Archive for the ‘Country History’ Category

A History of Country Vol. 16: 1980-84

February 22nd, 2012 11 comments

At a Country Music Association awards show in the late 1970s, Ray Benson of Asleep At The Wheel showed up wearing a stetsons. He and the similarly behatted and long-haired Charlie Daniels and John Anderson were politely asked to remove their headgear. But as the rhinestones faded, the Stetson would become an obligatory sartorial item in the country fraternity. We might credit the mercifully brief Urban Cowboy movement “” spearheaded by John Tavolta”s Honky Tonk Night Fever movie “” for popularising the cowboy hat, which had been sported by many people over the years but never was standard apparel in country.

Ironically, the Urban Cowboy soundtrack featured mostly AOR artists, such as Boz Scaggs, The Eagles, Bob Seger, Bonnie Raitt and Linda Ronstadt (who was yet to revisit her country roots). Country, the genre portrayed in the movie, was marginalised, reduced to the presence of The Charlie Daniels Band, Jerry Lee Lewis” cousin Mickey Gilley and Johnny Lee (whose Looking For Love from the soundtrack became a million-seller). The movement the film described moved country away from its roots, crossing over into middle-of-the-road rock, adult pop and easy listening with the likes of Kenny Rogers, Juice Newton, Crystal Gayle. Even Dolly Parton got in on the act, as did Willie Nelson, who contributed to the mush of MOR by duetting with  Spanish housewives” favourite and übersmoothie Julio Iglesias.

The Urban Cowboy hype didn”t last long. While the faithful Outlaws “” Jennings, Kristofferson et al “” were falling out of the charts, there was a vacuum. It was partially filled by credible artists such as John Conlee, but it took the breakthrough in the early 1980s of George Strait and Ricky Skaggs to lend country a new identity.

Strait, Skaggs and others, like the less successful John Anderson, were spearheads of a wider movement driven by innovative new producers and executives (perhaps taking to heart Waylon Jennings” 1975 call to country revolution in You Sure Hank Done It This Way). Their influence was profound: with their initial success they returned country music to its traditional foundations “” the honky tonk of Hank Williams and Ernest Tubb  and the bluegrass of Flatt & Scruggs and the Stanley Brothers “” while maintaining a commercial sound which could sustain such a renaissance. Had their formula flopped, who knows where country would have gone.  Skaggs, who went on to become the biggest selling country artist of the 1980s, was an alumni of Emmylou Harris” backing band; the stetsoned Texan George Strait went on to score a record number of country charts toppers.

In their wake artists who had battled along for years “” Rosanne Cash, Hank Williams Jr, Reba McIntryre, Rodney Crowell “” began to flourish, and important new blood emerged in numbers unseen since the 1950s: Naomi and Wynonna  Judd, Randy Travis, Keith Whitley, Holly Dunn, Patty Loveless, Dwight Yoakam, Lyle Lovett, k.d. lang, Pam Tillis, Ricky van Shelton, Steve Earle, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Vern Gosdin and so on. Not a few of these were songwriters who would help inspire the movement of the 1990s and 2000s.

So it was all the more strange when the New York Times in a front-page article (on what must have been a morbidly dull news day) by the critic Robert Palmer declared country music dead. The mainstream country music of the 1970s was indeed fading, but the evidently poorly premised and slothfully researched article exaggerated the demise of the genre. To his credit, Palmer later embraced some of the acts who would prove him wrong. Two years later, the New York Times covered how country “had turned itself around”.

As always, this mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes homebrewed cover artwork. Be warned that the final track is lacking in anything that is defensible. Let the musical assault that is God Bless The U.S.A. be representative of all that gives country music such a bad name.

1. Charlie Daniels Band – The Devil Went Down To Georgia
2. Johnny Lee – Lookin’ For Love
3. Ronnie Milsap – Smoky Mountain Rain
4. George Jones – He Stopped Loving Her Today
5. Willie Nelson – On The Road Again (live)
6. Hank Williams Jr. – Kaw-Liga
7. Alabama – Old Flame
8. Merle Haggard – Big City
9. David Allan Coe – The Ride
10. The Oak Ridge Boys – Elvira
11. Barbara Mandrell & George Jones – I Was Country When Country Wasn”t Cool
12. Roseanne Cash – Seven Year Ache
13. Dolly Parton – Do I Ever Cross Your Mind
14. Skeeter Davis – Crying Time
15. Larry Gatlin & the Gatlin Brothers – Houston (Means I”m One Day Closer To You)
16. John Conlee – Common Man
17. Ricky Skaggs ““ Don”t Cheat In Our Hometown
18. George Strait – Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind
19. Earl Thomas Conley – Holding Her And Loving You
20. Don Williams ““ That”s The Thing About Love
21. The Judds ““ Mama He”s Crazy
22. John Prine – People Puttin” People Down
23. Waylon Jennings – America
24. Lee Greenwood – God Bless The U.S.A.



