Tracy Nelson -- From Hippy to Country Queen

Tracy NelsoI never heard the siren’s song from country music until I heard the mellifluous (the word must have been invented for her) voice of Tracy Nelson. I was more often listening to Jimi Hendrix or the Grateful Dead, but along came Tracy with the band Mother Earth and I suddenly wanted to live on the farm and listen to her sing Down So Low (Mother Earth, Living with the Animals).

It was a good while before I learned that she started out as a folkie in Madison, Wisconsin before forming the Mother Earth band in San Francisco. When the fun of the 60s was over, Tracy headed to Nashville and started singing country. Ordinarily, that’s where I would have gotten off the train, but her voice was/is so compelling and dramatic that I went along for the ride. In Tracy Nelson Sings Country she covered such standards as Sad Situation, I Fall to Pieces, Stay As Sweet As You Are, and Blue Blue Day, and they have become for me the quintessential versions of those songs. I know Patsy Cline made I Fall to Pieces a big hit, but I can’t listen to it without thinking that Tracy did it better.


During my own Mother Earth period (hey, every hippy was reading Mother Earth News back then), Tracy Nelson and Mother Earth kept us company out on the farm. It turned out we knew a lot more about what was good music than we did about how to grow anything, but it seems like now everyone is ready to get back to nature. So maybe we were just ahead of our time – again!

After a prolonged hiatus at the Tennessee farm in the 80s, we can be thankful that Tracy started recording again. Her collaboration with Marcia Ball and Irma Thomas on Sing It showcases three ladies who know how to sing the blues. And she’s singing country again with You’ll Never Be A Stranger At My Door.

In the gallery on her website, there’s a clip of Tracy singing That’s Alright Mama  where right at the start you’re struck by the youthful joy she had in singing. The older model Tracy still has the ability to deliver that joy every time a song comes out of her mouth.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

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