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Vern Gosdin – The Best Country Singer You’ve Never Heard of

November 3, 2011 2 comments

Vern Gosdin - "Chiseled in Stone" (1987)

There was a bar called the White Dot in Atlanta in the late 1980s. It sat on Ponce, one block west of Krispy Kreme and its “Hot Now” sign. The White Dot was a bar with two distinct shifts of patrons. The early shift was older, grizzled and they started drinking at 11:00 in the morning. This shift started to clear out around 5:00 or 6:00 in the evening when Gardens Of…, The Final Offering, Dead Elvis and other happening Atlanta bands started dragging their equipment in for sound check.

The White Dot had a juke box. It was set up for the early shift; it was chock full of 45rpm singles about hard luck and broken hearts – all accompanied by the twang and wail of pedal steel. The tunes in the juke box were the antithesis of the music pounded out by bands in the small stage at the back of the bar each night.

The juke box kept track of the most played song and, every time I went in there, “Set ‘Em Up Joe” by Vern Gosdin was always – and I mean always – the most popular song. It mystified me because I had never heard of Vern Gosdin and never heard “Set ‘Em Up Joe” even though I prided myself on being pretty plugged into music.

One day I decided to kill the suspense and dropped two bits in and pressed the numbers for the song. And I wasn’t disappointed what I heard was solid honky tonk gold. It was a song about drinking, a vintage Victrola, E.T. and easing the pain of loneliness. The song isn’t about Spielberg’s extraterrestrial but instead a tribute to country legend Ernest Tubb and his 1941 hit “Walking the Floor over You.”

Vern Gosdin – “Set ‘Em Up Joe

After hearing it, I had to go out and buy the album “Chisel in Stone” and find out all that could about Gosdin.

Here’s a little background information about the man who was simply known as “The Voice.” Vern Gosdin was born in Randolph County, Alabama. He headed out to California in the early 1960s and got involved with the proto- country rock movement out there by forming a band with Chris Hillman, who went on to play in a band called the Byrds. Gosdin “retired” from music in 1972 and moved to Atlanta. He never really quit singing, though. He had a couple of hits in the late 1970s, but he really came into his own in the 80s with a series of albums that culminated with his masterpiece “Chiseled in Stone.”

On the album, Gosdin turned out barroom hit after barroom hit from the Western swing of “Tight as Twin Fiddles” to the pain, regret and realization of “Chiseled in Stone” (which begins with the classic lines “You ran crying to the bedroom/I ran off to the bar”). As far as I am concerned, “Chiseled in Stone” and “Do You Believe Me Now” are right up there with George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today” for heartbreaking pathos.┬áThe best word I can use to describe the album is timeless. It is filled with good, old fashioned country songs that sound as good today as they did twenty four years ago.