Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Dates of Note in Country Music, June 1-15

Category: News

(Hall of Fame members in bold on birth/death date, followed by hall[s] of fame in which they are enshrined and the year enshrined.  CM=Country Music; BG=Bluegrass; NS=Nashville Songwriter; SG=Southern Gospel; StG=Steel Guitar; GLA= Grammy Lifetime Achievement recipient; RR=country act inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame)

June 1:

Pat Boone born in Jacksonville, Florida, 1934 (now 82). The legendary pop crooner married Red Foley's daughter Shirley.

Ronnie Dunn of Brooks & Dunn born in Coleman, Texas, 1953 (now 63)
Elsie McWilliams (NS 79) born in Harperville, Mississippi, 1896 (died 1985)

Lee Allen of the Allen Brothers born in Sewanee, Tennessee, 1906 (died 1981)
Johnny Bond (CM 99, NS 70) born in Enville, Oklahoma, 1915 (died 1978)
Dale Warren of the Sons of the Pioneers born in Rockford, Illinois, 1925 (died 2008)
Andy Griffith born in Mount Airy, North Carolina, 1926 (died 2012)
Hazel Dickens born in Mercer County, West Virginia, 1935 (died 2011)
Wayne Kemp (NS 99) born in Greenwood, Arkansas, 1941 (died 2015)
Jimmy Murphy died (unknown cause), 1981 (was 55)

June 2:

Carl Butler born in Knoxville, Tennessee, 1927 (died 1992)
Helen Carter died in Nashville, Tennessee (gastrointestinal issues), 1998 (was 70)
Adolph Hofner died in San Antonio, Texas (illness), 2000 (was 83)

Weldon Myrick (StG 97) died in Nashville, Tennessee (stroke), 2014 (was 76)

June 3:

Fred "Too Slim" LeBour of Riders in the Sky born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1948 (now 68)

Deke Dickerson born in St. Louis, Missouri, 1968 (now 48)
Jamie O'Neal born in Sydney, Australia, 1968 (now 48)
Curly Williams born in Cairo, Georgia, 1914 (died 1970)
Homer Louis "Boots" Randolph born in Paducah, Kentucky, 1927 (died 2007)
Wally Fowler died at Dale Hollow Lake, Tennessee (heart attack/drowned), 1994 (was 77)
Van Stoneman of the Stoneman Family died in Mufreesboro, Tennessee (Parkinson's disease), 1995 (was 54)

James Alan Shelton died in Kingsport, Tennessee (cancer), 2014 (was 51)
Graceland opens to the public, 1982
The Cincinnati radio show Midwest Hayride begins television broadcasts (on WLW-TV), 1955

June 4:

Bill Mack born in Shamrock, Texas, 1929 (now 87)
Linda Martell born in Leesville, South Carolina, 1941 (now 75). She was the first black female artist to perform on the Grand Ole Opry.

Texas Ruby Owens born in Wise County, Texas, 1910 (died 1963)
Freddy Fender born in San Benito, Texas, 1937 (died 2006)

Herby Wallace (StG 01) born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, 1947 (died 2012)
Zeke Clements (NS 71) died in Nashville, Tennessee (post-operative complications), 1994 (was 82)
John Hartford (BG 10) died in Madison, Tennessee (non-Hodgkin's lymphoma), 2001 (was 63)
Alabama's annual "June Jam" concert began in Fort Payne, Alabama, 1982

June 5:

Don Reid (CM 08) born in Staunton, Virginia, 1945 (now 71)
Gail Davies born in Broken Bow, Oklahoma, 1948 (now 68)
William "Hopalong Cassidy" Boyd born in Cambridge, Ohio, 1895 (died 1972)

Vaughn Horton (NS 71) born in Broad Top, Pennsylvania, 1911 (died 1988)
Hal "Lone" Pine born in Pea Cove, Maine, 1916 (died 1977)
John "Lonzo" Sullivan died in Nashville, Tennessee (heart attack), 1967 (was 48)
Conway Twitty (CM 99, NS 93) died in Springfield, Missouri (abdominal aneurysm), 1993 (was 59)
Ronald Reagan died in Los Angeles, California (complications of Alzheimer's disease), 2004 (was 93). While governor of California, the former president signed a full pardon for former convict Merle Haggard.

Don Bowman died in Branson, Missouri (complications of a stroke), 2013 (was 75)
Grand Ole Opry's first performance at the Ryman auditorium, 1943

June 6:

Joe Stampley born in Springhill, Louisiana, 1943 (now 73)
Gid Tanner of the Skillet Lickers born in Thomas Bridge, Georgia, 1885 (died 1960)
Asher Sizemore born in Manchester, Kentucky, 1906 (died 1973)
Charlie Cline of the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers born in Gilbert, West Virginia, 1931 (died 2004)
Claudette Orbison, wife of Roy Orbison, died in Gallatin, Tennessee (motorcycle accident), 1966 (was 24)
Grant Turner began his tenure as Grand Ole Opry announcer, 1944

June 7:

Sir Tom Jones born in Treforest, South Wales, 1940 (now 76). The legendary pop/rock singer had a hit with a cover of "Green, Green Grass of Home" in 1967 and hit the country charts with "Say You'll Stay Until Tomorrow" in 1977.
Larry Boone born in Cooper City, Florida, 1956 (now 60)
Dean Martin born in Steubenville, Ohio, 1917 (died 1995). The pop crooner recorded two albums of country music on Reprise in the early 60s and sang with Ricky Nelson in the John Wayne classic Rio Bravo in 1969.
Wynn Stewart born in Morrisville, Missouri, 1934 (died 1985)
Courtney Johnson of New Grass Revival died in Glasgow, Kentucky (lung cancer), 1996 (was 56)

June 8:

Vernon Oxford born in Rogers, Arkansas, 1941 (now 75)
Tony Rice (BG 13) born in Danville, Virginia, 1951 (now 65)
Adolph Hofner born in Moulton, Texas, 1916 (died 2000)
Alton Delmore (CM 01, NS 71) died in Huntsville, Alabama (alcohol-related illness), 1964 (was 55)
Roba Stanley died in Gainesville, Florida (unknown cause), 1986 (was 76). She is credited as being the first female solo artist recorded in country music history (1924).
Tommy Perkins of the Texas Playboys died in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (car accident), 2003 (was 69)

June 9:

Herb Remington (StG 79) born in Mishawaka, Indiana, 1926 (now 90)

Willard Cox of the Cox Family born in Cotton Valley, Louisiana, 1937 (now 79)
Jamie Dailey of Dailey & Vincent born in Corbin, Kentucky, 1975 (now 41)

Les Paul born in Waukesha, Wisconsin, 1915 (died 2009). In addition to his recordings with wife Mary Ford, Paul invented the solid-body electric guitar and multi-track recording. He also won a Grammy for his album with Chet Atkins, Chester and Lester, in 1976.

June 10:

Thom Schuyler (NS 11) born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, 1952 (now 64)

Herman Crook of the Crook Brothers died in Nashville, Tennesee (heart attack), 1988 (was 89).  Crook was the last surviving member of the original Grand Ole Opry/WSM Barn Dance cast from 1925.
Steve Sanders, who replaced William Lee Golden in the Oak Ridge Boys for 15 years, died in Cape Coral, Florida (suicide), 1998 (was 45)
Ray Charles died in Beverly Hills, California (complications of liver disease), 2004 (was 73). Charles made the country charts in the 80s with duets with George Jones and Willie Nelson, and his ground-breaking 1962 album Modern Sounds in Country Music presented country songs to a wide audience.

June 11:

Jay McDowell of BR-549 born in Bedford, Indiana, 1969 (now 47)

Edwin Duhon of the Hackberry Ramblers born in Lafayette, Louisiana, 1910 (died 2006)
Brother Dave Gardner born in Jackson, Tennessee, 1926 (died 1983)
Jud Strunk born in Jamestown, New York, 1936 (died 1981)

Wilma Burgess born in Orlando, Florida, 1939 (died 2003)
Henry Maddox of the Maddox Brothers & Rose died aboard a mercy flight between Ashland, Oregon and Portland, Oregon (kidney disease), 1974 (was 46)

Jim Ed Brown (CM 15) died in Nashville, Tennessee (lung cancer), 2015 (was 81).  Brown died less than three months after it was announced that he would be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
John Wayne died in Los Angeles, California (stomach cancer), 1979 (was 72). The actor has been referenced in a number of country songs.

June 12:

Junior Brown born in Kirksville, Indiana, 1952 (now 64)

Rebecca Holden born in Austin, Texas, 1958 (now 58)
Penny Jay born in Monteagle Mountain, Tennessee, 1927 (died 2006)
Dr. Humphrey Bate of the Possum Hunters died in Castalain Springs, Tennessee (heart attack), 1936 (was 61)
J.E. Mainer died (heart attack), 1971 (was 72)
Johnny Bond (CM 99, NS 70) died in Burbank, California (complications from stroke/heart attack), 1978 (was 63)

Winnie Winston (StG 10) died in New Zealand (prostate cancer), 2005 (was 64)
Danny Davis (ne George Joseph Nowlan) died in Nashville, Tennessee (heart failure), 2008 (was 83)

June 13:

Howard Vokes born in Clearfield, Pennsylvania, 1931 (now 85)
Slim Dusty born in Kempsey, Australia, 1927 (died 2003)

Jimmy Dean (CM 10) died in Varina, Virginia (natural causes), 2010 (was 81)
Frances Preston (CM 92) died in Nashville, Tennessee (congestive heart failure), 2012 (was 83)
The Country Music Foundation Library and Media Center opened in the basement of the Country Music Hall of Fame, 1972. The CMF is now on the top floor of the new Hall of Fame building.

June 14:

Burl Ives born in Newton, Illinois, 1909 (died 1995)
Lash LaRue born in Gretna, Louisiana, 1917 (died 1996). The Western actor was the first sidekick to western singer/actor/songwriter Eddie Dean and was mentioned in the Statler Brothers' "Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott."
Ernest V. "Pop" Stoneman (CM 08) died in Nashville, Tennessee (illness), 1968 (was 75)

Tom Tall died in Los Angeles, California (unknown cause), 2013 (was 75)
Patsy Cline seriously injured in a car accident in Madison, Tennessee, 1961

June 15:

Terri Gibbs born in Miami, Florida, 1954 (now 62)
Blind Alfred Reed born in Floyd, Virginia, 1880 (died 1956)
Tex Owens (NS 71) born in Killeen, Texas, 1892 (died 1962)
Marvin Hughes born in Nashville, Tennessee, 1911 (died 1986)

Leon Payne (NS 70) born in Alba, Texas, 1917 (died 1969)
RCA engineer Bill Porter born in St. Louis, Missouri, 1931 (died 2010)
Bob White (StG 90) born in Jenny Lind, Arkansas, 1932 (died 2003)
Waylon Jennings (CM 01, NS 95) born in Littlefield, Texas, 1937 (died 2002)

Ruby Falls died in Nashville, Tennessee (cerebral hemorrhage), 1986 (was 40)
Hee Haw debuted on CBS as the summer replacement show for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, 1969. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Thirty Three Years of Fun

Category:  Personal/News

The 33rd annual International Country Music Conference begins today (5/26) at Belmont University in Nashville.  It will run through Saturday afternoon.

It started 33 years ago today, the anniversary of the death of Jimmie Rodgers.  From there it's become a gathering place for scholars, historians, authors, and geeks like me who cannot get enough of the history and knowledge of country music.

Presentations this year cover the usual wide variety of topics, from a pre-World War II Japanese-American country singer to Felice & Boudleaux Bryant to Josh Graves to Hoagy Carmichael!  My presentation (they keep letting me do them!) this year is on the Whitstein Brothers, a grossly under-appreciated country/bluegrass close harmony duo from the 80s and 90s.

Books are also available, including the great new work from Caroline Gnagy, Texas Jailhouse Music, about female country music bands formed in prisons around Texas.

This is where the people who truly love country music -- so much so that they sacrifice good money by writing about Bill Clifton instead of something "trendy" (as I frequently tell people, "You don't get rich writing books about hillbillies, you get rich writing Harry Potter books") -- gather to share knowledge, fellowship, and a deep and passionate love for all things country music. 

I'm so thankful to be part of this incredible fraternity!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Bed By the Window is Empty

Category: Obituary

In a year where music lovers are already reeling with the loss of two Country Music Hall of Fame members, two Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame members, and five Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, we yet again mourn the loss of another great.

Bluegrass singer James King died today (5/19) of complications from his long battle with liver disease.

Born in Virginia and raised on the classics such as the Stanley Brothers, King began working on a music career after his enlistment in the Marines.  He played with Ralph Stanley and, in the early 90s, began the James King Band.  He was also a member of the bluegrass supergroup Longview (that also featured heavy hitters such as Dudley Connell and JD Crowe).

King's voice was pure bluegrass, with those terrific story songs that would grab your heart and choke it.  The title track of his classic album Bed By the Window was a perfect example.  The song is about two friends who were roomed together in a nursing home.  Both confined to their beds, the friend in the envious eponymous bed describes the world in all its beautiful splendor to his buddy.  Then the man dies and his friend, eager to see the world that his friend had described, is moved to the bed by the window, only to see it faces a stone wall.

