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100 Greatest Men: #4. Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

Known affectionately as the Man in Black, Johnny Cash is a figure who has towered over popular music, casting a long shadow over the history of both country and rock and roll.

He was born and raised in Arkansas, and was writing songs from the age of twelve, inspired by the artists that he heard on country radio.   Unlike many of the legends of his time, he did not pick up a guitar until much later, purchasing one while he was in the Air Force.  After his time in the service, Cash married and settled down in Memphis, Tennessee, working odd jobs while focusing on his music at night.

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100 Greatest Men: #15. Conway Twitty

Conway Twitty100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

He started out as a pop teen idol, but Conway Twitty’s powerful vocals and smart taste in material made him one of country music’s longest reigning superstars.

Twitty was born in Mississippi and raised in Arkansas, a background that exposed him to gospel and blues music, as well as country music. By age ten, he was playing in his own country band, but his attention was set on being a professional baseball player.  Unfortunately, as soon as he was offered a contract by the Philadelphia Phillies, he was drafted into the army.

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100 Greatest Men: #20. Garth Brooks

Garth Brooks100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

Arriving on the scene in 1989 with a great song sense and a strong background in marketing, Garth Brooks emerged as the poster boy for the nineties country boom, and along the way, became the biggest record-seller in America since the Beatles.

Brooks was born and raised in Oklahoma, the son of Capitol country recording artist Colleen Carroll.   He grew up with music around the house, and learned to play the guitar and the banjo.  His athletic prowess earned him a track scholarship at Oklahoma State University, but his interest soon turned to music.  He began performing around Stillwater, becoming a major draw on the local talent circuit.

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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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2014 Country Music Hall of Fame Inductees: Hank Cochran, Ronnie Milsap, and Mac Wiseman

Ronnie MilsapGood news for three legends of the genre, one of whom we lost to cancer only four years ago:

Ronnie Milsap, Mac Wiseman and the late Hank Cochran are the newest members of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Wiseman got his start in music after contracting polio as a child, which kept him out of the fields in his native Virginia. He was an original member of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs’ Foggy Mountain Boys, made his Grand Ole Opry debut with Bill Monroe, was an executive with the influential Nashville independent label Dot Records and a founding board member of the Country Music Association.Milsap, inducted in the modern era category, was an established talent by the time he arrived in Nashville in the 1970s. He’d played in J.J. Cale’s band in the early 1960s and moved to Memphis to work with Chips Moman at the hit-making American Studios, where he worked with Elvis Presley, among others, before accepting an invitation to go to Nashville to record for RCA Records.

It was something of an experiment for Milsap, known as an R&B and rock singer, but he made sure he had a regular gig before he hit town, playing nightly at Roger Miller’s King of the Road Hotel.

He found country fans were open to his style, and he went on to win several Grammy Awards, the CMA’s entertainer of the year award in 1977 and four album of the year awards between 1975 and 1986.

Cochran, who is being inducted posthumously in the songwriter category, probably secured his place in country music history when he got Willie Nelson a songwriting job at Pamper Music by forgoing his own raise.

He wrote the Ray Price standard “Make the World Go Away” and Patsy Cline’s second most-memorable song, “I Fall to Pieces” (following Nelson’s own “Crazy”), among many others.

He died in 2010 of pancreatic cancer shortly after a touching bedside singalong that included friends Jamey Johnson, Buddy Cannon and Billy Ray Cyrus.

Source: Associated Press via CBS News

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100 Greatest Men: #40. Hank Snow

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

Long before Anne Murray and Shania Twain achieved worldwide fame, Hank Snow crossed over the Canadian border and became a country music superstar.

Snow was a child runaway, escaping home at age twelve and finding solace in the music of Jimmie Rodgers.   The four years he spent traveling before returning home laid the foundation for the realism that would bleed into the traveling songs he became famous for.   Snow built up a following in Nova Scotia, and then made the move to Halifax.   Living in the city caused great financial hardship for Snow and his young wife, but his unpaid appearances gave him enough notoriety to finally earn some paying gigs.

Throughout the forties, his success grew in Canada.  He had several local country hits and became a popular radio performer throughout his native country.  But it took him much longer to get a shot in America, where his RCA label refused to release his work until he became better known in the states.  He got his stateside break when Ernest Tubb invited him to the Opry stage, and that was enough to convince RCA to release his music in America.

After many years of toiling in obscurity, he was a huge success out of the gate.  Snow’s honky-tonk sound and worldly lyrics dominated the charts throughout the fifties, with many of his singles topping the charts for weeks on end.   “I’m Moving On” is tied with two other hits as the longest-running #1 single in Billboard history, spending 21 weeks at the top, and “I Don’t Hurt Anymore” is close behind, spending twenty weeks in the penthouse.

He had many other classic hits in this decade, most notably “Yellow Roses” and “Let Me, Go Lover!”    After forming a management company with Colonel Tom Parker, Snow was influential in encouraging Elvis Presley to record country music, and dabbled in some rockabilly himself, though he rarely strayed too far from his country roots.

