The folks at Numero continue their winning tradition with They Call Me Country.
These days, there are plenty of artists claiming (if not outright aping) Lee Hazlewood as an influence. It’s a hip name-drop that helps lend a certain amount of credence to those Americana artists looking for a very particular brand of credibility. When Hazlewood was at his creative peak, however, few artists would’ve sought to adopt his particular brand of country-tinged pop music and deadpan vocal delivery. Yet Sanford Clark improbably seems to have elected to do just that with his 1968 release, They Call Me Country.
Fittingly, the album opens with a cover of Hazlewood’s “The Fool,” a song which Clark had recorded with Hazlewood in the producer’s chair more than a decade prior during the former’s rockabilly phase. Recorded in 1965 with a then relatively unknown Waylon Jennings on guitar, the song is a full-on Hazlewood pastiche, full of fuzzed-out guitar, a shuffling beat and Clark’s Hazlewood-esque delivery.
Hazlewood would continue to play a prominent role in Clark’s on-again off-again career, signing the singer to his LHI imprint for a handful of releases. Though somewhat ironically, They Call Me Country was not one of these releases. Instead, it was released originally on the minuscule Ramco label out of Phoenix, seeing a wider release at the time on the tiny Ember Records label out of the UK. This type of forgotten musical ephemera is the stuff dreams are made of for reissue labels like Numero, a label who has been one of the best purveyors of long-forgotten gems in a variety of genres for years now.
And what an album of lost country classics it turns out to be. They Call Me Country borrows its title from the tongue-in-cheek track of the same name about a wannabe musician who “only gets [his] haircut once a year” and “just sit[s] around with [his] old guitar” knowing a single twangy lick. But it’s enough for folks to “call [him] country,” a sentiment that could easily be applied to any number of “country” artists in this era of “Old Town Road.”
Much of the rest of the album is fairly straightforward, almost Bakersfield-esque country thumbing its nose at the Nashville countrypolitan music machine. As with many former rockabilly artists, Clark aged somewhat gracefully into a sort of proto-outlaw country mold that retained the genre’s simplistic arrangements and embraced bad-ass personae. “Climbin’ the Walls,” for instance, could’ve appeared on any number of period releases by lesser known artists copping a similar sound, while “Step Aside” toes the line between Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard in its outlaw posturing and stripped-down arrangement.
Meanwhile, “Once Upon a Time” is pure Hazlewood balladry, the song’s protagonist the jilted lover reflecting on the love he’s lost in a cavernous baritone that sounds redolent of whiskey and cigarettes. “The Big Lie” offers a mixture of both Hazlewood and the Bakersfield sound, the former’s affect all over Clark’s delivery, intonation and phrasing. This isn’t to shortchange Clark as an artist in his own right, rather it’s a wholly unavoidable comparison readily apparent to anyone who’s spent any amount of time with a Hazlewood record.
Given the strength of the material on They Call Me Country, it’s a favorable comparison that will make the album all the more appealing to fans of Hazlewood the artist and producer. They Call Me Country is a long overdue and extremely welcome reissue of a lost album (“lost classic” is simply too overused and meaningless at this point to continue to throw around) well worth a revisit. Kudos to the folks at Numero for continuing their winning tradition with the reissue of Sanford Clark’s They Call Me Country.