Country music week: Day 2

I got this comment from “Christopher” last night about my first post on “Country music week”:

I am unsubscribing from this list after hearing
How you like inbreed country music!! These country hillbillies are dumb and are proud of being dumb!! I didn’t expect this from you! What else do you like fox news??!!
Completely disgusted!!

Well, my good man, don’t let the door hit your butt on the way out. I won’t miss you!

Today and the next five days are devoted to my favorite (ergo the best) country songs—at least those that had a life on the pop charts as well. I’m omitting instrumentals, as that would take me too far afield and turn one week into several weeks.

Skeeter Davis (1931-2004) was really named Mary Frances Penick, and nicknamed “Skeeter” after the American southern term for “mosquito.”  I really couldn’t name another song she did, though she had a very successful career in country, but this, her signature tune recorded in 1962, was covered by many artists, with the best version, in my view, being Karen Carpenter’s (click the link to hear it). Wikipedia notes this (the song was written by Arthur Kent and Sylvia Dee):

Davis’ recording of “The End of the World” has long been considered one of the foremost examples of the Nashville Sound of the 1960s – smooth vocals and a slick, sophisticated production appealing to audiences far beyond the traditional country music audience. The song was played at Chet Atkins’ funeral in 2001 in an instrumental performance by Marty Stuart and later, Davis’ recording was broadcast over the speakers of her 2004 funeral at the Ryman Auditorium.

This live version is from the Bobby Lord Show in 1965.

Dolly Parton (b. 1946) is simply over the top. I’m not a fan of either her acting or most of her recordings, which sound like Alvin the Chipmunk, but she’s an adept songwriter. Her several thousand compositions include “I will always love you,” made famous by Whitney Houston. “Here you come again”, which I think is her best, was written in 1977 by the famous duo of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. It won Parton a Grammy.

Of all the male country singers who ever lived, I think Randy Travis (b. 1959) has the best voice (Doc Watson and Gordon Lightfoot are close behind): definitely country and nasal but quite beautiful.  He’s gone a bit downhill in his troubled later days, but this live performance shows him off well. It’s pure country, both the voice and the lyrics: completely unpretentious and moving. “Deeper than the holler” was written by Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz and released in 1988.

54 Comments

  1. Steve In Oakland
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 4:50 am | Permalink

    Hey, when I was a kid in southeastern Washington state there was no “country music.” The music we heard on the radio was what is now known as country music, but then it was just called music. Townes van Zandt was one of the now legendary musicians who never got the fame or fortune others got when they were alive. Thanks for the Coyne Collection. It adds some nice color, and brings back some great memories, to my day.

  2. Ray Moscow
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 5:02 am | Permalink

    I hated country music as a kid — it was what my parents listened to, and it sounded terrible — but nowadays, to my surprise, I can appreciate some of it.

    • Alektorophile
      Posted December 17, 2012 at 6:38 am | Permalink

      Same for my wife. A childhood in rural MT surrounded by country and christian radio made her viscerally hate both. Now, 5000 miles away and twenty years later, she is starting to slowly appreciate some of the more mainstream country music. Unlike her dislike of christian radio, which appears to be permanent.

      As for me, being almost totally ignorant of the genre (only country I ever listened to were Johnny Cash’s Folsom prison recordings because a friend owned them), I have to say I quite enjoy these posts, almost as much as I enjoyed the Fred Astaire Week ones. Thanks.

  3. Steve In Oakland
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 5:24 am | Permalink

    I’m reminded of the many things parents and grandparents said that seemed so strange at the time, but, as I’ve grown older, now make so much more sense. Maybe these are signs of growing old: Starting to make sense of what those old people used to say; and realizing country music isn’t so bad, after all. [or not].

  4. SM in Canada
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 5:24 am | Permalink

    I wouldn’t call Gordon Lightfoot country, but where country ends and folk music begins (or vice versa) I can’t really say.