King once said the best advice he ever received about performing was "spill your guts onstage and then walk in 'em."  The "bed by the window" is empty now.  King's death, compounded with the loss of Guy Clark earlier in the week, means that someone else has to paint lovely portraits on dingy walls.  No one will do it with the heart and emotion that James King was able to pour into a song.

Farewell to James King, who was just 57.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Only Two Things That Money Can't Buy

Category:  Obituary

Oh, does this hurt.  Guy Clark has died.

The Nashville Songwriters Hall of Famer passed away early this morning (5/17) after a long illness.  He was transferred to a hospice facility earlier this year.

There are songwriters, and then there's Guy Clark.  Inspired, he said, by Townes Van Zandt to start writing, he in many ways surpassed his influence.  

From that #1 song (thanks to Ricky Skaggs) "Heartbroke" (Skaggs sanitized the line "pride is a bitch and a bore if you're lonely," as did George Strait with his version [Rodney Crowell's cover did not]) to the all-time classics "L.A. Freeway," "Desperadoes Waiting for a Train," and "Homegrown Tomatoes" (with its singalong and smile-along chorus of, "What would life be without homegrown tomatoes, there's only two things that money can't buy, and that's true love and homegrown tomatoes"), Guy Clark was revered by everyone except the masses.  As with most great songwriters (including Van Zandt and countless others), Clark developed a dedicated cult following, which included most of the "big names" in country music, who gleefully covered his songs.

His Dublin Blues album was a masterpiece.  Heck, all of his albums were masterpieces.  But when Doc Watson died that great line from "Dublin Blues" was the first thing that came to mind:  "I have seen the David, I've seen the Mona Lisa too, and I have heard Doc Watson play 'Columbus Stockade Blues.'"

Much like that comparison of Watson to the greatest artwork in history, we can all be thankful that we have heard Guy Clark sing "Desperadoes Waiting for a Train."  Or "The Randall Knife."  Or "Black Diamond Strings."  Or anything that he gave us.  He was a gem.

Clark's wife, Susanna, who was also a songwriter ("I'll Be Your San Antone Rose," "Easy From Now On") and painter (she did the cover of Willie Nelson's Stardust album), died in 2012.  Now the two desperadoes wait for a train no longer.

Actually, there's three things that money can't buy:  true love, homegrown tomatoes, and the joy of a Guy Clark song.

Guy Clark was 74.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Dates of Note in Country Music, May 16-31

Category: News

(Hall of Fame members in bold on birth/death date, followed by hall[s] of fame in which they are enshrined and the year enshrined.  CM=Country Music; BG=Bluegrass; NS=Nashville Songwriter; SG=Southern Gospel; StG=Steel Guitar; RR=country performer also inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame)

May 16:

Rick Trevino born in Austin, Texas, 1971 (now 45)
Laura Lee Owens, the "Queen of Western Swing," born in Kansas City, Missouri, 1920 (died 1989)

Wallace Lewis of the Lewis Family (BG 06) died in Washington, Georgia (complications of Parkinson's disease), 2007 (was 78)
Doug Dillard of the Dillards (BG 09) died in Nashville, Tennessee (lung infection), 2012 (was 75)

May 17:

Pat Flynn of the New Grass Revival born in Los Angeles, California, 1952 (now 64)
Grant Turner (CM 81) born in Abeline, Texas, 1912 (died 1991)
Paul Warren (BG 13) born in Lyles, Tennessee, 1918 (died 1978)
Arthur Lee "Red" Smiley (BG 92) born in Marshall, North Carolina, 1925 (died 1984)

Penny DeHaven born in Winchester, Virginia, 1948 (died 2014)
Wiley Walker of Wiley & Gene (NS 71) died in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (cancer), 1966 (was 54)
New Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum building opened, 2001.  Nearly every living Hall of Famer was present at the opening ceremonies, and the audience was treated to a tour of the new facilities for free.

May 18:

Rodney Dillard of the Dillards (BG 09) born in East St. Louis, Illinois, 1942 (now 74)
Joe Bonsall of the Oak Ridge Boys born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1948 (now 68)
Gary Scruggs born in Knoxville, Tennessee, 1949 (now 67)

Tom Shapiro (NS 08) born in Kansas City, Missouri, 1950 (now 66)
George Strait (CM 06) born in Poteet, Texas, 1952 (now 64)

Leon Ashley born in Newton County, Georgia, 1936 (died 2013)

May 19:

Martha Carson born in Neon, Kentucky, 1921 (died 2004)
Rex Gosdin born in Woodland, Alabama, 1938 (died 1983)
Mickey Newberry (NS 80) born in Houston, Texas, 1940 (died 2002)

May 20:

"Lonesome George" Gobel born in Chicago, Illinois, 1919 (died 1991). Although many may remember him as a comedian and regular on Hollywood Squares, one of Gobel's earliest jobs in entertainment was on the WLS National Barn Dance when he was a teenager in the 1930s.
Jack Cash, brother of Johnny Cash, died in Dyess, Arkansas (injuries from accident with table saw), 1944 (was 15)

May 21:

Henry Glover born in Hot Springs, Arkansas, 1921 (died 1991). The R&B songwriter and pioneering black record company executive co-wrote "Blues, Stay Away From Me" with the Delmore Brothers and Wayne Raney in 1949.
Charlie Poole died in Spray, North Carolina (alcohol-related heart failure), 1931 (was 39)
Billy Walker died in Fort Deposit, Alabama (car wreck), 2006 (was 77)
Vaughn Monroe died in Stuart, Florida (post-operative complications), 1973 (was 61). Among the pop singer's many hits was "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky."

May 22:

Miggie Lewis of the Lewis Family (BG 06) born in Richmond County, Georgia, 1926 (now 90)
Buddy Alan born in Mega, Arizona, 1948 (now 68)
Rich Alves of Pirates of the Mississippi born in Pleasanton, California, 1953 (now 63)
Dana Williams of Diamond Rio born in Dayton, Ohio, 1961 (now 55)
Ralph S. Peer (CM 84) born in Independence, Missouri, 1892 (died 1960)
Royce Kendall died in LaCrosse, Wisconsin (stroke), 1988 (was 63)

May 23:

Mac Wiseman (CM 14, BG 93) born in Crimora, Virginia, 1925 (now 91)
Ken Irwin, co-founder of Rounder Records, born in New York, New York, 1944 (now 72)
Misty Morgan born in Buffalo, New York, 1945 (now 71)
Shelley West born in Cleveland, Ohio, 1958 (now 58)

Leroy Troy born in Goodlettesville, Tennessee, 1966 (now 50)
Rosemary Clooney born in Maysville, Kentucky, 1928 (died 2002). The legendary pop singer recorded a number of country songs, including covering Carl Smith's hit "If Teardrops Were Pennies."
Rex Gosdin died (heart attack), 1983 (was 45)

