50 years of Lavender Country: the radical history of the first queer country album
In 1973, Seattle queer country band Lavender Country released their eponymous debut album.
Widely regarded as the first openly gay album within the country music canon, Lavender Country not only paved the way for an ongoing legacy of queer country artists but also marks a vital part of queer revolutionary history and expression.
Helmed by the late Patrick Haggerty – who passed away last October – Lavender Country formed in 1972. Alongside Haggerty, the original line-up also included keyboardist Michael Carr, guitarist Robert Hammerstrom and singer and fiddle player Eve Morris – the latter of whom penned the album’s lesbian love song To A Woman. The first known album dedicated to the lives of queer people in the wake of Stonewall, Lavender Country encompasses queer pride, desire and joy alongside offering potent indictments of the injustices towards gay people, as on the scathing Waltzing Will Trilogy – which draws on Haggerty’s own experience of being sent to Western State Hospital for being gay (it wasn’t until December 1973 that homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness in America). The album, which balances earnest gravity and sharp-witted irreverence, opens with the lively Come Out Singing, the first line of which sees Haggerty proclaim “wakin’ up to say hip hop hooray / I’m glad I’m gay”.
Following the initial release of the album, it faded into obscurity after the 1,000 copies made ran out. Now, however, 50 years on, Lavender Country stands as a landmark work and the radicalism of the songwriting continues to be pertinent. Not just in capturing gay existence in 1973 and standing as a documentation of this, but as a protest manifesto of queer identity and a testament to the capacity of community. To celebrate the enduring legacy, here we take a look at some key stories and moments surrounding the world of Lavender Country and their pioneering self-titled debut.
The Haggerty family, image courtesy of Paradise of Bachelors
A self-proclaimed “screaming Marxist bitch”, Patrick Haggerty very much lived and breathed the revolutionary radicalism that is tangible throughout Lavender Country. In addition to being a country musician, he was an activist and organiser; over the years he was involved in ACT UP, was a foundational member of his local Gay Liberation Front group and was a discrimination investigator for the Seattle Human Rights Department. He also ran in elections for Seattle City Council and Washington State Representative in 1989 and 1990.
Born and raised on a dairy farm in Washington, Haggerty recounted his supportive upbringing in an interview with his daughter Robin Boland for StoryCorps, which was turned into the short animation The Saint of Dry Creek in which he details a time his father gave Haggerty advice about being proud of who he is. “Now I’m gonna tell you something today and you might not know what to think of it now, but you’re gonna remember when you’re an adult,” Haggerty recalled, “Don’t sneak. Because if you sneak, like you did today, it means you think you’re doing the wrong thing. And if you run around spending your whole life thinking that you’re doing the wrong thing, then you’ll ruin your immortal soul.”
“Out of all the things a father in 1959 could have told his gay son, my father tells me to be proud of myself and not sneak,” Haggerty added. A message which he undoubtedly carried through with him into adult life.
Left: Patrick Haggerty dressed in drag, 1959. Image courtesy of Paradise of Bachelors
The release of Lavender Country:
Lavender Country’s trailblazing debut was self-released with support from the Gay Community Services of Seattle. Just 1,000 copies were made and distributed via mail order and a small handful of gay bookstores who would stock it. In an interview with Xtra, Haggerty spoke about how integral the community aspect was to the album’s release being possible. “We had to raise the money, buy the studio time, find the musicians and sell the album out of a post office box by ourselves,” Haggerty said. “It’s not something I could have ever done alone, and I think that’s a really important part of the Lavender Country story. I’m a communist, and it was a communal effort.”
Just a few years after the release of Lavender Country the group disbanded and, once all the copies of Lavender Country were sold, the album was forgotten to history – until many years later.
The only surviving band photo of Lavender Country, image courtesy of Paradise of Bachelors
Shortly after the release of Lavender Country, feminist-lesbian radio DJ Shan Ottey played the track Cryin’ these Cocksucking Tears on her show on Seattle’s KRAB FM 107.7 station. As a result, Ottey was taken off air and The Federal Communications Commission revoked her broadcasting licence. A good friend of Haggerty’s and advocate for women in radio, when asked why she played the track Ottey replied, “because I thought it should be played on radio”. It wasn’t long until she was back on air, however. Amongst her extensive work within radio broadcasting, Ottey and her friend Paul Barwick had a show together entitled Make No Mistake About It, It’s a Faggot and a Dyke which was one of the earliest American gay and lesbian radio shows in the US.
Patrick and his husband, image courtesy of Paradise of Bachelors
The year after Lavender Country released their album, Seattle held its inaugural Pride celebration. Lavender Country performed at the event which drew some 400 attendees to Seattle Center. From 1999 to 2000, the band briefly re-formed and played Lavender Country in its entirety at Seattle’s Broadway Performance Hall, and then at Seattle Pride again in 2000. That same year saw the now-defunct Journal of Country Music publish a feature on gay country musicians, which highlighted Haggerty and the band.
Patrick Haggerty and Bobby Taylor, image courtesy of Paradise of Bachelors
Patrick Haggerty running for WA State Senate in the 80s, image courtesy of Paradise of Bachelors
The re-release and rediscovery of Lavender Country:
It wasn’t until the mid-2000s, when Lavender Country was uploaded to a YouTube channel and then was reissued by North Carolina label Paradise of Bachelors in 2014, that the album began to receive the recognition it deserved. This rediscovery of the milestone release and Haggerty’s work saw him garner a cult status from a new generation of fans; in 2016 director Dan Taberski released a short film about the queer country pioneer entitled These Cocksucking Tears, Trixie Mattel opened her 2020 album Barbara singing I Can’t Shake The Stranger Out Of You with the Lavender Country founder and in 2019 Orville Peck – who refers to Haggerty as “the grandfather of queer country” – invited him to play a surprise opening set at his Seattle show. That same year saw Lavender Country self-release their second album Blackberry Rose, 46 years on from their self-titled debut. The record got an official release via Don Giovanni Records in 2022 and continued to blaze Haggerty’s unwaveringly fearless and ardent radical spirit, the one that spurred him to create the enduringly remarkable Lavender Country.