You never know who you're going to meet on the internet and I came to know Peter Tibbles (bio here) via email over the past couple of years. His extensive knowledge of most genres of music and his excellent taste became apparent only gradually (Peter's not one to toot his horn) but once I understood, I knew he needed his own column at Time Goes By - or, better, that TGB needed his column - which appears here each Sunday. You can find previous Elder Music columns here.
Patsy Cline was killed in a plane crash in 1963 at age 30 along with Hawkshaw Hawkins, Cowboy Copas and Randy Hughes. She’s another who died far too young whose music is not just remembered but is still relevant to us today. It’s still as fresh as the day it was recorded. The same applies to Buddy Holly and Otis Redding.
She was born Virginia Hensley in Virginia on the wrong side of the tracks.
It seems that as a child Patsy had a timid little voice until she had a serious throat infection. After that her voice rang like a bell and boomed like, well something that booms. She also had perfect pitch, a handy little attribute in a musician.
After her father skedaddled, Patsy worked various day jobs and sang at night in a local night club. She had a brief marriage to Gerald Cline, who was a lot older and didn’t think much of this singing lark. She had a manager by then who suggested that she use Patsy after her mother’s maiden name, Patterson (also her middle name).
By the earlier fifties she was appearing on local radio programs, especially one by country singer Jimmy Dean. In 1955, she signed with a small record company who released a few songs and eventually was noticed by Owen Bradley, who would be her main producer for the rest of her career. He managed to get her signed to Decca Records.
Patsy appeared on the Grand Ole Opry and later became a semi-regular on Arthur Godfrey’s TV and radio programs. She met and married Charlie Dick and they had two children.
Patsy paved the way for later country, and other, female artists. She refused to be pushed around by men who thought they knew better than she did about her music.
Her last concert was a benefit show in Kansas City. Dottie West was wary of Patsy flying home after that show and asked her to ride back in the car with her and her husband, but Patsy refused.
I Fall to Pieces was a song Patsy didn’t want to record. She thought it had done the rounds of all the other singers in town and they had rejected it (it hadn’t). She eventually was convinced to record it and it was a turning point for her, not just because it was a hit (not as big as we might think from our current perspective), but it was the first slow song she recorded. She had avoided them until then thinking she wasn’t very good at them. This sounds crazy to us who think of her as one of the foremost ballad singers ever.
I’m a sucker for a sad song, which means I’m like a pig in, well, whatever pigs like to be in, today. There are few better songs in this mode than She’s Got You.
It seems that Hank Cochran, who wrote the song, rang Patsy and told her he had her next hit record. She told him to grab a bottle of booze and come on over. She loved it so much that she recorded it the next day. That’s the version you get.
Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray has been recorded really well by k.d. lang. However, in spite of k.d.’s fine version nothing beats Patsy’s own.
San Antonio Rose has been recorded by many people, notably Bob Wills who wrote it and Bing Crosby who recorded it with his brother’s orchestra. Others include Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson. It was originally an instrument but members of the Texas Playboys (Bob Wills’s band) kept adding lyrics until it became the song we know today.
Patsy received a demo tape of a couple of songs from a young(ish) songwriter named Willie Nelson. One song she really wanted to record was Funny How Time Slips Away but it was promised to another singer.
She didn’t like the other song at all and didn’t want to record it – she didn’t like Willie’s idiosyncratic phrasing - the sort of thing we like about Willie today. Patsy eventually did record it, reluctantly, but after numerous takes nothing was happening.
She returned a few days later and nailed the vocal. She still didn’t like the song though but it was released and it may be her most memorable song: Crazy.
It’s interesting that Patsy didn’t seem to like her biggest numbers, she also put the thumbs down to I Fall to Pieces and Walking After Midnight. This is a song she recorded twice, and as with the next song, I’ve used the earlier version in spite of the rather prominent peddle steel guitar.
It was Patsy’s first major hit. It’s a song that, like many of hers, transcends the country genre and can be sung as a jazz number, blues or straight pop. Any way you like really.
Patsy also recorded A Poor Man's Roses (Or a Rich Man's Gold) a couple of times. The second time her voice is better and mellower. However, there are a lot of fiddles and much oooh ahhing and dooby doobying in the background so I’ve gone for the earlier version as I prefer the stripped back accompaniment and the grittier vocals. This version was recorded early in her career, in 1956.
For the last track there could have been a dozen or more that I could have chosen. I played them two or three in a row to see how they compared. There was one track I always included to see how it stood up to the others. It did, so that’s the one we’re finishing with: Why Can’t He Be You.
This is the last photo of Patsy taken at the Benefit Concert.
I hope you can still function after hearing all those songs. You’re probably sobbing in your beers or whatevers. Me, I’m sobbing in my pinot noir. I don’t think that line has ever appeared in a country song.