Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Voice is Now Silent

Category: News

"The Voice" was the nickname that the great writer Robert K. Oermann pinned on Vern Gosdin. The name fit, too: Gosdin had one of the absolute best post-Jim Reeves voices in country music.

That marvelous voice is now silent.

Vern Gosdin died in a Nashville hospital today (April 29), three weeks after suffering a massive stroke. Gosdin had been in poor health for the past several years.

The great Vern Gosdin was 74.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sick Call: Ferlin Husky

Category: News

Country legend Ferlin Husky was hospitalized April 19 with congestive heart failure and pneumonia, according to his web site.

The 82-year-old singer, best-known for hits such as "Gone" and "Wings of a Dove," was released after a few days in a Springfield, Missouri hospital and is now recovering at his home.

Please keep this great country singer in your prayers.

Ferlin's web site

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Why I Love Hillbilly Music (Part 385,607)

Category: News

John Roger Simon, author of a new book on legendary country singer Cowboy Copas, headlined a panel at the Cincinnati Public Library on Saturday (April 25). The topic was the "golden era of country music," focusing on Copas and Cincinnati's contribution to that time through King Records.

Copas' daughter, Kathy Copas Hughes (who was hit by double tragedy by the 1963 plane crash: not only did she lose her father, but her husband, Randy Hughes, was the pilot of the ill-fated airplane that crashed in a thunderstorm near Camden, Tennessee), was also on the panel, along with former Mercury Records singer and WLW/Midwestern Hayride performer Judy Perkins.

For two and a half exquisite hours the trio, moderated by Cincinnati Library's music librarian Brian Powers, discussed Copas, his importance to country music (to quote Eddie Stubbs every time he plays a Copas song, "Cowboy Copas did a lot more in country music than just die in a plane crash with Patsy Cline"), his time in Cincinnati on King Records, many of the other musicians he worked with, and a general overview of the immediate post-World War II era of country music that was the advent of what many historians consider the greatest time of the genre. Several clips, both audio and video, were played, including Copas' version of "Tennessee Waltz" (he was the first person to record the tune), his masterful "Signed, Sealed and Delivered," and a rare Pet Milk Opry video clip of him performing "Alabam," his massive 1960 "comeback" hit.

Judy Perkins, who was a regional star but never achieved national stardom despite a beautiful voice, was also shown on the Midwestern Hayride from the early 1950s and featured in a couple of audio clips, including one from her days on Eddy Arnold's radio show for the Mutual Network.

Kathy Copas shared many memories of her father's career. She was also represented in audio, as she recorded with her father.

Simon, author of Cowboy Copas and the Golden Age of Country Music, presented an overview of Copas' career from his days with Natchee the Indian through his stint as the lead singer of Pee Wee King's Golden West Cowboys to his solo superstardom and 16-year stay on the Grand Ole Opry.

The only excuse anyone can make for Lloyd "Cowboy" Copas not being enshrined in the Country Music Hall of Fame is that the voters aren't doing their jobs by educating themselves regarding Copas' importance to the history of country music. Hopefully next year his name will be called.

And hopefully the Cincinnati Public Library will continue to present magical afternoons such as this one.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

For Better or Worse

Category: 50 Songs to Hear

SONG: Life Has Its Little Ups and Downs
Charlie Rich
SONGWRITER: Margaret Ann Rich
ALBUM: The Fabulous Charlie Rich
YEAR/LABEL: 1969; Epic

The radio spittin' out Charlie Rich
He sure can sing, that son of a bitch

("Putnam County," Tom Waits)

Johnny Cash had a song that said, "Understand your man." Margaret Ann Rich certainly did understand her man, legendary country/rockabilly singer Charlie Rich. A good songwriter herself, she composed a love song that Charlie recorded in 1969. Rich's version of the song bombed as a single, but the sentiment in the song stood the test of time. That song was "Life Has Its Little Ups and Downs."