    • Curt Cameron
      Posted December 17, 2012 at 8:09 am | Permalink

      I would call Gordon Lightfoot something like crossover folk, but not country. To me, folk music (which I really like) is pretty separate from country. In the music Venn diagram, I’d say that country is somewhere between folk and pop-rock, but closer to pop-rock than to folk.

      Doc Watson is squarely folk music. You’ll never hear him on a mainstream country station.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted December 17, 2012 at 8:47 am | Permalink

      If you listen to his first album, Lightfoot! (where I got the song I’ll post), it’s clearly country, I think. His transition to folk came a bit later.

      • Lynn A (Ottawa)
        Posted December 17, 2012 at 9:20 am | Permalink

        I also think of Gordon Lightfoot as a folk artist, but he is in the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame, so… I’m just a fan, Early Morning Rain is probably my favourite.

        • SM in Canada
          Posted December 17, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

          there are so many great songs, I consider him a musical genius along with Neil Young and Leonard Cohen (well, just speaking of Canadians of course)

          • JBlilie
            Posted December 18, 2012 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

            Joni Mitchell

  5. Posted December 17, 2012 at 5:30 am | Permalink

    What brought me to it from rock: (a) Australian indie musicians of the ’80s, who would turn country the moment they picked up an acoustic (b) Johnny Cash, and specifically my country-loving girlfriend dragging me to see him in 1994 (at the start of his last and best decade).

    • Dominic
      Posted December 17, 2012 at 6:24 am | Permalink

      Dave Graney formerly of the Moodists for example?

      • Posted December 17, 2012 at 6:31 am | Permalink

        He might fit slightly! But I was thinking of the lots of tiny late-80s indie bands on Waterfront and so on.

    • Posted December 17, 2012 at 6:27 am | Permalink

      The Aussie/Nashvillian motif seems to be customary. The first time I met Keith Urban was at an East Nashville Halloween party. He was dressed as a yellow M&M and spoke in back o’Bourke syntax until he picked up an acoustic guitar.

    • Posted December 17, 2012 at 7:10 am | Permalink

      Cash had the voice of an angel. A fallen angel, perhaps, but an angel nonetheless. He knew what to do with his voice, too.

      He’s also one of the few singers ever who got better every year he lived, and who was at his peak at the end of his life.

      Cheers,

      b&

  6. Posted December 17, 2012 at 5:44 am | Permalink

    Perfect put down and I’m still chuckling “Well, my good man, don’t let the door hit your butt on the way out. I wont miss you”

  7. Posted December 17, 2012 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    Jerry– you have excellent taste in country music! Although I grew up in Rhode Island, I’ve been a fan for a long time, and have hosted traditional country radio shows for many years here in Memphis on WEVL. You can listen on-line Tuesdays noon-1 central at wevl.org. Randy, Doc, and Gordon all have terrific voices, but my favorite is Lefty Frizzell– a man who could stretch a syllable until the cows came home, and influenced by later singers, such as Merle Haggard, George Jones, and Randy Travis.

  8. Posted December 17, 2012 at 6:06 am | Permalink

    Dwight Yoakam is a Rhodes Scholar, if that helps.

    Although I’m not an aficionado or lobbyist for the Country Music Hall of Fame, I wouldn’t be without Johnny Paycheck’s classic “Take This Job and Shove It.”

  9. Rod
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 6:13 am | Permalink

    My wife is pretty good on a guitar and covers Dolly’s “Wildflowers” nicely. Don’t have a link, but to me it is a nicer song than “Here You Come Again”.
    Then again, I am the family scientist, and have <0 musical skill.

  10. mlm
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    It always amazes me that people (on this site included), supposedly ‘more tolerant’ than mere mortals, get offended about a *whole genre* of music. There is awesome country music, and there are giant piles of poo littered around the barnyard, too.

    With a world of choices ranging from the sublime (Lyle Lovett, David Allen Coe, Drive By Truckers, Emmylou Harris….I want to go on, but there are really too many great acts to list–will leave that to the good doctor) to the god-awful (Toby Keith, David Allen Coe again, etc).

