A Not So Obvious Rose

Last weekend I went by one of my favorite vinyl spots, Trolley Stop, to dig for some Jody Miller albums. The owner, John, let me go to his back storage where he has multiple boxes of classic country lps. I was successful in finding many Millers, but I also came across an artist I don’t see often, Rose Maddox.

806a4aac7022870e4ada31adb4cd65f2The career of Maddox is largely a mystery to me and a lot of her career still remains this way. I knew she had hit songs, yet I couldn’t name them. I mostly heard her name when she had been cited as an influence to many greats like Dolly Parton, Kitty Wells, Wanda Jackson, and Emmylou Harris. So there has to be something about this lady.

My limited research foretold that Maddox started her career with her brothers, Fred, Cal, Cliff, Henry (after Cliff’s death in 1949), and Don. They performed what I would classify as “rhythmic country.” The music they performed ranged from bluegrass to classic country and a bit of early rockabilly. The band eventually dismembered and Rose set out on a solo career.

The album I found was 1961’s, A Bouquet of Roses. This album contains her top 20 hit, “Conscience, I’m Guilty.” It’s a mix of western swing and country. It contains the classic country and pop hit, “Lonely Street” and the rock and roll smash, “Jim Dandy.” The versatility of Maddox’s vocals are well on display in this bouquet.

My biggest take aways from this album are “Tall Men,” “Early in The Morning,” and “Read My Letter Once Again.” Maddox’s voice doesn’t flow over these tracks, it demands sentiment. She sings gently at times, yet she always has command. Her voice is a pillar of strength, portraying both a strong person with a gentle heart and one who isn’t to be messed with.

rosemaddoxFrom this album it is easy to see where the above mentioned singers found inspiration. Maddox was one of the first “flamboyant” western swing singers, wearing full rhinestoned, sequined, fringed, and ric-raced ensembles. Although her influence is obvious, she doesn’t receive the recognition she deserves. She should be mentioned with Kitty Wells and Patsy Cline, yet I discovered her in a dusty shed.

Many founders are rarely recognized for their complete impact, but the greatest country stars have cited Maddox as an influence. It seems that she didn’t seek the spotlight, it looked for her. Her legacy is cemented in those who are performing today. The stars of yesterday look at her as an influence and today’s stars look at them as their influences.

So in essence, she may not be an obvious rose, but she has received a lot of water through the years. Her vocal style, fashion, and pioneering performances are mimicked time and time again.

maddox_rose_1377187743274Her legacy and influence is apparent through her voice. She’s heard all the way
from Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” to Miranda Lamberts “My Little Red Wagon.” You see, Rose’s voice is as pretty and soft as a rose petal, yet she can cut you with her thorns if you do her wrong.

That is the essence of the female country singer. They are always pretty, yet never mess with them, they have thorns, shotguns, and skillets. Maddox has taught me that’s not something new. They have had it them for a while.

More Than The Queen of The House: Cleaning Up With Jody Miller

I often say that you will discover the best people you will ever meet down a red dirt road. Last weekend I found out you will also find the best music down those same roads.

4py19c0rowb444yoI had the chance to sit down with Jody Miller. She invited me over to her home to sit down and talk about her career and life. As I walked up to the door of this country house, I felt right at home in the middle of a pasture with the red dirt still in the wind from my tires.

I received a hint from a friend of Jody’s, that she was quite fond of Vanilla Sonic Milkshakes. On my way to her home, I stopped by Sonic and purchased her a milkshake and myself a Vanilla Dr. Pepper.

As I walked to the front door, I had my hands full of records, my notebook, and these two drinks. Jody’s dog greeted me with nothing but charm. I later learned he was nearly 14! I then knocked on the door and was greeted with one of the friendliest smiles I had ever seen.

“How did you know I liked those shakes?” said Jody.

It’s easy to say it was love at first sight.

