Mini Profiles on Traditional
Country Artists and Legends

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Jimmy Skinner
Born Apr 27, 1909 in Berea, KY, died Oct 28, 1979 in Hendersonville, KY. By all accounts a fringe character in the pantheon of country music, Jimmie Skinner held many hats during his lifetime, including DJ, songwriter, performer, label owner, and record salesman. As a DJ in the early '40s, Skinner began fooling around with songwriting and had some early success with a composition called "Doin My Time" in 1941. By 1950, Skinner had moved to Knoxville, TN, and gained a reputation as a pretty good songwriter for bluegrass pickers and performers who favored traditional country styles. Jimmy Martin, for example, had a hit with Skinner's "You Don't Know My Mind." In 1957, Skinner was signed to Mercury Records where he quickly scored two hits, "I Found My Girl in the U.S.A." and "Dark Hollow." Chalk it up to beginner's luck, however, because a decade more of performing and recording for a half dozen labels Skinner never scored another major hit. The dry spell led him to move to Ohio where he formed his own Vetco label, as well as Jimmy Skinner music, a mail order record store that he operated until his death in 1979. -Steve Kurutz


Herb Pedersen
A longtime staple of the bluegrass scene, singer and multi-instrumentalist Herb Pedersen was born April 27, 1944 in Berkeley, California. The child of a policeman, he was introduced to country music at numerous Bay Area folk festivals, finding kindred spirits in fellow aspiring musicians like Jerry Garcia (who went on to form the Grateful Dead) and David Nelson (later of the New Riders of the Purple Sage). In his mid-teens, Pedersen formed his first bluegrass band, the Pine Valley Boys. In 1961, Pedersen began working in Nashville, performing on Carl Tipton's Bluegrass TV Show. After a 1963 stint with David Grisman's Smokey Grass Boys, he joined the veteran bluegrass performers Vern and Ray as a singer and five-string banjo player. His work with the duo brought him to the attention of Earl Scruggs, who in 1967 tapped Pedersen to fill in for him during his recovery from a hip operation. A year later, he replaced Doug Dillard in the Dillards for 1968's Wheatstraw Suite and 1970's Copperfields.
        After leaving the Dillards, Pedersen remained in Los Angeles, where he became a highly regarded session player, working with the likes of Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Kris Kristofferson and John Prine. After spending the first half of the decade in the studio, in 1975 Pedersen joined Jackson Browne's tour, and the following year released his first solo LP, Southwest. After 1976's Sandman, he joined John Denver's band from 1977 to 1980, and continued his extensive session and production work well into the next decade before cutting a third solo effort, Lonesome Feeling, in 1984. He also ventured into scoring television programs, composing the music for series including The Rockford Files, Kojak, The Dukes of Hazzard and The A-Team.
        Throughout the years, Pedersen had occasionally reunited with his old friend Chris Hillman, who had made his mark as a member of the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers. In 1986, the two musicians again joined forces to form the Desert Rose Band, a highly successful country-rock act which scored a series of major hits. After the group disbanded in 1993, a year later Pedersen founded the bluegrass outfit the Laurel Canyon Ramblers, which released the LP Rambler's Blues in 1995. The group's second effort, Blue Rambler #2, followed in 1996, as did Bakersfield Bound, another reunion between Pederson and Hillman. -Jason Ankeny


The Browns
Formed 1955 - Disbanded 1967. Group Members: Maxine Brown, Jim Ed Brown, Bonnie Brown and Norma Brown. During the '50s and '60s, the Browns offered up some of the finest harmonies in country music. The group was originally comprised of brother and sister Jim Ed Brown and Maxine Brown and were later joined by younger sister Bonnie. Both Maxine and Jim were born in Sparkman, Arkansas, where their father owned a sawmill. With the encouragement of their parents, they began singing and developing their close harmonies in childhood.
       In 1952, Jim Ed and Maxine began appearing on Little Rock's Barnyard Frolics and on other local radio shows, which led to local TV appearances as well. The duo earned national recognition and a guest spot on Ernest Tubb's televison show for their novelty song "Looking Back to See," which hit the Top Ten and stayed on the charts throughout the summer of 1954.
       The Browns were joined by recent high school graduate Bonnie and began appearing on Louisiana Hayride. By the end of 1955, the trio had another Top Ten hit with "Here Today and Gone Tomorrow," which was given a boost by their national appearances on the Ozark Jubilee. The show's producer, Sid Siman, arranged for them to sign with RCA Victor in 1956, and soon afterward they had two major hits, "I Take the Chance" and "I Heard the Bluebirds Sing." When Jim Ed was called to serve in the military, the group continued to record while he was on leave, and sister Norma filled in for him on tours. They scored one of their biggest hits in 1959 with the inspirational, folk-oriented "The Three Bells," which not only spent ten weeks on top of the country charts, but also crossed over and spent four weeks at number one on the pop charts. As a result, the Browns appeared on Ed Sullivan, the Jimmy Dean Show and American Bandstand.
       The Browns remained in the folk mode for their two follow-up hits, "Scarlet Ribbons" and "The Old Lamplighter," both of which did extremely well on the country and pop charts. Their string of hits continued until 1961, when the national folk craze died out. Two years later, the Browns joined the Grand Ole Opry. In late 1967, the Browns disbanded and Maxine and Bonnie went back to Arkansas to concentrate on their families, while Jim Ed focused on the successful solo career he had started in 1965. -Sandra Brennan


Mike Auldridge
Born April 29, 1938 in Washington, D.C. Generally considered one of the masters of bluegrass dobro, Mike Auldridge was raised in Kensington, Maryland, where he began playing guitar at age 12, banjo at 16, and dobro at 17. In 1954, he made his first appearance on local radio, playing in a band with his brother Dave. In 1967, he graduated from the University of Maryland and became a commercial artist, continuing to play dobro occasionally at local clubs. In 1969 he joined the New Shades of Green; within a year, the bluegrass group had gained a stong following, and Auldridge was considered an innovator in the relatively new field of bluegrass dobro.
        He became a member of the Seldom Scene in 1971, but still did session work, playing on albums by such as Emmylou Harris, Jonathan Edwards, Linda Ronstadt, and Jimmy Arnold. He also recorded several solo albums, including Dobro (1972) Blues & Bluegrass (1974), and Eight-String Swing (1982). Auldridge teamed with singer/mandolin player Lou Reid and bassist T. Michael Coleman in 1989 for the album High Time. Also in 1989, he released a solo album, Treasures Untold. Auldridge continued to play concerts and record as a session musician in the '90s. This Old Town, his first solo album in a decade, appeared in early 2000. -Sandra Brennan


Karen Brooks
Born Apr 29, 1954 in Dallas, TX - Originally part of the Austin scene, having worked with Jerry Jeff Walker, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Fromholz and Gary P. Nunn (ex-Lost Gonzo Band), Karen Brooks was invited by Rodney Crowell to move to California and be part of his backup band. Signed to Warner by the early '80s, she delivered a Top 20 country single "New Way Out" and then hit number one in late 1982 with "Faking Love," a duet with T.G. Sheppard. A year later, she was named Best New Female Vocalist by the Academy of Country Music. Brooks only made the Top 20 one more time, however, with 1984's "Tonight I'm Here with Someone Else." -Jim Worbois


Danny Davis
AKA George Nowlan, born Apr 29, 1925 in Randolph, MA (Danny Davis & Titans Danny Davis & The Nashville Brass). Popularizing the use of brass instruments in the string-dominated world of country music, Danny Davis' work with his Nashville Brass inspired Buck Owens to form the Bakersfield Brass and also influenced the music of Ray Pennington, Buddy Emmons, and Merle Haggard. Born George Nowlan in Dorchester, Massachusetts, he aspired to be a horn player while in high school. He attended the New England Conservatory of Music and at age 14 became a soloist with the Massachusetts All State Symphony Orchestra. The next year in 1940, he joined jazz drummer Gene Krupa's band and played with some of the greatest musicians of the jazz and swing era, including Bobby Byrne, Bob Crosby, and Art Mooney.
        After leaving Krupa, he joined Vincent Lopez's band at the Astor Hotel in New York. He remained with Lopez for many years, also working with Blue Barron and Sammy Kay. Davis became a record producer in 1958 for Joy and MGM, producing six number one singles for Connie Francis at the latter. While on a trip to Nashville, Davis met Fred Rose and Chet Atkins; Atkins invited Davis to become a production assistant in Nashville and in 1965, Davis became an executive A&R producer (with Atkins) for several years.
        Near the end of the decade, Davis approached Atkins with the idea of adding brass to country music. Atkins gave the go-ahead, and the Nashville Brass was born. Their first album, The Nashville Brass Featuring Danny Davis Play Nashville Sounds, came out in 1968 with little fanfare. The following year, they released More Nashville Sounds, and people began to take notice. A new Grammy category, Best Country Instrumental Performance, was created to accommodate them, and the CMA voted them Instrumental Group or Band of the Year for five years in a row. Since 1969, they have continued to record steadily. Davis has also collaborated with other country stars; Davis, Atkins, and Floyd Cramer made Chet, Floyd and Danny in 1977, and 1980 witnessed a Nashville Brass/Willie Nelson collaboration album which contained two Top 50 hits, "Night Life" and "Funny How Time Slips Away." Soon afterwards, Davis left RCA and began recording on Wartrace, his own label. The Nashville Brass continues to play in Las Vegas, in Branson, Missouri, and on television. -Sandra Brennan


