NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — In his late 70s, one man has suddenly found himself touring the country playing songs he thought the world would never hear. Nearly 50 years after the release of his first album, he's just released a second, and he's now traveling Tennessee playing the music.
This is the story of a trailblazer, and the bold album that's his legacy.
What was country music in 1973? It was six weeks at number one for Conway Twitty, big hits for Loretta Lynn, three singles reaching number one for Merle Haggard.
In the midst of this country scene of '73, a very different country album was quietly released. It was an album called Lavender Country, an album self-titled after the band. The man behind the album is Patrick Haggerty.
"What was unique about it is it was the world's first gay country album," said Haggerty.
Growing up on a dairy farm in Washington, Haggerty's family knew he was gay, and they loved and accepted him. He said problems came later. He said when working for the Peace Corps, his sexuality was discovered.
"Next day I was on a plane to Washington DC to be processed out," said Haggerty. "It was that fast. That event changed my life."
When Haggerty began recording Lavender Country, it was a few years before the gay community found refuge in the late 70s disco scene. Haggerty's inspiration was music born in far quieter spaces.
"I grew up in a rural environment in 1955 on a cow farm," he said. "What was in me was country."
The release of the album came just a few years after the Stonewall riots, and Haggerty was ready to make a statement.
"One of the basic principles of coming out was, 'don't shut up,'" he said.
"The very idea we'd have an actual out-gay artist on the radio at that time, it probably would have raised Nashville up like an earthquake!" laughed out country singer Ty Herndon. "What a brave, brave man."
"Everybody was shocked by it," Haggerty remembered. "It was outrageous."
Haggerty knew releasing Lavender Country would mean giving up on moving to Nashville and any ambition of ending up on the Hot Country Billboard chart.
"But I chose to come out," he said. "Lavender Country had no chance for commercial success and so it died."
Then in 2014, someone uploaded a song from Lavender Country to YouTube. Suddenly, a label offered to reissue the album.
"I didn't believe them until they sent me a $300 advance and the check was good!" laughed Haggerty.
Purple or lavender is often a color associated with spring and a fresh start. With his own new album on the way, Herndon wonders if it's a new day for gay artists in country.
"Today in country music, we have artists on the radio that have #1s that are LGBTQ, and I never thought I'd see that day," said Herndon.
"Now I have this hat of being the father of a new genre called gay country which is exploding," smiled Haggerty. "It's an incomprehensibly and astonishingly beautiful experience here at the end of my life."
Lavender Country's new album is called Blackberry Rose and was released last month, nearly 50 years after the first album's release.