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The Long Ryders return to action

By Dan MacIntosh, March 2019

The Long Ryders have come a long way since they were initially associated with other Los Angeles relatively retro acts collected under the Paisley Underground umbrella. Even back during the mid to late ‘80s, though, this multifaceted group stood out from the pack.

Yes, there were psychedelic elements running through the group's first recordings, but there was also a whole lot of country mixed in, too. One also didn't pick up the same Velvet Underground vibe that ran through The Dream Syndicate's aura, nor the fem-Prince-isms inspiring some of The Bangles' bigger songs. Since those hazy – but wonderful - days band leader Sid Griffin has delved even deeper into his Kentucky country and bluegrass roots.

The Long Ryders - "Make It Real"

It's been a long 30 years since the last Long Ryders album proper. Friend of the band, Larry Chatman, has been pushing the act around that long to get back in the studio. Fortunately, Chatman is now Dr. Dre's personal assistant and arranged a week for the quartet to record in Dr. Dre's Los Angeles studio. The recording sounds terrific, and there's not even a hint of gangsta rap on it.

With that said, though, the over six-minute title song off the group's new effort would have likely made its paisley compadres mighty proud. "Psychedelic Country Soul," is a joyously descriptive song and album title. So much so, in fact, one wonders if this great name came along even before the album and song.

(Guitarist) "Steven McCarthy and I contributed to it once it (the song) was up and running," Griffin responds. "but it's my understanding that the whole thing came together at once. He (McCarthy) was looking at the various influences on The Long Ryders, and he said, ‘Well, we've played psychedelic rock music, and we've played sort of this country rock music, and we've played them soulfully.' And that's when he came up with the phrase."

"And then when we were doing the album, someone suggested it should be the title as well because that's kind of what the band does. And it kind of sums up the music on the album. And I think that's very true. There are snatches of those three sounds on the record. When some people say, ‘Well, there's not a lot of straight soul,' that's probably true. It you wanna split record collector hairs, that's probably true." Ah, but why split hairs, when music is this fine?

The band achieves their hyphenated blend because of their stellar musicianship. "Tom Stevens on bass and Steven McCarthy on guitar are virtuoso players," Griffin brags. "They're world class players. For example, Tom Stevens won a full music scholarship to Ball State. He's that good of a musician. Chris Hillman of The Byrds once told Steven McCarthy that he was the only person he's heard play Clarence White's licks from ‘Younger Than Yesterday' onward, correctly. That's it. The only guy. So, these are brilliant players. The point of it is, the chemistry of us, with our enthusiasm and our rock and roll-ness, matched to the virtuosity of McCarthy and Stevens is, wow! There you go! That's the band. It all comes down to soulfulness."

In addition to its fine original material, The Long Ryders also covered Tom Petty's "Walls" on this latest effort. One reason Griffin originally fell in love with Petty's music in the first place, was a shared love for Rickenbacker guitars.

"Petty's band (the Heartbreakers) was the only band of any importance that had that sound (at the time). It was just a dead sound. So Petty was sort of…I wouldn't say mentor, because I didn't really know him. But he was like a lighthouse, shining light into the darkness. He also paid to see us once and came to see us play another time. I could say I knew him. I could say ‘hi' to him. He knew my name."

It was a little professional research that led to The Long Ryders covering this particular song.

"I was going to be on the Tom Petty channel on Sirius XM before he died" says Griffin, "so they sent me his entire catalogue and everything by the band. I had to listen to all this stuff because I had to be a DJ on this channel. And I was just stunned at how good some of it was. I'd kind of lost interest in the late ‘80s when I discovered bluegrass and started playing mandolin and banjo really seriously. And I was staggered at the depth of his catalogue. It's is as good as Springsteen's (catalogue), if not better. So, we went through all these songs, and we picked ‘Walls.'"

"I regret picking ‘Walls.' I think we did a great job, but I didn't realize how popular a song it was. Glen Campbell had done a cover of it about four years before he died. And then some indie band, whose name escapes me, did a cover of ‘Walls.' So, there's actually several versions of ‘Walls' out there besides the version by my guys. It's just a great song. It has a life philosophy summed up by Petty in it. It's just a wonderful, wonderful song. But I do feel weird that we picked a song so many other people have picked. I kinda wished we'd have picked a Mudcrutch song."

Griffin is as excited to talk about his own new music, as he is to wax eloquently about Tom Petty and others. "I think ‘The Bells of August' is the best song on the album," he explains. "I was reading a review the other day where someone was saying it sounds like a Richard Manuel composition for The Band for one of their first two records. Not only is that true, but that's a huge compliment."

The song is simple, with little more than strummed acoustic guitar and Griffin's forlorn vocal. In fact, another apt comparison – at least melodically – is Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released," which The Band also recorded.

A song/album title like "Psychedelic Country Soul" might read like a most unlikely trifecta to some. Those that don't like it or get it are also probably the same ones that always need proper separation of the food on their dinner plates. However, those that dig the chemistry of musical mixing and matching will immediately ‘get' this album and love it.

These veteran Long Ryders musicians love all of these styles, probably equally. When Tom Petty sang, "Even walls fall down" in the song "Walls," he likely wasn't speaking about the abolishment of musical barriers. The Long Ryders, though, do so - in a sense - with these new songs. And destruction has never sounded quite so lovely.