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On the Passing of Country Music’s Queen – Kitty Wells, 1919-2012

Country music lost a true legend and pioneer yesterday with the passing of Kitty Wells, just a few weeks shy of 93.  She died peacefully at her home in Madison, Tennessee, after suffering complications from a stroke.

Wells’ historical significance to country music – particularly to women in country music – certainly cannot be overstated.  She became the first female artist in history to score a number-one country single with her landmark 1952 hit “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.”  It was an answer song to the Hank Thompson hit, “The Wild Side of Life,” and is one of only a few answer songs to nearly eclipse the song it responded to. The song made such a bold, controversial statement at the time that it was banned from a number of radio stations.

Wells was a consistent presence on the country charts from the early fifties to the late sixties – the only consistently successful female artist in country music at the time.  She became the first female country artist to release her own full-length LP with her 1956 release Country Hit Parade.  She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1976, and was its oldest living member for the last few years of her life.  Because of her many unique accolades and accomplishments, Wells is often referred to as the Queen of Country Music.

Barbara Mandrell, to whom Wells was a mentor as well as a personal friend, issued the following statement yesterday:

“Kitty Wells was every female country music performer’s heroine. She led the way for all of us and I feel very grateful and honored to have known her. She was always the most gracious, kind and lovely person to be around. I so appreciated her being a part of my life and a mentor to me.”

I know I sure did love Kitty Wells’ music, and still do.  I always found her performances to have a simple, unadorned sincerity about them that’s become rare in recent years.  She truly sounded like one who meant every word she sang.  In addition, I have long had a special appreciation for the many talented women of country music, which causes me to hold Kitty Wells in particular regard as the one who laid the groundwork, and provided inspiration for the generations of female talent that followed in her footsteps. Country music has a long and illustrious history of outstanding, gifted, and at time outspoken female artists – from Dolly and Loretta to Patty and Trisha – and it all goes back to Kitty Wells.  Better yet, she taught them to sing what they believed in, and not to be afraid to ruffle a few feathers.  It’s difficult to imagine what the story of country music would have been without her.

Thank you, Kitty Wells. Rest in peace.

Kitty Wells performs her signature classic, “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.”

Kitty Wells performs “Making Believe,” a 15-week #2 hit in 1955 (revived by Emmylou Harris in 1977).

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2012 in News and Events

 

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This Time It’s Personal – A Conversation with Kellie Pickler

The following is a syndicated interview that originally appeared on Roughtstock.com.

Kellie Pickler first got her start in the music business when she finished in sixth place on the fifth season of American Idol.  Since then, she’s carved out a respectable country music career that’s yielded five Top 20 hits, including “Red High Heels,” “I Wonder,” and the Top 10 “Best Days of Your Life.”  Her new album 100 Proof, which features a more traditional country sound than her previous efforts, drops today.

I had the chance to speak with Kellie Pickler in Nashville recently.  In the interview that follows, she shares how her new musical direction came about while discussing how she’s grown as an artist in the years since her debut, and how music helps her find healing from painful childhood experiences.

Ben Foster:  You’ve got your first new album coming out since 2008, and you’ve said that you made this album as country as you were allowed to make it.  What made you want to steer your music in a more traditional direction?

Kellie Pickler:  My grandparents had a big part in raising me, so the first style of music that I was ever introduced to as a kid was traditional country music.  My Grandpa Pickler taught me my first song, and that was Hank Senior, “My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It.”  I love the classics.  That’s where my heart is.  You know, I think country music is so wide right now, which is good.  There’s so many different styles of country music, and I think there’s room for all of it, including that traditional sound, which is where I’ve always wanted to be.  I’ve always wanted to make the kind of record that I made with this one.  When I first started out, I was nineteen and green when I first moved to Nashville.  I didn’t know anybody, and I didn’t have any friends or any family here.  You’re scared to take risks.  I was scared to take risks ‘cause I didn’t want to piss anybody off and get sent back home.  I definitely feel like I’ve paid somewhat certain dues where I’m in a place where I’m willing to jump, and if my parachute opens, it opens.  If it doesn’t, then it doesn’t!

Ben:  So basically you’ve reached the point where you’re taking control of your career and saying “This is the kind of music I want to make.”

Kellie:  Yeah, absolutely.  I think this is the best record I’ve made as far as being consistent from the first song to the last song.  I’m so proud of it.  I’ve never ever been more proud of anything I’ve ever worked on like I am this project.

Ben:  Which artists would you say have had the most influence over the sound and styles of this album?

