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Born Oct 3, 1924 in McKinney, TX. Died Aug 2, 2002 in Nashville, TN. Although he is best-known to country fans - if he is known at all - as the writer of hits by Jim Reeves, Tex Ritter and Faron Young, Joe Allison contributed immeasurably to country music's birth as an urban phenomenon during the 1950s and '60s. He began as a deejay in Texas, but worked his way up during the '50s - as a TV presenter, producer and record executive - to influence the spread of country and its impact on the nation. Born in McKinney, TX, on October 3, 1924, Allison entered the business performing on a Tex Ritter tour in 1945. He returned to his home state that same year and began to work as a deejay in San Antonio. A song he wrote for Ritter, "When You Leave Don't Slam the Door," hit the Country Top Five in October 1946.
With a bit of fame to his name, Joe Allison worked in Memphis radio during the late '40s. In 1949, he moved to Nashville to host a daily show on WSIX and WSM that became a springboard for future stars such as the Everly Brothers, Chet Atkins and Brenda Lee. After a move to Los Angeles in 1952, Allison balanced radio and songrwriting careers; he replaced Tennessee Ernie Ford at KXLA and wrote hits - some co-written by his first wife, Audrey - for Faron Young ("Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young" and "It's a Great Life [If You Don't Weaken]") and Tommy Sands ("Teenage Crush"). Joe Allison's most important songwriting credit came in 1960, when Jim Reeves took "He'll Have to Go" to the top of the Country chart for 14 weeks. The single reached number two on the pop charts also.
Also in 1960, Allison moved to an executive post for Liberty Records: developing and running the first specifically Country department at a record label. During the '60s, Allison was influential in spreading commercial country radio to big urban markets and he was also involved in the founding of the Country Music Association, enough to earn their achievement award in 1964. By 1967, he had moved into independent producing and worked on material by Hank Thompson, Roy Clark, Tex Ritter and Willie Nelson. In the late '70s, he was inducted into both the D.J. Hall of Fame and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. -John Bush
AKA born: Adelaide Hazelwood. Born Feb 22, 1922 in Nashville, TN. Died 1990. Del Wood was one of the best female musicians in the history of country music and one of the few to make it big playing the piano. Her best-known song is her novelty version of "Down Yonder," which hit both the country and pop charts in 1951. It also earned her a gold record and a guest-starring appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. In 1952, she became a member of the Opry and remained so until her death in 1989.
Wood was born Polly Adelaide Hendricks in Nashville, Tennessee and began playing the piano at age five. Her stage name was created by combining part of her middle name with part of her married name (Hazelwood). Although she only had one hit, Wood recorded many albums during her long career. -Sandra Brennan
Born Jul 14, 1912 in Okemah, OK. Died Oct 3, 1967 in Queens, NY. Woody Guthrie was the most important American folk music artist of the first half of the 20th century. Coming out of Oklahoma, Guthrie had firsthand knowledge of the dustbowl diaspora chronicled in John Steinbeck's novel, The Grapes of Wrath. In fact, Guthrie wrote his own version of the story in a song called "Tom Joad." By the time he gained recognition in the '40s, Guthrie had written hundreds of songs, many of which remain folk standards to this day. When he was interviewed by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress in March 1940, Guthrie punctuated his reminiscences by singing "So Long, It's Been Good to Know You," "Dust Bowl Blues," "Do-Re-Mi," "Pretty Boy Floyd," "I Ain't Got No Home," and other songs. He later wrote "Pastures of Plenty," "The Grand Coulee Dam," and his masterpiece, "This Land Is Your Land." He was also an author (Bound for Glory) and a newspaper columnist.
Guthrie made some recordings for RCA in 1940, but much of his work was issued on the small Folkways label. Meanwhile, in the late '40s and early '50s, versions of his songs became hits for such artists as The Weavers. By then, Guthrie himself was in physical decline, suffering from Huntington's chorea, a hereditary neurological disorder. But during his long illness, Guthrie's influence spread to the next generation, fostering the folk boom of the late '50s and early '60s. Not only is Bob Dylan unimaginable without him, but large segments of popular music are permanently affected by his concerns as a songwriter and his approach to the form. Guthrie also composed a body of children's music toward the end of his performing career in the early '50s, when he was raising a family with his wife Marjorie. The songs, many sung from a child's point of view, have been covered and performed extensively since. -William Ruhlmann
Leroy Van Dyke
Born Oct 4, 1929 in Spring Fork, MO. Singer/songwriter Leroy Van Dyke was best known for penning the country novelty standard "Auctioneer" and the country-pop smash "Walk on By," his biggest hit. Born in Missouri, Van Dyke originally wanted to be a farmer, and earned a BS in agriculture at the University of Missouri, which was where he first began playing guitar. Following graduation, Van Dyke worked as a newspaper reporter and later as an auctioneer. While stationed in Korea, he began performing for his peers and wrote "Auctioneer," which was dedicated to his cousin. Following military service, Van Dyke returned to journalism in Chicago. In 1956, he entered WGN Chicago's talent contest, and sang "Auctioneer." Deejay Buddy Black signed up as Van Dyke's manager and slipped in a document giving him co-writing credits and half the royalties for the song, which made the pop charts later that year and appeared on the country charts in early 1957, where it climbed to the Top Ten. The following year, Van Dyke began appearing on Red Foley's Ozark Jubilee television show.
In 1961, Van Dyke went to Nashville and signed to Mercury, where he released "Walk on By." It went right to the top of the country charts and remained there for 19 weeks; it also crossed over to the Top Five on the pop charts. Its success was followed up with another major crossover hit, "If a Woman Answers (Hang Up the Phone)," and the Top 40 "Black Cloud." In 1962, Van Dyke joined the Grand Ole Opry. His next few Mercury releases only reached the middle of the charts, and in 1965, he signed to Warner Brothers and had Top 40 success with "Roses from a Stranger." In 1967, Van Dyke appeared in the film What Am I Bid? He recorded throughout the decade, but only hit the charts with "Louisville" in 1968. In 1977, he notched one final minor hit, "Texas Tea." Later that year he also released two albums, Gospel Greats and Rock Relics, both produced by old friend Shelby Singleton. In 1982, he resurfaced with a self-titled effort. -Sandra Brennan
Born Oct 8, 1944 in Eugene, OR. Best known for her work in conjunction with mentor Buck Owens, singer Susan Raye was born October 8, 1944 in Eugene, Oregon. She first began singing with a high school rock group, but after the band called it quits, she auditioned for a local country station. Not only did she begin performing on the radio, she also landed work as a deejay, eventually becoming the host of a Portland TV program called Hoedown.
It was at one of Raye's performances at an area nightclub where she met Jack McFadden, Buck Owens' manager. McFadden was so impressed with her vocal talents that he persuaded Owens to fly her to his home in Bakersfield, California for an audition. Owens immediately offered Raye a slot on an upcoming tour, and in 1969, she cut her first record, "Maybe If I Close My Eyes (It'll Go Away)." Her next record, a cover of Jackie DeShannon's pop smash "Put a Little Love in Your Heart," was also her first Top 30 hit. At about the same time, she began a nine-year stint as a featured performer on the program Hee Haw.
