Defiant Images of Country Music Dissent

December 4, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Outlaw History  //  50 Comments

The fight for the purity of country music is almost as old as the genre itself. The conflict between pop and traditionalism, and the fight for creative control for artists runs like a thread throughout country music’s history, defining it as much as the twang of a Telecaster, or the moan of a steel guitar. Here are some of the most iconic images of country music revolution, and the stories behind them.

Fanning The Flames

Charlie Rich was tapped to present the trophy for Entertainer of the Year at the CMA Awards in 1975. Knowing what name the little envelope contained (and not being too happy about it), Rich pulled out his bic and lit it on fire, announcing the winner as “My friend, Mr. John Denver.” Denver wasn’t in attendance and accepted via satellite, unaware of the pyrotechnics. Rich, who’d won 5 CMA Awards in the past, was never invited back to the CMA’s, and was never nominated again.

Flipping The Bird

Johnny Cash’s famous middle finger photo was shot by photographer Jim Marshall at California’s San Quentin prison during a concert in 1970. The pose was the response to Jim’s request: “John, let’s do a shot for the warden.” Where it became an iconic image of American culture was years later, when Johnny Cash was making his American Recordings records with Rick Rubin. Cash’s album Unchained had won the Grammy for “Best Country Album”, but was being virtually ignored by country radio. So Rick Rubin ran an ad with the obscene image, along with the caption, “American Recordings and Johnny Cash would like to thank the country music establishment and country radio for your support.” (read full story)

Friends United

On March 17th, 18th, and 19th of 1972, The Dripping Springs reunion, aka the “Country Music Woodstock” went down just outside of Austin, TX. It was a commercial flop, but a fundamentally-important event nonetheless because it established Austin, TX as a serious alternative to the restrictive environment of Nashville, with Willie Nelson leading the charge. Similar to the underground/independent movements in country music today, The Dripping Springs Reunion paid respects to the older legends like Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, Buck Owens, and Roger Miller who all attended and performed, while establishing in earnest the Outlaw movement with native Texans Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson at the helm.

Renegade Spirit

Tompall Glaser saved his pennies from his days in The Glaser Brothers and bought himself a renegade studio / clubhouse that would later be known as Hillbilly Central. Located on 19th Ave. right off of Music Row, it broke the monopoly RCA, Chet Atkins, and Studio “B” had on country music at the time. It allowed artists like Waylon Jennings and Billy Joe Shaver to record their music the way they wanted and use their own bands as opposed to Nashville’s unionized studio musicians. In the words of Outlaw writer Michael Bane, it was “the home of all those records Nashville really didn’t want to make,” including such iconic albums as Waylon Jennings’ Honky Tonk Heroes and John Hartford’s Aereo Plain.

Showing Respects

Though the Grand Ole Opry continues to use the likeness of Hank Williams prominently, he was never reinstated as a member after being dismissed in 1952. The understanding was that Hank would sober up and make a triumphant return to the Opry that he so loved, but he died on New Year’s Day 1953 at the age of 29 and never got the opportunity. Hank’s grandson Hank Williams III started a movement called “Reinstate Hank” that now boasts over 54,000 signatures on its online petition. (photo courtesy of minnemynx)

Taking Control

Wanting to take creative control of his music and to be released from the budgetary restraints of the studio, Hank Williams III did the unprecedented for an artist signed to a major country music record label under the CMA umbrella. He took a a Korg D-1600–a consumer-grade piece of recording gear–and cut his record Straight to Hell in the house of his bass player, Joe Buck. It was the underground mentality brought to the mainstream, with the result being Hank3’s magnum opus.

(from left to right: Andy Gibson, Hank Williams III, Joe Buck)

50 Comments to “Defiant Images of Country Music Dissent”

  • Seeing the Charlie Rich picture again just reminds me how much the music scene has been domesticated and sterilized since then. Nothing real and wild can even happen in the mainstream anymore. It’s a shame.


