Ann Jones, King recording veteran, and hubby Hughie, have their five-piece, all-girl band playing military installations in the 50 States on a 52-week-a-year basis. Combo makes the jump in a sleeper bus.
KCLX disc jockey, Mary Wilson, in that same Billboard column would “type in” from Palouse, Washington in their January 1, 1955 edition “that Ann Jones and her all-girl band from Vancouver, B.C., toured thru there recently and guested on her ‘Far West Jamboree.’ In the band, which played the Riverside Park there the same night, are Blanche Emerson, steel guitar, Yvonne Fritchie, vocalist and guitarist, who records for Abbott Records; De Lore Nelson, accordion, and Mariam Saylor.”
Ruppli’s King Labels discography reports March 29, 1951 to be the date of Jones’ first recording session at King’s Cincinnati studio (having left Capitol, her first label, for King). “Hi-Ballin’ Daddy” – one of four songs captured on tape at that first session – was her first single release for King:
“Hi-Ballin’ Daddy” Ann Jones 1951
Another recording session followed eight months later at the King studio on November 9, 1951, and again, four songs would be committed to tape, including “Too Old to Cut the Mustard.” The next recording session at the King studio took place on June 6, 1952 (including “Smart Aleck“), while two more sessions would take place in Los Angeles the following year in May (“If I Was a Cat” & “A Big Fat Gal Like Me“). The final entry in the Ruppli discography indicates Jones’ last session for King to have taken place April 11-12, 1961 at the Cincinnati studio, with fifteen songs recorded, including “Hit and Run” and “Pieces of My Heart.”
78 RPM/45 World reveals King to have issued eleven 78 releases by Ann Jones, plus two LPs on King subsidiary, Audio Lab: 1959’s Ann Jones And Her American Sweethearts (highlights from her early 50s recordings) and 1961’s Hit and Run from Ann Jones And Her Western Sweethearts (14 of the 15 tracks laid down in April, 1961).
1959 LP — modernist backdrop vs. 1961 LP — more traditional backdrop
From King’s 78 “biodiscs” (thanks, Randy McNutt!) we have learned the following information about Ann Jones:
Altho(ugh) all her kin are still in Kentucky, Ann was born in Kansas and attended school there.
Ann’s biggest seller was “Give Me a Hundred Reasons” [1949 debut single on Capitol] – she says that what success she has enjoyed to date is due primarily to the disc jockeys, who have been almost completely responsible.
Ann Jones, besides being the favorite girl hillbilly singer of thousands of fans, is also an athlete. She was a star softball player in California before devoting all her time to music.
When Ann is free to relax and enjoy her hobbies, you can find her at the best fishing spot in the neighborhood, or else at the ball park watching her favorite baseball team.
Born in Hutchinson, Kansas, Ann Jones has blue eyes and is 5’6″ tall. Fishing is her main hobby when she isn’t busy singing or composing songs. She has written over 150 original compositions.
Besides fishing, Ann loves baseball. She used to play softball before she devoted full-time to music. She seldom goes to baseball games anymore because she always yells herself hoarse.
Randy McNutt notes in King Records of Cincinnati: that Ann Jones “once said that she started writing songs because so many were written for men singers.”
Robert K. Oermann, in his entry for Ann Jones in The Encyclopedia of Country Music – Compiled by the Staff of the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum, observes that “much of her material was self-penned, making her one of country’s trailblazing female composers.”
A tall tip of the hat to music historian Dave Schroeder, who informs Zero to 180 (via the comments attached to this piece) that Billboard, in its January 1, 1955 edition “incorrectly lists Vancouver, British Columbia as the band’s home base – it should be Vancouver, Washington, not far from Portland,” and that furthermore, “to my ears, the 1950s recordings (1st Audio Lab LP) used King studio musicians, while those from the early 1960s (2nd Audio Lab LP, Hit and Run) featured Ann’s band, The Western Sweethearts.“
Steel Guitar Who’s Who: 1957
Schroeder also generously offered up this high-rez image of top steel guitar talent (including Blanche Emerson) from the Fender booth at a 1957 radio DJ convention – special thanks to The Steel Guitar Forum for identification of each musician:
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 coverliner 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).
