Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Missing: Roger Miller


One of the best things about modern technology is the fact that untold masses of old albums have found their way to CD. Without question, one big "thank you" goes to Richard Weize, founder of Bear Family Records, for the proliferation of classic country music available on CD. Without his influence, we might be stuck with the same ten Jim Reeves songs repackaged under a new album title and cover art every three years.

One of the biggest omissions from the CD catalog is the works of Roger Miller. To date, only one extensive compliation, King of the Road - The Genius of Roger Miller - has been issued. The three-CD box set is outstanding, make no mistake. It encompasses Miller's entire career, from his RCA and Starday days through the megahit era to his Tony Award-winning material from Big River.
The problem is that this is pretty much the singular good representative of Roger Miller on CD. Several "greatest hits" packages are currently available (CD Universe lists a dozen different CDs); however, they are either the same songs with a different cover or re-recorded versions (not the "original hit" rendition). Only two packages -- both of which share the title King of the Road -- stand out: the aforementioned box set and a Bear Family single CD that chronicles Miller's stint on RCA shortly before he rose to superstardom.
The worst problem is that the albums that caused Roger Miller to become a household name -- 1964's Roger and Out, 1965's The Return of Roger Miller, and 1966's The Third Time Around -- are nowhere to be found on CD. And the question must be asked: WHY? These albums are vital to the history of country music. Miller's tally of Grammy awards (five in 1964, six in 1965) was a record that wasn't broken until Michael Jackson. "Dang Me" and "King of the Road" are far beyond country songs, they are part of Americana. These are albums that need to be issued on CD.
The only reason I can think of regarding why none of the Smash Records albums of Miller's have been released on CD is the possibility that the original masters are missing or in poor condition. I base my opinion (which is strictly that at this point) on the horrible sound quality of some of the tracks on the Mercury box set 50 Years of Country Music from Mercury. It is apparent by casual listening that some songs in the box set (which seemed to be Mercury's attempt to mimic Decca's superlative From the Vaults box set) were transferred from vinyl, not from original studio tapes (James O'Gwynn's "My Name is Mud," for instance). It could well be that the masters, like some of the songs that were included in the Mercury box set, do not exist any longer.
Even if that is the case, Mercury Records (or someone) should find quality copies of the albums and transfer them to CD. This music is too good and too important to the career of Roger Miller and the history of country music to not be available.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Eddy Arnold

Category: Opinion

Eddy Arnold was the guest of honor at the 24th annual International Country Music Conference (ICMC) in Nashville. The keynote subject of the conference was the 50th anniversary of RCA's legendary Studio B. Mr. Arnold, who just turned 89 on May 15, spoke of his success, which he admitted he was totally unaware of because of the fact he was busy touring and making records. When he went to New York in the early 1950s, the RCA Victor president called Mr. Arnold to his office. "I thought he was gonna fire me," Eddy told the audience of professors, journalists, and authors. When he arrived in the office, Arnold said the president told him that he "just wanted to get a look at" Arnold, because the weekly sales figures for RCA Records always featured the name "Eddy Arnold" at or near the top of the list. Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby had a bet between the two as to who would outsell the other in 1950, and Eddy Arnold outsold them both!

Mr. Arnold is a little hard of hearing and moves slowly. His memory needed jogging by his friend, legendary journalist Charlie Lamb. He has not performed in over a dozen years (save for an impromptu chorus of "Anytime" at the opening of the new Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001). Yet the standing ovation he received at the end of his ten-minute speech clearly moved him. When he left after lunch he was dismissed with yet another standing ovation.

As he should have been. Eddy Arnold is not just a country legend, Billboard's #1 country singles artist of all-time, and the only person to ever receive the "Entertainer of the Year" award after being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Eddy Arnold is a national treasure.