  • Near the top of the list of unqualified people assuming lofty positions, is Kris Kristofferson backing his way into the Highwaymen.


    • Kris Kristofferson is one of the greatest country songwriters of all time, along with being one of the three main leaders of the Outlaw movement. In fact, one could argue that, from a songwriting perspective, he was more qualified for The Highwaymen than Waylon Jennings, since Waylon rarely wrote his own songs.


      • “Waylon rarely wrote his own songs.”

        Thats not even close to true. And no, you couldn’t argue that Kris Kristofferson was more qualified for the Highwaymen than Waylon Jennings.


        • In Waylon’s heyday in the 70’s, at least, he rarely used to write songs. “Honky Tonk Heroes”, for example, was almost entirely written by Billy Joe Shaver, with only one song co-written by Waylon. On “Good Hearted Woman”, he was only involved in writing 2 of the 10 songs. On “Ladies Love Outlaws”, he again participated in writing just 2 of 10 songs. On “Lonesome, On’ry, and and Mean”, he did not write or co-write any of the songs on the standard album. On his first #1 album, “Dreaming my Dreams”, he wrote just 3 of the 11 songs. On his first album to go platinum, “Ol’ Waylon”, he wrote only 1 song out of the 11 total. And the pattern holds for basically all of his albums from the 70’s.

          In fact, on many of the albums from this era, Waylon’s wife Jessi Colter wrote more songs for him than he himself wrote.

          Waylon’s real strengths were his vocals, as well as his ability to break out from Nashville’s professional songwriting world and seek out great songwriters who were often obscure (e.g. partnering with Billy Joe Shaver for “Honky Tonk Heroes”). This was very different from Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson, who were/are songwriters first and vocalists second.


          • Thanks, Eric. If you lived in North Korea, you would make a great “Minister of the Obvious.” There were a lot of albums Waylon released where he didn’t write many of the songs, just like Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. You neglected the half dozen or so albums he released where he was the principal songwriter. Maybe Waylon wrote less songs than Cash and Nelson, but so what? If your criteria is “songs written,” then Shel Silverstein, Harlan Howard, Alton Delmore, and Boudleaux Bryant are the greatest country artists of all time….


          • I actually agree with what you just said. Part of the intention behind my original comment here was to take a shot at the songwriting-based snobbishness that permeates deeply through this site. Over and over again, people on this site have attacked most modern country singers for largely not writing their own songs. Triggerman, as well as more commenters than I can count, have criticized mainstream artists including Miranda Lambert and even George Strait for using professional songwriters (I believe the phrase Triggerman uses is that they lack “skin on the wall”). Furthermore, Triggerman explicitly refuses to consider a song for Song of the Year unless the singer wrote the song.

            At the same time, this site reveres Waylon Jennings, and rightfully so.

            I just find it hypocritical that such ardent fans of Waylon Jennings so strongly criticize today’s artists for generally not writing their own songs. I pointed out the fact about Waylon’s musical history in order to get many people on this site to re-consider their bias against pure vocalists.


          • I may have put that restriction on my Song of the Year candidates at some point, but I think now if a song was good enough now, I might consider it. And to be fair, this is the same restriction the CMA puts on their Song of the Year, awarding it to the writers and not the performing artist.

            Though you may have seen some differing chatter from me in the past, recently I have completely softened my stance on folks recording music from other people. In fact this silly notion that to be true you must write all of your own songs I think is what is eroding some of the quality in underground country. Willie Nelson;s “Red Headed Stranger” was 1/3 covers. Waylon’s “Honky Tonk Heroes” was all covers. But to be fair to Waylon, some of his best, signature songs were ones he wrote. You can be a songwriter and still sing other people’s songs. There’s a happy medium somewhere where quality and appeal are the most important thing.


