Music it seems, has dominated Paul Evans life. Some of his earliest memories revolve around. As a child, he sat around the kitchen table with his family, listening to the popular music of that time. Doris Say, Eddie Fisher, Dinah Shore and Perry Como were popular stars. Than music change. Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Fats Domino. This was more like it. Soon, Paul’s taste grew eclectic. Country, folk, pop and rock provided the soundtrack to Paul Evans life. Not everyone shared his taste in music. His father, disapproving of his new found love of rock ‘n’ roll. When Paul played his radio in the basement, his father didn’t share his son’s enthusiasm. That’s no surprise. Rock ‘n’ roll was the music for Paul’s generation, not his. What Paul’s father didn’t realize, was the basement was where Paul Evans career was born.

Adding a tape recorder and record player to his basement set up, Paul was able to make basic recordings. Soon, the basement studio was home to Paul’s friends. Paul began writing and recording songs. As he sang and played guitar, his friends would often accompany Paul. By now, Paul Evans was immersed in music. Helping fuel his interest in music was his elder sister Estelle.

His elder sister Estelle, told Paul about folk music, introducing him to the music of Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, The Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary. Later in his life, Paul Evans would be acknowledge how important Estelle’s influence had been. After all, what had started as a interest, became Paul Evan’s career, and has been for over fifty years. His career started in the fifties, which along with the sixties, was the most successful period of his career. During that time, Paul wrote and recorded numerous hit singles. Among Paul’s hits are Seven Little Girls Sitting In The Back Seat, Midnight Special and Happy Go Lucky Me. Paul also released two of his best known albums during this period. These two albums, Folk Songs Of Many Lands and 21 Years In A Tennessee Jail, were recently rereleased by Ace Records. Before I tell you about Folk Songs Of Many Lands and 21 Years In A Tennessee Jail, I’ll tell you about Paul’s career.

For Paul Evans, life as a professional musician began when he enrolled as a student at Columbia University. Not only did Paul host a radio show on the campus radio station, but had a weekend gig at Basile’s, Far Rockaway, New York. Although this only involved singing what was populist, popular music, it meant Paul was a professional musician. Listening to the music he was singing, including Roy Orbison’s far from memorable Ooby Dooby, Paul realized he could write as good, if not better songs. He wasn’t wrong.

With the support of his family, Paul decided to take a year off from his course. Considering he’d been awarded a scholarship, this was a brave decision. Having made this decision to become a professional songwriter, Paul headed to the famous Brill Building. Having knocked on numerous doors, most were firmly closed. Then when he knocked on the door to Fred Fisher Music, Paul’s luck changed.

Behind the doors of Fred Fisher Music was Stan Cooper. Not only did he become Paul’s first manager, but hooked Paul up with his first songwriting partner Jack Reardon. They hit the jackpot straightaway. When was recorded by The Kallin Twins. It reached number five in the US and number one in the UK. With a hit under his belt, Paul had rewarded the faith his family had in him. Even better was to come. 

Having written a hit single, Paul signed his first recording contract with RCA. None of his singles proved successful. So, to make ends meet, Paul sang on demos for songwriters who wanted to showcase their songs. After RCA, Paul signed to Decca and then Atco, where his luck changed.

When Paul was singed to Atco, they had a strong roster of artists, including Bobby Darrin and The Coasters. Given the competition, Paul felt his chances of having a hit were slight. Luckily, when Paul discovered a novelty song and recorded a demo of it, his luck changed.

Seven Little Girls Sitting In The Back Seat was the novelty song. The demo of the Lee Pockriss and Bob Hilliard song was released on Joe Carlton’s Guaranteed Records. It reached the top ten in 1959. Building on the success of Seven Little Girls Sitting In The Back Seat, Paul was sent out on tour. Apart from his hit single and Midnite Special, Paul mostly sang folk music. Despite this, his tour went ahead and was a success. Paul released four further singles on Guaranteed during 1960. The singles were Midnite Special, Happy-Go-Lucky-Me, The Brigade Of Broken Hearts and Hushabye Little Guitar. Only Happy-Go-Lucky-Me reached the top ten, while The Brigade Of Broken Hearts stalled at eighty-one. Paul also released his debut album Paul Evans Sings The Fabulous Teens in 1960. For his next albums, Hear Paul Evans In Your Home Tonight and Folk Songs Of Many Land, Paul was promoted to Guaranteed Records’ parent label Carlton Records.


1961 was a busy year for Paul Evans. He released four singles and two albums during 1961. The first was Folk Songs Of Many Lands. In February 1961, Carlton Records’ marketing team started promoting Paul’s second album Folk Songs Of Many Lands. Hailing Paul as: “America’s favorite young minstrel,” “February is Paul Evans Month” announced Carlton’s marketing campaign. Folk Songs Of Many Lands featured seventeen folk songs that were reinterpreted by Paul Evans. 

