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Born Jun 23, 1913 in Gueyden, LA. Died May 13, 1981 in Basile, LA. Nathan Abshire helped bring the blues and honky tonk to Cajun music and re-popularized the accordion with his recordings during the 1950s and '60s, but still never managed a living from his music. Born in Gueyden, LA, on June 23, 1913, Abshire began playing professionally in the 1920s, and he first recorded in the early '30s with Happy Fats & the Rainbow Ramblers. Abshire went to work at the Basile, LA town dump around that time, and he held the job for most of his working life.
His fortunes began looking bright by 1936, however, when the Rainbow Ramblers began backing him on sides for Bluebird. After serving in World War II, Abshire cut "Pine Grove Blues" - his most famous single and later his signature song - for D.T. Records. He recorded for Khoury/Lyric, Swallow and Kajun during the 1950s and '60s, meanwhile playing local dances and appearing on sessions by the Balfa Brothers. A renewal of interest in Cajun and folk music during the '70s gave Abshire a chance to play several festivals and colleges, and star in the 1975 PBS-TV Cajun documentary, Good Times Are Killing Me. The title proved prophetic, however, as Abshire fought alcoholism during his last years. Several sessions for Folkways and La Louisienne followed in the late '70s, but he died on May 13, 1981. -John Bush
Daniel Decatur Emmett
Born Oct 29, 1815, died Jun 28, 1904. American composer who performed minstrel songs associated with Negro music. He travelled throughout the Eastern, mid-Western, and, portions of the Southern United States. In his routine, usually in concert with an other or combination of others, Emmett would assume the blackface motif of performance. His abilities on the fiddle (self-taught), compositions, and ensemble work, took him to London. The song "I Wish I was in Dixie Land" was pirated in the early 1860's into the song now referred to as "Dixie." His original performance ocurred in 1859 in a call-and-response pattern where the chorus responds to a soloist. Emmett composed approximately 55 songs in the "Negro-Minstrel" genre as well as "Ethiopian Burlettas" or musical farces. -Keith Johnson
The Blackwood Brothers
Formed 1934. The Blackwood Brothers have been singing gospel for over 60 years, and from the 1950s to the '70s, they were one of the most popular gospel groups in the U.S. One of their biggest fans was a young Elvis Presley, who auditioned - and was turned down - for the group in 1953. The quartet was formed in 1934 by brothers Roy (b. Dec. 24, 1900, Fentress, MS; d. Mar. 21, 1971), Doyle (b. Aug. 22, 1911, Ackerman, MS) and James Blackwood (b. Aug. 4, 1919, Ackerman, MS), along with Roy's 13-year-old son R.W. Blackwood (b. Oct. 23, 1921, Ackerman, MS; d. June 24, 1954). The Blackwoods sang at churches around their base of Ackerman, MS, during the mid-'30s. By 1937, however, they began working a radio show in Kosciusko, MS. The quartet moved to WJDX-Jackson later that year, singing pop and country in addition to gospel. After two years in Jackson, they were popular enough to move to KWKH-Shreveport, LA, a regional superstation that broadcast over much of the South.
While working in Shreveport, the Blackwood Brothers were signed by V.O. Stamps, the largest Southern gospel publisher of the 1930s. The group worked for Stamps during the late '30s and early '40s, but broke up during World War II. When they re-formed in 1946 - without the Stamps affiliation - Doyle Blackwood had been replaced by Don Smith. The Blackwoods began their own record company, and became so popular that Doyle soon returned to start another group, the Blackwood Gospel Quartet.
By 1950, Roy had retired and was replaced by Bill Lyles. The Blackwoods then moved to Memphis and signed a contract with RCA Victor. They began recording in 1952, and the increased exposure led to national recognition and a spot on Arthur Godfrey's TV show in 1954. Less than a month later, however, R.W. Blackwood and Bill Lyles were killed in a plane crash. The Blackwoods immediately disbanded and vowed to never perform again. Fortunately they returned several years later, gradually adding J.D. Sumner (as a replacement for Lyles) plus Roy's son Cecil Blackwood (b. October 28, 1934, Ackerman, MS) and James' son James Blackwood, Jr. (b. July 31, 1943, San Diego).
The Blackwoods entered the LP era during the mid-'50s and eventually recorded many albums for RCA and Skylite throughout the 1950s and '60s. They won the first of their eight Grammy Awards for Best Gospel Performance in 1966, and James Blackwood won seven Dove Awards for Male Vocalist of the Year during the '70s. He was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1974 and is still known as "Mr. Gospel Singer of America." -John Bush
AKA Marvin Karlton Percy. Born July 2, 1925 in Wichita, KS. In the current climate of political correctness, it's amazing to think that a scant 40 years ago, a quarter-Cherokee country singer named Marvin Rainwater would shamelessly trade on his Indian pedigree to make himself a name on the country music circuit. But backing up this ridiculous charade was some very solid music from an artist who could work and create in a multiplicity of styles. Few artists in country music ever made music as quirky and just plain weird as that of one Marvin Rainwater. His recorded cannonade - featuring his strong, rumbling baritone - showed that he was equally adept at Western ballads, pop confections with breathtaking go for broke forays into rockabilly.
He was born Marvin Percy Rainwater in 1925. After a stint in the Navy during World War II serving as a pharmacist's mate, he turned to music full time. He had originally been a classically trained pianist but after an accident had removed part of his right thumb, he turned to country music and soon learned to strum a guitar proficiently enough to accompany his singing and compose songs on it. After putting down roots in nearby Virginia, Marvin quickly became a fixture on the Washington, D.C. area honky tonk circuit, putting together his first band featuring a young Roy Clark on lead guitar and himself decked out in buckskin jacket and Indian headband. His first recordings came through the auspices of Bill McCall at 4-Star Records. Picturing himself as a songwriter first and performer second, Rainwater was hooked up through McCall with Ben Adleman, a songwriter with a small studio. Marvin recorded several song demos to be pitched to other artists through Adleman's and McCall's publishing concerns, only to see the demos poorly overdubbed and released at the height of his later fame on a myriad of dime store budget labels like Crown and others too microscopic to mention.
But McCall also took three completed masters from other sessions ("I Gotta Go Get My Baby," "Hearts' Hall of Fame," and "Albino Stallion") and had them pressed on a custom promotional 45, then promptly sold the masters to Coral Records. Marvin's recording of "I Gotta Go Get My Baby" was promptly handed over to Teresa Brewer, who covered and had a hit with it in the pop market. But what propelled Rainwater up the show business ladder was a successful television performance on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, the early '50s equivalent of today's Star Search. Godfrey had a top rated morning show as well, and after his win, Rainwater made frequent guest spots on it, reaching a national audience for the first time. Marvin responded in kind by recording a composition in his honor, "Tea Bag Romeo," a reference to Godfrey's sponsor, Lipton Tea. By late 1955 he was a full time member of Red Foley's Ozark Jubilee television and touring show, relocating to Springfield, Missouri. On one package show, he was introduced backstage to a precocious little girl who wanted to sing that night on the show. After hearing the moppet belt out part of a tune, Marvin was convinced and introduced young Brenda Lee Tarpley to Red Foley and the rest - as they say - is both country and rock & roll history.
Shortly after signing with Foley, Marvin started recording for M-G-M Records, his longest lasting label affiliation. The recordings are as scatter gunned of an approach to commercial recording as you can possibly imagine. Solemn Americana recitations ("Pink Eyed Stallion") sat alongside novelty fluff like "Tennessee Hound Dog Yodel," which were B-sided by straightahead country weepers rife with down home sentiments. Suddenly at his next recording session in March of 1956, Rainwater shifted gears again, deciding to cast his lot with the emerging rockabilly sound. The result was a two sided blast of tonal mayhem, coupling the out of control "Hot And Cold" with the slightly less frenetic "Mr. Blues." Though both sides kicked up sufficient noise, it cost him big time in the country fan department, the members of his fan club confused that this former folk balladeer had suddenly become an apostle for the big beat.
