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Almost Country: Storyteller Harry Chapin

Country Music history is filled with great story songs, those songs that make you laugh, make you cry, make you think.

Johnny Cash singing the great Kristofferson classic “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down’.  Bobbi Gentry telling us the story of Billie Jo MacAllister in “Ode To Billie Joe”.  And of course Tom T. Hall, country music’s all-time favorite storyteller.

The late great Harry Chapin wasn’t country.  But he was close.  He could weave a story through a song as well as anyone.  Perhaps a funny, witty tale.  More often, a song and story that would make you sit back and think, “Hmmm…is he singing about me?”.  And that’s often what a country song does as well.

Harry was born and raised in New York City at a time when the Big Apple largely had not discovered Country Music.

Harry was a member of the Brooklyn Boys Choir and early on made albums with his brothers Tom and Steve.  He released a few solo albums in the early 1970’s, but it was 1974 that was Harry’s breakthrough year.

1974 was the year of “Cat’s In The Cradle”, a huge pop music hit from his “Verities & Balderdash” album.

The song, at first listen, is a simple tune, primarily acoustic guitar.  You listen to it and almost find yourself humming along to the melody.  And then the lyrics sink in.

And for many, hits you like a sledgehammer.  It’s a song of reflection and sometimes, as they say, the truth hurts.  And helps.

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Harry had other pop music hits (Check out “WOLD” and “TAXI”), but it’s “Cat’s In The Cradle” that lives on most of all from this great singer/songwriter.

Harry never was able to live up to his potential.

Harry Chapin was killed on July 16, 1981 on the Long Island Expressway after his car was hit by a semi tractor-trailer.  He was just 38 years old.

Personally, I think Harry may have joined us in country music, had he lived.  And particularly classic country.  The pop music of today would have no room for Harry Chapin.  It would have been interesting to see Harry on-stage at the Grand Ole Opry, sitting on a stool with his guitar and listening to the audience sing along with “Cat’s In The Cradle”.


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