Country Drinking Songs: Before Bro-Country

Wednesday, 30 July 2014 06:35 AM Written by 

 On this week's Believe Your Ears music podcast, in light of parallel controversies over drunkenness at country concerts (here and elsewhere) and the current glut of sound-alike songs about beer, spring breaks and partying, we look at select country songs of the past, some not all that lighthearted about boozing.

You can access the podcast at this link.

I also promised a few more numbers I didn't have room for.  We could do this in multiple parts and not cover all the good ones, so by necessity, this is a select list;.  Here goes. And it's worth noting these artists didn't rely on booze songs alone to make a career, the way some of the current breed seem to be doing.

Hank Williams, Sr. (1923-1953) one of the greatest American singers, period, father to Hank Jr. and Grandfather to Hank III.  The Alabama-born honky tonk singer who spread its popularity beyond Texas and allowed the bottle to ultimately do him in on New Year's Day of 1953.

"Honky Tonkin'" (1947)  Some could say this justifies the whole "Bro-country" bit, but Hank also wrote "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," and "You're Cheatin' Heart."  Nothing bro about those.

 

Ernest Tubb, (1914-1984) the Texas native who brought the barroom style of song known as honky tonk from the Lone Star State to the Grand Ole Opry in 1942, made drinking songs his specialty. This 1947 hit was one of the Country Hall of Famer's darkest.

"The Warm Red Wine" (1947), with Mack McGarr on mandolin, rarely heard on most of Tubb's steel and guitar-dominated records.

 

Lefty Frizzell, (1928-1975), a Country Music Hall of Famer and another of the Texas singers who defined the honky-tonk sound. His style influenced George Jones, (yes, George, hero to many, had heroes of his own), Merle Haggard, Randy Travis, John Anderson and Alan Jackson. Here's a song more badass than any of the current beer-girls-pickups sludge from Music Row. It  one wasn't a hit, but it says a lot, very simply.

"Just Can't Live That Fast Anymore" (1956)  Three of the musicians here, guitarist Sammy Pruett, fiddler Jerry Rivers and steel guitarist Don Helms, were former members of Hank Williams' Drifting Cowboys.

Footnote: Lefty didn't heed the warning in the song. He had a new record label and was on the verge of a major comeback in 1975. Depression over marital woes led him to swill booze by the tumbler and ignore prescribed meds for high blood pressure. On July 19, 1975 he died of a massive stroke.

Hank Thompson (1925-2007) was one of the great honky tonk singers of all time. The Texas native sang barroom songs and other country tunes backed by his western swing flavored band, the Brazos Valley Boys.

"A Six Pack To Go" (1960)

 

Jerry Lee Lewis (1935-), the piano-pounding Sun rockabilly from Ferriday, Louisiana married his 13 year old cousin Myra Gale in 1957 (his third marriage) and it did in his rock and roll stardom once the pre-Twitter/TMZ media found out during a British tour. For nearly a decade, he played low-ball bars and clubs; his records no longer sold. In 1968, someone at his new label, Smash Records, aware he could  sing country ballads, suggested he record some. This was the second hit that reincarnated him as a country music star.

"What Made Milwaukee Famous" (1968)

 

Tom T. Hall (1936- ) is known today for his sensitive, evocative tunes like "The Year Clayton Delaney Died" and "Homecoming" and the classic Jeannie C. Riley hit "Harper Valley PTA." Dave Dudley (1928-2003) was the Wisconsin-based singer who made the trucker tune "Six Days On The Road" a country standard. In their younger days, both could sock away the sauce, and celebrated it on "Day Drinkin'." It's not that piece of junk by Little Big Town.

"Day Drinkin'" (1970)

 

George Strait (1952- ), the Texan who recently ended his touring (but not his recording) career, was the Hank Thompson of the late 20th Century. He made drinking songs an art, and revived this 1967 single by Cal Smith.

"Drinking Champagne" (1990)

 

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