Tompall Glaser’s “Hillbilly Central” (a pictorial history)
Tompall Glaser in the studio control room at Hillbilly Central
The year was 1974, and a two-story stucco office building / studio located two blocks from Nashville’s infamous Music Row at 916 19th Avenue South got christened “Hillbilly Central” by a New York-based music writer. Hillbilly Central was the brain child of Tompall Glaser, a member of the Glaser Brothers, who took the money they earned from some success in the country music business to build their own studio. With the shutters on the windows always closed, and a cast of motley characters entering and emerging at all times day or night, Hillbilly Central became this mythical place in Nashville where the country music revolution happened.
Tompall with Captain Midnight, Hillbilly Central’s “spiritual advisor.”
“I want to walk down the street someday and see young people coming here, writing good songs, proud to be here again. See, when I first came here, a lot of people were proud to be here. It was a good feeling. It gave you pride. You didn’t give a shit whether the rest of the world liked you or not. And we were the underdogs and the niggers of the music business. Our music was the least respected of the music business, but we had our pride among ourselves. The public can sense–and individual can sense–when something is real and when it isn’t. The people know.” –Tompall Glaser
The Front of Hillbilly Central – Circa late 70’s
Hillbilly Central was a studio where the clocks and budgets didn’t matter. Fostering the creative process is what mattered. The first floor was offices / apartments where ideas came to life. The 2nd floor was the studio, state-of-the-art in its time. This was the mecca where Waylon Jennings, Billy Joe Shaver, Kris Kristofferson, Jimmy Buffet, Kinky Friedman, John Hartford, Shel Silverstein, Mickey Newbury, and many others can to lay down some of their most memorable tracks. Hillbilly Central secretary Hazel Smith is the one that coined the term “Outlaws.”
Hazel Smith & Captain Midnight at Hillbilly Central
“That building was a fortress. It was a place where they could go and hide. It was home to them, and there were no Picassos on the wall. I remember someone once suggested that there was a black cloud over that building, but I never did really feel that. I felt like it was a building that housed a lot of love for a lot of people. Both Waylon and Tompall felt that, somehow or other, the world was against them, you know.” –Hazel Smith
Waylon Jennings & Tompall Glaser at Hillbilly Central
Before renegade studios like Tompall’s Hillbilly Central and “Cowboy” Jack Clement’s JMI Recording, the vast majority of Nashville’s records were cut in a few select studios, RCA’s Studio “B” in particular with Chet Atkins usually ruling the roost. Country artists weren’t allowed to record with their own bands. Only studio musicians who could be counted on to be efficient enough to keep costs in line. Many artists couldn’t even pick the songs they were going in to record.
Inside the Hillbilly Central Studio
“When we started, people thought we were going to destroy Nashville. Who wants to destroy Nashville? It’s a long way from my mind. But if a guy can’t offer up a good, decent alternative, he should shut the fuck up. But if he’s got a good, decent alternative, all he’s got to do is keep doing it, and pretty soon the whole fucking industry will be doing it, because there are too few people in this town that know what the fuck to do. Because they don’t love it; they’re doing it for the fucking salary.” –Tompall Glaser
Nashville was outright afraid of Tompall Glaser and Hillbilly Central. The polished and purified “Nashville Sound” is what ruled Music Row at the time: a system built on fitting into tight budgets and taking no risks. “Hillbillies” and their steel guitars and fiddles were what Music Row was running from. But the music wasn’t the only threat. Tompall Glaser was a shrewd businessman too, and that is what made him so frightening to Music Row.
Tompall and the Outlaw spirit of Hillbilly Central is what led to the album Wanted: The Outlaws, the first platinum, million-selling album in country music history.
Eventually Tompall’s passion became too much. Tompall and Waylon Jennings had a falling out, and the most important renegade studio in the history of country music eventually closed. Today 916 19th Avenue South is the home of Compass Records.
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All pictures and quotes originally appeared in the excellent, out-of-print book Outlaws: Revolution in Country Music by Michael Bane, copyright 1978. All pictures taken by Leonard Kamsler.
This article was inspired by the unfortunate truth that except for a miniature 175 x 150 picture, no images of Hillbilly Central could be found anywhere on the internet.
