Forgotten Artists: Gus Hardin (1945-1996)

Paul W. Dennis | October 14th, 2009

fa_gus-hardin

One of the more interesting singers of the 1980s was a female singer who went by the name Gus Hardin. While never a big star, she had one of the more distinctive female voices and enjoyed at least a modicum of recording success. Her voice was hard to describe, although some listeners said it reminded them of Bonnie Tyler, while others described it as ‘whisky-soaked.’ Perhaps a more accurate description would be that it was the sort of Blues/Rock/County/Gospel sound sometimes referred to as the ‘Tulsa Sound’ that later, appropriately enough, spawned Garth Brooks–appropriate in that Garth’s sister, Bettsy Smittle, sang backgound for Hardin.

I had the pleasure of seeing her perform only one time, at the Five Seasons Center (now U.S. Cellular Center) in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in early 1984, a few weeks after the University of Miami’s stunning victory over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl for their first National Championship. Because the show was a package put on by a local radio station, none of the acts were able to put on a full set (Jim Glaser was also on the bill). I regret that I never had an opportunity to see her again.

Biographical information on Gus Hardin is fairly sketchy, although she is known to have been at least part Cherokee. She was born Carolyn Ann Blankenship on April 9, 1945 in Tulsa, Oklahoma and grew up in the Tulsa area, where she picked up the nickname “Gus” as a teen. After high school, she attended Tulsa University. Although she initially planned on being a teacher of the deaf, marriage, music and a pregnancy derailed that plan.

Hardin seemed to have a tumultuous personal life having been married at least six times, thrice by the time she was 23. Marriage number three was to keyboard player Steve Hardin who had previously played in Jody Miller’s band and later played for Glen Campbell (see Forgotten Artist article on Jody Miller). After their divorce, she retained the last name as her professional name.

She signed a recording contract with RCA during the early 1980s. Her first RCA single, “After The Last Good-Bye” was a Top 10 Country hit in 1983, and several other singles from her albums reached the Top 40 over the next few years. None of her solo efforts ever again reached the level of her first single. Although she was named ‘Top New Country Artist’ by Billboard magazine in 1983, it did not lead to great commercial success as her voice was ill-suited for the synthesizer-driven sound of the early to mid 1980s country music. A 1984 duet with fellow RCA recording artist Earl Thomas Conley, “All Tangled Up In Love” reached #8, but other than that, none of her subsequent records even reached the Top 25.

Gus Hardin won the “Best New Female Vocalist” award from the Academy of Country Music in 1984. It should be noted that the Academy of Country Music was much more oriented to west coast based artists during that period.

In all, Hardin charted 10 singles, the last occurring in early 1986 when “What We Gonna Do” peaked at #73. Although she charted over a four year period, all of her recordings for RCA were recorded within a span of less than two years. She released three albums on the RCA label for a total of 25 songs. After her chart career ended, she continued to perform regularly.

Gus Hardin died in a car crash on Highway 20 east of Claremore, Oklahoma on the way home from singing at a Sunset Grill in Tulsa, on February 17, 1996. She was survived by a daughter, Toni.

Singles

Year Single Peak
1983 “After the Last Goodbye” #10
1983 “If I Didn’t Love You” #26
1983 “Loving You Hurts” #32
1984 “Fallen Angel (Flying High Tonight)” #41
1984 “I Pass” #43
1984 “How Are You Spending My Nights” #52
1985 “All Tangled Up in Love” (w/ Earl Thomas Conley) #8
1985 “My Mind Is On You” #79
1985 “Just as Long as I Have You”(w/ Dave Loggins #72
1986 “What We Gonna Do” #73

Discography

CD
CD Baby has one CD of Gus Hardin’s material available titled I’m Dancing As Fast As I Can. I am not sure as to the source of the material–it includes a few of her chart hits but the song timings suggest that they are remakes. Still, it’s all that currently is available. CD Baby lets you preview some of the songs and Gus appears to have been in good voice when they were recorded.

Vinyl
Gus issued three albums on RCA:

  • Gus Hardin (1983) – a six track mini-LP
  • Fallen Angel (1984)
  • Wall of Tears (1984) – although this album has only eight tracks, this is what RCA was passing off as a full album in those days. During the vinyl era, RCA was always the industry leader in giving you less for your money.
  1. Mojo Bone
    October 14, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    “During the vinyl era, RCA was always the industry leader in giving you less for your money.” Or maybe they were cutting their records hotter, with more bass, and thereby taking up more of vinyl’s limited physical space-putting quality above quantity.

  2. Becky Hobbs
    October 14, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    Gus Hardin was the real deal. Big-voiced and big-hearted, an Oklahoma Cherokee sister. I will never forget her.

  3. Hard Times
    October 14, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    I still play my Gus Hardin albums and especially like the single “I Pass.”

    A shout-out to Becky Hobbs. Love your stuff, too!

