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Jimmy C. Newman
Born Aug 27, 1927 in Big Mamou, LA. The 'C' stands for Cajun, and though much of Jimmy C. Newman's early country material has little swamp stylings, he developed a fusion on several 1960s albums that established him as a forerunner in Cajun-country music. Newman was born on August 27, 1927, in High Point, LA; as a child, he listened more to Gene Autry than the Cajun music of the area, but still included several Cajun songs in his repertoire with Chuck Guillory's Rhythm Boys, which he joined while still a teenager. Newman recorded several unsuccessful sides in the late '40s for J.D. Miller's Feature label, but Miller later convinced Nashville legend Fred Rose to give the budding singer a shot. After recording four songs in 1953, Newman signed to Dot Records and scored a hit the following year, when "Cry, Cry, Darling" reached number four in the Country charts.
        Newman's chart success prompted the Louisiana Hayride to hire him as a regular performer. His next four hits all made Top Ten, including 1955's "Daydreamin'," "Blue Darlin'" and "God Was So Good." Newman moved up to the Grand Ole Opry - a position he still has - in 1956 and released "A Fallen Star" the following year. The single, his biggest hit, spent two weeks at number two and also entered the Pop Top 25. The singer was unhappy with his Dot contract, though, and moved to MGM in 1958.
        By November of that year, Jimmy C. Newman charted another Top Ten hit, "You're Makin' a Fool Out of Me"; he closed out the decade with three Top 30 singles and the Top Ten "Grin and Bear It" in July 1959. Newman began the '60s with success also, bringing "A Lovely Work of Art" to number six and "Wanting You to Be with Me" to number 11. Not content with his popularity at MGM, he switched labels again, signing with Decca in 1961.
        Now that he was an established artist, Newman began to integrate Cajun influences in such Top 25 singles as "Alligator Man" and "Bayou Talk." His 1963 album Folk Songs of the Bayou Country was a milestone in the popularization of Cajun music, and included great work by accordionist Shorty LeBlanc and Newman regular Rufus Thibodeaux on fiddle. He hit the Country Top Ten at the end of the year with "D.J. for a Day," and his recordings soon moved back to the Nashville sound, with occasional Cajun influences. (One notable exception is 1967's Louisiana Saturday Night.)
        Jimmy C. Newman reached the Top Ten twice within six months in 1965-66 with "Artificial Rose" and "Back Pocket Money," but they proved to be his final hits. The following three years saw occasional placements in the Top 30, and his last chart entry was 1970's "I'm Holding Your Memory (But He's Holding You)." Following his commercial decline, Newman moved back to Cajun music, recording Cajun albums for the La Louisianne, Swallow and Rounder labels. His performances continue to excite many in Europe as well as America, and his Grand Ole Opry slot also keeps him busy. -John Bush



 

J.D. Crowe
Born Aug 27, 1937 in Lexington, KY. Banjoist J.D. Crowe was one of the most influential progressive bluegrass musicians of the '70s. Initially influenced by Earl Scruggs, as well as rock & roll and the blues, Crowe worked his way through several bands during the '60s, developing a distinctive instrumental style that melded country, bluegrass, rock, and blues. Crowe didn't receive national exposure until the early '70s, when he formed the New South but after the release of the band's eponymous debut in 1972, he became a fixture on the bluegrass scene for the next 20 years. Born and raised in Lexington, KY, Crowe picked up the banjo when he was 13 years old, inspired by one of Flatt & Scruggs' performances on the Kentucky Barn Dance. After that show, he regularly attended the duo's performances, sitting down in the front row to study Scruggs' revolutionary picking. Soon, Crowe was playing with various groups in Kentucky, including an outfit that also featured Curley Parker and Pee Wee Lambert. The young banjo player frequently played on local radio stations and that is where he got his first major break in 1956. Jimmy Martin was driving through Lexington when he heard Crowe on the radio station and was so impressed with what he heard, he drove to the station and asked him to join his band, the Sunny Mountain Boys. Crowe immediately accepted and began touring with Martin. While he was in the Sunny Mountain Boys, J.D. didn't stick to a strict bluegrass set list - he often added rock & roll songs to his repertoire.
        After spending six years with Martin, Crowe left the Sunny Mountain Boys in 1962 to pursue a solo career. For a while, he played Lexington bars and hotels, developing a new, progressive direction for bluegrass which incorporated stronger elements of folk, blues and rock. In the mid-'60s, he formed the Kentucky Mountain Boys with Red Allen and Doyle Lawson, which released their first album, Bluegrass Holiday, in 1968 on Lemco Records. The Kentucky Mountain Boys had a varied repertoire, but played solely acoustic instruments. Two other records followed - Ramblin' Boy and The Model Church - before the group broke up in the early '70s. Following the disbandment of the Kentucky Mountain Boys, J.D. Crowe formed the New South, which was the most revolutionary bluegrass outfit of its time. Originally, the band consisted of guitarist Tony Rice, mandolinist Ricky Skaggs, dobroist Jerry Douglas, and fiddler/bassist Bobby Sloan and they played a wildly eclectic brand of bluegrass on electric instruments. When they released their debut, J.D. Crowe & the New South in 1975 on Rounder Records, it caused an instant sensation - it marked a genuine turning point in the sound of the genre. All of the musicians in the original lineup of the New South were acclaimed and they would later go on to popular solo careers - in fact, most of them had left within a few years of the debut. By the end of the decade, the band featured guitarist/vocalist Keith Whitley, mandolinist Jimmy Gaudreau, fiddler Bobby Slone, and bassist Steve Bryant. During the '80s, the New South featured an ever-revolving lineup, as former members came back for guest appearances and Crowe discovered fresh, developing talents - the group became known as a source for new musicians that would later go on to individual success. In 1980, Crowe formed the Bluegrass Album Band with Tony Rice, Bobby Hicks, Doyle Lawson, and Todd Phillips. The Bluegrass Album Band toured and recorded sporadically throughout the course of the decade, always to great critical and popular acclaim. J.D. continued with the New South until 1988, when he decided to retire from the road. Following his decision, he appeared at special, one-shot concerts - including a tour with Tony Rice - but he concentrated on studio work, particularly producing records for developing bands. - Stephen Thomas Erlewine  

Pete Cassell
Born Aug 27, 1917 in Cobb County, GA. Died Jul 29, 1954, A blind country minstrel content to perform on radio broadcasts rather than record his material, Pete Cassell impressed many listeners with his near-perfect pitch and self-taught musicianship. Born in Georgia on August 27, 1917, Cassell was blinded in his infancy, and received his education at special schools in Georgia. He specialized in law, but turned to performing after teaching himself to play guitar and sing. He first appeared on radio in the late '30s for WSB-Atlanta, and spent the rest of his life in roughly year-long stints for stations in Georgia, West Virginia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Missouri and Wisconsin. Between the migrations, Pete Cassell recorded sporadically for Decca, Mercury and Majestic, from March 1941 to 1949. None of his sides became popular, though Cassell was a hit for nearly every station he performed with, including Wheeling, WV's talent-packed WWVA. He died of coronary thrombosis in 1954. In 1993, Old Homestead released a collection entitled Pete Cassell, Blind Minstrel. -John Bush



 

Billy Grammer
Born Sep 28, 1925 in Benton, IL. Longtime Grand Ole Opry member Billy Grammer was one of the great guitar players of country music; he even had a flat top guitar named after him and installed in the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1969. One of thirteen children born to a coal mining family in Franklin County, Illinois, during childhood he often played fiddle, guitar or mandolin at local gatherings. Following service in World War II, Grammer decided to become a professional musician. He got his first opportunity on Connie Gay's Radio Ranch in Arlington, Virginia.
        Two years later, he made his recording debut. In 1955, Gay suggested to Jimmy Dean that Grammer join his television show. During his years on The Jimmy Dean Show, Grammer was a sideman in several bands, including those of Clyde Moody, Grandpa Jones, and Hawkshaw Hawkins. He founded his own band in 1958 and also began recording as a solo act. In 1959, he had his first hit with "Gotta Travel On," which peaked in the Top Five on the country charts and did well on the pop charts. In 1962 he had chart success with "I Wanna Go Home." He occasionally appeared on the charts in the '60s with such songs as "I'll Leave the Porch Lights a-Burning" and "Bottles." In the '70s, Grammer recorded two final solo albums and continued to do session work. He later retired from studio work, but continued to perform regularly on the Opry. -Sandra Brennan



 

Kitty Wells
AKA Muriel Deason. Born Aug 30, 1918 in Nashville, TN. One of the few country stars born in Nashville, Kitty Wells (born Muriel Deason) had a string of hits from the '50s to the early '70s that earned her the title "Queen of Country Music." She made her radio debut on Nashville's WSIX, where she met her future husband, Johnnie Wright of Johnnie And Jack. She began touring as part of Johnnie And Jack's show; Wright gave her the stage name, taken from a folk song called "I'm A-Goin' to Marry Kitty Wells." Wells recorded unsuccessfully for RCA before switching to Decca, where she hit with 1952's "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," a response to Hank Thompson's "The Wild Side of Life." Its controversial pre-feminist lyrics, which blamed unfaithful men for creating unfaithful women, paved the way for Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette and established Wells as the first major female country star. Wells recorded a number of answer songs and remakes, but she has top-notch original material as well, including some of Harlan Howard's earliest hits. Wells began singing as a child, learning guitar from her father. As a teenager, she sang with her sisters on a local radio station, who performed under the name the Deason Sisters. The group began singing on the station in 1936. The following year, she married Johnnie Wright. Shortly after their marriage, Wells and Wright began performing together, along with his sister, Louise Wright; they called themselves Johnny Wright and the Harmony Girls. Jack Anglin, Louise's husband, joined the group in 1939, and they renamed the band the Tennessee Hillbillies, which would eventually evolve into the Tennessee Mountain Boys.
        Anglin was drafted into the army in 1942. Following his departure, Wright and Wells performed as a duo; it was at this time that she adopted her stage name, Kitty Wells, which was taken from an old folk ballad. When Anglin returned from the army, he and Wright formed a duo, Johnny and Jack. Kitty would tour with the duo, occasionally performing backup vocals. In 1946 and 1947, the duo had a regular spot at the Grand Ole Opry and Wells rarely performed with them. However, she did sing with the pair when they joined the Louisiana Hayride in 1948.
        The Louisiana Hayride helped Johnny and Jack land a record contract with RCA Records in 1949. That same year, Kitty recorded some gospel tracks - featuring Johnny and Jack as instrumental support - for RCA, but they were unsuccessful. Following those recordings, Wells was more or less retired for the next few years. In 1952, Paul Cohen, an executive at Decca Records, appraoched Kitty to record "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," a response song to Hank Thompson's "The Wild Side of Life." Wells recorded the song and it became a smash hit, reaching number one in the summer and staying in that position for six weeks. Later in 1952, she joined the Grand Ole Opry.
        "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" was followed by "Paying for That Back Street Affair," a response to Webb Pierce's "Back Street Affair." The single reached number six in the spring of 1953, helping to establish a permanent place at the top of the charts for Wells. For the rest of the '50s, she hit the Top 10 with regularity, racking up a total of 23 Top 10 hits. In the early '60s, her career dipped slightly, but she continuyed to have Top 10 hits frequently. During the late '60s and '70s, Wells' streak of hits evaporated, but she managed to have a string of minor hits and remained a popular concert attraction.
        In 1974, Wells was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and with good reason. Kitty Wells broke down the doors for female country singers, paving the way for artists like Patsy Cline, Tammy Wynette, and Loretta Lynn. During the '80s, her activity slowed - in addition to running a museum outside of Nashville, she toured with her husband Johnnie and frequently appeared on the Grand Ole Opry. In 1991, Kitty Wells was given a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammys. -Brian Mansfield & Stephen Thomas Erlewine



