My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

My reissues wish list – part 1: Kapp, Mercury and Plantation/Sun

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roger millerIt should be no surprise to anyone that my tastes in country music run very traditional. While much of the music of the “New Traditionalists” movement of 1986-1999 remains available, as it should since it was digitally recorded, the music of the “Old Traditionalists (roughly 1925-1975) is another story.

When radio converted to digital starting in 1986, most radio stations, particularly FM stations, refused to play anything that was not on compact disc. As a result, a country oldie to these stations meant Alabama, Crystal Gayle, Ronnie Milsap and Kenny Rogers (artists whose back catalogue made it to digital formats) while the likes of such superstars as Charley Pride, Sonny James, Ray Price, Carl Smith, Ernest Tubb and Webb Pierce were lost to posterity.

Over time, the older country music began to be available, although often the availability was that of a four plus discs sets from Bear Family that was decidedly overkill for all but the most diehard fans. I am not knocking Bear, which in recent years has begun to issue some single disc collections. The Bear sets are as good as humanly imaginable, terrific sound, fabulous books and many of the discs have 85-87 minutes of music. They are great, but they run $22-$25 per disc.

Eventually more reissue labels emerged, mostly in Europe where the copyright laws had copyright protection lapse after fifty years. This changed recently to 70 years resulting in slowdown in reissues. I think recordings made in 1963 or later have the new 70 year copyright protection.

American record labels started to mine their back catalogues after 1991, but generally only for their biggest stars. A number of decent box sets have been issued, but again, only on the biggest stars.

Enough with my complaining – let’s start with a couple of relatively minor labels, in the first of a new series.

KAPP RECORDS

Kapp was a minor label that was eventually purchased by MCA. The biggest star on the label was pop balladeer Jack Jones, truly a fine singer. In the world of country music it was more of a launching pad for new artists and a resting place for over-the-hill singers.

Bobby Helms (“My Special Angel” & “Fraulein“) was on the label after his pop success waned. One could put together a nice CD of his Kapp recordings.

After many years of knocking about, Freddie Hart landed on Kapp. While I regard Freddie’s Kapp material as his best, he really had no big hits. Eventually Hart landed at Capital where “Easy Loving” made him an ‘overnight’ star. Kapp issued six albums on Freddie Hart, plus a hits collection. The six studio albums probably could fit on a nice two CD set

Mel Tillis released nine albums (plus two hit collections) while on Kapp. It’s not his best material but there were some classic songs (“Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town” / “Something Special” / “All Right (I’ll Sign The Papers)” / “Who’s Julie” / “Goodbye Wheeling” / “Life Turned Her That Way” / “Stateside“/ “Heart Over Mind“) that were as good as anything he ever recorded elsewhere, A nice set with about sixty songs would suffice.

Ernest Tubb was sure that Cal Smith would be a star someday. Someday was about six years later. Meanwhile Kapp released seven albums plus a hits collection on Cal. One of Cal’s Kapp hits (“Drinking Champagne” would be a big hit for George Strait many years later. After a long wait, a decent collection of Cal’s MCA/Decca hit eventually emerged but none of his Kapp classics are available. Cal had some really good songs including “Drinking Champagne”, “You Can’t Housebreak A Tomcat“, “Destination Atlanta G.A“, and “Heaven Is Just A Touch Away“.

MERCURY RECORDS

Foreign labels have done a good job of getting Jerry Lee Lewis and Tom T. Hall back into circulation, but Dave Dudley and Roy Drusky have been badly neglected. Mercury had an additional label, Smash, but artists occasionally moved from Smash to Mercury in midstream.

Mercury released eighteen albums plus three hits collections on Dave Dudley and all we have available is one stinking CD collection with twelve songs on it, two of the tracks being remakes of “Six Days On The Road” and “Cowboy Boots”. Dave had thirty-one chart hits for Mercury. C’mon, if nothing else a nice two CD set with the thirty-one chart hits plus some key album cuts. The King of The Truckers deserves no less – so beloved by truck drivers was Dave that the Teamsters Union gave Dave a gold union membership card.

Roy Drusky was a smooth voiced balladeer who had over forty chart records, eight with Decca and thirty two with Mercury. Same comment applies to Ray as applies to Dave Dudley – a nice two disc set is needed.

Roger Miller may have been the most talented performer to ever record in the country music genre. Roger barely even need a guitar to keep folks entertained. Back in 1991 & 1992 Polygram (the label that purchased Mercury ) issued a pair of two twenty song CDs, one featuring songs Roger wrote that were hits for other artist and the other featuring Roger’s hits. Eventually a modest boxed set was issued, but those are long out of print. Although they were good efforts, Roger’s albums deserve to be reissued intact.

