As half (and in several cases, all) of the Righteous Brothers, Bobby Hatfieldâ€™s tenor was the emotional high-wire that supercharged the blue-eyed soul hits â€œYouâ€™ve Lost That Lovinâ€™ Feeling,â€ â€œSoul Inspirationâ€ and â€œUnchained Melody.â€ In 1968 his partner Bill Medley left the act, and by 1971, Hatfieldâ€™s pairing with the Knickerbockersâ€™ 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 â€œOo Wee Baby, I Love You.â€ Hatfield was loose and ready to create new sounds as Ringoâ€™s drumming drew winningly on the Beatlesâ€™ â€œGet Back,â€ and a cover of George Harrisonâ€™s White Album-era â€œSour Milk Seaâ€ found Al Kooper banging away on piano as Hatfield exercised his falsetto.
A second set of sessions convened later in Los Angelesâ€™ legendary Western Studios (home to Phil Spector, the Beach Boys, and others), where a single was cut covering Lorraine Ellisonâ€™s â€œStay With Me.â€ Perry built the production with a full orchestra and chorus, and Hatfield lit it up with an impassioned vocal that echoes Ellisonâ€™s iconic original. The L.A. sessions also produced covers of Cole Porterâ€™s â€œIn the Still of the Nightâ€ (a song written for the 1937 film, Rosalie, and not, alas, the Five Satinsâ€™ 1956 doo-wop classic) and Billy Furyâ€™s â€œRun to My Lovinâ€™ Arms.â€ 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 Americansâ€™ original.
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 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.
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.
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.
Limited edition 50th anniversary 3-LP colored vinyl reissue of Jefferson Airplaneâ€™s complete Woodstock performance
Although the Jefferson Airplane was one of the most famous groups in the world in 1969, their presence at Woodstock has long been rendered something of a festival and career footnote. The problem wasnâ€™t with their performance, but the short-shrift they gave themselves in the film (in which they didnâ€™t appear) and soundtrack albums (on which they appeared for only one track on the initial triple-LP, and two tracks on the follow-up Woodstock II). Originally scheduled to headline the festivalâ€™s Saturday night lineup, weather and logistics pushed the performance to early Sunday morning, by which point the band and the crowd should by all rights have been totally exhausted. But the Airplane took off to provide a long, powerful set of what Grace Slick called â€œmorning maniac music,â€ and in retrospect (that is, once the acid wore off) it was a much stronger performance than they imagined theyâ€™d given.
The latest NRBQ lineup tears it up live in the studio
More than fifty years from its founding, NRBQ is as much an ethos as it is a band. Rebuilt by founding member Terry Adams after a seven-year hiatus, the current lineup carries on the earlier groupâ€™s unique blend of rock, pop, rockabilly, boogie-woogie, jazz, blues and other American music forms, both in the studio and, as was the original bandâ€™s hallmark, on stage. Performing for SiriusXM in 2015 and New Jerseyâ€™s WFMU in 2017, the bandâ€™s latest lineup (which added drummer John Perrin in 2015) works through a typically diverse and impromptu set that leans heavily on material penned by Adams. The set list sidesteps classic â€˜Q material written by former bassist Joey Spampinato and guitarist Al Anderson, but does reach back to the groupâ€™s early days, and stretches out with the sort of brilliantly selected covers the band is known for.
Making up the setlist in the moment has long been Adamsâ€™ job, and the nightly change in the bandâ€™s live performances has kept NRBQ from devolving into a nostalgic set of charts. The opening cover of Goffin & Kingâ€™s â€œDonâ€™t Ever Changeâ€ is emblematic of NRBQâ€™s quirky reach, as they tackle (apparently for the first time in this very performance) an obscure UK hit for the post-Buddy Holly Crickets. Perhaps they keyed off of the Beatles 1963 cover or Brinsley Schwarzâ€™s version a decade later, but its lead harmony and polite drum rolls remain as charming today as they were in 1962. The setâ€™s other covers arenâ€™t as obscure, though theyâ€™re just as interesting. The Beach Boysâ€™ â€œDonâ€™t Worry Babyâ€ features bassist Casey McDonough reprising the falsetto vocal he sang on Brian Wilsonâ€™s fiftieth anniversary tour of Pet Sounds, Johnny & The Hurricanesâ€™ 1959 instrumental hit â€œRed River Rockâ€ features drummer John Perrin on lead organ, and Jimmie Driftwoodâ€™s â€œThe Wilderness Roadâ€ includes a harmonica solo thatâ€™s as high and lonesome as the songâ€™s lyrics.
