Patsy Cline

TrackSingle / Album
Walkin' After MidnightDecca 30221
There He GoesDecca 31128
I Fall To PiecesDecca 31205
CrazyDecca 31317
True LovePatsy Cline Showcase
She's Got YouDecca 31354
That's My DesireSentimentally Yours
Lonely StreetSentimentally Yours
Sweet DreamsDecca 31483
Faded LoveDecca 31522

Patsy Cline photo 2

 

 

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Patsy Cline playlist

 

 

Contributor: Dave Stephens

If Patsy Cline had only cut I Fall To Pieces and a few other records of no great note, she’d have warranted a Toppermost. If she had cut Crazy and a few other records of no great note, she’d have warranted a Toppermost. Ignoring tracks from radio sessions and demo discs, she recorded for less than eight years producing a little more than one hundred studio tracks. Based on that short career, she was the first female solo country artist to be inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame (in 1973) which called her “The most popular female country singer in recording history”.

“Patsy Cline possessed one of the most beautiful, powerful and emotionally expressive voices in modern country music!” (Source: “Country Music: The Rough Guide” (2000) written by Kurt Wolff)

I’ve talked elsewhere about artists with voices so packed with emotion and feeling that they could sing anything from the phone book and make it sound meaningful, and no, I didn’t invent the saying, I just have a dim memory of reading it somewhere. I’ve talked about – or often raved about – some of them in Toppermosts. Names like Solomon Burke, Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich and Esther Phillips. I didn’t do Sam Cooke but he’d be in there and I bet you can think of others. But you and I only registered those singers because of the songs they sang.

To me, Patsy was a phone book singer and Crazy and I Fall To Pieces are the two songs that I, and possibly you, most strongly associate with her. Over the next few paragraphs I’ll try and identify eight more that do her justice and, who knows, might even compete with those tracks. I’ve no intention of doing anything ‘clever’ like arranging them thematically; I’m drilling straight down to the tracks, at least roughly in order of appearance and if snippets of the Patsy Cline story just happen to get included, well, why not.

 

Walkin’ After Midnight – Four Star single (Don Hecht, Alan Block) – February 1957

Anyone relatively new to the Patsy Cline career, but at least aware of the bigger Decca hits, is likely to assume that the first half of her recorded oeuvre – she actually recorded 51 tracks for Four Star and 51 for Decca – was the real country stuff as in steel guitar, fiddles etc., and that the countrypolitan thing started when Owen Bradley took over the production at Decca. In fact, relatively little of that assumption would have been correct. Bradley was in the studio from the start; he played piano as well as being credited as associate producer to his then boss, Paul Cohen on record number one, A Church, A Courtroom And Then Goodbye on which the requisite fiddle and steel were certainly present. Perhaps more remarkable than the presence of Bradley was the fact that, among others, Grady Martin (electric guitar) and Bob Moore (bass) were also on that session (held on 1st June 1955) and were present too on Patsy’s final session held on 7th February 1963. Continuity ruled.

The same team were present on the session held on 8th November the following year which produced Patsy’s fifth single, Walkin’ After Midnight, though fiddler Tommy Jackson had taken a rest while this little baby was cut. Owen Bradley was down as leader/piano as indeed he was for “A Church” which tells us that he was the arranger. He had originally joined Decca as arranger and songwriter in 1947 and had picked up production skills working with Paul Cohen.

“Walkin’” was an unusual track for its time showing a resemblance to blues, but blues filtered through white brain cells. Deep, sombre voice on top of a medium tempo shuffle with minimalist backing: Don Helms’ steel guitar and rhythm section, that’s about all you can hear. The lyrics too, tend towards the minimal, not developing far beyond the opening couplets:

I go out walkin’ after midnight
Out in the moonlight
Just like we used to do, I’m always walkin’
After midnight, searchin’ for you

Patsy was anything but enthusiastic about the song and was only persuaded to do it by having a number she liked on the flip. That song was the sentimental ballad A Poor Man’s Roses (Or A Rich Man’s Gold) and the presence of an overdubbed orchestra on top of the original studio version is evidence of the “Nashville Sound” starting to creep in.

Four Star weren’t overly enthusiastic about the chances of “Walkin’” either and it sat in the can for a bit until the song got an airing from Patsy on the Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts TV show in January 1957. The positive reaction triggered prompt release, and Patsy (and Four Star and Owen Bradley for his belief) were rewarded with a #2 Country Chart showing and, even better, a #12 in the Billboard Hot 100.

