The Country Music Hall of Famer’s 1978 concept album is finally out of the vault and ready for purchase.
It wouldn’t be quite accurate to employ the catchphrase “Years in the Making!” — Grammy Award-winning country music icon Bobby Bare would be the first to tell you his “new” album Great American Saturday Night actually was completed decades ago — but you could hype it with “At Long Last!” Or, better still, “Now It Can Be Sold!”
Great American Saturday Night, a concept album of impressively diverse and arrestingly inspired songs written by the legendary Shel Silverstein, was completed in 1978, but consigned to a record company vault somewhere until this year. (I’ll let Bare himself explain why shortly.) The good news is, the album finally will be available for streaming and purchase starting today, April 17. The better news: It couldn’t sound fresher if it had been recorded last week.
And to coin another phrase: The critics are raving.
The first single, “Living’ Legend,” the weary but wise testimonial of a battered but unbroken troubadour, earned this praise from Stephen L. Betts of Rolling Stone: “Bare’s weather-beaten narrator wrings every ounce of vintage honky-tonk pathos from the tune without a hint of self-pity or resentment.” The second single, “The Day the Yes Men Said No,” strikes an irresistibly enjoyable (and surprisingly timely) note of defiance, leading Billy Dukes of Taste of Country to praise the song as “a rebel-rouser that's perhaps even more relevant today than it was when he first recorded it.”
The album overall, Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic applauded, “sounds like a party and, more than that, Great American Saturday Night sounds like a party record, the kind that was sold under the counter at a record store in the ‘70s. That’s its considerable charm.”
We had the privilege of speaking to Bare by phone last week, just two days after his 85th birthday on April 7, to ask a few questions about the long-awaited release of Great American Saturday Night. Here are some highlights from our conversation, edited for clarity and brevity.
Cowboys & Indians: Guess the first question to ask during this lockdown is: How are you doing?
Bobby Bare: I’m doing pretty good. Hanging in there.
C&I: Are you staying indoors and washing your hands?
Bare: [Laughs] Don’t have any choice.
C&I: Well, I’m a couple days late, but: Happy Birthday to you, sir.
Bare: Thank you. Thank you very much.
C&I: Did you ever think you’d make it this long?
Bare: [Laughs] Shit, no. I didn’t think I was going to make it to 21. I hadn’t planned on it.
C&I: The last time I saw you perform was two years ago in Nashville, at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, for that all-star concert the night before the opening of their Outlaws & Armadillos: Country’s Roaring ‘70s exhibit.
Bare: Yeah, I remember that. Great time. I had a gorgeous young lady — Amanda Shires — playing fiddle. And when I sang ‘Marie Laveau,’ she did the witch scream.
C&I: That she did. And it was wonderful seeing you represented in the exhibit itself, among all the other great artists who made Austin and Nashville their twin cities during the 1970s. The exhibit was scheduled to remain at the museum through February 14, 2021, so let’s hope it will be open again to the public when the lockdown ends.
Bare: They took me in there and showed me that whole thing. I realized everywhere I looked was somebody that I loved that had gone.
C&I: But you are still around, sir, and still making terrific music. To ask the obvious question: Why did it take so long for Great American Saturday Night to get released?
Bare: Well, around ’78, my deal with RCA was up. My contract was up, and this album was the last album on my contract, and we got to either renew or deal to make a new contract. Well, Columbia Records was wanting me to come to them. So when I turned the album in, I told her that I had an offer from Columbia. And they said, and they were real cocky about it: “Well, if you don't re-sign here and you go to Columbia, this album that you’re turning in right now will never, ever, see the light of day.” That pissed me off, so I wouldn’t deal with them.
C&I: That was a pretty gutsy move on your part.
Bare: I’ve never had to work with somebody I didn’t like, ever in my life, so I wasn’t going to start. So I left, and they buried it. Sure enough, it never saw the light of day until this past year. Sony bought all the old RCA recordings. I told the Sony people, “Look, you got a really, really good album that me and Shel Silverstein did, and it’s ready to come out — if you can find it. It’s buried very deep in their vault somewhere.” But they did find it, and here it is.
C&I: You and Shel Silverstein had a great run together before he left us back in 1999. And this entire album is filled with memorable songs. It’s hard to pick a favorite — you have everything from the bodacious title song, a raucous good-time anthem, to the socially conscious “Someone to Talk To,” the first radio cut. But if pressed, I would have to put “Livin’ Legend” in the No. 1 spot on my chart. Was that a very personal song for you?
Bare: Well, really, most songs I sing are personal. It’s either a clever song that I get a good laugh out of, like ‘They Won’t Let Us Show It on the Beach.’ Or it can be personal because I understand what it’s about, I understand it completely. And yeah, [“Livin’ Legend”] is personal because that’s exactly what happens to people who hang around too long.
C&I: And not just singers. You listen to the lyrics, and the references to sabotaging yourself with drugs, or having to take demeaning gigs just to get by because ‘even livin’ legends have to live’ — that can apply to actors, movie directors, pop stars, all sorts of entertainers who hit it big, and then went downhill. But the song isn’t biographical in the strictest sense, right?
Bare: No, not really. But you look around, and you see what some people have to do to get by because — well, maybe things can just happen to them. I’ve been fortunate. But a lot of them, they wind up penniless, alone. That song’s about all the living legends. That’s all about survival.
C&I: Now that Great American Saturday Night is out there, do you feel like you’re having the last laugh?
Bare: Oh, sure. But now what we’ve got to do is, we’ve got to jam it all the way up the charts. We got to get everybody talking about it. Then we can really enjoy the last laugh. Right now, it’s just kind of a giggle. But that warrants a hearty laugh.
C&I: Thank you very much for your time, sir. And keep taking care of yourself.
Bare: Well, I’m doing the best I can. In fact, I’m going to go wash my hands right now.