Category Archives: blues

#195 – Act Naturally

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#195 – Act Naturally by The Beatles

Acting naturally

– I’m going to say something that might just make your country granddad kick over his rocker, summon the hounds and reach for his musket. But before he starts ruffling rhinestones and planning to mount me as a hood ornament on the family bass boat, allow me to plead my case as being sincere. This is coming from a Classic Rocker who still loves his mother, the American Flag and believes Elvis is The King.

The British made country music cool.

Okay, I’m not saying it was totally uncool since The King, Jerry Lee and The Man In Black were all inspired by the country greats. They took it in a different direction by adding their own personal roll from black-owned rhythm and blues to make it rock.

And for a young baby boomer with northern roots and an urban outlook, members of the country branch that the rock and roll originators were listening to had never been played on my vinyl turntable.

Acting unnaturally

What had been fed to us up north through black and white televisions did nothing to help country’s image compared to what we were watching during the swingin’ mid-1960’s. The Ed Sullivan Show, Shindig and Hullabaloo featured British Invasion acts and American pop stars that set the standard for what we found cool at the time. The Beatles, The Dave Clark Five and The Animals were among the first wave of invaders, while Paul Revere and The Raiders, The Byrds, Lovin’ Spoonfull and other U.S. favs did their best to hold the home turf.

That was a big jump over a big swamp when you think about how country’s image was ingrained into our young minds only a few years before. Region was a major factor and television was our only connection.

As a northern boomer I didn’t pine for the sound of a steel guitar. I also didn’t know the roots of other important musical genres like Delta Blues, Chicago Blues or Memphis Blues. There really was no exposure for this type of music until The Stones borrowed our homegrown Bo Diddley beats, Chuck Berry riffs, Muddy Waters howls and Little Walter harp and sold it back to us. But that wasn’t country music. For many of us who were geographically removed from the real deal, our country music education came from television.

And it wasn’t always good.

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My earliest memory of country music was courtesy of Cousin Ernie. Even today with reruns of I Love Lucy moving into its seventh decade, Tennessee Ernie Ford playing Lucy’s cousin remains a preserved image of how sophisticated people (Lucy and Ricky lived in the modern metropolis of New York City) saw country folk. Cousin Ernie hemmed, hawed and whined his way through bumbling country bumpkin, fish-out-of-water situations, before laying his corn-fed wisdom on the Ricardos and (Fred and Ethel) Mertz resulting in a countrified happy ending.

Cousin Ernie

And to top it all off, the couples would dress up in American Gothic style complete with bib overalls and Lucy’s blackened out front tooth in joining Cousin Ernie to sing a yee-haw hootenanny of a song.

By 1964 did any of us really want to grow up to be the Cousin Ernie we were watching in reruns? Not if we could be one of The Fab Four in A Hard Day’s Night instead. And I won’t even mention The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction and a few years later the classic cornball humor of Hee-Haw.

Except I just did…

These television shows were not the best images of where The King and his court of rockers first gained their love of music.

And to throw even more salt into a generation gap wound (call off the hounds gramps) our television inspired perceptions could be extreme. On a typical Saturday evening with only three networks to choose from, you could watch The Porter Wagoner Show featuring a big-haired, big-country, big-everything Dolly Parton (I saw her in concert many years later and fell in love with her) or The Lawrence Welk Show. Based on their urban or rural leanings, grandma and grandpa were fans of one or the other. Since I have no recollection of what could possibly have been on the third channel, I’m guessing a lot of the boomer generation in my neck of the woods spent the hour outside riding our bikes and creating adventures.

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Years later we used these adventures as worthy excuses to tell our kids to quit sitting in front of the TV and go outside. But I won’t mention that.

Except I just did…

“I don’t need rehearsing.”

By 1965 the original rock ‘n’ rollers had been put out to pasture and wouldn’t really return until the rock ‘n’ roll revival shows later in the decade. The Beatles were a pop group that gently led us into rock ‘n’ roll. The Rolling Stones were a blues group that dragged us there. But they knew something we didn’t. They thought country music was cool. And for many of us our first eye-opening television exposure to this phenomenon happened on Sunday, September 12th when Ringo Starr sang Act Naturally with his own buckaroo backup band on The Ed Sullivan Show.

The song naturally appeared in my waking mind on June 6th. The reason, outside of being a very catchy tune, was that I had just heard it the day before. I can’t help thinking how funny the mind works as I herd this into the recent memory category of Dream Songs.

Fans in the UK had already been countrified by this song in August 1965 when it was included on side 2 (the non-soundtrack songs) of the album from the Beatles’ second film Help! Since the U.S. version included the (non-Beatles) instrumental background tracks and only songs included in the movie, we hadn’t heard it.

Well, okay… most of us hadn’t heard it.

Max Volume

The Beatles performed Act Naturally during their earth-shaking appearance in front of 55,600 fans at New York’s Shea Stadium on August 15th. That crowd had never heard it either and wondered what song the band was playing. And with girls screaming at max volume, many could leave the concert and still say they hadn’t heard it.

After Shea it was replaced by the more familiar I Wanna Be Your Man for the rest of the summer tour.

My first impression that night watching Ringo sing his first and only solo on The Ed Sullivan Show was that John Lennon and Paul McCartney had written a special number to promote Help! The film had been released in August and we all knew Ringo was the featured Fab being chased by an Eastern cult.

They’re gonna put me in the movies!

That wasn’t the case. Act Naturally was written by Johnny Russell and Voni Morrison. It was a hit for Buck Owens & His Buckaroos in 1963, reaching No. 1 on the country charts. Buck later became one of the co-hosts for Hee-Haw and the circle continued.

To check out Buck singing Act Naturally in 1966, visit this LINK on YouTube.

I Love Cousin Lucy

The Beatles’ version definitely had a country twang that separated it from the rockabilly they also favored with songs like Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby and Honey Don’t. And by the way, let’s thank the countrified roots of the great Carl Perkins for penning both those classics.

Act Naturally was definitely country, but with the limited exposure we’d had with Cousin Ernie and Uncle Jed, combined with The Fab Four’s 1965 pop star status residing in the stratosphere, it was tough to pin down that genre after only one listen – even without the screams experienced at Shea Stadium. When it was released as a single two days later on September 14th on the B-side of Yesterday, I went outside, hopped on my bike and bought my first country record.

And it was a lot cooler than Cousin Ernie and Cousin Lucy (with a blackened out front tooth) had made it seem only a few years before.

Here’s what fans may have heard – or might have missed depending on their seating section’s scream level volume. Ringo Starr & His Beatles Buckaroos singing Act Naturally during a very hot summer evening at Shea Stadium on August 15, 1965.

 

 

To purchase the UK version of the Help! movie soundtrack with Act Naturally visit Amazon.com.

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

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