The "twangcore" and "Americana" boom of today owes a large debt to the shaggy twangers and no-hit wonders of yesteryear -- this section looks at the hippiebilly and stoner bands and a few odd, random artists from the 1960s, '70s and early '80s, back before there was anything called "alt-country." This page covers the letter "F"
The Fabulous Rhinestones "The Fabulous Rhinestones" (Just Sunshine, 1972)
Produced by The Fabulous Rhinestones & Michael Lang)
This one's added as more of a "buyer beware" listing: if you like early '70s groove and boogie rock, go for it, but if you're mainly into country-rock and twang, this is definitely too rock'n'roll for you. The Rhinestones get mentioned in connection to early country-rock because guitarist Kal David was previously in the Illinois Speed Press, a country-tinged band with Paul Cotton, who joined an early lineup of Poco. But this album is pretty strictly hippie-era heavy-rockand funky jam-band R&B, good for what it is, but not very country. Steel player Ben Keith plays on the record's lone acoustic tune, "Big Indian," and electric blues legend Paul Butterfield blows harp on the opening track. They recorded two other albums, which I guess I'll check out if I get a chance, and I'll let you know if they ever got any twangier...
Family Lotus "Rendezvous" (Full Circle, 1979)
John Fahey - see artist discography
Fat City - see artist discography
Dick Feller - see artist discography
Fence Walker "Feels Right" (Perdue Recording, Inc, 1987) (LP)
(Produced by Dean Elliott & Jim Perdue)
A modestly accomplished band from Amarillo, Texas who made this album just as the alt-country "Americana" scene was gathering steam, though they seem to have been totally outside the popular wave of college-rock twang... I think their real roots were in rock'n'roll, since they start each side of this LP out with more rock-oriented numbers -- the surf-garage tinged "Feels Right" and the bar-band boogie of "Dear John" -- but then they devote themselves to twang, though they don't seem to be as comfortable with country, and it sounds a little awkward. The vocals are also iffy -- if you've heard folks like Dusty Chaps or Chuck Wagon & The Wheels, then you'll know what territory I'm talking about... I wouldn't say these guys were as distinctive as those better-known bands, but it's a similar vibe. Possibly the most interesting tracks are a couple of songs about their experiences as an obscuro-band, Archie Young's rambling "Gone Again," and the more rockin' "Dream And Watch It Grow," which kind of reminds me of Seattle's fabled Young Fresh Fellows... These guys probably could have made a better rock record than twang, but it was nice of them to give the country thing a try. Apparently the band continued to jam together through the early '00s, though it looks like this was their only album.
Jim Ferguson "Slow Down The Pace" (Jim An I Records, 1980) (LP)
(Produced by Sharon K. Doherty & Jim Ferguson)
Ultra-indie DIY honkytonk country from Garden Grove, California (in Orange County, near Anaheim...) Ferguson wasn't the world's greatest singer, nor was this the world's greatest band, but he gets major points for taking it seriously, for writing good songs and for being more than a decade ahead of the crowd, recording the kind of rough-edged amateur twang that the "Americana" scene would become known for in the 1990s. There are several really good songs on here, including "Cold Woman" and "The More I Try," all sung with an admirable amount of twang. Anyone out there know if he recorded anything else, or was this it?
Mike Finnigan "Mike Finnigan" (Warner Brothers, 1976)
(Produced by Jerry Wexler)
Keyboard player to the stars, Mike Finnigan is perhaps best known as a rock, pop and R&B player, and for his work with rock and pop elite such as Jimi Hendrix, Peter Frampton, and Crosby Stills & Nash, but he also had a country side, as heard on this funky, eclectic album, which has Texas fiddler Johnny Gimble and picker Pete Carr as part of an impressive studio lineup. At the time, according to the liner notes, his day jobs were backing Maria Muldaur and Dave Mason, and Muldaur sings on here as well...
Firefall "The Greatest Hits" (Atlantic, 1992)
I suppose I am obliged to mention the super-slick Top 40 'Seventies band Firefall, which is perhaps really more of a "soft rock" band, but certainly had a respectable country-rock pedigree. Singer Rick Roberts was in an early lineup of the Flying Burrito Brothers (as was drummer Mickey Clarke) and co-founder Jock Bartley was briefly in Gram Parson's backup band, the Fallen Angels, as well as Chris Hillman's post-Burritos band in the mid-'70s. Et cetera, et cetera. Anyway, there was some residual twang, or at least an acoustic sensibility underneath their slick pop hits, though I suspect many twangfans will find a lot of their material pretty noxious, the very epitome of whiny '70s wimp-rock. (Though I have to confess I still have a positive Pavlovian response to some of these oldies, though I won't say which ones... I have to keep a few secrets!) At their best, they were Crosby Stills & Nash knockoffs (like on "It Doesn't Matter," the first track on their first album...) At their worst, as heard on the later tracks of this best-of collection, they played some truly awful, tepid, heartless, semi-synthy stuff, kind of like Toto, but not even that good. Their early-'80s decline was not a pretty thing. So, yeah, part of the country-rock story, but not as interesting as, say, Pure Prairie League.
