From the Introduction
For a decade (1945-1955), Jenny Lou Carson was one of the hottest songwriters in country music—in fact, she was the first female to write a #1 country hit.
During that period, she composed fifteen songs that yielded eighteen Top 10 country hits, and another three that made the Top 15. Three of them held the #1 position in the Billboard country charts a total of twenty-five weeks. She also had five Top 10 hits (with two songs) in the pop field in America as well as four in Britain.
Additionally, Carson had five million-selling singles with four songs: "Jealous Heart" (Al Morgan), "Let Me Go, Lover" (Joan Weber; Teresa Brewer), "Chained to a Memory" (Eddy Arnold), which achieved that status as the Bside of "That's How Much I Love You"; and "A Pair of Broken Hearts" (Spade Cooley), which was on the flip of "Shame on You."
Numerous other songs sold in the half-million range. These include "You Two-Timed Me One Time Too Often" (Tex Ritter), "Darling, What More Can I Do" (Gene Autry; Elton Britt; Ernest Tubb), "Never Trust a Woman" (Tex Williams; Red Foley; Tiny Hill), "Blues in My heart" (Red Foley), "Don't Rob Another Man's Castle" (Eddy Arnold; Ernest Tubb & the Andrews Sisters), "Many Tears Ago," "Echo of Your Footsteps," "C-H-R-1-S-T-M-A-S," "Love Bug Itch," "A Million Miles From Your Heart," "I'd Trade All of My Tomorrows" and "If I Never Get to Heaven" (all by Eddy Arnold), "Let Me Go, Lover" (Patti Page; Dean Martin; Ruby Murray), "Jealous Heart" (Tab Hunter; Connie Francis), "Shepherd of My Heart" (Johnny Cash) and "A Penny For Your Thoughts" (Willie Nelson).
Moreover, "Jealous Heart" and "Let Me Go, Lover" have been honored by Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) as "Million Performance" songs. Both have also been recorded more than a hundred times. More than two hundred artists have cut her songs and at least a dozen are considered to be standards. Total worldwide sales of her compositions have been estimated as high as eighty million.
Many of her finest compositions are among the least known today. Such songs as "Dear God, Watch Over Joe," "The Crossroad Where We Said Goodbye," "Too Good to Be True," "Since I'm Learning Not To Yearn So Much," "1'I1 Never Trust You Again," "I'll Keep Smiling" and "Every Step of the Way" are all deceptively simple songs of power and sensitivity.
Naturally, in any career there are bound -to be disappointments, as no one could attempt so much and not fail occasionally. The difference in quality between her best and worst songs was exceptionally wide, and there were plenty of weak entries in her 177-song catalogue. Many of her published tunes were never recorded. Several others were recorded, but never released.
In addition to being in the first wave of professional country songwriters (with Fred Rose, Floyd Tillman, Stuart Hamblen, Ted Daffan, Bob Miller and Cindy Walker), Jenny Lou Carson was also a pioneer of the female country singers. With Linda Parker, Patsy Montana and Louise Massey, she helped break ground for such future legends as Kitty Wells, Jean Shepard and Loretta Lynn.
Though dismissed by many music historians as a singer of rather limited range, Jenny Lou was actually a fascinating and unique vocalist who could easily switch from hillbilly songbird to western swing or big band vocalist. Not only was her voice well-controlled, but her phrasing was impeccable. Certainly, she was the finest interpreter of her own material.
And, though her recording career as a solo artist barely spanned three years, her legacy of twenty titles comprise a remarkable body of work that virtually defines her art. If her career can be said to have a negative aspect, it is that she spent too little time at the top.
This book is not intended to be strictly a biography of our subject, but rather an account of her "life and times." (There is a clear distinction between the two types of books.) There is no way to really understand Jenny Lou Carson without knowing the events of her formative years. She was born at a turbulent time in America, when citizens accepted the fact that politicians on all levels were in the back pockets of the powerful underworld. And she came to adulthood during the bleakness of the Great Depression.
To draw as complete and accurate a picture of Carson's personal life and career as well as the era in which she lived, it seemed necessary to present various historical and sociological asides. Initially, world wars, speakeasies, bootleggers and historical events may seem like incidentals when speaking of a country music singer and songwriter, but it is just as difficult to imagine a biographer of a 1950s rockand-roll star leaving out teenage gang wars and sex in the back seat of cars at drive-in theatres.
It also seemed essential to have soma knowledge about the men she knew, their operations and how they achieved power in the times in which they lived. Additionally, we often digressed to include information on other entertainers who touched her life in some way.
