Thursday, December 29, 2011

Wynonna Judd and Cactus Moser from Highway 101 engaged

Wynonna Judd and Cactus Moser got engaged on December, 24th (2011), according to Nashville PR Agency "Webster & Associates." Wynonna, daughter of the famous mother-daughter duos, The Judds and Highway 101 drummer Scott "Cactus" Moser are presently touring together as Wynonna and The Big Noise.

I don't know how, Wynonna told mother Naomi, that she is engaged again. Maybe she used the lyrics of the Kenny O'Dell ("Behind Closed Doors") penned and first Judds' number one hit "Mama He's Crazy."

Kix Brooks (of Brooks & Dunn) and Don Cook are the writers of "Who's Lonely Now," the last number-one hit (12/30/89 - yep this week 22 years ago) for the quartet Highway 101 before lead singer Paulette Carlson quit the band and was replaced by Nikki Nelson. Cactus is pounding the felts in this video.

Big Noise, the new band behind Wynonna had its debut on November, 27 of this year at Lindsley Bar & Grill in Nashville. Some amateur clips of this rockin' show can be found on youtube.
Cactus' son Wyatt also could celebrate a debut when he was allowed to sit in with the band.

Restored the video links 11/2020 - originally published at - moved 8/25/21

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Country Singer Billie Jo Spears has died

 Country singer Billie Jo Spears passed away at her home in Vidor,  northeast of Houston at the age of 74, yesterday morning (12/14/11). The cause of her death was cancer.

Billie Jo's career can pretty much be summed up into three phases, a first one where she was typecast as a Honky Tonk singer, a second one where she sang behind "Countrypolitan" arrangements and had her biggest and only number-one-hit "Blanket On The Ground." The third one was mostly abroad and in Branson as a nostalgic pop-country act, mostly singing her hits and other famous cover songs, like "I Will Survive" a hit for Gloria Gaynor.

The early years

According to Doug Davis' ( email, "she was the daughter of a truck driver father. Her mother was a welder in the shipyards, as well as a guitarist in the Light Crust Doughboys western-swing band."
Born as Billie Jean Moore in Beaumont on January 14, 1937, she began singing professionally when she was only 13 years old as part of an all-star country concert at Houston's Keel Auditorium. With the help of famous songwriter and talent-scout Jack Rhodes ("Satisfied Mind"), she began performing at the Louisiana Hayride on KWKH in Shreveport and was able to secure a recording contract with Abbott Records (onetime home of Johnny Horton and Jim Reeves). A first single (penned by Rhodes) "Too Old For Toys Too Young For Boys" was released under the name Billie Jean Moore in 1953. According to Colin Larkin in the Encyclopedia of Popular Music, that recording earned her $4,200.

 Rhodes and steel guitarist Pete Drake convinced her to move to Nashville, where she signed with United Artist Records in 1964, but none of her singles charted. After following her producer Kelso Herston to Capitol Records she started to have minor hits and finally cracked the top-10 (#4) of the country charts in 1969 with the Gene Crysler penned "Mr. Walker It's All Over."

 She followed her first top-ten-hit about an emancipated secretary with the Dallas Frazier composition "Stepchild" (#43), about an abuse victim. Other issue songs were "Pittsburg General" (again penned by Crysler), where she sings about working as a nurse, and the Walter Woodward composition "Marty Gray" about teenage pregnancy. 

 Even though several were novelty songs, like the Doris Hamilton and Ann C. Kiker penned ditty "Get Behind Me Satan And Push," the arrangements were still mostly traditional. According to Country Music: The Rough Guide, Billie Jo's sassy vocals evoke Loretta's singing style. Spears wouldn't be the only one, who was pigeonholed like that, listen to Jeannie C. Riley's hit "Harper Valley P.T.A.," or any other female country singer in the late 60's.

 In a 1976 interview with Jack Hurst for his syndicated column, Billie Jo Spears is quoted: "All those novelty songs scared me. I didn't want to be typecast."

 It was still difficult for a female artist to establish herself. "People were only used to Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette singing and selling ballads. A lot of the rest of us recorded them, and sometimes they were great records, but people weren't used to anybody singing them except Loretta and Tammy."

 Here's an example, of what could have been a hit, the Jack Rhodes composition "Home Loving Man" of her debut album.

 In 1970 she was part of the Capitol Country Caravan and toured for the first time in Europe,  though still charting minor hits, she started to fade away and then had to undergo vocal-cord surgery twice to remove nodules and polyps.

The Hit Years

 In 1975, Herston moved back to United Artist and resigned her after she fully recovered from her vocal problems. As he was quickly replaced by producer/label head Larry Butler, her sound started to change, as Butler started using a more "countrypolitan" approach with Spears. Butler used the same formula, with the same studio musicians also with the careers of Dottie West, Crystal Gayle, Jean Shepard, and Kenny Rogers.

