Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Country Music Rookie Cards on Back to the Country

When I was a kid I was obsessed with collecting baseball cards. I was constantly re-sorting and cataloging my collection, reading and memorizing the statistics on the cards, and ambitiously hunting for my favorite players' Rookie Cards.

Fast forward many years and I'm pretty much doing the exact same thing, except that these days I collect country music records instead of baseball cards. I'm still constantly re-sorting and cataloging my collection, still memorizing all the statistics on the labels and in the deadwax, and I'm also always hunting for my favorite artists' Rookie Cards, or debut recordings.

Over the past 20 or so years I've found quite a few of them and tomorrow morning (11/10/2021) from 9-noon (CST) I'll be playing my very favorite Country Music Rookie Cards for ya on Back to the Country, WORT 89.9 FM (streaming via wortfm.org or via the WORT app). Hope you can join me!

Friday, November 5, 2021

Swede Home Chicago, The Wallin's Svenska Records Story, 1923-27 Event on Sunday 11/7

Just a short while ago Archeophone Records released an amazing 2xCD set documenting the history of Chicago-based Wallin's Svenska Records and the early musical contributions of Swedish immigrants in the US: Swede Home Chicago, the Wallin's Svenska Records Story, 1923-27. I played a small role in the project by digitizing about half of the 28 known 78 rpm discs as well as digging out some of the rare discs and sleeves from the Mills Music Library and the Swedish American Museum in Chicago.

Jim Leary wrote and annotated the beautiful 76-page booklet and Marcus Cederström did some stellar transcription and translation work along with adding additional notes. Rich Martin did the audio restoration and remastering while Rich and Meagan Hennessey did some breathtaking design and photo restoration It's an awesome project and this Sunday at noon (cst), Jim and Marcus will be talking about the label, the project, and sharing some of the rare tunes and images. The online event is free and you can register here: bit.ly/swedehome. Participants will receive the Zoom link ahead of the event.

I'm really looking forward to it and hope to see some of you there!

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

The Starday Extended-Play (EP) Series on Back to the Country

Tomorrow (10/13) I'll be hosting Back to the Country again on WORT 89.9 FM from 9am to noon and the theme this week will be the elusive and fantastic Starday Extended-Play (EP) Series.

Back when I was writing The Starday Story, I included a Record Listing Supplement in the back of the book that included all of the Starday releases that I could verify. Unfortunately, by the time of publication, I could only verify about 1/4 of the EPs. Some of them are just impossibly rare! Rather than include a mostly blank listing, I decided not to include it in the book.

Fast forward 10 years and I've finally tracked down all but 5 of the 140+ Starday EPs. They include some of the best bluegrass gospel recordings Starday ever issued by John Reedy, Jimmie Williams and Red Ellis, Don & Earl, Charlie Moore, Vern & Ray, Hoyt Scoggins, Jim & Jesse, and more. To celebrate, I've put together a complete Starday EP Record Listing as I would have liked to include in the book and I've planned a 3-hour program to feature the very best of the Starday EP Series.

To view and/or download the Starday EP Series PDF, go here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1jqNwwzxjfoT3C1MjgFpBtcBvsaDtGLUG/view?usp=sharing and to listen to the show tomorrow morning, tune in to 89.9 FM or stream it via www.wortfm.org.

Friday, October 1, 2021

RIP Betty Amos

It is with a heavy heart that I share the news that my friend Betty Amos passed away yesterday morning. Betty was an accomplished singer, hit songwriter, and just the second woman recorded playing three-finger Scruggs-style banjo. She was a member of the Carlisles in the early '50s and sang on many of their hit records like "Knot Hole," "Iz Zat You Myrtle?," "Rattlesnake Daddy" and others. She was a solo star on the Louisiana Hayride in the mid '50s and made it very clear to me that Elvis Presley was a guest on HER segment of the Hayride and not the other way around. In the early '60s she formed a trio with her sister Jean and best friend Judy Lee (and sometimes a quartet with Gloria Belle) and recorded several incredible bluegrass and fuzz-country sides for Starday Records.

I first interviewed Betty and Judy and Jean back in 2005 when I was researching The Starday Story and I met up with them every year since to pick and sing and catch up on our lives. Betty was always hilarious, always immensely talented, always willing to pick and sing a few tunes, and always interested in my life and supportive of my projects.

A few years back it was a lifetime highlight when I got to sing alongside her and Judy and Jean for the Nate Gibson & the Stars of Starday project (Bear Family Records). We sang two of my favorite Betty Amos originals: "Eighteen Wheels A Rolling" and "Second Fiddle (To An Old Guitar)." I'm so grateful we got to take our private pickin' parties into the studio and I send my eternal thanks to Kenny Vaughan, Chris Scruggs, Dave Roe, and Pete Finney for helping to make it happen.

I will greatly miss Betty pretend strangling me, yodeling up a storm, harmonizing on our favorite gospel tunes, making her sister Jean drive over to Judy Lee's place to sing harmony with us (because we need the full trio!), and generally telling hilarious and amazing stories about learning karate and kicking butt while on tour in the '50s and '60s, surviving plane crashes in Alaska, touring with the Carlisles, Faron Young, Johnny Horton, and others, signing on with the Wheeling Jamboree, and playing just about every instrument with strings on it.

My many thanks (and condolences) to her best friend and manager Judy Lee for the heads up and for so many years of promoting Betty. I'm forever grateful for Betty's music and friendship and wish her unending peace and country music serenades.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

A Country Music EVENT on WORT 89.9 FM!

Tomorrow morning is the 2nd Wednesday of the month which means I’ll be back on WORT hosting Back to the Country from 9-noon CST. This week I’ll be taking an in-depth look into one of my very favorite record labels—EVENT RECORDS from Westbrook, ME. Operating from 1956-1961, Event captured some of the best bluegrass ever made by The Lilly Bros w/ Don Stover and Charlie Bailey, made some of the earliest (and best) recordings of Dick Curless and 15-year old guitar phenom Lenny Breau, and brilliantly documented a vibrant New England country music scene in the late ‘50s that included artists like Roy Aldridge, Hal Lone Pine, Betty Cody, Slim Coxx, Curtis Johnson, Harold Carter, Smokey Val, Clyde and Willie Joy, Gene Hooper, Jimmy Copeland, and many more.

Bear Family Records has released deep dives into the early music career of Event co-founder Al Hawkes (see: Allerton & Alton—Black, White & Bluegrass) and the extensive Event Records rockabilly catalog (see: That’ll Flat Git It Vol. 20), but Wednesday’s show will focus on the rich country music contributions of Event Records with many released and unreleased gems from the Event vaults.

Al was a dear friend of mine, a pioneer bluegrass musician, an electronics wizard, and a passionate country music collector and archivist. I’m mighty honored to present a show that focuses on his recorded country music and bluegrass legacy and hope y’all can tune in to hear more of my very favorite records! Tune in via 89.9FM in Southern WI or streaming live via wortfm.org

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

I'm Bringing Boston in the 90s50s to WORT in 2020s

Tomorrow morning I'll be back on the radio hosting Back to the Country on WORT 89.9 FM from 9:00-noon CST (and streaming at wortfm.org). What's the theme this week, you ask?

Well, for several months now my co-host Bill C. Malone has asked me to do a show where I play my very favorite records. "Well," I thought, "that's what I do every single month." But I think Bill was hoping to hear a more personal perspective on why I love the records that I love, so tomorrow I'll tell the story of how I came to love country music--specifically, by living in Boston, MA in the 90s50s.
For three hours I'll play my favorite Boston 90s50s records by the Racketeers, the Raging Teens, Lenny & the Piss Poor Boys, the Spurs, King Memphis, the Country Bumpkins, Jonathan Richman, and many more; Unreleased demos by the Two Timin' Three, the Bombastics, the Coachmen, Blood Sweat & Gears, and more; I'll regale you with tales of punk, ska, surf, garage, rockabilly, and honky-tonk bands intertwining; and I'll even share some of my embarrassing 1997 interview snippets with Link Wray, Los Straitjackets, and the Racketeers.

These were the tunes and bands that shaped my love for American roots music, that kept me dancing throughout my teens and beyond, and that inspired me to take up music making myself. To quote Peter Guralnick in Lost Highway, discovering the 90s50s in Boston was like "finding the bluebird of happiness on my back door" (though he found his "bluebird of happiness" by discovering Sleepy LaBeef outside of Boston in the 1970s) and I'm excited to share my path of musical discovery with you!

And for anyone in the Madison, WI area, I hope you'll come out to the Memorial Union Terrace on Thursday evening (7-9:00pm) for a free, outdoor show where and the Honky-Tonk Hodags can play some of these songs for you in person!

