Why is it some artists have a great chart run and then seemingly disappear? It’s a phenomenon I’ve never fully understood. Obviously there are legitimate reasons: sudden health issues, dissatisfaction with the direction of their career and/or the business is a big one, and the responsibilities that go along with the success can prove to be too hard for some. Sometimes, no answer is ever really given, and the mystery simply becomes part of the legacy, and as time marches on, they slowly become more and more obscure.
Country musician Leon Everette is one such example. He came to his career at a relatively late age; a Navy veteran who won singing contests while serving, when he left the military, he decided to become a professional singer. His first two albums, released at the tail end of the 1970s, were modestly successful, with a handful of singles that rose to the bottom levels of the country Top 40 charts. He would sign to RCA in 1980, and the next year would release his third album, If I Keep On Going Crazy, while its follow-up, Hurricane, came at the end of the year.
It’s easy to understand Everette’s appeal. His voice was friendly and upbeat, with just the right amount of country twang: light enough to appeal to a more mainstream audience, yet prominent enough to establish him as a Southern man–an important establishment of credibility within country music. But as you listen to the music found here, you start to hear something amazing—this is the birth of the modern country sound. Sure, there are moments that hearken back to traditional country arrangements; “Make Me Stop Loving Her” and “Let Me Apologize” are plaintive country ballads wonderfully enhanced by pedal steel, while “Shadows of My Mind” and “Midnight Rodeo” pull out the banjos and the fiddles for the traditional hoedown sound.
Yet it’s the hit singles he had at the time that hinted at what was to come in the subsequent decade; “If I Keep On Going Crazy” was an upbeat, slick number with a catchy melody and a harmonica to give it that country touch; in reality, it’s pretty much a straight country-pop number. “Over” was a Countrypolitan ballad, complete with orchestra, background singers, and a mournful pedal steel. It’s slick and sweet, yet falls in line with what country music was becoming. “Hurricane,” however, is the most interesting. His biggest hit, it’s a narrative ballad that’s enhanced with a haunting harmonica lick and a dark, ominous percussive beat. The formula laid down here practically predicts the coming commercial country/pop crossover of Garth Brooks. All of these songs made the country top ten, and rightly so; they’re fine examples of the more commercial-sounding, radio-friendly country-rock that would soon dominate the airwaves.
Interestingly enough, in spite of the high charting successes, Everette would not release another proper full-length album for RCA; instead the label would opt to release two compilation EPs, 1983’s Leon Everette and 1984’s Doin’ What I Feel, which collected the singles and their b-sides. The label’s focus on non-album singles was a wise one, as all of which were quite successful. “Soul Searchin’” was a mellow, acoustic number with a lush arrangement replete with bongos and strings, while “Just Give Me What You Think Is Fair” was a fine country weepie an “My Lady Loves Me (Just As I Am)” was pure modern country, on par with Alabama and The Oak Ridge Boys, a good-time number that wouldn’t sound out of place on country radio thirty-five years on. But by 1984, RCA was slipping, and though the gorgeous ballad, “I Could’a Had You,” would hit #6 on the charts, its follow-up, the fine country rocker “Shot In The Dark” would only go to #30. (The label would expand and reissue Doin’ What I Feel with several unreleased numbers, creating a third ‘album’ after Everette left; that version appears on this set.)
Unhappy with the label, Everette would soon sign to Mercury Records, but unfortunately the label change didn’t necessarily improve his chart performances. His debut album for the label, Where’s The Fire, would also prove to be his last, and by 1986, with his singles no longer performing well, Everette quietly left the music world, and aside from a one-off 2010 mp3 release, he’s not released any music since, choosing to live life on his own terms. It’s a shame, really, as Everette was an immensely talented, enjoyable singer who had the talent, ability, and voice for a life-long career.
If I Keep On Going Crazy/Hurricane/Doin’ What I Feel is available from Morello Records.
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Categories: Album Reviews