Posts Tagged ‘Cover Songs’

Pop-O-Pies: Get Outta My Way

Monday, December 21st, 2020

1982 debut EP of irreverent, pointed and catchy pop-punk

San Francisco’s Pop-O-Pies may have been one of punk rock’s most melodic bands. Punk in attitude more than sound, but punk nonetheless. They alienated and then enthralled early audiences by playing a set that consisted entirely of the Grateful Dead’s “Truckin’,” and wrote original songs that sarcastically appraised Catholics and cast cops as donut eating fascists. A 1983 opening slot for Iggy Pop in Seattle so agitated the crowd that by the time the headliner appeared the mood was incredibly dark; fittingly, Pop’s set ended in 30 minutes after some stage-dancing audience members toppled the speaker stack into the crowd.

The band’s debut, the six-song The White EP, was a college radio staple, with two versions of “Truckin’” (one pop-punk, the other styled like “Rapper’s Delight”), an ode to Timothy Leary (which the LSD guru apparently took to playing at his public appearances), the hard-driving rhythm guitar monotone “Fascists Eat Donuts,” sing-song reggae “The Catholics Are Attacking,” and punk-styled lament “Anna Ripped Me Off.” The Pop-O-Pies simultaneously take the piss out of both their subjects and their listeners with songs that are funny, ironic, serious, irreverent, pointed and catchy, all at the same time.

The 2020 reissue puts the complete debut EP in digital form for the first time, and adds seven bonuses, including the poison apple “I Love New York,” a sardonic, Minutemen-styled “A Political Song” (and its acoustic reprise), the grungy “Slow and Ignorant” and the hallucinogenic collage “Lenny in Wonderland.” The added tracks show off Joe Pop-O-Pie’s range (as did subsequent albums), but having the six songs of the original EP back in print is the real prize here. [©2020 Hyperbolium]

The Pop-O-Pies’ Home Page

Carla Olson: Have Harmony Will Travel 2

Friday, November 13th, 2020

The dream duets of a singer, producer and music fan

The role of vintage Top 40 radio can’t be understated in its influence and impact on the generation of musicians who grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s. In the years before consultants balkanized commercial radio into genre islands, AM radio offered a regionally-influenced mix of pop, rock, folk, country and soul that fueled the taste and imagination of both listeners and artists. Olson grew up in Austin, Texas listening to long-gone (and now surprisingly obscure) KNOW-AM, taking in the wide variety of influences reflected in this eclectic collection of covers. This follow-up to 2013’s Have Harmony Will Travel cherrypicks Olson’s deep musical memories of the Buffalo Springfield, Searchers, Governor Jimmy Davis, David Allan Coe, and adds songs, such as the previously unrecorded “Haunting Me,” that she picked up in her musical travels.

Olson pairs herself with compatriots and idols that include Gene Clark, Percy Sledge, Peter Noone, Terry Reid, Mick Taylor and Mare Winningham. The album opens with the Long Ryders’ Stephen McCarthy joining Olsen for a superb cover of Patty Loveless’ 1989 country hit “Timber, I’m Falling in Love.” Slowed to a deliberate tempo, the duet parlays the original’s ecstatic declaration into a mature, deep-gazing conversation of magnetic mutual attraction. For much of the album, Olson acts more as ringmaster than singing partner, drafting participants (including former Bee Gees’ guitarist Vince Melouney for a gallop through Governor Jimmy Davis’ “Shackles & Chains”), selecting song with the ears and heart of a music fan, singing harmonies and producing tracks.

