Wanted! Just Not As Much As the Other Outlaws

Tompall Glaser

Without Tompall Glaser I’m not sure there would have been country music outlaws. It’s not that Waylon and Willie wouldn’t have found a way, but Tompall anchored the movement out of his Hillbilly Central studios in Nashville recording albums like Waylon’s Honky Tonk Heroes and Dreaming My Dreams, and John Hartford’s Aereoplane. This was a place for the misfits: Kris Kristofferson, Jessi Colter, Mickey Newbury, Bobby Bare, Kinky Friedman, Shel Silverstein, Billy Joe Shaver to name a few.  He himself might even shrug off the title. It wasn’t that he battled the system so much as completely ignored it and I think that’s what I love about him best of all. I see shades of this in No Depression from the print mag to the fine website and Shooter Jennings’ XXX music project. And why not, ever try to wrestle a bear out of a tent? A wise man might hike on down the road a ways and simply pitch a new one.

Tompall wrote Streets of Baltimore with Harlan Howard in the mid 1960s. It was a catalyst song for two reasons. One it dealt with what happened during the post-war years when rural America starting seeing the jet-set. This wasn’t a rehash of How You Gonna Keep ‘Em Down On The Farm though. Streets of Baltimore is a tough and jaded song, not so much cynical as tired. Tompall says he got the idea after seeing  a pretty young woman in the Opry one night with her husband. She was looking fine and the men noticed. He was looking tired, grease under his fingernails, and had probably spent money he didn’t have to take her there. She was looking for a way out and he was the door.

The other reason is Bobby Bare took the song and recorded it in 1966 and as he began to blur the lines of country, rock and folk music and pull away from the studios searching for ever greater control musically this could accurately be called ground zero for the whole dang thing.

Bobby Bare, Streets of Baltimore

As I mentioned above John Hartford recorded his Aereoplane record at Hillbilly Central, and if there ever was an outlaw – in the Paul Newman sense – John Hartford was him. Hartford of course wrote Gentle On My Mind, one of the great songs of the last century. Glen Campbell scored a decent with it in 1967, but it should be noted that this taboo, but sweet tale of shacking up was first recorded by Tompall Glaser and his brothers.

Thomas Paul Glaser was born today in 1933.

The Glaser Brothers, Gentle On My Mind


About Iaan Hughes

Iaan Hughes is a deejay on 91.3 KBCS in Seattle. He plays country & western music.
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