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Collision course: Country and Rock Music, 1968-1969 March 7, 2010

Posted by vsap in Blogroll, Uncategorized.
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I wrote a Master’s thesis on the origins of “country rock” music in 1995. As we know from Richie Furay’s song, if not from experience, “nothin’ happens in the past”, so those thing fixed in history are more compliant than things of the future. I have decided to share an update of that 1995 work here.

The reason for this brief dissertation is to uncover who was truly first at this fusion of country and rock music. Separating who was merely a rock band playing country from those who actually fused the genres.

Arguments will ensure from this, no doubt. One thing is certain in the recording industry and that is release dates. We can dispute on most other issues but when a recording was released, especially in the era of the emergence of country rock, 1965-1975, cannot be disputed. It signals who did what and when and we can pursue the rabbit trails from there if we so choose.

The widely accepted seminal albums signally the emergence of country rock began with the Byrds’ “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”, released on August 30, 1968. I have often heard it said that Bob Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline” was actually first but Dylan’s album was released on April 9, 1969. Dylan and the Byrds were Columbia recording artists at the time so I believe there is little dispute about who was first to release. And, in February 1969, the first off-shoot of the Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, debuted its “Gilded Palace of Sin” album, which demonstrates two albums trumped Dylan without question.

A little more than a month after Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline” was released, on May 19, 1969, Poco released “Pickin’ Up the Pieces” on Epic Records, a sister recording company of Columbia.

We will re-visit all of these a little later. Now, let’s step back to the rock groups who added country to their mix, but were by no means country rock bands.

The Beatles

What could they not do? “Beatles For Sale” was released on December 4, 1964 in England, and might be best remembered as the USA release, “Beatles 1965”. With songs like “I’m A Loser”, “Baby’s In Black” and “Honey Don’t” (USA release), The Beatles demonstrated they were fond of the country music they heard. “What Goes On” (from UK “Rubber Soul” album released December 5, 1965), and “Act Naturally” (from UK “Help!” album release August 6, 1965) can be added to the list of the music The Beatles brought before a mainstream rock & roll audience.

Why not Elvis?

Call it a local prejudice: I think of Elvis as rockabilly, at best, in his early years. Similarly, Buddy Holly had country influences but he took his music in such a way that it simply doesn’t make it into the country rock genre. This is the highly subjective part of criticism or parsing out the past, but if you want to read about rockabilly, it won’t be here.

Buffalo Springfield

Released on December 5, 1966, “Buffalo Springfield” immediately showed its country bent with Stephen Stills songs “Hot Dusty Roads” and “Pay The Price”. Those would be followed by Richie Furay’s “A Child’s Claim To Fame”  on “Buffalo Springfield Again”, released October 30, 1967. Then, on “Last Time Around”, released on July 30, 1968, there are three songs with distinct country flavor: “Four Days Gone” (Stills), “Carefree Country Day” (Jim Messina) and Furay’s gem “Kind Woman”.


We can argue about the Byrds actually starting earlier with their country flare. There is plenty of fodder for that fire! We could pick “Old John Robertson” or even “Wasn’t Born To Follow” from “The Notorious Byrd Brothers”, released January 15, 1968, or Chris Hillman’s “Time Between” from “Younger Than Yesterday”, released February 6, 1967. But, like The Beatles, the Byrds weren’t ready to shuck rock in those albums. But you could see it was an influence. And, albums that followed “Sweetheart”, “Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde”, released March 5, 1969 (still ahead of Dylan), and “Ballad of Easy Rider”, released on November 10, 1969, both took the genre further before the dawn of the 1970s.

Monkees/Michael Nesmith

Surprised? You shouldn’t be if you know Michael Nesmith’s background. The November 6, 1967 release of “Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.” featured his song “What Am I Doin’ Hangin’ Round”.  Also, he wrote “Different Drum” made famous by Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys on their “Evergreen Volume 2” album released in June 1967. Steve Aldrich offers this: “If given a chance on his own, Nesmith might have beat Gram Parsons in a race to invent country-rock. When he ceased to be “Monkee Mike,” Nesmith created rootsy country music, unaffected by the often cynical approach of numerous contemporaries.” Nesmith and his First National Band released perhaps his largest selling song, “Joanne” from their album “Magnetic South” in August, 1970. It was Nesmith’s first release after leaving the Monkees. The songs “What Am I Don’ Hangin’ Round” and “Different Drum” put Nesmith squarely in the “Buffalo Springfield Again”/”Younger Than Yesterday” timeframe that would build awareness of the genre.

