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The Nashville Sound

By: Roughstock Staff

Last Updated: January 19, 2009 12:01 AM



The Nashville Sound, a blend of pop and country with an emphasis on , experienced its greatest success in the 1950s. The music in this era combined the big band jazz and swing of the '30s, '40s and early '50s with the storytelling of folk and country artists. A trio of country legends were instrumental in establishing its prominence in popular music.

Originally a stone country singer, Jim Reeves reached amazing heights as a pop balladeer. Born in 1923 in Galloway, TX, Reeves was originally a standout athlete. He entered the University of Texas in Austin, and his prowess as a baseball pitcher soon attracted the attention of the St. Louis Cardinals, who signed him to a minor-league contract. An ankle injury sustained in 1946, though, ended his baseball career.
 
In 1947, after marrying schoolteacher Mary White, Reeves moved to Shreveport and accepted a job as an announcer for KWKH, the station that owned the Louisiana Hayride. Reeves sang occasionally on the program, and when Hank Williams failed to arrive for a 1952 show, he was asked to perform. In the audience sat Fabor Robinson, owner of Abbott Records, who immediately signed Reeves to a contract. After Reeves scored a No.1 single with "Mexican Joe" in 1953, RCA signed him to a major-label deal. That same year, he joined the Grand Ole Opry at the recommendation of Ernest Tubb and Hank Snow.
 
The February 1957 release of "Four Walls" (listen here) only added to a stellar reputation, but the best was yet to come. In 1959, Reeves recorded his biggest hit, "He'll Have to Go," a stern request to a distant lover. His dark, intimate, velvet tones slid across the moody melody, and the result brought him instant stardom. During the early 1960s, he continued to dominate the country charts, with hits including "Guilty" (1963) and "Welcome to My World" (1964).  
 
On a flight back to Nashville from Arkansas on July 31, 1964, Reeves and his manager ran into heavy rain just a few miles from Nashville's Beery Field and crashed; both men died instantly. Voted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1967, Reeves continued to log hits posthumously in the 1970s and '80s.  

Another artist whose career was cut tragically short, Patsy Cline (born Virginia Patterson Hensley in Winchester, Virginia, on September 8, 1932) is quite simply one of the greatest female vocalists of all time. Winner of an amateur tap-dancing contest at the age of four, she began learning piano at eight and in her early teens became a singer at local clubs. In 1948, an audition won her a trip to Nashville, where she appeared in a few clubs before returning home. Cline developed a following throughout the East and was a frequent guest on the popular show, Town and Country. She caught the attention of Jimmy Dean, who also frequently appeared on the show, and he became an early champion of her talent. Cline began appearing on the Grand Ole Opry, and she signed to Four Star Records in 1955.

Four Star released "Walking After Midnight" (listen here) in 1957, but Cline's career didn't take full flight until she signed with Decca in 1960. In 1961, Harlan Howard's "I Fall to Pieces" (listen here) was fitted with Owen Bradley's lush, languid rhythms to form an intoxicating combination that Cline defined with her usual powerful, pristine voice. That breakthrough success was followed in quick succession by hits such as Willie Nelson's "Crazy," (watch video here) as well as "Strange," "She's Got You," and "When I Get Through With You."
 
Later in 1961, Cline was invited to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Hits such as "Release Me," "Imagine That," "So Wrong," and "Leavin' On Your Mind," continued to boost her star status through the early part of the decade. But on March 5, 1963, Cline died in a plane crash in Camden, Tennessee. She had been returning home from a Kansas City benefit concert with Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas, both of whom were also killed.
 
Even after her death, Patsy's records continued to sell; "Sweet Dreams (Of You)" (listen here) and "Faded Love" became top ten singles in 1963. Patsy has continued to be a major influence on singers like Loretta Lynn (who recorded a Cline tribute album in 1977), Reba McEntire and Patty Loveless. In 1973, she was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. She remains the gold standard for the women of country, but none match the emotion laced throughout her lovely alto.  

A country crooner with a smooth, silky voice, Eddy Arnold is one of the top-selling country artists of all time. Born in Henderson, Tennessee, in 1918, Arnold was first drawn to music when his father gave him guitar lessons. He left high school during the early '30s to help his family run their farm, occasionally playing local barn dances. After his radio debut in Jackson, TN in 1936, he made his big break as a singer/guitarist with Pee Wee King's Golden West Cowboys providing exposure on the Grand Ole Opry.
 
Arnold signed with RCA in 1944, sparking off an amazing tally of hit records with "It's a Sin," (listen here)  and the million-selling "I'll Hold You In My Heart" in 1947. Trademark songs such as "The Streets of Laredo," "Bouquet of Roses," and "Cattle Call" were among his 92 top ten hits, a record among country artists. The string-laced arrangements and polished pop sound he employed were controversial at times, but his sweetly soulful voice was inarguably beautiful. Under the direction of producer Chet Atkins, Arnold's rendition of "Make the World Go Away" (listen here) became an international hit on the country and pop charts and remains his signature song.   Watch Eddy Arnold's video for "Hold You In My Heart" here.
 
A Country Music Hall of Fame inductee in 1966, Arnold guested on programs hosted by Perry Como, Milton Berle, Arthur Godfrey, Dinah Shore, Bob Hope and Spike Jones, among others. Arnold also hosted his own syndicated television series, Eddy Arnold Time, plus various other shows on NBC and ABC networks.

Roughstock's History of Country Music
Introduction Bill Monroe and Bluegrass ('40-'60) Outlaw Country (1970s)
     
The Beginnings ('20-'40) Cowboy Music (1940-1960) Urban Country (1980s)
     
Western Swing ('30-'50) Honky Tonk Music (1950s) Garth And New Country (1990s)
     
Acuff & The Grand Ole Opry (1940s) The Nashville Sound (1960s)  

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