In 1970 Mike Nesmith who had risen to fame as lead guitarist in The Monkees decided enough was enough and even though he still had three years left to run on his contract he decided to pursue a solo career aided by his First National Band, which featured pedal steel player Red Rhodes, John Khuene and John Ware. Nesmith had previously worked with Khuene when starting out in Houston in the early 1960's and had also worked with John Ware in the mid 60's. Orvil 'Red' Rhodes had an active session career prior to joining the First National Band, he had played on Byrd's Notorious Byrd Brothers album in 1968, he later went on to play with the likes of Carole King and James Taylor.
Nesmith was determined to break away from the perception that he was merely a manufactured pop star, he was in reality a very gifted musician and songwriter having written Different Drum which became a U.S Top 20 hit for The Stone Pony's featuring Linda Rondstadt. Nesmith had built up a considerable catalogue of songs when he left the Monkees in 1970 and now with a new band and a contract with RCA he was able to record three albums in quick succession that became part of the red, white and blue trilogy. The album Magnetic South was released in July of 1970 and the single Joanne gained considerable airplay. I always thought Nesmith had a nasal twang but on the record it's replaced with a gentler delivery matched beautifully with Rhodes' mournful pedal steel. It seemed to fit with the growing country rock scene that was coming out of L.A, the song had a deeper feeling than what you heard in most country songs of the period. However it seems that Nesmith could not quite escape his past, his record label and management felt the band were better off playing clubs in the U.K than focusing on breaking in the U.S, so Nesmith was never really able to capitalise on the success of the single. The band had played some U.S shows with the Flying Burrito Brothers only to be laughed at by the headliners. The First National Band released two more albums Loose Salute in November 1970 and Nevada Fighter in 1971 before the group broke up.
As I mentioned Joanne has a feeling that you didn't hear on regular country songs from that period, it's a got a lilting melody, and the emotion in the vocals really carries the song.
Her name was Joanne,
and she lived in a meadow by a pond
And she touched me for a moment
With a look that spoke to me of her sweet love
Then the woman that she was,
Drove her on with desperation
And I saw as she went a most hopeless situation.