Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Wake-Up Call

Category:  Personal

To call me a "music junkie" is to minimize how I feel about music.  You should’ve known me in my wild and crazy 20’s and 30’s.  I worked primarily to support my music habit.  There were months where I spent more on Bear Family box sets than my mortgage.  And concerts?  I went more places than Hank Snow to see shows.  "Vacation days" were planned around concerts, and my weekends (I worked a goofy shift, so my "weekends" were usually Tuesday and Wednesday) were spent going to shows.  I would probably have my mortgage paid off three times over if it weren't for music -- not that I'm complaining.  A house without music is not a home; and nobody should consider "living to pay the mortgage" a "life."

It wasn’t a mid-life crisis that put the brakes on my concert-going (after all, 40 is the new 30, or so they say); rather, my mom’s illness.  Once emphysema tied my mom to an oxygen machine and a bottomless bottle of prednisone I didn't dare venture too far from home.  The last thing I wanted was to get a dreaded phone call while I was 1,100 miles away in Texas seeing a concert (and yes, I've driven 1,100 miles to Texas to see concerts).  So, I stayed home and basically stopped going to shows.  Not completely, but I fell asleep, so to speak, with the same old concerts every year (again, not that I'm complaining, because if I didn't like the acts I wouldn't see them repeatedly).  I would occasionally venture down to Nashville (a safe 2½ -hour drive), but with my mom sick my fire for music -- more specifically, live music -- was generally doused.  

After her death in 2007 I forgot to resume the concert spree, still seeing those two or three trusted regulars every year.  Even people that I wanted to see couldn't coax me out of my house.  Chalk that up to mourning, middle age, or anything you want.  I just know that music was passing me by, and I was content to let it.

That all changed one year ago.  A long time ago a friend of mine told me that if I had to crawl through a swarm of angry fire ants while covered in honey to see the legendary folk-rock singer/songwriter/guitarist Richard Thompson, especially solo acoustic, I should do it.  Thompson played in Bloomington, Indiana on September 18 and I went.  Two nights later, Deke Dickerson, a man I had been trying to see for nearly two years, came to Louisville and I finally got to see him.

Chris "Sugarballs" Sprague defying gravity during the Deke
Dickerson & the Ecco-Fonics show on September 20, 2012
c.2013 K.F. Raizor

Talk about a wake-up call.  I was out until 2 AM having my head knocked off my shoulders by Deke and his first-rate group the Ecco-Fonics...just 48 hours after Richard Thompson put my chin on the floor with his astonishing solo concert.  To say the very least, the alarm clock rang loudly (sounding remarkably like Dickerson's guitar).  Unlike the alarm that wakes me for work, however, I did not hit the snooze button then roll over and go back to sleep.  After seeing those two shows in such close proximity to each other the joys of youth came flooding back.  I felt half my age, and it felt great.

In the five years prior to my awakening I saw a total of fourteen concerts.  Most were either in Louisville or Nashville.  In the past twelve months, however, I have walked through the doors of concert venues twenty one times (in chronological order:  Richard Thompson; Deke Dickerson & the Ecco-Fonics; Wanda Jackson; Iris DeMent; Dailey & Vincent; Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver; Robbie Fulks & Don Stiernberg; Don Stiernberg & Trio Brasileiro; Robbie Fulks & Nora O'Connor; Dale Watson; Alan Munde, Greg Cahill & Don Stiernberg; Dale Watson; Marshall Crenshaw & the Bottle Rockets; the Old 97's & Robbie Fulks; Justin Trevino; Dale Watson & Amber Digby; Kathy Copas & the John Simon Band; Reverend Horton Heat, Deke Dickerson & Wayne Hancock; Dale Watson; Robbie Fulks; and Donna the Buffalo) in five states (Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio).  PLUS...I have three more Dale Watson shows (I could literally see that man every night), Wayne Hancock (this time as a headlining act), Webb Wilder, two more Deke Dickerson shows, and two more Robbie Fulks gigs (I figure it's high time I see him outside of Illinois) scheduled in the next five weeks. 

