Listening to the music of Barry and Holly Tashian, one can hear generations of pure country tradition, of the variety that filtered down from the Appalachian ranges through bluegrass music and the harmony duets of the Louvin Brothers.
It would take more than a discerning ear to know that the married duo actually hails from the tony New England town of Westport, Conn., or that their long trek to Nashville had hinged on such disparate items as the Beatles, a Submarine and a chicken-fried steak.
The couple, married and singing together for 20 years, will bring their timeless songs to Shade Tree Stringed Instruments tonight.
They have been performing in their present dual acoustic guitar style for the past three years, before which time Barry toured for a decade as an integral member of Emmylou Harris' Hot Band. Before that, he sang with country-rock great Gram Parsons in the early 1970s, while in the mid-'60s he'd been dubbed "the white James Brown" for his singing with Barry & the Remains, one of the most legendary bands never to have a hit.
Tashian met his future wife when both were eighth-graders in Westport, though it wasn't until they returned from college that they linked up. Their musical pairing happened concurrently with their romantic one.
Reached by phone on Sunday at a Berkeley tour stop, Barry Tashian explained their meeting:
"She came from a musical family, and after watching me play for a while, she just picked up a guitar one day and started playing. It all evolved from there. We've been singing together for 20 years now whenever we could, and we love it. It's more fun than singing alone because there's that buzz you get from the other voice. It creates another thing altogether."
Tashian's early musical interests were more rhythm-oriented. He grew up loving Little Richard, Lloyd Price, Fats Domino and other New Orleans rock as well as Muddy Waters and Jimmy Reed blues. Mixed with the exuberant pop of the British Invasion, that became the sound of the Remains.
Between 1964 and 1966 the Remains became regional heroes in the Northeast, appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and toured with the Beatles on what proved to be each band's last U.S. tour. Despite that exposure and rave reviews, none of the group's records ever took off (their recordings are available on the 1991 Epic/Legacy CD "Barry & the Remains"). The band has since been accorded a mythic status in some circles.
"Maybe that's because we broke up," Tashian speculated. "At the time, we were just getting off the ground on a national level. Then we were gone, and it seems legend is sort of built on invisibility."
For a time, he didn't count himself as one of the band's retroactive fans.
"I went through a bunch of years being kind of ashamed of the music, thinking it was kid stuff," he said. "But I'm happy now I was part of it. That new CD sounds really good to me. It wasn't a bad accomplishment for being 18 and 19."
Tashian said the band's plum spot as opening act on the Beatles' 1966 U.S. tour may have spurred the Remains' demise.
"That Beatles tour just took it out of us," he explained. "It overwhelmed us. With all the attention swirling around the Beatles, we just felt intimidated, I guess. We had to go out there first, and it was a tough crowd."
Though the sum experience was rough, he said the Beatles themselves were anything but intimidating.
"We spent time with them on the plane and in the hotels. They were very nice to us, George and John especially. We'd spend time listening to music together. Paul was a little more distant, and Ringo was just Ringo," he said.
A crucial point in his shift from "white James Brown" to Yankee Louvin Brother came about the same time he met Parsons.
"We had musician friends in common, and when when I met Gram Parsons and his band, the Submarine Band, I just loved country music all of a sudden," Tashian said. "I went to one of their rehearsals where they were playing a couple of Buck Owens songs with that harmony, and I said, 'Man, this is it! This is great stuff.' "
Parsons and his International Submarine Band were about to have the same effect on West Coast musicians when they moved to California. Parsons not only turned the Byrds on to country music, but they asked him to join, pretty well sinking the Submarine Band.
With no Remains remaining, Tashian had followed the Submarine Band out to California, staying at their Laurel Canyon house, dubbed Burrito Manor (Parsons was soon to exit the Byrds with Chris Hillman to form the Flying Burrito Brothers).
Tashian returned east but got the call a couple of years later to sing on Parsons' solo sessions, which is where he met Emmylou Harris.
Finally settled back home, Tashian and Holly started playing music together. They formed a band called the Outskirts, mainly doing country covers, that played in southern Connecticut and New York.