For a tributary of popular music that has been so critically feted over the years, you’d think the racks would be crammed with country rock “Best Ofs” – as it happens, they’re not, and maybe that has something to do with the fact that the style is not so easy to pigeonhole. It exists with neither a time limit nor a stylistic straitjacket: ‘country rock’ can equally mean 1950s rockabilly or the recent alt country and Americana movements.
However, we’ve titled this compilation “Country & West Coast”, because the generally accepted view is that as a genre, country rock came to be recognized in the southern California of the late 1960s, even if it had in fact existed in different guises beforehand, and thus the West Coast in that era is our geographical and chronological remit. And even though some artists and tracks included on “Country & West Coast” actually derive from other parts of the US, they are all of the same artistic mindset.
Why country rock flowered so strongly in southern California in the mid-to-late 1960s is fairly simple to ascertain: the overriding local influence of Bakersfield country; the foundation provided by Los Angeles-centred folk and folk-rock movements; and the de-centralisation of the country recording industry away from Nashville. But the seeds were sown for the late 1960s country rock renaissance in pop, rock and folk communities all across America during that decade, from Johnny Cash to the Bluethings – and this came in tandem with a growing reaction from many musicians against the excessive direction rock was beginning to take in the later 60s.
Yet, “Country & West Coast” is entertainment rather than education. It’s a one-stop, grab ‘n’ go package of the best late 1960s/early 1970s country rock, and we’ve gone all out to provide the best audio quality on every track - you won’t hear a better sounding compilation. As to the contents: country rock is as much about songs as anything else. Thus we have got classics from the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers and the pen of Gram Parsons (both solo and with the pathfinding International Submarine Band). Eminent country rock songsmiths Gene Clark, Gib Guilbeau and Michael Nesmith are well represented, and the intrinsic bluegrasss/roots element of California country rock comes on strong with the Everly Brothers, the Dillards and the Gosdin Brothers (the latter with a rare unissued cut).
In compiling “Country &West Coast”, we unwittingly but quite happily paid tribute to the behind-the-scenes genius of guitar slinger Clarence White, whose definitive playing appears on a full third of the tracks on the collection, not least Hong Kong Hillbilly, his splendid original recording of the wiry instrumental later known via the Byrds as Nashville West. There are also some gems on “Country & West Coast” that even the seasoned aficionado might have missed - Johnny Darrell’s early cover of Lowell George’s Willin’; the Appalachia-on-acid harmonies of Blackburn & Snow’s Time; the Spencers’ folksy Make Up Your Mind; Linda Ronstadt’s erstwhile backing band the Corvettes and their rare, fabulous single Beware Of Time. The Lovin’ Spoonful, the Youngbloods and former Papa John Philips only made brief forays into country rock, but their contributions, as featured here, are definitive nonetheless.
One thing that “Country & West Coast” doesn’t include are the Eagles and other artists who appropriated the format and turned later country rock into a slick, commercial package, as soulless as it was successful – and something that was the very personification of the plastic Hollywood the Burritos rail against in their highly ironic classic Sin City. In common with most any musical movement, country rock’s most interesting moments arguably occurred during its birth pangs and initial flowering, rather than the trenchant gloss of the 1970s variety. We think we captured some of the best examples on “Country & West Coast”.
By Alec Palao