16 November 1970
| Country music, Western swing|
Country Music Association Award for Album of the Year, Academy of Country Music Award for Album of the Year
Merle Haggard albums, Country music albums
A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World (or, My Salute to Bob Wills) is the twelfth studio album by Merle Haggard, released in 1970 (see 1970 in country music).
Although it is often assumed that Haggard, who was enjoying enormous success with the social commentary "Okie from Muskogee" and the politically charged "The Fightin' Side of Me" in 1969 and 1970, sought to distance himself from controversy by returning to his musical roots by recording a tribute to his childhood idol Bob Wills, this is not quite accurate; according to David Cantwell's book Merle Haggard: The Running Kind, by the time Haggard's live album The Fightin' Side of Me appeared in 1970, the Wills album had already been completed for four months. Haggard gathered up six of the remaining members of The Texas Playboys to record the tribute: Johnnie Lee Wills, Eldon Shamblin, Tiny Moore, Joe Holley, Johnny Gimble, and Alex Brashear. Merle's band The Strangers were also present during the recording but unfortunately Wills suffered a massive stroke after the first day of recording. Merle arrived on the second day, devastated that he wouldn't get to record with him.
Haggard spent a few scant months learning the fiddle, an instrument that he had not touched since his childhood violin lessons. Unlike Haggard's previous tribute album to Jimmie Rodgers, which gave the original songs a new sound, his Wills LP remained true to the original arrangements. As Cantwell observes, "The album's most charming quality, its attention to authentic period detail, is a built-in limitation it never entirely transcends." Completely apolitical, the album reached number 2 on the Billboard Country Albums Chart and peaked at number 58 on the Pop Album Chart, his highest showing there to date. The album would play a crucial role in the revitalization of Western Swing music and inspire younger musicians like Asleep at the Wheel and Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen.
Haggard would do more tribute albums to Wills over the next 40 years. In 1973 he appeared on For The Last Time Bob Wills And His Texas Playboys. In 1994 Haggard collaborated with Asleep at the Wheel and many other artists influenced by the music of Bob Wills on an album entitled Tribute To The Music Of Bob Wills And The Texas Playboys. A Tribute was re-released on CD on the Koch label in 1995.
AllMusic critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine called the album "a ragged, enthusiastic good time. Haggard, the Strangers, and the Playboys play their hearts out, breathing life into Wills warhorses... while bringing attention to lesser-known songs... The fact that Western swing re-established itself as a viable country genre after the release of A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player is a testament to the power and charm of this record." Music critic Robert Christgau wrote "Now that's the Merle I trust. His uncountrypolitan formal sense has always gone along with a reverence for history, and his subtle, surprisingly tranquil, yet passionate singing style - all that yodel and straining head voice—was made for Wills's pop-jazz-country amalgam."
- "Brown Skinned Gal" (Bob Wills) – 2:50
- "Right Or Wrong" (Paul Biese, Haven Gillespie, Arthur Sizemore) – 2:36
- "Brain Cloudy Blues" (Tommy Duncan, Bob Wills) – 3:38
- "Stay A Little Longer" (Duncan, Wills) – 2:48
- "Misery" (Duncan, Tiny Moore, Wills) – 3:19
- "Time Changes Everything" (Duncan) – 2:36
Merle Haggard – vocals, guitar, fiddle
Roy Nichols – guitar
Bobby Wayne – guitar
Eldon Shamblin – guitar
Dennis Hromek – bass
Tiny Moore – fiddle, mandolin
Norman Hamlet – steel guitar, dobro
Johnnie Lee Wills – banjo
George French – piano
Alex Brashear – trumpet
Biff Adam – drums
Joe Holley – fiddle
Johnny Gimble – fiddle
- "San Antonio Rose" (Wills) – 2:53
- "I Knew The Moment I Lost You" (Duncan, Wills) – 3:00
- "Roly Poly" (Fred Rose) – 2:39
- "Old Fashioned Love" (James P. Johnson, Cecil Mack) – 2:32
- "Corrine, Corrina" (Bo Chatmon, Mitchell Parish, J. Mayo Williams) – 2:16
- "Take Me Back To Tulsa" (Duncan, Wills) – 2:38
1Brown Skinned Gal0:53A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World (or, My Salute to Bob Wills) Wikipedia
2Right or Wrong2:40
3Brain Cloudy Blues3:41