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It's safe to say that few people have been through as many hardships and heartbreaks as Jan Howard. When someone once suggested to her that she'd make a good soap opera actress, Jan laughed and replied, "My life has been a soap opera".
Jan is the survivor of a difficult life, but has always made it clear that she doesn't want pity. Her saga - which includes miscarriages, marital abuse, bigamy, poverty, war, suicide, cheating, divorce, thievery, depression, and mental collapse - has only made her stronger.
Born in West Plains, Missouri, Jan was the eighth of eleven children of an impoverished farm couple. Her humble roots include attending a one-room schoolhouse wearing the homemade, feed sack clothes of a rural Depression-era child.
Married at age fifteen, Jan had three sons before she turned twenty. After two divorces, she headed to Los Angeles in 1955 and took on jobs as a waitress and a secretary. A chance meeting with aspiring songwriter Harlan Howard resulted in a Las Vegas wedding just one month later. One evening while Jan was washing dishes, Harlan came in the room unexpectedly and heard her singing for the very first time.
Harlan coaxed Jan to make a demo tape of his song "Mommy For A Day" which went on to become a hit for Kitty Wells. Jan later sang demos for other artists like Tex Ritter, Johnny Bond, Ned Miller, and Buck Owens. She also recorded the original demo of the Patsy Cline classic, "I Fall To Pieces". Backed by Wynn Stewart's band, Jan released Harlan's "Pick Me Up On Your Way Down" in 1959. She subsequently recorded several duets with Wynn including "Yankee Go Home" and "Wrong Company".
In 1960, Jan scored her first solo Top Ten hit with "The One You Slip Around With". That same year, the Howards moved to Nashville and Jan made her first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry.
Meanwhile, painfully shy Jan was suffering from the psychological scars of her youth, as well as the anxiety of beginning a new adventure. When her weight dropped below ninety-seven pounds, Harlan hospitalized Jan and she went into therapy.
Although strong friendships were formed with several Opry members,Jan faced some resentment and had to deal with her lack of self-confidence. She soon felt out of sync with the Opry's expectations for female acts.
Jan's fans, however, found her blunt, no-nonsense manner and stylish, no-frills look appealing.She won Billboard magazine's Most Promising Country Female Award in 1960, and she brought feminine spunk to The Nashville Sound.
In 1963 Jan had a Top 40 hit with "I Wish I Was A Single Girl Again", but it was a couple years later that her career really caught fire. Jan's string of gutsy hits included "What Makes A Man Wander" (1965), "Evil On Your Mind" (1966), "Bad Seed" (1966), "Roll Over And Play Dead" (1967), "Count Your Blessings Woman" (1968), "We Had All The Good Things Going" (1969), "Rock Me Back To Little Rock" (1970), "Love Is Like A Spinning Wheel" (1971), and "Let Him Have It" (1972).
Several of Jan's songs of the period reflected her troubled marriage with Harlan which eventually ended in a 1968 divorce. For the first time in her life, Jan's singing became an economic necessity.
Between 1965 and 1973, Jan teamed with Bill Anderson to form one of country's hottest duos on the road, on his syndicated TV show, and on record. Their hits included "I Know You're Married" (1966), "If It's All The Same To You" (1969), and "Someday We'll Be Together" (1970). Jan and Bill's 1967 recording of "For Loving You" stayed at No. 1 for four weeks on the country singles chart.
Jan not only recorded songs, but wrote them as well. She penned the 1966 Kitty Wells hit "It's All Over But The Crying" and Bill Anderson's 1970 hit "Love Is A Sometimes Thing", as well as her own singles "Marriage Has Ruined More Good Love Affairs" (1971) and "The Life Of A Country Singer" (1981).
Jan and Bill co-wrote Connie Smith's hit "I Never Once Stopped Loving You". Together with Jan's son Carter, they co-wrote their own 1972 hit "Dis-Satisfied".
Jan's proudest composition is 1968's "My Son", a moving recitation that began as a letter to her son in Vietnam. Jan's plea for the safe return of her son Jimmy had been released for two weeks when he was killed. Thousands of letters from soldiers and their parents subsequently poured in to Jan. Recent world events have renewed interest in the song, which Jan has performed in response to several requests.
Four years after Jimmy's death in Vietnam, Jan's youngest son David committed suicide. Jan softened the edges of tragedy with her strong faith in God and her belief that there is a reason for everything.
In 1987 Jan released her candid, compelling, and best-selling autobiography titled Sunshine and Shadow. The outline for the book was actually a song called "My Story" which Jan composed during a low point in her life when she became suicidal.
"Never Let Yesterday Use Up Today" has been one of Jan's mottos for years. "You can't change the past," she explains, "so learn from it, cherish the good, and go on from there. This is not a rehearsal; this is the show and there are no retakes."
Throughout her career Jan has accumulated many accolades for her recordings and songwriting, including several Grammy and CMA nominations. She has received countless acknowledgements for her charitable contributions and has taken an active role working with Veterans groups across the United States. In West Plains, Missouri, the "Jan Howard Expressway" has been named in her honor.
From 1960 through 1978, Jan placed thirty singles on the Billboard country music charts. Her vocals can be heard on over twenty albums. Recently she released a boxed set collection containing eighty songs and a twenty-page photo album.
Jan has toured every state in the USA, along with twenty-one foreign countries. She's made television appearances on dozens of shows like Hee Haw, Family Feud, The Today Show,Nashville Now, Music City Tonight, Prime Time Country, and Opry Live.
Jan's most memorable moment in country music was her induction as a member of the Grand Ole Opry on March 27, 1971. For over thirty years she has been a regular performer and a fan favorite on the world-famous Opry stage. The charming, brown-eyed entertainer has also opened many doors for female country artists.
Over the years Jan has pursued a variety of interests including acting and golfing. Along with friends Jeannie Seely and Rita Coolidge, Jan appeared in a motion picture titled Changing Hearts which was released in 2003 and is available on DVD and VHS.
Words like "classy", "sophisticated", "witty", "determined", "strong-willed", and "compassionate" have often been used to describe Jan. She is undoubtedly a lady of rare talent and determination who challenges life on a daily basis.
Jan has the gift of communicating the emotions of life through her music. Her love of life touches everyone she encounters.
"It almost seems like an accident that I became a singer," Jan states, "but I'm so thankful for it."
So are we all.
NBC Network Special Bill Anderson Show Today Show Grand Ole Opry Live Billy Graham Crusade The Tommy Hunter Show Hee Haw Sonja Live in LA That Nashville Music Sally Jesse Raphael Show Hour Magazine Word on Words Pop Goes The Country Family Feud The Johnny Cash Show CMA Awards Show Yesteryear in Nashville Fandango Nashville Now Country Sportsman Gospel Country Backstage At The Opry New Country Crook and Chase Music City Tonight Prime Time Country Wrap Around Nashville American Swingaround Porter Wagoner Show Ozark Jubilee Ralph Emery Show You Can Be A Star
Every state in the United States and many foreign Countries including Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, Norway, Sweden, Austria, Israel, Switzerland.
