A hundred years ago — Thursday, March 4, 1921 — President Woodrow Wilson put his name on a document declaring a lush, mountainous strip of land in the Ouachita Mountains as Hot Springs National Park. What had been designated by Congress in 1832 as a reservation was established as a heralded bellwether of Wilson’s relatively new national parks program, with government-led protections for the 47 thermal springs that bubble up from the Earth at a feisty 143 degrees, believed by many then and now to be medicinal. To mark the centennial, we’re celebrating all things Spa City — the things that make it a geological anomaly, the things that make it a haven for lovers of pizza and gambling and cycling, and the things that keep it perennially weird.
Hot Springs native Henry Glover (1921-1991) was the arranger you wanted at your recording sessions. He was the talent scout you wanted at your record label. And, with an uncanny knack for handling it all — country music, blues, pop, R&B, jazz, rock ’n’ roll — he was the songwriter whose songs you wanted to record. Born in Hot Springs, Glover had the additional good fortune of coming of age when the American music business was in expansion mode and open to a little experimentation.
Although Hot Springs was, for Arkansas, a comparatively cosmopolitan burg in the heyday of healing waters, the destination quickly defaulted to hardscrabble rural environs on the rough roads and train tracks out of town. This town/country dichotomy was later reflected in the variety of artists Glover would produce in the studio — early country stars Grandpa Jones and the Delmore Brothers; R&B performers James Brown and Hank Ballard & the Midnighters; pop artists Joey Dee & the Starlighters and the Charms; jazz vocalists Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan. Glover also produced the first recordings of rock ’n’ roll pioneers Levon and the Hawks, later known as The Band. The group’s leader, Levon Helm, bonded with his fellow Arkansas native Glover, and over the years Helm came to see Glover as his mentor.
Glover left Hot Springs after high school, but credited his musical breadth in part to growing up in the “very unusual” town. Glover will be honored in the city’s 10-day Arts & The Park annual festival as part of an art contest and a songwriting competition, and there’s a planned mayoral proclamation in Glover’s honor May 21.
Glover began his musical life as a trumpeter, and his career was primarily as an arranger and a producer. But he’s really most recognizable for his songs. There are R&B standards (“Ram-Bunk-Shush,” “I’ll Drown In My Own Tears”), early rock ’n’ roll gems (“Teardrops On Your Letter,” “Seven Nights to Rock,” “Cherry Wine”) and certified pop classics (“The Peppermint Twist,” “California Sun”). Sometimes using his pseudonym, Henry Bernard — his middle name — he additionally wrote many salacious titles in the bawdy tradition, including “Annie Had a Baby,” “It Ain’t the Meat (It’s the Motion),” “Mountain Oysters,” and “I Want A Bowlegged Woman.”
Glover was just one of many overachieving graduates of Langston High, where Black students in Hot Springs were required to attend before the racial integration of U.S. schools. He left Hot Springs for college at Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical College, after which he built a large part of his musical legacy working at Cincinnati-based King Records, for which Glover established a New York City office. King is best remembered by fans today as the starting place of James Brown, but the label is gargantuan in American roots music, with a deep and wide catalog; King Records was where Glover produced such standards of the American songbook as the original versions of “The Twist” and “Fever.”
“Fever” is one of the most enduring songs in which Glover had a hand, which is saying plenty. And it has an additional Arkansas connection: It was originally sung by Ouachita County-born crooner Little Willie John, when John was just 17. It’s since been covered by everyone from Elvis Presley to Madonna. “I heard Willie John at 5 o’ clock,” Glover later said. “And I was so impressed with him that at 8 o’ clock, I had musicians in the studio, and I recorded him.”
Another Glover-credited song with notable Arkansas connections is “Blues Stay Away From Me,” written with Cleburne County native Wayne Raney and the Delmore Brothers, based on Glover’s “Boardinghouse Blues.” It became the Delmores’ biggest hit, and was later covered by the likes of the Everly Brothers, Gene Vincent and Les Paul. “Blues Stay Away From Me,” as sung by Glover’s friend and fellow co-founder of RCO Records, Levon Helm, closed The Band’s first album following its 1990s reformation.
White County native Lonnie Glosson was Raney’s partner, musically and business-wise. Glosson later explained to me in an interview that he didn’t help write “Blues Stay Away From Me” because he was taking a nap and didn’t want to be bothered. However, Glosson did get in on another late 1940s Glover-connected Wayne Raney hit with crossover appeal: “Why Don’t You Haul Off and Love Me.” Little Willie John also cut a version on Glover’s watch at King Records, as did Bull Moose Jackson. It’s been since covered by many, including Dolly Parton.
In fact, during this era of official musical as well as racial segregation, Glover often struck gold with the same song on both sides of his label’s musical aisle at King Records. An R&B number was easily cut by a country artist, and a country hit could become an R&B song. And if a songwriter or producer gets a hit twice while forging a pioneering path, more’s the better, eh?
In the process, Glover is credited with helping break down these musical and cultural barriers in the United States — and with helping forge rock ’n’ roll, as well as genre-busting artistic freedom.
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