Hugh Ashley

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Can the creations of a songwriter who records both "If I Knew You Were Comin' I'd've Baked a Cake" and "Poison Love" be trusted? It makes matters worse to report that Hugh Ashley wrote the following lyrics,…
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Can the creations of a songwriter who records both "If I Knew You Were Comin' I'd've Baked a Cake" and "Poison Love" be trusted? It makes matters worse to report that Hugh Ashley wrote the following lyrics, "What would you do, What would you do, If Jesus came to spend some time with you?" and it can solemnly be hoped that the first of the aforementioned song titles is not the answer to this question. Most active from the late '40s through the mid-'60s, Ashley was a pop songwriter and recording artist whose interest in story songs, novelties, and just plain old sentimental crap seems to have led him to Nashville, perhaps an obvious direction. He had his hands in many hits either as the sole writer and co-writer, and created songs recorded by the softest underbelly of that era's mainstream country scene. If Ernest Tubb, who actually also recorded some of Ashley's work, is the surf at the edge of the shore, then artists such as Jim Reeves and Brenda Lee are back in the wading pool, producing a type of country record that was so laid-back and smooth it could often pass on an easy listening station. Ashley was not satisfied with just the frequent cuts he had in the hands of artists such as Reeves and Lee, but seemed to have his tentacles everywhere. In 1950 he covered "Daddy's Little Boy," at that point a huge hit that had been promoted beyond belief, the hoopla including some kind of reward prize gimmick of $100,000. In the era when Cinderella was a hit film, Ashley put out quite a good single with covers of "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo" and "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes." Leading his own group, Hugh Ashley & the Four Chords, which might prompt a cynical response of "Four chords? That's pretty good for country music!", he paid tribute to "Fiddles and Guitars" and went solidly country on a cover of "Tennessee Waltz"; an old-timey "Harmony Rag" on the flip.

By the late '50s he was even giving rockabilly a whirl, recording "Get Hot or Go Home," once again hopefully not advice for Jesus, were he to drop by. Some rockabilly performers such as the superb Janis Martin took Ashley pretty seriously, and a live recording of her performing his "Two Long Years" was included in a superb reissue of '50s rockabilly. When Ashley recorded "If Teardrops Were Pennies" he was providing an accurate description of country music's investment potential, and some of Ashley's shrewdest moves involved connecting the dots between various songwriters and publishers, all in a day's work on the Nashville scene. The delightful Red Foley was another country artist who recorded Ashley's songs such as "Mister Moon," often performing them on a popular television show that featured up-and-coming country star Porter Wagoner and steel guitar player Don Warden. While each and all gave off the impression of being hillbillies, they actually spent quite a bit of time discussing publishing, out of which grew an independent publishing company for which Ashley encouraged his partners to contact the mysterious Arkansas songwriter known as Jimmy Driftwood. While the hilarious escapades involved in Driftwood being located belong in his own biography, the upshot was getting ahold of a little song called "The Battle of New Orleans." Recorded by Johnny Horton, it became one of the greatest country crossover hits ever. Ashley, just a background player in this particular triumph, went on busily writing songs, pushing every door buzzer he could think of. In a way, one of his better country lyrics sums up the man's ambitions: "I'd like to be the picture on your mantle. I'd like to be the window in your door. I'd like to be the feather on your pillow. I'd even like to be the carpet on your floor. I'd like to be the star outside your window. That lucky chair that holds you ev'ry night. The coffee pot you warm up ev'ry mornin'. I'd even like to be the apple that you bite." Hung up by a nail, laid on, walked on, stared at, sat on, burned, then bitten? Sounds like a typical music career.