She ushered me in and as she went to the kitchen to grab a spoon, she told me to go look at her records and memorabilia. On the wall hung every album she had made under the Capitol and Epic labels. Then as my eyes slowly looked down, I saw one of the most coveted awards every singer longs for.

After I was finished gawking at her albums and her Grammy, we went and sat down at her dining room table. That’s where our conversation began. I started out with a question I wonder about every singer.

As a singer myself, I know what makes me tick. So I wanted to ask, why singing?JodyMiller-1 When you were little, what possessed you to start singing?

“Well I came from a family of music people. My dad played the fiddle and my mother sang real good. I had four sisters. We would get together and harmonize and dad would play the fiddle. We would dance and sing every Saturday night. It was a lot of fun, but I knew the rest of them couldn’t sing the way I could [she said this through laughter]. So I had that feeling that I was really good. 

As we cracked a few more jokes, I had to learn about her other musical talents and what instruments she played. The answer surprised me.

Now you play the fiddle, correct?

“No, I make it look good for two songs. If you notice [in a “Thank God I’m a Country Girl” Youtube video] I don’t crack a smile. I was so serious, thinking I was going to mess this up. I do play guitar. I have a four string tenor that I bought back in 1962. It was 8 years old when I bought it!” 

We then jumped into the beginning of her music career. We briefly discussed her time with singing in a local folk act, until she and her husband started making their way to LA to begin her singing career. Along this path is where she met up with fellow Okie, Dale Robertson in 1963.

“He is really a brilliant artiste. He has a lot of taste in the music world, acting, and everything else. He’s gone now, but boy he was smart. I went to visit him unannounced. I had no invitation, but he heard me. When he heard me, he contacted Capital Records. He was doing an animated feature at the time. He was using all of Walt Disney’s artists and then he contacted the people at Capital for some one to do the music.” 

From there, she went on to try out for the Capital records. They were immediately smitten with her as a folk singer.

As Jody admits humbly, “At least I could carry a tune, they thought.” 

11881409_10200899605530180_404911533_oCapital was attempting to jump on the successful folk band wagon of the early and mid 1960’s with the likes of Joan Baez and The Kingston Trio. She said that they wanted somebody who presented themselves like the former, but that didn’t bother her at all. At the time, she had no direction in where she wanted to go with her music.

Jody also really enjoyed the men who backed her during her audition, Glen Campbell and Billy Strange.

“I got my foot in the door and they weren’t going to get it out,” Jody quipped.

What was it like being a Oklahoma girl and walking into a Capital recording studio?

“I was overwhelmed really. You could have knocked me over with a feather. I couldn’t believe it.”

I then pulled out her first album, Wednesday’s Child is Full of Woe. This album is beautifully arranged and folk to its core. Yet, as Miller pointed out, it wasn’t a hit. The majority of the songs on this album were story songs and she explained how at the time she knew 200 folk songs and the stories that went behind them. That’s where she found her conviction, which is one of her ultimate strengths to this day.

Wednesday’s Child is Full of Woe did not garner any hits and didn’t make it on to the
charts, but that did not detour Miller’s dream and determination to cut a hit record.

Jody“I have always believed in my talent and knew that I could sing better than anybody else. I hate to say that, but I really felt that and I believe we have to feel that way or we can’t push ourselves into doing the job. If you keep on going with what you have, you’re going to make it. I don’t care what anybody says.”

After her first album, Miller was then teamed up with a young Joe Allison. He placed her with 42 musicians, which quite intimated Miller, and they cut her first hit single “He Walks Like A Man.” She then had a brief stint in the Italian music world, where she debuted “Io Che Non Vivo,” which later became “You Don’t Have to Say you Love Me” in English. The Italian version was written especially for Miller.

She then began work on her next recordings in 1966. It just so happened that Mary Taylor had written a song, which she wanted to record, but she already had a hit song on the charts. In those days an artist did not have multiple songs on the chart at a single time.That song was “Queen of The House.”