Raye issued her first solo LP, One Night Stand, in 1970; the single "Willy Jones" became her first Top Ten hit, lending its name to the title of her follow-up album the next year. Also in 1970, she released two duet records with Owens, We're Gonna Get Together and The Great White Horse. Her biggest year as a solo artist came in 1971, when she issued three consecutive Top Ten hits-"L.A. International Airport," "Pitty, Pitty, Patter," and "(I've Got a) Happy Heart." The title track of 1972's My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own also reached the Top Ten.
After hitting #9 in 1974 with "Whatcha Gonna Do With a Dog Like That" and scoring a success with Owens on a cover of the Mickey and Sylvia classic "Love Is Strange," Raye's hit-making days were largely over; after issuing the 1976 LP Honey, Toast and Sunshine, she left Buck Owens' tutelage to release a self-titled album in 1977. A year later, she retired in order to raise her six kids and returned to college to pursue a degree in psychology. In 1985, she came out of exile to release the album Susan Raye: There and Back, which generated the minor hit single "I Just Can't Take the Leaving Anymore." -Jason Ankeny
Born Aug 8, 1932 in Atlanta, GA. Died Jul 29, 1988 in Nashville, TN. Though he didn't take up the steel guitar until the early '50s, he quickly became an accomplished and influential player. As a session player, he recorded not just with country artists but such pop singers as Bob Dylan (John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline), and Ringo Starr (Beaucoup of Blues). At one point, he played on 59 of the 75 records on the country singles chart. In addition to session work, Drake was a producer, studio owner, part owner of a record company and a recording artist in his own right. -Jim Worbois
Born Oct 8, 1882 in Knoxville, TN. Died Apr 24, 1957. Some of the career experience this artist had - such as actor, poet, painter, newspaper reporter, or set designer - is similar to what many other performing artists might list on their resumés. But as for some of the other things Harry McClintock did, he would find himself in an elite group of recording artists who have also been seamen, sheep herders, railroaders, union organizers, cowboys, hobos, and muleskinners. Ironically, he is most remembered for songs about people who choose to do nothing at all, such as "Hallelujah I'm a Bum" and "The Big Rock Candy Mountain." McClintock successfully established himself as the copyrighted composer of these numbers, despite the fact that folk music experts and copyright lawyers continue to argue amongst themselves. Known in his recording and broadcast career as Haywire Mac, Radio Mac, or just plain Mac, he made more than 50 excellent records of original songs and folk classics. Much of this material has been reissued by Rounder and Smithsonian Folkways. He was the first artist to record what have become classic American folk songs, such as "Red River Valley," Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie," and Jesse James."
McClintock was the son of a cabinet maker. He began singing in church as a child and was still a child of 14 when he first took off on the road. He toured with a dog and pony show as a horse groomer, but was never paid. Heading to New Orleans and the prospect of warmer weather, he found himself in the company of bums from all over the land, all of whom had the same idea. It was here that he first developed his strong sympathy for these individuals, later to be expressed in the classic rhyming couplets of tunes such as "Hallelujah I'm a Bum" and "The Bum Song," the latter recorded twice as there were always new verses pouring out of each sidecar. At 16, he began playing music on the streets for the promise of "spare change." He had discovered what he recalled later was one of the great secrets of life: "Anyone who can sing never has to go hungry." This was when he wrote his first song, the story of "Big Rock Candy Mountain." It was based on fairy tales he had heard growing up, conjuring up images of houses built out of sweet cakes and candy. Except in McClintock's song, there is no evil witch and it is the hobos, not Hansel and Gretel, who live happily ever after. By 1905, the song had become so popular that he had a printer run off packs of cards with the lyrics printed on them. He wrote "Hallelujah I'm a Bum" in 1902, following his involvement with labor organizations such as the Wobblies. The popularity of these songs would multiply many times over once McClintock got on the radio in San Francisco in 1925. His big radio break was a program aimed at children, a crowd he immediately wowed with his authentic cowboy material. Native American "performers" - they were mostly just various interesting and rowdy friends of McClintock's - were also regulars on this show, including Tall Pine, Joe Longfeather, Silver Cloud, and Evening Thunder.
A few years later, he made his first recordings for Victor. He would continue recording for the label over the next three and a half years, completing a total of 41 titles. The performances were solo, in duo with fiddler Virgil Ward or vocalist Dorothy Ellen Cole, or with the full orchestral backup of the Haywire Orchestra. Following the end of his Victor contract, McClintock cut sides for Decca and a small local label, called Flex-o-Disc. Eventually he had to mount several lawsuits to establish the publishing rights for the original songs he had recorded. Mixed in among the folk songs and cowboy numbers, some of McClintock's work was passed off as traditional by other artists looking to cash in without shelling out publishing royalties. In a letter to the League of Composers, McClintock made fun of the idea that so-called "hillbilly" songs were not written by anybody. "The theory seems to be they are created by some sort of spontaneous generation," he wrote.
McClintock moved to Hollywood in 1938 to see what he could get going in the movie business. He wound up appearing in several Gene Autry films, a Durango Kid oater, and a variety of serials done at the Universal and Republic studios. He tended to be a villain, when he was lucky. Unlucky, he just got to stand there and say "He went thataway." McClintock also did radio work as well as writing articles, plays, and fiction for pulp magazines under pseudonyms. In 1953, he went back to San Francisco to appear on the radio and television program entitled The Breakfast Hour. He continued with this program off and on until 1955, and died several years later. -Eugene Chadbourne
Born Oct 9, 1899 in Sherman, TX. Died 1969 in California. Goebel Reeves was a singer/songwriter who eschewed his middle-class upbringing to become a hobo known as "the Texas Drifter" and sometimes as "George Riley, the Yodeling Rustler; " he penned one of Woody Guthrie's signature tunes, "Hobo's Lullaby," and according to legend, he taught Jimmie Rodgers to yodel. Reeves was born the son of a Texas state legislator in Sherman, Texas. In 1917, he joined the U.S. Army and while fighting overseas was shot upon the front lines. He was dishcarged in 1921 and chose to become a vagabond, earning a meager living as a singer. He did a stint with the Merchant Marines before making his recording debut in 1929, and began using the above-mentioned monikers the next year. His last recordings were made in 1938 for a transcriptions company in Hollywood, and were mostly recitations and poems. Occasionally Reeves appeared on radio stations in both the U.S. and Canada. Later in the '30s, he rejoined the Merchant Marines and spent time in Japan. During World War II, he entertained U.S. troops and then, because he spoke some Japanese, worked for the U.S. government to help out in Japanese-American relocation camps. Reeves died in a veterans' hospital in Long Beach, California, in 1969. -Sandra Brennan
Born Oct 11, 1943 in Palestine, TX, Though he can sing honky-tonk, Gene Watson has made a reputation for soulful ballads in the classical country tradition. After working as an auto-body man, he finally had success with "Love in the Hot Afternoon," which as a single and as his debut album did well in 1975. His hits have been steady since then, with "Farewell Party," "Got No Reason Now for Going Home," "Nothing Sure Looked Good on You," and "Memories to Burn." Watson is a vocal stylist of considerable talent. -David Vinopal
Born Oct 11, 1953 in Northfield, MN. Singer/songwriter/guitarist Paulette Carlson was best known as a vocalist with the group Highway 101. Born and raised in rural Minnesota, she learned the guitar during her teens and grew up listening to her father's country music. After graduation, Carlson worked in several Minnesota country bands, winning a large local following. Soon, she headed for Nashville, where she made a name for herself as a staff writer with the Oak Ridge Boys' Silverline/Goldmine music publishing companies. Both Gail Davies and Tammy Wynette, among others, recorded her songs. After a few years of successful songwriting, Carlson signed a recording contract in the early 1980s.
