Today’s Guest: Charley Pride, country music singer, “Just Between You and Me”
(I reviewed and interviewed country singer Charley Pride for this newspaper story published on July 15, 1985. — Bob Andelman)
While much of the world sat glued before television sets Saturday to watch rock ‘n’ roll music from the Live Aid concert, there were more than a few people who ventured out to see traditional country music performed in person.
Charley Pride brought his 20th anniversary show to Ruth Eckerd Hall for two shows on Saturday night. His steel guitar-based, simple southern melodies attracted a mature, appreciative crowd of people who couldn’t care less about a Led Zeppelin reunion.
FOR THE 900 folks in attendance at the first show, and more than 1,300 at the second, the personable, bubbly ‘Pride ran through about 75 minutes of his most popular ‘tunes, and a few new ones.
CHARLEY PRIDE podcast excerpt: “I didn’t come to (country music) to be the Jackie Robinson.”
If we can send a man to the moon, we can help a man down and the farm . . . America, America, who do we blame it on? That’s the way Pride began his first show, singing from backstage this a cappella excerpt from his new single, “Down on the Farm.”
But instead of launching into the song once he took the stage, Pride saved it for later on. Instead, he offered a rousing rendition of the classic “Mountain of Love,” followed by “Everyone Should Have One.”
When Pride returned to “Down on the Farm,” he suggested the song “will help my career . . . (and) become one of the most important songs I do.” With Pride’s ‘strong emotional appeal and the lyric’s vivid imagery, this song does rise above the rest of Pride’s material. Written by Troy Seals, John Greenebaum and Eddie Setser, “Down on the Farm” has the strength of Charlie Daniels’ tale for Vietnam Vets, “Still in Saigon” or Billy Joel’s steelworkers’ plaint, “Allentown. “
“I remember many a time when we’d work all year and my dad still didn’t have enough money to go and buy shoes for us,” Pride told, Country Music News, referring to “Down on the Farm.” The singer, who grew up on an Alabama farm picking cotton alongside seven brothers and three sisters, said “I can relate to each line of the song and what it’s saying.”
THE FIRST TIME the singer spoke to the audience, he greeted them with, “It’s good to be in Tarpon Springs . . .” to which many people shook their heads and laughed. “Oh . . . Dunedinl” Flustered, two members of the band took out a map and showed Pride he was in Clearwater. Silly as it sounds, the gag was kind of funny.
Pride then explained that he was limping around the stage because of surgery to remove glass fragments in his right foot. An avid golfer with his own annual tournament in Albuquerque, N.M., Pride said he had delayed the operation until recently so he could play in two celebrity pro-am golf tournaments. If it was painful, it was hard to tell because he only winced once.
Two songs about Mississippi – the ballad “I Ain’t Missin’ Mississippi” and the foot-stomper “Mississippi Cotton-Pickin’ Delta Town” – went over big, with the latter receiving one of the most robust rounds of applause all night. Other songs performed included. “You’re So Good When You’re Bad,” “Crystal Chandelier,” “San Antone,” “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” and a cover of “Stagger Lee.”
Most of the songs Pride performed were of the traditional country variety, long on steel guitar and measured drum parts. But a few, such as “Cry Baby, Cry,” had arrangements that were filled rather nicely by the smoky saxophone work of Waldo Weathers.
Weathers is the only black musician. in Pride’s eight-piece band. Usually, that would hardly be worth pointing out, except that Pride is the most prominent black artist in country music, and yet he carries a predominantly white support band. A recent announcement by the NAACP that it planned to pressure black pop artists like Michael Jackson, Diana Ross and Lionel Richie to hire more black employees in their organizations made Pride’s situation particularly curious.
“IN MY POSITION, I’m a bit different and unique,” Pride said in an interview after the concert. “How many black steel guitar players can you find to play traditional country music? . . . I think that has to be considered. If I went out to hire someone to fit my band just based on color – you wouldn’t have heard the kinds of sounds out there that you heard tonight. In my opinion, there aren’t that many black players that play (like that).
“It might evolve,” he continued. “I didn’t come into this music to be the Jackie Robinson,” Pride said; referring to the first black player to crash baseball’s color line almost 40 years ago.
Pride said there are few blacks in country music for the same reason there hasn’t been a black president and there have been few black senators. “. . . because of the practices we’ve had in our society. It’s going to take time. This is a WASP country, basically of European extraction. We’ve got a long way to go, don’t we? You find me a good black steel player and we’ll see how it goes.”