Friday, April 16, 2004

Terrell's Tune-up: Hayride into History

As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican, April 16, 2004

When most people think of influential country music radio shows of the middle part of the past century, the first one that comes to mind is The Grand Ole Opry, which broadcast live out of Nashville every Saturday night on the NBC radio network.

The Opry was the biggest one, but right behind it was Louisiana Hayride, a Saturday night show broadcast live on the 50,000 watt KWKH in Shreveport, La.

Hayride, which began broadcasting in 1948, was host to some of the greatest names in American music -- Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Lefty Frizzell -- who performed live at Shreveport Municipal Auditorium.

A poster for a live 1955 show advertises a bill including Presley, Jones, Johnny Horton and others. The price: 60 cents, general admission, $1 for reserved seats. Kids’ tickets were half price.

An independent company called Scena Records last year began a new series of CDs called Live Recordings From The Louisiana Hayride.

Last year they released separate collections by Johnny Cash and June Carter. In recent weeks Scena has released CDs featuring George Jones and Johnny Horton.

Both the new ones feature songs culled from several appearances. Typically a Hayride performer would only sing a handful of tunes one a Saturday night because so many acts were on the bill.

Both the Jones and Horton CDs both demonstrate that whoever was recording the shows didn’t have in mind the eventual commercial release of the program.

But while the recording quality isn’t top-notch, both albums capture a truly exciting era in country music. This was real country music back before we all had to ask “what is `real’ country music?” (Hint: When Johnny Horton -- known as “the singing fisherman” -- stops to tell a fish story before performing “Honky Tonk Man” -- that’s real country.)

To be sure, these albums, especially Jones’, serve more as fun curios than great musical discoveries.

In the case of Jones, none of his Hayride performances here top the studio versions -- the best of which are so full of soul and emotion they can make you pull over your car if you hear them on the radio.

The Jones album spans 13 years, going back to 1956. About half of the songs were recorded as late as 1968-69. (And surprisingly, the recording quality is not noticeably better than the ‘50s material.)

Many of his greatest hits are here: “The Race Is On,” “Walk Through This World With Me,” “White Lightning,” “She Thinks I Still Care.”

But more interesting are the lesser-known earlier recordings, most of which Jones himself wrote or co-wrote. For most his career Jones is thought of primarily as a singer and song stylist, not a writer. But had a hand in writing some good ones. “Nothing Can Stop My Loving You,” is a classic hillbilly stomper co-written with the late Roger Miller. “Accidently on Purpose” and “Don’t Stop the Music” are fine country weepers.

As much as I love George Jones, the Horton CD is more exciting. Part of this is because there is so much less Horton material available. He died in 1960, at the peak of his career at the age of 35, killed by a drunk driver after a gig in Texas.

I’ve always thought Horton would have been far more influential had he lived longer.

Like Johnny Cash, Horton was known for delving into the world of folk music with faux-folk hits like “The Battle of New Orleans,” “When It’s Springtime in Alaska,” “Johnny Reb,” and “Sink the Bismarck.” He also did upbeat country versions of real folk tunes like “John Henry” and “Rock Island Line.”

And like that other Johnny, Horton also did a good job blurring the lines between “country” and rockabilly. “Honky Tonk Man” is a good example. “One-Woman Man” and “Sal’s Got a Sugar Lip” are others.

But perhaps his greatest song was the “Whispering Pines,” a stunning little lament of loneliness written by Horton crony Howard Hausey. It was the B-side of “Springtime in Alaska,” but it should have been the hit.

Horton‘s performances of all these songs here are so full of life I‘m convinced more than ever he could have been one of the big ones.

Santa Fe Hayride: Hear the above albums plus lots more country music as the good Lord intended it to sound on The Santa Fe Opry, starting at 10 p.m. Friday, KSFR, 90.7 FM. And don’t forget Terrell’s Sound World, freeform weirdo radio, Sunday, same time same channel.

Local gigs:

Church of the Cowgirl: It was a great way to spend Easter morning, hearing Santa Fe’s newest country gospel group Velvet Love Train. The group is something of a Marvel Team-up featuring Bonnie Hearne, Joe West and Margaret Burke on vocals. They’ll be back at the Cowgirl this Sunday, 11 a.m. - 1 p.m. Admission is free -- but they pass the collection plate.

We’ll remember always Graduation Day: John Egenes, who has picked and strummed with most of Santa Fe’s finest is about to graduate from the College of Santa Fe’s music program. He’s doing a “senior show” open to the public -- and free. Egenes will be playing all kinds of stuff there, including some original pieces with a 9-piece string section, along with a pianist, playing 4 or 5 pieces he's written. Guest musicians include Bill Hearne, Margaret Burke, Tom Adler, Steve Lindsay, Mark Clark, Frank Reckard and Melanie Monsour. The show starts 7:30 p.m. April 27 at the Greer Garson Theater.

NOTE: It ain't easy being a knucklehead. In the printed version of this column -- and for several hours here in blogland -- the above Egenes plug mistakenly said John would be playing "playing 4 or 5 pieces I've written." I took most the info from an e-mail from John, and I forgot to change it.

So to make it perfectly clear, as President Nixon used to say, John will be playing John's music, not mine. (He wants to make a good grade.)

And don't forget Kell Robertson's gig at Cafe Oasis Saturday night, with special guest, ME. See post immediately below.

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