The 10 Most Underrated Country Singers of All Time

Country Music has such a rich history, that many of its most gifted performers aren’t necessarily its most well known.  Whether it be the wrong style at the wrong time (the “too country” syndrome), a lack of strong backing by a label, or not having that big breakout hit, so many great Country singers have fallen through the cracks of history into obscurity.  Here’s my top 10 most underrated.

Keep in mind, this list is not, who’s better that whom; it’s who’s achieved the least amount of notoriety relative to their talent.  So, there could be folks toward the bottom of the list, who you or I might feel are better than some folks toward the top.  But how underrated were they, relative to their gift?

 

 

10. David Wills

thOD00J593 (2)     David Wills started out hot, with his first two singles reaching the top 10 in 1975, but faded quickly, and only got into the top 20, one more time  His career was comprised mostly of singles, as he only released 3 albums over a 13 year recording career.

His voice is a rich, deep baritone, and like the rest on this list, Wills was a traditionalist, stylistically and vocally, at least he started that way.  After 5 years of failed singles, followed by 3 years of silence, he re-emerged in 1983 with a new look, and a new sound, much more in tune with the Pop stylings of the Urban Cowboy era(think Eddie Rabbitt).  Despite this sellout, he deserves to be here based on his mid to late 70’s output, and his unique, Country voice.

His most well known, first single, and biggest hit, “There’s A Song On The Jukebox” – https://youtu.be/eqgDMqNzeQ0

Live, his second single, and second biggest hit,  “From Barrooms To Bedrooms” – https://youtu.be/25LFNSU0yMk

An album cut that I’ve always loved, “I Can’t Even Drink It Away” – https://youtu.be/N2kLhUu2zgk

His only other top 20, after his reinvented image and sound, “The Eyes Of A Stranger” – https://youtu.be/AaDkktooyIo


9. Vernon Oxford

thN6521A66 (2)     The only singer on this list, that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in person, is Mr. Vernon Oxford.  Vernon had the unfortunate fate of being too country for Country in 1966, and not just in musical approach, but in personality, nature, and voice.  He is a real hillbilly, from the Arkansas Ozarks, and is unofficially thought of as the last true hillbilly to come through Nashville.  His emotionally charged, nasally voice, is reminiscent of Hank Williams, and his style is uncompromisingly Country, with not so much as a hint of Nashville-sound influence.

In the 21st century, young suburban boys are making a killing off of fake accents, fake personalities, and fake images, but in the 1960’s, Vernon Oxford was laughed at for being the real thing.  Not by everyone though.  The great Harlan Howard thought so much of Vernon, he insisted that Vernon be the first to record many of his compositions.  Harlan also helped him get signed to RCA, where he released his debut album, “Woman Let Me Sing You A Song” in 1966.  Neither the album, nor any of its singles charted though, and RCA dropped him shortly thereafter.  In an interesting twist of fate, he developed a cult following in Great Britain, and RCA re-signed him in the mid-seventies to tour there.  He released two more albums for RCA and charted 7 singles.  Lyrically, his highest charting single, “Redneck! (The Redneck National Anthem)” could be viewed as an early prototype of Bro-“Country”.  It reached #17 in 1976.

Ultimately, his voice may be too twangy and hillbilly for even some staunch traditionalists, but if you can appreciate raw emotion, Vernon Oxford is someone you should open your ears to, if you haven’t already.  For the record, I have even seen him get so wrapped up in a song he was singing, that he made himself cry onstage.

A should-be a classic,  that would be, had it been sung by a more famous singer, but a masterpiece nonetheless in Vernon’s hands, “Baby Sister” – https://youtu.be/KxaPFCrM-XQ

Another one in the same vein, “Little Sister Throw Your Red Shoes Away” – https://youtu.be/p29hM6UhBu4

My favorite Vernon Oxford song, “In The Shadows of My Mind”- https://youtu.be/oc0k7cN3PSk

A hungry Vernon on The Wilburn Brothers Show, singing “This Woman Is Mine” – https://youtu.be/mZqNv4aVrJs

A “Streets of Baltimore”-esque dandy, “Move To Town In The Fall” – https://youtu.be/Cu6s4bqvcHg


 

8. “Little” Joe Carson

thECXZZE36     Maybe the most obscure singer on this list, Joe Carson’s stock was on the way up, when he died in a car wreck in 1964, at the age of 27. 

He was discovered at age 16 by Hank Thompson, and sang with the Brazos Valley Boys for a time.  The young man was a master of the honky-tonk vocal style, and was revered by his peers.  His catalogue is Tiny though, with his biggest hit being, “Helpless”, which reached number 19 in 1963.

Here is a Hard-Country, shuffling, honky-tonking masterpiece, “Double Life” – https://youtu.be/_EiAwqzfDYk

An underrated cheating song, that should be a classic, “Forbidden Wine” – https://youtu.be/AEWAfL2Hzis

A great Jonesy tear-jerker, “I’ll Never Love No One But You” – https://youtu.be/S089Bh-J4bs

Joe’s biggest hit, “Helpless” – https://youtu.be/5lS4Jq3_wZA


 

7. Johnny Paycheck

thHRKSCND3     The Johnny Paycheck you see in this photo, is the Johnny Paycheck that should’ve been.  Young, clean-cut, slick-haired, and hungry, this is the Johnny Paycheck that a large segment of the Country music historian/journalist class, swears gave George Jones the vocal style that took him to legend status.  While I’ve never believed that theory, just the fact that is exists is reason enough to consider Johnny Paycheck one of the most underrated singers of all time.  I’d place him more underrated than 7th, if it weren’t for the fact that he may be the only one here that will ever make it into the Hall of Fame.

Due to his personal life, including shooting a man and going to prison for it, Johnny quite often gets inaccurately  lumped in with the outlaw movement.  This is despite the fact that he had possibly the least outlaw, and most mainstream of Nashville producers in the 70’s, Billy Sherrill.  Together they conjured up an outlaw image to sell albums.  And though it worked for a time, it overshadowed what really made Paycheck great, his magnificent voice, and brilliant songwriting ability.  It’s a crying shame that those two raw abilities are not really what he’s known for.

