Music News

The Soundies of Yesteryear

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They certainly do. The Last of the Great Singing Cowboys and Shame on You have won positive reviews from scribes here and overseas and have been selling briskly. Nan Warshaw, co-owner of Bloodshot, expected that the discs would appeal mostly to buyers at unconventional retail environments--libraries, museums, national parks. But, she says, "we've been pleasantly surprised at how well they've been received by the regular Bloodshot core fan base. I didn't know that many people would understand and be excited by them. They're even being played on college radio, which is the last thing we would have expected."

"Reissuing stuff seemed like a curveball at first," adds Rob Miller, Warshaw's Bloodshot partner. "We exist by the skin of our teeth most of the time, so it seemed presumptuous to even think about doing something like this. But I'm really happy with how our distributors, who mainly specialize in indie rock, have picked up on it and are getting it to people who are willing to go exploring with us. I think that a lot of our customers are disenchanted with contemporary country but are knowledgeable of or actively into Hank Williams or Ernest Tubb or artists like that--and if we endorse it, they're willing to give it a shot."

Given their success with Soundies thus far, Warshaw and Miller are eagerly anticipating the July 20 release of a disc filled with transcriptions by Hank Thompson, a living country legend who has agreed to help promote the CD during a summer tour in Texas and parts of the East and Midwest (no Colorado appearances are planned at this time). On the drawing board as well are transcription discs from the Bill Cook archives by the Sons of the Pioneers, Hank Penny, Pee Wee King and Texas Jim Lewis, and even though their sonics are leagues apart from the work of the Waco Brothers and other contemporary Bloodshot signees, Miller sees common ground.

"The spirit of this older music fits really well with the spirit of the music we're putting out now," he says. "These people were innovators, and their music has a vibrancy that time just doesn't affect."

Cook finds it a bit odd that Soundies is taking off under the power of country music. "I never really liked that type of music that much," he admits. "But I wound up with a lot of country transcriptions anyway. And they sure have come in handy."

So, too, have transcriptions by Frank Yankovic, the polka king of the Forties and Fifties who died last October. Later this month, Soundies, in cooperation with Yankovic's widow, Ida, is presenting Frank Yankovic and His Yanks, a double-CD set with 41 previously unreleased tracks made for Standard Transcriptions. That will be followed by, among other items, transcription-based discs by Duke Ellington and Jimmy Dorsey. Cook, who does all of the disc-to-tape transferring on the efforts culled from his collection, says the just-completed process of pulling together the Dorsey album has been "just terrific."

If Cook isn't sure what transcriptions will be escaping from obscurity next, he's got a good excuse: He has only the vaguest idea what transcriptions he owns. He and his fiancee, Sally Kuehn, are in the process of computerizing his vast inventory--hence the presence of a Gateway computer amid the venerable equipment in his basement. Parks tells him that by performing this task, he'll increase the value of his assets tremendously, but he's mainly interested in "finding out what I've got."

Thus far, Cook hasn't found a practical use for many of the other items he's obtained over the years, including the complete control room from the CBS studio in Hollywood. But as his experience with Soundies has shown him, practicality can be overrated.

"There's an old expression: It takes a big tree to hold a hundred turkeys," King says, sounding like a chipper commentator from the radio days of his youth. "And I'm just glad I've got a big tree.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts