Saturday, January 31, 2009

Dates of Note in Country Music, February 1-15

Category: News

(Hall of Fame members in bold)

February 1:

Don Everly born in Brownie, Kentucky, 1937 (now 72)
Ray Sawyer of Dr. Hook born in Chicksaw, Alabama, 1937 (now 71)
Del McCoury born in Bakersville, North Carolina, 1939 (now 70)
Lisa Marie Presley born in Memphis, Tennessee, 1968 (now 41)
Scotty Wiseman died (heart attack), 1981 (was 71)

February 2:

Glenn Barber born in Hollis, Oklahoma, 1935 (now 74)
Howard Bellamy of the Bellamy Brothers born in Darby, Florida, 1946 (now 63)
Emmett Miller born in Macon, Georgia, 1900 (died 1962)
Lester McFarland of Mac & Bob born in Gray, Kentucky, 1902 (died 1984)
Rusty Kershaw born in Tiel Ridge, Louisiana, 1938 (died 2001)
Louise Scruggs, wife and manager of Earl Scruggs, died, 2006 (was 78)

February 3:

Dave Rich born in Briar Creek, Kentucky, 1936 (now 73). Ernest Tubb heard a recording of Rich's and hounded friend Ray Price throughout a game of golf to record the song. The song? "City Lights."
Matraca Berg born in Nashville, Tennessee, 1964 (now 45)
Betty Foley, daughter and one-time duet partner of Red Foley, born in Chicago, Illinois, 1933 (died 1990)
Jiles Perry "J.P." Richardson died (plane crash), 1959 (was 28)
Buddy Holly died (plane crash), 1959 (was 22)
James Blackwood of the Blackwood Brothers Quartet died (stroke), 2002 (was 83). He was the last member of the original legendary Southern Gospel quartet.

February 4:

Clint Black born in Long Branch, New Jersey, 1962 (now 47)
Chris McDaniel of Confederate Railroad born in Rock Springs, Georgia, 1965 (now 44)
Vic McAlpin born in Defeated Creek, Tennessee, 1918 (died 1980)
Jethro Burns died (prostate cancer), 1989 (was 68)

February 5:

Claude King born in Shreveport, Louisiana, 1933 (now 76).
Sara Evans born in Boonville, Missouri, 1971 (now 38)
Henson Cargill born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 1941 (died 2007)
Eddy Noack died (cerebral hemorrhage), 1978 (was 47)

February 6:

Dale Reno of the Reno Brothers born in Roanoke, Virginia, 1961 (now 48)
Richie McDonald of Lonestar born in Lubbock, Texas, 1962 (now 47)
Anita Cochran born in Pontiac, Michigan, 1967 (now 42)
Violet Koehler of the original Coon Creek Girls born in Wilton, Wisconsin, 1916 (died 1973)
Merle Kilgore died (cancer), 2005 (was 70)
Frankie Laine died (complications from hip replacement surgery), 2007 (was 93)

February 7:

Wilma Lee Cooper born in Valley Head, West Virginia, 1921 (now 88)
Garth Brooks born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1962 (now 47)
Tony Booth born in Tampa, Florida, 1943 (now 66)
Warren Smith born in Humphreys County, Mississippi, 1933 (died 1980)
Ambrose Allen of the Allen Brothers born in Sewanee, Tennessee, 1901 (died 1959)
Dale Evans died (congestive heart failure), 2001 (was 88)
Patsy Cline's last recording session, Nashville, 1963. The last song she recorded was a cover of Moon Mullican's "I'll Sail My Ship Alone."
Jim Reeves recorded "Four Walls" in Nashville, 1957. This song is said by many to be the beginning of the "Nashville Sound."

