Heartbreak has silver lining for Dickey Lee
December is no huge deal for Dickey Lee. Every day is Christmas for that guy.
And Santa Claus is a bittersweet memory named Beverly Meyer.
That’s the same Beverly Meyer who busted Lee’s heart, back when he was a young buck, in the early 1960s. He dug her, she wasn’t so into him, and the whole not-love scenario was fraught with pain and frustration.
See, in the midst of Lee’s heartbreak, he sought solace in melody and rhyme and penned a true-to-the-moment song called “She Thinks I Still Care.” He wasn’t trying to write a hit, just trying to get something heavy off his chest. Lee made an unsuccessful attempt to pitch the song to fellow Memphian Elvis Presley, and it seemed like “She Thinks I Still Care” would just be Lee’s sad little Beverly Meyer memento.
But, thanks in great part to Lee’s friend and mentor, Cowboy Jack Clement, “She Thinks I Still Care” found its way to George Jones, whose supple and empathetic vocals helped the song to top country charts for six straight weeks in 1962.
“Just because I asked a friend about her / Just because I spoke her name somewhere,” Jones sang. “Just because I dialed her number by mistake today / She thinks I still care.”
It was the third No. 1 country hit of Jones’ career, and the lyrics’ wry despair — “Just because I saw her, then went all to pieces,” or “Just because I haunt the same old places, where the memory of her lingers everywhere” — was a perfect vehicle for Jones, who once said, “I’d rather sing a sad song than eat.”
“He admits, ‘I’m not the happy guy I used to be’ in a tortured gulp that sounds like he’s spying a future as dark as the grave,” wrote David Cantwell in Heartaches by the Numbers: Country Music’s 500 Greatest Singles.
Just the beginning
Lee’s own future was considerably sunnier, thanks in large part to the enduring appeal of “She Thinks I Still Care.” Though it’s generally (perhaps specifically) unwise to cover a song once George Jones sings it, “She Thinks I Still Care” later went No. 1 in a gender-switching version by Anne Murray, and a little-known fellow named Elvis Presley also sang it to great effect.
“It’s such a simple song,” Lee says. “I can’t believe I’ve been so blessed.”
The same year Lee’s sad and simple song topped the chart for Jones, Lee began his own solo career, concentrating at first on pop. Clement helped him to a Smash Records deal and found a song called “Patches” for him to record.
“Patches” became a Top 10 pop hit, and it was followed by a couple of other Top 20 pop singles. And in the early 1970s, he signed to RCA Records and began recording country music in Nashville, notching a No. 1 hit with “Rocky” and Top 10s including “Never Ending Song of Love,” “Angels, Roses and Rain” and the Razzy Bailey-penned “9,999,999 Tears.”
Lee also co-wrote country smashes for others, including George Strait’s “Let’s Fall to Pieces Together,” Reba McEntire’s “You’re the First Time I’ve Thought About Leaving” and Charley Pride’s “I’ll Be Leaving Alone.”
“I can remember when I was real young, first talking to Jack (Clement) about songwriting,” Lee says. “I loved to write songs, and I said, ‘Jack, do you think I could write a hit song?’ He said, ‘Sure, you don’t have to be that bright to write a hit song.’ ”
Old hits, new album
One that wasn’t a hit initially was “Memphis Beat,” a song Lee wrote with Allen Reynolds and Milton Addington and was first recorded in the 1960s by Jerry Lee Lewis.
“I never heard another thing about that song until last year,” Lee says. “I started getting checks from BMI on ‘Memphis Beat,’ and I thought, ‘Who the heck is playing this song?’ ”
Turns out “Memphis Beat” was featured as the theme of a cop show called Memphis Beat on TNT. The show was canceled after little more than a year, but the mailbox money was nice while it lasted and the song became yet another chapter in the curious, genre-spanning tale of Dickey Lee.
This year, he went into the recording studio with producer and pal Buzz Cason to re-record his solo hits (most of which had gone out of print) and to offer his own versions of the hits he wrote for Strait, McEntire, Pride and many more, for California-based Verése Sarabande Records. The Classic Songs of Dickey Lee is now available.
“Here I am, making a comeback at 75,” says Lee, who still keeps in contact with Beverly Meyer.
He checks in with her from time to time, making sure she knows he does, in fact, still care. And to say, “Thanks for the inspiration.”