Previously in A History of Country
More CD-mixes

Categories: Country History Tags:

A History of Country Vol. 15: 1976-79

January 19th, 2012 14 comments

This compilation is not accompanied by an instalment in the country history, because the next chapter goes with the next mix. And, in some ways, it makes sense that this mix has no history (of course, the timeframe is covered by past articles in the series) because the late 1970s was a time of hiatus.

Many of the stalwarts of just a few years earlier ceased having strings of hits, and those artists who had grown out of the Outlaw movement now had their day. In this mix, the likes of Guy Clark, John Anderson, Larry Jon Wilson and Moe Bandy owed something to the Outlaws. Even Tom T Hall, who wrote so many mainstream numbers without ever being mainstream himself, is calling for the Outlaw guys to stick to their country roots and return to Nashville (while one of the leading Outlaws, Kris Kristofferson, sang the praises of Hank Williams).

A few bluegrass musicians kept the flame of that genre alive: here we have veterans Jim & Jesse and, with a view to the future, Boone Creek, which included Ricky Skaggs, one of the country superstars of the 1980s who would later return to bluegrass.

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-baked front and back covers.

1. Kris Kristofferson – If You Don’t Like Hank Williams
2. Jerry Jeff Walker – Standing At The Big Hotel
3. John Anderson – Country Comfort
4. Funky Kings – Slow Dancing
5. Guy Clark – Anyhow I Love You
6. Mickey Gilley – Bring It On Home To Me
7. Herb Pederson – Can’t You Hear Me Calling
8. Jim & Jesse – Ashes Of Love
9. Johnny Cash – One Piece At A Time
10. Skeeter Davis – Homebreaker
11. Razzy Bailey – She’s Anybody’s Darling
12. The Statler Brothers – Your Picture In The Paper
13. Emmylou Harris – Pancho & Lefty
14. Larry Jon Wilson – In My Song
15. Merle Haggard – Ramblin’ Fever
16. Charlie Rich – Rolling With The Flow
17. Bellamy Brothers – Crossfire
18. O.B. McClinton – Talk To My Childrens’ Mama
19. Johnny Paycheck – Take This Job And Shove It
20. Crystal Gayle – Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue
21. Boone Creek – Dark Is The Night
22. Tom T. Hall – Come On Back To Nashville (Ode To The Outlaws)
23. John Prine – Sabu Visits The Twin Cities Alone
24. Billie Jo Spears – It Should Have Been Easy
25. Moe Bandy – I Cheated Me Right Out Of You

(includes front and back covers. PW in comments)



Previously in A History of Country

Categories: Country History Tags:

A History of Country Vol. 14: 1974-75

November 30th, 2011 12 comments

Thanks in large part to country-influenced acts like The Byrds, The Grateful Dead and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, rock fans were starting to dig the country scene “” not Nashville”s crooners or John Denver, of course, but the Outlaws, Gram Parsons and some of the old pioneers.  Some of California rock”s great names had their roots in playing bluegrass; people like Eagles co-founder and Flying Burrito Brother Bernie Leadon, the Grateful Dead”s Jerry Garcia and the singer-songwriter J.D. Souther, who wrote for the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt, the Texan “Queen of Rock” who made her start as a country performer before going the folk-rock route (she would later return to country, particularly in her collaborations with Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton). Read more…

Categories: Country History Tags:

A History of Country Vol. 13: 1972-74

October 26th, 2011 6 comments

The traditional country stars “” Conway Twitty, George Jones, Tammy Wynette Charlie Rich, Dolly Parton, Charley Pride “” were still selling many records in the 1970s, and periodically crossed over to the pop charts. Singers like Donna Fargo evoked the good old days with happy songs like The Happiest Girl In The Whole USA.  These were still the Opry years “” in fact, in 1972 the Grand Ole Opry opened a theme park called Opryland, and wo years later moved out of its long-time home, the Ryman Theatre, to Opryland.

