09
May
08

The Byrds – Sweetheart of the Rodeo

When people ask me where I get my musical tastes from, I have to give it up to the musical folks that I’ve ended up hanging out with over the years,  Most had radically different taste than I did, but they all had one thing in common…a love for the music.

For a while in the late nineties, I really got into the LA country scene.  My good friend Mike was living in Studio City with the rest of his band, The Six Shooters, and playing a pedal steel guitar he purchased from some shady Greek music store that we were certain was a front for the mob. The pedal steel didn’t even come with pedals…or legs, Mike built those himself, although I’ll never figure out how.

It was an excellent time hanging out with some amazing musicians like Mike Stinson, Sarah Guthrie, and Tim Ferguson…and a lot it was spent smoking too much, drinking too much and listening to a lot of country music.  Of all the music we discussed at the time, no album was as revered as The Byrds “Sweetheart of the Rodeo.”

Released in 1968, it was known as the first country/rock album, which I think is a little misleading. It’s an all country album, made by a rock band. After the 1967 sessions for “The Notorious Byrd Brothers” ended, David Crosby and Michael Clarke left the band rather suddenly…leaving remaining members Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman with finding some replacements to help record a concept album that would become “Sweetheart.” They brought in Hillman’s cousin Kevin Kelley on drums, and in a move that would change the genre forever, they picked up a young Gram Parson’s to fill David Crosby’s shoes.

McGuinn’s original idea for the album was a double LP journey through American music that began with old time bluegrass and Appalachian music, and would move through the proceeding decades until it ended with some kind of cosmic space music. It was ambitious, but the final product didn’t quite come together like they planned.  Hillman and Parson’s had both come from country backgrounds though and hit it off immediately…although it soon became evident during the recording that Parson’s personality and talent were in danger of over shadowing the band and the album.

Before joining The Byrds, though, Parson’s was in a band called The International Subnmarine Band on Lee Hazelwood’s label.  When Hazelwood discovered Parson’s was playing with the Byrds, he claimed that he still had him under exclusive contract…scaring columbia Records into toning down Gram’s presence on the album.  If not for that…it may well have become Gram Parson’s “Sweetheart of the Rodeo,” which might not have been such a bad thing upon hearing his renditions of ‘You Don’t Miss Your Water’ (hear below) and ‘One Hundred Years from Now.’

This is music for back porch sitting.  Pure Americana distilled into moonshine and poured deep into mason jars for your sipping pleasure (Or guzzling.)  Better yet, it was country music made by men who truly loved country music and all it’s roots…and recognized that it was the cornerstone that rock and roll was built on.

The album was released, the band toured, but soon the Byrds were no more.  Parson’s left to form the Flying Burrito Brothers with Hillman, and Kelley threw in the towel…leaving McGuinn to call it quits.   But for a few months, it looks like country might just rule the world.

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