Country Heritage – Johnny Darrell

For a few years during the late 1960s, Johnny Darrell was my favorite country artist. His career didn’t endure but he provided some great songs with great performances. His phrasing on songs such as “With Pen In Hand”, a song recorded by dozens of artists, set him apart from other artists.

One of life’s biggest mysteries (or at least one of country music’s biggest mysteries) is why Johnny Darrell (1940-1997) never became a star. Arguably country music’s first “outlaw,” Darrell recorded for United Artists, a major label, from 1965 to about 1973, but United was only a bit player in country music, and so Darrell’s records didn’t get the major promotional effort they deserved. Moreover, Darrell had the reputation of being difficult and somewhat unreliable because of his drinking.
Darrell had a clear, strong, and masculine voice – somewhere between tenor and baritone, but his true strength was in identifying great songs and great songwriters. Among the songs he was the first to record were (with subsequent cover artist in parenthesis):

• “Green Green Grass of Home” #12 CB (Porter Wagoner, Tom Jones)
• “Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town” #7 CB / 9 BB (Kenny Rogers)
• “Son of Hickory Holler’s Tramp” #14 CB / 22 BB (O.C. Smith)
• “With Pen in Hand” #3 BB / 4 CB (Billy Vera, Vikki Carr)

Darrell’s biggest hit was “With Pen In Hand,” which rose to #3 on the country charts. A much inferior cover by Billy Vera was simultaneously a hit on the pop charts, and if United Artists had done a decent job of promoting and distributing Darrell’s version – which was nearly impossible to find for purchase in many parts of the country – it almost surely would have crossed over and taken the place of Vera’s.

Darrell’s most remembered record today is his rocking version of “Why You Been Gone So Long,” written by Mickey Newbury, which rose to #17 BB/20 CB with a smattering of pop airplay as well.
All told, United Artists issued seven albums on Darrell, plus a handful of budget reissues on its Sunset label:

As Long As The Winds Blow (1966, United Artists)
Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town (1967, United Artists)
The Son of Hickory Holler’s Tramp (1968, United Artists)
With Pen in Hand (1968, United Artists)
Why You Been Gone So Long (1969, United Artists)
California Stop-Over (1970, United Artists)
The Best Of Johnny Darrell (1970, United Artists)

His first five albums followed the usual pattern for country albums: one or two singles, a few covers, and some filler. Where Darrell’s albums differed from the norm, however, was in the fact that the filler wasn’t really filler at all, and that the covers were sometimes of lesser hits. His first album featured an early Kris Kristofferson song, “Don’t Tell My Little Girl,” as well as a Bobby Bare composition, “Passin’ Through,” and his second, Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town, featured a June Carter/Johnny Cash composition, “She’s Mighty Gone.”

The majority of Darrell’s catalogue was recorded in Nashville, but due to his inability to score the big country hit, United Artists tried recording his later work in California. It was there that Johnny uncovered gems by then-largely unknown songwriters such as Mickey Newbury, Lowell George, Jackson Browne and Ronnie Self. Unfortunately, the album California Stop-Over again failed to produce hits, but did eventually become a collector’s item, especially among fans of The Byrds, due to Clarence White’s guitar work on the album.

After the relative commercial failure of California Stop-Over, United Artists and Darrell parted company, largely marking the end of his career, but for only a few more singles and one more album of new material (Water Glass Full of Whiskey, Capricorn, 1975).

After a lengthy hiatus, Johnny Darrell returned to performing and songwriting during the late 1980s but after that he was generally out of sight and out of mind for the last decade of his life. Given how little recognition he got during his peak years, this didn’t represent much of a change for him. Among the few accolades he received were Cashbox Magazine’s “Most Promising Male Artist” for 1966, and selection, after his death, as an Achiever to the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.

Darrell struggled with a deadly combination of alcohol and diabetes, leading to his untimely death at age 57. Unfortunately, very little of the singer’s material is now commercially available – the Australian label Raven issued a CD combining his greatest hits with California Stop-Over in 1999 (Singin’ It Lonesome — The Very Best… 1965-1970), a collection currently available from the Ernest Tubb Record Shop and well worth acquiring. More readily available is The Complete Gusto/Starday Recordings, an album of remakes which find Darrell in typically strong voice, although they lack the sparkle of the original recordings.

For collector of vinyl is a good clearinghouse for hundreds of record dealers. I have purchased records through them in the past with quite satisfactory results.

Mount Rushmore – Yankees & White Sox

The Yankees are probably the easiest team to create Mount Rushmore

1) Babe Ruth – 2) Lou Gehrig – 3) Mickey Mantle – 4) Joe DiMaggio

To the extent that you would want to diversify your Yankee Mount Rushmore, you can make a reasonable case to dump DiMaggio in favor of Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford or Mariano Rivera. To me it’s a tossup between DiMaggio and Berra, with Ford and Rivera a little behind them

My White Sox Mount Rushmore would be as follows:

1) Ted Lyons – 2) Frank Thomas – 3) Eddie Collins – 4) Luke Appling

The case for Ted Lyons is an interesting one. No team in MLB history ever was as consistently bad as the Chicago White Sox in the years following the “Black Sox” scandal. Ted Lyons compiled a 259-226 record  from 1923 – 1942 (he also pitched in 1946 at the age of 46 compiling a 1-4 record but with a 2.32 ERA, completing all five of his starts, upon his return from WW2) . The White Sox were below .500 fourteen times during that period, at .500 one time, and they were above .500 six times with their best season being 1937 when they were 86-68 (.558) in 3rd place, 16 games behind the pennant winner. Despite being saddled with such poor teams, Lyons finished 30 games above .500 for his career  with an ERA+ of 118. He won 20 games three times and received MVP votes in nine seasons despite the Chisox never being in contention. He spent his last six full seasons as the designated Sunday pitcher – in 1942 he completed all twenty of his starts going 14-6 and leading the AL in ERA For his career he started 484 games completing 356 games. He also had 25 saves under the older definition of a save. Despite his age, he enlisted in the US Marines after the 1942 season and fought in the Pacific Theater of Operations  during WW2. Yankee manager Joe McCarthy once said, “If he’d pitched for the Yankees, he would have won over 400 games.”  WW2 probably cost him a shot at 300 wins but the BBWA elected him to the Hall of Fame anyway, in 1955





MLB’s Mount Rushmore and Team Mount Rushmores

Major League Baseball is holding a fan poll to designate MLB’s Four Greatest Living Players and the Four Greatest Players in for each baseball franchise

I will be making some comments in the following days on this topic, but why not participate in the poll for yourself ?


My four greatest living players are Henry Aaron, Willie Mays, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Yes, I know that the latter two are tainted by the steroid era, but both put up Hall of Fame careers BEFORE ever using any steroids