by Gail Buchalter
I was sitting in Ronny Light's office, at RCA Victor, waiting for Skeeter Davis to arrive, when a commotion could be heard coming from the hallway. Looking to Ronny for an explanation, he just smiled and said, "Ah, Skeeter and her friend must be on their way."
I thought all the noise to be very strange since Skeeter's presence at Victor is an accepted fact, so I decided her friend must be quite an unusual personality. Describing her friend as 'unusual' is putting it rather kindly. To me, 'treacherous' would be a more apt description. Skeeter walked into the office, said her hello's, and then introduced her friend, Mr. Fred W. Cat. The 'W.' stands for wild; Fred is a healthy eight month old ocelot, who has a great love for Skeeter and an impartial dislike for everyone else. Not willing to risk life and limb for an interview, we left Mr. Cat in an unoccupied office and as the havoc died down, we began to talk.
Skeeter is quite striking looking with or without her ocelot. With long straight hair, and an ankle-length dress, she looked as if she might just have walked out of New York's Greenwich Village. When I commented upon this, she replied with a laugh, "I've never lived anywhere other than Kentucky (where she was raised), or Nashville, so you see I'm really a country girl. As far as my appearance goes, I've always had my own style of dress and individual taste. In fact, there's been times when I've had trouble with some of the country fans, who make the mistake of, ha ha, judging a 'look' by the cover."
Skeeter was originally signed to RCA by Steve Sholes as part of the Davis Sisters (her 'sister' being her closest friend). The first single they cut, while still in high school, was the hit, "I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know." Skeeter proudly interjected, "You know Bob Dylan just included that song in his "Self-Portrait" album, using our original arrangements, which really made me feel great."
Having a record on the best selling charts would make anyone happy but unfortunately, this feeling didn't lost long. Shortly afterwards, Skeeter's friend was killed in an automobile accident, which was both a great personal and professional loss to her.
Steve Sholes, being aware of the insecurities she was going through about her career, wisely teamed her up with Chet Atkins to be her producer. Chet was a close friend of hers, having played on many of her dates, and Steve felt it would be a good time for them both to start on new careers: Skeeter as a solo artist and Chet as a producer.
Skeeter thought for a moment and grimaced, "You can't believe how cruel people can be. After having gone through this horrible time in my life, people would actually come up to me and say, 'What's the matter, doesn't Steve think you're good enough for him to produce you anymore?'" Then she laughed, "Well, we showed them. The first records we cut didn't do much other than let people know I was recording again, but after that we started having chart hits. "I'm Falling Too" and "My Last Date", both made it to the Top 10 on the country charts, and even reached the Top 20 on the pop charts.
"I owe so much to Chet. I was floundering so badly and yet he gave me the confidence to continue. He even used to bring me home to his family, and they all showed me such kindness that I got through that awful period.
"Then we cut 'End of the World' and still sometimes I can't believe its success. It was recorded as a country song (reached #2 on the country charts), yet the pop market picked up on it, and it became #1 on their listings. I think I was more surprised than anyone. I never went after the pop audience but I learned that if a song is good it will appeal to everyone.
"What really made me angry was the letters I got from fans, who said I was selling out which was really untrue. When a country song reaches a new audierce, it just makes them aware of another form of music. I received a Silver Record in Norway, and a Gold Record in South Africa, for "End Of The World", and I know they began listening to my other albums and those of a lot of other country artists. I looked upon these events as just another way of getting country music heard."
Life being what it is, things are always in a state of flux. When Chet Atkins became the V. P. General Manager of Nashville Operations at RCA, Skeeter found herself without a producer. After working with several people, she and Ronny Light teamed up, and the match seems to be perfect.
"I thought it would be impossible to duplicate the feelings of comfort I felt when working with Chet, but Ronny proved me wrong.,He used to be my guitar player when we went on the road, at recording sessions and when I played the Opry (I've been a regular on it since 1959). Since those days, Ronny has become a producer for RCA, handling such artists as Waylon Jennings, Red Lane, Kenny Price and Jessi Colter. He has seen this business from so many angles, that I have complete respect for his opinion,which is imperative if we're going to work together. Also, knowing each other for so long helps a lot."
Their team work is apparently paying off immediately. The first song they released, "I'm A Lover Not A Fighter," reached the Top 1O on the country charts, and their newest recording, "Bus Fare To Kentucky," which Skeeter laughing said, "Doesn't mean I'm going home", shows all the initial signs of being a smash hit.