(“City Girl – Country Boy” by Billy Vera and Judy Clay)
Nobody has ever brought a copy of Jim Weatherly’s “Midnight Plane to Houston” into the record shop, so we’re forced to share it through a Youtube video. Weatherly, whose career spanned more than four decades, will forever be overshadowed by a 1973 remake of his song by Glady Knight and the Pips which moved the heartbreak to LA and home to Georgia. In fact, it’s difficult to separate Weatherly’s legacy from Gladys Knight and the Pips, who hit the charts with five of his songs during a successful early 70s stint at Buddah Records (including “You’re the Best Thing that ever Happened to Me” and “Neither One of Us”).
Gladys Knight and the Pips really do call Georgia home, and were one of the only soul acts that could faithfully interpret country music (if you need further proof dig up a copy of their recording of Kristofferson’s “Help me make it through the Night”).
There are legends that Charlie Parker always played country music in jukeboxes, and when asked why replied “Listen to the stories!” Rhythm and blues and country music have a long, complicated relationship. In each you can hear the shared roots that date back to the earliest era of recorded sound. The common soil of traditional American music from which everything we hear today has sprouted is sometimes lost on pinheaded purists, the sort of people who make exceptions: “I listen to every kind of music except ________.”
That the fancy-pants critics at Rolling Stone still rate Ray Charles’ Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music as one of the greatest albums of all time speaks volumes (it is one of only a handful of country records in their list of 500, and one of even fewer pre-Beatles recordings).
So I was inspired to explore this subject this weekend when I realized that “Never Been to Spain” was originally written by Hoyt Axton and first recorded by Sammi Smith. I wouldn’t recommend her version, but Waylon Jennings belted out a mean version on Ladies Love Outlaws around the same time. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised as Three Dog Night isn’t a band known for it’s original songs, but a little research blew my mind: “Never Been to Spain” wasn’t the only classic rock FM staple written by Oklahoma-born country singer Hoyt Axton – he also wrote “Joy to the World”!
Axton also write a little song for Steppenwolf called “The Pusher” (which I recently learned appears in a super-rockin’ jam version on the Early Steppenwolf” LP – guess it’s time to stop skippin’ over that one in the bargain bins). He was one of those journeyman country songwriters of the 50s and 60s whose style proved universally appealing.
(“Never Been to Spain” by Waylon Jennings)
Lately I’ve had some really fun DJ jobs in various venues, and I’ve brought along a mix-match oleo of records. Everything I played last Saturday at Jack Klatt and the Cat Swingers’ CD release show at the Cedar was from the 30s and early 40s. It’s easy to blend rhythm and blues and country music when you restrict yourself to that era, even though artists recorded and performed in an entirely segregated world. Maybe it’s a Jimmie Davis or a Reverend Gary Davis lived closer to those binding roots, or maybe people were just a little less self-conscious of genre in those days – I don’t know but I do know what I like.
Let’s leave today’s post with country cover from last year – This is Chicago’s JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound, playing a Wilco song on their super sweet album Want More.
(“I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” by JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound)