Out in the Country

Patrick Haggerty launched the first gay country-western album nearly 50 years ago, then fell into obscurity. Now, Lavender Country is reaching new audiences with its revolutionary message.
Claire Sykes

The Saint of Dry Creek

Patrick Haggerty tells the story of the best advice his father ever gave him

 

Image removed.

“An angel cleverly disguised as a nurse told me, ‘You’re not mentally ill. You’re gay. You’ll have to figure it out yourself.’”
Haggerty meets an audience member, who smiles and clasps his hand.
Haggerty meets an audience member following his performance.

Content warning: Contains profanity and a brief homophobic slur and description of suicidal thoughts. 

Growing up with nine siblings on a 100-acre tenant dairy farm near Port Angeles, Patrick Haggerty, ’66, B.A., sociology,  milked the cows, fed the calves, shoveled manure and did endless other chores. He also played with dolls, pranced around in a tutu at 4-H summer camp and wore baling-twine wigs that his father helped him make. 

“My father may’ve looked like a bumpkin, but he wasn’t. He was quite a smart man. By the time I was 5, he could see the writing on the wall.” The boy back then realized years later that he’d always been gay, something his father always knew and fully supported. 

Charles Edward Haggerty’s influence on his son followed him to Lavender Country and beyond. In 1973 in Seattle, Haggerty formed the gay country-western band—with its hard-core-radical political and intimately personal lyrics dressed in a traditional country-music sound—and helped release the first explicitly gay-themed album of the genre. Three years later, the group went under, resurfacing in 2014 to national applause. 

Today, with Lavender Country band members based in various places, Haggerty tours the West Coast along with Kansas City, St. Louis, Nashville, Philadelphia, New York and Raleigh, North Carolina, among other cities. A reissue of the band’s original album, “Lavender Country,” is joined by a second, “Blackberry Rose and Other Songs and Sorrows,” as well as a StoryCorps podcast and animation, a short documentary and even a ballet production

Unlike his parents who couldn’t carry a tune, Haggerty had a flair for music as a child. It was helped along by classroom songbooks and his school-orchestra trumpet—and the radio’s Patsy Cline and Hank Williams, and later Connie Francis and Frankie Avalon. When he was 9, his father bought him a $25 guitar and he taught himself a few chords. 

One day he was belting out show tunes while driving the tractor and crashed it into an alder tree. “I was a disaster at anything mechanical. My father told me, ‘Pat, you have to get the hell out of this valley and go to college or you’re going to starve to death.’”

 Haggerty was a senior in high school when his father died from a genetic disease that hardened his arteries. After he graduated in 1962, the family moved to town and he and his mother started classes at Peninsula College, staggering their schedules to both care for the kids. With their AA degrees, they continued on at Western. 

At first, Haggerty wanted to major in drama. But as the Vietnam War heated up, he got more interested in social and political causes, becoming an antiwar activist, and he chose sociology. “There wasn’t much radical activity at Western during those years,” he says, “but we were picking up on the initial stages of the peacenik-hippie movement.” He and his mother, Asylda Haggerty, BAE, English – elementary, both graduated in 1966, with honors. 

Right after Western, Haggerty joined the Peace Corps, in India, but was discharged that year for having sex with a man there. “I was really upset about my sexuality and what I was going to do about it. I was severely depressed.” At his doctor’s advice, his mother took him to Western State Hospital. After a couple of weeks, “an angel cleverly disguised as a nurse told me, ‘You’re not mentally ill. You’re gay. And nobody here can help you. You need to leave. You’ll have to figure it out yourself, and you probably will.’ The clouds just lifted.”

Haggerty went to Spokane, where his sister lived, and worked as a county psychiatric caseworker. “And I knew that the crisis of my sexuality had to be dealt with,” he says. After a couple of years, he hitchhiked for nine months all over the U.S. and into Canada and Mexico. Dropped off in Minnesota farmland in the dark, “I came to my wits’ end.” Haggerty walked into a grove of cottonwood trees contemplating suicide. “My dad showed up. He stayed with me all night. When morning came, he said, ‘I’m tired of you muckin’ around. You know what to do. Go get the job done.’” 

Haggerty stayed in Missoula for a while and a few days after the Stonewall riots in New York City’s Greenwich Village, in June 1969, he publicly came out. Then he went for a master’s in social work community organizing at the University of Washington—and dove into Seattle’s gay-liberation movement. 

At the end of his first year at UW, through an anti-imperialist organization called the Venceremos Brigade, Haggerty went to Cuba. For four months in 1971, he cut sugarcane and studied Karl Marx. And he wrote his first song, “Back in the Closet Again,” urging the working class to unite.

Haggerty graduated a year later, and he and friends started Lavender Country, named after the color historically associated with homosexuality. Lead singer and guitarist Haggerty joined keyboardist Michael Carr, singer and fiddler Eve Morris and guitarist Robert Hammerstrom, the only straight—and remaining—member. 

