Friday, October 30, 2009

Dates of Note in Country Music, November 1-15

Category: News

(Hall of Fame members in bold)

November 1:

Bill Anderson born in Columbia, South Carolina, 1937 (now 72)
Lyle Lovett born in Klein, Texas, 1957 (now 52)
Keith Stegall born in Wichita Falls, Texas, 1954 (now 55)
Lew Childre born in Opp, Alabama, 1901 (died 1961)
Buddy Killen died (cancer), 2006 (was 73)
Jack Reno died (brain cancer), 2008 (was 72)

November 2:

k.d. lang born in Consort, Alberta, 1961 (now 48)
John David Souther born in Detroit, Michigan, 1945 (now 64)
Charlie Walker born in Copeville, Texas, 1926 (died 2008)
Elaine Tubb, wife of Ernest Tubb and subject of the song "Blue-Eyed Elaine," died, 2001 (was 85)

November 3:

Fabor Robison born in Beebe, Arkansas, 1911 (died 1986)
Leon Huff born in Whitesboro, Texas, 1912 (died 1952)
John Maddox (Maddox Brothers & Rose) born in Boaz, Alabama, 1915 (died 1968)
Jimmie Rodgers, Fred Rose, and Hank Williams become the first inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame, 1961
Merle Haggard granted parole from San Quentin, 1960

November 4:

Kim Forrester born in Oglethorpe, Georgia, 1960 (now 49)
Will Rogers born near Oologah, Oklahoma, 1879 (died 1935)
Audrey Williams died (illness), 1975 (was 52)
Dale Noe died (unknown cause), 2004 (was 76)

November 5:

Billy Sherrill born in Phil Campbell, Alabama, 1936 (now 73)
Gram Parsons born in Winter Haven, Florida, 1946 (died 1973)
Roy Rogers (Leonard Slye) born in Cincinnati, Ohio, 1911 (died 1998)
Roy Horton born in Broad Top, Pennsylvania, 1914 (died 2003)
Johnny Horton died (car wreck), 1960 (was 35)
Jimmie Davis died (natural causes), 2000 (was 101)
Dorothy Southworth Ritter died (natural causes), 2003 (was 88)

November 6:

Stonewall Jackson born in Emerson, North Carolina, 1932 (now 77)
Guy Clark born in Monahan, Texas, 1941 (now 68)
Glenn Frey of the Eagles born in Detroit, Michigan, 1948 (now 61)
Hank Thompson died (lung cancer), 2007 (was 82)
Elvis Presley became a member of Louisiana Hayride, 1954

November 7:

Robin Lee born in Nashville, Tennessee, 1953 (now 56)
Red Ingle born in Toledo, Ohio, 1906 (died 1965)
Archie Campbell born in Bull's Gap, Tennessee, 1914 (died 1987)
A.P. Carter died (illness), 1960 (was 68)
Red Foley's daughter, Shirley, married Pat Boone, 1953
Gene Wooten died (cancer), 2001 (was 49)
Marty Robbins participated in his final NASCAR race, 1982

November 8:

Patti Page (Clara Fowler) born in Claremore, Oklahoma, 1927 (now 82)
Scotty Wiseman born in Ingalls, North Carolina, 1909 (died 1981)
Ivory Joe Hunter died (lung cancer), 1974 (was 60). A number of the R&B singer/songwriter's songs were turned into country hits by Sonny James, including "Since I Met You, Baby" and "Empty Arms."

November 9:

George D. Hay born in Attica, Indiana, 1895 (died 1968)
Curly Fox born in Graysville, Tennessee, 1910 (died 1995)
James "Spider" Rich, co-writer of "Yakety Sax," died (unknown cause), 2003 (was 80)

November 10:

Donna Fargo (Yvonne Vaughn) born in Mount Airy, North Carolina, 1940 (now 69)
Pat Severs of Pirates of the Mississippi born in Elmira, New York, 1952 (now 57)
Paul Cohen born in Chicago, Illinois, 1908 (died 1970)
Onie Wheeler born in Senath, Missouri, 1921 (died 1984)
Dave "Stringbean" Akeman died (murdered), 1973 (was 58)
Curly Fox died (natural causes), 1995 (was 85)
The Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior, killing all 29 aboard, 1975. The accident inspired Gordon Lightfoot's 1976 pop/country/folk hit "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald."