Most Memorable Moment in Country Music: Inducted as a member of The Grand Ole Opry March 27, 1971
Autobiography: "Sunshine and Shadow" published in 1987
Awards and Honors:
• Most Promising Female Artist Awards from Billboard, Cashbox, and Jukebox Operators
• Grammy Nominations (Best Country Performance by a Female Artist) for “Evil On Your Mind” and “My Son”
• “Jan Howard Expressway” dedication in West Plains, Missouri
• BMI Songwriting Awards for “It’s All Over But The Crying” (recorded by Kitty Wells), “Love Is A Sometimes Thing” (recorded by Bill Anderson), “Dis-Satisfied” (co-written with Bill Anderson and Carter Howard, and recorded by Bill Anderson and Jan Howard), and “I Never Once Stopped Loving You” (co-written with Bill Anderson and recorded by Connie Smith)
• Tennessee Adjutant General’s 1992 “Distinguished Patriot Medal” (the highest honor a civilian can receive)
• 2002 Induction into the North American Country Music Association International (NACMAI) Hall of Fame
• Ranking among “25 Most Influential Females in Country Music” by 2002 Internet poll conducted by www.TakinTheCountryBack.com
• “Evil On Your Mind” ranking among “Country Music’s 500 Greatest Singles” by 2003 book titled Heartaches By The Number published by the Country Music Foundation Press and Vanderbilt University Press
GRAMMY® Award-winning superstar Kenny Rogers enjoyed exceptional success during his storied career of over six decades. With his staying power and universal appeal on full display, he endeared music lovers around the globe with his amazing songs, heartfelt performances, distinctive voice, gift for storytelling, relatability, showmanship, philanthropy and humility.
Rogers sold over 120 million albums worldwide, making him one of the best-selling male artists of all-time according to the RIAA, with one Diamond album, 20 Platinum albums and 11 Gold. He recorded 24 No. 1 hits (including classics like "The Gambler," "Lady," "Islands In The Stream," “Lucille," "She Believes In Me," and "Through The Years”), 12 No. 1 albums and 25 Top 10 country albums. Miraculously, he charted a song within each of the last seven decades. His music has always crossed boundaries, with singles and albums finding frequent success on the Country, Top 40, and Adult Contemporary charts, and in a few instances, on the R&B and Christian charts. The first country artist to consistently sell out arenas, Rogers also achieved pop superstardom and reached the pinnacle of worldwide popularity and celebrity few artists have ever attained, performing live for millions of fans. Rogers’ 28 Billboard Adult Contemporary Top 10's rank fifth-best all-time, and he sent the most country No. 1’s to the top spot on AC (five of his eight AC No. 1’s were also country No. 1’s).
Cora Cline wasn’t a singer and never made recording, but at 49 she became one of country music’s first female stars.
The Tennessee housewife received fan letters from throughout the United States and overseas as a result of her four years as a hammered dulcimer soloist on the fledgling Grand Ole Opry in the late 1920s.
She often is credited with helping to build the foundation and popularity for what developed into today’s country music scene.
The Nashville Network even played tribute to Mrs. Cline and other female stars in "The Women of Country". Other performers included Kitty Wells, Minnie Pearl, June Carter Cash, Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, Emmylou Harris, Wynonna and Shania Twain.
Cora Cline, who died in 1973, never achieved the fame of those stars, but her memory is very much alive thanks to her descendants, including granddaughter Mary Lynn West, whom is president of Barbara Mandrell’s fan club.
"Mrs. Cline lived to be 96," Mrs. West recalled. "During her later years, she still listened to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio. Roy Acuff wrote a letter to her around her 90th birthday inviting her to come back for a guest appearance on the Opry, but she never did."
"She had a big birthday party at age 92. I wrote a poem for her and read it to our gathering. People dropped in to the party all day long."
Mrs. Cline played the dulcimer most of her life, Mrs. West said. "On Sundays, for many years, people would come to the Cline home with their guitars and other instruments to play with my grandmother," Mrs. West said. "She usually cooked for those who came over, which were as many as 20 to 40 people."
Mrs. Cline – born Kitty Cora Denning – grew up in the Fairfield community near Westmoreland, Tenn., northeast of Nashville. She married Grundy Cline, a timber man, and they raised nine children, including Mrs. West’s mother, Mary Gladys Graves.
By 1925, Mrs. Cline had become widely known for her dulcimer playing. Her fame reached "Judge" George Hay, a newspaperman who had started a hillbilly music program on WSM radio station in Nashville on November 28, 1925. He subsequently nicknamed the program "The Grand Ole Opry" on December 10, 1927, since it followed a network program of opera music.
Mrs. Cline learned, within a few days of its beginnings, that the new radio show was seeking more performers, so she auditioned.
"I went down there and played ‘Chippie, Get Your Hair Cut’", Mrs. Cline later told a reported. Judge Hay liked what her heard and hired Mrs. Cline for $1.00 per air-time minute.
The dulcimer she played with small, wooden mallets on the live radio program the next four years was handmade of sugar maple by a man in Kentucky and had been purchased by her son, Corbit Lester "Red" Cline, for $4.50.
Mrs. Cline performed the first of four or five times accompanied by a relative, Edgar Cline, on the fiddle. Judge Hay, however, asked the fiddler to drop out because he thought Mrs. Cline’s music sounded good enough by itself.
She became a hit with those early Opry audiences with some of her best-known numbers, ‘Sally Goodin’’, ‘Airplane’, ‘Going Up Cripple Creek’, ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’, and ‘Arkansas Traveler’.
Since she didn’t drive, neighbors took turns taking her to the Grand Ole Opry, charging her five gallons of gas and one quart of oil for each trip.
It didn’t take long for her to realize the listening power of early radio.
"Judge Hay asked me one Saturday night (on the program) if I was married, and I told him no," Mrs. Cline said jokingly, even thought her husband was sitting beside her on the stage. "Not long after that," she added, "I got a letter from a man overseas asking me to marry him."
Mrs. Cline’s Opry career ended abruptly. While being driven home from the program one night, she saw a bad auto wreck. She was so upset by the sight that she never returned to the Opry and rarely traveled outside her county in a car.
She spend her last years living on a farm near Portland, Tenn., with her daughter, Leola Dennigh, playing her dulcimer mainly for family and friends.
At 92, she was the grandmother of 42, great-grandmother of 69 and great-great grandmother of 12.
She died on March 10, 1973, and was buried at Fairfield Methodist Church, in the community she had loved most of her life.
The next time you hear someone praising Patsy Cline, just remember that there might never have been any female country stars without Cora Cline and musical trailblazers like her.
Hank Snow was one of Canada's biggest stars for 13 years before he made it south of the border. And even after he got attention here, his stardom wasn't assured until he racked up three Number One hits in one year.
Nobody sounded quite like him. Hank Williams drawled; Lefty Frizzell and Floyd Tillman slurred; Ernest Tubb slid off pitch; Red Foley and Eddy Arnold crooned. But Hank Snow's singing was built on precise pitch and perfect enunciation. And where most singers simply strummed their guitars, Hank played well enough to record instrumental duets with Chet Atkins.
His main musical influence, like that of Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb and later, Merle Haggard, was Jimmie Rodgers. Yet he created his own sound, with driving rhythms, clever imagery and occasional Latin flavor. And that sound had repercussions far beyond Nashville. You could hear it in Elvis' Sun singles, and Presley's 1959 hit, "A Fool Such As I," had been a Top Five hit for Hank in 1952. Ray Charles, Emmylou Harrris and The Rolling Stones have all covered his biggest hit, "I'm Movin' On." Through his music and his 36 years on the Opry, Hank Snow has become a legend on both sides of the Canadian border-but only after plenty of struggle.
Clarence Eugene Snow, born May 9, 1914, in Brooklyn, Nova Scotia, slogged through tough times almost from the beginning. His parents divorced when he was eight. He lived briefly with his grandparents, and then went to live with his mother and her new husband, who abused him. He had to grow up fast, and wound up working as a ship's cabin boy at age 12 to get away.
Music wasn't a major factor in his life at first, but after he first got a guitar and then at 16, heard Jimmie Rodgers' version of "Moonlight and Skies," it captured him. He still worked odd jobs as he perfected his Rodgers repertoire but found him-self getting real encouragement. A no-pay show on radio station CHNS in Halifax, Nova Scotia, was his first musical employment. He was in the right place at the right time; Canada then had only Montana Slim to call its own. RCA/Canada signed "Hank, the Yodeling Ranger," in 1936.
