Glaser, who died in Nashville on Aug. 13 at 79, was represented, along with Nelson, Jennings and Jessi Colter, on the 1976 compilation Wanted! The Outlaws. Not only was it the first country album to achieve platinum status for sales of one million copies, it gave the name to what became known as the “outlaw movement” in country music, also encompassing the likes of Nelson, Jennings, Johnny Cash, David Allan Coe, Kris Kristofferson and Billy Joe Shaver.
Glaser with younger brothers Jim and Chuck operated Nashville’s Glaser Sound Studios—a hangout commonly known as Hillbilly Central. There they gave artists and musicians creative freedom over producers--the opposite of what had been Nashville’s norm. They also had their own publishing company, with John Hartford and his classic “Gentle On My Mind” among its songwriters and copyrights.
“Waylon did Honky Tonk Heroes at Hillbilly Central,” says Jeremy Tepper, program director of SiriusXM satellite radio’s Outlaw Country channel, speaking of Jennings’ classic outlaw album, which Jennings co-produced with Glaser. “It was done outside of RCA Studios, and broke the chains of the Nashville establishment.”
While Glaser never became a “transcendent” country music artist in his own right, Tepper notes that he still holds a key spot on “the album that is the centerpiece for the [Outlaw Country] format.” The album contained his big solo hit version of Shel Silverstein’s “Put Another Log on the Fire (Male Chauvinist National Anthem).”
Other major Glaser credits include co-writing, with Harlan Howard, Bobby Bare’s 1966 country chart-topper “The Streets Of Baltimore,” and appearing on such legendary Hillbilly Central albums as Kinky Friedman’s Chuck Glaser-produced classic 1973 debut album Sold American.
“The Great Tompall—as he was known—was a seminal player in the outlaw movement,” says Friedman. “Aside from the force of nature that was his personality, he was a great oak tree that many of us leaned on and counted on.”
With his own studio, Glaser was “a Music Row magnate,” continues Friedman.
“He could have done anything he wanted to with the music establishment,” he says, “but he chose to side with the outlaws because that’s where his spirit was. Most guys would have gone with the record company executives and played golf and bought a house in Belle Meade, but the Great Tompall, to his great credit, agreed with Willie and Waylon that the artist should have more control—instead of just handing you a mimeographed sheet with the songs you have to record and the pickers you have to play with. He opened his studio up to people like me and Billy Joe, who never got in the other studios. No one let us in there!”
“Most guys like him would have just kept doing commercial country music and racked up billions of dollars,” adds Friedman, “but Tompall sided with guys like Willie, who at the time was broke—or if not, he certainly was not financially fixed—and Waylon, whose car was always being repoed. That’s what part of the outlaw movement was: for the artist not to be an indentured servant of the record company.”
And while Nelson and Jennings enjoyed greater commercial success as artists, Friedman believes Glaser could well have made it without the outlaw movement.
“I’d say he was the match that kindled the flame,” he says. “Driving around in his Lincoln Continental and drinking Jack Daniels. Look at the riff-raff bunch around him who were literally homeless, scrapping and pitching songs to people: He’s the one who made it all possible by having a studio where we were always welcome with weird clothes.”
It was a period of “people living on the edge,” notes Friedman, “of great music being created.”
“Tompall was a big spirit of that era and I’m really privileged to have known the guy,” he concludes. “He was more than a good old boy. He was a born troublemaker, and the world needs guys like that—and it’s a shame to lose him. He was kind of like the Statue of Liberty for Nashville, with an open studio--and an open heart.”
“So we say goodbye to the Great Tompall, and hoist a shot of Jack Daniels.”
[The Examiner wrote the liner notes to the 30th anniversary edition of Kinky Friedman's classic 1973 album Sold American and appears as a character in his 1994 mystery novel Armadillos & Old Lace.]
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