Merced, California – May, 1971 – September, 1972
I’m not sure how my wife and I came into what would be her first and my second country era. When I entered the United States Air Force in October of 1968 things were going along smoothly. Woodstock hadn’t hit yet and – while the music was changing – not drastically so.
We were both pretty happy with “Abbey Road” while stationed in a then much more laid back and sleepy town of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Janet loved 1969’s “Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum – a song which Norman in no way intended to be a Christian anthem – Says he just needed it to “be about something”.
Greenbaum had earlier released the zany “The Eggplant That Ate Chicago” along with Jack Carrington, Evan Engbar and Bonnie Zee Wallace in 1966 recording as “Dr. West’s Medicine Show and Junk Band”.
Greenbaum would later join Jim Kweskin’s Jug Band under the name Bruno Wolfe – a band which was a nice fit for him. But we get side tracked.
So it was off to Viet Nam in October of 1970 by which time the music was definitely taking a turn for directions not yet clear to me. A year in Phan Rang AFB didn’t provide a lot of exposure to the current music scene. The base did have a library and was stocked with commercial reel-to-reel tapes and I remember listening to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (or maybe it was sans Young at that time).
So the year came and went and it was back home – this time landing in Merced, California in the San Joaquin Valley now equipped with my new reel-to-reel recorder acquired duty free while ‘in-country’. So not being compensated enough by Uncle Sam to pursue vinyl – I changed directions spending hours in our small apartment rental tuning into FM stations – those who’s DJs wouldn’t interrupt the music with jibber jabber into the track or at the fade out.
I was struck by how things had dramatically changed. Coming over the airwaves was an endless string of sweetened and not too exciting sounds which reflected the latest “thing” – the “Singer-Songwriter”.
James Taylor, Carly Simon, Joni Mitchell, Brits Elton John and Cat Stevens, joined by some faces from the not-too-distant past – Carol King (Queen of em all), Paul Anka, even Neil Sedaka for gosh sakes! – Probably all inspired by the shenanigans of the Beatles and the lead taken by George Harrison and John Lennon out on their own without a group behind them.
And there was something else that was permeating the airwaves…… Poco, a group anchored by long-time Coloradoans Rusty Young and George Grantham and future resident Ritchie Furay. The Byrds and Poco led the way for others to explore strongly country influenced sounds during those early years of the 1970s.
So I suppose I was just a bit stymied on where to turn for my musical cravings when we returned to Colorado after my discharge in September, 1972 moving into the eastern suburb of Aurora. And while I was not one hundred percent locked into the country, I started listening – and then began resuming my pursuit of 45 recordings.
Was captivated by Charley Pride in particular – Maybe it was the motion picture based on the novel by Colorado native Ken Kesey who earlier wrote the classic “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” that got me going – The film featured a tune composed by Marilyn and Alan Bergman titled “All His Children”. That got me going on Charley Pride and I went back a year or so in time and located a copy of “Is Anybody Going to San Antone” from 1971 and then “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin'” from that same year.
The dyke was broken and so I embarked on listening to the current country hits, purchasing many of them, and once that was underway it was only natural that I would jump back into the past combing the few used record outlets around Denver at the time for country gold.
Tammy Wynette was right up toward the top and George Jones to a lesser extent. Got real weepy over Tex Ritter’s 1967 B side hit “Just Beyond the Moon”. That plunged me back into my past obsession with all things Johnny Cash. This was followed by Johnny Rodriguez, Bobby Bare (and son), Tom T. Hall, Tommy Cash, Tanya Tucker and even Hank Williams Jr. Don Williams from the Poco Seco Singers couldn’t miss and on and on it went!
My collection already contained all his Sun recordings and many of his very early Columbia tracks – and Janet had curiously latched onto a copy of “Ring of Fire” in 1963 while a junior in Catholic High School. “Sunday Morning Coming Down”, “Ira Hayes”, “It Ain’t Me Babe”, “The One on the Right Is On the Left”, “Rosanna’s Goin’ Wild”, “See Ruby Fall” and “What is Truth” all ranked up very high for me.
I became more thankful that I had been able to attend a Johnny Cash concert back while stationed in Albuquerque in 1969 – a show that co-featured his wife June, The Statler Brothers and Carl Perkins!
I have to say that paralleling my new founded obsession with country music in the early -to-mid 1970’s I was also diving in to many of the R&B/Soulful groups of the day such as The Ohio Players (“Love Roller Coaster” 1975), Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes (“If You Don’t Know Me By Now” 1972 & “The Love I Lost” 1973). This in turn permitted me to swing back a couple of years and fill in my collection for a couple of groups I had taped extensively in Merced – specifically The Chi Lites and the Stylistics.
So my second country run was – now looking back – the most satisfying of the three stages I went through – The next would come nearly two decades later when Country exploded into the mainstream – spurred on by an unanticipated source – my teenage daughter who went country in a big way!