    Hmmm….sounds like a lot of things in life…won’t be sorry to see Christopher and his enlightened and refined tastes depart.

    • Tulse
      Posted December 17, 2012 at 8:25 am | Permalink

      Emmylou Harris is indeed sublime — she conveys unrequited hopeless longing better than any other singer, in any genre.

      And Lyle Lovett is brilliant. When I was an undergrad in Houston, oh so many ages ago, I saw him, prior to his first album release, in the 30-seat Anderson Fair. He was fantastic.

      • Curt Cameron
        Posted December 17, 2012 at 9:15 am | Permalink

        Mentioning Emmylou reminds me of one of my favorite female artists, someone that most people who listen to country don’t even know who she is: Lucinda Williams.

        • mlm
          Posted December 17, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

          Yep…Lucinda definitely rates highly in my “too many more to list” list.

          I’m tempted to start listing my list, but like I said, I’ll let Jerry handle the burden of the listing.

          As long as the Collins Kids make an appearance, I’m down with whatever else he comes up with.

      • marlonrh
        Posted December 17, 2012 at 11:39 am | Permalink

        I remember Anderson Fair from the early ’70s when I was at UH. A date and I popped in there one night for a pre-movie drink and were the only two customers for some singer/songwriter guitarist. Mostly I remember how awkward it was when we had to leave to get to the movie.

  11. Dominic
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 6:21 am | Permalink

    Christopher clearly never read da Roolz.

    I am not a country music fan, but I am sure there are some country music songs that I (would) like, & even if I dislike a genre, as someone who has sung (I was a chorister) & been in a band, I can assure you that there is always something of interest to take from listening to something you are not used to.

    Challenge your boundaries for goodness sake, do not seek affirmation of everything, look at the world through another person’s eyes or hear it through their ears!

  12. jess
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    Love love love Deeper Than a Holler. His voice, omg.

  13. s.pimpernel
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    Glad to see you have some taste for more than the science lab and boots. George Jones rules however.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted December 17, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

      Indeed. And while I like many of the artists that have already been mentioned here more overall, it’s hard to argue against He Stopped Loving Her Today as the best country song of all time.

      Nobody’s mentioned Ernest Tubb (for example: https:/ /www.youtube.com/watch?v=y84vY_l7_yA), Floyd Cramer (http:/ /www.youtube.com/watch?v=1NBmET5uvfI), or Carl Smith (Botanical alert: http:/ /www.youtube.com/watch?v=viV7iP57vcE)

      And how about a brief venture into Western Swing, too, with Bob Wills and Asleep At The Wheel, et al, (http:/ /www.youtube.com/watch?v=_xccwkGH0X8) or Alvin Crow (who the NYT rated above the Rolling Stones in a year-end review in 1979. Another botanical alert here – this is a great song, and the video arrangement is great too: http:/ /www.youtube.com/watch?v=LU4mk2UAwc0)

  14. CSO
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Thanks for posting these. “If I had to pick a best voice in country” it would be Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Surprisingly, I can’t find a link on Youtube, but check out his most recent albums “Heirloom Music” and “Come on Back.” The former could also be called folk, but the genre is not important, the music speaks for itself.

  15. Linda Grilli Calhoun
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    I have loved, studied, and performed American “roots” music and its derivatives for many years.

    Please don’t leave out Hoyt Axton, Jerry Jeff Walker, Maybelle Carter and her descendants, Ian Tyson, Earl Scruggs and his descendants, Patrick Sky, Woody Guthrie and HIS descendants, and so many more I can’t begin to list them.