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Nate Gibson & the Honky-Tonk Hodags 8/12 7pm @Memorial Union Terrace

Internationally-renowned honky-tonk musician and country music scholar Nate Gibson will be performing at the Memorial Union Terrace on Thursday August 12th from 7-9:00pm.
Gibson’s book, The Starday Story: The House That Country Music Built, won the 2012 Belmont Book Award for Best Book on Country Music and his recordings have been released on Bear Family Records (Germany), Swelltune Records, Goofin’ Records (Finland), and Cow Island Music. Gibson’s latest release, Nate Gibson & the Stars of Starday, features him duetting with 14 country music stars since the 1950s and ‘60s—accompanied by Country Music Hall of Famer Marty Stuart and members of his Fabulous Superlatives band—and was selected by Country Music People magazine as one of the “Top 10 Country Music Albums of 2019.”
Gibson is also a folklorist, ethnomusicologist, and archivist at UW–Madison and co-hosts WORT’s Back to the Country Wednesday morning radio program. He will be joined on stage by the Honky-Tonk Hodags, Wisconsin’s most beloved and fearsome purveyors of rockin’ roots and country music.

Poster by Nate Gibson
Hodag Illustration by Fred Chao

Event sponsored by WUD Music 

More details at: https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/nate-gibson-and-the-honky-tonk-hodags/

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Back to the Country 7/14 - Country Music Jingles

Howdy Friends, tomorrow is the 2nd Wednesday of the month which means I'll be back on WORT 89.9fm hosting Back to the Country. This week's theme is the Country Music Jingle--exploring 100+ years of country music and corporate sponsorship. I'll be playing 3 hours of rarely heard jingles by Hank Williams Sr., Johnny Cash, the Carter Sisters and Mother Maybelle, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Roger Miller, George Jones, Johnny Horton, Merle Haggard, Bill Monroe, and whole bunch more including some Starday jingle demos never before broadcast and some rare Rex Trailer jingles, too!

For legal reasons I can't play any of the cigarette jingles I've uncovered, but I'm mighty grateful to the WORT legal team for allowing me to play all the other country music jingles about bread, beer, soda, bicycles, cars, hot dogs, guitars, soap, cereal, washing machines, jeans, paint, pesticide, and just about everything else under the sun.

Neither myself nor WORT are endorsing any of the products advertised during the show, but I believe these jingles have historic and educational value, not to mention the enormous earworm potentical, and I sure hope y'all dig 'em as much as I do. Tune in this Wednesday morning (tomorrow) from 9am-noon CST via 89.9fm, the WORT app, or streaming at www.wortfm.org

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Back to the Country: This week's theme is Starday Custom Pressings

Howdy Friends. Tomorrow is the 2nd Wednesday of the month which means, I'm back on the air, baby! I'll be hosting Back to the Country again from 9am-noon CST and this time around I'll be playing and discussing my very favorite Starday Custom Pressings!

From 1954-1966, Starday Records ran a country-oriented vanity pressing service that released some really raucous rockabilly, boppin' country, drivin' bluegrass, wild western swing, and some of the earliest recordings of Willie Nelson, Link Wray, J.J. Cale, Lonnie Irving, The Lewis Family, and many more. I know I say it all the time, but these are REALLY my favorite records. Check it out in Southern Wisconsin via WORT 89.9 FM or streaming via wortfm.org

Photo of Willie Nelson and I discussing his Starday custom release at Summerfest 2019 in Milwaukee, credit Kevin Smith

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

A Mosrite Special on Back to the Country 4-14-21

Howdy Friends, I'll be hosting Back to the Country tomorrow morning from 9-noon (CST) and this week's show is going to be a Mosrite Special!

Many folks today associate Mosrite guitars with the Ramones, Nirvana, Screeching Weasel, MC5, Davie Allen, and of course the Ventures, but Mosrite acitually got its start in the country music world. Tomorrow's show will explore the country music roots of Mosrite and will feature tunes by Joe and Rose Lee Maphis, the Buckaroos, Barbara Mandrell, and Buck Trent to name just a few.

I'll be spinning the very best of the Mosrite Records label as well as many of my favorite Mosrite pickers. Special treats include an unreleased guitar instrumental I recorded on my Joe Maphis model Mosrite with Tony Savarino, some super rare recordings by Mosrite luthier Semie Moseley, as well as a discussion about all things Mosrite with Mosrite expert and guitar archeologist Deke Dickerson!

