In messing around with a slide.com show featuring the many hundreds of recordings that count as constituting the enormous ne plus ultra of my musical favorites, I surfed around looking for a cover graphic of an obscure LP by Michael Nesmith, Nevada Fighter. Several links lead to updated information about Mr. Nesmith, “Pa Nes,” and soon enough I was reflecting on my first encounter with his music.
Of course it was my original musical confidant and mentor, the amazing Dynamo Man, Jamie, who, after recognizing our affinity for country music and country-rock, early on in the fall of 1969, created first time experiences over luminaries The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Grateful Dead, Linda Ronstadt, and, by the time 1970 rolled around, Michael Nesmith. | Wikipedia article |
photo by Henry Diltz
I reckon not many late sixties era cowboy hippies found their was to Nesmith and The First National Band’s initial trilogy, released by RCA on their thin, rubbery excuse for vinyl. However, the Dynamo Man excitedly delivered the flexible slab of Magnetic South to the platter, and, as he often announced, ‘you’re not going to believe this Hoon!’
He was alluding to Nesmith’s iconic status as a member of one of The Monkees, created in 1965 by ‘programmers’ to be the stars of a mild counter-culture send-up and comedic TV show. Ironically, he didn’t know that in 1966 The Monkees were absolutely the band I related to most!
Pa Nez blew us away. Over the next year he completed his trilogy with Loose Salute and Nevada Fighter. His principle musical partner, pedal steel virtuoso Red Rhodes, was the crucial element in Nesmith’s country-inflected folk-rock. (Rhodes, joined our steel master pantheon, along with Lloyd Green, J.D. Maness, Sneaky Pete, Pete Drake, and Rusty Young.) I’ve read Nesmith described as a troubador. This seems right on the money, for Nesmith’s witty and grown-up songwriting provide settings for very personal music, rendered in his tuneful but wavering voice.
One can imagine that the honchos at RCA didn’t know what they were getting into with Nesmith. Apparently he had clout to release what he wanted to produce. There’s probably a good back story given that Nesmith’s clout played RCA in an era when it usually worked the other way around.
Nesmith played out his RCA string with the completion of the trilogy, Loose Salute and Nevada Fighter, the singular and volcanic Conway Twitty-meets-Frank Zappa and Pink Floyd hunk of psychedelic country rock, Tantamount to Treason Volume 1, (with the Second National Band, featuring the legendary guitarists James Burton and Al Casey.) Tantamount to Treason Volume 1, released in 1973, remains the only example of country rock welded to experimental psychedelia; it’s wonderfully unhinged stoner music.
Next was The Hits Keep On Comin’, duos with Rhodes, and beloved by Pa Nes fanatics for its intimacy and heart. Finally came Just Your Standard Ranch Stash, a lush and enjoyable melange.
Nesmith often is granted some royal status as a progenitor of country-rock. This rests on some of the country inflections he introduced into Monkees songs. That’s okay, but it doesn’t anticipate in anyway the murky origins of country-rock in L.A. and Woodstock and elsewhere. My own opinion is that Nesmith is more crucial for delivering masterpieces in the genre, after the genre’s 1967-1969 heyday. The Eagles earned millions, but Nesmith was the superior songwriter and auteur.
Dynamo Man and me, Hambone #1, wanted to meet Michael Nesmith. It was our intense high school desire to learn what made Nez tick. It wasn’t that we wanted to discover what the source of his musical genius was, it was much more directed toward discovering what was at the source of his being a visionary, of his being a sort of seer. After all, it was Pa Nez who figured out that VHS video would gain support on TV in short form music videos; it was Pa Nez who would point the way toward artistic control in starting his multi-media, artist-owned Pacific Arts.
I’ve collected some seeqPOD materials featuring Nesmith. There’s a precious and telling moment in the 1971 American Bandstand interview with Dick Clark, in which Clark asks Mike ‘if he considers himself to be a philosopher. Nez replies with an embarrassed nay-saying grumble. Pa Nez turned out to be much more than a mere philosopher.
Videoranch, Nesmith’s web site. Available there are the many masterpieces he’s produced over his long career. A suggested starting point world be the double CD set of Nez and The First National Band.