February 8:

Joe South born in Atlanta, Georgia, 1942 (now 67)
Dan Seals born in McCamey, Texas, 1948 (now 61)
Don Wayne Reno of the Reno Brothers born in Roanoke, Virginia, 1963 (now 46)
Pappy Daily born in Yoakum, Texas, 1902 (died 1987)
Bob Dunn born in Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, 1908 (died 1971). Dunn is credited as being the first country musician to use amplification for his instrument.
Merle Watson born in Deep Gap, North Carolina, 1949 (died 1985)
Lulu Belle Wiseman died (Alzheimer's disease), 1999 (was 84)
Keith Knudsen of Southern Pacific died (chronic pneumonia), 2005 (was 56)

February 9:

Joe Ely born in Amarillo, Texas, 1947 (now 62)
Travis Tritt born in Marietta, Georgia, 1963 (now 46)
Ernest Tubb born in Crisp, Texas, 1914 (died 1984)

February 10:

George York of the York Brothers born in Louisa, Kentucky, 1910 (died 1974)
Arthur Satherley died (natural causes), 1986 (was 96)
Kendall Hayes died (cancer), 1995 (was 59)
Jim Varney died (lung cancer), 2000 (was 50)

February 11:

Wesley Rose born in Chicago, Illinois, 1918 (died 1980)

February 12:

Moe Bandy born in Meridian, Mississippi, 1944 (now 65)
Stephen Sholes born in Washington, DC, 1911 (died 1968)
Red Allen born in Pigeon Roost, Kentucky, 1930 (died 1993)
Lorne Greene born in Ottawa, Ontario, 1915 (died 1987). The legendary actor hit the Billboard top 40 country charts in 1964 with "Ringo."
Sammi Smith died (emphysema), 2005 (was 61)

February 13:

David McLaughlin of the Johnson Mountain Boys born in Washington, DC, 1958 (now 51)
Tennessee Ernie Ford born in Bristol, Tennessee, 1919 (died 1991)
Boudleaux Bryant born in Shellman, Georgia, 1920 (died 1987)
Jim McReynolds of Jim & Jessee born in Coeburn, Virginia, 1927 (died 2003)
Charlie Moore born in Piedmont, South Carolina, 1935 (died 1979)
Buddy Lee died (cancer), 1998 (was 65)
Waylon Jennings died (complications of diabetes), 2002 (was 64)

February 14:

Razzy Bailey born in Five Points, Alabama, 1939 (now 70)
Bill Nowlin, co-founder of Rounder Records, born in Boston, Massachusetts, 1945 (now 64)
Harry Stone born in Jacksonville, Florida, 1898 (died 1968)
Lonnie Glosson born in Judsonia, Arkansas, 1908 (died 2001)

February 15:

Hank Locklin born in McLellan, Florida, 1918 (now 91)
Wally Fowler born in Adairsville, Georgia, 1917 (died 1994)
Louise Scruggs born in Lebanon, Tennessee, 1927 (died 2006)
Dorris Macon died (suicide), 1981 (was 71)
Nat "King" Cole died (lung cancer), 1965 (was 45). The legendary pop crooner hit #1 on the Billboard country charts in 1944 (with the King Cole Trio) with the song "Straighten Up and Fly Right."

Sunday, January 25, 2009

When the Marriage Ends

Category: 50 Songs to Hear

These songs are being posted in alphabetical order by genre, so it's purely coincidental that the current song (John Prine's "Bruised Orange [Chain of Sorrow]") posted on the rock side is also about divorce.

SONG: A Death in the Family
ARTIST: Little Jimmy Dickens
SONGWRITER: Bill Anderson
ALBUM: None, B-side of "Times Are Gonna Get Better"
YEAR/LABEL: 1969, Decca

This is the greatest song you've never heard. The reason you've never heard it is because it was the flip side of a flop record.
(Little Jimmy Dickens)

When Bill Anderson's first marriage ended he, like many songwriters, poured out his pain in a song. Little Jimmy Dickens heard Anderson's heartbreak and recorded it. The bad news is that "A Death in the Family" was, as Dickens said, confined to an obscure B-side. The good news, however, is that this spectacular song about the pain of divorce was recorded. And, thanks to WSM's residential "Deep Catalog" expert/DJ Eddie Stubbs, this may well be the best-known obscure song in country music history.

