LAST IN A LONG LONESOME LINE
Gram Parsons formed my musical soul. I first heard him sing on The Flying Burrito Brothers’
Gilded Palace of Sin album in 1969. I was seventeen years old and a garden variety
Beatles/Stones/Dylan/Byrds fan. I remember being at the record store that day and I became mesmerized
by the photograph of the stoned out hippies in Nudie suits on the cover of the album. I recognized Chris Hillman
as I was a die-hard Byrdmaniac. I had heard about Gram Parsons from the already legendary and out-of-print
International Submarine Band record, Safe At Home. I had not heard Sweetheart of the Rodeo, which had been
released some months prior to the Burritos record, but I had heard tales about the country outsider, Gram,
wresting control of the Byrds and their music. That is, until Roger McGuinn’s last minute overdubs prevailed
to give the album an uneven and somewhat cynical quality. Roger is a great folk singer, a one of a kind
player, and a distinctive rock singer, but a country vocalist, he is not.
Gram’s voice on his shared leads with Hillman on Christine’s Tune and Sin City were unlike anything
I had ever heard. There was otherworldliness to it. The pain, torment, and passion on Hot Burrito #1 and
Hot Burrito #2 were so heartfelt that it defied description. He put all of himself out there. That the Gilded
Palace of Sin was released in the midst of “heavier than thou” psychedelia appealed to my sense of irony –
the rebellion against the rebellion, if you will. The irony was expanded by Sneaky Pete’s psychedelic fuzz
tone Beatle-riffed pedal steel guitar improvisation. Never heard anything like that before. There was nothing
else to compare this to in 1969. There was certainly no market for this “sub-genre”. There was little promotion
until the Burritos’ infamous Train Tour, which turned out to be a big party rather than a promotional tour.
The sales of The Gilded Palace of Sin reflected its invisibility. About 40,000 copies were sold. Someone
later commented that most of these copies were sold to musicians who were influenced by the novel sound.
Despite the obscurity of the Burritos at the time, Gram’s impact on music continues to be felt – probably more
than in the past thirty-five years.
After burning a hole in The Gilded Palace of Sin, I quickly acquired Sweetheart of the Rodeo and my rare
of The International Submarine Band’s Safe At Home.
I still have an unopened copy. I strained to hear Gram’s vocals on The Christian Life, You Don’t Miss Your Water,
and to a lesser extent, on One Hundred Years From Now. This was a frustrating exercise until The Byrds’ box set
was released in 1990, which restored Gram’s vocals to these songs. The newly released and expanded version
of Sweetheart of the Rodeo has become my Beatles Anthology, with its fascinating evolution of alternate takes.
Hindsight demonstrates that Sweetheart would have been a cohesive masterpiece with the original vocals intact.
Its sound was unprecedented
The joy that I experienced from these records was catapulted to the level of revelation when I began to hear
the music played live. In April 1971, the Burritos were booked for a week of shows at the Cellar Door night
club in the Georgetown section of Washington D.C. Unfortunately, Gram was nearly a year removed from the band.
He was kicked out for his infamous excesses and his irresponsible behavior to his band mates. But hearing the
Burritos’ small catalogue (I am one of the few who actually enjoyed Burrito Deluxe, the group’s universally
panned follow up to The Gilded Palace of Sin) with Hillman’s booming bass guitar, strengthened vocals,
and the virtuosity of Al Perkins, who had taken the place of Sneaky Pete on pedal steel and Telecaster, was enough
to keep the spirit going. I attended all the shows that week, heard Bill and Taffy Danoff (later known as Starland
Vocal Band) open the shows, and heard a young “chick singer” join the Burritos on a few songs. Her name
was Emmylou Harris, and she was playing folk songs in Georgetown area clubs. Hillman and Rick Roberts
had heard her sing and legend has it that they considered her for the role of the first Burrito sister. I thoroughly
enjoyed the week of Burrito shows, wondered how they would have sounded with Gram, and lamented the three
tickets that I received going back and forth from Baltimore to Washington.
In October 1971, I learned that the Burritos were embarking on a final tour before disbanding as a group.