May 24:

Mike Reid (NS 05) born in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, 1947 (now 69)
Rosanne Cash (NS 15) born in Memphis, Tennessee, 1955 (now 61)
Billy Gilman born in Westerly, Rhode Island, 1988 (now 28). Gilman's "One Voice" hit #1 when he was 12, making him the youngest person in Billboard country chart history to have a #1 song.
Gene Clark of the Byrds and Dillard & Clark died in Sherman Oaks, California (bleeding ulcer), 1991 (was 46)
Vivian Liberto died in Ventura, California (cancer), 2005 (was 71). Vivian was Johnny Cash's first wife and Rosanne Cash's mother.
Jimmie Rodgers recorded "Old Love Letters (Bring Memories of You)," "Mississippi Delta Blues," "Somewhere Down Below the Dixon Line," and "Years Ago" in New York City, 1933. Ravaged with tuberculosis, they would be the final recordings of the Father of Country Music.

May 25:

Tom T. Hall (CM 08, NS 78) born in Olive Hill, Kentucky, 1936 (now 80)
Jessi Colter born in Phoenix, Arizona, 1947 (now 69)
Dr. Humphrey Bate of the Possum Hunters born in Castallian Springs, Tennessee, 1875 (died 1936)
Ernest V. "Pop" Stoneman (CM 08) born in Monarat, Virginia, 1893 (died 1968)

Hal David (NS 84) born in New York, New York, 1921 (died 2012)
Dick Curless died in Bangor, Maine (stomach cancer), 1995 (was 63)

May 26:

Randall Hank Williams Jr. (NS 07) born in Shreveport, Louisiana, 1949 (now 68)
Richard Leigh (NS 94) born in Washington, DC, 1951 (now 65)
Lance LeRoy (BG 00) born in Tingall, Georgia, 1930 (died 2015)
Levon Helm born in Marvell, Arkansas, 1940 (died 2012). The actor and drummer/singer for the Band made his acting debut in Coal Miner's Daughter.
Jimmie Rodgers (CM 61, NS 70, RR 86) died in New York, New York (tuberculosis), 1933 (was 35)
Onie Wheeler died in Nashville, Tennessee (heart attack), 1984 (was 62). He died on the Grand Ole Opry stage during a performance of the post-Friday Night Opry show, Grand Ole Gospel.
Judy Lynn died in New Albany, Indiana (congestive heart failure), 2010 (was 74)
The first International Country Music Conference held in Meridian, Mississippi, 1983. The three-day event began as a memorial to Jimmie Rodgers and coincides with the anniversary of his death.

May 27:

Don Williams (CM 10) born in Floydada, Texas, 1939 (now 77)
Redd Stewart (NS 70) born in Ashland City, Tennessee, 1921 (died 2003)
Kenny Price born in Florence, Kentucky, 1931 (died 1987)
Slim Bryant died in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania (long-term illness), 2010 (was 101)
Opryland opened, 1972 (closed 1997)

May 28:

John Fogerty born in Berkeley, California, 1945 (now 71). The leader of Creedence Clearwater Revival recorded an album of country songs under the pseudonym Blue Ridge Rangers in 1973, hitting the country chart with his rendition of "Jambalaya," and several songs Fogerty has written have been recorded by country singers.
Jerry Douglas born in Warren, Ohio, 1956 (now 60)
Phil Vassar born in Lynchburg, Virginia, 1965 (now 51)

Gary Stewart born in Jenkins, Kentucky, 1945 (died 2003)

May 29:

Carl Story (BG 07) born in Lenoir, North Carolina, 1916 (died 1995)

Danny Davis (ne George Joseph Nowlan) of the Nashville Brass born in Dorchester, Massachusetts, 1925 (died 2008)
Doc Watson (BG 00) died in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (complications from abdominal surgery), 2012 (was 89)
Mother Maybelle and the Carter Family became members of the Grand Ole Opry, 1950
Hank and Audrey Williams divorced, 1952

May 30:

Mike Snider born in Gleason, Tennessee, 1960 (now 56)
Lewis Crook of the Crook Brothers born in Trousdale County, Tennessee, 1909 (died 1996)

Johnny Gimble born in Tyler, Texas, 1926 (died 2015)
Don Wayne (NS 78) born in Nashville, Tennessee, 1933 (died 2011)
Karl Davis of Karl & Harty died in Chicago, Illinois (cancer), 1979 (was 73)
Bobby Harden of the Harden Trio died in Nashville, Tennessee (unknown cause), 2006 (was 70)

May 31:

Vic Willis of the Willis Brothers born in Schulter, Oklahoma, 1922 (died 1995)
Johnny Paycheck (ne Donald Eugene Lytle) born in Greenfield, Ohio, 1938 (died 2003)

Bud Carter (StG 09) born in Sullivan, Missouri, 1931 (died 2015)
William "Red" Rector died in Knoxville, Tennessee (heart attack), 1990 (was 60)

Lloyd Perryman of the Sons of the Pioneers (CM 80) died in Burbank, California (complications of heart surgery), 1977 (was 60)
Jerry Sullivan of the Sullivan Family died in Alabama (illness), 2014 (was 80)

Friday, April 29, 2016

Dates of Note in Country Music, May 1-15

Category: News

(Hall of Fame members in bold on birth/death date, followed by hall[s] of fame in which they are enshrined and the year enshrined.  CM=Country Music; BG=Bluegrass; NS=Nashville Songwriter; SG=Southern Gospel; StG=Steel Guitar; GLA=Grammy Lifetime Achievement; RR=country act also inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.)

May 1:

Rita Coolidge born in Nashville, Tennessee, 1944 (now 72). Although primarily a pop singer, Coolidge had a dozen songs chart in country. She is also the former wife of Kris Kristofferson.
Wayne Hancock born in Dallas, Texas, 1965 (now 51)
Sam McGee born in Williamson County, Tennessee, 1894 (died 1975)

Sonny James (ne James Loden) (CM 06) born in Hackleburg, Alabama, 1929 (died 2016)
Jimmy Gately born in Springfield, Missouri, 1931 (died 1985)
Ott Devine born in Gadsen, Alabama, 1910 (died 1994)
Spike Jones died in Bel Air, California (emphysema), 1965 (was 53). The novelty band leader recorded "Pal-Yat-Chee" with Homer and Jethro, and Red Ingle (of Red Ingle & Natural Seven, of "Temp-Tay-Shun" fame) was once a member of Jones' City Slickers.
Jim Hager of the Hager Twins died in Nashville, Tennessee (heart attack), 2008 (was 66)
Elvis Presley married Priscilla Beaulieu in Las Vegas, Nevada, 1967
A six-inch rainstorm hit Nashville, 2010.  The massive flood damaged the Grand Ole Opry House, the Opryland Hotel, the WSM-AM studios, the basement of the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Wildhorse Saloon, the instrument storage business Soundcheck, and a number of country singers' homes. Over 13 inches of rain fell over a two-day period in Music City and killed nearly two dozen.

