Kitty Wells: Renegade Rocker

In that same October-November 2001 issue of No Depression, there was another piece that caught my ear — Bill Friskics-Warren’s historical account that documented Kitty Wells’ somewhat radical musical experiment with members of the Allman Brothers and Marshall Tucker Band in a brave attempt to inject her music with a contemporary rock sound.  Kitty initiated this project in 1974 soon after signing with Phil Walden’s Capricorn label, having previously recorded 40 albums or so for Decca, going all the way back to 1956.  Check out the title track from this groundbreaking project, Kitty and her all-star band’s reworking of Dylan’s “Forever Young”:

It is the exceptional artist who can sustain her popularity and cultural relevance beyond one decade, much less two; therefore, the fact that Wells charted “an unprecedented (for a woman)  27 consecutive Top 20 country singles” makes this feat, as Friskics-Warren points out, all the more impressive.  But all hot streaks eventually run cold.  And even though there are a number of examples in the 1950s & 60s of folk/rock/pop singers enjoying the backing of country musicians, Wells’ decision to join forces with the burgeoning southern rock elite was, as Friskics-Warren observes, unprecedented —

Hank Williams Jr. & Friends, a record that employed some of the same Southern rockers as hers did, is often said to be the first example of this sort of crossover.  But Bocephus didn’t go into the studio until 1975, nearly a year after Wells made Forever Young, plus Hank Jr.’s core band consisted mainly of Nashville and Muscle Shoals session pros.

“You could argue that Earl Scruggs’ 1971 blowout (Earl Scruggs – His Family and Friends on Columbia) with Bob Dylan, the Byrds, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band beat Wells to the punch.  But unlike Wells, Scruggs was no perennial country chartbuster; besides, his album, like the Dirt Band’s 1972 Will the Circle Be Unbroken, was more of an event — an all-star summit that united musicians of various stripes — than a case of Nashville Skyline in reverse, like Forever Young.”

Toy Caldwell, Tommy Talton, Johnny Sandlin: Guitar
Scott Boyer:  Guitar/Fiddle/Violin
John Hughey:  Steel Guitar
Richard Betts:  Dobro
David Brown:  Bass
Bill Stewart:  Drums
Paul Hornsby & Chuck Leavell:  Piano/Organ
Ella Avery, Mary Dorsey, Donna Hall, Joyce Knight, Diane Pfeifer:  Vocals

 Recorded June 1974 at Capricorn Recording Studio in Macon, Georgia.
Produced by Johnny Sandlin and Paul Hornsby, both familiar names from Muscle Shoals.

Kitty Wells in Macon