No matter how many times I play this track I never hear anything to change an opinion I’ve held for years, decades even: there’s nothing in the world of country, or even elsewhere, that compares with it – Walkin’ After Midnight stands on its own. There are a couple of pleasing live clips of the number on YouTube but neither has the atmosphere of the record.

 

There He Goes – Four Star single (Eddie Miller, Durwood Haddock, W. S. Stevenson) – July 1960

The flip side of the last Four Star single prior to the Decca output, and one of four tracks cut at the last Four Star session for Patsy held on 27th January 1960. The first version of the song was cut (from a male angle) in 1954 by an artist called Durwood Dailey from Texas; you’ll see Durwood’s correct surname in the writing credits. Apparently, he got together with two regular Four Star staff songwriters, Eddie Miller and W. S. Stevenson, and the trio came up with There She Goes. We’re told the title was “inspired by an old oil field slang “Thar She Blows” used by the drillers when a well came in” (source: Hillbilly-Music.com on Durwood Haddock). The Durwood original isn’t on YT but we do have a version cut for his 1995 CD The Texas Honky-Tonk Blues. The number was also released in 1955 by Carl Smith and he got himself a #3 Country Chart hit with it. And to complete the flurry of pre-Patsy Cline There She Goes singles there was one from a Rocky Bill Ford (and his Rocky Road Ramblers) also on Four Star in 1954.

I’ve only included all those versions in order to illustrate the gulf between their hillbilly cum honky-tonk and the approach taken by Ms Cline. There’s no sign of a steel guitarist on her version though he was present and correct on the other three tracks. Instead, Grady Martin has been joined by Hank Garland and the sound is dominated by their twin guitar attack with Floyd Cramer tinkling away in the background. It’s not rockabilly; it’s slow, deliberate and bluesy – “There he goes / He’s walking away”. There are no strings or backing singers but, arguably, this was as inventive as many of those later tracks which seemed to view such things as essential.

 

I Fall To Pieces – Decca single (Hank Cochran, Harlan Howard) – January 1961

First (and most famous) song from the new Cochran/Howard songwriting partnership. First usage of the Jordanaires on a Patsy Cline record. First attempt by producer Bradley to appeal directly to a pop audience. And Patsy wasn’t having any of it. You might start to see a pattern emerging here since something similar happened on the “Walkin’” session. But they, or specifically Bradley, persuaded her to do it. And it was her first record for Decca. Talk about starting with a splash …

In their “500 greatest Songs”, Rolling Stone made it #238 and said:

“Cline was reluctant to record this ballad, which had been turned down by Brenda Lee, until producer Owen Bradley coaxed her into it. The sound was stone country but wrapped in elaborate pop, with Cline crying inside, like a nerve rubbed raw by heartbreak.”

It wasn’t just the big things that made this record like the characteristics of the song itself, or Patsy’s voice which deals so majestically with that leap in the first line and then breaks on all the right syllables, it was all the little things: the unison piano and steel guitar start, the use of a second (or overdubbed) distant steel, the restraint with which the Jordanaires are deployed and the restrained – that word again, she’s falling to pieces but in such a beautiful way – adoption of the country shuffle rhythm. Even the latter reportedly caused ructions in the studio. In the excellent essay on the topic in Wiki, the writer quotes Harlan Howard as saying:

“On the night of the session, we absolutely did NOT want to do the standard 4:4 shuffle that had by then been done to death. We were trying all kinds of other (basic rhythm) combinations, but they all just laid there and bled all over the floor. So, it had to be the shuffle then, like it or not. But the amazing thing was, once Patsy got into the groove, she just caressed those lyrics and that melody so tenderly that it was just like satin. We knew we had magic in the can when, on the fourth take, every grown man in that studio was bawling like a baby and Bradley said ‘That’s the one’.”

 

Crazy – Decca single (Willie Nelson) – October 1961

The follow-up (and follow-ups don’t come much better than this).

From a new song writing duo, one only a fledgling, the other somewhat less so, to a new guy who’d moved to Nashville in 1960 to seek fame and fortune just like Cochran and Howard; a man who was just starting to make waves with songs like Funny How Time Slips Away and a man who would become a legend in that city and a household name beyond.

