Sweetheart Of The Rodeo by The Byrds

1968

Owning a record used to bestow instant credibility. I’ve written before about “Shooting At The Moon” allowed me to host a drug party in Tunbridge Wells. In addition, the trust involved in loaning someone an album was an indication of how deep your friendship was. My friend Alex and I were always swapping albums. In fact, I borrowed “Deja Vu” and “Pet Sounds” so often that he gave them to me, buying new copies for himself. He was a deeply generous man and a true friend. I miss him.

Talking of hosting a drug party, Bob was the man to go to if you needed some dope at Royal Holloway College. In all the time I knew him, he never offered me anything, clearly recognising my “straightness”. He studied Maths and we often sat together in lectures. There was one course which had one session which started at 2:00 and ended at 3:00. It was rare to have an afternoon lecture. One day, as Bob and I copied the meaningless collection of mathematical squiggles from the blackboard while the lecturer droned on, we both kept looking at our watch. Sometimes, the class ended 5 or 10 minutes early but not today. Finally, we could hear the College clock strike three times and still Dr X was talking. Finally, it was too much for Bob, who shouted out in his broad Brummie accent, “It’s three o’clock”. “What?” “It’s three o’clock”. Never has anyone been more popular than Bob on that day. Very often, if you’re near me at three o’clock, you’ll be able to hear my attempt at a Birmingham accent, calling out the time.

Bob also had excellent musical taste. He once loaned me an EP with “Philosophy” by Them on it and he was disappointed when I was not overly enthused by it. Once, Bob loaned Paul a record which he returned, saying that he didn’t really like a saxophone on a song. Later, Bob complained to me, “I don’t understand how you can dismiss a whole instrument”. I once loaned him “Greetings From L.A.” By Tim Buckley which is brilliant and also quite sexually explicit. Not that I understood any of the references. A few days later, going into the Union Bar, I was stopped by a scary looking student with ridiculously long hair; he was a striking looking guy and well known as a “druggy”. He had been in Bob’s room, listening to my Tim Buckley album, and he wanted to discuss it with me. I muttered at him and walked away to buy my 12p pint of bitter.

Bob once told me off for not handling his albums properly, saying that when he got them back, there were fingerprints all over them. He was right – I was careless in that regard. I said that maybe we shouldn’t swap in the future. Nobody had ever told me off like that before. He was great – he said, no, but please could I be more careful in the future. It was a great lesson in how to criticise what I’d done and not who I was.

In 1974, I found an advert in Zigzag from someone selling bootleg albums. I bought a great live Van Morrison concert and The Basement Tapes by Bob Dylan. I loaned the latter to someone at College called Ted. He was Welsh but I can’t remember anything else about him. I had carefully written out the track listing on a piece of paper and had used a stopwatch to find out how long each song lasted. When he returned the album, he had kindly added an extra track listing at the end. “Mick turns poufder 7:43”. I guess this was his way of thanking me. All I could think of was his spelling mistake.

Two of the songs on the Bob Dylan bootleg are “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” and “Nothing Was Delivered”. These are the first and last songs on “Sweetheart Of The Rodeo.” The Byrds covered lots of Bob Dylan songs even though, as Roger McGuinn admitted, he had no idea what they were about. These two songs were unknown at the time.

By early 1968, the only surviving members of the original Byrds lineup were Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman. With a new recording contract recently signed, it was important for them to recruit some new members. Chris Hillman bumped into Gram Parsons in a bank in Los Angeles. Chris Hillman knew of Gram Parsons’ previous band, The International Submarine Band and invited him to an audition during which his country credentials were clear. Gram Parsons impressed Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman and his enthusiasm for country music persuaded them to change direction and get The Byrds to embrace an entirely new sound.

The Byrds recorded the album in Nashville in March/April 1968 and used some of the best local musicians to provide them with an authentic country sound and feel. Lloyd Green and JayDee Maness played pedal steel guitar. Clarence White played electric guitar and later joined The Byrds as a full time member. John Hartford played banjo, fiddle and acoustic guitar. Roy Huskey played double bass. Earl P. Ball and Barry Goldberg played piano. Gram Parsons sung lead vocals on most of the songs but legal action by Lee Hazelwood, the owner of LHI records, threatened legal action because The International Submarine Band were still under contract. This meant that three of the songs had to be re-recorded with Roger McGuinn on lead vocals and two of the songs had to be left off the album.

One of the best songs on the album is “The Christian Life”, written by Charles and Ira Louvin. (The Louvin Brothers were a big influence on The Everly Brothers who, in turn, were a big influence on The Beatles. Without The Louvin Brothers, Western culture would look a lot different. I digress.) Roger McGuinn admits that his vocals on this song make it sound sarcastic. Gram Parsons’ original vocals (included on a bonus disc) were much more genuine and when he sang “Others take pleasure in things I despise/I like the Christian life“, its utterly believable that he worships The Lord.

“You Don’t Miss Your Water” was written by William Bell (who had a hit with Judy Clay in 1968 with “Private Number”). It’s a magnificent song about how an unfaithful lover regrets his past behaviour. “When you left me. Oh how I cried. You don’t miss your water until your well runs dry.” The song has also been covered by Jerry Lee Lewis, Otis Redding, Peter Tosh and the Wailers and, surprisingly, Brian Eno. The pedal steel playing on the song by JayDee Maness on The Byrds’ version is outstanding.

Gram Parsons recorded “Hickory Wind” on his magnificent album, “Grievous Angel.” It was co written by Gram Parsons and Bob Buchanan, who was also in The International Submarine Band. In this beautiful song, he reflects on his life as a child, climbing oak trees and how, as an older person, he finds that fame and fortune don’t bring him fulfilment.

The fallout from the album was intense. Country music was not accepted by a rock audience in 1968 and country fans were not willing to accept that a long haired rock group from Los Angeles could make music that was acceptable to them. The Byrds had been a very successful singles and album group up until this point but no singles were released and the album only reached Number 77. Within a few months, Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman had left to form The Flying Burrito Brothers and Clarence White had forced drummer Kevin Kelley out of the band.

I have a “Legacy” CD of this remarkable album with 28 extra tracks on it along with a really informative booklet. If you’d like to borrow it, just let me know.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

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