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Charley Pride gets tired of speaking for black artists in country music. And real tired of race-based questions.
"I would hope that there would come a point where we'd have to cease asking those kinds of questions of people like myself," said Pride, 59, at a Nashville party celebrating From Where I Stand: The Black Experience in Country Music.
The scope of the three-disc compilation will surprise the many people who think Pride is the only significant black artist country music has produced. The 60-track, three-disc set, released last month, suggests a larger influence - both of black artists on this music and of the genre itself on the larger musical world.
Pride, who recorded 60 Top 40 country hits between 1966 and 1990, has the largest presence on the collection, but he comes in halfway through the period covered by the set. Its first disc encompasses Southern rural string bands like the Mississippi Sheiks, the great folk singer Leadbelly and DeFord Bailey, a popular harmonica player on the Grand Ole Opry from 1926 to 1941. It includes lesser-known country hitmakers like Cleve Francis, Big Al Downing and Stoney Edwards, plus R&B acts like Al Green, the Supremes and Aaron Neville and Dobie Gray, who've all recorded country material. Gray, who made Nashville his home in 1978, sings the title cut. From Where I Stand was also the first single and the title of his Capitol-EMI-America debut album, recorded in Nashville in 1986.
Nashville's Country Music Foundation (CMF), which produced From Where I Stand for Warner Bros., began work in earnest on the project in 1994, spurred by Francis' major-label recordings and a report indicating that more than 20% of the country radio audience was black.
"There was so much to choose from", says CMF associate director Kyle Young, who oversaw the project. "My biggest fear is, for some reason, those performers might get lost- 100 years from now - from the continuum."
Especially troubling for Young is the absence of any Ray Charles recordings from either of his groundbreaking Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music albums. "We tried everything we could" to license I Can't Stop Loving You and Busted, two country songs that were pop hits for Charles during 1962 and 1963, Young says.
But the CMF had to settle for just Charles' rendition of I'm Movin' On, recorded for Atlantic during the late 1950s. A liner note directs buyers of From Where I Stand to one of Charles' collections.
Pride would like to think this collection would put to rest any issues about the commercial viability of black country performers. But, he acknowledges, "it's going to take more than that, because of so many aspects of our society that are ingrained with separatism practices - music, the workplaces, everywhere." - "BY BRIAN MANSFEILD" USA TODAY



Listening to this CD was never, and I MEAN it, more of a pleasure!!! This is the kind of music that makes you feel just soooooooo good! Al Downing is one of the best songwriters I've ever had the honor of reviewing. Fabulous lyrics! You will find yourself SINGING right along with him, even if it's the first time you've heard it! Now, THAT'S saying something, folks! I mean, how could you sing to a song you don't even know? Well, that's what I thought, too. BUT…believe it or not, you can, and you WILL. (And just to make it easier, Al has included all the lyric song sheets in the album.)
When I received this CD, I wondered what kind of music it was, and if it would "fit" into a "category" with what y'all have been reading about here, before. But, I needn't have worried. This music is undeniably country. Country SOUL with the feel of blues, gospel, and good ol' rock-n-roll. Plus some good old-fashioned boogie-woogie!! I LOVED this! Al Downing, who won Billboard's "New Artist of the Year" in 1979, is best known for his hits, "Mr. Jones" and "Touch Me", and has continued to thrill audiences all around the world. Whether it's in a club, on a concert stage, on a record, or on radio, it doesn't matter. Whether the audience is filled with country, blues, rock and roll, or gospel fans, he will entertain them. How could you NOT love this music?
Al wrote all the songs on this CD. On "Talkin' the Talk" he conspired with his pal and Executive Producer for this CD, Errol Watler…and what a GREAT rockin' song this is!! Errol also joined Big Al on the heartbreaker, "Goodbye My Love". And on the 'tongue-n-cheek pick-up song', "Joe's Truck Stop", Al and Dick Simmons teamed up. I'm tellin' ya, folks, this is an album that's so much fun to listen to that you'll have to have it with you in your car, at your office, and anywhere else you listen to music. It's a great one for your collection of good ol' country soul. The songs are long enough, too, not like so many others that cut you off, just when you begin to get the feel of it. I hate that! This one, folks, does NOT cut you off. 'Course, they're so good, you may want to hit the repeat button a few times, like I did! And be sure to check out "I'm Too Green to be Blue", a little song that softly reminds us not to judge folks by their color, but without being preachy. It's NICE to be reminded, and I guess we could all use some of that, once in a while, huh? And then there's that oooh so sexy, sultry song, "What a Man Will Do….". If this one doesn't get ya thinkin', I don't know what will! But remember, it's ONLY a song….or IS it??
Al had a great bunch of musicians backing him up on this album, including Bob Babbitt, Rod Smarr, Byrd Burton, Mark T. Jordan, Ed Greene, Wayne Jackson, Jimmy Clarke, Sammy Harp, and Teresa Collier, Yvonne Hodges, and Scat Springer on vocals. A wonderful group of artists. Bob Krusen did an OUTSTANDING job of mixing this CD, too. WOW.
I don't want to close this review without mentioning a song that really touched my heart, and I'm sure it will touch yours. "Hometown America" is one of the most beautifully written songs on this album. It covers everything about us, the people and citizens of this great country of ours. It mentions and pays tribute to our veterans and servicemen and women, both past and present. In this song, Al mentions many of the places in the United States he's been throughout his life. And one of the lines in the song, brings it all together for us, and makes us feel so proud…"any place in America is hometown to me". I love this line, these simple words tell what it's like to be a REAL American. And a PROUD American. Oh, and by the way, this IS one song you'll want to hit that 'repeat' button on. Count on it.
"ONE OF A KIND" will be released and in stores on July 29th, and you can contact Al or his record label through it's website, . Or contact … Don't miss out on this one. We talk about supporting our independent artists, all the time. Well, I urge you to do so. If you have never purchased a CD by an independent artist, let this be the first one. It won't be the last, but it WILL be a great beginning to your indie collection, I promise you that. I know what you're thinkin', folks…promises, promises. Well, ok. I'll let YOU be the judge.


