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Collision Course 2: Country and Rock Music 1971-1972 March 15, 2010

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The country rock music genre flourished in the early 1970s. It had some stiff competition, especially with rock, R&B and jazz albums recorded and/or released in 1971 and 1972, but it came to be part of an audiophile’s collection, if not a staple.

Here’s a sample and I’m sure readers can add their own recollections:

Elton John, Tumbleweed Connection, October 30, 1970 (in UK, 1971 USA)
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, 4-Way Street, April 7, 1971 (recorded live July 2-5, 1970)
Michael Nesmith & The First National Band, Nevada Fighter, May 9, 1971
The Flying Burrito Brothers, self-titled, June 1971
Byrds, Byrdmaniax, June 23, 1971
New Riders of the Purple Sage, self-titled, August 1971
Poco, From The Inside, September 5, 1971
Rick Nelson, Rudy The Fifth, October 1971
Byrds, Farther Along, November 17, 1971
America, self-titled, December 31, 1971
Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen, Lost In The Ozone,
– recorded April-July 1971, release date Unknown 1971
Charlie Daniels, self-titled, Unknown date 1971
Neil Young, Harvest, February 14, 1972
New Riders of the Purple Sage, Powerglide, March 1972
Pure Prairie League, self-titled, March 1972
Creedence Clearwater Revival, Mardi Gras, April 11, 1972
Stephen Stills & Manassas, self-titled, April 12, 1972
Elton John, Honky Chateau, May 12, 1972
The Flying Burrito Brothers, Last of the Red Hot Burritos, May 1972
Commander Cody, Hot Licks, Cold Steel & Trucker Favorites, May 1972
Rick Nelson, “Garden Party” single, June 1972
Eagles, self-titled, June 17, 1972
Pure Prairie League, Bustin’ Out, August 1972
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, May The Circle Be Unbroken, August 1972
Poco, A Good Feelin’ To Know, September 25, 1972
New Riders of the Purple Sage, Gypsy Cowboy, December 1972
Everly Brothers, Stories We Could Tell, Unknown date 1972
Michael Nesmith & The Second National Band, Tantamount to Treason Vol. 1, 1972
Dan Fogelberg, Home Free, Unknown date 1972
Charlie Daniels, John, Grease & Wolfman, Unknown date 1972
Heartsfield, self-titled, Unknown date 1972

Elton John?

Yes, not even Elton John was unaffected by the emerging country rock genre. Though I don’t believe Tumbleweed Connection or Honky Chateau were true country rock albums, I do believe his affinity (or lack of same, depending on how you read his songs) for the Old American South, compelled him to write songs like “Ballad of the Well-Known Gun”, “Country Comfort”, and “My Father’s Gun”, on Tumbleweed Connection and “Slave”, “Honky Cat” and “Salvation” on Honky Chateau. There will be those justified in excluding such selections from discussion of country rock, but I respectfully disagree and include the now Sir Elton here for your consideration.

Back to the Real Deal

This two-year period, 1971-72, produced about 10 more country rock albums than the previous two years. New additions included Michael Nesmith’s First & Second National Bands, New Riders of the Purple Sage, America, Charlie Daniels, Pure Prairie League, Eagles, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Rick Nelson, Dan Fogelberg and Heartsfield. Before we visit some of them, let’s look at how some of the originators fared during this time.

Byrds

The first resurrection of the Byrds was on 1969’s Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde. Roger McGuinn had apparently lost it all: Chris Hillman, Gram Parsons and Michael Clarke all landing with the Burritos. However, there was a brief before his exit that Hillman saw two exemplary musicians come aboard: Clarence White and Gene Parsons. The Byrds had risen from the “firing” of David Crosby in October 1967 to begin to re-make themselves with The Notorious Byrd Brothers. Of course, that didn’t do it but what followed, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, did. With the departure from pure rock or pop music, McGuinn risked leading his new Byrds in a slightly different direction. That journey began with Dr. Byrds in 1969 and would include, Untitled (1970), Byrdmaniax and Farther Along (1971). McGuinn, White and Parsons would endure this period with John York on bass for Dr. Byrds and Ballad only to be replaced by Skip Battin who would finish out the string. In reality, this flock of Byrds didn’t make it passed 1971. Nevertheless, the bright spot was White’s guitar.

