I get a lot of questions from people. I think that questions are a really interesting way to judge the mood or the interest of people at any given time. Its funny, because I rarely get the a question just once. It seems like the same things are racing through people’s minds at the same time. Recently the biggest question is, “What do you think about Jamey Johnson?” And that question is almost ALWAYS chased with, “You know, he wrote that ‘Honky Tonk Badonka-Donk’ song.”
This is the deal:
The power brokers who puppetmaster pop country may be dumb, but they’re not stupid. They are sitting on a big mountain of cash because they have made some intelligent, business savvy moves. They are constantly pouring over data from marketing tests and demographic polls. They know who they’re listeners are. They know what their listeners want.
Nashville’s major labels and the media outlets they control are a little concerned right now. This underground/outlaw country movement is gaining some steam. When Hank III’s album Damn Right, Rebel Proud hit #2 on the Billboard charts, I declared The Revolution Had Begun.
Nashville noticed that album, make no mistake. They don’t want the country audience going outside of their sphere of influence, or listening to someone they can’t control. But they also understand people want variety, and they themselves are a little worried that lately, just like we’ve been saying for years, country hasn’t been delivering much variety. (If you don’t believe me, read this.)
Enter Jamey Johnson.
I can just see a bunch of suits sitting around a table in some high rise in Nashville saying, “OK, so what do these filthy people who would dare listen to Hank III want to hear?” And someone responds, “Someone who actually writes his own songs, unlike pretty much all of our stars.” And then someone else would say, “And someone ugly I guess, they don’t like all the glitz and pretty faces.” Then someone chimed in “I got it! Jamey Johnson! He’s ugly as homemade soap with that Bin Laden beard, and he writes songs like that Honky Tonk Badonka Donk!”
And boom, another country star is born to be shoved down the masses throats as “variety” or a “Modern Day Outlaw.”
I know that if I tried to evaluate Jamey’s music knowing he wrote “Badonka,” (a song I can’t say I’ve ever heard in it’s entirety) then I can almost guarantee I’d hate everything he does. But I wanted to give him a fighting chance, so I tried to forget this little fact that seems to follow his name wherever he goes, and just tried to evaluate his stuff on its own merit.
I have to say, compared to 90% of the stuff on pop country radio, it is not bad. Is it good? Well I wouldn’t spend any hard earned money on it, but in a war you have to pick your battles. I don’t think Jamey Johnson is the problem. And I think if Nashville thinks Jamey is the solution to the groundswell of REAL country fans, I think they are delusional. But he’s not a pretty face, and he does write his own stuff.
Also Jamey is far from one of these 14-year-old starlets trying to make the transition from a Disney sitcom to country. He was born in Enterprise, Alabama, about as down home as it gets. He served eight years in the Marine Corps. EIGHT YEARS. It’s hard to imagine that in eight years he didn’t pay some dues in life, and unlike a lot of these pop country acts, he can speak from the heart when supporting the military, not do it just because it is something hip to do in country music right now. It’s also interesting to note that one of Jamey’s first gigs was opening for David Allan Coe.
But if you ask me, there are dozens of artists with much more talent that deserve more recognition than Jamey. His songs are decent, but they work from that same tired Nashville formula: Take words and switch them around, like “The cost of high living ain’t nuthin’ like the cost of living high.” (Research pop country songs, and you’ll be blown away how many times they use this trick.)
He was dropped from his first label BNA Records in 2006. Jamey is clearly ambitious, and I think he learned the hard way that if you want to make it big in country music, you have to play their game. And for now, he’s playing.
For a few reasons, and one just being a gut feeling, I’m just not willing at the moment to lump Jamey Johnson in with the other filth of pop country. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not singing his praises either, but I think the man is going to have a clear choice in the next few years: Become a true, REAL country performer who does it for the music, fame and money be damned. Or become pop country’s patsy: an excuse for Nashville to say they offer variety in an all too manufactured, collusive, and non-creative genre.
What do YOU think? And I want to hear from the Jamey Johnson fans as well, because I know you’re out there.