The Carter Family
Sons of the Pioneers
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Although musicians had been recording fiddle tunes (known as Old Time Music at that time) in the southern Appalachians for several years, It wasn't until August 1, 1927 in Bristol, Tennessee, that Country Music really began. There, on that day, Ralph Peer signed Jimmie Rodgers
and the Carter Family
to recording contracts for Victor Records.
These two recording acts set the tone for those to follow - Rodgers with his unique singing style and the Carters with their extensive recordings of old-time music.
Known as the "Father of Country Music," James Charles Rodgers was born in Meridian, Mississippi on September 8, 1897. Always in ill health, he became a railroad hand, until ill health caught up with him and he was forced to seek a less strenuous occupation. An amateur entertainer for many years, he became a serious performer in 1925, appearing in Johnson City, Tennessee and other places. In 1926, Rodgers and Carrie, his wife of 6 years, moved to Asheville, North Carolina, and organized the Jimmie Rodgers' Entertainers, a hillbilly band comprising Jack Pierce (guitar), Jack Grant (mandolin/banjo), Claude Grant (banjo), and Rodgers himself (banjo).
Upon hearing that Ralph Peer of Victor Records was setting up a portable recording studio in Bristol, on the Virginia-Tennessee border, the Entertainers headed in that direction. But due to a dispute within their ranks, Rodgers eventually recorded as a solo artist, selecting a sentimental ballad, "The Soldier's Sweetheart," and a lullaby, "Sleep, Baby, Sleep," as his first offerings. The record met with instant acclaim, thus causing Victor to record further Rodgers' sides throughout 1927, including the first in a set of 13, Blue Yodel # 1 (T for Texas)
Rodgers, who died in 1933, never appeared on any major radio show or even played the Grand Ole Opry during his lifetime. But he, Fred Rose, and Hank Williams were the first persons to be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1961, which is indicative of his importance in the history of Country Music.
One of the most influential groups in country music was The Carter Family (A.P., Sara, cousin Maybelle, and others). The Carters first recorded for Ralph Peer for Victor on August 1, 1927--the same day that Jimmie Rodgers cut his first sides--completing six titles, including "Single Girl, Married Girl," at a makeshift studio in Bristol, Tennessee, known as the Bristol Barn Sessions.
Sara and A.P. obtained a divorce during 1936, but continued working together in the group, which now included Anita, June, and Helen (Maybelle and Ezra Carter's three daughters) and Janette and Joe (Sara and A.P.'s children). From 1936-39, the Family cut for Decca, and after that for Columbia and again for Victor. The last session by the original Carter Family took place on October 14, 1941, and the Family disbanded in 1943, having waxed over 250 of their songs and one of their signature songs, "Sunny Side of Life", recorded in 1928. Also included is a video clip from the 1950's of Maybelle's daughters June, Helen, and Anita who carried on this legacy for more than two decades after the original Carter's left the studio.
Roy Acuff and the Grand Ole Opry
Perhaps no other institution is more synonymous with country music than WSM Radio's Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. Since 1925, it has featured country music acts on it's stage for live Saturday night broadcasts. This program has introduced the nation to most, if not all, of the greats of country music. To this day, membership on the Opry remains one of a Country Music artist's greatest ambitions.
The Opry began as a show with primarily part-time artists who used the show to promote their live appearances throughout the South and Midwest, but with the help of Roy Acuff, the professionalism of country music became established at the Opry.
The King of Country Music could well have become another Lou Gehrig or Babe Ruth. Born in Maynardville, Tennessee, Roy Claxton Acuff
seemed destined to become an athlete. Following a move to Fountain City (near Knoxville), Acuff gained 13 varsity letters in high school, eventually playing minor league ball and being considered for the New York Yankees. Sever sunstroke put an end to that career, confining Acuff to be for the better part of 1929 and 1930.
By 1933, Acuff formed a group, the Tennessee Crackerjacks, in which Clell Summey played dobro, thus providing the distinctive sound that came to be associated with Acuff (and later provided by Pete 'Bashful Brother Oswald' Kirby). Acuff married Mildred Douglas in 1936, that same year recording two sessions for ARC (a company controlling a host of labels, later merged with Columbia). Tracks from these sessions included two of his greatest hits: "Wabash Cannonball" (featuring vocals by Dynamite Hatcher) and "The Great Speckle Bird."
Making his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry in 1938, Acuff soon became a regular on the show, changing the name of the band once more to the Smoky Mountain Boys. He won many friends with his sincere, mountain-boy vocal style and his dobro-flavoured band sound, and eventually became as popular as Uncle Dave Macon, who was the Opry's main attraction at the time.
During the '40s, Acuff's recordings became so popular that he headed Frank Sinatra in some major music polls and reportedly caused Japanese troops to yell 'To hell with Roosevelt, to hell with Babe Ruth, to hell with Roy Acuff' as they banzai-charged at Okinawa. These years also saw some of his biggest hits, including "Wreck on the Highway" (1942), Fireball Mail (1942), Night Train to Memphis (1943).
Acuff's tremendous contribution to country music was recognized in November 1962, when he became the first living musician to be honored as a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. He guested on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's triple album set "Will The Circle Be Unbroken?" in 1972, lending credence to contemporary and country-rock music. He continued to appear regularly on the Grand Ole Opry throughout the '70s and '80s, but cut down on his previously extensive touring schedule, until by the early '90s his only appearances were infrequent guest spots at Opryland. He died on November 23, 1992 following a short illness.
The songs of Roy Rogers
, Gene Autry, and the Sons of the Pioneers
put the Western in Country and Western Music. Much of this music was written for and brought to the American public through the cowboy films of the 30's and 40's and was widely popular.
Known as the "King of the Cowboys," and a major western movie star between 1938 and 1953, Roy Rogers started out as Leonard Slye in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1911. Influenced by his father, who played mandolin and guitar, Rogers began playing at local functions during the 1920s.
After stints with such groups as the Rocky Mountaineers and the Hollywood Hillbillies, he formed his own band, the International Cowboys. Later -- with the aid of Tim Spencer and Bob Nolan -- he formed the Sons of the Pioneers. Though this outfit established a considerable reputation, Rogers set his sights higher and began playing bit parts in films, first under the name of Dick Weston, and then assuming his guise as Roy Rogers, eventually wining a starring role in "Under Western Skies," a 1938 production.
With his horse Trigger and frequent female partner, Dale Evans (whom he married in 1947), and occasional help from such people as the Sons of the Pioneers and Spade Cooley, Rogers became Gene Autry's only real rival, starring in over 100 movies and heading his own TV show in the mid-1950s. Rogers was a recording artist with RCA-Victor for many years. He later recorded for Capitol, Word and 20th Century. Even in 1980, then signed to MCA, Rogers was still charting. He and the Sons of the Pioneers teamed up once more for "Ride Concrete Cowboy, Ride," a song stemming from the movie "Smokey and the Bandit II."
Inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988, three years later he was back in the country charts with "Hold On Partner," a duet with Clint Black from Rogers' "Tribute" album. This classic album had the 80 year-old cowboy duetting with such current stars as Lorrie Morgan, Kathy Mattea, Ricky Van Shelton, Randy Travis, Restless Heart, and the Kentucky HeadHunters. The part-owner of a chain of restaurants, a theme park, and his own world wide web site (www.royrogers.com), Rogers is estimated to be worth over 100 million dollars.
Orvon Gene Autry
, the most successful of all singing cowboys to break into movies was born in Tioga, Texas, September 29, 1907. Taught to play guitar by his mother Elnora, Gene joined the Fields Brothers Marvelous Medicine Show while still in high school, but after graduation in 1925 became a railroad telegrapher with the Frisco Railway in Sapulpar, Oklahoma. Encouraged by Will Rogers following a chance meeting, Autry took a job on Radio KVOO, Tulsa, in 1930, billing himself as "Oklahoma's Singing Cowboy," and singing much in the style of Jimmie Rodgers.
