“Merle Haggard is such a commanding, penetrating songwriter, and his voice seems so entwined with the melody and rhythm of his best compositions, that it’s sometimes easy to forget he’s also a great singer. Haggard didn’t write “Sing a Sad Song,” but his first hit reveals just how affecting a vocalist he was from the start. . . .” —David Cantwell, Heartaches by the Number
Merle Haggard, vocal/guitar; Roy Nichols, guitar; Denver Moles, guitar; Wynn Stewart, guitar; Ralph Mooney, steel guitar; poss. Bobby Austin, bass; poss. Helen “Peaches” Price, drums. poss. George French Jr., piano; other details unknown. Hollywood, California, 1963 Get it: Country & Western Hit Parade 1964 Image: Merle Haggard, KUZZ radio picnic, Bakersfield, c. mid-1960s. (Left to right: Jerry Ward, Bonnie Owens, Merle Haggard, Don Rich.) Sonny Langley/That Bakersfield Sound This week on Blues All Kinds . . . Big Mama Thornton with Fred McDowell, The Louvin Brothers, Johnny Duhon & the Yello-Jakets, Iris DeMent, Big Bill Broonzy, Lucille Bogan, and . . . Ray Charles.
There’s really no unifying theme to this new series, except that most of the records we’ll be playing were recorded in and around Chicago, by artists often associated with Chicago, in the 1930s. As simple or as complicated as that. . . .
After 12 weeks, we’ve skipped forward and today we’re playing this series’ theme song, perfectly placed at the halfway point of Heartaches by the Number. And David Cantwell’s essay on this entry is so good, so short and sweet, there’s no way we’re gonna mess that up by trying extract a quote from it. So you’ll just have to run right out and get yourself a copy of HBTN if you want to find out where and why Ray stops counting. . . .
Ray Price, vocal; Grady Martin, Pete Wade, guitars; Jimmy Day, steel guitar; Tommy Jackson, Shorty Lavender, fiddles; Marvin Hughes, piano; Harold Bradley, electric bass; Joe Zinkan, acoustic bass; Doug Kirkham, drums. Nashville,
29 January 1959 “Heartaches by the Number” is on The Essential Ray Price. Note: There seems to be a problem with the Box player on the Kid’s posts, like today’s Heartaches by the Number. We don’t know why. Frank’s seem to play but not the Kid’s. Tho’ we tested this post on both an iPhone and an iPad and both played fine. So bear with us as we try to figure this one out. . . .
Bob Wills, fiddle/lead vocal//spoken; Jesse Ashlock, fiddle; Sleepy Johnson, fiddle/guitar; Everett Stover, trumpet; Ray DeGeer, clarinet/sax; Zeb McNally, sax; Leon McAuliffe, electric steel guitar; Al Stricklin, piano; Johnnie Lee Wills, tenor banjo; Herman Arnspiger, guitar; Joe Ferguson, string bass; Smokey Dacus, drums; Tommy Duncan, vocal. Chicago, 30 September 1936 Get it: San Antonio Rose. Illustration: Ben Shahn. Four Piece Orchestra, 1944 Waltzes, Steel Guitars, Etc., Etc. concludes its long run with this post. There should be no disappointment, though, no song with a minor refrain . . . for next week we pick up our 1930s thread with Blues in Chicago.
Bo Diddley, vocal/guitar/backing vocals; Peggy Jones, guitar/backing vocals; Jesse James Johnson, bass; Jerome Green, maracas; Billy “Dino” Downing, drums; Lafayette Leake or Billy Stewart, piano; Johnny Carter or Nate Nelson (The Flamingos) and/or Harvey Fuqua and/or Jerome Green and/or Billy Stewart, backing vocals. Bo’s home studio, Washington, D.C., February 1960 Get it: Bo Diddley Is a Gunslinger.
