Michael Nesmith & The First National Band Redux

Michael Nesmith & The First National Band Redux

"...here was a capacity crowd euphorically singing along to songs drawn from a trio of albums that never went higher than Number 143 on the Billboard album chart."

-Andy Greene, Rolling Stone - read full review

"Nesmith's lithe voice, even at 75, remains limber enough to execute the yodels that punctuate a few of his songs, the fine-grit edge somehow embodying the wide-open spaces of the West much of his music channels."

-Randy Lewis, Los Angeles Times - read full review


"Hank Williams, Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmie Rodgers are to me something of a musical triumvirate. Somehow I always get back to them. They, like Dylan, Presley, Cash and The Beatles, had, and have, a clearly defined musical position -- A pure approach to what they have sung and written -- free from euphemisms and alive with their own emotions.
"When Johnny Ware, now the drummer of the First National Band, first suggested I start a band my reaction was distant and a little negative. But he continued to talk and through the conversation I sensed some of the same spirit of the men who have so profoundly influenced me.
"So, two days later Red Rhodes, John London, Johnny and myself got together for a trial run and it all seemed to fall into place. Effortlessly and freely the music poured forth. And it was fun. Great fun. We played and sang and laughed for two weeks. Then I trekked off looking for a way to get all this out of my little rehearsal room. And between Felton Jarvis, our producer, who gave us the benefit of freedom, Harry Jenkins, at RCA in New York, who gave us confidence, and Chet Atkins, at RCA in Nashville, who gave us strength, the music was transcribed. And this is it."

-Michael Nesmith, Magnetic South liner notes, 1970


The Redux

New album! Live at The Troubadour
CD / Double LP Vinyl

"The devil has no access to the singing man."

Nez carefully considered the name for his new live project. Though the goal of these shows is to capture the First National Band, Nez felt uncomfortable labeling these shows using simply that original moniker; clarity required a modifier, hence: First National Band Redux.

When explaining his word choice, the synonym for redux he most often shares is reconstituted: to constitute again or anew; especially, to restore to a former condition by adding water. He calls it a spiritual reconstitution. The new arrangements contain the essential rudiments of the solo music Nez made post-Monkees between 1970 and 1978. The differences are noticeable, but they're still only water.

Nez defines the First National Band more broadly than purists who define it as Red Rhodes, John Ware, and John London. He instead considers the First National Band to encompass all of his recordings from 1970 to 1978. The Nashville recordings of 1968 were when the music was first played in this style, but it was not realized until it was played by the First National Band. This period of Nesmith's career has been labeled as country rock, but that classification misses the spirit of the work.

With the First National Band, Nez was trying to express the psychedelic experience as an example of the Infinite achieved through boundary dissolution. He heard these qualities in country music, especially in pedal steel guitar because of the instrument’s boundless nature. His is country music with elements of rock, but his music's psychedelic impetus does not allow it to sit comfortably next to The Eagles, Burrito Brothers, or other members of the Country Rock genre.

Using country elements to achieve boundary dissolution also presented an interesting political statement. One of Nez's goals for the First National Band was to question the political and social stereotype associated with country music that gave it a reputation as a low art form.

Similar to the high art he saw in Nudie suits, he heard classical music in the country music of his youth, played with fine instruments like pedal steel guitars, mandolins, and banjos. He wanted to play others what he was hearing. When Nez suggested a banjo solo on Continuing to the Countryside band, they scoffed. But the notions of a banjo solo are not what Nez had in mind -- and they’re definitely not what ended up on Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash. Everyone loved what was set down. By recording his interpretation of folktales (The Back Porch and a Fruit Jar Full of Iced Tea) and classic country numbers, he set out to mine the cultural heritage of the south as something more meaningful.

For his first three albums' artwork, Nez used patriotic imagery to call attention to the hypocrisy of the American government. His Nudie suit's American flag theme was an attempt to reclaim patriotism from racist Rednecks. Sadly, the First National Band's intended message of the 1970s continues to be all too relevant today.

The most notable addition in the Redux arrangements is the backing vocals. Christian and Jonathan Nesmith designed the band's vocal arrangements with guidance from their father. Nez emphasized that rather than using Amy Spear and Circe Link to double his lead vocal, he wanted a call and response element to the backing vocals that refers to the arrangements of country songs of the 1950s. Some of their beautiful arrangements are designed to work in harmony with Pete's pedal steel playing to further highlight his instrument's presence. The vocal arrangements illuminate both country tradition and psychedelia.

When designing the Redux setlist, Nez chose songs to showcase the psychedelia of the First National Band. This emphasis on boundary dissolution allowed in a lot of songs that don't usually see the stage. So perhaps this reconstitution has a little more water than they indicate to add in the instructions.