In 1929, he began recording with labels such as Victor, Okeh, Columbia, Grey Gull and Gannett (often under a pseudonym). Shortly thereafter, Autry began broadcasting regularly on the WLS Barn Dance program for Chicago, his popularity gaining further momentum with the 1931 release of "Silver Haired Daddy of Mine," (penned by Autry and frequent partner Jimmy Long, a former boss of Autry's on the Frisco line), a recording that eventually sold over five million copies.
Next came a move to Hollywood where following a performance in a Ken Maynard western "In Old Santa Fe," he was asked to star in a serial "The Phantom Empire." Thereafter, Autry appeared in innumerable B movies, usually with his horse, Champion. His list of his records during the '30s and '40s -- he was easily the most popular singer of the time -- is awesome, including "Yellow Rose of Texas" (1933), "The Last Roundup" (1934), "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" (1935), "Mexicali Rose" (1936), "Back In The Saddle Again" (1939), "South Of The Border" (1940), "You Are My Sunshine" (1941), "It Makes No Difference Now" (1941), "Be Honest With Me" (1941), "Tweedle-O-Twill" (1942), and "At Mail Call Today" (1945).
Elected in 1969 to the Country Music Hall of Fame, Autry has also had three other million-selling discs in "Here Comes Santa Claus" (1947), "Peter Cottontail" (1949), and nine million-seller "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" (1948). Writer of scores of hit songs, Gene Autry has also starred at a series of annual rodeos held in Madison Square Garden, is the majority owner of the California Angels baseball team, and even had an Oklahoma town named after him.
The Sons of the Pioneers were the foremost vocal and instrumental group in western music, and the definitive group specializing in cowboy songs, setting the standard for every group that has come since. They were also one of the longest surviving country music vocal groups in existence, going into their seventh decade. More important than their longevity, however, the greatest achievement of the Sons of the Pioneers lay with the sheer quality of their work. Their superb harmonies and brilliant arrangements delighted three generations of listeners, and inspired numerous performers.
The group's roots lay in the depths of the Great Depression, a time when the American spirit, and the spirits of millions of Americans, had nearly been broken by physical, economic, and emotional privation. Cincinnati-born Leonard Franklin Slye (b. Nov. 5, 1911--see separate entry under Roy Rogers) had headed out to California in the spring of 1931 from his native Ohio, working jobs ranging from driving a gravel truck to picking fruit for the DelMonte company in California's Central Valley. By sheer chance, he entered an amateur singing contest on a Los Angeles radio show called Midnight Frolics, and a few days later got an invitation to join a group called the Rocky Mountaineers.
Frye played guitar, sang and yodeled with the group, and before long they wanted an additional singer so they could extend their range. The man who answered the ad was Bob Nolan (born Robert Clarence Nobles, Apr. 1, 1908, New Brunswick, Canada), from Tucson, Arizona. Nolan had lived the life of an itinerant singer for a few years before settling down in Los Angeles, where he'd worked as a lifeguard as well as trying to make a living singing. Nolan joined the Rocky Mountaineers, and he and Slye developed a harmonious relationship that worked for several months, until he exited in frustration over the group's lack of success. Nolan was, in turn, replaced by Tim Spencer (born Vernon Spencer, July 13, 1908, Webb City, Missouri), who'd been earning his keep working in a Safeway Stores warehouse.
Slye, Spencer, and another singer named Slumber Nichols quit the Rocky Mountaineers in the spring of 1932 to form a trio of their own, which never quite came off. Instead, Slye and Spencer spent a year moving in and out of the line-ups of short-lived groups like the International Cowboys and the O-Bar-O Cowboys. The latter group broke up following a disastrous tour, and Spencer left music for a time. Slye decided to push on with an attempt at a career, joining yet another group, Jack LeFevre and His Texas Outlaws, who were fixtures on a local Los Angeles radio station.
In early 1933, things began looking up. He convinced Spencer to give up the security of a steady job once more, and also recruited Bob Nolan, who was working as a caddy at a golf course in Bel Air. Weeks of rehearsals followed as they honed their singing hour after hour, while Slye continued to work with his radio singing group and Spencer and Nolan wrote songs.
The group was called the Pioneer Trio, and made its debut on KFWB radio, following an audition that included the Nolan song "Way Out There." Their mix of singing and yodeling, coupled with their good spirits, won them a job. Within a few weeks, they were developing a large following of their own on Lefevre's show, with their harmony singing eliciting lots of mail, and soon they were featured on the station's morning and evening line-ups.
The group in its earliest form consisted of Slye, Nolan, and Spencer on vocals, with Nolan playing string bass and Slye on rhythm guitar. A fourth member was needed to firm up their sound, and he arrived in the form of fiddle-player Hugh Farr (b.Plano, Texas, Dec. 6, 1906), early in 1934, who also added a bass voice to the group, and occasionally served as lead singer.
The group's name was altered by accident on the eve of their going national. On one broadcast the station's announcer introduced them as "The Sons of the Pioneers." Asked why he'd done this, the announcer gave the excuse that they were too young to have been pioneers, but that they could be sons of pioneers. The name seemed to stick, it fit well, and as they were no longer a trio, it made sense.
The Sons of the Pioneers' fame quickly spread well beyond the confines of Los Angeles, as a result of an informal syndication project undertaken by their station, which recorded the group in 15- and 30-minute segments for rebroadcast all over the country. It wasn't long before a recording contract with the newly founded Decca label (now part of MCA) was signed, and on August 8, 1934 (the same day that Bing Crosby made his debut for the label), the Sons of the Pioneers made their first commercial recording. The group would cut 32 songs with Decca over the next two years.
One of the songs cut at the first session was a Bob Nolan original called "Tumbling Tumbleweeds," which he'd originally written on a rainy day in 1932 as "Tumbling Leaves." The group had introduced it on the radio as "Tumbling Leaves," but later changed it to "tumbleweeds" as more in keeping with their western image. It became their theme song, and was quickly picked up by singers and bands all over the country. In 1935, the song was also licensed for use as the title of a Gene Autry western, the first -- but not the last time -- that the paths of Autry and the Pioneers would cross.
In 1935, a fifth member, Hugh Farr's brother Karl (b. Rochelle, Texas, Apr. 25, 1909), who had played with Hugh on the radio during the 1930's, was added to the group on lead guitar, bringing the Pioneers' instrumental capabilities up to a par with their singing. Early that same year, they began appearing in movies for the first time, initially in short films and also providing the music for an Oswald The Rabbit cartoon, before making their first appearance in a full-length movie, The Old Homestead. Later that same year, they appeared in The Gallant Defender. They followed this with Song of the Saddle (1936), starring singer-turned-cowboy star Dick Foran, then with The Mysterious Avenger (1936), and in the Bing Crosby vehicle Rhythm of the Range. That same year, they appeared in a Gene Autry movie, The Big Show.
Tim Spencer left the group in September of 1936 and was replaced by Lloyd Perryman (b. Ruth, Arkansas, Jan. 29, 1917), who was a fan of the Pioneers as well as a veteran of several singing groups, and who had already served as a "fill-in" Pioneer on occasion. Perryman was later to become a key member of the group, doing most of their vocal arrangements, serving as their on stage spokesman, and handling the group's business affairs as well, and would remain with them longer than anyone, 41 years. Their broadcasts, concerts, and film appearances continued, with work in the Foran-starring California Mail at Warner Bros., and in Autry's The Old Corral at Republic. Finally, in late 1937, the group was signed by Columbia to work in Charles Starrett's western films on a steady basis, beginning with The Old Wyoming Trail.
