Tag Archives: Bakersfield

Various Artists: Country & Western Hit Parade 1966

Various_CountryAndWesternHitParade1966The 1966 country jukebox of your dreams

The passing of decades often elides the full range of music that spun on jukeboxes and the radio. The commercial necessities of CD (and now MP3) reissue and oldies broadcasting further reinforce this narrow view with hit anthologies and playlists stocked primarily with superstars. What quickly recedes from earshot are the lesser hits and journeyman artists that made up the full context of the times. Faintly remembered are artists like Nat Stuckey, who regularly visited the Top 40 for more than a decade, but only cracked the top-ten a few times, and indelible acts like The Browns are usually recognized for their sole chart-topper, “The Three Bells,” rather than their other half-dozen Top 10s. Even country music’s superstars, such as Faron Young, Eddy Arnold and Ray Price, had so many hits that the bulk of their work is overshadowed by a few well-anthologized icons.

But the true soundtrack of a year’s music is a mix of hits, album tracks, superstars, journeymen, one-hit wonders, chart-toppers, regional breakouts and singles that barely grazed the Top 40. It’s this tapestry that gives a year, an era or a genre its full flavor. Bear Family’s twenty-six volume series Country & Western Hit Parade covers the years 1945 through 1970, one year per disc, interweaving chart classics with a wealth of lesser-anthologized, but equally influential releases. Each disc recreates the sound of its year by placing oft-repeated hits in the company of their lesser-known chartmates, providing context to the former and returning status to the latter.

The mid-60s were a transitional time for country music, with the Los Angeles-based Country & WesternMusicAcademy (later rebranded the ACM) exerting a West Coast pull with the introduction of their all-country awards show. In addition to Nashville’s cross-over pop, torch ballads, 4/4 Ray Price beats and a sprinkle of throwback honky-tonk, 1966 found Bakersfield in full flight, with Buck Owens in the middle of releasing fourteen-straight chart toppers and Merle Haggard starting a series of sixty-one Top 10s, including his first #1, “The Fugitive.” Billboard’s expanded country chart and a refined method of measuring radio play led to faster chart turnover, an increased number of charting titles, and greater opportunity for new acts to break through. Jeannie Seely had her first (and biggest) hit with “Don’t Touch Me,” Mel Tillis broke through with “Stateside,” and Tammy Wynette scored with her first single, “Apartment #9.”

At the same time, veteran acts were winding down or changing direction. The Browns’ “I’d Just Be Fool Enough” was their next-to-last Top 20, and Eddy Arnold fully committed himself to middle-of-the-road pop with “I Want to Go With You.” The latter, though written by Hank Cochran, has a chorus and strings that overwhelm the hint of country in Floyd Cramer’s slip-note piano. Waylon Jennings’ “Anita You’re Dreaming” still bore Chet Atkins’ countrypolitan touches (including a marimba played by Ray Stevens), and though it would be another half-decade until he fully broke free of Nashville’s control, the seeds were being planted. Loretta Lynn found her feisty, personal songwriting voice  with “You Ain’t Woman Enough” and her first chart topper, “Don’t Come Home A Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind).”

In addition to charting entries, this volume includes Johnny Paycheck’s outré album track “(Pardon Me) I’ve Got Someone to Kill,” Dallas Frazier’s original non-charting single of “Elvira,” and the original demo of “Distant Drums” that (with the appropriate Nashville dubbing) became a posthumous chart topper for Jim Reeves. The list of artists is complemented by a who’s who Nashville and West Coast A-list session players and country songwriters that include Cindy Walker, Tompall Glaser, Harlan Howard, Hank Cochran, Bill Anderson, Loretta Lynn, Roger Miller, Merle Haggard, Mickey Newbury, Dallas Frazer, Mel Tillis, Jack Clement, Johnny Paycheck, Liz Anderson and Waylon Jennings. Bear Family’s exquisitely selected 31-tracks (clocking in at 83 minutes) are amplified by the label’s attention to detail in sound (original stereo except for 9, 12, 17, 22, 28 and 32), documentation and packaging. Each disc is housed in a hardbound book with 71 pages of liners, color photos and song notes. The set’s only disappointment is the unnecessarily difficult cardboard sleeve in which the disc is housed; deal with it once and keep the disc in a separate case. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Vince Gill & Paul Franklin: Bakersfield

VinceGill_BakersfieldSterling tribute to Buck Owens and Merle Haggard

Tribute albums are a tricky proposition. Play it too close and you add nothing of your own; take too many liberties and you lose touch with the object of your affection. Finding a middle ground that honors the original performances, adds something new and echoes both the celebrated and celebrant is one of the most delicate balancing acts in music. To best accomplish this, you need to have absorbed an artist’s music into your roots, so that your own path of discovery carries the DNA of these influences even as you develop your unique variations. Recorded country music has a long history of meaningful tips of a ten gallon hat, and such is the case for this heartfelt tribute to Buck Owens and Merle Haggard from singer-guitarist Vince Gill and steel guitarist Paul Franklin.

