Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Chances Are....

Category:  News/Obituary

Imagine having a name like Johnny Mathis and not being a pop singer.  Johnny Mathis the country singer was a star before the guy who sings "Chances Are," yet he was the one who put the qualifier in his name to make sure no one confused the two.

Country Johnny Mathis died Tuesday (9/27) of pneumonia at his home in Tennessee.  He had suffered a massive stroke in 1999 and was totally incapacitated for the remainder of his life.

Born in Texas in 1930, Johnny Mathis learned gospel music from his Holiness preacher father.  In the early 50s he teamed up with Jimmy Lee Fautheree for the duo Jimmy and Johnny.  Their 1954 song "If You Don't, Somebody Else Will" was a top five smash and eventually was recorded by people ranging from Wanda Jackson to the Osborne Brothers to Ray Price to Carl Smith.  The duo became regulars on the Louisiana Hayride but would never have another hit, despite some excellent music (all of which was released on a Bear Family CD).  

One story on the Country Johnny Mathis web site is how he wrote "Am I That Easy to Forget" and, in a move reminiscent of Arthur Q. Smith, sold the rights to the song for enough money to buy himself a bottle of vodka.  Mathis cleaned up his act and later concentrated on writing gospel songs.

Country Johnny Mathis died one day shy of what would have been his 81st birthday.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Walkin' Talkin' Cryin' Barely Beatin' Broken Heart

Category:  News/Obituary

It takes a real man to spend most of his life known as the husband of a famous wife.  That was, in many regards, Johnnie Wright's legacy:  he was Mr. Kitty Wells.

Johnnie Wright passed away this morning (9/27) at his home in Madison, Tennessee.  He had been in failing health for a number of years.

Johnnie Robert Wright was born in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee on May 13, 1914.  In 1938 he met up with another man born on May 13, Jack Anglin, and began a partnership with him as the duo Johnnie and Jack.  Jack married Johnnie's sister, making them brothers-in-law as well as musical partners.

Wright made one other significant life change in 1938:  he married an 18-year-old named Muriel Deason.  The three performed together for years, bouncing between Nashville and Knoxville.  Wright thought his wife's name wasn't a good "show biz" name, so he suggested she change her name.  He mentioned the name Kitty Wells, taken from a song "Sweet Kitty Wells," and the rest is history.

Johnnie and Jack signed to RCA and began a string of hits in the early 50s.  Kitty Wells was briefly on RCA (her classic song, "How Far is Heaven," was done for that label) before signing with Decca.  Her first single on that label was an answer song to Hank Thompson's big hit "The Wild Side of Life."  "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" put Kitty in a controversial situation:  the happy wife and mother was singing a song that clearly irritated a number of men in positions of power in Nashville.  (She was told point-blank to NOT sing the popular song on the Opry and was suspended when she defied that order.)  She became the first woman to top the Billboard country music charts and kicked open the door for the Jean Shepards, Loretta Lynns, Tammy Wynettes, Connie Smiths, and Lynn Andersons who followed.  As a result she earned the nickname "the Queen of Country Music."

Johnnie and Jack's career tragically ended in March, 1963 when Jack Anglin was killed in a single-car wreck on his way to the memorial service for Patsy Cline, who had died two days earlier in a plane crash with Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins.  The tragedies began talks of an "Opry curse" (eight more Opry-related acts would die in the next two years).  Johnnie continued as a solo act with the support of his wife and son Bobby, who was by that time a cast member on the series McHale's Navy.

Wright's first solo single, "Walkin' Talkin' Cryin' Barely Beatin' Broken Heart," was released on Decca in 1964.  When the single came out it had Johnnie's first name misspelled as "Johnny."  He later said he figured the more traditional spelling of the name was easier for people to remember, so for the rest of his life he went by the misspelling.

Wright's only #1 song as a solo artist was a song written by Tom T. Hall, "Hello Vietnam."  The song came out in 1965, before the controversy surrounding the war escalated.  He never had another top ten record after that, but that doesn't mean he was not in demand.  The Johnny Wright/Kitty Wells Family Show toured until 2000, meaning that Wright and Wells were on the road together for 62 years.

Johnnie and Kitty would have celebrated their 74th wedding anniversary October 30th.  Their daughter, Ruby Wright (who had an answer song to Roger Miller's "Dang Me" titled "Dern Ya") passed away from heart disease two years ago Friday.

Bear Family issued all of Johnnie and Jack's recordings in a six-CD set Johnnie and Jack and the Tennessee Mountain Boys.  Sadly, the box set is out of print, and only a greatest hits CD is currently available on the duo.

The great Johnnie Wright was 97.

Friday, September 16, 2011

A True Mountain Voice Silenced

Category:  News/Obituary

A sad week for country music gets sadder.  Wilma Lee Cooper passed away Tuesday afternoon (9/13).

For decades Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper took their pure mountain sound to the world, first through the WWVA Wheeling Jamboree then through the Grand Ole Opry.  They scored charted hits with songs that were unapologetically country in the era of the Nashville Sound:  "Come Walk With Me," "Big Midnight Special," and the Don Gibson-penned "There's a Big Wheel."

