Kenny Rogers and the First Edition – School Teacher (1972)

45_first_edition This is definitely not my parents’ First Edition. I may still have the 8-track somewhere that, among the handful of others secured by my dad for “just one penny” via the Columbia Record and Tape Club, played incessantly on weekend afternoons when my folks would host cook-outs with their neighborhood friends. Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town was, by far, my favorite track and would–for quite some time–remain in my mind “The Gambler’s” best work. And, heck, I’ll even play Something’s Burning on a jukebox whenever I can find it. Now, I doubt my folks had recognized Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) as the First Edition when picking out that 8-track and so I can only assume that the grooviest First Ed they’d ever experienced was on Burning. Hence the first sentence of this review.

School Teacher is a mystery to me. I don’t possess nor have I ever come across a copy of  the LP from whence it came, The Ballad of Calico. Before spending time researching this track I spent some time scratching my head thinking “how does Kenny make his voice sound so different on this song?” He doesn’t. Enter Kin Vassy. Vassy replaced founding singer/guitarist Mike Settle in 1969 and was subsequently featured on what I believe may be the only single released for this album. A Kenny Rogers and the First Edition song not sung by Kenny Rogers? WTF??? Well sorry, Kenny, but this track’s burning. While Vassy lacks Kenny’s buttery smooth character he nails down an impressive performance backed by a rhythm track that’s got the unique blend of folky-bluesy-soul that made the Edition famous. The opening arpeggiated Spanish guitar and gentle quality of Vassy’s voice does nothing to hint at the down-right funky chorus that follows with backing vocals that are inconceivably high-pitched and squeezed out as if almost painfully.

Conceived as a “country rock opera” by Larry Cansler and cowboy songster Michael Murphey,  The Ballad of Calico was both a critical success and commercial failure. It purportedly tells the tale of a late 1800s mining town as recounted by some of its more interesting inhabitants. As a result, each member of the Edition took turns singing lead on the double-LP’s tracks. The album has never been reissued so I guess I’ll be keeping my eyes open for a copy to see if there are any other hidden gems therein.

On a side note, I suspect there may have been melodic comparisons to Stealers Wheel’s Stuck in the Middle, which was released the same year and rose much higher than School Teacher’s mere #91 on the pop charts. Regardless, here are the goods for your listening enjoyment. Don’t adjust your speakers–this is the mono version. | c.1972; Reprise Records; REP 1069

Listen:

 

  • The Ballad of Calico was co-written with Michael Murphey by me, Larry Cansler

  • Thanks for the clarification, Larry! It’s always a pleasure to connect with the folks whose music one loves. I’m still keeping my eyes open for one of those elusive LPs and, had I paid any attention to the author credits on the 45 label I scanned I would have noticed your name preceding Mr. Murphey’s–liner notes notwithstanding. I’ve since corrected my review here. Thanks again, Art(uro)