Photo: Nikita Khrushchev, Roswell Garst, Guthrie County, Iowa, September 1959. Photo source: Bolshevik Mean Girls
Session personnel: Otis Rush, vocal/guitar; Doug Kilmer, bass; John Kahn, bass; Bob Jones, drums; Fred Burton, rhythm guitar; Mark Naftalin, piano; Ira Kamin, organ; John Wilmeth, trumpet; Ron Stallings, tenor sax; Hart McNee, alto sax. San Francisco, February 1971 Hear “Tore Up” on Otis Rush’s 1976 album Right Place, Wrong Time.
“‘Your hand is like a torch each time you touch me,’ Jeannie Seely moans, her body trembling as the tingle, frozen by a chiming vibraphone, becomes a chill. ‘Don’t open the door to heaven if I can’t come in / Don’t touch me if you don’t love me,’ she begs, her tear-stained voice throbbing with unfulfilled desire. . . . ‘To have you, then lose you, wouldn’t be smart on my part,’ she groans in a ravaged quaver, torturing the word ‘part’ for an agonizing eight counts until at last her voice breaks and, with it, her heart.” Bill Friskics-Warren’s description of Jeannie Seely’s performance of “Don’t Touch Me” in HBTN are poetry pure and simple. Now try listening to Jeannie Seely sing it and see if the chill bumps don’t rise all over. . . .
“Jerry Lee Lewis could’ve been one hell of a preacher. He certainly had the credentials. He came up in the Holiness Church/Assembly of God and attended Bible college in Waxahatchie, Texas, just outside Dallas. . . Thing is, the Killer could be speaking in tongues and it would still sound like lust, and he sure doesn’t leave much to the imagination here. . . .” writes Bill Friskics-Warren in HBTN.
But before Jerry Lee got to that point he was having a crisis of conscience, his Pentecostal background colliding with his desire for another big hit (after “Whole Lotta Shakin’”) and he and Sam Phillips went at one another with some pretty strange logic in the Sun studio, with Billy Lee Riley interjecting cynical “Amens” and “Hallelujahs” into the proceedings. “H-E-L-L!” protests Jerry at the start of their “discussion.” Eventually “you broke my will, but what a thrill” won out, and Jerry and Sam had another hit on their hands (#1 country, #2 pop, #3 R&B).
David Cantwell, writing about HBTN entry number 10, quotes Woody Guthrie: “I hate a song that makes you think you are just born to lose. Bound to lose.” But, he writes, “cuts like this made [Ted] Daffan a favorite of the folks who crowded the dance halls of California and the Southwest during World War II.” Because, as he quotes writer John Morthland, “. . . for the millions of displaced working people forced to stay in cities like Detroit and Chicago in order to keep jobs [‘Born to Lose’] was received as a metaphor for modern life in general.” Well, I’m pretty much with Woody. But I guess I’m also with Ted Daffan’s boys, and Jerry Lee Lewis and Ray Charles for that matter. . . .
With today’s post we come to the end of the first ten entries in Heartaches by the Number. The first ten gave us a taste of the great country singles released from the late twenties and onward that are discussed throughout the book, and also how one great record tends to suggest another. Starting next Sunday, we’ll begin to spread out and listen to a hodge podge of records from throughout the main 500 as well as the authors’ “alternate 100.” A lot of these entries will be posted because they’re personal favorites here at BAK or because the authors of HBTN have elucidated something possibly not apparent in a casual listen. Stick around. . . . Leonard Seago, fiddle/vocal; Freddy Courtney, accordion; Ted Daffan, electric steel guitar; Ralph C. Smith, piano;
Buddy Buller, lead guitar; Chuck Keeshan, guitar; Johnny Johnson, string bass; Lindley “Spike” Jones, drums.
Hollywood, California, 20 February 1942 Find it: Country: The American Tradition
Otis Redding, vocals; Sammie Coleman, John Farris, trumpets; Clarence Johnson Jr., trombone; Robert Holloway, Robert Pittman, Donald Henry, tenor saxophones; James Young, guitar; Ralph Stewart, bass; Elbert Woodson, drums. The Whiskey A Go Go, Los Angeles, April 1966