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Country Music History – Essential Recordings of 1963

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Unwanted corn shuckers, little white pills, Preparation H.

 

  1. “500 Miles Away from Home,” Bobby Bare.  Bobby Bare came from a broken home and had to support himself from the age of 15.  He relocated to Los Angeles in the late 1950s and cut a demo for a song he wrote titled “All American Boy.”  The demo was eventually released under the name of Bill Parsons, but it was Bare’s vocals on the 1959 #2 Elvis inspired pop hit.  After a stint in the military, Bare decided to focus on the country market, first charting with the 1962 #18 hit “Shame on Me.”  Georgia born folksinger Hedy West is credited with writing “500 Miles from Home,” although it was most likely a combination of traditional folk songs.  This tale of a weary traveler became a 1960’s standard, recorded by the Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul and Mary, and Sonny & Cher.  Bare had the best known version with this #5 country/#10 pop hit.

 

  1. “Act Naturally,” Buck Owens.  Johnny Russell would become a country star in the 1970s, best remembered for his 1973 #4 hit “Rednecks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer,” but he was an unknown Fresno songwriter in 1961.  He penned “Act Naturally” after skipping a date to attend a recording session, but it took two years before it was recorded.  Buckaroo guitarist Don Rich was originally more enthusiastic about the starry-eyed song than Buck Owens, the latter gentlemen probably appreciated it more when it became his first #1 country single.  “Act Naturally” became one of the best known country songs of the decade after being covered by the Beatles in 1965, winningly voiced by the easy going drummer.  Ringo Starr and Buck Owens collaborated on the song in 1989, resulting in a #27 country hit.
  2. “Busted,” Johnny Cash with the Carter Family.  Harlan Howard had writing credits on fifty Top Ten country singles.  The hard times number “Busted” was one of them, but not this Johnny Cash release.  Cash’s slow paced version, from an album titled (get this) “Blood, Sweat and Tears,” peaked at #13.  The song reached a bigger audience with the Ray Charles cover, also released in 1963 and a #4 pop hit (Brother Ray could really overdo the horn arrangements).  “Busted” finally hit the country Top Ten when John Conlee reached #6 with his 1982 release.

 

  1. “Call Me Mr. Brown,” Skeets McDonald.  Clay County, Arkansas native Skeets McDonald had five Top 40 country hits spread out from 1952 to 1967.  His only Top Ten releases were 1952’s #1 single “Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes” and this #9 hit.  “Call Me Mr. Brown” was the only charting credit for Barbara Miller, the wife of the much more successful songwriter Eddie Miller (“Release Me,” “Thanks a Lot”).  Thematically and musically “Call Me Mr. Brown” sounds like a cover of Leroy Van Dyke’s “Walk On By,” surely not on accident.  A heavy drinker and smoker, Skeets died of a heart attack in 1968 at the age of 52.

 

  1. “Detroit City,” Bobby Bare.  Get up, everybody’s gonna move their feet!  Get down…wait…wait, wrong song.  It wasn’t unusual for poor Southerners to move to Detroit during the mid-1900s for readily available factory work (in fact, some of my own Southern relatives moved from cotton country to the Motor City for short term financial stability).  “Detroit City” relates that tale, a young man missing his family and lover while he toils on the assembly line.  The song was written by former Grand Ole Opry performer Danny Dill (author of “The Long Black Veil”) with Mel Tillis.  Bare won a Grammy for his version, released after Billy Grammar had a country hit earlier that year with the same song but titled “I Wanna Go Home.” Tom Jones had a #27 pop hit with his 1967 release.

 

  1. “Don’t Call Me from A Honky Tonk,’ Johnny & Jonie Mosby.  California girl Jonie Shields auditioned for Johnny Mosby’s West Coast “orchestra” in 1958.  She not only got the gig, but the two were married later that year.  Signed to Columbia Records, the duo didn’t lack chutzpah, billing themselves as Mr. & Mrs. Country Music.  The two sing co-lead vocals on the Harlan Howard composition “Don’t Call Me From a Honky Tonk,” so it’s impossible to tell who’s zooming who.  They scored eleven Top 40 country hits from 1963 to 1970, including this #13 hit.  The couple divorced, but Jonie made news in 1992, believed to have been the oldest U.S. woman to give birth through in-vitro fertilization at that time.  After the delivery, she was anxious to return to the Ban Dar country and western nightclub in Ventura, which she co-owned with her former husband.

