George Hamilton IV Biography

19 July 1937, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA. George Hamilton IV is one of the few American country stars to have become a household name in Britain, although he is sometimes confused with the actor George Hamilton. ‘George Hamilton I was a farmer in the Blue Ridge’, he says, ‘George Hamilton II was a railroad man who loved country music and collected Jimmie Rodgers’ records. My father, George Hamilton III, was the general manager of a headache powder company. I’m a city boy from a middle-class family but my parents gave me an honest love of country music. We’d listen to the Grand Ole Opry on a Saturday night.’ In 1956, while at the University of North Carolina, Hamilton persuaded a local label, Colonial, to record him. He recorded one of the first teen ballads, ‘A Rose And A Baby Ruth’, written by his friend John D. Loudermilk. Its regional success prompted ABC-Paramount Records to issue it countrywide - Hamilton found himself at number 6 in the nation’s pop chart and the single became a million-seller. The b-side, ‘If You Don’t Know, I Ain’t Gonna Tell You’, heralded the subsequent direction of his music and became a US country hit in its own right in 1962. It is also one of the few songs that Hamilton has written himself. ‘There are too many great writers around to bother with mediocre music, ’ he says now. The title, ‘A Rose And A Baby Ruth’, was too obscure for UK record-buyers - a Baby Ruth was a chocolate bar - but Hamilton did make the UK Top 30 with his second American Top 10 entry, ‘Why Don’t They Understand?’. The song, co-written by Joe Henderson, was one of the first hits about the 50s generation gap. Hamilton’s other US hits were ‘Only One Love’, ‘Now And For Always’ and the curio ‘The Teen Commandments Of Love’ with Paul Anka and Johnny Nash. He made the UK Top 30 with ‘I Know Where I’m Going’. Hamilton toured on rock ‘n’ roll package shows with Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent, and appeared on Broadway with Louis Armstrong. His leanings towards country music were satisfied when ABC-Paramount let him record a tribute album to Hank Williams.

In 1958 Hamilton married his childhood sweetheart, Adelaide (‘Tinky’) Peyton, and moved to Nashville where they raised a family. Hamilton started recording for RCA Records in 1961 and returned to the US Top 20 with John D. Loudermilk’s adaptation of a western song, ‘Abilene’, in 1963. His other country hits include ‘Break My Mind’, ‘Fort Worth, Dallas Or Houston’ and ‘She’s A Little Bit Country’. Hamilton pioneered the songs of Gordon Lightfoot (‘Steel Rail Blues’, ‘Early Morning Rain’), which, in turn, led to a love affair with Canadian music. He recorded Joni Mitchell’s ‘Urge For Going’ (the first artist to release one of her songs), Leonard Cohen’s ‘Suzanne’ and Ian Tyson’s ‘Summer Wages’, along with several albums of which Canadian Pacific is the best known. Hamilton appeared at the first Wembley country music festival and he has been a regular visitor to the UK ever since. Hamilton acknowledges that he has changed the UK public’s perception of country music: ‘When I first came here, people had the idea that country music was all hicks and hillbillies, cowboys and indians. I wanted to show it was an art form, a quality music. I wore a three-piece suit which was a bit formal for the music I was playing but I wouldn’t have been comfortable in jeans and a Stetson.’ Hamilton has championed British country music by recording home-grown songs and also by recording with the Hillsiders. In 1979, Hamilton became the first country singer to play a summer season at a seaside resort (Blackpool). Although Hamilton moved to North Carolina in 1972, he sees little of his home. He tours so often that Bob Powell, a former editor of the UK magazine Country Music People, named him the International Ambassador of Country Music.

In 1974 Hamilton became the first country artist to give concerts in the Soviet Union and he lectured at Moscow University. He has appeared at festivals in Czechoslovakia and recorded there. His pioneering work was recognized by Billboard magazine who gave him their Trendsetter award in 1975. Hamilton’s best recordings were made in the late 70s when he made three albums with producer Allen Reynolds, Fine Lace And Homespun Cloth, Feel Like A Million and Forever Young. He nearly reached the UK charts with a revival of ‘I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now’ from the first album. Increasingly in recent years, Hamilton has given Christian concerts. He has been part of Billy Graham’s crusades and he regularly tours British churches. Hank Wangford parodies Hamilton’s sincere eyebrows, and he takes it all in good spirit as he admits, ‘I have no paranoia about what the critics say about me. I accept that some folks think I’m bland, easy listening and it’s pretty obvious that I’m not a great vocalist. However, I can communicate with an audience and I do try to interpret songs which say something.’ Hamilton sometimes works with his son, George Hamilton V, who had a US country hit with ‘She Says’ and also tours the UK country clubs in his own right. Like his father, he will sign autographs until the last person has left.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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