I've been a country music fan since the early 1970s. When the Beatles and other rock bands from the 1960s ceased to exist and the "acid rock" era dawned, I didn't really like the new music, so I turned to country.
I became familiar with many of the country hits and stars from the 1950s and 1960s, and enjoyed the new ones who came on the scene in the 1970s.
Among them were Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb, Eddie Arnold, Cowboy Copas, "Whispering" Bill Anderson, Charlie Pride, Loretta Lynn, Kitty Wells, Lynn Anderson, Tanya Tucker and Tammy Wynette.
I bought albums with songs such as "Waltz Across Texas," "Your Cheatin' Heart," "Rose Garden," "Coal Miner's Daughter," "Stand by Your Man," "Kawliga" and "Crazy Arms."
When the more glitzy pop/rock style of country music came on the scene a few years ago, I began listening to country music stations less and less, and bought old-time country CDs to again hear the tunes I enjoyed so much several years earlier.
To this day, when driving around in my car, I tend to play those CDs more than I listen to the radio.
I enjoy country songs that feature steel guitars, fiddles, mandolins, banjos, harmonicas and honky-tonk pianos. You can't hear those instruments much in today's country bands.
READING ABOUT STARS
In recent weeks, I've read autobiographies and biographies of some of my favorite country stars, and some of the most beloved of all time -- Hank Williams, Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette.
The titles are "Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams" by Paul Hemphill, "Still Woman Enough" by Lynn and "Tammy Wynette: Tragic Country Queen" by Jimmy McDonough.
Those stars' legacies are still intact since many of their fans are still around, but I have to wonder how many more years they will be remembered. At the end of her life, which ended way too soon, Wynette once asked many of her friends, "Where has our music gone?"
I've wondered that, too.
Lynn is the only one of the trio still alive; she recently celebrated her 85th birthday, but suffered a stroke in early May. She still is doing shows around the U.S. and appears on TV specials and music awards shows. She was scheduled to appear at the Packard Music Hall in Warren on June 9, but that has been put on hold.
I'm sure many Advocate readers remember the 1980 movie "Coal Miner's Daughter," which was released after Lynn's first autobiography. Sissy Spacek played Lynn. I saw that movie five times in theaters after it came out.
Much of Lynn's life was tough. "The Queen of Country Music" grew up dirt poor in Butcher Hollow, Ky. Many times, her family went without shoes and food. Then she married Doolittle Lynn in 1948 at age 15.
The Lynns were married for nearly 50 years -- Doolittle died in 1996 -- but their years were rocky, and it is amazing that she stayed all that time with him. He sometimes drank heavily, and abused and cheated on her.
The Lynns had four children by the time she was 20, and twins a few years later. Two of her children are deceased. She began her recording career in 1960 with her first big hit "I'm a Honky Tonk Girl."
She has written more than 160 songs and released 60 albums, selling 45 million records worldwide. Sixteen of her songs reached No. 1 on the country charts.
Among some of her biggest hits are "Don't Come Home A-Drinking (With Lovin' on Your Kind)," "Fist City," "Coal Miner's Daughter," "You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man)" and "One's on the Way."
Lynn and Conway Twitty were two of country music's all-time favorite duos. They scored big hits with such songs as "Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man," "After the Fire is Gone," "Lead Me On" and "As Soon as I Hang Up the Phone."
Twitty, whose real name was Harold Jenkins, died at age 59 in 1993. He chose his stage name one day while looking at a road map and spotting the towns of Conway, Ark. and Twitty, Texas.
I saw Lynn perform in the early 1970s at the now defunct Ponderosa Park near Salem.
One of the saddest stories in country music was that of Williams. Although one of the most influential songwriters in the genre's history, his recording career lasted only five years and he died at age 29 on New Year's Day 1953, just 16 days after I was born.
Born in Alabama, he also grew up poor, and began his music career in 1937. He eventually was a regular on "The Louisiana Hayride" and "Grand Ole Opry" country music shows.
Some of his classic tunes are "Honky Tonkin,'" "Move It On Over," "Hey, Good Lookin'" "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," "Your Cheatin' Heart" and "Lovesick Blues."
"The King of Country Music" recorded 35 singles that reached the Top 10 on "Billboard" magazine's country chart, including 11 No. 1s.
But Williams' health was severely damaged by back pain, alcoholism and prescription drug abuse. He began drinking -- sometimes heavily -- in his teens, and missed countless shows when he was on "benders."
He and his driver were heading north to play a New Year's Day show in Canton, when his driver found him dead in the back seat somewhere near Charlestown, W.Va.
When the emcee at the Canton show announced Williams' death, they laughed, thinking it was just another of his missed shows. But when the performers began singing "I Saw the Light," the crowd realized he was dead and sang along. He is buried in Montgomery, Ala.
Williams' son Hank Jr. (Bocephus) and grandson Hank III have gone on to successful country music careers. They also have benefitted greatly from royalties from many of Hank Sr.'s songs.
If Williams' life wasn't tragic enough, Wynette's was filled with sadness. Sometimes known as "The First Lady of Country Music," she died on a couch at her home on April 6, 1998 at age 55.
She was married five times, including for about six years to country music legend George Jones, who also was her singing partner at shows and on records, and for the last 20 to songwriter-producer-manager George Richey. One of her marriages lasted 44 days.
Life with Jones and Richey sometimes wasn't pleasant. Jones had a drinking and drug problem during a portion of his career before getting straight in his later years. He died in 2013 at age 81. And many of Wynette's friends felt Richey took advantage of her, according to McDonough's book.
But she had numerous medical problems during her career, was hospitalized several times, had many operations and became addicted to painkillers. Many times she had to cancel shows because of her health.
Many times in her last few years on tour, she walked from her bus into a theater hooked up to an IV. She was unhooked, did her show and then was reattached before leaving the venue. Many of her acquaintances claimed she looked 20 years older than she was.
Yet she was one of the most influential female country artists of all time. Her mega-hit "Stand By Your Man" was voted the top country song of all time in a 2003 survey of country music writers, producers and artists.
Some of her other huge hits are "D-I-V-O-R-C-E," "Apartment No. 9," "Take Me to Your World," "Kids Say the Darndest Things," "Til I Get It Right," "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad" and "I Don't Wanna Play House."
She and Jones made "We're Gonna Hold On," "Golden Ring" and "The Ceremony" famous.
Wynette had four children, three with a previous husband, and one with Jones. Tamala Georgette Jones, 46, is a country singer. Wynette is buried in a cemetery in Nashville with several other country greats.
"Although Tammy is gone, her music remains, and right about now one of her songs is getting some lost soul through a dark and lonely night," wrote McDonough at the end of his book.
I can vouch for that. Wynette's and many other country superstars' songs have had that effect on me.
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