Killer soul instrumentals from the Stax house band
As the Stax house band, Booker T. & The M.G.â€™s were often heard backing seminal recordings by Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave and other label stars, but their career as a standalone group also produced iconic singles, B-sides and albums. Real Gone pulls together the original mono mixes of the groupâ€™s first 15 singles, Aâ€™s and Bâ€™s, to highlight the hits and deep-grooved flips of the bandâ€™s first six years. The hits include their chart-topping 1962 debut, â€œGreen Onions,â€ and a pair of crossover Top 40â€™s from 1967, â€œHip Hug-Herâ€ and a cover of the Rascalsâ€™ â€œGroovinâ€™.â€ The latter kicked off a string of crossover hits that stretched into 1969 (and will hopefully be anthologized on Volume 2). In between, the group delivered catchy singles that touched the bottom of the Top 100 while generating bigger success on the R&B chart.
The bandâ€™s debut album was filled with instrumental covers, but their singles featured original mid-tempo groovers built on soulful organ leads, searing guitar solos, and propulsive backbeats. The groupâ€™s first B-side, â€œBehave Yourselfâ€ is a dark, late-night blues, but their second single, â€œJelly Bread,â€ turns the tempo up as Jones vamps behind Cropperâ€™s introductory guitar riffs. The rhythm section of Jackson and Steinberg get everyone moving for 1964â€™s â€œCanâ€™t Be Still,â€ and Isaac Hayes reportedly keys the organ on the follow-up â€œBoot-Leg.â€ 1966â€™s â€œMy Sweet Potatoâ€ trades organ for piano, as does the country-inflected â€œSlim Jenkins Place.â€ The setâ€™s covers include Buster Brownâ€™s â€œFannie Mae,â€ Gershwinâ€™s â€œSummertime,â€ a pair of holiday releases, and, under the title â€œBig Train,â€ the gospel classic â€œThis Train.â€
Expanded reissue of Crenshawâ€™s impressive, self-produced 1996 return to the studio
After five albums for Warner Brothers and one for MCA, this 1996 release marked five years since Crenshawâ€™s previous studio album, and broadened his new relationship with the indie label Razor & Tie. More importantly, the production stripped away the overwrought Steve Lilywhite-helmed sonics of Field Day and the extensive guest lists of Downtown and Good Evening, and centered on the considerable, innate charms of Crenshawâ€™s songs, voice and guitar. That transformation began to show with the trio playing of 1991â€™s Lifeâ€™s Too Short, but with the guitar-rich live album My Truck is My Home, and again with this first self-produced studio effort, Crenshaw washed away the aural sheen of the 1980s, and brought the spotlight back to the richness of his pop craft.
From the hopeful longing of the opening â€œWhat Do You Dream Of,â€ the album offers hummable melodies, warm harmonies, catchy lyrical hooks, and perhaps most thankfully, studio production that supports rather than preens. Crenshaw is able to sing without straining to be heard, returning his voice to its m\wheelhouse. He sounds enthused to be in the studio with a new batch of original, co-written and coover material, and he alternates between mixing it up with guests and pitching in one-man-band-style on guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, percussion and vibraphone. By producing himself, he no longer served as a canvas upon which others cast their own shades, and his aim is as true as Richard Gottehrerâ€™s work on Crenshawâ€™s 1982 eponymous debut.
Crenshaw had grown artistically in the fourteen years since Marshall Crenshaw, and this album isnâ€™t a repeat of, or even really a throwback to his earlier work; but there is a connection to the nostalgic sounds of his earlier work than hadnâ€™t been captured on the albums in between. The Shadows-styled guitar instrumental â€œTheme From Flaregunâ€ offers a faux 1960s TV-theme, and Hy Heathâ€™s up-tempo country-rock â€œWho Stole That Trainâ€ includes scorching electric guitar, energetic drumming and dobro from Greg Leisz that add muscle and buzz to the honky-tonk soul of Ray Priceâ€™s 1953 rendering. Several of Crenshawâ€™s originals are laced with bittersweetness as he contemplates the uncertain possibilities of â€œOnly an Hour Agoâ€ and lonely memories of â€œLaughter,â€ and the dissolution of Grant Hartâ€™s â€œTwenty Five Forty Oneâ€ is buoyed by terrific electric guitar figures.