The song, a great "old days" country song (where everything was accomplished in two and a half minutes), begins with Dickens showing up at a relative's house, alone, with the announcement that there has been a death in the family. "By now you notice Betty's not here with me, and Betty won't be coming tomorrow night," he tells the family. "I said there's been a death in the family: it's Betty's precious love for me that's died." If that is not enough of a sucker punch to the stomach, the chorus throws another: "There's two deaths in the family, Betty's love for me and my poor heart."

Dickens continues with his wonderful ballad voice (there are very few people who can evoke emotion in a lost love song the way Little Jimmy Dickens can) about how everyone will miss her, but to remember that he is suffering the most and needs help so that "I don't lose my mind."

Bill Anderson told Eddie Stubbs that he wrote the song exactly as his life had played out following the end of his first marriage, which included using his ex-wife's name (Betty). Anderson said Dickens was adamant about recording the song after hearing it and Anderson agreed, asking only that Dickens change the woman's name in the song to "anything but Betty." Dickens didn't.

This is a very difficult record to find, but the reward of hearing one of Bill Anderson's best compositions delivered by one of Little Jimmy Dickens' finest performances is more than worth the effort.


"Farewell Party" (available on I'm Little But I'm Loud) -- the song that Gene Watson made his own was first recorded by Dickens as a mid-tempo shuffle. That may sound hard to believe for those who only know Watson's great version, but one listen to Dickens' rendition will make a believer out of you.
"How to Catch an African Skeeter Alive" (from Comes Callin') -- a novelty song that anyone who has survived southern summers with mosquitoes big enough to be seen on radar can enjoy.
"Out Behind the Barn" (from Raisin' the Dickens, different version on Out Behind the Barn) -- the joys of farm life on display in one of Little Jimmy's greatest tunes.
"Kung Pao Buckaroo Holiday" (with Brad Paisley, Bill Anderson, and Vince Gill, from Paisley's Christmas) -- the politically correct crowd gets the treatment they deserve in this riotous number.

Dark as a Dungeon
Bottomless Well

Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)
Baby Mine

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Update: Little Jimmy Out of Hospital

Category: News

Little Jimmy Dickens has left a Nashville hospital after brain surgery for a subdural hematoma. He has been transferred to a rehabilitation center.

The news reports state they anticipate Dickens will have a short stay there -- no pun intended.

Keep the little giant in your prayers as he recovers!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Greatest Miner Lament

Category: 50 Songs to Hear

SONG: Dark as a Dungeon
Merle Travis
SONGWRITER: Merle Travis
ALBUM: Folk Songs of the Hills
YEAR/LABEL: 1946; Captiol

"I wrote it on the back of an envelope on my way home from my girlfriend's."
(Merle Travis)

A wise communication professor of mine pointed out a problem in our society. He said, "No one assumes that you can read because you have eyes. Why, then, does everyone assume you can listen because you have ears?" There is a vast difference between hearing something and listening. The very reason I am not posting the songs I'm recommending is because I don't believe they should be background noise for Googling or eBaying; rather, something to be enjoyed the way one would enjoy prime rib or the way M*A*S*H's music snob Charles Emerson Winchester savors fine cognac.

And that brings me to this song, the song I consider my favorite of all the thousands I own in any genre of music. This is the one song I would pick from all those, and even the other 49 from this project, to deliver to people to listen to. That song is Merle Travis' "Dark as a Dungeon." Travis is best known for writing another song about mining, "Sixteen Tons" (popularized by Tennessee Ernie Ford); however, even that song pales in comparison to "Dark as a Dungeon."

While Merle Travis was universally regarded as one of the greatest guitarists in history, none of his flashy picking is on display here. Indeed, his simple strumming of the chords seems to ensure that the music stays in the background so the true stars of this song, the lyrics, can shine.

