Friday, March 27, 2009


Ninety Minutes With Betsy Gay

Good evening y'all, ole Gran'pa H. M. Crittick is pecking away at the keyboard again tonight. A few days ago, we had the occasion to hit the road on a business trip to southern California but found time to stop and visit with one of the early stars of country music, movies and television - Betsy Gay.

We first learned of Betsy from an old Tex (Jenks) Carman song folio that had her picture on the cover. Later, Janet McBride helped us start to tell her story - Janet is one of the long time supporters of those who still find the lost art of yodeling a part of country music's history that needs to be preserved. Needless to say, Janet arranged for us to talk with Betsy one Saturday afternoon, then Betsy allowed ole Gran'pa to stop by for a visit.

Our visit started from just about the moment we stepped in. She made us feel like were an old friend or relative. In just a few seconds we were sitting at her dining room table and she was showing us her scrapbook she had begun and a pile of many old photos from her career. This lady's career touched on just about everything and everyone. And yet she found the time to get married and raise five children.

She was Alfalfa's girl friend in the old Our Gang / Little Rascal series. She was in the Tailspin Tommy's series. She sang with Freddie Martin's orchestra - having a hit with Mockin' Bird Hill. She appeared on many Los Angeles country music radio shows - including those run by Foreman Phillips. Cliffie Stone. Texas Jim Lewis. She was a part of the Squeakin' Deacon's show on tv as well for 26 weeks. She was in the cast of the Country America show that featured such legends as Freddie Hart, Jerry Wallace and Lefty Frizzell along with host, Joe Allison. She was a part of the legendary Town Hall Party show.

It was hard to imagine she was over 80 years old, she was still as enthusiastic as can be, often singing several verses of songs that came to mind when she would turn through the photos. It was hard to keep up with her - it was like a staccato conversation of her memories as we turned through her photos.

She was a part of Spade Cooley's early history in Los Angeles - working with his band at the legendary Venice Pier Ballroom that Foreman Phillips operated in that day.

She played for us several of her old recordings from a CD that her family was trying to compile of her early vocal work. Her voice was crystal clear and strong back then. She is a petite person, perhaps similar to Brenda Lee in that regard, small, but with a great vocal projection.

Spike Jones. Texas Jim Lewis. Merle Travis. Cliffie Stone. Eddie Cletro. Tex Williams. Richard Dix. Monte Hale. Redd Harper. Stuart Hamblen. Carl (Squeakin' Deacon) Moore. She worked with them all, but you would never know she had rubbed elbows with such legendary artists.

Workin' with this feller on this web site does have its benefits sometimes. This is one time the benefits were something to treasure - being able to take a break and visit with someone who was a part of that golden era of country music, or rather, hillbilly music. And as the sun set in the west as we continued our drive down Rte. 99 to Los Angeles, we plopped in another CD of a recording of the Hollywood Barn Dance from that era. Somehow, that long drive didn't seem so long anymore.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


Gaylord Fumbles Again

Is Gaylord Entertainment secretly funded by other musical genres to tear down what was country music chord by chord? The logic of their business decisions over time seem to defy common sense and lack of understanding of the core value of WSM and the Grand Ole Opry.

This week, like a lot of other corporations, they thought the thing to do was throw a lot of folks under the bus to 'cut costs'. Did any executives lose their jobs or have a cut in pay? Or did they get a bigger bonus package because of their cuts?

Their latest decision has made the front page of the Nashville Tennessean. They let Keith Bilbrey go - someone who had worked for their station for 34 years, an on air public good will ambassador for their Opry franchise and an announcer on the famed show. Has any other Opry announcer ever suffered such a fate?

Check what Gail Kerr had to say:

"The ride ended because of money. Gaylord Entertainment, which owns the station, has dissolved 350 positions. Bilbrey's midday shift had fewer listeners than the morning and afternoon drive times, so he got the boot."

I would be willing to bet that they spent the least amount of promotional dollars and effort for his shift. In fact, shouldn't they be firing the marketing and sales staff instead for not being able to provide the sponsorship and ratings they seem to covet? That's where the problem is. Replacing him with some nameless person in a computer terminal won't solve anything. Did the executives give up their perks? Their cars? Their expense accounts? Did they eliminate the executive bonuses?

Why doesn't Gaylord just give up the Opry and WSM franchise? It's clear they think everything can be run without any human involvement; they think profits are nothing more than a macro button they can automate. They blew the Opryland franchise and the family aspect tied to the Opry. Yeah, the world needed another shopping mall instead.

Boycott their hotels when you go to Nashville. Send them a message. The micro managing have to have a quarterly profit because Wall Street says so mentality has got to go. If you're in the entertainment business - you provide entertainment. You don't get rid of it. Was it worth the front page publicity and bad public will it generated for that 'decision'?

