I know Claude from his 45, “The Comancheros” which I bought because of its John Wayne tie-in novelty value. I loved the film, which is one the earliest John Wayne films I recall seeing, and the song (released after the film) much like Gene Pitney’s “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”, was released after the film was a hit.
Despite being ‘cash ins” after the films they both fit into the large group of dramatic opening credit songs which were popular, especially in westerns in the 1950 and 1960s.
The songs (especially those after the fact), really, just repeat the narrative of the film to music accentuating the emotional highlights or themes.
I digress, but it is relevant as Claude King was very much of the country storyteller ilk with a distinct Hollywood-ness to his music.
King was no different to many other country singers of his day:
"King (1923-2013) was born in Keithville in southern Caddo Parish south of Shreveport in northwestern Louisiana. At a young age, he was interested in music but also in athletics and the outdoors. He purchased a guitar at the age of twelve, and although he learned to play, most of his time was devoted to sports. He received a baseball scholarship to the University of Idaho at Moscow, Idaho” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claude_King
He said he grew up "…about as poor as you can be." His dad was a farmer and back then, it was using a plow and mule. But the farm land did not treat them well for it was red land dirt and did not seem to favor any type of good crop. http://www.hillbilly-music.com/artists/story/index.php?id=11211
"From 1942 to 1945, he served in the United States Navy during World War II … King formed a band with his friends Buddy Attaway and Tillman Franks called the Rainbow Boys …”:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claude_King
Also Buddy & Claude with The Kentuckians with who he commenced recording g in the late 1940s before releasing solo records from 1950 on
The trio played around Shreveport in their spare time while working an assortment of other jobs. He joined the Louisiana Hayride, a television and radio show produced at the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium and broadcast throughout the United States and in the United Kingdom. King was frequently on the same programs with Elvis Presley, Tex Ritter, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Webb Pierce, Kitty Wells, Jimmie Davis, Slim Whitman, Faron Young, Johnny Horton, Jim Reeves, George Jones, Tommy Tomlinson, and Lefty Frizzell … King recorded a few songs for Gotham Records though none were successful. In 1961, he became more serious about a musical career and signed with the Nashville division of Columbia Records. He struck immediately, cutting "Big River, Big Man," both a country top 10 and a small pop crossover success. He soon followed with "The Comancheros" inspired by the John Wayne film of the same name It was a top 10 country hit in late 1961 and crossed over into the popular chart". https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claude_King
And then he had the mammoth hit was “Wolverton Mountain”.
An album to follow was a no-brainer.
Whack on his three hits, throw in some originals and fill it out with covers.
It got to #80 which is respectable given how much effort was put in.
The surprising thing is how this, and others like it, hand so well together.
King had his style down pat, and had been playing for enough years to know his way around a tune so, sound wise the album is always going to sound good. What I like about his music around this time is its filmic qualities (you can see the narrative unfolding in your head as you listen to the tune) and its subtle crossover appeal.
The music is instantly familiar to a lot of early rockabilly and western rock n roll. The beat of his country led to rockabilly much like the other immortal storyteller Johnny Cash. In attitude and spirt, though, King wasn’t Cash. He was more like (the wonderful) Johnny Horton. King and Horton were contemporaries and (I gather) friends and King recorded an album of Horton songs in 1969 “I Remember Johnny Horton” (Horton was killed in car crash in 1960 at age 35).
Horton was at the time the king of the country storytellers. He had had four crossover hits in 1959-1960, “The Battle of New Orleans” (#1 pop and country), ‘Johnny Reb”, “Sink the Bismark”, “North to Alaska”.
King took over the space that was left open by his death though Johnny Cash starting off with his series of concept albums about America and his history would also occupy some of that space.
King never replicated that success in the charts of the early 60s though he did have a number of Top 10s, 20s and 40s in the country charts before they dried up altogether in the early 70s.
Country music is always a more complicated genre of music than it is given credit for and even when sung straight with crossover pop appeal there is always something in the lyric or the tune which makes it instantly identifiable.
