Great Speckled Bird, led by the famous 1960s folk and folk-rock duo Ian & Sylvia, made a self-titled country-rock album at the end of the 1960s that has maintained a cult following over the years, though it didn't sell well. Some discographical confusion still surrounds the record. Often it is listed as an Ian & Sylvia release, though Great Speckled Bird were indeed a band, not just an Ian & Sylvia album title. The confusion was perpetuated by a 1972 album credited to Ian & Sylvia with the Great Speckled Bird.
Ian & Sylvia had included country material in their eclectic repertoire from the time they began performing and recording in the early '60s. By the late '60s, they were leaning decidedly more toward a country-rock direction, recording the 1968 album Nashville in Nashville itself. Great Speckled Bird, however, differed from that effort in that it was the work of a real band, not just Ian & Sylvia with session musicians. The pair founded the band in 1969, though there were some lineup changes before the album, including the replacement of ex-Bill Monroe sideman Bill Keith with pedal steel guitarist Buddy Cage. Also in the band was drummer N.D. Smart, who had played with the Remains and Mountain, and would later work with Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris.
Great Speckled Bird, recorded in late 1969 and issued at the beginning of 1970, had a fuller band sound than any Ian & Sylvia release. It was also more immersed in country music than their previous albums, although it was a definite country-rock fusion (with a touch of gospel), featuring the pedal steel-lead guitar lines of Cage and guitarist Amos Garrett, who devised the technique of bending two or three strings at a time. Produced by a young Todd Rundgren in Nashville, the album, recorded for their manager Albert Grossman's Bearsville Record Productions, suffered from poor distribution and consequent low sales.
Great Speckled Bird toured as well, but got a mixed reception, in part because those expecting straight folk from Ian & Sylvia weren't prepared for a full band with electric instruments. They were part of the Festival Express tour in 1970, which had them cross Canada with a traveling rock festival of sorts that also included the Grateful Dead, the Band, Janis Joplin, and Delaney & Bonnie. The band continued for a while, but it became uncertain whether they were their own entity or an adjunct to Ian & Sylvia, especially when Cage and Garrett left, and the Columbia Ian & Sylvia album was credited to Ian & Sylvia with the Great Speckled Bird. The record was more subdued than Great Speckled Bird, and the band dissolved in the early '70s, with Ian & Sylvia parting ways themselves by the middle of the decade. ~ Richie Unterberger