King’s ‘Country Done R&B’ LP

Just after I finished putting together the “Chew Tobacco Raghistory piece, I happened to have stumbled upon a 1964 King LP compilation – Top Rhythm & Blues Artists Do the Greatest Country Songs – that no doubt served as a template for the Gusto King cassette compilation, Country Tunes Done R&B, that I had once picked up at the Cherokee Trading Post near Wheeling, West Virginia.  I thought it might be fun to compare two collections that both set out on the same mission.

          1964 King LP                          vs.              undated Gusto cassette

Top Rhythm & Blues Artists Do the Greatest Country Songs [King LP 884]

[streaming audio web links indicated in blue and red]

Interesting to see which tracks on this album Syd Nathan does not own a piece of, i.e., hits by Buck Owens, Hank WIlliams, George Jones, Toni Harper, Leon McAulilffe and Merle Travis — half of the album.  Odd to see “Lonesome Whistle Blues” (written by Rudy Toombs, Elson Teat & James Moore, a.k.a., Slim Harpo), included on this King compilation — the only recording on this album that was not an R&B makeover of a honky tonk hit.

Despite King’s past leading-edge efforts in helping country music cross over into the R&B market and vice versa, I can’t help thinking this King collection was packaged in response to the massive commercial success enjoyed by Ray Charles on his 1962 album, Modern Sounds in Country and Western.  Sure enough, if you read the back cover liner notes (made possible by Discogs, tip of the hat!), you will see King informing the music-buying public that their label had, in fact, already blazed a trail with regard to this type of cross-marketing prior to Ray Charles:

This is a rare combination!  An All Star variety combination which is different, exciting, powerful, entertaining!  There is little chance to be bored or get ear fatigue from listening to a whole album by just one artist … each is different, each is a contrast, each complements the others.  A great new idea from KING RECORDS … RHYTHM AND BLUES stars meet and greet and sing some of the GREATEST COUNTRY SONGS of all time.

It’s different to say the least, yet the personal style and approach by these R&B singers to country music is amazing.  Each one of them seems to feel this kind and type of music differently and each one adapts the song to his own personality.  True the talented Ray Charles leads the way for R&B singers to do country songs and have them accepted by the public, however, it’s an interesting fact that most of the performances included herein were recorded prior to the actual recording dates of Ray Charles for his famous country album.  Who is to say for sure who was first or who originated the idea … the only important thing is that great and wonderful songs found a new meaning and have been recorded by other than strictly country artists.  It had always been sort of an unwritten rule that only country artists could sell country songs and that for anyone else to record them was unacceptable.  Well, this old hat theory went the way of the winds as proven by inspired renditions of these twelve block-busters.

While it is true that Syd Nathan’s cross-marketing efforts go at least as far back as 1949 with Bull Moose Jackson’s arrangement of “Why Don’t You Haul Off and Love Me,”I find it hilarious that King is trying to take credit for pioneering the “country done R&B” concept (“it’s an interesting fact that most of the performances included herein were recorded prior to the actual recording dates of Ray Charles for his famous country album”) using this compilation LP, as only two of the twelve songs on this album  precede Modern Sounds in Country and Western!  King obviously knows this to be the case, hence the label’s hedging (“who is to say for sure who was first or who originated the idea”) in the very next sentence.

Country Tunes Done R&B  [Starday Best of Country – Vol. Eleven – year unknown]

[streaming audio web links indicated in blue and red]

I’ve noticed in recent years that those Starday-King cassette tapes I began buying in the mid-1990s on my annual trips to Ohio are no longer available for purchase at the Cherokee Trading Post,   Just as there are certain songs or versions/arrangements that can only be found on 8-track (a fun topic previously explored here), I suspect that at least one of my Starday cassettes issued by Gusto/IMG just might harbor recordings that can be found only on cassette tape [the one example that comes readily to mind is a very hot instrumental “Western Limited Boogie” by Pee Wee King and the Golden West Cowboys – previously celebrated here].  Google the album title “Country Tunes Done R&B” and notice that – outside of Zero to 180 – the internet has no record of this cassette’s existence.  Not the worst tragedy in the world, since there are only two songs on this 8-song cassette that are not already included on Top Rhythm & Blues Artists Do the Greatest Country Songs. (though the Charles Brown recording common to both albums is worth seeking out).

Skeeter Davis Confronts Nixon

As History Channel’s website explains for those born in the 1980s and beyond:

“At a [December 8, 1969] news conference, President Richard Nixon says that the Vietnam War is coming to a ‘conclusion as a result of the plan that we have instituted.’ Nixon had announced at a conference in Midway in June that the United States would be following a new program he termed ‘Vietnamization’ …

Nixon’s pronouncements that the war was ending proved premature.  In April 1970, he expanded the war by ordering U.S. and South Vietnamese troops to attack communist sanctuaries in Cambodia.  The resulting outcry across the United States led to a number of antiwar demonstrations—it was at one of these demonstrations that the National Guard shot four protesters at Kent State.”

