Category Archives: 100 Greatest Men

100 Greatest Men: #41. Ronnie Milsap

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A first class musician with R&B roots, Ronnie Milsap brought contemporary pop sophistication to the country music of his time, and it made him a superstar.

Milsap had a troubled childhood.  He was blind from birth, and the divorce of his parents left him being raised by his father and his grandparents.   While enrolled in a

school for the blind, instructors noticed his remarkable musical talent, and he began to study classical music.  With stunning precision, he learned not only violin, but piano, guitar, and several other instruments.

His attention turned to rock music, and even though he was showing great promise as a pre-law student, he decided to go the music route instead.  He first found success as an R&B singer, scoring a handful of chart hits that also grazed the pop charts.   He mostly made his rent as a session musician, most notably working on sessions with Elvis Presley.

He was so well-known in other fields that Nashville executives were surprised to find him being pitched as a country act, but he was able to integrate his various genre skills into a modern sound that was distinctively country, despite overwhelming pop and R&B overtones.  He hit quickly as a country singer, becoming one of the genre’s top acts almost out of the gate.  As the Nashville sound was going uptown, his sophisticated approach was the perfect fit.   For more than two decades, he dominated at radio and retail, along with the major award shows.

During his first wave of success in the seventies, he became the first artist to win CMA’s Male Vocalist of the Year three times, and managed to pull off the same feat in their Album category as well.  He’d win the latter category an unprecedented fourth time in in 1986, a record that stood until  George Strait won his fifth in 2008.  He also was a huge Grammy favorite, winning six, including five in the competitive Male Vocal race.

Milsap dominated at country radio to the tune of 35 #1 hits, but his blending of sounds made him appealing at pop radio as well.  By the end of the crossover era, he’d scored several pop hits, even reaching the top five with his Grammy-winning classic, “(There’s) No Gettin’ Over Me.”   While many seventies stars faded into obscurity, Milsap continued to do well at radio through the early nineties.   In recent years, he has continued to record country albums, but has also explored other genres like pop, jazz, soul, and gospel, helping to bring his musical career full circle.

Essential Singles:

  • (I’d Be) A Legend in My Time, 1974
  • Daydreams About Night Things, 1975
  • It was Almost Like a Song, 1977
  • Smoky Mountain Rain, 1980
  • (There’s) No Gettin’ Over Me, 1981
  • I Wouldn’t Have Missed it For the World, 1981
  • Any Day Now, 1982
  • Lost in the Fifties Tonight (In the Still of the Night), 1985
  • A Woman in Love, 1989

Essential Albums:

  • Pure Love, 1974
  • Night Things, 1975
  • 20/20 Vision, 1976
  • Live, 1977
  • There’s No Gettin’ Over Me, 1981
  • Inside, 1982
  • Lost in the Fifties Tonight, 1985

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100 Greatest Men: #42. Porter Wagoner

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Known affectionately as the Thin Man from the West Plains, Porter Wagoner was a steadfast champion for the traditions of country music, even as he used forward-looking methods of delivering it to the masses.

Wagoner was  a self-taught singer and musician, and first gained notoriety as a singing grocer.  The store manager thought his young worker had great potential, and arranged for him to perform on the radio in West Plains, Missouri.   This led to his own radio show in 1951, and then a high-profile stint onOzark Jamboree, a television show spearheaded by Red Foley.

His success on radio and television landed him a contract with RCA records, a label he would stay with for more than two decades.  At his time with the label, he would be a pioneer for the genre in many ways.  While recording popular country hits like “A Satisfied Mind” and “Misery Loves Company”, he also produced powerful spiritual numbers, including the evocative “What Would You Do? (If Jesus Came to Your House)”, helping to mainstream a southern Baptist perspective to the masses.

He also was an innovator both in album concepts and album artwork, creating bold designs for his LPs that explored themes like adultery, poverty, and alcoholism.    His arresting visual style made him an ideal fit for television, and his wildly popular syndicatedThe Porter Wagoner Show made him a household name.  It also led to his most high-profile musical partnership when he invited Dolly Parton to join the cast.