"Prisoned Cowboy" and "Lonesome Blue Yodel," his first RCA releases, came out, like all his early records, only in Canada. Those records reflected a different Hank Snow. Singing mostly ballads, he not only captured the Rodgers spirit, he improved on it with his outstanding yodeling.
He found the success he sought in Canada, but not in America, where he wanted it most. He didn't cross the border until 1944 when Philadelphia promoter Jack Howard (who later helped Bill Haley get his start), booked him here. Eventually Hank caught on at Wheeling's WWVA Jamboree, but after an abortive stab at Hollywood and no hit records, he was failing. His most important encouragement came from fellow Rodgers fan Ernest Tubb.
"If it wasn't for Ernest, I would not be talking to you today," he said after Tubb died. When a Dallas radio station played one of his Canadian records in the late 1940's, it got so much response that RCA in the U.S., after ignoring him for years, finally dropped their blinders and started recording him.
Tubb brought him to the Grand Ole Opry in 1949, the same year his recording of "Marriage Vow" hit Number 11. But his future on the show was uncertain when RCA released "I'm Movin' On" early in 1950. It was different from his other records. Whereas they were all Rodgers-flavored ballads, this one was a sound clearly his own. From the chugging opening fiddle and the train-whistle effects of Joe Talbot's steel guitar to hank's forceful singing and hot flatpicking, it was a classic even then, and his first American Number One.
His place on the Opry was assured (he became a member in 1950), especially when both "Golden Rocket," a driving train number, and the Latin-flavored "Rhumba Boogie" flew into the Number One slot in 1950 and 1951, respectively. Until 1954 every Snow release, 14 in all, went to Top Ten.
Among that phenomenal string were "Bluebird Island," "The Gold Rush Is Over," "Fool Such As I" and the surrealistic "Honeymoon on a Rocket Ship." In 1954, he took two ballads, "I Don't Hurt Anymore" (which stayed on the charts 41 weeks) and "Let Me Go, Lover," to Number One and Number Three respectively.
The Presley connection began early. Elvis' disastrous 1954 Opry appearance occurred on Hank's portion of the show. The following year, a 1955 Hank Snow tour orchestrated by his then manager, Colonel Tom Parker, gave Elvis his first wide exposure beyond the Louisiana Hayride. But then, as rock 'n' roll rode roughshod over the Opry, Hank stayed true to his own sound. At the urging of Chet Atkins, Hank moved into the Nashville Sound, without losing his power. By the early 1960's he was, again, racking up huge successes. He made Don Robertson's "Miller's Cave" his own in 1960. Two years later his bluesy, rapid-fire "I've Been Everywhere" appeared and went to Number One, followed in 1963 by "Ninety Miles an Hour (Down a Dead End Street)," which clocked in at Number Two.
He'd become an institution. His spangled Nudie suites, which he wore even at USO show in Vietnam, and his band, the hard-country Rainbow Ranch Boys, had made him as identifiable as Ernest Tubb. But as the 1960's wore on, hits became fewer and his records wound up lower on the charts. Trends were changing again.
In early 1974, "Hello, Love," a quintessential Hank Snow number, became his first Number One since 1962 and a reaffirmation of the durability of his music. His 104th album, Still Movin' On, was issued by RCA in 1977. It tried, with only partial success, to update his sound in the Waylon/Willie context. In 1979 he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
He never had another big record, yet with an awesome 35 Top Ten hits, six of them hitting Number One, and more consecutive years on the charts than any other artist, his career has been phenomenal.
Snow remained a regular on the Opry and he devoted himself to charitable activities on behalf of child abuse victims. Bear Family Records chronicled Snow's complete 1936-1980 career on 39 CD's. In 1994, his autobiography, The Hank Snow Story appeared.
Snow died on December 20, 1999. He died of apparent heart failure. He was 85. Snow is survived by his son Jimmy Snow, wife Minnie B. Snow, and sister Marion Peach.
Arthel "Doc" Watson is without doubt a living legend in acoustic music. For more than three decades, Doc Watson has been America's most renowned and influential folk guitar stylist. Now 73 years of age, he's mostly retired but his few selective performances show no signs of his enormous talents being dimmed by either age or fewer concert dates on the road. At any given Doc Watson performance, one will see and hear not only a guitar player of the finest caliber, but also an intelligent, witty, down-to-earth 'man of the mountains' who loves to share the music of his heart and home. Doc is an extraordinary entertainer who never fails to capture the admiration and affection of his audience. His concerts are filled with hot flatpicking tunes, slow romantic ballads, gutsy blues numbers, delicately fingerpicked melodies, and an old time gospel song or two. Each song is sung with unmatched clarity, each tune played with a dexterity that has placed Doc Watson's name in the music history books.
Doc did not set out from his Appalachians mountain home to become a famous musician. In fact, if given his druthers, he never would have struck out on the road to make a living as a performer. While music would have been a part of his life no matter what, carpentry, electrical work, mechanics, or even engineering would have been Watson's calling of choice, if he had been given that choice. Sadly, a childhood eye infection, exacerbated by a congenital vascular disorder near his eyes, took Doc's vision by the time he was one year old. Doc has always referred to his blindness only as a hindrance, not a disability. He would tell you, however, given the opportunity, that one of the very few regrets of his long and productive life is not having been blessed with the ability to see the smiles on the faces of his loved ones.
Arthel Lane "Doc" Watson was born in Stoney Fork Township, near what is now Deep Gap, NC, on March 3, 1923. His father, General Dixon Watson, was a day laborer and a farmer, who actively sung in the Baptist church and played the banjo. His mother, Annie, often would gather the family to sing hymns or read from the Bible. Doc's family was a musically inclined one and as he remembers, "There was the old phonograph around the house, and, of course, I heard the singing at the church, and my mother sang a few of the old ballads when she'd be knitting some of the boys' overalls or cooking or something or other. Never heard Dad, except when he was singing the good old gospel songs - he was singing when I was in church from the time I could remember - up until he made that little old homemade banjo and taught me a few tunes on it."
Doc's first instrument, bought for him by his father, was the harmonica, which he started playing at approximately five years of age. By age 11, his musical talent already growing, he had picked up the banjo, made with the help of his grandmother's cat, which became the instrument's drum. Doc's conscience is clear on that point, however, because as he remembers "I never knew the animal. I never petted it. I never heard it howl or anything that I remember of. It just got old and decrepit and couldn't eat and was blind, and it was miserable. Dad persuaded my brother to put it out of its misery. And he did it without making it suffer."
As a young teenager, while Watson attended the North Carolina State School for the Blind in Raleigh, he learned a few guitar chords from a friend. This accomplishment created the impetus for his father eventually buying Doc his first guitar. As Doc recalls, "My real interest in the music was the old 78 records and the sound of the music, I loved it. And I began to realize that one of the main sounds on those old records I loved was the guitar. One of my brothers had borrowed one from a cousin and I was foolin' with it and he says, Dad just says if you'll learn to play a song on it by the time I get in from work this evening, we'll go in to town and get you one. Well, I knew some chords and I just played the rhythm chords to 'When Roses Bloom in Dixieland'. I had some money saved in my piggy bank, so we took that and he finished it up and got me a $12 Stella, which was a pretty good little guitar at the time." Later in his teenage years, Watson earned enough money sawing wood to buy his own guitar from Sears, Roebuck. He began playing music with his older brother, Linny, in the style of the old-time brother duets, like the Louvins, the Monroe Brothers, the Delmore Brothers and the Carter Family. "I just loved the guitar when it came along. I loved it," Doc recalls. "The banjo was something I really liked, but when the guitar came along, to me that was my first love in music." When Watson was 19, he got a gig performing for a radio show. The announcer felt "Arthel" was too stuffy and was searching for a replacement when someone in the audience shouted "Call him Doc." The name stuck and perseveres to this day.