Both Gill and Franklin took to the Bakersfield sound and the songs of Owens and Haggard at very young ages, spurred to dig deeper into music by the revolutionary sounds coming out of Bakersfield in the 1960s. Between Gill and Franklin, they’re able to cover three of the key elements of Owens’ and Haggard’s records: vocals, guitar and steel. Gill’s always had one of the sweetest voices in contemporary country music, but it’s still surprising how easily and equally it lends itself to both singers’ music. He sings his own harmony on the Owens’ tunes, just as Owens had done on his own studio recordings, and adds telecaster sting, including the chicken pickin’ and stuttering leads that bring to mind James Burton and Roy Nichols.

Franklin’s steel provides Gill the perfect partner, adding the twangy instrumental voice that gave Owens’ and Haggard’s music its unapologetic country sound. He pays tribute to Tom Brumley and Ralph Mooney, as does pretty much every player who touches a steel guitar, but with his own twists to signature solos such as Brumley’s masterpiece on “Together Again.” The song list combines several of Owens’ and Haggard’s most familiar hits – “Foolin’ ‘Round,” “Branded Man,” “Together Again,” “The Bottle Let Me Down” and “The Fightin’ Side of Me” – with well selected catalog gems. The latter are highlighted by Owens’ 1966 two-stepping album side “He Don’t Deserve You Anymore” and Haggard’s pained 1974 “Holding Things Together.”

Gill has recorded many great records, both as a chart-topping hit maker in the ’90s and as an album auteur in the last decade. Franklin’s been one of Nashville’s most prolific session players, spreading his commercial and artistic successes across hundreds of records. But playing the material that fueled their imaginations as youngsters clearly lights a spark in each of them. Their balance between fidelity and liberty is just right, with the heart of each song filigreed with changes that are often small, but meaningful. Gill and Franklin each bring their own style to the record, but they are styles which grew partly in Bakersfield soil. The album’s only disappointment is the short ten track song list; a number that’s particularly small when drawing from the lengthy catalogs of two country music giants. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Vince Gill’s Home Page
Paul Franklin’s Home Page

Don Rich: That Fiddlin’ Man

DonRich_ThatFiddlinManThe Buckaroos’ main man steps to the front with his fiddle

Though it was Buck Owens’ name that appeared on the marquee, he’d have been the first to say that the marquees would have been a lot smaller without his right-hand man Don Rich leading the Buckaroos. Rich was an ace guitarist, harmony singer, songwriter and fiddler, and just as responsible for creating the Bakersfield Sound as Owens, Haggard or Wynn Stewart. Though he’s best known for his stinging Telecaster, he joined Buck Owens as a fiddler, and can be heard threading his strings around Owens’ vocals as early as 1961’s “Excuse Me (I Think I’ve Got a Heartache).” He’d pick up the lion’s share of the Buckaroos’ guitar work a couple of years later, but he never gave up the fiddle.

Rich cut albums backing Owens, with the Buckaroos and as a soloist, but this 1971 title is the only one to be released under his own name during his lifetime (a second album was posthumously released earlier this year as Don Rich Sings George Jones). The ten tracks were culled from previously released Owens and Buckaroos albums ranging from 1963’s On the Bandstand to 1970’s Boot Hill. The picks were surprisingly old-fashioned, with little of the kick that the Buckaroos brought to country music. Omnivore’s first-ever CD reissue adds ten more tracks drawn from similiar sources, but the selections highlight more of the Buckaroos’ instrumental sting. Rich’s fiddle is featured on each track, and his melodic lines are often drawn upon by the steel, dobro and guitar for their own spotlights.