Hillman and Perkins were going to join up with Stephen Stills in Manassas. With or without Gram, the group did
not sell records. This was the tour that inspired The Last of the Red Hot Burritos album. The band was joined
by bluegrass wizards Country Gazette (Byron Berline, Kenny Wertz, and Roger Bush). It promised to be a dynamic
grouping with anticipated bluegrass sets, personnel mixing and matching. All would have a fine time. I had a mix
of a celebratory and melancholy mood. The band with its unique psychedelic, country rock, or more aptly put,
American spirit, was ending.
My friend and I arrived early at the University of Maryland Baltimore County gym that evening so that we
could secure up front seats on the gym floor. Neither of us recognized the paunchy looking, scrungy
haired guitar player with the white Fender Telecaster, who approached the microphone for the sound check.
But when we heard the first bars of Buck Owens’ Together Again, we looked at each other in amazement.
Gram Parsons. I was instantly covered in Goosebumps. For me, it was as close as it comes to a religious
The evening was unforgettable. Gram, who I later learned had just returned from England, was joining his
former mates for the final few shows on their tour. He sang lead all night, relegating Hillman and Roberts to backup
singers. I heard Sin City, Hot Burritos #1 and #2, Long Black Limousine, Close Up The Honky Tonks,
You’re Still On My Mind, and many others. I watched with fascination as Gram consumed a fifth of Cutty Sark
throughout the evening. His consumption did not seem to adversely affect his singing. During the intermission,
I approached him, mumbled something about admiration and the International Submarine Band, shook his sweaty
hand, and was teased by Gretchen, Gram’s soon to be estranged wife, for mispronouncing John Neuse’s name.
Neuse was the lead guitar player with the International Submarine Band. Years later, I learned that this was the
night when Gram traveled from Baltimore to Washington by train to meet the “chick singer” that Hillman and
Roberts had told him about during their week of shows at the Cellar Door that past spring. The details that I
remember about this concert reflect the impact of hearing Gram Parsons sing live. I still get those goose bumps
So imagine my excitement when I found out that a “country rock extravaganza” was coming to nearby Annapolis,
Maryland in June 1973. The local AM album rock station ran a commercial with the Burritos’ Cody Cody playing
in the background. The concert was to be held at McGonnigle’s Seaside Park, a defunct and dilapidated
park, and was to include Gram Parsons, his new singing partner, Emmylou Harris,
The White Brothers, Clarence’s revived bluegrass band, Gene Parsons, Sneaky Pete, Chris Ethridge,
Riders of the Purple Sage, Tracy Nelson, and other acts that I cannot recall.
My Byrds/Burritos experiences had expanded by 1973. For two years, 1970-1972, I was a hanger on with the
Byrds, following them from gig to gig, and on the merits of my girlfriend’s ample bosom, which caught the eye
of drummer, Gene Parsons, had finagled my way back stage at the Byrds’ appearance at the Schaeffer Beer Festival
Central Park in July 1970.
I managed to replicate my back stage magic many times during those two years, long after my girlfriend and I had
broken up. On several occasions, I had helped to carry equipment, most notably Clarence White’s prototype
B-Bender guitar. For me, Clarence’s playing had the guitar impact of Gram’s voice. Unique, mesmerizing,
powerful, and soulful. Many guitar notables, such as Albert Lee, Jimmy Page, and Pete Townsend have played
the B-Bender, a pulley device installed in the guitar to simulate the sound of a pedal steel but no one came close
to the sound that Clarence pulled from it. Clarence was unlike anyone playing electric guitar in a rock band in
that he had previously achieved a legendary reputation in bluegrass circles. He was a flatpick innovator in
the spirit of Doc Watson, but more eclectic than Doc. He had transformed the bluegrass guitar from a rhythm
instrument to a lead instrument in his work with The Kentucky Colonels. He first played electric in 1966 and
it was not long before he had achieved a cult status on the electric guitar. He was an innovator in two genres.
