It’s amazing what the Lord can use!

Following their fifth album, “The Notorious Byrd Brothers” (1968), the Byrds were at a crossroads. Members David Crosby (rhythm guitar) and Michael Clarke (drums) had been fired during the recording sessions leaving Roger McGuinn (lead guitar) and Chris Hillman (bass) to complete the project. Gram Parsons was subsequently hired to fill Crosby’s spot. McGuinn had wanted the next Byrds LP to be a double-album of songs representing the entire history of the American music catalog – from Appalachian jug tunes to electronic synthesizer progressive rock. But country music fans, Parsons and Hillman, had other ideas.

The band traveled to Nashville in the Spring of 1968 to record what would become their next album, “Sweetheart of the Rodeo.” The 11 songs were straight-ahead country with hardly a trace of rock and roll. When the band returned to LA, the record execs decided newcomer Parsons had too large of a presence on the studio tapes. A few of his lead vocals were replaced with McGuinn’s. One of the songs, “The Christian Life,” had first been released by the Louvin Brothers in 1959. McGuinn attempted an imitation of Parson’s Southern drawl on the song which bordered on the criminal.

“Sweetheart of the Rodeo” only reached #77 on the Billboard charts. At the time, the pioneering album was way too red-neck for the Byrds’ hippie fans while no self-respecting country fan was going to buy anything from a hippie band like the Byrds. It took a few years, but rock and roll audiences eventually embraced country-rock.

I became a Byrds fan shortly after the band stopped recording in 1971 and began buying up their 11-album catalog. When I listened to “Sweetheart” for the first time, I was like, “Yech! What’s with this country stuff?” And I wasn’t at all pleased with “The Christian Life” or Hillman’s cover of  “I Am a Pilgrim.” I was a Roman Catholic and like any self-respecting cultural Catholic, I didn’t go for all that Jesus stuff.

Parsons, McGuinn, and Hillman sang those Christian songs as a kind of a lark but former-Catholic, Roger McGuinn, ended up accepting Jesus Christ as his Savior in 1977. I know the Holy Spirit used those two songs in my own journey to Christ.


 

The Christian Life

My buddies tell me that I should’ve waited
They say I’m missing a whole world of fun
But I still love them and I sing with pride
I like the Christian life

I won’t lose a friend by heeding God’s call
For what is a friend who’d want you to fall
Others find pleasure in things I despise
I like the Christian life

My buddies shun me since I turned to Jesus
They say I’m missing a whole world of fun
I live without them and walk in the light
I like the Christian life

I won’t lose a friend by heeding God’s call
For what is a friend who’d want you to fall
Others find pleasure in things I despise

I like the Christian life
I like the Christian life

I Am A Pilgrim

I am a pilgrim and a stranger
Traveling through this wearisome land
I’ve got a home in that yonder city, good Lord
And it’s not, not made by hand

I’ve got a mother, sister and a brother
Who have gone this way before
I am determined to go and see them, good Lord
For they’re on that other shore

I’m goin’ down to the river of Jordan
Just to bathe my wearisome soul
If I can just touch the hem of his garment, good Lord
Then I know he’d take me home

I am a pilgrim and a stranger
Traveling through this wearisome land
I’ve got a home in that yonder city, good Lord
And it’s not, not made by hand

Additional Gospel songs recorded by the Byrds include “Oil In My Lamp” and “Jesus Is Just Alright” from Ballad of Easy Rider (1969), “Glory, Glory” from Byrdmaniax (1971), and “Farther Along” from Farther Along (1971).

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