2014 was a year of great flux in country music. Where 2013 was dominated by public feuds and outcries by many country performers about the direction of the music, 2014 became the year things began to be done about many of the problems plaguing the genre. With Bro-Country as the battleground, the fight to return some balance to the country format began to make headway, and many of the initiatives launched in 2014, and many of the partnerships made and trends started may affect country music in profound ways in the coming years. Meanwhile 2014 was also a particularly violent year when it came to concerts and beyond, and saw the emergence and re-emergence of artists who will be very important to country music moving forward.
Following are the eleven biggest news stories of 2014. PLEASE NOTE: These are chosen and the order picked by two major factors 1) The importance of the story 2) The amount of traffic and interest in the story evidenced through analytical data on Saving Country Music, sometimes aggregated over multiple stories on the same subject if they exist.
Click on the orange, underlined fields to be taken to the specific stories.
#11 Legendary Artists Setting Records on Billboard’s Albums Charts
As artists whose fandoms represent one of the last bastions of the public that actually buy albums, legendary performers like Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, and even Billy Joe Shaver set records in 2014 on Billboard’s album charts. Unfortunately new chart rules will likely put a damper on the fun for 2015, but the year that past saw older artists receiving renewed recognition.
Willie Nelson’s Band of Brothers album became his first #1 in 28 years, and his highest showing ever on Billboard’s all genre Billboard 200 chart, coming in at #6. Dolly Parton’s May release Blue Smoke gave Dolly her first Top 10 on the Billboard 200 of her entire career when she came in at #6. She also charted at #2 on the Country Albums chart. Johnny Cash’s posthumous release of his lost album Out Among The Stars also saw surprising chart success, debuting at #1 in country, and #3 on the Billboard 200. And Billy Joe Shaver charted for the first time ever, with Long In The Tooth coming in at #19 on the Country Albums chart.
#10 The Wayne Mills Autopsy Report Released
The autopsy of slain country music artist Wayne Mills was released, revealing that the star was shot in the back of the head from a far range by bar owner Chris Ferrell, who is currently awaiting trial on 2nd degree murder charges. The autopsy revealed Wayne Mills had also sustained multiple injuries as part of the incident. Wayne’s 4th and 5th ribs were broken, and he had abrasions on his forehead, temple, scalp (unassociated with the gunshot), and contusions on his chest, arms, forearms, left thigh, and right knee.
The summary of the autopsy states,
Autopsy findings are significant for an entrance gunshot wound on the posterior parietal scalp with fragment exit and injury to scalp, skull, and brain. A bullet is recovered in association with this gunshot wound. Associated injuries include scalp, subdural, and subarachnoid hemorrhage, fractures to the right frontal and parietal bones, cortical and white matter contusions of the brain, and hemorrhage throughout the wound path. Other injuries include abrasions of the left side of the forehead, left temple, posterior occipital scalp, and abdomen, left-sided rib fractures, and contusions of the lateral chest, arms, forearms, left thigh, and right knee. Evidence of therapy and tissue procurement is noted.
The cause of death is a gunshot wound of the head, and the manner of death is homicide.
#9 A Drunk Toby Keith Blows Show in Indiana
On September 13th, Toby Keith made a tour stop at the Klipsch Music Center in Noblesville, Indiana just outside of Indianapolis on his “Shut Up & Hold On” tour, and according to many of the concert goers, Toby was too drunk to perform, put on a terrible show, and some fans demanded their money back. A cavalcade of attendees took to Twitter and Facebook to complain about Toby Keith forgetting words, and generally stumbling through his performance.
Later video emerged of Toby Keith stumbling through a rendition of “Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue.” Keith can be clearly heard heavily slurring his words and at times trailing off, until at the end of the line, “So we can sleep in peace at night when we lay down our heads,” he descends into an inaudible garble, inspiring the videographer to exclaim, “Oh God!”. Toby Keith and his publicist refused to acknowledge the incident despite it becoming a big story on local Indianapolis news channels.