Lost in all the hubbub over Neil Young’s “Ohio” [recorded May 21, 1970 by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and rush-released June, 1970] was this surprisingly outspoken recording by Skeeter Davis, “When You Gonna Bring Our Soldiers Home“:

“When You Gonna Bring Our Soldiers Home”     Skeeter Davis     1970

Recorded (before “Ohio”) January 28, 1970, “When You Gonna Bring Our Soldiers Home” would serve as the B-side to “We Need a Lot More Jesus,” a single predicted to reach the Top 20 Country chart in the July 4, 1970 edition of Billboard (alas, it would peak at #69).

Skeeter Davis 45-cDavis would not only write the music (with its martial drumbeat, nice effect) but also its rather pointed lyric, about which Joseph A. Fry would write in The American South and the Vietnam War:  Belligerence, Protest, and Agony in Dixie:

“In 1970, Skeeter Davis aimed ‘When You Gonna Bring Our Soldiers Home’ directly at President Nixon.  Voicing a woman’s perspective, Davis declared, ‘Every mother has to worry about the son she loves, And every sweetheart has to worry, too.’  Although Nixon did not think she should ‘protest’ or ‘question’ his policies, ‘I think I’ve got a right ’cause I just got words tonight, The Man I love was killed there yesterday, When you gonna bring our soldiers home?'”

Examining the song in a broader social context, James N. Gregory would note in The Southern Diaspora:  How the Great Migrations of Black and White Southerners Transformed America:

“Another stream struck back at antiwar protests and other challenges to rock-ribbed values.  When Tom T. Hall recorded ‘Mama, Tell Them What We’re Fighting For,’ Ernest Tubb answered with ‘It’s for God, Country and You Mom,’ then followed with two others:  ‘It’s America’ and ‘Love It or Leave It.’  Protesters were also the target in Johnny Sea’s ‘Day of Decision,’ Bobby Bare’s ‘God Bless America Again,’ Stonewall Jackson’s ‘The Minutemen are Turning in Their Graves,’ Bill Anderson’s ‘Where Have All the Heroes Gone,’ and Terry Nelson’s ‘Battle Hymn of Lt. Calley.’  Not until 1970 was there any sort of break in ‘country music’s patriotic front.’  That year, Johnny Cash asked carefully ‘What is Truth,’ but even then an actual protest song ‘When You Gonna Bring Our Soldiers Home’ by Skeeter Davis failed to make country station playlists.”

“When You Gonna Bring Our Soldiers Home” would be included on It’s Hard to Be a Woman, an album reviewed in Billboard’s September 12, 1970 edition:

“With some of her strongest efforts since ‘My Coloring Book’ days, Skeeter Davis has a definite winner in this album.  Songs include her current single hit of ‘It’s Hard to Be a Woman’ and the macabre ‘Someone Up There Still Loves Me’ which could gain airplay at night; plus ‘Down from Dover,’ another strong tune that could be programmed late at night.  ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ is great any time.”

Skeeter Davis LP

Vocals:  Skeeter Davis & George Hamilton IV
Guitar:  Norman Blake, Chip Young & Jimmy Capps
Steel Guitar:  Bobby Thompson & Weldon Myrick
Bass:  Henry Strzelecki
Drums:  Jerry Carrigan
Fiddle:  Buddy Spicher
Piano:  Jerry Smith

“Lost Highway”: Hank Williams + Chet Atkins & Friends

One other prominent (and tragic) artist from country music’s early years to get the cosmetic posthumous remix is Hank Williams, whose death in 1953 in no way stopped MGM from issuing new product for the marketplace (often multiple albums per year) through 1981 and beyond.  Hank Williams, for instance, was the recipient of an added string section on at least three albums — not to mention the backing of Nashville’s finest on one key track – “Lost Highway” – that appears to have been embellished in a 1968 overdub recording session and later issued on 1977 LP Hank Williams’ Greatest Hits Vol. 2:

[Pssst:  Click the triangle above to play “Lost Highway” by Hank Williams & Friends.]

Lost HighwayThanks to the Hank Williams Discography for identifying the names of the musicians who helped modernize Hank’s original recording in order to give it that “Nashville Sound” —

  • Hank Williams (vocals & guitar)
  • Chet Atkins (electric guitar)
  • Sammy Pruett (electric guitar)
  • Tommy Jackson (fiddle)
  • Jerry Rivers (fiddle)
  • Don Helms (steel guitar)
  • Eddie Hill (rhythm guitar)
  • Jack Shook (rhythm guitar)
  • Floyd Chance or Ernie Newton or Cedric Rainwater (bass)
  • Owen Bradley or Fred Rose (piano)

Date of overdub recording session:  September 26, 1968

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Jimmie Rodgers:  First To Be Posthumously Produced?

