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You won’t see Reno, Nevada’s Hellbound Glory at the top of anyone’s ‘Best Of’ lists this year, unless it relates to touring or live performances. Leroy Virgil & the boys didn’t leave much time for recording and releasing albums in 2013; they were too busy ripping off one of the toughest, busiest, and arguably the most notable touring schedules in 2013 from an independent country act. It started in February as an opening band on Kid Rock’s “Rebel Soul” arena tour of which a retooled Hellbound Glory did two legs of, all the while playing smaller shows here and there when possible, and then revisiting many of the same areas afterwards on their own bills in the proceeding weeks and months.
Then most recently Hellbound went on a breakneck, two month tour with The Supersuckers, covering 40-something dates spanning the US. When Leroy Virgil rolled into Austin, TX on Friday Dec. 6th to play a quick set at the Empire Control Room downtown, he’d been rode hard and put away wet, and Hellbound Glory had not a familiar face from the members who had started out with him at the beginning of the year. However he’d recruited the very capable guitarist ‘Metal’ Marty Chandler, and drummer Chris VonStreicher from the Supersuckers, and Adam Kowalski from North Carolina on bass and band manager duties.
Aside from the music, the night was weird all around. They started at 9 PM, which is very early for a weekend show in Austin, and a few straggling fans missed some of the set. Hellbound was supposed to play outside, but 20-degree weather and a stiff north wind scrapped those plans. The Empire Control Room was more ambient for a rave than a real country show, with pacifier-sucking, glowstick-twirling visuals projecting onto the walls, and a mandate on Hellbound to stop after an hour so a DJ could spin house music to an entirely empty room. This was all quite in contrast to Leroy’s prominent “Hank” suspenders strapped over his shoulders, and his beer chugging honky tonk tunes.
But when Leroy Virgil and Hellbound Glory 4.0 hit the stage, none of that mattered. Leroy started with a blistering, amplified version of Hank Williams’ “My Buckets Got A Hole In It” that reinvented and revitalized that tune originally learned by Hank Williams from Rufus Payne in the mid-30′s, and made it feel like an iconic 70′s-era Southern rock anthem. Not 30 seconds into the first song, and you could tell that Leroy had played so many shows in front of so many big crowds in 2013, that being on stage was second nature, and a downright showman had emerged from a man who is known as a songwriter first. Not that Leroy was a stiff before, but now he had a swagger about him—a sway and arm motions—engaging the crowd and carrying songs to another level with his ability to be completely uninhibited with the music.
Leroy’s electric guitar sounded horrible. It was a black and white Squier Stratocaster that had “$100″ written on the pick guard in permanent marker like he’d just bought it off the side of the road. It’s the kind of guitar you buy your 14-year-old son when you know he’s only going to ignore it, with stock pickups that sound like the smell of ass. But Leory was just holding down the rhythm anyway, and then getting out of the way for ‘Metal’ Marty to rip into some of the juiciest solos Hellbound’s music has ever been graced with. Despite the ‘Metal” addendum to his name, Marty referred to a heavily influenced and versed knowledge of country guitar modes and licks that he displayed with confidence and abandon. It was a high volume, electric country show, and more than a stone’s throw from the days of Leory sitting on a bass drum, playing it with the back of his heel while strumming an acoustic guitar.
Leroy played a lot of his more well-known Hellbound Glory songs, a few more covers like his rendition of Hank Jr.’s “Women I’ve Never Had” and Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire.” He was also featuring a ferocious growl that punctuated parts of songs and overall became one of the highlights and takeaways of the set. Leroy’s voice has become tattered around the edges like a cheap blue tarpaulin pulled over an apartment’s worth of shit made susceptible to the wind on a cross-country move, and then marinated by a thousand shots of whiskey lined up all across the front of the stage by well-meaning fans. But like an old tinker, Leroy has taken what he’s been given, and made it into one of his finest tools: a road-worn and weathered bellow with which he can unfurl and blow a crowd away with.
