Unheard Merle Haggard Tracks Surface in New Bakersfield Box Set
While Nashville country was awash in strings and suffering under the oppressive thumb of producers such as Chet Atkins and Billy Sherrill, the dim lights, thick smoke, and loud loud music of The Bakersfield Sound was keeping boots shuffling and country twangy, and would go on to birth some of the best music of the era, country or otherwise.
Buck Owens and Merle Haggard are often given the lion’s share of credit for the more loose and electric sounds of California country, but there was an entire crop of artists who helped tell the stories of the Okies who traveled to southern and central California during the dust bowl era, bringing their stories of struggle with them. There’s a reason Merle Haggard was born in a boxcar, and these Bakersfield artists would go on to influence country music at large, and make it cool to the folkies and psychedelic rockers they shared the West Coast with.
A new Bear Family box set looks to encapsulate the reverberating influence of country music from Bakersfield, California, compiling an incredible 10 CDs and 307 tracks, encapsulating the era from 1940 when the sound began to take form, to 1974 when it was integrated in country music at large and legendary Buck Owens guitar player Don Rich died in a motorcycle accident. Along with Buck and Merle, important artists such as Ferlin Husky, Dallas Frazier, Jean Shepard, Wynn Stewart, Tommy Duncan, Red Simpson, Kay Adams, Dick Curless, Joe Maphis, David Frizzell, The Gosdin Brothers, Clarence White, and many others are featured as well.
Also included in this collection due out August 9th are numerous songs and versions of others never heard or released before. This includes the first known recordings from Harland and Jan Howard, to Barbara Mandrell’s first solo recording, to unheard tracks from Red Simpson, Billy Mize, and Bonnie Owens. It also includes two tracks from Bakersfield legend Merle Haggard.
Before Merle signed to Capitol, he did some recordings for Tally Records, but some of the material was never released. Scott Bomar, the producer for this new compilation, unearthed the two tracks in a box under someone’s bed simply labeled “Merle Haggard,” and now we have two new studio versions of songs The Hag would record for Capitol Record later. They include “If I Had Left It Up to You” and “I’m Gonna Break Every Heart I Can.” Both tracks later appeared on Merle’s 1965 record Strangers. “I’m Gonna Break Every Heart I Can” (listen below) finds Merle Haggard in rare form—a little more of a boogie woogie feel compared top the Capitol-era recording. Now that Merle Haggard has been gone for over three years, any new music from the Bakersfield legend is welcome.
The new Bear Family Bakersfield Sound box set also includes a 220-page full color book with many rarely and never seen photos, and a forward by Chris Shiflett, and further commentary by producer Scott Bomar. It is now available for pre-order.
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July 3, 2019 @ 8:38 am
Billy Sherrill did some great work, though. The stuff he did with George Jones and Tanya Tucker belongs in the country pantheon.
July 3, 2019 @ 8:49 am
Yes, I agree. But Bakersfield was a completely different environment at that time. Bakersfield artists were allowed to write their own songs, and record with their own bands, while Chet and Billy regularly required studio musicians, and selected many of the songs the artists would record. This is the contrast between the two.
July 3, 2019 @ 9:23 am
While I understand Triggers take on Sherrill as a co-founder of Countrypolitan, I do like his later work. He made a load of records with Paycheck and Coe which I think are criminally underrated. Take Coe’s Castles in The Sand album for example, it’s a masterpiece to my ears with cuts like Cheap Thrills, The Ride and Son of a Rebel Son. I highly recommend his eighties work including those albums. Paychecks Everyone’s Got a Family album, and Lovers and Losers are some other good examples as well as Darlin’ Darlin’ and Just Divorced by Coe. And of course the Jones stuff you mentioned. I guess in a way, Im a fan of Billy Sherrill, weird.
Back on topic, this Bear Family release sounds terrific. I wish Bear releases were more accessible here. A lot of them have to be ordered straight from Germany, where Bear Family resides. We need some good American label to do this sort of thing. But bless their hearts, those European record guys are something. They have a n insane passion for the real country music and they tend to have an encyclopedic knowledge of it far beyond most of us.
July 3, 2019 @ 9:41 am
Yeah I about choked on my Wheaties at the negative connotation of the Billy Sherrill reference. But I get the intended contrast.
Don’t anyone let preconceived notions prevent them from experiencing some truly great music, though. Go listen to a track like Ways to Love a Man by Tammy Wynette and decide for yourself. The production is perfect for that track. The performances sublime. Great dynamics. Great song.
But yes–a different approach to music production. The ultimate blame for its overuse and propagation rightly belongs with the labels, IMHO. Epic Records and the Columbia Studio, I would guess, were more on the good side of the dark force that was Countrypolitan as practiced over at RCA, no? But Billy Sherrill would have made great, popular music under whatever style was in vogue.
