Regular visitors to the GMC might remember that the Special Feature known as Country Catalyst is my humble effort to bring new fans to the genre by spotlighting a classic song. Today’s choice might be familiar to many because it’s been a hit in several different styles, but “Blue Moon Of Kentucky” has kept its identity through all of them — even though the original version is Kentucky’s official state bluegrass song.
It began life in 1946 when the legendary Bill Monroe wrote and performed the song with his Blue Grass Boys and followed up with a best-selling record. It was called a ‘bluegrass waltz’ and it didn’t take long for it to become a favorite of other country musicians, but within a few years some of them had started to add a few wrinkles of their own.
In 1954 a young Elvis Presley was working with Sun Records, trying to come up with what would be his first successful recording. They’d already decided on “That’s All Right” for the ‘A’ side, but were searching for something to back it. They finally cobbled together an upbeat, bluesy version of “Blue Moon Of Kentucky” that even featured a jury-rigged echo effect. Quite a change from the original.
Another treatment that did well was the country-pop version offered up by Patsy Cline in 1963 (the same year she tragically died). Although it wasn’t a huge hit for the amazingly talented singer, it has become a favorite for a lot of her fans, including me. And of course, a lot of other performers have recorded the song in the nearly seven decades it’s been around, including everybody from Ray Charles to the Beatles. A true classic.
Elvis Presley – “Blue Moon Of Kentucky”
Patsy Cline – “Blue Moon Of Kentucky”
If you set out on a quest to find the ultimate teenage heartbreak song from the 1950s, there would be plenty of candidates. I can think of a few myself and I’m sure the same is true for you. But I bet we’d both include the Skyliners’ “Since I Don’t Have You” on our list.
The original Skyliners came together in Pittsburgh, when lead singer Jimmy Beaumont was joined by Wally Lester, Jack Taylor, Joe Verscharen, and Janet Vogel. All had already spent some time in earlier singing groups, but finally hit pay dirt when they recorded their teen ballad in 1958. Although it never quite reached the top of the charts, it became a big favorite for many fans while also giving a boost to the group’s popularity.
Like many groups of the era, the Skyliners went through some ups and downs but never found another hit as big as the first. The quintet did have some success with several other records though. Both “This I Swear” and “Pennies from Heaven” were moderate hits and a few others did well, but by 1963 the original Skyliners had pretty much dissolved.
The members of the group were not necessarily finished with music, however. Most stayed musically active in subsequent years, and various versions of the group reformed from time to time. Jimmy Beaumont was usually involved, and in recent years he has been leading a reconstituted Skyliners on the oldies circuit.
The Skyliners – “This I Swear”
Although Lawrence Welk was enormously popular for several decades, I’d be willing to bet that for most British folks their favorite accordion-playing bandleader during the same era would be a very different guy, and with Scotland in the news a lot lately it might be a good time to spotlight him. Sir Jimmy Shand MBE (he was knighted in 1999) was known as the King of Scottish Dance Music, but he eventually became a beloved figure throughout the British Empire.
James Shand was born into a large family in Scotland’s Fife County, the son of a farmer turned coal miner who was also skilled at the melodeon (a type of accordion). As Jimmy grew up in the years during and after World War I, he too learned the melodeon and a couple of other instruments besides, but he still followed tradition and at age 14 left school to begin working in the mines.
However, fate would intervene in a way that would change his life. After a few years in the mines, during which he continued to perform locally in his spare time, labor troubles caused a shutdown and his performances became a part of the effort to support striking miners. Although his friends went back to work eventually, Shand was unable to return to the mines and was forced to begin working in a music store. It turned out to be a good move, as it gave him the chance to build a career as a professional performer.
The late 1920s was an era of economic hardship, but he kept working hard on his craft and performing whenever possible while driving the countryside in his music store van. By the early 1930s he was finally able to get a chance to make a record, and after a couple of missteps began to find some success. Beginning as a soloist, he soon started working with small bands too, and sold a number of records during the years leading up to World War II.
Things naturally slowed down in Shand’s musical career during the war, although he did keep working while also fulfilling his Fire Brigade duties, but in the years following he really came into his own. He began generating lots of good-selling records and his live performances were also very popular. His success peaked in the 1950s with a hit record on one of the many songs he wrote — “Bluebell Polka” — but he continued working for many years, touring the world and even performing in New York’s Carnegie Hall. He finally slowed down in the 1970s but continued appearing from time to time, and eventually performed alongside his son and namesake. He was 92 when he died in 2000.
Sir Jimmy Shand – “Bonnie Anne”