It was the movies that led to the next major change in the Pioneers' line-up. Leonard Slye had previously played bit acting parts in a handful of B-westerns, including an appearance in a small role in a Gene Autry film, under the name Dick Weston. But in 1938, Autry and the studio found themselves in a contractual dispute that they were unable to resolve, and the cowboy star failed to report for his next movie. Autry was placed on suspension while the studio began looking for a replacement that they could put into the picture.
Slye auditioned and won the part, and in the process was given a new name for his first starring film: Roy Rogers. Under Western Stars, as the film was eventually titled, was a hit, and Leonard Slye/Roy Rogers had a whole new career. In order to do the movie, however, he was forced to leave the Sons of the Pioneers, who were under exclusive contract with Columbia Pictures. To replace Slye, the group chose a friend of his, a singer and comic named Pat Brady, who played bass and handled much of the comedy within the group, although vocally he was weaker than the others, which forced the Pioneers to expand their line-up once more in 1938, with Tim Spencer returning to fill out the harmony parts. The group continued to make movies with Charles Starrett, appearing in 28 movies with him between 1937 and 1941.
The Sons of the Pioneers' recording career kept pace with their movie and radio work. They left Decca Records in 1936 to sign with the American Record Company (later part of Columbia Records), and appeared on that label's Okeh and Vocalion imprints on 32 songs in two sessions in late 1937. Although he'd officially left the group to pursue his film career, Roy Rogers returned to sing with the Sons of the Pioneers on those sessions. The 1938-1942 version of the group, consisting of Nolan, Spencer, Perryman, the Farrs and Brady, became the "classic" Pioneers line-up, the version of the group most familiar to audiences, largely because of their screen appearances.
In 1941, the group's contract with Columbia was up and, after years of Rogers' entreaties, Republic Pictures signed the Pioneers to appear in his movies, beginning with Red River Valley (1941), in which they were billed as "Bob Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers." The same year that they signed their contract with Republic, the group also signed with Decca Records.
The American entry into World War II brough about the next change in their line-up. Perryman and Brady were both called up for the draft. Perryman was replaced by Ken Carson while he was fighting with the American forces in Burma, while Brady became a soldier in Patton's Third Army, and was replaced by musician and comic (George) Shug Fisher.
In 1944, the Sons of the Pioneers moved to RCA-Victor, signed up by the head of company's country music division, Steve Sholes (who was also later responsible for bringing Elvis Presley to the label). They would be associated with RCA longer than to any other label, 24 years broken by a brief one-year stint elsewhere.
The change in labels resulted in the first major alteration in the Pioneers' sound since their founding. Previously, they'd been a self-contained outfit, providing virtually all of the sounds, vocal and instrumental, needed on their records. RCA, however, saw fit to provide the group's music with additional back-up in the form of fuller instrumentation, including small-scale orchestration. At first, it worked reasonably well, as the Pioneers re-recorded several of their standards (including "Cool Water" and "Tumbling Tumbleweeds") with new arrangements that proved popular, and many fans regard their mid-1940's versions of their classic songs as the best of the many renditions that they recorded. They also recorded more gospel material, as well as many pop-oriented and novelty songs. The Pioneers also provided back up for other performers throughout their time at RCA, including Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, and Vaughn Monroe.
Amid all of this varied activity, which yielded hundreds of songs, they recorded a number of new western classics during their stay on the label, most notably Stan Jones's "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky" in 1949. Originally, Bob Nolan had passed on doing the song, but after it became a hit for Vaughn Monroe, the Pioneers covered it themselves. The group had ceased appearing on screen in movies with the end of Rogers' B-westerns at Republic in 1948, but two years later a new career opened up for them in movies courtesy of John Ford, who used their singing in three of his most acclaimed westerns, Wagon Master (1950)--in which they had four songs, including "Wagons West"--Rio Grande (1950), and The Searchers (1956).
Perryman was back in the line-up in 1946, although his interim replacement, Ken Carson (who later became a well known singer in his own right on The Garry Moore Show), continued to record with the group for another year. During this era, the group made some magnificent recordings; Spencer contributed more than his share of important songs, Fisher contributed as a songwriter, and Perryman took the lead vocals on some numbers. Pat Brady also returned to the line-up later in 1946, and the group continued working in Roy Rogers' western movies through 1948.
These were golden years for the Sons of the Pioneers. Their hits on the Country singles chart included "Stars and Stripes on Iwo Jima" (1945), "No One to Cry To" (1946), "Baby Doll," "Cool Water," and "Tear Drops In My Heart" (all top five in 1947), "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" and "Cool Water" (both 1948), "My Best To You" and "Room Full Of Roses" (both 1949). It wasn't to last, however, as time and changing public tastes were to take their toll on the group.
Spencer, who had written many of the group's more important originals, finally left the group in 1949, after several years of worsening problems with his voice. He was replaced by Ken Curtis (b. Lamar, Colorado, July 2, 1916), a former singer with Tommy Dorsey and sometime actor, who later became immortalized on television as Festus, Marshal Matt Dillon's grizzled backwoods deputy, on Gunsmoke. As a parting gesture, Spencer gave the group one of his best songs, "Room Full of Roses," which became Curtis's first lead vocal with the group. Soon after, Roy Rogers began shooting his television series and recruited Brady as his comic relief sidekick. He was replaced by his wartime fill-in, Fisher.
But it was the retirement of Bob Nolan in 1949 that caused the biggest change in the group's line-up. Essentially, his exit came about purely for personal reasons. He was a very private individual to begin with, and 16 years with the Pioneers, although rewarding musically and financially, had begun to wear on him. He wanted more time to himself, and more time to write songs. But the gap he left was huge--apart from having written many of the Pioneers' best known songs, Nolan had been the lead singer on many of their hits. He did continue to provide them with songs after his retirement, and even rejoined them in the studio.
Lloyd Perryman stepped into the breech opened by Nolan's exit. He had been taking a leadership role in the group over the previous few years and now took over leadership, recruiting a new sixth member, Tommy Doss (b. Weiser, Idaho, Sept. 26,1920). Doss was an excellent singer, and his voice meshed beautifully with Perryman and Curtis, but within a year of his joining--through no fault of his--the group's record sales began to decline. There was an overall drop of interest in cowboy songs and western music, which resulted in RCA's attempts to push the Pioneers into the pop vocal market. These efforts failed, and simultaneously lost them part of their country audience.
Ironically, in 1952, the same year that the Pioneers got their first LP releases, the 10-inch discs Cowboy Hymns and Spirituals (made up of recordings from 1947), and Cowboy Classics (made up of material from 1945 and 1946), the group also left RCA, in the wake of their declining sales figures. They didn't record at all in 1953, but at the end of the year the group signed once again to Coral Records. Simultaneously with the move, Curtis and Fisher both exited the line-up, to go into television and film work. They co-starred on one television series, and Curtis would later serve as co-producer on a pair of low-budget horror films at the end of the 1950's, one of which, The Giant Gila Monster (1958), would feature Fisher.
They were replaced by Dale Warren (b. Summerville, Kentucky, June 1, 1925), a veteran of Foy Willing and the Riders of the Purple Sage, and Deuce Spriggens (born George R. Braunsdorf), a former member of Spade Cooley's band. The group's one-year stay at Coral proved no more successful than the last few years at RCA, however.
By 1955 they were back with RCA, where they stayed for another 14 years. In a major change of strategy, RCA now wanted the old Bob Nolan/Tim Spencer sound. Nolan agreed to return to record with the group in the studio, but Spencer was no longer in good enough health or voice to be part of the group, and so Ken Curtis was also asked to return as part of the studio version of the Pioneers. Pat Brady also came back as bassist in the studio. The Sons of the Pioneers, in effect,became two groups--Nolan, Perryman, and Curtis were the studio vocal trio, backed by Brady and Hugh and Karl Farr, recreating the group's classic sound on record, while Perryman, Doss, Warren, the Farrs, and Spriggens (who left soon after this arrangement began) played the concerts. It wasn't until 1958 that the touring version of the Pioneers began making their records as well.
