You should know Patrick Haggerty.
Born in 1944, Haggerty is THE elder of gay country music. If you have not heard of his band, Lavender Country, it’s probably because it was stifled for so long by decades of fear. Thankfully, his music is becoming bigger than it ever was. As pride month approaches, let’s take a dive into the life of such an interesting man, shall we?
Photo by Sarah Stierch: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sarahvain/
Haggerty grew up on the dairy farms of Washington state in the 1950s. As a very young boy, had fleeting ideas that he was, in fact, gay, but the way he threw heavy hay bales into the air while sweating during the working summers was his way to convince himself that he was just like all the other boys at his school. He was a man. That’s what men do. And real men, he thought at the time, just aren't gay.
Being one of ten children, Patrick had several brothers who were sort of measuring sticks for him. I’m sure their differences bothered him, but Haggerty couldn't help that he was interested in makeup and jewelry and dolls very early in his life. Their interests fully overlapped. He recalls that his brothers told him that he was a “sissy” on many occasions. Fortunately, Haggerty states that his dairy-farming, Roman Catholic, backwoods-living father was “The Patron Saint of Sissies.”
In 1956, one of Haggerty’s brothers sent word to their father that Patrick was going to school with a face full of glittery makeup. After receiving the call, Haggerty’s father attended an assembly at their high school. And because he came in with “cow-crap-covered” overalls, Haggerty hid from his father when he saw him in the hallways. On the ride home from school, Haggerty’s father told his son that he wore what he did because everyone knows he’s a dairy farmer. There was no reason to hide that. And then, he told his son that hiding from who you are means you’re doing something wrong. So, “Don’t sneak,” he told Haggerty.
This encouragement eventually molded Patrick Haggerty into the musician and creative he grew to be. Don’t sneak. Don’t hide. Don’t write country songs with vague gay narratives. Instead, live with pride. We know he listened to his father. In 1969, Haggerty came out and immediately joined the gay rights movement.
In 1972, Haggerty started the band, Lavender Country, with keyboardist Michael Carr, fiddler and vocalist Eve Morris, and guitarist Robert Hammerstrom. Haggerty himself took lead vocals and guitar. This band was comprised of gay musicians and allies.
He released his first studio album in 1973 titled Lavender Country. This record includes some of my favorite songs, “Lavender Country,” “I Can’t Shake the Stranger Out of You.” This album is recognized as the first openly gay country music album. But that’s not to say that the album was accepted with open arms. In 1973, a DJ for Seattle radio station KRAB played “Cryin’ These Cocksucking Tears” and was immediately let go from his position. Many radio stations would simply not play the album and venues turned the band away.
Society’s fear of gay culture squashed a lot of his visibility while he was a young musician. His incredible gift as a lyricist and potential for notoriety was thwarted by a generation who was not ready to address their contempt. However, Haggerty has grown more and more popular the older he gets, due to the increased visibility and acceptance of the LGTQIA+ community. That’s just to say, he’s busier than ever, now that he’s in his 80s. It’s almost as if young people need role models. Go figure.
This is not to say that Haggerty wants the limelight. Honestly, he continues to tour and respond to bookings out of responsibility for the movement. He doesn’t see himself as a hero (though, for many, he is). In an interview with Country Queer Spotlight, he remarks that the people of the LGBTQIA+ community and its allies have to do the work to be seen while reminding the listeners that there are groups of queer people who have always and continue to take up the torch. He says, “Don’t put that hero shit on me.” But in a world where gay rights are constantly being threatened, he is. He is a hero just by standing in the spotlight.
Haggerty lived during the Stonewall Inn raid, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military rule, and the violence that surrounded the LGBTQ community. He himself was kicked out of the Peace Corps for his sexuality in 1966.
A constant barrage of hate and discrimination can make a person tired and angry. I think Haggerty knows this all too well. And because of this resurgence of enthusiasm for Lavender County, I think Haggerty also knows that he has to continue to be seen. No sneaking. He feels that he must do this for the young people in country music who want to make music and express themselves wholeheartedly.
Fifty years after the band’s formation. Lavender Country is back. Haggerty and the band released a new album in February of 2022 titled, Blackberry Rose: And Other Songs & Sorrows. You’ll find lyrical stories such as, “Gay Bar Blues,” “Sweet Shadow Man,” and “All Disillusions Behind.” This also album includes a reprise of “I Can’t Shake the Stranger Out of You”—a song that continues to be a gut punch some 50 years later.
Not only does Haggerty uses his newfound rise of popularity to give the gay community relatable songs to feel seen, but he also props up the stories that ended before him.
One of the most poignant songs on the album is “Clara Fraser, Clara Fraser.” This song is a tribute to a revolutionary feminist icon and political organizer of the 1950s and ‘60s, Clara Fraser, who sought to end segregation, oppose war, support the working class, and demand women’s rights. Here are some of the lyrics:
Clara Fraser, Clara Fraser Let’s print up a phony leaflet to disgrace her She’s a commie, she’s a dyke Her politics ain’t ladylike I just can’t stand hеr abrasive behavior
I can’t get enough of Patrick Haggerty and his comeback. With young Americana stars like Orville Peck, Brandi Carlisle, and Sarah Shook, country music needs to be injected with the rough and courageous history of gay culture and the fight for gender equality. Without respect for the past, how can we mindfully move forward?
In an OUTstanding interview, Haggerty told up-and-coming queer country music artist Sarah Shook, “You’re supposed to stand on my shoulders. That’s your job. You’re supposed to be better than me. Can you do it?” To which Shook tearfully nodded her head, yes.