Monday, March 30, 2020

Howard Perdew Helped Joe Diffie Inspire an Entire Generation

"Joe Diffie possessed one of the most incredible pure country voices on the planet," said Steve Wariner after learning of the singers death on Sunday. According to Diffie's publicist, the 61-year-old Oklahoma native died from the effects of the Coronavirus. He had just announced his illness on Friday.

Diffie, who helped set the standard for upbeat, rock-influenced country music in the 1990's, was born in Tulsa on Dec. 28, 1958. He came from a musical family. His aunt had a country music band, his father played guitar and banjo, and his mother sang. Following in her footsteps, Diffie began to sing at an early age, often listening to the albums in his father's record collection. According to him, his parents claimed he could sing harmony when he was three years old.

After college, Joe had several jobs. He worked in oil fields, drove a concrete truck and ended up working in a foundry. It was during this period that he began working as a musician, first in a gospel, then in a bluegrass. He built a recording studio and began sending demos to publishers in Nashville.

After the foundry closed in 1986, Diffie declared bankruptcy and sold the studio out of financial necessity, divorced his wife and spent several months in a state of depression before deciding to move to Nashville, where, he took a job at Gibson Guitar Corporation. While at Gibson, he contacted a songwriter and recorded more demos, including songs that would later be recorded by Ricky Van Shelton, Billy Dean, Alabama, and the Forester Sisters. By mid-1989, he quit working at the company to record demos full-time. It was along about that time that he met Howard Perdew.

Howard had been writing songs most of his life. In 1978, Kenny Starr and Loretta Lynn recorded a duet of a song he wrote entitled "Tuffy." But, everything up until meeting Joe Diffie was met with minimal success. "Meeting Joe changed everything," he told me on Sunday. "He was my career." Between 1993 and 1995, Diffie had major hits on three songs Howard had a part in writing: "Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox (If I Die)," "Pickup Man" and "So Help Me Girl."

"Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox (If I Die)" was released on July 19, 1993 as the second single from Joe Diffie's album, "Honky Tonk Attitude." Written by Howard, Kerry Kurt Phillips and Rick Blaylock, it peaked at #3 on Billboard, which ranked it #13 on its year-end chart.

"Pickup Man," written by Howard and Kerry Kurt Phillips, was released by Joe Diffie on October 17, 1994 1994 as the second single from his most successful album, "Third Rock from the Sun." The song was his longest-lasting #1 hit, having spent four weeks at the top of the Billboard country chart between December 1994 and January 1995.

Rolling Stone Magazine wrote "Inarguably one of the best truck songs in country music history, “Pickup Man” excels for two reasons: songwriters Howard Perdew and Kerry Kurt Phillips’ fine-tuned wordplay, and Joe Diffie’s charming delivery. In lesser hands, such a song - chockfull of double-entendre - could come off as creepy, but Diffie sang it with a grin, well aware of the absurdity in lines like 'I got an 8-foot bed that never has to be made.' "Pickup Man" became Joe Diffie's signature song.

"So Help Me Girl," written by Howard and Andy Spooner, was released in January 30, 1995 as the third single from the "Third Rock from the Sun" album. It peaked at #2 on Billboard. The song was covered by Gary Barlow of the pop group, Take That, and included on his debut solo album, "Open Road," which was released in England on July 11, 1997 and in the U.S. on September 30th. The single was eventually released in 65 countries around the world and topped the charts in 13 of them. In America, it peaked at #3 on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart.

Joe Diffie was a country star who was treasured by many of his peers. Several of them took to social media to praise Diffie after learning of his passing. "He was a singers singer," said Marty Rabon of Shenandoah. Tim McGraw said he was "one of the most influential vocalist of our time in country music." "Joe was a great singer, songwriter, and entertainer that left his mark in Country Music," said Ricky Skaggs. "His clear voice and unique singing style made him immediately recognizable." Billy Dean said "Joe Diffie set the standard for our Country sound back in the 90’s. He was just a regular Joe, as he would put it, but he also will go down in history as one of the greats, I do believe.”

By the way, the two Joe Diffie albums containing songs co-written by Howard Perdew, "Honky Tonk Attitude" and "Third Rock from the Sun," both shipped a million copies in the United States and were certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. Diffie was inducted into the Grand Old Opry in 1993.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Hymns of Hope: 'Til The Storm Passes By

I was awakened by the thunderstorm that passed through the area during the wee hours this morning. Thankfully, as soon as the winds ceased I was able to go back to sleep. Later, I noticed on Facebook that my friend, Darrell, had posted the words to the chorus of the Mosie Lister song, "Til The Storm Passes By."

Lister wrote the song in 1958, perhaps inspired by the story found in the Bible, in the book of Mark, where Jesus was with His disciples in a boat when a vicious storm hit them. Chapter 4, verse 39 says, "And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm."

Perhaps he was thinking about John Wesley’s famous storm experience aboard a ship heading toward America in 1735. He and his brother, Charles, were with a group of Moravian immigrants from Germant, who were in the middle of a worship service when the storm hit. John wrote, "the sea broke over, split the main sail in pieces, covered the ship and poured in between the decks, as if the great deep had already swallowed us up." While the storm was boisterous, the Moravians continued to sing, while the English people on board were terrified.

