The Hollywood Hillbillies: What's Old Is New

LA bands proudly display rock's country roots

Dillard & Clark, circa 1970. Credit: GAB Archive/Redferns/Getty

Los Angeles —

If you can picture all the freaks and gypsies native to this city's "hip" rock and roll scene gathered together on a Hollywood sound stage and forming squares for an old-fashioned hoedown, then perhaps you can begin to grasp a little of what's happening in Los Angeles.

In the past few weeks, nearly half a dozen "country" groups (C&W, country-rock, rockabilly, Memphis blues, pick the label you like) have appeared here and "country" seems to be what's au courant in the pop music scene.

Actually, it shouldn't have surprised anyone when the sound normally associated with Nashville and other points east and south made its presence felt in L.A. A year-end listing of the top C&W record sellers for 1968 showed Glen Campbell, Merle Haggard and Buck Owens in the top three positions, and all three record in Hollywood.

Others who live or record in L.A. include Roger Miller, Jerry Wallace, Tex Williams, John Hartford, the Everly Brothers, Rex Allen, Molly Bee, Johnny Bond, Wynn Stewart and, until recently, Johnny Cash. Plus ... there are two 24-hour country radio stations, RCA Victor and Capitol (two of the largest producers of C&W music on disc), several country music clubs, two country music publishers (Central Songs and Blue Book) and the influential Academy of County & Western Music all are located here, all of which may be a natural outgrowth of the Okie invasion of Southern California that started nearly forty years ago and hasn't stopped yet.

It was perhaps logical, then, when many established pop acts (from Dylan to the Monkees) went to Nashville to record, some of the new talent would follow the musical trend, but stay in Hollywood, where country music was not as alien as most thought. Thus four of the most talked-about groups in L.A. all recognize rock's country roots. They are, in no particular order, Pogo, Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and Dillard-Clark and the Expedition. Still another new group, formed by David Crosby, Steve Stills and Graham Nash, begins recording in Los Angeles February 8.

Although Crosby, Stills & Nash (that's what they're calling the group) couldn't be described fairly as C&W, there definitely will be a country sound involved, and it is this new "super-group" that has attracted so much interest in recent weeks, rather than any of the newer bands.

The way was cleared for this alliance to record last week when Nash, formerly with the Hollies, was released from his Columbia contract in a trade deal with Atlantic, who released former Buffalo Springfield Richie Furay to Epic which is owned by Columbia. Stills already had been under contract to Atlantic and Crosby had been free. So ... Crosby, Stills & Nash will record for Ahmet Ertegun.

According to inside sources, the agreement finally reached "an exceptional six-figure deal."

The band goes into Wally Heider's Studio Three in Los Angeles to record a double-LP set, two sides of acoustical material, two sides of electrical music. Those recording with them will include Harvey Brooks, formerly of the Electric Flag, on bass; Paul Harris, also ex-Flag, on keyboard; and Dallas Taylor, ex-Clear Light, on drums. Sessions are expected to run 8 weeks.

Dave Geffen is leaving the Ashley Famous Agency to manage this néw group.

Pogo was the first new band to acquire some acclaim, largely because two of the members, Richie Furay and Jim Messina, are former Buffalo Springfield, and the Springfield (not too far removed from C&W) had a large local following.

Pogo is perhaps the most commercial of the four indigenous L.A. C&W bands (with Delaney, and Bonnie running a close second), combining, as did the Springfield, much of the country-blues vocal sound with a tight rock and roll beat. But whereas the Springfield leaned more toward rock, Pogo is aimed at C&W. In part, this is because the band features Rusty Young on pedal steel guitar, which serves as the band's lead instrument. Young also contributes a second voice, to Furay's lead.

Others in the band are Randy Meisner, a Nebraska boy who plays bass and sings most of the songs demanding the highest range, and George Grantham, a native of Oklahoma on drums. Furay plays rhythm guitar and writes all the group's material, most of which is exceptional. Messina is the band's producer, plays semi-lead, rhythm guitar and provides an additional backup voice.

