Jeannie Kendall carries on the tradition – March 2003
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Jeannie Kendall carries on the tradition  Print

By Jon Weisberger, March 2003

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Along the way to that deal, The Kendalls also managed to hook up with producer Fisher - and to find "Heaven's Just A Sin Away."

"Daddy ran into Jerry Gillespie," Jeannie remembers, "and he said, 'I've got a song that I think you guys could do really well.' We listened to it and said yeah, that's a pretty cute song. So, we kind of tucked it away, and then when we got ready to the album and were thinking about all the songs that we wanted, we said well, how about that song of Jerry's? And right then, before we even heard it again, we could sing parts of it. We thought that was probably a good sign, but we still didn't recognize it as being the big hit that it was - not even when we recorded it. It was the first song we recorded on the session, at 10 o'clock in the morning. We ran through it, and we sang it, and that was it. It came together instantly, and we moved on."

With its catchy melody, powerful harmonies and backing that featured the distinctive sound of the clavinet (the keyboard instrument heard on many of Stevie Wonder's hits of the era), "Heaven's Just A Sin Away" rocketed to the top of the country chart and cracked the pop one, too - a sign that, despite its unmistakably country flavor, The Kendalls sound was rooted in a more varied set of sources.

"I think we were always considered as pretty country, of course, but I think we had a lot of different sides to it, too," Kendall says. "We just did what our style of music, whatever it was. It's hard to put a name to it, but I always thought The Kendalls' music was country, gospel, bluegrass and pop, all combined in our own way. We stuck our necks out a lot and did a lot of different music in our albums. We weren't afraid to do something that had a reggae feel, for instance."

"We intermingled a lot of different sounds because it was fun to do a lot of different kinds of music - but we would still keep the country roots in there. We recorded songs like 'Making Believe' (a Kitty Wells hit) and 'Here Today, Gone Tomorrow' (penned by the Louvin Brothers) - those were our true love, that was the real us. We loved those songs, and we put one or two - songs that you just love to sing - on almost all of our albums. Maybe they wouldn't be singles, but we really liked them. We just kind of did our own rendition of them. That's the kind of harmony that we really kind of cut our teeth on, that kind of music, and, of course, it was really Daddy's roots."

The Kendalls were quick in the studio, and remarkably, most of what they sang was recorded live, rather than pieced together from multiple takes. "All of the vocals we did on the Ovation label were live," Kendall recalls. "What you heard was just what we sang, except I overdubbed one line on one song, and daddy of course had to do his other harmony. But, otherwise, we just would lay it right down, and that was it."

Though Jeannie sang most of the leads on The Kendalls' records, she notes that Royce could occasionally be persuaded to take a turn in the vocal spotlight. "Occasionally he did, when you pushed him into it," the singer says with a chuckle. "And we had some success with some of those where he sang lead. I always liked for him to do that, but he always wanted to put me out front."

Thinking about her father, the singer turns pensive. His death was a blow whose impact still remains with her - and indeed, listening to "Jeannie Kendall" and the two songs he recorded for it makes clear that the loss was not just hers, but country music's as well.

And though she's resolute in pursuing a new career as a soloist, she returns to his memory once more as the interview concludes.

"He just really loved singing the harmony," she says thoughtfully. "Singing was like breathing to him, he was a natural harmony singer. I know of producers who would say 'he could sing harmony by himself' or 'he could sing harmony to the moon.' You couldn't have asked for a better partner for singing, that's for sure, or a better daddy."

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