36: I Fall to Pieces

36: I Fall to Pieces

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Country Music

I Fall to Pieces

Story by Harlan Howard (as told to Country Music Foundation historian John Rumble)

Song written by Harlan Howard and Hank Cochran

Recorded by Patsy Cline

Story reprinted with permission and edited for continuity

I think I met Patsy at the Grand Ole Opry. It was either at the Opry or over at Tootsie’s, across the alley from the Opry, where we’d go and have a beer. These singers would do a couple of songs on a Saturday night, except they’d be about two hours apart. So, they’d come over there and have a beer or a Coke or something while they were waiting to do their next show. It was customary back then for all of us songwriters to hang out there with all these Grand Ole Opry stars or at a couple of little restaurants around there. I’m sure it was one of those times. Probably Hank Cochran introduced me to her. Hank and I were writing for the same publishing company; Hank was a songplugger. Patsy’s husband Charlie and I were good buddies.

Somewhere along the way, it was my custom to go out to Goodlettsville, where this little publishing company was, just about every day. Willie Nelson had just come to town, and he was getting a lot of good records by different people. I was out there one day sitting with Hank in the office, and Owen Bradley called. He would check with Hank to see if we had anything new. Hank and I were pretty hot right at the moment. The day before, Hank had come to my house and had a new song started called, “I Fall to Pieces.” And so we went out into a little garage setup I had at my house and wrote that song.

Hank told Owen that we had a ballad called “I Fall to Pieces,” which a guy or a girl could do without changing a word. They’re the best songs to write.

Owen said, “Well, I kind of like that title. Why don’t you bring me a copy of it?”

So, Hank did. Then, I remember Owen telling me he played it for, I think, Roy Drusky, and two or three other singers that were doing pretty good — you know, they were pretty hot at the time. They all turned it down. Then Patsy was coming out to do a session. I think Owen, more or less, insisted that she do that song. But I don’t remember Patsy being flipped out over it.

Back then, we went to all the sessions. In fact, that’s where we spent our evenings. It was either at RCA or the Quonset Hut, which was a studio owned by Owen Bradley. Of course, if we had a song in the session, we’d be there. That was quite common back then. There’d be four or five hungry songwriters sitting around hoping their song turned out best. We were caught up in the fever — I mean, I’d write three or four songs a day, and we’d go in and do a demo session of fifteen, sixteen, seventeen songs every couple of weeks. So, yes, I went to the session. We used the No.1 band, of course, which was Grady Martin, Ray Edenton, Harold Bradley, Bob Moore, Floyd Cramer, and the lead player on that record happened to be the lead guitar player, Hank “Sugarfoot” Garland.

I liked the record, but I had no idea, truthfully, that the song would do what it’s done all these years later.

Two things were unique to that particular recording with Patsy: For one, it was the first time I’d ever had a record that had this little echo/tremolo thing on the guitar. That sound that’s on her record, at that time, was very unusual; kind of a little delay. I’m sure that wasn’t the first session in the world where that sound was included, but it was the first time it was used on a song I’d written.

Second, the musicians used a few tricks. There was a beat going around in country music at the time. It was kind of like the “Ray Price shuffle,” which was a “walking” bass. It was just kind of like a slow, country/rock and roll beat, but it makes the music very danceable. So these guys had snuck a shuffle in on this record, and Owen Bradley did not like shuffle. He used to have a pop band. One of the reasons he didn’t like, was it was being used so much — and not only by Ray Price, but by Buck Owens and everybody — all using the same tempo, slow or fast. Owen normally wouldn’t let any of the records he produced be a shuffle, but they snuck it in there, and he didn’t say nothing. Well, for one thing, it sounded good, and Owen was a smart man. If something sounded good, he was going to leave it alone. But to this day, they’re still delighted that they snuck a shuffle by him!

When the record came out, it didn’t take too long before it was a #1 country hit. And then, doggone it, it just stayed there and it stayed there. It stayed in the Top Ten for I don’t know how long.

I remember Pamper Music had a couple of promotion men, and I remember Hal Smith, the publisher, talking to Hank Cochran one time, and they had been trying to make Patsy’s recording go into the “pop” field and really hadn’t had too much success. Hal told Hank, “We’re spending a lot of money on this thing.” I remember we were standing outside of this little studio out in Goodlettsville, and I just happened to overhear the conversation. He said, “I’m about to take these boys off of Patsy’s record. We’re not making it.”

Hank said, “Doggone, Hal. We’re almost there. All we need is one little break.” There was a promotion man who took Patsy to Ohio. They used to have these showcases for young kids, like a Dick Clark-type thing. She did several of these in Ohio.

So, this record consumed about a year of promo time. I mean, it was a long time, but it was a hit for a long time. When it started to subside, Owen Bradley rounded up Hank and I and Willie Nelson, and a bunch of other writers, and got all the best songs from us. Patsy cut three or four more songs. At this particular time, Willie’s song, “Crazy,” won, you know. I believe that was a follow up to “I Fall to Pieces,” some months later, when she needed a follow-up.

I think one of the interesting things about that, which has to do with success, is Patsy always was a real good singer throughout her career, from “Walking After Midnight” on, which is when I first heard of her. But I can detect a lot more confidence in the way she sings “Crazy” than the way she sings “I Fall to Pieces,” which is pretty much on the beat, not much room for playing around, just the way it’s written. And with “Crazy” she took a lot of bluesy liberties. Patsy just had her way with “Crazy” and, for about three hours, just sang it over and over. Owen kind of felt like she’d already sang it good enough on the regular session — good enough to be a hit. But she was just getting started, and she said, “Well, if you think that’s something, watch this.” That was her attitude. You could see her confidence had risen so much. She hadn’t had a hit for a long time. I don’t know how long it was from “Walking After Midnight” to “I Fall to Pieces,” but it was a lot of records.

From then on, it’s just been an interesting thing for me here in Nashville to watch friends of mine as they get their careers going — writers, singers, whoever — watch their confidence factor rise. That’s when they really usually take the ball and run with it.

I Fall to Pieces

I fall to pieces,

Each time I see you again.

I fall to pieces.

How can I be just your friend?

You want me to act like we’ve never kissed.

You want me to forget, pretend we’ve never met.

And I’ve tried and I’ve tried, but I haven’t yet.

You walk by and I fall to pieces.

I fall to pieces,

Each time someone speaks your name.

I fall to pieces.

Time only adds to the flame.

You tell me to find someone else to love,

Someone who’ll love me too, the way you used to do.

But each time I go out with someone new,

You walk by and I fall to pieces.

You walk by and I fall to pieces.

To purchase the original demo of this song,
go to www.countrysongdemos.com

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