Country Heritage: Jack Greene

Paul W. Dennis | April 13th, 2011

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

Chorus
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.

Discography

Vinyl

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.

CD

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.

  1. PaulaW
    April 13, 2011 at 8:26 am

    I always love these articles. And Jack Greene is one of my favorites.

    I had the pleasure of seeing him a couple of years ago at the Troubador Theater. He only did a couple of songs, but his voice was in fine form. His eyesight though is apparently not good; someone walked with him out to center stage, and then came back to get him when he finished. It seemed to me to be a sight issue, rather than a mobility issue.

  2. MR. ROBERTS
    April 13, 2011 at 10:34 am

    Thanks for this post. You did Jack justice. His voice still has an amazing quality in his later years.

  3. TX music jim
    April 13, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    Heard on a visit to the opry to a rousing rendetion of “statue of a fool”. He nailed it. Great article.

  4. Lewis
    April 13, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    I have an album with The Texas Troubadours called “Country Dance Time” which features both Jack and Cal Smith singing a couple of songs apiece with Jack singing “Another Bridge To Burn” and a version of Don Gibson’s “What About Me”. I know that the album is probably from 1964 or so but I don’t know how many albums the group made together especially those in which Jack and Cal appeared on.

    Another question is why MCA did not release an album that contained “I Need Somebody Bad”, “It’s Time We Crossed That Bridge”, “The Fool I’ve Been Today”, “Sing For The Good Times” and “He Little Thinged Her Right Out Of Her Arms” and only releasing them as singles between 1973 and 1975 with the last two songs in 1974 and 1975 just barely making the charts while the first two songs mentioned made the Top 20 with I Need Somebody Bad reaching #11 in 1973 and Bridge reaching #13 in 1974. Was there a disagreement with Jack and MCA Records where someone said something and quickly Jack was off of MCA Records? Was there an attempt to update his music so to speak? Lots of questions about when Decca Records became MCA Records in 1973 and virtually no promotion of Jack with an album containing those songs but the high placements of the first two songs should have been worthy of an album.

  5. luckyoldsun
    April 13, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    The only time I ever really heard of Jack Greene was when Ricky Van Shelton had a big hit with “Statue of a Fool”–and it was mentioned that it was a remake.
    I didn’t know he had as many hits as he had. Someone should have issued a full 20-song CD on him back in the ’90s or early ’00s, when record labels used to do that sort of thing (before the record stores went belly-up).

  6. Rick
    April 13, 2011 at 8:30 pm

    Can’t say I’ve ever been much of a Jack Greene fan although this article was as interesting as usual! Good job as always Paul.

    A few years ago Jack used to tour with a pretty young gal named Candi Carpenter but I don’t know if he still does. Candi has a voice and style perfectly suited to a theater in Branson if Jack were ever to decide to perform there on a regular basis…

  7. Ken Johnson
    April 14, 2011 at 11:00 am

    First of all, great article Paul. A fitting tribute to one of country music’s greatest voices.

    Though Jack’s unfortunate decline in radio/chart popularity can be traced to the “Lord Is That Me?” single, I believe that other factors were at play. Obviously the lyrics and message of “Lord Is That Me” are quite powerful but also rather depressing. Though I was a big Jack Greene fan at the time that single was released, the excessively sad tone and unusual melody did not hold up to repeated listening for me as did Jack’s earlier singles. In addition the record timed out to more than 4 minutes in an era when most country singles ran 2:30 to 3:00. The coupling of those two issues surely worked against it at the radio level.

    In the early 1970′s country music was experiencing something similar to what is happening now. A youth movement of new, younger performers was capturing the interest of long-time fans and also bringing new, younger listeners to the format. Lynn Anderson, Charley Pride, Glen Campbell, Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings, Barbara Mandrell, Billy “Crash” Craddock, Freddy Weller & Anne Murray among others were registering numerous country hits. Jack Greene turned 40 in 1970 but he looked more like one of country music’s elder statesman rather than a fresh newcomer. Apparently the powers in charge of Decca records also sensed this change and began to shift their promotional muscle to acts like Conway & Loretta. As good as Jack’s early 70′s singles were they just didn’t compete in the rapidly evolving country music marketplace. It’s unfortunate because Jack’s vocals were never better at that time.

    Lewis – my guess is that due to Jack’s declining single performance Decca/MCA decided against issuing LP’s to cover the singles you mentioned. There may have been come contractual issues at play. Occasionally an artist will make demands of their record label that exceeds their current level of popularity. Lots of possibilities in this area. Perhaps one day Jack will write a book that will tell the true story.

    I too wonder why Jack’s wonderful Decca/MCA recordings are not readily available today. The folks at Universal Music Group appear to have an across the board bias against reissuing their vintage country catalog. Many 1950 & 60′s Decca country acts have been severely underserved domestically.

  8. Mike
    April 23, 2011 at 10:46 pm

    My first and for many years only Jack Greene LP was his “Greatest Hits”. I actually bought it for “Statue Of A Fool”, but quickly became enamored with “Love Takes Care Of Me”, which by this time (early ’80′s), had been forgotten by the local radio stations, so I had not previously heard it. What a great song! I’m also in the camp of those who find it amazing that his singles of the 70′s didn’t do better; there was some really good music, there. On the other hand, had there been computer tracking of spins, like there is now, perhaps they would have. Having been in radio, I’ve heard many a story about how the charts were manipulated to help some records, usually at the request of record promoters. So, who knows, they might really have been more popular than what the actual chart peaks indicate.

Tagged In This Article

// // // // //

Current Discussion

  • Leeann: I was disappointed to read JTE's take on country music too. I agree with the part about current country music, …
  • luckyoldsun: Someone should do a feature on the current "next generation" sons-of-superstar country artists--Hank III, Shooter Jennings, Bobby Bare Jr., Dean …
  • Jack: Not impressed by Justin Townes Earle's low view of country music.
  • nm: Does anyone know whatever became of the album that Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer were going to do together?
  • luckyoldsun: I'm not surprised. Artists who can't get seem to get a satisfactory deal with a commercial label always say how …
  • Jack Williams: I'm a little surprised to hear of Shelby Lynne signing with another label, even if it is Rounder. She …
  • A.B.: THREE new albums from Sturgill next year?! I'm excited for that!
  • Keith Samuels: I can't wait to listen to the entire recording. What a treasure.
  • numberonecountryfan: She did say the version of “How Do I Live” is the “country” version which was previously released to radio …
  • bll: I'm happy for any new music from Trisha. I hope MCA doesn't decide to repackage her old stuff and release …

Recently Reviewed Albums

  • duhksbeyondtheblue
  • kelleymickwee
  • sandrarhodes
  • candi staton
  • sturgillsimpsonmetamodern
  • raypricebeautyis
  • rodneycrowelltarpapersky
  • rhondavincentonlyme