Cross-over Man

Cross-over. It was a buzz term in music marketing, back in the 80s. Like many things from that decade it was applied cynically. Industry executives were worried that Micheal Jackson would not make them quite enough money because, well, he was black, n’ all.  So they hired Eddie van Halen, with impeccable redneck street-cred, to play the guitar solo on “Beat It”. This would ensure radio airplay in the Southern states, you see.

Just one of many examples of such cold calculation, which brought the whole idea of cross-over into disrepute. This is a shame, because, at core, music which crosses over between cultures, or even sub-cultures, is surely a good thing. Elvis. Dylan. The Beatles. The Rolling Stones. All cross-over in one way or another. It means reaching out, breaking down barriers of prejudice.

“Prejudice”: literally, to pre-judge, decide without a fair hearing. Which is to say, without just listening.

Jim_Reeves

Jim Reeves. Image: WikiMedia

Which brings us to Jimmy Reeves. “Gentleman Jim”, they called him. Starting out as a shrill hillbilly country singer, Reeves changed his singing style, brought in elements of pop, elements of swing jazz, and became something of a crooner – but still country, and in many ways much more than that.

Born in 1923, Reeves served a long apprenticeship working the country music circuit. He performed on the great radio shows of the 1950s, Louisiana Hayride and the Grand Ole Opry, and was already established in country before he broke through to the pop charts in 1957, with the hit “Four Walls”.

And did he cross-over, or what? It is one thing to record in Nashville and make the US pop charts. It is quite another to become a revered, genuinely loved artist across nations and cultures, most of which have never seen a Stetson hat outside of a movie theatre. And that is what Reeves did.

Reeves was listened to and loved – and is still remembered fondly if fan websites are anything to judge by – in the UK, in Norway, in the Netherlands, in South Africa (he was so big there that he recorded songs in Afrikaans), in India, in Sri Lanka, and in a whole host of other places you would not expect. Reeves died tragically young, killed in an air crash in 1964, but his music lived on.

The secret of  Reeve’s appeal? Part was his pure, smooth vocal style. Part was his ability to give emotional conviction to the (let’s face it) sentimental lyrics which are country music’s core. He was a Christian, too, and he expressed his faith in his music without being bombastic or preachy.

This track “Suppertime” is the B-side to a 1965 single. It is sentimental to the extent it needs a heart-health warning, but Reeves carries it off. He was already dead when the record was released, which makes the message all the more poignant: there is a loving God, at whose table all of us are welcome. Just listen.

  • Artist: Jim Reeves
  • A Side: How Long Has It Been
  • B Side: Suppertime
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl, mono
  • Label: RCA
  • Made in: UK
  • Catalogue: RCA-1445
  • Year: 1965

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When only bluegrass banjo will do

There are times when the news, both at home and abroad, is so bleak, stupid and depressing that you need an escape.

At such times, in my personal opinion, only hot-fingered bluegrass banjo will do. Hit it!

Whoops, wrong speed. (Notice how it sounds strangely like traditional Chinese music?)

Arthur Smith, who we are about to hear at 45 rpm, was Nashville royalty. Born in 1921, son of a North Carolina cotton-mill hand and a factory boy himself until music set him free, Smith absorbed jazz and combined it with American country and sheer instrumental virtuosity.

arthur_smith

Arthur Smith. Image: From The Vaults

His biggest hit came in the late 1940s, “Guitar Boogie”, which became his nickname ever after. (There were other Arthur Smiths out there, you see, including a contemporary country musician, Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith.)

Any-hoo. In 1974, Arthur “Boogie Guitar” Smith turned his attention to the five-string banjo, and released this track, “Just Joshin’”.

At a time when you are reading about Trump’s border wall, Brexit and the exposure of sexual predators – everywhere from disgusting men in positions of power and influence, to other disgusting men in positions of power and influence – brothers and sisters, we need hot-fingered bluegrass banjo.

So, speed corrected – let’s try that again.

  • Artist: Arthur Smith
  • A Side: Just Joshin’
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl, stereo
  • Label: Monument
  • Made in: unknown (United  States?)
  • Catalogue: K 5509
  • Year: 1974

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

Up-tempo Dutch cowboy swing

Here on Plant Vinyl, we love weird. The strange and the unexpected, the bizarre find at the bottom of the crate of LPs. And De Chico’s – a Dutch trio formed in 1947 – well, they raise weird to new heights.

The Dutch-language Wikipedia page describes De Chico’s “een hillbilly-trio uit Amsterdam”. Which sounds dreadful. Cowboy pastiche, wearing clogs.

de chicos

De Chico’s. Image: Discogs

And yes, there is a bit of that. Harmless hollerin’ fun like this:

But here’s the thing. Yes, it is tacky, but behind the rootin’ tootin’ farce, isn’t the music, well, good? Something like the Andrews Sisters. Only singing cowboy songs. In Dutch.

They had an early hit with “Koel Helder Water”, which is, yes, a Dutch language version of the Hank Williams’ classic, “Cool Water”.

Better, I reckon, is ‘Domme Cowboy, Wat Heb Je Gedaan’ (roughly idiot cowboy, what have you done?). If you have to label the genre, this is up-tempo Dutch cowboy swing. Yep, weird. But it’s great. Just listen!

  • Artist: De Chico’s
  • Album: Koel Helder Water (compilation)
  • Tracks: A1 Koel Helder Water (Cool Water), A3 Domme Cowboy, Wat Heb Je Gedaan
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl
  • Label: MFP
  • Made in: Netherlands
  • Catalogue: MFP 5089
  • Year: 1970

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

First Australian country singer on the Moon

Reg Lindsay was one of the giants of Australian country music. Unlike a great many country singers, in his day, he was a real stockman (which is what we call a cowboy, in these here parts). He only thought about a musical career after being injured while riding a bull at a rodeo. While convalescing, he spent a lot of time listening to country music on the radio, and was inspired to enter a talent contest. Some successful recordings won him a radio show, and later a television program, and in the 1950s and 1960s he became the face of country in Australia.

