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A History of Country Vol. 5: Post-War Years – 1947-49

October 14th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

As before, this album refers to artists and songs featured on both 1940s compilations.

The importance to country music of Ernest Tubb“s Walking The Floor Over You cannot be underestimated. It was not the first honky tonk record, nor the first to use the new-fangled electric guitar. But it was the first really big hit to use electric guitar solos, performed by Fay “˜Smitty” Smith, and is considered the breakthrough record for honky tonk music, a label that was variously used for different genres, but now usually applied in country music.

Trouble is, honky tonk is difficult to define as an identifiable genre. One can identify the distinction between, say, barndance, bluegrass, and rockabilly, but barroom music (a honky tonk is a bar) has few definable characteristics. Honky tonk arguably is an attitude more than a genre. In fact, most of what would be defined as mainsteam country “” from Tubb to Hank Williams to Hank Thompson to Lefty Frizzell to George Jones to the stetsoned gang of latter years “” is honky tonk. But so are the Outlaw of the “70s, such as Waylon Jennings, Tompall Glaser and Willie Nelson. But here we are moving ahead of ourselves.

If there are three absolutely pivotal singers in country history, then consensus would surely be that they are Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash (though I”d insist on the group being enlarged to include the original Carter Family). Williams has become something of a litmus test for country authenticity, as in the title of Waylon Jennings” protest against the sentimental, automated schlock churned out by the Nashville machine by the mid-70s: Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way? (No need to specify which of the genre”s many Hanks he meant). In his short career, from his first hit in 1947 to his death while touring on New Year”s Day 1953, Williams recorded 66 songs. Of these, 37 became hits ““ an astonishing strike rate. Williams” death at 29 (though he always looked at least ten years older than that) established in him as an icon, much as the other three big premature deaths of the decade that followed did for James Dean, Buddy Holly and Marilyn Monroe.

Williams” first hit, Move It On Over, was a rockabilly number that in parts sounds more than a little like Rock Around The Clock, and reflected Williams” affection for and knowledge of blues. We”ll look at the extent of country”s parentage of rock & roll at a later stage, but no discussion on the futile question of “the first ever rock & roll record” is complete with a consideration of Move It On Over.

The song that borrowed from Williams” debut hit is remembered as rock & roll”s big breakthrough. The performer, Bill Haley, came from country music, specifically the western swing scene. Just a couple of years before he started to shake, rattle and roll with his Comets, Haley was still churning out country records (of course, the likes of Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ricky Nelson, Everly Brothers and even Elvis had their roots in country as well, and would revisit that heritage periodically). Unlike most of the era”s country musicians, Haley was not a Southerner, even if his band, the future Comets, was known as the Saddlemen. Born in Detroit, he lived and gigged in Pennsylvania, where he was a director of music at a radio station in Chester, before becoming a rock & roll pioneer.

If Hank Williams was the live-fast-die-young prototype for the rock & roll lifestyle, then his favourite artist was among the most influential on the yet-to-be-conceived genre. Moon Mullican drew his influences widely””blues, honky tonk, jazz, western swing, folk, bluegrass, Tin Pan Alley””and reflected these in his versatile repertoire. Long before Elvis, Mullican could sound white or black or both at the same time. His piano-playing style directly inspired that of Jerry Lee Lewis. His first big hit, New Jole Blon, updated Harry Choates” cajun-country hit.

In the 1940s, Bob Wills was still a big star, but he was being eclipsed by Spade Cooley, whose brand of California-based western swing was more pop oriented than the rest of the genre. Indeed, it is said that the term western swing was invented by Cooley”s manager, and after Cooley beat Wills in a Battle of the Bands contest (on Cooley”s hometurf), he modestly styled himself “King of Western Swing”. His appearance in 38 western films helped further to make Cooley a star, and by the late 1940s he hosted his own Emmy-winning variety television show. That show was dropped in 1956.

Five years later, his wife asked for a divorce. In a drunken rage, Cooley beat her to death. He served eight years of a life sentence. The night before he supposedly was to be paroled, he died backstage after playing a benefit concert in Oakland for the Deputy Sheriffs Association of Alameda County.

Al Dexter“s catchy Pistol-Packing Mama (“Now down there was old Al Dexter; he always had his fun, but with some lead she shot him dead; his honkin” days are done”) was the first record to top what would become Billboard”s Hot Country & Western Sides Charts, but was initially known as the Most Played Juke Box Records chart, which was based, as the title suggests, not on sales but on juke box requests (today”s equivalent probably would be download charts). A huge World War 2 hit, Pistol-Packing Mama was also the theme song of the New York Yankees. Dexter, whose version was released by Okeh Records, shared the incipient top spot with the versions by the Andrews Sisters (on Decca) and Don Baxter (on Musicraft). Dexter was also at #5 with Rosalita. The other top 5 artists that week were Ted Daffan, Bob Wills and Floyd Tillman.

