Western Edge Exhibit

CMHOF Western Edge Exhibit Brings Story of Los Angeles Influence on Country Music to Nashville Audiences

Show Reviews

Western Edge exhibit coverage by Brian DeSpain

CMHOF Western Edge Exhibit Brings Story of Los Angeles Influence on Country Music to Nashville Audiences
A spirit of innovation converging in the Los Angeles-area music scene in the 1960s created a country-rock movement.
This is the story told through filmed interviews, notable musical instruments and stage wear, original song manuscripts and photos and other documentation from the 1960s to the 1980s at a groundbreaking exhibition at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Western Edge: The Roots and Reverberations of Los Angeles Country-Rock. 
The 5,000-square-foot gallery exhibit, presented by City National Bank, made a pubic launch on September 30 and runs through May 2025.
Americana Highways was there for the exhibit preview on September 29 and other programs and events for Western Edge weekend.
More than forty hours of interviews conducted by museum curatorial and creative staff with the pioneers of country-rock are rolling on video displays.
The exhibit has three sections. “The Roots” deals with the origins, where early music artists brought bluegrass, country and folk instrumentation influences which were adapted to rock sensibilities.
A detailed family tree shows the early bands, and the intersections to follow, which led to many of the prominent country-rock bands.
Western Edge Exhibit
Of note, we see Chris Hillman and Clarence White begin with Scottsville Squirrel Barkers and the Country Boys, respectively. They find their way together as members of the Byrds later on.
Hillman reappears in many lineups in this family tree: the Flying Burrito Brothers, Manassas and Souther-Hillman-Furay Band. In the companion book to the Western Edge exhibit, Hillman is described as the “lynch pinof country-rock music.

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).

One of the instruments on prominent display is Leadon’s modified 1962 Fender Telecaster he played on the studio recordings “Take It Easy” and “Tequilia Sunrise” which became song hits for the Eagles.
Tele guitar
The back view of Leadon’s guitar shows a hollowed out body space for a B-bender mechanism which mimics the sound of a pedal steel guitar. Clarence White pioneered the B-bender innovation.
Gram Parsons Western Edge Exhibit

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.

Corneal’s friend and bandmate Gram Parsons ordered a stage suit from Nudie Cohn, known as a “Nudie” suit, fashioned with submarines. Parsons would later gift the suit to Corneal.
Clarence White Western Edge Exhibit
A little further down, JayDee Maness welcomes attendees in front of the Byrds’ display. The pedal steel guitar he used in hundreds of recordings is just behind. Maness is in the house band the next evening for the all-star country-rock concert at the CMA Theater.

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.

Producer John Macy spearheaded an instrumental track-by-track recreation of the 11 songs on Sweetheart with Journey to the Beginning: A Steel Guitar Tribute to the Byrds in 2018 with the two original pedal steel legends.
Absent the vocals of the original 11 songs, Maness and Green created fills that weren’t on the original album. The twelfth track is a version of the opening song “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” featuring vocals from Jim Lauderdale, Jeff Hanna (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), Richie Furay (Buffalo Springfield and Poco) and the Desert Rose Band’s Herb Peterson, and mandolin from Sam Bush.
Hanna, Furay and Peterson figure into the Western Edge exhibit and perform during this Western Edge: Los Angeles Country-Rock In Concert at the CMA Theater at the Country Music Hall of Fame on September 30.

Moments later, Richie Furay is touring the exhibit and stops to look at his Poco stage suit on display.

Rick Nelson at Western Edge Exhibit

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.

McEuen banjo

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 Western Edge Exhibit

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.

Western Edge Exhibit

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 Los Angeles venues which “staged” the country-rock revolution are primarily The Ash Grove, the Palomino and the Troubadour.
And here are just two examples of who those musical innovations would draw at Los Angeles-area clubs:
John McEuen at age 17 saw The Dillards at the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach. The experience prompted him to take up the banjo and later have a substantial role in Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Through the NGDB, Will the Circle Be Unbroken was recorded as a collaboration with old school artists, transferring bluegrass, folk and hill country music to a younger generation.
About two years later, an 18-year-old Linda Ronstadt was visiting a friend in Los Angeles. She attended a show of the Byrds at the Troubadour. She left the University of Arizona and returned to music scene Los Angeles and would build an indelible music career.

Los Lobos

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.

Long Ryders at Western Edge Exhibit

Dwight Yoakam

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.

Desert Rose- Western Edge Exhibit

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

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