May 2:

R.C. Bannon born in Dallas, Texas, 1945 (now 71)
Larry Gatlin born in Seminole, Texas, 1948 (now 68)
Ty Herndon born in Meridian, Mississippi, 1962 (now 54)
Roy Lee Centers of the Clinch Mountain Boys died in Jackson, Kentucky (shot to death -- details disputed between a fight, "road rage" or murder), 1974 (was 29)
"Slowly" by Webb Pierce hits #1 on the Billboard charts, 1954. It becomes the first #1 song to feature the pedal steel guitar.

May 3:

Cactus Moser of Highway 101 born in Montrose, Colorado, 1957 (now 59)
Bing Crosby born in Tacoma, Washington, 1903 (died 1977). The pop crooner has the distinction of being the performer of the first #1 single in Billboard magazine's "Hillbilly and Western Singles" history with his rendition of Al Dexter's "Pistol Packin' Mama." Dexter's own recording was the second #1 song.
Dave Dudley born in Spencer, Wisconsin, 1928 (died 2003)
Patsy Montana (CM 96) died in San Jancinto, California (unknown cause), 1996 (was 83)
Dollywood theme park opened in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, 1986

May 4:

Stella Parton born in Sevierville, Tennessee, 1949 (now 67)
Robert Ellis Orrall born in Winthrop, Massachusetts, 1955 (now 61)
Randy Travis (CM 16) born in Marshville, North Carolina, 1959 (now 57).  Travis is one of the "class of 2016" inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Al Dexter (ne Clarence Albert Poindexter) (NS 71) born in Jacksonville, Texas, 1902 (died 1984)
Bobby Austin born in Wenatchee, Washington, 1933 (died 2002)
Joe L. Frank (CM 67) died in Chicago, Illinois (complications of throat infection), 1952 (was 52)
Leo Jackson died in Nashville, Tennessee (suicide [gunshot]), 2008 (was 73)

May 5:

Ace Cannon born in Grenada, Mississippi, 1934 (now 82)
Roni Stoneman born in Washington, DC, 1938 (now 78)

Glen Duncan of Lonesome Standard Time born in Columbus, Indiana, 1955 (now 61)
J.D. Miller born in Iota, Louisiana, 1922 (died 1996)
Tammy Wynette (CM 98, NS 09) born in Itawamba County, Mississippi, 1942 (died 1998)

Wayne Carson (NS 97) born in Denver, Colorado, 1942 (died 2015)
Jerry Wallace died in Corona, California (congestive heart failure), 2008 (was 79)

May 6:

Jimmie Dale Gilmore born in Austin, Texas, 1945 (now 71)
Cliff Carlisle born in Taylorsville, Kentucky, 1904 (died 1983)

Otis Blackwell (NS 86) died in Nashville, Tennessee (heart attack), 2002 (was 71)
George "Goober" Lindsey died in Nashville, Tennessee (brief illness), 2012 (was 83)
Dottie Dillard of the Anita Kerr Singers died in Springfield, Missouri (natural causes), 2015 (was 91)

May 7:

Jerry Chesnut (NS 96) born in Loyall, Kentucky, 1931 (now 85)

Lorie Collins of the Collins Kids born in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, 1942 (now 74)
Riley Puckett born in Alpharetta, Georgia, 1894 (died 1946)
Horace "Aytchie" Burns born in Cisco, Georgia, 1918 (died 1974). Aytchie, the older brother of Jethro Burns, was a performer at the WNOX Midday Merry-Go-Round and the Renfro Valley Barn Dance. While in the Army he was also the platoon sergeant of Roger Miller.
Eddie Rabbitt (NS 98) died in Nashville, Tennessee (lung cancer), 1998 (was 56)

May 8:

Jack Blanchard born in Buffalo, New York, 1942 (now 74)
Del Anthony Gray of Little Texas born in Hamilton, Ohio, 1968 (now 48)
Jimmie Tarlton of Darby & Tarlton born in Cheraw, South Carolina, 1892 (died 1979)

Homer Bailes of the Bailes Brothers born in Kanawha County, West Virginia, 1922 (died 2013)
Benny Martin (BG 05) born in Sparta, Tennessee, 1928 (died 2001)
Rick Nelson born in Teaneck, New Jersey, 1940 (died 1985)
Leon Huff of the Light Crust Doughboys died (unknown cause), 1952 (was 39)
George D. Hay (CM 66) died in Virginia Beach, Virginia (unknown cause), 1968 (was 72)
Eddy Arnold (CM 66, GLA 05) died in Brentwood, Tennessee (complications from a fall), 2008 (was 89)

Charles "Everett" Lilly (BG 02) died in Clear Creek, West Virginia (aneurysm/heart attack), 2012 (was 87)

May 9:

Richie Furay of Poco born in Yellow Springs, Ohio, 1944 (now 72)
Bobby Lewis born in Hodgenville, Kentucky, 1946 (now 70)
Fuzzy Knight born in Fairmont, West Virginia, 1901 (died 1976). The actor appeared in several films as Tex Ritter's sidekick.
Hank Snow (CM 79, NS 78) born in Brooklyn, Nova Scotia, 1914 (died 1999)
Nudie Cohn died in Hollywood, California (unknown cause), 1984 (was 81)
Keith Whitley died in Nashville, Tennessee (alcohol poisoning), 1989 (was 33)

Johnny Gimble died in Dripping Springs, Texas (complications of a stroke), 2015 (was 88)
Jimmie Davis elected governor of Louisiana, 1944

May 10:

Carl T. Sprague born in Houston, Texas, 1895 (died 1979)
Mother Maybelle Carter (CM 70, BG 01, GLA 05) born in Nicklesville, Virginia, 1909 (died 1979)
Shel Silverstein (NS 02) died in Key West, Florida (heat attack), 1999 (was 68)

May 11:

Bobby Black (StG 04) born in Prescott, Arizona, 1934 (now 82)

Mark Herndon of Alabama (CM 05) born in Springfield, Massachusetts, 1955 (now 61)
Bob Atcher born in West Point, Kentucky, 1914 (died 1993)
Dick Overbey (StG 10) born in Detroit, Michigan, 1942 (died 2014)
Glen Sherley died in Salinas, California (suicide [gunshot]), 1978 (was 42)
Lester Flatt (CM 85, BG 91, NS 07) died in Nashville, Tennessee (heart failure), 1979 (was 64)
Dottie Rambo (SG 97, NS 07) died in Mt. Vernon, Missouri (bus crash), 2008 (was 74)

