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Kellie Pickler resides in sort of a country music no man’s land to a certain degree at the moment. Recently her music has taken a very decidedly traditional, independent direction, specifically with her last album 100 Proof that was named country Album of the Year by Saving Country Music, Rolling Stone, and others. But her past is very heavily steeped in the mainstream music industry, being an American Idol alumni who was initially signed to Sony, who subsequently competed on Dancing With the Stars (and won last season), and who started off in the entertainment world participating in beauty pageants.
This type of resume is what makes mainstream fans salivate, while it makes traditional and independent fans look at Kellie Pickler spuriously. Authenticity is such a key factor in classic country music; in selling the pain behind your voice and words to discerning fans. As sad as it was that the mainstream country industry seemed to abandon Kellie Pickler in her moment of creative breakout and unbridled expression, it may be just as sad that the classic, independent country world couldn’t connect with her as authentic.
The stereotype for artists that come from the reality TV world is that they didn’t have to work for what they got. It was all handed to them. How are they supposed to sing with soul when they haven’t experienced the pain of real life? But few spend the time to actually dig into the past of these artists to see just how their personal narratives may play out in their music, and with Kellie Pickler, she’s experienced more real world pain than most.
To say that Kellie Pickler’s personal life growing up was tumultuous would be a remark that resides somewhere between a gross understatement and a dramatic oversimplification. Kellie Pickler hasn’t seen her mother in over 15 years, since Kellie was roughly 11-years-old. Her father at last report was a fugitive wanted by the State of Florida. And that’s just where the story begins.
Before Kellie was even 2-years-old, her mother was arrested for writing hot checks and passing a fake prescription for Valium to the pharmacy of the Wal-Mart she worked at in Albermarle, North Carolina, just east of Charlotte. Kellie’s parents split up the day after her 2nd birthday, and in July of 1989, Kellie’s mother vanished completely.
This left Kellie in the custody of her father, Clyde, who was constantly in and out of incarceration for numerous charges including drunk driving, assault, and armed robbery. “He’d get out of prison, get on drugs really bad, get tied up with the wrong people,” Kellie explained to The Charlotte Observer in 2006.
When both of Kellie’s parents were gone or incarcerated, she would stay with her grandparents, who Kellie cites as one of her biggest influences. In stark contrast to her traditional home, her grandparents’ house was a stable environment, and with her father incarcerated, it became Kellie’s permanent home until Kellie was in the fourth grade. That is when Kellie’s mother returned to Albermarle after living in California, and Kellie became stuck in the middle of a nasty custody battle.
“My grandparents and I were eating out and my mother was in there with some of her friends,” Kellie recalls. “I don’t know how I knew it was her, but we made eye contact. She went to court trying to fight for custody of me.” Kellie’s mother won, and Kellie was placed back into a chaotic environment. “During that time, she was physically and mentally abusive of me,” Kellie says. For two years, Kellie’s grandparents fought in the courts to get her back, and in 1997 they finally won. Kellie Pickler has not seen her mother since.
Meanwhile Kellie’s father was in and out of the correctional system. Kellie grew older and got a job as a car hop at Sonic, started competing in beauty pageants, and eventually tried out for American Idol. While Kellie was advancing in the competition, her father Clyde sat in a Florida State Prison for stabbing a man in New Port Richey, FL, running from police, and ramming a police cruiser. Pickler would write letters to him, filling him in on her progress on the show.
Kellie eventually was eliminated from American Idol, finishing 6th. A week later on May 6th, 2006, her father was released from prison.
Kellie Pickler made strong and public attempts to make amends with her father and support his rehabilitation, but as her post-Idol career took off, Clyde Pickler couldn’t stay out of trouble. In May of 2007, Clyde was arrested in Albermarle on three counts of felony larceny for stealing old, abandoned vehicles and selling them to scrap yards. On February 7th, 2009, Clyde Pickler was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon when he attacked a female companion with a steak knife.
Just as the criminal record of her father was a theme when Kellie was competing on American Idol, it became another story line shortly after she competed and won Dancing With The Stars. A week after her win in May of 2013, her father was listed as a fugitive by the State of Florida for leaving the state in violation of his probation.
But none of this personal history makes Kellie Pickler a good country singer or songwriter, just like the lack of a tragic personal narrative doesn’t necessarily make a performer unqualified for writing or performing country music. Where Kellie’s story goes from tragic to inspiring is how she has used her real life struggles as inspiration in her music, very directly and very personally, not trying to hide her unfortunate past, but presenting it front and center in her music.
Kellie’s first exploration of her personal story through music came with the song “I Wonder” from her first album from 2007, Small Town Girl. The song, and the truth behind it delivered one of the most memorable moments in recent memory on the CMA Awards where Kellie broke down during her performance and received a standing ovation.
Kellie’s last album 100 Proof delved even deeper. From the video of the song “Tough” that depicts a very young Kellie witnessing her father getting arrested in the family home, to the very personal songs “Mothers Day” and ” The Letter (To Daddy)” written for her mom and dad respectively, Kellie Pickler has proven that her creativity and honesty of expression can match her country cred, and that her life is truly a country song in every sense.
Kellie Pickler releases a new album “The Woman I Am” November 11th.
The last few weeks might go down in history as one of country music’s most feud-laden moments. From Gary Allan going off about country music and indirectly accusing Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood of not being country, to Zac Brown calling out Luke Bryan’s song “That’s My Kind of Night,” and Jason Aldean calling out Zac Brown in Luke’s defense.
Though country music feuding may be on a sharp rise here recently, it is not an uncommon or recent occurrence in country music by any stretch. Many artists have had a beef with the Grand Ole Opry over the years, including Johnny Cash and Stonewall Jackson. Curb Records has been in the middle of many feuds, most notably with Leann Rimes, Hank Williams III, and a big one with Tim McGraw that pitted cross-town heavyweights Mike Curb and Scott Borchetta against each other. But nothing gets folks talking like a good old artist on artist donnybrook. Here are some of the most infamous over the years.
Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner were one of country music’s most legendary pairings, but when Dolly wanted to leave the Porter Wagoner camp in 1974, things turned heated. Parton did the best she could to leave Porter’s side in an amicable way, even penning and performing her legendary song “I Will Always Love You” for her long-time singing partner. But Porter turned around and sued her for $3 million in a breach of contract suit in 1979.
However, the two made up eventually, and Porter performed with Dolly on her TV variety show in 1988. Dolly Parton was also by Porter Wagoner’s side when he passed away in 2007.
In the midst of Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achy Breaky Heart” success, Travis Tritt was asked what he though about it, and always willing to be a lightning rod, Travis Tritt responded, “I haven’t seen his show so I can’t say anything about that. I haven’t seen the man personally, so I can’t say anything about him personally. I haven’t listened to his albums, so I can’t make a statement about that. But I have seen the video and I have heard “Achy Breaky Heart”, and I don’t care for either one of them. It just seems kind of frivolous. The video doesn’t appeal to me because it shows him stepping out of a limousine in front of thousands and thousands of fans, and nobody’s even heard of this guy.. Garth Brooks didn’t even do that. It doesn’t seem very realistic to me.”
Travis Tritt recalled in his autobiography Ten Feet Tall and Bulletproof, “I apologized to Billy Ray, told him I hoped he sold ten million copies of the record. Went home. I sent Billy Ray a peace lily and a get well card because I heard he’d been feeling bad enough to cancel his Fan Fair appearance. Headline in the local paper the next day. ‘Travis Tritt Trashes Billy Ray Cyrus.’ The more I said about it, trying to rectify the situation, the worse it got.”
Waylon Jennings really didn’t like Garth Brooks, and wasn’t very good at hiding it. Though in the portions about Garth in Waylon’s autobiography he was careful not to use Garth’s name, during interviews in the 90′s Waylon would regularly let his anti-Garth anger slip. For example in an interview with The Inquirer form September, 1994, Waylon said about Garth, “I think he’s the luckiest s.o.b in the world. He’s gotten more out of nothing than anybody I can think of. I’ve always accused him of sounding like Mr. Haney on Green Acres.”
There’s another Waylon quote about Garth that goes something along the lines of “Garth Brooks did for country music what panty hose did for finger fucking.” But there has yet to be a verifiable attribution of the quote.
Still to this day, not much is known about the exact details of the feud between these two men, but in the mid-70′s you couldn’t find two artists more tied to the hip than Waylon and Tompall. Tompall was the proprietor of Hillbilly Central in Nashville—a renegade studio where Waylon mixed and mastered his album Honky Tonk Heroes, and recorded his album This Time. Waylon and Tompall appear together on Wanted: The Outlaws—country music’s first million-selling album. The two became close friends and were kindred spirits from their hated of Music Row’s business practices. They would spin long hours battling each other on pinball machines or picking out tunes or playing pranks on each other. But when the friendship went south in the late 70′s, it went south hard, and the two men never resolved their differences before their respective deaths, despite both men still insisting on their deep love and appreciation for each other.
The crux of the beef between two of country music’s most famous sons is that Hank3 felt Shooter Jennings stole his persona. Hank3 had a song called “Dick In Dixie” that included the line, “I’m here to put the Dick in Dixie, and the cunt back in country.” Shooter, who previously had been in a rock band called Stargunn, came out with his first country record entitled Put The ‘O’ Back In Country in 2005, and Hank3 perceived the title was a little too close for comfort.
If you wanna go down that road and rip us off, mutherfucker, I’ll see you in ten years and five thousand shows down the road.” Hank3 said. We’ll see where the fuck you’re at. You know, I called him out and just flat out said, “fuck you if you’re gonna rip us off like that on your first release.”
Shooter for his part seemed unwilling to reciprocate the feud, saying “You know what, I don’t even comment on these things, really. I don’t even know him. I met him once, I think, for a second. And somehow all this stuff started about how he hates me. I don’t know. It’s, like, stupid.”
In fairness to Shooter, Carlene Carter had used the line “If that doesn’t put the cunt back in country, I don’t know what will” at a show in New York in 1979 when her mother June Carter and father-in-law Johnny Cash were in attendance. Eventually Shooter and Hank3 reportedly buried the hatchet.
Hank3 is the legitimate son of Hank Williams Jr., but Hank Jr. was not Hank3′s everyday father. Hank3 was raised by his mother, and usually only saw Hank Jr. once a year when growing up. In 2001, Hank Jr. began collaborating with Kid Rock in songs like “The ‘F’ Word” and others, and Hank Jr. often referred to Kid Rock as his “rebel son.” This stimulated a rumor that Kid Rock was in fact Hank Jr.’s biological offspring. Though both men denied it, the urban myth grew legs, and Hank Williams III began to be asked by people if Kid Rock was his brother, which didn’t sit too well.
Then the situation escalated when Kid Rock accosted Hank3 at a show in Detroit, trying to patch up the strained relationship between Hank3 and his father. “He kept trying to come on the bus, you know, him and Pam Anderson, and all that shit,” Hank3 recalls. “And I said, ‘Tell that motherfucker I got nothing to say to him,’ and then he finally get his way back in there and tells me how I need to be treating my father, and I’m like, ‘All right, you crossed the line motherfucker.’ And I don’t know how many times I have to say it: No, he’s not my fucking brother . . .”
The altercation eventually led to the line in Hank3′s song “Not Everybody Likes Us,” “Just so you know, so it’s set in stone, Kid Rock don’t come from where I come from. Yeah it’s true he’s a Yank, he ain’t no son of Hank, and if you though so god damn you’re fucking dumb.”
