Long Ryders – Native Sons: Deluxe Reissue

January 01, 1970

(Prima)

 

www.sidgriffin.com

 

Although common wisdom has typically pegged the Long Ryders
– who formed in L.A. in ’82 and during their initial five-year tenure operated
at the forefront of the so-called “Paisley Underground” scene that included the
Dream Syndicate, Green On Red, Rain Parade, Three O’Clock and Bangles – as
Americana godfathers and precursors to the whole No Depression scene, a close examination of the group’s oeuvre
quickly dispels such narrow notions. True, the Long Ryders were well-versed in
country, bluegrass and folk, but at the end of the day they were an American band, period, fully immersed
(and, let it be said, well-versed) in rock ‘n’ roll and its many variants, from
folk-rock and country-rock to jangly pop and garage/psych. That they sported
boots, Levis and buckskin jackets, deployed the occasional pedal steel and even
posed for their first LP sleeve in a clever tribute to the Buffalo Springfield
clearly suggested a rootsy image, but these guys instinctively grasped that
“Americana,” or whatever folks called it in the early ‘80s, was a very, very
broad term.

 

Ample proof that all musical genres were fair game for the
Ryders could be found amid the grooves of 1984’s Native Sons, their first long-player, and now, a remastered and
vastly expanded “Deluxe Reissue” of the album makes the case for that assertion
anew. The band – guitarists Sid Griffin and Stephen McCarthy, bassist Tom
Stevens and drummer Greg Sowders – kick down the stall doors right from the
get-go via a raucous slice of twangy cowpunk, “Final Wild Son.” That’s followed
in short order by garage thumper “Still Get By,” the gorgeous 12-string-adorned
“Ivory Tower” (featuring ex-Byrds Gene Clark guesting on vocals) and the
harmony-rich “Run Dusty Run” which reveals itself not to be so much country-tilting
(despite the title) as in classic Beach Boys territory. Meanwhile, an actual
country cover surfaces, a revved-up take on Mel Tillis’ “(Sweet) Mental Revenge”;
and the band additionally waxes rustic via the banjo-powered “Fair Game” before
heading off onto a rockabilly/R&B tangent (“Tell It To The Judge on
Sunday”) and a bit of piercing psychedelic noir (“Wreck of the 809”).

 

For the album Griffin
and McCarthy handled the lion’s share of songwriting duties, but truth be told,
all four members contributed material (as time went on, Stevens would
increasingly step up). It’s worth noting, too, that each man brought a distinct
musical sensibility to the table, which helps account for the sonic diversity
that was the band’s true hallmark. Griffin, McCarthy and Stevens hailed from
Kentucky, Virginia and Indiana, respectively, and each had an affinity for
roots and heartland music (McCarthy was already a veteran of several country
bands) while Sowders, as the group’s resident L.A. native, brought a punk rock
sensibility to the group. Speaking with me in 2009, Griffin further emphasized
that the group really was a sum of its collective influences – setlists were as
likely to include covers of the Velvets and Chocolate Watchband as Buck Owens
and Merle Haggard – and not a genre exercise: “The C&W element really came
in with Stephen joining up. I was amazed when he suggested we do stuff like
‘Brand New Heartache’ or ‘Lonesome Fugitive’ and we did them live and these
punk kids went bananas! Yet the Long Ryders had elements of psychedelia and
folk in their, what later became Americana,
[so] those that called it country-rock or cowpunk kinda missed the point.” And
lest we forget, when Griffin originally went
about putting the band together in L.A.,
ads he ran namechecked Byrds, Standells, Seeds, Buffalo Springfield and
Creedence Clearwater. As Griffin
told me, “What we or I consciously sought was the melodic power of
Byrds/Springfield with the rhythm section punch of the Clash/Sex Pistols. And
we came close.”

 

In addition to the 11 original Native Sons tracks, this reissue adds the band’s ’83 debut (the 10-5-60 mini-album), plus a brace of
studio demos, a number of them unreleased, from 1982 and ’85 (aka the “Radio
Tokyo demos” and the “5×5 sessions”). Also included with the deluxe tri-fold
digipak is a fold-out poster with tons of photos and a great
reminiscence/overview penned by the band’s original road manager John Mackey.

 

10-5-60 holds up
as nicely as Native Sons, fleshing
out the story via such tracks as the Byrdsian “And She Rides,” paisley jangler
“Join My Gang” and snarling, Roky Erickson-worthy “10-5-60,” both of which
justify the band’s early reputation as Nuggets acolytes. And the Radio Tokyo and 5×5 songs are anything but cutting room floor
material: from a version of Dylan’s “Masters Of War” given a droning, almost
Velvet Underground treatment and the Flamin’ Groovies-esque “Time Keeps
Traveling” to an actual Flamin’ Groovies cover (a reverent-and-right “I Can’t
Hide,” which if memory serves first surfaced on a flexidisc by a magazine yours
truly served as a staffer for, The Bob),
these all cement further the impression that the Long Ryders were a
multifaceted, multitalented combo fully intent upon hoisting high and waving
the banner of good ol’ American rock ‘n’ roll.

 

Rock ‘n’ roll patriots – that was the Long Ryders. Stand at
attention, kids, and give ’em a salute.

 

Postscript: Although
the Ryders called it a day in 1987, by that point they’d already come close to
achieving R.E.M.-level acclaim, topping the college radio charts in America, tasting
major label success in the U.K., headlining overseas festivals in front of tens
of thousands of fans and entering the households of countless Stateside homes
via a now-notorious Miller beer TV ad campaign. (Essential listening: 1985’s The State of Our Union and 1987’s Two-Fisted Tales.) There was a brief reunion in 2004 which yielded a live album, The State of Our Reunion, and then again
in 2009, and although the musicians are all busy with their own projects,
Griffin and Stevens in particular have indicated the Ryders are open to playing
whenever time and scheduling might prove conducive.

 

As Griffin
told me on the eve of the 2009 shows, “[They] certainly aren’t for money. For
my own part I am coming to hang out with the guys again, always a fun thing to
do. My main thing is simply wanting to see the guys. I mean, I don’t even play
electric music anymore. Acoustic music is where I am right now. Still, if
someone really wants to hear the Long Ryders play electric music – where do I
plug in?”

 

DOWNLOAD: “Ivory
Tower,” “Wreck of the 809,” “Join My Gang,” “10-5-60,” “I Can’t Hide” FRED
MILLS

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