In between bouts of monsoon rain at that John Prine gig recently a pal told me how much he’d been enjoying Willy Vlautin’s music and writing over the last couple of years. I think he (correctly) was really thanking my wife for turning him onto Willy’s novels in the first place.
I was thinking about my early conversations with Willy Vlautin this week as I listened again to the ‘Sweetheart Of The Rodeo’ by The Byrds, 50 years after its first release. It really is a remarkable album and also an incredible audio snapshot of the time of its release. The sheer country swagger of the album must have caught quite a few people on the hop. As much as this would bring people like me to the party there are a few people for whom the idea or general sound of country music is enough to make them run a (non-country) mile. It was Willy Vlautin who explained to me a few years ago how he saw country music as a bit of a red-neck thing and reacted against it taking more comfort from his post punk records. It was only when a friend introduced him to The Red Headed Stranger by that significant other Willie (Nelson) that the penny dropped. This too, he realised, was the music for the outsiders.
I’d love to have been in the room when The Byrds first met Gram Parsons. Five albums into a successful folk/pop/rock career and a guy comes up from Georgia to suggest they change direction. We’ve played the radio ads for the Byrds album before and they perfectly describe how many people must have reacted at that time. ‘That’s The Byrds?’
Recently on Bob Harris Country, Bob celebrated the 50th anniversary of the release of SHOTR by playing an hour’s worth of country rock. He, of course, was not wrong. When the Byrds told the world to keep it country and covered the Louvin Brothers, Merle Haggard and debuted Gram Parson’s ‘Hickory Wind’ it changed the direction of popular music. The Grateful Dead, New Riders of The Purple Sage, The Burritos, The Eagles and so many more followed along. It’s pretty fair to say that if Gram hadn’t met The Byrds I’d probably not be the country fan I am today.
So, on Tuesday night’s Another Country (repeated on Friday) we will hook up with our Nashville correspondent, Bill Demain and we’ll remember how Bill and I sat rapt at The Ryman until 1 a.m one wonderful night waiting for the moment when Roger McGuinn came on stage to join Marty Stuart at his Late Night Jam and we could get a glimpse of country-rock first hand. We’ll ask Bill about all the latest country stories too including as much as we can understand from Eric Church‘s recent media musings.
One final thought: Last week I tweeted out that we would be celebrating The Byrds classic album from 1968. One man who heard the album soon after was our great friend, Rab Noakes. He told me, ‘It was a new sound. There were Bob Dylan songs we hadn’t heard, (from The Basement Tapes – a 1/4 inch bootleg in those days), great songs from Cindy Walker et al, plus of course, Clarence White and Gram Parsons. It set a tone for decades to come.
I also heard a great tale from Barbara Dickson who tells of seeing Hillman, McGuinn et al in the early seventies….. how envious am I?
However you can hear much more on Tuesday on the AC, with cuts from our vinyl vault and original versions of songs from the album at our usual time of five past nine on BBC Radio Scotland. Join me if you can.