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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Tomorrow (17 May) is the 15th anniversary of the death of Lawrence Welk, whose orchestra was for decades synonymous with turgid music of the sort that only Middle America could love and that rock'n'roll was in a hurry to try to abolish. He had 42 charting LPs.

Louis Armstrong said this about his sound: "He's too far in for me."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Gray,

that made me immediately think of these lines from Elijah Wald's book Escaping The Delta, p. 96/97:

"It has become a cliché of jazz history that Louis Armstrong's favourite band was Guy Lombardo's Royal Canadians, and in the early 1960s Chris Strachwitz was horrified to find that most of the rural musicians he recorded for his Arhoolie roots label, from blues singers to Tex-Mex bands and Louisiana zydeco outfits, were enthusiastic fans of Lawrence Welk. (Welk had a strong enough following among black listeners to reach the R & B top ten in 1961, with the harpsichord-led "Calcutta". The world is not a simple place.)"

Best wishes

8:33 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is unrelated to Louis, but I just wanted to say I appreciate the fact that you seem to like and respect Ricky Nelson. To me, he's always been a bit underrated:

"There's a place where lovers go to cry their troubles away . . ."

I think there's definitely a bit of Buddy about him and that's as high as my praise can get.

12:36 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Dear Lost Chords
Thank you for that. I haven't read Elijah's book yet, though he and I have exchanged a number of e-mails down the years, and he's been helpful to my work.

His comments suggest that I was too hasty in assuming that only Middle America could have loved the Welk sound. Though clearly Louis Armstrong didn't.

But I'm not among those who find it shocking that blues musicians enjoyed music other than blues, and often included mainstream pop in their repertoires. Blind Willie McTell's own "last session" included a version (still unissued) of 'My Blue Heaven'. Those old musicians who, unlike Willie, survived to be rediscovered and plonked onto coffee-house stages during the Folk Revival were of course frowned upon when they attempted these forays into The Wrong Sort Of Repertoire.

BTW, it's also true that the records of Jim Reeves have always been extremely popular in black Africa.

None of which makes me want to hear Welk's "R&B hit" 'Calcutta' ever again.

3:28 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Dear Barry
Thanks for the comment. Yes, there was a time when none of us were supposed to like Ricky Nelson. I've written (in Song & Dance Man III, I expect) that Bob Dylan only owned up to liking Elvis Presley, and then only by implication, in 1969... but in general of course Dylan was exemplary in challenging all that hip snobbery - not least in turning to country music - and by the time of his Chronicles Volume One he was able to write the beautifully-expressed small tribute to Ricky Nelson that I quote at the end of the entry on Nelson in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia (pp482-484).

3:39 pm  
Blogger Chus said...

This is what I think: The Lawrence Welk Show

1:03 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a quick note with regard to a small error in your entry on Willie Nelson in the Encylopedia.

You state there that he wrote 'Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.' However, this was, in fact, written by Fred Rose (see

Also, I would argue that Merle Haggard deserves to be regarded as the best c & w songwriter since Hank Williams, but that is a personal opinion...

12:33 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Further to the above, you also state that Nelson wrote "Mamas Dont Let Your Babies Grow up to be Cowboys'. On the Nelson 'Greatest Hits' I have here it is credited to E. Bruce & P. Bruce, whoever they are.

11:55 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re. Willie Nelson:

You also seems to suggest in his entry that he wrote "Always on My Mind.'

In fact, it was written by Johnny Christopher, Mark James and Wayne Carson Thompson and originally recorded by Brenda Lee.

I would argue that Willie's best days as a songwriter were before he became a performer himself. It was then that he wrote classics like 'Crazy' and "Funny How Time Slips Away'.

What he became subsequently was a supreme interpreter of other people's songs. In this sense, you could say 'Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain' is HIS song, as his version of it is.perhaps, the best ever done.

However, for consistency as a songwriter I think Merle Haggard is a more important figure than Willie. In my view, he is a worthy successor to Jimmie Rogers and Hank Williams.

11:00 pm  

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