Kitty Wells Portrait Muriel Ellen Deason, aka Kitty Wells (1919-2012) was country music's first female superstar. Wells started singing professionally in the 1930s, and along with countless other hillbilly singers she slogged away in a series of radio shows and concert performances. She married singer Johnny Wright in 1937, and was his musical partner over the decades, at first in a trio along with her sister, and then as the "girl" singer accompanying Wright and his partner Jack Anglin, appended to their duo act, Johnnie & Jack, and later -- when her fame eclipsed his -- as his host in the Kitty Wells road show.

Her breakout hit was the 1952 proto-feminist classic, "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," a bolt from the blue that came in reply to Hank Thompson's scornful "Wild Side Of Life," a song that blamed women as temptresses who lured men into a life of sin. Wells fired back on behalf of her gender, with a scathing "answer song" that shot to the top of the charts -- the first time a solo female artist had a #1 song in the Country charts. Wells opened the floodgates, and was the forerunner of all the female country hitmakers who came in her wake; she remained a major star for much of the 'Fifties and 'Sixties, even though her style of sentimental weepers and moralistic heartsongs started to sound out of date as the lavish "countrypolitan" style took hold of the Nashville charts.

In 1963, Jack Anglin died, and Johnny Wright went on as a solo performer -- over the years he and Wells toured together extensively, sometimes with their children as part of the family band. Their son Bobby and daughter Ruby both pursued moderately successful solo careers, recording for varous labels. Like many of the hillbilly stars of her generation, Wells was unceremoniously dropped in the early 'Seventies by the MCA label (formerly Decca Records) and her career, which had been faltering for several years, more or less came to an end. She continued to tour for decades and make regular appearances, but her albums fell out of print, and a generation of country fans had to scrabble to find her old records.

Kitty Wells is, admittedly, an acquired taste. My wife still leaves the room every time I put any Wells records on, mumbling something about fingernails on a chalkboard... But there's also a tremendous depth to Wells' work, an unreconstructed, old-fashioned country sensibility that still rings true after all these years... She was the real deal and her recordings include a wealth of classic material. So here's a quick look at the work of one of the biggest stars in the 1950s country scene. (Note: it may take me a while to review some of these old records, so bear with me as I fill in the blanks...)




CD Discography

Kitty Wells "The Queen Of Country Music: 1949-1958" (Bear Family, 1992)
A decade's worth of prime honkytonk material, generously packed into a lavish 4-CD set. It's probably more Wells than all but the most diehard fan needs to hear, but if you are one of those fans, this is a goldmine. Really, this is the set I'd recommend, just because it has so many unexpected pleasures and half-forgotten gems on it, one odd, wonderful sentimental song after another... Plus it has the trademark fine Bear Family sound quality and a big booklet with extensive discographical and biographical information... A real class act!


Kitty Wells "Country Music Hall Of Fame Series" (MCA, 1991)
I'm actually pretty partial to this single-disc best-of, which has sixteen of Wells' finest vintage recordings on it. The CMHF series marked MCA's first step away from years of neglect of its historic Decca country catalog, and each of the volumes in this series are superior collections of prime, vintage material. Offhand, I'd say this is the perfect introduction to Kitty Wells' work... it's one that I've hung onto for years. Highly recommended.


Kitty Wells "God's Honky Tonk Angel: The First Queen Of Country Music" (Edsel, 2000)
This single-disc English import has a lot of tasty stuff on it -- twenty-five Top Ten hits, and all the major Kitty Wells songs most folk'd want to hear. The Bear Family box listed above digs deeper and has a lot of other gems, but this may be the more affordable (and musically accessible) option for the average fan. Highly recommended!


Kitty Wells "Millennium Collection" (MCA-Universal, 2002)
A somewhat stingy cheapo reissue set that does serve as an adequate introduction to Wells' work, but also leaves much to be desired. It's okay, at least as far as the content in concerned, but weighing in at ten songs, may leave something to be desired when lined up next to more generously programmed discs. It's okay, but skimpy.