November 11:

Narvel Felts born near Keiser, Arkansas, 1938 (now 71)
Hank "Sugarfoot" Garland born in Cow Pens, South Carolina, 1930 (died 2004)
Wade Ray died (illness), 1998 (was 85)

November 12:

Barbara Fairchild born in Lafe, Arkansas, 1950 (now 59)
Jo Stafford born in Coalinga, California, 1917 (died 2008). The pop singer was the girl singer on Red Ingle & Natural Seven hit "Tem-Tay-Shun."
John Lair, Renfro Valley Barn Dance founder, died (natural causes), 1985 (was 91)
Homer and Jethro's legendary live album At the Country Club recorded in Nashville, 1959
Groundbreaking ceremonies held for construction of the Grand Ole Opry House (current home of the Opry), 1971
The IRS confiscated Willie Nelson's belongings as payment for his tax bill, 1990

November 13:

Ray Wylie Hubbard born in Soper, Oklahoma, 1946 (now 63)
Jack Guthrie born in Olive, Oklahoma, 1915 (died 1948)
Buddy Killen born in Florence, South Carolina, 1932 (died 2006)
Jerry Lee Lewis Jr. died (car wreck), 1973 (was 20)
Junior Samples died (heart attack), 1983 (was 57)

November 14:

Ken Carson born in Coalgate, Oklahoma, 1914 (died 1994)
Robert Whitstein died (heart attack), 2001 (was 57)

November 15:

William Fries (C.W. McCall) born in Audubon, Iowa, 1928 (now 81)
Jack Ingram born in Houston, Texas, 1970 (now 39)
Lowell Blanchard born in Palmer, Illinois, 1910 (died 1968). Blanchard was the program director at WNOX in the 1930s and began the Midday Merry-Go-Round.
Albert E. Brumley died (unknown cause), 1977 (was 72)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Chet Aktins' Widow Dies

CATEGORY: News/Obituary

When Leona Johnson met a shy guitarist named Chester Atkins in Cincinnati she was a star. Leona and her identical twin Lois were on the air on WLW as "Fern and LaVern," the Johnson Twins.

Chet had been sharing a room at the YMCA with Jethro Burns of Homer and Jethro when Jethro began dating Lois. In May 1946 Jethro and "Gussie" married. Two months later Leona wed Chet. The twins gave up their careers to become Mrs. Jethro and Mrs. Guitar. They also quietly participated in two of the great love stories in country music.

Leona Johnson Atkins died October 21 in Nashville after a long illness.

After the marriage in 1946 Leona was the number one love of Chet Atkins' life (with number two being their daughter, Merle). Their marriage lasted through Chet's rise from backing musician to the A&R man at RCA (which some joked stood for "Record for Chet Atkins") and his Hall of Fame career as the most identifiable guitarist in country music since Merle Travis (Atkins' idol). Their storybook life together continued until Chet's passing in 2001, three days before what would have been their 55th wedding anniversary.

Leona's twin sister Lois Johnson Burns died in April 1989, two months after her husband of nearly 43 years lost his battle with cancer.

Leona Johnson Atkins was 85.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hardcore Country

Category: 50 Songs to Hear

SONG: Playboy
ARTIST: Wynn Stewart
SONGWRITER: W.S. Stevenson / W. Chandler
ALBUM: None, issued as a single
YEAR/LABEL: 1959; Challenge

Wynn's sound is what influenced Buck and me both.
(Merle Haggard)

If any one artist will make someone shake their head and think, "How on earth did this person NOT become a superstar?
" it's Wynn Stewart. Stewart was a singer's singer with a good tenor voice and a driving hard country sound that kowtowed to nothing -- not rock and roll, not the Nashville sound. That may have been part of the problem, along with the fact that he was based in Bakersfield, California instead of Nashville.

Some of Stewart's best work was during his tenure of Challenge Records. Most of it was not commercially successful, but most of it was exceptional. Case in point: "Playboy."

The opening fiddle and driving shuffle beat warn everyone before Stewart uttered a note issued a warning to the listener that this song, to steal a Vern Gosdin album title, contains country music. There was absolutely nothing "Nashville sound" about this tune. The steel guitar played as Stewart sang of the misery of a lost love and how life as a nightclub-hopper was nothing more than "this false front I'm wearing" that "is just to cover my blues." This is country music at its pure honky tonking best.

