70s progressive country.
When I returned from a year’s sojourn to England in 1972 I found that all of my rock and roll musician friends were sporting boots and cowboy hats and playing country music. I was shocked! The progressive country music era was afoot in Austin, Texas.
The story goes that Willie Nelson came to town, hooked up with the hippies at the Armadillo World Headquarters and the rest was history. I suppose this is more or less true. Fueled by a lively club scene and stirred up by KOKE-FM and Townsend Miller’s columns in the Austin American-Statesman, this new music and lifestyle took off with a vengeance. Forty years later, some of this music is called “Americana.”
Below is an incomplete list of bands and venues of the day (c. 1971 through 1977) that made up the progressive country scene in Austin. Right in the middle of it was Plum Nelly. Founded by Georgian Billy Stoner and featuring stunning Austin vocalist, Jerrie Jo Jones, Plum Nelly fit perfectly into this new musical style. The classic country fiddle of Benny Thurman, once the bassist for the Thirteenth Floor Elevators, the ringing guitar of Johnny Richardson and my pumping bass drove Plum Nelly’s music.
Billy Stoner’s songs were at the core of the Plum Nelly ethos although the rest of the band, individually and collectively, wrote material for the group. Much like the progressive country scene itself, Plum Nelly was courted by the Nashville music business machine and finally sputtered to its demise.
Plum Nelly was the perfect mirror of the intersection of traditional Nashville country music and the free-wheeling hippie lifestyle of early 70s Austin. Stoner’s song “Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” singularly captures this rare point in America’s musical history. “Used to be a redneck” Stoner sings, but “Hippie or a redneck I don’t know which one to be. I’m in between the devil and the deep blue sea.”
Here are long-lost recordings, rare live performances, and the final Nashville cuts that total Plum Nelly’s recorded audio output. We hope you enjoy them. Austin in the 1970s was a unique place, neither country nor rock, redneck or hippie. Much like Plum Nelly.
Ernie Gammage, Austin, Texas 2012