The Western Edge: Los Angeles Stars in an Upcoming Country Music Hall of Fame Exhibit Major Exhibition from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
LOS ANGELES, CA- California- the land of hope, dreams, and rebirth; a place to lose oneself and to be found. Love it or hate it, it’s America’s promised land. California Uber Alles. It was Tom Joad’s prospect for salvation in Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath and the allure of the journey on Route 66. Los Angeles, the state’s much-celebrated, much-maligned central star, has long been a major beacon for propitious redemption.
“It’s the edge of the continent. The Tom Joad Road. And everybody comes out, be they musicians or actors or writers or artists. And they stop there at the Pacific Ocean and that’s it.”- Chris Hillman (The Byrds/ The Flying Burrito Brothers/Desert Rose Band)
On a recent brightly lit afternoon, is there anything but that in Southern California?, I found myself in a dark West Hollywood bar, a place whose walls and sticky floors and beer-stale air reeked of its history and over sixty years of musical magic. It was the Troubadour- where Lenny Bruce said the F-word one too many times and was arrested on obscenity charges in 1957, where Dylan gave a private sneak-peek of his new electric folk to bar staff in 1964, and where bands such as The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and the Flying Burrito Brothers began mixing up a surprisingly diverse blend of country music and rock and roll in the late-1960s. I was here for a press conference to learn about an incredible new exhibit set to open in the fall at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville featuring L.A., my much beloved adopted city: Western Edge: The Roots and Reverberations of Los Angeles Country-Rock.
This press event was happening simultaneously both in Los Angeles and at Nashville’s Country Hall of Fame Ford Theatre, where Emmy Lou Harris and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Jeff Hanna were just now taking the stage.
Here in L.A., we were blessed with Chris Hillman and Dwight Yoakam, here to help tell us about this new exhibit documenting well-known musicians, singers, and songwriters, including themselves, who in the late ‘60s through mid-‘70s began mixing electrified rock and roll with down-home steel guitars, old-fashioned country music, banjos, bluegrass, and eventually adding in rockabilly during a second wave in the mid-’80s. After a well-spoken presentation about the upcoming exhibit from museum editor Michael McCall, Hillman and Yoakam took the stage and each discussed their parts in the exhibit and their thoughts about it.
“It’s long overdue and so great,” Yoakam, in a tawny cowboy hat, blue blazer, and faded jeans, affirms, “Because everybody’s dealt with the first incarnation of the sound- from the depression up through Buck and Meryl- but not many have dealt with the things that came after. The things that inspired me as a teenager, that drew me to the West Coast… The Country Music Hall of Fame is the best thing about Nashville. It should be the template of every musical hall of fame anywhere; the amount of reverence that they show toward the foundational creators of the genre and all those that have come after. So it is an honor to be a part of this exhibit that has to do with the next stage of the Tom Joad Road that led Californians to country music: California Country-Rock.”
Opening September 30th with a weekend of live concerts, and running for the next three years in the museum’s massive 5,000-square-foot gallery, the exhibit will display instruments, stage outfits, handwritten song lyrics, over 40 hours of filmed interviews, photographs, performance clips, and more. The release of a book coinciding with the exhibit will have a main contribution written by longtime LA Times music journalist Randy Lewis. The Western Edge covers artists that found commercial success with the new sound- The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Linda Ronstadt, Michael Nesmith, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Poco, the Flying Burrito Brothers, the Eagles, Rick Nelson, Emmy Lou Harris, and then moves on to explore the kids who went even deeper and grittier in the ‘80s, co-mingling classic roots music with punk rock- The Blasters, Los Lobos, Rosie Flores, Lone Justice to name a few. I am betting my bottom dollar there will be a sparkle of Nudie Suits on display, famously worn by Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers, and created by North Hollywood tailor-to-the-western-film-stars, Nudie Cohn, who had a tailor shop on Lankershim Blvd, just down the street from another divey honky tonk bar that features prominently in this California Country Rock story, The Palomino.
