The first disc contains thirty-one tracks, all from the 1940s and early 1950s. The first several tracks are actually field recordings of migrant workers recorded for the Library of Congress in 1940 and 1941. The disc opens with “The Cotton Picker’s Song” by Lloyd Stalcup, delivered a cappella in a recording from August 2, 1940. It’s a delight, and in it he sings of hoping to meet a pretty girl. “But I hope she is a millionaire, ‘cause I ain’t got a dime.” That’s followed by Homer Pierce’s “Darlin’ Baby,” recorded on July 28, 1940. At the beginning, Homer introduces himself and the song. Mary Sullivan sings “Sunny California” a cappella in a recording from August of 1941. Then in “Home In The Government Camp,” Wayne Dinwiddie sings “Home, home in the government camp/So I won’t have to be called a tramp.” Yeah, these songs are about poverty and being a migrant worker, along the lines of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes Of Wrath. The last of these field recordings is a lively tune by The King Family titled “Get Along Down To Town.” This group was actually cast in the film version of The Grapes Of Wrath.
The disc then moves to the more professionally recorded material, beginning with Lloyd Reading’s “Home in San Antone,” a tune from 1944 featuring some wonderful work on fiddle, and some piano that sounds like early honky tonk. That’s followed by a couple of tracks from Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, one of the sound’s most famous groups (and they were famous already at the time of these recordings). Both are tracks recorded at a Bakersfield radio station, and include introductions. “Seven Come Eleven” is a whole lot of fun, an energetic number recorded at the end of 1945. It feels like a celebration, with a certain amount of rowdy joy, the musicians encouraging each other. The introduction to “Get Along Home Cindy” promotes a concert performance by Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys that was happening that very night. What a treat to hear that. And that song is even more fun than “Seven Come Eleven,” with lines like “Cindy went to preaching/She shouted and she squealed/She got so full of glory/She tore her stocking heels.” This is one of my favorites from the first disc.
“Okie Boogie” from The Maddox Brothers And Rose is another fun and rather silly track. Yup, you can learn how to dance like an Okie, and this tune will get you moving. “Well, if you start it, it’s hard to stop/If you don’t watch out, you’re gonna blow your top.” This track was also recorded at a radio station, this one in 1948. This disc features a second track from The Maddox Brothers And Rose, “Water Baby Blues,” which is also great fun. It sounds like one hell of a party. “Have I Got A Chance With You” by Bill Woods & His Orange Blossom Playboys is an important track because it is the first commercially released single by a Bakersfield country group. It came out in 1949, and it’s a totally enjoyable track featuring some great playing. I particularly dig that work on piano, and in the second half there is a surprising lead on trumpet. I am also incredibly fond of “(A Pretty Woman Is A) Deadly Weapon” by Terry Preston. Check out these lines: “And yet a pretty woman is a deadly weapon/Is a deadly weapon like a gun/I know a pretty woman is a deadly weapon/But I don’t have sense enough to run.” Plus, I love that guitar. That’s followed by a second Terry Preston number, “I Want You So,” a sweeter tune with a really nice vocal performance. Terry Preston’s real name was Ferlin Husky, and he recorded under that name as well, and two of those tracks are included on this disc, including “Hank’s Song,” a tune that alludes to several Hank Williams songs.
Another of the first disc’s highlights for me is “Ozark Polka,” a totally delightful instrumental track from Ebb Pilling & His Ozark Squirrel Shooters, recorded in 1952. Apparently it’s the only record ever issued by Ebb Pilling, which is crazy, and only a hundred copies of the original single were pressed. The first disc includes three different versions of “A Dear John Letter,” all presented as duets – by Fuzzy & Bonnie Owens, Bill Woods & Rita Goodwin, and Jean Shepard & Ferlin Husky. That last one is the final track of the first disc.
