At that time (and to this day, come to think of it) country music was anathema to the soi-disant cognoscenti (who are always blinkered and deaf to the real thing) -- they believed that country music was the music of gun-totin', Bible-thumpin' rednecks. Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman of The Byrds knew better. Fortunately for us, they stumbled upon Gram Parsons at a time when they needed to add some members to the group. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Gram Parsons's legacy is a story in itself. He died in 1973 at the age of 26. But, before he died, he passed his love of traditional country music on to a generation of people who might not have otherwise recognized its distinctive American beauty. The Byrds hired Parsons to play piano (at which he was marginally proficient -- he mainly played guitar), but his enthusiasm convinced McGuinn and Hillman to make a country album. McGuinn said later that he had merely intended to hire a piano player, but Parsons "exploded out of this sheep's clothing. God! It's George Jones! In a sequin suit!"
Sweetheart of the Rodeo is not a "cross-over" album, or a "fusion" album. It is a traditional country album by young American musicians (The Byrds were rock stars at the time) who appreciated this unique form of American music. I am certainly not claiming that The Byrds and Gram Parsons are the ultimate exponents of true country music -- for that, you need to go back to the Carter family, Roy Acuff, and the Louvin brothers and move forward from there. But please listen to the album -- I recommend starting with "Hickory Wind," "You Don't Miss Your Water," and "One Hundred Years from Now" -- and you will hear American music at its best.