Gary Burton’s Tennessee Firebird

Jimmy Colvard was a teen in 1963 when he played those distinctive snapping and popping guitar sounds that helped make “Six Days on the Road” a runaway hit for Dave Dudley.  I have since learned that Colvard played guitar on a number of albums in the 1960s and 70s by such artists as Wynn Stewart, Waylon JenningsJohn Hartford, Ferlin Husky, Vassar Clements, Doug Kershaw, Kris Kristofferson, Ivory Joe Hunter, Dick Feller, Doc & Merle Watson, Guy Clark, Dolly Parton and French rocker, Eddy Mitchell.  Colvard was also part of the later lineup of Barefoot Jerry. (1975’s You Can’t Get Off With Your Shoes On).

One of Colvard’s more interesting associations was the 1966 country jazz experiment, Tennessee Firebird, by Gary Burton & Friends (near and far) on RCA.

Check out the musicians who played on this session:

Banjo:  Sonny Osborne
Bass:  Henry Strzelecki & Steve Swallow
Drums:  Kenneth Buttrey & Roy Haynes
Fiddle:  Buddy Spicher
Guitar:  Chet Atkins, Jimmy Colvard & Ray Edenton
Harmonica:  Charlie McCoy
Mandolin:  Bobby Osborne
Organ:  Gary Burton
Piano:  Gary Burton
Saxophone:  Steve Marcus
Steel Guitar:  Buddy Emmons
Vibraphone:  Gary Burton 
Producer:  Brad McCuen & Chet Atkins

This heavyweight assemblage of talent recorded a country jazz take on Bob Wills standard “Faded Love” that, of course, included some space for the vibraphone:

“Faded Love”      Gary Burton & Friends     1966

“Jazz encounters the world of Country Music. An exciting Jazz Quartet together with great Country instrumentalists” — LP cover.

Recorded September 19-21, 1966 in RCA Victor´s “Nashville Sound” Studio.  RCA issued a DJ promo 45 of the title track in 1967 to get the word out (would be curious to know of any recordings by earlier artists that also feature the unlikely pairing of banjo and vibraphone).

Billboard selected Tennessee Firebird as a “Jazz Spotlight” in the album reviews for their March 18, 1967 edition:

An interesting, enjoyable experiment — country music artists supporting an accomplished jazz musician — and it works.  The effect is countrified, but solid jazz.  Tunes country fans would recognize include “Born to Lose,” “I Can’t Help It,” and “Gone.”  This album will sell well in the jazz field and many country music fans will purchase it, too.”

Cash Box‘s review from their April 8, 1967 edition:

An interesting and effective blend of jazz and country sounds, this striking album by Gary Burton and Friends could win the approval of an extremely diverse audience.  Alternately playing vibes, piano, and organ, Burton leads his group through twelve rousing instrumentals including “Gone,” “Just Like a Woman,” “I Can’t Help It,” and “Alone and Forsaken.”  Deserves close attention.

Interesting to note that a few months later, Burton “was beating out melodies from his RCA Victor Tennessee Firebird LP with [Larry] Coryell’s searing guitar driving each phrase home” at the 1967 Newport Jazz Festival, as reported in the July 15, 1967 issue of Cash Box.

Looking back at Nashville’s history as a world-class recording center for a diverse range of musical sounds and styles — not just “folk” and country — Billboard‘s Nashville Bureau Chief, Gerry Wood, would write about jazz’s under-acknowledged contribution in the April 26, 1980 edition for a feature piece entitled “Music City No Limits – A Billboard Spotlight” (p. 41):

Nashville’s radio clout with two 50,000-watters has had an immense effect on the music industry.  Thousands of present day music business performers and executives cut their teeth on the late night offerings of WLAC or its down-the-dial counterpart, WSM, home of the “Grand Old Opry.”  WSM can be heard in all 48 continental states — as a mail-in contest proved a few years ago.

And then, along came jazz.

In the late ’50s, the music scene drew a very young Gary Burton to Nashville from Indiana, and he impressed no less an expert than Chet Atkins, who won the Playboy Jazz Poll guitarist award for nearly a decade.