Snuffy Jenkins
Born Oct 27, 1908 in Harris, NC, ied Apr 29, 1990. Bluegrass banjo pioneer DeWitt "Snuffy" Jenkins was born in Harris, North Carolina on October 27, 1908; the youngest of ten children, all of whom excelled in music, he began playing the fiddle as a child, but was too small to use the bow and as a result picked the instrument like a mandolin. He later turned to guitar, and by 1927 was playing in a trio with banjo players Smith Hammett and Rex Brooks; Jenkins copied their three-finger style, and in the years to follow the banjo became his primary instrument, honing his skills playing square dances throughout the western North Carolina region. At this time he began mentoring the young Earl Scruggs; while Jenkins' technique bridged the gap between jagged, old-timey picking and the more fluid contemporary style, Scruggs soon surpassed his teacher, forging a thoroughly modernized sound distinguished by its subtlety and grace.
        Jenkins relocated to Columbia, South Carolina in the spring of 1937, soon joining a string band which performed on local radio station WIS; despite the inevitable line-up changes, the group - later dubbed the Hired Hands - remained active for over half a century. Joining in 1939 was Jenkins' longtime foil, fiddler Homer "Pappy" Sherrill, a onetime member of the Blue Sky Boys; eight years later the Hired Hands welcomed lead guitarist Julian "Greasy" Medlin and bassist Ira Dimmery, followed in 1955 by the arrival of second guitarist Bill Rey. This five-piece line-up cut the first Hired Hands recordings in 1962, released by Folklyric in 1970 and subsequently reissued on Arhoolie as Pioneer of the Bluegrass Banjo. In 1971, Jenkins and Sherrill also recorded an LP for Rounder, and in 1989 also cut material for Old Homestead; Jenkins died on April 30, 1990. -Jason Ankeny


Johnny Horton
Born Apr 30, 1925 in Los Angeles, CA, died Nov 5, 1960 in Milano, TX. Although he is better-remembered for his historical songs, Johnny Horton was one of the best and most popular honky tonk singers of the late '50s. Horton managed to infuse honky tonk with an urgent rockabilly underpinning. His career may have been cut short by a fatal car crash in 1960, but his music reverberated throughout the next three decades.
        Horton was born in Los Angeles in 1925, the son of sharecropping parents. During his childhood, his family continually moved between California and Texas, in an attempt to find work. His mother taught him how to play guitar at the age of 11. Horton graduated from high school in 1944 and attended a Methodist seminary with the intent of joining a ministry. After a short while, he left the seminary and began traveling across the country, eventually moving to Alaska in 1949 to become a fisherman. While he was in Alaska, he began writing songs in earnest.
        The following year, Johnny moved back to east Texas, where he entered a talent contest hosted by Jim Reeves, who was then an unknown vocalist. He won the contest, which encouraged him to pursue a career as a performer. Horton started out by playing talent contests throughout Texas, which is where he gained the attention of Fabor Robison, a music manager that was notorious for his incompetence and his scams. In early 1951, Robison became Horton's manager and managed to secure him a recording contract with Corman Records. However, shortly after his signing, the label folded. Robison then founded his own label, Abbott Records, with the specific intent of recording Johnny. None of these records had any chart success. During 1951, Johnny began performing on various Los Angeles TV shows and hosted a radio show in Pasadena, where he performed under the name "the Singing Fisherman." By early 1952, Robison had moved Horton to Mercury Records.
        At the end of 1951, Horton relocated from California to Shreveport, LA, where he became a regular on the Louisiana Hayride. However, Lousiana was filled with pitfalls - his first wife left him shortly after the move and Robison severed all ties with Johnny when he became Jim Reeves' manager. During 1952, Hank Williams rejoined the cast of the Hayride and became a kind of mentor for Horton. After Hank died on New Year's eve of 1952, Johnny became close with his widow, Billie Jean; the couple married in September of 1953.
        Although he had a regular job on the Hayride, Horton's recording career was going nowhere - none of his Mercury records were selling and rock & roll was beginning to overtake country's share of the market place. Johnny's fortunes changed in the latter half of 1955, when he hired Webb Pierce's manager Tillman Franks as his own manager and quit Mercury Records. Tillman had Pierce help him secure a contract for Horton with Columbia Records by the end of 1955. The change in record labels breathed life into Johnny's career. At his first Columbia session, he cut "Honky Tonk Man," his first single for the label which would eventually become a honky tonk classic. By the spring of 1956, the song had reached the country Top Ten and Horton was well on his way to becoming a star.
        "Honky Tonk Man" was edgy enough to have Horton grouped in on the more country-oriented side of rockabilly. Wearing a large cowboy hat to hide his receding hairline, he became a popular concert attraction and racked up three more hit singles - "I'm a One-Woman Man" (number seven), "I'm Coming Home" (number 11), "The Woman I Need" (number nine) - in the next year. However, the hits dried up just as quickly as they arrived; for the latter half of 1957 and 1958, he didn't hit the charts at all. Horton responded by cutting some rockabilly, which was beginning to fall out of favor by the time his singles were released.
        In the fall of 1958, he bounced back with the Top Ten "All Grown Up," but it wasn't until the ballad "When It's Springtime in Alaska (It's Forty Below)" hit the charts in early 1959 that he achieved a comeback. The song fit neatly into the folk-based story songs that were becoming popular in the late '50s, and it climbed all the way to number one. Its success inspired his next single, "The Battle of New Orleans." Taken from a 1 958 Jimmie Driftwood album, the song was a historical saga song like "When It's Springtime in Alaska," but it was far more humorous. It was also far more successful, topping the country charts for ten weeks and crossing over into the pop charts, where it was number one for six weeks. After the back-to-back number one successes of "When It's Spring Time in Alaska" and "The Battle of New Orleans," Horton concentrated solely on folky saga songs. "Johnny Reb" became a Top Ten hit in the fall of 1959 and "Sink the Bismarck" was a Top Ten hit in the spring of 1960, followed by the number one hit "North to Alaska" in the fall of 1960.
        Around the time of "North to Alaska"'s November release, Horton claimed that he was getting premonitions of an early death. Sadly, his premonitions came true. On November 4, 1960, he suffered a car crash driving home to Shreveport after a concert in Austin, Texas. Horton was still alive after the wreck, but he died on the way to the hospital; the other passengers in his car had severe injuries, but they survived.
        Although he died early in his career, Johnny Horton left behind a recorded legacy that proved to be quite influential. Artists like George Jones and Dwight Yoakam have covered his songs, and echoes of Horton's music can still be heard in honky tonk and country-rock music today. -Stephen Thomas Erlewine