Amusing to note that this vocal trio from Davis, West Virginia — Don, Ronnie & Darrell — released a 45 in 1966 on Wheeling’s Emperor label, “Honky Tonk Woman,” a song title that recently inspired a playful sequence of pieces: 1, 2, and 3.
Neither Discogs nor 45Cat, surprisingly, have catalog records for the group’s first King 45 release “The Corner of My Eye” b/w “Tomorrow Never Comes” — recorded June 26, 1961. The following entry in Ruppli’s discography for The Vandergrift Brothers is one lonely “leased” composition entitled “You’re Gone Too Far” that remains unissued to this day, while the third and final entry is the group’s other King 45, “Who Needs Your Cold, Cold Love” b/w “Hello Again Sweet Lips” from 1962 — both songs co-written by Shorty Long and published by (Syd Nathan-affiliated) Lois Music.
Significant to note that two other songs from the final February, 1962 King recording session — “In Trouble With the Law” and “Please Don’t Run Away” — remain in Moe Lytle’s vault, wondering what on earth they ever did to deserve such treatment.
“Trouble With the Law” would live to see another day, fortunately, on the tiny and mysterious, Santa Fe label:
“Trouble With the Law” The Vandergrift Brothers 196?
The Vandergrift Brothers were among the top acts who helped The Wheeling Jamboree celebrate its 30th anniversary, as reported in Billboard’s April 27, 1963 edition, along with Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper and the Clinch Mountain Clan, Big Slim, Crazy Elmer & Buddy Durham [a.k.a., Hardrock Gunter, according to RCS — not so, says PragueFrank]. Just four months later, however, WWVA disc jockey, Lee Moore, had informed Billboard that “the ‘World Original Jamboree’ has adopted the policy of importing country music acts from Nashville to augment the ‘Jamboree’ regulars like Doc Williams, Big Slim, and the Vandergrift Brothers”!
King Records was a good training ground where one could get a thorough, hands-on education in all facets of the recording industry. One of the label’s enduring legacies is the large number of producers, A&R men, and sales or marketing executives who ‘trained’ under Nathan. Among the King alumni who enjoyed successful careers at other labels are Seymour Stein (Sire, Sire-London, and Elektra), Hal Neely (Starday and Starday-King), Henry Glover (Old Town, Roulette, Starday-King), Ralph Bass (Chess), Jim Wilson (Starday and Sun), Alan Leeds (Paisley Park), Ray Pennington (Step One), and nearly a dozen others.
As it turns out, the same year Seymour Stein produced a Guitar Crusher single for “Big Red,” Stein also organized a 12-inch release for Columbia Records (under the “Sire Productions” name) that consistsentirely of country releases from the King Records vault [albeit (groan) “electronically re-channeled for stereo”]. That’s right, 1967 would see the release of a Columbia album (in name only) 18 King Size Country Hits, with extensive liner notes by Stein himself – a former Billboard scribe – that promise the LP to be “one of a projected series of albums, each containing eighteen all-time Country and Western hits spanning the past quarter century.”
Many songs on this LP were million sellers when first issued, according to Stein
This album, sadly, would seem to be the only one released — is it fair to presume Columbia had felt sales to be insufficient enough to warrant future volumes? It’s not for lack of trying though, as Stein very helpfully provides some historical context on the factors that helped King succeed in the marketplace:
Cincinnati, at the period just before America’s entrance into World War II, was the center of activities for many of the great Country and Western artists of that era, in much the same way that Nashville is today. The reason for the Queen City’s dominance over the ‘hillbilly’ world was Midwestern Hayride, the country’s favorite C&W radio show, which was aired weekly from Cincinnati over WLW, key station in the Crosley broadcast chain. Among the show’s stars were the Delmore Brothers, Grandpa Jones, Hank Penny, Wayne Raney, and Homer and Jethro. Lloyd ‘Cowboy’ Copas had a popular Country show also over WKRC in Cincinnati. With the exception of the Delmore Brothers, none of the stars of ‘Midwestern Hayride’ had achieved any amount of success on records. Most had never recorded despite their popularity among the Midwest and South.
King Records In the big leagues = On “Big Red” one year before Nathan’s passing
NEW YORK — Columbia Records will issue two albums of all time best sellers from the catalog of King Records. One package will contain country material and the other rhythm and blues. The deal, considered unusual, was okayed by Bill Gallagher, Columbia Records vice-president, after discussions with Seymour Stein of Sire Productions. Stein, who regards the deal as a tribute to the achievement of Syd Nathan, president of King, produced the packages from masters in the King archives.
