Country Music History – Essential Releases of 1975, Part I
Jerry Lee snorts, Aunt Bee dances, and Willie Nelson becomes a star.
1. “Amarillo Highway,” Bobby Bare. Bobby Bare plunged into the Texas singer/songwriter scene with his 1975 album “Cowboys and Daddys,” which included material from Ray Wylie Hubbard, Dave Hickey, and Terry Allen. Lubbock native Allen penned “Amarillo Highway,” a song that appears as a tribute to the just named fellow songwriter/hellraiser on his 1979 “Lubbock (On Everything)” album as “Amarillo Highway (for Dave Hickey).” An architect, teacher, visual artist and songwriter, Allen’s work makes his Lubbock colleagues The Flatlanders look positively mainstream in comparison. This tribute to a “pan handlin’, man handlin’, post holin’, high rollin’, dust bowlin’ Daddy” with no blood veins is a nice display of Allen’s unique lyrical gifts.
2. “Are You Sure Hank Did It This Way,” Waylon Jennings. Authenticity has always been a touchy subject in country music and while Waylon’s outlaw look was not in the tradition, he still staked his claim for his bona fides on “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way,” taking a swipe at crossover glitz. Producer Jack Clement, who thought that Waylon’s guitar and voice were co-equals, gives the two chord song a dramatic air of looming threat. Message – be real or face Waylon’s wrath.
3. “The Bargain Store,” Dolly Parton. It’s been said that not all country radio programmers were thrilled by this 1975 #1 single, since the lyrics “The bargain store is open come inside/You can easily afford the price” hints at prostitution. Dolly later focused more on the dark musical quality of the song versus the lyrics in a 2008 interview, “I like doing old-timey songs. It’s in that minor key, which sounds old world to me, that lonesome drone – it could be a sitar or something.” This plea from an emotionally damaged woman was Parton’s fourth consecutive #1 single, following “Jolene,” “I Will Always Love You,” and “Love Is Like a Butterfly” to the top slot.
4. “Before the Next Teardrop Falls,” Freddy Fender. Baldemar Garza Huerta was born in the border town of San Benito, Texas. Before he changed his name and became famous, he was kicked out of The Marines as a teenager, recorded as El Bebop Kid, served almost three years in prison for a pot bust, and then worked as a mechanic and performed weekend gigs. His breakthrough was the 1975 #1 pop hit “Before the Next Teardrop Falls,” a song that Jerry Lee Lewis had recorded in honky-tonk country style in 1969. It was also a #33 country hit for Linda Matrell, helping her become the first female African-American singer to perform on the Grand Ole Opry. Fender wasn’t waiting for fame to arrive at his doorstep when he recorded the song at the behest of producer Huey P. Meaux (“The Crazy Cajun”), “The recording only took a few minutes. I was glad to get it over with and I thought that would be the last of it.”
5. “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” Willie Nelson. Thirteen years after first hitting the country charts, Willie had his breakthrough #1 country hit with “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” a tale of an old man’s plans to see a former love in heaven. Roy Acuff, who cut a mid-tempo ballad version with an accordion as the lead instrument, first recorded “Blue Eyes” in 1945. Hank Williams took a softer, more soulful approach in 1951, and Ferlin Husky, Slim Whitman, Gene Vincent, Bill Anderson, and Conway Twitty also recorded the song. Nelson’s version is almost radically unadorned, allowing the listener to focus on his voice, guitar, and longstanding emptiness.
6. “Bob Wills is Still the King,” Waylon Jennings. In addition to paying homage to Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings also released this tribute to Bob Wills in 1975 (the song was recorded in 1974, but Waylon’s “Dreaming My Dream” album was released one month after Wills died). There’s a subtle salute to the Sir Doug Quintet song “At the Crossroads” (“You just can’t live in Texas if you don’t got a lot of soul”) and perhaps a swipe at frequent collaborator Willie Nelson (“It doesn’t matter who’s in Austin”). Otherwise, it’s just a well-earned hat tip to the man that Merle Haggard called “the best damn fiddle player in the world.” The Rolling Stones released a cover of “Bob Wills is Still the King” on their 2007 four disc live CD “The Biggest Bang.”
7. “A Damn Good Country Song,” Jerry Lee Lewis. Longtime Kris Kristofferson keyboard player Donnie Fritts was raised in Muscle Shoals and wrote material for Little Junior Parker, The Box Tops, and Dusty Springfield in the late 1960s, penning Dusty’s classic “Breakfast in Bed” with future Drive-By Truckers inspiration Eddie Hinton. Fritts wrote “A Damn Good Country Song” specifically for Jerry Lee, detailing his hard living lifestyle of pill popping and whiskey drinking, although he did leave out the tax evasion. Perhaps a bit too honest for country radio, the song peaked at #68 on the charts. The biggest hit Lewis had that year was the Tom T. Hall penned #13 country single “I Can Still Hear the Music in the Restroom,” where Lewis sings about snorting cocaine before visiting a local watering hole.