Closer to home, the band resurrects favorites and obscurities from friends, family and former members. Guitarist Scott Ligonâ€™s first recorded his older brother Chrisâ€™ twee â€œFloridaâ€ in 2005, and Chris recorded the song again in 2011 with his group the Flat Five. The harmony lead vocal is filled with yearning for Americaâ€™s vacation land and a wordless hook of vocal jazz syllables. Terry Adamsâ€™ brother Donn is represented by the bombastic, incredibly rare Dickensâ€™ B-side â€œDonâ€™t Talk About My Music,â€ a song whose NRBQ story has to be read to be believed. Reaching back to the bandâ€™s early days, Steve Fergusonâ€™s â€œStep Asideâ€ recalls the groupâ€™s 1970 outing with rockabilly legend Carl Perkins, Terry Adamsâ€™ â€œDr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howardâ€ provides a prog-rock tribute to the Three Stooges, a trio of tunes from 1977â€™s All Hopped Up includes the sweet â€œIt Feels Good,â€ and the WFMU show closes with Adamsâ€™ ode to Southern comfort food, â€œRC Cola and a Moon Pie.â€
For a star of Hank Williamsâ€™ magnitude, itâ€™s surprising that these October 1949 radio transcriptions have had a life as rough as his own. First released by MGM in the early â€˜60s in bits and pieces, the transcriptions were subjected to overdubbed applause intended to turn the studio recordings into live sets. Polygram’s 1993 reissue, Health & Happiness Shows,Â stripped away the manipulations, but evidenced physical problems with the transcriptions, and Time-Lifeâ€™s 2011 reissue, The Legend Begins, repaired many of the transcription issues, while offering a remastering that some listeners found too heavy on the high end. This latest version features new transcriptions and remastering by Michael Graves, alongside liner notes by Colin Escott.
As with the two previous releases, this set includes the eight shows that Williams recorded on two successive Sundayâ€™s at WSM-AMâ€™s Nashville studio. Each show stretched to fifteen minutes when augmented by ad copy read by a local announcer, and here they clock in a few minutes shorter. Williams opens each show with the Sons of the Pioneers’ â€œHappy Rovin’ Cowboyâ€ and fiddler Jerry Rivers closes each episode with the instrumental â€œSally Goodin.â€ In between Williams sings some of his best-loved early hits, original songs and gospel numbers, and much like the later performances gathered on The Complete Mothers’ Best Recordings… Plus! (or its musical-excerpt version, The Unreleased Recordings), the spontaneity and freshness of the live takes often outshine the better-known studio versions.
Williams had a few hits in 1947 and 1948, but 1949 was the year his career really took off. Moving from Shreveportâ€™s Louisiana Hayride to Nashvilleâ€™s Grand Olâ€™ Opry, Williamsâ€™ catalog evolved from Februaryâ€™s chart-topping cover of the 1920â€™s show tune â€œLove Sick Blues,â€ to Novemberâ€™s iconic original â€œIâ€™m So Lonesome I Could Cry.â€ The latterâ€™s release, as a B-side to â€œMy Bucketâ€™s Got a Hole In It,â€ was still a month away when performed on this show, but as Williams explains to his radio audience, itâ€™s performance on stage was already generating requests. Itâ€™s taken here a hair slower than on the single, and with the singleâ€™s fiddle solo omitted thereâ€™s more room for Williams and Don Helmsâ€™ pedal steel to draw out the songâ€™s anguish.
As noted, each of the eight shows opens with Williams singing the Sons of the Pioneersâ€™ â€œHappy Rovinâ€™ Cowboy,â€ followed by WSM announcer Grant Turner introducing Williams to sing one of his original songs. A commercial break, unfortunately not included here, led into a second Williams song, a second commercial break, a tune by fiddler Jerry Rivers, a sacred song, and the fiddle song â€œSally Goodinâ€™â€ to close things out. The repetition gets a bit tiresome by the eighth go-round, but the shows are broken into discrete tracks that allow you to choose whether to listen to the continuity of a program, or navigate past the intros and outros to pick out your favorite tracks.
Williams was in fine voice for both days of recording, and the live-in-the-studio setting brought out vital performances from this initial Nashville lineup of the Drifting Cowboys. Williams omits his earliest hits (â€œMove It On Overâ€ and â€œHonky Tonkinâ€™â€) and the then-yet-to-be-released novelty â€œMy Bucketâ€™s Got a Hole In It,â€ but features the rest of his hits to date, including 1948â€™s â€œIâ€™m a Long Gone Daddyâ€ and â€œA Mansion on the Hill,â€ and 1949â€™s â€œLovesick Bluesâ€ and â€œWedding Bells,â€ twice each, â€œMind Your Own Business,â€ â€œYou’re Gonna Change (Or I’m Gonna Leave),â€ â€œLost Highwayâ€ and the upcoming â€œI’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.â€ These are terrific renderings – in both performance and sound quality – that easily sit side-by-side with the better known singles. Williamsâ€™ performance catalog at this point also included the non-charting 1947 single â€œPan Americanâ€ and the non-charting B-sides â€œI Canâ€™t Get You Off My Mindâ€ and â€œThereâ€™ll Be No Teardrops Tonight.â€
The sacred songs include the only known recording of Hazel and Grady Coleâ€™s â€œThe Tramp on the Street,â€ Pee Wee Kingâ€™s â€œThy Burdens Are Greater Than Mine,â€ and the originals â€œWhen God Comes and Gathers His Jewelsâ€ and â€œI Saw the Light.â€ On the latter, steel guitarist Don Helms and bassist Hillous Butram step up to the microphone to provide backing vocals. Williamsâ€™ wife Audrey sings a number on each of the first four programs, and while her solo slots – â€œIâ€™m Telling Youâ€ and a cover of Doris Dayâ€™s then-current â€œ(Thereâ€™s a Bluebird) On Your Windowsillâ€ – donâ€™t evidence much talent, the duets â€œWhere the Soul of Man Never Diesâ€ and â€œI Want to Live and Loveâ€ show off the chemistry she shared with her husband and her resolve to be heard.