Although her first singles - "You Gotta Get to My Heart (Before You Lay a Hand on Me)," "I'd Say Yes," and "Can You Fool" - won critical acclaim and some chart success in 1983, they were only minor hits, and the disappointed Carlson went back to Minnesota in 1985, joining the newly formed Highway 101 the next year. She and the band went on to score numerous number one singles and a gold album before Carlson left in 1991 to again promote her solo career. Her first album, 1992's Love Goes On, contained the Top 20 hit, "I'll Start with You." -Sandra Brennan
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
AKA Sol Williams. Born Aug 23, 1917 in Ramsey, Fayette County, IL. Died Oct 11, 1985. Although not nearly as well known as figures like Bob Wills, the Maddox Brothers, and Merle Travis, Tex Williams was an important western swing performer. Like all of the aforementioned musicians, he helped develop country music from its rural, acoustic origins to a more danceable, citified, and electrified form with a much wider popular appeal. At his peak in the late '40s, he also recorded some of the most enjoyable country swing of his time, distinguished by his talking-blues vocal delivery. Much of his style can be heard in the western swing-influenced recordings of revivalists like Asleep at the Wheel, Commander Cody, and Dan Hicks.
The singer and guitarist caught his first big break after moving to Los Angeles in 1942. At that time California was populated by many former Texans and Oklahomans working in the defense industry, creating a need for western swing entertainment in a region not noted for country music. One of the musicians on this circuit was fiddler Spade Cooley, who employed Jack Williams as his singer, nicknaming him "Tex" to ensure easy identification by the many Texans in their audiences. Several of Cooley's mid-'40s Columbia singles featured Tex on vocals.
Capitol offered a contract to Williams as a solo artist, which strained the relationship between Tex and the tempestuous Cooley to the breaking point. Cooley fired Williams in June 1946, a move which backfired badly, as most of Cooley's band opted to follow Tex rather than remain with their difficult boss. Cooley achieved his greatest subsequent notoriety when he was convicted of beating his wife to death in a drunken fit in 1961.
Tex's renamed backing band, the Texas Caravan, was one of the best units of its kind. Numbering about a dozen members, it attained an enviable level of fluid interplay between electric and steel guitars, fiddles, bass, accordion, trumpet, and other instruments (even occasional harp). At first they recorded polkas for Capitol, with limited success. They found their true calling when Williams' friend Merle Travis wrote most of "Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)" for him, emphasizing Tex's talking-blues delivery and heavier boogie elements. The song was a monstrous commercial success in 1947, and indeed one of the biggest country hits of all time, making #1 on the pop charts.
That set the model for several of Williams' subsequent hits: hot western swing backup, over which Tex would roll his deep, laconic, easygoing narratives of humorous, slightly ridiculous situations. As enjoyable as these were, they were just one facet of the Texas Caravan's talents. The outfit were also capable of generating quite a heat on boogie instrumentals and more straightforward vocal numbers in which Williams actually sang rather than spoke.
Williams' commercial success began to peter out in the early '50s, and he left Capitol in 1951. He continued to record often in the 1950s, mostly for Decca, without much success; in 1957, the Western Caravan disbanded. He pressed on, however, returning to Capitol in the early 1960s, and recording a live album that included Glen Campbell on guitar. He had one final country hit, the memorably titled "The Night Miss Ann's Hotel for Single Girls Burned Down," which entered the Top 30 in 1971. -Richie Unterberger
AKA Tanya Denise Tucker. Born Oct 10, 1958 in Seminole, TX. Tanya Tucker had her first country hit in 1972, when she was just 13 years old. Over the succeeding decades, Tucker became one of the few child performers to mature into adulthood without losing her audience, and during the course of her career, she notched a remarkable streak of Top Ten and Top 40 hits.
Born in Seminole, Texas, much of Tucker's childhood was spent moving throughout the Southwest as her father pursued construction jobs. At the age of six, she began taking saxophone lessons; two years later, she decided she wanted to sing, and made an auspicious debut with Mel Tillis, who was so impressed by her talents that he invited her onstage to perform. In 1969, Tucker and her family moved to Las Vegas, where she regularly performed. Eventually, she recorded a demo tape that gained the attention of songwriter Dolores Fuller, who sent it to producer Billy Sherrill. At the time, Sherrill was the head of A&R at CBS Records, and he was so impressed with the demo tape that he signed the teenaged vocalist to Columbia Records. Sherrill initially planned to have Tucker record "The Happiest Girl in the Whole USA," but she passed on the tune, choosing "Delta Dawn" - a song she heard Bette Midler sing on The Tonight Show - instead. Released in the spring of 1972, the song became an instant hit, peaking at number six on the country charts and scraping the bottom of the pop charts.
At first, Columbia Records tried to downplay Tucker's age, but soon word leaked out and she became a sensation - her second single, "Love's the Answer," also became a Top Ten hit later in 1972. Tucker's third single, "What's Your Mama's Name," became her first number one hit in the spring of 1973. Two other number ones - "Blood Red and Goin' Down" and "Would You Lay with Me (In a Field of Stone)" - followed, establishing Tucker as a major star. In 1975, she signed with MCA Records, where she had a string of hit singles that ran into the late '70s. In 1978, she decided to radically change her image and cross over to rock with her T.N.T. album. Despite the controversy over the record and its sexy cover, it went gold the following year.
By the end of the '70s, her sales were declining - in 1980 she only had two hits. Also in 1980, she recorded a few singles with Glen Campbell, with whom she was romantically linked. In addition to recording, she also made her feature film debut in Hard Country. She switched to Arista Records in 1982, where she had several hits, highlighted by the Top Ten "Feel Right." In 1984 and 1985, she had no hits and signed with Capitol Records. In early 1986, she returned with "One Love at a Time," which rocketed to number three. For the rest of the decade, she scored a constant stream of Top Ten singles, including four number one hits. Her success continued in the early '90s, even though her sales began slumping as the decade wore on. By the new millennium, Tucker was still in the game.
