Click to listen

June 24

Why today? Whisperin’ Bill Anderson cut the song that would become his theme on this date in 1965.

About the record: Decca 31825, recorded on June 24, 1965, at Columbia Studios in Nashville. Released Aug. 2, 1965, eventually reaching No. 11 on Billboard‘s country chart. First LP appearance was on Bright Lights And Country Music, Decca DL7- 4686, released Nov. 15, 1965. It eventually reached No. 6 on Billboard‘s country album chart.

Anderson wrote this song with his right-hand man and leader of the Po’ Boys band, fiddler and bassist Jimmy Gateley. Though it didn’t make the Billboard Top 10, it has become one of the numbers most associated with him, and it’s his theme song on stage.

Music blogger Michael McDowell recently posted an extensive article and Q&A on the Country Music Hall of Famer, on the occasion of Anderson’s Songwriter album. Here’s what the artist had to say about “Bright Lights And Country Music”:

    Q: By 1965, you hit an artistic zenith with your “Bright Lights And Country Music” single and album. Of course the title track was a collaboration with Jimmy Gateley. Aside from the obvious story line in the lyrics, what was the background behind the creation of that song?

    A: We were working at a little nightclub in Toronto called the Horseshoe Tavern. When you worked at the Horseshoe, you went in there for an entire week. I played every night, Monday through Friday.Then on Saturday, you had a matinee show in the afternoon. I don’t think they sold alcohol during the afternoon show, so kids could come. It was like a family thing in the afternoon. Then on Saturday nights, you went back to doing your regular show.

    I had a big fan who lived in London, Ontario. She wrote me a letter at the Horseshoe. It was waiting for me when I got there that week. She said, “I just want you to know that I’m coming to see you on Saturday. But I’m not coming to the afternoon show. I’m coming to the night show, because I like bright lights with my country music!”

    When I read that line, I told Jimmy, “That’s a song idea if I ever heard one!” We actually wrote the song downstairs in the dressing room at the Horseshoe Tavern. We had about, golly, I don’t know, about fifty or sixty people standing outside the door after one of the shows.

    Jimmy and I started writing the song. But these people were wanting autographs! I said, “Folks, you’re just gonna have to wait.” It’s the only song that I’ve ever written in front of an audience!

As for me, I’m not much on the bright lights. But I do love that country music.

June 23

Why today? In honor of what would have been June Carter Cash’s 81st birthday, let’s go back to the mid-1950s for a sampling of the comedy and music that made her the sweetheart of the Grand Ole Opry.

About the clip: Undated episode of the syndicated program Stars of the Grand Ole Opry, filmed in color at the Bradley studio complex in Nashville.

Country fans owe producer Al Gannaway big time. He came to Nashville as television was beginning to make inroads, and the industry was concerned about the upstart Ozark Jubilee telecast in Springfield, Mo. Gannaway had the foresight to shoot his films not only on 35 mm feature stock but in color. It’s the best record we have of how the Opry looked and sounded back then.

June Carter was a frequent guest on those half-hour programs, often paired (as here) with her then-husband, Carl Smith. The color episodes of this show were filmed from February 1955 through 1956, which means that the couple’s marriage (which ended in ’56) was breaking up during the run of filming. My guess is this appearance is from late in that period, so conceiveably they were already separated, and perhaps divorced. Some of the ad-libs during their comedy routine seem to back that up.

She was so funny, especially to someone like me who enjoys corny country humor. But it doesn’t require rural tastes to appreciate her talent. One such person who did was stage and film director Elia Kazan, who’d seen her at the Opry in 1955 and encouraged her to study acting. So she went to New York and worked under Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse.

June Carter is so completely associated with her third husband and true soulmate, Johnny Cash, that it’s really illuminating to see her in action before they met. Who knows what might have been for her if she’d left Nashville and country music behind to persue a career on stage and screen …

Click to listen

June 22

Why today? A Kentucky fiddler named Pendleton Vandiver, beloved maternal uncle of the future Father of Bluegrass Music, died on this date 78 years ago. Pen’s influence on his young nephew was so great that Bill Monroe later immortalized him in song.

About the record: Decca 9-46283, recorded Oct. 15, 1950, at the Castle Studio in downtown Nashville. Released Dec. 23, 1950. First LP appearance was on My Old Time Country Favorites, Decca 4327, released in August 1962.

Most bluegrass fans are familiar with the story of Uncle Pen, who took in young Bill Monroe after he was orphaned. Monroe credited Vandiver with the two elements he considered most vital to bluegrass music: the fiddle, and the timing. Here’s a newspaper article that addresses Monroe’s two prime mentors: Uncle Pen and black bluesman Arnold Schultz.

That’s Red Taylor providing the soulful fiddle, with Jimmy Martin’s hard-driving version of the signature bluegrass guitar run punctuating each chorus and Rudy Lyle’s banjo in a supporting role. Monroe, of course, handles mandolin duties and sings the verses, joining Martin and bass player Joel Price in a trio on the chorus. The song ends with a figure from an old Uncle Pen fiddle tune, “Jenny Lynn” — a tribute to 19th century songbird Jenny Lind — as it fades into silence.

You might be more familiar with Ricky Skaggs’ version of “Uncle Pen” from the 1980s, which amazingly topped the country charts despite its largely bluegrass arrangement. But it’s always good to go back to the source, in this case a fine example of the work of an American musical genius.