Many others have recorded "
Life Has Its Little Ups and Downs" (or the alternate title, "Life's Little Ups and Downs") including Ricky Van Shelton, who had a top ten hit with the song in 1990. Nothing, however, matches the original. Charlie Rich knew this was written for him, the observations of his love for his wife by the woman he loved. With that knowledge he poured his heart and soul into the tune about dealing with the disappointments that come along, knowing that the marriage bond is stronger than whatever the outside world throws.

The wonderful chorus compares the "ups and downs" of life to "ponies on a merry-go-round," and Rich notes, "No one grabs the brass ring every time." Rich, however, recognizes the one ring that he DID grab: "She wears a gold ring on her finger, and I'm so glad it's mine."

Charlie Rich passed away on July 25, 1995 from a pulmonary embolism. He left behind a legacy of great music that has generally been overlooked or forgotten. That's a shame. He was a good singer and songwriter and a very gifted musician -- so good, in fact, that a Sun Records engineer told him to listen to Jerry Lee Lewis then come back for a record deal when Rich played "that bad." One of his greatest moments was this lovely ode to the love of his life.


The entire Feel Like Going Home: The Essential Charlie Rich album -- the hits, the near-hits, and some obscure gems such as the wonderfully-titled pun "Peace on You" and his version of "Sittin' and Thinkin'," which has been covered by acts as diverse as Ray Price and Elvis Costello.

Life is Too Short
I Want a Home in Dixie
I Lost Today
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

Heart of Rome
Harriet Tubman's Gonna Carry Me Home
Entella Hotel
Desperados Under the Eaves
Crossing Muddy Waters
Cliffs of Dooneen
Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)
Baby Mine

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Voice of an Angel

Category: Birthday/Tribute

Bill Monroe had a comment he used frequently whenever someone brought up the subject of tenor singers around him. "There ain't been but two tenors in country music," Monroe would say, "and Ira Louvin's the other one."

For all his boasting, and with all due respect to the Father of Bluegrass, Monroe wasn't even in the same league as Ira Louvin. NOBODY was. There were two tenor singers in country music, true: Ira Louvin, and those who wished they were. The man with the beautiful voice of an angel was born 85 years ago on April 21.

This may sound odd to say of a Hall of Fame inductee, but the Louvin Brothers were mostly in the wrong place at the wrong time. They bounced from one end of Tennessee (WNOX's Midday Merry-Go-Round) to the other (Memphis' WMPS) and discovered, more than one time, that people in other regions heard them singing their songs on the radio and copied them so it appeared that the Louvins were doing the covering. As their career picked up steam with a contract with MGM in 1951 Charlie was drafted again. (Charlie being drafted twice -- once for World War II and once for Korea -- led to a law being passed that stipulated prior service counted toward total service, ensuring that men didn't have to serve two four-year terms.) When they got to Capitol and wanted to try their hand at country music (they were known strictly as a gospel act until 1955), Capitol told them no, there was already a mandolin-and-guitar brother duet (Jim and Jesse) signed to the label and they didn't want "copycats." (Contrast that with today, where labels want copycats and nothing original!) When they persisted, Capitol allowed them to make a country record but warned them if it didn't sell they were off the label. Thankfully, their one shot was a masterpiece: "When I Stop Dreaming." And, just as their career took off, so did rock and roll, effectively draining a considerable audience away from them and all of country music.

In the book for the Louvin Brothers' eight-CD Bear Family box set Close Harmony, the late Charles Wolfe called Ira "country music's best post-Hank Williams songwriter." Songwriting is an aspect of Ira Louvin that many people tend to overlook. Louvin was a great songwriter, he was prolific, and he was quick. Charlie told the story of how their gospel song "I See a Bridge" came about, showing exactly how fast a song could come to his elder brother: as they drove along a river near their Sand Mountain, Alabama hometown they spotted a bridge that had been constructed over the river after they left home. Their sister, Lorene (the one for whom the My Baby's Gone song "Lorene" was named), was in the car with them and blurted out, "Ooh, look, I see a bridge!" "Ira stopped the car," Charlie said, "got out, and just like that, wrote the song on the spot." Charlie's assessment of his contribution to Louvin Brothers songs was that he "held the paper while Ira wrote the words." In addition to the Louvin Brothers songs, the Browns ("I Take the Chance"), Roy Acuff ("Baldknob, Arkansas"), Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper ("West Virginia Polka"), and the Carlisles ("Is Zat You, Myrtle?") recorded songs that Ira and Charlie wrote.

