My ears started perking up to the sounds of more traditional Country music right after Cathy and I moved back to Chicago from Berkeley in the winter of '03. The Country music of the 80s and 90s hadn't exactly inspired further exploration. Country was a genre that I had previously ignored with what I felt, with great conviction, was simply good common sense.
But I was wrong. Like any genre, country music has an unwieldy, sprawling family tree. One of the branches I've enjoyed most centers around what was happening in the late 60's and early 70's, when rock began to explore country music in earnest. Gram Parsons teaming up with the Byrds for Sweetheart of the Rodeo along with Sneaky Pete Kleinow's amazing pedal steel guitar contributions , the Rolling Stones all over on their 4-album run from Beggar's Banquet through Exile On Main Street, Buffalo Springfield, what Bob Dylan and the Band were doing both together and apart, the Grateful Dead's one-two punch of Workingman's Dead and American Beauty and a whole lot of what Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were releasing then, though I'm more fond of their solo releases then anything they did collectively.
Here are the Stones performing a fantastic live version circa 1972 of Exile's Sweet Virginia, as good a country rock hoedown as you'll ever find from this time. The sax gives it more of an urbane polish then it probably needs (but I still like it), and like so much of the Stones best stuff, the song's practically bursting with swagger.