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Roy Acuff: Sings American Folk Songs & Hand Clapping Gospel Songs (CD)
On most CDs that the Ace group of labels release, we have a reasonably good idea of how many copies they are likely to sell immediately, and how many they might go on to sell in their catalogue lifetime. More often that not - happily, much more often than not - we're nigh on spot-on in our assessments, give or take a handful of copies. Sure, there are times when we're off beam - we're only human, after all. Generally, though we're there or thereabouts. We've been doing this a while now, so there'd be something seriously wrong if we were not.
However, every so often something comes along which does very nicely, very quickly, and thus surprises us in the nicest possible way. It's only been a few months since we put out our first Roy Acuff release, combining his two early 60s Hickory albums Once More' and 'The King Of Country Music'. Now, we expected this to be a nice addition to our growing country catalogue, and also a useful stock item that would tick over year-in, year-out. Turns out, though, that we may have underestimated the demand for Mr Acuff just a tad, as we've already sold almost as many copies of our first Acuff 2-on-1 in two months as we originally thought we might sell in two years!
Naturally we're very happy to be wrong on these kind of occasions, as it gives us the excuse to bring you further recordings from Acuff's Hickory catalogue, and bring them to you more quickly than was originally envisaged. So it is that, in March 2004, we have for you another excellent coupling of the man's Hickory long-players, both from the early 1960s and both featuring this legend of country music at the peak of his vocal powers.
These days, 'Americana' is a term you hear used a lot to describe traditional and real country music, ie the kind that American radio prefers to ignore while they're busy assaulting eardrums with loud AOR-rock that sounds like it escaped from a mid-70s Styx or Rush session. The two albums compiled here are thus 'Americana' in every sense of the word - they're traditional, and real.
'American Folk Songs' and 'Hand-Clapping Gospel Songs' are both self-explanatory 'concept' albums. And like the proverbial Ronseal, they both do exactly 'what it says on the tin'. AFS is Acuff's homage to the songs he learned as a boy and youth in South Tennessee, in the days when such songs as Little Rosewood Casket, Zeb Turney's Gal and House Of The Rising Sun were the equivalent of 'regional chart-toppers' through sung per-formances, rather than recorded ones. Acuff's early musical experiences again played a great part in the selection of repertoire utilised on HCGS, although he also dipped into the catalogues of 20th century songwriters like Albert Brumley, the Bailes brothers and Hank Williams to give the album a more contemporary edge.
Roy Acuff was never in better voice than he was in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and he's heard to his greatest advantage on 'American Folk Songs' especially. So intense are his performances at times that you can almost hear the tears rolling down his cheeks as he sings a song like The Letter Edged In Black - not an uncommon occurrence for Acuff, who was often known cry publicly when delivering a particularly emotional parable. The sympathetic backing from his long-time band the Smoky Mountain Boys - featuring the undisputed master of the dobro, Pete 'Bashful Brother Oswald' Kirby - enhances every one of Acuff's stellar performances. The man and his musicians certainly made some of the most uncompromisingly country music to be coming out of Music City in the era of the 'Nashville Sound', two dozen examples of which will shortly (we hope) be interacting with the laser of your CD player!
Plans are afoot to release more of Roy Acuff's Hickory albums in the 2-On-1 format. If this one sells even half as well as the previous one - and only half as quickly - you can expect the next pairing to be arriving fairly swiftly. Till that happens, we invite you to spend an essential hour in the company of Roy Claxton Acuff - a man who, for his many fans, simply was country music for most of the twentieth century and who, in their eyes, always will be.
By Tony Rounce'
Article properties: Roy Acuff: Sings American Folk Songs & Hand Clapping Gospel Songs (CD)
|Acuff, Roy - Sings American Folk Songs & Hand Clapping Gospel Songs (CD) CD 1|
|01||The Letter Edged In Black|
|02||The House Of The Rising Sun|
|04||Put My Little Shoes Away|
|05||Mother Was A Lady|
|06||Shut Up In The Mines|
|07||The Great Titanic|
|09||Red River Valley|
|10||Little Rose Wood Casket|
|11||Give My Love To Nell|
|12||Zeb Turney's Gal (Hand-Clapping Gospel Song)|
|13||Somebody Touched Me|
|14||Turn Your Radio On|
|15||Jesus Died For Me|
|16||Wait For The Light To Shine|
|18||Build Me A Cabin In Gloryland|
|19||I Saw The Light|
|20||I'll Fly Away From Here|
|21||It's All Right Now|
|22||Travelling The Highway Home|
|23||Glory Is Coming|
|24||The Glory Bound Train|
Record Labels: ARC, Melotone, Conqueror, Perfect, Okeh, Columbia, Vocalion, Harmony, Decca, MGM, Capitol, Hikkory, Rounder, Stetson
In the words of baseball giant Dizzy Dean, Roy Acuff was "the King of Country Music." It was a mantle that carried rights and obligations, and Acuff took them seriously. He developed an unyielding vision of country music rooted in an idealized past. He held true to that vision, and his audience kept faith with him. For decades, he traveled the country to play for his people. Later, as he became frail and his eyesight faltered, his audience traveled to him, as befits a king.