Kellie:  Definitely Tammy.  I love Tammy Wynette.  She is one of the biggest reasons why I fell in love with country music, along with Kitty Wells and Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn.  I think it’s important for me, when I went into the studio this time, to really just put all of myself in this record as possible, and really shine a light on the people that even influenced me to even do this in the first place, and this is where I’m the most comfortable.  You know, it’s easier to be yourself than to try to be something you’re not.  I’m very much a people pleaser.  I want everybody to be happy; I want everybody to like me; I want to like everybody.  I’ve tended in the past to kind of compensate a little bit of who I am in order to get people to like me, to be honest.  It’s scary because I know for every artist – I think I speak for most every artist – when you go in the studio, it’s hard to go in the studio and not think first off “What is radio gonna play?  Is this gonna be something that we can get on the radio?  Are they gonna like this?”  Because radio is our biggest voice in country music.  It’s how people hear our songs.  It’s how people know about our shows.  It’s how people know that we’re still making music.  The only place I’ve ever wanted to be is on the radio – on country radio.  I don’t care about being on any other station except country radio.  I don’t wanna be on any other station except country radio, ‘cause this is my home.  This is where I wanna be, and this is where I belong.  I just went in the studio and I didn’t make a record for anyone else but myself.  It’s the first time I went in the studio and made my record.  I did it for me, and sometimes it’s okay to be a little selfish and put yourself first.

Ben:  Absolutely.  That makes some of the best albums.

Kellie:  I think so too!  I look at people like Dolly, and I look at people like Loretta, and I look at people like Tammy and Kitty Wells.  Had they played it safe, they wouldn’t be the icons that they are today.  I think that it was important for me to do the same thing they did, and that was just jump.  Jump out of the plane.  You never know – That parachute might open, and you might have a soft landing, or it could be rocky.  But either way, you’re gonna know that you took the risk to jump, and you’re not gonna have ‘what if’s.

Ben:  Since you’ve been talking about some of the artists who shaped your sound, that makes me curious to ask you what is your personal favorite country albums of all time, if you have one, and why?

Kellie:  Oh gosh.  Goodness gracious, that’s hard to say.  My grandma passed away several years ago, but she and my grandpa had this old record player, and my grandpa gave it to me about a year and a half, two years back, and I got all their vinyls, and so that’s what I listen to.  I still collect vinyl records, so it’s hard to go through and say what my favorite record is.  I do have a Hank Senior record that is pretty old, and it’s more of a live sound record that I listen to all the time when I’m getting ready, and it has some of his older hits that I love.  But there again, there’s so many Tammy records… one of my favorite Tammy records is of course the one where it has “Bedtime Story” and “The Divorce,” and there’s “I Don’t Wanna Play House.”  That is one of my favorite songs.  That might be my favorite Tammy song.  It’s one of my favorite Tammy songs, “’Til I Get It Right”…  I mean, there’s just so many great ones, you can’t pick one.

Ben:  In what ways is 100 Proof a truer reflection of yourself than your past two albums?

Kellie:  I’d say that, of course this record is gonna be more me than the last one because this record is exactly where I am in my life right now.  A lot’s happened.  It’s been three years and four months since the last record came out, and I’m married.  I married my best friend, and he’s so good to me.  I’m so happy.  I think when people hear the songs on this record – the people that know me, not just acquainted, and I have played this record for a couple of my very close friends – they all said ‘There you are!  There’s Kellie.  That’s the Kellie we know.  That’s the Kellie that’s sitting in front of me.’  So I know, not because I just feel that way, but because the people that know me have stated that.  And my Grandpa Pickler, he knows me better than about anybody, ‘cause he had a big part raising me, and the songs are about my life.  There’s no song on this record that I sat down and thought ‘I gotta write a song for this album!’  No song was written for the intentions of being record, like “Mother’s Day” that my husband [Kyle Jacobs] and I wrote.  We didn’t write that song for anybody to hear; in fact I didn’t want anybody to hear it in the first place.  We just happened to write that song on Mother’s Day, and it was written for me to find closure, to heal.  It just, some way or another, it made its way on the record.  But for me, it’s never a premeditated plan of what this song’s gonna be about, and that it’s gonna be recorded, that it’s gonna be on the album.  There’s no thought except this moment right now I need to write this song and get what’s in my heart down on paper so that I can heal – start that healing process.  For me, music is so therapeutic, and there’s so much closure found in writing, and that’s why I write.  I don’t write for any other reason but to find closure, and it just happened to make the record.