To sample Clarence White’s superb work with the Byrds you need only listen to these: “Ballad of Easy Rider”, “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue”, “Jesus Is Just Alright”, “This Wheel’s On Fire”, Old Blue”, “Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man”, “Chestnut Mare”, “Take A Whiff”, and “Farther Along”. You’ll want to hear the rest of his work with the Kentucky Colonels, Nashville West, and the Muleskinners.

And, that guitar work was made even more memorable due to the B-Bender. It was an innovation that, in large measure, allowed the Byrds (and subsequent bands) to get that country feel without a pedal steel guitar player. As mentioned previously, the B-Bender was invented in 1967 by Gene Parsons and White. The device was originally the Parsons/White Pull-String, then the StringBender, but now known as the B-Bender. Parson’s early work included bending devices for the E, B, G and D strings, but White preferred a single B string bender. The best explanation I found came from an April 2004 Vintage Guitar magazine article by Dan Forte and Edward Driscoll. It stated:

“The B string is bent up a full tone by pulling the guitar neck down. This puts pressure on the strap, which is attached to a spring-loaded lever at the base of the neck. The lever arm passes through the body of the guitar and is connected to the B string behind the bridge. White’s 1956 Telecaster with the original Pull-String is now owned and regularly played by Marty Stuart.”

Critics at the time panned both Byrdmaniax and Farther Along. To my ear, the Byrds were the creators of the lazy/stoner/slacker or hippie country rock you would come to know from New Riders of the Purple Sage and Commander Cody. Unfortunately, the Byrds didn’t seem to have nearly the fun with it that NRPS or Commander Cody did. We can argue whether or not the Byrds left us on a down note with the immensely talented core of McGuin, White, Parsons and Battin, but we cannot deny their imprint on the genre and the others that came after them.

The Flying Burrito Brothers

The Burritos added Bernie Leadon after the departure of Chris Ethridge for 1970’s Burrito Deluxe, then replaced Gram Parson with Rick Roberts for 1971’s self-titled final studio album. Leadon made an immediate impact by co-writing three songs (“Man In The Fog”, “Older Guys” and “Cody, Cody”) and contributing “God’s Own Singer” by his own hand on Deluxe. He contributed no songs to the 1971 effort but allowed his guitar and banjo to do the work with exceptional results especially on “Hand To Mouth,” “Four Days of Rain” and “Why Are You Crying?” The latter two songs were written by Roberts and the former co-written by Roberts with Hillman. Leadon and Roberts softened the rough edges of the Burritos. By contrast, this was an understated and mostly underappreciated effort. Even Merle Haggard’s “White Line Fever” and “Can’t You Hear Me Callin’” managed to hint at the raucous nature of the original Burritos line up. Underpinning it all was still Sneaky Pete Kleinow’s evolving steel guitar playing and Michael Clarke, easily “King of the 4/4 Beat” (so dubbed by Jim Dickson).

Kleinow and Leadon wouldn’t make it to the last Burritos album of the era, Last of the Red Hot Burritos, a live album released in 1972. Al Perkins took up the pedal steel, lead guitar and pull-string guitar duties, assisted by members of the Country Gazette: Kenny Wertz on banjo and guitar, Byron Berline on fiddle, and Roger Bush on stand-up bass. A turn toward bluegrass but not from rock, this album is excellent for those who would like to get the feel of the Burritos live performance. It’s not Altamont, thankfully, but with the exception of “Don’t Fight It” and “Losing Game” this album summed up the energy the Burritos brought to the genre.

Poco

By way of full disclosure: I am a Poconut. It is a challenge for me not to skew the reporting toward Poco. Thus, if I seem to lavish the praise when it would appear by any objective measure that I’ve gone “over the top”, the reader will understand the reason why.

Jim Messina led Poco away from its country rock roots almost immediately with the release of its self-titled album in 1970. Dallas Frazier’s “Barmaid In The Honky Tonk Downstairs”, Messina’s “You Better Think Twice” and Richie Furay’s “Don’t Let It Pass By” being the notable exceptions. The 18+ minute “Nobody’s Fool/El Tonto de Nadie, Regresa” explored nearly all the musical elements we would experience in Messina’s musical career. The rock bent is obvious on other songs and Poco even ventured into the blues with “Anyway Bye-Bye”.