It is considered one of country music’s most legendary moments—when Charlie Rich took out his lighter at the 1975 CMA Awards and burned the envelope announcing John Denver as Entertainer of the Year while Denver watched via satellite. Rich had clearly been drinking, and his antics were taken as an act of defiance against the intrusion of pop influences into country music, and have since become a rallying cry for country music purists.
Recently when video surfaced of the incident, people began to question what Charlie Rich’s true intentions were because Rich didn’t appear to look as malicious as the moment had been materialized in many people’s minds without the aid of the archived footage. Though historians and the Country Music Hall of Fame clearly spell it out as being considered a conflict at the time, Charlie’s son Charlie Rich Jr. says that his father was simply trying to be funny. So maybe there was a Charlie Rich vs. John Denver, or maybe there wasn’t, but the moment still makes for great country music lore.
Probably not much more than the names of these two needs to be said to to infer that they wouldn’t get along. Maines started the scuffle in response to Toby Keith’s song “Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue” saying, “I hate it. It’s ignorant, and it makes country music sound ignorant. It targets an entire culture—and not just the bad people who did bad things. You’ve got to have some tact. Anybody can write, ‘We’ll put a boot in your ass’ … ”
Toby Keith’s response? “I’ll bury her. She has never written anything that has been a hit…” Maines kept up the heat, wearing a shirt with the letters F.U.T.K. on the 2003 ACM Awards. And of course, all of this was exacerbated when Maines criticized President George Bush at a concert in London a month before.
Keith was the one to publicly bury the hatchet, saying in August of 2003, “You know, a best friend of mine lost a two-year-old daughter to cancer. I saw a picture of me and Natalie and it said, ‘Fight to the Death’ or something. It seemed so insignificant. I said, ‘Enough is enough’ People try to make everything black and white. I didn’t start this battle. They started it with me; they came out and just tore me up. One thing I’ve never, ever done, out of jealousy or anything else, is to bash another artist and their artistic license.”
Toby Keith vs. Kris Kristofferson
It sure made for a juicy story at the time, but according to both of the named belligerents, it was a feud that never was. In April of 2009, actor Ethan Hawke published a story in Rolling Stone that without naming his name, accused Toby Keith of saying to Kris Kristofferson at Willie Nelson’s 70th birthday in 2003, ““None of that lefty shit out there tonight, Kris.” According to Hawke, a rolling argument ensued that ended with Kris Kristofferson saying, ““They’re doin’ to country music what pantyhose did to finger-fuckin’” (see Waylon Jennings vs. Garth Brooks above.)
However, according to both Toby Keith and Kris Kristofferson, the incident never happened. Even more damming to Ethan Hawke and Rolling Stone, though Toby Keith became famous from his flag-waving songs, he’s a registered Democrat, making the likelihood Kieth saying to Kristofferson “lefty shit” very unlikely. Ethan Hawke and Rolling Stone stood by their story, but the press who perpetuated it got an earful from Toby about it at the 2009 ACM Awards.
Feuds that involve accusations of songs getting ripped off can get especially nasty, and this was the case when Jason Isbell took to Twitter to accuse Dierks Bentley of ripping off his song “In A Razor Town.” “‘Dierks’ has officially ripped off my song ‘In A Razor Town.’” Isbell fired off. “Dierks is a douchebag. The song of Dierks is called ‘Home.’” Isbell continued to pummel Dierks through Twitter, even getting political because of the flag waving nature of “Home.” Dierks in his defense referred to an interview one of the song’s co-writers Dan Wilson did with ASCAP that explained how the song came together.
The result? Though Isbell went silent after he said he was told to do so by his lawyer, if there was ever litigation over the song, the results were never made public. Isbell has since in interviews blamed his heavy drinking at the time for his Twitter tone. Though the two songs do sound similar, whether it was truly a ripoff or not seems to remain inconclusive.
Robert Earl Keen put Toby Keith in his crosshairs when he believed Keith lifted the melody from his song “The Road Goes On Forever” for his 2010 song “Bullets In The Gun.” Keen recalls, “I got all these calls from my friends. They were saying, ‘This is ridiculous. What are you gonna do? I felt like this individual had been picking on me for a long time, and I was sick of it. So instead of getting really ugly about things—I don’t really believe in lawsuits or threats—I took the Alexander Pope road and answered this guy in song.”
Keen recorded “The Road Goes On And On” as a shot at Toby Keith (though he never mentions his name), with lines that included:
You’re a regular jack in the box
In your clown suit and your goldilocks
The original liar’s paradox
Your horse is drunk and your friends got tired
Your aim grew weak and uninspired . . .
Toby Keith has never formally responded to the accusations.
This battle of heavyweights ensued when Eric Church was quoted in Rolling Stone in late April of 2012 saying, “Honestly, if Blake Shelton and Cee Lo Green turn around in a red chair, you got a deal? That’s crazy. I don’t know what would make an artist do that. You’re not an artist. Once your career becomes about something other than the music, then that’s what it is. I’ll never make that mistake. I don’t care if I starve.”
Miranda Lambert, who is married to Blake Shelton and also has a reality show past, came out swinging, saying through Twitter, “I wish I misunderstood this . . .Thanks Eric Church for saying I’m not a real artist. You’re welcome for the tour in 2010,” referencing Church’s opening spot on one of her tours.
Eventually Eric Church apologized, saying, “The comment I made to Rolling Stone was part of a larger commentary on these types of reality television shows and the perception they create, not the artists involved with the shows themselves. The shows make it appear that artists can shortcut their way to success… I have a problem with those perceived shortcuts, not just in the music industry…I have a lot of respect for what artists like Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, and my friend Miranda Lambert have gone on to accomplish. This piece was never intended to tear down any individual and I apologize to anybody I offended in trying to shed light on this issue.”
As some have pointed out since, Eric Church apologized to Miranda, but never apologized to Blake.
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Eric Church also created a firestorm with Rascal Flatts in 2006. While playing in an opening slot, he purposely played too loud and for too long after numerous requests to respect the tour’s wishes, resulting in him being kicked off the tour. It also resulted in a young starlet named Taylor Swift getting a chance to open on the big tour, which many experts give credit for helping Taylor’s meteoric rise.
Blake Shelton vs. Ray Price
When Blake Shelton’s comments about how he considered country music’s traditional fans “Old Farts and Jackasses” came out, Country Music Hall of Famer Ray Price shot back, saying, “Every now and then some young artist will record a rock and roll type song , have a hit first time out with kids only. This is why you see stars come with a few hits only and then just fade away believing they are God’s answer to the world. This guy sounds like in his own mind that his head is so large no hat ever made will fit him. Stupidity Reigns Supreme!!!!!!! Ray Price (CHIEF “OLD FART” & JACKASS”) ” P.S. YOU SHOULD BE SO LUCKY AS US OLD-TIMERS. CHECK BACK IN 63 YEARS (THE YEAR 2075) AND LET US KNOW HOW YOUR NAME AND YOUR MUSIC WILL BE REMEMBERED.”
Blake Shelton later apologized, saying, “Whoa!!! I heard I offended one of my all time favorite artists Ray Price by my statement “Nobody wants to listen to their grandpas music”..And probably some other things from that same interview on GAC Backstory.. I hate that I upset him.. The truth is my statement was and STILL Is about how we as the new generation of country artists have to keep re-inventing country music to keep it popular. Just EXACTLY… The way Mr. Price did along hid journey as a main stream country artist.. Pushing the boundaries with his records. “For The Goodtimes” Perfect example with the introduction of a bigger orchestrated sound in country music.. It was new and awesome!!! I absolutely have no doubt I could have worded it better(as always ha!) and I apologize to Mr. Price and any other heroes of mine that it may offended.”
Ray also later apologized to Blake Shelton for being so harsh, and along with wife Miranda Lambert, they attended a Ray Price show in Oklahoma to patch things up in person.
In 2013, there is only one music artist who can say they’re officially banned for life from country music’s most storied institution: the Grand Ole Opry. No, it’s not David Allan Coe, Hank Williams III, or some other hothead, firebrand artist quick to call out the Opry and other mainstream country music institutions at any perceived slight. No, the offending party is none other than alt-country luminary Neko Case.
This may not be completely surprising seeing how Neko got her start in music as the drummer for a punk band, and has regularly collaborated with artists and bands outside of the country fold like The New Pornographers. But like many of the artists making up the alt-country movement in the mid 90′s, it can be argued that Neko had more respect for the roots of country music, and for country music institutions like the Grand Ole Opry, than many of country music’s artists did at the time, and certainly do today.
In October of 1998 when Neko’s first album The Virginian was blowing up in the alt-country realm, the Las Vegas Sun interviewed the young songstress, where she professed her philosophy behind country music, and her love for the Grand Ole Opry, in an article appropriately titled “Neko Case’s Quest for the Grand Ole Opry.”
I don’t play “alternative country” music; I just play country music. I want to have the same outlets, the same goals that all my heroes in country/western music have had. I want to play the Grand Old Opry in my grandmother’s lifetime, you know what I mean? I want to be played on mainstream radio. I’m not willing to change my music to get there faster, but I’ll fight for it anyway. I don’t think anyone gives a shit about country radio. It’s bullshit. It just makes me mad that (country radio) is using the term “country music,” when it doesn’t belong to them.
I think now is the time for change in country music; hopefully it’ll change for the better. It really burns that all the bands that inspired me were part of a national country music culture that was really admirable and fairly diverse at one time. I want to have the same avenues open to me. It’s like having this beautiful old building in your neighborhood and coming back to find that they’ve torn it down and built a Wal-Mart in its place.
Neko Case would get close to having her Grand Ole Opry wish granted when she was invited to perform at the Grand Ole Opry Plaza Party just outside the Grand Ole Opry House in the summer of 2001. Playing the Plaza Party was seen as a precursor to being able to play the Opry proper, and is the place where many Opry mainstays like Old Crow Medicine Show and Dale Watson got their Opry starts. With the respect Neko Case had for the Opry, she was excited for the opportunity.
“People who have gone to the Opry or are on their way to the Opry come by and check you out while they’re coming and going,” Neko explained to the Denver Westword that summer. “You get to go backstage at the Opry, which is the really cool part.”
Everything seemed to be going well for Neko and her Opry dream until one afternoon performance in July at the Plaza Party that was especially sweltering. The stage the Opry had set up for their Plaza performers was black, and right beside it was a barbecue pit that was pouring heat out onto the performers. With dreams of making it onto the Opry’s main stage, Neko Case persevered through the heat during her show, but it began to get unbearable and she started to wilt.
Neko Case started making requests for water from surrounding staff, but they went unfulfilled and she began to get dizzy. As Case began suffering from the effects odf heat stroke, she asked the staff if she could take a short break, and was told no. The situation became desperate for Neko, who was on the verge of passing out or suffering from some serious, long-term damage if she couldn’t resolve her rising body temperature. So in a panic, Neko removed her shirt to help cool off. As you can imagine, the family-friendly Opry did not look favorably upon this.
Exacerbating the shirt removal was the weight of Neko Case’s past in music and her statements about country, seeming to imply to the Opry and others that this wasn’t just an instance of heat exhaustion, but that Neko was making some symbolic statement by bearing her womanhood in public (though she still had a bra on beneath). As the stories swirled about Neko’s shirtless set, it was taken by some as an obscene gesture to cause a sensational outcry, or to stand against the direction of country music, or some other counterculture statement.
