by Jesse Monteagudo -
SGN Contributing Writer
Much has been written lately about Steve Grand, the 23-year old who is often described as 'the first openly Gay country singer.' Grand is cute, a good vocalist, and the first openly Gay artist in his genre to achieve mainstream recognition - but the title of 'first' almost certainly belongs to Patrick Haggerty, who co-created the country group Lavender Country, and an album of the same name, four decades ago.
Haggerty was born in 1944 and raised on a dairy farm on the Washington peninsula. After college he joined the Peace Corps but was soon discharged for being Gay. He then moved to Seattle, where he became active in the city's Gay Liberation Front. In 1972 he formed Lavender Country, consisting of himself as singer and guitarist, Michael Carr on keyboards, Eve Morris on fiddle and vocals, and Robert Hammerstrom on guitar. The group's self-titled album was funded and released in 1973 by Gay Community Social Services of Seattle with assistance from local activist Faygele Ben-Miriam. Lavender Country performed at Seattle's first Pride event, held in 1974, and at other LGBT events around Washington before dissolving in 1976.
Listening to Lavender Country again, which I am doing while writing this article, reminds me of how much the LGBT community owes groundbreaking artists who, like Haggerty and his group, paved the way for many to follow. Out country singer-songwriter Doug Stevens, who produced his first album, Out In the Country, in 1993, described the group Lavender Country as 'a Gay country band playing out, political, and sexual-liberation songs written in an old-fashioned, Hank Williams-like style ... The songs are cleverly written and speak of the oppressive situations that Gay people often found themselves in at the time. Some of the songs are funny, some are sexual, and others are downright tragic.'
Cheeky songs like 'Come Out Singin',' 'Cryin' These Cocksucking Tears,' and 'Back in the Closet Again' (a Gay take on Gene Autry's 'Back in the Saddle') told it like it was, with an honesty that most artists wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole. Indeed, a female DJ in Seattle lost her FCC license when she dared to play 'Cocksucking Tears' on her radio show. Haggerty wrote and sang all the songs on the album except 'To a Woman,' a Lesbian tune written and sung by Eve Morris.
As was the fate of too many LGBT works of art from the early 1970s, Lavender Country went out of print and was forgotten by most music lovers. When Stevens created his country group The Outband in 1992, he mistakenly thought that his was 'the first Gay country band ever to exist.' In 1999 Chris Dickinson, editor of the Journal of Country Music, revived interest in Lavender Country with her article 'Country Undetectable: Gay Artists in Country Music.' Because of Dickinson's article, the album Lavender Country was soon entered into the archives of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Gay Community Social Services of Seattle put out a new CD edition of Lavender Country and the band reunited in 2000 to perform at Seattle's Broadway Performance Hall and Seattle Pride. Haggerty himself returned to his country roots, performing across the country as a member of Outband. Meanwhile, a new crop of openly Gay country singers emerged - artists like Stevens, Sid Spencer, Mark Weigle, Jeff Miller, and David Alan Mors. They all combined the traditions of country and western music with a Queer sensitivity, long before Steve Grand's 'All American Boy.'
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