Ernest Tubb (1914-1984) is the great-granddaddy of American honkytonk music... Hailing from the Lone Star State, Tubb was a devotee of the great blues yodeler, Jimmie Rodgers, but went on to pioneer a new musical style in the early 1940s, a heartbreak'n'hard luck genre which added cheating, cigarettes and booze into the country mix, along with a hard-driving rhythm that got people dancing and drinking across the land. Along with his loping, minimalist musical approach, Tubb's croaking vocals were a unique trademark -- when you hear an Ernest Tubb song, you know who it is every time. Tubb toured relentlessly, retiring only in 1982, after over forty years on the road, including a sixteen years struggle with emphysema, which finally felled him in '84... He left behind a legacy of hit songs such as "Walking The Floor" and "Thanks A Lot," and countless other country classics. Although on the surface he was a remarkably limited vocalist, as a stylist he had impressive depth -- Tubb would sing like he believed every line; and he'd make you believe, too. His son, Justin Tubb, also went into the country music business, and his band, The Texas Troubadours, launched several careers, including singers Jack Greene and Cal Smith. Here's a quick look at some of ET's work...
Ernest Tubb "The Definitive Hits Collection" (Collector's Choice, 2001)
Breathe a sigh of relief -- at last, justice has been done! This is perhaps the single longest-overdue country reissue in America, since Ernest Tubb's recorded legacy is probably one of the most criminally neglected in all of popular music history. Tubb (or "E.T.," as he was affectionately known) was a major pioneer of Texas honkytonk, though he mostly stuck to the clean-cut family values side of the bar; singing love songs, love lost songs and novelty tunes. Tubb was also one of the biggest sellers Decca Records had in the 1940s and '50s. Although monumental, multi-box retrospectives have been mounted by Bear Family, back here in the States E.T. has been mostly left on the backburner for the last three or four decades. To a certain extent you can see why -- striking though his music is, the songs all do sound a lot alike, and at first glance the appeal may seem a bit limited. But Tubb was a phenomenally soulful performer, and with the exploding interest in country and roots music of all kinds during the last few years, it's always been a mystery why MCA Music has been so damn stingy about cashing in on the hard country goldmine of Tubb's back catalog. (MCA is the corporate heir to the Decca label, whose fortunes Tubb helped build in the 1940s...) The label has limited their domestic reissues to meagre single-CD releases -- now at last we get the strong, 2-CD set that should satisfy the curious and the collector alike. Classic, prime recordings from the early '40s rub shoulders with material from the '50s and '60s... Although his wonderful duets with Loretta Lynn are conspicuously absent, other collaborations with folks such as Red Foley and the Wilburn Brothers are included, along with a generous and intelligently-chosen selection of his extensive catalog. No country fan should be without this collection.
Ernest Tubb "Country Music Hall Of Fame Series" (MCA, 1991)
If you see this disc, snap it up. It's a very solid -- though woefully inadequate -- collection, featuring the original '40s versions of E.T. hits such as "Walking The Floor Over You" and "Letters Have No Arms," which are sublime. For years, this MCA disc was the only Ernest Tubb record in print domestically, outside of a few random releases on collector labels. Rhino Records and Rounder have both helped fill the void with specialty issues, but the only other alternatives are Bear Family's exhaustive bazillion CD box sets (and 144 Tubb tracks in a row might be a bit too much just about anyone...) or a few tasty LPs which came out on the Cowgirlboy label, which are out of print and hard to find anyway. Once you get hooked on Tubb, though, these sixteen tracks are hardly enough.
Ernest Tubb "The Best Of: The Millenium Collection" (MCA, 2000)
While Columbia and Capitol have been doing bang-up reissues of many of their classic country artists, MCA still treats this stuff strictly as cheapie budget label fodder. This 12-song CD is a prime, though rather embarrassing, example. In an era when fans have grown used to reissue CDs of 20+ songs in length, why even bother issuing an album as slight as this? I mean, really -- with somebody like Tubb, a dead artist whose company-owned catalog includes thousands of great recordings to pick from, why skimp at all? Sure, the sound quality and track selection are both swell, and the budget pricing is nice... but if you're a crazy record collector nerd, the real issue is shelf space: a 12-song CD is a hard sell in an era when the same six centimeters on your CD rack can just as easily accomodate a disc with twice as much material on it. Still, if you're new to Tubb's stuff, and you can't listen to any of the great old vinyl releases, I'd strongly recommend you pick this disc up, though a better bet would be the CDs listed above.
