What is this Americana thing anyway…?

This month long-serving staff writer Paul Kerr gives us the lowdown on his introduction to Americana: Jim Reeves was the country crooner of choice in my household as I was growing up and it wasn’t until my pimply adolescence that Top of The Pops and Alan Freeman’s top 20 countdown entered my life. This was however short-lived as THE ALBUM was the preferred medium for music at secondary school and soon enough I was one of the cognoscenti poring over the covers of LPs from Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin and, (still a favourite) Savoy Brown’s “Looking In”.  Their songs played on a battered Dansette in the school’s lunchtime record club which was the brainchild of one of the hipper teachers. God, we must have been an ugly bunch. Out of school, we wore plimsolls, loon pants and army greatcoats; aside from the lack of a beard we could have posed for the cover of Jethro Tull’s Aqualung. However, to our credit we never fell for that Status Quo shtick, our guys were Van Der Graaf Generator and King Crimson; after all it was an Academy we attended.

There were savvier, older guys who would pop into the record club also and one day one of them played this weird song, Cripple Creek Ferry, sung by some nasal twerp. The singer’s name stuck however and when he appeared on the BBC’s In Concert series soon after I was hooked. Pretty soon, I had After The Goldrush and Harvest and the prog albums were swapped in a local record store for some bands I had read about in this magazine called Zigzag. The Byrds and Dylan swooped in but it was the purchase of Close Up The Honky Tonks, a double album from The Flying Burrito Brothers, purchased in a patchouli-scented Virgin Records which sealed the deal.
This led of course to Gram Parsons and Emmylou along with The Band and Gene Clark, and as the years went by, Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Tom Petty, Jason & The Scorchers and The Long Ryders kept the cosmic American music flag flying until Uncle Tupelo and alt-country came into view and the scene seemed to grow and grow. Giant Sand, Green on Red were on the radar and by the time the internet came along there was a host of others ready to be discovered. I also discovered Americana UK when it started up and am proud to have been involved with the site for around 15 years. While we still haven’t been able to define Americana we know what we like and thankfully there’s a whole bunch of folk out there who seem to be like-minded.

As mentioned above, the first inkling that there was something else out there:

Still one of my favourite songs and my introduction to Gram Parsons. When Sneaky Pete’s freaky pedal steel zooms in the song just takes off:

ZigZag magazine gave Guy’s first album big licks so of course I went out and bought it. Thank you ZigZag:

The main reason for choosing this one is that I saw Poco play live when this album came out and they were astounding. Plus, it’s a great song:

I think it was when reading about Joe Ely that I first heard of his fellow Texan, Terry Allen. Anyways, Allen’s album, Lubbock (Over Everything), is outstanding and should be in any respectable record collection:

Like with punk, The Long Ryders gave Americana a great big kick up the arse. That Gene Clark sang on the album was a bonus:

The Alvin’s should be given much more credit for their hi-octane reboot of American music:

It was a £1.99 sampler album from Zippo records bought in HMV which introduced me to Howe Gelb. This song is just one of the countless wonders he has produced over the years:

Quite simply, Birds Of Chicago are one of the best outfits around these days. Warm, loving, soulful, beautiful:

A killer live act with a brace of brilliant albums in his pocket, Chuck Prophet is cooler than his drinking buddy Jesus ever was:

 

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