As a producer, Olson fits the guests with songs, complimenting the pairings with nostalgia-tinged, guitar-based arrangements. Peter Noone rekindles the emotional throb of his early days with a cover of the Searchers’ “Goodbye My Love,” and Olson provokes appealing contrast in pairing the gravel of Terry Reid’s voice with the gentility of “Scarlet Ribbons.” She joins Eagle Timothy B. Schmit and steel player Rusty Young for the Buffalo Springfield B-side  “A Child’s Claim to Fame,” and adds harmony to actress Mare Winningham’s fetching cover of Gene Clark’s “After the Storm.” The latter track, along with Percy Sledge’s “Honest as Daylight,” I See Hawks in L.A.’s “Bossier City,” and Gene Clark’s “Del Gato,” were all previously released, but fit seamlessly among the newly recorded performances.

Olson pulled songwriter Jim Muske into the vocal booth to sing “Haunting Me,” a song he co-wrote with Pat Robinson for Phil Seymour, but left unrecorded with Seymour’s passing in 1993. This collection has been percolating in Olson’s musical soul for years, as she made mental notes of songs and colleagues she’d like to pair. The result is a roadmap of Olson’s journey from listener to diehard fan to working musician, fusing her childhood memories and influences with the professional experience and colleagues she gained over the decades. Her ear for combining songs, singers and arrangements pays remarkable dividends in the joy of these vocal and instrumental blends, and provides a fine complement to the earlier volume. [©2020 Hyperbolium]

Carla Olson’s Home Page

Explorers Club: To Sing and Be Born Again

Monday, November 9th, 2020

Well-crafted mid-60s pop covers

Relocated to Nashville, and with a band of friends and studio musicians behind him, sunshine pop mastermind Jason Brewer has released this album of covers songs in parallel to an eponymous album of original material. The titles are drawn from 1966-1968, and mix well-known hit singles with a few lesser known gems. Among the latter are Danny Hutton’s pre-Three Dog Night “Roses and Rainbows,” the Zombies’ album track “Maybe After He’s Gone,” and Orpheus’ 1968 single “Can’t Find the Time.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, by picking material that’s so firmly in his musical wheelhouse, Brewer has left himself little room to stamp these covers as his own. They’re not carbon copies, and Brewer’s vocals (both lead and backing) provide a fresh alternative to the originals, but these songs are so deeply ingrained in his musical ethos that the covers can’t help but trace the original templates. Brewer’s taste in cover material is superb, and his craftsmanship is exquisite, but as interesting as it is to hear him essay some of his favorites, it doesn’t hold the surprise of hearing his musical sensibility applied to original material. [©2020 Hyperbolium]

The Explorers Club’s Home Page

John Fusco and the X-Road Riders: John the Revelator

Monday, November 2nd, 2020

Screenwriter stretches out with 2-CD set of blues and more

Best known for his screenplays (Crossroads, Young Guns, Hidalgo, The Highwaymen), John Fusco shows again on his second album that he’s no dilettante as a blues vocalist, instrumentalist, songwriter or band leader. Last year’s debut with the X-Road Riders grew out of some jam sessions with Cody Dickinson, and this year’s model doubles down with a 2-CD outing that splits the discs between two bands – one drawn from north of the Mason-Dixon line, and the other from south. Each band offers a number of influences, and across the two discs the set provides a variety of blues, soul, pop, gospel and rock. Fusco provides continuity between the two bands, but also takes the opportunity to launch in different directions with each.

The southern band (or “chapter,” as designated in the liner notes) fires on all cylinders for “Bone Deep,” with Fusco’s raspy vocal underlined by Risse Norman’s soulful singing, alongside harmonica, and guitar, and organ that brings to mind Booker T & The MGs. Sarah Morrow’s trombone adds sly annotations and a solo to the cautionary “It Takes a Man,” and Norman and Fusco’s back-and-forth duet highlights “Don’t Mess Up a Good Thing.” Fusco’s vocals and piano take a turn towards Dr. John for “Ophelia,” and Patrick Moss’s fiddle accompanies lyrics of enduring love on the Chris Staplelton-like “Applejack Brandy.” Disc one closes with a ten-minute workout on “Bad Dog” and the not-at-all-subtle political right hook “Snake Oil Man.”