“Frankie and Johnny”: Sincerest Form of Flattery

We’ve seen musical artists get into trouble with the public (and/or copyright holder) for releasing an original song that hews a little too closely to a prior piece of music, e.g., “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke and allegations that the song overtly mirrors “Got to Give It Up” by Marvin Gaye – as well as “Sexy Ways” by Funkadelic – in ways that go beyond being “reminiscent of a sound” (as Thicke and his producers claim) and into actual copyright infringement (as the plaintiffs assert).

You might recall that the Rolling Stones found themselves in the hot seat when certain people began to notice – Keith Richards’ daughter, Angela, preeminent among them – that the chorus to “Anybody Seen My Baby?,” the big single from 1997’s Bridges to Babylon, also closely resembled the refrain to K.D. Lang’s “Constant Craving,” which had very nearly topped the adult contemporary chart five years previously (Lang & Ben Mink, the song’s composers, were given co-writing credit by Jagger & Richards to keep the peace)

How interesting, then, to discover that people curiously not only seemed not to have a problem with Johnny Sea’s letter-perfect rendition of Johnny Cash in his cover of an old pop standard (that turns 110 this year), but that both versions would perform with near-identical success in the country chart — Johnny Cash (#9) vs. Johnny Sea (#13):

Frankie & Johnny - Cash 45Frankie & Johnny - Sea 45

Fascinating to observe that the Columbia 45 says “arr(anged by) Johnny Cash,” whereas Johnny Sea’s version attributes writing credit outright to Cash!  Both versions, by the way, released in 1959.   Wikipedia claims that at least 256 different recordings of “Frankie and Johnny” have been made since the early 20th century (not to mention the song’s use as the centerpiece of Scene V in ee cummings’ 1927 play, Him).

Interesting to note that Johnny Sea had already embraced his family’s original surname (Seay) by the time he recorded harrowing Dylanesque murder ballad, “Behind My Baby’s Bedroom Door” in 1967 for almighty Columbia.

Johnny Seay

“Bob”: The Willis Brothers, Not Weird Al

Bob” is the title track of a Willis Brothers album released on the Starday label in 1967:

Bob - Willis Brothers LPThe song is written from the perspective of Bob’s wayward pal, who playfully chides him for choosing the path of domesticity rather than remaining carefree and unencumbered:

“Bob”     The Willis Brothers     1967

“Remember the good ol’ days ’round the ‘Frisco yards, Bob?   For you, they’re gone,” the song taunts.  Bob’s friend, the song’s protagonist, is staying with Bob for a short visit – telling stories of the past, stoking the fires of wanderlust and making Bob’s wife nervous.  But then, in a nice ironic twist, the friend surprises us by informing Bob:

“Just forget all the talk, Bob, about the good ol’ days.  ‘Cause your wife is a little bit scared, Bob, you want to be free.  But you and me both know, Bob, you’re better off than me.  Remember those cold nights out in the ‘Frisco yards, Bob – and the hard cold ground?”

Album produced by Jack Clement, who also wrote “Bob” – along with Vincent Matthews.   Is it really true that “Bob” would serve double duty as both title track and B-side?

Bob - Willis Brothers 45Song title would be commandeered 36 years later by Weird Al for his brilliant Dylan spoof.

Is it too much of a stretch to tag this piece as “Latin Soul” due to the use of mariachi horns throughout the song?

“Baby Is Gone”: She’ll Take Your Pride, Charley

The closing track of Charley Pride’s 4th RCA album, Make Mine Country, caught my ear:

“Baby Is Gone”     Charley Pride     1968

Album produced by Chet Atkins, Jack Clement & Narvel Felts

Charley Pride LP“Baby Is Gone” – a 1968 LP release only – was written by “Cowboy” Jack Clement (who left us this past August), notable for also having written “The One on the Right Is on the Left” and “Guess Things Happen That Way” for Johnny Cash, “Bob” for The Willis Brothers, “The Five Little Johnson Girls” and “West Canterbury Subdivision Blues” for The Stonemans, “Miller’s Cave” for Bobby Bare, and “How Blue Can You Get” for B.B. King.