 

  1. “End of the World,” Skeeter Davis.  Mary Frances Penick was born in Dry Ridge, Kentucky and given the name “Skeeter” by her father.  She formed a high school duo with friend Betty Jack Davis, who was not a relative, and they called themselves The Davis Sisters.  Their recording career began in 1952 in Detroit and they had a #1 country hit/#18 pop hit the following year with “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know.”  Betty Jack died in a car accident only a few months after the single was released and Skeeter began charting as a solo act in 1957.  Her 1960s music sounded like nothing else on country radio, often having a much more pop and playful sound.  Penned by adult contemporary songwriters Arthur Kent and Sylvia Dee, the “End of the World” as I know it and I’m not fine weeper was a #2 pop and #2 country hit.  Skeeter scored another Top Ten pop hit the following year with the Brill Building Gerry Goffin/Carole King number “I Can’t Stay Mad at You.”

 

  1. “I Gotta Get Drunk (And I Shore Do Dread It),” Joe Carson.  Joe Carson, sometimes referred to as “Little Joe,” started recording for Mercury Records at the age of 16 in 1953.  He never hit the airwaves during the 1950s, despite titles like “Shoot the Buffalo,” “Hillbilly Band from Mars,” and “I’m Not Allergic to Love.”  He didn’t have a contract in the early 1960s, but was signed to Liberty Records in 1963 and had his first charting single, peaking at #27, with this Willie Nelson peer pressure drinking song.  Nelson released a solo version of “I Gotta Get Drunk” in 1970 and a spirited George Jones duet take in 1978.  Carson had two more hits in 1963 and 1964, but died that year in a car wreck at the age of 27.

 

  1. “Leavin’ on Your Mind,” Patsy Cline.  “Leavin’ on Your Mind,” the last single released by Cline before her death, was penned by Webb Pierce with Wayne Walker and originally recorded by 2010 Canadian Country Hall of Fame inductee Joyce Smith in 1961.  Cline immediately wanted to cover the song after hearing Smith’s version, but producer Owen Bradley waited until the original had a chance to succeed.  “Leavin’ on Your Mind” has been covered by LeAnn Rimes, Terri Clark, and Loretta Lynn, but Cline’s #8 hit is the only one you’ll ever need.

 

  1. “Let’s Invite Them Over,” George Jones and Melba Montgomery.  Jones, “Truthfully, Melba fit my style of singin’ more than Tammy (Wynette) did. I hate to use the word ‘hardcore,’ but that’s what Melba is – a down-to-earth hardcore country singer.”  Melba Montgomery started her career as a solo artist in 1962, but her first major hit, which she also wrote, was the 1963 George Jones duet “We Must Have Been Out of Our Mind.”  Despite the rigid morality of 1960s country music, “Let’s Invite Them Over” is about swapping partners with some attendant guilt for balance.  This #17 country hit was penned by Senath, Missouri native Onie Wheeler, who peaked at #53 with his 1973 cuckold release “John’s Been Shucking My Corn.”

 

  1. “Love’s Gonna Live Here,” Buck Owens.  1963 is the year that Buck Owens became a top tier superstar in country music.  “Love’s Gonna Live Here,” an Owens composition with a sunny, almost Disney-esque disposition, spent sixteen weeks at #1.  It would take forty-nine years for another country single to surpass that feat (which happened with 2013’s “Cruise” by Florida Georgia Line, what a proud moment).  The song also inspired a well-played imitation by Merle Haggard on “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.”  Dwight Yoakam, “”He was great at doing impressions. His Buck Owens impersonation is hilarious. It’s eerily, spot-on Buck.”

 

  1. “Ninety Miles an Hour (Down a Dead End Street),” Hank Snow.  Hank Snow had sixty-five Top 40 country hits from 1949 to 1975 and, at the time, was the oldest country artist to have a #1 single when 1974’s “Hello Love” topped the charts.  Still, “Hello Love” was one of only two Top Ten hits after the passion overcoming judgment cheating number “Ninety Miles an Hour (Down a Dead End Street)” reached #2 in 1963.  Snow, known for having a substantive ego, was the inspiration for the self-absorbed country star Haven Hamilton, portrayed by Henry Gibson, in the 1975 Robert Altman film “Nashville.”  Years after the hits stopped coming, Willie Nelson and Snow released the critically acclaimed 1985 album “Brand on My Heart,” filled with new versions of some of Snow’s most popular songs.

