Following its October 1984 US release on Frontier Records, ‘Native Sons’ hit the UK in March 1985 when it was picked up and released by Demon Records’ Zippo label. Despite some success on the US college circuit, buoyed by positive reviews and the enthusiastic support of BBC Radio 1 DJ Andy Kershaw, it was in the UK that the band found their most receptive audience. ‘Native Sons’ was the band’s first full-length album release after their ’10-5-80’ EP. However, where that EP drew heavily from the more psychedelic sound of 60’s Byrds, ‘Native Sons’ added a whole new set of ingredients to the pot.
With ‘Native Sons’, the band’s psychedelic leanings were largely parked to one side. The exception being the glorious ‘Too Close to the Light’ with its jangly guitars and dreamy vocal harmonies. Elsewhere on the album The Long Ryders blended Byrdsian pop and Burritos country with the rawness and energy of 60’s garage rock with even a nod to the LA punk scene. The influences and inspirations evident on the album extend also to the American folk heritage of the 40s and 50s on bass player Tom Stevens’ ‘Wreck of the 809’ whilst ‘Fair Game’ draws from Dillards style folk and bluegrass.
‘Native Sons’ was produced by Henry Lewy who had produced the first two Burritos albums and was sympathetic to what the band wanted to achieve. The rough and raw edge of the album gave the band its own sound that synthesised its multiplicity of influences into a fresh and unique take on American rock. The band have variously been labelled as part of the Paisley Underground and Cowpunk scenes, as country-rock and my particular favourite- garage-country. Whatever, you want to describe the Long Ryders as ‘Native Sons’ was an important and influential album. A forerunner of the whole No Depression/alt. country scene, it revitalised and reinvigorated country-rock, a musical form that had been reduced to easy-listening by the massive success of the Eagles and the multitude of copyists that followed in their wake. Sid Griffin himself claimed that ‘Native Sons’ was “the LP that kickstarted Americana”. At the risk of opening up the boundless can of worms that is the debate over what is and what isn’t ‘americana’, when it began, or whether its influences are actually contained within it, I’m with Sid on this one.
Whilst it is a landmark album, which qualifies it for ‘classic’ status, when I first heard it as a young man, I was probably unaware of all the lineage leading into it. It was just a bloody good record that instantly resonated with me – and it remains exactly that to this day. That in itself surely qualifies it as a classic. As well as the extraordinary sounds being created, the songs on the album, some of which have already been touched upon, were simply terrific. The album kicks off (almost literally) with ‘Final Wild Son’, Griffin and McCarthy’s energetic laudation of Jerry Lee Lewis and then maintains the pace with McCarthy’s ‘Still Get By’. The Byrds-like ‘Ivory Tower’ then offers the first of a string of changes in sound. The song was written by Billy Shank, the band’s original bassist who left before it was recorded. It features Gene Clark on harmony vocals. Most accounts say that he wasn’t in the best of places at this time and his part required multiple takes before a usable version was captured.
It would be possible to go through each track in turn, each one excellent; but better to listen to them. However, it would be remiss not to mention by name ‘I Had a Dream’ the band’s first UK single, rocking live favourites ‘Run Dusty Run’ and ‘Tell it to the Judge on Sunday’ and the only cover on the album, Mel Tillis’s ‘(Sweet) Mental Revenge’ which, the story goes, Sid Griffin first heard on a Flying Burritos live bootleg. One other interesting fact about the album, revealing as it does where the band’s ears were pointing at this time, concerns the sleeve. It is in fact a pastiche of the cover of the abandoned Buffalo Springfield album ‘Stampede’, something I was totally unaware of when I bought it, in fact I probably wasn’t even aware of Buffalo Springfield for that matter. For me and many similarly inclined young people, ‘Native Sons’ was a springboard from which I went diving off into a whole range of new pools, hitting the rocks occasionally but often discovering many beautiful new waters to swim in, something for which I am very grateful.