Rockin'the Blues

We're Gonna Rock We're Gonna Roll

Logo Rockin'the Blues Informed by Blues, Boogie Woogie, Jazz, R&B, Hillbilly and Country music, Rock 'n' Roll, Rockabilly became the first music to aim directly at a teenage audience, and it hit. Rock 'n' Roll extended an unparalleled influence around the world.

Update 25.9.2023

Rockin' Country Stylet - Red Foley,Skeets McDonald,Hank Thompson,Roy Acuff,
Eddy Arnold

Red Foley / Rockin' Country Style

Red Foley

The silky-voiced Red Foley brought a smooth sophistication to country music in the 1940s making the music more palatable to a much wider audience. Though he grew up a Kentucky backwoods boy, Foley was much more ambitious than the average country bumpkin. During a musical career that started out with the 1930s barn dances and culminated in him hosting his own long-running TV variety show, he did more than any other country performer of his time in taking country music to the mass middle-American audience. One of the first country acts to record regularly in Nashville, he enjoyed regular country-pop crossover hits during the 1940s with Smoke On the Water, At Mail Call Today, Tennessee Saturday Night, Chattanooga Shoe Shine Boy, Birmingham Bounce and Goodnight Irene. He could never be termed a country purist, as early on he recorded with Lawrence Welk and his Orchestra, in an effort to reach the widest possible audience. He also worked tirelessly within the music industry and through the media to replace the word ‘hillbilly’ with the less derisory ‘country.’ His public image was of an immensely popular God-fearing family man, but behind the façade lurked a murkier side. His second wife, Eva Overstake, committed suicide in 1951, after discovering that Foley was having an affair with Sally Sweet, a younger woman he was later to marry. He was also something of a heavy drinker and suffered bouts of depression that worsened as his popularity plummeted in the early 1960s.

Clyde Julian ‘Red’ Foley was born on June 17, 1910 in Bluelick, Kentucky. His father ran a general store in nearby Berea and from quite a young age Red showed an interest in music, learning to play on a harmonica from his father’s store. Though he was a keen school athlete, by the time he graduated, he had won a local talent contest which led to a voice scholarship in Georgetown College, Kentucky. He quit college in 1930 to move to Chicago where he became a member of John Lair’s Cumberland Ridge Runners on the WLS National Barn Dance. The band comprised Red on lead vocals and guitar, ‘Slim’ Miller (fiddle) and Hartford Taylor (guitar) and Karl Davis (mandolin). The latter pair also worked as Karl & Harty and were talented songwriters. Several of the songs recorded by Red and the band were penned by John Lair, who ran the Barn Dance. These included such traditional-based songs as Blonde Headed Girl and The Dying Rustler. In 1934, Red teamed up with Lulu Belle Cooper on the Barn Dance as a double act, Lulu Belle and Burr Head. In March that year they recorded several duets, including Daffy Over Taffy and Little Black Moustache. By the mid-1930s the show was gaining wide exposure being broadcast over the NBC network. His first wife, Pauline Cox, died in 1933, giving birth to their only child, Betty. Shortly after he married Eva Overstake, a WLS performer with the Three Little Maids. The couple had three daughters: Shirley Lee (who was to marry pop singer Pat Boone), Jennie Lou and Julie Ann. By this time Red was releasing records under his own name, often with just his own solo guitar accompaniment. In December 1935 he recorded the first version of his self-penned classic Old Shep—later to be made famous by both Hank Snow and Elvis Presley.

In 1937 he helped to originate the Renfro Valley Barn Dance Show, which was broadcast from Cincinnati, Ohio until 1939, when it moved to its permanent, purpose-built home in Renfro Valley, Kentucky in 1939. The following year, Foley moved back to the WLS Barn Dance, and also signed with Decca Records. One of his earliest hits came with the self-penned Old Shep, a weepy about his dog, that was made more famous some fifteen years later when recorded by Elvis Presley.

