Just after I finished putting together the “Chew Tobacco Rag” history 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]
- A01 James Brown Signed, Sealed and Delivered ’63 [Cowboy Copas]
- A02 Little Willie John Big Blue Diamonds ’62 [Red Perkins]
- A03 Hank Ballard Excuse Me (I Think I’ve Got a Heartache) ’62 [Buck Owens]
- A04 Earl Bostic Your Cheatin’ Heart ’63 [Hank Williams]
- A05 Charles Brown I Don’t Want Your Rambling Letters ’63 [Stanley Brothers]
- A06 Freddy King Remington Ride ’63 [Hank Penny/Herb Remington]
- B01 James Brown Three Hearts in a Tangle ’62 [Ray Pennington]
- B02 Little Willie John She Thinks I Still Care ’62 [George Jones]
- B03 Hank Ballard I’m Learning ’63 [Toni Harper]
- B04 King Curtis Steel Guitar Rag ’56 [Leon McAuliffe/Merle Travis]
- B05 Eugene Church Sixteen Tons ’62 [Merle Travis]
- B06 Freddy King Lonesome Whistle Blues ’61 [Freddy King]
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]
- A01 Little Willie John Big Blue Diamonds ’62 [Red Perkins]
- A02 Hank Ballard Excuse Me (I Think I’ve Got a Heartache) ’62 [Buck Owens]
- A03 King Curtis Steel Guitar Rag ’56 [Leon McAuliffe/Merle Travis]
- A04 Arthur Prysock Today I Started Loving You Again ’69 [Merle Haggard]
- B01 Earl Bostic Your Cheatin’ Heart ’63 [Hank Williams]
- B02 Billy Ward & the Dominoes I Really Don’t Want to Know ’54 [Eddy Arnold]
- B03 Charles Brown I Don’t Want Your Rambling Letters ’63 [Stanley Brothers]
- B04 Eugene Church Sixteen Tons ’62 [Merle Travis]
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).