Merle Kilgore on Starday-King

Former Starday recording artist Merle Kilgore would have an unsuccessful stint at Columbia/Epic in the mid-1960s before rejoining the fold at the newly-expanded Starday-King (the King label having consolidated with Starday upon the death of its founder/owner Syd Nathan in 1968).  Starday historian emeritus Nathan D. Gibson would interview Kilgore for 2011’s superb history, The Starday Story:  The House That Country Built:

He returned to Starday in the late 1960s as Merle Kilgore, “The Boogie King,” and also worked part-time for the label.  He tells the story:

“I went to work for Starday years later [late 60s] for Hal Neely [President of the Starday-King merger].  I was workin’ the Hank [Williams] Jr. roadshow and I was open all week ’cause we worked Fridays and Saturdays and Sundays.  So I went out and just kind of interned, you know.  Producing the records and running the country division for Starday-King.  I was out there for almost two years.  Then they moved me up to where I was director of the country market there.  It was like learning a whole new part of the business that I really hadn’t had the chance to experience.”

1972 would see the release of three 45s while under contract to Starday-King — two singles “The Great Drinking Bout” b/w “Good Rockin’ Tonight” -and- “My Side of Life” b/w “A Different Kind of Pretty” issued on Starday, while one other “Boogie King” b/w “All She Wants to Do is Boogie” issued, curiously, on King:

“Boogie King”      Merle Kilgore     1972

Kilgore’s peripatetic recording career would take him to Imperial, Starday, Mercury, MGM, Columbia, Ashley, Starday-King, Warner Brothers, and Elektra, and yet – as Gibson points out – “Kilgore’s only singles to break the Top 50 in the Billboard charts were on Starday.”

“Big Merle” King 45 engineered by Billy Sherrill

Extra Credit:  Merle Kilgore as Songwriter for Other Artists

Search 45Cat‘s database using the terms “Merle Kilgore” and note the 9 “pages” of 45 releases (25 per page) on which Merle Kilgore has written at least one of the tracks.  Artists who have recorded Merle Kilgore compositions include Webb Pierce, Guy Lombardo, Margie Singleton, Faron Young, Johnny Cash, Eddy Arnold, Claude King, Rex Allen, Hylo Brown, Jack Scott, Lorne Greene, Tommy Roe, Bobby Vinton, Kitty Wells, Billie Jean Horton, Lefty Frizzell, Tillman Franks, Wayne Raney, Tom Tall, Earl Gaines, Kay Starr, Ronnie & the Daytonas, Eric Burdon & the Animals, Leon Ashley, Travis Wammack, Little Jimmy Dempsey, Ray Campi, Anita Carter, June Carter, Carlene Carter, Bucky Allred, Charley Pride, Dwight Yoakam, and Marty Stuart.

Halloween & Horror Alert!

Merle Kilgore once recorded a song “Frankenboogie” under the alias “Frankie Stein” for Starday-King, who would issue the song in 1973 on King as an A-side, with “All She Wants to Do Is Boogie” (borrowed from the 1972 “Boogie King” 45) used for the flip.

“Baby Rocked Her Dolly”: Frankie (Miller) & Johnny (Horton)

Merle Kilgore really brings the pathos on an original composition that absolutely could have come from the canon of Johnny Cash:

“Baby Rocked Her Dolly” was also covered by Starday labelmates, Frankie Miller (1960) and Red Sovine (1967).  However, for his own version, Kilgore wisely decides to begin — just as George Martin did on “She Loves You” — with the chorus, and to great effect.

Baby Rocked Her Dolly 45Thanks to Nathan D. Gibson, author of The Starday Story:  The House That Country Music Built for the back story on this song:

“[Starday co-founder, Don] Pierce and [singer, Frankie] Miller had found success with a clean, wholesome image, and Miller continued to record down-home, earthy songs.  With his second release after “Family Man,” Miller again found himself in the national charts, this time with ‘Baby Rocked Her Dolly’ reaching Billboard’s #15 spot.  According to Miller, “We definitely tried to keep a family image.  ‘Black Land Farmer.’  ‘Family Man.’  The next one we had was ‘Reunion.’  And then ‘Baby Rocked Her Dolly’ which was a good chart song for me, one that Merle Kilgore wrote.  He originally wrote it for Johnny Horton.  Well, I was gonna record next week, and we was doing the Louisiana Hayride one Saturday.  Johnny was in the restroom and I went in and asked him, ‘Johnny, you got any songs, boy?  I need some material.  I’m fixin’ to record next week.’  He said, ‘I got a good song here for you.  Merle Kilgore wrote it for me but I’m not going to be able to cut it anytime soon.’  So he taught it to me backstage at the Louisiana Hayride and I recorded it the next week.  That was another Bradley’s [Owen Bradley’s Quonset hut] cut.”

