Nov. 21: As longtime followers know, I love highlighting the artists who should be in the Country Music Hall of Fame and for some reason are not. Jean Shepard, who turns 76 today, is one of those. Listen to her sing the daylights out of this album cut from the early ’60s.
Oklahoma-born, California-reared Jean Shepard was 20 when she broke through in 1953 on the duet with Ferlin Husky, “A Dear John Letter,” and its later its follow-up, “Forgive Me John.” Both were smash country hits and reached high on the pop charts. Those began a streak of hit singles and, by the end of the deacde, she’d be one of only three female members of the Grand Ole Opry. After a lull (on the charts, but not in the quality of her records) during the height of the Nashville Sound, she began a decade-long resurgence in the mid-’60s.
This great song, written by Frankie Walcher, came toward the end of the lull. Recorded in May 1961, it features Hal Rugg on that high-treble steel guitar, along with Grady Martin and Ray Edenton on guitars, Floyd Cramer on piano and Buddy Harman playing a drum shuffle. Oddly, Junior Huskey didn’t play a shuffle-esque walking bass line, as one might have heard from Ray Price or Buck Owens. Still, it sounds great.
Shepard was a true pioneer for women in country music, with a voice you recognize right away and a great catalog of recordings. So, what about the Hall of Fame? It could be that she’s been an Opry stalwart for so long that people forget her tremendous contributions. Or maybe (and this gets my vote) she’s being punished for being a ringleader of the controversial Association of Country Entertainers in the mid-’70s. That’s the group formed to keep country music “pure,” in response to Olivia Newton-John’s top female vocalist award from the Country Music Association. It wouldn’t be the first time politics reared its head in matters like this.