Forget how many new players make up the Hellbound Glory cast, when Leroy gave a subtle hint to whatever song he wanted to play next, his band was right there behind him, hitting every change, and holding every sustain as good or better as any Hellbound Glory lineup. Leroy has never been good at keeping new material a secret, and the set featured a few new songs, and so did the half hour or so after the set when he pulled out his acoustic guitar and gave a personal concert to all who stuck around on the side of the stage.
Whenever Hellbound Glory’s name is mentioned these days, the next question you hear is, “When’s the new album coming out?” Though I wasn’t able to glean that specific intel from Leroy, I can tell you he’s recently been doing some recording in Aberdeen, WA. I wouldn’t hold your breath on hearing the results of that anytime soon, but if the new songs Leroy’s been playing are any indication, when new music does emerge, it promises to be worth the wait.
Until then, you can use the below Leroy Virgil recap of the last year or so to tide you over.
Two guns up.
Next Tuesday, the Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams, a project pairing Bob Dylan and a list of other popular artists together with unfinished Hank Williams songs, will be released to the public. The project has raised grave concerns in certain circles of country music from people questioning the ethics of taking a dead man’s songs and finishing them, especially when the dead man carries the songwriting and historical weight of Hank Williams. An organization called Stop The Desecration of Hank Williams Songs is planning protests at the Country Music Hall of Fame on Oct. 1st, and again on the release date of Oct. 4th.
What has baffled me from the beginning is with the anticipated controversy this project would stir, why information about its workings and origins have been so difficult to obtain. It was made even worse by an article in The Morton Report, which included easily refutable information.
Saving Country Music has submitted numerous emails, made phone calls, and personally visited the Country Music Hall of Fame trying to get more information about the Lost Notebooks to no avail. The Hall is a partner in the project, as it is being released in conjunction with their ‘Family Tradition: The Williams Family Legacy’ exhibit. However The Hall is not the originator of the project, and neither is Bob Dylan. The one thing we have received more clarity on since the formal announcement of the album release is the chain of custody of the songs. The idea for the Lost Notebooks project and many of the decisions made for it were done by the owners of the songs, music publisher Sony ATV, who ferried these songs through numerous changes and adventures, from the original owners, Hank Sr.’s publisher Acuff-Rose.
Another entity that has been spared a lot of the controversy, but certainly had a part in the project is Hank Sr.’s estate. We do finally know that the estate endorsed the idea at some point, because Hank Williams Jr. appears in the EPK for the album (see bottom of article). As Hank’s grandson Hank3, who was not asked to participate in the project, said in a recent Saving Country Music interview:
The fans are very upset, and I guess I’ll just let them do my speaking for me. Because I can’t go and say something against Bob Dylan. That’s just not right man. I’d say maybe they need to scope out Hank Jr. a little more…
Something else we’ve learned from a recent New York Times article on the project is that both Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young were approached to be a part of it, and declined. We still do not know what happened to a Willie Nelson song that was part of the project, that Jack White’s spoke about when we very first heard about the Lost Notebooks back in 2007. It also states in the NY Times that Dylan initially called the task “too mighty.” And one of the biggest questions that remains is what happened between the recording of these songs in 2007, and their release in late 2011. That significant hole in the timeline leaves a lot to the imagination of why it took 4 years for the Lost Notebooks to see the light of day.
Completely putting aside the ethics questions for the project itself, I have drafted a list of 10 simple questions about the specifics of the Lost Notebooks that I think country music consumers have a right to be answered before they decide to purchase it.
- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - -
- A story published by The Morton Report on August 4th asserts that the idea for the Lost Notebooks project was hatched in March of 2008, months after we know many of the songs for the project were already recorded. When, generally or specifically, in years or months or days, was it decided that the Lost Notebooks project would move ahead, and with Bob Dylan?
- Was the Lost Notebooks project always meant to be in conjunction with the Country Music Hall of Fame’s ‘Family Tradition’ exhibit?
- If the Lost Notebooks project was meant to be released in conjunction with the ‘Family Tradition’ exhibit, either initially or eventually, then why is it not being released until over 1 1/2 years after the exhibit was initially scheduled to end in December of 2009? Why are the songs being released so long after being recorded?
