Sunday, November 11, 2007

Mickey Newbury

Newbury was born on May 19, 1940, in Houston, Texas. He absorbed the musical influences rampant in the post-World War II town and honed his skills as a poet. He read his poetry at local coffeehouses prior to joining the musical doo-wop group the Embers, which had a brief recording contract with Mercury Records. He also frequented R&B clubs in Houston, where he earned the nickname "The Little White Wolf" from Texas blues guitarist Gatemouth Brown. In 1959 Newbury entered the U.S. Air Force.

Following his discharge from the Air Force, Newbury moved to Nashville, where he was assisted by a friend in obtaining employment at the famed Acuff-Rose publishing house. It was there that he was befriended by Don Gant, an influential producer and song publisher whom Newbury credited with furthering his career. Newbury also became friends with Kristofferson and Roy Orbison as well as becoming a tireless promoter of fellow songwriters Coe, Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and Rodney Crowell. In fact, Newbury is credited with passing Kristofferson's early masterpiece "Me and Bobby McGee" to Roger Miller, who was the first artist to record the song, which became an enormous posthumous hit for Janis Joplin.

In 1966 Newbury's songwriting career received a boost when Don Gibson had a hit with the Newbury composition "Funny, Familiar, Forgotten Feelings." He had further success with the song "Here Comes the Rain, Baby," recorded by Eddy Arnold, "Sweet Memories," recorded by Andy Williams, "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)," which was recorded by his high school classmate Kenny Rogers and Rogers's band, the First Edition, as well as an R&B hit, "Time Is a Thief," recorded by Solomon Burke. Newbury's burgeoning popularity led to a record contract with RCA.

In 1968 Newbury released his debut album on RCA, Harlequin Melodies. Featuring several songs---noted for their simple elegance---that Newbury would later rerecord, the album was despised by Newbury for production qualities that he considered excessive. He was able to get out of his contract with RCA, and he negotiated artistic control at Mercury Records. His Mercury debut, Looks Like Rain, is a landmark of conceptual country music. Recorded on a four-track tape deck in a converted garage owned by recording engineer Wayne Moss, Looks Like Rain is probably the first major-label country release not recorded at a major Nashville studio. The album features such sound effects as train whistles, thunder, rain, and chimes, which color such songs as "San Francisco Mable Joy" and "33rd of August." Considered the first country music concept album and a masterpiece by pop, folk, country, and rock critics, Looks Like Rain received little support from Mercury and sold poorly.

"Frisco Mabel Joy" 1971

Newbury jumped from Mercury to Elektra and in 1970 recorded the second of his amazing trilogy that concluded with Heaven Help the Child. Produced by Dennis Linde, a songwriter, and recorded at the same converted garage studio (Cinderella Sound) It Looks Like Rain had been made, 'Frisco Mabel Joy adapts its title from a song on the previous album. Once again, texture, atmosphere and above all mood and mystery were the central tenets of what would become Newbury's trademark sound. The album opens with Newbury's arrangement of what he called "The American Trilogy," a suite containing three songs that have their origin in the Civil War. If this sounds familiar, it is: Elvis Presley made a much more bombastic version of this the centerpiece of his Vegas shows. Newbury's version, full of soft strings, guitars, Charlie McCoy's haunting harmonica bleeding into a muted brass section, is full of drama and pathos. 'Frisco Mabel Joy moves into an entire series of songs that talk of dislocation, emptiness and endless searching through regret, remorse, and ultimately acceptance and resignation. And Newbury's vocal abilities are just astonishing. He has a different voice for literally every song. It is tempting to write about every single song here, but it would be fruitless; Newbury's tunes are so slippery and mercurial. They shift shape and disappear into a puff of smoke the minute you think you have them pinned down. And if the stories and arrangements aren't enough to confound the listener, the melodies, all of which have their roots in country music, are so much more deceptive, they turn in on themselves and extend each measure with complex phrasing and mode changes. ~ Thom Jurek, All Music Guide

"I Came to Hear the Music" 1974

The lack of success of Looks Like Rain prompted Newbury to switch to Elektra Records in 1970. He used the royalties and profits from his first two Elektra releases, 'Frisco Mabel Joy and Heaven Help the Child, to purchase the rights to Looks Like Rain, which he reissued on Elektra as a double package with the solo-acoustic album Live at Montezuma Hall. He recorded two more albums for Elektra in the 1970s, I Came to Hear the Music and Lovers.


Blogger jasonleopold said...

thank you so much for posting Frisco Mabel Joy!!!

I have been trying to track this record down for some time. Thank you!!!!!

11 November, 2007 23:17  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shouldn't be a problem to get it:

Try Mickey's CD-Store:

Also interesting for all those who are interested in the man behind the scene ...

Warm regards

12 November, 2007 04:01  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

An amazing songwriter, who escapes any easy categorization. Very "American" in themes too. Fantastic production values - which some have qualified as "pop". His Elektra lps are among some of the finest music of the sort, and of the era. He's missed by those of us who grew up in part on his music.

12 November, 2007 06:46  
Anonymous Rob said...

Love Mickey. Thanks so much! Any chance for the "Lovers" album?

04 December, 2007 03:56  
Blogger ratso said...

I agree that Mickey is a wonderful singer/songwriter. His album "Lovers" is highly recommended from this little black rat!!

14 March, 2009 11:43  
Anonymous Klaus said...

This voice together with these compositions and these musical arrangements fit together to pieces of art that are outstanding! But not just that. To enjoy art mostly the listener/viewer needs to find the key to it. But not to the albums of Mickey Newbury. From the first note to the last you can enjoy it and feel the magic stream in through your ears.

24 June, 2009 03:30  
Blogger tek said...

any possibility of a repost?


02 July, 2009 16:59  

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