A baby-faced Johnny singing, “A-11”, while playing bass in George Jones’ band – https://youtu.be/4Nw7jIaRDgA

Johnny singing an original composition that Ray Price took to #3, “Touch My Heart” – https://youtu.be/Pv-YpmF7j9c


 

6. Johnny Rodriguez

thVMYWYRK2     There’ s a common theme on this list.  Over half the singers on it, including Johnny Rodriguez, rose to fame, or got started in, the 1970’s.  But when most folks think about Country Music in the 1970’s, these aren’t the names that come to mind.  That’s unfortunate, because the 70’s was full of great singers, singing traditional Country music.  Mr. Rodriquez was one of those singers.

With fifteen straight, top-10 singles right out of the gate, beginning in 1973, thirteen of which were top-5, it might seem strange to call Johnny Rodriguez underrated.  He was Country music’s first great Latin singer, and was basically the same age as George Strait.  But by the time George Strait began his ascent in the early 80’s at age 29, Rodriguez, who started at age 21 nine years earlier, was beginning to see his success wane.  And after 1980, he only landed four more singles in the top-15.  I’m a George Strait fan, but to my Country Music loving ears, Johnny Rodriguez was a better singer, from a technical perspective, as well as from the perspective of more subjective attributes like tone or emotional quality.  I don’t know that there is a good explanation for Johnny’s inability to sustain the success he’d achieved, despite still being very young at the time of his decline.  I guess we can blame it on the Urban Cowboy era.

A great live version of the #1, “Ridin’ My Thumb To Mexico”- https://youtu.be/vtY9swVGE7w

Another #1, “Just Get Up and Close The Door”- https://youtu.be/vIk4Hp6hy9g


 

5. Stoney Edwards

thOFAEU0N8     The 2nd most successful Black Country singer of all time, who was as equally talented as the 1st, was Stoney Edwards.  Record execs in the late 60’s were looking for “another Charley Pride”, and Capitol Records was hoping Stoney would be that for them. 

Stoney had the talent, but not very many people, himself included, can begin a singing career at age 41, and achieve great success.  He only released 6 albums during what could be considered the prime of his career, and his greatest single came in 1972, when he took “She’s My Rock” to number 20.  George Jones would take the same song all the way to number 2, 1984.

His first single, and my favorite of his, “A Two Dollar Toy” – https://youtu.be/Jvy2hYHW2Lo

A fan favorite, “Hank And Lefty Raised My Country Soul” – https://youtu.be/cyH399B1NZw

His original version of, “She’s My Rock” – https://youtu.be/VizY9Qxf4F8


 

4. Darrell McCall

thSESSOXT2     It’s hard to call Darrell McCall unique, in reference to either his singing style, or the style of music he’s been performing since the late 60’s.  However, it’s very easy to call him talented, underrated, underachieving, and underappreciated.  He sings in the smooth, Honky-Tonk style made famous by one of his former employers, Ray Price.  And although that style has been replicated a hundred times over, nobody, with the exception of Mr. Price himself, did it better than Darrell McCall.

     He arrived in Nashville at age 18, in 1958, with his childhood friend Donald Lytle(aka Johnny Paycheck), but after a failed attempt at a duo, the two parted ways musically.  After that, he went on to sing harmony and play in the bands of several big names, including Faron Young, Ray Price, and a young Hank Williams Jr., in addition to the few opportunities he was given to make records of his own.  His sparse recording career was comprised mostly of singles, releasing only 3 albums during his “prime”.  And while I suppose you could say he had a breakout moment in 1977, when his duet with Willie Nelson, “Lily Dale” peaked at #32 on Billboard, and there’s no doubt that his album of the same name was his crowning achievement, from a recording perspective, his career just never really got off the ground from a mainstream standpoint.

Fortunately, Darrell has been able to make a living touring and recording for independent labels, throughout the 90’s and 2000’s.  He, along with all the other shufflers, are wildly popular in Texas.

From 1976’s “Lily Dale”, here’s “Dreams of A Dreamer” – https://youtu.be/dSu359nW8MQ

With his old buddy Johnny Paycheck, from 1995, “Pictures Can’t Talk Back”- https://youtu.be/DuiM5KwUC30

His signature song, with Willie Nelson, “Lily Dale”- https://youtu.be/w4qpd901qQA


 

3. Gene Watson

th7DPI1ACH     It won’t surprise me one bit, if somebody sees this list and says Gene Watson should be at the top of it.  I wouldn’t be able to argue with them.  The fact is, a lot of Country Music people, who know what they’re talking about, will say Gene Watson is one of the 5 greatest Country singers that ever lived.

Like several other Traditionalists in the 1970’s, he did pretty darn good when you consider the atmosphere of Country Music then.  You had the ever-“evolving” Nashville Sound on one hand, and the Outlaws on the other.  Despite not being a part of either one of those domineering facets, he managed to log fourteen top 15 singles between 1975 and 1980, and ten more during the 1980’s.  But like most traditionalists in the 1970’s, he was born at least 10 years too late to achieve the level of success that would match his talent.

Here is a great tear-jerker, “When A Man Can’t Get A Woman Off His Mind”- https://youtu.be/jc1iQKy1M-A

A great live version of, “Nothing Sure Looked Good On You”- https://youtu.be/Cofc0_Mr9Lw


 

2. Wynn Stewart

th06L05DTZ     I suppose one could argue, that without Wynn Stewart, there’d be no Merle Haggard.  Hag himself has said as much.  As the unofficial godfather of The Bakersfield Sound, Wynn not only was a major influence on Merle’s style, but also gave the future legend one of his first significant paying gigs, at a nightclub he co-owned in Vegas.  It was during that time that Stewart wrote the song that would become Merle’s first chart hit, “Sing A Sad Song”.

