Native Americans and Country Music

Johnny Cash Bitter Tears Native American IndianI’ve got so many great readers and supporters, and it seems like everyone has something they try to support beyond REAL country music. I wish I had more time to investigate and be more involved in all of these great causes, but there is only so much time in the day, as they say. I got a chance to highlight some of the great work people do for animals a while back with Hank III’s support of Wednesday Night Wags earlier this month.

Another great cause that is closely tied to the REAL country movement is issues dealing with Native Americans. I know I’m not breaking any news here that the Native Americans in this country have been put upon for years, and sometimes talking about it almost feels cliche. But the issues facing Native Americans are no less relevant and important right now than they have been at any point in the history of the United States.

A big supporter of Saving Country Music, Free Hank III, and Reinstate Hank has been r/n/z/ Magazine. r/n/z is a completely independent, DIY-style magazine that deals with Native American issues, but they also cover other stuff, including REAL country music. In the last issue, (which you can view by CLICKING HERE) r/n/z included a recent review I wrote for Wayne Hancock’s album Viper of Melody.

The Outlaws of country music, primarily Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Johnny Cash were (and in Willie’s case, are) big supporters of Native Americans. When Waylon was selling out stadiums in the late 70’s, he would take time to drive out to Reservations in Arizona to play rec centers for small but loyal crowds.

Willie Nelson’s contributions Native Americans are almost too numerous to list. His name is virtually synonymous with Native American issues, and his mother’s side of the family has strong Native American blood. Willie likes to say, “If you’ve ever seen an Indian head nickel you’ve got a pretty good idea of what I look like side-on with my hair down.”

But one of my favorite example’s of country music’s support for Native Americans is none other than Johnny Cash’s superlative 1964 concept album Bitter Tears – Ballads of the American Indian.

The commercial success of Johnny’s 1963 hit “Ring of Fire” allowed him the flexibility with his record label to make some albums hitting on issues close to his heart. This album is short (8 songs), but is no less a robust and biting tribute to America’s native people. Just the picture of Cash on the front cover seems to tell a tale of sorrow and struggle.

There are many other albums and songs, and though there are the exceptions, like Tim McGraw who virtually cut his teeth exploiting Native Americans with his first hit “Indian Outlaw”, I am proud to say that a lot of country music performers of the past and present that have championed Native American issues.