THE BLISSED-OUT BIRTH OF COUNTRY ROCK
Bear Family Continues Innovative CD & Book Series
Following on the heels of the first two volumes released in late 2014, Bear Family Records continues with its revealing insight into country rock music with a further two double cd & book sets.
To repeat some earlier background information. 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.”
So, in this series, the focus is mainly on embraced rock musicians who extended their music into the realms of country and creating their own sound, alongside occasions of country artists reaching out the other way. These two releases cover the years 1970 and ’71, a period that country-rock had come into its own and recognised as a legit music form by the media with several artists and bands, following Bob Dylan’s example, starting to record in Nashville. Also, taking a cue from Dylan, a new breed of songwriter was emerging, including such as John Hartford, Mickey Newbury, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson.
But if some major names are missing (like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young or Creedence Clearwater Revival), it’s not the fault of the compiler but, rather, because they were unavailable probably due to licensing agreements and such like. Nevertheless Truckers, Kickers, Cowboy Angels have included most of them, creating the atmosphere of the era thanks to the recordings – a total of 77 – complimented by 82 page books detailing the artist’s background, song and recording information, other snippets and photographs. Packaged in an attractively designed digi-pack, this is a unbeatable way to recall, or discover, country-rock.
So on to the cds ......
VARIOUS ARTISTS: Truckers, Kickers, Cowboy Angels (Vol 3: 1970) (BCD 17363)
Disc One – The Allman Brothers Band: Midnight Rider; Delaney & Bonnie and Friends: Living On The Open Road; Cowboy: Livin’ In The Country; The Band: Just Another Whistle Stop; Jesse Winchester: Biloxi; The Flying Burrito Brothers: Lazy Days; Wayne Douglas (aka Doug Sahm – The Sir Douglas Quintet): Be Real; Kris Kristofferson: The Best of All Possible Worlds; Grateful Dead: Casey Jones; Jefferson Airplane: The Farm; Moby Grape: Right before My Eyes; Michael Nesmith & First National Band: Joanne; Nitty Gritty Dirt Band: Some Of Shelley’s Blues; Townes Van Zandt: Delta Mama Blues; David Allan Coe: Walkin’ Bum; Rick Nelson: California; Eric Anderson: Just A Country Dream; Poco: You Better Think Twice; Brewer & Shipley: One Toke Over The Line.
Disc Two – Linda Ronstadt: He Darked The Sun; The Flying Burrito Brothers: God’s Own Singer; Swampwater: Big Bayou; The Band: The W.S. Walcot Medicine Show; David Allan Coe: Tobacco Road; Goose Creek Sympathy: Charlie’s Shoes; Country Funk: Really My Friends; Grateful Dead: Truckin’; Jefferson Airplane: A Song For All Seasons; Morning: Tell Me A Story; Michael Nesmith & First National Band: Silver Moon; Poco: Hurry Up; Townes Van Zandt: Where I Lead Me; Rusty Kershaw: The Country Boy; Wildweeds: Mare, Take Me Home; Jesse Winchester: Snow; Kris Kristofferson: Sunday Morning Coming Down; Janis Joplin: Me And Bobby McGee; Townes Van Zandt: Delta Mama Blues (unissued),
This collection kicks off in top gear with the Allman Brothers Band’s Midnight Rider, a suite of images inspired by the road which attracted a stack of cover versions, then Duane Allman guests on Delany & Bonnie’s Living On The Open Road. Allman also played a role in getting the lesser known group Cowboy a deal on Capricorn.
Among the other well known groups in this collection are The Band, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape, all creating their music from a rock foundation while The Flying Burrito Brothers (the final creation of Gram Parsons), Poco, Goose Creek Symphony and Swampwater (which included the ubiquitous fiddle player Gib Guilbeau in its lineup), had more country credentials. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band came up the ranks from folk and jug and folk band beginnings, heard here with Some Of Shelly’s Blues, written by former Monkee Michael Nesmith, who created the First National Band that included steel player Red Rhodes leading into the memorable Joanne, their second single. Doug Sahm, later to emerge as leader of the Sir Douglas Quintet, recorded a country song, Be Real, under the name Wayne Douglas, presumably to fool the hippies.
