Category Archives: Country legends

Steve Young Remembered, from ‘Montgomery in the Rain’ to ‘Seven Bridges Road’

This week we lost of my all-time favorite country singer-songwriters, Steve Young. The writer of several classic songs made famous by some of the era’s biggest stars, Young was also a superb singer in his own right, and he has a string of excellent solo albums to prove it. On top of that, by many accounts (including my own experience) he was a wonderful man with a humble soul and a strong humanitarian streak. He also possessed lifelong ties to his Southern heritage that added richness and complexity to his songs.

Young died in Nashville, Tenn. on March 17, 2016 at the age of 73. He was in hospice at the time and under the close watch of his son, Jubal Lee Young.

“My father, Steve Young, passed peacefully tonight in Nashville,” Jubal wrote in a Facebook post. “While it is a sad occasion, he was also the last person who could be content to be trapped in a broken mind and body. He was far too independent and adventurous. I celebrate his freedom, as well, and I am grateful for the time we had. A true original.”

“I celebrate his freedom, and I am grateful for the time we had.”

Among Steve Young’s best-known songs is one of the most enduring anthems of the Outlaw era, “Lonesome On’ry And Mean,” a rambling-man song that Waylon Jennings covered in 1973. But that song was neither Young’s first composition nor the last anyone heard of him: his career stretches from the 1960s, when he cut the album Rock Salt & Nails (a record that featured Gram Parsons, Chris Hillman, and Gene Clark), all the way to the present, earning him accolades from critics (who have always loved his work) and his musical peers for his superb singing— a warm, dusty-edged baritone voice that can soar and sway— and guitar picking, which if anything has grown stronger over the years.

During all those years in-between, Young wrote and recorded a healthy number of knockout songs, among them “Seven Bridges Road” (covered by the Eagles and Eddy Arnold, among others), “Montgomery In The Rain,” and “Renegade Picker.” The last of the three is the title track of a 1975 album that showed Young itching with raw talent and standing on the precipice of greatness — something he achieved alone, despite the fact that he remained firmly on the outskirts of the country music mainstream.

Continue reading Steve Young Remembered, from ‘Montgomery in the Rain’ to ‘Seven Bridges Road’

5 Essential Ray Price Songs

On Dec. 16, 2014, country legend Ray Price passed away after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 87 years old, and he left behind a huge catalog of recordings and a musical legacy that is among the most impressive in country music history.

Price was a contemporary (and friend) of Hank Williams, and his early recordings reflect that sharp-edged honky-tonk sound. As the 1950s progressed, though, Price found himself more and more attracted to smoother countrypolitan stylings. You can hear it working its way into songs like “City Lights” and especially on his album Night Life. And it finally comes to full fruition on Price’s 1960s songs such as “Danny Boy” and “For the Good Times” — the latter a Kris Kristofferson composition that Price turned into a signature song.

Price and his band the Cherokee Cowboys developed a dance-friendly rhythm that became known as the ‘Ray Price shuffle.’ The band was an early starting ground, too, for such later legends as Roger Miller, Willie Nelson and Johnny Paycheck.

Price also co-owned Pamper Music, a publishing company that helped boost the careers of Harlan Howard and Hank Cochran, among others.

Price was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996. And he continued performing up until very recently, when his health wouldn’t allow it.

Because it spans so many years and includes so many great songs, Price’s catalog is well worth exploring in depth. Below are five key tracks to help you dive in.

Continue reading 5 Essential Ray Price Songs

Tompall Glaser and Jack Clement: Country Outlaw Heroes

Two major players in country music passed away recently. Two key outlaw artists, and two of my favorite country artists, both of whom were involved in creating some of the finest music to come out of Nashville–or anywhere–in the last several decades.

Last week, we lost “Cowboy” Jack Clement. Recently elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame, Cowboy was someone who wrote songs for Johnny Cash; worked at Sun Studios and helped jumpstart the career of Jerry Lee Lewis; produced records for such artists as Townes Van Zandt, Charley Pride, and Don Williams; and was a key ‘outlaw’ innovator, producing what is arguably Waylon Jennings’ finest album, Dreaming My Dreams.

Continue reading Tompall Glaser and Jack Clement: Country Outlaw Heroes

The Songwriters: Gene Crysler

The other day I posted the album cover for Freddie Hart’s The Neon and the Rain. The title track is credited to Gene Crysler, whom I knew little about.

