Traditional country sound still being hailed in Music City USA!
NASHVILLE — Questions abound about what’s happened to the classic country sound today? Well, it’s alive and well as we rediscovered during the Reunion Of Professional Entertainers’ annual ROPE Fan Fare Luncheon, June 6, right inside the historic Nashville Palace.
In attendance were Country Music Hall of Famers’ Bill Anderson, Charlie McCoy, Charley Pride and Mac Wiseman, mixing it up with fellow traditionalists Razzy Bailey, Tommy Cash, Dallas Frazier, Dickey Lee, Bobby G. Rice, Casey Anderson, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Jr., Margie Singleton, Rex Allen, Jr., Tim Atwood, Roni Stoneman, Little David Wilkins, and Ron and Leona Williams, to the delight of a full house.
ROPE’s Leslie Elliott cracked the whip, making sure the on-stage stalwarts delivered all the stylistic beats rarely heard on today’s country radio, and right on schedule. Aiding and abetting all this were WSM’s Marcia Campbell and RFD-TV’s Keith Bilbrey, co-hosts for a bash that unofficially kicks off the CMA Music Fest, formerly Fan Fair.
First up came Dickey Lee, whose first gift to the genre was writing “She Thinks I Still Care,” a #1 first for George Jones, but later covered by everybody from Elvis to Faron Young, Conway Twitty, Anne Murray, Marty Robbins, Connie Francis, Merle Haggard and Glen Campbell. Nothing like hearing it by the guy who wrote it, who despite his 81 years, still exhibits strong chops.
The Memphis native’s opener, however, was his 1971 country Top 10 cover “Never Ending Song of Love” by Delaney & Bonnie Bramlett, whose best showing was an Easy Listening Top 10 that same year. Lee introduced his reprise of Johnnie & Jack’s upbeat “Ashes of Love” as his second country success in 1972. Yet another Lee co-write was also performed – “The Door Is Always Open” – which became a #1 for Dave & Sugar (1976) and later covered by such singers as Waylon Jennings and Lois Johnson. And where was Dickey’s own chart-toppin’ “Rocky,” which seemingly should be a must in any Lee set?
Wrapping up his too-short segment, Lee dedicated his Top Five, “9,999,999 Tears (To Go),” to “somebody special” in the audience, pointing out it was penned by Razzy Bailey. This was Dickey’s only recording to chart both country and pop; however, in the early 1960s he became a pop teen idol, thanks to sad songs such as “Patches,” “I Saw Linda Yesterday” and “Laurie (Strange Things Happen).” Lee’s greatest accolade, however, was being inducted in 1995 into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Next up, laid-back, long-limbed second-generation singer Ron Williams strutted his stuff, indicative of a new traditionalist. He even added praise for the late George Jones, performing “Just Playing Possum.” Then slowing it down, came a hurtin’ song “You Don’t Have Very Far To Go,” oh yeah,“If you’re trying to break my heart/You don’t have very far to go.” Recalled the last time we covered a Ron gig, loving his energetic set, but decried a vocal similarity to former step-dad Merle Haggard. Happy to report, he’s now back to being an original.
As Leona Williams sauntered on stage, Ron quickly lowered the mic to accommodate his petite mom, who may be short on stature, but still a tall talent. She and Ron delivered a duet “Somewhere Between (Your Heart and Mine),” a haunting ballad penned by Haggard.
The lady has paid her dues, including early on singing harmony and playing standup bass behind Loretta Lynn, along with then drummer-husband Ron Williams, Sr. After that, she joined Merle Haggard’s Strangers’ troupe, touring and eventually marrying the bossman, for whom she supplied sterling songs and delicious harmony, including #1’s “You Take Me For Granted,” “Someday When Things Are Good,” both of which she dusted off here, but today not their Top 10 duet co-write, “The Bull & The Beaver.”
Leona launched her set with a solo success, “Yes Ma’am, He Found Me In a Honky Tonk,” always a crowd pleaser. After reprising the #1 ballads, Leona delivered a lively take on the lesser known “Guitar Pickin’ Song,” enticing some excellent lead guitar riffs from bandsman Charlie Vaughan. Others comprising ROPE’s seasoned backing band were Ron Elliott, steel guitar; Larry Barnes, bass; Willie Rainsford, keyboards; and drummer Dina and David Johnson, fiddle.
Probably one of country’s more underrated singer-songwriters, Leona’s a favorite of hardcore country fans, whom she found especially fervent in Ireland and the UK. Notably, Leona and son garnered the only standing ovation from the Palace crowd, following their heartfelt “Somewhere Between.”
