Tag Archives: Patsy Cline

Harlan Howard

“I like to give artists a song they have to sing the rest of their lives. Songwriting is both my living and my pleasure, so I’m a happy man.” ~ Harlan Howard

The dean of country music songwriters, Harlan Howard paved the way for all future practitioners of his craft, lending an authenticity and eloquence to the music that will last for the ages. Through five decades of classic songs, Howard put his indelible stamp on the country music industry through sheer genius and, like many fellow artists and songwriters, rose through the ranks with country music as a constant love through a hardscrabble life.

Born and raised in a Michigan farm town, Howard, an orphan, was first drawn to country music by his weekly appointments with the Grand Ole Opry radio shows on Nashville’s WSM radio. This love affair with the music continued when he traveled to Nashville on weekends during his stint as an Army paratrooper in Georgia, and it was that appreciation for the fine art that led him to leave for Los Angeles in 1955 to work in the factories while attempting a career in songwriting. A year after arriving in Los Angeles, Howard met Tex Ritter and Johnny Bond, who were impressed with the young songwriter’s catalog, culled from numerous hours of writing songs in his head while working at the factory. One of the first tunes that Howard wrote eventually became a country classic, “Pick Me Up on Your Way Down”, first recorded by Charlie Walker and a #2 hit in 1958. Another early success came in 1960, with both Guy Mitchell and Ray Price taking his “Heartaches by the Number” to top of the pop and country charts, respectively.

In that same year, Harlan moved to Nashville with his second wife, Jan Howard, and their three children. Soon after, Harlan’s success rate skyrocketed. He enjoyed as many as 15 of his own songs in the country Top 40 simultaneously, a long-standing record. His friendships with young writers such as Willie Nelson, Hank Cochran and Roger Miller further developed his songwriting skills and laid the foundation for the future of country songwriting. They would collaborate in an effort to create the “next big hit” for a number of Opry stars at the time. One superlative song in this stretch was “I Fall to Pieces”, immortalized by Patsy Cline. The likes of Johnny Cash, George Jones and Buck Owens all achieved considerable success on the charts in the 1960s, displaying Howard’s unique ability to write witty love songs (“I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail”, Owens’ 1964 classic) or heartbreaking ballads (Bobby Bare’s breathtaking 1966 song, “Streets of Baltimore”).

Howard’s fortunes took a dip in the 1970s, although he would find sporadic chart success with songs such as Melba Montgomery’s “No Charge”. Throughout the decade and into the 1980s, Howard wrote infrequently, but the mid-to-late 1980s brought greater triumphs for Howard. The Judds’ version of his “Why Not Me” earned the CMA Single of the Year award in 1985, and the Reba McEntire chose his “Somebody Should Leave”, another #1 single in 1985, as the final single from her album My Kind of Country. “Life Turned Her That Way”, a Top Ten record for Ricky Van Shelton, earned Howard his sole nomination for Song of the Year from the CMAs (the song had also received a wonderful treatment from Mel Tillis in the late 1960s).

In 1989, Howard took further control of his career by starting his own publishing firm, Harlan Howard Songs, Inc., with wife Melanie, and leaving his long-term post at Tree Publishing. Howard’s run of hit records continued during the surge of female radio success in the 1990s. “Don’t Tell Me What to Do” helped Pam Tillis’ career gain new traction, becoming her first Top Five single (and a nominee for the CMA Single of the Year) in 1991. Also, the first single for Patty Loveless after career-threatening throat surgery was 1993’s “Blame It On Your Heart”, a #1 smash for two weeks. The tongue-twister, a co-write with Kostas, was named BMI’s most-played song of 1994, and launched Loveless into the top tier of country music superstars.

As a result of his consistency and continuous wealth of classic songs, the Country Music Hall of Fame welcomed him as a member in 1997. Other honors included induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the National Academy of Popular Music Hall of Fame and the Grammy Hall of Fame. His list of 100+ Top Ten singles is an honor roll of country music and its ability to challenge, change or just plain entertain the listener. For Howard, it was easy to determine the ultimate mettle detector of a country song and its prospects for greatness. He maintained that it must be, simply, “three chords and the truth”.

