December 27, 2013

Notes from the Paisley Underground: The Long Ryders - 10-5-60 EP (1983/2011) / Native Sons (1984/2011) / State of Our Union (1985/1990)

While Uncle Tupelo is commonly credited with spearheading the rise of the alt-country movement (referred to in some quarters as "No Depression") that flourished throughout the 1990s, its true origins can be traced back to a number of Los Angeles-based cow-punk bands that inhabited the margins of the Paisley Underground scene during the early 1980s. Bands such as Tex and The Horseheads, Blood on the Saddle, The Beat Farmers, Rank and File and many others helped pioneer the unique fusion of country music and punk that would profoundly inform alt-country stalwarts Uncle Tupelo, Wilco, and Whiskeytown a decade later; however, no cow-punk band was more influential or as talented as The Long Ryders who integrated influences such as Gram Parsons, The Byrds, and Buffalo Springfield into a harder-edged punk-infused sound. The seeds for what eventually became The Long Ryders were sown in an uber-obscure and militantly retro Los Angeles garage-psych band called The Unclaimed, which Sid Griffin had joined in 1978 after tiring of the then-nascent punk scene. However, Griffin soon felt trapped by the band's unwillingness to broaden their mid-sixties aesthetic and consequently left in late 1981 to form the nucleus of what would quickly evolve into The Long Ryders, which early on included Steve Wynn who soon left to form The Dream Syndicate. Fatefully, the band's formation coincided with the beginnings of the Los Angeles-based pysch-rock revival that eventually (and quite reductively) came to be known as the "paisley underground," a scene that actually featured an eclectic mix of bands that were linked together more through strong friendships and an ethos of mutual support than any sense of a shared musical approach.

Sid Griffin: "There was tremendous sharing in those days. At first everyone was on equal footing and then some bands became rather possessive and a bit more private but the Long Ryders were always looking at things from a socialist perspective. People shared amps, guitars, worked for other bands [...] Steve Wynn put out the early Green on Red album, I worked doing merch for several bands, Matt Piucci of Rain Parade became a kinda guitar roadie if you needed help like that and the Bangles sang back up on a lot of other people's records. Many of the bills of the day were three of these bands all at once. Perhaps Bangles, Dream Syndicate, Long Ryders, something like that." The early days of The Long Ryders featured several lineup changes, but their debut EP, 10-5-60, produced by former Sparks guitarist Earl Mankey, established the band as peerless exponents of the kind of country-infused jangle-pop The Byrds were doing in their post-Sweetheart of the Rodeo incarnation. Starting with the stellar Griffin-penned jangle rave-up "Join My Gang," a song that might actually be better than a good percentage of the material many claim it is emulating, and also featuring the raucous title track, a garage-rock holdover from Griffin's days in The Unclaimed, 10-5-60 finds the band on the precipice of greatness. Following the release of 10-5-60, the band's bass player, Des Brewer, jumped ship to resume his career as a longshoreman, which apparently appealed to him more than touring; as a result, Tom Stevens, who at the time was working at a record store, joined The Long Ryders, thus ushering in the band's classic line-up. Having recently signed to Frontier Records, the band entered the studio with producer Henry Lewy whose résumé included the first two Flying Burrito Brothers LPs, and the result, their first full-length LP, Native Sons, represents a step away from the occasionally literalistic approach of 10-5-60 and step towards something approximating what Gram Parsons once described as "cosmic American music."

 Tom Stevens: "From the start, The Long Ryders were all about hybrids of pure American styles of music, as mostly defined by 60s bands, both rock and country. That all distilled through skilled songwriting into more of the classic style that you hear on Native Sons [....] I think at the time The Long Ryders were at the very height of their songwriting powers, and ability to naturally hybrid cool styles into a single form." From the opening track, "Final Wild Son," a snarling paisley update of Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited," to "Wreck of the 809," a psych-drenched version of R.E.M.-style Jangle-Pop, to the brilliant single, "I Had a Dream," a song that manages to stand shoulder to shoulder with the band's formidable influences (Griffin's vocals can't help but recall Gene Clark) and to lay out a sonic blueprint that would keep Jeff Tweedy busy for the better part of a decade, Native Sons stands as The Long Ryders' masterpiece. State of Our Union was the band's second full-length and first major label release. While there is a palpable production sheen cast over the proceedings, it ultimately lends this brilliant set of songs a certain punchiness that serves the music well. The album kicks off with a stone-cold classic in "Looking for Lewis and Clark," a powerful political anthem that sets out to punch a few holes in Reagan's "morning in America" myth. Another standout is "Here Comes That Train Again," a gorgeously spacious piece of jangle-pop that repeatedly conjures the ghost of Gram Parsons. Although it is arguably over-produced, State of Our Union is one of the most beautiful and enduring albums to emerge from the paisley underground scene as well as one of the most eloquently political albums of the 1980s. Drummer Greg Sowders: "we wanted to control our own art and it was just a very do-it-yourself attitude that we learned from the punks. But ultimately we thought punk rock in L.A.- I do kind of exclude X because they were very musical- but a lot of them really sucked [....] But that do-it-yourself attitude and the 'we want to control everything ourselves and deal directly with the fans'- that's what we learned from the punks. Plus, we liked to play our songs kinda fast."

Native Sons (1984/2011)
 1. Final Wild Son
 2. Still Get By
 3. Ivory Tower
 4. Run Dusty Run
 5. (Sweet) Mental Revenge
 6. Fair Game
 7. Tell It to the Judge on Sunday
 8. Wreck of the 809
 9. Too Close to the Light
10. Never Got to Meet the Mom
11. I Had a Dream

-10-5-60 EP
12. Join My Gang
13. You Don't Know What's Right, You Don't Know What's Wrong
14. 10-5-60
15. Born to Believe in You
16. The Trip
17. And She Rides
-Bonus Tracks-
18. Time Keeps Traveling (Studio Version)
19. I Can't Hide
20. Masters of War (First Version)
21. Still Get By (First Version - Radio Tokyo 1982)
22. 10-5-60 (First Version - Radio Tokyo 1982)
23. And She Rides (First Version - Radio Tokyo 1982)
24. Too Close to the Light (Buckskin Mix)

Links in Comments

State of Our Union (1985/1990)
 1. Looking for Lewis and Clark
 2. Lights of Downtown
 3. WDIA
 4. Mason-Dixon Line 
 5. Here Comes That Train Again
 6. Years Long Ago
 7. Good Times Tomorrow, Hard Times Today
 8. Two Kinds of Love 
 9. You Just Can't Ride the Boxcars Anymore
10. Capturing the Flag
11. State of My Union
-Bonus Tracks-
12. If I Were a Bramble and You Were a Rose
13. Southside of the Story
14. Child Bride
15. Christmas in New Zealand  

Links in Comments


  1. Native Sons / 10-5-60





    State of Our Union





  2. link does not work

    1. which one? Did you replace the "****" with "mega"?

  3. you're doing some fine work here, the Paisley Underground history is little known but very important, I have been tryiing to pick up some of the miscellaneous pieces myself but didn't know about the 28th Day recordings even though I'm a fan of Barbara Manning. I finally got a copy of the Serfers (pre-Green On Red) 1980 radio broadcast. I am a big fan of their early work, sadly the Two Bibles 12" remains out of print after all these years

  4. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!
    I'd long since lost my copy of the State of Our Union and haven't been able to find a replacement for it. This page has brought back so many memories.
    Once again, thank you :0)