    Interestingly, although you might assume, from what you hear on the radio right now, that the vast majority of “country” musicians are right-wing politically, but you’d be wrong. Sure, there is the portion of the genre that a friend of mine (and fellow picker) used to refer to as, “She broke my heart so I broke her jaw music”. But, go listen to the Dixie Chicks, or Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion if you think that’s all there is. L

    • Veroxitatis
      Posted December 17, 2012 at 10:49 am | Permalink

      Yes, and also at the other end of the political spectrum the much underrated Nanci Griffiths.

  16. Posted December 17, 2012 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    If I could have my pick of singing voices, Randy Travis’ voice would be in my top three … along with Burton Cummings (The Guess Who) and Raul Malo (The Mavericks).

    Gotta say that I like Dolly Parton’s rendition of “I Will Always Love You” (Best Little Whorehouse in Texas) better than Whitney Houston’s. In my mind it was already “famous” before Whitney got a shot at it.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted December 18, 2012 at 1:17 am | Permalink

      I’d go with Linda Ronstadt’s version (and IMO – I’ll stick my neck out here – Linda has the best female voice of all).

      Mention of which, I’m not a country fan on the whole, but one of my favourites is Across the Border by Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris and Neil Young on harmonica.

      And of course Linda, Emmylou and Dolly collaborated on a number of songs, Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush being one that comes to mind.

  17. Curt Cameron
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    Randy Travis is one of the best voices in country music, but I’d have to give the top honor to Merle Haggard:

    Misery and Gin (YouTube)

    Of course you have to include Willie Nelson in the pantheon, and not just for writing Crazy.

    Also, Dwight Yoakum did some quality stuff.

  18. Tulse
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    I love me some Dolly, but her more traditional stuff — Here You Come Again is far too generic “New Country” for my tastes.

  19. JScarry
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    Perhaps a better riposte to your commenter would have been:

    Here’s A Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)
    Travis Tritt

  20. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Well, music for a local audience is an acquired taste (but I can see from the above that it is a commercialized towards a bit larger market).

    But most often you can appreciate the peculiarities, for better or worse, and the good artists.

    Randy Travis is definitely one of those good ones, so thanks for the introduction!

    But I think I like Johnny Cash better. Each their own taste.

    Dolly Parton (b. 1946) is simply over the top.

    Yes. I think that is her artist idea.

    I’m fairly sure I’ve heard songs that shows off her voice better, though. Maybe someone knowledgeable has more suggestions?

    • Tulse
      Posted December 17, 2012 at 11:00 am | Permalink

      Her rendition of “I Will Always Love You” is stellar — it’s a quiet, delicate take on heartbreak and longing, nothing at all like Houston’s triumphant, self-congratulatory vocal gymnastics.

  21. James Lee Phelan
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Another Memphian chiming in on the country music topic but only to ask if I am the only one who hears the Theremin in the back up band for Skeeter Davis’ “The End of the World”? It might be a steel guitar sound made on the high end of the stings.

  22. the Siliconopolitan
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Whatever else one might say about Parton, I learned from The Colbert Report that she runs a child literacy charity and funnels hella money into it.

    So more power to her.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted December 17, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

      Indeed, and she’s also a supporter of the American Chestnut Foundation, which is a science-based organization.

      • Curt Cameron
        Posted December 17, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

        Would it be sophomoric of me to giggle at the idea that Dolly supports the American Chest Nut Foundation?

        OK, then pretend I didn’t say anything.

        • Hempenstein
          Posted December 17, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

          Yeah, but that’s OK ;-). She joins Rolling Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell in that support, too.

  23. Veroxitatis
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Yes, I’ll pretty well go with you on Travis. I certainly rate his voice higher than George Jones (even at his best) But three of my favourite country singers, although all deeply rooted in country, but not famous for renderings in that genre are Elvis, Jerry Lee and Brenda Lee. Two wishes – that Elvis had duetted with L’il Miss Dynamite and Travis’ song “On the other Hand” had been around for Elvis to sing. His version of the the Jim Reeves song “He’ll have to go” is well worth a listen
    Dolly’s OK for the most part but let’s not judge her purely on her singing. She’s just an enormous personality. Her effervescent duet with Kenny Rogers of “Islands in the Stream” will be a classic vid for a long time, imho.

