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A History of Country Vol. 7: 1952-53

January 27th, 2011 Leave a comment Go to 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.

Among the more unexpected names in country must be that of Ole Rasmussen, a western swing bandleader who with his Nebraska Cornhuskers enjoyed success in the early “50s. Rasmussen had a Bob Wills obsession; he was widely regarded as an imitator. Indeed, he would interject ad-libs into songs much like Wills (though not quite in a falsetto). Still, the quality of the music was fine, driven by Tex Atchison”s fierce fiddle. Atchison had previously been a member of the Prairie Ramblers, who featured in Vol. 4 of this series. It seems curious that a Danish-named country musician and businessman (more the latter than the former) would lead his band named after the state of Nebraska in sunny California.

Of course, California had a vibrant country scene, due largely to the Dust Bowl migration in the 1930s. Spade Cooley, whom we met in Vol. 5, was based in LA. But California”s country capital was Bakersfield, whence the likes of Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and Gram Parsons would emerge. Another Bakersfielder, though by choice, was Ferlin Husky, a man of annoying accent and often sentimental lyrics (his maudlin The Drunken Driver is a stone-cold candidate for worst ever record). These shortcomings did not stop the D-Day veteran from having a string of country chart-toppers, and even a couple of top 10 pop hits.

His Korean war-themed duet with fellow Bakersfielder Jean Shepard was one of these country #1s and pop Top 10 hits. With it, 19-year-old Shepard set a record as youngest female country chart-topper until 14-year-old Tanya Tucker eclipsed her almost two decades later. Shepard, at one point one of only two female singers at the Grand Ole Opry (the other was Kitty Wells), went on to marry country singer Hawkshaw Hawkins, who died in the 1963 plane crash that also killed Patsy Cline and Cowboy Copas.

Another California-based country legend was Johnny Bond, who had a long career as a performer of cowboy songs (Gene Autry and the Sons of the Pioneers being particular influences), and with Jimmy Wakeley appeared in b-movies and on Autry”s radio show in the 1930s. Both went on to have successful careers in the “40s; each has a song on the History of Country Vol. 4 compilation. Bond was also a productive songwriter, the oft-covered Cimarron probably being his best known song. By 1957, the 42-year-old was dropped from the Columbia Records roster. Soon he made a comeback with the rock & roll hit Hot Rod Lincoln, on Autry”s Republic label. In his later years, before his death in 1978, Bond wrote a biography of fellow singing cowboy Tex Ritter (father of the late actor John Ritter) as well as an autobiography. Incidentally, the Bond song featured in the 1950/51 mix ““ Sick, Sober And Sorry ““ was co-written by Tex Atchison, the fiddler in Ole Rasmussen”s band.

We met Cowboy Copas in The Originals Vol. 37 as the first to record Tennessee Waltz. He enjoyed success in the late “40 and early “50s, but then his recording career began to stutter. He made a comeback (in the charts; he had been a member of the Opry and a regular on the Ozark Jubilee TV show) in 1960, with the hit song Alabam. Things were looking up when he agreed to perform at a benefit on 3 March 1963 in Kansas City for a radio disc jockey who had died in a car crash a few months before. Copas and the other performers boarded the Piper Comanche aeroplane piloted by his son-in-law Randy Hughes, who was also Patsy Cline”s manager. Nobody on the plane survived the crash in a forest near Camden, Tennessee.

Half a year earlier and much less prominently, Leon Chappel died, also in tragic circumstances. Chappel was one of the shapers of western swing in the 1930s as a member of the Lone Star Cowboys. After a serious car crash in 1935 left him with long-term injuries, his career gradually fizzled out. During World War 2 he served as a policeman, but that career was cut short when he apparently was caught accepting bribes. He was jobbing as a pipe fitter and truck driver when Jimmy Davis, singing star and former governor of Louisiana, briefly revived Chappel”s career, this time in the honky tonk medium (though the great True Blue Papa shows traces of his western swing background). The resurgence didn”t last very long. Chappel disappeared from the scene. His music career gone, his injuries forcing him into retirement and marriage broken down, Chappel on 23 October 1963 put a revolver to his head and pulled the trigger.

The man with the greatest influence on country music was Hank Williams, but Lefty Frizzell“s contribution was nearly as significant as his erstwhile touring partner”s (even if Eddy Arnold was outselling both). Like Williams, Frizzell was a prolific songwriter; at one point in 1951, he had four songs in the country top 10. It was this artistic independence, his charisma, laid-back honky tonk stylings and soulful vocals that directly influenced future country giants as diverse as George Jones, Waylon Jennings, Roy Orbison (whose Traveling Wilbury name, Lefty, was a tribute to Frizzell), Merle Haggard, George Strait, Randy Travis and so on. Frizzell was also a hard drinker, and his abuse of alcohol contributed to his death at 47 in 1975.