The second disc contains thirty-two tracks, all from the mid-1950s. It gets off to a great start with Tommy Collins’ “You Better Not Do That,” a recording from 1953 (and released in 1954). This recording is important for the musicians backing Collins include Buck Owens on guitar. It’s a totally enjoyable country number, particularly because of the playfulness of the chorus, which is delivered almost as spoken word. That’s followed by “Ain’t You Had No Bringin’ Up At All,” a song that today makes me think of certain people in the current administration. “Ain’t you had no bringin’ up at all/You’re just a shameful disgrace to us all/Well, I bet you’ve never been to school.” This track features a delightful vocal performance, as well as some nice work on fiddle. Buck Owens also plays guitar on Bud Hobbs’ “Louisiana Swing,” a fun number to get you on the dance floor. I dig Bill Woods’ short lead on piano. That’s followed by “When I Hold You,” performed by Forrest Lee & Clete Stewart, and written by Forrest Lee and Buck Owens. According to the notes in the accompanying book, this track is possibly the earliest recording of a song that Buck Owens wrote.
Then we get the first actual Buck Owens track, “Down On The Corner Of Love,” his first single, released in 1955. Man, this song still works for me every time I hear it. I love the wild way he delivers the lines, “When it’s late in the evening/And I can’t help but feeling/That my heart you’re a-stealing.” This disc also includes a nice guitar instrumental rendition of “When The Saints Go Marching In” by Semie Moseley, who would go on to be known for his guitar manufacturing. Another of the most delightful tracks on this disc is The Farmer Boys’ “It Pays To Advertise,” a song about getting the word out that he’s available to women. “Now some may think I’m a little too bold/But one of these days I might get too old/And I believe it pays to advertise.” I suppose this song won’t hit folks the same way these days, when placing such ads online is common practice. But the song is still completely enjoyable. This disc contains a second Farmer Boys track, “Someone To Love,” written by Buck Owens and Red Simpson.
Another highlight from this disc is Johnny Taylor’s “Sad Sad Saturday Night,” a bluesy gem written by Red Simpson and Bill Woods. This track obviously stands out in this collection for having a different sound, but it is remarkable also for being the first commercially released Red Simpson tune. That’s followed by another highlight, Wanda Jackson’s “I Gotta Know.” Oh man, I am madly in love with her vocals on this track, effortlessly switching from country to an early rock and roll sound. And guess what? Buck Owens plays on this track. Sid Silver’s “Bumble Rumble” is a fun, somewhat goofy track, and is apparently the only record he ever released. It’s certainly not a polished record, but I am glad it is included here. I am also glad “I Need Her Love” is included, for I can’t help but love these troubling lines from this Andy Morris song: “Gonna squeeze you ‘til you turn blue/Why don’t you love me too?”
The second disc includes a previously unreleased demo of “What Time Tomorrow” by Jan Howard, a track from 1957. It’s a beautiful number, yet another highlight. “Fun On The Freeway” begins and ends with car sound effects, but it is a seriously cool and humorous tune, and has particular appeal for those of us residing in Los Angeles. “You men of adventure/That are searching for thrills/Can find them right here/In these Hollywood hills.” I’m also fond of Bill Woods’ “Ask Me No Questions,” a track that features Buck Owens on guitar. Buck Owens also plays guitar on Skeets McDonald’s “Keep Her Off Your Mind.” Yup, there is a whole lot of Buck Owens on this disc. In fact, it concludes with a Buck Owens tune, “Come Back To Me.”
The third disc contains thirty-two tracks from the late 1950s to the very early 1960s. It opens with a couple of songs credited to Coy Baker & His Band, the first being a tune with Reuben Chapman titled “I’m Sorry Too,” an easygoing number from 1957. The second is “Empty Days And Lonely Nights,” with Don Thompson on lead vocals. This is a country blues tune with some delightful touches on piano. That is followed by Phil Brown’s “You’re A Luxury,” totally enjoyable song with some nice work on fiddle as well as some good lyrics about not being able to afford to entertain a woman. Check out these lines: “When we come home on Saturday, I’m down to my last cent/It may be true that I’m not broke, but, babe, I am badly bent.” We then get a demo recording from 1958 by an unknown artist. Perhaps you can solve the mystery of who is performing on this track. There is also a previously unreleased cover of “When” by Billy Mize and Cliff Crofford. That’s followed by a previously unreleased demo of “You Can’t Take Your Love Out Of This Boy,” also by Billy Mize. Interestingly, this demo was recorded in an effort to get Johnny Cash interested in the song. Johnny Cash passed, but it’s a good song.
One of the coolest tracks on this disc is “Crazy Moon” by Henry Sharpe. It is a jazzy, sweet tune with a wonderful vocal performance and some fun work on bass. And of course Buck Owens is represented on this disc. “Second Fiddle” is the first Buck Owens single to reach the charts, and is also the first to feature Ralph Mooney on steel guitar. Jelly Sanders is on fiddle. Also included is his “Tired Of Livin’” which was the flip side to “Under Your Spell Again.” Ralph Mooney is again on steel guitar. “Til These Dreams Come True” was the flip side to “Above And Beyond,” and it features Don Rich on fiddle, as well as Ralph Mooney on steel guitar. This disc also gives us “Loose Talk,” a duet by Buck Owens and Rose Maddox from 1961. “For I know you love me/And happy we could be/If some folks would leave us alone.”
“Living Up To My Name” is a strangely cheerful song recorded by Billy Mize and Cliff Crofford in 1960. This one has more of a folk vibe. That’s followed by another seriously fun track, an instrumental titled “Goose, Pt. 1.” This one is by Don Markham & The Marksmen. Another highlight for me is “Just For The Children’s Sake,” a song by Bonnie Owens about a loveless marriage. “Their daddy doesn’t love me and I guess he never did/He only stays here for the children’s sake/If it was just the two of us, I’d take my pride and go/But what a world of difference kids can make.” What a depressing scenario, but an oddly sweet song. I am also quite fond of “Fiddlin’ Country Style,” a wonderful instrumental track by Jelly Sanders. This disc concludes with “Why Tell Me” by Custer Bottoms & Jack And Jerry, a sad song of misplaced love. “I fell for all of your lies, dear/Then you said that we were through/I know now that you’ll never love me/But my heart tells me I still love you.”
The fourth disc contains thirty-one tracks from 1961 to 1964, and is the first disc in the set to feature material from Merle Haggard. It opens with a Buck Owens tune, “King Of Fools,” a song he wrote with Red Simpson. And for you Buck Owens fans – and I imagine anyone who is interested in this boxed set is a Buck Owens fan – this is a previously unreleased early version of the song. It was recorded in September of 1961, and features Ralph Mooney on steel guitar, Don Rich on fiddle, and George French on piano. It sounds great, and I’m surprised that with all the Buck Owens compilations released in recent years, this track remained unissued. “King Of Fools” is followed by “Scratch,” a cool little instrumental track by The Marksmen. Ralph Mooney and Don Rich play on the Bill Woods track “Truck Drivin’ Man,” a fun and fairly fast-moving song. That one is followed by Billy Bledsoe’s “My Last Night In Town,” one of my favorite tracks from this disc. It’s a beautifully sad country number about loneliness. “I thought that she loved me/But she turned me down/Let the sad music play/It’s my last night in town.” A second Billy Bledsoe track is included on this disc, “Tell Me Why,” and that one is also enjoyable.
This disc includes both sides of the only single that Kenny Hays recorded – “Crossing My Fingers” and “Foolish Notions.” Both tracks were produced by Fuzzy Owen, and both are quite good. “Crossing My Fingers” was written by Red Simpson, and is another song about troubled love and loneliness. “I thought that I’d found love the day we met/But all I found, I know, was just regret/You slept around and broke my heart in two/And all that’s left is loneliness and the memory of you.” “Foolish Notions” is also about being left by a woman and hoping she’d return. There are a few more Buck Owens tracks on this disc. “There’s Gonna Come A Day” was recorded in early 1963 with The Buckaroos, with Don Rich on lead guitar. “If You Ain’t Lovin’ You Ain’t Livin’” is a song written by Tommy Collins and features Bob Morris on bass. It also features a nice lead guitar part by Don Rich. The last Buck Owens track on this disc is a live version of “Act Naturally,” recorded at the Bakersfield Civic Auditorium in 1963.
As I mentioned, this is the first disc of this set to include tracks by Merle Haggard. The first of these is actually a recording by Johnny Barnett of “Second Fiddle,” a song written by Haggard and Jelly Sanders, with Haggard playing bass. Jelly Sanders is on fiddle. Interestingly, this is the only single that Johnny Barnett released. The flip side, “Too Old To Hurt,” is also included here, and it too features Merle Haggard on bass. This song was written by Red Simpson and Fuzzy Owen. That is followed by “Skid Row,” Merle Haggard’s first single, which he also wrote. It’s a wonderful tune, and features a little laugh by Merle at one point. So good! Apparently only two hundred copies of this record were pressed. I wonder how much it would cost to get one of those records now. This disc also features a previously unreleased early version of Merle Haggard’s “Life In Prison,” recorded in January of 1964. Nobody could write prison songs like Merle Haggard. “But I’ve got life in prison for the wrongs I’ve done/And I’ll pray every night for death to come/My grief for her will last a long, long time/I’d rather die than live to lose my mind.” Merle Haggard also plays bass on both sides of a 1964 single by Bobby Durham. The first, “My Past Is My Present,” was written by Merle Haggard and Wynn Stewart, and is another highlight of this disc. The other side of the single is “Queen Of Snob Hill,” a fun song written by Red Simpson, who plays piano on both tracks.
The fifth disc contains thirty-one tracks from 1964 to 1966. It opens with a Buck Owens tune, “Close Up The Honky Tonks,” written by Red Simpson. This song is important in that it is the first song recorded at the first session featuring the classic lineup of The Buckaroos, including Tom Brumley on steel guitar and Don Rich on harmony vocals as well as guitar and fiddle. That’s followed by “Slowly But Surely,” the first duet recorded by Merle Haggard and Bonnie Owens. It’s a delightful love song featuring Bobby Austin on bass and Helen Price on drums. There are several other Merle Haggard tracks on this disc. Unfortunately, two recordings that were previously unreleased and were scheduled to be included had to be removed due to a legal claim. Those two are “If I Had Left It Up To You” and the early version of “I’m Gonna Break Every Heart I Can.” Instead of the songs, each track is just four seconds of silence, which is a shame. These “lost” tracks remain lost to us. A second version of “I’m Gonna Break Every Heart I Can” is included. This is a re-recording of that first version, and is classic Merle. “Well, if I live and I have enough time/I’ll get even with womankind/I’m gonna break every heart I can and every one I find/I’m gonna think up a lot of good lies/I’m gonna laugh when a woman cries.” He even mentions his own name in the lyrics. The third previously unreleased Merle Haggard track is an alternate take of “Swinging Doors.” Bonnie Owens provides harmony vocals on this one. This disc also includes “I’ll Take A Chance,” another wonderful duet with Bonnie Owens, a song written by Buck Owens. This track was released in 1965, the year Bonnie Owens married Merle Haggard. Also included is Bobby Durham’s “Home Is Where I Hang My Head,” on which Merle Haggard plays bass.
There are also a few other Buck Owens tracks, including “Fallin’ For You,” a fun song that he wrote with Bonnie Owens and Don Rich. “I was standing on the corner/When I knew that I was a goner/The first time you came into view.” Yup, that sounds just about right. “There Never Was A Fool” is a song written by Buck Owens and Red Simpson and released in 1965. It features some nice work by Tom Brumley on steel guitar. “House Of Memories” is the first Merle Haggard song that Buck Owens covered, released in 1966. It is one of those gorgeously sad country tunes that are so effective. It is followed by a live recording of “Tiger By The Tail,” also from 1966. The disc also includes a track by Don Rich with The Buckaroos, “I’m Layin’ It On The Line,” which features Buck Owens on guitar. And as Merle did in “I’m Gonna Break Every Heart I Can,” Don mentions his own name in the lyrics to this one (and this was long before the current pop and rap artists took to doing the same thing), singing “You’re as good as gone/Or my name ain’t Don.” There is a bit of a laugh to his delivery of those lines. Also included is a track by Doyle Holly with The Buckaroos, “After You Leave Me,” written by Buck Owens and Bonnie Owens, and featuring Buck Owens on guitar.
