The BMI award-winning country ballad Paper Rosie, written by Hamilton, Ontario’s Dallas Harms, earned its composer several awards in 1976 and a year later became a No. 1 hit recorded by Gene Watson.
Paper Rosie is a gentle musical tale of a man who while eating in a bar encounters a frail silver-haired old lady selling handcrafted paper flowers for a dime. But is she a spirit vision? After purchasing a flower out of kindness, he discovers that the woman’s funeral is actually taking place next door.
Not to be confused with Anita Bryant’s earlier hit Paper Roses, Dallas Harms’s Paper Rosie was the title track on his 1975 album (Broadland BR 1917). The single (with the B side The Road), featuring a delicate country-flavoured steel guitar accompaniment, entered RPM’s country chart the week of October 15, 1975 at No. 34, and by December hit No. 21, earning its composer RPM’s Big Country Best Single and Top Composer awards and a BMI Canada Certificate of Honour in 1976.
This was just the beginning for Paper Rosie. Nashville producer Frank Jones, himself a Canadian, heard the song at the Big Country Awards and with influential country producer Gary Buck, pitched it to Texas-born singer Gene Watson. Watson then recorded Harms’s song for Capitol Records at “Cowboy” Jack Clement’s Nashville recording studio. This cover, a cut on Watson’s 1977 “Paper Rosie” album (ST 11597), was well-received: “Cash Box” called it “one of this week’s strongest records” and accurately predicted the recording would become “one of his biggest ever.” A “Billboard” magazine review of Watson’s album listed Paper Rosie as one of its “Best Cuts.”
The Watson cover proved highly successful in both Canada and the USA, topping RPM’s country chart at No. 1 the week of May 28, 1977 and “Record World” for one week in April, where it beat out Kenny Rogers’s Lucille. Paper Rosie also reached No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot Country Singles chart April 9 (behind Lucille at No. 1) and No. 4 on the Cash Box chart, and was a winner of the 1977 Clement Cup for No. 1 singles recorded at Clement Studios.
Dallas Harms reminisced about Paper Rosie’s origins in his experiences performing around Ontario and upstate New York. “I had come off the road for a while….I was sittin’ at home and I started writin’ this song, Paper Rosie; I thought of the Club Utica … and that’s where I got the idea for that song. At a bar in Niagara Falls an old lady used to go through there selling roses.”
Paper Rosie’s spiritual story-line reflects Harms’s philosophical attitude, as he recently mused about his achievements: “It all comes around…If you work really hard at everything and throw it out to the universe, it’ll all come back.”
The Harms original recording appears on “Bound for Movin’ On,” a celebration of Canadian country music; and Gene Watson’s cover appears on “Superstars in Country Music” (1978) and “Country Gold” (1979). Watson later re-recorded Paper Rosie for a “best of” album.
Watson’s cover is also heard in the Eddie Murphy-Nick Nolte film “Another 48 Hours,” produced by Walter Hill. Harms revealed, “I got a letter from his office saying that he loved that song so much when he heard it that he was waiting for a movie to put it into!”
Paper Rosie has also been covered by George Hamilton IV and Orval Prophet.
The country singer-songwriter-producer Dallas Harms was born in 1935 in Saskatchewan and raised in Hamilton, Ontario. Inspired by Hank Williams, he wrote such BMI award-winning songs as Cowboys Don’t Get Lucky All the Time and Old Man and His Horn; his Honky Tonkin’ All Night Long was another Canadian No. 1 country hit. Harms was nominated for a 1981 Juno for Country Male Vocalist of the Year and was an inaugural inductee to the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame.