Forgotten Artists: Roy Drusky
I am not sure why this should be true, but the 1960s produced an enormous number of silky-smooth male vocalists. Perhaps it was due to the crossover success of artists such as Eddy Arnold and Jim Reeves. More likely it was the result of the Rock ‘n Roll revolution of the mid-50s wiping out the radio market for classic pop, so that artists who would have aspired to become the next Eddy Howard, Johnny Ray, Julius LaRosa or Frank Sinatra, found themselves looking toward a Nashville that was attempting to broaden its appeal by co-opting the easy listening market.
The end result was some of the blandest music Nashville ever produced–no fiddle, no steel, pleasant but unmemorable voices and songs played at slow to medium-slow tempos. Most of these pleasant male voices made an album or two and faded from sight. This, not Hank and Lefty and ET, was the music that fueled the outlaw revolt of the mid-1970s.
Still, there were a few of the pleasant crooners who had something to distinguish themselves from the crowd–a little grit in their voice, some soul in their musical interpretations and something that set their voice apart from the crowd. Roy Drusky — the country Perry Como — was one of those few.
A true southerner, Drusky was born on June 22, 1930 in Atlanta, GA. His mother, a church organist, attempted to interest her son in music but like most boys of his era, Drusky’s first love was baseball. It wasn’t until he enlisted in the US Navy in the late 1940s that he shifted his focus to music, although even after leaving the Navy, he first tried out for the Cleveland Indians. In 1951, he put together a country band, the Southern Ranch Boys, that played in the Decatur, GA area. In Decatur, Drusky landed a job as a disc jockey. He continued to perform in local clubs after his band broke up, and on the strength of a 1953 Starday single, “Such a Fool,” he was signed to Columbia Records in 1955.
From Georgia, he moved to Minneapolis to continue his work in radio. Shortly after arriving, Drusky began headlining at the Flame Club, where he was able to showcase his talent as a singer and a songwriter. His songs came to the attention of Faron Young, who recorded two of Drusky’s songs: “Alone With You,” released in 1958, was Young’s biggest Billboard chart hit spending 13 weeks at #1 (oddly, it only reached #2 on Cash Box’s country chart) and “Country Girl,” released in 1959, which also reached #1.
Soon thereafter, Drusky moved to Nashville, signed with Decca and worked with legendary producer Owen Bradley. In 1960, a pair of successful ballads, “Another” (#2) and “Anymore” (#3), led to an invitation to join the Grand Ole Opry. That same year, he also released a Top 30 duet with Kitty Wells, “I Can’t Tell My Heart That.”
In 1961, Drusky released the double-sided hit “I’d Rather Loan You Out” (#10)/”Three Hearts in a Tangle (#2)” and also issued his first LP, Anymore With Roy Drusky. The next year, he reached the Top 10 again with “Second Hand Rose” (#3), and after a 1963 switch to Mercury records, the amusing “Peel Me A Nanner” (#10). Drusky continued to chart records, finally achieving that elusive #1 in 1965 with the “Yes, Mr. Peters,” a duet with Priscilla Mitchell (aka Mrs. Jerry Reed). Interestingly enough, in 1965, Roy’s version of the Liz Anderson-penned “Strangers” outperformed Merle Haggard’s version of the same song. Both versions reached the Top 10 (Drusky’s reached #6, Hag’s reached #7), even though the song seems tailor-made for Haggard.
Drusky appeared in his first film, White Lightnin’ Express, in 1965 and also sang the feature’s title song. He later appeared in two other films: The Golden Guitar and Forty Acre Feud. Drusky also served as a producer for several acts, most notably Brenda Byers.
His recording success faded after 1965. Although he released 11 chart hits between 1966-69, only two (“Where the Blue and Lonely Go” and “Such a Fool”) reached the Top 10. In 1970, he had a brief renaissance with “Long, Long Texas Road” (#5 Billboard/#3 Cash Box /#1 Record World) and “All My Hard Times” (#9). In 1971 he made his last trip to the Top 20 with a cover of Neil Diamond’s “Red, Red, Wine,” which reached #17. After that it was all downhill.
Drusky’s last Mercury album was released in 1973, followed by a pair of albums on Capitol in 1974 and ’75. After that period he recorded for smaller labels, including a stint on Plantation, where he re-recorded his biggest hits. In all, he had 42 charted singles on Billboard’s country charts.
He continued to perform and record, increasingly turning to gospel music in his later years. He also appeared on various country reunion projects. Roy Drusky passed away September 23, 2004 at the age of 74.
Roy Drusky was never a major star so his output was not quite as prolific as some performers of his generation. He released 18 albums on Mercury (plus 3 hit collections). On Decca there were two albums released, and on Capitol, two more for a total of 22 major label albums. There are also a number of off-label recordings and budget releases on labels such as Vocalion and Hilltop.
Drusky is very poorly represented in the digital era. Currently only one collection is available: Greatest Hits Volumes 1 & 2. This is a straight reissue of two albums which catch his Mercury hits through 1967 and have a few remakes of earlier Decca hits. This disc was released in 2007 by Collectors Choice Music.
In 1995, Polygram released a collection titled Roy Drusky: Songs of Love and Life. This CD is out of print but can be found with a little effort. It contains 13 songs, including the three later hits “Long, Long Texas Road,” “All My Hard Times” and “Jody and The Kid”–the latter is a nice early recording of a Kristofferson song. Only five of the songs overlap with Greatest Hits Volumes 1 & 2 so this disc is a worthwhile acquisition.
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