‘He Called Me Baby’: Patsy Cline’s Posthumous Harlan Howard Hit

The much-covered song became a single for the country queen some 18 months after her death.

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Patsy Cline artwork: UMG
Patsy Cline artwork: UMG

The untimely passing of Patsy Cline in March 1963 curtailed a great career, but it didn’t stop her name continuing to appear in the country charts. As Decca kept putting out previously unreleased singles to meet the demand of a grieving audience, Patsy had two further Top 10 country hits that year with songs that became closely associated with her, “Sweet Dreams (Of You)” and “Faded Love.”

Early in 1964, the label misjudged the market with the next 45, “When You Need A Laugh,” which reached only No.47 on the country chart. But on September 14 that year, they issued Cline’s recording of a song first released as “She Called Me Baby” in 1961. That version was by its writer, Harlan Howard, the prolific country tunesmith who wrote one of her biggest hits, “I Fall To Pieces.”

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Harlan’s local success

The writer had a local hit with his original of the song, which came from his Harlan Howard Sings Harlan Howard album. His then-wife Jan released the first female version of the tune in 1962, after which it was cut by Skeeter Davis, in the wake of her huge success with “The End Of The World.” Then it went over to the male side again in the hands of Bobby Bare and Sheb Wooley.

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Cline’s “He Called Me Baby,” featuring the Jordanaires, was part of a February 1963 recording session, just weeks before her death in a plane crash. She then became the first artist, male or female, to chart with the song in late October, rising to No.23 country. Howard’s composition was then picked up by such artists as Ernest Tubb and Glen Campbell, before underlining its versatility by becoming a Top 10 R&B hit for Candi Staton in 1971.

Then in 1974, a recording of “She Called Me Baby” by Charlie Rich, cut in the 60s but released at the height of his latter-day popularity, went to No.1 on the country chart. It his seventh such bestseller in some 20 months. More recently, “He Called Me Baby” was a highlight of LeAnn Womack’s Americana Award-nominated The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone. In both male and female configurations, the song has been a repeated winner, and Patsy Cline helped it on its way.

Buy or stream “He Called Me Baby” on The Very Best of Patsy Cline.

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