35 Years of Jack and Misty Music by Mark Harris
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This 2002 interview may be the most in-depth one we've ever had. Sadly, the interviewer, Mark Harris, passed away a couple of years ago. We will always be grateful for the interest, effort, and skill he brought to the occasion. Thanks, Mark.

Jack Blanchard & Misty Morgan

It all started in a Buffalo hospital in the 40's when John and Mary (Blanchard) gave birth to son Jack. The second component came a couple of years later in the same hospital, when a different John and Mary (Donahue) gave birth to their daughter Mary.

As children, both probably looked a lot alike - both had brown hair and blue eyes and both trace their ancestry to the Alsace-Lorraine area of Europe (between France and Germany). Jack's heritage was all European. Mary had a little bit of Native American in her genes - and along the way, she became Misty.

Both were in unhappy marriages and had, for awhile, lived in Southern Ohio. Despite nearly identical beginnings, Jack and Misty never met each other until they were both playing piano in adjacent clubs a thousand miles from Buffalo in the 60's in Hollywood - Florida, that is.

By that time, Jack had been in the music business for almost ten years. The doo-wop vocal quartet he belonged to in his youth - the Dawn Breakers - had even once recorded for the Decca Records subsidiary that had also released many Buddy Holly hits (Coral Records). Later, Blanchard headed other groups, namely Jackie Blanchard & The Rockin' Impalas and The Jack Blanchard Group.

Misty Morgan was, during the 60's, a pioneering woman in the music industry, producing her own records (she was the first woman to produce a #1 country song) and incorporating the "electronic" sound into her keyboard arrangements - something everyone in the business seemed to be doing some twenty years later. Her onstage show at the time consisted of more jazz-oriented stuff, like Louis Prima and Keely Smith did in the 50's.

You'll recognize her as Jacqueline Hyde and Maryanne Mail, both pseudonyms she used in the 60's. Or maybe you won't. :-)

The fact is, no matter how good the Rockin' Impalas or Maryanne Mail were, no one outside of local fans knew of them until after the principals teamed together in 1967 as Jack Blanchard & Misty Morgan. In 1969, they achieved a minor hit with Big Black Bird (Spirit Of Our Love), which reached #59 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles chart. An earlier single, Bethlehem Steel had failed to chart.

But they had cracked the charts, and #59 wasn't that bad of a start. So they released their next single, Changin' Times. More exquisite harmony, like Big Black Bird, and a song with a message. But the charts and radio ignored it. Just when it looked like Jack & Misty might've become a one-barely-hit wonder act, they decided to release an absolutely silly song Jack had written called Tennessee Birdwalk. The song topped out at #1 on the country charts and #23 on the pop charts.

Everyone seemed to be "chirp chirp"ing along with Jack & Misty that summer. By the way, the wah-wah guitar used to effect the sounds of the birds walking southward in dirty underwear was the first usage of such an instrument in a country hit. Not only were Jack & Misty on top of the charts, but they were trailblazing as they did it.

Tennessee Birdwalk earned the duo a Grammy nomination and played on radio stations throughout that summer, eventually staying on the charts for 19 weeks. While that's a mid-range chart ride these days, in 1970, it was quite an extended stay.

The next single would be even more critical than Birdwalk...it would help determine whether Jack & Misty's career would be a flash in the pan or a real thing. Sticking with the novelty tune concept, they decided to release Humphrey The Camel in June. Personally, this writer thinks this song was even funnier than the big one earlier in the year. It went to #5 on the country charts. How DOES Jack make the "authentic camel love call" without tearing his vocal chords to shreds, anyway?

In explanation of his uncanny ability to write novelty songs that remain funny and un-dated after many years (a talent shared with few others, Ray Stevens & Roger Miller most notably), Jack says, "Silliness runs in my family. We all used to sit on our front porch and make smart aleck cracks about the people passing by. We were always trying to top each other, and I didn't always win".

"I worked for awhile as a stand-up comic", Blanchard continues. "I can't resist a funny ad lib. Misty's pretty funny, too. People look for meanings in our funny songs. They often tell us meanings we didn't even know were there."

The next hit was a change of pace. No deep meanings, no funny concepts, just your standard cover of a pop song, which was often done (and still is) by country singers of the era. But for a change, the cover ended up sounding better than the original. In 1965, the Fortunes had taken You've Got Your Troubles (I've Got Mine) to #7 on the pop charts. In 1970, Jack and Misty hit the Top 30 country charts with their own version.

At this point, their career was dealt a low blow when the label that had released their big hits of the past year went bankrupt. An album had been released about the same time as Humphrey The Camel, titled Birds Of A Feather. It hit #16 on the country album charts (#185 Pop), yet Jack & Misty never saw a penny from royalties on either the album or the singles.

Eventually they took matters into their own hands and, pre-dating independent record distribution methods like Napster and MP3.com, they took the recordings from the Birds Of A Feather album and had a private pressing made and sold them at their concerts and appearances, finally realizing some reward from their recordings, however small.

It's important to realize how revolutionary it was at the time for them to take control over their own recordings. Traditionally (and as they would still have you believe), record companies claim all ownership of everything they ever release. It doesn't matter that the artist pays for the session time in the studio, the recording process, the session players, the promotion, and (as Jack likes to say) even pays for the label owner's sister's nose job. More on this later.

After the Wayside bankruptcy, Misty & Jack signed with a new up-and-coming label, Mega Records. They were on the label's roster with other rising stars such as Sammi Smith, Brian Collins, Patsy Sledd, Henson Cargill, and Ray Pillow. Mega seemed to allow an artist a little more breathing room to step outside the boundaries then established by the big labels; one good example was Sammi Smith's Help Me Make It Through The Night. Never before had a female vocalist been allowed to record and release a song so frankly and overtly sexual. You may remember the song ended up being 1971's CMA Song Of The Year, hitting #1 on the country charts and #8 on the pop charts.

It was during their term at Mega Records that Jack was given his nickname "the Velvet Saw". One of the Mega promotion men, Tom McConnell, came up with it as an apt description for Jack's voice. Jack adds, "and all this time I thought I was Bing Crosby!" These days, the nickname serves as the name for the duo's own record label - Velvet Saw Records.

Jack and Misty were ready to start recording again. The environment in which they would be working this time really seemed conducive to their own outside-the-box sensibilities. The first song for Mega re-visited Jack's ability to write songs with meaning and feeling, as There Must Be More To Life (Than Growing Old) hit the charts as a two-sided hit. The other side followed in the vein of their two big hits on Wayside, showing the duo's sillier side. Titled Fire Hydrant #79, the song was an ode to a fire hydrant "all stumpy and red / we love you tho' you got no hair on your head".

The two-sided record did well considering the label had a small promotion staff and no national distribution contract with a bigger label, as Wayside Records had had with Smash/Mercury Records. The public definitely preferred the more serious side this time, and now some thirty years later, most listeners seem to appreciate the duo more for their serious songs than the silly ones that did much better chartwise.

In fact, in 2001, There Must Be More To Life (Than Growing Old) was again released (the original Mega recording) as a single and helped propel the duet to being the #4 independent recording artists in the world.

No wonder - the song remains a timeless paean to melancholy, hopelessness, and despair. That feel is reflected not only in the words, but the sound. No wah-wah guitars here. In reflection, Jack Blanchard says this about the song: "It reflects a hopeless time in our lives, before we'd even met. I worked in the dirty factories and waded through the brown slush. We were each in a previous marriage that was not happy. When writing that song, I put myself back in that time, and the title was just the way I felt."

In early 2002, another re-release of a "serious" song recorded in the early Mega days did well for the duo. Somewhere In Virginia In The Rain hit the Top 5 on the indie charts, climbing about ten positions further than the original single did in 1971. Another song from their Mega album, Rings Of Gold, went to #1 on the indie records charts in 2002.

When asked if it was ever determined just where the singer had been in Virginia, Jack answers, "We both love the state of Virginia. I think it was probably somewhere near Roanoke". I asked if the song was written from personal experience, and Jack goes on to explain, "It comes from places I've been in. Not exactly, but there are elements of my experiences in it. Misty does a big part of the arrangements after I write the songs, and we both like that sort of 'traveling music' feeling."

Lest you think that lovely Misty Morgan sits back and lets her outgoing wordsmith husband talk for the duo, you'd be mostly right <grin>! She's the more quiet, contemplative half of the duo, but doesn't hesitate putting in her feelings when asked to do so. When asked why she never played on her exquisite beauty to help their music career like so many female singers do today....

"I believe that music is an art and should be carried on its own merit. Nobody cares how Rembrandt or Picasso looked. Their art speaks for itself." Misty continues, "I really don't like the way they are selling sex instead of the music today. It suggests something may be lacking in the music."

Misty also takes the mic when it comes to explaining the duo's longevity - a 35 year working-together marriage that has outlasted all the other Nashville duet marriage/partnerships except for Kitty Wells and Johnny Wright. Misty explains, "We are opposites in many ways. I am intuition, Jack is logic. We mesh like two gears, or jigsaw puzzle pieces. We feel that each has what the other lacks. We never run out of conversation and ideas...we have fun together. And one more thing: Love".

