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No, this is not a quote uttered on Saving Country Music by me or some other concerned country music fan, though similar sentiments have certainly been conveyed here on many occasions. This is the sentiment of the owner of an indie R&B label speaking on behalf of a genre under siege by the historic whitewashing of American music occurring at the hands of the massive radio consolidation and national syndication, and Billboard’s new chart rules that give extra credit to songs that stray outside their original genre.
All the fears, all the warnings sounded by concerned music fans and observers of media by the passing of the Telecommunications Act in 1996 and the revisions in 2003 that heavily laxed the laws regulating radio station ownership in America, and when Billboard changed their chart rules in 2012 to boost crossover songs, have now come to fruition. This is now not only a country vs. pop, or young vs. old problem. This is a man vs. woman problem as has been widely documented in country music coverage over the last year from the severe lack of women on country radio, and apparently from the perspective of many rap and R&B outfits and artists, it’s also a black vs. white issue. More and more, whether it’s labeled as country, hip hop, or R&B, if music is popular, it is probably being made by a white male, and it probably doesn’t sound like any genre specifically, but all genres generally.
Saving Country Music has been making the case for years that all popular music is heading to a mono-genre. Now concerned participants in music genres across the spectrum are clamoring about the watered-down encroachment of other genres on their music, worried their cultural identity and musical institutions are headed towards end times. When talking about the concert pairing of hip hop artist Nelly with pop country act Florida Georgia Line last week, Saving Country Music highlighted one concerned rap journalist that said that the rap genre was “more vulnerable than ever to interlopers and synthesists eager to run their sound through the Vitamix of popular music with such speed and force it’s impossible to determine the ingredients … Actual new rap songs are ceaselessly weighing down the genre itself with the junky detritus of other styles.”
Now artists and labels in the R&B field are noticing they’re getting a raw deal from the music industry, and are specifically laying the blame on the same radio consolidation causing the gentrification of country, and pointing their fingers at Billboard’s Hot 100 chart that for the first time in the chart’s 55-year history did not have one African American artist reach #1 at any time during the entirety of 2013. One of the reasons for this statistical anomaly is because genre-bending Caucasian acts like Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, who were hip hop’s big mainstream representation in 2013, and Robin Thicke, who was R&B’s big 2013 artist, have been dominating the music landscape, while the originators and innovators in the genre go more unnoticed.
Jeff Robinson, President and CEO of R&B outfit MBK Entertainment recently told Billboard, “With radio all playing the same songs by the same artists it’s difficult to break through. Even top producers are reluctant to work with new artists, preferring to take the easier way out to work with more established ones.”
This trend has made some question whether popular American music has turned their back on black performers, while at the same time co-opting their style and homogenizing it for a wider, and whiter audience. Co-opting traditionally black music and marketing it to a white audience is certainly the case in country, with top acts like Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean, and Blake Shelton performing chart-topping country rap songs. The trend sent one hip hop writer named Sebastien Elkouby over the tipping point, stimulating him to post a rant in late January, saying in part,
Dear Black Artists,
We regret to inform you that the need for your services will soon come to an end as we enter a critical restructuring period. Fortunately, after having spent nearly a century meticulously studying your art, language, fashion, and lifestyle, we have learned enough to confidently move forward without your assistance. We thank you for your contributions but have decided to make some necessary changes as a result of your decreasing value. Focus groups show that consumers are looking for more relatable images.
The topic of race and music also stimulated one well-respected financial adviser named Chris Rizik—the Chief Executive Officer and Fund Manager of the Renaissance Venture Capital Fund—to give his own detailed take on what is wrong with music. He lays the blame right at the feet of radio consolidation—not just from the perspective of a music fan or or one interested in preserving the diversity in popular music both sonically and racially, but as someone who very intimately understands how business works, and the cyclical nature of how firms rise and fall.
There is an age old problem in business that repeats itself, generation after generation. Small businesses become large ones by being aggressive, creative risk takers. But over time, tremendous size and power can slowly turn a business from an edgy risk taker into a monolithic institution whose approach changes from “playing to win” to “playing not to lose.” So instead of pushing the entrepreneurial qualities that made it grow, its culture becomes consumed with ways to simply keep what it already has.
This is most certainly the case with Clear Channel, Cumulus, and many other companies with big radio station holdings. For example, Clear Channel’s current model is one of trying to restructure their way out of massive quarterly losses of over $300 million not by being innovative, but through cutting costs by casting off local talent in lieu of big, national personalities. Despite research showing that radio needs to focus more on local talent to offer an alternative to upstart streaming services, Clear Channel sallies forth with their cost cutting measure as their revenue deficits continue to grow.
Chris Rizik continues:
Broadcast popular radio – which through consolidation is now controlled by a few major companies … is making all the wrong decisions. In its heyday, it was both the dominant form of music delivery and the place to find new music, with local program directors creatively duking it out to break new songs. But in 2014, facing alternative music discovery sources ranging from YouTube to Spotify to internet radio … And incredibly, its response has been to combat those aggressive upstarts by growing even more conservative. Unwieldy in size, its programming is now largely done nationally, and focuses on playing smaller, safer playlists filled exclusively with established hits … This narcissistic approach, which attempts to avoid any perceived risk in programming, yields both a less interesting product and a perverse effect with regard to race on radio.
Chris Rizik then goes on to predict corporate radio’s insistence on ignoring all the studies and all the signs that national syndication is not working will result in a churning over of the format.
In the end, while the “whitewashing” of pop radio is both frustrating and maddening, a historical perspective provides some solace: From the demise of once-mighty corporations to the fall of empires, history has consistently shown that those organizations that stifle innovation and creativity and instead fight to preserve the status quo end up accelerating their own fall. So at a time when broadcast radio could better survive by becoming more creative, more inclusive and more local, it is moving the other direction, laying down a welcome mat for every innovative competitor.
What all this spells out is that ironically, though country fans and artists, and hip hop/ R&B fans and artists have traditionally been considered at the polar opposites of the sonic spectrum, they can find consensus around the idea of preserving the sonic autonomy of their respective genres. It’s not the blending of the genres that is bringing certain country and rap fans together, it is the opposition to it. When you scrape off the top layer of the most popular artists of America’s major music genre’s, you’re left with a large disenfranchised majority that would prefer to see the preservation of diversity in American music and on radio, instead of one big amalgam of influences being performed by a handful of white guys with fake Ebonic accents, no cultural compass, and a creatively-vacant, caricaturist take on the true expressions of America’s vast, beautiful, and diverse musical lineage.
…that includes Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, and Thompson Square? Ugh…
Not since the second installment of the Waylon – The Music Inside series was released with the names of Colt Ford and Justin Moore making their way on the track list have we had such a quizzical collection of artists for a tribute album. As cool as it is to see any attention paid to Merle these days from the mainstream establishment, and to see Merle’s much-deserving song Ben Haggard make the cut of contributors, hearing Luke Bryan covering “Pancho & Lefty” (and is that really a Merle song anyway?) or Dustin Lynch taking time from singing about tractor sex to offer his take on “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” is not what’s going to get your average Merle fan’s motor running.
The Working Man’s Poet: A Tribute to Merle Haggard compilation out April 1st (no fooling) is being put together by Broken Bow Records, and of course, just like many of these tributes recently, it’s mostly a showcase of label talent with a “tribute” as the backdrop. Jason Aldean, Kristy Lee Cook, Dustin Lynch, Joe Nichols, Randy Houser, Parmalee, and Thompson Square all reside on Broken Bow and bow in on the track list, most with two contributions.
And if you were hoping that maybe they would approach this thing with the Merle spirit, just listen to what Luke Bryan has to say about his very ”Mumford & Sons” take on “Pancho & Lefty”: “The original had a Spanish-Mexican flair. We took a real different approach with it …. something with some edge that moves along pretty good. It’s an interesting take.”
Something else interesting: They begged Garth Brooks to allow them to use his cover of “Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down” from his recent blockbuster Blame It All On My Roots box set. But just like the box set, you can only get the song if you buy the tribute from Wal-Mart.
Complicating the love-hate relationship a true Merle fan might have with this compilation, the ACM Awards being held April 6th are planning to bestow Merle Haggard with a Crystal Milestone Award as part of the ACM festivities, with this tribute as the centerpiece. Once again, it’s great to see the ACM’s or anyone in the mainstream acknowledge Merle (even if it’s half a decade after Taylor Swift was given the same Crystal Milestone Award), but you wonder how much of this is just a platform for Broken Bow to display their own talent.
Luckily if you’re looking for Merle Haggard tributes with not as many question marks swirling around them, there’s been a few of great ones released recently. Suzy Bogguss released Lucky last month: a 12-song tribute to The Hag. And Vince Gill with Paul Franklin paid tribute to Merle & Buck Owens last year with Bakersfield.
Track list for Working Man’s Poet: A Tribute to Merle Haggard:
- Misery and Gin, Randy Houser
- Footlights, Joe Nichols
- Going Where the Lonely Go, Jason Aldean
- Today I Started Loving You Again, Kristy Lee Cook
- Carolyn, Toby Keith
- Pancho and Lefty, Luke Bryan and Dierks Bentley
- Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down, Garth Brooks (Walmart edition only)
- You Take Me for Granted, Thompson Square
- Mama Tried, Ben Haggard
- That’s the Way Love Goes, Dustin Lynch
- Make Up and Faded Blue Jeans, Jake Owen
- I’m a Lonesome Fugitive, James Wesley
- Workin’ Man Blues, Parmalee
- Are the Good Times Really Over, Jason Aldean
- Let’s Chase Each Other Around the Room, Thompson Square
- I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink, Dustin Lynch
- The Fightin’ Side of Me, James Wesley
- My Favorite Memory, Joe Nichols
- Ramblin’ Fever, Randy Houser
- Sing Me Back Home, Ben Haggard
Thursday night is the finale for season one of CMT’s flagship reality show series Party Down South. The show has stirred up quite a bit of controversy for its sexualized and graphic content, especially in its ads that have pervaded the internet and many of Viacom’s other networks like MTV and VH1, running during what is described as family entertainment and drawing the ire of many, including Ben “Cooter” Jones of The Dukes of Hazzard. Maybe even worse have been the static ads with little quips from the show and clips of the show’s participants that are all over the internet, and that CMT bombards Twitter and Facebook with during the airing of each show.
It recently came to light that one of Party Down South‘s cast members had been arrested for stealing a credit card, and that some of the cast may be unwilling to come back for a 2nd or 3rd season because the show’s producers have been paying them virtually nothing compared to their counterparts on Jersey Shore. So with a servant’s heart, and wanting to pitch in and make sure Party Down South sticks around, Saving Country Music thought we would make some ads for CMT pro bono that they could use to promote their show.
You’re welcome Viacom and CMT.
For the first time ever, two high-powered country and rap acts will tour together, as fast-rising country duo Florida Georgia Line will be paired up with hip-hop artist Nelly in an upcoming summer tour of American Ballparks.
The cross-genre pairing first happened when a remix of Florida Georgia Line’s smash hit “Cruise” featuring Nelly was released to radio in April of 2013. The remix propelled the song to eventually become the longest-charting #1 single in this history of country music, and “Cruise” has gone on to sell 6.6 million copies and become the best-selling digital country single of all time.
“Last year we played the ballpark in Lexington, Ky., and it was an epic night,” Brian Kelley of Florida Georgia Line said in a press release. “We thought how fun would it be to hit several of these and bring the good times to the field!” Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard added, “Summer can’t get here fast enough. Having Nelly and Chris along for the ride is going to make for one big, outdoor party!” Up-and-coming country star Chris Lane will also be a part of the tour. Florida Georgia Line is currently touring as an opener for Jason Aldean.
