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I first want to congratulate you as the President of the Academy of Country Music for the continued success of your storied institution, and your ability to extend the ACM’s as a viable and vibrant forum from which country music can be promoted to the masses in an engaging and exciting presentation that stops down America on an annual basis to celebrate what your institution deems is the best talent country music has to offer.
It is in the spirit of wanting to keep the viability and the storied nature of the ACM’s in tact that I write you to address a concern that I, as well as other country music writers and fans have voiced over the eligibility of Big Machine Records artist Justin Moore for the New Artist of the Year award at the 49th Annual awards set to transpire in a month from now.
Please don’t let it come across that I am assuming or alluding that you are not aware of your own rules, because I’m sure you are more aware of the ACM rules than anyone, but it is clearly stated in your voting criteria that artists are not eligible for the New Artist of the Year distinction if they have sold 500,000 copies of a previously released album according to Nielsen Soundscan. Unfortunately Justin Moore, one of the three remaining nominees for New Artist of the Year, has no less than two such albums that have crossed the 500,000 sales threshold: Justin Moore from 2009 with 550,000 copies sold, and Outlaws Like Me from 2011 with 577,000 copies sold, at last count.
I understand you are aware of this concern and specifically addressed it as Saving Country Music and others had asked you to do. And though your statement does help us in establishing both that the Academy of Country Music is aware of this issue, and what the official stance on this issue is by you as the President of the ACM, unfortunately it doesn’t go any further in resolving it.
You told Music Row Magazine, “This decision is in line with our criteria, and the Board’s right to be flexible in our efforts to be inclusive vs. exclusive of a young artist who has had budding success.” But unfortunately, with all due respect, the decision is not in line with your criteria, and though the decision might be inclusive of Justin Moore, it is exclusive of other artists who are indeed eligible under the Academy of Country Music’s eligibility rules that were drafted by the ACM itself.
As for “the Board’s right to be flexible,” I presume you’re referencing the provision in the voting guidelines that states, “The criteria and voting procedures are set forth by the ACM Board of Directors in accordance with the bylaws, and may be amended from time to time as the Board deems appropriate in the best interest of Country music.” However this rule only grants the Board the ability to amend the rules, not break the rules. As Saving Country Music and others have stated throughout the transpiration of this eligibility matter, the Academy of Country Music has every right to amend their own rules, and I and others have encouraged the Academy of Country Music to do so if it sees an issue with the stated criteria for the New Artist of the Year category.
But no such rules changes have been implemented. Furthermore, the Board of Directors for the Academy of Country Music set the precedent for amending rules before announcing nominees in 2009 when the amount of copies an artist must sell to be eligible for the Album of the Year category was reduced to 300,000 so that Jamey Johnson’s critically-acclaimed album That Lonesome Song could be included in the nominations. More importantly, the ACM’s also delayed the announcement of the Album of the Year nominees in 2009 while you and the Board of Directors finalized the rule change, making sure you did not violate your own rules by announcing their nominees too early.
What’s even more concerning in regards to precedent is the one that will be set if the Academy of Country Music Board of Directors unilaterally breaks its established rules instead of amending them, which will happen if the Justin Moore nomination is etched in stone by not resolving it before the awards ceremony on April 6th. Even worse could be the precedent if Justin Moore wins.
What bestows the honor behind the Academy of Country Music trophy is the prestige the ACM has built into the awards over its 49 years of history. The rules behind the awards are the very foundation of the institution and of the awards themselves; they are the framework from which the ceremonious credence in an otherwise inert trophy is bestowed, regularly bringing recipients to tears upon receiving it.
But all of this can be called into question, and the weight with which the awards are regarded diminished if the rules are ignored. And this issue is not just about one specific nominee or recipient in one given year. If the rules are disregarded, that decision could become effusive, and impinge on the integrity of the awards in their entirety, including awards given out in the past and future. Murmurs of block voting and label impropriety have swirled around the ACM Awards for years, and not just from spurious sources and industry gadflies such as myself, but long-term, trusted journalists like radio personality Jimmy Carter, and previous recipients of ACM Awards themselves.
And beyond the rules specifically, Justin Moore, in my opinion and in the opinion of many others, does not pass the ‘eyeball test’ as a ‘New Artist’. If he did, and it was the rules that seemed to be either unfair or non useful, instead of the clear action of breaking of them, then maybe some consensus could build behind making an exception. Ironically, if there is any consensus between the ACM Board, and many of the voices of concern for the rules oversight, it is that Justin Moore, with his clear commercial success, probably does deserve some sort of distinction from the Academy of Country Music in 2014. But it shouldn’t come at the sacrifice of a clear and transparent rules regime put in place to make sure nothing unethical transpires in the process, or the spirit of the ‘New Artist’ award of giving a hand up to a new artist instead of locking one out by including an established artist, which the inclusion of Justin Moore ostensibly does.
Furthermore, with the financial windfall an artist receives for being nominated or winning an Academy of Country Music Award, and the rules oversight in this particular case being both obvious and unprecedented, I think it is fair to ask if there wouldn’t be any legitimate legal grievances by the parties that were replaced by Justin Moore’s illegitimate inclusion in the New Artist category, and/or his potential win of the award.
And so, with nothing but the ACM Awards’ best interests in mind, I plead with the Academy of Country Music to second guess your nomination of Justin Moore for New Artist of the Year. How you wish to resolve the matter specifically is not my place to say. Whether you disqualify Justin, amend the rules in a way that somehow resolves why the amendment wasn’t made before the nominations were announced, or make some other distinction for Justin Moore to be eligible for, something must be done. And if nothing is done, then I and others, as is our journalistic duty, must call into question the legitimacy of the awards themselves.
The ACM Awards have gone 49 years without allowing their rules to be violated. Let’s try to make it 50.
Kyle “Trigger” Coroneos
For the better part of February, Saving Country Music has been following the saga of a concert review published by Baltimore’s alternative newsweekly called the Baltimore City Paper that painted a pretty unfavorable picture of pop country star Jason Aldean. The review in question was written by music reporter Travis Kitchens after attending the Aldean concert at the Baltimore Arena on February 1st. According to Kitchens, he attended the concert with an open mind, wondering if he would “make my traditional folkie friends go crazy” if he actually enjoyed the show. But Travis did not enjoy it, to say the least.
The subsequent posting of the review on February 4th by the Baltimore City Paper has caused a ripple that has shaken the environment of the Baltimore journalism community to its very core, upset huge, nationwide sponsorship companies, and resulted in the censoring of the Kitchens review and potentially subsequent postings by the paper against the will of Kitchens and the paper’s editorial staff. Since then, Baltimore City Paper has been in massive upheaval, with eight employees being laid off, and the rest of the staff being locked out of the paper’s online interface.
The Jason Aldean review was taken down a week after being posted due to pressure from two big advertisers who said they would never advertise in City Paper again if the piece wasn’t pulled. After two days of resisting pressure from upper management and threats against his job, City Paper editor-in-chief Evan Serpick took the review down according to Baltimore Brew. “I’m not proud of it,” says Serpick. “[They said] the review was ‘not objective,’ which was ridiculous, since it was a review. It was opinion, obviously.”
The two sponsors that threatened City Paper were reportedly LiveNationDC who promoted the Jason Aldean concert, and Baltimore-based Under Armour, whose Duck Commander product line is endorsed and promoted by Jason Aldean.
The issue of the Jason Aldean review came up right as Baltimore City Paper was being sold by its parent company, Times-Shamrock Communications, to Baltimore’s daily newspaper, The Baltimore Sun. Apparently Times-Shamrock was told to clean house at City Paper, and eight employees, including a 30-year and 25-year veteran of the publication, were laid off late this week. Other City Paper content has also been censored, and according to numerous sources, the remaining employees of the paper have been locked out of the news blogs, and are being told to forfeit control of the paper’s social network properties.
In the spirit of free speech, and by the request and permission of Travis Kitchens, here is Travis Kitchen’s original review of Jason Aldean’s Baltimore concert of February 1st.
A review of Jason Aldean’s 1/1/14 concert at Baltimore Arena
By Travis Kitchens
Baltimore Arena smelled like the inside of a Spearmint Rhino Saturday night. Reams of rednecks streamed in from every direction across Baltimore Street and it took a half hour to get through the line and inside to will call. They all came to see Jason Aldean. You might not recognize his name, but that’s okay, because you probably wouldn’t recognize his music either, or at least not be able to distinguish it from anything else on country radio.
I grabbed an $11.50 beer, passing booths selling shirts and koozies reading “I’m About To Get My Pissed-Off On,” and lots of Fireball Whisky schwag. Drinking Fireball gives you a slight cinnamon burn in the throat, then travels to the stomach, and, judging from the men’s bathrooms, immediately evacuates the bowels and gut. The puke smell along with loud shitty music and fog machines reminded me of traveling from Kentucky to Florida for Spring Break in high school, and that makes me part of Aldean’s target market.
Tyler Farr, the opening act, looks like Joey Fatone from N’Sync, and he’s only slightly less talented. Farr shuffled around the stage Saturday night with a prop guitar hanging from his neck like a No Limit chain, announcing the chart position of every song before playing it. “Ain’t’ Even Drinkin’” is the I-hope-this-night-never-ends prom song, a teen smash spell hand-crafted in a Nashville laboratory. “Ain’t even drinking but I’m buzzing baby/ain’t even smoking but I’m so stoned/feels like I’m getting lit/ain’t even took a sip/but I’m already gone.”