The boundaries between country and rock (or vice versa) are drawn much closer in respect of the solo artists, with Kris Kristofferson at ease in both, his award winning song Sunday Morning Coming Down putting him on the international map. The equally much covered Me And Bobby McGee was given an emotional performance by Janis Joplin and became a posthumous No. 1 hit for the Texas rocker. Like KK, Linda Ronstadt’s music crossed borders, with her offering here, He Darked The Sun, coming from country-rock writers Gene Clark and Bernie Leadon, with studio production from Nashville’s Area Code 615 team. More from Nashville with cult singer/songwriter Townes Van Zand and David Allan Coe, the second giving a unique rendition of John D. Loudermilk’s Tobacco Road. Other solo artists include cajun Rusty Kershaw and, arguably, two who shied away from the limelight, Eric Anderson and Jesse Winchester.
VARIOUS ARTISTS: Truckers, Kickers, Cowboy Angels (Vol 4: 1971) (BCD 17364 AH)
Disc One – Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen: Hot Rod Lincoln; Hoyt Axton: Never Been To Spain; Link Wray: La De Da; Gene Clark: White Light; Alex Harvey: Tulsa Turnaround; Kris Kristofferson: The Pilgrim Chapter 33; Johnny Cash: Singing In Viet Nam Talking Blues; Lonnie Mack: Three Angels; The Flying Burrito Brothers: Colorado; Michael Nesmith & First National Band: Grand Ennui; The Band: When I Paint My Masterpiece; New Riders Of The Purple Sage: Henry; Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen: Seeds And Stems Again; John Prine: Angel From Montgomery; J. J. Cale: Crazy Mama; Brave Belt: Crazy Arms, Crazy Eyes; Cochise: Lost Hearts; Cowboy: Please Be With Me; Heads, Hands And Feet: Country Boy.
Disc One – Delaney & Bonnie and Friends: Never Ending Song Of Love; Little Feet: Willin’; Ry Cooder: Taxes On The Farmer Feeds Us All; Lonnie Mack: Asphalt Cowboy; Kris Kristofferson: Good Christian Solder; John Prine: Paradise; Gene Clark: For A Spanish Guitar; New Riders Of The Purple Sage: Glendale Train; Michael Nesmith & First National Band: Tumbling Tumbleweeds; The Flying Burrito Brothers: Hand To Mouth; Rick Nelson: This Train; Twin Engine: My Life Gets Better Every Day; Alex Harvey: Delta Dawn; Mordicai Jones: All Because Of A Woman; Doug Kershaw: Who Needs That Kind Of Friend; Poco: Bad Weather; Mickey Newbury: The Future’s Not What It Used To Be; Link Wray: Fire And Brimstone; Sir Douglas Quintet: Wasted Days, Wasted Nights; Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen: Lost In The Ozone.
The second Truckers, Kickers, Cowboys Angels has a similar format as its predecessors, this one covering the year 1971. Once again there’s a number of the major groups like The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Band, Poco and Little Feat, with New Riders Of The Purple Sage and Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen especially strong in the country stakes. The latter, with a lead singer CC (aka George Frayne) admitting he “couldn’t sing but spoke fast”, came up with a Top 10 revival of Hot Rod Lincoln. Another immensely popular hit was Delaney & Bonnie’s original Never Ending Song Of Love, made an even bigger hit in Britain when covered by the New Seekers. Cowboy music went cosmic when MN&TFNB recorded Tumbling Tumbleweeds and Rick Nelson showed his skills as a songwriter with This Train, which featured one-time Buck Owens’ Buckeroo steelie Tom Brumley. Britain’s guitar virtuoso Albert Lee began getting known across the water as a member of Head, Hands And Feet, heard here with his co-penned Country Boy. For more acclaimed guitar work, Link Wray can’t be faulted.
Once again the pathways between the two music’s were drawn closer and certainly none more so than the singer-songwriters emerging on the scene, Nashville being their headquarters following Dylan recording there and Kristofferson’s success. The latter is represented here with two recording, including his whiskey-soaked vocals at their best with The Pilgrim Chapter 33. Hot on his heels came such as Hoyt Axton (Never Been To Spain), Alex Harvey (Delta Dawn), John Prine (Paradise), Gene Clark (White Light), Lonnie Mack (Three Angels), J. J. Cale (Crazy Mama) and the melancholic Mickey Newbury (The Future’s Not What It Used To Be). On the other hand, Ry Cooder was a collector of songs, one of them being the traditional 19th century Taxes On The Farmer Feeds Us All.
Back in more familiar country artist territory, Singing In Viet Nam Talking Blues was Johnny Cash’s ambivalent take on the war; Doug Kershaw co-wrote Who Needs That Kind Of Friend with producer/music publisher Buddy Killen; and Doug Sahm led the Sir Douglas Quintet and dedicated Wasted Days & Wasted Nights to Texas buddy, Freddy Fender, the song’s creator.