Ben:  That personal touch really shines through on “Mother’s Day,” to me as a listener.  In the songwriting, and I also thought that was one of your most compelling vocal performances that I’d heard.

Kellie:  Thank you, thank you for saying that.  It was important for me to make sure that songs like “The Letter,” which is just an acoustic guitar and me, and “Mother’s Day” it was important for me to make sure that these songs were not over-produced.  I didn’t want any of these songs to be over-produced.  I want to sell this song by the power of the lyrics, and the power of the realness behind the lyrics – that they’re true stories about my life, and it doesn’t need to be overdone.

Ben:  I’d love to hear you talk about the people you got to work with for the album, such as the qualities Frank Liddell and Luke Wooten brought as producers, as well as some of the awesome songwriter’s you got to work with like Dean Dillon and Leslie Satcher.

Kellie:  Frank and Luke – it really started with them, as far as they were the ones that convince me ‘You’re not just a singer; you’re an artist, and that’s what we want to capture on this record.’

Ben:  There is a difference.

Kellie:  Yeah, there is, and I never really thought of it that way until Luke and Frank said that.  For them, the most important thing, like I said, was capturing the artist Kellie Pickler, not the singer, but the artist, and I think they captured my soul on this record.  I really do believe that.  And the fact that I got to write with Dean Dillon – He is to me like country music royalty.  He wrote one of my favorite songs.  He’s written so many of my favorite songs… “Set ‘Em Up Joe”!

Ben:  He’s one of the reasons George Strait is country music royalty.

Kellie:  Yeah!  I was so shocked that he even took the time to write with me, because I reached out to him.  I reached out to him, and asked for him if he would write with me because I’m a fan.  And Leslie Satcher, I reached out to her, and they were willing to take the time to work with me on my record, and they didn’t have to.  They don’t need me, Leslie and Dean.  They don’t need me.  I needed them.  I really did, and I still need them because I’ve learned so much from them, and I know the longer I’m around them, the more I’m gonna learn.  I value their opinion and their guidance.

Ben:  It’s great to see you moving yourself forward in your career.  That’s really awesome to see.

Kellie:  Thank you so much.  I feel too like I was so nineteen and green when I started.  Nobody knows themselves at nineteen.  You think you do, but you don’t, because you’re not supposed to.  But yeah, I’m excited, and that means a lot to me that you say that, ‘cause that’s what you wanna do as an artist.  You wanna touch people through your music, and have an impact on people’s lives.  I think music has so much more power than it’s given credit for.

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2012 in Interviews

 

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It’s Time to Light the Lights, Y’all – Country Music Meets the Muppets


Two things I love:  (1) Country music, and (2) The Muppets.  Miss Piggy’s cameo appearance at last month’s CMA Awards was hardly the first time the two had intersected.  But before I head off to the movie theater to see The Muppets - the first theatrical film to star the Muppets since 1999 – I thought I’d celebrate my 300th blog post on The 1-to-10 by sharing a few classic TV moments that featured great country performers surrounded by those ever-lovable Muppets.

The Muppet Show, the classic Muppet-centric television series that ran from 1976 to 1980, had a history of featuring many prolific country music performers as special guest stars – performers who often went on to become legends.

Kris Kristofferson and Miss Piggy, “Help Me Make It Through the Night” – The Muppet Show, 1978

“It’s a very sexy number,” Piggy warn Kermit.  “Are you sure you won’t be jealous?”  To Miss Piggy’s dismay, Kermit doesn’t really seem to care.

Roy Clark, “Rocky Top” – The Muppet Show, 1978

It’s The Muppet Show with special guest stars… Roy Clark, Roy Clark, Roy Clark, and Roy Clark!

Loretta Lynn, “One’s On the Way” – The Muppet Show, 1978

One of my favorite Loretta Lynn songs sung by the woman herself backed by a brood of somewhat aggressive Muppet infants.

Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, “Hazy Mountains”/ “Tumbling Tumbleweeds”/ “Happy Trails” – The Muppet Show, 1979

Two legends of music and film perform a medley of Western classics.

John Denver, “Grandma’s Feather Bed” – The Muppet Show, 1979

This number is, for lack of a better description, cuter than a box of kittens.

Crystal Gayle, “River Road” – The Muppet Show, 1979

With Loretta having appeared on The Muppet Show, there was obviously no way little sister Crystal Gayle was getting left out.  In this number, she portrays a young runaway persuaded to return home by an elderly woman.

Kenny Rogers, “The Gambler” – The Muppet Show, 1979

Okay, so those eerily-realistic old man puppets just might be the creepiest Muppets I’ve ever seen, but hey, we still get Kenny Rogers singing his timeless classic “The Gambler”!

