Helms

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Nov. 15: Here’s a record that entered the market with a thud in early 1957, caught fire in the spring to become a country and pop hit (without a single pop-friendly note, I might add) and ended up as Billboard‘s country song of the year. That’s the crazy path of the debut single of an artist few people think about nowadays, even though another of his songs from that year gets great airplay every December.

While a regular on a country music TV show in his native Indiana, Helms (1933-1997) was encouraged to sing background on an Ernest Tubb recording session in Nashville. Tubb subsequently recommended Helms to his label, Decca, which signed him in 1956. He was in Owen Bradley’s studio the afternoon of Nov. 15, giving “Fraulein” the classic honky-tonk treatment with the help of fiddler Tommy Jackson, Bradley on piano and (probably) Bob Foster on steel guitar. The song was written by the late Lawton Williams (“Farewell Party”), who tells here how it came about.

Helms the recording artist would never have another year like ’57, as you’ll see here. Besides “Fraulein,” he had big crossover records on “My Special Angel” and the perennial December song I mentioned earlier. That would be “Jingle Bell Rock,” kicked off by a memorable Hank Garland guitar figure and released just two days before Christmas, yet managing to reach No. 3 on the pop charts. Such was the power of Nashville’s A-Team session musicians — and, at least for a brief time, Bobby Helms.

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