Country Music History – Essential Releases of 1979, Part II
Thank your lucky stars tonight that George jones never gave you a religious litmus test.
1. “Red Bandana,” Merle Haggard. “Red Bandana” details the life of a musician who loves the road more than he does his significant other. However, both parties know that the man who is “forty-one going on twenty-two” is never going to change. Songwriter Haggard drops a reference to Bobby McGee, perhaps the song was inspired by the Kristofferson line, “I pulled my harpoon out of my dirty red bandana.” A livelier tune than the subject matter suggests and a Top Five hit from the 1979 “190 Proof” album, generally considered his best effort on MCA.
2. “Rockin’ My Life Away,” Jerry Lee Lewis. Jerry Lee Lewis left Mercury Records for Elektra in 1979 and producer Bones Howe brought in James Burton and Hal Blaine to provide the most assertive support that Lewis had received in years. The 1979 “Jerry Lee Lewis” album was a return to form for The Killer, with a more stripped down sound reminiscent of his late 1950’s glory days. “Rockin’ My Life Away,” a Top Twenty country hit written by Mack Vickery, is a classic hard livin’ Lewis piana pumper. Lewis also had a hit with his cover of Charlie Rich’s “Who Will the Next Fool Be?” and brought Bob Dylan into the world of Coasters style 50’s rock with his version of “Rita May.”
3. “Stranger in the House,” George Jones and Elvis Costello. Nick Tosches, “On the night after he turned 47, (George) Jones fired a shot at Peanut Montgomery, who had recently quit drinking and found religion. ‘All right, you son of a bitch,’ he had hollered before pulling the trigger, ‘see if your God can save you now!” Recording the 1979 “My Very Special Guests” duet album was no piece of cake for producer Billy Sherrill, “We put an incredible amount of hours in the studio. Some of those songs, one verse would be a year away from the chorus because he’d come in and his voice wouldn’t be up to it.” Elvis Costello penned “Stranger in the House” specifically for his opportunity to record with George and he was still at his peak as a writer. Costello, “Jones was my guiding light whenever I wrote in a country idiom.”
4. “Texas (When I Die),” Tanya Tucker. After Waylon and Willie scored a #1 single with Ed Bruce’s “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” Tanya Tucker dug into the Ed Bruce songbook and scored a Top Five hit with “Texas (When I Die).” Texas homegirl Miranda Lambert often covered “Texas (When I Die)” early in her career and the song was used by the Dallas Cowboys when they scored touchdowns at home games in the 1980s. Tucker’s “TNT” album, a late 1978 release, was one of her highest charting efforts, with the slut in heat cover probably moving more than a few units. Not every female country singer was wearing leather pants and posing with a microphone cord slid between her crotch during the 1970s.
5. “Tulsa Time,” Don Williams. “Tulsa Time” sounds like a J. J. Cale number, but it was written by studio musician/songwriter Danny Flowers and had a deep groove seldom heard in country music. The lyrics describe a singer who fails to make it in Hollywood, then has a revelation that he would prefer living back in his Tulsa home (the mind boggles). Eric Clapton released a studio version of “Tulsa Time” in late 1978 and it was the lead track on his 1980 platinum “Just One Night” live double album. This is a song that’s ripe for a new hit cover version.
6. “Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound,” Hank Williams, Jr. Always milking the legacy, Junior namedrops “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” as well as the Allman Brothers. However, being at the forefront of the party country genre made the second Hank a superstar and he peaked at #2 with this drinkin’ and cheatin’ song. “Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound” has been convincingly covered by Dan Baird, former frontman of The Georgia Satellites, and with markedly less conviction by Mark Chesnutt.
7. “Whiskey River,” Willie Nelson. “Whiskey River,” a tale about preferring to drown sorrows in booze rather than to think about that heartbreaking woman, was a country hit for Texas singer Johnny Bush in 1972. Willie Nelson covered “Whiskey River” on his 1973 critically acclaimed “Shotgun Willie” album and it became his standard live opener. This 1978 concert version, a #12 country hit, opens with a stomp then proceeds to shuffle/ country ballad/ blues guitar jam.