The northern band opens with the lost faith of “Song for Peter” and its testimony of a longtime street denizen. It’s the sort of story we often hurry past, but Fusco’s soulful vocal and piano, supported by a warm bass line and shot through by electric guitar, get beneath the ragged surface and call for you to listen. The second disc stretches out stylistically, getting funkier and jazzier for “Jacqueline,” mixing in ballads that suggest Leon Russell’s solo work, dramatic rock that would sound at home in a Bob Seger set, and the ‘70s-styled country-pop “Motel Laws of Arizona.” Fusco voice draws together the eclectic stylings into a coherent double album whose variety essays a fertile chapter in a film writer’s not-so-second career as a music maker. [©2020 Hyperbolium]

Rick Shea: Love & Desperation

Monday, November 2nd, 2020

Pandemic Americana

Surprisingly, Rick Shea’s latest album doesn’t sound particularly different from his earlier efforts, even though it was tracked remotely by musicians distributed amongst their own studios. Begun in the Spring of 2019 in Shea’s home studio, by early 2020 the collaboration had spread to multiple studios and was coordinated by e-mail and computer network. Incredibly, the album shows no seams or lack of group ethos, and though Shea tips his hat to the pandemic on a few titles, the songs don’t evidence the Groundhog-like sameness that our collective shelter-in-place has brought to daily life.

The opening cover of Al Ferrier’s rockabilly “Blues Stop Knockin’ at My Door” takes in Lazy Lester‘s harmonica-driven Louisiana stomp, and adds accordion and guitar solos to the yearning, heartsick vocal. Shea’s low, slow “Blues at Midnight” picks up the sorrowful mood as he suffers the late-night misery of being left behind, and “Jaunita (Why Are You So Mean)” imagines the travails of Shea’s in-laws during their dating years. The album’s title track is dramatized from an autobiographical seed, and “Down at the Bar at Gypsy Sally’s” takes a few liberties with the San Bernardino bar scene in which Shea cut his musical teeth.

The world’s current circumstance is essayed in the allegorical “Big Rain is Comin’ Mama,” a surprisingly chipper two-step of accordion and steel with a deadly category five storm on the horizon. In contrast, the dark folk-blues “The World’s Gone Crazy” finds the storm having blown through, leaving behind an apocalyptic aftermath. Luckily, Shea’s world isn’t confined by his physical circumstances, as he still writes imaginative ballads (“A Tenderhearted Love”), ambivalent musings (“Nashville Blues”), and cinematic stories (the closing “Texas Lawyer”) that belie the pandemic-induced isolation in which this music was created. [©2020 Hyperbolium]

Rick Shea’s Home Page

Bobby Hatfield: Stay With Me – The Richard Perry Sessions

Saturday, February 15th, 2020

Previously unreleased solo sessions from 1971

As half (and in several cases, all) of the Righteous Brothers, Bobby Hatfield’s tenor was the emotional high-wire that supercharged the blue-eyed soul hits “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” “Soul Inspiration” and “Unchained Melody.” In 1968 his partner Bill Medley left the act, and by 1971, Hatfield’s pairing with the Knickerbockers’ Jimmy Walker had also broken up. So it was with a solo career on his mind that he engaged with producer Richard Perry, who was hot off successful albums with Barbra Streisand and Nilsson. Initial sessions were held in the legendary Abbey Road studio in December 1971, with musical luminaries Ringo Starr, Klaus Voorman, Al Kooper and Bobby Keys, and produced the single “Oo Wee Baby, I Love You.” Hatfield was loose and ready to create new sounds as Ringo’s drumming drew winningly on the Beatles’ “Get Back,” and a cover of George Harrison’s White Album-era “Sour Milk Sea” found Al Kooper banging away on piano as Hatfield exercised his falsetto.