But rockabilly was a way for country artists to achieve pop stardom and, with the first successful attempts at crossover appeal a already in place, Marvin didn't have to wait long to find his song. That tune was "Gonna Find Me A Bluebird," a tune that went to number three on the country charts while simultaneously climbing to number 18 on the pop charts. Suddenly flush with success, Rainwater quit the Ozark Jubilee and moved his base of operations to New York City, ready to take on the world. But the follow-ups to "Gonna Find Me A Bluebird" were as diverse and quirky as his pre-hit output (one included a duet with Connie Francis) and his slide from the charts, coupled with one bad business deal after another, was swift and sure. In order to keep his slippery footing on any kind of chart, Rainwater had taken on a personal appearance schedule that would reduce lesser individuals to babbling protoplasm. By 1961, with his days on the pop charts largely behind him, Marvin showed up for several recording sessions with his voice so burned out from show dates that he was unrecordable. His final M-G-M sessions not only remained unissued, but most of them appear to have been either lost or destroyed. In Marvin's own words, "I had no voice and no money." After a nine month layoff, he signed with Warwick Records and with Link Wray and the Raymen backing him, put out a pair of singles that were as fine as anything he had recorded in his heyday. But the marketplace in both pop and country had changed a lot since 1957 and the sides fell stillborn at the presses. Going for it one more time, Rainwater and new partner Bill Guess built a studio in Chicago and started up Brave Records, solely devoting its catalog to new songs from the singer. Aside from a brief stay with United Artists in 1964 and a one off session for Warner Brothers in 1969, the Brave singles document Marvin's last commercial sides. Since the '70s - aside from an occasional appearance on a European rockabilly revival - Rainwater has been living in a house trailer in Northern Minnesota on an undeveloped tract of land, spending most of his time ruminating on what might have been. He may not have become a big name, but he left behind a great number of sides that showed real musical depth and originality. And that's got to count for something. -Cub Koda
Born Jul 4, 1937 in Lynchburg, VA. Ray Pillow was a singer and songwriter best known as a prominent publisher renowned for his rare gift of matching performers with high-quality songs right for their style, Pillow was born in Lynchburg, Virginia, and first learned to play the guitar while bedridden as a teen. He graduated from high school in 1954 and then joined the Navy. Following his discharge, Pillow earned a bachelor's degree in business and made his professional and personal singing debut playing with his uncle's band, the Stardusters. Later, he became their leader and remained with the band for several years. In 1961, Pillow won second place at the regional National Pet Milk talent contest in Nashville. Though he needed to go back to Lynchburg, he accepted an invitation to appear on the Grand Ole Opry. He soon returned to Nashville and looked up Joe Taylor, the head of promotion with the Martha White Company, who had promised to help Pillow after hearing him perform. Taylor was true to his word and Pillow signed a personal management contract with the company.
In 1963 he released his first two singles, but didn't really have chart success until 1965, with the Top 50 "Take Your Hands Off My Heart" and his first Top 20 hit, "Thank You Ma'am." In 1966, he had two Top 40 hits and a Top Ten duet with Jean Shepherd, "I'll Take the Dog." He later joined the Opry, and remained there for over two decades. He continued with a steady stream of hits through 1970, but fell off the charts until 1972 with the minor hits "Since Then" and "She's Doing It to Me Again."Pillow's involvement in the administrative end of the business began the mid-'60s, when he paired up with Taylor in Joe Taylor Artist Management, Shoji Music Publications and Ming Music, Inc. In the early '80s, Pillow teamed with Larry McFaden and they began Sycamore. In the late '80s, he began working with the A&R team at Capitol Records and later became an independent record consultant. -Sandra Brennan
Born Jun 4, 1903 in Rosine, KY, died Sep 27, 1975. The older brother of Bill Monroe, Charlie Monroe joined his younger brother in laying the foundation for bluegrass music. Although they only recorded together for two years, the ripples caused by Charlie and Bill Monroe's collaboration continue to be felt.
Raised on a family farm in rural Kentucky, Charlie Monroe grew up in a musical home. After learning to sing hymns as children, via the traditional "sacred note" technique, each member of the Monroe family chose a musical instrument. Charlie and his sister Bertha chose guitar, while Birch opted for fiddle and Bill for the mandolin.
Although Charlie joined with Birch and Bill to form a band in the mid-1920s, and made his radio debut in 1927, he left with Birch to seek employment in the Midwest after the death of their parents. After temporarily stopping in Detroit, Charlie and Birch went on to work in the oil refineries of Hammond, Whiting, and East Chicago, Indiana. In 1929, they were joined by Bill, who found a job at a Sinclair refinery.
The three reunited Monroe brothers resumed their musical collaboration, performing at small clubs, dances and house parties. While performing at a dance in 1932, the Monroes were overheard by Tom Owens, whose band had a feature slot on the radio show WSM Barn Dance. Impressed by their performance, Owens invited the Monroe brothers to join his group as dancers. The Monroes continued to dance with Owens' troupe for two years. The Monroes got their chance to be musicians again when they were hired to play on WAE in Hammond, Indiana and WJKS in Gary, Indiana. Before long, Charlie and Bill were dreaming of playing music full-time. Their dreams became reality when Texas Crystals, a patent medicine company, offered to sponsor a radio show showcasing their music. When Birch turned down Charlie's invitation to join him on the show, the Monroe Brothers became a duo featuring Charlie and Bill. The duo was so successful that they soon moved to a larger radio station. The show was eventually expanded into a daily event broadcast by WBT in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Although sponsorship of Charlie and Bill Monroe's show was dropped by Texas Crystals in 1936, it was quickly picked up by the Crazy Water Crystal Company. In addition to performing daily on the show, the Monroe Brothers performed on the weekly Saturday night show, Crazy Barn Dance. They also appeared on WFPC in Greenville, South Carolina and WPTF in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Charlie and Bill Monroe made their recording debut in February 1936, cutting several tracks in a Charlotte, North Carolina studio that were released on RCA's Bluebird label. A mixture of gospel and secular tunes, the tunes set the standard for bluegrass with their high harmony vocals, bass guitar runs and hard-driving mandolin arrangements.
Their partnership, however, was increasingly strained as Bill became frustrated by Charlie's determination to sing lead on every tune. In 1938, the brothers went their separate ways, with Bill forming the Kentuckians, who later became the Blue Grass Boys, and Charlie forming the Kentucky Pardners. Among the many musicians who played with Charlie's band were guitarist and vocalist Lester Flatt and mandolin players Red Rector, Curly Seckler and Ira Louvin. The Kentucky Pardners, who played a mixture of bluegrass and honky tonk-style country music, became one of the most successful tent shows and played continuously throughout the South and Midwest in the 1940s.
Charlie Monroe, who signed a solo contract with RCA Victor in 1946 and moved to Decca in 1950, wrote a large number of tunes including "It's Only a Phonograph Record," "Who's Calling You Sweetheart Tonight" and "Rubber Neck Blues." Tired of non-stop touring, Monroe retired from music in 1957. Although he intended to remain on his farm, he left Kentucky to work for a lift company in Indiana after his wife was diagnosed with cancer. He remained within the company until his wife's death. Monroe remarried in 1969 and moved to Tennessee, and later to Reidville, North Carolina.