- Were there any lawsuits brought against any entity involved in the Lost Notebooks project? And if so, for what?
- When and/or how was the Hank Williams estate involved in the project?
- Why were neither Hank Williams Jr. or Hank Williams III involved in the recording of the project? Was Hank Jr. asked to contribute to a song?
- Willie Nelson was initially named as contributing a song to the project by Jack White in late 2007. What happened to Willie Nelson’s contribution?
- How many, in total, unfinished Hank Williams songs are there, from how many different primary sources?
- Since there are more unfinished songs than are included in this project, are there plans to do more volumes?
- The liner notes for the Lost Notebooks project state that two of the four lost notebooks were taken from a locked vault. They state: “A police investigation was launched, and ultimately Sony regained possession of the notebooks and the handwritten songs.” But in March of 2007, a judge dropped all charges against Stephen M. Shutts and Francine Boykin for theft of the songs. How then were the two notebooks re-obtained by Sony ATV?
Country music might ignore Record Store Day (RSD) this Saturday (April 16th), the worldwide event that has become an international holiday for audiofiles, but Saving Country Music won’t. Neither will Bloodshot Records, who has a number of releases and events planned for the day meant to prop up the ailing mom and pop record store.
Justin Townes Earle will be releasing a 7″ called Move Over Mama, which will include that track from his most recent album Harlem River Blues, with the B Side being “Racing in the Streets”, a “heretofore unreleased sparse, haunting Bruce Springsteen song that JTE’s been slaying ‘em with live.”
I’m also salivating over the release of No One Got Hurt: Bloodshot’s 15th Anniversary @ The Hideout Block Party. It is a live bootleg from their September 12, 2009 Anniversary Party, that includes some amazing tracks from Scott H. Biram, The Waco Brother, Bobby Bare Jr., The Deadstring Brothers, and many more. 19 tracks in all.
This is a CD, not an LP, but is being released in conjunction with Record Store Day. It will eventually be released digitally to the masses, but the only way you will be able to get it in the near term is finding a local record store that carries Bloodshot stuff. However, I will be spinning tracks from the bootleg on this Saturday’s edition of Saving Country Music Radio, which broadcasts at 9 PM on Record Store Day via The Real Deal KOOK, and which I will include the most BRUTAL version of Scott Biram’s “Truck Drivin’ Man” I’ve ever heard. It’s so out of control it had to be edited for the public airwaves!
Bloodshot artists like Whitey Morgan & The 78′s, The Deadstring Brothers, and Dex Romweber Duo will be conducting in-store performances, and many record stores like the infamous Shake-It Records in Cincinnati will have Bloodshot specials going on. See a full list of Bloodshot’s Record Store Day events.
Track List for No One Got Hurt: Bloodshot’s 15th Anniversary @ The Hideout Block Party:
- SANCTIFIED GRUMBLERS – EZ Riden’ Grumblers
- SALLY TIMMS – Sad Milkman
- JON LANGFORD – Pill Sailor
- THE BLACKS - Theresa Leaves Lonesome Town
- THE BLACKS – Horrorshow
- BOBBY BARE JR – Monk at the Disco
- BOBBY BARE JR - Valentine
- MOONSHINE WILLY - Turn The Lights Down Low
- THE SCOTLAND YARD GOSPEL CHOIR – Aspidistra
- THE SCOTLAND YARD GOSPEL CHOIR – Tear Down the Opera House
- SCOTT H BIRAM – Still Drunk, Still Crazy, Still Blue
- SCOTT H BIRAM - Truck Driver
- DEADSTRING BROTHERS – If You Want Me To
- DEADSTRING BROTHERS – Smile
- ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO – Castanets
- ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO - I Was Drunk
- WACO BROTHERS - Red Brick Wall
- RICO BELL & the Waco Brothers - Merseysong
- WACO BROTHERS – See Willy Fly By
On March 27th, 2011, Hellbound Glory, the most underrated country band in the world, made a tour stop at Will’s Pub in Orlando, FL. Down a man on the tour to begin with, then down their bass player a few nights before, with their fill-in steel player filling in on bass the day after getting beat up by a bunch of bikers in a “wrong place, wrong time” situation, the remaining members rallied, reached down deep, and pulled out a remarkable, rememberable performance as a power trio that will forever be known as “The Concert in the Cracker Swamp”.
