By: J. Marlando
I remember a great many years ago my mother took me to a large honky tonk that served terrific barbecued pork sandwiches and corn on the cob on paper plates. During the day it was a quiet place with few customers but at night it was packed and became a hell-raising dance hall that was smoke filled and beer hall loud. I was just a kid at the time but my mom told me about what a wild place it was at night as we shared our lunch. During lunch I ventured across the large, vacant dance floor to play the jukebox. I was only fourteen or fifteen at the time and a country music fan. Rock N Roll was just becoming popular at that time.
Anyway, I tossed in my quarter and picked out my five songs. I don’t recall what I played but as I was walking away a Patsy Cline song came on and I actually froze I was so impressed by her sound. I had never been affected by somebody’s voice like that but I was mesmerized and that song and sound stuck with me not only on the way home that day but I can still hear it although that was well over fifty years ago.
If you’ve never heard of her I am going to tell you about her in this article, if you’ve never heard her sing, you will be able to before you finish this piece.
My intent is to interpret Patsy Cline and to give you, the reader, a journey into her heart and mind; into her life and times! Beyond all else, This is a labor of love and I hope the reader is touched by it as well.
The Birth of a Star
Hard times is how the vast majority of people would describe America in 1932. This was only three years after the so-called “great depression” and two years before the Dust Bowl that spread even greater poverty across the land. In 1932 gangsters and corrupted politicians were still getting rich because of prohibition while breadlines of the unemployed were plentiful Credit: www,history.comespecially in the bigger cities. Then there were places like Gore, Virginia where most folks were used to living from one payday to the next and poverty was a way of life. This is where Sam Hensley worked at the rock quarry and felt advantaged because he at least had a job.
By the time Sam had already served in World War One, had been married, fathered two children and divorced. He was known to tip a few and some said that he could be a real hell raiser at least when he drank. On the other hand, he was to meet his future bride at a local Sunday school picnic.
It was at the picnic where Sam met Hilda Patterson and a rather fast romance followed.
Sam was forty years old at the time while Hilda was only thirteen years old. They married on September 8th in 1932 and have a daughter. The baby girl was destined to grow up to be Patsy Cline.
They named their infant daughter Virginia Patterson Hensley (the name Patsy would not be adopted for years) and began a transient life in that the family kept moving about from one place to another so Sam could find work. As a result there was little security in Virginia’s life as the small girl but, in spite of her mother’s young age, Hilda was an extremely loving and conscientious parent and this brought stability into the family’s transient lifestyle.
Then, when Virginia turned eight the Hensley family was finally able to settle down and buy a small house in Winchester, Virginia.Credit: www.tvipaiusor.com Winchester was, as said only a skip and a jump up the highway from Gore. It was a small house with small rooms but it was “home” and a place that felt settled for a change. Indeed, it was here that little Virginia would begin to interpret her world. After all, as all children Virginia believed that her parents’ world was the world.
Virginia’s world was on the poor side of the tracks; a place where hard-working laborers and hillbilly types made up friends and neighbors. And so little Virginia identified with the impoverished and impoverished life; to her this neighborhood was how life was and she loved the people and the environment, it was home to her.
Mama Hensley also made sure that Virginia went to church. In fact, Mama Hensley sang in the Baptist church’s choir and so did Virginia. Virginia could carry a tune but, at the time, no one suspected the little girl was destined to stardom. After all, she had a nice voice but so did everyone in the choir.
Then when Virginia was thirteen years old, she came down with a terrible illness and throat infection. Her condition was so severe that her heart stopped and she was put on oxygen as an attempt to save her life. She came extremely close to dying but she lived…she not only lived but when she recovered her voice had miraculously changed to that deep “Patsy Cline” richness that would one day take her to the top of the music charts.
At age fourteen, Virginia worked at a poultry factory to earn money and add to the family’s finances. She hated the plucking and cutting chickens but those were the war years and work was work. In fact, she had lied to the company saying that she was sixteen years old to get the job. Then after the war, in 1947, Sam Hensley walked away from his family. The stories told, however, was that he was asked to leave because he’d been caught molesting his teenage daughter, Virginia. In any case, at that juncture Hilda Hensley was on her own to raise her babies and “make do.” There were going to be a lot of changes for the entire family.
