Ace's ongoing excavation of the Hickory Records' tape archive continues to yield positive and impressive results. Only the other day, Sue Thompson herself called Ace Towers to tell us how delighted she was with our single CD anthology of her biggest and best Hickory recordings. We'll also be continuing with our well-received Newbeats and Roy Acuff programmes shortly - and this month, we're privileged to bring you something that might well be one of, if not the most, important hillbilly reissues of 2004.
Many of the Hickory masters of Rusty and Doug Kershaw have been reissued on CD before, some of them several times over. However, until now there has been no cohesive effort on any reissue imprint's part to bring all of these delightful recordings together in once collection. Note that I said 'until now'-.-this month, that changes, thanks to Ace's release of "Louisiana Men" - a 2CD set that presents, in approximately chronological order, each and every one of the Kershaw brothers' Hickory recordings of the 50s and 60s. Not before time, I hear many of you say. "Many of you" are absolutely right.
Discovered and encouraged by noted songwriter/producer - and fellow Louisiana Man - J D Miller, Russell Lee and Douglas James Kershaw first recorded for Hickory in 1955 and stayed with the label till 1962. In those seven years, they wrote and recorded the original or definitive versions of a huge amount of classics of Cajun country. Notable among their recordings are Diggy Liggy Lo, Jole Blon and Doug's own song Louisiana Man - a song that has been recorded over 100 times and that, even if you have never heard R&D's original version, you will surely know by someone if you know even a little about vintage country music!
The Kershaw brothers' rural harmony was accurately caught on tape time and time again by their producers at Hickory, their sessions utilising only the cream of the Nashville session scene. A-listers like Chet Atkins, Hank "Sugarfoot" Garland, Buddy Harman, Harold Ray Bradley, Tommy Jackson, Jimmy Day, Ray Edenton and Ernie Newton feature throughout, as does Doug Kershaw's own remarkable fiddle playing on several of the tracks.
As well as putting over the impeccable hillbilly of Hey You There, We'll Do It Anyway, Mister Love and the like, Rusty and Doug could also turn on the rockabilly in a convincing manner when the session dictated, notably on Hey Mae - which was revived, a decade and a half after its original 1958 recording date, by the UK's Shakin' Stevens. (R&D's original was released in the UK in 1959 by Oriole Records, surely one of the rarest of all UK original rockabilly releases!). They could also out-Everly Don and Phil when they put their minds and voices to it - check out Never Love Again and for further proof!
This 2CD set also compiles the complete solo and duet recordings of R&D's long-time collaborator Wiley Barkdull, whose soft, deep bass voice is often as much of a feature of the brothers' sides as are the Cajun-cum-hillbilly harmonies of the Kershaws themselves. Barkdull's recordings are also presented in an approx-imately chronological order, enabling buyers to chart both the artistic progress of all three men and the changes in country music that occurred in the eight years that the recordings span.
While Rusty and Doug are known within and without country music circles, their ex-collaborator Barkdull most definitely is not. Rockabilly fans love his boppers like Ain't Gonna Waste My Time and Too Many while, for connoisseurs of classic 50s hillbilly, his Lefty Frizzell-influenced gems like Pencil And Paper Love and 'Cause You're Always On My Mind will do it every time. Unlike the nationally known Kershaws, Barkdull never even came close to a hit and few, if any, of his Hickory recordings have been legally reissued prior to this CD. A situation that Ace is more than happy to resolve here, of course.
Several previous reissues have presented some of this material in fake stereo or from substandard disc dubs. Here, though, Ace have utilised only original mono and stereo masters where they still exist and, where it has been necessary to dub from disc, have used only mint or near mint 45s (most of which are impossible to tell from those mastered from tape!). You will never have heard this lively, loud music in such impeccable quality.
It's been a long time coming, but the wait has been more than worth while. Here are Rusty and Doug Kershaw, "Louisiana Men" to the core, with some of the greatest country music of all time, in a deluxe double CD package that does its quality and importance proud. Eeeh-Ha-Ha!
By Tony Rounce