If you’ve never associated John Lennon with country music before – you will now – and just in time to celebrate what would be his 80th birthday.
To say there’s ever been another band as influential as the Beatles would be a near-impossible argument to make. The legendary foursome’s impact was and is so great, that stars from every genre of music have embraced their music. And believe it or not, there’s one genre in particular – Country Music – that is far from a stranger to the Beatles.
Everyone from Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash to Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings have put their own spin on famous Beatles tunes. If that seems an awfully impressive list of country legends – that’s because it is! And they’re just the tip of the twangy iceberg.
Today, then, seems an appropriate time for us at Outsider.com to revisit the influence one particular Beatle had on country music. October 9th of this year marks what would’ve been John Lennon’s 80th birthday. And if he were still alive today, the legend would surely still be friends with the fellow timeless names above.
Paul McCartney met John Lennon while Lennon was playing country in a church
All four Beatles have discussed their “strong links to country music,” too. All four were profoundly impacted by the legacy of “rockabilly” that was all the rage when they were school-aged. The genre is deeply akin to country – and it is both of these together that gave birth to rock and roll as we know it. According to TheBoot.com:
Once Lennon and McCartney joined forces in the Beatles, the band honed their skills playing live shows in their hometown of Liverpool, England, and in Hamburg, Germany. Naturally, their setlists included a ton of cover songs, including many by artists associated with country music: Cochran, Jim Reeves, Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins.
This fondness for these groups endured as the Beatles broke big: The group covered Perkins’ “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby” on 1964’s Beatles for Sale.TheBoot.com
Listen to McCartney discuss this “country” meeting with Lennon:
Knowing of this first encounter, it becomes far less surprising that Lennon felt so influenced by early country stars. This influence stretched far out through his entire career, too – and even blossomed some pretty interesting friendships.
John Lennon & Waylon Jenning’s enduring friendship
Lennon always kept interesting company during his lifetime. Country music “outlaw” legend Waylon Jennings was no exception. The two first met at the Grammys, and immediately hit it off. According to SavingCountryMusic.com, Jennings said to John Lennon at the awards show: “I thought you were some kind of mad guy or something like that.”
Lennon’s response? “Listen, people in England think you shoot folks…“
From there, the two knew they’d remain friends. An incredible piece of evidence has resurfaced to support this, too. Jennings held onto a 1975 letter that Lennon sent him, and it shows much of their rapport – and John’s personality:
Though the letter itself does not shed much light on when they met (the date Lennon gives is “MARCH SOMETHING (year of our ford),” though it does say “75 etc.” below), they likely met on March 1st, 1975 at the Uris Theater in New York City during the year’s Grammy Awards. Waylon was up for Best Country & Western Vocal Performance for his song “I’m A Ramblin’ Man,” and Lennon was a resident of New York at the time.
The letter seems to be prefacing Lennon sending Waylon a song or songs he wrote but never released. From misspelling Waylon’s first name (and correcting it with pen), to Lennon’s Liverpool accent coming out in his typing (“TWAS GOOD TA MEETYA”), to the self-portrait squiggle of his own visage, the John (Lennon) letter to Waylon may offer as much insight into the true personality of the legendary Beatle than any other artifact he left behind on this mortal coil. And it’s one that is given special meaning because of who it was sent to.SavingCountryMusic.com
Country influence goes both ways: Lennon’s career-long tango with twang
Still need more evidence? Let’s turn to the experts, then. Self-professed Beatles scholar Lance LaSalle has taken the liberty of listing our all the strongest examples of Lennon & The Beatle’s country influences. It totals 13 popular songs that immediately showcase country twang – with a few more, to boot:
“The Beatles had a pretty strong strain of country/rockabilly and folk influences.
- Matchbox – cover of the Carl Perkins rockabilly song, which actually has roots in the early twentieth century blues.
- I’ll Cry Instead —those rockabilly guitar licks, country rock to the core.
- Honey Don’t — Another Carl Perkins song. John Lennon usually sang this live, but Ringo sang it on Beatles For Sale.
- Everybody’s Tryin to Be My Baby — Another Carl Perkins song. Two guitar solos!
- Baby’s in Black — Country waltz, strong Everly Brothers influence, who, like Sun Records era Elvis and Carl Perkins sort of trod the line between country and rock.
- I’m A Loser — Dylan pastiche, ends up sounding more country-rock than anything.
- I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party — more Everly Brother’s country rock type stuff. Great guitar solo.
- Act Naturally: a straight up cover of a country song by Buck Owens.
- I’ve Just Seen a Face: Very bluegrass sounding.
- What Goes On — Country-rock all the way down to the 2/4 beat
- Don’t Pass Me By — Anxiety-ridden country on strychnine-laced acid
- Rocky Racoon — KIND of country. I’d probably classify it more as western American folk music a la Johnny Cash ,but that defaults to country for most listeners.
- Octopus’ Garden — Sort of slightly-psychedelic Country pop.
There you go: a nice little 13-song playlist. You can round it out with a couple of covers from Live at the BBC album has plenty of rockabilly/country covers of (among a few others) Everly Brothers, Carl Perkins and even Elvis’ “I Forgot to Remember to Forget You” which went to number one on the country charts in 1955.”
Listen to one of these hits, “a straight-up cover of a coutnry song by Buck Owens”, Act Naturally, below:
Lennon travelled his own Old Dirt Road
And finally, of course, we leave you with John Lennon’s own country song, “Old Dirt Road.” Lennon wrote the song with Harry Nilsson for his “Walls and Bridges” album. Apparently, Lennon wanted to ensure that Nilsson included “Americanisms” to ensure it sounded authentically country.
The track comes in the form of a ballad, too – a popular format for country music and southern storytelling. Legendary country guitarist Jesse Ed Davis‘ was brought on to ensure it fits the country bill, too:
Happy 80th birthday to the legend – and country music influencer – John Lennon.