“Countrypolitan” – 1st Sightings

Paul Hemphill‘s The Nashville Sound: Bright Lights and Country Music — published in 1970 during a particularly vibrant musical era — includes this passage about the pushback against attempts to de-emphasize country’s less “polished” elements in order to increase the music’s appeal in the (more lucrative) “pop” marketplace:

It isn’t really liberalism, of course, that has brought about the recent changes in what used to be country music. Call it free enterprise. Hell, call it money. Galloping capitalism overcame country music during the Sixties, and many examples have already been given (See Singleton, Shelby S. and Owens, Alvis Edgar “Buck”). Good old country boys just flat got tired of watching Eddy Arnold and Dean Martin and Jimmy Dean and Patti Page fancying up country songs and making big money doing it, so they started doing the same thing and demanding their writers give them songs that weren’t so country — “so damned nasal, whiny and scratchy and corny,” said Jack Stapp [of Big Tree Publishing] — and then they started angling for their own network television shows.

And pop stars started going to Nashville to record. And the Nashville sidemen started getting the hang of this pseudo-country music. And the younger guys in Nashville started talking dirty about anybody who still turned out hard-country songs. And business was so good that the music industry was worth almost $100 million a year to Nashville. And somebody started calling it “Countrypolitan” music. And the nation decided that “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour,” rather than the Grand Ole Opry, was the real mirror of country music. And then the people in Nashville started becoming very concerned about their image. We got to get out of this firetrap, they said about the Grand Ole Opry House; which is roughly equivalent to demolishing the Tower of Pisa because it leans funny. Don’t say the fans ride in on buses, Opry management admonished the press, they own their own cars and they average making $10,000 a year.

Maybe country music started in places like Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, but now they don’t want to admit the place exists. Image.

Earliest commercial release that includes the term “countrypolitan:

1967 Warner Bros. LP

The Countrypolitan Sound of Hank Thompson’s Brazos Valley Boys

Nashville’s Crystal Corporation (previously celebrated here and here) issued this undated “countrypolitan” hits collection that was probably released — based on the catalog number, as well as release dates of the tracks within — in 1969:

Two of the least “countrypolitan” instruments — fiddle and banjo

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Countrypolitan-Hits-22-original-tracks-LP.jpg

This 1971 compilation with the striking cover photo includes a dozen lesser-known songs (1966’s “Pablo Diablo” by Dick Hammonds the only one available in streaming audio).

The big city

The dictionary definition on the rear cover of this album performs a valuable public service:

Countrypolitan (adj.) = Belonging to all the world; not confined to local enjoyment; at home in any country. And so it goes with country music today. It is no longer provincial in scope, nor limited to a particular region.

This educational audio clip helps flesh out the concept in a down-home digital way:

A simple “countrypolitan” search of the Discogs database — a mere 39 items, as of February, 2021 — reveals the sad fact that this term never caught on with the public. An analysis of the music trade literature further supports this view. A “countrypolitan” scan of Billboard‘s back issues, for instance, yields only 49 “hits” (likewise, 19 for Cash Box and 18 for Record World), although a few items reveal some key historical details:

