Today I want to salute one of much under-appreciated gay music pioneers, Patrick Haggerty. From my research I believe he was the very first, as leader of his band Lavender Country, to release a recording of country songs with openly gay lyrics, and this was in 1973. On my Queer Music Heritage show for March of 2005, first of a three-parter, I did an in-depth look at this history, and am pleased I got to capture the stories of a few of our early artists.
You can go to the link and hear the entire show, or for convenience, I have a transcribed version of my interview with Patrick below. These were Very political songs, and sometimes quite explicit, as you can see by one of the titles, way to explicit for radio, but I don't think airplay was a goal.
JD: How did the band Lavender Country get started?
Patrick Haggerty: I formed Lavender Country. I was a pretty rabid gay liberationist in the early 70s when Stonewall hit and I was quite involved in the Seattle movement at the time and I was singing a little bit then, at coffee houses and writing some songs, and I located the musicians for Lavender Country and we rehearsed, made the album and kept it an independent community project and managed to sell a thousand copies of the original 33 1/3 vinyl record.
JD: Who else was in the band?
PH: A man named Michael Carr, who is still a prominent active Jewish homosexual activist, and he lives in Philadelphia now with his long-time partner. A woman named Eve Morris who was an out lesbian at the time. Eve was from Milwaukee and I believe she's in Florida these days. She spent many years in Seattle and she is the female vocalist and the fiddle player. And there was a guy named Bob Hammerstromm who was not gay, but a lovely, lovely human being, a very good guitarist and I ran into him, and he was our lead guitar player. So that's how it all came together. Three of us were gay and Bob Hammerstromm was not gay.
JD: And how did the album actually get produced?
PH: We produced it ourselves, here in Seattle, we raised the money through community efforts to produce it, and an organization called Gay Community Social Services, which is a private 501-C-3 non-profit organization grew up at about that same time that Lavender Country was being produced…
JD: From the back of the album it sounds like it was one of that organization's projects, but really from what you're saying it was closer knit than that.
PH: At the time it was, yes, there was a closer hook-up than it just being one of the projects. I believe Lavender Country may have been the first, if not, one of the first Gay Community Social Services projects, but there have been many over the years.
JD: And how many copies of the album were there?
PH: A thousand.
JD: And how long did the band, as it was, last?
PH: Ah, more than two but probably less than three years, something like that. We ran up and down the coast doing gay prides here and there, in Washington and Oregon and California, and there were some gay symposiums that were a big deal at the time, you know, educational symposiums. We played a lot at those and at various gay community events. But of course gay country music was an absurd proposition at the time for particularly if you thought you were going to make a living at it.
JD: So, were you aware of any other openly gay acts performing at that time?
PH: I was, but not in Seattle. "Lavender Jane Loves Women," Alix Dobkin…she…"Lavender Jane Loves Women" came out just months after "Lavender Country." "Lavender Country" was produced first but Lavender Jane Loves Women" was probably not even a year behind.
JD: Tell me about the song "Back in the Closet Again."
PH: Not only was I doing the gay movement at the time but I was doing the left-oriented movement in general. I was working in a coffee house that was a war-resistors coffee house, for Viet Nam vets and Viet Nam soldiers, and that kind of thing. And I was hooked up with other radical organizations that weren't gay, and in those early days a lot of them had a lot of trouble embracing the gay movement, and many of them were opposed to the gay movement. And there was a big, big to do about whether homosexuals could be revolutionaries, and the struggles around that got pretty intense, frankly.
JD: So this was really the other revolutionary folks wanting the gays back in the closet.
Right. That's what it was about
JD: Well, one song I have to be careful when I play or introduce is "Cryin' These Cocksucking Tears"
PH: Ah yes, that's the one. Again, "Crying' These Cocksucking Tears" is not even a song that's about sex. The song title is of course very controversial, but that's what "Cryin' These Cocksucking Tears" is about. It's about the rigid sex roles that men were educated and trained to assume and how that role was oppressive to women and to us, and how it needed to go. It's a pretty overtly political song.
And, what's that you say, what about the other artists? I'm sure you thought of kd lang, whose first recording was in 1984, and she came out in 1992 (though quickly by necessity switched from Country). I'll also like to mention some other out-of-the-closet pioneers, such as Doug Stevens & the Outband, releasing three CDs in the 1990's, and Sid Spencer, Jeff Miller, Mark Weigle, Glen Meadmore, Jo Miller, the Cowgirl Sweethearts, and many others you can hear at my website.
The LP of course (with only 1000 copies pressed) is extremely rare, and even the reissue CD is not really available, but Patrick Haggerty has told me he has a few on hand to sell if anyone is interested, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org