Like the Burritos, Poco changed bassists after it first album. Randy Meisner, (who, depending on which history of the band you believe, was really not a member but his bass and vocal work appeared on the debut album) was replaced by Timothy B. Schmit. There’s no question both offered the “soaring” vocals or high harmony that helped drive the band. Schmit’s voice and personality simply mixed better with George Grantham (drums), Furay and Messina. As with the Burritos, it was the pedal steel work that set them apart from the Byrds and others who approached it without pedal steel. That’s a credit to Rusty Young. The major difference between Poco’s Young and the Burritos Kleinow was the Leslie attached to Young’s steel guitar.

What is the Leslie? Clifford A. Hendericksen explained it in the April 1981 edition of Recording Engineer/Producer magazine under the title “Unearthing the mysteries of the Leslie cabinet”. He wrote: “The Leslie speaker is a specially constructed amplifier and loudspeaker used to create special audio Doppler effects. Named after its inventor, Donald Leslie, it is particularly associated with the Hammond organ.” If your first encounter with Poco was their second album or a live performance, you may have wondered how that pedal steel sounded so much like an organ. There’s your answer.

And, the Doppler effect? Researcher Alec Eden wrote this about it in 1992: “Named after Austrian physicist Christian Doppler who proposed it in 1842, the Doppler Effect (or Doppler Shift) is the change in frequency of a wave for an observer moving relative to the source of the wave. It is commonly heard when a vehicle sounding a siren or horn approaches, passes, and recedes from an observer. The received frequency is higher (compared to the emitted frequency) during the approach, it is identical at the instant of passing by, and it is lower during the recession.”

Clarence White adds a B-Bender. Rusty Young adds a Leslie. And you discover not only the delightful results of the collision of country and rock music, you discover there were true musical pioneers inventing new ways of delivering the sound of the new genre to the audience.

The energy of Poco’s live performances was captured with January 1971’s release of Deliverin’ which was recorded September 22-23, 1970. What most of us didn’t know at the time is that Messina was heading out and (ever the shrewd businessman and not wanting to see Poco crumble after his departure) his replacement, Paul Cotton, traveled with the group during the recording of Deliverin’. Cotton took over the lead guitar work with September 1971’s release of From The Inside.

Deliverin’ set a standard that would make From The Inside appear to be a major disappointment by contrast. It was not. In fact, it was the re-birth of the country bent for Poco’s music. There is no question that From The Inside is an understated recording, but not “dark” as some have opined. Songs like “Hoedown”, “Just For me And You” and “You Are The One” displayed the optimism associated with Poco’s debut album. However, it was Cotton’s song “Bad Weather,” a slower-paced remake of a song originally recorded by his band Illinois Speed Press in 1969, remains a “hit” with audiences even today.

As far as “charting” on Billboard, Poco’s Deliverin’ did best, peaking at #26. From The Inside and A Good Feelin’ To Know peaked at #52 and #69, respectively. The latter peak was a head-scratcher at the time with the title song being so popular.

A Good Feelin’ To Know was supposed to push Poco over the top, the recognition for a band that so thoroughly integrated country and rock, essentially crashed and burned at its finest moment. There was no internal wrangling. There was no artistic disagreement. The band’s live performances were improving. As the Byrds and Burritos were going by the boards, Poco was just cranking up. With the possible exception of the indulgent “Sweet Lovin’”, A Good Feelin’ To Know was perfection, or that perfect moment in time we like to remember about our favorite bands or artists.

Poco was kicked to the curb in 1972 by up-starts (Billboard album peaks listed next to each) like Eagles (#22), Pure Prairie League (#34), America (#1), and veterans Neil Young (#1) and Stephen Stills & Manassas (#4).

Let’s take a look at a couple of the “up-starts”.