Several retrospectives and various hits collections were released; In 2002, Tucker issued her 31st album, her most personal album to date, Tanya. -Sandra Brennan
Born Oct 10, 1946 in Maywood, IL. An acclaimed singer/songwriter whose literate work flirted with everything from acoustic folk to rockabilly to straight-ahead country, John Prine was born October 10, 1946 in Maywood, Illinois. Raised by parents firmly rooted in their rural Kentucky background, at age 14 Prine began learning to play the guitar from his older brother while taking inspiration from his grandfather, who had played with Merle Travis. After a two-year tenure in the U.S. Army, Prine became a fixture on the Chicago folk music scene in the late 1960s, befriending another young performer named Steve Goodman.
Prine's compositions caught the ear of Kris Kristofferson, who was instrumental in helping him win a recording contract. In 1971, he went to Memphis to record his eponymously-titled debut album; though not a commercial success, songs like "Sam Stone," the harsh tale of a drug-addled Vietnam veteran, won critical approval. Neither 1972's Diamonds in the Rough nor 1973's Sweet Revenge fared any better on the charts, but Prine's work won great renown among his fellow performers; the Everly Brothers covered his song "Paradise," while both Bette Midler and Joan Baez offered renditions of "Hello in There."
For 1975's Common Sense, Prine turned to producer Steve Cropper, the highly-influential house guitarist for the Stax label; while the album's sound shocked the folk community with its reliance on husky vocals and booming drums, it served notice that Prine was not an artist whose work could be pigeonholed, and was his only LP to reach the U.S. Top 100. Steve Goodman took over the reins for 1978's folky Bruised Orange, but on 1979's Pink Cadillac, Prine took another left turn, and recorded an electric rockabilly workout produced at Sun Studios by the label's legendary founder Sam Phillips and his son Knox.
Following 1980's Storm Windows, he formed his own label, Oh Boy Records, to release 1984's Aimless Love. Under his own imprint, Prine's music thrived, as 1986's country-flavored German Afternoons earned a Grammy nomination in the Contemporary Folk category. After 1988's John Prine Live, he released 1991's Grammy-winning The Missing Years; his most successful outing to date, the album featured guest appearances from Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt and Tom Petty. After making his film debut in 1992's John Mellencamp-directed Falling From Grace, Prine returned in 1995 with Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings; Lucky 13 followed three years later, with In Spite of Ourselves appearing in 1999 and Souvenirs in 2000. -Jason Ankeny
Born Oct 10, 1911 in San Francisco, CA. Died Oct 14, 2000 in Los Angeles, CA. Before there was the TV show The Beverly Hillbillies, there was a country music trio by the same name, led by composer/musician Zeke Manners, who also hosted popular radio programs in "Los Angeles" and New York during the '40s and '50s. Manners also penned more than 100 songs during his career, the best known compositions being "The Pennsylvania Polka" (a hit for the Andrews Sisters), "Take My Wife Please" (for comedian Henny Youngman), and "Los Angeles" (for legendary guitarist Les Paul). Manners also composed numerous songs with Buddy Ebsen, who starred as Jed Clampett in the television version of The Beverly Hillbillies.
Born in San Francisco on October 10, 1911, Manners was raised in Los Angeles and attended Fairfax High School. By the time of his high school graduation, Manners was already proficient at several instruments, including the violin, piano, and banjo. He honed his musical skills by playing first in a traveling tent show, before eventually going through a succession of Western swing bands. It was as part of the Beverly Hillbillies trio that Manners first received acclaim (in which Manners played the accordion and organ), mixing comedy with Western swing, resulting in a radio show that first aired on KMPC in Los Angeles, and then at various New York stations during the '30s.
When the band broke up after several years together, Manners formed Zeke & the City Fellers, playing New York radio stations and touring Europe before the start of World War II. Despite it all, Manners kept his radio career afloat throughout the years. During the '40s, he hosted the One Man Variety Show, on which he told stories, jokes, and sang songs, and in the '50s, was an early supporter of rock & roll, hosting a show on KFWB in Los Angeles and then on WINS in New York. During the later years of his life, Manners occasionally did standup comedy, and created a mail order music lesson business. He also had small roles in a few films by his nephew, actor Albert Brooks (Real Life and Lost in America) and also in the 1987 movie Barfly, the popular Faye Dunaway/Mickey Rourke cult classic based on the Charles Bukowski book of the same name. On October 14, 2000, Manners passed away in Los Angeles, CA, at the age of 89. -Greg Prato
AKA Henry John Deutchendorf. Born Dec 31, 1943 in Roswell, NM. Died Oct 12, 1997. One of the most popular recording artists of the 1970s, country-folk singer/songwriter John Denver's gentle, environmentally conscious music established him among the most beloved entertainers of his era; wholesome and clean-cut, his appeal extended to fans of all ages and backgrounds, and led to parallel careers as both an actor and a humanitarian. Born John Henry Deutschendorf in Roswell, New Mexico on December 31, 1943, he was raised in an Air Force family, and grew up in various regions of the southwestern U.S. As a teen, his grandmother presented him with a 1910 Gibson acoustic guitar, and while attending Texas Tech University he began performing local clubs. Adopting the stage surname "Denver" in tribute to the Rocky Mountain area he so cherished, he dropped out of college in 1964 to relocate to Los Angeles; there he joined the Chad Mitchell Trio, a major draw on the hootenanny circuit of the early '60s but in the twilight of their career at the time of Denver's arrival. Over time, however, Denver helped resuscitate the group on the strength of his songwriting skills; signed to Mercury, the Trio recorded a number of tracks, which the label repackaged in 1974 as Beginnings with the Chad Mitchell Trio.
Upon the departure of the last remaining founding member, the Chad Mitchell Trio became known as Denver, Boise and Johnson; the new group proved short-lived, however, when Denver exited in 1969 to pursue a solo career. That same year he recorded his debut LP, Rhymes and Reasons; while not a hit, it contained one of his best-loved compositions, "Leaving On a Jet Plane," an international chart-topper for Peter, Paul & Mary. Still, neither of Denver's follow-up albums, 1970's Whose Garden Was This and Take Me to Tomorrow, launched him as a solo performer; finally, with 1971's Poems, Prayers and Promises, he achieved superstardom, thanks to the million-selling hits "Take Me Home, Country Roads" and "Sunshine On My Shoulders." In the years to follow, Denver also scored with "Annie's Song" (penned for his wife) and "Back Home Again," and by 1974 was firmly established as America's best-selling performer; albums like 1975's An Evening With John Denver and Windsong were phenomenally popular, and he continued to top the singles charts with efforts including "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" and "I'm Sorry." Additionally, his 1974 best-of collection sold over ten million copies worldwide, and remained on the charts for over two years.