But that wasn’t the case. I wasn’t trying to be sexy or rebellious — I was just getting heatstroke up there,” Neko later explained to Rolling Stone. “I didn’t do anything obscene. I wouldn’t want to see me with my shirt off, either.” But the explanation didn’t do much good, and the incident resulted in a lifetime ban from the Grand Ole Opry—the institution Neko cherished so.
Neko has since come to peace with her fate. “I was pretty depressed for a couple of months after that happened, but I got over it,” Neko told The Guardian. Neko later memorialized the incident by naming her 2002 album Blacklisted.
She still hopes to return to the Opry some day and fulfill her dream. “They’ll forgive me one day,” she told Fairfax Digital. “I still love them.”
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Neko Case just released a new album, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You.
A big battle ground in country music right now is the presence of so many songs about trucks. Everywhere you turn, there is a song being released by a big country music personality that drones on and on about tailgates, Chevy’s, lift kits, mud flaps, etc. etc. Though this recent popularity trend seems especially sinister in its simplistic, incessant nature, it is not necessarily unprecedented in country. From the early 60′s into the mid 70′s, songs about semi-trucks and truck drivers were all the rage, with big names like Merle Haggard, Del Reeves, and Buck Owens getting in on the action, and professional country songwriters writing songs to specifically to capitalize off the trend similar to what is happening in country music today.
The difference of course was many of these classic trucker songs were considered very well-written, with many of them delving into deep issues like death, loneliness, loss of family, etc. Country music’s new crop of truck songs and their respective songwriters and performers could learn a thing or two about storytelling and soul from these traditional country truck driving songwriters and performers.
Maybe the best known of the country trucking crooners, with the most-recognized, most-covered trucking song in “Six Days On The Road,” Dave Dudley is an overlord of the country music truck driving music subset. Holding an honorary solid gold membership card to the Teamsters Union, he broke out with “Six Days On The Road” in 1963 and never looked back. Other great country trucker classics like “Truck Drivin’ Son-Of-A-Gun,” “Trucker’s Prayer,” and “Keep On Truckin’” are also attributed to Dudley, but like many of the old truck singers, he had his standard country hits too. Dave Dudley was actually the first to cut Kris Kristofferson’s song “Viet Nam Blues” that first put Kristofferson on the songwriting map, and Dudley’s only #1 song was the Tom T. Hall-written number “The Pool Shark.” Dudley had hits for over a decade, with his last big single “Me and Ole C.B” peaking at #12 on the charts in 1975.
Red Sovine was known for his trucking songs, but his particular twist was how he would talk in prose instead of singing his songs in rhyming verses. Sovine’s speaking style would have significant influence on the rest of country outside the trucking sub genre, while his trucking songs set the bar for emotional impact and storytelling. Sovine’s #1 “Teddy Bear” is right up there with Dave Dudley’s “Six Days On The Road” as one of the most well-recognized country trucking songs, and Sovine also charted another #1 with “Giddyup Go.” His song “Phantom 309″ wasn’t a huge hit, but it found a new audience when Tom Waits included a live version of it on his album Nighthawks At The Diner. Sovine also had a non-trucking #1 hit in a duet with Webb Pierce in 1955 with the song “Why Baby Why.”
With a patch over his right eye, Dick Curless was considered a throwback even in his own time. He was one of the pioneers of country trucking music, with his first big hit “A Tombstone Every Mile” making an appearance as a top five country hit in 1965. Songs like “Traveling Man,” “Highway Man,” and “Big Wheel Cannonball” established Dick’s persona as a man constantly on the move, and won him a spot on the nationwide Buck Owens All American tour. Like many of country’s trucker song stars, Curless spent a lot of time in California and was signed to Capitol Records, though he was known to frequently go back to his home in Maine to recover from a grueling schedule of touring and performances.
While Red Simpson may have not had the huge hits of his trucker song counterparts, he was also the one most dedicated to the specialized version of country. With only a few exceptions, virtually all of Red Simpson’s songs are about trucking or the highway patrol. He was the trucker songwriter other trucker songwriters listened to, and wrote many trucker hits for other artists. Based out of Bakersfield, he co-wrote songs with Buck Owens, and became a hot commodity when trucker songs became popular. The trucking song “Sam’s Place” that went on to become a #1 for Buck Owens was written by Red, and in 1975, Red landed his own big hit with “I’m A Truck.” At 79, Red is the last of the original country trucker song stars still around. In 1995, he recorded two duets with Junior Brown, “Semi Crazy” and “Nitro Express.” He is still recording, recently doing a duet with underground country artist Bob Wayne, and rumored to have an album called The Bard of Bakersfield in the works.
C.W. McCall got a late start in the trucking genre, joining the second wave of the movement in the mid-70′s. But his contribution was significant, especially with his #1 hit, the trucking song standard and generally epic “Convoy.” The song inspired a movie of the same name that starred Kris Kristofferson in 1978, and McCall was regarded in some circles as the “Outlaw” of the country trucker song performers. “Convoy” became so big, some consider McCall a one hit wonder, but he had numerous successful songs, inside and outside the trucking realm. His first charting single was “Old Home Filler-Up an’ Keep On-a-Truckin’ Cafe,” and he also had a #2 single with “Roses For Mama.” C.W. McCall’s popular career was pretty short, ranging from roughly 1974-1978, but his impact, especially with “Convoy” cannot be understated.
Though Del Reeves is known for contributing much more to the country music genre than just trucking songs, his two significant cuts, the #1 hit “Girl On The Billboard” from 1965, and the top 5 hit “Looking at the World Through a Windshield” from 1968 make Del Reeves and honorary trucking song god if there ever was one, and an important performer in the development of the sub genre. Reeves also put out an album called Trucker’s Paradise in 1973.
…and to an extent their sister band Asleep At The Wheel deserve honorary mention for being inspired and a part of the 70′s-era trucker song revolution, though it is widely considered they were somewhat on the outside looking in. Nonethess, Commander Cody’s second album that consisted mostly of covers called Hot Licks, Cold Steel & Truckers Favorites from 1972 might be one of the most prized albums of the sub genre.
Not really known exclusively as singer of truck driver songs, but his albums The Truckin’ Sessions (1998) and The Truckin’ Session, Vol. 2 certainly deserve mention, with the first one considered by many to be the album that launched Dale’s career. Dale has also been known to drive trucks and his own bus upon occasion.
Another artist not primarily known for trucker songs, but Junior Brown has them scattered throughout his discography, including the title track off of his 1996 album, Semi Crazy. Junior’s signature song “Highway Patrol” rekindles the symbiotic relationship between trucker songs and highway patrol songs first started by Red Simpson, who he recorded two duets with in 1995.
Aaron Tippin may be best known for his more patriotic songs, but he’s peppered trucker songs here and there throughout his career. In 2009, Tippin released an album called In Overdrive that included many truck driving cover songs and closed out with two originals. His truck driving cred is helped by the fact that he was a real-life truck driver before launching his career in country music.
A lesser-known underground country artist, but one who includes trucker songs (usually of a pretty seedy nature) on every one of his albums, including his 2nd album 13 Truckin’ Songs. Bob Wayne recently performed and recorded a duet with Red Simpson after re-discovering him in a Bakersfield trailer park.
Merle Haggard & Buck Owens as part of the Bakersfield Sound both had quite a few big trucker anthems. One of Jerry Reed’s signature songs is “East Bound & Down” from the Smokey & The Bandit movies where he played a trucker. Tom T. Hall wrote and recorded a few trucking songs. And there’s many other artists who’ve recorded more than one trucker song. Who are some of your favorites?
During Johnny Cash’s legendary concert at San Quentin Prison in 1969, photographer Jim Marshall said to Johnny backstage, “John, let’s do a shot for the warden.” The result was the photograph above that mostly remained under wraps until 1998. That is when producer Rick Rubin decided to use the iconic photo in an ad in Billboard magazine decrying country radio’s lack of love for Johnny’s second album on Rubin’s American label called Unchained. Despite no industry support, Unchained went on to win the 1998 Grammy for “Best Country Album.”
Since then the image of the angry face and the raised middle finger has become an iconic symbol of defiance against the direction of country music. As indecent as a raised middle finger happens to be in the first place (and the propensity for some seedy country fans and artists to over-saturate its use in every single photo of them), it has come to mean much more than its vulgar connotation in the fight to save country music.
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Willie Nelson’s middle finger photo was shot by a photographer named Sean Moorman on Willie Nelson’s tour bus on July 26, 2002. The title of image is “Willie Nelson Sending Jim Marshall Regards.” Both the Jim Marshall photo of Johnny Cash and the Sean Moorman photo of Willie stimulated litigation when Urban Outfitters printed up Johnny Cash middle finger T-shirts without permission, and Spencer Gifts did the same with Willie.
Dale Watson doing his best Johnny Cash impression:
Hank Williams III and David Allan Coe in younger days:
Jonny (Corndawg) Fritz telling a fan they’re #1 (Kayley Luftig – Photographer):
Bob Wayne, adding the stink eye for extra emphasis:
Jeff Austin of the Yonder Mountain String Band doing the double bird (Chad Smith Photography):
Keith Richards’ middle finger is insured for $1.6 million. Yes, that one he’s point at you. And no, I’m not kidding.
The wet cigarette of country music, Kid Rock. And Saving Country Music friend “Pointer” from a downtown Nashville excursion in 2011 getting his picture with Kid Rock on the front of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge.
Townes Van Zandt, from the back cover of his 1972 album The Late Great Townes Van Zandt.
Kellie Pickler telling Kanye West “Fuck You!” for not liking country music (see video).
Lenny Kravitz giving the crowd at the 2013 CMA Fan Fest the double bird because they “couldn’t get with love” during his elongated set that left the crowd underwhelmed.
A sign hanging up in the Johnny Cash themed bar and music venue in Austin, TX called the Mean Eyed Cat.
The ad Rick Rubin placed in Billboard Magazine after Johnny Cash won the 1998 Grammy for Best Country Album:
You’ve all heard about the “Million Dollar Quartet”—the recording session at Memphis’s legendary Sun Studios on December 4th, 1956 that compiled the talent of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash. Well if there was an equivalent to the Million Dollar Quartet in the songwriting world, it would be the one night in January of 1969 when Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Graham Nash, and Shel Silverstein all spent an evening at Johnny Cash’s home in Hendersonville, TN on the banks of Old Hickory Lake, swapping songs and stories from their respective spheres of the music world. The music that was showcased for the first time ever at the intimate songwriter circle became the soundtrack for a generation, and the gathering would go down in history as one of the most potent assemblages of songs showcased for the first time in one place.
The Who and Why
Johnny Cash was in the midst of recording his famous The Johnny Cash Show at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, and Bob Dylan was in the studio in Nashville recording his landmark country album Nashville Skyline (that Johnny Cash appears on). Bob was staying at Johnny’s Hendersonville house at the time. Meanwhile Joni Mitchell was in town recording an appearance on The Johnny Cash Show (she appears on the 1st & 6th episodes of the 1st season in 1969) and was currently dating Graham Nash who tagged along for the adventure. Kris Kristofferson and Shel Silverstein were in the habit of showing up anywhere where their songs might be heard by big name performers, and together they all formed one star studded songwriting circle.
Johnny Cash was the glue of the whole thing, bridging the differences between the dispirit music realms the 6 participants came from with The Johnny Cash Show being the catalyst. Performers on the show regulary stayed at Johnny’s Hendersonville home. “Music is for everybody,” Johnny Cash explained when telling the story of the legendary night to David Letterman in 1985. “And although I’m known as a country artist, [The Johnny Cash Show] was a network show, and I wanted to see some people on it that I knew the people wanted to see.”