      • I see your point, but I still disagree with you. Yeah, there were a lot songs that he didn’t write. But a big chunk of his biggest hits were all written by him, and him alone. His first #1 “This Time” was written by himself. In general, I have more respect for artists that write their own songs. But I also have to respect it when they don’t, because there are some really talented songwriters that are making a fortune off of them.

        Yeah, Kris was a genius with his songwriting, but I totally disagree with what you said about him being better for the Highwaymen. Waylon earned his spot in country music just as much as Kris did. When someone has that many songs, you can’t expect every single one of them to be written by themselves. There are a lot of other things that go into music other than songwriting.


    • Kris Kristofferson, along with Tompall Glaser and Bobby Bare were the ORIGINAL Outlaws, bending and breaking rules way before Willie and Waylon had broken their restrictive bonds at RCA.

      Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down”, first released by Ray Stevens and then released by Kristofferson himself pushed the content boundaries in country music because it made reference to being “high.” Along with “Streets of Baltimore”, written by Tompall Glaser and performed by Bobby Bare, these two songs were seminal in starting the Outlaw movement in country music. Bobby Bare was the first to win creative control of his music, and as articulated above, Tompall set up a renegade studio.

      Is Kristofferson’s body of work as strong as Willie’s or Waylon’s? Probably not, but if it wasn’t for him starting the fire, Willie and Waylon may have never burned so hot.


      • Kris Kristofferson wrote some good songs, many of them more pop/rock than country. He’s a better actor than a songwriter or musician. There are at least five artists of that era more qualified to be in the Highwaymen than Kris Kristofferson.

        In the Highwaymen documentary, Kristofferson talks about how Waylon didn’t really like him because he was an avowed and outspoken communist and was always popping off about whatever left-wing cause de jour would get his name in the paper. You can say what you want about Kris Kristofferson, but I prefer Waylon’s opinion of him.


        • Yes Waylon hated Kris so much it was just incredible. Waylon refused to record any of his songs or appear with him on stage. And although Kristofferson served in the Army and while Waylon did not it’s obvious that Waylon saw through Kristofferson’s clever ruse to appear as a committed American willing to serve his country while all the time acting as a Soviet operative.

          RD (if that is your real name), not sure why but you neglected to mention that unlike Kris Kristofferson, Waylon could see through walls and spoke 47 languages fluently.


          • Is Bigfoot your real name?

            I never said that Waylon “hated” Kristofferson. I’m only going by the documentary that I saw where Kristofferson said he thought Waylon didn’t really like him. There is a big difference between “hate” and dislike. Almost all artists record songs that were written by other people. I’m sure Waylon recorded songs written by people he never even met. I have no idea why that matters.

            As far as Kristofferson’s political views, there is no ambiguity. Read his past interviews. Read his public statements. Read the words to his songs.

            My comment wasn’t intended as a hagiography of Waylon Jennings. I think he was a significantly superior artist to Kristofferson. I don’t think he was God.


  • Didn’t Hank3 have a distribution deal with Curb instead of a recording deal? In that case, he wasn’t really signed on to Curb for studio services.


    • No, Hank3 was fully signed with Curb Records. He now is independent with only a distribution deal.


  • I see. Who is his current distributor label, by the way?


    • Megaforce records


      • From what I’m reading, Megaforce is a record label, not a distributor. It uses Sony for distribution.


  • speaking of John Hartford…that Aereo Plain/Morning Bugle: The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings dropped today. if anybody is interested…


  • While the Rich photo is epic, I think Thank God I’m a Country Boy (which I think was Denver’s big hit before the 75 awards) was more country and more traditional sounding than Behind Closed Doors.


    • I don’t know why and I don’t care really, but something about John Denver makes me wanna do terrible things. I highly dislike him and his music in every way shape and form. I love Charlie Rich’s music, but something about John Denver just gets me.