â€œThere and Back Againâ€ may be the albumâ€™s most emotionally powerful moment, as Crenshaw wistfully remembers the joy of romantic discovery through the lens of its eventual end. More fully satisfied is a cover ofÂ â€œA Wondrous Place,â€ with vibraphone and a Latin beat expanding upon Jimmy Jonesâ€™ and Billy Furyâ€™s 1960 takes. Having gained ownership of his Razor & Tie catalog, Crenshaw is planning to reissue all five of its albums in expanded editions. This first effort includes a reordered track list alongside three bonus tracks that quizically include a backward rendering of â€œSeven Miles an Hour,â€ and new recordings of Daniel Wylieâ€™s haunting â€œMisty Dreamerâ€ and Michael Pagliaroâ€™s 1975 single â€œWhat the Hell I Got.â€ The latter, a memorable song that was a minor hit in Canada, must have beamed across the border to Crenshawâ€™s native Detroit to make its long-lasting impression.
Expanded edition of reformulated Big Starâ€™s 2004 return to the studio
After reformulating Big Star with the Posies John Auer and Ken Stringfellow in 1993, Alex Chilton eventually mustered up the interest to record a new album in 2004, and release it the following year. But in ways similar to Big Starâ€™s third album (and to be fair, even the Chilton-led, mostly Bell-free Radio City), one might ask what it means to be a Big Star album. There is material here – largely from Auer, Stringfellow, and original Big Star drummer Jody Stephens – that harkens back to the bandâ€™s early-70s British pop inspired beginnings. But there are also strong currents of Alex Chiltonâ€™s rag-tag solo work, and his propensity to record cover songs. Itâ€™s difficult to hear this as continuous with the bandâ€™s earlier work, though there are moments; itâ€™s not an erszatz doo wop band touring under someone elseâ€™s name, but it may be more accurate to think of this Big Star moniker as more ancestry than identity.
Despite having acceded to performing as Big Star, Chilton retained an uneasy relationship with the groupâ€™s earlier material. The new album was apparently born out of both his boredom with the narrow setlist he was willing to play on stage, and the opportunity to collaborate with bandmates with whom he enjoyed making music. After ten years of sporadic gigs, the group was really solid, rooted in the legacy material they performed, but not beholden to its ghosts. Chilton evidenced little interest is writing material for the new album that echoed his past, leaving it to his bandmates to mine the bandâ€™s legacy. Jon Auer and Jody Stephensâ€™ co-writes touch most closely on the bandâ€™s earlier work, with both â€œBest Chanceâ€ and â€œFebruaryâ€™s Quietâ€ offering guitar riffs and melodies that fit comfortably with the bandâ€™s first two albums. Stephensâ€™ drumming on the former highlights just how fundamental he was to Big Starâ€™s sound, and the closing chord of the latter song will provoke aural deja vu.
Chiltonâ€™s funky â€œLove Revolutionâ€ and â€œDo You Want to Make Itâ€ are more in line with his solo career than earlier Big Star, and the Olympicsâ€™ â€œMine Exclusivelyâ€ is just the sort of obscure cover that had long since become a Chilton trademark. Chiltonâ€™s post-Big Star penchant for spontaneous, raw performances threads through several tracks, including the rock â€˜nâ€™ roll rave-up â€œA Whole New Thing,â€ a ploddingly-delivered arrangement of Georg Muffatâ€™s baroque â€œAria, Largo,â€ and the cacophonous closer, â€œMakeover.â€ Thereâ€™s craft to be heard, as on Ken Stringfellowâ€™s Beach Boysâ€™ pastiche â€œTurn My Back on the Sun,â€ but itâ€™s not the sort of crystalline sounds the original band recorded in the early 1970s.
Expanded 25th anniversary reissue of 1994 honky-tonk landmark
Having gained artistic and fan notoriety in Austinâ€™s Uncle Waltâ€™s Band, David Ball spent more than a decade searching for commercial success in Nashville. He recorded an album for RCA in 1988, but after the initial singles had only middling chart success, the album was vaulted until this 1994 Warner Brothers release broke nationally. The sessions offered uncompromising neotraditional country, just as the neotraditional movement was giving way to crossover sounds; but fans apparently hadnâ€™t gotten the marketing memo, as theÂ album launched five country chart singles and sold double platinum. At the age of 41, Ballâ€™s maturity – both musically and experientially – shows in music thatâ€™s rife with broken hearts that wonâ€™t stop loving, bittersweet memories that continue to surface, and emotional bruises salved with an alcohol liniment.
