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#3: The Pointer Sisters, "Fairytale"
This is the third edition of Honky-Tonk Weekly, a weekly column here at Tropical Depression. Each week, I’ll listen to and share a country song and write whatever comes to mind (previous entries here & here). Listen along! This week, we’re moving on with the Pointer Sisters.
Note: I’ll have more on the Pointer Sisters’ forays into country music in a followup post.
A fun game is to play this song for someone without any introduction, promise them they have heard of the group singing it, and have them guess who it is. If they’re not already familiar with this detour in the early career of the Pointer Sisters, pretty hard!
If you try, you can certainly hear some twang or country flavors in other Pointer Sisters songs, but this was basically a one-off in their catalog. “Fairytale,” released in 1974, won a surprise Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group. They did release one more country song the following year, “Live Your Life Before You Die” (not nearly as strong, in my opinion). It never found a spot on a Pointer Sisters album but got another Grammy nomination. Then the group never released another full-on country song like this again.
This seemed puzzling—“Fairytale” was a hit! So I wound up going down a rabbit hole this week reading old newspaper articles about the Pointer Sisters in the mid-70s. As far as I can tell, this is at least somewhat lost in the history, but it turns out that the Pointer Sisters had planned an entire album of country songs after the success of “Fairytale.” They took at least a couple of trips to Nashville for recording sessions for the album and got some promising material done. But the album never came to be. “Live Your Life Before You Die” was released as a standalone single. What about other recordings from those sessions for the scrapped country album? I’m not aware of any trace. Just what happened remains a bit of a mystery to me, so far. We’ll get to that, and dive in more in a followup post. Pour yourself some black coffee, this is a long one.
“Fairytale” appeared on their second album, That’s a Plenty, which is an all-over-the-place record but is otherwise centered on soul-tinged takes on classic pop, blues, and jazz sounds, and throwback swing and bebop—as if an R&B (& everything else) group had a time machine. It features their renditions of standards by Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, and Peggy Lee. The album has a stylized retro feel that is definitely cosmopolitan—jazzy and winking, bursting with energy—but ultimately out of time and place altogether, perhaps what the radio might play in the universe of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. In her autobiography, Ruth Pointer later described the vibe and direction of the album as “jazz-baby élan/schmaltzy/high-camp” and “nostalgia razzamatazz.” The sisters at this point were wearing 1940s vintage clothing; some of their fans showed up to concerts wearing the same thrift shop look.
For the first single off That’s a Plenty, the record label chose “Bangin’ on the Pipes/Steam Heat,” the sisters’ take on “Steam Heat,” a showtune from the 1954 Broadway musical The Pajama Game. The sisters mashed that up with a new composition, “Bangin’ on the Pipes”—which, well, also sounds like a showtune from the past. The result is a very showtuney number, maybe the production you’d imagine if someone made a Broadway spectacular about the life of the Pointer Sisters. It went nowhere on the charts.
The next single was “Love in Them There Hills,” a cover of the Vibrations’ dynamite, rocking soul track from 1968, which had made it to #38 on the R&B charts. But the Pointer Sisters’ funky cover failed to make noise. The B-side to “Love” was the album’s total outlier, the full-blown country “Fairytale.” The story goes that Anita Pointer (who just passed away a couple weeks ago) wrote it after finding out that her love interest at the time was actually already married; furious and wearing out a James Taylor cassette, she penned the song in a hotel room in Woodstock while the sisters were on tour. Her sister Bonnie helped put the finishing touches on it, and they eventually recorded it on Music Row in Nashville at the Quadrafonic Sound Studio.
With the singles so far floundering, their producer tried a curveball, pitching country stations on that flipside to “Love in Them There Hills”: a version of “Fairytale” trimmed down from five minutes to three for radio. Their label, Blue Thumb, didn’t even have a Country & Western division, so they had to use a different label under the parent company to distribute the song to the C&W market. Here’s the single version:
It’s hard to say just how much the song entered the country-music zeitgeist but it did make the country charts, sticking around for sixteen weeks and eventually creeping up to #39. To promote it, the Pointer Sisters played a big show in Nashville at the Fairgrounds Speedway in August 1974, and then got an invite to perform at the Grand Ole Opry in October. They were not the first Black performers at the Opry, but it was still an extremely rare event—I believe they have the milestone of being the first Black vocal group to make the Opry stage.