Leroy Virgil, lead singer and songwriter left his acoustic in the case and manned lead guitar, Chico on drums played with the energy of two men, and Rico, hours out of the hospital, manned the four string. Those few that were there in-person, and those listening all across the world on SCM LIVE, could feel that this was no ordinary night, with no ordinary band, playing no ordinary songs.
Hellbound Glory, Rusty Knuckles, Reverend Nix of Cracker Swamp Productions, and Saving Country Music have combined to bring you the full audio from that night for your listening pleasure. It includes many of their top songs from their two albums–Old Highs and New Lows and Scumbag Country–as well as excellent renditions of classics like Waylon Jennings’ “Amanda” and Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire”.
Please make sure to stop by Hellbound Glory’s online store at rustyknuckles.com and offer your financial support, and keep your eyes peeled for concert dates to see them live.
- Another Bender Might Break Me
- Livin’ That Way You Better Hope You Die Young
- Livin’ This Way
- Chico’s Train
- I’ll Be Your Rock (At Rock Bottom)
- Hank Williams Records
- Hello Five-O
- Why Take The Pain
- The Ballad of Scumbag Country
- Women I’ve Never Had
- Hellbound Glory
- I’m On Fire
- Good Hearted Woman
- Be My Crutch
- Waylon Never Done It Their Way
- Too Broke to Overdose
- Slow Suicide
- 11 Months, 29 Days
- You Can’t Fight Fire with Firewater
Hellbound Glory was also recently featured on Colfax Radio.
We talked last week about how a punk rocker named Joe Buck, along with other so called neo-traditionalist musicians that migrated to Nashville in the mid 90′s to walk the same streets Hank Williams did, helped revitalize the lower Broadway section of downtown. Well, all those venues that in the early 90′s were either abandoned or housing adult bookstores sit in the shadow, and share an alley with the mother church of country music, The Ryman Auditorium.
The Ryman is what lower Broadway revolves around, and it is easy to think that however it goes, so goes lower Broadway. When The Ryman was virtually shuttered in 1974 and The Grand Ole Opry moved to the Opry House, that is when the seeds of the lower Broadway decline were sowed. I’ve always been amazed at the lack of outrage the Ryman’s abandonment caused. One of the few that spoke out was John Hartford, who in his 1974 album Aereo Plane included the song “Tear Down The Grand Ole Opry” which bemoaned the Ryman’s vacancy, and its effect on the area:
Right across from the wax museum they used to line up around the block
From east Tenessee and back down home they came.
All of a sudden there’s nothing to do when there once was an awful lot
Broad street will never be the same.
Aereo Plane and this song are completely out-of-print. But luckily Saving Country Music has it in our vaults, and on vinyl nonetheless:
Here is John Hartford, performing the simple banjo song “Gum Tree Canoe” in the abandoned Ryman:
Before Joe Buck, BR549, and other neo-traditionalists began to breathe life again into the streets and buildings of lower Boradway, a much more mainstream and established artist got the ball rolling at the Ryman. In the early 90′s Emmylou Harris was looking for a new direction in her music. She decided to disband her long-time “Hot Band” and put together a backing band based on an acoustic, more traditional bluegrass-like sound. Yes, the early 90′s Emmylou could be considered a neo-traditionalist herself, bucking the popular trends of the time (Garth Brooks’ Ropin The Wind was the big album in ’91) to reach back to the roots of country music.
She formed the “Nash Ramblers,” and what better way to make a splash in Nash that to launch the new direction at the Ryman. Starting on May 1, 1991, Harris started a series of shows at the mother church that stretched into 1992. It was like a shot in the arm for the Ryman revitalization. For almost 20 years, save for a few instances where it was opened for movies shoots, etc., its legendary acoustics had gone virtually unused, and now the home of country music was alive with sound again.
