The Anita Kerr Singers: Creating the Classic Nashville Sound

3rd September 2016

Title: From Nashville…The Hit Sound

Label: El

The choice of this Masterworks is three fold: to show how popular the easy listening genre was (and, actually, still is); to illustrate how important harmony groups are and were in the USA as opposed to the UK and that a woman could be responsible, back in the fifties and early sixties don’t forget, for a superb suite of vocal arrangements in a scene that was dominated by men.

In fact, back in those days, The Anita Kerr Singers were one of the most important from Nashville. At the head of the pack was Kerr herself but also featured was alto, Dottie Dillard, tenor Gil Wright and Louis Nunley who took the baritone duties. The group first found fame on the Sunday Down South, early 50s radio show on NBC when a Decca contract promised much. The quartet then appeared on Arthur Godfrey’s TV show and, from there, to RCA records when then head of RCA country, Chet Atkins, cast an eye over their talents.

From this point, the group became inordinately busy, appearing behind country artists of note (including Red Foley, Jim Reeves, Perry Como, Floyd Cramer, Eddy Arnold, Hank Snow and Roy Orbison) and quickly developed a recognisable country sound of their own and produced their own albums.

The style was light and very friendly and their own albums tended to take country and pop cross-over hits through their own arrangements to produce a rapidly distinctive sound. In fact, such was the quartet’s influence, they could be said to have been greatly responsible for creating the ‘classic’ Nashville sound of the time.

This LP was the quartet’s debut disc for the RCA label and began a four year contract with the company but don’t be fooled by first impressions that offers a rather simplistic approach on first listen because Kerr was cannily adept at arranging the Nashville sound for a MOR audience. This was pure gold to the likes of Chet Atkins because not everyone was that enamoured with the rural nature of much of the Nashville output of the time. Hence, Kerr tweaked that music and made it saleable.

Take Floyd Cramer’s outing, Last Date, for example that was given tweaked lyrics and the parenthesis of With You, in the title and Red Foley’s Night Train to Memphis which was also successfully arranged. You’ll also find Carl Smith’s Hey Joe and Don Gibson’s Oh, Lonesome Me on this disc. Listening now, many hardened music fans might wince at the ersatz and rather dated presentation. This, surely, was the sort of music that Elvis and The Beatles was supposed to grind under their respective feet? That said, there are many listeners out there who have rediscovered Lounge Music and find new and intriguing angles in its delivery. Also, there is no doubt that Kerr herself is one of the most lyrical soprano singers in pop history with a delicious blend of tones from the quartet.

How important were they in the grand scheme of things? Well, in 1965, they beat the Beatles’s own release Help! to win the Grammy award with their own release, We Dig Mancini.

And how important was Kerr to harmonies, arranging and to Nashville? Apparently more important that the records suggest. Author, Larry Jordan interviewed Dottie Dillard many times who confirmed that Chet Atkins took much of the credit for the arrangement work that was, in fact, wholly created and completed by Kerr. Apparently, Atkins would, “…come in just long enough to sign the time card for the union so that he’d get paid, then he’d leave and go play golf…but he’d still get paid anyway plus his name would end up on the album credits even though it was Anita doing the work!”

For those who enjoy Harper’s Bizarre, The Four Freshmen, The Association, Free Design and even The Beach Boys, you will love this.

This album appears on the CD, The Stylings in Harmony: The Anita Kerr Singers, that also features the LP Genius in Harmony plus extra tracks.

Also look for more releases from Kerr on El including Tender Words including that LP along with Chet Atkins with the Anita Kerr Singers plus The Best Chet Yet aka The Amazing Chet Atkins plus extras. Finally, Anita Kerr Forever includes Velvet Voices, Voices in Hi-Fi plus extras and On This Holy Night/ Christmas with Chet Atkins, two albums that also includes extra tracks.