To peek briefly behind the Tropical Depression curtain: I had been planning to do “Fairytale” for Honky-Tonk Weekly at some point, but hesitated because a piece in the new Oxford American Music Issue by Carina del Valle Schorske came out this winter, and it covers the song quite well. But it’s a great song and I decided to go ahead and highlight it here, too—which now also gives me an opportunity to highly recommend that article (she hears deep allegorical layers in the lovesick song, which I won’t try to summarize here—read it!).
Here’s del Valle Schorske on the Pointer Sisters’ Opry performance at country music’s Mother Church, the Ryman Auditorium:
The Grand Ole Opry invited the Pointer Sisters to Nashville, making them one of the first Black acts to headline the genre’s high church—always an ambivalent distinction. When they arrived, racist protestors held signs saying, “Keep country, country!” as if American music were private property and the Pointer Sisters were trespassing from elsewhere. Anita remembers hearing a man shout, “Hot damn, them girls is Black!” But after they performed “Fairytale,” the crowd got quiet, then loud: “Sing it again, honey!” Which they did, three times through. Sometimes, the most familiar stories are the ones that bear repeating—as if, in listening to a new rendition, we might pick up tones, textures, histories, and meanings that reveal hidden hatches in the trap.
Stories of Opry encores often get embellished (Anita’s accounts vary about the number of encores; Ruth Pointer’s book has just one), but no matter, you get the idea. Despite the initial tension and ugliness, they got a standing ovation. They also played “Shaky Flat Blues,” a barrelhouse romp that must have been very outré for the Opry faithful. But it went over, which is saying something. Four years earlier, the Byrds and Gram Parsons had tried their crossover act at the Opry and gotten booed off the stage and banned from appearing again; four years after the Pointer Sisters, country icon Tanya Tucker got booed at the Opry for daring to go rockabilly.
So—do we have a sliding doors moment? Could the Pointer Sisters have chosen to take a U-turn and become country superstars in the 1970s?
There are no doubt lots of reasons that didn’t happen, but maybe the simplest one is that the song crossed right back over: The pop audience dug it more than the honky-tonk crowd. The same day the song peaked at #39 on the country charts, it hit the Billboard Hot 100, and eventually made it to #13 by December, the second biggest hit the Pointer Sisters had had to date, and their strongest showing until four years later, when “Fire,” a slinky-steamy cover of Bruce Springsteen, hit #2 in 1978.
Charley Pride was a bonafide country megastar at the time with a long string of #1 hits, so the color line was not unbreakable, though the atmosphere could be rough. Supposedly at his first big live performance in 1966, when the audience had fallen for his early hit single “Just Between You and Me” but had no idea he was Black, Pride told them, “Friends, I realize it’s a little unique, me coming out here—with a permanent suntan—to sing country and western to you. But that’s the way it is.”
Pride was a master vocalist of the Nashville Sound, and there was something about his baritone that evoked a deep familiarity and warm comfort: perhaps the coziest singer that ever was. That might have helped blunt the alarms. Play the records and it’s hard to imagine fearing him as an outsider. Pride was also one of those singers who slotted into his groove and stayed right there. He was among the very best to ever do his thing, a genius in his lane, and he stuck with it, again and again. He did not upend your expectations; he delivered, impeccably, on just what you wanted. (Stoney Edwards and O.B. McClinton, who also found success as Black country singers in that period, likewise delivered hardcore, no-mistake, straightup country music).
That was, to put it mildly, not the path for the Pointer Sisters. They were zany chameleons, too committed to dabbling in every genre to plant their flag in the genre most fussy about its boundaries (with, ahem, sometimes questionable motivations). It is no surprise that the Pointer Sisters later thrived in the glam free-for-all of disco.
Like Pride, the Pointer Sisters had an instinct for crossover appeal from pedal steel to the pop charts, but “Fairytale” ultimately stalled out on the country charts. Country radio DJs had a lot of power then, so who knows if there is a more complicated (or bigoted) backstory, but perhaps the sizzle of the backing vocals felt too out of step; meantime, the song has little moments that go full soul in a way that might have stood out as a recognizable diversion from 1970s radio country. But I don’t know. There were white singers comfortable on the country charts with plenty of soul flourishes.Just to pick one example of many, the Swamp Dogg co-penned masterpiece “She’s All I’ve Got,” was recorded by Johnny Paycheck as a honky-tonk romp, with soul-tinged backing vocals from the Jordanaires. That hit #2 on the country charts, and it’s not so hard to imagine something similar as a Pointer Singers jam. “Fairytale” would have made a great Bobbie Gentry song. Or Sammi Smith would have nailed it.
