When You Sing Upon a Star
Since it's the weekend, I thought I'd give you a brief respite from The Wizard of Oz and return to the world o' the Statler Brothers. There still are a few of their great "list songs" I haven't had a chance to bring up yet.
Of all the list songs that the Statlers recorded, this is probably the funniest. It's called, "How to Be a Country Music Star," and runs through a long list of country stars and notes what made each of them unique. As far as I recall, the song had its premiere at the Country Music Awards, and got such a wonderful reception in the auditorium that it was released as a single and became a #7 hit.
While it does help to know country music a bit to get the full humor of the song, many of the people mentioned are famous enough that they'll be familiar. ("You've got to learn to sing like Waylon" -- Jennings, of course. Or "Get a headband like Willie" Nelson,) Ultimately, though, even if you don't know the people, the point of the song is clear ("Play 5-string like Earl" -- that's banjo legend Earl Scruggs), and so is the good-natured humor.."Learn to stutter like M-Mel" (Mel Tillis had a beautiful singing voice, but stuttered when he spoke between songs, which he made a comic part of his act.)
When reading comments on YouTube from people, my favorite ones are the discussion about the line, "Get a gimmick like Charley Pride got." A few people wonder what that "gimmick" was -- and some other suggest that maybe it's possible the Statler Brothers are perhaps referring to the fact that Charley Pride was black.
Er, guys...yes, That's The Joke!! And one of the funniest jokes I've ever heard in a country music song. Charley Pride not only was the first black country music star, but I have a feeling he may still be the only one even up to today. (In fact, it was such a negative at the time that for his first two albums the record company didn't even have a picture of him anywhere on the album cover, so as not to risk turning off the country music fans before they accepted him for his voice. It wasn't until his third album that the public found out.) That was the "gimmick" he came up with. I always burst out at the line, no matter how often I've heard it. I particularly love the subtly and how they just off-handedly toss away the quip A couple people actually discuss whether this is a somewhat racist thing to say, and you just want to scream, "No, you are fools!! It's not only a joke, and an affectionate joke, and a pointed joke about how few blacks there are in country music, but it's a hilariously witty joke. Guys, seriously, just step back a moment and think: you don't simply decide to come up with a 'gimmick' to be black. That's the joke!)
For a while, the performance that introduced the song at the CMA Awards was online, and I embedded it here. Unfortunately it's no longer available, but this TV performance is a good replacement, and happily also features Lew DeWitt who wrote the song (he's the fellow below on the right) and who passed away too early in 1990.
4/13/2014 12:26:53 am
Robert, stumbled across the blog when I was refreshing my memory about Odetta with David Letterman after 9/11. I'm also a big trad country fan, so when I saw this post about the Statlers, I clicked on it - only to find that you've conflated two of the most immortal names in bluegrass, Earl Scruggs and Bill Monroe! Earl played 5-string banjo (most famously, for Bill as part of the Blue Grass Boys), so it's Earl _Scruggs_ that the Statlers are name-checking in the song. Bill (aka The Father of Bluegrass) played mandolin - even more importantly, the mandolin has 8, not 5, strings. So, now you know.
4/13/2014 09:51:27 am
Dear JSpence -- Yipes! You're of course absolutely right, thanks for the correction. Where my conflation of Earl Scruggs and Bill Monroe into Earl Monroe came from makes this even more bizarre -- "Earl Monroe" was a famous basketball player on the New York Knicks, Earl the Pearl. That's why the name *seemed* right to me. I've since corrected it in the article. Thanks, again. And thanks for stumbling here. (I even think I remember seeing that number on Letterman.)
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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