Each of the albums contains 18 performances. The country package, titled 18 King Size Country Hits, includes “Signed Sealed and Delivered” by Cowboy Copas, “Blues Stay Away From Me” by the Delmore Brothers, “Mountain Dew” by Grandpa Jones, “Money, Marbles and Chalk” by the writer Pop Eckler, and sides by the Carlisle Brothers, Jimmy Osbourne, Wayne Raney, Moon Mullican, Hawkshaw Hawkins and Reno and Smiley.
Pop Eckler was never a famous recording artist, but as composer of one of the greatest Country ballads, this album would be incomplete without his own rendition of “Money, Marbles and Chalk.” The tune was also a pop hit for Patti Page.
Seymour Stein’s liner notes for 18 King Size Country Hits below
This is one of a projected series of albums, each containing eighteen all-time Country and Western hits spanning the past quarter century. All the tunes, which first appeared on the King Records label under the aegis of Sydney Nathan, its founder and president, are performed by the original singers who made them famous. Many of the recordings were million sellers when they were first issued.
Cincinnati, at the period just before America’s entrance into World War II, was the center of activities for many of the great Country and Western artists of that era, in much the same way that Nashville is today. The reason for the Queen City’s dominance over the “hillbilly” world was Midwestern Hayride, the country’s favorite C&W radio show, which was aired weekly from Cincinnati over WLW, key station in the Crosley broadcast chain. Among the show’s stars were the Delmore Brothers, Grandpa Jones, Hank Penny, Wayne Raney, and Homer and Jethro. Lloyd “Cowboy” Copas had a popular Country show also over WKRC in Cincinnati. With the exception of the Delmore Brothers, none of the stars of the Midwestern Hayride had achieved any amount of success on records. Most had never recorded despite their popularity throughout the Midwest and South.
King’s first artists came from Midwestern Hayride, and one of the first releases, “It’s Raining Here This Morning” by Grandpa Jones , was a substantial hit. He is still a favorite on records, and on the Grand Ole Opry. Another of his greatest hits was [1947‘s] “Mountain Dew.”
The end of World War II brought one of King’s biggest early hits, the original “Rainbow at Midnight” by the Carlisle Brothers , which dealt with the joyous feelings of soldiers after the war.
By 1948, Cowboy Copas had emerged as the leading Country and Western singer in America. His biggest hit was a song written by Sydney Nathan under the pseudonym Lois Mann, “Signed, Sealed and Delivered,”  one of the few million-selling Country discs. Another million seller for him was “Tennessee Waltz” [*first recording of song – April 1947 at King Studios], penned by Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart especially for Copas. The tune was recorded years later by Patti Page and has since become the state song of Tennessee. Copas became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1946 and remained with it until his golden voice was forever stilled in 1963.
Also, in the late 1940s a Cajun song sylist and pianist from Houston, Moon Mullican, began recording. He too had his share of gold records: “I’ll Sail My Ship Alone”  and “”Sweeter Than the Flowers” , both from Nathan’s pen. The King of the Hillbilly Piano Players, Mullican was forerunner to one of the greatest of all Country artists, Hank Williams, who also sang many Cajun melodies. Late in 1966, Mullican passed away following a long illness.
In 1947, a young singer, Hawkshaw Hawkins, who had been performing on radio station WWVA in Wheeling, West Virginia, sent to King Records a “demo” made in a penny arcade for 25¢. So enthused was Nathan by the voice on the record that he immediately summoned the artist to nearby Cincinnati. As it turned out, Hawkins’ initial investment paid more than a million fold. Some of his biggest hits included “Slow Poke” , “Sunny Side of the Mountain” , “Shot Gun Boogie” [live performance + ‘bullwhip act’], “Pan American” , “If I Ever Get Rich Mom”  and “Picking Sweethearts” . In 1962 he recorded “Lonesome 7-7203.” It is unfortunate that the record did not reach the number-one position all across the nation until after Hawkins’ tragic death in 1963 [in the plane crash that also claimed the lives of Patsy Cline and Cowboy Copas].
