Date of Birth: July 23, 1940
Place of Birth: Hopewell, Alabama
Date of Death: October 7, 1997

johnny darrellDuring his heyday, Johnny Darrell practically made a career of releasing lyrically adventurous country singles that then became standards through other singers' versions Among the landmark tunes he helped introduce were Curly Putman's "Green, Green Grass of Home" (1965), Mel Tillis's "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town" (1967), and Dallas Frazier's "The Son of Hickory Holler's Tramp" (1967). Given his history, Darrell once described his career as "big, but unfortunately not many ever realized it."

Born in Alabama, Darrell grew up in Marietta, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta. When he was thirteen he bought a guitar, though he didn't dream of a career in music. In the army he sang in the base clubs, but as the self-deprecating singer put it, "If I remember correctly, they threw me out every time I sang."

In 1964 Darrell moved to Nashville, where he managed the Holiday Inn near Music Row. There he got to know producer Kelso Herston of United Artists, whose office was next door to the motel. Herston heard Darrell sing and signed him. "Green Green Grass of Home" was Darrell's first UA single, and "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town," which encountered radio resistance, nevertheless became his first Top Ten hit. Darrell's biggest hit was "With Pen in Hand," which went to #3 in 1968.

During the 1970s Darrell became associated with the Outlaw movement, but by then his career was in decline. After a period of inactivity and poor health, the determined singer returned to recording and songwriting in the late 1980s. ~ Daniel Cooper

Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame

Forgotten Artists: Johnny Darrell
Paul W. Dennis | July 24th, 2008

One of life’s biggest mysteries (or at least one of Country Music’s biggest mysteries) is that Johnny Darrell (1940-1997) never became a star. Arguably country music’s first “outlaw,” Darrell recorded for United Artists from 1965 to about 1973, but United was only a bit player in country music, and so Darrell’s records didn’t get the major promotional effort they deserved.

Darrell had a clear, strong, and masculine voice–somewhere between tenor and baritone, but his true strength was in identifying great songs and great songwriters. Among the songs he was the first to record were (with subsequent cover artist in parenthesis): * “Green Green Grass of Home” #12 CB (Porter Wagoner, Tom Jones) * “Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town” #7 CB / 9 BB (Kenny Rogers) * “Son of Hickory Holler’s Tramp” #14 CB / 22 BB (O.C. Smith) * “With Pen in Hand” #3 BB / 4 CB (Billy Vera, Vickie Carr)

Darrell’s biggest hit was “With Pen In Hand,” which rose to #3 on the country charts. A much inferior cover by Billy Vera was simultaneously a hit on the pop charts, and if United Artists had done a decent job of promoting and distributing Darrell’s version–which was nearly impossible to find for purchase in many parts of the country–it almost surely would have crossed over and taken the place of Vera’s.

Darrell’s most remembered record today is his rocking version of “Why You Been Gone So Long,” written by Mickey Newbury, which rose to #17 BB/20 CB with a spattering of pop airplay as well.

All told, United Artists issued seven albums on Darrell, plus a handful of budget reissues on its Sunset label: * As Long As The Winds Blow (1966, United Artists) * Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town (1967, United Artists) * The Son of Hickery Holler’s Tramp (1968, United Artists) * With Pen in Hand (1968, United Artists) * Why You Been Gone So Long (1969, United Artists) * California Stop-Over (1970, United Artists) * The Best of Johnny Darrell (1970, United Artists)

His first five albums followed the usual pattern for country albums: one or two singles, a few covers, and some filler. Where Darrell’s albums differed from the norm, however, was in the fact that the filler wasn’t really filler at all, and that the covers were sometimes of lesser hits. His first album featured an early Kristofferson song “Don’t Tell My Little Girl,” as well a Bobby Bare composition, “Passin’ Through,” and his second, Ruby…, featured a June Carter/Johnny Cash composition, “She’s Mighty Gone.”

The majority of Darrell’s catalogue was recorded in Nashville, but due to his inability to score the big country hit, United Artist tried recording his later work in California. It was there that Johnny uncovered gems by then-largely unknown songwriters such as Mickey Newberry, Lowell George, Jackson Browne and Ronnie Self. Unfortunately, the album California Stop-Over again failed to produce hits, but did eventually become a collector’s item, especially among fans of The Byrds, due to Clarence White’s guitar work on the album.

After the relative commercial failure of California Stop-Over, United Artists and Darrell parted company, largely marking the end of his career, but for only a few more singles and one more album of new material (Water Glass Full of Whiskey, Capricorn, 1975).

Darrell struggled with a deadly combination of alcohol and diabetes, leading to his untimely death at age 57. Unfortunately, very little of the singer’s material is now commercially available–the Australian label Raven issued a CD combining his greatest hits with California Stop-Over in 1999 (Singin’ It Lonesome — The Very Best… 1965-1970), a collection well worth hunting down. More readily available is The Complete Gusto/Starday Recordings, an album of remakes which find Darrell in typically strong voice, although they lack the sparkle of the original recordings.

(BB= Billboard; CB = Cashbox. The two charts were equally regarded prior to 1982, with about 45% of the radio stations following each chart service. There was also a third chart, Record World, which was in less general use.)


More info:

Video: Johnny Darrell / The Son Of Hickory Holler's Tramp

Video: Johnny Darrell "Why You Been Gone So Long"


Amazon: Johnny Darrell CDs

iTunes: Johnny Darrell

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