Hank Thompson's storied career as a country music recording artist began in 1946 and continues with his brand-new release, aptly titled Seven Decades. The record reached stores Tuesday, July 18, and as part of the launch Thompson joined country.com for a live web chat Wednesday, July 19. (Read the complete transcript).
On dozens of earlier recording projects, working
with his crack band, the Brazos Valley Boys, the Country Music Hall of Fame member often pursued a particular theme or musical
style. Songs for Rounders, from 1959, gathers barroom tunes such as "Cocaine Blues" and "Drunkard's Blues," raunchy
even by today's standards. At the Golden Nugget, recorded in 1960, was one of country music's earliest live recordings;
it documents Thompson's role as a country music pioneer in Las Vegas showrooms.
Thompson paid tribute to personal favorites
with collections devoted to the Mills Brothers and Nat "King" Cole. Other themed releases featured popular waltzes, Christmas
songs, instrumentals and songs of Oklahoma. In 1997 Thompson recorded a collection of duets, Hank Thompson and Friends,
on which he teamed with Vince Gill, Junior Brown, Brooks & Dunn, Lyle Lovett, George Jones, Kitty Wells and Tanya Tucker,
For Seven Decades, however, Thompson departed from the practice of centering his releases around
a particular subject. Granted artistic freedom by HighTone Records and working with producer Lloyd Maines, he followed his
"There is absolutely no theme, no direction, no anything. It's just whatever I wanted to do," Thompson
says from his home near Fort Worth. On the phone his voice is warm, his tone inviting and friendly. "It's a random selection
of songs. No one song has an intentional relation to the other."
The 13-track collection includes new originals such
as "Condo in Hondo," "Medicine Man" and "New Wine in Old Bottles," as well as old favorites Thompson has not recorded before,
among them Vernon Dalhart's "The Wreck of the Old '97," Tex Williams' humorous "The Night Miss Nancy Ann's Hotel for Single
Girls Burned Down," The Kingston Trio's "Scotch and Soda" and Jimmie Rodgers' "In the Jailhouse Now." Rodgers was a childhood
Thompson's home state of Texas seems to occupy a central place on Seven Decades. Indeed, if any thread
unites the project, it might be the great influence exerted by the Lone Star State. Born and bred in Waco, Thompson first
recorded in Dallas. He returned to the city to make the new record, working with fellow Texan and producer Maines, father
of Dixie Chick Natalie Maines. One track, "Triflin' Gal," comes from Texas songwriter and fellow Hall of Fame member Cindy
Walker. Another Texan, Al Dexter, had a major country hit with the record in 1945.
Not everyone comes from Texas. Thom
Bresh plays in the thumb-picking guitar style made famous by his father, Merle Travis. Travis played on most of Thompson's
classic sides. Keyboardist Mark Jordan, who also handled orchestration, is an alumnus from Bonnie Raitt's band. The late Gary
Hogue, a Texas native living in Nashville at the time of the recording, played steel guitar.
On the first track,
"Sting in This Ole Bee," Thompson crows that he's still got his. As if to prove it, the 74-year-old musician still plays 100
dates a year and hasn't considered hanging up his ax anytime soon. "People only retire from things they don't like, and then
they go to doing what they always wanted to do," Thompson says. "In my case, I got into what I want to do when I got into
The veteran entertainer clearly enjoys what he does. He insists on having a good time with his music, and he
encouraged the musicians on the set to take the same attitude. "I told them, 'Now, look, this album may not sell enough copies
to even pay for the studio time, but the number one thing we want to do is have fun -- enjoy what we do on this thing. We're
not trying to impress anybody but ourselves, so play what you feel. Let's do this thing for us, and if it pleases us, it's
got to please a lot of other people.'"
The singer has earned the artistic freedom HighTone granted him for the project.
With nearly 80 country chart singles under his belt -- 30 in the Top 10 -- Thompson can claim longevity and a track record
equaled by few others. The year 1952 brought his first No. 1 single, "The Wild Side of Life." The country classic's chorus
includes the distinctive line, "I didn't know God made honky tonk angels." The record spent 15 weeks on top of the charts
and inspired "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," the answer song that launched the career of fellow Hall of Fame member
Thompson recorded "The Wild Side of Life" during his heyday on Capitol Records, from 1947-65. That
era also spawned classics such as "A Six Pack to Go," "Rub-A-Dub-Dub," "The Blackboard of My Heart," "Oklahoma Hills," "Humpty
Dumpty Heart" and "Wake Up, Irene."
Thompson went on to score hits such as "On Tap, in the Can, or in the Bottle,"
"Smoky the Bar" and "The Older the Violin, the Sweeter the Music" with Dot in the late '60s and '70s. He also had brief associations
with Warner Bros., ABC and MCA.
Before recording his 1997 collection of duets with country stars, Thompson had not
released a new album since 1988's Here's to Country Music, issued by Step One Records, a small, Nashville-based independent.
His decade-long hiatus coincided with the unprecedented country music boom set in motion by younger acts such as Garth Brooks,
Clint Black and Alan Jackson.
"No label wanted people like me," Thompson states frankly. "There was no place for me.
I would have been delighted to make records during that time, but I couldn't get any label interested. They weren't interested
in a Hank Thompson."
Maines suggested Thompson try tradition-friendly HighTone. The Oakland-based indie's roster includes
Buddy Miller, Ramblin' Jack Elliot and Big Sandy. Company officials jumped at the chance to work with the Hall of Famer, and
Thompson hasn't had so much creative control -- and fun -- since the '60s, when he was with Capitol.
"I pretty much
called all the shots in those days," he recalls." I did things exactly the way I wanted to. I had free rein. I think that's
why I was so successful there. Nobody was trying to tell me the way I ought to do it. That's not to say I am not open to suggestions.
I have always gotten ideas from musicians. Merle Travis, in particular, was very good about coming up with ideas.
it was our ideas, it wasn't the ideas of some young program director. I was influenced by a lot of that when I was with Dot
and MCA, and somewhat on the [duets album]. There were a number of things on there I didn't particularly care for.
this new one, we weren't trying to conform to anything," Thompson reiterates. "We just did it the way we thought it ought
to be done."
The ole bee still has plenty of sting left, and a great passion for his art.