 

Hagers
Group Members: Jim Hager and John Hager. The Hagers were the only identical twins to make it big in country music, and were best known for their work on the television series Hee Haw as singers, musicians, and cornball comics. Jon and Jim were adopted by Rev. John Hager and his wife Fran as infants. The boys learned to love music from their parents; in high school, they often performed locally and appeared on a Saturday morning music TV show for teens. They went to college and served a stint in the Army, where they were sent to Vietnam to perform in USO tours and in officer and NCO clubs. They later returned to their hometown of Park Ridge, Illinois, and performed in Chicago lounges for 18 months. The Hagers then went to California, where they were discovered by New Christy Minstrel Randy Sparks and hired to appear at his Los Angeles club, Ledbetters.
        During a stint at Disneyland they were seen by Buck Owens, who took over their management and put them in his All-American Show for the next two years. In 1969, they released their first single, "Gotta Get to Oklahoma ('Cause California's Gettin' to Me)." The next year, they released their debut album and joined Hee Haw; they were originally contracted to perform two songs, but remained with the program for 18 years. During 1970, they had three minor hits, including "Silver Wings"; their last chart entry was "I'm Miles Away" (1971). When not in the studio or on Hee Haw the brothers appeared frequently as actors; in 1976, they appeared in the TV-movie Twin Detectives starring Lillian Gish. They also made many commercials and hosted Country Kitchen with Florence Henderson on TNN in 1987. During the mid-'70s, the Hagars tried their hand at stand-up country comedy. They left Hee Haw in 1987 and prepared a sitcom/variety show, Doubles, but it never got off the ground. In 1990, the brothers made their first video for the single "I'm Wishin' I Could Go Fishin' Forever." -Sandra Brennan



 

David Allen Coe
Born: September 6, 1939. Birthplace: Akron, Ohio. If there's ever been a way to describe DAC, it has got to be his ability to defy categorization. With nearly three decades of following his musical muse wherever it's led, this outlaw has crossed the panorama of American roots music.
        As well as being a singer, songwriter, guitarist, David is also a magician, deep sea treasure hunter and movie star. His movies include "Stagecoach", "The Last Days of Frank and Jessie James". "Lady Grey", "Buckstone County Prison" and "Take This Job and Shove It" to mention a few. David signed with SUN Records in 1968 and recorded his first album "Penitentiary Blues", all songs that he wrote in prison. In 1973 Columbia Records bought David's contract from Sun and he recorded his first album "The Mysterious Rhinestone Cowboy" several years before Glen Campbell had a hit with the song "Rhinestone Cowboy".
        Much has been written about David's past and his lifestyle but not much about his achievements over the years. From performing on FARM AID to touring with NEIL YOUNG, KID ROCK and WILLIE NELSON. David's song "Take This Job and Shove It" has received a Million Airplays Certificate from BMI. His "Greatest Hits Album" is PLATINUM and his "First Ten Years Album" is GOLD. He has had sixty-three songs on the Billboard Singles Charts, including "Mona Lisa Lost Her Smile", "The Ride", "Please Come to Boston", "Willie, Waylon and Me", "Jack Daniels If You Please", "You Never Even Call Me By My Name" to name a few. He has written songs for Johnny Paycheck, Tanya Tucker, George Jones, Willie Nelson, Leon Russell, Charlie Louvin, Del Reeves, Tammy Wynette, Melba Montgomery, Stoney Edwards, The Oakridge Boys and KID ROCK. Both "Would You Lay With Me" and "Take This Job and Shove It" are million seller songs penned by David. Johnny Cash ahd recorded David's songs including "Would You Lay With Me" on his current chart topping album entitled "CASH". His tour schedule is never-ending list of SOLD OUT shows. He performs both Country and Rock shows depending on the venue. Dafid also plays in many Casino's where he does Las Vegas type shows.
        David Allan Coe has been through a lot in his life. He had tried to put his past behind him and move on with his life. He is a single father with his oldest son Tyler traveling with him on the road, where he is home-schooled. His youngest son, Carson, and his two daughters Tanya and Shyanne, live with their mother. Carla, his oldest daughter, is married and the mother of his grandchildren. Shelly is a singer songwriter living in Austin, Texas. David's newest album is on Cleveland International Records. It is called "Songwriter of the Tear" and includes all songs written by David including "The Penny", "Drink Canada Dry", "The Ghost of Hank Williams", "Then I Found You", "Standing Too Close To The Flame", "The Only Thing Missing Is You", "Desperate Man" and others. David is also doing an album with PANERA and KID ROCK to be released sometime this year.
        Perhaps now, David can finally take his place alongside the great stars of Country music, many of whom he influenced. He has held his head up high in the face of indifference, disapproval, accusations and outright hostility, "......Over the years people have gotten the impression that I am prejudiced. I¹m not prejudiced. Sure, I have this thing about controversy. But I don¹t dislike anybody because of their color or sexual beliefs or whatever.....". Since writing "Jack Daniels, If You Please" in 1957, David has had a knack for penning some of country music¹s most memorable drinking songs, But contrary to popular belief, he has never been much of a drinking man. "I only started drinking whiskey a couple of years ago, when I was 58 years old," he explains. "I will take a couple of shots of whiskey when I am onstage at night. But that¹s the only time I drink." It¹s all part of his gift for encapsulating human experiences even beyond the many he¹s lived through in his own life. "I¹ve written songs about having babies, but I¹ve never had one," he says. "I think as a songwriter you can tune into other people¹s emotions and whatever, and you can write about that experience."Through all this he has persevered and let his talent lead the way and break down the doors. He has successfully put his prison years behind him, without trying to cover them up, and he holds himself up as "living proof" that an ex-con can succeed. An important message for the many who are now in the position he was in then. With many years of hard living behind him, David is at the height of his creative powers, experimenting with new music, and we can look forward to many more years from this incredible showman.
        David is a star in every sense of the word, and someone to look up to and learn from. The term "living legend" may be overused to the point of cliche, but in the case of David, it fits like a glove. Hailed by Country Music Magazine as "..one of the most singularly fascinating and enigmatic figures to carve a niche in Œ70s and Œ80s country music," Coe continues to cut his own bold and singular path through the world of popular music. David is a man comfortable in all kinds of music-- provided that music has the unbridled passion of a man committed to life without limits. Still while it's hard to pin the man down in any one place, space or time the people who've been turning out for David's legendary live performances over the last decade have elevated him to cult hero status. Because of his ability to capture their emotions they have embraced David's music and used it as their own rallying cry against the status quo. As each new generation of Rednecks Kickers, Pickers, Preppies, Skinheads, Deadheads, Hippies and Bikers come to hear David's music, his legend and popularity grows!
        At a time when the touring industry is anemic, he continues to play some 200 dates a year. David is packing 'em in on college campuses, biker bars (Iron Horse Saloon), honky tonks, state fairs, blues bars and music halls. If there's a stage and people looking to let off some steam and have their feelings re-calibrated, David will be there. It's a covenant that keeps the "Long Haired Redneck" on the road.
        His devotion to the fans, and the music, has created a spiral that now has its own momentum. At David's shows there's a chemical reaction that transforms the songs when the audience is in the house. For it's the people that set David on fire. When they start whooping and hollering, it feeds an already burning love of music and stokes the flames higher. You can hear the musicians straining to get every last drop of passion from their instruments. It's in the way the notes bend, the beats pound and David's gravelly voice just keeps coming at you like a train. In those moments, it's easy to remember why music mattered so. And in those moments, we can all be transformed. But it takes someone willing to push the envelope to make it happen. For David, pushing the envelope is the natural course and just a starting point. -unknown



 

Sylvia
AKA born: Sylvia Kirby Allen. Born Sept 6, 1956 in Kokomo, IN. Growing up in Kokomo, Indiana, Sylvia moved to Nashville around Christmas of 1975 with a definite gameplan: get a job as a secretary, get to know influential people in town, and build a career as a recording artist. The plan worked. She picked up a job as the receptionist for Pi-Gem Music, headed by record producer Tom Collins. She started singing on demo sessions, and Collins helped her secure a recording contract with RCA.
        Since she'd never performed live before, Sylvia ended up learning to do concerts at the same time she was making hit records. With an engaging voice, a bubbly personality, and a beautiful appearance, Sylvia was practically a marketing dream, and Collins built her sound around catchy melodies and strong backbeats. Songs like "Drifter" (number one, 1981), "The Matador" (1981), "Nobody" (number one, 1982) and "Like Nothing Ever Happened" (1982) became big hits; "Nobody" even crossed over into the pop Top 40. The material was often lyrically shallow, however, and Sylvia grew increasingly frustrated. She left Collins and recorded a pair of albums with record producer Brent Maher. The second was never released. Sylvia, instead, was dropped by RCA in 1987.
        She used the opportunity for personal growth (she toured almost constantly during the height of her career and was emotionally drained) and to develop as a songwriter. In 1992, she re-emerged as a touring artist and pursued a recording deal with self-penned material that was inner-directed and uplifting. -Tom Roland



 

Mel McDaniel
Born Sep 6, 1942 in Checotah, OK. McDaniel collects tools for a hobby and collects hits for a living. Born in Checotah, Oklahoma, he decided at age 14 that he had to pursue music, inspired by seeing Elvis Presley on TV. After establishing himself on the Tulsa club circuit, he moved briefly to Nashville, then headed off to Anchorage, Alaska, where he refined his stage skills. Once he returned to Music City, he signed his first recording deal in 1976 with Capitol Records, but it took five years for him to first hit the Top Ten. He had sporadic success thereafter, but his signature song, "Baby's Got Her Blue Jeans On," invited a bevy of recognition, including multiple nominations for Grammy and Country Music Association awards. -Tom Roland



 

Zeke Clements
Born Sep 6, 1911 in Empire, AL. Died Mar 5, 1963. A country music personality in the "Cowpoke" tradition that Roy Rogers and Gene Autry eventually made famous, Zeke Clements was already a radio personality at the tender age of 17 when he was hired as part of Chicago's famous National Barn Dance radio program. Clements would later go on to become a regular on the two other country radio shows of importance, WSM's Grande Ole Opry and the Louisiana Hayride, before enjoying success as a clean cut performer of hits such as "Smoke on the Water" and "Blue Mexico Skies." For trivia buffs, Clements is also the original voice behind Bashful, one of Snow White's Seven Dwarfs. -Steve Kurutz



 

