MERLE HAGGARD: THE COMPLETE MCA RECORDINGS

MERLE
HAGGARD: THE COMPLETE MCA RECORDINGS
Bear
Family Release 4 CD Box Set With 68 Page
Book
After his eleven year tenure with
Capitol Records, which charted 40 Top Ten Singles (24 of them
number one’s), Merle Haggard signed with MCA
in 1976. His complete recordings for this label are now released by Bear
Family
, following on from the three earlier box sets that featured his
former label material.
MERLE
HAGGARD   The Troubadour
(Bear Family BCD
17250 DK)
Although Haggard continued to
enjoy great success on Capitol, he had begun thinking about semi-retirement, “wanting to get out of the limelight before
I got too old”
he told Chicago Tribune columnist Jack
Hurst
, then pondered what would be missed if he did quit. Around the
same time the situation at Capitol was changing, with Buck
Owens
‘ contract adversely affecting the other artists on the
label and producer Ken Nelson having no say in either
recordings or release schedules. But Nelson, who nurtured the artist’s
creativity, agreed to carry on supervising Haggard’s sessions until his contract
expired in 1976, after his own retirement a couple of years
earlier.
So, after a five month break,
Merle Haggard re-assembled The Strangers,
signed on Leona Williams as part of his show (at the same time
time beginning a stormy personal relationship and, in time, a
brief marriage) and looked around for the best record deal. It came with
MCA and he commenced recording his first album during Christmas week 1976,
with 
Nashville becoming his home base
for the majority of recordings during the following
years
.
His association with MCA was far
shorter than his days with Capitol and his recorded output –
111 tracks spanning from 1976 to 1981 – was a far more eclectic mix. And,
although he might have been competing with the label’s heavy sellers
Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn and Tanya
Tucker
, he did enjoy sixteen chart entries (the majority being Top 10,
if not Top 5) – If We’re Not in Love By
Monday; Ramblin’ Fever/When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again; From Graceland To
The Promised Land ; I’m Always on A Mountain When I Fall; It’s Been A Great
Afternoon/Love Me When You Can; Red Bandana/I Must Have Done Something Bad; My
Own Kind Of hat/Heaven Was A Drink Of Wine; The Way I Am; Misery and gin;
Leonard; Rainbow Stew; Dealing With The Devil; It’s All In The Game; Make-Up And
Faded Blue Jeans;
and the chart-topping I Think I’ll Just Stay Here And
Drink.
He also charted a duet with
Leona Williams, The Bull
And The Beaver
, and another number one, Bar Room Buddies, this being a duet with
Clint Eastwood from the soundtrack of Eastwood’s movie
Bronco Billy and released on Elektra Records,
also included in this box set.
He released eight LPs, the
first being Ramblin’ Fever with the majority of tracks produced
by Hank Cochran at Nashville’s Glaser Studio
and two – I Think It’s Gone
Forever
and If We’re Not In Love By
Monday
being the final items under the helm of Ken Nelson
at Hollywood’s Capitol Studio. The album was soon followed by
My Farewell To Elvis, his loving tribute to the entertainment
whom he had met in
Las
Vegas
in 1969 – “I left his suite disappointed because Elvis
didn’t really seem ‘bigger than life’ offstage. I guess I felt a little bit
cheated to discover that he was a human being like the rest of us”
he
reflects in Dave Samuelson’s detailed notes in this set’s
accompanying book.
Nevertheless, in spite of the
disappointment, Presley’s music impacted upon Haggard and this tribute
collection – produced by “Fuzzy” Owen at the Jack
Clement Studio
in two quick sessions – revived eight Presley hits,
led off by Hag’s original From
Graceland To The Promised Land
(written during the course of a relatively
short car journey) and concluded with a few brief words. Although it was rush
released, Haggard requested that MCA hold the album until late October as he
didn’t want it seem that he was exploiting Presley’s death. He had recorded
tribute albums previously (in particular, the Jimmie Rodgers and Bob Wills
collections), but this set presented Haggard in fresh surroundings with his
interpretations of such as Are You
Lonesome Tonight, Don’t Be Cruel, Heartbreak Hotel
 and Blue Suede Shoes.