Christopher Allis -- Drums
Jason Chesney -- Bass
Jim Cox -- Piano
Pete Finney -- Pedal Steel Guitar
Circe Link -- Backing Vocals
Christian Nesmith -- Guitar
Jonathan Nesmith -- Guitar
Amy Spear -- Backing Vocals


The Original Band

"[John] Ware wisely pointed out that if he and John [London] were my band, we could not only record but could tour in support of the records we made, something the Nashville first-call session guys seldom did for a new band. We would be a real band rather than a pure studio effort. ... [John] wondered who I might like to approach, and my first choice was Red Rhodes. I had no hope of him accepting, but he was my first choice. A pedal steel guitar player -- especially a magical-reality player like Red -- was critical-path for the music in my head."

-Michael Nesmith, Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff

Red Rhodes
Pedal Steel Guitar

Nez first came across Red at The Palomino Club, a popular country western spot in North Hollywood, where Red was in the house band. Red played with Nez throughout the 1970s. It is impossible to imagine Nez's music without Red's playing. Red's final performances before his death were with Nez on his ...tropical campfires... album and tour in 1992.

John London
Bass

John began working with Nez as a duo before they left San Antonio for Hollywood in the mid-60s. After joining The Survivors with Nez, he was Nez's stand-in on The Monkees. He met John Ware while working as a bass-player for Linda Ronstadt.

John Ware
Drums
Prior to joining the First National Band, John attended Pomona College in Claremont, CA, and met John London while playing in Linda Ronstadt's touring band. Years after the First National Band dissolved, he joined Nez for Live at the Palais, recorded at the Palais Theatre, Melbourne, Australia, in 1977.


The Original Recordings
The trilogy of albums created by First National Band have become an important entry in the lexicon of country rock. The use of Red Rhodes's pedal steel as a substitute for an electric lead guitarist defined the band's unique approach to the then-developing genre.

Magnetic South
Blue Vinyl / Download / T-Shirt

Loose Salute
Red Vinyl / CD / Download / T-Shirt

Nevada Fighter
White Vinyl / CD / Download / T-Shirt

First National Band Complete
CD


Further Exploration
Though the First National Band split in 1971 while recording Nevada Fighter, Nez continued developing the country rock form the band's work had demonstrated -- usually with Red Rhodes's perfect accompaniment on pedal steel guitar.

Tantamount to Treason, Volume 1
The Second National Band was composed of Red Rhodes on pedal steel, Michael Cohen on keyboards and Moog synthesizer, Johnny Meeks on bass, Jack Ranelli on drums, and Jose Feliciano on congas. The album they created delved deeper into the psychedelic moments touched on in the First National Band's recordings with Lady of the Valley and Thanx for the Ride.
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And The Hits Just Keep On Comin'
The first of Nez's albums to be assembled entirely of his own songwriting, Hits strips back the sound of his prior recordings to just himself and Red Rhodes. The sound is hardly stripped back, however, as Red builds complex beautiful atmospheres for the listener around Nez's poetry.
CD / Download

Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash
Recorded with the Countryside Records band (Red Rhodes on pedal steel and dobro, David Barry on piano, Jay Lacy on electric guitar, Dr. Robert K. Warford on electric guitar and banjo, Billy Graham on bass and fiddle, and Danny Lane on drums and percussion), Ranch Stash in the album's liner notes as, "Pushing at the walls all the time . . . trying to break the barriers of harmony and melody . . . examining that other dimension beyond the senses that peeks out from the cracks through the plain musicalness of it" -- which is as good a description of country rock as any.
CD / Download

The Prison: A Book with a Sound Track
A Book with a Sound Track -- The Prison was the first in an artistic project that Nez would not complete until 2015. The original soundtrack takes the country rock form and further plays with it -- utilizing a Roland Rhythm 77, Arp Odyssey, congas, and a choir of yogis -- to stretch its horizons into other countries and planets. But there's still that cowboy bounce on Hear Me Calling.
CD / Download

From A Radio Engine To The Photon Wing
Here Nez brings further sophistication to the country rock form. Nez recounts in Infinite Tuesday that when he presented the band with Navajo Trail, "everyone essentially walked out on me." The band thought he was making fun of them and treating them like a cowboy band. Once he played the band his arrangement of the song, they happily returned. Moments like these have become representative of Nez's approach to country rock and other genre bending. Nothing in his work is expected or trite.
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Infinite Rider on the Big Dogma
Slide guitar by the great Albert Perkins takes the place of Red Rhodes's pedal steel on Infinite Rider to bring a new dimension to country rock. Though the band (Joe Chemay on bass, John Hobbs on piano, and Paul Lime on drums) achieves a new sound, it swings toward the same cosmic destination.
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Nez’s Nudie Suit
Michael Nesmith first had his suit of lights made in 1968. The suit premiered at the premiere of Head in NYC. It later reappeared in 33 ⅓ Revolutions per Monkee for his performance of Naked Persimmon. The suit pops up throughout Nez’s career as a mark of his country roots -- and now stars in our concert flyers.