Don Williams, 1939–2017

DonWlms-HitsI have been remiss in not acknowledging the life and work of Don Williams, who died in September. Don had literally dozens of hits on the country charts in the 1970s and early ’80s, many of which crossed over onto the pop charts, all the more remarkable for their spare, simple production (in contradistinction to the lush ‘countrypolitan’ heritage of Nashville in the ’60s).

One is tempted to wonder if the political turmoil of the 1960s had something to do with the success of the ‘Gentle Giant’, as he was labeled, and his laid-back balladry and sentimentality. But then the ’60s were also notable for the ‘Folk Boom’ and the soft sounds of folk-derived popular music, and in fact that’s where Don Williams got his start: he was part of a trio called The Poco Seco Singers, with Lofton Cline and Susan Taylor:

The trio made records for Columbia, two of which – I Can Make It With You and Look What You’ve Done – became top 40 pop hits in the US.  But the group failed to build on that success and returned to playing in noisy dance halls and bars, which were anathema to Williams. He said later that “I swore I’d never paint myself into that corner again”, and the trio disbanded in 1971. (Dave Laing, The Guardian)

Don Williams ended up in Nashville, where he was signed as a writer by Allen Reynolds for Cowboy Jack’s publishing company. I would guess that it was Allen Reyolds (and likely Don himself) who was responsible for the tasteful, laconic style of production that illuminated Don’s gentle voice without overwhelming it, placing the emphasis on the lyrics, which Bill Friskics-Warren of The New York Times describes as “plain-spoken material extolling the virtues of romantic commitment.” He continues,

Singing in a warm, undulating baritone, [Don Williams] made marital fidelity not just appealing but sexy — as exciting, in its way, as the themes of cheating and running around that defined the classic honky-tonk music of the 1950s and ’60s. . .

“I Believe in You,” a gently cantering ballad in a similarly intimate vein written by Roger Cook and Sam Hogin, spent two weeks at the top of the country chart and crossed over to the pop Top 40 in 1980. In the song’s chorus, after cataloging a series of ephemera in which he professed little or no faith, Mr. Williams, with unabashed sincerity, sang:

But I believe in love

I believe in babies

I believe in Mom and Dad

And I believe in you.

His unfussy aesthetic — at once simple and, in its elemental way, profound — would go on to influence, among others, the country singer-songwriters Alan Jackson, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Brad Paisley and Kathy Mattea.

Dave Laing in The Guardian adds,

He once described his music as “intensely simple”, but while his love songs were charming and often sentimental and his warm baritone voice was compared to that of [Jim] Reeves, he also found admirers among the rock music fraternity: both Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend recorded versions of his songs. . .

And, quoted by Kristin M. Hall in The Washington Post,

“Don Williams offered calm, beauty, and a sense of wistful peace that is in short supply these days,” Kyle Young, chief executive of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee, said in a statement. “Everyone who makes country music with grace, intelligence, and ageless intent will do so while standing on the shoulders of this gentle giant.”

Don Williams was not an exciting performer. It was said that he did not really enjoy the roadwork that consumes so many country singers. I remember hearing from someone who had heard Don sing live (it might have been John Lincoln Wright), that he was meticulous at reproducing the style and sound of his records in concert, to the point that you could close your eyes and hear no difference. But the songs he chose, and the sincerity of his voice, still captivated listeners, both on record and live. Here he is only a few years ago, in 2013, singing “I Believe in You,” sounding appealingly just like the Don Williams of 1980:


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September 11, 2001


By National Park Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Years rush by.  Memory recedes.  I’ve always remembered the anniversary of that terrible day, but this year I was preoccupied with the Saturday off the week before, the spider bite, Don Williams’s and John Cooke’s deaths, Number Two Son Nathan’s family coming over to spend a week or two while the house they just purchased undergoes repair, and other ongoing minutia.

Which of course is as it should be, but I regret for the first Saturday-close-to-the-anniversary not playing Alan Jackson’s memorable lament, “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?”  Maybe next week, but now in recompense:

It was not the beginning of The Long War against the Islamists, but the day it broke into our national consciousness in an awful way.  Just remember: it’s not over.  /CL

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The Annual Fall Football Chopping Block

Harvard AthleticsEvery fall Harvard Football cuts into some Hillbilly shows.  The Pre-Game Show is usually a half-hour before game time (except for the Yale game, which is an hour).  This year HAH will be curtailed at 11:30 AM for a record five times (why? maybe more games are being televised).  For late risers and those of you in earlier time zones, remember that you can record HAH and listen whenever you like.  That goes for all of you, of course; see HERE.

