Friday, April 10, 2015

Narvel Felts – "Slip Away" (1975)

But could you slip away
Without him knowing you're gone
Then we could meet somewhere
Where we both are not known

(Booty call!)

Imagine it's 1956, and you're a high-school guidance counselor in Bernie, Missouri.  A student named Narvel Felts walks in and asks for career advice.

You could look at his grades, ask him about his interests, maybe give him an aptitude test.  But let's face it: a kid from Bernie (population 1958) whose name is Narvel Felts is not going to become a chef or a financial advisor or an ob/gyn. 

He might fit in at a feed store or as a car mechanic.  He could be a preacher – but only in certain denominations.  (If he's a Pentecostal, Nazarene, or Free Will Baptist, no problem.  If he's an Episcopalian, forget it.)  If he likes to travel, he could become a carny.

But the obvious career choice for a boy named Narvel Felts is to become a country-western musician.  Which is exactly what Narvel Felts did.

A high-school friend of mine recently noted on Facebook that she had "just discovered Narvel Felts and REALLY like him!"  Her comment caused me to remember an almost 40-year-old memory.

I'm not sure why I bought Narvel's eponymous album, Narvel Felts, which was released in 1975.  I don't really remember any of the songs on the album.

I'm guessing that I saw the album in a cutout bin for 49 cents and couldn't resist the opportunity to own a record by a guy named Narvel Felts.  (I had a highly developed sense of irony back in the seventies.  As a matter of fact, I still do.)

Narvel Felts was born in 1938 in a farmhouse near Keiser, Arkansas.  In 1953, he and his family moved to Powe, Missouri, a tiny community located a few miles miles west of Bernie.  

Narvel had a sister named Ogareeda.  Think about what your life would be like if you were a young woman named Ogareeda Felts.  

Narvel Felts at 17
Narvel's official website explains how he got started in the music biz:

[Narvel's] first guitar, which was held together with wire was acquired by trading his BB-gun for it.  Working the cotton fields he saved $15 to purchase his second guitar.  He won a talent contest in his high school singing Carl Perkin's "Blue Suede Shoes."  A local DJ was present and Narvel shortly thereafter heard his name on the radio as the DJ said, "If Narvel Felts is listening, please contact KDEX immediately."  Narvel ran into the house to tell his daddy and they drove to a phone 8 miles away to call the station where Narvel got his break.

Between 1957 and 1968, Narvel released 22 singles.  Only one of them charted – his 1960 cover of the Drifters' "Honey Love" made it to #90 – but he hung in there.

In 1973, his remake of Dobie Gray's hit, "Drift Away," climbed all the way to #8 on the country charts.  Over the next five years, he released 20 consecutive top-40 singles.

Felts as he looked at the
height of his popularity
Felts never had a #1 hit, but his 1975 cover of "Reconsider Me" made it to #2.  

Narvel Felts was primarily a singer, not a songwriter.  All his most successful records were cover versions of songs that had been hits for other recording artists.

Felts covered some country hits – notably, Willie Nelson's "Funny How Time Slips Away" and Hank Snow's "I Don't Hurt Anymore."  But the majority of his most successful singles were remakes of pop or R&B hits.

For example, "Reconsider Me" had been a top-ten R&B hit for Johnny "The Tan Canary" Adams.  Felts also had success with covers of Jackie Wilson's "Lonely Teardrops," Robert Knight's "Everlasting Love," Gene McDaniels' "Tower of Strength," Del Shannon's "Runaway," the Bee Gees' "To Love Somebody," and Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman" (which Felts released in 1987, and which became his last single to chart).

Today's featured song, "Slip Away," was a big hit in 1968 for the R&B singer Clarence Carter, who recorded most frequently at the legendary FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.  

Carter was best-known for "Patches," but his meat and potatoes as a recording artist were (in the words of one writer) "tales of unbridled love and illicit sex."  His records included "Doin' Our Thing," "I Can't Leave Your Love Alone," "I'm the Midnight Special," "Take It Off Him and Put It On Me," and – last but certainly not least – "Back Door Santa," which has very little to do with Christmas.

Narvel Felts today
Narvel Felts is 78 years old, and lives in Malden, Missouri, which is just a few miles down the road from Bernie.  He's still performing – just last month he performed at a casino in Cape Girardeau.

Click here to read a story about him that appeared recently in a local regional magazine, the SEMO Times.  ("SEMO" means southeast Missouri.)

We'll close with another quote from the official Narvel Felts website: 

[Narvel has] never stopped singing since and in over 50 years has only missed four shows; three were due to a case of laryngitis and one for the funeral of his son, Bub.  His hits are numerous, his fans are countless, his neverending talent priceless.  Above all, Narvel is a man of faith and integrity.  The man and his music are alive and well and still going strong.  Call your favorite radio stations to request Narvel Felts!!

Here's "Slip Away":

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