The Mavericks
Formed 1990 - Group Members: Paul Deakin, Raul Malo, Robert Reynolds, Nick Kane, Ben Peeler, David L. Holt. Fusing traditional country with traditional rock & roll, the Mavericks became one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful groups of the early '90s. Led by singer/songwriter Raul Malo (b. August 7, 1965, Miami, FL), the band was formed in Florida in the late '80s. Malo had previously played in several different bands while he was in high school, as did bassist Robert Reynolds (born Robert Earl Reynolds, April 30, 1962, Kansas City, MO). The pair met at school and discovered they had similar musical tastes - they both enjoyed the music of Roy Orbison, Patsy Cline, Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, and Johnny Cash - and decided to form a band. Reynolds persuaded his best friend, Paul Deakin (born Paul Wylie Deakin, September 2, 1959, Miami, FL) - who had been a drummer in progresssive rock bands before and had done some session work - to join the fledgling country band.
        Taking the name the Mavericks, the band began playing rock clubs around the Miami area and built up a solid local following. The group chose to play rock clubs because the country bars only wanted to book bands that played covers and the Mavericks preferred to concentrate on original material. In the fall of 1990, the band released an eponymous independent album. The record worked its way onto playlists across Florida and made its way to Nashville, where it gained the attention of nearly every major record label.
        In May of 1991, the group went to Nashville to play a showcase gig. Scouts from all of the town's major labels were in attendance, but the band decided to sign with MCA Records. Later that year, the Mavericks set about recording their first major label album; before the sessions began, they added lead guitarist David Lee Holt, who had previously played with Joe Ely, Rosie Flores, and Carlene Carter. Titled From Hell to Paradise, the record primarily consisted of Malo's original songs and was released in 1992. Although it was critically acclaimed, the album wasn't a commercial success; only a cover of Hank Williams' standard "Hey Good Lookin'" made the charts and that peaked at number 74.
        The Mavericks' commercial fortunes turned around with their second major label album, What a Crying Shame. Produced by Don Cook (Brooks & Dunn, Mark Collie), the album was more streamlined and focused. It became a hit upon its release early in 1994, with the title track becoming a Top 40 hit. Shortly after the release of What a Crying Shame, the group replaced Holt with Nick Kane (born Nicholas James Kane, August 21, 1954, Jerusalem, GA).
        Throughout 1994, the band racked up Top 40 hit singles. "O What a Thrill" went to number 18 in the summer, with "There Goes My Heart" reaching number 20 in the fall. By the spring of 1995, What a Crying Shame had gone platinum. During the first half of 1995, the Mavericks recorded their fourth album, Music for All Occasions, which appeared in the fall of the year. Like its predecessor, it was critically acclaimed and a commerical success. By the spring of 1996, the album had gone gold. Trampoline followed in 1998. -Stephen Thomas Erlewine


Darrell McCall
Though his initial singles were pop, Darrell McCall was a hardcore country vocalist to the core, singing tough honky tonk during the majority of his career without caring for trends and fashions. After coming to prominence as a member of the Little Dippers in 1960, McCall broke away from the group the following year, and by 1963 his sound had evolved into pure country. He sang both traditional country and honky tonk during the '60s, but he eventually became devoted to roadhouse country. As a result, his sales suffered somewhat. Darrell had a few hits over the course of his career, sliding into the charts every few years, whenever hardcore country crossed over into the mainstream, but for the bulk of his career, he essentially remained a semi-popular artist with a diehard cult following.
        Born April 30, 1940 and raised in New Jasper, Ohio, McCall began his musical career by landing a slot as a Saturday morning DJ on a local radio station when he was 15 years old. Around the same time, he was playing local dances and events as a musicians. Following his high school graduation, he joined the Army, where he was stationed in Kentucky. After his tour of duty was completed, he moved and his childhood friend Johnny Paycheck moved to Nashville in 1958. McCall and Paycheck attempted to record as a duo, but they were unsuccessful. Eventually, Darrell became a studio harmony vocalist, singing on records by Faron Young, George Jones and Ray Price, among others. In a short time, the studio work metamorphosized into road work, as he played bass and sang harmony for several different touring bands, including those of Young, Price and Hank Williams, Jr.
        During a recording session in 1959, McCall met Buddy Killen, a famous Nashville producer and publisher. Impressed with Darrell's abilities, Killen asked him to join a group he was assembling called the Little Dippers, which also featured Hurshel Wigintin, Delores Dinning and Emily Gilmore. McCall agreed, and the Little Dippers had one major pop hit, the Top 10 single "Forever," in 1960. The following year, he signed a solo contract with Capitol. During 1961, he released two pop s ingles for the label, "My Kind of Lovin'" and "Call the Zoo," but both failed miserably, and the label dropped him. In light of his unsuccessful forays into the pop marketplace, McCall returned to country in 1962 and signed a contract with Phillips. In January of 1963, "A Stranger Was Here" his first - and, as it would turn out, his biggest - country hit appeared. Peaking at number 1 7 on the charts, the single spent eight weeks on the charts and seemed to be a positive beginning to his country career, but he wasn't able to deliver a hit followup, even though he sang the theme to the Paul Newman film Hud that same year.
        McCall decided to abandoned music for a short while in the mid-'60s, launching an acting career in 1965. That year, he appeared in the film Nashville Rebel and the following year, he was in Road to Nashville and What Am I Bid. During that time, Darrell also worked as a cowboy in the Southwest, and appeared in several minor rodeos. he didn't return to recording until 1968, when he joined the roster of the independent label Wayside Records. Over the next two years, he had four minor hits for the label - "I'd Love to Live With You Again," "Wall of Pictures," "Hurry Up," "The Arms of My Weakness" - and released one album, 1970's Meet Darrell McCall, which was distributed by Mercury. The contract with Wayside expired in 1971, and McCall didn't immediately sign another recording contract. However, Hank Williams Jr. took Darrell's "Eleven Roses" (which he co-wrote with Lamar Morris) to number one, which led to Tree International signing him as a professional songwriter.
        Darrell McCall didn't reactivate his recording career until 1974, when he signed with Atlantic. His debut single for the label, "There's Still A Lot of Love in San Antone," nearly reached the country Top 50 that year. In 1975, he left Atlantic for Columbia, where he had his greatest period of chart success since the early '60s. Although his first single for the label, "Pins and Needles (in My Heart)," didn't do much better than "There's Still A Lot of Love in San Antone," and his second single "Lily Dale" was a duet with Willie Nelson that cracked the country Top 40. McCall's new success was partially due to the popularity of outlaw country, and how he neatly fit into its rough and ready musical style. "Lily Dale" was named Best Duet of 1977 by Cash Box magazine, and it was followed by "Dreams of a Dreamer," Darrell's first solo Top 40 hit since 1963. Of course, the brief McCall renaissance began to lose its luster in 1978, as outlaw country began to lose its stronghold on the country charts. His singles "Down the Roads of Daddy's Dreams" and "The Weeds Outlived the Roses" failed to make the Top 40, and he was soon dropped by Columbia.
        In 1980, he signed with Hillside Records, where he had only one hit single - a duet on "San Antonio Medley" with Curtis Potter. After that reached the lower levels of the country charts in the spring, he switched labels to RCA, here he nearly reached the Top 40 in the fall with "Long Line of Empties." At that time, the tastes of country radio and the genre's audience had shifted completely away from outlaw country and settled on the smooth, rock-influenced textures of Urban Cowboy. Consequently, McCall's recording career suffered. Over the next four years, he recorded on sporadically, most notably as the uncredited "friend" on Connie Hanson and Friend's minor 1982 hit, "There's Still a Lot of Love in San Antone." Two years later, he had his final charting hit with "Memphis in May," which was released on Indigo Records. In 1986, McCall cut two albums: a record with his old backing group the Tennessee Volunteers called Reunion (released on BGM), and Hot Texas Country, a duet record with Johnny Bush.
        Following 1986, McCall essentially retired from recording, though he continued to play the occasional concert and worked constantly for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. McCall spent the remainder of the '80s and most of the '90s at his Texas home with his wife Mona Vary, who used to play in Audrey Williams' band. - Stephen Thomas Erlewine


