Conway Twitty was regretfully low-growling to a woman about how she was standing on a bridge that just won’t burn.
Ronnie Milsap was having daydreams about night things in the middle of the afternoon, somebody with not much sense was making Crystal Gayle’s brown eyes blue, and Barbara Mandrell was singing about sleeping single in a double bed, a situation difficult for a boy like me to contemplate, especially if you’ve ever seen Barbara Mandrell in person, which I did several times in the 1980s.
Country musically, it was a simpler time, a time I thought was forgotten until last week’s effort about the mournful passing of the entertaining singer and keyboard wizard Mickey Gilley at 86 prompted grateful mail that I am still answering. I thought the last fan of the Urban Cowboy music era had been stored away in some dusty attic, like the unwanted steel guitar and dobro.
Wrong. There are apparently more out there like me who wonder what happened to “our” music and have a hard time listening to anything past 1985 billed as “country.” Oh, every now and then a Toby Keith has squeaked in an “I’m Just Talkin’ ’Bout Tonight.” Travis Tritt got “Bible Belt” and “10 Feet Tall And Bulletproof” past the guardians of what passes for today’s country.
And thank goodness the new-schoolers weren’t looking when Lee Ann Womack showed up singing about how she should be ashes by now and also that she was a little past Little Rock but a long way from over you, (something “you” should be ashamed of).
It’s like the Statler Brothers sang when they sensed the sands shifting those hard-to-believe 35ish years ago: “I’ll tell you friend/a mandolin/won’t get you on a TV show/…whoa no…”
But there was a magical time, a bit after the Glory Days of George Jones and Johnny Cash, Mighty Merle and Roger Miller and Tammy Whynot (oops; typo?), Loretta Lynn, Jeannie Seely and Marty Robbins, all the fastball pitchers of my pre-driving days. After them came Gilley and the Gang, Country Music’s last stand.
Gene Watson picked the wildwood flower. Rosanne Cash explained the way we make a broken heart, and Rodney Crowell said she was crazy for leaving, a No. 1 song written by the great Guy Clark.
The Judds had to explain to momma that he was crazy. Don Williams was livin’ on Tulsa time, Keith Whitley was no stranger to the rain, all George Strait’s exes lived in Texas, and Emmylou Harris, the female standard bearer in this bureau, said she’d walk all the way from Boulder to Birmingham if she just had two more bottles of wine, and thank you Delbert McClinton for writing that.
Alabama. Wow. Nothing quite like old Alabama and old flames and Dixieland delights. The pre-Elvira Oak Ridge Boys in the Y’all Come Back Saloon. Janie Frickie was down to her last broken heart, and Con Hunley (“You Lay A Whole Lotta Love On Me”), Earl Thomas Conley (“Heavenly Bodies”) and John Conlee (“I Don’t Remember Lovin’ You”) had sound-alike names but sound-different-but-top-shelf hits.
The Bellamy Brothers. The dynamic Ricky Skaggs, who begged his girl not to cheat in their hometown or he’d tell Uncle Pen. Juice Newton, the queen of hearts. Vern Gosdin, who just wanted Joe to set ’em up and play “Walkin’ The Floor.” Not too much to ask, right?
Kenny gambling and Dolly warning me that it was going to be a hard candy Christmas unless I worked 9 to 5, and together they were islands in the stream.
Marshall Tucker. Charlie Daniels. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and “An American Dream.” And Sir Edward Rabbitt, who loved him on a rainy night and some rocky mountain music.
Two heavyweights were 1) Willie and the geographically challenging, ever-moving whiskey river, and 2) Waylon warning mommas not to let their babies grow up to be cowboys.
But if they did, well, that was OK too. Because Hank “Bocephus” Jr. said country folk and cowboy folk can survive … back when they were playing our song.
I’ll go punch up the next five tunes. . .Anybody got a quarter? A solid? Anyone?
Contact Teddy at email@example.com