Johnnie And Jack "...With Kitty Wells at KWKH" (Bear Family, 1994)
These late '40s radio transcriptions are filled with fiddle breakdowns and corny stage patter, and sound unglamourous compared to the melodic 'Fifties hits Johnny and Jack are best known for... Johnnie Wright's wife, Kitty Wells, sings several Molly O'Day-ish old-timey ballads; her phenomenal success as top-ranking honkytonk star are still several years away. This may be a bit too stark for the casual listener, but it does give a nice sense of what these old radio shows were like.


Kitty Wells "Dust On The Bible: Kitty Wells Sings Her Gospel Hits" (King, 2004)
Wells certainly contributed her fair share to the world of country gospel music, and this disc is a nice 10-song sampling of that material. It has the same title as her 1959 LP, Dust On The Bible, but is an assortment of tracks from different albums.


Kitty Wells "Dust On The Bible" (Decca, 1959)
This, on the other hand, appears to be a straight reissue of the 1959 album, with all the songs included, programmed in the same order as the original release. Yay. There's a full review of the album below...


Kitty Wells "Country Hit Parade/Winner Of Your Heart" (Hux, 2011)
A fab reissue of the first two LPs by country singer Kitty Wells, Country Hit Parade, from 1956 and Winner Of Your Heart, from 1957. These are both excellent records, pure, true country music bridging the then-new honkytonk style with an older, more sentimental rural ballad sound. Wells was famous as the first woman to top the country charts, with her devastating cheating song, "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," which hit #1 in 1952. Like many classic country stars, Wells had recorded dozens of hits before long-playing records (LPs) became popular, so "Honky Tonk Angels" is included here as well as "Poison In Your Heart," "Release Me" and "Making Believe." It's great stuff. Wells later became an icon of the Nashville establishment, and her albums became smoother-sounding and more staid, but here in the early years there's a rawness just under the surface that's like catnip to fans of old-school twang. A lot of these songs can be heard on the numerous best-of sets out there, but I think there's something nice about listening to the whole album, the way it was programmed back when it originally came out - there are songs that've gotten left behind and a sense of continuity that decade-spanning compilations might leave out. Personally, I think a twofer like this is a great way to go.


Kitty Wells "The Queen Of Country Music" (Delta, 1992)
This ten-song CD is not a reissue of the 1962 album by the same name. Completely different songs, and I'm not sure if these are vintage recordings or not...


Kitty Wells "I'll Be All Smiles Tonight" (BACM, 2005)
Rarer recordings, available from the collector-ific British Archive of Country Music website...


Kitty Wells "Country Hit Parade/Winner Of Your Heart" (Hux, 2011)
A fab reissue of the first two LPs by country singer Kitty Wells, Country Hit Parade, from 1956 and Winner Of Your Heart, from 1957. These are both excellent records, pure, true country music bridging the then-new honkytonk style with an older, more sentimental rural ballad sound. Like many classic country stars, Wells had recorded dozens of hits before long-playing records (LPs) became popular, so "Honky Tonk Angels" is included here as well as "Poison In Your Heart," "Release Me" and "Making Believe." It's great stuff. Wells later became an icon of the Nashville establishment, and her albums became smoother-sounding and more staid, but here in the early years there's a rawness just under the surface that's like catnip to fans of old-school twang. A lot of these songs can be heard on the numerous best-of sets out there, but I think there's something nice about listening to the whole album, the way it was programmed back when it originally came out - there are songs that've gotten left behind and a sense of continuity that decade-spanning compilations might leave out. Personally, I think a twofer like this is a great way to go.




Albums

Kitty Wells "Country Hit Parade" (Decca, 1956)


Kitty Wells "Winner Of Your Heart" (Decca, 1957) (*)


Kitty Wells "Lonely Street" (Decca, 1958) (*)


Kitty Wells "Dust On The Bible" (Decca, 1959) (*)


Kitty Wells "After Dark" (Decca, 1959)


Kitty Wells "Kitty's Choice" (Decca, 1960) [DL-8979] (*)


Kitty Wells "Country Hit Parade" (Decca, 1961) [DL-4075] (*)


Kitty Wells "Golden Favorites" (Decca, 1961) [DL-4108]


Kitty Wells & Red Foley "Golden Favorites" (Decca, 1961) [DL-4109] (*)


Kitty Wells "Heartbreak USA" (Decca, 1961) [DL-4141] (*)


Kitty Wells "The Queen Of Country Music" (Decca, 1962) [DL-4197]


