You give your hand to me
Then you say hello
I can hardly speak
My heart is beating so
And anyone can tell
You think you know me well
But you don’t know me
Look at her picture. It’s of its time, but there’s no doubt the dame is one beautiful lady – and talented to boot. She gave up the above lyrics to the world, to be recorded by hundreds of singers planet wide. You name them, they’ve done it – Willie, Ray Charles, Michael Bublé – the list is endless. Down though the years it will be added to. It’s just one of those songs. If one classic wasn’t enough, there are her other offerings – five hundred or so that have been recorded, including such timeless ditties as ‘Distant Drums’, Dream Baby’ and ‘In the Misty Moonlight’. She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1997 and in 2006 Willie released a tribute album of her songs – just nine days before she passed away.
Of course we know the facts about CindyWalker’s public career, but precious little of her private world. In 1918 a Texan farm saw her birth. By the 1930s, as a young girl, she was already writing songs about Dustbowl America. By decade’s end Cindy was also a popular chanteuse in her local area. In 1940 she was so determined to further her career she took the long drive to LA, straight to Bing Central, hopped out of her car and demanded that Crosby himself listen to her latest tunes. He didn’t, but somebody did and soon ‘Lone Star Trail’ made it to the great crooner. He was impressed, recorded it and she was on her way, Walker soon had a gig on Gene Autry’s show with such luminaries as Bob Wills, Webb Pierce and Eddy Arnold having her songs on the airwaves. In later times came Elvis, The Byrds, Chet Atkins, Jim Reeves, Roy Orbison and more.
For me, though, her signature song is ‘You Don’t Know Me’. It could have been about her own self – how she kept her feelings under wraps; how she was notoriously private. Then again, it could be about any of us who like to keep our personal doings closely guarded; who prefer anonymity to notoriety.
The now standard first hit the charts in 1956 with Jerry Vale, but these days it seems that Ray Charles ‘owns’ it. Mickey Gilley had a Number 1 with it in 1981. Meryl Streep sang it in the movies during ‘Post Cards from the Edge’, as did Robert Downey Jr in ‘Two Girls and a Guy’. It featured in ‘Caddyshack’ and recently, Lizzy Caplin trilled it on the small screen in ‘Masters of Sex’.
Ms Walker hid away from public view, particularly when her stage appearances decreased as the royalties for her songs went in the opposite direction. She revealed in later life that she was once married for a short time, but it didn’t suit her. She did not appear to have any other lasting relationships of a romantic nature. She lived with her father, in humble circumstances in small town Texas, for a long time – he helping out with the lyrics to her music. After his demise, in 1991, she further withdrew into herself. No, we didn’t really know her, or who she was referencing, if anybody, in this example of her iconic songsmithery –
No you don’t know the one
Who dreams of you each night
And longs to kiss your lips
And longs to hold you tight
To you I’m just a friend
That’s all I’ve ever been
No you don’t know me
Eddy Arnold was the guy who came up with the idea for the song. Was it the country superstar she had in mind when she added the bones to his notion for this paean to unrequited love? We know Eddy was married to his sweetheart Sally for an incredible sixty-six years. Is there more to know?
To me the version of her tune that moves me the most is that by Charlie Rich. It is the second track on an album entitled ‘Pictures and Paintings’, recorded in 1992 during the twilight of the Silver Fox’s career.. This collection of covers, purchased several decades ago, would have to be the CD that has graced my various music machines the most down through the years, with the Walker contribution the stand out. The whole album is a marked contrast to his mega hits of the early seventies – ‘Behind Closed Doors’, ‘The Most Beautiful Girl’ and ‘A Very Special Love Song’. He hated his music career – country was by no means his first love. By mid-decade he was totally disenchanted with Nashville and what his label did to his songs, increasingly embellishing them with massed strings rather than guitars. Instead of joining Willie, Waylon and others, also similarly pissed off, in becoming ‘outlaws’, he turned to the grog. He embarrassed himself at one awards ceremony when, very drunk, he insulted John Denver, whose music he considered too pop to be country. He came to be regarded as unreliable by those with the power behind the scenes. He struggled on, having a couple more hits, notably ‘Rolling With the Flow’, but alcohol and frustration eventually forced him into semi-retirement. Now Rich was free to turn to the music he loved best – jazz and blues. He became a lounge singer. Eventually a record company agreed to take a chance on him in this style and thus, we have ‘Pictures and Paintings’. This bought him some critical acclaim but only moderate sales – just enough for him to take to the road for the last time. Surprisingly, in this, Tom Waits was his support act. The come-back he’d hoped for didn’t last. He went back to self-imposed obscurity. Travelling to a Freddy Fender concert in 1995, he stopped off at an inn en route and The Silver Fox passed away in his sleep. The year was 1995. He was 62.
Listening to the album, one can only agree with the inestimable Mr Waits, who made mention of him in his song ‘Putnam County’
The studio’s spitting out Charlie Rich
He sure can sing, that son of a bitch
I wonder if it is still available, this collection I love – certainly no ‘Pictures and Postcards’ were listed on eBay when I checked. It is a beautiful set of tunes without a dud on it. Listening to it you can picture Rich at the piano, his silver mane ascendant; his gnarled, hoary hands coaxing the ivories, surrounded by a smoky fug. He loathed the happy, poppy stuff that dominated the charts throughout most of his Nashville years – now he was in his element. With ‘You Don’t Know Me’ he could almost be giving the Nashville Sound the ‘bird’ for what it tried to turn him into.
Back when he started with Sam Phillips, at Sun, in the mid-fifties, the legendary producer loved the jazz infused stuff Rich pitched to him, but told him to go away and get countrified. His style, well it simply would never sell records up against this new fad rock ‘n’ roll or country. Charlie did as he was told, to the degree that Phillips thought he’d have a bigger career than Elvis. Sam Phillips wasn’t wrong very often. Apart from a brief window, Charlie never came close. It wasn’t for lack of talent – it was just that Country Music City neutered him. The real Silver Fox only appeared on this last issue – by then it was all over bar the shouting:-
Afraid and shy
I’ve let my chance go by
The chance that you might
Love me too
Cindy singing ‘You Don’t Know Me’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TsoQ945fqkY
Charlie singing ‘You Don’t Know Me’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRDdz7DS3tI