Not only did Doc Watson come from a musical background, but he married into another family of music when, at the age of 23, he wed his 15-year-old third cousin Rosa Lee Carlton, whose father, Gaither Carlton, was a fiddler with whom Watson played regional hymns and ballads. Doc and Rosa Lee Watson had two children, Eddy Merle, named after guitar great Merle Travis, and in 1951, Nancy Ellen. Throughout the 1950's, Doc supported his family by playing music, tuning pianos, and with great reluctance accepting some financial aid for the blind. He worked primarily in a country dance band, playing an electric Gibson (Les Paul model) guitar with pianist Jack Williams. During this period however, he continued to play the traditional acoustic music of his home with friends Tom "Clarence" Ashley, Clint Howard, and Fred Price, who were all accomplished musicians in their on rights. It was while performing with Ashley, Howard, and Price at Union Grove, North Carolina in 1960 that the now legendary meeting of folklorist Ralph Rinzler and Doc Watson took place. As a legendary folk banjoist, Clarence Ashley introduced Doc to musician and promoter Rinzler, who was impressed by Watson's abilities on the guitar. Rinzler's "discovery" of Watson led to Watson's touring the coffeehouse circuit in the Northeast and eventually took him to the stage of the Newport Folk Festival in 1963, where he was embraced enthusiastically by the folk community, young and old.
On one of this historic festival's stages, a 41-year-old blind guitar player from the North Carolina mountains sat down and began to play. He had wavy, dark hair, a gentle laugh, and a rich, warm baritone that enveloped his audience like a grandfather's hug. He sang songs about lost lives and lost loves, murders and muskrats, shady groves and blackberry blossoms, bringing the sounds of Appalachia to the North. The performance catapulted Doc Watson to the forefront of the folk revival where he has remained ever since. That appearance and a historic concert with the father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe, at Town Hall in New York City in 1964 paved the way for Watson's first recording contract. These events put Watson before the public in a big way at the height of the folk revival, gaining him almost instant renown. As Doc recalls, "I suspect if it hadn't been for Ralph's encouragement I wouldn't be on the musical scene as a professional. Ralph helped me very much. He traveled with me a lot in the early days and taught me a whole lot about how to program sets from the stage until you got to where it's automatic, you don't even have to think about it. He encouraged me an awful lot."
The year 1964 marked another momentous event in Doc Watson's rich life. Upon returning home from a concert tour, Doc found that his son Merle had taken up the guitar. Doc's wife, Rosa Lee, had taught Merle his first chords, and Merle, as Doc now remembers, "just took it and went with it." Doc had entered a period of prodigious musical accomplishment. Merle started recording and touring with him in late 1964 at the Berkeley Folk Festival, and for the next two decades they became opposite sides of the same coin: Doc, the front man, warming the crowd, doing all the vocals; Merle, quiet and bearded, letting his guitar sing harmony for him. Together they made 20 albums and won four Grammys including 'Then and Now" in 1973, and 'Two Days in November' in 1974.
In spite of a surge in the popularity of rock music and a waning of the folk revival in the 1970's, Doc and Merle continued to play to dedicated audiences and win critical acclaim until the dark hours of October 23, 1985 when Doc and Rosa Lee's lives were shattered by Merle's tragic, albeit accidental death. Just days before 'Frets Magazine' honored Merle by naming him the best finger-style guitarist of the year, Eddy Merle Watson rolled his farm tractor on a steep hillside near his home, ending the life of one of the world's great acoustic musicians in a tragedy eerily reminiscent of the blues ballads he loved. The intervening years notwithstanding, the pain still resonates in Doc Watson's voice. "I didn't just lose a good son," he says. "I lost the best friend I'll ever have in this world."
A year after Merle's death, Bill Young, Doc's close friend and picking buddy, Frederick W. "B." Townes, the Dean of Resource Development at Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, NC, and Ala Sue Wyke approached him with the idea of doing a benefit concert at the college to raise money for a memorial garden in honor of his deceased son, Merle. Rosa Lee and Doc's daughter, Nancy, suggested they invite a number of Merle's friends to play as well, some of whom were among the country's best acoustic musicians. This dialog germinated the first Merle Watson Memorial Festival in the spring of 1988. Artists played on stage in Wilkes Community College's John A. Walker Center and on the back of two flatbed trucks to a crowd of 4,000 people. This initially modest event, now known as MerleFest, has subsequently become one of the most critically acclaimed acoustic music festivals in the world. MerleFest '95 included over 100 artists and bands, some already legendary and some well on their way, performing on nine stages for nearly 40,000 people, raising funds for the Eddy Merle Watson Garden for the Senses, and providing an economic boost to the Wilkes County economy approaching $1.5 million.
Arthel "Doc" Watson is clearly a folklife and acoustical music icon of legendary proportions who richly deserves his princely place in musical history. He has always been, and still remains, however, one of the most fundamentally modest and self-deprecating men you will ever encounter. When asked how he would like to be remembered by the countless people from all walks of life whom he has enriched with measures of music and wisdom of astonishing clarity, he responded by saying "I would rather be remembered as a likable person than for any phase of my picking. Don't misunderstand me; I really appreciate people's love of what I do with the guitar. That's an achievement as far as I'm concerned, and I'm proud of it. But I'd rather people remember me as a decent human being than as a flashy guitar player. That's the way I feel about it."
As a child, Loretta Webb grew up much as the legendary movie Coal Miner's Daughter depicted her early life. Living in Butcher Hollow (she calls it Butcher Holler) Kentucky, her father worked in the Van Leer coal mines. Their poverty was assuaged somewhat by listening to the Grand Ole Opry. Loretta particularly admired the singing of Molly O'Day and the music of Bill Monroe. She took care of her younger brothers and sisters until she met Oliver Vanetta Lynn, nicknamed both "Doolittle" and "Mooney." She married him at age 14, in 1949. Mooney took her to Custer, Washington, where she raised their children, and in her spare time, sang and wrote songs.
Mooney, unlike many husbands of that era, actively encouraged his wife in her musical ambitions. She soon had a guitar, and by the late 1950s began singing at local clubs and on a local TV show in Tacoma, hosted by Buck Owens, who lived there at the time. By 1959 a local admirer, businessman Norm Burley, had befriended the Lynns and started Zero Records specifically to record Loretta. The Lynns traveled to Los Angeles so she could make her first record. There she met steel guitarist Speedy West, who produced her first single, "Honky Tonk Girl," with some of LA's top musician's backing her. It paid off when it broke into the Top 15. In the fall of 1960 she accepted an invitation to sing on the Grand Ole Opry.
Feeling confident, the Lynns moved to Nashville where her songwriting impressed the Wilburn Brothers, who signed her to their Sure-Fire music publishing company. Their influence helped her land a Decca recording contract in 1962. She also became a regular cast member of the Wilburns' syndicated TV show. Patsy Cline also took Loretta under her wing and not only helped in her early career, but became one of her best friends. By 1962 "Success" broke into the Top Ten and that year she was made an actual member of the Grand Ole Opry. In 1963 she began a steady occupancy of the Top Ten with songs like "Before I'm Over You," "Wine, Women, and Song," and "Blue Kentucky Girl." Her songs took on a tougher, harder edge by the mid-1960s, with an in-your-face attitude epitomized by "Don't Come Home A-Drinkin' With Lovin' on Your Mind," "You Ain't Woman Enough" and "Fist City." She also enjoyed success recording with Ernest Tubb, particularly on songs like "Mr. and Mrs. Used to Be" and "Sweet Thang."