By that time, more changes had overtaken the line-up. Nolan retired as a singer once and for all, and Hugh Farr, who felt that his fiddle playing wasn't appreciated by the other members, quit as well in 1958. Karl Farr continued as a member, but on September 20, 1961, in the middle of a concert performance, he became agitated over a guitar string that had broken, and suddenly collapsed and died of heart failure. The same month, Roy Lanham (b. Corbin, Kentucky, Jan. 16, 1923), one of the busiest session guitarists on the West Coast, joined the group as Karl Farr's successor. Pat Brady was also back in the line-up by then, having rejoined to replace Shug Fisher, who retired in 1959. Brady remained with the group until 1967.
The next major change in the line-up came in 1963, when Tommy Doss retired from touring with the group, although he recorded with them until 1967. In 1968, Luther Nallie joined the group as lead singer, and remained with the Pioneers until 1974. They were still very much a going concern, not only on the concert stage but in the recording studio--over a 12 year period from 1957 until 1969, RCA released 21 albums by the group.
Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer were both elected the Nashville Songwriter Hall of Fame in 1971. A 1972 gathering at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles brought together most of the surviving members of the Sons of the Pioneers except for Ken Curtis, including a reunion of the original Pioneer Trio of Roy Rogers, Bob Nolan, and Tim Spencer. And in 1976, the Sons of the Pioneers were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
This was a last hurrah for the original and early group members. Tim Spencer died on April 26, 1976, and Lloyd Perryman, who had been with the group since 1936, died on May 31, 1977. Hugh Farr, who had retired from the group in 1958, passed away on April 17, 1980, and Bob Nolan died almost exactly two months later, on June 16, 1980.
After Perryman passed away, the leadership of the Sons of the Pioneers was taken over by Dale Warren, who had joined in 1952. He carried the group into the 1990's. They continued to perform in concert, and recorded as well, with a line-up that featured Rusty Richards (vocals), Doye O'Dell (guitar, vocals), Billy Armstrong (fiddle), Billy Liebert (accordion), and Rome Johnson (vocals). These Pioneers, along with younger country music groups such as the Riders in the Sky, were a constant reminder of the legacy of this much-loved western group.
This very popular style of Country Music developed in Texas and Oklahoma the 1930's and saw enormous popularity in the 40's. The style is a blend of big band, blues, dixieland, and jazz, among others. Musically, it contributed the drums and Hawaiian Steel Guitar to Country Music. It was a Saturday night dance type of music which combined the style of jazz and big band swing with the culture of the Southwest.
, born east of Kosse, Texas in an area known as The Moss Springs Community, is known as the "King of Western Swing". He perfected this style in the late 1930's with his band the "Texas Playboys." Many of his greatest hits were recorded between 1936 and 1943. They include "San Antonio Rose" and "Take Me Back to T ulsa." Find included here a less well-known, but nonetheless typical Wills recording called "Liza, Pull Down the Shade" from 1938.
Bill Monroe & Bluegrass
The virtual base on which the whole of bluegrass music rests, William Smith (Bill) Monroe
was born at Rosine, Kentucky, on September 13, 1911, the youngest of eight children. Brother Charlie was next youngest, having been born eight years earlier. This gap, coupled with Bill's poor eyesight, inhibited the youngest son from many of the usual play activities and gave him an introverted nature which carried through into later life.
Aside from his musical family, one of Monroe's early influences was a black musician from Rosine, Arnold Schultz. Bill would gig with him and rated him a fine musician with an unrivalled feel for the blues. At this time he also started to hear gramophone records featuring such performers as Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers.
In 1934, Radio WLS in Chicago, for whom the three brothers (Birch on fiddle, Charlie on guitar, and Bill on mandolin) had been working on a semi-professional basis, offered them full-time employment. Birch decided to give up music, but Charlie and Bill reforemed as the Monroe Brothers. In 1938, they went their separate ways. Bill formed the Kentuckians and moved to Radio KARK, Atlanta Georgia, where the first of the Blue Grass Boys line-ups was evolved. Bill also began to sing lead and to take mandolin solos rather than just remaining part of the general sound. In 1939, he auditioned for the Opry and George Hay was impressed enough to sign him.
By 1945, Monroe's style had undergone several changes. Most notable was the addition of Earl Scruggs, with a driving banjo style, putting the final, distinctive seal on Monroe's bluegrass sound. Flatt and Scruggs remained with Bill until 1948. Among Monroe's best known songs from the period is "Blue Moon of Kentucky.
After signing with Decca Records in 1949, Monroe teamed with Jimmy Martin, and entered into his golden age for compositions. He wrote "Uncle Pen," "Roanoke," "Scotland," "My Little Georgia Rose," "Walking In Jerusalem," and "I'm Working On a Building," the last two being religious 'message' songs, always part of the Monroe tradition from the earlier days.
Bill Monroe was elected to the Country Music Hall Of Fame in 1970. His contribution to country music is inestimable. On August 13, 1986, one month to the day before his 75th birthday, the US Senate passed a resolution recognizing "his many contributions to American culture and his many ways of helping American people enjoy themselves." It also said, "As a musician, showman, composer, and teacher, Mr. Monroe has been a cultural figure and force of signal importance in our time."
Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs
pioneered a particular type of bluegrass under Bill Monroe's leadership -- especially Scruggs' "three-finger banjo" technique -- and thus helped to popularize bluegrass immensely. Both came from highly musical families. Lester's parents both played the banjo (in the old 'frailing' style) and Lest practiced on both guitar and banjo. Earl came from an area east of the Appalachians which was already using a three-finger style on the five-string banjo.
In 1943, Lester and his wife Gladys were hired by Charlie Monroe. Lester sang harmony and played mandolin. He tired of the travelling and quit, then procured a position with a North Carolina radio station. It was there that he received a telegram from Bill Monroe asking Lester to come and play with him on the Grand Ole Opry.
Earl had played with his brothers from the age of six and by 15 he was playing on a North Carolina radio station with the Carolina Wildcats. After the war, Scruggs appeared with John Miller on Radio WSM in Nashville. Miller then stopped touring and Earl, out of work, was hired by Monroe.
In 1948, within weeks of each other, Earl and Lester resigned from Monroe to escape the constant travelling (Monroe has always been a dedicated touring man). Almost inevitably the two then decided to team up and do some radio work. They recruited ex-Monroe men Jim Shumate (fiddle) and Howard Watts (a.k.a. Cedric Rainwater on bass), and then moved to Hickory, North Carolina, when the were joined by Mac Wiseman. That year, 1948, they made their first recordings for Mercury Records.
The band took its name from an old Carter Family tune, "Foggy Mountain Top," calling themselves the Foggy Mountain Boys. In 1950, they were offered a lucrative contract by Columbia Records, a recording association that was to last for 20 years. In 1953, the band began broadcasting "Martha White Biscuit Time" on WSM, a show which not only ran for years, but which saw them come into country music prominence. Flatt and Scruggs and their band became members of the Grand Ole Opry in 1955, and were winning numerous fan polls and industry awards.
They consolidated their position as leaders of the bluegrass movement and sold a vast number of records. By the end of the '60s (mainly pushed by Earl), they began experimenting with new folks songs, drums and gospel-style harmonies in an effort to build on a younger audience. Some of their older fans were unhappy about the changes, and in 1969, they split up. Lester, who died in 1979, returned to a more traditional sound, forming the Nashville Grass, composed mainly of the Foggy Mountain Boys. Earl defiantly went off in new directions with his Earl Scruggs Review. In recent years, Scruggs has cut back on his activities, while his sons have made their mark as songwriters, producers and multi-instrumentalists in country music.
