Red Foley (1910-1968) was one of the greats of the early country music industry. A radio personality in the 1930s and '40s, Foley became a central member of the early Grand Ole Opry programs, and was one of the biggest-selling country artists of the '40s and '50s. Like many performers of his generation, he was a versatile showman, equally comfortable singing rollicking blues, sentimental ballads, topical songs, or heartfelt gospel. In the early 1950s, Foley was a pioneer of the uptempo "hillbilly boogie" style, an important wellspring for the first burst of rock'n'roll music; in later years he almost exclusively recorded gospel and slower, more traditional ballads. Here's a quick look at this true country legend...
Red Foley "Country Music Hall Of Fame Series" (MCA, 1991)
A tasty sampler of Foley's best years, from 1944-1953, when the pop-oriented country crooner took over the role of emcee on the Grand Ole Opry. This disc is mercifully light on the gospel schmaltz which later would become the main focus of his career, including instead tracks like the un-PC but catchy-as-all-getout "Tennesee Saturday Night," duets with Ernest Tubb and Kitty Wells, and "The Sugarfoot Rag," with hot picking by guitarist Hank Garland. A nice slice of Nashville history.
Red Foley "Hillbilly Fever In The Ozarks" (Bronco Buster)
So, here's the big secret: despite the acres of tepid pop-gospel albums he recorded in the 'Fifties and 'Sixties, Foley was actually a GREAT country singer way back when he was starting out. When struggling to remember when Foley was fun, most folks can only conjure the politically dodgy (but super-catchy) "Tennessee Saturday Night", which is indeed a great song, but only the tip of tale... This CD collects some great radio transcription performances , recorded with a crack band featuring guitarists Grady Martin and Jimmy Selph, along with Bud Isaacs on steel amd Tommy Jackson playing fiddle. 1954-55 is a little late in the game for Foley, but this CD sticks strictly to the hillbilly rhythm style, and leaves the slushy pop stuff where it belongs. Highly recommended! Also check out the Hillbilly & Western Rhythm disc below, which features a bunch of rare, early studio recordings on the Decca label.
Red Foley "Hillbilly & Western Rhythm" (Bronco Buster)
More great stuff from Red Foley's late-'40s heyday. This CD reissues twenty tracks from Red's prime postwar recordings on the Decca label, as well as a few transcription recordings made during the War. Foley's pop potential is readily apparent: he has a smooth voice that never wavers or strains, and a mellow approach that stands at odds with the rowdy joshing-around that other country stars strived for at the time. He also had a way of singing a novelty sone so that it sounded like a weeper, and a sense of how to play around the beat that helped subtly accentuate the bouncy rhythms, much like Bing Crosby, the king crooner of the day. Unfortunately, this last knack was what Foley really lost when he embraced the Nashville Sound -- his sense of bounce and his sense of style. So if you want to check out an Opry star before he lost his edge, check this out.
Red Foley "Old Shep -- The Red Foley Recordings: 1933-1950" (Bear Family, 2006)
This 6-CD box set digs extraordinarily deep into Foley's early years, compiling all of his recordings up through 1950, including a ton of stuff that has never been reissued since it first came out decades ago... Plenty of prime material for fans to chew on for years to come.
