Cosmic American Country Rock


Featured Cosmic Artist

Clarence White was a gifted guitarist who was one of the pioneers of country rock in the late '60s. Although died young, his work with the Byrds and the Kentucky Colonels, among others, remained celebrated among country-rock and bluegrass aficionados in the decades following his death.

Born in Maine but raised in California, White began playing the guitar at an early age, joining his brothers' band, the Country Boys, when he was just ten years old.


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What Is Cosmic American Country Music?

Cosmic American Music is hard to define, and often easier to define by what it’s not. Michael Grimshaw in his essay “Gram Parsons, Theology and Country Music” writes: “Parsons’ mission was the creation of a new way forward, a way to musically heal the separation and increasing divisiveness of late modern life. His term for what he attempted was Cosmic American Music.

“The narrative focus of country became superimposed on the more urban concerns of rock so instead of statements of desire or anger followed by exclamatory choruses (as one could characterize much of rock), this new form takes the listener on often both a psychological and physical journey – short stories in three-minute forms. The aim was to bring together the past with the present and provide a musical and cultural point of epiphany.

To do so, Parsons reused the language and rhythms of country, played them through the language and rhythms of rock, and in himself attempted the incarnated embodiment of a musical and cultural reconciliation. To speak theologically he was both prophet and messiah: both pointing the way to a new beginning and attempting to live out the struggles of just what that new beginning involved.”

Here are some of my key points in the definition of the genre.

  • Its evolution is roots-based but it’s not really roots, therefore not most Americana, especially if not heavily country-based*.

  • It’s not usually singer/songwriter, though it requires solid songwriting, and is usually band-oriented (inc. in-studio if not officially a “band”).

  • It’s not pure country in the sense of it being solely traditional or “trad.” It’s usually more closely aligned with Bakersfield than Appalachian, though incorporates diverse background elements, including rock, soul, and jazz.

  • It’s not pseudo “country-rock,” which is typically a market-driven synthetic synthesis, which may hint at why most in this list did not sell well at the time. (True “country rock” was epitomized by Jerry Lee Lewis.)

  • It’s often southern in origin but usually not “southern rock,” which is an identifiable and distinctive niche of rock music.

  • It is not usually “Outlaw” as epitomized by those who have recently co-opted that label; having said that, in some ways, it followed Hank and Cash as the original outlaws of country music.

  • There is a large West Coast/Californian aspect to it, both migratory and per the Bakersfield sound, as well as in regard to the evolution of the genre itself.

  • It’s not soul music per se, though Gram once described it as “white soul,” and it is usually soulful in some way.

  • Above all Cosmic American Music is inventive in songwriting and delivery, cosmic in the sense of being cutting edge, but built upon the tried and true (e.g., Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Louvin Brothers, Elvis).

(*As Americana is a relatively new genre and by its own definition literally includes everything, you can’t say “Americana” does not include some Cosmic American Music.)

With those initial thoughts in mind, here’s a “Top 16” list, (but not absolutely in order), of albums that represent the Cosmic American Music genre.



Essentially, Country-Rock is rock bands playing country music. It is country music informed by rock's counterculture ideals, as well as its reliance on loud amplification, prominent backbeat, and pop melodies. The first country-rock bands -- the Flying Burrito Brothers, Gram Parsons, the Byrds, Neil Young -- played straight country, as inspired by the Bakersfield sound of Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, as well as honky tonkers like Hank Williams. As the genre moved into the '70s, the rougher edges were smoothed out as the Eagles, Poco, Pure Prairie League, and Linda Ronstadt made music that was smoother and more laid-back. This became the predominant sound of country-rock in the '70s. In the late '80s, a small group of alternative rock bands began to revive the spartan sound of the original sound of Parsons and Young.

A Song For You

Gram Parsons' daughter, Poly, wrote the words down on these two pieces of paper for me on Christmas Eve, 2020. These are the words to her father's song. "A Song For You". If you'd like to hear the song, scroll back up to the top of this page and click the abstract portrait of Gram. I will always cherish her gift.

"A Song For You"

[Verse 1]

Oh, my land is like a wild goose

Wanders all around, everywhere

Trembles and it shakes 'til every tree is loose It rolls the meadows, and it rolls the nails

[Chorus]

So take me down to your dance floor

And I won't mind people when they stare

Paint a different color on your front door

And tomorrow, we will still be there


[Verse 2]

Jesus built a ship to sing a song to

It sails the river, and it sails the tide

Some of my friends don't know who they belong to

Some can't get a single thing to work inside

[Chorus]

So take me down to your dance floor

And I won't mind the people when they stare

Paint a different color on your front door

And tomorrow, we will still be there

[Fiddle Solo]


[Verse 3]

I've loved you every day, and now I'm leaving

And I can see the sorrow in your eyes

I hope you know a lot more than you're believing

Just so the sun don't hurt you when you cry


[Chorus]

Oh, take me down to your dance floor

I won´t mind the people when they stare

Paint a different color on your front door

And tomorrow, we may still be there

And tomorrow, we may still be there

Contact Me: cewcma@aol.com N17