Football Airtimes 2017

* Sat 16Sep:  at Rhode Island—Pre-game 12:30 pm, game 1:00 pm
(HAH ends at 12:30)

* Sat 23Sep:  vs. Brown—Pre-game 11:30 pm, game 12 noon.
(HAH ends at 11:30)

* Sat 30Sep:  at Georgetown—Pre-game 1:30 pm, game 2:00 pm
(No effect on HAH)

* Sat 7Oct:  at Cornell —Pre-game at 1:00 pm, game at 1:30 pm
(No effect on HAH)

* Sat 14Oct:  vs. Lafayette—Pre-game at 11:30 am, game at 12 noon
(HAH ends at 11:30)

* Fri 20Oct:  vs. Princeton—Night Game: Pre-game at 7:00 pm, game at 7:30 pm
(No effect on HAH)

* Sat 28Oct:  vs. Dartmouth—Pre-game at 11:30 am, game at 12 noon
(HAH ends at 11:30)

* Sat 4Nov:  at Columbia—Pre-game at 12:30 pm, game at 1:00 pm
(HAH ends at 12:30 pm)

* Sat 11Nov:  vs. Penn—Pre-game at 11:30 pm, game at 12 noon
(HAH ends at 11:30 pm)

* Sat 18Nov:  at Yale—(133rd playing of The Game)
Pre-game (1 hour long) starts at 11:30 am, game at 12:30 pm
(HAH ends at 11:30)

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Done in by. . . a Spider?

Last Sunday, after a visit with two old friends on a sunny afternoon at Castle Island Park, we came home and I switched from shorts to jeans.  It was an ordinary evening, of catching up with email and the blogs/websites that I read.  Then getting undressed for bed, I discovered an itchy spot on my leg; three bumps, actually, in a larger reddish area.  By morning it was an angry-looking red blotch fully two inches in diameter.  I took a photo, and sent it to the kids.

Over the next three days the blotch grew larger and irregular, with a dark purple center.  Dr Janie (now retired) assumed that since there were no signs of infection (streaks up leg, sore lymph nodes, chills and fever) it was just reaction to the venom.  We assumed it was a spider.  It wasn’t a bee or wasp: when they sting you, you notice right away!  I suspect it was in those jeans, but I never saw it.  Dr Janie drew circles around the lesion as it expanded.  By Wednesday, we thought it had stopped.

Orb spider web;J Schmidt; 1977

Orb spider web. No idea what spider bit me, but this is a pretty web and an analogue for the spreading lesion on my leg.  (National Park Service, Yellowstone’s Photo Collection, photo by J. Schmidt, 1977; Public Domain)

But Thursday morning the redness expanded past the latest circle and I hied myself off to Urgent Care.  The NP called in my PCP, Dr Hu, and he urged ‘shock and awe’: intravenous antibiotics at the hospital.  So now I’ve had two days of IV infusions at the Metrowest Medical Center, and I’m ordered back today.  Walking is a little less painful, but then, adding insult to injury, I developed a lower-back strain Friday, so between the two I’m giving up: the show today is pre-recorded.  No calls, please; you’ll wake the computer.

One way or another, this mess should be resolved by next week.  And anyway, it’s a holiday weekend.  Are we having fun yet?  /CL

PS Thanks again to David Elliott for getting this (and other) pre-recorded shows on the air.

PPS Just heard me spinning Ray Park’s wonderful version of the fiddle tune, “Flying Cloud.”  Wow!  I should listen to this show more often!

UPDATE 8Sep17: Horrendous spider bite is improving, after four days of IV antibiotics (plus oral ones as well), so I should be able to come in tomorrow. 

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Adiós Glen Campbell

(Hits and Misses 6)

• Glen Campbell: Adiós (2017, Universal)

Sinc Reviewing

Ol’ Sinc reviewing the latest Glen Campbell record (1968)

If you’ll look at my post from last September on Hillbilly at Harvard in the 1960s, ‘HAH History: The Committee Saves the Show’, and scroll down, you’ll see a photo entitled “The boys review the latest Glen Campbell record.” Ol’ Sinc is in the process of tearing a single in half. That tells you what we thought, in those days (the late 1960s) about Glen: he was a pop singer, not country enough for HAH.

