“Too country for country music,” Vernon Oxford failed in Nashville but found success in Britain

by Steve Huey

Vernon Oxford was a hard honky tonk singer with unlucky timing, coming up during an era when traditional country simply wasn’t counting for much on the charts. However, he was able to find a different route to success, touring the U.K. extensively to capitalize on his surprising popularity there.

Oxford was born in Rogers, AR, in 1941 and grew up mostly in Wichita, KS. He discovered country music through his father, an old-time-style fiddler, and learned to play both fiddle and guitar as a youth. His first professional gig came in 1960 at a Utah club, and he spent the next several years playing clubs and dances around Kansas. In 1964, he moved to Nashville to try his luck in the business but found the going rough because of his more old-fashioned style. Fortunately, he also found an ally in the legendary songwriter Harlan Howard, who helped him get a contract with RCA Victor in 1965 and supplied some of his material.

Oxford released seven singles over the next two years as well as an album, Woman, Let Me Sing You a Song. While traditional country fans applauded his work, he never managed to hit the charts, and RCA dropped him.

He recorded briefly for the smaller Stop label but caught a break when British audiences discovered him as a fine traditional-style artist who’d slipped through the cracks of American popular taste. RCA issued a retrospective of his work in Britain in 1974, re-signed Oxford, and sent him on a tour.

Oxford scored his first chart single in America with “Shadows of My Mind” and had his biggest hit with “Redneck (The Redneck National Anthem)”; a few more singles charted in America, and Oxford also scored some British hits with the likes of “I’ve Got to Get Peter off Your Mind” and “Field of Flowers.”

He toured actively through 1977, then took a few years off and re-emerged in 1981 as a born-again Christian dedicated to gospel music. He continued to record and tour Britain.

Leave a Reply