A second set of sessions convened later in Los Angeles’ legendary Western Studios (home to Phil Spector, the Beach Boys, and others), where a single was cut covering Lorraine Ellison’s “Stay With Me.” Perry built the production with a full orchestra and chorus, and Hatfield lit it up with an impassioned vocal that echoes Ellison’s iconic original. The L.A. sessions also produced covers of Cole Porter’s “In the Still of the Night” (a song written for the 1937 film, Rosalie, and not, alas, the Five Satins’ 1956 doo-wop classic) and Billy Fury’s “Run to My Lovin’ Arms.” The former aligns with the Tin Pan Alley-era material that Hatfield recorded earlier in his career, while the latter overclocks the emotional tenor of the chorus similarly to Jay and the Americans’ original.

Also included here is the B-side to both singles, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Woman” (a blues-rock Hatfield original that sings of life on the road, rather than the Buffalo Springfield’s hit), and covers of Harrison’s “What is Life” and two exploratory approaches to Holland, Dozier & Holland’s “Baby Don’t Do It.” Perry’s growing renowned apparently pulled him away from this project, leaving the two singles as the only commercial output. And though Hatfield recorded Messin’ in Muscle Shoals at the legendary FAME studios, these unfinished sessions demonstrate he had many more ideas than he ever got to release. This is a nice complement to Ace’s Other Brother: Solo Anthology 1965-1970, providing valuable insight into Hatfield’s state at the start of the 1970s, as well as his creative process. A nice get for fans. [©2020 Hyperbolium]

Booker T. & The M.G.’s: The Complete Stax Singles Vol. 1 (1962-1967)

Friday, January 24th, 2020

Killer soul instrumentals from the Stax house band

As the Stax house band, Booker T. & The M.G.’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 group’s first 15 singles, A’s and B’s, to highlight the hits and deep-grooved flips of the band’s first six years. The hits include their chart-topping 1962 debut, “Green Onions,” and a pair of crossover Top 40’s from 1967, “Hip Hug-Her” and a cover of the Rascals’ “Groovin’.” 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 band’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 group’s first B-side, “Behave Yourself” is a dark, late-night blues, but their second single, “Jelly Bread,” turns the tempo up as Jones vamps behind Cropper’s introductory guitar riffs. The rhythm section of Jackson and Steinberg get everyone moving for 1964’s “Can’t Be Still,” and Isaac Hayes reportedly keys the organ on the follow-up “Boot-Leg.” 1966’s “My Sweet Potato” trades organ for piano, as does the country-inflected “Slim Jenkins Place.” The set’s covers include Buster Brown’s “Fannie Mae,” Gershwin’s “Summertime,” a pair of holiday releases, and, under the title “Big Train,” the gospel classic “This Train.”

Real Gone has packed twenty-nine original sides onto a single 74-minute CD, with liner notes and discographical detail by Ed Osborne, and mastering by Dan Hersch. For the vintage minded, they’ve produced a limited-edition 2-LP set on blue vinyl with a gatefold cover. Shorn of album tracks and the temporal condensation of greatest hits albums, this chronological recitation of the group’s mono singles showcases what listeners heard through their radios at the time. Album sales would later become a central focus of both the recording ethos and marketing strategy of music groups, but in the early-to-mid-60s, singles were still the lingua franca of pop music, and Booker T. & The M.G.’s made some great ones! [©2020 Hyperbolium]

Booker T.’s Home Page

Big Star: In Space

Thursday, January 16th, 2020

Expanded edition of reformulated Big Star’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 Star’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 band’s early-70s British pop inspired beginnings. But there are also strong currents of Alex Chilton’s rag-tag solo work, and his propensity to record cover songs. It’s difficult to hear this as continuous with the band’s earlier work, though there are moments; it’s not an erszatz doo wop band touring under someone else’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 group’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 band’s legacy. Jon Auer and Jody Stephens’ co-writes touch most closely on the band’s earlier work, with both “Best Chance” and “February’s Quiet” offering guitar riffs and melodies that fit comfortably with the band’s first two albums. Stephens’ drumming on the former highlights just how fundamental he was to Big Star’s sound, and the closing chord of the latter song will provoke aural deja vu.

