Friday, July 24, 2015

Musicians who made stars shine

Legacy/Sony Entertainment has issued “Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City,” a two-CD compilation to coincide with the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s exhibition celebrating the music of several gifted studio musicians who backed not only Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash but many other stars who helped create the Nashville sound in the 1960s and beyond.
“They came in here, recorded them, they got hits and they left. We turned them out like water, man for 20 years,” said Fred Carter Jr., one of the many talented session musicians who made the stars sound special, creating a timeless country sound.

Other backup musicians included here are Charlie McCoy (who later became musical director of “Hee Haw”), Kenny Buttrey, Pete Drake, Mac Gayden, Wayne Moss and several others who contributed to this historic CD. It has helpful liner notes by Pete Finney and Michael Gray, the organizers of the Hall of Fame exhibit.

The Nashville studio musicians remind you of the Wrecking Crew, the mostly anonymous group of session musicians in Los Angeles who backed Herb Alpert, the Beach Boys, Glenn Campbell, Cher, the Mamas and the Papas, Nancy Sinatra, Phil Spector and his “wall of sound” and many others.

Several Nashville musicians recorded as McCoy and the Escorts on “Harpoon Man” and as Nashville’s Area Code 615 on “Stone Fox Chase.” Dylan told McCoy he’d admired “Harpoon Man,” which spurred his interest in recording “Blonde on Blonde” in Music City.

The 36 tracks here include Dylan performing several of his songs (“Absolutely Sweet Maria,” “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” a previously unreleased “I’m Not for You” and “Girl from the North Country” in a duet with Cash), as well as several others performing Dylan songs: Cash singing “It Ain’t Me, Babe” with June Carter doing backup vocals, Ian and Sylvia on “This Wheel’s on Fire” and Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs singing “Down in the Flood,” although Flatt and Scruggs needed no backup musicians to make them sound great.

“Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats” not only celebrates the Man in Black and the troubadour from Duluth, Minn. This is the soundtrack of America, with superb sound, performed by a melting pot of musicians, not just Southerners and Northerners, but several Canadians as well: In addition to the husband-and-wife team of Ian and Sylvia, Leonard Cohen, Gordon Lightfoot and Neil Young are also included.

There’s much more: The Byrds, J.J. Cale, Kris Kristofferson (on a demo record called “If You Don’t Like Hank Williams”), Linda Ronstadt, Leon Russell, Simon and Garfunkel, Country Joe McDonald, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr recording separately.

Also Steve Goodman’s “City of New Orleans,” John Hartford’s “Gentle on My Mind,” Joan Baez with “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” Tracy Nelson with “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” with Roy Acuff, Mother Maybelle Carter, Earl Scruggs, Merle Travis and Doc Watson.

There’s also Eric Clapton with Carl Perkins and Cash doing “Matchbox” live on “The Johnny Cash Show,” which aired on ABC from 1969-1971 during the height of the Vietnam War.

The show made TV executives nervous as it featured such prominent counterculture figures as Dylan and Kristofferson with country and rock stars who make this double CD the record of the year. It belongs not only in the Country Music Hall of Fame but also in the Smithsonian Museum and in your collection.

Eb Davis, a fine blues singer from Elaine down in Phillips County, now lives in Germany and continues to tour around Europe and the world.

He still comes home every couple of years to perform at the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena. He’ll be there in October and will probably perform several numbers from his terrific new CD, “EBsolutely: Eb Davis and the Superband Live at the A-Trane in Berlin.”

This is his second live CD recorded at the club that Davis calls home. The CD includes his German-born wife, Nina, on piano, along with a band that includes William Pollock and Ben (King) Perkoff on saxophone, Jay Bailey on guitar, Tom Blacksmith on bass and Lenjes Robinson on drums.

Eb Davis, who may be the last of the old Delta blues shouters, is in fine form here. He reaches back to his Arkansas Delta blues roots, with a touch of Memphis soul, much like another east Arkansas legend, the Rev. Al Green, who still preaches regularly at his Full Gospel Tabernacle Church not far from Graceland.

Davis lived for a while in New York before he joined the military and decided to stay in Berlin after his discharge. He performs regularly in Berlin, Hamburg and elsewhere in Europe.

But his heart is in the Delta, and he’s been telling friends he’ll be back this fall for King Biscuit. We’ll look for him on Cherry Street in October.