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The Long Ryders

Post-cowpunk and roots-rock spiked in the early-mid 80s with the advent of the “Paisley Underground” scene. Drawing a line through The BYRDS, BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD and The FLYING BURRITO BROTHERS, The LONG RYDERS were not your run-of-the-mill custodians of the said jangle-pop genre; that honour went to their neo-psychedelic second cousins GREEN ON RED, The DREAM SYNDICATE and The RAIN PARADE. And while The LONG RYDERS were lumped in with their affiliates under the catch-all term, they always wore their country-rawk hearts proudly on their sleeves.
Formed in Paisley, Los Angeles, California, around March ’82, singer/songwriter/guitarist Sid Griffin had earlier upped sticks from his native Kentucky to be nearer the burgeoning post-punk garage scene. Abandoning a leading role with The Unclaimed (alongside bassist Barry Shank), jam sessions with drummer Greg Sowders (ex-Boxboys) and guitarist Steve Wynn, gave Sid the impetus to place a want ad in the local rag. As singer/steel guitarist et al, Stephen McCarthy was rolled in, Wynn was rolled out when he chose to spearhead his own outfit; the aforesaid DREAM SYNDICATE. The last piece of the jigsaw came about when Des Brewer was drafted in for the departing Barry Shank, whilst the name of the group was chosen from the esteemed Walter Hill movie, The Long Riders.
Slightly altering the moniker to The LONG RYDERS, in homage to progenitors The BYRDS, the quartet delivered their first effort for PVC Records: the 5-track EP/mini-set 10-5-60 (1983) {*6}. The record in question had a distinctive hybrid of jagged garage rock, psychedelia and country, and featured `And She Rides’ and `Join My Gang’. When Brewer chose to bail thereafter, the definitive line-up of the band arrived in the shape of Indiana-born bassist Tom Stevens.
Working with the guy who produced The FLYING BURRITO BROTHERS’ first two albums, Henry Lewy, NATIVE SONS (1984) {*9} – their debut for Frontier Records – marked out The LONG RYDERS as a serious group who could easily switch gears from a garage-punk BYRDS, to being a country-rawk CLASH. The quartet’s finely-hewn tapestry of retrospective jangle-pop cowpunk was heralded by the critics and indie-rock fans in the UK, who’d a penchant for anything roots-y issued by Demon Records; and especially affiliate subsidiary Zippo, who’d been responsible for importing an initial batch of Paisley Underground mini-sets from the aforesaid DREAM SYNDICATE, GREEN ON RED and RAIN PARADE; and maybe that was the catalyst clue that binded the bunch together as one big happy family. Whatever way their musical pendulum swung, there was no doubting the merits of in-house cuts, `Final Wild Son’, `Fair Game’, `Too Close To The Light’, `I Had A Dream’ (a one-that-got-away 45), and the sing-a-long `Run Dusty Run’; not forgetting one song in particular (a Barry Skank leftover: `Ivory Tower’) that featured GENE CLARK, and their rousing cover of legend MEL TILLIS’ `(Sweet) Mental Revenge’.
After moonlighting as backing band for DANNY & DUSTY (aka Dan Stuart and Steve Wynn) on “The Lost Weekend” set, The LONG RYDERS subsequently signed to Island Records for the enterprising STATE OF OUR UNION (1985) {*8}. Will Birch’s sharp production values gave the minor UK hit album an edge all of its own, whilst political statements by standing up for the poor against the divisive, unjust Reagan-era USA was rife in titles: `Looking For Lewis And Clark’, `Good Times Tomorrow, Hard Times Today’, `Two Kinds Of Love’ and `You Just Can’t Ride The Boxcars Anymore’. If Americans didn’t do irony or wry sarcasm, then Britain was more than ready to accommodate the band’s rallying cries; even if `WDIA’ – concerning the legendary Memphis radio station – and the historic/geographical-addled `Mason-Dixon Line’, might’ve went above their heads.
To say that 1987’s TWO FISTED TALES {*6} didn’t go as planned would be an understatement. While it had all the components and ingredients to wave their country-rock flag higher than on previous efforts, Sid’s resolute retrospective rallying calls began to grate on a public who now wanted to steer clear of his McGUINN-esque, Rickenbacker revisionism. Despite a guest spot for LOS LOBOS’ David Hidalgo on `Harriet Tubman’s Gonna Carry Me Home’, and a cover of NBRQ’s `I Want You Bad’, there was a sense they’d become tired of getting nowhere fast. From the opening `Gunslinger Man’ to the aptly-titled `Spectacular Fall’, The LONG RYDERS had indeed shortened their jangle-pop lifespan.
Almost immediately, Sid duly relocated to London where he concentrated on his band The COAL PORTERS. The man had also helped to keep the “Cosmic American Music” flame burning by penning a GRAM PARSONS biography, whilst he continued to write for various music mags. Also a solo artist in his own right, SID GRIFFIN later initiated a new project, WESTERN ELECTRIC who released one eponymous set for Gadfly Records, running up to the turn of the millennium. On the other side of the spectrum, McCarthy later featured in GUTTERBALL, with the aforesaid solo-ist STEVE WYNN.
As it turned out, The LONG RYDERS became key figures in changing the shape of American music, and with a plethora of exploitation sets arriving from all directions, it was only a matter of time that they’d succumb to a proper re-formation. Back in ’89, one of the first collections to emerge was fanclub-only covers LP of unreleased tracks: “Metallic B.O.”; one could probably stamp a name to the likes of `You’re Gonna Miss Me’, `Route 66’, `Dirty Old Town’, `Billie Jean’, `Prisoners Of Rock’n’Roll’, `Anarchy In The U.K.’, `P.I.L. Theme’ (with THAT PETROL EMOTION’s Steve Mack on vox), `Masters Of War’ and `I Shall Be Released’.
The definitive LONG RYDERS performed live again in 2004, and a document of these shows was belatedly given the green light by Griffin’s long-standing Primo imprint as STATE OF OUR REUNION (2010) {*6}. Needless to say, the set featured the entire band’s best-known numbers, as well as opening with a BYRDS cover: the evergreen `So You Want To Be A Rock & Roll Star?’.
Thankfully, the older and wiser quartet didn’t succumb, like so many other outfits, to just issuing the odd “greatest hits” in-concert outing and, in early 2019, a long-awaited studio album was dispatched by Omnivore Records (Cherry Red in the UK). Their first in 32 years and probably playing on a tag given to them by the odd muso, PSYCHEDELIC COUNTRY SOUL {*7} was just what the doctor ordered. It would be former associate Larry Chatman; part of their road crew in the 80s, and now a personal assistant to the mighty DR. DRE, that convinced the powers that be to give his old muckers studio time alongside producer Ed Stasium. What goes around comes around was never a more apt quotation for a band who deserved a break. If not exactly psychedelic or soulful, their steely-folk songs pleased mostly every fan that still had a place in their hearts and turntables for The LONG RYDERS of old. If there was elbow room left by the late and great TOM PETTY, then tracks such as `Greenville’, `Molly Somebody’ and `The Sound’ easily filled the void; it was then no coincidence the ‘Ryders decided to cover the Heartbreaker man’s `Walls’ (alongside The BANGLES) in a probable riposte to a certain someone who indeed builds them – apparently better than anyone else!
© MC Strong/MCS 1994-2003/GRD // rev-up MCS Jul2019

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