Tompall Glaser: Outlaw Visionary

Thursday, 15 August 2013 06:20 AM Written by 

Tompall Glaser isn't a widely known name today, but at one time he was one of the prime movers in country's Outlaw movement. Glaser died Tuesday at 79 after a long illness, less than a week after his friend and onetime producer Cowboy Jack Clement passed.

As lead singer of Tompall & The Glaser Brothers, siblings Chuck and Jim, the Nebraska-born Glasers became known for flawless vocal harmonies behind others and on their own. Later, they helped change the rules in Nashville. They left enough of a mark to justify a documentary.

A Promo for a new Glaser Brothers documentary.

The Glasers grew up on a Nebraska farm. Tompall's desire to sing captured his brothers' interest. With a sound blending country and folk, they made it to Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, the American Idol of its day. Marty Robbins heard them at a 1957 Grand Island, Nebraska show. He hired them as backup singers, brought them to Nashville. They made their first records on his Robbins label.

1958: Their first record:Chuck Glaser's folk-flavored "Five Penny Nickel" on Robbins' label. This pressing came out on the Canadian Quality label.

The Glasers became an integral part of Robbins's organization, Marty's vocal influence on Tompall was obvious. Eventually the brothers struck out on their own, joining the Opry and recording for Decca and later, MGM, where Clement produced them. 

1969: "California Girl (And The Tennessee Square" (MGM)

It's worth noting Tompall was no slouch as a songwriter. He and master country songsmith Harlan Howard co-wrote Bobby Bare's 1966 hit ballad "The Streets Of Baltimore."

1971: Bob Wills's "Faded Love." The Glasers with Leon McAuliffe & the Cimarron Boys.   McAuliffe, Wills's longtime steel guitarist, does the spoken intro. The band is his Cimarron Boys, the record a tribute to Wills, his career sidelined by a 1968 stroke.

The brothers' business sense was apparent when they formed a Nashville music publishing company and did well publishing, among other songs, John Hartford's "Gentle On My Mind," an 1967 hit for Glen Campbell.   

Glaser Sound Studios on 19th Avenue South opened in the late 60's.  Nicknamed "Hillbilly Central" at a time major record companies owned most Nashville studios.  It became a clubhouse, a loose, 24/7 creative incubator offering artistic freedom embraced by acts anxious to do things their way.Waylon Jennings, John Hartford, Kinky Friedman, Bobby Bare, Kris Kristofferson, Jessi Colter, Billy Joe Shaver were among those who recorded there.

Jennings and Tompall became true creative brothers in the early 70's, and much of the spiritual impetus for the Outlaw movement emanated from Hillbilly Central. Waylon, frustrated by the lack of creative latitude at RCA Nashville, renegotiated a contract that in 1973, allowed him to use whatever producers, musicians and studios he chose, things the label hadn't allowed.

It was no surprise Glaser Sound was Waylon's first choice.  From 1973-75, he did most of his records there, including the albums This Time and The Ramblin' Man. Some tunes on the 1976 anthology Wanted! The Outlaws, featuring Waylon, wife Jessi Colter, Willie Nelson and Glaser, the first country album to go Platinum. were recorded there.  Sadly, Waylon and Tompall had a major falling out over business. They never reconciled.

Hillbilly Central's success and Waylon's triumphs fostered the rise of independent studios in Nashville, and hastened the end of labels controlling the studios in town.  Today, the studio remains, owned by the Americana label Compass Records.

Glaser's solo career wasn't nearly as successful, though he made some wonderfully quirky records and was equally engaging onstage.

1975: "Put Another Log On the Fire (Male Chauvinist Anthem)." A satirical Shel Silverstein song and Tompall's biggest solo hit (# 21).

1978: "T. For Texas," with the Outlaw Band, onstage in Holland. He sang this Jimmie Rodgers favorite on Wanted! The Outlaws. The blazing lead guitarist is the incomparable Reggie Young; the intense pedal steel player is Buddy Emmons.

The Glaser Brothers had disbanded in the 70's. Chuck Glaser suffered a 1975 stroke but recovered. The three reunited from 1979 to 1982. The video below is from that period.

Early 80's: "After All These Years"

After splitting for good, they appeared together onstage only one more time.

1990: Glaser Brothers Reunion at the Opry: At Hank Snow's request they reunited at the Opry for their final stage performance.   This is Kris Kristofferson's "Lovin' Her Was Easier." In 1981 it became the biggest hit single of their career.

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