The Return Of The Quiet Outlaw
By Rick Kelly
© 2006 CMA Close Up News Service / Country Music Association, Inc.
In recent years, there has been growing interest in the iconoclastic group of 1970s Country artists who were loosely collected under the banner of the Outlaw Movement. Current artists release songs that name-check the great artists of that era including Big & Rich’s "Rollin’," CMA Female Vocalist of the Year Gretchen Wilson’s "Redneck Woman" and Gary Allan’s "What Would Willie Do."
CMA Horizon Award winner Dierks Bentley has adopted the rolling, phase-shifted Fender Telecaster sound of Waylon Jennings on hits like "Lot Of Leavin’ Left To Do," and Waylon’s son Shooter Jennings has donned the mantle of the outlaw. All of these artists were instrumental in moving Country Music to a new and more contemporary place, and should be remembered and honored. Among them is Bobby Bare.
Born in Ironton, Ohio, in 1935, Bare had a difficult early life. After the death of his mother when he was 5 years old, Bare’s family split up and he found work as a teenager on farms, in factories and as an ice-cream vendor. Bare built his first guitar, and at 11 taught himself to play. By his late teens he was playing with a local band throughout Ohio. In the late 1950s, Bare moved to Los Angeles where he had his first taste of chart success with the talking blues "All American Boy" in 1958, recorded under the name Bill Parsons. The single was a Top 5 Country and pop single in the United States, and approached the Top 20 in the United Kingdom. After a stint in the Army, Bare returned to his singing and songwriting career, achieving some minor success in the pop music world.
In the early 1960s, Bare, encouraged by friend Harlan Howard, moved to Nashville and was signed by Chet Atkins to RCA Records. He became the first major label artist in Nashville to produce his own albums and quickly found success with his first single "Shame On Me" breaking into the Top 20 on the Country charts and peaking at No. 23 on the pop charts. His follow-up single, "Detroit City" was a crossover hit which peaked inside the Top 5 on the Country and pop charts, and was awarded the 1963 GRAMMY for Best Country Performance. This was the beginning of a run of 11 Top 10 singles and more than 30 Top 20 singles between 1962 and 1981.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Bare was not content to hand the creative reins to record producers and pick only songs written in Nashville. Endowed with a great musical curiosity and a love of truly great songwriting from the entire spectrum of music, Bare began to record songs by gifted writers from different genres. He recorded songs from rock and folk luminaries including J.J. Cale, Gene Clark, the Rolling Stones and Ian Tyson. The legendary rock promoter Bill Graham called Bare the "Springsteen of Country” and signed on as his manager in the mid-1970s.
Bare was also masterful in recognizing great new songwriting talents. He was among the first Country artist to record songs by the new breed of songwriters who were blurring the lines between Country and folk. The writers that Bare championed included such now legendary names as Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell and Billy Joe Shaver.
Perhaps the most significant songwriter/singer partnership that Bare entered into was with Shel Silverstein. In 1973, Bare released Lullabys, Legends And Lies, a double-album of Silverstein compositions.
The concept album became Bare’s most successful release, peaking at No. 5. It also yielded the most successful singles of Bare’s career, the No. 1 "Marie Laveau" and the No. 2 "Daddy, What If," a vocal duet with Bare’s 6-year-old son Bobby Jr. Eventually, Bare would release three albums consisting mostly or entirely of Silverstein’s songs.
By the mid-1980s, Bare’s album sales had dropped off, and he was no longer getting the radio airplay he’d enjoyed earlier in his career. After a meeting with his label in which he was asked to "do some Bob Seger," Bare asked to be released from his record deal.
"There was no real reason to do albums anymore because there was nowhere to go with them,” Bare said. “They basically told me ‘Come back when you’re younger.’”
Bare harbors no resentment about this turn of events.
"The music business is, and always has been about young people,” he said. “When they were playing my records, I was glad they were playing them. But that meant they weren’t playing Hank Snow or Roy Acuff or Lefty Frizzell. Eventually they started playing newer artists and stopped playing me."
Bare continues to work on the road, playing "more dates than I’d really like to" in venues throughout the country.
In November 2005, after a 22-year hiatus from recording as a solo artist, Bare released The Moon Was Blue on Dualtone Records, featuring the single and video “Are You Sincere.”
Critics have embraced the album: “The album combines an indie-rock sensibility with Nashville sound arrangement, making the elder Bare the likely candidate to become Country’s legend du jour.” — USA Today; “… the work of a crafty master.” — Entertainment Weekly; and “Astonishing … Nothing short of a masterpiece.” — L.A. Weekly.
The Moon Was Blue is a collection of classic songs, and features the mature, burnished vocals of Bare Sr., over the airy and playful co-production of his son, Bare Jr., and Mark Nevers.
"I know that people my age and younger have no idea what my dad does," Bare Jr. said. "I wanted to get to the more soulful kind of stuff that he did in the ‘60s. That’s why we picked the songs that we did. The most difficult part of the project was getting dad out of the bass boat long enough to come to the studio to make the record."
Bare Sr. said his son was instrumental in the creation of the new album.
"Bobby kept pressuring me to come in and do some recording with him, and after he’d brought it up a number of times, I realized it was something important to him" Bare Sr. said. "I told him that I was just going to be the singer, and that he and Mark could do whatever they wanted with the record."
The eclectic production of the album serves the songs and the voice of Bare Sr. well on songs including "All In The Game," "Everybody’s Talking At Me," "Yesterday When I Was Young" and "The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan." The latter is a final nod to Silverstein, who died in 1999.
Asked about plans for future albums, Bare Sr. answered with a joke. "Well, I haven’t planned to do one, but after you turn 70, you don’t look that far ahead,” he said. “I would like to do another record, though."
There is wisdom to be gained from someone with a half-century of recording and touring experience. Asked for his advice for young artists to ensure longevity, Bare Sr. replied, "Write and record great songs. Lots of people can sing, but not just anybody can write a great song."
On the Web: www.bobbybare.com