“Baby Rocked Her Dolly” was included on Merle Kilgore’s 1963 Starday LP, There’s Gold in Them Thar Hills.

“Johnny Zero”: Reduced to Nothing

Recorded by Merle Kilgore in early November, 1963 at Columbia Recording Studio in Nashville and released January 1964 as a single by MGM:

Johnny Zero 45

 

 

 

 

 

Does Merle Kilgore sound like Johnny Cash because they were such good friends, or were Merle and Johnny good friends because their musical styles were so compatible?

“Johnny Zero” (co-written with Don Christopher) can also be found on MGM country compilation album, Great Country & Western Stars.

MGM country LP

“Fast Talkin’ Louisiana Man”: Merle Kilgore in Character

Merle Kilgore, we learn from the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame website, signed more than a few recording contracts in his life:

1953:  signed his first recording contract with Imperial Records
1959:  recorded albums for Starday (contract presumably signed)
1961:  signed recording contract with Mercury Records
1963:  signed with MGM Records
1965:  signed with Epic Records
1967:  signed with Columbia Records
1968:  signed with Ashley Records
1972:  re-signed with Starday Records
1974:  signed with Warner Brothers Records

 

From the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame website we learn that Merle, who literally carried Hank Williams’ guitar, wrote his first #1 hit (“More and More”) at the age of 18.  Given that Kilgore is Oklahoman by birth, “Fast Talkin’ Louisiana Man” should not be construed as autobiographical:

Fast Talkin’ Louisiana Man – Merle Kilgore

[Pssst: Click the triangle above to play “Fast Talkin’ Louisiana Man” by Merle Kilgore.]Merle Kilgore 45Vinyl collector David M. McKee writes in a short bio that by the mid-60s, “Merle headlined in Las Vegas and Reno and played Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl.   In 1966, he surfaced on Mercury with Merle Kilgore, The Tall Texan (Merle was 6’ 4”).  By 1967, Merle was with Columbia and returned to the charts with ‘Fast Talkin’ Louisiana Man,’ which peaked in the Top 75.”

Merle’s career highlights include a number of well-known songs – “Ring of Fire”; “Wolverton Mountain”; “Johnny Reb”; “42 in Chicago” – but what’s striking is the sheer number of songwriting partners Kilgore has worked with:  Faron Young, Claude King, Margie Singleton, June Carter, Johnny Cash, Dale Hawkins, Mack Vickery, Lefty Frizzell, Glenn Sutton, Gail Talley, Miriam Lewis, Al Jones, Billy Jones, Abe Mulkey, Tillman Franks, Joe Stampley, Ronnie Wilkins, Leon Ashley, Sonny Williams, Kay Arnold, Bob Tubert & Hank Williams, Jr.

Even more striking – shocking, actually – is the near absence of any Merle Kilgore product in the Amazon database:  pull up his name, click on it, and you get but one title.   Unreal.  But the truth is, Merle was a songwriter for others much more than he was a solo artist.

Kilgore would later serve for many years on the Country Music Association’s Board of Directors beginning in 1989.   Merle would also begin a career in 1986 as Hank Williams, Jr.’s manager — voted the first Country Music Association “Manager of the Year” in 1990.

Merle Kilgore & Friends

Jack Clement, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Jr. & Merle Kilgore in 1988

 

“42 in Chicago”: Big in Australia

Merle Kilgore not only wrote “Ring of Fire” with Anita Carter but was also a good friend of Johnny Cash.  Merle Kilgore penned a fair number of memorable tunes, some of which he recorded himself, such as “Baby Rocked Her Dolly,” “Go On Bruce,” “The Bell Witch” – and “42 in Chicago” which enjoyed release as a single in Australia in 1962:

42 in Chicago – Merle Kilgore

[Pssst:  Click the triangle above to play “42 in Chicago” by Merle Kilgore.]

42 in Chicago - Merle Kilgore 45