COUNTRY HERITAGE – PORTER WAGONER & DOLLY PARTON

Country Heritage: Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton

I don’t suppose anyone would rate either Porter Wagoner or Dolly Parton as the greatest male and/or female singers in country music. Yes, they were both good singers and dynamic personalities, and yes, Kevin over at County Universe ranked Dolly #1 on his list of the 100 Greatest Female Singers, but Kevin was considering her career in its totality (singer, songwriter, live performer, film actress, and television star), not just her vocal prowess. Yet, when it came to performing as a male-female duet, there were none better than Porter and Dolly. While other male–female duets may have had chart topping records (George Jones & Tammy Wynette; Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty) none charted more records. And remember this, when George & Tammy and Loretta & Conway paired up, each of the artists involved was among the top three male or female singers at the time of the pairing.

Not so for Porter and Dolly. The first Porter & Dolly duet made its chart debut on December 2, 1967. As of that date Porter Wagoner had emerged as a solid journeyman performer who had charted 27 times, with twelve top tens and fifteen other songs that cracked the top thirty. He did have a good stage show and a syndicated television show that make him a familiar figure to households across the south, but after his first four chart hits had hit the top ten in 1954-1956, only eight more top ten records had graced the charts for Porter.

Meanwhile Dolly Parton had only charted two records, both on the Monument label, “Dumb Blonde” (#24 Billboard / #10 Cashbox ) and “Something Fishy” (#17 on both Billboard and Cashbox). Dolly’s first six RCA singles failed to reach the top ten, four of them falling between #40 and #50 on Billboard’s Country Charts. In fact, it would not be until July 1970 that Dolly Parton would have her first RCA top ten solo single when her take on the old Jimmie Rodgers classic “Mule Skinner Blues” hit #1 on Record World, #2 on Cashbox and #3 on Billboard.

I won’t recount the story of how Porter lost his “girl singer” Norma Jean Beasler and eventually found Dolly Parton as her replacement. Suffice it to say that Porter and Dolly teamed up for a dozen memorable albums before splitting up. The vocal blend they achieved defies explanation although some tried to explain it. On the liner notes of The Best of Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, Nashville publicist Paul Soelberg wrote as follows:

“… Another phrasing technique they’ve mastered is the ability to emphasize the beginning of a key word followed with a superbly timed withdrawal of that emphasis. The impact is overwhelming.

They do all this in perfect harmony. Generally Dolly sings the melody (lead), and Porter sings tenor harmony. But the effect seems reversed, for Porter, whose voice is lower, sounds as if he’s singing melody while Dolly’s high soprano seems to be carrying the harmony. It seems like we are getting four vocal parts out of two people!”

I’m not sure that explanation makes much sense to me, but then, it didn’t need to make sense. All I had to do was listen to the recordings to be able to tell that something special was happening.

The magic started with “The Last Thing On My Mind”. While this was not their biggest hit, it may have been the most important hit in that it established Porter and Dolly as a duet and it introduced country audiences to one of the most important folk songwriters in Tom Paxton. While Paxton had been almost totally unknown to country audiences, except those more attuned to bluegrass, after this recording it many country artists started recording his material, especially this song but also Paxton classics like “Bottle of Wine”. Charley Pride electrified the audience using “Last Thing On My Mind” with essentially the Porter and Dolly arrangement as the opening track to his Live At Panther Hall album. After this the next eight Porter & Dolly singles reached the top ten on one chart or the other with their third single “We’ll Get Ahead Some Day” featuring a B-side that charted in “Jeannie’s Afraid of The Dark”, a song that became one of their most requested concert songs. The big breakthrough came with their remake of a 1962 George Jones hit “A Girl I Used To Know” which in their hands became “Just Someone I Used To Know”, reaching #1 on Record World’s country charts.

Porter and Dolly had a collective sense of humor that few couples could match. While “We’ll Get Ahead Some Day” was somewhat humorous treatment of a serious matter, most of the singles were serious, if sometimes nostalgic (such as “Daddy Was An Old Time Preacher Man”). On their albums; however, anything was possible with religious songs, serious ballads and tender love songs being mixed in with some of the most outrageously funny songs such as “Run That By Me One More Time” (from Porter Wayne and Dolly Rebecca), “Fight and Scratch” (from Once More) , “Her And The Car And The Mobile Home” (from The Right Combination) and “I’ve Been Married (Just As Long As You Have)” (from We Found It).

The Porter Wagoner – Dolly Parton duets established Dolly Parton as a star. Eventually, of course, the duet came apart as Dolly sought freedom from the restraints that Porter Wagoner placed on her recordings. The split, when it came, was acrimonious but eventually both came to understand the value of what they had achieved as a pair. As noted author John Morthland observed “Yes, Porter Wagoner held her back in some ways, but once she was free of him, she wasted no time overcompensating grotesquely in the opposite direction.”

I agree that Dolly Parton is a great artist, worthy of the accolades that she has received, but while she has recorded many great records as a solo artist, no other great artist has released as many truly terrible records as Dolly Parton. Her greatness was established in her duets with Porter Wagoner and there isn’t a dud in the bunch.