  4. Sunny Stephens
    October 14, 2009 at 10:52 pm

    Like Becky said, Gus was big-hearted. A dear friend, there was never a time when she wasn’t there for me, like she was for so many people. She even sang at my dad’s funeral. Every time I hear “One Of The Boys” and “I’m Dancing As Fast As I Can” I think about how fitting those songs were, in relation to her life. What a precious soul she was. I was thinking of her this morning, not long before I saw this article. What a great reminder of her talent. The music-buying public may have forgotten her, but those who loved her have not. Thank you for remembering her today.

  5. Rick
    October 16, 2009 at 7:01 pm

    I remember awhile back when Gus was first mentioned here I just assumed she was a guy! (lol) So we have a boy named Sue and a gal named Gus! Hmm…

    I have to take exception to Mojo Bone’s contention that higher sound quality was part of the reason for fewer songs from RCA. This was the same company after all that issued the thin, flimsy “Dyna-warp” LP’s in the 1970’s that tended to sound like crap. I have an RCA pressed Bear Family LP from about 1981 that sounds fantastic with six to seven songs per side, so issuing an album with five or less songs per side (unless they were long songs) was just plain skimping!

    Its great to see some of Gus’s personal friends drop in and pay tribute, including the Beckaroo! This is the kind of thing that makes a blog something special and not just a source of information.

  6. Jeff
    December 23, 2009 at 1:26 am

    I used to listen to Gus Hardin back in the ’80s. In fact, I still have the tape with her # 43 single ” I Pass ” . I’d say her voice was somewhere along the lines of, oh say, Elizabeth Ashley or Lauren Bacall. It’s what used to be called, ” whiskey and soda ” . A very distinctive voice. She will be missed.

  7. Jonathan Jett
    December 28, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    She was truly amazing and have fond memories of Her TV appearances and listening to Her growing up in the 80’s! I had Her 3 lps put onto cd and still play the great catalog of Her songs on My ipod! She is truly missed and a great talent in history that is overlooked! Too bad someone hasn’t thought to put her stuff out and all unreleased tracks as well…

  8. Gary Brumley
    January 1, 2011 at 9:29 am

    Gus Hardin is a voice and woman I will never forget. I was inspired by the way she performed and she is missed. I met her when she was touring with Gordon Shryock . Thank you for having this site in memory of Gus Hardin
    Hi Beckaroo…Gary Brumley

  9. acer17MKWI
    November 6, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    need help to settle a bet!!

    Didn’t gus have a release on the song “The First Cut Is The Deepest”?, in t mid-eighties.

    The song wa wrtten by Cat Stevens & also relased by Sheryl Crowe

  10. Wanda Denise
    December 4, 2011 at 8:20 am

    I was wondering what happened to Gus. I heard her duet with Earl thomas Conley on XM radio one day and was surprised that I knew all the words, her accent and all! So i searched online and saw some things on youtube and saw that she died. I was heartbroken. That ruined my day. I never got the chance to meet her, or see her in concert but she sure was good! It’s too bad that she was killed the way she was. I hope the person responsible is paying dearly, and that her family is at peace now knowing she’s watching over them. R.I.P. to a wonderful singer!

  11. Wanda Denise
    December 4, 2011 at 8:22 am

    I wrote this poem in Gus’s honor. So I thought I’d share it with y’all..

    MY LIGHT
    WAS BRIEF,
    BUT FOR A
    MOMENT I
    WAS HERE-
    SENDING A
    MESSAGE FOR
    ALL TO HEAR-

    THE DAY
    I DIED,
    I LEFT YOU
    DROWNING IN
    MEMORIES, AND
    BROUGHT YOU TO
    WALL OF TEARS-

    MY LIGHT
    NOW IS LIKE THE
    NIGHIT LIGHTS,
    THE STARS SHINING
    BRIGHT- FROM WHAT I
    ONCE WAS, AS ONE OF
    THE BOYS TO MY LAST
    GOODBYE- MY MIND IS ON
    YOU, ALWAYS, BUT NOW
    I’M AN ANGEL DANCING
    AS FAST AS I CAN-

    FOR A MOMENT
    C 2011
    ALLEGRA

  12. Glinda Fox Willis
    February 19, 2012 at 7:03 am

    I remember Gus Harden as the big voice of the Tulsa
    Club scene. She could fill up a club as no other could. I remember when she won up & coming new comer and she made that video with her letting loose the dogs on her two timing lover – She said those dogs scared her so much. I remember I laughed and said, Gus I never thought you were afraid of anything. A great talent and good person is mised

  13. Constance Baiely
    June 11, 2012 at 6:33 am

    I miss Gus so much…Still looking for some Smokehouse Blues recordings online to show off her real talent.

    Hola Becky, I’m in Belize now, 2 hours north of SP. Can you believe this bartender from B’ville running a library now? Still writing my butt off, leaving it open source.

  14. James
    August 14, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    I have all 3 of Gus’s albums that she did for RCA. I always felt that RCA did not invest what they should have to promote her. She should have been more of a famous artist. Hello, to Becky Hobbs, how’s your “Oklahoma Heart?”

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