Rich shows his fiddling prowess across a wide range of material and settings, with an especially evocative lead on the ballad “Faded Love” and a mid-tempo take on “Greensleeves” that may be the only version that invites you to two-step. Of the album’s original ten titles, Rich is especially fetching on the Louisiana-rooted numbers “Louisiana Waltz,” “Down on the Bayou” and “Cajun Fiddle.” Drawn from the Buckaroos’ most fertile period, these tracks find Rich backed by lineups that include Tom Brumley, Doyle Holly, Willie Cantu, Earle Poole Ball, Buddy Emmons, Doyle Curtsinger and Jerry Wiggins. Rich may be best remembered for his guitar and voice, but his fiddle was an important part of the Buckaroos’ sound, and here it’s given its just due. [©2013 Hyperbolium]  

The Buckaroos: Play Buck & Merle

Buckaroos_PlayBuckAndMerleInstrumental versions of Buck Owens’ and Merle Haggard’s hits

Ominvore’s two-fer combines two instrumental albums that bookmarked the Buckaroos’ solo recording career. The Buck Owens Songbook was originally issued in 1965, and features a dozen twangy Bakersfield-sound instrumental covers of songs written by (or in the case of “Act Naturally,” closely associated with) Buck Owens. This classic lineup of the Buckaroos included Don Rich, Tom Brumley, Willie Cantu, Doyle Holly (playing guitar instead of bass) and Bob Morris (playing bass), and their guitar-led arrangements are tight and clean. But without Owens out front pulling them along, the playing remains a bit sedate, perhaps – as the original liner notes and included lyrics sheet suggest – for singing along. It’s a nice curio, but no substitute for either the original hits or some of the Buckaroos more adventurous instrumentals.

The Songs of Merle Haggard is a different beast altogether. Originally released in 1971, only Don Rich remained from the previous Buckaroos lineup, joined by Jim Shaw, Doyle Curtsinger, Ronnie Jackson and Jerry Wiggins. By this point, both Owens and his band had expanded their sound beyond the original Bakersfield sting, and while the underpinnings retain some of the shuffle and twang, they’re fleshed out with organ and breathy male chorus vocals. It’s as if someone decided to do a soft-country knockoff of the Bakersfield sound, but it works surprisingly well, particularly if you’re partial to the sunshine production sounds of the early ’70s. It’s a step removed from the Buckaroos primary invention, but it’s a still a hoot and a half. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Buck Owens: Honky Tonk Man – Buck Sings Country Classics

BuckOwens_HonkyTonkManPreviously unreleased cache of cover songs

After dozens of original album reissues, an omnibus box set series [1 2 3], pre-Bakersfield and post-Capitol material, tributes [1 2 3], and a two collections of duets with Susan Raye, one might wonder what was left in the vault. Omnivore answers that question this month with two new releases, including a previously unreleased album by Owens’ right-hand man, Don Rich, and this volume of cover songs originally recorded for the syndicated run of television’s Hee Haw. Those who enjoyed Owens’ weekly performances at his Bakersfield club might remember how enthusiastically he played requests for country classics, and how easily they mixed with his original hits. The same was true for his television performances, where the covers gave older audiences a comforting connection to country music’s past.

The eighteen tracks collected here were originally produced by Owens between 1972 and 1975 in his Bakersfield studio for exclusive use on the television show. In the recording studio, Owens would lay down a guide vocal that was dropped for the television soundtrack; Owens sang live on the Hee Haw set as the band mimed the backing track. But ever the perfectionist, Owens invested in the guide vocals, giving performances that demonstrate his deep affection for these songs. The Buckaroos, led by Don Rich on all but one recording from 1975, were as sharp as ever, and though the backing tracks were reduced to mono for Hee Haw, this CD is mixed in full-fidelity stereo from the original multi-track studio masters.

The songs reach back as early as 1928 for Jimmie Rodgers “In the Jailhouse Now,” but focus heavily on the 40s, 50s and 60s. A pair from the mid-40s include Bob Wills’ “Stay a Little Longer” and Jack Guthrie’s “Oklahoma Hills,” and Johnny Horton’s mid-50s hit “Honky Tonk Man” would become a hit for Owens’ protégé, Dwight Yoakam, in the mid-80s. Owens gives a nod to fellow Bakersfield resident Merle Haggard with “Swinging Doors” and fellow country music iconoclast Waylon Jennings with “Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line.” There are three songs from Hank Williams’ catalog, a superbly forlorn take of Ray Price’s “My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You” and tunes written or made famous by Hank Snow, Faron Young and Webb Pierce.

Owens, together with then-recently added Buckaroo Jim Shaw, picked these titles from the catalogs of artists who’d been early Owens influences as well as his contemporaries. The album closes with a cover of Johnny Russell’s “Rednecks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer,” connecting back to Owens’ first chart-topper, the Russell-written “Act Naturally.” These covers don’t sport the genre-busting invention Owens had pioneered in the 1960s, but neither are they mere recitations – Owens was too devoted an artist to merely fill space, even on a scratch track he never expected the public to hear. If you love Buck Owens and classic country songs, this unexpected and rare treat is for you. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Buck Owens’ Home Page

Don Rich: Sings George Jones

DonRich_SingsGeorgeJonesPreviously unreleased solo album from Buck Owens’ right-hand man

Though Don Rich achieved greatness as Buck Owens’ band leader, guitarist, fiddler, harmony vocalist and musical foil, his solo stardom stayed on the backburner. An anthology of his instrumental and vocal turns with the Buckaroos was issued in 2000, but his only true solo album was shelved after its recording in 1970. As with the anthology, this first-ever release of Rich’s turn in the spotlight shows him to be a warm vocalist, perhaps not quite as polished a lead or as star-ready as Owens, but distinct, compelling and certainly worthy of some early ‘70s chart action. Produced by Owens in his Bakersfield studio, and backed by the 1970 edition of the Buckaroos (including Rich, Buddy Alan Owens, Jim Shaw, Doyle Curtsinger and Jerry Wiggins), the sound is much the same as Owens’ own recordings of the era.

The song list sticks mostly to Jones’ familiar hits of the early-to-mid-1960s, though it reaches back to 1957 for “Too Much Water.” Rich sings his own harmonies, but the doubled vocals sound remarkably like the Owens-Rich (or Owens-Owens) combination heard on the Buckaroos recordings. Supplementing the album’s original ten tracks are four more Jones covers originally recorded for Hee Haw and featuring Buck Owens singing lead. Neither Rich nor Owens sing anything like Jones, nor do the Buckaroos sound like a Nashville band, all of which help liberate these songs from Jones’ long artistic shadow. As with Omnivore’s companion volume of Buck Owens’ recordings for Hee Haw, this vault find is a welcome discovery and a real treat for fans of Don Rich, Buck Owens and the Buckaroos. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Buck Owens: Bound for Bakersfield

Buck Owens’ pre-Capitol sounds

Before signing with Capitol Records and pioneering new sounds in country music, Buck Owens recorded in the 1950s for Pep, and waxed a number of original demos. His earliest sides showed little of the invention and none of the electric sting he’d develop in his Bakersfield days; instead, the pedal steel, fiddle and piano are pushed to the fore, and Owens’ voice, though easily recognized, is drawn more directly from the lachrymose honky-tonk tradition than the unique, upbeat style he’d develop in the ‘60s. The lack of drums and harmony vocal also distinguish these sides from those he’s lay down with Don Rich and the Buckaroos a few years later.

From the start, Owens’ guitar playing and songwriting caught on; he developed a relationship with Capitol for session work, and his Pep rendition of “Down on the Corner of Love” was covered by Red Sovine and Bobby Bare. By the mid-50s his session work and his live dates at Bakersfield’s Blackboard club were expanding his musical vistas to contemporary pop, rock and R&B. In Elvis’ breakthrough year of 1956, Owens recorded the original rockabilly tune “Hot Dog,” but using the name Corky Jones to avoid offending the country faithful. Future Merle Haggard guitarist Roy Nichols added the twang, and the B-side, “Rhythm and Booze” sounds as if it were written for the Cramps to cover. Owens’ last single for Pep (“There Goes My Love”) continued his failure in the market, but its B-side, “Sweethearts in Heaven” was picked up by fellow Bakersfield resident Wynn Stewart.

Dropped from his label, Owens recorded a number of demos that were issued on the La Brea label in the wake of his later fame. You can still hear an old-timey honky-tonk sound in the piano, but the drums are starting to pick up steam, the bass is more full-bodied and the guitars borrow notes from the contemporary pop to which Owens had been exposed. Comparing the 1956 waxing of “You’re for Me” (originally titled “You’re fer Me”) with the 1962 Capitol hit single, you can still hear the song’s honky-tonk roots, but Owens’ vocal is more confident and the balance of piano, steel and guitars has a great deal more finesse on the remake. Some of these changes are no doubt due to Capitol’s studio and Ken Nelson’s deft hand as producer, but there was an overall shift in style that was all Owens.