In late 1940 Red was signed to Decca Records, an association that was to last for the next twenty-seven years. His first session for his new label took place in Chicago, this time with string band accompaniment provided by the WLS Rangers. Included was a new version of Old Shep, and Gene Autry’s Be Honest With Me. Later that year he became one of the first to regularly record the songs of his sister-in-law Jenny Lou Carson—an oft overlooked female songwriter in a business dominated by the men. In the summer of 1945 Red travelled to New York City to record with Lawrence Welk and his Orchestra. The coupling of At Mail Call Today and Shame On You became a country chart-topper and also hit the pop top twenty later that year. In August 1947 he became one of the first to regularly record in Nashville. The session included such well-known musicians as Jerry Byrd (Hawaiian steel), Zeke Turner (electric guitar) and Tommy Jackson (fiddle). By this time Red was a regular on the country charts with such songs as Freight Train Boogie, Tennessee Saturday Night, and Tennessee Border.

He became a Grand Ole Opry member, hosting the Prince Albert Show, which was broadcast by NBC. He is credited with helping to bring The Opry national recognition and during his eight-year stint there he worked alongside all the greats. It was also at this time that he was at the peak of his popularity. He enjoyed number one country hits with songs like Shame On You, New Jolie Blonde, Tennessee Saturday Night and Mississippi. He was the first country singer to utilise the legendary Jordanaires on his recordings, with the 1950 hit Just A Closer Walk With Thee. From the same year came Sugarfoot Rag, which introduced the legendary Nashville session player Hank ‘Sugarfoot’ Garland. There were also duets with Ernest Tubb, Evelyn Knight, daughter Betty Foley, and Kitty Wells, and in 1953, he recorded with The Anita Kerr Singers, to bring an even lusher and fuller sound to his records. By this time he was heavily into gospel music, scoring million sellers with There’ll Be Peace In Valley For Me (with The Sunshine Boys Quartet) and Steal Away. In 1954 he left The Opry to host the Ozark Jubilee in Springfield, Missouri, one of the first successful country music TV series. A highly popular programme, it was the starting place for several future stars, include Brenda Lee and Porter Wagoner. Being away from Nashville had an adverse effect on his record sales, and after 1956’s You And Me, he failed to make the top ten. He continued to record many albums and in the early 1960s he co-starred with Fess Parker in the ABC-TV series, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. By this time his popularity as a major country act was near to rock bottom. In 1967, he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. After a performance in Fort Wayne, Indiana on September 19, 1968, Red Foley died of a heart attack. Performing everything from sentimental ballads to boogie to gospel to rockabilly to blues, he is reputed to have sold more than twenty-five million records.

Skeets McDonald / Rockin' Country Style

Skeets McDonald

Enos William McDonald (October 1, 1915–March 31, 1968), better known as Skeets McDonald, was an American country and rockabilly musician popular during the 1950s and 60s. Best known for the Slim Willet-penned song "Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes", McDonald was a devoted honky tonk singer and songwriter whose work helped to bridge the gap between country and rock and roll.

McDonald was born on October 1, 1915, in Greenway, Arkansas. He was the youngest of his parents' seven children; his gained his nickname for calling mosquitoes "skeets" as a child. When his older brother moved to Detroit, Michigan, the early 1930s, McDonald followed; and joined his first band, the Lonesome Cowboys, in 1935. He later formed his own band and played local clubs and on radio in Flint and Pontiac.

McDonald was drafted in 1943 and was stationed in North Africa and the Far East during World War II, earning a Bronze Star.
On discharge, he returned to radio and television work in Dearborn, Michigan. He made his first recordings for Fortune Records in 1950 with Johnnie White and his Rough Riders, and cut records for London and Mercury Records as Skeets Saunders.

In 1951, McDonald moved to Los Angeles, California, where he became a regular on Cliffie Stone's Hometown Jamboree and later appeared on Town Hall Party. He was soon signed by Capitol Records, which viewed him as its answer to Columbia Records' Lefty Frizzell and demanded he continue releasing country songs rather than the rockabilly sound he experimented with since the war.
He recorded more than 80 numbers for the label, including his 1952 smash country hit, "Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes" (No. 1 for 18 weeks).
In the late 1950s, he appeared on Ozark Jubilee and continued recording for Capitol; his last release for the label was the album, The Country's Best.