The Early Years
Back then a lot of people called country/western stars like Ernest Tubb Hank Williams and T. Texas Tyler “hillbilly” singers but for those countless fans of the 20s, 40s and early 50s they were not only admired but beloved. Country/Western fans were indeed the most devoted in the world. And, young Virginia Hensley was one of them. In fact, one day at age fourteen, she walked into the kitchen where her mother was busy doing something and announced that she was going to be a country singer.
Mama Hilda was enthusiastic over Virginia’s enthusiasm but said that she was too young to make such a serious decision for herself. Nevertheless, Virginia remained determined and imagined herself being a professional country singer…a singing start!
At that time (this was 1946) a disk jockey by the name of Jim, McCoy was extremely popular throughout Virginia with his broadcast on WING. McCoy was backed by his own band called the Melody Players and they had grown a large and faithful listening audience. When Virginia was still fourteen she brazenly walked into the radio station and told the receptionist that she was there to sing. The receptionist, thinking the young girl was a guest, buzzed the radio star telling him the girl had arrived and was waiting to be on the show.
McCoy was baffled and asked his band members if they knew anything about a girl that had been booked on the show. None of them did. McCoy was curious so he walked into the reception room to find Virginia there, as said, all decked out in her cowgirl outfit ready to perform. “I’m here to see Jim,” She said.
“That’s me,” Jim McCoy answered. “What can I do for you?”
McCoy was actually impressed with Virginia’s honest desire to be on his show and the determination she had for wanting to sing. He was so impressed that he auditioned her with the band.
Later that morning Mama Hensley was in the kitchen listening to the radio when she heard her daughter being announced and singing. She was so surprised and shocked that she had to sit down.
The station management had no idea that Virginia was only fourteen and assumed her to be older. She looked older and she had impressed everyone so much that she became a regular on the show.
Mama Hensley sat Virginia down to have a heart to heart. She didn’t want to hold her daughter back from perusing her dream but she also knew that show business was highly competitive and that few made it. She simply didn’t want her little girl to be hurt. Virginia didn’t flinch. She said, “If other people could make it, so could she.” And that was Virginia’s attitude—she was fiery, self-confident and, beyond all else, determined.
This was actually more specifically around the time the Virginia’s father left the family; when problems at home were coming to a head and the final breakup occurred. By then Mama Hensley had two more children-Sylvia May and Sammy. That was a big load for a single mom—especially in those days to handle—but the stark poverty did not cast them in despair or anger, they remained a happy and loving family with Hilda at the center.
Credit: www.famousdude.com[As an aside, poverty was not the same as it is especially in big cities today. For one thing it wasn’t resentful. In fact, there was a strange pride in being among the poor; a kind of kinship that held people and neighborhoods together. For one thing, I am convinced that traditional country music gave a foundation to the kinship I’m referring to. For one thing, most—not all but most—country singers were real country folk—they had lived the life they sang about, living from hand to mouth, working hard during the week, getting drunk on Saturday nights, praising the Lord on Sundays and yes having back street affairs.
Both professional country music entertainers and even front-porch musicians reached the heart of laboring America and, if you will, plain family folks most struggling to get by. The music then was more than a listening experience it was more than experiencing the music, it was the feeling of being in connectedness with the music and lyrics and with the performers who were loved like Ernest TubbT, Texas Tyler, Hank WilliamsHank Snow Roy Acuff Little Jimmy Dickens Hank Thomson and new comers like Johnny Cashthere were so many.
The point, however, is that Virginia loved these country western stars and she had a b
urning desire to be one with them. At the time, however, there was a fly in that particular ointment: country music was dominated by males, something that Virginia probably had not given any thought to. Minnie Pearlthe Opry’s comedienne, was probably the most famous female country stars at the time].
Soon enough Virginia worked up the nerve to write the Grand Old Opry and ask for an audition. Virginia received a response asking for her photograph and audition recording. There was no money for this but once again Virginia’s tenacity paid off. She managed to get both her photograph taken and a demo recording of her voice…for free. The professionals she had gone to were so impressed by the young girl’s determination that they gave her their services for free. She sent both to the Opry.
Virginia was not the type to sit around and wait for a response. She heard that Wally Fowlerwas in town and she told her mother that she was going to try and get on his show. Wally was quite famous for his “hillbilly”and gospel songs at the time and drew very large audiences.