He possessed a beautifully toned voice, that it’s said, “made the jaws drop” of other, more famous singers, anytime they happened to hear him sing.  His reason for never achieving massive stardom is supposedly due to him lacking ambition.  He was always content with where he was, and never had the drive to become a star.

Here’s Wynn singing his version of, “Sing A Sad Song”-  https://youtu.be/3w19Ma8f75I

A great live version of his second biggest chart single, “Wishful Thinking”- https://youtu.be/CcfwrOCTP2M

His biggest hit, and only number 1, “It’s Such A Pretty World Today”- https://youtu.be/EDqsZh8gS9Q


 

1. Mel Street

thHAECI9YH   Mel Street was the king of sleazy, filthy cheating songs.  And I do mean filthy.  He sang with so much raw emotion, that he made adultery sound like love.  He was a happily married man, but you’d have never known it when listening to audio-pornography like, “Lust Affair”, “You Make Me Feel More Like A Man”, or “Lovin’ On Back Streets”.  He possessed what one might call an, “everyman” tone, and his range was by no means spectacular,  but he was equal to legends like George Jones and Conway Twitty in terms of feeling. 

     Despite being a Hard-Country singer during a time when it wasn’t really the fashion, and not landing on the charts until he was nearly 40 years old, he managed to record nineteen top 40 singles, with thirteen of those landing in the top 20, and four in the top 10; within a span of 6 years.  Still, those statistics seem underwhelming for a singer this great.  Who knows whether or not he would’ve eventually achieved the fame he deserved?  Apparently the pressures of success were too much for him; he killed himself in 1978.  His friend and idol George Jones, sang at his funeral.

Here’s a couple of live performances of him, as evidence of his ability.

“The Town Where You Live” –  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nKNfB-OQQd4

“Borrowed Angel” –  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-ol-FtPdz0

Here are the studio recordings of some of his other hits.

“Walk Softly On The Bridges” – https://youtu.be/txOZmzLTzCw

“Smokey Mountain Memories” – https://youtu.be/nUrnUKr4IMQ

“Lovin’ On Back Streets” – https://youtu.be/J0qaH58XnRU

“Lust Affair” – https://youtu.be/V3smR114FGw

“You Make Me Feel More Like A Man” – https://youtu.be/GDEhp_PF5yw

“Forbidden Angel” – https://youtu.be/H4qBKk2Xiu8


 

 

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54 thoughts on “The 10 Most Underrated Country Singers of All Time

  1. “this list is irrelevant because Homer Briarhopper isn’t on it WAAAAAHHH!” haha. I’ve waited a long time to read this list!!! Very good! some names even I don’t know, and there’s not very many folks who know Country Music better than me. I would have put Tommy Collins on here somewhere though.

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    1. Hey Fuzz, good to hear from you. Do you really think that highly of Tommy’s singing? I mean, I enjoy Tommy’s music, and think the world of his writing, but I don’t find him to be particularly remarkable as a singer.

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      1. I think his voice was good for his material, at least. I’d never want to hear him sing “Bubbles in my Beer.” But for a song like “All of the Monkeys Ain’t in the Zoo” his unique high tenor was perfectly appropriate. You’ll be interested to know I just ordered a CD of Joe Carson.

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        1. That’s cool, Fuzz. Once you hear more of Joe’s music, I think you’ll probably agree with me that he didn’t really come into his own as a singer, until he got up into his 20’s. In my opinion, his voice sounded borderline horrible on the records he made as a teenager.

          Is there anybody else here you enjoyed, whom you hadn’t heard before?

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          1. I’ve never heard of Vernon Oxford, either…

            On the Tommy thing: I think that’s the vice of a lot of “novelty” acts. Roger Miller was behind some of Country Music’s better ballads, but he’s always going to be “the chug-a-lug guy.” Roy Clark too, I think, was pigeonholed by his Hee-Haw time as a goofy act. They were both exception singers AND players, but they don’t have the respect they probably deserve for it.
            Do you feel the same way about the records George Jones made when he was young? Stuff like “Uh-huh No” and “Too Much Water?”

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          2. I completely agree about Roger’s singing, and Roy’s too, to a slightly lesser degree.

            George recorded some corny songs, but I can’t think of any, where I disliked his voice. Having said that, I believe George’s vocal prime was between about 1965 and 1985, basically from age 35 to age 55.

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          3. Wow, Fuzz, that’s a heck of an idea. I hadn’t thought about that. I just might do it. As I sit here thinking about who’d be on it though, I bet it would piss a lot of people off.

            Also, it would be hard to narrow down, because there are so many. I mean, would I have to exclude all modern singers, because they’re not Country, and therefore cannot be considered as overrated Country singers?

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          4. Well I know Sturgill would be on it. I myself would put Wynonna Judd on an overrated list. You could also consider doing an overrated “songs” list. Songs that were hits that maybe weren’t very good. Just some thoughts. I never cared to here Jones doing corny songs, it didn’t become him, especially since he did sad songs so well, and did goofy songs like “Love Bug” not as well, compared to “Bartender’s Blues.”

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          5. I’d love to see your list of overrated singers. Yeah, might bother a few people, but you’ve never been less than true to yourself and convictions. It would be interesting to see why you dislike some of those performers you rag on so often.

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    1. I think Steve Earle is a has-been. His voice sounds horrible. He’s also a sad, pathetic, “useful” idiot who’s taken it upon himself to propagate leftist narratives.

      I don’t like the flag, because it is the flag of rich, big government authoritarians. What has happened though, is the left has successfully gotten right-wing Southerners to take up the flag’s cause, in the name of Southern pride, and heritage. Then when the left changed it’s strategy from physical slavery and racism, to economical slavery, they were able to blame the flag on Conservative Southerners who believe they are standing up for states’ rights and heritage, and paint them as racists.

      Steve Earle is another misinformed, Liberal idiot, who’s bashing the flag that his party created, but that he thinks was created by Conservatives.