When asked if they will still be pickin' and singin' together into their 80's just like Kitty and Johnny still are, they simultaneously answer with a resounding YES. "We will probably be found dead onstage in front of a mic at the age of 101."

Actually, touring is not high on their list of things to do anymore. "We don't do as many shows as we'd like. We really enjoy doing our live shows. We've done a show in Nashville, a few in Florida lately. We're waiting to hear from an agent in Pennsylvania. Call us if you need us <smile>".

Perhaps one of the reasons they don't tour as much as they used to is that Jack has a side business these days, restoring old vinyl from his and Misty's recordings, as well as for a slew of other artists.

"I use a turntable, cassette deck, computer and CD burner for hardware, along with a number of complex software programs such as CoolEdit Pro, Pristine Sounds, Sound Forge, Sonic Foundry, Cubase, Steinberg, and a bunch of exotic plug-ins," says Blanchard. "I also wash the records with dish detergent and blow them dry before I start. Sometimes I have to splice together good parts from more than one copy of a record to make a good whole one."

Besides Jack and Misty records, he's working on old recordings by artists like Mayf Nutter, Dick Shuey, Erin Hay, Marvin Rainwater, Pat Garrett, Ernie Ashworth, Hal Willis, Hermann Lammers Meyer, Shirley Frederickson, Kenny Roberts, Marty Martel, Vernon Oxford, and one little-known artist who many are just now discovering and enjoying, Jackie Burns. Jack's restoration work on her records should be released on CD before the end of the year.

(Burns' low-range chart hits from the early 70's included songs like (If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don't Want To Be Right, which is in current rotation on our Internet radio station iCCC, and One Big Unhappy Family. It's good to see that she's now being re-discovered.)

In addition to restoration work, Jack also does non-restorative, digital mixing and mastering for record labels. For any such work, contact him here. (There's your commericial, Jack!)

Meanwhile, back on the ranch of the Legendary Chicken Fairy, Jack and Misty were continuing to record their special kind of music at Mega, having a hit about that big canary that made "all your dreams come true". The novelty tunes were fewer and fewer as the years went by (notable exception, Washin' Harry Down The Sink...they didn't care what people'd think).

The contemplative side of Jack's writing skills was still putting them on the charts with songs like Second Tuesday In December and A Handful of Dimes. The train was still riding smoothly on its rails when - BLAM - Mega Records also went bankrupt and they were once again without a label....but not for long.

Instead of signing with another small independent label, they took the bait held out to them by überlabel Epic Records, home of Tammy Wynette, George Jones, Joe Stampley, Charlie Rich and others, and part of the Columbia Records (Ray Price, Johnny Cash, Lynn Anderson) family. Singles continued to chart during the Epic years, (Just One More Song, Something On Your Mind, Down To The End Of The Wine, Because We Love, I'm High On You) but soon, it became apparent how a major label could cause as many (but different) problems for an act as a small, tenuously financed indie like Wayside and Mega could.

Management at these major labels changes rather rapidly, and soon the label was being run by new staff members, and the "not invented here" syndrome took over. Jack and Misty were soon forgotten about. "We did have an Epic album...they sent us the acetate advance copy, but it never came out," explains Jack and Misty. "Those major labels don't even know they have those masters - if they haven't erased them to make tape space."

After a jump to another major (but smaller) label - United Artists - yielded no hit singles, it was back to a string of small indie labels, then the public just stopped hearing about the duo altogether about 1980.

What happened? Jack explains, "Misty was very ill in the late 70's due to bad results from a minor operation. We had to drop out for a couple of years. When we tried to get back into the Nashville scene, we found that we'd lost our place in line.

During the 80's, we played a jazz circuit in clubs and casinos in New York state, Atlantic City, and Miami. The new suits in country music didn't remember us and didn't care. Fortunately, Misty is multi-talented. She plays great jazz piano. I play bass and we had a drummer. We worked with jazz artists such as Earl "Fatha" Hines, Marian MacPartland, Barney Kessel, Tal Farlow and others. We also had a non-country CD out titled Masters Of The Keyboard."

Now, all of Jack and Misty's old and new recordings are available on their own Velvet Saw Records. E-mail them for more information, or visit this page on their web site.

