From Tobacco Road to the Broadway Strip: remembering John D. Loudermilk

P-20418/2_John D. Loudermilk in his studio, Southern Folklife Collection_UNC Chapel Hill

Loudermilk in the Studio, in Image Folder P-20418/1, JOHN D. LOUDERMILK COLLECTION (20418), SOUTHERN FOLKLIFE COLLECTION

John D. Loudermilk, Jr. composing, recording, and working in his project studio is how we like to remember the North Carolina born singer, songwriter, performer, and producer. We scanned the image above from the John D. Loudermilk Collection (20418)  after spending some time looking through the photographs documenting Loudermilk’s remarkable career in country and pop music. Loudermilk died on September 21 at his home in Tennessee at the age of 82.

P-20418/2_John D. Loudermilk in his studio, Southern Folklife Collection_UNC Chapel HillBorn and raised in Durham, and a cousin of Ira and Charlie Loudermilk (better known as the Louvin Brothers), John D. Loudermilk started his music career under the pseudonym Johnny Dee (the “D” in his name does not stand for anything). Loudermilk’s mother learned to play the guitar while serving as a missionary in Cherokee and taught her young son how to play so that he could join her with the Salvation Army band gatherings at Durham’s Five Points. By age 13, Loudermilk appeared weekly on the “Little Johnny Dee” radio show on WTIK singing country hits. After graduating from Durham High School in 1954, Loudermilk attended Campbell University and was known as an adept local musician performing with with a variety of different groups playing across popular music styles. He recorded novelty songs under the name of “Ebe Sneezer” with “The Epidemics,” Johnny Dee_45rpmsharpening his songwriting skills while finding a niche with sugary teen pop like  “A-plus in Love,” released on Colonial Records, a Chapel Hill label owned and operated by Orville B. Campbell. Loudermilk is backed by some of Colonial’s best session musicians, Asheboro’s Bluenotes with Joe Tanner on the Guitar,  

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1954 Durham High school graduation program, in Folder 250, John D. Loudermilk Collection (20418), Southern Folklife Collection

While working as a set painter at Durham television station WTVD, another rising country music star, George Hamilton IV, heard a sacharrine sweet pop number penned by Loudermilk, “A Rose and a Baby Ruth,” and recorded it for Colonial Records in 1956. The song was a hit for Hamilton and for Loudermilk, launching both of their careers.

Loudermilk continued to sing and record his own songs throughout his career; however, he is primarily known for his work as a songwriter. After scoring another hit in 1956 when Eddie Cochran sang Loudermilk’s tune “Sitting on the Balcony,” his musical path was set. In 1958, Loudermilk moved to Nashville, where he was hired as Chet Atkins’s assistant. After a brief period with Cedarwood Publishing, Loudermilk spent the 1960s writing for the publishing behemoth Acuff-Rose, founded by country star Roy Acuff and songwriter Fred Rose in 1942.

One of his most popular songs and a 1964 hit for British band the Nashville Teens, is the semi-autobiographical “Tobacco Road.” It has been recorded by a huge range of artist including Lou Rawls, Hank Williams Jr, David Lee Roth, Shawn Colvin, and many more. We particularly love thisunexpectedly funky 1978 version by Richie Lecea (SFC 45-5754)

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  Over 300 Loudermilk songs have been recorded by over 1,000 artists in the last 60 years. His song “Abilene” was another hit for George Hamilton IV in 1963 and became a country music staple. Listen to the recording by Sonny James with his Tennessee State Prison Band from a 1977 Columbia 45 rpm disc, call number 45-5543 in the Southern Folklife Collection:

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Another hit, “Indian Reservation,” originally recorded by Marvin Rainwater in 1959, the went to the top of the charts when released by Paul Revere and the Raiders in 1971. The song laments the forced removal of Native Americans from tribal lands to reservations and Loudermilk was honored with the first Cherokee Medal of Honor in 1999.

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 45 RPM discs from the JOHN D. LOUDERMILK COLLECTION (20418), SOUTHERN FOLKLIFE COLLECTION

During the 1960s and 1970s, Loudermilk became one of the most prolific of the Nashville songwriters; his songs were recorded by Roy Acuff Jr., Ernie Ashworth, Chet Atkins, Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, the Everly Brothers, Marianne Faithfull, George Hamilton IV, Stonewall Jackson, Robert Mitchum, the Nashville Teens, Paul Revere & the Raiders, Sue Thompson, Johnny Tillotson, Tracey Ullman, Bobby Vee, Porter Wagoner, and others.Here’s a favorite Chet Atkins tune, written by Loudermilk, from SFC 45-5570. 

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   Loudermilk was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Association International’s Hall of Fame in 1976. As a sign he had truly made it in country music, Loudermilk appeared on Hee Haw in 1981.

