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.
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.
Queer Country Junction returns this Saturday at the Kenton Club in North Portland. I'm always on the lookout for rainbow country songs to play at this event. It turns out the rainbow is a popular symbol in vintage country music. When I was digging for musical treasure in Minnesota I found rainbow gold!
This record is by Ruby Falls (originally known as Bertha Dorsey) who took her stage name from the water falls at Lookout Mountain in Tennessee. She charted nine Billboard country hits between 1974 - 1979. Unfortunately she passed away suddenly at age 40 of a brain hemorrhage.
Though she had all those hits and was even nominated "Most Promising Vocalist" by the country industry trade media in 1975, Ruby Falls is yet another artist who has seemed to have faded from the history of country music.
Help to change that by listening to my selection of the day and dance to it at the Kenton Club on Saturday! See ya soon!
Yesterday Dolly Parton, one of the most important musicians in American music history, turned 69. Good ole 69!
I remember all the jokes people used to make about Dolly Parton when I was a kid in the late 1970s. Of course, I thought she was the most amazing lady walking the face of the earth (other than my mom of course). There was a real snobbery flying around when it came to Dolly, who was just crossing over into mainstream super stardom at that time. You can see the attitude for yourself in this interview she did with Barbara Walters who asked Dolly a bunch of condescending questions and kind of treated her like she was some sort of a circus animal. As Dolly predicted in that very interview, it is she who has had the last laugh (all the way to the bank). She's become someone who is adored and admired by people the world over. Nobody denies her brilliance. She's become one of the most critically acclaimed songwriters in the country and she showed women entertainers a way to steer their own destinies and live empowered lives. And there's so much more.
So happy birthday Dolly! Thank you for your music and your message of love, acceptance, independence, individuality, and overcoming adversity.
The selection of the day comes from Dolly's 1973 concept album "My Tennessee Mountain Home" for which she wrote all the songs. It's a lovely tribute to her childhood in the Smokey Mountains and bravely breaking away to find her musical destiny.
Oh, and speaking of Dolly, I'm happy to announce my upcoming 4th annual celebration of the ladies of classic country, TOUCH YOUR WOMAN will be at the Kenton Club on Saturday 3/28. So close out Women's History Month by appreciating the female pioneers of country.
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!