The context here is an industry that was over-invested in a static notion of identity and hypersensitive about authenticity. Of course, this required some serious blinders: Black musicians helped shape country from the very beginning. When Hank Williams found Tee-Tot singing on the street corners around Georgiana, Alabama, Hank kept pestering him to teach him the blues—but the truth was, Tee-Tot wanted to play hillbilly music. I’ve said before that the Opry’s ethos was a popular music for people that would score as highly conscientious on the personality tests; plenty of country artists were creative free spirits, but the industry itself was heavily staffed by people who would score as, um, low on openness. In 1971, a Music City News writer lamented that crossover radio playlists were a “tutti frutti concoction” that were “absolutely the worst thing that can happen to country music.” Country was “in danger of losing its identity.” Country pop was bad enough, he wrote; “country soul” would be next.
Did these sorts of tensions discourage the Pointer Sisters? I don’t know. They were a defiant bunch. They certainly experienced racial slights in Nashville. Like many performers of that era, by cruel necessity, they had a steely grace and determination in the face of discrimination. And despite the awkward or unpleasant moments, according to Ruth Pointer, the Pointer Sisters were “the toast of Music City” after the surprise success of “Fairytale.” The country music industry certainly took notice, and the Pointer Sisters were nominated for Vocal Group of the Year at the Country Music Awards—some appreciation straight from Nashville alongside their Grammy win for best country group performance and nomination for best country song.
By all accounts, they were ready and willing to take the city by storm. But even if they didn’t feel like fooling with Nashville or country radio ever again, “Fairytale” had shined on the pop charts. Their one followup country song, the standalone single “Live Your Life Before You Die,” didn’t make nearly the same splash, but it spent six weeks on the Hot 100 and got nominated for a Grammy. It seems a little strange that they otherwise never really returned to the vibe of “Fairytale,” given its success. Keep in mind that the Pointer Sisters didn’t become megastars until a little later; over the first seven years of their career, they had three songs crack the top 20 and “Fairytale” was their second biggest hit. Ruth wrote that they were sensitive at that early stage of their career to charges that they didn’t sound “Black enough.” My guess is that as artists, they simply had an adventurous appetite to try new things. As del Valle Schorske points out in her OA piece, it’s right there in the song: Move on / Got to move on.
Here’s Ruth’s take on That’s a Plenty: “The album demonstrated our vocal virtuosity and sonic savoir-faire.” That’s a bedazzled way to describe code-switching. But let’s also say it’s a motto for omnivorous songsters. The Pointer Singers were one of the most deeply vaudeville acts of the latter half of the twentieth century. They belted out a song from the genre perhaps most saturated in vaudeville trappings. Then they left it on the side of the road and kept moving.
I should have stopped the inquiry there, but I am a hopelessly curious person. So we’re going to circle back to this. Because once I got lost in the newspaper archives, I concluded that the truth is probably a little more complicated than that.
The Pointer Sisters were from Oakland, but their parents had moved there from Little Rock, Arkansas. The kids spent time in the summers with their maternal grandparents in Prescott, Arkansas. Anita liked it there, and spent the full school year in Prescott for fifth, seventh, and tenth grades.
My intro aside, once you’ve got your bearings, “Fairytale” does sound like the Pointer Sisters, with their theatrical flair and verve—but the production is capital-C country. Their backing band on the track were legendary session players. The nickname “Nashville A-Team” didn’t have an official membership list, but all of these guys would have been in the mix if that’s what you were looking for in 1974: Weldon Myrick on pedal steel, Bobby Thompson on guitar, Buddy Spicher on fiddle, Kenny Buttrey on drums, Norbert Putnam on bass, and David Briggs on piano.The Pointer Sisters made the trip to Nasvhille to record at Quadrafonic, the Music Row studio that Putnam and Briggs had founded. Quadrafonic made its name as a hot spot for popular music acts outside the country genre who wanted to record in Nashville and have access to players that could provide a top-shelf countrified sound.
Anita Pointer, in her autobiography, recounts listening to a country station in Arkansas that played Hank Williams, Tex Ritter, and Willie Nelson. She clearly always felt particularly close to the family’s country background in Prescott. But it’s still striking just how all-in the sisters were on doing a genre piece for “Fairytale.” I’d love to know more about the decision to go to Music Row to record it.Anita’s account doesn’t shed much light.
“When I wrote ‘Fairytale,’ I wasn’t trying to do something clever to break into the country market,” Anita Pointer wrote. “I wrote it because that’s the way I felt. The lyrics and the melody came to me and I wrote them down. I told the musicians what I wanted them to play. They didn’t want to do it that way at first, because it definitely had a ‘country song’ vibe and that was not their jam.”
