Sunday, July 26, 2015

HEARTACHES BY THE NUMBER

In his outstanding HBTN essay for entry number 9 Bill Friskics-Warren writes, “Records as evocative as ‘Rank Stranger’ cry out for multiple interpretations. The song’s narrative is as straightforward as it is sketchy—and as harrowing. . . . [One] possibility is that the dystopia depicted in ‘Rank Stranger’ isn’t so much a physical place (although it’s certainly that) as a moral condition. . . . Adrift in some infernal limbo, Ralph’s aggrieved wailing floats, untethered, on the chorus, making it plain that, for now, the brothers are stuck in a living hell.”

The first time I heard “Rank Stranger” was at the height of my blues fever which had been built upon a foundation of a decade’s worth of listening to Top 40 rock’n’roll and pop music. Country music and bluegrass could not have been farther from my musical interests. Until the fateful day when a banjo playing friend played for me the Stanley’s “Rank Stranger.” To say I was floored, flabbergasted, my heart and soul taken with no resistance, might be a little on the dramatic side but no less accurate a description of my reaction. So let’s just say that nearly 50 years later “Rank Stranger” and the Stanley Brothers remain near the very top of my own “500 greatest records” of any stripe or color.


9.  Rank Stranger • The Stanley Brothers • 1960


Sunday, July 05, 2015

HEARTACHES BY THE NUMBER

In the midst of all the hullabaloo over who was going to influence the musical tastes of the newly discovered teenage demographic (and grab as much of their record buying money as possible), 
up walked Ray Price. Ray was just coming into his own after shedding his earlier Hank Williams influences so he was not particularly interested in trying to be a Rock’n’roller or embracing the emerging Nashville Sound. Instead he and his musical cohorts invented a sound of their own, the “Ray Price beat.” As Bill Friskics-Warren writes in HBTN, “‘We were having trouble getting a good clean bass sound,’ Price recalled of the session [that produced “Crazy Arms”]. ‘So instead of going with the standard 2/4 beat, I said, “Let’s try a 4/4 bass and a shuffle rhythm.” And it cut—
it cut clean through.’ Indeed, Buddy Killen’s surging bassline—which Price suggested be played on both electric and acoustic bass, making it doubly rocking—cut a swath wide enough for honky-tonk to rocket straight into the modern era. . . . Price and company transformed the gutbucket country shuffle of the postwar era into a pop-wise rhythm that kicked as hard as big-beat rock & roll. Hard enough, in fact, to knock [Carl] Perkins’s ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ off the top of the country charts. . . .”



6.  Crazy Arms • Ray Price • 1956


Ray Price, vocal; Van Howard, guitar/harmony vocal; Jack Pruett, Pete Wade, guitars; Jimmy Day, steel guitar; Tommy Jackson, fiddle; Floyd Cramer, piano; Buddy Killen, bass. Nashville, 1 March 1956

The Essential Ray Price is a good place to hear “Crazy Arms.”