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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 592

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This is the grave of Vern Gosdin.

Born in 1934 in Woodland, Alabama, Gosdin grew up singing in the church, like many future American musicians. His mother was the pianist in a local Baptist church and as children, Gosdin and two brothers sang gospel on a Birmingham radio station. But was music a real career option for a boy from Alabama? It didn’t seem so for Gosdin. He moved to Chicago as a young man and then went to California in 1961. There he both worked regular jobs and sang on the side. He got to know Chris Hillman and then formed The Gosdin Brothers with his brother Rex. They had a minor hit called “Hangin’ On” but were no big-selling act. Gene Clark hired Vern and Rex to sing backup on his first album, Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers, an album that also included luminaries such as Clarence White and Glen Campbell. But none of this was really leading anywhere in terms of a permanent career. Despite his prominent California friends, Gosdin was entering middle age and didn’t have much of a future in music. He decided to move back to the South, specifically to Georgia, where he ran a glass company.

In 1976 though, he managed to get a new record contract with Elektra. Now he had his shot at the big time and even though he was into his 40s, he took off. He had a hit with a remake of “Hangin’ On” that had Emmylou Harris singing background. He hit the top 10 in 1977 for the first time with “Yesterday’s Gone,” also featuring Emmylou, who is probably the greatest backing singer in American musical history. By the early 1980s, he was one of the most popular artists in country music, with repeated Top 10 hits. An emotive singer, he was often compared to George Jones, though with an 80s sound, for better or for worse. He finally had a #1 hit in 1984 with “I Can Tell by the Way You Dance (You’re Gonna Love Me Tonight).” Sadly, we seem to have left the era of song titles with parenthetical additions behind. He had a few more #1 hits and Grammy nominations through the 80s. His last chart topper was “I’m Still Crazy” in 1989, with the concept album Alone about his own divorce.

The 1990s were not kind to the country traditionalists like Gosdin. He kept working, though to diminishing returns in terms of sales. He had a stroke in 1998 but recovered enough to keep working. He continued working until the very end, in 2009, when he had a second stroke that killed him. He was 74 years old.

Let’s listen to some Vern Gosdin.

Vern Gosdin is buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery, Nashville, Tennessee.

This grave post was funded by LGM reader donations. Many thanks! Off next weekend for my next grave gathering thanks to you. If you would like this series to visit some of the musicians associated with Gosdin, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Gene Clark is in Tipton, Missouri and Glen Campbell is in Billstown, Arkansas. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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