The most enduring aspect of the Louvin Brothers is the thing that set them apart from everyone else, then and now: Ira's tenor singing. Charlie's voice was good, but nothing spectacular. Ira, on the other hand, could freeze Death Valley in the middle of summer with his exquisite voice. His voice was high enough to enable him to create a female character, Sal Skinner, for the Louvin Brothers' radio act. However, when he worked with Charlie Monroe's Kentucky Partners he actually was the bass singer.

There are a lot of people who will tell you that the only thing angelic about Ira was his voice. Without question, the man had his demons, most of which came out of a bottle. He fought many battles with booze, especially after 1958 when Louvin Brothers producer Ken Nelson (who, ironically, went into the Hall of Fame the same year as the Louvins) laid the blame on the decline in Louvin Brothers record sales to Ira's mandolin (instead of the meteoric rise in popularity of a young fellow on RCA Victor by the name of Elvis Presley). "Ira's drinking got a lot worse after that," Charlie said. Ira was almost schizophrenic: when sober, he was a polite, humble, give-you-the-shirt-off-his-back man; while drinking, he was an intolerable, instrument-smashing (think Pete Townshend of the Who invented that?) jerk. An argument with his third wife, Faye, resulted in Ira taking five bullets; and Faye (no angel herself while drinking) promised that she'd shoot him again if he didn't die.

By 1963 Charlie had taken all he could from the liquid Ira and broke the act up. No question Charlie loved his brother (listen to his marvelous 2007 tribute, "Ira," if you have any doubt) but he just could not work with him. Ira moved back to the family farm in Alabama and climbed out of the bottle, returning to the "good Ira" that everyone knew and loved.

In early 1965 Ira, married for the fourth time to a singer by the name of Anne Young, recorded 15 tracks for a solo album. He played some dates with his wife including a five-night stand in Kansas City in June.

While on the way home from the Kansas City date Ira, his wife, and a band member and his wife were killed in a car wreck near Jefferson City, Missouri. Ironically the man who had finally managed to control his drinking demon had his life ended by a drunk driver. Ira was just 41.

The Louvin Brothers enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, in many ways surpassing their popularity when they actually performed, thanks to fans like Emmylou Harris and Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler. It is hard to get through a bluegrass festival without hearing at least half a dozen different acts perform Louvin Brothers songs. They were finally inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001 with eleven other acts including their producer, Ken Nelson, and their boyhood idols, the Delmore Brothers (who were honored with a tribute album by the Louvins in 1960).

There was only one Ira Louvin.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Dates of Note in Country Music April 15-30

Category: News

Hall of Fame members in bold

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 36)
Eddie Cochran died (car wreck), 1960 (was 21). The rockabilly pioneer co-wrote "Summertime Blues," which Alan Jackson covered in country.
Dorsey Dixon died (heart attack), 1968 (was 70)
Hank Penny died (heart failure), 1992 (was 73)
Linda McCartney died (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 died (heart attack), 2007 (was 69)

April 18:

Walt Richmond of the Tractors born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1947 (now 62)
Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown born in Vinton, Louisiana, 1924 (died 2005)
Your blogger born in Louisville, Kentucky, 19(censored) (not too old to cut the mustard, and still younger than my brother!)

