Tag Archives: Hank Williams

100 Greatest Men: #1. Merle Haggard

Merle Haggard100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

The Poet of the Common Man.  Merle Haggard emerged from the Bakersfield music scene in the mid-sixties, and over the course of time, became the greatest man in the history of country music.

Born during the height of the Great Depression, the son of a honky tonk fiddler and a church-going mother, Haggard’s life was a hard one from early on.  When he lost his father at age nine, he rebelled to the point that much of his youth was spent in juvenile detention centers.  His only positive outlet was country music, and he listened to and studied obsessively the work of his heroes Bob Willis, Hank Williams, and Lefty Frizzell, all of whom would shape his singing and his songwriting.

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100 Greatest Men: #5. Hank Williams

Hank Williams100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

So epic was his life story, and so tragic its ending, that it’s easy to forget a simple truth: Hank Williams was one of the strongest vocalists and songwriters to ever grace the country music genre.

Williams hailed from Alabama, and played guitar from a very young age.  He was drawn to both country and the blues, and by his teens, was already an established performer on the local scene.  He formed a band called the Drifting Cowboys, and was soon singing regularly on the radio, where he was dubbed, “the Singing Kid.”

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100 Greatest Men: #6. Jimmie Rodgers

Jimmie Rodgers100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

All of country music history is connected by its tradition, with the artists of one generation tracing their sound back to the generations that came before.  For male country singers, all roads eventually lead back to Jimmie Rodgers.What is all the more remarkable about his lasting influence is that Rodgers only recorded for six years.

Rodger was born and raised in Meridian, Mississippi.  His father was a railroad man, which is a line of work that would later feature heavily in his material.   He loved music from a young age, even as he was running wild in pool halls and dive bars before he even reached his teens.  He won a singing contest at age 12, and it inspired him to pursue music as a career.

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100 Greatest Men: #19. Webb Pierce

Webb Pierce100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

Rocketing to stardom in the aftermath of Hank Williams’ death, Webb Pierce became country music’s biggest superstar in the 1950’s, dominating the charts and establishing a flamboyant style that would become forever associated with traditional, honky-tonk country music.

Pierce grew up in Louisiana, cutting his teeth on Jimmie Rodgers records and already developing his own sound by his teenage years.  At age fifteen, he already had a weekly radio show, performing his combination of the Cajun sounds of his home state and the Western Swing that was dominating country music at the time.

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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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Single Review: Randy Travis and Joe Nichols, “Tonight I’m Playin’ Possum”

Randy Travis Joe Nichols Tonight I'm Playin' PossumCould there possibly be a more emotionally and sentimentally charged record released this year?

A heartfelt tribute to the departed George Jones that celebrates his incredible legacy of music, “Tonight I’m Playin’ Possum” is pure catnip for country music lovers.  More than just a list of nicknames for the Possum and shout-outs for some of his best songs, the reverence is coupled with relevance for his signature sound.

Randy Travis and Joe Nichols represent two successive generations that were shaped by Jones’ influence, and they weren’t even among the first generation of artists to be shaped by his work.   “Tonight I’m Playin’ Possum” makes the case for Jones’ immortality, with his voice living on in heaven while it still plays down here in every lonely jukebox joint.

All that would’ve been enough to pull on the heartstrings.  But then, Travis nearly joined Jones in immortality this summer, a stunning and frightening turn of events that makes this record all the more painful to listen to.  Much like Jones on his final recordings, time and hard living have weathered Randy’s voice to the point that it’s nearly unrecognizable.  It wasn’t until Joe Nichols piped in that I was sure it was Randy Travis that started off the song.

We lionize our legends and our icons.  Their accomplishments on records seem almost superhuman, a byproduct of artists in their prime being captured for timeless posterity.  Sometimes, a tragedy happens that freezes a Patsy Cline or a Hank Williams in that moment forever.  More often, we have to watch these wondrous talents slowly drift toward their own mortality, as more notes fade out of reach and even the greatest stylists start to lose their distinctive style.

It’s painful.  I want more Randy Travis records, just like I want more of the George Jones records that will never come.  Time can keep running for a long time, but it always runs out in the end.

“Tonight I’m Playin’ Possum” is such an amazing tribute to Jones.  I wish that listening to it didn’t make me feel so sad.