McDonald signed with Columbia in 1959 and spent the decade there, recording some excellent West Coast hillbilly, as well as some forays into the rockabilly. He employed young guitar-whiz Eddie Cochran to back him in the studio for "You Oughta See Grandma Rock" and "Heart Breaking Mama". Although they made little impact on the charts at the time, they are now considered rockabilly classics.

He scored several hits on the Billboard country chart, including "This Old Heart" (1960, No. 21), "Call Me Mr. Brown" (1963, No. 9), "Big Chief Buffalo Nickel (Desert Blues)" (1966, No. 29), and "Mabel" (1967, No. 28).
He also appeared on the Grand Ole Opry and the Big D Jamboree in Dallas, Texas. His songs included "I'll Make Believe", "Big Family Trouble", "I Need Your Love" and "The Echo of Your Footsteps". In 1964, he released the album Call Me Skeets!.

McDonald made several film appearances, including Saddle Pals with Johnny Mack Brown, Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town (1950), The Glenn Miller Story (1954) and Hud (1963), singing "Driftwood on the River" with Janet McBride.

In later years, McDonald moved his style more towards rock and roll; but refused to move far from the tearjerking songs which made his name. When told by reviewers he "belonged to another age," he took it as a compliment to his dedication.

McDonald died from a heart attack on March 31, 1968, in Los Angeles.

Hank Thompson / Rockin' Country Style

Hank Thompson

Henry William Thompson (September 3, 1925 – November 6, 2007)was an American country music singer-songwriter and musician whose career spanned seven decades.

Thompson's musical style, characterized as honky-tonk Western swing, was a mixture of fiddles, electric guitar, and steel guitar that featured his distinctive, smooth baritone vocals.

His backing band, The Brazos Valley Boys, was voted the top Country Western Band for 14 years in a row by Billboard. Thompson pursued a "light" version of the Western swing sound that Bob Wills and others played; the primary difference between his music and that of Bob Wills was that Thompson, who used the swing beat and instrumentation to enhance his vocals, discouraged the intense instrumental soloing from his musicians that Wills encouraged; however, the "Hank Thompson sound" exceeded Bob Wills in top-40 country hits.

Although not as prominent on the top country charts in later decades, Thompson remained a recording artist and concert draw well into his 80s.

The 2013 game Grand Theft Auto V featured his song "It Don't Hurt Anymore" in the fictional radio show, Rebel Radio.

The 1987 novel Crazy Heart by Thomas Cobb was inspired by Thompson's life, specifically by his practice of picking up a local band to back him when he toured. In 2009, Cobb's novel was turned into a successful film directed by Scott Cooper and starring Jeff Bridges in an Academy Award-winning performance.

Roy Acuff / Rockin' Country Style

Roy Acuff

Roy Acuff was one of the most traditional of mountain singers. Known as The King of Country Music, he sold more than 30 million records in a career that lasted more than fifty years. The first living member of The Country Music Hall Of Fame, he was a pillar of The Grand Ole Opry. A one-time promising baseball player, he turned to singing in the early 1930s, and with his sincere, mountain-boy vocal style and Dobro-flavoured band sound replaced Uncle Dave Macon as the most popular Opry performer of the 1940s. His success was built mainly on sentimental hillbilly ballads such as Wreck On the Highway, Low and Lonely, Fireball Mail and The Great Speckled Bird. Something of a music visionary, in the early 1940s, together with songwriter Fred Rose, he set up Acuff-Rose, a music publishing company that was destined to become one of the most important in country music. During that same period, Roy’s recordings became so popular that he headed Frank Sinatra in many major music polls, and reportedly caused Japanese troops to yell, ‘To hell with Roosevelt, to hell with Babe Ruth, to hell with Roy Acuff,’ as they banzai-charged at Okinawa. He was also something of a political animal and was nominated to run as governor of Tennessee in 1944 and 1946. Two years later he won the Republican primary, but failed to win the ensuing election. Nevertheless, he did gain tremendous support, earning a larger slice of the vote than any previous Republican candidate. Also, in 1948, he opened the Dunbar Cave resort, a popular folk music park, which he owned for several years. Something of a road warrior, he toured incessantly throughout his career. In 1965 he was seriously injured in a road accident, but was back touring within a few months. He also made several visits to the Vietnam War front to entertain the troops. Adept with a yoyo, he would often play on stage while his band members were taking instrumental solos. At the opening of the new Nashville Opry House in 1974, he was invited to give President Nixon yoyo lessons.