  • Birmingham, Alabama’s WYDE celebrated its third anniversary as a countrypolitan radio station with broad community support, reported Cash Box in its December 21, 1968 edition, as “260 business, civic and governmental leaders” turned out for the event.
  • Four months earlier, WIKI in Chester, Virginia (outside of Richmond) had changed its format from Top 40 to Countrypolitan, as noted in Cash Box‘s August 31, 1968 issue. How come? “WIKI is making the switch because listener surveys, personal interviews and response to the station’s present two and one-half hours daily country programming have indicated an overwhelming preference for C&W music.”
  • Orlando’s WHOO 990 AM went “Countrypolitan” in 1968, says the Ken Burns Team. Zero to 180’s own fact-finding team has even pinned down the launch date, thanks to Billboard, who took photos of some of the 250 clients, agency executives, city officials, record company personnel, and country music artists — including Skeeter Davis and Willie Nelson — who joined Orlando’s 50,000-watt station in celebration of the new music format for Saturday night’s “Shower of Stars” on August 10, 1968.
  • That same year at the National Association of Recording Merchandisers annual convention, Starday promoted its latest releases as the “Starday Countrypolitan Hot Line” [while generously dispensing gift baskets that consisted of “a pouch of stereo flavored Country Cream tobacco raised at Starday’s Five Coves Farm, corncob pipes, and a bottle of Jack Daniels Sippin’ Whiskey”], as reported in Cash Box‘s April 20, 1968 edition. One month prior, Starday’s Don Pierce had told both Cash Box (per the March 9, 1968 issue) and Record World (per the March 9, 1968 issue) that the label will be focusing efforts on the growing “modern Countrypolitan Nashville sound.”
  • A year earlier, Cash Box had noted in its October 28, 1967 “Country Roundup” column that “the need to change the name of country music has already been recognized by a great many individuals in the business, particularly those in radio — the area which is perhaps closest in recognizing public tastes.” Furthermore, “phrases such as ‘Countrypolitan Music’ and [thanks to DC television host, Connie B. Gay] ‘Town & Country Music’ have been springing up with more and more regularity, pointing the way to more modern identification of this particular field.”
  • 1967 would also bear witness to Memphis’s “Chet Atkins Festival of Music” — hosted by ‘The Countrypolitan Gentlemen’ at radio’s WMQM — with live musical entertainment provided by Boots Randolph, Floyd Cramer, and Mr. Guitar himself, Cash Box reported in its May 13, 1967 issue.
  • One of the earlier references to country music’s commercially-oriented “uptown” strain appeared in this news item from Cash Box‘s January 8, 1966 issue:

New York Building Strong C&W Audience

NEW YORK — Yes, Virginia there is country music in New York, and from all early indications, it’s here to stay for quite a while.

Continuing in the successful trend that began a short while back, WJRZ-Newark defied the time-honored theory that sophisticated urbanites, securely entrenched in the concrete-and-steel homestead of New York, automatically rejected the nasal, twangy hillbilly sound as inferior musical product. On Sept. 15, contrary to the odds, the New Jersey station took a gamble and switched to country programming. Aiming at the toughest and largest of urban bastions, the station presented a dignified, “countrypolitan” format that shattered the association of country music with corncob pipes and Hatfield-McCoy-type characterizations. The response that followed was far beyond the station’s expectations. Flooded switch-boards and overworked mailroom personnel became the order of the day at the outlet.”

  • One year later, WJRZ made the news again in Cash Box‘s January 7, 1967 issue when the station’s “Avenue of Tears” countrypolitan show host, Bob Lockwood, appeared on The Joe Franklin Show (one of television’s longest-running programs).
  • This ad from the May 12, 1969 issue of Broadcasting spells out the demographics of the Grand Rapids-area countrypolitan listening audience — note the ways in which the messaging drives home the “counterintuitive” notion that country music fans can be young, urban, and flush with spending money. WJEF’s similar-themed ad from the previous year shows a family with three children unloading picnic supplies from a station wagon (while the ad from the year prior shows a young couple who are said to be, in the parlance of the times, “turned-on“).
  • Cincinnati’s WUBE – noted Record World in their September 30, 1969 issue – took the big countrypolitan plunge, making it the city’s only 24-hour country music station.
  • Stringer Clamps Down on the Use of Countrypolitan” screamed the title in Billboard‘s September 6, 1969 edition — a report on Lou Stringer’s cease-and-desist order to radio stations.
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Stringer-Clamps-Down-on-Use-of-Countrypolitan-Billboard-9-6-69-.jpg

This likely explains why the term is under-represented in the music history in favor of similar verbiage, such as “modern country” and “the Nashville Sound.” Stringer claims to have copyrighted “countrypolitan” in 1966, says Billboard, who pointedly assert that radio station owner, Country Music Association director and philanthropist, Connie B. Gay “has owned the copyright to the name ‘Town and Country,’ but has allowed widespread use of the same.” Stringer is also the publisher behind “tabloid” newsletter/radio tip sheet, The Countrypolitan, whose launch was noted in Billboard‘s April 22, 1967 issue.

.

Earliest Appearance of the Term “Countrypolitan”?

Billboard ad – November 2, 1963

NoNope — need to go back at least ten years:

Broadcasting ad – January 19, 1953

[Same ad can be seen as early as November 1952]

Featured song:

“Blues Stay Away From Me” by The Willis Brothers

Written by Alton Delmore, Rabon Delmore, Henry Glover & Wayne Raney

.Included on Best of The Willis Brothers although never issued as a single release

.

