In 1975 film director Jim Szalapski had a burning desire to film a documentary showcasing the new generation of singer-songwriters and performers he believed were about to change the face of country music. Fortunately his dream came true even though it took six years for the fruits of his labor, Heartworn Highways, to be released in 1981.
Many of the unknown artists featured in Szalapski's film include now respected alt-country or outlaw-country artists Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell, David Allan Coe, and John Hiatt. Lesser known but still talented performers such as Larry Jon Wilson, Gamble Rogers, and Steve Young are featured here too.
Detailed liner notes stress that this CD version of Heartworn Highways is not a "literal soundtrack" to the film because producers David Gorman and Michael Nieves wanted a "CD that stood on its own as an audio companion to the movie." Gorman and Nieves sought to create a specific mood for the album so songs that were left on the film's cutting room floor have finally found a home on the CD thirty years later. The disc that was finally issued includes many solo acoustic performances and the rest offer only sparse arrangements. Harder rocking songs such as "Texas" by The Charlie Daniels Band were left off of the album despite their success in the film.
I'm a listener who prefers the sound of a band featuring fully arranged works that allow for diversity of the music. Usually, after a few songs, lonely troubadours armed only with an acoustic guitar cease to make a connection with me. In order to grab me the artist has to be something very special. I give credit to Szalapski who instinctively found singer-songwriters who could deliver the goods all by themselves especially since men like Earle, Hiatt, and Van Zandt haven't made their reputations based on their vocal prowess. They are all songwriters of impeccable taste who write compelling works that prove they are in touch with everyday American life.
It's absolutely amazing how so many of the unknown artists in the film became stars in their genre within a few years after Heartworn Highways was released. How fortunate for us that many still have viable careers today.