Shame on Zero to 180 for not celebrating Red Simpson‘s musical legacy as a pioneer of the “Bakersfield Sound” until now – after his spirit has already left this mortal plane.
I’m afraid Simpson’s passing might have gotten overlooked in all the media attention given to the unexpected loss of David Bowie. In a playful nod to both artists, Zero to 180 thought it would be fun to feature Simpson’s last charting hit, “The Flying Saucer Man and the Truck Driver” (#99) from 1979:
“The Flying Saucer Man and the Truck Driver” Red Simpson 1979
“The Flying Saucer Man and the Truck Driver” would first be released in 1976 on Vancouver label, Portland Records, and then again three years later to much greater commercial acclaim on Nashville-based K.E.Y. Records.
1976 release 1979 re-boot
I just saw the trailer for the 2014 documentary, Billy Mize and the Bakersfield Sound, and one key point really hit home: 1960s Nashville-based country was primarily “sit down” music, while the principal aim of the ‘Bakersfield Sound’ was about getting folks to dance. Red Simpson is one of the principal architects of the Bakersfield Sound – although he does not always get proper recognition in this regard.
Worth noting that (1) Red’s professional songwriting career goes back to the Korean War era, and (2) Simpson did not actually write his biggest hit “I’m a Truck” but did, in fact, write tons of even better tunes — see special Red Simpson feature below.
I once played a sweet little instrumental by James Burton and Ralph Mooney on an all-truck-driving radio show, even though it’s not actually a “trucker tune” — and yet nobody called me out on it, because the song – “Corn Pickin‘ – fit like a glove. Later when I “back-announced” the set over the air, I re-named the song “Corn Pickin’ and Rig Ridin'” – to my great relief, the switchboard at WKHS did not light up in anger. This was in 2004.
I happened to be checking the Washington Post website on March 23, 2011 when I was stunned to see Ralph Mooney’s name at the top of the home page — as one of the top “trending” stories! As it turned out, Mooney – one of the “chief architects of the Bakersfield sound” – had left us at the age of 82. The Post’s Melissa Bell was kind enough to add my Ralph Mooney recommendation to her musical tribute, the aforementioned “Corn Pickin'” from Burton and Mooney’s 1968 LP collaboration, Corn Pickin’ and Slick Slidin’. But then that audio clip disappeared from YouTube and never returned. Until a fortnight ago!
“Corn Pickin’ and Slick Slidin'” James Burton & Ralph Mooney 1968
From a “musical acrobatics” standpoint, this is not particularly ‘flash’ guitar work — and yet the relaxed exchange between the two accomplished musicians is supremely satisfying. John Beland of the Flying Burrito Brothers, in his review for Amazon.com (entitled “Ground Zero for the Bakersfield Sound of the 60s”) preaches the gospel:
“This album was my bible for Tele[caster] playing … Recorded at Capitol in the mid-60s, this album, while perhaps sounding corny to some, laid down a true blueprint for west coast country playing.”
My mother-in-law and her husband had a grand old time at John Prine’s concert Saturday night at DC’s stately National Theatre. The next morning we remarked on Prine’s “country outlaw” cred (as evidenced by the turnout of the biker-American community), and I thought to myself, it’s about time I put together a John Prine piece.
As it turns out, John Prine’s first 45 as an Atlantic recording artist would be “Sam Stone,” and what an interesting career move: “Sam Stone” would go on to rank #8 in a Rolling Stone readers poll of “The 10 Saddest Songs of All Time.”
“Sam Stone” John Prine 1971
Some controversy around the “Sam Stone” / “Blue Umbrella” single and whether this non-promo 45 was actually released in July, 1971 — so says this 45Cat contributor:
“While ‘Sam Stone’ was featured on Prines’ 1971 debut album, this promo single isn’t from that album. As Spock would say, ‘logic dictates’ that ‘Sam Stone’ couldn’t have been released with ‘Blue Umbrella’ as the B-side, since it wasn’t released until 1973, on his Sweet Revenge album. That puts its release post-Sweet Revenge, or at the very least just before it came out. While I suppose ‘Blue Umbrella’ could come from 1971 in a demo or other early version, my guess is, not.”
“Last Morning” probably best embodies the back-to-the-land ethos of Roots and Branches (see what I mean?) as The Dillards would imply in not just the album’s title but also cover:
Last Morning – The Dillards
[Pssst: Click on the triangle above to play “Last Morning” by The Dillards.]
