70s Country Artists LOCALS ONLY: This is a guide to independent and off-the-radar country musicians from the 1960s, 1970s and early 'Eighties, including hometown performers working in regional oprys, jamborees, dude ranches, casinos, pizza parlors and lounges. They included longhaired country-rockers, red-dirt outlaws, Nashville hopefuls and earnest amateurs, as well as the more country-oriented artists in the bluegrass and southern gospel fields. Many of these musicians toured nationally or regionally while others were strictly hometown folks. These are the people who are often overlooked in the history books but who contributed their talents, hopes and dreams to the country music world, and the aim of this guide is to keep their memories and their work alive. Comments, corrections and suggestions are always welcome.

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Ukiah "Good Time Music" (Dark Star Records, 1979) (LP)
(Produced by Ray DeLeon)

The duo of Ray DeLeon and Steve Seidel cut this live album of outlaw twang and rock oldies at a club called Moonraker, in Irvine, California. Included in the set are their versions of "Take This Job And Shove It," "Put Another Log On The Fire" and (of course!) "Up Against The Wall, Redneck Mother," which is certainly in the running for the most popular outlaw cover tune of the '70s...

Ulysses Hardware "Buffalo Grass" (Aspen Records, 1976) (LP)
(Produced by Mick Bessire & Tony Bessire)

Though considered a Colorado band because they recorded this set in Golden, Colorado, this country-rock trio seem to have originally been from Kansas... All the songs were written by brothers Mick and Tony Bessire, with the trio rounded out by Kent Smothers. The Bessires were farm kids when they were young, growing up around a series of feedlots and ranches in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Their dad moved around a lot, though he eventually settled down in Ulysses, Kansas, a tiny town in the southwestern corner of the state, near Dodge City. The band was named after the hardware store their dad owned and ran for nearly forty years. Although this album was recorded in 1976, some of the songs date back several years earlier, such as "Folks, I Wish You Were Here," which they copyrighted in '73. I'm not sure if Ulysses Hardware did many live shows, but the band was a stepping stone for Tony Bessire, who moved to Nashville to work as a professional songwriter. His greatest successes came writing for or with neotrad singer Chris Ledoux, who wound up recording a half dozen of Bessire's songs. Tony Bessire eventually retired to Florida, while Mick Bessire followed his rural roots as a career, moving to upstate New York, where he worked for the state and in various ag-related academic jobs. As far as I know, this was the only album by Ulysses Hardware.

Uncle Dog "Old Hat" (MCA Records, 1973) (LP)
In the wake of Janis Joplin's tragic 1970 overdose, a handful of young women emerged on the hippie rock scene to fill the void, folks like Bonnie Raitt, Ellen McIllwane, Dianne Davidson. Brenda Patterson and -- in the case of the rootsy British band Uncle Dog -- Londoner Carol Grimes, who wailed with a wildness and abandon that was perhaps the closest in feel to Joplin's emotive style. This album kicks off with a decent amount of country-ish twang, showcasing the dobro and slide guitar of picker Sammy Mitchell, but gradually shifts into a more funk-and-blues oriented style, reminiscent of post-boogie rock bands such as the Faces, or far-flung, eclectic groups led by Joe Cocker, Leon Russell and the like. It's a pretty strong set -- joyful and energetic, stylistically varied, and surprisingly not too self-indulgent. If you're looking for good stuff from the eclectic era of pre-disco '70s rock, you might wanna give this record a try.

Uncle Jack & Mary Lou "Live At The Reading Fair: July, 1971" (Dollo Records, 1972) (LP)
An homage to a pioneering figure in the hillbilly music scene of the 1930s and '40s, "Uncle" Jack Nelson (1987-1972). Nelson and his wife Mary Lou were originally from Ohio, but like many performers in the radio era, they moved around a lot; eventually they settled in Pennsylvania, and for over a decade operated their own music venue, Himmelreich's Grove near Womelsdorf, PA, where they worked for most of the 1940s. Nelson's connection to the Shorty and Dolly Long dates back to the Great Depression when they worked together on radio, maintaining that relationship for many decades to come. The liner notes are remarkably forlorn and circumspect, as Shorty Long recounts his attendance at Nelson's funeral in April, 1972, where he and Dolly joined a handful of old-timers. Apparently, although Uncle Jack and Mary Lou were big stars on the radio, they never recorded singles or albums, at least that's what Long says here, so this concert recording from a show in Reading, Pennsylvania makes a fitting epitaph for a now-obscure country legend.