In 1973, the Seattle gay community collectively funded and released 1,000 copies of the band’s first album, “Lavender Country,” which quickly sold out. They performed at the first Seattle Pride event in 1974, and many other gay-lib events in Washington, Oregon and California. Haggerty wrote most of the 10 songs, with lyrics like the ones from Cuba: “They screamed, ‘You fags ain’t got no human rights/We think you guys are sick/ ‘Cause all you want’s a prick.’ ” Haggerty’s most popular, “Cryin’ these Cocksucking Tears,” twangs about men’s rigid sex roles and the oppression of women and gay men. 

“We made ‘Lavender Country’ as a political statement and vehicle to promote social change,” says Haggerty. “If I’d wanted a career in country music, I wouldn’t have made the album. I knew then I wouldn’t go to Nashville with it, that it would kill any chances I’d have in music. And it did.”

In 1976, Lavender Country disbanded. “The Democratic Party was taking over, pushing radicals to the side, and we could see there was no market for radical gay country music,” says Haggerty, who started working for the Seattle Human Rights Commission doing discrimination investigation. 

By now he’d also bought a house and was realizing his dream of building a family: He was father of a little girl, her mother a lesbian friend, and co-parenting the son of another lesbian friend, who was Black. 

Haggerty kept up his activism, adding anti-racism causes with the anti-apartheid movement and the Nation of Islam. Then in 1983 he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Two years later he went on disability and slowly learned how to manage the disease. 

In 1988 he met his husband, Julius “JB” Broughton. The following year, Haggerty ran for Seattle City Council office as an independent gay socialist with Nation of Islam members on the New Alliance Party platform, and again as a candidate for the Washington House of Representatives. “We knew we were going to lose, but we made our point, big time,” he says. After the elections, Haggerty and JB moved to Bremerton, and soon got into real estate investing.

All along, Haggerty pecked away at writing songs. In 1999, an article on openly gay country singers appeared in the national, mainstream Journal of Country Music. It proclaimed “Lavender Country” as the first gay country-music album, landing it in the Country Music Hall of Fame. 

But it’s still a mystery who posted “Cryin’ these Cocksucking Tears” on YouTube, which was caught by Jeremy Cargill. Cargill found a used vinyl “Lavender Country” and took it to independent label, Paradise of Bachelors. Soon after the album’s 2014 reissue, Lavender Country was back touring, sharing the queer-country and Americana spotlights with the likes of Paisley Fields; and singer-songwriters Mya Byrne and Eli Conley, and poet Joss Barton, the three of them trans. 

The band now draws mainly 20- to 40-year-olds, of all sexual orientations. “I call them the pink-and-blue-haired white kids, an anarch-o, punk-o, grunge-o, fuck-you crowd. They don’t give a shit that my music is country. They appreciate the anti-capitalism and pro-revolution ideas, and want to be a part,” says Haggerty.

Up there in his glittery flower-embroidered lavender Western shirt, cowboy boots and hat, Haggerty embellishes his songs with stories about his father and ‘70s gay-rights protests, and rants about capitalism and the working class, sometimes mingling into the crowd and singing nose-to-nose close with the audience. “I’ve never thought I had a beautiful singing voice. I’m more Bob Dylan-raspy. But I do think my voice has a sincere, expressive quality, and I’ve learned how to use that to my advantage. The Norma Desmond in me comes through. I know how to sparkle and shine and win the affection of the audience.” 

Along with national-magazine features on him, a 2014 StoryCorps podcast of Haggerty was adapted as a short animation, “The Saint of Dry Creek.” He’s onscreen again in the national award-winning 2016 short documentary, “These C*cksucking Tears,” directed by Dan Taberski. And the San Francisco-based Post:Ballet’s “Lavender Country” had the band and Haggerty’s storytelling, live, in the company’s 2017 and 2019 shows. Since then, Lavender Country released “Blackberry Rose,” of old and new songs by Haggerty, branching out into anti-racism and feminism. Now there’s talk of a Hollywood biopic.

“A part of me doesn’t want the fame that comes with that,” he says of the movie. “I’ve lived my life out of the limelight, a run-of-the-mill loudmouth activist who nobody saw as anyone special. That’s actually truer to who I am. But I also have a revolutionary responsibility to move my radical politics forward and get the message out as far and wide as I can, in order to advance the cause.” 

It’s loud enough to be heard by Haggerty’s father, who’s still cheering him on. 

 

 

Portrait of Patrick Haggerty back stage before a performance, surrounded by sound equipment and hand-written notices for shows.
Patrick Haggerty of Lavender Country, before a recent show at the Fixin’ To in Portland.
Portrait of Haggerty with his husband, Julius “JB” Broughton
Haggerty with his husband, Julius “JB” Broughton back stage at the Fixin' To in Portland.

, ’81, B.A., Fairhaven interdisciplinary concentration, is a freelance writer based in Portland. She loved her Lavender Country night out and meeting Haggerty, whom she describes as “a cross between a fiery stick of dynamite and a cuddly plush toy.”

Photos by Tojo Andrianarivo