Now we can take a look at the musicians who did most to push the genre forward in 1968-1969.

The Flying Burrito Brothers

It might be enough to explain that the backgrounds of the various players in the first generation of Burritos could leave no doubt as to the creation of a purely country rock band. Gram Parsons had a vision for “Cosmic American Music” and the power of Chris Hillman, Sneaky Pete Kleinow, and Chris Ethridge (not to mention a number of drummers prior to settling on Michael Clarke) to put it to the test. “Gilded Palace of Sin” was the first album to bring original country-style lyrics into a rock beat. With the exception of “Hippie Boy” (and some people might take exception to that exception) this was a genre-creating record. Where the Byrds didn’t rely on original songs for “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” but re-created the soul of well-known country songs, the Burritos relied mostly on Parsons & Hillman along with Parsons & Ethridge to claim new musical territory.

Dillard & Clark

We can argue that at their leading edges the Byrds, Nesmith, Stone Poneys, Dylan, and even Neil Young were bent more toward folk rock than country rock. As we discovered, folk and anything is a beginning or bridge to something else. No one stays there (in folk) for long unless by their own volition. Doug Dillard (late of The Dillards) and Gene Clark (floating around after his departure from the Byrds), bent it a different direction: bluegrass. Nevertheless, this was a fusion of folk and rock (Clark’s background) and bluegrass (Dillard’s roots) that made this more closely resemble Gram Parson’s vision of “Cosmic American Music” he espoused during his life. “The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark” released in October 1968 and “Through The Morning, Through The Night” released in August 1969, places Doug Dillard and Gene Clark in the midst of the aforementioned “ground breaking” releases from the Byrds (August 1968), Dylan (April 1969), The Flying Burrito Brothers (February 1969) and Poco (April 1969). Dillard & Clark had its share of Burrito/Byrds influence with Chris Hillman, Bernie Leadon, Sneaky Pete Kleinow and Michael Clarke appearing on both albums

Worth a mention, although it was considered a folk rock venture, is “Gene Clark and the Gosdin Brothers” which was released in February 1967. This was Gene’s first album after departing the Byrds and it, too, had a good deal of help from the aforementioned friends: Doug Dillard, Hillman, and Clarke. Notable cameos were delivered from Leon Russell, Glen Campbell and Van Dyke Parks. An early version of “Tried So Hard” is on this release as well.

After Dillard & Clark dissolved, Dillard went back to his bluegrass roots. Clark recorded “Tried So Hard” and “Here Tonight” with the Flying Burrito Brothers. “Tried So Hard” was released without Clark’s vocals on the band’s last studio album, “The Flying Burrito Brothers”, in June 1971. “Here Tonight” wasn’t released until 1974’s Burritos compilation album “Close Up The Honky Tonks”.

Although an argument can be made against it, Clark’s next releases “White Light” and “Roadmaster”, (August 1971 and January 1973 respectively) delved back into a more common folk rock, or straight folk ballads, where he seemed most comfortable. He didn’t return to the country rock genre until the Byrds reunion album released March 7, 1973. He contributed two strong tracks in an otherwise dismal reunion attempt: “Full Circle” and “Changing Heart”.


History has shown that much excellent music has been derived from the former members of Buffalo Springfield. Jim Messina, Stephen Stills and Neil Young have had extraordinarily successful careers spanning decades. Richie Furay found modest success, along with Jim Messina, Randy Meisner, Rusty Young and George Grantham as original members of Poco. But, if they didn’t find the commercial success of the yet to be born Eagles, they set the table, along with the Burritos, so others could take the genre they helped create and make it commercially viable.

