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Porter Wagoner can't slow down

By Jeffrey B. Remz, June 2007

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"I'd seen a lot of things happen there. People would come in one night to the facility - they would come in there because of some of them were on drugs. Some of them just (for) fatigue like I was. Some of them were on something else."

"It's a part of my life, and I think it's good for the public to hear that. When you're a fan of someone, you'd like to know how their life has been lived."

"I'm fortunate that I didn't make that same mistake again - that I didn't work so hard. I didn't only work over 200 dates over the road. When I came home, I was doing the TV show once a week. Or working in the studio."

Wagoner opts for much more of a traditional country sound than heard on radio today with, for example, lots of pedal steel on "Who Knows Right From Wrong?"

The influence of Stuart is apparent in the instrumentation as several songs sound like Stuart could easily have recorded them. "Absolutely it was (traditional)," says Wagoner. "That was part of the sound I brought to Nashville from the Ozarks. Marty thought it was necessary for us to put in the album. He wanted it to reflect the sounds that I had created in country music years ago."

Wagoner says the production on "Who knows Right From Wrong" was "the sound that I did back in the '50s."

"We weren't trying to make a slick record, one that's just another record that they have dressed up and made it slick that everything's perfect on it. We wanted it to sound real, and it really does. It's so authentic. It's the real thing."

Wagoner penned a new song for the disc, "Eleven Cent Cotton," with Stuart about the difficulty of making ends meet. The song is based on a 1932 song by Bob Miller, "Eleven Cent Cotton, Forty Cent Meat."

"Uncle Dave had done it years and years ago on the Opry," says Wagoner. "We had (used) bits and pieces of it."

Wagoner says writing with Stuart proved to be "very easy...because he's a good writer too and him working on the project, we both knew what was needed on the song."

Wagoner also covers religious themes, including the spoken word "Brother Harold Dee" and "Satan's River," a song he first recorded about 1973.

In fact, when asked about the songs, Wagoner recites almost the entire "Brother Harold Dee" song word for word. The song is about triplets choosing different paths - law, business and religion with the religious son being the outcast until he comes to town after a six-year absence as a traveling preacher.

Wagoner connects his need to record religious themed songs to his surgery for the aneurysm. "I prayed more than I ever have in my life. I feel close to God more than I ever have in life. Not just because I'm 79, and I feel a need to be closer to God. I feel I'd a lived lot better since I've done that. When I had the surgery, I prayed a lot during that time, and God went in the operating room with me...I feel like I came out of it so well. That's a great feeling. I wasn't scared no more. I was afraid I might die. I was afraid to die because I wasn't prepared. Once I prayed with God and I felt so much better about it, I'm not scared no more."

He says he feels a need to record the songs "to let people know about God Almighty and let them know about Jesus Christ. I think it's so important to do that. I'm not a preacher. I feel I know God as well as anyone knows God."

Several songs talk about rough hewn folks or those down on their luck, such as "My Many Hurried Southern Trips," a song Wagoner wrote with Parton from the perspective of a bus driver who transports a pregnant girl, an ex-prisoner and a soldier.

"That was Marty's choice," says Wagoner of recording "Southern Trips." "He thought it was a nice song, and it kind of fit in with the project.

"Dolly and I wrote a lot of great songs together...Dolly and I was good. We know how to write songs. I know about it from her because she's great at it."

"Usually, I write alone. It's just good." Wagoner says that when writing with others, "I have to get into your mind and deep thoughts of what you're writing about."

"You just have to be real open. It took a little while before we (Parton and Wagoner) were able to write anything together because we had to know each other better and know each other's thoughts."

Wagoner picked Parton to replace Norma Jean, his then singing partner, who was moving to Oklahoma City and getting married.

"I was looking for a girl singer to replace Norman Jean who was leaving my TV show. I was auditioning several girls, and Dolly was the one that I picked out. I felt she was exactly what I wanted in a girl singer. She was different than Norma Jean. Completely different. She was a great songwriter. It had nothing to do with her having big boobs. It really didn't at all. In the process, she didn't expose them like she does now. She wasn't known for them. Just being honest with you."

The competition was tough also as Dotty West and Connie Smith were among those in contention. Ironically, Smith's husband is Marty Stuart.

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