Essay

Modern Country Radio — Friend or Foe?” by Paul W. Soelberg

Billboard — October 17, 1970

Grandpa Jones & His Swingin’ Grandchildren’s Sole 45

Grandpa Jones‘ toe-tappin’ countrypolitan “Hip Cat’s Weddin’” is one of Zero to 180’s recent discoveries:

“Hip Cat’s Weddin'”    Grandpa Jones & His Swingin’ Grandchildren     Rec. Nov, 1960

Too little has been written about Boudleaux Bryant‘s clever composition and its fetching arrangement — virtually nothing, in fact.  “I Don’t Love Nobody” b/w “Hip Cat’s Weddin’” sadly would be Jones’s sole release with His Swingin’ Grandchildren.  Given the relatively small percentage of the world’s population that owns the original 45 or 1997’s 5-CD Everybody’s Grandpa anthology compiled by Germany’s Bear Family, how tragic that this sly send-up of hep cat culture has been essentially unheard for decades.

Cash Box gave this single a positive review in their November 26, 1960 edition:

Grandpa Jones (Monument 430)

(B-f) “I DON’T LOVE NOBODY”
(1:45) [G-J BMI — Arr. Jones]
The oldie is given a contagious
revamping by the lovable Grandpa and
with his “Swinging Grandchildren” he
gives it a rousing jubilation sendoff.
Has excellent spin value.

(B-f) “HIP CAT’S WEDDIN’”
(2:18) [Acuff-Rose BMI — Bryant]
This Boudeleaux Bryant ditty is
ideally suited for Jones’ comical
style.  It’s a bouncy blueser; rates
consideration.

B-side

Thanks once again to PragueFrank for providiing the musician credits on a session that also produced “These Hills”; “Billy Yank and Johnny Reb” and the unreleased “Goodbye Reb” — although I am puzzled by the recording date of 21 February 1961 which is months after the Cash Box review above.

  • Grandpa Jones:  Vocal/Guitar/Banjo
  • Harold Bradley:  Guitar
  • Ray Edenton:  Guitar
  • Hank Garland:  Guitar
  • Jerry Byrd:  Steel Guitar
  • Boots Randolph:  Sax
  • Floyd Cramer:  Piano
  • Buddy Harman:  Drums

YouTube’s sole audio clip of “Hip Cat’s Weddin'” (posted in 2017) has only been “viewed” a total of 209 times, as of November 7, 2019.  You and I can do something about that.  Gratitude to WFMU’s Michael Shelley for giving this song several spins on the air.

Note:  At this moment, a vendor on Ebay is selling this 45 for $14.99 (plus $4.53 S/H).

They Don’t Make Song Titles Like They Used To:
Grandpa Jones on King
(with streaming audio)

There’s a Grave in the Wave of the Ocean” — 1945

The Baldheaded End of the Broom” — 1948

You’ll Make Our Shack a Mansion” — 1949

Uncle Eph’s Got the Coon” — 1950

Jennie, Get Your Hoe Cakes Done” — 1951

The Value of Vinyl

In 2017, someone paid $300 outright for 1958’s Sings His Greatest Hits LP by Jones, who appeared on the very first King Records release (using an alias), along with Merle Travis.

Brown’s Ferry Four:  The Original Country Supergroup

As journalist/writer Bruce Eder points out in Discogs‘ miniature biographical portrait:

“Based on their lineup alone, Brown’s Ferry Four was a country supergroup from the get-go, with an original membership consisting of Grandpa Jones, the Delmore Brothers, and Merle Travis.  Though the group only existed for ten years, and almost never made any personal appearances or gave any concerts, they managed to become one of the most beloved country gospel groups through their radio broadcasts and the nearly four dozen sides they recorded for King Records between 1946 and 1952.”

King LP – 1963

B-Side: Called Up to the Majors

I forget where I picked up my copy of 100 All Time Country Hall of Fame Hits – Vol. 2,    double-LP set from 1977.  The friendly price tag comes at a cost, though — 12 (even 13) songs per side, therefore, a noticeable loss in fidelity.

100 All Time Country Hall of Fame Hits - Vol IIOne of the songs that really caught my ear, “Mr. Mailman” by Ronnie Milsap, is a tune that (lo and behold) took its first breaths at Chips Moman’s American Sound Studio in Memphis in Summer, 1968:

“Mr. Mailman”     Ronnie Milsap     1968

I love the opening guitar lines that convey the agony of losing one’s “little red book” – utter powerlessness in a pre-digital era – with a few well-placed harmonica notes just before the song’s outro that add a nice touch of country pop melancholy.