Johnny Cash, “Dirty Ol’ Egg-Suckin’ Dog” – The Muppet Show, 1980

The legendary Man In Black performs a song which the pianist Rowlf seems to find quite offensive.

Linda Ronstadt, “Blue Bayou” – The Muppet Show, 1980

Kermit the Frog finds himself smitten with the beaufitul Linda Ronstadt, as she is likewise with him, but she’ll have Miss Piggy to get past first!  In this hilarious episode, Ronstadt performs her classic country and pop hit “Blue Bayou.”

What are your favorite country music moments involving the Muppets?  Share them in the comments section.

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2011 in Playlist

 

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Album Review: Miranda Lambert – Four the Record

There’s a reason why Miranda Lambert is one of the most consistently interesting and critically acclaimed artists in mainstream country music.  She is not afraid to take risks.  Such risks continue on her aptly titled fourth release Four the Record, an effort characterized by creative experimentation, though the results are slightly less consistent than we would normally expect from Lambert.

Four the Record experiments with a diversity of sounds, styles, and influences.  How appropriate, then, that the album opens with “All Kinds of Kinds” – a song that celebrates diversity.  The lyrics paint colorful visual images of a wedding beneath a circus tent between an acrobat and a human cannonball, of a marriage between a pharmacist and a cross-dressing congressman, while the third verse taps into the narrators desire to explore her own unique identity.  Lambert goes in an unexpected direction with the standout track “Fine Tune,” which builds on a metaphor of an “engine of a heart that would not start ’til you showed up with a master-key.”  The track finds Lambert singing over a heavy beat backed with bluesy electric guitars, which ends up sounding pretty cool, though it could do with out the excessive vocal processing.  It only loosely qualifies as “country music,” and its sound will likely prove polarizing, but the off-beat styling makes it one of the album’s most unusual and interesting tracks. (Plus the coolest thing since hearing Faith Hill sing “centrifugal motion” has got to be Miranda singing “defibrillator”)

Lambert shares writing credits on half of the album’s tracks, but there are times when she falls shy of her usual songwriting standards.  Lead single “Baggage Claim,” co-written with Luke Laird and Natalie Hembry, draws on a previously unused metaphor, only to stretch the metaphor until it nearly breaks.  To her credit, however, Lambert draws on some strong sources of outside material, with perhaps the best case being her version of David Rawlings and Gillian Welch’s “Look at Miss Ohio.”  Brandi Carlile’s “Same Old You,” is a smart, self-realizing composition that shows traces of Loretta Lynn influence, and that wouldn’t sound out-of-place on Lambert fantastic Pistol Annies album.  On the other hand, her co-write with fellow Annie Angaleena Presley is surprisingly one-dimensional, and almost sounds like a song that just wasn’t quite good enough to make it onto the Pistol Annies album.

Perhaps the album’s most disappointing track is “Better In the Long Run” – the obligatory duet with hubby Blake Shelton, which suffers from an over-the-top performance on Shelton’s part, as well as an extremely boring central hook.  It sounds like something that songwriter Ashley Monroe must have written on an off-day.  The results are quite disheartening, considering the inherently lofty potential of a duet between vocalists of Shelton and Lambert’s caliber (which their past collaborations often came much closer to fulfilling).

Production choices are generally beneficial, with a few exceptions.  Lead single “Baggage Claim” boats infectious acoustic strumming and hand claps, which serve to elevate its rather clunky lyrics.  The bitter “Mama’s Broken Heart” is a stronger lyric, but the chorus rocks out so hard that you’ll be diving for the knob to lower the volume, though the lightly percussive intro works well.  Fortunately, there are plenty of moments in which strong lyrics meet good protection, thus making for some notable album highlights.  On Miranda’s self-written “Dear Diamond,” a light contemporary arrangement underscores her deeply emotional performance, which is bolstered by vocal harmonies of the ever-excellent Patty Loveless, while a light acoustic arrangement perfectly frames the bouncy melody of “Same Old You.”

Though the album has its share of missteps, its best and most interesting tracks are enough to reaffirm the fact that Lambert is not content to settle into a creative rut of half-hearted repetition.  It’s clear that her work continues to be characterized by restless creativity, and though Four the Record is not Miranda’s all-time best album, it’s more than interesting enough to have us waiting with bated breath to see what she’ll do with record number five.

MIRANDA’S SCORE:  7
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

BUY IT ON AMAZON

 
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Posted by on November 15, 2011 in Album Reviews

 

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