Monday night jam sessions were held for years in Printer’s Alley at the Carousel Club — an off night when the country musicians would sit in and play jazz.  The leading picker was always Hank Garland, but the rest of the jazz lovers were on hand — and they included Gary Burton.

The first jazz LP to be cut in modern Nashville probably was the Tennessee Firebird album that Brad McCuen produced with Burton for RCA.  “We used Burton’s quartet and a large number of local pickers,” recalls McCuen.  “The men had a good time and this experience led to the formation of the band Area Code 615 which cut several commercially successful albums in the late ’60s and early ’70s.”

Nashville is the home of of the statewide Tennessee Jazz and Blues Society, an organizations that for the past seven years has held a Jazz Festival that has brought Nashville such attractions as Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton, Dizzy Gillespie, Thad Jones, Mel Lewis, Stan Getz and their groups.

McCuen and Bruce Davidson have a National Public Radio network show on jazz that originates from the studios of WPLN-FM, Nashville, and is syndicated.

Burton and Garland had already worked together in the studio six years earlier on Garland’s second solo album, Jazz Winds From a New Direction, recorded August 23, 1960.  Rich Kienzle explains how the musicians initially connected in his first-rate liner notes for Sundazed’s 2001 CD reissue:

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“[Hank’s first] album appeared in January, 1960 on Columbia’s Harmony budget label, not a first-priority release but one that got his foot in the door.  As the Carousel jams continued [i.e., after-hours improvisations with fellow Nashville A-teamers at Jimmy Hyde’s Carousel Club in Printer’s Alley], the club became a magnet for every jazzman passing through town.  One night, Dave Brubeck showed up.  Another night, members of Stan Kenton’s Orchestra stood awestruck as Hank tore through “Back Home in Indiana.”  RCA executive Steve Sholes, Chet Atkins’s boss and close friend, brought Newport Jazz Festival producer George Wein to the Carousel.  Wein booked the group, Hank, Atkins, [Floyd] Cramer, Boots [Randolph], [Bob] Moore, [Buddy] Harman and a few others for Newport in July.  RCA would record the live performance [1961’s After the Riot at Newport LP].

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Billboard’s Oct. 31, 1960 review: “The country acts acquit themselves with distinction on seven tracks, with honors going to vibest Gary Burton, guitarist Hank Garland and pianist Floyd Cramer.”  

“Hank needed a vibes player for his band that summer.  Boots brought him talented 17-year-old Princeton, Indiana native Gary Burton.  Preparing to begin classes that fall at the famed Berklee College of Music (where in 2001 he serves as Executive Vice-President).  Burton played locally with Hank and became a Carousel regular who accompanied the group to Newport.  After rioting ended the festival prematurely, they recorded an impromptu session at the rented mansion they stayed at.  Two songs, “Relaxin'” and “Riot-Chous,” an extemporized bop piece that Boots and Hank created, figured prominently in Hank’s next Columbia session, scheduled for August 24.

[Incident at Newport — Billboard’s “Nashville” beat  (7-11-60)

Newport Jazz Festival was musically successful but hectic for local musicians who had little to do with which way they were going when they met a milling mob of thousands head-on.  Group, including Floyd Cramer, Brenton Banks, Buddy Harman, Bob Moore, Boots Randolph, Gary Burton and Hank Garland, was going one way when they met the mobbing crowd going the other.  The Nashvillians joined the crowd and helplessly went along with them.  They finally managed to identify themselves, however, and recorded with RCA Victor’s Chet Atlkins before leaving for home.]

“That day, Hank Garland realized his dream when he recorded the album that became Jazz Winds From a New Direction.  Burton was along for the auspicious occasion.  So were two established New York jazzmen:  bassist Joe Benjamin and Hank’s old [Paul Howard & His Arkansas] Cotton Pickers buddy Joe Morello, now well-known as drummer with the Dave Brubeck Quartet.  Though listed as producer, Don Law held the title in name only.  Grady Martin, Hank’s friend and friend session partner, actually ran things in the studio.”

Bear Family’s 1989 CD reissue, by the way, includes “Panhandle Rag” as a bonus track.  More recently, Tennessee Firebird was issued in 2014 on CD in Japan.