Probably no one can write objectively about any life without dishing a little dirt and this book is no exception. One cannot paint a true picture of a rose without the thorns. Therefore, many incidents herein show Carson in an unfavorable light and others are either favorable or unfavorable, depending on the reader's attitude.
However, our purpose was not to reveal every skeleton in her closet, and delve into every brief encounter she may have had. We didn't want rumors and gossip to form too large or intrusive a part of the story.
By the time we finished the book, we had talked to nearly a hundred people. Thankfully, we were able to make contact with numerous people who actually knew our subject personally, and were able to offer first-hand accounts of her activities, rather than hearsay stories that would have been impossible to verify.
We also greatly appreciated all the conversations with numerous people who cooperated on the condition they be identified in the text anonymous or as "a friend." Others have not been quoted directly in the text, but their observations and memories helped us weave the tapestry of her life.
Any number of them impressed us with both their openness and affection for Carson. Some of the conversations took several hours and quite a few resulted in numerous follow-up inquiries. Many people even took considerable trouble to locate rare photographs, personal correspondence, sheet music and other memorabilia.
Not everyone, however, was articulate or perceptive in their recollections. More than once, we had to reconcile with conflicting memories and opinions, and with those who had subjective and slanted opinions and confused memory with imagination.
Since all of them knew a different person, however, opinions varied greatly as to what she was really like. We had to accept all accounts, however contradictory, as equally valid personal viewpoints of events. Even the ones who were there and involved didn't know everything, and often had personally-biased viewpoints. At times, some tried to make themselves look good at her expense.
Others never told a lie, perhaps, but presented the facts as dramatically as the facts allowed—not only garbling details, but embroidering some of them. Thus, as a result of determined efforts to distort the truth, there were often several versions of the same story. Therefore, the reader will ultimately be left to decide himself how much is fact and how much is fiction. As King Solomon wrote nearly 3,000 years ago, "Anyone's story sounds right until he is cross-examined" (Proverbs 18:17).
Interestingly, we discovered that the relatively unknown artist, producer, musician, or fan—those with fewer distractions and often a more intimate working relationship with the subject—was usually the more perceptive observer.
Unfortunately, not all of the gaps could be filled. Although we were able to shed a little light on Jenny Lou's activities in her formative years, information regarding that period of her life is still so scant and vague that it is doubtful that anyone could discover the whole truth. The same is true about the last twenty-five years of her life.
The order of the material is chronological, and biographical summaries and footnotes have been inserted at what seemed the most convenient points for the reader as well as the authors.
The dialogue included may not be the actual words spoken perhaps, but nevertheless captures the essence of what was said. In recalling conversations that took place years ago, people seldom remember the exact words used. Furthermore, real-life conversations with interruptions, gestures and unfnished sentences often make no sense when put on paper.
This is, of course, not to say that everything contained in these pages is absolute truth. As economist Thorstein Veblen so aptly put it, "The outcome of any serious research can only be to make two questions grow where one question grew before."
A thin line separates misinformation and conjecture, and it is quite possible we failed to detect an occasional embellishment. But we have tried to be as scrupulously honest with the evidence and its interpretations as possible.
Ultimately, Jenny Lou Carson still remains somewhat elusive. She may have been a somewhat flawed human being with a voracious appetite for living—especially in her younger years—as her detractors claim, but she was also unusually gifted, and most certainly no ordinary woman. We have no illusion that we have recorded the last word, but we hope we assessed her life and career objectively and honestly and honored her with as much truth as we could learn.
About the Authors
Arnold Rogers was born October 15, 1938, in Princeton, Missouri, but lived in Kansas City for several years prior to moving to Nashville, Tennessee, in 1967. In the 1980s and early 1990, he edited several entertainment publications including Country Music Inquirer, Nashville Reporter, Country Music Parade and a nostalgia magazine called Yesterday. Rogers is also the author of "The Life and Times of Hank Williams" (with Bruce Gidoll), published by Butler Books in 1993, and "No. 1 Country Hits" (with Jerry Langley), published by Nova Books in 2005.
Jerry Langley was born July 5,1935, in Greenville, Kentucky. After graduating from high school, he moved to Nashville to attend David Lipscomb and Southeastern Television Institute. After serving three years in the Army, Jerry returned to Nashville and was employed as a photographer for television stations WDCN, WLAC and WSM until the mid-1970s when he went to work for the State of Tennessee. Married to the former Marie Stafford of G ainesboro, Tennessee, with a daughter Karen (Baskin), Jerry owns a huge collection of hillbilly, Western and Western Swing records and is especially fond of Ernest Tubb, Tex Ritter, Dick Thomas, Stuart Hamblen, the Bailes Brothers—and, of course, Jenny Lou Carson.
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