Search - Merle Haggard :: A Tribute To The Best Damn Fiddle Player In The World: Or, My Salute To Bob Wills

A Tribute To The Best Damn Fiddle Player In The World: Or, My Salute To Bob Wills
Merle Haggard
A Tribute To The Best Damn Fiddle Player In The World: Or, My Salute To Bob Wills
Genres: Country, Pop
  •  Track Listings (12) - Disc #1

If any one album deserves credit for ushering in the Western swing revival, it's this previously buried treasure from 1970. Haggard taught himself to play fiddle before recording this album and augmented his band with memb...  more »


Larger Image

CD Details

All Artists: Merle Haggard
Title: A Tribute To The Best Damn Fiddle Player In The World: Or, My Salute To Bob Wills
Members Wishing: 5
Total Copies: 0
Label: Koch Records
Release Date: 6/20/1995
Genres: Country, Pop
Styles: Roadhouse Country, Classic Country, Western Swing, Tributes
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaCD Credits: 1
UPCs: 099923790020, 077771627941, 099923790044

Synopsis essential recording
If any one album deserves credit for ushering in the Western swing revival, it's this previously buried treasure from 1970. Haggard taught himself to play fiddle before recording this album and augmented his band with members of Wills's pioneering Texas Playboys, including guitarist Eldon Shamblin and fiddler Johnny Gimble. Merle would become a more fluid fiddler in the future, and the Strangers would swing more cohesively, but that doesn't take away from the chemistry or adventurousness in this, his first effort in the genre. And he was resourceful enough to pick some tunes ("I Knew the Moment I Lost You") that remain obscure even today. --John Morthland

CD Reviews

Merle put Western Swing back on the map!!
Buddy McPeters | Somewhere between Mexico & Canada, US | 06/11/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Merle Haggard put Western Swing back on the map!
True to form when Merle does a tribute album, he really does it right! He brings the spirit of Bob Wills music to life in this great tribute.

When Merle Haggard and his The Strangers and a handful of retired Texas Playboys recorded this album, he intended to turn back the pages of time, hoping for a glance at what once had been, never dreaming that he would jump start the Western Swing genre back into popularity single-handedly.

Haggard, always a risk taker, lost his father way too soon, ended up riding the rails, `hoboing' across the US with a Railroad Workers pass in his pocket because of his father's trade. He never used the pass and did it his way. His way, wound him up in San Quentin Prison serving hard time where he turned 21 in solitary confinement next to condemned criminal Caryl Chessman. His offenses, though not the caliber of Chessman, revealed he was a very unsettled young man with a string of convictions ranging from burglary, grand theft auto and more escapes from jails and juvenile institutions than the judge had ever seen. He served his time, paid his debt to society and California Governor Ronald Reagan eventually gave him a full pardon.

Learning that crime did mot pay, Haggard beat the odds and emerged from prison a changed man, a stark testimony to the notion that prison can actually reform a convicted criminal. He left behind a life of crime and in his pursuit of music, ended up a legend in his own hometown of Bakersfield. In the Country music world he quickly became a legend in his own time.

At the height of his career, he swept the CMA awards ceremonies in 1969 for his self-penned, mixed message anthem, 'Okie From Muskogee' which has been grossly mis-understood, and interpreted many ways; most of them wrong. 'Okie' garnered awards for album, song, single, and male vocalist and entertainer of the year. As he stood there accepting the trophys, in the back of his mind was a project that would change music history; `The Bob Wills Tribute'.

He discussed it with his Strangers and always the perfectionist, never the compromiser; he decided if the project was to have validity, outside assistance was deemed necessary. Merle went to Ft. Worth to see Bob Wills, then ailing from a series of heart attacks and strokes which impaired him where he could no longer lead a band or perform. Wills advised, "Get some of my old Texas Playboys to help you!" Most were scattered, in retirement except fiddler Johnny Gimble in Nashville who was a popular sideman, on the way to winning awards himself as an A-Team session man. Within hours of this meeting with Wills, Merle had received commitments from 6 former Texas Playboys including Johnny Gimble, guitarist Eldon Shamblin, fiddlers Joe Holley and Tiny Moore who also played electric mandolin, trumpet man Alex Brashear, Bob's brother Johnnie Lee Wills on tenor banjo. With the Strangers as a nucleus: guitarist Roy Nichols, steel guitarist, Norman Hamlet, rhythm
Bobby Wayne, bass man Dennis Hromek, drummer Biff Adam, plus guests LA fiddler Gordon Terry and Bakersfield pianist George French the two groups merged together and commenced rehearsals on Merle's 33rd birthday, April 6th, 1970. The 3 day session yielded the album that turned back the pages of time, 'A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddler in the World... or My Salute to Bob Wills'.

