Rick Bayles sent us off down a new rabbit hole last week with The Country Soul Revue. The Larry Jon Wilson song he featured set me thinking about the film ‘Heartworn Highways’ which featured Wilson. The film’s producer Graham Leader talked about working with Wilson, who he “had to track down at his hotel room, drag him out of bed and bring him to the studio.” The allegedly hungover Wilson finally made it to the studio three hours after call time.
‘Heartworn Highways’ can be viewed as one of the key artifacts in the family tree of americana. ‘Outlaw Country’ was emerging from Texas and Tennessee, with names like Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle and Rodney Crowell who would all become vital figures sparking what we know and love as americana. If you haven’t seen the film seek it out. In the UK that will mean a DVD or in bits on YouTube, which spoils the effect. Leader “wanted the whole film to be like a song”, and while it was slated at the time for lacking narration that is now one of its biggest plus points. Nothing distracts from the music.
My first choice of song was going to be Townes Van Zandt’s ‘Waitin’ Around to Die’. But as our own Emily Dongray wisely selected this as her classic clip not too long ago, I thought again. You can watch that song and read Emily’s appraisal of it here. After much listening and debating I picked on Rodney Crowell’s ‘Bluebird Wine’. The version used in ‘Heartworn Highways’ was recorded after Emmylou Harris had featured it on ‘Pieces of the Sky’. Crowell joined her Hot Band and struck up a partnership that has continued through their shared album, ‘Old Yellow Moon’ which also features ‘Bluebird Wine’, forty years later, and beyond. I gave serious thought to using Emmylou’s recording, but in the end Crowell and ‘Heartworn Highways’ won out. The period perfect scenes from David Allan Coe’s tour bus are just wonderful, as is Crowell’s playing and singing. The later version Harris and Crowell recorded together is in keeping with this one, rather than the more electric rendering on ‘Pieces of the Sky. There’s a very poor quality video of them playing it together on stage in Germany in 2013. They clearly both love playing the song that as Emmylou says in her introduction “takes us back to where it all started”.
This is where it all started. You can hear the roots of much of americana in ‘Heartworn Highways’. It documents the change in country music as it absorbed other influences and a new generation who had grown up on The Byrds and Crosby Stills and Nash were finding their voices. Required viewing by all AUK readers.
Great stuff, definitely on-point and a perfect selection! Nice work here – inspired me to seek out the other bits and pieces on you tube… thanks!
There was a later attempt at recreating Heartworn Highways with a later generation of artists but it didn’t really work. Nothing beats the original, As well as the DVD it’s worth seeking out the album. Illuminating.
And as a side issue, Rodney Crowell is just about the coolest guy I’ve seen perform. He headlined Transatlantic Sessions a few years back and the way he strolled to the front of the stage, picked up the song from the houseband and sequed into his closing set was awesome. Memorable artist.
Thanks for the article.