      Here’s a video that explains this much better than I can:

      Please watch it Dale, and tell me what you think.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. His politics and how you feel about them notwithstanding, I disagree about Steve Earle. The man had little technical singing ability to begin with, so implying that he’s a has-been because it’s a little worse now is kind of a moot point. His 1990s albums that were released after he got out of prison like Train a Comin’, I Feel Alright and The Mountain with the Del McCoury Band are all excellent (as is his 2000 album Transcendental Blues). He got overtly political with his lyrics to 2002’s Jerusalem and 2004’s The Revolution Starts Now, which holds those records of otherwise solid music back. However, he’s been back on the upswing ever since. 2007’s Washington Square Serenade was an imperfect but fresh burst of wind in his sails. His 2009 tribute to he friend and mentor Townes Van Zandt aptly called Townes was solid all around, and 2011’s I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive was uniformly excellent. The Low Highway and Terraplane are also mostly great. In fact, I’d rate some of this latter material over Copperhead Road, which despite the classic title track, I’ve never held in high regard as an album. Some of it is almost on par with Guitar Town. Don’t let your feelings on his politics cheat you out of some good music, Clint.

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      2. Hi, Clint. Sorry it took so long to respond. Had to track down your site after I lost the link.

        As far as the Stars and Bars goes, regardless of what happened in the past, to myself, the flag represents region, rebellion, and the history of my family. What ever politicians did 50 years ago to further there cause, using it like a pawn, has no bearing on me now. It really pisses me off bands like Skynard distanced themselves from it. As someone who qualifies as a member of SCV, although I’m not (interested in joining but haven’t got around to it), we need more Southerners standing up for their heritage and not being ashamed of it.

        Also, once again you are missed over at SCM. And was very curious about your take on the election this year?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hey Dale,

          As a Constitutionalist, I can support no one other than Ted Cruz.

          Trump and Hillary are both insiders, so I’d like to see a showdown between two purists:
          Ted Cruz VS Bernie Sanders.

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  2. From this list, I am most intrigued by Vernon Oxford, and intend to hunt up some of his music if I can. I love strong, nasally, real country accents in country music that sound real and not generic-you know, you can tell when you listen if it’s Appalachian like Loretta Lynn, or Okie like Jean Shepard, or Deep South like Tammy Wynette, or Texan like George Jones. It’s one reason I love the Original Carter Family-not just the accents, but that the women sang in the soft, sweet tones (in spite of the nasally accent) of another time, which hadn’t yet passed from their own time and place.

    So thanks for giving me something “new” to listen for, which will still be old 🙂

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  3. I could bite my tongue (or fingers) the group I was thinking of was not the Original Carter Family, but a group called the “Blue Ridge Mountain Singers” who sang “I’ll Remember You Love In My Prayers”, from a compilation called “Rose Grew Round The Briar”, of early recorded “mountain music”. The women in this group have the accent, but their voices are so sweet, like we haven’t heard women sing since that day. (I also love Dan Tyminski’s version of that song).

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    1. I remember seeing Nat Stuckey on an episode of the Porter Wagoner Show that had been taped in Opryland. I always felt that the quality of the show was better BEFORE the Opryland years and still have an old 33 of his somewhere.

      If you haven’t heard of him, Howard Crockett was another overlooked Country Star-should-have-been. He wrote a bunch of songs for Johnny Horton but only ever hit the charts once as a performer.

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  4. I really believe Vernon would’ve made a lot more money, if he started his career today, as an Americana artist, than he made in the 60’s as a Country singer.

    He came along too late to fit in with the times back then, but strangely I believe his twang would be much appreciated by the independent music world of 2015.

    By the way Fuzz, I almost had Trigger talked into posting this article on SCM. He said it was a great article, but that he had a rule against posting second-hand articles.

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    1. I almost got Trigger to post a review I had written about a year ago and he said something similar. By the way, I saw a Mel Street 20 Greatest Hits CD the other day and thought of you. It even had the exact same picture as a cover that you used above.

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        1. Unfortunately, no, but it was definitely tempting. My main issue at the time was that I like to research an artist’s work before buying anything, as too often I’ve gotten a CD on impulse only for it to be poorly remastered, re-recordings or something else gimmicky and destructive to the original work. It’s unlikely that Mel re-recorded any of his songs, but I know Paycheck did this side of 500 times for different labels, so his discography has been hard to navigate through. I’d also just spent $150 bucks on DAC, so I wasn’t really wanting to blow more money at that moment. Currently I’m saving for my honeymoon with my future wife. I’m sure I’ll get around to listening and buying some Mel Street at some point, though.

          By the way, what are your opinions on the Williams clan? Specifically Sr., Jr. and 3? I noticed that Sr. didn’t make your list of greatest country singers, despite his obvious status as a front-runner. Also, why didn’t DAC make the underrated list?

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          1. I know what you mean. I buy a compilation album that has songs by artists, and then buy the albums by each artist individually and the recordings are not the same. Jean Shepard’s “Second Fiddle” has a much cooler guitar part on the obscure track, and “All of the Monkeys Ain’t In the Zoo” gets completely different verses.

            It really makes buying an album difficult, especially if the instrumental part is a defining piece of the song (for instance: the steel solos on “Slowly” which are less tonally appealing, to my ears, on the re-recordings) I have a really cool record called the “Country All-Star Festival” which has nothing but new recordings of the hits, which are completely different than the versions played on Willie’s Roadhouse or on most CD reissues.
            all the Mel Street I own is on 45 RPM Vinyl, and it would be easier to transfer them to CD (and use up nine or ten cds for around a dozen songs) than to buy a CD and risk getting recordings that I like less than the 45s. (all my Melba Montgomery is on 45 too)

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          2. Hank Sr. was not on my “Greatest” list, because it was a list of the greatest SINGERS of all time, not the greatest Country acts/artists/performers/entertainers (pick your term of choice) of all time.

            DAC was not on my underrated list, because it was also based primarily on singing talent, and in that regard, DAC is not underrated. He has a large cult following, and could someday wind up in the hall of fame. Most Country fans know his name.

