“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

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

* * * * *

The Journal of Country Music, an organ of the Country Music Foundation (published from 1971 through 2007), produced a special report in 1989 entitled “The Unseen Hand: How Producers Shape the Country Sound” that includes a few paragraphs about Chet Atkins‘ critical role in edging country music toward a more tuneful, pop path:

A rising class of session players was there to give the producers the sound, which was based on the relaxed jamming Atkins and friends had developed improvising together at the Carousel Club in Printer’s Alley. The traditional country elements came from the basic instrumentation—fretted instruments, plus piano most of the time and also the drums that had been commonplace since the emergence of western swing and honky-tonk. The beat was softer, looser—if rockabilly was to take over as rural dance music, country would become primarily listening music, even easy listening music, radio music. The new elements included violin sections and vocal choruses that owed more to pop music, along with some echo (a technique learned from rockabilly) on the lead voice.

In fact, everything was meant to emphasize that vocal; where “hot picking” had once been a virtue in a country band, now the musicians, except for the occasional soloist, were there primarily to provide what could be termed a “cushion” on which the producer could rest the lead voice. In the studio, those jazzy jams were formalized and compressed into two-and three-minute songs.

For guitarist Atkins, a self-styled “country gentleman” with a taste for classical music, and pianist [Owen] Bradley, a society bandleader, this sound was a natural enough step in the evolution of the music. In interviews, Atkins has always claimed he became a producer/A&R man more by accident than by design, but that explanation sounds awfully ingenuous when you listen to the first record he cut, Don Gibson’s “Oh Lonesome Me” b/w “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” done only days after Chet took over at RCA. These two sides sound little like Gibson’s prior work; especially in their use of violins, they clearly didn’t come out of nowhere, either. They are the product of much thinking and experimenting—much conceptualizing, if you will.

In general, Atkins created the fatter sound of his records by using more instrumentation, his biggest successes coming with Jim Reeves and Eddy Arnold. Bradley favored more voices to get a similarly lush effect, peaking with the torchy Patsy Cline. But Bradley was also the first to insist that the Nashville Sound wasn’t really a sound so much as a way of doing things. However formalized the final result may have been, the musician and producer usually reached it through trial and error, working out their parts in the studio with the use of a notation system that required numbers instead of notes because few of them read music. Since this all had to be done quickly to keep studio costs down, and because artists were on the road so much of the time (that’s where the real money was), a very small group of men who working together efficiently would up cutting most sessions.

Thus, the producer system marked the beginning of assembly-line music in Nashville; it also created the need for professional songwriters (country artists, being folk-based, had until then usually taken material for traditional sources or written their own along with the professional sideman. As this system evolved even further (thanks mainly to overdubbing), the artist became increasingly but one cog—the voice—in his own record; in the most extreme cases, he was even presented with a finished track of a song he’d never heard before, his or her job being simply to add the vocal to the other elements already assembled by the producer.

The sound peaked with Billy Sherrill of Columbia/Epic. Sherrill made his first big splash with David Houston singing “Almost Persuaded” in 1966, but he’s most identified with Tammy Wynette hits like “Stand By Your Man” and “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” in the late sixties, as well as seventies sides by George Jones and the duets George and Tammy sang together.

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: Extra Credit

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

Billboard — October 17, 1970

Merle Kilgore on Starday-King

Former Starday recording artist Merle Kilgore would have an unsuccessful stint at Columbia/Epic in the mid-1960s before rejoining the fold at the newly-expanded Starday-King (the King label having consolidated with Starday upon the death of its founder/owner Syd Nathan in 1968).  Starday historian emeritus Nathan D. Gibson would interview Kilgore for 2011’s superb history, The Starday Story:  The House That Country Built:

He returned to Starday in the late 1960s as Merle Kilgore, “The Boogie King,” and also worked part-time for the label.  He tells the story:

“I went to work for Starday years later [late 60s] for Hal Neely [President of the Starday-King merger].  I was workin’ the Hank [Williams] Jr. roadshow and I was open all week ’cause we worked Fridays and Saturdays and Sundays.  So I went out and just kind of interned, you know.  Producing the records and running the country division for Starday-King.  I was out there for almost two years.  Then they moved me up to where I was director of the country market there.  It was like learning a whole new part of the business that I really hadn’t had the chance to experience.”