Of course, this disc isn’t entirely just Buck and Merle. In fact, one of my favorite tracks on this disc is “I Wish I Hadn’t Called You,” a recording by Tommy Duncan with Larry Thornton. It’s a delicious number, a slow, sad song with some nice work on keys and a wonderful vocal performance. “But I wish I hadn’t called you on the phone last night/Just to tell you that I’m so in love with you.” Another highlight of this disc is Liz Anderson’s “(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers.” I love her sweet, heartfelt vocal delivery, as well as the work on guitar. This disc also includes the wonderfully silly “If You Can’t Bite Don’t Growl” by Tommy Collins.
The sixth disc contains thirty-two tracks from 1966 and 1967. This one does not begin with a Buck Owens song. Instead, it begins with “Apartment #9,” a completely enjoyable song of heartache by Bobby Austin that features Johnny Paycheck on backing vocals. “Loneliness surrounds me/Without your arms around me/And the sun will never shine/In apartment #9.” Then we get a Buck Owens song, “Open Up Your Heart,” which was a #1 hit on the country chart. James Burton plays lead guitar on this track. Interestingly, that is the only Buck Owens tune on this disc, though there a couple of tracks by The Buckaroos. The first of those tracks is “You’ll Never Miss The Water (Till The Well Runs Dry),” written by Don Rich, who shares lead vocal duties with Wayne Wilson. “Chicken Pickin’” is the second of those tracks, a delightful instrumental track written by Don Rich and Buck Owens. There is also a track by Doyle Holly with The Buckaroos, “A Foolish Notion,” featuring Don Rich on fiddle. Also featured on this disc is Wayne Wilson’s “I’d Rather Be Hurt By You,” a track he recorded soon after leaving The Buckaroos.
This disc includes two Red Simpson recordings. The first, “I’m Actin’ Like My Old Self Again,” is a song about emerging from heartache. “But I think my crying’s over/I just cry now and then/And I’m actin’ like my old self again.” The second, “Diesel Smoke, Dangerous Curves,” is a cool song about the road, and is one I’m adding to my road trip play list. This disc also includes “Queen For A Day,” a gorgeous and moving song from Barbara Mandrell. This was her debut single, written by Billy Mize and released in 1966. She was so young, and had such control over her voice. It’s one of my favorite tracks on this disc. I also enjoy the playful duet of “I’m So Mad At Me” by Del and Sue Smart. That song was written by Red Simpson. There is a second Del and Sue Smart track on this disc, “Love That Just Won’t Stop,” a country song with a peppy pop vibe.
There are several Merle Haggard tracks on this disc. The first is “Someone Told My Story,” which was the flip side of Merle’s first #1 hit, “The Fugitive.” It’s an excellent song, and features Glen Campbell on guitar and Bonnie Owens on backing vocals. The next is “Mixed Up Mess Of A Heart,” a fun track that has something of a Buck Owens vibe, particularly in the vocal approach. Glen Campbell plays guitar and sings harmony on this track. “Drink Up And Be Somebody” is another of this disc’s highlights. “I can’t let you know you hurt me/I can’t let you know I cried/I’ve got to make you think I’m happy/Everywhere I go/I’ve got to keep my hurt inside me/I can’t let it show.” Oh yes, alcohol certainly helps. This track features some nice work on guitar. “You Don’t Have Very Far To Go” is a song Merle Haggard wrote with Red Simpson, and one he recorded a few different times. The version included here is his second studio recording of it, and was originally the flip side to “Branded Man.” This one also features some wonderful work on guitar. Merle Haggard certainly could write a good prison song, but he also covered prison songs by other songwriters, as he does here with Tommy Collins’ “I Made The Prison Band.” Glen Campbell plays guitar, and Bonnie Owens delivers some excellent harmony vocals. The final Merle Haggard recording on this disc is actually a Buck Owens song, “Where Does The Good Times Go,” which had been a big hit for Buck Owens. Norm Hamlet is on steel guitar.