Five Years Ago:  Gary Burton & Hank Garland featured prominently in Zero to 180’s piece from March 2016, “Lost Album of ’60

History Bonus!

Presenting Gary Burton” by Ted Williams — Record World — Apr. 24, 1965

Hank Garland: Lost Album of ’60

Fascinating that a musician of the caliber of Hank Garland (who was signed to Columbia, for cryin’ out loud) would release a companion album of sorts – Subtle Swing – to the groundbreaking (and previously discussed) Jazz Winds from a New Direction, and yet so little information to confirm its existence, aside from Sundazed’s 2004 vinyl reissue.

Poke around online and you will discover that Subtle Swing was tacked onto 2013’s CD reissue of Who Is Gary Burton? as an inducement for fans of the noted jazz vibraphonist — but at the expense of Hank Garland!

Gary Burton LPDig deeper still, and you will correctly deduce that Sony, in partnership with Sundazed, incorporated Hank’s entire Columbia output [1959’s Velvet Guitar + 1960’s Subtle Swing + 1961’s Jazz Winds + 1962’s Unforgettable Guitar] into a double compact disc, albeit in jumbled order, when issued in 2001.

Jazz Wax notes that the recording session for Subtle Swing took place six days after the Jazz Winds in a New Direction album had wrapped on August 24, 1960 (here we go again, an entire album recorded in a single day) although, it’s not quite true that the “same group” of musicians played on this follow-up album — only Garland and Burton remained from Jazz Winds.

Check out the stereo drums that kick off album closer, “Call D. Law” – a clever bit of wordplay that also pays tribute to Columbia boss and benefactor, Don Law:

“Call D. Law”     Hank Garland     1960

Hank Garland:  Guitar
Gary Burton:  Vibraphone
Bob Moore:  Bass
Doug Kirkham & MurreyBuddyHarman:  Drums
Bill Pursell:  Piano
Don Law:  Producer

The CD liner notes by the indispensible Rich Kienzle sheds light on the special reasons underlying Subtle Swing‘s obscurity.

“Six days later, Hank returned to the studio for two days to produce a jazzy album for the song licensing firm SESAC, who produced country and gospel recordings for the radio stations that took licenses with the company.  This session was geared as much to the radio market as it was to the jazz audience.  The band, however, was strictly Nashville, including Burton, Bob Moore, pianist Bill Pursell, and drummer Doug Kirkham, who’d worked with Hank in Billy Burke’s combo.

If Jazz Winds emphasized Hank in a [Tal] Farlowesque context, the ten-song SESAC effort, released to clients under the title Subtle Swing, reflected the influence of pianist George Shearing’s Quintet.  Programming requirements seemingly mandated no songs longer than four minutes.  It’s a Garland-Burton effort all the way.”

Rare original copy of 1960 SESAC album — sold for $47 in 2004

Hank Garland - original 1960 cover“Now that the Hank Garland Quintet is a ‘fait accompli’ on SESAC Recordings, the young guitarist stands in the unique position of moulding a new career on the firm foundation of his C&W successes.  With a patient hand and perceptive musicianship, he has unified the instrumental skills of five performers to produce these refreshing sounds.  The “subtle swing” which has always been a vital part of Garland’s playing transcends his newest contribution to musical entertainment.”  [liner notes from the back cover]

But tragedy would intervene in Garland’s life when a blown rear tire resulted in a serious accident that would leave him permanently impaired.  1962’s Unforgettable Guitar of Hank Garland would essentially be a repackaging of the SESAC recordings — his musical career forever halted.  In 1992, Bear Family would gather Garland’s 1940s & 50s Decca recordings, including a pair of excellent unissued tracks from 1957, “Baby Guitar” and “Hank’s Dream.”

2004 reissue — “designed for repeated listening” as the original LP promised

Hank Garland LP-a

“All the Things You Are”: West Coast Jazz from … Hank Garland?