Buck Owens and Merle Haggard may have been influenced by Stewart but they didn't match him, even though both went on to Hall of Fame careers while Stewart languished in "cult" status. His best-known song is "It's Such a Pretty World Today," ironically a compromise into the world of "Nashville sound."

Wynn Stewart died of a heart attack on July 17, 1985 at the young age of 51, leaving a legacy of superb music, most of which lies undiscovered by the masses in an exhaustive Bear Family box set. Songs like "Playboy" indicate why that is one of the saddest things to say about country music.


The entire California Country: The Best of the Challenge Masters album
-- it is unfortunately out of print, but if you find it you will have in your possession some of the greatest music to come out of the Bakersfield scene -- or anywhere else in country music -- in the 1950s and early 60s.

"The Waltz of the Angels" (available on Capitol Country Classics - 1950s) -- the first hit version of a song later covered by nearly everyone from George Jones to Johnny Paycheck displays the true beauty of the tune and Stewart's voice.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Dates of Note in Country Music, October 16-31

Category: News

(Hall of Fame members in bold)

October 16:

Jim Ed Norman born in Ft. Myers, Florida, 1948 (now 61)
Stoney Cooper born in Harman, West Virginia, 1918 (died 1977)
Doyle Wilburn died (cancer), 1982 (was 52)
Don Reno died (post-operative complications), 1984 (was 58)
Danny Dill died (unknown cause), 2008 (was 84)
Naomi Judd retired from touring because of health issues, 1990
Ralph Stanley Museum opened, 2004

October 17:

Earl Thomas Conley born in Portsmouth, Ohio, 1941 (now 68)
Alan Jackson born in Newman, Georgia, 1958 (now 51)
Tennessee Ernie Ford died (liver disease), 1991 (was 72)
Jay Livingston died (pneumonia), 2001 (was 86). Among the songwriter's many credits were "Bonanza!," which Johnny Cash recorded, and "The Hanging Tree," which Marty Robbins recorded.
Bashful Brother Oswald (Beecher Ray Kirby) died (cancer), 2002 (was 90)

October 18:

Chuck Berry born in San Jose, California, 1926 (now 83). Among the rock and roll legend's hits that have made it to the country chart are "Memphis" (#10 hit for Fred Knoblock, 1981), "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" (#3 hit for Waylon Jennings, 1970), "The Promised Land" (#3 hit for Freddy Weller, 1970), and "Johnny B. Goode" (#1 hit for Buck Owens, 1969).
Keith Knudsen of Southern Pacific born in Ames, Iowa, 1952 (now 57)
Harty Taylor of Karl & Harty died (stroke), 1963 (was 58)
Hank Williams married Billie Jean Jones, 1952. After Williams' death, she would marry Johnny Horton.
Don Hecht died (heart attack), 2002 (was 72)

October 19:

Charlie Chase born in Rogersville, Tennessee, 1952 (now 57)
Don Parmley of the Bluegrass Cardinals born in Oliver Springs, Tennessee, 1933 (now 76)
Ebo Walker (ne Harry Shelor) of Bluegrass Alliance and New Grass Revival born in Louisville, Kentucky, 1941 (now 68)
Jeannie C. Riley born in Anson, Texas, 1945 (now 64)
Arthur E. "Uncle Art" Satherley born in Bristol, England, 1889 (died 1986)
Grant Turner died (heart failure), 1991 (was 79)
The CMA Awards were held, 1967. The awards show was not televised.

October 20:

Wanda Jackson born in Maud, Oklahoma, 1937 (now 72)
Stuart Hamblin born in Kellyville, Texas, 1908 (died 1989)
Grandpa Jones born in Niagara, Kentucky, 1913 (died 1998)
Merle Travis died (heart attack), 1983 (was 65)
Rounder Records founded by Ken Irwin, Bill Nowlin, and Marian Leighton, 1970. Mr. Nowlin says this "birth" of Rounder is based on the date of their first invoice.

