If asked in 1969, a casual country music fan likely would have been unable to identify Freddie Hart. A more knowledgeable county music fan might have identified him as a good journeyman country singer, one who had made a lot of solid country recordings without ever scoring a major hit.
In 1969, “journeyman” would have been an extremely accurate description as Hart had been knocking about Nashville for nearly 20 years, chalking up some hits as a songwriter and charting a few records himself here and there on various labels without ever achieving sustained success. During that period he recorded for Capitol, Columbia, Monument and Kapp.
Born in Loachapoka, Alabama – an early Christmas present to his parents on December 21, 1926 – Fred Segrest arrived in a world of near poverty, one of 15 children from a poor sharecropper’s family that struggled to make ends meet. While money was in short supply, however, a love of music, particularly country music ran deep in the Segrest family. Hart began playing guitar at the age of five, and joined the Civilian Conservation Corps at 12. At just 14 years of age he managed to enlist in the Marines and fought in the Pacific Theater of Operations during World War II, which included action at Guam and Iwo Jima. While in the military, he earned black belts in judo and jujitsu, and made his first public appearances singing at officers clubs.
After leaving the military in 1946, Hart pursued a career in country music, both as a performer and as a songwriter. In 1948, he had the opportunity to meet Hank Williams, who apparently taught him something about songwriting. As Hart himself puts it, “I try to put down in my songs what every man wants to say, and what every woman wants to hear.” One of his songs, “Every Little Thing Rolled Into One,” was recorded by George Morgan during this period.
In 1951, Hart joined Lefty Frizzell’s band. By this time Freddie Segrest had adopted the name Freddie Hart. With the help of Frizzell and Wayne Raney, he was signed to Capitol Records in 1953. At an early Capitol session he recorded a song he had written titled “Loose Talk.” While Freddie did not score a big hit with the record, Carl Smith, one of the three or four biggest stars of the time, covered the song, taking it to #1.
Hart moved to Columbia Records in 1956 and appeared regularly on the Town Hall Party, a Los Angeles television program with Lefty Frizzell, Johnny Bond, and other country stars. Unfortunately, his records did not sell especially well for Columbia, either, although he still was writing songs that other artists recorded. During the late 1950s and early 1960s modest chart success finally occurred when songs such as “The Wall,” “Chain Gang” and “The Key’s in the Mailbox” charted. “The Wall,” a self-penned number, is probably best remembered today as one of the songs sung by Johnny Cash on the classic Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison album.
During this same period, a number of Freddie Hart-penned songs became hits for other artists including “Willie the Weeper,” a #5 hit for Billy Walker; “Loose Talk,” a #4 hit for the duo of Buck Owens & Rose Maddox; “My Tears Are Overdue,” a #15 hit for George Jones; and, although not a hit, a significant copyright in “Lovin’ In Vain,” the B-side of Patsy Cline’s #1 hit “I Fall To Pieces.”
Hart moved to Monument Records in 1963 for two singles, followed by a move to Kapp Records in 1965, where he recorded some more great material, but found only modest hits with “Hank Williams’ Guitar” (1965), “Born A Fool” (1968) and “Togetherness” (1968). During this period, Porter Wagoner scored a #3 hit with Hart’s “Skid Row Joe.”
Hoping for bigger and better things, he re-signed with Capitol in 1969, where the first three singles issued showed some promise, leading Capitol to issue an album titled New Sounds. This was quickly followed by California Grapevine, with the title track being issued as the first single off the album. Unfortunately, “California Grapevine” stiffed as a single, reaching only #68 on the charts, far worse than any of three singles Capitol had previously released on Hart and worse than the singles on Kapp had performed. Consequently, Capitol dropped Freddie Hart from the label.
During the months following his drop from Capitol, disc jockey Jim Clemens at WPLO in Atlanta started playing an album track, buried on side two of the album, which he found interesting. Soon, other disc jockeys followed suit and before long the song was receiving massive airplay in some areas. The song contained the rather daring phrase (for the time) ‘so sexy looking’ in its lyrics. Capitol hastily re-inked Hart to the label and issued the former album track “Easy Loving” as a single (#1 Country/#17 Pop) and issued an album by the same name that gathered up all of the previous recent Capitol singles and about half of the California Grapevine album. This kicked off a six year run at the top for Freddie Hart that included a dozen top-five singles (including six #1s), two CMA awards, two ACM awards and a Grammy. Concurrent with signing to Capitol, Hart signed with Buck Owens’ management and publishing companies and provided the Buck Owens-Susan Raye duet with a #12 hit in “Togetherness.”