Bonnie Lou, a star since 1951 of Midwestern Hayride, heard the pop version of “Seven Lonely Nights” by Georgia Gibbs in 1953. Nathan immediately rushed Bonnie Lou into the King studios to cut her own enormously successful version of the hit.
The Delmore Brothers, Alton and Rabon, one of the original groups in Country music, date from the late 1920s. As composers they are famed as writers of “Beautiful Brown Eyes,” popularized by Rosemary Clooney. Although they recorded for many labels, their biggest hit, “Blues Stay Away From Me” , was recorded during their term with King [and co-written with Wayne Raney and Henry Glover]. Both brothers recently passed away [actually, Rabon in 1952, Alton in 1964].
Wayne Raney can still be heard over local radio in Cincinnati, playing and singing with his family favorite Country and sacred tunes. He enjoyed many, many hits, including the number-one hit “Why Don’t You Haul Off and Love Me” , also a big pop hit for Rosemary Clooney [backed by Hugo Winterhalter].
Jimmy Osbourne‘s music usually dealt witth morbid, tragic themes. Biggest of these was “Death of Little Kathy Fiscus” , a number-one record in 1949. It told the true story of the death by drowning of a young child, and of the futile attempts to rescue her.
Pop Eckler was never a famous recording artist, but as composer of one of the greatest Country ballads, this album would be incomplete without his own rendition of “Money, Marbles and Chalk” . The tune was also a pop hit for Patti Page.
At present, two big Country and Western acts are the Stanley Brothers (Ralph and Carter) and the team of Don Reno and Red Smiley, both of which are extremely popular both in the Country and folk-bluegrass fields. One of the Stanleys’ biggest hits is “How Far to Little Rock” . Carter Stanley passed away in 1966. Reno and Smiley are represented by their first and biggest hit, “I’m the Talk of the Town” .
Although every selection in the album has been a Top Ten hit, they comprise more than just a collection to past successes. They are an intrinsic part of the history and development of America’s Country and Western music.
“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).
“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?'”
“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.”
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
Bob Newman: bass & lead vocal Henry Glover: drums Al Meyers: lead guitar Louie Innis: rhythm guitar Tommy Jackson: fiddle Shorty Long: piano
“Phfft! You Were Gone” would include Newman on bass & vocals, Shorty Long on piano, and Al Meyers on lead guitar, plus “sound effect” provided by Howdy Kempf, with an unnamed drummer and rhythm guitarist rounding out the sound. Thanks to Scott Kempf, Howdy’s son, for not only correcting my previous spelling error with regard to his father’s name but also for providing Zero to 180 with this exclusive bit of background information:
“Howdy Kempf was my Dad. He passed in 1997.
My Dad and Bob Newman were friends and both artists for King Records at that time. My Dad also performed with the Georgia Crackers which was Bob’s group.
On that session day during the car trip from Columbus to Cincinnati, my Dad wrote down the words to the song as Bob dictated. And then provided the Phfft on the original session. My Dad had a unique way of making that sound. If you listen to the Hee Haw versions, not too many could duplicate that sound without spitting on someone. Lol.
P.S. On some of my Dad’s recordings over the years, the F was left off of my Dad’s last name. That may have lead to some confusion.”
“‘Phfft! You Were Gone,’ another novelty, was sold by Bob (alias Lee Roberts) and he didn’t get a dime when about twenty years later the song became a hook on the Hee Haw TV show. Bob, according to Hank’s widow, was a big spender: he would sell a song for, say, $ 1,500, then throw away $ 2,000. He sold ‘Shut Up And Drink Your Beer’ to Merle Travis, and ‘Crying Steel Guitar Waltz’ to Jean Shepard. That’s why he never made a living of his songs. Al Myers explained that Bob Newman didn’t know how to pursue his career, and that’s the main reason why King didn’t renew his contract in August 1952.”