8. “The Door,” George Jones. Norro Wilson and Billy Sherrill wrote this #1 country hit about a soldier who had withstood “earthquakes, storms and guns and war,” but couldn’t bear the sound of his lover walking away and closing the door on their love. Jones, “I don’t think it quite got to the whole entire public because of the type of song that it was. It was a number one song, but…a lot of it was about the war…It was the type of song people didn’t wanna really talk about that much.” His next single was “These Days (I Barely Get By)” written by Jones and Tammy Wynette and recorded two days before their romantic relationship ended.
9. “Dreaming My Dreams with You,” Waylon Jennings. Waylon gives somewhat of a Don Williams vocal take on this atypical ballad with strings/1975 #10 country hit written by Allen Reynolds. Waylon in 1999, “’Dreaming My Dreams with You’ is still one of my favorites of all time. It says everything that I believe. Actually, it says if you ever love somebody, you always will. And you should never try to hate them.” Arkansas native Allen Reynolds was a songwriting partner of Dickey Lee in the early 1960s, wrote The Vogues 1966 Top Five pop hit “Five O’Clock World,” and later produced albums by Kathy Mattea, Emmylou Harris, and Garth Brooks.
10. “It Was Always So Easy (To Find an Unhappy Woman),” Moe Bandy. Moe Bandy had his first Top Ten hits in 1975 with songs written by fellow Texan Sanger Shafer. His biggest hit to date, “It Was Always So Easy (To Find an Unhappy Woman)” narrates a tale from a cheater’s perspective who has lost his woman to another man. Reportedly, Shafer found Bandy’s pronunciation of “woh-min” so amusing, he started writing material to emphasize that word. “It Was Always So Easy” received a first rate R&B meets country treatment from Peter Wolf in 2016. Bandy returned to the Top Ten later in 1975 with “Bandy the Rodeo Clown,” a Shafer/Lefty Frizzell number about the singer devolving from bronco buster to laughingstock after a woman left him, taking his mojo and leaving him in greasepaint in the process.
11. “Long Haired Country Boy,” The Charlie Daniels Band. Two singles were released from the 1975 Charlie Daniel’s Band album “Fire on the Mountain.” “The South’s Gonna Do It Again” is a tribute to his Southern rock colleagues, an aural waving of the rebel flag. On “Long Haired Country Boy,” Charlie smokes pot, gets drunk, refuses to work, thumbs his nose at preachers and politicians, and gives a vague threat to anyone who messes with his lifestyle. Daniels, who in later years would market himself based on his conservative Christian beliefs, wound up repudiating his own lyrics.
12. “The Most Wanted Woman in Town,” Roy Head. Texas native Roy Head started performing rockabilly with the San Marcos based band The Traits in the late 1950s, then went to #2 on the pop charts in 1965 with the R&B number “Treat Her Right.” (The Traits have been cited as an early influence on ZZ Top and Billy Gibbons released a cover of “Treat Her Right” in 2015). Known for his unconventional dance moves, Head never repeated his pop success and started singing country music in the mid-1970s. Head scored three Top Twenty country hits, including this bass heavy shuffle about a much passed around woman. I had the pleasure of seeing Roy Head perform in 2015 and the man can still sling a microphone around like a bullwhip.
13. “Movin’ On,” Merle Haggard. Merle wasn’t pushing himself too hard artistically during this timeframe, but every single he released was going to #1, so it probably didn’t matter. Not a cover of the Hank Snow classic, this truck driver tribute with its vocal hook “Big wheels rollin’/Big wheels rollin’/Movin’ On” was easy on the ears, sing along material. Lightweight, but fun.
14. “Old Home Place,” J.D. Crowe & The New South. Banjo player James Dee Crowe was a member of Jimmy Martin’s Sunny Mountain Boys in the 1950s and formed his own band, the Kentucky Mountain Boys, in the late 1960s. That band would evolve into The New South and would include, at times, Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, and Jerry Douglas as part of its ever revolving cast. Skaggs and Douglas were in the band when their 1975 eponymous album was released on Rounder Records. “Old Home Place” was written by Mitch Jayne and Dean Webb from the Missouri based bluegrass band The Dillards, who recorded the song in 1963 and are best known for their appearances on “The Andy Griffith Show,” performing as “The Darlings.” “Old Home Place” describes a man who leaves his country home to follow a girl to Charlottesville. The result of his decision? Misery, but with fine picking and harmonies.