As noted earlier, Jack and Misty are in the thick of the current fight over use of new technologies in the music industry and artist control over their recordings. They speak freely about their part in the fight, "We liked Napster. It got a lot of music out to our fans, which is the most important thing to us. Even though we were the #4 indie recording artists worldwide in 2001, we didn't make any money from it. That's OK. We just want the world to know our music."

Jack expands on that, "I hope all good artists who have had their life's work stifled by major labels will start pirating their own music. If they (the major labels) sue us, what will they get? We're not getting rich at it, but life is short and good music MUST be heard at all costs."

When asked about the travesty known as CARP (the Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel) whose recommendations are being discussed and may soon be voted into law (the act that makes independent internet radio stations such as ours pay DOUBLE the royalty rate that established radio stations pay for use of the same recordings on the airwaves), Misty explains, "We think it's terrible. (CARP) framers and supporters should be ashamed - and stopped. Boycott their music."

"A lot of our current airplay is on Internet stations. We want it to stay that way. Rather than being the death of non-mainstream music, CARP and the related DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) may cause a boom in pirating, which would be great. We have a friend who operates a well-known pirate radio station in Ireland. His station has been popular for years. They can't arrest us all!"

When asked if there's anything they would like to tell their fans, the couple at first answers, "not much", but then go on to say "we never make a record thinking about what is commercial. We make music for people who like Jack Blanchard & Misty Morgan music. Some of our music is traditional, some is not. We use all the chords and instruments we feel a song needs. We'd rather be controversial than ignored. We do country music by choice, not by limitation. It suits our voices and lyrics."

Ever the gallant and loving husband, Jack also wants everyone to know that Misty has co-written several of their songs.

Lastly he quotes his old friend Roger Miller by saying, "I don't like to put a fence around music". When I noted that he was the second artist that CCC has featured who mentioned Roger Miller in an interview, Jack sent an essay he wrote just after Miller's passing in 1992. I'd like to reproduce it here with Jack's permission. He titled it A Stupid Human Trick:

    When I was trying to figure how this voice of mine, and the way I write songs would fit into the music business, Roger Miller was a great help to me.

    His voice and style of writing were in the same category as mine: None.

    My first few country songs had a strong Miller influence. Most people didn't hear it, but I did. I was and am a Roger Miller fan. I don't know why, but "Engine #9" is my favorite. It doesn't have the depth of "Husbands and Wives", but it is a minimalist gem. Simple is good.

    Every word, every phrase in his songs adds something to the whole. No fill ins. That's what I've always tried for in my work. Any word that doesn't add something, erase it. I learned a lot from him.

    Misty and I were doing a session at Columbia Studio B. Roger's session in studio A was already going on. We took a few minutes and watched through the window in the door. I remember hearing him say over the microphone, "Let's go, folks. We're losin' light".

    Right in the middle of our session Roger walked in, carrying a brief case, and stood by the door, listening. I stopped everything and told Misty I had to go meet Roger Miller and tell him what a fan I was.

    Just as I approached him with my hand out, he said, "Hi, Jack. I'm a fan of yours." One of the best moments of my life.

    The last time I saw him was at a party he hosted at the King of the Road Motel. He wove through the crowd to greet us, and we got talking. He must have heard one of our interviews, because he asked me what I meant when I said that he was responsible for me getting into country music. Here's where the stupid human trick comes in. I will never know why, but I said this:

    "I was just trying to get your attention."

    He looked at me funny and drifted off into the crowd.

    I could have told him all that I've told you here, but I didn't.

    And now I never can.

      --Jack Blanchard

Jack Blanchard and Misty Morgan have now been married, both in life and in music, for 35 years. They've been through and still have hard times, recently losing a beloved family member. Yet, through all of it, they strike me as two of the happiest, most satisfied people in the industry. Yes, I'm sure love has lots to do with it, as Misty says, but I think it's also their ability to look at life from many different angles, their ability to use words to convey all those angles to us, their fans, and the knowledge that they've done their best to add something to all of our lives, making it a little easier to digest.

Their current re-release of There Must Be More To Life hits #19 on the IndieWorld charts. They are also at position #12 on the Top Trax Traditional Country Music chart with their newest single, It Seems Like There Ain't No Goin' Home, on Stardust Records. Stardust has plans to re-release Fire Hydrant #79 this month. Their career continues.

Let's hope they keep singing "Just one more song.....together".

Make sure you visit Jack & Misty's website.

For more insight into what makes Jack Blanchard the man he is, take some time to read some of the essays he's written over the past thirty-some years. Since she's one of his favorite subjects, you'll learn a lot more about Misty during your read, too!

Mark Harris, 2002

 

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