PORTER WAGONER (By Shaun Mather)
Born 12 August 1927, West Plains, Missouri
I make no apologies for saying this - I love Porter Wagoner. Until two years I didn't get him, I couldn't see beyond the suits (dazzled, I suppose) and thought of him as the corny guy who laid Dolly Parton because he was in a position to (if you know what I mean). Now that I am a beleaver, I can't understand why it wasn't always that way. He has cut some of the hardest, purest country to come out of Music City, USA.
The Thin Man of the Plains grew up in West Plains, Missouri and soon taught himself top play guitar after discovering the sounds of country music on the family radio. His boss at a local market where he began working after school sponsored a local radio show for the youngster in the late '40s. Eventually, he landed a job on KWTO in Springfield in 1951. Next he was approached by Red Foley who was beginning his Ozark Jamboree program, which was based in Springfield and broadcast both on KWTO and national television. Foley brought Wagoner onto his show, which helped the young vocalist land a record contract with RCA Records. In 1954, his ninth single, the knee slappin' hillbilly romp, "Company's Comin'" went to # 7 followed the following spring by the ballad, "A Satisfied Mind". In 1957, he joined the Grand Ole Opry and moved to Nashville, where he formed his backing band, the Wagonmasters. The rock 'n' roll invasion was hard for country acts though and Porter only had a handful of hits until 1960.
In 1961, he began hosting his own television show, which was syndicated out of Nashville. It was the most popular country show of the '60s, growing from 18 stations in 1961 to over a hundred stations in the early '70s. During the 60s he enjoyed massive successes, having 15 Top 10 singles, including such classics as The Cold Hard Facts of Life, The Carroll COunty Accident and Confessions of A Broken Man. His only number 1 of the decade was the country waltzer, Misery Loves Company which featured the cream of the A-team pickers with fiddlers Tommy "Shot" Jackson and Cecil Brower deserving special mention. Another hit, Green Green Grass of Home has become a semi-National Anthem here in Wales thanks to Tom Jones' cover version. Tom heard it via the Killer's version (Country Songs For City Folks).
The tv series saw Porter closely with a couple of female partners, Norma Jean and her replacement, Dolly Parton. Her career was kick-start on the show as was Porter's. They has a string of hit singles and in 1968 won the Country Music Assocaition's Vocal Group of the Year Award, followed again in 1970 and 1971. Their partnership was controvertial with both sides fed-up with the other by the time they split.
In 1976, he retired from touring and in 1981 he parted company with RCA Victor after nearly 30 years. In the late '80s and early '90s, he became increasingly active on the Nashville Network, to the point that Opryland named him its "Goodwill Ambassador" and he was a regular host of the Grand Ole Opry radio and television program. In July 2000, he released his first new album in many years, The Best I've Ever Been. I haven't heard it but it's supposed to be as good as his 60's stuff.
RCA Country Legends - Spotlights the hits plus a couple of less obvious gems like Midnight, a Delmore Brothers like stroller from the pen of Boudleaux Bryant and Chet Atkins. Other goodies are Legend of the Big Steeple (written by Charles Underwood of Ubangi Stomp fame) and 1960's Everything She Touches Gets The Blues, a classic with some tasty Hank Garland fills.
Cold Hard Facts of Life/Carrol County Accident - a brilliant 2-fer from '67 and '69 respectively. The Cold Hard Facts album has Anita Carter throughout, surely the most beautiful voice to come out of Nashville. One song that sums up Porter is Hundred Dollar Funeral, as soppy as it sounds - pure brilliant Porter.
Porter Wagoner In Person - recorded live on 10 Jan 1964. A great insight to a country show of the time, with Porter mixing hits (Misery Loves Company), oldies (Sally Goodin'), covers (Talk Back Trembling Lips) and comedy sketches (corny).
The Essential Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton - (BMG) - 20 trackls from their intial hits (1967's The Last Thing On My Mind) to Makin' Plans a dozen years later. Their duets seem more poppy than Porters solo stuff, but theres still plenty to enjoy, none more so than Jack Clements' Someone I Used To Know.
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