At the peak of his success, Denver was everywhere - the governor of Colorado proclaimed him the state's poet laureate, his label Windsong was responsible for hits like the Starland Vocal Band's mammoth "Afternoon Delight," and he appeared in a number of ratings-grabbing television specials. In 1977, he even moved into film, co-starring with George Burns in the comedy hit Oh, God! During this time, however, he dramatically curtailed his recording output, and after 1977's I Want to Live issued no new material until 1980's Autograph. The following year, he performed with opera star Placido Domingo, but as the decade progressed, Denver's popularity waned as he turned his focus more towards humanitarian work, focusing primarily on ecological concerns and space exploration; he also toured Communist-led Russia and China, and in 1987 performed in Chernobyl in the wake of that city's nuclear disaster. While maintaining a solid cult following, by the 1990s Denver had largely fallen off the radar, and he made more news for a 1993 drunk-driving arrest than he did for records like 1991's Different Directions. In 1994, he published an autobiography, Take Me Home. Tragedy struck on October 12, 1997 when his experimental aircraft suddenly crashed, killing him instantly. Denver was 53. -Jason Ankeny
Born Oct 14, 1938 in Iron City, TN. While a successful singer in her own right, Melba Montgomery is perhaps best remembered in tandem with her string of duet recordings with the likes of George Jones, Charlie Louvin and Gene Pitney. Born October 14, 1938 in Iron City, Tennessee and raised in Florence, Alabama, Montgomery gained her first exposure to music through her father, a fiddler and guitarist who taught vocal lessons at the town's Methodist church. At the age of ten, she was given her own guitar, and a decade later, she and her brother won an amateur talent contest held at Nashville radio station WSM's Studio C, which then housed the Grand Ole Opry. Montgomery's performance so impressed contest judge Roy Acuff that he asked the young singer to replace his departing lead vocalist June Webb; she accepted, and toured with Acuff for the next four years.
After going solo in 1962, Montgomery released a self-titled LP, and then teamed for a series of duets with George Jones. Their first joint effort, a rendition of Montgomery's self-penned "We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds," reached the Top Three in 1963, and the follow-up, "What's in Our Heart"/"Let's Invite Them Over," was a two-sided Top Twenty hit. Between 1963 and 1967, the Jones-Montgomery team generated a total of five Top Forty hits and two LPs (1966's Close Together and 1967's Let's Get Together), and while Montgomery maintained a successful solo career during the same period, she remained best known as a duet singer, and so recorded an album of collaborations with Gene Pitney titled Being Together in 1966.
After a few minor solo hits in the late '60s, in 1970 Montgomery found new partners in Charlie Louvin and producer Pete Drake. The duo's first hit, "Something to Brag About," was also their biggest, and after a string of singles and a 1971 album - also titled Something to Brag About - she and Louvin parted ways, although Montgomery did continue on with Drake. In 1974, he produced her lone number one hit, a rendition of Harlan Howard's "No Charge," culled from the LP Melba Montgomery-No Charge. While she continued to record throughout the decade, subsequent albums like Don't Let the Good Times Fool You and Aching Breaking Heart found little commercial success, and by the 1980s Montgomery focused largely on touring and appearing at festivals. In 1988, she even published a cookbook of family recipes. -Jason Ankeny
Best-known for his 1949 hit "I Never See Maggie Alone," Kenny Roberts was one of the last country singers to specialize in the legendary vocal technique of the blue yodel. Inspired by Yodelin' Slim Clark, Jimmie Rodgers and several singing cowboys, Roberts first came to prominence in the late '40s, and over the next five years he built up a fanbase through his recording, frequent tours and his appearance at yodeling concerts. Though he never had many hits - he only charted four times, between 1949 and 1950 - he nevertheless remained a popular concert attraction well into the '80s.
Roberts was born in Lenoir City, Tennessee, yet he was raised on a farm outside of Greenfield, massachusetts. As a child, he became fascinated by the music of Yodelin' Slim Clark, and began singing as a teacher, making his first radio appearance when he was 15. Soon, he became part of the Down Homers, a local group who had a regualr gig at a WKNE, a New Hampshire radio station. Eventually, the group made their way toward the midwest, playing at radio stations in Iowa and later settling in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where they regularly played a show called The Hoosier Hop. In a short time, Roberts had developed a reputation as a first-rate singer and yodeler.
The Down Homers - who also featured Bob Mason, Guy Campbell, Shorty Cook and Lloyd Cornell - cut a record released as a Vogue Picture Disc. When World War II arrived half way through the '40s, Roberts decided to enlist in the US Navy in early 1945. Once the war was over, Kenny returned to Fort Wayne, where he began a solo career. After a few months, he moved to St. Louis, where he appeared regualarly on several different shows on KMOX, as well as the CBS Saturday morning show, Barnyard Frolics. Roberts released one single on Vitacoustic before signing to Coral Records in 1948.
Kenny Roberts' career took off in 1949, as his single "I Never See Maggie Alone" reached number four on the country charts in the summer. The flip-side, "Wedding Bells," also was a hit, reaching number 15, while his second single, "Jealous Heart" reached number 14. In the spring of 1950, "Choc'late Ice Cream Cone" became his second Top 10 single; it would also prove to be his last charting single.
Following his chart success, Roberts moved to Cincinnati, where he had a show on WLW Cincinnati and appeared regularly on The Midwestern Hayride. For the remainder of the decade, he concentrated his efforts on the midwest, becoming a big regional star through his television shows in Dayton, Ohio (which became his home in 1952), Indianapolis, Indiana, and Saginaw, Michigan. Kenny continued to appear regularly on daytime midwestern television - and, as of 1962, WWVA's Wheeling Jamboree - until the mid '60s. Around that time, he released an EP on the independent label Essgee, which led to a contract with Starday Records in 1865. Over the next five years, he released four albums for the label. Once his deal with Starday expired, he recorded briefly in the early '70s for Nashville Records.
In the early '70s, Roberts moved back to Dayton, and concentrated on working in the Midwest and Canda. During the mid-'70s, he made a pair of albums for the Canadian label, Point. By the end of the decade, he had moved back to his homestate of Massachusetts, where he began playing concerts across the East. Roberts released one album for Palomino around 1980, which was followed by Longhorn's Then and Now, which combined historical cuts with new recordings. A few years later, Kenny Roberts moved to a farm near his childhood home in Greenfield. Though he was essentially retired, he continued to give concerts around the Northeast throughout the decade. -Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Sarah Ogan Gunning
Sarah Garland Gunning of the singing Gunning clan was the tenth of 11 children in a dirt-poor Kentucky mining family. Her father, Jim Garland, joined the Knights of Labor, who became the United Mine Workers of America in 1884. At that time, conditions for miners were atrocious, with the average worker bringing home a dollar and 44 cents for a ten-hour day. Garland became an outspoken representative for the miners, pressuring the mine-owners into coughing up a more decent wage. He was quickly blacklisted and the only way he could continue working was to go down into the mines under aliases. Much time passed before the plight of the Kentucky miners became a matter of national attention. In 1931, a group of Northerners called the Dreiser Committee came to Kentucky to investigate atrocities that had been committed against the miners. By this time, Sarah Garland and her sister, Molly (later known professionally as Aunt Molly Jackson), had literally brought their voices to the family struggle by singing at various events.