The Florida Georgia Line/Nelly tour continues the blurring of lines between genres of American music, fueling concerns that music is becoming one big mono-genre with no contrast between popular music forms. Florida Georgia Line has been at the forefront of this trend by adding hip-hop elements into the majority of their songs, and because those songs have become so popular. Florida Georgia Line’s current single “This Is How We Roll” features Tyler Hubbard rapping in some of the verses.
Mono-genre concerns have also been exacerbated by Billboard’s newer chart rules that reward songs played in other formats outside of an artists’ home genre, and also reward songs that perform well on social media. These concerns don’t just come from the country realm, but from many of American music’s major genres, including rap. Just last month Sean Fennessey writing for Grantland, and using the event of Billy Ray Cyrus’s hip-hop version of “Achy Breaky Heart” reaching #11 on the rap charts as an example, said “…rap is more vulnerable than ever to interlopers and synthesists eager to run their sound through the Vitamix of popular music with such speed and force it’s impossible to determine the ingredients … Actual new rap songs are ceaselessly weighing down the genre itself with the junky detritus of other styles.”
Now the mono-genre concerns have reached the live context, and the Nelly/Florida Georgia Line tour may just be the first of many country/rap tours to come.
During the back half of the oughts, regardless of what you thought about the quality of mainstream country music, one thing you had to give the genre credit for was being the last bastion of guitar-based and instrument-based music that relied on humans and not electronic accoutrements to accomplish. As one of America’s most traditional genres, drum machines, purposely Auto-tuned lyrics, and other such elements were treated with a very negative stigma, and stayed mostly buried on the fringes of the genre in experimental projects.
But now as rap and Electronic Dance Music (EDM) have become very influential in popular country. They are almost required to have a hit song. Some will argue this is all part of music evolution. Though rap, Electronic Dance Music, and other electronic-based music certainly has its place in the world, the question is if that place is country music.
So to illustrate why country should be careful in how far it relies on 1′s and 0′s to carry the weight of there genre, here’s Joe Walsh—former frontman of The James Gang, guitar player for The Eagles, and solo rock performer—-someone on the outside looking in to country, and what he feels about electronic music, and the sate of music in general, taken from a recent appearance on Live At Daryl’s House.
Records, record stores, record sales, it’s all gone. And it’s up to the young musicians to try and figure it out. There’s no money in it, no record companies. It’s free, you can download it. Nobody gets paid, so they can’t afford to make music. That’s what’s happening.
And they’re just cranking out music that is just a recipe. You know, nobody is playing at the same time. Everybody’s adding on virtual instruments that don’t exist on to a drum machine that somebody programmed. And you can tell in the music that’s out now. It’s all been programmed. There’s no mojo. There’s nobody testifying. There’s not the magic of a human performance, which is never perfect. And the magic of a human performance is what we all know and love in the old records, by the way they were made. And it’s all gone.
So we’ll see what the digital age has in store.
After 2 people were killed, and 23 injured in a horrific incident on Red River St. in downtown Austin early Thursday morning during the annual South By Southwest gathering, it’s easy to overreact, and point fingers, and lay blame. In the aftermath of such events, we tend to lose sight of just how rare occurrences like this are, and that no matter how hard you plan for safety and implement measures to prevent such incidences, you are never going to entirely eliminate tragedy from the human equation. You can only try to mitigate it as best as you can, while hopefully not impinging on the personal freedoms of individuals.
But make no mistake about it, on Thursday morning, SXSW changed forever, as well as it should. Was the accident the result of some direct action or oversight of the City of Austin, the official SXSW organization, or even the overarching umbrella of official and non-official entities, events, and organizations that all come together under the SXSW moniker every March? Of course not. It was the fault of one man, and in the end, that is where the blame directly lies, and that fact should never be lost sight of as people ask “Why?” and “How can we prevent this from happening again?”
But SXSW, even without this big, headline-grabbing accident, is, and has been for over a half decade or more, an absolute, colossal failure of logistics, planning, implementation, and in dealing with the human element in any sort of rational, accommodating, or intuitive manner. SXSW as currently constructed is completely unfeasible. It is a nightmare for musicians, patrons, media, workers, organizations, and the entirety of a metropolitan corridor and the general region, including workers and residents that have absolutely nothing to do with the event. In fact the question we should be asking isn’t “How could this happen?” For anyone that has had the miserable experience of being part of SXSW in any capacity in recent years, the question would be “How could have something like this never happened before?”
SXSW is too many people and too many events, cloistered in a area with not enough space, parking, resources, or infrastructure, beset by abominable planning and poor execution. Frustration with SXSW has become so institutionalized, it is just as much of the experience for artists and patrons as is the music, movies, or new technologies themselves. The knowledge of SXSW as a nightmare experience is beyond anecdotal, it is effusive throughout the music and entertainment culture in America, to where people that never would even consider attending SXSW know just how bad people are treated to be a part of it, and find amusement at the native Austin archetype that complains about its growth and systemic problems.
And as more big names attending SXSW increase—like Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga who jumped on the SXSW bandwagon this year—and Austin’s own growth and infrastructure issues completely autonomous from SXSW continue to become a more significant part of the equation, there’s every reason to think that these problems will only get worse, and potentially, more incidents such as the one on 3/13 will happen again, even if they are on a smaller scale but more widespread, and simply blend into the event to where they never make headlines, as they have done in years past. There has always been issues with death, injuries, and accidents at SXSW. It’s just now they were concentrated as such that we couldn’t ignore them.
Nobody wants to be a part of SXSW. Talk to the bands and artists, talk to the labels and organizations, and they will tell you how much they hate the annual exercise of heading down to Austin. They all look at it as massive headache, and a misappropriation of resources. They attend the event out of some strange sense of obligation to the industry. It’s peer pressure, while the madness is fueled by the remarkable amount of capital being pumped into the event by corporate and independent sponsors who believe the SXSW experience can somehow afford their brand more exposure and recognition, when it truth the average SXSW patron is so harried by simply dealing with the people problems the event presents, they don’t have time to recognize who sponsored the stage their favorite band played on, or supplied them the flavored water they gulped down as they got pinballed around from one overcrowded event to another.
And exactly how many artists, bands, and movies does SXSW actually launch annually? And what is the percentage of those launches compared to the number of attendees and performances? To many of the artists that attend the event, no real meaningful growth will come from their difficult, and many times costly experience.
Fundamentally, the problem with SXSW is that nobody is big enough to control it. Because the official SXSW organization has been so non inclusive over the years, the unofficial segment of the festival is the fastest-growing portion. And since these non-official events and organizations are so disparate, and many times are founded purposely to be against the official SXSW organization, there’s no way to control them, or equate their impact on things such as traffic and commerce in planning. Meanwhile the City of Austin seems to be asleep at the wheel at engaging the problem full on to find meaningful, actionable solutions to the many problems SXSW creates for the city annually.
It almost seems like the SXSW organization and the city want the event to be madness, because without gates, people problems are the only way they can control the scope of the event or the amount of people attending it. But now two people have died, and many have been injured. Again, SXSW and the City of Austin were not at fault for a drunk driver in any way. But if the people at SXSW moved, instead of stayed cued up in endless lines, or if traffic flowed more freely throughout the area, and if parking were more accessible and frustrations more in check, the likelihood of accidents, and even fatalities, would decrease.
So what’s the solution? I don’t know. But we no longer have the right to ignore the problem.
Everywhere you turn, people are trying to take advantage of the rising interest in country music and Nashville. Country is seen as marketable, palatable to the masses, and financially lucrative from the free and easy way country music consumers spend their money. Radio and concert promoters are betting big on country, and so are television’s singing competitions that have launched many of the genre’s biggest current stars. It seemed like only a matter of time before reality TV got on the “gone country” kick, and it has recently with a slew of new shows. But unfortunately for country music’s small screen offshoots, all’s not right in TV land.
Announced earlier this week, the A&E reality series Crazy Hearts has officially been canceled. Initially announced as a “Nashville Music Docuseries”, the show followed aspiring singer-songwriters Lee Holyfield, Anthony Billups, Leroy Powell, Jimmy Stanley and Amy Wilcox, artist manager April Nemeth and media personality Heather Byrd as they tried to make it in the country music business. But ratings for the show started off poor and stayed that way, and eventually A&E moved the show from a prime weekday spot to a lackluster Saturday afternoon time. Eight episodes of the show were made, and that all there will be.
Another Nashville and country music-based reality show called Nashville Wives is also waging an uphill battle. Panned by critics and beset by poor ratings, the TNT reality show faces a rocky future. Modeled around other “wives” reality shows, Nashville Wives follows Sarah Davidson, wife of Dallas Davidson, Erika White, wife of country performer Bryan White, and four other Music City debutantes, capturing their daily lives. The problem according to TV critics is that the show is boring. But instead of canceling it, the shows producers have put out a casting call, possibly to attempt to find wives who might be more entertaining to viewers. Still, the future of the show seems very uncertain.
And though not a reality show, the flagship of Nashville and country music’s small screen invasion, ABC’s hour long drama Nashville also seems to be finding some ratings pressure, and there seems to be some question if there will be a third season as the show tries to secure government incentives to continue to shoot in Tennessee. One thing working in Nashville‘s favor is that the real Nashville believes the show is a big tourism boost. According to a recent survey, 1 in 5 Nashville tourists were motivated to visit the city because of the show. ABC also lacks another ratings blockbuster to fill Nashville‘s current spot.
But overall, the environment looks bleak for country music to breakout into reality shows, or even sustain the few it’s already started. Just like many of the popular music trends that Music Row seems to be 9 to 18 months behind on, country music may have taken too long to jump on the reality show bandwagon and it’s rolled on by. At least for now.
Country music superstar and NBC’s The Voice judge Blake Shelton has some explaining to do about the direction of the current marketing campaign for his upcoming “Ten Times Crazier Tour” staring in June. Soon after tickets are put on sale for some of the tour’s whistle stops, stories are showing up in the press about how the concert is “sold out.” However a simple check of Ticketmaster’s website shows many tickets still available for these shows.
On March 7th, Blake Shelton’s camp put out a press release declaring that the country star had sold out shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden and The Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. “I’m in LA to film The Voice and I drive by the Hollywood Bowl on my way to the set. It is such an iconic venue in LA and I have wanted to perform there for a long time,” the press release quotes Blake Shelton as saying. “Then there is Madison Square Garden. Hands down, there is not one artist who doesn’t dream about playing Madison Square Garden – its mind blowing to think I’m performing at Madison Square Garden and the Hollywood Bowl let alone selling them out. I’m incredibly thankful for my fans selling out both these shows so fast. I promise the band and I will bring you a show you won’t forget. I love you guys!”
Multiple news outlets saw the press release and ran stories of their own, congratulating Blake on the sold out shows. However when you actually look at the current ticket availability for Blake’s Madison Square Garden and Hollywood Bowl dates, it is clear no sellout has occurred.
For example, a check of Ticketmaster for Blake Shelton’s August 1st show at Madison Square Garden shows many available tickets. Same can be said for his concert on October 4th at The Hollywood Bowl. As you can see from the ticket legends below, as of the posting of this article, many seats in multiple sections are still available for both shows.
And the stories on Blake’s sold out shows don’t stop there. GAC is reporting the first six shows of Shelton’s tour are sold out.