Recording of Folk Songs Of Many Lands took place at Associated Recording Studios, New York. During a four week period, seventeen songs were recorded with a band that included drummer Buddy Salzman, bassist Dick Romoff and guitarists Everett Barksdale, Charlie Macy and Al Gorgoni. They were joined by pianists Leroy Glover and Frank Owens. Hailed as The Mountain Ramblers, they provided the accompaniment for what could be described as Paul’s first album. Folk after all, was Paul’s first love. Of the seventeen songs, which included several folk classics, they were all rearranged. Paul also wrote new lyrics to several tracks. This included Wee Cooper O’Fife, Mister Hangman, Wayfarin’ Stranger and The Bomb. He also add extra lyrics Samuel Hall. The idea was to give the songs on Folk Songs Of Many Lands a more contemporary sound. 

Released in February 1961, at the same time as Hear Paul Evans In Your Home Tonight, Folk Songs Of Many Lands saw old and familiar songs given a makeover. For some folk purists, this must have proved controversial. After all, these songs had passed from generation to generation. Then suddenly, they’re changed. Even the lyrics are rewritten. For some purists, this was a step too far. However, Paul you could argue, had a good reason for doing this. The songs had to remain relevant at what was a crucial period in history. 1961 was the height of the Cold War, racism was rife in America and throughout the world, war, poverty and economic problems were rife. So folk music had to reflect society’s problems. 

Some songs were written in other languages or vernacular. This included Los Cuatros Generales, which was written during the Spanish Civil War and celebrated “those who defended Spain bravely.” It had to be translated from Spanish. Paul certainly didn’t shy away from controversy. Among them are Irish folk songs, The Bomb, which Paul considered leaving off the reissue of Folk Songs Of Many Lands. It’s song praising anarchists throwing bombs at Czarists in Russia. The same could be said of Wearing Of The Green, Kevin Barry and British Grenadiers. While that might have been a good idea, given the world is a very different place, that’s akin to censorship. It also means that Folk Songs Of Many Lands wouldn’t be the same album. It would a shadow of its former self. 

Regardless of whether you agree of disagree with the sentiments of these songs, you can’t fault Paul Evans for his passion. It shines through on Folk Songs Of Many Lands. His vocal is heartfelt, as he brings to life the stories of rebels and martyrs alike. With emotion and passion, Paul’s vocal veers between heartfelt to angry, frustrated and joyous. Other times, Paul’s sincerity becomes earnest and judgmental. Along with his band, he brought each of these songs to life. His band were tight and talented. Their reworking of the seventeen songs, gave them a much more contemporary sound. This was Paul’s attempt to bring folk music to a wider audience. Folk music was popular, but sadly Folk Songs Of Many Lands wasn’t a commercial success. Nor was Hear Paul Evans In Your Home Tonight. Indeed, Folk Songs Of Many Lands marked the end of Paul’s time at Carlton Records. At least he had his other career as a songwriter to fall back on.

Since he first entered the music business, Paul had established a reputation as a talented songwriter. His songs were recorded by some of the biggest names in music. Jackie Wilson, Elvis Pressley, The Coasters, Pat Boone, Bobby Vinton, Cliff Richard, Count Basie and Skeeter Davis. Of the numerous songs Paul wrote, four were certified gold. This includes The Kallin Twin’s When, Bobby Vinton’s Roses Are Red and Elvis Presley’s I Gotta Know and Next Step Is Love. So while Paul’s recording career wasn’t as successful as his early days at Guaranteed Records, he was still making a living from music. 

When Paul left Carlton Records, his recording career stalled. He found himself working with Dave Kapp, one of the most respected men in music. Dave told Paul that his problem was, that he was too versatile. What he needed to do, was record one style of music. The problem would be, which style of music?

Over the next two years, Paul Evans released six pop singles for Kapp Records. In 1962 he released Feelin’ No Pain. D-Darling and Gilding The Lily, while he released We’ve Got Something On You, Ten Thousand Years and I’m Gonna Build A Girl in 1963. These singles weren’t commercially successful, and in a way, were proof that was what was Paul’s greatest asset, his versatility, was his Achilles’ heel. So, Paul decided country folk was the direction his career should head.


Three years after the release of Folk Songs Of Many Lands, Paul released his fourth album 21 Years In A Tennessee Jail. Recorded in Nashville, with The Mountain Ramblers, who included many of the same musicians that featured on Folk Songs Of Many Lands, 21 Years In A Tennessee Jail saw Paul transformed. Sadly, 21 Years In A Tennessee Jail wasn’t a commercial success. Nor was it any more successful in 1964, when it was rereleased as Another Town, Another Jail. For Paul, this must have been a huge disappointment, given country folk seemed to suit his voice and delivery.