And so he was. A son of Arkansas sharecroppers, he was a young guitar virtuoso who in his 20s made his way to Los Angeles, where his agile musical chops led him to the recording studios as part of the first-call Wrecking Crew, a collection of musicians who worked for artists of all styles, from Frank Sinatra to The Monkees to Merle Haggard, even The Beach Boys. And he could sing. Glen toured with the Beach Boys as a replacement for Brian Wilson, and was invited to join the group, but smartly elected to pursue a solo career.

His first single in 1961 was a straight pop record on Crest, a song that Glen wrote called “Turn Around, Look at Me.” But then a year later he was signed by Capitol Records and was featured in a somewhat poppy bluegrass record with a group called The Green River Boys. There’s probably a story here, but I don’t know it; it wasn’t a very good record. Capitol was evidently trying to find a niche for him, hence The Astounding 12-String Guitar of Glen Campbell (which we had in the HAH library—have to look for it!) and The Big Bad Rock Guitar of Glen Campbell (never saw that one). Then there came “Burning Bridges” (a Jack Scott song) and then the unlikely poetry of John Hartford, “Gentle on My Mind,” with Glen’s sensitive voice captivating radio listeners across the country and pop spectra. The song, says Wikipedia, is “ranked number 16 on BMI’s Top 100 Songs of the Century.”  Listen to this Nashville-in-the-round version, with Glen throwing in a fantastic guitar break (thanks to Scott Johnson of PowerLine for including this video in his RIP post):

I’m not sure of the date of that video, but Glen Campbell was already a superstar, with hits like “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman,” and “Rhinestone Cowboy.” With his television show, and even the movies, he had managed to keep one foot in the country world, and another two or three feet in the pop world. But his Arkansas roots were never too far out of view. And they are gently revealed by producer, long-time friend and band-member Carl Jackson in a new album just released this spring, appropriately titled Adiós.


Album cover © Universal Music 2017

Glen recorded the vocals following his ‘Goodbye Tour’ in 2012, when it was announced he was suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. Writes his (fourth) wife of 34 years, Kim Campbell, in the booklet notes to Adiós:

A new Glen Campbell album coming out in 2017 might seem a bit odd since he hasn’t performed since 2012, and even more odd – if not absolutely amazing – when you consider that he has Alzheimer’s disease. Glen’s abilities to play, sing and remember songs began to rapidly decline after his diagnosis in 2011. A feeling of urgency grew to get him into the studio once again to capture what magic was left. It was now or never. . .

Just as our new reality began to sink in, fate found us spending an afternoon with Carl Jackson . . . We reminisced about all of the songs that Glen had always wanted to record but had never gotten around to. Conversation sparked inspiration and the wheels were put in motion. . .

The process of capturing Glen’s vocals for Adiós was heartbreaking at times. . .Glen was barely able to remember the words he was singing at times. Carl held up sheets of paper with large print lyrics and fed them to him one line at a time. Although he struggled at times, he was clearly ecstatic about being in the studio. The songs flowed freely and clearly straight from his heart, and his voice and tone are still remarkably…unmistakably…him.

And indeed they are. Glen Campbell released more than 70 albums, many not so well known (see this Rolling Stone article,“Inside Glen Campbell’s Classic Forgotten Albums”), including a tribute album to Hank Williams, larded with strings, and most beyond my ken, but Carl Jackson’s song selection and tasteful—dare I say ‘country’?—production certainly elevates Adiós to ‘playable’ on Hillbilly at Harvard. Biggest treat for country-music fans is certainly a song by Roger Miller, “Am I All Alone (Or Is It Only Me),” introduced by Roger himself singing the first verse at a ‘guitar pull’ where Glen first heard the song (supplied by Roger’s wife Mary). Then we have Dickey Lee’s country anthem, “She Thinks I Still Care,” which Glen pulls off really well (though I’ll still take George Jones).

I have never cared for country-artists’ attempts at Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” but Glen Campbell’s Jerry-Reed influenced up-tempo version made me think of Merle Haggard. There are four Jimmy Webb songs on the album, reflecting his longtime collaboration with Glen. They all have that jazz-standard feel, but they are all moving and worth hearing; the title song, “Adiós,” also made me think it could be one for the Hag.

