“Larry Jon Wilson? He can break your heart with a voice like a cannonball.”
- Kris Kristofferson.
Larry Jon Wilson came to the party late. When he arrived in Nashville, country soul pioneer Tony Joe White had already made six albums. Townes Van Zandt had made seven, Mickey Newbury eight. Kristofferson, the accepted High Priest of the New Nashville, had made five. Larry Jon, by the time he arrived, had spent ten years in corporate America.
He did not start playing guitar until the age of 30, but five years later he released his debut, New Beginnings (1975) and followed it just a year later with Let Me Sing My Song To You, both on Monument Records. A revelation among the hipsters and critics of Nashville, the LPs ensured Larry Jon was immediately embraced as part of the mid-70s “outlaw country movement” that eschewed slick production in favour of a raw, gritty approach. When a film crew came to document this burgeoning sound, they made straight for Larry Jon’s door. The legendary Heartworn Highways (1981) featured his mesmerising performance of “Ohoopee River Bottomland”, a boogaloo funk monster.
He was a singer and writer of intensely private, painfully moving tales of southern life. With his deep, papa-bear voice, funky southern groove, and richly evocative narratives of rural Georgia, Larry Jon was a unique stylist but his gutsy, greasy sound did not translate into sales. Too funky for the country crowd, too heartfelt for pop radio, he fell between the cracks. We hope the long-overdue reissue of his first two albums will go some way to rectifying this. Indeed, both New Beginnings and Let Me Sing My Song to You – so similar they play like two halves of a double album – showcase his unique mix of country, folk, soul and swampy blues.
Driven by a crack rhythm section that included Elvis guitarist Reggie Young, New Beginnings is a rich, literate record. Anyone with even a passing interest in the union between soul and country music will be able to tell they’ve located solid gold as soon as Larry Jon’s deep baritone utters the first appreciative “mm-hmm” a few bars into the opening ‘Ohoopee River Bottomland’, a fat-bottomed swamp-funk account of hard times in the city and country alike. Funny, nostalgic, sad, wistful, righteously pissed-off: New Beginnings is country-influenced American songwriting at its finest, from the feverish country-got-soul groove pulsating behind the weary sigh of “Through The Eyes of Children” to the elemental lament “Things Ain’t What It Used to Be (and Probably Never Was)”, a country standard that somehow got away, Wilson’s compelling presence and rich voice keeping saccharine and self-pity at bay at all times.
The audio for New Beginnings comes from the original analogue tape transfers and has been remastered for vinyl by Be With regular Simon Francis. We’ve taken the same care with the striking cover art and we were honoured when Larry’s close friend Jeb Loy Nichols kindly agreed to contribute wonderfully unique liner notes, presented beautifully on the printed inner sleeve opposite a gorgeous black and white shot of Larry, mid-performance.