The Blue Boys

Once upon a time, people used to make mix CDs. One of those people was a friend of mine, Aaron Caplan, and he started what he called a Burning Circle. It was a simple and delightful concept. 12 people. Each month, one of the 12 would make a mix CD, burn 11 extra copies of it, and send it off in the mail (yes, with stamps and everything!) to the rest of the group. When it worked, it meant that every month, you would get a tiny bundle of music, much of which you hadn’t heard before, and even the stuff you already knew might be stirred into a new-to-you mix that gave it a new flavor.

There were no firm rules about what kinds of mixes people should make. Some mixes were organized around specific themes. Some were genre-specific. Some were deliberate efforts to share the musical joys that the mixer had found in a specific artist. Some were nothing more (which is not to minimize their value) than “music I’ve discovered and loved since the last time.”

The results were uneven, but that was to be expected. The group’s membership fluctuated over the years, and the musical tastes involved were varied enough to more or less guarantee that you wouldn’t fall in love with everything that showed up in your mail. But there were always enough delights (at least for me) to make it fun.

It didn’t last, of course. Making mixes can be a lot of fun. Burning, packaging, and mailing a dozen CDs, on other hand, is more like work. And CDs started to dwindle in popularity. The group lasted about a decade — 2008-2017, by my count — and then called it quits.

What follows are the liner notes and track listing for my 2014 contribution, which is one that I was especially fond of. In the original notes, I provided tiny-url links to some webpages . . . which, much to my surprise, are all still alive a decade later. At least one of them has also been updated since then — though that update doesn’t actually change anything significant about my comments.

The Greatest Country and Western Band in the World:
The Blue Boys

Think about the greatest artists in country music history. The odds are good that most of the names on your list belong to individuals (e.g., Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Tammy Wynette). You may come up with a few duos (e.g., Flatt and Scruggs, the Judds) or vocal groups (e.g., the Statler Brothers, the Oak Ridge Boys). But you probably won’t come up with a lot of bands. Not stand-alone bands, anyway. Maybe you’ll wanna give props to both an individual star and his/her regular backing musicians (e.g., Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys, Allison Krauss & Union Station) — but the band listed to the right of the ampersand, no matter how talented they may be, is still mostly recognized as the supporting cast for the star who gets all the marquee recognition. For anything that counts as an actual band, though, the list is awfully short. Alabama. The Dixie Chicks. And . . . maybe that’s it?

But don’t just take my word for it. Any “Top 100” list one can find is going to be subject to debate, of course, but here are two such lists for the 100 Best Country Artists of All Time — and — and you have to stretch the notion of what counts (i.e., including duos and vocal groups) in order to come up with even 10 bands on either list. By way of contrast, Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time — — has 10 bands in the Top 30 alone, and one doesn’t have to stretch the definition for any of them. If anything, that number is lower than it could be because the list isn’t limited to rock (‘n’ roll) artists: soul greats James Brown, Ray Charles, and Aretha Franklin all make the Top 10; Bob Marley comes in at #11, and Muddy Waters is #17. By my count anyway, of the Top 30 rock (‘n’ roll) artists on the list, almost half of them are bands.

Given Nashville’s obvious bias in favor of individual artists, it may not be surprising that the greatest country and western band in the world comes from the UK. In late 1961, five young men from Kent — Michael Glimmer, Keith Phelge, Richard Taylor, Alan Etherington, and Robert Beckwith — started playing together informally. They called themselves The Blue Boys. Their lineup has changed several times since then, their best days are clearly behind them, and they haven’t recorded a fresh studio album in almost a decade. It’s not an accident that the compilation I’ve created for you doesn’t contain anything recorded more recently than 1978. Nonetheless, they’re still an active band today, continuing to tour internationally to packed venues — and even to critical acclaim. They went over surprisingly well at Glastonbury last year, and they’ve got an Australian tour in the works for the fall. And yet, for all their success, they don’t appear on any “Best of . . .” list of country artists that I’ve ever seen. Not one. This compilation is my modest effort to present a case for why they deserve more respect and recognition than they’ve gotten from the Nashville establishment.

The version of the band that first rose to fame in the 1960s consisted of Glimmer, Phelge, William Perks, C.R. Watts, and Lewis Jones. Legend has it that, in the band’s formative days, Lewis wanted to rename the group after an old Muddy Waters song — but that idea was dropped because the rest of the band was worried that Waters would somehow find out and sue them. As is the case with a lot of country music, though, it’s not hard to hear the influence of bluesmen like Waters on the Boys’ sound. The tracks I’ve selected for you here include more than a few tracks that would fit nicely on some “country blues” mix — yet the C&W stylings remain too strong to ignore.

It’s possible that one of the reasons that the Boys have never really been acknowledged by the Nashville establishment is that, over the course of their career, they’ve dabbled in enough other genres to offend many C&W purists. Feeling the counterculture vibe, they experimented with sitars on a few of their late 1960s albums. In the late 1970s, they surprised many of their fans by making a brief effort to crossover to disco. The one example of this sort of eclecticism I’ve included here is track #5. Recorded during a March 1965 concert, it’s an obvious (if flawed) attempt by the band to embrace the rock ‘n’ roll zeitgeist of the moment by slapping a backbeat and a faster tempo onto an old Hank Snow classic: “I’m Moving On.” Fortunately for us, though, the band didn’t allow such fads to distract them for very long.

The enclosed disc is arranged in chronological order, starting with an early demo recording from 1963 (give or take a bit) and running up to their last truly great studio work in 1978. This way, you get to hear the Boys’ style (and talent) develop over the years — and so you, too, can appreciate why they really are the greatest country and western band in the world.

It’s possible that some of you figured out who the Blue Boys really were without having to listen to the disc. “The Greatest _ & _ Band in the World” may have been enough of a clue. And presumably the music itself was a dead giveaway. For the record, though, the main liner notes are almost 100% accurate. The only full-on lie is about the band’s name change — which (of course) actually happened, without any apparent concern for Muddy Waters’ potentially litigious ways. I took minor liberties with the names of the band’s members — but only minor ones. It would have been too obvious, of course, to refer to Jagger and Richards using their proper last names, so I substituted pseudonyms that the Stones have used themselves: Mick and Keith produced some of the band’s greatest albums under the moniker “The Glimmer Twins,” while the band’s early full-group compositions were credited to “Nanker Phelge.” Mick (full name: Michael) and Keith really did form a band called The Blue Boys with Taylor, Etherington, and Beckwith in 1961, though the latter trio didn’t factor into the band’s subsequent incarnations in any major way. Mick and Keith met Brian (real first name: Lewis) Jones in early 1962. Bill Wyman (birth name: William George Perks) and Charlie (full name: Charles Robert, aka C.R.) Watts joined up in late 1962 and early 1963.

Track listing — and a proper title — for the mix are below.

A Steel Guitar Engagement

Looking Tired
Good Times, Bad Times
Down Home Girl
Little Red Rooster
I’m Moving On
High and Dry
No Expectations
Dear Doctor
Prodigal Son
Factory Girl
Love in Vain
Country Honk
Let It Bleed
You Got the Silver
Wild Horses
You Gotta Move
Dead Flowers
Sweet Virginia
Silver Train
Short and Curlies
Drift Away
Far Away Eyes

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