Joe Buck Key To Downtown Nashville Revitalization

September 26, 2010 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  29 Comments

When I went to see Joe Buck a couple of weeks ago in Denton, TX, he was billed as “Hank III’s Bass Player.” Yeah, I know; people need a context to understand why a name on a calendar is something to pay attention to, but Joe Buck is so much more. To the average human with no context to put Joe Buck in, I’m sure he comes across a some degenerate punk musician to be scoffed at. To people who know his music, there is no peer to the amount of energy and passion he brings, and his songwriting reveals great wisdom once you get past the rawness of the presentation.

In my music world, Joe Buck is elevated even one more notch. He is the top elder of underground country punk. No other living musician can be slotted above him in that pyramid. Underground country punk can be traced back a few ways, but the main one leads to lower Broadway in Nashville, in the early 90’s. At that point The Ryman was shuttered and empty, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge had bums living in it, and the few blighted honky tonks were hidden between dirty bookstores. Now it is completely revitalized, and maybe over-revitalized to the point where it is cartoonish, the “Disney” version of Nashville according to some, including Joe Buck.

The turnaround story for downtown Nashville doesn’t involve acts of government. Lower Broadway was revitalized by music, and specifically, the music that was the precursor to the music we listen to, and talk about on this site. Mainstream fans will sometimes put down this music as “obscure” or “irrelevant.” Toby Keith and Tim McGraw didn’t revitalize the most historic part of Nashville. It was a bunch of punk kids from all around the country, who moved to lower Broadway to walk the same streets Hank Williams walked. At the time there was a saying: “The older you sound, the more punk you’re being.”

Joe Buck started as a street performer, then started playing Robert’s Western World, which bills on its sign “Home of BR549.” Then Robert opened “The Bluegrass Inn” next door, later giving it to Joe and his then partner Layla, and Joe Buck was billed the “BR549 of the Bluegrass Inn.” Those two venues shot life into lower Broadway. Next thing you know more venues opened up. They reopened Tootsie’s and The Ryman. Then they’re building hockey stadiums and convention centers. The music saved downtown Nashville. Only a few years removed, the city has already forgotten that.

But I haven’t. Joe Buck and a few others deserve keys to the city for their contribution. I’ve been working on putting a chronology together of the lower Broadway rebirth, doing interviews with the different artists involved. Joe Buck is always reluctant to talk positively about it. He’s always looking forward, and as he puts bluntly, all of that is dead. Country is dead. Lower Broadway is dead; exploited and nothing like it used to be.

I got him to talk a little about it though, and other things, like his falling out with Century Media, how he’s still working with Jack Endino, life on the road, the driving habits of America. Below you’ll find the newsworthy items of the interview transcribed, but for the true music nerds, you can listen to the rest below, taped in Joe Buck’s new Sprinter motorhome. (AC and generator supplied the humming ambiance).

A lot of people don’t classify Joe Buck as country. I think he is more country than country; that he is what country might have been if its evolution had not been cut off by corporate interests. When I saw him this last time, he started his set with three acoustic straightforward country covers, and played a few more before the end.

I didn’t do any production on this interview like my last Joe Buck interview, this is just the raw feed.

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Triggerman: Last time I talked to you, we kinda broke the news that you had been signed to Century Media, and you were going to be working with Jack Endino.

Joe Buck: I was going to be. I recorded with Jack, that’s my new record. They got real flaky. There was money issues. I don’t think they can do anything for me. Record labels don’t even exist anymore hardly. I mean its like what’s the point? Take the music, it’s free. The minute you put something out, it’s free, you can get it. So they got no way to capitalize on it.

Triggerman: So you got an EP, and you recorded some more stuff after, you went back up to Seattle, right?

Joe Buck: Right. So there’s a full length, and there’s like my little EP that I made 500 of. I’ve got a few of those left. I made just what I needed to get the record out there. I was just going to give it away and people told me I was stupid. My people buy all this shit anyway when they come to the shows, even though they’ve already got it.

Triggerman: That’s the difference between the average spoon-fed fan and the people who are music people. There’s all this debate that the reason the music industry is going down the tubes is because everyone is stealing music, and that’s probably part of the problem. But the other part of the problem is their products sucks and that’s why people want to steal it. But if I appreciate something, I’m gonna go and give him money, even if I stole it off the internet two months ago, I’m gonna buy the physical product just so Joe Buck can get down the road.

Joe Buck: I tour almost more than anybody. Collectively I play for as many people as big bands, because I do 5 times as many shows. That to the industry, a lifetime of work has done me dick because they have not a clue whats fucking going on. Who fucking cares, why do I give a fuck if those motherfuckers validate me? The people do it every night.

Triggerman: You said to me when you signed with Century Media, you said that the guy that you talked to said, “You don’t need us, we need you.”