Buzz Busby
Born Sep 6, 1933 in Eros, LA. Pretty hot stuff, one would have to think about a chap named Buzz Busby who hails from the town of Eros. Sounds like he would be loads of fun to hang out with, if he would just put that damn mandolin down. Factor in the fact that Busby is an ex-FBI agent, and things appear even more interesting. In reality, Busby's reputation was mostly made with the little instrument in the little bitty case, although his bank account benefited even more from his activities as a songwriter, resulting in several strong country hits and the subsequent arrival of royalty checks.
        He was born Bernarr Busbice, the youngest of nine children, and at an early age was exposed to music, including helpful guitar lessons from an older brother on the family Sears mail-order guitar. With some rudiments of music under his belt, he taught himself mandolin. While music remained an interest throughout high school and Busby was usually in one or two bands, he picked the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a career choice upon graduation from high school rather than Full-time Bluegrass Interest. This didn't last, though, and it wasn't long before he decided to become a professional picker, a decision that was further boosted by a featured part on the Louisiana Hayride, a popular show which broadcast on Shreveport's KWKH. Busby was a regular on this program with his group, the Bayou Boys, from 1955 through 1956, grandly increasing his popularity.
        Earlier, he had been part of a novelty duo called Buzz & Jack with the talented songwriter and performer Jack Clement in 1953, and in the following years was featured with regularity on the television show Hayloft Hoedown on WRC-TV out of Washington, D.C. The latter program was credited with grandly increasing the popularity of bluegrass in the Washington area, but the Louisiana Hayride offer afforded him the possibility of returning to his native stomping grounds, although one had to be careful not to stomp too hard in Louisiana lest one disappear into a sinkhole.
        Right around the time of making this move, Busby leased out one of his early recordings for the indie Jiffy label to bluegrass enthusiast Bill Carroll, and this turned out to be a bit of bluegrass history as it was the acorn from which a grand tree known as the Rebel label grew. In the '60s, this label would make bluegrass history and help establish an entire new generation of artists. Busby seems to have his foot in bluegrass legend even when not intending to, in fact even when things happen that nobody would ever plan, such as a car accident. In 1957, he and banjo hotshot Eddie Adcock got into a car accident in the D.C. area and were hospitalized. A pickup band was thrown together to play a gig the pair had booked the next day, and that band worked out so well it turned into the Country Gentlemen, one of the biggest bluegrass groups ever.
        In the meantime, Busby continued selling his original songs, and wound up producing a series of hits through the '50s and '60s. If country music thrives on melodrama and tragedy, Busby seems to be hitting the main vein with titles such as "Lost" and "This World's No Place to Live, But It's Home," while some of his other subjects suggest he might be writing music for a weatherman friend: "Cold and Windy Night," "Lonesome Wind," "Blue Vietnam Skies." There was also the playful side to Busby, which made him a natural for the kind of rockabilly material that many country and bluegrass artists of his generation toyed with. "Zzztt" was an off-the-wall regional single with Busby and partner Wink Lewis, and he also liked to produce entertaining instrumentals such as "Mandolin Twist" and "Talking Banjo." It is worth mentioning that Jerry Garcia recorded Busby's "Lost" with his Old & In the Way bluegrass project. The hit songs, combined with a strong mandolin style, has kept Busby working steadily on the country and bluegrass scene, on his own; in the groups of artists such as Jim Eanes and Bill Emerson; and in cooperative groups such as the Busby Brothers with his brother Wayne Busby, and a duo with wonderful banjo wizard Don Stover. -Eugene Chadbourne



 

Ernest Tubb
AKA Ernest Dale Tubb. Born Feb 9, 1914 in Crisp, TX. Died Sep 6, 1984 in Nashville, TN. The incomparable Ernest Tubb ("E.T." to all who knew him) became a legend as much for what he was personally as for the half-century career that stretched from his first radio date in 1932 to his death in 1984. Though other singers with better voices and more raw musical talent have come and gone, none has inspired greater love of the fans over six decades. Along with such performers as Jimmie Rodgers, Roy Acuff, Bill Monroe, Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell and George Jones, E.T. is country music personified. Tubb was among the first of the honky-tonk singers and the first to achieve national recognition. His first recording was "The Passing of Jimmie Rodgers," a tribute to his hero. His long association with Decca began with "Blue Eyed Elaine" in 1940. Three years later his self-penned "Walkin' the Floor over You," a country classic, was a hit, leading to the Opry, movie roles, and stardom.
        In 1947 he opened his Nashville record store and began the Midnight Jamboree, which followed the Opry on WSM and advertised the shop while showcasing stars and those on the rise. By that time, he had become one of the most recognizable musical stars in the world, bringing country music to the widest audience it had ever seen. Over the years, Tubb toured widely with his Texas Troubadours, pressing the flesh with fans after shows that featured his many hits, including "Slippin' Around," "Two Glasses Joe," "Tomorrow Never Comes," "Drivin' Nails in My Coffin," "Rainbow at Midnight," "Let's Say Goodbye like We Said Hello," and "Driftwood on the River." In 1975, after 35 years with Decca/MCA, he was let go, the allegiance of company executives not matching that of his multitude of fans. Because of a lung disease Ernest Tubb had to rest in pain on a cot between takes, ending his career just as his hero Jimmie Rodgers had 50 years earlier. Quoting one of his album titles, Tubb left a legend and a legacy.
        The youngest of five children, Ernest Tubb was born in Ellis County, Texas but his farming parents moved across the state to Benjamin when he was six years old. By the time he was in his pre-adolescence, his parents had divorced and he spent his teens travelling between his two parents, working odd jobs. Early in his adolescence, Tubb was attracted to the music of Jimmie Rodgers. By his late teens, Tubb had picked up the guitar on the advice of a friend and fellow guitarist named Merwyn Buffington. Following Jimmie Rodgers' death in May of 1933, Ernest decided that he wanted to pursue a musical career and emulate his idol. He moved to San Antonio, where he again hooked up with Buffington, who was currently playing with the Castleman Brothers on a local radio station. The guitarist convinced his employers to let Tubb sing as a guest vocalist, and soon ET had his own regular early-morning show.
        At this point in his career, Tubb sounded very similiar to Jimmie Rodgers and was still obsessed with his idol. Eventually, he tracked down and met Rodgers' widow Carrie and she was quite taken with Ernest, loaning him one of Jimmie's guitars and convincing RCA to sign the young singer. The first singles he recorded were quite similar to Rodgers (including two tributes to the Singing Brakeman), but the records failed to sell and he was quickly dropped from the label. Ernest continued to plow ahead, playing a variety of small clubs and radio stations, without gaining much attention. A major point in Tubb's musical development is the removal of his tonsils in 1939. With his tonsils gone he could no longer yodel, which meant he developed his own distinctively twangy, nasal singing style. Decca Records agreed to record him in April of 1940 and one of the resulting singles, "Blue Eyed Elaine," became a minor hit. Decca agreed to sign him to a longer contract by the end of the year, by which time he had also had a regular radio show on a Fort Worth station, KGKO, sponsored by the flour company Gold Chain.
        Early in 1941, he cut several new songs, this time backed by Fay "Smitty" Smith, a staff electric guitarist for KGKO. The first single released from these sessions was "Walking the Floor Over You." Over the next few months, the single became a massive hit, eventually selling over a milion copies. "Walking the Floor Over You" was the first honky tonk song, launching not only Tubb's career but also the musical genre itself. Ernest sang the song in the Charles Starrett movie Fighting Buckeroos (1941), which led to another film appearence in Starrett's Ridin' West (1942). By the end of 1942, he was popular enough to gain a release from his Gold Chain contract, and he headed to Nashville. Upon his arrival in January of 1943, he joined the Grand Ole Opry and he became the first musician to use an electric guitar in the Opry.
        Between 1942 and 1944 Tubb made no recordings because of a strike within the recorders' union, yet he continued to tour, often with Pee Wee King and Roy Acuff. Ernest returned to recording in 1944, releasing the number two "Try Me One More Time" early in the year, following by his first number one single, "Soldier's Last Letter," that summer. The two singles kicked off a nearly 15-year streak of virtually uninterrupted Top Ten singles (only four of his 54 singles of that era failed to crack the Top Ten, and even then they made the Top 15). In 1946, he began recording solely with his band, the Texas Troubadours, and he became one of the first country artists to record in Nashville. Between the end of 1945 and the conclusion of 1946, he had a number of huge hits, including "It's Been So Long Darling," "Rainbow at Midnight," "Filipino Baby," and "Drivin' Nails in My Coffin." The singles cemented his reputation in the US and won him new fans around the world.
        Early in 1947, he opened the Ernest Tubb Record Shop in Nashville, which he promoted through the Midnight Jamboree, a radio program he designed to fill the post-Opry slot on the radio. That year, he became the first country star to play the Carnegie Hall in New York, signalling how much he had done to increase country music's popularity across the United States; a few years before, it would have been unthinkable to have such rural music play in such an urban venue. During 1949, he hit the height of his popularity, charting an astonishing 13 hit singles during the course of the year - which is even more remarkable considering that the chart only had 15 positions each week. Most of those songs were classics, including "Have You Ever Been Lonely? (Have You Ever Been Blue)," "Let's Say Goodbye like We Said Hello," "I'm Biting My Fingernails and Thinking of You" (a collaboration with the Andrews Sisters)," "Slipping Around" and "Blue Christmas." The following year, he had 11 hit singles, including "I Love You Because" and "Throw Your Love My Way," plus several hit duets with Red Foley, including "Tennessee Border No. 2" and the number one "Goodnight Irene." Tubb also demonstrated his influence by helping Hank Snow appear on the Grand Ole Opry and supporting Hank Williams.
        Throughout the '50s, Ernest Tubb recorded and toured relentlessly, racking up well over 30 hit singles, the majority of which - including the classics "Driftwood on the River" (1951) and "The Yellow Rose of Texas" (1955) - reached the Top Ten. By the end of the decade, his sales dipped slightly, which only meant he wasn't reaching the Top Ten, only the Top 20, with regularity. Nevertheless, he stopped having big hits in the early '60s, as rock & roll and newer, harder honky tonk singers cut into his audience. Even with the decline of his sales, Tubb was able to pack concert halls and his television show was equally popular. While the quality of his recordings was rather uneven during this time, he still cut a number of classics, including "Thanks a Lot," "Pass the Booze," and "Waltz Across Texas." Beginning in 1964, Decca had him record a series of duets with Loretta Lynn, and over the next five years the made three albums and had four hit singles: "Mr. and Mrs. Used to Be," "Our Hearts Are Holding Hands," "Sweet Thang" and "Who's Gonna Take the Garbage Out."
        In 1966, Tubb was diagnosed with emphysema and in spite of the doctors' warnings, he continued to tour and record actively into the early '70s. During that time, he continued to rack up a number of minor hits, as well as lifetime achievement awards. In 1965, he became the sixth member to be inducted to the Country Music Hall of Fame. In 1970, he was one of the first artists inducted to the Nashville Songwriters International Hall of Fame. Shortly after receiving the last reward, his hits slowed down drastically - over the next five years, he only had one minor hit with 1973's "I've Got All the Heartaches I Can Handle." Decca and Tubb parted ways in 1975, and he signed with Pete Drake's First Generation label, where he had one minor hit, "Sometimes I Do," in early 1978. The following year, Drake developed an all-star tribute to Tubb, The Legend and the Legacy, which featured stars like Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Chet Atkins and Charlie Daniels overdubbing their own work on original recordings Ernest had made. Released on Cachet Records, the album produced two minor hits with "Waltz Across Texas" and "Walkin' the Floor Over You" before being pulled from the market due to contractual reasons.
        The Legend and the Legacy would be the last time Tubb reached the charts. In the three years following its release, he continued to tour, but in late 1982 he was forced to retire due to his health. During the last days of his final tours, he had to take oxygen and rest on a cot between shows, eerily resembling the circumstances of Jimmie Rodgers' last recording sessions. Ernest Tubb succumbed to emphysema on September 6, 1984, leaving behind an enormous legacy that helped shape the face of contemporary country music. -David Vinopal



 

John Stewart
Born Sep 5, 1939 in San Diego, CA. John Stewart first gained recognition as a songwriter when his songs were recorded by the Kingston Trio. In 1960, he formed the Cumberland Three, which recorded three albums for Roulette. The following year, he joined the Kingston Trio, replacing Dave Guard, and stayed with them until 1967. His song "Daydream Believer" was a #1 hit for the Monkees at the end of that year. Stewart traveled with Senator Robert Kennedy on his 1968 Presidential campaign, an experience that affected him deeply. In 1969, he released his classic album California Bloodlines, the first of seven solo albums to reach the charts through 1980. Stewart found his biggest commercial success with the Top Ten album Bombs Away Dream Babies and its single "Gold" in 1979. He released several of his albums and albums by others on his own Homecoming label starting in the 1980s. -William Ruhlmann



 

