7/24/17

Bear Family's TRUCKERS, KICKERS, COWBOY ANGELS: The BLISSED-OUT BIRTH of COUNTRY-ROCK 1966-1974 [2014-2015]

It's somewhat of a given that 1966 was a great year in music. Brian Wilson gave us Pet Sounds, future Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan released Blonde On Blonde and the Beatles put out what is generally recognized as the greatest album of all time, Revolver. 1966 was also the year your boy HERC was born and I'm sure other stuff happened but I don't remember it because I wasn't really paying attention to world events at the time. Renowned German label Bear Family made 1966 the starting point for its definitive series of compact discs covering the birth and evolution of country rock, a series they call Truckers, Kickers, Cowboy Angels, paraphrasing a line from the first verse of Gram Parsons's "Return Of The Grievous Angel":
Won't you scratch my itch sweet Annie Rich
And welcome me back to town
Come out on your porch or I'll step into your parlour
And I'll show you how it all went down
Out with the truckers and the kickers and the cowboy angels
And a good saloon in every single town


The music, image and very spirit of Gram Parsons, the designated patron saint of country-rock, loom large over all seven volumes in the series, which ends with two discs covering 1974. Parsons appears on the front cover of each digipack with his trusty black hat hanging on an R.J. Cano truck loaded with bales of hay. The pictures are from a session photographer Barry Feinstein did for Parsons's first solo album, GP, and when you group all seven volumes together on your shelf (in reverse order, 7 to 1, left to right), you get a nifty extended portrait of the picture on Volume 1. The music of Parsons, both solo and in several groups, also appears multiple times on nearly every volume in the series as well. It might as well be credited to Gram Parsons and Friends.
Noted Grammy-winning music historian Colin Escott gets credit for compiling the series as well as writing all the liner notes which are actually small books that are truthfully advertised as being "extensively notated and profusely illustrated". Each disc in the series is also illustrated with cover art from one of the albums with a song featured on that particular volume, as seen below. 
Volume 1 covers 1966-1968 across two discs and 41 songs by not-so-obvious country rockers like Rick Nelson, The Everly Brothers, Lovin' Spoonful and The Monkees. A closer look at the picture above also reveals that Volume 2 is the lone single disc entry in the series, featuring 23 tracks from 1969 including artists not normally licensed for these sort of sets: Linda Ronstadt, Kenny Rogers, Elvis Presley, Glen Campbell and Bob Dylan.
The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Janis Joplin can be found among the 38 tracks on Volume 3 covering 1970 while the surprises continue on Volume 4's 39 songs with Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, and Ry Cooder.
1972 and Volume 5 sees appearances by Dan Fogelberg, J.D. Souther, and Gary & Randy Scruggs among its 37 songs and Volume 6 gathers 46 tracks from 1973 including a pair from Willie Nelson and "Rambin' Man" from the Allman Brothers Band.
Volume 7 wraps up the series in style with 43 songs including tracks from Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams, Jr., The Charlie Daniels Band and the Doobie Brothers.
Of course, all the must-have and seminal country-rock artists are liberally sprinkled throughout the seven volumes including Parsons, the International Submarine Band, Buffalo Springfield, The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Byrds, The Band, Poco, and New Riders Of The Purple Sage. The most obvious acts missing from The Blissed-Out Birth of Country Rock, most likely due to licensing, are Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Marshall Tucker Band, Neil Young, and the Eagles but that problem is solved right quick with a custom playlist. This series deserves a much more in-depth artist by artist and track by track write up than I have given it as it reeks of the utmost quality in song selection, sound quality, liner notes and all elements of the packaging though if I had my druthers, I would have liked to see some other theme used for the cover artwork. I absolutely love this series and was sad to see (hear?) it end after just seven volumes. Country rock has continued on and some fans believe that it lives and thrives under the banner of Americana though I'm not fully convinced. Ideally, I'd have many of these 267 songs on original vintage 45s, loaded in an old jukebox in the corner of The Hideaway, playing as needed to maintain sanity. The playlist being shared today was created by Spotify user Tony Cederqvist back in 2015 and has served my needs nicely when I'm away from my PC's lossless digital music library.

2 comments:

  1. Looks like a great set. I'll keep an eye out for it.

    Americana is something of a catch-all for anything that's a modern spin on a traditional music form (folk, blues, bluegrass, country, etc.); and was developed more as a radio format and marketing tag than to represent a specific sound or style. So while all country rock may be Americana (which I don't think is true, myself), all Americana is not country rock.

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    1. It's rare to see these discs fall below $20 so snatch them up when you can.

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