Honky Tonk Music
Perhaps no other style of country music has had a greater influence on today's artists than the style known as Honky Tonk. Honky Tonk music embodied the spirit of dancing and drinking, and of loving and then losing the one you love. Its greatest practitioners owe their singing style to Jimmie Rodgers and much of the music to the steel guitar and drums of Bob Wills and Western Swing.
One of the most charismatic and enduring figures in country music -- his Opry performance of June 11, 1949, when his audience required him to reprise "Lovesick Blues" several times, is still considered the Ryman's greatest moment -- Hank was born Hiram King Williams
in Georgiana, Alabama on September 17, 1923.
Barely a teenager, he won $15 singing "WPA Blues" at a Montgomery amatuer contest, then formed a band, the Drifting Cowboys, which played on station WSFA, Montgomery, for over a decade. Switching from Sterling Records in 1946 to the newly formed MGM label in 1947, Williams was booked as a regular on KWKH's Lousiana Hayride. After having scored with his recording of "Lovesick Blues," he signed a contract with the Grand Ole Opry in 1949.
After the runaway success of "Lovesick Blues," he began cutting Top 10 singles with almost monotonous regularity. With Fred Rose masterminding every recording session, arranging, playing, producing, and often participating in the songwriting, such hits as "Wedding Belles, "Mind Your Own Business," "You're Gonna Change, and "My Bucket's Got a Hole In It" all charted during 1949. More hits followed including Jambalaya, Honky Tonk Blues, Tear in My Beer, Baby We're Really In Love, and "Honky Tonkin'.
Ironically his 1952 hit "I''ll Never Get Out of This World Alive" was released just before his death on New Year's Day, 1953 from a heart attack brought on by drinking. He and his Drifting Cowboys had been booked to play a show in Canton, Ohio, and Williams hired a driver to chauffeur him through a snowstorm to the gig. He fell asleep along the way -- but when the driver tried to rouse him at Oak Hill, West Virginia, Williams was dead. After his death, his records continued to sell in massive quantities. "Your Cheatin' Heart," "Take These Chains From My Heart," "I Wont Be Home No More," and "Weary Blue From Waitin'" all charted during the year that followed.
The last months of Williams life, though financially rewarding, were ultra-tragic. A drug user in order to combat a spinal ailment caused by being thrown from a horse at the age of 17, he was fired from the Grand Ole Opry in August 1952 because of perpetual drunkenness. He was also divorced and remarried soon after. Despite his troubles, Hank was well loved by the country music fraternity. Over 20,000 people attended his funeral in Montgomery, at which Roy Acuff, Carl Smith, Red Foley, and Ernest Tubb paid tribute in song. Elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1961, his plaque reads: "The simple, beautiful melodies and straightforward plaintive stories in his lyrics of life as he knew it will never die."
Born in Crisp, Texas in 1914, Ernest Dale Tubb
was the sixth member to be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame and a regular member of the Opry from 1943 to the time of his death. Tubb's boyhood hero was the great Jimmie Rodgers. Although he had dreams of emulating Rodgers and sang at various local get-togethers during his early teens, Tubb was almost 20 before he owned his first guitar.
After limited success during the 1930s, Tubb's recording of "Walking the Floor Over You," a self-penned composition released in autumn 1942, became a million-seller, helping him gain his first appearance on the Opry in December. He gained reulgar memebership during 1943. Also, in 1947, he opened the first of his now famous record shops and commenced his Midnight Jamboree program over WSM, advertising the shop and showcasing the talents of up and coming country artists.
From then through 1969, Tubb became the charts' Mr. Consistency, thanks to such discs as "Goodnight Irene" (with Red Foley in 1950), "I Love You Because," "Missing in Action," "Two Glasses Joe" (1954), Half a Mind, Thanks A Lot, Mr. and Mrs. Used-To-Be (with Loretta Lynn in 1964), and "Let's say Goodbye, Like We said Hello.
A tireless tourer, he and his Texas Troubadours played around 300 dates a year. Much loved, when he set out to record his "Legend and Legacy" album for First Generation records in 1979, virtually everyone who was anyone in Nashville dropped by to see if they could help out. The album line-up eventually featured the names of Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn
, Vern Gosdin
, Chet Atkins, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Charlie Rich
, Johnny Paycheck
, Linda Hargrove
, Marty Robbins
, Conway Twitty, the Wilburn Brothers
, Ferlin Husky
, Waylon Jennings, Charlie Daniels, George Jones, and many, many others. When he died, on September 6, 1984, the whole of Music City mourned the man writer Chet Flippo once accurately described as "honky-tonk music personified."
Acquiring the nickname 'Lefty' after disposing of several opponents with his left hand during an unsuccessful attept to become a Golden Gloves boxing champion, the Corsicana, Texas-born (1928) singer-songwriter-guitarist began life as William Orville Frizzell.
A childhood performer, at 17 he could be found playing the honky-tonks and dives of Dallas and Waco, molding his early, Jimmie Rodgers-stylings to his environment, thus formulating a sound that was very much his own.
In 1950, Frizzell's Columbia recording "If You've Got the Money, I've Got the Time" became a massive hit, claiming a chart position for some 20 weeks.
The ex-pugilist followed this with two 1951 No.1s in "I Want to be With You Always," and "Always Late." He became an Opry star, and throughout the rest of the decade he continued to supply a series of chart high-flyers, many of these in honky-tonk tradition. The '60s, too, found Frizzell obtaining more than a dozen hits, though only "Saginaw, Michigan" -- a 1964 No.1 -- and "She's Gone, Gone, Gone" (1965) proved of any consequence. His last hit for Columbia was "Watermelon Time in Georgia" (1970).
After joining ABC Records in 1973, Frizzell began to make a comeback with "I Never Go Around Mirrors," and "Lucky Arms" (both 1974), and "Falling" (1975), when he died after suffering a stroke on July 19, 1975. Elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1982, Frizzell's influence has played a major role in much of the country music of the '90s. You can hear strains of his work in the style of Merle Haggard, George Strait, Keith Whitley
, and lately in the music of Clint Black and Doug Stone
, among others.
The Nashville Sound
The Nashville Sound is a blend of pop and country that developed during the 1950s. The music in this era was an outcropping of the big band jazz and swing of the '30s, '40s and early '50s, combined with the storytelling of honky-tonkers.
Originally a stone country singer, smooth-toned Jim Reeves
from Texas reached amazing heights as a pop balladeer and since his death in an air crash his fame has burgeoned into cult proportions. Born in 1923 in Galloway, Panola County, Texas, Reeves was just as interested in sport as in music and became the star of the Cathage High School baseball team, although he still performed at local events. He entered the University of Texas in Austin, and his baseball prowess as a pitcher soon attracted the attention of the St. Louis Cardinals scouts who signed him to a contract. An unlucky slip gave him an ankle injury that halted one career and gave rise to another.
In 1947, after marrying a schoolteacher, Mary White, Jim moved to Shreveport and ended up with a job as announcer on KWKH, the station that owned the Louisiana Hayride. It was one of Reeves' jobs to announce the Saturday night Hayride show and he was even allowed to sing occasionally. One night in 1952, Hank Williams failed to arrive and Jim was asked to fill in. In the audience was Fabor Robinson, owner of Abbott Records, who immediately signed Reeves to a contract. After a number one record with "Mexican Joe" (1953), RCA signed him in 1955 amid considerable competition. That same year, he joined the Grand Ole Opry at the recommendation of Ernest Tubb and Hank Snow.
