ETSU Professor Recognized for Work on Tennessee Ernie Ford CD | State and Area News


BRISTOL, TN – The songs and legacy of Tennessee country and gospel music star Ernie Ford endure more than three decades after his death.

A university professor who saved some of Ford’s work received an award for his efforts outside Ford’s childhood home in Bristol on September 13. The East Tennessee Historical Society presented Professor Ted Olson of East Tennessee State University with its Distinction Award.

Honor recognized Olson’s involvement in Ford’s 2021 compilation of two releases on Capital Records – 1964’s “Country Hits…Feelin’ Blue” with guitarist Billy Strange and “Ernie Sings & Glen Picks”, an album from 1975 which features fellow Ford Country Music Hall of Fame member, Glen Campbell.

Olson produced and wrote liner notes for the CD compilation, “Classic Trio Albums, 1964 & 1975”, released on German label Bear Family Records. Both were exhausted.

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He said the vision emerged from his earlier work on a 2015 five-CD box set called “Tennessee Ernie Ford: Portrait of An American Singer.” This set featured Ford’s non-gospel music of the 1950s. Ford made hits the next two decades with gospel songs, but Olson said the tracks from the 1964 and 1975 releases were enduring classics of country music from that time.

“These (recordings) are from a time when Ernie was making a lot of gospel albums, and when he was making a secular music album, some of it was heavily orchestrated,” Olson said. “These are stripped. There is only vocals, guitar and bass on both albums.

Olson, a scholar of Appalachian studies, said he considered the two albums “bookends to (Ford’s) music of that era” and “the most authentic representation of his vocal abilities from that era.” “.

He added, “These are songs from the heart. These are country songs made famous by other people that Ernie covered with his own approach.

Olson specializes in liner notes and telling the stories of recordings. He said his job as a reissue producer is to come up with a bigger story that needs to be told. Olson worked with Bear Family on “Classic Trio Albums, 1964 & 1975” to remaster old recordings and do sound restoration work. He also obtained rare photos from the sessions and drew on research and interviews to tell Ford’s story at this time in his career.

“My work tries to honor Appalachian culture, and music is a wonderful way to convey cultural stories to people,” Olson said.

Ford, a born artist with a golden voice, began his career as a radio personality at Bristol’s WOPI-AM. He signed with Capitol in 1949 and in 1955 had scored an immortal hit with “Sixteen Tons”.

“For a while, Tennessee Ernie Ford wore many hats — radio star, television star, and singing star,” Olson said. “Then, of course, recording star when he was signed to Capitol Records, which was based in Hollywood.”

Ford has always been true to its roots, despite its presence in California, Olson said.

“He was a West Coast-based country singer who had deep roots in Appalachia,” Olson said. “It’s a mixture of sounds and styles that made his music stand out.”

Olson said the CD reintroduced an important part of Ford’s music to an audience that may have overlooked the legendary artist.

“I consider in many ways Tennessee Ernie Ford to be the most important musical figure to come. [Bristol]”, Olson said. “My hope and my wish is that he is properly recognized as such.

Jack L. Goldstein