Doing some digging, though, turns out he wrote some cool and unusual songs. Like this one, “I Didn’t Jump the Fence,” which has been cut by the likes of Red Sovine and Cal Smith:

On the surface it’s an oddball song about a guy who admits to eating the “fruit” from his neighbor’s “tree,” but says he wasn’t “stealing” because it just “fell” into his yard. It’s not hard, of course, to read between the lines of what he’s really talking about.

Another Crysler song was “Don’t Make Me Go To School,” cut by Tammy Wynette.

And I always loved this Crysler song cut by Billie Jo Spears, about a small-town Kansas woman who gets a big-city job as a secretary in New York, but who quickly gets fed up with the old boys’ club.

Spears’ version of the song–the title track from her second album–peaked at No. 4 on the country charts in 1969.

Spears just comes off so damn down-to-earth appealing in this video, the kind of honest country artist we could use more of these days. Sadly, she passed away in 2011.

Vintage Album Covers: Porter Wagoner

Porter produced some fantastic album covers during his heyday, and the image on the front of The Cold Hard Facts of Life is one of the all-time greats.

If you don’t know the song, familiarize yourself with it now — it’s a gem:

The website Atlanta Time Machine did a great story a few years back about finding the original location where the cover was shot.

Continue reading Vintage Album Covers: Porter Wagoner

Billy Strange Has Raised His Hand and Asked to Leave the Room — R.I.P.

“This is the part of the song where Billy Strange raised his hand and asked if he could please leave the room.”
(Lee Hazlewood, from his version of “These Boots Are Made for Walking.”)

Bandleader/arranger/guitarist Billy Strange passed away yesterday (Wed., Feb. 22) at age 81.

While not exactly a household name, in the music world he was a major player. And over the years, on his own and as a member of L.A.’s famed Wrecking Crew, he worked with some of the biggest and best names of mid-20th century pop music, including Elvis Presley, Frank and Nancy Sinatra, Lee Hazlewood, the Beach Boys, Willie Nelson, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr.

Watch a clip of Billy in action.

 

More Billy Strange songs

Maine Music and Dick Curless

I was in Maine last week on a family trip, and while it was great to visit with family, eat great food, and chase the girl (our daughter) around the back deck, it also presented a great excuse to dig out some of my old Dick Curless records. Now when you think of Maine, likely it’s a vision of lobsters, not country music, that jumps out. But if you have a soft spot for old-school blues-based honky-tonk, Curless just might change that perspective. A native of northern Maine, Curless got his start working around Maine, Mass., and New England in the ’50s, then broke out nationally in the ’60s and went on to a respectably successful music career on a variety of labels (Tiffany, Tower, Capitol, Rounder). He even had one bona fide hit with the song “Tombstone Every Mile.”

Read more about Dick Curless

RIP Hank Cochran

We were deeply saddened to learn that Hank Cochran, Nashville recording artist and one of the finest country songwriters of the last half century, passed away this week after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

Cochran was never a household name as a vocalist, though he did record plenty. As a songwriter, however, he was among the finest to ever come through Nashville. And among the most successful, having penned such golden-era classics as “I Fall To Pieces” (Patsy Cline), “Make the World Go Away” (Eddie Arnold), and “Don’t You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me” (Ray Price).

Hank Cochran

One notable song Cochran wrote was Johnny Paycheck’s first big hit, “A-11,” a honky-tonk ballad in which the singer asks a fellow bar patron to avoid a certain jukebox track, or “there’ll be tears.” The success of that song prompted Paycheck to make his own plea for more great material from the master, doing so via his own composition, “Help Me Hank, I’m Falling.”

Continue reading RIP Hank Cochran

Tompall Glaser

Whatever happened the the great Tompall Glaser? Waylon’s onetime best friend during the outlaw heyday, he made some amazing albums, both alone and with his brothers Jim and Chuck. But since the ’80s he seems to have disappeared. Would love to know if he still performs–or writes/records.

You can also watch a performance of the great song “Rings” and a medley of the Glasers performing three country classics.

Note that Jim Glaser keeps a website and still performs; and four of the Glaser Brothers’ nephews (calling themselves The Brothers Glaser) have recorded a tribute album due to be released in the fall of 2009 (three songs are online for streaming).