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From Rosa’s Cnatina to the Tallachatchie Bridge The World Of Country Story Songs. Alan Warner.

 

 

 

Ton=m T. hall The Door ToYesterday. Alan Warner. 2109

 At their annual ceremony earlier this month in New York,  

the Songwriters Hall Of Fame inducted Country singer/songwriter/guitarist Tom T. Hall. 


Inspired by Ernest Hemingway, Kentucky-born Tom became affectionately known as ‘The Storyteller’ 

via a series of successful homespun often-amusing narrative songs including HOMECOMING, A WEEK IN A COUNTRY JAIL, 

THE  YEAR THAT CLAYTON DELANEY DIED and (Old Dogs, Children And) WATERMELON WINE, 

all of which were major Country hits for him in the late 60’s and 70’s.


Tom also wrote the million-selling HARPER VALLEY P.T.A. 

which is one of a group of vintage Country Story Songs that I’ve gathered together in the following list. 

They range from Marty RobbinsEL PASOwhich evoked the legend of the American cowboy through to 

FOLSOM RIVER BLUES which helped to ignite Johnny Cash’s outlaw persona.



I hope you enjoy these moments from vinyl history…


THE BATTLE OF NEW ORLEANS 

(Arr: Jimmie Driftwood) 

by Johnny Horton

Pro: Don Law 

(Columbia: 1959) 

US #1 Country, #1 Pop, UK #16  

https://youtu.be/9CnPv_1SVh0  

Though this song’s lyric is historically incorrect, it caught the public’s attention in a big way. 

The poetic reference to the British army was reworded for the UK market; the line 

We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’ became We fired our guns and the rebels kept a-comin’’.  

The song was covered there by Lonnie Donegan whose version hit #2 on the local chart. 


BIG BAD JOHN

 (Jimmy Dean) 

by Jimmy Dean

Pro: Don Law 

(Columbia: 1961) 

US #1 Country, #1 Pop, UK #2. Memorable spoken word novelty hit. 

https://youtu.be/KnnHprUGKF0  


In addition to his success onrecords, Texan singer/songwriter Jimmy Dean

 later founded a successful nationwide brand of pork sausages and gave his name to a series of restaurants.

 Answer & parody records to BIG BAD JOHN included SMALL SAD SAM by Phil McLean (Versatile: 1961), 

MY BIG JOHN by Dottie West (Starday: 1961) and BIG SWEET JOHN by Ben Colder (MGM: 1969).


A BOY NAMED SUE

 (Shel Silverstein) by Johnny Cash

Pro: Bob Johnston 

(Columbia: 1969) US #1 Country, #2 Pop, UK #4

  https://youtu.be/tA1Pey1bHFk

Humorist Shel Silverstein (whose THE COVER OF ROLLING STONE became a milestone success for 

Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show) had concocted this novelty fable and performed it at a party which Cash attended. 

Johnny’s wife June Carter suggested he perform it at his San Quentin concert, hence this definitive recording. 

Sequel song: THE FATHER OF A BOY NAMED SUE 

by Shel Silverstein 

(Parachute: 1979)


CONVOY 

(Bill Fries/Chip Davis) 

by C.W. McCall

Arr: Chip Davis

Pro: Don Sears & Chip Davis 

(MGM: 1975) US #1 Country in ‘75, #1 Pop & UK #2 in ’76.

 https://youtu.be/C2DYOjdqT4Q

Built around the American CB Radio craze, C.W. McCall was a character created and voiced by

 advertisingexecutive Bill Fries for a TV commercial. The hit CONVOY inspired the 1978 Sam Peckinpah 

movie of the same name starring Kris Kristofferson & Ali McGraw


DELTA DAWN 

(Alex Harvey/Larry Collins) 

by Tanya Tucker

Pro: Billy Sherrill 

(Columbia: 1972) US #6 Country, #72 Pop 

https://youtu.be/7U8sHtALkFA

Alex Harvey recorded the first version in ’71 and then various other artists including Waylon Jennings

 and Loretta Lynn cut the song. Bette Midler released a version on the B-side of BOOGIE WOOGIE BUGLE BOY in ’73 

and Helen Reddy had the biggest hit when it topped Billboard’s Hot 100 in September that same year. 