1972 would see the release of three 45s while under contract to Starday-King — two singles “The Great Drinking Bout” b/w “Good Rockin’ Tonight” -and- “My Side of Life” b/w “A Different Kind of Pretty” issued on Starday, while one other “Boogie King” b/w “All She Wants to Do is Boogie” issued, curiously, on King:

“Boogie King”      Merle Kilgore     1972

Kilgore’s peripatetic recording career would take him to Imperial, Starday, Mercury, MGM, Columbia, Ashley, Starday-King, Warner Brothers, and Elektra, and yet – as Gibson points out – “Kilgore’s only singles to break the Top 50 in the Billboard charts were on Starday.”

“Big Merle” King 45 engineered by Billy Sherrill

Extra Credit:  Merle Kilgore as Songwriter for Other Artists

Search 45Cat‘s database using the terms “Merle Kilgore” and note the 9 “pages” of 45 releases (25 per page) on which Merle Kilgore has written at least one of the tracks.  Artists who have recorded Merle Kilgore compositions include Webb Pierce, Guy Lombardo, Margie Singleton, Faron Young, Johnny Cash, Eddy Arnold, Claude King, Rex Allen, Hylo Brown, Jack Scott, Lorne Greene, Tommy Roe, Bobby Vinton, Kitty Wells, Billie Jean Horton, Lefty Frizzell, Tillman Franks, Wayne Raney, Tom Tall, Earl Gaines, Kay Starr, Ronnie & the Daytonas, Eric Burdon & the Animals, Leon Ashley, Travis Wammack, Little Jimmy Dempsey, Ray Campi, Anita Carter, June Carter, Carlene Carter, Bucky Allred, Charley Pride, Dwight Yoakam, and Marty Stuart.

Halloween & Horror Alert!

Merle Kilgore once recorded a song “Frankenboogie” under the alias “Frankie Stein” for Starday-King, who would issue the song in 1973 on King as an A-side, with “All She Wants to Do Is Boogie” (borrowed from the 1972 “Boogie King” 45) used for the flip.


Willis Brothers: Giants of Diesel

When you think of truck-driving country classics, the names of four artists should come readily to mind:  Dave Dudley, Red Sovine, Red Simpson … and The Willis Brothers!  Brotherly harmonies + offbeat humor + trucker tales = a winning sound and track record.

“Give Me Forty Acres (To Turn This Rig Around)” would put The Willis Brothers on the musical map in 1964 with a Top 10 Country hit that would go all the way to #1 in Canada.

Willis Brothers 45-bAn album of the same name with a pronounced truck-driving theme would follow in 1965, as well as another in 1967 Travelin’ & Truck Driver Hits (recycled + new tracks) plus one last stellar effort Hey Mister Truck Driver! in 1968.

   Essential truck driving LP #1                    Essential truck driving LP #2

Willis Brothers LP-aaWillis Brothers LP-bb           1967 LP = old + new tracks               Willis Brothers in blue suits – LP cover

Willis Brothers LP-ccWillis Brothers LP-dd

Nathan D. Gibson would note in The Starday Story: The House That Country Music Built:

“[Suzanne] Mathis [graphic designer co-responsible for Starday truck driving covers], like many others, got her job at Starday through her neighbor and accordionist, Vic Willis.  The youngest of the Grand Ole Opry’s Willis Brothers trio, John ‘Vic’ Willis was both a recording artist and a song scout for Starday throughout the mid-sixties.  He was also a career counselor on the side.  He convinced [Starday head, Don] Pierce to employ several of his friends and at one point he even had Shot Jackson’s daughter, Arlene, and three of the Willis Brothers’ wives working at Starday.

The Willis Brothers — Charles ‘Skeeter,’ James ‘Guy’ and John ‘Viv’ — began playing professionally in 1932 and already had an impressive resume before joining Starday in 1960.  Aside from making their own recordings for Mercury, Coral, Sterling, and RCA Victor (as the Oklahoma Wranglers), they also backed the immortal Hank Williams on his first recordings for the Sterling label (as the Original Drifting Cowboys), as well as Eddy Arnold for eight years at the peak of his career (1948-57).  By the time they joined the Opry in 1960, they were again known as the Willis Brothers and that same year began a relationship with Starday.”

