NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) – In the late ’70s, a man suddenly found himself touring the country playing songs he thought the world would never hear. Nearly 50 years after the release of his first album, he just released a second, and he now travels around Tennessee playing music.
It is the story of a pioneer and the daring album that is his legacy.
What was country music in 1973? It was six weeks at number one for Conway Twitty, big hits for Loretta Lynn, three singles reaching number one for Merle Haggard.
In the midst of that 1973 country scene, a very different country album quietly came out. It was an album called Lavender Country, a self-titled album after the band. The man behind the album is Patrick Haggerty.
“What was unique was that it was the first gay country album in the world,” Haggerty said.
Growing up on a dairy farm in Washington, Haggerty’s family knew he was gay, and they loved and accepted him. He said the problems came later. He said that while working for the Peace Corps, his sexuality was discovered.
“The next day I was on a plane to Washington DC for treatment,” Haggerty said. “It was so quick. This event changed my life.”
When Haggerty started recording Lavender Country, it was a few years before the gay community found refuge in the disco scene of the late 70s. Haggerty’s inspiration was music born in much quieter spaces.
“I grew up in a rural setting in 1955 on a cow farm,” he said. “What was in me was country.”
The album’s release came just a few years after the Stonewall Riots, and Haggerty was ready to make a statement.
“One of the basic principles of coming out was not to be silent,” he said.
“The very idea that we would have a real out-gay artist on the radio at that time, it probably would have shook Nashville like an earthquake!” laughed country singer Ty Herndon. “What a brave and courageous man.”
“Everyone was shocked by it,” Haggerty recalled. “It was outrageous.”
Haggerty knew that exiting Lavender Country would mean giving up on moving to Nashville and any ambitions of ending up on the Hot Country Billboard chart.
“But I chose to go out,” he said. “Lavender Country had no chance of commercial success and so it died.”
Then in 2014, someone uploaded a Lavender Country song to YouTube. Suddenly, a label offers to reissue the album.
“I didn’t believe them until they sent me a $300 advance and the check was good! laughs Haggerty.
Purple or lavender is often a color associated with spring and a fresh start. With his own new album on the way, Herndon wonders if this is a new day for gay country artists.
“Today in country music we have artists on the radio who have #1s who are LGBTQ, and I never thought I would see that day,” Herndon said.
“Now I have this hat of being the father of a new genre called gay country exploding,” Haggerty smiles. “It is an incomprehensible and surprisingly beautiful experience here at the end of my life.”
Lavender Country’s new album is called Blackberry Rose and was released last month, almost 50 years after the first album was released.