Wagoner’s show peaked in popularity with Parton as a cast member, and their memorable duet singles and albums kept him on the upper echelon on the country charts throughout the mid-seventies.  While his solo career was cooling off at the same time, he remained a major presence in the Southern gospel market, the area which earned him multiple Grammy awards.

He left RCA in the early eighties, following a successful final duet album with Parton.   By then, his show was also off the air, but as cable television began filtering into homes, Wagoner’s hosting duties on the Grand Ole Opry made him a familiar figure to a new generation of country music fans.   He recorded sporadically for the next two decades, but received overwhelming critical accolades when he released Wagonmaster. Produced by Marty Stuart, his final album was a powerful swan song in 2007, and gave him one more moment in the spotlight, the same year that he passed away at the age of eighty.

Essential Singles:

  • Company’s Comin’, 1954
  • A Satisfied Mind, 1955
  • What Would You Do? (If Jesus Came to Your House), 1956
  • Misery Loves Company, 1962
  • Green, Green Grass of Home, 1965
  • The Cold Hard Facts of Life, 1967
  • The Last Thing on My Mind (with Dolly Parton), 1967
  • The Carroll County Accident, 1968

Essential Albums:

  • Satisfied Mind, 1956
  • Confessions of a Broken Man, 1966
  • The Cold Hard Facts of Life, 1967
  • The Bottom of the Bottle, 1968
  • What Ain’t to Be, Just Might Happen, 1972
  • Wagonmaster, 2007

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100 Greatest Men: #43. Roger Miller

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He became widely hailed for his lightning-fast wit and charming novelty songs, but Roger Miller’s talents ran far deeper than just the moments of comedic brilliance that made him a legend.

Miller took a long and winding route to country stardom.  His brother-in-law, Sheb Wooley, encouraged his fiddle playing as a boy, and he sang and played guitar, but he was more interested in working as a ranch hand.  But after a stint in the army led to a chance meeting with industry insiders, he made the jump and moved to Nashville.

An audition for Chet Atkins at RCA went poorly, but Miller persevered, focusing on his songwriting.  He wrote the classic Ray Price hit “Invitation to the Blues”, along with hits for Jim Reeves, Ernest Tubb, and Faron Young.   He also co-wrote with George Jones, and although it wasn’t a hit at the time, their collaboration “Tall, Tall Trees” would become a #1 hit for Alan Jackson three decades later.

Miller’s success as a writer garnered him new attention from Nashville labels, and he had a handful of minor hits on RCA during a short stint on the label.   While he was known as a hardcore country singer up until this point, he tried a new approach, moving to California and appearing on network variety shows as a more comedic country singer.

The new image was a big success, and when he began releasing singles and albums on the Smash Records label, he became a superstar.   Over the course of just three years, he released several major hits, won eleven Grammy awards, and earned several gold albums, along with the million-selling single, “King of the Road.”

After those peak years, he continued to chart, and often brought attention to material from newer songwriters like Bobby Russell (“Little Green Apples”) and Kris Kristofferson (“Me and Bobby McGee”).   His own songwriting led to additional hits for other artists, most notably Eddy Arnold, who had a #2 hit with “The Last Word in Lonesome is Me.”

Miller’s storytelling skills led him to pen several songs for the Disney animated film Robin Hood in 1973, which foreshadowed his next and final major signature success.  In 1985, he became the toast of Broadway for his score to the show Big River, which won him two Tony awards.   Though Miller continued to work after this incredible achievement, he was soon sidelined by throat cancer, which claimed his life in 1991.

Essential Singles:

  • Dang Me, 1964
  • Chug-a-Lug, 1964
  • Do-Wacka-Do, 1964
  • King of the Road, 1965
  • England Swings, 1965
  • Husbands and Wives, 1966
  • Little Green Apples, 1968
  • Me and Bobby McGee, 1969

Essential Albums:

  • Roger and Out, 1964
  • The Return of Roger Miller, 1965
  • Third Time Around, 1965
  • Words and Music,  1966
  • Walkin’ in the Sunshine, 1967
  • A Tender Look at Love, 1968

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100 Greatest Men: #44. Glen Campbell

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A young talent from Arkansas that developed from an in-demand session musician into a frontman for the ages.