The crowd was infected, and showed their enthusiasm by gently poking the sky in a circular motion with I-don’t-give-a-fuck faces on. “Whiskey in My Water,” a shitkicker twist on “Me and My Girlfriend,” starts by ripping off the melody of Shooter Jennings’ “Fourth of July.” The artificiality and repetitiveness of his songs may have contributed to the vomit smell, and I felt like I was being subjected to military torture.
Whatever trivial contribution white people may have previously made to rap music has now been permanently nullified by pop country rap duo Florida Georgia Line. The Line was created from the leftover scraps of the Showbiz Pizza band, and they have an impressive number of programs, or songs. Beach balls were dispatched to the audience for “Party People,” and generic video footage playing on four jumbotron monitors above the band illustrated each song: dirt bike races and buggy mudding, video models molesting muscle cars, and giant all-white stadium crowds waving cell phones and American flags. “Gonna get buckwild/get a little buzz on/David Lee Roth style/might as well jump, jump.”
Each song is basically an advertisement performed live for the audience, the most blatant example being “Cruise.” Footage of new Chevy trucks play on the jumbotrons while they sing: “You make me wanna roll my windows down and cruise/down a back road blowin’ stop signs through the middle/every little farm town with you/in this brand new Chevy with a lift kit/would look a hell of a lot better with you up in it.”
Advertising and country music is not a new relationship (Hank Williams shilled for Mother’s Best Flour, etc), but the way it has seeped into the songs and motivations of the artists has reached new and vulgar heights. They mentioned sponsor Fireball Whisky in the song lyrics and several times in between, and said to the roughly 14,000 people in attendance, “You guys truly are life changing.” Considering their latest album has already sold over 1.5 million copies, I would imagine that’s true.
Finally it was time for the headliner, Jason Aldean, whose show was a lot like watching a two hour beer commercial, and I don’t think his fans are unaware of that. You don’t listen to and enjoy Aldean’s music, you take it. It’s a mindless dopamine rush as precise in it’s effects as methamphetamine, and the not-so-subliminal marketing strategy deployed on the audience is as sophisticated as that of a presidential campaign. He struts around the stage with his prop guitar like a rockstar android wiggling his ass in a manner so contrived it makes Madonna look like Miles Davis in comparison. Aldean uses the “Margaritaville” market approach, tailored for the Buckwild generation. His empire is sponsored by Under Armour and Southern Comfort and there’s talk of a new redneck themed restaurant venture called Fly Over Steaks, where patrons are served and sweared at by waiters dressed as the cast of the television show Duck Dynasty (fingers crossed for an Inner Harbor location).
Aldean’s band looks like action figures from Spencers, and play like the American Idol house band. There were occasional flourishes of pedal-steel guitar, along with non-stop ear-splitting bass, a horrifyingly awful attempt at rapping, and brash guitar solos in every song. During “Dirt Road Anthem,” the adults in the crowd air scratched while half-staggering like they’d just had a stroke (imagine your grandma as an extra in the “Nothin’ But A G Thang” video). Aldean also rekindled his ongoing beef with Justin Bieber, this time taking shots at Biebs over who is more influential with hair styles. It was a chilling moment, and it was clear that this crowd did not like Justin Bieber one bit.
But the highlight of the night was Aldean singing a duet with a hologram of Kelly Clarkson. I didn’t know she was a hologram at the time, but I’m now wondering if Aldean was even there, and hoping he wasn’t.
For years, country music and other award shows throughout the industry have been making an aberration of the term “new” when nominating and naming their “New Artist of the Year” awards. Many times the nominees and winners have spent half a decade or more in the music business, and not just as an independent artist slogging through the honky tonks waiting on a deal, but signed to major labels, releasing charting singles and albums, and appearing on industry tours.
The spirit of “New Artist” awards is to help cultivate new talent in the industry, giving the nominees and the winner a hand up in their career. But as we have seen more and more well-established artists crashing the “New Artist” nominee lists over the last few years, it is beginning to become a default category for second-tier industry talent that can’t cut it with the other major awards, but that labels still want to showcase in the awards format.
Such can said to be the case when the Academy of Country Music, or ACM Awards announced their candidates for New Artist of the Year for 2014. The ACM fielded a list of eight candidates, with fans voting on who the final 3 candidates will be. Included in that list are artists like Lee Brice, who signed with Curb Records seven years ago, and Kip Moore, whose been signed to MCA for five. But the most quizzical inclusion to the ACM’s list of “new” artists is Big Machine Records’ Justin Moore.
Forget that Justin Moore signed to Big Machine’s Valory Music imprint in 2008, that he had a #1 single in 2009, and a #1 album in 2011; as first pointed out by Windmills Country, according to the Academy of Country Music’s specifically-stated rules of eligibility for the “New Artist” category, Justin Moore should be disqualified because he’s had not one, but two albums certified gold in previous years—gold albums denoting over 500,00 copies sold.
Here are the eight initial nominees for the ACM New Artist of the Year:
- Lee Brice
- Brett Eldredge
- Tyler Farr
- Justin Moore
- Kip Moore
- Kacey Musgraves
- Thomas Rhett
Though the ACM’s annual naming of performers as “New Artist” nominees may or may not pass the eyeball test, there are actually established rules that govern these matters just to make sure no impropriety takes place.
This award is presented to an outstanding male vocalist, female vocalist, vocal duo or vocal group in the country music industry who gains either initial fame or significantly greater recognition through their efforts during the prior calendar year of November 29, 2012 to November 27, 2013. The artist(s) must have success in digital media; in addition to having charted a single in the Top 40 on Billboard’s Country Airplay (BDS) or Country Aircheck (Mediabase) country charts; and/or selling 100,000 album units reflected in Nielsen SoundScan during the qualifying period. The top eight (8) vote getters determined by a nomination ballot, subject to the approval of the Board, will be considered semi-finalists, with the final three (3) nominees being determined by a combination of votes from the ACM professional membership and fan voting (online). The winner is determined by a combination of votes from the ACM professional membership and fan voting (online).
Okay cool, so nothing in those rules specifically disqualifies Justin Moore, or any other artist from this year’s nominee list. But it is the second provision to the New Artist category that unequivocally disqualifies Justin Moore two times over.
Any solo artist that has sold 500,000 copies of a previously released album (with general exclusions of specialty albums, such as seasonal or live recordings) according to Nielsen SoundScan, are not eligible for this category.
Unfortunately for Justin, his name is on two separate albums that can’t jump this hurdle: His self-titled Justin Moore album released on August 11th, 2009 that has been certified gold with 550,000 copies sold, and Outlaws Like Me released on June 21st, 2011 that has been certified gold with 577,000 copies sold.
In other words, by the Academy of Country Music’s own stated rules, Justin Moore should be disqualified from the 2014 New Artist of the Year Nominee pool.
So the next question would be, how was Justin Moore nominated in the first place? How was this rule overlooked? Did some impropriety transpire between Justin Moore’s label and the Academy of Country Music? Who would have been nominated in Justin Moore’s stead? And is the damage already done, even if Justin Moore is disqualified because of the increased exposure another candidate would have received upon the announcement of the nominees?
And the most important question is, what will the Academy of Country Music to resolve this gross oversight?
(This story has been updated, see below)
A small stuffed toy armadillo may not seem like a big deal to most, but apparently it is a big deal for Willie Nelson and one of the members of his road crew, and they want it back after it walked off after a concert.
At Willie’s show on Thursday, September 19th at the Capital Theater in Port Chester, NY (a northern suburb of NYC), the small stuffed armadillo was stolen off the sound desk backstage by a woman who can be seen in low grade surveillance footage from the show (see below). The armadillo is affectionately known as O’ Dillo, and it is the property of Aaron Foye, Willie’s monitor engineer. More notably, O’Dillo is a beloved mascot of the Willie Nelson crew, and his kidnapping stimulated a message to Willie fans through his social networks.
Someone stole Aaron’s Armadillo from the sound desk backstage on Sept 19 at the Capital Theater (149 Westchester Ave, Port Chester, NY 10573) Did you go to the show? Did you work the show? Help us find the WOMAN in this video who stole him.
Armadillos are small armored mammals that rarely exist outside of Texas, and are considered an affectionate symbol of the Lone Star State. When Willie Nelson left Nashville for Texas in the 70′s and helped stimulate the Austin, TX music scene and country’s Outlaw movement, the epicenter of the movement was a club known as the Armadillo World Headquarters.
Anyone who knows the whereabouts of O’ Dillo is asked to contact Willie Nelson’s management, or can contact us here at Saving Country Music, and we’ll do our best to see it gets returned to its rightful owner.
(9/27/13 8:30 PM CDT): According to theater manager Tom Bailey at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, NY, O’Dillo has been returned. The toy was returned to the theater’s box office in a sealed box. It was not the same woman who can be seen on the video below taking the animal, and the woman did not identify herself. Tom Bailey says they believe they know who stole the Armadillo, but Willie’s monitor engineer Aaron Foye has decided to not press charges.
