When Waylon Jennings passed away in 2002, he was rightfully hailed as one of country music's first true "Outlaws" alongside such artists and fellow Highwaymen as Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson. But Jennings paid his dues on the Nashville scene before "crossing over" to superstardom with such landmark records as Dreaming My Dreams (1975), Are You Ready for the Country (1976), Ol' Waylon (1977), and I've Always Been Crazy (1978). Cherry Red's country-focused Morello label has already released two collections of four albums apiece chronicling Jennings' pre-outlaw days at his longtime home of RCA Victor. On February 11 (in the U.K.) and February 18 (in North America), the label will turn the clock back to the singer's first four RCA long-players on one 2-CD set: Folk-Country (1966), Leavin' Town (1966), Nashville Rebel (1966), and Waylon Sings Ol' Harlan (1967). It affords a great opportunity to revisit these early recordings in which Jennings was still developing his true voice.
RCA Nashville chief - and legendary guitarist - Chet Atkins signed Jennings to the venerable label. Waylon later recalled of Chet, "That's God's right hand as far as country music. When you walked in there, the most important thing in your life is to impress him." Chet was duly impressed, but in his capacity as producer, his vision didn't always match his artist's. On Folk-Country, he supported the singer with the Anita Kerr Singers and the Nashville Cats (including drummer Kenny Buttrey, pianists Floyd Cramer and Hargus "Pig" Robbins, and bassists Bob Moore and Henry Strzelecki) for a countrypolitan sound in line with Atkins' famed Nashville Sound. In a concession to Jennings, Atkins did allow his own band to play on the record, too, and recorded three of Jennings' own songs alongside tunes by Nashville stalwart Harlan Howard and others. The compromise between artist and producer paid off, as Folk-Country reached No. 9 on the Billboard Country Albums chart and the single "Stop the World (And Let Me Off" went top 20 on the Country Singles survey.
Leavin' Town followed the Folk-Country template with another three of Jennings' own compositions as well as selected covers from folk troubadours including Gordon Lightfoot ("(That's What You Get) For Lovin' Me") and Rod McKuen ("Doesn't Anybody Know My Name") as well as Mel Tillis ("You're Gonna Wonder About Me"), Bobby Bare (title track "Leavin' Town"), and the returning Harlan Howard ("Time to Bum Again," "Baby Don't Be Looking in My Mind"). The No. 3 Country album spun off three radio hits including Howard's "Time to Bum Again," Jennings' "Anita, You're Dreaming" (both top 20s), and Lightfoot's "(That's What You Get) For Loving Me" which went to No. 9.
Waylon's next record would be a little different. He'd been cast in the lead role of the American International Pictures B-movie Nashville Rebel, starring opposite Mary Frann (Newhart) and a number of country stars playing themselves: Loretta Lynn, Tex Ritter, Porter Wagoner, Sonny James, Faron Young, and even Chet Atkins. The movie was shot on location at Nashville, with the Grand Ole Opry figuring prominently into the plot. RCA acquired the rights to the music and released the soundtrack album produced by Chet Atkins and Bob Ferguson as Waylon's third solo LP. The first side of the LP featured Jennings' vocal numbers including the No. 11 hit "Green River," penned by Harlan Howard. Side Two offered a bonus track, a distinctive cover of The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" not heard in the film, plus five instrumental cues. Nashville Rebel did just about as well as Jennings' previous LPs, reaching No. 4. Note that it was originally issued in mono and electronically-reproduced stereo (although some songs were in true stereo). Morello has reissued the mono version.
Seeing as how the songs of Harlan Howard played such a major role in Waylon's first three LPs, it should come as no surprise that his fourth album was dedicated exclusively to them. Waylon Sings Ol' Harlan, produced as always by Chet Atkins, boasted a dozen Howard compositions. This time, Waylon felt free to tackle some of his friend and mentor's most famous songs such as "I've Got a Tiger by the Tail" and "Foolin' Around" (both co-written and introduced by Buck Owens), "Busted" (a 1963 top five single for Ray Charles), and "Heartaches by the Number" (a 1959 No. 1 for Guy Mitchell also recorded by Owens, Ray Price, Kitty Wells, Connie Francis, Bing Crosby, Willie Nelson, and others). Yet perhaps because no singles were released from the LP, Waylon Sings Ol' Harlan was his least successful RCA LP to that point, only hitting No. 32 on the chart. Waylon's very next album, Love of the Common People, would restore him to the top five. (That album has already been reissued by Morello.) Oddly, the order of Nashville Rebel and Sings Ol' Harlan have been swapped on Disc Two of this set, with the latter album coming first.
Morello's four-for-one release features a simple eight-page color booklet with brief liner notes by Tony Byworth. It's due on February 11 in the U.K. and one week later in North America. You'll find the complete track listing and pre-order links below.
