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Retro Redux: Songs With A Message – Henson Cargill

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I've always had a bad habit – OK, several bad habits – but in this case I'm specifically talking about one that's related to the way I enjoy music. I've always found that I'm first attracted to the melody and pace of a song long before I ever really pay much attention to its lyrics. But even worse, I might listen countless times before it begins to dawn on me that the song just might have a message, in some cases an important one.

That can be especially true of country music. I really think most music fans of other genres believe that country music is not relevant to what's going on in their lives, and in fact they tend to assume it's all about honky-tonks and broken hearts. Of course, those subjects are well-covered – boy, are they – but you could make a pretty good argument that country music has a long tradition of social commentary.

Historically, it's the music of the often poor rural population of America, influenced by generations of immigrants. Whether you call it early country music or folk music it had a lot to say, and you can think of a lot of examples where the music spoke to the people. Those examples range from the rabble-rousing political songs of the 19th century to the Depression-era anthems of Woody Guthrie, and continue with today's country artists.

One of my favorite examples first came to my attention about 40 years ago, and as usual I was attracted at first to the pace of the song, along with the smooth baritone of the singer. But after a few times just enjoying it, I woke up and really heard the song's message of harsh childhood truths. It was Henson Cargill's "Skip A Rope."

The tune, written by Glenn Tubb and Jack Moran, has since been recorded by everybody from Conway Twitty to Jimmy Dean (yeah, the sausage king) but it was in 1968 that Cargill's version struck a chord with the listening public. It rose to number one on the Billboard country charts and crossed over to the pop charts too.

Cargill wasn't exactly a household name at that time; he had a checkered background that included music but also a stint as a deputy sheriff, and he'd even practiced law for a while. He worked in Nashville for a while in the early 1960's, but without much success until he recorded "Skip A Rope," and it helped him carve out a solid, if unspectacular, career.

Although he never reached number one again, he had several recordings hit the charts through the years, including "None of My Business," and "The Most Uncomplicated Good-Bye I've Ever Heard." After a while, things slowed down but he had another good seller in the 1970s with "Silence on the Line," and continued performing for the next couple of decades, often in Vegas. He died in early 2007, and will be most remembered for one sobering song.

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