In 1968, the Byrds released Sweetheart of the Rodeo, an LP built on the band's new commitment to traditional American country music. The record was spearheaded by a new Byrd, Gram Parsons, a trust fund dropout who'd fallen for Merle Haggard while studying theology at Harvard, and its devotion to twang shocked the band's folk rock fans. Its birth was marked by power struggles between Byrds leader Roger McGuinn and Parsons, and legal strife between Parsons and Lee Hazlewood, who'd signed Parsons' previous band, the International Submarine Band, to his LHI label and fought to have Parsons' vocals removed from the Byrds' album.
But when the finished record was finally released — with many of Parsons' vocal contributions muted — it would become a foundational pillar of the country rock scene. Along with Parsons' subsequent work with the Flying Burrito Brothers, as a solo act, and with Emmylou Harris, it helped spark a wave of country rock through the '70s and the "alt-country" movement of the late '80s and early '90s, when bands like Uncle Tupelo, the Bottle Rockets, Freakwater, the Waco Brothers, and Tempe's The Grievous Angels (named for a Parsons' song, "Return of the Grievous Angel") began playing a brand of country rock which incorporated punk rock and DIY ethos.
Grievous Angels' pedal steel guitarist Jon Rauhouse — who's gone on to play with Neko Case, Jakob Dylan, Billy Bob Thorton, the Old 97s, and dozens more since the Angels disbanded in 2000 — calls Sweetheart of the Rodeo "musical comfort food," and its songs reside deep within his musical DNA. On Wednesday, December 16, he'll pay tribute to Sweetheart of the Rodeo— as well as songs from the greater Byrds/Parsons repertoire — as part of the Americana supergroup The Odd Byrds, assembled by vocalist/guitarist Matthew John Arnold, featuring guitarists Tommy Connell and Michael Krassner of Boxhead Ensemble, Robin Vining of Sweetbleeders on piano, vocalists Taylor Upsahl and Kelly Ehley, Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra's Lukas Mathers on bass, violinist Carolyn Camp of Pick and Holler, and drummer Don Windham. The band takes the stage with Tierra Del Fuego, playing the music of Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline, and KJZZ's Steve Conrad, who'll teach a brief class in the art of western swing dancing, all benefitting Rauhouse's wife Jennifer Rauhouse's suicide prevention charity, Peer Solutions.
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