Emmylou’s series of concerts are given universal credit for spurning the reopening of the Ryman in 1994, and it also resulted in an amazing live album called At The Ryman. Of course it received no commercial radio support, the CMA’s ignored it, but was well-received by critics and won the Grammy for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. It has amazing songs done in a bluegrass style from an impressive stable of artists, including Bill Monroe, John Fogerty, Bruce Springsteen, Jack Clement, and of course, Hank Williams.
The album also came with a companion recording of the May 1991 concert on VHS, which has some unbelievable moments, like Emmylou and Bill Monroe dancing together on the Ryman stage, and chill-inducing four part harmonies on “Calling My Children Home.” It also includes commentary about each song, and Emmyou’s thoughts on playing the Ryman. A Dutch site has uploaded the entirety of the concert, and it is a must see.
I don’t know if I can put into words exactly how I think of The Grand Ole Opry as an institution. Perhaps I’m guilty of putting it up on a pedestal, because I didn’t come here as a child, I didn’t play here ever, I never saw a show here. It’s sort of something out of another world, you know, something almost fantasy…There’s a real sort of aura of magic about it. I get goosbumps thinking about it sometimes. Sitting here now, the fact that were getting ready to record an album here, I don’t know if I’ve actually made the connection. I know when we first talked about the possibility of doing it at the Ryman, I wanted it so much that I wouldn’t let myself think about it. That if they say “no” I’ll never recover.
Luckily they said “yes” and the most important landmark on lower Broadway had a heartbeat once again.
On March 15th, 1968, The Byrds, spurned in a country direction by Gram Parsons, won the right to perform at The Ryman through their label Columbia Records. The Byrds were met with a hostile response, including heckles, boos, and “tweet tweet” calls. How funny is it that Gram’s understudy years later would be the one to revitalize the Ryman.
Emmylou on The Ryman:
I believe so much in the power of music, because my life was changed through music. Because I know of its power. I know how it can reach people everywhere. I guess specifically I’m talking about the kind of music I love. I call it country music… All music has a certain element in it that is real, this is like light, that can travel, anywhere, and touch people, anywhere. And to me, the music that was made at the Ryman is certainly, probably traveled farther and touched more lives than people ever imagine.
Just a few quick things:
Drive By Truckers on Austin City Limits:
In an attempt to conceal the fact that they have completely sold out and abandoned their roots of supporting local Texas music and other great independent country artists, Austin City Limits upon occasion will still put on a decent act, and this Saturday The Drive By Truckers will make an appearance, at least for half the show. Check your local PBS listings for times.
For those saying we should face up to the new face of country music:
Ticketmaster Attempting to Merge with Live Nation:
You might have seen in some news stories or other blogs that Live Nation and Ticketmaster are trying to merge. There’s probably not much more that I could say on the topic that hasn’t already been said, but without question these two companies have somehow figured out how to cheese of concert goers AND performers by bilking them with ridiculous fees, reserving blocks of tickets for corporate sponsors and squeezing the common man out of live performances, and offering paltry customer service.
A merge could be devastating to the live music scene because without these two companies competing with each other, already ridiculous fees could skyrocket. Of course big names like Pearl Jam have fought these companies in the past, and Bruce Springsteen at the moment is leading the charge of artists fighting the merger.
If you want to read and watch more about this, here’s a few good places:
Los Angeles Times
A funny, irate music fan twists off on Ticketmaster.
The biz angle from billboard.biz
Merle Haggard on Carrie Underwood & Today’s Country.
From the CMT.com blog:
““I like her, but where’s the songs?” he (Merle) said. He also said country music today is so perfect. Maybe too perfect. “There are no surprises,” he said. “Everything is going to be perfect, and I can’t even hear someone breathe. That’s just my opinion. The electronic digital computer, anyone can do a record nowadays. You don’t have to stay in key or they’ll put you in key.” And he added that there is no better evidence of that than when you see an artist in concert: “You don’t really know who can sing or can’t until you see them in person, then you’re like, ‘Oh, my God, what happened?’”
You tell em Merle!
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