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          3. Ah, I’d forgotten how literal with the term you were being. Most folks I know use the term “singer” colloquially with “artist”, so that’s what I thought you were getting at here. And my point about the Williams clan was to ask what you thought of the three men moreso than why Sr. didn’t make your list. I only threw that out there because some might see that as an oversight. The actual point was to get an opinion from you on the first family of country music.

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          4. Acca: The reason it would take so many CDs is because of the type of machine I own. I can’t separate tracks during the transfer process without stalling the recording.
            The end result is a CD with two tracks.
            Track 1 is side A of the record
            Track 2 is Side B of the record.
            it’s easier to transfer from record to cassette.

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    2. My father listened to most of the album (It was “By Public Demand” and “I Just Want To Be A Country Singer” both on one disc) and he just thought it was Hank Williams Sr.

      I think the Americana field is just a mess, with no clearly defined boundaries or exact sound, that exists and is built primarily by listeners who have enough money to spend on buying the more expensive vinyl and go to the shows; but who have such an aversion to the mainstream (which I think stems from a desire to be different) that any time one of their own has any success they cry “sellout.”
      These same people wear Che Guevara T-Shirts, but when asked about how many people he murdered they shut up like a clam…

      I flat-out avoid the term if I can help it.

      The end result is a never ending supply of subgenres, many of which overlap, and none of which are able to draw a large enough number of serious fans to develop any serious presence in the larger music world.

      And I think that the songs on the records I’ve heard are too blunt and straightforward to be well-received by the “Americana” crowd, who, I suspect, would mock it for not being subtle enough.

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      1. I agree with you about Americana, but I’m strictly referring to the acceptance of Vernon’s vocal twang. In the late 60’s, Nashville was embarrassed by it. Today, people would embrace him for being “unique” and “original”. And to clarify, I’m lumping Americana, Indie Country, Red-Dirt, and all the other sub-styles, under one umbrella.

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  5. Sorry about all of these comments on a singular article, but often I consider what I’ve read in articles and comments and come back later with new thoughts on issues.

    Having worked my way through Paycheck’s Little Darlin’ era (with a collection of his Donny Young material coming in the mail), I have to ask: aside from the fact that it’s fabricated, why do you cast Johnny’s “outlaw” years in a dark light? I liked a lot of his Little Darlin’ material, but I feel like it was often thematically stagnant (i.e. entire albums about love stagnating or flourishing). Fake or not, the outlaw albums had more diversity in the songwriting, which I appreciated. I also got the impression that Johnny was partly joking with that whole image, given his propensity to make fun of it with his songs therein. Of course that’s just me. Also, let’s not forget that DAC also used Billy Sherrill as a producer, for quite a few more albums than Paycheck by my recollection.

    Still waiting on that Overrated list, by the way.

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    1. I wasn’t trying to cast any part of his career, from a music standpoint, in a dark light. I’m a fan of all his music. I just feel it unfortunate that he had to take on that image to sell records. His voice and his songs should have been enough to make him a star.

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      1. Ah. One of these days I’ll be able to read what you’ve written and actually understand it. I apologize for my tendency to read a little too literally into issues. I just took your description of Paycheck’s outlaw phase as slightly negative given that you called it out as completely fake, and said the best music he made was before that. And there are plenty of other Paycheck fans who feel that way, some that even think his music with Sherrill isn’t even that good at all, so I thought it was just a similar opinion.

        Regardless, I agree with you completely that it’s sad that he had to contrive an image to sell records. It’s sad he had to contrive a name as well, since all of his Donny Young material collected dust on shelves. It’s a shame that he lived such a hard life that he was often too stoned to even function, and it’s equally sad that he died so relatively young in his 60s (if he hadn’t lived as he did he would surely still be with us). It’s horrid that so much of his music is hard to find and out-of-print; I’d buy every single one of his studio albums if the folks at Epic Records and the rights holders of Little Darlin’ Records would get off of their asses and reissue them in a modern format, even if it were just MP3s (I even emailed Bear Family Records to see if they might take a request to reissue his records as they did David Allan Coe’s and they said that they’d looked into it but hit some rights issues and weren’t able to proceed). Going hand-in-hand with that is that there appears to be so much unreleased Paycheck sitting in closets, gathering dust. He was due to release two or three albums in the ’90s that never saw the light of day. And then there was that live prison album he cut with Merle Haggard that was stalled before release and eventually perished in a fire a few years ago.

        Paycheck’s legacy is nothing BUT sad. That said, the worst offense by far is that Paycheck’s contribution to country music often begins and ends with “Take This Job and Shove It” for an alarming number of country music fans. The man has no real legacy to speak of; 80% of his albums aren’t in print and most of them weren’t particularly successful to boot. The only people who appreciate him are folks like us, but that he was something of a one-hit wonder just makes it worse. You could say similar things about everyone on this list, but I think Paycheck was far more influential than he’s given credit for. You mention him getting into the Hall of Fame, but that’d require people to actually remember him.

        But, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, I’m just venting my frustration.

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        1. Well, I do prefer the Little Darlin’ stuff, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like the Epic stuff. I like both strawberry and chocolate ice cream, but I prefer strawberry.

          The image of the Epic years was fake, but the music was not. Granted, certain songs may have been released to bolster the image, but overall the Epic stuff was great.

          Regarding the Hall Of Fame, which has already rendered itself irrelevant anyway, my point was that Paycheck not only is the biggest name on this list, but he’s also the only one that might ever be considered for induction. I don’t believe anyone else on here even has a ghost of a chance.

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          1. I think Gene Watson has at least as good a chance at getting inducted as most major tier stars from the classic era who haven’t already been inducted.

            and to say that “Take this Job” is Paycheck’s great contribution is a little false, because both “Old Violin” and “Only Hell my Mama Ever Raised” have been recorded within the past few years. In fact Larry Cordle and Michael Cleveland got an “event of the year” nomination for a version of “Old Violin.”

            is Paycheck’s stuff so out of print that it can’t be found on Ebay or Amazon? I’ve never found anything post 1965-ish to be particularly hard to get, although it can get a little on the expensive side. Although admittedly I also check Goodwill and the Salvation Army for old records and tapes…

            and yes, the CMHoF is awful, but it’s still one of the best halls in the industry because at least it doesn’t let anybody in, and tries to maintain some exclusivity.

