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Country Music Hall of Fame,
Class of 1962

It’s difficult for the modern-day country fan – or even one grounded in the half-century-old Nashville Sound and even older electrified honky-tonk style as I am – to appreciate the appeal and popularity of Roy Claxton Acuff back in the day. I’ve mentioned before the taunt Japanese soldiers issued to American G.I.’s in the Pacific: “To hell with FDR, to hell with Babe Ruth and to hell with Roy Acuff.”

If all you know of the King of Country Music is his work on Hee Haw, he’s worth some study. Which is what Nathan Rabin, head writer for the website A.V. Club and a hip-hop specialist, did recently as part of his “immersing himself in the canon of country music, a genre he knew little about, but was keen to explore.” Here’s his take, an urban music fan’s view of pure hillbilly, performed by the man who 17 years later would become the Hall of Fame’s first living member.

About the record: Columbia 20003 and 36586, recorded Aug. 2, 1945, at the studios of WBBM Radio in Chicago. Released the following month. First LP appearance was on Songs Of The Smokey Mountains, Columbia HL-9004, released 1949.

Roy Acuff’s Hall of Fame profile.

Next up: Tex Ritter

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Country Music Hall of Fame,
Class of 1961

About the record: B-side of MGM K10932, recorded Dec. 21, 1950, at Castle Studio in downtown Nashville. Released March 16, 1951, under artist name Luke The Drifter.

I’m of the opinion that death was a great career move for Hank Williams. He was a super peformer, for sure, and a top-notch songwriter. But with a personal life in shambles and some rough hillbilly edges that were certain to resist smoothing, it’s not clear he’d have fared well in the coming Nashville Sound and countrypolitan eras.

In that vein, here’s one of a series of performances that were so preachy and un-commercial that he and his mentor Fred Rose developed a separate personna and nom de sermon under which to market them: Luke The Drifter. I suppose you could say ol’ Hank was a charter Hall of Famer despite works like this. But they do point to his ability to paint a picture with his lyrics, and it’s hard to get long-gone-lonesomer than this recitation.

Longtime followers here know that a song can’t be too treacly for me; “Men With Broken Hearts” is proof. After all, as Luke himself says, it’s written that the greatest men never get too big to cry.

Hank Williams’ Hall of Fame profile.

Next up: Roy Acuff

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July 9-11

Why this weekend? It was a year ago Friday that I and several of my friends and colleagues received pink slips from the word factory. This seems as good a song as any to mark the anniversary.

About the record: Columbia 4-45660, recorded June 5, 1972, at House of Cash Studios, Hendersonville, Tenn. Released the following month, eventually reaching No. 2 on Billboard‘s country chart. LP debut was on Any Old Wind That Blows, Columbia KC-32091, released January 1973. Eventually reached No. 5 on Billboard‘s country album chart.

In the ’50s, budding songwriter Jerry Chesnut lived in Florida and for a time worked for a man named Oney. Fast-forward 20 years, and here’s Oney immortalized in Chesnut’s ode to the working man. It’s kinda scary, the degree to which Cash seems to relish how he’s about to go out with a bang. But, not altogether unsatisfying, if you know what I mean.

Special note: It’s good to be back at it here at 3 Chords a Day, after a couple of weeks off. I’m still not completely caught up, so I won’t be posting daily just yet — you can expect 6 or maybe 9 chords a week for the next little while. Whatever the frequency, I’m going to celebrate the Country Music Hall of Fame by linking each post with the roster of inductees, in order of enshrinement. So when next you hear from me, it will be in the nasal voice of Hall of Famer No. 1: Jimmie Rodgers.

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June 25-27

Why this weekend? Forty-three years ago Sunday, Tammy Wynette was in the studio recording her first chart-topping record.

About the record: Epic 5-10211, recorded June 27, 1967, at Columbia Studios in Nashville. Released the following month, it eventually reached No. 1 on Billboard‘s country chart. First LP appearance was on Take Me To Your World/I Don’t Wanna Play House, Epic BN-26353, released Jan. 5, 1968. It reached No. 3 on Billboard‘s country album chart.

Tammy Wynette and Billy Sherrill were quite a team. As a producer, he was the first person in Nashville to give the Alabama hairdresser a chance with her songs, and he helped her become a singer to be reckoned with. As a songwriter, he created several of her big hits, some with her collaboration, some not. This one he wrote with Nashville tunesmith Glenn Sutton. It’s a great song, but Tammy’s performance sells it.

Dynamics were key to those early Wynette records; the way her quiet, lower-register delivery in the verses gave way to higher notes and a louder voice in the chorus reminds me of Big Band arrangements from 20 years earlier. That pattern is exhibited here, and it wasn’t limited to the recording studio. Steve Earle once said of seeing Tammy perform this song at the Grand Ole Opry when he was a child in the ’60s: “It was dynamic. She was so tiny and the chorus would hit and wow!”

About the artist: Revisit this 3 Chords post from January for more on Tammy Wynette, including her first single and a book passage in which Sherrill talks about the impact she made right out of the gate.

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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 …

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.

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