Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: Smack dab in the middle of the late '60s psychedelic era, when things like Iron Butterfly's “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” were being played like crazy, I heard a completely different kind of a song.

Unfortunately, in the years that followed, I never again heard this tune, but I am hopeful you will identify it for me. I have no information about it, other than a brief description.

This is a beautiful song by a male singer that refers to the violin as being the instrument that comes the closest to the human voice. In it, the singer wants the music of the violins to express his feelings to his lady friend, on his behalf. To speak to her in a way that he cannot.

It is such a clever idea for a song, one I wish I had bought at the time. Still, I've never forgotten it and now I want to find it.
—Marilyn Snyder, Federal Way, Wash.

DEAR MARILYN: Your brief description is enough when referring to, as you say, such an uncommon recording — and one that I consider a musical masterpiece.

This late-1968 number is simply titled “Strings,” and the singer is Wynn Stewart.

Adding “Strings” to your vinyl collection means finding either the original single (Capitol 2341), or the early 1969 album on which it came, “Let the Whole World Sing with Me” (Capitol ST-214).

If you prefer your “Strings” digitized and on CD, then you'd better sit down. I have found only one choice, and it's a pricey one.

“Strings”, along with the other 278 tracks that comprise the complete Wynn Stewart career retrospective, is available on the 10-CD boxed set, “Wishful Thinking — Wynn Stewart: 1954 - 1985)” (Bear Family BCD-15886). Prices vary on this mammoth set, ranging from $175 to $230.

Finally, do you realize you began your letter with a 1964 hit by Ray Charles (“Smack Dab in the Middle”)?

DEAR JERRY: For a long time I have believed the Platters to be the group that sang the hit of “Ivory Tower.”

However, a lady friend recently disputed that, saying it was another of the older singing groups. Please settle this matter for us.
—Martha Williams, Lakeland, Fla.

DEAR MARTHA: While she may not remember the group, your friend is right about it not being the Platters. The original hit of “Ivory Tower” is by Otis Williams and the Charms (DeLuxe 6093).

Immediately after the Charms' release, two fine cover versions — one by Cathy Carr, the other by Gale Storm — came out. All three rode high on the charts in the spring of 1956.

DEAR JERRY: The first time I ever heard “Me and Bobby McGee” was around 1970, and by a male singer with the sweetest voice I ever heard.

I know Kris Kristofferson wrote this song, but the version I recall is definitely not by Kristofferson. Also, I am familiar with some of the other hits of this song, such as by Janis Joplin, Jerry Lee Lewis, etc., but none are the one I seek.

Can you tell me the name of the singer I am describing?
—Fred J. Levin, D.M.D., Lancaster, Pa.

DEAR FRED: I am certain you heard what is the very first hit recording of “Me and Bobby McGee,” a 1969 release by the old King of the Road himself, Roger Miller (Smash 2230).

Janis Joplin did not issue the tune until 1971, though her version did reach No. 1. Jerry Lee's rockin' waxing came out about 11 months later.

IZ ZAT SO? Otis Williams attempted one of the most dramatic style changes ever, in 1971.

Taking leave of the Charms and the Rhythm and Blues that made him a star two decades earlier, he made an album of country songs. Accompanied by a new band, the Midnight Cowboys, the lead track on this self-titled LP (Stop 1022) is the appropriately titled “I Wanna Go Country.”

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