The prospect of hearing Gram and Clarence together was difficult to fathom. I was also quite excited about
the opportunity of hearing Gram sing with Emmylou. I had heard her vocals on Gram’s first solo record, GP,
which had been released the previous winter. Her duets with Gram, We’ll Sweep Out The Ashes In The
Morning, That’s All It Took, and Streets of Baltimore (my home town favorite) had rekindled the
The extravaganza turned out to be a surreal affair. It began in the early afternoon under the not so watchful
eyes of twenty to thirty elderly security guards. I was not sure what the promoters were expecting to happen
and if something did happen, I wondered how the uniformed seniors would respond. Most of the day, however,
I remember as a mellow affair. The security guards mostly sat around. I thoroughly enjoyed Clarence’s playing
a full acoustic set with his brothers. Quite an expansion from the mini-acoustic sets that the Byrds had played
a couple of years before. Most of what I clearly remember was the long wait for Gram, Emmylou, and company
to take the stage. The culminating event occurred around midnight. Bear in mind, I had no idea what Emmylou
Harris looked like. I did not remember her being introduced when I heard her sit in on a few songs with the
Burritos at the Cellar Door two years before. There was no cover photo of her on GP and given the lack of
technology of the era and the anemic sales of the record, I was left to imagine a Loretta Lynn-looking country
singer. Instead, I saw a Cosmic Cowgirl in a David Crosby-styled fringe jacket with beautiful long hair and
the face of an angel. I was as blown away by their live singing as I was by Gram’s some two years before.
I was mesmerized hearing singers who sang otherworldly into the same microphone being accompanied by
my all-time favorite guitar hero. A magnificent set of songs from GP, including Emmylou’s lead vocal on
Country Baptizing, where Gram encouraged the crowd of several hundred to engage in a “beer baptizing.”
Then the show was over. One month later, Clarence White was tragically killed by a drunk driver while
loading equipment onto his van after a show in California. Two months after that, Gram died. For me, the goose
This is not to imply that I have not enjoyed an abundance of fine music over the past thirty years. Hearing
live music is my passion. At every opportunity, my wife and I attend shows at some fine local venues, such
as Ram’s Head Tavern in Annapolis, Maryland, the Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia, and Wolf Trap in Vienna,
Virginia. In recent years, we have taken our teenaged son to the the likes of Doc Watson, Tony Rice,
Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen, Ray Davies, Dave Davies, Dick Dale, Peter Rowan,
The Who, and yes, Emmylou Harris. These concert experiences represent our son’s religious training.
And the preceding list is a small representation of the artists we have heard, just in the past few years.
But the goose bumps had not returned. I spent years lamenting how tragic and unfair it was that Gram and
Clarence were taken from us so soon. I have done my best to “spread the gospel” of Gram and Clarence
and their groundbreaking impact on music by writing articles for the now defunct Cosmic American Music News
and Full Circle. A love for the spirit of Gram and Emmylou helped to form a bond between my wife and me
shortly after we first met. I could not believe that she had heard of the pair. That she shared a love of their
propelled our relationship.
I made certain to attend Marty Stuart’s show at the Ram’s Head Tavern in January 2002 so that I could visit
with Clarence’s prototype B-Bender that Marty faithfully plays at his gigs. I enjoyed spending time with Marty,
who had noticed my String Bender t-shirt from the stage, telling him some of my favorite Clarence stories,
such as my recall of Clarence and Gene jamming backstage with guitar and banjo before Byrds’ gigs.
Marty told me about how he acquired the guitar from Clarence’s widow, Susie, in the late 1970’s.
Marty was with Lester Flatt’s band at the time and Clarence’s brother, Roland, who played mandolin with the
band, told Marty that Susie was selling some of Clarence’s instruments to help to make ends meet. Marty was
shocked that Susie was selling the prototype Bender and after buying it for a pittance, he vowed to use it as his
gigging guitar forever. He has made good on the promise. Visiting with the B-Bender, hearing Marty do it justice,
attending Emmylou’s concerts through the years were as close as I got to
rekindle the magic. Until July 6,
I had not attended bluegrass festivals for many years since I had become spoiled by comfortable indoor venues.
