When the compilation album Wanted! The Outlaws was released in 1976, it became country music’s first million-selling record and made huge stars of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. Jessi Colter was already a big star because of her big #1 hit “I’m Not Lisa”. But why did Tompall Glaser never find the big success his fellow Outlaws did? Why wasn’t Tompall able to ride the Outlaw momentum to become one of the biggest names in country music?
A recently-released biography on Tompall Glaser called The Great Tompall: Forgotten Country Music Outlaw finally looks to tell the life story of one of the most important figures in the history of country music, but one of the most forgotten. Because Tompall’s impact was mostly felt behind-the-scenes, he arguably has never received proper credit for how he revolutionized country music in the mid 70’s with his renegade studio that broke the major label monopoly on country, and allowed creative freedom to finally reign in Nashville.
The new book, written by blood relative Kevin Glaser who is the nephew of Tompall, includes many interviews with important country music figures from today and from the time of Tompall’s greatest influence; people like Kinky Friedman, “Cowboy” Jack Clement, and Marty Stuart. Kevin Glaser also speaks to influential critic and professor Dave Hickey who spent significant time at Glaser Studios in Nashville during the height of the Outlaw movement. In the new biography, Hickey helps explain why Tompall never became as famous as his Outlaw brothers while painting a picture of what the Glaser Sound Studios were like.
From “The Great Tompall”:
Hickey first came to Nashville with an assignment to write a book about Waylon and Willie. He never got around to it since he existed in a “fog of cocaine and dope” during his time at Glaser Sound Studios. He considers the time he spent there as a “studio internship,” and mentioned that because he lived two blocks away, he would sometimes sleep in the studio.
According to Hickey, “Glaser Sound Studio became ‘ground zero’ for the Outlaw Movement (a phrase that Dave claims to have coined), due to the fact that people like Tompall, Waylon, Willie and Neil Reshen were there during this time. This was the moment that country music artists discovered that they didn’t need to ask Chet Atkins’ permission before they could go to the bathroom. The old-time studio system (Acuff-Rose, etc.) could be bypassed. Everyone took control of their own destiny. They had their own publishing companies, studios, managers, etc. They weren’t beholden to record companies or to Billy Sherrill’s idea of what a good song was.”
In Hickey’s mind, the “Rebellious Center of Nashville” during this time included Roger Miller, John Lomax, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Billy Joe Shaver, Tompall, Billy Swan, and Kinky Friedman, among others. However, Tompall was the “improviasrio of the scene” and the scene was very valuable to a great many people. Tompall was a force to be reckoned with, and he was willing to take chances. A lot of studio time was provided pro bono and involved experimental types of activities…
Hickey said that drugs were the culture of this time period (pre-1985). Glaser Studios certainly wasn’t a “drug alley,” but drugs were certainly there. Tompall got into cocaine later in his career, but he (Hickey) doesn’t think that Tompall was into speed the way Willie and Waylon were. Waylon once said that “speed is pot for people who have to work two shifts per day.” Hickey also remembers that a professional cleaning company once came in to clean up all the smoke from pot and cigarettes that had become attached to the underside of the studio soundboard….
In Hickey’s opinion, Tompall didn’t become as well known as Waylon and Willie because “the obligation of having the recording studio created somewhat of a burden for Tompall, and he was not willing to leave and go on the road for eight weeks and live in a bus, etc. It just wasn’t his thing … and that is the thing that makes performers successful. However, Tompall seemed to be comfortable with the way things were.” Also, Hickey felt that Tompall wasn’t really comfortable with the place he found in the group that included Waylon, Willie, and Kris Kristofferson. There there is a tragedy to the story of Tompall, maybe this is it. Hickey compared Tompall’s place in this group to Bill Wyman’s place in the Rolling Stones, opposite of Keith Richards and Mick Jagger.
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