Wednesday, June 19, 2013

SLIM WHITMAN DEAD at 90 - hear "I'll Never Pass This Way Again"

The reason for mentioning such a well-known singer on the blog of "less renown" is…that Slim Whitman was one hell of an enigma. He yodeled. How many people can stand that? Like most C&W artists, he was rarely welcomed on mainstream television variety shows. You'd think these two strikes would've given him only the modest fame and genre popularity of an Ernest Tubb or Ferlin Husky...

And yet…Ottis Dewey Whitman, Jr. (January 20, 1924-June 19, 2013) has supposedly sold more records than The Beatles and Elvis Presley. While vocally Whitman didn't seem to make an impression on The Beatles, George Harrison once said that he was "the first person I ever saw playing a guitar," and the sight was an inspiration. As for Paul McCartney, Slim recalled, "Paul McCartney saw me in Liverpool and realized that he too could play the guitar left-handed." Macca's admitted that he learned to re-string his Zenith upside down from a Whitman poster.

Even so, few beyond C&W fans and the elderly could name any hit single of Whitman's besides maybe his 1952 reworking of Nelson Eddy's "Indian Love Call" (which was his only mainstream USA Top Ten). Fewer would believe you if you said that a Slim single stayed on the UK chart longer than anything by the Fab Four! That would be "Rose Marie," another old Nelson Eddy tenor-terror featuring notes flying higher than a buzzard on White Lightning.

In fact, for the general public in the post-Beatles era, Slim Whitman was known as more a novelty, to giggle at, like Wayne Newton or Lawrence Welk. No kidding. Slim's hugely successful 70's TV infomercials hawking mail order albums of his sincerely sung oldies got parodied all over the place. For 20 and 30-somethings, especially on the East and West coast, this was the first they'd ever seen or heard of the guy. It led Johnny Carson to book him for "The Tonight Show." Psycho comic Andy Kaufman was shown glazed over and amazed, when Slim sang on the same stage with him for a broadcast of the hip rock show "Midnight Special." Whitman's popularity, for whatever reason, was probably at its peak at that time. For many there was an edge of campy humor to his appeal, which is why his "Indian Love Call" became the satiric running gag in the 1996 cult film "Mars Attacks." That's telling you that for every C&W fan who thought Slim was great, there were even more who just thought the guy was…wonderfully bizarre.

Though rather dormant as a recording artist in the 90's, Slim was not through. As Bob Nolan did, and Curly Putman did, Slim issued a new album when it seemed he was all but forgotten. That was "Twilight on the Trail," 2010.

Nobody who has ever heard Slim Whitman can forget the guy. While Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and George Jones have gotten the critical raves and have clearly influenced many generations of artists, one might suggest that Roy Orbison learned a lot from Slim. Like Slim, Orbison was no raving beauty, and was somewhat of an acquired taste with the tendency to creep into falsetto. It would also be hard to believe that one of the most dizzying and nauseating C&W songs of recent years, "Wicked Game" by Chris Isaak, could ever have been a hit without Slim Whitman having prepared everyone's ears for a sudden stomach-unsettling take-off.

Perhaps what made Slim Whitman so popular was that he absolutely wasn't a mythic "Man in Black," a tragic Hank who died young, or a drunk who was getting divorced too often and wasting his talent and failing to show up for gigs. No, he just sang good 'uns and that included gospel, pop, and for his faithful U.K. audiences, albums of Irish songs and such classics as "Annie Laurie." He was rather slick and savvy in choosing a lot of standards, avoiding cliche country fiddle arrangements, and presenting himself more as a crooner in rhinestone cowboy outfits than somebody hangin' around the Opry waiting to court and spark with Minnie Pearl. Slim actually did better, chartwise, overseas than in America, getting back in the U.K. Top 20 at least once in the 70's and in the 80's. While he modestly said he was "no saint" and simply didn't like to sing about standard country topics like drinking and messing around, Whitman was married to the same woman for over 60 years, stayed out of the tabloids, did his humble crooning and his lilting tilts of high-note surprises, and enjoyed his home sweet home, 'Woodpecker Paradise," in Jacksonville, Florida.

What an unusual, remarkable artist, this Slim Whitman. His dizzying vocals will spin forever, though he himself knew that one day, today…"I'll Never Pass This Way Again.." Try to "leave each precious mile with some kindness and a smile!" Slim summed up his unlikely success this way: "I don’t know the secret. I guess it’s the songs I sing and my friendly attitude. When I say hello, I mean it."

If you think you'll become a huge star via croon & yodel…. Your chances are Slim. Listen to Slim Whitman sing: "I'll Never Pass This Way Again." Listen on line or download. No capcha codes, porn ads or tricky links to creepy places.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Nice post. Thank you!