Talk about taking risks! Having swept the CMA awards and he chose this to be his `Okie' follow-up album? Capitol Records producer Ken Nelson was NOT amused! Threatening to sue Hag for breach of contract, Nelson, who had produced virtually all of Haggard's early hits, refused to produce the sessions. Calling their bluff, Merle booked the studio time at Capitol in Hollywood and commenced. Capitol backed down as they were not about to lose their `cash cow', after all the awards, number one hits, and all that money rolling in. Meanwhile, Capitol released a `live' follow-up album from a concert in Philadelphia, entitled 'The Fightin' Side Of Me', a sequel to 'Okie' indeed with as many mixed messages as it's predecessor.

Haggard stood his ground, choosing to self produce the recordings, and Capitol assigned Earl Ball as interim `producer' who made sure there was tape on the Ampex recorders. Merle proudly played the fiddle Bob Wills had given him. This recording was about posterity, not hits, or money. This is the album which brought Western Swing as a music style out of mothballs. It put Bob Wills name back on DJ playlists and record companies reacted in a frenzy of reissue projects. It also revived the careers of dozens of musicians who had been Playboys. The music had all but disapeeared in the mid-50's with the emergence of Television and Rock and Roll. Western Swing was dance music but by 1957, Wills' music was taking a backseat to 'I Love Lucy' and Elvis Presley. People preferred to sit and watch TV or at a 'concert' to view a music performance instead of `shaking a leg'. Old-timer's talked about the good old days, teenagers took over music, the recording industry catered to them as the old 78-rpm's gave-way to 45-rpm's and LP's.

In 1970, enter Merle Haggard Superstar. He releases this groundbreaking album paying homage to another hero whose music has touched untold thousands. This album was the Rosetta Stone where artists Asleep at the Wheel, George Strait and others took inspiration, emerging as great Western Swing artists. Haggard relit the torch, passed it on to these upstarts and the results speak for themselves. Western Swing has swept the nation with bands sprouting up all over the country - even on the east coast!

This album proved several things. Among them Merle had done his homework, this was not some `Johnny-come-lately-flash-in-the-pan' just out to fulfill contract obligations and make a few bucks. Merle knew Wills, seeing him many times in his neighborhood as a teenager at dances in the 40's at Bakersfield's Beardsley Ballroom in Oildale watching from a window he stood on his bicycle and peered in. He witnessed legends playing with freshness on each performance yet with standard of excellence, heard on the red Columbia Bob Wills 78 rpm's his mother had bought him. He observed with an intensity that afforded him knowledge of Bob's stage antics as he played his fiddle and led the band as they extemporized their solos at his command. Merle was also especially delighted in Tommy Duncan's easy, straightforward singing style and the hot guitar solos. In the end Merle had learned his lessons well. When the tribute album was in the works Merle would say, "Didn't 'we' used to do it like this?" playing a passage on the fiddle. Merle indeed did his homework. He loved their music, and it shows. The album is a labor of love; lots of joy and tears passed between them all before it was completed.

Buy this CD! It is a highly recommend album for all fans of Bob Wills, Western Swing, and Merle Haggard. You will get a birds eye view of what Merle observed from that window as a kid. You can feel Bob's presence in the grooves yet he was 1250 miles away in a wheelchair when these sessions occured. Let Merle and this stellar cast of superb musicians turn back the pages of time to a day when Bob Wills was the King. Bob Wills is gone, having passed in 1975, and most of the old Playboys who were present on this album are gone as well - but Bob's spirit and the spirit of his music is alive and well - just listen to this CD!

Buddy McPeters
Merle Haggard and the Texas Playboys at their Best
C. Earnshaw | Sedona, Arizona | 02/26/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I've had this album for 15 years, and it continues to be one of my favorites. Merle always wanted to be a Texas Playboy, and here he finally got his chance. He made the most of it, with backing by some of the best to ever play with Bob Wills, many of whom have since passed on. The Playboys brought musicianship to country music, much as Steely Dan did to rock many years later. Here they are at their best, and Merle Haggard was a perfect fit."
An interesting historical document, but not a great record
m_noland | Washington, DC United States | 12/05/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)

"When Merle Haggard hit superstardom in 1969 on the back of "Okie from Muskogee," in his typical idiosyncratic fashion, he chose to exercise his new found leverage over his record company to record and release his salute to Bob Wills, who by that time sadly had faded into obscurity beyond a few honky-tonk jukeboxes on the Texas prairie. Hag's championing of Wills was instrumental in the resurgence of interest in his music and some of his former Texas Playboys, such as fiddler Johnny Gimble were able to resuscitate their careers in the wake of this recording. So there is no questioning Hag's sincerity and dedication. What is at issue it the recording itself.Bottom line: it's not bad, but it's not Bob Wills, either. Hag's band, the Strangers, is not entirely suited to this music, and it loses some of its swing. And while Hag's a fine vocalist, he is no Tommy Duncan, and his spoken interjections, a la Wills, don't really come off, at least to me. So I would give five stars for the intention and effort, but if you really want to hear "Time Changes Everything," "Take Me Back To Tulsa," "San Antonio Rose," or other Bob Wills a Bob Wills record."