How interesting then to discover that the song’s author is Shel Silverstein, a fairly cosmopolitan kind of guy who, nevertheless, was part of the country outlaw scene. Shel would also write “Cover of the Rolling Stone” that same year for Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show (who, when they did appear on the cover in 1973, were rendered in caricature so as not to reward outright that sort of behavior).
1972’s Roots and Branches — The Dillards’ first LP release on Anthem, a United Artists subsidiary, after having recorded five albums prior for Elektra — was recorded at American Recording Studio in Memphis and also Studio City in Los Angeles.
Anthem would release one single from Roots and Branches – “It’s About Time” backed with “One A.M.” I couldn’t help but notice OldOak’s emphatic comment on the 45Cat website related to this single: “The sound that comes out of the speakers from this little 45 is simply not reproducible on LP or CD. The guitars just crack and that piano riff sounds like it’s coming right up out of the floor.”
The Dillards are probably best known as the bluegrass band who (1) electrified their instruments and (2) played the fictional string band, The Darlings, on television’s beloved “The Andy Griffith Show” from 1963-1966. But The Dillards – who are still quite active, thank you very much – would like to point out that they are “much more than just the ‘Darling’ boys, but Rodney, Doug, Dean and Mitch will always be thankful to The Darlings for helping to spread their brand of entertainment to so many generations.”
In July of 1967, one month after the release of Bobbie Gentry’s Ode to Billie Joe album, Johnny Seay went into Columbia’s Nashville recording studio to record one song – a singularly strange, slightly surrealistic Southern gothic tale. Listen for the ghostly train whistle near the end of the first verse, but under no circumstances should you look behind the bedroom door – you’ll be sorry:
“Behind My Baby’s Bedroom Door” Johnny Seay 1967
Curiously, Columbia chose to release “Behind My Baby’s Bedroom Door” as a single, as well as include it in their 1968 sampler LP, Welcome to Columbia Country.
One of the country “outlaws” who doesn’t always get the recognition is Shel Silverstein, who not only wrote Johnny Cash’s iconic “Boy Named Sue” [which spawned at least one parody — Joni Credit‘s “A Girl Named Harry” released August 1969] but also many great songs for his close friend’s RCA releases throughout the 1970s, including this great 45 about going “all in”:
Vegas – Bobby & Jeannie Bare
[Pssst: Click on the triangle above to play “Vegas” by Bobby & Jeannie Bare.]
“Vegas” – recorded in September 1976 at Nashville’s RCA Victor Studio and released as a single – was subsequently played on the January 24, 1977 broadcast of The Ralph Emery Radio Show. Bobby (and Jeannie) Bare recorded “Vegas” toward the end of his long run with RCA (he signed with Columbia in 1978), and this song appears not to have been reissued until 1997’s 20-song The Essential Bobby Bare compilation, where the song serves, fittingly, as the final track.
A couple years back Bobby Bare and his son, Bobby Bare, Jr., curated a tribute album to Silverstein — Twistable, Turnable Man — that features Shel’s songs covered by the likes of My Morning Jacket, Frank Black, Andrew Bird, Todd Snider, Lucinda Williams, John Prine, and The Boxmasters featuring Billy Bob Thornton. Here’s a link to an NPR piece about this special recording project.
People readily associate Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and Red Simpson with the legendary Bakersfield Sound, but not enough people associate the great Wynn Stewart, as well. Wynn’s musical roll call – “You Can’t Wynn Stewart” – playfully uses the names of country music notables (e.g., “She’ll hurt your Pride, Charley … Johnny, she’ll spend all your Cash”) to scare away potential rivals for the affection of his sweetheart.
Someone on YouTube put together a great accompanying video for this song:
That’s the late great Ralph Mooney playing pedal steel on a song that was recorded in 1969 and released on Wynn’s You Don’t Care What Happens to Me LP from 1970 on the Capitol label – home of the Bakersfield Sound. Amazingly, this surefire winner of a song never enjoyed single release, not even as a B-side:
Tommy Collins, Russ Hansen, John Wakely, Bobby George, Dale Noe,
Glenn Keener, Al Bruneau & Clarence White - guitar
Ralph Mooney - steel guitar
Bobby Austin, Red Wooten, Stanley Puls & Chuck Berghofer - bass
Helen Price, Archie Francis & Sam Goldstein - drums
Larry Muhoberac & Bob Pierce - piano
Earl Ball - piano/percussion
1968 & 1969 - Capitol Recording Studio - Hollywood