Why would Blake Shelton’s camp proclaim tickets are sold out while seats are still available? The news could create even a bigger rush for tickets, or drive the price higher for tickets in the secondary market. Sometimes blocks of tickets are held back by promoters or venues to be released later, or used for giveaways or for sponsors. Also, even though tickets may still be available for a show, if the vast majority of them are sold, or only single seats are still left, sometimes a “sold out” show can be declared within the parameters of the industry standard. But it is clear this is not the case with these particular Blake Shelton shows. Some are also speculating the news is to help gin up support for Shelton during the final round of voting for the upcoming ACM Awards on April 6th.
Ironically, many of these Blake Shelton shows are selling very well, and will likely sell out on their own, leaving fans questioning why they’re being misled.
EDM, or Electronic Dance Music, is making a big move into country music with one of the world’s biggest EDM stars in Avicii, and he’s doing it with the help of none other than notorious Clear Channel syndicated DJ Bobby Bones, who’s taking credit for helping to spark the trend.
Saving Country Music has been predicting the impending emergence, if not takeover of EDM-influenced music in the country format for a while now, highlighting how the use of EDM elements like heavily Auto-tuned vocals and drum machine beats are already becoming the norm for many of the hits being recorded by the genre’s biggest male stars. But the advent of Avicii infiltrating the country music market could spell a completely new dilemma, where artists are forced to give into the EDM trends to stay commercially relevant.
Avicii is a Swedish DJ that released his first album True in 2013. His song “Hey Brother” originally released in October of 2013 has been a huge international hit, going #1 in fourteen different countries, reaching #1 on the US Billboard Dance Club Chart, and #24 on the all-encompassing Billboard Hot 100. Now it has a dedicated country radio version that has been picked up by several country stations including major market Washington D.C. station WMZQ.
WMZQ was just in the headlines last week when they decided to switch out their local morning crew for the syndicated Bobby Bones Show—Clear Channel’s flagship country music program that now is broadcast on over 60 radio stations and has a potential reach of 60 million listeners. Bobby Bones first official day on WMZQ was Monday; the same day WMZQ added Avicii’s “Hey Brother” to the station’s rotation.
On Bobby’s Monday morning show, he took credit for the inclusion of “Hey Brother” on country radio. Bobby Bones first asked for one of his sidekicks to read a tweet he sent out in January of 2014. The tweet said, “If Avicii ‘Hey Brother’ becomes a hit in country radio, we will be taking 80% of the credit. Been pimpin’ that song for weeks.”
Then Bobby Bones said,
We started playing that song “Hey Brother” in December of last year. We were like, “This has got to be a country song. How’s this not a country song? Let’s look at how country sounds now.” [Now] they have put out the country radio edit from Avicii. It is now officially a country song, and I’m going to say it’s all because of our listeners all downloading the song like crazy in the places that we are. And they were like, “Welp, let’s give the people what they want.” So here it is, Avicii “Hey Brother”, possibly the first big dance country song … And you guys made it happen, because they go and they track iTunes and they see what cities songs are downloaded most in, and where we are, Avicii “Hey Brother” is crushing people.
Avicii being accepted by country music speaks volumes to the influence of EDM and Bobby Bones on the format. Commanding such a massive country music audience—the biggest in the history of the genre—Bobby Bones now has the unilateral ability to launch an artist or song. And when you consider that Bobby Bones has only resided on country radio for a year, as well as his self-admitted fondness with Avicii and “Hey Brother”, his desires and tastes clearly align just as much outside of country as they do inside. And Clear Channel continues to build their country music empire as part of the current country music arms race, with Bobby Bones slated to join even more radio stations and be used in television opportunities in the future.
Frequent Saving Country Music commenter Noah Eaton explains Avicii’s country music ascent, and how it could potentially impact the genre:
Prior to the release of his full-length debut album “True” last year, Avicii polarized EDM fans at the Ultra Music Festival in Miami last March with the debut of “folktronica” songs that elicited condemning remarks from purists of the genre. Avicii didn’t surrender to criticism and, that June, released “Wake Me Up!”: a “folktronica” single which became a worldwide #1 hit (and peaked at #4 in the United States) that featured Rhythmic/soul vocalist Aloe Blacc. The release was buoyed by widespread hype from many publications including the famed Pete Tong of BBC Radio 1, who declared “Nashville Goes EDM!” and “I can imagine there being line dancing in the video now!” Many indeed echoed Tong’s remarks, and despite Avicii insisting “Wake Me Up!” had much more to owe to folk than country music, many minted “Wake Me Up!” a definitive example of mixing country with EDM.
Now, the release of “Hey Brother” has sinewed perceptions of Avicii bringing country to EDM, and EDM into country. It features Alison Krauss & Union Station member Dan Tyminski, and it has topped the charts in many countries worldwide. Again, the critics have likened it as groundbreaking in bringing line dancing to EDM and so forth.
It is no accident that other artists including Pitbull have co-opted the formula into their own hits and have made killings off of it: most notably “Timber” (Pitbull again selectively borrows some of those elements, though not as obviously, on his newly released single “Wild Wild Love”).
You can bet your bottom dollar Big Machine, Republic Nashville and other major labels are going to milk this trend for all its worth, and do the converse of what Avicii has done in incorporating generic EDM beats into countless “country” hits to market to as broad a youthful demographic as possible. We’re already seeing this with Jerrod Niemann’s “Drink To That All Night”. But, in my opinion, EDM influences also vaguely rear their head in songs including “Sunny And 75″ by Joe Nichols (listen to that again and tell me you CAN’T see that easily be remixed for a club), “Compass” by Lady Antebellum and “Get Me Some Of That” by Thomas Rhett to name a few. You can bet countless “country” executives are going to exploit his blueprint for success and abuse it to appeal to “country” radio’s sheepish listening demographic.
As for Avicii’s “Hey Brother” song specifically, at first listen, any familiarities to country music are skin deep, and mostly have to do with thematic similarities and opposed to sonic kinship. The video for the song however panders directly to American country music demographics, heavily drenched in Armed Forces sentimentality with 4th of July sparklers, folded flags, soldiers at attention, and trailer parks, directly slanted to an American and country music audience despite it originating from a Swedish artist.
Whether Avicii and “Hey Brother” will be widely accepted amongst the country music masses is still to be determined. But one thing is for sure, both EDM and Bobby Bones—whose heart and history reside well outside of the country music heartland—are poised to enact deep and sweeping influence on the country music genre in 2014, and well beyond.
When word first came down that a country music magazine was on its way from the same publishers of Classic Rock Magazine in the UK, and that the publication was planning to feature country music greats like Johnny Cash and Buddy Emmons, right beside up-and-comers like Sturgill Simpson and Austin Lucas, it almost seemed too good to be true. The hunger for a viable print magazine that isn’t just a puppet on Nashville’s Music Row has been needing to happen for years, and of course it took an outfit offshore to make it a reality.
The first issue of Country Music Magazine did not disappoint, and made good on their promise to deliver high quality content to the scores of country music fans who want to read about past greats and future hopefuls while not completely ignoring the mainstream names worth a listen. Now they have released their second issue as they settle into their quarterly cycle, and the 2nd verse is as sweet as the 1st.
On the cover is the one and only Dolly Parton who departed The States about a month ago to trek off the international portion of her tour ahead of the release of her new album Blue Smoke. Speaking of country music greats, the issues also features Buck Owens, Jimmy Webb, Spade Cooley, Ricky Skaggs, and others. It also features a rundown of the pioneers of country guitar, hand picked by The Reverend Horton Heat, and a Marty Stuart-penned feature on Jerry Lee Lewis.
As far as cool, up-and-coming artists go, Country Music Magazine #2 features Lindi Ortega, Jason Eady, The Tillers, Possessed by Paul James, Samantha Crain, and Shovels & Rope just to name a few. Once again the issue includes dozens of album reviews, other artists features, touches on Americana music with artists like Slaid Cleaves and Rosanne Cash, and doesn’t forgo the mainstream with features on The Band Perry and Chris Young.
Country Music Magazine is also a multimedia experience, featuring a 12-song CD with music from the Turnpike Troubadours, Lindi Ortega, Possessed by Paul James, and many more. They have also launched a two-hour radio show as part o the magazine that broadcasts live on Sundays and is archived at teamrockradio.com.
Country Music Magazine is somewhat pricey for us stateside, but you get a full few months worth of reading, great suggestions on artists and albums, and free music. It can be found at most Barnes & Noble bookstores and other newsstands, or can be ordered online. And who knows, you may see some content from some of your favorite writers too ;).
Baltimore-based writer and filmmaker Travis Kitchens (@kitchens_travis) has had and very interesting last few weeks to say the least. After posting a scathing review of a February 1st Jason Aldean concert at the Baltimore Arena in the local Baltimore City Paper alternative newsweekly, all hell broke loose and the review was eventually censored after two advertisers put heavy pressure on the paper’s parent company. To make matters worse, the paper was currently in the process of being sold, and numerous controversial layoffs and other censored stories have been the talk of Baltimore’s journalism community.
Since not much was known about Kitchens, and since his censored review has raised numerous questions itself, Saving Country Music reached out to the freelance writer to clear up some open questions, and get his perspective on the City Paper censoring. It’s also important to point out that Travis Kitchens is originally from Kentucky, since his use of the term “redneck” in the review drew some people’s ire. Kitchens also likes to point out that City Paper sent him to the concert per the request of Jason Aldean’s PR firm.
What was your working relationship with the Baltimore City Paper? Freelancer? Staff Writer? What else do you do?
I’m a freelancer for City Paper, brought on by Baynard Woods. The Aldean review was my second live show review, the first being a Shooter Jennings show. I will still be writing my bi-monthly column, Strum Und Twang, on local country music events, after the transition to the new owners. Besides writing, I’m a documentary filmmaker and video producer. I have spent the last three years researching, shooting, and editing a film about country music titled, High On A Mountain. It focuses on the development of early country music, especially the migration of southerners to northern cities like Baltimore for factory jobs during World War II, using the microcosm of one artist, Zane Campbell. His aunt is a pretty famous country songwriter, Ola Belle Reed, and his family tree is full of musicians and songwriters going back almost 100 years. The entire trajectory of country music is contained in his DNA, and he’s a really fascinating visual artist and songwriter himself. I also have gotten into some producing work as a result of the film, so I guess I’m a record producer now too.
When you went to the Jason Aldean concert, did you truly think there was a chance that either you might enjoy it, or find something redeeming about the experience?
Yes. I go to a lot of different shows spanning pretty much every genre of music. However, I don’t listen to many of the big time country stars they play on the radio these days. I thought this would be an opportunity to see and hear one of the big timers for myself. I’m not a country music purist that thinks only traditional country will do and plenty of artists have put on quality arena-size shows through the years. I like rap, and I like country, so I’m not opposed to them being mixed on any ideological grounds. It’s just that Aldean is not a quality singer, songwriter, musician, or rapper. I haven’t read one serious review or comment on a review that contradicts this. As a cultural event that attracts a large number of people, it’s sort of interesting to think about why the people are attracted to his show and music, but that’s a different topic.
Clarify the use of the term “redneck” in the review.
The term “redneck” has been used by my friends, relatives, and people around me my entire life as a term of endearment and a means of self-identification. Aldean asked the crowd, “are there any rednecks in here tonight,” and the entire crowd roared. It seemed appropriate.
When you first turned in the review, was there any concern about its content? Is it out of the norm to see a review of that type to be featured through the paper?
No. The City Paper is staffed by professional journalists. Baynard Woods, who edited my article, expected me to give the show an honest review, and I did, and told me that he “loved it.” I haven’t read that many music reviews from City Paper because I attend most of the local country music shows. But I don’t think mine was a typical review because Aldean’s show is not the typical show. From what I understand, the tradition of alternative weeklies has been to give uncredentialed writers a platform to say what they think, and in that sense I don’t see my review as unusual.
How much do you think the review played into the layoffs at Baltimore City Paper, or any of the other decisions that were made as the paper prepares to be sold?
As far as I know, the layoffs had nothing to do with my review, that was a consequence of the Baltimore Sun buying City Paper. Whether or not they caved on pulling the story because they didn’t want to compromise the deal at a sensitive moment is another question, but I don’t know the answer.
How did you feel when the review was taken down?
I was surprised. Mainly because Aldean is such a big name why the hell would anyone care if I thought his show was a joke. Honestly I was a little flattered. Being banned or censored for being truthful is the highest honor for an artist. Though me being censored in this case has a lot to do with the circumstances, and not that I said anything particularly brilliant or that hadn’t been said before.
What did you learn as a writer, reviewer, and journalist from this experience?
Not much, though it confirmed several things. I thought some people would be angry if they had a chance to read it, because I was honest and my characterization of the show was accurate. Several people commented that I “needed to go back to school and learn how to write a proper review,” or something along those lines. I understand where that attitude comes from. Journalism, to a large extent, and the “experts” you see and hear in the media are now just vested interest, working for one side or the other. If you have school debt and kids and whatnot, and most people do, you can’t afford to tell the truth. I worked in the corporate world long enough to know how it works. You kiss up to private power and people like Aldean that have a ton of money and influence, and eventually you move up. If you go around being honest and accurate all the time, you will be shitcanned before you know it. That’s the value in independent media like Saving Country Music and Baltimore Brew. And even though City Paper was coerced into pulling my article, I’m impressed by several of the people there and their courage and commitment to telling the truth in the aftermath. They didn’t have to do that, and it would have benefited them to completely disown me.
If you had to name one positive thing about the Jason Aldean concert, what would it be?
Well I think the fact that people are getting together to enjoy something is a good thing. Unfortunately in this instance that thing is abominable. As far as I can tell, the corporatization of country music mirrors the corporatization of everything else in this country: communities, schools, worklife, other forms of art. The fans of this music, whether they know it or not, are participating in the dumbing down and stereotyping of an entire region of people. There is as much diversity in the south as anywhere else, if not more, but you don’t see that reflected in this music. It deadens the mind and kills interest in discovering your own past and culture. There are strong undertones of the “us against them” attitude prevalent in contemporary politics. It’s disempowering and promotes the idea that the only values in life are getting fucked up and buying more products. It also promotes the myth of progress in music. Aldean and Florida Georgia Line both said numerous times that night, that they (meaning themselves and the crowd), were “changing country music history.” I agree with them. Wal-Mart also changed history, significantly in small communities like the one I come from, and it’s been completely destructive in some of the ways I already mentioned. The more consolidated and bureaucratic something becomes, the less humane it becomes, because no single person feels responsible for the overall outcomes. Country music is the opposite of that. It is the stories of everyday people and the full spectrum of real human emotions. It’s ironic that they use outlaw/rebel imagery and language in the music, because the effect, and it’s intentional, has been to create a bunch of moronic conformists by parading some buffoon in front of the crowd who supposedly shares their values and interests. Nothing could be further from the truth.
On February 11th, Billy Ray Cyrus and rapper Buck 22 released a hip-hop version of Billy Ray’s long-lampooned country hit “Achy Breaky Heart” accompanied by a video complete with twerking space aliens and an introduction by Larry King of all people. Whether the point was to be purposefully-stupid and trashy to get people’s attention or not, that was the general result, and the video has received nearly 7.5 million hits and counting since its release.
“Achy Breaky 2″ allows us once again to face the new music dilemma of whether a song is successful despite being bad, or because of it, and what this could mean for the future of music. In October of 2012 when Billboard modernized their chart rules, concerns were raised that including certain aspects of new media into the chart mix might make gauging the intent of listeners difficult. This was the question asked when the Brad Paisley / LL Cool J collaboration “Accidental Racist” appeared on Billboard’s country charts in the wake of an embrolio about the song in the media, including the lampooning of the track in skits by Saturday Night Live and by Stephen Colbert. Even though the song was never released as a single, the curiosity and car crash factor led to a successful chart performance, outperforming Paisley’s current single at the time.
Troubled about where this trend might lead, Saving Country Music pointed out,
One problem with Billboard’s new system, and many digital metrics we use to gauge popularity these days, is their ability to measure intent….People seeking to hear ["Accidental Racist'] for themselves downloaded it, or took to their music subscription service of choice to see what all the fuss was about, driving the metrics of the song up for the wrong reasons. Along with the trappings this paradigm presents currently, the next question is will there be artists who create songs simply because they know they will be either controversial or considered bad?
That concern was taken one step further when in February of 2013, Billboard changed their rules again to reflect YouTube data. This later rule is what has specifically allowed “Achy Breaky 2″ to register on multiple Billboard charts, without selling a significant amount of downloads, and without receiving any sizable radio play. “Accidental Racist” wasn’t accompanied by a video, and wasn’t released purposely to be lampooned and draw attention to itself; it was simply an album cut that became the subject of interest and ridicule naturally.
Because of the amount of YouTube views “Achy Breaky 2″ achieved, the song debuted at #11 on Billboard’s Hot Rap songs chart, and #16 on the Streaming Songs chart. But is this a fair chart assessment for a song that the majority of listeners/viewers consumed simply to point and laugh at it?”
As Saving Country Music said at the time of Billboard’s YouTube rule change,
What Billboard’s YouTube data does not consider is quality, and the curiosity factor. Whereas songs on the radio, or songs that people purchase are being consumed because the public has deemed them appealing, music on YouTube can sometimes go viral for how bad or polarizing or offensive it is. Take for example Rebecca Black’s “Friday.” The song would have rocketed to #1 on the charts under this rule, yet the majority of the viewers of the video drew an unfavorable reaction to it. It was the car wreck factor that forced the song viral. This means that songs could chart because the public vehemently hates them instead of liking them.
And this is exactly what has happened with “Achy Breaky 2″, resulting in the edging out more relevant and appealing material on the charts.
How do we know “Achy Breaky 2″ was bolstered by curiosity and dislike? Because just like Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” the favorable to unfavorable ratio on YouTube’s rating feature shows that by an almost 3 to 1 margin, viewers of “Achy Breaky 2″ do not like the video.
Billboard editor Bill Werde has addressed this issue before, saying that he sees how this could be a problem, but none of Billboard’s protocols prevented “Achy Breaky 2″ from charting. Could the reporting for Billboard’s charts from YouTube include a caveat based on YouTube’s like and dislike feature to filter out songs that clearly are not meeting the approval of watchers or listeners, or is this a slippery slope itself where music would begin to be judged on taste instead of impact by lay listeners?
But this isn’t where the controversy for “Achy Breaky 2″ ends. Similar to how many country music fans have been angered by Billboard’s new chart rules and how they benefit artists that have “crossover” or pop appeal by including plays in pop radio for artists originating in country, so to has rap seen an infiltration of its charts by outside forces, effecting the autonomy of the genre and aiding the formation of a mono-genre. Though Billy Ray Cyrus is a country star and “Achy Breaky 2″ is based off a country song, it was the rap charts that were forced to claim it, causing quite a clamor in the rap community.
Sean Fennessey writing for Grantland calls the song symptomatic of rap being pulled down by influences from outside the genre. Does this sound familiar country music fans?
Last week, the fastest-rising addition to Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart was neither a rap song, nor a hot song. It had been released just a week prior, and there was rapping. But Buck 22’s “Achy Breaky 2” … bears none of the hallmarks of the genre. It is, however, remarkable in that it is remarkably bad… [It] is emblematic of a genre in disrepair. It is an abomination, or, at least, a practical joke inflicted upon an unwitting public.
Buck 22 has arrived at a time when rap is more vulnerable than ever to interlopers and synthesists eager to run their sound through the Vitamix of popular music with such speed and force it’s impossible to determine the ingredients. “Achy Breaky 2” is a copy of a copy of a Xerox of a guy’s ass. It’s juvenile, and we’ve seen it before. But the quickness with which it grew makes me wonder whether it’s more than a novelty song.
But “Achy Breaky 2″ was successful because it was a novelty song, bolstered by the new protocols governing Billboard’s charts that can’t measure intent. And if either the song, the collaboration, the video, or all of them were purposely made to be awful to take advantage of the viral curiosity they forecasted would ensue and the favorable metric environment that allowed it to be recognized on industry-leading charts, who’s to say it won’t happen again, or become prevalent or common in the music marketplace?
On second thought, “Achy Breaky 2″ could be more than a novelty song. Much more. It could be the first song that was successful for being bad, and recognized by the industry for it.
In 2011, when Jason Aldean’s country rap song “Dirt Road Anthem” became the best selling song in all of country music, the genre’s impending dalliance with rap was ordained. Though the sub genre had been brewing under the surface for many years, and quite successfully for some acts, it had now hit it big, and it was only a matter of time before you would see country music’s top performers experiment with the genre bending style.
When “Dirt Road Anthem” hit, artists like Cowboy Troy and “Dirt Road Anthem” co-writer Colt Ford had already made successful careers out of country rap for years, despite not being able to rise to the level of mainstream radio acceptance. There were many other acts doing very well at the club level with country rap, like The Moonshine Bandits, Bubba Sparxxx, and The Lacs. Country rap even had much of its own infrastructure, and despite the suspicion it was eyed with from the mainstream, most country rap acts were able to post videos and get views in the millions, Wal-Mart was stocking hick hop on their shelves, while labels like Average Joes, started by Colt Ford, offered material support to some of the bigger country rap acts.
When Music Row decided rap was its future and a potential vehicle to drive the genre out of the malaise it suffered with the rest of music in the decade of the oughts, there were a number of ways the influence could be integrated into the genre. Major labels could sign or otherwise champion already-established country rap acts like Colt Ford and The Moonshine Bandits. Or they could try to impose the new style with already-established mainstream stars who had proven they were palatable with the American public. The latter is the path country rap eventually took. Despite the success of “Dirt Road Anthem,” the song had fought an uphill battle on radio itself. Programmers were suspicious of country rap, and artists like Tim McGraw and Blake Shelton who would later release their own country rap songs, were a known quantity and already under contract compared to unproven talent like Bubba Sparxxx or The Lacs.
But 2012 came, and it was mostly quiet on the country rap front from a mainstream standpoint. As Saving Country Music pointed out in the story Mono-Genre Watch: 2012 End-Of-Year Sales,
2012 did not see either a dominant country-rap single, album, or artist. Rap is still asserting itself as an influence in country, but may not be finding the commercial strength it needs to stick. 2012 mono-genre songs like Tim McGraw’s “Truck Yeah” underperformed to expectations, never cracking Billboard’s Top 10 on the country chart.
But Music Row is notoriously 18 months behind the relevancy cycle. “Dirt Road Anthem” had taken the industry by surprise, and it took over a year for country’s major labels to retool to the new country rap reality. Then by 2013, country rap came out in full force, with virtually all of mainstream country’s big male stars releasing rap/country songs. Reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year Blake Shelton released “Boys ‘Round Here” to a #2 chart showing and double platinum sales. ACM Entertainer of the Year Luke Bryan released country rap “That’s My Kind of Night” that spent a whopping twelve weeks at #1, and was the song to finally depose another country rap-inspired single “Cruise” by upstart Florida Georgia Line that became the longest-running #1 song in the history of country music.
