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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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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 14

Why today? It was on Flag Day in 1977 that Johnny Cash went to the U.S. Capitol to recite before Congress his self-penned tribute to our national standard.

About the record: Columbia 4-46028, recorded Jan. 28, 1974, at the House of Cash complex in Hendersonville, Tenn. Released that April, eventually reaching No. 31 on Billboard‘s country chart. First LP appearance was on Ragged Old Flag, Columbia KC-32917. Released April 5, 1974, it eventually reached No. 16 on Billboard‘s country album chart.

In early 1974, the Man in Black had been recording more than 18 years, with a whopping 56 albums to his credit. But as great a composer as he was, not one of those LPs was all his; each contained at least one song he didn’t write. “It’s something I always wanted to do,” Cash declared in the liner notes to Ragged Old Flag, “write an album of all my own songs and for some reason, I just never got around to it.”

By ’74, he’d gotten around to it: “In the last year or two, these songs started bubbling out of me more than ever and I started putting down everything that came out. I sang them for my family and my friends, and all they had to do was say they liked one and I’d go write another one.”

Twelve of them became the album Ragged Old Flag. The title cut, Cash said, practically wrote itself: “You’ve heard of people who write songs in ten minutes? ‘Ragged Old Flag’ was one of those songs.”

It was recorded at the family’s business headquarters, the House of Cash complex not far from his lakeside home northeast of Nashville. The occasion was a luncheon for CBS Records folks, and it’s their applause you hear as big John completes his stirring recitation. That’s Cash’s labelmate Earl Scruggs on the banjo, and an orchestra and chorus arranged by Chuck Cochran.

While not a huge hit, the song made an impression during those tumultuous days of Watergate and the Vietnam War’s last gasp. And so, three years later, on June 14, Johnny Cash was in Washington, declaring before Congress his mighty pride in that ragged old flag.

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June 2

Why today? Knoxville, Tenn., native Carl Butler — whose biggest hit was this first of many duet records with his wife, Pearl — entered the world on this date 86 years ago.

About the record: Columbia 4-42593, recorded on Feb. 26, 1962, at the studios the label had recently acquired from Owen Bradley in Nashville. Released seven months later, reaching No. 1 on Billboard‘s country chart. First album appearance was on 1963’s Don’t Let Me Cross Over, Columbia CS-8802.

Considered a country standard now, “Don’t Let Me Cross Over” rocketed up the charts in the fall of 1962. It’s definitely an example of the Nashville Sound, but with some good ‘n’ country touches — tasty but understated steel guitar work and, more importantly, Carl Butler’s East Tennessee voice combined in close harmony with his wife’s. I grew up listening to this mid-tempo waltz, courtesy of the album with the stark red, black and white cover that was part of my father’s record collection.

About the artist: There’s a good chance that many of you have never heard of the Butlers. I can take care of that — here’s a link to a bio.

May 28-30

Why this weekend? Time for another Friday-Saturday-Sunday potpourri, featuring three top honky-tonkers of the ’50s, an iconic duo of the ’70s, a tear-jerking, cult-classic trucking song, and more. All but one of the selections you’ll find on the jump topped the charts.

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May 21-23

Why this weekend? Because the calendar tells us these seven songs are keyed to the next three days. Go to the jump, and enjoy. Read the rest of this entry »

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May 11

Why today? Lester Flatt — a huge contributor to the creation of bluegrass music and frontman for the genre’s most successful band in its first 20 years — died on this date in 1979.

About the record: Columbia 4-21412, recorded Jan. 23, 1955, at the Castle Studio in downtown Nashville. Released on June 20 that year. First LP appearance was on Flatt & Scruggs: The Golden Era, Rounder SS 05, released in 1978.

Few who aren’t true-blue bluegrassers appreciate the contributions of the great Lester Flatt. He was the closest thing Bill Monroe had to a right-hand man in that Blue Grass Boys Band of the mid-1940s, the one that eventually lent its name to the driving, jazzy form of country music it invented. He wrote so many songs in the canon of classic bluegrass, including “Little Cabin Home On The Hill,” “Sweetheart, You Done Me Wrong,” “(I’m) Head Over Heels In Love With You,” “Blue Ridge Cabin Home” and “Crying My Heart Out Over You.” He provided solid rhythm on the guitar and, although he didn’t invent it, he perfected the lick that bears his name: the Lester Flatt G-Run.

As a singer, he had great range and a distinctive style. It’s exhibited here on a racy song for its time — one that WSM Radio wouldn’t play on the air because of the suggestive “you’ve been a-steppin’, so they say, between midnight and day” lyric. Listen to how he stretches and pitch-bends that word “day.” Good stuff.

About the artists: Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1985, and they along with former boss Bill Monroe were the inaugural members of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Bluegrass Hall of Fame. The IBMA Web site has a good synopsis of Flatt’s career.

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