Grade: A

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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

Next: #27. Bill Anderson

Previous: #29. Alabama

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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Single Review: Chris Young, "Aw Naw"

Chris Young Aw NawIt's hard not to root for Chris Young.   He can really sing and his music would sound identifiably country if it was released twenty years ago, making it sound like Hank Williams in comparison to what's passing for it these days.

But he's got to pay the bills, I guess.  “Aw Naw” is a typical 2013 country party song that is easier to tolerate than most of the others because it's sung really well and at least sounds like it's been written and

performed by people of legal drinking age.

Now, even the greatest country artists pandered to the trends of the times.   Check out the hillbilly humor tracks that even Alan Jackson and Pam Tillis recorded in the nineties, or the string-drenched crossover pap that even George Jones and Loretta Lynn succumbed to when Nashville went uptown in the seventies and eighties.

Those songs don't make their way to the essential collections that surface when a great act's radio days are done.   Hopefully, this one won't make it to Chris Young's when his time comes.

Written by Chris DeStefano, Ashley Gorley and Chris Young

Grade: B-

Listen:

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Retro Single Reviews: George Strait, 1992-1993

The comfortingly reliable George Strait mixes it up a bit during his 1992-1993 run of singles with a cover of a beloved classic, hardcore country, a surprising country rocker, and a sweet love song for good measure.

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“Lovesick Blues”
1992
Peak: #24

Strait ably tackles the Hank Williams classic. He doesn't surpass the original, but it's cool that he brought the song back in 1992. Imagine if somebody tried to do that now.

Written by Irvin Mills & Cliff Friend

Grade:  B+

Listen:  Lovesick Blues

George_Strait_-_Gone_as_A_Girl_Can_Get

“Gone as a Girl Can Get”
1992
Peak: #5

“Gone As A Girl Can Get” boasts one of the most interesting Strait productions, featuring superb, jaunty instrumentation that elevates a good composition to a great song.

Written by Jerry Max Lane

Grade:  A

Listen:  Gone as a Girl Can Get

George_Strait_So_Much_Like_My_Dad_single

“So Much Like My Dad”
1992
Peak: #3

This downbeat single finds a man searching for answers for why is lady is leaving him and he knows he'll find it from the example of his dad, because he's so much like him. In a clever twist, however, he doesn't ask his dad, but rather, asks his mom: “But if I'm so much like my dad, there must've been times you felt her way. So, tell me word for word what he said that always made you stay.”

Written by Chips Moman & Bobby Emmons

Grade:  B+

Listen:  So Much Like My Dad

George_Strait_-_I_cross_my_heart_single

“I Cross My Heart”
1992
Peak: #1

Is there another pledge of devotion that defines 90s country music more than this love song? In another's hands, this could be way too icky-sweet, but in King George's hands, it's just right.

Written by Steve Dorff & Eric Kaz

Grade:  A

Listen:  I Cross My Heart

George-Strait_-_Heartland

“Heartland”
1993
Peak: #1

It's always seemed counterintuitive for a song that begins with “When you hear twin fiddles and a steel guitar” to rock as hard as this song does, but the fact is that it's as catchy and infectious as all get-out, so almost all is forgiven.

Written by Steve Dorff & John Bettis

Grade:  A-

Listen:  Heartland

George_Strait_When_Did_You_Stop_Loving_Me

“When Did You Stop Loving Me”
1993
Peak: #6

To make up for the previous rocker, Strait goes the other direction and adeptly sinks his teeth into a pure country weeper with a deliciously heartbreaking performance.

Written by Donny Kees & Monty Holmes

Grade:  A

Listen:  When Did You Stop Loving Me

George_Strait_Easy_Come_Easy_Go

“Easy Come, Easy Go”
1993
Peak: #1

I would have liked to have been listening to country music when this song was released as a single, as I'm sure it would have surprised me to hear Strait singing something sounding quite like this. The song promoting the dissolution of a relationship with no regrets is country, with a little groove and an over all chill vibe.

Written by Aaron Barker & Dean Dillon

Grade:  A

Listen:  Easy Come, Easy Go

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“I'd Like to Have That One Back”
1993
Peak: #3

This song, however, portrays a lost relationship rife with regret. Strait's performance, supported by strains of lonely steel, fully captures the pain of losing a good love due to one's own negligence.