But what about the song? Unlike “Pieces” which Harlan Howard probably would have included in his all-encompassing description of country music as “three chords and the truth” even if it did have four (but who was counting), “Crazy” was jazzy sophistication which held more than a thread of the blues: the sort of thing that a Billie Holiday or a Dinah Washington might have sung. This is Willie’s demo of the song, a curious combination of pedal steel and Willie’s jazz-inflected semi-spoken vocal, hitting notes where you don’t always expect him to though, of course, we’ve gotten used to those mannerisms now. And, given the combination of steel and jazzy vocal I guess you could call the demo slow western swing (but it didn’t sound like a Bob Wills record).

There are various versions of how the song was pitched to Patsy and Owen and various versions too of the Cline response (though Owen definitely liked it). As the reader might have expected by now, Patsy was more ambivalent. Her stance seemed to boil down to (a) a difficulty in coming to terms with Willie’s vocal style and (b) an antagonism towards Owen for pushing her towards another “torch song”. (I’m conscious that that term doesn’t get used too much these days but it appears in all the biographies and articles on her songs so I felt I couldn’t ignore it completely and I’ve included some words in the footnotes.)

Owen won out. Again. And that skirmish was the end of the battle. From then on, Patsy embraced her “new” role as will be clear from the songs that were recorded.

But the session wasn’t all clear sailing. On 14th June 1961, the car in which Patsy and her brother were driving near her home in Madison, Tennessee was hit head-on by another vehicle causing Patsy to be hospitalised for a month. She went ahead with the session which was booked for 21st August but had difficulties reaching the high notes because of pain in her ribs. After three hours of trying, the session was stopped with backing track only recorded. Patsy returned to the studio on 15th September and hit those notes with that supreme combination of ease and elegance that we’ve got used to.

On 14th October that same year, Patsy sang Crazy at the Grand Ole Opry on crutches and received three standing ovations.

I Fall To Pieces hit #12 in the Country Chart and #2 in the Pop Chart; Crazy hit #9 in the Country Chart and #2 in the Pop Chart.

The steel guitar has been replaced by Floyd Cramer’s piano, the Jordanaires are there for support and Patsy is desolate but determined to tell her version of the story. And does she take on any of Willie’s wandering intonation? Maybe just a little. (And the great man did say he liked it.)

 

True Love – Decca LP Patsy Cline Showcase (Cole Porter) – released November 1961

Patsy Cline Showcase was her first LP cut outright for Decca though it had been preceded by Patsy Cline, also on Decca but containing tracks only from the Four Star period. Showcase had the A-sides of both the Decca singles, rerecordings of both sides of the Walkin’ After Midnight single, plus tracks made specifically for the album some of which would receive posthumous single release.

True Love, from the second Decca session and cut before Crazy, was on it and the song choice, and the fact that the studio was packed with violinists plus a cellist, must have told Patsy that Owen had thoughts of a pop audience on his mind. Though it’s possible that the fact that Bob Wills’ San Antonio Rose, recorded in the same session, was included to keep her happy.

The song originally came from the 1956 film High Society and although it’s sometimes credited to Grace Kelly as vocalist, it was actually sung by another of the film’s stars, Bing Crosby; Ms Kelly only appears late on for a spot of harmonising. It was written by Cole Porter which meant quality and was the obvious reason for a rash of cover versions appearing fairly promptly after the single’s release. As a pure guess, I would suggest that Owen Bradley was triggered into selecting the song after its appearance on the 1957 Presley LP, Loving You; I suspect that in Nashville, Elvis was viewed as the guy who moved from country music into the mainstream but was still one-of-theirs because he recorded in the city. This is the Presley take and it’s one of the ones that retained the introduction. It also had the Jordanaires present of course.

The source doesn’t really matter, the Cline/Bradley version owed no clear allegiance to any record that had preceded it. The strings were used sparingly and there’s not even a hint that the Jordanaires were in the studio until well over a minute has flown by. This was certainly not country but did that matter?

 

She’s Got You – Decca single (Hank Cochran) – January 1962

At last, a country song, this time contributed by an unaccompanied Hank Cochran. You can tell it’s country by that final line where the first portion is effectively bracketed as in “(I’ve got your picture), she’s got you” with similar implied brackets in the closing lines in following verses. There are no strings and the Jordanaires are relatively sotto voce, present near the end of each verse and throughout the middle eight (at the end of which they give us some delightfully poppy “bop bop bop bops”). But the record still has “Made in Nashville” running through it like Brighton Rock. Why? Just listen to Floyd Cramer tinkling away. He’s the reason but it didn’t strictly have to be Floyd, it could just as well have been Hargus “Pig” Robbins or even Owen Bradley himself on those early ones. Take a listen to That Wonderful Someone cut by Patsy in ’57 (and to appear later on the Patsy Cline LP with Owen Bradley doing the piano trills and the Anita Kerr Singers in the role that would later be filled by the Jordanaires). Definitely early Nashville Sound.

