When Patrick Haggerty was preparing to record his very first country music album, he had a choice to make.
He could be the industry-friendly country star and stay in the closet, or he could use the music to make a statement about what it was like to be a gay man in a deeply discriminatory world.
He chose the latter, and 1973’s “Lavender Country”, Haggerty’s first album recorded under the same name, is now widely regarded as the first country album recorded by a gay musician.
Haggerty, an unflappable activist for LGBTQ and socialist causes and a married father of two, was persona non grata in the music industry for years. ‘Lavender Country’ was a decidedly queer record, featuring songs like ‘Cryin’ These C**ksuckin’ Tears’, at a time when few musicians of any genre were comfortable coming out as gay .
So it was surprising, especially for Haggerty, when he got the chance in 2014 to re-release that historic album and record another one, perform with other LGBTQ country musicians, and share his story with millions of people. people. He became a country music star after all.
“The very thing that sank me in the first place is the very thing that dumped me in this position,” he told CNN earlier this year.
Haggerty, the pioneering 70-year-old country crooner, died Monday, several weeks after suffering a stroke, said Brendan Greaves, a close friend and record company executive. Haggerty was 78 years old.
Haggerty never attempted to tamp down or hide his homosexuality. He was kicked out of the Peace Corps in the 1960s for being gay, he told CNN earlier this year. He found family in Seattle’s LGBTQ community, whose members helped convince Haggerty, a self-proclaimed “stage pig,” to record an album. He told Pitchfork in 2014 that his gay friends in Seattle were “who we did it for, and that’s who we played it for.”
Haggerty wrote “Lavender Country” as a statement to the music industry – he would refuse to bow to the heteronormative norms of the time, and he certainly wouldn’t try to mask his homosexuality. “Lavender Country” was a protest record. He assumed it would be his last.
“When we did ‘Lavender Country,’ we weren’t stupid,” he told CNN. “No genre was going to take stock of everything I had to say.”
In the decades between her first and second albums, Haggerty dedicated her life to activism. A staunch socialist — he often called himself a “screaming Marxist bitch” — he advocated for HIV/AIDS awareness, LGBTQ causes and civil rights for black Americans. He had two children with her husband and retired to a town across the Puget Sound, his musical dreams long dashed.
“I filled my life with all kinds of interesting and engaging things that made sense to me that had nothing to do with music,” he told CNN in March.
But in 2013, a record collector bought Haggerty’s record on eBay and shared it with Greaves, who “cold called” Haggerty and discussed re-releasing the album on his label, Paradise of Bachelors. Haggerty was suspicious, Greaves recalls — Haggerty, as he told CNN earlier this year, was performing mostly for free for retirement home crowds at that time.
This call with Greaves was the first step in reintroducing Haggerty and Lavender Country to new listeners, many of whom were craving a gay country star. Paradise of Bachelors would go on to reissue Lavender Country’s self-titled debut album, which was once only available by mail order from the back of an alternative newspaper in Seattle.
Within months, Haggerty was thrust into an industry he had long believed had left him out.
“Finally, like 35 years of pent up grief over ‘Lavender Country’ has erupted and I’m like in a puddle of tears,” he told CNN the day he got Greaves’ call. “My life changed completely and forever that day.”
As more people heard “Lavender Country” and learned of Haggerty’s story, his contributions to country music were recognized and appreciated more widely. He even starred in a 2016 short documentary about his life and legacy, and his music was the soundtrack to an original ballet performed by a San Francisco company.
He performed the songs he had written over 40 years earlier with new stars of gay country like Orville Peck and Trixie Mattel, both of whom found considerable success in integrating their identities into their acts.
Peck remembered Haggerty as the “grandfather of queer country” in an Instagram post.
“One of the funniest, bravest and kindest souls I have ever known, he pioneered a movement and a message in the country that was virtually unknown,” Peck wrote. , along with photos of the two playing together. “A truly singular legend.”
Over the past year, Lavender Country has played shows across the United States in support of their second album, “Blackberry Rose,” performing with fellow LGBTQ country bands like Paisley Fields, who reminded Haggerty as a “pioneer, fearless and outspoken”.
Knowing that Haggerty changed Greaves’ life, he wrote on his label’s social accounts and on leagues of others. Even more than his music, Greaves told CNN, memories of Haggerty rehearsing in his living room, playing with Greaves’ son and teaching him how to bake banana pie are treasured to him.
“He taught me how to be a better dad and a better person,” Greaves told CNN. “As outspoken and vocal as he was, and for all his diva-like demeanor, which was legendary and difficult at times, he was also a very sweet and kind family man, friend and mentor.”
Haggerty never aspired to country stardom in the traditional sense and didn’t regret the winding road it took to get there. He has always expressed his disbelief at the idea of being able to live his dream – to play music with a message – and do it in his own way.
“I secretly wanted to be a hambone from the start, I admit that,” he previously told CNN. “But now I can use my hambone-edness to foment social change and fight for a better world.”