For years now, around the June 15th birthday of Waylon Jennings, local groups of Waylon fans in various parts of the country have come together to celebrate the music and legacy of Waymore in “Waylon Birthday Bashes.” Last year, a handful of local Waylon Birthday Bashes united to raise money for The Waylon Fund, a part of the T Gen Foundation whose goal is to end the debilitating disease of diabetes that Waylon suffered from for many years.
This year, the amount of local Waylon Birthday Bashes working to help The Waylon Fund has doubled, with 18 separate events in 9 different states set to transpire over a span of 10 days, including some multi-day events like the Waylon Jennings Festival in Whiteface, TX. Funds from the birthday bashes support research at TGen that uses information about the human genome to find new treatments and hopefully a cure for the 26 million Americans afflicted with the debilitating disease.
“It is a great honor for TGen to be a part of the legacy of a true music legend and the Waylon Birthday bashes that are sweeping the nation,” says Michael Bassoff, President of the TGen Foundation. “We are thrilled that so many of Waylon’s fans are joining TGen’s fight against the disease that took his life.”
Joining The Waylon Fund in sponsoring many of the Waylon Birthday Bashes is Texas-based Shiner Beer, Phoenix-based Swift Transportation, and Arizona-based Zia Record Exchange, where people can donate at any of their 8 store locations – 4 in Phoenix, 2 in Tucson, and 2 in Las Vegas.
“Waylon Jennings plays a big role in the cultural history of Phoenix,” says Dana Armstrong whose organizing the Phoenix Waylon Bash at the Crescent Ballroom on June 15th. “His fan base here started while he was playing the local clubs in the ’60s, and it continues to grow today. Celebrating his life and contribution to our community while supporting research at T Gen is a win-win for us.”
Below is a list of the participating Waylon Birthday Bashes, and if you can’t make one, you can still contribute to The Waylon Fund.
Chad Ware Band
Leslie Anne Sloan
David Van Langen
- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - -
June 7-8, 2013
Jason Boland and the Stragglers
Eric Strickland & The ‘B’ Sides
The Rowdy Johnson Band
Jackson Taylor and the Sinners
Sergio and the Outta Luck Band
Black Dutch Show
Creed Fisher and the Redneck Nation Band
- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -
Los Angeles, California
Midnight Rider Presents Country My Ass
June 9, 2013, 7 PM – 2 AM
Ted Russell Kamp
RT and the 44s
Rachel Dean and Ryan Norman
Andrew Sheppard & The Gallivants
DJs Mitra Khayyam (Midnight Rider) and Justin
- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - -
Levi Lowrey & The Antique Rodeo Show
Reynolds and Williams Band
- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - -
Honky Tonk Throwdown
PJ’s Lager House
May 10-11-12, 2013
Billy Don Burns
Behind the Times
Horse Cave Trio
If Birds Could Fly
Fifth on the Floor
Crooked Little Reasons
Jeremy Porter and the Tucos
Dock Ellis Band
John Holk and the Sequins
- – - – - – - – - – - – - -
Cole Dillow Band
- – - – - – - – -
Floores Country Store
June 14, 2013
- – - – - – - – - – - – - – -
The Green Frog
June 14, 2013
& special guests.
Johnny Waco and
at 7:30 p.m
- – - – - – - – - – - – - -
The Tractor Tavern
June 14, 2013
The Outlaw (Waylon Tribute)
Jeff Fielder and his Redheaded Stepchildren (Willie Nelson Tribute)
Special Guests TBA
- – - – - – - – - – - – - – -
The Rowdy Johnson Band
The Tony Martinez Band
Larson Parks Band
Johnny Dixon (MC)
DJ Johnny Volume
- – - – - – - – - – - – - – -
New York, New York
June 15, 2013
Sean Kershaw & NY Country All-Stars
- – - – - – - -
Oneonta, New York
June 15, 2013
and more TBA
- – - – - – - – - – - – - – -
Fraternal Order of Eagles Aerie 3263
June 15, 2013
T. Graham Brown
Waylon & Willie Tribute
- – - – - – - – - – - – - – -
Super Waylon Open Jam!
- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - -
Asheville, North Carolina
June 15, 2013
Andy Buckner and Southern Soul Campaign
Blue Jeans & Khaki Pants
Hawks & Arrows
- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - -
June 15, 2013
Jubal Lee Young
Matt Harlan and Rachel Jones
- – - – - – - – - – - – - -
June 16, 2013
- – - – - – - – - – - – -
June 27, 2013
Creedence Clearwater Revisited
When Billboard announced new rules on how the songs on their “Hot 100″ country chart would be tabulated, it caused a tizzy amongst folks who pay attention to these sorts of things. But the average Joe fans out there may have a little trouble understanding why the issue is something they should care about, and how it could negatively affect the music they enjoy. Make no mistake about it, I and many other folks who keep an eye on music charts as part of our jobs believe that these new rules could cause the largest wholesale power shift to superstars that music has ever seen, while sending the already existing trend of genres coagulating into on big mono-genre into hyperspeed.
There are many losers in the new Billboard format, and what I have been struggling with since they were announced is to name the winners. On the surface, they are the superstar names like Taylor Swift and Mumford & Sons, but at the same time the new rules take away the power of these artists to control the amount of attention their music receives over time. The new rules render the the music “single” virtually irrelevant since they include digital download data for songs that haven’t been released in single form.
Below are detailed explanations of how the new Billboard chart rules could affect you as a music fan.
As Fans of Major Country Music Stars with No Crossover Appeal
Not just small, up-and-coming artists will be affected by the new rules. Huge, major country music mega-franchises are feeling the effects already. Taylor Swift songs rocketed up the charts to #1, #2, and #10 when the rules were implemented, while Miranda Lambert’s latest single “Fastest Girl In Town” for example went for #9 to #16, Jason Aldean’s “Take A Little Ride” went from #1 to #5, and Toby Keith got knocked out of the Top 25 all together.
If the new rules hold, you can almost guarantee labels and artists will begin to produce more “crossover” songs to take advantage of the revised format, meaning more pop-oriented country songs, more pop songs that call themselves country, and more non-country artists “going country” to take advantage of the new rules.
Meanwhile artists as far ranging as George Strait and Alan Jackson, to Justin Moore and Brantley Gilbert will have trouble getting their singles to attain chart success. Only artists with crossover appeal, or top tier superstar artists who can really drive digital sales will get any advantage from the new format, and will likely completely monopolize the chart with most or all of the songs off a new album once it is released, just like Mumford & Sons is doing in rock right now (see below), and Taylor Swift will do in a couple of weeks when she releases her new album Red.
It is a very real possibility that upon Red’s release, Taylor Swift will own every single top spot on Billboard’s country chart. Literally she could have #1 thru #16 sewed up because of the amount of downloads the songs and album will receive upon release.
Mainstream artists still in the developmental phase of their career can pretty much kiss goodbye any chance of having a breakout single rocket up the charts. The top of the charts will be so locked down with crossover artists, and the middle of the charts filled with names that used to be at the top, it will be nearly impossible to break through. The one exception seen on the charts so far is Florida Georgia Line’s song “Cruise”. Florida Georgia Line, like Taylor Swift, is signed to Big Machine Records, clearly one big winner under the new rules, at least on the surface.
As Fans Of Independent/ Underground Music
I bristle at the idea that none of this matters to folks who don’t listen to the radio or mainstream music, that this is a bunch of hubbub not worth caring about because their favorite bands don’t have a shot on the charts anyway. That’s like saying you don’t care that 20% of the country doesn’t have jobs because you do. If you are a fan of music, and music being better than worse, then these rules will effect you. Sure, not everybody needs to get exercised over the issue or get involved if that’s not their thing, but to get annoyed that other people are or to act like the issue is irrelevant is an exercise in musical elitism.
Everyone has a right to good music, and every artist with true artistic talent has a right to make a living off that music. Fair, equitable charts are one tool to help make that possible. Charts that pander to incumbent superstars and crossover material get in the way of talent development and discovery by both fans and industry.
And the truth is, Billboard’s charts do matter to many of independent/underground fans’ favorite artists. When Hank Williams III’s Damn Right, Rebel Proud debuted at #2 on Billboard, upstaging albums from Taylor Swift and Darius Rucker, this was a huge victory for underground country. Red Dirt albums from folks like Cody Canada and Jason Eady have recently received chart play, and the elevated name recognition from both fans and industry the accolade conveys. Maybe one of the best feel good stories in country music in 2012 is Will Hoge’s song “Even If It Breaks You Heart” that became a #1 hit for Eli Young Band. This song and many others written by honest, hard working, and relatively obscure songwriters will likely never get the recognition they did before under the new format.
The royalties a small-time songwriter can receive even off of one song can set them up for life. It can take a struggling artist from being poor and having to work part-time jobs, to being able to make moderate living off of music. It can also take a musician already making a moderate living off of music to the point where they can afford to raise a family, pay for health health insurance, own instead of rent their home, etc. And I don’t want to hear anyone say they want their favorite artists to stay poor so they continue to write good songs. Being poor should be a choice for an artist to make if they decide that is where they draw their inspiration from, not some benevolent state-of-being foisted upon them by the industry.
