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Country Crooners Behind The Mic

Hank Williams | Country Crooners Gift
Hank Williams | America's Gift To Music

It is a measure of the country crooners staying power that their legacy still remains in the hearts of country music lovers. Few have conveyed the sincerity and realism reflected in Hank Williams’s southern working class lyrics and singing style.

Born on September 17, 1923 in Alabama, Hank Williams seemed destined to spend his life battling poverty and family instability but his climb to prominence made him a hardened veteran of the rough honky-tonk circuit by twenty-three.

He failed his first audition for the Grand Ole Opry. A proclivity for alcohol and his own undependable behavior frequently sidetracked his career yet his talent proved difficult to ignore and he gradually worked his way to superstardom.

Financial and artistic success, however, did not soothe Hank's physical and emotional difficulties. An untreated congenital birth defect of the lower spine left him stooped and in constant pain. Drugs and alcohol eased his discomfort but didn't help his erratic personality. The Opry fired him for chronic drunkenness and unsatisfactory performances. During his attempted comeback, one of our favorite country crooners died in the backseat of a Cadillac.

Hank Williams's legend has long overtaken the rather frail and painfully introverted man who spawned it. Almost singlehandedly, Hank set the agenda for contemporary country songcraft but his appeal rests as much in the myth that even now surrounds his short life. His is the standard by which success is measured in country music on every level, even self-destruction. Hank was a master of the up-tempo song and many have become a part of modern music.

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Country Crooners Legend

Johnny Cash | Country Crooners Legend

John R. Cash was born in 1932 before moving to Arkansas for the federal New Deal farming program. The Cash family and Johnny, not yet a country crooners star, survived by farming cotton and other the crops they grew on their 20 acre farm.

Johnny married June in 1968 and the following year Johnny was asked to host his own television show, The Johnny Cash Show. Also in 1968, Johnny recorded one of his most popular albums, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison earning two Grammy Awards.

In 1992 Johnny, AKA The Man In Black, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame, making him the only performer ever to be inducted into both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Johnny continued to record and perform his music and in 1998 his album Unchained won a Grammy for best country album. Cash celebrated his Grammy in true country crooners fashion by taking out a full page ad in Billboard magazine showing Johnny making a rude gesture to thank country music radio stations, which he felt had turned their backs on him in previous years. The 2002 release of American IV: The Man Comes Around was the culmination of his success.

The year of 2003 would be the final chapter in the tumultuous life of Johnny Cash. After 35 years of marriage, June Carter Cash died in May of that year. Johnny continued to record his music to escape the pain of his loss. Johnny's final album, American V: A Hundred Highways, was completed just one week before his death on September 12, 2003. In rural Arkansas, amidst a depression, Johnny Cash rose from humble beginnings to realize his dream of making music.

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Merle Haggard Lives In His Music
Merle Haggard | Country's Poet Laureate

Merle Haggard has been called the poet laureate of the hard hats. He's a dedicated artist who happens to write and perform traditional country songs. Haggard holds the record, after Conway Twitty, for the most number-one country singles.

Most country musicians sing about poverty, prison and privation. Merle is one of those country crooners who has actually lived that life. Before he was born his parents were forced to abandon their Oklahoma farm and join the migration to California.

Merle escaped from juvenile homes no less than seven times. He traveled the West Coast doing odd jobs and fathered four children. When he wasn't in trouble he could sometimes be found picking guitar in small clubs.

When he was paroled at 23, he set out for Bakersfield determined to make good. By 1960 Bakersfield had earned the nickname Nashville West, having become a significant center for country crooners. Merle found work as a backup guitarist at the clubs in Bakersfield and Las Vegas. In 1962 he met an energetic Arkansan named Fuzzy Owen. Owen coached Haggard on his singing and songwriting setting high standards that the young performer struggled to meet.

Haggard soon released his two biggest sellers, Okie from Muskogee and The Fightin' Side of Me, songs that affirmed a middle-American pride in America at a moment of national turmoil. Okie in particular was the making of Merle. The song put him in the millionaire class with other country crooners. For several years Merle struggled with the super-patriotic image his best-known songs attached to him only being released from Okie's shadow when the Vietnam War ended.

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Contry Music's Comic Relief
Jimmie Rogers | Known As A Flashy Dresser

Jimmie was the youngest of three sons of Aaron Woodberry Rodgers, who had moved from Alabama to Meridian to work as the foreman of a railroad maintenance crew. In 1904, his mother, Eliza Bozeman, died probably from tuberculosis.

Jinnie worked on various railroad jobs including call boy, flagman, baggage master and brakeman in places that ranged from Mississippi to Texas and the Pacific Coast. He became noted as a flashy dresser with an eye for the girls.

Leaving his family in Asheville, Jimmie and his trio took to the road. They played various venues as the Jimmie Rodgers Entertainers before gaining a residency as a dance band at an affluent North Fork Mountain Resort.

With Jimmie's persuasion, the band went to Bristol and were offered an audition but they argued over the name of their act. The result was that the trio became the Teneva Ramblers. This was enough to convince him that he should join the country crooners as a solo artist. His first recordings, The Soldier's Sweetheart and Sleep, Baby, Sleep were released on 7 October 1927 and although the records did not become major sellers, it marked a first step towards musical success.

He began recording in Louisville where he made his only recordings with a female vocalist Sara Carter, a member of the Carter Family. The two country crooners duetted on Why There's A Tear In My Eye and The Wonderful City to the accompaniment of Maybelle Carter's guitar. A promised network show failed to materialize and his health had deteriorated so much that he was constantly taking painkillers and alcohol but he refused to surrender to his illness.

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Country Outlaw
Waylon Jennings | Country Outlaw

At a time when the country music industry was dominated by the Nashville Sound, and when record companies required singers to adhere to a rigid convention of using session musicians, Waylon demanded on doing things his own way.

After years of fighting the system, Waylon finally won the battle. He started using his own musicians, selecting his own material and playing in the style that he wanted. The result became the most exciting time in country crooners history.

Waylon is famous for being a part of the outlaw movement and released many commercially successful albums. He started as a radio performer at the mere age of 12 and eventually worked as a DJ as well as performing with his band.

Though Waylon had been a professional musician since the late '50s, it wasn’t until the '70s that Waylon, with his imposing baritone and stripped-down, updated honky tonk and became a superstar. Rejecting the conventions of Nashville and refusing to record with the industry legions, Waylon nsisted that his music never resemble the string-laden, pop-inflected sounds that were coming out of Nashville. Many artists followed Waylon's anti-Nashville stance.

Waylon and his signature sound slowly began to gain more fans and in 1974, he had his first number one hit followed by yet another number one single and the number two Rainy Day Woman. Waylon’s success continued throughout 1975 as Dreaming My Dreams featured one of the country crooners classic songs, Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way reached number 49 on the pop charts and he was voted the Country Music Association's Male Vocalist of the Year.

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