I've been playing Mosrite guitars, collecting Mosrite Records, and researching the record label for nearly two decades and I can't wait to share some of this great music with you. You can tune in to tomorrow from 9am-noon (CST) via 89.9 FM in southern Wisconsin, stream it live at wortfm.org, or listen on the go via the brand new WORT app.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Bonus Edition of Back to the Country tomorrow (3/31/21)

Tomorrow morning from 9am-noon (CST) I'll be hosting a brand new episode of Back to the Country and talking about one of my very favorite things in the world--record collecting! I'll regale you with tales of how I first got into the hobby, how the practice has become a major part of my professional work at the University of Wisconsin, and all the while I'll be sharing with you my favorite 7", 10", 12", and even 16" record discoveries from 2021.

We're only three months into the new year but it's already been an outstanding trimester for records. I'm excited to share with y'all the cream of my recent acquisitions crop, both personally and for the Wisconsin Music Archives and Mills Music Library.
Tune in to 89.9FM in southern Wisconsin, stream it live at wortfm.org, or listen via the new WORT app.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Nate’s Sundance Film Festival 2021 Favorites and Review

Last month Rachel and I purchased a 2021 Sundance Film Festival Awards Pass so that we could watch all the category-winning films. The winners were announced last night, today Rachel and I took the day off from work to watch them, and I know you are all wondering which of these films you should try to see, so without further ado, here is my 2021 edition of NATE’S ANNUAL SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW, listed in order from favorite to least favorite.

1. Summer of Soul, (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) – THUMBS UP!

This “Black Woodstock” documentary is mind-blowing, evocative, timely, and super cool. Questlove blends unseen concert footage of Nina Simone, BB King, Sly and the Family Stone, the Staple Singers, and more from the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival with contextual footage of the era to show that while fashion and popular music may change over time, racism and systemic oppression have always been in vogue. Winner of the prestigious “Nate’s Favorite Film of Sundance” award. Recommended!

2. Coda – THUMBS UP!

A great Boston/Massachusetts film about finding escape through music and also about how tough the fishing industry can be. Glee and ASL fans rejoice! Proves yet again that music is fun and fishing stinks! Recommended!

3. Luzzo – THUMBS UP!

Basically a Breaking Bad plot but set in Malta, condensed to a feature-length film, and with some colorful, old boats and social commentary on climate change and how tough the fishing industry can be. Proves yet again that crime pays and fishing stinks! Recommended!

4. Hive – THUMBS UP!

Turns out, “hive” can mean multiple things—a bee hive, for which the main character maintains, as well as a hive of women, in this case an empowered group of widows in a small Kosovo village who break social norms and go into business for themselves. It’s also shorthand for “high five,” which I would give to anyone who said they also liked this film. Recommended!

5. Flee – THUMBS UP!

Heartbreaking and tragic animated documentary about fleeing oppressive regimes in Afghanistan and Russia. Turns out, there are a lot of bad police (and people) out there, but this personal tale of escape and pride is also hopeful and inspiring. Recommended!

6. On the Count of Three – THUMBS UP!

Two friends who both want to kill themselves decide to live one final day. During the day they make some questionable decisions, the Fonz makes an appearance in a very unlikeable role, and the characters shed light on the nuances of suicidal tendencies. Near the end there is an OJ and AC-style police chase and something very dramatic happens. Recommended!

7. Cryptozoo – THUMBS DOWN!

Granted, I only watched the first twelve minutes of this “indescribable” animated film, but in that span a dude gets gored through the chest by a unicorn and his girlfriend repeatedly smashes the unicorn in the head with a rock until it dies. Not recommended!

Monday, January 11, 2021

Nate Gibson Explores Mercury-Starday Country Series on Back to the Country WORT 89.9FM

Howdy Friends, I'll be back on WORT 89.9FM this Wednesday morning (1/13/21 9:00am-noon CST) with a three-hour Back to the Country show all about the Mercury-Starday Country Series.

Though it only lasted one year, the 1957 merger brought Starday Records to Nashville, brought Margie Singleton and Shelby Singleton into the music business, released the first records by the Big Bopper and Roger Miller, unleashed some blistering rockabilly by Sleepy LaBeef and Curtis Gordon, scored chart hits by George Jones and Jimmie Skinner, and issued some stellar bluegrass by the Stanley Brothers, Bill Clifton, Carl Story, Jim Eanes and more.

In addition to all 52 singles and 5 LPs, I've got some interview snippets, advance acetates, rare live recordings from the era, and even a zany break-in 45 using these tunes. In between the musical interludes I'll regale you with tales of recording sessions, writing the Starday book, collecting the records, and more. I might even sing and dance for ya. Hopefully it'll be a nice break from this week's insanity... streaming at www.wortfm.org and available in the WORT Archive for two weeks after Wednesday morning's broadcast.