If the Beatles were the “good boys” and the Rolling Stones the “bad boys” of British rock in the 1960s, then Poco were the Beatles to the Burritos Rolling Stones of country rock. There would be no songs like “What A Day”, “Make Me a Smile”, “Pickin’ Up The Pieces”, “Grand Junction” or “Just In Case It Happens, Yes Indeed” on “Gilded Palace of Sin”. Poco were the bright-eyed optimists to the Burritos world-weary realists. This was Furay’s influence and it proved infectious. At a time when there were war protests and young people were thumbing their noses at elders and all authority, Poco stuck to the tried-and-true country formula: relationships. And it did it with the thumping of a rock beat. Furay and Messina rose from the ashes of Buffalo Springfield to create an enthusiasm for the genre that has endured.

Crosby, Still & Nash/Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

Why so far down the list? Well, all except for Graham Nash have appeared on the list in one form or the other. Admittedly, David Crosby isn’t much of a country rock musician but a folk/protest/ballad writer and singer of considerable talent. He appeared on the Byrds reunion album with a strong delivery of Joni Mitchell’s song “For Free”. Nash, late of the Hollies, and British, was not then nor is today what one would consider a country rock musician. Nevertheless, his high harmonies drove many of the best songs produced by CSN and CSNY during the time considered in this writing.

On May 28, 1969, opening the summer of discontent that would put them front and center at Woodstock, NY in August, “Crosby, Stills and Nash” arrived to the record store bins. As with most of the arrivals from the country rock genre, not all songs had a country flavor. To that end, this album was all over the map. “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”, “Helplessly Hoping”, “49 Bye-Byes” and “You Don’t Have To Cry” had the hallmarks of Stills’ country orientation. He had done this in songs with Buffalo Springfield.

In the meantime, on-again-off-again cohort, Neil Young was busy releasing “Neil Young” on November 12, 1968 followed by the first album with his new backing group, Crazy Horse, “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” on May 14, 1969. The albums only had one song each (“Emperor of Wyoming” and “Losing End”) that threw a bone to some country twang, but that’s it.

Even if you waited for the March 11, 1970 release of “Deja Vu”, you’d be hard-pressed to find country influence beyond “Teach Your Children” (with Jerry Garcia’s cameo steel guitar play) and, maybe, Stills’ solo “4+20”. After that, what? Well, nothing. It was enough to bring them in as a footnote to the genre. Stephen Stills would do the most to further the genre with his April 12, 1972 release “Stephen Stills & Manassas”. More on that at another time. Let’s get back to the 1968-1969 era.

Creedence Clearwater Revival

An odd choice? At first glance, yes. CCR came at country rock from the other side of the spectrum: R&B. John Fogerty and the band seemed to put the Cajun into rock music with soulful results. They will not be best remembered as a country rock band but they deserve more than a passing mention when the body of work is assessed.

Their first album was released on July 5, 1968 and aside from “The Working Man” and “Porterville” there’s not much country rock here. “Bayou Country”, released on January 5, 1969, brought us “Proud Mary”, of course, but, more important to this dissertation, “Bootleg”, “Graveyard Train” and “Keep On Chooglin’”, which set CCR as a player in the country rock game.

“Green River”, released on August 3, 1969, contained the title track plus “Lodi”, “Bad Moon Rising” and “Cross-Tie Walker”, which put CCR well ahead of CSN or CSNY in carving a niche in the genre.

On November 2, 1969, making it three album releases in one year, “Willy And The Poor-Boys” was released. It contained country-flavored gems “Down On The Corner”, “It Came Out of the Sky”, “Cotton Fields” and “Don’t Look Now”, all of which could be recorded by country stars today without a second thought…if they or their producers ever worked up a first thought.

1968-1969 release dates

Byrds, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, August 30, 1968

Dillard & Clark, The Fantastic Expedition of…, October 1968

Neil Young, self-titled, November 12, 1968

Nashville West, self-titled, Unknown release date in 1968

CCR, Bayou Country, January 5, 1969

The Flying Burrito Brothers, Gilded Palace of Sin, February 1969

Byrds, Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde, March 5, 1969

Bob Dylan, Nashville Skyline, April 9, 1969

Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, May 14, 1969

Poco, Pickin’ Up The Pieces, May 19, 1969

Crosby, Stills & Nash, self-titled, May 26, 1969

CCR, Green River, August 3, 1969

Dillard & Clark, Through The Morning…, August 1969

CCR, Willy And The Poor-Boys, November 2, 1969

Byrds, Ballad of Easy Rider, November 10, 1969

Longbranch Pennywhistle (J D Souther & Glenn Frey), 1969


At least two dozen recordings, from 1964 through 1969, built the foundation for what was then called country rock. It is this era where today’s Nashville-produced country music was born. What was unacceptable at the time, hippies mixing country music with rock music (often in the Mecca of the country industry’s establishment, Nashville) has become the institution itself.