Back to the plot. She’s Got You is a fine advert for country songs. The middle eight just twists the screw that bit harder:

I’ve got your memory
Or, has it got me
I really don’t know
But I know, it won’t let me be

 

That’s My Desire – Decca LP Sentimentally Yours (Helmy Kresa, Carroll Loveday)

From her third studio album overall, the title of which suggested a higher proportion of pop ballads than hitherto and this one fell into that category. An early thirties number although the most well known version probably came from Frankie Laine in 1946. Subsequent interpretations came from artists as varied as Ella Fitzgerald, Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran and several doo wop groups. Given that the gentleman to whom the song is sung would seem not to be present– we’re not made privy to anything about him– then the song could well come in the unrequited love category, thus making it as close to a torch song as either of the two standards in my list (though, ironically, most of the country songs I’ve selected fit that definition better).

I’ve chosen the track largely for Patsy’s own performance which absolutely dominates the record from the a cappella intro onwards. She ranges from intimacy and hints of sobs in the broken words at the start of some verses through a much more powerful expression of need at times, to a full throated bellow of the title line at the end which invariably knocks me out of my seat no matter how many times I hear the record.

You tell him Patsy!

 

Lonely Street – Decca LP Sentimentally Yours (Carl Belew, Kenny Sowder, W.S. Stevenson)

I first came across this song via the version from Gene Vincent on his 1967 Gene Vincent LP; it seemed to fit his battered psyche to a tee since the degree of self laceration it contains would have gladdened the heart of a Roy Orbison. It’s one that crossed those boundaries between country and pop on several occasions; known to the US public at large for the 1959 take from Andy Williams but with versions also appearing from country royalty including Kitty Wells, Ray Price and George & Tammy (separately).

While I don’t feel the song suits Patsy as well as others in the ten or, to put that statement more precisely, it shouldn’t suit her, but she was such a superb role player that she delivers what might well be the best version of the number. Charlie McCoy’s harmonica sets the sombre but poignant tone before dropping back to leave the floor for Patsy to tell us some sad tales of broken dreams, where forgetfulness is but a forlorn hope.

 

Sweet Dreams (Of You) – posthumous Decca single (Don Gibson) – April 1963

Sweet Dreams was cut during the last series of Patsy Cline sessions held from the 4th to the 7th of February 1963 prior to the fatal plane crash on 5th March that same year. The intent at the time was for this track, and the one below, to form part of her next album, Faded Love. That album never saw release but Sweet Dreams was put out as the first posthumous single from Patsy and decades later (1988) it was included on the album Patsy Cline: The Last Sessions.

Don Gibson was, to me, the greatest of the country crossover artists. Between them, he and the Everly Brothers (with a little help from the Bryants and Chet Atkins) created the whole country crossover thing, only Don did both the writing and the singing and the Evs would move across to the rock/pop scene they’d done so much to create. Sweet Dreams was an early Gibson record which sparked a reaction from other artists; Secondhandsongs lists 91 covers/versions of the song, not counting instrumentals, and there were 9 in the last decade. That same site puts a comment “More famous than the original” alongside the versions from Patsy and the Everly Brothers; they were released within six months of each other, Don & Phil’s take being the later one.

I have to interrupt myself at this point to say that I’d started out this project with the intention of excluding at least one of the ‘bigger’ records from Patsy in order to allow more space for lesser-known but still excellent material. Sweet Dreams was a candidate. And then I listened to it again. And again. And everything changed. There was no way that I could possibly omit this record. It deserves to be up there with the acknowledged Cline/Bradley masterpieces, “Pieces” and Crazy. Those two songs have always been associated with her, whereas Sweet Dreams isn’t – most of it belongs to Don Gibson with a little bit each to ninety-ish other people. But in spite of all that and in spite of knowledge of the artifice involved in making a version of someone else’s creation – and calling it artistry rather than artifice doesn’t change anything – the Patsy Cline version really is that good.

Is it as good as the Everlys’ version? I’m not sure. They have the advantage of those magical harmonies but I think there’s room for coexistence. I haven’t forgotten good old Don G either. He didn’t do a bad job on the song and those royalties must have been useful in later years.