            My personal HoF vendetta is getting Freddy Fender in, so we each have our own little personal beefs with the hall…

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          2. Fuzzy, what I said was that “Take This Job and Shove It” is what Paycheck is primarily known for to most people, not that it was necessarily his greatest song or whatever. Re-read my comment. “It Won’t Be Long (And I’ll Be Hating You)”, “Pardon Me, I’ve Got Someone to Kill”, “The Outlaw’s Prayer”, “I Did the Right Thing”, “I’m the Only Hell (My Mama Ever Raised)”, “In Memory of a Memory” and “Old Violin” are all great songs and some of my favorites by him that I would rank above “Take This Job” in a heartbeat. But they weren’t really big hits, and “Shove It” was. I was LAMENTING that fact. Paycheck’s Little Darlin’-era material was great, but the label closed down after going bankrupt because they didn’t really sell. Most people had no idea who Paycheck was until “Job” and soon forgot right afterward. That’s a musical crime.

            As for his albums, the Little Darlin’ stuff tends to be rare for the reasons I outlined above. The Epic Records stuff is basically pennies on the dollar, give or take an album or two. His ’90s albums are where things get messy; there’s one he made in 1991 called The Last Outlaw that was only released on cassette and sold at concerts. I read about it on another blog: https://pointlessendeavor.wordpress.com/2013/05/04/great-show-mr-paycheck/. When I cleaned up Paycheck’s discography over at Wikipedia (similarly to the job I did for David Allan Coe’s) I made sure to include it. I even asked the author of that article to post it on YouTube should he ever consider converting it to digital so the rest of the world could hear it.

            As for the stuff that is easy to find, you missed my point. I don’t want vinyl; I like dropping a needle as much as the next guy, but the format is the audio equivalent of tying a weight to your leg. You can’t take it with you, and I do most of my listening in the car and at work when I’m allowed to. Sure, I could buy a converter and do it that way, but good ones are hard to come by and so are well-aged records that aren’t warped or scratched up. Plus, as someone that likes to openly support an artist with my money, it doesn’t do Paycheck’s estate or reputation any good if the only money he’s making is third party sales of obsolete recording technology. And I do mean obsolete; vinyl might be making a comeback, but as far as I’m concerned it’s a fad aimed at hipsters and the like. A well-produced CD sounds just as good as anything on wax, and you can rip the files to boot. The problem is that most CDs these days aren’t well-produced and the dynamic range is boosted to make them as loud as possible, causing distortion. Same goes for most MP3 downloads. But if you get people that actually care about the releases or remasters (such as Bear Family and Raven), you get great sounding music without the drawbacks of static pops, warped discs, inconsistent playback or the general deficiencies of vinyl (such as songs on the inner rim having inherently inferior audio quality due to how the record is pressed and the sound of the record being at the mercy of the playback speed of your motor, etc.) Raven’s two-fers of 11 Months and 29 Days/Slide Off of Your Satin Sheets and Take This Job and Shove It/Armed and Crazy sound phenomenal, as does Hux’s two-fer of Someone to Give My Love To/Somebody Loves Me and the compilations of Little Darlin’ material out there.

            The irony of my complaints, of course, is that I’ve had to settle for vinyl rips to get most of these records, both because they’re hard to find on average and I want the convenience of digital. At this point I’d even settle for official vinyl rips, such as the 2010 reissue of Paycheck’s album Outlaw at the Cross (1988) as Gospel. It was done right and it sounds just fine. The bootleg versions I have sound awful, and surely no one would claim that the master tapes can’t just be thrown on a new format without remastering, should the labels not want to invest any money. The problem, of course, is that Johnny wasn’t too popular outside of “Take This Job and Shove It”, and also that he re-recorded his biggest hits 500 times for different labels to make the bills in his later years. There must be ten different versions of “Take This Job and Shove It” available at digital retailers alone, not to mention the others that are lost to time on back-alley compilations. Making matters worse is that his work is apparently up for grabs given that there’s an infinite amount of releases that bear his name, all featuring the same songs (some originals, most the re-recorded versions). So not only has Paycheck been mostly forgotten by the mainstream, any reissues would have to compete with bargain-basement labels that throw out anything with Johnny’s name on it for a quick buck. Sigh.

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          3. By my own research (which as I said I logged into Wikipedia for others to use), the majority of Johnny’s releases that contain at least 60% previously unreleased material are out-of-print (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnny_Paycheck_discography). And when I say out-of-print, I mean that there are no LP, CD or digital copies currently available for sale from a retailer, nor are any being printed by the labels.

