TODAY IN COUNTRY MUSIC HISTORY
Freddy Fender was born in San Benito, Texas (1937).
Lorrie Morgan joined the Grand Ole Opry (1984).
Pee Wee King & the Golden West Cowboys debuted on the Grand Ole Opry (1937).
OF MUSIC AND MORE
JOHNNY CASH ALL OVER
Johnny Cash turned 70 in February but the Man in Black keeps on rolling. Fans will soon be able to collect new albums by the man and in honor of the man.
RollingStone reports producer Rick Rubin is working on "American IV: When the Man Comes Around" for release in September. Among the songs being considered for the finished album are Sting's "I Hung My Head" "Hurt," by Nine Inch Nails; Marty Robbins "Big Iron" and Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face."
Columbia's Legacy label is getting ready to release a concert Cash recorded Dec. 5, 1969, before a record audience of 21,000 at Madison Square Garden. Recorded but never released the show included, in addition to Cash, Carl Perkins, The Statler Brothers and Mother Maybelle, Helen and Anita Carter. The album is due out the first week of September.
Also coming in early September are re-issues of four other Cash titles: Sings Ballads of the True West (1965); Songs of Our Soil (1959); The Johnny Cash Show (1970); and Silver (1979.
Cash bass player Dave Roe and BR5449's Chuck Mead are producing "Dressed in Black" for fall release. It features Mandy Barnett, Rodney Crowell, Hank Williams III, The Reverend Horton Heat, Raul Malo, Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis, among others.
"Kindred Spirits: A Tribute to the Songs of Johnny Cash" another tribute album, is being produced by Marty Stuart for Sony. It will have performances from Sheryl Crow, Bob Dylan, Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, Keb' Mo', Little Richard, Bruce Springsteen and Dwight Yoakam, among others.
DIAGNOSING COUNTRY MUSIC
Who says you can't study country music as a serious academic subject?
At Belmont University in Nashville scholars at the 19th Annual Country Music Conference last weekend found the format flawed, but fascinating.
Ronnie Pugh, the former reference librarian at the Country Music Foundation who is now with the Nashville Public Library, previewed a segment from his forthcoming book on country music and politics. It focused on a recording made for Columbia Records in Atlanta in 1931 that opposed Prohibition. Attributed to a singer called "Happy Jack" and set to the tune of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," the song is called "I'm Only Suggesting This." Pugh, who played the song twice for the audience, explained why it was a perfect model of political rhetoric, even though it was too obscure to have had much to do with the repeal of Prohibition, which would occur two years later.
Pugh lamented that he had not been able to trace Happy Jack's identity. Then, in one of those moments that occur only during assemblies of fanatics, Charles Wolfe, who teaches at Middle Tennessee State University, raised his hand to say that Happy Jack sounded a lot like Dan Hornsby, who managed Columbia's Atlanta studio at the time the recording was made and who occasionally sang on records anonymously.
The conference also heard from Don Cusic, a professor at Belmont University, who said he had briefly managed the western music group Riders in the Sky shortly after it was organized in the late 1970s. Cusic is writing a history of the Riders and credited them with "revitalizing the western music scene."
James Akenson, of Tennessee Technological University, demonstrated how country music can be integrated into the classroom. He played a video that showed him teaching a geography lesson to third-graders in which he used Lefty Frizzell's recording of "Saginaw, Michigan." Each time Frizzell uttered the name of that city, the students pointed as one to its place on the Michigan peninsula (peninsula being the particular geographical concept they were studying).
Richard Peterson, recently retired from Vanderbilt University, told how the Internet has created virtual communities that support the spread of alternative country music. Members of these communities, he said, are united in their contempt of the country music now being made in Nashville, preferring grittier, bleaker and more blue-collar sounds and poses.
Highlight of the conference was comedienne and banjoist Roni Stoneman, most remembered as the gap-toothed, hair-curlered, iron-wielding harridan on Hee Haw. Stoneman appeared at the conference in league with Dr. Ellen Wright of Northwestern University, who is writing the performer's biography, tentatively titled "Didya Ever Iron a Dress With a Light Bulb?"
Stoneman regaled the audience with tales of the Stoneman family including how she, a budding 9-year-old star, caught a young Grandpa Jones gluing on his moustache before a talent contest at Washington D.C.'s Constitution Hall.
"Obviously I chose to go with oral history (for this biography)," Wright said afterward, "and you can see the reason why."
Other subjects covered during the conference included Tex Ritter's run for the U.S.Senate, country music in the movies, the night Hank Williams died, early country radio, regionally popular country performers and country music's Scottish roots.