Roy Acuff wasn’t country music’s first star. He began recording in 1936, three years after Jimmie Rodgers died. Rodgers was indisputably the first galvanic presence in country music, but Acuff was one of the few from that era more-or-less untouched by his artistry. Of all the songs in Rodgers’ small but influential oeuvre, Acuff recorded just one, Muleskinner Blues. Beyond the fact that both Rodgers and Acuff had performed in medicine shows, their only similarity was that they were both very present in their recordings. Their music emanates a strong sense of self.
Jimmie Rodgers drew on blues, minstrelsy, and parlor ballads. His most authentic songs were populated by rounders, drunks, drifters, and grifters who could still shed a tear for Mother and Home. He sang with an insouciant drawl that came from African American music. Acuff too drew on parlor ballads, but he recast them in the mold of music from the Southern Uplands. The fierce pieties, ancient ballads, and hoe-downs came from there, too. No sin would go unpunished. Death was omnipresent. "There was whiskey and blood all together/ Mixed with glass where they lay/ Death played her hand in destruction/ But I didn't hear nobody pray." That was the essence of Roy Acuff distilled to a single verse. The sin, the retribution, the moral. He sang full-throated as if amplification had yet to be invented, and he sang with a passion that came from believing that he was a warrior for God, Family, and Country.
When the Grand Ole Opry had the opportunity to go coast-to-coast with just thirty minutes of its four hours, Roy Acuff was chosen as the syndicated segment’s host and star. He’d only been with the show a shade over a year, but it was already clear that he epitomized its values. He would be its emissary to the rest of the country. Already, he had cast off the smutty songs and jazz age tunes that his band had played when they were the Crazy Tennesseans. Now they were Roy Acuff and his Smoky Mountain Boys. No longer an ensemble, they were a star and his backing group.
The Grand Old Opry made a conscious or unconscious decision that there would never be a franchise act. Acuff was as close as they ever came. In that role, he helped to draw the country music business to Nashville, and when he co-founded Acuff-Rose Publications in 1943, he laid one of the cornerstones of that business. And then Acuff lost his way. A fiercely competitive man, dating back to his days as a local league baseball player, Acuff tried to compete with up-and-coming country-pop singers like Red Foley and Eddy Arnold. He quit the Opry for a year, added an accordion to his line-up, and began singing pop songs, many of them written by his new partner, Fred Rose. By the end of this collection, he had reconciled with the inevitable. The day for his music had passed, but he still had millions of fans, who might not rush to buy every release as they had ten years earlier, but would still pay to hear him sing. The pop songs together with the accordion were gone, and Acuff had returned to his home turf.
Bear Family has anthologized the complete works of Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family, Ernest Tubb, Hank Snow, Bob Wills, Uncle Dave Macon, Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, Johnny Horton, and others who preceded or were contemporaneous with Acuff. And now it’s Roy Acuff’s turn. Earlier, Bear Family gathered his 1950s Capitol, Decca, and MGM recordings onto a double CD. The Hickory and Elektra recordings that followed were plentiful and predominantly listenable, but rarely went anywhere that Acuff hadn’t already been. That leaves the recordings controlled by Columbia that were made between 1936 and 1951. In those recordings, Acuff found his voice together with the songs he would sing for the remainder of his long life.
The text for this set is divided into three sections: a biographical essay, biographical notes on Acuff’s musicians, and notes on the sessions.
These were the recordings that led Dizzy Dean to brand Roy Acuff the King of Country Music. Except Dean actually said, "Friends, it’s always a pleasure to appear on stage with the King of the Hillbillies." These days Acuff would probably be prouder of that sobriquet.
Nashville, July 2015
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