Sometimes you just stumble upon things you can’t figure out how you’ve lived without for all these years. I don’t even know what twisted path lead me to finding “Twenty Feet of Muddy Water” by country legend Sonny James, but I’d never heard it before today. The song was released in 1956 and made it to #11 on the US Country charts. It has a real Johnny Horton vibe to it and is awfully cool.
James’ first singles were released in 1952, so by the time this came out he was already a music veteran and had hit the top 20 two or three times already. And he had a long and successful career after that with his last charting single, “Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes,” hitting #53 in 1983. From start to finish he hit the country charts a whole bunch of times with his greatest winning streak happening from 1967 to 1971 when he scored 16 straight #1 singles on the American charts, a bunch of which also scored big in Canada, and several of which dented the US Pop charts as well. And if you expand that period a year or two in each direction, you find several more top 5 hits. In all, he had 23 #1 hits. Now that’s an incredible career!
The 85-year-old James retired several years back and currently lives in Nashville. “Twenty Feet of Muddy Water” is a great example of mid to late ’50s country music incorporating elements of burgeoning rockabilly influence. And it’s a wonderful glimpse at the early work of a true country legend.