Carmol Taylor
Born Sep 5, 1931 in Brilliant, AL. Died Dec 5, 1986. Carmol Taylor was best known as a honky-tonk songwriter, but he was also a talented performer. He was born in Brilliant, Alabama and began playing professionally in his early teens. When he was about 15, Taylor teamed up with Billy Sherrill to form Carmol Taylor and the Country Pals. The group stayed together for over 20 years, and between 1954 and 1974 played on a number of Southern radio stations. He launched his recording career in 1955, and in the early '60s he and the Pals began hosting a television show out of Columbus, Mississippi, where they performed for nine years.
        Sherrill went on to become one of the most influential record producers in country music, and he helped Taylor break into professional songwriting by getting him a job at Al Gallico Music. In 1965, Charlie Walker had a Top Ten hit with Taylor's "Wild as a Wildcat." Soon after, Taylor began collaborating with Sherrill, Norro Wilson and George Richey. Together, they produced several major hits during the 1970s, including "He Loves Me All the Way," "My Man," "The Grand Tour," and "There's a Song on the Jukebox." Although he had been recording since the mid-'50s, Taylor didn't appear on the charts until the mid-'70s, with such songs as "Play the Saddest Song on the Jukebox" and "I Really Had a Ball Last Night." In 1980, Taylor himself became a producer, and in 1985, he and Gary Lumpkin provided George Jones and Lacy J. Dalton with a Top 20 hit, "Size Seven Round (Made of Gold)." Taylor died of lung cancer the following year. -Sandra Brennan



 

Gene Parsons
Born Apr 9, 1944 in Los Angeles, CA. Country-rock pioneer Gene Parsons was born September 4, 1944 in Los Angeles. In 1963, he and friend Gib Gilbeau formed the Castaways, followed four years later by their partnership as Cajun Gib & Gene. In 1968, the duo signed on with Clarence White and Wayne Moore's Nashville West for the group's self-titled debut LP.
        Later that year, Parsons and White joined the Byrds. He remained their drummer through 1972 before departing for a solo career, releasing his debut Kindling the following year. Also in 1973, he reunited with Gilbeau and played on sessions for Arlo Guthrie and Elliott Murphy. In 1974, Parsons joined the Flying Burrito Brothers, and appeared on two of the group's final LPs, 1975's Flying Again and 1976's Airborne.
        A recurring wrist injury kept him from performing live for several years, but in 1980, he joined Sierra Records both as an A&R executive and as a performer, issuing the solo effort Melodies. Shortly thereafter, he formed the Gene Parsons Trio with bassist Peter Oliba and drummer Richie Rosenbaum. In 1985, Parsons joined forces with singer/guitarist Meridian Green, the daughter of folk singer Bob Gibson. The couple, who married in 1986, initially performed as a duo before forming the group Parsons Green in 1991. The band's debut, Birds of a Feather, appeared in 1992. -Jason Ankeny



 

Shot Jackson
Born Sep 4, 1920 in Wilmington, NC. One of the premiere steel guitar and Dobro players of the postwar generation, Shot Jackson was a solo and session artist who also gained fame as a designer and manufacturer of musical instruments. Born Harold B. Jackson on September 4, 1920 in Wilmington, North Carolina, he earned the nickname "Buckshot"-later abbreviated to simply "Shot"-while still a child. His interest in music also began at an early age, and he became a devoted fan of the Grand Ole Opry, in particular of Roy Acuff's Smoky Mountain Boys and their Dobro player Bashful Brother Oswald. In 1941, Jackson joined the house band on a local country radio station, and in 1944, he moved to Nashville to sign on with the Opry as a sideman for Cousin Wilbur Westbrooks.
        After a year in the Navy, Jackson began playing electric steel guitar with the Bailes Brothers, and continued performing with the group throughout their tenure on the Shrevport, Lousiana station KWKH's Louisiana Hayride program. After the Bailes Brothers left the show, Jackson remained at KWKH, where he performed and recorded with the likes of Webb Pierce, Jimmie Osborne and Red Sovine. In 1951, he joined Johnnie & Jack's Tennessee Mountain Boys, and over the next half-dozen years, he played Dobro on virtually all of the group's live dates and studio sessions. He also played on many of Kitty Wells' first hits, in addition to recording a few solo sides.
        In 1957, Jackson fulfilled a personal dream by becoming the electric steel player for Acuff's Smoky Mountain Boys, and remained with the group for five years. During his affiliation with Acuff, Jackson and Buddy Emmons designed an electric pedal steel guitar; to market it, they founded their own company, Sho-Bud. Gradually, the company's success began to absorb more and more of Jackson's time, and he left the Smoky Mountain Boys, although he did remain an active musician, particularly as a steel player for Melba Montgomery, who had also left Acuff to go solo some time before. In addition to working with Montgomery (on both her solo work and her duets with George Jones), he recorded with many other artists, and even cut his own solo LP, Singing Strings of Steel Guitar and Dobro, in 1962.
        Jackson rejoined Acuff full-time in 1964, but his tenure abruptly ended in July of 1965 when he, Acuff and singer June Stearns were all sidelined by a near-fatal car crash. After a long recovery period, he began performing with his wife Donna Darlene, a former vocalist on the Jamboree program; in 1965, he also issued the solo record Bluegrass Dobro. His latest creation, a seven-string resonator guitar called the Sho-Bro, hit the market not long after, and again, Jackson distanced himself from music to focus on business. Still, he continued to play on occasion, rejoining the Bailes Brothers for a number of reunion concerts and recordings. He also hooked up with the Roy Clark Family Band for a pair of albums and appearances on the TV program Hee Haw. In 1980, Baldwin-Gretsch purchased Sho-Bud, and three years later, Jackson sold his instrument repair business as well. Soon after retirement, he suffered a stroke which left him unable to speak and play music. In 1986, he was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame; shortly after suffering another stroke several years later, Shot Jackson died on January 24, 1991. -Jason Ankeny



 

Dottie West
Born Oct 11, 1932 in McMinnville, TN. Died Sep 4, 1991 in Nashville, TN. Dottie West was one of the most successful, and controversial, performers to rise to popularity during the Nashville Sound era; like her friend and mentor Patsy Cline, West's battles for identity and respect within the male-dominated country music hierarchy were instrumental in enabling other female artists to gain control over the directions of their careers. Born Dorothy Marie Walsh outside McMinnville, Tennessee on October 11, 1932, she was the oldest of ten children; after her abusive, alcoholic father abandoned the family, her mother opened a small cafe. West began appearing on local radio just shy of her 13th birthday, and went on to study music at Tennessee Tech, where she also sang in a band; the group's steel guitar player, Bill West, became her first husband in 1953.
        After graduation, the Wests and their two children moved to Cleveland, Ohio; there, Dottie began appearing on the television program Landmark Jamboree as one half of a country-pop vocal duo called the Kay-Dots alongside partner Kathy Dee. At the same time, West made numerous trips to Nashville in the hopes of landing a recording deal; in 1959, she and Bill auditioned for Starday's Don Pierce, and were immediately offered a contract. Although the resulting singles West cut for the label proved unsuccessful, she nonethless moved to Nashville in 1961. There, she and her husband fell in with a group of aspiring songwriters like Willie Nelson, Roger Miller, Hank Cochran and Harlan Howard; they also became close friends with Patsy Cline and her husband Charlie Dick.
        West earned her first Top 40 hit in 1963 with "Let Me Off at the Corner," followed a year later by the Top Ten "Love Is No Excuse," a duet with Jim Reeves (who had scored a major success with her "Is This Me?"). Also in 1964, she auditioned for producer Chet Atkins, the architect of the Nashville Sound, who agreed to produce her composition "Here Comes My Baby; " the single made West the first female country artist to win a Grammy Award, leading to an invitation to join the Grand Ole Opry. In Atkins, West found the perfect producer for her plaintive vocals and heart-wrenching songs; after releasing the Here Comes My Baby LP in 1965, they reunited for the following year's Suffer Time, which generated her biggest hit yet in "Would You Hold It Against Me." In 1967, the West/Atkins pairing issued three separate albums-With All My Heart and Soul (featuring the smash "Paper Mansions"), Dottie West Sings Sacred Ballads, and I'll Help You Forget Her; she also appeared in a pair of films, Second Fiddle to a Steel Guitar and There's a Still on the Hill.
        After the 1968 LP Country Girl, West teamed with Don Gibson for a record of duets, 1969's Dottie and Don, featuring the Number Two hit "Rings of Gold." The album was her last with Chet Atkins, and she followed it with two 1970 releases, Forever Yours and Country Boy and Country Girl, a collection of pairings with Jimmy Dean. Around the time of 1971's Have You Heard...Dottie West, she left Bill West, and in 1972 married drummer Bryan Metcalf, who was a dozen years her junior. Suddenly, West's image underwent a huge metamorphosis; the woman who once performed dressed in conservative gingham dresses and refused to record Kris Kristofferson's "Help Me Make It Through the Night" because it was "too sexy" began appearing in skin-tight stage attire. As the sexual revolution peaked, so did West's career; after the 1973 success of the crossover smash "Country Sunshine," written for Coca-Cola, her material became far more provocative and, much to the chagrin of country purists, more commericially successful as well.
        After the release of House of Love in 1974, West notched a number of Top 40 hits like "Last Time I Saw Him," "When It's Just You and Me," and "Tonight You Belong to Me." In 1977, she was recording the song "Every Time Two Fools Collide" when, according to legend, Kenny Rogers suddenly entered the studio and began singing along. Released as a duet, the single hit Number One, West's first; the duo's 1979 "All I Ever Need Is You" and 1981 "What Are We Doin' in Love" topped the charts as well, and a 1979 duets album titled Classics also proved successful. As a solo artist, West notched a pair of Number Ones in 1980-"A Lesson in Leavin'" and "Are You Happy Baby?"
        As the 1980s progressed, West's popularity began to slip; she appeared in a revealing photo spread in the men's magazine Oui, and toured with a production of the musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. In 1983, she married for the third time, to soundman Al Winters, who was some 23 years younger than she; a year later, she appeared in the play Bring It on Home. Her last chart hit, "We Know Better Now," reached only Number 53 in 1985. Although she remained a popular touring act, West's financial problems mounted, and in 1990, after divorcing Winters, she declared bankruptcy, culminating in the foreclosure of her Nashville mansion. After a car accident and a public auction of her possessions, she began making plans for a comeback, including an album of duets and autobiography. But en route to a September 4, 1991 appearance at Opryland, the car she was riding in flipped, and a few days later West died of her injuries. A made-for-television biography followed a few years later. -Jason Ankeny



 

Carl Butler
Born: Carl Roberts Butler. Died Sep 4, 1992. Born in Knoxville, TN, on June 2, 1927, Carl Butler blended the popular honky tonk style prevalent in the '50s with the mountain harmony of his Tennessee upbringing. Though his early recordings were as a solo act, most of his popular material was performed with his songwriting wife, Pearl. Carl grew up influenced by the Opry's Roy Acuff as well as the old-timey music and bluegrass prevalent around his home. He began singing at amateur dances at the age of 12, and after service in World War II, he sang with bluegrass bands such as the Bailey Brothers and the Sauceman Brothers.
        In 1950, Butler began singing as a solo act at a Knoxville radio station; he signed with Capitol and began recording in his bluegrass style, but later changed to a honky tonk sound inspired by Lefty Frizzell and Hank Williams, who were then tearing up the charts. Though the sides weren't successful, he did meet Pearl Dee Jones at the time; she shared composing credits on his "I Need You So," and the two were married by 1952. Carl moved to Columbia that same year, recording solo and with the Webster Brothers throughout the '50s.
        By the end of the '50s, Carl Butler still hadn't produced a charting single, though he had recorded steadily for almost a decade. Finally, in late 1961, his single "Honky Tonkitis" made it to number 25 on the Country charts. The Butlers joined the Grand Ole Opry the following year, and the exposure helped them push "Don't Let Me Cross Over" to number one. Their first single as a duet, it spent almost three months at the top of the charts, and led to an appearance in the film Second Fiddle to a Steel Guitar in 1963. Carl and Pearl continued to chart as a duo throughout the '60s, hitting the Top Ten with "Too Late to Try Again" and number 14 with both "Loving Arms" and "I'm Hanging Up the Phone." The Butlers had worked with Dolly Parton around Knoxville for quite a while beginning in the late '50s, and they were her biggest initial supporters when she became popular in 1967. They continued to release Columbia albums during the '70s and also recorded for Chart and CMH, but retired in the '80s. Carl Butler attempted something of a comeback in 1990, two years after Pearl's death, but it proved unsuccessful and he died in 1992. -John Bush



