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Fern Jones - The Glory Road

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Artist: Fern Jones

Album: The Glory Road

Label: The Numero Group

Review date: Jun. 21, 2005

If you've never heard of Fern Jones, you're not alone. Her only claim to fame, if you can call it that, is that she wrote a song called "I Was There When It Happened." She sold it to Jimmie Davis, a Grand Ole Opry star and former Louisiana governor, who recorded it and credited himself as the co-writer. Johnny Cash heard the song on the radio and recorded it for his debut album Johnny Cash With His Hot And Blue Guitar.

Born and raised in El Dorado, Arkansas, Fern Salisbury taught herself to play the guitar and the piano at the age of 12. She fibbed about her age to get gigs at local bars and married Raymond Jones when she was just 16. Though she was no stranger to the wild nightlife of the honky-tonks, Fern cleaned up her act and followed Raymond on the road when he felt the itch to preach. They began to spread the Gospel and sing at Pentecostal revival meetings in tents and empty lots all across the South. They recorded and pressed their own LP, The Joneses Sing, which they sold out of the back of their car. Three tracks from that album are included as bonus tracks on this CD.

A small Christian label in Southern California eventually re-issued the Joneses private press album, and a copy ended up in the hand's of Mac Wiseman, head of A&R for the country division at Paramount's DOT label and a former Bill Monroe sideman. Mac found Fern and Raymond and convinced them that Fern had a shot at country stardom, so they gave up the revival circuit and headed for Nashville. Mac produced Fern's album himself and hired a sensational backing band fresh from sessions with Elvis Presley.

Singing A Happy Song was released in 1959. Fern toured behind it for about a year but with no single to promote, the sales were poor; she got depressed, and missed her husband, and in May of 1960 she just plain quit. She never recorded again and passed away in 1996.

When Paramount was purchased by Gulf+Western in 1966, most of the master tapes for DOT's gospel releases were destroyed. Miraculously, Fern's tapes were spared and she recovered them in the early 1980s. This is the first time that any of the songs on The Glory Road have been issued on CD and all have been meticulously transferred from those original tapes with permission from the Jones estate.

Fern's deep and powerful voice really soars on these recordings; comparisons to Patsy Cline are not unwarranted. Fern's interpretations of gospel classics like "I Am A Pilgrim," "Take My Hand, Precious Lord," and "I Don't Care What The World May Do" are just as moving as far more famous versions by the likes of Doc Watson, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, the Maddox Brothers And Rose, and Jimmy Martin. Taken with a grain of salt, The Glory Road is a perfectly fun little dose of the almighty to spruce up any heathen's life.

When I first listened to The Glory Road, I was reminded of the Louvin Brothers' classic Satan Is Real album (considered to be the blueprint for the Byrds' country-rock masterpiece Sweetheart Of The Rodeo). The Louvins sang about the devil as if he were an actual flesh and blood creature with red scales, a spiked tail, and sharp horns jutting out of his forehead. Singing A Happy Song, on the other hand, is extremely positive, jubilant and uplifting, an evangelical counterpoint to that album's dark themes. Fern's lyrics might seem quaint and old-fashioned but are actually right in line with the beliefs that countless millions of people still embrace. I'm certain that fundamentalists like Pat Robertson of the Christian Coalition and James Dobson of Focus On The Family wouldn't disagree with a word of the Sunday School nonsense in Fern's song "I Do Believe." Grown men with tremendous wealth and power and the ear of the President, the Congress, and the Judiciary actually believe that a man named Jonah lived inside of a whale's belly for three days and three nights. I wouldn't have the faintest idea of how to evaluate the significance of that particular phenomenon, but it's something that might be worth pondering while you listen to this newly unearthed country gospel classic.

By Rob Hatch-Miller

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