Monday, September 22, 2014

The nicest man in country music

George Hamilton IV passed away last week the same way he did everything in his country music career: quietly and with dignity. Here's a long-ago performance of "Abilene," his biggest hit, in a medley with "Fort Worth, Dallas or Houston:"



I covered country music in the early 1980s and regularly interviewed singers and songwriters. (Highlight of my country music career: Profiling lead singer Joe Bonsall for the souvenir book sold on the Oak Ridge Boys' national tour.) And I never met anyone nicer than George Hamilton IV, who was living in Matthews at the time.

Outlaws were common then. Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings were hot, sometimes performing with Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson as The Highwaymen. The courtly crooners from the Don Gibson-Jim Reeves era had all but disappeared. Yet here came GH IV with his shy smile, his tuneful but unassertive voice and his easy style.

Most folks remember that he started as a gentle pop singer: "A Rose and a Baby Ruth" cracked the top 10 in 1956, "Why Don't They Understand" got there the next year, and he recorded an oddity called "The Teen Commandments" with fellow up-and-comers Johnny Nash and Paul Anka the year after that. Then "Abilene" went to the top spot on the country charts for four weeks in 1963 and changed his destiny.

I interviewed him more than 30 years ago, when I was a green writer in my 20s and he was just nine years younger than my dad. He took all the time I needed for the interview, fed me some history I didn't know about the industry and seemed pleased to share his point of view with a reporter for the smaller paper in town. (I started at The Charlotte News, which died in 1985.)

Over the years, I heard that other writers had similar experiences. His style would never permit him to become one of the most famous or wealthy singers in his business, but he stuck to it for 50 years. I admire that.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nice write-up.. thanks for sharing

Anonymous said...

Great singer and nice person. I saw him several times when I lived in England. He was popular in the U.K.

Anonymous said...

George was a great man, very humble, and a giving person. He came to a local Methodist church many years ago, performed gospel numbers solo, and was very sincere in his witness and engagement with everyone there. He also did not expect any payment. Blessings to a wonderful man.

Elizabeth J. Neal said...

The courtly crooners from the Don Gibson-Jim Reeves era had all but disappeared. Yet here came GH IV with his shy smile, his tuneful but unassertive voice and his easy style. allbums

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