Archive for the ‘100 Greatest Men’ Category

100 Greatest Men: #27. Bill Anderson

Sunday, June 9th, 2013

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.

Sunday, June 9th, 2013

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

Next: #27. Bill Anderson

Previous: #29. Alabama

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100 Greatest Men: #29. Alabama

Saturday, April 20th, 2013

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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Previous: #30. Jim Reeves

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100 Greatest Men: #30. Jim Reeves

Saturday, April 20th, 2013

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

Next: #29. Alabama

Previous: #31. Randy Travis

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100 Greatest Men: #31. Randy Travis

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

He’s widely hailed as the leader of the new traditionalist movement of the mid-eighties, but his impressive sales numbers made him something the genre had never seen before: a traditionalist superstar.

Travis was born Randy Traywick in a town just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina.   His youth was marked by two distinguishing features: a prodigious talent for music and a dangerous rebellious streak.   As a teenager, he played clubs with his older brother Ricky, but when the elder Traywick was jailed after a car chase, Randy moved to Charlotte proper to launch his own career at age sixteen.

Randy won a talent contest at a club owned  by Lib Hatcher, who took him under her wing and soon under her guardianship, after he barely evaded jail for what he was warned would be the last time.   Hatcher took on the role of manager, and managed to land an independent record deal that resulted in a minor hit in the early eighties.   A stint at the Nashville Palace and a well-received independent live album helped him land a deal with Warner Bros. Records.

The label convinced him to change his performing name to Randy Travis, and in 1986, his star took off.  He released the seminal album Storms of Life, arguably the most significant country album of the decade.  Its stunning multi-platinum success made Travis a household name, and destroyed the conventional wisdom that country must abandon its traditional sound to cross over to mainstream popularity.

Travis dominated the singles and albums charts for the next ten years, selling out arenas and racking up major industry awards.  But as significant as his own success was, he was just as important for creating the climate that allowed future legends

like Alan Jackson, Clint Black, and Garth Brooks to reach massive sales heights without the help of pop radio.   Though he was soon overshadowed by those giants, his sound remained the blueprint for mainstream country music well into the nineties.

Travis continued to score hits after leaving Warner Bros. for Dreamworks Records, but by the turn of the century, he was focusing his attention on country gospel music.   Even this detour produced a surprise country hit, with “Three Wooden Crosses” returning him to the top of the country charts in 2002, after an eight-year absence from the penthouse.   While he still remains primarily focused on the Christian market, his legacy continues to reverberate.  Most recently, Carrie Underwood revived his self-penned hit “I Told You So”, and invited him to record a duet version for the radio that peaked at #2.

Essential Singles:

  • On the Other Hand, 1986
  • Diggin’ Up Bones, 1986
  • Forever and Ever, Amen, 1987
  • Deeper than the Holler, 1988
  • Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart, 1990
  • Look Heart, No Hands, 1992
  • Whisper My Name, 1994
  • Out of My Bones, 1998
  • Three Wooden Crosses, 2002

Essential Albums:

  • Storms of Life, 1986
  • Always & Forever, 1987
  • No Holdin’ Back, 1989
  • High Lonesome, 1991
  • This is Me, 1994
  • Rise and Shine, 2002
  • Glory Train, 2005

Next: #30. Jim Reeves

Previous: #32. A.P. Carter

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100 Greatest Men: #32. A.P. Carter

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

His legacy has often languished in the shadows of his more accomplished female relatives, but A.P. Carter’s contributions to the development of country music remain essential.

A.P. Carter was the oldest of eight children, growing up in the poverty of the Appalachian mountains.  He struggled with tremors throughout his life, but still managed to master the fiddle.   He sang in a gospel group with his family and began writing songs, usually heavily influenced adaptations of traditional mountain songs and classic story ballads from both the Americas and overseas.

His life changed when he met Sara Dougherty, who became both his performance partner and his wife.   Alongside Maybelle Carter, his sister-in-law, they became a popular trio.  The Carter Family soon auditioned for and landed a long-term contract with Victor Records.  Beginning in 1927, they released widely popular country records, maintaining their success throughout both the Great Depression and A.P. and Sara’s separation.   The importance of their records cannot be overstated, with “Can the Circle Be Unbroken”, “Wildwood Flower”, and “Keep on the Sunny Side” now widely hailed as the most significant formative records in country music history.

