CD Reviews for 11/26/04 (Sundazed Records country reissues) by Dan Ferguson

Country reissues are once again in the spotlight. Over the next month or so, we shine the Compact Capsules spotlight on a slew of country-and-then-some reissues and hits packages that have come out since the summertime. We begin in this first installment by showcasing releases from one of the most reliable labels on the domestic front when it comes to bringing back blasts from the past, the Coxsackie, New York-based reissue house Sundazed Music. Let’s get to it.

Truckstops, Broken Hearts & Honky Tonk Heroes

They’re calling it the “Truckstops, Broken Hearts & Honky Tonk Heroes” series and for devotees of circa-1960s country & western music, it is a re-release bonanza with the potential to take Sundazed Music to the head of the reissue ranks class. Whereas the label has dabbled to extremely good measure on the country reissue scene thanks largely to its fantastic Buck Owens series that has brought back a slew of classic 1960s albums from Owens & his Buckaroos on CD, “Truckstops, Broken Hearts & Honky Tonk Heroes” is the next giant step. Sundazed Music itself describes this new series as a “thorough re-examination of the patron saints of vintage country-cool!” And patron saints is exactly what is delivered on the first five entries in the series all taken from original analog masters from the catalogue of Capitol/Tower Records.
Leading the parade is the reissue of two classics from one of the deans of the trucking music subgenre of C&W, not to mention a co-architect of the Bakersfield Sound, Red Simpson. Up first is the reissue of Simpson’s 1966 Capitol Records album debut Roll, Truck, Roll (Sundazed SC-9003) which rose as high as the number seven position on the Billboard country charts in 1967. The cornerstone of this longplayer was the title track written by Bakersfield compadre Tommy Collins. With big twangy licks aplenty, the 18-wheeler lifestyle provided the fodder for nearly all of the songs comprising Roll, Truck, Roll. Heck, all one needs to do is a glance at song titles like “Truck Drivin’ Man”, “Nitro Express”, “Give Me 40 Acres”, “Happy Go Lucky Truck Driver”, “Six Days on the Road” and “Big Mack” to get the idea that the big rigs weigh heavy in the Roll, Truck, Roll proceedings. Simply put, this album is arguably the head of the class when it comes to truckin’ music making it a more than welcome reissue for dieselbilly fanatics out there.
Whereas Roll, Truck, Roll takes the cake, Simpson’s follow-up album from 1967 titled Truck Drivin’ Fool (Sundazed SC-9004) proved a perfect segue. Containing such rig-ready beauties as “Diesel Smoke, Dangerous Curves”, “Sleeper Cab, Two by Five”, “Truck Daddy”, “Jacknife”, “Born To Be a Trucker” and of course, the title track, Truck Drivin’ Fool is a close runner-up for top banana when it comes to classic truck drivin’ sound records.
While we’re in a Simpson mode, Christmas time’s a-comin’ and I can’t think of a better record to get the spirits going, gear-jammin’ style, than the reissue of his 1973 album Trucker’s Christmas (Sundazed SC-9006). Christmas and 18-wheelers, you’re wondering? Well, Simpson on this 10-song album makes it all seem so perfect together dishing out the cheer by way of tunes like “Truckin’ Trees For Christmas”, “Blue Blue Christmas (For This Truck Drivin’ Man)”, “Christmas Wheels”, “The Old Christmas Truck”, “Toys For Tots”, and my favorite “Santa’s Comin’ In a Big Ol’ Truck”. Packing plenty of that trademark Bakersfield twang into its 10 songs, Christmas music never sounded so good.
Like Simpson, Maine native Dick Curless was also a cat who latched onto the truck drivin’ sound in a big time way. For the late Curless who was dubbed the “Baron of Country Music”, it was a song about a nasty patch of road in his home state that catapulted his career as a C&W artist. That song was “Tombstone Every Mile” and it hit the number five spot on the country charts in 1965. Until he hit big with that song, Curless was pretty relegated to regional star status. “Tombstone” took him national and gained him a deal with Capitol subsidiary Tower Records. Reissued for the first time in its entirety on CD, the ensuing album Tombstone Every Mile (Sundazed SC-9001) saw release in 1965 and was an instant chart smash. In addition to “Tombstone Every Mile”, it found Curless applying that well-deep, soulful baritone voice of his to classics like “King of the Road”, “Streets of Laredo” and “Nine Pound Hammer”. Whereas by no means essential, fans of the yesteryear sounds of New England country will no doubt find plenty to like about the reissue of Tombstone Every Mile.
Here’s bettin’ that most folks would likely be hard-pressed to identify the lone female C&W recording artist to hop onto the truck drivin’ music bandwagon. First Lady honors from the feline ranks went to Texas native Kay Adams who for a brief period in the 1960s injected a sassified female perspective into her gearjammin’ goodies. Based out of Bakersfield where she relocated in 1964, Adams’ first single “Honky Tonk Heartache” saw release on Tower Records that same year. It helped garner her the award for Most Promising Female Vocalist from the Academy of Country Music the following year. It wasn’t until 1966 that she truly made her mark thanks to the hit single about a feisty lady trucker called “Little Pink Mack”, a number awash in that same hard driving Bakersfield style that personified the music of Owens and Simpson. The album Wheels & Tears containing that smash hit followed soon after and truly established Adams as the queen bee of truckin’ music. A most welcome reissue, the 10-song Wheels & Tears (Sundazed SC-9002) saw Adams heading in a variety of directions spanning the female answer song to Dave Dudley’s “Six Days On the Road” (“Six Days Awaiting”) to the heartbreaker ballad “That’ll Be the Day” about a wife pining for her truck driver husband to the fuzztone-filled retooling of the Simpson novelty number “Big Mack” to covers from the likes of Buck Owens (“Second Fiddle” and “Walk the Floor”) and Lynn Anderson (“The Worst Is Yet to Come”). Whereas Adams would record three more albums for Tower before retiring from the business, none would achieve both the artistic and commercial success of Wheels & Tears which to this day remains the high water mark for both Adams and the female side of the truck-driving music genre.
The final reissue in the first wave of the “Truckstops, Broken Hearts & Honky Tonk Heroes” series leans more in the western swing direction of honky tonk, that being the re-release of the classic 1966 album from Hank Thompson called A Six Pack To Go (Sundazed SC-9005). Like Bob Wills, Thompson, thanks to the accompaniment of his sterling Brazos Valley Boys band, favored the full-bodied, big band sound when it came to his brand of ultra-swinging honky tonk. The dozen cuts comprising A Six Pack To Go more than fit the bill taking the listener from bouncy, fast moving polkas done in the country style like “Beer Barrel Polka” and “Bartender’s Polka” to tear-in-the-beer laments like “A Broken Heart and a Glass of Beer” and “Hangover Heart” to 100-proof nuggets like “Honky Tonk Town”, “Warm Red Wine”, the classic “Bubbles In My Beer”, and the equally noteworthy title track. About the only thing missing from this reissue is the glow of neon. An extra added bonus on this album was the addition of the legendary guitarist Merle Travis who joined the Brazos Valley Boys for all but one of the A Six Pack To Go dozen. And as was always par for the course, the musicianship is top notch. Thompson wouldn’t have it any other way. Highly recommended. (Sundazed Music, P.O. Box 85, Coxsackie, NY 12051, or www.sundazed.c…