Uncle Jim's Music "Uncle Jim's Music" (Kapp Records, 1971) (LP)

Uncle Jim's Music "There's A Song In This" (Kapp Records, 1972) (LP)

Uncle Remus "The Movin' And The Livin' " (Ribbon Rail Records, 1978) (LP)
(Produced by Lenny Springer & Uncle Remus)

A bluegrass-ish band from Bloomington, Indiana which drifted into string-swing territory with covers of standards such as "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" and "Lady Be Good" as well as "I've Just Seen A Face" by the Beatles. A cover of "Long Black Veil" is the most overtly country tune, though they presented a few originals as well, such as "Singles Bar" "The Movin' And The Livin'," and "Can't Let Go," all penned by mandolinist Chuck Yates, among others. He's joined by fiddler Lenny Springer and guitar picker Larry Clyman as the group's main trio, with bass and drums added by a few pals. I'm not sure how many other bands these guys were in, though Larry Clyman seems to have gravitated towards some rock'n'folk oriented projects such as Big Shoulders, a group he played with in the late '80s.

Uncle Sam's All American Band "Uncle Sam's All American Band" (Prestige Productions & Records, 1976-?) (LP)
This short-lived band from Birmingham, Alabama is noteworthy for several songs written by Roger Hallmark, one of two lead singers, the other being Birmingham local Johnny Click. Hallmark had recorded some stuff for Stax Record's country imprint a few years earlier, but became better known at decade's end with a string of anti-muslim, patriotic novelty songs, starting with "A Message To Khomeini," which was recorded with the Thrasher Brothers, as well as one album under his own name. Hallmark wrote six of the songs on this album; one other original, "Sweet Thinking Railroad," was contributed by Nick Hancock.

Uncle Walt's Band "Blame It On The Bossanova" (Lespedeza Records, 1974) (LP)
Although they are often identified with the Austin music scene, Uncle Walt's Band was originally from South Carolina, and was working there when they recorded this album, between stints in Texas. The trio of David Ball, Champs Hood and Walter Hyatt first formed as a highschool band 'way back in the early '70s but didn't record this debut album until they'd been together for several years. The band (and bandmembers) migrated to and from Austin a few times over the decade, and also tried their luck in Nashville. All three musicians also pursued solo careers, with Hyatt being embraced as a songwriter by the bluegrass and folk communities, while David Ball had the greatest commercial success, climbing into the Country Top Forty in the 1990s and almost topping the charts on a couple of occasions. But they started their paths as a groundbreaking, ultra-eclectic roots/folk/twang band, pals of Lyle Lovett and favorites of the nascent Austin Americana scene. Some, but not all of their records have been reissued over the years...

Uncle Walt's Band "The Girl On The Sunny Shore" (Lespedeza Records, 19--?)
This is a CD reissue of two albums, 1975's "Uncle Walt's Band," and "6-26-79," which originally came out in 1988.

Uncle Walt's Band "An American In Texas" (Lespedeza Records, 1980) (LP)

Uncle Walt's Band "Recorded Live At The Waterloo Ice House" (Lespedeza Records, 1982) (LP)

Underground Country "Underground Country" (Quartz Records, 19--?) (LP)
(Produced by Ronnie Preston)

A group from Duncan, Oklahoma, with Billy and Darlene Castleberry, Joe, Patsy and Robert Ledgerwood, Tim Williams on bass and Robbie Barnes on percussion...

Unicorn "Blue Pine Trees" (Charisma/Capitol Records, 1974) (LP)
(Produced by David Gilmour)

Groovy melding of hippie-era country-rock and early 'Seventies power-pop, suggesting a mix of late-'Sixties Byrds and late-'Seventies Tom Petty, or perhaps a lost album from Big Star. This was the second album by this UK band, and despite the Tolkeinesque cover art, regular old indie-rock and soft-pop fans might find this one kinda fun. And there's definitely some legitimate pedal steel-driven twang in there as well. A surprise.