As with many of the songs Travis recorded for his "album" Folk Songs of the Hills (a 1947 collection of four 78s in a box set), the theme centered around coal mining. The reason was simple: Travis hailed from western Kentucky, where coal mining was not just a way of life but an almost expected occupation for sons to undertake. Not much had changed between 1946 when Travis wrote this song (he said in an interview he parked under a street light and wrote the song to have for a recording session the next day) and now (see John Prine's 1971 classic "Paradise" as an example, where the mining moved above ground and destroyed the health of towns much as the underground mining had taken the health of men).

Therein lies the power of the song. The miners who were not alive when Travis died in 1983 can still nod an affirmation to the warning to "seek not your fortune in the dark dreary mine." Travis also provided the perplexing explanation for generations of coal miners following their fathers down the mine shaft in one of the greatest lines ever penned: "Like a fiend with his dope and a drunkard his wine / A man will have lust for the lure of the mine."

The spoken introduction, where Travis recounted a visit to his home and a conversation with a friend who was a coal miner, speaks both to his closeness to the subject and his gratitude that his musical talent allowed him to escape the life of a coal miner. He concluded the song with a verse that is pure heartbreak: "I hope when I'm gone and the ages shall roll / My body will blacken and turn into coal / Then I'll look from the door of my Heavenly home / And pity the miner a-diggin' my bones."

This song is not to be missed.


Bottomless Well
Baby Mine

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dates of Note in Country Music, January 16-31

Category: News

Hall of Fame members in bold

January 16:

Ronnie Milsap born in Robbinsville, North Carolina, 1943 (now 66)
Jim Stafford born in Eloise, Florida, 1944 (now 65)
Sandy Pinkard of Pinkard & Bowden born in Abbeville, Louisiana, 1947 (now 62)
Roy Lanham of the Sons of the Pioneers born in Corbin, Kentucky, 1923 (died 1991)
Ruby Falls born in Jackson, Tennessee, 1946 (died 1986)

Dizzy Dean born in Lucas, Arkansas, 1910 (died 1974). The legendary baseball player is credited with dubbing Roy Acuff "King of Country Music."
Bill Monroe seriously injured in a car wreck, 1953. Monroe was away from performing for six months while recovering.

January 17:

Amanda Wilkinson of the Wilkinsons born in Belleville, Ontario, 1982 (now 27)
Steve Earle born in Fort Monroe, Virginia, 1955 (now 54)
Walter Bailes of the Bailes Brothers born in Kanawha County, West Virginia, 1920 (died 2000)
Grady Martin born in Marshall County, Tennessee, 1929 (died 2001)
Cliffie Stone died (heart attack), 1998 (was 80)
Frank "Hylo" Brown died (natural causes), 2003 (was 81)
The street in front of Graceland renamed "Elvis Presley Boulevard," 1972

January 18:

Bobby Edwards born in Aniston, Alabama, 1926 (now 83)
Hargus "Pig" Robbins born in Spring City, Tennessee, 1938 (now 71)
Mark Collie born in Waynesboro, Tennessee, 1956 (now 53)
Linda Parker of the Cumberland Ridge Runners born in Covington, Kentucky, 1912 (died 1935)
Eddie Hill died (long-term illness), 1994 (was 74)

January 19:

Oscar Sullivan born in Edmonton, Kentucky, 1919 (now 90)
Stu Phillips born in Montreal, Quebec, 1933 (now 76)
Phil Everly born in Chicago, Illinois, 1939 (now 70)
Dolly Parton born in Locast Ridge, Tennessee, 1946 (now 63)
Stephanie Davis born in Bridger, Montana, 1958 (now 51)
Dennie Crouch of the Nashville Bluegrass Band born in Strawberry, Arkansas, 1967 (now 42)
Leo Soileau born in Ville Platte, Louisiana, 1904 (died 1980)
Ken Nelson born in Caledonia, Minnesota, 1911 (died 2008)
Ralph Peer died (unknown cause), 1960 (was 67)
Vic McAlpin died (unknown cause), 1980 (was 61)
Carl Perkins died (stroke), 1998 (was 65)

January 20:

Slim Whitman born in Tampa, Florida, 1924 (now 85). In 2008, Whitman was incorrectly listed as deceased the day after his birthday.
John Michael Montgomery born in Danville, Kentucky, 1965 (now 44)
George Burns born in New York, New York, 1896 (died 1996). The legendary comedian and actor had a top 20 country song in 1980 with "I Wish I Was Eighteen Again."