Joe Buck: He did. And that was my buddy. And he doesn’t work for Century Media now. That’s where things went weird.

Triggerman: I’ve been trying to put together some sort of chronology for the revitalization of lower Broadway in Nashville. I’ve talked to a few other people, I never think I appreciated the scope of what happened in the mid 90’s, with you and BR549. How did you get The Bluegrass Inn?

Joe Buck: Me & Layla were together. We lived with Robert, who had Robert’s Western World. Because I played all those Stanley Brothers songs (at Roberts), Toby (the owner of the building that Robert’s and The Bluegrass Inn) bought the name of The Bluegrass Inn which had been around the corner, the name had been around forever but they bought that name, and opened The Bluegrass Inn, with the star attraction Joe Buck. I was supposed to be the BR549 of that club. About a year later, Robert wanted to go to California, and we got the bar. Rented it, and it’s still rented.

Triggerman: Who’d you start booking there?

Joe Buck: Anybody who didn’t suck and played country music. It was a place to go cut your teeth, and play country music. It doesn’t exist like that any more dude. I knew it was the last bastion….

Another gem from the interview:

Joe Buck: They’re (some country bands) worse than Nashville, going “I’M COUNTRY! I’M COUNTRY!” You don’t need to tell anyone that if you’re country. I don’t believe in what people are doing, they’re trying to catch on to what Shelton was doing. Completely misguided, now you got a bunch of people putting their accent on, and its like, I find that more offensive than Toby Keith. At least he’s brazen about what he’s doing. That’s why all of my records are straight ahead. It’s like “there’s lots of bluegrass going around.” I’m like there’s no bluegrass. Fuckin’ hipsters, you know. “We’ll play banjo, except we won’t really learn how to play, we’ll just hold them. Oh man, the olden days.” It’s 2010, shit is so fucked up, you should have 20 stacks of Marshalls trying to destroy everything in your path.

Triggerman: So you’re not a fan of Old Crow Medicine Show?

Joe Buck: I was about 10 or 15 years ago when they first came to town. Might as well be a boy band now.

29 Comments to “Joe Buck Key To Downtown Nashville Revitalization”

  • Going to give it a listen now. Joe is alot more than many will ever know. Your DAMN right about him being a Head Elder in this movement.


  • Joe Buck is one of the most intelligent musicians I have ever heard. This guy is a walking encyclopedia of music past present and future. Most people give their opinions on things, and I tune out. Joe tells you what he thinks, and I am all ears. He is truly one of the greatest assets this scene has.

    Thanks Triggerman for another great article, and I can’t wait to listen to the interview.


  • Try as I might (and I do periodically still), I can’t get into Joe Buck’s music. That said, I still have enormous respect for what he does, and the more I learn about his past the more that respect grows. Thankgod for the Joe Buck’s out there, keepin’ it real.


    • I’m in the same boat Aran. Although I was looking forward to this post ’cause I respect what Joe does. But I do like his tune off the Free Uriah and Baby Genius cd.


    • Have you ever seen him live? I never was much for his recorded stuff till seeing him in person.

      Ever listened to the Shack Shaker’s Cockadoodledon’t?


      • I wouldn’t miss a chance to see Joe Buck live. Like I said, just because I can’t get into the music doesn’t make me dismiss him!


        • Love him or hate him he must be respected. I actually saw him live before I had really listened to the music. I was just a Hank 3 fan that loved the crazy bass player and thought it might be a cool thing to see. That was about 4 years ago, I think, and today I am a full fledged disciple. I have never seen any one perform a show with more energy, passion or conviction. He must be super human to do this nearly every night. I will be the first to admit that his music is not for everybody, and thats fine, but it is definetly for me. Thanks for these super long interviews. And I can’t wait to check out that lower broadway timeline.


          • All that energy, and the man is 47-years-old.


      • Wow- I didn’t know he was 47, he really don’t look it. His work with the Shack shakers and Hank III ai what started my respect and interest in him. I’m just not so into punk. when he does music with a more classic country feel- I like it. I definatley would try to catch him live. Sometimes, to really give an artist a chance, you need see them live.




    • I’ve gotten more information from others than I’ve gotten from Joe Buck about it. Every time I bring it up, he sighs and says its all in the past. I appreciate that sentiment, but I want to know what happened, and then preserve that info for the future.

      I edited out some stuff stuff where he talked about Layla specifically. She’s one of the people on my list to interview.


  • Joe Buck’s live performance is amazing. Pure, raw energy…Also he’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet.


  • OK, I’m just going to take in all I just heard and sit here with it for a few moments.

    Thank you so very much Mr. Triggerman for this gem. Bravo dude.