Willie Nelson
AKA Willie Hugh Nelson was born Apr 30, 1933 in Fort Worth, TX. As a songwriter and a performer, Willie Nelson played a vital role in post-rock & roll country music. Although he didn't become a star until the mid-'70s, Nelson spent the '60s writing songs that became hits for stars like Ray Price ("Nite Life"), Patsy Cline ("Crazy"), Faron Young ("Hello Walls"), and Billy Walker ("Funny How Time Slips Away"), as well as releasing a series of records on Liberty and RCA that earned him a small, but devoted, cult following. During the early '70s, Willie aligned himself with Waylon Jennings and the burgeoning outlaw country movement which made him into a star in 1975. Following the crossover success of that year's The Red Headed Stranger and "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain," Nelson was a genuine star, as recognizable in pop circles as he was to the country audience; in addition to recording, he also launched an acting career in the early '80s. Even when he was a star, Willie never played it safe musically. Instead, he borrowed from a wide variety of styles, including traditional pop, Western swing, jazz, traditional country, cowboy songs, honky tonk, rock & roll, folk, and the blues, creating a distinctive, elastic hybrid. Nelson remained at the top of the country charts until the mid-'80s, when his lifestyle - which had always been close to the outlaw clichZťs his music flirted with - began to spiral out of control, culminating in an infamous battle with the IRS in the late '80s. During the '90s, Nelson's sales never reached the heights that he experienced a decade earlier, but he remained a vital icon in country music, having greatly influenced the new country, new traditionalist, and alternative country movements of the '80s and '90s, as well as leaving behind a legacy of classic songs and recordings.
        Willie Nelson began performing music as a child growing up in Abbott, TX. After his father died and his mother ran away, Nelson and his sister Bobbie were raised by their grandparents, who encouraged both children to play instruments. Willie picked up the guitar, and by the time he was 7, he was already writing songs. Bobbie learned to play piano, eventually meeting - and later marrying - fiddler Bud Fletcher, who invited both of the sibling to join his band. Nelson had already played with Raychecks' Polka Band, but with Fletcher, he acted as the group's frontman. Willie stayed with Fletcher throughout high school. Upon his graduation, he joined the Air Force, but had to leave shortly afterward, when he became plagued by back problems. Following his disenrollment from the service, he began looking for full-time work. After he worked several part-time jobs, he landed a job as a country DJ at Fort Worth's KCNC in 1954. Nelson continued to sing in honky tonks as he worked as a DJ, deciding to make a stab at recording career by 1956. That year, he headed to Vancouver, Washington where he recorded Leon Payne's "Lumberjack." At that time, Payne was a DJ and he plugged "Lumberjack" on the air, which eventually resulted in sales of 3, 000 - a respectable figure for an independent single, but not enough to gain much attention. For the next few years, he continued to DJ and sing in clubs. During this time, he sold "Family Bible" to a guitar instructor for $50 and when the song became a hit for Claude Gray in 1960, Nelson decided to move to Nashville the following year to try his luck. Though his nasal voice and jazzy, off-center phrasing didn't win him many friends - several demos were made and then rejected by various labels - his songwriting ability didn't go unnoticed, and soon Hank Cochran helped Willie land a publishing contract at Pamper Music. Ray Price, who co-owned Pamper Music, recorded Nelson's "Night Life" and invited him to join his touring band, the Cherokee Cowboys, as a bassist.
        Arriving at the beginning of 1961, Price's invitation began a watershed year for Nelson. Not only did he play with Price - eventually taking members of the Cherokee Cowboys to form his own touring band - but his songs also provided major hits for several other artists. Faron Young took "Hello Walls" to number one for nine weeks, Billy Walker made "Funny How Time Slips Away" into a Top 40 country smash, and Patsy Cline made "Crazy" into a Top Ten pop crossover hit. Earlier in the year, he signed a contract with Liberty Records, and began releasing a series of singles that were usually drenched in strings. "Willingly," a duet with his then-wife Shirley Collie, became a Top Ten hit for Nelson early in 1962 and it was followed by another Top Ten single, "Touch Me," later that year. Both singles made it seem like Nelson was primed to become a star, but his career stalled just as quickly as it had taken off and he was soon charting in the lower regions of the Top 40. Liberty closed its country division in 1964, the same year Roy Orbison had a hit with "Pretty Paper."
        When the Monument recordings failed to become hits, Nelson moved to RCA Records in 1965, the same year became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Over the next seven years, Willie had a steady stream of minor hits, highlighted by the number 13 hit "Bring Me Sunshine" in 1969. Toward the end of his stint with RCA, he had grown frustrated with the label, who had continually tried to shoehorn him into the heavily-produced Nashville sound. By 1972, he wasn't even able to reach the country Top 40. Discouraged by his lack of success, Nelson decided to retire from country music, moving back to Austin, Texas after a brief and disastrous sojourn into pig farming. Once he arrived in Austin, Nelson realized that many young rock fans were listening to country music along with the traditional honky tonk audience. Spotting an opportunity, Willie began performing again, scrapping his pop-oriented Nashville sound and image for a rock and folk-influenced redneck outlaw image. Soon, he had earned a contract with Atlantic Records.
        Shotgun Willie (1973), Nelson's first album for Atlantic, was evidence of the shift of his musical style, and although it initially didn't sell well, it earned good reviews and cultivated a dedicated cult following. By the fall of 1973, his version of Bob Wills' "Stay All Night (Stay a Little Longer)" had cracked the country Top 40. The following year, he delivered the concept album Phases and Stages, which increased his following even more with the hit singles "Bloody Mary Morning" and "After the Fire is Gone." But the real commercial breakthrough didn't arrive until 1975, when he severed ties with Atlantic and signed to Columbia Records, who gave him complete creative control of his records. Willie's first album for Columbia, The Red Headed Stranger, was a spare concept album about a preacher, featuring only his guitar and his sister's piano. The label was reluctant to release with such stark arrangements, but they relented and it became a huge hit, thanks to Nelson's understated cover of Roy Acuff's "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain."
        Following the breakthrough success of The Red Headed Stranger, as well as Waylon Jennings' simultaneous success, outlaw country - so named because it worked outside of the confines of the Nashville industry - became a sensation, and RCA compiled the various artists album Wanted: The Outlaws, using material Nelson, Jennings, Tompall Glaser and Jessi Colter had previously recorded for the label. The compilation boasted a number one single in the form of the newly-recorded Jennings and Nelson duet "Good Hearted Woman," which was also named the Country Music Association's single of the year. For the next five years, Nelson consistently charted on both the country and pop charts, with "Remember Me," "If You've Got the Money I've Got the Time," and "Uncloudy Day" becoming Top Ten country singles in 1976; "I Love You a Thousand Ways" and "the Mary Kay Place duet "Something to Brag About" were Top Ten country singles the following year.
        Nelson enjoyed his most successful year to date in 1978, as he charted with two very dissimilar albums. Waylon and Willie, his first duet album with Jennings, was a major success early in the year, spawning the signature song "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys." Later in the year, he released Stardust, a string-augmented collection of pop standards produced by Booker T. Jones. Most observers believed that the unconventional album would derail Nelson's career, but it unexpectedly became one of the most successful records in his catalog, spending almost ten years in the country charts and eventually selling over four million copies. After the success of Stardust, Willie branched out into film, appearing in the Robert Redford movie The Electric Horseman in 1979 and starring in Honeysuckle Rose the following year. The latter spawned the hit "On the Road Again," which became another one of Nelson's signature songs.
        Willie continued to have hits throughout the early '80s, when he had a major crossover success in 1982 with a cover of Elvis Presley's hit "Always on My Mind." The single spent two weeks at number one and crossed over to number five on the pop charts, sending the album of the same name to number two on the pop charts, as well as quadruple-platinum status. Over the next two years, he had hit duet albums with Merle Haggard (1983's Poncho and Lefty) and Waylon Jennings (1982's WWII and 1983's Take It to the Limit), while "To All the Girls I've Loved Before," a duet with Latin pop star Julio Iglesias, became another major crossover success in 1984, peaking at number five on the pop charts and number one on the singles chart.
        Following a string of number one singles in early 1985, including "Highwayman," the first single from the Highwaymen, a supergroup he formed with Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson, Nelson's popularity gradually began to erode. A new generation of artists had captured the attention of the country audience, which began to drastically cut into his own audience. For the remainder of the decade, he recorded less frequently and remained on the road; he also continued to do charity work, most notably Farm Aid, an annual concert designed to provide aid to ailing farmers that he founded in 1985. While he career was declining, an old demon began to creep up on Willie - the IRS. In November of 1990, he was given a bill for $16.7 million in back taxes. During the following year, almost all of his assets - including several houses, studios, farms and various property - were taken away, and to help pay his bill, he released the double-album The IRS Tapes: Who'll Buy My Memories. Originally released as two separate albums, the records were marketed through television commercials and all the profits were directed to the IRS. By 1993 - the year he turned 60 - his debts had been paid off, and he relaunched his recording career with Across the Borderline, an ambitious album produced by Don Was and featuring cameos by Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Paul Simon, Sinead O'Connor, David Crosby and Kris Kristofferson. The record received strong reviews and became his first solo album to appear in the pop charts since 1985.
        After the release of Across the Borderline, Nelson continued to work steadily, releasing at least one album a year and touring constantly. In 1993, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, but by that time, he had already become a living legend for all country music fans across the world. Signing to Island for 1996's Spirit, he resurfaced two years later with the critically acclaimed Teatro, produced by Daniel Lanois. Nelson followed up that success with the instrumental-oriented Night and Day a year later; Me and the Drummer and Milk Cow Blues followed in 2000. The Rainbow Connection, which featured an eclectic selection of old time country favorites, appeared in spring 2001. -Stephen Thomas Erlewine


