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March 21

A Beautiful Cover of “Life Turned Her That Way” by Ricky Van Shelton

“Life Turned Her That Way” masterfully straddles the line “sympathetic” and “kind of patronizing”. This is a sharp appraisal of how a history of heartbreak left a woman “cold and bitter”.

If she seems cold and bitter

Then I beg of you
Just stop and consider
All she’s gone through
Don’t be quick to condemn her
For things she might say
Just remember
Life turned her that way

While going through the material in preparation for Shelton’s first album, Rick Buckingham of CBS records played him “Life Turned Her That Way”. Ricky immediately warmed up to the track, not realizing that the tune had been around for over twenty years. In addition, a couple of very well-known artists associated with the said song. Its composer referred to as ‘the dean of country songwriters” is Harlan Howard.

When Howard wrote “Life Turned Her That Way” in 1965, he gave the song to “Little” Jimmy Dickens. At that time, people knew Dickens for his novelty records. To name are “Take An Old Cold Tater (And Wait),” “A Sleepin’ At The Foot Of The Bed,” and “May The Bird Of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose”. The last track was Dickens’ number 1 smash, the only country chart-topper, and number 15 pop hit. Even though Harlan liked Dickens’ work on occasional ballads, he correctly predicted that Jimmy’s version would not be a hit. However, Mel Tillis became aware of Dickens’ record. He liked the song and decided to cut it himself. In 1967, Tillis did that gave him a respectable number 11 on Billboard’s country chart.

Shelton took producer Buckingham’s advice and recorded “Life Turned Her That Way” for his debut Columbia album “Wild-Eyed Dream”. He and Buckingham made one major alteration. Instead of Mel Tillis’ version having 3/4 time (a waltz), Ricky and Steve changed it to 4/4 time. Both thought that it would sound better in 4/4. Soon after, they discovered from Harlan Howard himself that he originally wrote it in 4/4. As a result, their change was fine with him. Shelton’s new version of “Life Turned Her That Way” became the second of his ten #1 hits, reaching the summit on March 19, 1988.

In 1997, Harlan Howard became an inductee into the Country Music Hall Of Fame. He was one of only six non-performing songwriters so honored. The others are Boudleaux and Felice Bryant, Cindy Walker, Hank Cochran, Bobby Braddock, who co-wrote the super-classic “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” and Don Schlitz, inducted just last year.

Are you a fan of Ricky Van Shelton? Share your thoughts and experiences about the artist or the song below.  We are looking forward to hearing from you.


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life turned her that way, Ricky Van Shelton


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