Forgotten Artists: David Houston (1935-1993)

Paul W. Dennis | April 29th, 2009

A person surveying the country music scene at the beginning of 1973 could be forgiven for thinking that David Houston was en route to a career that would culminate in eventual induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. His most recent single, “Good Things,” would reach #1 on Cashbox and complete a decade in which 13 of his singles topped one or more of the Billboard, Cashbox and/or Record World country charts. His 1966 hit, “Almost Persuaded,” was the biggest country hit of the decade (1966-75) and another 17 singles cracked the top 20.

Instead, Houston’s career would come to a screeching halt with only two more top 20 singles to follow.

Charles David Houston (December 9, 1935 – November 30, 1993) was born and died in Bossier City, Louisiana. Between those dates, he compiled a career worthy of his antecedents who include former Revolutionary War hero (and Virginia governor) “Lighthorse” Harry Lee, General Robert E. Lee and Texas hero Sam Houston. His godfather, 1920s pop singer Gene Austin (“My Blue Heaven”), co-owned an auto dealership with Houston’s father and took an active role in encouraging his musical career. Like Gene Austin, Houston was very much at home with pop music. Eventually, he came to the attention of Slim Whitman, who recorded his first session in 1955 and got him placed on Imperial Records. A spot on the Louisiana Hayride soon followed.

The contract with Imperial didn’t lead anywhere, nor did subsequent recording contracts with RCA and Atlanta based National Recording Corporation. Finally, in 1963, Tillman Franks, former manager of Johnny Horton and Claude King, pitched a song to Houston and got him on the Epic label. The song, “Mountain of Love” (not the same song that Johnny Rivers and Charley Pride recorded), rose to #2 on Billboard. After a couple of minor hits, Billy Sherrill took over Epic’s Nashville operations and provided Houston with a song he penned (with Glen Sutton) titled “Livin’ in a House Full of Love,” which hit #3 in late 1965.

In 1966, Sherill had Houston record a waltz that he and Glen Sutton had written as a possible B-side. It was a tale of a married man struggling (and succeeding) in fighting off temptation. “Almost Persuaded” jumped to #1 that August and spent nine weeks at the top of Billboard’s country chart and reached #24 on the pop chart (no record since 1966 has topped the country charts for as long a period). Aided by the piano signatures of Hargus ‘Pig’ Robbins, “Almost Persuaded” garnered two Grammy’s for Houston (Best Country & Western Recording and Best Country & Western Performance, Male) in 1967. The CMA Awards did not start until the next year so his biggest record went unrecognized by the CMA.

“Almost Persuaded” launched a string of hits that lasted through 1973 and created the template that Sherrill used on his future recordings with Tammy Wynette, George Jones and numerous other artists. Sometimes referred to as “country cocktails,” the Sherrill arrangements would come to dominate country music until the outlaw movement came to the fore in the mid ’70s. Such David Houston solo hits as “With One Exception” and “You Mean the World to Me” (1967); “Have a Little Faith” and “Already It’s Heaven” (1968); “Baby, Baby (I Know You’re a Lady)” (1970); and the 1967 duet of “My Elusive Dreams” with the then-largely unknown Tammy Wynette served to demonstrate how well the arrangements could work in the hands of an expressive singer. Along the way, Houston also provided Barbara Mandrell with her first major hit in “After Closing Time” (#6 in 1970).

Houston’s last top ten country hit came in 1974 with “Can’t You Feel It” and his contract with Epic expired at the end of 1976. The hits he had after that time were minor, and (except for a couple of singles on Electra in 1978-79) the labels to which he was signed became increasingly smaller. He last charted in April 1989 after racking up a total of 61 chart singles.

David Houston died of a brain aneurysm in Bossier City a few weeks before his 58th birthday.

Someone once asked me why Houston’s recording career dropped off so sharply after 1973. I don’t have any inside information on this but I suspect that several factors were at work:

  1. He had a high tenor that fell out of popular favor as the 1970s progressed. He could easily handle the Slim Whitman/Eddy Arnold/Kenny Roberts/Elton Britt songbook, meaning he could yodel and sing falsetto–talents not much in demand in the mainstream country music of the 1970s and certainly not staples of the “outlaw” movement that dominated country music in the mid and late ’70s.
  2. He was not a particularly compelling live performer. I saw him perform on three occasions from 1969 (in London) to 1971 and 1974 in the United States. None of the these live performances were particularly satisfactory: he seemed plagued by stage fright in ’69 and ’71 and in 1974 he seemed disinterested.
  3. At some point around 1978 he seemed to lose some of his vocal range.