The Flatlanders - see artist discography
The Flying Burrito Brothers - see artist discography
Blaze Foley - see artist discography
Fool's Gold "Fool's Gold" (Asylum, 1976)
(Produced by Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh, Glyn Johns & John Stronach)
These guys were, literally, Eagles knockoffs: with Glenn Frey as a co-producer, they frequently slide into smooth, mellow group harmonies that will be very familiar to fans of The Eagles. There's a definite Southern California country-rock vibe, as well as a strong strain of pure '70s AOR, which isn't surprising, since their main gig was working as Dan Fogleberg's backing band. They cover a couple of his songs, and Fogleberg co-wrote a third with members of the band; guitarist Joe Walsh also appears on here, playing lead on the first track. This is very soft, very familiar-sounding music, airy, gooey, mildly bland 'Seventies stuff, and even though this band never made its mark as a solo entity, folks who like classic soft-pop of the era will dig this disc. There's a little bit of legitimate twang in here, too -- piano player Doug Livingston also adds some nice pedal steel throughout, and they squeeze some mandolin in there as well.
Fool's Gold "Mr. Lucky" (Columbia, 1977)
Jim Ford "Harlan County" (Edsel, 1997)
Jim Ford "The Sounds Of Our Time" (Bear Family, 2007)
Jim Ford "Point Of No Return: Previously Unissued Masters, A Lost 45 & Rare Demos" (Bear Family, 2008)
Jim Ford "Big Mouth USA -- The Unissued Paramount Album" (Bear Family, 2009)
A tantalizing set of material from one of the odder characters on the 1970's twang scene. Songwriter Jim Ford was a pal of funk-soul pioneer Sly Stone; he played on some Sly & The Family Stone albums, as well as other iconic rock and pop records, but he nurtured an abiding love of country music, and wrote some truly stunning original twang-tunes. He must have had some interesting personal quirks, though, because there is a string of unissued demo material for projects on a number of labels. Maybe the major-label "suits" just weren't ready yet to have some hippie longhair crash the Nashville party, but for whatever reason, Ford faded from the scene and wound up living off the radar, ending his life in obscurity, in a trailer home up in Northern California. In his home was a treasure trove of demo tapes, unissued masters, and a handful of singles that had been issued over the years. Some of it is really great stuff, well-sculpted country songs, often with a novelty twist, as well as some dips into sunshine pop-era rock and soul. This disc, along with the Capitol Album collection below, overlaps with earlier Bear Family releases, but that doesn't detract from their value: if you're hearing of Ford's work for the first time, then these discs will be a real treat. Check it out!
Jim Ford "The Unissued Capitol Album" (Bear Family, 2009)
The Frank & Woody Show "Damn The Luck" (1978)
(Produced by Bruce Bendinger & Billy Culhane)
A local band from Tucson, AZ, fronted by Frank Manhardt and Woody Janda... They sound a whole lot like their Arizonan contemporaries, Chuck Wagon & The Wheels, though with a slightly less biting wit. (In fact, you can see one of the bandmembers wearing a "Disco Sucks" t-shirt in a photo on the back cover, so they were probably all buddies...) Anyway, back to Frank and Woody... This is another one of those time-capsule hippie country albums, oozing with hard-won authenticity... you can definitely imagine them having their fair share of beer bottles tossed at them in a bunch of desert roadhouse bars, and practically hear the whoops of delight from their longhaired fans as they sang novelty songs like "Damn The Luck" (with the cheerful refrain, "...what the f***"). There are some hot licks and a couple of resonant songs, but mostly this is a pretty sloppy, jokey album -- a nice keepsake for those who were actually there and a great snapshot for those of us who weren't.
