The new line up of The Byrds consisted as Roger McGuinn (guitar/vocals), Chris Hillman (bass), Kevin Kelley (drums) and Gram Parsons for piano/guitar. Parsons soon became involved and was more than just a sideman. His love of Country music took over causing McGuinn and the rest of the band to decide to do a Country Rock album. The band hired session musicians and went to Nashville, Tennessee to record tracks for Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. It should also be noted that despite doing a full length Country Rock album, The Byrds had flirted with Country on their previous albums prior to this. After recording in Nashville, the band recorded some tracks and did overdubs over in Los Angeles. Sweetheart Of The Rodeo featured mostly cover songs and reworkings of traditional Country and Folk songs. Several songs were written and sung by Gram Parsons as well. There are two Bob Dylan songs that were covered for this album. The Byrds were no strangers to covering Bob Dylan songs. They covered numerous Bob Dylan songs throughout their career. But the album’s opening track “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” is perhaps as some Byrds fans see it, their best Bob Dylan cover.
“You Ain’t Going Nowhere” wasn’t even released officially by Bob Dylan at the time when The Byrds recorded and released it. Bob Dylan would release the Basement Tapes with members of The Band in 1975 featuring a version of this song and his own different version of the song was released on Greatest Hits Volume II in 1971. The band’s versions of “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” and “Nothing Was Delivered” offer something different with each track. “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” is an authentic Country Rock version of this song and “Nothing Was Delivered” also features that Country flavour, but also the harmonious vocal style that The Byrds were known for. The band reworked traditional songs such as “I Am a Pilgrim” popularized by Merle Travis, “The Christian Life”, “Pretty Boy Floyd” originally by Woody Guthrie, “Life In Prison” by Merle Travis, Luke McDaniel’s “You’re Still On My Mind”, William Bell’s “You Don’t Miss Your Water”, and “The Blue Canadian Rockies” written by Cindy Walker, but sung by Gene Autry. “One Hundred Years From Now” and “Hickory Wind” were Parsons originals.
Tensions in the band were tumultuous during this period in their career. Gram Parsons was becoming a conflict with the other Byrds and during a short brief European tour in 1968, he connected with The Rolling Stones. The Byrds planned a tour in South Africa as well, which would be part of the reason that Parsons would leave the group. The other reason was that due to legal reasons three of the songs that Gram Parsons recorded vocals for on Sweetheart Of The Rodeo (“You Don’t Miss Your Water”, “The Christian Life” and “One Hundred Years From Now”) had to be replaced. The vocals were re-recorded with Roger McGuinn, the de facto leader of the group on vocals. This only added to the tension between the band members, since Parsons would be upset over him getting less of a presence on Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. It wouldn’t be long before Parsons would leave the group, in fact he left the group before the album was even released. He would go on to work with The Rolling Stones and shortly after Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, Chris Hillman left the group and formed The Flying Burrito Brothers with Parsons.
Sweetheart Of The Rodeo was released in August of 1968, and received a mixed reception upon its initial release. Country music fans absolutely hated the album and bashed it, calling The Byrds “long-haired hippies” who were trying to subvert Country music. There was evidence of this when after completing sessions for Sweetheart Of The Rodeo in Nashville in 1968 they made an appearance at the Grand Ole Opry. The performance was met with heckling, booing and negative reactions. Some Byrds fans even disliked it too, but it was a unique release. It was one of the first releases by a popular band to be a radical shift from their established sound. The album brought Gram Parsons to the mainstream audience and is considered one of the first Country Rock albums to be released. Gram Parsons released an album entitled Safe At Home with an earlier band of his called International Submarine Band that is often considered the first Country Rock album.
This album is an important lineage in the exposing of Country music as a fashionable form of music for a younger audience. It was viewed as quite the opposite by many at the time. Sweetheart Of The Rodeo is now considered an album ahead of it’s time, but was a pretty bold thing to do in the late 60s. While this incarnation of The Byrds lasted barely six months, it is a fascinating time in not only The Byrds history, but also in the career of Gram Parsons. It is also said to be one of the first examples of the future of Country Rock music. The song titles “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” and “Nothing Was Delivered” went on to have deeper meanings following the release of this album. Many people at the time felt that there was “nothing” really that great about this album, but it wound up to become the last highly influential album released by The Byrds.
This Week's Play List:
1. Fuzz – Loose Sutures
2. Midnight Angels - I'm Sufferin'
3 The Neurons – New Location
4. Peace – Your Hand In Mine
5. Jay Arner – Bad Friend 2
6. Barren Girls – She Devil
7. The Future Primitives – 1-2-5 (The Haunted Cover)
8. The Future Primitives – The Fly (The Mummies Cover)
9. No Bunny – Chuck Berry Holiday (Live At Third Man)
10. The Mandates – Is She Coming Back?
11. Cold Warps – Don’t Haunt Me Ok?
12. Paul Jacobs – Broken Pencils
13. Cold Country – Missing The Muse
14. The Replacements – Portland
15. The Byrds – You’re Still On My Mind
16. The Byrds – You Ain’t Going Nowhere
17. The Reply – Give What You Can
18. Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Tiny Steps
19. Magazine – Boredom (Peel Session)
20. Spy Device – You Can’t Work It Out
21. The Undertones – Smarter Than You
22. Radio Birdman – Anglo Girl Desire
23. The Stooges - Down On The Street
To download this weeks program, visit CJAM's schedule page for Revolution Rock and download the file for July 23. Or subscribe to Revolution Rock as a Podcast.