Chilton’s funky “Love Revolution” and “Do You Want to Make It” are more in line with his solo career than earlier Big Star, and the Olympics’ “Mine Exclusively” is just the sort of obscure cover that had long since become a Chilton trademark. Chilton’s post-Big Star penchant for spontaneous, raw performances threads through several tracks, including the rock ‘n’ roll rave-up “A Whole New Thing,” a ploddingly-delivered arrangement of Georg Muffat’s baroque “Aria, Largo,” and the cacophonous closer, “Makeover.” There’s craft to be heard, as on Ken Stringfellow’s Beach Boys’ pastiche “Turn My Back on the Sun,” but it’s not the sort of crystalline sounds the original band recorded in the early 1970s.

The original album is expanded on this 2019 reissue with a half-dozen bonus tracks that include songwriter demos, an a cappella take of Auer’s Beach Boys tribute, a rough mix of “Dony,” and “Hot Thing,” a track originally recorded by Big Star for their own tribute album Big Star, Small World. The demos are particularly interesting as working documents that sketch the initial inspiration and evolving views of the singer-songwriters. Liner notes from Auer, Stringfellow, co-producer/engineer Jeff Powell, assistant engineer Adam Hill, and Rkyo Records exec Jeff Rougvie offer first-person memories and warm anecdotes of what turned out to be a one-off studio effort. In retrospect, this is a nice coda to the Big Star legend, if not exactly a straightforward element of the canon. [©2020 Hyperbolium]

Blinky: Heart Full of Soul – The Motown Anthology

Saturday, December 14th, 2019

The most widely heard unsung singer at Motown

Sondra “Blinky” Williams may be simultaneously one of the most obscure soul singers of her era, and one of the most widely heard. “Obscure,” because Motown’s hit-seeking radar somehow missed the brilliance in the dozens of tracks they recorded on Williams and then buried in their vault. “Widely heard,” because Williams was heard by millions of television viewers each week as Jim Gilstrap’s duet partner on the theme song to Good Times. The daughter of a baptist minister, Williams grew up singing, directing and playing piano in church choirs. She performed with Andraé Crouch, Billy Preston and Edna Wright in the Cogic Singers, releasing several records on the Simpson and Exodus labels, but solo contracts pulled the group apart, with Williams recording an album for Atlantic.

Williams had previously crossed into secular music with a 1963 single (and a flip) under the nom de record “Lindy Adams,” and a 1964 single for Vee Jay that backed the spiritual “He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands” with “Heartaches.” She landed at Motown in 1968 under her high school nickname, Blinky, and debuted with the Ashford & Simpson-penned “I Wouldn’t Change the Man He Is.” An album of duets with Edwin Starr followed in 1969, along with three more singles  (one on Motown, and two on the label’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 Williams’ 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 couldn’t (or more likely just didn’t) break, and the fervor of her fans (who mounted a now-successful “Free Blinky from the Vaults” campaign) reflects the riches that she recorded, rather than the limited sides that Motown actually released.

The two-disc set opens with Williams’ 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, Williams’ album was slotted between Diana Ross’ eponymous 1970 solo debut, and the Jackson 5’s Christmas album, so Motown’s promotions staff was certainly busy. If it’s any consolation to Williams, Jimmy and David Ruffin’s I Am My Brother’s Keeper was in the same spot, though released on the subsidiary Soul label. Sunny & Warm opens with the single “I Wouldn’t Change the Man He Is” (which Williams can be seen performing on Chuck Johnson’s Soul Time USA), and features a new interpretation of Fontella Bass’ “Rescue Me,” produced by the song’s co-writer, Raynard Miner. Clay McMurray produced the gratified “This Man of Mine” and the questioning “Is There a Place,” and Ashford and Simpson’s “How Ya Gonna Keep It” (backed with a stunning, deep soul cover of Jimmy Webb’s “This Time Last Summer”) was slated to be the next single.

And then… 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 “God Bless the Child”) from the Motortown Revue, and several tracks from anthologies and soundtracks that include a studio take of “God Bless the Child” that was released on 1971’s Rock Gospel – The Key To The Kingdom, and a commanding performance of the early blues  “T’Ain’t Nobody’s Bizness If I Do” from Lady Sings the Blues.

The set’s second disc includes twenty-two previously unreleased tracks recorded with a variety of Motown producers, including label material and covers. Among the latter is an original soul arrangement of Graham Gouldman’s “Heart Full of Soul,” and a thoughtful, extended cover of the Stylistics “People Make the World Go Round.” A few of the tracks are mastered with control room slates or musician count-ins, giving them the aura of work-in-process, but these are finished pieces that offer performances, arrangements and sound that are all up to Motown’s standards. Why were they left in the vault? Perhaps Williams’ gospel roots were too soulful for the pop-leaning Motown, but more likely she was a victim of the sheer volume of material that the well-oiled Motown machine could produce. Motown’s investment may not have yielded commercial returns, but the artistry of these sides is undeniable, and freed from the vault, they’re finally available for Williams’ longtime devotees to enjoy. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Various Artists: The Bakersfield Sound

Friday, November 15th, 2019

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. It’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 Valley’s agriculture and the surrounding area’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 ‘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 city’s music. As Joe Maphis chronicled, Bakersfield’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 wasn’t necessarily reacting to Nashville’s changes, but acting outside its commercial forcefield.

Owens’ and Haggard’s legends are rooted in Bakersfield’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 Bakersfield’s development, rather than recite the well-known riches at the end of the creative rainbow. The set begins with early ‘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 camps’ residents was as important a cultural touchstone as were the physical wares they’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 Rose’s “Home in San Antone,” and establishes radio’s role in expanding local musicians’ 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 “Back in Dear Old Oklahoma” 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 1949’s “Got a Chance With You” and Roy Nichols’ influential guitar playing on 1950’s “Baby Blues.”

Capitol Records and producer Ken Nelson – both key elements of Bakersfield’s commercial success – enter the collection with Ferlin Husky’s 1951 single “I Want You So,” recorded under the stage name of Terry Preston. Buck Owens first turns up at Capitol as a studio picker on Tommy Collins’ “You Better Not Do That,” and Capitol’s Hollywood studio was the site of Bakersfield’s first national hit with Jean Shepard and Ferlin Husky’s “A Dear John Letter.” 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 Lee’s 1953 “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud, Loud Music).”

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 Nashville’s productions. The Farmer Boys’ “It Pays to Advertise” is surprisingly direct with the romantic boast, “when it comes to making love, I don’t leave girl neglected,” and Billy Mize’s “Who Will Buy the Wine” is scathing in its appraisal of a wayward spouse’s downfall. By 1956, rock ‘n’ roll was influencing Bakersfield’s players as Wanda Jackson’s “I Gotta Know” features a tug of war between upbeat rockabilly verses and a slow country chorus, Dusty Payne & The Rhythm Rocker’s “I Want You” has a rockabilly backbeat, Sid Silver’s “Bumble Rumble” offers up countrified skiffle, the bluesy guitar of Johnny Taylor’s “Sad Sad Saturday Night” is backed by Bill Woods’ piano triplets, and Buck Owens’ jangly guitar adds flair to Bill Woods’ “Ask Me No Questions.”

Buck Owens’ first session for Capitol as a leader included the bouncy 1957 single “Come Back to Me,” and his charting single, “Second Fiddle,” 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. Owens’ catalog is detailed elsewhere, including three Bear Family box sets [1 2 3], and so the producer has cherry-picked sides that demonstrate Owens’ evolution as a singer, songwriter, producer and live performer, including the classic Buckaroos’ lineup first session on 1964’s “Close Up the Honky Tonks.” 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 “Chicken Pickin’,” and sides backing artists who recorded at Buck Owens’ Bakersfield studio. The latter includes a track from Arlo Guthrie’s 1973 album Last Of The Brooklyn Cowboys, and Don Rich’s last session, backing Tony Booth’s “A Different Kind of Sad.”

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 “Playboy,” but his hits – 1958’s “Come On,” 1959’s “Wishful Thinking” and “Above and Beyond (The Call of Love),” and 1961’s “Big Big Love” – showed off an artistic range emblematic of Bakersfield’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 Family’s box set Wishful Thinking) that’s worth its own investment.

Haggard was in and out of juvenile detention and jail as the city’s music scene developed, but a late-50s stretch in San Quentin renewed his interest in a music career in which he’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 Barnett’s 1963 Tally single “Second Fiddle,” and he debuted on Tally’s next single with “Singin’ My Heart Out” and its flip, “Skid Row.” Haggard’s early Tally releases also included themed song, “Life in Prison,” as well as his first duet with Bonnie Owens, “Slowly But Surely.” Haggard’s transition from Tally to Capitol was meant to be heard in two versions of “I’m Gonna Break Every Heart” (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 scene’s commercial success, but the sheer volume of Bakersfield-related material that’s been collected here is astonishing. The Hollywood-based Capitol (and its Tower subsidiary) had the lion’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 Bakersfield’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 “Peaches” 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 1966’s “Goin’ Through the Motions,” 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 “Hangin’ On,” and a variety of singles that includes Leon Copeland’s cover of Merle Haggard’s “I’m Out of My Mind,” the Sandland Brothers’ tight duet “Vaccination for the Blues,” and the sly instrumental “Buckshot” by Larry Daniels and the Buckshots. Many of Paxton’s productions featured the inimitable guitar playing of Clarence White, including White’s unissued-at-the-time cover of “Buckaroo.” Paxton’s stay in Bakersfield wasn’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 Mandrell’s 1966 single “Queen for a Day,” released three years before she signed with Columbia, the Marksmen’s 1961 guitar instrumental “Scratch,” recorded in Seattle by Gene Moles with the Ventures’ Nokie Edwards on bass, Roy Nichols’ virtuoso version of “Silver Bells,” songwriter Fern Foley’s original version of “Apartment #9,” Harold Cox & The Sooners’ “Pumpkin Center” offering some iffy rhymes in celebration of a local weekly dance, Herb Henson’s Trading Post TV show theme song, “You’al Come,” and songwriter Homer Joy’s original recording of “Streets of Bakersfield.”

The set’s final disc include live tracks, songwriter demos and work tapes from many of Bakersfield’s mainstays. The disc opens with hot live material from Buck Owens’ 1973 Toys for Tots show, featuring Owens, Buddy Alan, Tony Booth, Susan Raye, and the Buckaroos. There’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.

As overwhelming as is the typical Bear Family box set, the breadth and depth of this anthology is doubly so. The panoramic view of Bakersfield’s music includes folk, bluegrass, country (and western), boogie, rockabilly, rock ‘n’ roll, swing and more. Each disc provides a terrific program of music, and the arc from disc one to disc ten is both intellectually and emotionally satisfying. The accompanying 224-page hardbound book (weighing in at nearly four pounds) is as detailed as the music program, with historical notes, artist biographies, and song notes, and hundreds of photos and record labels. With 298 songs and a running time of more than twelve hours, this is a set to live with, rather than just listen to, and one you’ll be drawn back to over and over as you gain a feel for thirty-five years of Bakersfield’s musical history. No doubt this will be on many country music fans’ holiday gift lists, and by all rights it should be on Grammy’s list too. [©2019 Hyperbolium]