I offer my thanks to Richard and especially Deke for the wake-up call.  Thank you, too (though that feels terribly insufficient), to the men and women who make the music that is worth going to see -- and (as I told Bottle Rockets drummer Mark Ortmann) worth traveling to see.  It's good to be back home in music clubs.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Dates of Note in Country Music, September 16-30

Category: News

(Hall of Fame members in bold on birth/death date, followed by hall[s] of fame in which they are enshrined and the year enshrined.  CM=Country Music; BG=Bluegrass; NS=Nashville Songwriter; SG=Southern Gospel)

September 16:

David Bellamy of the Bellamy Brothers born in Darby, Florida, 1950 (now 63)
Bobby Randall of Sawyer Brown born in Midland, Michigan, 1952 (now 61)
Terry McBride of McBride & the Ride born in Austin, Texas, 1958 (now 55)

Ralph Mooney (Steel Guitar 83) born in Duncan, Oklahoma, 1928 (died 2011)
Sheb Wooley died in Nashville, Tennessee (leukemia), 2003 (was 82)

September 17:

Hank Williams (CM 61, NS 70) born in Mount Olive, Alabama, 1923 (died 1953)
Jimmie Crawford (Steel Guitar 00) born in Obetz, Ohio, 1935 (died 2005)
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 first appeared, 1931

September 18:

Priscilla Mitchell born in Marietta, Georgia, 1941 (now 72). 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 60)
Lydia Rogers of the Secret Sisters born in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, 1988 (now 25)
Ervin T. Rouse born in Craven County, North Carolina, 1917 (died 1981)
Michael "Bea" Lilly died in Plymouth, Massachusetts (Alzheimer's disease), 2005 (was 83)

September 19:

Trisha Yearwood born in Monticello, Georgia, 1964 (now 49)
Clyde Moody born in Cherokee, North Carolina, 1915 (died 1989)
Danny Dill (NS 75) born in Carroll County, Tennessee, 1924 (died 2008)

Carlton Haney (BG 98) born in Rockingham County, North Carolina, 1928 (died 2011)
Clyde "Sonny' Burns born in Lufkin, Texas, 1930 (died 1992)
Red Foley (CM 67) 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:

Bob Miller (NS 70) born in Memphis, Tennessee, 1895 (died 1955)
Pearl Butler born in Nashville, Tennessee, 1927 (died 1988)
Karl Farr (CM 80) 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 (NS 95) born in Memphis, Tennessee, 1936 (now 77)
Don Felder, former guitarist/steel guitarist for the Eagles, born in Gainesville, Florida, 1947 (now 66)
Kenny Starr born in Topeka, Kansas, 1952 (now 61)

Daryl Mosley of New Tradition born in Waverly, Tennessee, 1964 (now 49)
Ronna Reeves born in Big Spring, Texas, 1966 (now 47)
Ted Daffan (NS 70) 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 61)
Debby Boone born in Hackensack, New Jersey, 1956 (now 57). The "You Light Up My Life" singer is Red Foley's granddaughter.
James Roy "Pop" Lewis Sr. of the Lewis Family (BG 06) born in Pickens, South Carolina, 1905 (died 2004)

September 23:

Pat Alger (NS 10) born in Long Island City, New York, 1947 (now 66)
Don Herron Jr. of BR5-49 born in Steubenville, Ohio, 1962 (now 51)
Roy Drusky died in Nashville, Tennessee (emphysema), 2004 (was 74)