 

Faded Love – posthumous Decca single (Bob Wills, John Wills)

Was it heresy to replace that pair of heartbroken fiddles by banks of strings and to lower the pace such that you paid some real attention to those even more heartbroken lyrics? From the jaunty I’m-bearing-up western swing of the Bob Wills 1950 original – and virtual swansong, since the hits quickly dried up afterwards – to the put-another-nickel-in-the-jukebox out-and-out tearjerker of the Cline version. The story goes that Patsy kept tearing up during the session to the extent that it was a job to get through it. I can believe that. Sorry Bob but this is the version of your song that I treasure.

I miss you darlin’ more and more everyday
As heaven would miss the stars above
With every heartbeat, I still think of you
And remember our faded love

That’s it for my selections. But the quality of the 102 studio cuts was so high that a bubbling under or reserves section was inevitable, so here’s …

 

Patsy Cline poster 1

 

A SECOND TEN

And yes, I did listen to the live albums but apart from a liking for Connie Francis and an apparent need to show that she could cut the rug as well as anyone (and she could), I didn’t feel that anything there added significantly to the Patsy Cline studio recorded oeuvre.

Turn The Cards Slowly – Four Star single, October 1955 – I upped the portion of 4S records in this ten since the period showed off Patsy’s versatility more strongly – this one was from her first session and it shows her mastery of hillbilly with Grady Martin taking the star role in support.

Try Again – Four Star single, May 1957 – From a two day session held in New York on 24/25th April 1957 with Paul Cohen logged as producer and one presumes Bradley wasn’t present since there’s no mention of him – the song and small group jazzy arrangement cast Patsy as a night club chanteuse and she fills the role admirably with a result that’s just as sophisticated as the Decca platters.

Three Cigarettes In An Ashtray – Four Star single, August 1957 – Another from the April ’57 New York two dayer, but unlike the last it’s a more predictable country ballad albeit with something of a lookahead to the Decca days, that is, no steel, no fiddle and the Anita Kerr Singers in the Jordanaires role – the metaphor is highly visual: two cigarettes then three then one – you can fill in the lyrics but they’re of the kind that have often spelled HIT in the country world.

Lovesick Blues – Four Star single, February 1960 – The song which dates back to 1922, had started out in life as a show tune but had a hefty shove into country territory via the Hank Williams version in 1950 – I get the impression that the inclusion of this song in Patsy’s final 4S session was another sop from Owen to her – whether true or not she certainly enjoys singing it – note the yodelling, the growls and that final note, wow!

I Love You So Much It Hurts – Decca album Showcase, November 1961 – With the title on the first line and so emotion-packed it topples all over you – enunciation and precise placement of words are key (compare with Esther Phillips who also cut such numbers).

Seven Lonely Days – Decca album Showcase, November 1961 – Familiar lyrical theme but set to a gentle rocker which mildly reminds me of some of the things Presley was doing after the army but before the films.

I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love You) – Decca album Sentimentally Yours, August 1962 – There had a to be a Hank original somewhere in the piece (and Lovesick Blues wasn’t an original) – one of the best first lines in country music, and why not widen that to popular music in general – from the same session as Lonely Street and Charlie McCoy’s harmonica could have continued from that track, the moods are so similar.

You Made Me Love You (I Didn’t Want To Do It) – Decca album Sentimentally Yours, August 1962 – For this album, particularly given its title, I get the impression that Owen Bradley had made a very deliberate attempt at digging up Tin Pan Alley oldies – this one comes from an Al Jolson record and it always reminds me of an Anne Shelton type figure belting it out on a Workers’ Playtime radio show sometime in the fifties (and yes, I’ve written that somewhere before but it bears repetition) – Patsy’s version is marginally more sedate but it’s still playful, note the fun she has with the repeated lines – Floyd increases the similarity to a slow rocker by tripletting throughout in best Fats Domino mode.

You Belong To Me – Decca album Sentimentally Yours, August 1962 – More of the same (and from the same session) but while there’s a tad more restraint on this one, from both Patsy and Floyd, the Jordanaires are in doo wop mode – it’s a song that has me reaching for the Gene Vincent Rocks And The Blue Caps Roll LP since that’s where I first heard the song and yes, there are some similarities: the Blue Caps were doo wopping for the first time on this set – and, when you listen to Gene, he, like Patsy loved nothing better than really swooping up on notes, something I’ve not commented on so far – curiously (and perhaps rather disappointingly), the Patsy middle eight doesn’t drop into Ray Price shuffle mode as Gene’s does but we can’t have everything.

