Liverpool Meets Nashville: 5 Times the Beatles Proved Their Country Fandom
You'd be hard-pressed to find a musician who isn't influenced by the Beatles. In fact, country artists especially have embraced the Fab Four's songwriting, as a slew of genre legends -- to name a few, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris, Waylon Jennings, Steve Earle, Linda Ronstadt, and Willie Nelson -- have put their spin on the legendary band's tunes.
It's unsurprising, then, that the Beatles themselves had strong links to country music, especially to the early rock 'n' roll and rockabilly acts popular in the 1950s, when they were in school. There's even a 2015 book, The Beatles and Country Music, written by Don Cusic, that delves into the band's links in greater detail.
Here are five ways the Beatles embraced country music, both during the group's existence and in post-breakup solo careers.
Their Early Cover Songs
As legend has it, on the day in July 1957 when Paul McCartney met John Lennon at a Liverpool church event, the former played Eddie Cochran’s "Twenty Flight Rock," among other songs.
Once Lennon and McCartney joined forces in the Beatles, the band honed their skills playing live shows in their hometown of Liverpool, England, and in Hamburg, Germany. Naturally, their setlists included a ton of cover songs, including many by artists associated with country music: Cochran, Jim Reeves, Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins.
This fondness for these groups endured as the Beatles broke big: The group covered Perkins' "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby" on 1964's Beatles for Sale.
The Band (and Ringo Starr) Cover Buck Owens
In 1963, Buck Owens hit No. 1 for four weeks on the country singles chart with the song "Act Naturally." Several years later, the Beatles put their own spin on the tune for the UK version of the Help! LP; their version was faithful to Owens' original -- both songs had a rollicking tempo and hints of vocal twang -- and featured drummer Ringo Starr on vocals.
For good measure, Starr would team up with Owens in 1989 for a duet version of "Act Naturally" that peaked on the country singles chart at No. 27.
George Harrison's Chet Atkins Fandom
George Harrison was a big Chet Atkins fan. In fact, as the Beatles exploded in popularity, he could be seen playing two Gretsch guitars with ties to country: the Chet Atkins Country Gentleman and Tennessean models. (In a remembrance, Fred W. Gretsch recalled that Harrison playing the guitars helped bolster the brand's popularity.)
Atkins returned the favor, releasing 1966's Chet Atkins Picks on the Beatles. The album's liner notes even featured some kind words by Harrison, who wrote, "I have appreciated Chet Atkins as a musician since long before the tracks on this album were written; in fact, since I was the ripe young age of 17. Since I have lost count of the number of Chet's albums I have acquired, but I have not been disappointed with any of them. For me, the great thing about Mr. Atkins is not the fact that he is capable of playing almost every type of music but the conviction in the way he does it."
Their Post-Beatles Nashville Associations
After the Beatles broke up, each member went solo and explored different sonic directions, and multiple members ended up landing in Nashville for studio work.
Starr was the least surprising musician to go this route, as he was an avowed country fan. In 1970, he recorded the solo album Beaucoups of Blues and enlisted pedal steel player Pete Drake to produce. Elvis Presley's former guitarist Scotty Moore was the engineer. The sessions took place in Nashville, meaning guests on the album include a who's-who of players: guitarists Charlie Daniels and Jerry Reed, drummer DJ Fontana and harmonica player Charlie McCoy. Beaucoups of Blues ended up peaking at a modest No. 35 on the country charts.
Starr wasn't the only Beatle Drake worked with: George Harrison also had the pedal steel great on 1970's All Things Must Pass.
Wings Land on the Country Singles Chart
In the issue of Billboard dated Feb. 15, 1975, Paul McCartney's band Wings reached a peak of No. 51 on the country singles chart with the song "Sally G." The tune was the B-side to the non-album single "Junior's Farm," and featured a bevy of Nashville session aces, including Bob Wills (violin), Lloyd Green (pedal steel and dobro) and Johnny Gimble (violin).