Bradley Kincaid (NS 71) died in Springfield, Ohio (natural causes), 1989 (was 94)
O.B. McClinton died in Nashville, Tennessee (abdominal cancer), 1987 (was 45)
Jimmy Wakely (NS 71) died in Mission Hills, California (emphysema), 1982 (was 68)
Roy Horton (CM 82) died in Nashville, Tennessee (diabetes/congestive heart failure), 2003 (was 88)
First recording session for Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, 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 80)
Larry Sparks born in Lebanon, Ohio, 1947 (now 66)
Shel Silverstein (NS 02) born in Chicago, Illinois, 1930 (died 1999)
Royce Kendall born in St. Louis, Missouri, 1934 (died 1998)
Little Jimmy Dickens became a member of the Grand Ole Opry, 1948. This is his 65th year 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 72)
Lynn Anderson born in Grand Forks, North Dakota, 1947 (now 66)
Carlene Carter born in Madison, Tennessee, 1955 (now 58)
Doug Supernaw born in Bryan, Texas, 1960 (now 53)
Marty Robbins (CM 82, NS 75) 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:

Beasley Smith (NS 83) born in McEwen, Tennessee, 1902 (died 1968)
Uncle Josh Graves (BG 97) born in Tellico Plains, Tennessee, 1928 (died 2006)
Charlie Monroe died in Reidsville, North Carolina (cancer), 1975 (was 72)
Johnnie Wright died in Madison, Tennessee (natural causes), 2011 (was 97)
Johnny Mathis died in Cornersville, Tennessee (pneumonia), 2011 (was 80)

September 28:

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)
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)
Jerry Clower born in Liberty, Mississippi, 1926 (died 1998)
Tommy Collins (ne Leonard Sipes) (NS 99) born in Bethany, Oklahoma, 1930 (died 2000)
Johnny Mathis born in Maud, Texas, 1930 (died 2011). Because of the rise of a pop singer by the same name in the mid 1950's, Mathis became known as "Country Johnny Mathis."
Glenn Sutton (NS 99) born in Hodge, Louisiana, 1937 (died 2007)
Johnny Horton married Billie Jean Williams (widow of Hank Williams), 1953

September 29:

Jerry Lee Lewis born in Ferriday, Louisiana, 1935 (now 78)
Gene Autry (CM 69, NS 70) 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 (NS 80) died in Springfield, Oregon (emphysema), 2002 (was 62)

September 30:

Richard Bowden born in Linden, Texas, 1945 (now 68)
Johnny Burns born in Knoxville, Tennessee, 1948 (now 65).  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 60)
Marty Stuart born in Philadelphia, Mississippi, 1958 (now 55)
Mary Ford died in Arcadia, California (diabetes complications), 1977 (was 53)
Uncle Josh Graves (BG 97) died in Nashville, Tennessee (lengthy illness), 2006 (was 81)
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.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Acoustic Roar

Category:  Concert Review

Robbie Fulks began to explain the scenario behind "Where I Fell," one of the songs off his brilliant new album Gone Away Backward, to the sold-out audience at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago on Friday (9/6), then he stopped.  "It's in English,"  he said with his trademark dry humor, "so you'll figure it out."

Fulks and his stellar band left little to "figure out" as they roared through a two-hour set of acoustic and bluegrass music, highlighted by half a dozen songs from the new release.  Backing Fulks were his longtime accomplice Robbie Gjerose, former Del McCoury Band bassist Mike Bub (who also played banjo) multi-instrumentalist Chris Scruggs, and amazing fiddler Jenny Scheinman (who played on the album and opened the show with 50 minutes of her own music).  

After opening with "Where There's a Road," a song that Sam Bush covered on an album, Fulks dusted off an obscure chestnut, "I Just Want to Meet the Man" from his sarcastically-titled The Best of Robbie Fulks.  The song, with its underlying threats of violence directed toward the new lover of the narrator's ex-wife, is not easy to explain.  Fulks admitted post-concert that the song is either received by laughter (which was the case this time) or stone silence.  "Let's Kill Saturday Night" works as well with an acoustic arrangement as the rocking original, and "Goodbye Good Lookin'" was presented with a swinging jazz feel highlighted by Scruggs on the bass. 

"That's Where I'm From," the masterpiece of Gone Away Backward, was the first new song unleashed on the crowd, and a perfect place to start.  The quiet music behind lyrics simultaneously missing home and realizing the adage "you can't go home again" is true captivated the crowd.  If a Grammy ever needed a song to reward it's "That's Where I'm From."  

