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Melba Joyce Montgomery was one of several strong-voiced girl singers who emerged in the late 1950's and early 1960's to make a name for herself in the country music world. Ironically, Melba generally did better in duets than as a solo vocalist. The Iron City, Tennessee native had hit records with both George Jones and Charlie Louvin, but of her several chart-making singles only "No Charge" hit number one and seems likely to have stood the test of time. In recent decades Melba has also become a successful songwriter as is her brother Earl "Peanut" Montgomery.
Melba was born in Iron City, Tennessee which is near the state line and roughly half-way between Lawrenceburg, Tennessee and Florence, Alabama. Singing around home and in church seems to have gone on since her early childhood. In a 1964 interview with Tom Gray of The Columbus Ledger (GA), she relates that she had learned to play the guitar by the age of six. "My mom and dad taught five brothers, a sister and myself to play." When she was seven years old, she heard her first country music program on the radio; that lit a desire in her to become a country and western singer.
She also sang in numerous talent contests, but the one that really counted was sponsored by Pet Milk that awarded the winner—among other prizes—an appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Melba won and her career took off. This contest was reported to be in 1958 in other sources. However, newspaper archives show that 17-year old Margie Bowes of Roxboro, NC won the Pet Milk Contest on Friday night, June 22, 1955. Ms. Bowes represented a station in Danville, VA.
Melba left Florence and headed north to Nashville in 1958. For the next four years, she sang on and off as girl vocalist with Roy Acuff's Smoky Mountain Boys and recorded her first numbers for Maze and then Nugget Records.
Of her songwriting, she told Mr. Gray, "The songs I write depend on the mood I'm in. I may write three or four songs a week and on other occasions write nothing for six months or more."
In the latter half of 1960, she went with Roy Acuff and his Smoky Mountain Boys on an extended tour of American military installations in France, Germany and Italy. She also did a tour with them to Australia in 1959.
During research, once in awhile we come across an article or in this case, an editorial opinion that is not the usual cut and dried review of an artist or her performance. Below is an editorial written by ..... about Melba Montgomery and her appearance with Roy Acuff at a political rally. Politics can get petty at times and well, it got under the writer's skin.
Songs Sway The Voters
ROCKY MOUNT Melba Montgomery came to Rocky Mount the other night.
Melba Montgomery is a picker and a singer from Alabama who does her picking and her singing with Roy Acuff.
And Melba Montgomery is the zowiest picker and singer I ever saw. Roy Acuff, of course, comes from Tennessee and he and Melba and some other people were picking and singing at a Harrison-Godwin-Button rally.
Even as Melba was belting out, "Ohhhhhhhhh, You're Teasing Me," at the Rocky Mount Armory, some 25 miles to the north A. E. S. Stephens was making some nasties about politicians who get Roy to pick and sing at their rallies.
No Nasties About Melba Please
I can forgive the lieutenant governor for saying nasties about the other ticket have, as a matter of fact, become quite used to it in this summer of Democratic discontent but I won't have anything said to the detriment of Melba Montgomery, the classiest guitar-playing sexpot who ever hipped her way out of Alabama. (Dale Evans should live so long.)
The Harrison campaigners might well have picked Dale Evans instead of Melba. Lots of people thought that anybody who took the platform after Melba was somehow second-rate.
"Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, you're teasing me," sang Melba, tossing her curls about and flashing her teeth.
"Ahaa," said I, nearly crushing an intellectual young reporter who knew all about the campaign issues but was having a precarious time sitting on his typewriter lid.
"Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh, you're teasing me," sang Melba, as the campaign people began to look for chairs to seat the ticket. I was looking at Melba. There was a man there trying to fix the popcorn machine in the concession stand. He was looking at Melba, too.
Clogging to the 'Cannonball'
Old Roy, who had been doing a yo-yo routine and balancing his fiddle bow on his chin, stepped up and sang, "The Wabash Cannonball." I did a modest little clog dance. There wasn't much room in the concession stand, and when the popcorn repair man started clogging too, I saw it was hopeless. Melba stepped back then and Roy helped them get some chairs on the platform. Then a man put down the bass fiddle he had been playing and imitated a train with a harmonica. Melba came back and picked up the bass fiddle as airily as if it had been the Harp of Tara and began to plunk away. I marvelled at her versatility. "Don't let your sweet love down," sang somebody else. It wasn't Melba.
