In the wake of the Hippies, Civil Rights, Acid Rock, Anti-War, Political Upheaval, and the Young adult years of Rock N Roll, a small offshoot of musicians held onto the simplicity of folk music and re-introduced it to it’s country music offspring. This musical family reunion took place in southern California and brought with it many of the trappings of the rock n roll business there. This was the first flowering of what later became Alternative Country, but they called it Country Rock, when they bothered to give it a name.
Country music came from Nashville. Everybody knew that. It was the 11th commandment that nobody ever talked about because there was no controversy to it. Country music came from Nashville. But, out west, way west, I mean so far west that your cowboy hat would float, they were playing music with a twang. The Grateful Dead, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Townes Van Zandt, and The New Riders of the Purple Sage were all blazing a dusty trail that looked east but stayed in the California sun.
The Grateful Dead – In most people’s mind, the picture the Dead as a bunch of drug addled, poorly bathed and groomed freaks who play music and are followed by a legion of devoted and equally poorly bathed and groomed freak fans. While that isn’t the whole picture, that is part of it. The Dead got together in the late ‘60s in San Francisco bonded by a common love for Folk Music. They developed a strong local following by giving free concerts in the parks and by being an founding part of the local music scene. They are well known for long shows (3-4 hours), constant touring, and for allowing their fans to record their concerts. As a result, there are thousands of “bootleg” Dead albums to listen to. While some songs are soundtracks for acid trips, they also have an impressive catalog of country, cowboy, and folk songs that the general public isn’t always aware of.
Townes Van Zandt – Over a 30 year career that influenced everyone from Gram Parsons and EmmyLou to Steve Earle and the Cowboy Junkies, he never had anything that resembled a hit. He toured dive bars and honky tonks most of his adult life when he wasn’t in the studio trying to turn his talent into success. Years of drug use, alcohol, and mental illness probably didn’t help his chances.
The New Riders of the Purple Sage – This band was originally formed by the Grateful Dead as a way for them to indulge their love of country and western music. Over time, it developed into it’s own band but never really developed much of a fan base past the Dead’s huge following. They released albums in between Dead albums and tours.
Emmylou Harris – It is awfully hard to listen to Emmylou without developing a deep, deep crush on her. Go ahead, listen to that voice a while. There, now you see what I mean. She sang on Gram Parson’s first two albums. This magic pairing was short lived as Parsons’ drug use caught up with him. She picked up and got a recording deal and the rest is history.
Gram Parsons – American music is filled with self-destructive artists, self-indulgent brats, and self-deluding fools. It is also full of flawed people who made beauty but died too young. Gram Parsons is a bit of all of these. Gram came from an affluent southern family that wasn’t always supportive of his love for music. He played throughout his teen years, but then went off to Harvard to study theology. That lasted all of a semester before he formed a band and took off. He found his way to California and soon became a part of the music scene there. He played briefly with the Byrds, formed the Flying Burrito Brothers, and did drugs with the Rolling Stones. He came into his own with two albums, G.P. and Grievous Angel. Then, he died of a drug overdose.
Monday – Grateful Dead “Friend of the Devil”, “Ripple”
Tuesday – Towns Van Zandt “Poncho & Lefty” , “If I Needed You”
Wednesday – The New Riders of the Purple Sage “Lonesome LA Cowboy”, “Panama Red”
Thursday – Emmylou Harris “If I Could Only Win Your Love”, “Luxury Liner”
Friday – Gram Parsons “She”, “Return of the Grievous Angel”
Bonus Tracks: Flying Burrito Brothers “Sin City”, New Riders of the Purple Sage “One Too Many Stories”
EmmyLou Harris “Jambalaya”