Glen Campbell played guitar from the age of four.  He picked up instrumental guidance from jazz records while developing his vocal skills at church.   By his teenage years, he was already playing in country bands throughout Arkansas, and by age eighteen, he had his own country band called the Western Wranglers.

Looking for work, he moved to California in his early twenties, where he became a popular session musician, playing on records by Elvis Presley, Merle Haggard, Frank Sinatra, and the Monkees.  He played live gigs backing up established artists, while also pushing his own solo career, which was aided greatly by his touring with the Beach Boys.   Their Capitol label signed Campbell to a deal, and after working diligently throughout the sixties, he would end the decade as a huge star.

Campbell released a string of classic hits and albums from 1967-1969, including several gold singles and LPs.   His dual success on the pop and country charts with “By the cialis tablets foreign Time I Get to Phoenix”, “Wichita Lineman”, and “Galveston”, made him a household name, and he dominated at all three major industry award shows.   His By the Time I Get to Phoenix set remains one of the only country albums in history to win the Grammy for Album of the Year, and his CBS show,  The Glen Campbell Good Time Hour, further cemented his popularity.

The hits slowed down as the seventies rolled in, though Campbell had well-received duets with Bobbie Gentry and Anne Murray.   Alcohol and substance abuse contributed to this decline, but despite battling those demons, he managed a brief comeback in the middle of the decade.   A pair of crossover hits topped both the country and pop charts: “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Southern Nights.”  Both became signature songs for him, and helped get his radio career back on track.

Campbell would remain an inconsistent but regular presence on country radio until the late eighties, a decade that saw him conquer his addictions and become a born-again Christian.  In the nineties, he penned his autobiography, Rhinestone Cowboy, and opened a wildly popular theater in Branson, Missouri.   While this decade was intended to begin his retirement, Campbell remained a passionate live performer, and he won several awards for his inspirational albums.

Campbell was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005, but soon demonstrated that his music career wasn’t quite through yet. In 2008, he returned to Capitol records and released Meet Glen Campbell, his first new country album in fifteen years.   A diagnosis with Alzheimer’s inspired 2011′s farewell project, Ghost on the Canvas, which was hailed as one of his finest works.   He followed the album with a bittersweet farewell tour that is intended to bring an end to his public appearances upon his completion.

Essential Singles:

  • Gentle on My Mind, 1967
  • By the Time I Get to Phoenix, 1967
  • I Wanna Live, 1968
  • Wichita Lineman, 1968
  • Galveston, 1969
  • Rhinestone Cowboy, 1975
  • Country Boy (You Got Your Feet in L.A.), 1975
  • Southern Nights, 1977

Essential Albums:

  • Gentle on My Mind, 1967
  • By the Time I Get to Phoenix, 1967
  • Wichita Lineman, 1968
  • Galveston, 1969
  • Rhinestone Cowboy, 1975
  • Southern Nights, 1977
  • Ghost on the Canvas, 2011

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100 Greatest Men: #45. Tim McGraw

width=”150″ height=”150″ />100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

He started out as one of the lesser-ran hat acts of the nineties boom, catapulted to fame on the strength of a novelty song. But skillful song selection and deepening commitment to artistry helped Tim McGraw emerge as one of the genre’s strongest talents.

Born and raised in Louisiana, Tim McGraw was the son of baseball legend Tug McGraw, though he didn’t know this until he was an older boy. He was an aspiring baseball player himself, and attended college on a sports scholarship. While there, he learned to play guitar and grew more interested in pursuing music as his full-time career.

McGraw was inspired by the music of Keith Whitley, and by chance, he moved to Nashville on the same day that Whitley passed away. He played the clubs around town for four years, eventually garnering the interest of Curb Records. His self-titled debut album was released in 1993 to little fanfare, so it was a big surprise the following year when his second album, Not a Moment Too Soon, spent nearly thirty weeks at #1. It was the controversial novelty hit “Indian Outlaw” that got it there, but four more hits from the same set kept it at the top.

