The River's Badge

Friday, March 30, 2012

More Great Country Singers From The Seventies ~ Johnny Rodriguez


Remember when country music was readily identifiable?  Unfortunately, we've now homogenized it, which is apparently great for milk, but not so great for music.

I don't really get the allure of making all music sound the same.  What if we don't like that sound?  Well, too bad, because we have no other choice.  It's all McMusic; take it or leave it.

Country music has always suffered from an inferiority complex, all due to the put-downs of people who never actually listened to it, or did hear one song, but hated the cry of a steel guitar (because those people were heartless), but we long-term fans got used to the barbs long ago, and we just shrugged them off.

So, country music, at least since the seventies and Kenny Rogers, tried hard to shed its true self, and become more like, let's say, the Bee Gees.

This self-loathing had a brief respite in the mid-1980's, when the neotraditionalist movement took hold, thanks to artists like Rodney Crowell and Dwight Yoakam.  That trend, unfortunately, did not last long, and look now what we're stuck with.  And I'll admit (again) that I don't actually listen to country radio, because, frankly, the few times I've had the courage to flick that dial over to a country station, I've wanted to pull my car over to the side of the road and regurgitate.

The argument is that new artists emulate the sounds they grew up hearing.  Fine.  Then why are these guys in country music?  The answer is simple; country music is easier to "make it" in than any other genre.  It's pure commerce.

Unfortunately, we, the fans, are the ones who suffer the consequences of their commercial aspirations.  

I used to live by the sage that the pendulum always swings back.  I lived through various bad times in country music, and it always eventually got better.  I don't think that's true anymore.

But I guess that's why we now have Americana.  Americana is country music, but we can't call it country music anymore, because that term has been appropriated by the new guys (I want it back).

A true Americana artist is Johnny Rodriguez.

1973 was one of those schizophrenic years in country music.  The established stars were kind of waning, and their output reflected that.  Their singles weren't what they once had been.  We still heard some real country songs on the radio, like "Satin Sheets", but we also heard Olivia Newton-John, and Dottie West's recording of a Coca-Cola commercial.

Probably the biggest star in 1973 was fifteen-year-old Tanya Tucker, and I liked her and hated her.  Hated her just because she was fifteen and she was so good.  I was eighteen and I could barely sing on key.  One likes to aspire to something; thinking, "I'll get better; just give me time".  But it's kind of a rude awakening when somebody younger than you is miles better, and you realize you just need to give up.

So, with the established stars on the wane, and with the pop world knocking on country's door, a new single by a guy named Johnny Rodriguez made us all perk up our ears.  This song was country, but it also was a new, young voice; and a good really good voice.

Tom T. Hall discovered Johnny, and he wrote his first big hit.  Tom T. is an iconic country writer, but the interesting thing about Tom T. is that he never wrote a song with a chorus.  I don't know how he got away with it, but he did.  I guess talent trumps, huh?

The debut single was called, Pass Me By:



Johnny followed that smash single with three more in 1973, all from the album, "Introducing Johnny Rodriguez".  Yes, I have the album, of course.

Ridin' My Thumb To Mexico:



Here's Johnny with his mentor, Tom T, doing, You Always Come Back To Hurtin' Me:



You know, and I know, that Lefty Frizzell wrote this next song, and that Merle Haggard recorded it, too.  But Johnny had a big hit with it; That's The Way Love Goes (sorry for the bad video quality, but this was all I could find):



Johnny also recorded We Believe In Happy Endings.  I always remember the Emmylou Harris/Earl Thomas Conley version, but Johnny did it first:



I'm always finding little surprises when I search out music videos.  I have this album (as I said), but I completely forgot that Johnny did a version of Easy Come, Easy Go.  This song is rather seminal for me, because, as a recent high school graduate, on a pre-summer trip with my best friend, Alice, I (and she) sang along to the radio to the Bobby Bare version, which will always live in, not infamy, per se.  What is the opposite of infamy?  Famy?  By the way, Bobby's version was called, Ride Me Down Easy.  I didn't know you could just change up song titles, willy-nilly.  But I guess you could back then!



Johnny had other great songs, including Down On The Rio Grande.  But alas, there is no video to be found of this recording (not even a static album cover with the song playing over it).  So, I guess you'll just have to hum it.

I'm posting this next song again, just to prove that Johnny is still out there; still performing.



You can't keep a good great artist down.

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