 

Hank Thompson
AKA Henry William Thompson. Born Sep 3, 1925 in Waco, TX. Hank Thompson was perhaps the most popular Western swing musician of the '50s and '60s, keeping the style alive with a top-notch band, tremendous showmanship, and a versatility that allowed him to expand his repertoire into romantic ballads and hardcore honky tonk numbers. Born September 3, 1925, in Waco, TX, Henry William Thompson was the son of immigrants from Bohemia and grew up idolizing Western swing and country musicians like Bob Wills, Jimmie Rodgers, and Gene Autry. He began learning harmonica and guitar as a child, and appeared in local talent shows as a teenager, which eventually led to his own local radio program (billed as Hank the Hired Hand). After graduating from high school in 1943, Thompson joined the Navy as a radio technician and often wrote songs to entertain his fellow soldiers. Following his discharge, Thompson studied electrical engineering at Princeton through the G.I. Bill, but eventually decided to pursue music as a career.
        He returned to Waco and to the radio business, and set about putting together a band he dubbed the Brazos Valley Boys. They quickly became a popular live act around the area and recorded their first single, "Whoa Sailor" (a song Thompson had written in the Navy) for the Globe label in 1946. A few more singles followed for Bluebonnet, by which time Tex Ritter had become a Thompson admirer. Ritter helped Thompson land a record deal with Capitol in 1947, an association that would last for the next 18 years.
        Thompson scored his first major hit for Capitol in 1949 with the smash "Humpty Dumpty Heart," the biggest of his six charting singles that year. In 1951, he hooked up with producer Ken Nelson, who would helm many of his most successful records. Those records included "The Wild Side of Life," a monster hit from 1952 (over three months at number one) that became Thompson's signature song. Its cynical attitude inspired an answer record by Kitty Wells called "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," which made her the first female artist in country music history with a million-selling record. Thompson continued to score hit after hit during the '50s, including 21 songs that reached the Top 20 on the country charts and five Top Tens in the year 1954 alone. A savvy promoter, Thompson devised a number of ways to make himself stand out from the crowd (even past his suave cowboy wardrobe): his early-'50s television show in Oklahoma City was the first variety show broadcast in color and he was the first country artist to tour with a sound and lighting system (put together using his Navy and collegiate experience), the first to receive corporate sponsorship, and the first to record in high-fidelity stereo. He also gave early breaks to musicians like guitar legend Merle Travis and female rockabilly pioneer Wanda Jackson. Toward the end of the '50s, Thompson began to create LPs that were more cohesive than just mere collections of singles plus filler; 1958's Dance Ranch and 1959's Songs for Rounders were Western swing/honky tonk masterpieces, especially the latter, which stirred up controversy with its groundbreakingly adult (some said decadent) lyrical content. In 1961, Thompson recorded the first live album ever released in the history of country music, the classic At the Golden Nugget.
        After that burst of inspired creativity, Thompson's luck began to change: the public's taste was moving toward slick country-pop and the electrified Bakersfield sound and despite several more fine records, Thompson's relationship with Capitol ended in 1965. He first moved to Warner Bros., then ABC/Dot in 1968 (which became part of MCA in 1970). Thompson continued to record and tour and his singles charted regularly during the '70s all the way up to 1983, though he never matched the level of success he'd enjoyed in the '50s and early '60s. Even after the hits dried up, Thompson maintained a demanding concert tour schedule, playing all over the world. He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1989. -Steve Huey



 

Tompall Glaser
Born Sep 3, 1933 in Spalding, NE. Of all the "outlaw" singers of the mid-'70s, Tompall Glaser was the one who most exploited his newfound moniker. He even titled one album The Great Tompall and His Outlaw Band, which brazenly featured a huge picture of him, shirt unbuttoned halfway down his chest, on the cover. It's ironic, then, that even though he had numerous chart records alone and with his brothers, Chuck and Jim, into the 1980s, he's the least remembered of the four artists - Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter, and Tompall - who were packaged together on the immensely popular 1976 album Wanted! The Outlaws.
        Tompall, however, deserves far more recognition for his achievements. Over the past four decades he's written and recorded a wealth of excellent folk- and rock-influenced country songs, and his rich, husky-sweet tenor voice is immediately distinct. He's at home with a tender love ballad or a playful novelty number as he is with a bottomed-out cowboy lament like the Kinky Friedman classic "Sold American."
        Tompall and his brothers, Chuck and Jim, hailed from Spaulding, Nebraska, and started singing together as the folk trio Tompall and the Glaser Brothers in the late '50s. Their tight harmony singing impressed Marty Robbins, who signed them to his label. Their debut single was "Five Penny Nickel." They then moved to Nashville in 1958 and signed with Decca in 1959, worked also as session players, toured with Johnny Cash, and then joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1962. In 1965 they hooked up with producer Jack Clement, and a year later signed with MGM, which released several excellent albums. Songs like "Gone, On the Other Hand," "Through the Eyes of Love," and "California Girl (and the Tennesee Square)" made the charts, and the brothers remained a popular group throughout the decade. Tompall's "Streets of Baltimore" (co-written with Harlan Howard) also became a hit for Bobby Bare in 1966.
        In 1969 the brothers opened their own recording studio in Nashville, which soon became known as Hillbilly Central and a focal point of the burgeoning outlaw movement. By this time they also had their own group of music publishing companies; Nashville's old boy network was shaken up when one of their discoveries, John Hartford's "Gentle on My Mind" - which had been turned down by nearly every publishing house in town - became a smash hit for Glen Campbell.
        In 1973 the group split up, Tompall began recording as a solo artist, and outlaw became his badge of honor. But his intentions were true, and his 1973 album, Charlie, stands as one of the finest of that genre. It includes a stunning version of "Sold American" as well as the Tompall originals "Big Jim Colson" (about an unwed mother) and the excellent title track. The novelty song "Put Another Log on the Fire," from his 1975 album Tompall (Sings the Songs of Shel Silverstein), became a chart hit, and it was one of two Tompall songs included on Wanted! The Outlaws a year later. Further Tompall's hits from that decade include "T for Texas" and "Drinking Them Beers," though these are by no means his best material. Tompall had also become a close friend and business associate with Waylon Jennings, but the two eventually had a major falling out.
        The brothers reunited and signed with Elektra Records in 1980, and again they met success, especially with the Kris Kristofferson song "Lovin' Her Was Easier (Than Anything I'll Ever Do Again)." The group split again in 1983, and Tompall returned to his Nashville recording studio. He released the solo album Nights on the Borderline for MCA Dot in 1986. -Kurt Wolff



 

Harlan Howard
Born Sep 8, 1929 in Lexington, KY. Died Mar 3, 2002 in Nashville, TN. Country music's preeminent composer, Harlan Howard boasted an unparalleled body of work encompassing well over 4000 songs; the writer behind such perennials as "I Fall to Pieces," "Life Turned Her That Way" and "Heartaches By the Number," he scored major chart hits during every decade of the postwar era. Born September 8, 1929 in Lexington, Kentucky, Howard and his family moved to Detroit just two years later. A devoted fan of the Grand Ole Opry radio show, his idol was the great Ernest Tubb, whose songs Howard attempted to copy down lyric by lyric; a number of words were subsequently lost in the translation, of course, forcing him to invent new lines - sometimes even entire verses - and in the process an aspiring songwriter was born. After graduating high school, Howard spent the next four years stationed in Fort Benning, Georgia, serving as a military paratrooper; in his off hours, he learned to play guitar, and each Friday night he and a friend would hitchhike to Nashville, spending the weekends soaking up live country music.
        After leaving the service, Howard spent the last half of the 1950s traveling the country, accepting short-term jobs everywhere from Michigan to Arizona; he finally ended up in California, gravitating towards the Bakersfield area. There performers including Buck Owens and Wynn Stewart were developing the famed Bakersfield Sound; Howard's fledgling compositional skills were recognized, and soon artists like Tex Ritter and Johnny Bond agreed to publish his songs. Then Stewart recorded Howard's "You Took Her Off My Hands," and virtually overnight his work was in hot demand; with his wife, Jan Howard - herself a rising country star - recording his demos, in 1958 his "Pick Me Up on Your Way Down" was cut by Charlie Walker, and a short time later "What Makes a Man Wonder?" was covered by Jimmie Skinner. In early 1959, Kitty Wells scored with her rendition of "Mommy for a Day; " however, Howard's true breakthrough came later in the year, when his classic "Heartaches By the Number" became a smash for Ray Price. A pop remake by Guy Mitchell was also an enormous success.
        In mid-1960, the Howards relocated to Nashville; he soon authored another hit for Price, "I Wish I Could Fall In Love Today," as well as a pair of tracks for Buck Owens, "Excuse Me (I Think I've Got a Heartache)" and "Above and Beyond." Then, in 1961, Howard and Hank Cochran co-wrote arguably his best-loved song, "I Fall to Pieces," a crossover success for the legendary Patsy Cline. After penning the hit "Three Steps to the Phone (Millions of Miles)" for Jim Reeves, he then wrote a follow-up, "He'll Have to Go"; Reeves rejected the track, however, and it was passed on to George Hamilton IV, in whose hands it was a major success. (Reeves instead cut Howard's "The Blizzard," to significant acclaim.) In all, Howard notched 15 chart hits in 1961 alone; among his other notable compositions that year were "Heartbreak U.S.A." (covered by Kitty Wells), as well as "Under the Influence of Love" and "Foolin' Around" (two more by Owens). He was writing a minimum of two or three songs daily, with about a dozen of those recorded each week; not surprisingly, he was named Billboard's "Songwriter of the Year" two years running.
        Also in 1961, Harlan Howard Sings Harlan Howard, his debut solo LP, was released; he cut several more albums in the years to follow, even scoring a minor hit a decade later with the single "Sunday Morning Christian," but a serious recording career was clearly never his intention. Instead, he remained Nashville's most prolific composer; between 1962 and 1963, his major hits included Johnny Cash's "Busted" (later a pop hit for Ray Charles), Ray Price's rendition of "You Took Her Off My Hands," George Jones' "You Comb Her Hair," Roy Drusky's "Second Hand Rose," and Johnny & Jonie Mosby's "Don't Call Me From a Honky Tonk." In 1964, Howard established his own publishing imprint, Wilderness Music, and George Jones notched another hit with "Your Heart Turned Left (And I Was On the Right)"; the following year, he and Owens co-authored the latter's chart-topper "I've Got the Tiger by the Tail." In 1966, Howard and Tompall Glaser teamed to write the superlative "Streets of Baltimore" for Bobby Bare, and a year later wife Jan even hit with "Evil On Your Mind."
        In 1967, Waylon Jennings issued Sings Ol' Harlan, an album comprised solely of Howard songs; that same year, Mel Tillis cut "Life Turned Her That Way," another of his greatest compositions (it was later successfully covered by Ricky Van Shelton). Hank Williams Jr. scored in 1968 with "It's All Over (But the Crying)," but as the decade drew to a close, Howard fell prey to an extreme case of writer's block which threatened to derail him for the duration of the 1970s. Indeed, he scored only a handful of hits in the years to follow, among them a pair of chart-toppers, Melba Montgomery's "No Charge" and Charlie Rich's "She Called Me Baby." By the 1980s, Howard had settled into semi-retirement, although he regularly tutored up-and-coming songwriters at Tree Publishing; in 1982, John Conlee dusted off his "Busted" and reached the Top Ten, and two years later a pair of his more recent gems - "I Don't Know a Thing About Love (The Moon Song)," covered by Conway Twitty, and the Judds' rendition of "Why Not Me" - reached number one. Other contemporary artists to hit with Howard's songs include Reba McEntire, Highway 101 and k.d. lang. Howard died on March 3, 2002 in Nashville. -Jason Ankeny