But 2014 has been a different story already. Whereas 2013 seemed to be dominated by country rap singles, 2014 has so far been the story of EDM, or Electronic Dance Music. Though EDM and hip hop can sometimes be mistaken for each other, especially to the country consumer’s ear and because the two disciplines have numerous similarities (use of electronic beats, sampling, and rapping instead of singing in some instances), there are also many clear differences between the two disciplines.
When Jerrod Niemann released his single “Drink To That All Night” in the second half of 2013, country music’s EDM cherry had been popped, and it seemed to be a harbinger for things to come in the country format. Interestingly the single underperformed in most of 2013, but has been creeping up the charts in early 2014, reaching its highest chart ranking in the last week of February. Though the argument can be made that Jerrod Niemann is still rapping instead of singing, “Drink To That All Night” is full of EDM earmarks: the heavily Auto-tuned electronic-sounding vocals, the digitized beats, and most-importantly the emphasis on perfectitude in the music as opposed to the fallibility of a live, traditional band lineup playing real instruments, reinforced in the video of the song that heavily refers to the EDM/dance club culture instead of the country honky tonk.
Many of the lead singles from country music’s big 2014 album releases from male artists lean heavily towards EDM influences, most notably Tim McGraw’s “Lookin’ For That Girl” with it’s heavily-digitized vocal track and electronic beat bed. Rascal Flatt’s “Rewind” incorporates many EDM elements. And Brantley Gilbert, one of the other co-writers of “Dirt Road Anthem,” his latest single “Bottoms Up” sounds much less like a country rap, and more like a country/EDM effort with more melody to the vocals, and the signature electronic drum bed and digitization of instrumentation.
First, don’t count country rap out. There are certainly more country rap singles from big, mainstream country artists in the pipeline that we’re likely to hear in 2014, if they ever go away completely in the more global trend of the formation of a mono-genre. And in the independent realm, acts like The Lacs and Moonshine Bandits are likely to remain sustainable commodities.
But despite a few lucrative singles, country rap was very hit and miss in the mainstream. The aforementioned “Truck Yeah” by Tim McGraw seemed like an unfortunate career move. Jason Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem” followup called “1994″ was a general flop in comparison, stalling in the charts despite a heavy push behind the song. Brad Paisley’s much-ridiculed “Accidental Racist” with LL Cool J wasn’t even released as a single. In the end, mainstream country stars just didn’t make good rappers. Country music is for crooners and twang, and even though these elements are generally lacking in present-day country music anyway, this was the foundation of these singer’s discipline, and rapping never stopped feeling foreign to them, their audience, and most importantly, radio programmers.
EDM on the other hand is a “no experience required” format when it comes to singing. The purposefully heavy Auto-tuned environment allows the performer to simply hit close approximations of the melody the song is built around, and then the studio hands take over from there.
However just like with rap, country music is horrifically late when it comes to the EDM game. The argument that was made during the integration of rap into country is that country music had to evolve. What the people making that argument failed to realize is that rap was already a 30-year-old art form when it made its appearance in country’s mainstream. Similarly, many of the EDM elements we’re seeing in country—especially Auto-tuned lyrics—are already considered outmoded in most other mainstream music.
Similarly, the relevancy arch has moved on in many ways from the heavy electronic sound. An EDM act in Daft Punk dominated the Grammy Awards held in January, and they did so with a live sound. Instead of starting with electronic beats and synthesized hooks, Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories featured live, human instrumentation and vocals with minimal electronic treatment. This was the formula that won them 5 Grammy Awards, including Best Album and Best Record. In the end it is not the EDM elements in country music that make it bad, just like rapping in a country song isn’t something that can be completely ruled out as a valid form of expression if it is done in a fresh, artistic way. It is the poor implementation—the awkwardness of the integration of the two influences, and the submissive pose country takes towards EDM and rap—that makes it so polarizing.
Whether it was country rap in 2013, or EDM influences in 2014, it speaks to a systemic problem with country music that the format deems itself inadequate and feels the need integrate influences from other genres to stay relevant, following instead of leading, and making excuses of why it can still be cool instead of educating the public on country music’s inherent virtues.
RIP Flipping Off The Camera to be Cool
Born February 24th, 1969 San Quentin, CA — Died February 19th, 2014 Nashville, TN
Yes ladies and gentlemen, we have the death of yet another great American institution to lay at the feet of The Country Music Anti-Christ, Big Machine Records President and CEO Scott Borchetta.
The offense occurred when Scott Borchetta flashed the double bird at a camera as part of a Country Radio Seminar function in Nashville on Wednesday night, November 19th while in the presence of Mötley Crüe members Vince Neil and Nikki Sixx, and Big Machine artist Brantley Gilbert. The photo was later posted on Nikki Sixx’s Twitter feed, with the even more unfortunate caption proclaiming the group “NASHVILLE OUTLAWS.”
Flipping the bird to the camera first became cool when Johnny Cash famously showed his middle finger to photographer Jim Marshall at San Quentin before his 1969 concert at the legendary lockdown in response to Jim Marshall’s request, “John, let’s do a shot for the warden.” But the picture remained relatively obscure until 1998 when Cash was working with Rick Rubin, and country radio refused to play Johnny’s new music. So Rubin took out a $20,000 ad in Billboard with the famous photograph thanking country radio for its support (Read full story behind Johnny Cash’s famous middle finger). Since then the bird flipping had taken on a special significance in country music, coming to symbolize a rebellion against country music’s status quo….until the status quo co-opted it for their own purposes.
But truth be told, flipping the camera off had gone from being cool to being horrifically cliché many moons ago, and was going through a long-suffering and unnecessarily-protracted death leading up to Borchetta finally putting it out of its misery by removing any and all cool factor that might be left in the indecent maneuver. It makes it one measure worse that it comes from a moment of celebrity crotch-sniffing from Scott. His label Big Machine bartered with Mötley Crüe to put out a country-flavored tribute album to the retiring band; a pursuit of vanity for Borchetta who once had his own hair metal aspirations.
So bye bye birdie. It was cool while it lasted, but like so many other things related to country music, it was ruined by posers.
Like my grandpa always said, you haven’t made it until another man has thoughtfully perused an assemblage of weapons and pondered your demise. And I know what ol’ grandpa Trigger would say if he were here today: “Who the hell is Eric Church?”
There’s been a few interesting opportunities bestowed to Saving Country Music over the years: Interviews by by The New York Times and the BBC, quotes by CNN and Fox News just to name a few, and then there was that time when I was cited in a Playboy Magazine article about Eric Church …. though it was actually in reference to Luke Bryan having a vagina. It’s a long story.
While I’ve never thought of being quoted in Men’s Journal as being a crowning achievement, the idea by writer Erik Hedegaard to read inflammatory quotes from Saving Country Music to Eric Church and then capture his reaction is a pretty clever one. Of course, Men’s Journal couldn’t have quoted the many positive things I’ve said over the years about the Sunglassed One. It would’ve been no fun to read to Eric Church how he “… deserves tremendous credit for creating an album that is this far off Music Row’s well beaten path, and goes beyond the simple back and forth between love ballads and braggadocios laundry list songs.”
So instead Men’s Journal pulled some snippets from the only “Über Rant” I’ve ever written. It’s fair game though; I wouldn’t have written it if I wasn’t willing to stand behind it, or at the least, take responsibility for it. Eric Church, or at least his marketing peeps, had crossed a line releasing a video that showed somewhat psychotic imagery in reference to Taylor Swift while the ink was still drying on numerous creepy stalking stories involving the young starlet. I don’t have any particular love for how Taylor Swift’s been at the forefront of eroding the integrity of the term “country” with her pop songs. But wrong is wrong, and it seemed like a pretty dim bulb move to release that type of imagery rife for misunderstanding about a young woman, despite whatever the intentions were behind it.
And apparently Eric Church’s peeps agreed, and pulled the video mere hours after my expletive-fueled rant demanded they do so, and then posted an explanation to head any press drama off at the pass. Now that’s an accomplishment this sweet, innocent little independent country music writer can hang his hat on.
In fact if the Eric Church teaser video that was taken down by my demand was so harmless, I encourage them to post it back up and let the people decide. Eric Church Inc. should probably thank me for pulling their bacon out of the fire before the video spurned a media frenzy, which probably should have happened anyway, and was on the very brink of happening before they pulled it. In hindsight, maybe instead of demanding they take it down, I should’ve given them more rope by saying nothing and leaving them a clear path to leave it up. But I digress.
So Erik Hedegaard of Men’s Journal reads Eric Church this quote from the Saving Country Music über rant:
Eric Church isn’t an ‘Outsider’; he’s a fucking conformist. He’s a marketeer . . . who has Svengalied a bunch of disenfranchised country fans into believing he’s offering any type of alternative to pop country, when in truth he is more of a tool of the mainstream pop-country industrial complex than anyone.
“Wow, that’s a rough one,” says Church, hearing this for the first time. He’s in a trailer parked on his property, where he’s building his dream house. Resting on a table in front of him is the Gerber knife, the pistol, and the .25-06 Remington with a sweet Leupold scope. Scratching his neck, he looks seriously irritated for a moment, like he’s about to grab one of those nearby tools of destruction and go after the messenger. Then he seems merely at a loss for words. Finally, he gets his small-town North Carolina twang working again and says, “Have we done it our own way? Yeah. How we are is popular now, but it wasn’t when we first did it, so what am I supposed to do?” He puts his hands on the table. “I mean, it’s a possibility that we’re marketing it now. But we’ve been that person the whole time.”
Grandpa would be proud …. Actually Grandpa told me no such thing. He just told me to mind my mother and slipped me $10 bills when she wasn’t looking.
We’ve known for a while that Eric Church is a reader of Saving Country Music, or at least that he’s read the site before. There was the time back in 2010 or 2011 when Church read an article on the site, misinterpreted it, and wrote the song “Country Music Jesus” (See Eric Church talk about writing “Country Music Jesus”). But he seemed genuinely shocked that even I would go that far this time. Then again, there’s a good chance he never saw that teaser video with Taylor Swift as the (seeming) target, either.
Eric Church goes on in the Men’s Journal article to paint a pretty sinister picture of himself.
I have a pretty good understanding of how I am. I’ve always been pretty laid-back and easygoing, until I’m not. When I get going, you’re never going to stop me. When it gets going, I’ll destroy everything.
Eric explains his nickname on the road is “Chief.”
It’s a real thing. I’m a different guy. I’m a different hang. Some people are intimidated by it and cut me a wide berth. I’ve noticed it.
But if I saw Church walking towards me, in Chief mode or not, I’d stop to shake his hand. After all, it’s just music, and musical opinions aside, he deserves respect just like anyone. Unless he’s doing something that could potentially result in the harm of others. Then I might stand in his way, whether that meant my detriment, or demise. And that’s just the way of things.
Thanks for the ink Men’s Journal.
Tuesday, February 18th was the inaugural Ameripolitan Music Awards at the Wyndham Garden Hotel in Austin, TX. To see a complete list of winners, a play by play account of the night, and more pictures, please check out the 2014 Ameripolitan Awards LIVE Blog.
Below are some photographs of the night from photographer C. C. Ekström of the excellent website Almost Out Of Gas. You can also see the video presentation (without the full narration) that was presented at different times during the event below.