Although it never reached her, Lister intended for the song to be recorded by Mahalia Jackson. From his own background of having grown up among minority groups, he had an idea of Jackson's background and wanted to write a song that would be a prayer for a person who has undergone struggles in life. The reality is struggles go hand in hand with most of us, who are always either in a storm, like the current global Covid-19 pandemic, have been in a storm, or are heading toward a storm. Thankfully, Jesus promised He would never leave us nor forsake us, and He hasn't, and He won't. He is holding us fast as we stand in the hollow of His hand.

"In the dark of the midnight
Have I oft hid my face
While the storm howls above me
And there's no hiding place
'Mid the crash of the thunder
Precious Lord, hear my cry
Keep me safe 'til the storm passes by

'Til the storm passes over
'Til the thunder sounds no more
'Til the clouds roll forever from the sky
Hold me fast, let me stand
In the hollow of Thy hand
Keep me safe 'til the storm passes by

Many times Satan whispers
There is no need to try
For there's no end of sorrow
There's no hope by and by
But I know Thou art with me
And tomorrow I'll rise
Where the storms
Never darken the skies

When the long night has ended
And the storms come no more
Let me stand in Thy presence
On that bright, peaceful shore
In that land where the tempest
Never comes, Lord may I
Dwell with Thee
When the storm passes by"

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Hymns of Hope: Great is thy Faithfulness

"It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness."
- Lamentations 3:22-23

A lot of hymns are born following a traumatic experience by the writer. Horatio Spafford, for instance, wrote the words to "It Is Well with My Soul" after the tragic death of his children in a shipwreck. But, some hymns merely spring up in the midst of the daily routine. Such is the case in the writing of "Great Is Thy Faithfulness," one of the greatest hymns of the 20th century.

Thomas O. Chisholm was born in Franklin, Kentucky in 1866. He was teaching school by the age of 16 and then became editor of the local newspaper. Beginning in 1903, he was a Methodist minister, but only for a short time as his health began to decline.

In 1923, Chisolm sent a collection of his poems William Runyan, a musician with Moody Bible Institute, who also worked for a hymnal publishing company. He was immediately taken in by the depth of meaning and lyrical beauty of the words found in "Great Is Thy Faithfulness," which Chisolm had written in 1893. He prayed his tune might carry over its message in a worthy way, and it certainly did. Yet, it was slow to catch on in churches until Billy Graham began to include it in his crusades. Click on the link provided to you in this story to listen to a beautiful arrangement of this 'Hymn of Hope' by the Victor Voices in Billy Graham's Crusade Favorites, directed by Cliff Barrows (1966).

"Great is Thy faithfulness O God my Father
There is no shadow of turning with Thee
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be

Great is Thy faithfulness
Great is Thy faithfulness
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness mercy and love

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine with ten thousand beside"

Tiffany Jothen of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association wrote that Chisholm could have easily given up and lived a life of discouragement throughout his years of poor health, but he didn't. This song is a testimony to the way God carried him through hard times, just like He does for us. She said, "It’s a reminder that we aren’t forgotten. That God is consistent. That He provides 'strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.'”

A special thanks to Regina Scott for letting me use her beautiful photograph.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

The Talking Chicken

This is a story about a talking chicken that once lived in the Clear Fork community of Clinton County, Kentucky. Myrtle Lewis' hen would not lay an egg unless she could lay it inside Mrs. Lewis' home. Myrtle tried locking her up in the henhouse, but it didn't work. A fellow walking to the store one day passed in front of the Lewis home and noticed the hen standing beside the door, seemingly anxious to get inside. When Mrs. Lewis appeared, the hen went up to her, took ahold of her dress, pulled on it and let go. Twice more the hen did this until Myrtle gave in. Reaching down, she picked the hen up and placed her in the nest, which was to say - just inside the door. Soon, this wonderful talking hen would be raising some nice little children.

Hymns of Hope: How Great Thou Art

Carl Boberg of Sweden wrote the poem "O Store Gud" (O Great God) in 1885 with nine verses. The inspiration for it came when a storm appeared as he was walking home from church. While the church bells rang out, the storm subsided to a peaceful calm, as quickly as it had appeared. The poem was matched to an old Swedish folk tune and first sung in church in 1888, in 3/4 time. A Swedish songbook published it in 4/4 time in 1894, and it has been sung this way ever since.

O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works thy hand hath made
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout the universe displayed

Then sings my soul
My Saviour God to Thee
How great Thou art
How great Thou art

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And take me home, What joy shall fill my heart
Then I shall bow in humble adoration
And there proclaim, My God how great Thou art

On several occasions throughout the years this hymn has been voted the #1 hymn in America.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Kenny Rogers Left His Mark On Country Music

"Kenny Rogers' songs endeared music lovers and touched the lives of millions around the world," read the statement announcing the singers' death Friday night at his home in Sandy Springs, Georgia, where he died from natural causes under the care of hospice and surrounded by family.

