Country Heritage: Jack Greene
Although I had listened to country music for many years and had occasionally been able to purchase a 45 rpm or two, the summer of 1968 was the first time I had a summer job and was able to purchase records on a regular basis. My place of work, the Beach Theater on Atlantic Avenue in Virginia Beach, was about a thirty second walk away from a record store that carried a good supply of country 45s. Although I quickly switched over to collecting albums, my first purchase that summer was the Jack Greene single “Love Takes Care of Me,” a song which remains one of my all-time favorites. In fact, I had the lyrics of the song memorized by the time I’d heard it twice.
Jack Greene was born on January 7, 1930, in Maryville, Tennessee. From there he moved to Atlanta where he performed for a number of years before moving to Nashville in 1959, where he formed his own band — The Tennessee Mountain Boys, serving as drummer and lead singer. Jack’s big break came in 1961 when his band opened for Ernest Tubb. Jack Drake, Ernest’s bass player and band leader, noticed Greene’s talents and auditioned him for the band (Greene told Tubb biographer Ronnie Pugh that his knowledge of diesel mechanics may have played into the hiring decision as well). For the next few years, he was a drummer, guitarist, vocalist, and front man for the Texas Troubadours.
Before long, he was playing guitar and singing as an opener for Tubb, who believed in promoting his band members’ careers; certain ones received occasional spots on his albums and he also had the band record several albums of their own on Decca. In 1964, Jack released his first solo record on Decca with “The Last Letter,” which was followed by “Don’t You Ever Get Tired of Hurtin’ Me” in 1965 (the Ray Price version, released at the same time received most of the radio spins). Jack’s first Top 40 hit came in early 1966 with “Ever Since My Baby Went Away.” Later that same year, while still a member of the Texas Troubadours, he released his career-making record with the Dallas Frazier composition “There Goes My Everything.”
To say it was just a hit would be understating it considerably. The song stayed on top of the Billboard country chart for 7 weeks and crossed over onto the pop charts. The album of the same name stayed #1 for 9 weeks. The song and the singer won single of the year, song of the year, male vocalist and album of the year awards at the First Annual Country Music Association awards in 1967, as well as numerous BMI, Billboard and Cash Box awards.
Jack, by now on his own as a solo performer, continued rolling in 1967 with another #1 record, “All The Time” (on top for 5 weeks), and a #2 hit (#1 on Cash Box) with “What Locks The Door.” He also became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1967.
In 1968, he enjoyed a #1 single with “What Locks The Door” and a #4 (#3 Cashbox) with “Love Takes Care of Me.” The year 1969 saw more of the same. “Until My Dreams Come True” and “Statue of A Fool” (possibly his best remembered song today) reached #1, and “Back In The Arms of Love” went to #4. It was that year he began a professional association with Jeannie Seely, which saw the release of a number of duet singles, and roughly a decade of joint stage shows. The first single, “Wish I Didn’t Have To Miss You,” was released in late 1969 and reached #1 on Record World, #2 on Billboard but only #9 on Cash Box.
In 1970, Jack recorded a song that I regard as his masterpiece — the Dallas Frazier penned “Lord Is That Me.” In retrospect, the song was a career killer. The hedonistic late ’60s to early ’70s saw radio stations shy away from music with overtly religious themes. Where Kristofferson’s 1973 hit “Why Me” was a very positive and uplifting song and can be appreciated in a secular context, “Lord Is That Me” is a song of despair and foreboding
I can see a long line of cars with their headlights on
I can see kinfolks cryin’ cause somebody’s gone
Then they gather around as they let the sinner men down
I can see an old preacher prayin’ there with a frown
Lord is that me, tell you bout this vision I see
Lord is that me, if it is have mercy have mercy on me
Many radio stations wouldn’t play the song, or would only play it if specifically requested by a caller.
Although Jack was coming off a run of nine consecutive top 4 records, after “Lord Is That Me” he never again had a top ten record. Even great songs like 1970’s “The Whole World Comes To Me,” 1971’s “There’s A Whole Lot About A Woman (A Man Don’t Know)” and 1973’s “I Need Somebody Bad” stalled outside the top ten. All three could have been top five records had they been recorded and released before “Lord Is That Me.” By the end of Jack’s Decca/MCA tenure he had charted twenty-nine times with seventeen records reaching the top twenty.