Apologies to artists that attended that were not featured, including Peewee Moore, Eric Strickland, Dallas Moore, and others. Because of the breakneck nature of the event, we did the best we could, but didn’t have time to catch up with everyone.
Welcome to Saving Country Music’s LIVE blog of the inaugural Ameripolitan Awards transpiring at the Wyndham Garden Hotel and Woodward Conference Center in Austin, TX! The event is completely sold out (in fact, oversold I’m being told), and there will be no live stream or audio broadcast of the event. So I’ll be feverishly working to bring you photos and keep you up-to-date on winners, and do my best to put you in the spirit of the moment with the idea that music is best when it’s shared.
Please feel free to follow along and keep your refresh button handy. I’ll be flying by the seat of my pants, so be patient if updates take some time to populate, and feel free to pipe up below in the comments section with your own thoughts or observances.
Announcer: Dallas Wayne
Presenters and Performers Include: James Hand, Dawn Sears, Whitey Morgan, Rosie Flores, Ray Benson, James Intveld, Wayne Hancock, Elizabeth Cook, Johnny Bush, W.S. Holland, Heybale, Roger Alan Wade, and Johnny Knoxville.
- Western Swing Female – Dawn Sears
- Western Swing Group – Asleep At The Wheel
- Western Swing Male – Ray Benson
- Honky Tonk Group – Heybale
- Honky Tonk Male – Wayne Hancock
- Honky Tonk Female – Rosie Flores
- Ralph Mooney Musician’s Award – Earl Poole Ball
- Venue Award – The Broken Spoke
- Festival Award – Muddy Roots
- Rockabilly Band – Reverend Horton Heat
- Rockabilly Female – Rosie Flores
- Rockabilly Male – Big Sandy
- DJ Award – Dallas Wayne
- Outlaw Female – Elizabeth Cook
- Outlaw Group – Whitey Morgan & The 78′s
- Outlaw Male – Unknown Hinson
- Master Award – Ray Price
- Founder of the Sound – Johnny Bush
- Founder of the Sound – W.S. Fluke Holland
11: 51 - So overall, it was an amazing night, amazing production, top-notch. As some people have pointed out, all the people who performed were also the winners. My stupid little blog could in no way do the night justice. In the coming days I might write a proper review, include some of the quotes and stories from the stage (I do have audio of the whole thing, at least), But by golly, they pulled off, and can’t grade it any less than two guns up. Congratulations to Dale Watson and the whole Ameripolitan team.
11:46 - Thanks everyone for reading! I’m going to compose some final thoughts, recap the winners, and call it a night…
11:45 - That’s it folks! Mojo Nixon screams “Ameripolitan lives!” as the Ameripolitan band plays Dale Watson off the stage.
11:43 - Dale Watson is quite drunk. This is about a 7-minute version of “Old Farts” as he pours his heart out.
11:42 - Elizabeth Cook, Dale Watson, and Ray Benson playing “T For Texas”.
11:40 - Elizabeth Cook accepting her Ameripolitan Award.
11:38 - Dale Watson gives another impassioned speech about Blake Shelton and the “Old Farts & Jackasses” incident before launching into “Old Fart”.
11:33 – Whitey Morgan performing, and accepting his Outlaw award.
11:28 - Elizabeth Cook now on stage singing “T For Texas”.
11:24 - Johnny Knoxville and Ray Benson present the Ameripolitan Outlaw Female Award to Elizabeth Cook. “We are creating our own fucking game, so don’t hate, participate,” says Elizabeth in between making jokes about the “other” things she can do with the award.
11:18 - Chris and Taylor Malpass present the Ameripolitan Outlaw Male Award to Unknown Hinson. Unfortunately Unknown could not make it to accept the award because of a family emergency.
11:17 - Luther Jackson and Izzy Cox present the Ameripolitan Outlaw Group Award to Whitey Morgan & The 78′s.
11:10 - Ahead of the last group of awards for Outlaw, Whitey Morgan take the stage and perform “Bad News.”
11:09 - Dallas Wayne accepting his Ameripolitan DJ Award.
11:06 - The Ameripolitan DJ Award presented by Steve Wertiemer and Reggie Dobson goes to Sirius XM DJ Dallas Wayne.
11:04 - Dale Watson, W.S. Holland, and Jim Heath all playing on stage together.
10:57 - The Reverend Horton Heat (or Jim Heath), Dale Watson, and W.S. Holland on the stage playing “Blue Suede Shoes,” …and now they are playing “Ring of Fire,” a song W.S. played on originally.
10:54 - Big Sandy from earlier accepting his award for rockabilly male.
10:52 - Dale Watson sets the record straight that W.S. never smoked or drank like he was portrayed in the movie “Walk The Line”.
10:50 - W.S. “Fluke” Holland just told the best story of the awards about a Cadillac car and Carl Perkins. I’ll have to transcribe it later. Amazing. Here he is accepting his award.
10:42 - Everyone standing and clapping as Fluke makes his way to the stage. For those of you that don’t know, he played drums for Johnny Cash forever. “I didn’t even know people knew I was there.”
10:40 - “Founder of the Sound Award” is presented to drummer W.S. “Fluke” Holland.
10:37 - The Reverend Horton Heat receiving his Ameripolitan award earlier.
10:35 - Big Sandy: “This means a whole lot more coming from two people who don’t know who the hell I am.” It was presented Woody Adkins and Elizabeth Cook. Elizabeth Cook is giving Mojo Nixon a run for his money as the craziest, most overcussing person tonight.
10:32 - The Ameripolitan Award for Rockabilly Male goes to Big Sandy.
10:30 - Rosie Flores: “Holy shit!” “It’s almost like we’re on this mission to keep women alive in rockabilly.”
10:28 - Roger Alan Wade and Johnny Knoxville present the Ameripolitan Rockabilly Female award to Rosie Flores. The crowd erupts again. Rosie is clearly a crowd favorite.
10:26 - The Reverend Horton Heat wins the Ameripolitan Rockabilly Group Award.
10:24 - Brett and Silvia Neal comes out to present the Rockabilly Group Award. Dale comes out on stage and says it was 99% Brett and Silvia that made Ameripolitan happen, and 1% him.
10:21 - Tonya Watts and Johnny Knoxville presenting the Ameripolitan Festival Award.
10:19 - Ameripolitan Award winner Rosie Flores on the stage earlier.
10:17 - Big Sandy gets up to perform after a video presentation of the importance of rockabilly music.
10:11 - The Ameripolitan Festival Award presented by Tonya Watts and Johnny Knoxville goes to The Muddy Roots Festival.
10:08 - Ralph Mooney’s wife and daughter presenting the Ralph Mooney Award for Musicians.
10:05 - Ameripolitan DJ nominee Big ‘G’ and his wife during the intermission.
10:04 - Mojo Nixon presents “The Chick with the Pick!” Rosie Flores to the stage for a performance.
10:00 - Cornell Hurd presenting the “Founder of the Sound” Award to Johnny Bush earlier.
9:58 - The Ameripolitan Venue Award goes to The Broken Spoke, Austin, TX.
9:53 - Forgot to mention earlier, Dale Watson had delivered the Ameripolitan “Master Award” to Ray Price before he passed away. Cool story.
9:51 – James Intveld comes out to perform ahead of the upcoming Rockabilly Awards.
9:49 - Cindy Cashdollar wins the Ralph Mooney Ameripolitan Award for Musicians. She is not on site (she had a gig in California), so a video of her accepting the award plays.
9:47 - We are back from intermission. They are getting ready to present the Ameripolitan Ralph Mooney Award for Musician. It is being presented by Mrs. Ralph Mooney.
9:45 - Rosie Flores accepting her Honky Tonk Female Award earlier. That is Amber Rockwell in the shot as well who has been walking the awards to the stage.
9:40 - The amount of stars around this place is stupid. I was shaking hands with Bobby Flores, then bumped into Redd Volkaert, and then almost got ran over by Elizabeth Cook. Let me tell you folks, Elizabeth is a little firecracker.
9:32 - Earlier when Johnny Knoxville and Roger Alan Wade were presenting, they made fun of Dale’s dud’s as being made out of their “Grandmother’s curtains” stimulating Dale to come out and confront them on stage. They also announced the female Honky Tonk Award winner was Blake Shelton, which stimulated a chorus of boos and laughs (it was really Rosie Flores.
9:25 - While I have the time, I just want to say here that this thing could not be more professional. Every last detail was thought through. The video presentations, the house bands playing the presenters on and off stage. It’s quite the production, with only a few very very minor glitches. The room is positively packed. This venue could have been twice as big, and it would still be too small. They will have to at least double the size next year.
9:21 - We go to a 15 minute “intermission” about 20 minutes late. This will give me time to catch up on pictures and some other stuff. Thanks for reading y’all!
9:20 - Johnny Bush: “I think Willie Nelson has recorded ‘Whiskey River’ about 29 times. He asked me, ‘Do you think I’ll ever get it right?’ I said, ‘I hope not.’
9:16 - Ameripolitan winner Wayne “The Train” Hancock performing earlier. (with Zach Sweeny, whose dad is following out there in Internet land)
9:15 - Standing ovation for Johnny Bush. During his acceptance speech, “My doctors are here. My preacher’s here, just in case. And my lawyer would be here, but he’s in jail.” Then Johnny Bush takes the stage to play “Whiskey River.”
9:11 - Two-time Ameripolitan winner Ray Benson performing earlier.
9:08 – Cornell Hurd presents the “Founder of the Sound” Award to Johnny Bush. Cornell gives an excellent, touching speech. “They called him the country Caruso.”
9:04 - Ameripolitan winner Dawn Sears performing earlier.
9:02 - Wayne simply says, “Gosh, I wasn’t expecting this. Thank you.” Mojo Nixon says, “Give it up for the loquacious Wayne Hancock!” Then Heybale takes the stage.
9:00 - The Ameripolitan Honky Tonk Male Award goes to Wayne “The Train” Hancock.
8:55 - Johnny Knoxville and Roger Alan Wade present the Ameripolitan Award for Honky Tonk Female to Rosie Flores.
8:54 - Johnny Bush accepting Ray Price’s “Master Award”.
8:53 - The Ameripolitan Award for Honky Tonk Band goes to Heybale.
8:51 – Wayne Hancock gets a standing ovation.
8:46 - Another well-produced video presentation ahead of the presentation of the honky tonk awards, and then Wayne “The Train” Hancock comes out to perform “Home With My Baby.”
8:45 - Shout out to Rockabilly Deluxe Magazine that just stopped by to say hi.
8:43 - Ray Benson performs “Miles and Miles of Texas”. Dale Watson helped him put his guitar on and Ray says, “The best dressed roadie in the business!”
8:40 - A better picture of Dale Watson’s duds, and the pantless Mojo Nixon. Mojo says, “This things going pretty good, and everyone said Mojo was going to fuck it up!”
8:36 - Ameripolitan Award for Western Swing Male goes to Ray Benson. Presented by Big Sandy and Abbey Road from Luckenbach.
8:35 - Dawn Sears gets very emotional on stage. “This is my very first award. Thank you.”
8:33 – The Ameripolitan Award for Western Swing Female goes to Dawn Sears!
8:32 - Dale Watson at the introduction, and the Ameripolitan band.
8:31 - Ray Benson and other members of Asleep At The Wheel on stage accepting the award. “44 years with this band, 100 members, half the members of this audience, I think.”
8:30 - The Ameripolitan Western Swing Group of the Year is Asleep At The Wheel!
