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Meet Wilma Burgess, country music’s first openly lesbian singer
05.02.2016
04:29 pm
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When country singer Chely Wright revealed to her fanbase that she was a lesbian back in 2010, many of the magazine articles at the time referenced k.d. lang or Melissa Etheridge, to name two earlier gay performers who opted to be true to themselves in public, but very few mentioned an even earlier lesbian country music singer to come out of the closet.
 

 
Actually, Wilma Burgess, who had several hit singles in the mid-1960s was never in the closet to begin with. Burgess was a protege of the great country music producer Owen Bradley, one of the chief architects of the slick, string-laden “Nashville sound” of the 50s and 60s. Bradley, who had been Patsy Cline’s producer, heard in Burgess’ powerful voice a performer able to do something similar to the deceased singer and he signed her to Decca Records in June of 1964. Interestingly Burgess was reluctant to perform teary ballads where she was singing to a man, and preferred her material to be gender neutral and ambiguous. When she did agree to sing a song like “Ain’t Got No Man” it was something she negotiated with her powerful hit-maker mentor: One song she liked but that he didn’t have to, for every one of his choices that she went along with but wasn’t too fond of. Their partnership worked well and produced several hits, most notably the Grammy-nominated “Baby,” a 1965 hit Burgess was seen singing in the Jayne Mansfield B-movie The Las Vegas Hillbillys, and “Misty Blue” in 1967.
 

 
For obvious teasons, Wilma Burgess ultimately found herself frustrated by the strict and ostensibly pious Nashville scene and left the music business in 1978. She would go on to open The Hitching Post, the first lesbian bar in Nashville, in the late 80s with the money she made during her career. Wilma Burgess died at the age of 64 from a heart attack on August 26th, 2003.
 

 
More clips of Wilma Burgess after the jump…

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Posted by Richard Metzger
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05.02.2016
04:29 pm
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‘Psycho’: The darkly insane country music classic that’s not about pickup trucks, beer or football
02.15.2016
02:38 pm
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Can Mary fry some fish, Mama
I’m as hungry as can be
Oh Lordy, how I wish, Mama
That you could stop that baby crying cause my head is killing me…

So begin the lyrics to Leon Payne‘s utterly unhinged country & western classic, “Psycho.” Payne, known as “the Blind Balladeer,” was a country music singer and songwriter who wrote songs that were recorded by the likes of George Jones, Leon Russell, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Jim Reeves, Hank Williams (Payne wrote “Lost Highway”), Johnny Horton, and Merle Haggard.

“Psycho” is the irony-free, point-of-view ramblings of a hillbilly murderer who you can’t even trust with a cute little puppy. To call it “memorable” is an understatement. It’s downright chilling and yet highly amusing at the same time. No mean feat!

There were several persistent rumors about the story behind the song: One, that it was about Charles Whitman, the former Marine mass murderer who killed his mother, wife and 14 more people at the University of Texas, Austin in 1966 after commandeering a bell tower with a sniper’s rifle. It makes sense as Whitman was famously known to have complained of headaches—he was found to have had a brain tumor during his autopsy—and headaches are mentioned in the song. And he was a psycho, obviously. But it wasn’t about him, or at least not directly about Whitman.

Secondly, that the song was written about the Alfred Hitchcock thriller. It wasn’t. An article about Payne’s oddball first person murder ballad on the Nashville Scene website clears this up:

“The movie story came from my mother, and she was known to exaggerate at times,” says Myrtie Le Payne, Leon Payne’s daughter. Since both Payne and his wife were blind, their daughter did accompany them to movies and whisper descriptions of what was happening onscreen, but cinematic horrors were not the direct source for “Psycho.”

After years of people asking her about the song, Myrtie Le recently tracked down the true story. “Jackie White was my daddy’s steel guitar player,” she says. “He started working with him in 1968, and the song came out of a conversation they had one day.”

According to the story related by White, in the spring of 1968, he and Leon Payne were discussing the Richard Speck murders. Speck murdered eight student nurses in Chicago in July 1966 and was convicted and sentenced to death the following year. Being a history buff, Payne was familiar with the cases of many notorious mass killers, and the discussion soon turned to other famous cases — Charles Whitman, Ed Gein, Mary Bell and Albert Fish. That conversation directly inspired the song, and Payne immortalized White’s contribution by naming the boyfriend killed in the first verse after him, along with working in references to some of the murderers they had discussed in lines like, “Can Mary fry some fish, Mama?”

That same article also dispels the third legend around the song, that Leon Payne, not wanting to sully his good name and songwriting career stipulated that it not be recorded until after his death. Well, the song was recorded before his death, by his pal cowboy singer Eddie Noack, for whom the song was probably written, so that’s another legend dashed.
 
More ‘Psycho’ after the jump…

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Posted by Richard Metzger
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02.15.2016
02:38 pm
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