Musical Personnel

Jerry Reed, Pete Wade, Wayne Moss, Harold Bradley, Chip Young – Guitar
Lloyd Green – Steel
Roy Huskey – Bass
Jerry Carrigan – Drums
Hargus Pig Robbins – Piano
Sonny Osborne – Banjo
Bobby Osborne – Mandolin
The Nashville Edition – Vocals

Recorded:
Jan – Oct 1967 ; RCA Victor Studio ; Nashville

*Note:  title of blog piece is a reference to Wynn Stewart’s “You Can’t Wynn Stewart

“Go Cat Go”: Norma Jean Co-opts the Rockabilly Battle Cry

I like how the beleaguered singer of this song ironically subverts the mythic rockabilly refrain, “Go Cat Go,” into a cry of liberation from her no-good, double-crossing partner:

Click on link to hear audio for “Go Cat Go” by Norma Jean

Go Cat Go 7-inch

Norma Jean’s demand for independence (penned by Harlan Howard) was a top-10 country hit from from her 1965 LP, Pretty Miss Norma Jean, her highest-charting album.

Norma Jean LP

“Me, Me, Me, Me, Me”: Honky Tonk Opera

Opera meets Opry in this self-centered song that opens Liz Anderson’s 1968 RCA album, Like a Merry Go Round:

“Me Me Me Me Me”     Liz Anderson     1968

“Me, Me, Me, Me, Me” also served as the B-side of Anderson’s “Cry, Cry Again” RCA 45.

Liz Anderson LP

It was my friend and indefatigable record collector, Tom Avazian, who pointed out that Liz Anderson not only wrote much of her own material but also a number of songs for her daughter, Lynn — including at least five songs that made top 40 on the country charts.

“Abilene”: It’s the Bass

Abilene” was originally an album track on Bob Gibson’s 1957 album, I Come For To Sing:

Bob Gibson - I Come for to Sing - LP cover

The song became a #1 country single for George Hamilton IV in 1963.

The following year Waylon Jennings would also record “Abilene” but release it solely as an album track on his one and only LP for the Bat label, At J.D.’s – check out the unusually deep bottom on this recording:

Abilene – Waylon Jennings

[Pssst:  Click on the triangle above to play “Abilene” by Waylon Jennings.]

At JD's - Waylon Jennings LP

The “Key City” in Song

In “The Women There Don’t Treat You Mean:  Abilene in Song” – published April 2007 in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly – author Gary Hartman notes “although Gibson’s is the most well-known tune to refer to the Key City, Abilene appears in dozens of other songs performed by a surprisingly diverse group of musicians.  Legendary Texas bluesman Sam ‘Lightnin” Hopkins recorded at least three tunes between 1948 and 1974 in which he sang the praises of Abilene.  Texas honky-tonk pioneer Ernest Tubb recorded ‘Girl from Abilene,’ and Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash co-authored the song ‘Wanted Man,’ in which the lead character spends time in Abilene.  The list of artists who pay tribute to Abilene is remarkably long and includes Ian Moore, Jerry Lee Lewis, Waylon Jennings, Nanci Griffith, Robert Earl Keen, Eliza Gilkyson, Larry Joe Taylor, and even two British rock bands, Yes and Humble Pie.”

Waylon:  4 Wheels Good, 2 Legs Bad

Kinky Friedman, in his essay on ‘Outlaws’ in The Country Music Pop-Up Book, writes that “Waylon Jennings, at the same time [early 1970s], was sometimes quite literally slugging it out in Nashville.  Like all of us, he struggled against the musical establishment.  One of my first memories of Waylon was on a sunny afternoon as I was walking up an alley behind Music Row, and he drove up in a big Cadillac and a cloud of dust.  He pulled up beside me and lowered the window, and I swear he looked part devil and part smilin’ Jesus. On that day he gave some words to live by that I have never forgotten.  ‘Get in, Kink,’ he said.   ‘Walkin’s bad for your image.'”

“Big Blue Diamonds”: Early 70s Resurgence

I first encountered the song, “Big Blue Diamonds,” as covered by Little Willie John in 1962, from a Starday-King cassette entitled Country Tunes Done R&B.Country Tunes Done R&B.jpg

“Big Blue Diamonds” was penned by Earl “Kit” Carson and first issued on a 1950 King 78 sung by Red Perkins. Tex Ritter also put out a version that very same year.  Jimmy Dean covered it in the mid-50s, Sam the Sham & the Pharoahs in the mid-60s.

And then in the early 70s, a relative flurry of versions:  Arthur Prysock and Gene Summer both put out singles in 1971, while Mel Street and Ernest Tubb released honky tonk versions the following year.  1972 also saw the release of Jacky Ward‘s country top 40 hit version on the Target label – check out the naff piano, pedal steel & vibraslap opening:

“Big Blue Diamond”     Jacky Ward     1972

Jerry Lee Lewis would also record the song in 1973 on his Southern Roots album.

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