I really wish Ol’ Sinc were around to hear this album. It’s 50 years since his comical ‘review’ photo, but I think he’d like it; it’s ‘country’ enough. Carl Jackson himself wrote a song about Glen’s rural origins, “Arkansas Farmboy,” which Glen sings beautifully. Carl says in the notes that he wrote it in the late 1970s:

The song was inspired by a story that Glen told me about his Grandpa teaching him “In the Pines” on a five-dollar Sears & Roebuck guitar when he was only a boy. That guitar led to worldwide fame and fortune, far beyond what even some in his family could comprehend. I remember Glen’s dad, Wes, asking our drummer, Bob Felts, at the Hilton in Los Vegas after Glen had become a household name… “Wonder what ol’ Glen makes an hour?”

Kudos to Carl Jackson and to Kim Campbell for making it clear with this album of songs that Glen had wanted to record, that he might have been a popular-music star, but he was also a country boy. Their reflections in the notes alone are worth the price of admission, and the whole album—design, notes, photography, production, and of course the singing and playing—is a masterpiece, a splendid tribute to a great artist. /CL

NOTE: Glen Travis Campbell, born 1936, died of complications of Alzheimer’s Disease, shortly after this album was released, age 81.  RIP.

[Continuing this occasional department.  Previous entries: Hits and Misses 1; 2; 3; 4; 5]

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Hits and Misses 5

Continuing this occasional department.  Previous entries: H&M 1; 2; 3; 4

• Tom Ewing: Adventures of a Bluegrass Boy (2016, Patuxent Music)

I can’t do more than to quote Tom Ewing himself:


Between 1986 and 1996, while I was one of Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys, I had many great adventures. But few equaled the ones involved with the making of these recordings. Unfortunately, most were released on cassette tapes at a time when the CD was making cassettes obsolete, and I was unable to afford to convert them to the new technology. Now, thanks to Tom Mindte of Patuxent Music, I can share these adventures with you.

I don’t recall hearing much of Tom Ewing’s own work, so this was an unexpected, and as it turned out, delightful treat.  Tom sings a confident, mellow lead that reminds me at times of Carter Stanley (who Bill Monroe said was the greatest lead singer he ever worked with).  The picking is impeccable, with familiar players from the ’80s and ’90s, and the songs are a wonderful mix of traditional (can’t think of the last time I heard “Please Come Back, Little Pal”) and—to my great surprise—a large helping (eight out of 14) of originals by Tom himself.  Original, yes, but right in the heart of the mountain bluegrass tradition, gems really.  Here’s a sample, a tribute to his own home state of Ohio (and the only song I recall about that state):

I can’t think of an new album I’ve enjoyed more right out of the folder.  If you’re taking a trip, get a copy and toss it into the CD player.  You’ll be tapping your toes and singing along.  Kudos to Tom Mindte of Patuxent Music for issuing these long-neglected performances from the very core of bluegrass-style country music.  A HIT, for sure! /CL

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Off Again—Pre-Recorded Saturday the 13th

UPDATE (19May17)—or maybe it’s a ‘Downdate’:  We’re back from Wisconsin, but I’m down with a nasty cold (are there other kinds?) that seems to be devolving into bronchitis.  So you’ll be treated to four full hours of pre-recorded HAH tomorrow.  Sit back and enjoy it! /CL

Yup, we’re on the road—or rather rails again, this time on the Lake Shore Limited to Chicago, then on the Empire Builder, but only as far as Columbus, Wisconsin.  Dr Janie’s brother and his wife, Wally and Barb, picked us up and drove us to their home in Sun Prairie, WI (a suburb of Madison).  We’ll also see my cousin Spike, who lives in Madison, and Dr J’s niece Casey and her family as well.  The show will be pre-recorded, actually ending early for the last of the season Met Opry and “Prelude to the Met” with David Elliott (12:15).  We’ll reverse literal tracks next week, so I should be back for a full four hours on the May 20th.

It’s nice that Amtrak has made a point of retaining the names of some of the nation’s most famous long-distance trains, like the California Zephyr and the Capitol Limited, and others, including of course the two I mentioned above.  The Lake Shore Limited has two sections, one originating in Boston, the other in New York.  At 6:00 PM (more or less—more on Wednesday as we got delayed in Pittsfield waiting for the eastbound LSL on the single-track line) the two trains meet at Albany-Rensselaer and link up, minus the locomotives from one.  Here they are, from Boston on the left, and NYC on the right:


Boston section left, NYC section right, of the Lake Shore Ltd, at Albany-Rensselaer, Wednesday 10May17 (Copyright © L. E. Joiner 2017)

Although the New York locomotive bore the more striking ‘Empire Service’ colors, the pair of P42 Genesis locomotives from Boston won the day, and took over the combined 15-car train, overnight to Chicago.