Most of the band then departed, leaving Scheinman and Fulks alone onstage for "I'll Trade You Money for Wine."  The tortured soul of the lyrics' narrator was more haunting than on the recording thanks to Scheinman's fiddle work.  Fulks lightened the mood by doing a duet with Scheinman on the Carter Family classic "Single Girl, Married Girl."

Following "Goodbye, Virginia," a song that is on the download-only "album" ("marathon" might be a better description) 50 Vc. Doberman Fulks asked for requests from the audience.  A number of songs were shouted to the singer, along with a call for "Gram Parsons," to which Fulks replied, "Are there any requests for songs I made up?"  After hearing a few more songs shouted at him Fulks said, "We'll do the Gram Parsons."  He didn't (hopefully one day he will -- "Sin City" is a song begging for the Robbie Fulks touch), going instead into "Tears Only Run One Way."  He prefaced the great "Georgia Hard" by saying he was a southerner by upbringing (as he sang earlier in "That's Where I'm From," the land "where it's 'yes, ma'am' and 'no, sir'") but after living in Chicago since the early 1980's he considered himself a Chicagoan, something the protagonist of "Georgia Hard" could never bring himself to do.

Near the end of the set he presented to other highlights from the new album, "Sometimes the Grass is Really Greener," which featured Bub on banjo, and "When You Get to the Bottom," complete with harmonies that would make any bluegrass band this side of Dailey and Vincent green with envy.  Fulks explained that Scruggs is the grandson of Earl Scurggs (his mother is country singer/producer Gail Davies, leading Fulks to conclude Chris is "royalty" and has "a super DNA thing") before the band did a smoking instrumental version of "Fireball Mail."  "Busy Not Crying" and Fulks' tongue-in-cheek ode to his home state of North Carolina, "Cigarette State," closed out the set.  The encore featured another highlight from the new album, "Long I Ride," and a superb and surprising George Jones cover, the great but forgotten "If I Don't Love You (Grits Ain't Groceries)."  

Fulks will begin a tour next week to promote Gone Away Backward, performing two months this year then more dates in 2014.  Do not miss this performer or this album.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Dates of Note in Country Music, September 1-15

Category: News

(Hall of Fame members in bold on birth/death date, followed by hall[s] of fame in which they are enshrined and the year enshrined.  CM=Country Music; BG=Bluegrass; NS=Nashville Songwriter; SG=Southern Gospel)

September 1

Steve Goetzman of Exile born in Louisville, Kentucky, 1950 (now 63)
Maggie Cavender (NS 89) born in Nashville, Tennessee, 1918 (died 1996)
Boxcar Willie (ne Lecil Travis Martin) born in Sterratt, Texas, 1931 (died 1999)
Johnny Mack Brown born in Dothan, Alabama, 1904 (died 1974). The western actor was the namesake of Lester "Roadhog" Moran and the Cadillac Cowboy's Live at the Johnny Mack Brown High School album.
Conway Twitty (CM 99, NS 93) born in Friars Point, Mississippi, 1933 (died 1993)
Delia "Mom" Upchurch, the "Den Mother to the Stars," died in Nashville, Tennessee (unknown cause), 1967 (was 85)

Jerry Reed (NS 05) died in Nashville, Tennessee (emphysema), 2008 (was 71)
Hal David (NS 84) died in Los Angeles, California (stroke), 2012 (was 91)
Doug Bounsall died in Las Vegas, Nevada (car wreck), 2012 (was 61)

September 2

Paul Wylie Deakin of the Mavericks born in Miami, Florida, 1959 (now 54)
Johnny Lee Wills born in Jewell, Texas, 1912 (died 1984)
Charline Authur born in Henrietta, Texas, 1929 (died 1987)
Grady Nutt born in Amarillo, Texas, 1934 (died 1982)
Fabor Robinson, founder of Fabor Records, died in Minden, Louisiana (unknown cause), 1986 (was 74)