But the Down From The Mountain tour was too much to pass up. The crème de la crème of bluegrass players,
including Dr. Ralph Stanley, Del McCroury, Emmylou Harris, The Nashville Bluegrass Band, Rodney Crowell,
Ricky Skaggs, Allison Kraus, Jerry Douglas, Dan Tyminski, Chris Thomas King, The Whites, Norman and
Nancy Blake. Stellar musicians all. The best on the planet. There was one name on the bill with whom I was
only vaguely familiar. Patty Loveless. I knew that she was a Nashville mainstream star and because of my disdain
for the glitz of the world of the “drug store truck drivin’ man”, I never paid attention to her. In fact, I had never
heard her sing until she came out as the second to the last act at the Down From The Mountain show on
July 6, 2002. She sang You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive from her Mountain Soul cd. My wife and I,
seated in lawn chairs at the front of the stage, got the goose bumps simultaneously. It was as if a bolt of lightning
had struck us. The voice was strong, honey sweet, full of Appalachia, but most of all, it had the nearly
indescribable soulfulness, passion, and pain as Gram’s. The tingles had returned. The religious experience
was back. The song itself spoke like an Appalachian Woody Guthrie, of carpetbaggers and thieves ripping
off the people for their coal. It spoke of geography, like Gram’s songs The New Soft Shoe and She spoke of
South. I made the connection
The following day, we picked up Mountain Soul and the journey began. Over the next month, we were able
to hear Patty and her band play most of the Mountain Soul material, first at the Birchmere, then at the intimate
Ram’s Head Tavern. We were hooked. Patty Loveless was next in the long lonesome line. With Gram and
Clarence, death robbed me of the opportunity to continue the journey. My wife and I vowed that with Patty
Loveless, we had a choice – we could hear her play live over and over again. After the Ram’s Head show,
however, we learned that Patty took time off from touring during the winter. She would not be on the road again
In the meantime, we discovered her mainstream country catalogue prior to Mountain Soul. The bluegrass
record had clearly been a departure for her. Although it took some time, we came to embrace Patty’s
contemporary country material. It had integrity. The songs were strong in lyric, message, and music.
I soon learned that this was due to the influence of Patty’s producer, arranger, writer, bass player, and
husband, Emory Gordy, Jr. A first discovery in the Gram/Emmylou/Patty link. Emory was part of Elvis
Presley’s touring band that Gram eventually hired to play on his solo records with Emmylou. Emory played
a fine bass guitar on Grievous Angel. He was also an original member of Emmylou’s Hot Band. He became
acquainted with Patty when she came to Nashville to begin her recording career in the mid-1980’s. When producer
Tony Brown first played Patty’s music for Emory and remarked that she was from the South, Emory corrected
him by stating that the voice was from Kentucky, specifically Pike County, Kentucky. Emory has brilliantly
produced Patty’s voice through the years, seamlessly blending her vocals with the fiddle, the guitar, and the
steel. Her voice is like another
Patty’s voice and Gram’s voice struck me as being of the same spirit despite their different times, geographies,
and upbringings. Gram’s vision of Cosmic American Music was the tie that bound them together – a music
beyond boundaries, but with strong roots in country, gospel, rock and roll, and rhythm and blues. A designation
more holistic and meaningful than one-dimensional categorizations, like country rock or contemporary country.
As I listened to Patty’s catalogue over the winter, I imagined Gram singing duets with her. I had a fantasy of a
sixteen-year old Patty Ramey (Patty’s given name) meeting Gram in 1973, saving him from self-destruction,
taking him to Kentucky, showing him the culture, singing and blending together. Emory would be the genius
would bind them together musically, finally making Gram Parsons marketable.
I became struck with how writer Bud Scoppa’s famous quote about Gram being the embodiment of paradox
could be applied to Patty being able to appeal to a mainstream country audience and a hip, rootsy, and genuine
bluegrass crowd. Scoppa wrote that “Gram was unique for his ability to put to music the theme of the innocent
Southern boy tossed between the staunch traditions and strict moral code he was born to and the complex,
ambiguous modern world. He realizes that both are corrupt, but he survives by keeping a hold on each while
believing neither.” This sentiment speaks to how Patty is able to release a record like Strong Heart in 2000,
then Mountain Soul in 2001, and maintain her musical and artistic credibility as well as her audience. Both
are in my player, side by side.
This is not to imply that Gram, Patty, Emmylou, and Clarence are the only artists in the long lonesome line.
Other voices that have penetrated my being with their vulnerability, authenticity, and pain include Hank Williams,
Dr. Ralph Stanley, Johnny Cash, and Richard Manuel. Like Gram et al., these artists demonstrate the impact of
their respective geographies on their music. The amalgam of sources, styles, and ingredients of their work places
them in the realm of the few who “put it out there” with the risk of falling. High wire artists, all. But for reasons
I am unable to articulate, they do not stir my soul like GP, Patty, Emmy, and
As the winter wore on, I learned about other Patty/Gram/Clarence connections besides Emory and Emmy.
