Sunday, February 24, 2008

My new column for Country Standard Time Magazine


A SPOONFUL OF MUSICAL HISTORY

When I was growing up listening to the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Eagles and the Allman Brothers, I had no idea that this thing we called “Southern Rock” would morph into “Country Rock” and eventually become what we today know as Country Music. But it’s true. If you turn on your radio right now what you’ll hear on the country station has a lot more in common with the Flying Burrito Brothers and Marshall Tucker than it does with Luke the Drifter and the Singing Brakeman.
So, being an amateur musical historian (emphasis on the word “amateur”), I started wondering: who invented country rock? Now that Hank and Jimmie have been displaced, who are the real fathers (or mothers) of modern country music?
I always assumed it was Skynyrd and those aforementioned artists until I discovered Gram Parsons. Parsons died in 1973, but he was so far ahead of his time I’m not sure his time has arrived yet. Even though he called what he did “Cosmic American Music” I was perfectly willing to crown him the creator of modern country music. Even after Dan Fogelberg told me he thought Poco deserved the credit, and after I realized that the Byrds and the Band and Creedence Clearwater Revival might also be considered legitimate contenders for the honor, even after I saw that Wikipedia credited Buffalo Springfield and Gene Clark, I still stuck with Parsons.
Until I heard a song the other day on XM Channel 12, the Americana or Alt-Country station. Usually the stuff they play is pretty cutting-edge, but the other day they played something by the band that I now realize probably deserves the credit for creating country rock – The Lovin’ Spoonful.
That’s right, The Lovin’ Spoonful. I’d never really paid much attention to John Sebastian and the guys. (I was more into Herman’s Hermits and Paul Revere and the Raiders back then.) All I knew about this quartet was the somewhat unsavory story behind the band’s name (also the inspiration behind 10CC and Pearl Jam, more than that I cannot say in a family magazine) and that they did the best song ever about my favorite season “Summer in the City,” along with a few other catchy folksy tunes like “Daydream” and “Do You Believe in Magic”.
What I should have known but didn’t is that in the mid 60’s before anybody else they married country with rock and came up with such great tunes as “Nashville Cats” and “Darling Companion,” (the latter covered by Johnny Cash, among others.) Take a listen to these and understand why I consider them the pioneers of modern country music.
The Spoonful was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. And I am going to crusade for their inclusion in the Country Music Hall of Fame as well.
Unless anyone can prove to me that somebody was doing country-rock before that.
(I did say I was an amateur, remember.)

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

fantastic article! You have an excellent point about the Spoonful. Also Gram...there is a petition to induct Gram into the CMHOF at

www.gramparsonspetition.com

Peggy

Will James said...

This is Will, the guy behind the GP petition Peggy so kindly mentions. No one was a bigger Spoonful fan than I; I believe Gram was still playing folk music only when they were big. While I consider them an incredible band, an americana rock-jugband before there was such a thing, I don't really consider them country or country rock (perhaps a few songs came close). There is no way the Spoonful takes the honor away from the great GP and what he accomplished. As I said in my interview with Sirius Radio, lots of bands were experimenting with "country," but none of them were actually country, as Gram was, from the ISB to the Burritos to his glorious two solo efforts. After all, Merle Haggard was first making it big at this time (who was to produce Gram's first solo until be backed out last minute). Again, I LOVE the Spoonful, but in no way were they the first. If you want to look at that closer, I've always said that the Beatles were about the first; just listen to some of those Buck Owens-inspired songs--they were actually a country rock band in many of their songs. Please help induct Gram at the address Peggy gives. Thanks for listening. Will and the G3P

Norrin2 said...

Thanks Will and Peggy -- for your comments and for pointing me to the GP petition. He absolutely belongs in the Country Music Hall of Fame. (In fact, I'm frankly surprised he's not already in it.) I've signed the petition and will do what I can to get the word out to others.
I wasn't trying to take anything away from Gram, and your point about the Beatles is well taken. I've been looking into the Spoonful a little more lately and of course you're right, they weren't a fulltime country band, they were in fact amazingly, unrelentingly eclectic. I was just surprised to learn that they did experiment with country that early on, and I think they deserve some credit for that. And that's what I was trying to say in the column.

Will said...

And you were totally right. The Spoonful were great! And thanks for the help with G3P!!

Will (and I think I can speak for Peggy)