“Mr. Mailman” would be from the pen of Mark James, who would write (and record) that same year one of Elvis’s last big hits, “Suspicious Minds.”.

B-Side — before the big call up

Ronnie Milsap 45“Mr. Mailman” – noble and faithful B-side companion to “Do What You Gotta Do” – appears never to have charted, and thus, likely to have received minimal radio play.

So imagine Zero to 180’s surprise when “Mr. Mailman” was discovered to be the title track of a 1977 Ronnie Milsap “oldies” collection for the UK market!

Ronnie Milsap LPChips Moman & American Sound:  Stax’s Memphis Hitmaking Rival

Jeremy Roberts’s 2012 Examiner piece – “Back When Memphis Was Electric:  B.J. Thomas on Chips Moman and the Memphis Boys” – asserts that Lincoln Wayne “Chips” Moman, whose team recorded over 120 Billboard hits between the years 1967-1971 at American Sound Studio, has yet to receive proper recognition for all his musical achievements.  B.J. Thomas makes the claim in his interview that “for a couple of years running, they played on nearly 20 percent of Billboard’s pop chart, which was a fantastic accomplishment in those days.”American Sound Studio

Songs produced and/or written and/or arranged by Chips Moman:
A Chips Moman ‘Top 40’ Playlist

Chips

Chips Moman

Bossa Country -or- Honky Nova?

On my one and only visit to Northampton, Massachusetts (NRBQ’s 35th anniversary show in 2004), I ducked into a second-hand vinyl shop and came away with a K-Tel country collection from 1976:  Country Superstars – 20 Greatest Hits.

K-Tel's Country Superstars LP-frontThis collection of early-to-mid 70s hits includes 1976 dieselbilly hit “Roll On Big Mama” by Joe Stampley, plus Johnny Cash’s “A Thing Called Love” (1971), Tom T. Hall’s “I Love” (1973), Hank Snow’s “Hello Love” (1974) and Dotty [sic] West’s “Country Sunshine” (1974), among others.

Track listing

K-Tel's Country Superstars LP-track listingLost to the winds of time, unfortunately, is the institutional knowledge at Canada’s K-Tel corporation as to who made the curious decision to include a “country bossa nova” song from 1964 – Skeeter Davis‘s charming kiss-off “Gonna Get Along Without You Now“:

“Gonna Get Along Without You Now”     Skeeter Davis     ‘K-Tel version’

But wait:  as it turns out, Skeeter Davis’s version would hit two times, the second time being 1971 (thanks, Wikipedia), hence its inclusion on a K-Tel 1970s country compilation.  The version above – it just dawned on me – is a ‘new’ arrangement from 1971.  The original release from 1964 below sounds markedly different:

“Gonna Get Along Without You Now”     Skeeter Davis     1964

Could this be the first county pop number to take commercial advantage of the fresh bossa nova sounds that were sweeping popular music in the early-to-mid 1960s?

US 45                                                          UK release

Skeeter Davis 45-aSkeeter Davis 45-b

“Gonna Get Along Without You Now” was written by Milton Kellem in 1951 and has been covered in a wide variety of styles to date – more recently, Zooey Deschanel & Matt Ward (as She and Him) in 2010.   Kellem’s name would be associated with a number of 45s, from the 50s & 60s, including a King B-side for Bubber Johnson, ’59’s “House of Love.”

“I’ve Got a Happy Heart”: Love’s Bullet-Proof Armor

Yesterday’s piece about Mayf Nutter featured a link to the January 13, 1973 edition of Billboard, that happened to include an adjacent news item that named all the artists who played with Buck Owens at a recent Christmas event in Bakersfield:

“Buck Owens and his group drew more than 5,000 with some turned away at the Toys for Tots program in Bakersfield.  On the show with him were the Buckaroos, Mayf Nutter, Jack Lebsock, Freddie Hart, the Bakersfield Brass, Tony Booth, the Ray Sisters, Susan Raye, and a few others.”

