Over the last few years queer trailblazers like Lil Nas X, Orville Peck and Trixie Mattel have revitalised country music. The genre – long dormant – is now experiencing something of a renaissance era, losing some of the conservative rigidity that has long held it back and embracing fresh, new voices in the process. It’s somewhat ironic, then, that a 78-year-old man is now also finding himself at the forefront of the queer country music scene.
In 1973, Lavender Country, fronted by a then-27-year-old Patrick Haggerty, released 1,000 copies of their first, eponymous album in the back of gay newspapers, played a couple of gigs and then went their separate ways. Unbeknownst to them, they’d released their album 50 years too early.
But in 2014, it happened. The album found its audience. A reissue sparked new and fervent interest, and the septuagenarians dusted off instruments that hadn’t seen the light of day for half a decade, returning to the studio to record their follow up – Blackberry Rose, tackling the issues that were just as prescient in the 70s as they are now.
What’s most incredible is that despite this prolonged hiatus – or perhaps even because of it – is that their passion for acceptance and change, their hunger for social justice at large, remains undiminished.
Their ear for catchy country tunes also withstands the test of time, and Patrick’s country twang is as ethereal as ever. He sings of loves lost and lovers scorned, of change and growth and reflection. The themes are universal and there’s a thoughtfulness and care behind every lyric – some of which were written before the first album was even recorded 50 years ago.
But it doesn’t take itself too seriously (I mean, this is still the band that released ‘Cryin’ These Cocksucking Tears’) – there’s still room for Patrick to sagely advise ‘She don’t want your sick ass roses, she wants you,’ on ‘Don’t Buy Her No More Roses’. And then there’s Tammy Wynette’s country classic ‘Stand By Your Man’, which here has been reimagined as the slightly less PG friendly ‘Stand On Your Man’, complete with a line about making your man ‘get on his knees’ and ‘worship your footwear’.
There’s even a revised and rerecorded version of debut highlight ‘I Can’t Shake the Stranger Out of You’ (which itself found a new lease life thanks to a cover by Ru Paul’s Drag Race darling Trixie Mattel). The song retains all the charm of the original ballad but imbues it more forlornness, more tenderness and – if you can believe it – more sexiness, with Patrick asking his lover to ride ‘higher on the fires of desire than you ever knew’.
It’s an album out of time from a band out of time, which makes it all the more fascinating a listen. It’s almost unheard of that a band this late in their career puts out some of their best material, but in the grand scheme of things they’ve really not been a band for all that long. When listening, it’s hard to distance yourself from that story – their endurance, their unexpected re-evaluation, and then this – their return. Not as a footnote in country music history, but as bona fide country music legends.
Words by James Barber