“That night in my house [was] the first time these songs were heard…” Johnny Cash went on. “Joni Mitchell sang ‘Both Sides Now,’ Graham Nash sang ‘Marrakesh Express,’ Shel Silverstein sang ‘A Boy Named Sue,’ Bob Dylan sang ‘Lay Lady Lay,’ and Kristofferson sang ‘Me & Bobby McGee.’ That was the first time any of those songs were heard.”
David Letterman’s poignant reaction to Cash’s run down of talent and songs was, “Did you have snacks?”
All five songs became very successful charting singles. “Me & Bobby McGee” went on to become a #1 hit for Janis Joplin (awarded posthumously), and “A Boy Named Sue” a #1 hit for Johnny Cash. “Both Sides, Now” has now been recorded by over 70 artists, including Frank Sinatra, Willie Nelson, Bing Crosby, and Jimmie Rodgers. Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” is considered a country standard, and has been recorded by artists as varied as The Byrds, to Duran Duran, to Ministry.
There is one minor correction to Johnny Cash’s recollection. Even though Joni Mitchell most likely sang “Both Sides, Now” that night, the song was first recorded by Judy Collins in 1967, meaning the first time it was heard would not be that night at Johnny’s house in Hendersonville. And though “Marrakesh Express” wasn’t released until May of 1969, some reports have the song being recorded in 1968 for Crosby, Stills, & Nash’s self-titled album.
Nonetheless, the music showcased that night all in one place by the original songwriters is something to behold, and certainly was one of the most diverse, most star-packed, and most hit-packed songwriter circles in the history of popular music.
It was later memorialized by The Highwaymen in “Songs That Make A Difference” from their 1990 album Highwaymen II.
Shel Silverstein – “A Boy Named Sue”
Joni Mitchell – “Both Sides, Now”
Kris Kristofferson – “Me & Bobby McGee”
Bob Dylan – “Lay Lady Lay”
Graham Nash – “Marrakesh Express”
Authenticity and dysfunction are regularly celebrated in country music, and what better way to celebrate that than to look back in time a some of the most notable mugshots and arrests of country music’s most notable stars.
Cash was arrested twice. The first was after a trip to Mexico when he tried to hide 1,163 Dexedrine and Equanil tablets in his guitar case while crossing the border near El Paso, TX in 1965. Since the drugs were prescription instead of illegal narcotics, Cash received a suspended sentence. He was arrested again in 1966 in Starkville, Miss. for … get this … picking flowers late at night. The property owner pressed trespassing charges, and Johnny spent time in the Starkville County Jail, resulting in the song of the same name.
Though Cash was famous for his concerts at Folsom Prison and San Quentin, he never served time in anything bigger than a city jail (the bottom mug was just for show).
The trouble started for Willie Nelson way back in 1960 when he was arrested for speeding in Pasadena, TX (near Houston). And then came the pot busts:
- 1974 – For possession in Dallas, TX.
- 1994 – For possession in Hewitt (near Waco) when Willie pulled his Mercedes off the side of the highway for a siesta and an officer found a joint in the ashtray and eventually a bag of marijuana. The judge ruled the evidence inadmissible and the charges were dropped.
- 2006 – For possession in St. Martin Parish, Louisiana for one-and-a-half pounds of marijuana and 3 oz. of hallucinogenic mushrooms. Willie, his sister Bobbi, and Willie’s manager were all arrested, eventually receiving 6 months probation.
- 2010 – For possession of 6 ounces of marijuana at the Sierra Blanca, Texas border checkpoint. Willie eventually only had to pay a fine.
Jerry Lee Lewis
In the dead of night in November of 1976, a drunken and armed Jerry Lee Lewis showed up to the gates of Graceland demanding to see his fellow Sun Studios alum Elvis right then and there. The guard rang Elvis who refused “The Killer’s” request, and then rang Memphis police when Lewis began waving a gun around.
Hank Williams Jr.
You may think because Hank Jr. was the last of his rowdy friends to settle down that at some point he would wind up in the pokey, but it turns out his mugshot was for a bunk charge from a 19-year-old in March of 2006 that said Jr. put her in a choke hold after she refused to kiss him. Jr. turned himself in, and after finding out the girl was looking to cash in big on the accusation and that there was no real evidence of the altercation, the charges were dropped.
In November of 2003, Glen Campbell was arrested at his home near Phoenix, AZ after hitting and running while drunk in his BMW. Then while Campbell was being processed, he kneed an officer in the leg, which added an aggravated assault of a police officer charge. Campbell pleaded down some of the counts, and eventually spent 10 days in jail.
Domestic abuse charges landed Rodney Atkins in front of the police camera in February of 2012, but the news about the charges didn’t come out until his wife filed for divorce a few weeks later. The news also came on the heels of Rodney re-signing with Curb Records. The charges were later dropped as part of the divorce settlement.
An indelible image of country music’s first superstar in this midst of his downfall in 1952, leaving the jailhouse in Alexander City, Alabama.
Billy Joe Shaver
Notable country music songwriter Billy Joe Shaver sits on the witness stand stemming from an altercation behind Papa Joe’s bar near Waco, TX in 2007 when Shaver shot a man non lethally in the face with a .22 pistol. The incident became a piece of country music lore when Dale Watson wrote a song titled “Where Do You Want It?” allegedly for the question Shaver asked his victim before he pulled the trigger. The high-profile trial incuded Willie Nelson showing up as a Shaver character witness, and eventually all charges were dropped against when it was ruled Shaver was acting in self defense.
In 2003, daughter Judd was pulled over for speeding and subsequently blew a .175, lading her in jail before she posted a $500 bail. It all happened right down the street from Music Row, so maybe it’s true what they say about the country music industry driving artists to drink.
Just like the “Wet Cigarette of Country Music” to get arrested at a Waffle House. In October of 2007, Kid Rock and his crew stopped into the DeKalb County, Georgia eatery where they proceeded to brawl with gawking patrons. Other members of Kid Rocks posse were also arrested. Rock was found guilty of simple battery. It was his 4th chance to strike the perp pose over the years for various charges.
David Allan Coe
You better believe DAC would be here, but unfortunately this is the biggest photo we can drum up of David from his time in the Ohio State Penal System.
Coe was also arrested in 2008 after an altercation in a casino when a misunderstanding about a jackpot resulted in security officers and police wrestling Coe to the ground. Coe countersued in 2010 for false arrest and assault. The entire altercation was caught on tape.
Yes, we know that some of the younger generation of country performers don’t want to pander to the “old farts and jackasses,” but maybe Billy Currington took it a little too far when he threatened a 70-year-old boat captain for coming too close to his waterfront property in Tybee Island, Ga. Currington was cited in April of 2013 for making “terroristic threats” and “abuse of an elder.” Case is still pending.
Johnny Paycheck spent 4 years battling an aggravated assault charge after shooting a man in a Hillsboro, OH bar during a brawl. Though multiple appeals kept Paycheck out of prison for a while, he was finally sentenced to the Chillicothe Correctional Institute in 1989 where he served two years before being paroled.
In May of 2008, Louisiana country star Chris Cagle got in a tussle with his girlfriend Jennifer Tant at the Player’s Bar in Nashville before the couple took the bout home. Cagle wielded Jennifer’s purse. Jennifer weilded an umbrella, and they both ended up in the big house. Police said they were both too drunk and disorderly to press any serious charges.
When the underground country band from Austin, TX went to release their first album, they chose their mutual mugshots from the same Williamson County roundup to make up the CD art.
No mugshots of George Jones’s numerous run ins with the law during his drinking days have ever surfaced, but video did a few years ago from a George Jones documentary.
Get well Randy! …. but we couldn’t make this list without you. Travis was forced to pose for police camera twice in 2012; once after a drunken fight at a church, and the other after driving drunk….and naked.
When looking at the historical timeline of country music, many times it is big events that set the wheels of change in motion, for the good and the bad. Whether it is intrusion of pop or rap into country, or the ill-treatment of country music greats, here are some of the most embarrassing moments in country music history.
Shuttering of the Country Music Mother Church
The Grand Ole Opry needed a bigger home and the move was inevitable, but the result was the complete shuttering Ryman Auditorium, also known as the Country Music Mother Church, for 20 years. Aside from being opened by special permission to shoot videos for folks like Jason & The Scorchers, John Hartford, and for parts of the Coal Miner’s Daughter movie, the venue was abandoned between 1974 and 1994, also allowing the surrounding lower Broadway area to be overrun with strip clubs and dirty bookstores. It wasn’t until Emmylou Harris recorded a live album at the Ryman that a renewed interest in the historic venue was sparked, eventually leading to its restoration and re-opening.
Garth Brooks Goes Flying Over Texas Stadium
In 1993 at the old Texas Stadium in Irving, TX, Garth Brooks does a video shoot and decides to pull a Sandy Duncan and go flying over the crowd suspended with wires. Though it was a one-off demonstration, it illustrated Garth’s influence of turning country into more of a commercial, arena-rock presentation.
Jessica Simpson plays the Grand Ole Opry
You already forgot that reality star Jessica Simpson had a stint trying to be a country performer, didn’t you? Her career lasted weeks, but that was long enough for the Opry to decide to give her an opportunity to be on the sainted Opry stage on September 6th, 2008, while many other more worthy performers still wait indefinitely in the wings for the distinguished Opry opportunity.
Unfinished Hank Williams Songs Turned Into Lost Notebooks Album
Publisher Sony ATV cashed in on a collection of lyric sheets left behind by Hank Williams—some unfinished, and all without music—by doling them out surreptitiously to Bob Dylan, and a bevy of undeserving artists including Jakob Dylan and Sheryl Crow, to finish and record. The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams raised the ire of many, including Hank’s daughter and Williams estate executor Jett Williams who said about the project, “It was like ‘here are some lyrics’ instead of trying to think, “If Hank Williams was sitting here with me and it’s got his musical footprints all over it.” You would think that when you heard the song being sung by the artist, that it would have some kind of (Hank) feel to it, which I’m not feeling it myself.”
DeFord Bailey Fired from the Grand Ole Opry
Harmonica player and Country Music Hall of Famer DeFord Bailey was one of the early stars of the Grand Ole Opry, and was an official member from 1927 to 1941 when a dispute with BMI-ASCAP wouldn’t allow him to perform his most famous songs on the radio. Instead of standing behind one of their founding performers, the Opry fired DeFord. This ended his performance career and DeFord shined shoes for the rest of his life to make a living. DeFord did not play the Opry again until 1974 when he appeared on an “Old Timers’ Show.”
Jason Aldean Performs “Dirt Road Anthem” with Ludacris on CMT Awards
“History has been made baby!” Ludacris declared from the stage in June of 2011 when country music saw its first rap performance on an awards show, and the first live mainstream collaboration with a rap artist. This event and “Dirt Road Anthem” hitting #1 would open the country rap flood gates.
Olivia Newton-John and John Denver Winning CMA Awards
Olivia Newton-John’s CMA for “Female Vocalist of the Year” in 1974, and John Denver’s CMA for “Entertainer of the Year” in 1975 symbolized the historic intrusion of pop into the country format in the mid-70′s. The trend was staved off the next year when Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings ushered in the Outlaw movement in country.
Taylor Swift Wins First CMA for Entertainer of the Year
The date 11/11 was not good luck for country music in 2009, when Taylor Swift took home her first Country Music Association “Entertainer of the Year” award along with three other trophies on the night. Teen pop had now taken center stage in country music.
