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Patrick Haggerty, the frontman for acclaimed country outfit Lavender Country, died Monday. The news was announced on the group’s Facebook page, in a post that also explained that Haggerty had suffered a stroke weeks earlier. He was 78.
Self-described as a “screaming Marxist bitch singer,” the openly gay Haggerty joined up with the rest of Lavender Country in Seattle in the early ’70s. The group released just one album with their original lineup, an eponymous 1973 effort, making little commercial impact at the time — and the group eventually fell apart due to a lack of mainstream interest and disenchantment with their own community. (“The Stonewall Movement morphed into a Democratic Party machine,” Haggerty offered to Billboard earlier this year.)
However, the album endured as an underground favorite, thanks in large part to Haggerty’s biting wit and vivid, sometimes explicit lyrics. The set was reissued multiple times in the 21st century to a new audience, and the group reunited sporadically for live shows and re-recordings. In 2019, with a new lineup, they self-released an original album, Blackberry Rose and Other Songs and Sorrows, which was reissued with a new tracklist by the indie label Don Giovanni earlier this year, drawing strong reviews.
Haggerty continued through the decades to rail against the oppressive systems that marginalized his and other voices within the country music industry. “For every notable country star in Nashville there’s a thousand other artists who are just as good or better, frequently better, who go unsung and unacknowledged and have to jerk lattes just to pay the rent so they can continue to do music,” he lamented to Billboard in 2021. “That’s the star system — and darling, that’s really fucked up … The corporate Nashville folks are purporting to be the music of the working class, but you can’t sing about union organizing, or the anti-racist struggle, or class struggle.”
However, he also appreciated that society had evolved enough to make him something of a cult hero later in his life — allowing him a platform, however modest, from which he could preach his brand of gospel without compromise to his image or message. “I get to use Lavender Country — unfettered and uncompromised — for the very reason I made it in the first place: To be a conduit for social change,” he raved to Billboard in the same interview. “I can put on bedazzled shirts and strut my beauty like anybody else on stage, but my real beauty is the way I chose to live my life.”
Haggerty’s loss was mourned on Twitter Monday by his Don Giovanni label, referring to him as “one of the funniest, kindest, bravest, and smartest people I ever met. He never gave up fighting for what he believed in, and those around him who he loved and took care of will continue that fight.”
See the tweet from Don Giovanni Records below.
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