We will visit the expansion of the genre at another time, but we can take a look at the recordings released in 1970, many of which were recorded in 1969 (at least in part), for a glimpse into the future:

CSN&Y, Déjà vu, March 11, 1970

The Flying Burrito Brothers, Burrito Deluxe, April 1970

Poco, self-titled, May 16, 1970

The Grateful Dead, Workingman’s Dead, June 14, 1970

CCR, Cosmos Factory, July 25, 1970

Michael Nesmith & The First National Band, Magnetic South, August 1970

Neil Young, After The Goldrush, August 31, 1970

Byrds, Untitled, September 16, 1970

Poco, Deliverin’, recorded live September 22-23, 1970, released January 13, 1971

The Grateful Dead, American Beauty, November 1, 1970

Stephen Stills, self-titled, November 16, 1970

CCR, Pendulum, December 7, 1970

The list was growing with the notable inclusion of The Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia’s interest in the genre. He would contribute to the creation of New Riders of the Purple Sage, which began recording its debut album in December 1970. It would not be released until August 1971. Also, he contributed steel guitar work on CSN&Y’s “Teach Your Children” (from Déjà vu), which demonstrated his interest in expanding the genre beyond The Grateful Dead.

The expansion of the genre, whether from R&B, Cajun, Bluegrass, or even the original slacker/hippie/doper angles, would accelerate in the 1970s, affixing a rock beat to country music that both shocked and appalled industry executives even if it came as no surprise to the artists.



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2. Matthew Zuckerman - March 8, 2010

Interesting that you make no mention of the album usually credited with being the first “country” release in the rock world — Bob Dylan’s John Wesley Harding, released in December 1967. (Recorded in Nashville with country musicians and including I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight and Down Along The Cove.)

Also, The Basement Tapes by Bob Dylan and The Band was not released officially until 1975 but tapes of many of the songs were circulating in 1967 — Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, indeed, takes its opening and closing songs from here, as clear a tip of the hat to its well-spring of inspiration as could be made.

And The Band’s own debut album, Music From Big Pink, appeared the month before Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. This was not a country-rock album per se, but is generally seen as one of the key works in the movement for rock musicians to discover their country roots. Indeed, Time magazine put them on the cover in this regard.

(And then, of course, Blonde On Blonde was the first rock album recorded in Nashville with country musicians, back in 1966. Indeed, some mark Johnny Cash’s (electric) cover of Dylan’s It Ain’t Me Babe in 1965 as being the first significant milestone.)

Of course, country was part of rock from the very beginning, as you mention — a rocking version of Blue moon Of Kentucky was on the flip side of Elvis’s debut record in 1954 and Chuck Berry’s Maybeline was based on the old Bob Wills song Ida Red. If country rock existed as a separate form from rockabilly, rock & roll, rock, etc, then you have to plant the flag somewhere. But I think any mention of country rock without reference to the music that came out of Big Pink in 1966 and 1967 is curious, to say the least.

Just a though…

All the best


3. vsap - March 8, 2010

Thanks Matthew, I did consider The Band, as you mentioned, but decided against them since I thought their portfolio too thin. However, I mentioned several with equally thin but influential portfolios so The Band does warrant inclusion. Your comment stands as tribute to their position in country rock’s early development.

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6. Kim Hill - March 8, 2010

Nashville Skyline was not the first Bob Dylan album that mixed country with rock. It was John Wesley Harding which was released on Dec. 27 1967. Dylan’s influence was the first and most powerful of them all, just as it was in the begining of folk rock.

vsap - March 8, 2010

I will grant you John Wesley Harding, as Matthew indicated earlier. An obvious miss on my part. Yet, I do not agree that Dylan was as influential in country rock as in folk rock. The others mentioned, whether The Beatles, Byrds, Buffalo Springfield or Michael Nesmith, did equal or more than Dylan in this regard. My ear’s bias is Dylan is folk rock, like Brewer & Shipley or James Taylor. By extension, we could argue that rockabilly-types were really pioneers (e.g., Elvis, Buddy Holly, Bill Halley) of the genre but, again to my ear, it simply doesn’t fit. That’s the beauty of subjective listening: it’s all good whether or not we agree on every detail.