Many of these tracks have been released before, including Audium’s nearly complete Young Buck: The Complete Pre-Capitol Recordings, and as part of Bear Family’s box set Act Naturally: The Buck Owens Recordings 1953-1964. But Rockbeat’s done a great job of consolidating the known pre-Capitol recordings, including alternate takes and demos, onto one affordable disc. This isn’t the place to start your Buck Owens collection (Rhino’s 21 #1 Hits: The Ultimate Collection or Time-Life’s All-Time Greatest Hits are good entry points, as well as reissues of classic albums such as Together Again & My Heart Skips a Beat, I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail and Carnegie Hall Concert), but once you’ve become a fan, this is a fine place to hear the firmament from which his Bakersfield invention sprang. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Rockbeat Records’ Home Page

Marty Stuart: Ghost Train- The Studio B Sessions

Stuart amazes with the honesty and heart of his country music

Like ex-presidents who turn the mantle of their former office into opportunities to improve the world, talented musicians can turn the freedom of their post-hit years into explorations of that which really moves them. And such is Marty Stuart, whose baptism in bluegrass led to a run on Nashville in the mid-80s and, more successfully, in the early 90s with a four year chart run that included Hillbilly Rock, Tempted and This One’s Gonna Hurt You. His subsequent releases kept his core fans, but provided only middling commercial returns. But as his chart success waned, his artistic vision expanded. 1999’s song cycle The Pilgrim was his most powerful and coherent album to that date, showing off both his musical range and his ability to write songs that are literary, but still communicate on an emotional level.

Throughout the current decade he’s explored gospel (Souls’ Chapel), Native American struggles (Badlands: Ballads of the Lakota), and country and folk standards (Cool Country Favorites). And this time out, Stuart salutes the classic country of his youth, but other than a couple of well selected covers, he uses all new originals to conjure the sounds that inspired him in the first place. What will really ring in listeners’ ears is how natural and heartfelt this is. Like a dancer floating through his steps, Stuart plays songs as an extension of his soul, rather than as a performance of words and music. Recording in the legendary RCA Studio B, Stuart amplifies the echoes of performances past, much as John Mellencamp has on his recent No Better Than This.

Stuart is a country classicist, and his new songs resound with the spirits of Waylon, Merle, Buck and Johnny. The instrumental “Hummingbyrd” recounts the playfulness of “Buckaroo” and the Johnny Cash co-write “The Hangman” retains the Man in Black’s gravitas and frankness. The opening “Branded” splits the difference between Haggard’s “Branded Man” and Owens’ “Streets of Bakersfield,” tipping a musical hat to the piercing guitar of Roy Nichols. Don Reno’s “Country Boy Rock & Roll” gives Stuart a chance to roll out his rockabilly roots, and show off the glory of his band, the Fabulous Superlatives. Stuart and guitarist Kenny Vaughan sing a duet and duel on their electric guitars as drummer Harry Stinson and bassist Paul Martin push them with a hot train rhythm – this one’s sure to leave jaws hanging slack when played live.

The album’s ballads are just as good, not least of which for the emotional steel playing of Ralph Mooney (whose own “Crazy Arms” is covered here as an instrumental). Co-writing with his wife, singer Connie Smith, Stuart sings tales of romantic dissolution and regret. Smith joins Stuart for the exceptional duet “I Run to You,” drawing together threads of Gram and Emmylou, the Everly Brothers and classic Nashville pairings of the ‘60s and ‘70s. The album’s saddest song, however, is “Hard Working Man,” which questions the soul of a nation whose work ethic is undermined by globalization. There’s personal salvation in “Porter Wagoner’s Grave,” but the questions raised in “Hard Working Man” is what will really haunt you.

The album ends with “Little Heartbreaker,” the best Dwight Yoakam song that Yoakam didn’t actually write lately, followed by a short mandolin solo that brings things back to Stuart’s bluegrass roots. The sounds of Stuart’s influences are immediate throughout, but as someone obsessed with country music from his teens, and a protégé of both Lester Flatt and Johnny Cash, this is less a nostalgic interlude than a heeding of his mother’s words: “When you find yourself, if in the middle of nowhere, go back to Jerusalem and stand. Wait on divine guidance. It’s the only guidance worth having.” The recent neo-redneck movement may position themselves as modern-day hellraisers, but this rockabilly, Bakersfield twang and heartbroken balladry are the true sounds of rebellion, or as Stuart describes them, “sounds from the promised land.” [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Branded
Marty Stuart’s Home Page
Marty Stuart’s MySpace Page