Ernest Tubb "Classics" (Varese Sarabande, 2003)
A long overdue reissue of some (though sadly not all) of Tubb's late-period recordings made with producer Pete Drake, between 1977-81. In the early '70s, Tubb was unceremoniously dumped by the recently-renamed MCA label, which -- back when it was still Decca -- Tubb had helped build up financially through his numerous hits of the 1940s and '50s. Left without a label to support him, Tubb's tireless touring schedule took on a more desperate, dogged air, while health problems and financial woes piled up around him. Thus, Pete Drake's decision to pull ET back into the studio was a double blessing, an affirming nod towards one of country music's legendary greats, and a chance to document for fans what Tubb sounded like in his final years. As with Webb Pierce, Hank Thompson and a few other honkytonk founding fathers, Tubb's later, post major label recordings are surprisingly vigorous... His voice was obviously a bit frayed with age, but then again ET was never exactly a Caruso or Pavarotti; these recordings show a veteran performer not merely going through the motions, but a guy who still put himself into every song, and still thought of his fans whenever the band struck up a tune.
Ernest Tubb "Let's Say Goodbye Like We Said Hello" (Bear Family, 1994)
Ernest Tubb "Walking The Floor Over You" (Bear Family, 1996)
An 8-CD set covering his first sessions for the RCA label (in 1936) to his signing with Decca, and on through the end of World War Two, when Tubb was the king of honkytonk.
Ernest Tubb "Waltz Across Texas" (Bear Family, 1998)
Ernest Tubb "Another Story" (Bear Family, 1999)
This box set features some late-vintage stuff from his final stint on Decca/MCA, including his duets with Loretta Lynn...
Ernest Tubb "Thirty Days (Gonna Shake This Shack Tonight)" (Bear Family, 2007)
This groovy best-of collection is part of the rollicking "Gonna Shake This Shack Tonight" series; Bear Family is best known for its gigantic, authoritative box sets, but these single-disc sets sure do kick ass. Ernest Tubb has been the focus of several big box sets covering his entire forty-plus year career, so it's no surprise that when they whittle it all down to a mere thirty songs, those thirty songs are gonna be pretty darn good. There are well-known hits such as "Walking The Floor Over You," "Let's Say Goodbye Like We Said Hello," "Two Glasses, Joe" and "Drivin' Nails In My Coffin," as well as a slew of more obscure but no less delicious honky-tonk gems... A great way to discover one of country music's major pioneers.
Ernest Tubb "The Complete Live 1965 Show" (Lost Gold, 1998)
Ernest Tubb "New Year's Eve Live: 1979" (Lost Gold, 1999)
Ernest Tubb "Live From The Lonestar Cafe" (First Generation, 1999)
Ernest Tubb "Last Sessions -- All-Time Greatest Hits" (First Generation, 1999)
Ernest Tubb "Early Hits Of The Texas Troubadour" (ASV Living Era, 2000)
Ernest Tubb "There's A Little Bit Of Everything In Texas" (Jasmine, 2000)
Ernest Tubb "Country Hoedown" (Jasmine, 2000)
Ernest Tubb "Just Rollin' On" (BACM, 2005)
(Available through the British Archive of Country Music website.)
Ernest Tubb "The Texas Troubadour" (Proper, 2003)
A 4-disc budget-line set, put out after copyright expirations allowed European labels to delve into the back catalog of American majors.
Ernest Tubb & Loretta Lynn "The Best Of The Best" (Federal, 1999)
A ten-song collection of duets from their Decca albums together... It's a pretty tasty combination!
Ernest Tubb "The Definitive Collection" (MCA Nashville, 2006)
Ernest Tubb "Ernest Tubb Favorites" (Decca, 1952)
Ernest Tubb "Old Rugged Cross" (Decca, 1952)
Ernest Tubb "Songs Of Jimmie Rodgers" (Decca, 1953)
Ernest Tubb "Ernest Tubb Favorites" (Decca, 1956)
This version has four more songs than the original 10" disc listed above...