Monroe remained inactive until he was persuaded by Jimmy Martin to perform at the Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival in 1972. The response to their performance was so overwhelming that Monroe, often with Martin, continued to perform at similar festivals until 1974, when he was diagnosed with cancer. Monroe died on his farm in Reidville on September 27, 1975 and was buried in the Monroe family plot on Jerusalem Ridge in Rosine, Kentucky. -Craig Harris
Born Jun 7, 1944 in Lewiston, ME. Died Jul 14, 1973 in Palmdale, CA. Clarence White was a gifted guitarist who was one of the pioneers of country-rock in the late '60s. Although died young, his work with the Byrds and the Kentucky Colonels, among others, remained celebrated among country-rock and bluegrass aficionados in the decades following his death.
Born in Maine but raised in California, White began playing the guitar at an early age, joining his brothers' band, the Country Boys, when he was just ten years old. The band eventaully evolved into the Kentucky Colonels. Clarence left the Colonels in the mid-'60s, becoming a session musician; he played electric guitar on many rock and pop albums. He also began playing with the duo of Gib Gilbeau and Gene Parsons in local California clubs. Gilbeau and Parsons frequently worked with the Gosdin Brothers, so the duo was able to land a cameo appearance for White on the Gene Clark and the Gosdin Brothers album. Around the same time, Clarence recorded a solo album for Bakersfield International which the label didn't release.
In 1968, White joined Nashville West, which also featured Gene Parsons, Gib Gilbeau, Sneaky Pete Kleinow, Glen D. Hardin, and Wayne Moore. Nashville West recorded an album for Sierra Records, but the record didn't appear until 1978. White was invited to join the Byrds in the fall of 1968. Roger McGuinn was rebuilding the Byrds' lineup after the departure of Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons, who went on to form the Flying Burrito Brothers. Clarence White fit into the revamped Byrds' country-rock direction. He played on the group's untitled album, which spawned the single "Chestnut Mare." While he was with the band, he continued to work as a session musician, playing on Randy Newman's 12 Songs (1970), Joe Cocker's eponymous 1969 album, and the Everly Brothers' Stories Would Could Tell (1971), among others.
Once the Byrds disbanded in 1973, Clarence White continued his session work and joined Muleskinner, which also featured David Grisman, Peter Rowan, John Guerin, Bill Keith, John Kahn, and Richard Greene. Muleskinner only released one album, which appeared later in 1973.
After the Muleskinner record was finished, White played a few dates with the Kentucky Colonels and began working on a solo album. He had only completed four tracks when he was killed by a drunken driver while he was loading equipment onto a van; he died on July 14, 1973. Following his death, several posthumous albums of his work with the Kentucky Colonels and the Byrds appeared, as did various albums that featured his playing, including Jackson Browne's Late for the Sky and Gene Parsons' Kindling. -Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Born May 7, 1894 in Alpharetta, GA. Died Jul 14, 1946 in East Point, GA. Riley Puckett was one of the pioneers of country music, a singer whose output both as a solo performer and as a member of the supergroup the Skillet Lickers left an indelible mark on the work produced in his wake. He was born George Riley Puckett on May 7, 1894 in Alpharetta, Georgia; though at birth he had the ability to see, a medical mishap during his infancy left him blind. He attended the Macon School for the Blind, where he learned to read Braille and began playing the banjo, followed by the guitar, developing a unique, arhythmic style of playing bass-note runs to bridge chord changes. He also attracted attention at regional fiddling contests.
Puckett made his radio debut with Clayton McMichen's Hometown Band on WSB Atlanta in 1922. He soon became one of the station's most popular performers, and began appearing as a soloist. The next year, he joined with mandolinist Ted Hawkins and fiddler Lowe Stokes to form the Hometown Boys, where his smooth vocal style and yodeling abilities earned the group a devoted following among WSB listeners, who began calling the singer "the Ball Mountain Caruso." In 1924, Puckett accompanied James "Gideon" Tanner to Columbia Records' New York City studios, where he cut his first sides, including a cover of Fiddlin' John Carson's "The Little Old Log Cabin," "Steamboat Bill" and "Rock All Our Babies to Sleep," believed to contain the first-ever appearance of yodeling on a country record. The results proved highly successful, and later in the year a second session followed; accompanying himself on banjo, Puckett recorded, among others, "Oh Susannah" and "You'll Never Miss Your Mother Till She's Gone."
In 1925, Columbia introduced their 15000-D Hillbilly Series, and Puckett quickly became one of the imprint's most successful acts; only Vernon Dalhart sold more records. A year later, he joined the Skillet Lickers, which also featured Gid Tanner and Clayton McMichen, and remained with the group through 1931. In 1927, he also joined high tenor Hugh Cross for the very first recording of "Red River Valley." The duo went on to cut two more sessions together, generating songs like "Gonna Raise a Ruckus Tonight" (released under the name Alabama Barn Stormers), "Call Me Back Pal o' Mine," and "My Wild Irish Rose."
While the onset of the Depression did not crush Puckett's career, as it did to so many of his contemporaries, it did force him to curtail his prolific recording schedule. The records he did cut appeared under a variety of group names and aliases, the most successful being 1931's "My Carolina Home," issued as McMichen's Melody Men. After the demise of the Skillet Lickers, Puckett performed with McMichen's Georgia Wildcats; in 1932, the Skillet Lickers began anew, and Puckett also signed on with Bert Layne's Mountaineers. In addition, he recorded a number of duets with Red Jones, including "I Only Want a Buddy, Not a Sweetheart" and "St. Louis Blues."
By 1936, he was touring with former Mainer Mountaineer "Daddy" John Love, and also performed again with Bert Layne. After organizing his own tent show to tour throughout the south, he returned to New York to record with Red Jones, duetting on "Alttoona Train Wreck," "Take Me Back to My Carolina Home," and "The Broken Engagement." Puckett did not record again until 1940, when he cut the pop-oriented "Oh, Johnny, Oh," "Little Sir Echo" and "South of the Border." In 1941, he entered the studio one last time, performing "How Come You Do Me Like You Do," "Railroad Blues" and "Peach Picking Time in Georgia." Puckett continued performing on radio with the Stone Mountain Boys until 1946, when on July 14 he died from blood poisoning as a result of a boil on his neck which was left untreated. -Jason Ankeny
Born Jul 14, 1912 in Okemah, OK. Died Oct 3, 1967 in Queens, NY. Woody Guthrie was the most important American folk music artist of the first half of the 20th century. Coming out of Oklahoma, Guthrie had firsthand knowledge of the dustbowl diaspora chronicled in John Steinbeck's novel, The Grapes of Wrath. In fact, Guthrie wrote his own version of the story in a song called "Tom Joad." By the time he gained recognition in the '40s, Guthrie had written hundreds of songs, many of which remain folk standards to this day. When he was interviewed by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress in March 1940, Guthrie punctuated his reminiscences by singing "So Long, It's Been Good to Know You," "Dust Bowl Blues," "Do-Re-Mi," "Pretty Boy Floyd," "I Ain't Got No Home," and other songs. He later wrote "Pastures of Plenty," "The Grand Coulee Dam," and his masterpiece, "This Land Is Your Land." He was also an author (Bound for Glory) and a newspaper columnist.
