As many friends know, I was in Nashville just a short while ago and while I was there I got to see a lot of friends do some pretty amazing things. One of my biggest thrills was dining with my good friends Betty Amos and Judy Lee, followed by a whole afternoon of pickin’ and grinnin’ with Betty Amos w/ Judy and Jean!
Many country music fans know Betty from her early ‘50s stellar solo outings for Mercury Records ("Gotta Have Some Lovin’" being a personal favorite of mine) and by the mid-50s she was recording and performing with Bill Carlisle and the Carlisles. In the 1960s she went to record for Starday Records alongside her sister Jean (aka Stick) and best friend Judy where they made eight incredible singles including some of the earliest all-female bluegrass cuts ("Franklin County Moonshine") and were among the first women to sing about the truckin’ lifestyle ("18 Wheels A-Rollin’") to name just a few ("Cat and the Rat" is another personal fave). Many years ago I interviewed the gals about these recordings forThe Starday Story: The House That Country Music Built and we’ve stayed in touch over the years. Nowadays, whenever I’m in Nashville I love to meet up with them and last week was no different.
Over dinner we talked about all sorts of good stuff—marriage and country music (and how they can or can’t work), Betty’s brother-like relationship with Elvis Presley while they were on the Louisiana Hayride together, Betty’s expert marksmanship and hunting prowess, how Judy got her start making music with Tex Ritter, Judy's time playing doubleneck guitar alongside Joe Maphis, how all three gals survived their plane crash in Baffin Island (I knew bits and pieces of this story before, but I never knew that Judy’s Gretsch survived the crash as well!), how amazed people would get when they would see Betty singing and playing banjo at the same time (seriously, banjo rolls and singing don’t mix!), how Betty Amos with Judy & Jean got their Gretsch and Sho-Bud endorsements, how difficult it was at times being a touring woman in country music in the 1950s (and fending off unwanted advances from the likes of Werly Fairburn, Jimmy Martin, and others—but how many of the men in country music, such as Bill Carlisle and Josh Graves, always took on a protective role and looked out for Betty—it also helps that one of Betty’s five siblings taught her karate at an early age!), how one of Betty’s brothers played with Mac Wiseman for years, how Judy later got into softball and ended up in the National Senior Softball Hall of Fame, how Betty was inspired to write "Second Fiddle (To An Old Guitar)," the time they shared the Grand Ole Opry stage with Lester Flatt and Bill Monroe, how Judy came into owning Chet Atkins' old Viking guitar, and so much more… And of course I can’t retell these stories with any justice, as I can’t remember even half of the jokes and one-liners… I just know that they were hilarious (though I do recall asking Betty at one serious point in our conversation, ‘Man, didn’t you ever have fun?’ and she responded, ‘Well, I did, but I divorced him!’ Ha!) I just love hanging out with these incredible ladies!
After dinner we decided to head over to Judy’s house and bust out the instruments.
Judy with Chet Atkins' old Viking:
Betty Amos with my Harptone:
We were joined by Betty’s sister, Stick, and little did I know that we’d be pickin’ and grinnin’ for the next four hours! We played both kinds of music—country and western— and after a couple hours I couldn’t let the opportunity pass… I asked the ladies if I could record a couple songs and to my surprise, they said sure! Even more surprising, they were OK if I posted ‘em on the interwebs to share with y'all… I just love the results—informal pickin’ and grinnin’ at its best by three of my favorite ladies singing some of my favorite songs. And they still sound great together 50 years later (their first Starday recordings were in ’64)! Sadly, I had to put the guitar down to do the recording, but I had a blast pickin’ all day long and I can’t wait to do it again! Thanks again to Betty, Judy, and Jean (and also Sandy for taking some photos and hanging out with us all afternoon)! Hopefully y’all enjoy these videos as much as I do…
18 Wheels A-Rolling - In this clip they are recreating one of my Starday favorites, 18 Wheels A-Rollin' (originally done as a bluegrass tune). 45-692 (originally rec. December 1964) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pe114ndb5hI
Second Fiddle (To An Old Guitar) - In this clip Betty sings her song Second Fiddle (To An Old Guitar), which became a big hit for Jean Shepard. Judy and Betty even take turns yodeling at the end! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5jgApey4n0
Franklin County Moonshine - In this clip they are recreating a snippet of another of my Starday favorites, Franklin County Moonshine (also originally done as a bluegrass tune). 45-735 (originally rec. October 1965) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vtrlNTIbK4U
Fair and Tender Ladies - In this clip they are performing Fair and Tender Ladies with beautiful three-part harmonies. I know they had cut a demo of this back in the day, but I'm not sure if it was ever released... Beautiful song! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMPgmLcVmB8