Merle Kilgore on Starday-King

Former Starday recording artist Merle Kilgore would have an unsuccessful stint at Columbia/Epic in the mid-1960s before rejoining the fold at the newly-expanded Starday-King (the King label having consolidated with Starday upon the death of its founder/owner Syd Nathan in 1968).  Starday historian emeritus Nathan D. Gibson would interview Kilgore for 2011’s superb history, The Starday Story:  The House That Country Built:

He returned to Starday in the late 1960s as Merle Kilgore, “The Boogie King,” and also worked part-time for the label.  He tells the story:

“I went to work for Starday years later [late 60s] for Hal Neely [President of the Starday-King merger].  I was workin’ the Hank [Williams] Jr. roadshow and I was open all week ’cause we worked Fridays and Saturdays and Sundays.  So I went out and just kind of interned, you know.  Producing the records and running the country division for Starday-King.  I was out there for almost two years.  Then they moved me up to where I was director of the country market there.  It was like learning a whole new part of the business that I really hadn’t had the chance to experience.”

1972 would see the release of three 45s while under contract to Starday-King — two singles “The Great Drinking Bout” b/w “Good Rockin’ Tonight” -and- “My Side of Life” b/w “A Different Kind of Pretty” issued on Starday, while one other “Boogie King” b/w “All She Wants to Do is Boogie” issued, curiously, on King:

“Boogie King”      Merle Kilgore     1972

Kilgore’s peripatetic recording career would take him to Imperial, Starday, Mercury, MGM, Columbia, Ashley, Starday-King, Warner Brothers, and Elektra, and yet – as Gibson points out – “Kilgore’s only singles to break the Top 50 in the Billboard charts were on Starday.”

“Big Merle” King 45 engineered by Billy Sherrill

Extra Credit:  Merle Kilgore as Songwriter for Other Artists

Search 45Cat‘s database using the terms “Merle Kilgore” and note the 9 “pages” of 45 releases (25 per page) on which Merle Kilgore has written at least one of the tracks.  Artists who have recorded Merle Kilgore compositions include Webb Pierce, Guy Lombardo, Margie Singleton, Faron Young, Johnny Cash, Eddy Arnold, Claude King, Rex Allen, Hylo Brown, Jack Scott, Lorne Greene, Tommy Roe, Bobby Vinton, Kitty Wells, Billie Jean Horton, Lefty Frizzell, Tillman Franks, Wayne Raney, Tom Tall, Earl Gaines, Kay Starr, Ronnie & the Daytonas, Eric Burdon & the Animals, Leon Ashley, Travis Wammack, Little Jimmy Dempsey, Ray Campi, Anita Carter, June Carter, Carlene Carter, Bucky Allred, Charley Pride, Dwight Yoakam, and Marty Stuart.

Halloween & Horror Alert!

Merle Kilgore once recorded a song “Frankenboogie” under the alias “Frankie Stein” for Starday-King, who would issue the song in 1973 on King as an A-side, with “All She Wants to Do Is Boogie” (borrowed from the 1972 “Boogie King” 45) used for the flip.

Waylon Did Dylan in ’65

How humorous to browse a chronological listing of Waylon Jennings albums starting in 1964 – eleven on RCA by my count, following his debut LP At JD’s – when out of nowhere, A&M suddenly decides to issue its first and only album by Jennings, long after his brief run of singles (1963-65) with the label.  Jenning’s country (folk) rock take on Bob Dylan’s “I Don’t Believe You” — originally recorded January 4, 1965 at Phoenix’s Audio Recorders would enjoy release that year as the B-side for “The Real House of the Rising Sun“:

“I Don’t Believe You”     Waylon Jennings     1965

Is it possible that Jennings’s March 25, 1970 appearance on ABC’s wildly successful Johnny Cash Show is what prompted A&M that same year to make a renewed attempt to cash in on their mid-60s recordings of Waylon?

A-side                               B-side

Jennings’ tenure with A&M amounted to four single releases released between the years 1963-65.  Don’t Think Twice — Waylon’s only LP on A&M — would be issued in the US and UK in 1970, four years into his 20-year run with RCA.

Typo alert

Know Your Product!

Examine the album cover above carefully and note that A&M couldn’t even be bothered to transcribe the song title correctly:  “I Didn’t Believe You”!

The Deep-Bottom Sound of Early Waylon Jennings

Jennings, you might recall (though likely not), was the subject of an early Zero to 180 piece that featured his unusually bass-centric take on Bob Gibson’s “Abilene.”

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

“Hey Truckers”: Cover Your Ears

Thanks to Bill Hanke, I’ve been privileged to witness several live performances by a  Canadian band who – along with Los Straitjackets – have brought blazing guitar instrumentals into the 21st century.  Among musicians-in-the-know, word has gotten out about this musical conflagration, as evidenced by their collaborations with Neko Case, Garth Hudson (of The Band), X’s John Doe, Jon Langford (of The Mekons), Jon Spencer, and Blue Rodeo, et al.  If it weren’t for Bill, in fact, I might have missed this Thursday’s show at DC’s Hill Country BBQ.  Each appearance on this side of the national divide is a cause for celebration – don’t miss out!

I still haven’t mentioned the name of the group yet, have I?  In 1998, this (unnamed) band would collaborate with, of all people, oddball rhythm and blues vocalist, Andre Williams, whose first recordings would date to the mid-1950s and enjoy such colorful (and culinary-themed) titles as “The Greasy Chicken,” “Bacon Fat” (his lone 45 on Columbia imprint, Epic), “Pig Snoots,” and “Rib Tips.”   Pretty cheeky move for an up-and-coming band on its sophomore release, whose kick-off track would be among the most memorable truck-driving tunes yet written.  The suspense is killing you, isn’t it?

Disclaimer:  The following song is a departure from Zero to 180’s usual all-ages policy.  Salty language advisory.

“Hey Truckers”     Andre Williams & The Sadies     1998

Undergirding The Sadies‘ sound is the guitar work of siblings Dallas and Travis Good, for whom music runs in the family:  Father Bruce Good himself is an acclaimed recording artist and part of the (original) Good Brothers, who recorded for Columbia and RCA in the 1970s — and are still recording music well into the new century.

1978 Canadian 45 – not yet available for preview on YouTube

Good Brothers 45Rounding out the sound is drummer, Mike Bilitsky, and bottom-dweller, Sean Dean, whose use of a stand-up bass, notes former Guess Who guitarist, Randy Bachman, “gives an incredible gigantic bottom end sound.”

Revered psychedelic alt-country roots rockers, The Sadies

The Sadies

(L to R)  Sean Dean, Travis Good, Dallas Good, Mike Bilitsky


So, what about those blazing guitar instrumentals that I promised at the top of the piece?  Here’s a great place to start:  “Northumberland West,” the first track from 2004’s Favourite Colours, which Hanke theorizes (and Zero to 180 concurs) is a playful reference to Clarence White and Gene Parson’s pioneering country-rock recordings from 1967 that were recorded at the Nashville West Club in El Monte, California.

“Northumberland West”     The Sadies     2004

Fourteen years hence, Andre Williams and The Sadies would team up once more for a full-length release, 2012’s Night and Day.

 Collaboration #1                                        Collaboration #2

Andre Williams & The Sadies-aAndre Williams & The Sadies-b

The Sadies would be a most inspired choice of musical artist responsible for providing the soundtrack for Tales of the Rat Fink, the documentary on EdBig DaddyRoth, maverick custom designer of muscle cars – “the only uniquely American art form,” as stated at the beginning of the film (if you kindly disregard jazz, blues, hip hop, barbershop, tall tales, superhero comics & patchwork quilts, et al.)

Tales of the Rat FinkLink to The Sadies‘ official website

Red Simpson/David Bowie Tribute

Shame on Zero to 180 for not celebrating Red Simpson‘s musical legacy as a pioneer of the “Bakersfield Sound” until now – after his spirit has already left this mortal plane.

I’m afraid Simpson’s passing might have gotten overlooked in all the media attention given to the unexpected loss of David Bowie.  In a playful nod to both artists, Zero to 180 thought it would be fun to feature Simpson’s last charting hit, “The Flying Saucer Man and the Truck Driver” (#99) from 1979:

“The Flying Saucer Man and the Truck Driver”     Red Simpson     1979

“The Flying Saucer Man and the Truck Driver” would first be released in 1976 on Vancouver label, Portland Records, and then again three years later to much greater commercial acclaim on Nashville-based K.E.Y. Records.

1976 release                                             1979 re-boot

Red Simpson 45-aRed Simpson 45-b

I just saw the trailer for the 2014 documentary, Billy Mize and the Bakersfield Sound, and one key point really hit home:  1960s Nashville-based country was primarily “sit down” music, while the principal aim of the ‘Bakersfield Sound’ was about getting folks to dance.  Red Simpson is one of the principal architects of the Bakersfield Sound – although he does not always get proper recognition in this regard.

Worth noting that (1) Red’s professional songwriting career goes back to the Korean War era, and (2) Simpson did not actually write his biggest hit “I’m a Truck” but did, in fact, write tons of even better tunes — see special Red Simpson feature below.

1966 Capitol debut                                      1966 follow-up LP

Red Simpson LP-aRed Simpson LP-b

Red Simpson tributes from Rolling Stone, CMT, Billboard & The Bakersfield CalifornianRed Simpson’s own website is also a great source for chart and songwriting info.

Red Simpson:  Songwriter

1975 Dutch Compilation LPRed Simpson LP-c

Dieselbilly for the Long Hairs

Somebody [the Commander himself, I would later learn] went to considerable effort to stitch together all these images to tell the story behind Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen‘s “Truck Stop Rock” from 1972’s Hot Licks, Cold Steel & Trucker Favorites album — the least you can do is watch:

“Truck Stop Rock”     Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen     1972

Five of the band members – Billy C. Farlow, “BuffaloBruce Barlow, Andy Stein, Bill Kirchen, and the Commander himself – would get credit for penning this two-minute blast of truckabilly bop from their second album.

Front side                                                     Flip side

TOSHIBA Exif JPEGCommander Cody & LPA's 2nd album-b

Years later, an impressionable yours truly would find himself in the same metropolitan area as Kirchen, who helped inaugurate a series of free summertime public performances, “Silver Spring Swings” – along with Jack O’Dell & Johnny Castle i.e., Too Much Fun.   Kirchen and company would also tear the root off Silver Spring’s Half Moon BBQ [RIP], a shotgun shack of a venue with a teeny little stage and almost certainly the world’s smallest balcony (check out this shot of Dagmar & the Seductones photographed from same).  Kirchen would confer between sets with this young dieselbilly scholar and once even direct him/me to a fairly obscure (and gruesome) truckin’ tragedy by Johnny Bond, 1967’s “Gears” from Starday’s Man Behind the Wheel album.

Starday's 'Man Behind the Wheel' LPKirchen and his trusty Telecaster serve as the world’s ambassadors for the gloriously satisfying deep, twangin’ sound of truck driving country music.  Kirchen himself is to blame for the contagion that directly fueled Zero to 180’s obsession with the whole truckin’ musical subgenre.

2001’s Tied to the Wheel

Bill Kirchen & Too Much FunKirchen would relocate to Austin, Texas in 2011 but return to Montgomery County, Maryland at the end of that year to perform at Germantown’s Black Rock Center for the Arts — shortly after Zero to 180’s third all-truck driving radio show at WKHS (with host, Martin Q. Blank, son of the late, great Charlie Coleman).  After the show, the ‘Dieselbilly Kid’ would get a chance to tell Kirchen directly that his guitar work had graced three of the 50+ songs that were broadcast on WKHS’s airwaves to the good folks in the Chesapeake Bay area on November 11, 2011 (11/11/11, for real):  (1) “Truck Stop Rock” by Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen; (2) “Semi Truck” (recording from 1996 trucker tribute album Rig Rock Deluxe that features Kirchen’s Telecaster paired with a 6-string bass), and (3) this harrowing bit of science fiction from 2001 album Tied to the Wheel, that was written by Cody and Kirchen (backed by Johnny Castle and Jack O’Dell on this track):

“Truck Stop at the End of the World”     Bill Kirchen & Too Much Fun     2001

Good news:  Bill Kirchen is on tour!  Even better news for DC people. Commander Cody will join Kirchen for a set this Saturday – tonight! – at The Birchmere in Alexandria, VA.

Link to previous piece about the performance art troupe – The Galactic Twist Queens – who accompanied Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen during their earliest years in Ann Arbor.

Dagmar & the Seductones @ Silver Spring’s Half Moon BBQ

(Inter) Galactic Twist Queens

One of my mom’s neighbors and good friends was present at the founding of Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen and served as part of an accompanying group of renegade (redundant?) performance artists — agents of history who helped to generate the band’s initial buzz.  Yet, their story remains largely undocumented.

Maggie – Twist Queen Emeritus

Maggie - Twist Queen EmeritusMaggie, my mom’s friend in Ann Arbor, was part of an ensemble irreverently known as The Galactic Twist Queens and gracious enough to share a few memories of her unique contributions to the band’s stage presence:

George [Frayne, a.k.a., ‘Commander Cody’] was working on his Masters in painting at the time of the inception of Commander Cody.  He asked his friends at art school if anyone wanted to be in the band.  Who could resist?  I was one of 3 or 4 ‘Galactic Twist Queens’ one being Pat Oleszko, a performance artist of some renown in NYC.

Unfortunately, the slides are long gone, but what they were was oil and a dab of color squished between two glass slides!  I think we also showed a few home movies of 8-year-olds tap dancing on top of the ‘psycho-dulic’ color slides.

Nobody had much musical talent at the time, but we had fun.  We were asked to open for Canned Heat at the Grande Ballroom on Grand River in Detroit.  George and the musicians were beginning to move in the direction of rockabilly, so most of the performers showed up in cowboy hats, boots and plaid cowboy shirts.  One of the Queens showed up in a pink cowgirl costume,  I wore a dress made out of flag bunting, and Pat, I can’t remember what she wore, but I remember she had a whip!

The audience, stoked on [hemp], ready for Canned Heat, couldn’t quite figure out the rockabilly band,  I think it is safe to say we were ahead of our time!”

Pat Oleszko – Twist Queen who later turned pro

Pat OleszkoFormer Twist Queen and aforementioned performance artist of renown, Pat Oleszko, was kind enough to chime in from the road, having just finished a residency at the Women’s Studies Workshop in Rosendale, New York:

“Boy oh buoy that was a long time ago.  A minor point but it was the Inter-Galactic Twist Queens.  We were community minded you know.

Well, of course the tape, the mess and bluster of the performance, which inspired a full-out brawl at one fraternity house when they realized they had hired some at least temporary anarchists to perform, was not there.  The band was a theater piece which ranged from 7 to 25, and that doesn’t get on tape.  I remember Andy Stein who play[ed] with Guy’s All Star Shoe Band on Garrison Keillor’s show one time on the show, a re-onion of snorts, introducing them as the best live band in the country.  Might i say, candidly, and without attribution, that so many years later, broken up into other musical entities, it was awful.

“One and only posed band photo” – Commander’s house – Plymouth Rd. – Oct. 1968
Chris Frayne (umbrella), Marquis du Soul, Pierre Henri Duvall de la Fontembleu,
and a cast of thousandsCommander Cody's early early years

Andy Stein, long-time fiddler (and blower) for Guy’s All-Star Shoe Band on public radio’s Prairie Home Companion, was also good enough to respond to my query about the early days of the band’s history:

“I don’t remember a Maggie as one of the Twist queens.  But The Intergalactic Twist Queens were not performing with the band that much when I joined in Fall of ‘68.  I think I was first accosted by Cody & [Bill] Kirchen on State Street between Hill & Packard in Fall of ’67 or Spring of ’68.  The Queens, as I understood, were the Green(e) Sisters, Bonnie and Sandy.  Bonnie married a close friend and sometimes bus driver/roadie for the band, Paul Noël.  Sandy first lived with Cody’s brother (deceased) and then Rick Higgenbotham, a long time roadie.  He lives in the D.C. area, as well as Bill [who relocated to Austin, TX in 2011].  Bill and especially John Tichy, who was, as I understand it, the first band leader of the ‘Fantastic Surfing Beavers’ that became CC & his LPA.  Tichy is also a college professor, so maybe his brain is in the best shape of all of us.”

Andy Stein & John Tichy — the early years

Andy Stein and John TichyJohn Tichy, now an “engineering rock star” (i.e., Professor, Mechanical Aerospace and Nuclear Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) would also, thankfully, chime in:

“As to my recollections, George and I were a sort of odd couple – engineering school straight guy and art school beatnik.  I vaguely recall our playing the U-M Dentistry School Ball, dental students and dates in formal wear.  At that time, if engineers were straight, dental students were straighter.  The general idea of course was to “blow their minds,” if you pardon the cliché of the era — mission accomplished.  I was as astounded and surprised as the attendees, who were horrified.  I hope their dental practices did not suffer.  The show also featured Chris Frayne’s dancing happy teeth movies.”

Zero to 180 is fascinated by the uproar caused at the University of Michigan Dentistry School Ball, as it sounds vaguely similar to the scandal stoked by The Velvet Underground (and Gerard Malanga & Edie Sedgwick, in particular, with their improvised ‘whip dance’), who were hired as entertainment for the New York Society for Clinical Psychology’s annual convention in January, 1966.

Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen:  1st concert performance
Canterbury House – Ann Arbor – 1968Commander Cody - Canterbury '68

Most important of all, the good Commander himself – George Frayne – generously offered his singular take on history:

“the GTQs were anne wilson and her friend natalie whatwashernameannyway.  they were augmented by pat oleszko ” the hippe strippie” and a large woman whose name I completely forget who just stood there wrapped in an american flag.  in addition to the dance corps was always a number (aint she sweet) by the tap dancing green sisters sandy and bonnie.  added to this was a 3-5 piece kazoo section, 4-6 guitars and a sax player named hugh.  sometimes there were more people in the band than in the crowd and when we showed up at a frat house none of the ‘brothers’ would show, what with all the long hairs.  we escaped with our lives a couple of times.  we featured my delicate version of ‘Please dont Drop That H bomb on me’ done ala sun ra.  andy stein and bill kirchen joined the band, the music got serious and the GTQs and the whole xtra crew disappeared into history.”

Vintage photo from Rocky 52’s definitive CC & LPA discography

Commander CodyInteresting, too, how there seems to be more information on the web in just the year or so since I first started pulling this piece together.  For instance, Ed Ward‘s interview with Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen from the April 16, 1970 edition of Rolling Stone now comes up when you search “Galactic Twist Queens” and includes a few choice paragraphs about the band’s free-form Ann Arbor days, particularly this one:

“Slowly, a cult began to grow around the band.  Their appearances became marked by all sorts of bizarre occurrences.  For instance, there were the Galactic Twist Queens.  First two of them, then seven, then ten, then twelve of them — weird females who would dance while the band played.  There was Teenie Chiffon, an ex-Who groupie who is now the [?] in an American flag and do jumping jacks or get on the ground and do the breast stroke; and an aggregation called the Fabulous Greene Sisters Tapdancing Act.”

Also online now is the publishing history of the Kingman Daily Miner and its weekly companion publication, Laughlin, Nevada Entertainer, whose arts write-up used to promote a 1995 riverboat casino cruise with Commander Cody would include the following bit of band history:

“It was in that year [1967], Frayne and his pal John Tic(h)y, a PhD candidate at the University of Michigan, put together an offbeat rock band that was characterized as a ‘happening’ rather than anything else.  Taking their name from the Commander Cody film character of the early ’50s and with special guests, the ‘Tap Dancing Green(e) Sisters,’ ‘Pat the Hippie Strippie’ and the ‘Galactic Twist Queens,’ Frayne and the boys were toying with the music side of things and relishing in the carnival side.  But the group became serious about their music when Frayne realized he didn’t fit in the ‘actual job situation’ of becoming an assistant professor of art.”