  • FUCK TRASHVILLE…FUCK ONE MAN BANDS & FUCK JOE BUCK FOR GIVING UP A GREAT GIG WITH III TO FOLLOW A DREAM! Everybody makes mistakes etc,etc,etc! Trashvilles biggest mistake was trying to replace “Real Country” music with the CRAP they push today! Joe Buck is a walking encyclopedia of country music! The muther fucker has an ungodly amount of talent and I would like with all my heart to see him reinstated (no offense intended to Zach Shedd) to THE DAMN BAND!!!


    • I prefer Joe solo, and zach playing bass for III.






  • Joe is a hell of a live performer, an intelligent person, and lots of good things everyone else has said.

    But would stood out to me last time I saw him (beyond his accessibility to fans) is that he supported the opening bands. He listened to them … he got up and stood in front of them and listened to their music. He actually gives a damn. That’s more than I can say for most bands. Joe Buck is good people.


    • That’s a really good point Cornstalker. He talked about a band from Erie, PA that he loved in the interview. Here’s one of my favorite Joe Buck pictures, of him taking in the work of The Slow Poisoner:


  • Joe is one of the nicest fellas I’ve encountered on the road…played with him a few times, he’s nothing like his music—which is loud, intense and abrasive(not a bad thing)…he’s really sweet and kind…had no idea he was involved with Layla’s and Robert’s…my two favorite places on Broadway…very cool


  • I saw Joe in Lafayette and was really amazed at his raw energy, raw talent and all solo to boot. I was also impressed with his duct tape. He was comfortable with the crowd and mingled whilst Rachel Brooke and Lonesome Wyatt took the stage. He’s definitely one to see.


  • […] In the early ’90s, Downtown Nashville’s main strip (Lower Broadway) wasn’t exactly the tourist trap that it is today. “At that point,” says Saving Country Music, “The Ryman was shuttered and empty, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge had bums living in it, and the few blighted honky tonks were hidden between dirty bookstores.” One of the men who helped bring about the area’s revitalization is Joe Buck, bassist for Hank III. Definitely check out SCM’s excellent profile/interview with the “country punk” ar…. […]


  • Hell yeah I love Joe Buck. I wanna see him live some day. I hope I get to ‘fore I die.


  • $1/can PBR, wearin’ gray coveralls and smashed up cowboy hats slappin’ that big fiddle… Joe and Layla both dressed the same and both slapped that fiddle. I was fortunate enough to discover there were people who loved that old honky tonk shit and I wasn’t the only one. I had just moved to Tennessee in ’95 from PA. What a gem I thought, of Jim & Layla’s and Robert’s. “This is the shit!” It was really cool when there was a few couples who knew how to dance.

    I regret not going there more back then. Missed a lot. But I can’t afford a DUI! Greg Garing with Kenny Vaughan and Joe Buck, and that Cain Tuck Colonel – JD with a 17 year old Chris Scruggs and my favorite Shack Shaker, “Bird Dog” Brian, Moot Davis with Andy Gibson and Preston Rumbaugh…… God, I ain’t been downtown in AGES!!!

    Thanks for the hard work, Triggerman.


  • […] talked last week about how a punk rocker named Joe Buck, along with other so called neo-traditionalist musicians that migrated to Nashville in the mid […]


  • Thanks for all your work here at SCM. I check-in everyday to see what is going on. I appreciate learning about new music, the history and all the recommendations that you have. JBY was here in Portland on Saturday, and once again, his show was great. The Ashe Street billed the show as a punk/metal show with Zeke as the headliner, and that’s what makes Joe so great. His brand of hellbilly is able to hang with two completely different genres of music. Last time I saw him in Portland he was with Wayne the train.

    I’ve seen Joe’s show 5 or 6 times and always had a good-time. He’s always approachable, smart as hell and honest. Whether he actually remembers me or not, he always says hello. Going to SF to see him and then seeing him here in Portland a week later probably helps, but none-the-less, he always takes the time to talk to his fans. I also always try to get him to play Give It Up, but he told me that he honestly can’t remember the lyrics. On a side not, at one show he told me that he was on a 12-hour ferry headed to Finland and decided he’d play. One kid knew who he was and wanted to hear Give It Up. Joe told me he started playing it, couldn’t remember the lyrics and moved on.

    I asked when the new album was going to come out and Joe was nice enough to give it to me. Haven’t seen it on here, but it’s called Piss & Vinegar. All of his previous stuff is raw and tough, while Piss & Vinegar has this cleaned up feel, while still being tough as shit. Said he was headed north to work with Jack Endino and he was going to record Give It Up with Zeke. It’s going to be awesome. Hopefully Piss & Vinegar will get picked up by someone soon.


  • I love revisionist history!


  • […] is part three in a continuing series about the revitalization of lower Broadway in Nashville. Part 1 / Part […]


  • […] part four in a continuing series about the revitalization of lower Broadway in downtown Nashville. Part 1 / Part 2 / Part […]


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