Updated: 7 days ago
Just when you think you’ve heard all the best honky tonk singers, the universe reveals yet another golden nugget just waiting to be discovered. That was the case for me with Vernon Oxford. I had never heard of this stone cold country singer, whose vocal intonations are raw, but soulful, and harken back to early Hank Williams. I know that is a big statement, but trust me, I do not draw the comparison lightly.
But first some background information. Vernon grew up in Wichita Kansas a favorite stop for cattleman driving longhorns up to the Wichita railhead. That’s important to note as I shared on Installment II of Honky Tonkin. Originally, the honky tonks started springing up all along the cattle drive trails.These establishments provided work for the locals, and influenced the culture. By the way, Vernon’s dad was a fiddler.
Vernon got his first break in1960 at a Utah club, and spent several years cutting his teeth in the Kansas honky tonk circuit.. Now seasoned by the rough, and tumble dive bars throughout Kansas, he made the big move to Nashville in 1964. It wasn’t exactly a warm reception as The Nashville Sound was full throttle, but true talent sometimes has a way of reaching the right set of ears.
For Vernon, those set of ears belonged to Harlan Howard. Harlan, and Jan were already established in Nashville. Some of the hits Harlan had under his belt were “Heartache By The Numbers”, “Tiger By The Tail”, and Patsy’s “I Fall To Pieces”. If you are not familiar with the late great Harlan’s artistry, I would recommend picking up “Waylon Sings Ole Harlan”.All the songs are great, and well it’s Waylon, how can you go wrong!
Harlan Howard took a shine to Vern, and gave him a couple of songs to record. By 1965, Vernon landed a label deal with RCA Victor thanks in part to Harlan Howard. The honky tonk crowd loved Vernon’s hard-driving stone cold country music. However, it failed to produce any hits, and RCA dropped him.
Vernon continued recording, and performing, and finally had a breakthrough when a compilation of his songs was released in the United Kingdom in 1974. By 1977, RCA Records had signed him again to tour overseas.Vern continued to record, and released several albums through the Rounder imprint. He also dabbled a bit in acting. Vern appeared in The Coal Miner’s Daughter movie, Country Gold, and A Thing Called Love.
Like Jeanette Hicks, Vernon was an incredible talent that sort of slipped through the tracks. Timing is to blame as Vernon’s hard country sound was not the flavor of the moment.But as is often the case, he was able to collect his fifteen minutes of fame.
Vernon's popularity in Great Britain flourished and his last album was released in 1982 titled appropriately “Keeping It Country”.
Vernon's Most Popular Songs & Facts
His first charted single in America was “Shadows of my Mind”
Breakout hit in the U.S. was Redneck (The Redneck National Anthem).
British hits included “I've Got to Get Peter off Your Mind" and "Field of Flower
After touring in 1977, he took an extended hiatus. He remerged as a born-again Christian with a focus on Gospel music. He also resumed recording and touring in Britain.
A Tribute to Hank Williams
I Just Want To Be a Country Singer
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