May 12:

Kix Brooks born in Shreveport, Louisiana, 1955 (now 61)
The Duke of Paducah, Benjamin "Whitey" Ford, (CM 86) born in DeSoto, Missouri, 1901 (died 1986)
Joe Maphis born in Suffolk, Virginia, 1921 (died 1986)
Leroy Pullins born in Berea, Kentucky, 1940 (died 1984)

W. Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel died in Dallas, Texas (unknown cause), 1969 (was 79)

May 13:

Ray Kennedy born in Buffalo, New York, 1954 (now 61)
Lari White born in Dunedin, Florida, 1965 (now 50)
Jack Anglin born in Columbia, Tennesee, 1916 (died 1963)

Johnnie Wright born in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, 1914 (died 2011)
Gid Tanner died in Dacula, Georgia (unknown cause), 1960 (was 74)
Bob Wills (CM 68, NS 70, GLA 07) died Fort Worth, Texas (pneumonia/complications of stroke), 1975 (was 70)

May 14:

Jimmy Martin (BG 95) died in Nashville, Tennessee (bladder cancer), 2005 (was 77)

May 15:

K.T. Oslin born in Crossett, Arkansas, 1941 (now 74)
Eddy Arnold (CM 66, GLA 05) born in Henderson, Tennessee, 1918 (died 2008)
June Carter Cash died in Nashville, Tennessee (complications from open heart surgery), 2003 (was 73)

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Dates of Note in Country Music, April 16-30

Category: News

(Hall of Fame members in bold on birth/death date, followed by hall[s] of fame in which they are enshrined and the year[s] enshrined.  CM=Country Music; BG=Bluegrass; NS=Nashville Songwriter; SG=Southern Gospel; StG=Steel Guitar; LAG=Lifetime Achievement Grammy; RR=country act also inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame)

April 16:

Dusty Springfield born in London, England, 1939 (died 1999). The legendary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer hit the country charts in 1962 as part of the Springfields with "Silver Threads and Golden Needles."

April 17:

Craig Anderson of Heartland born in Huntsville, Alabama, 1973 (now 43)
Eddie Cochran died in Bath, England (injuries from an April 16 car wreck), 1960k (was 21). The rockabilly pioneer co-wrote "Summertime Blues," which Alan Jackson covered in country.
Dorsey Dixon died in Plant City, Florida (heart attack), 1968 (was 70)
Hank Penny died in Camarillo, California (heart failure), 1992 (was 73)
Linda McCartney died in Tuscon, Arizona (breast cancer), 1998 (was 56). Linda and husband Sir Paul McCartney's band, Wings, hit the country charts in 1974 with "Sally G."
Glenn Sutton (NS 99) died in Nashville, Tennessee (heart attack), 2007 (was 69)

April 18:

Walt Richmond of the Tractors born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1947 (now 69)
Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown born in Vinton, Louisiana, 1924 (died 2005)
Curtis Potter born in Cross Plains, Texas, 1940 (died 2016)
Your blogger born in Louisville, Kentucky, 19(??!) (now in need of a wheelchair and a fan and a bottle of Serutan)
Milton Brown died in Fort Worth, Texas (pneumonia resulting from injuries in an April 13 car wreck), 1936 (was 32)

April 19:

Jody Carver (StG 04) born in Brooklyn, New York, 1929 (now 86)
Bill Rice (NS 94) born in Datto, Arkansas, 1939 (now 77)
Gary Brewer born in Louisville, Kentucky, 1965 (now 51)
Bobby Russell (NS 94) born in Nashville, Tennessee, 1941 (died 1992)
Earl Bolick of the Blue Sky Boys died in Tucker, Georgia (unknown cause), 1998 (was 78)
Levon Helm died in New York, NY (throat cancer), 2012 (was 71)
The "National Barn Dance" debuted on WLS, Chicago, 1924

April 20:

Johnny Tillitson born in Jacksonville, Florida, 1939 (now 77)
Doyle Lawson (BG 12) born in Ford Town, Tennessee, 1944 (now 72)
Wade Hayes born in Bethel Acres, Oklahoma, 1969 (now 47)
Frank "Hylo" Brown born in River, Kentucky, 1922 (died 2003)
Benny Hill found dead in his London flat (coronary thrombosis), 1992 (was 68). The British comedian's Benny Hill Show featured Boots Randolph's "Yakety Sax" as its theme song.

April 21:

Wade Mainer born in Buncombe, North Carolina, 1907 (died 2011)
Ira Louvin (CM 01, NS 79) born in Section, Alabama, 1924 (died 1965)
Carl Belew born in Salina, Oklahoma, 1931 (died 1990)
Paul Davis (NS 10) born in Meridian, Mississippi, 1948 (died 2008)
Neal Matthews Jr. (CM 01) died in Nashville, Tennessee (heart attack), 2000 (was 70)

April 22:

Glen Campbell (CM 05, LAG 12) born in Delight, Arkansas, 1936 (now 80)
Pat Enright of the Nashville Bluegrass Band born in Huntington, Indiana, 1945 (now 71)
Cleve Francis born in Jennings, Louisiana, 1945 (now 71)
Larry Groce born in Dallas, Texas, 1948 (now 68). The Mountain Stage host had one charted record, 1977's "Junk Food Junkie," which was a minor country hit.
Reuben Gosfield of Asleep at the Wheel born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1951 (now 65)
Heath Wright of Ricochet born in Vian, Oklahoma, 1967 (now 47)
Ray Griff born in Vancouver, British Columbia, 1940 (died 2016)
Steve Sholes (CM 67) died in Nashville, Tennessee (heart attack), 1968 (was 57)
Felice Bryant (CM 91, NS 72) died in Nashville, Tennessee (cancer), 2003 (was 77)
Paul Davis (NS 10) died in Meridian, Mississippi (heart attack), 2008 (was 60)
Richard Nixon died in New York, New York (stroke), 1994 (was 81). The former president's political troubles were chronicled in Tom T. Hall's song "Watergate Blues." Nixon also appeared on the Grand Ole Opry during its first night at the Opry House in 1974.
Hazel Dickens died in Washington, DC (pneumonia), 2011 (was 75)

April 23:

Roland White of the Nashville Bluegrass Band born in Madawaska, Maine, 1938 (now 78)
Roy Orbison (NS 87, LAG 98) born in Vernon, Texas, 1936 (died 1988)
Kent Robbins (NS 98) born in Mayfield, Kentucky, 1947 (died 1997)

April 24:

Shirley Boone born in Chicago, Illinois, 1934 (now 82). Pat Boone's wife is also the daughter of Red Foley.
Rebecca Lynn Howard born in Salyersville, Kentucky, 1979 (now 37)
Harry McClintock died in San Francisco, California (unknown cause), 1957 (was 74). His greatest success would come decades after his death when his recording of "Big Rock Candy Mountain" began the film O Brother, Where Art Thou.
Bobby Garrett (StG 95) died in Tyler, Texas (cancer), 1999 (was 64)
Bonnie Owens died in Bakersfield, California (Alzheimer's disease), 2006 (was 73)

April 25:

Larry Robbins of the Johnson Mountain Boys born in Dickerson, Maryland, 1945 (now 71)
Karl Farr (CM 80) born in Rochelle, Texas, 1909 (died 1961)
Cliff Bruner born in Texas City, Texas, 1915 (died 2000)
Vassar Clements born in Kinard, South Carolina, 1928 (died 2005)
O.B. McClinton born in Senatobia, Mississippi, 1940 (died 1987)
The musical Big River opened on Broadway, 1985. It won a "Best Musical" Tony for songwriter Roger Miller, making him, to date, the only country performer to ever win a Tony Award.

April 26:

Johnny Mosby born in Fort Smith, Arkansas, 1933 (now 83)
Duane Eddy born in Corning, New York, 1938 (now 78)
Fiddlin' Doc Roberts born in Richmond, Kentucky, 1897 (died 1978)
Cecil Null born in East War, West Virginia, 1927 (died 2001)
Tim Spencer (CM 80) died in Apple Valley, California (long illness), 1974 (was 65)
Wesley Rose (CM 86) died in Nashville, Tennessee (unknown cause), 1990 (was 72)
George Jones (CM 92, LAG 12) died in Nashville, Tennessee (respiratory failure), 2013 (was 81)

April 27:

Maxine Brown of the Browns (CM 15) born in Campti, Louisiana, 1931 (now 85)
Herb Pedersen of the Dillards and Desert Rose Band born in Berkley, California, 1944 (now 72)
Sydney Nathan (BG 06; RR 97) born in Cincinnati, Ohio, 1904 (died 1968)
Jimmie Skinner born in Blue Lick, Kentucky, 1909 (died 1979)

April 28:

Dale Potter born in Puxico, Missouri, 1929 (died 1996)
Tommy Caldwell of the Marshall Tucker Band died in Spartanburg, South Carolina (injuries from an April 21 car wreck), 1980 (was 30)
Ken Curtis died in Clovis, California (heart attack), 1991 (was 74). The Gunsmoke star was also a one-time member of the Sons of the Pioneers.

April 29:

Billy Mize born in Arkansas City, Kansas, 1929 (now 87)
Duane Allen of the Oak Ridge Boys (CM 15) born in Taylortown, Texas, 1943 (now 73)
Wayne Secrest of Confederate Railroad born in Alton, Illinois, 1950 (now 66)
Karen Brooks born in Dallas, Texas, 1954 (now 62)
Eddie Noack born in Houston, Texas, 1930 (died 1978)
Vern Gosdin died in Nashville, Tennessee (stroke), 2009 (was 74)
Kenny Roberts died in Alton, Massachusetts (natural causes), 2012 (was 85)

April 30:

Fuzzy Owen born in Conway, Arkansas, 1929 (now 87)
Willie Nelson (CM 93, NS 73, LAG 00) born in Abbott, Texas, 1933 (now 83)
Darrell McCall born in New Jasper, Ohio, 1940 (now 76)
Johnny Farina (StG 02) born in Brooklyn, New York, 1941 (now 75)
Robert Earl Reynolds of the Mavericks born in Kansas City, Missouri, 1962 (now 54)
Johnny Horton born in Los Angeles, California, 1930 (died 1960)
Curly Chalker (StG 85) died in Hendersonville, Tennessee (brain cancer), 1998 (was 66)
WLS airs the final broadcast of the National Barn Dance, 1960, after 36 years on the air.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Sing Me Back Home Before I Die

Category:  News/Obituary

Merle Haggard has died.

The legendary "Poet of the Common Man," lovingly referred to as "Hag," died this morning on his 79th birthday.  He had suffered numerous bouts of double pneumonia over the past four months, forcing him to cancel shows.  In February he confessed to Rolling Stone that the December illness "nearly killed me."

Born in California, Haggard's youth was one of trouble.  His songs about prison life were written from personal experience:  he was incarcerated at San Quentin.  In 1959 Johnny Cash did a concert at the prison, with Haggard in the audience.  The show changed Haggard's outlook, and he started focusing on music.

He burst on to the scene in the mid-60s, doing songs by Liz Anderson ("[All My Friends Are Going to Be] Strangers," the song that gave his backing band its name) and Tommy Collins (to whom Haggard paid his thanks in the song "Leonard") as well as his own songs.  His themes of the down-on-their-luck or hardworking, blue-collar individuals ("I Take a Lot of Pride in What I Am," "Working Man Blues") earned him the nickname "The Poet of the Common Man."  His pro-American stand in songs like "Okie From Muskogee" and "The Fightin' Side of Me" endeared him to countless Americans who appreciated his "opposing view" to the anti-Vietnam, anti-government protests of the late 60s.

Haggard's career never waned.  Last year, despite the fact that he was deemed "too old" to be "relevant" in country music, he had a #1 album with his duet collaboration with Willie Nelson, Django and Jimmie

One of his finest songs was "Sing Me Back Home," a song about a death row inmate ready to be executed.  That song's chorus echoes how we all feel with the loss of this mighty country legend:

Let him sing me back home with a song I used to hear
Make my old memories come alive
Take me away, and turn back the years
Sing me back home before I die.

Thank you, Hag.  Rest in peace.

Monday, April 04, 2016

What Now, Country Radio?

Category:  Opinion

Back in February 2015 Sony Nashville CEO Gary Overton told the Tennessean, ahead of a convention for country radio programmers, consultants, and executives, "If you're not on country radio, you don't exist."  The comments caused a tremendous backlash from acts who are not on country radio (e.g., Charlie Robison, Aaron Watson [who, ironically, had the #1 single the week this happened, despite not getting airplay!]).  A month later, Overton was out of a job (technically "stepping down" after "mutual agreement" with Sony officials) -- not so much because of what he said as the fact that he let a closely-guarded industry secret (that being commercial mainstream music [not just country music] is tightly controlled and manipulated to the point where the songs are successful and what songs are not are pre-determined) out.  (I encourage you to read the Saving Country Music blog about this fiasco.  It's worth your time, and you'll get a good laugh out of it.)