Roy Claxton Acuff was born September 15, 1903, in a three-room shack in Maynardville, Tennessee, the son of a Baptist minister. As a child he learnt jew’s harp and harmonica. Following a move to Fountain City, near Knoxville he started playing minor league baseball and was considered for the New York Yankees. However, severe sunstroke put an end to his career, confining him to bed for much of 1929 and 1930. Following his illness, he hung around the house learning fiddle and listening to old-time players. In early 1932 he joined a travelling medicine show, playing small towns in Virginia and Tennessee. A year later he formed a group, The Tennessee Crackerjacks, in which Clell Sumney played Dobro, providing the distinctive sound that came to be associated with Roy Acuff. He soon gained a regular programme on Knoxville’s WROL. Adopting the name of The Crazy Tennesseans, they moved to the rival Mid-Day Merry-Go-Round show on KNOX. He married Mildred Douglas in 1936, the same year he made his recording debut for ARC (later to become Columbia). Among the first songs he recorded were The Great Speckled Bird and Wabash Cannonball, which would always be associated with him.

He made his first appearance on The Grand Ole Opry in 1938 and soon became a regular. He changed the name of his band to the Smoky Mountain Boys, a name that was to stick, and recruited long time band members Bashful Brother Oswald, Howdy Forrester and Jimmie Riddle. With his Smoky Mountain Boys he did not just perform hillbilly songs, they gave a complete stage show, including vaudeville/minstrel-style skits and slapstick. Over the years he refashioned the band as an old-time string band and added more traditional sounding and religious songs to their repertoire.

Eddy Arnold / Rockin' Country Style

Eddy Arnold

Eddy Arnold, a classic country crooner, possessing a smooth, very commercial voice, has probably sold more records (albums and singles) than any other country artist. A farm boy from Henderson, Tennessee, for many years he was known as the Tennessee Plowboy, but from his very early days he strove to throw off the hillbilly image and take his music to a much wider audience. He succeeded beyond his wildest dreams, crossing over from country to pop in the mid 1950s and then going uptown and international in the 1960s by sweetening his down-home country with lush orchestrations, donning a tuxedo and working the plush casinos and high-class cabaret rooms.

Born Richard Edward Arnold on May 15, 1918 on a farm near Henderson, Tennessee, he first became interested in music while at elementary school. His father, an old-time fiddler, taught him guitar. He left school early to help on the family farm and started playing local barn dances, often travelling to the venues on the back of a mule. He made his radio debut in Jackson, Tennessee in 1936, later gaining a regular spot in Memphis. His big break came as a singer-guitarist with Pee Wee King’s Golden West Cowboys in the early 1940s, providing him with exposure on the Grand Ole Opry.

In 1944 he was signed to RCA Records and for the next forty years was hardly off the country charts, accumulating more hits than any other performer. Guided by manager Colonel Tom Parker, later to become notorious as the manager of Elvis Presley, Eddy Arnold’s records were bought both by country music fans and by people who were usually pop music lovers. He essentially built RCA’s Nashville division. His 1944 recording session for the label inaugurated Nashville as the capital of country record making. His 1945 chart debut with Each Minute Seems a Million Years became the first of his 92 top 10 hits. That is a tally unmatched by any other artist. It was also the first of 67 consecutive top 10 hits, again a figure that is unequalled.