 

Patsy Cline
AKA Virginia Patterson Hensley. Born Sep 8, 1932 in Gore, VA. Died Mar 5, 1963 in Camden, TN. One of the greatest singers in the history of country music, Patsy Cline also helped blaze a trail for female singers to assert themselves as an integral part of the Nashville-dominated country music industry. She was not alone in this regard; Kitty Wells had become a star several years before Cline's big hits in the early '60s. Brenda Lee, who shared Cline's producer, did just as much to create a country-pop crossover during the same era; Skeeter Davis briefly enjoyed similar success. Cline has the most legendary aura of any female country singer, however, perhaps due to an early death that cut her off just after she had entered her prime.
        Cline began recording in the mid-'50s, and although she recorded quite a bit of material between 1955 and 1960 (17 singles in all), only one of them was a hit. That song, "Walkin' After Midnight," was both a classic and a Top 20 pop smash. Those who are accustomed to Cline's famous early-'60s hits are in for a bit of a shock when surveying her '50s sessions (which have been reissued on several Rhino compilations). At times she sang flat-out rockabilly; she also tried some churchy tear-weepers. She couldn't follow up "Walkin' After Midnight," however, in part because of an exploitative deal that limited her to songs from one publishing company.
        Circumstances were not wholly to blame for Cline's commercial failures. She would have never made it as a rockabilly singer, lacking the conviction of Wanda Jackson or the spunk of Brenda Lee. In fact, in comparison with her best work, she sounds rather stiff and ill-at-ease on most of her early singles. Things took a radical turn for the better on all fronts in 1960, when her initial contract expired. With the help of producer Owen Bradley (who had worked on her sessions all along), Cline began selecting material that was both more suitable and of a higher quality than her previous outings.
        "I Fall to Pieces," cut at the very first session where Cline was at liberty to record what she wanted, was the turning point in her career. Reaching number one in the country charts and number 12 pop, it was the first of several country-pop crossovers she was to enjoy over the next couple of years. More important, it set a prototype for commercial Nashville country at its best. Owen Bradley crafted lush orchestral arrangements, with weeping strings and backup vocals by the Jordanaires, that owed more to pop (in the best sense) than country.
        The country elements were provided by the cream of Nashville's session musicians, including guitarist Hank Garland, pianist Floyd Cramer, and drummer Buddy Harmon. Cline's voice sounded richer, more confident, and more mature, with ageless wise and vulnerable qualities that have enabled her records to maintain their appeal with subsequent generations. When k.d. lang recorded her 1988 album Shadowland with Owen Bradley, it was this phase of Cline's career that she was specifically attempting to emulate.
        It's arguable that too much has been made of Cline's crossover appeal to the pop market. Brenda Lee, whose records were graced with similar Bradley productions, was actually more successful in this area (although her records were likely targeted toward a younger audience). Cline's appeal was undeniably more adult, but she was always more successful with country listeners. Her final four Top Ten country singles, in fact, didn't make the pop Top 40.
        Despite a severe auto accident in 1961, Cline remained hot through 1961 and 1962, with "Crazy" and "She's Got You" both becoming big country and pop hits. Much of her achingly romantic material was supplied by fresh talent like Hank Cochran, Harlan Howard, and Willie Nelson (who penned "Crazy"). Although her commercial momentum had faded slightly, she was still at the top of her game when she died in a plane crash in March of 1963, at the age of 30. She was only a big star for a couple of years, but her influence was and remains huge. While the standards of professionalism on her recordings have been emulated ever since, they've rarely been complemented by as much palpable, at times heartbreaking emotion in the performances. For those who could do without some of more elaborate arrangements of her later years, many of her relatively unadorned appearances on radio broadcasts have been thankfully preserved and issued. -Richie Unterberger



 

Jimmie Rodgers
AKA James Charles Rodgers. Born Sep 8, 1897 in Meridian, MS. Died May 26, 1933 in New York, NY. His brass plaque in the Country Music Hall of Fame reads, "Jimmie Rodgers' name stands foremost in the country music field as the man who started it all." This is a fair assessment. The "Singing Brakeman" and the "Mississippi Blue Yodeler," whose six-year career was cut short by tuberculosis, became the first nationally known star of country music and the direct influence of many later performers from Hank Snow and Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams to Lefty Frizzell and Merle Haggard. Rodgers sang about rounders and gamblers, bounders and ramblers - and he knew what he sang about. At age 14 he went to work as a railroad brakeman, and on the rails he stayed until a pulmonary hemorrhage sidetracked him to the medicine show circuit in 1925. The years with the trains harmed his health but helped his music. In an era when Rodgers' contemporaries were singing only mountain and mountain/folk music, he fused hillbilly country, gospel, jazz, blues, pop, cowboy, and folk; and many of his best songs were his compositions, including "TB Blues," "Waiting for a Train," "Travelin' Blues," "Train Whistle Blues," and his thirteen blue yodels.
        Although Rodgers wasn't the first to yodel on records, his style was distinct from all the others. His yodel wasn't merely sugar-coating on the song, it was as important as the lyric, mournful and plaintive or happy and carefree, depending on a song's emotional content. His instrumental accompaniment consisted sometimes of his guitar only, while at other times a full jazz band (horns and all) backed him up. Country fans could have asked for no better hero/star - someone who thought what they thought, felt what they felt, and sang about the common person honestly and beautifully. In his last recording session, Rodgers was so racked and ravaged by tuberculosis that a cot had to be set up in the studio, so he could rest before attempting that one song more. No wonder Jimmie Rodgers is to this day loved by country music fans.
        The youngest son of a railroad man, Jimmie Rodgers was born and raised in Meridian, Mississippi. Following his mother's death in 1904, he and his older brother went to live with their mother's sister, where he first became interested in music. Jimmie's aunt was a former teacher who held degrees in music and English, and she exposed him to a number of different styles of music, including vaudeville, pop and dance hall. Though he was attracted to music, he was a mischievous boy and often got into trouble. When he returned to his father's care in 1911, Jimmie ran wild, hanging out in pool halls and dives, yet he never got into any serious trouble. When he was 12, he experienced his first taste of fame when he sang "Steamboat Bill" at a local talent contest. Rodgers won the concert and, inspired by his success, he decided to head out on the road in his own travelling tent show. His father immediately tracked him down and brought him back home, yet he ran away again, this time joining a medicine show. The romance of performing with the show wore off by the time his father hunted him down. Given the choice of school or the railroad, Jimmie chose to join his father on the tracks.
        For the next ten years, Rodgers worked on the railroad, performing a variety of jobs along the south and west coasts. In May of 1917, he married Sandra Kelly after knowing her for only a handful of weeks; by the fall, they had separated, even though she was pregnant (their daughter died in 1938). Two years later they officially divorced, and around the same time, he met Carrie Williamson, a preacher's daughter. Rodgers married Carrie in April of 1920, while she was still in high school. Shortly after their marriage, Jimmie was laid off by the New Orleans & Northeastern Railroad, and he began performing various bluecollar jobs, looking for opportunities to sing. Over the next three years, the couple was plagued with problems, ranging from financial to health - the second of their two daughters died of diphtheria six months after her birth in 1923. By that time, Rodgers had begun to regularly play in travelling shows, and he was on the road at the time of her death. Though these years were difficult, they were important in the development of Jimmie's musical style as he began to develop his distinctive blue yodel and worked on his guitar skills.
        In 1924, Jimmie Rodgers was diagnosed with tuberculosis, but instead of heeding the doctor's warning about the seriousness of the disease, he discharged himself from the hospital to form a trio with fiddler Slim Rozell and his sister-in-law Elsie McWilliams. Rodgers continued to work on the railroad and perform blackface comedy with medicine shows while he sang. Two years after being diagnosed with TB, he moved his family out to Tucson, Arizona, believing the change in location would improve his health. In Tucson, he continued to sing at local clubs and events. The railroad believed these extracurricular activities interefered with his work and fired him. Moving back to Meridian, Jimmie and Carrie lived with her parents, before he moved away to Asheville, North Carolina in 1927. Rodgers was going to work on the railroad, but his health was so poor he couldn't handle the labor; he would never work the rails again. Instead, he began working as a janitor and a cab driver, singing on a local radio station and events as well. Soon, he moved to Johnson City, Tennessee, where he began singing with the string band the Tenneva Ramblers. Prior to Rodgers, the group had existed as a trio, but he persuaded the members to become his backing band because he had a regular show in Asheville. The Ramblers relented and the group's name took second billing to Rodgers, and the group began playing various concerts in addition to the radio show. Eventually, Rodgers heard that Ralph Peer, an RCA talent scout, was recording hillbilly and string bands in Bristol, Tennessee. Jimmie convinced the band to travel to Bristol, but on the eve of the audition, they had a huge argument about the proper way they should be billed, resulting in the Tenneva Ramblers breaking away from Rodgers. Jimmie went to the audition as a solo artist and Peer recorded two songs - the old standards "The Soldier's Sweetheart" and "Sleep, Baby, Sleep" - after rejecting Rodgers' signature song, "T for Texas."
        Released in October of 1927, the record was not a hit, but Victor did agree to record Rodgers again, this time as a solo artist. In November of 1927, he cut four songs, including "T for Texas." Retitled "Blue Yodel" upon its release, the song became a huge hit and one of only a handful of early country records to sell a million copies. Shortly after its release, Jimmie and Carrie moved to Washington, where he began appearing on a weekly local radio show billed as the Singing Brakeman. Though "Blue Yodel" was success, its sales grew steadily throughout early 1928, which meant that the couple weren't able to reap the financial benefits until the end of the year. By that time, Jimmie had recorded several more singles, including the hits "Way Out on the Mountain," "Blue Yodel No. 4," "Waiting for a Train" and "In the Jailhouse Now." On various sessions, Peer experimented with Rodgers' backing band, occasionally recording him with two other string instrumentalists and recording his solo as well. Over the next two years, Peer and Rodgers tried out a number of different backing bands, including a jazz group featuring Louis Armstrong, orchestras, and a Hawaiian combo.
        By 1929, Jimmie Rodgers had become an official star, as his concerts became major attractions and his records consistently sold well. During 1929, he made a small film called The Singing Brakeman, recorded many songs, and toured throughout the country. Though his activity kept his star shining and the money rolling in, his health began to decline under all the stress. Nevertheless, he continued to plow forward, recording numerous songs and building a large home in Kerrville, Texas, as well as working with Will Rogers on several fund-raising tours for the Red Cross that were designed to help those suffering from the Depression. By the middle of 1931, the Depression was beginning to affect Rodgers as well, as his concert bookings decreased dramatically and his records stopped selling. Despite the financial hardships, Jimmie continued to record.
        Not only did the Great Depression cut into Jimmie's career, but so did his poor health. He had to decrease the number of concerts he performed in both 1931 and 1932, and by 1933, his health affected his recording and forced him to cancel plans for several films. Despite his condition, he refused to stop performing, telling his wife that "I want to die with my shoes on." By early 1933, the family was running short on money, and he had to perform anywhere he could - including vaudeville shows and nickelodeons - to make ends meet. For a while he performed on a radio show in San Antonio, but in February he collapsed and was sent to the hospital. Realizing that he was close to death, he convinced Peer to schedule a recording session in May. Rodgers used that session to provide needed financial support for his family. At that session, Jimmie was accompanied by a nurse and rested on a cot in between songs. Two days after the sessions were completed, he died of a lung hemorrhage on May 26, 1933. Following his death, his body was taken to Meridian by train, riding in a converted baggage car. Hundreds of country fans awaited the body's arrival in Meridian, and the train blew its whistle consistently throughout its journey. For several days after the body arrived in Rodgers' hometown, it lay in state as hundreds, if not thousands, of people paid tribute to the departed musician.
        The massive display of affection at Jimmie Rodgers' funeral services indicated what a popular and beloved star he was during his time. His influence wasn't limited to the '30s, however. Throughout country music's history, echoes of Jimmie Rodgers can be heard, from Hank Williams to Merle Haggard. In 1961, Rodgers became the first artist inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame; 25 years later, he was inducted as a founding father at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Though both honors are impressive, they only give a small indication of what Rodgers accomplished - and how he affected the history of country music by making it viable, commercially popular medium - during his lifetime. -David Vinopal