Whatever the reason, his career did unravel after the early 1970s. Evenso, he left behind a magnificent catalog of great songs and albums on the Epic label–a catalog that pushed the boundaries of traditional country music without abandoning it. While Billy Sherrill’s later recordings with Tammy and George are better remembered, it is with the great David Houston recordings that Billy Sherrill and his “country cocktail” production reached their zenith.

Discography

Vinyl
Epic issued 18 LPs (including duet albums with Tammy Wynette and Barbara Mandrell) on David Houston plus two Greatest Hits albums and a World of David Houston two-album set. The albums follow the format of the time (one or two hit singles, some covers and some filler). If you like the songs, you’ll like the album. I like the pre-1971 albums better than the later efforts (more covers, less filler). Albums released on other labels are hit or miss affairs.

The Liberty, RCA and NRC recordings–usually found on multi-artist albums (if found at all) but also issued on 45 rpm singles–reveal an artist who has yet to find his niche.

The post-Epic albums, especially those recorded after 1982, either don’t feature Houston in good voice or find him dropping down some to accommodate the loss of range. Like many other artists of the period, Houston re-recorded his big hits for some of the smaller labels; however, there are some good performances on the non-Epic labels, some of which are more authentically country sounding than the Epic recordings. I particularly like the albums on the Excelcior label (no remakes) and the album David Houston Sings Texas Honky Tonk on the Delta Label. The latter album features the great Johnny Gimble on fiddle and dobro as Houston works his way through a collection of hard-core country classics and some new material. This album does feature a re-make of “Almost Persuaded,” but it’s a good one with an entirely different feel than the original hit.

CD
Like most 60s/70s country artists, David Houston has been poorly served on CD.

The Columbia/Sony labels have issued ten track hits collections on Houston which contains the original hits. These have been reissued under several titles on various Sony/Columbia affiliated labels (American Originals, Best of, Pure Country, etc) so check song selection before buying.

The crown jewel is The Best of David Houston issued by Collectors’ Choice Music in 1999. It contains 24 tracks–the 24 biggest hits, good sound and decent liner notes.

Next best is Almost Persuaded: The Very Best of David Houston on the Collectables label. This CD contains 16 tracks of original material.

Other available CDs are mostly re-makes so buy them only if they can be obtained cheaply. None of the Excelsior or Delta recordings seem to show up on CD and albums recorded after those seem to show extreme degradation of Houston’s once-soaring tenor.

1 Ping

  1. [...] about David Houston and his career, our buddy Paul Dennis has a nice overview of his career at the 9513 website. I urge you to check it [...]
  1. Paula_W
    April 29, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    Thanks for another great article Paul. :-)

  2. Razor X
    April 29, 2009 at 2:40 pm

    Great article. I didn’t realize that Houston’s reign at the top of the charts was so brief.

  3. merlefan46
    April 29, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    Houston’s Almost Persuaded gives me chills every time I hear it. Lefty’s ver is probably the best cover IMO. David should have been a bigger star.

  4. Rick
    April 29, 2009 at 7:25 pm

    Great article as usual Paul. I thoroughly enjoy reading these even if I have no interest in the artist’s music. I’m not usually a big fan of the male high tenor voice outside of the bluegrass or barbershop realms (Vince Gill being an exception). I have “Almost Persuaded” on a Time-Life 60′s country hits compilation and it just doesn’t do it for me. I feel kinda like the guy who wrote the script for the movie “Mars Attacks” where the helpless earthlings find that Slim Whitman’s music is lethal to the Martian invaders by causing their brains to explode…

  5. David Houston Jr.
    June 15, 2009 at 5:07 am

    Great article. Haven’t seen one about my dad like this in some time. I even learned something I didn’t know! It’s good to see some people still enjoy my father’s music. :)

