George Hamilton IV circa 1961
In 1957, my Dad, who like my Mom played piano by ear and was a music lover all his life. went out to Friendly Frost appliance store in Bayshore, Long Island and bought a brand new Grundig- Majestic Hi Fi Set to replace our pretty tired 1940's second hand Zenith console radio and record player with the "Cobra Arm"
It was a major step up in everyones listening pleasure. The Zenith only played 78 RPMs and this Grundig had 4 Speeds & Six Speakers ! plus FM & Short Wave. For my big brother Butchie and me, it meant we didn't have to borrow our bigger sister Gerry's portable to play our little 7 inch records with the big hole in the center and even bigger sound . I think I got an advance on my 50 cent allowance and went out and got two new 45's to christen the Grundig's arrival . "Raunchy" by Bill Justis and "Why Don't They Understand" by George Hamilton IV ( that our Mom also really liked) Why Don't They Understand was a real smoothie and George's voice in the echo chamber was reminiscent of the ballads Ricky Nelson would record some years later. I really liked the flip side of George's record, an uptempo country number called "Even Tho" written in 1952 by Willie Jones, Curt Peebles, and country star Webb Pierce. I had been only playing guitar a short time but I soon taught myself both sides of those records.
We were really excited when the Frost truck made the 25 mile journey, a few days later to deliver it to our home in Mastic Beach. The sound was incredible but our excitement soon turned a little sour when the English BSR Turntable refused to coperate with the German Hi Fi electronics.. A couple of upset phone calls were made and Frost came out a day or so later with another one that did everything it was supposed to. I can't tell you how many hours that Grundig provided sweet sounds in our home. It was still going strong twenty years later when my parents gave it away when they moved to Florida.
The Mighty Grundig - Majestic
By 1963, I had been playing in bands for a few years and I got a microphone to start doing a few vocals. For some reason one of the first tunes I tried singing was "A Rose & A Baby Ruth," written by John D. Loudermilk and recorded in 1956 by George before Why Don't They Understand. I don't know how it came to my attention when it did, because I didn't really recall it from when it was on the radio charts. There was another song by George on the radio though in 1963 , a tune called "Abilene"
Fast forward now almost twenty years . Legendary folk singer, the late Bob GIbson, was doing a concert and songwriting workshop at our guitar store in Florida. While at dinner we were telling music industry war stories. I knew Bob was once a partner in a Chicago folk club and also managed by, another music industry legend named Albert Grossman, ( Bob Dylan, Peter Paul & Mary, The Band, and many many more) I told Bob that my group was also among the Grossman clients, but we were far back on his backburner, that wasn't even lit. Well one Grossman aka "The Phantom" story led to another. Bob told me the story behind the hit song "Abilene" which was also George's signature song. There was just one big problem when it hit the market and airwaves . Under the title in parenthesis, the only composer listed was John D. Loudermilk? The name Bob Gibson was nowhere to be found. Bob told me he wrote the song after seeing a Randolph Scott western movie called Abilene Town. Both Bob and John were active on the folk festival circuit back then, and I have a feeling "Abilene" was "Folk Processed". Well both of them wound up in Grossman's NY office, to try and work out a settlement. It was not going well, till Albert settled it with .... A COIN TOSS !
Now it is the spring of 1987 and yours truly is a brand new Nashville resident and songwriter, trying to find his way into the well guarded doors of Music City. One of the very first Opry stars (besides the Jordanaires ) that I went to see perform one night, was none other than George IV. I talked with him afterwards, and he was most gracious and generous with his time, as I probably told him everything you have read here. He wished me success in my songwriting and he also signed this 45 I brought along for my then three year old son Erik.
"ERIK , GOD BLESS YOU"
GEO. HAMILTON IV
Fast forward another twenty years or so, circa 2009, Bob Cheevers, my friend and former co writer, who now lives in Austin, Tx was doing one of those in the round songwriter shows at the Bluebird Cafe during the Americana Festival. One of the rounders with him, was none other than George Hamilton V aka "Hege V" who I found to be a real spontaneous character, full of good humour, rhymes and rhythm. After that show, I introduced myself to him and told him a few of the tales about my encounters over the years with his Dad, whom he often performs with . He was really amused by the Abilene story and unbeknownst to both of us was, that within earshot of our conversation another visitor to Nashville was extremely interested in what I was saying . She was Meridian Green who is the daughter of Bob Gibson !
A few weeks ago on September 6th. I went out to Franklin, TN to see my friend Thom Bresh, perform at a most unique live mid day radio show called Viva NashVegas. That slogan rang a bell with me and as soon as I got there, the light came on. Viva NashVegas was an idea George V was pursuing at the time I first met him. It had grown from a merchandising idea into a full fledged variety show. George V is one of the hosts on stage and one of the first skits was a phone call for him from none other than his Dad reminding him that they were both doing the Grand Old Opry that night. We had lunch together and got to talk a whole lot more Before he left George reminded me to tune in WSM that night if I could. I did ___ The Hamilton's hosted the 7:30 portion of the Opry show and closed with Dylan's "Forever Young" Little would anyone know this would be George IV's last performance, for a week later, he suffered a major heart attack that was described as very serious. News was scant for several days, but on Tuesday there was a glimmer of hope as they said he was making some progress.