 

  1. “Ring of Fire,” Johnny Cash.  Johnny Cash is a Mount Rushmore figure in country music history and his 1963 #1 country/#17 pop hit “Ring of Fire” is his most popular song.  However, there’s plenty of soap opera in the backstory.  The writing credits went to John’s then side chick June Carter Cash and Merle Kilgore.  June claimed inspiration from a phrase of poetry in a book that her uncle, A.P. Carter, owned.  However, first wife Vivian Cash claimed that Johnny wrote the song with Kilgore and, calculating an impending divorce, didn’t want the asset in his name.  Fiddle player Curly Lewis has confirmed Vivian’s story and both stated that the actual ring of fire was a reference to a certain part of June’s anatomy, most probably not her left elbow.  For his part, born hustler Merle Kilgore wanted to license the song to the hemorrhoid relief company Preparation H.  Two more historical notes – Anita Carter, June’s sister, released the original version and the completely atypical mariachi horn arrangement reportedly came from one of Cash’s dreams. Of course, Cash was a fan of south of the border narcotics.

 

  1. “Six Days on the Road,” Dave Dudley.  Wisconsin native Dave Dudley was a semi-pro baseball player who worked as a disc jockey after suffering an arm injury.  He fronted an Idaho based trio for seven years, but didn’t have any hits until relocating to Minnesota in 1960.  “Six Days on the Road” was Dudley’s first major hit and he became almost singularly known for truck driving material for the rest of his career.  The song paired Dudley’s booming baritone with a popping white pills lyric for a weary working man feel and Johnny Voit’s string snapping guitar style became one of Dudley’s trademark sounds.  “Six Days on the Road” was penned by Muscle Shoals songwriters Earl Green and Carl Montgomery.  Carl was Melba Montgomery’s brother (see entry #10 on this list) and their brother Earl “Peanut” Montgomery penned a number of hits for George Jones, as well as Tanya Tucker’s 1973 #1 single “What’s Your Mama’s Name.”

 

  1. ‘Sweet Dreams,” Patsy Cline.  “Sweet Dreams” is the song most associated with Patsy Cline, it was the title of a 1985 biographical film about her, and is often referred to as a “Patsy Cline song.”  However, “Sweet Dreams” was written by Don Gibson, who had a Top Ten hit with his version in 1956 and Faron Young took it back to the Top Ten in 1960.  The lyrical themes about lost loves and dreams were made more poignant as the first single released after Cline’s death.  Decca Records would have one more posthumous Top Ten hit from the vault, Cline’s cover of Bob Will’s “Faded Love.”  Although her career was relatively short, Patsy Cline broadened the audience for country music and her best work has a timeless quality that has impacted generations of fans.

 

  1. “Thanks a Lot,” Ernest Tubb.  It’s been awhile since we’ve heard from the Texas Troubadour.  Ernest Tubb regularly hit the country charts in the 1950s and 1960s, although he was no longer the superstar he had been in the 1940s.  Although known for his genial personality, Tubb was a heavy drinker in the 1950s.  He once showed up drunk at 4:30 in the morning at Nashville’s WSM radio station and completed his work that day be shooting a hole in the wall.  Band members often had double duty of keeping him from kicking glass out of car windows.  The sarcastic, lost love number “Thanks a Lot” was a comeback for Tubb, his first Top Ten since 1958’s “Half a Mind.”  Songwriters Eddie Miller and Don Sessions penned another Top Ten country hit almost three decades later, peacock proud Marty Stuart’s 1992 #7 single “Burn Me Down.”

 

  1. “Tore Up,” Sleepy LaBeef.  Rockabilly legend Thomas “Sleepy” LaBeef was never a commercially successful act, charting only two minor country singles during a recording career that spanned over five decades.  Raised on an Arkansas melon farm, LaBeef reached a towering 6’7” and was blessed with a baritone that could make the ground rumble.  “Tore Up” was released by songwriter Hank Balland and his group The Midnighters in 1956 as “Tore Up Over You.”  Mark Deming describes the LaBeef version as “almost feral in its forward momentum.”  I’m not sure if its country, but you’ll life

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