 A first single, written by Bobby Goldsboro established her back in the charts. A year later, Billie Jo Spears could celebrate her only number-one hit in the country charts, with the Roger Bowling- written "Blanket On The Ground," even though she first refused to record it and had to be talked into it by Butler. The success of the song also crossed over the ocean and scored Spears a first top-ten  (#6) in the UK charts.
(Video: - Live - London's Wembley Arena in 1983)

 During the next eight years, she would reach the country top-forty 19 times being one of the most consistent female country singers of the late '70s. With both "What I've Got In Mind" (Kenny O'Dell) and "Misty Blue", a Bob Montgomery composition she reached the number-five spot. "Misty Blue" was originally written for Brenda Lee, who refused it, then made into a hit (#4/66) by Wilma Burgess.  "If You Want Me" (#8/77) was her last top-ten hit. Even though her arrangements were more pop-oriented, she kept her sulky, Texas twang and in 1976 won the Acadamy of Country Music (ACM), Most Promising Female Vocalist award.

 Some other songs she recorded for UA and charted with were "Stay Away From The Apple Tree (#20/75)," "Silver Wings (#20/75)," "Sing Me An Old Fashioned Song" (which charted only in the UK),  "Too Much Is Not Enough (#18/77)," "Lonely Hearts Club (#18/77)," "'57 Chevrolet (#16/78)" and even a remake of Gloria Gaynor's hit "I Will Survive (#21/79)."

 In 1976 she also recorded a duet album with Del Reeves "By Request" with "On The Rebound" written by Larry Atwood/Charlie Craig, but that was the only single that charted (#29) from that album.

 Partly due to the spark and sass in her vocals and her feisty demeanor, Spears songs rarely included female "victim" material. She stood her ground as a strong "fightin'" woman with "Never Did Like Whiskey (#18/76)," "I'm Not Easy (#11/77)," "I've Got To Go (#17/78)," "Standing Tall (#15/79)" to a remake of the Glenn Sutton/Billy Sherrill penned Tammy Wynette hit "Your Good Girl Is Gonna Be Bad."

Later Years

 After "Your Good Girl's Gonna Be Bad" was Spears' last Top-Twenty in 1981, United Artist and Spears went separate ways. She occasionally recorded for independent labels, usually based in the UK or Ireland, and began to extensively tour overseas, appearing several times at the International Festivals of Country Music, promoted by "music-man" Mervyn Conn. He even expanded the festival and therefore Billie Jo's career into - at that point still communist - Poland, into the Scandinavian countries of Sweden and Finland, as well as into Germany and Switzerland. The fact that she was easily approachable and would meet with her fans, to take pictures or sign autographs, made her a public favorite all over Europe.

 Some of the albums were even mass-marketed through TV and labels like Prism Leisure, EMI Gold, K-Tel, or Platinum. They were often compilations of her own hits and cover songs, the latter as diverse as re-recordings of hits by Buffy Sainte-Marie, James Taylor, Peggy Lee, Dionne Warwick, Dolly Parton, and Lynn Anderson, just to name a few.

 As you may have seen, almost all of the live clips are from overseas, where Billie Jo was able to sustain an affectionate fan base. In the 1990's British magazine Country Music People even tagged her as the "Queen Mother of Country Music."

 The two following clips are two of her earlier hits from later TV shows in the UK and Ireland - "What I've Got In Mind" and "'57 Chevrolet." The latter one was recorded two years ago. 

 Touring earlier this year in the UK, with Irish country singer Philomena Begley, Spears was up for another multi-city visit overseas, billed as the "Ladies of Country"  with Jeannie C. Riley ("Harper Valley P.T.A."), in May of next year. Irish country singer Sandy Kelly and English steel guitar prodigy Sarah Jory were also part of that tour.

 Here's a link to Billie Joe Spears' US discography.

 Spears was married five times, funeral arrangements are pending.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Honky Tonkin'

This is a start of a regular unregular or in better words, unregular regular blog about all the aspects of Honky Tonks, it's music and it's patrons. In one of the future editions, I will try to explain what a Honky Tonk is or what it has become over the years.

Just to start the blog, let's use Hank Williams' "Honky Tonkin'" which was Williams second big hit on MGM, reaching #14 in 1948. The reason why it didn't reach the Top-Ten could have been because there were two versions of the song available. A first version was recorded on 2/13/47 at WSM radio studios and included besides Williams, Zeke Turner on electric guitar, Dale "Smokey" Lohman on steel guitar, Louis Innis on bass and Tommy Jackson on fiddle. The first version was released as a B-Side to "Pan American" on Hank's last record for Sterling (Sterling 210) but failed to chart.

New manager Fred Rose was able to sign Williams to MGM on April 1st, 1947 and bought all copies of the earlier release for $ 2,000 and sold them to MGM and made Williams re-cut "Honky Tonkin'" on November 6, 1947. Zeke Turner was still on the electric guitar, but it was Jerry Byrd on steel guitar and Robert "Chubby" Wise on fiddle. Bassist could have been Louis Innis again, but that's not known for sure, it is also speculated who the piano player on this recording is, either Fred Rose or Owen Bradley.
This second version is more vibrant, maybe of better recording utilities at Castle studios, maybe also of a better relationship by now, between Williams and Rose.

This was the introduction blog (12/9/11) of my Honky Tonk series - the top picture was shot later, but was the blog header for about 4-5 years. Copied to amu-ricana on 8/25/21 - 174.