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THE PATHWAY OF MY LIFE

THE PATHWAY OF MY LIFE
Bear Family Releases 2nd Hank Thompson Box Set

Bear Family first covered  Hank Thompson’s recording career with a 12 cd box set, which presented his complete output (on Globe, Blue Bonnet and Capitol)
during the period 1945-64, resulting in 49 hit singles, sales around 30
million and succession of awards for him and his band, The Brazos Valley Boys.
Then, in 1966, with Capitol behind him, Thompson began a new recording phase, first briefly with Warner Bros. before establishing himself as a top-selling artist on Dot Records
and the labels that followed in its wake. All these commercial
releases, alongside unreleased material, alternative versions and other
rarities, are in this 247 song, 8 cd box set.
HANK THOMPSON  THE PATHWAY OF MY LIFE (1966-1986)
(Bear Family 17260 HK)
The music scene had changed and the heyday for western swing, Hank Thompson’s
primary musical direction, had passed although he was to return
occasionally to those music roots. The situation wasn’t helped as
Thompson (and his manager, Jim Halsey) grew disillusioned with
Capitol, with the hits slowing down and the artist being given the
“run-around”, with greater promotion afforded Buck Owens and pop acts
like The Beach Boys and The Beatles. So it was time for a change and, to
match the changes in country music, Thompson experimented with his
sound and choice of songs. This new career era began with tracks
produced by Joe Allison who, twenty years earlier, had first
introduced Thompson to Tex Ritter which, in turn, led on to Capitol
Records. 16 songs were recorded and originally presented to United Artists Records but when, according to Halsey, “they suddenly decided that, for that particular time, they were not gonna be in the country music business”, a deal was agreed with Warner Bros.
Hank Thompson’s association with the new label was relatively short though, scoring two Top 20 singles – Where Is The Circus and He’s Got A Way With Women
– and three albums, “Where Is The Circus” (which found itself competing
with “Breakin’ The Rules”, just one of seven albums that Capitol
released on Thompson following his departure from the label), “The Gold
Standard Collection” (covers of country classics like She Thinks I Still Care, Smoke Smoke Smoke and Six Days On The Road among
the 12 tracks) and the instrumental “Countrypolitan Sound of Hank
Thompson’s  Brazos Valley Boy” (where the sized down band was augmented
with nearly 25 musicians, including Merle Travis and Glen Campbell,
to create as sound far removed from the western swing days). But, in
common with the earlier Capitol situation, Thompson fared second best to
Warner’s other artists, in particular Nancy Sinatra, Bill Cosby and
Peter, Paul & Mary. So, after a year, he departed the label.
By early 1968 Dot Records,
with dwindling pop sales, was turning its attention to country music –
and Halsey created a production company (Singin’ T Productions) with
Allison that gave many of the Halsey artists an outlet on Dot, with Hank Thompson,
who retained his Warners’ recordings, assured rightful top priority.
The new deal kicked off with a couple of those previously recorded
Warners’ titles (and a return to honky tonk themes), On Tap, In The Can, Or In The Bottle and Smoky The Bar which rose to #7 and #5 respectively in the 1968 Billboard Country Charts.
In
the following years on Dot (which later changed to ABC/Dot, then ABC
before becoming merged into MCA), Thompson scored a further 24 chart
hits, though none rose as high in the charts as Smoky The Bar. The records were I
See them Everywhere, The Pathway Of Life, Oklahoma Home Brew, But
That’s All right, One Of The Fortunate Few, Next Time I Fall In Love (I
Won’t), The Mark Of A Heel, I’ve Come Awfully Close, Cab Driver, Glow
Worm, Roses In The Wine, Kindly Keep It Country, The Older The Violin
The Sweeter The Music, Who Left The Door To Heaven Open, Mama Don’t
‘Low, That’s Just My Truckin’ Luck, Asphalt Cowboy, Big Band Days, Honky
Tonk Girl
(new version of his 1954 Capitol hit), Just an Old Flame, I’m Just Getting’ By, Dance With Me Molly, I Hear The South Calling Me and Tony’s Tank-Up, Drive-In Café.
Albumwise
the first Dot releases were virtually repackages of the Warner’s
product, with “Smoky The Bar” being the first collection to feature
mainly new material, recorded at Nashville’s newly opened Woodland
studios. Around the same time Thompson updated his image with longer
sideburns and a goatee while Allison started seeking out other new
musical directions, fitting in with the changes that were happening in
the Nashville country music scene of the early 1970s with the new breed
of songwriters like Kris Kristofferson and Red Lane.
One of his first concept albums was “Hank Thompson Salutes Oklahoma” and included Dusty Skies, Dear Okie, Take Me Back To Tulsa and Oklahoma Hills
alongside five Thompson five originals. Another collection was a truck
driving album which, for some reason or other, was never released (apart
from the single Asphalt Cowboy b/w Fifteen Miles To Clarksville) and makes its debut in this box set.