Written by Aaron Barker, Bill Shore & Rick West

Grade:  A

Listen:  I'd Like to Have That One Back

Next:  1994-1995

Previous:  1990-1991

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Album Review: Various Artists, <i>KIN: Songs by Mary Karr & Rodney Crowell</i>

Various Artists
KIN:  Songs by Mary Karr & Rodney Crowell

A collection of songs written by industry veteran Rodney Crowell along with bestselling author and poet Mary Karr, recorded by a who’s who of country and Americana music greats. It should be enough to set the mouth of many a roots music aficiando watering.

The very concept behind the album places the emphasis squarely on the songwriting – an approach that is flawlessly adhered to by Joe Henry’s ace cialis no prescription needed quick delivery production job. The twangy, stripped-down arrangements stay entirely out of the way of the songs, often reverently nodding to the conventions of traditional country music. It doesn’t feel so much as a rote exercise in throwback neotraditionalism, but more so as a style that simply feels timeless and ageless on its own merits, untainted by production trends that might tie it to a particular era.

In large part, what’s impressive about this album is that, despite the eclectic line-up of participating artists, KIN doesn’t feel like a potluck project of songs randomly thrown together.  It really does feel like an album, with each track serving as a part of a cohesive whole, bound together by recurring themes of family and rural small town life.  Karr’s liner notes reveal that for song inspiration, she and Crowell drew heavily upon their own youthful experiences, having come from very similar upbringings despite not having grown up together.  However, the treatment of such topics is hardly lily-white, with family homes often sporting bullet holes and reeking of alcohol.

Crowell himself steps up to the mic on four of the albums ten tracks, sharing it with Kris Kristofferson on the standout duet “My Father’s Advice,” which boasts an infectious melody and fiddle hook.  While country radio often favors the proverbial “old man’s advice” song, “My Father’s Advice” rises above the often cliché-laden mainstream treatment of such subject matter by creating a believable, three-dimensional character sketch of the narrator’s father – realistically imperfect, but deeply devoted to rearing his son in the right way, with Kristofferson giving voice to the father figure of Crowell’s narrator.  Crowell’s other vocal turns include the noncharting single “I’m a Mess,” along with album opener “Anything But Tame,” a wistful meditation on the course taken by a childhood friendship.

The contributions of the participating artists are no less stellar.  Having built a career as a mainstream country artist with a moderate neotraditionalist bent, Lee Ann Womack has never sounded better than when paired with a fiddle-drenched pure country arrangement.  A jaunty tempo and dobro hook bely the dark lyric as Womack sings from the perspective of a child witnessing the dissolution of her alcoholic parents’ marriage on album standout “Momma’s On a Roll.”  In keeping with the family theme, the camaraderie of sisterhood is explored with “Sister Oh Sister,” which Crowell’s ex-wife Rosanne Cash renders with deep sincerity.  Vince Gill’s sweet tenor absolutely soars when paired with the stone cold throwback arrangement of “Just Pleasing You” – a traditional country gem that wouldn’t sound out of the place in the legendary Hank Williams catalog.  Lucinda Williams sounds downright desperate in her delivery of the aching ballad “God I’m Missing You,” while Norah Jones turns in a delightfully wry take on “If the Law Don’t Want You” – a witty tune inspired by Mary Karr’s teenage years.  Times past have attested to the fact that no Rodney Crowell song can hope for a finer vocal medium than the incomparable Emmylou Harris, who delivers the haunting “Long Time Girl Gone By” in an earthy whisper of a performance.

Crowell closes out the set with “Hungry For Home,” a charming detail-laden lyric that encapsulates the warmth and comfort of one’s home – something that can be found even in a home long beset with family strife.  It’s a fitting conclusion to the album as a whole, showing that – despite the hardships Karr and Crowell both dealt with in their respective upbringings on into adult life – they clearly retain a deep appreciation for the experiences that have shaped them as individuals.  “It was like we’d grown up next door in a hellacious place – the anus of the universe, my mother always called it,” writes Karr.  “But we adored those characters and their language – we’d never choose elsewhere.”

Considering that country music has long been a primarily singles-oriented format, it’s refreshing to see such a fine realization of the album as an art form. Though each individual piece is captivating in itself, KIN remains an album best heard in its entirety, with hardly a weak track to be found.  The entire project radiates authenticity, as Karr and Crowell essentially hand over their respective family photo albums for music lovers to leaf through, making KIN feel very much like a memoir set to music.  One would certainly hope that Karr and Crowell continue to write excellent songs together, and that the results will be at least half as rewarding as they are on this fine album.

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