The Willis Brothers would release an impressive number of classic truck-driving 45s on Starday going all the way back to 1961 (i.e., pre-“Six Days on the Road”):

Two Willis Brothers “non-truck driving” albums would yield a pair of classic diesel tracks – “Soft Shoulders, Dangerous Curves” from 1966’s Goin’ South and “Drivin’s In My Blood” from (previously-mentioned) 1968 LP Bob.

Note:  B-side “When I Come Driving Through” not yet available for preview on YouTube

[Pssst:  Click on the triangle to hear “When I Come Driving Through” by The Willis Bros.]

check out the Peter Max-inspired cover for 1973 MGM single “Truck Stop”

Willis Brothers 45-aThanks to “outlaw” voices in country music on “renegade” labels, such as Starday and Shelby Singleton’s Plantation Records, the “new social awareness” would begin to inform the country rockin’ scene by the late 1960s.  1970 would see the release of wry 45 “Women’s Liberation”:

Willis Brothers 45-cSurprise!   Live rendition of “Women’s Liberation” on TV’s Porter Wagoner Show – 1974:


Leon’s “Steel Guitar Chimes”

Zero to 180 couldn’t take it any more, so it added a new category – steel guitar – and instantly populated a set of 25 pieces from the past three years that feature many of the world’s foremost steel guitarists, including today’s post, which is the first to highlight the work of Leon McAuliffe, one of the first players to use multi-neck steel guitars (as well as different tunings on each neck, according to Brad’s Pages of Steel).

Nice to see that the Texas State Historical Association has a biographical profile of the famed steel guitarist bandleader and one-time Bob Wills sideman, Leon McAuliffe, for whom Wills coined the famous phrase, “Take it away, Leon!”  Good ol’ PragueFrank confirms that the gently rockin’ “Steel Guitar Chimes” was recorded in either 1958 or 1960, possibly in Dallas, TX:

“Steel Guitar Chimes”     Leon McAuliff(e)     1958?

[link no longer active = awaiting replacement audio]

“Steel Guitar Chimes” would actually be included on a different Starday LP – Mister Western Swing, released 1962 – than the one pictured in the video clip above

Leon McAuliff Starday LP-aaBillboard would review Mister Western Swing in its June 23, 1962 “Music Week” column:

“Leon McAuliff and His Cimarron Boys turn in a fine flock of performances here on such Western classics as ‘Steel Guitar Rag,’ ‘Panhandle Rag,’ ‘Waterbaby Boogie,’ ‘Steel Guitar Chimes,’ and ‘Cimarron Rag.’  McAuliff infuses them with his inimitable Western dance band beat. featuring sock steel guitar work.  A solid set for Western fans and one that could grab plenty of pop action as well.”

“Steel Guitar Chimes” originally began life as a 78 released in 1938 by Roy Acuff And His Crazy Tennesseans, featuring the dobro work of Cousin Jody (née, James Clell Summey).

Link to 7-minute video documentary, The Steel Guitar Rag Story with Leon McAuliffe. about the origins of Leon’s classic steel guitar instrumental.

One question that will likely never get settled:  is Leon’s surname spelled “McAuliff” (as it says on the album cover for Starday LP Swingin’ Western Strings of Leon McAuliff) or “McAuliffe” like it says most everywhere else?

“Ode to Big Joe”: Big Joe Talbot, That’s Who

Thanks to the contributor of YouTube’s only audio clip of “Ode to Big Joe,” I now know which country singers are being affectionately parodied by The Willis Brothers in this song. Question:  Can you close your eyes and identify the four country legends being spoofed?

Answer:   Hank Snow (the song’s narrator), Johnny Cash (the hummer), Ernest Tubb (Texan who sings a little flat) & Tex Ritter (the goofy one who falls asleep by line’s end).

Written by Jack Clement (with truck driving classic, “Drivin’s in My Blood” on the flip side), “Ode to Big Joe” was released as a 45 at the top of 1968, a banner year – as noted earlier – for the musical trucking genre.

“Ode to Big Joe” is a tongue-in-cheek tip of the hat to steel guitarist, Big Joe Talbot, who we last encountered at a 1955 overdubbing session for a 1930 Jimmie Rodgers flip-side.

Key Question:  Did Big Joe really – as The Willis Brothers sing – put the soap suds in the fountain at the Country Music Association in Music City USA?

