Hank Thompson - The Pathway Of My Life 1966-1986

Bear Family
BCD 17260

One of the most popular western swing musicians of the 1950s and 1960s, Hank Thompson was something of a musical maverick and took western swing to a new big-band level with concerts in metropolitan ballrooms with his twin-fiddle and steel-guitar attack. Probably the only country artist to have attended Princeton, Thompson was certainly one of the first to have a corporate sponsor (with Falstaff Beer; a natural for his dance-hall shows) and he was the first country act to play Las Vegas. His epochal HANK THOMPSON: LIVE AT THE GOLDEN NUGGET IN LAS VEGAS in 1960 was the first live album by a country artist. He was also a pilot and was the first country artist to fly himself to his gigs. Sadly, his toe-tapping western swing styled honky-tonk music has been out of fashion for many years and his vital contributions to the country music canon somewhat overlooked.

He began his recording career in 1946 for the small Globe Records with the regional hit Whoa Sailor. The following year he signed with Capitol Records for a highly successful 20-year association that saw him chalk up two dozen top 10 hits, several of them number ones. In 1966 he moved across to Warner Bros. and that’s where this lavish 8-CD set  begins. It covers all of the recordings that he made for Warner Bros., Dot, ABC, Churchill, ABC-Dot and MCA between 1966 and 1986. Although the hits might not have been as successful or consistent, the quality of these recordings cannot be disputed. Thompson, a long time band leader of the Brazos Valley Boys, was something of a perfectionist with a great knack for picking just the right material to suit his deep, rich baritone, whether it be self-penned, from Tin Pan Alley or the pens of country tunesmiths. Certainly across these 247 tracks he rings the changes from a selection of Nat ‘King’ Cole hits to classic barroom two-steppers, modern country to traditional folk numbers and even jazz-flavoured swing tunes to story song sagas. It seems that whatever the song or style, good ol’ Hank always seemed to adapt it to his style and make it his very own.

His Warner Bros. recordings were made in the Capitol Studios in Hollywood, California (the same studios he’d been using for the previous 20 years) and featured such well-known West Coast musicians as Glen Campbell, Jimmy Pruett, Merle Travis, ’Red’ Wooten, Curtis Potter, Jimmy Bryant, Larry Knechtel and members of his Brazos Valley Boys. He only enjoyed a couple of top 20 country hits for the label, concentrating more on albums including THE INSTRUMENTAL SOUNDS OF THE BRAZOS VALLEY BOYS.

In late 1967 he started working in Nashville recording with the famed Music Row session players. Shortly after, he signed with Dot Records and made a return to the country top ten with On Tap, In The Can, Or In The Bottle and Smoky The Bar, a couple of classic honky-tonkers. Over the next few years he would often re-record many of his Capitol hits, occasionally giving them fresh arrangements. He also covered current country hits like Nat Stuckey’s Pop A Top, Cal Smith’s The Lord Knows I’m Drinking, Faron Young’s It’s Four In The Morning and Don Williams’ I Recall A Gypsy Woman. There were also tribute albums to the Mills Brothers and Nat King Cole. He returned to the country top ten for the last time in 1974 with The Older The Violin, The Sweeter The Music, shortly after Dot Records was absorbed into ABC Records to become ABC-Dot. Despite these changes, he continued to record in his own way, irrespective of trends or what was playing on radio. He released a series of fine albums with such excellent straight country tracks as Paul Craft’s Through The Bottom Of The Glass and the self-penned It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere.

He recorded briefly in 1970 for Gusto Records in the old Starday studios. These sessions, produced by Tommy Hill, were re-recordings of his old Capital label hits and are not included in this box set. He joined MCA Records in 1980 and recorded just three sessions, produced by Larry Butler in 1980, for the TAKE ME BACK TO TULSA album. The following year he was on Churchill Records for just one album. His next record deal saw him on the MCA subsidiary Dot (reactivated for classic country acts) in 1986 for another single album release. To complete this excellent box set there is a previously unissued 1983 session featured. The well-annotated hard-back book takes us through Hank’s career, including details of these recordings, plus full session details and lots of rare photos, some never published before. With so little of Hank Thompson’s material readily available on CD, this is more than a worthwhile collection and well worth investigating, both for long time fans, and those who’ve never heard this legendary performer.

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