8:25 - Have tons of photos coming up folks! Stuff is happening so fast, just trying to keep up!
8:23 - In between live presentations are video taped presentations. This is very slick. Mojo Nixion, “They told me not to drink on stage. Fuck it!” And Dawn Sears takes the stage.
8:21 - Johnny Bush remembers his time in the Cherokee Cowboys. “You we’re like an uncle to me,” Johnny recalls saying to Ray. Ray responded “You’re no kin to me!” (crowd laughs)
8:19 - Ray Price is awarded the Master Award. Johnny Bush accepts the award for Ray to a standing ovation.
8:17 - The video presentation continues, with the explanation of how Ameripolitan got started. Ray Price’s letter he wrote to Blake Shelton after the “Old Farts & Jackasses” episode was read aloud, and the crowd erupts.
8:15 - James Hand gets a standing ovation from the Ameripolitan crowd. By the way, I forgot to mention, Mojo Nixon has no pants on (but boxers, luckily).
8:13 - Mojo Nixon hands it off to James Hand who performers “In The Corner, At My Table, By the Jukebox.”
8:12 - Some more photos of artists filing in: Tonya Watts, and Whitey Morgan with Elizabeth Cook.
8:08 - Dale hands it over to Mojo Nixon who screams into the microphone, “I’m hotter than two foxes fucking in a forest fire!” Then a video presentation starts to play on the screens flanking the stage.
8:07 - “This is your music, this is your artists, this is your genre!” — Dale Watson
8:02 - The Ameripolitan Awards have started! Dale Watson is welcoming everyone, and introducing the band.
7:58 - The show is scheduled to start off with an explanation of what Ameripolitan is, and a performance by James Hand.
7:56 - Heads up, Unknown Hinson did NOT make it. But Elizabeth Cook did!
7:55 - Have a bunch more photos coming folks! Everywhere I turn there’s a hand to shake. I tell people I’m working and they don’t believe me.
7:45 - Some various choices for Ameripolitan garb. Just saw Hillbilly Casino pass by, and radio personality Big G.
7:36 - James “Slim” Hand taking advantage of the Ameripolitan photo op.
7:30 – Dale Watson a while ago double checking on everything before getting dudded up. Notice the “Staff” on the back of his shirt.
7:22 - The house band tonight will be Redd Volkaert – Guitar, Jason Roberts – Fiddle, Chris Crepps – Bass, Mike Bernal – Drums, Earl Poole Ball – Piano, Don Pawlak – Pedal Steel.
7:18 - On the front tables there is “Table Pop Art” of famous country music greats done by Harmony High School Art Class #3 from Big Sandy, TX.
7:15 - Here’s some pictures of the Lake Austin Room at the hotel where the festivities will transpire. At the very front are circular tables for all of the nominees and big donors, then smaller, rectangular tables for other nominees and donors, and then rows of chairs for everyone else.
7:07 - Here’s some pictures of where the Ameripolitan Awards are transpiring for the people who like a little more perspective. I’ve been wondering why they decided to do it hare as opposed to a more traditional venue, but tthe lobby is filled with pictures of Austin musicians, guitars, etc. and is known for supporting functions like this. We’re still 50 minutes or so from the start of the presentation, so posts may be sparse until the start of the awards.
7:05 - Walked into the door of the hotel, and the star power just in the lobby was incredible: Reverend Horton Heat, Dale Watson, Eric Strickland, Wayne Hancock, Redd Volkaert, James Hand, and the list goes on. A lot of talent has trekked here for tonight. I also have met journalists from as far as Italy who are here to cover the event. I will be posting pictures all night, but because of the poor light in here, the quality may not be the best. However, I have Charlie from Almost Out Of Gas here taking better photos that will be posted after the event.
7:00 - Alright folks, I’m going to make this disclaimer real quick, and then there’s going to be no more word about this the rest of the night: Per the numerous emails and comments elsewhere, I am very aware that some folks have issues with Ameripolitan. I have issues with Ameripolitan. However this is their night, Dale and many others have worked very hard on this, and in the end the idea is to support music. There’s a lot of great artists that will be honored and showcased tonight, so let’s focus on the music and the artists and be thankful for the fellowship.
Sometimes it’s the unscripted moments when you get to see the true character of individuals that your primary interaction with is either through their music or watching them on stage. Case in point is Saving Country Music’s reigning Artist of the Year Jason Isbell, who at a show at the Barrymore Theatre in Madison, Wisconsin on February 7th was confronted with a few brawling fans near the front rows and had to stop the show down.
In stark contrast to the culture surrounding many of mainstream country’s male stars who seem to condone and even promote fighting, including Eric Church who once bragged to Playboy Magazine about the fighting culture that permeates his concerts which was then evidenced a few weeks later in the massive melees, multiple arrests, and colossal mess left in the wake of one of his concerts with Kenny Chesney in Pittsburgh last summer, Jason Isbell stopped down the concert to deal civilly with the fracas.
But the best part was Isbell’s mix of swear words to let the offending parties know he meant business, and the “aw shucks” authenticity of a guy originally from Muscle Shoals, Alabama that made a rather common concert occurrence into an endearing display of character.
It’s that time of year again when we’re on the verge of hearing who the next class of inductees to the Country Music Hall of Fame will be. Though the date seems to be getting later and later each year (last year it stretched all the way to April 10th—2012 was announced on March 6th), as soon as spring starts to break, you can be assured an announcement is coming soon.
It must be said whenever broaching the subject of the Country Music Hall of Fame that it has been The Hall’s desire over the years to have it be an exclusive institutions when it comes to inductees. Where the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and certain sports seem to throw the barn doors wide and accept all comers, the Country Music Hall of Fame would rather take gruff for who is not in the The Hall as opposed to who shouldn’t be, but is. You can always induct someone in the future, but it’s nearly impossible to throw someone out.
The Country Music Hall of Fame inductees are selected through a committee process appointed by the Country Music Association, or CMA. Since 2010, the selection process has been split up into three categories. 1) Modern Era (eligible for induction 20 years after they first achieve “national prominence”). 2) Veterans Era (eligible for induction 45 years after they first achieve “national prominence”). 3) Non-Performer, Songwriter, and Recording and/or Touring Musician active prior to 1980 (rotates every 3 years). With a musician, Hargus “Pig” Robbins selected in 2012, and a non-performer in “Cowboy” Jack Clement selected last year (though he was a performer and songwriter, it was more for his producer role), it would a songwriter’s turn up to bat this year.
Since 2001, anywhere from 2 to 4 names have been added to the Hall of Fame each year. Usually one name from the above mentioned categories makes it per year, but if no name gets enough of a majority vote, a category may not be represented in a given year. Or, if two names get enough votes from a category, then both may come from that category.
Potential Modern Era Inductees
Last year’s inductee – Kenny Rogers
Ricky Skaggs – Ricky Skaggs is the artist that has felt like he’s been right on the bubble of being inducted over the last couple of years. Skaggs has bookened his career as a mandolin maestro, studied under Bill Monroe, and is now firmly ensconcing himself as a country music elder. In between then, he had tremendous commercial success in the 80′s when country was searching for its next superstar. Few could argue with this pick and Skaggs is very well liked across country music. He was also announced recently as the Country Music Hall of Fame’s “Artist in Residence.” Though there is no official correlation between being named an Artist in Residence and being inducted the next year, that coincidence has happened numerous times, including for last year’s modern era inductee, Kenny Rogers. Skaggs has to be considered a frontrunner.
Ronnie Milsap - Milsap is a name that has probably been on final ballots for the Hall of Fame for going on two decades, and in a couple of years will cycle over to a veteran’s era candidate, if he hasn’t already depending on where you want to start the clock on him. Though his commercial success is unquestionable, the fact that he started outside the genre and found a lot of his success as a crossover star might make him a hard name for voters to pull the trigger on. Having said that, seeing another name who started outside of country and had a lot of his success in the crossover world get inducted last year in Kenny Rogers, might move Milsap one step closer.
Alan Jackson – 2013 was Jackson’s first year of eligibility, and there was a sense he just missed out on being a first year Modern Era inductee like Garth Brooks and Reba McEntire. A huge commercial success in his day who always payed homage to the roots of the genre and the artists who came before him, Jackson is a shoe-in for The Hall eventually, and should be a very strong candidate this year. He’s well-liked, with little to no baggage (there was that whole George Jones “Choices” thing back in 1999 at the CMA Awards, but hey, that was a long time ago). Alan Jackson is a strong contender.
Randy Travis – At this time last year, despite Randy’s fresh eligibility and unquestionable credentials for the Hall, he was facing a string of drunk driving charges, and spinning the unsavory story of trying to bum a cigarette at a gas station naked. In such a crowded field, it was easy to give Travis a pass. But this year the story is much different. After suffering from a heart condition and stroke while in the midst of a strong recovery from his personal issues, Randy Travis has to be considered the sympathy favorite for the distinction. Will it be enough? Maybe not, but Randy will be a frontrunner in the Modern Era until he’s inducted.
Brooks & Dunn – A commercial powerhouse whose career was somewhat overshadowed by the success of Garth and their strange place as a non-familial country duo, their first album Brand New Man sold 6 million copies, and they won the CMA for Vocal Duo of the Year every year but one between 1992 and 2006. Their success is not debatable, but did they have the type of influence it takes to be Hall of Famers this early in their eligibility window, and with this crowded of a field? And does the fact that they’re no longer a functioning act hurt them, or is Kix with his radio work and Dunn with his brewing country revolution still visible enough? A few more names may have to tick off the list before their turn, but they have to be considered contenders.
Other Possible Modern Era Inductees:
- The Oak Ridge Boys – Another Strong Contender
- The Judds
- Dwight Yoakam – You’d think with 25 million records sold, his name would be more associated with this distinction. Maybe in the coming years.
- Keith Whitley – Garth Brooks a couple of years ago said he deserved induction before him.
- Clint Black – If it wasn’t for his career’s disappearing act, his name would be right up there with Travis, Jackson, and Brooks & Dunn
- Toby Keith – Officially eligible because he had his first success in 1993, but probably on the outside-looking-in for the next few years
- Charlie Daniels
- Tayna Tucker
- Crystal Gayle
- Gene Watson
- Mickey Gilley
Potential Veterans Era Inductees
Last year’s inductee – Bobby Bare
Predicting the Veterans Era nominees is notoriously foolhardy because they pull from such a wide field of potential inductees. It’s made one measure harder by a general lack of chatter out there surrounding potential nominees compared to previous years. But here’s a few educated guesses.
Jerry Lee Lewis – He’s a definite possibility for induction, and with the lack of a clear front runner, this might be his year. He may be held back some since he came from rock & roll, and his antics on The Grand Ole Opry and other places over the years. But his contributions as one of country music’s preeminent piano players cannot be denied. If Elvis is in the Country Hall (and he is), his old Sun Studios buddy can’t be counted out.
Jerry Reed – Such a great ambassador over the years for country music from his work with Smokey & The Bandit to Scooby-Doo, but Jerry Reed should be inducted for his stellar and influential work as both a performer, songwriter, and a musician. There weren’t many better guitar pickers back in the day than Jerry Reed. And his work as a session musician with so many of country music’s big names made him a well-known and likable character throughout the genre.
Hank Williams Jr. – It’s somewhat hard to know if Hank Jr. should be considered a Veteran or Modern Era candidate because of the double-era aspect of his career, but he’s a contender either way. However despite his two CMA Entertainer of the Year awards and millions of albums sold, you don’t get the sense it’s his time just yet. Only playing around 18 shows a year these days, and generally being once removed from the moving and shaking of the country genre while he pursues a quasi political career, Hank Jr. could be passed over this year others pushing harder for the distinction.
