Saturday, November 1, 2014

THE BIRTH OF COUNTRY ROCK


THE BLISSED-OUT BIRTH OF COUNTRY ROCK
Bear Family Records Launch Book & CD Series

After its fabulous series tracing the sounds and changes in country music over a 25 year period (the 25 book/disc set Dim Lights, Thick Smoke And Hillbilly Music: Country & Western Hit Parade: 1945-1970), alongside similarly critically acclaimed year-by-year anthologies of R&B and Soul, Germany’s Bear Family Records now moves into the realms of country rock with the release of the first two volumes in an innovative seven set collection.

Whereas rockabilly came from the South in the 1950s and was an alternative to country music, so country rock was the West Coast’s variation a decade later, created by musicians who might (in the main) be considered as rock. But both rockabilly and country rock as compiler and originator of this series, Colin Escott points out, “were reactions against the then-prevailing music … every rockabilly single was a finger thrust in the face of smug, perfectly formed 1950s pop. Country rock (or ‘longhair country’ as the trade press called it) was a reaction against the self-absorption of psychedelia.”

This series traces the advent and rise of country rock, not only presenting recordings by “hippie” bands but also with solo individuals, some extending their already successful recording careers. The sequencing of the recordings is roughly in a chronological order so the listener can get a sense of the genre unfolding. The recordings are complimented with a fully coloured booklet in each collection penned by Escott, providing biographical information on the artists together with photograph and recording details.


VARIOUS ARTISTS: Truckers, Kickers, Cowboy Angels (Vol 1: 1966-1968) (BCD 17361 BS)
Disc One:  International Submarine Band: Truck Driving Man • Rick Nelson: You Just Can't Quit • The Lovin' Spoonful: Nashville Cats • Buffalo Springfield: Pay The Price • Gene Clark with The Gosdin Brothers: Tried So Hard • The Youngbloods: Grizzely Bear aka Grizzly Bear • Gene Clark with The Gosdin Brothers: So You Say You Lost Your Baby • The Gosdin Brothers: Tell Me • Lovin' Spoonful: Darlin' Companion • The Everly Brothers: I'm Movin' On • Bobbie Gentry: Ode To Billie Joe • Buffalo Springfield: Child's Claim To Fame • The Everly Brothers: Bowling Green • Bobbie Gentry: Niki Hoeky • International Submarine Band: Luxury Liner • Blue Eyes • The Monkees: What Am I Doing Hangin' Round • The Byrds: Old John Robertson • The Youngbloods: Sugar Babe • Kenny Vernon: Ain't That A Shame • Nashville West: Ode To Billie Joe

Disc Two: International Submarine Band: Do You Know How It Feels To Be Lonesome • The Byrds: Wasn't Born To Follow • Bob Dylan: I'll Be Your Baby Tonight • The Band: The Weight • Hearts & Flowers: She Sang Hymns Out Of Tune • The Band: I Shall Be Released; You Ain't Going Nowhere; Hickory Wind • The Beau Brummels: Turn Around; The Loneliest Man In Town • Lovin' Spoonful: Never Goin' Back • The Byrds: One Hundred Years From Now • Dillard & Clark: Train Leaves Here This Morning • The Spencers: Make Up Your Mind • Dillard & Clark: The Radio Song • The Everly Brothers: T. For Texas • The Dillards: Nobody Knows; Listen To The Sound • Dennis Payne: The Conscience Of You • The Everly Brothers: I Wonder If I Care As Much (#2)

The first collection – a double cd – brings together recordings that forged the country rock sound – and if any one person can be credited as its creator of country rock, then that honour should be bestowed upon Gram Parsons. He was first heard in early 1966 leading his short-lived group, the  International Submarine Band and it was their version of the Terry Fell classic Truck Driving Man that  could be chalked up as the first country rock record. (Another of their tracks, Luxury Liner, was to re-emerge a decade later when covered by Parson’s protégé Emmylou Harris).  After the ISB, Parsons joined the ranks of The Byrds, a group that saw such as Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman, David Crosby and Gene Clark at, one time or another, in its ranks.  Among their prominent recordings, included here, are I Shall Be Released, You Ain’t Going Nowhere and Hickory Wind.

When the aforementioned Gene Clark left The Byrds, his solo project was to record an album with the Gosden Brothers, Rex and Vern, a collection of tracks that didn’t fit any particular niche, then teamed up with Doug Dillard, heard here with a couple of tracks, while younger brother Rodney Dillard led the Dillards in a group that presented a contemporary bluegrass sound that captured acclaim with recordings like Nobody Knows.

Other pioneering country-rock acts ranged from the famous like The Band, the Beau Brummels and Buffalo Springfield to the perhaps more lesser known Hearts & Flowers, The Youngbloods and The Spencers. There were also The Lovin’ Spoonful and The Monkees, bands that broke into the pop mainstream and scored massive international chart hits.