Always – posthumous Decca single, April 1968 – Three oldies in a row – there’s a comment attributed to the composer of this song that will resonate far more than anything I could say:

“You know, Irving Berlin said, ‘I don’t even like country music, but there is no one who sings my song ‘Always’ like Patsy Cline.’” (Jordanaire Gordon Stoker said that in “How Nashville Became Music City U.S.A.” written by Michael Kosser)

And finally two that don’t really seem to fit with any of the above; labels like Top Ten and Second Ten just fall away when you listen to either of this pair. Patsy had cut the occasional religious track before but on 3rd July 1959 a session was held to record two such songs with the Jordanaires present and arrangements by song writer W.S. Stephenson. The songs selected were Just A Closer Walk With Thee and the less well-known Life’s Railway To Heaven and I have no intention of going on about each song’s history or anything like that. I’ll just say that you don’t have to be religious to enjoy Patsy at her peak pouring her heart into them (and what was that story about the devil having all the best tunes about?).

 

Patsy Cline poster 2

 

SOME DATES

… or filling in biographical data.

1932 – Virginia Patterson Hensley born in Winchester, Virginia on 8th September.

1947 – She obtains a regular singing spot on local radio station WINC. That same year, her father deserts the family. Virginia drops out of high school and starts work at a drug store in order to help support the family.

1948 – She writes to the Grand Ole Opry asking for an audition. After jumping through various hoops she gets one with Opry performer Moon Mullican in Nashville (or Jim Denney, Opry Talent Manager, depending on which account you believe). Although the audition is well received she never hears anything from the Opry.

1952 – She starts regular work with local band leader, Bill Peer. At Peer’s suggestion she takes the stage name “Patsy” based on a shortening of her middle name. The following year she marries Gerald Cline from Fredrick, Maryland and henceforth uses the stage name Patsy Cline.

1954 – Bill Peer makes and distributes demo tapes which feature Patsy. On 30th September, after hearing one of those tapes, Bill McCall, president of Four Star Records, signs her to a contract. Although she didn’t realise it at the time, the fine print in the contract gave her no more than a half of the going rate for royalties (source: Encyclopedia.com feature on Patsy)

1955 – The first recording session is held for Patsy in the Bradley Film and Recording Studios in Nashville on 1st June. Her first single – A Church, A Courtroom, Then Goodbye / Honky Tonk Merry Go Round – is released on 20th July. That same month, she makes her first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry.

1957 – Walkin’ After Midnight is released on 11th February and gives her her first chart success: #2 Country and #12 Pop.

1957 – Patsy and Gerald get divorced and then Patsy marries Charlie Dick (on 1th September), and a couple of years later, Patsy, Charlie and new daughter Julie move to Nashville.

1960 – She signs a contract directly with Decca and on her first session with her new label on 16th November cuts I Fall To Pieces and two other songs.

1961 – On 21st January, Patsy gives birth to a son, Allen Randolph.

1961 – I Fall To Pieces / Lovin’ In Vain is released on 30th January. It slowly climbs the charts, reaching #1 in the Country Chart on 7th August and #12 on the Pop Chart on 12th September.

1961 – The car crash occurred on 14th June. Two of the three occupants of the other car were killed. Patsy’s brother John, who was driving, sustains cracked ribs and a punctured lung. Patsy was thrown through the windshield and suffers a broken wrist, a dislocated hip and a large cut across her forehead. She was hospitalised but returned to work in six weeks. Her first post-accident recording session was held on 17th August. The first session for the song Crazy was held four days later.

1961 – Patsy sings Crazy at the Opry on 14th October. According to “Patsy Cline: The Lady, The Legend”, she receives three standing ovations. The record is released two days later and becomes her first #1 Country Chart hit.

Patsy Cline photo 3

Patsy Cline, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Cowboy Copas

1963 – On 3rd March, Patsy with a host of other country artists performs at a benefit in Kansas City for the family of disc jockey “Cactus” Jack Call who had died in a car accident. The plan was then to return to Nashville by plane, piloted by her manager, Randy Hughes. Thick fog at the airport delays the departure to the afternoon of 5th March. Also on the plane are two other performers from the show, Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins. They stop at Dyersburg, Tennessee for refuelling and leave at 6.07 p.m. The crash occurs 90 miles from Nashville in woods outside Camden, Tennessee. No one survives. When Patsy’s watch is found, it had stopped at 6.20.