The fight might not be yours and that’s fine. But that doesn’t mean the fight is not worth waging to make the overall music world a better place.
As Fans of Rock, R&B/Hip-Hop, Latin, & Other Genres
That’s right, the counting of crossover radio plays isn’t just affecting country, but other genres as well. You thought Taylor Swift benefited from a chart boost under the new rules? Rihanna’s song “Diamonds” went from #66 on the R&B/Hip-Hop chart before the changes, all the way to #1. Why? Because it is being played on pop radio too.
And the same monopolizing of charts that we see in country with Taylor Swift is happening in the rock charts, only worse. Mumford & Sons have the #5, #10, #11, #12, #13, #14, #15, #19, #20, #21, #22, #23 songs on the rock chart right now. Literally every song on their new album Babel is charting. This is based on the strength of digital downloads, but only one of the songs, “I Will Wait” has actually been released as a single.
As Fans of Taylor Swift
Oh, so you think that Taylor Swift is the big winner under this new system? In some respects she is, but in others this brings the country pop princess under renewed scrutiny.
First off, Taylor Swift doesn’t need the additional attention having multiple songs at the top of the country charts brings her. She’s already in the public eye, enjoying the utmost exposure any artist will ever get from media. Her new album Red will be the best-selling debut in 2012, trust me, and probably by 200,000-400,000 copies.
So what does Taylor Swift’s chart success bring her? Additional scrutiny. What are the two big knocks on Taylor Swift? That she can’t sing and she’s not country; the latter already at the top of public debate because she released a succinctly pop song and another “dub-step-inspired” tune off her new album. Taylor Swift doesn’t have to worry about creating exposure for herself, she has to worry about managing the exposure she’s already getting, lest that exposure turns into overexposure, backlash, and burnout of her brand. The new system doesn’t allow her to do that because it takes away the power of the radio single.
Numerous times in the past, Taylor Swift’s career has been diagnosed with overexposure. This happened with Taylor shortly after the 2010 Grammy Awards; the whole off-pitch singing situation with Stevie Nicks that led to her panning by critics across the country and her writing the song “Mean”. Afterwards, even the “Country Music Anti-Christ,” Taylor’s label owner Scott Borchetta admitted she was over-exposed, and was happy she was headed to Australia for a tour, and then on a hiatus from the public eye.
The Australian dates had been planned all along, but it actually worked out great…as far as the talking head of Taylor Swift, that one’s gone into hiding for a little bit, at least on this continent.
Another overexposure moment happened in September of 2009 when Kanye West accosted Swift at the MTV Awards. Just in August, Spencer Cain of StyleCaster asked if Taylor Swift has become overexposed from her previous episodes and her recent headlines for dating an 18-year-old Kennedy son.
When Taylor Swift’s new album Red is released and every single song charts under the new Billboard protocols, it could cause massive negative exposure to Taylor Swift’s career. Meanwhile the benefits Taylor Swift receives from her chart success are only parliamentary, etching her name as the best-selling songstress of this moment in time, but not effecting her sales, or her success overall.
On Thursday Oct. 4th, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean announced plans to permanently locate the Songwriters Hall of Fame to the new Music City Center, the behemoth convention center and hotel complex in downtown Nashville being built right beside the Country Music Hall of Fame. It was announced previously that the Country Hall Of Fame would be connected to Music City Center and have some shared space between the two buildings. Now the Songwriters Hall of Fame whose home has been virtual up to this point, will have a permanent place as part of the project.
But there is an important wrinkle to this story that is going unreported.
As important of an institution as the Songwriters Hall of Fame is, it may not be the most deserving of a spot in Music City Center. If all things were equal, that opportunity would go to the Musicians Hall of Fame: the institution that was imminent domained by the City of Nashville and given a week to remove its artifacts before being bulldozed to make way for the new building. And more importantly, the Musicians Hall of Fame was the one initially promised the space.
The Musicians Hall of Fame opened in June of 2006 just across 4th St. from the Country Hall of Fame in Nashville, with the charter of showcasing the unsung heroes of music: the musicians behind the big names, and the big names that are excellent musicians as well. Though located in Nashville, the Musicians Hall of Fame didn’t showcase just country music, but all genres, and hosted music lessons and workshops, as well as private events in their museum space.
When plans were launched for the new Music City Center complex, it was determined by the City of Nashville that the Musicians Hall of Fame had to go. Nashville initially reached out to the institution and offered them a space in the new building.
“We were told that they would provide us a place to go for free while the construction was goin’ on for the convention center for the next three years, and then we would move into the new convention center,” says Joe Chambers, the founder and CEO of the Musicians Hall Of Fame. “They brought plans over, they had the plans drawn out for us.”
Where things went south was when the city’s appraiser valued the Musicians Hall of Fame land for $4.8 million, half of what a private appraiser, and the same appraiser that evaluated the property when the Musicians Hall of Fame bought it in 2003 valued it at; $9.8 million. When Chambers refused the City of Nashville’s discounted offer, Nashville took the matter to the courts and had the property seized through governmental fiat. Then the Musicians Hall of Fame was only given 7 days to vacate the 30,000 sq. ft. of space filled with the museum’s priceless artifacts.
This is where the story gets worse.
Since the Musician’s Hall Of Fame was a museum with no home, they were forced to put all of their artifacts in storage. Then in the middle of May, 2010, when downtown Nashville experience historic flooding, the storage place housing the museum’s artifacts was flooded, destroying many of the priceless instruments, including the first drum ever played on the Grand Ole Opry, the upright bass played in Hank Williams’ last recording session, and guitars from people such as Jimi Hendrix, Peter Frampton, and Johnny Cash.
Eventually the Musicians Hall of Fame did find a new home a mile down the road at the Nashville Municipal Auditorium. The Hall of Fame will be housed in the building’s basement, and the name of the building is being changed to “Musicians Hall of Fame at the Municipal Auditorium” but this is no gift from the City of Nashville. The Hall of Fame is having to lease the space from the city instead of owning it like the previous location. They also must pay for all the expenses due to the name change of the auditorium.
The good news is the Musicians Hall Of Fame did eventually find a new home, and one that still exists in downtown Nashville. The Musicians Hall Of Fame is still not open at its new site. Its website says the hope to open sometime later in 2012. Calls and emails to them from Saving Country Music for comment were not immediately returned.
The question that citizens of the City of Nashville and citizens of the music community should be asking is how did the Songwriters Hall Of Fame and the Musicians Hall Of Fame get swapped in the Music City Center project? If there is enough room for a hall of fame on the premises, why would the preference not go to the one initially promised the space, and whose home got razed in the construction?
No offense to the Songwriters Hall Of Fame. It is great they finally have a physical home, and it appears that the Musicians Hall Of Fame is happy with their location at the municipal auditorium, and that the city is working with them to attempt to make it right. But with the announcement of the Songwriters Hall Of Fame being part of the Music City Center complex, if feels like an injustice has been done to the Musicians Hall Of Fame. Once again.
Let’s not mince words: Eric Church is a two-faced prick. He’s cheesed off more of the mainstream country establishment than he hasn’t, and not for good reasons, but for being rude, arrogant, and at times hypocritical. And then there’s the whole thing where he swears he’s not an Outlaw, but then sells shirts that say that he is.
But the job of any honest music reviewer is to divest any off-stage drama or personal feelings about a man from his music. I’m still being nailed to the cross in some circles for giving Eric’s album Chief 1 1/2 guns up. Much of that positive review stemmed from the strength of this song.
Let’s first get the most obvious complaint out of the way. “Creepin’” isn’t country, it’s a rock song with some country-inspired elements. In parts it’s driven by arena rock riffs, and the chorus comes across as a little obvious. Just because something is rock though doesn’t mean it’s wrong, it just means it is mischaracterized in the country format.
The catch-all, stock argument made against folks that complain that rap, rock, and pop influences are encroaching too heavily into the country genre is to say that country must evolve. Eric Church has made that argument himself in the boldest of terms when he wrote the song “Country Music Jesus”, inspired by an article on Saving Country Music.
There’s this writer, at the time that kinda had written a critique of the new country Outlaw movement. Said something about “I wish all these new guys would do it like the old guys did it, and make the same music, the same way, over and over.”
Of course this is an erroneous take of Saving Country Music’s stance. Many times adding influences from genres outside of country results in devolution of the music because the motivation is to make the music appeal to the widest possible audience by attaining the lowest common denominator. Of course country music must evolve, and it has been in the independent, Americana, and underground country worlds for years to the general ambivalence of the mainstream.
But none of this has to do with “Creepin’”. In the mainstream of a genre that has grown stale with laundry list cliche songs, gimmicky pop and country rap fare, and droning adult contemporary ballads, Eric Church and “Creepin’” display bold, creative leadership. This song takes chances. There’s few “sensibilities” here, no resorting to the easy avenues of country lyrics delivered in rap pentameters, or overt pop elements to draw a bigger crowd. Instead there is striking out in uncharted mainstream country territory.
“Creepin’” has a very catchy, rhythmic base, but adds a depth dimension by layering and texturing the rhythms with different tones and instrumentation. This gives it a sort of epic, evolving, breathing nature. By Eric Church mouthing the hook of the song at the very beginning, it’s almost like he’s saying, “Okay, here’s the starting point. Now watch what we do with this.”