I’m pretty sure that most everyone here would pick the Countrypolitan channel over the Today’s Pop Country channel. But of course most of us would pick the Bakersfield channel over the Countrypolitan channel–myself included, at least 80% of the time 😉
July 3, 2019 @ 11:05 am
I’ve been a big Billy Sherrill/Countrypolitan apologist for years. Wasn’t trying to run his name down or Chet’s. But they did help put the system in place that is still in practice today in many respects. Taylor Swift not owning her masters and that whole imbroglio is part of that. Doesn’t mean some great music didn’t come out in that time because it did. But I also think it’s important to give an honest assessment of the era.
Here’s some articles if anyone’s interested in a deeper assessment.
July 3, 2019 @ 8:51 pm
That (Tammy) song does sound great. Back before dynamics were feared and ambient tracks could still sound personal and intimate.
July 3, 2019 @ 8:50 am
Christmas in August!!!
July 3, 2019 @ 9:29 am
Bear Family is a first class outfit.
Bakersfield was rough then and probably rougher now. You can sure hear where Merle came from!
By the way, some local band here in the cornfields covered “Whitehouse Road” last night at the county fair.
July 4, 2019 @ 9:54 am
Here in Atlanta, singer-songwriters are slipping “Whitehouse Road” into their sets all the time — sometimes mentioning it’s a cover, sometimes not! Also heard a duo do “Shake the Frost” the other day. Exciting!
Seth of the Wilderness
July 3, 2019 @ 10:08 am
But when, oh when, will we hear young Ben?
July 3, 2019 @ 11:12 am
Your statement about his recordings not being released on Tally is confusing. He had multiple singles released on Tally. Just seems like this one was one that never made it to record
July 3, 2019 @ 11:22 am
I tried to clarify that statement a little bit. Didn’t mean to imply he didn’t release anything on Tally, just that the two tracks from the box set have never been heard before.
July 3, 2019 @ 12:04 pm
Didn’t Sherill produce “He Stopped Loving Her Today” for George Jones? Can’t be all bad though I do understand Trigger’s purpose of the post.
July 3, 2019 @ 12:26 pm
I can’t wait to hear it. Not ashamed to say I am MOST looking forward to hearing Barbara Mandrell’s first solo recording.
And I totally get the comment about Atkins and Sherill. They both are legends and did amazing things for country music, but they also help set up the system that artists are still suffering under today.
The Taylor Swift/BMR is one example. The 2008 fire at Universal that destroyed the original masters of hundreds of artists (including George Straight, Dolly Parton, and Barbara Mandrell) is another example.
July 3, 2019 @ 12:55 pm
The set is on my “must buy” list. Will be a very early christmas gift…
Can’t wait to listen to Barbara Mandrell & the book will be highlight too.
July 3, 2019 @ 6:22 pm
I agree with what you said about Chet and Billy Sherrill. Lukewarm fans won’t understand, so no need to defend yourself as all they know are a few big names and He Stopped Loving Her Today. Most of them wouldn’t be able to sit through the Bakersfield boxed set without getting distracted 2 minutes in by some beard oil sitting on their tailgate. With all the great music coming out of of Chet and Billy, it was such an anomaly at that time to hear the loud, twangy telecasters and bouncing steel guitars coming out of the speakers.
July 3, 2019 @ 7:00 pm
Buck’s autobiography talks about this era so I am looking forward to hearing this set. Everything Bear Family puts out is top shelf. Too bad there are no US companies with the same level of respect for country music history.
Reasonable Mainstream Country Fan
July 4, 2019 @ 6:35 am
10 cd’s and a 220-page hardcover book. Bear puts out some quality packages. They have some great Maddox Family stuff – rock-n-roll, baby. .
July 4, 2019 @ 8:36 am
Simple warning about ordering directly from Bear Family, which is in Germany: the shipping cost for a box set is crazy expensive. The cost for a recent George Jones box set from Germany to California was $50.12.
Instead, wait till Amazon or another seller on this side of the Atlantic has them. The price of the box set will be the same but the shipping won’t!
July 4, 2019 @ 3:40 pm
Ha! This was back before Merle decided to copy Lefty. He sounds like he’s trying to copy Buck.
Shooter Rules !
July 5, 2019 @ 5:50 pm
Yeah? Rave on dude. Can’t even touch Shooter Jennings. You DO know the name Haggard is Persian…right?
His mother’s mother’s mother of all mothers was kicked out of Iran back when Abraham was inventing the steel guitar.
“Haggard” translated from Persian means “I’d like to help you but Ive got to go re-primer my truck”
Learned this in San Antonio. (You wouldn’t believe how many Persians live there who mistakenly think they are Mexicans).
July 5, 2019 @ 6:38 pm