Rediscovered Texas singer-songwriter Will Beeley will be interviewed by Nashville music journalist Edd Hurt, followed by a brief live performance. Here's why you should be here for this historic event.
Released in 1979 on a tiny imprint of a storied Southern-soul label, Will Beeley’s album Passing Dream disappeared without a trace in the era of disco, Elvis Costello and The Clash. These days you hear about a lot of obscure records getting the reissue treatment from labels that tout them as neglected classics. In the case of Will Beeley’s Passing Dream and its 1971 precursor, Gallivantin’, the claims for classic status are justified. Gallivantin’, which appeared on a Texas label called North Park Records, was an auspicious debut from a very skillful, very original Texas singer-songwriter--born in California, raised in San Antonio--who played his Guild guitar as precisely as he delivered his warm, understated vocals. Beeley showed off his roots in folkiedom on the record’s covers of Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” and Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Little Wheel Spin and Spin” and “Co’dine.” Meanwhile, Beeley’s originals were the work of a keen student of songwriting who had soaked up the techniques of the masters: Dylan, Guy Clark, Jack Clement, Wayne Carson, Fred Neil, Mickey Newbury, Dallas Frazier, and many others. Passing Dream, which was cut in 1974 and 1977 at Malaco Records in Jackson, Miss., with a crack band of session cats, is one of the great lost outlaw-country albums. But it’s more than that. With its nods to Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, soul music and big-sky country music, Passing Dream evokes everyone from Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham to Guy Clark and Don Williams. At least one song on this perfect album, “I Saw Jesus Peekin’ thru a Hole in the Sky,” should have been a major hit.
Tompkins Square, an American label noted for its good taste in old records they reissue with loving care, put out new editions of Beeley’s two ‘70s albums in 2017, to universal acclaim. In particular, Passing Dream is a pleasantly addictive record--very easy to take, but tough stuff. The first time I heard Passing Dream I knew it was a masterpiece, but its release, on the Malaco imprint Southern Biscuit, failed to make Will Beeley a star. As usual, there’s a complex backstory. Will retired from the music business in the 1980s, put down his guitar, became a long-haul trucker, worked the wide-open American road with his wife by his side. After the reissues hit, he began cutting his first new album in 40 years in Texas with producer Jerry David DeCicca. Released by Tompkins Square in June 2019, Highways & Heart Attacks follows up from where Passing Dream made a temporary stop. It’s one of the finest comeback albums I know, and a deeply American experience. I’m honored to be the guest of the folks at Grimey’s in Nashville on Thurs., Sept. 12, during AmericanaFest week, when I’ll sit down with Will Beeley and talk to him about his remarkable career. Will also says he’ll play us a few songs on his Guild, which he’s picked up again. I hope you’ll join us. --Edd Hurt.