Actually Virginia had been stopped at the stage door but that hadn’t stopped her. She new an usher that helped to sneak her back stage and she finally met Fowler and convinced him to give her an audition. Fowler was so impressed that he drove her home that night to talk to her mother about her future. Mama Hensley was impressed by having such a big star in her house and even more so when he said that he wanted to help Virginia to get an audition in Nashville on WSM Radio.
When the star left Mama was suspicious—she warned Virginia that his interest could be a fluke. It wasn’t however. He called a few days later and asked Hilda to bring her daughter to Nashville for her audition.
Virginia and he mother were of course thrilled; this could be the biggest break they would ever get. There was a problem, however. They didn’t have the money to make the trip and even if they did, they just didn’t think their old junk heap of a car could make the eight hundred miles plus to Nashville.
Finally an enthusiastic and supportive friend agreed to drive them.. Since there was still not enough money for a motel, they drove straight through.
Finally the car loaded with Virginia, her mother, Virginia’s two siblings and her mother’s friend drove into the outskirts of Nashville. It was just dawn and Virginia was very tired and sleepy. She pointed to a picnic bench in a park telling her mother that she wanted to take a nap
After resting they drove to a service station where Virginia washed up and changed her clothing in the Ladies Room. Hilda and Virginia walked into WSM radio promptly at nine, the time they were asked to be there. Virginia was ushered into a studio and introduced to the pianist, none other than the famous Moon MullicanHe told Virginia not to be nervous or intimidated by all the “big shots” running around, that they were just like her.
After Virginia sang, Mullican wanted to hear her sing again. Afterwards he asked Virginia and her mother if they would return the next morning to the executives could hear her sing. Quite suddenly Virginias heart was pounding—yes, yes, this was it...this was the break she had been waiting for…working for...and she knew it.
Getting A Real Start
Virginia remained persistent after returning home from the Nashville disappointment. While working at a drug store to help her mother support the household she kept booking herslef locally as a singer. Her playing dates included church socials and parties. Then, at that juncture of her young career, a neighbor of hers, a fellow by the name of Gene Shiner formed a pop music band and hired her as their lead singer. Shiner was a good person to work for but Virginia quit after four months.
This gives us some vital insight into the singer. Virginia had been raised on country music and invisioned herself as a country/western singer. Always...but especial;y during the 1940s, 50s and early 60s country music fans were the most loal in the world--that tradition carries on even today but with a much smaller devoted audience. For one thing country music has always been the cohesion of poor, working folk and it was these people that Virginia Hensely identified with--they were her people and their music was her music; it was working class, beer-drinking Americana symbolized by steel guitars and fiddles. This was Virginia's world, where her heartstrings were; she was tied to the entire ambiance of the country scene.
She finally got a regular singing gig at the Rainbow Inn just south of her home town--some people called it a dive but it was a small dance hall where both married folks and single couples went to have some fun and hoop it up on Saturday nights.
Virginia was growing up by then and becoming popular around town--in fact, by the time that she was nineteen she had played most of the nightspots around Wunchester. She was also shapely by then; a well-endowed woman that made men look twice. And, she often wore tight-fitting sweaters, dangling earrings, loud make-up and cowgirl outfits to make sure they looked.
In this regard, it is true that Virginia was an independent personality and not one to bend to the rules or even to the mores of the 1940s. There were rumors of her sleeping around and some called her a Honkey-Tonk Angel. Nevertheless, small town whispters have a way of shaping the truth as opposed to reporting it and while Virginia Hensley was no saint it is doubtful she fell into bed at any man's beck and call. Beyond all else, Virginia Hensely was her own Person.
It was around this time that Clarence William (Bill) Peer was gaining lots of fans through his weekend show on West Virginia's WEPM where his own band--the Melody Boys--played live. He also played live in the area. These were the late 40s however, and the country was still recovering from both the depression, the Dust Bowl and war so money was tight. Bill Peer still had to work two other jobs to support his music. He was a parts manager at Goode Motor Company and often sold Buicks in the evenings or sold appliances at a hardware store. But sales were also part of Bill's talent and this served to keep his band playing and advancing.
In 1952 Virginia happened to meet the manager of Winchesters' Body Repair Shop. He was also Bill Peer's steel guitarist. Headstrong and pushy she kept bagering hi to introduce her to Peer so she could audition for him. Finally, she met him at the local Moose Club where he was performing with his band. He let her sing on the spot and afterwards, he would say that she impressed hell out of him.