Guthrie made some recordings for RCA in 1940, but much of his work was issued on the small Folkways label. Meanwhile, in the late '40s and early '50s, versions of his songs became hits for such artists as The Weavers. By then, Guthrie himself was in physical decline, suffering from Huntington's chorea, a hereditary neurological disorder. But during his long illness, Guthrie's influence spread to the next generation, fostering the folk boom of the late '50s and early '60s. Not only is Bob Dylan unimaginable without him, but large segments of popular music are permanently affected by his concerns as a songwriter and his approach to the form. Guthrie also composed a body of children's music toward the end of his performing career in the early '50s, when he was raising a family with his wife Marjorie. The songs, many sung from a child's point of view, have been covered and performed extensively since. -William Ruhlmann
Born Jul 14, 1934 in Sparta, NC. Singer/songwriter Del Reeves was born Franklin Delano Reeves in Sparta, North Carolina; the youngest of 11 children, he learned to play the guitar as a boy by using his brothers' six-strings while they were serving in World War II. By the time Reeves was 12, he was hosting his own radio show. While stationed at Travis Air Force Base in California, he appeared on television's Chester Smith Show, and made his recording debut with Smith in 1958 with "Love Love Love." He remained in California following his discharge and eventually hosted his own Del Reeves' Country Carnival. Four years later, he and his new wife became a successful songwriting team whose tunes were recorded by such artists as Carl Smith, Rose Maddox and Roy Drusky. In 1961, Reeves scored his first Top Ten hit with "Be Quiet Mind." A year later, he had his second hit, "He Stands Real Tall," which reached the Top 15. He moved to Columbia the following year, but only scored one mid-level hit.
In 1965 he scored his first chart-topper with "Girl on the Billboard," plus two more major hits that year. The next year, none of his three hits made it past the Top 30, but in 1967, Reeves again made the Top 20 with "A Dime at a Time." He had even bigger hits with "Looking at the World Through a Windshield" and "Good Time Charlies; " the latter became his signature song. He continued with a string of hits through the end of the decade and appeared in six feature films, including 1969's Burt Reynolds vehicle Sam Whiskey. For Reeves, the 1970s brought a few major hits such as "A Lover's Question" and "Land Mark Tavern," but he mostly had medium-level hits.In 1980, he again had a string of low- to mid-range hits. Reeves remained a regular performer at the Grand Ole Opry, where he had been a member of since 1966. -Sandra Brennan
AKA Lloyd Copas. Born Jul 15, 1913 in Adams County, OH, died Mar 5, 1963 in Camden, TN. A honky tonk singer popular in the late '40s, Cowboy Copas made something of a comeback in the early '60s before he died in the air crash that also killed Patsy Cline and Hawkshaw Hawkins. Born Lloyd Estel Copas on July 15, 1913, he dropped out of school at the age of 14, and began playing fiddle in several string bands around his Ohio home. On a dare, Copas traveled to Cincinnatti to enter a contest and wound up performing on radio shows for Cincinnatti's WLW and later WKRC. By 1940, Copas moved to WNOX-Knoxville with a band called the Gold Star Rangers.
Three years later, Cowboy Copas got his big break: he was tapped to replace Eddy Arnold as the vocalist for Pee Wee King's Golden West Cowboys on WSM-Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry. He signed with King Records in 1946, and his debut single "Filipino Baby" hit number four on the country charts that August. Two years later, Copas was back in the Top Ten with "Signed Sealed and Delivered" (number two), "Tennessee Waltz" (number three) and "Tennessee Moon" (number seven). He also continued to perform with Pee Wee King on the Opry, recording a hit version of "Tennesse Waltz."
After the Top 20 singles "Breeze" and "I'm Waltzing with Tears in My Eyes," Copas hit the Top Ten again in early 1949. "Candy Kisses" peaked at number five, "Hangman's Boogie" reached number 14, and "The Strange Little Girl" hit number five. His next single, 1952's "'Tis Sweet to Be Remembered," hit number eight, but it was his last chart entry for more than eight years. His King contract expired in 1955, and a brief time with the Dot label also failed.
During the late '50s, Copas bided his time on the Opry and finally signed to Starday in 1960. His first single for the label, "Alabam," became the biggest of his career when it captured country's pole position for three months during the last half of 1960. "Flat Top" hit the Top Ten in April 1961, and a remake of his early hit "Signed Sealed and Delivered" also reached the Top Ten in September. A year and a half later, Copas was returning to Nashville from a benefit show in Kansas City, when his private plane went down, killing him, Patsy Cline, Hawkshaw Hawkins and Copas' son-in-law, pilot Randy Hughes. Cowboy Copas' last single, "Goodbye Kisses," hit the Top 15 one month after his death. -John Bush
Born Jul 15, 1940 in Gulfport, MS. Singer/songwriter and occasional actor Johnny Sea had a few country hits in 1959 and several in the mid-'60s. Born John Allan Seay, Jr., in Gulfport, Mississippi, he was raised in Atlanta, Georgia. He got his start at age 17, when he won a state talent competition. During the finals, a record company heard young Sea sing and offered him a contract, while another got the youth signed to Louisiana Hayride. He remained there two years before debuting on the Grand Ole Opry. Sea first appeared on the country charts in 1959 with a Top 15 single for NRC, "Frankie's Man Johnny." His 1960 follow-up, "Nobody's Darling but Mine," did equally well. When his career slowed down, Sea headed west to become a cowboy, living in different areas ranging from Los Angeles to Pawhuska, Oklahoma.
Sea returned to recording by 1964, when "My Baby Walks All Over Me" reached the Top 30. A year later, he had another hit with "My Old Faded Love."
This success landed him a contract with Warner Brothers and his biggest hit, "Day for Decision," in 1966. The song, a reply to Barry McGuire's protest anthem "Eve of Destruction," not only peaked in the Top 15 in the country charts, but also crossed over to hit the Top 40 on the pop charts. He moved to Columbia in 1967, where he reverted to his birthname, Johnny Seay, and had a minor hit in 1968 with "Goin' to Tulsa." That year he also had his final chart appearance with "Three Six Packs, Two Arms and a Juke Box." Later that year, he wrote a song about his hard-luck neighbors the Yorks, "Willie's Drunk and Nellie's Dyin'," which led to an article about them in Life magazine. Sea later left to become a cowboy in Justiceburg, Texas. -Sandra Brennan
Born Jul 15, 1946 in Tucson, AZ. With roots in the Los Angeles country and folk-rock scenes, Linda Ronstadt became one of the most popular interpretive singers of the '70s, earning a string of platinum-selling albums and Top 40 singles. Throughout the '70s, her laidback pop never lost sight of her folky roots, yet as she moved into the '80s, she began to change her sound with the times, adding new wave influences. After a brief flirtation with pre-rock pop, Ronstadt settled into a pattern of adult contemporary pop and Latin albums, sustaining her popularity in both fields.
While Ronstadt was a student at Arizona State University, she met guitarist Bob Kimmel. The duo moved to Los Angeles, where guitarist/songwriter Kenny Edwards joined the pair. Calling themselves the Stone Poneys, the group became a leading attraction on California's folk circuit, recording their first album in 1967. The band's second album, Evergreen, Vol. 2, featured the Top 20 hit "Different Drum," which was written by Michael Nesmith. After recording one more album with the group, Ronstadt left for a solo career at the end of 1968.
Ronstadt's first two solo albums - Hand Sown Home Grown (1969) and Silk Purse (1970) - accentuated her country roots, featuring several honky tonk numbers. Released in 1971, her self-titled third album was a pivotal record in her career. Featuring a group of session musicians that would later form the Eagles, the album was a softer, more laidback variation of the country-rock she had been recording. With the inclusion of songs from singer/songwriters like Jackson Browne, Neil Young, and Eric Anderson, Linda Ronstadt had folk-rock connections as well. Don't Cry Now, released in 1973, followed the same formula to greater success, yet it was 1974's Heart Like a Wheel that perfected the sound, making Ronstadt a star. Featuring the hit covers "You're No Good," "When Will I Be Loved," and "It Doesn't Matter Anymore," Heart Like a Wheel reached number one and sold over two million copies.