I think I’ll head over to my turntable, pop me a Diet Dr. Pepper and listen to my all-time favorite duet. I suggest that you do likewise as you read the My Kind of Country spotlight presentation on the unforgettable duo of Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner.

PORTER AND DOLLY ON CD

When this article originally appeared in 2011 I made the following comment: “There have been a bunch of anthologies on the market over the past twenty years but never a comprehensive overview (are you listening, Richard Weitze?)”

It seems that the folks at Bear Family were listening as a year ago they issued Just Between You And Me: The Complete Recordings , a glorious collection of all of their RCA albums.

Also available are the following titles
1) Twenty Greatest Hits – this is issued on the TeeVee label, an offshoot of Gusto/King
2) All American Country – Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton – BMG Special Products – only ten songs
3) Best Of The Best – King – another ten song cheapie
4) The Essential Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton – RCA – twenty songs

I didn’t actually count the overlap, but I suspect if you purchased all four of the CDs listed above, you’d have a total of about thirty different songs.

Collectors Choice Music has an additional CD available, Porter and Dolly – this is a straight up reissue of an old RCA album but gives you about eight more songs not found on the other collections.

Ken Johnson and I had the following exchange back in 2011:

Ken Johnson July 12, 2011 at 2:13 pm

The aforementioned 1996 RCA CD “The Essential Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton” is the best single CD collection of Porter & Dolly hits. However for some inexplicable reason RCA used mono versions of “The Right Combination” and “Burning The Midnight Oil” for that set.

A great companion CD is “Two Of A Kind” released in 1996 on the Pair label (PDC-2-1335) Among the 20 tracks are stereo versions of “The Right Combination” and “Burning The Midnight Oil” and an essential song that was missing from the RCA Essential CD “Jeannie’s Afraid Of The Dark.” Though eight other single releases are duplicated with the Essential RCA CD, nine album tracks are included.

Between these two CD’s their duet singles are well represented but as you mentioned, a comprehensive Porter & Dolly box set would be most welcome.

For my money the best Porter & Dolly performances are “Just Someone I Used To Know,” “Lost Forever In Your Kiss,”and “Makin’ Plans.” I’ve always thought that their only #1 Billboard hit, “Please Don’t Stop Loving Me” was one of their weaker efforts. I was rather surprised when it hit #1.

Reply

Paul W Dennis July 14, 2011 at 10:34 pm

I limited my discography to items currently in print. Another great companion disc, also released by Pair was the 1992 album SWEET HARMONY features some songs not on the ESSENTIAL or TWO OF A KIND, including three of my favorites “Run That By Me One More Time”, “Forty Miles From Poplar Bluff” and “Each Season Changes You”

I’d don’t mind monaural recordings, especially since that’s how I remember hearing many 1960s singles

COUNTRY HERITAGE – MOE BANDY

Country Heritage: Moe Bandy

Moe Bandy. If ever there was a name appropriate for a country singer, a western singer or a rodeo rider, Moe Bandy would be it. Moreover, Moe would fit all three categories and was elected to the Texas Rodeo Hall of Fame in 2007.

Emerging during a time when the “Nashville Sound”, the dominant sound of the prior decade and a half, was on the decline and the so-called “Outlaw” movement was on the rise, somehow, Moe Bandy would emerge on GRC records sliding through the cracks to produce some of the finest hard-core country music of its time, music with true honky-tonk heart and soul. After a few albums Moe would leave GRT and sign with giant label Columbia and the Nashville establishment would eventually absorb his music back into the mainstream, but before it did, he produced some of the most glorious country music imaginable

Marion Franklin Bandy, Jr.was born on February 12, 1944 in Meridian, Mississippi, the hometown of the legendary “Blue Yodeller” Jimmie Rodgers. The nickname Moe was given to him by his father. Moe’s grandfather, like Jimmie Rodgers, was a railroad man who, at one time, was reputed to him been Jimmie Rodger’ boss in the railway yard in Meridian. When Moe was only six years old, his family moved to San Antonio, Texas. His mother played piano and sang and his father played the guitar by his father.

As a teen Moe occasionally played with his father’s country band, the Mission City Playboys, but Moe didn’t turn to music professionally until first trying his hand at rodeo – by the age of 16, he was competing in rodeos all over Texas. After a few years of bumps and bruises, Moe’s better sense prevailed and he turned to music for a living working some nights with his father’s band and some nights at whatever venues he could arrange while working days doing sheet metal work. During the early 1970s he formed a group called Moe and the Mavericks.
In 1972 Moe caught his big break when some demos he had recorded came to the attention of record producer Ray Baker. In 1973 Ray suggested that Moe come to Nashville. Bandy scraped together the money for a recording session and recorded a song called “I Just Started Hatin’ Cheatin’ Songs Today”. Initially released on Footprint Records, the record came to the attention of larger independent GRC which was based in Atlanta. In March 1974, it entered the US country charts, eventually peaking at #17 on Billboard and #6 on Cashbox . Four more hits followed: “Honky Tonk Amnesia” (#24 BB / #20 CB), “It Was Always So Easy To Find An Unhappy Woman” (#7BB & CB), “Don’t Anyone Make Love At Home Anymore” (#13 BB / #11 CB), and the Lefty Frizzell-penned “Bandy The Rodeo Clown” (#7 BB #2 CB).