    • Good Lord, ain’t that the truth. I keep seeing that CMA incident held up as Rich standing up for “real” country music, and it always makes me wonder if the people doing so have ever bothered to listen to the man’s music. The Silver Fox was about as pop-country as it got back in the day.


  • Tompall Glaser most definitely a overlooked member of the “outlaw movement”

    Is there anywhere I could find a video of the silver fox doing that at the CMAs?

    Just found this website a couple weeks back, good to know there are lots of people sick of this new “country” music shit.


  • I’d like to nominate a few others: Alan Jackson and George Strait performing Murder on Music Row at the CMA’s, Randy Travis release of Storms of Life, Alan Jackson singing George Jones Choices at the CMA’s after Jones refused to show, and Jamey Johnson’s release of That Lonesome Song.


    • I tried like the dickens to come up with an image that could represent the moment when Alan Jackson launched into George Jones’s “Choices” in protest. That moment definitely belongs right beside these others, but unfortunately except for doing a grainy, fuzzy screen shot from a poor video feed that in no way represents the gravity of the moment, I had no image to go with the story.


  • “Hillbilly Central” is still in operation today — it’s now the office/studio of Compass Records, co-founded by Alison Brown and her husband Garry West in 1994.


  • a little off topic hear, not sure how i haven’t learned about this sooner but i just heard Tom Russell’s “The death of Jimmy Martin.” Fuck man, that’s some good shit.


  • My how times have changed. I think John Denver is about more country than any of the artists winning the awards now days. I actually always considered John Denver more of a folk singer, with those songs about the mountains and mother nature type things.


  • here’s my entry for consideration-The Byrds w/ Gram Parsons in the band 1968 play the Grand Ole Opry

    CBS records had enough clout to get the rock group the “BYRDS” on the mother radio of country music WSM’s, Grand Ole Opry. The group had broken with the rock tradition and recorded a whole album of country music. It wasn’t the BYRDS first foray into the country sound. They had previously recorded songs in the country vein on “Turn,Turn,Turn, “5D” and “Younger Than Yesterday,” but never devoted an entire album to the genre. Even Roger’s “Mr. Spaceman” embraced the country beat. The “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” album marked the first time a rock group dared to venture wholeheartedly into the country realm.

    The live radio format of the “Grand Ole Opry” makes timing a critical element. At rehearsals, stop watches are marking every second. During the afternoon rehearsal of the show, the BYRDS sang two songs from “The Sweetheart of the Rodeo” album. The chosen single, “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” and another tune on the album, a song penned by Country music legend Meryl Haggard, “Sing me Back Home.”

    The band was serious about the authenticity of the album and even cut their hair to appease the country audience. The first song the group sang on the live show, “You Ain’t Going Nowhere,” came off without a hitch but it was the second song that got the group blackballed from the Opry. Just before they began the count for the song, Gram Parsons walked up to the microphone and made a very bold statement. “We were suppose to sing a Meryl Haggard song, but my grandma has been listening to the Grand Ole Opry all of her life and I want to sing a song I wrote for her.” With that departure from the script, Gram began singing his song “Hickory Wind.” Roger looked to the side of the stage and the director looked like he had just swallowed something very disagreeable. Skeeter Davis was the only smiling face when they left the stage and walked out of the Ryman auditorium to the trailing echos of, “They’ll never be invited back.”-from Byrds At The Grand Ole Opry by Roger McGuinn

    interesting note about this incident is the ‘outlaw’ Tompall Glaser was present and given what has been said about Tompall you would think that he would be of the same mindset as Skeeter Davis but guess what he wasn’t..He berated Parsons and the Byrds for changing at the last minute and going against the rules and script of the Opry..(supposedly like an outlaw is supposed to do)..this is one of the reasons why I never really bought Tompall as an ‘outlaw’ but rather ‘outlaw by association’ or at least a savvy artist who recognized the changes going on and caught the wave early enough to be considered a groundbreaker…I think Willie and Waylon recorded at Hillbilly Central because they felt comfortable there and could be relaxed and themselves..not because of anything Glaser was producing this doesn’t take away the great music Glaser recorded both with his brothers and solo…i just think Tompall needs to be looked at with a more discerning eye in his relation to the movement


    • Another excellent one!