#8 Male Country Stars Come Out As Gay
Country star Ty Herndon—known for his handful of mid 90′s hits such as “What Mattered Most,” “I Want My Goodbye Back,” and “Living In A Moment”—came out as gay on November 20th, making him the first openly gay male country music star in the mainstream in the history of the genre. Herndon says one of the things that motivated him coming out was seeing Kacey Musgraves win the CMA Song of the Year for “Follow Your Arrow,” saying that he welled up in tears at the win. “I felt so proud of my city. I hope that trend continues; I pray it does.” Ty’s decision also motivated former child country star Billy Gilman to come out as gay in a five minute video.
However one of the most interesting narratives to come out of the coming out announcements was just how much of a non-story it was. Aside from being the lead story on Entertainment Tonight and touching off mild interest on the internet, the announcements seemed to come as a shock to very few, and didn’t stimulate the type of vitriol some expected from the traditionally conservative music format. It still take a more active and mainstream male country artists coming out while he was still commercially relevant to see if country has finally moved on from its perceived gay stigma.
It was also revealed in 2014 that Brandy Clark was gay, but she took a more subtle and respectful approach to the sensitive subject.
#7 New Hank Williams “I Saw The Light” Biopic Announced
It was big enough news that the long-awaited biopic covering the life of Hank Williams was coming, and that the producers were setting out to make it the definitive movie work on the Hillbilly Shakespeare based off of Colin Escott’s acclaimed biography, with fully-licensed rights to use the original music for the film from Sony ATV. But then as the cast began to be revealed, and specifically that British-born actor Tom Hiddleston would be the one portraying Hank, controversy brewed about the selection of a non-Southerner, especially with Hank’s grandson, Hank Williams III, who publicly criticized the casting.
Then when a video was released of Hiddleston singing some of the Hank Williams songs he’s expected to perform live in the film at a festival with mentor Rodney Crowell, the controversy started anew. Nonetheless, the movie rolled on, shooting in Shreveport, Louisiana beginning in late October and lasting for about six weeks. With a release date roughly scheduled for late 2015, and big expectations for the film as a potential Oscar contender, I Saw The Light might be one of the biggest news stories of 2015 as well.
#6 The Rise of Sturgill Simpson
The rise of Sturgill Simpson could be classified as meteoric, and his dramatic ascent in 2014—from being picked up by Zac Brown Band as an opener, to playing Letterman and The Tonight Show, to being put at the top on many end-of-year lists and receiving a Grammy nomination—is virtually unparalleled in the modern country music world for an independent artist. His 2014 album Metamodern Sound in Country Music has captured the imaginations of many, and given them hope about the future of the country genre. And maybe most importantly, Sturgill Simpson has made fans wonder where he might be headed in 2015 and beyond.
#5 The Return of Garth Brooks
When the best selling artist in country music ever, and the 3rd highest-selling artist of all time comes out of retirement after 15 years away, it is going to cause some reverberations, and that’s exactly what Garth Brooks did when he officially announced a new album and a world tour at a July 10th press conference in Nashville. But Garth’s return hasn’t been all triumphant and pretty. It started off with a debacle in Dublin, when five planned shows were cut down to three by local authorities, resulting in Garth Brooks canceling all of the scheduled performances for which an entire custom-made video presentation and stage setup had been procured and shipped to Ireland on 18 semi-trailers.
Subsequently the sales of Garth’s comeback album Man Against Machine started off fairly lackluster, though being the savvy marketeer Garth Brooks is, sales have stayed strong through the Christmas buying season and are beginning to accumulate into decent numbers. Meanwhile despite Garth’s first single “People Loving People” flopping on radio, he’s selling out live shows left and right, and regularly for multiple dates in the same location as people flock to take in the live Garth experience.
Garth’s return has not been without its setbacks and shortcomings, but his presence has still been felt strongly throughout the country music world, and he promises to remain an important figure in the genre moving forward.