Hank Snow Music Center, Once Managed by Talbot – closest thing to a photo of Joe

Big Joe Talbot

This piece by Robert K. Oermann – “Country Music Advocate Dies” – was posted on Steel Guitar Forum March 25, 2000, the day after Joe Talbot’s passing:

Joe Talbot, one of the Nashville entertainment industry’s last remaining champions of traditional country music, died yesterday at age 72.

As a record manufacturer, song publisher, SESAC performance-rights executive and musician, Mr. Talbot contributed to the development of Music Row for more than 50 years.  He was lifetime director, past board chairman and past president of the Country Music Association.  He was also a past Board Chairman of the Country Music Foundation, which operates the Country Music Hall of Fame.  Joe Talbot would have turned 73 today.

Mr. Talbot also served on the boards of the Recording Academy, the Gospel Music Association, the Nashville Better Business Bureau and SunTrust Bank.  “You won’t find anybody who doesn’t love Joe Talbot,” said legendary session guitarist Ray Edenton yesterday.  His forthright opinions were invariably delivered in his booming country baritone, rich with humor and warmth.  He was particularly outspoken about the roots of country music and his dislike of Music City’s pop-crossover record making.  “Country music is like a religion to me,” he elaborated during a 1995 interview.  “I get very emotional about it, to the point of tears; it stirs me that deeply.”

Born in 1927, the Nashville native served in the Army in 1945-46. In 1950 he realized his youthful ambition by becoming the steel guitarist in the band of future Country Music Hall of Fame member Hank Snow.  He performed on the Grand Ole Opry with Snow in 1951-52 and continued to tour and record with the superstar until 1954.

“Back then — the ’40s and the ’50s — there was no money.  Those of us who were in the business were in it because we loved it, and because we had to do it.   It was an obsession.  As I recall, to go on the road and play was $10 a day and out of that we had to buy our food and clothes.  Lordy, record sessions paid $41.45, and I’ll have to say this:  There never has been a pill that would give anybody a high like I used to get playing on those record sessions.  I would actually get chill bumps.  It didn’t make any difference about the money. I was getting to do what I wanted to do and best of all, I could turn the radio on and hear myself played back.”

During this same time, Mr. Talbot attended Vanderbilt University Law School, from which he graduated in 1952.  He floundered in business for a number of years before establishing United Record Pressing in 1967.  The company boomed as the manufacturer of vinyl discs for Elvis Presley and the million-selling Motown Records acts.  In 1967 Mr. Talbot also became the manager of SESAC’s Nashville operations.  SESAC is a performance rights organization similar to BMI and ASCAP.   He remained there until 1971.

Mr. Talbot’s other ventures have included Harbot Music in 1965-67.  This company published the songs of Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Ted Harris.  He also owned a prominent Music Row office building.  In 1991, Joe Talbot was recognized by the Nashville Entertainment Association with its Master Award.  The honor represented the deep affection that the music community had for him, as well as his contributions to the creation of the Nashville show-business industry.  Joe Talbot is the second of the CMA Lifetime Board members who has died, after Wesley Rose — the original five were Mr. Talbot, Mr. Rose, Bill Denny, Frances Preston and Ralph Peer Jr.

“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.

“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?

“Gibson Girl”: Actually, Billy Byrd’s a Gibson Guy

Guitarist Billy Byrd – according to Ernest Tubbs‘ biographer, Ronnie Pugh – ”came from a pop and jazz background, and there were some people who were leery of the notion that he could play country with Tubb.  [But] he did it and did it well.  The ten years Billy was in the [Texas Troubadours] band, (1949-59) he did practically all of the instrumental breaks.”

Billy Byrd

Sometime in October 1961, Billy Byrd recorded six songs at the Starday Sound Studio in Nashville – including “Gibson Girl“:

“Gibson Girl”     Billy Byrd    1961

Billy Byrd + Hank Garland = Gibson Byrdland

With the input of guitar greats, Billy Byrd and Hank Garland, Gibson’s then-President, Ted McCarty, developed and debuted the Gibson Byrdland electric archtop guitar in 1955, three years before the better-known ES-335.  Gibson.com points out that the Byrdland was reintroduced as a limited run in 1977, 1978 & 1992 – primarily as a result of the popularity of Ted Nugent, who himself wielded a Byrdland in tribute to Jimmy McCarty of Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels.

