Songwriter Michael Ballew is one of outlaw country's great unsung heroes... Actually, he started out as a rocker, heading for California in the '60s and playing in a number of moderately successful bands before hearing the siren song of Austin and heading home when the outlaw scene was in full swing. But even though he wrote and recorded some great twang, Bellew just never got the breaks he needed. A major label deal fell through, and he mostly just gigged around in the Lone Star State for years until the German reissue label Bear Family Records put its weight behind his music, putting out several album's worth of material that had previously been lost to time. It's good stuff: here's a quick look at his career.
Red, Wilder, Blue "Red, Wilder, Blue" (Warner/Pentagram, 1971) (LP)
(Produced by Al Schmidt)
While it's not much of a country album, this disc is worth noting for twangfans because it's an early one for Michael Ballew, who was kickin' it on the West Coast for a few years trying to make it as a rocker. It's mostly a medicore mix of contemporary styles: LA sunshine pop, CSNY-style group harmonies and a bit of hard/psych, as heard on their riffy cover of Jesse Colin Young's "Darkness." I think they were mostly aiming for the Crosby Stills & Nash sound, and they probably could have been more successful if the album had been better produced, or rather, better edited: the songs drift and meander quite a bit, and generally don't feel all that cohesive. But if you're just into obscure '70s soft rock and soft-psych, you might wanna check this one out; definitely not much overt twang involved here.
Michael Ballew "Daddy Don't Live In Heaven" (Liberty Records, 1981) (Unreleased)
Harsh, man! Apparently Ballew recorded an entire album's worth of material for the Liberty label in 1981... They released a couple of singles, the singles went nowhere, and they they just shelved the record. The tunes sat in somebody's vault for almost two decades before the fab folks at Bear Family brought it back to the light of day. (See below.)
Michael Ballew "I Love Texas" (Bear Family, 1992)
Michael Ballew "You Better Hold On" (Bear Family, 1995)
Michael Ballew "Live At Greune Hall" (Bear Family, 1997)
Michael Ballew "Daddy Don't Live In Heaven" (Bear Family, 2000)
Michael Ballew "Rodeo Cool" (Soul Of The Heart, 2001)
Michael Ballew "No Pain" (Diverse Records, 2005)
A self-released collection of more recent material and re-recorded oldies, with kind of a mellow, laidback jam-session approach... Mostly Ballew originals, but also a few honkytonk classics, such as "Pick Me Up On Your Way Down."
Hick Music Index