Arguably the greatest ambassador for country rock was New York’s Bob Dylan who, recording in Nashville in 1967, created I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight as part of his “John Wesley Harding” collection. Rick Nelson had already gained his reputation as a teen pop star but moved in a different direction with the release of the album “Bright Lights & Country Music”, here represented with the Nelson original You Just Can’t Quit. Reportedly the album came about at the suggestion of Nelson’s guitarist James Burton, a musician who played an essential role in the West Coast recording scene.

The Everly Brothers were also well established but, by the mid 1960s, their close, sweet sounding harmonies were long gone and out of favour with radio as their music – represented here – moved from a Hank Snow revival (I’m Movin’ On) to a wild version of Jimmie RodgersT For Texas with Burton’s guitar work prominent throughout.  Far more commercially successful was the strange story song Ode To Billie Joe that put Mississippi born Bobbie Gentry into crossover chart territory and collected three Grammies.

This 41 track, two cd digipac – with an almost two hour playing time – is accompanied by a 96 page booklet.


VARIOUS ARTISTS: Truckers, Kickers, Cowboy Angels (Vol 2: 1969) (BCD 17362 AH)
The Byrds: Drug Store Truck Driving Man • The Flying Burrito Brothers: Christine's Tune • Doug Sahm/Sir Douglas Quintet: Texas Me • Glen Campbell: Galveston • Bob Dylan: Lay, Lady Lay • The Band: The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down • The Flying Burrito Brothers: Wheels • The Corvettes: Back Home Girl • Dillard & Clark: Through The Morning, Through The Night • Buck Owens: Who's Gonna Mow Your Grass • Poco: Pickin' Up The Pieces • Doug Sahm/Sir Douglas Quintet: At The Crossroads • The Band: Up On Cripple Creek • The Flying Burrito Brothers: Sin City • The Corvettes: Level with Your Senses • Linda Ronstadt: Silver Threads And Golden Needles • The Flying Burrito Brothers: Hot Burrito #1 • Elvis Presley: I'm Movin' On • Sanland Brothers: Vaccination For The Blues • Poco: Make Me Smile • Linda Ronstadt: We Need A Whole Lot More Jesus (And A Lot Less Rock And Roll) • Townes Van Zandt: Lungs • Kenny Rogers & The First Edition: Ruby (Don't Take Your Love To Town)

As Colin Escott points out in the introduction to this set’s 52 page booklet, 1960s country rock was like 1950s rockabilly, almost an underground until someone came along to channel it commercially. It was Elvis with rockabilly, then the Eagles with country rock. In the meantime the recordings continued ……

Gram Parsons had left The Byrds when the group recorded his co-write (with Roger McGuinn) Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man, a song founded on an ill-fated radio interview with Nashville’s Ralph Emery and featuring prominently steel playing by Lloyd Green. Parsons had moved on to further his Cosmic American Music dream by co-founding the Flying Burrito Brothers with Chris Hillman, Sneaky Pete Kleinow, Chris Ethridge and Jon Corneal, in time creating such memorable recordings as Wheels and Sin City.

Other groups contributing to the movement included Doug Sahm, out of Texas and relocated in San Francisco, heading up Sir Douglas Quintet; Poco, created after the breakup of Buffalo Springfield by ex-members Richie Furey and Jim Messina; and The Band’s continuing success was furthered by their recording of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, which enjoyed even greater success when covered by Joan Baez. The Corvettes and the Sanland Brothers were among lesser known country-rockers.

On the solo front, Bob Dylan was now settled amidst Nashville recording surroundings and Lay, Lady Lay added to the success of his new direction. Meanwhile, on the West Coast, much in-demand session picker turned chart artist Glen Campbell could hardly be considered country-rock but the lyrics of Jimmy Webb’s Galveston was a product of the Vietnam era. Another deep rooted country entertainer, Buck Owens, might well have hoped that the sound of his Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass would interest those who listened to The Byrds and The Burritos, while Elvis Presley was back recording in Memphis, this time in Chip Moman’s studio with his version I’m Movin’ On having little similarity to the Snow original.

Among ex-Stone Poney’s Linda Ronstradt first solo recordings was the country standard Silver Threads And Golden Needles, opening up a pathway that successfully combined music formats and attracted similarly distinctive audiences.

To conclude this collection, Townes Van Zandt and Kenny Rogers, the first heralding the beginning of the singer-songwriter era and the second in the early stages of a iconic career as he led The First Edition to international success with his version of the Mel Tillis original, Ruby (Don’t Take Your Love to Town).

More volumes of Truckers, Kickers, Cowboy Angels are set to follow, with double cd packages for the years 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973 and 1975-75.

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