He left Decca/MCA after 1975, quit recording for a few years and then emerged on Frontline Records in 1980 where he had a few minor chart placements. In 1983-1984 he had a few more minor hits for Step One Records.
Since then, he has continued to record occasionally — mostly self-produced albums or for reissue/remake labels such as Gusto. His focus largely has been on gospel music and most of his gospel albums have been available on CD at one time or another. Jack, a lifelong Christian, had Dallas Frazier recast his biggest hit into “He Is My Everything” and often segues from “There Goes My Everything” into “He Is My Everything” in his live performances.
Now 81 years old, Jack still performs live (mostly on the Grand Ole Opry) and tours, although the touring has been greatly reduced in recent years. When he came to the Florida Sunshine Opry (Eustis, FL) as recently as 2008 he was still in very good voice. He has a website where you can catch up with him: http://www.jackgreeneopry.com/. His newest album is available for sale there, as well as a thousand-plus photographs for your viewing enjoyment.
Decca / MCA released 11 solo country Jack Greene albums, plus a Greatest Hits collection, a gospel album and two duet albums with Jeannie Seely. All, of course, are out of print. The albums follow the usual pattern for the time issued — one or two hit singles, some covers of other peoples’ hits and some filler. In Jack’s case, it leans heavier on the covers of others’ hits and less filler.
MCA also issued a sampler on the Vocalion label titled The Last Letter. All tracks are album tracks from Jack’s various Decca/MCA albums except the title track, which appears for the first time on a Jack Greene album. Leading country music historian Hugh Cherry once described “The Last Letter” as the greatest country song ever written. I’m not sure that I agree, but it certainly is a great song and Jack’s version is the best version of the song I’ve ever heard.
I am aware of one album on the Frontline label — it covers all three of Jack’s low-charting singles for the label (“Devil’s Den”,” “Yours For The Taking” and “The Rock I’m Leaning On”). It finds Jack in fine voice as does the 1982 album on the 51 West label titled Time After Time. 51 West was part of the CBS/Columbia/Epic family and, to the best of my knowledge, none of the tracks were released as singles as they are all covers of other artists’ hits, such as “Miss Emily’s Picture” and “Nobody Likes Sad Songs”. It’s a good album though, and worth the hunt.
Like many country artists of the 1960s and 1970s, Jack Greene is poorly served on CD, or at least his secular music has been. Decca/MCA has released nothing at all aside from the occasional track on a multi-artist sampler. They have also licensed the use of a few of his tracks to organizations such as Time-Life.
The British label Edsel issued the best available (and probably only) collection of Jack’s Decca/MCA recordings. Titled Jolly Greene Giant, the set was issued in 1997 and includes twenty tracks. Inexplicably, they left off “Until My Dreams Come True,” one of Jack’s five Billboard #1s. Also missing is “Lord Is That Me,” which charted higher than several of the songs they included. Had Edsel included those two songs and “Last Letter,” they would have succeeded in assembling the ultimate Jack Greene collection.
Step One Records has issued Jack Greene Sings His Best, a collection of eleven songs. Originally available on vinyl and cassette, this was the only secular Jack Greene CD available for about a decade. It includes remakes of five of Jack’s biggest hits plus a recording of “The Last Letter” and several other non-charting songs. It’s worth having, but it’s not as good as the Decca/MCA recordings.
Jack self-issued a couple of CDs of random Decca/MCA tracks titled Lost Love and Love Songs that contain a few hits alongside album tracks.
Aside from some albums of remakes issued by the Gusto/Starday/Hollywood/Cindy Lou/Tee Vee group of labels, that was all that was available until a few months ago. Late last year however, Jack finally got around to issuing a new album — his first in many years. Titled Precious Memories, Treasured Friends, it features twelve tracks — ten duets with various friends, including George Jones, Merle Haggard, Jimmie Dickens, Vince Gill and others, plus solos of “Statue of A Fool” and “Walking The Floor Over You.” I’ve just ordered this album and will let you know what I think about it later.
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