Tompall Glaser, Nashville Outlaw, Dead at 79

Singer Also Pioneered in Nashville Song Publishing and Studio Building

Tompall Glaser, a charter member of Nashville’s Outlaw movement and an independent song publisher of some renown, died Tuesday (Aug. 13). He was 79.

Thomas Paul Glaser was born on Sept. 3, 1933, in Spaulding, Neb. After he and his brothers Jim and Chuck appeared on the popular Arthur Godfrey variety TV show in the 1950s, the Glaser Brothers moved to Nashville. They were signed by Marty Robbins for his Robbins label and sang background vocals on Robbins’ hit “El Paso.” They later recorded as a folk music act for Decca Records, with Owen Bradley producing.

Signed to MGM Records, they won the CMA vocal group of the year award in 1970. They toured with such artists as Johnny Cash and had 22 Billboard charting country singles, with “Lovin’ Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again)” rising to No. 2 in 1981.

The Glaser Brothers were eternally regarded as outsiders by the Nashville establishment and no one ever spoke publicly about that. Tompall Glaser once suggested it was because they were the only Nebraska Catholics who ever tried to break into Nashville’s Music Row.

The brothers started a song publishing company, which struck gold with John Hartford‘s “Gentle on My Mind.” They also opened a recording studio on 19th Avenue South that became famous as Hillbilly Central, the headquarters of the Outlaw movement in the early 1970s. Waylon Jennings discovered that he and Tompall were kindred spirits who liked to keep their own hours, raise hell, drink whiskey and play pinball in the many joints in the neighborhood that still paid off money on winning pinball games, and write and record songs at all hours of the day and night.

Hillbilly Central became the nerve center for such artists as Jennings, Glaser, Kinky Friedman, Billy Joe Shaver, Bobby Bare, Kris Kristofferson, Lee Clayton, and many others. Jennings’ crusade to record there rather than at RCA studios was central in his rebellion against the Nashville establishment. He won the battle.

The Outlaw movement led to the 1976 RCA album Wanted: The Outlaws by Jennings, Glaser, Willie Nelson and Jennings’ wife Jessi Colter. It was Nashville’s first platinum-selling album and forever changed the landscape for country music. Subsequently, Jennings and Nelson enjoyed huge solo success. Glaser formed an Outlaw band and toured and recorded with marginal success. The Glaser Brothers reunited in 1979 and then dissolved again in 1982.

Jennings and Glaser personally clashed — over money, some friends said. They never spoke to each other again. Jennings died in 2002. Hillbilly Central later became acquired by the artist Alison Brown as the headquarters of her Compass Records label.

Glaser’s 1973 solo album Charlie, on MGM, is still prized by country enthusiasts.