This week I want to share with you my love for country music, back when it was really country music. One of the greatest joys I have had in all my years in radio, both rock and roll and country, were the years I spent being part of the country music genre as a dee jay, concert promoter, booking agent and talent manager. That period from the mid 60’s to the mid 70’s afforded me some of the greatest memories and friendships that I will cherish forever.

While there is still some good country music performers today, it doesn’t come close to the days when Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty, Faron Young, Tammy Wynette, Johnny Cash, Dotty West, Ray Price, Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Charley Pride, Ronnie Milsap, Porter Wagoner and others ruled the roost in country music. The legacy of music they created is timeless and priceless.

Here is my top ten all time favorites who I was honored to work with and get to know, with my own personal comments.

Johnny Cash – What can you say about the man in black that hasn’t already been said? He was a trendsetter, he was man of many personalities, he was man of immense talent and he changed the way some people looked at country music. Listen to him doing “This Old Flag” and you will realize just how special he was.

Patsy Cline – Like most, Patsy came from very humble beginnings, but her voice had a very special quality to it. She told it like it was, didn’t conform to many rules, but when she was on stage singing there was no one else like her. She was blessed with a voice that could have done anything from country to Broadway. Songs like “She’s Got You” say it all. Too bad it was taken away from us way to early.

Merle Haggard – When he was young he was defiant and spent time in prison. But Merle was able to hone his talents as a singer and performer and become the multi million selling artist and Hall of Famer he is. His songs told stories, almost all of them from true experiences. Give a listen to “Mama Tried” and that is the real Merle Haggard in life and in song.

George Jones – Nobody had a voice like George then, or now. You could hear the pain or joy, the happiness or sorrow in every song. He had his problems with booze and pills that created his nickname of “No Show Jones” and also caused his split from Tammy Wynette. But when George was straight, there was nobody in country music like him. I did three shows with him and Tammy and was just mesmerized and in  awe of his talent.

Loretta Lynn – We all know her story, the movie of her life and the pitfalls she had along the way. Yet she never gave up, she continued to break barriers, change the course of country music for women and write songs that told it like it is. She was the real deal in every way on and off stage. I was honored to be in her presence several times at shows and appearances and one of the nicest ladies I have ever met.

Willie Nelson – I first worked with Willie back in the early 60’s when he had normal hair and wore a suit and tie. But that voice, the songs and lyrics he wrote you knew then this was a future star and Hall of Famer. When Patsy Cline recorded his song “Crazy” that started this incredible career of his that has never let up to this day and now at 91, he is still making music special. By the way, Willie is the only one on this list who is still with us.

Charlie Pride – He may have left us but I will never forget him and the reaction of an audience at a show we did back in the 60’s. No one had known he was black as RCA did not put his picture on the record sleeve. The audience cheered and clapped and as he walked out on stage it suddenly became deathly quiet from the shock. But once he began to sing, they were on their feet wanting more and more. He was a very special man in many ways.

Marty Robbins – He was one of the first country artists to crossover to the rock/pop field with his song “A White Sport Coat” in the 50’s. He then followed with songs like “El Paso” and more. He garnered gold records, Grammy’s, countless awards throughout his great career until he passed away in 1982. The first time we met for a show, we instantly became good friends. He was an outgoing, friendly man with a unique story telling style that covered more than just country making him one of the best ever. In addition, Marty was also a big time NASCAR driver/racer for a number of years.

Tammy Wynette – Tammy was a very complex lady and I had the pleasure of working with her and George several times in the 70’s. Putting up with George, divorcing him, going through her own troubles, Tammy still managed to be as sweet as they come. When she performed she left it all on stage with that voice that could make you laugh or cry. She had a way with a song that few females could match and to me will always be one of country’s top female performers of all time.

Conway Twitty – He turned down a ML baseball contract with the Phillies for  music, and would hit a home run in rock and roll with “It’s Only Make Believe”. As a country artist with million sellers, number ones, his duets with Loretta, it set Conway apart from all the others. He was another I had the pleasure of working with in the early 70’s and he was a joy to be around. His talents were far reaching and he left behind quite a legacy.

I could have added ten more with ease, Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings,  Ray Price and even a few of the later stars like Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, George Straight, etc., maybe next time. At any rate I hope you enjoy this trip down country music’s memory lane.

Art Koch, National Features & DVD Editor, NightMoves Magazine and AAN