“I don’t like country music, but I don’t mean to denigrate those who do. And for the people who like country music, denigrate means ‘put down’.” – Bob Newhart
Ray Benson, front man for the venerable country-swing band Asleep at the Wheel, introduced the band’s next song with some background about its composer. The tiny Texas town of Mexia boasted two celebrated women, he said: Anna Nicole Smith, infamous 1993 Playboy Playmate of the Year and Country Music Hall-of-Famer Cindy Walker. Benson went on, explaining that the song was written by a lady from Mexia, “The one with the big… er… hits!”
Maybe you thought you didn’t like country music. If you’re like me, you’ve been listening to country music for decades without realizing it. The Beatles famously covered Buck Owens and Carl Perkins. Hank Williams’s songs have regularly been hits for pop and rock artists. From Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly to Norah Jones and Wynton Marsalis, country music infiltrates all styles of music. In spite of that, we sophisticates still denigrate the genre.
Cindy Walker illustrates the crossover appeal. Hundreds of her songs have been recorded. She lived in Texas, with her mother, composing songs. For a few months every year, she relocated to Nashville to sell her work. Country stars Eddy Arnold, Bob Wills, Hank Snow, Jim Reeves and many others have recorded her songs. Bing Crosby, Elvis, Roy Orbison and Ray Charles have hit the charts with Cindy Walker compositions. More than 150 versions of “You Don’t Know Me” have been recorded. A few years ago, Willie Nelson put out an album of Cindy Walker songs.
Cindy Walker died in 2006, but she is really still with us.