1985 – Sweet Dreams, a biographical film on Patsy, is released starring Jessica Lange (as Patsy) who lip-synced to the original Cline recordings:

 

FOOTNOTES

1. I have used several sources in the creation of this essay, notably the Wiki feature on the lady, the Patsy Cline: The Lady, The Legend fan site (invaluable on data), the Encyclopedia.com feature on her and the Praguefrank discography for Patsy. There are occasional differences and I have usually given the official site the benefit of the doubt in such cases.

2. Four Star Records was founded in Los Angeles in 1945 by Bill McCall Jr. plus two other parties who McCall bought out. In 1949, the company moved to Pasadena, CA. The label is principally known for its country output although it also recorded blues and jazz. The contract that Patsy Cline signed was unusual in that Four Star made a licensing agreement with Decca whereby the latter would handle distribution – hence Patsy’s records appeared with a Decca or subsidiary Coral imprint rather than Four Star – in return for which her records were cut under Decca control of the sessions.

3. Shortly after Patsy’s Walkin’ After Midnight had strolled into the charts, a version appeared from someone called Calvin Coolidge but what was a little strange about it was that the record was on Four Star Records. What very few people knew was that Coolidge was no more than a name dreamed up by label owner Bill McCall as part of a practical joke. He had made the record by playing Patsy’s single at 33⅓rpm and then recording the result at 45rpm, and had fake labels printed and attached. The record was never actually released for sale but McCall had a number printed which he used to send out to DJs and then call them up. (Source: Comments in 45cat but also mentioned in the Ellis Nassour biography of Patsy, “Honky Tonk Angel”)

4. In just about every biographical essay on Patsy you’ll see the terms “Nashville Sound” and “Country Crossover”, usually pretty early on. While the second term might sound relatively comprehensible, I felt that a few words here wouldn’t go amiss. Circa 1950 in the US, there were three almost discrete major sets of popular music record buyers or audiences: the black or R&B audience, the country audience and the national pop audience, with the last being predominantly white. Such audiences had their own charts, their own radio stations and dedicated record labels. Separation was so strong between these audiences that occurrences of an R&B record or a country record getting into the US national pop chart were rare; when it happened it was called a “crossover”. In a sub-section in “RocknRoll”, I talked about Country Crossover in the following manner:

“Every now and again there was a record that got too big for Nashville, and, by dint of DeeJays picking it up, made an appearance in the US National Chart. And very often we’d go for that number in the UK. Sometimes such records were novelties, but more often they just had something about them that made them stand out. Rarely were they bog standard tears-in-the-beer country jukebox fare. Such crossovers happened occasionally in the fifties and, to such an extent in the sixties, that I feel they shouldn’t be ignored …”

The Nashville Sound was, at least in part, a recognition of (and an attempt at furthering) crossover from the country field coupled with a perceived loss of a portion of the country audience to rock and roll; remember that in their early days, Presley, Holly, Gibson, the Everly Brothers and more would have been looked on as purely country artists. While it’s an over-simplification to state that the Nashville Sound always implied the inclusion of male or female backing singers – typically the Jordanaires or the Anita Kerr Singers – plus a string orchestra, it is true that a goodly number of records coming out of Music City USA did have such adornments.

5. Carl Smith/Patsy Cline’s There She/He Goes has nothing to do with either Bob Marley & the Wailers There She Goes from 1965 or the La’s song with that name in 1988. There’s yet another song with the title from John Prine which appears on his 1978 album Bruised Orange.

6. Neither Billie Holiday nor Dinah Washington recorded Crazy – the former was already dead by the time Patsy’s single was cut – but over the years the song was recorded by many, many people including Kay Starr (who’d turned down “Pieces”), Esther Phillips, Timi Yuro, Julio Iglesias, Shirley Bassey, Cassandra Wilson, Diana Krall, Johnny Mathis and Yo La Tengo (on the Murder In The Second Degree album).

7. The “torch” in torch song or singer is likely to have come from the expression “to carry a torch for someone”, meaning to love a person unrequitedly. Hence a torch song would be an expression of such love. I haven’t seen anything precise regarding the date for when the usage of the phrase started but reports suggest that it was in circulation as far back as the twenties and thirties i.e. between the two world wars. As the years rolled on I suspect the term got widened to include sentimental ballads in general. Typically torch singers have been female rather than male although males aren’t totally excluded.

