Over the course of his multi-decade career in country music, Ernest Tubb earned recognition as one of the genre's leading pioneers. A Texas native born in 1914, he grew up idolizing Jimmie Rodgers, carefully studying his vocal delivery and musical style, and learned to play guitar, sing and yodel, just like his musical hero.
As the young performer began to pursue music professionally, his early records and live performances reflected his love for Rodgers -- even, perhaps, to the point of unoriginality. That all changed in 1939, when a tonsillectomy altered Tubb's vocal range and yodeling skills. As a result, the singer decided to dial back his work as a performer, concentrating more on songwriting.
But if Tubb was worried that his career as a singer was over, he did so needlessly; in fact, he had only just begun an impressive, multi-decade tenure as a country performer. In the meantime, though, focusing on songwriting helped him develop the pioneering honky-tonk sound that ultimately went on to become his signature.
Tubb sang plenty of hit songs he didn't write (such as "Thanks a Lot"), but he also had a strong body of songs that not only became hits for him, but went on to be classics, recorded by some of the biggest artists of the genre. Read on as The Boot counts down the most influential and enduring songs Tubb ever wrote.
"Soldier's Last Letter"1944
This song's origins date back to World War II, when singer-songwriter Redd Stewart was stationed in the South Pacific as a sergeant. He wrote "Soldier's Last Letter" overseas, then sent it to Tubb, who contributed his own songwriting talents to the track and released it in 1944. From there, "Soldier's Last Letter" became a hit, spending four weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard country chart.
Even more notable than the song's popularity is its longevity. In the decades that followed its initial release, "Soldier's Last Letter" went on to be covered by over a dozen other artists. Merle Haggard released one of the song's most iconic renditions in 1971, and George Jones, Wanda Jackson, Stonewall Jackson and more all cut their own versions, too. "Soldier's Last Letter" even spawned a Danish adaption!
Over 30 years after he first cut it, Tubb released a new version of "Soldier's Last Letter" in 1979, as a duet with Johnny Cash.
"I'm Biting My Fingernails and Thinking of You"1949
Originally released as the B-side to "Don't Rob Another Man's Castle," "I'm Biting My Fingernails and Thinking of You" was part of a two-song collaboration with the Andrews Sisters. Tubb co-wrote the track with Ernie Benedict, Roy West and Lenny Sanders.
Over the course of his career, Tubb became a skilled duet performer, collaborating with Red Foley and the Wilburn Brothers as well as the Andrews Sisters. In the mid-1960s, he began to record with Loretta Lynn, who was at the time a relative newcomer to country music. The pair were frequent collaborators for the remainder of the decade, releasing three albums together. The second of those three projects, 1067's Singin' Again, contains a new version of "I'm Biting My Fingernails and Thinking of You."
One of Tubb's earliest successes, "Blue Eyed Elaine," is also one of his most enduring: Most recently, John Prine and Mac Wiseman covered the song in 2006.
When it was first released in 1940, "Blue Eyed Elaine" marked the culmination of a period of intense songwriting for Tubb. A tonsillectomy had altered his vocal range and yodeling ability, causing him to believe his career as a performer was effectively finished. This turned out to be far from the case, but for a period of time, the country artist turned his focus to songwriting. His efforts paid off: Gene Autry covered "Blue Eyed Elaine" two years later, in 1942.
"Tomorrow Never Comes"1945
Co-written with fellow performer Johnny Bond in 1945, "Tomorrow Never Comes" became another hit that kept resonating with country artists in the decades that followed. Tubb included the honky-tonk heartbreak tune on his 1959 LP The Ernest Tubb Story, and it appears again on the 2006 greatest hits album The Definitive Collection, which came out after Tubb's death.
Meanwhile, a slew of other artists rushed to cover "Tomorrow Never Comes." B.J. Thomas and Glen Campbell both put out their own renditions of the track in 1965. Loretta Lynn, George Jones and Elvis Presley also all put their own spins on the song over the course of the '60s and '70s.
"Walking the Floor Over You"1941
No song from Tubb's career represents his contributions to honky-tonk music quite as effectively as "Walking the Floor Over You," a track that arguably became his career-defining song after its 1941 release. In addition to selling over a million copies, "Walking the Floor Over You" went on to be featured in the 1980 film Coal Miner's Daughter, based on the life and music of Loretta Lynn. The song was covered by a wide variety of artists, and Tubb himself re-recorded a version of it that featured Merle Haggard in 1979. (He also recorded solo versions of "Walking the Floor Over You" several times over the course of his career.) The song cemented Tubb's lasting legacy in the country music genre, not only as a performer, but as a songwriter with the chops to craft lasting, durable hits within the format.