#4 SCM Declares Florida Georgia Line’s Anything Goes the Worst Album Ever
Though maybe not a big “story” in the greater country music world, it was the most-read story on Saving Country Music in history, and by a wide margin, being liked and shared on Facebook over 75,000 times, tweeted nearly 700 times, receiving almost 500 comments, and being viewed nearly 500,000 times.
“Anything Goes can slay all comers when it comes to its heretofore unattainable degree of peerless suckitude. In a word, this album is bullshit. Never before has such a refined collection of strident clichés been concentrated in one insidious mass. Never before have the lyrics to an album evidenced such narrowcasted pseudo-mindless incoherent drivel. Never before have such disparate and diseased influences been married so haphazardly in a profound vacuum of taste, and never have all of these atrocities been platooned together to be proffered to the public without someone, anyone with any bit of conscience and in a position of power putting a stop to this poisoning of the listening public.
“Not to get all old man on your ass, but most of the time I don’t even understand what the hell these dudes are saying. Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard have their own language, partial to the most grammatically-challenged and stupefying vocabulary lurking in the dankest sewers of the English dialect, but not residing firmly in any specific one of them so no truly proper translation can be obtained. It’s like Pig Latin for douchewads—understood by them and them only. And only with the perfect deficiency of brain cells will their concoction of Ebonics, metrosexual douche speak, and stagnant gene pool rural jargon become anything resembling coherent to the human ear.”
#3 Violence, Arrests, Medical Issues, and Death at Country Music Concerts
The summer of 2014 at country music’s mainstream concerts became one big rolling narrative about fights, arrests, hospitalizations, rape, stabbings, and even two deaths, all which occurred in a few short months during the height of country’s outdoor concert season. It almost felt like the media was embellishing all the violence with the way each week was punctuated with a new headline. “55 People Were Arrested, and 22 Hospitalized” in what local authorities characterized as a “mass casualty” event at a Keith Urban concert in Massachusetts on July 26th. Once again an annual event in Pittsburgh at Heinz Field resulted in huge amounts of trash, as well as many arrests and hospitalizations, even though the event the previous year had drawn large amounts of negative media coverage for similar problems.
Three people were stabbed at We Fest in Minnesota, a woman was gang raped at Michigan’s Faster Horses Festival, a drunk driver ran over a police officer at a Jason Aldean concert in Hartford, and amongst a myriad of other disturbing reports at country concerts, a man was found dead in a dumpster after Jason Aldean’s Cleveland concert, thought to be the cause of over intoxication, and another man died at a Hank Jr. concert after he was shoved and his head hit the concrete, though it was later determined it was likely by accident and not foul play.
Meanwhile the artists were not immune from injury themselves. Luke Bryan had three stage falls in 2014, Garth Brooks had two, Tim McGraw violently slapped a woman who ripped off a portion of his jeans, and Dustin Lynch got hit in the face with a full can of beer. 2014 was eventful at country concerts to say the least, making many wonder if it is the depravity in the music leading to such behavior. Without question 2015 will be one to watch to see if the country concert issues improve, or worsen.
#2 NASH Icon & The Impending Country Radio Format Split
Who would have ever dreamed, even at the beginning of 2014, that we could be faced with a scenario where the radio format for country music would be splitting in two, and this action would see the return of many of the older names and songs so unceremoniously shuffled to the side in the mainstream format in recent years? Heretofore the trend has been for country music to become more young, and more current every year, shoving older artists and music aside, even when they continue to prove their commercial viability. Research from radio analysts had been telling country radio for years they were shooting themselves in the foot by abandoning more classic-sounding music, and finally in 2014, they began to listen.