Ted Daffan“s Born To Lose was recorded in 1942, but became a hit only in 1943/44, distribution having been held up by a war-time shortage of shellac. Daffan is better known for having written Truck Drivers” Blues (first a hit for Cliff Bruner), and Born To Lose is probably more famous in Ray Charles” interpretation on his seminal Modern Sounds In Country & Western album of 1962. It was also covered by artists as diverse as Dean Martin, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, Rosemary Clooney and Elton John & Leonard Cohen.


Perhaps the longest performing country musician today is Ralph Stanley of the Stanley Brothers, who feature on the 1947-49 compilation (or perhaps it is Charles Louvin of another brothers act that split due to one sibling”s mid-“60s death was born the same year as Stanley, or maybe it”s Earl Scruggs, now 86 years old). Stanley still recorded into the new millennium, playing a prominent role in the much-lauded bluegrass soundtrack for the Coen Brothers” film O Brother, Where Art Thou. Now 83 years old, Stanley still performs.

The 1940s saw the rise of bluegrass with acts like the Stanley Brothers, Flatt & Scruggs (whose Foggy Mountain Breakdown featured so prominently in Bonnie And Clyde) and, of course, the virtual inventor of the genre, Bill Monroe, after whose band, The Blue Grass Boys, it was named. Founded in 1939 after Bill split from his brother Charlie as the Monroe Bothers, the band at its peak included Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, who lend their names to their distinctive guitar and banjo picking styles. Monroe, a mandolin maestro, resented other bluegrass acts for encroaching on his territory. So when the Stanley Brothers signed with Columbia Records, Monroe left the label in a huff for Decca. Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys performed for 57 years until a few months before his death in 1996. It was a Monroe song, Blue Moon Of Kentucky, that served as the b-side of Elvis Presley”s debut single.

As far as I can tell, the only other performer on this set still alive apart from Ralph Stanley and Earl Scruggs is Arthur ‘Guitar Boogie’ Smith, who was born in 1921 (he is a different Arthur Smith from the fiddlin’ one featured in Vol. 3). The instrumental song that gave Smith his distinguishing middle name ““ it draws from country, jazz and blues ““ sold 3 million copies and has been immensely influential; he was something like the Jimi Hendrix of his day. In Britain, the renamed Guitar Boogie Shuffle became a big hit for that country’s electric guitar pioneer Bert Weedon, who played an seminal role in a whole generation of kids picking up a guitar; some of whom formed part of the British Invasion. In 1955, Smith co-wrote a track titled Feudin’ Banjos, which would later be ripped off for the Duelling Banjos track in the film Deliverance. Smith successfully sued for copyright infgringement. His backing band, the Crackerjacks, comprised two more guys named Smith, none of them related, and Tommy Faile. Smith built a recording studio in Charlotte, North Carolina, in which counrtry artists such as Johnny Cash and Chet Atkins as well as James Brown (Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag was cut there).

Cindy Walker was a big star in the 1940s, one of the first female superstars of country. But she made an even bigger mark as a prolific songwriter. Her credits include Jim Reeves” This Is It and posthumous megahit Distant Drums, Eddy Arnold”s Take Me In Your Arms And Hold Me and You Don”t Know Me (later a hit for Mickey Gilley), Roy Orbison”s Dream Baby, Dean Martin”s In The Misty Moonlight, Jack Greene”s You Are My Treasure, and more than 50 songs for Bob Wills. Walker died in 2006 at 87.

In 1964, the Beatles recorded a song, fronted by George Harrison, called Everybody”s Trying To Be My Baby, which was a cover of Carl Perkins” song. Perkins himself borrowed heavily from Rex Griffin“s song of the same title. Griffin”s song was first released in 1936 (that version will feature at a later stage in a different series, as will his suicide anthem Last Letter). The version here is a re-recording from 1944. By then Griffin was washed up. His alcohol abuse did not go well with his diabetes. His recording career over, he wrote for others in the 1950s. He contracted tuberculosis in the mid-50s, and died in 1959 at the age of 47.

The 1940s compilations feature two notable originals that may be better known in versions by others. Cool Water was written by Bob Nolan of the Sons of the Pioneers, but became a bigger hit in versions by Vaughn Monroe and Frankie Laine. And in 1948, T. Texas Tyler gave us Deck Of Cards, in which a GI uses playing cards “” associated with gambling and immorality “” as a Christian catechism. Perhaps not coincidentally, the song is set at the Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino in Italy, the site of a series of brutal battles in World War II. Tyler had a #3 hit with it in 1948, and it would become a huge international hit for Wink Martindale in 1959.

Edit: On a point of housekeeping, reader Don B. has rightly pointed out that track 18 by Judy Hayden is in fact Feudin’ And Fightin’, the same song as track 9 by Dorothy Shay. The happy upshot of the unfortunate mix-up is that we get to compare two very different treatments of the same song, at a time when songs would be covered copiously soon after the initial release. The tracklisting below has been amended accordingly; should you feel it necessary, as I would, please do the necessary editing of filename and ID3-Tag (if that’s your thing).

