A Little Bit Country, A Little Bit Rock ‘N Roll

If you are of a certain age you may recall the title is from a song used by Donny & Marie Osmond on their TV show in the mid 70’s. It was originally written as a love song by Marty Cooper, however after some editing it became the signature song for the brother and sister.

Today I am not talking about the song, or any member of the talented Osmond Family for that matter but the title seemed to fit. When I started to write this post the song title just came to me, as I am talking about the relationship between Country Music and Rock Music, I could not have come up with a better title. First, I will discuss a very brief overview of each genres history and then some of the many early connections between the two. Just a reminder that you can check out my past posts on The History of Rock and Roll, The Delta Blues and many others for more connections.

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Remembering Ian Tyson

Ian and Sylvia Tyson, circa 1970

Born September 25, 1933 in Victoria B.C. and died December 29, 2022 in Longview, Alberta.

This is a name few will know or perhaps remember, even in his homeland it is only those of a ‘certain age’ that know of his songs or the folk duo of Ian & Sylvia. However what they produced, in particular three major hits in the early 1960’s are legitimately iconic. Born in Canada Tyson was a Rodeo Cowboy and following a serious injury, he ‘naturally’ turned into a singer-songwriter. You all know there are a lot of voices that sing about it, Tyson is one of the few that actually was a Cowboy. For more on his (& Sylvia’s) most well known song, a post will appear on A Sound Day later this month.

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Holly Days #5

Happy American Thanksgiving and a special hello to my family and extended family living in the US. I have a lot of favorite songs I do admit and with Buddy Holly it is hard to pick just one. His original song “Heartbeat” was credited to Buddy’s highschool friend, bandmate and his first writing partner, Bob Montgomery. While I can’t provide any concrete evidence, I feel Buddy also played a large part in the writing as it was from a time when the two worked very closely together and it is so similar to some of Holly’s other songs such as “Words of Love” that Buddy had recorded earlier. To take nothing away from Bob who recorded an unreleased demo of the song with Norman Petty (who would take a song credit) and he wrote other songs such as “Misty Blue” and a song for Patsy Cline, but it was Buddy that moved on to greater things. Buddy was known to be generous with songwriting credits. Part of the reason Bruce Springsteen used to (maybe he still does) listen to Buddy Holly before going on stage was a reminder to “keep it simple” and this song is a perfect example. Straightforward lyrics and vocals with a great accompaniment gives us this beautiful little song.

Thanks to Rock NL Rolla for this Youtube post.
Spiced up but still true to the original, a great cover version by The US group The Knack! Like many of Holly’s songs it had much more of an impact in the UK where it charted #30, than it did in the US where it peaked at #82. There are two cover versions that charted in the UK as well, Showaddywaddy hit #7 in 1975 and Nick Berry reached #2 in 1992.

I did say it was hard to pick just one! “True Love Ways” was written by Holly and recorded on October 21, 1958. Written for his soon to be wife, Maria Elena Santiago it is another simple but beautiful song. It was one of the last songs Buddy recorded but never performed and it was released after his death in March of 1960.

This stunning song only managed to reach the charts in the UK where it peaked at #25. Once again we have cover versions doing very well, Peter and Gordon went to #2 in the UK in 1965 and hit #3 in Canada and #14 in the US.
A very talented pair that would chart with several cover songs. Peter Asher would go on to great renown as a Producer for James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt and many more.

Mickey Gilley would top the Country Hot 100 chart in 1980.

The Beatles loved to cover Buddy Holly songs during live performances. On the album Beatles For Sale, released in 1964 (UK only) they covered Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Dr. Feeelgood and (as noted above) Buddy Holly’s song “Words of Love”. Very few artists could write and sing Rock and Roll Ballads like Buddy Holly.

The legend, Paul McCartney. Wow!

Thanks for reading, so many more great covers of Buddy Holly songs but that’s the end of Holly Days! Next we move on to Happy Holidays and first featuring the extraordinary Billie Holiday.

George and Tammy

There’s a limited series due out December 4 about this dynamic duo of Country Music Superstars. Based on what I know about the time the two spent together, if done right the audience is in for a wild ride. If you watch this trailer it appears to be just that, this pair was full of magic and major league madness.

Both Tammy Wynette and George Jones are legends in County Music and as solo artists. Together they made music like few others could. Have a listen to “Golden Ring” a song they performed together after a tumultuous divorce.

They had several other great songs together but their individual fame, fortune and lifestyle created a clash for the ages.

Watch the above clip of “We’re Gonna Hold On” and you can see the chemistry that made the pair irresistibly captivating.

As much as they wanted “to go together” fans wanted it too. Some things are just not meant to last, but what a legacy.