Sam McGee
Born May 1, 1894 in Franklin, TN, died Aug 21, 1975 in Franklin, TN. Flat-top guitar picker Sam McGee and his fiddling brother Kirk were among the earliest fraternal duets in country music, and were also extraordinary sidemen for such legendary performers as Uncle Dave Macon and Fiddling Arthur Smith. The McGee brothers were born just south of Nashville in Williamson County, Tennessee, and were influenced by their old-time fiddle-playing father and other members of their family. Sam got his professional start playing at a square dance in the early 1900s. He began as a banjo player, as guitars were very rare in Tennessee during that era, but became intrigued with the instrument and the blues songs sung by black railroad laborers congregating outside his father's store. Meanwhile, Kirk followed his father and learned to play the fiddle while also practicing his singing. He enjoyed more traditional, sentimental songs, while Sam was drawn to comic material. Kirk also found the blues interesting and learned songs from the records of such performers as Papa Charlie Jackson and Kokomo Arnold.
        In 1925, Sam began a longtime affiliation with Uncle Dave Macon, who would become his mentor and occasional rival. It was with Macon that Sam made his recording debut on guitar instrumentals like "Buck Dancer's Choice" and "Knoxville Blues." Two years later, Kirk also joined Macon's band, the Fruit Jar Drinkers, and recorded with them in New York. Around this time, the brothers also began recording their own songs; in 1928, Kirk and his cousin Blythe Poteet cut a few singles for Gennett, including the popular "Kicking Mule," and also performed on the Grand Ole Opry with Macon. In 1931, the brothers began working with fiddler Arthur Smith as the Dixieliners, becoming one of the most popular string bands during the 1930s. Although they played during most of Smith's live performances, the McGees never recorded with him.
        The brothers abandoned country music during the 1940s for a time. Later, Kirk began his decade-long intermittent association with Bill Monroe. By 1955, the McGees were in danger of losing their tenure at the Opry and were told to resume touring. The following year, they staged a comeback, entertaining a new generation of folk music lovers. The brothers reunited with Smith in 1957 and recorded two albums for Folkways, also playing northern folk festivals. The McGees began to specialize in old-time music during the 1960s. They recorded together and separately on a variety of independent labels before forming their own record company, MBA, in the early 1970s. They played their final engagement at the old Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Opry, in 1974; by that time they were the senior members of the show and were honored by being the first act to play at the new Opry house. One year later, Sam was killed in a farming accident. Kirk kept on playing alone and with the Fruit Jar Drinkers. -Sandra Brennan


Don King
Born May 1, 1954 in Freemont, NE. Singer/songwriter/guitarist/trumpeter Don King first learned to play trumpet in high school, and took up classical guitar at age 14 after learning to play the electric guitar. Born and raised in Nebraska, he got his professional start playing in Omaha clubs. His success there inspired King to try his luck in Nashville in 1974; his first job was playing at the Quality Inn Hotel club for two years, where he met important people in the music business. He used his connections to get a contract with Con Brio Records and in 1976 made his chart debut with "Cabin High (In the Blue Ridge Mountains)." The following year, he had his first Top 20 hit with "I've Got You to Come Home To," which was followed by two other medium-level hits and his first album, Dreams and Things. In 1978, he released his second album, Feelings So Right, and had four Top 30 hits, including "Music Is My Woman." In 1979, the single "Lonely Hotel" made it to the Top 40. He had two more hits the following year and began touring with Alabama, Reba McEntire, John Anderson, the Oak Ridge Boys, Conway Twitty, and Tammy Wynette, among others. He scored a Top 40 hit with his cover of Johnny Cash's "I Still Miss Someone" in 1981 and had another with "The Closer You Get" while completing his album, Whirlwind. At the end of the year, he launched the Don King Music Group with his father. They built a 24-track studio in 1985 to record demos and added a video production company in 1992. -Sandra Brennan


Rita Coolidge
Born May 1, 1944 in Nashville, TN. After several years as a successful backup singer - either in the studio or on the road - for Delaney & Bonnie, Stephen Stills, Leon Russell, and Eric Clapton, Rita Coolidge launched her own career in 1971. Coolidge's smooth R&B and gospel-tinged pop didn't land her a hit until 1977, when "We're All Alone" and her cover of Jackie Wilson's "Higher and Higher" hit the Top Ten. Those two hits marked the peak of her career, although she would continue to chart until 1983; "All Time High," from the James Bond movie Octopussy, was her last hit, although she continued releasing records like 1992's Love Lessons and 1995's Out of the Blues. -Stephen Thomas Erlewine  

Sonny James
AKA Jimmy Loden, the Southern Gentleman, used the popular Nashville sound of the '60s to countrify pop hits of the past into a form accessible to many, broadening country music's appeal across the nation. James even moved over to the pop charts for a time in the late '50s, but found the secret of his success by the time he returned to the country. During the late '60s, he scored an incredible five-year run of number-one singles which locked up the top spot for a combined 45 weeks during the late '60s.
        Born James Loden on May 1, 1929 in Hackleburg, AL, he began performing with his show-business family at the age of three and played with his four sisters as the Loden Family while in his teens. The group appeared around the South and on radio shows like the Louisiana Hayride and Saturday Night Shindig. After spending time overseas during the Korean War, Loden took Sonny James as his stage name - after his teenage nickname - and joined the local bar circuit. He met and played with Chet Atkins, who later got him a tryout with Capitol Records. The label liked what it heard and offered James a contract.
        His first single, "That's Me Without You," hit the Country Top Ten in early 1953, but it was three years before "For Rent (One Empty Heart)" became his second big hit. James, who played guitar on virtually all of his records, followed up with two 1956 Top Ten near-misses "Twenty Feet of Muddy Water" and "The Cat Came Back." His next single became his biggest hit: "Young Love" spent nine weeks at number one during 1956-57, and crossed over to top the pop charts also.
        Beginning in 1957, Sonny James began to focus his attention on the popular charts. "First Date, First Kiss, First Love" made the Top 25, but no follow-up placed as high. Several of his failures had still managed to go Top Ten on the Country charts, so James returned to country with a vengeance in 1964. "You're the Only World I Know" hit number one Country late that year, and spent four weeks atop the chart.
        That began one of the greatest tears country music has ever known: 21 of his next 25 singles hit number one (and the other four were near-misses either two or three). Sonny James completely dominated the chart from 1964 to 1972, though only several singles crossed over for modest placements on the popular charts. That fact is somewhat surprising, since three-quarters of James' number ones had previously been pop hits, including "Take Good Care of Her" for Adam Wade, "I'll Never Find Another You" and "A World of Our Own" for the Seekers, "Born to Be with You" for the Chordettes and Roy Orbison's "Only the Lonely." Backed by his Southern Gentlemen band, James toured the country and overseas, appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, Hee Haw and The Bob Hope Show, and made several movies, including Las Vegas Hillbillies (1966), Second Fiddle to a Steel Guitar (1967) and Nashville Rebel (1967). Billboard named him the Number One Artist of 1969.
        Even after Sonny James' number one streak ended in January 1972, he continued to place high on the charts. The number-two "Only Love Can Break a Heart" (a pop hit for Gene Pitney ten years earlier) was followed by the number ones "That's Why I Love You like I Do" and - after moving to Columbia in mid-1972 - "When the Snow Is on the Roses." James' next chart-topping single, "Is It Wrong (For Loving You)," was released in March 1974, and it began his last major run. He followed with four consecutive Top Ten hits, "A Mi Esposa con Amor (To My Wife with Love)," "A Little Bit South of Saskatoon," "Little Band of Gold" and "What in the World's Come over You."
        By the early '70s, James had moved into producing and music publishing also; he oversaw three of Marie Osmond's albums, and still managed occasional Top Tens himself. He picked up the prestigious award of Country Music's Male Artist of the Decade from Record World in 1977, and moved to the Monument label in 1979, then to Dimension two years later. He retired in 1983, and now raises cattle in Alabama. -John Bush


