Via his “Western Edge: The Roots and Reverberations of Los Angeles Country-Rock” exhibition, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum continues its attempt to chronicle the depth and scope of the genre’s expansion into areas defined by pop.
Presented by City National Bank and beginning September 30, the comprehensive multimedia exhibit will feature historic photographs, stage outfits, instruments, original song scripts and more in the museum’s 5,000 square foot gallery during the next three years.
“A new hybrid sound has grown from humble beginnings in a few small LA nightclubs and exploded into one of the most popular musical styles around the world,” said Country Music Hall of Fame CEO Kyle Young. . “Their interest and talents in traditional country, folk, and bluegrass music, and how these interests connected them.”
For five decades, bluegrass, folk, gospel and rock have intersected in Northwest Los Angeles. As a result, artists such as the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, the Eagles, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Linda Ronstadt, and Dwight Yoakam have deeply influenced Nashville’s country pop tradition.
At the Hall of Fame on Wednesday, two such artists — Harris and Jeff Hanna of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, as well as Hanna’s wife, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Famer Matraca Berg — appeared in the room for the announcement of the ‘exposure. The trio’s version of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s 1972 hit “Mr. Bojangles” was warmly received.
Simultaneously, at the legendary Troubadour Hall in Los Angeles, Yoakam and Chris Hillman (the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, the Desert Rose Band and many others) performed the Flying Burrito Brothers’ 1969 single “Sin City” and ” Time” by the Byrds in 1967. Enter.”
Eighteen months apart, in 1964 and 1965, the Beatles debuted on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ and spawned the British Invasion, while Bob Dylan plugged into the Newport Folk Festival. The long-term result of these moments in country music is best seen by folk and bluegrass singers as folk singer-turned-country icon Harris fusing traditional styles with emerging rock ‘n’ roll.
Harris noted that the community of artists that united in Los Angeles was the largest. But, also, she said, “It’s all about the songs.”
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His work with Parsons before his untimely death in 1973 is what brought Harris to Los Angeles and led to his breakthrough 1975 album “Pieces of the Sky”, including Parsons’ touching tribute “Boulder to Birmingham”.
Regarding the melodies that defined her work in the late 1980s with longtime Los Angeles-based friend Ronstadt and Nashville-based Dolly Parton, Harris noted that “three women who love to sing met in Los Angeles and caught a guitar,” leading to their highly acclaimed “Trio” album.
Likewise, as rock’s era of hair-metal arena coalesced with country’s attempt to sate its lust in pop, an artist like Yoakam, transplanted to Los Angeles, born in Kentucky, emerged. Early 80s critics considered the bluegrass and rock fan two decades ahead of his time – too country for rock and too mountainous for country. Thus, his itinerary involved the city’s “cowpunk” scene of honky-tonk enthusiasts.
In a 2019 PBS interview, Yoakam cited Harris as a “big influence” on relocating to Los Angeles after a failed first attempt as a singer-songwriter in Nashville. Additionally, his traditionalist country fandom, including Buck Owens (later a collaborator on the 1989 No. 1 country hit “Streets of Bakersfield”) and Merle Haggard, impacted his desire to be in Los Angeles.
Eventually, Yoakam discovered a style that inspired sounds that included his first consecutive No. 1 singles on a major label: the 1986 cover of Johnny Horton’s 1956 hit “Honky Tonk Man” and his original single “Guitars, Cadillacs “.
From the iconic punk scene of the early 80s in Los Angeles, he merged with his honky-tonk and bluegrass style.
“The form wasn’t necessarily punk, and the musical execution wasn’t, but the accessibility to the immediacy of the emotion – the emotional intent was very immediately accessible to this audience,” Yoakam said. .
Details about the exhibit, the live performances associated with its premiere, and more — including a book with an essay written by longtime Los Angeles music journalist Randy Lewis, among other contributors — can be found at www.CountryMusicHallofFame.org.