After almost 40 years, Austin progressive country band, PLUM NELLY, has released its first CD. Never- before-heard tracks from the “mystery tape,” Nashville sessions, and rare live performances fill out this 15-song collection. From 1974 until 1977 PLUM NELLY was a staple in Austin’s progressive country scene playing iconic venues such as the Armadillo World Headquarters, Soap Creek Saloon and the Kerrville Folk Festival. Aside from two cuts on Kerrville Folk Festival compilations, none of this material has ever been heard by the public. The CD is rightly titled “Used to be a Redneck.”
Fueled by the amazing fiddle of Benny Thurman, former bassist for the 13th Floor Elevators, and featuring the vocals of stunning Jerrie Jo Jones, PLUM NELLY was a part of the “outlaw country” movement created when Willie Nelson moved to Austin and began playing local venues, most significantly the Armadillo World Headquarters. PLUM NELLY was rare among the artists of the era as it featured four lead vocalists, no drummer, and vocal harmonies ahead of their time.
Tennessee native Billy Stoner created PLUM NELLY as a duo with Jones in 1973, creating a stir at the Kerrville Folk Festival and winning the New Folk Contest that year. Shortly after, Thurman, bassist/vocalist Ernie Gammage and guitarist Johnny Richardson were added to the group. Stoner’s songs were at the core of the Plum Nelly ethos although the rest of the band, individually and collectively, wrote material. Much like the progressive country scene itself, PLUM NELLY was courted by the Nashville music business machine and finally sputtered to its demise in the late 1970s.
The group was the perfect mirror of the intersection of traditional Nashville country music and the free-wheeling hippie lifestyle of early 70s Austin. Stoner’s song “Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” singularly captures this rare point in America’s musical history. “Used to be a redneck” Stoner sings, but “Hippie or a redneck I don’t know which one to be. I’m in between the devil and the deep blue sea.”