December 27, 2012 @ 10:09 am
This right here is my favorite kind of article Trig, I mean I appreciate the reviews and I read all of them and they’ve led me to a lot of good music, but the Outlaw history articles are amazing. It could just be that I’m kind of a history buff and I’ve always believed to know where you’re going you’ve gotta know where you’ve been. Anyways I bought the Outlaws book a while back based on an old article of yours and it’s a great read and I’d suggest it to anyone who likes real country music. Keep it up, man.
December 27, 2012 @ 11:59 am
One of the reasons I posted this article right now is because I feel like I’m fighting an uphill battle with explaining to people why the doings of Nashville are important to us all and the music. I get so many people saying they don’t care what Nashville or the mainstream is doing. But I draw the principles from which I run this site and my inspirations from the original Outlaws, and I think the very first quote on the page explains why we must take the fight to the front steps of Music Row and hold no quarter, just like Tompall and Waylon did. That fight may not be for everyone, and I respect anyone’s opinion who just wants to focus on the music and not get involved in the politics of it all. But I wanted to illustrate that this is a battle that has been going on for years, and it is imperative that people carry that battle into the next generation and beyond.
December 27, 2012 @ 10:23 am
Interesting read, great article!
December 27, 2012 @ 11:01 am
The buddy and Jim show on outlaw country had bobby bare as a guest and he told some great stories about those days in Nashville. Not sure if was the same studio or one that he had.
December 27, 2012 @ 11:17 am
In my opinion, Bobby Bare was the first Outlaw, the original Outlaw, who fought for creative control of his music. It was Bare recording “Streets of Baltimore” written by Tompall that bridged those two worlds and began the Outlaw movement in earnest.
December 27, 2012 @ 11:05 am
Yeah it’s my favorite article. Namely cuz he doesn’t talk about how songs are written about him or how underground country is dead cuz his site is getting less hits. In fact he just uses quotes, except for that one paragraph, which makes this probably the most pure non-slanted article in a while.
December 27, 2012 @ 11:27 am
What are you basing this opinion that this site is getting less hits on? That’s definitely not what I’m seeing. In fact in the last month or so I’ve been having to deal with a huge problem of getting too much traffic and having to dig deeper into my own pocket to continue to keep the site going. That’s why the site has been so slow in loading, and has gone down completely numerous times. As far as traffic on this site, every week is better than the last week, and every month is better than the last month, and every year better than the last year. I continue to be humbled every day by the amount of people who come here to read my idiotic ramblings. And the reasons this site has continued to grow despite the erosion of the underground roots scene which is at the root of this site, is because an insistence to always be evolving.
But you’re probably right. You clearly know more about this site than I do.
And as for me writing slanted articles, that’s my job. I give my opinions. It’s funny you discredit them, but you’re still here. I’ll take that as a sign that I’m doing something right.
December 27, 2012 @ 11:11 am
By the way Trigger, glad you didn’t say that Honky Tonk Heroes was cut here again, cuz it wasn’t. It was cut in RCA studio B. The first record that Waylon cut here was This Time.
December 27, 2012 @ 11:49 am
Congratulations TSteamroller, you just showed your ass as a Shooter homer with bad facts.
“Honky Tonk Heroes” was a product Hillbilly Central, and you will find nobody, NOBODY who will say any different. Please, check anywhere. Wikipedia, “The Outlaws” by Michael Bane where these pictures and quotes came from, “The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock” by Jan Reed where he tells a specific story about Waylon, Billy Joe Shaver, and Tompall all at Hillbilly Central recording it and Billy Joe getting mad that Waylon wanted to give the “Honky Tonk Heroes” title track a half-time ending. Ask any of the players who appear on the album. Tompall Glaser was the producer. Ask Tompall himself. “Honky Tonk Heroes” came out in 1973. “This Time” came out in 1974. These are facts.
I know that Shooter has attempted to call me out on this before and you are just poorly parroting his argument. But I don’t think that even Shooter says “Honky Tonk Heroes” wasn’t credited to Hillbilly Central, he says that “This Time” came out first, and ostensibly started the Outlaw movement. And for anybody unsure that this is Shooter’s position, all you have to do is listen to his song “Outlaw You” where he credits “This Time.” Now I’m not sure if maybe “This Time” was RECORDED first or something and that is why Shooter takes this position, but it is indisputable that “Honky Tonk Heroes” came out in 1973, and “This Time” in 1974, and that is why I’ve always given credit to “Honky Tonk Heroes” as being first.