Then, moving in an entirely different direction, he recorded two tribute albums to major pop music entertainers, the Mills Brothers and Nat “King” Cole. The former – titled “Cab Driver” and featuring such songs as Glow Worm, Be My Life’s Companion and You Always Hurt The One You Love – was his only Dot album to hit the Top 10 in Billboard’s Country LP charts. “That was strictly Hank’s idea” recalled Jim Foglesong, the label’s Nashville head of operations, “he was very creative”. Unfortunately the subsequent “Hank Thompson Sings The Hits Of Nat King Cole” (which included A Blossom Fell, Ramblin’ Rose, Mona Lisa and It’s Only A Paper Moon
among its ten tracks) failed to make any chart impact, although Jim
Halsey reckons that it, along with the Mills Brothers’ set, were “two of the greatest pieces of country music ever recorded”.
Of course Hank Thompson
also continued to put out the occasional album that kept to his country
roots and these included “Kindly Keep It Country”, “Movin’ On”, “Back
In The Swing Of Things”, “The Thompson Touch” and “Doin’ My Thing” which
appeared on different labels as Dot Records morphed into ABC/Dot, then
ABC and finally MCA. At the same time a variety of producers took over
the reins after Joe Allison, among them Larry Butler, Ricci Mareno and Tommy Allsup. The material covered both classic and new material as well as several originals from the artist himself.
By
the time ABC merged with MCA, in March 1979, another period of
uncertainly emerged as the recording industry was broken down into fewer
companies, with their energies aimed at new artists while the older
acts were generally overlooked. At the same time many of the radio dj’s
came from rock backgrounds and, said Thompson, “were not really
familiar with true country music, so when they choose their playlists,
they lean toward country-favored pop and pop-flavored country”.
In an effort to meet the changes, Larry Butler produced “Brand New Hank” in 1978, though (according to media response) the “newest” sound on the album was I Hear The South Callin’ Me,
a song that reflected the singer’s far earlier recordings! Then, with
1980’s “Take Me Back to Tulsa” set, Hank Thompson exited MCA Records.
The early 1980s, with the arrival of the “Urban Cowboy” movement and an ever greater emphasis on pop-country, Jim Halsey reacted to the changes by launching his own label, Churchill Records,
as an outlet for Hank Thompson and Roy Clark. The resulting album “1000
And One Nighters”, co-produced by Thompson and Peter Nichols, brought
together some of the former Brazos Valley Boys and presented the singer
in familiar territory with classics and swing material like Pistol Packing Mama, Driving Nails in My Coffin, Big Boat Across Oklahoma, The Convict And The Rose and Shame On Me. Accordingly it was generally recognized as one of Thompson’s best albums in years.
The
final album presented in this box set was simply titled “Hank Thompson”
and marked a one-off return to Dot Records (now reactivated by MCA) in
1986. In a project to “preserve country music”, this was one of several releases by legendary artists whom label chief Jimmy Bowen felt possessed a loyal following. Produced by Joe Bob Barnhill, it included new versions of several old Capitol hits (Wild Side Of Life, Oklahoma Hills and Breakin’ The Rules) as well as a duet with George Strait on A Six Pack To Go. Not only was this Strait’s first duet but also Thompson’s first ever duet in his 40 year recording history.
Among the other items to be found in this eight disc collection are five live songs (Oklahoma Hills, Wild Side Of Life, Green Light, Old Time Fiddle Medley and A Six Pack To Go) recorded at New York’s Carnegie Hall
on May 17, 1977. These originally appeared as part of the “Country
Comes To Carnegie Hall” double LP which also featured (but not included
here) other Halsey artists Roy Clark, Freddy Fender and Don Williams.
To
round off this collection, there are more than two dozen unissued
recordings, including a 1983 session recorded at Nashville’s Music Mill
studios as well as the aforementioned truck driving album.
The recordings are accompanied by a 126 page, hardcover book in which author Scott B. Bomar
– drawing from nearly twenty new interviews – not only provides
information on all the sessions, the songs and the changes took place in
the country music industry during this period, but also incorporates
biographical information on many of the people associated with Thompson.
These include wife Ann Thompson; business associate/partner Jim Halsey; record producers Joe Allison, Larry Butler, Ricci Mareno and Tommy Allsup; members of the Brazos Valley Boys
and several session musicians. This extremely well detailed book also
features dozens of photographs from personal scrapbooks and a complete
discography of Hank’s recordings from the era.
Other Hank Thompson releases on Bear Family:
Hank Thompson & Brazos Valley Boys Complete Recordings (1945-1964)
  (12 cd box set with 84 page hardcover book) (BCD 15904 LK)

A Six Pack To Go – cd with 36 page booklet  (BCD 16803 AH)

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