Miller recorded this song in just one day. This was another one of her strong suites as an artist.

How long did it take you to record an album?

“Well not too long. I was a one take wonder. I could go in and learn a song just like that and go into the studio and cut it. It was one of the things that made me good.” 

DSC00235Once the single “Queen of The House” was released, the pressing plant for Capital could not press the single fast enough for it’s demand was so high. This all happened right before she was to deliver her daughter.

We then went on to discuss whether it was an answer record to “King of The Road” by Roger Miller. Jody then stated that this wasn’t an answer record, but it was a stand alone tune that used the same melody.

There was a Scopitone “music video” made to “Queen of The House.” Scopitones were jukeboxes that featured a screen which projected three-minutes of what we would now call music videos. Although the Scopitone quickly faded, many of its originally videos have been recovered, which include 3 starring Miller.

These videos were often thought to be risqué which took Miller by surprise.

When I was watching the “Queen of The House” video I found that it was pretty risqué for the time period?

“I didn’t know they were going to do all that. People don’t believe me, but I didn’t know.”

Now you weren’t risqué though. You were classy. 

“Yeah, I was dressed.”

In 1967, is when Miller won the Grammy for best female country vocal performance at the 8th annual Grammy awards. She was up against some of the most iconic country singers including Skeeter Davis and Dottie West.

Who did you thank?11120051_10200917721703073_1782923907_n

I didn’t have a speech prepared. I said ‘I’d like to thank everybody that knows who they are.’ [laughs] Jerry Lewis cracked up and said can I use that? I meant those people who helped me, but it came out like there was a psychological thing people were going through [thanking those who KNEW who they were]. 

After the overwhelming success of “Queen of The House,” Miller’s next hit came in the shroud of the Vietnam war. She sang a song entitled “Home of the Brave,” that many country music disc jockeys were weary to play due to its content. Her producer, Joe Allison, grabbed this song from his friend Ronnie Spector, because he knew it was a hit.

She then recorded The Nashville Sound. This album contains her hit “Long Black Limousine.” Miller was again teamed up with Joe Allison. She stated that this was her favorite album and that she loved how glamorous the cover was. She fondly took my album and looked over the songs and cover in admiration, silently reminiscing over her work.

At the beginning of the 1970’s, Miller slightly fell off the radar. She said it was due to a change in record labels and a fuss between her and legendary producer Billy Sherrill, who passed away on August 4th. She thought he was supposed to bring songs and he expected her to bring songs. After the confusion came the “Look at Mine” album. The title track proved to be a smash on the charts along with “If You Think I Love You.”
Jody_Miller_-_He's_So_FineMiller then said how her and Sherrill became wonderful friends. They cut many songs knowing they could find a hit. He went on to produce her album, He’s So Fine and There’s A Party Goin’ On. Both title songs were hits. These albums also contained her well-known version of “Baby I’m Yours” and “Darling You Can Always Come Back Home.” By the end of the 1970’s, Sherrill and Miller had worked on 8 studio albums.

“He was such a wonderful musician to work with. I just had a ball working with him.” 

Although Miller was achieving success any singer would die for, she stated that the 1970’s were not a very good time for her.

“I was working a lot. The 70’s was not a very happy decade. I didn’t get any joy out of them and what I was doing. I had a family back here [Oklahoma], my daughter and my husband, and I missed them so much. I was on the road all the time. So I said ‘Hey, life is too short for this, I’m going home.'”

You’d rather have your family then your music career?

“Yes.”

Then Miller returned home to Oklahoma to continue raising her daughter and spend time with her husband, Monty. She had achieved musical success, but she was ready to head back down the red dirt road. Her and her husband went into the horse business, raising more than 90 head of horses at one point. They reared many championship horses and her house is adorned with these trophies.

At this point, Miller became the most proud during the interview. She loved talking about her husband’s love of horses and how he raised and trained them.  I told her about how I had read she was a family woman. I loved her response.

