Forgotten Artists: Tommy Overstreet
During the early 1970s the airwaves of country radio electrified listeners with the sound of “Gwen (Congratulations)” and “I Don’t Know You Anymore,” records that did not sound like anything else playing on radio at the time.
Tommy Overstreet was born September 10, 1937, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, but raised in Houston and Abilene, Texas. While growing up, he was always around music and was hugely influenced by a relative of his, Gene Austin, who was a major pop star during the 1920s, with one of his hits, “My Blue Heaven,” selling over 5 million copies. Austin, sometimes reported as being Overstreet’s uncle but was actually his third cousin, encouraged him in his musical endeavors.
During his teen years, he began performing pop music on radio stations in the Houston, TX area and appeared in a musical titled Hit the Road. While studying broadcasting at the University of Texas, he began playing in local clubs under the name Tommy Dean and toured frequently with Austin.
After time in the US Army, Overstreet moved to Los Angeles in the early ’60s to begin his songwriting (he has written over 500 songs) and recording career. He then returned to Texas and began appearing on the Abilene TV program The Slim Willet Show and formed his own group to play club dates and venues throughout western Texas.
His big break came in 1967 when he was hired to manage Dot Records in Nashville, TN. His connections at Dot enabled him to pursue his recording career. His first two Dot singles, issued in late 1969 and late 1970, barely made a dent, reaching #73 and #56, but in 1971 the third and fourth singles “Gwen (Congratulations)” and “I Don’t Know You Anymore” exploded on the scene both reaching #1 on Record World’s country charts (and becoming Top 5 records on Billboard and Cashbox). In 1972 Overstreet continued his streak with his biggest record “Ann (Don’t Go Runnin’)” (#2 Billboard/#1 Cashbox), “A Seed Before The Rose” only reached #16, then back into the Top 10 with 7 consecutive Top 10 singles, topped by “Heaven Is My Woman’s Love” (#3 Billboard/#1 Cashbox). Tommy’s last Top 10 occurred in 1977 when “Don’t Go City Girl on Me” reached #5; however, he continued to chart records until 1986.
Other Top 20 Records
- “Send Me No Roses” (#7 in 1973)
- “I’ll Never Break These Chains” (#7 in 1973)
- “(Jeannie Marie) You Were a Lady” (#7 in 1974)
- “If I Miss You Again Tonight” (#8 in 1974)
- “I’m a Believer” (#9 in 1975)
- “That’s When My Woman Begins” (#6 in 1976)
- “If Love was a Bottle of Wine” (#11 in 1976)
- “Yes, Ma’am” (#12 in 1978)
- “Fadin’ In, Fadin’ Out” (#11 in 1978)
Overstreet remains active as a concert performer and is still an occasional recording artist, including recording gospel music. His popularity in Europe continued long past his American success and he toured Europe many times over the years.
There were 12 Tommy Overstreet Albums issued by Dot/ABC and three on the Elektra label. All of these albums find Tommy in good voice; however, the albums seem to become less country as time progresses. I consider the Dot albums issued through 1975 as being substantially better than those that came later. After his runs with Dot and Elektra, Overstreet landed on minor labels where he either remade his earlier hits, or dipped back into the days of vaudeville for material such as his 1984 album Memories Old and New (Deja Vu DJV-137 1984).
Like many country artists of the 1970s, Tommy Overstreet is poorly represented on CD. In 1998 Varese issued The Best of Tommy Overstreet, which collects Tomnmy’s 16 biggest hits, in their original versions. Unfortunately, this CD has gone out of print and has been replaced with another, and inferior Varese CD Twenty Classic Hits, issued in 2008 and consisting of remakes.
The Ernest Tubb Record Shop has two other CDs available of Tommy’s secular material and a three CD set of religious songs. I do not know the sources of any of these discs–they may well be remakes.
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