Waylon Jennings, Folk-Country/Leavin' Town/Waylon Sings Ol' Harlan/Nashville Rebel (Cherry Red/Morello MRLL 102D, 2022) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada)
Folk-Country (RCA LSP-3523, 1966)
- Another Bridge to Burn
- Stop the World (And Let Me Off)
- Cindy of New Orleans
- Look Into My Teardrops
- Down Came the World
- I Don't Mind
- Just for You
- Now Everybody Knows
- That's the Chance I'll Have to Take
- What Makes a Man Wander
- I'm a Man of Constant Sorrow
- What's Left of Me
Leavin' Town (RCA LSP-3620, 1967)
- Leavin' Town
- Time to Bum Again
- If You Really Want Me To, I'll Go
- Baby, Don't Be Looking in My Mind
- But That's Alright
- Time Will Tell the Story
- You're Gonna Wonder About Me
- (That's What You Get) For Lovin' Me
- Anita, You're Dreaming
- Doesn't Anybody Know My Name
- Falling for You
- I Wonder Just Where I Went Wrong
Waylon Sings Ol' Harlan (RCA LSP-3660, 1967)
- She Called Me Baby
- Sunset and Vine
- Woman, Let Me Sing You a Song
- The Everglades
- She's Gone, Gone, Gone
- Beautiful Annabel Lee
- Heartaches by the Number
- Tiger by the Tail
- Heartaches for a Dime
- Foolin' Around
- In This Very Same Room
Nashville Rebel: From the Original Sound Track (RCA LPM-3736, 1966) (Mono)
- Silver Ribbons
- Nashville Bum
- Green River
- I'm a Long Way from Home
- Norwegian Wood
- Hoodlum (Instrumental)
- Spanish Penthouse (Instrumental)
- Lang's Theme (Instrumental)
- Rush Street Blues (Instrumental)
- Lang's Mansion (Instrumental)
Ben in Colorado says
Looks like a great set and a nice way to get some classic albums.
Robert Lett says
I think I have most or all of this on the first Bear Family box. Good stuff!
You are correct. All songs from these four RCA Victor albums are included on the first Waylon Bear Family Box set - "The Journey: Destiny's Child."
All vocal tracks from the Nashville Rebel album are presented in true STEREO in the Bear Box. However the five instrumental sides are all in MONO. It's possible that because those tracks were specifically recorded for the movie soundtrack stereo mixes were never
created. Unfortunately those tunes are just not very good. Although several of Nashville's "A" list pickers were contracted for that session the generic instrumentals sound more like a late night jam session. And that vibe matches the low-rent B movie look of that film. Other than capturing singing performances by Waylon and several other country stars from that era Nashville Rebel is a rather dreadful film.
Joe: Thank you again for including country releases in your blog.
Cannot say why the there's a sudden interest in reissuing Waylon's RCA Victor catalog but it's sure good to see. In 1999 Bear Family released two 6-CD box sets of Waylon's recordings that covered the start of his career until the end of 1972. They included some unreleased material although some single versions were overlooked. The RCA/BMG label has mostly issued compilations of single hits and only sporadically reissued Waylon's original albums. They have also allowed a handful to be licensed to reissue labels. However until recently many albums in Waylon's immense RCA catalog have never been available on CD.
Two UK labels Morello and BGO are the latest to mine the RCA vaults. Morello has focused on Waylon's 1960's/early 70's releases while BGO has been issuing titles from Waylon's "Outlaw" period extending from the late 70's until he left the label in 1985. Many are new to CD or have been unavailable for some time.
These four albums from Morello spotlight Waylon's early years in Nashville and feature the typical country arrangements of that era. If you love twangy guitar these are for you. In addition to the first Bear Family box set in 1999 [The Journey: Destiny's Child] all four have been previously reissued on CD as individual albums or as "two-fer's." They are all available as downloads.
My guess is that the sequence of the albums on disc 2 for this set was reversed for programming reasons so that the anemic instrumentals at the end of the Nashville Rebel album play at the very end rather than in the middle of the CD. However that is the chronological order that those albums were recorded. The "Ol' Harlan" album sessions were completed on June 1, 1966 a month before the Nashville Rebel vocal sessions on July 5. But oddly the Nashville Rebel album [LPM/LSP 3736] was assigned a much higher RCA Victor catalog number than "Ol' Harlan" [LPM/LSP 3660] although it was released about three months earlier.
Regarding the 'Ol' Harlan" album:
-Heartaches By The Number and Busted were both country hits several months before they became pop hits for Guy Mitchell [#1 in Dec. 1959] & Ray Charles [#4 in Oct. 1963] respectively. Ray Price scored a #2 country hit with "Heartaches By The Number" in June 1959 and Johnny Cash took "Busted" to #13 in April 1963.
- It was unusual in that era for RCA to release a country album for a current artist without a corresponding single release. It's likely that between the time that album was recorded in mid-1966 and the "Green River" single was concluding it's chart run in early '67 that RCA decided there was not a strong enough single prospect on that LP. The Mel Tillis song "Mental Revenge" was tapped as Waylon's next single release.
There's some great real country music on all four albums and I too recommend that you check these out.