Lynn Anderson & Dottie West – Lynn and Dottie are the two ladies that likely lead the field for female veteran inductees. Both of these ladies are right on the bubble, as they have probably been for many years. Since there wasn’t a woman inductee last year and there’s no strong female contenders in the Modern Era category, the pressure to include a woman from the veteran field in 2014 might be greater.
The Maddox Brothers & Rose – The Maddox Brothers & Rose was a name that probably wasn’t on many people’s radar until the last couple of years. With their prominent place at the very beginning of the Hall of Fame’s current Bakersfield Sound exhibit, it is hard not to see how important their influence was on country, especially West Coast country, and the flashy dress of country performers that still influences the genre today. It may be a long shot, but if groups like The Jordanaires and The Sons of the Pioneers are in The Hall, certainly The Maddox Brothers & Rose should be. And it would be great to see happen while the final member, the 91-year-old Don Maddox, is still around.
Gram Parsons – Gram’s inclusion here is always a topic of great discussion. In 2013 there was a greater push than ever to induct him, with influential Country Music writer Chet Flippo personally making the case for him, and other chatter that 2013 might be his year. But it wasn’t, and it may be years before it is, but his name is always in the field for this accolade, and looking at the influence Gram had showing millions of rock and roll fans the beauty of country music, it should be.
John Hartford – This is a long shot pick, but he deserves induction. As I said in my prognostications from a couple of year ago, “The Country Music Hall of Fame works like a timeline as you walk through the displays that weave around the massive archive in the center of the building. As you start from the beginning, each artist and their impact is displayed on a plaque that includes their Hall of Fame induction date. When I came to the John Hartford display on my last visit to The Hall this summer, he was the first to have a display, but no Hall of Fame induction date.”
Tompall Glaser & The Glaser Brothers – Probably another long shot, but one that has to be considered a more legitimate contender in 2014 with the passing of Tompall last year. It probably helps that his brothers-in-Outlaw-country-arms Bobby Bare and “Cowboy” Jack Clement were inducted last year, moving folks like Tompall and other Outlaw-esque country music personalities one step closer in the process.
Johnny Paycheck and David Allan Coe – These names come up every year from hard country fans, and are names regularly held up as evidence of the Hall of Fame’s illegitimacy. The simple truth is that with these two performer’s shady pasts, Hall of Fame induction is going to be difficult. Johnny Paycheck has a more distinct possibility than David Allan Coe, because Coe could create a public relations nightmare for the Hall of Fame from people (correct or not) who label Coe a racist, sexist, etc. etc. Patience mixed with persistence is what Coe and Paycheck fans need to see their heroes inducted, as time heals all wounds. One positive sign for them is the induction of Bobby Bare and “Cowboy” Jack Clement last year. This means the CMA committee is willing to pick Outlaw artists and personalities for the Hall, and those two inductions move Paycheck and Coe two steps closer.
Randomly, I also think there’s a strong chance that the next major rotating exhibit at The Hall could be a feature on the Outlaw era of country, which might also give people like Paycheck, Coe, Tompall, and others a chance to be featured at the Hall of Fame beyond induction.
Other Possible Veterans Era Inductees:
- Jimmy Martin
- Vern Gosdin
- Ralph Stanley
- Johnny Horton
- The Browns
- June Carter Cash
- Wynn Stewart
- Jim Ed Brown
Potential Songwriter Inductees
Last songwriter inducted – Bobby Braddock in 2011
The 3rd category rotates between a musician, a non-performer (executive, producer, journalist, etc.), or songwriter on different years. 2014 would be a songwriter year.
Though there may be some artists that would technically qualify for induction under this category like Keith Whitley, Townes Van Zandt, Billy Joe Shaver, or any number of other artists that have extensive songwriting credits, this category is meant for behind-the-scenes songwriters who would never be inducted if not for this category. Though the award might go to someone with a little more modern success as a songwriter to go along with their storied history, here’s two interesting names that deserve strong consideration.
Hank Cochran – Hank would be a worthy inductee, and it just might happen for him as a songwriter of both critical acclaim and commercial success. It can’t hurt that Jamey Johnson also recently release a tribute to Cochran, making him front-of-mind when voters are thinking of songwriters who deserve this distinction. Cochran should be considered a front runner.
John D. Loudermilk – A cousin to The Louvin Brothers that had great commercial success as a songwriter in the 60′s and 70′s, he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1976, and certainly deserves consideration for this distinction. Nonetheless, it’s probably a long shot.
Shel Silverstein would be another interesting name.
Picks and Predictions
Who I Think Will Be Inducted
- Ricky Skaggs or Alan Jackson – Modern Era
- Jerry Lee Lewis, Vern Gosdin, or Jerry Reed – Veterans Era
- Hank Cochran – Songwriter
Who I Think Should Be Inducted
- Ricky Skaggs – Modern Era
- Maddox Brothers & Rose / Tompall & The Glaser Brothers – Veterans Era
- Hank Cochran – Songwriter
When populating a list of the most polarizing personalities in the greater country music world, right near the top would be Eric Church, who has made a career of not shying away from controversy, but careening straight into it, and Shooter Jennings, the son of Waylon whose unusual approach both on and off the stage has won him devout followers and fierce critics.
Though the two artists don’t have any direct affiliations and have never really crossed paths in any significant manner, over the past year, the way their music has been promoted to the public from their respective albums has been very, very similar.
It was the very first thought that entered my head in mid October of 2013 when seeing Eric Church’s first teaser video for his album The Outsiders, set for release on Feb. 11th. The use of a teaser video itself was the initial tipoff. Not that Shooter Jennings was the very first to use teaser videos like he did in the run up to the release of his album The Other Life in early 2013, but the practice has been quite rare, especially in country music. And that was just the very beginning. So many other things that have transpired in Eric Church’s The Outsiders release that so closely parallel the release of Shooter’s The Other Life, that even if it is not purposeful or a “ripoff”, it is remarkable enough to point out nonetheless.
In fairness, even though Eric Church is the man whose name is on The Outsiders publicity material, it is not him alone, if him at all, but filmmakers and other production crew members that are helping him put The Outsiders roll out together, just as Shooter Jennings had a filmmaker named Blake Judd helping him with his project. But the similarities can’t be denied. Let’s take a look at them:
1. The Video Concept
The roll out for Shooter’s The Other Life album was supported by a short film by filmmaker Blake Judd of Judd Films. Teaser videos for the album, and full music videos for some of the songs were pulled from The Other Life film for promotional purposes.
As Shooter Jennings explained to baeblemusic.com, his label Entertainment One was willing to give him a video budget for the album “because they felt like it was more effective to create content … which I totally agree with … [rather than] you know, promoting stuff by just throwing money at radio or whatever.” So instead of making specific videos for individual songs from the album, Shooter and his team decided to make a short film that videos for the songs could be taken from.
The story and film snippets from The Other Life were purposely vague to create attention and intrigue in the project, and hinted to a deeper storyline that would eventually resolve when the full movie and a comic book was revealed. “…so we’re looking at it and we’re like ‘This thing is weird, but it’s cool,’” said Shooter at the time. “We’re sort of unveiling each part of it in a way, but it ends up tying all together very nicely…I think that when you see the whole thing it’s gonna make a little more sense.”
When it came to the roll out of Eric Church’s The Outsiders eight months later, almost the same exact video concept was employed to promote the album, with vague, ambiguous plot lines to create intrigue and hint to a larger narrative, which would eventually resolve once all the videos and the album were released.
“We’ve conceived and conceptualized what these videos are gonna be,” Eric Church told The Boot on January 29th, 2014. “There’s a storyline, so basically everybody you see…all the characters, they each have a story line and they all relate to each other… And we wanted it to be this big mystery, level of intrigue, that just was fun for fans that we could have this thing of trying to figure it out and looking at where clues were.”
2. The Teaser Videos
Both album roll outs used “teaser” videos ahead of the release—short, purposely-incomplete content meant to create interest in the project. Check out the first two teaser videos from the two respective projects: Shooter’s that was released on Jan 1st, 2013, and Eric Church’s that was released on October 13, 2013. Notice the primary elements of both teasers is a vague, disconnected story hinting to a larger narrative, with a dark, surreal vibe. Also notice that the coloring of both videos is very similar—darker, grayscale and sepia tones—and how both teaser videos conclude in a hard cut to black.
3. The Music Videos
After the first round of teaser videos, both Eric Church and Shooter Jennings released full-length music videos ahead of their albums. Shooter released his first video on March 9th, 2013, and Eric released his first on November 1st, 2013. In the two videos below, notice once again how they both have vague, disconnected story lines hinting to a larger narrative to be resolved in the future.
“The eerie resemblance to what Shooter and I created for ‘The Other Life’ campaign is most definitely there,” says filmmaker Blake Judd. “The idea of the teaser trailer and a short film/continual music video series we proudly worked on does seem to have a lot of parallels to what Church is doing. Maybe someone in his camp had this vision and they ran with it or maybe it was Church himself. And maybe they tried to emulate what we did and maybe not. Regardless of it all, the idea of a cross platform campaign; record, film, comic, print, VHS and digital release was something we’d never seen before, and Shooter and I are very proud of it.”
For Eric Church’s part, he told The Boot about the vagueness in his videos, “I don’t understand it either.”
4. The Name “The Outsiders”
The similarities with the video campaigns is one thing, and could be open to many different points-of-view and interpretations, especially depending on how one’s allegiances fall with the two artists. But the naming of the two albums is where the similarity between The Outsiders and The Other Life gets especially strange.
“The Outsiders” is not just the album title and the name of Eric’s lead single, it’s the cohesive theme of the entire Eric Church record and roll out. Interestingly enough, on Shooter’s album The Other Life, there is also a song called “The Outsider.” But it goes even deeper than that.
Originally, Shooter’s The Other Life album was going to be called The Outsider.
In an interview with The Boot on March 19th, 2013, Shooter said, “At first we were going to call [the album] ‘The Outsider’, but once we got into the film we thought, ‘Well, it’s like a mirror, a dark mirror of what ‘Family Man’ was.’” An interview with Shooter Jennings three days later with Rolling Stone starts off with the sentence, “Shooter Jennings may be known for his status spearheading all things outsider in the music world…”
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It is also important to note that previously Eric Church has been accused of mimicking the T-shirt designs and concepts from another independent country music artist, Hank Williams III or Hank3. Interestingly enough, Hank3 once accused Shooter Jennings of stealing his concept and persona when Shooter came out with his first album Put The ‘O’ Back in Country that was very similar to the lyrics of the Hank3 song “Dick In Dixie”.
Also, in August of 2011, Shooter Jennings released a song called “Outlaw You,” calling out the new Outlaws of country, of which Eric Church is considered a part of. Though Shooter Jennings has never said directly that the song was written about Eric Church, he alluded this to Saving Country Music around the release of “Outlaw You.” Even though the song was first released in 2011, it wasn’t until 2013 on Shooter’s album The Other Life that the song was released on an record.
Should Eric Church be accused of ripping off Shooter Jennings? That may be a little harsh. As stated above, Church’s involvement in the video aspect of his album may be limited, and it isn’t as if Shooter Jennings is the first to use a linear video campaign. But what is for sure is that Eric Church’s “The Outsiders” concept is certainly not as novel and original as they would like to have you believe.
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