Country purists will be bemoan Eric’s moderate, but obvious use of vocal filters and loops, but the approach of these sonic tools is to replicate and emphasize decay as opposed to let’s say Auto-tune meant to deceive by feigning perfection. Eric’s employment of technology is more akin to megaphones and moog than drum loops and synth, and it is well-balanced. Any more and it would have eroded any “roots” in this song, any less and the spatial, trippy nature he envisioned may not have been realized. This is no different than what Emmylou Harris did on Wrecking Ball some 17 years ago, just this song may receive widespread radio play.
Lyrically “Creepin’ is refreshingly ambiguous and fey; subtle and oozy where it can crawl into the contours the mind of each individual listener to be interpreted differently by different perspectives. As Church told the Rolling Stone:
It’s a lot deeper than some people think. It’s really about this guy who’s haunted by a ghost of some sort, the main female character. What you don’t know is she’s the one feeding the coal that makes this train get crazier and go farther and take him back through all these memories.
None of this is easy to translate to the physical representation needed for a video, but that’s exactly what Eric Church does in this gritty, train-themed cinematic-style short.
Eric Church has a large army of detractors that will look at this video, see his little rat-looking face and won’t care what transpires next; they won’t like it. And with all of his off-stage extra-curricular activity, it’s hard to blame anyone with an anti-Eric Church reactionary prejudice, or wonder why some will say “Creepin’” is Eric exploiting underground influences for mainstream fare.
I certainly don’t have much love for the guy and certainly don’t find the appeal in many of his songs. But he struck gold here, however intentional or accidental, and it’s good to see some substance finally “creep” onto mainstream country radio, even if it’s really rock.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
(This story has been updated)
Mississippi blues legend T Model Ford, who became a roots icon along with R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, and many other older blues artists from Mississippi through Fat Possum Records, has suffered a stroke. This is not the first stroke T Model has suffered, but the people around him were describing the always-jovial, 90+ years-old blues player’s spirits as “uncharacteristically low.” Since then his health and spirits have improved some.
T Model was admitted to Greenwood Leflore Hospital in Greenwood, MS over the weekend after suffering a stroke, or possibly a series of strokes. According to T Model’s wife Miss Stella, initial tests indicated some serious blockages, and T Model was to undergo angioplasty and start physical therapy. However, because of his age and general health, angioplasty was taken off the table. Since then his health “…has improved a bit and has regained partial use of his right hand and can walk a bit using a walker,” according to family friend Randy Magee. Today, (Wednesday 5-23) family friend Roger Stolle reports that T Model was scheduled to be discharged from the hospital and sent to a physical therapy facility closer to his home.
Family friend Randy Magee visited T Model Ford at King’s Daughter’s Hospital in Greenville, MS yesterday, 5/25 and reports:
T says he’s doing fine folks. He had just come from physical therapy and his lunch came shortly afterwards… let’s just say loss of appetite IS NOT among T’s problems. He showed me that he could move his right arm, hand and fingers, but confided that he couldn’t remember how to play his guitar. He was telling me that he’d forgotten how to sing and a speech therapist came in to start working with him. I gave Stella some cash that some friends from the Netherlands sent for T and left him with the therapist as he already had a room full of family there.
T Model Ford, born James Lewis Carter Ford is the last surviving blues man from the original crop of artists the label Fat Possum Records sought out to make records of and preserve their sound beginning in 1992 from the North Mississippi region. He regularly tours with the Seattle blues band GravelRoad, and is scheduled to play this year’s Muddy Roots Festival. T Model’s actual age is unknown, though it is thought he was born sometime between 1921 and 1925. He recorded 5 albums for Fat Possum from 1997-2008, until moving to Alive NaturalSound Records. T Model’s sound along with the other North Mississippi blues legends has been given credit for inspiring the sounds from artists like The Black Keys and Scott H. Biram.
The Ford family is seeking donations to help with expenses. Information on where to donate can be found below. The Saving Country Music donate button has also been activated in the top right column of the site, so folks wishing to donate through paypal can do so there.
SEND DONATIONS DIRECTLY TO BANK:
424 Washington Ave
Greenville, MS 38701
OR MAIL CARDS, CHECKS, ETC. TO HOME:
443 South 7th Street
Greenville, MS 38703
This upcoming June 15th would have been Waylon Jennings’ 75th birthday. The Littlefield, TX native died in 2002 from complications with diabetes, a disease he battled for years. Waylon fans have been celebrating Waylon’s birthday in informal “Waylon bashes” for years, from back porch picking sessions to full blown concert events in and around Waylon’s birthday. This year, The Waylon Fund, an extension of the TGen Foundation that is searching for a cure for diabetes is bringing a national focus to Waylon’s birthday bashes by organizing these various Waylon tributes into a national benefit.
From Nashville to New York, from Detroit to Seattle, fans will be getting together to raise funds for diabetes research and to pay tribute to one of country music’s biggest Outlaws. From Billy Don Burns to Shooter Jennings, from Rachel Brooke to Jackson Taylor, bands and artists will be giving of their time to help out a good cause.
“We have a built-in Waylon fan base here who are happy to support a progressive diabetes research fund in his name,” says Dana Armstrong the local organizer for the Waylon tribute scheduled for June 17 at the Yucca Tap Room in Tempe, AZ. “We have held Waylon tribute nights in the past, and if we can raise awareness and some funds for TGen in this way, I know we will have a good time doing it. Waylon’s music and pioneering spirit have always been influential to Valley Fever, and you’ll see that in a lot of the bands that play here…”
Support for The Waylon Fund from the 8 different tributes around the country happened organically. The idea started when one of Waylon’s relatives in his hometown in Littlefield contacted TGen to see if the birthday bash they were planning in nearby Whiteface, TX could go to benefit the foundation. Soon volunteers and organizers were popping up all over the country, ready and willing to help with the cause, including Muddy Roots that will be throwing the birthday bash in Nashville at Robert’s Western World, and the 3-day Honky Tonk Throwdown in Detroit.
And if you can’t make it to one of these benefits, you can do the next best best thing: put on a Waylon record and donate online.
Current List of Waylon Bashes benefiting The Waylon Fund:
Whiteface, Texas – June 16, 2012
The Rowdy Johnson Band
William Clark Green
Jackson Taylor and the Sinners
Sergio and the Outta Luck Band
- Billy Don Burns
- Chelsea Crowell
- Clark Patterson
- Rachel Brooke
- Bull Halsey
- The Orbitsuns
- The Howling Diablos
- Horse Cave Trio
- Paul Lamb and the Detroit Breakdown
- JJ and the BTs
- Crooked Little Reasons
- Alison Lewis
- Ryan Dillaha
- Afternoon Round
- Desolation Angel
- Pat V & The Detroit 3
- Matt Dmits
- Switchblade Justice
- Bixy Lutz
Tempe, Arizona – Valley Fever Country Music Night
Yucca Tap Room – June 17, 2012
Seattle, Washington – High Dive – June 15, 2012
The Outlaws (a Waylon tribute)
Jeff Fielder’s Redheaded Step Children
Plus special guests!
Houston, Texas – Firehouse Saloon – June 16, 2012
Nashville, Tennessee – Robert’s Western World
June 17, 2012 – 6-10 p.m.
The Silver Threads
Special guests to be announced
New York, New York – The Wayland – June 15, 2012
(More info coming soon!)
Crestview, Florida -Don’s Ice House
June 15-16, 2012
(more details coming)
Yesterday Saving Country Music took exception to a photo blog posted by CNN depicting “the everyday lives of Appalachian people” with photos of KKK members, burning crosses, snake preachers, and other subversive subjects taken by photographer Stacy Kranitz. After learning that Kranitz was distancing from CNN’s take on her photos, we reached out to her and she provided us with the statement below.
Apparently CNN chose some of the most extreme 16 photos of a 77 of photo essay that is part of a multi-year project still in the development stage, that was never meant to depict Appalachia’s “everyday people”, and instead ironically was meant to “demystify” stereotypes.
Please take time to check out the complete Old Regular Mountain Project.
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CNN chose the most extreme photographs and I did not know that they would do this until I woke up yesterday morning to see it published like everyone else.
I think people are rightfully angry. I am disgusted to see the words ”the everyday lives of appalachian people” next to images of the KKK. That is a real insult to the region as is the reductive edit of my work and I understand why people are so offended by it.
I do not see what I have photographed as a look at “the everyday lives of appalachian people” as CNN has claimed, Nor is that written anywhere in the CNN interview questions I answered or on my website.
I hope you take time to look at the 77 images and see that CNN chose only the most salacious ones to drive traffic to the website.
For this project I sought out the stereotypes and photographed them so that I could then offer a counter to them. That is what the project is about. It is meant to be a dialogue about stereotypes: the mythology they create, their value and their role in society and how they factor into the representation of place. It seemed the furthest from possible that CNN knowing my interest in both seeking out and demystifying stereotypes would make an edit of only the stereotypes. What they did is the opposite of what I am trying to do.
I made clear to CNN that the work was in the very early stages of a multi-year project and when pressed by CNN to come to an authoritative conclusion about the people of Appalachia I wrote.