  6. DAVID VALENTINO
    September 8, 2009 at 12:10 am

    DAVID HOUSTON JR.
    PLEASE CONTACT ME AT:
    david.valentino.@verizon.net
    OUR FAMILY HAS OWNED THE BRICKETTE LOUNGE FOR 45 YEARS
    ON DECEMBER 8, 1972
    MY FATHE BOOKED THE DAVID HOUSTON SHOW IN
    I WAS 16 YEARS OLD THEN . I RECORDED THE SHOW, THAT NIGHT ON REEL TO REEL. IT SOUNDS GREAT ! GIVE ME YOUR MAILING ADDRESS

    I CAN SEND YOU CD COPIES OF IT
    DAVID VALENTINO

  7. JD
    September 8, 2009 at 4:57 am

    DAVID VALENTINO:

    I WOULDN’T BE CHECKING MY E-MAIL ANYTIME SOON FOR A MESSAGE FROM HOUSTON…..

  8. DAVID VALENTINO
    September 8, 2009 at 11:06 am

    WHY IS THAT ?

  9. Lowell Green
    June 15, 2010 at 10:50 pm

    I am one of the “old school” fans of David Houston. I too was surprised at his decline but I have to admit…I thought he had the greatest voice of all at the time.He was my favorite even above your “Outlaw”singers!There were great times at Panther Hall in Fort Worth listening to this guy and yes the yodeling may have been going out of style but no one could do it better! I last saw him around 1970 and miss this singer more than I missed my new red ’69 Chevy Chevelle!

  10. Wes Bartlett
    February 12, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    I was,and still am, a great fan of David Houston. His bio seems to indicate a very private personality as I find it difficult to learn anything about him other than the above. Is David junior into music??
    I would love to hear from him.

  11. Paul W Dennis
    February 12, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    I received an e-mail from David Jr, thanking me for the article, but also indicating that he has never been a performer. David Jr works in the IT industry and is about 22 years old now, so he came along rather late in his father’s life.

    There is a fellow named David Houston who is in the music business and has a website, but he is completely unrelated to the country music star

  12. Cathy Kaufman
    September 1, 2011 at 10:41 pm

    If David Lewis is reading this, please get ahold of me. I use to travel with your dad and mom when they lived in Branson. You use to play with my son, Jimmy and son David. Your mom and I use to take you boys everywhere and on Saturday night we would listen to your dad at the Opry. He would say good night to each of us at the end of the show and tell your mom and I to be good. Do you remember the color of your dad’s vw bug? Get ahold of me, I would love to talk to you.

    Love, CATHY

  13. Tonie Guerra
    September 15, 2011 at 10:46 am

    Hey Lil David, how are u and your mom? I don’t think you will remember me, but i use to be your nanny when u was like 4 or5. me and my son Robert use to live with y’all. Please get back with me. I would love to talk to you and your mom. Ms. Cathy the vw color was blue. like pale blue, something like that. David please get with me soon!!!!!
    Love you both, Tonie

  14. Tonie Guerra
    September 15, 2011 at 11:22 am

    DAVID, I JUST FOUND OUT ABOUT YOUR MOM. I’M SO SORRY. I HAVE BEEN TRYING TO FIND YOU BOTH FOR YEARS. I’M SO SAD… R.I.P KATHIE I LOVE YOU!!!

  15. vic gross
    December 25, 2012 at 9:56 am

    I knew your grandfather Lewis. Your Dad had the best voice I think I have ever heard and your mother was a very pretty lady.
    Please start a website. I would love to see some pictures and hear some stories about your family.

Tagged In This Article

// // // //

Current Discussion

  • Janice Brooks: Peter Cooper needs an edit. Stringbean did not die in 1964.
  • Leeann: I can't contribute to this list, but I did think of Steve Earle and The Wire. It's not my …
  • Jeremy Dylan: That was a great episode of Monk. The "Georgia On My Mind" scene is just heartbreaking.
  • Juli Thanki: I think I'm the only person in the world who never got into "The Wire." Earle was on "SVU" a …
  • Jack Williams: Steve Earle on The Wire.
  • Leeann: I am very excited to hear collaborations between Ashley Monroe and Charlie Worsham!! It totally makes sense for themto collaborate. I …
  • Juli Thanki: You know it!
  • bob: The only one of these that I've seen before is the Columbo episode. As far as the future post on …
  • Arlene: I'm very happy that Compass Records will be releasing a tribute disc in which artists cover songs of Jean Ritchie …
  • Bobby P.: Thanks for the link to my one hit wonder article!

Recently Reviewed Albums

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