Diesel + Diction = Radio Hit

One of Zero to 180’s earliest pieces from 2013 makes light of Hank Thompson‘s famously well-enunciated vocals, as featured on “Squaws Along the Yukon” – a Capitol A-side from 1958.  Hank, whose recording career spanned five decades, would wax a classic piece of toe-tapping truck-driving country in 1971 with “I’ve Come Awful Close“:

“I’ve Come Awful Close”     Hank Thompson     1971

“I’ve Come Awful Close” would reach #27 in Billboard’s Country charts for the week of Christmas, 1971.  Billboard already had the song in its line of sight, having identified it the previous month as a “Spotlight Single:  Top 20 Country” (i.e., “spotlights predicted to reach the top 20 of the Hot Country Singles Chart”) in its November 13, 1971 edition:

“Thompson follows his ‘Mark of a Heel‘ hit with this easy beat material (2:49) that will continue his string of Top 20 country singles.  Flip ‘Teardrop on the Rocks’ (2:39).”

Hank Thompson 45 from 1971“I’ve Come Awful Close” is a 45-only track that would be included on Hank’s 1971 2-LP retrospective 25th Anniversary Album, as well as following year’s Greatest Hits Vol. 1.  Written by Ann J. Morton, the song would chart as high as #11 in the US (#19 in Canada) and spend a total of 14 weeks on the charts..

Hank Thompson: Western Swing’s Dean of Diction

In my prior post about the Nashville Chowdown LP, I mentioned that back in the early 70s jazz singer Blossom Dearie’s  “exceptional annunciation” was being put to good use in the singing rice-ipe radio ads.  If Blossom Dearie had a male counterpart, that person would undoubtedly be Hank Thompson, whose singing style is distinguished by equally excellent articulation.

Someone once humorously described Hank and his band, the Brazos Valley Boys, as a honky tonk band disguised as a western swing outfit – funny because it’s true.  Anyway, here’s one of Hank’s more playful songs – from an earlier time in American popular culture, lyrically speaking – although I have to admit I only just now learned that it is a cover of a Bud Alden & the Buckeroos 1956 recording.  This tune, “Squaws Along the Yukon,” was the A-side of a 1958 Capitol single (with Merle Travis on guitar) that was later included in Hank’s 1960 album, Most of All:

Talk about a classic cover:Six Pack o' Hank

Here’s a bonus video link to Hank’s live performance of “Six Pack to Go” at the Opry:

Nashville Chowdown: Rice’s Great Image Makeover

I cannot imagine why anyone would let this album go, but someone obviously did, and five dollars later, we became family:

Nashville-Chowdown

The album’s subtitle is a bit of a hoot:  “country & western supper music and singing rice-ipes” (as in recipes for rice).  Would you be surprised to learn that this album is yet another “Columbia Special Product” – in this case, CBS Records teaming up with the fine folks at Riviana’s Brands to market rice more effectively to American women and help counter public perception among down-home Americans that rice is “difficult to cook”?

According to the press release that came with my particular copy of Nashville Chowdown: “The singing rice-ipe was first used a year ago (1969) in radio spots in the New York Metropolitan area for Carolina Rice … In collaboration with Riviana’s home economist, Mrs. Judy Youngblood, the agency submitted musical ideas for ‘singing rice-ipes’:  bossa nova for a Latin American rice dish; Caribbean, Hawaiian, Hindu and Country & Western for their special dishes.  Mrs. Youngblood then developed a recipe, copywriter Mike Hale wrote lyrics, and Arnold Brown, director of recording, supervised the appropriate musical arrangements.”  As of February 1970, the Carolina rice campaign was still running with singer, Blossom Dearie, the voice on all these spots – chosen “because of her versatility in different styles and her exceptional annunciation.”

Back when this musical ad campaign took place, $1.50 and proof-of-purchase from any Riviana rice product got you this “doubly unusual” musical package:  one 10-song LP of hits from many of the biggest country artists in the Columbia stable (Lefty Frizzell, Flatt & Scruggs, Ray Price, Marty Robbins, Jimmy Dickens, Jimmy Dean); one 7″ flexi-disc record that contains 7 singing rice-ipes (including such dishes as Houston Hash, Hopping John, and Blue Ridge Flap-Jacks); plus one double-sided document listing the actual recipes for each of the 7 flexi-disc selections on one side with song lyrics to the singing rice-ipes on the the other (“Houston Hash,” as it turns out, is a truck driving song).  And, if you’re lucky like I was, you might also end up with a 4-page strategy document put together by Biderman Associates on behalf of Dancer-Fitzgerald-Sample, who “conceived, produced and designed” this “full-scale record promotion … a real first in the industry”:

Nashville Chowdown Strategy Document

One song on the “supper music” LP does seem to steal the show – the Carter Family’s upbeat and fresh arrangement of The Man in Black’s “I Walk the Line,” first released as a single in 1966:

I Walk the Line – The Carter Family

Also for your enjoyment is the singing rice-ipe for “Houston Hash” from the flexi-disc — keep in mind that you will need to add 1 tsp. of chili powder plus salt & pepper when you add the can of tomatoes and 1 cup of rice to your green pepper, onion and ground beef saute:

Houston Hash – Riviana All-Stars

[Pssst:  Click on the triangles above to play (1) “I Walk the Line” and (2) “Houston Hash.”]

Bonus recipe for Hopping John:

1 cup dried black-eyed peas; 1/4 lb. (4 slices) smoked bacon; 1 medium onion (chopped); 3/4 cup chopped celery; 1 small bay leaf; 2-3 cups of water; 1/4 tsp. pepper; 1/2 tsp. salt; 1 cup uncooked rice.

In saucepan, combine all ingredients except rice.  Simmer until peas are tender (1-2 hours).  Meanwhile, cook rice as package directs.  Combine cooked peas, cooked rice, and some of the liquid from peas.  Simmer several minutes to blend flavors.  Makes 6-8 servings.

Nashville Chowdown flexi-disc