Perplexing Popularity Of Pride
THERE HAS never been a performer in American music with a more paradoxical popularity and perplexing personal presentation than the black country-western singer Charley Pride.
Winner this year of a number of the top country-western performance awards out of Nashville, Pride last night headlined an Oakland Coliseum concert presentation which had about 7000 in attendance.
Pride is a superb singer. His approach and manner on selected tunes is flawless. His voice, limited in range, has just the right bite, timbre, and controlled feathering. He can take even a stylized chestnut like ‘Your Cheating Heart’ and make it something special… all his own.
Yet Pride has what could have been insurmountable obstacles in his way. Foremost, of course, he is a black man singing the white man’s vernacular country music — a form identified, particularly, with an anti-black American citizenry.
In addition Pride is, as again demonstrated in Oakland, not a showman. In fact he is an awkward and lackluster figure on stage. A nice guy, yes. A persuasive and compelling entertainer, no.
Pride, through vocal charisma, is able to not only hold his audiences but also to actually convert them into palpitating, handclapping enthusiasts.
Pride is both country and western. A Mississippian with a Montana exposure in younger days, he sings white country songs and contemporary country-folk things like ‘Me and Bobby McGee’, yet is not specifically identified with either the black or white blues styles.
He holds a guitar but never solos. He has had 15 big selling LPs, yet still plugs each song with a promotional pitch. He sings, “I’d rather fight the wind and rain than what I fight at home,” and one isn’t quite sure what he means.
Pride, at 33 and with all his experience and success, still seems distant and self-effacing on stage.
The tunes came and went during the show… ‘San Antone’, ‘Crystal Chandelier’, ‘Louisiana Man’, etc., and Pride commented, “can’t play many requests, why don’t you get out and buy all the albums?”
His backup Pridesmen quartet featured the fine Gene O’Neil on steel guitar.
Lynn Anderson, an award winner herself , also appeared last evening. She sang well, had a raft of routines and musical patterns and benefitted from considerate audio attentions by the sound engineers.
Her ‘Rose Garden’ is, of course, well known, but Miss Anderson also displayed a great knack for swinging country tunes and, in contrast to Pride, was an ingratiating stage figure.
© Philip Elwood, The San Francisco Examiner, 30 October 1971