Posts Tagged ‘Ernest Tubb’

Album Review: Rhonda Vincent, Only Me

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

Rhonda Vincent-only_me

Rhonda Vincent
Only Me

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Modern bluegrass legend Rhonda Vincent shows off two sides of her musical repertoire with her delightful new album Only Me, which is split across two six-track discs. The first disc is a collection of bluegrass songs, while the second showcases Vincent’s prowess in performing traditional country music.

On the bluegrass side, Vincent is joined by her longtime backing band The Rage, which includes Hunter Berry on fiddle, Brent Burke on resophonic guitar, Mickey Harris on upright bass, Aaron McDaris on banjo, and Josh Williams on acoustic guitar, while Vincent herself performs on the mandolin. The entire band proves to be in top-notch form right from the fast-picking opening up-tempo “Busy City,” which segues into the album’s fantastic lead-single, the angst-ridden Larry Cordle ballad “I’d Rather Hear I Don’t Love You (Than Nothing At All).”

Vincent is joined by two special guests on the bluegrass disc. The iconic Willie Nelson contributes duet vocals as well as guitar work to the title track – a love song which combines bluegrass instruments with Spanish guitar in a genre-blending album highlight. Vincent recasts George Jones and Melba Montgomery’s 1963 duet hit “We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds” as a bluegrass song on which Daryle Singletary supplies the male vocals – with glorious results.

Longtime fans know that the country disc is hardly the first foray into this genre for Rhonda Vincent, who even took an unsuccessful stab at become a mainstream country star in the nineties. Vincent’s work in the country field was highlighted by 2011’s Your Money and My Good Looks – a stellar duets project with country genre luminary Gene Watson. The country side of Only Me follows in the tradition of that excellent set, and is likewise dominated by cover material. This disc features a luscious take on the Dallas Frazier song “Beneath Still Waters,” a minor 1970 hit for Diana Trask which Emmylou Harris later took to the top of the charts in 1980, as well as a loving tribute to the late George Jones with a tear-jerking take on “When the Grass Grows Over Me.” As an extra treat, Vincent includes an original song that she wrote at the tender age of sixteen with “Teardrops Over You,” a country heartbreaker that sounds like it could very well have been recorded by any of the legends whose work Vincent here covers.

A particular highlight is Vincent’s take on Connie Smith’s Bill Anderson-penned 1964 breakthrough hit “Once a Day” – the first chart-topping debut single by a female country artist, and the longest running number-one single by a female country artist (until the latter record was broken in 2012 by… ahem… Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”). Vincent here turns the classic song into a gentle barroom shuffle. As one of very few women who are anywhere close to Smith’s league as a vocalist, she reminds us that the bluegrass queen can still deliver a honky-tonk wail like few others.

Vincent offers a pleasant mood-breaker with her gender-flipped take on Bill Anderson’s “Bright Lights and Country Music” – a song to which any longtime Opry listener will react with warm recognition. As the set closes, Vincent relishes her narrator’s boozy, brokenhearted misery on the 1946 Ernest Tubb hit “Drivin’ Nails” – a song Vincent previously recorded in a bluegrass setting, but here turns into a Western-swing-tinged fiddle jam with all the energy of a great live performance.

The press material for Only Me explains that the album is meant to provide an answer to the question of whether Vincent’s voice is bluegrass or country by confirming “it’s in the perception of the listener,” while showing that “either way, country or bluegrass, it’s Rhonda!” However, the project not only showcases how outstandingly adept Vincent is at performing both styles, but it also demonstrates how similar in spirit the two are – both built on accessible, sincere storytelling. Though the banjos and mandolins are swapped out for pedal steel halfway through, the project doesn’t feel like two different albums shoved into one – both halves feel like they belong together, making Only Me beautiful realization of the album as an art form. Better yet, it’s a welcome reminder that, regardless of genre placement, great music is universal.

100 Greatest Men: #40. Hank Snow

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

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

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

100 Greatest Men: #43. Roger Miller

Monday, July 30th, 2012

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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

Next:

#42. Porter Wagoner

Previous: #44. Glen Campbell

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

100 Greatest Men: #62. Red Foley

Saturday, March 10th, 2012

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

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

100 Greatest Men: #75. Jim Ed Brown

Monday, February 20th, 2012

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

It seems only appropriate that a man whose career was launched by a three act song would himself enjoy a career with three spectacular acts.