Even as the Nashville Sound began to dominate, Snow remained relevant, scoring big hits throughout the sixties and early seventies, most notably the #1 hits “I’ve Been Everywhere” in 1962 and “Hello Love” in 1974.    Snow released many LPs that were united in themes like traveling and tragedy, and also many that paid tribute to his musical influences like Rodgers and the Sons of the Pioneers.

As his career winded down through the latter half of the seventies, Snow was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1978 and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1979.  In 1981, he parted ways with RCA after forty-five years, but he remained an active performer on the Opry stage well into the nineties, before his death in 1999 at age 85.

Essential Singles:

  • I’m Moving On, 1950
  • The Golden Rocket, 1950
  • The Rhumba Boogie, 1951
  • I Don’t Hurt Anymore, 1954
  • Let Me Go, Lover!, 1954
  • Yellow Roses, 1955
  • I’ve Been Everywhere, 1962
  • Hello Love, 1974

Essential Albums:

  • Country Classics, 1956
  • When Tragedy Struck, 1958
  • Souvenirs, 1961
  • More Hank Snow Souvenirs, 1964
  • Travelin’ Blues, 1966
  • Tracks & Trains, 1971
  • Hello Love, 1974

Next: #39. Faron Young

Previous: #41. Ronnie Milsap

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100 Greatest Men: #44. Glen Campbell

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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

Next: #43. Roger Miller

Previous: #45. Tim McGraw

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100 Greatest Men: #61. Charlie Daniels

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

A cornerstone of country, southern rock, and gospel music, Charlie Daniels and his fiddle have made an indelible impact on the fabric of American music.

Born and raised in North Carolina, Daniels first achieved notoriety through his astonishing fiddling talent.  Since he was also efficient with a guitar, he started off by assembling the instrumental band the Jaguars.  They played throughout the late fifties and early sixties, and were signed to Epic Records for a period of time.   While the band was slowly fizzling out, Daniels got his first taste of real success as a songwriter and a backing musician.  Elvis Presley recorded his composition, “It Hurts Me”, in 1963. By the end of the sixties, Daniels had played on the seminal Bob Dylan album Nashville Skyline, and toured with Leonard Cohen.

His recording career entered full stride in the seventies. After a self-titled solo album in 1970, Daniels expanded his act into the Charlie Daniels Band.  In this incarnation, Daniels would enjoy his greatest notoriety as a singer, songwriter, and performer.   By deftly tackling societal issues from a fiercely Southern perspective, Daniels added powerful and remarkably effective social commentary to his songs, surrounding his worldview with scorching fiddle.

A series of classic singles like “Uneasy Rider”, “The South’s Gonna Do It”, and “Long Haired Country Boy” firmly established Charlie Daniels and his band as a force to be reckoned with.  After a series of critically acclaimed albums that sold well, the band reached its peak of mainstream success in 1979, with “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”  It became Daniels’ biggest hit on both the country and the pop charts, and powered Million Mile Reflections to sales of over three million in the United States alone.

Daniels and his band coasted on their success throughout the eighties, touring extensively and continuing to score country hits, along with the occasional pop crossover.  Some of his most high-profile hits remained political in nature, most notably “Still in Saigon”, his remarkable attempt to shed light on the Vietnam War veterans struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.   In 1989, he had his last major commercial success with the band’s album, Simple Man.  Though the title track just missed the country top ten, the vigilante hit received wide media exposure, and pushed sales of the album to platinum status.

For the past two decades, Daniels has remained a widely popular draw on the road, and a widely respected media star, appearing regularly on political talk shows to share his views on issues of the day.  Always a fan of gospel music, he’s released several spiritual sets in recent years.  Songs from the Longleaf Pines, a bluegrass gospel collection from 2005, was released to overwhelming praise.   In 2007, he became a member of the Grand Ole Opry.   Always a patriot, his latest release is 2010′s Land That I Love, which features a handful of new songs alongside his many America-themed songs from the past.

Essential Singles:

  • Uneasy Rider, 1973
  • The South’s Gonna Do It, 1975
  • Long Haired Country Boy, 1975
  • The Devil Went Down to Georgia, 1979
  • In America, 1981
  • Simple Man, 1989

Essential Albums:

  • Charlie Daniels, 1970
  • Fire on the Mountain, 1975
  • Nightrider, 1975
  • Million Mile Reflections, 1979
  • Simple Man, 1989
  • Songs From the Longleaf Pines, 2005

Next: #60. Don Gibson

Previous: #62. Red Foley

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100 Greatest Men: #62. Red Foley

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

One of the great crooners of the post-war era, Red Foley helped build a crucial bridge between the country music of the mountains and the Nashville Sound of the sixties.