Peer immediately took Virginia under his professional wing but secretly he was also attracted to her--that secret would not take long to be exposed. In any case, after watching her perform a few times he told her that Virginia was not right for her and he suggested the name Patsy. (The Cline half would come later).
Virginia liked the idea and changed her name to Patsy at that juncture of her career.
Credit: www.50spirit.blogpost.comBill Peer's wife did not care for Patsy. For one thing she was vivacious and sexy and for another she did not like the way her husband was doting on the singer. And, he was. In fact, he began paying more attention to Patsy's career than his own. He even went into debt to help her not excluding making a lot of calls to Nashville trying to get her on the Grand Old Opry.
Patsy had none of the romantic sincerety that Bill hadFor one thing he was eleven years older than the twenty year-old and for another Patsy was simply not as romantic about him as she was about her. He told Patsy that he was going to get a divorce and that all he wanted in the world was her. Patsy shined him on, reminding him that the only thing important to her...was her career. In this way Patsy never led him on in terms of her loyalty or devotion. And yet, her real secret was that she was seeing another man. Gerald Cline.
Gerald Cline came from a successful family who owned a contacting and excavating company in Frederick, Maryland. It is said that Gerald had a way of walking around as if he owned the world with a liking for big cars and hot women. Indeed, it is said that he fooled a lot of women making them think that he was "a big shot." In fact, he married one who was three months pregnant, cheated on her and married another. During his escapades he went to the local Moose Hall one night and saw Patsy for the first time. Bill Peer was at her saide when Gerald approached the telling Patsy that he thought she was fantastic.
Somehow Patsy and Gerald got together after that and began "sneaking around" behind Bill's back. Yet, Gerald Cline was not the man people would have expected Patsy to choose--he was only slightly taller than Patsy, overweight and not very good looking. Yet, he was a charmer and Patsy's mother encouraged the relationship believing he was a man of means and would take good care of her daughter
As a quick aside and not forgetting Patsy's mom's support, I have done a lot of studies of woman who lost their fathers early in life either through death or abandonment. I call their particular problem the “looking-for-Mr.-Goodbar Syndrome. They cannot stay with one man once he has committed to them. They have to prove their value by, if you will, gaining the love of one man after another. Some ladies grow out of it but some never do. While I could not say for sure, Patsy at this phase of her life appears to fit the looking for the Mr. Goodbar scenario.
Poor Bill Peer was devastated when he found out. He was hurt deeply and yet he remained devoted to Patsy and kept trying to get her to Nashville...to get her to the stardom that she so desired. As a result, Bill, Patsy and Gerald began traveling around together. Rumors swarmed about their (odd) relationship
If the rumors were true or not, Bill Peer finally managed to get Patsy onto the Grand Old Opry stage thanks to Ernest Tubb, a friend of Bill's and a superstar that Bill had backed up musically. (Bill had traveled there with his wife and so the Peers and Clines took rooms at the Colonial Motel.
(At the Opry the foursome were permitted to roam around back stage and sit in the pews on stage during the show. It was on one of those rare nights that Elvis Presley performed on the Opry. Patsy loved his performance but the country music fans didn't and booed him when he finished his number. Patsy's husband criticized the up and coming star by saying he did "colored singing").
Later that night of the show, Patsy sang with Ernest Tubb's band and made a big hit with everyone. Incidentally, it was during this time that Patsy and Bill Peer's wife had become friends but, in the long run, it also became apparent that Bill and Patsy were till having a "back-street affair." How much Gerald Cline knew of this no one can know.
Finally, however, Gerald got tired of Patsy's infidelities and in the heat of an argument reminded her that she was Mrs. Gerald Cline and to act that way.
Patsy did not back down, she hollered back, "I'm Patsy Cline and don't you forget it." She was not about to be "hogtied" by anyone.
Patsy Cline was working and traveling constantly by then. And, she won a hundred dollars as Best Female vocalist in a contest that gained her a regular spot on the Jimmy Dean Show on WARL, Town and Country. The reader may remember Dean's major hit, Big Bad John?
Through it all Bill Peer remained Patsy's most devoted ally. He adored Patsy and wanted to see her become the singing star that she wanted to be; she was his personal and professional focus. Then Four Star Records received a demo recording from Bill. William McCall of Four Star decided to sign her.