When Tanya Tucker’s version hit the charts, she was just 13 years old!


THE DEVIL WENT DOWN TO GEORGIA 

(Charlie Daniels/Fred Edwards/Jim Marshall/Charles Hayward/Tom Crain/Joe DiGregorio) 

by The Charlie Daniels Band

Pro: John Boylan 

Epic: 1979)

 US #1 Country, #3 Pop, UK #14.

  https://youtu.be/sh7BZf7D5Bw  


Charlie’s a Southern rocker but this gloriously uptempo fiddle song placed him and his band into decisive country history. 

It was also included in the 1980 John Travolta hit movie “Urban Cowboy”.


A follow-up version titled THE DEVIL COMES BACK TO GEORGIA was recorded on Warner Bros. in ’93 

by Mark O’Connor with Charlie Daniels Feat. Johnny Cash, Marty Stuart & Travis Tritt.





Say something interesting about your business here.

Marty Robbins. The Door To Yesterday. Alan Warner. 2019

 EL PASO 

(Marty Robbins) 

by Marty Robbins

Pro: Don Law 

(Columbia: 1959)

 US #1 Country, 1 Pop, & UK #19 all in ’60. 

https://youtu.be/-zBzZJd-nfw 

 The opening lyric set the scene:

 ‘Out in the West Texas town of El Paso/

I fell in love with a Mexican girl

Nighttime would find me in Rosa's cantina

Music would play and Felina would whirl’.  


Grammy-winning song from Marty’s hit album

 “Gunfighter Ballads And Trail Songs”.

 Backup singers on EL PASO

 were Jim Glaser & Bobby Sykes.

 Sequel song: EL PASO CITY

 by Marty Robbins 

(Columbia: 1976) 

also topped the Billboard Country singles chart.

Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison. Alan Warner. 2019. The Door to Yesterday.

 FOLSOM PRISON BLUES

 (Johnny Cash) 

by Johnny Cash & The Tennessee Two

Pro: Sam Phillips 

(Sun: 1955) 

US #4 Country in ’56. 

FOLSOM PRISON BLUES 

(Johnny Cash) 

by Johnny Cash

Pro: Bob Johnston 

(Columbia: 1968) US #1 Country, #32 Pop   

https://youtu.be/bDktBZzQIiU


This second celebrated rendition was recorded live before inmates 

at Folsom State Prison in California. Having seen the 1951 

Steve Cochran/David Brian film drama “Inside The Walls 

Of Folsom Prison”, Johnny wrote FOLSOM PRISON BLUES 

borrowing some lines from a Gordon Jenkins song called 

CRESCENT CITY BLUES.

 Parody song: FOLSOM RIVER BLUES #2 

by Don Bowman

 (RCA: 1968). 


THE GAMBLER 

(Don Schlitz) 

by Kenny Rogers

Pro: Larry Butler

Eng: Billy Sherrill

 (United Artists: 1978) 

US #1 Country in ’78,

 #16 Pop in ’79. UK #22 in ’07.  https://youtu.be/jGYJrjwiPC4


Kenny also clocked up success with other story songs such as 

COWARD OF THE COUNTY in ’79 and a decade earlier with 

RUBY, DON’T TAKE YOUR LOVE TO TOWN 

when he led The First Edition. 


The story of THE GAMBLER was developed into 

five TV movies starring Kenny as Brady Hawkes.

Jeannie C. Riley Harper Valley P.T.A. The door To Yesterday. Alan Warner. 2019;

HARPER VALLEY P.T.A. 

(Tom T. Hall) 

by Jeannie C. Riley

Pro: Shelby S. Singleton Jr. 