Two huge entities, not traditionally considered friends of traditional country music in Cumulus Media and Big Machine Records, joined forces to launch NASH Icon—a new radio format that includes older country music alongside newer music, and a record label that is looking to add new life to the careers of forgotten artists. Meanwhile simply the idea of NASH Icon stimulated other radio stations to adopt a more “classic” country format. Garth-FM (later The Hawk) was launched, and so was Hank FM, and many other country stations oriented towards older country music, fueling speculation that the movement will eventually stimulate a split of the country format. Furthermore, the NASH Icon affiliate in Nashville is consistently beating its mainstream competitors, including Bobby Bones’ home of WSIX.
Now Cumulus is even planning to add a NASH Classics format. Though none of these stations might be the cup of tea for the most hardened of traditional country listeners, it is a step in the right direction, and breeding a renewed love in more classic-sounding country music we haven’t seen in years. The impending radio format split might very well be the biggest development in the effort to save country music in many years.
#1 The Rise and Fall of Bro-Country
2014 started off with so-called “Bro-Country” as all the rage in popular country music, and ended with Bro-Country still somewhat relevant, but heavily on the wane and declining to a whimper while an anti Bro-Country tune in the form of Maddie & Tae’s “Girl In A Country Song” shattered all manner of records by becoming a #1 hit on country radio.
In late September, Saving Country Music wrote an obituary for Bro-Country, saying in part,
“On Monday, September 22nd, the subset of American country music known to many by its nickname ‘Bro-Country,’ died at its home in Nashville, TN. It was three-years-old. Bro-Country is survived by its family and close friends, including Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean, Brantley Gilbert, Cole Swindell, Chase Rice, Thomas Rhett, Dallas Davidson, and dozens of other lesser-known country music artists and songwriters. Though the specific cause of death has yet to be ruled on by the local medical examiner, preliminary findings appear to show that Bro-Country had been exhaustively over-utilized over the last few months and years until it finally passed away from overexposure. Bro-Country’s death is definitely being considered the result of ‘foul play.’”
Though 2014 still has another month to go, the end of November traditionally marks the end of the radio calendar in music, allowing us to look back and see who had the greatest impact on the format throughout the year. The Americana Music Association has just unveiled their list for the most played albums in 2014, and there’s quite a few surprises, and quite a few names traditionally considered country filling out the ranks.
Rosanne Cash leads all participants with her album The River & The Thread, followed by the much-anticipated comeback album from progressive bluegrass group Nickel Creek called A Dotted Line. Up-and-comers Nikki Lane, Lake Street Dive, and Shovels & Rope also made the Top 10, while Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music came in at #10 on the list.
Along with many of the well-recognized Americana names, country greats like Willie Nelson came in at #14, Johnny Cash at #32, Billy Joe Shaver at #42, Ray Benson at #67, Marty Stuart at #79, and Dolly Parton at #92. Americana stalwart Jim Lauderdale was the only name with multiple entries, with albums coming in at both #58 and #98.
The Americana airplay numbers are aggregated from 70 terrestrial radio stations, nationally syndicated radio shows, Sirius/XM satellite radio, and internet radio stations to come up with the final tallies.
