Elvis is the King, but Roy Acuff is the King of Country Music.
The stories of how performers got started invariably are interesting. Here is the beginning of the profile of Roy Acuff at CMT:
Roy Acuff was called the King of Country Music, and for more than 60 years he lived up to that title. If any performer embodied country music, it was Roy Acuff. Throughout his career, Acuff was a champion for traditional country values, enforcing his beliefs as a performer, a music publisher, and as the Grand Master of the Grand Ole Opry. Acuff was the first country music superstar after the death of Jimmie Rodgers, pioneering an influential vocal style that complemented the spare, simple songs he was performing. Generations of artists, from Hank Williams to George Jones, have been influenced by Acuff, and countless others have paid respect to him. At the time of his death in 1992, he was still actively involved in the Grand Ole Opry, and was as popular as ever.,
Originally, Acuff didn’t plan to be a singer. Born in the small town of Maynardville, TN, in 1903, Acuff sang in the church choir as a schoolboy, but he was more interested in sports, particularly baseball. Not only was he attracted to the sport, he had a wild streak — after his family moved to Knoxville, he was frequently arrested for fighting. Acuff continued to concentrate on playing ball, eventually becoming strong enough to earn a tryout for the major leagues. However, that tryout never took place. Before he had a chance to play, he was struck by a severe sunstroke while he was on a fishing trip; after the sunstroke, Acuff suffered a nervous breakdown. While he was recovering, he decided that a career in baseball was no longer possible, so he decided to become an entertainer. He began to learn the fiddle and became an apprentice of Doc Hauer, a local medicine show man. (Continue Reading…)
Above is Acuff’s biggest hit, The Wabash Cannonball. Below is Back in the Country. There is surprisingly little good video of Acuff.
Here is the first paragraph of the Associated Press story on the passing of Cowboy Jack Clement:
“Cowboy” Jack Clement, a producer, engineer, songwriter and beloved figure who helped birth rock ‘n’ roll and push country music into modern times, died Thursday morning at his home. He was 82. (Continue Reading…)
This is a long excerpt from Wikipedia’s entry on Merle Haggard, but it is very interesting. It seems that a small percentage of the many kids who start down the wrong track are saved by the fact that they have talent. Others, it seems, aren’t so fortunate:
Around the onset of adolescence, Haggard began committing petty crimes and truancy. Due to shoplifting in 1950 (aged thirteen), Merle was sent to a juvenile detention center. In 1951, aged 14, Haggard ran away to Texas with a friend, but returned that same year and was arrested for truancy and petty larceny. Again escaping the juvenile detention center, he went to Modesto, California. He worked odd jobs—legal and not—and began performing in a bar. Once he was found again, he was sent to the Preston School of Industry, a high-security installation. He was released fifteen months later, but was sent back after beating a local boy during a burglary attempt. After his fourth release, Haggard saw Lefty Frizzell in concert with his friend, Bob Teague. After hearing Haggard sing along to his first two songs Frizzell allowed Haggard to sing at the concert. The audience enjoyed Haggard and he began working on a full-time music career. After he had earned a local reputation, Haggard’s money problems caught up with him. He was arrested for attempting to rob a Bakersfield tavern in 1957 and was sent to the San Quentin state prison for three years.
While in prison, Haggard ran a gambling and brewing racket from his cell. During a time of solitary confinement, he encountered an alcoholic mathematician and death row inmate, Drunk Adam. Haggard had the opportunity to escape with a fellow inmate (nicknamed “Rabbit”) but passed. The inmate successfully escaped, only to shoot a police officer and return to San Quentin for execution. Drunk Adam’s predicament along with that of “Rabbit” inspired Haggard to turn his life around. Haggard soon earned a high-school equivalence diploma and kept a steady job in the prison’s textile plant. Haggard cited a 1958 performance by Johnny Cash as his inspiration to join the prison’s band. Upon his release in 1960, Haggard said it took about four months to get used to being out of the penitentiary and that, at times, he actually wanted to go back in. He said it was the loneliest he had ever felt. (Continue Reading…)
Okie from Muskogee, perhaps Haggard’s best known song, seems archaic now. But it was a cornerstone of the culture wars at a time when the nation seem even more polarized than today.
I usually shy away from posting on bands or performers for whom I can’t find video. After all, seeing the acts is as much fun and illuminating as hearing them. But in the case of the Alton and Rabon Delmore — The Delmore Brothers — the absence of video is unfortunate but not a reason to skip them. They are extremely important, though not as well remembered as some other early country bands. They also are terrific.
