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September 6, 1995

My Salute to Bob Wills

Bob WillsMerle Haggard, A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World (or, My Salute to Bob Wills) (Koch 1995) - While now overlooked, Merle Haggard's status in country music in the 60s and 70s was dominant. A long string of hits on Capitol Records and much critical acclaim allowed Haggard to record what he wanted.

Bob Wills, the inspiration for this set, first achieved fame with the Texas Playboys in Tulsa in the 1930s. Wills was hugely popular during the glory days of western swing, and played in countless dance halls from Oklahoma to Texas to California. Wills even moved the Playboys to Sacramento, California, where the Wills Point Ballroom served as their home base until 1949.

When Haggard recorded My Salute to Bob Wills in 1970, barely a year had passed since Wills suffered a debilitating stroke that left him unable to play the fiddle. Haggard sought to duplicate the original Bob Wills swing sound, and recalls that the disc was recorded with absolutely no rehearsal.

For the three-day session in April, 1970 that led to this album, Haggard recruited six former members of the original Texas Playboys, including Bob's younger brother, Johnny Lee Wills, on fiddle and banjo, rhythm guitarist Eldon Shamblin, left-handed fiddler Joe Holley, fiddler and electric mandolinist Tiny Moore, trumpeter Alex Brashear, and the best-known former Texas Playboy, fiddler-mandolinist Johnny Gimble.

Haggard recalls the three-day recording session (which also included members of Haggard's ace band, the Strangers) as extremely pleasurable. Says Haggard, "I believe the enjoyment was shared by everyone involved, because when the last note was played on the last song, which was an old tune called 'Misery,' a tear could be seen in almost any eye you chose to look at and mine was no exception."

Jimmie RodgersHaggard recorded My Salute to Bob Wills one year after he released Same Train, a Different Time, his heralded 1969 tribute to oldtime blues & country singer Jimmie Rodgers. Twenty-five years later, this re-issue (which has been released by Koch, a small independent label, rather than the mighty Capitol) still holds true. With a deft touch and allegiance to western swing, My Salute to Bob Wills is a terrific album.

Because of Haggard's easy flow and use of live takes, My Salute to Bob Wills sparkles with vitality and enthusiasm. Unlike some of Wills' more-stilted studio albums, My Salute to Bob Wills has the authentic, dance-oriented swing sound. The disc includes some of Wills' best-known songs, such as "Corrine, Corrina," "Stay a Little Longer," the playful "Roly Poly," as well as Wills' biggest single, "San Antonio Rose."

While My Salute to Bob Wills didn't sell in big numbers, it had widespread repercussions throughout the music community. The album inspired the formation of Asleep at the Wheel, and gave new life to the careers of several former Playboys. In addition, Merle later scored a number one single in 1976 with a remake of Wills' "Cherokee Maiden."

My Salute to Bob Wills is proof that good material holds up over time. For a terrific introduction to both Bob Wills and Merle Haggard, get the classic My Salute to Bob Wills.

Horizontal Ladies ClubHorizontal Ladies Club (Domo Records 1995) - Tom Marolda, the current king of the jingle writers, has assembled a fine three-piece band to record Horizontal Ladies Club, a friendly piece of ear candy with clearly-mixed vocals and instruments.

Featuring Marolda on vocals, bass, and miscellaneous instruments, Pete Maloney on drums and backup vocals, and Jackson Woodney on keyboards, guitars, and backup vocals, Horizontal Ladies Club is in the vein of Magical Mystery Tour or The Rembrandts' first disc - summertime pop, with an emphasis on two- and three-part harmonies.

Marolda, who originally hails from New Jersey, has appeared on 50 albums - either as producer, composer, or artist - with acts ranging from Billy Joel, Cher, and The Smithereens to the soundtracks from Days of Thunder and Stayin' Alive.

Marolda reports that he has written over 6,000 television commercials, radio jingles, movie themes, and other songs, including the official theme songs for the Miss Europe Pageant, the Bing Crosby Golf Tournament, the New Jersey Nets, and many more.

Says Marolda, "In niche marketing, this is a very special niche; theme songs and radio/T.V. commercial backgrounds. For example, that was my music on the 'Where's the Beef?' T.V. commercial that won all of those awards."

Marolda has previously recorded as The Toms, and is a skilled studio artist. Unlike most albums, Horizontal Ladies Club bundles its best tracks in the middle of the disc, including "God is a Girl" and "Be Careful What U Wish 4." The disc works best when it gets away from its pure pop elements and weaves in more sinewy guitar, as on "Angel Baby."

Now a resident of Thousand Oaks, Marolda recorded Horizontal Ladies Club in his home studio, where he deliberately simplified the recording process. Says Marolda, "I had a 16-track machine, and on a lot of songs, I only used 14 tracks." Marolda was also joined by guest guitar appearances from Richie Sambora, who adds some muscle to the sound.

Like the Rembrandts fine first album (but avoid their new disc, L.P., which is a mish-mash), or the terrific debut from Toy Matinee, Horizontal Ladies Club is sweet summertime pop with an emphasis on guitar solos and harmony vocals. Put down the top and enjoy this disc.

-- Randy Krbechek

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