Top 100 Most-Played Albums in Americana
- Rosanne Cash – The River & The Thread
- Nickel Creek – A Dotted Line
- Rodney Crowell – Tarpaper Sky
- Hard Working Americans – Hard Working Americans
- Old Crow Medicine Show – Remedy
- Nikki Lane – All Or Nothin’
- Lake Street Dive – Bad Self Portraits
- Shovels And Rope – Swimmin’ Time
- John Hiatt – Terms Of My Surrender
- Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds In Country Music
- Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin – Common Ground
- St. Paul & The Broken Bones – Half The City
- Parker Millsap – Parker Millsap
- Willie Nelson – Band Of Brothers
- Paul Thorn – Too Blessed To Be Stressed
- Lucinda Williams – Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone
- Trampled By Turtles – Wild Animals
- Various – A Tribute To Jackson Browne – Looking Into You
- Keb Mo – BLUESAmericana
- Secret Sisters – Put Your Needle Down
- John Fullbright – Songs
- Amos Lee – Mountains Of Sorrow, Rivers Of Song
- Jamestown Revival – Utah
- Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison – Our Year
- Jason Eady – Daylight & Dark
- Infamous Stringdusters – Let It Go
- Chuck Mead – Free State Serenade
- Sarah Jarosz – Build Me Up From Bones
- Billie Joe & Norah Jones – Foreverly
- Justin Townes Earle – Single Mothers
- Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams
- Johnny Cash – Out Among The Stars
- First Aid Kit – Stay Gold
- Carlene Carter- Carter Girl
- Devil Makes Three – I’m A Stranger Here
- Red Molly – The Red Album
- Duhks – Beyond The Blue
- Mastersons – Good Luck Charm
- Will Hoge – Never Give In
- Blackie and the Rodeo Kings – South
- Puss N Boots – No Fools, No Fun
- Billy Joe Shaver – Long In The Tooth
- Brandy Clark – 12 Stories
- Drive-By Truckers – English Oceans
- Carolina Story – Chapter Two
- Lee Ann Womack – The Way I’m Livin’
- Will Kimbrough – Sideshow Love
- Irene Kelley – Pennsylvania Coal
- Trigger Hippy – Trigger Hippy
- Shakey Graves – And The War Came
- Carolina Story – Chapter One
- Hurray For The Riff Raff – Small Town Heroes
- Chuck Prophet – Night Surfer
- Girls Guns & Glory – Good Luck
- Howlin’ Brothers – Trouble
- Blue Highway – The Game
- Amy LaVere – Runaway’s Diary
- Jim Lauderdale – I’m A Song
- Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings – Give The People What They Want
- Black Prairie – Fortune
- Ruthie Foster – Promise Of A Brand New Day
- Whiskey Myers – Early Morning Shakes
- Robert Ellis – The Lights From The Chemical Plant
- Suzy Bogguss – Lucky
- Seth Walker – Sky Still Blue
- Felice Brothers – Favorite Waitress
- Ray Benson – A Little Piece
- Scott Miller – Big Big World
- String Cheese Incident – Song In My Head
- Lydia Loveless – Somewhere Else
- Mingo Fishtrap – On Time
- Haden Triplets – Haden Triplets
- Robert Cray Band – In My Soul
- Mike Farris – Shine For All The People
- Tommy Malone – Poor Boy
- Zoe Muth – World Of Strangers
- Greg Trooper – Incident on Willow Street
- Charlie Robison – High Life
- Marty Stuart – Saturday Night/Sunday Morning
- Various – Inside Llewyn Davis – Inside Llewyn Davis
- Old 97s – Most Messed Up
- Chris Smither – Still On The Levee
- Various – A Tribute To Born in the USA – Dead Man’s Town
- Deep Dark Woods – Jubilee
- Rod Picott – Hang Your Hopes On A Crooked Nail
- Steve Martin And The Steep Canyon Rangers – LIVE featuring Edie Brickell
- Janiva Magness – Original
- Otis Gibbs – Souvenirs Of A Misspent Youth
- Avett Brothers – Magpie And The Dandelion
- Candi Staton – Life Happens
- Blue Rodeo – In Our Nature
- Dolly Parton – Blue Smoke
- Head And The Heart – Let’s Be Still
- Peter Mulvey – Silver Ladder
- John Mellencamp – Plain Spoken
- Laura Cantrell – No Way There From Here
- Band Of Heathens – Sunday Morning Record
- Jim Lauderdale – Black Roses
- Mary Gauthier – Trouble & Love
- Hannah Aldridge – Razor Wire
This isn’t some beer league bar band made up of 2nd shifters from the machinist union out on a Friday night to give the jukebox a spell, this is Whitey Morgan & the 78′s dammit—the most wild-eyed honky tonk hard-stomping band ever to put their boots through a bass drum head. And to have a high quality rig on site recording it all in their home confines of The Machine Shop of Flint, Michigan as they wreak havoc on stage and sour their livers with enough sauce to stop a Russian racehorse, it could only resort in a must-have audio experience for hardcore twangers.
