Those were the days when #19 with a bullet meant #19 with a bullet
(No. 54 in a seemingly never-ending series on artists who should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but are not)
By Phill Marder
While the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has been quick to recognize almost every Blues performer, particularly those who recorded for Atlantic Records, several Country Music giants have been ignored. And Country Music was the more dominant and prominent force in Rock’s foundation.
Just one look at the record charts as Rock took hold bears this out. Elvis was a mix of Country and Blues, but leaned more toward C&W than R&B. The Everly Brothers…not much thought there. Ditto Jerry Lee. Buddy Holly? Brenda Lee? Duane Eddy? Carl Perkins? Even Chuck Berry and Fats Domino. Little Richard? Well, Richard was Richard, wasn’t he?
And there were many others, of course. Did I mention Johnny Cash?
Later, Country continued to permeate Rock thanks to a steady stream of hits from those mentioned above and the likes of the Roulette hit-maker Jimmie Rodgers, Don Gibson, Buddy Knox and Jim Reeves. Many artists – Ray Charles, for instance – discovered and covered gems from the great Hank Williams.
When a DJ told you “here’s #19 with a bullet,” he meant it. If a record was “shooting up the charts” there was a strong possibility “Liberty Valance” was the target. When Bill took his guns to town, that town may have been El Paso. And “El Paso” was the name of the biggest hit by our first featured nominee this time out as we wrap up the ‘50s.
MARTY ROBBINS – A Country Music giant, Marty Robbins also played a major role in the formation of Rock & Roll as several of his first hits could be classified “Rockabilly.”
His first, “Singing The Blues,” was a No. 1 Country hit, but also a No. 17 Hot 100 hit. That in spite of Guy Mitchell’s almost identical version hitting #1 in both the U.S. and the U.K., holding the U.S. #1 position for a jaw-dropping 10 weeks. Robbins’ follow-up, “A White Sport Coat (And A Pink Carnation),” became a U.S. teen anthem, hitting No. 2.
Hank Davis, at allmusic.com, wrote, “No artist in the history of country music has had a more stylistically diverse career than Marty Robbins. Never content to remain just a country singer, Robbins performed successfully in a dazzling array of styles during more than 30 years in the business. To his credit, Robbins rarely followed trends but often took off in directions that stunned both his peers and fans. Plainly Robbins was not hemmed in by anyone’s definition of country music. Although his earliest recordings were unremarkable weepers, by the mid-’50s Robbins was making forays into rock music, adding fiddles to the works of Chuck Berry and Little Richard.”
But in 1959, Robbins’ eventual call to fame came from the movies when he did the title song to “The Hanging Tree,” a Western starring Gary Cooper. It wasn’t a giant hit, barely squeaking into the top 40, but it opened the door for Robbins’ signature hit, “El Paso,” which topped the charts later in 1959. While a truncated version was released, many jocks opted for the record’s full version, which ran almost five minutes, thus breaking traditional time constraints for the old 45.
Grady Martin, whose Spanish guitar so enhanced “El Paso,’ also contributed a trendsetting moment in 1961 when his bass on “Don’t Worry” unintentionally distorted, creating a fuzztone effect. Robbins liked it and opted to leave it, the record becoming a No. 3 hit. Robbins had many other crossover hits, 1962’s top 20 “Devil Woman” and “Ruby Ann,” for instance.
Marty Robbins has never been nominated.
Sounding much like Elvis, Conway Twitty rocked before becoming one of Country’s biggest stars
CONWAY TWITTY – Another early Rocker who became a Country megastar, Conway Twitty, when first introduced to listeners in 1958, sounded so much like Elvis many thought “The King” had recorded under an alias just to see if he would sell without his name on the record.
The record – “It’s Only Make Believe” – sold, even when record buyers discovered it wasn’t Elvis, climbing to No. 1. And there’s no mistaking it was a Rock record, as were a host of Twitty’s follow-ups. In 1959, Twitty released “Mona Lisa,” covering a hit version by Carl Mann, which had been released a couple months earlier. Mann was covering a version done by Nat King Cole nine years before. So here you had a white covering a white who had covered a black! Twitty also had a hit with it, then put the standard “Danny Boy” into the top 10 before covering Elvis’ “Danny” as “Lonely Blue Boy,” which reached No. 6. Before he became one of the biggest Country stars of all time, Twitty had a hit with a cover of Chuck Willis’ “What Am I Living For.”
Though some of his hits were covers, Twitty was an accomplished writer, too, penning Roy Orbison’s “Rock House” and “It’s Only Make Believe” as well as its follow-up, “The Story Of My Love,” and many others.
Twitty continued recording Rock such as The Eagles’ “Heartache Tonight” even while posting a record 40 #1 Country singles. In 1993, an abdominal aneurysm suddenly took his life, and allmusic.com noted, “Immediately following his death, he was praised and mourned from all quarters of the public, not just country music fans, and his record of over 40 number one hits remains unlikely to be surpassed.”
Conway Twitty was nominated in 2005, but failed to gain entry. His nomination does indicate that some involved are aware of the major role he played in the early success of Rock. Yet another of Country’s biggest names who contributed mightily to the formation of Rock was the incomparable…
According to “Classic Tracks,” Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” is the jukebox’s most played record of all time
PATSY CLINE – died in a plane crash when she was just 30. One of the most distinct and memorable voices ever recorded, Cline is considered one of the most important vocalists in Rock as well as Country.
And while her hit-making career only lasted a couple years, Cline left us at least three of the most enduring recordings of the early Rock Era, the No. 12 “I Fall To Pieces,” No. 9 “Crazy,” written by Willie Nelson, and Gibson’s “Sweet Dreams (Of You),” which hit only No. 44 after being released the month after her passing, but since has grown mightily in stature.
Cline also had major hits with “Walkin’ After Midnight” and “She’s Got You,” establishing a rarity at the time – crossover success for a female Country artist. Her recordings have continued to be major sellers since her 1963 departure.
Rolling Stone, which ranks Cline #46 on their list of all-time vocalists (male and female), notes, “… Cline was the first major country star to make a decisive crossover into pop, setting the stage for singers from Dolly Parton to Faith Hill.”
And Rolling Stone contributor David McGee wrote, “The secret of Cline’s undiminished appeal is not dissimilar to Elvis Presley’s: Hers are great songs, performed with conviction and passion, telling simple stories people understand about love and longing and all the varieties of experience embraced by those two conditions.”
Remarkably, Patsy Cline has yet to receive even a nomination from the Rock Hall of Fame.
There you have it. Are there other ’50s artists I haven’t pitched? You bet. But at this juncture, I believe I’ve gotten to everyone I can think of that might have a shot. Next time, we’ll start to wrap up the ’60s.
And don’t forget to check out the newly founded Goldmine Rock Era Hall of Fame. We’ll be announcing 10 inductees approximately every two weeks and you can find all the information at the top of this page under the Goldmine Hall of Fame tab.