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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

17 Responses

  1. James D. says:

    Dr. Fleming,

    I appreciate the Ray Price mention. He was certainly a formidable vocalist. I also think that George Jones and Marty Robbins could be considered. I read that George Jones actually borrowed (or stole) his vocal styling from early Johnny Paycheck records. If you listen to early Paycheck, before he ruined his voice with drugs and booze, there are similarities. By the way, Paycheck got his start with Jones and Price.

  2. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Thanks for the comment. There is a chronological problem with Johnny Paycheck as influence on George Jones. George was not only older (about 7 years) but had his first hit record came in 1955 (“Why Baby Why?”). Yearning was a big song in 1957, “White Lightning” in 1959, Johnny Paycheck had been backup singer and songwriter in the 1960’s but his first hit as a singer, so far as I can tell, was in 1965. As a student, I was aware of George Jones by the early 1960’s, while Johnny P not until much later. Naturally, they all stole techniques from each other. Jones began imitating Hank Williams and Lefty, and later it is said that he picked up those dramatic low notes from Merle Haggard, whom Jones always called his favorite country singer. What I liked about George Jones was the way he started by following the masters and emerging with trial and error with his distinctive voice and style.

  3. James D. says:

    I’m aware that Jones appeared years before Paycheck and I can’t find the article now, but I believe what was said was that Jones heard Paycheck sing and began to adopt his vocal style. I can certainly hear a change in Jones’ mid-to-late career recordings. His early songs are much more straight-forward without the vocal nuance he became known for later in his career.

  4. James D. says:

    There are several similar articles, but this is from George Jones’ obituary in LA Weekly:

    “Paycheck exerted a critical influence on Jones, as Nashville producer Aubrey Mayhew told me in a 1990 interview. “I don’t want you to misunderstand this statement but, George Jones learned to sing by listening to Johnny Paycheck.” said Mayhew. “What Paycheck does is phrase on the vowels. And that was unheard of prior to him. Nobody did that, but Paycheck did, in the mid- and late-’50s when he was working as a harmony singer. Go back and listen to the Jones records of the 1950’s and then listen to his records after “The Race is On.” It is the harmony that makes the record and that harmony is Paychecks. Jones, Wynn Stewart, Haggard — they all learned from Johnny Paycheck.”

  5. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Thanks, JD. Some of the early records had me believing the songs were sung by people like Red Foley or Webb Pierce. As I understand it, to phrase on the vowels is a very old technique of emphasizing vowels at the expense of consonants, much as you her in Joan Sutherland, where the vowels practically disappear. My mother-in-law, who studied singing in her youth, was taught this. Up and down pop music you can hear the technique. I don’t know enough either about singing or about country music to know if it is true that it was specifically Johnny Paycheck who introduced this technique–so common as to be a cliche–from opera etc.–into country music, but it is not at all improbable that Jones should have picked it up from him. It is what many people object to in Jones’s singing–that whining quality–that his fans love. On the other hand, as significant perhaps as this may have been, George Jones, as song writer and singer, was already a giant in his business. My guess, from hearing old old recordings of Appalachian singing groups, is that the technique was well established long before either George or Donald Lytle, aka Johnny P, were born. Of course, maybe I have misunderstood the whole thing.

  6. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    An additional note is in order. I have frequently noted that unlettered people tend to draw big conclusions from a small sample of knowledge. It’s a bit like the polls that were done in 2000 in which it turned out that the greatest singers in the history of the human race were Sinatra, Presley, and maybe Crosby. I frequently find this in barroom conversations with people under 40 who usually say things like “You can look it up,” after proving that Elvis Costello invented literature. When you add in the fact that people in a business tend to over interpret the significance of their own little corner or company or movement, you have reasons for suspicion. So, with this in mind, I looked up Aubrey Mayhew to see what kind of musical training and experience he might have had to justify his dogmatic absolutism. It turns out, he was a DJ, promoter, songwriter and owner of a label whose biggest star was–try to guess who: Could it have been Johnny Paycheck?

  7. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    PS George Jones gave Johnny P his big break by hiring him.

  8. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    And he gave him his last break by donating a funeral plot after he died, and yes, I loved his version of David Allan Coe’s “You Can Take this Job and Shove it,” which I just read on Wikipedia, so it might be true.

