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Oct. 21: Mel Street never topped the Billboard charts, and only three times did he crack the Top 10. But he was a GREAT country singer, one of the best in my opinion. This was his first record and his first hit, cut on his birthday in 1970. Eight birthdays later — and 31 years ago today — he was dead, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, with likely superstardom just around the corner.

At the time he recorded this, Street was host of a local country music TV show in Bluefield, W.Va. It was released on a small regional label and picked up by Royal American Records, which pushed it to No. 7 in 1972. He followed it up with his biggest hit, “Lovin’ On Back Streets,” the next year. Other minor hits would follow over the next five years, and he signed with his first major label. On the surface, things seemed great. But, says Steve Huey on Allmusic.com:

Street had been battling depression and alcohol problems for some time, and as his touring schedule took more and more of a toll on his family life, he became increasingly unable to cope. On October 21, 1978 — his birthday — he committed suicide. He had a couple of posthumous chart singles with “Just Hangin’ On” and “Tonight Let’s Sleep on It Baby,” but sadly, his tremendous potential was never fully tapped.

It was just a few years later that a young country artist steeped in bluegrass, Ricky Skaggs, would come along and lead the traditionalist charge that pulled country back from the brink of Urban Cowboy lunacy. I can’t help but think that had Mel Street lived, he would have been right there, too, earning a fame to match his tremendous talent.

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