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Various Artists

Louisiana Hayride Series – 2000 (Music Mill Entertainment)

Reviewed by Jon Johnson

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CDs by Various Artists

Included in this set are:

  • Louisiana Hayride Classic Country Radio, vols. 1,2,3,4
  • Louisiana Hayride Classic Gospel Radio, vols. 1,2
  • Louisiana Hayride Classic Comedy Radio

    The legendary Louisiana Hayride, broadcast on Shreveport's KWKH 1948-1969, then revived for a second run in the '70's and early '80's, is remembered as the launching pad for dozens of careers, including Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Jim Reeves, Webb Pierce, Faron Young, Kitty Wells and Johnny Horton. Even when its stars "graduated" to the bright lights of WSM's rival Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, the Hayride usually managed to find new talent waiting in the wings. And, to the show's credit, the Hayride survived far longer than did almost any other regional barn dance broadcast (excepting the Opry, of course); testament to its staying power.

    Unfortunately for Music Mill, the recent Big "D" Jamboree collection in Dallas set the standard for "barn dance" releases of this sort, and the Hayride series can't help but suffer in comparison.

    Where the Big "D" set included an authoritative 32-page booklet, all seven volumes of the Hayride series include the same bare-bones liner notes, a real shame given the historic nature of these recordings. Recording/broadcast dates are not included, nor are backing musician credits. Though, to be fair, exact dates might not have been available (as was also the case with the Jamboree set) and, in many instances, a little careful listening and detective work can date many of the tracks. Slim Whitman's "Careless Hands" on the first volume of the "Classic Country Radio" series, for instance, was recorded at the Hayride's 10th anniversary broadcast, which would date it to early April 1958.

    The discs are very short; averaging 25 minutes each (except for the 50-minute comedy disc), which again doesn't compare favorably to the Big "D" set, with almost as much material on its two discs as the Hayride series includes on seven. And yet the power of these recordings is undeniable. In the end, this series succeeds in capturing some of country's biggest stars both during the infancy of their careers or later, on return visits, while at the peak of their powers and at the height of their fame.

    Start listening anywhere you like and you'll come up with diamonds from the likes of George Jones ("She Thinks I Still Care," "The Race Is On" and three others), Johnny Horton ("Whispering Pines" and a blistering "Honky Tonk Man"), the Louvin Brothers ("My Baby's Gone" from the fall of 1958 and "The Family That Prays"), Ray Price ("Crazy Arms" and "Release Me"), Johnny Cash ("Rock Island Line" and three others), and other tracks from the likes of Eddy Arnold, Carl Smith, Webb Pierce, Faron Young, Hank Snow and Marty Robbins.

    Although the sound quality is uneven, to say the least, the audio quality is never less than listenable, with the quality improving markedly as the Hayride transitioned from acetate recording to magnetic tape recording; probably in the late '50's.

    Most poignant, perhaps, is the series' sole performance from Hank Williams, "Jambalaya," recorded Sept. 13, 1952. Though Williams was reported to have been in terrible shape at this point in his career, you'd never know it from this recording; his speech clear and his singing strong in front of an enthusiastic audience. Weeks later, Hank Williams would be dead.

    The two gospel discs in the series are divided between popular white gospel vocal groups of the period (The Jordanaires, the Plainsmen Quartet and the Deep South Quartet) and country artists performing gospel material; standouts including T. Texas Tyler's signature "Deck of Cards," Eddy Arnold's "He'll Understand," Ernest Tubb's "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" and the Maddox Brothers and Rose's "Just Over the Stars."

    Finally, "Classic Comedy Radio" is a fine collection of the kind of humor that was common on country radio during the period, including performances from Archie Campbell, Rod Brassfield, Ferlin Husky (as Simon Crum), Minnie Pearl, Justin Wilson and Roy Clark. Although certainly not without flaws, the Louisiana Hayride series is nevertheless an oftentimes astonishing collection of performances.