I suppose it might be due to the approach of July 4th, but for some reason I found myself thinking today about George Hamilton IV. (And by the way, you do know that I’m not talking about the terrifically tanned guy, right?)
Hamilton the musician was one of the pioneers of the early rock and roll movement, but in the decades since has found much more success in pure country, along with gospel music. He’s probably best known now for his huge country hit, “Abilene,” but through the years he’s had a ton of songs hit the charts.
Born in North Carolina, young George was inspired by Gene Autry, who was a big singing star in the post-war years. George soon learned how to play guitar and sing a little too, and by his high school years was leading his own band. In fact, he was still a teenager in 1956 when he managed to make a recording of struggling songwriter John Loudermilk’s teen ballad “A Rose And A Baby Ruth.”
Lightning struck in the form of a top-ten hit, a new recording contract, and a future that included a place in rock and roll shows alongside stars like Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers. But even though 1957’s “Why Don’t They Understand” crept into 10th place on the charts, his subsequent pop records didn’t do as well. Within a few years George had moved back to his first love, country music.
Appearing regularly on the Grand Ole Opry, George soon became a popular part of the country music scene. He began spinning out a series of best-selling records over the next decade and a half, including “Before This Day Ends,” “Three Steps To The Phone,” and of course his big number-one, “Abilene,” which was so popular that it even crossed over to the pop charts.
As the years passed, the top-ten hits continued, but George gradually began diversifying a little. For one thing, he began to lean a little closer to folk music by recording many of Gordon Lightfoot’s songs. He also helped bring country music to other parts of the world through his global tours, earning himself the title of International Ambassador of Country Music.
By the late 1970s George found himself more and more drawn to gospel music, and that’s where he’s pretty much stayed ever since. George Hamilton IV is still performing today — and looks pretty pale when compared to the Hollywood George.