Every country fan has that artist that they can’t help but wonder, “Why didn’t he make it big? He’s just as good as George Jones.” Or Dolly Parton. Or whoever.
No exception with us here at If That Ain’t Country. I’ve got any number of artists I hear on a regular basis and just shake my head at the injustice of it all. You’ve got Alan Jackson, for example, who made it as big as you can get it in the world of country music.
Then you’ve got somebody like Shane Worley (never heard of him? Doesn’t surprise me) who, to this set of ears, should be the next big thing. Instead, he’s probably funds any albums he releases himself and pours beer and fixes cars to make ends meet.
A man who has straddled the line between the two extremes I just mentioned was Justin Tubb. In the mid 1950s, he had two top 15 hits in duets with the beautiful Goldie Hill. He followed that with solo success, landing a top 10 single with “I Gotta Go Get My Baby” in 1955, and “Take A Letter, Miss Gray” . He made the charts again with Lorene Mann in the mid 1960s, but never really enjoyed the success that was befitting a man of his talents.
Vocally, Justin was, in this reviewer’s opinion, right up there with any of the greats. The eldest son of country pioneer Ernest Tubb, Justin lived mainly with his mother during early life. After Ernest split with Elaine (of “Blue-Eyed Elaine” fame) in 1948, some of the best advice his father gave him was to “just be Justin”. Of course, he was referring to the inevitable comparisons that Justin would draw to his high-profile Daddy. He resolved early on in the piece, though, to blaze his own trail musically. At one point, he even decided to try his hand at college – studying journalism at UT Austin.
Thankfully for country music fans, though, he was offered a job in his late teens as a DJ at WHIN Gallatin. This allowed him to play some of his own songs to a wider audience and garner new fans. Not so long after, he landed a record deal with the Decca label (the same as his father) and his career as a recording artist was underway.
He always tried to avoid capitalising on the success of his father and in doing so developed a different country music sound. His vocal style was much higher than Ernest’s and his songs were more uptempo, shuffle-based numbers.
Despite his only moderate chart success as a solo artist, his is most remembered as a songwriter, and a damn good one at that. Gifted with the ability to string catchy and meaningful lyrics together – even with the power of the internet, it’s very hard to find all the songs he wrote in one place. Some of his better known songs made famous by others at the time included “Lonesome 7-7203” (Hawkshawk Hawkins), “Love Is No Excuse” (Jim Reeves & Dottie West) and “Keeping Up With The Joneses” (Faron Young).
I imagine his songs would pop up in very obscure places: from “I’d Know You Anywhere” (Justin Trevino) on a release from 2000-something to “Big Fool Of The Year” (George Jones) in some honky tonk dive bar which still has a jukebox capable of spinning 45s. I personally witnessed Jake Hooker & The Outsiders cover “Mine Is A Lonely Life” (Skeeter Davis) – a very catchy shuffle beat written by Justin in the early 1960s.
Justin Tubb joined the Grand Ole Opry at the young age of only 20, but was a regular fixture there for many years. He toured heavily and made many fans across the USA and worldwide – so much so that he was temporarily dropped from the Opry lineup because he was never in town.
A measure of his success as a songwriter comes in the fact that he wrote many songs which his own Daddy picked up and recorded over the years. If it’s good enough for Ernest Tubb – The Texas Troubadour himself – then it’s sure as heck good enough for the rest of us. A few of those songs included “Your Side Of The Story” and “Be Glad” amongst a whole bunch others. Interesting to see that it went the other way too – Justin had some fun with his version of Ernest’s “You Nearly Lose Your Mind“.
A passing thought, too – Justin Tubb roomed with an upcoming Roger Miller in the late 1950s. Two of the most important country music songwriters in one house? I would’ve loved to have heard some of the conversations that went on in there. How much of life in that period became immortalised in song, unbeknownst to us, the casual listener?
Justin Tubb died very early – in 1998, at the age of only 62 he passed away – leaving behind his wife, Carolyn McPherson Tubb. He wasn’t quite one of artists that hit the big time, but as a songwriter he made his mark. By simply reading this, you’ve ensured that his country music footprint remains alive.
A song he penned to express his discontent with the direction country music was taking in 1981 still stands very true today.
Perhaps, his life was put best by a fan named Jimmy Lee who posted the following in the comments section on a obituary to Justin a few years ago: “I met you once. You were an ordinary guy, with extraordinary talent. It was an honor. Your great voice and incredible songwriting gifts will live on forever“.