January 21:

Mac Davis born in Lubbock, Texas, 1942 (now 67)
Jim Ibbottson of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1947 (now 62)
Huddie "Leadbelly" Leadbetter born in Mooringsport, Louisiana, 1889 (died 1949). The year of Leadbelly's birth is open for debate, as is the actual day, with numerous sources citing January 20, January 21, or January 23, and years of 1888 or 1889.
Cedric Rainwater died (heart attack), 1970 (was 56)
Jim Anglin died (cancer), 1987 (was 73)
Colonel Tom Parker died (stroke), 1997 (was 87). In addition to Elvis, Parker managed Eddy Arnold, Hank Snow, and Minnie Pearl early in their careers.
Patsy Cline appeared on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts and won the talent show,1957

January 22:

Teddy Gentry of Alabama born in Fort Payne, Alabama, 1952 (now 57)
J.P. Pennington of Exile born in Berea, Kentucky, 1949 (now 60)
Dickie McBride of Cliff Bruner's Texas Wanderers born in New Baden, Texas, 1914 (died 1971)
Jimmy Day died (cancer), 1999 (was 65)
Janette Carter, the last surviving member of the Carter Family, died (Parkinson's disease/illness), 2006 (was 82)

January 23:

Etta May born in Bald Knob, Arkansas, 1962 (now 47)
Johnny Russell born in Sunflower County, Mississippi, 1940 (died 2001)
T. Texas Tyler died (cancer), 1972 (was 55)
Art Stamper (fiddler in the Clinch Mountain Boys) died (throat cancer), 2005 (was 71)
The Winter Dance Party begins in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1959. Three of the headliners, Buddy Holly, J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, and Richie Valens, would die 11 days later.

January 24:

Doug Kershaw born in Tiel Ridge, Louisiana, 1936 (now 73)
Jack Scott born in Windsor, Ontario, 1936 (now 71)
Ray Stevens born in Clarksdale, Georgia, 1939 (now 70)
Becky Hobbs born in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, 1950 (now 59)
Keech Rainwater of Lonestar born in Plano, Texas, 1963 (now 46)
Shot Jackson died (complications of stroke), 1991 (was 70)
Justin Tubb died (aortic aneurysm), 1998 (was 62)

January 25:

Claude Gray born in Henderson, Texas, 1932 (now 77)
Rusty Draper born in Kirksville, Missouri, 1923 (died 2003)
Speedy West born in Springfield, Missouri, 1924 (died 2003)
Cactus Jack Call died (car wreck), 1963. A benefit concert for him five weeks later was the final performances by Patsy Cline, Hawkshaw Hawkins, and Cowboy Copas.

January 26:

James O'Gwynn born in Winchester, Mississippi, 1928 (now 81)
Dave Rowland of Dave & Sugar born in Sanger, California, 1942 (now 67)
Lucinda Williams born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, 1953 (now 56)
Clayton McMichen born in Allatoona, Georgia, 1900 (died 1970)
Goebel Reeves died (heart attack), 1959 (was 59)
Hillary Clinton
disparagingly invoked Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man" during an interview, 1992

January 27:

Buddy Emmons born in Mishawaka, Indiana, 1937 (now 72)
Lee Carroll of Exile born in Glasgow, Kentucky, 1953 (now 56)
Cheryl White of the Whites born in Wichita Falls, Texas, 1955 (now 54)
Richard Young of the Kentucky Headhunters born in Glasgow, Kentucky, 1955 (now 54)
Tracy Lawrence born in Atlanta, Texas, 1968 (now 41)
Joe Callahan of the Callahan Brothers born in Madison County, North Carolina, 1910 (died 1971)
Claude Akins died (cancer), 1994 (was 67). Among the actor's roles was Sonny on the TV series Movin' On, which featured the title song performed by Merle Haggard.