Their songs often included lyrics of their own creation, or sometimes they would take an existing song and change the words to create a message about the labor struggle. These songs were a powerful tool for forging an emotional bond with crowds at labor rallies. The members of the Dreiser Committee included authors John Dos Passos and Theodore Dreiser, who took the sisters back to New York City to help raise money for the miners' cause. By this time, Sarah Garland was already suffering from brown lung disease. She befriended folk artists such as Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, and Burl Ives in New York City, and they would go on to record her songs, such as "I Hate the Capitalist System," "Dreadful Memories," "Let's Go Down on the Picket Line," "I Am Going to Organize," and "Babe of Mine."
At the start of World War II, she moved with her husband to Vancouver, where she worked in the Kaiser shipyards. She returned to Kentucky for tuberculosis treatment, when a hole the size of a silver dollar was found in her lungs. In the years following these successful treatments she retired from performing, but was brought back into the public arena by folklorist Archie Green in the '60s, performing at several major folk festivals before fading out again. Her songs regularly turn up in documentaries or compilations focusing on the labor movement. -Eugene Chadbourne
Lacy J. Dalton
AKA Jill Byrem. Born Oct 13, 1948 in Bloomsburg, PA. Lacy J. Dalton, who has a voice one writer described as "honey laced with whiskey," took a circuitous route to Nashville. Born Jill Byrem in Bloomsburg, PA, she attended Brigham Young University but dropped out to become folk singer. She kicked around Utah, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and New York before winding up in front of a psychedelic rock band in San Francisco in the late '60s. She married the group's manager, who died as the result of injuries sustained in a swimming-pool accident.
Dalton kept performing, and a tape of her music eventually reached producer Billy Sherrill, who signed her to Columbia in 1979. The Academy of Country Music named her Best New Female Vocalist in 1979 on the strength of her debut, "Crazy Blue Eyes." Dalton's distinct sound and far-ranging musical interests may have kept her from being the star she could have been, but her records helped open doors for new sounds in country. -Brian Mansfield
Born Oct 13, 1959 in Ogden, UT. Marie Osmond found popularity as a country singer during the 1970s when she was barely 14, when her cover of "Paper Roses" became a number one country hit and reached the Top Five on the pop charts. She was raised in a deeply religious Mormon family in Provo, Utah, with eight brothers. In the early '60s, four of the elder Osmond boys appeared regularly on The Andy Williams Show, where Marie made her debut when she was only three. When she was 13, Osmond Brothers producer Mike Curb, who had helped popularize Donny and his younger brother Jimmy, wondered if he could get their only sister into the act. Marie was more interested in country than mainstream pop, so Curb teamed her up with veteran songwriter-turned-producer Sonny James, who helped her record "Paper Roses." This led her to begin touring with her brothers, most frequently Donny, on the nightclub circuit.
She also appeared regularly on the charts with songs such as "In My Little Corner of the World" and "Who's Sorry Now." In 1975, Donny and Marie began hosting their own variety show; produced at the state-of-the-art Osmond Studios in Provo, it ran for four years. She and Donny made their feature film debut in 1978 with Goin' Coconuts, and the following year, she appeared by herself in The Gift of Love. In 1981, she signed to Curb's new label, but had only one modest hit, "Back to Believing Again." Three years later, she found success again on a duet with Dan Seals, "Meet Me in Montana," which hit number one, as did her solo follow-up "There's No Stopping Your Heart." Between 1986 and 1989, Osmond had a string of successful hits both as a solo artist and a duet partner, including the Top Five hit "Read My Lips." In 1990, billed only as Marie, she had her final chart hit, "Like a Hurricane." -Sandra Brennan
Born Oct 13, 1927 in Memphis, TN. Anita Kerr was the vocal embodiment of the "Nashville Sound" which dominated country music throughout the mid-'50s and '60s. Along with the Jordanaires, her group the Anita Kerr Singers was the seminal backing vocal unit of the era, and it is estimated that at their early-'60s peak, they graced fully one quarter of all of the records coming out of Nashville's studios.
Kerr was born Anita Jean Grilli on Halloween, 1927 in Memphis, Tennessee; her mother hosted a local radio program there, and by the age of four, Anita herself was taking piano lessons. In her early teens, she formed her own girl group, the Grilli Sisters, which soon became a fixture on her mother's radio show. At age 14, she was hired as the station's staff pianist. In 1948, Kerr left Memphis, and began playing piano on the club circuit. The following year, she formed the Anita Kerr Singers, which also featured alto Dottie Dillard, tenor Gil Wright and baritone Louis Nunley. After gaining some fame on regional radio, NBC hired the Singers for the program Sunday Down South, with Kerr brought aboard as Chorus Director.
In 1951, the group signed to Decca Records, and began their career as a studio backing unit. Five years later, the Singers made their first appearance on the New York-based Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts television program, and quickly became featured players, splitting their time between the broadcast and their session work. In the mid-1950s, Anita Kerr joined forces with Chet Atkins, then the head of RCA Records' country division and the creator of the pop-centric "Nashville Sound," which employed vocal choruses as a means of smoothing over country music's rougher edges. The Anita Kerr Singers appeared on literally hundreds of the era's most prominent recordings, including releases from Jim Reeves, Roy Orbison, Floyd Cramer, Dottie West, Hank Snow, Eddy Arnold and Lorne Greene; even pop singers like Perry Como and Brook Benton enlisted Kerr's talents. She also produced Skeeter Davis' End of the World album, making Kerr one of the very first women to oversee a Nashville recording.
After touring Europe in 1964, she moved to California the next year to focus her energies on freelance production and songwriting, even as two of the Singers' LPs, We Dig Mancini and Southland Favorites, were winning Grammy awards (in the Vocal Group and Gospel categories, respectively). In the later years of the decade, Kerr teamed with poet Rod McKuen for a series of mood-music records, titled The Sea, The Earth and The Sky, for which the Singers were renamed the San Sebastian Strings and Singers. At the same time, the group was featured weekly on the Smothers Brothers' sketch comedy program. By the 1970s, Kerr produced a number of easy listening records before moving to her second husband Alex Grob's native Switzerland to compose music for films. Eventually, she returned to Memphis. -Jason Ankeny
Born Oct 15, 1946 in Gatesville, TX. Contemporary banjo player and storyteller David Holt is devoted to keeping old-time music and stories alive. Best-known as the host of TNN's Fire on the Mountain and The American Music Shop, he also records children's albums. He was born into an established Texas family and began playing the family's traditional instruments, the spoons and bones, at age ten. When he was a teen, the family moved to California where he began playing the drums and gained experience in several rock & roll and jazz bands. His budding interest in traditional music bloomed after hearing an inspiring 78-rpm single by cowboy singer Carl T. Sprague, whom he traveled to Bryan, Texas to see. Sprague taught Holt to play harmonica and encouraged his interest in old songs.