Released in the fall of 1975, Prisoner in Disguise followed the same pattern as Heart Like a Wheel and was nearly as successful. Hasten Down the Wind, released in 1976, suggested a holding pattern, even if it charted higher than Prisoner in Disguise. Simple Dreams (1977) expanded the formula by adding a more rock-oriented supporting band, which breathed life into the Rolling Stones' "Tumbling Dice" and Warren Zevon's "Poor Poor Pitiful Me." The record became the singer's biggest hit, staying on the top of the charts for five weeks and selling over three million copies. With Living in the U.S.A. (1978) Ronstadt began experimenting with new wave, recording Elvis Costello's "Alison"; the album was another number one hit. On 1980's Mad Love, she made a full-fledged new wave record, recording three Costello songs and adopting a synth-laden sound. While the album was a commercial success, it signalled that her patented formula was beginning to run out of steam. That suspicion was confirmed with 1982's Get Closer, her first album since Heart Like a Wheel to fail to go platinum.
Sensing it was time to change direction, Ronstadt starred in the Broadway production of Gilbert & Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance, as well as the accompanying movie. Pirates of Penzance led the singer to a collaboration with Nelson Riddle, who arranged and conducted her 1983 collection of pop standards, What's New. While it received lukewarm reviews, it was a considerable hit, reaching number three on the charts and selling over two million copies. Ronstadt's next two albums - Lush Life (1984) and For Sentimental Reasons (1986) - were also albums of pre-rock standards recorded with Riddle.
At the end of 1986, Ronstadt returned to contemporary pop, recording "Somewhere Out There," the theme to the animated An American Tail, with James Ingram; the single became a number two hit. She also returned to her country roots in 1987, recording the Trio album with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris. That same year, Ronstadt recorded Canciones de mi Padre, a set of traditional Mexican songs that became a surprise hit. Two years later, she recorded Cry Like a Rainstorm - Howl Like the Wind - her first contemporary pop album since 1982's Get Closer. Featuring four duets with Aaron Neville, including the number two hit "Don't Know Much," the album sold over two million copies. Ronstadt returned to traditional Mexican and Spanish material with Mas Canciones (1991) and Frenesi (1992). She returned to pop with 1994's Winter Light, which failed to generate a hit single, as did 1995's Feels Like Home. In 1996, she released the childrens album Dedicated to the One I Love; We Ran followed in 1998. Two years later, Ronstadt delivered the holiday collection A Merry Little Christmas. -Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Born Jul 16, 1953 in Austin, TX. Striding the fine line between folk and country music, Nanci Griffith has become as well-known for her brilliant confessional songwriting as her beautiful voice. A self-styled "folkabilly" singer, Griffith began as a kindergarten teacher and occasional folksinger. The country scene took her to heart in the mid-'80s, giving her a reputation as a quality songwriter through hit covers of Griffith's songs by Kathy Mattea and Suzy Bogguss. Finding no luck with commercial country radio however, Nanci Griffith recorded several pop-oriented albums and then returned to her folk roots by the mid-'90s.
Griffith was the daughter of musical parents, and she spent her childhood involved with theater and literature as well as music. She began playing clubs around Austin at the tender age of 14, and continued to perform during her college years at the University of Texas and even while she taught kindergarten in the mid-'70s. Griffith finally decided to make music her full-time ambition in 1977.
Her songwriting won an award at the Kerrville Folk Festival, prompting the local label BF Deal to record Griffith for a compilation and later for her debut album, There's a Light Beyond These Woods (1978). Griffith's hectic touring schedule took her all over North America, playing festivals and TV shows in addition to the small clubs in which she had begun. Meanwhile, she recorded albums in 1982 (Poet in My Window) and 1985 (Once in a Very Blue Moon).
Finally, in 1986, Nanci Griffith got her big break after moving to Nashville. The title song from Once in a Very Blue Moon placed modestly on the Country charts, she released the acclaimed Last of the True Believers on Philo (the label that later reissued her first three albums) and - most importantly - Kathy Mattea's cover of "Love at the Five & Dime" reached number three in the Country charts. Though Land of the True Believers was nominated for a Grammy as Best Contemporary Folk Recording - perhaps because of the fact - commercial country radio still found it difficult to accept Griffith. She signed with MCA, and abandoned Nashville to begin recording in Los Angeles.
Nanci Griffith's major-label debut, Lone Star State of Mind, popularized the Julie Gold song "From a Distance" - later covered by Bette Midler - but also gave Griffith her first Country Top 40 hit, the title song. Two other singles from the album, "Trouble in the Fields" and "Cold Hearts/Closed Minds," also grazed the Country charts. Little Love Affairs and the live album One Fair Summer Evening (both 1988) were slight disappointments, though "I Knew Love" became Griffith's second Country Top 40 hit. MCA paired her with noted rock producer Glyn Johns for 1989's Storms; the album included guest stars Phil Everly, Albert Lee and former Eagle Bernie Leadon and became her best-seller, though it featured no successful singles. A move from rock to pop - helped by producers Rod Argent and Peter Van Hook - characterized Late Night Grande Hotel (1991); it was clear by then that Griffith's move away from Nashville was also compromising her folk and country roots.
A move to Elektra in 1992 marked a return to form for Griffith; her 1993 LP Other Voices, Other Rooms was a tribute to her influences, and several of them - including Emmylou Harris, Chet Atkins and John Prine - made appearances. A compilation release of her best from the MCA years also appeared in 1993. The following year, Griffith's tenth studio album Flyer continued her dedication to folk. In March of 1997, Griffith released Blue Roses from the Moons; Other Voices, Too (A Trip Back to Bountiful) followed a year later, trailed in 1999 by Dust Bowl Symphony. John Bush
Born Jul 13, 1895 in Garrard County, KY. Died Sep 23, 1989 in Springfield, OH. Bradley Kincaid, originally from the hills of Kentucky and armed with a wealth of folk tunes and mountain ballads, prefered to refer to himself as a folksinger. While at college in Chicago he began regularly appearing on the WLS Barndance (later National Barndance). In 1936 he discovered Lewis Marshall Jones and promptly renamed him Grandpa Jones. Though he retired from the road in 1953, he still played folk festivals and recorded from time to time. In fact, over 4 days in 1963 he recorded 162 songs. He died in September 1989 in Springfield, Ohio. -Jim Worbois
Born Jul 12, 1942 in Newnan, GA. A singer, tunesmith and purveyor of what he dubbed "Southern music" - a brew of country, folk, rock, blues, gospel and Celtic styles - Steve Young was a songwriter's songwriter, an acclaimed performer whose work found its greatest commercial success in the hands of other artists. Born in Alabama and raised throughout the South, by his teens Young was already an established musician. In the early 1960s, he moved to New York City, and became affiliated with the burgeoning Greenwich Village folk music scene. After a brief return to Alabama, he settled in California in 1964.
On the West Coast, Young found work as a postal carrier while striking up friendships with the likes of Stephen Stills and Van Dyke Parks. A tenure with the psychedelic folk unit Stone Country yielded an eponymous 1968 LP, and a year later, Young issued his solo debut Rock Salt & Nails, a country-rock excursion featuring cameos by Gram Parsons, Chris Hillman, and Gene Clark. With the title track of 1971's Seven Bridges Road, he offered perhaps his best-known composition, popularized through a series of covers by artists like the Eagles, Joan Baez, Rita Coolidge and Iain Matthews. He remained a prolific artist throughout the remainder of the decade, releasing albums like 1975's Honky Tonk Man, 1976's Renegade Picker, and 1978's No Place to Fall.