From the opening bars of Ninety-Nine Years, Paul seems comfortable with the change in style. His worldweary vocal, rueful and filled with regret, brings the lyrics to life. He becomes a storyteller, telling of how his life took the wrong turns it did. Now he finds himself on Alcatraz, where he’ll spend the next Ninety-Nine Years. By the end of the track, you realize that maybe, just maybe, Paul Evans has found his musical niche. This seems to be the case as Shackles And Chains unfolds. With weeping guitars and a vocal filled with misery and heartbreak, its one of the highlights of 21 Years In A Tennessee Jail. Paul, a sense of resignation filling his voice, waits the inevitable knock on the door. Realizing he’s about to he taken away in: “Shackles And Chains” he tells of how he’ll always love his wife and will: “gaze through the bars.”

Prisoner’s Song is the first of several songs with a much more traditional sound. Steel guitars and harmonies, accompany Paul as he looks lovingly at the prison walls and dreams of escape. This uptempo track where optimism and pathos meet head-on, is followed by Another Town, Another Jail. Paul who is persona non gratis in every town he visits, sounds not unlike Johnny Cash. Again, the arrangement has a much more traditional country sound. It doesn’t sound like a song recorded in 1964. It sounds as of it was recorded in late fifties, when Paul and Jack Reardon penned it. Despite that, it’s a compelling fusion of country and folk. So too is, the understated Allentown Jail. Here the folk influence outweighs the country. 

I Got Stripes is an uptempo track, which has Nashville written all over it. It’s a delicious example of country music. Even though it was recorded in 1964, it’s reminiscent of the fifties. That’s thanks to the fiddles, guitars and harmonies accompany Paul’s vocal. Despite this, nearly sixty years later, this track has stood the test of time. The same could be said about In The Jailhouse Now, which is catchy and uptempo. Paul sounds as if he was born to sing country music. 

Two of the slower songs demonstrate how Paul can bring lyrics to life. Twenty-One Years has an understated arrangement. Just a guitar and tender, sweeping harmonies accompany his impassioned vocal. Even better is Marie Marie. Heartfelt, needy and pleading describes Paul’s vocal. It’s a soul-baring track, written from the point of view of a man in prison, with just a year until his release. Paul delivers a heartfelt vocal. He breathes life and meaning into the lyrics, as the song reveals its subtleties, nuances and beauty. 

Betty And Dupree’s Blues has a real bluesy sound from the get-go. It also has what was much more contemporary sound for 1964. What follows, is a fusion of blues and country. Key to the song’s success are The Mighty Ramblers and the backing vocalists. As the song ends, I’m left wondering whether, 21 Years In A Tennessee Jail should’ve featured more songs like this?

As Columbus Stockade Blues opens you think Paul’s about to combine folk and country. That is the case for much of the song. The familiar combination of rhythm section, piano and harmonies accompany Paul’s weary vocal. Then briefly, a searing guitar duck walks across the arrangement. Too soon, this tantalizing taste of what might have been is gone.

Closing 21 Years In A Tennessee Jail is John Hardy, a traditional, oft-coved song. Choosing such a familiar track to close the album is risky. However, Paul makes the song work. With what’s a mixture of distaste and disgust. Paul almost spits out the lyrics about John Hardy. Considering  21 Years In A Tennessee Jail was Paul’s first country album, it’s fitting he closes it with a country classic.

It’s somewhat ironic that 21 Years In A Tennessee Jail, Paul Evans’ fourth album, saw him find a style of music that suited him, just as music changed beyond recognition. 21 Years In A Tennessee Jail saw Paul Evans transformed into a country singer. He didn’t forsake his beloved folk music. Indeed, the best way to describe 21 Years In A Tennessee Jail is a fusion of country and folk music. Sadly, neither country nor folk were as popular in 1964. Five or six years earlier, 21 Years In A Tennessee Jail would’ve been a much bigger success. Indeed, back then, 21 Years In A Tennessee Jail would’ve sounded contemporary. Much of the music on 21 Years In A Tennessee Jail didn’t sound as if it was recorded in 1964. It was a welcome reminder of another musical era. It’s not a case that 21 Years In A Tennessee Jail sounded outdated, it’s just music had changed so much in the past few years. That’s almost an understatement. SInce the late fifties, music had been transformed beyond recognition.

Since The Beatles released Love Me Do, music had never been the same. By 1964, two years later, finally, America “got” The Beatles. They were joined by rest of Britain’s musical invaders. Suddenly, nothing else mattered musically. Pop and one particular brand of music was King. Given how vibrant and eclectic a country America was musically, it’s ironic that this was the case. Perfectly good jazz, country, soul and folk albums were overlooked. Among them were 21 Years In A Tennessee Jail, which saw the reinvention of Paul Evans musically. Paul Evans, one of the most versatile singers of the early sixties, had at last, found his niche musically. Country music, albeit fused with folk, was where Paul Evans belonged musically. Sadly, Paul Evans’ 21 Years In A Tennessee Jail was released at the wrong time. On its release in both 1964 and three years later in 1967, as Another Town, Another Jail, music had just changed beyond recognition. 21 Years In A Tennessee Jail, one of the best albums of Paul Evans’ career, was lost amidst the music of the British invasion and psychedelia. Standout Tracks: Ninety-Nine Years, Shackles and Chains, Marie Marie and Betty And Dupree’s Blues.


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