But the Nashville scene no longer monopolised country, nor did it define it. In the introduction to his live recording of Me And Bobby McGee, Kris Kristofferson deadpans: “If it sounds country, man, then that”s what it is: a country song.”Â  So John Denver, with his songs about the Rocky Mountains, was regarded as a country singer, and even won the 1975 Country Music Association”s Entertainer of the Year award (Australian-born songbird Olivia Newton-John had won the female award in 1974). At the ceremony, the battle lines were drawn. Presenting Denver with his CMA award, 1974 winner Charlie Rich “” the Silverfox who had started his career as a rockabilly singer on Sun Records and now crooned his way through chart fodder “”  set fire to the card announcing Denver”s name, holding it up for the TV cameras. The act, which Rich attributed to medication and Gin & Tonics, all but killed his career. Read more…

Categories: Country History Tags:

A History of Country Vol. 12: 1969-71

September 22nd, 2011 14 comments

It was the age of the country songwriter, with people such as Harlan Howard (Heartaches By The Number), Hank Cochran (I Fall To Pieces), Roger Miller (Billy Bayou), Willie Nelson (Crazy), Mel Tillis (Detroit City), Tom T Hall (Harper Valley PTA) and the Bryants (Love Hurts) creating many classics. Some of them would become stars in their own right. None maybe more so than Kris Kristofferson, a man whose early biography reads like a far-fetched penny novel. Many of the songs he is known for were first recorded by others, sometimes several times. With the arguable exception of Me And Bobby McGee, Kristofferson eclipsed them all. One need just compare the Kristofferson version of For The Good Time with the song”s first incarnation as Ray Price”s hit. Read more…

Categories: Country History Tags:

A History of Country Vol. 11: 1965-68

July 28th, 2011 3 comments

In the slipstream of Johnny Cash came what would become known as the Outlaw Movement, an informal response to Nashville”s easy listening, corporate and safe style, often recorded in Texas, reviving the honky tonk sounds of Hank Williams with strong lyrical content. Starting in the mid-“60s with singers like Bobby Bare, Tompall Glaser and Johnny Darrell, the sub-genre”s standard bearers would include Waylon Jennings and his wife Jessi Colter, Willie Nelson (after he grew his hair), Kris Kristofferson, Leon Russell, Billy Joe Shaver, Hank Williams Jr, Jerry Jeff Walker and Gram Parsons. Read more…

Categories: Country History Tags:

A History of Country Vol. 10: 1961-64 – The Comfort Years

June 15th, 2011 12 comments

In the late 1950s and early “60s country was in a good shape. The likes of Johnny Cash, George Jones,  Jim Reeves, Patsy Cline (who like Reeves would die in a plane crash), Don Gibson, Kitty Wells, Marty Robbins, Skeeter Davis, Ray Price, Faron Young, Ernest Tubb, ex-boxer Lefty Frizzell and Wanda Jackson were recording prodigious success, even in rivalry with its progeny, rock & roll.These were the comfort years before the social upheaval of the 1960s put into question old certainties, even in the world of country music. Read more…

Categories: Country History Tags:

A History of Country Vol. 9: 1957-60

May 11th, 2011 20 comments

In Volume 9 of the country history series, we look at the glory years of country, a time when the genre was at its most self-confident and profitable. It was still a vibrant genre, as this collection shows, though the crooners were already beginning to define the genre, a situation that would give rise to the outlaw movement, the protagonists of which were inspired by several of the artists on this mix.

It”s difficult to say who was the biggest star in 1950s country. The crooner likes of Eddy Arnold were immensely successful, but in terms of sales and influence, the biggest names were Left Frizzell and Webb Pierce, rival kings of honky tonk music. Pierce notched up more country #1s than any other in the 1950s, having in the late “40s gained recognition by placing girls in the frontrow of his gigs and paying them to scream at him, bobbysoxer style. Read more…

A History of Country Vol. 8: 1954-56

March 9th, 2011 8 comments

Some years ago, the brains at Rolling Stone grappled to identify the first ever rock & roll record. In the final face-off, they picked Elvis Presley”s debut single That”s All Right, a cover of R&B singer Arthur Crudup”s song, over Bill Haley”s Rock Around The Clock (itself a cover, though the song was actually written for the former western swing singer).

It is, of course, a fruitless mission to identify a “first” rock & roll song, because the genre is a jumble of diverse influences that convened, not always simultaneously, in an untidy evolution. One might as well seek to pinpoint the first piece of classical music or identify the inventor of the wheel. There is no single originator; there cannot be, because rock & roll is not a recipe consisting of essential ingredients. The genre has always been diffuse, subject to a broad sweep of influences. Read more…

A History of Country Vol. 7: 1952-53

January 27th, 2011 11 comments

In this segment we briefly turn our focus on some of the individuals featured on this mix and the 1950/51 compilation. Pictured on the cover is the 1952 Cadillac in which Hank Williams died of heart failure on New Year”s Day 1953, aged 30 (though he always looked much older than that). His was the first of a series of young celebrity deaths that created legends for all times. Read more…