Despite his success as a songwriter-"Lonesome, Orn'ry and Mean" became Waylon Jennings signature tune, while Hank Williams Jr. notched a hit with "Montgomery in the Rain"-Young flirted with the charts but never rose beyond a devoted cult following. Along with releasing records like 1982's To Satisfy You and 1987's Look Homeward Angel, he spent the majority of the 1980s touring the world, garnering a reputation as a standout live performer. The trend continued into the next decade, and in 1991 he issued his first concert recording, Solo/Live, an acoustic collection summarizing his career to date along with pop and soul covers like "You Don't Miss Your Water" and "Drift Away." The LP Switchblades of Love followed two years later, and in early 2000, he issued Primal Young. -Jason Ankeny
Born Jul 12, 1945 in Lubbock, TX. Country music's ballad tradition is fused with the visionary poetry of contemporary folk music by Butch Hancock. In addition to being featured on his solo albums, Hancock's songs have been covered by the Texas Tornadoes ("She Never Spoke Spanish to Me"), Emmylou Harris ("If You Were a Bluebird") and his former bandmates in the short-lived but influential Flatlanders, Joe Ely and Jimmie Dale Gilmore.
A native of Lubbock, Texas, Hancock spent hours listening to the music played by border radio stations. As a youngster, he frequented square dancing events and fiddle contests. He began writing songs while driving his father's tractor on the family farm.
The Flatlanders were the product of three talented singer/songwriters. Although they had been friends in junior high school, Hancock and Gilmore didn't discover that each played guitar until they were attending Lubbock High School. Gilmore and Ely, however, were much closer high school friends. In 1969 and '70, Hancock often met up with Gilmore and Ely at parties. Before long, they had agreed to pool their resources into a band. While the group recorded an album in 1972, it remained unreleased until 1980 when it was released by Charly Records in London. Rounder issued it as More a Legend Than a Band in 1990.
Hancock released his self-titled debut solo album in 1978. Selections from his first six solo albums were featured on the 1989 album Own and Own. In 1996, Hancock released a six-cassette collection, No Two Alike, recorded at the Cactus Cafe in Austin, Texas during a week-long stint that included a reunion of the Flatlanders. In 1992, Hancock and Gilmore collaborated on a live album, Two Roads. Hancock has subsequently toured with Texas singer/songwriter Steve Young.
Hancock's interest in music has been balanced by his passion for photography. A collector of antique cameras, Hancock showcased his skills in the 1988 exhibition "Shots from the U.S.S.R.," which features photographs shot during a musical tour of Moscow, Leningrad and Kiev.
In 1994, Hancock composed several songs for Chippy, a play about a West Texas prostitute written by Jo Harvey Allen and Terry Allen. -Craig Harris
Lonzo & Oscar
As long as there's been an idiom known as country music, there's been idiots milking the hay seed image of backwoods folk. Hee Haw is only the most recent and prominent example, but long before that immensely popular show, the duo of Lonzo & Oscar (Lloyd George and Rollin Sullivan) were opening for superstar Eddy Arnold as a local yokel comedy/music act. When the duo scored a hit in 1947 with "I'm My Own Grandpa" (later the signature tune for Grandpa Jones), however, they quickly stopped opening for Arnold and set out to become popular stars of their own, doing exactly that as performers on the Grand Ole Opry. And proving that Lonzos (a derogatory term for someone who lives in a rural area) are interchangeable, Rollin "Oscar" Sullivan hired another partner when George tired of the act, taking his aw-schucks comedy act into the 1970s. -Steve Kurutz
Born Jul 7, 1928 in Pasadena, CA, died Sep 30, 1977. Born Colleen Summers on July 7, 1928, in Pasadena, CA, singer Mary Ford is best known for her work with husband/legendary guitarist Les Paul. The pair met in the late '40s (while Ford was a country singer), and quickly began reeling off a string of hit jazz standards, their biggest hit being "How High the Moon." From 1953 through 1960, Paul and Ford hosted their very own television program, The Les Paul and Mary Ford at Home Show, while the duo continued to record together until they divorced in 1964. Ford passed away on September 30, 1977, at the age of 49. -Greg Prato
The Wilburn Brothers
Formed 1953, As members of the larger Wilburn Family group (mother, father, elder brothers, sister), nine-year-old Teddy (b. 1931) and ten-year-old Doyle (1930-1982) appeared on the Opry in 1940; 13 years later, when they had grown up, they became part of the Opry's regular cast. With Jim and Jesse McReynolds and Bobby and Sonny Osborne, the Wilburns continue the tradition of brother duets in country music. Their wide choice of material is shown by the traditional "Knoxville Girl," a hit in 1959, and the more modern sound of "Hurt Her Once for Me" (1966). -David Vinopal
The Louvin Brothers
Formed Jul 4, 1940 in Knoxville, TN, disbanded 1963. From the close-harmony brother acts of the '30s evolved Charlie and Ira Louvin, ranking among the top duos in country music history. With Ira's incredibly high, pure tenor and Charlie's emotional and smooth melody tenor, they learned well from the Bolick brothers (the Blue Sky Boys), the Monroe Brothers, the Delmore Brothers and other major family duos of the previous generation, preserving the old-time flavor, while bringing this genre into the '50s, when country music moved to a newer sound. Whatever type of songs they recorded - gospel, folk, hillbilly, or '50s pop - those songs became the Louvins. Add to the list the many Louvin compositions (for example, "If I Could Only Win Your Love," Emmylou Harris' first hit), and you have an act that is outstanding in country music history.
Their career took a while to get going, partly because of interruptions from WW II and the Korean War. In the early '50s, after making a reputation for unexcelled gospel singing, the Louvins broadened their repertoire, recording "The Get Acquainted Waltz" (with Chet Atkins adding another guitar to Charlie's and to Ira's mandolin), a fair hit that showed success was reachable with non-religious music. The electric guitar, with the duo's unique harmony and Ira's exceptional tenor, created a sound that fans asked for in increasing numbers. In 1955, after ten unsuccessful auditions, they finally joined the Opry, where they performed to great acclaim until 1963, when they broke up. They had a number of hits, including the much-covered "When I Stop Dreaming" and "Cash on the Barrel Head." Following the duo's breakup, Ira and Charlie both pursued solo careers.
Born and raised in the Appalachian mountains in Alabama, both Charlie (born Charlie Elzer Loudermilk, July 7, 1927) and Ira (born Lonnie Ira Loudermilk, April 21, 1924; d. June 20, 1965) were attracted to the close-harmony country brother duets of the Blue Sky Boys, the Delmore Brothers, the Callahans Brothers and the Monroe Brothers when they reached their adolescence. Previously, they had sung gospel songs in church and their parents encouraged their songs to play music, despite the family's poverty. Ira began playing mandolin while Charlie picked up the guitar, and the two began harmonizing. After a while, they began performing at a small, local radio station in Chattanooga, where they frequently played on an early-morning show.
The brothers' career was interrupted in the early '40s when Charlie joined the Army for a short while. While his brother was in the service, Ira played with Charlie Monroe. Once Charlie returned from the Army, the duo moved to Knoxville, Tennessee where they received a regular spot on a WROL radio show; they later moved to WNOX. Around this time, they decided to abandon their given name for Louvin, which appeared to be a better stage name. (Their cousin John D. Loudermilk retained the family name.) Following their stint in Knoxville, they moved to Memphis, where they broadcast on WMPS and cut one single for Apollo Records. After their brief stay in Memphis, they returned to Knoxville.
In 1949, the Louvin Brothers recorded a single for Decca Records which failed to make much of an impact. Two years later, they signed with MGM Records and over the next year, they recorded 12 songs. Shortly after their MGM sessions were finished, Charlie and Ira moved back to Memphis, where the worked as postal clerks while playing concerts and radio shows at night. Eventually, they earned the attention of Acuff-Rose who signed the duo to a publishing contract. Fred Rose, the owner of the publishing house, helped the duo sign a contract with Capitol Records. The Louvins' debut single for the label, "The Family Who Prays," was a moderate success (it would later become a gospel standard), yet they were unable to capitalize on its success because Charlie was recalled by the Army to serve in the Korean War.
