3/31/18 Peter Cottontail

The famous Easter song Peter Cottontail was composed in 1949 by Steve Nelson and Walter Rollins, the same songwriters who wrote “Frosty the Snowman” and the “Smokey the Bear” theme, as well as assorted country songs. Country music ? I mean, rabbits live in the country, right ? This sounds like a job for Robert’s Country Blog.

Four notable artists hit the airwaves with this song in 1950 ! Yes, the good ol’ days that the self-promoted “country purists” angrily defend when they try to convince you that country music of yesteryear was some monolithic entity filled with nothing but heartache, fiddle, and steel ? And how about four artists charting with one song, all during the same year ? Peter Cottontail, of all things ?

Merv Shiner was first up, and he hit # 8 on the Billboard Hot 100: Mervin Shiner version of Peter Cottontail. He’d go on to record country music and play  such shows as the Wheeling Jamboree , which will celebrate its 85th anniversary this April 7th. Merv Shiner was still living as of 2016 (at age 95), and I’ve not found anything to indicate that he isn’t still kicking at 97 !

Gene Autry was such a huge star that there’s not much I can write about him that would add to the story. His version is the one I probably grew up hearing the most, and it was the highest charting ( #3 on Billboard Hot Country Singles, and #5 on Billboard Hot 100).

Jimmy Wakely was also a singing cowboy, a star of western movies, as well as a successful country and western singer. He was even the star of a DC comic book series at the height of his popularity (which just so happens to include 1950). Here are the Covers of Jimmy Wakely Comics His version of “Peter Cottontail ” hit #7 on Billboard Hot Country Singles, and #26 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Johnny Lee Wills also hit #7 on Billboard Hot Country Singles. Johnny Lee Wills was the brother of Bob Wills, and also had a long career in western swing. Amazingly enough, “Peter Cottontail” was one of the two most successful songs of Johnny Lee Wills’ career. Here’s his profile on the National Fiddler Hall of Fame. Johnny Lee Wills’ final album was a “reunion” album in 1978, produced by a young Steve Ripley, who would go on to also produce an album the next year by Roy Clark and Gatemouth Brown. Here’s one of those songs: Four O’Clock In The Morning . Steve would go on to success as a guitar maker, guitar player for Bob Dylan, and had a country band in the 1990s called The Tractors, whose first album sold double platinum and won assorted awards (and had a couple of Grammy nominations).

Three or so years ago, the Oklahoma Historical Society commissioned Steve Ripley to restore some 1949 “lost recordings” of Bob Wills, and I bought the CD shortly after it came out. The annual Bob Wills Day in Turkey, Texas will be April 28th and will feature some of the original members of Bob Wills’ band, like Leon Rausch (age 90), Joe Settlemires, and Bobby Koefer. Here’s a black and white clip including Bobby Koefer: Bob Wills, Carolina Cotton, Bobby Koefer,etc.

Back to Peter Cottontail… Cheers to preserving real bits of country music history like “Peter Cottontail” that don’t fit the so-called “really real country” that revisionists shout about. “Hippity hoppity, happy Easter Day.”

 

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3/30/18 Good Friday

Since we have the day off tomorrow, I won’t do my typical routine of checking out all the new music released on Friday morning.

For the holiday, here’s a Religious Country Playlist. I’m not very up-to-date on this sector of music, so my list will look different from most.  Some of these songs have just tangential references to religious or inspirational themes . A few of these songs are from little-known bluegrass singers , but there are also well-known country artists like Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Carter Family, etc. There’s even a Ray Wylie Hubbard song.

In unrelated news, Texas Music Scene continues to post good videos. I was in the audience for the Sunny Sweeney taping last year that they posted yesterday.  I didn’t get to go to the Seth James & Jessica Murray taping that was posted a couple of days ago, but I’ve heard them perform this song at Gruene Hall.

3/29/18 Soundcloud Playlist

It’s been quite a while since I looked at this. My brother fixed my 11-year-old computer a week or two ago, so that I can again access my accounts on Spotify, Soundcloud, etc. When I started my Soundcloud, it was just a Chris Stapleton list, which included a couple of demo songs that I hadn’t heard elsewhere, but I added in a few other artists for variety. My goal wasn’t to be comprehensive, but to include some things I found on Soundcloud that I haven’t heard on other formats, then fill in with some more familiar material.

