Country Music People December 2018 - Page 23

The David Allan Page S ome twenty years or so ago, visiting Nashville for the CMA Awards, I was persuaded by a colleague to visit a small nightclub where a relatively unknown guitarist and singer by the name of Keith Urban was performing. I went along, not expecting anything special, but emerged quite stunned after witnessing a set from Keith which was not just exciting, it was breath-taking. His show piece was a guitar version of The Devil Went Down to Georgia, which was totally awesome. Fast forward to the present, Keith is now one of the biggest stars in modern country music and will be topping the bill at the forthcoming C2C Festivals. I have suggested to him that he brings the old devil out of the bottle again and I think I can guarantee a standing ovation if he chooses to do so. O ne of the biggest stars of the pop flavoured Nashville Sound of the 1970’s, Freddie Hart, who died last month, was at his happiest when talking about his early days as a honky tonker – especially his time with Lefty Frizzell in the 50’s. To his regret he never made much impact in the UK although for a decade or more he was one of the big names on the American scene. “I guess I was just too busy at home to think seriously about other markets”, he told me “Perhaps that was a mistake”. Freddie’s hit making career was on the wane when he appeared at the Wembley Festival in 1978 where he was extremely well received and more than happy to take part in a special session for my Radio 2 show. Of course, he had to include successes like Easy Loving and My Hang-up Is You but he also sang a lot of Lefty and Hank. I have a lot of respect for Freddie. During the Second World War he enlisted in the US Marines when he was just fifteen and saw action at Iwo Jima, Guam and Okinawa. He recalled how country music, especially that of Roy Acuff and Bob Wills proved to be a real morale booster for the troops and was an inspiration for him. His first breaks came with his song writing which included Loose Talk – a hit for Carl Smith and Skid Row Joe, which was picked up by Porter Wagoner. Freddie had been enjoying “just a bit of success” as a recording artist when he hit the jackpot in 1971 with his own composition Easy Loving. A year previously, he told me, he released the album California Grapevine but when the title track was released as a single and got nowhere his recording company Capitol promptly dropped him and withdrew the album. Then “out of nowhere” a DJ in Atlanta picked out Easy Loving and it “busted wide open”. It zoomed to number one before Capitol had time to get him back under contract which explains why Freddie – unlike some of his contemporaries – always went out of his way to meet and talk with radio folk. He was recording a gospel album, produced by Lefty’s brother David, when he died and a single from it will be released in time for Christmas. RIP Freddie – a real gent and a fine artist who more than paid his dues. On that same Wembley bill in 1978 was Dave And Sugar – dubbed the Abba of country music. Lead singer Dave Rowland – who also died last month – got his big break courtesy of Charley Pride and, for a while, his toe-tapping sound was all the rage. However, Dave proved to be a tad temperamental. The act looked and sounded glamorous, especially on TV and playing a major part were the two ladies who made up the Sugar bit. My BBC TV producer thought it would be rather cool to do an interview with all three of them prior to showing them in action on stage but Dave insisted that he did any interviews solo – without Sugar so the idea was quietly dropped, although it must be said that, on stage, the group provided a real feel good factor and were one of the hits of the festival. It’s good to report that some of the veterans of the genre are not only still going strong, but also pulling in the crowds. Take Bill Anderson (aged 81) for instance. His new studio album, the first for four years, is picking up wide critical acclaim and is well worth adding to your collection and his amusing and observant autobiography is still up there among the best sellers. Jeannie Seely (aged 78), like Bill, still performs regularly on the Opry and is now embarking on a whole new career as a DJ. Iconic guitarist Jimmy Capps (aged 79) who has picked his way through countless hits ranging from Stand By Your Man to Here In The Real World (his acoustic intro to The Gambler is a classic), is part of the regular Opry house band and he is soon to release his autobiography. Colleague Tony Byworth saw all three in action last month at the Opry and reports that they are looking in remarkably good health. He took this photo to prove it! Further to my piece a couple of months ago on veteran UK artist Bryan Chalker’s retirement comes news of a major accolade for him. In a new chart compiled in Holland from country airplay returns from hundreds of radio stations throughout the world, he comes in at number 26 (number one is Johnny Cash), beating the likes of Emmylou Harris (36) and Garth Brooks (39). The song of Bryan’s that’s proving so successful – especially in places such as China and Australia – is his acoustic version of I Got Stripes. As he puts it, “not bad for an old timer in his late seventies”. Who would you say was the biggest earner on the country scene, past or present? Dolly perhaps? Maybe even Garth? The answer, according to a new survey by the financial institution Money Inc. is Toby Keith whose net assets are currently a staggering 500 million dollars. A surprise contender, in at number twenty, is the Zac Brown Band, pulling in some 26 million. There sure is gold in them thar country hills! cmp DECEMBER 2018 - cmp 23