If this story is true, Anita Pointer must be remembering a busted effort before they went to Nashville or maybe the hesitance of their regular touring band. Because the country vibe was absolutely the jam of the murderer’s row of Music City stalwarts that wound up backing the song that made it onto the record. Getting that vibe is why you hired them.
This was the only track on the album recorded in Nashville(the rest were recorded in Los Angeles or San Francisco). It was the only song backed with “A-Team”-level Music City session players. I don’t know whether it was Anita Pointer, producer David Rubinson, or someone else, but somebody decided that “Fairytale” should sound like a no-doubt country classic, readymade for Nashville. And they spent some money to get it right.
“Fairytale” is not subtle. The pedal steel is so assertive that it almost feels rude. But I have no objection in principle to campy Pointers Sisters or campy country music. The histrionics don’t bother me on this one. It works. Anita’s phrasing and command hook me right in. What a gentle way she has of belting out a note. The high break in her voice toward the end, in the style of Gary Stewart or Jerry Lee Lewis, just slays me. She’s not Tanya Tucker, but we are in good hands. “Keep country, country!” read the signs. That’s exactly what Anita Pointer is doing on “Fairytale.” That’s the truly bold gambit of the Pointer Sisters and this song. It’s a bit hammy, sure. But it’s not country-ish. It’s country.
What makes “Fairytale” such a strange gem in their portfolio for me is precisely the way that the Pointer Sisters bring their peculiar qualities to bear on the most genre trappings of the genre. The traditions and tropes, the form and the tone, the manner and customs, the familiar arc and the familiar timing and the familiar tales, the familiar truths and the familiar lies, the way that familiar world and familiar community of song implies notes and stories outside of the song itself, the satisfaction of a feeling you recognize, the connection in that, the ritual in that, the sound. The fastidious, malleable, peevish, slippery, pointless, demanding, sacred, silly rules—ever changing, ever broken. Country is weird. Anita, at home in the song as she nearly always was, still sounds like herself—but she finds the frequency.
I keep thinking about Ruth Pointer’s line about “vocal virtuosity,” which sounds like a boast, but she was deeply skeptical of that path. Here’s Ruth writing about the period when they made That’s a Plenty: “What concerned me musically was that we were so enmeshed in using our voices as musical instrument, offering up an array of styles and avoiding getting labeled, that we lost focus on what made us so effective as sisters—rocking hard and singing deep from the soul.”
Despite her clear misgivings, she’s at least a little ambivalent—once they had the material, she notes, “we were tearing it up and hitting our stride in the studio.”
That’s the thing. By my lights, their “vocal virtuosity” and “rocking hard and singing deep from the soul” don’t seem mutually exclusive. They were a band with a powerful vibe, and they could imprint that vibe on any song that came across their radar.
I mention all this because there is this question about a superstar act and their anomalous country smash: Is this a novelty song?
Bonnie Pointer rejected that notion in a 1974 interview with the Associated Press:
People think because we’re always trying something different we’re not sincere. Like country music. For us, it's no joke...Our folks came from Arkansas and we grew up singing country songs. It’s part of us.
I would say that it seems kind of beside the point to ask whether this was a novelty song, because the genius of the Pointer Sisters was precisely that they were always a novelty act, first a do-it-all retro group in retro outfits hamming their way through the American music canon; later an of-the-moment extravaganza dancing their way through of-the-moment pop hits; often a healthy dose of both. I wouldn’t have it any other way. That’s what made them incandescent. Wang Dang Doodle. In that sense, “Fairytale” isn’t an anomaly at all; it’s an exemplar of the Pointer Sisters experience. You can feel them putting on a show, but you get swept right up anyway. Part of what makes “Fairytale” shine is that the Pointer Sisters, thank goodness, were never too reverent. As del Valle Schorske writes, “the past was never precious for them unless it was something they could use.”
There is certainly a heavy dollop of artifice employed on the early output of the Pointer Sisters, and “Fairytale” is no exception. But that’s all right! Schmaltz and theatricality is absolutely a key element in country music, the Opry most of all! If that ain’t country enough to be country, you’re writing off the entire genre.
Here’s an intro to make Minnie Pearl blush:
The Pointer Sisters were many things but they were always loads of fun. They were delightful. This will sound like a slight but it’s the highest compliment: When I listen to their best songs, the emotional charge I feel is very close to my funny bone. They move me; they tickle me. Like, the backing vocals in “Fairytale”? They kind of make me laugh out loud? And I love them? Anita’s cheeky dips into her lower register. The bob and sway of the melody. The outro that just keeps going, and going, and they are clearly really feeling themselves. I find myself giggling with appreciation.