"Big Al Downing: One Of A Kind - album review"

Let’s cut to the chase. I really like Big Al Downing’s latest album. In the hoopla of neon circuses, cowboys without shoes and shirts, and in the changing swarm of designer-stubbled country crooners – some who’d do better posing for a glossy than chasing musical fame – Big Al lives up to his latest CD’s title, One Of A Kind (Platinum Express Records).
After locking Big Al into my car’s CD player for the last couple of days, I’m hooked. Sure, there’s the odd interesting note – after all, it’s his first album since ’94 – but on this R&B-tinged and blues-shaded release, Big Al charms with a style and presence sometimes lost on today’s sales and award-chasing go-getters.
On this album, we hear honest renditions to 14 heart-shared songs. Big Al comes out of the speakers with a confidence honed over five decades of doing what he loves. And what he loves, he does so well.
Whether it is the rousing patriotism of "Hometown America", or his in-demand radio single, "Joe’s Truck Stop", or the identifiable downfalls of country music, "A Cigarette, A Bottle And A Jukebox", Big Al covers with an easy vocal and a soulful mood. It’s a style continually drawing you back for listens.
This album is a celebration of sorts for the one-time piano player for Wanda Jackson. Nashville, with its fad-driven dependency on looks and hype to snare sales, often overlooks the commodities of talent and experience. After four years of label rejection and Nashville door slamming, Big Al teamed with producer Errol Watler, joined a small but vibrant Cayman Islands label, and the rest is Music Row’s loss and a win for appreciative audiences.
Now with a mixture of R&B, gospel and country, Big Al covers all bases with his all-write album, sharing ink on only three co-writes. One of those, "Talking The Talk" (co-written with Watler), with its power base of horns, is a call to start walking the walk rather than toying with indecision. It’s a theme Big Al peppers throughout the album.
On "Jesus, It’s Only Me, Johnny" with its call to seek the Lord while you still can, Big Al touches big possibilities with a big song. It’s a lyrical testimony to the power of his pen. Another tune, in a similar show of opinion, is "I’m Too Green To Be Blue". Without raking coals, Big Al has endured the pain of misguided bigotry and prejudice, so it’s with authority he challenges on this tune to look beyond labels, color or creed. The message is simple: Rather than keep people down, offer a helping hand.
"Boogie -Woogie Roll" is a pull-out-the-stops blast. With a hard-pounded piano leading a troop of energetic and fully charged backup singers, the track wins by throwing everything soulful into the mix. It’s a standout cut for me, not unlike "I’m Raising Hell". Between heavenly thoughts and honky-tonk realities, Big Al mixes salvation and cowboy location with this closing time anthem.
Shattered and fragile romances also make the play list. "Goodbye My Love" is a calypso-flavored wave to lost romance, while "I Never Got Over You" supplies the needed words for a roaming loser who’s neglected love for fast living.
Big Al Downing is a musical veteran. It’s a fact well proven by his various chart placements over his long and extensive career. Now, with a timely return to the CD shelves, he’s sure to win more fans and create renewed interest.
I really like Big Al Downing’s latest album. Check it out. Give it a listen. If substance more than image is your thing, you might, too. - by George Peden -


Still working on that hot first release.



