Sunday, November 06, 2016

Recalling Country's Roots

Most of the songs on Merle Haggard's "Roots Volume 1," which was released on this date in 2001, were written before my time — many in full or in part by Lefty Frizzell, one of Haggard's major influences although Haggard did contribute one original composition as well as songs by Hank Williams and Hank Thompson.

Still "Roots Volume 1" was primarily a tribute to Frizzell and the almost joyful mood of his music. Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote for that the album was "an unexpected return to how country records used to be made."

If that is true — and I have no reason to think it is not — I'm sorry I missed those days.

It isn't the weepy kind of country music I so often heard in the barber shops and hardware stores in my then–small central Arkansas hometown when I was growing up. The melodies had more of a bounce to them, if you know what I mean, and the lyrics were clever. A perfect example is Merle's rendition of Frizzell's biggest hit, "If You've Got the Money (I've Got the Time)." Throw that in with Merle's version of Williams' "Honky Tonkin'," and you may get an idea of what to expect from this album.

I have never really been a country music fan, but I was familiar with "If You've Got the Money (I've Got the Time)." In my hometown, it would have been inconceivable not to be familiar with that one.

But "Roots Volume 1" introduced me to Frizzell songs I knew nothing about.

It's a good album, a fun album to listen to, but it reminds me of a lesson I learned early in my career in newspapers.

From the title, you probably expect there to be a Volume 2, but that would be a false expectation. There was no Volume 2. (It's like starting a news story with the time element, which is almost never the most important part of a news story — but you might be surprised how many people will start their news stories with when something happened rather than what happened.)

I don't know if Merle planned to make a second volume of his versions of old country songs. If he intended to do so, he never followed through.

The closest he came, I suppose, was when he released "The Peer Sessions" in 2002. It was a collection of classic country songs, similar in style, but most of the tunes were written by Jimmie Davis or Jimmie Rodgers. There were no Lefty Frizzell songs on that one.

When I worked for newspapers, I learned early that, if you're going to run a series of articles on a subject, you better have all the articles written and ready to go before you ever publish the first one. Otherwise, you're just asking for trouble.

We had different reasons for that in the newspaper business than Haggard almost surely had in the music business, but the reasoning is sound in both cases.