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Remembering gay country icon Patrick Haggerty and his St. Louis comeback

Gay country trailblazer Patrick Haggerty, shown here during a 2016 show in St. Louis at Off Broadway.
Jess Luther
Gay country trailblazer Patrick Haggerty, shown during a 2016 show in St. Louis at Off Broadway.

Patrick Haggerty had to wait for his moment in the country music spotlight. In 1973, just a few years after he came out as gay, Haggerty and his band Lavender Country recorded their self-titled album. Like its lead singer, this album was open about its themes.

It would take more than 40 years for music lovers, and a record label, to rediscover “Lavender Country” and for it to be recognized as the first openly gay country album.

In late October, Patrick Haggery died after suffering a stroke. He leaves behind a legacy of his music, his rebelliousness and his refusal to fit into the straight-laced genre that ignored his work for decades. But it was a second country musician, St. Louis songwriter Jack Grelle, who helped propel him back into the spotlight he deserved.

Grelle first listened to “Lavender Country” in 2016.

“It caught me off guard at first,” he recalled on St. Louis on the Air. “There's no bass to the record. It's a musical folk record. And then, as the more I listened to it, the messages started to come out a bit more — that it wasn't just of gay pride, but there was this fervor of revolution and radicalism.”

Haggerty’s fervor remained strong over the decades, despite the album printing only 1,000 copies as it faded, seemingly, into musical oblivion. Yet, in just the last decade, “Lavender Country,” has enjoyed renewed attention as a landmark in music and LGBT representation. Grelle said he fell in love with the album and approached Haggerty about playing a show in St. Louis.

Haggerty said “yes,” and the result was a tour that continued for the rest of the irrepressible performer’s life. In 2016, Haggerty and Grelle were interviewed by St. Louis Public Radio’s Willis Ryder Arnold.

Haggerty stood by “Lavender Country.” He was still proud of it.

"The lyrics — they're exactly the same lyrics that I wrote 43 years ago,” he said at the time. “‘Lavender Country’ has not changed. The culture changed.”

To hear more of Jack Grelle’s remembrance of Patrick Haggerty and “Lavender County,” including selections from the songs “Back in the Closet Again” and “Waltzing Will Trilogy,” listen to the full conversation with Maureen Hanlon on St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, or by clicking the play button below.

Remembering gay country icon Patrick Haggerty with Jack Grelle

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Danny Wicentowski is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."