CC & LPA:  2nd group from Berkeley to have a successful rock music career after Country Joe & the Fish — outside Cody’s Bookstore – July 4, 1969

Commander Cody - early years

Cody and His Airmen would, indeed, get serious about their music:  “This band,” Ed Ward writes at the top of his 1970 Rolling Stone piece, “wants to do for country music what [Paul] Butterfield did for the blues.”

Important to point out – especially to any youngsters reading this piece – the bravery involved in the band’s embrace of the ‘country’ side of rock ‘n’ roll’s roots before it was respectable, long before Willie Nelson and his brethren helped forge a brotherhood between the “hippies” and the “rednecks” (to paraphrase from Jan Reid’s The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock from 1974).  It is not an exaggeration to say that one risked derision and even violence for playing “country roots” music at that time, as attests London’s noted counterculture publication, The International Times, who would document the early Lost Planet Airmen era and reference the (Inter) Galactic Twist Queens in this piece from 1973:

“Bit by bit the first Commander Cody band came together, with strange outriders and musicians, like the ‘West Virginia Creeper’ who played Pedal Steel and a troupe of women calling themselves the Galactic Twist Queens who would show up to up to writhe around the stage and a terrible singer called the Marquis De Soul and a drummer with a pronounced taste for Jazz and Soul.  It was the frothy mad times of 1967, there was a lot of Ozone about.  John Sinclair was a preaching the gospel of revolution, the Guitar Army thing was a gathering, the MC5 were hovering and about to land.  The promoters in the big halls around Detroit weren’t keen on bands who kept playing for free, and the audiences wanted the psychedelic drone at full volume.  The appearance of a band that played country music as well as rock and roll was greeted with hoots of outrage.  The fifties were still too close and the reaction against ‘greasy kids stuff’ was strong.”

Bill Kirchen & the Seventh Seal – 1967

Bill Kirchen & Seventh Seal - 1967, manGuitarist Bill Kirchen would leave Ann Arbor’s respected “rock and raga” ensemble The Seventh Seal in 1967 to help form Commander Cody with Frayne and Tichy.  This excerpt from an Ann Arbor News review of the ‘infamous’ 1967 “love in” at Belle Isle does an effective job of conveying the heavy musical vibes in force in Detroit and its environs, as it describes the sounds that went down at The Seventh Seal’s earlier free live shows in Ann Arbor:

Seventh Seal at West Park – photo that accompanied article excerpted below

Bill Kirchen & Seventh Seal - West Park 67“Based on ragas, the standard form of music in India, modal and dorian scales interlaced with blues and contemporary rock and roll, the music wafts from the West Park band shell with an icy chill of glittering waters sluicing from chasms in the Himalayas.  Six speakers aid in pouring out the concoction with a flexibility that allows the group to infuse ‘My Favorite Thing(s),’ a pop number from the score of The Sound of Music, with a reedy resonance, then turn on an old English ballad, ‘The Jack of Diamonds,’ with Bill Kirchen, guitarist who works for the University’s Institute for Social Research, giving the lyrics everything he’s got vocally.”

Commander Cody - early years-aCommander Cody - early years-b

As Pat Oleszko has already observed, no recording (even The Early Years) is be able to capture the multimedia/performance art aspects of the band’s 1967 Ann Arbor era.  Nevertheless, the kick-off track from the band’s debut album, Lost in the Ozone, in which Commander Cody fantasizes about forcibly commandeering a jet in his quest to flee Detroit and get back to his woman in good ol’ Tennessee, does a splendid job of conveying the group’s original absurdist bop and boogie underpinnings:

Joel Selvin would rightly include Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen in his  “Top 100 Bay-Area Bands of the 1970s” – published in the December 19, 1999 edition of The San Francisco Chronicle:

“Bringing a blend of barrelhouse C&W and Southern rockabilly to the San Francisco scene, Cody and cohorts were a lovable, oddball bunch — from goofy Bill Kirchen on guitar to friendly Andy Stein on sax and violin to the cigar-chomping Commander himself.  Always underrated, Cody and company opened the door for country and western in the rock underground, and were an obvious inspiration to the whole Austin, Texas, scene.  Special mention for the holiday record ‘Daddy’s Drinking Up All Our Christmas.'”

Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen:  Mid-to-Late Early Years

Commander Cody - mid-late early years

Swampwater: Country Rock on King

Here’s a tuneful country rocker from 1970 that sure sounds like a radio hit:

“Louisiana Woman”     Swampwater     1970

John Beland:  Guitar, Resonator Guitar, Piano, Vocals
Gib Guilbeau:  Fiddle, Guitar, Vocals
Thad Maxwell:  Bass, Vocals
Stan Pratt:  Drums
Roger Jannotta:  Strings
John Wagner:   Producer

And yet this rather obscure debut album* from Linda Ronstadt’s backing band was released by none other than King Records — with notable rock artist, Cal Schenkel, responsible for the distinctive (for King) cover photography [*reissued in South Korea & Japan in 2019].

King issued two singles from Swampwater‘s debut album, and one of them reached #72 on the country chart (according to this 45Cat contributer).

These guys are real good, but I hope nobody buys their album ’cause if they get to be famous, I won’t have a backup group.” — Linda Maria Ronstadt [album jacket]

Swampwater 45aSwampwater 45b

John Beland (a.k.a., Bill Murphy) posted the following piece on


Hager Twins: Holding the World’s Hands

Jim and John Hager – like the Chaparral Brothers – were (1) identical twins, who (2) once recorded for Capitol.  Unlike the Chaparral Brothers, the Hager Twins (1) would perform on TV’s Hee Haw from 1969 to 1986, and (2) get close to a Top 40 Country hit in 1969 with “Gotta Get to Oklahoma (‘Cause California’s Gettin’ to Me)” which has a nice lyrical twist.

At the Arbutus Record Show I also took home 1970’s Two Hagers Are Better Than One, the duo’s second album, and I discovered (in a spooky twist) that this major label recording – like the debut album from Capitol’s other twins, the Chaparral Brothers – was not listed in for some quizzical reason.

The Hagers - front coverThe Hager Twins would record three albums for Capitol, yet – like the Chaparral Brothers – these albums have not been reissued or anthologized.  Searching for recordings by The Hagers on Amazon is a maddeningly elusive task unless you employ the search phrase “Hagers Capitol,” which then pulls up any Capitol LPs & 45s currently being traded by other vendors.

The Hagers - rear coverSays K. Vincent in his liner notes to 1970’s Two Hagers Are Better Than One:

“Freddie [Hart]’s ‘The Whole World Holding Hands’ stands out with just the kind of lyric John and Jim can believe in.  It hopes for shoes for everybody’s feet, green grass, and love that children can understand.”

Capitol would release two singles from Two Hagers Are Better Than One, and neither would include “The Whole World Holding Hands“:

[Psst:  Click on the triangle to hear “The Whole World Holding Hands” by The Hagers]

Hagers 45Thanks (yet) again to PragueFrank for the discographical details.

The Hagers:  Capitol 45s

  • “Gotta Get To Oklahoma” / “Your Tender Loving Care”  [10-1969]
  • “Loneliness Without You” / “Give It Time”  [02-1970]
  • “Goin’ Home To Your Mother” / “I’m Not Going Back To Jackson”  [05-1970]
  • “Silver Wings” / “Flowers Need Sun, Too”  [ca. 09-1970]
  • “I’m Miles Away” / “Loony Caboose”  [01-1971]
  • “White Line Fever” / “Motherhood, Apple Pie And The Flag”  [05-1971]

The Hagers:  Capitol LPs

  • The Hagers:  Loneliness Without You; I’m Her Fun; Tracks; Your Tender Loving Care; I Don’t Wanna Make It; Gotta Get To Oklahoma (‘Cause California’s Gettin’ To Me); With Lonely; I’m Not Going Back To Jackson; Give It Time; Goin’ Home To Your Mother  [03-1970]
  • Two Hagers Are Better Than One:  Silver Wings; The Whole World Holding Hands; I’m Jesse James; Flowers Need Sun, Too; Loony Caboose; That’s My Love; Second Fiddle; The Last Time; I’m Miles Away; Gamblin’ Man  [09-1970]
  • Motherhood, Apple Pie And The Flag:  Motherhood, Apple Pie And The Flag; White Line Fever; Silver Threads And Golden Needles; Four Strong Winds; Ft. Worth I Love You; Freight Train Fever; Break My Mind; I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight; California On My Mind; Back Out On The Road Again  [03-1971]

The Chaparral Brothers: Shattered Men

At last weekend’s Arbutus Record Show, I picked up some interesting long-players, including one each by a pair of unsung Capitol country artists – both, as I discovered, identical twins:  The Chaparral Brothers and The Hagers.