The seventh disc contains thirty-three tracks from 1967 to 1969. It opens with Buck Owens’ “The Heartaches Have Just Started,” an excellent song about having survived a relationship and now trying to survive the heartache at its end. Check out these lines: “Up to now you’ve had me hanging/But now you’ve run out of rope/And when you see the back door swinging/You’ll know I’ve run out of hope.” That’s followed by a short but fun instrumental tune, “Fingerlickin’” by Gene Moles. I also really like “Buckshot,” an instrumental track from Larry Daniels And The Buckshots. Buddy Alan joins with Buck Owens for “Let The World Keep On A Turnin’,” a seriously enjoyable song that never fails to make me smile. “Let the world keep on a turnin’/Let the fire keep on a burnin’/Let our love keep on a growin’.”
The eighth disc includes twenty-nine tracks from 1969 to 1972. I learned a lot about music from the Grateful Dead. That band turned me onto several country songs, including Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried,” which they performed in concert fairly often. This disc opens with a cool live recording of Merle Haggard playing that song, a great way of kicking it off. This performance is from October 10, 1969. That’s followed by “Stealin’ Corn,” an instrumental track by The Strangers, Merle Haggard’s band. The track begins with Merle introducing the band members. Buck Owens and Susan Raye’s version of “Cryin’ Time,” is included. They recorded several albums together, and this track from 1970 has a sweet and beautiful quality. That’s followed by another Buck Owens track, “Bring Back My Peace Of Mind,” also from 1970. This one features the addition of Jeff Haskell on Moog synthesizer. We then get a previously unreleased track the The Sanland Brothers, “Cowboy Convention,” which was produced by Buck Owens. It has something of a pop vibe about it. Also produced by Buck Owens is “Guitar Pickin’ Man,” a totally enjoyable track by Don Rich with The Buckaroos. “I do anything that I want to/And I do it every time I can.” This song was chosen at the title track for a 2016 compilation of Don Rich tracks. That’s followed by another Don Rich recording, “Your Heart Turned Left (And I Was On The Right),” which was previously unreleased. It was written by Harlan Howard, and recorded by George Jones. As you might guess from its title, it’s a goofy and delightful tune. Why was it left unreleased until now?
That’s followed by the disc’s first Merle Haggard recording, “Too Many Bridges To Cross Over,” a song written by Dallas Frazier, which opens with this line: “Be close to me, but please don’t ever love me.” Ah yes, a man who can’t love the woman because he loves to wander, to travel. Then we get “Too Young To Grow Old Over You,” a delightful track by Dean Sanford. This is one of my personal favorites of this disc. “I always had a funny story/But you took those away too/But I’m too young, too young, too young to grow old over you.” I love the backing vocalist’s addition of “Yeah.” Another highlight is Bonnie Owens’ version of “Lead Me On,” a song that would later be hit for Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn. I much prefer Bonnie Owens’ version. This is a beautiful, heartbreaking and honest track. “I need love, warm and tender/In a way I’ve never known/If you want me, I’ll go with you/But you’ll have to lead me on.” That song was written by Leon Copeland, and it’s followed by a Merle Haggard song performed by Leon Copeland, “I’m Out Of My Mind” (which I believe Merle recorded as “I’m Looking For My Mind”). “Oh, I lost my mind the day I lost your love/I’m not crazy, but sometimes I wish I was.” Merle Haggard’s moving recording of “California Cotton Fields” is also featured on this disc.
This disc includes Clarence White’s previously unreleased recording of the instrumental track “Buckaroo.” Clarence White, as you likely know, was a member of the Kentucky Colonels and The Byrds. The Byrds would perform this tune in concert (you can hear it on the album Live At The Fillmore – February 1969). This track is certainly another highlight of the disc, a treat. Red Simpson’s studio demo recording of “You Put My World Back Together” is also included. One of the disc’s surprises for me is “Lucy Clowers” by Bob Ross. This is a song I’d never heard before, and I love it. It’s one of those country songs that tell a good tale, creating a vivid character, described with delicious humor. “Make It Rain,” a track by Billy Mize, also has a healthful dose of humor, heard in lines like “Now your wealth don’t make you better, babe/Because I can tread water, babe/As long as you think you can make it rain” and “But it might be fun a while to be your clown/So get your whip and do your thing/And I’ll run around the ring.” This disc concludes with Stan Farlow’s recording of “Devil River,” a song about the dangers of Kern River, and yet another highlight.