McGraw’s sudden move to multi-platinum sales gave him access to far better material, and over the next decade, a string of hit albums would establish him as one of Nashville’s best pickers of material. In 1996, he married fellow superstar Faith Hill, and they spent six weeks at #1 with “It’s Your Love”, their award-winning duet that was only one of many hit collaborations between the two. In the late nineties, he dominated radio with several multi-week #1 singles, becoming the genre’s flagship male vocalist and one of the few to win two consecutive CMA Album of the Year awards.

His success continued into the 21st century, and while McGraw became a movie star on the side, he still kept his primary focus on the music. In 2004, “Live Like You Were Dying” became the biggest hit of his career, earning him a Grammy and spending 7 weeks at #1, his cost viagra longest-running stay on the top of the charts. After the album of the same name sold in the millions, his record sales began to cool, though disagreements with his label heated up. He still had regular hits on the radio, but for the first time, he also had several singles missing the top ten.

McGraw finished his commitment to Curb records in early 2012, and has now moved on to Big Machine records, releasing his first single for the label in the summer of 2012. He is currently on a successful stadium tour with Kenny Chesney, an artist that he influenced and mentored.

Essential Singles:

  • Indian Outlaw, 1994
  • Don’t Take the Girl, 1994
  • I Like it, I Love it, 1995
  • It’s Your Love (with Faith Hill), 1997
  • Just to See You Smile, 1998
  • Please Remember Me, 1999
  • Live Like You Were Dying, 2004

Essential Albums:

  • Not a Moment Too Soon, 1994
  • Everywhere, 1997
  • A Place in the Sun, 1999
  • Set This Circus Down, 2001
  • Live Like You Were Dying, 2004

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100 Greatest Men: #46. Dwight Yoakam

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One of the strongest voices of the New Traditionalist movement, Dwight Yoakam revitalized the Bakersfield sound as he shot to stardom in 1986.

Yoakam was born in Kentucky and raised in Ohio. Growing up, he pursued both music and acting, putting greater emphasis on the former after graduating from high school.   He moved to Nashville in the late seventies, but did not fit in well with the pop-flavored country music scene.

However, he did meet guitarist Pete Anderson while there, and the two headed off to Los Angeles, where Yoakam became popular in both rock and country clubs, thanks to his contemporary take on classic country and rockabilly sounds.

An independent EP caught the attention of Reprise Records, and Yoakam landed a deal with the label.   His debut LP, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., shot to the top of the charts upon its release in 1986.  It established Yoakam as a significant leader among the New Traditionalists, updating the classic sounds of California country legend Buck Owens, among others.

Yoakam would spend the next decade selling platinum and beyond, despite having less consistent radio support than contemporaries like Randy Travis and Ricky Van Shelton.   In addition to writing his own material, he smartly chose covers that worked for his style, including one that partnered him with idol Owens.  Their collaboration “Streets of Bakersfield” was Yoakam’s first #1 hit, and it brought Owens back to the top slot for the first time in sixteen years.

Yoakam reached his critical and commercial peak in 1993 with This Time, an album that featured three huge hits, sold more than three million copies, and earned him a Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance.   While riding high on the success of the album, he began to pursue acting in Hollywood.  From this point on, he would split his attention between music and film.

As the nineties progressed, his album sales slowed but continued to earn him critical acclaim.  He had his last major hit with a cover of the Queen classic “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” in 1999.  Since then, he’s released well-received albums on independent labels, most recently his stellar tribute album, Dwight Sings Buck.   In 2007, the CMA honored Yoakam with its award side effects from diflucan for International Touring Artist, and in 2012, he received the prestigious Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award from the Academy of Country Music.

Yoakam has not released a new studio album since 2005, but he has re-signed with his former label home of Warner Bros., and is scheduled to release an album of new material this year.