Some viewers may not be familiar with the name Dallas Frazier, but no doubt are quite aware of his tuneful contributions to music, among them #1’s “Alley Oop,” “There Goes My Everything,” “Beneath Still Waters” and “So Afraid of Losing You Again.” For ROPE patrons, the casually-garbed gent opened with a song he wrote – Gene Watson’s only #1 “Fourteen Carat Mind” (1982) – revealing Dallas’s own strong vocals. Amazingly, Frazier’s also furnished first-time number ones for Gary Paxton & The Hollywood Argyles (“Alley Oop”), Jack Greene (“There Goes My Everything”), Charley Pride (“All I Have To Offer You Is Me”) and Tanya Tucker (“What’s Your Mama’s Name”).
Frazier himself first recorded some of his greatest songs, including “Alley Oop,” 1957; “Elvira,” 1966; and “Big Mable Murphy,” 1971, which later became successes for Paxton, Oak Ridge Boys and Sue Thompson. He tallied eight Billboard chartings as a vocalist, the best being “Everybody Oughta Sing,” a 1967 Top 20.
More than one of his creations charted pop, including the Oaks’ #1 crossover smash “Elvira,” a pop Top Five, previously covered by Kenny Rogers & The First Edition; then there’s O. C. Smith’s version of “Son Of Hickory Holler’s Tramp,” a Top 40 U.S. entry that hit #2 in the UK, and prompted country covers by Johnny Darrell, #22, 1968, and Johnny Russell, #32, 1976.
Dallas told the audience “There Goes My Everything’s” his biggest copyright, and in addition to Jack Greene’s monster disc, it’s been covered by numerous artists, pop and country, including Engelbert Humperdinck, Elvis Presley, Don Cherry and Ferlin Husky, for whom Frazier originally wrote the number.
“I moved to Nashville in late 1963, after having worked in Bakersfield for Ferlin as a kid. I got this inspiration from a divorce that Ferlin was going through. I wrote ‘There Goes My Everything’ when I was 24. It took about an hour to write,” recalled Frazier, whose publisher mistakenly gave it to unknown Greene, who was drumming and singing with Ernest Tubb’s Texas Troubadours. Like wildfire it took off, and subsequently Greene made two more Frazier tunes hit, “Until My Dreams Come True” #1, and “Back In the Arms Of Love,” Top Five.
Not to be out-done, Charley Pride scored #1 with four Frazier songs: “All I Have To Offer You Is Me,” “So Afraid Of Losing You Again,” “I Can’t Believe That You’ve Stopped Loving Me” and “Then Who Am I?” Connie Smith was another artist who had high numbers with his songs, five at Top 10 or better, including “Ain’t Had No Lovin’,” #2; “Just For What I Am,” #5; and “If It Ain’t Love,” #7.
Now 78, Frazier finished his portion with a number inspired by a street sign in east Nashville, noting, “It’s not the most poetic song, but ‘Elvira’s’ one of my favorites,” rendering it in as stylish a manner as one can muster, with a “oom pa-pa, mow-mow” chorus. Ultimately, Dallas’ numerous chart entries earned him induction into the Nashville Songwriters’ Hall of Fame, class of 1976.
“Boy, I have to follow the likes of Dickey Lee, Leona Williams and Dallas Frazier,” bemoaned harmonica whiz Charlie McCoy, the afternoon’s fitting finale. First off he covered his favorite Kris Kristofferson song, “Help Me Make It Through The Night.” Many recall Charlie McCoy performing regularly on the popular Hee Haw TV show, also acting as the series music director. (That’s Charlie, left, posing with Dickey Lee.)
McCoy’s proud of being a member of Nashville’s fabled A Team of session players, performing his magic on records for a variety of artists, like Ann-Margret, Roy Orbison, Stonewall Jackson, Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Joan Baez, Perry Como and Ringo Starr. His own 1972 instrumental single, “Today I Started Loving You Again,” a spin-off from his Grammy-winning “Real McCoy” album, was a near million seller. The following year, his “Good Time Charlie” LP hit #1, yet another enviable feat.
Charlie even sang at the ROPE show, warning “If the wife and I are fussin’, brother that’s our right/’Cause me and that sweet woman’s got a license to fight . . . If you mind your own business/Then you won’t be minding mine.”
Indeed the Grammy award-winning instrumentalist covered a pair of Hank Williams’ standards, “Mind Your Own Business” and “Cold Cold Heart,” noting his legendary singer-songwriter hero died near McCoy’s home town, Oak Hill, W. Va., in 1953.
Of course, Charlie never met Hank, Sr., as he was only 11 when he passed. But in 2011, produced a Hank Williams tribute album honoring him, “Lonesome Whistle,” even inviting Hank’s daughter Jett aboard to perform on “Your Cheatin’ Heart.”
ROPE’s presentation proved a day of good beer-drinking music, though the strongest concoction available was unsweetened iced tea. But at least we learned there’s still some sounds around that truly fill the bill for traditional fans. Wish y’all could’ve been there! – Review & Photos by Walt Trott