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Country Music History – Essential Recordings of 1950, Part II



On this Hank Williams heavy entry, a country song crosses over to become a pop sensation, Bill Monroe honors his uncle, and I proudly insert an Elmer Fudpucker reference.

1. “I’m Moving On,” Hank Snow. Hank Snow was born in Nova Scotia and had a troubled childhood, replete with broken home, poverty, and physical abuse. He was enamored with Jimmie Rodgers and used the nickname “The Cowboy Blue Yodeler” early in his career. After touring Canada, Snow relocated to Nashville in 1945 and began recording for RCA in 1949. “I’m Moving On” was Snow’s second charting single and spent an incredible twenty-one weeks at #1. Like many songs of this era, the narrator happily climbs on a train to leave behind a failed romance. Snow’s seven #1 country singles isn’t a highly impressive number, but those chart toppers spanned from 1950 to 1974.

2. “Long Gone Lonesome Blues,” Hank Williams with His Drifting Cowboys. Writing his own tune to replicate the success of “Lovesick Blues,” Hank Williams takes a comedic look at depression on “Long Gone Lonesome Blues.” His falsetto voice and syllable extending vocals are pure farce while the lyrics contemplate suicide. This was Hank’s second #1 single and a cover of “Long Gone Lonesome Blues” was the first hit for Hank Williams, Jr. in 1964. It was more entertainingly covered by Hollis Champion, who also performed as Elmer Fudpucker, sounding like the Violent Femmes imitating Jerry Lee Lewis.

3. “Moanin’ the Blues,” Hank Williams with His Drifting Cowboys. Merle Haggard, “At first listen, Hank may not sound like a real good singer, but he had a unique method of sincerity. I never heard anything Hank sang that I didn’t believe.” Hank’s authenticity and ability to convey a broad range of emotions made him one of the most accomplished vocalists in country music history. On this #1 single, his confidence and enthusiasm as a singer are at his peak.

4. “Old Salty Dog Blues,” Flatt and Scruggs. “Salty Dog Blues” is a public domain folk song, thought to have originated in the early 1900s. Banjo player Papa Charlie Jackson recorded the first known version in 1924. The song was popularized within country music by a 1938 release from the North Carolina based act The Morris Brothers. The Morris Brothers were smart enough to take a writing credit. Wiley Morris once stated, “We’re making more money off it now on copyright royalties than we ever did on our record. When I get my statement every six months, it’s being played in every nation under the sun. That song is even popular in Japan!” Most of those beloved royalties were generated courtesy of Flatt and Scruggs.

5. “Sugarfoot Rag,” Red Foley. Hank Garland is primarily remembered as one of the most fluid and innovative guitar players to ever come out of Nashville. At the age of eighteen, Garland and Vaughn Horton wrote “Sugarfoot Rag,” which became a million selling instrumental for Garland. Red Foley added lyrics and a fiddle break to take the song to #1 in 1950. The tune has the type of carefree spirit that Peter Stampfel would later display in the Unholy/Holy Modal Rounders. Jerry Reed scored a #12 hit with his cover in 1979, while Junior Brown’s 1995 release is a positively dizzying display of virtuosity.

6. “Tennessee Waltz,” Patti Page. Julius Frank Anthony Kuczynski, better known as Pee Wee King, was born in Wisconsin and started his career performing polkas and country songs. He formed the Golden West Cowboys in the late 1930s and landed a regular gig for his band on the Grand Ole Opry. Inspired by Bill Monroe’s “Kentucky Waltz,” King and his fiddle player Redd Stewart penned the “Tennessee Waltz,” with the ubiquitous Fred Rose contributing the line, “I remember the night and the Tennessee waltz.” Both King and Cowboy Copas scored Top Ten hits with “Tennessee Waltz” in 1948. Pop singer/Oklahoma native Patti Page had the biggest with the heartbreak number, scoring a #1 pop hit and creating a pop culture sensation. Quickly thereafter, Les Paul & Mary Ford, Jo Stafford, The Fontaine Sisters and even Spike Jones, sounding somewhat like The Shaggs on the listenability scale, had Top Twenty cover versions.

7. “Uncle Pen,” Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys. Pendleton “Pen” Diver was a real life uncle of Bill Monroe. He assisted with caretaking after Monroe’s parents passed away, but, more importantly for our context, Diver was a fiddle player who taught Monroe traditional Appalachian music. Biographer Richard Smith has credited Diver with giving Monroe “a sense of rhythm that seeped into his bones.” This ode to a man who could make his fiddle talk and sing was never a hit for Monroe, but was a #1 single for Ricky Skaggs in 1984.

8. “Well Oh Well,” Moon Mullican. Ohio native Myron Carlton “Tiny” Bradshaw was a jazz/R&B bandleader who penned “Well Oh Well” and, more famously “The Train Kept A-Rollin’” in the early 1950s. Bradshaw cut a gospel influenced version of “Well Oh Well” that was a #2 R&B hit. Moon Mullican’s hillbilly boogie version didn’t chart, but may have facilitated his entry into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.

9. “Why Don’t You Love Me,” Hank Williams with His Drifting Cowboys. Another relationship soap opera song highlighting Hank’s artful simplicity. In this one, he concedes that he’s a little bit of trouble. Another #1 single.

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