Category Archives: 100 Greatest Men

100 Greatest Men: #21. Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

From the vantage point of history, he is the indisputable King of Rock & Roll.   But he earned that title through his ability to perform country, blues, and R&B successfully, and it is often his impact as a country artist that is most easily overlooked.

Presley was born into deep poverty in Mississippi, laying the groundwork for his exposure to American roots music.  By his teenage years, he was living in Memphis, and it is in that city where he would be discovered by Sun Records owner Sam Phillips.  His work for Sun Records cannot be overstated in its significance.  On those early recordings, he brought together elements of country, blues, and R&B into a sound called rockabilly, which created the very foundation for what would soon be known as rock and roll.  His cover of Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky” was among these early recordings, as were his first big country hits: “Baby, Let’s Play House”, “I Forgot to Remember to Forget”, and “Mystery Train.”

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100 Greatest Men: #22. Alan Jackson

Alan Jackson100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

Since arriving on the country music scene in 1989, Alan Jackson has become one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful superstars to ever call country music home.  Amazingly, in this modern era, he did it all as a traditionalist.

Hailing from small town Georgia, Jackson started with singing gospel, but by his teenage years, he was already part of a local country duo.  He worked odd jobs while performing with his country band, and got his first big break when his wife, Denise, passed on his demo tape to Glen Campbell after a chance meeting in an airport.  He encouraged them to move to Nashville, and Jackson continued to work odd jobs while honing his craft as a singer and songwriter.

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100 Greatest Men: #23. Charley Pride

Charley Pride100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

Over the course of just fourteen years, Charley Pride accumulated 29 #1 country hits, proof positive that his switch from professional baseball to music was the right one.

Pride hailed from Sledge, Mississippi, one of eleven sharecropper children.  He was a guitar player early on, but he first made his name in baseball, playing in both the Negro League and on several minor league baseball teams, including the Memphis Red Sox and the Boise Yankees.   His career was derailed by a stint in the Army, followed by an arm injury that made his signature pitching an impossibility.   He worked construction while unsuccessfully auditioning for baseball teams, then turned his attention to music.

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100 Greatest Men: #24. The Statler Brothers

The Statler Brothers100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

In 2008, the Statler Brothers were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.   Five members of the quartet were inducted, a tribute to their status as one of the few groups in recorded music to achieve legendary success both before and after a high-profile lineup change.

The Statler Brothers got their name from a tissue box, though two of them – Harold and Don Reid – were actually brothers.  First performing as the Kingsmen, hey started as a church singing group in Staunton, Virginia. Harold initially performed as part of a trio with Phil Balsley and Lew DeWitt, and Don joined later on, making them a quartet.   They opened a local show for Johnny Cash, who was so impressed that he invited them to join his traveling show and helped them score a contract with Columbia Records.

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100 Greatest Men: #25. Tom T. Hall

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

Tom T HallTom T. Hall is known as the Storyteller, a fitting title for a man whose ability to spin a musical yarn led to some of the greatest country story songs of all-time, many of which he sang himself.

His childhood set the stage for a career in music.  His father gave him a guitar when he was eight, and he learned music from his hometown neighbor Clayton Delaney, later the subject of Hall’s longest-running #1 single.  His mother died when he was just 11, and when a hunting accident four years later made it impossible for his father to work, Hall joined the workforce of a garment factory at age 15.

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100 Greatest Men: #26. Roy Acuff

Roy Acuff100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

Roy Acuff is responsible for not only some of the genre’s foundational recordings, but for helping to put Nashville on the map as a star of the Grand Ole Opry, a music publishing tycoon, and even a candidate for governor of Tennessee.

Not bad for a middle child from rural Tennessee, the son of a prominent family from the small town of Maynardville.  Though both of his parents were skilled musicians, his passion was baseball, and he got as far as minor league tryouts before sunstroke ended his budding career.   He chose to hone his skills with the fiddle, and began performing around the south as part of a touring medicine show.  Incorporating the southern gospel song, “Great Speckled Bird”, into his performances caught the attention of the record companies.   By the end of the thirties, he had several hits and a Grand Ole Opry cast membership to his credit.

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100 Greatest Men: #27. Bill Anderson

Bill Anderson100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

An impressive run of hit singles and his visible Opry stardom gave him tremendous success as a singer, but it’s been Bill Anderson’s songwriting that’s kept him topping the country charts for decades longer than even his most successful contemporaries.

The man who’d become known as Whisperin’ Bill Anderson had always wanted to be a professional writer, but it was sports journalism that was his original goal.  But as he was working his way through college as a radio disc jockey, he was inspired to try his hand at songwriting.  An early attempt was “City Lights”, which ended up a smash hit for Ray Price and began a songwriting career that is still going strong 55 years later.

Soon, he was writing hits for himself as well as others.  He earned his Whisperin’ moniker from his soft, conversational singing style, which found him speaking as often as singing.   The sixties brought classic recordings like “The Tips of My Fingers”, which didn’t include the plural of tip when he recorded it, but was added when other artists like Roy Clark and Steve Wariner also had hits with it.   He launched Connie Smith’s career with “Once a Day”, just a year after he released a country classic of his own, the #1 smash hit, “Still.”