            1. At Carnegie Hall (1966) – out-of-print
            2. The Lovin’ Machine (1966) – out-of-print
            3. Gospeltime in My Fashion (1967) – reissued by Koch on CD in 2005, now out-of-print (and so is the original LP, obviously)
            4. Jukebox Charlie (And Other Songs That Make The Jukebox Play) (1967) – out-of-print
            5. Country Soul (1968) – out-of-print
            6. Wherever You Are (1969) – out-of-print
            7. Again (1970) – out-of-print
            8. She’s All I Got (1971) – reissued by Koch on CD in 1998, now out-of-print
            9. Someone To Give My Love To (1972) – reissued by Hux on a two-fer CD, digital
            10. Somebody Loves Me (1972) – reissued by Hux on a two-fer CD, digital
            11. Heartbreak, Tenn. (1972) – previously unreleased Little Darlin’ material, out-of-print
            12. Mr. Lovemaker (1973) – out-of-print
            13. Song & Dance Man (1973) – out-of-print
            14. Loving You Beats All I’ve Ever Seen (1975) – out-of-print
            15. 11 Months and 29 Days (1976) – reissued by Raven on two-fer CD
            16. Slide Off of Your Satin Sheets (1977) – reissued by Raven on two-fer CD
            17. Take This Job and Shove It (1977) – reissued by Raven on two-fer CD, digital
            18. Armed and Crazy (1978) – reissued by Raven on two-fer CD, digital
            19. Bars – Booze – Blondes (1979) – some released but mostly unreleased Little Darlin’, out-of-print
            20. Everybody’s Got a Family… Meet Mine (1979) – out-of-print
            21. Jesus and the Outlaw (1979) – tracks from Gospeltime with added string arrangements and vocals by the Jordanaires, reissued on CD by Koch (same disc as its predecessor), out-of-print
            22. New York Town: Recorded Live At the Lone Star Cafe (1980) – out-of-print
            23. Double Trouble (with George Jones, 1980) – available on a two-fer with A Taste of Yesterday’s Wine from Morello, digitally
            24. Mr. Hag Told My Story (1981) – out-of-print as an album, half included on bonus tracks for Raven’s first two-fer, half on the other two-fer, no digital
            25. Lovers & Losers (1982) – out-of-print
            26. I Don’t Need to Know That Right Now – compilation, but contains four original unreleased tracks and four unreleased alternate versions of Paycheck’s hits, out-of-print
            27. Modern Times (1987) – out-of-print
            28. Outlaw At the Cross (1988) – reissued as Gospel on digital
            29. The Last Outlaw (1991) – out-of-print, extremely rare
            30. Live in Branson, MO, U.S.A. (1993) – out-of-print
            31. The Difference in Me (1993) – available digitally
            32. Tribute to George Jones (1996) – CD and digital available
            33. I’m a Survivor (1996) – original version out-of-print, reissued in 2001 as Survivor with vastly inferior audio quality, 2001 version available digitally
            34. Live At Gilley’s (1999) – out-of-print
            35. Studio 102 Essentials (2008) – 30 previously unreleased studio tracks, available digitally
            36. Live At the Palomino (2011) – available on CD and digital

            So, even if we don’t count Mr. Hag Told My Story and I’m a Survivor as there are technically versions available, it still comes out to 22/36 albums, and that’s assuming Paycheck didn’t have any more albums like The Last Outlaw that were only sold at concerts or other smaller kiosks. 60% of Paycheck’s non-compilation music is unavailable for mainstream consumption, and it’s worth noting that the two-fers are pretty much only available online (Raven is an Australian label, Hux is British). Not quite the 80% I initially said, but still disconcerting. I’ve even gotten onto iTunes and AmazonMP3 to see if there were enough tracks available to basically compile these albums, but not a single Little Darlin’ or Epic album that is listed as out-of-print has all of their tracks available. Again, many tracks were included on available compilations, but not all of them (with the possible exception of Hearbreak, Tenn., which was itself a collection of material more than a studio album, but it still counts).

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        2. Wow. You’ve done your research, even I don’t have very many of these…
          I’m a pretty big vinyl enthusiast, yeah yeah the format sucks, albums get damaged easy, they’re only good for a limited number of plays before they wear out, but with a good sound system they remain the top way to reproduce music. It’s also kind of nice to see a shelf full of them (of course most of mine have scuffed corners so it doesn’t look as good.)

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          1. Yep. When I really get into an artist, I go all in; I like to have every scrap of material by my favorite performers. Of course, such an approach is much harder with someone like Paycheck whose material isn’t really available. Nonetheless, I own all of these records save for The Last Outlaw (for obvious reasons) and even a few compilations of material like The Soul & The Edge: The Best of Johnny Paycheck, Nowhere to Run: The Little Darlin’ Years (both great remasters of Epic and LD, respectively) as well as Bear Family’s compilation of his material that he recorded as Donny Young called Shakin’ the Blues (these tracks are only available on this compilation or the original 45s, all of which are extremely rare collector’s items).

            As for the vinyl debate, if we’re being honest there’s far too many factors affecting either format to give a fair comparison. I still think vinyl has the shorter end of the stick when it comes to deficiencies, but that’s not a strike against it as much as what I believe to be a statement of fact. I just don’t think the “top way” to produce music is a format that’s beholden to so many small elements that can affect playback. Nonetheless, one of my favorite LPs that I own is Creed’s 1999 album Human Clay. I know, I know, the band doesn’t have the best reputation, but i think they’re extremely underrated. So underrated, in fact, that I paid $70 for a new copy of that double LP back in 2014 and it’s worth noting that they go for upwards of $150 online, used (not trying to flaunt my money or anything, just trying to illustrate that the band’s music does something more for me than “fun” like a lot of young pop fans). It sounds phenomenal, and that’s one that I wish I had the proper tools to do an uncompressed transfer of for my digital collection to replace my CD copy. However, as I alluded to earlier, part of the reason the CD doesn’t sound as good is because it wasn’t produced well.

            Back to the original issue at hand, if it helps to inform my intentions for Paycheck’s music it’s worth pointing out that I’d readily buy new vinyl copies (or even cassettes) of any Johnny albums if they were to be re-printed by the labels to support his career (and I would hope for the records to come with digital copies as well as most releases do these days, but the point stands). Don’t get me wrong, I’d prefer CDs, but the main issue I have is that we don’t have much at all to choose from at present.

            As for collections, I enjoy displaying my movie, music and video game collections with pride as well. I like the more visible spines of CDs as compared with vinyl, but the larger art and greater attention to detail of wax is grand.

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  6. AD, am I understanding you correctly? Are you saying you have every Johnny Paycheck album ever released, except The Last Outlaw?

    If so, how did you locate all the out of print stuff?