Patsy was elated and flew to Pasadena, California to make her recording deal. Patsy major dream was to become a recording star and of course William McCall told her that is what she was going to do. She signed his contract without consulting an attorney. It was the first and most major mistake Patsy had made in her young life.
No Business Like Show Business
McCall had a reputation for being a shyster in the business who took unfair advantage of his clients. He was actually a publishing company but also signed writers and signers. His ploy was quite blatant once he had someone under contract--that is, he’d sign a "hungry" lyricist and then have one of his contract singers record it--using their own money. Then he'd lease the recording out to a major company if a major company liked it. Ellis Nassour, Patsy's biographer tells us that many of McCall's records never made it to the bottom of charts but that didn't matter to him since he had so very little of his own money in the projects anyway.
I will digress here for a moment because I know that many of those reading this article are writers themselves and/or have other talents. People like William McCall are not the example but the rule in show biz. Not that there are no “straight-shooting” honest producers, agents, managers publishers and so forth in the business because there are but…they are few and far between. Even the giants in the business typically suck the blood out of their talent when they can. In my many years in and about show business, I’ve been lied to, cheated, stolen from and worst even by those so wealthy and powerful that they had no need to be that self-serving and dishonest. They were nevertheless. Once a giant movie studio offered me a contract for a screenplay I had written. I was jumping out of my skin I was so happy until I read the small print that said, if the studio fails to produce the film script within six months, the film script becomes the sole property of the studio. Why would a giant corporation try such a stunt over a twenty-five year old poor kid with a dream? Well, that’s show business and that’s exactly what Patsy Cline had had signed to in Pasadena, California a long, long way from her small town in Winchester Virginia.
After signing with McCall Patsy continued her public performances but also her recording career was slowly unfolding in spite of the fact that she could only record songs that belonged to McCall, which was a part of her contract. Nevertheless, her unique voice was beginning to attract record buyers although Patsy saw only a tiny portion of her royalties because McCall charged her for everything he could think of before paying her so she was still enduring serious financial struggles. Then, there was some unexpected relief.
Bill Peer's mother died leaving him a lot of money so he began investing all the more in Patsy and her career. At that time her most successful records were, "A Church, A Courtroom and then Goodbye" and "Honkey Tonk Merry-go-round." She had even sung A Church, A Courtroom and then Goodbye on the grand Old Opry hoping to stir greater record salesbut if the performance augmented sales only McCall truly benefited.
All this had happened around 1955 and in 1955 Jenny Peer finally filed for divorce from Bill. Obviously Bill and Patsy's affair had continued through it all but Jenny didn't blame Patsy. She said Patsy was only twenty-three years old and Bill was so much older. On the other hand, Jenny, along with many others, believed that Bill and Patsy would be married the moment the divorce was final. Patsy pulled the rug out from under that prediction, however. She not only refused to marry Bill but quit his band as well.Credit: www.dougquick.com
By 1956 Patsy made it to the Ozark Jubilee that featured top country stars like Red Foley Credit: www.alawalkerart.comEddie Arnold Faron Young and Brenda Lee It was during this time that Bill Peer came back into Patsy's life but only as her manager. Bill never angered at Patsy but he had been deeply hurt by her. (We can only guess that he had also always been "too available" to her, too doting. He just wasn't challenging enough for a young woman like Patsy). In any case, Patsy and Bill's new relationship was to be strictly business.
Who apparently was challenging enough for Patsy was a young man by the name of Charlie Dick. Charlie had actually grown up in Winchester, Virginia and was it seems ever as much his own man as Patsy washer own woman. They had more than this in common, however. Both liked to party and have fun and yet, both were fast to temper. Nevertheless, Patsy had at long last fallen in love and Charlie was her man!
Charlie drove Patsy to New York so that she could try out for Author Godfrey's Talent Scouts.Credit: tvaholics.blogspot.com
The Talent Scouts at the time was an extremely popular show that began on radio during the 1940s and transferred to television in the 50s. GodfreyCredit: www.betterlivingtv.blogspot.com himself was somewhat of an icon beloved by a great many Americans. As a result, Talent Scouts had become an important stepping-stone for up and coming performers. As for Patsy Cline, destiny was about to unfold its tangled wings.
