Hope all is well. You asked me about Haggard, so I'm gonna tell
ya about me and Haggard.
Some time ago, me and a couple of my buddies
went to one of those Allentown 45 and 78 only shows, held during
the first Saturday in March. That's right. Dealers weren't (and
still aren't) allowed to sell anything but 45s and 78. Sounds
kooky, but it's always a great show. Anyway, we got to this particular
show fairly late. As soon as we walked in the door, they went
their way, and I went mine. Most of the better 45s were gone,
so I concentrated on 78s. Because I was a nut for black quartet
gospel, the field was still pretty open. As far as I knew the
only people who were actively looking for that stuff were John
Tefteller from Oregon, Charlie Horner (I think he might be a Philly
guy), and a chunk of the 78 Quarterly dudes. None of them were
there, and because of that, I managed to find a ton of Peacock
and Specialty stuff that I was pretty desperate to hear.
Right before we left, I spotted a dealer with
a box that was marked 'white gospel 78s'(take it from me -nobody
wants white gospel). I figured it couldn't hurt to take a look.
Everybody makes mistakes, putting things in boxes that didn't
belong there (I once found a $500 soul record in a country box).
Lo and behold, this dealer had placed 10 mistakes in the box,
12 mint discs (5 copies of one title and 5 of another) by the
Sunspot Quartet on the Sunspot label, co-owned by Sam Phillips
and his brother Judd. The label was more or less an adjunct of
Sun, during Sun's early days when Sam Phillips was cutting anything
to find out what would keep him afloat (a lot of that talk about
Sam Phillips and his vision is a lot of poppycock. If the 1952
Buddy Cunningham- Perry Como like outing had sold, he would have
pulled the plug on the blues, rockabilly, and country all together).
I asked the dealer what he wanted for the lot. 10 bucks. No problem.
I stuck 'em under my arm and headed by the door, but was stopped
by one of the bigger players at the show, Jay Monore, world famous
for his Sun collection. He pointed at my booty and said, "You
selling those things?" I replied that I'd be more than willing
to trade for something. To make a long story short, he gave me
35 bucks, a copy of "Let's Go Out to the Programs, No. 2"
by the Dixie Hummingbirds (great, great record -the Birds imitating
their favorite female quartets), and a Barbara Pittman record
that was pretty bad. I knew I was getting screwed in some way
or another, but Monore said he was writing a Sun book. Whatever.
It was a done deal. I headed out the door with my buddies and
compared notes during the car ride home.
A week later, I decided to call Tefteller. He appeared to be
a decent human being, a rarity amongst record collectors (a truly
hopeless crew of losers, myself included). I told him I had "these
Sunspots and. . ." He interrupted me right away and said,
"Yeah, I know exactly what they are. Tell ya what. I'm going
to be on a record buying trip on the east coast during the third
week of June. Would it be okay if I stopped by to take a look
at them?" Sure, why not?
He dropped by during that third week of June
and looked at two titles, all that I was willing to give up. "How
about a trade?" No. "How much?" Back then, I would
have been happy with 100 for the pair, but I figured I might as
well press my luck. My ball and chain was planning to visit her
sister in Portland, Oregon. A little extra money would be nice.
"Well, I've never really seen any Sunspots up for auction
before. How 'bout $1,500 for the pair?" Out came the checkbook,
I was $1,500 richer, he told me to call him immediately if I had
anymore great finds, and promptly headed for Chicago.
So this Sunspot thing was good, despite the fact that the music
in the grooves was pretty bad. My wheels kept turning.
A week or so later, I got in touch with Richard
Weize, another decent human being, owner of Bear Family records,
and told him I had "these Sunspot records". Talk about
timing! It just so happened he was currently putting together
a compilation of Sun Gospel recordings. Would I be interested
in sending the discs to a German recording studio for digital
transfer? No. Too chancy shipping 78s, especially overseas. Would
I be interested in driving to Hoboken where a friend of his would
make the transfer in his home studio? No problem, but how about
some money and credits on the CD when it's finally released? The
money's not gonna happen, but how about the credits and some free
Bear Family product, CDs, boxed sets? You like Merle Haggard?
Now there was a guy I needed to check out. Really, the only thing
I knew about Merle Haggard was that he was a pretty popular country
guy and that Gram Parsons thought he was God incarnate.
Hey, money's not everything! Especially when someone's offering
to give me a lot of neat stuff, CD credits, and a Merle Haggard
Months later, a rather large shipment arrived at my door, including
the Sun Gospel CD. A picture of one of the Sunspot 78s was in
the accompanying book, along with a photo credit next to Colin
Escott. Call me a simpleton, but I was tickled to death. Colin
Escott, yet another guy I really admired, right up there with
Peter Guralnick. Two guys that took one of the all time worst
fields of writing (along with science fiction), the rock biography,
and turned it into life changing art. Life was good!
And it got even better while I digested the 5
disc Merle Haggard "Untamed Hawk" collection. I kicked
back, read the accompanying book (if you want class, nobody does
it better than Bear Family, even if you disagree that Ray Price
really doesn't really warrant a 15 CD retrospective), and let
Merle sing his stories about prison, booze, family, and getting
screwed over time and time again by someone he was absolutely
gun-ho about. Let me tell you something. Hands down nobody sings
stories about prison, booze, the importance of family, and getting
screwed over time and time again by someone you're absolutely
gun ho about better than Merle Haggard.
Kev, I don't know what Haggard CDs to tell you to buy 'cause
all I have is this boxed set. All I can do is give you the following
list of faves, songs that prove that there might indeed be some
kind of God somewhere:1- Loneliness is Eating Me Alive -currently
one of my top ten favorites of all time, 2-I Threw Away the Rose,
3-I'm a Lonesome Fugitive, 3-Somebody Else You've Known, 4-Gone
Crazy, 5-Some of Us Never Learn, 6-Piedras Negras, 7-You Don't
Have Very Far to Go, 8-Wine Take Me Away, 9-Don't Get Married
(I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about how great this one
is), and 10-Sing Me Back Home. Yeah, there's a whole lot more,
but they're the ones that put a lump in my throat every time I
hear 'em. If Haggard had recorded nothing but "Loneliness
is Eating Me Alive", he'd still be a genius.
The boxed set ends at his last session on December 8, 1968. And
what I know about Haggard ends there. Truth be told, I'm not the
man to ask when it comes to what Haggard sides to listen to. What
I *can* tell you is that it's been ages since I've really listened
to anything without analyzing the absolute beejayzus out of it.
Was the song well crafted? Were the instruments recorded well?
Did the players have decent chops? After playing in bands and
writing songs, you can't help but do that. You lose the ability
to allow the music to just flood your senses. That sounds REAL
dumb, but it's true. Listening to Haggard was the first time in
years that I didn't bother with the analysis. Those unbelievably
sincere song stories just walloped me, and I just lost myself
in all that booze, misery, and heartache. God almighty, you even
feel bombed without even taking a sip of liquor as soon as the
man opens his mouth.
And you know what I just realized? The guys and gals that really
have IT, have that *something* that has very little to do with
the music itself. They've had lives that compel them to tell their
stories. And because their most creative avenue isn't always words,
their voices and instruments allow them to tell their tales in
ways that make their stories and observations more interesting
than those of poets and novelists.
Again, sorry that I couldn't be of much help as a tour guide.
It was just real nice to sit here and tap away, writing about
someone I just think the world of.
Talk to ya soon, Kev!