  24. JimmyHaulinHogs
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    I enjoy a bit of Randy Travis on occasion too. For Dolly Parton, I especially like her rendition of “Jolene”.

    For other artists, I’d say any duet with k.d.lang is guaranteed to please. I recommend Dwight Yoakam.

    For amusement, Waylon Jennings does a nicely blasphemous gospel tune called “I Do Believe”. Lyle Lovett’s album “Joshua Judges Ruth” is decently snarky in that sense as well, and all of his other stuff is great too.

  25. Neil Schipper
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    In mentioning folks like Merle H & G Jones, a number of you have tried to nudge Jerry higher up the Mount Improbable of male country singers.

    To get to a place where the oxygen is almost unbearably thin, listen to Vern Gosdin.

    Set ‘Em Up Joe

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZ7_FDuCzaU

    Chiseled in Stone.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OEq30uJYQ_E

  26. Veroxitatis
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    Is it permissible to mention in amongst all this American ephemera a couple of collections of Brits? The Notting hillbillies, Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits alter ego http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8ppQ2_5WsY and Richard Thomson ex of Fairport Convention – Tear Stained letter (more Cajun than Country however.)

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted December 18, 2012 at 1:24 am | Permalink

      And since you mentioned Mark Knopfler, there’s his duet CD with Emmylou Harris, All The Roadrunning. Beautifully put together, nothing spectacular but just perfectly executed.

  27. Posted December 17, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Christopher probably doesn’t like Western music either…

    /@

  28. Christopher
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    Oh my goodness, I share the same screen name as an exclamation marked poor speller who hates country music (and Jerry, apparently). That wasn’t me, Jerry! I love the blog. Argg, curse of the common name again.

  29. IA
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Jerry is right to acclaim Dolly Parton as an adept songwriter. She might even be a great one–check out such chilling compositions as “Down From Dover,” which has the power and tragic mood of a short story by Thomas Hardy. (You can find it on youtube.) Her earlier albums (such as “My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy” or “Coat of Many Colors”) have lots of surprisingly dark material and songs about growing up dirt-poor but proud.

    Dolly started out as the onstage partner of Porter Wagoner, and one of the essential purchases for any country music fan is a compilation of Wagoner’s darkest songs called “The Rubber Room.” It’s an absolutely gonzo set, ranging from disturbing kitsch (“George Leroy Chickashea”) to horror-movie creepiness (“The First Mrs. Jones”), with murder, suicide, and alcoholism in between. Good old country!

    New country on the other hand is pretty bad. Something that struck me while listening to early country performers like Hank Williams or Jimmie Rodgers (“The Father of Country Music”) is how close their music was to the blues, and how country arose from melting blues, swing, pop, and gospel into a blender. Today’s country is much less open to outside influence, and has grown culturally inbred.

    One other name to consider while discussing country and its eclectic past: Charlie Rich, “The Silver Fox.” Though his biggest hits were MOR sensations like “Behind Closed Doors,” Rich’s roots were in jazz and blues and rockabilly, with records like “Lonely Weekends,” “Mohair Sam,” “Life’s Little Ups and Downs,” and “Feel Like Going Home.”

  30. Nal
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    Skeeter also did I Can’t Stay Mad At You, both available in stereo.

    Johnny Cash had many cross-over hits. I have most in stereo.

    Marty Robbins had many cross-over hits. Incredible voice and he wrote many of the songs himself.

    “The Queen of Country Music,” Kitty Wells, can be found in stereo, here.

    The Nashville Teens weren’t from Nashville.

  31. tweedster
    Posted December 19, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Love me some Roger Miller. Also, I don’t think you can call them straight Country, by Sir Douglas Quintet and anything by Doug Sahm is great. Bobby Charles is another unheralded guy, along with Jim Ford.

    • tweedster
      Posted December 19, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      *but not by


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