October 21:

Owen Bradley born in Westmoreland, Tennessee, 1915 (died 1998)
Bill Black died (brain tumor), 1965 (was 39)
Mel Street born in Grundy, Virginia, 1933 (died 1978)
Mel Street died (suicide), 1978 (45th birthday)

October 22:

Shelby Lynn born in Quantico, Virginia, 1968 (now 40)
Leon Chappelear died (suicide), 1962 (was 53)
Dorothy Shay, the "Park Avenue Hillbillie," died (heart attack), 1978 (was 57)

October 23:

Dwight Yoakam born in Pikeville, Kentucky, 1956 (now 53)
Junior Bryant of Ricochet born in Pecos, Texas, 1968 (now 41)
Mother Maybelle Carter died (respiratory arrest), 1978 (was 68)
Merle Watson died (tractor accident), 1985 (was 36). His father Doc's long-lasting tribute to his late son is the annual bluegrass event known as "MerleFest."
Rusty Kershaw died (heart attack), 2001 (was 63)

October 24:

Mark Gray (former member of Exile) born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, 1952 (now 57)
Jiles Perry "The Big Bopper" Richardson born in Sabine Pass, Texas, 1930 (died 1959). Among his songwriter credits is "White Lightnin'" by friend George Jones and Hank Snow's "Beggar to a King."
Kirk McGee died (natural causes), 1983 (was 83)
Rosey Nix Adams, daughter of June Carter Cash, died (carbon monoxide poisoning), 2003 (was 45)

October 25:

Mark Miller (Sawyer Brown) born in Dayton, Ohio, 1958 (now 51)
Jeanne Black born in Pomona, California, 1937 (now 72)
Chely Wright born in Kansas City, Missouri, 1970 (now 39)
Cousin Minnie Pearl (Sarah Ophelia Colley Canon) born in Grinders Switch (actually, Centerville), Tennessee, 1912 (died 1996)
Roger Miller died (throat cancer), 1992 (was 56)
Johnnie Lee Willis died (heart ailment), 1984 (was 72)
Johnny Cash's last concert performance, Flint Michigan, 1997

October 26:

Keith Urban born in Whangarei, New Zeland, 1967 (now 42)
Hoyt Axton died (heart attack), 1999 (was 62)
Statler Brothers' final concert in their hometown of Salem, Virginia, 2002

October 27:

Dallas Frazier born in Spiro, Oklahoma, 1939 (now 70)
Lee Greenwood born in Southgate, California, 1942 (now 67)
Snuffy Jenkins born in Harris, North Carolina, 1908 (died 1990)
Floyd Cramer born in Campti, Louisiana, 1933 (died 1997)
Ruby Wright born in Nashville, Tennessee, 1939 (died 2009)
Allan "Rocky" Lane died (cancer), 1973 (was 72). He is mentioned in the Statler Brothers' "Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott."
Grand Ole Opry moves to the Hillsboro Theater, 1934

October 28:

Mitchell Torok born in Houston, Texas, 1929 (now 80)
Charlie Daniels born in Wilmington, North Carolina, 1936 (now 73)

Brad Paisley born in Glen Dale, West Virginia, 1972 (now 37)
Bill Bolick of the Blue Sky Boys born in Hickory, North Carolina, 1917 (died 2008)
Jimmy Skinner died (heart attack), 1979 (was 70)
Mel Foree died (cancer), 1990 (age unknown)
Porter Wagoner died (lung cancer), 2007 (was 80)

October 29:

Sonny Osborne born in Hyden, Kentucky, 1937 (now 72)
Charlie Monk born in Noma, Florida, 1938 (now 71)
Albert E. Brumley born in Spiro, Oklahoma, 1905 (died 1977)
Ramblin' Jimmie Dolan born in Gardena, California, 1916 (died 1994)
Fred Maddox died (heart disease), 1992 (was 73)

October 30:

Timothy B. Schmit of Poco and the Eagles born in Sacramento, California, 1947 (now 62)
T. Graham Brown born in Atlanta, Georgia, 1954 (now 55)
Patsy Montana (nee Ruby Rose Blevins) born in Hope, Arkansas, 1908 (died 1996)
Clifton Clowers born in Wolverton Mountain, Conway County, Arkansas, 1891 (died 1994)
Kitty Wells and Johnnie Wright wed, 1937 (72 years!!)