Produced by Blake Chancey and engineered by the legendary Billy Sherrill, the album is backed studio players who came together into a tight, twangy honky-tonk band of fiddle, steel, piano, drums and generous amounts of Telecaster. Ballâ€™s voice was recorded without the sort of mid-90s studio effects that polished and pumped singers for radio, and it leaves his emotional connection to the lyrics exposed for everyone to hear. The record doesnâ€™t sound anachronistic (even for its own time), but the throwback connections from Ballâ€™s earlier work with Uncle Waltâ€™s Band are clear. The albumâ€™s lone cover is a devastating take on Webb Pierceâ€™s â€œA Walk on the Wild Side of Life,â€ opening with a haunted acapella intro that leaves the protagonist to forever stalk an empty house. Ballâ€™s original material — reportedly winnowed down from a hundred songs over two years to the ten included on the original album – is superb.
The uptempo title track provided the first of five singles to make the country chart, falling just shy of the top at #2. The other four include the mid-tempo honky-tonk of â€œLook What Followed Me Homeâ€ and â€œHonky Tonk Healinâ€™,â€ the slow, bluesy â€œWhat Do You Want With His Love,â€ and the pained ballad â€œWhen the Thought of You Catches Up to Me.â€ The album tracks are just as good, including the rockabilly-tinged â€œDown at the Bottom of a Broken Heartâ€ and the Tex-Mex flavors of â€œDonâ€™t Think Twiceâ€ that evoke Buck Owens, Doug Sahm, and the Mavericks.
A towering achievement in musical archaeology, even when measured against Bear Familyâ€™s stratospherically high standard. Reissue producer Scott B. Bomar digs deeply into Bakersfieldâ€™s musical soil to explore the migrant roots that coalesced into the history, connections, influences and circumstances that forged the Bakersfield Sound. Ten discs, nearly three-hundred tracks, and a 224-page hardcover book essay the scenes development, how lesser-known players contributed to those who would become stars, and how the stars blossomed from their roots. Reissue of the year.
Triple-disc set cataloging the riches of Narvel â€œCadillac Babyâ€ Eatmonâ€™s Chicago-based labels, including Bea & Baby, Key, Keyhole, Ronald and Miss. Competing with Chess, Vee-Jay, Brunswick and Delmark in the early â€˜60s, the entrepreneurial Eatmon sourced acts through his Show Lounge nightclub, and built a small, but artistically important catalog that includes blues, soul, R&B doo-wop and Latin-tinged numbers. The accompanying 128-page hardbound book includes a lengthy interview with Eatmon, alongside producerâ€™s notes, liners, and artist profiles.
Sondra â€œBlinkyâ€ Williams may be Motownâ€™s most widely heard unsung singer. She recorded dozens of sides for the Detroit powerhouse, but only a few ever made it to market. At the same time, she was heard weekly by millions of television viewers as Jim Gilstrapâ€™s duet partner on the theme song to Good Times. Her many fans have lobbied for years to â€œfree Blinky from the vaults,â€ and with Real Goneâ€™s two-CD set, their wish has finally been granted.
The third of three double-disc sets cataloging Buck Owensâ€™ singles on Capitol. Though he didnâ€™t have the same level of commercial success in the early 1970s that heâ€™d had throughout the 1960s, his artistry was undimmed, and his omnivorous musical appetite was still unsated. Recording primarily in his own Bakersfield studio, he covered material from outside the country realm, and stretched out from his classic Telecaster-and-steel sound to incorporate pop, bluegrass and gospel. A strong and fulfilling chapter of the Buck Owens legacy.
Third try is the charm. Williamsâ€™ 1949 radio transcriptions for patent medicine sponsor Hadacol have slowly been resuscitated and restored over a series of releases, culminating in this best-yet edition. In a year that saw Williams transition from the Hayride to the Opry, and evolve his material from a cover of â€œLove Sick Bluesâ€ to the iconic original â€œIâ€™m So Lonesome I Could Cry,â€ these eight shows capture Williams on a fast-moving train to stardom. This new restoration attends to both the physical issues of the source transcriptions and the aural issues of earlier remasters.
Following Big Star by a few years, Van Duren suffered the same lack of renown as his fellow Memphians. Though Big Starâ€™s public renown grew over the decades, Duren has remained obscure. A limited edition Japanese reissue of his 1977 debut failed to spread the word, and his follow-up album remained vaulted for decades. But with this documentary soundtrack sampling the rich Badfinger/Rundgren sounds of his late-70s power-pop, Durenâ€™s music may finally reach the sympathetic ears it deserves.
This springboard for Walter Hyatt, Champ Hood and David Ball was well-known in their adopted Austin, and among in-the-know music fans; but their instrumental finesse and joyous mix of country, jazz, folk, blues, bluegrass and swing was too sophisticated for reduction to a commercial concern. Omnivoreâ€™s reissue of the groupâ€™s 1974 debut polishes the brilliant gem by doubling the original track count with eleven bonus demos and live recordings.
The conflagration of criticism and meta-criticism that burned this release to a crisp two years after its release is one of the stranger chapters in pop critic history. Yum Yumâ€™s Chris Holmes was, according to his former roommate Thomas Frank, a prankster faking out his record company in a quixotic bid to supplant corporate Alternative Rock with finely crafted orchestral pop. Absurd on its face, Frankâ€™s critique caught fire in an escalating war of meta-criticism. More than twenty years later, Holmesâ€™ creation remains sweetly satisfying to those with a taste for candy.
Triple-disc set pulling together the great Boston bandâ€™s entire first-run catalog, including pre-signing demos and an indie single, two albums and a live EP for Warner Brothers, a post-Warner EP, demos, session tracks, and live material. The music rings with the passion of its author and the intensity of the bandâ€™s playing.
Three Australian sheep-farming brothers turned out to be a trio of New York songwriter-producers coping with the British Invasion. The authors of the Angelsâ€™ â€œMy Boyfriendâ€™s Backâ€ turned themselves into a beat group with the earworms â€œI Want Candy,â€ â€œCara-Linâ€ and â€œNight Time,â€ and waxed a full album of catchy Bo Diddley beats. Reissued on red vinyl, the original mono mix delivers an AM radio gut punch and an object lesson in the power of mid-60s mono vs. stereo.
Various Artists: Thatâ€™ll Flat Git It! Vol. 32
Twenty-eight years and thirty-two volumes in, there is still life in Bear Familyâ€™s rockabilly anthology series. This latest edition takes a fourth trip into the vaults of Decca, Brunswick and Coral, and turns up a surprising number of worthy sides. The labelâ€™s typical attention to detail fills out a 39-page booklet with period photos, label reproductions, and knowledgeable liner notes by Bill Dahl.
Williams had previously crossed into secular music with a 1963 single (and a flip) under the nom de record â€œLindy Adams,â€ and a 1964 single for Vee Jay that backed the spiritual â€œHeâ€™s Got the Whole World in his Handsâ€ with â€œHeartaches.â€ She landed at Motown in 1968 under her high school nickname, Blinky, and debuted with the Ashford & Simpson-penned â€œI Wouldnâ€™t Change the Man He Is.â€ An album of duets with Edwin Starr followed in 1969, along with three more singlesÂ (one on Motown, and two on the labelâ€™s west coast imprint, Mowest), but despite opening for the Temptations and a spot in the Motortown Revue, the lack of a concerted promotional push left all of the releases to founder commercially.
Had this been the extent of Williamsâ€™ engagement with Motown, she might have been collected only by crate diggers, and remembered as a talent whose intersection with the label was artistically fruitful but commercially bare. What distinguishes Williams from other Motown shoulda-beens is the large number of finished, unreleased sides that were left in the vault alongside fascinating working tracks and live material. Motown rolled a lot of tape on someone they couldnâ€™t (or more likely just didnâ€™t) break, and the fervor of her fans (who mounted a now-successful â€œFree Blinky from the Vaultsâ€ campaign) reflects the riches that she recorded, rather than the limited sides that Motown actually released.
The two-disc set opens with Williamsâ€™ unreleased album Sunny & Warm, immediately provoking the question of what else Motown had going on that led them to leave this in the vault. To be fair to Motown, Williamsâ€™ album was slotted between Diana Rossâ€™ eponymous 1970 solo debut, and the Jackson 5â€™s Christmas album, so Motownâ€™s promotions staff was certainly busy. If itâ€™s any consolation to Williams, Jimmy and David Ruffinâ€™s I Am My Brotherâ€™s Keeper was in the same spot, though released on the subsidiary Soul label. Sunny & Warm opens with the single â€œI Wouldnâ€™t Change the Man He Isâ€ (which Williams can be seen performing on Chuck Johnsonâ€™s Soul Time USA), and features a new interpretation of Fontella Bassâ€™ â€œRescue Me,â€ produced by the songâ€™s co-writer, Raynard Miner. Clay McMurray produced the gratified â€œThis Man of Mineâ€ and the questioning â€œIs There a Place,â€ and Ashford and Simpsonâ€™s â€œHow Ya Gonna Keep Itâ€ (backed with a stunning, deep soul cover of Jimmy Webbâ€™s â€œThis Time Last Summerâ€) was slated to be the next single.
And thenâ€¦ nothing. No album, and no explanation. Williams kept plugging away, making a connection with Sammy Davis Jr., and touring with him while continuing to record for Motown. Disc one fleshes out the unreleased album with the singles Motown and Mowest released in 1972-73, live material (including a previously unreleased performance of â€œGod Bless the Childâ€) from the Motortown Revue, and several tracks from anthologies and soundtracks that include a studio take of â€œGod Bless the Childâ€ that was released on 1971â€™s Rock Gospel – The Key To The Kingdom, and a commanding performance of the early bluesÂ â€œTâ€™Ainâ€™t Nobodyâ€™s Bizness If I Doâ€ from Lady Sings the Blues.
By the time that Pittsburgh pianist Johnny Costa met Fred Rogers, he was an accomplished jazz musician whoâ€™d led albums released by Coral, Savoy and Dot, was featured on Manny Albamâ€™s A Gallery of Gershwin (a theme Costa revisited on 1994â€™s A Portrait of George Gershwin) and served as music director for televisionâ€™s Mike Douglas. Costa returned to Pittsburgh in the mid-60s where he met and partnered with Fred Rogers in creating the music for Mister Rogersâ€™ Neighborhood. Costaâ€™s college background in both music and education matched that of Rogers, and his fluid musical style (one that Art Tatum likened to his own) and imaginative arrangements were a perfect match for the emotional insights that Rogers illuminated with his song concepts and lyrics. Costa was a charter resident of the neighborhood, joining in 1968, playing live, adding improvisational continuity, appearing on camera on occasion, and serving as Rogersâ€™ musical director until the pianistâ€™s passing in 1996.
This 1984 release features Costaâ€™s piano in a trio setting with Carl McVicker on bass and Bobby Rawsthorne on drums. As an instrumental jazz outing on the short-lived Mister Rogers Neighborhood label, but not featuring Mister Rogers himself, it likely didnâ€™t sell well to either the television showâ€™s preschool viewership or jazz hounds, and so the original vinyl release has become quite rare. Omnivoreâ€™s reissue includes the albumâ€™s original thirteen tracks, all written by Fred Rogers. Fans of the television show will immediately recognize the warm welcome of the opening â€œWonâ€™t You Be My Neighbor,â€ but as you would expect from a talented jazz musician, Costa uses the theme as a launching point for spirited improvisation. The same is true for the closing â€œTomorrow,â€ which is given a heavier dose of optimistic melancholy than in its television incarnations.
Awe-inspiring anthological history of the Bakersfield scene
Bear Family is well-known to collectors for the imagination and thoroughness of their box sets. Their cataloging of American country music in artist-based collections is unparalleled in its detail. But even against that high bar of quality, this set is something else, as it draws a comprehensive picture of a scene, rather than a more easily defined artist or label catalog. To assemble this set, producer Scott B. Bomar needed to develop a deep understanding of the history, connections and influences that forged the Bakersfield Sound over thirty-five years. They needed to identify artists, producers, engineers, studios, labels, clubs, radio and television stations, and records, and they needed to dig deep beneath the commercial surface, to find the rare materials that spurred and cross-pollinated artistic advances. The results are ten discs, nearly 300 tracks, and 224 pages that demonstrate how the scene developed, how lesser-known players contributed to those who would become stars, and how the stars themselves grew from their roots. Itâ€™s an astounding achievement, even on the Bear Family scale.