And speaking of song titles that I appreciate, Merle Haggard’s “I’m A Good Loser” is included on this disc. I dig this track’s rhythm. This song also contains a reference to Hamlet in the line “This dog ain’t never had his day.” (The line from Hamlet is “The cat will mew and dog will have his day.”) That’s followed by “California On My Mind,” a song written by Merle Haggard, and here performed by Bobby Wayne and The Strangers. Buck Owens’ “Reno Lament” features Jim Shaw on piano and harmonica. I love the moment when the song suddenly slows and we hear that sweet, sad harmonica. That’s what makes this track so special. Well, that and the song’s final line. And actually, another thing that makes it special is that it was previously unreleased. That’s followed by Buck Owens’ “Your Tender Loving Care” as performed by The Hagers, and then Willie Nelson’s “There Is No Easy Way,” as done by Henry Sharpe. The first line is “There is no easy way, but there’s a way,” something it might be good to keep in mind.
Merle Haggard’s “Daddy Frank (The Guitar Man)” features some cool work by Roy Nichols on harmonica. According to the book included in this boxed set, this is the first song that Merle recorded at Buck Owens Studio in Bakersfield. That’s followed by Sharon Haley’s lively rendition of Buck Owens’ “Heartbreak Mountain,” which was also recorded at Buck Owens Studio. We then get a ridiculously enjoyable track, “Never Ending Song Of Love” written by Delaney Bramlett and performed by Mayf Nutter. This too was recorded at Buck Owens Studio. Any song that begins with the spoken line “Hello, I’m a truck” is going to be silly, no question. And so, yes, Red Simpson’s recording of “I’m A Truck” is a completely goofy track, and it is a lot of fun. It is told from the perspective of a truck, clearly, and the truck’s sentience reminds me of a certain short story by Stephen King. This song mentions both Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. There are two more Merle Haggard tracks on this disc, neither of which was written by Merle. The first is a fun cover of Bob Wills’ “Bring It On Down To My House,” in which he calls out each musician by name before a lead part. The second is a recording of David Warner’s “I’m Tired Of Your Understanding Ways,” a track that was previously unreleased.
The ninth disc contains thirty tracks from 1972 to 1974. It opens with Buck Owens’ “Arms Full Of Empty,” the first single in years not credited to Buck Owens and The Buckaroos, but simply to Buck Owens. “Well, I’m so sick and tired of getting up so sick and tired.” It’s followed by a recording by Buck Owens’ sometime vocal partner Susan Raye, “Love Sure Feels Good In My Heart,” a track recorded at Buck Owens Studio with The Buckaroos. Also recorded at Buck Owens Studio is “Streets Of Bakersfield,” a song from Homer Joy, and one that obviously deserves its spot in this boxed set. Then “I Know An Ending When It Comes” is a slow, kind of sweet, kind of pretty number written by Hank Cochran and performed by Merle Haggard. Check out these lines: “How long ago did you start leaving me?/How long have I lived with a memory?” Buck Owens’ recording of “Something’s Wrong” follows, staying with the theme. “Goodbye has crossed my mind/At least a thousand times/For a house is not a home/When something’s wrong.” “Young Widow Brown,” a track from Doyle Singer with The Buckaroos, comes from an Air Force radio broadcast, and includes a bit of banter at the end.
I love Arlo Guthrie, and somehow it had escaped my attention that he had recorded at Buck Owens Studio. The track included here is “This Troubled Mind Of Mine” from his 1973 LP Last Of The Brooklyn Cowboys, and it features The Buckaroos. It certainly has that Bakersfield sound, and is a fun tune. That’s followed by Merle Haggard’s “The Emptiest Arms In The World,” which reached #3 on the country chart. The Buck Owens and Susan Raye duet “Sweethearts In Heaven” is included on this disc. This is a song that Buck Owens recorded early in his career and then revisited with Susan Raye in 1973. This boxed set includes a few tracks from Bill Woods, and this disc includes Red Simpson’s song about him, “Bill Woods From Bakersfield,” which begins with a spoken word introduction. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “He taught me how to play in G/He taught me how to sing in key/Bill Woods from Bakersfield/He’s the Bakersfield guitar man/Bill gave ol’ Buck the first job he ever had/Bill must have been a pretty good teacher/Because ol’ Buck didn’t do too bad.” Yes, an important track for this set. Then Thad Tillotson’s “Good Ole Country Sound” mentions both Buck Owens and Merle Haggard.
