One last country rarity before we hit the dusty trail to the Kenton Club tonight for Touch Your Woman 4, my annual celebration of the ladies of classic country. I haven't been able to find anything out about Sharon Smith, probably because the name is so common. I can tell you she released at least 3 singles. I can also tell you she is one of 3 Smiths you'll hear tonight, the others being Connie and Sammi.
This record is representative of the early 1970s feminist country era and encapsulates everything this night is about: shedding societal gender expectations and just being free to be yourself. Yes, it's largely about class issues, but there's also a feminist aspect to it.
Freedom to be oneself is certainly something I appreciate having grown up in an era where nearly everything I wanted to do in life (and everything I wanted to wear) were things little girls were NOT encouraged to do. Things have vastly improved in many ways, but they've also regressed in so many other ways. Until we see a lasting change in the advancement of women's rights, as long as we still have to work twice as hard to receive any recognition, until we're no longer accused of being "bitches" for advocating for ourselves, as long as the men in power try to control our bodies, as long as we're still judged for our sexuality, as long as the media defines what is and isn't beautiful about us, as long as our achievements and contributions are undervalued, as long as our voices are ignored, I will continue to have these celebrations of our accomplishments and our creative expressions about the glory and the frustrations of being a woman in an unjust world.
I hope you will come celebrate with me.
In 1976, the year my selection of the day was released, Sammi Smith was living in Arizona, committed to honoring her Apache heritage and deeply involved in the 1970s American Indian activism movement, and working towards the preservation of the Apache culture and language. She was also beyond her most successful years as a country singer.
It's been suggested that she didn't take the artistic risks of her "outlaw" friends Waylon and Willie and that's why she was unable to repeat the commercial success she achieved with her sultry 1971 version of Kris Kristofferson's "Help Me Make It Through the Night". However, I argue that maybe it was harder for Sammi to find her "groove" because her vocal talent was so unique in the country field. Sammi's voice delivered a mixture of dusky sensuality and ages-old weariness that required a certain amount of delicacy in production in order to capture the nuances of her delivery, particularly in ballads.
What makes Sammi Smith special for me is that she sounds like a young woman who's lived a thousand lives, and her soul has survived to tell the tale of centuries of heartbreak. And that's why her performances on songs like "Saunders Ferry Lane," and "Today I Started Loving You Again" are so compelling.
If you read bios about Sammi you'll find the running narrative of a promising artist who missed opportunity. But, maybe her life success shouldn't be defined by hit records. Maybe Sammi Smith didn't miss opportunity at all, she simply chose to seize an opportunity outside of commercial success. Perhaps her contributions should be measured differently, by her work to advocate for the civil rights and advancement of the Apache people, something ultimately more meaningful and longer-lasting than chasing the charts of the music industry.
The record I've chosen to feature today is from the period just following Sammi's break from the "Nashville Sound" of Mega Records. Here we find a playful Sammi on a rarely heard uptempo stomper. It's great for the dance floor, so come kick up those boot heals tomorrow night (3/28) at the Kenton Club as I celebrate Sammi and her other lady contemporaries at Touch Your Woman 4.
With Touch Your Woman, my annual celebration of the ladies of classic country, just a couple of days away, I'd be remiss if I didn't take a moment to give props to Rose Maddox here on my blog.
Besides being one of the most influential women in post-WWII country music, Rose Maddox was an Oregonian. Well...she was an Oregonian for the last few years of her life, having settled in Ashland near her brother's ranch. This might explain how she ended up recording for Portland records in the 1970s, something I found rather bizarre until doing a little research today, because Rose Maddox is as legendary as they come in the world of country music.
The Maddox Brothers and Rose were Alabamans who as children migrated with their family to California in the 1930s seeking a greater fortune than they had found in Southern sharecropping. After many years of struggle, they found their destiny, helping to usher in a new era in country music; One that drew equally from gut-bucket blues and hillbilly sensibilities. This new music, which focused more on the perils of life's earthly temptations (drinking and cheating were big themes) would become associated with the neighborhood bars in which it was performed, "honky tonk." The term had been used since before the turn of the century to define saloons in which a particular style of "honkatonk" piano-playing had been featured as entertainment.
This honky tonk style of music would lead to the backbeat-driven style of rockabilly, and Rose Maddox would spend the early years of her solo career straddling the fence between rockabilly/rock'n'roll and country. Her style was always electrifying visually and aurally. Whether it be a bopper or a ballad, a Rose Maddox performance jumps right off of the turntable and danced it's way directly to your ear canal.
Today I've chosen to feature Rose's early 60s version of "Down to the River", a song she performed pretty regularly for decades. It's another song about a woman seeking triumph over personal tragedy. This is really a killer record. Enjoy!
From what I can tell, Bonita Stevens was a child country singer ala Brenda Lee and Rita Faye. It was kind of a thing in the 50s and 60s. A lot of times these records by "kiddie" singers were of the novelty variety, however this one by Bonita is a little different. It's more of a little girl power anthem.