Situated at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley, Bakersfield is a commercial hub for both the Central Valleyâ€™s agriculture and the surrounding areaâ€™s petroleum and natural gas production. The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl drove many Texans, Oklahomans, Arkansans and Missourians west, with many migrants resettling into agricultural and oil work. The Owens family moved from Texas to Arizona in the late â€˜30s, and Buck Owens eventually settled in Bakersfield in 1951. The Haggard family moved from Oklahoma to California in the mid-30s, where Merle Haggard was born (in Oildale) in 1937. Bakersfield became both a physical confluence of refugees from the Plains states, and an artistic melting pot of their musical tastes; a place and time in which influences could combine and grow into something new.
As Bomar notes in his liners, Bakersfield was really more of an aesthetic than a singular sound. The range of artists ascribed to Bakersfield (including some who never actually lived or recorded there) are as varied as the influences that shaped the cityâ€™s music. As Joe Maphis chronicled, Bakersfieldâ€™s honky-tonks – including the Blackboard, Trouts, Lucky Spot, Tex’s Barrel House, and the Clover Club – were genuine dens of dim lights, thick smoke and loud, loud music, and as Nashville softened its approach in the 1950s, Bakersfield hardened its own. As Nashville toned down the twang and added strings and backing choruses, Bakersfield plugged in electric guitars to complement the fiddle and steel. As Nashville sweetened the arrangements and slowed the tempos for crooners, Bakersfield picked up the beat and highlighted vocalists singing harder-edged lyrics. Bakersfield wasnâ€™t necessarily reacting to Nashvilleâ€™s changes, but acting outside its commercial forcefield.
Owensâ€™ and Haggardâ€™s legends are rooted in Bakersfieldâ€™s honky-tonks, where they developed and honed their particular brands of music alongside the many foundational acts documented here. Bear Family has cast a wide net to haul in field recordings, radio and television broadcasts, live sessions, vault finds, vanity recordings, alternate takes, demos, rare local singles, B-sides, album tracks, and a selection of hits, to tell the story of Bakersfieldâ€™s development, rather than recite the well-known riches at the end of the creative rainbow. The set begins with early â€˜40s field recordings gathered in the Central Valley migrant work camps that were run by the Farm Security Administration (FSA). The rustic vocal, guitar and banjo music of the campsâ€™ residents was as important a cultural touchstone as were the physical wares theyâ€™d packed into the trucks and beat-up cars that carried them west, and its mix of influences the roots of the Bakersfield music scene.
The set moves to 1944 with a fiddle-heavy cover of Fred Roseâ€™s â€œHome in San Antone,â€ and establishes radioâ€™s role in expanding local musiciansâ€™ regional reach with transcriptions from Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, the Maddox Brothers and Rose, and Elwin Cross & The Arizona Wranglers. The latter group, whose â€œBack in Dear Old Oklahomaâ€ strikes a nostalgic, homesick note, included Bill Woods, who would soon become a pillar of the Bakersfield scene as a bandleader at the Blackboard. From these earliest days of the Bakersfield scene, the upbeat tempos of swing and boogie drove many of the original songs, with twangy steel, guitar and fiddle prominently featured throughout. Billy Mize is heard on 1949â€™s â€œGot a Chance With Youâ€ and Roy Nicholsâ€™ influential guitar playing on 1950â€™s â€œBaby Blues.â€
Capitol Records and producer Ken Nelson – both key elements of Bakersfieldâ€™s commercial success – enter the collection with Ferlin Huskyâ€™s 1951 single â€œI Want You So,â€ recorded under the stage name of Terry Preston. Buck Owens first turns up at Capitol as a studio picker on Tommy Collinsâ€™ â€œYou Better Not Do That,â€ and Capitolâ€™s Hollywood studio was the site of Bakersfieldâ€™s first national hit with Jean Shepard and Ferlin Huskyâ€™s â€œA Dear John Letter.â€ The song had been recorded twice before on local Bakersfield labels Grande and Kord, which along with Mar-Vel and others featured early performances by Bakersfield figures Bill Woods (who was so important to building the Bakersfield scene, that Red Simpson released a tribute to him in 1973), Fuzzy Owen, Lewis Talley, Billy Mize and Bonnie Owens. Many of the records most deeply associated with Bakersfield were actually recorded in Los Angeles, including the Blackboard Club-inspired honky-tonk of Joe Maphis & Rose Leeâ€™s 1953 â€œDim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud, Loud Music).â€
The early songs of home and homesickness quickly gave way to songs of romantic infatuation, love and recrimination, often with a forwardness that was disappearing from Nashvilleâ€™s productions. The Farmer Boysâ€™ â€œIt Pays to Advertiseâ€ is surprisingly direct with the romantic boast, â€œwhen it comes to making love, I donâ€™t leave girl neglected,â€ and Billy Mizeâ€™s â€œWho Will Buy the Wineâ€ is scathing in its appraisal of a wayward spouseâ€™s downfall. By 1956, rock â€˜nâ€™ roll was influencing Bakersfieldâ€™s players as Wanda Jacksonâ€™s â€œI Gotta Knowâ€ features a tug of war between upbeat rockabilly verses and a slow country chorus, Dusty Payne & The Rhythm Rockerâ€™s â€œI Want Youâ€ has a rockabilly backbeat, Sid Silverâ€™s â€œBumble Rumbleâ€ offers up countrified skiffle, the bluesy guitar of Johnny Taylorâ€™s â€œSad Sad Saturday Nightâ€ is backed by Bill Woodsâ€™ piano triplets, and Buck Owensâ€™ jangly guitar adds flair to Bill Woodsâ€™ â€œAsk Me No Questions.â€
Buck Owensâ€™ first session for Capitol as a leader included the bouncy 1957 single â€œCome Back to Me,â€ and his charting single, â€œSecond Fiddle,â€ is also included early in the set. Owens quickly became a monumental presence in the Bakersfield scene as he dominated the country charts throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. Owens had one or more Top 10 singles every year from 1959 until 1974 (including fourteen straight #1s from 1963 to 1967), with 1974 marking the death of Don Rich, and not coincidentally the year that ends this set. Owensâ€™ catalog is detailed elsewhere, including three Bear Family box sets , and so the producer has cherry-picked sides that demonstrate Owensâ€™ evolution as a singer, songwriter, producer and live performer, including the classic Buckaroosâ€™ lineup first session on 1964â€™s â€œClose Up the Honky Tonks.â€ The Buckaroos were such a prolific, powerhouse group that they had a parallel career without Owens out front, represented here by selections fronted by Don Rich and Doyle Holly, the instrumental â€œChicken Pickinâ€™,â€ and sides backing artists who recorded at Buck Owensâ€™ Bakersfield studio. The latter includes a track from Arlo Guthrieâ€™s 1973 album Last Of The Brooklyn Cowboys, and Don Richâ€™s last session, backing Tony Boothâ€™s â€œA Different Kind of Sad.â€
Wynn Stewart also recorded for Capitol, but it was at Challenge and its subsidiary Jackpot that he waxed the singles most associated with the Bakersfield sound. Included here is his superb 1960 take on the Bakersfield club favorite â€œPlayboy,â€ but his hits – 1958â€™s â€œCome On,â€ 1959â€™s â€œWishful Thinkingâ€ and â€œAbove and Beyond (The Call of Love),â€ and 1961â€™s â€œBig Big Loveâ€ – showed off an artistic range emblematic of Bakersfieldâ€™s many influences and musically adventurous spirit. Though not as commercially successful as Owens or Haggard, Stewart was highly influential, and he left behind a rich catalog (documented in full on Bear Familyâ€™s box set Wishful Thinking) thatâ€™s worth its own investment.
Haggard was in and out of juvenile detention and jail as the cityâ€™s music scene developed, but a late-50s stretch in San Quentin renewed his interest in a music career in which heâ€™d previously dabbled, and upon his release in 1960 he began performing and subsequently recording for Tally. Like Owens, Haggard was both an artistic and commercial force. Though born in California, his autobiographical songs were rife with the hardship of Dustbowl refugees, and the struggles of outsiders. He first appears on this set as a songwriter and bassist for Johnny Barnettâ€™s 1963 Tally single â€œSecond Fiddle,â€ and he debuted on Tallyâ€™s next single with â€œSinginâ€™ My Heart Outâ€ and its flip, â€œSkid Row.â€ Haggardâ€™s early Tally releases also included themed song, â€œLife in Prison,â€ as well as his first duet with Bonnie Owens, â€œSlowly But Surely.â€ Haggardâ€™s transition from Tally to Capitol was meant to be heard in two versions of â€œIâ€™m Gonna Break Every Heartâ€ (one recorded for Tally, one recorded for Capitol) but the earlier unreleased Tally version ran into legal issues, and though described in the book, has been elided from the disc. A well-curated selection of his Capitol sides threads through the remainder of the set, and shows off both his commercial and artistic reach.
Owens and Haggard may have garnered the bulk of the sceneâ€™s commercial success, but the sheer volume of Bakersfield-related material thatâ€™s been collected here is astonishing. The Hollywood-based Capitol (and its Tower subsidiary) had the lionâ€™s share of major-label Bakersfield success, but Columbia and RCA made inroads with Billy Mize, Liz Anderson, Tommy Collins, and others. Even more impressive is the wealth of local indie singles that paint a full color picture of Bakersfieldâ€™s deep pool of singers, songwriters and instrumental talent. Bakersfield essentially fielded a country version of the Wrecking Crew with a core group of musicians that formed and reformed in various aggregations to back singers in Bakersfield and Los Angeles. There are too many ace musicians in the crew to name them, but among them, only one regular female presence in Helen â€œPeachesâ€ Price, a much sought-after drummer who played with Wynn Stewart, and backed Merle Haggard on several of his classic albums and singles.
Gary S. Paxton appears as an artist on 1966â€™s â€œGoinâ€™ Through the Motions,â€ but makes his mark as a producer, both in Los Angeles, and for a time in 1967-68, in Bakersfield. His productions include the Gosdin Brothers country hit â€œHanginâ€™ On,â€ and a variety of singles that includes Leon Copelandâ€™s cover of Merle Haggardâ€™s â€œIâ€™m Out of My Mind,â€ the Sandland Brothersâ€™ tight duet â€œVaccination for the Blues,â€ and the sly instrumental â€œBuckshotâ€ by Larry Daniels and the Buckshots. Many of Paxtonâ€™s productions featured the inimitable guitar playing of Clarence White, including Whiteâ€™s unissued-at-the-time cover of â€œBuckaroo.â€ Paxtonâ€™s stay in Bakersfield wasnâ€™t long, but he was productive, and cut records with Suzi Arden, Dean Sanford, Larry Daniels, Stan Farlow and others.
Each of the ten discs reveals surprises, including Barbara Mandrellâ€™s 1966 single â€œQueen for a Day,â€ released three years before she signed with Columbia, the Marksmenâ€™s 1961 guitar instrumental â€œScratch,â€ recorded in Seattle by Gene Moles with the Venturesâ€™ Nokie Edwards on bass, Roy Nicholsâ€™ virtuoso version of â€œSilver Bells,â€ songwriter Fern Foleyâ€™s original version of â€œApartment #9,â€ Harold Cox & The Soonersâ€™ â€œPumpkin Centerâ€ offering some iffy rhymes in celebration of a local weekly dance, Herb Hensonâ€™s Trading Post TV show theme song, â€œYouâ€™al Come,â€ and songwriter Homer Joyâ€™s original recording of â€œStreets of Bakersfield.â€
The setâ€™s final disc include live tracks, songwriter demos and work tapes from many of Bakersfieldâ€™s mainstays. The disc opens with hot live material from Buck Owensâ€™ 1973 Toys for Tots show, featuring Owens, Buddy Alan, Tony Booth, Susan Raye, and the Buckaroos. Thereâ€™s a treasure trove of songwriter demos and alternate takes from Bonnie Owens, Vancie Flowers & Rita Lane, Billy Mize, Red Simpson, Bill Woods, Tommy Collins, and Joe & Rose Lee Maphis, providing a behind-the-scenes look at how the first nine discs came to be. The disc closes with eight tracks drawn from television and radio broadcasts, giving listeners a feel for a world before records came to dominate media, and consultants came to homogenize playlists. Sadly missing from disc ten are five Merle Haggard alternate takes and a live radio broadcast that were last minute, contractual-dispute scratches.