Saturday, February 28, 2009

Philosophy in 3/4 Time

Category: 50 Songs to Hear

SONG: I Lost Today
ARTIST: Rose Maddox
ALBUM: None (B-side of "I'm Happy Every Day I Live")
YEAR/LABEL: 1959; Capitol

We were always ten years ahead of our time.
(Rose Maddox)

TWENTY years!
(Fred Maddox)

Calling all voters for the Hall of Fame: next year, please induct the Maddox Brothers and Rose. If you need to know why they should be inducted, Jonny Whiteside wrote the explanation in 1997 in his biography, Ramblin' Rose: The Life and Career of Rose Maddox. The Maddox Brothers and Rose were the first act to wear the fancy "Nudie" suits (in the mid-1940s, long before anyone in Nashville discovered them), and their unconventional (for the time) use of electric guitars paved the way for the rockabilly movement that would come some ten years after their career took off. Sadly, they were a "west coast" country band, and the bias against west coast country performers (why do you think it took people like Owens and Haggard so long to be inducted?) may keep the Nashville-based voters from recognizing the importance of the Maddox family to the history of country music -- or even investigating it. That's their loss, but ultimately it's also the loss of country music fans who are missing out on one of the best acts of the 1940s and 50s.

In the late 1950s Rose was signed to Capitol Records as a solo artist. One of her first releases was a 1959 happy, upbeat singled called "I'm Happy Every Day I Live." The B-side, however, is a buried gem: "I Lost Today."

The song is a short (2:20) ballad that speaks of the pain that can (and does) result from not taking time to (as Jerry Reed sang in one of his songs) smell the flowers while the roses bloom. The focus of the song is summed up in the tag line: "As I waited for tomorrow, I lost today." Maddox tells the story that the "fame and glory" she sought came at a high price. "All the coin that I have gained," she sang in the second verse, "is just a weight that keeps me chained." The warning, delivered with Maddox's wonderful country voice (that woman could've sang an AC/DC song and made it sound country!), serves as philosophical advice for those who have not ventured down that path, and a "been there, done that" reminder for those who know the feelings conveyed in the song.

Rose Maddox was, and remains, one of the most underrated female singers in the history of country music. She passed away in 1998 at the age of 72 after years of poor health. She left a great legacy of music with her brothers, a duet partner with Buck Owens, and as a solo artist. If you have not discovered this "rose" of country music, do yourself a favor and treat yourself to pure country talent.


The entire $35 And a Dream album -- a Grammy-nominated 1994 release on the independent Arhoolie label that showcased Maddox's still exceptional voice through a mixture of old ("I Wonder Where You Are Tonight"), new (three autobiographical tunes, "Tonight I'm On Stage," the title song, and "Dusty Memories" that featured brother Fred), and interesting (a cover of the Flying Burrito Brothers' "Sin City"). Johnny Cash (who, according to the Maddox biography, was trying to land Rose as a bride before he turned his attention to June Carter) provided a commentary at the end of the CD.
"Mental Cruelty" (with Buck Owens, available on Owens' The Buck Owens Collection box set) -- this was a hit, but it has largely been forgotten because of the dated nature of the song's subject matter in the era of "no-fault divorce." It does not matter that trials and claims of "mental cruelty" are no longer required to obtain a dissolution of a marriage -- this is a FABULOUS song.
"Sally Let Your Bangs Hang Down" (with the Maddox Brothers, available on America's Most Colorful Hillbilly Band Vol. 1) -- a song that would hardly raise an eyebrow today was positively scandalous in the 1940s with its implications of a peeping Tom ("I saw Sally changing clothes....she caught me a-peepin' in") and prostitution (the spoken commentary "That's friendly Henry, the working girl's friend, I wonder if Sally is a workin' girl?"). Regardless of whether it was too risque for its time, it's a great, fun song.

Down to the River to Pray
Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyeballs
A Death in the Family
Dark as a Dungeon
Bottomless Well

Desperados Under the Eaves
Crossing Muddy Waters
Cliffs of Dooneen
Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)
Baby Mine

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