“Fairytale” is not an all-time classic but it’s a delight. I want it in the rotation. It places me squarely in that honky-tonk frame of mind. Or that’s insufficiently material: It places me squarely in the honky-tonk. Know what I mean? I’m at my stool in the bar and I’m a little bit sad but more than a little bit defiant. Ready to drink a little and dance a lot, if the feeling strikes me. The song succeeds on its own terms and transcends the constraints it’s committed to. I dig it. I hope you do, too.
On the same trip where they played the Opry in the fall of 1974, the Pointer Sisters recorded “Live Your Life Before You Die” at Quadrafonic, the only other outright country song like that in the Pointer Sisters’ public ouevre. They used the same A-Team session players backing them. Listening now, it’s not quite a standout, but it did make it to #89 on the pop charts and #31 for adult contemporary, and nabbed yet another Grammy nomination for Best Country Group Performance.
Let me quickly grant that country and blues and soul and rock and pop and funk and R&B—and disco, too—are all so entangled that you can find threads of each if you pull at any song among them. Genre categories are nebulous at best, and the boundaries between genres are inevitably silly. You can find “country roots,” as the Oxford American titled their Music Issue on the topic, throughout the Pointer Singers’ output.
Be that as it may. “Fairytale” and “Live Your Life Before You Die” are remarkably distinct from anything else you can find on a Pointers Sisters record. In an interview a few years back, Ruth Pointer referred to them as the only two country songs the group released. This is different in kind from the country-tinged elements that might pop up occasionally in their songs, or the influence of Southern music, which is all over the place in their catalog. Listen to “Fairytale” for 30 seconds and you know it: That’s country music. These two tracks were clearly crafted as genre songs, fitting snugly in those confines, as immediately recognizable as a Horror or Western movie.
The world does not need category cops. So why I am I harping on this? Because here is where my Columbo voice started going off— “there’s just one thing bothering me…”
Because. I mean. It’s kind of wild, right? The Pointer Sisters in their prime made records for about two decades, depending on which incarnation you count. And in that time, very early on, they made exactly one killer stone-cold country song, which crossed over as a big, Grammy-winning hit on the pop charts (plus one Grammy-nominated followup which also charted on the Hot 100). It remained a beloved part of their live performances for years. Anita in particular always seemed genuinely proud of it. And that was it, they never did that again.
I couldn’t help but wonder: Why the total break? Anita and Bonnie appeared genuine when they strongly insisted that country music was a deep part of their identity, and therefore “Fairytale” was really no surprise at all. Was that just part of the act? Anita returned to the country charts without her sisters in 1986, recruited by Earl Thomas Conley to pair with him on the very 80s #2 hit “Too Many Times.” That just makes me more curious—she still had the country charisma all that time.
Wikipedia had a tantalizing claim that sent me down the rabbit hole: It stated that during the “Live Your Life Before You Die” session at Quadrafonic, the Pointer Sisters recorded four additional songs, with the plan to eventually release a full album of country songs. But there’s no source listed for that claim, and I initially wasn’t finding anything to my satisfaction to stand by it as fact. Spoiler: it’s true.
This fascinating detail seems to be omitted from just about every telling of the Pointer Sisters story I can find. I’m not going to say that I’ve looked in every nook and cranny, but I’ve been reading/listening a lot this week, and nearly all the contemporary accounts of the Pointer Sisters’ forays into country music left me with the impression that “Fairytale” and “Live Your Life Before You Die” were the only Nashville-style country songs of this kind that they ever did. There’s a passing mention of the album idea in the Guardian’s 2020 obituary of Bonnie Pointer: “The band toyed with making a country album, but instead recorded Steppin’ [their third studio album]”—but no further detail. Most simply make no mention of the prospective country album (or material recorded for it) at all. That’s totally understandable, because it doesn’t seem to come up in interviews, and the autobiographies—Ruth’s and Anita’s—make no mention of it. Maybe people just aren’t interested. But I am!
This should go without saying but I’ll say it: I hope Anita Pointer and her sisters made exactly the sort of music they wanted to make and their choices on that front were a smashing success artistically and commercially across the 70s and 80s; while it’s a fun fanfic thought experiment to imagine what would have happened if they had crossed over for good and been some kind of 70s version of the Chicks (wouldn’t totally put that past their abilities!), that was not realistically the path they were going to take. Things worked out the way they were supposed to, and we have a load of songs to be thankful for on the path they took.