Tim McGraw
Born May 1, 1967 in Delhi, LA. Tim McGraw was best-known for his hit single, "Indian Outlaw," a controversial single that made him a star in the mid-'90s. The son of the baseball player Tug McGraw, Tim was raised in Start, Louisiana, where he listened to country, Motown, rock & roll and R&B. Like his father, he was a natural athlete and attended college on sports scholarships. McGraw didn't become interested in performing music until he bought a pawn shop guitar while attending school. He moved to Nashville in 1989 and later played gigs in the Deep South. In 1992 he released his first single, "Welcome to the Club," which reached the country Top 50. In 1993, he released his eponymous debut, which produced two more minor hits. In 1994, McGraw released his second album, Not A Moment Too Soon, which contained "Indian Outlaw." The song reached number eight on the country charts and number 15 on the pop charts admist controversy over the Native American stereotypes presented in the lyrics. Nevertheless, Not A Moment Too Soon became a crossover hit - the album hit number two on the pop charts and went triple-platinum within months of its release. "Don't Take the Girl," the follow-up single, was another crossover success, reaching number 17 on the pop charts and number one on the country charts. In 1995, McGraw released his third album, All I Want, which became another multi-platinum hit. Place in the Sun was released in 1999, topping the country charts with the single "Something Like That." -Sandra Brennan


The Girls of the Golden West
The opening round of biographical details in the story of the Girls of the Golden West sets the tone with names that seem properly ironic. Sisters Mildred and Dorothy "Dolly" Good were born in Muleshoe, TX, in 1913 and 1915, respectively. They grew up listening to cowboy songs from the Southwest, and wound up getting the credit for spreading this regional influence into the blend of what developed into country & western music. The sisters began their duo the way many talented children do - by entertaining family and friends in the comfort of their home. And although this audience preferred the girls' versions of cowboy and western material, the sisters themselves personally preferred pop music. When Dolly was only 14, they made their professional debut on radio station WIL in St. Louis. Making their home near Chicago, the Girls of the Golden West appeared regularly on a variety of radio shows heard from Northern Canada to south of the Mexican border. Regular appearances on the Chicago radio station WLS' National Barn Dance began in 1933 and led to guest spots on Rudy Vallee's syndicated NBC show. The sisters were such a hit on the Vallee program that it led to them being offered their own weekly NBC program, and a recording contract followed posthaste. Dorothy Good took the lead on most of the solo passages and played guitar in a basic manner that worked suitably as an accompanying instrument. She did not try to play lead fills in the manner of Maybelle Carter, instead specializing in top-quality harmony parts and catchy yodelling. In the recording studio, the girls created a repertoire that consisted of about half newly composed ditties based on western themes. Then, there was a certain number of traditional cowboy songs from the realm of orally passed-on folk music, and the sessions were filled out with cover versions of pop standards they liked. What had always been a strong interest of the girls increased as their career went on, until the pop material started to take over more territory during their recording sessions. The Girls of the Golden West performed and recorded sporadically until Dorothy Good's death in 1967. Their discography includes three albums for the Fort Worth Bluebonnet label. In 1978, Sonyatone released a collection of their cowboy- and western-orientated material. -Eugene Chadbourne


Larry Gatlin
Born May 28, 1948 in Seminole, TX. Larry Gatlin was the founder of the Gatlin Brothers, but before starting the popular 1980s trio, he had a successful career of his own.
        Gatlin was raised listening to and performing gospel music. As a child, he teamed with his brothers to sing on a local radio station. After college, he joined the gospel-oriented Imperials as part of Jimmy Dean's Las Vegas show in the 1960s. While there he met Dottie West and she became his friend and mentor. Later he sent her a demo of his songs. She was so impressed that she sent him plane tickets to Nashville in her reply. After West recorded two of those songs, "Once You Are Mine," and "You're the Other Half of Me," Gatlin moved to Music City and began singing with West's newly formed First Generation Music Company. Soon afterward, he began singing back up for Kris Kristofferson, and it was he who helped Gatlin get a contract with Monument Records in 1973.
        Gatlin's first single, "Sweet Becky Walker," reached the country Top 40 and his third single, "Delta Dirt," made it to the Top 15 in 1974. In late 1975, he gathered his brothers and a few others to form Larry Gatlin with Family and Friends. In 1978, he recorded a few solo singles and two of them - "Night Time Magic" and "I've Done Enough Dyin' Today" - reached the Top Ten. In 1979, he created the Gatlin Brothers Band, and for the next five years had great success with them.
        The Gatlin Brothers continued recording and touring regularly until 1991; for the rest of the decade, the Gatlins performed regularly, sometimes at their theatre in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. In 1993, Larry played the part of Will Rogers in the Will Rogers Follies on Broadway. Later that year, he and his brothers returned to the recording studio to record a tribute to their favorite musicians, entitled Moments to Remember. The solo gospel release In My Life appeared in 1998. -Sandra Brennan


Stu Phillips
Stu Phillips, like Hank Snow, comes to the Opry from Canada. Born in Montreal, he grew up in Calgary, Alberta in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, and he wrote many of his early songs in this beautiful creative setting.
        He had a brief interest in becoming a lawyer but realized he wanted a career in show business. He performed at social parties at church and on radio shows - the "Noon Specials" and big "Saturday Night Jamborees." He soon progressed to television. He was an immediate success and for years had his own television show and appeared on most of the top shows with stars like Johnny Cash, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Carol Lawrence, Leslie Uggums and Danny Thomas.
        His chart songs include "Bracero," "The Great El Tigre," "Vin Rose," "Juanita Jones," "Note in Box #9," "The Top of the World," and "Bring Love Back Into Our World." He joined the Grand Ole Opry on June 1, 1967 - a very proud member saying "I love the Opry. It's tradition, a way of life for Country Music fans - an institution with substance and meaning for its followers. I want my career to have a similar meaning, and that means dedication and hard work."
        He has toured extensively in the Far East, Middle East and Africa, where his records have received the equivalent of gold records. He has also Europe and taken his songs across this country and Canada.
        He is married to a beautiful Canadian girl, Aldona, and they have three grown children. In 1993 the German-based Bear Family Records released a CD featuring 35 songs from three of early albums. That same year he also released a new CD on Broadland Records, Don't Give Up On Me which included the single "Rio TiaJuana," and he was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame.
        He still tours and performs on the Opry although he has become a minister in the Episcopal Church, receiving his divinity from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee.


Dave Dudley
AKA Dave Pedruska. Dave Dudley (born David Darwin Pedruska, May 3, 1928, Spencer, WI) is the father of truck-driving country music. With his 1963 song "Six Days on the Road," he founded a new genre of country music ‹ a variation of honky tonk and rock-inflected country that concentrated lyrically on the lifestyles of truck drivers. Dudley had a string of Top 15 singles that ran through the '60s, while he continued to have Top 40 hits well into the '70s, establishing himself as one of the most popular singers of his era.
        At the age of 11, Dudley's father gave him a guitar, but he had his heart set on being a baseball player. Throughout his teenage years he played ball, becoming a member of the Gainesville, Texas Owls as a young adult. However, his career was cut short by an arm injury. Following his retirement from baseball, he became a DJ at a local Texas station, where he would sometimes play along with the songs on the air. The station owner encouraged to become a performer and Dudley followed the advice.
        Dudley moved to Idaho in the early '50s, where he formed the Dave Dudley Trio, which didn't have much success in its seven years together. In 1960, following the breakup of the trio, he moved to Minneapolis, where formed a group called the Country Gentlemen, which quickly built up a dedicated following. His career was thrown off track in December of 1960, when he was struck by a hit-and-run driver as he was packing his guitar into his car. After several months, he was recovered and he managed to secure a record deal with Vee Records. His first single, "Maybe I Do," was minor hit in the fall of 1961 and it was followed by another minor hit, "Under Cover of the Night," the following year on Jubilee Records.
        In the summer of 1963, he had his breakthrough hit, "Six Days on the Road," which was released on Golden Wing. The song became a massive success, peaking at number two on the country charts and making the pop Top 40. That same year, he signed with Mercury Records, releasing his first single for the label, "Last Day in the Mines," by the end of the year. Throughout the '60s, he had a long string of truck driving singles, including "Truck Drivin' Son-of-A-Gun," "Trucker's Prayer," "Anything Leaving Town Today, "There Ain't No Easy Run," and "Two Six Packs Away." By the end of the decade, he was also making conservative, good-old-boy anthems, as well.
        During the early '70s, he had several hits ‹ notably the 1971 Top Ten singles "Comin' Down" and "Fly Away Again" ‹ but by the beginning of the '80s, he was no longer a presence on the charts. His last hit single was 1980's "Rolaids, Doan's Pills and Preparation H." During the '80s and '90s, Dudley didn't record much, but he remained a popular concert draw. And truck drivers still loved him ‹ the Teamsters Union awarded him an honorary, solid gold membership card. -Stephen Thomas Erlewine