Hee Haw P-20418/2_John D. Loudermilk in his studio, Southern Folklife Collection_UNC Chapel Hill

In addition to maintaining his songwriting career, Loudermilk also actively supported folk and country music through his participation in folk festivals. He participated in a number of tours as part of Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project, an organization created by Anne Romaine and Bernice Johnson Reagon dedicated to presenting black and white traditional musicians together on stage. He produced albums by a number of artists recording traditional music, including a 1980 album by Chet Atkins and Doc Watson.

Throughout his career, Loudermilk also worked with young artists, providing opportunities to record as well as support of musicians he saw as unique. In 1966, he saw a young group called the Allman Joys, led by brothers Duane and Greg, perform at a small Nashville club called the Briar Patch. He invited the group to the studio to cut some sides, one of which “Spoonful” became a regional hit. P-20418/2_John D. Loudermilk and Duane Allman, Southern Folklife Collection_UNC Chapel Hill

Loudermilk and Duane Allman, from P20418/2_John D. Loudermilk Collection (20418), Southern FOlklife COllection, UnC Chapel Hill

with a telescope P-20418/2_John D. Loudermilk in his studio, Southern Folklife Collection_UNC Chapel HillAs the 1980s wore on, Loudermilk turned his attention to other interests including ethnomusicology and meteorology. The John D. Loudermilk collection (20418) includes papers, photographs, audio recordings, posters, and artifacts, including a paper dress with from 1957 with the Baby Ruth printed on the side. Papers consist of sheet music, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia, correspondence, and other printed materials. Besides those included in this post, photographs include images of John D. Loudermilk alone or with others, as well as a few images related to album covers. or venues at which Loudermilk made appearances. Audio recordings in the collection include 45s, 78s, LPs, acetate discs, 8-track tapes, cassette tapes, CDs, and a reel-to-reel tape.

While he moved to Nashville early in his career, Loudermilk always kept North Carolina close to his heart. We leave you with his celebration the trials and tribulations of life on I-40 from his 1965 album, John D. Loudermilk Sings a Collection of the Most Unusual Songs. Remember be careful out there out on Interstate 40, we’ll see you on the road. 

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George Hamilton IV “Behind the Iron Curtain”

"The International Ambassador of Country Music" (BILLBOARD MAGAZINE) in Red Square, Moscow, Soviet Union, March 1974.

“The International Ambassador of Country Music” (BILLBOARD MAGAZINE) in Red Square, Moscow, Soviet Union, March 1974.

Looking into the George Hamilton IV Collection (20410) recently, we were reminded that this month is the 42nd Anniversary of George Hamilton IV being the first performer to take American folk-country music “Behind The Iron Curtain.” His 1974 performances and lecture concerts at the Palace of Railway Workers and Moscow University were the first for an American country music performer. Other “first” performances on this tour were in Hungary, Poland, and in former Czechoslovakia, where Hamilton performed four sold-out Concerts for over 28,000 fans at the Sports Arena in Prague. It’s no surprise that later that year, Billboard Magazine began to refer to Hamilton as the “International Ambassador of Country Music.” He would eventually tour around the world, performing multiple times in Japan, South Africa, the former Soviet Union, and India. See this April 2, 1974 New York Times review of the Moscow performances on the George Hamiton IV “Folksy Music Festival” page here.
George Hamilton IV in Bangalore, India, 1986. P5034 in the George Hamilton IV Collection (20410), Southern Folklife Collection, UNC Chapel Hill

George Hamilton IV in Bangalore, India, 1986. P5034 in the George Hamilton IV Collection (20410), Southern Folklife Collection, UNC Chapel Hill

 

 

In memory of George Hamilton IV

20410_folder35_SFC_George Hamilton IV Collection, Southern Folklife Collection, UNC Chapel HillGeorge Hamilton IV with Mary Dabney Hamilton, Back cover of George Hamilton IV, souvenir book edited by Bob Powell, folder35, George Hamilton IV Collection (20410), Southern Folklife Collection, UNC Chapel Hill

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George Hamilton IV at Grandfather Mountain, 1973, P4985 in the George Hamilton IV Collection (20410)

We were saddened to hear that George Hamilton IV passed away on September 17, 2014. In memoriam of Mr. Hamilton, we pulled some items The George Hamilton IV Collection (20410) in the Southern Folklife Collection to highlight his remarkable career and contributions to the canon of Country music. A native son of North Carolina born and raised in Winston Salem, Hamilton started his singing career while a student at UNC Chapel Hill, recording for Orville Campbell’s Colonial Records. By the late 1950s, Hamilton had moved to Washington, D.C., and became a regular performer (with Patsy Cline, for a time) on Jimmy Dean’s “Town and Country Jamboree” show. He toured with Bobby Darin, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, and the Everly Brothers, along with many other well-known pop stars, and made numerous national television appearances.

