Red Sovine: I'm The Man - A Starday Singles Anthology (CD)
(Ace Records) 24 tracks (59:11) Starday masters 1960-71 with 16 page
booklet. amazing collection including 'East Of West Berlin'! The perfect companion to BCD 17268 'Juke Joint Johnny' 1949-60.*****
It’s probably fair to say that Red Sovine isn’t regarded as a country music superstar in the way his early career-boosters Hank Williams and Webb Pierce are, or that he is spoken of regularly in the same breath as his peers Buck Owens, Ray Price and George Jones. Yet Red’s solid baritone is the very essence of country music, and the majority of the 400-odd sides he recorded in his 21-year career back up that statement in an unqualified manner.
When Red’s name is spoken, it’s usually with reference to his big hits ‘Teddy Bear’, ‘Giddy up Go’, ‘Phantom 309’ and several other emotional recitations he cut in the 60s and 70s for Starday Records. Although they were an undoubted boon to his career, they have tended to obscure the fact that he really was a great country singer, and as a vocalist on a par with any member of his peer group.
This is Ace’s second dip into the huge stockpile of Red’s Starday masters, the first being “Honky Tonks, Truckers & Tears” CDCHD 1052. “I’m The Man” strives to address this by providing a cross-section of his work that concentrates on the singles he cut during his first lengthy tenure with the Nashville indie – which lasted from 1960 to 1971 with a couple of brief breaks. To keep it representative, we’ve included one recitation (‘I Think I Can Sleep Tonight’) and one truckin’ song (‘King Of the Open Road’), but the main focus is on the unadulterated, full-on country music Red recorded during this period.
There are some great on-the-fours honky tonk shuffles to enjoy, including ‘I Hope My Wife Don’t Find Out’ and the fabulous Justin Tubb song ‘She Can’t Read My Writing’. Red’s late 60s revivals of the 40s hillbilly perennials ‘Blues Stay Away From Me’, ‘I’m Waiting Just For You’ and ‘I’ll Sail My Ship Alone’ are as terrific as you might expect from a man who’d probably been singing them his whole career. His early 60s covers of more contemporary songs stack up well against the originals by Charlie Rich (a sublime ‘Sittin’ And Thinkin’’) and George Jones (a whole raft of songs, including ‘Color Of The Blues’, ‘Accidentally On Purpose’ and ‘Why Baby Why’). On these and other songs here Red is backed by key Nashville A-list pickers including pianist Pig Robbins, bass man Junior Huskey and steel player supreme Pete Drake. You don’t get to work with that calibre of musician if you don’t match up vocally.
There’s a third volume of Red’s Starday recordings in the pipeline, consisting exclusively of his versions of 60s country classics that became hits for his Grand Ole Opry colleagues. Meanwhile, it’s time to “pop a top” and immerse yourself in some of the best ever sides from a true giant of country music.
Article properties: Red Sovine: I'm The Man - A Starday Singles Anthology (CD)
Woodrow Wilson Sovine was born in Charleston, West Virginia on July 17, 1918. With his head full of red hair, he was destined to receive the most common nickname assigned to carrot tops. His father, Alonzo Sovine, was a steam engineer, specifically on large construction machinery. While still a lucrative profession at the time of his little Woodrow's birth, the spread of gasoline and diesel powered machinery soon resulted in hard times for the Sovine family.
Red's mother, Rebecca West Sovine, played the harmonica and concertina but never pursued music professionally. She taught Red and his siblings many older hymns and 19th Century popular songs. She also shared a love for the early recordings of Jimmie Rodgers and Jimmie Davis.
The young Red was also influenced by his mother's first cousin, Billy Cox. Known as the 'Dixie Songbird,' Cox appeared regularly on Charleston, West Virginia. radio station WOBU (later WCHS) in 1928 and made his first recordings for the Gennett label one year later. Cox became very successful in the early thirties, recording for A.R.C. and Columbia records with his most notable compositions, Sparkling Brown Eyes and Filipino Baby.
Cox often took his young cousin Red to the radio station or to live appearances in the nearby area. With such frequent exposure to music and the behind-the-scenes workings, there was little surprise that Red soon wanted his own guitar. As Red told Douglas B. Green in a 1975 interview, "I was twelve years old when I told my father I wanted a guitar, He said, 'Well, if you'll show me that you really want to learn to play it,' he said, 'I'll buy you one.' So I had a friend of mine that used to come to the house and show me some chords. I learned three chords, and I went and showed my dad, and he bought me a guitar, one of them with the resonator on the front…Paid twelve dollars for it." Red immediately began acting out his own pretend 'radio' shows in the family barn – performing songs, reading the news and commercials, and practicing jokes.
By 1934 or 1935 Red had performed enough pretend shows that he felt ready to become a professional musician. Hooking up with his boyhood friend, Johnnie Bailes, the pair began billing themselves as Smiley and Red, the Singing Sailors. Bailes was from a musical family and already had experience appearing on radio station WCHS in Charleston and performing in churches with his two younger brothers as the Bailes Brothers Hymn Singers. But 'Smiley & Red' focused primarily on Jimmie Rodgers songs and other popular tunes. They performed at church socials, parties, dances and won $15 at a department store-sponsored talent show in Charleston – which they managed to waste in one evening.
The partnership was short-lived, however, when Red's family moved the thirty or so miles upriver to the recently built community of Eleanor, West Virginia. Constructed in 1934, the town of Eleanor was a New Deal homestead community. These communities were constructed by the Federal government to provide housing and subsistence farming land to poor families, along with incentives for rural industrial initiatives that reinvested in the local community.