Last Saturday, after I shared Ella Washington’s cover of “He Called Me Baby” as a Saturday Single, a reader named Larry provided a link to Candi Staton’s superb cover of the Harlan Howard song, which Staton recorded at Rick Hall’s Fame studios in Muscle Shoals. I’d heard it before, but it never hurts at all to hear it again. In 1971, it went to No. 52 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 9 on the R&B chart.
That might be the definitive version of the song; its country roots are clearly audible beneath the R&B. The opposite – R&B audible beneath the country – is what I hear when I listen to the Harlan Howard original, which Second Hand Songs says was released in September 1961. In 1963, Bobby Bare did an up-tempo version of the song, and Skeeter Davis and Patsy Cline covered it as well; Cline’s version went to No. 23 on the country chart a year later, after her death.
Two other versions made the country Top 40: Carl Smith had one of his sixty-nine hits on the country Top 40 when his cover of “She Called Me Baby” went to No. 32 in 1965, and Charlie Rich’s cover went to No. 1 on the country chart and to No. 47 on the pop chart in 1974:
There are a few other covers listed at Second Hand Songs and a few more listed as well in the catalog at Amazon: Ernest Tubb, Ferlin Husky, Billy Swann, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Waylon Jennings, Glenn Campbell, Nancy Wilson and Jessi Colter are the names I recognize; there are many I don’t recognize, which tells me the song continues to be vital.
As usual, when I look at covers, this is in no way a comprehensive listing; these are the versions I either already had in my mp3 files or found by stumbling through a few websites. And we’ll close today with a version I found during that stumbling: Jeannie Newman’s 1967 cover on the Memphis-based Goldwax label. I’ve read that Newman was about the closest to a country artist that R&B-centered Goldwax had on its roster, and her take on “He Called Me Baby” tends to support that.