 

Jimmie Davis
Born Sep 11, 1899 in Quitman, LA. Died Nov 5, 2000 in Baton Rouge, LA. In a performing career spanning eight decades of the 20th century, Jimmie Davis embraced both risqué country-blues and later traditional gospel, meanwhile maintaining a concurrent public-service career that saw him twice elected governor of Louisiana. In fact, his greatest musical successes came during his two terms as governor, once in the mid-'40s and again in the early '60s.
        Born James Houston Davis in Beech Springs, LA, on September 11, 1899 (he would later report it as 1902, then switch back to the earlier date), Jimmie Davis was the son of a poor sharecropper, but nevertheless he earned a Bachelors Degree from Louisiana College Pineville and in 1927 a Masters Degree from Louisiana State University. The following year, he began teaching history at a small college in Shreveport. Davis began singing occasionally for a local radio station and first recorded in 1928. One year later, he signed with Victor and began recording; these initial releases reflect a style devoted to Jimmie Rodgers, emphasizing Rodgers' penchant for double entendre. Over five years he recorded almost 70 sides for the label, and though none of the singles sold well, Davis was probably less to blame than the Depression-era economy. He moved to Decca in 1934 and gained his first major hit, "Nobody's Darlin' but Mine." Another hit, "It Makes No Difference Now," was bought from Floyd Tillman, but Davis' biggest success came from his own copyright, "You Are My Sunshine." First recorded by Davis in 1940, the song quickly entered the first rank of popular and country music standards, covered many times over by artists from both genres.
        Meanwhile, Davis had quit teaching and accepted a position at the Criminal Court in Shreveport. He became the chief of police in 1938, and moved to state government four years later by being elected Louisiana Public Service Commissioner. He even found time to add another career to his resumé: Davis appeared in three film Westerns from 1942-44, and in 1947 starred in the somewhat autobiographical Louisiana. Elected governor of Louisiana in 1944, he continued to record and scored five Top Five singles during his first term, including the double-sided hit "Is It Too Late Now"/"There's a Chill on the Hill Tonight" in 1944 and the number one "There's a New Moon over My Shoulder" the following year.
        Jimmie Davis moved back to full-time recording in 1948, and after a stint with Capitol, he returned to Decca. Some of his country singles such as "Suppertime" began to please gospel listeners as well, and Davis gradually moved to a more sacred style. He returned to the governorship in 1960 on a segregationist platform, but to his credit prevented much of the unrest apparent in the South through his moderate position. Though he hadn't recorded a hit since his first term, Davis reached the Top 20 in 1962 with "Where the Old Red River Flows." By 1964, he was back to gospel music, and he recorded heavily throughout the late '60s and early '70s. Decca ended his contract in the 1975, but Davis continued to perform and record even into the 1990s. He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1971 and lived for nearly 30 years after his election, dying at the age of 101 on November 5, 2000. -John Bush



 

Leon Payne
Born Jun 15, 1917 in Alba, TX. Died Sep 11, 1969 in San Antonio, TX. A popular singer and multi-instrumentalist of the postwar era, Leon Payne achieved his lasting fame as a songwriter whose most successful works - among them "Lost Highway" and "I Love You Because" - remain among the country music canon's most enduring compositions. Payne was born blind on June 15, 1917 in Alba, Texas, and until the age of 18 he attended the Texas School for the Blind in Austin. There, he was encouraged by teachers to begin learning music as a method of supporting himself, and became adept on guitar, piano, organ, drums and trombone. In the mid-1930s he began performing with a number of area groups, and began playing on radio in 1935.
        Payne joined Bob Wills' Texas Playboys in 1938, and he remained affiliated with the group to some degree for the majority of his career. At about the same time, he began writing the first of the several thousand songs he would compose over the course his lifetime. In 1939, he cut his first solo recordings, including "You Don't Love Me But I'll Always Care" and "Down Where the Violets Grow," which evidenced his smooth, subtle vocal technique. After spending the large part of the next decade drifting through Texas performing under the moniker "The Texas Blind Hitchhiker," he hooked up with Jack Rhodes & the Rhythm Boys in 1948. He also played frequently with Wills.
        In 1949, Payne formed his own band, the Lone Star Buddies, which guested on programs like the Grand Ole Opry, The Lousiana Hayride, and The Big D Jamboree. Two of his songs also reached the charts in cover versions: George Morgan scored a big hit with "Cry-Baby Heart," and more significantly, Hank Williams cut "Lost Highway," one of his most popular efforts. Payne's own recording of his "I Love You Because," penned for his wife Myrtle, became his biggest hit in 1950; in the same year, both Ernest Tubb and Clyde Moody cut their own versions of the song. Williams also had another hit with Payne's "They'll Never Take Her Love From Me." As the decade wore on, his songs grew even more popular among his contemporaries; among the most successful were Hank Snow's 1953 "For Now and Always" as well as a pair of hits for Carl Smith, 1954's "More Than Anything Else in the World" and 1956's "Doorstep to Heaven."
        Payne continued to record through 1964; in 1963, he issued two LPs, Leon Payne: A Living Legend of Country Music and Americana, and at one point even cut a rockabilly single, "That Ain't It," under the alias 'Rock Rogers.' Still, he never repeated the success of "I Love You Because," which was later resurrected by Johnny Cash in 1960 and as a huge 1963 pop hit for Al Martino. A year later, it was also covered by Jim Reeves, who earned posthumous success with Payne's "Blue Side of Lonesome" in 1966 and "I Heard a Heart Break Last Night" in 1968. Also charting with renditions of "I Love You Because" were Carl Smith in 1969, Don Gibson in 1978, and Roger Whittaker in 1983; most importantly, it was one of the songs recorded by Elvis Presley during his legendary Sun Records sessions of 1954.
        In 1965, Payne suffered a heart attack which forced him to curtail his touring; that same year, his "Things Have Gone to Pieces" was a hit for George Jones. In 1967, Gibson covered "Lost Highway,' and Johnny Darrell was successful with "They'll Never Take Her Love From Me." On September 11, 1969, Payne died following another heart attack. -Jason Ankeny



 

Tommy Overstreet
Born Sep 10, 1937 in Oklahoma City, OK. Tommy Overstreet was a countrypolitan-styled singer who achieved his greatest success in the early '70s, although he probably gained his most significant exposure as a frequent guest on the program Hee Haw. He was born on September 10, 1937 in Oklahoma City, and an early interest in music was encouraged by his cousin Gene Austin, a singer who had garnered some fame in the 1920 with records like "My Blue Heaven" and "Ramona." In his teens, he began performing pop music on radio stations in the Houston, Texas area, and appeared in a musical titled Hit the Road. While studying broadcasting at the University of Texas, he began playing in local clubs under the name "Tommy Dean from Abilene," and toured frequently with Austin.
        After a stint in the Army, Overstreet moved to Los Angeles in the early 1960s to begin a songwriting career, contributing material to pop crooner Pat Boone. He also signed a recording deal, although none of his studio work from the period was ever issued. After returning to Texas, he began appearing on the TV program The Slim Willet Show, and formed his own group to play club dates. In 1967, he moved to Nashville, where he became the regional Professional Manager of Dot Records in addition to signing with the label as a recording artist. His debut single, 1969's "Rocking a Memory (That Won't Go to Sleep)," was a minor hit, and his next record, "If You're Looking for a Fool," did even better. In 1971, he scored his first smash with "Gwen (Congratulations)," the title track from his debut LP, followed by "I Don't Know You (Anymore)."
        In 1972, Overstreet scored his biggest hit, "Ann (Don't Go Runnin)," which reached Number Two on the charts. A series of Top Ten hits followed, among them the same year's "Heaven Is My Woman's Love," 1974's "(Jeannie Marie) You Were a Lady," and 1975's "That's When My Woman Begins." Although he continued to chart throughout the 1970s, he failed to reach the same heights he did in the first half of the decade. Overstreet's hit-making days were largely over by the 1980s, but he remained a popular concert draw, and continued touring with his group the Nashville Express. -Jason Ankeny



 

Callahan Brothers
Group Members: Homer "Bill" Callahan and Walter "Joe" Callahan. The Callahan Brothers were most popular during the 1930s and were known for their yodeling. They were born Walter and Homer Callahan (they later changed their names to Joe and Bill because they were shorter) in mountainous Madison County in western North Carolina. Their childhood was filled with the traditional music of the mountains and the recorded music of such singers as Ernest Stoneman, Riley Puckett and Jimmie Rodgers. After the Callahans began performing, they integrated yodeling into their act and it was this talent that called attention to them during a festival in 1933.
        Joe and Bill made their recording debut the following year in New York for ARC; they became the label's most popular duo during this era. That year, they also began appearing on WWNC Asheville, North Carolina. During their recording career, the Callahans moved to several different radio stations, including WHAS Louisville, Kentucky and WWVA Wheeling, West Virginia. Some of the Callahans' most popular tunes include "Little Poplar Log House" and country standard "She's My Curly Headed Baby." In addition to performing their own songs, the two also covered the songs of other performers.
        In 1940 the Callahans moved to Oklahoma to briefly work at a radio station in Tulsa. The following year they moved to KRLD Texas and spent the rest of the decade there and at KWFT Wichita Falls, Texas. The duo signed to Decca but didn't release many singles, instead recording transcriptions for the Dallas-based Sellers Company which were usually played on the radio. In 1945, the brothers went to Hollywood to make a movie, Springtime in Texas with Jimmy Wakely. Afterward they did a nationwide promotional tour with the cowboy crooner. Later Bill went on an Eastern tour with Ray Whitely and in 1947 recorded a solo for Cowboy Records in Philadelphia. Four years later, the Callahans became Lefty Frizzell's opening act and recorded eight singles for Columbia.
        Later, Joe went back to Asheville and became a grocer while Bill stayed in Dallas to become a photographer; he occasionally returned to music as a bass player or a comic. The brothers briefly reunited in Dallas during the mid-'60s to do a few shows, but by this time Joe's health was failing and he soon returned to North Carolina. He died in 1971. Bill retired and remained in Dallas. -Sandra Brennan



 

