The Story Behind “Just Between You and Me” by Charley Pride and How He Addressed the Elephant in the Room

In 1966, Chet Atkins heard a tape of Charley Pride and convinced his superiors at RCA Records to sign the singer to the label. When he played the tape for the suits, the music won them over immediately, but Atkins had to share one simple fact with them: Charley Pride was Black. A few people were uncomfortable, but Atkins pushed for them to move forward with a record deal. A plan was put in place. They would release a record and let it speak for itself. No mention of race would occur until later.

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“The Snakes Crawl at Night” was sent to radio stations just after Christmas 1966. There was no scandalous reaction. The record generated next to no airplay. RCA Records geared up for a follow-up with “Before I Met You,” but it brought the same result. Pride had played professional baseball in the Negro League in the ’50s. As a singer, he had two strikes.

Pride had asked his producer, Jack Clement, about a song called “Just Between You and Me” but was advised against recording it. Clement didn’t want it to look as if he was pushing his own songs on the new artist. As their backs were against the wall, it was agreed upon to record the song for Pride’s next, and possibly final, single for RCA Records. The song broke into the charts and eventually peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot Country chart. Let’s take a look at the story behind “Just Between You and Me” by Charley Pride.

So I feel so blue sometimes I wanna die
And so I’ve got a broken heart, so what
They say that time will heal all wounds in mice and men
And I know that someday I’ll forget and love again

Country Charley Pride

The Black singer grew up singing Hank Williams, Roy Acuff, and Ernest Tubb songs and was more familiar with country music than R&B. During the civil rights era, he had to tread lightly, especially in the South. Certain songs were problematic. He loved to sing “The Green Green Grass of Home,” but when it came to the line about Mary having “hair of gold, and lips like cherries,” the wrong crowd didn’t appreciate a Black man singing about a blonde girlfriend. This was another reason Clement was hesitant to release “Just Between You and Me,” as it was a love song. Even though there were no direct mentions of race in the lyrics, it could be problematic. Pride loved the music, and he had a great voice. His first album, Country Charley Pride, reached No. 16 on the Billboard Country Albums chart.  

But just between you and me 
I’ve got my doubts about it
But just between you and me
You’re too much to forget

“This Permanent Tan”

As “Just Between You and Me” was racing up the charts, Pride finally felt a sense of relief and stability. For the first time, some money was actually coming in from his singing. His first big break was when he was asked to perform in Detroit with Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, and Red Foley. Just before he walked on stage, DJ Ralph Emery tried to prepare the crowd for what was about to happen, as the singer told author Jim Henderson in The Charley Pride Story: “‘We’ve got a young man here from down in Sledge, Mississippi, a good country singer,'” Pride quoted Emery as saying. “‘I’m sure you’ve been hearing him on the radio quite a bit. He’s had three records—’Snakes Crawl at Night,’ ‘Before I Met You,’ and his latest is ‘Just Between You and Me,’ which is moving up the charts. Ladies and gentlemen, from RCA Records, Charley Pride.’

“The clapping and shouting erupted,” Pride continued. “The lights went up, and I stepped from the shadows. As suddenly as it had begun, the applause faded. It didn’t stop—just dropped like the volume being turned down on a radio. It settled to a low murmur. I walked across the stage, and people looked around as though they were wondering when Charley Pride was going to appear. I stood in front of the microphone, propped my arms on the guitar hanging around my neck, and spoke, ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ I said, ‘I realize this is a little unique … me coming out here on a country music show wearing this permanent tan.’ Evidently, I was saying exactly what they were thinking. I began to feel relaxed and confident. This didn’t seem like an audience that was on the verge of hurling insults or walking out.” 

So, I’ve lost the only girl I ever loved
And so I’ve never felt so low, so what
I’ll just tell myself each time I wanna cry
That someday time will dry the teardrops from my eyes

From Discrimination to Bomb Threats

Pride faced many tests as he continued having hit records and performing for larger crowds who knew who he was. From discrimination to bomb threats, he persevered. He told Jim Henderson about an incident in Texarkana, Texas: “Just as I was getting ready to go on, a guy walked up to me and told me his name, which I have long since forgotten. But I’ll never forget the rest of what he said: ‘I’m the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan here.’ Before I could even swallow hard, his arm shot out, and he said, ‘I just want to shake hands with a man.’ That’s all he said. I shook his hand and stood there, a little confounded, while he walked back to his table. He just as easily could have said, ‘I’m here with the tar and feathers.’ But he sat down, stayed for the whole show, and seemed to enjoy it. I think that was because I kept a close eye on him all the time I was singing.”

But just between you and me
I’m not so sure about it
Cause just between you and me
You’re too much to forget 
You’re too much to forget

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Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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