In the succeeding 14 months Overton's comments took a serious beating in the world of reality.  Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard scored a #1 album with Django and Jimmie, despite no airplay.  Don Henley's Cass County went to #1 despite no airplay.  Joey + Rory's Hymns That We Love went to #1 despite no airplay.  And, two weeks ago, nearly 84-year-old Loretta Lynn's Full Circle debuted on the album chart at #4...again, despite no airplay.

The biggest monkey wrench in this notion that "no country radio = no success" is named Chris Stapleton.  At the Ain't Country Music Academy of Country Music (ACM) awards last night (4/3) Stapleton swept the categories he was nominated in, the second time he's done that in country music awards in the past five months (he also was three-for-three in the CMAs in November).  In addition to that, he won two Grammys in February, including "Best Country Album" for Traveller.  

And he did it all WITHOUT RADIO.  

He can't be played on country radio.  While he's not exactly traditional country, he's certainly more country (and less "sex on the tool box at the tailgate party" bro-country) than anything that's come along in recent years.  You can't play Buck Owens after Led Zeppelin then tell people they're the same genre.  (He also doesn't fit the "hunk" stereotype, and, at nearly 38 [his birthday is next week], he's "too old" for the "young and good-looking" mentality they've been hyping for over two decades.)

Stapleton is now the hottest property in country music.  That's leaving country radio programmers in a bind.  They can't play something they didn't pick to click, or something that's closer to George Strait than Dire Straits, because it's going to stick out, and people are going to start asking questions ("what kind of music is that?  That's not 'country music' you've been spoon feeding us for the last 25 years!").  Yet, he's so successful that they have to play him.

What now, country radio programmers?  Do you finally listen to Dale Watson's plea from 20 years ago ("Mr. DJ, would you please play a real country song?"), or do you keep hyping the Sam Hunt and hope nobody will notice that you're ignoring Stapleton?  Or, do you just continue to ignore your two-year downward trend in ratings while Stapleton's album goes platinum (remember that the past two years have given us one platinum album per year -- both by pop women [Taylor Swift and Adele]) and people discover him and others (such as another success-without-radio story, Kacey Musgraves) without your help?

Friday, April 01, 2016

Country's Finest Novelist

Category:  Album Review 

Upland Stories, the spectacular new album by Robbie Fulks, isn't likely to become southern Chamber of Commerce fodder.  It is a collection of beautifully detailed novels songs set mostly in the South, painting brutally real pictures of social and personal life.  The album contains some of Fulks' best songwriting ever, and that is saying something about this man who stands alone as country music's finest novelist-posing-as-a-songwriter.

Robbie Fulks' brilliant new collection of musical novels,
Upland Stories.  Courtesy of Bloodshot Records.

"Alabama At Night," based on James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, an honest look at the toll the Depression took on people in the South, opens the album.  Sadly, it's hard to tell if this is just a musical summary of Agee's 1941 book or observations from last month.  When the Louvin Brothers paid homage to their home state in the song "Alabama" they sang of "your beautiful highways are carved through the mountains where loved ones do wait...and the 'welcome home' sign hanging over the gate."  The picture Fulks paints is far from the postcard that Ira and Charlie depicted.  "Poor's no sacred song," Fulks sings with quiet anger, "poor is a disease."

The first "story" in the album moves from the general feel of the south to the familial one.  "Baby Rocked Her Dolly," a Merle Kilgore composition that was a top 15 hit for Frankie Miller in 1960, is a perfect set-up for the following song on the album.  (In fact, the tracking on Upland Stories seems to deliberately situate the songs in an order where they feed on one another, turning songs into scenes in a minutely-detailed mini-movie.)  An old man in a nursing home remembers the good times of home ("My sister did the dance and brother beat the drum and baby rocked her dolly") and his late wife ("that wife of mine, God rest her soul, she's gone on before me, I bet she's told the Lord about all the times our house was filled with folly").

Similar memories of home is probably what drove the cancer-stricken protagonist of "Never Come Home" to return home ("not that the old place was the answer, just one last thing that I could try"), only to quickly realize it was a terrible mistake ("I was welcomed like a guilty prisoner, old grievances fouled the air").  The narrator has to deal with family members who, like the strangers of "Alabama At Night," are staring instead of showing any interest.  As he dies the last things he hears are not the comforting words of his family but the drunken backbiting ("black vultures gathering at my tomb") who "will bury me with all speed" without any emotion.

Unquestionably the highlight of the album is Needed."  The tune is a deeply autobiographical song where Fulks gives fatherly advice to his 18-year-old son (who left for college last year).  This song is breathtaking.  It is rare for a songwriter to boldly lay his soul naked to the world as Fulks does in this song, detailing the nonchalance of a young man more interested in his own carefree life than a girlfriend's pregnancy, then later realizing the joys of "commitment" to marriage and parenting and the accompanying maturity it brings ("when you were born is when I became a man").  "Needed" will hit you between the eyes, knock you off your feet, and not let you back up until you've shed a tear or 20.  After you've recovered from the emotional wringer this song puts you through you'll go back for more.

"America is a Hard Religion" harkens back to Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, which looked long and hard at tenant farming in the South during the Great Depression ("you plant a seed in rocky soil and perhaps to die").  This is the only song on the album where Fulks lets loose vocally, sounding almost like a preacher extolling the societal sins of the nation.  He's quieter on the third song about Agee, "Miracle," which even references the Brothers of the Holy Cross, a Catholic order that ran one of the boarding schools Agee attended as a child.

Another microcosm of the same theme, "South Bend Soldiers On," is the only song not explicitly set in the South, but rather in "this Midwest that I love" (although the chorus of "keep your burdens from your neighbor and leave a good name when you're gone" is stereotypical southern philosophy).  It's also another song about the departure of a grown son from the nest.

The close of the novel album is "Fare Thee Well, Carolina Gals."  The song, Fulks has said in concert before performing it, was inspired partly by attending his high school reunion ("bad mistake," he quipped once).  The song is primarily about teenage years spent in North Carolina, where the protagonist was "a medium to poor boyfriend and pretty good house painter" while in search of his first sexual experience.  Near the end he's finished his flashback and is in the present, contemplating buying a Cadillac with the money he'll make when "I cash in the farm after mama dies" and "just ride till the Pacific meets the bumper."  He concludes this trip through his past -- and through the entire trip through the "upper South" -- admitting he's not bitter.  "Chapel Hill hasn't done me wrong.  It was fine until it wasn't."

Near the end of the fun romp "Katy Kay" Fulks makes an interesting guitar run that causes him laugh as he delivers the lyrics.  Instead of going back into the studio to "correct" it, he left it on the album.  That's a great indication that everything on this album is real:  the gritty, frequently depressing truths in life depicted in the lyrics; and, most significantly, the talent.