Keeping in mind the key word in your query is "artist," not just a singer, writer or performer, I'm casting a solid vote for the Alabama Troubadour, Hank Williams.
How remarkable it is, considering Williams lived only 29 years. He gave us so much music, yet we're left wondering how many more treasures he'd have given the world if he had lived longer.
In trying to analyze the emotional chords he struck, I feel it was his unique ability to express feelings, often phrased in near-rhymes, which, in their simplicity, are fresh and poignant:
"You're nice to me, when there's no one else around ... you only build me up, just to let me down."
Or this particular favorite of mine:
"There was a time when I believed that you belonged to me, but now I know your heart is shackled to a memory."
That this young, mostly uneducated man could come up with the lyrics he did displays an incredible, natural talent. His words touched nearly everyone, across many socio-economic strata.
--William Ellison, Hamden, Conn.
Most unique about Jimmie Rodgers is the yodel he brought to recordings. I think the main reason his songs are not played anymore is that yodeling is simply outdated.
--Chet Diehl, Sumner, Wash.
DEAR WILLIAM & CHET: I have chosen your letters since they convey the general feelings of the many who voted for Hank Williams and for Jimmie Rodgers.
The public has spoken, and I wouldn't disagree. Here is the final tally of the Top 5 vote-getters: 1. Hank Williams. 2. Jimmie Rodgers. 3. George Jones. 4. Gene Autry. 5. Eddy Arnold.
Thanks to all who participated in our official, unofficial poll.
Is there a reference book with this type of material, or a software program that let's you do it?
--Jim Annerton, (firstname.lastname@example.org)
DEAR JIM: I know of no publication or software that allows one to identify songs strictly on the basis of lyric snippets.
It is a matter of both living through it - nearly 50 years of listening intently and buying records - and studying recorded music. That's what crams my brain with such data.
When someone cites a few lines from a song, some mysterious widget in my mind's book of knowledge kicks in with additional verses and, eventually, a title.
Have you ever heard of it? Can I still buy a copy?
--Mike Steele, Tacoma, Wash. (Tug911@worldnet.att.net)
DEAR MIKE: I am very familiar with "Underwater," which I bought when it came out in early 1961.
You ask about buying a copy, but it's not clear if you want the original single, or just to have the track available.
The hit release on 45 (Candix 314) sells for $15 to $25.
If you would like "Underwater" on CD, this track is found on the boxed, four-disc set, "Cowabunga" (Rhino R2-72418).
IZ ZAT SO? Nine months after his death, Hank Williams' widow, Billy Jean, married singer Johnny Horton. When an auto accident claimed Horton's life, Billy Jean once again found herself the surviving spouse of a major C&W star.
In 1961, Billie Jean Horton had her one and only chart hit, "Ocean of Tears" - perhaps an appropriate song title for the twice-widowed lady.