In addition to his solo hits like “Po’ Folks” and “I Get the Feeling”, he had a series of successful duets with Jan Howard and with Mary Lou Turner.  A collaboration with the latter, “Sometimes”, was his final #1 hit in 1975, after which his hits as an artists became fewer and far between.   From this point on, his popularity as a performer would be limited to his Opry appearances, and when those shows became televised in the eighties, his colorful personality reached an entire new audience.

While he had plenty of songs recorded in the eighties and nineties, it’s been in the new century that Anderson had his most prolific songwriting renaissance.  He’s co-written songs for contemporary artists such as Sara Evans and Sugarland.  Amazingly, in his fifth decade of writing, he earned his first Song of the Year trophy for the Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss hit, “Whiskey Lullaby.”  Just a couple of years later, he won a companion piece for his mantle, taking home honors for the George Strait hit, “Give it Away.”

Amazingly, these awards came after he was already inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, an honor he received in 2001.  In addition to remaining a current songwriter on the charts, Anderson continues to document the incredibly legacy of country music, hosting popular concert reunions for country singers and songwriters of days gone by.  He has also written successful memoirs and reflections on life, and can still be found on the Opry stage sharing some of those stories in between performances of the songs that have kept him on the stage for more than five decades.

Essential Singles:

  • The Tip of My Fingers, 1960
  • Po’ Folks, 1961
  • Mama Sang a Song, 1962
  • Still, 1963
  • For Loving You (with Jan Howard), 1967
  • My Life (Throw it Away if I Want to), 1969
  • Sometimes (with Mary Lou Turner), 1975

Essential Singles by Other Artists:

  • City Lights (Ray Price), 1958
  • Once a Day (Connie Smith), 1964
  • The Cold Hard Facts of Life (Porter Wagoner), 1967
  • The Lord Knows I’m Drinking (Cal Smith), 1973
  • Whiskey Lullaby (Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss), 2004
  • Give it Away (George Strait), 2006

Essential Albums:

  • Sings Country Heart Songs, 1962
  • Still, 1963
  • Bright Lights and Country Music, 1965
  • I Love You Drops, 1966
  • For Loving You (with Jan Howard), 1968
  • Wild Weekend, 1968

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Previous: #28. Hank Williams Jr.

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100 Greatest Men: #28. Hank Williams, Jr.

Hank Williams Jr100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

The ultimate icon of Southern country rock, Hank Williams Jr. emerged from the long, influential shadow of his father to become one of the genre's most distinctive personalities.

Born in 1949, Hank Jr. was only a toddler when his father died.  As the namesake of the legendary Hank Williams, his early career consisted of Hank Jr. carefully following his father's footsteps, covering his material and even dressing like him for performances at the tender age of eight.

He found moderate success throughout the sixties and early seventies, and as his songwriting talent grew, he slowly began to develop his own unique style.  Still, he was little more than a B-list traditional country singer, making a lot of good music and having reasonably popular hits.   Alcoholism was slowing him down, and after getting a handle on his addiction, he began to incorporate Southern rock sounds into his country music.

Just as his signature style was emerging, tragedy struck when he suffered a terrible fall while mountain climbing in Montana.  After a long and difficult recovery, Williams returned with new purpose, and found his commercial breakthrough when he teamed up with producer Jimmy Bowen.  In 1979, he released two signature hits.  “Family Tradition” managed to exercise the demons of living in his father's shadow while simultaneously popularizing the sound that would help him escape it.   “Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound” lay down the template for his most powerful material.

Thus kicked off a decade where Williams Jr. would reach astonishing heights of popularity, with records selling in the millions, singles regularly topping the charts, and even becoming one of the genre's first successful music video artists.   In 1987 and 1988, he was named the CMA Entertainer of the Year, the culmination of his rise to superstardom.

He became widely known beyond the country music field with his popular themes for Monday Night Football, which earned him Emmy awards to go alongside his music industry statuettes.   His radio success faded in the nineties, but his popularity on the road and in popular culture hasn't subsided, though these days he's more likely to be found on Fox News than CMT, with his conservative and often inflammatory views continuing to garner notice outside the country music world.

Regardless of his notoriety in other fields, in the end, he'll be remembered for his body of work.  As arguably the most significant second generation talent in country music history, Hank Williams Jr.'s legacy is secured.

Essential Singles:

  • Eleven Roses, 1972
  • Family Tradition, 1979
  • Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound, 1979
  • All My Rowdy Friends (Have Settled Down), 1981
  • A Country Boy Can Survive, 1982
  • Born to Boogie, 1987
  • There's a Tear in My Beer (with Hank Williams), 1989

Essential Albums:

  • Songs of Hank Williams, 1963
  • Hank Williams Jr. and Friends, 1976
  • Family Tradition, 1979
  • Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound, 1979
  • The Pressure is On, 1981
  • Born to Boogie, 1987
  • The Almeria Club Recordings, 2002

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100 Greatest Men: #29. Alabama

Alabama100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

In the early eighties, a new kind of country band surfaced, structured like the rock bands that came before them, but deeply grounded in country instrumentation.  Alabama were the pioneers of the field, and they reached a level of superstardom beyond most bands of any genre during their peak.