Susan Raye’s name immediately brought to mind her 1971 radio-friendly country pop hit, “I’ve Got a Happy Heart” and its memorable chorus — they sure don’t write lines like these in country music anymore:

I’ve got a happy heart, I feel like I could almost fly
I think that if someone shot me, I wouldn’t even die

As it turns out, “I’ve Got a Happy Heart” was penned by Bakersfield’s own, Buck Owens, along with Pat Levely, and issued on 1971 album, Pitty Pitty Patter (#6 country).  Ms. Raye would not only record the song again in late 1971 for 1972’s, I’ve Got a Happy Heart LP (#8 country) but once more in March 1973 for a duets album with Buck, Good Old Days (#29 country).

Susan Raye 45

“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”     Merle Kilgore     1963

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 45

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

MGM country LP

“A Woman’s World”: Feminist or Traditionalist?

Teresa Brewer – whose duet with Mickey Mantle, “I Love Mickey,” reached #87 in 1956 – would later record ever so briefly for Shelby Singleton.  June 1968’s “A Woman’s World” was the first of but two singles Brewer recorded for SSS International:

The song initially gives the impression of threatening to challenge the status quo regarding gender roles and division of responsibilities, as the singer sobs over the plight of a homemaker’s isolation and lack of fulfillment.  “The woman’s born to make the man a home,” begins the second verse, “You cook and clean and sew all the time he’s gone.”  But somehow, just the sight of him entering their domicile after a long day’s work is enough to make her forget all about the deep structural inequities of their relationship.

Who wrote this song, I wonder – and was it a man?  I am hoping to obtain the answer to that question without leaving my seat, but alas, the Internet has let me down.  So I go fetch the record, half expecting to see the name “Tom T. Hall” when, lo and behold, it turns out to be Teresa Brewer herself!  Or wait – is it?  According to the songwriting credit on the 1969 Plantation compilation album, Country Gold Volume 1, Brewer is the song’s composer.  But according to the 45 image that I just now retrieved and attached to this blog piece, the tune’s creator is Ben Peters (a man – just as I had suspected).   The truth?

Teresa Brewer 45“A Woman’s World” was paired with “Ride-a-Roo,” a large rubber ball toy that kids bounce upon (also known worldwide as a space hopper, moon hopper, skippyball & hoppity hop).

Ride-a-Roo poster(Also known as a kangaroo jockey ball)

Commercially speaking, “A Woman’s World” did not do well, unfortunately — according to 45Cat, “this record did not chart.”  As one YouTube contributor astutely observes, this song finds Teresa Brewer very much in the Sandy Posey mold.  How interesting to consider that just five years hence we will find Teresa in London embracing the hard rock sound of Oily Rags.

The liner notes for the 2-disc anthology of Shelby Singleton’s Plantation and SSS labels, Plantation Gold, confirm Ben Peters as the tune’s author.

Teresa Brewer & MuppetsTeresa Brewer with Miss Piggy & Kermit – July 1977

 

“Legend of the Big Steeple”: Spectacular Spire

Nice tremolo effect on the piano in this bittersweet tale (written by Charles Underwood) about how the good people eventually got their steeple:

The song, issued on an RCA 45 both in the States and overseas, was also included on Country Feeling, the second  of 4 albums [!] released in 1969 for Porter.

Country Feeling LP

                             Staggering Output:  A Country Music Thing

Porter Wagoner wasn’t the only country artist who released multiple albums a year; nevertheless his output in the mid-60s to early-70s was pretty prodigious:

Year          # of albums
1965          3
1966          5 + gospel album + hits package
1967          2
1968          5
1969          4
1970          5 + 1 hits package
1971          4 + 2 hits packages
1972          5
1973          4
1974          3

 

“Comin’ Down”: B-Side? Try Song of the Year

In July 1974 Dave Dudley was the featured guest on an episode of (Your Local Navy Recruiter Presents) Navy Hoedown.  On this broadcast, host Hal Durham appears to be giving Dave Dudley a good poke in the ribs when – after listening to uptempo ballad, “Comin’ Down” – he inquires, “So, was that a side-B song for you?”  How cathartic it is, then, for the listener when Dudley calmly responds, “No, that was a recording that won Song of the Year”:

Comin’ Down – Dave Dudley

[Pssst:  Click the triangle above to play “Comin’ Down” by Dave Dudley.]

Navy Hoedown LP

Mercury released “Comin’ Down” b/w “Six-O-One” (both songs written by Dave Dudley)   in February 1970 – on the heels of “Pool Shark” (written by Tom T. Hall) released the month before.

Comin' Down - Dave Dudley 45