The Frank & Woody Show "Wrapped Up In The Fun Of It" (Key Records, 1979) (LP)
(Produced by Pete Smith)
Their second album was a much slicker production - they were really trying on this one, and though they're almost a little too smooth, they have some nice tunes. The first big contrast with their first album is how they cleaned up the language on the Tex-Mexish title tune: this time around they hint at a swear word -- and I'm sure they must have sang it in their live shows -- but when it came time to make the album, the rhyme went, "...wrapped up in the fun of it/refusing to give a bit..." which is kind of wimpy, but whatever. This disc is best remembered for the topical novelty song, "One Less Jogger On The Road," which got a lot of airplay at the time... Other winners include the fantasy number, "If I Ever Get Rich" and their cover of "Your Time's Coming," which was co-written by Kris Kristofferson and Shel Silverstein. Guest musicians include stringband revivalist Jay Ungar playing fiddle and mandolin on the title track, and local Tuscon legend Shep Cooke plays some really pretty guitar, sitting in on one of his own songs, "Forever." Most of the songs are Woody Janda originals, and although his vocals were a little iffy, the album's charming: these were real guys making genuine DIY country.
Kinky Friedman - see artist discography
Raymond Froggatt "Cold As A Landlord's Heart" (Castle, 2003)
Here's an odd one. In the mid-1970s, English rocker Raymond Froggatt was instructed by his label to "go country," presumably because his spacy psychedelic meanderings weren't selling well... As Froggatt confesses, he didn't have any innate interest in country music, or much experience playing it, but he did as he was told, and the results were quite nice. In 1978 he went to Nashville to record Southern Fried Frog, an album that has become a minor cult classic of British alt-country... I didn't have high expectations for this 2-CD set -- which includes copious examples of both his rock and 'billy sides -- but I picked it up on a lark, and now I am quite delighted at the discovery. To his credit, Froggatt took the work seriously, and discovered what many rockers fail to recognize: country is an exacting art form, one that demands real craftsmanship and feeling, both of which he was able to develop as he explored the format. While there are few outright "classics" on here, several songs snuck up on me, and are tunes that would work well in sets of either classic or alternative twang. The rock stuff is a little less enthralling, but if you wanted to give this guy a fair shake, this collection will really fill the bill. Worth checking out.
Steven Fromholtz - see artist discography
Frummox "Here To There" (ABC-Probe Records, 1969)
(Produced by Dick Weissman)
The legendary "lost" debut album from Texas singer-poet Steven Fromholtz, recorded as a duo with Dan McCrimmon... This album predated and anticipated much of the Texas indie/outlaw music to come, showcasing an interesting variety of styles, with only a little outright country, balanced by a lot of the same kind of poetic musings that Townes Van Zandt championed around the same time. Side One opens with "The Man With The Big Hat," a latter-day cowboy story-song that anticipates songs like Guy Clark's "Desperadoes Waiting For A Train," albeit sung in an earnest-folkie hootenanny style reminiscent of the Kingston Trio, et. al. The album's centerpiece is "The Texas Trilogy," a series of keenly observed vignettes about a small Texas town in decline -- losing its younger residents to the lure of bigger cities, and no longer has scheduled train stops as it did year ago. Work, love affairs, pregnancies and retirements are examined with a forgiving eye, and a clarity and plainspokenness worthy of Studs Terkel. The Trilogy is a well-deserved landmark in Americana music... From there he shifts into the psychedelic "There You Go," which has a funky hillbilly rap vocal that reminds me of John Hartford; the album closes with a couple of softer folk numbers that are closer in feel to Tim Hardin or Tom Rush -- as a folk-and-country period piece, this album holds up well, with some songs clinging to the sound of the early '60s and other tracks, notably the Trilogy, that are remarkably forward-thinking. Guest musicians include Eric Weissberg and Artie Traum, with "Jeff Walker" (Jerry Jeff, I'm assuming?) pitching in with "head help," whatever that meant. An interesting record, definitely worth checking out.
Frummox "Frummox II" (Felicity, 1982) (LP)
The Funky Kings "Funky Kings" (Arista, 1976) (LP)
(Produced by Paul A. Rothchild)
A pretty dismal AOR/soft-pop album that's notable to alt-country fans for the presence of steel player Greg Leisz and songwriter Jack Tempchin, who wrote "Peaceful Easy Feeling" for the Eagles. Tempchin also apparently wrote "Slow Dancing (Swaying To The Music)" which is included here in its original (boring) version, a song that became a big hit for Johnny Rivers the following year. Also in the band was Jules Shear, pre-solo career, adding his voice and a few songs to this undistinctive, bland '70s pop album. Despite the country talent (including some Nashville side musicians) this album has very little twang, and is probably one you can skip.
Hick Music Index