release date: March 14, 2006
- Bubbles in My Beer
- Not That I Care
- Take Me In Your Arms and Hold Me
- Don’t be Ashamed of your Age
- You Don’t Know Me
- Sugar Moon
- I Don’t Care
- Cherokee Maiden
- The Warm Red Wine
- Miss Molly
- Dusty Skies
- It’s All Your Fault
- I Was Just Walkin’ Out The Door
Ms. Walker pronounces Mr. Nelson’s latest CD “wonderful.” While she was not directly involved, the disc does feature a number of her peers. The fiddler Johnny Gimble, credited as session leader, played with Wills’s band for many years, in addition to frequent stints with Mr. Nelson. Fred Foster is a close friend of Ms. Walker’s who produced Roy Orbison’s hit version of her “Dream Baby,” as well as her sole LP, the 1964 “Words and Music.” His arrangements on “Songs of Cindy Walker,” which include backing vocals by the Jordanaires, are retro but clean-lined, with a modern use of space.
by Will Hermes
March 13, 2006
At this point, Willie Nelson is a national monument. One of country music’s most fertile songwriters, tireless performers and distinctive vocal interpreters, he is also a longtime ambassador between red and blue states of mind; he has been pals with presidents, allegedly smoked marijuana on the White House roof (and just about everywhere else), founded Farm Aid to assist family farms and recently launched his own biodiesel fuel company.
And Mr. Nelson has made dozens of records and this year he’s on a roll. In addition to campaigning for hurricane relief and the usual endless touring, he has released ” in light of the media attention surrounding the hit film “Brokeback Mountain” a touching version of Ned Sublette’s gay cowboy homage “Cowboys Are Frequently Secretly (Fond of Each Other)” as an exclusive single on iTunes. And this month, Mr. Nelson, 72, will release a record of pop and country classics titled “Songs of Cindy Walker.”
So much for the lethargy of pot smokers.
In addition to being a tremendously likable, laid-back set of classics with jaunty, western swing-flavored arrangements by the veteran Nashville producer Fred Foster, “Songs of Cindy Walker” spotlights another monument of American music, one who might have been forgotten had she ever been properly known in the first place. Ms. Walker, who lives and works in the small East Texas town of Mexia, is a prolific songwriter whose works have been covered by Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, Ernest Tubb, Roy Orbison and many others. Her tunes ” including “You Don’t Know Me,” “Dream Baby,” “In the Misty Moonlight,” “I Don’t Care” made regular appearances on the top 10 charts beginning in the 1940’s and are still covered today.
With hundreds of recorded songs to her credit, she is known as the dean of Texas songwriting and is generally considered the foremost female composer in country music history; in fact, the late Harlan Howard called her “the greatest living songwriter of country music” and he had some claim to that title himself.
“Her work as a writer, spanning so many decades, and still getting things cut, is unparalleled,” said Eddie Stubbs, country music historian and announcer for the Grand Ole Opry broadcasts on WSM-AM in Nashville. “A lot of the songs she wrote have become standards, although people may not know Cindy Walker wrote them.”
A good example of her direct, finely chiseled art is “You Don’t Know Me.” A hit for Eddy Arnold in 1956, Ray Charles in 1962 and Mickey Gilley in 1981, it was re-recorded by Mr. Charles with Norah Jones for 2004’s best-selling “Genius Loves Company,” and is the lead single for Mr. Nelson’s record. It telegraphs the silent longing of a man for a female friend:
You give your hand to me and then you say hello
And I can hardly speak my heart is beating so
And anyone could tell you think you know me well
But you don’t know me.
Some of Ms. Walker’s best-known songs â€” “Miss Molly,” “Cherokee Maiden,” “Sugar Moon” â” were written for Bob Wills, a fellow East Texan and master of the country-jazz hybrid known as western swing. In fact, she wrote more than 50 songs for Mr. Wills, the Texas Playboys bandleader.
“Wills was a big hero of mine,” Mr. Nelson said by telephone from his tour bus before a show near Fresno, Calif. “And Cindy is from Mexia, Tex., which is only a few miles from Abbott, where I was born and grew up. I didn’t know her personally in those days, but I was well familiar with her writing. I told her years ago I wanted to do an album of her songs; she’d probably given up on me.”
She hadn’t, but she was hardly holding her breath ” she was too busy writing. Ms. Walker began writing songs when she was around 12, and until a recent stretch of ill health, she never stopped. Each morning, she woke up before dawn, poured herself some black coffee, headed upstairs to her little studio, sat down at her pink-trimmed Royal typewriter (which graces the cover of Mr. Nelson’s CD) and set to work.
“Songwriting is all I ever did, love,” Ms. Walker said in an interview last month from her home. “I still can’t cook, to this day!”
She has been in the music game for a while. As a young woman visiting Los Angeles in 1940 with her father, Aubrey (a cotton buyer), and mother, Oree, she talked her way into what was the Crosby building on Sunset Strip in an attempt to show her suitcase of songs to Bing. When she got an on-the-spot audition with his brother, Larry Crosby, she ran to get Oree, her lifelong piano accompanist.
“Mama said: ‘Are you crazy, girl? Don’t you know I’m not goin’ anywhere with my hair not fixed? It’s up in rollers!’ And I said, ‘I don’t care what it’s in ” You c’mon with me!’ ” With Oree at the piano, she sang a song called “Lone Star Trail,” which Crosby recorded later that year. It was her first sale.
Others quickly followed, and Ms. Walker was so successful that she remained in Los Angeles with Oree when her father’s business in town was done. As a handsome blonde with singing and dancing talent (she had performed for years in Texas), she soon had her own recording contract and was a pioneer in the proto-music videos called “soundies.” She shows a husky, jazzy and rather elegant voice on her sole hit as a singer, “When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again” (not her composition, surprisingly). But songwriting was her calling, and she soon abandoned performing, returning to Texas in the mid-1950’s to be near family.
And there she stayed, except for regular trips to Nashville, New York and Los Angeles to sell her songs. Like a honky-tonk Marianne Moore, she lived most of her life with her mother, who died in 1991, and has led a very private life, the details of which remain sketchy, which seems to suit her fine. While most biographers note she has never married, Ms. Walker claims she did marry once. “But it was a short-lived marriage,” she said. “A very short-lived marriage.” She closes discussion on the topic with a long, hearty chuckle.
In the end, songs seem to be her preferred mode of expression. She quotes her own lyrics often during a conversation. After finding out about a death in a reporter’s family, she insists he hear Arnold’s recording of her poignant cowboy eulogy “Jim, I Wore a Tie Today,” even offering Arnold’s home phone number to request a copy.
The CD recalls “Stardust,” Mr. Nelson’s 1978 Tin Pan Alley set, also a career high point. But while the singer’s voice may be a tad less steady here, the material lies closer to his roots, the mix of Texas country, blues and jazz, of ballads and uptempo romps, a mirror of his impish, hybrid-minded character. It may in fact be the quintessential Willie Nelson album.
This disc aside â€” and not counting the hard-to-find “Words and Music” and a recent tribute set by the former Wills vocalist Leon Rausch â€” there are no proper documents of the breadth of Ms. Walker’s achievement. Fans might trawl eBay for a gray-market transcription of a seven-hour Cindy Walker radio special, broadcast in 1997 on the California freeform radio station KFJC. Or they might try assembling an MP3 playlist from tracks available on digital music services like iTunes or eMusic.
But they’ll have to play catch-up with a writer whose catalog is said to number over 500 songs and counting. And does Ms. Walker intend to return to writing when her health permits? “I sure do hope so, love,” she said. “I sure do hope so.”