Loretta Lynn

Upon the passing of this music icon there have been many well deserved tributes to her amazing life and career. As my area of expertise if I may be so bold to say lies in the arena of cover songs, I’d like to take a look at her songs through that lens. She was a rarity in her time for more than one reason but mostly because she wrote her own songs. Not many women in music get that chance. Oh I know you will be able to mention dozens of examples from Dolly Parton to Joni Mitchell but I am here to say they are rare individuals. Loretta defied the convention of Country Music that songwriters write and singers sing. For the most part, again Dolly aside the few that were ‘allowed’ the opportunity to sing their own songs were men. We can all name many of the male contemporaries of Loretta Lynn, all are legendary singer songwriters of County Music, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams, Townes Van Zandt, Kris Kristofferson and so many more. For women the list is much shorter. Aside from Loretta and again Dolly Parton, if you look at many lists of Country Music writers most of the rest of the women are well out of the top 50. I have talked about Cindy Walker and although she is a capable singer and musician she is mostly known for the hundreds of songs she wrote/co-wrote, but she is well down the lists, as is Rosanne Cash.

So for this reason alone Loretta has accomplished something quite exceptional. She and another legend Conway Twitty combined to win a Grammy with a song written by L.E. White, “After the Fire is Gone” and it is a Country Classic. Let’s take a look at some of the covers of her more memorable self penned hits. She wrote over 100 songs and recorded most of them, to date 87 have been covered by other artists, this is including the few songs she originally recorded but did not write. She herself recorded 262 cover songs. Her most covered song at 76 versions is “You Ain’t Woman Enough” from 1966. Most famously sung by Sissy Spacek from the movie and Soundtrack Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980). The list of names that covered this song is like a who’s who list of Country greats like Dottie West, Skeeter Davis, Lynn Anderson and Martina McBride. But this list is not exclusive to women, nor the Country genre. In 1967 Warner Mack reworked the song (as was common) to come from the male perspective “There Ain’t No Woman Enough (To Take Your Man)”, and both the Grateful Dead and Asleep at the Wheel covered it. Outside of Country there was Connie Stevens and Tina Turner. A one album wonder from Japan Yoshie Sakamoto did an amazing job on her album Someday from 2013.

Coal Miner’s Daughter” has been covered 22 times, Norma Jean has covered many of Loretta’s songs and does an exceptional job from her 1971 album Norma Jean. Perhaps my favorite Loretta song is “Don’t Come Home A’ Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)” from 1966 and it has been covered 21 times. Her sister Peggy Sue co-wrote the song and recorded it in 1970. I am a Terri Clark fan so here is her cover from 2012, she is awesome btw. Another great song “Fist City” has been covered 16 times, here is one from The Little Willies with the great Norah Jones on lead vocals. So many amazing songs to talk about but I will leave you with “Honky Tonk Girl” which was the first song she released in 1960. Covered by Elvis Costello in 1982.

Rest in Peace Loretta.

References 1, 2, 3.

Western & Cowboy Music

Western & Cowboy Music

Carl Sprague

Western Music

When we hear the term “Western Music” the obvious question is where is the “Country”? It has been some time since the two genres have been attached to one another. I can’t say exactly when the “Western” was dropped but it appears to have lost popularity in the 1970’s with the development of other sub genre such as Outlaw Country and the “Bakersfield Sound” from Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. Of course there’s a lot of different genres of music that were played and came from the Western part of the US but today I’m focused on what is attached to the term, Western (Country) music. It was quite different; in Texas, Arizona and Oklahoma there were cultural influences not found in it’s more eastern ‘Country’ cousin. Here are some songs typical of the genre; ‘The Browns’ “My Adobe Hacienda“, “Abilene” by George Hamilton IV, and a song with origins from Canadian and American Voyageurs, Tennessee Ernie Ford with “Shenandoah“.Read More »

Old Country New Country

Old Country/New Country

What exactly I am about to attempt to demonstrate I confess I’m not 100% certain, but what I do know is that there has been a bit of a downward sliding scale regarding the enduring quality of mainstream Country Music songs. Apologies in advance for rambling and ranting at various points. This is not a history of Country Music but my opinion on the current state of things in general with the genre.

It’s murky waters that I’m swimming in here as there is an evolution involved in any music genre so direct comparisons are perhaps inappropriate. I am somewhat aware of the influence the so called Country Music “establishment” has had on this evolution. One need only look at examples like Taylor Swift, Shania Twain and Garth Brooks and others who were criticized and in some cases “shunned” for their unconventional approaches who are now celebrated as part of that same ‘establishment’. So there is some hypocrisy at play in my opinion, which further confuses the definition of what the term “Country Music” actually means? I mentioned in my Country Rock blog there are so many subgenres of Country, and now I’m thinking there is no longer a catch-all definition available to describe it, I myself hear songs on ‘Country Music’ stations that I would not identify as being a ‘Country song’ at all.Read More »

Country Rock

Country Rock

Music genres attempt to be definitive but are still typically full of a good spectrum of divergent styles. In order to pigeon hole artists we have over time developed other genres, sub and sub sub genres. Country music has over two dozen including; Classic Country, Country Pop, Blues Country and even Country rap.