CMT puts it well:
The Delmore Brothers are not nearly as well-known as such early country giants as the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, Bob Wills, and Hank Williams. The reasons for this, upon close inspection of their work, are not readily apparent. They were one of the greatest early country harmonizers, drawing from both gospel and Appalachian folk. They were skilled songwriters, penning literally hundreds of songs, many of which have proven to be durable. Most important, they were among the few early traditional country acts to change with the times, and pioneer some of those changes. Their recordings from the latter half of the 1940s married traditional country to boogie beats and bluesy riffs. In this respect they laid a foundation for rockabilly and early rock & roll, and rate among the most important white progenitors of those forms. (Continue Reading…)
There is a very good essay at the YouTube page of the song above, I’ve Got the Deep River Blues. It was written written by a gentleman named Wilson McPhert. Read it by expanding the “show more” button. Here is how it starts:
I am a big fan of Doc Watson’s performance of ‘Deep River Blues’. In finding out about it’s origins, I came across the Delmore Brothers, who did a version in 1933 entitled ‘I’ve Got the Big River Blues’. I really like their close harmony singing and their straightforward approach to music, which morphed from rootsy country ballads to later up tempo tunes which were clearly influential on the development of rock and roll. (Continue Reading…)
Brown’s Ferry Blues, which I believe is an early number, is below.
Bill Monroe (1911-1996) is known as the Father of Bluegrass Music. His very nice site offers a tremendous amount of information. Here is the beginning of a piece that creates a nice bit of context around this important figure in American music:
Country music has been examined by many authors, both in print and on the Internet, trying to explain it in intellectual terms – often with bewildering confusion. And the part of country music that has been analyzed the most is bluegrass. This is surprising since it is its pure simplicity, accompanied by outstanding musicians, which has attracted such a large audience to bluegrass. Bill Monroe, the Father of Bluegrass Music, explained it this way: “To me bluegrass is really THE country music. It was meant for country people.” Therefore, it is surprising that bluegrass gained strong support in urban areas at a time when the trend was to popularize country music. It took a proud, stubborn man like Bill Monroe to resist the pop tide and make bluegrass what it is today. Continue Reading…
Here is more a bio at AllMusic, written by Steven Thomas Erlewine:
Bill Monroe is the father of bluegrass. He invented the style, invented the name, and for the great majority of the 20th century, embodied the art form. Beginning with his Blue Grass Boys in the ’40s,Monroe defined a hard-edged style of country that emphasized instrumental virtuosity, close vocal harmonies, and a fast, driving tempo. The musical genre took its name from the Blue Grass Boys, andMonroe‘s music forever has defined the sound of classical bluegrass — a five-piece acoustic string band, playing precisely and rapidly, switching solos and singing in a plaintive, high lonesome voice. Not only did he invent the very sound of the music, Monroe was the mentor for several generations of musicians. Over the years, Monroe‘s band hosted all of the major bluegrass artists of the ’50s and ’60s, including Flatt & Scruggs, Reno & Smiley, Vassar Clements, Carter Stanley, and Mac Wiseman. Though the lineup of the Blue Grass Boys changed over the years, Monroe always remained devoted to bluegrass in its purest form. Continue Reading…
There is an old joke about a musician who dies and goes to heaven. He sees a man sitting on a cloud playing mandolin and remarks to Saint Peter that it’s nice to see Bill Monroe again. “Actually, that’s God,” Saint Peter says. “Every once in a while he likes to make believe he’s Bill Monroe.”
The site has a news item today noting that George Jones is winding it down. But a long wind down it will be: He is embarking on a year-long goodbye tour and will continue recording.
The old guard is moving on. And it’s too bad: You won’t find lyrics like those of White Lightening in modern country music. It’s hard not to like verses such as this one, as posted at Cowboy Lyrics:
Well the “G” men, “T” men, revenuers, too Searchin’ for the place where he made his brew They were looking, tryin to book him, But my pappy kept a-cookin’ Whshhhoooh . . . white lightnin’
They should work the song into an episode of Breaking Bad. Another interesting thing about this clip is that that guitar solo is solid rockabilly, not country.Not only is it funny, but it speaks of a time that is long gone. In many ways that’s for the better, but it is a bit sad at the same time.
Country star George Jones has started a year-long goodbye tour, according to Reuters. The tour started this month and is scheduled to conclude in November, 2013.
From Jones’ site:
The Grand Tour will visit approximately 60 cities in 2013. The star will perform many of his hits such as “White Lightning,” “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes” and “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair”.
Jones cancelled some concerts during the spring due to a respiratory infection. That led to concerns about his health which, fortunately, were unfounded.