The February, 1957 release of "Four Walls" proved the real turning point in Reeves' career. In 1959, Reeves recorded his all-time greatest hit, "He'll Have to Go." The theme was familiar enough. Some years earlier it might have been called a honky-tonk song. But the treatment, with Reeves' dark, intimate, velvet tones gliding over a muted backing, was something different again. The result brought him instant stardom. During the early 1960s, he also continued to dominate the US country charts, with hits including Guilty (1963), and "Welcome to My World" (1964).
Tragically, on a flight back to Nashville from Arkansas on July 31, 1964, Jim and his manager ran into heavy rain just a few miles from Nashville's Beery Field and crashed, killing both men. Voted into the Country Music Hall of Fame
in 1967, Reeves continued to log hits posthumously as recently as the 1970s and '80s.
(real name Virginia Patterson Hensley) was born in Winchester, Virginia, on September 8, 1932. Winner of an amateur tap-dancing contest at the age of four, she began learning piano at eight and in her early teens became a singer at local clubs. In 1948, an audition won her a trip to Nashville, where she appeared in a few clubs before returning home -- but her big break came in 1957 when she won an Arthur Godfrey Talent Scout Show, singing "Walking After Midnight." Here is a video clip of her appearance.
Her Decca single of the contest-winning song then entered the charts, both pop and country. In 1961 came "I Fall to Pieces," on of her biggest hits.
That chart-topper was followed in quick succession by "Crazy,", "Who Can I Count On?," "She's Got You," "Strange," and "When I Get Through With You," most of them being massive sellers.
During the same period she became a featured singer on the Opry, soon attaining the rank of top female country singer. Such hits as "Release Me," "Imagine That," "So Wrong," and "Leavin' On Your Mind," continued to proliferate until, on March 5, 1963, Patsy died in an air disaster at Camden, Tennessee. She had been returning home from a Kansas City benefit concert with Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas, both of whom were also killed in the crash.
But even after her death, Patsy's records continued to sell, "Sweet Dreams (Of You)." and "Faded Love," being top hits during '63. Patsy has continued to be a major influence on singers like Loretta Lynn, who recorded a tribute album in 1977, Reba McEntire and Sylvia. In 1973, she was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame and her recordings and those of Jim Reeves were spliced together to produce a duet effect resulting in hits with "Have You Ever Been Lonely," and "I Fall to Pieces." Renewed interest in Cline has also produced the second highest selling greatest hits release, with over 4 million copies sold to date.
A country crooner with a smooth, very commercial voice, Arnold has probably sold more records than any other C&W artist, with few exceptions. Born in Henderson, Tennessee, in 1918, Arnold first learned guitar from his father -- an old time fiddler -- teaching him guitar at the age of ten.
Arnold left high school during the early '30s to help his family run their farm, occasionally playing local barn dances. After his radio debut in Jackson, Tennessee during 1936, his big break came as singer/guitarist with Pee Wee King's Golden West Cowboys providing exposure on the Grand Ole Opry.
As a solo act he signed for RCA in 1944, sparking off an amazing tally of hit records with "It's a Sin," and "I'll Hold You In My Heart" in 1947, the latter becoming a million-seller. This achievement was matched by later Arnold recordings, including one of his trademark "stories in song" -- The Streets of Laredo, as well as "Bouquet of Roses," "Anytime," "Just a Little Lovin' Will Go a Long, Long Way" (1948), "I Wanna Play House With You" (1951), and "Cattle Call" (1955), while many others sold nearly as many.
Elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1966, Arnold's records sold to people who normally bought straight pop, so his TV appearance were not confined to just the Opry and other country shows; he guested on programs hosted by Perry Como, Milton Berle, Arthur Godfrey, Dinah Shore, Bob Hope, Spike Jones, and other personalities. Arnold also had his own syndicated TV series, Eddy Arnold Time, plus other shows on NBC and ABC networks.
The late 1960s and 1970s saw the resurgence of a more traditional country sound. The Nashville sound, by 1970, was well-worn, and had merged into the pre-British Revolution pop culture in many areas. Aside from the "outlaws" profiled below, new artists such as Charley Pride
("Kiss an Angel Good Morning") and Conway Twitty
("Hello Darlin' ") emerged to break the mold of the Nashville Sound. Southern Country Rockers such as The Outlaws
, The Marshall Tucker Band
, David Allan Coe
, The Charlie Daniels Band
, and others took country to a new, higher level. Without a doubt, though, it was the outlaws who defined this era in country music.
Born in Abbot, Texas, on April 30, 1933, Willie Nelson
was raised by his grandparents after his own parents had separated. His grandparents taught him some chords and by his teens he was becoming proficient on guitar. After his discharge from the Air Force in the early '50s, Nelson took a job hosting country shows on a Fort Worth station, doubling at night as a musician in some rough local honky-tonks and, whenever he could, he was jotting down songs.
When he finally made his way to Nashville and found a job in Ray Price
's band as a bass player, he found that he was finally playing his songs. Price, a huge name of that era, made Nelson's "Night Life" his theme song (more than 70 artists have since recorded "Night Life"). Faron Young
cut "Hello Walls," and Patsy Cline "Crazy," both in 1961, and Willie himself recorded "The Party's Over."
After poaching most of Ray Price's band from him, Nelson went on the road, and got remarried, settling in Fort Worth, Los Angeles, and Nashville. Besides recording 18 albums in three years, he also helped the career of Charley Pride, featuring him on his show in the deepest South during the racially sensitive years of civil rights.
During the '60s, the smooth Nashville Sound was in its ascendancy and Willie found himself becoming increasingly disillusioned with big business methods, hankering to make his mark as a singer rather than as a songwriter and preferably on his own terms.
Nelson's music in the early and middle 1960's is credited with sparking the "outlaw" or progressive country music movement. His biggest hits, however, came later, in the 1970s. After leaving RCA (with the help of Neil Reshen, who later became his manager), Nelson signed with Atlantic, an established label new in country music.
Willie reconciled hip and redneck musical interests and helped lead a new explosion of interest in country music, teaming up with Waylon Jennings
to top the country charts with "Good Hearted Woman" in 1976, and to be featured on country's first certified platinum album, the "Wanted: The Outlaws" compilation. Nelson recorded his most popular (and arguably his best) album in 1978 with Jennings, Leon Russell
, and Ray Price entitled "Stardust," a collection of Tin Pan Alley standards.
Strangely enough, Nelson can also be credited with starting the cross-over movement, with his 1975 pop hit "Blue Eyes Cryin' in the Rain." Two of Nelson's other pop/country hits, "Always On My Mind," and "On the Road Again," also fueled the Urban Cowboy movement. Included here is a classic Willie Nelson track, "Nothing's Changed, Nothing's New."
Refusing to be tied down to commercial considerations, Nelson has recorded such diverse album projects as "Stardust," "The Troublemaker" (a gospel set), "To Lefty From Willie" (a tribute to Lefty Frizzell), "Angel Eyes" (featuring jazz guitarist Jackie King), and his acclaimed return to mainstream audiences in 1993, "Across the Borderline" (produced by Don Was, and featuring Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, and others).
Winner of six CMA awards in 1969, John R. Cash
was born in Kingsland, Arkansas, February 26, 1932, son of a poverty-stricken cotton farmer. In 1935, the Cash family moved to the government resettlement Dyess Colony, surviving the Mississippi river flood of 1937, an event documented in a 1959 Cash song, "Five Feet High and Rising." After graduating from high school, Cash spent some time in the Air Force, taught himself how to play guitar and wrote his first songs.
After his discharge in July 1954, Cash married and moved to Memphis where he became an electric appliance salesman. In Memphis he met guitarist Luther Perkins and bassist Marshall Grant and began performing with them -- for free -- on station KWEM. Eventually, he caught the ear of Sam Phillips and signed his first recording contract with Sun Records.