No offense to their two solid studio albums, but the live forum has always been the ideal place to witness the Whitey Morgan & the 78′s experience. They thrive in their natural honky tonk environment like caged country music animals let out on stage only for the occasion of entertainment, while still carrying a precision to their music, with little runs, stops, and rhythms worked out and worn in during darn near 300 some odd days of touring a year to where these guys could shit better music than many bands. So it’s about damn time a live album was released, especially since this particular set of music was recorded way back in 2011, and it’s been since 2010 that we’ve had a Whitey Morgan release of any kind.
Born, Raised, & LIVE From Flint captures a well-seasoned 78′s band with a couple of extra pieces like harmonica and organ/piano for good measure reprising Whitey’s most popular songs with a live energy any studio effort just can’t match. Along with being a live album, you could also consider this a Greatest Hits package from the first half decade-plus of the band. Whitey & Co. barrel into originals like “Buick City,” “Turn Up The Bottle,” and “I Ain’t Drunk,” along with their best-known covers like Johnny Paycheck’s “Cocaine Train,” Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire,” and the famous song written by Dale Watson about Billy Joe Shaver shooting a man in Waco “Where Do You Want It.” If you’re just stumbling onto Whitey right now and looking for a place to start, Born, Raised, & LIVE might not be a bad option.
Even for some hardcore fans, live albums can be tedious after you’ve listened to recorded versions of songs for years to the point where your brain is unreceptive to newer versions. But in the case of Born, Raised, & LIVE, there’s just enough wrinkles to make the songs unique and new. For example the inclusion of Mike Lynch on piano/organ really adds a richness to these tracks beyond the live energy. Also this recording was made right at the height of the classic version of this band with JD MacKinder on bass, Benny James Vermeylen on guitar, and Brett Robinson on steel guitar, after they’d been touring non-stop, resulting in arrangements and instrumental solos that are more tight and better developed than when they were in the studio. And since so many of Whitey’s covers are just as good as their originals, it’s good to get versions of those you can listen to when the next local Whitey show is months away.
This live album is being released right as a whole slew of new Whitey Morgan material is on its way, including a new studio album slated for sometime next year, and an acoustic album called Grandpa’s Guitar scheduled to be released December 16th. “I recorded this album all over this great country, including various shady motel rooms,” Whitey Morgan says about the upcoming acoustic release. “NO fancy production, just me and my guitar, lots of whiskey, a microphone and a whole lot of ME! I set out to capture those private, sometimes lonely moments on tape and I’m proud of the results. Hope you enjoy.”
The fact that Whitey Morgan & The 78′s are good live is one of the reasons they could go darn near half a decade now without releasing any new music, yet still build up their legacy and fan base to the point where they’ve never been bigger. Born, Raised, & LIVE gives hardcore Whitey fans a home version of the madness and magic that sets the hair of honky-tonk crowds on fire all across the country and beyond.
1 3/4 of 2 Guns Up.
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On December 4th, Billboard will roll out new changes to their Billboard 200 album chart, and the effect will be big on some of your favorite music artists, including legends like Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton, and up-and-comers like Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell. The changes will be the first major overhaul to the album chart since 1991, and will send pop stars and artists whose fans favor streaming to much higher positions and allow them to stay there for longer, while artists whose fans prefer to buy physical, cohesive albums or downloads will be diminished.
As first explained by Saving Country Music in September, the new chart rules (dubbed initially as a ‘Consumption Chart’) take into consideration the streaming of songs when rating the overall impact of an album. 1,500 songs streams on services such as Spotify, Google Play, Beats, Rhapsody, the new YouTube Music Key, or any other streamers will count as the equivalent of one album sale, even if those streams are all for only one song. The chart change is meant to take into account the new reality of how music is consumed, and give a boost to artists whose albums get buried on Billboard album charts because of poor sales of cohesive albums.
