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Johnny Cash (Born: 26 February 1932  Died: 12 September 2003)

Born J.R. Cash in Arkansas, Johnny Cash’s brand of rebel country reflects his background growing up in the rural South during the Great Depression and his lifelong compassion for the poor and downtrodden. An American icon, Cash’s contribution to country music cannot be overstated. He started out recording in 1955 with Luther Perkins and Marshall Grant at The Sun Studio in Memphis. This sampler of Cash’s work includes the seminal track, I Walk The Line, a song included in the Record Industry of America’s Songs of the Century roll of honour. You will also find here greats like Folsom Prison Blues and Dont Take Your Guns To Town. Known as The Man in Black, Cash was famous for wearing the colour head to toe. The reason for his choice of stage attire was, he said, to wear the colour of mourning until social and political inequalities are vanquished. From his poverty stricken background to his addiction to drugs and alcohol, Cash’s rich, gravelly voice seems to not only embody all his life’s trials and struggles but also the times he lived through. This is a voice that had a story to tell. Cash has influenced artists across the board, including Steve Earle, Moby, Sheryl Crow, Mick Jagger, Elvis Costello, Bono, and Bob Dylan. Singer/songwriter, Cowboy Jack Clement said of Cash: “There’s two kinds of people on Earth. Those that love Johnny Cash, and those that will.”

Dolly Parton (Born: 19 January 1946)

Dolly Rebecca Parton grew up dirt poor as one of twelve children in the mountains of Tennessee, but has forged a staggeringly successful career as the queen of country music, as a businesswoman and as a philanthropist. She contributed to the family coffers as a child performer and was hugely influenced by pioneering country singer, Kitty Wells. Parton’s repertoire includes country, bluegrass, folk and pop. Describing herself as a simple country girl, Parton’s affinity with the music of her roots is most evident in her country classics. Her first single, Puppy Love, is included here. Parton wrote the song aged 11 and recorded it in 1959 at the age of 13. Also included is a cover of her idol Kitty Well’s classic, It Wasnt God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels. You can also find here two great examples of her sentimental country songs, Little Blossom and Letter To Heaven. Still performing at the top of her game and with a crossover appeal most artists would kill for, Parton headlined the Glastonbury Festival in 2014 and is the recipient of the US Library of Congress’ Living Legend Medal. Godmother of Miley Cyrus, she has influenced the newest crop of female artists, including Alison Krauss, LeAnn Rimes, Shania Twain, and Katy Perry.

Kenny Rogers (Born: 21 August 1938)

Born in Texas, Kenneth Donald Rogers started his career in teen rock and roll in the 1950s, before joining The First Edition, a jazz/country/folk/psychedelic rock outfit. He recorded with them up until his solo career in 1976. In this collection of early material can be found gems like Ruby, Dont Take Your Love To Town, Calico Silver, and an inspired version of Me and Bobby McGee. There are some surprising facts about this country music legend. In 1968, he discovered Don Henley and helped him develop his career and in spite of owning the rights to Henley’s music up to that point Rogers gave it all back without charge and with love when David Geffen came calling to sign the fledgling Eagles. Rogers is a huge megastar in Jamaica and his music has been brought to a new generation of fans through his work with Wyclef Jean, and his 2013 headlining appearance at the Glastonbury Festival.

Hank Williams (Born: 17 September 1923  Died: 1 January 1953

Hiram King Williams was born in Alabama and was inspired by gospel and traditional folk ballads. He was taught to play guitar by street bluesman Rufus Payne, known
as ‘Teetot’. The pain he suffered from late-diagnosed spina bifida occulta led to dependence on prescription painkillers and alcohol that took a toll on his career. He joined the company of the Grand Old Opry but Williams was unceremoniously fired due to his drinking and persistent absence. The Opry liked to cultivate a wholesome image and Williams’ behavior had become anything but wholesome. His contribution to country music is formidable. He died at the age of only 29 having recorded 66 songs over a six year period, 37 of which were hits. Songs like Your Cheatin’ Heart, Cold, Cold, Heart, and Im So Lonesome I Could Cry, are considered country classics, and his songs have been covered by many artists cutting across musical genres, including The The, Johnny Cash, Dinah Washington and Nora Jones. Country music singer Radney Foster suggested that Hank William’s influence goes beyond country music. He says, “It’s quite simple. No Hank Williams, no rock and roll.”

Patsy Cline (Born: 8 September 1932   died: 5 March 1963)

Born Virginia Patterson Hensley in Virginia, Patsy Cline became the first female solo artist to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1960. It is usual for artists to be invited. Cline was the first ever artist to ask. ‘The Cline’ as she liked to be known, was a force to be reckoned with in business, insisting she be paid upfront before gigs (‘No dough, no show’ was her mantra). She was also supportive of other female artists and encouraged Loretta Lynn, Dottie West, and Brenda Lee in their careers. Cline was also the first female country star to headline her own shows and to appear at the top of tour billings above the male stars. Whilst primarily a country artist, she successfully crossed over into pop.  Her hits included such classics as Crazy, WalkinAfter Midnight, and I Fall To Pieces – all included in this selection. I Fall To Pieces is particularly notable in that it is included in the Record Industry of America’s Songs of the Century list. Generous to a fault, even when she didn’t have the means, Cline also carried with her a sense of her own impending death. She was proved right. After a brush with death in a car crash in 1961, Patsy was killed in a plane crash in 1963. Among the artists to acknowledge the influence of The Cline are Cyndi Lauper, Taylor Swift and LeAnn Rimes.

George Jones (Born: 12 September 1931  Died: 26 April 2013)

Often voted by country music makers as their favourite country singer, and described by the New York Times as “the finest, most riveting singer in country music”, Texas-born George Glenn Jones possessed one of the most interpretative voices to be found in the genre. Jones’ secret was to imagine a feeling or experience he’d had in his own life that resonated most closely with that of the character or situation in a song. This kind of ‘method-singing’ gave his delivery a poignancy and intensity that few other singers of any musical style could match. His tempestuous marriages – most famously to fellow country star Tammy Wynette, and love of liquor were the stuff of legend. His alcoholism impacted on every area of his life at the height of his fame; no more so than in his career, where his constant drinking and failure to turn up for performances led to the nickname, ‘No Show Jones’. Included in this selection of Jones’ music are three of the star’s Billboard number one hit singles including his 1959 debut White Lightnin, Tender Years and She Thinks I Still Care. Though Jones died in 2013 his songs and his legacy live on. He has influenced artists beyond country music, including Robert Plant, Elvis Costello, Gram Parsons, and Leonard Cohen.

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