He was one of the best-selling music artists of all time, with hits like "Lucille," "The Gambler" and "Lady." He scored several hits, including eight #1 records with duet partners like Dolly Parton, Dottie West, Kim Carnes and Sheena Easton. He was particularly fond of singing the harmony part on the duets. In 2013, he told interviewer Dan Rather that harmonies had fascinated him ever since he first heard his older sister, Geraldine, singing them in church. He said, “I’d never heard harmony before." When he asked her what she was doing, she replied "it's called harmony, where you don’t sing the melody, but you sing something that sounds good with the melody," to which Kenny replied "Oh, I’d like to do that."

I played his songs on the radio quite often. His distinctive, husky voice was filled with warmth and sincerity and it attracted you to him. He showed us what he had at the very beginning of his long stretch of hits when he sang, "You've painted up your lips and rolled and curled your tinted hair," the opening line of the 1967 hit, "Ruby," by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition.

Even though his songs crossed music genres many times, he always wanted to be thought of as a country music singer. “You either do what everyone else is doing and you do it better, or you do what no one else is doing and you don’t invite comparison and I chose that way because I could never be better than Johnny Cash or Willie or Waylon at what they did. So I found something that I could do that didn’t invite comparison to them." And, he did it very well. A CMA spokesperson tweeted that Rogers forever left a mark on Country Music's history.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Songs for Social Distancing & Other Sad Affairs

Lonely songs can be a source of comfort when you are sad or depressed because it triggers positive memories that can help to lift our mood. A 2016 study suggested that perhaps we feel better about ourselves if we focus on someone who's doing worse than we are. On the other hand, it might make one feel worse. I hope the latter is not true in this case, as I present you with a top 10 list of my favorite songs that are about being alone or isolated. Maybe, it will help you during this unprecedented time of social distancing. *Disclaimer: I am old school.

10. "One" (1969) - Three Dog Night. "One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do. Two can be as bad as one. It's the loneliest number since the number one." Written by Harry Nilsson. He wrote the song after calling someone and getting a busy signal. He stayed on the line listening to the "beep, beep, beep" tone while writing the song. The busy signal became the opening notes of the song.

9. "Eleanor Rigby" - The Beatles (1966). She died and nobody really noticed! "Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name, nobody came." "All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?"

8. "Lonely People" - America (1974). This song was written by Dan Peek as an optimistic response to the line in "Eleanor Rigby" that I mentioned above. He said "Lonely People" is a message of hope. "This is for all the lonely people thinking that life has passed them by, Don't give up until you drink from the silver cup and ride that highway in the sky." He said "It's possible to drink from another's well of experience and be refreshed."

7. "Hard Times (Who Knows Better Than I?)” - Ray Charles. He sings the song with a kind of distracted dejection about the problems in life. Originally recorded in the 1950's, the song was released in 1961 after he’d left Atlantic Records for ABC Records and worldwide superstardom. "My mother told me 'fore she passed away, Said son when I'm gone don't forget to pray 'cause there'll be hard times, Lord those hard times, Who knows better than I?

6. "Ain't No Sunshine" (1971) - Bill Withers. Stephen Stills is playing guitar on the recording. Instead of lyrics for the third verse, Withers repeats the phrase "I know" twenty-six times. He was a factory worker making toilet seats for 747's when he wrote the song.

5. "The Sound of Silence" (1964) - Simon & Garfunkel. A demo of the song led to the duo signing with Columbia Records. Written by Paul Simon. Art Garfunkel summed up the song's meaning as "the inability of people to communicate with each other, not particularly internationally but especially emotionally, so what you see around you are people unable to love each other." "Hello darkness, my old friend. I've come to talk with you again."

4. "Are You Lonesome Tonight” - Elvis Presley (1960). My favorite Elvis version is the live one where he forgets the lines in the recitation. On April 4, 1960, Elvis recorded two takes and then, dissatisfied with what he heard, requested the song be ditched. When producer Steve Sholes refused, Presley tried it once more. That third take became the master for the single. RCA executives thought the song did not fit Elvis' style. In 1992, it was certified double platinum.

3. “All by Myself” - Eric Carmen (1975). Carmen said "There's not nearly as much fuel in being happy as there is in being miserable. Being miserable is a great catalyst for songwriting.” An interesting twist on being alone and miserable.

2. "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" (1949) - Hank Williams. Elvis introduced it by saying, "I'd like to sing a song that's probably the saddest song I've ever heard." Hank sang it with unshakable conviction. I've never heard a robin weep, but imagining it makes me sad.

1. "Alone Again (Naturally)” - Gilbert O’Sullivan (1972). From the singer contemplating suicide after being left at the altar by his deserting bride to telling about the death of his parents. He ends up saying, "We may as well go home, as I did on my own. Alone again, naturally." It sold 2 million copies and spent 6 weeks at the top.

My 78 RPM Disks (1905-1924)

1. Albert Campbell - Dreaming (3701). Steve Porter - Flanagan At The Vocal Teacher's (3705). Standard Talking Machine Company 1907. 2. ...