January 28:

Bill Phillips born in Canton, North Carolina, 1936 (now 72)
Greg Cook of Ricochet born in Vian, Oklahoma, 1965 (now 44)
Skeeter Willis died (lymph cancer), 1976 (was 58)
Al Dexter died (heart attack), 1984 (was 78)
Jimmy Fortune joins the Statler Brothers, 1982

January 29:

Patsy Sledd born in Falcon, Missouri, 1944 (now 65)
Irlene Mandrell of the Mandrell Sisters born in Corpus Christi, Texas, 1957 (now 52)
Lloyd Perryman of the Sons of the Pioneers born in Ruth, Arkansas, 1917 (died 1977)
Little Jimmy Sizemore born in Paintsville, Kentucky, 1928 (died 1985)

January 30:

Jeanne Pruett born in Pell City, Alabama, 1937 (now 72)
Norma Jean ("Pretty Miss Norma Jean") born in Wellston, Oklahoma, 1938 (now 71)
Harold Morrison born in High Lonesome, Missouri, 1931 (died 1993)
Melvin Endsley born in Drasco, Arkansas, 1934 (died 2004)
Ott Devine died (unknown cause), 1994 (was 83)

January 31:

Lynwood Lunsford of Lost & Found born in Roxboro, North Carolina, 1962 (now 47)
Warren Smith died (heart attack), 1981 (was 47)

Hager Twins Together Again

Category: Obituary

Jon Hager, half of the Hager Twins of Hee Haw fame, was found dead in his home in Nashville on January 9. No cause of death has been given, but Hager appaerntly died in his sleep.

Jon's identical twin brother, Jim, died of a heart attack last year, and since that time Jon's health had been failing.

Jon Hager was 67.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sick Call: The Biggest Little Guy in Country Music

Category: News

Little Jimmy Dickens is recovering from surgery to repair a subdural hematoma. News reports from Nashville say he is resting comfortably after successful surgery on Tuesday.

Keep the little giant in your prayers. He is 88 and just celebrated his 60th anniversary on the Opry.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Swatting the Mosquitoes

Category: 50 Songs to Hear

: Bobby Bare
SONGWRITER: Shel Silverstein
ALBUM: Lullabys, Legends and Lies
YEAR/LABEL: 1974, RCA Victor

I asked Shel to write me an album, and he did.
(Bobby Bare)

One of America’s greatest songwriters of the last four decades, without question, is Shel Silverstein. Everyone knows at least one of his songs: “A Boy Named Sue,” “One’s on the Way,” “Queen of the Silver Dollar,” “The Cover of the Rolling Stone.”

By the early 1970s Bobby Bare had enjoyed over a decade of success in country and pop music with hits like “Detroit City,” “500 Miles Away From Home,” and “The Streets of Baltimore.” Bare briefly changed labels from RCA Victor to Mercury and scored a few hits (most notably, his version of Kris Kristofferson’s “Come Sundown”).

Bare returned to RCA in 1974 with a bang as he and Silverstein joined forces on the landmark album Lullabys, Legends and Lies, which was the first double album of all-new material in country music. The album served as a good example of Silverstein’s varied skills: the serious (“Rest Awhile”), the silly (“Paul”), and the inexplicable (“The Mermaid”). Bare scored a #1 hit with one song from the album, “Marie Laveau,” and had another top ten hit with “Daddy, What If,” which he recorded with his 5-year-old son Bobby Jr. (who is now a recording artist on his own). The highlight of the album, however, is Silverstein’s delightful mixture of serious, silly and sick rolled into one song: “Bottomless Well.”

In many respects, “Bottomless Well” is not a typical country song. To begin with, the song is nearly six minutes long. In 1974, songs of that length were usually relegated to “underground FM rock” stations, serving as “bathroom break” tunes for the DJs. A country song that long was practically unheard of. Even in today’s world, country album cuts rarely crack the four-minute mark.

