Bill Crider keeps an eye on the comings and goings of celebrities—with an emphasis on goings, since when I hear of some individual going on to their greater reward it’s usually because I read it at his blog first. Such was the case a few hours ago when I learned that country music singer-songwriter Mel McDaniel has played his last Grand Ole Opry at the age of 68 after a long bout with cancer. It had not been a smooth road for Mel for the past fifteen years from a medical standpoint; he suffered a near fatal fall into an orchestra pit in 1996 while performing a concert in Lafayette, LA and in June 2009 he experienced a heart attack that necessitated him being put into a medically induced coma.
When I started DJing in country radio back in 1979, Mel McDaniel had only been making inroads on the music charts for three years, beginning with his first record to appear on Billboard’s Hot Country Singles, Have a Dream on Me. But he soon became a presence in the country Top Forty with hits like Soul of a Honky Tonk Woman, Bordertown Woman, Love Lies, Play Her Back to Yesterday, Lovin’ Starts Where Friendship Ends and the song that I used for the title of this post. His biggest hit record up to that time was a tender ballad entitled God Made Love, which just missed the Top 10 by a whisker (it peaked at #11).
Stripes (1981) when Mel’s version didn’t chart until a year later. (As you can see, I eventually worked it through.) Mel would return to the Top Ten in 1984 with my other favorite of his hits, the sublime I Call It Love, and then a year later scored his first and only #1 hit, Baby’s Got Her Blue Jeans On. The success of that smash propelled the album it was on, Let it Roll, into the Top Ten of the Country Albums charts—the title track, a cover of the old Chuck Berry rock ‘n’ roller (Let it Roll [Let it Rock]), also became a Top Ten single.
I mentioned earlier that Right in the Palm of Your Hand was my favorite Mel McDaniel song—it peaked at #10 the same year as his smash Louisiana Saturday Night but for years afterward hearing it on a country music station was a nigh impossible task. Fortunately the song was a favorite of Newnan, GA’s own Alan Jackson, who recorded a decent cover of it on his album Under the Influence and introduced it to a brand new country music audience in 1999. But Mel’s is still the best—and I’d like to give it one last spin in memory of a great country music artist who will most definitely be missed here at Rancho Yesteryear.