“For years, the television series Hee Haw used a song on the show called ‘Phfft! You Were Gone,’ often credited to Buck Owens. Earlier appearances of the song on record attributed writer’s credit to Lee Roberts, Susan Heather, or Marian B. Yarneall. Bob Newman’s son Bob Jr. recently wrote to us to untangle the mystery of authorship of this classic. It was first recorded by Bob Newman July 3, 1952, at King Studios in Cincinnati. It was released on King 45-1131 shortly thereafter, with writer credits to Lee Roberts. Bob Newman actually wrote the song under the name Lee Roberts, which was his usual pen name (he had over 80 songwriting credits for both ASCAP and BMI under that name), and was the first to record it. Newman sold the song to Bix Reichner in 1958. Reichner, who wrote many songs including ‘Papa Loves Mambo’ for Perry Como and ‘I Need Your Love Tonight’ for Elvis Presley, assigned the song to his wife’s name — Marian B. Yarneall, aka Susan Heather. By the time the Audio Lab album came out in 1959, the writer credit had changed to Susan Heather. The original version of the song made its first (only?) LP appearance on his Audio Lab album.”
Two decades or so later, television writers would enjoy endless lyrical possibilities:
“Phfft! You Were/Was Gone” Hee Haw
Note, however, that Bopping assumes — as I did, until very recently — that King merely “reissued” those two truck driving songs in 1959, “Haulin’ Freight” and “Lonesome Truck Driver’s Blues.” Sorry, Bopping, but we discovered in the previous Zero to 180 piece that those two songs were given a re-boot to make them sound more contemporary.
King Record Innovation: “Bio Discs“
Independent record producer and music writer, Randy McNutt, has authored two books about Cincinnati’s post-WWII music history and its role in giving birth to rock & roll.
“The 78 RPM record pictured here, Newman’s ‘Quarantined Love’ , shows another of Nathan’s innovations, the bio disc. He printed brief biographies of artists on promotional records and sent them to disc jockeys and decision makers in the music business. The idea must have worked, for King Records continued to issue bio discs into the 1960s.”
Zero to 180’s previous piece about a surprisingly decent truck driving song by The Archies – “Truck Driver” – makes a pretty persuasive case for 1968 being pop’s peak for the dieselbilly artform. 1971 might be no match for 1968, however, yesterday’s featured song – “I’ve Come Awful Close” – along with today’s spotlight track, Barbara Mandrell‘s “Tonight My Baby’s Coming Home, also from 1971, demonstrates neither is it a slouch:
“Tonight My Baby’s Coming Home” Barbara Mandrell 1971
“Tonight My Baby’s Coming Home” – a #10 country chart hit – was one of five Top 40 country hits included on 1973’s The Midnight Oil — a #8 country album.
Album Recording Credits
Guitar: Jerry Kennedy, Grady Martin, Billy Sanford, Harold Bradley & Bobby Thompson Steel/Dobro: Lloyd Green & Pete Drake Fiddle: Buddy Spicher & Johnny Gimble Piano: Hargus ‘Pig’ Robbins Bass: Junior Huskey Drums: Willie Ackerman Recorded: *September, 1971 Columbia Recording Studio – Nashville
(Majority of album tracks recorded in 1973*)
IMDB, the Internet Movie Database, recognizes these nicknames for Merle Haggard, who – in poetic fashion – left us this week on the exact date of his 79th birthday:
– Mighty Merle – Okie from Muskogee – Hag – Poet of the Common Man
Mighty Merle would enjoy the backing of The Strangers, one of country music’s greatest bands (who once recorded this charming radio ad for Ford Trucks), but the Hag began his recording career as a solo artist. I am sorry to learn that Merle’s second single did not enjoy the same chart success as his inaugural release “Sing a Sad Song” which was a Top 20 national hit despite being released on Tally, an indie label with minimal distribution. Perhaps it’s time then to reintroduce this quirky little tune “Sam Hill” to the rest of the world in honor of Merle’s passing:
“Sam Hill” Merle Haggard 1964
Haggard projects such a serious and soulful presence that casual fans may be surprised to learn of his gift for musical mimicry, as evidenced by this hilarious clip from The Glen Campbell Show in which he not only impersonates but also embodies four other legends of country music — Marty Robbins, Hank Snow, Buck Owens, and Johnny Cash:
Thanks to Deke Dickerson for putting together this moving tribute to Merle on the day his spirit left us:
“If you’re a true believer, then you already know, but for the uninitiated, one of the last true giants of country music has left the building. Rest in Peace to the great Merle Haggard, who passed away today, on his 79th birthday. It’s hard to put into words the immense influence and style and legacy of the man who was the best selling country music artist of the 1970’s, who started recording in the early 1960’s and was still recording and touring and incredibly active up until his death. Suffice to say, Merle Haggard was one of the greatest of all time, a Country Music Hall Of Famer, a Mount Rushmore-like figure who wrote epic songs like ‘Mama Tried’ and ‘Okie From Muskogee’ and ‘White Line Fever’ and ‘Tulare Dust’ and ‘Ramblin’ Fever’ and ‘Fightin’ Side Of Me’ and ‘Workin’ Man Blues’ and ‘If We Make It Through December’ and literally a thousand others. He sang the living [dung] out of those songs, too, with the conviction that a million wannabes who followed in his footsteps have never been able to emulate. He picked guitar, he played the fiddle, he made tribute albums to his heroes, and he kept playing and singing and playing and singing. He worked like a dog, like a man possessed, and inspired more fans and musicians than almost anybody in the history of the country music genre.