Big Al Downing has had one of the most checkered careers in show business, with stardom always slightly out of reach, but he is one of the few black performers to foray across the musical spectrum of Disco, Pop, R & B, Gospel and Country. Born in rural Oklahoma into a family of 12 children, Big Al spent his early childhood tending the horses and cattle his family raised, and singing with two brothers, his father, and a sister in a Gospel group. By the time he was 10, he was teaching himself to play on an old, upright piano that had 40 working keys. Four years later, he was performing at community functions and high school proms. His great influence at this time was Fats Domino, and it was his impression of his idol doing Blueberry Hill that won him first prize at the local Coffeyville, Kansas radio station. After the contest, Bobby Poe, a local singer who heard him play in the contest, asked him to join his band. Downing forfeited a basketball scholarship at Kansas State University and accepted Poe’s offer. They played locally in Kansas, Oklahoma, in VFW halls and Country beer joints.
Big Al’s break came when Country entertainer Wanda Jackson needed a back-up singer to tour with her and contacted Poe’s band. While touring with Wanda, Big Al performed in all the West and Midwestern states opening for Marty Robbins, Bobby Bare, Red Sovine, Pete Drake and Don Gibson. In California he played piano on one of Jackson’s biggest recordings, Let’s Have A Party, released in 1960, on which back-up was provided by Gene Vincent’s Blue Caps. The single was an enormous hit in Japan and Europe, reaching No. 32 in the U.K. and Top 40 on the U.S. Pop chart. After coming off the road, Big Al and others in the band left Oklahoma for Boston where they worked seven days a week and that included two jam sessions on Saturday and Sunday, from 1:00 pm until 1:00 am for $90.00 a week. "That’s what I really called payin’ dues," recalled Downing in an earlier interview. From 1957 to 1964, Downing played with the band and had recordings released as a solo artist for White Rock, in 1958 and later Columbia and Carlton. His best effort was a cover of Marty Robbins’ Story of My Life. In subsequent years, Big Al embarked on tours of his own, traveling to England, Spain, Holland, Germany, Sweden, Isle of Malta, Libya, North Africa, Italy, France, Luxembourg, Greece, the Far East, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, the Philippines, Guam, Hawaii, and Thailand, where he played for the King. During these overseas tours he played with Johnny Mathis, Dottie West, Lou Rawls, the Drifters and Fat’s Domino, his early idol. Domino even recorded two songs Downing wrote, Mary, Oh Mary and Heartbreak Hill.

1973 brought a recording contract with Lenox Records, and the Top 80 Pop hit, You’ll Never Miss The Water (Till The Well Runs Dry), a duet with Little Esther Phillips. Later, he signed with Warner Brothers. In 1974, Al released a single, I’ll Be Holdin’ On, that made the Disco charts in America and Europe. Disco and Big Al Downing, however, were not meant to be. He had compiled a stockpile of his own songs that he presented to his producer at Warner Brothers and Country was the consensus vote of what he did best. 1978 brought Mr. Jones, which charted in the Top 20, then Touch Me (I’ll Be Your Fool Once More), the following year which went Top 20. The song showcased his ability as a vocalist to soar, then drop to an emotional sill. The same year also produced Midnight Lace, charting in the 50’s, and the flip-side, I Ain’t No Fool, which reached the upper 70’s. The Story Behind The Story charted the following year, reaching the Top 40 and then, Bring It On Home reached the Top 20. Two years elapsed before he saw another hit, this time on the Team label. I’ll Be Loving You went Top 50, followed by Darlene, which reached the lower 60s, both in 1982. The following year, It Takes Love went Top 40, followed by Let’s Sing About Love, which peaked in the mid-60s. The Best Of Families reached the Top 50 in 1984, and that year saw Al’s final Team hit, There’ll Never Be A Better Night For Being Wrong which only made the Top 80. In 1987, Big Al signed with the Vine Street label which released Oh How Beautiful You Are (To Me) and Just One Night Won’t Do, both which only reached the Top 70. Two years later he was signed with Door Knob Records and had the 1989 Top 100 hit, I Guess By Now, which was Al’s only chart entree with that label.

In 2003, Downing released his first new album (many different compilations of earlier work has been released around the world), titled "One of A Kind." This album has received favorable radio and print reviews world-wide, and features 14 memorable tracks. Today, Downing resides in Massachussettes and continues to tour the globe, performing for a die-hard following of Big Al fans... you may even see him at one of his regular performances at the Grand Ole Oprey! He has been elected to several music hall-of-fames, most notable the