Jim Ed Brown, born in 1934, was raised in Arkansas.  Like many aspiring country artists of his day, he first sang professionally with his family.   Alongside sisters Maxine and Bonnie, they began performing in the early fifties in various combinations.

Jim and Maxine first signed a contract as a duo, and they gained prominence through Ernest Tubb’s radio show, which played their song, “Looking Back to See.”   When Bonnie joined them, they became known as The Browns.   Soon, the trio were cast members on the Louisiana Hayride, and they appeared regularly on the television show Ozark Jubilee.

Jim had to leave the group after being drafted in 1957, but soon after he returned, the Browns had their biggest hit: “The Three Bells.”  The classic three act song topped the country and the pop charts, and the Browns carried the prominence of that hit and others into Grand Ole Opry membership in 1963.

By the mid-sixties, Jim Ed Brown was recording solo material simultaneously to the Browns’ work as a group.  When the trio officially disbanded in 1967, Jim launched a successful solo career.  From the late sixties through the first half of the seventies, he racked up hits like “Pop a Top” and “Southern Loving.”

Just as his career was cooling down, Brown had a surprising third act.  Pairing with Helen Cornelius in 1976, the duo launched a string of classic singles, including the #1 smash “I Don’t Want to Have to Marry You.”   The pair scored twelve hits over the course of the next five year, with all but one reaching the top twenty. In 1977, the CMA named them the Vocal Duo of the Year, the only industry award that Brown earned during his three decade run of hits.

After the hits ended with Cornelius, Brown went back to his television and radio roots.  He hosted the TNN talent show You Can Be a Star in the eighties.  and a nationally syndicated radio host today.   He also performs regularly on the Opry as one of its veteran members.  Next year, he will celebrate his fiftieth anniversary as a cast member.

Essential Singles:

  • Looking Back to See (with Maxine Brown), 1954
  • I Take the Chance (The Browns), 1956
  • The Three Bells (The Browns), 1959
  • Pop a Top, 1967
  • Morning, 1970
  • I Don’t Want to Have to Marry You (with Helen Cornelius), 1976
  • Lying in Love with You (with Helen Cornelius), 1979

Essential Albums:

  • Alone With You, 1966
  • Gems by Jim, 1967
  • It’s that Time of Night, 1974
  • I Don’t Want to Have to Marry You (with Helen Cornelius), 1976
  • Defying Gravity, 2009

Next: #74. Sons of the Pioneers

Previous: #76. Keith Urban

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

100 Greatest Men: #79. Hank Locklin

Monday, October 10th, 2011

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

He’s best known for his handful of big hits for RCA in the late fifties and early sixties, but Hank Locklin’s career stretched more than a decade in both directions.

A leg injury at the age of eight was the first significant event in his musical career, as he picked up the guitar during his recovery and its lingering effects later exempted him from service in World War II.  While he didn’t finish high school, he did win a talent contest at the age of eighteen, which led to a spot on local radio stations in panhandle Florida and the surrounding states.

During the war, he played in bands in Alabama, and was soon a guitarist in Jimmy Swan’s band.  He formed the Rocky Mountain Boys in 1947, and their popularity on the radio led to a series of independent and regional recording contracts.   When they didn’t find success, Locklin went solo, and spent the early fifties on the Four Star label, where he enjoyed his first #1 hit in 1953, “Let Me Be the One.”

Locklin’s career skyrocketed when he joined RCA in 1955, under the guidance of producer Chet Atkins.   Simple production was used to showcase Locklin’s distinctive tenor, and he became a mainstay on country radio for many years.  His career reached its peak with “Please Help Me, I”m Falling”, a 1960 hit that has since become a country music standard.

A series of concept albums followed, the most notable being a collection of Irish songs done in a country style.   He immortalized many of his greatest influences, including Ernest Tubb, in his 1968 hit “The Country Hall of Fame.”    When the radio hits faded, life on the road remained, and his popularity abroad led to tours of Europe.   He was a regular on the Grand Ole Opry since 1960, and on the eve of his death at age 91, he  was that venerable institution’s oldest living member.

Essential Singles:

  • The Same Sweet Girl, 1948
  • Let Me Be the One, 1953
  • Geisha Girl, 1957
  • Send Me the Pillow You Dream On, 1958
  • Please Help Me, I’m Falling, 1960
  • The Country Hall of Fame, 1968

Essential Albums:

  • Please Help Me, I’m Falling, 1960
  • Ways of Life, 1963
  • Irish Songs, Country Style, 1964
  • My Kind of Country Music, 1965
  • Nashville Women, 1967
  • Country Hall of Fame, 1968

Next: #79. Brad Paisley

Previous: #80. The Everly Brothers

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

Album Review: Steve Wariner, Guitar Laboratory

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

Written by Paul W. Dennis of The 9513.

