JOHN D. LOUDERMILK
Born 31 March 1934, Durham, North Carolina
Songwriter, pop/country singer, multi-instrumentalist
Although he had a prolific recording career as a singer, John D. Loudermilk achieved his greatest fame as one of Nashville’s most successful songwriters, supplying numerous hits to country and pop artists. His music is hard to classify : an erratic mix of country, rock & roll, pop, folk and novelties. He has been called “the most idiosyncratic song- writer of the rock and roll era”.
Loudermilk’s father was a carpenter ; country stars Charlie and Ira Louvin (real name : Loudermilk) were his cousins. His parents were avid members of the Salvation Army and John received his musical training in a Salvation Army band, where he learned to play guitar and several other instruments. On graduation from high school Loudermilk went to work at WTVD, Durham’s first television station, as an art director and staff musician. While studying at the University of North Carolina, he began writing poetry. One of his poems, “A Rose and a Baby Ruth”, was transformed into his first recorded composition. George Hamilton IV took the song to # 7 on the pop charts in late 1956.
While this record was in the Top 10, Loudermilk made his recording debut as a singer, under the name of Johnny Dee. “Sittin’ in the Balcony” came out on the Colonial label and reached # 38 on the Billboard charts but much of its thunder was stolen by a cover version by Eddie Cochran, which peaked at # 18. After four more (non-charting) Colonial singles, John signed with Columbia and returned to calling himself John Loudermilk. His first Columbia single, “Susie’s House”, is easily the most frantic thing he recorded. Unlike the soft rock on Colonial, this was genuine rock & roll! Ironically, considering Loudermilk’s future reputation as a songwriter, “Susie’s House” came from the pen of Danny Wolfe. The record sold poorly, as did the subsequent Columbia singles. But his fifth and last 45 for the label would later become his signature tune. “Tobacco Road” (1960) sketched a penetrating picture of Southern poverty and had a strong blues flavour which was absent from almost all other Loudermilk songs. As of 2015, there are at least 242 different recorded versions of the song, according to Kees van der Hoeven’s excellent site (see below).
By the autumn of 1958, Loudermilk had given up live performing and began to concentrate on his songwriting career, first at Cedarwood, later at Acuff-Rose. In 1959 alone, he wrote almost a hundred songs. One of them was “Waterloo” (co-written with Marijohn Wilkin), a # 1 country hit and a # 4 pop hit for Stonewall Jackson. Another nice little earner was “Weep No More My Baby”, on the back of Brenda Lee’s # 4 hit “Sweet Nothin’s”. John’s biggest success in 1960 was “Angela Jones”, which went to # 27 in the US by Johnny Ferguson and to # 7 in the UK by Michael Cox. The year 1961 brought another Top 10 hit in the shape of “Ebony Eyes” by the Everly Brothers (# 8). Later in the year, Sue Thompson scored two Top 5 hits with “Sad Movies (Make Me Cry)” and “Norman”. It was also the year of Loudermilk’s biggest hit as a singer, “Language Of Love”, his first record for RCA (# 32, also # 13 UK). Three more modest chart entries followed in 1962 : “Thou Shalt Not Steal”, “Callin’ Doctor Casey” and “Road Hog”. During his RCA tenure (1961-1969) Loudermilk also did session work for the company, mainly as a guitarist, under the super- vision of Chet Atkins (who was the first to record “Windy and Warm”, a much-recorded instrumental Loudermilk composition).
George Hamilton IV scored again in 1963 with “Abilene” (# 1 country, # 15 pop). Another country chart topper in that year was “Talk Back Trembling Lips” by Ernest Ashworth ; a cover by Johnny Tillotson peaked at # 7 pop in early 1964. Johnny Cash was successful with “Bad News” (# 8 country) in 1964 ; JDL had recorded the song himself the previous year. It was the first of his four entries into the country charts (# 23). The Nashville Teens, a British beat group, scored two UK Top 10 hits in 1964 with Loudermilk songs, “Tobacco Road” (also # 14 US) and “Google Eye”.
After “Tobacco Road”, Loudermilk’s most recorded song is “Then You Can Tell Me Good- bye”. It was written in 1962 and first recorded by Don Cherry on Verve. The best selling versions were by the Casinos (# 6 pop, 1967) and Eddy Arnold (# 1 country, 1968). Another oft-recorded number is “Break My Mind”, probably best known in the hit version by George Hamilton IV (# 6 country, 1967). Glen Campbell scored his first country chart topper in 1968 with Loudermilk’s “I Wanna Live” (1968).
But the biggest hit was yet to come. Back in 1959 Loudermilk had written “The Pale-Faced Indian” for Marvin Rainwater. The record went unnoticed at the time. In 1970 Englishman Don Fardon revived the number under the title “Indian Reservation”, scoring a # 3 UK hit in the process. The Raiders (formerly Paul Revere and the Raiders) decided to cover the song for the American market and their version reached # 1 in Billboard in July 1971. The full title on the label read “Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Indian)”.
It would prove to be Loudermilk’s last major success. After leaving RCA in 1969, he had two final album releases in 1971 and 1977 before retiring from the music business to devote himself to the study of ethnomusicology. But many artists, especially in the country field, kept recording his songs over the decades, with occasional chart success.
In 1976 John D. Loudermilk was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and in 2011 into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame.
More info :
Discography / sessionography :
Recommended CD :
Acknowledgements : Kees van der Hoeven, Jay Orr, Richie Unterberger.
Dik, January 2016
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