George Jones
AKA Possum. Born Sep 12, 1931 in Saratoga, TX. By most accounts, George Jones is the finest vocalist in the recorded history of country music. Initially, he was a hardcore honky tonker in the tradition of Hank Williams, but over the course of his career he developed an affecting, nuanced ballad style. In the course of his career, he never left the top of the country charts, even as he suffered innumerable personal and professional difficulties. Only Eddy Arnold had more Top Ten hits than Jones, and Jones always stayed closer to the roots of hardcore country.
        George Jones was born and raised in East Texas, near the city of Beaumont. At an early age, Jones displayed an affection for music. He enjoyed the gospel he heard in church and on the family's Carter Family records, but he truly became fascinated with country music when his family bought a radio when he was seven. When he was nine, his father bought him his first guitar. Soon, his father had Jones playing and singing on the streets on Beaumont, earning spare change. At 16, he ran away to Jasper, TX, where he sang at a local radio station. Jones married Dorothy, his first wife, in 1950 when he was 19 years old. The marriage collapsed within a year and he enlisted in the Marines at the end of 1951. Though the U.S. was at war with Korea, Jones never served overseas - he was stationed at a military camp in California, where he kept singing in bars. After he was discharged, Jones immediately began performing again.
        In 1953, Jones was discovered by record producer Pappy Daily, who was also the co-owner of Starday Records, a local Texas label. Impressed with Jones' potential, Daily signed the singer to Starday. "No Money in This Deal," Jones' first single, was released in early 1954, but it received no attention. Starday released three more singles that year, which all were ignored. Jones released "Why, Baby, Why" late in the summer of 1955 and the single became his first hit, peaking at number four. However, its momentum was halted by a cover version by Webb Pierce and Red Sovine that hit number one on the country charts.
        George Jones was on the road to success and Pappy Daily secured the singer a spot on the Louisiana Hayride, where he co-billed with Elvis Presley. Jones reached the Top Ten with regularity in 1956 with such singles as "What Am I Worth" and "Just One More." That same year, Jones recorded some rockabilly singles under the name Thumper Jones which were unsuccessful, both commercially and artistically. In August, he joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry and his first album appeared by the end of the year. In 1957, Starday Records signed a distribution deal with Mercury Records and George Jones' records began appearing under the Mercury label. Pappy Daily began recording Jones in Nashville and his first single for the new label, "Don't Stop the Music," was another Top Ten hit. Throughout 1958, he was landing near the top of the charts, culminating with "White Lightning," which spent five weeks at number one in the spring of 1959. His next big hit arrived two years later, when the ballad "Tender Years" spent seven weeks at number one. "Tender Years" displayed a smoother production and larger arrangement than his previous hits, and it pointed the way toward Jones' later success as a balladeer.
        In early 1962, Jones reached number five with "Aching, Breaking Heart," which would turn out to be his last hit for Mercury Records. Pappy Daily became a staff producer for United Artists Records in 1962 and Jones followed him to the label. His first single for UA, "She Thinks I Still Care," was his third number one hit. In 1963, Jones began performing and recording with Melba Montgomery. During the early '60s, mainstream country music was getting increasingly slick, but Jones and Montgomery's harmonies were raw and laden with bluegrass influences.
        Their first duet, "We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds" (spring 1963), was their biggest hit, peaking at number three. The pair continued to record together throughout 1963 and 1964, although they never again had a Top Ten hit; they also reunited in 1966 and 1967, recording a couple of albums and singles for Musicor. Jones had a number of solo hits in 1963 and 1964 as well, peaking with the number three "The Race Is On" in the fall of 1964.
        Under the direction of Pappy Daily, George Jones moved to the new record label Musicor in 1965. Jones' first single for Musicor, "Things Have Gone to Pieces," was a Top Ten hit in the spring of 1965. Between 1965 and 1970, he had 17 Top Ten hits for Musicor. While at Musicor, Jones recorded almost 300 songs in five years. During that time, he cut a number of first-rate songs, including country classics like "Love Bug," "Walk Through This World with Me," and "A Good Year for the Roses." He also recorded a fair share of mediocre material and given the sheer amount of songs he sang, that isn't surprising. Although Jones made a couple of records that were genuine tributes or experiments, he also tried to fit into contemporary country styles, such as the Bakersfield sound. Not all of the attempts resulted in hits, but he consistently charted the Top Ten with his singles, if not with his albums. Musicor wound up flooding the market with George Jones records for the rest of the '60s. Jones' albums for Musicor tended to be arranged thematically and only two, his 1965 duet George Jones & Gene Pitney and 1969's I'll Share My World With You, charted. That meant that while Jones was one of the most popular and acclaimed singers in country music, there was still a surplus of material.
        Like his discography, George Jones' personal life was spinning out of control. He was drinking heavily and began missing concerts. His second wife Shirley filed for divorce in 1968, and Jones moved to Nashville, where he met Tammy Wynette, the most popular new female singer in country music. Soon, Jones and Wynette fell in love; they married on February 16, 1969.
        At the same time Jones married Wynette, tensions that had been building between Jones and his longtime producer Pappy Daily culminated. Jones was unhappy with the sound of his Musicor Records, and he placed most of the blame on Daily. After his marriage, Jones wanted to record with Wynette, but Musicor wouldn't allow him to appear on her label, Epic, and Epic wouldn't let her sing on a Musicor album. Furthermore, Epic wanted to lure Jones away from Musicor. Jones was more than willing to leave, but he had to fulfill his contract before the company would let him go.
        While he continued recording material for Musicor, Epic entered contract negotiations with their rivals and halfway through 1971, Jones severed ties with Musicor and Pappy Daily. He signed away all the rights to his Musicor recordings in the process. The label continued to release Jones albums for a couple of years and they also licensed recordings to RCA, who released two singles and a series of budget-priced albums in the early '70s.
        Jones signed with Epic Records in October of 1971. It was the culmination of a busy year for Jones, one that saw he and Wynette becoming the biggest stars in country music, racking up a number of Top Ten hits as solo artists and selling out concerts across the country as a duo. Jones had successfully remade his image from a short-haired, crazed honky tonker to more relaxed, sensitive balladeer. At the end of the year, he cut his first records for Epic.
        George Jones' new record producer was Billy Sherrill, who had been responsible for Tammy Wynette's hit albums. Sherrill was known for his lush, string-laden productions and his precise, aggressive approach in the studio. Under his direction, musicians were there to obey his orders and that included the singers as well. Jones had been accustomed to the relaxed style of Pappy Daily, who was the polar opposite of Sherrill. As a result, the singer and producer were tense at first, but soon the pair developed a fruitful working relationship. With Sherrill, Jones became a full-fledged balladeer, sanding away the rough edges of his hardcore honky tonk roots.
        "We Can Make It," his first solo single for Epic, was a celebration of Jones' marriage to Wynette written by Sherrill and Glenn Sutton. The song was a number two hit early in 1972, kicking off a successful career at Epic. "The Ceremony," Jones and Wynette's second duet, followed "We Can Make It," and also became a Top Ten hit. "Loving You Could Never Be Better," followed its predecessors into the Top Ten at the end of 1972. By now, the couple's marriage was becoming a public soap opera, with their audience following each single as if they were news reports. Even though they were proclaiming their love through their music, the couple had begun to fight frequently. Jones was sinking deep into alcoholism and drug abuse, which escalated as the couple continued to tour together.
        Though every single he released in 1973 went into the Top Ten, George Jones' personal life was getting increasingly difficult. Tammy Wynette filed for divorce in August 1973. Shortly after she filed the papers, the couple decided to reconcile and her petition was withdrawn. Following her withdrawal, the duo had a number one single with the appropriately titled "We're Gonna Hold On." In the summer of 1974, Jones had his first number one hit since "Walk Through This World With Me" with "The Grand Tour," a song that drew a deft portrait of a broken marriage. He followed it with another number one hit, "The Door." Not long after its release, he recorded "These Days (I Barely Get By)," which featured lyrics co-written by Wynette. Two days after he recorded the song, Wynette left Jones; they divorced within a year.
        The late '70s were plagued with trouble for George Jones. Between 1975 and the beginning of 1980, he had only two Top Ten solo hits - "These Days (I Barely Get By)" (1975) and "Her Name Is" (1976). Though they divorced, Jones and Wynette continued to record and tour together, and that is where he racked up the hits, beginning with the back-to-back 1976 number ones, "Golden Ring" and "Near You." The decrease in hits accurately reflects the downward spiral in Jones' health in the late '70s, when he became addicted not only to alcohol, but to cocaine as well. Jones became notorious for his drunken, intoxicated rampages, often involving both drugs and shotguns. Jones would disappear for days at a time. He began missing a substantial amount of concerts - in 1979 alone, he missed 54 shows - which earned him the nickname "No-Show Jones."
        Jones' career began to pick up in 1978, when he began flirting with rock & roll, covering Chuck Berry's "Maybellene" with Johnny Paycheck and recording a duet with James Taylor called "Bartender's Blues." The success of the singles - both went Top Ten - led to an album of duets, My Very Special Guests, in 1979. Though it was poised to be a return to the top of the charts for Jones, he neglected to appear at the scheduled recording sessions and had to overdub his vocals after his partners recorded theirs. That same year, doctors told the singer he had to quit drinking, otherwise his life was in jeopardy. Jones checked into a rehab clinic, but left after a month, uncured. Due to his cocaine addiction, his weight had fallen from 150 pounds to a mere 100. Despite his declining health, Jones managed a comeback in 1980. It began with a Top Ten duet with Tammy Wynette, "Two Story House," early in the year, but the song that pushed him back to the top of the charts was the dramatic ballad "He Stopped Loving Her Today." The single hit number one in the spring of the year, beginning a new series of Top Ten hits and number one singles that ran through 1986. The string of hits was so successful, it rivaled the peak of his popularity in the '60s. "He Stopped Loving Her Today" was followed by the Top Ten "I'm Not Ready Yet" and an album, I Am What I Am, in the fall of the 1980. I Am What I Am became his most successful album, going platinum.
        Throughout 1981 and 1983, he had eight Top Ten hits. Although he was having hits again, he hadn't kicked his addictions. Jones was still going on crazed, intoxicated rampages, which culminated with a televised police chase of Jones, who was driving drunk, through the streets of Nashville.
        Following his arrest, Jones managed to shake his drug and alcohol addictions with the support of his fourth wife, Nancy Sepulvada. Jones and Sepulvada married in March of 1983. Soon after their marriage, he began to detoxicate and by the end of 1983, he had completed his rehabilitation.
        Jones continued to have Top Ten hits regularly until 1987, when country radio became dominated by newer artists; ironically, the artists that kept him off the charts - singers like Randy Travis, Keith Whitley, and Dwight Yoakam - were heavily influenced by Jones himself. Jones and Sepulvada moved back to Nashville in 1987. In 1988, he recorded his final album with Billy Sherrill, One Woman Man. The title song, which was a hit for Johnny Horton in 1956, was Jones' final solo Top Ten hit. One Woman Man was his last record for Epic Records.
        After its release, he moved to MCA, releasing his first record for the label, And Along Came Jones, in the fall of 1991. In between its release and One Woman Man arrived a duet with Randy Travis, "A Few Ole Country Boys," that was a Top Ten hit in the fall of 1990. Jones' records for MCA didn't sell nearly as well as his Epic albums, but his albums usually were critically acclaimed. In 1995, he reunited with Tammy Wynette to record One. In April of 1996, Jones published his autobiography, I Lived to Tell It All. In 1998, he returned with another studio album, It Don't Get Any Better Than This.
        Following the release of It Don't Get Any Better Than This, Jones moved from MCA to Elektra/Asylum, who signed him on the provision that he would record hardcore country music. Jones was completing work on his debut for the label when he crashed his car into a bridge in Nashville on March 6, 1999, critically injuring himself. Amazingly, he pulled through the accident, but the investigation proved that Jones had been drinking and driving - a troubling revelation, given his long history with alcoholism. He plead guilty to a lesser charge, DWI, and entered a rehab program. The release of his Elektra/Asylum debut, Cold Hard Truth, went on as scheduled, appearing in stores in the summer of 1999. -Stephen Thomas Erlewine





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