Steve Wariner
Guitar Laboratory


Chet Atkins had many disciples, not the least of whom was Steve Wariner. Steve was a major country star and chart presence from 1980-1994 with scattered success both before and after his peak years.

Steve grew up listening to his father’s record collection which included some Merle Travis and everything Chet Atkins recorded. After tours with Dottie West and Bob Luman, Steve signed with RCA as a recording artist and became a friend and student of Chet Atkins. Steve has won many awards and honors but the award of which he is most proud was being awarded the Certified Guitar Player designation by Chet (the only others were Tommy Emmanuel, Jerry Reed and John Knowles).

Guitar Laboratory is a sequel of sorts to his previous album, My Tribute To Chet Atkins, released in 2009 . This album is no stubborn copy or pastiche of Chet’s style but represents a tribute to the spirit of Chet Atkins, covering a wide range of styles and tempos. While I wouldn’t describe this album as a country album, it does contain some country (“Sugarfoot Rag”) as well as some jazz (“A Groove”), some rock (“Telekinesis”), some blues (“Crafty”), some folk/bluegrass (“Up A Red Hill”) and even some Hawai’ian (Waikiki ’79) On some songs such as “Crafty” and “Kentuckiana” Steve sounds very much like Chet; however , on other tracks, not quite so much.

Steve enlists several guest pickers on the album who acquit themselves admirably. Steve is joined on “Sugarfoot Rag” by legendary guitarist Leon Rhodes, a long-time Opry Band member and former member of Ernest Tubb’s Texas Troubadours. Paul Yandell, a long-time associate and musical compadre of Chet’s, joins in on “Pals” and Steve’s son Ryan Wariner shows his musical chops on the rocking “Sting Ray”. The review copy of the album did not include any notes so I am not sure of the identity of any background musicians such as the accordionist and violinist on “I Will Never Forget You (Je Ne T’oulbieri Jamais)” or the trumpeter on “Phyllis and Ramona”, but suffice it to say they are all excellent.

All songs on this album, except “Sugarfoot Rag” were written by Steve Wariner (“Sugarfoot Rag” of course was written by guitar legend Hank Garland). There’s something for everyone on this all instrumental collection, and while I generally prefer vocal albums, I’ve listened to this album five times through thus far, although I’ve played my two favorite tunes “Sugarfoot Rag” and “Up a Red Hill” far more often than that.

Age Ain’t Nothin’ But a Number

Monday, November 9th, 2009

george-strait1While Taylor Swift mania continues to grow, there’s another impressive accomplishment being achieved by two veterans of country music on the opposite end of the age spectrum.

Contrary to what is commonly believed, there has always been a ceiling on how old you could be and still get country airplay. This year, both George Strait and Reba McEntire have been working steadily to shatter that ceiling.

Take a look at the age of country legends when they earned their most recent top ten solo hit:

  1. Eddy Arnold, 62
  2. Kenny Rogers, 61*
  3. Conway Twitty, 58
  4. George Strait, 57
  5. George Jones, 57**
  6. Marty Robbins, 57
  7. Willie Nelson, 56**
  8. Ray Price, 56
  9. Reba McEntire, 54
  10. Waylon Jennings, 53
  11. Merle Haggard, 52
  12. Alan Jackson, 50
  13. Charley Pride, 50
  14. Johnny Cash, 49
  15. Ernest Tubb, 49
  16. Ronnie Milsap, 48
  17. Loretta Lynn, 47
  18. Webb Pierce, 46
  19. Garth Brooks, 45
  20. Dolly Parton, 43**
  21. Hank Williams Jr., 41
  22. Tammy Wynette, 40

* Kenny Rogers was the lead singer for his final top ten hit “Buy Me a Rose”, with harmony vocalists Billy Dean and Alison Krauss credited on the single

** George Jones, Willie Nelson, and Dolly Parton returned to the top ten in later years through duets with younger artists

It’s also worth noting that Alan Jackson, at 50, isn’t too far away from passing several legends on the list.

So George Strait remains in heavy rotation at the age of 57, outpacing all but three stars in country music history. Among the ladies, McEntire is a full seven years older than her nearest competitor Loretta Lynn was when she enjoyed her last top ten hit.

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