
Collingwood
This is where the cowboy ... sings away!

Still gripped by the Great Depression, Americans needed heroes to get them through. Hollywood turned the cowboy into something of a hero. Gene Autry turned the singing cowboy into an all-American hero.

Now the story of Gene Autry is well known or easily found elsewhere, and there's far too much for me to tell here, so I won't go into detail about his 90 plus movie career, his distinguished and dangerous war career after choosing to enlist voluntarily at the very height of his career, his rodeo career, his extensive radio and TV careers or business successes. I won't even mention his later successful Christmas songs career with big hits like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman.

Suffice to say Gene Autry is a member of both the Country Music Hall of Fame and Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and is the only person to be awarded stars in all five categories on the Hollywood Hall of Fame, for film, television, music, radio, and live performance. The town of Gene Autrey, Oklahoma and the Gene Autry Precinct in Mesa, Arizona, are named in his honor.

It's worth noting that Gene Autry already had an established country music career before becoming the first great 'singing cowboy', and his musical roots and career up until then were in traditional country and country blues - not Western. Gene Autry was born and raised in rural west Texas, and then moved with his parents to their new cattle ranch in Oklahoma, where he learned his horsemanship and cowboy ways. Autry first worked as a railway telegrapher where he spent quiet times singing and guitar picking. His talent at singing and playing guitar led to performing at local dances.

By 1928, after being turned down in New York from a Victor recording contract but encouraged to develop his radio experience, Autry was singing on a Tulsa radio station as the "Oklahoma's Yodeling Cowboy", before making his first
Victor recording in October 1929, duets with Jimmie Long - "My Dreaming of You" and "My Alabama Home". He signed a recording deal with Columbia Records in 1929. He worked for 4 years in Chicago on the nationally broadcast radio show 'National Barn Dance', which was then the nation's most popular country music show, along with his own show. He also recorded many traditional country and country blues style records in 1930 and 1931 in New York City. Jimmie Rodgers was the one he most styled himself on.

So Autry was already well known and a seasoned country music veteran by the time he arrived in Hollywood and, quickly replacing the first singing cowboy, the alcohol plagued Ken Maynard, he soon established himself as the king of the cowboys, not only beating the bad guys but more importantly also charming and winning the girl while retaining his own virtue. His movies were always never to serious, but optimistic, lighthearted and often humorous, suitable for the hard times of depression and war. They reflected his real life values and virtues.

Anyway, enough of that, let's start with his signature song, along with the movie scene -


'That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine' was a something of a hit for Audrey back in 1931, prior to his coming to Hollywood, but when re-released with the movie in 1935, became a big hit. The funny anarchic ending of this clip was clearly a nod to the the Marx Bros movies, then at the height of their popularity -


The very popular 'South of the Border' from 1939, with (a then) innovative special effect and an ominous ending -


Make sure you watch this clip to the very, very end - then see if you agree with her.

And finally, a really nice little ballad from 1945, after Autry had just returned from his 3 years war service where he flew highly dangerous flights over the Himalayas into China -
 
Last edited:

Remove this Banner Ad

Top Bottom