  9. Ken Rosenberger says:

    Another great podcast, gentlemen. Dr Fleming, I hope that you will give us more about the Missouri War and, I hope, “Bloody Kansas.” Not long ago I read Robert Penn Warren’s wonderful biography of John Brown. A young man’s book, as some have said, but I think Warren’s best years were early, before he became a Yale professor and a Connecticut (if not Yankee) liberal. The border wars are fascinating and (in the American tradition) not well understood. There I think we can see the kind of progressive thinking that plagues us to this day. Although, surely it dated its birth back to at least the Mayflower landing.

    Rex, I must commend you on your impression of David Bowie talking. It’s worth mentioning that many of the inchoate (feckless?) alt-right embraced Mr Ch-ch-ch-changes as a proto-Nouvelle Droite figure, although who knows that it wasn’t just one more of his marketable guises. Evola wannabes want music too.

    Anyway, you’ve got me hooked on these birthday podcasts. Many wonderful surprises in here, especially Revere, Hurston, and Nixon. Just the thing after another 10 hours of drudgery in the machine. Please continue to do these.

  10. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Ken, I enjoy doing them, because the most work I do is looking up the birthdays. When I strike a name that rings a chord, I note it down and then don’t spoil my innocence (ignorance!) by looking anything up. It’s pretty much free association, which doesn’t take any effort. Of course, this leaves one vulnerable to making mistakes, but who cares?

  11. Dominick D says:

    This list is grossly deficient. Dolly Parton? Edgar Allan Poe? Robert E Lee? A birthday of great Americans.

  12. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Ah, but please not the title “Some…Birthdays”. Besides, my period–not well observed by Rex–was roughly the first half of January. If I have the energy and encouragement, we plan to keep this up for years.

  13. Roger McGrath says:

    Corpus Christi parish in Pacific Palisades sponsored a youth football team that I played on. Our coach was Bob Denver. He also taught math at the grammar school. Several of us on the team later played football in high school and college, and one, Bob Klein, played in the NFL–all due to Maynard G. Krebs!

  14. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    So may we conclude that Bob was a better coach than he was an actor? By the way, I liked him as Maynard–MAYNARD!!–a great deal, though not as much as I liked Thalia Menninger.

  15. Roger McGrath says:

    Yes, Tuesday (or whatever her real first name was) Weld was one the fetching sex kittens of the era. I, too, liked looking at her. We definitely thought Dobie had lucked out. On the other hand, there was Zelda. Sheila Kuehl was a clever actress with great comedic timing but less than easy on the eyes. She was going to UCLA when she started on the show. My sister was at UCLA at the time. When I was at UCLA as a student, Kuehl was working at UCLA for an office that coordinated with student activities and she had, for the good reason, supervision of the radical groups. She later got a law degree from Harvard. During the 90s and early aughts she served in the California state legislature, representing the People’s Republic of Santa Monica. She was long out of the closet as a lesbian and was promoted as the legislature’s first openly lesbian member. She is currently an L.A. County Supervisor and as good a leftist as ever. Despite his goofball TV reputation, Bob Denver was a sharp guy and well educated by the Jebbies at Loyola University. He had just graduated when he coached us in ’57. He coached us also in ’58. He got married young to a very cute gal and had two kids and lived a seemingly middle class life in the Palisades. His next door neighbor was a guy named Charlie Prescott. One of Charlie’s sons, Billy, was my age so we hung around together until they moved. Charlie was a backing vocalist on many of Elvis Presley’s hits, starting with Love Me Tender.

  16. Steven Lakoff says:

    Everyone needs some mindless entertainment and Gilligan’s Island was just that. I will proudly declare myself a fan.

  17. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Sorry, Maynard Si, Gilligan No.

    According to interviews, Susan Ker Weld was the daughter of Lathrop Motley Weld, a Boston Brahmin and an English orphan on whom the family looked down. When her father died, Susie, nicknamed Tu-Tu by a young cousin, began modeling to support the family. Between modeling and acting, she turned to alcohol, had a nervous breakdown, and attempted suicide at the age of 12. Kubrick wanted her to play Lolita, but she turned down the part saying, she didn’t need to play Lolita. She was Lolita. This was probably a later justification. She turned down all the good roles offered to her, later saying she was trying to avoid success. Her one great role was as the lead in Lord Love a Duck, a very funny movie about California that did not do well at the box office. I saw the movie at the time in Charleston and thought that its portrayal of drive in churches, oversexed youth pastors, gigantic high schools, the beach scene were complete fantasy. Little did I realize it was only a slight exaggeration.