The Story Behind Emmylou Harris’s “Beneath Still Waters” Emmylou Harris

Emmylou Harris
Emmylou Harris

In 1979, Emmylou Harris released “Blue Kentucky Girl” (named after a 1965 Loretta Lynn hit), an album with strong bluegrass overtones in an era of “crossover” country. Her record label (Warner Bros.) was understandably nervous about the project, but gave her the freedom to go through with it.

Harris herself told Billboard’s Kip Kirby that she believed the album had a contemporary freshness in its sound, capturing the feeling that comes from the “live” side of music. Emmylou’s instincts proved correct and the album was artistically and commercially successful. Her remake of the Drifters’ “Save The Last Dance For Me” ascended to #4 and the title track climbed to #6 (Loretta’s original version had reached #7 back in ’65). “Beneath Still Waters” got the nod as the third single.

Dallas Frazier had composed “Beneath Still Waters” in 1967 and instantly got a cut on it by George Jones. Dallas was one of Jones’ favorite writers, so much so that George once recorded an entire album of Dallas Frazier songs. He placed “Beneath Still Waters” on his “My Country” album in December, 1968. Two years later, the tune was issued as a single for the first time by Diana Trask, who took her version to #38.

Harris discovered the song through a George Jones “tape swap.” While Emmylou was living in Washington, D. C., she became acquainted with a group of people who traded tapes of George Jones songs the way sports fans would trade baseball cards. She received “Beneath Still Waters” during one such trade. To her, the song seemed so classic – so simple and straightforward, the imagery was beautiful and the melody was so lovely. Harris recorded it in her home studio in Los Angeles, going with the second take which she considered “perfect.” Apparently, fans thought so too, as “Beneath Still Waters” became Emmylou’s 11th Top Ten hit and her fourth number one single on May 10, 1980.

The “Blue Kentucky Girl” album brought Harris the second of her three Grammies for “Best Country Vocal Performance by a Female.” The others came for “Elite Hotel” and her 1984 single, “In My Dreams.” She also earned Grammies for her duet with Roy Orbison, “That Lovin’ You Feelin’ Again,” and for the “Trio” project (with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt).

Following “Blue Kentucky Girl,” Emmylou delved even more heavily into bluegrass sonorities, with the help of Ricky Skaggs, on the album “Roses In The Snow.” The project received overwhelming critical acclaim, yielding two successful singles: “Wayfaring Stranger” and “The Boxer.”