A big differences between what was initially reported about the upcoming changes and what were highlighted in a New York Times feature on the charts posted late Wednesday (11-19) is that there won’t be an autonomous ‘Consumption Chart,’ but changes directly to the Billboard 200.
It is also left ambiguous at the moment if there will still be dedicated album charts that do not take into account streaming. Original reports had album charts remaining, but likely losing relevancy with the implementation of the new chart system. There’s also no news at the moment if the changes will also be implemented for Billboard’s genre specific album charts.
Recently we have seen older country artists such as Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, and Billy Joe Shaver set career chart records with their album releases because these artist’s older fan bases are one of the few demographics left that actually buy albums. But since these artist’s streaming footprint is significantly less, these new chart rules would see them fare significantly worse compared to the current system.
Same could be said for many independent artists like Old Crow Medicine Show, Sturgill Simpson or Jason Isbell, whose fan bases are more likely to buy physical albums to help support the artist. These artists have seen significant boosts from chart performances recently, and this will be diminished under the new system. Artists who rely heavily on vinyl sales like Jack White will also see diminishing returns from the new charting system.
Since these charts are used to gauge the importance and impact an artist has in the marketplace, a diminishing of these artists on the charts could affect their overall sales, or their acknowledgement by the industry. The new system will create even a greater discrepancy between the have’s and have not’s of music, and see more attention paid to the biggest artists, the biggest songs, and the biggest albums.
On the flip side, many artists who’ve arguably been treated poorly because their music depends mostly on streaming will benefit from the new system, and some change was probably warranted to account for consumers’ changing behavior. Also the chart will account for listening behaviors beyond the initial sale. Since streaming behavior happens for much longer after an album is released, it could give a more accurate portrayal of the importance of an album beyond the release date. But of course, there’s no way to gauge how many times a consumer who purchases a physical or downloaded copy listens after the purchase date, putting artists whose fans bases buy physical at a disadvantage, beyond getting a much bigger credit in the charts for the physical sale initially.
Some examples given of who would benefit under mock ups of the new chart system show artists such as EDM duo Disclosure and their album Settle going from #213 on the album chart based purely off of sales, all the way up to #64 based off of album equivalent streams and plays. That is a 149-spot difference just from the new reporting method. Another example is Katy Perry’s album Prism, which moved from #61 to #16 in early projections. But according to David Bakula of Nielson Soundscan—the company partnering with Billboard on the new chart formula—Taylor Swift’s new album 1989 would still be safe at #1 even though she has chosen to exit the streaming business on Spotify.
When Billboard implemented sweeping changes to their song chart configurations in October of 2012, it was predicted at the time by many that these changes would fundamentally modify the industry in historic ways, ushering in an era where popular American music would rapidly succumb to the monogenre, and distinctions of separate genres would slowly become irrelevant. Artists who did not occupy the “crossover” realm would see diminished significance, and popular music would all begin to sound the same.
Subsequently that is exactly what we have seen, and the fingerprints of Billboard 2012′s rules changes can be found all over malevolent trends in country music and beyond, including the rise of “Bro-Country,” the institution of rap and EDM elements in country in a widespread manner, and the continued struggles of the genre to support and develop female artists. The new rules have also affected Billboard’s rap charts and other genres, and have been aided by the addition of YouTube data in 2013.
Once the new charts are published on December 4th we’ll know more. But once again it is the little guy, the legend, and the up-and-comer that gets squeezed as the industry retools to face the new reality of music streaming.
Loretta Lynn’s last album, 2004′s Van Lear Rose wasn’t just one of the most important albums of Loretta’s storied career, it was one of the most important country albums in the entirety of the oughts. Produced by Jack White, it was the comeback album of comeback albums, and received wide critical acclaim, including two Grammy Awards. It holds a resounding 97 rating on Metacritic.
But since the success of Van Lear Rose, Loretta has entered in the largest absent period for albums in her career. Perhaps not wanting to test fate and instead ride out the success of Van Lear Rose as long as she could, ten years have passed since she released the storied album. But all of that is about to change.
