Archive for the ‘Country Catalyst’ Category
We’re overdue for another edition of Country Catalyst, the Special Feature that offers a classic country song while hoping to open a few ears and make some new fans. As it happens, today’s song is another one with an American Indian theme, sort of like our previous post, but this one has quite a pedigree.
When Cindy Walker wrote “Cherokee Maiden” in 1941, she was still in the early stages of what would be a Hall of Fame career, but she knew it was perfect for Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. It was indeed, and his hit record of the song apparently appealed to listeners who would have at that time needed cheering up while nervously watching the beginnings of World War II.
The song became a familiar one on bandstands — at least for country bands — and as the years passed it surged into renewed hit status a couple of times. The first notable occasion occurred in the mid-1970s when Merle Haggard took it to #1 on the charts, and the second happened in 2001 when Ray Benson and Asleep At The Wheel — Bob Wills’ modern counterpart — won a Grammy with the song.
Since we combined Asleep At The Wheel with Bob Wills on an earlier post for Country Catalyst, let’s give Merle Haggard a shot today. (Video below.)
Bob Wills – “Cherokee Maiden”
Today’s edition of Country Catalyst, our periodic attempt to bring new fans to country music, spotlights a song that has been recorded many times, both with and without lyrics. But it’s as an instrumental that it reaches its full impact, making “Sugar Foot Rag” a classic challenge for virtuoso guitarists in its more than sixty years of existence.
Written by Hank Garland and Vaughn Horton, it made its debut in 1949 when the amazing Garland topped the country charts with the song, throwing down the gauntlet for every guitarist who came along after him. Although few would be able to match his precision picking, there were always plenty who were ready to try, and some of them employed different styles.
A lot of singers recorded the version with lyrics, depending on someone else to do the picking. In fact, Red Foley recruited Garland himself to do the honors, while guys like Jerry Reed — who was a guitar wizard too — did both the singing and the playing. Chet Atkins had no problem handling the tough picking, but his ‘pop country’ version softened the song and added a chorus of singers.
But it seems to me that the pure instrumentalists are the biggest risk-takers, because they’re measuring themselves against the legendary Garland. In the video below you’ll find Hank doing his song, and you might want to watch it first for reference. Then you can try two different versions. One by modern virtuoso Junior Brown, whose bold play on his dual guitar takes the song in a new direction. The second is by a cult favorite, Jimmy Bryant, a contemporary of Garland who was sometimes billed as ‘the fastest guitarist in the world’ — listen and you might agree.
Junior Brown – “Sugar Foot Rag”
Jimmy Bryant – “Sugar Foot Rag”
We’re way overdue for a new Country Catalyst, the Special Feature that offers a country music song to a wider audience, and I thought I’d combine it with something appropriate to the season. It’s a song that might be familiar to you — it’s been around a long time — but you might not have realized it was a Christmas song unless you listened closely to the lyrics. And if it seems at first to be about the gifting aspects of the holiday, you will soon realize it has a different subject and a deeper meaning.
Way back in the early 1960s, when Willie Nelson‘s singing career was having trouble getting started in a big way, he was nevertheless building quite a reputation as a Nashville songwriter. It was along about then that he wrote a song named “Pretty Paper,” inspired by a legless man Nelson had noticed selling holiday paper, ribbons, and pencils in front of a Ft. Worth department store.
The song was soon recorded by Roy Orbison, who was already a big star at the time, and he turned it into a solid hit. Of course, Nelson didn’t wait too long before making a record of the song himself, and in the years since it’s been recorded by a number of singers, including Merle Haggard, Glen Campbell, Randy Travis, and Chris Isaak.
Roy Orbison – “Pretty Paper”
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”
For today’s edition of Country Catalyst, the Special Feature that spotlights a classic song in the hope that it might bring more folks to country music, we have a tune that was a huge hit for two different singers, decades apart. And to add to the mix, the song’s composer — who had the first hit — didn’t do it until he’d talked his record company into reissuing his record five years after he first made it.
Singer/songwriter Ned Miller was in the early stages of his long career when he wrote and recorded “From a Jack to a King” in 1957, but he was already finding some success as a songwriter. It was that skill that would produce hits like Gale Storm‘s “Dark Moon” and Jimmy C. Newman’s “A Falling Star,” and Miller would eventually have some solid records of his own too, but his early efforts were disappointing in terms of sales.
It didn’t help that he often suffered from stage fright and found it difficult to do the live shows that helped promote a performer’s records. Still, he believed in “From a Jack to a King” and talked his record company into reissuing the single in 1962. For whatever reason, it hit the target with music fans this time around and shot up the charts, becoming his first (and biggest) hit record. He followed with a number of good-sellers, but as his career progressed he found continuing success mostly as a songwriter.
Meanwhile, “From a Jack to a King” proved to have a long life, and was recorded by everyone from Elvis to Jerry Lee Lewis. But the biggest hit of all occurred when country star Ricky Van Shelton, who’d already enjoyed several #1 records by then, recorded his version of the song and it shot to the top of country charts in early 1989.
Ned Miller – “From a Jack to a King”