That’s for the railfans in the audience.  I’ll be back live with country music on the 20th. /CL

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Roses in the Snow

Over on the estimable Watts Up With That? website, New Englander Ric Werme has posted a meteorological recollection of the May snowstorm in 1977: “40 Years Ago: Massachusetts Snags a Memorable Snowfall in May Storm.”

May Snowstorm

I remember that snow well, and often refer to it when chatting with other New Englanders about our variable weather.  Dr Janie and I were living in Newton Corner at the time. The day after the storm it was delightful to see the spring flowers with garlands of bright white snow in the sun.  Nowadays I always think of this song:

Of course the roses probably weren’t out yet, and the album wasn’t released until 1980, but whenever I play the song, it reminds me of May 9th, 1977.

Read Rick Werme’s post, and the Comments as well (unlike so many Internet sites, always a treat and an education).  I posted this video there as well.  /CL

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Hits and Misses 4: Loretta Lynn’s ‘Full Circle’

Continuing this occasional department.  Previous entries: H&M 1; H&M 2; H&M 3

• Loretta Lynn: Full Circle (2016, Sony Legacy)

I’ve been meaning to do a little capsule on this album ever since it came out last year.  Now Loretta has been sidelined with a stroke (see below), making it more important not to wait to give her flowers.

Loretta-Full CircleThis is a wonderful album.  John Carter Cash and Patsy Lynn Russell (Loretta’s daughter) have been recording her since 2007, and according to the former have about a hundred songs in the can.  What can I say?  Loretta just turned 85, so she started recording these songs at 75.  She sounds as strong and clear and distinctively ‘Loretta’ as she did at 35!

The program is a mix of hits and favorites, including some old traditional numbers, like “Black Jack David” and “In the Pines.”   This new version of “Fist City” may even be more powerful than the original.  The CD begins with Loretta describing how she wrote her first song (and first album), “Whispering Sea,” and then she sings it.  What a moment!  A 25-year-old mother of four in the Pacific Northwest makes an album on her own, her husband Doolittle gets Speedy West to produce, and an enormous talent is unleashed upon the world.

Here’s Loretta recording “Whispering Sea,” with John Carter Cash producing:

My favorite is the T. Graham Brown-Bruce Burch-Ted Hewitt co-written “Wine Into Water,” for its poignant message.  But I could listen to Loretta sing “I Never Will Marry” with just Randy Scruggs on guitar and Will Smith on autoharp all day long.  The production of the whole album is impeccable.  The addition of Elvis Costello and Willie Nelson on the last two songs does no harm.  All told, a splendid HIT.  Available everywhere.

LATEST NEWS, from Loretta Lynn’s official website (Friday May 5th):

American country music legend Loretta Lynn was admitted into a hospital in Nashville Thursday night after she suffered a stroke at her home in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee.
She is currently under medical care and is responsive and expected to make a full recovery.

Loretta, who just celebrated her 85th birthday, has been advised by her doctors to stay off the road while she is recuperating. Regrettably, upcoming scheduled shows will be postponed.

For information on when shows will be rescheduled, fans are encouraged to visit

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Pre-recorded Show Saturday the 22nd–with Update


New bridge over Sand Creek in the Powhatan woods (copyright © L. E. Joiner)

We finally made it down to Virginia to visit with daughter Sarah and her family.  Last December we were frustrated by our dog Ali’s problems with a corneal abrasion, requiring daily eyedrops and an ‘Elizabethan Collar’.  This Tuesday Ali developed what the vet ended up calling a ‘dietary indiscretion’ two hours before train time.  With prescribed medication and train rescheduling, we got off yesterday (Thursday) on Northeast Regional No. 93.  It was a pleasant ride down to Richmond, and today we explored the new paths Sarah and James made in the 11-acre woods and marsh in Powhatan where the kids plan to build a house.  Enjoy the Generic Hours, and I’ll be back next week.  /CL

UPDATE Monday, 24Apr17: Here’s a photo of me towing the three grandsons (Sam, Miles, Jeff) with the little hand-me-down yard tractor last Friday.  Since then it has been raining steadily and we have been confined indoors.  Oh well; the trees love it.  We did get over to the Virginia Historical Society museum in Richmond, which is definitely worth visiting—they have an original Conestoga wagon, among many other interesting exhibits. /CL

2017-04-21 16.22.23_thumb

Me and the Grandkids (photo copyright © S. J. Reilly 2017)

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