“Unfortunately I am not yet at a place with this work where I have a handle on everything I am trying to say. I am just a traveler exploring new territory with the desire to be able to share my own experiences in an unfamiliar terrain …. I’m not entirely convinced that I will ever truly understand what I seek out but the work is about the process, the attempt to understand.”
I take full responsibility for being so naive as to trust that CNN was interested in my work and the process I go through to make photographs that question an outsiders ability to represent place.
I am truly sorry.
Things can be better.
As Texans, we are tired of every March being misrepresented by the madness South by Southwest creates. As citizens of Austin and surrounding areas, we want our city back. As fans and supporters of music, we want a better solution. As musicians, we want to be treated better.
SXSW is fueled in part by the broken dreams of America’s musicians. As a “pay to play” event, it is funded by the dreams that many artists have of attaining stardom or super stardom, when only a very select few will even be able to make a living playing music. Under the suggestion of what SXSW can offer, they make artists go through rigorous, bordering on egregious procedures and protocols, and make them deal with logistical, time, and parking nightmares no human would normally be asked to navigate.
The process can be even harder, and more expensive for patrons and media. Though many of the musicians are not getting paid, patrons are asked to spend upwards of 4 figures for access to the artists, on top of bloated prices for hotels, food, and other everyday expenses, and even then sometimes that access is denied for “exclusive” reasons by a corporate bureaucracy that many times seems unintuitive and unfair.
In short, deciding to be a part of the official SXSW festivities is deciding to give up your civil rights for a short period. This is especially true for citizens and business owners within the SXSW corridor whose space, infrastructure, and lives are commandeered by the event whether they like it, or agree to it or not.
The truth of the matter is the SXSW organization wants the event to be madness, because without gates, people problems are the only way they can control the scope or the amount of people attending the event. This is also one of the reasons SXSW is so slow at responding to concerns, if responding at all. In fairness to SXSW, they have created many priceless music experiences for people over the years, and the expansion of non-sanctioned SXSW events has added to the evolving logistical nightmare. However many of the non-sanctioned events are the result of the collusive, industry-driven oligarchical organization that makes up SXSW, and the wrongful way they deal with artists, media, and patrons.
The idea of XSXSW is to re-focus the event on music and people, to rekindle the spirit of the Austin music scene, as well as civic and Texas pride by using music to renew community, infrastructure, and people, instead of taxing them to their limits. Will XSXSW be prefect? Of course not, but our commitment is to try to be better, to listen to artists and patrons, to put people first, to attempt to innovate, and find new ways to bridge artists, fans, and media. Artists deserve to be paid. Fans deserve access to the music at a reasonable price. Money should go to music, not bloated infrastructure and branding.
And the focus should not be on a broken promise of stardom, but a path of sustainability for talented artists.
XSXSW may look tiny, or even silly in size and scope compared to SXSW. But in the coming years we hope to make enough noise to at least make them listen.
We ask for your help.
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On Wednesday (11-30), Tim McGraw won his initial country battle with Curb Records according to The Tennessean. Tim is still under contract with Curb, and his album Emotional Traffic still does not have a release date, but McGraw is now free to record new music with another label, or independently. McGraw’s attorney says he’s “very happy.”
The full trial will take place in July, where the fate of McGraw’s album and contract will be decided. — ***UPDATE***UPDATE***UPDATE***
On Wednesday, Tim McGraw will be in a Tennessee courtroom as part of the opening salvo in his bid to leave his contract with Curb Records, get his album Emotional Traffic released, and be able to record new music with a new label. Like with so many Curb artists before, the label is holding the album up, asserting that Emotional Traffic‘s content is not “topical” because it was recorded too soon after McGraw’s previous album, and that he owes them another album beyond the contract he signed with them now some 20 years ago. McGraw is countersuing, saying that by Curb refusing to release the last album on his contract, they are keeping him in a state of “involuntary servitude.”
The irony that Curb Records would be opposed to releasing music because it is too old is so thick you could cut it with a knife. Curb Records on many occasions has made artists wait up to 5 years between album releases, much longer than the 1 to 2 year turnaround most labels subscribe to, causing recorded material regularly to sit on the Curb shelves for years before it is released. They also have a long and storied history of taking old material from artists, and presenting it as new. And to even further the irony, the content of Emotional Traffic only gets older the longer they hold the album back with litigation. And make no mistake, though Curb may be criticizing the tracks of Emotional Traffic right now, at some point, Curb will release Emotional Traffic, either in original form, or with the songs presented in a different context.
I’m no Perry Mason, but I thought I would offer the Tim McGraw defense team a little pro bono research work on how Curb Records itself has set a legal precedence that disproves it’s own case. Over the years, by not only regularly releasing older music, but many times releasing music many years after it was recorded as a purposeful practice, proves that Curb is not worried about the “topical” nature of material, but rather trying to stretch another album out of Tim’s record deal.
Hank Williams III – Hillbilly Joker aka This Ain’t Country
In the early 2000′s Hank Williams III turned in what was supposed to be his second album on his Curb deal called This Ain’t Country, a rock or “hellbilly” album. Curb refused to released the album, saying the content was not “topical,” and shelved it, not allowing Hank3 to release it independently, on another label, or even in bootleg form. After Hank3 left Curb at the beginning of 2011, Curb released the nearly 10-year-old album under the name Hillbilly Joker, and not only released it, but presented it as new material, with a marketing push that included end caps in stores that inferred it was a country album instead of rock. The album made the Billboard Country Top 10, and left many customers angry, thinking they were buying a new album of country material, not a 10-year-old rock album.
The release of Hillbilly Joker after Curb played the “not topical” card meant they squeezed an additional album out of Hank3′s contract; the same exact tactic they are trying with Tim McGraw now. It also helped trump Hank3′s actual release of new post-Curb music a couple of months later.
Hank Williams III – Straight to Hell
After a two year court battle and a “Fuck Curb” T-Shirt campaign to get his double-album opus Straight To Hell released, a judge finally ruled in favor of Hank3 against Curb Records, saying they had no right to indefinitely hold his album without a release date. Straight to Hell was originally entitled “Thrown Out of the Bar” until Hank3 added a massive hidden track on a second disc in an attempt to circumvent Curb and get more content out to his hungry fans.
Hank3′s “David slays Goliath” court win for Straight to Hell might be the best legal precedence for Tim McGraw’s case, and can give hope to McGraw fans that the courts could rule in McGraw’s favor.
Steve Holy – Love Don’t Run
This album not only proves that Curb is willing to release old music, but that it’s their modus operandi. The album was finally released on Sep. 13th 2011, but this was after a 5-year gap from his last album in 2006, and another 5 year gap from his first album in 2001. When speaking to The Boot, Steve explained this is how Curb purposefully operates.
I know that songs last longer on the charts now than they used to, so you’re naturally going to have a larger gap between albums, but I don’t think that every five years was the plan…I understand why Curb operates the way they do. They used to get laughed at. People would ask me, ‘Why are they doing it this way?’ But, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but everyone else is starting to do that.
Other labels have been attempting to stretch the album cycle, from 12 months, to 18 months to 2 years, but the 5 year cycle that Curb seems to be forcing on its artists is not the Nashville norm.
Clay Walker – She Won’t Be Lonely Long
Clay Walker was a little less political when his album met with continuous delays, and She Won’t Be Lonely Long is another example of Curb not only releasing old material, but trying to pass it off as new.
Curb released the album in June of 2010 after years of delay, but only after releasing another album with the same exact name in February of 2010. In a move that still has Clay Walker fans scratching their heads, 4 months before the full-length She Won’t Be Lonely Long was released, and EP called She Won’t Be Lonely Long was released, that included three songs from Walker’s previous album Fall. So yes, there were two She Won’t Be Lonely Long‘s, one with tracks it would be hard to call “topical” because they appeared on another album from years earlier. Clay told CMT:
That’s a pretty sore subject with me. I just try to avoid talking about it. The only thing that strikes me is that we need to get more music out quicker to the fans. There can only be one boss, and we know who that is.
Hank Williams Jr. – 127 Rose Ave.
When Hank Williams III was born, there were two men in the room: Hank Jr. and Mike Curb. Hank Jr. and Mike were close personal friends for many years, and Jr. has made Curb Records millions of dollars over his career. Hank Jr. decided to leave Curb Records in July of 2009 for a laundry list of reasons, including the label constantly vetoing song ideas and delaying albums. But one of the biggest contentions Hank Jr. made is Curb wanted to use a picture of him that was 7-years-old for the album cover of his album 127 Rose Ave. Using a 7-year-old picture doesn’t sound very “topical”. Jr. told CMT:
“We’re going to get off this old, dead sinking ship. . . They were going to [use] a picture of me from seven years ago when I was 25 pounds heavier. That was going to be the cover. It was ‘Ho hum,’ basically. Well, we didn’t ho-hum this one.”
LeAnn Rimes – I Need You
In another perfect example of Curb’s willingness to publish old music and call it new, in 2001 they swept together a pile of Leann Rimes songs left on the cutting house floor, as well as a few remixed tracks from the Coyote Ugly movie soundtrack and called it I Need You. LeAnn had no knowledge or input on the album whatsoever. In a far cry from Curb’s current policy, at that time Leann was expected to release an album every year. Since LeAnn had been working on the movie and soundtrack for Coyote Ugly (she also played herself in the film), Curb decided to fabricate an album for her instead of paying for new material.