Secondly, and the song’s true selling point, is its descriptive phrasing. Silverstein didn’t write a song, he filmed a movie. Not since Marty Robbins’ masterpiece “El Paso,” where Robbins provided everything except the brand of rifle emitting “the white puff of smoke” and the caliber of the bullet hitting the outlaw’s chest, has a song provided such vivid visuals.

Bare begins a cappella delivery of Silverstein’s account of the opening scene. There’s a big white wicker rocker, candy-coated cashews, and orange lemonade enjoyed by a man named Jesse Langtree beneath green catalpa shade. The listeners are not sitting in front of a stereo, they are on the Okeechobee plantation with Langtree. When the “sweet young thing fans the flies from off his eyebrows,” you’re swatting as well.

Next to where Langtree dozes is the title object, the centerpiece of the plantation. “That water’s cold, but that don’t matter,” Bare reports. “How deep it is, no one can tell.” The well is quickly presented as something as mysterious and dangerous as the surrounding swamp and as ominous as the “mean old man” sleeping next to it.

The song quickly moves from being “a story that the swamp folk tell” to reality for Bare as he, as the narrator, arrives on the scene. Continuing with Silverstein’s remarkable eye for detail, Bare sings he has “wandered lost through the Okeechobee” for fifteen miles of snake and alligator-infested swamp before stumbling upon this supposed refuge of Langtree’s property.

Langtree is sleeping in his big white wicker rocker, so the narrator asks the young lady who tends to the old man for a drink of water. They strike up a conversation, and Bare discovers that the girl is Langtree’s wife and daughter. Perhaps that is a slight at the stereotype of country music on Silverstein’s part; however, more likely, Shel painted Jesse Langtree as a genuine grade-A creep. After all, the girl reports that Langtree’s heart is “cold and dark as the bottomless well.”

Bare gets bold and offers a kiss. Jesse, who apparently took Flatt and Scruggs’ advice and slept with one eye open, sees the move toward the girl and springs into action with “a loud and jealous yell.” Bare is clobbered over the head and “two big hairy arms picked me up and carried me toward the bottomless well.” When Bare recovers he discovers he “is staring down into the jaws of hell” as the jealous Langtree prepares to throw him into the well.

Bobby Bare told me in an interview that law professors have used this song in their curriculum. It is easy to see why: so far, we have trespassing, incest, assault, and the next thing to take place will be the narrator’s murder.

Some of the best country songs have terrific punch lines. Consider the end of “The Cold Hard Facts of Life,” one of Bill Anderson’s greatest compositions and a hit for Porter Wagoner in 1969, where the jealous husband walks in on his cheating wife and finishes his story with, “I guess I’ll go to hell or I’ll rot here in this cell, but who taught who the cold hard facts of life?” In Leona Williams’ “Yes Ma’am (He Found Me in a Honky Tonk),” the girl does not deny to the mother who thinks she is not good enough for her son that she is a bar hopper but concludes by saying, “Someone just like your loving son helped to show me how.” Another prime example is Vic McAlpin’s great “The Box It Came In,” a hit for Wanda Jackson once she made the transition from rock to country. That song concludes with the scorned woman declaring, “Somewhere I’ll find him, then I’ll have peace of mind, and the box he comes home in will be all satin-lined.”

Without spoiling the punch line of “Bottomless Well”’s marvelous concluding verse, immediately after Bare reports that he is about to find out just how “bottomless” the well is, he sings, “Now here I sit in Jesse’s big white wicker rocker, eating his candy-coated cashews, sipping his orange lemonade, while that sweet young thing fans the flies from off my eyebrows.” Silverstein writes a twist worthy of a Hitchcock into the conclusion of the song, even causing Bare to chuckle when he delivers the telling line – and law professors to do more explaining.

Silverstein eventually became better known for his children’s books, although he continued to write songs until his death from a heart attack in 1999. Bare continues to perform the hits from a magical era of his work with Silverstein. It’s too bad that “Bottomless Well” is so unconventional that it will probably never see the light of day in Bare’s set list. Fortunately, the album has this gem preserved for everyone to enjoy.