But hey, if you want to continue to make a big deal out of this without even giving a cursory glance at the hard facts, facts that ANYBODY can clearly and easily see, be my guest. It only furthers my opinion that Shooter Jennings is the Svengali of country music, and his followers are mind-numbed robots.
Have a nice day.
December 27, 2012 @ 12:18 pm
And by the way, aside for a few humorous quips here and there, I have been doing my best to avoid any Shooter coverage, out of respect for Shooter, his fans, my readers, and the music that will benefit none from the ongoing squabbles. But if lies continue to be circulated about me (including this ridiculous one about my stance on “Honky Tonk Heroes”), and my articles continue to get dive bombed by Shooter fans spreading misinformation, then I have NO problem taking this cold war hot. My finger is on the button, and I would LOVE nothing more than to say and reveal some things about Shooter. Not sure why the past couple of weeks there has been a new onslaught on me from Shooterworld, but I am doing my best to stay onsides. Comments like this don’t help. I make plenty of mistakes on my own. There’s no reason to make shit up. I do the best I can.
December 27, 2012 @ 4:22 pm
You’re wrong homie. It was recorded in RCA studio B. Talk to Richie Albright, he was there and he’ll clear it up for you. Do better research. Call Compass right now and ask them and they’ll tell you.
December 27, 2012 @ 8:06 pm
Look man, I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and why this is such a point of contention. I also just read every single word on the subject from numerous books, including the Michael Bane book, and the Waylon biography with Lenny Kaye (where the story about Billy Joe Shaver came from that I mistakenly said was in “Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock.”), and read stuff from other numerous places online. Really, this probably deserves its own article. But to hopefully bridge some of the misunderstanding, let me say this.
First, I have NEVER said that “Honky Tonk Heroes” was recorded at Hillbilly Central and Hillbilly Central ONLY. I have said that it came from Hillbilly Central, and I stand behind that. In fact I feel confident in saying some, or most of the album was recorded at Studio ‘B’, including the title track, which may be leading to some of the confusion because one person could be talking about the song, and one about the album. BUT whatever was recorded at Studio B was eventually brought to Hillbilly Central where the album was put together in total, with Tompall Glaser as the producer. That is why Hillbilly Central is the only studio you will see given credit for the album. The reason for this is because Chet Atkins wanted nothing to do with Honky Tonk Heroes, and saw it as dangerous if people saw that album associated with Studio B because Waylon used songs from a non-Nashville songwriter (Billy Joe Shaver), and his own band to record it.
But the main point of contention here has not been where “Honky Tonk Heroes” was recorded or produced or whatever. The main point has been what album should get credit for being Waylon’s first Outlaw-era album. It is my opinion that “Honky Tonk Heroes” should. Why? Because that was the first album he recorded with his own band (as you say, Ritchie Albright was involved, which he never would have been before), with the songs WAYLON wanted to record, NOT the label’s designated songs. In other words, this was the first album where Waylon exerted creative control.
However, it wasn’t until “This Time” that Waylon had restructured his contract with RCA to be contractually guaranteed creative control over his music, and where he had his own production company, WGJ. THAT is why I think Shooter and others believe “This Time” should be given credit for being the first Outlaw-era album.
My point is simply this: though Waylon had yet to have control on paper when “Honky Tonk Heroes” came out, he did have actual control, with his band and songs that he chose. Now if someone wants to say that “This Time” is a better fit for his first Outlaw album, then fine. I think at this point it’s semantics, and not worth arguing, especially with Waylon’s son.
But to somehow say that I’m an idiot with my facts wrong because in my opinion “Honky Tonk Heroes” is the more important album I think is being very short sighted, especially since it came out first, had all the earmarks of an Outlaw album, and in my opinion, is better than “This Time.”
I say all this not trying to 1up you, but from a sincere hope we can bridge some of the misunderstanding.