After Stoney's death from a heart attack in 1977 Wilma Lee remained at the Opry, performing, recording and touring as one of the "Grand Ladies of the Grand Ole Opry."

In 2001 Wilma Lee suffered a debilitating stroke that ended her career.  She loved her Opry family (her daughter, Carol Lee, is leader of the background singing group on the Opry) and visited often, earning a standing ovation for merely walking out on the stage in 2005.  Her final appearance on the Opry was in 2010, when she participated in the reopening ceremonies for the Opry House following the May 2010 flood.

Farewell to the great Wilma Lee Cooper, who was 90.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Dates of Note in Country Music, September 16-31

Category: News
(Country Music Hall of Famers in bold)

September 16:

David Bellamy of the Bellamy Brothers born in Darby, Florida, 1950 (now 61)
Bobby Randall of Sawyer Brown born in Midland, Michigan, 1952 (now 59)
Terry McBride of McBride & the Ride born in Austin, Texas, 1958 (now 53)

Ralph Mooney born in Duncan, Oklahoma, 1928 (died 2011)
Sheb Wooley died in Nashville, Tennessee (leukemia), 2003 (was 82)

September 17:

Hank Williams born in Mount Olive, Alabama, 1923 (died 1953)
John Ritter, son of Tex Ritter, born in Burbank, California, 1948 (died 2003)
Steve Sanders (William Lee Golden's one-time replacement in the Oak Ridge Boys) born in Richland, Georgia, 1952 (died 1998)
Bill Black born in Memphis, Tennessee, 1926 (died 1965)
RCA's 33 1/3 RPM "long-playing" (LP) record born, 1931

September 18:

Priscilla Mitchell born in Marietta, Georgia, 1941 (now 70). In addition to her own singing career, she was married to Jerry Reed from 1959 until his death in 2008.
Carl Jackson born in Louisville, Mississippi, 1953 (now 58)
Ervin T. Rouse born in Craven County, North Carolina, 1917 (died 1981)

September 19:

Trisha Yearwood born in Monticello, Georgia, 1964 (now 47)
Clyde Moody born in Cherokee, North Carolina, 1915 (died 1989)
Danny Dill born in Carroll County, Tennessee, 1924 (died 2008)

Clyde "Sonny' Burns born in Lufkin, Texas, 1930 (died 1992)
Red Foley died in Fort Wayne, Indiana (heart attack), 1968 (was 58)
Gram Parsons died in Joshua Tree, California (drug overdose), 1973 (was 26)
Skeeter Davis died in Nashville, Tennessee (cancer), 2004 (was 72)
Slim Dusty ("Australian king of country music") died in St. Ives, New South Wales (cancer), 2003 (was 76)
Carl Smith married singer Goldie Hill, 1957

September 20:

Pearl Butler born in Nashville, Tennessee, 1927 (died 1988)
Karl Farr died in West Springfield, Massachusetts (heart attack), 1961 (was 52)
Jim Croce died in Natchitoches, Louisiana (plane crash), 1973 (was 30). The folk singer/songwriter's pop hit "I'll Have to Say I Love You in a Song" made the country charts a year after his death.

Steve Goodman died in Seattle, Washington (liver and kidney failure/leukemia), 1984 (was 36)
Hank Williams re-joined the Louisiana Hayride after being fired from the Grand Ole Opry, 1952

September 21:

Dickey Lee born in Memphis, Tennessee, 1936 (now 75)
Don Felder, former guitarist/steel guitarist for the Eagles, born in Gainesville, Florida, 1947 (now 64)
Kenny Starr born in Topeka, Kansas, 1952 (now 59)

Daryl Mosley of New Tradition born in Waverly, Tennessee, 1964 (now 47)
Ronna Reeves born in Big Spring, Texas, 1966 (now 45)
Ted Daffan born in Beauregard Parish, Louisiana, 1912 (died 1996)
Walter Brennan died in Oxnard, California (emphysema), 1974 (was 80). Among the actor's charted hits were "Old Rivers" and a version of Bill Anderson's "Mama Sang a Song."

September 22:

June Forester of the Forester Sisters born in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, 1952 (now 59)
Debby Boone born in Hackensack, New Jersey, 1956 (now 54). The "You Light Up My Life" singer is Red Foley's granddaughter.
Roy "Pop" Lewis Sr. of the Lewis Family, born in Pickens, South Carolina, 1905 (died 2004)

September 23:

Don Herron Jr. of BR5-49 born in Steubenville, Ohio, 1962 (now 49)
Roy Drusky died in Nashville, Tennessee (emphysema), 2004 (was 74)

Bradley Kincaid died in Springfield, Ohio (natural causes), 1989 (was 94)
O.B. McClinton died in Nashville, Tennessee (abdominal cancer), 1987 (was 45)
Jimmy Wakely died in Mission Hills, California (emphysema), 1982 (was 68)
Roy Horton died in Nashville, Tennessee (unknown cause), 2003 (was 88)
Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys make their first recording session, 1935

September 24:

Rosalie Allen died in Palmdale, California (congestive heart failure), 2003 (was 79)
Jim Denny fired as Opry manager, 1956

September 25:

Ian Tyson born in Victoria, British Columbia, 1933 (now 78)
Larry Sparks born in Lebanon, Ohio, 1947 (now 64)
Royce Kendall born in St. Louis, Missouri, 1934 (died 1998)
Little Jimmy Dickens became a member of the Grand Ole Opry, 1948. He is celebrating 63 years as an Opry member, which is one of the longest tenures in the history of the show.