Since Hart was already nearly 45 years old by the time he hit it big, he figured to have a relatively short shelf life at the top, although he continued to have decent sized hits throughout the 1970s, and continued charting into the 1980s. His last top twenty hit occurred with “Sure Thing” on the Sunbird label in 1980.
Freddie Hart is now 85 years old and hasn’t been an active performer in recent years. His 1970s successes set him up financially to get into other endeavors, including recording some Gospel music. Somehow, I doubt that too many of today’s performers would have the patience to persevere for the 18 years it took Freddie Hart to break through, and I doubt that many would be given the opportunity to try. While he is largely forgotten today, Freddie Hart did get to experience his day in the sun and is still remembered by some including the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, where he was inducted in 2001.
He made some truly unforgettable music.
Freddie Hart charted 48 times from 1953 to 1987. Here are some of the biggest hit singles:
•“The Wall” (1959 – #24)
•“Chain Gang (1960 – #17)
•“The Key’s In The Mailbox” (1960 – #18)
•“Hank Williams Guitar” (1965 – #23)
•“Togetherness” (1968- #24)
•“Born A Fool” (1968 – #21)
•“Easy Loving” (1971 – #1 for three weeks)
•“My Hang Up Is You” (1972 – #1 for six weeks)
•“Bless Your Heart” (1972 – #1 for two weeks)
• “Got The All Overs (For You All Over Me) ” (1972 – #1 for three weeks)
•“If You Can’t Feel It (It Ain’t There)” (1973 – #3)
•“Super Kind of Woman” (1973 – #1)
•“Trip to Heaven” (1973 – #1)
•“Hang In There Girl” (1974 – #2)
•“The Want-To’s” (1974 – #3)
•“My Woman’s Man” (1975 – #3)
•“The First Time” (1975 – #2)
•“I’d Like To Sleep Till I Get Over You” (1975 – #5)
•“The Warm Side of You” (1975- #6)
•“You Are The Song Inside Of Me” (1976 – #11)
•“That Look In Her Eyes” (1976 – #11)
•“Thank God She’s Mine” (1977 – #11)
•“The Pleasure’s Been All Mine” (1977 – #13)
•“Toe to Toe” (1978 – #21)
•“Why Lovers Turn to Strangers” (1977 – #8)
•“Sure Thing” (1980 – #15)
Freddie Hart released a number of worthwhile albums while with Kapp and Capitol, plus there are scattered albums on other labels.
Columbia issued only one album, The Spirited Freddie Hart, while Freddie was with the label, but subsequently issued several albums on the budget Harmony label
For my money, the best albums were on Kapp Records. Look for the titles Straight From The Heart, The Hart of Country Music, A Hurtin’ Man , Born A Fool, Togetherness and The Neon and The Rain.
The biggest hit recordings are on Freddie’s various Capitol albums. The Sunbird label release,
Sure Thing, contains Freddie’s last hits. The Capital albums sold well and are fairly easy to find and are generally named for the hit single contained within it. “Easy Loving” made its debut on California Grapevine, an album I liked better than the Easy Loving album.
The best single source for vinyl hunting (CDs too, for that matter) is Music Stack
Like many 1970s County Music stars, Freddie Hart has been poorly served on CD.
There is an excellent Bear Family CD covering his early Capitol and Columbia years (1953-1962) titled Juke Joint Boogie. The CD is expensive (roughly $24) but it does contain 33 tracks and Bear’s product is always terrific.
For the Capitol years, in 1995 the Dutch label Disky issued a CD of the Capitol albums Easy Loving and its follow-up My Hang-Up Is You. There is also a self-produced CD (the “label” is Richard Davis Management) of the Capitol hits (original recordings) titled Hart to Hearts, containing 25 tracks including eleven of Freddie’s Capitol era hits, plus 14 other tracks. Hart to Hearts has tracks that sound as if they were dubbed from vinyl albums
Various EMI/Capitol labels have issued smaller hit collections containing ten songs (Ten Best, Best Of…, etc).
(Memo to Richard Weitze at Bear Family: a Freddie Hart box-set is needed!)
The Sunbird years at the end of Freddie’s career are represented by a Best of Freddie Hart collection issued by CEMA Special Markets in 1994.
Nothing is available for Freddie specifically covering the Kapp years.
Freddie does have an official website http://mreasylovin.com/ where he does have an online store which sells a small selection of CDS. The most recent CD is titled I Wouldn’t Trade America For the World. Despite the title, this album contains only two patriotically themed songs. The remaining tracks are remakes of some of his hits plus a few covers.