The Side One Tribute to Sweetheart of the Rodeo
Barring any storm, fire, earthquake, malaria outbreak, tooth impaction, gall bladder attack, transit strike, fall, cut, bruise, forgetfulness, or worse, by the time you read this I’ll likely have had the pleasure of attending the Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman reunion concert, backed by Marty Stuart and The Fabulous Superlatives. It is the 50th anniversary of The Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo, one of several albums of the 1960s that assisted with the infusion of country music into the minds of baby boomer rockers and several generations thereafter. The month happens to coincide with another anniversary of sorts: Gram Parsons, who with the help of Chris Hillman brought the concept for the album to the band in 1968, passed away on Sept. 19, 1973.
I could easily cut, paste, and re-juggle the incredibly large volume of words already written about this album (the Wikipedia page is incredibly detailed), but I thought perhaps there might be another way to acknowledge the impact and importance that it has had over time. When Sweetheart was first released, it really didn’t resonate with most music fans of the day, who looked upon the group as the “American Beatles” with their string of jingle-jangle top 40 hit singles. But for those of us city folk who were enchanted with both the cowboy iconography and Nashville honky-tonk instrumentation, it was the game changer.
In a recent interview with Rock Cellar magazine, McGuinn talked to Jeff Slate about the album and tour:
“My wife and I were in an airport in Buenos Aires, waiting to get on a plane,” McGuinn says. “We remembered that it was the 50th anniversary of the album, and we were thinking about Chris Hillman, he’d had a tough year because his house was damaged in the fires in California last year, and Tom (Petty) had died, just after finishing Chris’ album with him, and so I said, ‘Man, let’s do something to cheer up Chris!’
“I think we were doing country music even before Gram was,” McGuinn points out, referring to Gram Parsons, who had just joined the Byrds at the time the band headed for Nashville, and who is often credited as the godfather of the country-rock genre. “He’d been through a Kingston Trio phase, and all the same things I’d been into. He was turned on by Elvis, just like the rest of us. And Elvis was combining country and rhythm and blues anyway, long before any of us. But we’d done ‘Time Between’ and ‘Old John Robertson’ and lots of other songs in that style long before Sweetheart.”
Hillman picks up the story, and gives Gram a little more credit:
“I met Gram, standing in line at the bank. He came over to rehearsal, and he had two great songs — ‘Hickory Wind’ and ‘One Hundred Years From Now’ — and his youthful exuberance, I think, too, gave us a shot in the arm that we really needed. It was good timing. The Sweetheart sessions were fun, because we were down in Nashville and I had a comrade. I had Gram, who loved country music like I loved country music. He understood it, just as I did. So we hit it off immediately, and we had great times during the sessions down there.”
Recently I had an idea to create a tribute to the album by finding some covers and originals and putting them together in a playlist that I could listen to and share with friends. Never got around to that, but it stuck with me. So you might be wondering why only Side One? To be honest, as I started to work on this column I got hungry and went out for pizza. As I walked passed by a theater I impulsively stopped to see a film and then went to a bookstore. When I got home I fed the cat, watched the news, and forgot about my deadline. And going through YouTube looking for the right clips took longer than I anticipated, but abracadabra — a new concept has emerged. The one-sided tribute is now a thing, and trending.
You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere – Counting Crows
I Am A Pilgrim – Johnny Cash, June Carter and Pete Seeger
The Christian Life – The Louvin Brothers
You Don’t Miss Your Water – William Bell
You’re Still On My Mind – Manassas
Pretty Boy Floyd – Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal
Many of my past columns, articles, and essays can be accessed at my own site, therealeasyed.com. I also aggregate news and videos on both Flipboard and Facebook as The Real Easy Ed: Americana and Roots Music Daily. My Twitter handle is @therealeasyed and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.