Ernest Tubb & Red Foley "Red And Ernie" (Decca, 1956)
Ernest Tubb "The Daddy Of 'Em All" (Decca, 1957)
Ernest Tubb "The Ernest Tubb Story" (Decca, 1959)
Ernest Tubb "The Importance Of Being Ernest" (Decca, 1959)
Ernest Tubb "Ernest Tubb And The Texas Troubadours" (Vocalion, 1960)
Ernest Tubb "The Ernest Tubb Record Shop" (Decca, 1960)
Ernest Tubb/Various Artists "Midnight Jamboree" (Decca, 1960)
Ernest Tubb "All-Time Hits" (Decca, 1960)
Ernest Tubb "Golden Favorites" (Decca, 1961)
Ernest Tubb "On Tour" (Decca, 1962)
Ernest Tubb "Just Call Me Lonesome" (Decca, 1963)
Ernest Tubb "Family Bible" (Decca, 1963)
A nice, lowkey gospel set... Old standards such as "Precious Memories," "Great Speckled Bird" and "What A Friend We Have In Jesus" comingle with Hank Williams' "I Saw The Light" and other more modern material... All of it is filtered through ET's standard-issue loping beat... and it all sounds uniformly rugged and sincere. Not bad!
Ernest Tubb "Thanks A Lot!" (Decca, 1964)
Ernest Tubb "Blue Christmas" (Decca, 1964)
Ernest Tubb "My Pick Of The Hits" (Decca, 1965)
Ernest Tubb "Hittin' The Road With Ernest Tubb And The Texas Troubadours" (Decca, 1965)
Ernest Tubb "Stand By Me" (Vocalion, 1966)
Ernest Tubb "By Request" (Decca, 1966)
Ernest Tubb "Country Hits Old And New" (Decca, 1966)
Ernest Tubb "Another Story" (Decca, 1967)
Ernest Tubb & Loretta Lynn "Singin' Again" (Decca, 1967) (LP)
Ernest Tubb "...Sings Hank Williams" (Decca, 1968) (LP)
Ernest Tubb "Greatest Hits" (Decca, 1968)
Ernest Tubb "Country Hit Time" (Decca, 1968)
ET digs through a few relatively recent country goodies, tunes like "Crying Time," "One Dime At A Time," Merle Haggard's "The Bottle Let Me Down" and "Life Turned Her That Way." The arrangements are, by Tubb's standards, a little popped-up, but generally suit his style. There's a delicious irony hearing him cover Charlie Walker's "Don't Squeeze My Sharmon," since Walker himself was such a blatant Tubb imitator... And while this is mostly a pretty safe-sounding set, the closing number is a little bit of a surprise, a slightly risque number called "She Went A Little Bit Farther," which was a modest hit for fellow old-timer Faron Young earlier that year. Another standard-issue Tubb album that's well worth picking up.
Ernest Tubb "Let's Turn Back The Years" (Decca, 1969)
Ernest Tubb & Loretta Lynn "If We Put Our Heads Together" (Decca, 1969) (LP)
Ernest Tubb "Saturday Satan, Sunday Saint" (Decca, 1969) (LP)
Ernest Tubb "A Good Year For The Wine" (Decca, 1970)
Ernest Tubb "Greatest Hits, v.2" (Decca, 1970)
Ernest Tubb "One Sweet Hello" (Decca, 1971)
Ernest Tubb "Say Something Nice To Sarah" (Decca, 1972)
Ernest Tubb "Baby It's So Hard To Be Good" (Decca, 1972)
Ernest Tubb "I've Got All The Heartaches I Can Handle" (MCA, 1973)
Ernest Tubb "The Loretta Lynn & Ernest Tubb Story" (MCA, 1973)
This fab 2-LP set collects the best material from the three albums ET and Loretta did together -- Mr. And Mrs. Used To Be from 1965, 1967's Singin' Again and If We Put Our Heads Together, from 1969. Their duets didn't always click, so this may be more material than the average country fan might need... Then again, how much more "country" and down to earth could you get than these two? I'd be nice if the record label folks could put this one out again someday...
Ernest Tubb "Ernest Tubb" (MCA, 1975)
Hear that? That's the sound of a big music corporation tossing one of their biggest early breadwinners out on his ear. The bastards. This was the last ET record that Decca, then MCA, later Universal would put out for a long, long, long time.
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