Essential Singles:

  • Guitars, Cadillacs, 1986
  • Streets of Bakersfield (with Buck Owens), 1988
  • I Sang Dixie, 1988
  • Suspicious Minds, 1992
  • Ain’t That Lonely Yet, 1993
  • A Thousand Miles From Nowhere, 1993
  • Fast as You, 1993
  • Things Change, 1998

Essential Albums:

  • Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., 1986
  • Buenas Noches From a Lonely Room, 1988
  • If There was a Way, 1990
  • This Time, 1993
  • Gone, 1995
  • dwightyoakamacoustic.net, 2000

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100 Greatest Men: #47. Rodney Crowell

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First as a songwriter, then as a new country superstar, and currently as an alternative country icon, Rodney Crowell has made an indelible mark on country music for nearly four decades.

Born and raised in Houston, Texas, he was already a bandleader in high school, heading up a teenage outfit called the Arbitrators.   He was only 22 when he moved to Nashville, and by 1975, he’d been discovered by Jerry Reed, who heard him doing an acoustic set.   Reed not only recorded one of his songs, but also signed him to his publishing company.

Crowell was soon a member of Emmylou Harris’ Hot Band, and she was the first to record some of his compositions that went on to be big hits for other artists, including: “I Ain’t Living Long Like This”, a #1 hit for Waylon Jennings; “‘Til I Gain Control Again”, a #1 hit for Crystal Gayle;  “Leavin’ Louisiana in the Broad Daylight”, a #1 hit for the Oak Ridge Boys; and “Ashes By Now”, a top five hit for Lee Ann Womack.

His remarkable songwriting talent led to a record deal with Warner Bros.  While a trio of albums for the label were critically acclaimed, they failed to earn him success on the radio or at retail.   But as would be the case for his entire career, other artists mined those records for hits.  Most notably, “Shame on the Moon” became a #2 pop hit for Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band.

Crowell took a break from his solo career to focus on his songwriting and production responsibilities for then-wife Rosanne Cash.   This would be yet another successful avenue for Crowell, as his work with Cash produced several #1 singles and three gold albums.  The relationship also helped set his solo career on fire.  After signing with Cash’s label Columbia, his second set for the project was previewed with a duet with Cash, “It’s Such a Small World.”

It became the first of five consecutive #1 singles from Diamonds & Dirt, a gold-selling disc that briefly made Crowell an A-list country star, as five additional Cash singles that he had produced also hit #1 over the same time period.   He received a Grammy award for Best Country Song for “After All This Time.”   Two foll0w-up albums for Columbia also produced a handful of hits, with his final mainstream success being the pop crossover hit, “What Kind of Love.”

In the nineties, Crowell recorded two albums for MCA which were well-reviewed, but most notable for the second set including “Please Remember Me.”  It stalled as a single when Crowell released it, but  later that decade, Tim McGraw’s cover topped the charts for five weeks and earned Crowell a slew of award nominations.

The new century brought a reinvention on Crowell’s part, as he repositioned himself as an Americana artist with remarkable success.   A trio of albums earned rave reviews, as did his collaboration with old friends like Vince Gill on The Notorious Cherry Bombs, which earned a handful of Grammy nominations and included Crowell’s “Making Memories of Us.”  Once again, a current artist discovered it, and Keith Urban took it to #1 for several weeks.

Inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003, Crowell continues to build on his legacy as a singer, songwriter, and producer.  Most recently, Crowell produced Chely Wright’s confessional Lifted off the Ground and co-wrote an album with friend Mary Karr which features their songs recorded by several artists, including Crowell himself. 

Essential Singles:

  • I Ain’t Living Long Like This (Waylon Jennings), 1980
  • ‘Til I Gain Control Again (Crystal Gayle), 1982
  • Shame on the Moon (Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band), 1982
  • It’s Such a Small World (with Rosanne Cash), 1988
  • I Couldn’t Leave You if I Tried, 1988
  • After All This Time, 1989
  • What Kind of Love, 1992
  • Please Remember Me (Tim McGraw), 1999
  • Making Memories of Us (Keith Urban), 2005

Essential Albums:

  • Ain’t Living Long Like This, 1978
  • Diamonds & Dirt, 1988
  • The Houston Kid, 2001
  • Fate’s Right Hand, 2002
  • The Outsider, 2005

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100 Greatest Men: #48. Kris Kristofferson

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Though his Hall of Fame career has now stretched several decades, Kris Kristofferson will forever be defined by his legendary songwriting in the late sixties and early seventies.