I was lucky enough to write two box set books for Bear Family Records on Merle Haggard’s Capitol Recordings from 1968-1976. I also wrote a box set book on Merle’s ex-wife and longtime harmony singer Bonnie Owens. It was because of his desire to see a good Bonnie Owens collection that he agreed to let me interview him. I wasn’t promised anything more than a cursory 15 to 30 minute phone interview, but minutes into the first phone call, we started talking about Roswell aliens and Lefty Frizzell and Emmett Miller and Bob Wills and then the floodgates were opened. I wound up interviewing Merle for a total of ten hours. He was a fascinating character, and one that gave endless great and usable quotes. He was not educated, but he was highly intelligent. I admired his ability to admit that he was wrong, and how he learned from experience. He explained to me for nearly an hour how ‘dumb as a rock’ he was when he wrote the right-wing anthems ‘Okie from Muskogee’ and ‘Fightin’ Side Of Me:’
Merle: “I was dumb as a rock, you know, I thought that the government told us the truth, and I thought that marijuana made you walk around with your mouth open. So when you write a song from that limited understanding, and have it become a hit, I was really in a whirlwind of change in America, and in my own way of thinking. ‘Okie from Muskogee’ came off the wall, written in about ten minutes, and it came off the back side of my brain, and my heart. Because I was disturbed about young America.
“See, I was easing into my thirties, at that time, so I was pretty much out of here as far as the young people were concerned, and they were young kids that I was irritated with, and they were doing things that I thought were un-American. Well, it wasn’t un-American, they were smarter than me! Kids are always smarter than the old folks….they see through our bigotry, and our hypocrisy. And I had a great lesson in life to learn, that they were already aware of. I believe history has proven them right. The Vietnam War was a hoax, the reason we went to war was a lie…maybe communism was a threat, but that wasn’t why we were there.
“What went on in the evolution of America and the evolution of Merle Haggard is not what people would have expected.” (Merle Haggard interview by Deke Dickerson, 2007)
I was really impressed at how much Merle had achieved, in the rigid music business system that preferred to market an artist in terms of saleable product, singles and albums of same sounding pop-based music, one right after the other. Merle was able to pick projects (and convince Capitol to release them) that had little commercial appeal except for the fact that Merle Haggard would be doing them–a tribute to Jimmie Rodgers; a tribute to Bob Wills (both done at a time when nobody remembered or cared about Rodgers or Wills); a double album of gospel music, recorded on location in rural churches and homeless shelters; live albums recorded in Muskogee, Oklahoma, Philadelphia and New Orleans; instrumental albums by his excellent band, The Strangers….it was overwhelming then, and it still is today, examining it all in retrospect. How did he achieve SO much in that amount of time? It boggles the mind.
I’ll always be grateful for the time that Merle gave me, and I know that at any given time, he had a thousand other people vying for his attention. It was a life that had to be exhausting. He lived it to the fullest and brought the real, honest Merle Haggard to the people every single time. There was no other Merle Haggard, it was just the way he was, and that’s one of the big reasons why people loved him. He was absolutely 100% genuine, no [BS], and they just don’t make country music stars like that anymore.
I saw Merle recently at what might have been his last show (can anyone confirm this?), back in February at the Saban Theater in Beverly Hills. It was an odd audience mix of rich folks, entertainment industry [butt]holes, rednecks, alternative rockers, aging hippies and hipsters. The minute that Merle hit the stage, despite his frail voice, the entire room was in the palm of his hand. Grown men kept yelling at the top of their lungs, “WE LOVE YOU MERLE!” It was, simply, to be in the presence of greatness. It wasn’t the greatest Merle Haggard performance he ever gave, but he gave all he had, sang his famous songs and walked off stage, as he did, without an encore. The audience, myself included, felt grateful to be seeing something that we all knew we probably wouldn’t be seeing many more times. Nobody there knew the end would be coming so damn fast.”