In 1969, Holt and his college buddy, banjo player Steve Keith, visited the southern Appalachians, where they immersed themselves in the local musical traditions; Holt learned the clawhammer banjo style straight from the sources. Soon after receiving his teaching certificate and degrees in biology and art from the University of California, Holt moved to Asheville, North Carolina to learn more about mountain music. For many years he interviewed and taped traditional musicians and convinced them to play at local festivals. (Much of the research and the recordings have been placed in the Library of Congress.) Moffatt also founded and helmed the Appalachian Music program at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, North Carolina in 1975.
Holt began his own recording career on the June Appal label, and decided to become a full-time performer in 1980. With his trademark white fedora, Holt soon became a major figure in traditional music and won the Best Old-Time Banjoist in Frets magazine's Readers' Poll three times. He founded his own label, High Windy, and has released many albums. He also developed shows such as Banjo Reb and the Blue Ghost to bring the music to wider audiences. He continues to tour and has appeared on Hee Haw, Nashville Now and the Grand Ole Opry, where he has the distinction of being the first performer to play a paper sack on stage. In addition to hosting TNN shows, Holt has produced the seven-part series Folkways for PBS radio. He also hosted and starred in American Public Radio's Riverwalk: Live from the Landing, which was broadcast from San Antonio. In 1992, Holt released the Grammy-nominated Grandfather's Greatest Hits, featuring Chet Atkins and Duane Eddy. Two years later, he issued an album called I Got a Bullfrog: Folksongs for the Fun of It. -Sandra Brennan
Born Jun 11, 1936 in Jamestown, NY. Died Oct 15, 1981 in Maine. Jud Strunk was a socially and environmentally conscious singer/songwriter and comedian. A native of New York, Strunk moved to Farmington, Maine in 1960 and started out singing at a local hotel. He then began a solo act on the U.S. Armed Forces circuit, appeared in the Broadway musical Beautiful Dreamer, and during the early '70s was a semi-regular on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. He released his debut album, Downeast Viewpoint, in 1970 and three years later released his second effort, Jones' General Store. That year, Strunk had his biggest hit, "Daisy a Day," which made the Top 15 on the pop charts and the Top 40 on the country charts. In 1974 he had a hit with the dramatic reading "My Country." In 1977, Strunk and his band Coplin Kitchen released A Semi-Reformed Tequila Crazed Gypsy Looks Back; four years later, he died in a small plane crash in Maine. -Sandra Brennan
Born Oct 16, 1918 in Harman, WV. Died Mar 22, 1977. Dale Troy "Stoney" Cooper and his wife Wilma Lee were one of the premier husband-and-wife duos in country music. Staples of the Grand Ole Opry for twenty years, they performed together for close to four decades, and helped old-time music evolve into modern country music.
They were born four years apart on opposite ends of Randolph County, West Virginia. Cooper came from a family of fiddle players, while Wilma's family loved performing sacred songs, billing themselves as the Singing Leary Family. Following his high school graduation, Cooper began fiddling for Rusty Hiser's Green Valley Boys at a radio station in West Virginia; Wilma's family was singing on the air in Virginia. Following the breakup of his band, Stoney joined the Learys as a sideman. He and Wilma began singing together and were married in 1941. The couple began their career together singing at various radio stations around the country, ending up on the Wheeling Jamboree and staying there for the next 10 years as one of the show's most enduringly popular acts.
The duo signed to Columbia in 1949 and remained for five years, releasing several classic singles, including "Sunny Side of the Mountain" and the devotional "Walking My Lord Up Calvary Hill." Stoney and Wilma formed a backing acoustic band called the Clinch Mountain Clan, which featured several dobro, fiddle, and mandolin players over the years. They moved to Hickory Records in 1955 and the following year had two small hits. In 1957, the Coopers joined the Opry. Their most successful year was 1959, when they released three Top Five hits: "Come Walk With Me," "Big Midnight Special," and "There's a Big Wheel." They had two Top 20 hits in 1960 and scored their last chart appearance in 1961 with the Top Ten hit Wreck on the Highway.
Stoney suffered a heart attack in 1963 and was forced to slow down considerably. The two moved to Decca in 1965 and tried to update their sound, without much success. In 1977, Stoney finally succumbed to his health problems; Wilma Lee continued to tour and play the banjo in a more bluegrass-oriented style. -Sandra Brennan
Born 1924 in Buffalo, SC. Died Oct 16, 1984, Virtually unrivalled among his contemporaries for his mastery of the five-string banjo, Don Reno teamed with Red Smiley to create some of the finest bluegrass recordings of the postwar era - a superb tenor vocalist and songwriter, Reno also proved crucial to the emergence of the guitar as one of bluegrass' lead instruments, and ranks alongside the likes of Bill Monroe among the genre's true pioneers. Reno was born in Spartanburg, SC on February 21, 1926 and raised primarily in rural North Carolina; at age five he built his first banjo, and as a teen backed the Morris Brothers and Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith. He also recorded with Woody Guthrie and was asked to join Monroe's Blue Grass Boys before serving in the military from 1944 to 1946. Upon returning from duty Reno fronted a local South Carolina band before replacing Earl Scruggs in the Blue Grass Boys, where like his predecessor he was key in popularizing the three-finger roll technique of banjo playing.
Reno left Monroe in 1949 to join Tommy Magness and His Tennessee Buddies; among his bandmates was guitarist Red Smiley, and while cutting a 1951 session with Magness for King Records subsidiary Federal, label owner Syd Nathan was so impressed by Reno and Smiley's interplay that he soon arranged for the duo to record under their own names. A marathon 16-song studio date the following January launched their career as headliners, with the Reno-penned hit "I'm Using My Bible for a Road Map" proving so successful it reportedly pulled King Records back from the brink of bankruptcy. Despite the popularity of their records, the duo proved unable to keep their touring band the Tennessee Cut-Ups together, so in between sessions for King they worked independently, which allowed Reno to reunite with Arthur Smith; together they recorded the classic 1955 instrumental "Feuding Banjos," which was later retitled "Dueling Banjos" for its unauthorized use in the 1972 film Deliverance.
In May of 1955 Reno and Smiley organized the definitive lineup of the Tennessee Cut-Ups, including fiddler Mack Magaha and bassist John Palmer; a regular gig at Richmond, VA station WRVA's Old Dominion Barn Dance finally afforded the group the opportunity to continue full-time, and over the next nine years they recorded a series of influential sides for King including "I Know You're Married," "Don't Let Your Sweet Love Die" and "Please Remember That I Love You." At the peak of their popularity, the duo also hosted Top of the Morning, a hit daily television show which ran for some seven years. However, in 1964 diabetes forced Smiley to retire from the road, and in late 1966 Reno began a new partnership with singer/ multi-instrumentalist Bill Harrell which continued for a decade, a period which coincided with a resurgence in public interest in bluegrass as a result of a growing festival circuit. A much briefer liasion with fiddler Benny Martin also launched the country chart hit "A Soldier's Prayer in Vietnam."