Here’s a look at the 30 songs currently on Stapleton and More on Soundcloud Songs 6-10 are among the ones that Chris wrote, but performed by other artists. Song 14 is a cool Morgane Stapleton demo from years ago !

I’m especially glad to include some songs by Banjo Neal James. I met Neal in Pikeville, Kentucky at Hillbilly Days – one of the nicest southern gentlemen one could ever hope to meet, and he has a couple of bluegrass albums out. Song 29 is my new addition to the list, and features a young Dillon Carmichael singing a Neal James song 4-5 years ago. Neal and Dillon are from the same part of Kentucky, and young Dillon is getting a good bit of coverage in 2018.

Song 26 is from Kelsey Waldon when she was young, and you can follow that song to her channel to hear more of her early work. I met her at the Bluebird Cafe a couple years ago during Americanafest. Songs 27-28 are Sturgill Simpson songs that weren’t included on albums. There’s some really good stuff that you’re unlikely to hear many other places.

Ricky Valido plans to release a full-length album this year, so be on the lookout for new songs from him soon. He recently landed a spot on the Florida’s annual Suwanee River Jam, which features such headliners as Alan Jackson, Josh Turner, and Cody Johnson.

 

3/29/18 National Fiddler Hall of Fame

Congratulations to the five inductees, and to special award winner Ricky Skaggs ! The ceremony will be March 30th in Tulsa.  Here’s a little more about the five inductees:

Violet Hensley is 101 years old and she was the oldest person to play the Grand Ole Opry when she performed there at age 100. In addition to playing the fiddle, she made fiddles at Silver Dollar City in Branson for over 50 years.

Bobby Hicks is a 10-time Grammy winner, especially known for his work in bluegrass with Bill Monroe and others (Ricky Skaggs, Del McCoury, Jesse McReynolds, etc).

Jeff Cook is best known as part of the legendary group Alabama, the most awarded band in country music history. If I tried to list all their accomplishments, I’d be typing all day.

Michael Cleveland is IBMA’s most awarded fiddler , and his bluegrass album last year was Grammy-nominated.

Benny Martin (1928-2001) was a Grand Ole Opry member, and even had his own show. He played with Bill Monroe, Roy Acuff, Don Reno, Flatt & Scruggs, and many more, and opened some shows for Elvis Presley early in his career.

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In unrelated news, I’ll mention that I listened to the early preview of Lindi Ortega’s new album, and it truly exceeded expectations. It’s like a western movie soundtrack for 2018.

Here’s a New York Times interview with Ashley McBryde

Fort Worth Weekly interview with Red Shahan

Cowboys & Indians Magazine interview with Jeff Warren Johnston  (album April 6th)

I saw Django Walker the other day at the grand opening of Wade Bowen’s bar, and Django has a new album . The song “Something ‘Bout A Boat” features his father Jerry Jeff Walker, and the song was previously recorded by Jimmy Buffett, and is included in  the Escape to Margaritaville Broadway musical.

The Tennessee Werewolves have a new album.

 

3/28/18 Ernest Tubb Midnite Jamboree

The second-longest-running radio show is a weekly staple in Nashville, and features free admission and a lot of classic country music. The March 31st show is David Frizzell’s tribute to what would have been his brother Lefty’s 90th Birthday. I saw David perform at CMA Fest last summer. David won ACM and CMA awards for duets with Shelly West, the daughter of recent CMHOF inductee Dottie West.

David is bringing along a couple of guests for this event. He’s producing an album for a young artist named Sarah Patrick , and amazingly enough, a new album from 91-year-old Freddie Hart . Freddie Hart had quite a career, with numerous number one hits and every sort of award. His mega-hit “Easy Lovin” won the CMA Song of the Year in both 1971 and 1972, won a Grammy and ACM award, and even crossed over to pop and adult contemporary, and hit #17 on the Billboard hot 100. I had no idea he was still out there recording music until I stumbled across this today.

Speaking of 1972, check out The Musical Divide’s List of Ten Country Songs From 1972.

3/28/18 Ray Charles and Country Music

The recent Country Music Hall of Fame inductions inspire me to write a little about another artist who made significant contributions to the genre. I’ll share a couple of articles from 2004, the year Ray Charles passed away.