Reg_Lindsay

Image: Curly Fraser (State Library of New South Wales), via Wikimedia Commons

In my country, “country” means, first and foremost, Slim Dusty. Reg Lindsay was his contemporary, semi-rival, and brother-in-law (their wives were sisters). Reg was, no getting around it, by far the better singer of the two. Yet Slim’s Aussie twang and his songs of the outback are remembered and loved, while Reg’s smoother baritone is increasingly forgotten.

This should not diminish Reg Lindsay’s achievement. His best-known song was “Armstrong”, about the Lunar landings. Not the most obvious theme for a country singer, but appropriate in a way. Reg Lindsay was the first Australian artist to perform at the Grand Ol’ Oprey, in 1968, and is now honoured with a plaque on Nashville’s “Walkway of Stars”. Such recognition, to a stockman listening to country radio while recovering from a rodeo accident, would have been unimaginable.

Lindsay was a pioneer, first Australian country singer on the Moon.

Here he is on a much more down-home, ordinary-life, country-music-staple theme. Hello blues!

  • Artist: Reg Lindsay
  • Album: Country Music Comes To Town
  • Track: A1 “Hello Blues”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl
  • Label: EMI
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: OEX-9647
  • Year: Unknown (mid-1960s?)

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

 

 

Never shoot first

Gene Autry was the first great singing cowboy of American popular culture. Not a type of performer you see much anymore. We still have western movies, but they tend to be grim and bloody, and there is not much time for singing around the campfire, faithful horse in the background, between two cardboard boulders.

It all seems tacky now, the world of the B-movie western, but hugely popular in its day, and Autry was a colossus of that world. Born in 1907, Autry became a star of radio, the large and small screens, and one of the most successful recording artists ever. He wrote or co-wrote hundreds of songs. (His biggest success? “Here Comes Santa Claus”.) He made 640 recordings, and sold over 100 million copies of his records. The man was, in consequence, worth a mint. He owned a TV station, a baseball team, a film studio – the works.

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Gene Autry with singing group The Pinafores, 1948. Image: CBS Radio, Public Domain, via Wikimedia

Autry’s persona was that of the straight shooter, the cowboy as patriot and embodiment of what was good and fine in American manhood. This can grate on a modern audience. For the guidance of the boys and young men who idolised him, Autry created the ten-point Cowboy Code, which begins: The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.

Just what a Boy Scout needs to know. Mind, there are some cops out there who could learn a thing or two from the Cowboy Code …

More important, the music was good. Autry’s mellow voice and easy guitar style stand up well. This is his take on “Buttons and Bows”, which was a hit for him in 1947.

  • Artist: Gene Autry
  • A side: Buttons And Bows
  • B side: Blue Shadows On The Trail
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac, mono
  • Label: Regal Zonophone
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: G25274
  • Year: 1948

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

 

 

Young Turk

Torok is an unusual name for an American country artist of the 1950s. Country is usually the domain of the Anglo name: Nelson, Cash, Jennings, Parton. Even those not born with one used to put a suitable name on with the cowboy hat. Baldemar Garza Huerta did better as “Freddy Fender”.

Torok means “Turk” in the Hungarian language, and it was a surname given to people whose forebears had migrated there from Turkey in the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. That empire was destroyed in the First World War, and in the wake of that defeat a Hungarian couple, Niklos and Irene Torok, migrated again, to the United States.

3331There, in Houston, they had a son in 1929. Mitchell Torok grew up listening to the music around him, took up guitar at age twelve, and by his 20s became small-big in country music. He appeared on the major country radio programs, and wrote song for many of the stars of the day, particularly Jim Reeves.

His biggest hit came in 1953 with “Caribbean”, a light-hearted stomper with a vaguely Hawaiian sound celebrating the beauty of ladies in Cuba and Haiti. It’s a fun song but I prefer the B side. One of Torok’s idols was the great Hank Williams (who died before his time earlier that year), and there is more than a hint of Hank in “Weep Away”.

Whoever bought this record loved this song – it has been played many, many times, and the shellac is battered and worn. Even through the rumble and scratch, this is a heartfelt performance.

  • Artist: Mitchell Torok
  • A side: Caribbean
  • B side: Weep Away
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac, mono
  • Label: London
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: HL-1011
  • Year: 1954

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

 

Coal miner’s daughter

Like any self-respecting country singer, Loretta Lynn was born into poverty in a colourfully named Kentucky hamlet – Butchers Hollow, in this case. The daughter of a coal miner, she was married at 13, though happily not to Jerry Lee Lewis. She does not quite complete the c.v., not having been to jail, but this is serious country cred.

Loretta_Lynn-Love_Is_the_Foundation

Image: Wikipedia

Though I knew the name and some of the hits, I had not realised how big a star Lynn was. Through the sixties and seventies she was a giant of country who also made the pop charts: “crossover” is the annoying term the marketers use. More to the point, she could really sing. She had that ability to sing sometimes maudlin material and carry it with sheer conviction. Given a half-decent song …

She also had a feisty, no-nonsense assertion on behalf of women: brave stuff in its day. Still needed, actually, judging by the news from Hollywood.

Here is one of her gutsy-sentimental songs, from the 1973 LP, Love is the Foundation, a declaration that this Southern Belle ain’t no doormat.

  • Artist: Loretta Lynn
  • Album: Love is the Foundation
  • Track: A4 “Just To Satisfy (The Weakness In A Man)”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl, stereo
  • Label: MCA
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: MAPS 7001
  • Year: 1973

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs