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Classic KDKA: Clark Race & His Theme Song

Monday, 02 June 2014 06:45 AM Written by

 A female chorus would coo...

"Hello, Clark Race, Hello...

And that authoritative, amiable voice would pick it up with:

"And welcome to the show!"

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Country-Rap: What The New York Times Missed

Thursday, 29 May 2014 07:45 AM Written by

This week New York Times music critic Jon Caramanica investigated country music's increased connections with hip-hop. He notes "country has been on a collision course with hip-hop for the last few years," citing Blake Shelton's 2013 hit recording of "Boys 'Round Here" as proof even traditionalist singers are embracing the form. He views that, and the work of country rappers including Colt Ford and Big Smo, as part of a "generational shift" altering the music. He dutifully notes earlier, less successful forays into country rap by Big & Rich and Nashville's Musikmafia (remember Cowboy Troy?). 

In his exhaustive reporting in print and online discussions on the Times Popcast, Caramanica seems convinced he's discovered a drastic change in the context of today's country. He may be correct.  Alas, he's clearly unaware the concept of "rap" existed in country and roots music to varying degrees for nearly four generations, a few such tunes highly popular with the great-grandparents of today's Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean fans. This update of a 2011 post explains it all.


The first country recording that could qualify as rap appeared 88 years ago, recorded by a man born in the 19th Century.

1926: Chris Bouchillon "Talking Blues"

This is where it all started. South Carolina musician Bouichillon (1893-1968) recorded it in November 1926. The unconfirmed legend was he didn't sing well, so he decided to "talk" the song instead.

1937: Woody Guthrie "Talking Dust Bowl Blues"

Guthrie (1912-1967) was not a mainstream country singer though before he became a folk music icon, he got his start singing country and cowboy fare on Los Angeles radio. It's likely he heard Bouchillon or someone else leading to this. Who inspired Bob Dylan's early "Talkin'" songs? That's right.

1946: Phil Harris "The Darktown Poker Club"

This wasn't a country hit, but it led to several, a good example of one genre influencing another. Jovial, hard-partying singer-bandleader-comic Harris (1904-1995) was a regular on Jack Benny's radio programs. He also had a solo career going with talking tunes like "That's What I Like About the South." Harris had a major pop hit with this tune, written in 1914 by African-American singer-songwriter-bandleader Bert Williams, another proto-rapper.

1947: Tex Williams "Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)"

Illinois-born Tex Williams (1917-1985), front man and leader of an L.A. Western Swing outfit called the Western Caravan was about to be dropped by Capitol Records. Anxious to save his contract, he visited his pal, singer-songwriter-guitarist Merle Travis (who'd recently written "16 Tons") asking if he could write him a song. Travis, who saw Tex perform Harris's "Darktown Poker Club" onstage to great audience response, wrote "Smoke" with that in mind. It became Capitol's first million-seller and spawned other similar singles.

1947: Hank Williams, Sr. "Fly Trouble"

It's clear Hank (1923-1953) was influenced by "Smoke! Smoke! Smoke's" success. His musical mentor and producer, veteran songsmith Fred Rose co-wrote this song with the Grand Ole Opry comedy duo Jamup and Honey. It was never a hit for Hank, but remains a hot performance perfect for jukeboxes of that day. The blazing solos reflect the increasing influence of western swing on the instrumental side of Nashville records.  Hank also did an anti-Stalin rap tune titled "No, No Joe."

1948: Red Foley  "Never Trust A Woman"

Grand Ole Opry star Foley (1910-1968) might wax misogynistic on this number, but ironically, it was penned by Jenny Lou Carson, one of the first great female country songwriters along with Cindy Walker. It too was inspired by "Smoke! Smoke! Smoke's" success.

1960: Charlie Ryan "Hot Rod Lincoln"

While many know "Hot Rod Lincoln" through later versions by Johnny Bond and Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen, this was the original. A minor-league singer from Washington State, Ryan (1915-2008) wrote it in 1950 in response to Arkie Shibley's hit 1950 recording "Hot Rod Race," another talker. Ryan's became a country hit in 1960. Cody and his current band still perform it as does singer-guitarist (and ex-Lost Planet Airman) Bill Kirchen.