      Like the Alan Jackson / George Jones “Choices” incident, I just couldn’t find a good enough picture. In the future maybe I’ll do a different list of the events that doesn’t rely on illustrations.


    • I still haven’t found the complete story but apparently Ralph Emery so pissed off the Byrds that he was the basis for their song “”Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man,” which became pretty famous after the Woodstock film.


  • Is there an image of Johnny Cash kicking out the footlights at the ryman? I haven’t been able to find anything on the internet.


  • Another good example that kind of fits with the theme of this article is Johnny Cash’s song/music video “The Chicken in Black”


  • What about Mickey Newbury? Excuse me if im wrong but I don’t seem to see him mentioned much here. He is responsible for getting guys like Kris and Townes in Nashville (the latter he even co wrote with in the late 60s) and the influence those two guys had is unmistakeable, been cited by John Prine as being his favourite songwriter even.

     He wrote some massive hits for Eddy Arnold, Don Gibson, Andy Williams etc in the late-mid 60s before cutting his own record in 68 while with RCA. Being unhappy with the process and results he was lucky to have a enough cash from songwriting royalties to buy all his music back and start recording in a makeshift studio in a garage called Cinderella Sound and starting in 1969 he released Looks Like Rain which is truly groundbreaking in terms of artistic freedom and guys like Waylon and Coe among many many others cut tracks from that album and he followed it up with Frisco Maybel Joy and Heaven Help the Child thus creating “An American Trilogy” in 71 and 73 respectively and they are still albums unmatched by anyone.

     Im sorry for the rant but he is the most criminally overlooked and underrated artist in American music. His voice, his songwriting and his musicianship is easily the greatest ive ever heard and he NEVER missed a step or put out a poor album from 68 til his death the early 2000’s.

     If you want to talk about Outlaws, saying fuck you to Nashville and doing things your own way Mickey Newbury should be the first name on the tip of peoples tongue and looking at the sheer number of artists from Elvis, Solomon Burke, Andy Williams, Don Gibson, Waylon, Willie, Joan Baez, Linda Ronstadt and on and on and on there is no way to deny his influence.

    I reccomend everyone go buy his 3 disk ” An American Trilogy” set and hear some of the most beautiful and American music ever recorded you will not regret. More people should be aware of his genius.


    • And Kris is quoted as saying he learned more about songwriting from Mickey Newbury than anyone else. He spent his days living out of his car or hopping trains while trying to make it big as a writer in the mid 60s. If Kris and Tompall are gonna be named as the original Outlaws well Mickey Newbury deserves his nod. Im absolutely not trying to take away from what those two have done, theyre both huge on my list but in my opinion Mickey Newbury had done it all before em but gets none of the recongition.


    • I’ll agree the lack of coverage of Mickey Newbury on this site is unfortunate and I’d be lying if I said I was an expert on him. I recall a while back they were re-releasing three of his albums and I requested to be sent review copies and never heard a response. There’s so many great artists out there, and deciding what to spend my time on is one of the hardest decisions I must make every day. Thanks for reminding me though, and we’ll see if we can’t feature him soon.


      • No worries Trig I know youre a busy guy and I love what you do and when it comes to Outlaw History this guy would be right up your alley, a Texan too a quick read of his biography on Wiki, Allmusic or his personal website should get ya goin. Hell I guarantee you look at all the songs hes wrote youre gonna recongize a bunch. 


        • Aaaand lastly he has clear refernces to getting high (T Total Tommy) and prostitution (San Francisco Maybel Joy) on his 69 album but the former wasnt a big hit and the latter was a couple years after Streets… though that one was a hit, not sure if that counts but whatever haha im done now I have a case of beer and busted out his records so il shut up now.