60 Minutes article, “The Genius of Ray Charles” – Willie Nelson: “”Ray Charles did more for country music than any other living human being, because when he did that album, already Ray Charles was, you know, a household word,” said Nelson. “Here’s Ray Charles doing country songs, introducing those songs to millions and millions of people who, otherwise, would have never had a chance to hear them.””

Nashville Skyline: Ray Charles Should Be In Country Music Hall of Fame was written by CMT’s influential editorial director at the time, Chet Flippo.

There has been a resurgence of interest in Ray Charles’ country crossover work in the last few years. Sturgill Simpson’s 2014  title “Metamodern Sounds In Country Music” was a nod to Ray Charles’ tremendously successful 1962 album, “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music.” To put 1962 in its proper context along the country music timeline, and the political atmosphere at the time, here’s a recent article about Charley Pride . “In 1962, back in Montana, Pride had performed backstage for a couple of country artists, Red Foley and Red Sovine, when they visited on tour.”

Ray Charles’ 1984 album “Friendship” included a who’s who of country stars: Hank Williams, Jr, The Oak Ridge Boys, Chet Atkins and George Jones, Janie Fricke, BJ Thomas, Ricky Skaggs (and be sure to check out Ricky’s Ray Charles covers at Berklee College on YouTube) , Mickey Gilley, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, and the great duet “Seven Spanish Angels” with Willie Nelson.

One might recall Dwight Yoakam and Chris Stapleton covering “Seven Spanish Angels” at the 2016 CMA Awards. A review of one of Chris Stapleton’s most recent concerts also mentions the Ray Charles influence: Las Vegas Journal Review March 27,2018 . Since that review mentions Conway Twitty and Ronnie Milsap as country artists of the 1970s-80s who had success fusing R&B and country, it’s worth noting that the two artists had among the most number one hits in country music history .

I’ll close with a link to an article about the 2006-2007 Ray Charles exhibit at the CMHOF: CMHOF Exhibit

 

3/27/18 Country Music Hall of Fame Induction

Congratulations to Ricky Skaggs, Dottie West, and Johnny Gimble !

While all of these inductees are very deserving, the CMHOF should induct more than three members at a time. I understand the desire to preserve exclusivity, but if the goal is to include essential people in country music history, then folks like Jerry Lee Lewis, Ralph Stanley, Crystal Gayle, and Hank Williams, Jr also deserve  to be in.

Anyway, here’s a look at Johnny Gimble , whose fiddle was heard on countless western swing and country recordings. Various members of the Gimble family keep the tradition going: The Gimbles . Johnny Gimble “played on such classic recordings as George Strait’s “What’s Going on in Your World,” Merle Haggard’s “Ramblin’ Fever,” and Dolly Parton’s Jolene LP.”

Dottie West was the first woman to win a Grammy award in country music . Here’s an old interview with Dottie West, in which she mentions helping Larry Gatlin and Steve Wariner early in their careers.

Ricky Skaggs has been a star since childhood, sharing the stage with the original bluegrass legends. Ricky has 15 Grammy awards – country, bluegrass, children’s, and religious music. He was  invited to join the Grand Ole Opry in 1982 – the youngest performer to receive the honor at the time. Ricky’s most recent Grammy awards were from producing a gospel album by Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum, and he discussed that project in a January interview with Eat, Play, Rock: Ricky Skaggs Talks Hillary Scott, Chris Stapleton, Tommy Emmanuel & Mel Tillis.

 

3/27/18 Five Podcasts

Cocaine and Rhinestones covers the history of country music in the 20th century

Children of Song : “unique podcast that explores what it must have been like to grow up surrounded by music.”

Coffee, Country, and Cody is Bill Cody’s show on the legendary country station WSM.

The BBC country programmes

W.B. Walker has five years worth of episodes

In other news, I see that “early listens” are available for Lindi Ortega’s album and Kacey Musgraves’ album. Hopefully, I can get to those soon. I saw Lindi at Americanafest from about ten feet away, and she was very good. Here’s a Cowboys & Indians Magazine Interview With Ricky Cook about his debut album, “Thanks A Lot, Loretta,” which is due April 2nd.