Patsy Montana
Born Oct 30, 1914, died 1996. One of the true pioneers of country music was Patsy Montana, the original yodeling cowgirl. She was the first woman in country music to have a million-selling single ‹ 1935's "I Want to Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart" ‹ and was a mainstay on WLS Chicago's National Barn Dance for over 25 years. In the '30s and '40s she was the sweetheart of many a movie cowpoke, appearing in numerous Western films, and her success encouraged the traditionally male-oriented country music business to welcome and respect the scores of female performers that followed her.
        Patsy Montana was born Ruby Blevins in Hot Springs, Arkansas, the eleventh child and first daughter of a farmer. She was influenced early on by the music of Jimmie Rodgers, and as a child learned to yodel and play organ, guitar, and violin. In 1930, she moved to California with her older brother and his wife. Montana won a talent contest there and began appearing on a local radio station as "Ruby Blevins, the Yodeling Cowgirl from San Antone." She continued in radio with country-western star Stuart Hamblen as part of the Montana Cowgirls. Two years later, she returned to Arkansas for a visit and wound up in a recording session at Victor with Jimmie Davis. She recorded four of her own songs under the name "Patsy Montana" ‹ Hamblen called her Patsy because he liked Irish names and her signature song was "Montana Plains."
        In 1933, she began singing with the Prairie Ramblers, who became her backup band, at WLS Chicago and then became a regular on the National Barn Dance. She also cut many records; 1935's "I Want to Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart" became her signature song, but it was not her only hit; others included "Rodeo Sweetheart," "I Wanna Be a Western Cowgirl," "Back on the Montana Plains," and "I Want to Be a Cowboy's Dream." In 1939, she made her full-length feature film debut with Gene Autry in Colorado Sunset.
        Montana moved to Decca in 1941 and released only 12 songs over the next four years. Following World War II, audience tastes shifted towards honky-tonk, so Montana's yodeling cowgirl style was not as popular as it was in the '30s. In 1948 she returned to Arkansas to live on a farm with her husband and two children, appearing on the radio daily in Hot Springs and on many Saturdays on the Louisiana Hayride. Later she and her husband moved back to California. Over the years, Montana remained active in the music industry, appearing on many country music shows. In 1964, she cut a live album at the Matador room in Safford, Arizona; among her bandmates was a young guitarist named Waylon Jennings. In the '80s and '90s, she recorded albums for a number of independent labels before her death on May 3, 1996. ‹Sandra Brennan


Randy Travis
Like the Beatles in rock, Randy Travis marks a generational shift in country music. When his Storms of Life came out in 1986, country music was still wallowing in the post-Urban Cowboy recession, chasing elusive crossover dreams. Travis brought the music back to its basics, sounding like nothing so much as a perfect blend of George Jones and Merle Haggard. He became the dominant male voice in country until the rise of "hat acts" like Garth Brooks and Clint Black, releasing seven consecutive number one singles during one stretch. He won the CMA's Horizon Award in 1986 and was the association's Male Vocalist of the Year in 1987 and '88.
        Randy Travis (born Randy Bruce Traywick, May 4, 1959, Marshville, North Carolian) was born and raised in North Carolina, in a small town outside of Charlotte. Travis's father encouraged his children to pursue their musical inclinations, as he was a fan of honky tonkers like Hank Williams, George Jones, and Lefty Frizzell. Randy began playing guitar at the age of eight and within two years, he and his brother Ricky and formed a duo called the Traywick Brothers. The duo played in local clubs and talent contests.
        Both of the brothers had a wild streak, which resulted in Ricky going to jail after a car chase and Randy running away to Charlotte at the age of 16. While he was in Charlotte, he won a talent contest at Country City U.S.A., a bar owned by Lib Hatcher. Hatcher was impressed by Travis and offered him a regular gig at her bar, as well as a job as a cook.
        For several years, he sang and worked at Country City. He still had trouble with the law in his late teens. At his last run-in with the police, the judge told him if he saw Travis again, he should be prepared to go to jail for a long time. Randy was released into the care of Hatcher. In a short time, Hatcher became Travis' manager and the pair began to concentrate on his career. Joe Stampley helped Randy land a contract with Paula Records in 1978. The following year, Travis released two singles under his given name; one of them, "She's My Woman," scraped the bottom of the country charts.
        In 1982, Travis and Hatcher moved to Nashville, where she managed the Nashville Palace nightclub while he sang and cooked. Within a couple of years, the pair independently released his debut album under the name Randy Ray; the record was called Randy Ray Live and sold primarily in the Nashville Palace.
        Thanks to Hatcher's persistent efforts and the Randy Ray Live album, Warner Brothers signed Randy in 1985 and suggested that he change his performing name to Randy Travis. "On the Other Hand," his first single for the label, was released in the summer of that year and climbed to number 67. Despite its lackluster performance, radio programmers were enthusiastic for Travis, as evidenced by the number six placing of "1982," which was released late in the year. "1982" was followed by a re-release on "On the Other Hand" in the spring of 1986 This time, the song hit number one.
        Storms of Life, Travis' full-fledged debut album, was released in the summer of 1986 and became a huge success, eventually selling over three million copies. Travis was the first country artist to go multi-platinum; before his success, most country artists had difficulty achieving gold status. With his mass appeal, he set the stage for country music's cross-over success in the early '90s. However, Travis dominated the late '80s. The last two singles from Storms of Life, "Diggin' Up Bones" and "No Place Like Home," hitting number one and two, respectively. "Forever and Ever, Amen" ‹ the first single from Randy's second album, 1987's Always & Forever ‹ began a streak of seven straight number one singles that ran through 1989. Always & Forever was more successful than his debut, reachin number 19 on the pop charts and going quadruple platinum; it also earned him the CMA's award for Male Vocalist of the Year. Old 8X10 (1988) and No Holdin' Back (1989) weren't quite as successful as their predecessors, but they still spawned number one singles and both went platinum.
        Travis was still at the top of his form in the beginning of the '90s, starting the decade with his biggest hit, "Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart." However, his hold at the top of the charts began to slip after Clint Black and, in particular, Garth Brooks. Nevertheless, Randy never fell away completely ‹ his albums continued to gold and he usually could crack the Top Ten. Wind in the Wire, a soundtrack to his television special released in 1992, marked his first unsuccessful album ‹ none of the single broke the Top 40. This is Me, released in 1994, was a succeessful comeback to the top of the charts, featuring "Whisper My Name," his first number one hit in two years. In August 1996, Travis released Full Circle, his last album for Warner Brothers. He left the label in 1997, signing with the fledgling "super"-label DreamWorks. His first album for the label, You and You Alone, was released in the spring of 1998; Man Ain't Made of Stone followed a year later. Traveling the familiar country route, he released an album of traditional and contemporary religious songs calling it Inspirational Journey which hit the stores in late 2000. ‹Brian Mansfield & Stephen Thomas Erlewine


Stella Parton
Born May 4, 1949 in Sevier County, TN. Stella Parton made her profesional debut at the age of seven, singing with her mega-star sister Dolly on a Knoxville TV show. She made her radio debut two years later, and soon formed a group with two other sisters to sing gospel and commercial jingles on local radio stations in East Tennessee. Around this time, Parton began writing and performing her own songs. She married in high school and was pregnant with her first child when she graduated. She started her own record label, Country Soul, in 1975 and released her own album. Her debut single, "I Wanna Hold You in My Dreams," made it to the Top Ten. She also had some chart success with her second and third releases, and signed with Elektra the following year. Her first Elektra single, "Neon Woman" ‹a duet with Carmol Taylor ‹ made it to the Top 15 in 1977, followed by two more singles including "Four Little Letters." Though her career was on the upswing, Parton left the label in 1979 and didn't again make it back to the charts until 1982 with her sixth album, So Far So Good, which generated a pair of hits; five years passed before her next minor chart entry. As an actress, Parton appeared in the feature film Country Gold, and worked in several Broadway musicals including The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. She also wrote and choreographed shows in her sister's amusement park Dollywood and published a two-volume Southern style cookbook during the early '90s. ‹Sandra Brennan