(Plantation: 1968) US #1 Country, #1 Pop, UK #12.  

https://youtu.be/_ptRLNv6Eck


Plantation Records owner Shelby Singleton had already picked out Tom T. Hall’s ballad 

and when he heard a demo of newcomer Jeannie C. Riley, he knew the song would be a perfect match.

 The track was also memorable for the dobro guitar playing of Jerry Kennedy.

 

HE STOPPED LOVING HER TODAY

 (Bobby Braddock/Curly Putman) 

by George Jones

Strings Arr: Bill McElhiney

Pro: Billy Sherrill (Epic: 1980) US #1 Country  

https://youtu.be/es1uCh48TNY


Probably country music’s most famous tearjerker, the song has been criticized for being too maudlin 

but it remained a solid gold favorite with George Jones’ audience even though George himself was initially reluctant to record it. 

More recently, co-author Bobby Braddock discovered Blake Shelton and produced several of his hits. 


ME AND BOBBY McGEE 

(Kris Kristofferson/Fred Foster) 

by Roger Miller

Pro: Jerry Kennedy

 (Smash: 1969) US #12 Country

 https://youtu.be/pwU89X4k6bM


Kris was inspired to write this song after seeing Fellini’s film “La Strada” and it was Monument Records 

founder Fred Foster who gave him the song’s title. Famously re-recorded by Janis Joplin whose Columbia single 

hit #1 on the Hot 100 in March ’71.

 

NORTH TO ALASKA 

(Tillman Franks/Johnny Horton)

 by Johnny Horton

Pro: Don Law 

(Columbia: 1960) 

US #4 Pop in ’60, #1 Country & UK #23 in ’61.

   https://youtu.be/LoqVPcXDtUs


     Song written for and featured on the soundtrack of the 1960 20th Century Fox 

John Wayne/Stewart Granger western movie “North To Alaska”. 

 

Tillman Franks collaborated with Johnny on three other  Horton million-sellers: 

HONKY TONK MAN, SINK THE BISMARK and WHEN IT’S SPRINGTIME IN ALASKA.

 

 

Bobbie Gentry Ode To Billy Joe. The Door to Yesterday. Alan Warner. 2019

 ODE TO BILLIE JOE 

(Bobbie Gentry) 

by Bobbie Gentry

Arr: Jimmie Haskell

Pro: Kelly Gordon & Bobby Paris

 (Capitol: 1967) 

US #1 Pop, #17 Country, UK #13.

  https://youtu.be/cJZ_ViDADOE


This was singer/songwriter/guitarist Bobbie Gentry’s debut release 

and it told the story of Billy Joe McAllister who jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge in Bobbie’s

 home state of Mississippi. In ’76, a movie built around Bobbie’s story titled “Ode To Billy Joe” 

(the spelling of the title had been officially amended) was released starring Robby Benson as 

Billy Joe McAllister and Glynnis O’Connor  as Bobbie Lee Hartley. 


SUNDAY MORNING COMING DOWN

 (Kris Kristofferson)

 by Johnny Cash

Pro: Bob Johnston 

(Columbia: 1970) 

US #1 Country, #46 Pop

  https://youtu.be/ED5s1-Fe9FA


In addition to his acting, Kris Kristofferson is of course a superb singer/songwriter 

though his most celebrated compositions were hits for other artists such as Johnny Cash (in this song’s case), 

Janis Joplin (ME AND BOBBY McGEE) and Sammi Smith, Gladys Knight and Willie Nelson, each of whom 

charted with HELP ME MAKE IT THROUGH THE NIGHT.  


PANCHO AND LEFTY 

(Townes Van Zandt) 

by Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard

Pro: Chips Moman, Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard 

(Epic: 1983) US #1 Country

  https://youtu.be/AbZ3VdYb90o


A strikingly descriptive folk song which was popularized in two country versions, 

one by Emmylou Harris in ’77 and this revival six years later. 


The late Townes Van Zandt had cut his original in ’72 at 

Jack Clements’ Nashville studio with Jack in the producer’s chair. 


Rock on.


Alan Warner


Please send any comments or suggestions to 

thedoortoyesterday@gmail.com