Their first single, "Hey Porter/Cry, Cry, Cry" -- listed as by Johnny Cash and The Tennessee Two -- became a hit, selling more than 100,000 copies. The follow-up, "Folsom Prison Blues," another Cash original, was also a success and led to Cash joining KWKH's Louisiana Hayride in December 1955. He also began touring extensively, and after "I Walk the Line," a cross-over hit that sold a million copies, and "There You Go," another 1956 winner, he joined the Grand Ole Opry.
Personal tragedy marked the career of Johnny Cash during the '60s. Cash and his enlarged band (having added drummer W.S. Holland, and becoming The Tennessee Three) being much in demand, played nearly 300 gigs a year, with Cash popping pills to provide enough energy. Cash first began working with June Carter
in December 1961. The following year saw a heavier work schedule that included a 30-hour tour of Korea and a disastrous Carnegie Hall date. But the pill-popping worsened and, in October 1965, Cash was arrested by the narcotics squad in El Paso and received a 30-day suspended sentence and a $1,000 fine. The following year he was jailed once more -- for embarking on a 2am flower-picking spree.
Cash overcame those obstacles, and the resulting poor health from his drug addiction, to turn out a string of hits to contribute to the outlaw sound of the late '60s and early '70s. Elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1980, his career, spanning from the 1950's through today, has earned him 8 Grammy awards, and put more than 130 songs on the country charts. After a quiet decade with Columbia and Mercury Records, Cash moved to American Recordings and burst back on the scene with "American Recordings," an album featuring Cash and his guitar and all-new material.
"We need a change," Waylon Jennings sings in "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way," the piercing kickoff track to his greatest album, Dreaming My Dreams. Waylon is singing about the country-music industry in this song, but the sentiment could apply to any element of this ramblin' man's life or career. Jennings, more than any of the outlaws, epitomized this era of battling the now oft-abused Nashville Sound. Waylon became a spokesman for the iconoclastic outlaw movement, and, incidentally, has a near encyclopedic knowledge of country music history.
Waylon was born in Littlefield, Texas, and influenced heavily by the sound of WSM and the Grand Ole Opry, with Ernest Tubb, Gene Autry, and Jimmie Rodgers. After quitting high school to pursue music, Waylon found himself in Lubbock at radio station KLLL as a popular DJ. known for his side-splitting ad-libs. It was here where Jennings cemented his friendship with Buddy Holly
. When Holly put together his new band in 1958, he took Jennings along as his bass player. Though Waylon rarely plays bass anymore, it is no accident that his popular sound of the '70s and early '80s was built around steady, swirling bass rhythms.
Waylon's early success came with producer Chet Atkins
beginning in 1965 at RCA Records. Despite the tension between Jennings and Atkins, Waylon turned out several hits, including "Only Daddy That'll Walk the Line" (1968), and "Just to Satisfy You" (1968).
Waylon's Outlaw persona, and the mixture of thrills and grief that it brought him, had become his major lyrical subject, on songs like "Amanda" (1974), "Rainy Day Woman" (1974), and "Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)" (1977). A live album recorded in Texas yielded a wild Jimmie Rodgers re-interpretation, "T for Texas," (with a Memphis beat but no yodel), and a deceptively complex new tune, "Bob Wills is Still the King." Also included here is a rare Waylon original "The Taker."
Country's most charismatic living legend, Merle Haggard
is proof that you do not have to forsake your musical roots to achieve fame. The Haggard family had been driven from their farm in dustbowl East Oklahoma and were living in a converted boxcar in Bakersfield, California, when Merle was born on April 6, 1937. Merle was nine when his father, a competent fiddle player, died, and without his father's influence he began to run wild. He embarked on a series of petty thefts and frauds and was in and out of local prisons. Then, in 1957, he was charged with attempted burglary and sentenced to six to fifteen years in San Quentin.
While in prison, Merle did some picking and songwriting, and was in San Quentin when Johnny Cash performed one of his prison concerts in 1958. When he left jail in 1960, he was determined to try and make a go of performing. He moved to Bakersfield, then a growing country music center. Helped initially by Buck Owens
, and his former wife Bonnie (whom Haggard eventually married), he started playing the local club scene. Merle also ran into Fuzzy Owen, an Arkansas musician who was also playing the Bakersfield clubs. Fuzzy, who is Merle's manager to this day, encouraged him and helped get Merle work locally.
In 1962, Fuzzy organized some recording sessions in a converted 'garage' studio and produced some singles, which were released on Tally, a label Owens had purchased from his cousin Lewis Tally. The next year Merle made his debut on the country charts with "Sing a Sad Song," which reached No.19. In 1965, they released "(My Friends are Gonna Be) Strangers," giving them a Top 10 hit. This success led to Capitol acquiring Merle's contract, plus all the recordings made for Tally.
Merle's second Capitol single, the self penned classic honky-tonker, "Swinging Doors," spent six months on the charts, reaching the Top 5. Equally as impressive was "The Bottle Let Me Down," which made No.3. This was followed by Haggard's first No.1, "I'm a Lonesome Fugitive," which made 1966 a highly successful year from him.
Two other apparently innocent songs were committed to record in 1969: "Okie from Muskogee," and "The Fightin' Side of Me." "Okie" re-stated redneck values in disturbance and Vietnam marches, yet Merle had written it as a joke, picking up a remark one of his band members had made about the conservative habits of Oklahoma natives as they rolled through Muskogee. "Fightin' Side of Me" was another apparent put-down of those who were so bold as to disparage America's image. When Haggard premiered "Okie" for a crowd of NCOs at Fort Bragg, N.C., they went wilder than he had expected, and from then on the song became a silent majority legend.
Haggards success continued through the early '80s with new label Epic Records. Although the stream of hits has slowed, Haggard was opening shows for Clint Black
by 1991, and several artists (including Diamond Rio
, Lee Roy Parnell
, and others) collaborated on "Mama's Hungry Eyes," a 1994 tribute album to Haggard and his music. Merle still maintains considerable following in mainstream country music today.
The most infamous era in country music was in the early '80s. The Urban Cowboy movement led country music away from its roots. Country's move toward pop culture was popularized by John Travolta's "Urban Cowboy," and spurred on by Dolly Parton
's movie 9 to 5 and the title song, which you can find here.
In the early '80s, country attempted to cross-over to the easy-listening pop audience. The result was a lot of shallow and tacky music that was neither good country, nor good pop. In many cases, Urban Cowboy country was nothing but regurgitated '60s and '70s pop music. The outlaw heroes of the 1970s -- Willie, Waylon, Johnny, and Merle -- faded into obscurity on the country scene. Aside from Parton, the biggest hits of the time were crossover tunes, including the Oak Ridge Boys
"Elvira" and others.
Although most of the songs and artists coming from Nashville were forgettable, some artists did produce excellent music. One of country biggest cross-over stars was John Conlee
, undoubtedly the singer with the saddest voice in country music. Born and raised on a Kentucky tobacco farm, Conlee worked as a mortician after graduating from high school, but finally landed a job as a DJ at a Fort Knox station. Moving to Nashville in 1971, and playing rock music, Conlee established important music contacts, leading to his singing with ABC records.
His initial records failed to make much impression but his fourth release, "Rose Colored Glasses," a song he co-wrote with a newsreader at the radio station, made the country Top 5 in May 1978. That same year ABC Records was absorbed by MCA, for whom John scored more than a dozen Top 10 hits, including "She Can't Say That Anymore," "I'm Only In It For The Love," "Backside of Thirty," and "Miss Emily's Picture.
