Reissue CD Review: Dickey Lee – Original Greatest Hits (Real Gone, 2013)
Dickey Lee has the distinction of landing not one, not two, but three tragedy songs in the Billboard Top 20. He first rose to fame with 1962’s “Patches” (which, also somewhat incredibly, was the title of a completely different 1970 hit by Clarence Carter) and again three years later with “Laurie (Strange Things Happen).” Following these successes on the Smash and TCF Hall labels, he signed with RCA and developed a successful country music career that stretched through the 1970s. Although you can find some of Lee’s RCA recordings on the grey-market Greatest Hits Collection, and very good re-recordings of his RCA hits on a recent Varese release, his original RCA masters have gone without official reissue until now. Real Gone has finally cracked the Sony vault and rescued these twenty original RCA releases.
Gathered here are all but two of Lee’s charting singles for RCA (missing are 1974’s “Give Me One Good Reason” and 1978’s “My Heart Won’t Cry Anymore”), along with Lee’s album track of his original “She Thinks I Still Care.” The latter had been a 1962 country chart topper for George Jones, but Lee didn’t get around to releasing his own version until a decade later. Lee sang with a boyishness that occasionally suggested the tremolo of Bobby Goldsboro, adding an earnest note to the recitation “The Mahogany Pulpit” and lending a yearning quality to covers of Delaney & Bonnie’s “Never Ending Song of Love” and Johnny & Jack’s “Ashes of Love.” He completed his tragedy trifecta with 1975’s “Rocky,” his lone chart-topper and a same-year pop hit for Austin Roberts. Roberts’ release cut off any pop-crossover opportunity, but Lee’s single is distinguished by the guitar playing of Memphis legend Reggie Young.
Born in Memphis, Lee recorded a pair of late-50s doo-wop singles for his hometown Sun label before finding his way onto the pop charts. His 1970s turn to country wasn’t so much a career calculation as it was a canny choice to take advantage of the opportunity presented by RCA. Working under the auspices of Chet Atkins in Nashville, Lee’s southern background mixed easily with a country sound that was rediscovering simpler melodies and more overt twang. The productions are mostly shorn of countrypolitan’s heavy vocal choruses and string arrangements, and the spotlight is returned to fiddles and pedal steel. As the decade wore on, the productions added more crossover elements, and Lee’s last charting single for RCA, Barry Mann’s “It’s Not Easy,” is quite pop.
Despite his proven songwriting talent, Lee’s hits were mostly from the pens of others, including Don Williams, Bob McDill and a host of Nashville pros. He picked up a few country chestnuts, such as the late ’30s “Sparklin’ Brown Eyes,” and a few tunes from the pop world, including Bread’s country-tinged soft-rock “I Use the Soap.” Lee also found opportunities to reach back to his rock and soul roots with Razzy Bailey’s “9,999,999 Tears” and Rudy Clark’s “If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody.” The former even crossed over to the pop chart for Lee’s first Top 100 appearance in more than a decade. Real Gone’s 21-track CD was remastered from the original tapes by Mark Wilder at Sony’s Battery Studios, and the liners are by Bill Dahl. This is a long overdue treat for Lee’s fans; here’s hoping someone follows up with the original RCA albums!