Paul Vorhaben + John Vorhaben = The Chaparral Brothers

Chaparral Brothers - front cover

Indeed, I was happy to acquire Introducing the Chaparral Brothers for a modest sum – especially when I saw that the music was “arranged and conducted” by one of my musical heroes, Jimmy Bryant.

And yet YouTube is bereft of any Chaparral Brothers songs (save one, “Jesus Loves You, Rosemary,” a 45 not included on either of their two albums for Capitol).  Neither can you find this 1968 album cataloged* on, nor are there any Chaparral Brothers reissues or anthologies for sale on Amazon – only listings of second-hand LPs & 45s that you can buy from private vendors.  What gives?

Chaparral Brothers - back cover x*November 11, 2019 Update1968 debut + 1970 follow-up LPs both listed in Discogs

I am flummoxed as to why music of this quality released on a label of such stature would remain overlooked still.   I am also a little embarrassed to discover that the band released its own version of “Hello L.A., Bye-Bye Birmingham” (the A-side of a 1970 Capitol single), but I failed to mention that in my original blog piece about John Randolph Marr.

One stand-out track from this fine debut album – “Shattered Man” – seems rife with crossover potential and sounds like an obvious radio hit to me:

[Psst:  Click on the triangle above to hear “Shattered Man” by the Chaparral Brothers]

Billboard‘s July 13, 1968 edition contains this positive assessment:

This debut album by the group has some strong attributes.  It is fresh in sound, and it obviously reflects fine musicianship.  The style of the lads will appeal to more than strictly country buyers.  The material and performances have in them much that interests the contemporary general record buyer.  “Standing in the Rain” and “Shattered Man” are typical.

WorldCat and its combined library catalogs worldwide informs me that the British Library is the only member library with a musical score for “Shattered Man” – click here for proof.

PragueFrank’s righteous recording data includes information about Chaparral singles not listed in 45Cat (though, sadly, not about the accompanying studio musicians):

Chaparral Brothers:  Capitol 45s

  • “Standing In The Rain” b/w “Just One More Time”  [04-1968]
  • “The Rain” b/w “Follow Your Drum”  [11-1968]
  • “I’m Not Even Missing You” / “Maybe Could Find Way Back Home Again”  [06-1969]
  • “Jesus Loves You, Rosemary” / “Then Darling I Could Forget You”  [09-1969]
  • “Runnin’ From A Memory” / “Curly Brown”  [12-1969]
  • “Hello L.A. (Bye Bye Birmingham)” / “I Must Have Been Out Of My Mind”  [02-1970]
  • “Foolin’ Around” / “Life Has Its Little Ups And Downs”  [06-1970]
  • “Let Somebody Love You” / “I Believe In You”  [11-1970]

Chaparral Brothers:  Capitol LPs

  • Introducing The Chaparral Brothers:  Standing in the Rain; Leave; Love Of The Common People; Out Of My Mind; Shattered Man; Tahiti Joe; Just One More Time; Hard Times Come Easy For Me; For The Last Time; Down Came The World; Winner Take All  [05-1968]
  • Just For The Record:  Foolin’ Around; Hello L.A. (Bye, Bye, Birmingham); Life Has Its Little Ups And Downs; Let Somebody Love You; Try A Little Kindness; Running From A Memory; Brown Eyed Handsome Man; The Days Of Sand And Shovels; Born High; I’m Not Even Missing You  [09-1970]

Pair of non-LP tracks “produced and arranged by Al de Lory” – not Jimmy Bryant

Chaparall Bros 45

Yaphet Kotto, coincidentally enough, would appear as Sgt. Major Creason in television series, The High Chaparral in 1968 – the same year Capitol would unleash the Chaparral Brothers on the world.