September 3

Jimmy Riddle born in Dyersburg, Tennessee, 1918 (died 1981)
Hank Thompson (CM 89, NS 97) born in Waco, Texas, 1925 (died 2007)
Tompall Glaser born in Spalding, Nebraska, 1933 (died 2013)

September 4

Kathy Louvin born in Nashville, Tennessee, 1957 (now 56)
Harold "Shot" Jackson (Steel Guitar 86) born in Wilmington, North Carolina, 1920 (died 1991)
Dottie West died in Nashville, Tennessee (injuries from a car wreck), 1991 (was 58)
Carl Butler died in Franklin, Tennessee (heart attack), 1992 (was 65)

September 5

Chuck Seitz born in Cincinnati, Ohio, 1918 (died 2012).  In addition to serving as a Grammy-nominated recording engineer at King and RCA Seitz co-wrote the classic "Before I Met You."
Curley Williams died in Montgomery, Alabama (unknown cause), 1970 (was 66)
Joe South (NS 79) died in Atlanta, Georgia (heart failure), 2012 (was 72)
The Country Music Association was founded, 1958
The Lewis Family's final concert, 2009. The bluegrass and gospel band began performing in 1951.

September 6

David Allan Coe born in Akron, Ohio, 1939 (now 74)
Buddy Miller born in Fairborn, Ohio, 1952 (now 61)
Jeff Foxworthy born in Atlanta, Georgia, 1958 (now 55)
Mark Chesnutt born in Beaumont, Texas, 1963 (now 50)
Zeke Clements (NS 71) born near Empire, Alabama, 1911 (died 1994)
Paul Yandell, C.G.P. born in Mayfield, Kentucky, 1935 (died 2011)
Mel McDaniel born in Checotah, Oklahoma, 1942 (died 2011)
Ernest Tubb (CM 64, NS 70) died in Nashville, Tennessee (complications from emphysema), 1984 (was 70)
Autry Inman died (unknown cause), 1988 (was 59)
Roy Huskey Jr. died in Nashville, Tennessee (cancer), 1997 (was 41)

September 7

Ronnie Dove born in Herndon, Virginia, 1940 (now 73)
Mark D. Sanders (NS 09) born in Los Angeles, California, 1950 (now 63)
Buddy Holly (NS 94) born in Lubbock, Texas, 1936 (died 1959)

Hubert Long (CM 79) died in Nashville, Tennessee (brain tumor), 1972 (was 48)
Warren Zevon died in Los Angeles, California (mesothelioma), 2003 (was 56).  The folk-rock singer wrote "Poor Poor Pitiful Me," which made the country charts by both Linda Ronstadt and Terri Clark, and Dwight Yoakam recorded Zevon's "Carmelita" and sang on two of Zevon's albums.  Zevon also appeared in the movie South of Heaven, West of Hell with Yoakam.
Oscar Sullivan died in Nashville, Tennessee (leukemia), 2012 (was 93)

September 8

Jimmie Rodgers (CM 61, NS 70) born in Meridian, Mississippi, 1897 (died 1933)
Milton Brown born in Stephenville, Texas, 1903 (died 1936)
Patsy Cline (CM 73) born in Winchester, Virginia, 1932 (died 1963)
Harlan Howard (CM 97, NS 73) born in Detroit, Michigan, 1929 (died 2002)

September 9

Freddy Weller born in Atlanta, Georgia, 1947 (now 66)
Rodger Dale Tubb died in Fredericksburg, Texas (car wreck), 1938 (was 7 weeks old)
Tex Owens (NS 71) died in New Baden, Texas (unknown cause), 1962 (was 70)
Bill Monroe (CM 70, BG 91, NS 71) died in Nashville, Tennessee (stroke), 1996 (was 84)

September 10

Tommy Overstreet born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 1937 (now 76)
Rosie Flores born in San Antonio, Texas, 1956 (now 57)
Luke Wills born in Memphis, Texas, 1920 (died 2000)
Joe (ne Walter) Callahan of the Callahan Brothers died in Asheville, North Carolina (cancer), 1971 (was 61)