Melba and the Law Don't Mix
Then Melba and everybody went away and the ticket came up on the platform. The popcorn machine repair man began to repair the popcorn machine. The reporter on the lid began to type.
State Sen. Robert Y. Button stepped up to the mike where beauteous Melba had so lately stood. And then there was State Sen. Mills Godwin and then Rep. William M. Tuck and then Albertis S. Harrison.
They say that Melba came back again. But I did not see her.
You can fix a popcorn machine and look at Melba—maybe. But you can't mix Melba and the right-to-work law.
We would be remiss if we did not report the results of the primary elections in July 1961. Perhaps Melba did sway a voter or two. The Democrats did elect Sate Senators Mills E. Godwin, Jr. and Robert Y. Button. The opposition candidates led by A. E. S. Stephens rand strong in what was termed the more liberal northern Virginia's 10th district - as expected. The Godwin/Ticket had the support of U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd. In November, they were part of a Democrat tide that saw Albertis S. Harrison Jr. elected governor and Mills E. Godwin Jr. as lieutenant governor and Robert Y. Button as attorney general.
In 1962, she left Roy's show and decided to perform as a single. Her older brother was her manager. She had another brother (probably Earl) who wrote songs for her. In June of 1964, she was booked through December of that year.
Perhaps many country artists or other singers in other genres were always asked about the new group from the UK - The Beatles. Ms. Montgomery noted, "They're fine in their field, but nothing like country and western music. I have watched them on TV and get a kick out of them. My idol is Kitty Wells, however."
In wrapping up his 1964 interview with Melba, he said the publicity man for Melba told him that when Melba is on the program of entertainment, the venue is guaranteed at least 4,000 will attend. He wrly notes that "...her fans say Melba Montgomery will be singing long after the "Beatles" are forgotten."
In 1962, the Billboard poll at the DJ Convention had Judy Lynn and Melba Montgomery as the number one and two most promising new female vocalists.
Other numbers from these sessions eventually came out on a Pickwick album. In January 1963, her second big break came when Melba recorded duets with country superstar George Jones. Their song "We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds" went on to become an all-time country classic and proved to be the first of six George and Melba duets to make the Billboard charts. In addition, they did duet LPs including one that was all bluegrass. In contrast. her first solo chart maker "Hall of Shame" peaked at number 26.
Montgomery continued recording both solo and duets after moving from United Artists to Musicor, another label associated with Pappy Dailey. In addition to more duets with Jones, she also did some with Gene Pitney of which "Baby Ain't that Fine" peaked at the 15th spot in early 1966. Melba's last chart maker with Jones "Party Pickin'" stalled at 24 in September 1967. After that, she sought new territory although her work Jones ranks among the best duets in the history of the genre.
Research stumbled upon a review by a Canadian writer for The Vancouver Sun in 1966. In reading it a couple of times, it seems this person perhaps was not a fan of country music and it may have been the reason for the review he wrote. Another guess would be, he did not want to be at the show. But we will let you read it and you can make your own judgment on his opinion. The show was held at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver, British Columbia on March 20. The stars were Ernest Tubb and the Texas Troubadours, Ferlin Husky and the Hush Puppies with special added attractions — Freddie Hart, Melba Montgomery and Mary Taylor. Ticket prices ranged from $2.00(CDN) to $3.50(CDN).
Guitarist, Harmony Brighten Drab Show
By Graham Olney
March 21, 1966
"The Country Music Spectacular at the QE Theatre Sunday proved that performers must exhibit either instrumental and vocal virtuosity or good showmanship to succeed.
The music and entertainment were generally drab and uninspired with two notable exceptions: Ferlin Husky's background harmony team and the lead guitarist with the Texas Troubadours.
Ernest Tubb's much acclaimed new vocalist, Mary Taylor, proved adequate, but the tasteless prattle she inserted between songs ruined her performance. Her lack of showmanship and stage presence broke any rapport she had established with the audience.