Merle Haggard & the Strangers – Annapolis, MD – April 16, 2012
This week we said goodbye to Buddy Emmons, one of the world’s great musicians and subject ofthree prior Zero to 180 pieces. Here is but a*45-second livedemonstration (beginning to end) of Buddy Emmons’ singular genius with the pedal steel guitar:
Billboard‘sApril 4, 1960 editionawarded three stars (i.e., “good sales potential”) to the original Decca 45 release and praised “Four Wheel Drive,” an original composition,for itsuniquenessof sound:
“Four Wheel Drive” — A swinging instrumental, has a country and jazz quality. Ununsual item for jocks.
“Blue Wind” — This one with a Hawaiian flavor plus a touch of blues orientation.
Only image of this 45 I can find online — scary
It is disappointing that (as of 2021)Discogsand45Catare both bereft of entries for Emmons’ outstanding sole Decca single [link toPragueFrank‘s session info]. This gaping historical hole is in stark contrast to the high regard in which Emmons is widely held:
Three years later in 1955, Emmons made a big splash with the addition of his Bigsby to the trademark twin lead guitar sound of Jimmy Dickens as a member of his backing band, The Country Boys, points out Kienzle, who got the opportunity to display their considerable musicality at Nashville’s Music City Recording Studio in January, 1956 on such blazing instrumentals as “Country Boy Bounce,” “Raisin’ the Dickens,” and “Red Wing.”
A partnership with Shot Jackson led to the founding in 1957 (possibly 1955) of Sho-Bud Guitars, a top name in pedal steel, especially after Bigsby stopped their steel production. Emmons left the running of the company to Jackson in the late 1950s so that he could join one of country’s finest backing bands, The Texas Troubadours, an experience that led to the oddly ambiguous recording session with Owen Bradley on October 5, 1959 that produced the extraordinary “Four Wheel Drive” and “Blue Wind” 45 for Decca (plus two unissued tracks).
Emmons stayed with [Ernest] Tubb until 1962, when he made two major changes: leaving the Troubadours and, after disagreements with Shot Jackson, leaving Sho-Bud. He and North Carolina inventor Ron Lashley formed the Emmons Guitar Company shortly after that, creating a steel that included many of Emmons’ design ideas that Shot had rejected. Early that year, when Jimmy Day left Ray Price’s Cherokee Cowboys, Emmons replaced him in the band. Again, Buddy was working with one of the premier country road bands.
Off the road, he often played jazz with other musicians around Nashville. When Ernest Tubb’s son Justin, a successful singer in his own right, heard Buddy at one of these jam sessions in 1963, he suggested that Emmons try an all-jazz steel guitar album and soon interested Mercury Records in the concept. Jazz arranger, Quincy Jones, working as head of pop A&R at Mercury, suggested some tunes, and was originally set to produce the session. Jones couldn’t do it, but Buddy, who’d wanted to record in Nashville, was set to record in New York on July 22, 1963 with a jazz rhythm section.
That same year – in a fascinating historical side note, courtesy of a news item published in theMay 30, 1964 issueof Music Business – we learn that Emmons’ wife was also part of the music industry:
A. Halsey Cowan, international attorney for Nashville’sPamper Music, conducted a seminar on copyrights for publishing firms at theLibrary of CongressMay 15  attended by pubbery reps from a wide area. Other speakers included … Mrs. Buddie Emmons and Walter Haynes,Moss Rosepubbery …
Emmons’ tenure with Ray Price’s backing band, The Cherokee Cowboys, was an artistically fertile time – with frequent jam sessions on the tour bus, says Kienzle – that peaked with the recording of the Western Strings LP for Columbia in 1965. Price would subsequently make a conscious effort to de-emphasize the country elements in his live band, however, a move that impelled Emmons to join Roger Miller (himself an ex-Cherokee Cowboy) in relocating to the West Coast, where he began playing steel as a session player.