September 11

Jimmie Davis (CM 72, NS 71) born in Beech Springs, Louisiana, 1899 (died 2000)
Randy Hughes born in Gum, Tennessee, 1928 (died 1963)
Lorne Greene died in Santa Monica, California (pneumonia), 1987 (was 72). The actor's recitation "Ringo" was a top 25 country hit in 1964.
Leon Payne (NS 70) died in San Antonio, Texas (heart attack), 1969 (was 52)
Bill (ne Homer) Callahan of the Callahan Brothers died in Dallas, Texas (congestive heart failure), 2002 (was 90)

Terrorists crash planes into the World Trade Center's twin towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington DC, 2001.  The attack spawned several country songs including Alan Jackson's "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)" and Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)."

September 12

Leona Johnson Atkins born in Jackson Township, Ohio, 1924 (died 2009). One of WLW's "Johnson Twins," she married Chet Atkins in 1946.
Lois Johnson Burns born in Jackson Township, Ohio, 1924 (died 1989). One of WLW's "Johnson Twins," she married Jethro Burns of Homer & Jethro in 1946.

Helen Carter born in Maces Springs, Virginia, 1927 (died 1998)
George Jones (CM 92) born in Saratoga, Texas, 1931 (died 2013)
Rod Brasfield (CM 87) died in Martin, Tennessee (heart failure), 1958 (was 48)
Johnny Cash (CM 80, NS 77) died in Nashville, Tennessee (Shy-Drager syndrome complications, diabetes, lung disease), 2003 (was 71)
John Ritter died in Los Angeles, California (heart ailment), 2003 (was 54). The actor was the son of Western legend Tex Ritter.
Charlie Walker died in Nashville, Tennessee (colon cancer), 2008 (was 81)

Don Wayne (NS 78) died in Nashville, Tennessee (cancer), 2011 (was 78)
Wade Mainer died in Flint, Michigan (congestive heart failure), 2011 (was 104)

September 13

Bobbie Cryner born in Woodland, California, 1961 (now 51)
Bill Monroe (CM 70, BG 91, NS 71) born in Rosine, Kentucky, 1911 (died 1996)
Wilma Lee Cooper died in Nashville, Tennessee (natural causes), 2011 (was 90)
Roy Acuff postage stamp issued by the U.S. Postal Service, 2003

September 14

John Berry born in Aiken, South Carolina, 1959 (now 54)
Mae Boren Axton born in Bardwell, Texas, 1914 (died 1997)
Don Walser born in Brownfield, Texas, 1934 (died 2006)
Vernon Dalhart (CM 81, NS 70) died in Bridgeport, Connecticut (heart attack), 1948 (was 65)
Beasley Smith (NS 83) died in Nashville, Tennessee (cerebral hemorrhage), 1968 (was 66)
Hank Williams arrived in Nashville and met with Fred Rose to discuss a record or publishing deal, 1946

September 15

Roy Acuff (CM 62) born in Maynardsville, Tennesssee, 1903 (died 1992)
Patsy Cline married Charlie Dick, 1957

The Tornado Inside

Category:  Album Review

Robbie Fulks from the promotional photo shoot
for his excellent new album Gone Away Backward
courtesy of Bloodshot Records

"If you've ever heard Hank Williams sing," Robbie Fulks says in "That's Where I'm From," the highlight of his new acoustic album Gone Away Backward, "then you know the whole blessed thing."  Fulks' new release may not be "the whole blessed thing," but it's certainly close.