I wanna be the leader of an all girl band
Play the best country in this wonderful land
I wanna steel a fast guitar hand (?)
I wanna be the leader of the band!
It appears to have been "self-released" with the help of Memphis underground custom record label legend Style Wooten, who seems to have had a gift for capturing raw Memphis musical magic.
This is seriously one of my favorite records ever.
We hear quite a bit about June Carter in pop culture, but beyond her involvement with the Carter Family we don't hear much about her younger sister, vocalist and bass player Anita Carter. When I started to dive into country 45 collecting, I kept happening upon Anita Carter records (much MUCH more often than I found June Carter records) and with each new discovery, I began to realize ANITA was truly a force.
I've heard people refer to Jeannie C. Riley as the "Nancy Sinatra of country music" but musically and thematically, I think Anita Carter more accurately fits that description. In fact, I made a Nancy Sinatra-themed mix last summer and Anita's records blended right in.
Today's Record of the Day is a perfect example. "It's My Life" has a sassy, independent message and a rockin' rhythm. Just remove the dancing twang on that guitar and you've got a Nancy Sinatra record.
"No one knows my needs like me...
It's my life and I'll live it
So leave me alone
Don't you think it's time I was on my own?
Give it a listen and see what you think.
My annual celebration of the ladies of classic country is next weekend, so it's time for me to load in the go-go juice and put a gouge on it and take the big road to Party Preparation Land.
I'm having a lot fun putting my set together for this 4th edition of "Touch Your Woman" happening Saturday, March 28th at the World Famous Kenton Club.
One record I just can't get enough of is Linda Martell's rendition of "I Almost Called Your Name" from 1969. If you've been following the country aspect of my DJ career, you may remember me featuring Linda on-line a couple of times in the past. She's actually gained some more appreciation in the past couple of years, which is pretty exciting. I believe her country LP was reissued as well.
LINDA MARTELL was the first African-American woman to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. After recording some soul singles, she crossed over to country with the help of revolutionary Nashville producer Shelby Singleton, who built his career around blending country & soul in a variety of ways. Linda busted down walls, opened minds, and broke down traditional stereotypes of country music. She ultimately left the business to raise her family leaving a pretty significant void in the world of country music.
My record of the day is Linda's reworking of a Mira Smith & Margaret Lewis composition originally released by Margaret in 1963. Linda was actually not the first Black woman to do a country cover this song. Jewell Hall released a lovely country-pop version back in 1963. Perhaps that's why the Plantation Label thought it would be a good fit for Linda Martell when the songwriting team of Mira Smith & Margaret Lewis joined the label.
There's no denying that when Linda broke loose on this song, she brought it to another level. It's heartbreaking that she had to leave the business before putting more work out into the world. Just imagining what she could have done with so many other songs, all the opportunities lost, all the Linda Martell renditions of country classics that SHOULD be out there, but never came to fruition.
The Linda Martell chapter of country music history was never really completed, but it's also a story very rarely told. So, I hope you will join me in celebrating Linda today by listening to her song below, and then join me in person on March 28th at the Kenton Club to celebrate Linda and so many other ladies of classic country.
February 6, 1965, Brunswick Records released a contemporary version of the old "Irish" ballad "Danny Boy" by soul singer Jackie Wilson. The record doesn't really fit with what was the popular sound of that year. The R&B charts were topped with songs like "Sugar Pie Honeybunch", "Midnight Hour," "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag", " Rescue Me', "Shotgun", Otis Redding's "Respect" and the Top 40 charts were filled with stuff like "Wooley Booley" and "Help Me Rhonda". The arrangement was a departure from the floor-filling dance records Wilson had been been scoring with the previous year, It was a return to his more "traditional pop" sound of the late 1950s. In fact, Wilson had recorded two earlier, less dramatic versions of "Danny Boy" in the 1950s.
Why would Brunswick Records take a chance by releasing something so random and seemingly out-of-step with the times -This orchestral, sentimental, opera-meets-R&B version of a song written at the dawn of World War 1? What in the hell does "Danny Boy" have to do with 1960s America, and specifically 1960s Black America? And how could this record make it to #25 on the R&B chart, surrounded by thumpers like "Nowhere To Run" and funky grit like "Ride Your Pony"?
When it comes to music appreciation and interpretation it all has to do with context. Lets first consider the content of the song. Danny Boy is about being called to battle, away from familiarity and into danger. It's about the very probable possibility of death, and a call to remember those who have fallen on the battlefield. Finally, it brings forth a sentimental longing for the homeland one was forced to leave behind.
