Country Music History – Essential Releases of 1961, Part I
Cajun brothers, a masked man, shark bait.
1. “Cozy Inn,” Leon McAuliffe. Leon McAuliffe joined The Texas Playboys in 1935, leaving the band during the World War II era. Of course, Bob Wills is addressing McAuliffe when he says, “Kick it off, Leon” on the beginning of the Western swing standard “Steel Guitar Rag.” McAuliffe settled in Rogers, Arkansas in the 1950s, owning a radio station and performing local gigs. He returned to the country charts in 1961 with “Cozy Inn,” a Harlan Howard composition that has a rocking honky tonk swing beat, the pianist sounds much more like Johnnie Johnson than Floyd Cramer. This #16 country hit is populated with characters like Big Mamou, Skinhaired Pete, Freeloadin’ Sam, and Guitar Slim. McAuliffe had a few more minor hits in the 1960s and funded a music program in Claremore, Oklahoma later in his life. During the 1980s, a young Junior Brown taught guitar lessons out of McAuliffe’s recording studio.
2. “Diggy Liggy Lo,” Rusty and Doug. Cajun music was always treated like a novelty sub-genre in commercial country music, somewhat like the midgets on a wrestling card. Louisiana natives Rusty and Doug Kershaw grew up immersed in Cajun culture, it was all they knew, and started performing as teenagers, originally singing in French. Rusty and Doug scored three country hits in the 1950s, but the act when on hiatus when they both enlisted in 1958. “Diggy Liggo Lo” was penned by famed/infamous swamp pop producer Jay Miller (Miller both produced Slim Harpo’s “I’m a King Bee” and horribly racist material from Johnny Rebel). The Cajun meets Western swing “Diggy Liggo Lo” reached #14 on the country charts.
3. “Everything But You,” Willie Nelson. Mississippi native Hank Cochran came from a broken home and was orphaned repeatedly in his youth. He made his way to Nashville in 1960, where he would become a minor recording artist and a Country Music Hall of Fame songwriter. His credits include “I Fall to Pieces,” “A Little Bitty Tear,” “She’s Got You,” “Make the World Go Away,” “The Chair,” “Ocean Front Property” – you get the idea. Willie Nelson’s 1978 album release “Face of a Fighter” was a compilation of 1961 material, including this Nelson/Cochran composition. Nelson boasts of his automobile, money, and social life on “Everything But You.” You know what’s missing.
4. “Foolin’ Around,” Buck Owens. It’s hard to imagine that songwriter Harlan Howard was a household name in 1961, but he still inspired the album “Buck Owens Sings Harlan Howard.” Buck covered already major hits by others including “Heartaches by the Number” and “Pick Me Up on Your Way Down,” then scored a #2 hit with the when you’re done cheating on me, cheat with me “Foolin’ Around.” Buck scored another #2 single that year with “Under the Influence,” another number written with Harlan Howard, but from a previous album.
5. “Funny How Time Slips Away,” Billy Walker. Before he was The Tall Texan, Billy Walker worked in disguise, billed as The Traveling Texan, the Masked Singer of Country Songs. The Texas Panhandle native signed with Columbia Records in 1951 and scored a #8 hit in 1954 with “Thank You for Calling.” Willie Nelson reportedly wrote “Crazy,” “Night Life,” and “Funny How Time Slips Away” during a two week period of time, primarily composing the songs in his head as he travelled between Houston clubs. This lost love classic only went to #23 for Walker, but was a pop hit for Jimmy Elledge in 1961 and a #1 R&B hit for Joe Hinton in 1964. It’s also been cut by Elvis, Frank Sinatra, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, The Spinners, Dorothy Moore, and a host of others. Walker had nine Top Five county hits from 1962 to 1972 including the #1 single “Charlie’s Shoes” in 1962 and “Cross the Brazos at Waco” in 1964. He was still an active performer when he died in a car wreck in 2006.
6. “Heartbreak U.S.A.,” Kitty Wells. Harlan Howard penned thirteen Top 40 country hits in 1961, including “Heartbreak U.S.A.,” the final #1 single for Kitty Wells. Instead of moralizing, Kitty is missing her overseas man and worrying about his possible interactions with Geisha girls and Frauleins. Kitty scored eleven Top Ten hits during the 1960s, but her star faded late in the decade. Kitty performed until the year 2000 and The Queen of Finger Wagging Country Music passed away in 2012. She definitely had her niche – nobody else could have posed the question, “Will Your Lawyer Talk to God.”
7. “Hello Walls,” Faron Young. The Nashville studio musicians who performed “Hello Walls” were less than impressed with this Willie Nelson composition, joking in the studio “Hello, Chair” and “Hello, Couch.” Young knew the record would be a hit and even refused to buy the song from Nelson, giving him a loan instead. It took Nelson ten minutes to write this loneliness shuffle, which spent nine weeks at #1 on the country charts and crossed over to #12 on the pop charts. Over two decades later, Nelson paid off the loan to Young, by giving him a 3,000 pure bred simmental bull. Longtime Nashville disc jockey/television host Ralph Emory had his only hit single with the answer song “Hello Fool,” where the walls voice their perspective.
8. “I Fall to Pieces,” Patsy Cline. Harlan Howard, who co-wrote “I Fall to Pieces” with Hank Cochran, “On the night of the session, we absolutely did NOT want to do the standard 4:4 shuffle that had by then been done to death. We were trying all kinds of other (basic rhythm) combinations, but they all just laid there and bled all over the floor. So, it had to be the shuffle then, like it or not. But the amazing thing was, once Patsy got into the groove, she just caressed those lyrics and that melody so tenderly that it was just like satin. We knew we had magic in the can when, on the fourth take, every grown man in that studio was bawling like a baby and Bradley said `That’s the one’.” This #1 country hit/#12 pop effort was only Cline’s second charting single and this was where she found her calling, as one of the world’s most gifted torch song artists.
9. “Louisiana Man,” Rusty and Doug. “Louisiana Man” was the biggest hit for Kershaw Rusty and Doug, peaking at #10 on the country charts. A tale of a swamper making his living from fishing lines and river critters, it was a song that reflected Kershaw’s southwest Louisiana roots. “Louisiana Man” was blasted from space by the Apollo 12 astronauts and has been covered, not kidding, approximately 800 times.
Brothers Rusty and Doug stopped performing together in 1964. Doug released solo albums from 1969 to 1981, only hitting the Top 40 with the decidedly un-Cajun flavored “Hello Woman” in 1981. Wild eyed southern boys can’t be tamed for the middle of the road.
10. “Mental Cruelty,” Buck Owens and Rose Maddox. Larry and Dixie Davis were a California rockabilly duo/husband and wife team who released songs with titles like “Shark Bait” and performed the original version of “Mental Cruelty.” Dixie looked like a spiritual mother of Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson, who also worried about water creatures. Owens scored two hits with Maddox, the biggest being this divorce number and they charted again with 1963’s “We’re the Talk of the Town.” Buck is having a difficult time realizing how easy it was to get a divorce in 1961. The justification seemed all too simple.