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Country Music History – Essential Recordings of 1950, Part I

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In our first part of our look at 1950, we get a post statutory rape prison cell composition that went to #1, Hank Williams goes all Slim Shady on his wife, and Earl Scruggs loses a banjo contest.

1. “Birmingham Bounce,” Hardrock Gunter and the Golden River Boys. Sidney Louis Gunter, Jr. got the nickname “Hardrock” not as a description of his music or attitude – after a car trunk landed on his noggin and he felt no significant pain, it was determined that his head was as hard as a rock. He never scored any hits on his own, but “Birmingham Bounce” is an early slice of rockabilly, which would have been labelled as “rock ‘n’ roll” had it been released five years later. (His 1950 release “Gonna Dance All Night” even includes the phrase “we’re gonna rock ‘n’ roll”). Red Foley took “Birmingham Bounce to #1 on the country charts. Hardrock recorded a few singles for Sun Records in the 1950s and left the music business to become an insurance agent in the 1960s. He returned to performing in the mid-1990s and passed away in 2013.

2. “Bloodshot Eyes,” Hank Penny. Hank Penny had no sympathy for his hard living ex on this 1950 Top Five country hit, noting that her “eyes look like two cherries in a glass of buttermilk.” Musically, it sounds somewhat like the Hoosier Hot Shots performing Western swing. Wynonie Harris took “Bloodshot Eyes” into the world of R&B/jump blues with his 1951 cover. (Note: both Hank Penny and Wynonie Harris recorded for Syd Nathan, the owner of King Records, who owned the publishing on this song. Consider the Wynonie Harris cover, as fine as it is, more of a business move than a tribute). This was Penny’s last chart success – he started a seven year run in Vegas in 1954 and served as a mentor to a young guitarist named Roy Clark.

3. “Chattanooga Shoe Shine Boy,” Red Foley. Another interesting record that highlights the intersection of music and business in Nashville. Fred Rose penned the rag popping, jazz influenced number that was a #1 single for Red Foley and crossed into the pop charts with versions by Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Phil Harris. The writing credits were given to two executives at Nashville’s powerful WSM radio station – Jack Stapp and Harry Stone. (It is believed that Rose may have given up the songwriting credit in exchange for Hank Williams being signed to the Grand Ole Opry). Jack Stapp later founded Tree Publishing Company, which became quite lucrative and was sold to Sony for $40 million in 1989.

4. “Faded Love,” Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. The title of “Faded Love” becomes more appropriate with the realization that it was the last Top Ten hit during the glory era of the Texas Playboys. The composition was a family affair with music provided by Bob, his father John, who had been a state champion fiddle player in Texas, and lyrics from youngest brother Billy Jack Wills. It was the only major hit the band had without Tommy Duncan on lead vocals, Rusty McDonald sang the melancholy, lost love lyrics. “Faded Love” was a #8 hit for Wills and a #7 single for Patsy Cline in 1963. The melody, probably taken from an 1856 ballad titled “Darling Nelly Gray,” resonated with the Wills family for years. Bob’s daughter Lorene, “When Papa was worried or could not sleep, he would play it.”

5. “The Golden Rocket,” Hank Snow. On this upbeat acoustic guitar based #1 single, Hank Snow isn’t too worried about his failed romance, he knows the train named “The Golden Rocket” will roll his blues away. The first instrumental break features the type of guitar sound that Johnny Cash would popularize for several succeeding decades.

6. “Heaven’s Radio,” Molly O’Day and the Cumberland Mountain Folks. “Heaven’s Radio” was the kind of Appalachian gospel song that was no longer in vogue in 1950, although O’Day did receive a record contract with Columbia brokered by Fred Rose. Molly O’Day (whose real name was LaVerne Williamson) wasn’t kidding about the theme – she married guitarist Lynn Davis and they would spend years working the West Virginia gospel circuit and preaching in coal mining communities. Despite her lack of sales, she made an impact on a few legends – Dolly Parton named her as a major influence and she once bested Earl Scruggs in a Kentucky banjo picking contest.

7. “I Just Don’t Like This Kind of Living,” Hank Williams. Hank Williams takes full advantage of his public microphone on this nasty takedown of wife, Audrey (“Why don’t you act a little older/And get that chip off of your shoulder”). Tired of her “evil heart,” Hank contemplates the single life. Biographer Colin Escott , “Audrey’s thoughts can only be guessed at as she heard the substance of their domestic disputes on the radio, particularly as only one side ever got aired.”

8. “I Love You A Thousand Ways,” Lefty Frizzell. Lefty Frizzell was born in Corsicana, Texas, which is home to a fine museum in his honor today, and grew up in El Dorado, Arkansas. Busted for statutory rape in 1947, he penned “I Love You a Thousand Ways” as a poem to his wife from a Roswell, New Mexico jail cell. He was signed to Columbia Records in 1950 and had immediate success, both “I Love You a Thousand Ways and the next entry were #1 singles.

9. “If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time,” Lefty Frizzell. Lefty’s first single and his signature tune, this vocal and lyric display an upbeat mood and a love for the honky tonk lifestyle. Hank Williams took immediate notice, telling Lefty, “It’s good to have a little competition. Makes me realize that I’ve got to work harder than ever, and, boy, you’re the best competition I’ve ever had.” Wille Nelson would return “If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time” to #1 on the country charts in 1976.

10. “I’ll Sail My Ship Alone,” Moon Mullican. Moon Mullican wasn’t a consistent hit maker, after “Sweeter Than Flowers” peaked at #3 in early 1948, he released fourteen singles that didn’t touch the country charts. He had his biggest success with the 1950 #1 single “I’ll Sail My Ship Alone,” a nautical themed look at lost love. It’s a pretty disciplined performance for Moon, who once stated, “We gotta play music that’ll make them goddamn beer bottles bounce on the table.” A few notable artists have covered “I’ll Sail My Ship Alone,” including Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Jerry Lee Lewis, Leon Russell, and Ray Price.

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