Induction of Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts, & Darius Rucker Into The Grand Ole Opry
The Grand Ole Opry had already been wanting to appeal to a younger, more youthful crowd, but in recent years they have ratcheted it up another notch, completely ignoring older country stars worthy of induction for pop country’s latest trends.
“Struggle” Turns Waylon Songs Into Rap
It was bad enough when rap infiltrated country music. Now it has gone back in time to overwrite the songs of country greats that have passed on. Waylon Jennings’ grandson-in-law nicknamed “Struggle” (his real name is Will Harness, and his real grandfather is Duane Eddy) took 7 Waylon Jennings songs, and rehashed them into rap songs in an album entitled I Am Struggle released in May of 2013. It was an unprecedented intrusion of rap into country music’s past, perpetrated by one of the few people who could get the blessing of the Waylon estate to do so. (read more)
Stonewall Jackson Stonewalled by the Grand Ole Opry
After having his performances on the Grand Ole Opry cut back so much that he lost his health benefits, Stonewall Jackson sued the Opry claiming age discrimination against Opry General Manager Pete Fisher. Stonewall claimed the Opry breached a long-standing code that if stars performed a set number of dates each year, even when they could make more money playing tour dates, they would always have a place to play at the Opry even in their older age. The lawsuit was eventually settled in court, and though the specific details of it were never revealed, Stonewall was happy with the outcome, and his performance schedule increased afterward.
Garth Brooks Becomes Chris Gains
In 1999, a bored Garth Brooks created a fictional dark pop character from Australia called Chris Gaines and released an album called The Life of Chris Gains. It gained Garth one Top 5 hit, “Lost In You,” but Brooks’ Chris Gaines idea met with very heavy criticism and confusion from fans, and after only a few weeks, Chris Gains rode off into the sunset and Garth Brooks re-appeared before a planned movie The Lamb could go into production.
The Grand Ole Opry’s Refusal to Reinstate Hank Williams
Even though there is a Hank Williams impersonator to greet Opry attendees at the door, the institution has refused to reinstate one of country music’s most legendary icons, and one that made the Opry an internationally-known institution, even in a symbolic gesture. Hank was dismissed from the Opry in 1952 for missing performances and rehearsals due to alcoholism, and was told he could return once he sobered up. Hank never got that opportunity, dying on New Years Eve of that year. A movement called Reinstate Hank looks to reinstate the country star back into the institution.
George Jones “Choices” & Other CMA Performances Cut Short
At the 1999 CMA Awards, George Jones was asked to perform an abbreviated version of his song “Choices.” George refused and boycotted the show, and in response Alan Jackson, while preforming his song “Pop A Top,” cut his own song short, and launched into George’s “Choices.” (read more)
This was actually the second time an artist boycotted the CMA’s. In a much less publicized event, Waylon Jennings refused to perform an abbreviated version of “Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line.” Waylon recalls, “They told me not to get smart. Either I did it or I got out. They said, ‘We don’t need you.’ I decided that was true and left.”
The wide palette of influences that came together to form country music’s unique sound is something that can be a marvel to explore. From the Gaelic and Celtic influences carried by northern European immigrants to the United States, to blues modes from the deep South, to the cowboy themes from California and folk’s influence of telling the story of the common man, these and many more influences all coagulated into this unique American art form that appeals so deeply to the hearts and heritage of country fans.
Yodeling is also one of these influences—an ancient art form that originated in the central European alps as a way for herders and villagers to easily communicate over the sloping terrain. Just like the old-time fiddle tunes that went into the formation of bluegrass, yodeling was carried over to America by German immigrants that settled in Appalachia and the deep South, eventually intertwining with folk and blues until both Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams were employing the singing style as a way to communicate the pain inherent in the themes of country.
Yodeling became deprecated in popular country music by the late 1950′s, but not before Slim Whitman who passed away on June 19th mastered the craft and made the world a timeless catalog of it in the country music context. Slim may not be given as much credit of the formation and popularization of country music as Hank Williams or Jimmie Rodgers, but he sold a surprising 120 million records worldwide, primarily by appealing to Europeans just as much, if not more than the American audience.
Though Whitman never scored a domestic #1 (he did have a couple of #2′s), his song “Rose Marie” held the record for the longest UK #1 for 36 years, spending 11 weeks at the #1 spot. Whitman was right-handed, but was a left-handed guitarist, stringing the guitar upside down; a practice later adopted by Paul McCartney after seeing Whitman playing guitar on a poster. Whitman’s influence far outlasted his popular music popularity, and so do his songs that illustrate an astounding, enchanting control of the human vocal range.
Oh, and let’s not forget that moment in 1996 when Slim Whitman’s music single-handedly saved the world from invading Martians when a Kansas teenager discovered through his grandmother that Slim Whitman’s yodel would melt the brains of the invaders, eventually leading to the military broadcasting Slim around the globe, destroying the Martians.
And people still say old-school country has no use. Ha!
RIP Slim. Yodeling champion, and savior of planet Earth.
What good is your revolution if there’s no one there to tell the rest of the world about it?
In the mid 70′s when country music was in upheaval from a new crop of rough shot artists thinking they should be able to write their own songs, record with their own bands, and keep creative control of their music, Rolling Stone Associate Editor Chet Flippo hit the streets of Nashville to help chronicle what was happening. Not nearly as off-the-wall as his more famous Rolling Stone counterpart Hunter S. Thompson, but just as willing to take an offbeat approach and embed himself amongst his journalistic subjects to get the whole story, Chet Flippo became the eyes and ears for the rest of the world enraptured by country music’s Outlaw revolution.
Beyond writing features for Rolling Stone, Flippo lent his pen to the very music of the Outlaw movement, writing the preambles and liner notes to both Wanted: The Outlaws, the first platinum-selling album in the history of country music, and Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger, arguably country music’s most influential album of all time, and many other albums of country music’s Outlaw era.
Flippo was an editor and writer for Rolling Stone until 1980 when he left to write a biography of Hank Williams, but continued to contribute to the magazine over the years. From 1991 to 1994 Flippo was a lecturer in journalism at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, before moving to Nashville. From 1995 until 2000, he was the Nashville Bureau Chief for Billboard, leaving in 2000 to become the Country Music Editor for Sonicnet.com.
But Flippo was known more recently for his work on CMT.com in his always-enlightening Nashville Skyline columns. For 12 years he oversaw editorial content for CMT. A writer who had seen it all with the courage to say what he believed, Flippo had the ability to stimulate discussion like none other in his field. Though he never seemed exactly at home on CMT with his more traditional country mindset, Flippo’s air brought a sense of legitimacy to the whole CMT operation.
Chet Flippo, whose influence wasn’t just confined to country, was the author of 7 books including
- Your Cheatin’ Heart, a Biography of Hank Williams
- On The Road with The Rolling Stones
- David Bowie’s Serious Moonlight – World Tour
- McCartney: The Biography
- Everybody Was Kung-Fu Dancing: Chronicles of the Lionized and the Notorious.
His library illustrated his all-encompassing perspective of the artists he chose to cover, and the intimacy with which he was afforded from the respect the artists had for the Chet Flippo name.
Flippo was born in Fort Worth, TX, and was a veteran of the Vietnam War, serving in the U.S. Navy. He went to college at the University of Texas in Ausin, and after working as Contributing Editor for Rolling Stone magazine while in graduate school, he became Rolling Stone’s New York Bureau Chief in 1974, rising to senior editor after Rolling Stone moved its offices from San Francisco to New York in 1977.
Chet Flippo’s wife Martha Hume, also a noted music journalist and author, died on December 17, 2012, and today we got the unfortunate news that Chet Flippo has now joined her in the great newsroom in the sky.
Every third year the Country Music Hall of Fame inducts a non-performer into its exclusive ranks. If there was ever a journalist that deserved to be included amongst the artists he covered so dutifully for so many years, it would be Chet Flippo.
RIP to an inspiration to music journalists from across the world, and across the sonic landscape.
The general consensus amongst country music pundits in 2013 is that we are in the midst of the ‘Year Of The Woman.’ It has been so declared by NPR, legendary country journalist Chet Flippo, and right here on Saving Country Music. As the men of mainstream country chase each other in dirt road circles in their pickup trucks sipping ice cold beer, trying to figure out how to integrate rap into their next single without cheesing off the radio programmers, women are offering inspiring lyrics and sonic leadership in an otherwise bleak musical landscape.
But this isn’t the first year in country when the women deserved the lion’s share of attention.
The year was 1952, and country music was still a predominately male-dominated format. A few women had made some marks in country in the past, but never in the same measure as their male counterparts. Moonshine Kate made some noise in the 1920′s, and Patsy Montana in the 1930′s. Molly O’ Day was one of the first women to be singed to the Acuff-Rose publishing company, which gave her the connections to be able to record Hank Williams songs in the late 40′s. And of course the women of The Carter Family had a major influence on the sound of country music. But prior to 1952, women were still considered supporting, 2nd-tier artists, and country had yet to see a true female star.
Then came along Rose Maddox of The Maddox Brothers & Rose, Goldie Hill, and the woman who would later rise to be known as the Queen of Country Music, Kitty Wells. Together, they became pioneers for women in country, and proved that female performers could do just as well as their male counterparts, as performers and profit makers.
It wasn’t until 1956 when the Maddox Brother & Rose officially broke up that Rose Maddox would fully remove herself from the shadow of her male siblings. But in January of 1952, the California-based Maddox Brothers & Rose recorded their first record with Columbia after years with the lesser-known 4 Star Recordings. Written by Rose, “I’ll Make Sweet Love To You” had remarkably-suggestive lyrics for that time in country music, but Rose could get away with it being on the West Coast, and being considered just a singer in her family band instead of a solo artist.
Showcasing Rose’s signature laugh, and the Maddox Brothers’ hybrid sound that was just as much country as rock and roll, “I’ll Make Sweet Love To You” opened up the door for women in country to sing about the same themes that men had for years.
Right on Rose’s heels, a 32-year-old married mother of three named Kitty Wells became country music’s first female superstar when her song “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” made it to #1 on Billboard’s Country Singles Chart. The song was an answer song to Hank Thompson’s hit “Wild Side of Life.” Written by JD “Jay” Miller, Kitty initially didn’t want to cut the song, but then decided to for a $125 session payment.
The song did so well, it eventually beat out Thompson’s “Wild Side of Life” in sales. Like Rose Maddox before her, “It Wasn’t God…” helped open up new risque themes for female singers. Women weren’t supposed to “answer back” to men in those days. But coming from a mother and devoted wife, the conservative Nashville establishment didn’t put up a fuss. And most importantly, Kitty Wells proved that women performers could make big money for labels and publishers. Wells went on to have 35 more Top 10 singles, and 81 total songs on the charts, but none were as big as “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.”
Just as Kitty Wells was having big success with her answer song and 1952 was drawing to a close, another answer song called “I Let The Stars Get In My Eyes” was offered to Kitty. But she turned it down, and instead it was cut by rising female country star Goldie Hill. Released in December of 1952, it was the counter to Slim Willett’s hit “Don’t Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes” and once again dealt with issues that before had been considered taboo for females in country. Women weren’t just singing country music, they were symbolizing a strong, female character, willing to stand up up against male infidelity, while at the same time willing to show their own vulnerability when it comes to matters of the heart.
By early 1953, ”I Let The Stars Get In My Eyes” became another #1 hit by a female performer, entrenching Goldie beside Kitty Wells as bona-fide female country stars. It has one of the most unusual structures and pentameters for a country song you will ever hear, intriguing the ear as the verses zig and zag. Though it is definitely a traditional country song, “I Let The Stars…” could be called a more progressively-molded song; a precursor to today’s advanced, evolving country sound championed by female performers.
