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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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April 26

Why today? Smith’s recording, probably the best-known version of Kris Kristofferson’s expression of intimate longing, went gold on this date 39 years ago — her only single to reach the 500,000 sales mark.

About the record: Mega 615-0015, recorded spring 1970 in Nashville. Released early 1971, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard country chart and No. 8 on the pop chart. First appeared on Help Me Make It Through The Night, Mega M31-1000, released September 1970. It reached No. 1 on the Billboard country album chart and No. 33 on the pop album chart.

This was the career record for the late Sammi Smith, the California-born singer with the husky voice. Authors David Cantwell and Bill Friskics-Warren selected “Help Me Make It Through The Night” as the pinnacle in their book, Heartaches by the Number: Country Music’s 500 Greatest Singles. Check out the Amazon.com preview of that listing (linked here in Part 1, Parts 2 and 4, and Part 3).

About the artist: Sandra Brennan sums up Smith’s career at Allmusic.com.

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March 2: Hard-country purists cringe at most of the countrypolitan sound of the 1970s. I’m with them in spirit, but to me a great record trumps genre purity. And this is a great record, one of two cuts on the Silver Fox’s Behind Closed Doors album that made him a crossover superstar. The single won two Grammy awards 36 years ago today, one for Rich and one for writer Kenny O’Dell.

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Feb. 16: It was 41 years ago today, in Ringgold, Ga., that George Jones and Tammy Wynette told each other “I do.” Luckily for you, I passed over their mawkish 1972 number “The Ceremony,” whose setting is a wedding complete with organ and the exchange of vows, in favor of this one from four years — and one divorce — later. “Golden Ring,” a fine piece of work by songwriters Bobby Braddock and Rafe VanHoy, always seemed to me a neat summation of the Jones-Wynette saga.

By the time Jones, Wynette and the musicians laid this down in April 1976, the stars’ marriage had been over for 13 months. The heartache in the vocals, especially the Possum’s, is palpable. In his Allmusic.com review of the album that contained this song, Thom Jurek says: “Golden Ring is one of those country albums that is essential. It is a perfect document of ’70s Nashville’s most polished and tasteful records, and stands as a high point for both Jones and Wynette.”

As for “The Ceremony” … since you asked, here it is, in all its sappy glory. At least the hair-dos are a sight to behold!

Jan. 18: Happy 72nd birthday to the dean of Nashville session keyboardists, Hargus (Pig) Robbins. He and Floyd Cramer were the main pianists in the A-Team of musicians during the Nashville Sound years, and he backed up many later-generation stars as well. In tribute, here are 19 previous 3 Chords a Day posts of music Robbins helped make. They represent about one-eighth of the total — testament to his level of recording activity through the years.

(Those are just the 3 Chords posts I know of; there might be more. And the list doesn’t include two of his most recognizable efforts: the piano work on Charlie Rich’s “Behind Closed Doors” and Crystal Gayle’s “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.” Wonderful stuff.)

The East Tennessee native lost his sight at age 4, and it was while a student at the Tennessee School for the Blind in Nashville that he picked up his porcine nickname. After sneaking off through a fire escape to play, a teacher deemed young Hargus to be “dirty as a pig” when he returned. Find out how he turned initial interest in classical music to a love of country, and transformed that into an influential career, here.

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Jan. 5: It’s been too long since we’ve heard from Marty Robbins here on 3 Chords a Day, so I’ve cued up a number that was released as a single 32 years ago today.

Like many a country artist on a CBS label, Robbins spent time with Billy Sherrill as his producer. Marty could sing in any style, and Sherrill could produce in any style. Their style on this, a cover of the two-decade-old Dean Martin pop effort, was pure countrypolitan. In fact, Dino’s dabbles in country music in the ’60s and ’70s didn’t sound altogether different from this. (Robbins paid Romance-language homage to Martin by singing a verse in Spanish, a la Martin’s verse in Italian.)

Clearly this isn’t the honky-tonk or boogie music that I prefer. But there’s hardly a Marty Robbins song I don’t like, or a Billy Sherrill-produced cut not worth giving a listen. Put ’em together, and you can’t go wrong. I bet you won’t even notice there’s no steel or fiddle!

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Nov. 5: This is the 1966 record that put Billy Sherrill on the map in Nashville as a producer and songwriter, and began a white-hot three years in the career of Louisiana-born David Houston.

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