During this period of his
life, the songs frequently reflected his dark mood fuelled by drugs and
alcohol, and further aided by his tempestuous co-dependency with Leona
Williams
– and possibly best heard by the album I’m Always on A
Mountain When I Fall
with its array of ballads, described by one
journalist as “distressingly
slow-moving”
but enhancing the album’s reputation among long-time Haggard
aficionados, with the track It’s Been A Great Afternoon working out as
one of the singer’s better selling singles. Then came Serving 101 Proof,
with Haggard regaining writing enthusiasm after his marriage to
Williams (Bob Eubanks, who booked live shows for a decade, once
told the singer that he was at his most creative when he was having women
troubles). This album also introduced newly installed MCA VP Jimmy
Bowen
as producer who, determined to change the way Nashville recorded
music, only cut one or two songs on a session (instead of the normal four)
and took three months to finish work on this ten song collection, even though
Haggard handled most of the production!
The Way I Am – recorded piecemeal with
three different producers (“Fuzzy” Owen, Don
Gant
 and Porter Wagoner) – mixed new songs,
including four originals, with oldies from veterans Ernest
Tubb
and Floyd Tillman. The title track, which rose to
#2 in the charts, captured the singer’s mood and philosophy at the time. Then
came Back To The Barrooms, with its lengthy I Think I’ll Stay Here And Drink, giving
the singer his only number one on the label, and Leonard, his poignant tribute to the
troubled Tommy Collins. Three songs that never made the album,
Help Save The Wild Life, Lay Your Hands On My Heart and Dealing With The Devil are issued for
the first time in this box set.
Merle Haggard’s final two albums for
MCA (before he moved on to
Epic) comprised a hot concert recording – Rainbow
Stew: Live In Anaheim
– and Songs For The Mama That
Tried
, a beautiful set of gospel songs dedicated to his 92
year old mother, Flossie Haggard Scott. Besides including such
familiar items as What A Friend We Have
In Jesus
and Keep On The Sunny
Side
, it includes Hank WilliamsWhen God Comes And
Gathers His Jewels
and newer material by Kris
Kristofferson
(Why Me) and
Marijohn Wilkin (One Day
At A Time
) with the penultimate track, The Old Rugged Cross, including a deeply
moving testament to his mother.
In addition to the commercially
released items, MCA had one other album in the can which
Epic acquired as the label didn’t want their product undermined
by previously recorded material. Reportedly paying $120,000 for the ten
unreleased masters (all presented in this collection), the majority of these
tracks appeared on the 1984 collection It’s All In The Game.
Headed up by the much recorded pop standard title track, the album also included
Pennies From Heaven intended as a
unrealized Bing Crosby tribute.
Among the other items in this set
is the recently discovered, original version of Troubadour and three items – The Man In The Mask alongside two
narrations – produced by
Britain’s John Barry
(best known for his work on the James Bond films) for the soundtrack of the
commercially doomed movie The Legend Of The Lone
Ranger
.
As can be expected from
Bear Family, the recordings are accompanied by a lavishly
produced, LP size hard cover book – on this occasion running 68 pages in which
Dave Samuelson’s informative notes about this period of this
artist’s life and recordings are interjected with anecdotes and
supplementary information with many comments by the artist himself. (The box set
was produced with Haggard’s full co-operation). The book has such fine
diversions as a summary of the earlier Capitol years; the passages related
to Leona Williams, “a
crazy stubborn woman had a lot of strange ideas”
; attempting to record on
his isolated cabin on Lake Shasta and ending up with a lot of farmyard noises;
Jimmy Bowen’s approach to recording country music, creating
larger budgets and using different musicians; the ignored “live” version of The Fightin’ Side Of Me to capitalize on
a middle-east political situation; and concludes with several paragraphs devoted
to his career after MCA. Illustrated with numerous photographs and reproductions
of album covers, there’s also a Scrapbook section and
discography.
Other Merle Haggard
releases on Bear Family Records:
Untamed Hawk (Tally & Capitol
recordings 1962-68) (5 cd box set and 52 page book) – BCD 15744
EI
Hag (Capitol studio recordings 1969-76)
(6 cd box set with 140 page book) – BCD 16749 FK
Hag (Capitol recording 1968-76: Concepts,
Live & The Strangers) (6 cd box set with 120 page book) – BCD 16782
FK
Same train – A Different Time (cd with 20
page booklet) – BCD 15740 AH
Old Loves Never Die (duets with Leona Williams)
(cd with 24 page booklet) – BCD 16411 AH
Merle Haggard’s duet album with
Bonnie Owens “Just Between The two Of Us” is included in the
Bonnie Owens’ collection Queen Of The Coast (4 cd box set with
76 page book) – BCD 16178 DK

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