Upland Express "Upland Express" (Leather Records, 1979) (LP)
(Produced by Gene Elders)

No muss, no fuss progressive bluegrass, with lots of rock and country covers played in a straightforward traditional picking style... Not dazzling, but easy on the ears and a nice document of a regular-folks local band playing their little hearts out. Highlights include their versions of Jerry Irby's "Drivin' Nails In My Coffin" and the Band's "Up On Cripple Creek"; they also cover the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Michael Nesmith and Buffalo Springfield, along with hoedown standards such as "Pig In A Pen," "Turkey In The Straw" and "Little Cabin On The Hill." This Virginia-based band included brothers Rickie and Ronnie Simpkins on fiddle and bass, banjo picker Barry Collins, Ken Farmer on guitar, and a 15-year old girl singer, Tonya Gibson, who sings lead on several tracks and harmony on others. (I think she may have gone on to sing or write some Southern Gospel music later on, but I'm not sure if she played in many other bluegrass bands...)

Upland Express "Country Boy's Dream" (Cascade Records, 19--?) (LP)

Upland Express "Song Of The Blue Ridge" (1984) (LP)
(Produced by Upland Express)

A nice, straightforward, unpretentious set of gentle progressive bluegrass which coasts into softer, John Denver-ish/Dan Seals-y folk-rock material. There are a trio of original tunes on here by singer Barry James -- "Cry And Try Again," "Oklahoma Someday" and "Song Of The Blue Ridge" -- as well as covers of stuff by Dan Fogleberg, Bernie Leadon, Randy Newman and a nice version of Michael Martin Murphy's "Carolina In The Pines."

The Upstage Duo "Pickin' Time With The Upstage Duo" (Pretoria Records, 19--?) (LP)
This folkie duo -- Ron Hatfield on banjo and Bryan Murphy on guitar -- had a lounge act that mixed country material with folk, pop and flamenco guitar, and worked the lounge circuit in Florida, though they were both from other parts of the country. The only mention of them I've found outside this album is an article about their act during a 1969 residency at the Quality Courts motel on Okaloosa Island, Florida. At that point they'd been together about half a year, and had plans to add Murphy's newlywed wife to the act. This album was recorded in Nashville, and includes versions of "Gentle On My Mind," "Jole Blon," "Don't Think Twice," "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" -- as far as I know, it was their lone album.

The Uptowners "Harry Snyder Presents The Uptowners: Country Style And Then Some" (Major Records, 1968-?) (LP)
(Produced by John Major)

These guys were a bunch of pickers from Augusta County, Virginia, including bandleader Harry Snyder (1933-2009) and his longtime pal, songwriter and guitarist Lew Dewitt of The Statler Brothers. They're joined by Carroll Durham on piano, Jim Fadley (steel), Calvin Gouchenour (electric guitar), John Quillon (bass) and Mike Seay on drums -- apparently the house band for the Major Recordings studio in Waynesboro, Virginia. They cover a bunch of country classics and contemporary hits, stuff like "Born To Lose," "By The Time I Get To Phoenix" and Roger Miller's "King Of The Road," as well as DeWitt's own "Flowers On The Wall," which was a career-making hit for the Statler Brothers in 1965. At least one tune was an original, Carroll Durham's "Carroll's Town," which closes the album out, as well as pop tunes like "Tico Tico" and Allen Toussaint's "Java." There's no date on the disc, but based on the setlist, I'd guess it's from around 1968. Bandleader and rhythm guitarist Harry Snyder also recorded an album or two under his own name.

The Urbis Brothers "Country" (Decoy Records, 1980) (LP)
(Produced by John Major)

A brother duo from Ontonagon County, Michigan, off of Lake Superior, Joseph and Michael Urbis showed their real DIY roots by including a photo of the receipts from two bank loans they took out to record this album in 1979... Ouch! As far as I know, this was their only album as a duo, though Mike Urbis moved onto a series of other local bands, such as Borderline and the Copper Drifters.

Us Two & Him "The Chapel Hill Pickers" (Chapel Hill Records, 1977-?) (LP)
(Produced by Marcus Mitchell)

This country-comedy trio consisted of brothers Jim Rickman and John Rickman (aka "Us Two") and Phil Comstock (henceforth known as "Him"). Hailing from the sleepy hamlet of Chapel Hill, Tennessee, the group had its origins in the Rickman brothers' mid-1960s rock band (which apparently won a Nashville talent contest in 1965). The Rickmans met Comstock years later, and by 1972 had formed the trio that was introduced onstage as, "us two, and him," when they couldn't come up with a proper band name. They released several LPs (and later CDs, in the digital era) and enjoyed a long tenure as regulars on "The Ralph Emery Show." This album spotlights a slew of tune written by John R. Rickman, including "Interstate Is Coming Through My Outhouse" and, on a similar note, a cover of Billy Edd Wheeler's "Little Brown Shack." In addition to the three founding members, there are additional guitars and steel guitar by Michael Wilson. Fun fact: all three bandmembers settled into careers as real estate agents, a flexible profession that fit in well with their musical gig, which they continued well into the 2010s.