The Early Road to Stardom
After Patsy's Godfrey's Show tryout, she returned to Virginia and kept busy between her romance with Charlie and performing. By then she had build quite a resume for herself as she had performed on radio, on television; been on the Grand Old Opry and featured on the Ozark Jubilee; she had a couple of records out and was a popular club and lodge singer. As wonderful as all this sounds Patsy was still not making much money and constantly struggling financially.
It was during 1956 that a song writer by the name of Hecht gave McCall a song he had written with the title, "Walkin' After Midnight." McCall loved it and immediately thought of Patsy. He called her and played a demo for her over the phone. Patsy listened and then told McCall that she hated it. And she did.Credit: www
McCall, in a term, didn't give a damn what Patsy hated or didn't hate. She was under contract to him and to do what he told her to do. He demanded that Patsy fly to Pasadena to "talk about it" and sent her the money for her airfare.
In McCall's office with the songwriter present, Patsy stuck to her guns: She kept repeating that she hated the song; that it was pop tune and she was a country singer. Pop was not in her soul!
Here's the first stanza:
I go walkin' after midnight
Out in the moonlight
Just like we used to do.
I'm always walkin' after midnight,
Searchin' for you...
The tug-of-war continued between Patsy and McCall so finally McCall made her a deal: If Patsy sang Walkin' After Midnight, she could choose the "B" side of the record--if her choice did better than his, she could choose what she recorded next without interference. Patsy knew that she was under contract to record whatever McCall told her to so she recognized this was a "good deal" and agreed to sing the song even though by then she was resenting McCall as so any of his stable of singers and writers did.
With the exception of Walkin’ after Midnight, she refused to sing any song that wasn’t pure country. This “love affair” is not difficult to understand: For down-home country singers and country music fans alike, the music is as much a religion as it is an art form. That is, country music connects working people to their roots; to the earth itself, it is the story of calloused hands and broken hearts; life’s build ups and letdowns; the experiences of poverty and hard times; of beer drinking and whooping it up; love affairs and breaking up but also romance and lasting family life. It is a connecting factor for common folks of how it feels to pitch hay, shovel manure, loading sixteen tons and walk the floor in despair. It can’t be explained except in metaphor but every fan will know exactly what I am saying. It’s not so much like that today of course; there’s so much cross-over that the heart is out of most of it but we are not talking about our times, we’re talking about Patsy Cline days and her times.
Patsy was finally accepted by Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts. This was in January of 1957. As always Patsy was short of cash and so she and her mother, who traveled with her, ended up in a cheap New York hotel room; a thirteen-dollar a night flop house. None of that mattered, Patsy was determined to sing and to win the talent show. There was an upset, however. The Godfrey people had heard the record and insisted that Patsy sing, "Walkin' After Midnight."
Patsy was secretly devastated, even angry but she knew better than to let any of that show. The Talent Scouts was important to her and so she agreed. And, she would give it all she had.
After the song, the audience went wild--there she was on national television with a theater packed with people who loved her; who stood to their feet in a long and devoted standing ovation. This was Patsy's moment--tears welled in her eyes, a lump raised in her throat. She actually had the urge to call out something like Look Mama...I did it! She didn't. When the applause subsided and the audience finally took their seats, Godfrey asked her to sing another song. She immediately returned to her roots and chose Hank Williams hit, "Your Cheatin' Heart." Here's a sample of the masterful lyrics:
Your cheatin’ heart
Will make you weep,
You’ll cry and cry
And try to sleep,
But sleep won’t come,
The whole night through
Your cheatin’ heart, will tell on you
When tears come down,
Like falling rain,
You’ll toss around,
And call my name,
You’ll walk the floor,
The way I do,
Your cheatin’ heart, will tell on you…
And again the audience was on their feet. And again the tears fell and the lump returned to her throat and she wanted to scream out oh Mama, I done it, Mama.
After the airing of Authur Godfrey's Talent Scouts letters poured into to the record companies about the "new" sensation. In fact, quite rapidly Walkin' After Midnight hit three on the country charts and rose on the pop charts as well. No one who wasn't in the know would ever have guessed that Patsy Cline--that new sensation--was still broke. Indeed, she was still under contract to Four Star in Pasadena, California and that kept her from financially reaping what she was earning.
