Hearts & Flowers: Country Rock

Back when I did the daily commute to Baltimore and my car radio had better reception, I used to enjoy a great community radio station that shares programming with its owner, WXPN, the Philadelphia radio station known for its “World Cafe” program, and yet operates out of a high school from just across the Chesapeake Bay.  You would think a signal of 17,500 watts would reach folks in Silver Spring, but sadly that’s not the case.

I remember phoning the late, great Charlie Coleman from the road, after I’d stumbled upon Worton, Maryland’s WKHS FM, to tell him how much I enjoyed his show, and Charlie asking me right off the bat if I was a fan of “country rock” — the first time I had ever stopped to consider that term.

Front & rear cover – 1967 LP Now Is the Time for Hearts and Flowers

I have since renewed my appreciation for 1995 retrospective, Legends of Country Rock, Volume 5 of Rhino’s “Hillbilly Fever!” series. Besides the opening track, 1967’s International Submarine Band’s “Luxury Liner” (written by Gram Parsons and released on Lee Hazlewood‘s LHI label), I am also taken with a song – “Rock and Roll Gypsies” by trailblazing Los Angeles country rockers, The Hearts and Flowers – that is almost tied for earliest recording on this CD compilation (i.e., “Grizzly Bear” – an RCA single by The Youngbloods, released in December of 1966, whose A-side would be misspelled on the rear cover of 1967’s The Youngbloods album):

“Rock and Roll Gypsies”      Hearts and Flowers      Recorded Dec. 20, 1966

Larry Murray:  Vocal & Guitar
Rick Cunha:  Guitar & Backing Vocal
Dave Dawson:  Autoharp & Backing Vocalr
Bernie Leadon:  Guitar
John Forsha:  Guitar
Ray Pohlman:  Bass
Toxey Sewell:  Drums
Joe Porcaro:  Percussion
Jimmy Bond:  Arranger
Nik Venet:  Producer

Grammar police strike again – Rear Cover of 1967’s Youngbloods LP

Rich Kienzle, in his liner notes for Legends of Country Rock, as you would expect, delivers on the history:

The mid-’60s L.A. band Hearts and Flowers featured songwriter Larry Murray and future Burrito Brother and Eagles charter member Bernie Leadon.  This group, all but forgotten today, exemplified the talented if commercially unsuccessful country-rock pioneers.  Their harmonies were far more bluegrass than folk, not diluted in any way to grab a pop audience.  The use of mandolin on a pop record was unusual, as was the use of autoharp, the push-button instrument played by Mother Maybelle Carter.  Aside from the Hearts & Flowers, only The Lovin’ Spoonful‘s John Sebastian used one.

Their producer Nik Venet, who’d worked with Lou Rawls, Bobby Darin, and The Beach Boys, hoped the group could fuse country music with politically liberal themes.  “Larry Murray was really a country boy,” Venet recalls. “He wanted to be a country artist-writer.”   “Rock and Roll Gypsies,” from their 1967 debut album, Now Is the Time for Hearts and Flowers, sold well regionally but didn’t break out nationally.  The chaotic sound effects at the song’s end, says Venet, were real.  Armed with a portable monaural recorder, Venet went up to Sunset Boulevard and recorded the sounds of an actual 1966 hippies-versus-LAPD riot near a rock club called Pandora’s Box.  The group made two albums for Capitol before disbanding.

Look what turned up in Popsike – this promotional 45 insert – when I searched for auction sales related to Hearts and Flowers:

For your eyes only:  $50 at auction

“Rock & Roll Gyspies”.  This is a hit!  This is a hit!  This is a hit!  The song, although written some time ago, is strangely applicable to the happenings on the many ‘Sunset Strips’ across the nation today.  On the ending repeat of the song, actual crowd sounds are used from recent Sunset Strip riots in Los Angeles.  The Hearts & Flowers, a very popular group from Los Angeles, was being very heavily bid on by many of the major labels based there.  Their vocal sound is a unique combination of rock, folk and country, and they utilize strange old instruments, such as the autoharp and dobro in creating new Top 40 instrumental sounds.  ‘Road to Nowhere’ is an exceptionally strong back-up side for the debut disc of a group that is definitely going to happen!

Historical note:  Release Date indicated above (January 16, 1966) must be a typo if the song was recorded, as Rhino asserts, near the end of December in 1966.

Recordings mostly distributed in US, UK & Canada – except one Dutch picture sleeve

Remember 4 Track Stereo Tape Cartridges?

This is the 8th Zero to 180 piece tagged as Country Rock