Loretta was a country superstar by the early 70s, her tours and recordings consistently successful. No one expected she would falter--or break through to the mainstream. But that's exactly what she began to do with songs like "Coal Miner's Daughter" and "You're Looking at Country." Her gut bucket country style reflected her lack of interest in attracting pop listeners, even though her longtime producer, Owen Bradley, was an architect of the Nashville Sound. She also stood up for women's rights with Shel Silverstein's "One's On the Way," a blunt chronicle of glamour versus working class life. At the same time, she had an equally successful duet career with Conway Twitty. From 1971 to 1975 they racked up five Number One records, including "After the Fire is Gone," "Lead Me On," "Louisiana Woman--Mississippi Man," "As Soon as I Hang Up the Phone," and "Feelins'."
During the 1970s the media caught on to her blunt yet thoroughly lovable personality, with not a hint of polish or packaging. She began to be featured on TV talk and variety shows. She also appeared in TV commercials. Her 1975 record, "The Pill," a candid celebration of liberation brought on by birth control, proved that country music had traveled far from its more sedate days. In 1976 she published her autobiography, Coal Miner's Daughter, which quickly became a best-seller, because co-author George Vecsey made sure that her straight-talking personality came through on every page. The book became a popular film biography in 1980, starring Sissy Spacek, who managed to capture not only Loretta's personality, but also sang Loretta's songs authentically. As Lynn's riches grew, she bought much of Butcher Holler and also the entire town of Hurricane Mills, Tennessee.
In the early 1980s, while her younger sister Crystal Gayle's pop-country career began to take off, Loretta's records began to falter, as she lost her direction. Part of this came from a personal and business break with the Wilburn Brothers, who till this point still had a stake in her career. She quit writing her own material while they battled in court. The loss of her own voice in her music was a blow from which she never quite recovered. She also tried recording more pop-oriented country material. By 1988 her records were far less successful, and that year she recorded her final MCA album. Also that year, she was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. She continued to tour, but began appearing in Branson in the early 1990s. In 1993, she, Tammy Wynette and Dolly Parton recorded together on the Gold-selling album, Honky Tonk Angels.
Conway Twitty began playing the guitar at the age of five. After his family moved to Helena, Arkansas, when he was a teenager, he formed his first band, a country-blues group called The Phillips County Ramblers. In between playing a weekly radio show on station KFFA, Jenkins contemplated a career in pro baseball, nearly signing with the Philadelphia Phillies before being drafted to serve in the Korean War during the early 1950s.
After his discharge in 1956 Jenkins auditioned unsuccessfully for Sun Records producer Sam Phillips. Undaunted, he hooked up with an agent who suggested he find himself a snappier stage name. Jenkins dug out a map and spotted Conway, Arkansas and Twitty, Texas, and Conway Twitty was born.
Though he would go on to become one of the most popular country performers of all time, it was as a pop singer that Conway first made his mark as an entertainer. In 1958 he recorded the single "It's Only Make Believe," which went on to become the biggest hit of his career. He continued to record pop ballads through the mid-960s before turning to country. During his teen heartthrob years Twitty also tried his hand at acting, appearing in three forgettable teenage B-moves in the 1950s: Sex Kittens Go to College, Platinum High School and College Confidential.
Twitty's first country hit was "Next in Line," in 1968. He received a Gold record award for his album, Hello, Darlin', in 1970. In the 1970s Twitty dominated country charts thanks to a series of successful duets with Loretta Lynn. The duo made their Grand Ole Opry debut in February 1971. Their most successful singles included "After the Fire is Gone," "Lead Me On," "Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man," "As Soon As I Hang Up the Phone" and "Feelin's." Together the two recorded three Gold albums: We Only Make Believe in 1971, Lead Me On in 1972 and The Very Best of Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn in 1979.
The pair was awarded a 1971 Grammy award for Best Performance by a Country Duo or Group and, that same year, the first of four consecutive Country Music Association awards for their duet work, though a fantastic accomplishment, he had plenty more in store.
Twitty's work with Lynn did much to establish his credibility as a country artist and paved the way for a seemingly endless string of solo hits. Among his most popular 1970s singles were "I Can't Stop Loving You" (1972), "She Needs Someone to Hold Her (When She Cries)" (1973), "Linda on my Mind," "Touch the Hand" and "This Time I've Hurt Her More than She Loves Me" (all 1973), "The Games That Daddies Play" (1976) "Play, Guitar, Play" (1977), "Don't Take It Away" and "Happy Birthday, Darlin'" (both 1979). He also scored a Gold record award for the album You've Never Been This Far Before (1973) and for his two greatest hits collections, Volume 1 (1972) and Volume 2 (1976).
Between 1968 and 1977 Twitty cut 30 successive Number One singles, a feat unmatched by any country artist to date, and enough to fill the Number Ones album he cut in 1982 two times over. He was honored with 22 Country Music Association award nominations (but the only CMA awards he won were for his duets with Lynn), and was voted a "living legend" in the 1988 Music City News Awards. He spent his entire career recording for Decca/MCA, except for a brief period in the mid-80s when he moved to Warner Bros./Elektra. He was back with MCA by 1987, though, and continued recording right up until his death. His final album, Final Touches was released posthumously in late 1993.
Conway Twitty, a life-long workaholic, will also be remembered as a shrewd businessman. He owned a music promotion company, a minor league baseball team called the Nashville Sounds, and substantial real estate including Twitty City, his Nashville theme park. Ironically, at the time of his death in 1993, he was in the process of divesting himself of his various holdings in order to devote more time tosongwriting and enjoying the fruits of his many years' labor. He suffered an abdominal aneurysm and died on his way home to Nashville from a concert in Branson.
Among the many honors Twitty received during his lifetime was the honorary title of chief of the Chocktaw nation. The Chocktaws gave Twitty the Indian name "Hatako-Chtokchito-A-Yakni-Toloa," which means "Great Man of Country Music."
The First lady of Country Music has been on a musical campaign of presidential proportions in the 1990's.
Nashville superstar Tammy Wynette scored the biggest hit of her life when she teamed up with the British pop act The KLF in 1992 to create the international smash "Justified & Ancient." Her 1993 Honky Tonk Angels trio album with Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn was a landmark in the annals of country music. Now, on Without Walls, Tammy reaches higher than ever before.
This time, the living legend joins artists whose styles range all over the musical spectrum: Sting, Wynonna, Elton John, Smokey Robinson, Joe Diffie, Lyle Lovett, Cliff Richard and Aaron Neville all lend their voices to this extraordinary project. Each was hand-picked by Tammy for the same reason.
"I'm a fan," Tammy explains. "I listen to all kinds of music, all the time. George (Richey, her husband) and I have the radio on at home constantly. And he plays it so loud you can hear it from one end to the other."
"I began this project more than a year ago by writing to all of the people who are on this album. And I really wanted to do it right, by being with each one when we recorded. The only two tracks where we couldn't work out the schedules and wound up recording on separate days were Smokey Robinson's and Cliff Richard's."
"The rest of us had a ball together, Elton in Atlanta and the rest of them here in Nashville with me. Everybody had a good time and it turned out great. They're all excellent singers. This is such an exciting project for me. Good Lord, I never dreamed that something like this would ever happen in my life."
Tammy has never been one to rest on her laurels. As the decade began, she's already earned virtually every accolade her industry had to bestow, including two Grammys, 16 BMI songwriting honors and three Country Music Association awards. Her compelling life story has been fashioned into a hit TV movie and a hit autobiography, both titled after her signature song "Stand By Your Man". By 1989 she'd amassed 39 top 10 hits, 20 No. 1 singles, 11 No. 1 albums and more than 30 million in record sales. Dubbed "The First Lady" because she was the first female country act to have a million-selling album, Tammy Wynette was far from
finished as she neared her Silver Anniversary as an Epic Records star.
She kicked off the '90s by starring in a music video directed by her old friend Burt Reynolds, "Let's Call It a Day Today." Country superstar Randy Travis enlisted Tammy for his Heroes and Friends album, launching the series of recent vocal collaborations that reaches its peak with Tammy's new Without Walls collection. She marked her 25th anniversary as a record maker with the top-selling 1991 retrospective Best Loved Hits.