Fascinating to consider that Mr. “Sugarfoot Rag” himself, Hank Garland, would go on later to record one of the smoothest, coolest West Coast modern jazz albums — in fact, the very same one that inspired George Benson.  Check out the kick-off tune:

“All the Things You Are”     Hank Garland Quartet     1960

Jazz Winds from a New Direction would feature the top-notch playing of Gary Burton on vibraphone, drummer Joe Morello (of the Dave Brubeck Quartet), and Joe Benjamin (sideman for Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Burrell, and Roland Kirk, et al.) on string bass

Hank Garland originally made acquaintance with drummer, Joe Morello, when both worked for bandleader, Paul Howard, as part of his Arkansas Cotton Pickers who, as Rick Kienzle points out in his liner notes to the CD reissue, “were a Western Swing outfit, playing the same unorthodox mix of country, pop, and jazz that Bob Wills played in the Southwest.”  Hank Garland, by the way, joined Paul Howard’s band when he was just 15.

Kienzle also points out that after Hank’s family – based in Cowpens, South Carolina – decided to make the big move to Nashville, Hank found “kindred spirits” with Billy Byrd and Harold Bradley, who “took him in under their wing.”  Garland would later leave Howard to join the backing band for Cowboy Copas before eventually signing with Decca in 1949 as Hank Garland and His Sugar Footers.  His first recording session (May 1949) would yield “Sugarfoot Boogie,” while his second (August 1949) would produce the much better-known “Sugarfoot Rag.”

At the same time, Garland would also join the “elite A-team, a cadre of creative, versatile musicians every producer wanted to use.  Hank was part of that group’s core, along with fellow guitarists Grady Martin and Harold Bradley, drummer Buddy Harman, bassist Bob Moore, saxophonist Boots Randolph, and pianist Floyd Cramer.”

Hank Garland LP“The respect from producers paid off in March, 1959,” Kienzle writes, “when Don Law signed Hank to a one-year Columbia contract with two one-year options” (as history would show, Columbia exercised both of those options).   Jazz Winds – recorded in August 1960 – would be the second album in his tenure at almighty Columbia, with Grady Martin at the helm as producer.

Interesting to note that John Hammond, who wrote “enthusiastic” liner notes for the Jazz Winds album, would produce the debut (and only) Columbia album by Garland admirer, George Benson six years later.

Hank & Faron on “Ozark Jubilee”

Great live performance of Hank playing “Sugarfoot Rag” on the “Ozark Jubilee” TV show hosted by Faron Young:

Hank & Grady:  “Ozark Jubilee” Connection Runneth Deep

The “Ozark Jubilee” house band was first known as The Crossroads Boys  and consisted of Grady Martin, Billy Burke, Bud Isaacs, Tommy Jackson, Paul Mitchell, Jimmy Selph, Bob Moore and Mel Bly.   The name, however, was soon changed to Bill Wimberly and His Country Rhythm Boys, a seven-piece group that alternated weekly during 1955 with Grady Martin and His Wingin’ Strings, featuring Bob Moore, Tommy Jackson, Bud Isaacs and Hank Garland.

“Gibson Girl”: Actually, Billy Byrd’s a Gibson Guy

Guitarist Billy Byrd – according to Ernest Tubbs‘ biographer, Ronnie Pugh – ”came from a pop and jazz background, and there were some people who were leery of the notion that he could play country with Tubb.  [But] he did it and did it well.  The ten years Billy was in the [Texas Troubadours] band, (1949-59) he did practically all of the instrumental breaks.”

Billy Byrd

Sometime in October 1961, Billy Byrd recorded six songs at the Starday Sound Studio in Nashville – including “Gibson Girl“:

“Gibson Girl”     Billy Byrd    1961

Billy Byrd + Hank Garland = Gibson Byrdland

With the input of guitar greats, Billy Byrd and Hank Garland, Gibson’s then-President, Ted McCarty, developed and debuted the Gibson Byrdland electric archtop guitar in 1955, three years before the better-known ES-335.  Gibson.com points out that the Byrdland was reintroduced as a limited run in 1977, 1978 & 1992 – primarily as a result of the popularity of Ted Nugent, who himself wielded a Byrdland in tribute to Jimmy McCarty of Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels.

Gibson Byrdland