“The Burrito Brothers were the most famous band that a lot of people never heard of. I knew about those Nudie suits that those long-haired cowboys, those hippie-cowboys from the Sunset Strip had on, and it fascinated me when I was in junior high school.” -Dwight Yoakam
And soon enough, the Troubadour fills with a twang as Chris Hillman begins to strum his guitar, interrupting Yoakam mid-sentence, signaling that it is now time for a song. Together they begin to play Time Between, a song Hillman wrote for the Byrds, likely the first true example of this new L.A. Country-Rock style. Hillman carries the lead vocals, while Yoakam jumps in on harmony. Their voices meld beautifully together. I look around at the audience of about twenty people, here to cover the event, and I see reverence on their faces. When the pair eventually launch into Sin City, a song Hillman wrote with bandmate Gram Parsons for the Flying Burrito Brothers, the incantation it casts is even deeper. Yoakam carries the majority of the vocals here, with Hillman coming in to harmonize, a bewitching marriage of voices.
“This old town is filled with sin/ It’ll swallow you in/ If you’ve got some money to burn/ Take it home right away/ You’ve got three years to pay/ But Satan is waiting his turn…”
The haunting song features Los Angeles as a starring subject and as we sit here at the Troubadour, we are surrounded by echoes of the past and ghosts of our city, specters that are always around if we can just stay quiet and be still enough. Two thousand miles away in Nashville, Emmylou Harris raises her voice to sing. Her choice, The Road, is a song she wrote about Parsons. His spirit must surely be hovering nearby.
“So I took what you left me/ Put it to some use/ When looking for an answer/ With those three chords and the truth…”
These performances drive home the important mission of the Country Music Hall of Fame and in particular its new exhibit, Western Edge: The Roots and Reverberations of Los Angeles Country-Rock. We must always learn from the past, be it joyful or full of tears. One generation will always lead to the next and we must come together and share our wisdom. Each musical generation is a stepping stone from the previous. My very own sister, Josie Kreuzer, was part of yet a third wave of Los Angeles country-rockabilly artists in the 1990s, greatly inspired by Lone Justice, X, Rosie Flores, and The Blasters. And there will be more generations, each building upon the last. Music will always be the great common denominator, not only to soothe our souls and make us dance but even more important to bring together people from different backgrounds, broadening our horizons and showing us a way to unity.
Opening weekend concert line-up:
Friday, Sept. 30, at 7 p.m. CT | Tickets on sale Friday, June 24 at 10 a.m.
An all-star lineup of luminaries who were a part of the country-rock phenomenon will perform, along with artists influenced by the sound and the scene.
Performers include Dave Alvin (the Blasters, the Knitters), Alison Brown (in tribute to California bluegrass), Rodney Dillard (the Dillards), Rosie Flores, Richie Furay (Buffalo Springfield, Poco), Jeff Hanna (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), Chris Hillman (the Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers, Desert Rose Band), Bernie Leadon (Hearts & Flowers, Flying Burrito Brothers, the Eagles), John McEuen (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), Wendy Moten (in tribute to Linda Ronstadt) and Herb Pedersen (Desert Rose Band and instrumentalist for Linda Ronstadt, Gram Parsons and many more). The house band will be led by Grammy-winning guitar virtuoso and multi-instrumentalist John Jorgenson and includes JayDee Maness (steel guitar), Steve Duncan (drums), and Mark Fain (bass). More performers are to be added.
Desert Rose Band:
Sunday, Oct. 2, at 7 p.m. CT | Tickets on sale Friday, June 24 at 10 a.m.
For the first time in more than a decade, the Desert Rose Band will reunite for a special concert.
In 1986, former member of the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers Chris Hillman founded the band with Herb Pedersen and John Jorgenson. The original lineup included Bill Bryson (bass guitar), JayDee Maness (pedal steel guitar), and Steve Duncan (drums). Original members of the band will take the stage for the highly anticipated event, with acclaimed Nashville bassist Mark Fain replacing the late Bill Bryson. The Grammy-nominated group has earned hit singles and won multiple awards from the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association.