(9 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)
I am assuming that tomorrow will not be the end of the world, as the Camping followers believe, so did not write about The Who for the last time tonight. This piece proves the point that I do not always write about things that I really like. This was not really a bad band, but in my opinion were not that important creatively. Some, perhaps many, will beg to differ me, and that is fine. I do not really dislike them, but they would not make it into my “stranded on a desert isle” box of music.
They actually had quite a few hits that charted well, a TeeVee show, and of course laid the groundwork for the later solo career of Kenny Rogers. He moved towards country and out of rock later, and this post only includes treatment of The First Edition material.
One of the reasons that I thought to write this piece is that I live only around a mile from where Reuben James was lynched. He was an actual historical figure, lynched for stealing horses. The tragic thing is that he really did not steal them, he “borrowed” them to plow a sick man’s field and by all accounts intended to return them.
Started in 1967, the band featured these personnel. I can not find much biographical information about some of them, so if you know some missing pieces, please add them in the comments.
Lead singer and bass: Kenny Rogers Kenneth Ray Rogers (born 19380821 and still with us) in Houston. Sometimes his middle name is represented as Donald.
Vocals and guitar: Terry Williams, and I have been unable to find much else about him.
Drums: Mickey Jones (born 19410610 and also still with us) also in Houston. He came highly credentialed, having drummed for Dylan in 1966.
Vocals: Thelma Camacho, and I have been unable to find much else about her.
Guitar and backing vocals: Mike Settle (born 19410310, and also still with us) from Tulsa. He had formerly been a member of The New Christy Minstrels.
The First Edition had only five Billboard Top 20 singles, and I shall restrict this discussion to them, frankly because I am not as familiar with their material as I am with some others. Readers are encouraged to fill in any blanks that I have left.
Their first big (and the top charting single that they ever released) was the 1968 Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In). Written by Mickey Newbury, the Nashville based “hippie cowboy” writer sort of changed traditional country sound. This song is really pretty overproduced, but is an icon. Here we go. This is a very nice video of the two label variants of the original Reprise Records 45s, and a professional DJ type player.
Here is a video of they performing it, from some unknown source. I believe that it is lip synched.
Sort of a far cry from The Gambler!
Their next Top 20 hit was the actually pretty nice But You Know I Love You. This was a Settle song, the first Top 20 of theirs written by the band, and it charted at #19. Here is another video of the original Reprise Records 45:
And them synching it on the seminal Smothers’ Brothers Comedy Hour (and I MUST do a piece about that soon). The sound is not as good as just above, but it does show them moving about some.
After that, Camacho was given the sack for not showing up for work. She was almost replaced by, of all people, Karen Carpenter! That did not happen, but as it turns out Camacho’s roommate, Mary Arnold. I could find no biographical information on her.
This lineup produced the second highest song that they charted, at #6, in 1969. Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town was written by Mel Tillis, the famous country artist. This video is from the Reprise Records LP of the same name.
Here is a true live one, not synched, from 1972 on the very day that I turned 15 years old.
Obviously this song had a significant antiwar background, and that is sort of surprising considering that Tillis, a country performer, wrote it. However, it does show how deeply the opposition to our incursion in Viet Nam had penetrated even into some of the most conservative areas of society.
I do not often wax political in this series, but one would have thought that we would have learnt after Viet Nam. But, as Belushi used to say, NOOOOOOOOOOOOO! What will it take to convince our country that invasion of other nations is rarely (but sometimes the only way) a good way of influencing foreign affairs. Back to the narrative now.
It was then that he beginning of the end happened. They renamed themselves from The First Edition to Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, and the resentment began. Can you what would have happened if Kit Lambert had decided to call my favorite band Pete Townshend and The Who? I can assure you that there would have been a revolt, complete with fisticuffs (especially from Daltrey), and the end of that band would have been immediate. See how seamlessly I worked a reference to The Who here?
Now, let us recap for a minute. Of the three Top 20 hits, only one was written by a member of the band. That member is now subordinate to Kenny Rogers. Resentment is certain.
I said earlier that I would only cover their Top 20 hits, but since the original idea for this piece had to do with the real Reuben James, I think it to be appropriate that I include it as well, even though it only charted at #26 in 1969. It was written by Barry Etris, so still another fairly big hit that was not written by any one connected with the band. Here is Reuben James:
This sounds like the original studio version. I always liked that song, and it is ironic that a 12 year old kid from Hackett, Arkansas would end up living only a mile from the place of his death. It is indeed a small world. There is controversy about whether his first name is spelt “Reuben” or “Rubin”. I think that the former is more nearly correct.