“Well why not? They are just gorgeous kids and my husband was one in a million.”

jody2Yet Miller’s carreer still was not over. She went on to record a patriotic album in the 1980’s. She was always told that wouldn’t sell, but she really wanted to make one and it did catch the attention of then presidential hopeful, George H.W. Bush. She went on to sing at many of his campaign stops and at one of his inaugural balls. She then had huge success in the gospel world, being inducted into various gospel hall of fames and working with Dove award-winning producers.

To this day, Jody still performs with the act she is most proud of. It’s called Three Generations and it consists of herself, her grandson Montana, and daughter Robin. They play all the instruments, including piano, bass, drums, and guitar. You could tell by the smile that shinned across Jody’s face, that this was her pride and joy. Those hit records and million sellers are a by-product of what she is doing with her family today.

We haven’t missed a standing ovation yet,” stated Miller with pride.

After around nearly two hours, Jody and I concluded our interview. She ended our time together by taking a genuine interest in what I wanted to do with my life. I told her about my dreams to be a performer myself and start my own record label here in Oklahoma. She was ecstatic to hear of my dreams, and provided encouragement. She even showed me a book to read to learn more about the industry and how to start my label.

This further set in cement what I thought of Jody after our time spent together. Yes she is an extremely succesful performer, having numerous million sellers and winning numerous awards, but she is still that girl from the plains of Oklahoma. She is a family lady who places God first in her life and is genuinely concerned about others above herself. She is a superstar, but by more than musical means.

I can honestly say, that I will never forget that gracious afternoon that Jody granted me a seat at her dinning room table to just chat. I had asked for an interview, but it became so much more about life, her interest in myself, and just down home country chatter.

Although Jody should be exclaiming “Look At Mine!” with all her accolades, she is doing “just fine” down the country roads of Blanchard. She doesn’t look at her music as her ultimate success, but yet a by-product of her family and faith. Being a musician is a way of life, and she is a true musician who doesn’t strive for money or fame, but to make a difference.

Humility and love were the undertones of this conversation. She taught me confidence is
key, but humility is golden.
I told Jody during our interview that she is a true artist who sings with so much conviction, that she literally paints a picture with her voice.

Jody felt like she didn’t deserve this compliment. In a humble laugh she answered, “I think I’m going to have to use that one.”

She is the true essence of a daughter of the red dirt

Thank God she’s a country girl.

Blondie, Parrell Lines: Perpendicular Shapes

When I was in high school, my family and I made routine trips to Denton, Texas. This is a musical, artistic town full of nooks and crannies to explore. It also has a few fantastic record stores.

2exm0ev11I remember looking up on the wall in one of these stores and seeing the album Parallel Lines by Blondie. The instant I saw the album cover, I was in love. I purchased the record that day, not knowing a thing about Blondie, I was only judging the band by their cover.

Sometimes covers aren’t deceiving.

I wasn’t disappointed when I got home and was able to take it for a spin. I immediately had to know more about Blondie and Debbie Harry. At the time the album was fun, but today I have discovered its innovation.

It’s hard to believe this record was released in the 1970’s, but it couldn’t be out of any other decade. The album transcends time pulling from the styles of rockabilly, pop, disco, punk, and 70’s rock. It is a collaborative album that brings together many genres and styles into a single vinyl, yet it distinctly keeps its own style.

After researching this album, I learned that Mike Chapman, a producer known for working in “British pop,” produced this album. Essentially, Chapman honed in all of the bands skills into one cohesive tool instead of 6 independently moving parts. Although Harry has referred to him as a dictator, Chapman went on to produce their next three albums. It was a love hate relationship, but it resulted in their first commercial success.

BlondieThe versatility of Harry’s vocals are well crafted in this pop foray. Sometimes from song to
song she sounds like a completely different vocalist, then her attitude and identifiable interpretative abilities come out full force. The release of this album is when Harry’s image finally took off as a vocal powerhouse and new age sex symbol.

The album opens with “Hanging on The Telephone,” a cover of a very short-lived rock group from the west coast. The energy of this song is addicting and will immediately have you pulling the needle back for repeats. This song is the hook. Next, the album goes into the classic Blondie tirade “One Way or Another.” Personally, I find this to be one of the low points of the album. It’s a good song, but better material follows. Lastly, on side A you have “Fade Away and Radiate.” A beautiful song that could be interpreted many ways, but alas, pays tribute to those who have passed on.

tumblr_m9287m8cft1qmvucdo1_5001Side B is more rewarding. It has the lonely ode “Sunday Girl.” This song is another lyrical masterpiece that leaves you with room to interpret. I also enjoyed Blondie’s updated version of “I’m Gonna Love You Too,” originally sang by Buddy Holly. Lastly, there is the disco infused, pop genius of “Heart of Glass.” Harry’s vocals effortlessly flow over this Saturday Night Live inspired tune. This song puts the listener on a high not knowing where you are headed. Is it disco? Rock? Reggae? It is truly one of the most brilliant “pop” songs ever recorded.

In the end, when listening to Blondie’s previously released material and the pop/rock of that day, this album just doesn’t fit in. It creates its own undefined space. The album is named Parallel Lines, which was the title of an omitted song, yet it doesn’t seem to run anywhere along the then musical order.

The album is just a gas creating perpendicular shapes.

She’s Doin’ So Fine

This last Saturday, August 1, 2015, was the first Jody Miller Day in Blanchard, Oklahoma. I had the privilege of attending the holiday’s first celebration, the official “Home of Jody Miller” sign unveiling and street dedication. Through various words from the Mayor, radio personalities, and Jody herself, it was more than obvious that she is the pride of Blanchard and one of Oklahoma’s stars.

Leading up to the ceremony I listened to Miller’s Grammy Award winning album, “Queen of The House.” I had found a pristine copy and it has quickly became one of the gems in my collection. I was determined to get Ms. Miller’s signature on this sleeve this day.

The album opens with the iconic “Queen of The House.” This song won the Grammy for best Female Country Performance and is an answer to Roger Miller’s (another Okie) “King of The Road.” It was quite the feminist tune in the most respectful way, especially in 1965. When listening to the song with a narcissistic tone and a little sarcasm, it can be quite a wake up call and very humourous. The video adds much to the song’s candor as well.

IMG_0812The song is followed by another one of Miller’s hits, “He Walks Like A Man.” A tune with a marching beat and brass vocals. Flipping the record, you find classic covers of “Silver Threads and Golden Needles” and Johnny Cash’s “I Walk The Line.”

Her voice flows over “Silver Threads” differently then I have heard before. There is no sorrow to be drowned in the warm glow of anybody’s wine for Miller’s voice is a fine wine in itself. Once you listen to a song by Miller you acquire an after taste. Her vocals resonate within you, and it’s difficult to let go. It is the same situation with “I Walk The Line.” Something sticks with you after listening to it. You must listen to this song at least three times for a good sip.

Now, after listening to this album on repeat, I was ready for the event. Although the ceremony was short in length it had great depth. The testimonies about the singer Jody and the person Jody opened your eyes to more than just her music. She’s a God-fearing, family oriented, good ol’ country girl (Thank God!). When I went up to meet her she was shocked that I had a copy of the album and graciously signed it for me. We then chatted for a moment. As an Okie and music fan, it was a surreal experience.

I take great pride in being Oklahoman, our heritage is so rich, but I especially take pride in our musical heritage as a state. Some of the greatest singers have red dirt running through their veins. Many of these singers returned to the great plains and it seems that although they have won lofty awards, being recognized in their own backyard is the biggest one.

It’s safe to say once Okie dust gets in your bones there is no turning back. Our heritage and pride is doing fine down here in Oklahoma and Jody Miller helps make this land grand.