Elwood: “What types of music do you usually have here?”
Claire: “Oh, we got both kinds, we got country and western.”
- Claire at Bob's Country Bunker, Blues Brothers
Whilst doing something recently I had a CD playing in the background. It was one of those compilation discs, the best of something or other, or Country Classics, something like that. As regular readers of Bytes will know, I am not a fan of country music but I am fascinated by it, a style of music where each song tells a story with a beginning, middle and end, and usually a life message, all in 3 minutes.
Q: What do you get when you play country music backwards?
A: Your wife comes back, your dog comes back to life and you get out of jail.
The disc I was listening had a C & W song I had not heard before that was so maudlin and soppy that it actually caused me to stop and pay attention to the lyrics. It was a song by Jean Shepard and Ferlin Husky called “Dear John”. More of that later.
It started me thinking about the origin of the term “Dear John letter”, when someone tells their hubby, boyfriend or significant other that the relationship is over.
The origins of the phrase are not known with certainty but it is believed to have originated from American servicemen during World War 2. With so many service personnel serving overseas at that time and being away from home for protracted periods, it was inevitable that some of the wives and sweethearts at home would form new attachments and relationships. The letter informing the husband or significant other that the relationship was over became known as a Dear John letter. The name “John” was a common generic name, even unknown bodies and victims are referred to as “John Doe”. Whereas loving letters would often commence “Dearest John” or “My darling John”; in contrast the opening words “Dear John” are cold in comparison.
In August 1945 a writer wrote in a letter to the Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester, New York:
“Dear John,” the letter began. “I have found someone else whom I think the world of. I think the only way out is for us to get a divorce,” it said. They usually began like that, those letters that told of infidelity on the part of the wives of servicemen... The men called them “Dear Johns”.
Today, such a message would more likely be a Dear John email, SMS or tweet.
Which brings us to the Jean Shepard (1933- ) / Ferlin Husky (1925-2011) song.
Hear Jean Shepard and Ferlin Husky sing their 1953 hit, Dear John, by clicking on the following link:
See and hear them singing it many, many years later at:
Hear the Loretta Lynn and Ernest Tubb cover at:
The song was released whilst the Korean War was in progress and was a No 1 hit on the Hot Country Songs chart, as well as reaching No 4 on the popular music chart. Shepard was a pioneer for women in country music, releasing a total of 73 singles and 24 albums between 1953 and 1981.
I will say no more about the song, the lyrics speak for themselves:
Dear John oh how I hate to write
Dear John I must let you know tonight
That my love for you has died away
Like grass upon the lawn
And tonight I wed another dear John
I was overseas in battle when the postman came to me
And he handed me a letter and I was just as happy as I could be
For the fighting was all over and the battle had been won
Then I opened up the letter and it started 'Dear John'
Dear John oh how I hate to write...
Will you please send back my picture
My husband wants it now
When I tell you who I'm wedding
You won't care dear anyhow
Now the ceremony has started
And I wed your brother Don
Would you wish us happiness forever dear John
By the way, the follow up, “Forgive Me John”, was also a hit for Jean Shepard and Ferlin Husky, reaching No 10 on the Country chart and No 25 on the pop chart. It can be heard at:
The lyrics to that song are:
Forgive me John but I don't love your brother
I realise now that you're the only one
Write and tell me dear that you'll still have me
If I undo the awful wrong I've done
I've tried to answer your letter
The best that I know how
The way I feel about you honey
Really doesn't matter now
As you know the boys
Will be coming home soon
To be with their wives and their ma's and pa's
I'd like to come home
I'd like to see you, as a wife, but not as a sister in law
You're asking me to do somethin' I can't do
It's hard to explain
But can't you see my brother loves you
I reckon as much as I do and he married you
And I could never do him like he done me
But I wish you happiness forever
May you make him a truly lovin' wife
There's nothing for me to come home for now
So I'll re-enlist and live my lonely soldier's life
"I don't like country music, but I don't mean to denigrate those
And for the people who like country music, denigrate means
'put down.' "
- Bob Newhart