An intellectual of Swedish descent, Kristofferson’s father was in the U.S. military, and as a result, he moved around quite a bit while growing up.   His twin passions were writing and rugby, and he pursued both vigorously while completing his undergraduate studies in California.   He earned a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University, and while studying there, he gained distinction in boxing, and more importantly, he began writing songs.

He briefly pursued a performing career while in England, with hopes that success could help him toward his real goal of publishing a novel.   When this was unsuccessful, he succumbed to family pressure and joined the army in 1960.   Five years later, he left the army, which resulted in estrangement from his family, and he arrived in Nashville to pursue his songwriting craft full time.

The cuts came slowly, but after having a few chart hits by artists like Dave Dudley and Roger Miller, he became established around town.   As the sixties turned into the seventies, Kristofferson’s pen became legendary, thanks to a string of hits for other artists.   Sammi Smith’s recording of “Help Me  Make it Through the Night” won him a Grammy for Song of the Year, while he earned the CMA trophy for “Sunday Morning Coming Down” (Johnny Cash) and the ACM trophy for “For the Good Times” (Ray Price.)  Janis Joplin, who Kristofferson had dated for some time, found her greatest success after her death, as her recording of Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee” topped the pop singles chart for several weeks.

Kristofferson’s notoriety as a writer piqued enough interest in him to lead to a successful singing career of his own.  He had several well-received albums for Monument, two of which sold gold.   Radio was mostly indifferent to the projects, with the glaring exception of his stunning #1 hit, “Why Me”, in 1973.

While he continued to sing and write songs, Kristofferson’s career took a surprising turn toward Hollywood, and he became a legitimate film star, winning a Golden Globe for Best Actor starring opposite Barbra Streisand in A Star is Born.   He also had successful musical collaborations with his wife, Rita Coolidge.   Meanwhile, Nashville stars continued to record his songs, with friend Willie Nelson even recording a platinum-selling tribute album in 1979.

His last major success as a recording artist came in 1985 as part of the supergroup The Highwaymen with Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson.   That same year, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, while the Country Music Hall of Fame elected him in 2004.

Over the past two decades, he has continued to release albums of self-written material, while continuing to tour and appear in various films, including a prominent role in the Blade trilogy.
Essential Singles:

  • For the Good Times (Ray Price), 1970
  • Sunday Morning Coming Down (Johnny Cash), 1970
  • Me and Bobby McGee (Janis Joplin), 1971
  • Help Me Make it Through the Night (Sammi Smith), 1971
  • Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends (Bobby Bare), 1971
  • Why Me, 1973
  • The Highwayman (with Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson), 1985

Essential Albums:

  • Kristofferson, 1970
  • Me and Bobby McGee, 1971
  • The Silver Tongued Devil and I, 1971
  • Jesus Was a Capricorn, 1972
  • To the Bone, 1981
  • Broken Freedom Song: Live From San Francisco, 2003

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100 Greatest Men: #49. Toby Keith

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After first finding success as a smooth country balladeer, Toby Keith got in touch with his sense of humor and aggressive bravado.  The combination made him one of the biggest country stars of the new century.

One of the few acts with primarily country roots to still get radio play, Keith cut his teeth on the music of Bob Wills and Merle Haggard while growing up in Oklahoma.   Though he always made time for performing music, his first professional pursuits were in the oil fields and in semiprofessional football.

When both avenues were effectively closed for him, he pursued his music full-time, touring honky-tonks and recording demo tapes and sides for indie labels.  One of his tapes led to a deal with Mercury Records, and it contained self-written songs which would become huge hits once sent to radio.  He was a star out of the gate, reaching #1 with his first single, “Should've Been a Cowboy.”  The 1993 hit would go on to become the most played song of the nineties.

