How do you tour in support of a seminal album when its main influence has been dead for 45 years?
Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman are currently on the road trying to answer that very question.
Friday last at the lovely Majestic Theatre the Founding Byrds members came together to recreate the magic that began as a chance encounter when Hillman happened upon Gram Parsons
standing in line at a Beverly Hills bank, “Probably drawing from his trust fund” Hillman quipped alluding to Parson’s family citrus business trust fund that reportedly paid him as
much as $100,000 a year.
Though considered as a mere salaried sideman by the band’s record company, when the Byrds’ Columbia recording contract was renewed in 1968 only original members Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman where asked to ink the deal. it was Parson’s singular obsession with country music history that charmed the other members into moving recording digs from persuading the other members to leave Los Angeles to Nashville thus guaranteeing a more straight-ahead twang affair.
The $45 t-shirt at the merch table concerned me that this could be merely a cash grab. The show soon put that fear to rest. No opener necessary, the first set served as a reminder that the Byrds flirted with country and roots music before Parson’s arrival. Joe Hayes “A Satisfied Mind,” made famous by Porter Wagoner, was a particular delight with McGuinn playing electric 12-string and Hillman picking the bass. As the show progressed McGuinn, Hillman, Stuart, Kenny Vaughn and Chris Scruggs all members took up acoustic, electric and steel guitars, bass and mandolin with equal aplomb. Vocal duties were also shared as McGuinn sang “Mr. Spaceman,” Hillman “Old John Robertson” and Stuart took the lead on Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home.” The harmonies were sublime on with Stuart and drummer Harry Stinson adding backing behind Hillman and McGuinn.
As can be expected at a 50th-anniversary show, reminiscing abound. McGuinn recounted that famous two=song set at the Opry. On March 15th 1968, the band were invited to appear on the Grand Ole Opry, which was then still at the Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville. Singer-songwriter future outlaw country pioneer Tompall Glaser introduced the group, who were scheduled to play a Merle Haggard cover and a track from the upcoming album. After performing Sweetheart’s opening track, Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” which featured the iconic Lloyd Green on steel guitar, Gram Parsons broke decorum and announced that instead of the planned “Sing Me Back Home,” they were going to play yet another track from the LP. He then dedicated their performance of “Hickory Wind” to his grandmother.
After an intermission, the second set began with Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives doing two songs, “Country Boy Rock And Roll” and “Time Don’ Wait.” Choosing Stuart and the Superlatives as a backing band was a shrewd move. Few bands have the pedigree and the chops to pull off such a monumental occasion.
Though Parson’s absence was most profound with songs like Hickory Wind and The Louvin Brothers’ The Christian Life the croed didn’t seem to mind as they smiled, whooped and toe-tapped along. Things change, life moves forward and people come and go. With timeless music like this, it makes the sadness a bit easier to endure. Continue reading Watch Out! Live Review – Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman “Sweetheart Of The Rodeo” 50th Anniversary Tour, Dallas TX.