“I would walk all the way from Boulder to Birmingham/If I thought I could see, I could see your face.” – Emmylou Harris
The year 1975 is notable for many things, including significant albums by Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, Patti Smith, Janis Ian, Paul Simon, and Fleetwood Mac. However, one 40th anniversary has not been given the regard it is due: that year also marked the emergence of Emmylou Harris and the Hot Band. They bookended 1975 with two outstanding albums.
So, to mark that occasion, this week my column features photos of Emmylou Harris, the undisputed Queen of Americana.
While Harris first met her frequent musical partner, Rodney Crowell, in 1974 when she was forming her band and looking for younger, off-the-beaten-path songwriters, she was already well-versed and steeped in the music. She opened for Townes Van Zandt at a Greenwich Village club in 1968 and later came to the attention of Gram Parsons. He was so taken with her that not only did she record both his post-Burrito albums with him, but she also received co-billing.
Harris was there at the beginning of this then-new musical movement and, while it may not have been recognized at the time, she was at the head of its vanguard. Her albums were an invigorating blend of the new melting pot that was emerging at the time alongside traditional country. She single-handedly returned the Louvin Brothers to the public consciousness and recorded with everyone from Bill Monroe to Bob Dylan. She also championed relative unknown artists such as Lucinda Williams, Gillian Welch, and the McGarrigle sisters. Along the way, she picked up 13 Grammys, three CMA awards, and numerous Americana awards.
Nor was Harris averse to taking risks. In 1994, when it seemed she had reached a plateau, her producer asked her if she could do anything and work with anyone, what/who would it be. Her answer resulted in 1995’s Wrecking Ball. Her reputation is burnished by the fact that, through it all, she has retained her integrity, both personally and musically. As was true of Tony Bennett and Johnny Cash, fashions in music came and went, and Emmylou Harris stayed the course and remained true to the music.
Dedicating this week’s column to Harris is also personal, as I first heard her in 1970, when she did a live set with David Bromberg on New York’s WBAI radio station. I was not able to actually see her until July 4, 1975, when she and the Hot Band performed at an amusement park in rural West Virginia, as they were barnstorming the country in support of the first Reprise album, Pieces of the Sky. I have seen her numerous times since, most recently a week ago when she and Crowell concluded their tour in support of their most recent collaborative album, this year’s The Traveling Kind.
In short, Emmylou Harris is in a class by herself. We have been very fortunate to have, in part, shared her journey.