Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene Treasures Untold

Transcription series offers a spate of cool new reissues

By Jim Ridley

MARCH 22, 1999:  The "insurgent country" released by Bloodshot Records hasn't so much turned heads on Music Row as turned up noses. Yet the Chicago alt-country label is about to start issuing slabs of stone vintage country--the likes of which Nashville has literally never heard before. Thanks to a lucky break, Bloodshot is teaming up with the Soundies oldies label to issue unreleased "transcription recordings" of country greats such as Rex Allen, Spade Cooley, and Hank Thompson.

Throughout the 1940s and '50s, artists would cut what were essentially promotional live recordings and send them on 16-inch lacquer platters to radio programmers, who would either lease or buy the recordings for broadcast. The outsized platters required special turntables with a 16-inch arm. When these transcription recordings fell from favor in the 1960s, the customized players disappeared; the platters thus sat unheard for decades afterward. A former recording engineer in Colorado Springs, Colo., contacted Soundies to say he had a basement full of these transcription records.

What the label found was a treasure chest: literally thousands of hours of recordings by country artists both famous (Ernest Tubb, Patsy Montana) and obscure (Hank Penny, Texas Jim Lewis). The hurried recording schedule produced tracks of raw vitality and spontaneity, and the vast majority have never been released before, making them a collectors' bonanza.

The first Bloodshot/Soundies release, The Last of the Great Singing Cowboys by cowboy star Rex Allen, hits stores Mar. 20, with the follow-up--a zippy live workout by Spade Cooley & the Western Swing Dance Gang--due exactly one month later. In this fashion, the labels hope to issue five to seven releases a year.

"We have so much stuff we don't know yet what we've got," says Bloodshot label chief Rob Miller. Even so, the label has already found enough material on Pee Wee King for a double CD, and the great Hank Thompson (of "The Wild Side of Life" fame) has an astonishing 71 tracks ready to go. Not only are the performances ferocious, Miller says, but the lacquers are in mint condition.

The artists themselves are delighted, Miller adds. Rex Allen contributed to the liner notes of his CD, and Thompson gave Bloodshot his best wishes in a phone call last week. "It's nice to get their blessings--and to get to pay them something," Miller says. "Some of them have been ripped off all their lives." Watch for these releases at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop, Lawrence Bros., and other stores where fine country music is sold.

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