Keith became a reliable star, consistently selling gold and platinum and scoring radio hits, but he felt limited by his image as a ballad singer in the same vein as Vince Gill.   In 1999, he left Mercury for Dreamworks.   His second single for them, “How Do You Like Me Now?!” , rebranded him as a tongue-in-cheek, cocky showman, and it set the stage for him to reach superstar status.

He won the CMA trophy for Male Vocalist in 2001, but he truly hit the pinnacle of his fame the following year when he released “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American.)”   It laid the foundation for two consecutive albums selling over four million copies, and complete domination of the radio dial, with several multi-week #1 singles that became signature songs for Keith.

His massive success led to him opening up his own label, Show Dog Records, which now has a partnership with Universal Music.   Keith's record sales slowed with the new label, but overall he's doing better because of his larger financial stake in the label and the success of his restaurant chain Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill.

Most recently, Clancy's Tavern became his first album in three years to earn a gold certification, and his first in six to produce three top ten radio hits.   “Red Solo Cup”, a novelty song from the set, has become Keith's biggest single in years, and as a result, exposed him to a new, younger audience.

Essential Singles:

  • Should've Been a Cowboy, 1993
  • Who's That Man, 1994
  • How Do You Like Me Now?!, 1999
  • Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American), 2002
  • Beer For My Horses (with Willie Nelson), 2003
  • I Love This Bar, 2003
  • As Good as I Once Was, 2005
  • Red Solo Cup, 2011

Essential Albums:

  • Toby Keith, 1993
  • Dream Walkin', 1996
  • Pull My Chain, 2001
  • Unleashed, 2002
  • Shock'n Y'all, 2003

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100 Greatest Men: #50. Don Williams

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As soft-spoken off the record as on, Don Williams became known as the Gentle Giant, as he quietly racked up dozens of hits over the course of two decades.

The native Texan played guitar from a young age, and dabbled in many different genres while searching for his own definitive style.  His first professional break was as a member of the pop group the Pozo-Seco Singers in the mid-sixties.   The group had a handful of minor hits before disbanding in 1971.

Williams moved to Nashville to pursue songwriting, but eventually emerged as a solo artist.   He first recorded for JMI Records,  but broke through on ABC/Dot, scoring several top ten hits, including many #1 singles.   His most notable hits in the seventies included “Tulsa Time” and “It Must Be Love.”  He switched to the MCA roster when it acquired ABC/Dot as its own.

Despite his humble nature, the industry took notice of his talents, awarding him the CMA Male Vocalist trophy in 1979.   By that time, he was an international star, becoming a major presence in the European market while also racking up hits at home.   Recording for MCA in the eighties, the big hits continued, with his signature song, “I Believe in You”, pushing the album of the same name to platinum sales and another CMA trophy, this time for Album of the Year.

Williams continued to record for major labels after leaving MCA in 1986.  He scored his final #1 single for Capitol the same year, “Heartbeat in the Darkness.”  A stint with RCA brought him critical acclaim.  His 1991 album, True Love, produced a trio of top ten hits, but its follow-up, Currents,  received no support at radio and failed to crack the album chart, in spite of excellent reviews.

His recording and touring both slowed down after he left the major label world, but he continued to put out albums sporadically.   He even did a farewell tour in 2006, which was intended to mark his retirement.  Thankfully for fans, 2012 has brought an artistic resurgence for Williams, as his new album for Sugar Hill Records, And So it Goes, features appearances from Alison Krauss and Vince Gill.  An international tour is underway in support of the record.

Essential Singles:

  • You’re My Best Friend, 1975
  • Till the Rivers All Run Dry, 1976
  • Tulsa Time, 1978
  • It Must Be Love, 1979
  • I Believe in You, 1980
  • Lord, I Hope This Day is Good, 1981
  • Heartbeat in the Darkness, 1986

Essential Albums:

  • Volume One, 1973
  • Harmony, 1976
  • Expressions, 1978
  • Portrait, 1979
  • I Believe in You, 1980

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100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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