At this same juncture Patsy's personal life was excelling. Her divorce from Gerald Cline finally became final and she was content in the hot, loving arms of Charlie Dick. And, Charlie was a Linotype operator so even if she wasn't making a decent living they could survive as a couple. Then, quite unexpectedly, the party was over. Charlie was drafted.
Charlie did his basic at Fort Benning, Georgia but hurried home for his first Leave asking Patsy to marry him. Patsy is quite well known for her answer. "I don't know," she said, "I ain't seen the ring yet."
It wasn't long after Patsy's 25th birthday that she and Charlie wed.
Lots happened after that: For one thing Patsy's earnings shot up from $10.00 a night to $1,000 dollars a week--not bad in 1957 and she was doing special appearances too. She was on her way to real and lasting stardom. There were those who knew her, however, who constantly talked behind her back. Some called her an ignorant hillbilly that got lucky, others whispered about her cussing, drinking and smoking. It was well known that if Patsy Cline got upset she would yell and swear "up a storm." There was something else: routinely she would walk into the recording studio with a black eye and everyone knew that she and Charlie had been at it again.
Patsy and Charlie fought, made up and loved again time after time, it was, by and large, their lifestyle. It didn’t matter, Charlie was, in a term, crazy about her and she was crazy about him; he was her man!
The couple moved into a rented house in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Her career was wavering at the moment so she began putting her energy into being a wife. She bought things to make the house look homey; she cooked and kept house; she was happy and she soon enough pregnant.
Sometimes she even talked about retiring from her career--while no one believed that the Patsy drive would ever stop singing, Patsy was, at least for the moment, content by being a wife and soon-to-be mother.
When Charlie was released from the Army the couple moved back to Virginia and Charlie went back to work for the Winchester Star. The couple with their newly born remained happy even though they continued living from one payday to the next. Then there was a small windfall: The army had, as Patsy said, "screwed up." After Charlie's release they kept sending her allotment checks for $137.00--not much but helpful in the late 1950s. Both she and Charlie worried that the Army would find out but they kept cashing the checks all the same. Anyway, by then, Patsy was pregnant again.
With babies to raise Patsy decided to reshape her career and she did. For one thing she began performing in feminine gowns as opposed to her cowgirl outfits. She had finally accepted the fact that she was not only a country hit but that pop fans adored her as well. In order to be close to the business she and Charlie moved to Nashville. In Nashville she recorded her second hit--I Fall to Pieces. In fact, she is known for running down the Decca steps hollering, "I've got a hit Credit: www.bklynboy89.tunblr.comand they'll never take my car now!"
Life was turning up roses, as the saying goes--Patsy gave birth to her second baby, a healthy boy, she and Charlie were still love birds fighting like cats and dogs every now and then but, through it all, life was just about as good as life gets. "I Fall to Pieces" sold 10,000 copies in Detroit alone--and quite suddenly Patsy was the center of a whole lot of people's attention. Indeed, the folks in her hometown declared a Patsy Cline Day.
Then, on June 14th in 1961 Patsy went shopping and afterwards drove home with her brother--the highway home was two lane and a car tried to pass another car headed directly at them. The crash was horrifying and as soon it hit the news Patsy's good friend, Dottie WestCredit: www.curb.com a superstar herself--jumped into her own car and drove immediately to the scene. She found Patsy still lying on the road, bleeding. Patsy had insisted that the ambulance take the others who had been hurt to the hospital first. But that too was Patsy--while there is no doubt that Patsy had her wild ways, she also had a heart of gold and nearly everyone who knew her also knew that about her.
Once admitted she was put on the critical list. The doctors were skeptical about her recovering.
Charlie was devastated by worry and stayed at her side after the operation. When Patsy finally came to she told him not to worry, that Jesus had been there and said there was nothing to worry about, and she had other things to do.
This did not help Charlie not to worry but Patsy's good friend Joyce Blair attempted to cheer him up by telling him not to worry, that everybody knows God and Patsy are never wrong.
While in the hospital room Patsy listened to Ernest Tubb's Midnight Jamboree and heard an up and coming singer by the name of Loretta Lynn Credit: www.planeterryinfluence.comShe sang a hit that she had written, "I'm a Honky Tonk Girl" and then followed that song with well wishes for Patsy's recovery, singing "I Fall to Pieces" in her honor. As soon as the broadcast was over Patsy sent Charlie to the record store where the broadcast originated to tell Loretta she wanted to meet her. After Loretta and Patsy's meeting the two ladies and their husband's Moonie and Charlie remained close friends.