I suppose the obvious connection would be the growing U.S. involvement with the Vietnam War, however African-Americans were fighting wars on multiple fronts in 1965. The Civil Rights Movement most certainly was a call to battle, and just the summer before this record's release, the bodies of three murdered Civil Rights workers (Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner) were famously discovered in Mississippi. Additionally, less than two months prior to the release of "Danny Boy," Jackie Wilson's good friend Sam Cooke (who also recorded Danny Boy in 1958) was murdered. * Many folks at the time believed Cooke's murder was a conspiracy to silence him for his Civil Rights activism and growing power as a Black business man. Actually many folks still believe this. On top of that, Malcolm X was assassinated just a couple of weeks after this record's release. So, when considering all of these factors, it makes a lot of sense that a song of mourning for loved ones lost in battle would be embraced in the winter of 1965.
Though admittedly, "Danny Boy" had already been no stranger to Black vocalists Paul Robeson, legendary entertainer and activist, used to perform the song alongside other songs of freedom and struggle. Certainly the theme of being forced to leave loved ones behind for a strange land and unknown danger not only speaks to the African-American experience in a variety of ways, but also echos many themes found in spirituals.
Other versions of Danny Boy include:
Patti Labelle & the Bluebelles - 1964
Sam Cooke 1958
Al Hibbler 1955
the Dixie Cups - 1965
Sugar Boy Crawford 1964
Sil Austin 1959
Art Tatum 1955
Linda Hopkins 1959
Sam The Man Taylor 1962
Mahalia Jackson 1963
Nolan Strong and the Diablos
Harry Belafonte 1957
and many more.
So, this is my way of celebrating St. Patrick's Day with you. And every year I play this for my grandmother.
This is Jackie Wilson lipsynching to his record. Enjoy.
Marjorie Hendricks (aka Margie Hendrix) was reportedly born on this day in Georgia in 1935. She left us WAY too soon which is hugely tragic. Equally tragic is how little we know about her. For someone so revered in soul circles, there's very little information about Margie. Much of the information that is out there is conflicting. It's also challenging to find many photographs of her (there are even photos online labeled to be her, but they aren't her). She's a bit of an enigma.
What we do know is that Margie was a member of the original Cookies who's biggest hit was the lovely mid-50s classic "In Paradise" for Atlantic. From the Cookies she went on to found The Raelettes (sometimes spelled the Raelets) and spent the mid 1950s to the early 1960s backing and duetting with Ray Charles. This is her "claim to fame." She was depicted in the film Ray and since then has become infinitely more known because of it.
But Margie also had a solo career after parting ways with Ray. While her output wasn't extensive, she did manage to scorch some 45s with her vocal inferno. She was perhaps the greatest soul shouter of all time.
Though Margie didn't put out many solo records, it's still difficult for me to choose my favorite. The record I've chosen to highlight today is "Packin' Up." It's a quick-paced, gospel-charged liberation song, written by Margie. Need a pick-me-up? This is more effective than a triple shot of espresso. Give it a taste.
Preeminent soul singer Laura Lee (Rundless) turns 70 today! It's certainly apropos that Laura Lee's birthday falls within Women's History Month given that her hits of the early 70s like "Women's Love Rights," "Love & Liberty" and "Wedlock Is a Padlock" are strongly associated with the Women's Liberation Movement. But Laura Lee's career and influence stretches back to the mid-1950s when as a teenager she replaced the legendary Della Reese in the Detroit gospel group, The Mediation Singers. It was Laura Lee's mother, Earnestine Rundless who in the 1940s founded this "golden age gospel" group that deeply inspired a host of young soon-to-be soul singers of Detroit.
Her secular career was launched in 1965 and after a couple of singles on Detroit's Ric-Tic label, she landed on Chess. She was eventually sent by the label to Muscle Shoals where she recorded some defining late-1960s deep soul records like "Dirty Man,: and "Upright Good Man".
It was during her stint with Detroit label HotWax/Invictus (run by Holland, Dozier, Holland) that Laura Lee struck a chord with Women's Lib Movement. Her songs became anthems demanding gender equality and respect on a number of levels.
Though, my favorite Laura Lee record is from the years just after that period. It's a more subtle Laura Lee, perhaps inspired by Al Green (whom she had been reportedly dating). This is a Holland-Dozier-Holland composition (they too recorded a version of it) and is presumably produced by them. For me, this is the sweetest 70s soul gets. At the time of this recording Laura Lee would have been 34, a bit more worldly and wise, perhaps a bit broken by the travails of love. Her brilliant performance as a wearied women desperate to save a fading relationship coupled with the gorgeous multi-layered HDH production (complete with strings, congas, shimmery keyboards, and a subtle psychedelic effect) make with record absolutely irresistible to me.
While I LOVE and appreciate Laura Lee's previous respect-demanding records, there's something about the vulnerability revealed in this performance that really grabs my heart. Perhaps it's reassuring to know that even seemingly strong women are susceptible to heartaches too, and that's ok.
DJ Action Slacks
I'm excited to highlight some of my favorite records in a variety of genres (soul, R&B, classic country, rockabilly, oldies, garage rock, etc). These won't all necessarily be "dance" records per se. They will all be records that I believe deserve a special listen. I simply love good music, rare or not. Hopefully you will spend some time here and love music right along with me! Lets give this a shot!