Blame it on the Cold War. With America’s extensive European military presence, Armed Forces Radio playing country discs, and country acts touring those bases, it was inevitable European civilians would embrace the music. RCA Victor’s expert promotion machine in Europe stood ready to exploit that new audience in April 1964. With Beatlemania seemingly ruling the world, RCA sponsored “Nashville Stars On Tour,” two weeks of shows for military and civilian fans. The headliner was Jim Reeves (already wildly popular there) and his band the Blue Boys, plus Chet Atkins, Bobby Bare, and the Anita Kerr Singers.
Among those attending: Bear Family’s Richard Weize, which explains this lovingly assembled four-CD, one-DVD package of live recordings from Hamburg and Berlin, the troupe’s Oslo, Norway, concert on video, and a disc of later German-language recordings by Bare and other RCA Nashville acts.
The performing schedule frazzled everyone, yet the performances captured here reflect none of that. While the Blue Boys prove a capable backup unit, the Kerrs, so effective when Atkins used them as session accompanists, come off bland and soulless during their onstage solo spots. Bare radiated fire and youth as he sang “Shame On Me” and his signature hits “Detroit City” and “500 Miles Away From Home”. Atkins’ shyness didn’t detract from his stunning instrumental virtuosity on the crowd-pleasing “Yankee Doodle/Dixie”, “Windy And Warm”, Jerry Reed’s complex instrumental “Yes Ma’am”, a rousing and intense “Tiger Rag”, and the jazz instrumental “Gravy Waltz”.
Reeves’ performances are powerful whether he reprised pre-Nashville Sound hits “Mexican Joe” and “Yonder Comes A Sucker” or his greatest moments: “He’ll Have To Go” and “Four Walls”, “Danny Boy” and “Adios Amigo”, undiluted even by the Kerr harmonies. There’s nothing soft or mellow about anything he does, reiterated by his prickly onstage temperament (a truth still hotly denied by some Reeves idolators). Three other live Reeves albums exist from earlier periods, yet these performances carry special poignancy given that in slightly over three months, Reeves and Blue Boys pianist Dean Manuel would be dead.
As with all Bear Family collections, this one includes a photo-laden book. A hardcover affair, its text is mostly in German, some in English. Certainly, the photos, clips and memorabilia all convey the excitement these shows generated. For most, however, hearing (and seeing) Atkins at his best, and marveling at Reeves and Bare performing in the classic, austere Nashville Sound style that began in the late ’50s, will be the true reward.