By James Calemine
The Byrds’ classic country record, 1968’s Sweetheart of the Rodeo, has been reissued with unreleased Gram Parsons vocal tracks. This new two-CD release proves worth the price for just the unheard Parsons versions.
In a contract dispute, record president Lee Hazlewood removed Parsons’ vocals from all the songs on the original album except “Hickory Wind” and “You’re Still On My Mind”. Even Roger McGuinn acknowledged the impact of the loss of Parsons’ southern-soaked voice on the songs like the Louvin Brothers’ classic “The Christian Life”. McGuinn said, “Gram’s vocals were better. He was better at this stuff than I was.”
As well as the original tracks, this new release includes additional master takes, working demos, outtakes, rehearsal versions, and six songs from Parsons’ previous group, the International Submarine Band. Vintage Parsons tunes such as “One Hundred Years From Now” and “Lazy Days” (a composition he later used for the Flying Burrito Brothers), contribute a vital dynamic to this package.
Despite the album’s initial dismal reception, Sweetheart of the Rodeo helped to bridge the wide valley between country and rock music. Later, McGuinn admitted, “We did Sweetheart of the Rodeo with a lot of heart and integrity. We were trying to make country music as purely as we could. But we were so young, and we were a rock band, so it came through as something else.” Though Gram Parsons remained in the Byrds for only five months, Sweetheart is an essential item for any GP fan.