[Today: Keeping the flame alive...]
It’s easy enough to connect the dots between country rock pioneers such as The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Byrds, Michael Nesmith’s post-Monkees outfit The First National Band; 70s crossovers like Poco and The Eagles; and post-punk country bands The Long Ryders, The Knitters and Jason & The Scorchers. It’s a continuum that extends through groups like The Jayhawks, Dave Alvin & The Guilty Men and Uncle Tupelo, right up to bands like Wilco and Kings Of Leon. At best this is a zig-zagging list of artists connected by an aesthetic preference and little else – at worst it’s an irrelevant and highly suspect grouping of artists with disparate ambitions, akin to making a list of athletes who’ve worn green jerseys.
One reason a simple list doesn’t do justice to the progress of country rock is that the best-sellers (some would say sellouts) of the 70s made their coin off the backs of under-appreciated artists like Michael Nesmith and Gram Parsons, and nearly sterilized the genre into a premature grave (disco went through a similar near-death experience around the same time). By the time the 80s rolled around, country rock was about as cool as the pet rock, which makes the work of Kentucky-born Sid Griffin all the more remarkable.
Drawn to Los Angeles by that city’s nascent punk scene, Griffin eventually formed The Long Ryders with guitarist Steve McCarthy, bassist Barry Shank and drummer Greg Sowders. Fusing the raw energy of Nuggets-era garage rock with the twang of The Byrds, The Long Ryders were one of the key bands in keeping the flame of country rock alive during the 80s. Their full-length debut, Native Sons, is one of the great lost albums in all of rock.
My own personal favorite moment here is ‘I Had A Dream’, a crunching, twangy rocker that draws a heretofore unknown line between Merle Haggard and The Replacements. But there isn’t a bum note or bad song to be found on Native Sons. ‘Tell It To The Judge On Sunday’ is a snarling, ill-tempered little tune, ‘Run Dusty Run’ is a galloping road song in search of Friday night lights, and ‘Ivory Tower’ slows things down without sacrificing any intensity.
Based on the resurgence of country rock over the last decade and a half, Native Sons is an album worthy of perpetual re-discovery. Its brilliance certainly overshadows nearly everything with a twang that came in its wake…
Listen: I Had A Dream
Listen: Run Dusty Run
Listen: Ivory Tower