It's about PEOPLE Gaylord - will you ever learn the lesson?

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Inspirational Songs with Tenessee Ernie

Ole Gran'pa H. M. Crittick was on the roamin' about again a while back. Drivin' up the old super highway, we found one of those "Friends of the Library" type of store that has a whole bunch of old used books, sheet music and records. All at your every day down to earth prices without the fancy shipping prices a lot of eBay sellers like to rip you off for.

We found some old sheet music. Then we started browsing their album sections. One got our attention - it was a six LP set by the Longines Symphonette Society featuring Tennessee Ernie Ford doing Inspirational Songs. And well, when we found out the price was less than a happy meal, we made sure it went home with us.

It was a 6-LP set of 60 songs. We went ahead and converted that to digital format so we can put together a CD or two to listen to it in the car and elsewhere, know what I mean?

Ole Gran'pa has vague memories of seeing the ole Pea Picker himself on the tv box at one time. He had a voice and personality that just got your attention.

When we made the CD, we picked many of the tunes we're familiar with. What struck ole Gran'pa was perhaps where today's artists got their inspirations to do their Gospel albums. We admit we are a fan of Charley Pride - our evidence is having every LP and CD.

Charley did a Gospel album in the early 1970s and included such songs as "Did You Think To Pray", "Whispering Hope" and "Church In the Wildwood". When we hear Ernie do these Gospel tunes, it led me to start comparing the way he did them to Charley's versions. The similarity is apparent to me.

In the booklet with the 6 LP set, it cites what Ernie's approach was to these tunes. "When he performed gospel songs on his weekly television show he shunned the ultra-sophisticated, flamboyahntly produced "numbers." "You go dressing up a simple message from the Bible, and you miss the point. The point is not how fancy you can make it. That's just showing off."

Listening to the CD I made, it makes you feel as if you are listening to Tennessee Ernie doing a concert in a church. The arrangements are sparce - a church organ, and not much else, the male and female church choirs, at times almost accapella in sound.

His voice is crystal clear and you feel the spirit and reverence he puts into the tunes and melodies.

Make no mistake about it - this guy knew how to use his voice.

Now to listen to that live album from the Indiana State Fair in the early 1960s. And we do remember stopping in to have a meal at his restaurant way back when when Mom drove us down to Nashville one summer weekend to see the Opry. We still have that EP.

PBS a while back broadcast a show featuring the Gospel tunes he always did at the end of his shows. If you get a chance - don't miss the rerun. We made sure we recorded that one.

Thursday, March 05, 2009


Real Country Music Along Route 99

Ole Gran'pa H. M. Crittick is atcha again. We've been meaning to write this for a long spell and well, the itch needed scratching again when we pulled the CD out again. A while back, the ole boy had to take a long trip down Rte. 99 in Central California, the heart of California's farm country. Naturally Ole Gran'pa pulled a few CDs from his library to listen to on the way, some new ones submitted for review, some old favorites as well.

I started with one from Ben Stafford Rodgers called "Texas Then & Now" partly because I wanted to hear the older, familiar tunes he had on that CD. Now sometimes folks tackle those old classics and well, its a tough comparison when you think of the first time you heard them.

I could make this review very short - the truth is - I listened to the CD over and over on the 3 hour ride. He does all of them justice. The music backing him on these vocals is a nice feel to that old style of country music that many still enjoy - the fiddles, steel guitar, electric guitars. His voice is crystal clear and easy to listen to - you can follow the story in the lyrics of the tunes he sings. Try listening to the radio these days and tell me that's possible - they probably think they're in a hollow arena and having to belt it out in the studio figuring no one going to hear them anyhow.

The first tune was Marty Robbins' classic El Paso - that's what started getting my attention. Then he goes to his version of Cool Water, the tune made famous by the Sons of the Pioneers. I started clicking through to the other tunes wanting to get a quick sample to make sure I wasn't being setup for a kick back into reality if the others didn't follow that pattern. But from Back in the Saddle Again (surely you remember ole Gene?), Cattle Call (hard for me to figure which fellow did it better - Eddy or Slim, but I still enjoy those ole 78s), Shame on You, New San Antonio Rose, Bouquet of Roses and a nicely done Jim Reeves classic, Adios Amigo.

Fans of the older era of country music will be familiar with all the tunes on this CD. You may find it hard to take this one out of the CD player when your driving around. I just put it in after that quick run through and then let it start doing its random selection. I did not get tired of listening to it and found myself trying to warble along (well, since I was the only one in the car, I could get away with that). And before I knew it, my trip was over.

To Mr. Rodgers, sorry I didn't put the word out earlier. To the rest of y'all - you can't have my copy.

Visit Ben's site at Ben Stafford Rodgers.

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