October 31:

Anita Kerr born in Memphis, Tennessee, 1927 (now 82)
Richard "Kinky" Friedman born in Chicago, Illinois, 1944 (now 65)

Dale Evans born in Uvalde, Texas, 1912 (died 2001)
Carl Belew died (cancer), 1990 (was 59)
Bob Atcher died (unknown causes), 1993 (was 79)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Modern Voice With an Ancient Sound

Category: 50 Songs to Hear

SONG: Our Town
ARTIST: Iris DeMent
ALBUM: Infamous Angel
YEAR/LABEL: 1992; Warner Brothers

The reason I love music so much is it's the one place I can go to in life when stuff happens.
(Iris DeMent)

One of the saddest things about modern country music is there are no VOICES. There are lots of supposed "singers" (many of whom qualify more as screamers than singers), but a voice that grabs the listener and refuses to let go the way someone like Patsy Cline or Jim Reeves had is simply not out there. When such a voice comes along the fact that they do not gain superstar status while the aforementioned supposed singers become household names can make you shrug your shoulders and agree that there really has been an awful murder on Music Row -- and the gunshot left everyone deaf.

The voice that should be in everyone's home and heart belongs to Iris DeMent. The lady has a marvelous voice that is plain, earthy, unpretentious, and gets to the heart of every word she sings. Conviction emits from every syllable uttered by this woman, and one of the best examples of that is the song "Our Town."

This song, which was used at the conclusion of the television series Northern Exposure, depicts life in a small town -- the good and the bad. The notion of trying to leave for the big city, the dream of many a one-horse town citizen, comes through with bittersweet conviction. The grass might be greener, but mom and dad are buried "up the street beside the pretty brick wall." She is leaving because the town is as dead as the deceased parents. It's a hard fact to face, but reality has her at the point where "I can't see too good, I've got tears in my eyes." Her farewell message: "I love you, my town, you'll always live in my soul."

DeMent has a sporadic recording history (her most recent album came out in 2004), which has made it easy for those who have heard of her to shove her to the back of their minds. If she never releases another album she has already contributed enough to American country and folk music to be hailed as one of the greatest -- simply by her exceptional voice.


The entire Infamous Angel album
-- an album for the ages with lovely songs ranging from trying to understand death ("Let the Mystery Be") to one of the greatest tributes to one's mother ever recorded ("Mama's Opry"). If there were any justice in this world, this would be one of the biggest-selling albums in history.

"In Spite of Ourselves" (duet with John Prine, from Prine's In Spite of Ourselves) -- Prine is one of DeMent's biggest fans and he never passes up the chance to give her more exposure (he has recorded a number of duets with her). This Prine composition about love serves as one of their best.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Dang Me! We've Lost a Music Giant

Category: News/Obituary

Shelby Singleton was the man behind many careers. He signed Roger Miller to Smash after Miller's failed tenure on Starday and RCA. The next thing everyone knew, Miller was a multi-Grammy winner and king of everything (including the road). Singleton signed Jeannie C. Riley and gave her a Tom T. Hall song, "Harper Valley P.T.A.," that became part of American culture to the point where the song spawned a television series that starred Barbara Eden. He also ran Sun Records from 1969.

Shelby Singleton died Wednesday, October 7, after a brief battle with brain cancer.

Singleton had been one of the panelists at the 26th annual International Country Music Conference in May (along with his longtime friend Jerry Kennedy) at the Quonset Hut, where he regaled the attendees with stories of his career and the numerous acts he had produced over his long career. Singleton also thought nothing of bringing black artists to Nashville and recording them with a mixed session of white and black performers -- at a time when the nation outside the studio walls was in the midst of turmoil over racial division.

Shelby Singleton at the Quonset
Hut at ICMC, May 22, 2009

Shelby Singleton was 77.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Ruby Wright Dies

Category: News/Obituary

Ruby Wright had but one hit, an answer song to Roger Miller's smash "Dang Me." Her version was called "Dern Ya." With only that one hit, Ruby still had quite a record in country music, as she was the child of royalty. Her parents were Johnnie Wright and "Queen of Country Music" Kitty Wells.

Ruby Wright was found dead in her apartment in suburban Nashville on September 29th. The suspected cause of death was heart-related, as she had dealt with heart problems for many years.

She is survived by both parents, 95-year-old Johnnie and 90-year-old Kitty. Ruby was 69.