Friday, January 15, 2010



Submitted for your approval (or derisive laughter) is a list of some of the earliest and most influential recordings in this much maligned, sometimes ignored but thoroughly interesting hybrid format

By no means is this a definitive or complete run down of every artist/group that kidnapped a pedal steel player and turned down the amps just enough to avoid scurrilous looks from folks in ten gallon hats. You may quibble with my choices and find yourself doubting why certain albums are missing. Keep in mind that these entries feature those brave souls who built this club. Everyone else merely stood in the velvet rope and stanchion lined queue, waiting for their chance to get past the big guy at the door.

There are quite a few precursors to this style, all quite excellent recordings in their own right.. Many of the pioneers involved in the records that defined what came to be known as “rock and roll” had serious country and western influences. In the early to mid sixties, artists who had heretofore been associated with a specific genre, began to branch out and cross over into entirely new territory.

Commercially lucrative, incredibly inventive and a success from every possible angle was the 1962 Ray Charles LP Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. This is a stunning exercise in versatility

Johnny Cash’s Orange Blossom Special disc saw him covering Bob Dylan’s songs and moving, yet again, slightly left of the country format.

Meanwhile, Jerry Lee Lewis and Rick Nelson plunged headlong into the trappings of mellow, countrified bliss with Country Songs For City Folks and Bright Lights and Country Music.

These developments were certainly interesting and I would recommend these releases to anyone who hasn’t heard them. The Beatles and the Stones featured tunes that could be construed as experiments along these lines (“I’ll Cry Instead”, “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party”, “It’s All Over Now”, etc.) though the actual balance between the two worlds was not truly achieved until the International Submarine Band successfully integrated the elements with their LP, Safe at Home.

Widely accepted as the first country rock album, it was recorded in 1967, delayed from official release until 1968 and promptly sank without a trace. Gram Parsons was the key member of this group and when he joined the Byrds, his influence was enough to steer McGuinn and Hillman down a stone country path with Sweetheart of the Rodeo. It flopped miserably at the time, though this is not a reflection of the quality as it is an album par excellence. If you enjoy the fine art of dot connection, a handful of names will come up repeatedly when you investigate the players behind these creations:

Gram Parsons, Bob Dylan, Gene Clark, Chris Hillman, Bernie Leadon, Clarence White and Doug Dillard.

All would have a stake in many of the earliest forms of this type of music.

Here's a short list of other recordings to check out:

The Flying Burrito Brothers-The Guilded Palace of Sin

The Holy Grail.

The Byrds-Sweetheart of the Rodeo

This is perfect from start to finish.

The Everly Brothers-Roots

Absolutely the most underrated project that Phil and Don were ever involved with. There are some fantastic songs on this disc, though it was lost in the myriad of late 60's psychedelia, heavy rock and pop. If you see it, buy it.

These LPs are stellar as well.

Dillard and Clark-The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard and Clark
Gene Clark-Gene Clark and the Gosdin Brothers
The Byrds-Sweetheart of the Rodeo
Dylan-Nashville Skyline
Poco-Pickin' Up the Pieces

Feel free to add to the list.


Perplexio said...

Growing up, country never really did it for me. But in recent years I have come to enjoy the likes of Johnny Cash as well as country-rock groups like Poco, the Eagles, & Little River Band.

To me Cash was never so much Country as he was "rockabilly." Unlike most rockabilly musicians from the 50s that morphed into either country or rock, I don't think Cash ever really morphed one way or the other. He just did things the way he wanted them done and I think moreso than any other "country" musician he kept rockabilly alive until the likes of Brian Setzer & his band the Stray Cats could make it popular again in the early eighties (the eighties weren't ALL bad-- we did get the Stray Cats, some great solo material from George Harrison and of course the Traveling Wilburys).

Perplexio said...

PS: I realize neither Harrison nor the Traveling Wilburys were rockabilly... they were just examples of GOOD music that came out of the oft derided decade, the eighties.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.