Moe Bandy would release three albums on GRC, I Just Started Hating Cheatin’ Songs Today, It Was Always So Easy (To Find An Unhappy Woman) and Bandy The Rodeo Clown, all filled with strong lyrics and simple arrangements of hard-core honky-tonk music. When first released, they made everything else being released at the time, including the “back to the basic” outlaw music of Waylon and Willie, seem overproduced in comparison.
With as much success as Moe was having with GRC, it was inevitable that a major label would eventually hook up with Moe, and in 1975 Moe Bandy landed on Columbia. The first few albums retained the hard-core sound but as time passed Moe and his producer Ray Baker softened up Moe’s sound somewhat, although it would remain reasonably honky-tonk during the entirety of the Columbia years. Since Columbia purchased Moe’s GRC recordings, the first hit collection released on Columbia , 1977’s The Best of Moe Bandy was mostly GRC material.
Moe’s first Columbia single “Hank Williams, You Wrote My Life” featured the song titles to many of Hank’s hits and reached #2 BB and CB in early 1976. A string of top 15 singles followed including a memorable recording of the Hank Williams-penned “I’m Sorry For You My Friend”, “Here I Am Drunk Again” and “Cowboys Ain’t Supposed To Cry”. The first chart topper came in early 1979 when Moe’s recording of “It’s A Cheating Situation” reached #1 on Record World (#2 BB & CB). Although not billed as a duet, Janie Fricke sang very prominent backing vocals on the record.

The first Billboard #1 would come later that same year when “I Cheated Me Right Out of You” reached the top. That same year Moe found himself paired with quasi-labelmate Joe Stampley (Stampley was on Epic) for a series of ‘good ol’ boy’ duets. The first one “Just Good Ol’ Boys” would reach #1 on Billboard (#2 CB) and be the biggest hit of the duets.

1979 was the high water mark of Moe Bandy’s career. Moe would continue to chart records during the 1980s, although by 1985 the chart placings were mostly outside the top thirty. A label switch to MCA/Curb in 1986 saw two last top ten records in the 1987 hit “Til I’m Too Old To Die Young” and 1988’s “Americana”, but both of these records were far removed from the hard-core honky-tonk sound that made Moe Bandy one of my favorite artists of the 1970s. Moe’s last chart placing was with his cover of the Michael Johnson pop hit “This Night Won’t Last Forever, which nudged into the top fifty at #49.

All told Moe Bandy charted 40 singles as a solo artist, duets with Judy Bailey and Becky Hobbs, plus nine Moe & Joe singles. Excluding the Moe & Joe singles, according to Billboard, Moe had 16 top ten single plus another 14 that placed between #1 and #20. As part of Moe & Joe, Moe had six top twenty singles, with three reaching the top ten.

Moe Bandy is still actively performing . For a number of years, starting in 1991, he had his own theatre in Branson. Although he eventually sold his theatre, he still appears there on occasion, usually at the Jim Stafford Theatre. A detailed tour schedule can be found at http://www.moebandy.com/ Recently he has appeared at the occasional bluegrass festival with Rhonda Vincent.

DISCOGRAPHY
VINYL
As always, these albums are out-of print. Moe recorded three albums for GRC in 1974-1975 and seventeen solo albums for Columbia from 1976-1986 (this does not count hit compilations and the Joe Stampley duet albums. All of these albums are worth the trouble to hunt down, especially the albums from before 1980.
Since leaving Columbia in 1986 Moe has recorded vinyl (and/or cassettes) for MCA/Curb, Curb and Warwick. While all of these albums have their moments, none of them are as consistently good as the GRC and Columbia albums

CD
Moe has some CDs available at http://www.moebandy.com ; however, I do not know the vintage of any of the recordings offered for sale at this site
The Ernest Tubb Record Shop four albums available with two of the available selections known to be the original hit recordings. Barstool Mountain, on the Razor and Tie label is chock full of GRC and Columbia original recordings – twenty of Moe’s best recordings. Also available is It’s A Cheating Situation/She’s Not Really Cheatin’ She’s Just Gettin’ Even a two-fer of Moe’s Columbia Albums.
Amazon http://www.amazon.com has a number of Moe’s recordings available in various formats, both new and used copies. If on the Curb label, the item will contain MCA and Curb recordings, if on the Columbia, CBS, or Sony labels, it will contain GRC or Columbia recordings. Other labels will contain recordings of uncertain vintage. In the past several British and/or German labels have issued some original GRC and Columbia Moe Bandy recordings so be on the lookout for such recordings. I don’t recall which label issued them, but if you see recordings on Hux, Ace, BGO, WestSide or Bear Family, they will be the original recordings.
The Moe & Joe collaboration is also available on CD – several titles – mostly all novelties songs. A little goes a long way for the ‘good ol’ boys’ schtick so if you want some of this music, find a hits collection – that is all you will really need.