The Cumberland Post

The Cumberland Post
My Backyard, Six Miles from the Cumberland River

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Blame Andy!

My last post "Listen to Jeff" prompted a great comment by Andy at Andy's Place. I had mentioned a couple of songs by country singer Johnny Horton and posted youvubes of them (BTW, intended misspelling of youvubes, ain't I the wit). Turns out Andy had some direct connection to Horton and to several other famous country musicians. Read his comment; it's fascinating. Also, check out his blog, it's a wild and crazy place.

Oh yeah. Andy (and anyone else who's reading this) if and when you comment, feel free to ramble on. Take two or three or four comments anytime you want. I think that many times the comments on blogs are as interesting and at times more interesting to read than the original post itself.

So, my response to Andy's comment turned into this post. Yeah, yeah. I know, it's a cheap way to get a post. But I'm cheap. Like those naked red hot chicks over at Born Again Redneck. Cheap. Cheap. Love those Chiks Pat. I'll come back to Pat at the end of this post. Now, for my response to Andy...

By the time I was six (in 1946), I would turn on our old Zenith table model radio and listen mainly to Nashville's WSM. WSM had a varied format but since they had the Opry, they played a lot of country music. So it's been a part of my life and I couldn't abandon it even if I tried (which I did when I was a cool rock and roll seventeen with turned up collar and peg pants and thought I knew everything).

Andy, I lived in that part of East Nashville called Inglewood growing up. On Gallatin road, a block or two past my alma mater Litton High, right at what we recognized as the end of Inglewood and just before the burb of Madison began was a huge white frame home. None of us could have anticipated then that the big white house was destined to become the Jim Reeves Museum. Reeves was a great singer and after a few early career years of flashy sequins, decided to take the Eddy Arnold, simple dark suit, black tie approach. It worked. It opened the crossover door for him and he became "Gentleman Jim."

Even though I was affecting a rock and roll kind of cool at the time, I really liked Reeves, especially "Four Walls" and "Am I Losing You," both CM classics IMHO. I still enjoy listening to those songs today, but I distinctly remember riding around one spring night in my friend's powder blue 54 Bel Air convertible (a mushy six made even mushier with Powerglide) and listening to "Four Walls" when it first came out. The warm wind, the city smells, the blue vinyl seats, and the chrome covered car radio doing its tuby best to recreate Reeves' pure, mellow voice.

I chose the non video youvube for this because it captures his velvet voice (velvet before Vern Gosdin) the way I remember it. Listen to it a few times and see if you can resist trying to hit those low notes at the end with him..."Closing in on me." The writers are George Campbell and Marvin Moore.

 As for David Houston, his classic "Almost Persuaded," was a really great song, another CM classic in my opinion. It was a favorite of mine (and my wife too) when I was back in graduate school for a second time in the mid sixties. She's a Methodist PK and I was a softshell (nyuk) Baptist at the time (I later backslid and became a 7th Day Agnostic) and we liked the hymn allusion in the title, the hymnlike melody, and the values of (1) having enough pride in oneself to resist the hormonal pull and (2) possessing a fully functioning conscience (God, wouldn't that word seem out of place in a modern pop, rock, metal, or rap song), a conscience that somehow still works in a bar with a sexy woman hitting on you. I think a lot of the really good country songs have that kind of Christian hymn "echo" or subtext in them.

In the sixties and before, country performers always included what they called a "sacred number" in their act. So, besides the fusion of original melodies and words and hymns in many of their songs, they had some mainline, old time Christian stuff in their show as well.

Here's a youvube of "Almost Persuaded," vocal by David Houston, words and music by Billy Sherrill and Glenn Sutton...

Andy, thanks again for getting me started on this. I'm not sure how you feel about country music now as an adult, but if you've backslid and prefer The Captain and Tennile, or the BeeGees, or anything but CM's whining trailer park anthems these days, what follows is for you too.

On several occasionsm Pat (Born Again Redneck), has indicated his distaste for country music. I understand that and respect it. But Pat, I'll confess up front, that one of the secondary goals of this blog is to persuade you to at least check out a few classic country tunes so as to improve your Redneck and conservative bonafides. If I don't drive you off, my plan is to offer several posts that provide insight into the metaphysical tension between being and nothingness explored in many classic country songs. Not to mention the correlation between people who listen to country singers with especially whiny voices and high suicide rates. Okay. That's not going to work.

What I really hope to do is point out the fact that country songs are almost totally lyric dependent (there are a few instrumental exceptions but they prove the rule). As a person who values the importance of language, that's important to me. Country songs rise or fall based on their ability to use words to evoke feelings, descriptions, etc. It's why country songwriters are revered by the singers (and knowledgeable fans) almost as much as all fans revere the singers.

I also plan to comment on the importance of purity and simplicity in the esthetics of producing country music that is worthy of its name. (Note: simplicity does not necessarily apply to the subgenre of CM known as bluegrass, although purity does.)

I also plan to suggest a discriminatory (remember when that was a good word?) approach. Someone, a science fiction writer I believe, once said, 99% of anything is crap. He probably exaggerated but his point is well taken. Dare I say it: most classical music that has been composed is crap. This one's easier to say: most popular music of any kind is 99% crap. And, country music is a kind of popular music. Ergo, 99% of it is crap. But the very best, the cream songs that rise to the top, are not. Listen to those and ignore the others. So Pat, I challenge you to listen to the two samples in this post. Tell me honestly what you think and we'll go from there.

By the way, this may take a little time. I'm definitely a (H/T Pat) Slow Blogger.


  1. Dan, great post! If memory serves me, Patrick really liked Jim Reeves when he was a youngster...but he'll either have to confirm, or deny that.

    Not just because we are kin, but I believe that Jim Reeves had one of the two or three purest singing voices ever. In the country genre', I'd say that Ray Price was close.

    David's best works were not really the songs that "sold," IMHO. Later on in his career, he lost some of the twang, and went back to more of his natural voice. He was a good guy...odd in many ways...but a heart of gold.

    Ya' know, David hung with all the bad boys...Johnny Cash types in those days. But, he never drank alcohol. Never smoked. David just ate himself to death. In his 40's & 50's, he was still touring (mostly the Catskills & Southern Canada where he remained popular).

    Every time I would see him, he was bigger (fatter). Living on the road, and that "up all night" lifestyle really took a toll on him. He died when he was about 60...maybe in his late 50s.

    You hit the nail on the head with how lyric-dependent country music is. IMHO, 99% of all lyrically interesting music is written in Nashville. Country songwriters are an extremely creative bunch...especially compared to their pop music counterparts. They always have been.

    Yes, I did backslide during the disco days. I actually don't listen to much country music now. But, I don't listen to much music, period. Some of the young artists are excellent. But, as you say, the hook is in the lyrics.

    Thank you for the links, sir. They are truly appreciated.

  2. Oh Dan, I've done a few posts about my remembrances as a kid. If you're interested...

    There is a very rare video here:

  3. Dan (and Andy) I loved Jim Reeves and most old time country singers. But there are very few modern ones that I like. The same thing seems to have happened to country as pop: the "singers" are flat and they seem to only know three notes and they whine.