“Sam Stone”: Top Ten Saddest Song?

My mother-in-law and her husband had a grand old time at John Prine’s concert Saturday night at DC’s stately National Theatre.  The next morning we remarked on Prine’s “country outlaw” cred (as evidenced by the turnout of the biker-American community), and I thought to myself, it’s about time I put together a John Prine piece.

As it turns out, John Prine’s first 45 as an Atlantic recording artist would be “Sam Stone,” and what an interesting career move:  “Sam Stone” would go on to rank #8 in a Rolling Stone readers poll of “The 10 Saddest Songs of All Time.”

“Sam Stone”     John Prine     1971

Some controversy around the “Sam Stone” / “Blue Umbrella” single and whether this non-promo 45 was actually released in July, 1971 — so says this 45Cat contributor:

“While ‘Sam Stone’ was featured on Prines’ 1971 debut album, this promo single isn’t from that album.  As Spock would say, ‘logic dictates’ that ‘Sam Stone’ couldn’t have been released with ‘Blue Umbrella’ as the B-side, since it wasn’t released until 1973, on his Sweet Revenge album.  That puts its release post-Sweet Revenge, or at the very least just before it came out.  While I suppose ‘Blue Umbrella’ could come from 1971 in a demo or other early version, my guess is, not.”

“Blue Umbrella” – ahead of its time?

John Prine 45

“Last Morning”: Goodbye City Life

“Last Morning” probably best embodies the back-to-the-land ethos of Roots and Branches (see what I mean?) as The Dillards would imply in not just the album’s title but also cover:

Last Morning – The Dillards

[Pssst:  Click on the triangle above to play “Last Morning” by The Dillards.]

How interesting then to discover that the song’s author is Shel Silverstein, a fairly cosmopolitan kind of guy who, nevertheless, was part of the country outlaw scene.  Shel would also write “Cover of the Rolling Stone” that same year for Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show (who, when they did appear on the cover in 1973, were rendered in caricature so as not to reward outright that sort of behavior).

1972’s Roots and Branches — The Dillards’ first LP release on Anthem, a United Artists subsidiary, after having recorded five albums prior for Elektra — was recorded at American Recording Studio in Memphis and also Studio City in Los Angeles.

Dillards - Roots & Branches LP

Anthem would release one single from Roots and Branches – “It’s About Time” backed with “One A.M.”   I couldn’t help but notice OldOak’s emphatic comment on the 45Cat website related to this single:  “The sound that comes out of the speakers from this little 45 is simply not reproducible on LP or CD.  The guitars just crack and that piano riff sounds like it’s coming right up out of the floor.”

Dillards 45The Dillards are probably best known as the bluegrass band who (1) electrified their instruments and (2) played the fictional string band, The Darlings, on television’s beloved “The Andy Griffith Show” from 1963-1966.  But The Dillards – who are still quite active, thank you very much – would like to point out that they are “much more than just the ‘Darling’ boys, but Rodney, Doug, Dean and Mitch will always be thankful to The Darlings for helping to spread their brand of entertainment to so many generations.”

Bobby & Jeannie Bare Are Going to Vegas

One of the country “outlaws” who doesn’t always get the recognition is Shel Silverstein, who not only wrote Johnny Cash’s iconic “Boy Named Sue” but also many of Bobby Bare‘s RCA releases through the 1970s, including this great 45 about going “all in”:

Vegas – Bobby & Jeannie Bare

[Pssst:  Click on the triangle above to play “Vegas” by Bobby & Jeannie Bare.]

Vegas” – recorded in September 1976 at Nashville’s RCA Victor Studio and released as a single – was subsequently played on the January 24, 1977 broadcast of The Ralph Emery Radio Show.  Bare recorded “Vegas” toward the end of his long run with RCA (he signed with Columbia in 1978), and this song appears not to have been reissued until 1997’s 20-song The Essential Bobby Bare compilation.

Bobby Bare & Shel Silverstein

Shel continued writing for Bobby Bare during his tenure with Columbia, including a typically bent take on the truck driving genre with “World’s Last Truck Drivin’ Man” from 1980’s Drunk and Crazy.

A couple years back Bobby Bare and his son, Bobby Bare, Jr., curated a tribute album to Silverstein entitled, Twistable, Turnable Man that features Shel’s songs covered by the likes of My Morning Jacket, Frank Black, Andrew Bird, Todd Snider, Lucinda Williams, John Prine, and The Boxmasters featuring Billy Bob Thornton – here’s a link to an NPR piece about this special recording project.

Patience is a Virtue

Fun ad for Ford trucks tagged onto the end of “Vegas” with music by Merle Haggard & the Strangers featuring Roy Nichols on lead guitar.