To listen: Click image, then choose Track 30 on page that results.

June 21

Why today? Catching up on an event I missed over the weekend: Sunday would have been the 86th birthday of Mr. Guitar, Chet Atkins. In his honor, here’s one of the scores of songs he played on as a Nashville session musician — a real hillbilly wailer from Don Gibson’s pre-Nashville Sound days.

About the record: RCA Victor 47-6880 (B-side), recorded Feb. 25, 1957, at the label’s Nashville studio in the Methodist Church’s Television, Radio and Film Commission building on McGavock Street. Released in March 1957. First LP appearance was on Rockin’ Rollin’ 1, Bear Family BFX-15089, released in 1982.

Chet also produced this session, the first for Gibson in his second stint with RCA. The double-duty was common for Atkins on artists he produced (including Jim Reeves and The Browns) in those first years for him in the control room. Gibson re-recorded “I Can’t Leave” the following year — a version I’ve not heard but, given its presence on the Oh, Lonesome Me album, I’m guessing has the Nashville Sound groove that made Gibson a star. That’s certainly not the case here. This doesn’t even sound like Don Gibson, who seems uncomfortable shouting into the mic. It’s easy to see why he bounced around from label to label until Chet Atkins the producer pointed him in the right stylistic direction.

As for Chet the sideman, it wasn’t just Victor artists his guitar work supported. You can catch his distinctive style on records by the Louvin Brothers, the Carlisles, Webb Pierce, George & Earl, Marty Robbins and more. I always perk up my ears when listening to ’50s country records to see if I can catch Atkins in action. That’s just what we’ve got here, the day after his birthday and just over a week before the ninth anniversary of his death. In my opinion, you can never get too much Chet.

Click to listen

June 18-20

Why today? This one’s in honor of Father’s Day.

About the record: MCA 53200, recorded fall 1986 in Nashville. Released October 1987; charted No. 6 Billboard country. First appearance was on the LP and CD Borderline, MCA/MCAD-5969, released March 1987. Charted No. 25 Billboard country albums.

The LP was a wonderful medium, and I’m glad to see that, in this time of digital downloads making CDs nearly obsolete, it seems to be making a comeback. Besides their warmer sound, vinyl albums provided a sense of what the artist, producer and/or label felt were the strongest songs by how they were programmed. The last track on side two was usually a keeper. That was certainly the case on Borderline, Conway Twitty’s first album in his return to MCA Records after five years on Elektra/Warner Bros. His ode to fathers, “That’s My Job,” closed the album.

This is, of course, the post-honky-tonk Conway, which should pre-dispose me to dislike it. But like it I do, both for the message and for Conway’s flight into his upper register. That was a vocal hallmark of those great records he made in the early days of his country career, one he often abandoned in his pop-leaning, early ’80s work.

Those who’ve lost their dads are likely to find this especially meaningful. Whether that describes you or not, enjoy “That’s My Job” one more time. Happy Father’s Day, and I’ll see you Monday.

Click to listen

June 16

Why today? Bob Nolan, a founder of the Sons of the Pioneers, owner of one of the most distinctive voices in all of music, and among the best and most prolific Western-music songwriters ever, died on this date 30 years ago.

About the record: RCA Victor 20-2076, recorded Aug. 15, 1946, at the label’s Hollywood studio. Released the following January. First LP appearance was on Cowboy Classics, RCA Victor LPM-3032 (10-inch), released in 1952.

Steve Huey, in his biography of Bob Nolan, notes that the Canada-born singer became the clear leader of the Sons of the Pioneers after co-founder Leonard Slye left to make movies as Roy Rogers. “Chant of the Wanderer” was one of the many songs he wrote, an extensive catalog that includes the classics “Cool Water” and “Tumbling Tumbleweeds.”

The group’s move to RCA Victor from Decca in the mid-’40s meant an update from the simple guitar-and-fiddle accompaniment of their early records, as our featured selection shows. Isn’t this a great sound?

About the artist: Read Huey’s biography to learn more about the great Bob Nolan, a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and, as one of the original Sons of the Pioneers, the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Click to listen

June 15

Why today? By the time I learned late Sunday night of Mr. Dean’s death, I had time to do no more than write a quick blurb for Monday, linking to the early Tennessean obituary and to my 3 Chords post of “Big Bad John” from last year. So here’s my second-day lead, featuring his first hit from almost 60 years ago and sharing with you an appreciation from a friend of mine who’s a big, big fan.

About the record: 4 Star 45-1613, recorded in the summer of 1952 at Sound Studios in Washington, D.C. Released in September of that year, eventually reaching No. 5 on Billboard‘s country chart. First album appearance was on King LP-686, Favorites of Jimmy Dean, released in February 1960.

Some of you know Ken Johnson, an extremely knowledgable fan of classic country who frequently contributes insightful comments to this blog. I never knew how he felt about Jimmy Dean until he commented on my little quickie post from Sunday night. When I saw it, I asked him if he’d mind my using it in today’s post. He agreed, so here it is. Unless noted, what you’ll read on the jump came from Ken — including a bit about Dean’s connection to a certain community of make-believe characters beloved by my generation.

Read the rest of this entry »

“Fan” me on Facebook, get automatic updates

Enter your email address to subscribe to 3 Chords a Day and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 45 other followers

August 2020