Marty Stuart, Jim Lauderdale, Rodney Crowell, and Al Perkins have written songs for or performed with Patty.
All of these musicians either played with Gram and Clarence or have acknowledged their musical debt to them.
One bizarre connection that I found was that Clarence’s widow, Susie, was from Elkhorn City, Kentucky – the
same place where Patty was born. I do not know if their families knew each other, but given the small size of
City, the odds favor that they did.
As we planned our tour itinerary as first-time Patty Heads, my wife and I were careful to choose a variety of venues.
We initially chose six venues in five states. We began with the opening date of the tour in Renfro Valley,
Kentucky in May. Renfro Valley is known as “Kentucky’s Country Music Capital”. It began as a barn dance in
1939, organized by Rockcastle County native, John Lair. He broadcast the dances from the big barn in Renfro
Valley and drew thousands of people to this remote area on Friday and Saturday nights. The tradition endured,
a more modern barn (concert hall) was eventually built and has attracted local and national country performers
through the years. We drove through coal country on our nine-hour trip from Baltimore, getting our first exposure
eastern Kentucky – the area where Patty’s father mined.
When we arrived at Renfro Valley, we discovered that the barns were the only attractions in the area, except
for the recently opened Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and Museum, which is located next door to the barns.
We spent the day at the museum, which was informative and tastefully presented. Local talent performed throughout
the day, which made the visit quite a bonus. The museum itself paid homage to the multitude of musical talent
that has hailed from Kentucky. Being a vegetarian visiting Renfro Valley proved to be an adventure, however.
The local restaurant – yes singular – had no veggie entrees. I ended up eating all of my meals at a nearby Denny’s,
being the only person who ever ordered a Veggie Burger there.
Patty played two shows at Renfro Valley. The presentation was quite different from the mostly acoustic
Birchmere and Ram’s Head gigs nine months before. The band was reconfigured – Emory, who had
accompanied Patty on bass during the Down From The Mountain tour, was no longer with the group.
Carmella Ramsey, the fine fiddler and harmony singer, and wife of guitar virtuoso Kenny Vaughan of Marty Stuart’s
band, was gone. There was a new pedal steel player and a twenty-year old Australian kid on lead guitar.
Essentially, this was a new band. The Mountain Soul material was relegated to a six-song mini set.
This was an adjustment for me. I was briefly disappointed until Patty began to sing. Goose bumps again.
Everything was all right. Patty described the shows as “live rehearsals” since it was the group’s first time
playing out. The second show was tighter than the first, but clearly this group had a way to go to become a
Our next stop was an expensive whim. A trip to “The World’s Largest Honky Tonk” – Billy Bob’s of
Ft. Worth, Texas on June 21. This place is one of a kind. 127,000 square feet of space, 32 bars, live professional
bull riding, and a huge dance floor. Texas big in every way. Compared to the somewhat reserved crowd at Renfro
Valley, the Billy Bob’s audience was loud, rowdy, and appreciative. Patty responded to the enthusiastic reception
with a great show. When the band played the song, Lovin’ All Night from her upcoming cd, I noted the rather distinct
sound of a B-Bender from her young guitar player. I approached the young man after the show to discuss his gear.
With his sharp Australian accent, he lit up when I mentioned Clarence and the prototype Bender that I once carried.
spoke for quite a while about the Gram/Clarence/Patty connection and a bond was
Jedd Hughes is a vocal and guitar prodigy from South Australia, who came to the United States in 2000 to study
country and bluegrass music at South Plains College in Levelland, Texas. He learned from the talented banjo player,
Alan Munde, among others. Munde was a member of Country Gazette and had occasion to play with Clarence White.
Jedd auditioned for Patty’s band in 2002 and at the tender age of twenty, he won the job. His appreciation for his
musical roots, however, belies his youth. He hung on my every word as I regaled him with tales of Gram and
Clarence. We established e-mail correspondence so that he could assist my son in his quest for the perfect Telecaster.
I surprised Jedd when I informed him that the co-inventor of the B-Bender, Gene Parsons, was alive and well in
still producing and installing his famous accessory.
Our next stop was our only outdoor venue of the tour, on the river in Morgantown, West Virginia.
A mere three-hour drive from Baltimore, this show was a benefit for the local recreation and parks department.