Merle Haggard’s “Holding Things Together,” the flip side to his 1974 single “Od Man From The Mountain,” features an excellent vocal performance. That’s followed by “I’m The Bartender’s Best Friend,” from David Frizzell’s final session in Bakersfield. “And it’s good to be needed somewhere/And here I’m the bartender’s best friend.” This disc also includes a previously unreleased Merle Haggard track, “Mirrors Don’t Lie,” from his only California session of 1974. The ninth disc then concludes with Tony Booth’s recording of “A Different Kind Of Sad.” Don Rich plays guitar on this track, and it was his final recording session. He was killed in a motorcycle accident later that night. “Losing you is a different kind of sad.”
The tenth disc is different from the other discs. While the other discs present songs in chronological order, this one features alternate takes, tracks from work tapes, live tracks, and some songs from radio broadcasts, most of which were previously unreleased. This disc opens, as it should, with a Buck Owens track. Here he performs “Y’all Come” immediately followed by “Tall Dark Stranger,” this coming from the ninth annual Toys for Tots holiday concert in 1973. And actually the first five tracks of this disc come from that concert, including Tony Booth performing “Lonesome 7-7203,” Buddy Alan performing “Fishin’ On The Mississippi,” and Susan Raye performing “L.A. International Airport” (an airport I do my best to avoid). The last of those five tracks is the show’s closing number, a rendition of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” performed by the entire ensemble. And, yeah, it rocks. It also includes band introductions and solos. Those first five tracks are followed by an alternate take of Bonnie Owens’ “Number One Heel” from 1964.
There are a couple of tracks from Vancie Flowers & Rita Lane, previously unreleased work tapes of “Strange” and “Tears In My Beer” that are wonderful. These simple recordings have a lot of charm and joy, and are among my favorites of this disc. Those are followed by a couple of previously unreleased work tapes from Billy Mize – “Misery” and “The Name Of The Game Is Heartache.” This version of “Misery” has a haunted vibe, as he sings “I wonder what my Misery will feel like tomorrow/When I put her out of my misery for good.” We then get two previously unissued work tapes from Red Simpson – “I’d Be A Good Time Charlie” and “Fit For A King.” Both are from 1970. “I’d buy all the pretty girls diamonds/I’d buy ‘em all a new mink stole/Yeah, I’d be a good time Charlie/If I just had the dough.” This disc includes several tracks taken from radio broadcasts, including Johnny Barnett performing “Which One Is To Blame,” Junior Stonebarger with Jelly Sanders Band performing “Release Me,” Fuzzy Owen with Bill woods’ Ban performing “My Ears Should Burn (When Fools Are Talked About),” and Bill Woods with Don Rich performing “Truck Drivin’ Man.” The sound quality is not always perfect on these tracks, but they are still worth hearing, of course. There is also a television performance of “Be Serious Ann” by Tommy Collins, this track featuring a bit of banter at the beginning. The final three tracks on this disc are from a 1964 radio broadcast of a fundraiser, and include “Christmas Time’s A Comin’,” “Blue Christmas” and “Lonely Christmas Call.” The holiday will be here before we know it or want it, and here are a few tracks to add to your play list.
Several tracks that were planned for inclusion on this disc, and listed in the accompanying book, were removed due to that legal claim that I mentioned earlier. These are all Merle Haggard tracks, including three takes of “If I Had Left It Up To You,” as well as “I’m Not Looking For An Angel,” “Second Fiddle” and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” That last one was intended to be the closing track of the disc, and is from that 1964 radio broadcast. It’s a shame we aren’t treated to these tracks, but this set includes an incredible amount of excellent material, enough to keep you happy for quite some time.
The Bakersfield Sound: Country Music Capital Of The West 1940 – 1974 was released on October 18, 2019.