Upon its release Curb booked her on a tour to promote the album, but LeAnn instead used the opportunity to publicly distance from it, telling people it was not her idea and to not buy it. It still charted #1 in country from LeAnn’s built in popularity, though critics panned it, and some cite I Need You where LeAnne’s career began to dwindle.
Less than a week away from the release of one of the most controversial projects in country music in years, The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams, the man Sony ATV put in charge of the project is dealing with plagiarism claims for some paintings in his “Asia Series” on display right now at the Gagosian Gallery in New York.
To clarify, the plagiarism claims have nothing to do with the unfinished Hank Williams songs that are part of the Lost Notebooks project, at least directly. However they do raise even more questions of why a man, outside of the Williams family, and outside of the country genre, who is notorious for being flighty and manipulative of the media, and using controversy to sensationalize interest was put in charge of such a sensitive project.
The plagiarism claims are primarily centered around a few Dylan paintings that look like exact copycats of mid-century photographs taken by famous photographers in Asia. As can be seen in this New York Times article on the controversy and in the image to the right, the similarities are undeniable. As Dylan blogger Michal Gray points out while exposing the copycat paintings:
The most striking thing is that Dylan has not merely used a photograph to inspire a painting: he has taken the photographer’s shot composition and copied it exactly. He hasn’t painted the group from any kind of different angle, or changed what he puts along the top edge, or either side edge, or the bottom edge of the picture. He’s replicated everything as closely as possible. That may be a (very self-enriching) game he’s playing with his followers, but it’s not a very imaginative approach to painting.
Though the rules governing visual art and music are very different, the parallels between Hank Williams’ unfinished songs and paintings have been made since the inception of the project. “I just felt like it was someone being handed half of a Picasso painting,” is what Hank Williams’ granddaughter Holly said in the EPK for the Lost Notebooks.
Bob Dylan is possibly the greatest living American songwriter, and possibly the greatest American songwriter of all time. But his propensity to use controversy, or to be mired in controversy unknowingly, raises even more questions on the eve of a release that is mired with questions and controversy already. And Bob’s involvement in the Lost Notebooks is not just exclusive to contributing one song and selecting the other contributors. The project is being released by his Egyptian Records, not Time-Life like so many of the other recent Hank Sr. releases, or on an imprint of the rights holders, Sony ATV.
So far Dylan has not commented at all on the plagiarism claims.
Next Tuesday, the Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams, a project pairing Bob Dylan and a list of other popular artists together with unfinished Hank Williams songs, will be released to the public. The project has raised grave concerns in certain circles of country music from people questioning the ethics of taking a dead man’s songs and finishing them, especially when the dead man carries the songwriting and historical weight of Hank Williams. An organization called Stop The Desecration of Hank Williams Songs is planning protests at the Country Music Hall of Fame on Oct. 1st, and again on the release date of Oct. 4th.
What has baffled me from the beginning is with the anticipated controversy this project would stir, why information about its workings and origins have been so difficult to obtain. It was made even worse by an article in The Morton Report, which included easily refutable information.
Saving Country Music has submitted numerous emails, made phone calls, and personally visited the Country Music Hall of Fame trying to get more information about the Lost Notebooks to no avail. The Hall is a partner in the project, as it is being released in conjunction with their ‘Family Tradition: The Williams Family Legacy’ exhibit. However The Hall is not the originator of the project, and neither is Bob Dylan. The one thing we have received more clarity on since the formal announcement of the album release is the chain of custody of the songs. The idea for the Lost Notebooks project and many of the decisions made for it were done by the owners of the songs, music publisher Sony ATV, who ferried these songs through numerous changes and adventures, from the original owners, Hank Sr.’s publisher Acuff-Rose.
Another entity that has been spared a lot of the controversy, but certainly had a part in the project is Hank Sr.’s estate. We do finally know that the estate endorsed the idea at some point, because Hank Williams Jr. appears in the EPK for the album (see bottom of article). As Hank’s grandson Hank3, who was not asked to participate in the project, said in a recent Saving Country Music interview:
The fans are very upset, and I guess I’ll just let them do my speaking for me. Because I can’t go and say something against Bob Dylan. That’s just not right man. I’d say maybe they need to scope out Hank Jr. a little more…
Something else we’ve learned from a recent New York Times article on the project is that both Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young were approached to be a part of it, and declined. We still do not know what happened to a Willie Nelson song that was part of the project, that Jack White’s spoke about when we very first heard about the Lost Notebooks back in 2007. It also states in the NY Times that Dylan initially called the task “too mighty.” And one of the biggest questions that remains is what happened between the recording of these songs in 2007, and their release in late 2011. That significant hole in the timeline leaves a lot to the imagination of why it took 4 years for the Lost Notebooks to see the light of day.
Completely putting aside the ethics questions for the project itself, I have drafted a list of 10 simple questions about the specifics of the Lost Notebooks that I think country music consumers have a right to be answered before they decide to purchase it.
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- A story published by The Morton Report on August 4th asserts that the idea for the Lost Notebooks project was hatched in March of 2008, months after we know many of the songs for the project were already recorded. When, generally or specifically, in years or months or days, was it decided that the Lost Notebooks project would move ahead, and with Bob Dylan?
- Was the Lost Notebooks project always meant to be in conjunction with the Country Music Hall of Fame’s ‘Family Tradition’ exhibit?
- If the Lost Notebooks project was meant to be released in conjunction with the ‘Family Tradition’ exhibit, either initially or eventually, then why is it not being released until over 1 1/2 years after the exhibit was initially scheduled to end in December of 2009? Why are the songs being released so long after being recorded?
- Were there any lawsuits brought against any entity involved in the Lost Notebooks project? And if so, for what?
- When and/or how was the Hank Williams estate involved in the project?
- Why were neither Hank Williams Jr. or Hank Williams III involved in the recording of the project? Was Hank Jr. asked to contribute to a song?
- Willie Nelson was initially named as contributing a song to the project by Jack White in late 2007. What happened to Willie Nelson’s contribution?
- How many, in total, unfinished Hank Williams songs are there, from how many different primary sources?
- Since there are more unfinished songs than are included in this project, are there plans to do more volumes?
- The liner notes for the Lost Notebooks project state that two of the four lost notebooks were taken from a locked vault. They state: “A police investigation was launched, and ultimately Sony regained possession of the notebooks and the handwritten songs.” But in March of 2007, a judge dropped all charges against Stephen M. Shutts and Francine Boykin for theft of the songs. How then were the two notebooks re-obtained by Sony ATV?
The movement to reinstate Hank Williams into the Grand Ole Opry, or Reinstate Hank, was started by Hank Williams III shortly after preforming on the Grand Ole Opry for the 50th Anniversary of Hank Sr.’s passing in January of 2003. From the stage the youngest Hank said “So you’re going to be hearing a lot of Hank Williams songs tonight, but keep one thing in mind. After all this time, maybe it’s time we can get Hank Williams back, reinstated in the Grand Ole Opry. That would be a dream come true for a lot of people.”
Shortly afterward Hank3 talked to the President of the Opry, who Hank3 says told him, “We’ll never reinstate a dead guy.” In February of that year, an online petition was started to Reinstate Hank that now boasts over 50,900 signatures, including the signatures of Hank3, and Hank Jr’s daughters Hillary and Holly. But Hank Jr’s name remains conspicuously absent, and his public affiliation or support of the movement was thought to remain absent as well.
Hank3 and Hank Jr. have always had a strained relationship, and it became even more strained years later on a night when Hank3 was playing at The Bluegrass Inn on lower Broadway in Nashville, while Hank Jr. was down the road, performing at The Opry. Hank3 talked about the exchange of text messages that happened that night in the book Family Tradition: Three Generations of Hank Williams.
What I actually said was, “I hope you find somewhere else better to play than The Grand Ole Opry, until they show respects to your father.” And Hank Jr’s reply was, “Well, I’m done with The Opry.”
Shortly thereafter, Hank Jr. and Holly were asked to perform at the Country Music Hall of Fame as part of their ongoing exhibit “Family Tradition: The Williams Family Legacy”. In the video below, Hank Jr., under his purple long sleeve shirt, is clearly sporting a Reinstate Hank shirt, like the ones sold at Hank3 shows.
Hank Jr.’s song “The Conversation” carried the first public outcry for how the Grand Ole Opry had handled the late and great Hank Williams.
Back then they called him crazy, now a days they call him a saint
Most folks don’t know that they fired him from the Opry
And that caused his greatest pain
But for 5 years, for whatever reason, Hank Jr. remained silent about his son’s Reinstate Hank mission. He still might feel the need to veil his true feelings as a high-dollar, high-profile legacy country music celebrity franchise. But when you look deep down in Hank Jr.’s chest, you can tell where his heart is.
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Thanks to Adam Sheets of No Depression for alerting me to the video.
On the heels of the news of the release of the Lost Notebook of Hank Williams project spearheaded by Bob Dylan, a new project has just been announced, taking the same concept to some unfinished transcripts from the late Johnny Cash, slated to be called Johnny Cash’s Forgotten Files. Just like the Hank Williams project, before the album is even released it is stirring up some controversy, principally because of who has been chosen to head the project: none other than “Weird” Al Yankovic.
