Bobby Day, who was born on this day in 1930 in Fort Worth, is best known for one of the biggest hits of the early rock n roll era, "Rockin' Robin". In fact, when I was playing a wedding gig last summer I was about to spin a different Bobby Day record, when a little girl strolled up to my turntables, read the label on the record and said, "Bobby Day. He did "Rockin' Robin!" And by that measurement, I'd say Bobby Day is pretty well-known even to this day.
However, there's more to Bobby Day than "Rockin' Robin." For example, he was an original member of famous LA-based doo wop group The Hollywood Flames. As Bobby Day & the Satellites he wrote and recorded the original version of "Little Bitty Pretty One" which was an enormous smash hit for Thurston Harris. He co-wrote one of the most famous uptempo doo wop tunes "Buzz Buzz Buzz" recorded by the Hollywood Flames and he wrote and recorded the original version of "Over & Over" which is more famous by the Dave Clark 5 (I have yet to find a nice clean copy of Day's version). And if that's not enough, Day was also reportedly the first "Bob" in the famous soul duo Bob & Earl. Bobby Day is full of surprises!
My record of the day is one of those surprises. This rare 45 beautifully arranged by Jack Nitzche, is a rendition of the unofficial "cajun national anthem". The first cajun recording of this song goes back to 1929. The song gained popularity outside of the cajun community when it was adopted by country music artist Harry Choates in 1947 and it swiftly became a country music standard. An r&b guy like Bobby Day wasn't expected to record a song like this and THAT is what makes this cajun meets country meets r&b version of this song so very interesting to me. I love these vintage recordings that pushed boundaries and busted outside of boxes.
Give it a listen as you head into your holiday weekend. It's a great reminder of the beautiful things that can happen when we rebel against societal definitions of who we're supposed to be and what we're supposed to do
Willie Nelson, who began his recording career in 1956 in Vancouver, Washington, was born on this day 82 years ago. Willie's story is well-known to most.: Disc jockey turned songwriter turned outlaw country pioneer turned actor turned pop balladeer turned activist turned president of the stoner nation turned IRS target turned American treasure.
I'll fully admit, Willie Nelson is someone I came to appreciate as an adult. As I child I mostly knew him from his awkward duet with Julio Iglesias and just for being Willie Nelson. As a young adult I started to appreciate his music and I find that appreciation growing with each day.
I think because he's always been visible, it feels like he's family. Willie's like your cool, weird old stoner hippie uncle who talks a lot about booze, weed, hangovers and one-night stands.
Happy Birthday Uncle Willie!
Loretta Lynn (Webb) was born on this day in 1932 bringing with her a tidal wave of feminist country music and 2-named siblings who would follow in her footsteps (Peggy Sue and Crystal Gayle I'm looking at you). It brings me great joy to say that she launched her music career in the Pacific Northwest (in the state of Washington) and she's been cookin' with Crisco ever since. Which is apropos since Crisco parties were a BIG deal up in this region.
She was often imitated but never duplicated. What Loretta brought us was unprecedented REALNESS (to use a term popular in the Queer community) in popular country music. Though at the time she didn't identify as a feminist, by most other standards that's exactly what she was. Her songs have a recurring theme of a woman advocating for her own needs and rights. And though some of her songs in which she threatens to punch or shoot another lady over the ownership rights to a particular man may not promote sisterhood in a feminist way, I can still appreciate her willingness to defend her "property". I guess I'm guilty of giving her a free pass on that. "It'll Be Open Season On You" is a real guilty pleasure for me.
My selection of the day was not written by Loretta, but it's representative of the spirit of her music, and demonstrates that themes emerging in country music were not far from the radical ideas in popular music at the time.
Carl Perkins, whose story is fabled in rock n roll lore, was born on this day in 1932 in Tiptonville, TN. Perkins, perhaps more than any other, has come to be the symbol of "rockabilly" music. And I will admit, I was in aw when visiting Sun Studios a couple of years ago and standing in the very room in which he laid down the tracks for records that would define American music for the latter half of the 20th century. Like everyone else on the studio tour, I couldn't help but "dork out" with the famed original microphone into which Carl reportedly sang "one for the money, two for the show."
He would ride the wave of his seminal record "Blue Suede Shoes" for decades. In fact many of his post-Sun releases would riff off of it with other clothing-themed titles like "Pink Pedal Pushers," "Pointed Toe Shoes", "Levi Jacket (And a Long Tail Shirt)" and so on. Although, I love songs about shoes just as much as the next guy, one of my favorite Carl Perkins songs is the gospabilly FLIP side of "Pointed Toe Shoes." I'm a sucker for a danceable tune with an uplifting message, what can I say. This is a lovely representation of all things I love in Southern music: the melding of influences, a determination to overcome adversity, and a celebration of a brighter tomorrow.
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.
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!