Certainly women in country music were not going to be held down forever. But in 1952, Rose Maddox, Kitty Wells, and Goldie Hill laid the groundwork for women in country that would later see the rise of strong, powerful performers like Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton, and the female performers of today that are doing their level best to keep country music moving forward while still respecting its roots.
There may not be a more notorious moment in the annals of country music lore than when a drunk and disorderly Charlie Rich set fire to the piece of paper announcing John Denver as the Country Music Association “Entertainer of the Year” for 1975. For years the moment has set the high water mark for the rebuke of the pop world infiltrating country, but we only had our sweet little memories or imaginations to conjure up the actual scene of how the protest took place.
Saving Country Music and many others I’m sure have spent hours trying to procure the actual footage of the Charlie Rich fire trick, with a nervous John Denver looking on via satellite from Australia. I never envisioned that host Glen Campbell would be holding a cigarette while standing at the podium and welcoming Charlie Rich to the stage. Nor did I accurately gauge the degree of Rich’s drunkeness. But fortunately the footage has finally surfaced, and through the miracle of YouTube, we can all re-live this lost moment of country music history again and again.
At the 1974 CMA Awards, a firestorm erupted when Olivia-Newton John was awarded the “Female Vocalist of the Year.” This created a backlash, including many traditional country stars met at the house of George Jones and Tammy Wynette and decided to form “ACE” or the Association of Country Entertainers to attempt to fight the influx of pop stars into the genre. This was the event that set the table for Charlie’s stunt.
As the Country Music Hall of Fame describes the incident:
“As a result of that 1974 flap, a memorable CMA Awards event came the next year, when an obviously well-lubricated Charlie Rich ended his reign as 1974′s Entertainer of the Yeah by announcing the new recipient of the CMA’s top prize. “The award goes to my friend, John Denver,” said Rich., who had been drinking gin-and-tonics backstage. At which point he pulled out his Zippo lighter and set fire to the card holding the name of his successor. Rich held the burning card up for the cameras on the nationally televised live show and smiled a big smile of triumph. The message to anyone watching seemed clear: in Rich’s eyes, a West Coast neo-folkie like John Denver, who had built his career on pop radio, was not welcome in country music.
However some disagree that the incident was meant as a shot at Charlie Rich. His son, Charlie Rich Jr. explains that it was more a shot at the industry instead of John Denver specifically, and that Rich was simply trying to be funny, and the combination of alcohol and pain medication from a recent accident made the incident that much more dramatic.
Most believe that the move cost Charlie Rich his career. Rich was presenting the award because he was the CMA “Entertainer of the Year” winner in 1974. It was the last CMA Charlie would ever receive, and his career went on a steady decline afterwards, many believe because of the wrath from industry insiders angry about Charlie’s antics.
Aside from the repercussions, and whether Rich had the authority to make such a stand as someone who had crossover radio hits himself, it remains an inspiring and significant moment in country music history, one where an artist had the guts to stand up for the integrity and autonomy of the genre.
How we could use a Charlie Rich right now.
Radio station 93.5 KOOK and 1230 KERV in Kerrville, TX, managed by legendary DJ Big ‘G’ Gordon Ames has a radio promo done by Kinky Friedman that simply says, “We play Hank. All of them.” Yes, we all know about country music’s most famous family, and the lineage passed down from Hank Williams, to Hank Williams Jr., to Hank Williams III. But here are the other 5 Hank’s that helped establish the sound of country music (and just like all three generations of Hank Williams, didn’t actually have “Hank” as their legal first names).
Clarence Eugene Snow, aka “The Singing Ranger” is a Country Music Hall of Famer and one of the few old-school country artists originally from Canada. In 1962 Snow was the first performer to take the country classic “I’ve Been Everywhere” to #1—just one of the over 85 singles Snow would have chart over a 3-decade period reaching all the way to 1980. Hank made his first record for RCA Victor in 1936 while still living in Canada. He moved to Nashville in 1945 and became one of the most influential singers of the time, as well as an accomplished songwriter. Snow was one of the primary people responsible for the rise of Elvis, helping to get him on the Grand Ole Opry stage in 1954 and introducing him to Colonel Tom Parker (who later dumped Snow to focus on Elvis’s career). Along with “I’ve Been Everywhere,” some other notable Hank Snow songs are “I’m Moving On”, “The Golden Rocket,” and “Hello Love.”
Lawrence Hankins Locklin from McLellan Florida was one of country music’s first honky tonk-style singer songwriters. Maybe not as well-known as Hank Williams, but he sold an estimated 15 million records worldwide and was a member of the Grand Ole Opry for nearly 50 years. Locklin songs have been recorded by Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Dwight Yoakam, and Dean Martin to name a few. His heyday was in the early 60′s with his most well-recognized song “Please Help Me, I’m Falling” hitting #1 in 1960. His first #1 was in 1953 with “Let Me Be The One” and he released his first charting single in 1949 called “The Same Sweet Girl.” Hank Locklin was an excellent singer, and released a series of tribute albums showcasing songs by Hank Williams, Roy Acuff, and Eddy Arnold. Hank released over 70 singles and 27 albums, including a gospel album as late as 2006. Though he had a hit in 1968 with the song “Country Hall of Fame,” Locklin has yet to be inducted to the prestigious institution.
Henry William Thompson born in Waco, TX was one of country’s most popular stars of Western swing and honky tonk all the way from the late 40′s to the mid 70′s. With his excellent backing band The Brazos Valley Boys, they were responsible for over 80 charting singles, including the iconic country classic “Wild Side of Life,” and the humorous “Rub A Dub,” both hitting #1. The 1987 novel Crazy Heart by Thomas Cobb that was later turned into the 2009 movie starring Jeff Bridges is rumored to have been inspired by many different country music artists. But according to Cobb, Hank Thompson is the true culprit, most notably from using local bands to back him up later in his career after The Brazos Valley Boys disbanded. Hank Thompson also had his own television show for a short period.
Garland Perry Cochran is one of the greatest, most prolific songwriters in the history of country music, who also had his own career as a recording artist. Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces” and “She’s Got You” were penned by Cochran. So was Ray Price’s super hit “Make The World Go Away.” Cochran was active and relevant in country music all the way up to his death, later writing hits for Merle Haggard, Ronnie Milsap, and George Strait. As a performer, Cochran scored 7 singles on the country charts. In 2012, Jamey Johnson released a tribute album called Living For A Song: Tribute to Hank Cochran to critical acclaim and commercial success. Few songwriters are held in as high regard in Nashville as Hank Cochran.
Walter Louis Garland was a country and rock & roll guitar God of the 1950′s and 60′s and beyond. Part of the “Nashville A Team” of studio musicians, Hank’s guitar handiwork appears on recordings from Marty Robbins, Mel Tillis, Patsy Cline, Roy Orbison, Conway Twitty, and many more. But he might be most famous for playing on many of Elvis’s big hits from the late 50′s and early 60′s, including “Little Sister,” and “I Need Your Love Tonight.” Hank Garland is one of those musicians who helped define the sound of an era. In 1961, Garland was in a car accident that left him in a coma, and he later had to re-learn how to talk and play guitar. Though Garland once again became an accomplished musician, he never regain his place as one of Nashville most sought-after guitar players. Despite being known mostly as a side musician, he had a million-selling record with his song “Sugarfoot Rag.”
Country music loves to pride itself in supporting the troops and the cause of the military more than any other genre. Though some of it may be bravado meant more for marketing, there are many legends in the country music ranks that served their country as young men. Here’s a list of country heroes who served the county.
Possibly country music’s most well-known veteran, Kris Kristofferson came from a family that pushed him to enlist after attending Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and graduating with a degree in literature. Yes, Kristofferson was a smart one to say the least, and achieved the rank of Captain in the US Army as a helicopter pilot and Ranger. He received his training at Fort Rucker, Alabama before being deployed to West Germany as part of the 8th Infantry Division. After serving out his tour of duty, Kristofferson was scheduled to become an English Literature professor at West Point, but decided to pursue a career in songwriting instead. The decision meant he was disowned by his family, but that didn’t stop the American Veterans Awards from naming Kris “Veteran of the Year” in 2003. Kristofferson’s first job in music was sweeping floors at Columbia Studios. His first successful songwriting hit was “Vietnam Blues” recorded by Dave Dudley.
Willie Nelson may be known as one of the world’s greatest pacifists, but he grew up in an era when military service was expected of young men, and the draft was in full force. So he voluntarily joined the Air Force in 1951 in the midst of the Korean War, wanting to be a jet pilot. He received his first basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, but it was concluded Willie was too “absentminded” (as Willie puts it) to be in the cockpit of a jet. So the Air Force shipped him to Shepherd Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, TX, and eventually to Scott Air Force Base in Illinois for more basic training. Eventually they made him a medic, but years of bailing hay in Willie’s hometown of Abbott, TX had given him a bad back condition and he was discharged after 9 months of service.
In 1950, a year before Willie Nelson made his way to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio to enlist in the Air Force, future fellow Highwayman Johnny Cash did the same. Cash spent 4 years in the service, rising to Staff Sargent, and becoming a Morse Code intercept operator working in Landsberg, West Germany. Johnny is given credit for intercepting the first radio transmission announcing the news of the death of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. The name of Cash’s first band was “The Landsberg Barbarians,” an homage to the German town he called home. When Cash was honorably discharged in July of 1954, he returned to Texas to marry his first wife Vivian Liberto who he’d met at a roller rink when in basic training.
Before Shel Silverstein penned “A Boy Named Sue” for Johnny Cash, “Put Another Log on the Fire” for Tompall Glaser, and many other country hits, and before he’d go on to sell over 20 million children’s books, he was an illustrator for the Pacific Stars & Stripes military publication. Silverstein was drafted into the Army in 1953 and served in both Korea and Japan. When it was clear Silverstein was not fit for combat, he began illustrating an article series called Take Ten, amusing service members with his drawings and anecdotes about military life. Later his cartoons would be featured in two books: Take Ten and Grab Your Socks!, becoming big sellers for Ballintine Books, and introducing the world to Shel’s illustrative and comedic genius.
There’s many “new Outlaws” in mainstream country music right now walking around with dogs tags, but Jamey Johnson is the only one with actual military cred to back the fashion accessory up. After dropping out of Jacksonville State University, Johnson enlisted in the Marine Corps where he served for 8 solid years, rising to the rank of corporal as a mortarman in the 23rd Marines, 3rd Batallion. During his Marine Corps stint, he was known for playing his original songs for bunk mates, and two of the songs on Jamey’s first self-released album mention the Marines. By coincidence, Johnson was discharged from the military 1 week before his unit deployed to Iraq, but he’s been to both Iraq and Afghanistan multiple times since, making regular appearances on USO tours.
George Jones was enlisted in the Marine Corps in the early 1950′s during The Korean War, stationed in San Jose, California until he was discharged in 1953.
Roger Miller enlisted in the Army and served in the Korean War to avoid being arrested for stealing a guitar when he was 17.
Wayne “The Train” Hancock was in the Marines, and gives credit to his time in Okinawa for endowing him with his love for the steel guitar sound.
George Strait was enlisted in the Army from 1971 to 1975, stationed in Hawaii for the later half of his career as part of the 25th Infantry Division. He performed in an army-sanctioned country band called “Rambling Country.”
Songwriter Billy Don Burns was a paratrooper from 1968-1970.