“We know it seems like an unusual pick at first,” explains Time Life spokesman Bob Frankenfurter. “But over his 35+ year career, Weird Al has proven a master of mimicking the tone and style of other artists. So who better to oversee the fleshing out of these precious, previously-unreleased songs!”
None of the songs to be recorded have any music. They are simply lyric sheets, some with partial lyrics or only ideas scratched on paper. They were apparently stumbled upon by accident as a bookkeeper and an intern had an impromptu sex act in a closet at BMI’s Music Row offices.
Just like the Hank Williams project, Weird Al isn’t being charged with finishing all the songs himself, but to farm the songs out to other celebrities.
“I look at this like Hollywood making movies out of of cheesy 80′s sitcoms and cartoons.” explains Yankovic. “Basically the music business is completely out of ideas, so they will try anything to make a buck. Who did I pick for the songs? It was simple, I called up my closest cronies, and whoever I thought would be sensational enough to help sell records, with absolutely no regard to creative aptitude or relevancy to a project bearing Johnny Cash’s name. And Sheryl Crow, because apparently it’s a requirement she’s involved in all of these type of things.”
The list of contributors includes names not known for music first, like the recently-retired NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neil and actor Gary Busey, though Weird Al was quick to point out Gary’s acting role as Buddy Holly, and that Shaq has release five studio rap albums.
Weird Al also encouraged an avant-guarde approach to how each contributor related to the unfinished song, to try to facilitate creative inspiration. “I wanted each artists to not just relate to the song itself, but the actual piece of paper it was written on, that still holds a little of Johnny Cash’s essence.” Apparently Weird Al sent the songs out in Fruit Loop cereal boxes, making the contributors dig through the cereal with their hands to locate the song sheets, like they were prizes. After that the contributors could do what they wanted.
“Fo shizzle my nizzle, I’m involved in that Johnny Cash shit,” Snoop Dogg reported to TMZ outside of a Riverside, CA night club. “I took my song sheet, wrapped it up with my special Snoop Dogg kush and smoked that shit. I ain’t got a clue what was on it, but it inspired me to write a song called “High on The I-5.” I think Johnny would be proud.
Gary Busey had a different approach. “I dressed up in my finest suit, took my song to one of the finest ballet’s in town, dined it at a five star restaurant, took it home, and then made sweet love to it on a bear skin rug in front of a raging fire.”
Apparently when Shaquille O’Neal was given his song, he accidentally ate it with the rest of the Fruit Loops. When confronted about it later, he simply said, “Who the fuck is Johnny Cash?”
Track list for Johnny Cash’s Forgotten Files:
- Cindi Lauper – My Heart, Your Hand
- Carrot Top – On The Lonesome Streets of Cincinnati
- Mr. T. – A Prairie Wind
- “Weird” Al Yankovic – The Sound of Heartbreak
- Snoop Dogg – High On The I-5 (originally titled ‘Jesus, Keep Me From Sin’)
- Gallagher – Beautiful When She Sleeps
- Shaquille O’Neil – ???? (accidentally eaten)
- Sheryl Crow – Cold Winter, Colder Heart
- Terry Bradshaw – Two Left Feet
- Gary Busey – Sex On A Bear Skin Rug (originally titled ‘Mother, Take Your Final Rest’)
When “Weird” Al was asked why more of Johnny Cash’s immediate family was not used in the project, he responded “Johnny Cash has immediate family?”
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The grassroots petition to attempt to get country music legend Hank Williams reinstated into the Grand Ole Opry, also known as Reinstate Hank, has reached an important milestone, as the online petition has now crested the 50,000 signature mark. This does not include the scores of physical signatures collected in the official Reinstate Hank petition books, sent in by volunteers collecting signatures all around the world, and collected at concerts of Hank Williams III, aka Hank3, who started the movement.
In 1952, Hank Williams was dismissed from the Opry with the understanding that he would sober up and then return to the stage that he loved so much. Sadly, he passed away on New Year’s Day of 1953 in the back seat of his blue Cadillac and never made that momentous return. Despite being one of the most powerfully iconic figures in American music, Hank Williams has yet to be reinstated to the Opry.
Hank3 started Reinstate Hank shortly after his last performance on the Opry marking the 50th Anniversary of Hank Sr.’s death. From the stage, the youngest Hank proclaimed, “Keep one thing in mind, after all this time, maybe it’s time that we can get Hank Williams reinstated back in the Grand Ole Opry folks. That would be a dream come true for a lot of people.” When Hank3 asked the President of the Opry Steve Buchanan about the reinstatement, he was told, “We’ll never reinstate a dead guy.”
The Muddy Roots Festival in Cookeville, TN this upcoming September 3rd & 4th is just over two months away, and in preparation they are ramping up plans to have a full-on documentary of the event created by Judd Films. To help fund the film, Jason at Muddy Roots has set up a Kickstarter campaign, with the hopes of raising $6,500 for the film’s expenses.
Festival founder Galaz has recruited Blake Judd of JuddFilms to produce and direct a documentary project about the music, musicians, and the fans. Through live music, interviews, and behind-the-scenes footage, the film will bring much-deserved exposure to a growing scene and showcase the sincerity and dedication of its musicians and supporters.
Galaz said, “I knew that Blake would be perfect for this. He has worked with a lot of the artists in the scene and understands what we are looking for. This festival is something, when documented, deserves the eye of people who understand where these bands and fans are coming from and what it means. All the funds raised go into production and Blake and his crew are willing put their efforts behind this for the cause. I’m excited that he was willing to work on this with us.”
“I can’t wait to get started on the project, “says Judd, “The Muddy Roots Festival is becoming the Bonnaroo or the Woodstock for this scene. No one is going to get rich from this, but it’s more of a place that all the bands and fans alike can come together, play music, hang out, and have a great time. It’s a lifestyle and that’s what we’re out to document and celebrate. This is a passion for these people and for us alike.”
The Muddy Roots Festival will have over 60 bands performing, including headliners Wanda Jackson, Wayne “The Train” Hancock, and Country Music Hall of Famer Don Maddox of The Maddox Brothers & Rose. (see full lineup below)
Billboard has just reported that Tim McGraw has filed a countersuit against Curb Records who filed suit against McGraw last week over his Emotional Traffic album. Tim has been trying to get the album released so he can fulfill his contract with Curb, while Curb claims the material is too old and is attempting to extend McGraw’s contract indefinitely. McGraw’s countersuit claims:
“Traffic” was recorded and mastered in early 2009-2010 and Curb is holding the album “hostage from country music fans for the purpose of compelling Tim McGraw to serve perpetually under a contract that he has already fully and faithfully completed.” The suit adds that Curb’s “repeated serial releases of what it characterizes as greatest hits albums is obviously a naked attempt to create a perpetual recording contract, forcing Tim McGraw into a repressive environment of indefinite duration.”
The countersuit asks that Emotional Traffic be deemed McGraw’s last album on the contract, and that McGraw be “free to begin recording for himself or any other party as of July 23, 2011.” It also asks for advance payment and recording-fund reimbursement, a jury trial, and unspecified damages.
In the aftermath of Curb Records filing a lawsuit against Tim McGraw, fans are now calling for a boycott of the record label. In a petition filed online, fans are pledging “unless Mike Curb drops his lawsuit against Tim, you will never again buy another album from a Curb Artist, including Tim’s FINAL Curb album, Emotional Traffic.”
As soon as the petition was launched, signatures began flooding in, as well as comments:
As much money as Tim has brought to Curb Records, it seems that Curb keeps trying to tell him what to release not the artist himself. I am sorry but when Tim wanted to release a new studio album YOU released a greatest hits album…..that was the beginning of the end of the relationship! Sorry Curb but why support a company that doesn’t support their own!
Time to let go Curb!! You’ve extended his contract by re-releasing multiple greatest hits albums and delaying new material, for your own benefit. The fans wait too long for new music, all the while other artists blast by with new albums. It is deplorable to conduct business in this way and to end a wonderful business relationship in such a manner speaks of your lack of gratitude and character.
A few days ago I received an email telling me I needed to stop talking about this “Tim McGraw crap” and “get back to my roots”. The roots of Saving Country Music are called Free Hank III, an organization started to help Hank III get his music released from Curb in an extremely similar situation to what Tim is going through. In many ways, the Tim McGraw situation is even worse. Reading through the comments of the petition to boycott Curb Records, one is blown away at how eerily similar they were to when Hank III was going through this, with many people saying “free Tim McGraw”. Free Hank III won that battle, but Curb continues on the warpath against their stable of artists.
Fans of Hank III, Leann Rimes, Clay Walker, Hank Williams Jr., and all the other artists Curb has manipulated over the years, as well as all country music fans, music fans in general, and general fans of art in any form should unite behind this cause. This matter isn’t about opinion or taste, this is about principle. Maybe war makes strange bedfellows, but regardless of how I feel about Tim McGraw or his music, right now he is my brother, and I will stand united beside him, and fight for him, just as everyone else who is incensed how companies, corporations, or higher institutions are impinging on the freedoms of individuals should, whether it has to do with music, food, or freedoms.
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