Charlie's devotion was certainly demonstrated during Patsy's stay in the hospital. He would come daily to visit and often push her outside so they could talk and feed the squirrels. Afterwards he'd go to work and this was their routine until she was released.
Patsy's recovery had not been fast and she was left with a terrible scar across her forehead, which is the reason she began wearing wigs when she performed.
It was during this time (late 1960) that Patsy heard a song that she immediately wanted to record, “Funny How Time Slips Away written by and up and coming song writer by the name of Willie Nelson. Willie, however, had written the song for Billy Walker. Patsy didn't care; she loved the song and wanted it. Finally Willy said, "There's plenty more where that came from" and he handed Patsy another song that he had written with the unexpected title, "Crazy."
Patsy hated Willie's song but Willie was "hot" in the business then and had just written Faron Young's hit, "Four Walls" and Faron and Patsy were extremely close friends.
Younger Willie Nelson
As an aside before the accident Patsy and Faron became drinking and joke-telling buddies who thought the world of one another. Then one evening when Faron drank enough to make a pass at Patsy, she said: "You ain't gettin' into Cline's britches. Don’t you know you're messin' with a married woman?"
Returning to Patsy and Willie's new song, Patsy finally agreed to record it. Some of the lyrics follow:
Crazy, I'm crazy for feeling so lonely
I'm crazy, crazy for feeling so blue
I knew you'd love me as long as you wanted
And then someday you'd leave me for somebody new
Worry, why do I let myself worry?
Wondering what in the world did I do?
Crazy for thinking that my love could hold you
I'm crazy for trying and crazy for crying
And I'm crazy for loving you
Crazy for thinking that my love could hold you
I'm crazy for trying and crazy for crying
And I'm crazy for loving you.
"Crazy" became Patsy's classic, the bridge that permitted her to reach her goals of stardom and the taste of wealth that she had always desired; she bought the big house, had a maid...the little girl from Virginia who said, "If other people can do it, so can I," had reached the top in a difficult profession. She was also called the Jukebox Queen by then but that lovely and intriguing voice was being heard constantly by then.
It was during this time that she was asked to do a fundraiser in Kansas City, Missouri and so she flew there in her friend's private plane along with three other Grand Old Opry stars.
At the benefit she sang her two big hits "I Fall to Pieces" and "Crazy" both gaining standing ovations but she also sang classics such as "I'll Sail My Ship Alone," giving the song that incredible phrasing and mystical tones of hers:
We've been sweethearts for so long
But now you say, we're through
The love we shared is now a memory
I have built a ship of dreams
And planned them all for you
But now I guess what is to be, will be
I'll sail my ship alone
With all the dreams I own
Drifting out across the ocean blue
Yes, I'll sail my ship alone
Though all the sails you've torn
And when it starts to sinkin', I'll blame you
Patsy was in a hurry to get home after the benefit because her son was sick with a fever. The Fairfax Municipal Airport was fogged in, however. This was the fifth of March in 1963. On this morning Patsy telephoned her mother telling her she was "stuck" in Kansas City because of thunderstorms and how worried she was about little Randy. Patsy's Mom told her not to worry, that Charlie always took good care of the children. Patsy worried anyway but in the early afternoon the weather cleared enough for take off. Patsy and her four co-stars squeezed into the plane and off they went disregarding the dark clouds ahead of them.
The pilot, who was not licensed to read instruments became lost and disoriented in the storm clouds and after struggling to keep the plane in the air, dove nose first into the ground. The impact had been so strong that all died instantly. This occurred near Camden, Tennessee.Credit: www.spclarke.com
Patsy was only thirty when she died. She was elected to the Music Hall of Fame in 1973. She has been gone a long time now but countless fans, like me, carry her voice in their hearts and see her performing in the mindscapes of our memories, where nothing ever dies.
Beyond this, I do not know how to summarize this article because nothing seems quite grand enough. I suppose if someone said I needed to summarize my thought about Patsy, I’d say: Patsy was a true cowgirl with ties to the poor and struggling; she was also a hell raiser and an individualist who lived hard, died young and left a beautiful memory.
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