A disinterested crowd spoiled a beautiful setting. In contrast to the reservedness of the Renfro Valley audience,
who at least listened to and respected the performance, the Morgantown audience was rude and obnoxious.
To add insult to injury, our front row seats became fifth row when at the last minute, local radio station giveaways
the first four rows.
The July 27 performances at the Newberry Opera House in South Carolina helped to erase our disappointment
from the West Virginia show. Newberry, South Carolina is located near the state capital of Columbia and the city
of Greenville. It appeared that it could have been the prototype for the town of Mayberry on the Andy Griffith show.
Small town South. The town itself was a paradox. On the one hand, there were upscale antique shops, boutiques,
and three wonderful gourmet restaurants. This was interspersed with abandoned buildings, X’ed out windows, and
overall neglect. We soon learned from a shopkeeper that Wal-Mart had built a store nearby about nine years ago.
This sounded a death knell to the local economy, which was desperately trying to survive. The presence of the
giant was like introducing a foreign creature to an ecosystem and disrupting the
natural order of things.
We found out that the Newberry Opera House, which sponsored a variety of top-notch shows, was a viable product
for the local economy. It drew people from Columbia and Greenville and on this late July day, two Patty Heads
from Baltimore, Maryland. The opera house was built in 1881. It embodied what was described as Victorian civic
eclectic architecture in that it was constructed from bricks from three competing local brickyards. The original
building housed a fire engine room, council chambers, a clerk’s office, and three jail cells on the first floor.
The second floor was home to the opera house. It was odd to enter the building on ground level and walk up stairs
to get to the orchestra seating. We guessed that the founders wanted to keep the opera goers away from the riff-raff
the first floor.
The opera house was known as “the entertainment center of the Midlands”, sponsoring New York plays, minstrel
and variety shows, and boxing matches. In the 1920’s, the opera house was remodeled as a movie theater. It closed
1952 and became a major renovation project in the 1990’s.
Its wooden interior intimately seats about 400 patrons.
Patty and the band played a 3:00 p.m. show and an 8:00 p.m. show. An ideal day for Patty Heads. Just enough time
in between shows to have a fine dinner. We also spotted Patty going from the venue to her tour bus after the first show.
Ultra conscious of not being perceived as stalkers, we politely asked for a photograph. Here I was, resplendent
in my “Gram Parsons and the Fallen Angels” t-shirt, blathering about the links in the long lonesome line to Patty
Loveless. She put me at ease by telling me that the band was listening to Gram and Emmylou on the bus on the way
Newberry the night before the show. I began to get the impression that I was not the only one
making these links.
The shows themselves demonstrated the growth of the band. They were playing tight as a unit. With six days off
after this date, they played an extended second show, which highlighted their talents. The twin fiddles of Deanie
Richardson and Garry Murray were approaching the mastery that we had heard from Deanie and Carmella Ramsey
the previous summer. Keyboard player, mandolin player, and vocalist, Becky Priest, proved to be a solid addition
to the group. The rhythm section of Jimmy Johnson on bass and Martin Parker on drums was experienced and solid.
The young pedal steel and dobro player, Travis Toy, who I felt was tentative at Renfro Valley, was finding his licks
and coming into his own. “Bender Boy” Jedd Hughes, who I presented with a Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo t-shirt
before the second show, was truly gifted. He told me that he had received a recording contract from MCA Records,
and was planning to cover Gram’s Luxury Liner and Still Feelin’ Blue with his new band. The links continued.
But what pulled all of this together was the brilliant honeycombed voice of Patty Loveless. Despite the fact that the
lists had varied little during the tour, the music was vital and each show
seemed part of the evolution of the band.
After traveling to Kentucky, Texas, West Virginia, and South Carolina, the two-night stand at the Birchmere
in Alexandria, Virginia on Labor Day weekend was like a home stand for us. We had the opportunity to share
Patty and the band with our children and friends, most of whom thought we were close to being certifiable by this
point. It was fortunate that we were able to develop relationships with other Patty Heads, who provided us with
occasional sanity checks. In Renfro Valley, we met Cole, the twenty-year old lifelong Patty Loveless lunatic, who
devotes much of her time to building and maintaining her Patty website. At the Birchmere, we met up with Jess and
her husband, Mike, who run a Patty website in Ohio, and Jackie from Oakland, California, who had made the cross
trek for the Labor Day shows.
