TODAY IN COUNTRY MUSIC HISTORY
Kenny Rogers' "Gideon" album certified gold and platinum (1980)
Barbara Mandrell married Ken Dudney (1967)
Jerry Douglas born (1956) in Warren, Ohio
OF MUSIC AND MORE
TRACY BYRD CALLS STEINER, URBAN TO THE STAGE
Fans at last week's Tracy Byrd concert in San Dimas, Calif., got a special treat. Byrd spotted Tommy Shane Steiner and Keith Urban, newcomers to the country scene, in the audience and invited them on stage. Steiner, who is out with "What if She's an Angel," Byrd and Urban got the crowd jumping with renditions of "Sweet Home Alabama," "Space Cowboy," "Brown-Eyed Girl" and "I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink." Afterwards Byrd commented: "We brought the place down - it was fantastic!"
REMEMBERING MEL STREET
Thirty years ago this month, listeners to country radio heard a striking new voice -- and a song to match it. Emphatic, melodic and intimate, the voice belonged to Mel Street, and the song, which he wrote himself, was "Borrowed Angel." It was a brilliant start to a tragically short career. Six years and five months later, on the morning of his 43rd birthday, Street would take his own life.
King Malachi Street was born in the countryside near Grundy, Va., on Oct. 21, 1935. His first significant foray into show business came at 16, when he sang on a live radio show in Welch, W.Va., just across the border from his home.
Over the next several years, Street married, had children and earned his living as an electrician, construction worker and "body man" in car-repair shops. In 1963, he began performing and playing in the house band on the television shoe, Country Jamboree, and five years later had his own show called Country Showcase.
He soon came to the notice of Jim and Jean Prater, owners of an electronics store and a television cable company, and Joe Deaton, a disc jockey. The three also had a small record label, Tandem Records.
Street recorded "Borrowed Angel" in October 1970 with Deaton producing but because none of Street's support team knew much about the music business, it took two years and three different packagings of the single before it became a hit. "Borrowed Angel" entered the Billboard charts on May 27, 1972, on the Tandem label. By the time it had worked its way up to the No. 7 spot -- its peak position -- it had been transferred over to the small Nashville-based label, Royal American.
Street specialized in cheating and angel motifs. His second single, "Lovin' on Back Streets," went to No. 5, the highest charting Billboard record of his career. Others of the type were "Lovin' on Borrowed Time," "You Make Me Feel More Like a Man," "Forbidden Angel," "(This Ain't Just Another) Lust Affair," "I Met a Friend of Yours Today" and "Barbara, Don't Let Me Be the Last to Know."
With the Praters guiding his career, Street soon moved into stardom. He performed on the 1972 "New Faces Show" at Country Radio Seminar, appeared on the Grand Ole Opry and was a frequent guest on Ralph Emery's popular late-night interview show on radio station WSM-AM 650. His concert dates multiplied even as his fees for them escalated.
Many who knew Street believe fame rolled in too fast. A devoted family man he hated being on the road for the increasingly long stretches of time his popularity demanded. He also had to contend with incessant record label changes. To cope with all these burdens, he drank heavily, remaining on that downward psychological spiral until the end.
Although Street's music has been repackaged and reissued from time to time, it has never had the promotional push it deserves. But he has influenced a number of country artists, including Marty Raybon, lead singer of Shenandoah and Ricky Van Shelton.
In 1991, Dennis Schuler and Larry Delp, admirers from Street's native Virginia, began collecting information and photos for a book on the singer's life. The result is "Mel Street: A Country Legend Gone but Not Forgotten." Schuler and Delp are looking for a publisher.
On his way up, Street had idolized George Jones. Eventually the two men became friends. Jones even wrote liner notes for one of Street's albums, in which he declared, "He is one of three male singers that puts soul into a song." Jones' final act of friendship was singing "Amazing Grace" at Street's funeral.
A dozen new albums and half a dozen reissues are on the shelves this week. Among new works are albums from Merle Haggard, Mark Chesnutt, Doyle Lawson and the Bellamy Brothers. Emerson Drive and Little Big Town have debut albums out. Also out is The Flatlanders' first studio album in 30 years.
In 1972, Joe Ely, Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore went into a Nashville studio to cut what became The Flatlanders' first album, "More a Legend Than a Band." It was long available only in 8-track tape format and was finally released by Rounder. Since then the solo careers of each of the Flatlanders escalated and although they did occasionally perform together they didn't have the chance to record together again, except for a brief reunion to record the song "South Wind of Summer" for the soundtrack to the movie, "The Horse Whisperer." Finally, they reunited in an Austin studio for the new album, "Now Again." They are joined by guitarist Mitch Watkins on 13 new songs, most of them penned as a group effort by The Flatlanders.
Haggard spent time in Nashville during the late '90s working on a pet project that became the new "The Peer Sessions." On it he draws on the work of such pioneers as Bob Wills, Floyd Tillman, Jimmie Rodgers and Jimmie Davis for songs such as Rodgers' "Miss the Mississippi and You." Davis, just short of the century mark, joined Haggard on Davis' "Hang On to the Memories."
The young, traditional-leaning singer Chesnutt returns with a self-titled album on Columbia Nashville. Veteran producer Billy Joe Walker Jr. guides Chesnutt through 11 cuts, including the current single "She Was," which is at No. 27 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart.
The new group Emerson Drive debuts with a self-titled album on DreamWorks Nashville. It includes their current single, "I Should Be Sleeping," which is at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart.
The Bellamy Brothers return with "Redneck Girls Forever." Songs range from the title track to the Sept. 11-themed "Let's Roll America" and the nostalgia-tinged "The Andy Griffith Show."
Bluegrass veteran Lawson returns with the solo effort "Tennessee Dream." Songs include "Georgia Cracker," "Old Virginia Waltz" and "Five Miles to Winchester."