Other stars also flopped.
Melba Montgomery didn't sing well, even considering the western style which asks for little musical competence. Freddie Hart could neither sing nor entertain.
Ernest Tubb, who has just been admitted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, received applause for serving up nostalgic old melodies and little else.
Mediocrity seemed the fare of the evening. But Leon Rhodes, Troubadour lead guitarist and Marvis and Orlo Thompson, Ferlin Husky's background harmony group, made the concert worth while.
Rhodes' excellent playing provided the gel which held the Texas Troubadours' music together.
Marvis Thompson and, to a lesser extent, Orlo Thompson, added harmonic color to Ferlin Husky's vocals.
Husky himself is a good entertainer, serving up the corn with a sure hand, but it was his brother and sister harmony team which really brought home the gold."
But we did a little more research and found that Mr. Olney perhaps wrote to generate responses from readers via letters to the editor. About a week or so after that review was published, a fan wrote a rebuttal to his 'review.'
Editor, The Sun, Sir
April 6, 1966
"Concerning Graham Olney's column regarding the recent Country Music Show at the QE Theatre, I found his criticism quite objectionable. He conveys ideas that all western music is "corn" and most western performers are idiots.
Further, he says "the western style . . . asks for little music competence," a statement which not only questions the talent of hundreds of country music artists but also insults the intelligence of their fans. These audiences consist of average people from all walks of life who happen to enjoy one of the most honest forms of music and who are just as sincere in their support as any other group of music-lovers.
What gives Mr. Olney the right to say that western style entertainment is drab and uninspired?
In my opinion, a good critic is one who, if he doesn't like the subject he is reviewing, at least keeps an open mind about it. Most stage performances have week spots and criticism of individual artists is fine, but to belittle a certain type of music simply because of one concert reveals a great deal of ignorance and poor taste." — Miss D. Nicol
After her work with Jones and United Artists-Musicor ended, Melba went to Capitol where she had considerable duet success with Charlie Louvin. "Something to Brag About," a song which celebrated a romance between an elevator operator and "a short order cook at an all-night café," hit the 18th spot and "Did You Ever?" peaked No. 26. Four other duets also made the Billboard listings. However, of six singles released on Capitol, only one "He's My Man" charted at all, reaching number 61.
Moving to Electra, Melba's single efforts did better. Her first 1973 release, "Wrap Your Love Around Me," a number co-written with husband Jack Solomon, hit the 38th spot and her third release "No Charge" became a classic. Not only in the Country field, but she got noticed in the Pop field as well. Billboard named her one of the Top Three New Pop Female singers behind Maria Muldaur and Sister Janet Mead. The Top 20 Pop Female Singers named by The Billboard in 1947 included several country females in addition to Melba — Anne Murray, Linda Rondstadt, Donna Fargo, Tanya Tucker and Marie Osmond. In all, she had eight singles on the charts of which "Don't Let the Good Times Fool You" in 1975 ranked highest at number 15. Melba then returned to United Artists where she had a pair of numbers on the charts in 1977.
Although her solo vocals (except for "No Charge") never quite matched the success of her hit duets, Melba Montgomery remained one of the best female singers of her era. By the 1990's, she concentrated more on songwriting, but her compact CD releases from this period presented her vocals to be as strong as ever. These include Do You Know Where Your Man Is (Playback PCD 4508, 1992) and Golden Memories (Classic World Productions 2100, 2001), the latter being a collection of country standards.
Melba married her husband, Jack Lew Solomon II May 29, 1968. He passed away on June 24, 2014 (born February 12, 1943). His obituary indicated he was a musician, had worked with the JOnes Boys - George Jones' band as well as on session recordings for such stars as Dolly Parton, Marty Robbins, Alabama, Ronnie Robbins, The Kendalls, Ernest Tubb, Andy Williams, B. J. Thomas, The Kendalls, Slim Whitman and his wife, Melba. The couple had four daughters: Tara Denise; Melba Jacqueline; Diana Lynn and Melissa.
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