Ace Cannon
Born May 5, 1934 in Grenada, MS. One of Nashville's premier session men from the late '50s through the early '70s, alto saxophonist Ace Cannon began playing at the age of ten and signed with Sun Records during the early days of rock & roll. He performed with Billy Lee Riley and Brad Suggs but then in 1959 joined the original Bill Black Combo, recording for the Hi label. He stayed with the band until 1961, when he made his solo chart debut with the instrumental "Tuff," which made it to the country Top 20. This in turn was followed by a Top 40 hit, "Blues (Stay Away from Me)," and a minor hit for the Santos label, "Sugar Blues." He had two more hits in the mid-'60s with "Cotton Fields" and "Searchin'," both recorded for Hi. A decade later, he became the subject of the 1974 documentary film, Ace's High. After moving to Nashville in the mid-'70s, Cannon's version of "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" became a minor hit and was nominated for the Best Country Instrumental Performance Grammy that year. Cannon continued to perform into the '90s and frequently toured with such legends of early rock & roll as Carl Perkins. ‹Sandra Brennan


Al Dexter
Died Jan 28, 1984 in Lewisville, TX. Al Dexter earned a spot in the popular music canon when he wrote "Pistol Packin' Mama" in 1942. Recorded by him a year later, the single sold three million copies ‹ not counting sheet music ‹ in less than two years, and was ranked the third most popular song of the war years. Both Bing Crosby (with the Andrew Sisters) and Frank Sinatra recorded "Pistol Packin' Mama" for hits, and the song influenced country's pop-influenced Nashville sound of the '50s. It's difficult to believe, but Dexter also managed to influence the honky tonk style that later proved a vivid counterpoint to the Nashville sound. He owned a bar for a time during the '30s, and popularized the term honky tonk ‹ slang for both rowdy bars and later the music that emerged from their jukeboxes ‹ on his 1937 recording "Honky Tonk Blues." However, the popular theory that Dexter actually coined the term can be blown full of holes; he had never heard of honky tonk before his songwriting partner James B. Paris suggested it as a title in 1936.
        Born Clarence Albert Poindexter in Jacksonville, Texas on May 4, 1902, Al Dexter began playing square dances around oil-rich eastern Texas during the 1920s. The Depression forced him to work as a house painter, but Dexter began moonlighting after he formed the Texas Troopers in the early '30s. The group recorded for Okeh and Vocalion during the rest of the '30s and into the '40s. In 1944 ‹ the first year when charts can be accurately predicted ‹ Dexter scored four number ones on the Country chart;: "Pistol Packin' Mama" was re-released on the B-side of "Rosalita," and both songs hit number one in January 1944. His biggest hit of the year came in March, though, when "So Long Pal" spent 13 weeks at number one on the Country chart ‹ its B-side "Too Late to Worry, Too Blue to Cry" stayed at the top for two weeks.
        The last of the war years was also successful for Al Dexter: "I'm Losing My Mind over You" / "I'll Wait for You Dear," hit number one and number two respectively in January 1945, with the former spending seven weeks at number one. His second double-sided hit of the year, "Triflin' Gal" / "I'm Lost Without You," both hit the Top Five in August. In February 1946, Dexter's "Guitar Polka" spent almost four months at number one; it was his biggest country hit and managed the Top 20 on the pop charts (also producing the number-two B-side "Honey Do You Think It's Wrong"). After "Wine, Women and Song" also hit number one later in 1946, Dexter recorded three more Top Five singles during 1946-47, "It's Up to You," "Kokomo Island" and "Down at the Roadside Inn." His final chart singles were the 1948 Top 15's "Rock and Rye Rag" and "Calico Rag."
        All told, Al Dexter received 12 Gold records for million-sellers in the five-year period from 1943 to 1948. He won an Oscar for "Guitar Polka" and was voted the Leading Artist of 1946 by the Jukebox Operators Association. In the late '40s, Al Dexter opened his own club in Dallas; he performed there until his retirement. Dexter was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1971. ‹ John Bush


The Geezinslaws were a musical country comedy duo known for their boozy barroom humor and parodies of standard songs. The "brothers" were mandolin player/singer Sam Allred and guitarist/singer Raymond "Son" Smith. Both were natives of Austin, Texas and met in high school; they chose the name "Geezinslaw" for its humorous ring. They began appearing locally and got their big break in 1961, when they were discovered by Arthur Godfrey, who brought them to New York to appear on his show. They remained in New York through the 1970s and during that time played in several clubs and occasionally on television.
        They cut their first album, The Kooky World of the Geezinslaw Brothers, for Columbia in 1963. From 1966 to 1969, they made four more for Capitol and scored three minor hits on the country charts, including 1967's "Chubby (Please Take Your Love to Town)." When not playing in New York, they toured the U.S. playing in numerous clubs and appearing on such television programs as The Tonight Show, Ed Sullivan, and The Jackie Gleason Show. During the late '60s, the Geezinslaws were frequent visitors on Ralph Emery's Pop Goes the Country radio show in Nashville.
        In the 1970s, the Brothers disappeared for quite some time, making only occasional appearances. In 1986, they appeared on Emery's TV show Nashville Now, then began recording albums again in 1989. Their first two, The Geezinslaws and World Tour (1990), were a mixture of comedy and straight country music. They had their first hit in 25 years in 1992 with the single "Help, I'm White and I Can't Get Down," which made the Top 60. The Geezinslaws began to appear more frequently on the country scene and even made their first video in 1993. In 1994, they released a straight comedy album, I Wish I Had a Job to Shove. ‹Sandra Brennan


Tammy Wynette
AKA Virginia Wynette Pugh. Born May 5, 1942 in Itawamba County, MS, died Apr 6, 1998. In many ways, Tammy Wynette deserves the title of the First Lady of Country Music. During the late '60s and early '70s, she dominated the country charts, scoring 17 number one hits. Along with Loretta Lynn, she defined the role of female country vocalists in the '70s.
        After her father, who was a musician, died when she was just eight months old, Wynette was raised on her grandparents' home in Mississippi; her mother moved to Birmingham, AL, to do military work. As a child, Tammy taught herself to play a variety of instruments left behind by her father. When she was a teenager, she moved to Birmingham to be with her mother. At 17, she married her first husband, Euple Byrd, and set to work as a hairdresser and beautician. The marriage was short-lived, but it produced three children within three years. By the time her third child was born, the couple were divorced.
        Tammy's third child had spinal meningitis, which meant she had several expensive medical bills to pay. In order to gain some extra money, she began performing in clubs at night. In 1965, she landed a regular spot on the television program the Country Boy Eddie Show, which led to appearances on Porter Wagoner's syndicated show. The following year, she moved to Nashville, where she auditioned for several labels before producer Billy Sherrill signed her to Epic Records.
        "Apartment #9," Wynette's first single, was released late in 1966 and almost broke the country Top 40 early in 1967. It was followed by "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad," which became a big hit, peaking at number three. The song launched a string of Top Ten hits that ran until the end of the '70s, interrupted by three singles that didn't crack the Top Ten. After "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad" was a success, "My Elusive Dreams" became her first number one in the summer of 1967, followed by "I Don't Wanna Play House" later that year.
        During 1968 and 1969, Tammy had five number one hits - "Take Me to Your World," "D-I-V-O-R-C-E," "Stand By Your Man" (all 1968), "Singing My Song," and "The Ways to Love a Man" (both 1969). In 1968, she started a relationship with George Jones, which would prove to be extremely stormy. Beginning in 1971, Wynette and Jones recorded a series of duets - the first was the Top Ten "Take Me" - which were as popular as their solo hits. However, the marriage was difficult and the couple divorced in 1975; they continued to record sporadically over the next two decades.
        Throughout the '70s, Tammy Wynette racked up number one hits. In the early '80s, her career began to slow down. Although she still had hit singles, she didn't reach the Top Ten as easily as she did in the previous decade. That trend continued throughout the rest of the decade and into the '90s. Even though she didn't have as many hits as she had in the past, Tammy remained a respected star and a popular concert attraction.
        Since the '80s, Wynette had suffered a variety of health problems, including inflammations of her bile duct. She was hospitalized several times during the mid-'90s before her death on April 6, 1998. -Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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