PLANTATION/SUN INTERNATIONAL

During the late 1960s – early 1970s, Plantation became kind of an old folks’ home for country artists on the way down. Many a fading star re-recorded their greatest hits for label owner Shelby Singleton. For many of these older artists, it was the only way for them to keep their music available for their fans. Webb Pierce, Jimmie Davis, Jimmy C. Newman, Hank Locklin, Charlie Walker, Kitty Wells, Dave Dudley and Roy Drusky were among the artists that had twenty song cassettes issued, and for some artists, there was some new material recorded. I don’t think Plantation has much more than thirty or so songs recorded for these veteran artists (except Webb Pierce), so they should just take everything they have on a given artist and issue a CD. True, the original recording were better but all of these recordings were at least decent.

I do not pretend that this is an exhaustive list as there are many more artists whose artistry justifies more than is currently available. I noticed that Country Universe recently posted a Wish List segment on their Daily Top Five Feature. This series was not inspired by their article as I had this nearly completed before they posted their feature.

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3 responses to “My reissues wish list – part 1: Kapp, Mercury and Plantation/Sun

  1. Ken July 21, 2015 at 7:53 pm

    Nice article Paul. Much food for thought as well as some excellent suggestions. I too have been frustrated with the amount of vintage country music that has been reissued on CD over the past 25+ years. As a die-hard traditional country fan it makes me angry to see countless albums and collections by marginally successful pop/rock/easy listening acts reissued on CD while music by many of the country stars that topped the charts for years remain locked in the vaults. The dwindling numbers of major record labels are now laser focused on high volume sales. They feel that a CD that might sell just a few thousand units is not worth their time. Also there are few (if any) folks in their reissue divisions with any extensive knowledge, love or respect for vintage country music anymore. It’s completely off of their radar. Plus the advent of digital mp3 files has shifted their focus to releasing more recent material that will be downloaded by younger consumers. With a few exceptions it appears that the era for reissuing pre-1990’s country music by major labels may be in the end days. Our only hope is from labels like Bear Family, Varese Sarabande, Raven, BGO, Hux and other small or foreign labels that still license music from major labels for reissue. The public domain labels are quite active issuing pre-1963 music but the audio quality of most of those releases leaves much to be desired.

    Regarding the Kapp label there’s a major obstacle to any reissues. Most of the Kapp tape catalog went up in smoke in the June 2008 Universal Studios fire. That blaze destroyed thousands of master tapes from labels owned or controlled by UMG [Universal Music Group] including Kapp, Brunswick, Decca, Dunhill, ABC, Dot. ABC/Dot, Paramount, Coral, Chess, A&M and others. Universal has never owned up to exactly what the carnage included but it was far more extensive than what they have ever admitted. Any Kapp reissues would have to be sourced from vinyl records except for any songs that may have already been converted to digital. To my knowledge just a handful of Mel Tillis’ Kapp hits were ever digitized. Cal Smith has just one (Drinking Champagne) I don’t think any of Freddie Hart or Bobby Helms’s Kapp recordings were ever issued on CD. This issue also affects Decca artists like Webb Pierce, Kitty Wells, Roy Drusky, Bill Anderson and Warner Mack. Thank God that Bear Family extensively reissued most of Ernest Tubb’s Decca recordings on CD or they’d be lost forever too.

    In 2004 the Westside label from the UK issued a 24 track CD “Truck Driving Son Of A Gun: The Mercury Hit Singles 1963-73” [WESA 922] It featured excellent stereo remasters of Dave’s essential hits. Now out-of-print and selling for crazy money in the used market it is the Holy Grail for Dave Dudley fans. These are indeed the original versions of his hits. Dave later re-recorded most of those songs several times over & over for small labels and those CD’s are easy to find. I agree that a new set of Dave Dudley’s Mercury hits would be terrific. That Westside CD is an excellent template.

    Roy Drusky has had a good portion of his Mercury catalog released via a 1995 CD “Songs Of Love And Life” [Mercury Nashville 314-526 528-2] and a 2007 Collector’s Choice 2-fer reissue of his original Mercury “Greatest Hits Vol. 1 & 2” albums [CCM-764-2] Both are now out of print with the latter selling for high dollars in the used market. Most of Roy’s Decca hits have never had a digital reissue. Because the Decca and Mercury masters are both controlled by UMG a set containing hits from both labels would be possible if acceptable audio sources for Roy’s Decca hits could be located.

    I’m in your corner for a comprehensive reissue of Roger Miller’s original albums. Though his Smash/Mercury hits remain available via several CD’s I’m surprised that Bear Family has never anthologized his LP’s. Considering how well Roger’s albums sold to both country AND pop consumers it seems like a huge opportunity missed.