Charlie Louvin of The Louvin Brothers served in both World War II and The Korean War.
Hank Thompson served in the Navy in Word War II.
Texas country traditionalist Jason Eady served in The Air Force for six years as a translator.
Today was the funeral and public ceremony for country music legend George Jones, with many of George’s peers, many national dignitaries, and many younger artists who have benefited from the stature of country music that George Jones helped create, coming together to pay tribute and reflect on the life of “The Possum.”
But few, if any can give perspective on George Jones that 90-year-old Don Maddox can–the last surviving member of the pioneering and influential band The Maddox Brothers & Rose. How influential were The Maddox Brothers & Rose? Many artists can speak about how George Jones helped them get their start in the music business, but Don Maddox can speak about how The Maddox Brothers & Rose helped George Jones get his start in the mid 50′s when they stopped in Beaumont, TX to play a show.
“The guy that was booking us in there said, ‘We got a young feller in the audience, he’s just getting started, and I think he’s gonna go a long way. I was wondering if we could let him get up on the stage and do a song with you guys.’” Don recalls to me from his home in Ashland, OR. “We didn’t know who he was, but we said, ‘Sure, bring him on up!’ So he brought him up and it turns out to be George Jones. Of course he was just getting started then. He wasn’t well known, but this guy [the promoter] said he had what it takes and thought he would go a long way, and any help we could give him, they’d appreciate it… And lo and behold, he did go a long way!”
The promoter of the show at the Beaumont Auditorium was a local businessman by the name of Jack Starns. Along with a record distributor from Houston named Harold W. Daily, they formed Starday Records in 1952. Starday was George Jones’s first ever record label, releasing his debut album Grand Ole Opry’s New Star in 1957.
“So we got up on stage and we were dressed in our fancy Western outfits,” Don continues. “And George got up there and he had on his old street clothes. He got up there and he said, ‘Being up here with these guys, I feel like Minnie Pearl.’ And I said [jokingly]‘ ‘Well you look a little like Minnie Pearl too!’ He was a little bit upset by that so he came over and pretended to beat me up for saying that. But it was just part of the show.”
Don was the fiddle player, and just as importantly, the comedian of The Maddox Brothers & Rose. Don had a comedy skit with his brother, bass player Fred, that resolved in Don yelling out, “That’s right!” in a high-pitched voice. The phrase became one of Don’s trademarks over the years, and every time George Jones saw Don Maddox afterwards, he would yell toward him,”That’s right!”
“Back then George Jones needed exposure. Now I’m the one that needs the exposure,” the 90-year-old Don Maddox jokes.
The Beaumont Auditorium is also where The Maddox Brothers & Rose are given credit for influencing the style of Elvis Presley. The band was playing a package show with Elvis, Slim Whitman, and others, when it’s said Elvis was caught parading backstage in one of their coats, saying, “One of these days I’m gonna get me a fancy outfit like this.”
The year was 1938, and a delivery truck driver for Hormel Meats named Braxton Schuffert stopped by the boarding house of Lilly Williams in Montgomery, Alabama to make a drop off. After unloading the parcels, Braxton Schuffert noticed a 1/2-sized guitar sitting in the corner, and took a moment to pick out a few songs before continuing on his route. “Hiram, he’s got you beat,” Miss Williams called out to the back room to a 15-year-old boy. What transpired next would help result in that 15-year-old boy becoming country music’s first superstar.
“As I was walking out I heard this voice that was just as strong and clear,” Braxton Schuffert recalls. “It was a man’s voice in a boy’s body. Hank was only 15 at the time, but he could sure sing. Even then I knew he had a one-of-a-kind voice.”
Braxton Schuffert was a local musician in Montgomery that had his own band and a standing gig at local radio station WSFA where he would play and sing, just him and his guitar every morning from 6:00 – 6:30 AM before his Hormel deliveries. Since school was out at the time, Shuffert asked young Hank if he wanted to come with him the next day on his deliveries. “I told him we’d sing all day. That’s all he needed to hear. He was for anything to do with music.”
Whether you want to go as far as to say Braxton Schuffert “discovered” Hank Williams depends on your perspective, but that Hormel delivery driver was certainly seminal to setting Hank Williams on the path to super stardom, shepherding the young man as a musician and songwriter, making critical contributions to the rise of Hank, and helping Hank as a close friend all the way up to his death in 1953. “I’d like to say I helped him out, but I didn’t give him that voice and I didn’t teach him to write those songs. That’s something you get from God.”
But Braxton was vital to helping get those songs and that voiced noticed, opening up Hank’s very first opportunities as a professional musician. After swapping songs and licks in that Hormel delivery truck, Schuffert felt comfortable enough with Hank to put him on his WSFA radio show as a guest. This was Hank’s very first appearance on the public airwaves. Schuffert played guitar for Williams at his first ever official performance at the Georgiana High School, and then his first appearance in an auditorium, the Ritz Theatre in Greenville, Alabama. “That show at the Ritz was the first show Hank ever booked. After that we played in pretty much every theatre in Alabama and Florida.”
One of Hank Williams’ first songs “Rockin’ Chair Daddy” was co-written by Schuffert. As Hank began to get bigger, Braxton helped form Hank’s Drifting Cowboy band, and was a revolving member of the band and was part of Hank’s inner circle throughout the country star’s career.
On January 30th, 1952, when Hank needed a ride to play a New Year’s show in Canton, OH, Braxton Schuffert was the first person he asked. But Braxton couldn’t do it. Because even as Hank Williams rose to the very heights of stardom, Schuffert stayed in Alabama, loyal to Hormel where he worked for over 42 years. Hormel was the sponsor of that WSFA radio show Hank Williams made his first appearance on, and another show on WCOV Schuffert performed on. Hank would never make it to Canton, OH. He died in the back of his powder blue Cadillac in Oak Hill, West Virginia. Braxton Schuffert was one of the principal pall bearers at Hank’s funeral.
Braxton Schuffert was his own accomplished country music singer, and worked to help keep the legacy of Hank Williams alive, performing as lately as last year’s 33rd annual Hank Williams Festival in Georgiana at the age of 96. Schuffert has his own display case at the Hank Williams Museum.
Braxton Schuffert passed away on Friday, April 26th, 2013. He was 97.
“Hank loved the Lord, and I loved Hank. He made country music what it was. This alley-cat music they play these days ain’t country music. Country music is simple. It reaches out and touches your heart, touches your soul. Hank was able to touch people better than anyone I’ve ever seen.” — Braxton Schuffert
One of the reasons George Jones was so revered by the country music community is because he sang how he lived, and he lived what he sang. Jones was a troubled soul with deep heartache that you could hear through his singing and songs. On numerous occasions his abuse issues had him standing on the precipice between life and death. Over the years he came to be known as “No Show Jones,” missing 54 shows in 1979 alone. But thanks to some loving friends in the country music community, specifically Waylon Jennings, Jones was finally able to overcome his demons and lead a long and fulfilling life.
The most notorious George Jones drinking story involves the country music legend and a John Deere lawnmower, but what a lot of folks don’t know is that George Jones chose this slow-moving mode of transportation to procure alcohol more than once.
The first and most well-documented lawnmower incident was the late 60′s. George Jones was living 8 miles outside of Beaumont, TX with his then wife Shirley Ann Corley. Jones, who was born in Saratoga, TX just west and north of Beaumont, had already experienced a few #1 country hits by that time with the songs “White Lightning,” “Tender Years,” and “She Thinks I Still Care.” George’s success fueled his wayward ways with alcohol and he was drinking so bad, his wife Shirley resorted to hiding all the keys to the vehicles before she would leave so George wouldn’t drive to the nearest liquor store in Beaumont.
But that didn’t stop him. After tearing the house apart looking for a set of keys, George looked out the window to see a riding lawnmower sitting on the property under the glow of a security light. “There, gleaming in the glow, was that ten-horsepower rotary engine under a seat. A key glistening in the ignition,” George recalled in his autobiography. “I imagine the top speed for that old mower was five miles per hour. It might have taken an hour and a half or more for me to get to the liquor store, but get there I did.”
The incident was later memorialized as part of country music lore in numerous songs and videos, including Jones’ own “Honky Tonk Song” in 1996:
12 years before, the video for Hank Williams Jr.’s “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight” features George Jones riding a lawnmower. Vince Gill’s 1993 hit “One More Last Chance” includes the line, “She might have took my car keys, but she forgot about my old John Deere.” The video ends with Vince passing George on a riding lawnmower. The video for John Rich’s “Country Done Come to Town” also features Jones on a lawnmower.
The second, lesser-known incident of George Jone’s escapades on a riding lawnmower happened when he was married to Tammy Wynette. Taking a cue from George’s previous wife Shirley, Tammy hid all the keys from George, but George had been down that road before. Wynette woke up one night at 1 AM to find George missing. “I got into the car and drove to the nearest bar 10 miles away,” Tammy recounted in 1979. “When I pulled into the parking lot there sat our rider-mower right by the entrance. He’d driven that mower right down a main highway. He looked up and saw me and said, `Well, fellas, here she is now. My little wife, I told you she’d come after me.’”
As entertaining as the lawnmower incidents may be, they underlined the seriousness of the alcohol issues George Jones was facing, which eventually led to harder drugs. Along with missing shows, George was wasting away, weighing in at 105 pounds at one point. It took an intervention by Waylon Jennings to get George Jones back on track. “I was afraid he was going to die. I thought I was going to live forever.” said Waylon, who had his own deep history with substance abuse. “So I called him to come out to the house, and he came out there and I said, ‘George, this is going to sound awful funny coming from me, but you’ve got to do something. You’ve got to straighten up.”
And George did. “The best thing that ever happened to me is when some friends talked me into going to the hospital in Birmingham.”
Willie Nelson has come to be known as one of our generation’s greatest pacifists and men of wisdom. Beyond his contributions in country music, his unique American story from growing up in the Depression, to attaining superstardom, to his unique perspective on life and championing of worthy causes, Willie Nelson will go down as one of America’s most noble men.
But Willie was not always the gentle, grandfatherly type that we know today. He grew up in a rough time and place. His music career started out on the rough streets of Ft. Worth, where bands had to play behind chicken wire to protect them from flying bottles and knife fights. His long-time drummer and manager Paul English was hired because he was a street gangster and could make stingy club owners pay up. Willie also served in the Air Force, and taught Sunday School, and sold encyclopedias door to door.
Willie’s life has run the full gamut of the American experience. That’s why we love him and give him a pass even when we may not agree with some of the things he says or does. Or at least most of us do. Some country fans got sideways with Willie a while back when he made some statements about gun control, saying, “I think a lot of guns, there’s no need for civilians to own those. Those are for military.” But before those fans jump to conclusions that Willie is some limp-wristed softy that has no respect for the 2nd Amendment, maybe they should look back at a couple of incidents in his past.
The Great Ridgetop Shootout
It was in the aftermath of an incident that would later be remembered as the “Great Ridgetop Shootout” that Willie Nelson got the nickname “Shotgun Willie.” Ridgetop was the house Willie lived in just outside of Nashville in the late 60′s. When it burned down in 1970, it stimulated Willie’s move back to Texas. In 1969, Willie and his first wife Shirley separated, and his second wife Connie moved into Ridgetop. Willie and Shirley had three children, and right before Christmas in 1969, Willie’s youngest daughter Susie told Willie that his oldest daughter Lana was being physically assaulted by her husband Steve Warren.