20410_p4939_SFC005_George Hamilton IV Collection, Southern Folklife Collection, UNC Chapel HillGeorge Hamilton IV and Patsy Cline, P4939 in the George Hamilton IV Collection (20410), Southern Folklife Collection, UNC Chapel Hill

p4866 in the George Hamilton IV Collection (20410), Southern Folklife Collection, UNC Chapel HillHamilton became a teen pop sensation in 1956 with his recording of John D. Loudermilk’s tune “A Rose and a Baby Ruth,” but Hamilton’s heart was in country music and in 1959 he moved to Nashville, becoming a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1960. Listen to Hamilton’s performance of “A Rose and A Baby Ruth” from one of his first appearances on the Grand Ole Opry, introduced by the one and only Ernest Tubb. From open reel tape, FT12086 in the George Hamilton IV Collection (201410):

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Later that year, he began recording for RCA Records, having been signed by Chet Atkins. In 1963, John D. Loudermilk’s “Abilene” became a number-one hit for Hamilton on the country charts and reached the top 20 in pop.

20410_p4953_SFC001_George Hamilton IV Collection, Southern Folklife Collection, UNC Chapel HillChet Atkins, John D. Loudermilk, Bobby Moore, George Hamilton IV, P4953 in the George Hamilton IV Collection (20410), Southern Folklife Collection, UNC Chapel Hill

He toured Canada and across Europe, developing a devoted fan base. He would eventually tour around the world, performing multiple times in Japan, South Africa, the former Soviet Union, and India. His performance at Moscow University in 1974 was the first for an American country music performer. Other “first” performances on this tour were in Hungary, Poland, and Czechoslovakia. Later that year, Billboard Magazine began to refer to Hamilton as the “International Ambassador of Country Music.”

George Hamilton IV in Bangalore, India, 1986. P5034 in the George Hamilton IV Collection (20410), Southern Folklife Collection, UNC Chapel HillGeorge Hamilton IV in Bangalore, India, 1986. P5034 in the George Hamilton IV Collection (20410), Southern Folklife Collection, UNC Chapel Hill

Hamilton’s recording career highlights a mutual admiration for Canadian and European songwriters. In 1965, Hamilton was the first American singer to record a hit penned by Canadian songwriter Gordon Lightfoot and in 1967, he also became the first to record “Urge for Going,” a song by another Canadian songwriter, Joni Mitchell. In 1969, his first record of all Canadian music was released and he hosted a variety show on the CBC for six years.

George Hamilton IV and others on the set of Up Country at the Elizabethan Barn, early 1970s, P4821 in the George Hamilton IV Collection (20410), Southern Folklife Collection, UNC Chapel HillGeorge Hamilton IV on the set of “Up Country at the Elizabethan Barn,” early 1970s, PHOTO BY DOMINIC MCKENZIE P4821 in the George Hamilton IV Collection (20410),                    Southern Folklife Collection, UNC Chapel Hill

His long-standing involvement with the annual International Festival of Country Music, held at Wembley (UK) led to an association with the BBC where Hamilton hosted many programs–variety and documentary–that showcased country music.

George Hamilton IV, Rolf Harris, an unidentified woman, Frank Ifield, Olivia Newton-John, Slim Whitman, Miki & Griff, an unidentified man, and Mervyn Conn, at Wembley, 1974, b&w print, roughly 8x10, photo by Dominic McKenzie, P4920 in the George Hamilton IV Collection (20410), Southern Folklife Collection, UNC Chapel HillGeorge Hamilton IV, Rolf Harris, an unidentified woman, Frank Ifield, Olivia Newton-John, Slim Whitman, Miki & Griff, an unidentified man, and Mervyn Conn, at Wembley, 1974, b&w print, roughly 8×10, photo by Dominic McKenzie, P4920 in the George Hamilton IV Collection (20410), Southern Folklife Collection, UNC Chapel Hill

In 1971, Hamilton left Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry for Charlotte, N.C., to join the broadcasts of Arthur Smith’s country music televison show. He continued to work overseas while also maintaining a busy touring schedule in the United States

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                                                                    In the 1990s, he became involved with several musical theater and concert productions that featured the work of Patsy Cline, with Irish singer Sandy Kelly playing the title role. Hamilton has continued to record country, folk, and gospel albums, including two with his son, George Hamilton V . In 2006, he celebrated his 50th year as a recording artist, which included a special reception hosted in London by the United States Ambassador to Britain. Hamilton died on Wednesday at the age of 77. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite recordings by Hamilton,Break My Mind,” arranged by his longtime collaborator and fellow North Carolinian John D. Loudermilk, from Hamilton’s 1967 LP, Folksy, call number FC 17005.

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0410_folder35_SFC_001_George Hamilton IV Collection, Southern Folklife Collection, UNC Chapel HillGeorge Hamilton IV by Bud Powell, Folder 35 in the George Hamilton IV Collection (20410), Southern Folklife Collection, UNC Chapel Hill