The Birchmere is a special place for us. Through the years, we have seen dozens of shows there. The new building,
which has been up for about eight years, is one of the finest music halls in the country. It is a general admission
setup, so to ensure what I refer to as “Clarence White seating” (I had occasions when hanging with the Byrds,
to sit on the stage close to Clarence’s monitor), we had to arrive early – 9:00 a.m. for a 5:00 p.m. opening.
did say that we were close to being certifiable, did I not?
I have a close and dear friend who works at the Birchmere. Chris and I met in 1989 at a Roger McGuinn concert
in Baltimore. Since then, we have maintained regular contact and we have faithfully attended every Byrds-related
show in the area. Chris is a bonafide Byrdmaniac, flying to Chicago for a Gene Clark tribute concert and baking a
birthday cake for McGuinn with the Peace On You album cover in food coloring. He is also the owner of a limited
edition Roger McGuinn signature model Rickenbacker twelve-string guitar. Several months before the Patty shows
at the Birchmere, I had borrowed the Rickenbacker from him so that my son could acquire some inspiration from
playing it. Chris does not play the guitar. He bought it because he is a Byrdmaniac. Since he knew that I was
to the Birchmere for the Patty shows, he asked me to return his prized guitar to
The Birchmere’s management is unflinchingly fair when it comes to seating. No special favors for anyone.
So, while Chris was not in a position to help me get the “Clarence seats”, he did manage to get me in for Patty’s
sound check on Friday. As I entered the empty hall to the sounds of Patty’s new masterpiece, On Your Way Home,
with a jingle jangle, Telecaster mix worthy of the Byrds’ Untitled album, Jedd spotted me from the stage and waved.
After the sound check, he asked me about the guitar that I was carrying. When I opened the case and showed him
the Ric, his eyes nearly bugged out of his head. He picked up the guitar and began playing the opening to Day Tripper.
Having just heard a Patty song that could have been a Clarence-era Byrdsong, I suggested that he play Chris’
Rickenbacker in the show. Chris echoed this idea, graciously offering the guitar he could not play to the aspiring
New Byrd. I rattled off the names of several songs on Patty’s set list that would be done justice by the Ric.
took the guitar with him, but he did not indicate whether or not he would be
using it in the show.
The concerts at the Birchmere were two of the finest to date. Loretta Brank had abruptly replaced fiddler
Deanie Richardson and while she was still learning the songs, the shows were seamless. On Saturday night,
I almost went to Byrd heaven when Jedd came out sporting the Sweetheart of the Rodeo t-shirt that I had given
him in Newberry while playing the McGuinn Rickenbacker. I felt like I had achieved a coup d’etat on Patty’s
by transforming the twenty-one year old Australian guitarist into a Byrd.
After the Labor Day weekend, the tour was beginning to wind down despite the fact that Patty’s new cd was
released in mid-September. It seemed odd that her label would time the release of the record with the end of
the tour. The promise of two shows in two days took us to Louisville in early October. Louisville had become
Patty’s home at age eleven when her father’s Black Lung Disease required treatment from the urban hospital there.
We were disappointed when the first show was cancelled, apparently due to poor ticket sales. But the salvaged
date at the tiny Headliner’s Music Hall was outstanding. It was ironic that as the band came together as a tightly
knit unit, Patty announced that the versatile Becky Priest and guitar wizard Jedd Hughes were leaving at the end of
tour. Both musicians had secured
record deals and were moving upward and onward.
Our decision to attend the last show of the tour was an easy one. Billy Bob’s – again. On November 22 –
forty years to the day of JFK’s assassination. Like most baby boomers, I remember where I was and how I heard
of the American military’s coup d’etat of 1963. A date we use to mark time. The end of our innocence. The point
at which our trust in our institutions became compromised. The time when the rebellion of a generation began.
The heart and soul of my musical identity had always been the rebellion to the rebellion. Dallas on November
22, 2003, visiting Dealy Plaza, going to Patty Loveless’ last date on the tour, saying farewell to this fine band.
seemed like perfect closure.