“Quaaludes Again” (from Down and Dirty) – another Silverstein composition that shows just how twisted, sick and perverted he could be, and I mean that in the best way possible. This song is hilarious.
“Rough on the Living” (from the remastered Lullabys, Legends and Lies CD) – this song was supposedly inspired by Lefty Frizzell’s death. Silverstein again penned this scathing tune that pointed out how “Nashville is rough on the living, but she really speaks well of the dead.” This song paved the way for songs like “Murder on Music Row.”
The entire (Margie’s At) The Lincoln Park Inn and Other Controversial Songs album – it is hard to believe that Bare’s song “(Margie’s At) The Lincoln Park Inn” could be considered “controversial,” even in 1969. Other songs on this album (“Skip a Rope,” “If There’s Not a Hell (There Ought to Be),” and “Drink Up and Go Home”) were not exactly scandalous, either, with the notable exception of Dallas Frazier’s marvelous “The Son of Hickory Holler’s Tramp,” the song about the woman who turned to prostitution to raise her family.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Songs to Hear

Category: Opinion/Recommendation

I have compiled a list of songs, all of which are album cuts, B-sides, and failed singles, to introduce to the world as exceptional songs. This idea has been floating around in my head for some time in various incarnations.

Here is the layout: there are fifty songs in all. They are divided equally between country and, shall we say, non-country (some pop, some folk, some rock). I have the songs in alphabetical order by genre and the genres alternating weeks. This week will start with a country song and rotate between country and rock weekly. The rock/pop/folk songs will be posted at the other blog. No artist is repeated, so there will be 50 different performers.

What this is NOT: this is not a list of the only 50 great songs on earth. There are just 50 great songs that I feel should get much wider exposure. I tried to avoid albums that are huge sellers. For instance, two great songs I would recommend in rock are "Songbird" by Fleetwood Mac (off Rumours) and "The Last Resort" by the Eagles (from Hotel California); however, it is a little difficult to assume that people have not heard songs included on albums that each sold 17 million copies. On the other hand, someone like John Hartford never sold 17 million copies in his entire lifetime, so it's much easier to justify including one of his songs.

I hope you enjoy the songs. If nothing else, I hope it encourages you to dig a little deeper for the incredible music that is out there, waiting to be discovered.

The list will start here tomorrow night with a twisted masterpiece.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Long Live the King

Category: Tribute

On January 8th, it's time to say happy birthday, Randall Hylton. He would've turned 63.

(Who were you expecting?)

Randall Hylton was, without question, one of the five greatest guitarists who have ever graced this planet. He was also a marvelous songwriter. In fact, he was such a frequent winner of the "songwriter of the year" award at SPBGMA (Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America) that he was "retired" from the category!

He was hilarious on stage. His routine with "Wildwood Flower," the song he said "separates the pickers from the pluckers" in guitar playing, was legendary. He'd even play the song backwards (those who saw Hylton perform know how he pulled it off, too). He toured with two guitars, "Sylvia and Michelle, the blond bombshell." When he'd go into a solo, he'd say, "Pick it, Michelle!"

I cannot claim that I was a friend of Randall's, but I do have one incredible, cherished memory. He played in a venue in West Point, Kentucky, about 35 miles south of Louisville (and 20 miles north of Fort Knox). It was raining cats and dogs that night -- raining so hard that the pounding of the rain on the roof was occasionally louder than Hylton and his guitar. After the show, Hylton, his friend Berk Bryant (longtime bluegrass DJ and festival MC), and I went next door to wait for the rain to let up so we could safely trek back to our respective homes (mine in Louisville, Randall's in Nashville, Berk's in Radcliff). In that little restaurant, for an hour and a half, Randall, Berk and I discussed guitar playing, the Delmore Brothers, and music in general over glasses of tea. It was fabulous. Not only could he play the music onstage, but he had an encyclopedic knowledge of it offstage.

Hylton passed away after suffering a stroke in 2001, and I miss him dearly. The world needs more guitarists and just plain quality entertainers like Randall Hylton.