New Riders of the Purple Sage

If the Burritos were a branch of the Byrds, then NRPS were a creek off the river of the Grateful Dead. The hippie fringe of the genre would come to fusion as famously San Francisco musicians Jerry Garcia (pedal steel) and Spencer Dryden (ex-Jefferson Airplane drummer), joined forces with like-minded John Dawson, David Nelson and Dave Tolbert to generate one of the more memorable debut albums of 1972, New Riders of the Purple Sage. It can be said of few albums, where is the weakest song? and the listener replies, there isn’t one. Garcia needed an outlet for music that simply didn’t fit with the Dead. He found a fertile, albeit brief, refuge for his art with NRPS. The music frolicked (“Henry”, “Glendale Train”, “I Don’t Know You”), was tender (“All I Ever Wanted”), mournful (“Last Lonely Eagle”) and political (“Garden of Eden”, “Dirty Business”) while preserving and furthering the fledging genre. It could have been easy for Garcia to “send up” the genre, making it look cartoonish and even foolish, but he didn’t. In contrast to the Byrds, Garcia and NRPS had fun with it and it showed.

Eagles

Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon were the most polished to enter the genre with their self-titled debut album in 1972. Whether a listener preferred “Take it Easy”, “A Train Leaves Here This Morning”, “Most Of Us Are Sad”, or “Peaceful Easy Feeling” (which Leadon used the B-Bender on lead guitar work), there was plenty of country flavor to enjoy. Leadon brought his mandolin and banjo acumen along with his guitar to polish the edges of the Eagles so it would suit a mainstream palate. It is my opinion that even the rocking “Chug All Night”, “Tryin’” and “Witchy Woman” were made memorable at least in part by Leadon’s approach. Of course, the singing of Frey, Henley and Meisner dominated. They weren’t the wide-eyed optimists like Poco. They didn’t mind displaying their demons in a more “road weary” way like the Byrds and Burritos. Another difference: they could all sing lead capably and with distinction, not to mention the harmonies by this time a necessity for a country rock band.

Prior to forming the Eagles, they had played as Linda Ronstadt’s backing group. Leadon is familiar to the reader from his work with Dillard & Clark and the Burritos and Meisner with Poco. Henley did some time with Shiloh while Frey (with J.D. Souther) came from Longbranch Pennywhistle.

History has much to say about the Eagles and their various iterations, but at this moment in history they did much to bring country rock into the mainstream.

America

It has been said that nature abhors a vacuum. With the last Crosby, Still & Nash studio album quickly receding into the musical rear view mirror, along came America with “A Horse With No Name” in 1972. This is not truly a country rock album except that the lead vocal on this song sounded like Neil Young and the tight harmony resembled CS&N. The song was a #1 hit and the band made its living from the Southern California soft rock sound.

Neil Young

A recent retrospective on “Biography” (A&E Network) explained that Harvest was created in a time of new love and calm in Young’s life. “Harvest”, “Out On The Weekend”, “Old Man”, “Are You Ready For The Country” and “Heart of Gold”, helped Young keep his country ground staked out for a generation. There are the oddities: “A Man Needs A Maid” and “There’s A World”. There are the political and life commentaries: “Alabama”, “The Needle And The Damage Done”, and “Words”. Those were sufficient to warn the listener that they were still getting a record that would defy a single genre label from “Shakey”.

Stephen Stills & Manassas

If there was a “supergroup” for the genre, Stephen Stills & Manassas qualify on two levels: quantity (7 members) and depth (both of musicianship and of space on the record). It can be argued that only 25% of the four sides of this double-album set were set aside for country rock, but it would have been 50% or more of the single albums of most country rock bands produced in 1972. Each album side had a name and the country side is entitled “The Wilderness”. A couple on the side entitled “Consider”, “It Doesn’t Matter” and “How Far”, could be included as well.
Along for the ride with Stills (vocals, guitar, bottleneck guitar, piano, organ, electric piano, clavinette) were Chris Hillman (vocals, guitar, mandolin), Al Perkins (steel guitar, guitar, vocals), Calvin “Fuzzy” Samuels (bass), Paul Harris (organ, tack piano, piano, organ, electric piano, clavinette), Dallas Taylor (drums), and Joe Lala (percussion, vocals). Additional help came from Sydney George (harmonica), Jerry Aiello (piano, organ, electric piano, clavinette), Bill Wyman (bass), Roger Bush (acoustic bass), and Byron Berline (fiddle). All the influences from the Stones to Burritos to CS&N to Joe Walsh and beyond packed on to this record.

I was present at one of their performances (Mississippi River Festival, Edwardsville, IL), when Rick Roberts appeared with them to do his song “Colorado” and Joe Walsh, the opening act, came on stage to trade some licks with Stills and Perkins. As The Outlaws would exclaim in 1975: “Green Grass and High Tides”! Indeed, for the genre this moment was its high tide.
Pure Prairie League
Sometimes it seems odd to think this band hailed from Cincinnati. Craig Fuller, Tom McGrail, Jim Caughlan and John David Call formed the original nucleus. Phil Stokes was added on bass but he and McGrail left prior to recording the first album. Jim Lanham replaced Stokes. Then, after the debut album, Caughlan and Lanham left. Fuller, George Ed Powell (guitar and vocals), William Frank (Billy) Hinds (drums, percussion) and Michael Connor (piano) filled the line-up card for the second album. James Rolleston played bass on Bustin’ Out but was not considered a member.
The debut self-titled album and the second, Bustin’ Out, were led by Fuller. “Tears”, “Take It Before You Go” and “Country Song” were the strength of the debut. While we can argue “You’re Between Me” is the strongest song on the record, I considered it more a rock song but I will acknowledge anyone who would challenge that opinion. On Bustin’ Out, of course, “Amie” put the band on the map. I believe Fred Holstein’s “Jazzman” was a folk rock song and “Call Me, Tell Me” a classic bit of Fuller cynicism that didn’t fit the genre but all others were certainly sweet and exciting additions to a strong 1972.
Final notes on 1971-1972
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the likes of “newcomers” Charlie Daniels, Dan Fogelberg along with “old hands” Michael Nesmith and Ricky Nelson. It’s hard to think of Daniels as anything but legendary today. It’s equally hard to believe we lost both Fogelberg (died December 16, 2007 from prostate cancer) and Nelson (died December 31, 1985 in a plane crash near Texarkana, TX) so early.
Nelson’s “Garden Party” was memorable for its line “If memories were all I sang, I’d rather drive a truck.” Makes you wonder how he would feel about all the country rock bands on the nostalgia tours today.
Fogelberg’s debut, Home Free, went platinum, but as a re-issue many years later. A fitting tribute nonetheless.
Michael Nesmith was covered in the previous thesis but suffice it to say he continued to contribute with inventive albums form his First and Second National Bands during this period. Nevada Fighter featured musicians Red Rhodes, James Burton and Glen D. Hardin. Tantamount featured Rhodes and Jose Feliciano on congas. Nesmith founded Pacific Arts Corporation in 1974 and continues to operate it today.

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Comments»

1. Collision Course 2: Country and Rock Music 1971-1972 « Poet at the … | Mark Guerrero Music - March 15, 2010

[…] See the original post here: Collision Course 2: Country and Rock Music 1971-1972 « Poet at the … […]

2. Amy - March 15, 2010

I’m a Poco fan too and think they have never yet gotten their due accolades as country-rock innovators. Their first album “Poco” (a.k.a. Oranges) is one of my favorites, as is “From the Inside”. Small correction re: your characterization of Meisner and Schmit though: “There’s no question both offered the “soaring” vocals or high harmony that helped drive the band.” Actually Schmit did not sing the high harmony with Poco, drummer George Grantham did. However, Schmit did, and still does, sing the high harmony part with the Eagles, since replacing Meisner again in 1977.

3. Rock Music News » Blog Archive » Collision Course 2: Country and Rock Music 1971-1972 « Poet at the … - March 15, 2010

[…] post:  Collision Course 2: Country and Rock Music 1971-1972 « Poet at the … 0 […]

4. Tom - February 16, 2012

Great stuff ! Terrific site.

Just a few trivail notes re: PPL, a great band with numerous releases that received both critical and commercial success. 6 Billbord top 40 LP’s, even hitting Country music top 40. Along with The Eagles took country rock mainstream.

George Ed Powell was an original member and the “Big Three” who essentially formed the PPL sound in 1969 were Fuller, Powell and Call. Powell played as a solo act at the Pavilion. Across the street at a place called New Dilly’s Johnny Schott would trade gigs with George , and not tell management. Schott started booking bands at Dilly’s. George told him he and a guy named Craig were starting a band. Schott booked them and they took off from there. Fuller and Call lived blocks apart in Waverly, OH. Fuller , Call, Caughlin , McGrail and others played in various bands , sometimes together prior to PPL. Among them were The Swiss Navy, The Omars. Legendary stuff in that area.


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