King sings it straight (in his rich voice) and there is the Nashville slickness to the backing vocals and musical edges but I like that because I like the era. I also like the drama and the stories being told.
And, better still, you can sing along.
Tracks (best in italics)
- The Comancheros – (T. Franks) – magnificent. A sing a long narrative to the film.
- You're Breaking My Heart – (H. H. Melka) – an Ernest Tubb song from 1957. The usual familiar country themes.
- I'm Just Here To Get My Baby Out Of Jail – (R. Carter) – originally by pseudo brother act Karl & Harty from 1934. The song has been covered by everyone in country music. A great tune that resembles a Johnny Cash tune though it predates him in its original form.
- Give Me Your Love And I'll Give You Mine – (A. P. Carter) – A Carter Family song from the 1930s. Apparently in the 2000s when appearing live on one occasion King sang this song to his wife of over 50 years, Barbara Jean. A very romantic country song.
- Big River, Big Man – (G. Watson, M. Phillips) – a good song in the Johnny Horton style
- Sweet Lovin' – (C. Baum, T. Franks) –subsequently covered by country singer David Houston in 1969.
- Wolverton Mountain – (C. King, M. Kilgore) – The song is a rewrite of the original version by Merle Kilgore, which was based on a real character named Clifton Clowers who lived on Woolverton Mountain (the mountain's actual name) in Arkansas. It was actually about an uncle of Merle's that lived on the mountain. The song's storyline is about the narrator's desire for Clowers' daughter and his intention to climb the mountain and marry her. The song has been well covered: Jimmie Rodgers (1962), Roy Drusky (1962), Nat King Cole (1962), Frank Ifield (1963), Hugo Montenegro (1963), The Brothers Four (1963), Connie Francis & Hank Williams Jr (1964), Pat Boone (1965), Jerry Lee Lewis (1965), Bing Crosby (1965), Wayne Newton (1968), Louis Armstrong (1970), Hank Williams, Jr. with The Mike Curb Congregation (1970), Sir Doug & The Texas Tornados (1976), Conway Twitty (1977), Bill Haley & His Comets, Southern Culture on the Skids (2007), Sleepy LaBeef and many others. A great song. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolverton_Mountain
- Would You Care? – (A. Cole, T. Franks) – The usual country themes.
- Pistol Packin' Papa – (J. Rodgers, W. O'Neil) – The Jimmie Rodgers classic from 1930. Very Jimmie Rodgers, so very good!
- Little Bitty Heart – (C. King) – typical of the Nashville of the time. Sweet lyrics with gril voice backup.
- I Can't Get Over The Way You Got Over Me – (C. King) – a good country song of a broken relationship with a great title.
- I Backed Out – (T. Glaser) – very Nashville but quite catchy. A real sing a long song.
Modest but quite wonderful, and definitely enjoyable … I'm keeping it.
1961 Big River, Big Man #7 Country, #82 Pop
1961 The Comancheros #7 Country, #71 Pop
1962 Wolverton Mountain #1 Country, #6 Pop
You're Breaking My Heart
I'm Just Here To Get My Baby Out Of Jail
Give Me Your Love and I'll Give You Mine
Big River, Big Man
Would You Care?
Pistol Packin' Papa
Little Bitty Heart
I Can't Get Over The Way You Got Over Me
I Backed Out
- King was born February 5, 1923 in Keithville, Caddo Parish, Louisiana, USA. Died March 7, 2013 in Shreveport, Louisiana, USA.
- Tillman Franks (1920-2006) wrote or co-wrote a number of songs and also did the same with Johnny Horton.
- "Wolverton Mountain" spent nine weeks at the top of the country charts and peaked at number six on the pop charts.
- King acted in a couple of films in the 70s, the backwoods melodrama, “Swamp Girl" (1971) and the non-gore Herschell Gordon Lewis political melodrama “The Year of the Yahoo!” (1972).