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Country Music History – Essential Recordings of 1958, Part II

conway-twitty1

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Conway Twitty.

 

  1. “Invitation to the Blues,” Ray Price.  Roger Miller grew up in rural Oklahoma, raised in poverty by extended family members, and was given a fiddle by his brother-in-law, Sheb Wooley of “The Purple People Eater” fame, when he was 11 years old.  He met Faron Young while both men were serving in the Army and became a songwriter after leaving the service.  Miller penned three Top Ten country hits in 1958 – Faron Young’s “That’s the Way I Feel,” Jim Reeves’ “Billy Bayou,” and “Invitation to the Blues” for Ray Price.  (Miller worked as one of Price’s Cherokee Cowboys during this timeframe).  The b-side to “City Lights,” this heartbreak shuffle resulted in a #3 country hit for Price.  Price was working a formula, but it was one that he created and it was effective for decades.

 

  1. “It’s Only Make Believe,” Conway Twitty.  Harold Lloyd Jenkins, who was raised in Mississippi and Helena, Arkansas, joined his first musical group when he was ten years old.  His first love was baseball, but being drafted into the military kept him from signing a contract with the Philadelphia Phillies.  He worked at Sun Studios for a short time, then rechristened himself as Conway Twitty when he became a recording artist.  Twitty was marketed to the pop audience during the late ‘50s/early ‘60s and had a #1 pop hit with “It’s Only Make Believe,” one of the best Elvis simulations ever recorded.  Following this doo wop teen angst number, Twitty hit the pop Top Ten twice in 1959.  After a long dry spell during the early 1960s, Twitty reemerged as a mainstream country act in 1966.

 

  1. “Oh Lonesome Me,” Don Gibson.  North Carolina born country artist Don Gibson could have called it quits after writing “Sweet Dreams” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You” early in his career, it would be difficult for anyone to ever match those heights as a songwriter.  Still, Gibson was a successful solo act who charted Top 40 country hits from 1956 to 1979.  He hit the #1 spot on the country charts twice in 1968, with “Blue Blue Day” and “Oh Lonesome Me.”  It’s almost spooky how much Roger Miller would later sound like the Don Gibson vocal on “Oh Lonesome Me,” to include the idiosyncratic phrasing.  Johnny Cash and The Kentucky Headhunters had hit cover versions of “Oh Lonesome Me” and Neil Young turned it into a folkie plaint for his 1970 album/masterpiece “After the Gold Rush.”

 

  1. “Pick Me Up On Your Way Down,” Charlie Walker.  Charlie Walker was the son of a Texas cotton farmer who started his career as a disc jockey while in the service.  He started recording in the early 1950s and hit the country Top Ten in 1956 with “Only You, Only You.”  “Pick Me Up On Your Way Down” was written by Harlan Howard for Kitty Wells, but was restructured by Ray Price and Ernest Tubb for Walker.  This song became the first of 50 Top Ten country singles written or co-written by Howard.  Walker had two more Top Ten hits in the 1960s – “Wild as a Wildcat” and “Don’t Squeeze My Sharmon.” (I promise, I’m not making this stuff up).  Price cut a fine cover of “Pick Me Up On Your Way Down” on the 2007 “Last of the Breed” album, a collaboration with Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard.

 

  1. “Poor Little Fool,” Ricky Nelson.  Ricky Nelson was born into the entertainment business.  Ozzie Nelson, his father, was a big band leader who married vocalist Harriet Hilliard Nelson.  Ozzie developed “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” radio program in 1944 and that show transitioned to television in 1952.  A fan of rockabilly, Nelson landed a recording deal at the age of sixteen and the television series became a vehicle to showcase his musical talent.  He scored pop hits in 1957 with “A Teenager’s Romance,” “I’m Walkin’,” and “Be-Bob Baby.”  “Poor Little Fool,” about a player who got played, was a #1 pop/#3 country hit for Nelson.  Songwriter Sharon Sheeley went on to write hits for Eddie Cochran, Brenda Lee, and The Fleetwoods

 

  1. “Stood Up,” Ricky Nelson.  “Poor Little Fool” wasn’t Nelson’s first crossover Top Ten country hit, that honor goes to the rockabilly outing “Stood Up,” a #2 pop hit.  “Stood Up” was co-written by country artist Dub Dickerson, who also had a credit on Lefty Frizzell’s 1951 #4 hit “Look What Thoughts Will Do.”  Despite releasing material like “I Must’ve Drove My Miles Too Hard” and “Owl Hoot Blues,” Dickerson never charted as a solo artist.  Surprisingly, Nelson never hit the country Top 40 charts again after 1958.

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