During the early 1970s Reno and Harrell recorded a series of LPs for labels including Monument, Dot and CMH; on occasion Smiley returned to the fold as well, making his final live appearance just months before his death on January 2, 1972. After Reno and Harrell went their separate ways in the autumn of 1976, the former settled in Lynchburg, VA, where he began performing alongside sons Don, Wayne, Dale and Ronnie; in 1979, he also again re-teamed with Smith for the album Arthur Smith and Don Reno Feudin' Again. Reno died October 16, 1984; his sons later recorded as the Reno Brothers. -Jason Ankeny
Johnnie Lee Wills
Born 1912 in Jewett, TX. Died 1984. Fiddler Johnnie Lee Wills led the most popular pre-war Western swing band around the Oklahoma area - that is, after older brother Bob moved his Texas Playboys to California in 1940. He was born in Jewett, TX on September 2, 1912, the second of four musical sons and seven years behind Bob. Johnnie Lee learned about music from his father, and began playing banjo with Bob when the Texas Playboys moved to KVOO-Tulsa in 1934. He formed the Rhythmairs in 1939, but returned to the fold the following year when Bob split the Playboys into two groups. Johnnie Lee took over the second unit (switching from banjo to fiddle), with younger brother Luther Jay on bass. A few months later, Bob moved to California and left Johnnie with his own band, christened Johnnie Lee Wills and His Boys. The brothers remained close though, and when Bob needed a substitute as leader, he called Johnnie.
Johnnie Lee Wills and His Boys signed with Decca in 1941, and recorded ten initial sides. The group played on another session when a recording ban was lifted after World War II, but moved to Bullet Records in 1949. Wills' Bullet recordings proved to be the most popular of his career. Early in 1950, "Rag Mop" spent five weeks at the number-two spot in the Country charts, and crossed over to the Popular Top Ten - though a version by the Ames Brothers did even better. Later that year, "Peter Cotton Tail" also hit the Country Top Ten. He moved to RCA Victor in 1952, but none of his recordings sold very well. Western swing's popularity was declining, though Wills' regional fame remained unchanged and he continued to appear regularly on KVOO until 1958.
Wills recorded several albums for Sims in the early '60s, but his band broke up in 1964. He continued to work occasional shows and dances, and opened a Western clothing store in Tulsa with his son, John Thomas Wills. By the late '70s, the Western swing revival took notice of Johnnie Lee Wills, and releases of his early-'50s material appeared on Rounder and Bear Family. He also recorded reunion albums for Flying Fish and Delta, with many former Texas Playboys. -John Bush
Earl Thomas Conley
Born Oct 17, 1941 in Portsmouth, OH. Early in his career, Earl Thomas Conley's music picked up the label "thinking man's country." An accurate description - Conley looks into the heart and soul of his characters, finding the motivations for their actions and beliefs. In the process, the astute listener can find fragments of him/herself in nearly any Conley creation. Born into poverty in Portsmouth, Ohio, Conley struggled with the limits of his social class. He aspired to be a painter or actor but found that his aspirations for music lingered after the other interests died down. Influenced by everything from Hank Williams to the Eagles, Conley delved into the details of writing, trying to learn the craft by following the rules and regulations of the Music Row songwriting community.
Eventually, torn by the limits of the "law," he found his own niche by breaking many of those same rules. His public self-analysis - in both his songs and his interviews - has proven inspirational to some, bothersome to others, but Conley has evolved stylistically, even though the thinking-man label continues to follow him. He's admittedly chased a more commercial sound, with a certain degree of success, but the run for the dollars also put him into a financial bind. He spent part of the late '80s and early '90s overworking himself to pay off his debts. Although he has been a hitmaker for more than a decade, his contributions to country have often gone almost unnoticed.
The son a railroad man, Conley left his Portsmouth home at the age of 14, once his father lost his job. After living with his older sister in Ohio, he rejected a scholarship to art school, deciding to join the Army instead. While he was in the military, he fell in love with country music. Following his discharge, he worked a number of bluecollar jobs while he played Nashville clubs at night. Conley wasn't making any headway, so he relocated to Huntsville, Alabama, where he worked in a steel mill. While in Huntsville, he met Nelson Larkin, a producer who helped the fledgling singer sign to the independent label GRT in 1974. Over the next two years, he released four singles on the label - which were all credited to "Earl Conley" - and each one scraped the lower regions of the country charts. While his chart success was respectable for a developing artist, he was soon eclipsed by other artists who were having hits with his songs. Nelson Larkin gave his brother Billy "Leave It Up to Me," which became the first Earl Thomas Conley song to reach the Top 20. It was followed shortly afterward by Mel Street's number 13 hit "Smokey Mountain Memories" and Conway Twitty's version of "This Time I've Hurt Her More (Than She Loves Me)," which reached number one in early 1976. By that time, he had moved to Nashville, where he was writing for Nelson Larkin's publishing house.
In 1977, Conley signed with Warner Brothers, and in early 1979 he had his first Top 40 hit, "Dreamin's All I Do." By the end of the year, he had begun performing and releasing records under his full name, Earl Thomas Conley. None of his Warner singles became big hits, and he left the label at the end of 1979. After spending six months reassessing his career and musical direction, he signed to Sunbird Records and began working with Nelson Larkin again. Conley's first single for Sunbird, "Silent Treatment," was an immediate Top Ten hit late in 1980, and it was quickly followed by the number one "Fire & Smoke" early in 1981. Following his breakthrough success, RCA signed Conley to a long-term deal. "Tell Me Why," his first single for the label, reached number ten in late 1981, followed shortly afterward by the number 16 "After the Love Slips Away." In the summer of 1982, "Heavenly Bodies" kicked off a string of 21 straight Top Ten hits that ran for seven years. During that time, he had a remarkable 17 number one hits, including the record-setting four number one singles from 1984's Don't Make It Easy for Me - it was the first time any artist in any genre had four number one hits from the same albums. Though he had some financial and vocal problems during the mid-'80s, th hits nevers stopped coming during the entire decade.
By the end of the '80s, he had stopped working with Larkin, preferring to collaborate with Randy Scruggs, which brought his music back to his country and R&B roots. His sales took a dramatic dip during 1990 due to the rise of contemporary country, but he had two new Top Ten hits, "Shadow of a Doubt" and the Keith Whitley duet "Brotherly Love." The singles set the stage for the harder-edged country of his 1991 album Yours Truly. Despite receiving some of the best reviews of Conley's career, the record was a commercial failure, and RCA dropped him shortly after its release. For much of the '90s, he was without a record label, yet he continued to give concerts and tour, finally landing on Intersound for 1998's Perpetual Emotion. -Tom Roland
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