His image was always that of a modest, clean-cut country boy and his early country hits (That’s How Much I Love You, It’s A Sin, I’ll Hold You In My Heart) were very simple affairs, smooth and light spiced by an occasional yodel. He blended intimacy and sincerity with simple accompaniment often with just his own acoustic guitar, or with a small group, that utilised Little Roy Wiggins’ chiming steel guitar, with guitar, bass, fiddle and occasional piano. It worked perfectly on such heartfelt ballads as I’m Throwing Rice (At The Girl I Love), Kentucky Waltz and even later mid-1950s hits Just Call Me Lonesome and Trouble In Mind. He first crossed over to the pop charts with Anytime in 1947, and continued to regularly score pop hits right through to the late 1960s.

He appeared on Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry TV and radio show from the early 1940s, but was the only country performer who also guested on nationwide shows hosted by Perry Como, Milton Berle, Dinah Shore, Bob Hope and other showbiz personalities. He also had his own syndicated TV series, Eddy Arnold Time during the 1950s, plus other shows on the ABC and NBC networks.

Unlike the majority of country performers, Arnold’s popularity did not wane with the arrival of rock’n’roll. He scored a chart-topper in 1955 with The Cattle Call, a song that would become his theme song, and also had hits with Tennessee Stud and Casey Jones. His biggest hits though, were with romantic pop-country ballads, including Bouquet Of Roses, Take Me In Your Arms And Hold Me, I Really Don’t Want To Know, You Don’t Know Me, Make The World Go Away and Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye.

Eddy Arnold continually re-invented himself to change with the prevailing times. There is a notably vast difference between 1947’s Bouquet of Roses and 1967’s Turn The World Around. Like so many of the legendary country stars of yesteryear, he continued throughout his career to experiment and move with the times, demonstrating versatility and resilience. In the mid-1960s Arnold was struggling to maintain his popularity against the then the new ‘Nashville Sound’ success of performers like Jim Reeves, Marty Robbins, Don Gibson and Hank Locklin that temporarily forced him off the charts. Arnold was undoubtedly tenacious and he hung in there, met the changes head-on and came up with what at the time was called countrypolitan. Guided by Chet Atkins, he took the same kind of country heart songs he’d always specialised in, and utilising lush orchestration and heavenly choirs, produced a series of massive country-pop crossover hits spearheaded by What’s He Doing In My World and Make The World Go Away. Die-hard country fans were aghast, but it brought country music to a vast world-wide audience.

At the peak of his success, in 1966, Eddy Arnold was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The following year he was named the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year, the first person to win such an honour. During the late 1960s, the pop crossovers became fewer and in 1972, he left RCA Records and signed with MGM. The country hits continued, though he rarely made the top 20.
A return to RCA in 1976 led to him reaching the country top 10 with Let’s Get While The Getting’s Good and That’s What I Get For Loving You in 1980. Since then his name has been absent from the charts, though he did revive Cattle Call with fourteen-year-old LeAnn Rimes in 1996, when he had reached the grand old age of seventy-eight and was still performing concerts and making TV appearances. He is a well-respected businessman who wisely invested his money, including real estate, much of it around Nashville's famed Music Row area. He published his autobiography, I’ll Hold You In My Heart in 1998 and finally announced in the autumn of 2000 that he was retiring, though he returned to the studios to record his final albums LOOKING BACK (2002) and AFTER ALL THESE YEARS (2005) and regularly attended music-related events in Nashville and was closely associated with the CMA. In a long overdue accolade, he was honoured with a 2005 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, his very first Grammy Award.

Eddy Arnold died on May 8, 2008 seven days short of his 90th birthday, in a care facility near Nashville. His wife of 66 years, Sally, had died the previous March, and in the same month, the singer had fallen outside his home, injuring his hip. Eddy Arnold was the first bona fide country music superstar of the modern era. His crossover success paved the way for later singers such as Kenny Rogers. Primarily a romantic balladeer, no one ever walked the line between heartfelt country and sentimental pop better than Eddy Arnold. Throughout all musical genres, he was long regarded as the greatest performer of songs of the heart. ‘I sing a little country, I sing a little pop and I sing a little folk

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