TRACKLISTING:
1. Cowboy Copas – Are You Honest?
2. Paul Howard’s Cotton Pickers – Drinking All My Troubles Away
3. Eddy Arnold – I’ll Hold You In My Heart (Till I Can Hold You In My Arms)
4. Hank Williams – Move It On Over
5. Bill Haley – Rovin’ Eyes
6. Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys – When You Are Lonely
7. Jack Guthrie – Oakie Boogie
8. Hank Thompson – Humpty Dumpty Heart
9. Dorothy Shay – Feudin’ And Fightin’
10. Merle Travis – Nine Pound Hammer
11. Sons Of The Pioneers – Cigarettes, Whiskey And Wild Women
12. Lonzo & Oscar – I’m My Own Grandpa
13. Harry Choates – Fais Do Do Stomp
14. Moon Mullican – Jole Blon’s Sister
15. Hank Williams – Honky Tonkin’
16. Arthur Smith and his Cracker-Jacks – Guitar Boogie
17. Spade Cooley – Fickle Woman
18. Judy Hayden – Feudin’ And Fightin’
19. Ernest Tubb – Forever Is Ending Today
20. T. Texas Tyler – Deck Of Cards
21. Roy Acuff and the Smoky Mountain Boys – Tennessee Waltz
22. Little Jimmie Dickens – Take An Old Cold Tater
23. Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs – Foggy Mountain Breakdown
24. Stanley Brothers – Let Me Be Your Friend
25. Tennessee Ernie Ford – Mule Train
26. Wayne Rainey – Why Don’t You Haul Off And Love Me
27. Tex Williams – With Men Who Know Tobacco Best (It’s Women Two To One)
28. George Morgan – Candy Kisses

(includes front and back covers. PW here)

GET IT: https://rapidgator.net/file/175a511b4790f20bec7c37de5ea2d3aa/Cntry47-49.rar.html

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  1. Don B
    October 14th, 2010 at 05:16 | #1

    Once again I am compelled to compliment you on this series. Your musical selections are excellent by themselves, but what really puts this over the top is your biographical content. It’s well written, well researched and nicely illustrated. The album artwork is also very professional looking. Everything about this set is A-1.

    I am so impressed that I checked All Music Guide to make sure that this wasn’t a retail release.

  2. October 14th, 2010 at 07:04 | #2

    Superb work. An education. I’m looking forward to hearing these tracks.

  3. October 14th, 2010 at 12:17 | #3

    It’s not meant as criticism, but I’m slightly disapointed that you didn’t keep the format for the artwork.
    Anyway, thanks again. Keep up to good work!
    I’m loving these.

  4. halfhearteddude
    October 14th, 2010 at 12:31 | #4

    I’ll revert to the previous layout, peerke, but the photo for this cover was too good not to use in full format.

  5. Censusloss
    October 15th, 2010 at 03:10 | #5

    I was going to write a note of respect and appreciation but Don B has already done it -I second everything he says

    THANK YOU !

    Censusloss

  6. Don B
    October 15th, 2010 at 21:37 | #6

    Is it possible that you mixed up the Judy Hayden song? Dinner Bell Round-Up is the same song as Feudin’ And Fightin’. Different singers, but otherwise the same.

  7. halfhearteddude
    October 17th, 2010 at 22:20 | #7

    Oops; yes you’re right, Don. Same song, two versions. Not quite the intention, but interesting to compare how different the two versions are.

    Thanks for pointing the mix-up out.

  8. Brian
    November 23rd, 2010 at 19:51 | #8

    I just wanted to say thanks for pointing me in the direction of the Dorling-Kindersley/CMHoF publication ……. the illustrations are so good, and are going to lead me to read the whole text through properly, when I can find the time. Amazingly, I got the whole thing ‘as good as new’ for a fraction of the cover price, so DOUBLY satisfying. A great recommendation!! Looking forward to the remaining parts; in fact, I can’t wait!

  9. Scott
    December 29th, 2010 at 10:53 | #9

    Great series. It appears, however, that Vol. 5 has been removed from the server. Any chance we can get this back somewhere? Thanks!

  10. halfhearteddude
    December 29th, 2010 at 20:26 | #10

    Thanks for the kind words and alert about the zapped file. I’ll re-up it when I have a moment.

  11. halfhearteddude
    December 30th, 2010 at 07:00 | #11

    And its up again.

  12. ROBERT BLOG
    June 16th, 2011 at 13:51 | #12

    dear dude, i third everything don said, it was thru his blog that i found this series,and i must say there is really no comparison with for instance the columbia series, good as that may be, but since you were not restricted to label dutys you made a far superior series.

    i made a special post about the series on my blog,and added you to my highly exlusive bloglist(lol)
    anyhow, the completist that i am, would love to have volumes 5 and 1, but the servers keeps denying them due to server maintenance, any hope for an upload somewhere else?

    thanks in advance

    robert bloch(the name used)

  13. halfhearteddude
    June 16th, 2011 at 17:13 | #13

    Thanks for your kind words, Robert.

    Vol. 1 is working (Mediafire), but Vol. 5 (on Sharebee) is a problem. I think you might mean Part 2 of Vol. 1, which is alo on Sharebee. I’ll upload them later today or tomorrow.

    For our viewers at home, here’s the post Robert is referring to: http://blochspot.blogspot.com/2011/06/fuck-me.html

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