Country Music History – Essential Releases of 1976, Part II
Charlie Rich gets burning mad.
1. “I’d Have to Be Crazy,” Willie Nelson. Texas songwriter Steven Fromholz was perhaps best known for his “Texas Trilogy,” three songs meant to be played as one piece of work, that described a poverty stricken existence in Kopperl, Texas in the 1950s. (Lyle Lovett covered “Texas Trilogy” and the Fromholz composition “Bears” on his 1998 album “Step Inside This House.”) A one-time touring member of the Stephen Stills band Manassas and intermittent recording artist, Fromholz had his biggest commercial success with this Willie Nelson recording, which includes Fromholz on backing vocals. This Nelson paced love song peaked at #11 on the country charts and Fromholz would later introduce the number by saying, ““I’m going to play a medley of my hit. Thank you, Willie. Thank you, Jesus.” Fromholz passed away from a hunting accident in 2014, but not before giving the world “I Gave Her a Ring (She Gave Me the Finger).”
2. “Lone Star Beer and Bob Wills Music,” Red Steagall. Texas native Red Steagall has worked as a music industry executive (he signed Reba McEntire in 1975), a recording artist, a television host, actor, and poet. As a recording artist, Steagall hit the country Top 40 charts seven times between 1972 and 1980, with “Lone Star Beer and Bob Wills Music” being his biggest hit, peaking at #11. While less remembered than Waylon’s “Bob Wills is Still the King,” I would argue that this Western swing number, written by Steagall with Nashville stalwart Glenn Sutton, better represents the spirit of Wills’ music. The former Poet Laureate of Texas remains an active figure in Dallas/Fort Worth and hosts “The Red Steagall Cowboy Gathering and Western Swing Festival” annually in the historic Fort Worth Stockyards.
3. “Miles and Miles of Texas,” Asleep at the Wheel. Never a major singles band in country music, Asleep at the Wheel hit the Top Ten once, with the contrived tearjerker “The Letter That Johnny Walker Read” in 1975. If the band has a signature song, it’s “Miles and Miles of Texas,” originally recorded as a demo by songwriter Diane Johnston in 1950, but not released until the Asleep at the Wheel recording. An advertisement for the glory of the Lone Star State, it’s a concept that Jewish Yankee Hippie Ray Benson has been happily selling for decades.
4. “One of These Days,” Emmylou Harris. Emmylou Harris was broadening the appeal of country music in the 1970s, due to her association with Gram Parsons and her proclivity for mixing traditional and contemporary material. Her 1975 #1 album “Elite Hotel” included the #1 singles “Together Again” (a Buck Owens cover) and “Sweet Dreams” (the Don Gibson/Patsy Cline torch song). “One of These Days,” a quest for freedom and peace of mind, was written by Earl Montgomery and first recorded by George Jones in 1972. Sometimes listening to Emmylou feels like the aural equivalent of eating peas, but on this #3 country hit, she became one of the few people who has ever recorded a song after George Jones and made it better.
5. “One Piece at a Time,” Johnny Cash. Wayne Kemp hit the country charts twenty-four times as a singer with his biggest hit being 1973’ s “Honky Tonk Wine” which peaked at #17. He had more success as a songwriter – his credits include “Love Bug” by George Jones, “I’ll Leave This World Loving You” by Ricky Van Shelton, and “One Piece at a Time,” the last #1 country hit for Johnny Cash as a solo artist. A story song about an assembly line worker who pockets mismatched car parts on a regular basis until he can build his own Cadillac, “One Piece” was a welcome return to Cash’s chunka chunka rhythm sound from the 1950s. It’s also notable for introducing the word “psychobilly” into popular culture – the term would later be used to describe music that merged punk rock and rockabilly influences.
6. “Remember Me,” Willie Nelson. Mrytle Cooper and Scott Wiseman were a married couple, known as The Sweethearts of Country Music, who performed on the WLS program “National Barn Dance” in the 1930s and early 1940s using the name Lulu Belle and Scotty. Wiseman wrote both the pop standard “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You” and the country standard “Remember Me,” sometimes titled “Remember Me (When the Candle Lights Are Gleaming).” “Remember Me,” a lyric about a spurned lover who begs remembrance, had been covered by T. Texas Tyler, Tommy Duncan, and Ernest Tubb, among others. Nelson took the pensive number to #2 on the country charts. Despite being one of country music’s most prolific and successful songwriters, Nelson had his biggest solo hits of the 1970s as a cover artist.
7. “Since I Fell for You,” Charlie Rich. At the 1975 Country Music Association (CMA) Awards Show, an obviously plastered Charlie Rich announced that John Denver had won the Entertainer of Year, grabbed a lighter from his pocket, then set the winning envelope on fire. It was captivating live television, but did put a minor dint in Rich’s chart success. “Since I Fell for You” was written by African American jazz/blues pianist Buddy Johnson in 1945 and was a pop hit for Asbury Park native Lennie Welch in 1963. It was a perfect fit for what has often been called Rich’s “velvet honey” voice and reached #10 on the country charts. Also, producer Billy Sherrill is more constrained that unusual with the string arrangement.
8. “Under the X in Texas,” Johnny Gimble. East Texas native Johnny Gimble was a long time member of Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys who relocated to Nashville in the 1970s to record under his own name and to perform session work. Recorded live in Austin for the “Jimmy Gimble’s Texas Dance Party” album, “Under the X in Texas” is the type of spry charmer that made Wills famous. Gimble won the CMA Instrumentalist of the Year award five times, but pianist Curly Hollingsworth also displays why he was a regular on the Western swing circuit on this performance. Gimble toured with Nelson in the late 1970s/early 1980s, then settled in Austin where he continued to perform and give fiddle lessons until his death in 2015. Texas fiddle player Jason Roberts, reflecting on Gimble’s legacy in 2010, “Johnny has a jazz mind, and Western swing is just jazz played by country musicians. He’s a great improviser and he’s a master of that big, round, warm, buttery fiddle tone, so he was perfect for the Playboys.”
9. “Your Place or Mine,” Gary Stewart. Stewart never had the discipline or commercial instincts to be a long term mainstream country star – after “She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinkin’ Doubles)” went to #1, he never had another Top Ten hit. Still, his 1976 “Your Place or Mine” album was a well received effort, filled with rollicking, boisterous country rock and hard edged weepers. “Your Place or Mine” was penned by Rory Burke, who often wrote adult contemporary material for Anne Murray, with New York sister act Carol and Mary Beth Anderson, who relocated to Nashville during the 1970s and primarily worked as backup singers. Gary intends to consummate a barroom relationship on the #11 country hit “Your Place or Mine,” and, as he did in that era, he sings with a palpable intensity.