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    1. My phrasing was a bit confusing, but I guess it would have been clearer had I said that I own all of the music; I don’t have much of the actual vinyl. That said, I’ve seen most of the records on eBay and Discogs and the like over time. I have digital conversions of the music from some friends and other internet sites (I mentioned that some of them sound awful above, but that’s better than nothing). An acquaintance of mine has a YouTube channel called “Real Country Music Albums” that he has uploaded almost every Paycheck album to as well: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UChFZjPry0lVsYttbw7zAoIA/videos

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    2. You know, I always feel a little silly responding when you ask these types of questions. I feel like when I iterate that I’ve gotten older music from a modern or computer-based system that you roll your eyes and think to yourself “these damn kids” or something as you read. But if you let me know which albums you’re looking for I could help out. They aren’t too hard to find, give or take a vinyl or two. The main reason I don’t own too many physical copies is the reason I outlined above, which is that they don’t help me too much when most of my listening is away from my turntable.

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      1. Not at all, AD. I’ve downloaded songs myself, when it was the only way I could get what I wanted.

        There’s nothing in particular I’m looking for. I was just curious. I think it’s cool. I’m a completist myself when it comes to certain singers. Unfortunately, I don’t have the money to own everything by everybody.

        I favor CDs myself, and the late 90s through the early 2000s was a great time for classic country reissues on cd. It seems like the cd reissuing has died down quite a bit though.

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        1. Well, that’s a relief. I don’t have the money to own everything by everybody, either, so I assume we’re in the same boat on that one. I’ve just had my Paycheck and Coe fixes lately. It’s unfortunate that CDs are dying out and everything is going to streaming. They don’t even put CD players in a lot of newer car models anymore. I wouldn’t be surprised if we started seeing albums that are released exclusively to streaming, whether they be reissues or new releases. And that’s going to be an annoying day.

          In slightly other news, I noticed while reading over the liner notes of one of my rarer Ricky Van Shelton albums that he covered a song by Mel Street, “Borrowed Angel” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fgECjXpyWb8). In case you’re interested, it’s from Ricky’s first release after leaving Columbia called Making Plans from 1997. It was initially released exclusively to Walmart stores (Ricky was one of the first ever artists to cut such a deal) and then picked up by Vanguard Records for a wider release in 1998, though it didn’t really make much of an impact (this was the era of Shania Twain and Chris Gaines, after all).

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          1. Yeah I’ve got that CD. Actually, I’ve got all of Ricky’s stuff.

            I’ll be honest, I’ve heard at least 5 covers of “Borrowed Angel”, including one by George Jones, but none of them hold a candle to Mel’s version.

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          2. I figured you might have it, but I wasn’t sure. I myself have also collected Ricky’s material, save for his Christmas albums as I don’t care too much for holiday releases from most artists (I DO have his gospel album Don’t Overlook Salvation, though). He was one of my favorites when I was a kid so a few years ago I tracked all of his albums down. I even emailed him through his website and his wife responded; I told my story in relation to his music and also asked if he had any plans to resume touring or put out a new album. Bettye iterated to me that there was nothing concrete but that they hadn’t ruled out the possibility.

            I also happened to email Johnny Paycheck’s son, Jonathan (who spells his last name PayCheck, and claims his father had it legally changed to that spelling a while before his passing). I asked him about some possible reissues of his father’s work, as lobbying from an artist’s estate can sometimes get the cogs going. However, he didn’t take too kindly to my questions, as he thought I was implying that Johnny’s estate wasn’t doing enough, whereas I was really just asking/suggesting. I feel stupid in hindsight for how forward I was with him about it, but oh well. Nothing I can do about it now, and he was very clear that his job is not merely managing his father’s estate, so that might be a dead end as of this writing.

            Pardon my tendency to ramble, I just think of things in an odd sequence.

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          3. FYI,

            There are currently 13 of Don Williams’ albums reissued on CD, they are twofers and threefers. Get em before they go out of print again.

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          4. I appreciate the heads up, but I’m not all that high on Don Williams. I think he has a great voice but his material is a little too mellow for me most of the time. I did really enjoy his recent albums And So It Goes and Reflections, however. The wisdom that one gleans through age was evident in the recordings, even the numerous covers, and it felt like I was listening to a grandparent. I don’t really get that from his older recordings when he was in his prime. I have his 2-disc Anthology compilation with all of his biggest singles an that’s good enough for me as a casual fan. I’m looking into collection Merle Haggard next, but I’m at a loss for how to proceed. The Bear Family Box sets Untamed Hawk, The Studio Recordings 1968-1976, Concepts, Live & the Strangers and The Troubadour. However, they’re so darn expensive I’m not sure if I want to go with the boxes or the twofer reissues of the albums on single CDs. I also prefer my albums be organized as single works, and from what I hear the Bear Family sets are organized by session, not album, so I’m also not happy about that. To top it off, the man’s cut darn near 100 albums so it’s a doozy.

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          5. If you want Merle Haggard albums, 1994 and 1996 are real strong albums, despite poor sales, “It’s all in the movies” and “the way I am” are both good, classic Country albums, although they might not pack a whole lot of his best material. “My Love Affair With Trains” may not be everybody’s type of album, but I think it’s his most personal, and has a lot of fantastic performances, and 5:01 Blues is another good album, that maybe isn’t as good as 1994. ‘My Farewell to Elvis” is a good album for people who love Merle AND Elvis, but probably isn’t for casual fans of either, it’s a little bland at times. “Chill Factor” and “Songwriter” may be difficult to find, but they’re worth it if you like songs like “Rainbow Stew” and “Footlights,” both from “Songwriter.”

            the Okie From Muskogee live album may be disappointing for what people would expect from a Merle live album, and it wouldn’t be real strong as a studio album… his song choices are a bit unusual, but the Merle live experience makes the album worth buying, and an extensive liner booklet is a fun read for serious Haggard fans.

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  7. Clint, you might find this series by the A.V. Club interesting: it’s called “Nashville or Bust” and entails a hip hop writer exploring country music and his subsequent findings. He does articles on many of the most visible names of country, including Johnny Paycheck and David Allan Coe:

    Paycheck: http://www.avclub.com/article/week-51-johnny-paycheck-job-shover-49892

    Coe: http://www.avclub.com/article/week-34-david-allan-coe-the-self-promoter-41239

    I find his insights to be interesting, and often quite in line with my own.

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