Upon Charlie's discharge from the Army, the Louvins relocated to Birmingham, where they planned to restart their career through appearances on the radio station WOVK. However, a duo called Rebe and Rabe had already carved out a close-harmony niche in the area, using several of the Louvins' own songs. When Charlie and Ira were reaching a point of desperation, Capitol's Ken Nelson was able to convince the Grand Ole Opry to hire the duo. Prior to joining the Opry, the duo had been marketed as a gospel artist, but they began singing secular material as soon as they landed a slot on the show, primarily because a tobacco company sponsoring its broadcast told the Opry and the Louvins "you can' sell tobacco with gospel music." While they didn't abandon gospel, the brothers began writing and performing secular material again, starting with "When I Stop Dreaming." The single became a Top Ten hit upon its release in the fall of 1955 and it would eventually become a country standard. It was followed shortly afterward by "I Don't Believe You've Met My Baby," which spent two weeks at number one early in 1956. No less than three of the duo's other singles - "Hoping That You're Hoping," "You're Running Wild," "Cash on the Barrel Head" - reached the Top Ten that year, and they also released the albums Tragic Songs of Life and Nearer My God to Thee. The Louvins' success in 1956 was particularly impressive when considering that rock & roll was breaking big that year, sapping the sales of many established country artists.
However, the Louvins weren't able to escape being hurt by rock & roll. They had two relatively big hits in 1957, "Don't Laugh" and "Plenty of Everything But You," "My Baby's Gone" reached the Top Ten in late 1958, and their classic version of the traditional ballad "Knoxville Girl" was a moderate hit in early 1959, but those were those four hit singles arrived in the space of three years; they charted four songs in 1956 alone. Soon, the Louvins were receiving pressure from Capitol to update their sound. They tried to cut a couple of rockabilly numbers, but they were quite unsuccessful. Eventually, Ken Nelson suggested that the duo abandon the mandolin in order to appeal to the same audience as the Everly Brothers. The Louvins didn't accept his advice, but the remark did considerable damange to Ira's ego and he began to sink into alcoholism.
The Louvin Brothers continued to record during the early '60s, turning out a number of theme albums - including tributes to the Delmore Brothers and Roy Acuff, as well as gospel records like Satan is Real - as well as singles. "I Love You Best of All" and "How's the World Treating You" reached numbers 12 and 26 respectively in 1961, the first year they had two hit singles since 1957. However, the duo began fighting frequently, and Ira's alcoholism worsened. Following one last hit single, "Must You Throw Dirt in My Face," in the fall of 1962, the duo decided to disband in the summer of 1963.
Charlie and Ira both launched solo careers on Capitol Records shortly after the breakup. Charlie was the more successful of the two, with his debut single "I Don't Love You Anymore" reaching number four upon its summer release in 1964. For the next decade, he racked up a total of 30 hit singles, though most of the records didn't make the Top 40. Ira's luck wasn't as good as his brother's. Shortly after the Louvins disbanded, he had a raging, alcohol-fueled argument with his third wife Faye that resulted in a shooting that nearly killed him. He continued to perform afterward, singing with his fourth wife Anne Young. The duo were performing a week of concerts in Kansas City in June of 1965 when they were both killed in a car crash in Williamsburg, Missouri. After his death, his single "Yodel, Sweet Molly" became a moderate hit.
The Louvin Brothers' reputation continued to grow in the decades following their breakup, as their harmonies and hard-driving take on traditional country provided the blueprint for many generations of country and rock musicians. The Everly Brothers were clearly influenced by the duo, while country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons drew heavily from the Louvins' deep catalog of classic songs, recording "The Christian Life" with the Byrds and "Cash on the Barrelhead" as a solo artist. Though they haven't been inducted into the Country Music of Hall of Fame, the Louvin Brothers and their music is truly legendary. -David Vinopal
AKA: Charles Elzer Loudermilk. Born Jul 7, 1927 in Rainesville, AL. As half of the Louvin Brothers, Charlie Louvin (born Charlie Elzer Loudermilk, July 7, 1927) was one of the most influential musicians of the '40s and '50s; the Louvins defined close harmony duet singing for several generations of country fans. After the Louvins disbanded in 1963, Charlie began a solo career, recording for Capitol Records until 1972. During that time, he had two Top Ten hits - "I Don't Love You Anymore" (number four, 1964) and "See the Big Man Cry (number seven, 1965) - as well as a series of minor hits. Louvin continued to perform and record for a variety of labels well into the '90s. -Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Born Sep 13, 1889 in Drapers Valley, VA. Died Jul 9, 1942 in Virginia.
Kelly Harrell was a near-legendary country balladeer during the 1920s, when he cut more than a dozen songs for Victor and OKeh. He was also a gifted songwriter whose music was covered by other artists, including Jimmie Rodgers and Ernest Stoneman, in his own lifetime.
Kelly Harrell was born in the Virginia highlands in the western part of the state, and from his early teens worked in various textile mills. He enjoyed singing, though he didn't play an instrument, and was inspired to try recording in his belief that he was at least as good a singer as a man he met locally named Henry Whitter, who had made records.
In early 1925, when Harrell was already 35 years old, he went to New York and recorded four sides for Victor Records, among them "New River Train" and "The Roving Gambler." He recorded for OKeh later that year, including a version of "The Wreck of the Old 97, " backed by "Blue Eyed Ella." Those sides elicited enough interest that Victor was interested in recording Harrell further in 1926. Those sides were his first using the electrical recording system, which was a considerable advance on the acoustic recordings he'd previously made. In 1927, Victor cut Harrell in another half-dozen songs backed by his own band (as Kelly Harrell and the Virginia String Band), with which he was performing locally. Harrell recorded another handful of recordings for Victor in 1929, after which his recording career came to a halt, owing to his inability to play an instrument-Harrell always required backing by other musicians, and the Great Depression had so damaged the recording business, that Victor was unwilling to pay the cost of hiring back-up musicians in 1930 and beyond. Harrell performed locally and working the textile mills until 1942, when a heart attack took his life. His complete recorded music was reissued by Bear Family on a triple-LP set in the 1970s, and he is also represented by an LP on the County label. -Bruce Eder
Born Jul 9, 1907 in Posey, TX. Singer/songwriter/musician and B-movie cowboy Eddie Dean (born Edgar Dean Glosup) appeared in Hollywood westerns of the late '30s through the late '40s and also had a modest career in country music. He was born in Posey, Texas to a farmer and a singing school teacher, who taught her son to harmonize. In 1926, Dean moved to Chicago to see if he could make it on the radio, but was only able to obtain a few guest spots. He shortened his name to Eddie Dean and the following year was hired in Shenandoah, Iowa.
In 1929, Dean and his older brother Jimmy (not the sausage magnate) began singing together. By late 1933, they were appearing on an early morning Chicago show and the prestigious National Barn Dance. Through 1935, they recorded duets for the ARC label under the direction of Art Satherley, plus some gospel tunes for Decca. After the Deans separated, Jimmy moved to a new station and appeared on a network daytime show, Modern Cinderella. Eddie decided to try his luck in Hollywood in 1936 and began playing minor roles in Westerns. He also appeared regularly on Judy Canova's network radio show and released eight singles between 1941 and 1942, including "On the Banks of the Sunny San Juan." As an actor, Dean got his big break in 1944 when he starred in the musical Western The Harmony Trail. After that, he went on to star in 19 more Westerns; at the apex of his film career, Dean was listed among the top ten cowboy stars of the 1940s.