The candle for George Hamilton IV blew out yesterday September 17th, 2014. He was 77 this past July. God Speed Sir, Thank you for the music and your humanity that stayed forever young.
WHY DON'T THEY UNDERSTAND
( music by Joe "Mr Piano" Henderson lyric by Jack Fishman)
( words & music by Bob Gibson, John D. Loudermilk, Lester Brown )
played on my 6 String classic & 12 String Guitar
Here's an e mail comment I received from mutual friend and songwriter Austin Church. that again demonstrates the grace in which George moved through this world
Ken, thanks for sending this, it's the first I heard of George the IV's passing. He swung through here in '05,'06,'07, in a blue Chrysler PT cruiser. He was extremely complementary of my music. He was cruising through Savannah one night on his way back to Nashville listening to my tune "Miss Ola (The Mississippi Giver)", got lost in the music, and got a speeding ticket. He told the officer he was listening to Austin Church; it did no good. true story from him to me. I'll miss him greatly. He was a true gentleman, and so kind to me. my singin' will be better now, when I think of this great music man! I haven't read many other obits, but your tribute, and in such meticulous detail is really inspiring. Thanks buddy, Austin
A LOOK AT THE
SEPTEMBER 24, 2014
New York Times
George Hamilton IV, a clean-cut country singer whose string of wholesome hits in the 1960s, including “Abilene” and “Before This Day Ends,” helped him become an enduring draw at the Grand Ole Opry and on concert stages around the world, died on Wednesday in Nashville. He was 77.
His death, four days after a heart attack, was announced by the Opry.
In 1956, Mr. Hamilton was a teenager playing in rock ’n’ roll bands in North Carolina when he had his first hit, a love song called “A Rose and a Baby Ruth,” written by John D. Loudermilk. It sold more than a million copies and reached No. 6 on the pop charts.
Yet while Mr. Hamilton had several more pop hits, none rose as high as his first, and within a few years he made clear what he wanted to be: a country singer, in the tradition of Gene Autry, Tex Ritter and other stars he had admired as a boy.
He took his earnest tenor to Nashville in 1959, and by the next year he was a member of the Opry. He went on to appear there dozens of times over the next 50 years, tidy in a vest and a checkered shirt or maybe a necktie and a sport coat. He also began touring other countries, becoming particularly popular in Canada, where he recorded songs by Canadian writers. Several of his songs reached No. 1 on the country charts in Canada, while faring less well in the United States.
When he began calling himself “the international ambassador of country music,” it was not hyperbole. Bill C. Malone, in his acclaimed history “Country Music U.S.A.,” called Mr. Hamilton “one of country music’s most zealous ambassadors abroad.”
“He traveled extensively in the British Isles and on the European continent,” Mr. Malone wrote, “giving performances and lecturing on the meaning and history of the music he had made his profession.” Mr. Hamilton also performed in South Africa and, in the 1970s, in the Soviet Union, where he claimed to be the first American country musician to perform.
He had plenty of pleasant hits to play on tour. His biggest, “Abilene,” from 1963, reached No. 1 on the country charts and the Top 20 on the pop charts. Other hits included “Before This Day Ends,” “Steel Rail Blues” and “Early Morning Rain,” one of several compositions by the Canadian folk singer Gordon Lightfoot that he recorded. “Canadian Pacific,” written by the Canadian singer-songwriter Ray Griff, reached No. 1 in Canada in 1969. His last big hit, from 1970, was “She’s a Little Bit Country,” a No. 3 country hit in the United States.
Handsome, unfailingly pleasant and comfortable in front of a camera, Mr. Hamilton never played the part of the hard-living honky-tonker. He recorded gospel and bluegrass music and played at gatherings led by the Rev. Billy Graham. He was one of the first artists in any genre to record the music of Joni Mitchell. He hosted country-music television shows overseas, in Canada and in his native North Carolina.
Mr. Hamilton was born in Winston-Salem on July 19, 1937, and began playing guitar 12 years later. He was a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill when he recorded “A Rose and a Baby Ruth,” the first of several songs by Mr. Loudermilk he recorded. It was released by Colonial Records, a small Chapel Hill label, before being picked up by ABC-Paramount.
Survivors include his son George V, a singer with whom he toured. Complete information on survivors was not immediately available.
“My great-grandfather was a hillbilly, a real mountain man from the Blue Ridge Mountains,” Mr. Hamilton told The Belfast Telegraph while touring in Northern Ireland in 2011. “His son, my grandfather, moved out of the mountains to the foothills in North Carolina to work for the railroad.
“When I was a little boy, I would sit on his knee, and he had all these old 78 records and banjos, and we used to listen to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio from Tennessee. He was the one who inspired me to listen to and love country music, so it’s because of him, really.
“Eventually I had this dream that someday I might move to Nashville and join the Grand Ole Opry myself. And, lo and behold, last year was my 50th anniversary in the Opry.”