December 27, 2012 @ 8:26 pm
Chet Atkins sure seems like a heavy-handed executive. I had read before that Atkins only allowed songs written by professional Nashville songwriters to be recorded in RCA Studio B, but I was not sure until you confirmed it.
Trig, who in your opinion is more tyrannical, Chet Atkins or Mike Curb?
December 27, 2012 @ 10:27 pm
That’s a real hard one, and probably not fair to compare the two. Chet was an amazing guitar player, so it is hard to stay mad at him, but he was pretty much the father of the “Nashville Sound” way of doing things. And really, when he was in charge, he was just following orders from on high at RCA. Mike Curb makes the orders. Mike Curb was actually a renegade when he first started. He was the only major label owner in Nashville that was completely independent, and still is.
December 27, 2012 @ 11:10 pm
Isn’t Big Machine considered an independent label as well?
December 27, 2012 @ 12:29 pm
Nice article. I love learning about country music history.
This article corroborates my contention that you are a fan of pre-Nashville-Sound country and Outlaw country, but not much mainstream country in between those two (though Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, and Tammy Wynette all were at their heyday during the Nashville Sound era and did not participate in the Outlaw movement).
Secondly, I know my knowledge of Outlaw country is much more limited than yours, but it seems to me that musically speaking, the Outlaw movement was progressive rather than traditionalist. Instead of going back to the twangy style of Hank Williams, Roy Acuff, etc., the Outlaws added more rock to country music. Listening to Waylon concerts and some other Outlaw artists, I’m struck by a few patterns:
1) the lack of twang in the vocal style (the songs are sung either flat, in baritone, or ranging between the two)
2) the lack of fiddles
3) the drowning out of pedal steel guitar by telecasters, bass guitars, drums, and other rock instruments
It looks like the Outlaw movement was country music’s version of the counterculture revolution.
December 27, 2012 @ 1:47 pm
The Outlaws were country’s version of the counterculture movement, though this was much more evidenced in the Outlaw scene that existed around Austin instead of Nashville, with the Dripping Springs reunion in 1972 being called the hillbilly Woodstock andthe whole Austin scene being the mix of rednecks and hippies.
A couple of clarifications though, Waylon Jennings loved steel guitar and featured it very prominently over the years, and specifically with a player named Ralph Mooney, who played with Merle Haggard and many others before Waylon. Waylon and Ralph worked together for over 20 years.
The other thing is that even though the “Outlaw” style was a more rock-oriented version of country, the Outlaws payed homage to the oldtimers that were being pushed out of the mainstream at the time. Willie’s Dripping Springs reunion in 1972 featured Bill Monroe, Roy Acuff, and Ernest Tubb who were considered out-to-pasture by Nashville at that time. Also Willie’s “Red Headed Stranger”, which is considered the greatest country music album of all time by many, is a very traditional record, very stripped down. No, fiddle and steel guitar aren’t featured, but that’s because not much of anything is. It’s about the songs.
TX Music Jim
December 27, 2012 @ 12:32 pm
Enjoyed this article a whole lot. In the long line of outlaws Waylon stands the tallest. Thanks for doing the article Trig. However, I do disagree that in modern times the fight for independent music has to originate from Nashville or for that matter Austin or anywere else geographically. I think due to modern inovations the need for studios, labels and all the things that made Nashville so central to the country music industry has begun to slowly fade. Good solid Independent music can be made and distributed from anywere these days. The history and photographs were awesome keep up the good work.
December 27, 2012 @ 1:36 pm
That’s a good point. I think the significance of geography is diminishing with the digitization of music, though as I pointed out in my last article, Nashville is also becoming the epicenter of independent music from all genres.
I kind of see Tompall’s “Nashville” from his quotes synonymous today with the “mainstream”, no matter where it is located. You still have to bring the fight to them. That’s what I take from that quote, though I know we’ve gone back and forth on this point in the past, and I respect you and anyone who wants to focus on the good stuff and not get involved in the politics of it all.
That very first quote from Tompall was in response to Waylon wanting to move Hillbilly Central to Austin because he felt Willie was making something happen there, and one of the labels Hillbilly Central was involved with wanting to move it to LA. Though I don’t have any direct info on this, when I’ve poked around asking some people why Hillbilly Central folded, one of the reasons I’ve been given is because Tompall refused to move. There is probably a lesson in that as well.
