Not too long ago, I related a story to you about how, for twelve years, I’ve been looking for a country music compilation record that I heard while living in West Virginia. I could remember a few songs from it, but basically has no idea what it was.
I told the whole story here.
Turns out, the album is called Country Music South and West. It was released in 1977 by New World Records. The New World Records website had a downloadable PDF of the extensive liner notes. But the album was very out of print.
I thought I had found a copy at a local library. But as it turns out, they don’t have vinyl anymore. They also don’t delete the entries for the items they get rid of. What wonderful cataloging, dear librarian!
A few days later, I am searching for it, still turning up nothing. So i decided to browse Gemm.com. After staring way too long at the computer screen, I found it. $6 plus $2.50 shipping and it was mine.
And now… here it is, in my hands!
The record is a bit different than I remember it. It’s a gatefold LP with several pages of liner notes (the same notes as were in the PDF file).
It turns out that this album was put together by music professors and was made possible by some sort of grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. The list of people it took to make this album possible is long and is a testament to how top heavy academia often is.
There are twelve people from New World Records who are listed on the back cover. The “editorial committee,” who I assume picked the songs and arranged them in the very haphazard way they appear on the album consists of fifteen elite members of academia. They hail from such prestigious as Princeton, Rutgers and North Western Universities. And they’ve got several (some as many as five) titles flapping in the wind.
And then there’s the Recorded Anthology of American Music, Inc Board of Trusties. That consists of thirteen people (though some overlap from the academia section).
This means that they somehow needed forty people to make this record. Forty. That’s crazy.
What’s craziest is not how many people it took to make this, it’s that none of them seems to know anything about arranging music for a compilation.
Firstly, they somehow manage to shove over thirty minutes of music on one side of the LP. For good sound quality, there shouldn’t be more than 24 minutes on an LP. Secondly, why two songs from both Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family? That’s just weird. Pick one song from each and then add two more performers!
But something weird happens at the end of the album. The liner notes are extensive, especially for side one. There are lyrics and production notes about who played what. There’s background information on each song and it’s pretty in depth. But in the middle of side two, the descriptions get shorter, the lyrics disappear and generally, it seems like someone got bored with writing all that great info at the start of the album, so just sort of abandoned their post.
There’s a note about the songs which are missing lyrics at the bottom of the page tell you that “The texts for these songs are available from the publisher (see back of album for listing).”
“Texts” are what smart people call lyrics, I guess. Screaming teenage girls write lyrics to songs on their notebooks. Professors write texts from songs on liner notes. And the “publisher” must be the record labels, but who knows.
The songs come from three record labels, namely CBS, RCA and Columbia. There are some unreleased songs on it too.
This collection is a very very weird one. But I love the music on it. No matter how ridiculous the liner notes are, how pretentious the academic editorship comes off and how sloppily the songs were arranged, you just can’t beat the music. It’s wonderful stuff, some of it very unavailable otherwise.
One thing that this compilation seems to be missing is a good sound engineer. It doesn’t seem to have been mastered at all. My copy of the album looks pretty good. There is a small, but audible scratch on side two, but other than that, it’s pretty free of blemishes. So it kind of surprised me that I heard some hiss and pops, clicks, etc.
Well, as it turns out, those pops and clicks, that hiss is native. It has nothing to do with the condition of the vinyl in my hands. It has everything to do with New World Records (all forty people) being too inept to either find good source material (which was definitely available for most of these songs in 1977) or someone to take a bit of that noise and popping out of the songs. That’s right, these songs were recorded from vinyl to vinyl. Interesting.
The back cover lists only a recording engineer and producer. Neither seemed all that interested in making the songs sound better.
So when I ripped this to digital, I spent some time with each song and removed much of the hiss and pops. I couldn’t get all of it without effecting the quality of the music. And sometimes it’s nice to hear a bit of the popping and clicking on old songs.
Well, as you’ll hear, the songs sound pretty good. And, if you’re interested, you can download it.
Here’s the track list:
Total time 30:05
1 GEORGIA WILDCAT BREAKDOWN – Clayton McMichen and His Georgia Wildcats
2 BLUE YODEL NO. 11 – Jimmie Rodgers and Billy Burke
3 SWEET FERN – The Carter Family
4 DREAMING WITH TEARS IN MY EYES – Jimmie Rodgers
5 GOSPEL SHIP – The Carter Family
6 FAIS PAS ÇA [DON’T DO THAT] – The Hackberry Ramblers
7 THE LAST ROUNDUP – Gene Autry, vocal with studio orchestra
8 FORGOTTEN SOLDIER BOY -The Monroe Brothers
9 IDA, SWEET AS APPLE CIDER – Milton Brown and His Brownies
10 THERE’LL COME A TIME – The Blue Sky Boys
Total time 27:05
1 I WANNA BE A COWBOY’S SWEETHEART- Patsy Montana and the Prairie Ramblers
2 THE RESCUE FROM MOOSE RIVER GOLD MINE- Wilf Carter (Montana Slim)
3 RAILROAD BOOMER- Roy Acuff and His Smoky Mountain Boys
4 BORN TO LOSE – Ted Daffan’s Texans
5 IT WON’T BE LONG – Harry Choates
6 CHANT OF THE WANDERER – The Sons of the Pioneers
7 DARK AS A DUNGEON – Merle Travis
8 COTTON EYED JOE – Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys
9 FAT BOY RAG – Johnny Gimble
Let’s listen to a few, shall we?
Here are six songs from the album.
The comp starts with a song that I was unable to find otherwise, “Georgia Wildcat Breakdown” by Clayton McMichen and His Georgia Wildcats.
I’m not exactly sure what a “Sweet Fern” is, but that’s the title and subject of the first Carter Family selection. The liner notes give us no explanation. It seems that the Sweet Fern might actually be a bird. But I’m not totally ruling out marijuana.
Let’s skip ahead to The Blue Sky Boys doing “There’ll Come a Time.” They were still teenagers when they recorded this (18 and 16 years old), but it really doesn’t show at all. The song’s about a father telling his child that the wife/mother took off with another man. Rather racy for 1936, no?
Another song which I just couldn’t find was “Railroad Boomer” by Roy Acuff and His Smoky Mountain Boys. It’s about catching that wandering fever, something I know a bit about.
Probably the most popular song on this comp is “Dark as a Dungeon” by Merle Travis. This has been covered by everyone from Johnny Cash to Wall of Voodoo. This is sadly on the part of the album where guy doing the liner notes said “screw it,” so there’s not much about it. However, this seems to be the original recording.
And one song that I’m pretty sure isn’t available anywhere but here is taken from a jam session by a member of The Texas Playboys (which was fronted by Bob Wills who did “Cotton Eyed Joe” – which is also on this comp). This song is an oddity. I believe it’s the only one in stereo. That’s because it was recorded in 1975. Weird. Just weird. But it’s good. There’s little to no 70′s country influence here. It’s all country swing (like in the 40′s). And it’s good stuff. I’m glad that I found it. Here’s “Fat Boy Rag” by Johnny Gimble and His Jam-Session Band!
Though it has its obvious flaws, the music holds up very well. It’s a weird selection of music and arranged almost chronologically, but not quite. It’s sort of generally chronologicallyish. Like I said, it’s pretty weird.
But most definitely worth checking out if you like old country. And honestly, how can’t you?