Red Foley "Sugarfoot Rag" (Bear Family, 2006)
A more compact reading of Foley's work, from the ever-amazing folks at Bear family. In the 1940s and early '50s, Red Foley was at his commercial peak, specializing in romping, rollicking, upbeat tunes, bluesy numbers and hillbilly boogie novelty songs, along with a slower honkytonk number here and there, and a gospel tune or two. This disc is a first-rate collection of his peak years, a 30-track smorgasbord with some stuff that'll be familiar to fans of true-blue hillbilly music, as well as quite a few surprises. There is, of course, his big hit, "Tennessee Saturday Night," which is explicitly racist, but still one hell of a fun, catchy tune, as well as the lively "Sugarfoot Rag," the song that cemented guitarist Hank Garland's reputation as one of Nashville's leading session men in the 1950s. There are plenty of stylistically repetitive boogie tunes and a few lame covers of songs that were hits for other artists, such as his poppy version of "Night Train To Memphis," sung as a duet with Roberta Lee. Then there are the pleasant surprises, such as the blistering rockabilly cooptations that start and finish this disc, particularly his version of "Crazy Little Guitar Man," which again featured Garland at the helm... There's also the surprisingly soulful, rich harmony vocals of "A Wonderful Time Up There," a gospel tune featuring Zeb Turner and the "Log Cabin Quartet," drawn from Foley's first backup band in the 1940s. Foley's duets with R&B legend Cecil Gant are a revelation: Foley loved to ham it up with a faux-black vocal cadence; hearing him actually sing alongside an established blues singer (rather than just cop his style) is interesting... It's not either of their best work, but it ain't bad, and it lends some weight to Foley's cred as a blues singer. By the start of the '60s, Foley had pretty much run out of creative juice, and he was never able to find his footing in the slick production style of post-hillbilly Nashville... But these early recordings show how dynamic and versatile he was, tackling a wide range of material, some of it awesome, some of it lame... It's about as good an introduction to his work as you're ever likely to find. Recommended.
Red Foley "Stay A Little Longer" (Jasmine, 2000)
Red Foley "Chatanoogie Shoeshine Boy: 1944-1953" (Edsel, 2002)
Red Foley "Chatanoogie Shoeshine Boy" (ASV, 2002)
Same title... and a lot of the same great music!
Red Foley "Tater Pie" (BACM, 2005)
(Available through the British Archive of Country Music website.)
Red Foley "Yodeling Radio Joe" (BACM, 2005)
Red Foley "Sings Gospel" (BACM, 2005)
Red Foley "Red Foley Souvenir Album" (Decca, 1951/1956) (LP)
Presumably that's Old Shep himself on the cover...? Originally a 10" EP, this 1951 collection was expanded in '56 to meet the new full-length LP format. Great stuff... a nice sampling of Foley's early commercial hits.
Red Foley "Beyond The Sunset" (Decca, 1956) (LP)
Likewise, this LP built on an earlier EP, Lift Up Your Voice, and added some tracks from singles to make it the first (of many) Red Foley gospel albums.
Red Foley & Ernest Tubb "Red And Ernie" (Decca, 1956) (LP)
And again, two EPs, combined into one album... This features several comedic duets, with Foley and Tubb doin' the dozens, ribbing each other on various subjects. It's kind of a weird formula, but it's fun, and also interesting to hear the ever-dour ET loosen up a bit...
Red Foley "He Walks With Thee" (Decca, 1958) (LP)
Red Foley "My Keepsake Album" (Decca, 1958) (LP)
Red Foley "Let's All Sing With Red Foley" (Decca, 1959) (LP)
Red Foley "Company's Comin' " (Decca, 1961) (LP)
Red Foley "Songs Of Devotion" (Decca, 1961) (LP)
Red Foley/Various Artists "The Red Foley Show" (Decca, 1963) (LP)
Red Foley "The Red Foley Story" (Decca, 1964)
A nice, solid 2-LP set covering his major hits and sentimental favorites... In re-recorded '60s stereo versions, which to my mind makes this a "new" album, despite being presented as a "best-of" set. This was also reissued as a 2-LP set on MCA, a decade later.
Red Foley "I'm Bound For The Kingdom" (Decca, 1965) (LP)
Red Foley "Songs Everybody Knows" (Decca, 1965) (LP)
Red Foley "Songs For The Soul" (Decca, 1967) (LP)
Red Foley & Kitty Wells "Together Again" (Decca, 1967) (LP)
Red Foley "I Believe" (Decca-Vocalion, 1969) (LP)
With the Anita Kerr Singers...
Red Foley "The Old Master" (Decca, 1969)
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