The long list of country music greats lost in 2013 continues with the passing of Cowboy Jack Clement, who succumbed to liver cancer yesterday morning at the age of 82.
Few have done so much to shape country music from behind the scenes as this legendary songwriter and producer. In addition to writing some of the genre’s best-loved songs, he produced classic records such as “Ring of Fire” and “Dreaming My Dreams with You,” as well as Bobby Bare’s concept album A Bird Named Yesterday. He also played an instrumental role in launching the careers of icons such a Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis, while helping the now-legendary Charley Pride become one of the first major African-American country stars. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1973 and is one of this year’s inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Be sure to check out this fine in-depth tribute by the always reliable Peter Cooper, as well as some personal remembrances by his good friends Kris Kristofferson and Marty Stuart.
Finally, enjoy the following performances of some of Clement’s most beloved compositions. We at Country Universe are saddened to hear of Clement’s passing, and we extend our condolences to his family, friends, and fans.
Would you expect anything less from a collaboration between Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan, especially one that has them officially being billed as Grits & Glamour?
Much like both ladies were known for doing in their chart-topping days, “I Know What You Did Last Night” weds traditional country structures with the contemporary female experience. It’s one of those classic conversational duets, with both singers alternating lines and talking as much as singing at certain points. They don’t quite break the fourth wall, but they push up against it, much like Loretta & Conway and Porter & Dolly would do on their album cuts.
But the girls night out spirit is completely modern, without even a hint of apology for their rowdiness. If anything, it’s a friendly competition for who did the most partying down, with the details grounded enough in reality that it never becomes a caricature.
Pam and Lorrie toured together for a bit in the nineties, but they’ve been pairing up regularly for a couple of years now, and that helps the collaboration feel natural, not forced. Grits & Glamour, the tour moniker, has taken on a sound that has elements of both artists but is uniquely its own. They have more than a few classic recordings between them, with Tillis being especially strong as an albums artist, but I don’t remember either of them having so much pure fun on a studio recording.
In a year that has seen some incredible collaborations already, it looks like Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan are still quite capable of hanging in the big leagues. I cannot wait to hear the rest of their album.
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.
The Tip of My Fingers, 1960
Po’ Folks, 1961
Mama Sang a Song, 1962
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
Today is Dolly Parton’s 67th birthday. What better time to revisit and relaunch our ongoing feature that reviews every single that she’s released in her illustrious career?
This post will look at her four singles from late 1975 through the end of 1976. Three were solo efforts, while the fourth was her final release of the decade that was a collaboration with Porter Wagoner.
“We Used To”
Written by Dolly Parton
It was clear by this point that Parton had designs on the pop market, but she hadn’t yet found the right way to make her style work in that format. So we get overlong pop ballads like this, which ramble on forever because Parton’s restraining her vocal trademarks that would make the record too identifiably country.
“Hey, Lucky Lady”
Written by Dolly Parton
Then again, even when she was being proudly country at this period, the material still wasn’t always up to snuff. It’s a shame that “Shattered Image” wasn’t sent to radio as the lead single from All I Can Do instead of of this endlessly repetitive ditty. This probably held the record for the most times a title was repeated in one song until Little Texas released “My Love” two decades later.
There is something poetic about this being their final duet together, aside from some unreleased tracks that would surface in 1980 after a prolonged legal battle. They went out on a high note, perhaps because of the palpable sadness that permeates the proceedings.
“All I Can Do”
Written by Dolly Parton
Another ditty, which is surprising given the heaviness of the
Thankfully, this should be the last single this year from Carrie Underwood.
I say thankfully because a good “Best Singles of the Year” list needs some variety. Underwood’s been stacking the deck this year, putting out one outstanding single after another, and it’s really bad form to leave no room at the top for the rest of the competition.
“Two Black Cadillacs” revives the Southern Gothic murder ballad subgenre that was once far more prominent in country music. This is not to be confused with the wrongfully abused variety of murder ballad, which has only surfaced in the past twenty years.
A pure revenge fantasy mind you, as unbelievable and fantastical as anything Porter Wagoner ever dreamed up. Underwood’s the perfect narrator for the tale, her pithy descriptions punctuated by melancholy strings that would sound just as comfortable on American Horror Story as they do accompanying our favorite American Idol.
She lets her bias slip with a giddy “bye bye,” revealing she’s fully on board with the just desserts being served. It works because the scenario is simply implausible, which allows the listener to indulge in the darkness that would horrify us if it was actually reality.
It’s a testament to Underwood’s versatility as a singer and her credibility as a public persona that she can pull off something so wicked and not get an ounce of dirt on her squeaky clean image. But most of all, it’s a credit to her ambition as an artist. For someone so frequently accused of getting to the top without having to
“Forever is the love,” they sing, “that is true and undemanding.”
Which just goes to show that what makes for a great love doesn’t necessarily make for a great song.
As they were reaching the end of their professional partnership, “Say Forever You’ll Be Mine” was as true to their original sound as it could be, but the song is so undemanding of their combined talent and energy that what we’re left with is as sterile as it is yawningly predictable.
<a href=”http://www.countryuniverse.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Thomas-Rhett-Beer-With-Jesus.jpg”><img class=”alignright size-thumbnail wp-image-22676″ title=”Thomas Rhett Beer With Jesus” src=”http://www.countryuniverse.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Thomas-Rhett-Beer-With-Jesus-150×150.jpg” alt=”" width=”150″ height=”150″ /></a>Far better than its title suggests.