After 1948, Dean retired from films and focused on using his movie fame to promote his singing career. Although a talented vocalist with a remarkably strong, clear voice, Dean never made it big. He did have a few hits and wrote some excellent songs, including "One Has My Name (The Other Has My Heart)," co-written by his wife and recorded by Jimmy Wakely and Jerry Lee Lewis in 1961 and 1969, respectively. As a songwriter, his best-known hit remains 1955's "I Dreamed of a Hill-Billy Heaven," a country music classic. Dean continued recording on low-budget labels through the 1970s. Through the 1980s, Dean continued to sing and share anecdotes at Western film fairs, and in 1993 was inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame. -Sandra Brennan
AKA LaVerne Williamson. Born Jul 9, 1923 in Pike County, KY. Died Dec 5, 1987. A pioneering vocalist whose soulful, gut-wrenching performances helped redefine the role of the female country solo artist, Molly O'Day's career was relatively brief, but her lasting influence has proven massive. Born Lois LaVerne Williamson on July 9, 1923 to a coal mining family living in a remote Appalachian community in eastern Kentucky, she spent her childhood enamored of cowgirl singers like Patsy Montana, Lulu Belle Wiseman, Texas Ruby Owens and Lily May Ledford, and eventually began singing and playing guitar in a string band with her brothers Cecil ("Skeets") on fiddle and Joe ("Duke") on banjo. In 1939, Skeets began playing on a radio station in Charleston, West Virginia, and his sister soon followed, adopting the stage name "Mountain Fern." A year later, now under the name "Dixie Lee Williamson," she joined guitarist Lynn Davis' band the Forty-Niners, and in 1941, she and Davis married.
Over the next five years, the Forty-Niners extensively toured the South, building a substantial fan base along the way. By the time the group settled in for an extended stay in Louisville, Kentucky in 1946, the name "Molly O'Day" was firmly entrenched. While Davis and O'Day's duets were popular with audiences, it was her deeply-felt solo performances of inspirational songs which had the biggest impact, and which led writer/publisher Fred Rose to sign the singer to Columbia Records. There, O'Day performed a number of songs written by a young Hank Williams, whom she had already known from their days on the radio circuit; in fact, it was Williams who taught O'Day her best-loved song, "Tramp on the Street," one of eight tunes she cut during her first studio session in late 1946. Backed by Davis, her brother Skeets, bassist Mac Wiseman and George "Speedy" Krise on the Dobro, the recordings gave a further boost to O'Day's surging popularity, but already she was having trouble coping with her success.
O'Day and Davis spent much of 1947 out of music, but in December of that year she returned to the studio, where she recorded her crowd-pleaser "Matthew Twenty-Four." She and Davis spent much of the next several years on the road, where she began performing religious material almost exclusively; in mid-1949, she cut another session, recording songs like "Teardrops Falling in the Snow," "Poor Ellen Smith," and Williams' "On the Evening Train." In the latter half of the year, O'Day suffered a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized; although she did record again in 1950 and 1951, she largely turned her back on show business afterwards, instead fcousing on performing in churches. In 1954, Davis became an ordained minister, and in the decades following the couple preached throughout the coal mining communities of West Virginia. O'Day did record for a few small gospel labels in the 1960s, and in 1973 she and Davis began hosting a daily gospel program on a West Virginia radio station. She died of cancer December 5, 1987. -Jason Ankeny
Jim & Jesse
AKA Jim and Jesse McReynolds. Formed 1945. Group Members: Jesse McReynolds, Jim McReynolds. One of the great bluegrass bands in history, brothers Jim (b. 1927) and Jesse (b. 1929) McReynolds and their Virginia Boys remained at the top by changing with the times. Starting as a traditional brothers duet, Jim on guitar and Jesse on mandolin showed their versatility by following country's changing tastes, moving to country/folk when necessary to keep a road band going. Whatever style they played (including Berry Pickin' in the Country, an album of bluegrass versions of Chuck Berry tunes), they retained a pure country core, due in no small part to Jim's pure, high tenor and Jesse's virtuoso, cross-picking mandolin playing.
Raised in Virginia, Jim & Jesse were born into a musical family. Their grandfather Charles McReynolds was a fiddler that had recorded a single for Victor in 1927 with the Bull Mountain Moonshiners. The brothers learned to play a number of stringed instruments while they were children, occasionally playing local dances and events as teenagers. However, the duo didn't begin playing professionally until they were in their 20s and Jim left the Army - by this point, Jim was playing guitar and Jesse played mandolin. In 1947, they landed a daily 15-minute spot on a local Norton radio station. For the next few years, they played on a variety of southern radio stations, securing a regular spot on Augusta, Georgia's WGAC in 1949. After staying at the station for a year, they moved to the midwest where they played stations in Iowa and Kansas without gaining much of a following. In 1951, they relocated to Middletown, Ohio where they had a regular spot at WPFB. While they were at the station they cut 10 songs with vocalist Larry Roll under the name the Virginian Trio; the records didn't gain much attention.
For the remainder of 1951 and much of 1952, Jim & Jesse played at a variety of radio stations throughout the country. Finally, in 1952, the group secured a major label deal with Capitol Records. However, their career was interrupted when Jesse was drafted into the Army to serve in the Korean War. After he was discharged in 1954, he rejoined Jim, who was still playing the Tennessee Barn Dance in Knowville, Tennessee. For the rest of the decade, they played radio and television stations across the country - including ones in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida - building up a fan base. During this time, their band the Virginia Boys, included such musicians as fiddler Vassar Clements and banjoist Bobby Thompson. In 1958, they recorded a handful of sides for Starday Records.
Martha White Mills flour company became Jim & Jesse's sponsors in 1959; the duo was the company's second major sponsorship, following Flatt & Scruggs. In 1961, they debuted at the Grand Ole Opry; three years later, they became members of the Opry. Jim & Jesse switched record labels in 1962, signing with Epic Records. The change in labels resulted in success for the duo, as "Cotton Mill Man" became their first charting country single in the summer of 1964. For the next few years, they continued in a straight bluegrass direction, scoring the occasional hit. In the late '60s, Jim & Jesse adopted a more country-oriented direction, which resulted in their biggest hit singles, including the number 18 "Diesel On My Tail."
In 1970, Jim & Jesse re-signed to Capitol Records and the first album they released under their new contract featured electric instruments. However, the duo quickly returned to a traditional bluegrass sound, since a bluegrass revival had gripped the attention of many country fans and college students across the United States. For the next two decades, the duo was a staple on the bluegrass festival scene, and they recorded for a variety of independent labels, including CMH, Rounder, and their own Old Dominion and Double J labels. In 1982, they had a minor hit single with "North Wind," which was recorded with Charlie Louvin. -Stephen Thomas Erlewine & David Vinopal
Born in Rock Hill, SC. Distinguished singer/songwriter David Ball has been playfully dubbed the "human jukebox" by producer Blake Chancey for his inability to pass a guitar without picking it up and playing his upbeat music. A talented performer with a friendly, laidback attitude, Ball was born in Rock Hill, South Carolina, the son of a Baptist minister. He was influenced by a Fred Kirby concert he saw at the age of five, and got his own start a few years later when he received a ukulele for Christmas and a guitar for his birthday. He made his formal debut singing a song he'd penned with his group the Strangers during a 7th grade talent show. After mastering the bass, the teenaged Ball began appearing on the folk festival circuit. Just after graduation, he founded the trio Uncle Walt's Band and moved to Austin, Texas, playing "dance-hall music" through the late '80s, when he landed a contract with Nashville producer Chancey. In between he and Uncle Walt's Band recorded two albums in the early '80s including Girl on the Sunny Shore (1980). A little while later, the A&R director at Warner Brothers requested that Ball audition for him. He was impressed, and Ball released his debut album for the label Thinkin' Problem. The album went gold, and the video made it to number one. He followed with Starlite Lounge in June of 1996, and Play was released three years later. -Sandra Brennan
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