Okay. It still would have been sweet to get at least a few more Pointer Sisters songs as vivaciously country as “Fairytale”! It’s really pretty surprising that we didn’t, and the prospect of an entire country album being released by the Pointer Sisters in the mid-70s in the wake of “Fairytale” is such a whammy of a cultural and musical what-if that I could do a cartwheel. Aren’t you imagining listening, right now, to this theoretical album? Or designing the cover in your mind? But it never came to be, and whatever remnants there were, along with the idea itself, kind of vanished. I have questions!
What happened in that period after “Fairytale” was a smash, when all the momentum seemed to be pushing the Pointer Sisters to put out more country songs and they returned to Nashville to try to rekindle the magic? What exactly do we know about this country album project or the recordings that were made? How did the sessions go? Were they just not feeling that direction, artistically? Was there conflict about the vision? Why did it get derailed? What happened to the other four songs? Did they get a raw deal or poor treatment from Nashville industry types (surely that tale would have been told)? Are there more Pointer Sisters country recordings that we’ve never heard? And, ugh, could those have been lost in the Universal fire?
I squinted my eyes at a lot of old newspapers on my screen to try to get more contours of the story. When I started writing this post, I was planning to just riff on a great song. My understanding was that the Pointer Sisters had recorded these two songs and then ditched the full-on country song thing and never looked back. But that’s not what happened. I’ll share what I learned—and what I still don’t know, which is a lot—later this week.
I realize this might not be the world’s most tantalizing cliffhanger, but there it is. This post is already very long, and we’re going to have to go pretty far afield from the song. In the meantime, I will try to tide you over with some Elvis.
Postscript: A year after it came out, Elvis Presley covered the song. He kills it, or dies trying, in his late-Elvis way—a Vegas-by-way-of-Memphis country-fried soul extravaganza. He can’t quite hit the high notes and the production is a bit heavy handed, natch (here’s a version before the Nashville overdubbing). Like a trivial, druggier B-side to “If I Can Dream”? I dunno, I kind of like it. He played it live quite a bit, including at his final show, and apparently liked to introduce it by saying that it was the “story of his life.” Which doesn’t totally make sense? But I guess the idea is that his life was a fairytale. Lost in a dream.
Yes, there was country-adjacent, or country-relevant, material. But nothing like this. In my followup post, I’ll run through “Slow Hand,” “Should I Do it,” “Dirty Work,” “I Want Fireworks”, and others—plus “Chain of Fools” (the fusion collaboration with Clint Black toward the end of the Sisters’ recording run). And more on “Too Many Times,” Anita’s 1986 return to the country charts without her sisters.
It does get a brief, vague, unsourced mention in Wikipedia though!
And blood harmony has a rich tradition in country music: the Carter sisters, the Louvin brothers, and so on.
Quoted in Early ’70s Radio: The American Format Revolution by Kim Simpson.
You may not know their names but you listen to songs they played on. These were session musicians for Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Loretta Lynn, Chet Atkins, Johnny Cash, Reba McEntire, Neil Young, Roy Orbison, Linda Ronstadt, Connie Smith, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Jerry Lee Lewis, George Jones, Joan Baez, Ray Charles, the Monkees, and countless others.
Neil Young recorded six of the songs on his classic Harvest at Quadrafonic, and wound up using some of the players as a touring band, the Stray Gators. Quad’s client list included a number of big names in pop and rock. Their A-Team session musicians were extremely versatile and could play just about anything (Quad founders Putnam and Briggs had been members of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section before coming to Nashville.) Quadrafonic did tracking for the Jackson Five and later did the sweetening for Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville.”
Producer David Rubinson was clearly committed to a pretty elaborate retro variety show as an album concept, and he had Nashville connections, so maybe recording there was his idea. Anita Pointer says the country vibe for the song was her vision, and that she wanted it to be the first single. In any event, they went to great lengths to get a very particular sound. The production is heavy-handed throughout the album, but here it’s even more focused on establishing a precise, immediate, genre-distinct ambience.
Another dangling question: Were there any other recordings from that “Fairytale” session? None that I’m aware of. Did they fly there and book the studio and session musicians just for the one song? I’d bet Anita and Rubinson knew they had something special. You’d think they might have tried for more.
Herbie Hancock played on “Salt Peanuts” and “Little Pony”; Bonnie Raitt played on “Grinning in Your Face.”