Universal Music Group has released a 50th anniversary digital edition of versatile country vocalist Jody Miller's classic The Nashville Sound of Jody Miller, complete with two bonus tracks--a cover of Brenda Lee’s 1968 hit “Johnny One Time,” and the previously unreleased “Only Mama That'll Walk the Line," a gender-reversed version of Waylon Jennings' 1968 country hit that was also recorded by Linda Ronstadt.
Originally released by Capitol Records in November, 1968, the set is Miller’s favorite of all her albums, more so, even, than Queen of the House--her 1965 Capitol album featuring her Grammy-winning signature titletrack answer song hit to Roger Miller’s “King of the Road”--not to mention her great 1970s output for Epic Records, which included hit country covers of pop hits including The Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine” and Barbara Lewis’s “Baby I’m Yours.”
The Nashville Sound of Jody Miller came out at the height of Miller’s initial career breakout. In addition to winning the Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance for “Queen of the House” in 1966, she was nominated for Top Female Vocalist by the Academy of Country Music in 1965 and 1968. She would be nominated for another Grammy in 1971 (Best Country Performance--Female) for “He's So Fine,”, and was nominated for the Country Music Association Duet of the Year with Johnny Paycheck in 1972 for "Let's All Go Down to the River."
Altogether, Miller scored 30 Billboard hits on several charts (Hot 100, Hot Country, Easy Listening), and is regarded as a forerunner to the country-pop likes of Linda Ronstadt and Anne Murray. But the Blanchard, Oklahoma native, who had largely recorded in Los Angeles with the fabled Wrecking Crew session musicians, considers The Nashville Sound of Jody Miller, which only yielded the mournful and frequently recorded (Elvis Presley, O.C. Smith, Glen Campbell) No. 73 country hit “Long Black Limousine,“ to be her favorite.
“Joe Allison [the head of Capitol’s country music department] took me to Nashville for the first time and put together an A-team of ‘far out’--as they used to say--musicians,” recalls Miller, citing pianist Hargus “Pig“ Robbins, harmonica ace Charlie McCoy and guitarist Harold Bradley. “My greatest memory, though, is of Bill Justis, a large man and a real ‘50s 'hep cat' from Memphis, known for his sax hit 'Raunchy.' He did some of our arrangements.“
Justis, addsMiller, “was also a fantastic song man and selected the songs, and I picked from what he brought me. We thought the album would do great but it didn’t--but it has always remained my favorite project: It had that ‘Nashville sound’ consistency and tone, and when I learned that Universal was putting it out digitally, I was tickled to death that they chose it.”
Among the songs that made the Nashville Sound of Jody Miller cut were John D. Loudermilk's "It's My Time,” Hank Cochran's "Don't You Ever Get Tired Of Hurting Me” and Joni Mitchell’s “Urge for Going,” with Miller’s vocals showing the avowed influence of Ray Charles’ historic Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music album.
Jennifer Anne McMullen, who hosts the monthly hourly broadcast In the Spotlight with Jody Miller for BaltimoreNetRadio, notes that Allison had previously brought Miller “He Walks Like a Man,” her 1964 single that was her first of many Hot 100 pop hits.
“I think that with The Nashville Sound of Jody Miller, Allison wanted to make a polished, ‘uptown’ effort that would be a showcase for Jody's talent, with the hope it would be embraced by country radio,” says McMullen. “Jody's recording of ‘Long Black Limousine’ on the album is a major favorite at her shows and the best recording of it by a female I've heard--and my overall fave version. It did land on the lower reaches of the ‘Hot Country’ charts, but Jody has said that DJs were totally confused by her releases: Artists who can beautifully interpret almost any type of music end up being punished in a way, because they don't fit into a neat little box. I think Vikki Carr had a similar challenge at times.“
McMullen does note, though, that Allison successfully integrated “various aspects of Jody's affinity for a number of genres, while keeping the album cohesive.”
“Jody was originally signed to Capitol as a folk artist,” continues McMullen. “We get a taste of that with her take on Joni Mitchell's ‘Urge For Going.’ Also, Jody has always had a great R&B feel for a song, so we get that in ‘Right Kind of Fool’ and "Don't You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me.’ We get her Gogi Grant/Patti Page ‘Hit Parade’ vibe on ‘The Wishing Tree,’ and I still maintain that ‘It's My Time’ has the kick drum that would go on to pepper most of the late 20th century/early 21st pop and hip-hop. Somehow, Joe Allison still wraps everything in a country-flavored Nashville sound package. It's genius, and even though Capitol didn't give it a bigger promotion push, Jody did merit a 1968 Academy of Country Music nomination for Top Female Vocalist, so someone was paying attention.”
That The Nashville Sound of Jody Miller has passed the test of time is evident, too, by its new reissue, notes McMullen, further observing that “although Jody was always an outsider in Nashville--and never lived there--her peers really respect and admire her. [Miller's country music contemporaries] Jan Howard and Margie Singleton will tell you today what an exceptional vocal artist Jody is. I think her modest personality coupled with her huge talent has garnered her much respect from the old guard.”
But Miller also garnered much respect from Rock and Roll Hall of Fame/British Invasion legend Dusty Springfield. Says McMullen: “We have a newspaper clipping somewhere from the web--circa 1964--where a reporter asks what American singers Dusty likes. She remarks that she saw Jody Miller on television and found her to be ‘very good,’ and later on in 1965 they both appeared at the San Remo Song Festival where Jody introduced an Italian song,‘Io Che Non Vivo,’ whose lyrics were later translated into ‘You Don't Have to Say You Love Me’--a big hit in 1966 for Dusty.”
McMullen boldly likens Miller’s The Nashville Sound of Jody Miller to Springfield’s immortal Dusty in Memphis.
“I know Dusty in Memphis is such a critically revered album, but Jody is as much a sterling vocal interpreter, and both artists traveled from their usual environs to record in Tennessee music meccas with a different set of cats,” MucMullen explains, noting that although Miller had won a country Grammy, most of her recordings had been more pop-oriented.
“From the logs, it appears most of Nashville Sound was recorded at RCA Victor. I think Joe Allison must have been trying to get a certain groove to highlight Jody's talent in a grown up way. He had followed Jody's career from its beginning at Capitol, and I believe he felt she deserved a unified type of album, and having been a ‘song man’ in Los Angeles, made a point of selecting content written by a range of high quality songwriters--Harlan Howard, Joni Mitchell, John Loudermilk, Hank Cochran, Billy Mize, Diane Hildebrand--to give Jody material she could really sink her teeth into.”
McMullen notes, too, that The Nashville Sound of Jody Miller had been a Billboard “Merit Pick of the Week,” and feels certain that “those who listened with a critical ear knew they were hearing interpretive greatness with authenticity.”
Miller went on to place dozens of songs on the country charts in the 1970s, then went into semi-retirement in the ‘80s before returning as a Christian music artist. She was inducted into the Country Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1998, but continues to perform her hit catalog and recently recorded a country pop song, “Where My Picture Hangs on the Wall,” with her daughter Robin Brooks (“who’s just as good as I am”) and classical pianist grandson Montana Sullivan, as The Three Generations (the song, incidentally, was written by Brooks’ mother-in-law Elizabeth Sullivan).
Meanwhile, Miller has been opening for Gene Watson and Mickey Gilley. According to McMullen, Universal looks to soon release a Miller Legends E-Sampler compilation to film and TV music supervisors.
"Long Black Limousine"--lead track from "The Nashville Sound of Jody Miller"