Born Clyde Foley in 1910, his hair color earned him the nickname Red.  His professional career was launched by a talent show win at age 17.  As a freshman in college, he was discovered by a talent scout and invited to join the house band of the National Barn Dance. He released his first recordings in the mid-thirties, and by the end of that decade, he was the first country artist to host a nationally broadcast radio show, which he co-hosted with Red Skelton. During this period, Foley wrote “Ol’ Shep”, which would be recorded by many major artists, including Elvis Presley and Hank Snow.

Following World War II, he entered a period of stunning success in many media formats, earning himself the title Mr. Country Music.  Throughout the forties and fifties, his recording career was incredibly successful, highlighted by collaborations with his band, the Cumberland Valley Boys, and fellow artists like Lawrence Welk, Ernest Tubb, and Kitty Wells.  Several of his songs are now country classics, most notably “Smoke on the Water,” “Chattanooga Shoe Shine Boy,” and “(There’ll Be) Peace in the Valley (For Me).”

Beginning in 1946, he emceed the Prince Albert Show, which broadcast a portion of the Grand Ole Opry’s show every week.  His profile was raised even more significantly by the Ozark Jubilee, the fifties network television show that Foley hosted for many years.   His television fame helped bring his smooth style of country music to a very broad audience, though Foley never actively pursued the pop music scene.

Indeed, his country records decreased in popularity as the Nashville Sound took root, though his gospel recordings remained quite popular.  The sixties found him guesting on sitcoms and talk shows, while he continued to tour the world as part of the Grand Ole Opry cast.   In 1967, Foley was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, an achievement that was sadly overshadowed one year later by his untimely death at age 58.

Today, Foley’s name is not as recognizable as many of his contemporaries, but it takes only one listen to his signature songs to immediately grasp the impact he had on the development of contemporary country music.

Essential Singles:

  • Smoke on the Water, 1944
  • Shame on You (with Lawrence Welk), 1945
  • Tennessee Saturday Night, 1948
  • Chattanooga Shoe Shine Boy, 1950
  • (There’ll Be) Peace in the Valley (For Me), 1951
  • One by One (with Kitty Wells), 1954

Essential Albums:

  • Red and Ernie (with Ernest Tubb), 1954
  • Beyond the Sunset, 1958
  • Songs of Devotion, 1961
  • Together Again (with Kitty Wells), 1967

Next: #61. Charlie Daniels

Previous: #63. Clint Black

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100 Greatest Men: #64. Jerry Reed

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

A first class singer, songwriter, and musician, Jerry Reed’s talents ran far deeper than his tongue-in-cheek persona might have indicated.

Born and raised in Georgia, Reed played guitar from an early age. Music brought him comfort and structure during a childhood of instability. By the time he was out of high school, he was already signed to Capitol Records.   Though he released several singles over the next few years, it was his songwriting and guitar playing that first earned him notice.

Throughout the late fifties and the sixties, his songs were recorded by Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent, Johnny Cash, Brenda Lee, and others.  He also became an in-demand session guitarist, with a career highlight being the sessions he played with Presley, who feel in love with Reed when he heard his 1967 single, “Guitar Man.”

A strong working relationship with Chet Atkins led to a contract with RCA and further raised Reed’s profile.  By the late sixties, Reed was getting critical notice for his own records.   He had his big breakthrough in 1970, when “Amos Moses” became a gold-selling pop and country hit.   In 1971, ‘When You’re Hot, You’re Hot” became his first #1 country single and another big pop hit.

Throughout the seventies, Reed matched popular singles and albums with high profile media exposure.  He was a regular on Glen Campbell’s television show, and he appeared in several films.   His greatest notoriety came as Cledus Snow in the wildly popular Smokey and the Bandit film series.   “East Bound and Down” was recorded for the soundtrack of the first film, and became one of his biggest hits.

Reed’s recording career had a second wind when he released the 1982 album The Man with the Golden Thumb.   Often rated as his strongest studio album, it featured the classic hit “She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft).”  Reed quickly followed with the hit album, The Bird.  The title track had him mimicking both George Jones and Willie Nelson, and the album also featured a hit cover of the Creedence Clearwater Revival song, “Down on the Corner.”

The nineties brought a fun collaboration with Mel Tillis, Bobby Bare, and Waylon Jennings, a live album dubbed Old Dogs.   Reed also starred as the coach in the box office smash, The Waterboy.    Illness sidelined him as he aged, and he passed away in 2008 due to complications caused by emphyzema.

Essential Singles:

  • Guitar Man, 1967
  • Amos Moses, 1970
  • When You’re Hot, You’re Hot, 1971
  • Lord, Mr. Ford, 1973
  • East Bound and Down, 1977
  • She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft), 1982

Essential Albums:

  • The Unbelievable Guitar and Voice of Jerry Reed, 1967
  • Nashville Underground, 1968
  • Me & Chet (with Chet Atkins), 1972
  • Lord Mr. Ford, 1973
  • The Man with the Golden Thumb, 1982

Next: #63. Clint Black

Previous: #65. Asleep at the Wheel

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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