John signed with Columbia Records in 1986, scoring several more Top 10 hits. This contract lasted only three years, after which he joined 16th Avenue Records, but failed to make an impact. Throughout his career, Conlee has championed the ordinary working man, typified in songs such as "Busted," "Common Man," "Working Man," and "American Faces." Inducted as the first new member of the Opry in five years in 1979, he still tours regularly, and is active with charities.
This American country-rock group has been one of the most successful country acts of recent years, with the majority of their singles hitting No.1 on the country charts, and all albums having reached gold or platinum status. They created the group sound rather than a singer accompanied by a group, and set things in motion for other outfits such as Atlanta, Exile
and Bandana, and, later, Restless Heart, Confederate Railroad, Desert Rose Band
, and the Kentucky HeadHunters
. Initially formed in 1969 at Fort Payne, Alabama, as Wildcountry, the group was a semi-professional outfit with the nucleus of cousins Jeff Cook and Randy Owen, plus Teddy Gentry.
After signing to GRT Records at the beginning of 1977, making their first mark on the country charts with "I Want to be With You." In 1976, original drummer John Vartanian decided to quit, and the group spent several months as a three-piece until they found Mark Herndon, the fourth member of Alabama
. Larry McBride, a Dallas businessman, took an interest in the group and signed them to a management deal. he set up MDJ Records and the group's first record, I Wanna Come Over, made the country charts in the autumn of 1979. Under the production of Harold Shedd they came up with another hit, "My Home's In Alabama" (a rare live version is included here).
In the early 1980s, Alabama signed with RCA Records and hit the top of the charts as one of the only country acts to stay away from the Urban Cowboy movement. Though they could have turned their back on country music, Alabama are keen to retain their country connection, and succeeds with a contagious country sound with hits such as "Mountain Music," "Take Me Down,", and "Roll On," among others. After limited success in the middle '80s, Alabama has rolled on to the tune of over 30 number 1 songs, easily the most successful group in country music history.
Discovered singing the national anthem at the 1974 National Finals Rodeo, Reba's early country career revealed a different singer altogether from the polished professional Reba of 1997. Greatly influenced by her small town upbringing, and by the music of Patsy Cline, McEntire's early work is true honky-tonk country with a twist. Although her musical legacy during her early years at Mercury Records pales in comparison to today, McEntire did cut several songs that helped to build the solid foundation to the career of one of the most acclaimed women in the history of country music. Her first single is classic Mercury Reba, "I Don't Want to be a One Night Stand." Although her early style is patterned after Patsy Cline, her own sass and emotion come through as Cline's never did, especially in her rendition of "Old Man River (I've Come to Talk Again).". Although she never released the third and final track included here, "A Cowboy Like You," is so honest, and early Rebaesque, it was a natural inclusion.
Garth Brooks & The New Country
Building on the astounding success of Garth Brooks, Randy Travis, Reba McEntire
, Alan Jackson and many others, Country has become the most popular radio format in America, reaching 77.3 million adults--almost 40 percent of the adult population--every week. Since 1989, country record sales have nearly doubled from $921 million to over $1.758 billion. Garth alone has sold more than 60 million albums since the release of his self-titled album in April 1989.
Country Music is embarking on a new era in 1997. Some artists think that country is headed back into the early '80s and the urban cowboy, pop-country sound. And while the whole world may have gone country, let's hope the world doesn't wake up one day to find real country gone.
The Country Music Superstar of the '90s, Troyal Garth Brooks
was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on February 7, 1962, and was raised in Yukon, about 100 miles away from Tulsa. Country music played a role in the Brooks' household, but not a dominant one. His father, Ray, worked as a draughtman for an oil company. Colleen Carroll, his mother, was a country singer in the 1950s and had regularly appeared on Red Foley's Ozark Jubilee radio and TV shows, as well as recordings for Capitol Records. By the time Garth was born, she had retired from a professional career and the Brooks' house reverberated with as much rock and pop music as country.
After graduating from Oklahoma State University as a marketing major (where he attended on a track scholarship for javelin), Brooks had been performing in bars and honky-tonks around Stillwater, most often at Wet Willie's, for several months. Garth played six nights a week, with a different set for each bar. His sister, Betsy Smittle (who incidentally was Ronnie Dunn's bass player in the house band at Duke's night club in Tulsa during the same period), went to see him one time, and commented that he'd written some great songs. So, in the summer of 1985 he left for Nashville and a career in country music, only to return home four days later, dejected by rejection.
He signed a writer's contract in November 1987 and soon after met Bob Doyle in Nashville, who later became his manager. It was Doyle who paid the $32.50 entry fee to a Bluebird Cafe, a performance that earned him his first record deal with Capitol Records. Garth did sign to Capitol, releasing Garth Brooks in April 1989 with studio producer Allen Reynolds. The rest, as they say, is history.
Garth Brooks is undeniably the most popular country music artist of all time, in terms of worldwide following, albums sold, and awards won. The first single from his self-titled debut, "Much to Young (to Feel This Damn Old) made it to #10. But it was Brooks' fourth single that cemented his popularity. His biggest hit, one he considers his career song, "The Dance," and its accompanying video vaulted up the country and pop charts, and from then on, there was no stopping Garth Brooks.
Garth's second album, "No Fences," is the top selling country album ever, with over 13 million copies sold to date. Garth has released 5 more albums since then, adding numerous chart toppers to his resume, including "The Thunder Rolls" (from No Fences), "The River" (from Ropin' the Wind), "That Summer" (from The Chase), "Ain't Going Down ('Til the Sun Comes Up)" (from In Pieces), and an unreleased album cut from "No Fences" is also here to prove that Garth can sing the classics, too --
George Strait, born May 18, 1952, in Pearsall, Texas, emerged in the early '80s as one of the best exponents of unvarnished, clean-cut country music. He told Billboard Magazine in 1981 that he "wanted to get to the point where people hear [his] name and immediately think of real country music." 19 albums and 15 years later, there is no doubt that he did just that.
Raised on a Texas ranch, George left college after a short spell, eloped with his high school sweetheart, and then joined the US Army. While stationed in Hawaii, George started singing with a country band, using the songs of Merle Haggard, Bob Wills, George Jones,
and Hank Williams. After his discharge in 1975, George returned to Texas and attended Southwest Texas State University to complete his degree in agriculture. By this time, he had been bitten by the music bug and, assembling his Ace In The Hole Band, was soon living a double life, attending classes by day and playing the clubs at night.
George and his band had built up a strong following on the southwest Texas honky-tonk circuit when, through the efforts of Erv Woolsey, a one-time MCA promotions man, he landed an MCA recording contract in early 1981. His first single, "Unwound," reached the Top 10 in the country charts. Strait spent more time at the top of the country singles charts than any other performer in the '80s, with more than two dozen records reaching No.1, including: "Fool Hearted Memory" (1982), "A Fire I Can't Put Out" (1983), "You Look So Good In Love," "Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind" (1984), "The Chair" (1985), and Top 10s " A Morning,?and "All My Ex's Live in Texas."
The 1990's were just as kind to Strait, yielding hits such as "You Know Me Better Than That" (1991), and "So Much Like My Dad" (1992). Strait reached a new plateau in his career when he took his first serious steps into the movies to star as country singer Dusty Wyatt Chandler in Pure Country, a 1992 film specially written for him. It became a major box office success and the soundtrack album, the first of his recordings to be produced by Tony Brown, became his biggest seller, and yielded a No.1 track with "Heartland." Strait's success continues today, with 1995 Single of the Year "Check Yes or No" (from his Strait Out of the Box 4-CD set). In that same set, George, with the help of Asleep at the Wheel
, covers an old Bob Wills tune, "Big Ball's In Cowtown," showing his country roots.
( Kilde :Roughstock's History of Country Music)
Flatt & Scruggs