    Another Mercury act deserving a comprehensive reissue is Faron Young. Though several single CD’s have been released of his Mercury hits most of them duplicate the same handful of songs. Westside’s 2002 “Walk Tall- The Mercury Hit Singles” [WESA 921] has a great track lineup of 24 songs but almost half were sourced from poor quality master tapes or noisy vinyl 45’s. The Humphead 2-CD set “Wine Me Up – The Best Of The Mercury Years” [Hump 166] released earlier this year was even worse with even more poor quality tracks. If the Westside CD track line-up could be combined with great sounding source tapes that would get the job done for me.

    By the way speaking of reissues, there are two great new CD collections that I worked on coming out on August 28 from Varese Sarabande. “The Best Of Conway Twitty – The Complete Warner Bros. & Elektra Chart Singles” includes all 16 singles that Conway released for those labels between 1982 and 1986. Several tracks are unique single versions making their CD debut. Taken from the original single master tapes the audio quality is superb. A comprehensive collection of Conway’s singles from this era of his career has never been issued before.

    http://www.amazon.com/Best-Conway-Twitty-Complete-Elektra/dp/B00YZ6MVFM/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1437522659&sr=1-1&keywords=conway+twitty

    The second release is the first-ever compilation of Warner Bros. hits by Margo Smith. “The Very Best Of Margo Smith” features 14 singles released between 1976 and 1981 including two duets with Rex Allen, Jr. These are her original hits – not re-recordings – including “Don’t Break The Heart That Loves You,” “It Only Hurts For A Little While” and “Little Things Mean A Lot.” Most of the songs in this collection are making their CD debut. Just like the Conway CD the audio on this one is stellar too.
    http://www.amazon.com/Very-Best-Margo-Smith/dp/B00YZ6MVWA/ref=sr_1_3?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1437522678&sr=1-3&keywords=margo+smith&pebp=1437522709274&perid=0BQA3YNWJ94QC5NQDQ2C

    Looking forward to Part 2 of this series.

    • Paul W Dennis July 22, 2015 at 1:23 am

      Thanks, Ken

      I originally included the point about the Universal Studios fire, then thought better of it since I have no way of quantifying what was lost or what was simply unavailable for purchase.

      I am not wild about “needle drop” reissues but they are better than nothing at all. – they range from deplorable to decent. Some of the ‘public domain’ labels do a decent job but others are just plain deplorable.

      I am not sure where the British/Czech label fits into the picture but the sound quality on their issues is usually quite good , and their release on the 1938 Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall concert is far better than Columbia’s effort

      I suppose I should take my Kapp recordings, clean them up better and re-digitize them,

      Interestingly enough, Dave Dudley had a bit of a career renaissance in Europe in the 1980s and made a bunch of new recordings (plus the obligatory remakes of old hits) on German labels. Because Dudley was new to European audiences and musicians, the recordings don’t have the tired feel of similar such American recordings. It is not available in the USA but a friend sent me a digital copy of the set called the FAREWELL RECORDINGS with such songs as “Im Stau” and “Sunday In Deutschland” as well as a bunch of other new songs plus some older songs I don’t believe Dave recorded for American labels. The Westside recording you mentioned was excellent but it was too short and is missing “Six Days On The Road” and “Cowboy Boots” since they were not hits on the Mercury label.

      Margo Smith lives in Central Florida and makes occasional appearances – her daughter Holly does commercials for a local car dealership. I look forward to the new Margo Smith set but fourteen tracks seems inadequate

      • Ken July 22, 2015 at 8:22 am

        Regarding poor quality “needle drop” transfers – with today’s digital technology there is no reason for issuing bad sounding audio. Unless the vinyl source is extremely worn or damaged you can usually reclaim acceptable sound from them if you use some of the more sophisticated computer programs available today. However many of the public domain labels are unscrupulous and just want to make a quick buck. I’ve been both surprised and disappointed by some of those releases.

        Because of the costs involved regarding song royalties it can limit the amount of songs that can be issued on a CD to price it competitively so that it’s not too expensive for the consumer. I believe that’s the case with the Margo Smith disc. You will find that all of her significant chart hits are present. She charted 17 singles for Warner Bros. so only three lower ranking songs failed to make the cut. Margo’s only top ten hit not on this set is “There I Said It” which was released on the 20th Century label in 1975 just before they folded their Nashville operation and Margo moved on to Warner Bros. By the way Margo and her husband cooperated in the creation of the upcoming CD. Despite her long successful string of Warner Bros. hit singles that label never issued a “Greatest Hits” or “Best Of” album by her back in the day. Over 35 years later this will be the first collection of her original hits from that era!

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