GENTLY, GENTLY (Fred Hellerman, J.D. Loudermilk and Jean Shepard, R.I.P.)

While I was recuperating and catching up this month, three of the quiet giants of mid-twentieth century American music passed away. Each left behind a spouse of more than forty years (in Hellerman’s case, Ring Lardner’s granddaughter). Beyond that, I don’t know any more about them than what you can find on Wikipedia so I’ll follow their own leads and keep it short, to the point and focused on the music.

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Fred Hellerman: As harmony singer, arranger, songwriter, producer and guitarist, the glue in the Weavers, blacklisted fifties-era folkies who paved most of the road that led to the modern folk music movement which, being as much movement as music, was an inextricable part of any progress we may have made, then or since.

Bobbie Gentry (or, as I like to say, the Bobbie Gentry) recorded his best song and got everything there was to get…

…but no tribute to the last Weaver would be complete without this…

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J.D. Loudermilk: Something of an oddball folkie himself. As an eccentric songwriter, he hit the country and pop charts decade after decade and finally strung together a series of memorable vignettes–“Sittin’ In the Balcony,” “A Rose and a Baby Ruth,” “Abilene” “Indian Reservation,” “Break My Mind,” “Waterloo,” “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye,” “Tobacco Road”–as memorable as any short story writer’s. He covered the waterfront and then some.

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Jean Shepard: As hardcore a honky tonk singer as ever strode the Grand Ole Opry stage, and she strode it for sixty years, longer than any other woman. She made the transition to the Nashville Sound slowly but successfully in the sixties, then spent the rest of her life and career trying to keep the barbarians from the gates. And she may have been wrong about Olivia Newton-John, but she was right about Blake Shelton. His initials really are B.S. Good night grand lady.