Pogo recently signed with Epic--following gigs at the Troubadour here and the Fillmore in San Francisco--and is currently cutting an album. Pogo's music is exciting and fun.

Delaney and Bonnie and Friends is a seven-man-one-woman "Rhythm and Country Blues" group with an album a ready cut for Stax-Volt, a second LP upcoming from Elektra, the label they signed with last week. (However, the band will be on the Apple label in England.) The first album, as yet unreleased, has the Stax-Volt sound. Delaney and Bonnie, who are husband and wife, were deep into blues in this period—the album was cut a year ago—and Bonnie sounds (there's no other way to say it) Gospel-black. Headlining at the Whiskey a Go Go last week, there was was more of a country sound.

Others in the band are Leon Russell, from Tulsa, formerly of the Asylum Choir, on lead guitar; Jim Keltner, Tulsa, formerly with the MC-Squared and Gabor Szabo; Carl Radle, also Tulsa, formerly with Colors, on bass; Bobby Whitlock, Memphis, on organ and singing falsetto; Bobby Keys, Lubbock, Texas, on tenor sax; and Ken Lindsey, also from the South, on trumpet and fleugelhorn. Three years ago, Delaney Bramlett, who is from Mississippi, was lead singer of the Shindogs—that duo on Shindig—and his wife, born in Missouri, is reputed to be the only white singer who has ever toured with the Ikettes. The band is also the only white group ever to have been signed by StaxVolt.

The third new group, Dillard-Clark and the Expedition, also has two lead singers, Gene Clark, formerly of the Byrds, and Douglas Dillard of the Dillards. They have their roots in bluegrass and C&W and cme from an area noted for root music, Missouri. "We are doing mixtures of all the things we've picked up in our travels through the years," says Dillard. "Much of the music we've written for the album (on A&M) sounds like bluegrass—but also has elements of jazz mixed with it. It's really not traditional, yet it has the traditional sound and the traditional-type harmonies. We now use all electric instruments, but still all solid country with a lot of vocals, sometimes four-part."

The Expedition part of the band includes another ex-Byrd, Michael Clarke on drums; Dave Jackson, formerly with the Good Time Singers, New Christy Minstrels and Hearts & Flowers, on bass; and Bernie Leadon, another ex-Heart & Flower, on guitar. Their first album has been released and currently they are cutting an old Elvis Presley hit, "Don't Be Cruel," as their next single.

The fourth group, and perhaps the flashiest--at least so far as appearance is concerned -- is the Flying Burrito Brothers. Led by Chris Hillman, still another ex-Byrd, and Gram Parsons, formerly of the International Submarine Band and the Byrds, this group has been dressed by Nudie, a Hollywood-based Western costumer who drives a Cadillac with a Continental kit that features pistols and rifles mounted on the fenders and trunk, a saddle embedded with silver dollars between the bucket seats. Parsons' white linen suit is covered with sequined marijuana plants and poppies; Hillman's white suit has a red-sequined sunburst on the back.

There are three others in the band--someone called Sneaky Pete who plays steel guitar; Chris Ethridge, who has played with Johnny Rivers and Judy Collins, on bass; and a drummer who hasn't been decided upon. The sound is country, but not especially exciting. Headlining a Saturday night party at A&M, for whom they record, the only number that roused the 300-odd who were there was a reprise of an Everly Brothers hit, "Wake Up Little Susie."

Nonetheless, the Burritos are soon leaving for England to join the Rolling Stones on a European tour beginning in March. They will remain in London to cut their second album with Keith Richards producing. The Burritos were scheduled to visit England two months ago to appear on the Stones' TV special, but had to cancel when they were refused work permits.

It was also for this group that A&M threw its hoedown and the best thing about that evening was the square dancing. An unidentified local C&W band, complete with a caller in a Stetson and red neck, roused all the hippie folk there:

Now, number four you
Rip and snort
Head for the middle
And cut it short

As half a hundred longhaired folk laughed and bowed to their corners and then to their partners, joined hands and ripped and snorted again.

When you get an invitation to a record company press party, and a half a pound of straw falls out of the envelope, you begin to think something's happening after all.