Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Classic Recording Sessions - On This Date (6/1)

Patsy Cline - 55 years ago (1st session)
Wednesday, June 1, 1955
Bradley Studio, 804 16th Ave. South, Nashville 3, TN
Patsy Cline: vocal; Harold Bradley: guitar; Owen Bradley: piano; Farris Coursey: drums;
Don Helms: steel guitar; Tommy Jackson: fiddle; Grady Martin: guitar; Bob Moore: bass.
Producer: Owen Bradley

Fifty-five years ago today, Patsy Cline had her first professional recording session in Nashville produced by Owen Bradley, an arrangement that would not vary throughout her short recording career. Though Patsy's records were issued first on Coral and then Decca, she wasn't actually signed to Decca until 1960. Patsy was actually signed to 4 Star, which was a music company in Hollywood California. Though they had their own record label, they chose to release Patsy's records through Coral and Decca. Their primary role in her recording career was to have control over her choice of repertoire which allowed them to exploit songs from their own publishing catalog. Though there are good songs among Patsy's 4 Star recordings, she was by and large bound to some pretty horrible material. In 1957, Patsy broke out with a sizable hit in "Walkin' After Midnight" (and some great national exposure on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts TV program), but other than that, she had no chart success until she signed with Decca proper in 1960. While the material was largely inferior, there are still highlights due to Patsy's amazing singing. No matter how bad the song (or in some cases, the arrangements) she's completely committed and she really brings it all the time. In a way, it kind of reminds me of early Billie Holiday in that most of the material she was allowed to record for years was similarly substandard. And like Patsy Cline, her performances are always so spot on that you can often forgive the material and just enjoy the singing. And in both cases, the accompanying musicians also often help the end results rise above the subpar songs.

Today's session doesn't have any really horrible songs, but they're mostly pretty nondescript at best. I guess I have to point out given that it's the source of the name of this blog that "Honky Tonk Merry Go Round" was recorded at this session. It's not a great song, but it has some personal meaning to me in that it was among the first Patsy Cline songs I heard as a 4 or 5 year old child on a compilation album I used to listen to repeatedly in my grandparents' basement (which also included Sun-era Johnny Cash). "Honky Tonk Merry Go Round" was a standout track to me at the time, and being a 4 or 5 year old child, I'm guessing I didn't get the metaphor and was somewhat taken in by a song about a merry-go-round. Another thing that lured me in, though, was the steel guitar of Don Helms the same way it did on Hank Williams records I heard at that age. On this track, Helms plays in a style somewhat similar to what he did with Hank Williams. On some of the other tracks, we hear what is probably a pretty early example of Don's work on the pedal steel.

Faron Young & Patsy Cline
Navy Country Hoedown #40 (summer 1956)

As an added bonus today, we have a radio program from the summer of 1956. This is about a year after Patsy's first session featured today, but I thought it was a nice addition as it contains another version of "Turn The Cards Slowly" which was recorded at that first session. Plus, you get a little Faron Young. Hope you like it.


Don said...

You hear people say they wish the could have been a fly on the wall when certain things happened which they missed out on. Well, These recordings, along with the notes, are as close as most of will ever come to having that "You Were There" experience. I love it.

Joaquin is so right about a remarkable singer sometimes carrying it in spite of unremarkable material. A lot of country singers experienced that. With 20/20 hindsight it's amazing it took so long for Patsy Cline to get the songs she deserved. Of course, we all know we'd be in love with the yellow pages if those were her lyrics. What a gift!

Thanks for another glimpse into the past, Joaquin.


Joaquin LeFleur said...

@ Don - Again, thanks for your great comments! I'm so glad that you really get the spirit of this. This is about as close as we can get to being a fly on the wall, and that's the experience I'm always looking for too - that and a time machine...

As far as the Yellow Pages, some of this 4-Star material is just barely a notch above that. But even still, Patsy would sing the hell out of it.

Thanks again Don, and keep comin' back...