          • “I cant stand to face the morning/Oh Lord even when im stoned


          • Waylon cut “San Francisco Mabel Joy” on his “This Time” album.


  • “The fight for the purity of country music is almost as old as the genre itself. The conflict between pop and traditionalism, and the fight for creative control for artists runs like a thread throughout country music’s history, defining it as much as the twang of a Telecaster, or the moan of a steel guitar.”

    You gotta be kidding. If you want to post a picture of Johnny Cash flipping off a photographer and label it as some epic moment of stickin’ it to The Man, go for it, but why preface it with this kind of babble? It’s not just wrong, it’s unnecessary.


    • Keep on me Jon. Don’t give me an inch. Some day, I will impress you.


  • I grew up in Memphis and Charlie Rich was my favorite hometown musician.

    I wasn’t real crazy about Elvis, I preferred Motown to the local Stax music scene, and I wasn’t then a blues fan.

    But I sure liked Charlie Rich, who seemed rather unaffected by his popularity.

    I used to drive by Charlie’s home quite a bit.

    For some reason, around 55 – 60 years ago, when my dad was single, he was going to drive to Las Vegas and a friend asked him whether his friend, Charlie Rich, could join him and my dad drove him out there.

    I remember my grandmother seeing Charlie at a local restaurant and getting him to autograph a menu for her.

    And I really, really like Tompall Glazer.

    I have and listen to almost all of his CDs, which are mostly these days fairly outrageous Bear Family compilations.

    But he makes them worth their cost.


  • Nice photos. :)


  • Great writing, per usual – are you in Southern Oregon when
    Bob Wayne plays Medford next week? I’m taking my son to the Lamb of God show the night following, so my status is up in the air. I’ll pay for gas if you are still around Ashland one week from tonight, if I can hook up a ride with ya! Hoping to see you at the Maddox celebration tomorrow. PM me if you get a moment in the hours between now and then. We should talk, man – my writing hand is getting to be an itchy trigger finger. Much love and respect, dw.


  • @triggerman

    I released the Mickey Newbury ‘American Trilogy’ box set last year on my label in Europe. Sorry to hear you didn’t get a response. The record company who licensed the set from us for the U.S. were more than useless about getting the music out to people who wanted to hear it and they terrible snobs about who they bothered to reply to. If you’d still like to delve into Mickey’s music, drop me a mail.

    And Blockman is absolutely correct: Mickey was the original outlaw – although he would never have described himself as such. He inspired all those guys – Cash, Kristofferson, Willie and Waylon – to step up their game, not just with their writing but in the way they recorded albums and handled their business. David Allan Coe is another guy who was heavily influenced and inspired by Mickey.

    If Mickey didn’t think a record company was doing right by him, he’d bail on them without a second thought. He went from RCA to Mercury to Elektra in the space of three years, taking with him a groundbreaking trilogy of albums – starting with ‘Looks Like Rain’ in 1969, a stone cold masterpiece, and followed by ‘Frisco Mabel Joy and ‘Heaven Help the Child’ – that were recorded exactly the way Mickey wanted, at Wayne Moss’s Cinderella Sound studio in Hendersonville with the same crew of crack studio musicians who’d worked on Dylan’s ‘Blonde on Blonde’ a few years earlier. Those three albums are as perfect as they could be and almost unparalleled in their artistry, in all of country music.


  • I too have always been disappointed with the lack of attention Tompall, and his brothers, have gotten. Here are guys that cut their teeth on some of the purest original country, the brothers pulling backup duty for Marty Robbins and even writing “Running Gun” on the classic “Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs,” to “The Streets of Baltimore” which future hall of famer Bare still sings in concert. “An Ode To My Notorious Youth” is still one of my favorites from the outlaw era! Plus there is his whole album of Shel Silverstein songs, which brings me to another often overlooked genius…


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