I googled “Torch Songs” and it gave me a playlist of “The Greatest Torch Songs Ever Created” starting with:

I’ll Be Seeing You – Billie Holiday
A Case Of You – Joni Mitchell
The Man That Got Away – Judy Garland
Crazy – Patsy Cline
Cry Me A River – Julie London

8. Researching this Toppermost got me interested in the early days of the development of the Nashville Sound. The Wiki article on the subject states that Chet Atkins, Steve Sholes, Owen Bradley and Bob Ferguson were the main producers associated with it. The article goes on to say, in terms of timing:

“Writer Colin Escott proclaims Reeves’ Four Walls recorded February 1957, to be the “first ‘Nashville sound’ record”, and Chet Atkins, the RCA Victor producer and guitarist most often credited with being the sound’s primary artistic creator, pointed to his production of Don Gibson’s Oh Lonesome Me later the same year.”

Atkins was actually responsible for production on both. Floyd Cramer was on both too; that’s him tinkling away on Four Walls. Note the dates in relation to Patsy’s record career.

9. The writer of the Encyclopedia.com feature on Patsy speculates that the reason that she didn’t get authorisation to join the Grand Ole Opry on her initial attempt, was because there was no precedent of female solo singers doing such a thing; if a female was part of a group, that was deemed okay. Kitty Wells was the first to break this glass ceiling after It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels in 1952.

10. It’s not at all unusual for the word ‘rockabilly’ to appear against some of Patsy’s early work and a few tracks do justify its presence. I’d put Stop, Look And Listen as one of her better attempts at emulating the sort of thing that was going on in Memphis although Martin’s jazzy break sounds as if it’s wandered in from a western swing record. Mind you, both he and producer Bradley had been present at the first attempt by Decca to capture Buddy Holly and the Crickets’ sound, less than three months earlier in the same studio, so they’d certainly been exposed to the new idiom (and the size of that backbeat clearly suggests that Owen had learned something). Jumping much further on in the Cline career, I’d warn that Patsy’s take on Blue Moon Of Kentucky has nothing to do with the Presley version of Bill Monroe’s classic. Think of it more as a take by an accomplished string quartet on one of your favourite songs: it’s witty, it’s intelligent (and there are a few fine yodels and a growl from Patsy) but it doesn’t rock.

11. I deliberately stayed away from live clips while discussing Patsy’s records since the sonic mix often differed considerably. In compensation, here are a couple of ‘live on TV’ clips. The first comes from Tex Ritter’s Ranch Party in 1957. The song, I’ve Loved And Lost Again, is one I’ve not featured, but in part I wanted this clip because it shows off one of those dresses that her mother used to make for her (before they got banned in the Decca days). Following that is a more decorous looking Patsy with Walkin’ After Midnight from the Top Of The Morning show, Nashville, May 1957. Patsy’s accompanied by a cheery looking Owen Bradley on piano, Hank Garland and Grady Martin (who we see briefly at the end as the camera pans out) and Bob Moore (off camera, bass).

 

 

 

 

Patsy Cline photo 4

 

Patsy Cline poster 3

 

 

Patsy Cline (1932–1963)

 

Official Patsy Cline Facebook Page

Patsy Cline: The Lady, The Legend

Patsy Cline Discography

Celebrating Patsy website

Patsy Cline Museum, Nashville

Patsy Cline at 45cat

Patsy Cline biography (AllMusic)

Dave Stephens is the author of two books on popular music. His first, “RocknRoll”, is described by one reviewer as “probably the most useful single source of information on 50s & 60s music I’ve come across”. Dave followed this up with “London Rocks” in 2016, an analysis of the early years of the London (American) record label in the UK. You can follow him on Twitter @DangerousDaveXX

TopperPost #944

3 Comments

  1. Andrew Shields
    Mar 23, 2021

    Thanks for this superb piece Dave. My youngest sister is a Patsy Cline fanatic so I heard these records repeatedly when I was a teenager. Her voice is just so perfect…
    I might move ‘Three Cigarettes’ up into my regular top 10 but otherwise this list is close to perfect. Thanks again.

  2. Ilkka Jauramo
    Apr 4, 2021

    Patsy Cline was like my first jeans in 1957, Hopalong Cassidy series, RinTinTin or Nashville sound . Far away from my turntable and nothing to change my life.

    Now when I – thanks to this great Toppermost – gave her another chance
    I heard some of blue notes, some of jazz and the voice. Did I hear Jessi Colter or Carter family, too? For sure.

    • Dave Stephens
      Apr 5, 2021

      Andrew, Ilkka, many thanks for your comments. All I can say is that I enjoyed the music better than my memory told me I should so maybe I tried a bit harder.

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