7. alfredo - March 8, 2010

everly brothers anyone?

vsap - March 8, 2010

Thanks Alfredo, With friends like Chet Atkins, you would think I might include the Everlys. As I have said on other comments, I have a bias ear that hears rockabilly more than country and ballads more than rock & roll in the Everlys. That said, their 1968 release “Roots” rates more than a passing mention and that’s why I’m grateful for your comment!

8. Straycat - March 8, 2010

A very enjoyable read. The early country rock period has always been one of my favorite eras for discovering great music, and the best of it is timeless.
One addition I would make to your list of 1970 albums would be “Rick Nelson In Concert” with the Stone Canyon Band, featuring Randy Meisner and the great Tom Brumley on steel guitar.

btw/ I have linked your article to the Poco website (poconut.org)

vsap - March 8, 2010

Thanks Straycat, so noted!

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10. SteveS - March 9, 2010

Really enjoyed your article. I would also add The Youngbloods and The Lovin’ Spoonful as two other groups who were there at the very start of the transition/evolution/expansion of folk-rock into country-rock.

11. rick ehrlich - March 9, 2010

a thesis on country rock from ’65-’75 that never mentions Clarence White? come on.

vsap - March 10, 2010

As you can tell, there were many I didn’t mention by name. As a member of the post-Sweetheart Byrds, with the invention of the B-string bender, he was implied if not named. He is included in the next part, 1971-1975, and I plan to give him and his Byrd-mates, McGuinn, Parsons and York, better “coverage” since I believe they expressed Gram Parson’s “Cosmic American Music” better than GP himself. If you saw “Byrds Under Review”, Gene Parsons all but said he was totally unimpressed with GP. And you know why already…Clarence White. Parsons and White were a great team. But even if Parsons created the B-string bender, White made it come to life. Thus, the next part will attempt to give White more prominence. I appreciate your comment!

12. Elizabeth - March 10, 2010

You might give another listen to Graham Nash’s solo work – particularly the songs ‘You’ll Never Be the Same’ and ‘And So It Goes’, just to name a few. Also, the relatively recent ‘Liar’s Nightmare’ has a country flavor to it. He may be an Englishman but the folk/country influence is there. Graham is also a longtime admirer of the man in black, Johnny Cash. Sometimes I could swear Nash has become the Englishman in Black.

13. arnaud - March 25, 2010

what about 1967 gram Parson’s Submarine band?

vsap - March 25, 2010

Yes, with “Truck Drivin’ Man” (Buck Owens cover, 1966) and the album “Safe At Home” in 1967, ISB can be included without reservation. As you can tell by the posts, I have not been complete in covering all possible angles as the genre emerged. In part, that’s because I focused on discographies that would evoke a broader readership. Being too obscure or running down too many rabbit trails might make a reader ditch it. That’s why I left out Elvis and rockabilly in general. However, you are correct and ISB deserves a place as one of the first to give force to the new genre. Thanks!

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21. George Lawrence - April 26, 2011

Nice article, though I have to disagree totally with your inclusion of the Byrd’s Sweethearts of the Rodeo album. That was a rock band playing country music – not much, if anything, “rocking” about it. Parsons even said as much. It is noteworthy that Parsons auditioned for Poco, and was considered as a possible player during the initial Poco auditions in 68. So was Gregg Allman.

I was also very surprised that you did not include Buck Owens and the Buckaroos in this lineage. Ask any of the players in any of the bands and artists you mentioned and they will all cite Buck Owens and the Buckaroos as THE originators of country rock and the inspiration for all who followed them. The genre did not come just from the rock side.

George Lawrence, drummer for Poco since 2004.

vsap - April 26, 2011

Thanks George…your comments from the inside of the business are important to me since I view it from a fan perspective. There’s no question that I touched far too lightly on Buck Owens, only mentioning him along with Carl Perkins as influences on The Beatles. I hope all is well at the drum shop and with the new Poco configuration sans Paul. Poco remains my favorite band and the inspiration to write this series. Best to you!

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