April 19:

Bill Rice born in Datto, Arkansas, 1939 (now 70)
Gary Brewer born in Louisville, Kentucky, 1965 (now 44)
Bobby Russell born in Nashville, Tennessee, 1941 (died 1992)
Earl Bolick of the Blue Sky Boys died (unknown cause), 1998 (was 78)
The "National Barn Dance" debuted on WLS, Chicago, 1924

April 20:

Johnny Tillotson born in Jacksonville, Florida, 1939 (now 70)
Doyle Lawson of the Country Gentlemen and Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver born in Ford Town, Tennessee, 1944 (now 65)
Wade Hayes born in Bethel Acres, Oklahoma, 1969 (now 40)
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 (now 101!)
Paul Davis born in Meridian, Mississippi, 1948 (died 2008)
Ira Louvin born in Rainsville, Alabama, 1924 (died 1965)
Carl Belew born in Salina, Oklahoma, 1931 (died 1990)

April 22:

Glen Campbell born in Delight, Arkansas, 1936 (now 73)
Ray Griff born in Vancouver, British Columbia, 1940 (now 69)
Pat Enright of the Nashville Bluegrass Band born in Huntington, Indiana, 1945 (now 64)
Cleve Francis born in Jennings, Louisiana, 1945 (now 64)
Larry Groce born in Dallas, Texas, 1948 (now 61). 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 58)
Heath Wright of Ricochet born in Vian, Oklahoma, 1967 (now 42)
Steve Sholes died (heart attack), 1968 (was 57)
Felice Bryant died (cancer), 2003 (was 77)
Paul Davis died (heart attack), 2008 (was 60)
Richard Nixon died (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.

April 23:

Roland White of the Nashville Bluegrass Band born in Madawaska, Maine, 1938 (now 71)
Roy Orbison born in Vernon, Texas, 1936 (died 1988)

April 24:

Shirley Boone born in Chicago, Illinois, 1934 (now 75). Pat Boone's wife is also the daughter of Red Foley.
Rebecca Lynn Howard born in Salyersville, Kentucky, 1979 (now 30)
Harry McClintock died (unknown cause), 1957 (was 74). His greatest success would come years after his death when his recording of "Big Rock Candy Mountain" began the film O Brother, Where Art Thou.
Bonnie Owens died (Alzheimer's disease), 2006 (was 73)

April 25:

Larry Robbins of the Johnson Mountain Boys born in Dickerson, Maryland, 1945 (now 64)
Karl Farr of the Sons of the Pioneers 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 76)
Duane Eddy born in Corning, New York, 1938 (now 71)
Fiddlin' Doc Roberts born in Richmond, Kentucky, 1897 (died 1978)
Cecil Null born in East War, West Virginia, 1927 (died 2001)
Tim Spencer of the Sons of the Pioneers died (unknown cause), 1974 (was 65)
Wesley Rose died (unknown cause), 1990 (was 72)

April 27:

Maxine Brown of the Browns born in Campti, Louisiana, 1931 (now 78)
Herb Pedersen of the Dillards and Desert Rose Band born in Berkley, California, 1944 (now 65)
Sydney Nathan, founder of King Records, 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 (car wreck), 1980 (was 30)
Ken Curtis died (natural causes), 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 80)
Duane Allen of the Oak Ridge Boys born in Taylortown, Texas, 1943 (now 66)
Wayne Secrest of Confederate Railroad born in Alton, Illinois, 1950 (now 59)
Karen Brooks born in Dallas, Texas, 1954 (now 55)
Danny Davis of the Nashville Brass born in Dorchester, Massachusetts, 1925 (died 2008)
Eddie Noack born in Houston, Texas, 1930 (died 1978)

April 30:

Fuzzy Owen born in Conway, Arkansas, 1929 (now 80)
Willie Nelson born in Abbott, Texas, 1933 (now 76)
Darrell McCall born in New Jasper, Ohio, 1940 (now 69)
Robert Earl Reynolds of the Mavericks born in Kansas City, Missouri, 1962 (now 47)
Johnny Horton born in Los Angeles, California, 1930 (died 1960)
Curly Chalker died (natural causes), 1998 (was 66)
WLS airs the final broadcast of the National Barn Dance, 1960, after 36 years on the air.