Thomas Rhett poses a hypothetical that brings Jesus into the contemporary world, but avoids recreating him in our own image. Every question that Rhett suggests he would ask of Jesus is believable, and I dare say that his belief that Jesus would sit with him in loving conversation instead of harsh judgment for his surroundings is more consistent with the Gospel than, say, Porter Wagoner’s <a href=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yroypJB0XU”>”What Would You Do (If Jesus Came to Your House).”</a>
Rhett’s slightly ragged vocal is charmingly innocent and sincere, like an Eric Church from the right side of the tracks. The only thing that holds
the song back from me is the second verse, which treads water by focusing on the jukebox instead of the conversation at hand. But redemption comes with a solid bridge and beautiful final chorus.
The production does such a great job of not getting in the way of the song. It makes me wonder how many more of today’s country songs I would like if I was able to hear them without interference. If the singer here believes in Jesus, the producer here believes in his singer. I don’t know that many souls will be saved by “Beer with Jesus”, but if Nashville listens to it carefully, they might learn something about saving country music.
<em>Written by Rick Huckaby and Lance Miller</em>
<strong>Listen: </strong><a href=”http://media.allaccess.com:8001/5076/1345652152_strm.mp3″>Beer with Jesus</a>
Known affectionately as the Thin Man from the West Plains, Porter Wagoner was a steadfast champion for the traditions of country music, even as he used forward-looking methods of delivering it to the masses.
Wagoner was a self-taught singer and musician, and first gained notoriety as a singing grocer. The store manager thought his young worker had great potential, and arranged for him to perform on the radio in West Plains, Missouri. This led to his own radio show in 1951, and then a high-profile stint onOzark Jamboree, a television show spearheaded by Red Foley.
His success on radio and television landed him a contract with RCA records, a label he would stay with for more than two decades. At his time with the label, he would be a pioneer for the genre in many ways. While recording popular country hits like “A Satisfied Mind” and “Misery Loves Company”, he also produced powerful spiritual numbers, including the evocative “What Would You Do? (If Jesus Came to Your House)”, helping to mainstream a southern Baptist perspective to the masses.
He also was an innovator both in album concepts and album artwork, creating bold designs for his LPs that explored themes like adultery, poverty, and alcoholism. His arresting visual style made him an ideal fit for television, and his wildly popular syndicatedThe Porter Wagoner Show made him a household name. It also led to his most high-profile musical partnership when he invited Dolly Parton to join the cast.
Wagoner’s show peaked in popularity with Parton as a cast member, and their memorable duet singles and albums kept him on the upper echelon on the country charts throughout the mid-seventies. While his solo career was cooling off at the same time, he remained a major presence in the Southern gospel market, the area which earned him multiple Grammy awards.
He left RCA in the early eighties, following a successful final duet album with Parton. By then, his show was also off the air, but as cable television began filtering into homes, Wagoner’s hosting duties on the Grand Ole Opry made him a familiar figure to a new generation of country music fans. He recorded sporadically for the next two decades, but received overwhelming critical accolades when he released Wagonmaster. Produced by Marty Stuart, his final album was a powerful swan song in 2007, and gave him one more moment in the spotlight, the same year that he passed away at the age of eighty.
Company’s Comin’, 1954
A Satisfied Mind, 1955
What Would You Do? (If Jesus Came to Your House), 1956
Misery Loves Company, 1962
Green, Green Grass of Home, 1965
The Cold Hard Facts of Life, 1967
The Last Thing on My Mind (with Dolly Parton), 1967
Their only chart-topping duet served as the mid-point between five consecutive #1 singles for Parton, while earning Wagoner his first #1 single since 1962.
As their remarkable partnership was beginning to break apart, the duo wrote this song together, and it speaks just as well to the impending doom of their professional generic viagra in canada life together as “I Will Always Love You” did.
Perhaps that’s what helped make it such a powerful song, with genuine desperation captured in the lyrics. From this point on, Wagoner’s few remaining hits would come only through his duets with Parton, while this entire era of her career would soon be overshadowed by her phenomenal success as a crossover singer and media personality.
But at least on record for just under three minutes in 1974, it sounded like they both needed each other equally.
Where to start? How do you begin a review of a song as seemingly universal as this one is? I could go on about what a massive success this song was in all the different versions that were recorded. But for now, I'll just talk about what a fine record this 1974 original is on its own merits.
Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of country music history knows that Parton wrote the song for her mentor Porter Wagoner, from whom she was separating professionally at the time. The song deals with feelings personal to Parton, but they are conveyed in a manner just vague enough that virtually any listener can connect the story with his or her own experiences.
But for all of Parton's formidable songwriting talent, what makes “I Will Always Love You” a great record goes beyond the lyric sheet. This original 1974 recording is simply one of the finest displays that can be found of the deep sincerity that Parton has always brought to her performances. Her vocal here is subtle and almost hushed, but she fills every crevice of the acoustic arrangement with her aching, nakedly honest delivery, while the melody of the song is just hauntingly beautiful.
There's not a trace of anger or animosity to be found – just honest, heavy-hearted resignation that the relationship could not be made to work, coupled with ongoing love, and hope for the loved one to find happiness. Best of all, Parton is such a fine vocal interpreter that you get the sense that if she were singing the song directly to Wagoner, and to no one else, that it would still have sounded exactly as it does on the record here.
Without a doubt, there are clear reasons why “I Will Always Love You” is a classic. Though this is only the beginning of the life that “I Will Always Love You” would take on over the years, this 1974 recording remains the definitive version of the song.