1961: Jimmy Dean "Big Bad John"

Not yet a sausage magnate, Dean (1928-2010) was a popular country star and TV host doing occasional stage acting when he met cast member John Mentoe, who he nicknamed "Big John." The idea of a song built around that name stuck in Dean's mind and in an hour and a half, he created this recitation that topped the country and pop charts. The version here isn't the hit but an alternate take featuring Dean's original "hell of a man" lyric. Columbia Records made him re-record it as "big, big man," fearing the word "hell" would spark public indignation (in 1961, it probably would have). Its success expanded Dean's audience. Just before he died, he learned of his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

1962: Hank Snow  "I've Been Everywhere"

Canadian-born Hank Snow (1914-1999) was one of the Grand Ole Opry's top stars when he recorded "I've Been Everywhere," originally a hit for Australian singer Lucky Starr, adapted to US place names, it was a # 1 single for Snow. You may have heard a later version by Johnny Cash, used in some TV commercials.

1969: Johnny Cash "A Boy Named Sue"

Of course, Cash (1932-2003) himself put Shel Silverstein's "A Boy Named Sue" at the top of the country and pop charts in the summer of 1969 with the version he recorded in concert at California's San Quentin Prison. This is it. He had barely rehearsed it (note the lyrics sitting on a music stand).  With him are the Tennessee Three. On the right, Cash friend and rockabilly legend Carl Perkins does the fancy fingerpicking.

1970: Dolly Parton "Joshua"

Parton (b. 1946) was the breakout star of Opry star Porter Wagoner's stage show in the late 60,  though she wasn't yet known beyond the country audience.  Her composition  "Joshua" was also her first # 1 single. This performance, introduced by Porter, comes from a September, 1971 episode of the syndicated program That Good Ole Nashville Music.

1971: Jerry Reed "When You're Hot, You're Hot" 

Jerry Reed (1937-2008) had been a successful studio guitarist and songwriter known for such Elvis favorites like "Guitar Man" and "U.S. Male." But he never really hit big as a solo act until he began writing and recording his own country rappers (produced by his buddy Chet Atkins). The first was "Amos Moses" in 1970. This one came a year later and turned out to be the biggest hit of his career. This 1983 version comes from a Toledo concert and begins with Reed explaining how the song came to be.

1975: C.W. McCall "Convoy"

CB radios are antiques in an age of iPhones. Not so nearly 40 year ago when all things pertaining to trucking, including the CB, became cool, and everyone had their own "handle" (on-air nickname, not unlike online screen names or pseudonyms). It inspired award-winning ad agency creative guy (think 1970's Don Draper) Bill Fries (b. 1928) to write a mini-drama protesting regulations truckers considered oppressive, sniping at "Smokeys," a trucker term for highway patrol or state troopers. It topped the country and pop charts.

If you enjoy the current country rappers, fine. But don't think for a second as the Times did, that it's something revolutionary.  It's actually a tradition, hiding in plain sight.

 

 

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Scott Mervis reviewed the Rod Stewart-Carlos Santana concert in the PG. I wasn't there so I can't verify his opinions, but Scott knows both artists enough to know what's going on, who brought it and who didn't. His comments about Stewart's slick show and declining vocal power were especially noteworthy.

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 WARNING: Do Not Read Unless You've Seen The Mid-Season Finale of Mad Men: "Waterloo."

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A lawsuit filed by a surviving member of the 60's rock band Spirit against Led Zeppelin over alleged musical plagiarism claims the famous guitar riff opening "Stairway To Heaven," is purportedly lifted from the 1968 Spirit instrumental "Taurus."  The legal ins and outs of how this must be proven or disproven can be read in this article from Forbes.

Either way, it's just the latest chapter in something that's gone on for decades in American popular music, in blues, jazz, country and yes, rock. In November 2010, at the suggestion of my podcast producer Adrian McCoy, I put together an extensive segment of examples of songs that were, for lack of a more gracious term, "borrowed" for my "Believe Your Ears" PG music podcast.

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