Still, it would be the women of the group, especially Maybelle, who would further cement the legacy of the Carters.  After A.P. divorced Sara in 1939, the Carter Family’s breakup was inevitable.    Sara retired from the group in1943, and while A.P. ran a country store, Maybelle hit the road with her daughters throughout the forties.   The Carter Family made a brief comeback in the fifties, with A.P. and Sara joining their grown children on stage, but they disbanded after four years and a small handful of recordings.

A.P. Carter died in 1960, but his legacy lives on.  While Mother Maybelle and her daughters are the most recognizable Carters, their success was made possible by the work that A.P. and Sara did with Maybelle in the first fifteen years of the Carter Family’s musical legacy.

Essential Singles:

  • “Single Girl, Married Girl,” 1927
  • “Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow,” 1927
  • “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone,”

    1928

  • “Keep on the Sunny Side,” 1928
  • “Wildwood Flower,” 1928
  • “Can the Circle Be Unbroken,” 1928
  • “Motherless Children,” 1929
  • “No Depression in Heaven,” 1936
  • “Coal Miner’s Blues,” 1938

Next: #31. Randy Travis

Previous: #33. Mel Tillis

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100 Greatest Men: #33. Mel Tillis

Sunday, August 19th, 2012

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

A comedic flair, a speech impediment, and a famous daughter have often overshadowed the fact that Mel Tillis is one of the finest songwriters and performers in the history of country music.

Tillis hailed from Tampa, Florida, and he discovered music at a young age, playing guitar and singing songs at local talent shows.  Though he had a severe stutter from age three, the impediment disappeared when he sang.  Tillis entered the military, and while stationed in Japan, formed a band called the Westerners.  Once back stateside, he moved to Nashville to jump-start his songwriting career, alternating between Tennessee and Florida until the hits started coming in.

From 1957 to the end of the sixties, Tillis would record for major labels and score a handful of hits, but he had a far bigger impact as a songwriter.  He wrote hits that are now standards, recorded by legends like Webb Pierce (“I Ain’t Never, “No Love Have I”), Bobby Bare (“Detroit City”), Ray Price (“Heart Over Mind”, “Burning Memories”) and Kenny Rogers and the First Edition (“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town.”)

However, once the seventies arrived, Tillis became a major presence on country radio, scoring dozens of hits, many of which were his own recordings of his compositions that had been hits for other artists in the sixties.   In 1976, he was named CMA’s Entertainer of the Year, the same year he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.  Tillis’ comedic talents made him an in-demand performer, and he was a fixture on both network and syndicated television shows during the peak years of his career.   He also appeared in several movies, with Smokey and the Bandit II and Cannonball Run being the most successful.

As with many of his contemporaries, the hits slowed down

in the eighties, even though other artists continued to score hits with his material, most notably Ricky Skaggs’ chart-topping  recording of “Honey (Open That Door)” in 1984.   He purchased radio stations that he later sold for a big profit, and he became one of the most popular draws in Branson, Missouri, where his theater was a cornerstone for tourist entertainment.

In recent years, Tillis has frequently collaborated with his daughter Pam Tillis, making appearances on her albums and co-headlining a popular Christmas show at Opryland.   Tillis was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2007, and elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame that same year.  In 2010, he released his first comedy album, You Ain’t Gonna Believe This…, on Show Dog Records.

Essential Singles:

  • Heart Over Mind, 1970
  • I Ain’t Never, 1972
  • Good Woman Blues, 1976
  • Heart Healer, 1977
  • I Believe in You, 1978
  • Send Me Down to Tuscon, 1979
  • Coca Cola Cowboy, 1979
  • Southern Rains, 1980

Essential Albums:

  • Life’s That Way, 1967
  • Sawmill, 1973
  • M-M-Mel, 1975
  • Love Revival, 1976
  • Heart Healer, 1977
  • Mr. Entertainer, 1979
  • Your Body is an Outlaw, 1980

Next: #32. ?

Previous: #34. Charlie Rich

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100 Greatest Men: #34. Charlie Rich

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

After languishing in the shadows for more than a decade, Charlie Rich suddenly rose to prominence when his soul-influenced country music achieved massive crossover success.