That June during Nashville's famed Fan Fair celebration, Tammy Wynette was stunned on national television when Merle Haggard presented her with the TNN/Music City News Living Legend Award.
"I didn't have any idea, it was really a shock. And a thrill. I can remember that night so well. Merle was laughing and I was crying."
Less than a year later she had the No. 1 single on the planet when "Justified & Ancient" topped the charts in 18 nations. While the cryptic KLF dancers writhed below, Tammy sang atop a Mayan pyramid in the song's equally notable video.
"I did it for the right reasons," she recalls. "I did it for fun. I did it because it was something different and because I really like those guys. Besides, my twin granddaughters loved to dance around to 'Mu-Mu Land.' They said 'Meemaw, Meemaw, sing Mu-Mu Land!' and it's all they wanted to hear. And now I have 18 No. 1 records on that. Can you believe it? I did a show with the KLF and they dressed up as 12-foot ice cream cones, and I had to stand between them. Next, they say they are going to have the Red Army Chorus with them singing 'Que Sera, Sera.' They are so crazy."
In 1993 Tammy became the subject of the lavish boxed-set of commemorative CDs Tears of Fire as well as the centerpiece of the two-hour all-star CBS-TV special The Women of Country. Mary Chapin Carpenter, Emmylou Harris, Trisha Yearwood, Pam Tillis, Lorrie Morgan, Tanya Tucker and Kathy Mattea were among the dozens who paid homage to the country queen. In 1994 the program became a PBS special and a home video. "I loved that show; I thought it was so
sweet. And I remember the girls were so wonderful to me. I love them all so much."
That fall, Tammy joined Dolly and Loretta on Honky Tonk Angels. She reports that the studio sessions were hilarious, full of naughty jokes, gossip and high times. Producer Steve Buckingham let the tape run constantly as the three women who changed the face of country music swapped songs and gags.
"That was the neatest thing," Tammy recalls. "Loretta and I went in there together every day. We wound up with 22 songs, enough for two albums. That old Baptist harmony never fails you."
It was Tammy Wynette's distinctive delivery that was the lead voice on the charismatic trio's single release "Silver Threads and Golden Needles," which the women premiered to a standing ovation on the 1993 CMA Awards Show. Chet Atkins, Marty Stuart, Rodney Crowell, Grandpa Jones, Ronnie Milsap, Carl Perkins, Bill Monroe and Confederate Railroad were among the men who lined up for cameo appearances in the tune's humorous hit video.
But tragedy struck just as she was enjoying this latest show-business triumph. The music world held its breath in January of this year while Tammy fought for her life in a Nashville hospital. A recurring bile duct infection became virulent, poisoning her entire system and putting her in critical condition for nearly a week.
"I have heard people talking about having out-of -body experiences. I didn't have that, but I
do know that I was just that far from being dead. I remember seeing all my girls standing at the foot of my bed with tears in their eyes and thinking, 'That is a pretty picture.' I had no pain. I wasn't scared. It was all just very peaceful. I felt like I was floating somewhere. Maybe this is God's way of telling me that death ain't no big deal."
Tammy pulled through, and the experience left a lasting legacy; After more than 30 years as a smoker, she has quit.
"I couldn't have them in the hospital. And when I came home I simply didn't want one. God took away my craving for cigarettes, I guess. And my voice has gotten so much stronger. I always said that I'm not the best singer in the world, just the loudest. Well now I'm louder than ever."
She went back to work almost immediately. Her duet with Elton John appears on his new album Duets. Her guest-starring role with country star K.T. Oslin recently aired on TV's hit series Evening Shade. In April she reunited in the studio with ex-husband and ex-duet partner George Jones to re-record their immortal harmony classic "Golden Ring" for his upcoming Unplugged album.
During the same month, Tammy appeared as a special guest along with Whitney Houston, Luciano Pavarotti, Elton John, Branford Marsalis, James Taylor and Aaron Neville at Sting's annual Rainforest Foundation Benefit at Carnegie Hall. The affection afforded Tammy by her peers and fans was illustrated by Rolling Stone Magazine's conclusion that "Tammy received the night's most thunderous applause" and James Taylor's public remarks that it was "the lifelong dream of all of the
performers to share a stage with Tammy Wynette." She resumed touring this spring and performed a series of summer concerts at the world famous Opryland U.S.A. theme park in Nashville.
Tammy Wynette passed away in her sleep on Monday, April 6, 1998. She will be greatly missed by fans around the world.
If the question were asked "Who forged the genre that is known today as modern country music?", only a tiny group of country immortals could step forward to share the spotlight. One out of that select handful would be Merle Haggard. Merle wasn't in the delivery room on the morning country music was born; it simply seems like he was. And you won't hear anybody refer to him as the father of country music. But many will swear he's at least its godfather. What 'Gray Poupon' has meant to mustard, Haggard has meant to country music. Like Rock'N Roll without Presley and like Sears without Roebuck, country music without Haggard simply isn't.
Few country devotees be they oldtimers or neophytes are unfamiliar with the craggy Haggard mask of a thousand photographs - that countenance that's been etched by time and experience like the granite face of your favorite cliff. And even fewer are those who are unfamiliar with the evocative Haggard delivery that has spawned art entire school of country vocal stylists.
In the ever-expanding array of country music stars, hitmakers and idols, Haggard walks in no man's shadow. Instead he casts a far-reaching shadow of his own. Rare is the country balladeer that has mastered the idiom at so many different levels as has he.
In listening to his uncanny craftsmanship, one quickly recognizes that this is a consummate troubadour who could have carved his niche as either a songwriter, a musician or a singer so gifted was he in all those areas. Instead he chose to expand and hone his talents in many dimensions simultaneously, developing his name as the quintessential country artiste, rural America's Renaissance man, whose caliber will long provide a standard for all country artists who follow.
Haggard's life path has never been easy, nor has much of it been pretty, as aired in his 1981 book, Sing Me Back Home. His childhood years were spent in Bakersfield ,California and the death of his father,when Merle was just nine years old, became the catalyst that led to a squandered youth. At the same time his love for the wandering songs of such as Jimmie Rodgers, lead to an errant passion for the gleaming, endless railroad tracks and the siren song of slow freights and hobo jungles. And, along the way, to numerous brushes with the law.
Unfocused, unruly and unsettled, Merle learned early to walk the mean streets. As a teenager he took on every unskilled job that would have him, from oil field roustabout to hay-pitcher to short order cook. And that was the bright side. He also saw the insides of various penal institutions for crimes ranging from burglary to auto theft and even to escape. Before he had reached the age of 21, and not long after he married his first wife, Leona, he was serving time in the notorious San Quentin Penitentiary, thanks to a bungled attempt at burglarizing a tavern. But the three stretch within those gray and desolate walls including a stint in solitary confinement (for making home brew) became the experience that finally changed his perspective and the spark that turned his head around. He abruptly assumed the role of a model prisoner and was paroled in 1960. (Over a decade later in 1972, California's governor Ronald Reagan granted him a full pardon).
By the time he regained his freedom, he and Leona had four children but the marriage had already fallen apart. But better times loomed just around the corner.Post-prison life, a typical tale of scratching out a meager survival also became the beginning of his untypical musical career. Although he had made his stage debut at 15 sitting in on a Lefty Frizzell performance, it wasn't until after San Quentin that Merle joined a band as rhythm bass guitarist and began to sing in the clubs and the dives of the infamous "beer can hill" area of Bakersfield.
In one brief stretch his life took a major turnaround. He was signed by Tally Records, owned by close friend Levis Tally, and began cutting singles in a garage behind Tally's house. His first single was 'Singing My Heart Out' which received some regional airplay on the West coast but it was in 1963 that he eventually broke into the top twenty of Billboard's country charts with his first national hit 'Sing a Sad Song'.