December 27, 2012 @ 12:48 pm
In my opinion, you should just swallow your pride and don’t fan the flames. You don’t need to argue with people like this unless it’s just your way of getting a crazy amount of comments on this article. It makes you seem like a pissed off 3rd grader getting picked on at a playground. Just keep to higher ground.
Interesting article though, and good photos. But, there are, right now, many record companies out there that are putting out great music outside of the big machine. I don’t see how this affected the overall outcome of the Nashville sound. It was just an outlet for more creative and less controlled artists to get their music out without conforming. Unfortunately, Taylor Swift is still king.
December 27, 2012 @ 1:55 pm
This is a great piece, Trig. I’m a history freak, really love this article.
The falling out between Waylon & Tompall, if you don’t mind and have time for it, please tell us more about it. Thanks.
December 27, 2012 @ 7:31 pm
Like several have stated above me, these are some of my favorite post you do. Love learning about the old stuff.
December 27, 2012 @ 8:12 pm
Fucking amazing article, rather it just be quotes or not, it’s always a joy reading about the Outlaw movement’s history. Question for you, Trig, what’s your opinion on Townes Van Zandt, Blaze Foley, and that crowd of song-writers who influenced a lot, yet are never mentioned? Just curiousity buzzing.
December 27, 2012 @ 8:30 pm
Trig has mentioned Townes Van Zandt quite extensively on this site. In fact, I didn’t know who he was at all until I started reading SCM. Trig is probably the biggest TVZ fan you’ll find, and he considers Van Zandt to be the gold standard for songwriting.
December 27, 2012 @ 8:32 pm
He’s a damn platinum standard in song-writing in my book, but that goes without daying. I guess I need to start paying better attention then. 😛
December 27, 2012 @ 8:36 pm
Trig is such a big Townes Van Zandt fan that he actually visited Van Zandt’s gravesite and posted photos that he took there on SCM. Now that shows some deep devotion!
December 27, 2012 @ 8:41 pm
Oh my, I’m super behind then. I gotta really catch up. Haha
December 27, 2012 @ 8:54 pm
The tribute to Townes Van Zandt is the most emotionally moving article I’ve ever read on SCM. It truly shows Trig’s writing at its finest. Here it is:
December 27, 2012 @ 10:19 pm
I love Townes Van Zandt and Blaze Foley, though I would be lying if I said I knew much about Blaze beyond his music. I plan to do more of these history articles on a more regular basis, and just like the last one I did about “Defiant Images of the Country Revolution” I want to use them as excuses to publish pictures, some of which have never been seen before on the internet and need to be out there. I’ve been collecting out-of-print books and old magazines and such for years, and can’t wait to bring the images and stories to y’all. Got away from doing this for a while, not exactly sure why, but would at least like to do one of these every week or two.
December 28, 2012 @ 8:53 am
This topic really needs to be a regular Trig. I love it.
December 28, 2012 @ 3:12 am
I know it’s already been said a few times, but thanks for doing this Trig, I really enjoy these kind of articles and would love to see these on a more consistent basis.. Keep fighting the good fight my friend.
December 28, 2012 @ 5:24 am
What do you think about Gary Stewart?
He has some amazing songs like “out of hand”, “an empty glass”, “whiskey trip”, “she’s acting single, i’m drinking doubles”.
He started out in the early 70’s as well.
Also I consider “Lonesome Onry and Mean” one of Waylon’s better songs, but how in the hell was it never released as a single?
December 28, 2012 @ 6:50 am
great article trig…loving the pics…they really capture the whole vibe….inspiring to see the “underground’…thanks.
December 28, 2012 @ 9:44 am
I’m Tompalls first cuz and we grew up on adjoining land in Nebr. While Waylon was still at the studio, I became Tompalls personal mgr for a few months. Did a couple of road trips with him and his outlaw band.
I recount stories from that era in my latest book, “Music City’s Defining Decade,” which is available in paperback from Amazon and other on-line sources. Waylon once considered hiring me, according to Tom, but I don’t think I could have handled that role. I was also a good friend of Capt. Midnite.