Rich hailed from Arkansas, but it was his air force service that jump-started his professional music career.  While stationed in Oklahoma, he started a blues and jazz outfit called the Velvetones.  Once out of the military, he moved to Memphis, where he expanded his repertoire to include R&B.   He earned some session work with Sun Records as he honed his songwriting craft.   This led to a deal with Phillips International Records, which produced a handful of minor hits and an acclaimed studio album in 1960, Lonely Weekends with Charlie Rich.

Rich would toil in obscurity throughout the sixties on Groove and then Smash Records, though some of these recordings would end up hits when re-released at the peak of Rich’s popularity in the mid-seventies.   He moved toward a polished country sound as the decade wound down, and his collaborations on Epic Records with legendary producer Billy Sherrill eventually caught the attention of country radio, starting with the hit “I Take it On Home” in 1972.

Then came the album Behind Closed Doors.  The sound was similar to his previous work with Sherrill, but the title track was an explosive hit, topping the country charts and hitting the top twenty of the pop chart.  The next single was even bigger, with “The Most Beautiful Girl” reaching #1 on both the country and the pop chart.  The combination of these two singles powered the album to sales that would eventually top four million.  His former labels flooded the market to capitalize on his success, with RCA managing to send three singles to the top of the country chart while competing with his Epic releases for airplay.

Rich dominated the award show circuit from 1973-1975, winning multiple Grammy, ACM, and CMA Awards, including the 1974 CMA trophy for

Entertainer of the Year.    During that time, his popularity peaked, with another pair of gold albums following the multi-platinum success of his breakthrough work.   The hits slowed down as the seventies drew to a close, though he received wide critical acclaim for much of his work during this period, most notably his 1976 gospel album, Silver Linings.

Rich entered semi-retirement in the eighties, and was quiet on the recording front, even as his influence became increasingly prominent among the next generation of stars.   In 1992, he returned with what would ultimately become his swan song.  Pictures and Paintings seamlessly blended country, soul, and jazz, and was hailed as a return to form for the singer.   Sadly, he would pass away only three years later.  His legacy has only grown stronger since his passing, with his forward-looking fusion of multiple styles of music making him one of the genre’s most eclectic and visionary artists of all time.

Essential Singles:

  • Life’s Little Ups and Downs, 1969
  • I Take it on Home, 1972
  • Behind Closed Doors, 1973
  • The Most Beautiful Girl, 1973
  • A Very Special Love Song, 1974
  • I Don’t See Me in Your Eyes Anymore, 1974
  • Rollin’ With the Flow, 1977
  • On My Knees (with Janie Fricke), 1978

Essential Albums:

  • Lonely Weekends with Charlie Rich, 1960
  • Set Me Free, 1968
  • The Fabulous Charlie Rich, 1969
  • Behind Closed Doors, 1973
  • Very Special Love Songs, 1974
  • The Silver Fox, 1974
  • Silver Linings, 1976
  • Pictures and Paintings, 1992

Next: #33. Mel Tillis

Previous: #35. Gene Autry

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

100 Greatest Men: #35. Gene Autry

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

Coming to prominence during golden ages in film, radio, and television, Gene Autry was the internationally recognized singing cowboy.

Autry was the descendants of the very first settlers in Texas, and grew up in the wide open spaces he’d later immortalize on record and in films.   He learned guitar at a young age, and was a performer in his spare time while he pursued more realistic goals.

While working as a telegraph operator, he was killing his boredom by singing and playing his guitar.  By chance, a customer named Will Rogers heard him, and encouraged him to pursue a career in radio performance.  Within a year, he was auditioning in New York, releasing demos and singles for Victor and Columbia before signing an exclusive deal with the American Record Corporation.

His first big release, “That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine”, sold more than half a million copies.  Throughout the thirties and forties, he would go on to release singles that sold in the millions and defined the Country & Western sound, like “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” and “Back in the Saddle Again.”    Through his popularity on national radio programs as Oklahoma’s Yodeling Cowboy, he brought Western music to a wider audience.

His singing cowboy image was cemented by his appearances in online pharmacy no prescription more than ninety films, where he sang his songs and played roles consistent with his “Home on the Range” image.    He is widely credited for reviving the Western film genre, and his popularity on the silver screen further fueled his record sales.   His career was briefly detoured by a stint in the army during World War II, but he returned to the states as popular as ever, and the experience led to his classic hit, “At Mail Call Today.”

