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by Chuck Eddy

February 5, 2014

R&B Covers Country

by Chuck Eddy  |  February 5, 2014

Here's a phenomenon that used to happen all the time through the mid-'70s or so, but for some reason has grown rarer and rarer ever since: R&B acts covering country songs. The reverse was once commonplace, too (in fact, this playlist from last year proves it). But where singers like Al Green, Solomon Burke, Bobby Womack and Millie Jackson once upon a time regularly included country standards in their repertoires (sometimes recording entire albums of them, such as Womack's 1976 BW Does C&W), it might be impossible to find even isolated equivalents in catalogs of, say, R. Kelly or Brian McKnight or Jill Scott.

That said, this playlist aims to track the phenomenon. It starts pretty classic: Gladys Knight covering Kris Kristofferson, Candi Staton doing Tammy Wynette, Diana Ross doing Bobbie Gentry, Millie Jackson doing Dolly Parton, Bobby Womack doing Charlie Rich. Kristofferson, George Jones and Hank Williams seem especially popular, and you could maybe make a whole playlist of R&B renditions of Willie Nelson's "Funny How Time Slips Away." The one here, from The Spinners, charted in both soul and pop in late 1982.

Other veterans, such as Latimore (doing Alabama), Etta James (doing John Berry) and Aaron Neville (doing George Jones), continued to interpret country tunes well into the '80s and '90s. But younger singers? Not so much. Whitney Houston's take on Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" obviously went stratospheric in 1992, and two years later All-4-One had almost as much luck with John Michael Montgomery's "I Swear." Beyond that, slim pickings: Tank covering Bonnie Raitt (who might not technically count), Tamia covering Wynonna Judd, that's about it. Still, by the time the mix winds down to Isaac Hayes stretching Glen Campbell's "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" to 18 minutes in 1969, you'll have other things on your mind.

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