Western Edge exhibit coverage by Brian DeSpain
Bernie Leadon works his way through the branching to be a part of Linda Ronstadt’s band and becomes a founder of the Eagles. (Ronstadt has a display in the exhibit and penned the forward to the companion exhibit book).
In the “Country-Rock” section this is where a few country-rock music notables are on hand for the exhibit preview. First, Jon Corneal, the drummer for the International Submarine Band is seen.
Maness played pedal steel on the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo album. He reprises the role, along with Lloyd Green, in an expanded form on the country-rock classic.
Moments later, Richie Furay is touring the exhibit and stops to look at his Poco stage suit on display.
Nearby is the display of Rick Nelson’s 1969 Gibson Les Paul Custom guitar while he was fronting the Stone Canyon Band. The handwritten lyrics to “Garden Party” are also on display along with the 1972 album where Nelson is pictured with the Gibson guitar.
Country-rock music history is simply everywhere.
Backtracking from seeing Maness and Furay, the banjo used by John McEuen in Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken is on view. In the previous Western Edge installment, McEuen touches on this banjo in a wide-ranging interview with Americana Highways (Interview: McEuen discusses Western Edge, his new book, band legacy and upcoming stage show in the Ozarks)
Michael Nesmith’s stage wear and his Gibson J-200 guitar are in another featured display. Nesmith is noted for being a member of the Monkees. In the country-rock circle he made his biggest contribution with First National Band.
Arguably, the crown jewel of the exhibit is the “Nudie” suits from three members of the Flying Burrito Brothers: Gram Parsons, Chris Hillman and “Sneaky Pete” Kleinow. The suits, created by famed designer Manuel, made their appearance on the cover of the Burritos’ 1969 debut The Guilded Palace of Sin. This is the first time the stage wear has been seen together since 1969. That’s an incredible curatorial feat. The location of the suit for Chris Ethridge remains a mystery.
Kyle Young, CEO of the CMHOF, in his opening remarks at the kickoff reception upstairs, spoke about the social conditions and music stages in Los Angeles that brought about musical experimentation and the spark of electric instruments brought by the Beatles and Bob Dylan, further elaborated by the exhibit summaries.
Along with the conditions in which the music creativity flourished in Los Angeles are credits to performers who pushed boundaries. The Dillards get a hat tip for their spread of bluegrass to other musicians, along with the Kentucky Colonels.
“The instrumental prowess and harmony vocals of these two groups influenced many of the musicians who would lead the charge into country-rock in the 1960s.”
Another given credit for creating pathways is Emmylou Harris. Her dusty rose stage wear is on display. It’s featured on the left side of the display where Jon Corneal is pictured above.
She “became a prominent bridge between L.A. and Nashville when, in 1975, she achieved the first of more than twenty-five Top Ten country hits.”
“Former members of Harris’ Hot Band, including Rodney Crowell and Ricky Skaggs, followed her on to the country charts as solo artists.”
The third section of the exhibit is “Reverberations.” In the late 1970s, Dwight Yoakam and Los Lobos, along with others, were bringing other influences to the stage. Mexican folk, hard-edged honky-tonk, rockabilly, and punk became the next wave influence on the hybrid rock music brought by bluegrass, country and folk instrumentation earlier.
Yoakam’s Manuel-designed bolero jacket, along with ripped jeans and white boots he wore on stage in the 1980s, are on featured display, seen in the photo above.
With Yoakam and Los Lobos – the Blasters, Rosie Flores, Lone Justice, the Long Ryders and others entered the Los Angeles music scene with an edgier yet roots sound. Yoakam plays a starring role in the exhibit’s introductory video presentation.
In the display next to Flores is the Desert Rose band, a later Chris Hillman collaboration which is the band end point on the exhibit timeline.
Western Edge Playlist on Amazon Music is a musical companion to the exhibit, dividing the catalogue of artists into three eras.
More reverberations bring us eventually to the story of Americana, which itself is still a work in progress.
There’s no way to do this exhibit justice without being there. Get your exhibit reservations and plan a roadtrip with your friends and family.
Major thanks goes out to the CMHOF for undertaking the three-year effort to pull this Western Edge exhibit together. While we have lost several in the country-rock music community over the years, so many are still with us, this exhibit is very much a living music history.
The Western Edge exhibit certainly brings to life all the people, places and circumstances of the country-rock music movement.
In following installments from the Western Edge opening weekend, Americana Highways will review the Western Edge: Los Angeles Country-Rock In Concert at the CMA Theater and present coverage of a songwriter workshop, as well as an interview, with country-rock trailblazer Richie Furay.
Enjoy our previous coverage of this event here: Western Edge Exhibit at CMHOF Spotlights Country-Rock History in Nashville
Discover more about the exhibit here: https://www.countrymusichalloffame.org/calendar/western-edge-exhibit