The decision to allow use of the term “outlaw” was the result of some dictionary ressearch I did, and presented to Tom who passed it on to Waylon. Briefly, it defined the word as “one who lives outside of the law,” which of course is what Tompall and Waylon and a few others were doing. Hazel is often given (or takes) credit for the term, but all she did was encourage use of the word after it had been accepted by Tompall and Waylon.
Its all (and more) is in my book.
DENNIS GLASER email@example.com
January 17, 2013 @ 12:46 pm
Fantastic article. Keep up the good work
August 13, 2013 @ 3:43 pm
We made a pilgrimage every year to Hillbilly Central, though I was just a little girl. I do have a few snapshots, that when I get back to the house this weekend, I am going to find. My Dad looked like Waylon Jennings, and when we showed up anywhere, people asked my Dad for autographs.
Thanks for the inspiring article.
RIP outlaw country heroes Tompall Glaser and Jack Clement | Wrong Highway
August 16, 2013 @ 1:38 pm
[…] companies, two additional moves that ruffled feathers in Music City. Their studio was known as Hillbilly CentralÂ (there’s a great writeup on this studio, with more photos, on Saving Country Music),Â and it […]
January 18, 2014 @ 1:34 pm
I have been to Hillbilly Central quite a number of times and met Tompall and Captain Midnight-Roger Schutt. They were great, always hospitable. It was an awesome place. So much activity going on. A great landmark at the time. This is where it all started…. We have to Save Country Music!!!
October 29, 2014 @ 8:40 am
Wow! I’m actually in Nashville right now and stopped for a day. I haven’t been here (outside of a concert every so often) since 1976-77. I toured with that Wanted:The Outlaws 3 week tour with Willie, Waylon, Jessi in Tompall’s “Outlaw band” – Mel Brown, Ben Keith, Ted Reynolds, Charles Polk, and me on piano and Hammond B3. It was an experience. First major tour I had done and to walk onstage to 20,000 people a night – it was something I have been doing now all my life with various other artists (most recently Eric Burdon & the Animals). After the tour, Tompall asked me to come to Nashville and record, thinking that I would move here. Jimmy Bowen had just moved to town and started using Hillbilly Central as his recording headquarters. We did the Outlaws album here – had his “discobilly” song on it and added Johnny Gimble and Buddy Spicher on a song (that’s a whole ‘nuther story). That was also the winter that the Cumberland River froze and they couldn’t get coal for the powerplants down the river and shut off the electricity (including heat) for everyplace in Nashville and when I decided California was a much better environment in the winter. I am looking around Nashville now, since it’s been almost 40 years since I had this much time here and it has changed a lot – I’ll be looking more and seeing what my memory conjures up. So many in that band have left – Tompall, Mel Brown, Ben Keith and I’m not sure who else. I’ll have to ask and see… Red Young http://www.redyoung.com
June 17, 2016 @ 8:09 am
I found this article while reading Terry Jennings’ new book and researching Tompall and Waylon’s relationship. I immediately found and bought the Michael Bane book on Amazing for $5 and am currently reading that. Trig, do you or any of the readers have any recommendations on similar awesomes books like this to read? I already want more! Thanks!
June 17, 2016 @ 8:48 am
Check out The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock by Jan Reed.
October 18, 2017 @ 3:21 pm
I just went to Nashville for a conference, and my hotel was on Broadway a few blocks up from Hillbilly Central. I walked down there and just looked at it and imagined what kind of an incredible place it must have been in the early 70’s when everything was hitting big. The house looks much the same, Compass records is there now, and has done some cosmetic work to it. But, looking at the picture in this article helped me find it, the front is unmistakeable. Great article, I love the history of it all, and I think I saw the ghosts of some of my favorite “Honky Tonk Heroes” still lurking around when I was there…
November 6, 2017 @ 8:12 pm
I’m dropping by here doing research on Waylon Jennings Recording Studio he built in his home because I’m a producer who has worked with Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, BB King and Tony Bennett and I now have the lease rights to Jennings home studio on South Street in Music Square in Nashville and we have begun to fully restore the studio – preserve the history and legacy forever – 5 days now into the renovation and hoping to have the place opened by Dec 1st….If anyone can help with the history of this location PLEASE contact me….TYTY