Gibson Byrdland

“Springfield Guitar Social”: Who’s Who of Guitar Wizardry

If you’re pressed for time but curious to know more about the stringed instrument masters who inspired and laid the groundwork for the the classic rock generation to come, here is a two-and-a-half minute Cliff Notes guide that demonstrates Thumbs Carllile‘s uncanny ability to play in the style of such guitarists as Grady Martin, Jimmy Bryant, Les Paul, George Barnes, Chet Atkins, Hank Garland, Speedy West*Billy Byrd – and himself:

[* Joe Goldmark challenges the veracity of the claim with regard to Speedy West]

This musical roll call of fleet-fingered axe-pickers was recorded in 1958 and released on Starday in 7-inch as well as 12-inch form.

At No Extra Cost

If you’ve never seen Thumbs Carllile play, then you’re really in for a treat.  As it turns out, Stanley Jordan wasn’t the first person to approach playing the guitar like a piano.  Check out this exhilarating version of “Li’l Liza Jane” from Bill Wemberly & His Country Rhythm Boys, featuring the dual guitar wizardry of Thumbs Carllile and Curly Chalker from Red Foley’s “Ozark Jubilee” TV show.


“Western Limited Boogie”: Boogie Woogie Western-Style

Found a hot Texas swing instrumental called “Western Limited Boogie” on a Starday cassette about which little to no information exists.  The front cover indicates this is part of a series called “Best of the Instrumentals,” and the volume that I own is called Texas Style Instruments.  The featured artist on this blazing instrumental cannot be the twin vocalists, Pee Wee King & Redd Stewart (as it says on the label) but rather Pee Wee’s ace ensemble, The Golden West Cowboys:

Western Limited Boogie – Pee Wee King & Golden West Cowboys

[Pssst:  Click on the triangle above to hear “Western Limited Boogie” by Pee Wee King & The Golden West Cowboys.]

I am reading a fascinating history of the storied Starday label – The Starday Story:  The House That Country Built – by Nathan Gibson in collaboration with one of Starday’s founders, Don Pierce.  The book includes a selected discography of Starday recordings, although this Gusto cassette of more recent vintage, not surprisingly, is outside the scope.

Texas-Style Instruments - Starday

To find a live western swing recording, especially of this high fidelity, on a 1960s Starday compilation is a bit unusual.   I would love to know if other instrumentals by The Golden West Cowboys are in the Starday vaults somewhere or have enjoyed release on other vinyl/tape offerings.  Intense speculation remains as to the date and location of this hot instrumental performance captured live.

Postscript

As Starday historian, Nathan Gibson, points out, not only was it not unusual for Starday to release live recordings, Starday was, in fact, “one of the pioneering country labels releasing live recordings (from the Big D Jamboree, from K.C. benefit shows, from the Nashville Disc Jockey convention Starday shows, as well as many in-studio live albums). They are fun to find and hear, though due to their success, Starday in later years began issuing a lot of ‘live’ albums with studio tracks and added applause. Be wary of some of those. The only way to know, though, is to buy it and find out.”

It would appear I have a gaping hole in my Starday record collection.

Also important to point out that this cassette was released sometime in the 1970s/80s after the Starday-King catalog had been sold to Moe Lytle’s Gusto Records.  Lytle and his team would be the ones who could help identify the source of this live recording by Pee Wee King’s Golden West Cowboys.

Starday-King’s Shared History

King Records [upon Syd Nathan’s death] was sold in October, 1968, to Starday Records. The Starday-King catalog was almost immediately sold to Lin Broadcasting in Nashville, who ran the company without changing much.  In July, 1971, Lin sold James Brown’s contract to Polydor, then sold the label to a company that [famed songwriting duo] Leiber and Stoller had set up called Tennessee Recording and Publishing.  From 1971 to 1974, not much happened at King except the designs of the labels changed. Very few albums were being released and even fewer hits emerged. In one move, the sale of James Brown’s contract, the label went from a chart force to a shell of its former self.   In 1975, Tennessee Recording and Publishing, still running under the Starday-King name, sold the masters to another Nashville concern, GML, Inc., [owned by Moe Lytle] who operated the Gusto label.”              The King/Federal/DeLuxe Story by David Edwards & Mike Callahan