“I ran for my truck and drove to the place where Steve and Lana lived and slapped Steve around,” Willie recalls. “He really pissed me off. I told him if he ever laid a hand on Lana again, I would come back and drown his ass. No sooner did I get back to Ridgetop than here came Steve in his car, shooting at the house with a .22 rifle. I was standing in the door of the barn and a bullet tore up the wood two feet from my head. I grabbed an M-1 rifle and shot at Steve’s car. Steve made one pass and took off.”
But this wasn’t where the incident ended. Willie drove back to Steve and Lana’s to confront Steve again, but he was gone and had kidnapped their young son Nelson Ray. Lana also told Willie that Steve was looking to “get rid of him (Willie) as his top priority.” So what did Willie do? He drove back to Ridgetop and waited for him.
“Thinking Steve would come to Ridgetop to pick me off about dusk, I hid in the truck so he couldn’t tell if I was home. We laid a trap for him. I had my M-1 and a shotgun. He drove by the house, and I ran out the garage door. Steve saw me and took off. That’s when I shot his car and shot out his tire. Steve called the cops on me. Instead of explaining the whole damn mess, the beatings and the semi-kidnapping and shooting and all, I told the officers he must have run over the bullet. The police didn’t want to get involved in hillbilly family fights. They wrote down what I told them on their report and took off.”
Gun Battle at the Birmingham Coliseum
As time went on, Willie Nelson mellowed, but didn’t stray too far from his gun-toting past. After playing a concert in Birmingham, Alabama in the late 70′s, Willie and the band found themselves in the middle of a gun battle in a six-story parking garage as they were unloading gear from the stage. Though the story is centered around guns, it also illustrated Willie’s budding status as a peacemaker.
“All of a sudden we hear ‘Kaboom! Kaboom!’” Willie’s long-time stage manager “Poodie” Locke recalls. “It’s the sound of a .357 magnum going off in the parking garage. The echoes sound like howitzer shells exploding. It’s kind of semi-dark, and this guy comes blowing through this parking deck…now here comes this bitch with a fucking pistol. ‘Kaboom!’ She’s chasing this motherfucker. It sounds like a fucking war.”
At the time, Willie Nelson and most of his band and road crew carried pistols as a matter of habit. The scene became chaotic as the shooting happened right as the crowd from the show was filing out into the parking garage.
“People are piling out of the show and they start scattering,” Poodie continues. “Here come the cops from every direction. They’re flying out of their cars, hitting the parking deck, spread-eagling the whole crowd–’On the deck, motherfuckers!’–because the cops don’t know who is shooting at who…All these cops are squatting down in the doorjambs, turning people over, frisking them, aiming guns at everybody, just waiting for the next shot to be fired.”
“And here comes Willie. He walks off the bus wearing cutoffs and tennis shoes, and he’s got two huge Colt .45 revolvers stuck in his waist. The barrels are so long they stick out the bottom of his cutoffs. Two shining motherfucking pistols in plain sight of a bunch of cops nervous as shit. Willie just walks over and says, ‘What’s the trouble?’ Well he’s got some kind of aura to him that just cools everything out. The cops put up their guns, the people climb off the concrete, and pretty soon Willie is signing autographs.”
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Quotes from Willie: An Autobiography
The 2013 NASCAR season officially starts this Sunday in Daytona, and one of the sport’s most well-known car owners, a former NASCAR driver named Richard Childress, may not be around today if it wasn’t for the heroics of none other than country music’s Marty Robbins.
Here’s the story:
Marty Robbins may be best known at the caramel-voiced singer and songwriter of classics like “El Paso” and a Hall of Famer who charted hits in four different decades, but he also had a pretty serious NASCAR career on the side. This was no lark for Marty. He was a Dodge man and competed in a total of 35 NASCAR races and logged 6 top ten finishes. “You know,” Robbins joked in 1975, “I could win any race I entered. But as soon as I did Cale Yarborough or Richard Petty or somebody would pick up a guitar and start singing. So I let them win out there.”
It was no laughing matter though on October 6, 1974 during the Charlotte 500 when Richard Childress and three other drivers wrecked along the front straightaway on the 2nd lap of the race. Marty Robbins turned his purple and lime green #42 Dodge onto the straightaway doing 160 mph and was shocked to find four cars completely blocking the race track with nowhere for Marty to go.
As a musician and performer, Marty Robbins had to earn the respect of the NASCAR world. In 1974, if you wanted to show your mustard to the other drivers, one of the things you could do is work on your own race car. “Sure, Marty works on his car,” Richard Childress once told reporters. “Just the other day I saw him walking around with a can of wax getting ready to shine her up.” But how Marty would handle himself, barreling down on the side panel of Childress’s wrecked car in the middle of the Charlotte Speedway straightaway would earn Marty Robbins all the respect he would ever need from his NASCAR driving peers.
“The only thing I knew was that there were people in those wrecked cars in front of me and I couldn’t hit one of them because they’d probably not walk away from it,” Marty explains. So what did he do? “I looked down the track and saw Marty coming right at me,” Richard Childress recalls. “I knew if he hit me in the driver’s side I’d either be mangled badly or killed. There was no way of me escaping injury and no way out of his path. Then I saw something I am still not sure I can believe. Marty turned the wheel of the car right and it veered into the concrete wall.”
With a split second to make a decision, Marty Robbins decided to risk his own life by plowing 160 mph into a concrete wall instead of plowing into the pile of cars. The crowd fell into a hush for a full minute until finally Marty Robbins could be seen emerging from the mangled #42 Dodge. The crowd let out a roar as Marty boarded a stretcher from an ambulance and was taken to the infield care center. He was later transferred to the Charlotte Memorial Hospital where he received 32 stitches to close a gash between his eyes (see picture above). He also suffered two broken ribs and a broken tailbone.
After the race, a NASCAR official was quoted saying, “What he (Marty) did out there today saved at least one life and probably kept some other drivers from being maimed. He could have killed himself moving into that wall that way. But in the split second that counted he chose to possibly give his life over hurting somebody else. I don’t think you can be much more of a man than that.”
Richard Childress was quoted after the race saying, “There is no doubt in my mind I wouldn’t be here talking to you right now if Marty Robbins hadn’t risked his life to save me.”
Marty Robbins passed away in 1982, and the following year NASCAR named their annual race at the Nashville Speedway the “Marty Robbins 420.” Darrell Waltrip, the man who will call Sunday’s Daytona 500, was the winner.
Words and quotes from “Country Song Roundup Magazine” march 1975, and pictures from cottonowens.com.
Interstate 35 runs like a zipper down the gut of Texas, and acts like an unofficial border where the American South meets the West. The highway is also a musical corridor, being the main conduit in and out of Austin, TX, aka the “Live Music Capitol of the World.” Willie Nelson’s hometown of Abbott resides right beside I-35, and so did his massive truck stop/music venue/and museum called Willie’s Place near the town of Carl’s Corner, that has since been retrofitted into a much less impressive and generic Petro station.
Carl’s Corner also was the home to a few of Willie’s famous 4th of July picnics, and a place many musicians made a habit of stopping at over the years. Same can be said for the Czech Stop bakery in West, TX a few miles down I-35 from Carl’s Corners, with many autographed photos of famous musicians lining its walls.
Up and down that ribbon of I-35 are places that have been regaled in song by the musicians who’ve passed by them or had memorable experiences there. Some of these places take on the lore of those songs until they become living monuments of the songs themselves. Here are a few.
Papa Joe’s from Dale Watson / Whitey Morgan & The 78′s “Where Do You Want It?”
1505 Interstate 35, Waco, TX, 76705
The best country songs write themselves, and that’s what happened when Billy Joe Shaver shot a man behind Papa Joe’s Texas Saloon, just south of Waco on the Interstate 35 access road. On March 31st, 2007, Billy Joe was in Papa Joe’s drinking when a man by the name of Billy Bryant Coker came up to Shaver and stirred Shaver’s drink with a knife. After some words were exchanged, Shaver decided it was time to leave, and Billy Coker followed. Out in the parking lot, Billy Joe Shaver was overheard asking Coker, “Where do you want it?” while brandishing a handgun. Shaver later testified in court he actually said, “Why do you want to do this?” to Coker, but eventually Shaver shot Billy Coker in the face and the news made it down to Austin where Dale Watson decided to write a song about it.
“We were making jokes about what kind of song he’d write about this ’cause he writes songs about everything,” says Gloria Tambling, the owner of Papa Joe’s that’s been an I-35 landmark for around for 19 years.
Billy Coker’s wound was not life-threatening, and Shaver was arrested on April 2nd, 2007 for aggravated assault, later to be found not guilty for acting in self-defense in a trial that saw Willie Nelson called as a character witness. Dale Watson wrote the song, but Whitey Morgan & The 78′s were the first to cut it on their self-titled album with Dale’s blessing. Dale’s latest album El Rancho Azul includes his version.
Dorsett 221 Truck Stop from Scott H. Biram’s “Truck Driver”
15201 I H 35 Buda, TX 78610
Off of Scott H. Biram’s 2005 record Dirty Old One Man Band is one of his signature songs called “Truck Driver.” Whenever Hiram Biram plays the song live, he dedicates it to “all of the truck drivers down there at the Dorsett 221 Truck Stop in Buda, TX.” Yes, the Dorsett 221 Truck Stop actually exists, or at least it did until 2005 when it was closed down. Opened in 1979 just south of Austin and right on I-35, Dorsett 221 was a trucker’s favorite and was famous for its chicken fried steak, breakfast tacos, and because it was built to look like a castle with parapets and corner towers.
Started by Tim and Lenora Dorsett, it was operated by their four sons who each were in charge of a specific part of the truck stop. The restaurant was a nice place for families to come and eat, but as time went on Dorsett 221 became somewhat famous for its crop of lot lizards that could be found lounging around. The existence of “glory holes” that Scott Biram refers to in “Truck Driver” could not be independently verified, but over time Dorsett 221 became one of central Texas’s most famous truck stops for its endearing character, and the characters it attracted.
It all went downhill for Dorsett 221 when a fire was started in one of the restrooms. During the restoration process, the four sons quarreled on how to proceed. Eventually one son took sole possession of the embattled truck stop and decided to close it. But the memory of Dorsett 221 still lives in Scott H. Biram’s song, and can still be seen on the side of the east side of the interstate as you’re passing through Buda, TX.
The Snake Farm from Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Snake Farm”
5640 Ih 35 S New Braunfels, TX 78132 – Photo courtesy mysanantonio.com
Did you hear what Scott H. Biram also referenced in the song above, and what shirt he was wearing? Yes there actually is a Snake Farm, and it went by the simple name “Snake Farm” for many of its 40 years in operation until settling on the much more docile, “Animal World and Snake Farm Zoo.” Located right off the Interstate 35 access road, the strange attraction and Texas landmark opened in 1967 (when I-35 was still Route 81) and currently sees around 400,000 annual visitors perusing its more than 200 species of snakes. The Snake Farm now features other exotic animals in its petting zoo and outdoor area, including monkeys, lemurs, hyenas, parrots, and a pond filled with alligators and crocodiles.
Ray Wylie Hubbbard’s album from 2006 is named Snake Farm, and includes the song “Snake Farm,” but Hubbard wasn’t the first musical homage to the reptile house. The Ramones discovered the Snake Farm when on tour in Texas in the late 70′s, and regularly wore Snake Farm T-shirts as part of their garb on and off stage. Oh, and did you notice the name of the female character in Hubbard’s “Snake Farm”? Yes, the Snake Farm has truly come full circle, and coils its way down the spine of good American music as an indelible artifact.
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