Kitty Wells "Singing On Sunday" (Decca, 1962) [DL-4270] (*)


Kitty Wells "Christmas Day" (Decca, 1962) [DL-4349]


Kitty Wells "Especially For You" (Decca, 1964) [DL-74493] (*)


Kitty Wells "Country Music Time" (Decca, 1964) [DL-74554] (*)


Kitty Wells "Burning Memories" (Decca, 1965) [DL-74612] (*)


Kitty Wells "Lonesome Sad And Blue" (Decca, 1965) [DL-74658] (*)


The Kitty Wells Family "Gospel Sing" (Decca, 1965) [DL-74679]


Kitty Wells "Kitty Wells" (Vocalion, 1966) [VL-73786] (*)


Kitty Wells "Songs Made Famous By Jim Reeves" (Decca, 1966) [DL-74741] (*)
Wells pays tribute to the legacy of the late country crooner, Gentleman Jim. I ditched my copy years ago, but as I recall it was kind of flat and unexciting, both in terms of the studio production and the performances. Guess that's not too surprising.


Kitty Wells "Country All The Way" (Decca, 1966) [DL-74776] (*)
Hey, nobody ever doubted you...!


Kitty Wells/Various Artists "The Kitty Wells Show" (Decca, 1966) [DL-74831] (*)
With Bill Phillips, Bobby Wright and Johnny Wright.


Kitty Wells "Love Makes The World Go Around" (Decca, 1967) [DL-74857]
Yeah, but money greases the wheels...


Kitty Wells & Red Foley "Together Again" (Decca, 1967) [DL-74906] (*)


Kitty Wells "The Queen Of Honkytonk Street" (Decca, 1967) [DL-74929]


Kitty Wells "Showcase" (Decca, 1968) [DL-74961]


Kitty Wells & Johnny Wright "We'll Stick Together" (Decca, 1968) [DL-75026]


Kitty Wells "Cream Of Country Hits" (Decca, 1968) [DL-75067]


Kitty Wells "Country Heart" (Decca, 1969) [VL-73875]


Kitty Wells "Guilty Street" (Decca, 1969) [DL-75098]


Kitty Wells "A Bouquet Of Country Hits" (Decca, 1970) [DL-75164]


Kitty Wells "Singing 'Em Country" (Decca, 1970) [DL-75221]


Kitty Wells "Your Love Is On The Way" (Decca, 1970) [DL-75245]


Kitty Wells "They're Stepping All Over My Heart" (Decca, 1971) [DL-75277]


Kitty Wells "Pledging My Love" (Decca, 1971) [DL-75313]


Kitty Wells & Johnny Wright "Heartwarming Gospel Songs" (Decca, 1972) [DL-75325]


Kitty Wells "Sincerely" (Decca, 1972) [DL-75350] (*)


Kitty Wells "I've Got Yesterday" (Decca, 1972) [DL-75382]


Kitty Wells "Yours Truly" (MCA, 1973) [MCA-330]


Kitty Wells "Forever Young" (Capricorn, 1975) (*)




Best-Ofs

Kitty Wells "The Kitty Wells Story" (Decca, 1963) [DSX-7174] (*)
A fine 2-LP set covering her career to date, and one of the standard-issue best-ofs for many years... I'm not sure if -- as was the case with the Webb Pierce collection that came out at the same time -- these are stereo re-recordings of older material, or the original versions. If I figure it out, I'll letcha know.


Kitty Wells "Greatest Hits" (Decca, 1968) [DL-75001]
This single-disc set replaced the Story collection listed above, and sure, enough, it has some pretty good stuff on it. Probably not enough to satisfy your appetite, once you get the Kitty Wells bug, but not a bad set, really.


Kitty Wells "Golden Years" (Rounder, 1982)
As they often did in the reissue-blighted, pre-digital era, Rounder Records picked up the slack for the majors and put out this tasty set of classic Kitty Wells oldies, an album that sampled both her secular and gospel material, and really got the emotional tone of her moralistic, old-timey sensibility down right. Highly recommended, although the subsequent CD best-ofs that have come out do render this album superfluous.




Links






Hick Music Index



Copyright owned by Slipcue.Com.  All Rights Reserved.  
Unauthorized use, reproduction or translation is prohibited.