Since then the country charts have been his second home. His next few singles - '(All My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers' , 'Swinging Doors' and 'The Bottle Let Me Down' - all landed within the Top 10. Meanwhile in the midst of this exciting period he married Bonnie Owens who also recorded for Tally and his contract was sold to Capitol Records. And his career was ready to soar to rarefied heights. In 1966 he entered the Number One spot for the first time with 'I'm a Lonesome Fugitive' and he won his first Top Male Vocalist of the Year award from the Academy of Country music.
With a perfectionist's attention to detail he painstakingly pieced together his new band, The Strangers. His diligence in that area as in many others has not gone unrewarded. The Strangers since have become known as one of country music's finest road bands and they themselves have been the recipients of a number of industry accolades, including being six-time winners of the Academy of Country Music's Touring Band of the Year Award, as well as a pair of Music City News awards for Band of the Year. They have also recorded several albums on their own.
In '68 the label released 'The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde' which, not unexpectedly, soared to Number One on all the trade charts. What was unexpected however, was the audience reaction to the B side: With absolutely no promotion or marketing input from the label, the side entered both the Cash Box and Record World charts and climbed to#23(Cash Box).That song,'Today I Started Loving You Again' went on to become one of the most important and lucrative songs of his career.
(Other of his famed B sides, including such as 'Silver Wings'(the flip of 'Working Mans Blues') also became a strong audience pleaser, testifying to the impact of his casual and seemingly effortless craftsmanship). And in 1969 with an assist from then band member Eddie Burris, he ventured into the arena of social commentary, voicing his feelings in 'Okie From Muskogee' the song that was to have the most dramatic impact on his career. Released during the height of national conflict over the Viet Nam war it was also to be his most controversial (And another #1 record for Hag).
At the end of the 70's after over a decade with Capitol Records and of marriage to wife Bonnie both associations came to an end. In 1977 Haggard signed with MCA Records and continued his long-term lease on the # I position with a string of chart-topping, singles, including 'Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink' and 'Rainbow Stew'. A year after signing with MCA his marriage with Bonnie was dissolved. (True to quizzical nature of his character, the two still remain friends, and Bonnie continues to sing and tour with Merle.) Immediately after his divorce from Bonnie, he married his third wife, Leona Williams also a recording artist. Eventually Merle departed his longtime home area of Bakersfield and relocated to his current home a 150 acre spread on Lake Shasta.
In 1981 he signed with Epic Records adding more #1 plaques to his wall including 'Yesterday's Wine' the title single culled from his powerful album duet with country music Titan George Jones. That same year he released a landmark album with another legendary country singer-songwriter (and longtime friend) Willie Nelson now a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. The title cut from that album'Pancho and Lefty' was a Number One record for Merle.
In the mid-80's he and Leona were divorced and his later marriage to Debbie Parret also ended in divorce. Merle eventually married Theresa Ann Lane his current wife and the pair have two children, Janessa and Bennie.
Merle signed with Curb Records in 1990 and his first album for the label was 'Blue Jungle'. His latest album is 'Merle Haggard 1994' in which he once again displays the panoramic range of his classic songwriting skills. It's not the Haggard of old of course, it's an aged-in-the-wood Hag, seasoned by the perspectives of one who's seen just about every path that life has to offer and has lived to write about it.
In 'I Am An Island' he paints the picture of that lethargic, lonesome depression so well known to the rejected lover who chooses solitude to nurse his pain. 'Valentine is as sweet and direct a love song as Haggard has ever put to vinyl, simply sung and simply produced, while 'Troubadour' is an obviously autobiographical tale (except for the line 'I've always been a minor leaguer') that offers a peephole into the life of the traveling musician.
No Haggard album would be complete without a paean or two for the harried working man and this one is no exception as he expresses a laborer's desire for isolation and withdrawal from the rat-race and his fantasy of moving 'Way Back in The Mountains'. Highlighting the LP and standing out as one of its most powerful offerings is the first single 'In My next Life' in which Merle's affinity for the working man once more comes to the fore. The continuing tragedy of the American farmer sets the scene for this tale of disappointment and failure, undying love and commitment crafted with the compassion that has become a Haggard trademark.
As a singer Merle openly admits to 'borrowing' the stylings of his idols Lefty Frizzell and Bob Wills and Jimmie Rodgers, in his early years, and speaks of such beyond-the-genre influences upon his music as Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. Still, it's his own charismatic individuality, along with those rich vocal textures that so well express the heart and soul of Haggard that has always come shining through, In addition to his vocal performance he has also spent a great deal of time perfecting his instrumental skills. Over the years he has also developed into a remarkable lead guitarist as well as a proficient fiddle player, both skills being woven into the fabric of his live performances.
What he has added to the archives of country music as a songwriter, however, will live on far beyond the prestigious accomplishments of the flesh-and-bones performer. In terms of style and material he has brought a dimension of lyrical depth and musical sophistication to country music that was heretofore unavailable. While the bulk of country song material of his time was dealing with the pangs of lost, found or unrequited love, Haggard was digging deep within his own emotional background and setting his dark and somber experience to music. Over the years Merle has become accepted as the bard of uncommon poems of the common working man, anthems born with dirt under their fingernails.
His early years of pain and tribulation provided him with infinite raw material to be spun into the rich imagery that is now indelibly imprinted on the idiom. His days outside the law were woven into 'Lonesome Fugitive', 'Sing Me Back Home' and "Branded Man'; his understanding of his mother's torment led to 'Mama Tried' and 'Hungry Eyes' while his affinity for the hourly laborer produced such as 'Workin' Man's Blues' and '5:01 Blues'.
Integrally related to all his writing and performing skills is Merle's dedication and passion for researching the history of the music that inspires him. His deep love for the roots and the development of numerous forms of music is reflected in such album releases as:
Singer, songwriter, remarkable musician, bandleader and historian Haggard may well be the most well-rounded country talent ever to take the stage in front of a microphone or an audience. Over his career, his has been the pulse of an ever-lonesome fugitive in desperate flight from the prison walls of mediocrity. His has been the voice of the Okie with an attitude fueled by a well-stoked fire of unflinching convictions and bone-deep beliefs. In his music he has hung his soul out on the line, baring himself in those songs clawed out of the soil and bonded together with grit and spit. As a result that music not only resounds in such typical entertainment channels as radio, records and concert dates but has been also been integrated into the university classroom setting where students examine the sociological imp- locations of his works.
His accomplishments would lead some to sum him up with a catch-all cliche like "legend", but legends are about the past, about those who are about to be swept off into some dusty corner record bin somewhere. Haggard can't be pinpointed in the past. And he won't be found rockin' and whittlin with a shoebox full of yesterday's memories. His music speaks to country audiences today while his mind and talents flirt with a new millennium. Merle Haggard's not just a legend with a P.0. Box in once-upon-a-time, he's a permanent condition of country Music's Soul.
Patsy Cline definitely charted new territories when she entered the country music scene.
Patsy danced into the entertainment world at age four, winning a tap dance contest in her hometown. As a youngster, she started singing on street corners, at churches and benefits-and a gift of a piano when she was eight sealed her destiny as an entertainer.
When her father left her mother, she quit school to clerk in a drugstore to help support the family but continued to sing wherever she could, including with name acts who performed in Winchester. It was Wally Fowler, who along with his Oak Ridge Quartet performed regularly with Roy Acuff's Nashville radio show, who convinced Patsy, then 15, to go to Nashville to audition for the Grand Ole Opry. Despite a job offer from Acuff, Patsy's money ran out, forcing her to return to Virginia where she resumed clerking and singing locally. During this period, in 1953, Patsy married Gerold Cline: the marriage lasted three years.