How cool that my all-time favorite steel guitarist played with one of my top groups (NRBQ) and guitarists (Duane Eddy). Steel Guitar Forum, no surprise, already has a thread devoted to Buddy’s memory, while Edd Hurt penned a nice tribute to Emmons inThe Nashville Scenethat talks about some of Buddy’s pedal steel technical innovations, such as extra strings and pedals that raise the fretboard.
Steel Guitar Great Buddy Emmons Dies Pedal steel player backed up artists from Ernest Tubb to Linda Rondstat By Stephen L. Betts –Rolling Stone– July 30, 2015
Musician Buddy Emmons, widely regarded as the world’s foremost steel guitarist, hailed for his unique playing style and innovations with regard to tuning, has died at age 78.
Born Buddie Gene Emmons in Mishawaka, Indiana, and nicknamed “the Big E,” his guitar work was heard on countless recordings by acts ranging from Ray Price and Ernest Tubb, to Linda Ronstadt and the Carpenters.
At 11 years old, Emmons studied on lap steel guitar at the Hawaiian Conservatory of Music in South Bend, Indiana, learning to play country music by listening to the radio. As a teenager, he joined his first bands, relocating to Illinois then to Detroit, before moving to Nashville in 1955 to join Grand Ole Opry star Little Jimmy Dickens’ band at 18 years old. Christened the Country Boys, Dickens’ band recorded several instrumentals, including three of Emmons’ original compositions. After Dickens dissolved his band in 1956, Emmons and fellow guitarist Shot Jackson formed the Sho-Bud Company, which designed and built steel guitars. Emmons also began extensive Nashville studio work, and joined Ernest Tubb’sTexas Troubadoursthe following year, remaining with Tubb until 1958.
Four years later, Emmons became a member of Ray Price’s band the Cherokee Cowboys. By 1967, he was living in California, and after joining Roger Miller’s band, landed more high-profile studio work in Los Angeles, appearing on records by Nancy Sinatra, Gram Parsons, John Sebastian and others.
A 1974 return to Nashville continued his studio work, on LPs by George Strait, Mel Tillis, Gene Watson, June Carter Cash, Ricky Skaggs and many more. Emmons was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 1981. He toured with the Everly Brothers in the Nineties and would later be heard occasionally on radio’s A Prairie Home Companion.
Emmons retired in 2007 after the sudden death of his wife Peggy. In 2013, a tribute LP was released. The Big E: A Salute to Steel Guitarist Buddy Emmons, featured Willie Nelson, Little Jimmy Dickens, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, and several steel players including Randle Currie, from Brad Paisley’s band. A rare bit of Emmons songwriting, “Are You Sure,” also appears on Kacey Musgraves’Pageant Materialas ahidden trackduet with Willie Nelson. As the story goes, he and Nelson penned the 1965 song together after a confrontation with a bar patron.
Fellow steel player Steve Fishell, who cites “The Big E” as a chief inspiration and is currently on the road with Emmylou Harris, summed up Emmons’ death to Rolling Stone Country as nothing short of a tragedy: “It’s a towering loss in the pedal steel community and to music lovers everywhere.”
Last May’s piece about Sonny George and his modern truck driving classic album Truckin’ Country (issued on Eddie Angel‘s Spinout label) reminds me that Dale Watson deserves recognition for his own equally excellent contribution that very same year, 1998’s Truckin’ Sessions. Kick-off tune, “Good Luck ‘n’ Good Truckin’ Tonite” would be issued as the A-side of a single — with “Yankee Doodle Jean” as the (non-LP) B-side:
“Good Luck ‘n’ Good Truckin’ Tonite” Dale Watson 1998
Not to be confused with George Clooney’s cinematic love letter to Edward R. Murrow, Good Night, and Good Luck.
By the way, I just got word that The Trucking’ Sessions, Vol. 3 will be coming out May 22nd in Europe (via CRS) and June 2nd (via Red River) as a mid-line stand alone release (previously only available as part of The Trucking’ Trilogy collection which was released last July). All but one of the songs were re-mixed and re-mastered for Vol. III.
It’s Been A Long Trucking’ Day
Phillip At The Station
I Live on Trucking’ Time
I Gotta Keep On Keepin’ On
I’m A Truckin’
Drive Drive Drive
We’re Trucking’ Along
Dale Watson is now on tour and just might be coming to a town near you.