DEAR JERRY: For over a quarter-century you have been coming to the rescue of confused and confounded music lovers. Now you can add me to that list.
While looking over a list I received of records for sale, I spotted this item:
Jerry Wallace ”In the Misty Moonlight”/“Cannon Ball” (Challenge 59246)
As you know, ”In the Misty Moonlight” was a huge hit for Jerry, and I have it. However, my copy has “Even the Bad Times Are Good” on the reverse side.
In fact, I have never heard of a Jerry Wallace song titled “Cannon Ball.”
What does come to mind is the popular instrumental of that title by Duane Eddy. Did Jerry do a version of that music, but with words added?
Or, did the dealer simply make a mistake when preparing the list? I catch typos all the time on these things.
Scotty Walters, Dayton, Ohio
DEAR CONFUSED AND CONFOUNDED: Your dilemma is reasonable, considering this story has enough twists to inspire a mini, mini-series.
The adventure begins in the summer of 1963, with the debut single by the Soul Surfers, “Cannon Ball” coupled with “Home from Camp” (Challenge 9209). Both are instrumentals.
This “Cannon Ball,” which bears no resemblance to Duane Eddy's 1959 hit, “Cannonball,” is merely a rockin' rendition of the country classic, “Wabash Cannonball” (a.k.a., “Wabash Cannon Ball”).
“Home from Camp” is the band's version of Allan Sherman's “Hello Mudduh, Hello Fadduh (A Letter from Camp).”
About a year later (June 1964), Jerry Wallace's “In the Misty Moonlight” came out backed with “Even the Bad Times Are Good” (Challenge 59246).
As this great Cindy Walker tune headed for the Top 20, and on its way to being Wallace's biggest hit since “Primrose Lane” (1959), some stations began playing “Even the Bad Times Are Good.”
After just two months, Challenge became so concerned about wasting a potential A-side that they replaced “Even the Bad Times Are Good” with “Cannon Ball,” yet the selection number (59246) remained unchanged.
Now you know the list you received is accurate.
Having a humdrum filler for a B-side, “In the Misty Moonlight” ran its course without flip-side competition.
Jerry's next single came out in October, and of course it was “Even the Bad Times Are Good,” this time backed with “Spanish Guitars.”
Nothing about “Spanish Guitars” is humdrum.
Challenge, and especially their co-owner and operations manager, Joe Johnson, must have been exasperated to once again see a B-side get as much or more airplay and juke box spins than the A-side.
This was especially true in southwestern markets near Mexico, such as Houston and San Diego, where “Spanish Guitars” made the local charts while “Even the Bad Times Are Good” was ignored.
Nationally, neither side made the Top 100, partly due to the split airplay. The other reason involved this British Invasion thing, the effect of which left roughly 20% fewer chart spots available for non-UK artists.
Despite the challenges Challenge faced in their effort to turn “Even the Bad Times Are Good” into a hit, they were not alone in this regard.
In mid-July 1969, Liberty Records had Jerry record a new version of “Even the Bad Times Are Good.”
Unfortunately, this effort (Liberty 56155) didn't fare any better than the 1964 recordings, though it did briefly make the radio playlists of numerous country stations. For two weeks in May 1970, the single appeared on Billboard's country survey, but only reached No. 74.
Several other famous singers recorded “Even the Bad Times Are Good.” Besides Jerry Wallace, the tune was waxed by: Carl Belew (though not until 1965, even though he and Clyde Pitts wrote the song); Mickey Gilley (1974); Sonny James (1965); George Jones &
Tammy Wynette (1976); Ray Pillow (1964); Connie Smith & Nat Stuckey (1973); and Conway Twitty (1973).
In 1967, a year without a significant Belew-Pitts “Even The Bad Times Are Good” recording, the Tremeloes moved into the Top 40 here and the Top 5 in Britain with a totally different song of the same title.
Hear “Even The Bad Times Are Good” and “Spanish Guitars” here!
IZ ZAT SO? Considering how renowned and recognizable “Wabash Cannonball” is, one might find something fishy about the writing credit for “Cannon Ball.” Both Challenge 9209 and 59246 name only Joe Johnson.
The most likely reason this track was chosen to replace “Even the Bad Times Are Good” is it allowed Johnson to share in the royalties for one side of a very successful single (“In the Misty Moonlight”).
I am not aware of anyone challenging Mr. Johnson's writing claim for “Wabash Cannonball,” though he was neither the first nor the last to do so.
Most recordings credit A.P. Carter, of the Carter Family. They had the first recorded version in 1929.
Several have no songwriting credits whatsoever. Among those are Bill Carlisle's Kentucky Boys (Decca 46045), Hugh Cross (Columbia 15439), and some early 78s by Roy Acuff and His Crazy Tennesseans (Columbia, Okeh, Vocalion, etc.). Subsequent Acuff issues do credit A.P. Carter.
Few women sang about the Cannonball, but Kay Starr did, and her Capitol 78s can be found with either A.P. Carter or “Traditional” where the writer is shown. Interestingly, Kay is accompanied by guitarist Merle Travis and His Orchestra.
Finally, Jerry Reed, Lonnie Donegan, and Dicky Doo, much like Joe Johnson, list themselves directly under the title.
Opinions vary regarding who wrote what and when, but what is known is that combined singles sales of “The Wabash Cannonball” now exceed 10 million copies.