Patsy's style-pure country influenced greatly by pop artists Kay Starr and Patti Page-was too good to remain local talent forever. She began touring with Opry stars Faron Young and Ferlin Husky, appeared on the Grand Ole Opry, and-upon signing a recording contract with Four Star Records-released her first record, "A Church, a Courtroom and Then Good-Bye" in 1955.
But it wasn't until January 21, 1957, when Patsy appeared on the nationally televised Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, singing a song she didn't want to sing, that she became the proverbial overnight success. The song, of course, was "Walkin' After Midnight," and after Patsy's rendition literally froze the applause meter, bringing the audience to its feet, Decca Records, Four Star's distributor, signed her and heavily promoted her.
"Walkin' After Midnight" was her first song to hit the charts (country Number Three, pop number 12). Despite a couple of follow-ups, she retired shortly afterwards when she married her second husband, Charlie Dick, on September 15, 1957. Charlie and Patsy had two children, Julia and Randy, and for a couple of years, she was a happy housewife. In 1959, however, the bug bit here again, and she and the family moved to Nashville where, on January 9, 1960, Patsy became a member of the Grand Ole Opry.
After signing a new contract with Decca, Patsy released her first Number One record, "I Fall To Pieces." Seven more hits followed-"Sweet Dreams," "Crazy," "She's Got You," "Faded Love," "Leavin' On Your Mind," "South of the Border" and "You Made Me Love You." The sessions that produced these hits were directed by Owen Bradley, whose name has become inextricably linked with hers, and who was responsible for helping her develop her instinctive talent for the Nashville Sound, more commercially viable in those years than twangy country.
"Crazy," written by Willie Nelson and considered one of Patsy's most famous songs, was recorded in 1961 while she was recuperating from a serious car accident that hospitalized her for over a month. It was two years later, on March 5, 1963, that Patsy was killed in another accident, when the plane in which she was returning to Nashville following a benefit concert in Kansas City crashed near Camden, Tennessee. Killed with her were Hawkshaw Hawkins, Cowboy Copas and Cline's manager, Randy Hughes.
In 1973, 20 years after her death, Patsy was the first women elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame as a solo act. And more than 30 years after that fateful crash, Patsy's versions of "Crazy" and "I Fall To Pieces" still stand as benchmarks for a heartfelt country-pop song.
As of 1993, no fewer that 27 different re-issues of compilations of her music were in print on CD; her records still outsell many contemporary hit-makers. More than 30 years after her death, her influence on country music remains immense, and her vocal talents stand as a benchmark against which those have come since are sooner or later measured.
Deep in the timbre of a George Jones song, you can hear the soul of country music. The absolute purity of Jones's vocals assures that his style will never go out of fashion.
Jones is a Country Music Association male vocalist of the year representing a range of two decades---he won in 1962 and 1963, when the award was still voted on by country disc jockeys, and in 1980 and 1981. He sings from the most cobwebbed corners of his heart. His textured voice reveals tension, with authoritative range running like a railroad train between honky-tonk and sorrow.
Jones's trademark is his playful country flutter. he downcasts vocal lines for drama before immediately climbing the scale. This is what emphasizes tension in his 1986 classic, "Wine-colored Roses."
Jones was born on September 12, 1931, in rural Saratoga, Texas. "I never played guitar until church, although when I was very young, I sung around the house," Jones told the Chicago Sun-Times in a rare 1988 interview. "My Sunday school teacher taught me my first chords on a guitar. I would go with Sister Annie and Brother Berle Stevens into this little town called Kuntz, Texas. Every Saturday afternoon, we'd sit inside the car with loud speakers on the outside. Sister Annie would play guitar and I'd sing harmony with her or she'd sing harmony with me."
His mother, Clare Jones, was very religious and played organ and piano in church. His father, George Washington Jones, was a hard-living truck driver and pipe fitter. On the side, he played a little "square dancin' guitar," as Jones puts it. Clara was a Pentecostal who often shielded young George and his six brothers from the fallout of their father's drinking binges.
As a youngster, Jones listened to the Grand Old Opry on KRIC in Beaumont, Texas. Hank Williams, Sr., came to town in 1949 to play live on KRIC. Williams sang "Wedding Bells" with Eddie and Pearl, the husband-and-wife house band that featured an excitable 19-year-old George Jones on electric guitar. Jones was so hyper about playing behind Williams that her never hit a note.
"Hank sat and talked with us like he knew us his whole life," Jones told the Sun-Times. "I worshipped him. His style was all in the feeling. He could sing anything and it would make you sad, but an up-tempo thing could make you happy."
And Jones's early recordings were happy. In 1953, the year Jones was discharged from the U.S. Marines, he signed with the Houston-based Starday lable, for whom her recorded hits such as "Why Baby Why" and "Uh Uh No." But what followed were raw rockabilly singles, such as "Rock It" and his own version of "Heartbreak Hotel" (recorded under the pseudonym Thumper Jones to avoid upsetting traditional country fans). In fact, Jones's first number one record , "White Lightning" (on Mercury Records), was written by rockabilly star J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson in 1959.
"I feel bad about it nowadays," Jones said in 1988. "I feel bad because I love country music so much. I tried to buy up all the old Starday masters so people couldn't hear them anymore. It was such a bad sound."
George Jones with Glenda Paradee of Thanks for the Music
After several years with Mercury, Jones moved to United Artists Records and had Top 10 hits like 1962's "She Thinks I Still Care," 1963's "We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds" ( a duet with Melba Montgomery), and a 1964 pop crossover with "The Race Is On." In the 1970s Jones sang with artists as diverse as Johnny Paycheck, James Taylor, Ray Charles, and of course his ex-wife, Tammy Wynette.
One can chronicle the turbulent Jones-Wynette marriage through the high-strung hit singles they had as a duet: 1972's "Take Me," 1973's "Let's Build a World Together," and 1980's "Two Story House." Jones and Wynette became the parents of a daughter, Georgette. In 1975 Wynette divorced Jones after seven years of marriage.
Unfortunately, Jones acquired his father's taste for alcohol. After missing 54 concerts, he earned the nickname of "No-Show Jones." He filed for bankruptcy in 1979 and checked himself into a hospital. He attempted to dry out again in 1982, but in 1983 he was arrested in Mississippi for cocaine possession and public intoxication. The next day he flipped his car and nearly killed himself. His weight had dropped from 160 to 105 pounds. Texas singer-songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard tried to sing some sense into Jones by writing the song, "George, Put Down That Drink."
The terminally shy Jones credits much of his survival to his fourth wife, Nancy Sepulveda Jones, whom he married in 1983. The Louisiana native met Jones in 1980 at a Jones concert in upstate New York. Jones has been sober since 1986.
In March 1983 Nancy and George Jones left Nashville to open "Jones Country Music Park" near Beaumont. "It saved my life and everything else," Jones said in a 1991 biography for MCA Records. In 1988 Jones was ready to put his full effort back into recording and he sold the park and moved back to Nashville.
"You've done this for so many years, you just enjoy being out there in front of those people," he said in his record company biography. "As long as they like me, I'll do it 'til I die."
Born: September 12, 1931; Saratoga, Texas
First hit: "Why Baby Why" (1955)
Other notable hits: "White Lightning" (1959), "She Thinks I Still Care" (1962), "We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds" (with Melba Montgomery, 1963), "The Race Is On" (1964), "Take Me" (with Tammy Wynette, 1972), "Bartender's Blues" (1978), "He Stopped Loving Her Today" (1980), "I Don't Need No Rockin Chair".
Awards and achievements: Country Music Association (CMA) Male Vocalist of the Year (1962, 1963, 1980, 1981); Grammy, Best Country vocal Performance, Male (1980); CMA Single of the Year (1980); CMA Music Video of the Year (1986), plus more.
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