Three of the four members of Alabama are cousins from the band's namesake state, though Jeff Cook, Teddy Gentry, and Randy Owen first began performing as Young Country in 1969. The band went through a series of day jobs and a series of drummers while honing their sound on the local music circuit in Alabama and neighboring states.  After switching to Wildcountry in 1972, and settling on Rick Scott as their drummer in 1974, they finally took the name Alabama in 1977.

A series of minor hits on an independent label led to a contract with RCA, after a final lineup change replaced Scott with Mark Herndon.   When the band broke in 1980 with the top twenty hit “My Home's in Alabama”, what followed set a new bar for commercial success in country music.   The band scored a record consecutive 21 #1 hits, became the first act to win CMA Entertainer of the Year three times in a row, and released several multi-platinum albums, including the five million-selling Mountain Music in 1982.

Their success opened the floodgates for other country bands, eventually replacing vocal groups as the dominant non-solo sound in the genre.   Though they didn't receive much critical acclaim for their work, their relevance on the

commercial front was undeniable. Even as a wave of new acts in the nineties again raised the bar for what country acts could achieve, Alabama remained successful, consistently selling gold and platinum while radio continued to play their hits.

At the turn of the century, the band slowed down, even doing a farewell tour.   They still released music, however, scoring their first #1 country album in 17 years with Songs of Inspiration in 2006.  They also returned to the penthouse of the singles chart in 2011, scoring their 34th #1 single in support of Brad Paisley's “Old Alabama.”

They are currently recording and performing as a trio, with Herndon departing the group after a rift over royalties that led to a lawsuit. They were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005, and returned to the stage in 2013 for a fortieth anniversary tour.

Essential Singles:

  • Tennessee River, 1980
  • Love in the First Degree, 1981
  • Mountain Music, 1982
  • The Closer You Get, 1983
  • Forty Hour Week (For a Livin'), 1985
  • Song of the South, 1988
  • I'm in a Hurry (and Don't Know Why), 1992
  • How Do You Fall in Love, 1998

Essential Albums:

  • Feels So Right, 1981
  • Mountain Music, 1982
  • The Closer You Get…, 1983
  • Roll On, 1984
  • 40 Hour Week, 1985
  • Southern Star, 1989
  • Dancin', Shaggin' on the Boulevard, 1997
  • Songs of Inspiration, 2006

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100 Greatest Men: #30. Jim Reeves

Jim Reeves100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

Gentleman Jim Reeves started off as a hardcore country singer, but his smooth crossover stylings would become synonymous with the Nashville Sound, combining with tragedy to grant him country music immortality only a dozen years into his career.

Growing up in Texas, Reeves picked up the guitar at an early age, mimicking the Jimmie Rodgers records that he discovered through his older brother.   A prodigious talent, Reeves was already singing on local radio shows before he entered his teens.

He was also a great athlete, and he played in a semi-professional league, followed by three years in the big leagues with the Saint Louis Cardinals.  But an ankle injury sidelined him, and he returned his attention to music.

He worked in radio while recording independent singles, eventually raising his profile with a series of hits on Abbott Records.  After three years of scoring big hits with them, he once again joined the big leagues, this time in the form of major record label RCA Victor.

Reeves was a consistent hitmaker throughout the fifties, but didn’t truly break through to superstardom until he softened his country sound with the pop stylings of the time.  “He’ll Have to Go”, released in 1959, became his signature hit, reaching the pop top ten while it topped the country charts for fourteen weeks.

His singles regularly charted

country and pop from that point on, though he was far more successful in his home format.  Tragedy struck when Reeves died in a plane crash in 1964, but much like Patsy Cline before him, his notoriety only grew in the shadow of his untimely death.

In fact, Reeves would have his most significant run of hits in the years after his death, having an astonishing sixteen top ten singles over the course of seventeen years.  Some of those hits, like “Distant Drums” and “Blue Side of Lonesome”, are as beloved as the biggest ones released while he was still alive.

Reeves was one of the earliest inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame, joining those hallowed ranks in 1967.  “He’ll Have to Go” cemented its classic status with its induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame.   To this day, unreleased recordings continue to surface, and he remains one of the top-selling country artists of the Nashville Sound era.

Essential Singles:

  • Mexican Joe, 1953
  • Bimbo, 1953
  • Four Walls, 1957
  • Billy Bayou, 1958
  • He’ll Have to Go, 1959
  • Adios Amigo, 1962
  • I Guess I’m Crazy, 1964
  • Distant Drums, 1976

Essential Albums:

  • Jim Reeves Sings, 1956
  • Bimbo, 1957
  • Girls I Have Known, 1958
  • The Country Side of Jim Reeves, 1962
  • Distant Drums, 1966
  • The Blue Side of Lonesome, 1967

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Previous: #31. Randy Travis

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