Drinking can kill, and so does smoking. It”s a myth that until the 1960s people had no idea how poisonous cigarettes are. Tex Williams in the brilliant Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette), which he co-wrote with Merle Travis in 1947 and re-recorded in 1953 and 1960, admonishes: “Puff, puff, puff until you smoke yourself to death.”Â  In the same song he jokes: “I don’t reckon that it”ll hinder your health. I smoked “˜em all my life and I ain”t dead yet.” Tex frequently sang about smoking and advertised cigarettes, so after he died, the persistent story arose that he had died of lung cancer. It was in fact pancreatic cancer that did him in 1985 at the age of 68. While battling the cancer, he reportedly managed to cut down from two packets a day to one. He probably had disagreeable breath.

One might think that the title bestowed on Carl Smith, “Mr Country”, was a slice of hyperbole in an industry not known for its bashfulness. Smith, who died last year at 82, did have a string of quality hits which continued into the 1970s, including 30 country hits in the 1950s alone. But he is also a suitable Mr Country for his connections: he was married to June Carter before his good friend Johnny Cash, then married Goldie Hill, and from his first marriage was the father of Carlene Carter. Smith rarely bothered the pop charts, but there is no doubt that songs like Hey Joe (written by Boudleaux Bryant) helped influence the many country singers who would soon cross over into rock & roll.

Smith remained married to Goldie Hill until her death in 2005. Hill was in that first great wave of female country singers that came through in the 1950s, paving the way for future stars such as Loretta Lynn, Skeeter Davis, Patsy Cline and Tammy Wynette. I Let The Stars Get In My Eyes, an answer record to Perry Como”s Don”t Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes (featured here in Skeets McDonald”s hit version), topped the country charts, not long after Kitty Wells”s own million-selling answer record, It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels, eclipsed Hank Thompson”s The Wild Side Of Life. Suddenly the record company bosses saw commercial prospects in letting the gals sing. Unlike Wells, Hill”s career was relatively short-lived. When Goldie married Carl Smith in 1957, she retired from the music business, other than a brief and unsuccessful comeback attempt in the “60s, to breed horses on the couples” Tennessee farm.

Kitty Wells occupies a pivotal position in the history of country music. Already in her 30s and a mother of three when she became a star, she was the first female ever to top the country charts ““ though she was not the first female million-seller; that honour belongs to Patsy Montana. And in that first hit she made a statement that a woman need not be submissive (even if it was written by a man, JD Miller), and knocked off Hank Thompson”s slightly misogynist anthem off the #1 spot. Many women in country would peddle the submissiveness of their gender in song (Tammy Wynette, a victim of domestic abuse, sang the anthem), but Wells introduced feminist themes long before that was regarded as ordinary and articulated a female self-confidence that would become characteristic of many women who succeeded her ““ especially Loretta Lynn. Wells, who took her stage name from a 19th century song, was country”s leading female singer every year from 1952-65.

We first encountered Stuart Hamblen in The Originals Vol. 22 as the writer and first performer of This Ole House, later hits for Rosemary Clooney and Shakin” Stevens. Hamblen, who was born in 1908, started his career in the late 1920s as a cowboy song singer, before that sub-genre crossed over into Hollywood, taking Hamblen along as a sidekick to the great cowboy singers such as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.  In Hollywood the Texan also became a close friend of John Wayne. The story goes that Hamblen was hunting with Wayne when they happened upon an abandoned cabin with the skeleton of a man inside, giving rise to This Ole House. Soon after that, the son of a Methodist preacher had a religious conversion. Billy Graham has credited Hamblen”s pulling power with getting his ministry off the ground. The conversion had consequences: he was fired as a radio DJ because he refused to have alcohol ads on his show. Hamblen also tried his hand in politics. In 1938 he stood, unsuccessfully, as a Democrat candidate for Congress; in 1952 he was the presidential candidate for the Prohibition Party. History records that Dwight Eisenhower was elected that year.

Where Hamblen represented an old age, Sonny James in some ways anticipated the advent of a new youth-driven musical form, if not in sound (he crooned mostly ) then in his look and public image. The fiddle-playing farm boy from Alabama had fought in Korea, but looked like he had been scrubbed up straight from college in a New York salon, not to look like a rock & roller but like one of those nice boys who, we often forget, were hugely popular too. He looked, one might say, like the 1950s, and it was his 1957 hit Young Love that introduced country to the teenage mainstream. It might be a coincidence, but the character Sonny in the film Grease looks not unlike Sonny James. James enjoyed a long and very successful career in country, hitting his peak in the early 1970s.