Here is a much later, live version. I do not think that it is nearly as good as the studio one, but I do like live material.
About that time, the only member of the band who had written a song that made the Top 20 left, ostensibly to work to save his marriage. Perhaps that was part or even a major portion of his decision, but I think that resentment played a larger part. He was replaced by Kin Vassy (19430816 - 19940623), who had a different style. Now only three of the original five members remained.
That also coincided with their second to last Top 20 hit, Something’s Burning. This was really pretty over the top for radio in 1970, but FM was up and coming and little molested by authorities, who were still concentrating on AM. Written by the pretty much otherwise useless Mac Davis, it charted at #11! Here is the studio version, played on a wonderful player that I can not identify. Any help would be appreciated.
Actually, I find this song hauntingly beautiful. Note how Rogers’ skill on bass had improved over the few years. Of all of their songs, this is by far my favorite.
Here is a live (I think that it might really be live) version from the BBC show Top of the Pops from 19700226. The sound quality is not great, but again, they are moving about somewhat.
Than about that time, it happened. It being that someone decided to give them a TeeVee show, as they were fading, but that was not known at the time. Rollin’ on the River came into being late in 1971, and it was really not that bad to watch, but pretty much sealed the demise of the band. I use Wikipedia as one of my many research resources, and actually I agree with the author this time (I rarely do for most culture posts) that now the band were not really serious artists, but TeeVee stars. By the way, Wikipedia is both praised and damned by many, including me. Take it for what it is: free information that may or may not be correct. It is a good first lead, but please NEVER rely on what is posted there without third party verification.
The program was pretty successful, largely because it featured folks not often seen on TeeVee (The Smothers Brothers’ Comedy Hour had been cancelled due to their resistance to censorship from CBS), and Dick Clark was just, well, so Dick Clark (although I will give him credit for featuring Little Richard, Melanie, and Mungo Jerry (about whom I did a piece as one of the first of this series) on American Bandstand.
Their last Top 20 hit, Tell It All Brother, had charted at #17 the year before. I remember the song pretty well. Written by Alex Harvey, it was also not a creation of the band. Here is my take: they were pretty good performers, but were not really creative. Some might find that a harsh thing to say, but I stand by it. Elvis Presley, as far as I can determine, has a SINGLE writing credit, for reworking a couple of phrases on Don’t be Cruel, so that does not mean that performers who merely use writers’ work are not without value. However, compare The First Edition with bands like The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Who, and several others who wrote most of their own material (although they did excellent covers of other songs). Here is the song. Once again, from the Reprise Records 45. I could not find a live version.
Let me put it to you in another way. Virgil Fox is a brilliant performer, specializing in playing Bach on pipe organs and advanced electronic devices that have a similar sound. How many of you have ever heard of Virgil Fox, one of the virtuosos in playing music? I daresay very few. Now, how many of you have ever heard of Bach, who wrote music? I daresay almost everyone. I rest my case.
They never charted in the Top 20 after that, but the TeeVee show ran for a while
Some say that this record was part of a new phase for Rogers, but I am not sure that I agree. He has always seemed to me to be more of a performer than a creative force. That is not always a bad thing, since interpreting others’ creations can be a creative experience in itself. I hope that no one thinks that this is a “hit piece” on the band, because it is not. They did what they did well, but were never the coherent (and often pugnacious) ones like the ones mentioned about that will be remembered for centuries, if we do not destroy ourselves.
Thank you for reading and listening (some of those tunes are really good), and especially for commenting. Since tips, recs, and comments are the mothers’ milk for us unpaid writers, please be generous with them even if you disagree. I am happy to discuss your thoughts in the comment section.
Tomorrow, I am on tap for What’s for Dinner?, the wonderful and enduring regular feature at Dailykos.com, and it is about Obscure Kitchen Chemistry. It posts at 7:30 PM Eastern, if all goes well. Please come and read and comment. Sunday, Pique the Geek, one my own regular series will expand on Kossack hopeful‘s piece about Lyme Disease. That contributor did an excellent job in the piece recently, but I shall have a more Geeky look at it, and please do not think that I am taking away anything from hopeful, just a different slant.