Hot Tuna – Live at New Orleans House Berkely, CA 9/69
Poco – Live at Columbia Studios Hollywood 30/9/71
Poco – The Songs of Paul Cotton
New Riders of The Purple Sage- The Best Of
Barefoot Jerry – Watching TV With The Radio On/You Can’t Get Off With Your Shoes On
Pure Prairie League- Firin’ Up
We’ve got a good tranche of reissues here which in a way show the journey of what we used to call country rock back in the seventies. First off is a 1969 live recording from Hot Tuna, Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady’s spin off band from the Jefferson Airplane. Although they eventually morphed into a power trio Hot Tuna initially kicked off playing country blues with Kaukonen on acoustic guitar and Live at New Orleans House is a generous 70 minute capture of their early days when they were whiling away their time while Grace Slick was recovering from throat surgery. A selection of songs from this show were released as the first Hot Tuna album but here we get a shed load of others which could just as easily could have been featured. Kaukonen was going back to his roots, Rev. Gary Davis and such, which he learned to play in Texas along with a young Janis Joplin. His distinctive voice and accomplished finger picking is well aided by Casady’s fluid and sturdy bass playing while Will Scarlett adds harmonica on several songs. They run through songs by Davis, Jelly Roll Morton, Leroy Carr and Lightin’ Hopkins among others with the highlights being a fine delivery of Death Don’t Have No Mercy and a snappy rendition of Blind Blake’s Never Happen No More with Kaukonen’s guitar playing spritely. It’s well recorded and quite intimate and well worth a listen.
Fast forward two years and we have Poco Live at Columbia Studios, Hollywood in 1971, featuring their most solid line up of Richie Furay, Paul Cotton, Rusty Young, Timothy B. Schmidt and George Grantham. It relies heavily on songs from their then current release, From The Inside but with space to showcase Furay’s Buffalo Springfield song, Child’s Claim to Fame along with Pickin’ Up The Pieces from their debut album. Poco of course were the somewhat unsung pioneers of country rock but here they rock out on occasion and add some fine slurps of southern influenced grooves while there are moments when they seem to anticipate Steve Still’s use of Latin American music in Manassas. On this evidence they were certainly funkier than the fledgling Eagles who were just taking off around this time. The clamour and clash of guitar and pedal steel with some fine harmonies on Hear That Music along kicks ass while What A Day has the melodic finesse and fiery fury of a Moby grape song. The recording here is not as clean as on the Hot Tuna disc but crank it up and open a bottle and it’s a great listen.
It’s Poco again on a selection of songs written by the man who replaced Jim Messina from the original line-up on Poco – The Songs of Paul Cotton. Cotton added some muscle to the band along with some excellent song writing. One Horse Blue and Ride The Country are both stalwart songs while Western Waterloo bashes along with some fantastic pedal steel, banjo and squirreling guitar. Blue Water meanwhile is as sinewy a bluegrass influenced country rock song as you would want to hear. Ten songs long it’s an excellent introduction to this severely underrated songwriter.
While Poco were establishing the ground rules for country rock those psychedelic cowboys from the west coast, The Grateful Dead, were dipping their toes into country music eventually begetting The New Riders of The Purple Sage. Here we have a Best Of collection (expanded from a 1976 vinyl release) which, again, is a handy primer for those yet to hear these hippie born celebrations of country music. Their laidback early style is well captured on Glendale Train and Last Lonely Eagle from their first album with Buddy Cage’s pedal steel weeping and wonderful. From their magnificent The Adventures of Panama Red album we get the powerful rush of Kick In The Head, which sounds like Bob Weir leading an energised Dead with Cage thrashing about on fuzzed pedal steel, along with the glorious title song, one of the great hippie country anthems.
The pick of the crop here is the straightforward bundling of two mid seventies albums from Barefoot Jerry (You Can’t Get Off With Your Shoes On and Watching TV With The radio On) on one CD. barefoot Jerry were a shifting bunch of seasoned Nashville pickers led by Wayne Moss who played guitar on Roy Orbison’s Pretty Woman, was one of the crew on Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde and who formed Area Code 561, the band responsible for Stone Fox Chase AKA the theme music for The Old Grey Whistle Test. With the rest of the band having a similar pedigree this outfit really could play just about anything and so here they wander from southern rock to western swing to hippie dope anthems and scintillating instrumental workouts. If anything they were just too eclectic and really never achieved much more than cult status. Watchin’ TV… still stands the test of time and is a highly recommended listen, the title song and Funny Looking Eyes could easily have been released recently by the likes of Sam Morrow or Andrew Sheppard, both having a tough southern slink. The instrumentals, Pig Snoots and Nehi Red and Two Mile Pike, allow the band to show off their chops and really have to heard to be believed while the delicate acoustic number If There Were Only Time For Love harks back to their magnificent debut album (which you really should search out). The albums ends on a (ahem) high note with the cosmic dope anthem, Mother Nature’s Way of Saying High, which is not a million miles removed from David Crosby’s musings on his solo debut. You Can’t Get Off… pales in comparison but it’s still well worth a listen with the opening tale of Ali Babba a fine chunky slice of southern rock, Slowin’ Down a down home country rock number in the manner of The Ozark Mountain Daredevils and the title song a rip snorting funky number sounding like the Band on amphetamines. If you’ve never barefooted with Barefoot Jerry then here’s your chance.
Winding up this roundup is a 1980 release from Pure Prairie League, a band perhaps better known on these shores for the emblematic Norman Rockwell cowboy, Lucky Luke, who appeared on all their album covers. They had a sizeable success in the States although by the time of this album none of the original members were present but they had inducted a new member, the fledging Vince Gill. Gill injected new blood into the band and the album achieved top 40 status but there’s precious little down home music here with the band playing for the audiences who were lapping up the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac. As such there’s some very polished rockers here, She’s All Mine is classic FM fodder and it still sounds great with a fine twin guitar solo spiralling away while I‘ll Be Damned is an excellent country rocker which benefits from Gill’s bluegrass background.
All the above are available from Floating World Records