I found new bluegrass albums from Ida Clare and Backline , and a new rockabilly album from Colton Turner

I’ll close with a bit of unusual trivia that has nothing to do with music. The Staten Island Stapletons were a short-lived NFL team that beat the New York Giants.

 

3/26/18 HalleyAnna and Friends

Kent Black’s BBQ hosts free music at least three days a week. Emily Herring was originally scheduled for this past Saturday, but was under the weather and had to cancel. KNBT-Americana radio has been playing Emily’s song Best Thing I’ve Seen Yet in regular rotation recently.

HalleyAnna Finlay and her friends stepped in to fill the Saturday evening time at Kent Black’s. I had seen HalleyAnna and Dustin Welch perform at Mike Ethan Messick‘s Toys for Tots benefit concert at Cheatham Street Warehouse in December, and before that, I remembered hearing HalleyAnna sing one of her father’s songs on the 2016 album Dreamer: A Tribute to Kent Finlay . Kent Finlay owned Cheatham Street, and he’s one of the people featured in the Country Music Hall of Fame exhibit “Outlaws and Armadillos” opening in May. Sterling Finlay came along with his sister HalleyAnna at Kent Black’s, and he sang on a new bonus track for the “Dreamer” project around the start of the year: I Never Will Get Over You And here is Sterling singing with sister  Jenni Finlay: Jenni Finlay & Sterling Finlay sing “Silver Wings” Jenni Finlay represents many of the top Americana artists in the Austin area Jenni Finlay Promotions . I’ve attended her SXSW showcases at Threadgill’s the last two years.

HalleyAnna‘s most recent album was her self-titled effort in 2013. I bought this album at the show a couple days ago, and I’ve really enjoyed listening to it since. This album was produced by Australian country great Bill Chambers , who along with Sterling Finlay and others played instruments on the album. I saw  Bill Chambers at Gruene Hall last year with young Australian artist Arna Georgia, and I saw Bill’s daughter Kasey Chambers at Americanafest in Nashville.

Dustin Welch played guitar, dobro, and banjo during the Kent Black’s set, and he and his father Kevin Welch have albums on the way in 2018. One might recall Kevin Welch from the song “Millionaire,” most recently covered by Chris Stapleton. Dustin founded the charity Soldier Songs and Voices , which “provides veterans and their families with free instruments and songwriting workshops as a form of post-conflict care.”

Chris Lancaster also played a set during HalleyAnna’s show at Kent Black’s. He’s a regular at Cheatham Street songwriter events, and he released an album “South of Weird” in January.

3/26/18 CMA Fest News

Last year was my first to attend CMA Fest, and I had a great time. The “Forever Country” stage was the only time I ever saw Daryle Singletary perform, and I saw lots of classic country and bluegrass acts at Fan Fair X, including interview sessions with Charley Pride and Ricky Skaggs. The CMA is rather heavy on “pop country,” as the fans of that “music” show up in droves to support what they like, but there are also stages for older and/or more traditional artists. The “Forever Country” stage has classic country from pillar to post every day, and it’s free. Last year there were also classic acts all day every day at the Durango Stage at Fan Fair- country, western, bluegrass, and songwriters.

Lineups have been announced for the four largest stages of the eleven official stages .  The stadium shows are the only ones that require expensive tickets, but most of the rest is free.

I mentioned Charley Pride and Ricky Skaggs at the Fan Fair stage last year. This year, both legends are on the stadium roster. Ricky Skaggs: “It sounds to me like they want some old school country music,” he further added. “I’m really excited about that, but surely I can find a way to play some of that fiery bluegrass too.”

At the stadium last year, a few acts were thrown in long after the main sets were announced. Dustin Lynch, Old Dominion, and Brett Young trotted out there for ten minutes apiece, and this year, they have full slots. Lauren Alaina showed up for one song with Cole Swindell. This year, she has a stadium show. Carly Pearce was the first act I saw when I got to Nashville last year, at a small stage outside the Bridgestone Arena. This year, she’s in the stadium. I saw Runaway June the same afternoon, and this year, they’re on the “Breakout Stage.” No matter where you stand on the music created by any of these people, a look at which ones are booked at what level should provide some insight into which ones really have a push behind them.