While the stereotype is that country music is about as far from gay-friendly as you can get, that’s not always the case. There are queer country musicians — because of course there are — as well as allies. Here are a few of our personal favorites.
1. Steve Grand — “All-American Boy”
Steve Grand’s debut single sounds like anything else you’d hear on country radio. It’s a straightforward modern-country arrangement — enough twang to keep it from becoming a pop song. Oddly enough, even though it was a viral hit, it never got much radio play. That may be due to the lyrics, however, which tell the story of a gay man crushing on his straight friend.
2. Ned Sublette — “Cowboys are Frequently, Secretly (Fond of Each Other)”
The Willie Nelson version, released as a digital-only single, is the most famous version of this song, but why not go direct to the source. The song was written in 1981 by Ned Sublette — a country musician who’s also worked with experimental music legends Glenn Branca and John Cage. Though Sublette’s not gay himself, he lived on Christopher Street in New York City, next door to a gay country bar. While some of the lyrics are a little outdated to modern ears, the intent is clear. This song isn’t meant to tear down, it’s meant to build up. And hey, it was good enough for Pansy Division to cover for a Stop Homophobia compilation 7″!
3. Freddy Freeman — “I’m Here, I’m Queer and I’m Country”
Freddy Freeman’s “I’m Here, I’m Queer and I’m Country” feels like a manifesto for the gay country music fan. (Not to mention his album name Just Bear With Me… is charmingly hilarious.) Freeman’s got bear bonafides, too — he is the founder of the (sadly defunct) Bearapalooza music festival. He’s still going strong, too — after the election he recorded “Love Trumps Hate.”
4. Kacey Musgraves — “Follow Your Arrow”
While “All-American Boy” might have been more-or-less ignored by Nashville, Kacey Musgraves’ “Follow Your Arrow” was nominated for six CMA Awards. While Musgraves herself is straight, the song was co-written with Shane McAnally and Brandy Clark, both openly gay Nashville songwriters. The gist of the song is to be yourself, and includes the lines “Make lots of noise/Kiss lots of boys/Or kiss lots of girls/If that’s something you’re into.” While the song was censored when she performed it for the CMA Awards broadcast, it wasn’t the reference to homosexuality that was cut, but the reference to smoking a joint. Progress!
5. Lavender Country — “Cryin’ These Cocksucking Tears”
No article on gay country music would be complete without a mention of Pat Haggerty, the leader of the first gay country band Lavender Country. Recorded for a private-press LP in 1973, “Cryin’ These Cocksucking Tears” is a fearless protest song against homophobia and sexism. The world wasn’t ready, unfortunately — the original LP became a rare cult item until being re-discovered in the early 2000s. (It wasn’t without its champions, however — Shan Ottey, a Seattle DJ played the cut in 1973 — leading to an FCC fine and Ottey’s firing.) Thanks to a recent documentary, however, Haggerty and his band is getting a fresh look and new audiences — and Lavender Country even makes an appearance on the Our First 100 Days charity compilation alongside artists like PWR BTTM, Jens Lekman and Speedy Ortiz.
Featured image by stevanovicigor via iStock.