Most Artists can be placed in more than one category but we tend to want to associate them most closely with a specific one. I’ve read that Country Rock came from Rock bands doing more Country flavored music not Country artists doing rock music. But I’ve found there are many early examples of Country music sounding pretty rock-like and I have included some examples below. We don’t always tend to identify music and genres in the early stages of development and in many cases it’s done quite retroactively. I’ve talked about a few artists thought to be ‘Rock’ that started to record with a more Country music feel, back as early as the 1950’s and 60’s. This is before it really took off with the proliferation of the electric guitar which changed most all genres of popular music.Read More »

More Country Classics

Country Classics (again)

It will take a long time of blogging to get through all the best of Country music through the years and while I’ve examined a good percentage here are some more songs that deserve mention. What makes a song a “Classic” is somewhat subjective but these songs appear on several ‘lists’ and I have included my own personal bias and as well. As will you notice the numbers of cover versions is not always a measure of how great the song is.

I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail” performed by Buck Owens and written with a frequent collaborator, Harlan Howard (1964). This song went to #1 in February of 1965 and also #25 on the Billboard Hot 100. While Harlan wrote many hit songs for a dozen or so other artists, I don’t think anyone recorded more of his songs than Buck Owens. Covered about 30 times including Harlan Howard himself, Ray Charles and Stephanie Urbina Jones.

Blue Moon of Kentucky” written by Bill Monroe and performed with His Bluegrass Boys (1947). While this great song is an official state song and has since been covered over 125 times I have to wonder how the song would have done if Bill Black, Elvis’s then bass player had not been fooling around singing this song during a break at Sun Studio. Subsequently Elvis ( Elvis Presley, Scotty and Bill) were the first to cover this song seven years after the original in July 1954. Levon Helm, John Fogerty and Patsy Cline.

“Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” written and performed by Alan Jackson. You may know this was a song about American life in the aftermath of 9/11. There have been many great songs written about the impact of this day but this one seems to have captured the feelings and emotions of everyday life. The song rose to much success and critical acclaim winning AMA and CMA song and record of the year (2002) and a Grammy Award for Best Country Song and a nomination for Song of the Year (2003). Only two ‘official’ covers from Secondhandsongs.com; an instrumental and Scotty McCreery from American Idol Season 10, 2011.

Goodbye Earl” written by Dennis Linde and originally intended for Sammy Kershaw as he had recorded another Linde song about ‘Earl’. He didn’t do it and then it was first recorded by another group and that was never released, so the first issue was by the Dixie Chicks (1999). Live cover by Brothers OsborneMe First and The Gimme Gimmes (2006). A somewhat controversial song (and video that won CMA and AMA awards) and it seems practically no one wants to cover it, nevertheless I think it’s a great song. A good article about the song: https://www.wideopencountry.com/goodbye-earl-story-behind-song/.

“Golden Ring” by George Jones and Tammy Wynette, written by Bobby Braddock and Rafe Van Hoy. This song is about a wedding ring that keeps getting recycled through a pawn shop was recorded some months after the two singers got divorced themselves. They both were uncomfortable doing the song together but it hit #1 in 1976 so they had little choice in performing it. Some great cover versions out of the only 17 times it’s been redone, one of the great duet songs of country music. Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Terri Clark & Dierks Bentley, Dwight Yoakam & Kelly Willis.

References: https://secondhandsongs.com/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page  images: buckowens.com, tasteofcountry.com, contactmusic.com.

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Country Classics

Here are covers of some of the best Country songs ever recorded. I’ve touched on a few of the great songs but there are more to talk about as theses originals have inspired country legends and many others to keep the songs alive.

I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” written and performed by Hank Williams (1949). Certainly near the top of any list of the best of all time. There is some small controversy that the lyrics were written by someone else, I’m in no position to debate this but this song seems to be in the same style and consistency as Williams other songs and he still maintains official writing credit. It’s little wonder the song resonates with so many people, the lyrics are poetic and paint a vivid picture of the heartache being portrayed. Released as a ‘B’ side this song peaked at #4 in 1949. Covered some 220 times, Johnny Cash, Tommy James and The Shondells, B.J. Thomas, Inger Marie Gundersen, and Wonder Woman-Lynda Carter.Read More »