As popular tastes changed, Autry moved into the arena of television, starring in his own show from 1950-1956.  While his Western records had decreased in popularity, Autry’s ability to handle pop material led him to record a handful of secular Christmas singles that are still played on radio more than sixty years later, along with perhaps the only successful attempt at a secular Easter single with “Peter Cottontail.”

Autry moved away from performing and toward business interests later in life, most notably an ownership share in the Anaheim Angels and a stint as Vice President of the MLB American League.   By the time he passed away at age 91, he’d been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Radio Hall of Fame.  He is also the only performer in history to have five stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one in each of their five categories: motion pictures, radio, recording, television, and live theater.

Essential Singles:

  • That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine, 1932
  • Tumbling Tumbleweeds, 1935
  • Back in the Saddle Again, 1939
  • South of the Border (Down Mexico Way), 1939
  • Blueberry Hill, 1940
  • You are My Sunshine, 1941
  • At Mail Call Today, 1945
  • Home on the Range, 1947
  • (Ghost) Riders in the Sky,1949

Essential Holiday Singles:

  • Here Comes Santa Claus (Down Santa Claus Lane), 1947
  • Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, 1949
  • Peter Cottontail, 1950
  • Frosty the Snowman, 1950

Next: #34. Charlie Rich

Previous: #36. Ricky Skaggs

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

100 Greatest Men: #36. Ricky Skaggs

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

A brilliant bluegrass musician that became the unlikeliest of superstars, Ricky Skaggs moved seamlessly into mainstream country music and popularized bluegrass among a wide and willing audience.

Many musicians can claim mastery of their instruments at an early age, but few can compete with Skaggs, who taught himself to play the mandolin at age five and was performing on stage the same year.   As early as seven, he made a television appearance on Flatt & Scruggs, and he was a featured player in his family’s band throughout his childhood.  As a teenager, he met up with Keith Whitley and joined Ralph Stanley’s supporting band, the Clinch Mountain Boys.

After a few more stints in other bands, he recorded a solo album for an indie label, then formed his own group, Boone Creek.  This caught the attention of Emmylou Harris, who invited him to join her Hot Band several times.  He finally accepted and replaced outgoing member Rodney Crowell.    While influencing Harris’ sound, he also continued to release albums with Boone Creek and on his own.  Finally, his Sugar Hill setSweet Temptation caught the attention of Epic Records, and they signed him to their label.

Without any concessions to the Urban Cowboy sound of the time, Skaggs was a surprisingly huge success, and throughout the eighties he dominated the charts.   In 1982, he was the first artist to win both the Horizon Award and Male Vocalist of the Year at the CMA’s.  His bluegrass sets received huge critical acclaim while selling gold and platinum.  He recorded old classics mixed in with new material, with his musicianship front and center.  He even innovated on the video front, releasing the eye-popping “Country Boy” music clip, still widely regarded as one of the best country music videos of all time.

Once the Epic hits slowed down in the nineties, Skaggs returned to the bluegrass scene.  Amazingly, his work became more prolific than ever, winning him multiple Grammy awards as he collaborated with everyone from the Whites to Bruce Hornsby.   He drew heavily on his southern Gospel roots, and became a mainstay at festivals around the world.   The award-winning albums have continued ever since, now being released on his own Skaggs Family record label.

Today, he is the symbol of the very bluegrass traditions that he has always honored and preserved, and despite artists like Alison Krauss and Nickel Creek making waves in recent years, he remains the bluegrass star who has had the most mainstream success in country music.

Essential Singles:

  • Crying My Heart Out Over You, 1982
  • Heartbroke, 1982
  • Highway 40 Blues, 1983
  • Don’t Cheat in Our Hometown, 1983
  • Honey (Open That Door), 1984
  • Uncle Pen, 1984
  • Country Boy, 1985

Essential Albums:

  • Waitin’ for the Sun to Shine, 1981
  • Highways & Heartaches, 1982
  • Don’t Cheat in Our Hometown, 1983
  • Country Boy, 1984
  • Live in London, 1985
  • Ancient Tones (with Kentucky Thunder), 1999
  • Salt of the Earth (with the Whites), 2007

Next: #35. Gene Autry

Previous: #37. The Louvin Brothers

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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