How Late Country Legend Ralph Emery Got Into a Tiff with the Byrds

by Taylor Cunningham
how-late-country-legend-ralph-emery-got-into-tiff-with-byrds

According to music legend, the Byrds tried their hands at releasing a country album in the late 1960s. But their attempt was squashed by the late Ralph Emery.

The situation led to a lasting feud between the band and the Nashville disc jockey. But everyone made somewhat awkward amends on Emery’s show 17 years later.

The whole story is murky because there are no recordings of the incident, according to Variety. But in 2018, Byrds frontman Roger McGuinn told his side of the story. And in it, Emery comes out as the villain.

As McGuinn shared during one of the Byrds 50th-anniversary shows, he had recorded a country tune written by Bob Dylan, and hoping to get some air time, he headed out to visit Ralph Emery’s Nashville radio station.

“We thought, wow, if we play it on there, maybe somebody will buy it — and we liked that idea,” the singer said. “We took it to Ralph Emery, the DJ, and said, ‘Would you play our new record?’ “

Apparently, Emery didn’t give the song much of a chance. After listening to it for “about 10 seconds,” he told the guys that he wasn’t going to debut the tune.

“We said, ‘why not? He said, ‘What’s it about?’ I said, ‘Ralph, it’s a Bob Dylan song!’” McGuinn continued. But obviously, that didn’t change the host’s mind. And the song never got off the ground.

The Byrds Wrote ‘Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man’ to Publically Dis Ralph Emery

As the story continued, Ralph Emery cut to a commercial break and read an ad for Clark C where he pretended to be a trucker.

“He went into a commercial and he said, ‘No matter what kind of a rig you drive, Clark C will fit it. So go on down to your Clark dealers today and get a Clark C put in your rig. Mile after mile, you’ll be glad you did,’” said Rodger McGuinn. “We looked at each other and said, ‘This guy’s not a real trucker.’ He reminded us of the kind of people that dress up like cowboys and hang out in drug stores.”

Months later, McGuinn and his bandmate Gram Parsons were sitting in a London hotel room trying to think up some new songs. And McGuinn was all of a sudden inspired by revenge and that Clark C ad.

“I said, “remember that DJ in Nashville who wouldn’t play our record?… You know what? Let’s write a song about him.’”

With that, the 1969 hit single Drug Store Truck Drivin—with the opening “This one’s for you, Ralph”— was born.

Of course, the song fueled the feud’s fire. And it burned bright until Emery invited McGuinn onto his show in 1985.

The interview started with some uncomfortable banter that eventually led to an awkward conversation about the situation. And both sides apologized for their transgression.

“Roger, I’m sorry it worked out that way back in 1968,” Ralph Emergy said at the end. “Are we still friends?”

McGuinn agreed to let bygones be bygones with a handshake. And the next year he further proved that he had no hard feelings by singing an acoustic version of Turn Turn Turn on Emery’s talk show.

Outsider.com