The Harlan Howard Songbook

  • Above and Beyond the Call of Love/Buck Owens; Rodney Crowell
  • Blame It On Your Heart/Patty Loveless
  • Busted/Johnny Cash; John Conlee
  • Don’t Tell Me What to Do/Pam Tillis
  • Excuse Me (I Think I’ve Got a Heartache)/Buck Owens
  • Heartaches by the Number/Ray Price
  • I Fall to Pieces/Patsy Cline; Aaron Neville & Trisha Yearwood
  • I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail/Buck Owens
  • Life Turned Her That Way/Mel Tillis; Ricky Van Shelton
  • No Charge/Melba Montgomery
  • Pick Me Up On Your Way Down/Charlie Walker; Faron Young
  • Somebody Should Leave/Reba McEntire
  • Streets of Baltimore/Bobby Bare
  • Why Not Me/The Judds
  • Your Heart Turned Left and I Went Right/George Jones

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Crystal Shawanda, Dawn of a New Day

Crystal Shawanda
Dawn of a New Day

Crystal Shawanda, a 27-year-old singer-songwriter from Ontario, Canada has established herself as a promising new voice with her first album Dawn of a New Day, a step in the right direction as she challenges for her own place in today’s country music. The album is diverse in its sounds and themes, and echoes her experience as a young woman born on an Indian reservation and trying to make a name and gain fame in Nashville. For the most part, she thrives in this collection of songs.

The common thread throughout the album is an appreciation of the past and a certain strength of character through adversity, and Shawanda’s voice ranges from sassy and spirited to wonderfully delicate. The first single, “You Can Let Go,” is a story song that, although predictable in terms of the storyline, is rich with emotion and is an effective introduction of Shawanda, formerly a featured singer at Nashville’s hallowed honky tonk, Tootsie’s. The depth of a father-daughter relationship is married with the lessons learned in letting go. She sells it, but this paint-by-numbers ballad only hints at her potential, as does “What Do I Have to Do?,” another power ballad that tries a little too hard to make its point.

Shawanda settles into this rut at times, tempering some of the originality that is her calling card. She both succeeds (“Tender Side”) and stumbles (“Try”) in showing her strength in the face of vulnerability. Shawanda is much more powerful when tackling stronger, more attitude-driven material, in the form of both soulful ballads and uptempo tunes. The high points are the feisty numbers that dot the album, from the lustful “I Need a Man” to the engaging “Evolution,” an autobiographical piece that rips and roars with grace and grit. Two other stellar tracks are “My Roots are Showing” and the title track, empowering songs with impressive vocal power by the newcomer.

Shawanda’s love for classic country music is apparent with her avowed adoration to Loretta Lynn, her namechecking of Patsy Cline, and her inclusion of the Hank Williams standard, “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” She covers the classic tune admirably, and would do well to continue the tradition of these legends, artists who followed their muse without much consideration for Nashville rules. Although Dawn of a New Day sometimes makes those commercial concessions, it is a satisfying piece of work that will likely be the first of many successes for the talented Shawanda.

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100 Greatest Women, #7: Patsy Cline

100 Greatest Women

#7

Patsy Cline

There are few women in the history of popular music as revered as Patsy Cline, one of the few country legends who has transcended the status of a singer and become a pop culture icon. Almost all of her classic recordings were created in a three-year span, and she only released three albums in her lifetime. However, her fame has grown exponentially since her career was tragically cut short, leaving behind questions of the music that might have been, but also immortally preserving her in her musical prime.

Cline hailed from Virginia, the daughter of a blacksmith and a seamstress. She grew up idolizing Judy Garland and Shirley Temple, and asserted from a young age that she would be a star as well. She also liked country music, being particularly drawn to the hits of Hank Williams. Cline suffered a throat infection as a child that she would later credit as a gift, believing that it was that illness that resulted in her deep-throated voice.

As a teenager, Cline competed in local talent shows and sang on the radio in Winchester. She performed in local country clubs wearing fringed cowgirl outfits that her mother created. A brief marriage in her early twenties to Gerald Cline provided her stage surname, while a later boyfriend suggested using Patsy along with it. She was soon commanding a large following in the Virginia/D.C./Maryland area, and was appearing on the television show Town and Country. She caught the attention of Jimmy Dean, who also frequently appeared on the show, and he became an early champion of her talent. Cline began appearing on the Grand Ole Opry, and she signed to Four Star Records in 1955.

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