My wife, my son, and I spent the morning of November 22 at the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealy Plaza. The
museum is presented quite well. It is not gruesome or macabre. It is set in a historical context that presents a
comprehensive picture of the world in 1963. Standing at the window of the former book depository where a
sniper allegedly fired the shots that altered our history was chilling. Looking out on Elm Street and the underpass
where the President’s motorcade was headed on that fateful day was a scene that I had experienced through film
and photographs through the years. Being there shrunk it to a reality that was quite finite. We finished with the
museum before noon and we walked outside to Dealy Plaza. A crowd had gathered to listen to speakers
commemorate the event and plead with our leaders to provide us with the truth about that day. I noticed three
large painted X’s on Elm Street at the points where the bullets struck their target. At precisely 12:30 p.m., I was
on the spot where the fatal bullets changed our lives.
A truly surreal and moving experience.
The show at Billy Bob’s that night was bittersweet. Patty and the band were in fine form as they hit the stage
for the last time. Patty referenced the end of the group at several points during the show. While the set list did
not vary from previous shows during the electric portion, the playing was intense and vital. Jedd outdid himself
on the opening B-Bender lead to Halfway Down. Becky, Loretta, and Garry were superb. I took note of the
improvement from steel/dobro/Telecaster player, Travis Toy, from the time at Renfro Valley to the present.
was truly coming into his own. The
list from the electric set was as follows.
Nothin’Like The Lonely
I’m Falling In Love
Don’t Seem To Miss Me
Can Feel Bad
Your Way Home
Lovin’ All Night
When the group set up for what was heretofore the Mountain Soul portion of the show, I expected to hear
The Boys Are Back In Town to kick it off. To my surprise and delight, Patty, who was in fine vocal form all
evening, announced that they would be doing a song from her Long Stretch Of Lonesome album. What ensued
was a brilliant Too Many Memories with exquisite three-part harmony from Patty, Jedd, and Becky. The
centerpiece of the acoustic set on this night was the opportunity for the band members to shine. To me, this
Patty’s selflessness and her love of her mates.
Becky Priest was featured on Emmylou Harris’ Woman Walk The Line, a song from the underrated
semi-autobiographical album, The Ballad Of Sally Rose. Another Gram Parsons reminder, the album was a
fictionalized story of a highflying, hard living male country singer who was killed and his young female protégée
who carried on his musical vision despite her emotional pain. Aside from the obvious reference to Gram and
Emmy, the album was also notable in that Emmylou was the primary songwriter for it, a venture she has only
recently embarked upon again with Red Dirt Girl and Stumble Into Grace. Becky sang the lead beautifully
with Patty and Loretta as her backup singers. Goose bumps time for me. The presentation was reminiscent
of the singing on the Trio album (Parton, Harris, and Ronstadt) from the 1980’s. Jedd got his chance for a solo
number with a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s If You Needed Me. Emmylou had covered this one on her Cimarron
Patty sang harmony with Jedd. I
Not to be outdone, Travis sang Dr. Ralph Stanley’s part on a rollicking version of Pretty Polly, a song
covered by the Byrds during the Sweetheart of the Rodeo sessions. The acoustic set also included The Boys
Are Back In Town, Cheap Whiskey, Daniel Prayed, You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive, and Pretty Little Miss –
from Mountain Soul.
After a five song encore, which was comprised of My Heart Will Never Break This Way Again, The Trouble
With The Truth, Here I Am, Nothin’ But The Wheel, and Blame It On Your Heart, we managed some brief
time backstage for a photo and a chat with the band members. I was gratified when I approached Patty for a
photo that her manager, David, graciously took, and I said, “I am the Gram Parsons fan who . . .” She
interrupted me and said, “I know who you are, Richard.” I melted. We chatted for a few moments about the
article I was planning to write linking the Byrds, Gram, Emmylou, and Clarence with the wonderful opportunity
of being a Patty Head this year. From Renfro Valley to Billy Bob’s to Morgantown to Newberry to the
Birchmere to Louisville and back to Billy Bob’s, it has been a blast. I have seen parts of the country that I
never would have visited had it not been for chasing the goose bumps that Patty Loveless provided. I have
witnessed a group of fine musicians and human beings evolve as a wondrous and talented unit. I have met a
diverse group of devoted Patty Loveless fans, who have begun to feel like family to me over a short span of time.
And most of all, my wife and I have shared the experience of hearing a most wonderful singer, Patty Loveless,
voice in the spirit of a long lonesome line.