Us Two & Him "Out Standing In Their Field" (Chapel Hill Records, 1979) (LP)
A country comedy trio made up of brothers Jim Rickman and John Rickman ("Us Two") along with their pal, Phil Comstock ("Him"). They had a slightly more hick-oriented version of the classic Kingston Trio-style folk-tunes-and-standup schtick, and were pretty successful, scoring gigs at prestigious venues such as the Grand Ole Opry and the The Ralph Emery Show, as well as a slew of trade shows and convention halls All three grew up in Chapel Hill, Tennessee, where as kids, the Hickman brothers were in a popular regional '60s rock band. They formed the acoustic trio with Comstock around 1972, and soon zeroed in on writing material that emphasized their small-town roots. I'm not sure if this was their only album... seems likely one or two others might be floating out there as well.

The Usual Suspects "Volume One: The Usual Suspects" (Tomistoma Productions, 1981) (LP)
(Produced by Tom Stern)

The Usual Suspects "Volume Two: It's All Music" (Suspex Records, 1983) (LP)

The Usual Suspects "Volume Three: Above Suspicion" (Suspex Records, 1983) (LP)
(Produced by Tom Stern)

This series spotlights a variety of root-oriented SF Bay Area musicians -- blues, country and rock locals -- invited together by producer Tom Stern, who just wanted to capture the relaxed, freewheeling vibe he heard in Marin County and environs. This particular volume starts off with some bluesy material, including vocals by Taj Mahal, and pianists Mark Naftalin and Mitch Woods tickling the ivories. But the disc takes a pronounced tilt towards more country-oriented material, with covers of tunes such as Harold Hensley's "You're The Reason" and Roy Orbison's "Dream Baby," sung by Peter Rowan, Tony Rice singing a straight-ahead bluegrass version of "Rock Hearts," and Don Reno and his family plunking out "Lonesome Hearted Blues," with Stern playing second banjo. (He plays a variety of instruments throughout the album...) Other participants include singer Vicki Randle, Joe Goldmark on pedal steel, and Darol Anger playing cello and violin on some 'grassed-up Bach variations, along with mandolinist Frank Wakefield. The sessions have a very relaxed feel and sound like what they basically were, a bunch of very talented folks dropping by to jam at somebody's home -- there's talent to spare, but they aren't stressing too much about making it sound a certain way, often taking chances or just plain enjoying themselves as they play. (By the way, does anyone know exactly which records came out when in this series, and which numbers each volume should be assigned? The info online is pretty contradictory...) At any rate, most roots music fans should find something to enjoy here.

The Usual Suspects "Volume Four" (Suspex Records, 19--?) (LP)

The Usual Suspects "Volume Five" (Suspex Records, 19--?) (LP)

The Usual Suspects "Volume Six: Reunions" (Suspex Records, 1986) (LP)

The Usual Suspects "Volume Seven: Dreams" (Suspex Records, 1987) (LP)

The Usual Suspects "Volume Eight" (Suspex Records, 19--?) (LP)

The Usual Suspects "Volume Nine: Goodbye" (Suspex Records, 1989) (LP)
(Produced by Tom Stern & Scott Matthews)

The Utah Kid "Eagle Ridge" (Self-Released, 1972) (LP)
(Produced by Mikel Covey, Jon Wellman & The Utah Kid )

Visual artist Kenvin Lyman made a name for himself in the hippie era as the lightshow artist for the Grateful Dead and other uber-bands in the San Francisco scene... Lyman cut this folk/roots/boogie rock album under his nom-de-art, The Utah Kid, and played some gigs along the West Coast, though most of his time on the road was spent helping stage shows for rock stars such as the Dead, Elton John, Santana, etc. Later, Lyman became a pioneering computer animator and one of Utah's first widely recognized organic farmers. This album isn't all country rock, by any means, but the twang is in there, as well as the rural vibe.

Hick Music Index

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