Robbie Fulks began his recording career as a member of the bluegrass band The Special Consensus, appearing on their 1989 album A Hole In My Heart.  Bluegrass has permeated his music throughout his career, from the instrumental "Pete Way's Trousers" on his stunning debut Country Love Songs to "South Richmond Girl" on South Mouth (one of the best murder ballads since the Louvins recorded "Knoxville Girl") to "Where There's a Road" on Georgia Hard (well covered by Sam Bush, who played on Fulks' recording, on Circles in Seven).  This isn't an attempt to capitalize on the resurgence of bluegrass or a "gee, that album didn't sell well, guess I'll try bluegrass" move that more than one country act has tried in the past.  Bluegrass has always been there for Fulks.  This time, he's just concentrating on it.

While this is not a 100% bluegrass album (Fulks has referred to it as more of an acoustic album with heavy bluegrass overtone), what it does score a perfect mark on is quality.  The cover photo of a torndao (the album art was shot in April and displayed on Fulks' website in May, lest anyone think he is making light of the Oklahoma tornadoes earlier this year -- something that must be pointed out given that Fulks has endured more than his unfair share of ridicule for his album covers and accompanying liner notes in the past) is appropriate, given the raging souls depicted in a number of the songs.  The protagonist of "Where I Fell," who can only "sling hash for what-all spills off the interstate" in a dead-end town where the biggest attraction is the war memorial, is resigned to his fate, but he says, "the choice was never mine, so I dwell where I fell."  In contrast, the alcoholic of "I'll Trade You Money for Wine" did have a choice, and he is content with leaving his life of high-rolling executive who once perused "your towns from a long black Lincoln" but now occupies the same corner that he has stood on for the past decade obtaining quarters from the banker ("his trouble's deeper than mine") in order to purchase the liquor.  Jenny Scheinman's fiddle breaks reiterate the torment in the soul of the man who scorns those who would pray for him.  

The divorce song "Guess I Got It Wrong" could follow the theme, being the event that would drive a man to drink as he leaves the driveway of his home for the last time with "a few shared things of little worth, and now they're all that's left to hold."  One of the quietest songs on the album, it's also one of the best.  Equally good, but with more harmonies and brighter tempo, is the lost-love song "Rose of the Summer," a song about a man who loses the love of his life when he joins the military and goes overseas for three years but never forgets her.  Even decades later when all of the young people have left town and the old people have passed away, it is the grave of the love he couldn't have that he visits and weeps over.

Not everything drags the listener to the depths of depression, however.  "That's Where I'm From" may break a few hearts with its comparison of modern life of "white collar, necktie" in Chicago to the carefree youth of running "half-naked in the moonshine" in North Carolina with the sad conclusion that the past is gone ("but the road, it goes but one way" Fulks sings in "Long I Ride" elsewhere on the album).  However, you will leave this six-minute visit to country life with a warm feeling, happy that Fulks invited you along for the ride.  

"Long I Ride" and "Sometimes the Grass is Really Greener" take dead aim at the pitfalls of life as a musician (the tag line in the former professes, "it's long to ride for the little I gain"), complete with Fulks' trademark tongue-in-cheek digs ("I don't know just what this deal has got me," he sings in "Sometimes the Grass is Really Greener" while discussing the record company trying to change him into a mainstream act complete with a Brooks and Dunn haircut, "I've gained not a fan, and I lost the ones I had").  While the songs will make you smile beneath the surface is hint of what countless performers sacrifice to entertain us for a couple of hours.

The harmonies on "When You Get to the Bottom," hearken back to Fulks' Special Consensus days not only musically but thematically:  the heroine of "She Hurts for a Living" could well be the person to whom the warning in "When You Get to the Bottom" ("don't reach for my hand") is directed.  This masterful song should be burning up the bluegrass airwaves all autumn long.

Two instrumentals grace the album, "Snake Chapman's Tune" showcasing Scheinman yet again, and "Pacific Slope," where Fulks and Robbie Gjersoe show off their guitar skills.  

The only song that sounds out of place is "The Many Disguises of God," which has a musical feel more along the lines of something from Couples in Trouble.  It may sound disjointed compared to the rest of the album, but it is still a good song.

Robbie Fulks doesn't have to prove anything to anyone, but if you need to know why so many people sing his praises he will prove why he is deserving of the accolades on this brilliant album.