September 26:

David Frizzell born in El Dorado, Arkansas, 1941 (now 70)
Lynn Anderson born in Grand Forks, North Dakota, 1947 (now 64)
Carlene Carter born in Madison, Tennessee, 1955 (now 56)
Doug Supernaw born in Bryan, Texas, 1960 (now 51)
Marty Robbins born in Glendale, Arizona, 1925 (died 1982)
The Beverly Hillbillies debuted on CBS, 1962. The program featured appearances by Roy Clark as Cousin Roy and Flatt and Scruggs as friends of the Clampetts, and the show was frequently sponsored by Kellogg's Corn Flakes with ads featuring Homer and Jethro.

September 27:

Uncle Josh Graves born in Tellico Plains, Tennessee, 1928 (died 2006)
Charlie Monroe died in Reidsville, North Carolina (cancer), 1975 (was 72)

September 28:

Johnny Mathis born in Maud, Texas, 1930 (died 2011). Because of the rise of a pop singer by the same name, Mathis became known as "Country Johnny Mathis."
Ronnie Reno born in Buffalo, South Carolina, 1947 (now 64)
Laurie Lewis born in Long Beach, California, 1950 (now 61)
Mandy Barnett born in Crossville, Tennessee, 1975 (now 36)
Jerry Clower born in Liberty, Mississippi, 1926 (died 1998)
Tommy Collins (ne Leonard Sipes) born in Bethany, Oklahoma, 1930 (died 2000)
Joseph Falcon born in Rayne, Louisiana, 1900 (died 1965). Falcon is credited with the first Cajun recording, "Allons a Lafayette," in 1928.
Jim Boyd (of Bill Boyd and the Cowboy Ramblers) born in Fannin County, Texas, 1914 (died 1993)
Johnny Horton married Billie Jean Williams (widow of Hank Williams), 1953

September 29:

Jerry Lee Lewis born in Ferriday, Louisiana, 1935 (now 76)
Gene Autry born in Tioga Springs, Texas, 1907 (died 1998)
Bill Boyd born in Fannin County, Texas, 1910 (died 1977)
Tillman Franks born in Stamps, Arkansas, 1920 (died 2006)
Wesley Tuttle died in San Fernando, California (natural causes), 2003 (was 85)
Mickey Newbury died in Springfield, Oregon (lung disease), 2002 (was 62)

September 30:

Richard Bowden born in Linden, Texas, 1945 (now 66)
Johnny Burns born in Knoxville, Tennessee, 1948 (now 63).  The son of Jethro Burns is a singer/songwriter/guitarist on his own, and worked for many years with country-folk icon John Prine.
Deborah Allen born in Memphis, Tennessee, 1953 (now 58)
Marty Stuart born in Philadelphia, Mississippi, 1958 (now 53)
Mary Ford died in Arcadia, California (diabetes complications), 1977 (was 53)
Ruby Wright died in Nashville, Tennessee (heart disease), 2009 (was 69)
Billboard magazine changed the name of the "Hillbilly and Western" chart to the "Folk Country and Western" chart, 1950. Ernest Tubb is considered by many to be one of the people responsible for this, as he claimed that "hillbilly" was a derogatory term.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Double Whammy in Country Music

Category:  News/Obituary

The world of country music has lost two giants on September 12.

Don Wayne.  Don Wayne was a superb songwriter, author of such songs as "Country Bumpkin," "It's Time to Pay the Fiddler" (both hits by Cal Smith), "The Belles of Southern Bell," and "Saginaw, Michigan," which he "co-wrote" with Bill Anderson.  In Anderson's autobiography Whisperin' Bill he explained how he came to be listed as Wayne's co-author:  Wayne was stuck on how to end the song, and Anderson suggested that he have the song's protagonist tell the greedy, snooty father of his love that there was gold to be had in Alaska.  Wayne took Anderson's suggestion and finished the song -- then insisted that Anderson be credited as co-writer.  Wayne was elected to the Songwriter's Hall of Fame in 1978.  

Although no cause of death has yet been released, Wayne was hospitalized for some time and last week was placed in Hospice care.  He was 78.

Wade Mainer.  In a 1984 interview Jethro Burns called Wade Mainer a true pioneer of country music and suggested that Mainer belonged in the Hall of Fame.  Mainer and his Mountaineers go back to the 1930s.  He recorded with Zeke Morris, with his brother J.E. Mainer, and on his own.  In 2007 a biography, Banjo on the Mountain:  Wade Mainer's First Hundred Years (written by Dick Spottswood with Stephen Wade), was published by the University of Mississippi Press.  He was considered the longest-living country performer ever.  He passed away from congestive heart failure at his home in North Carolina.

Farewell to these two legendary gentlemen of country music.