The title of George Morgan“s song in this mix is obviously appropriate for this blog. Morgan was best known for his 1947 hit Candy Kisses, which featured in A History Of Country Vol. 5. He worked the roses theme hard with songs such as Room Full of Roses, Red Roses For A Blue Lady and Red Roses From the Blue Side of Town. Morgan is also a great (and correct) trivia answer to the questions: Who is country singer Lorrie Morgan”s father? Who was the last singer to sing at the Grand Ole Opry”s legendary Ryman Theatre in 1974? Who was the first singer to sing at the new Grand Ole Opry House? Morgan died in 1975 at the age of 51.

As a bonus, I include a comedy bit by Archie Campbell from 1952. Campbell was a writer and star of the TV show Hee Haw. The bit here is one of his famous That”s Good/That”s Bad routines wherein Campbell would tell of an event, countering the straightman”s reactions of relief or alarm with a subsequent event that proves the opposite of that response.

The next instalment will look at country”s often underestimated influence on rock & roll. Some of the songs on this mix anticipate the new sound. Listen to Roy Hogsed”s She’s A Mean Mean Woman, Jaye Morgan & Hank Penny”s Fan It, Merrill Moore”s House Of Blue Lights (hear the influence on Jerry Lee Lewis) or Moon Mullican”s Rocket To The Moon.

1. Tex Williams – Smoke, Smoke, Smoke
2. Eddy Arnold – I Wanna Play House With You
3. Roy Hogsed – She’s A Mean Mean Woman
4. Lefty Frizzell – Always Late (With Your Kisses)
5. Hank Thompson – The Wild Side Of Life
6. Kitty Wells – It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels
7. Hank Snow – (Now And Then) There’s A Fool Such As I
8. Cowboy Copas – Don’t Leave My Poor Heart Breaking
9. Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys – I Want To Be Wanted
10. Little Jimmy Dickens – No Tears In Heaven
11. Slim Whitman – Indian Love Call
12. Hank Williams – Kaw-Liga
13. Skeets McDonald – Don’t Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes
14. Goldie Hill – I Let The Stars Get In My Eyes
15. Kitty Wells – I Heard The Juke Box Playing
16. Webb Pierce – Back Street Affair
17. Jean Shepard & Ferlin Husky – A Dear John Letter
18. Hank Locklin – Let Me Be The One
19. Ernest Tubb – Counterfeit Kisses
20. Jaye P. Morgan with Hank Penny – Fan It
21. Jenks Tex Carman – Hillbilly Hula
22. Sonny James – I Need You
23. T. Texas Tyler – Bumming Around
24. Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant – Bryant’s Bounce
25. Carl Smith – Hey Joe
26. Hank Locklin – Empty Bottles, Empty Heart
27. Merrill Moore – House Of Blue Lights
28. Moon Mullican – Rocket To The Moon
29. Hank Williams – Take These Chains From My Heart
30. George Morgan – Half-Hearted

(includes front and back covers. PW here)

GET IT: https://rapidgator.net/file/70f16f067e0ab6074a1b01fa66c0a99b/Cntry52-53.rar.html


Previously in A History of Country
More CD-mixes

  1. Trod
    January 27th, 2011 at 04:15 | #1

    Nice series, just wondering, is there a Disk 2 for Vol 3?

  2. halfhearteddude
    January 27th, 2011 at 08:58 | #2

    I’m afraid not. Never thought of it…

  3. January 27th, 2011 at 09:36 | #3

    Love it, love it, love it!
    Thanks once more.

  4. paul
    January 27th, 2011 at 11:06 | #4

    Fantastic,thanks a lot

  5. paul
    January 27th, 2011 at 11:10 | #5

    can’t get download link to work.it goes to mediafire then start download,then nothing.

  6. halfhearteddude
    January 27th, 2011 at 12:33 | #6

    It’s working for me, Paul. Mediafire was playing the fool while I was trying to upload something else today; perhaps there was a server problem.

  7. Sonic
    January 27th, 2011 at 16:31 | #7

    Another great job. You should be offering this as a college course. (I’ll admit it. I took “History of Rock and Roll” at Univ of Texas many years ago. Didn’t help much with career, but comes in handy for trivia contests!)

  8. January 27th, 2011 at 22:38 | #8

    Thanks for your comment over at zerogsounds.blogspot.com. By the way: you are running a cool blog! Hope it is okay when we add you to our blogroll? Greetings!

  9. George
    January 28th, 2011 at 19:37 | #9

    Another excellent posting. This looks terrific. Of course, anything with Lefty Frizzell must be good.
    By the way, I can’t download vol. 5.
    Keep up the good work, I very much appreciate it.

  10. halfhearteddude
  11. George
    January 29th, 2011 at 15:15 | #11

    Hi, thanks for the links, I used the zshare one and it worked.

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