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Country Music History – Essential Recordings from 1949

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Hank Williams skyrocketed to stardom in 1949, while Floyd Tillman brought the cheating theme to the top of the country charts. Frankie Laine wasn’t a country identified artist, but he knew how to crack a whip.

1. “Blues Stay Away from Me,” Delmore Brothers. “Blues Stay Away from Me” was penned by the Delmore Brothers with assistance from King Records session pianist Henry Glover. The guitar riff is a clearer version of what Leadbelly played on “Mr. Hitler,” who unsurprisingly did not receive a writing credit. The minimalist simplicity of the Delmore Brothers’ signature song helped it transition into the world of rock ‘n’ roll with cover versions by The Band, Johnny Burnette & The Rock ‘N’ Roll Trio, and the Everly Brothers.

2. “Don’t Be Ashamed of Your Age,” Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. Although Tommy Duncan had left the fold, Bob Wills and MGM Records were still releasing material with Duncan on lead vocals in 1949. “Don’t Be Ashamed of Your Age” was composed by Wills and Cindy Walker as a salute to an aging rounder (“You’ve lost more girls than they’ve ever had”). Not a hit for Wills, Red Foley and Ernest Tubb scored a Top Ten hit with their 1950 honky tonk style cover, reflecting that time was running out for mainstream Western swing.

3. “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys. Flatt and Scruggs left the employment of Bill Monroe in 1948 and quickly formed their own unit with the Foggy Mountain Boys. This instrumental number is a showcase for Earl Scruggs and his fast paced picking style that would transform bluegrass music. “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” received new life after being included in the 1967 film “Bonnie and Clyde” and Scruggs won a Grammy award for a 2001 performance of the song from “The Late Show with David Letterman,” where he received musical support from an all-star cast that included Vince Gill, Steve Martin, Albert Lee, Jerry Douglas, and Marty Stuart.

4. “I Love You Because,” Leon Payne. Leon Payne was a blind multi-instrumentalist who performed with Bob Wills in 1938 and started his recording career in 1939. “I Love You Because” is an Ernest Tubb style song (methodically paced honky tonk with no irony or wordplay) that went Top Five for Leon. It was later covered by Tubb, Elvis Presley, Al Martino, and Jim Reeves. Payne would have more traction as a songwriter than performer with covers by Hank Williams (“Lost Highway,” “They’ll Never Take Her Love from Me”), George Morgan (“Cry-Baby Heart”), Eddy Arnold (“Call Her Your Sweetheart”) and Hank Snow (“For Now and Always”).

5. “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” Hank Williams. 1949 was the year that Hank Williams became a major star in country music, hitting the Top Five with “Lovesick Blues” (#1), “Wedding Bells” (#2), “Mind Your Own Business” (#5), “You’re Gonna Change (Or I’m Gonna Leave)” (#4), and “My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It” (#2), as well as “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” (#2), originally released as a b-side. Musically and lyrically, Hank paints a picture of complete and utter bleakness – a world so deprived of hope that death might by the only escape. Elvis once stated it was “probably the saddest song I’ve ever heard.” I’m right there with ya, Kingfish.

6. “Little Maggie,” The Stanley Brothers. This entry should have been on the 1948 list, but sounds much older than that. Brothers Carter and Ralph Stanley were Virginia natives who formed their band, the Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys, after World War II. Heavily influenced by Bill Monroe, the Stanley Brothers paired a bluegrass instrumentation sound with Appalachian music. “Little Maggie” comes from the traditional white blues ballad form, chronicling alcohol abuse and unrequited love. Bob Dylan covered “Little Maggie” on his 1992 album of folk songs titled “Good As I Been to You.”

7. “Lost Highway,” Hank Williams. It is ironic that “Lost Highway” is so closely associated with Hank Williams, a song that somewhat defines his persona, perhaps due to its subject matter of sin and condemnation. “Lost Highway” was penned by Leon Payne, who released it in 1948, after being stranded while hitchhiking from California to Texas. Not a major hit upon its release, this theme of a rolling stone living a life of decadence has been a key to Hank’s crossover appeal, having been covered by rockers such as Jason & the Scorchers, The Mekons, and The Replacements.

8. “Mind Your Own Business,” Hank Williams. Hank Williams had a way of deflecting serious issues with pointed humor. On “Mind Your Own Business,” he acknowledges the tempestuous nature of his marriage and his own predilection for, as Judas Priest might say, living after midnight. A timeless sentiment, Hank Williams, Jr. scored a #1 single on 1986 with his cornpone comedy take that included Reba McEntire, Tom Petty, Reverend Ike and Willie Nelson.

9. “Mule Train,” Frankie Laine. Frankie Laine wasn’t a country identified artist – he came from the school of big band jazz/adult contemporary music and became a major pop star in the late 1940s. “Mule Train” is credited to a team of writers, many of whom wrote for Hollywood and vaudeville. The whip cracking, clippity clopping tune was a #1 pop hit for Frankie Laine and a #1 country single for Tennessee Ernie Ford. Frankie Laine would return to Western themes in the late 1950s with “Rawhide.”

10. “Slippin’ Around,” Floyd Tillman. Texas native Floyd Tillman worked through the Western swing scene in the late 1930s and 1940s, collaborating with Adolph Hofner, Leon “Pappy” Self, Cliff Bruner, and Ted Daffan. He scored a #1 hit in 1944 with “They Took the Stars Out of Heaven” and hit #2 in 1946 with the original version of “Drivin’ Nails in My Coffin.” He created a sensation in 1949 with “Slippin’ Around,” one of the first cheating songs in country music. His boozy vocal resulted in a #5 hit, but two different versions topped the charts, one by Ernest Tubb and another with a strange bouncy ballpark organ arrangement by Margaret Whiting and Jimmy Wakely. Tillman quickly followed up on the theme with “I’ll Never Slip Around Again” and in 1950 Bud Messner went to #7 with “Slippin’ Around with Jole Blon.”

11. “Tennessee Saturday Night,” Red Foley and the Cumberland Valley Boys. Blue Lick, Kentucky native Clyde Julian “Red” Foley worked in radio during the 1930s and also co-wrote the dead dog weeper “Old Shep” in 1933. He became a major radio star during World War II, singing love songs and patriotic material. “Tennessee Saturday Night” was his 14th Top Five hit and his third #1 single. Foley wasn’t a natural for swing oriented material, but moonshine, romance, and packing heat have always been native to the genre.

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