It has just been announced that Loretta has inked a five album deal with Sony’s catalog album imprint Legacy Recordings, with a new album expected to be released some time next year. Legacy is the same Sony imprint that has been finding great success releasing albums from Willie Nelson during the silver era of his career.
Ten years may have passed, but for seven of them Loretta has been at work in the famous Johnny Cash Cabin Studios in Hendersonville, TN on new music that “travels back and explores Loretta’s musical history, from the Appalachian folk songs and gospel music she learned as a child, to new interpretations of her classic hits and country standards, to songs newly-written for the project.” Helping Loretta with the project has been Loretta’s daughter, Patsy L. Russell, and John Carter Cash, son of Johnny Cash and June Carter, and the operator/caretaker of the Cash Cabin Studios.
Loretta’s new collection of music is said to include “intimate new performances, the way they might’ve sounded growing up in the 1930s and Forties in Butcher Hollow [Holler].” She’s said to have over 90 songs recorded.
“Me and Shawn Camp have been writing some songs together,” Lynn told The Nashville Scene in September. “He’s a good little writer, and I’ve been busy recording. I cut 90-some songs. I did all my biggest ones over again, and I cut some old-timey story songs like Mommy taught me when I was in Kentucky. Like this guy that got mad at his girlfriend because she got in a bad way with him — you know, pregnant. Well, he killed her and threw her in the bottom of the Ohio River. Tied a railroad steel around her neck! When somebody would do something like that, people would write about it.”
Loretta has been enjoying a resurgence of interest lately, making the Legacy Recordings signing and new music somewhat timely. In September, Loretta received a Lifetime Achievement Award in Songwriting from the Americana Music Awards. Then at the 2014 CMA Awards, she performed with Kacey Musgraves on a duet of Loretta’s song “You’re Looking At Country.”
Loretta will join a list of country music legacy acts like Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, and Billy Joe Shaver who’ve released successful albums landing in the top of the country music charts as country fans continue to search for the classic sound of country.
Here’s a remake of the Conway Twitty/Loretta Lynn duet “After The Fire Is Gone” Loretta worked on recently with Jeff Bates.
“Marty Shine” is what many of his friends call him. He’s the owner of the Moonshine Sauce Company who through a series of events over the last year or so has gone from slaving over a hot barbecue pit to playing festival promoter at this weekend’s Outlaw Fest at the Edgehill Farm in Oakland, KY.
Independent-minded artists and fans are already making their way to the inaugural gathering, looking to take in music from headliners like Billy Joe Shaver and The Steeldrivers, and music and stories from 2nd and 3rd generation Outlaws like Waylon Jennings’ son Terry Jennings, his grandson Whey Jennings, and Willie Nelson’s granddaughter Raelyn Nelson. Add on top that legendary songwriters like Billie Gant, up-and-coming stars like the Dallas Moore Band and Josh Morningstar, well-known Texas radio DJ “Big G” Gordon Ames, and Outlaw Fest has a little something of everything from the Outlaw country world.
For a while Marty Shine (aka Martin Bently) had been hauling around his barbecue rig to music festivals and other events when he had an epiphany. Actually, he had a couple of them. The first was that his barbecue sauce made with a kick of moonshine was in such high demand, he didn’t need to worry about the meat portion of the barbecue quotient. Just bottle up the sauce and save the mess. “We just sell sauce because the sauce is bigger than the cooking part of it,” Marty says.
The second epiphany is what led to Outlaw Fest. Marty was attending a festival last year—cooking barbecue and promoting his Moonshine Sauce—when he saw a problem. “I’m sitting there listening to some of the best music in the world and I’m wondering why these guys can’t play a stage like Florida Georgia Line? That was the theory behind the whole thing, that these guys deserve the same treatment that the pop country people get. But at the same token, a lot of these people don’t have the following to draw a crowd, so you add Billy Joe Shaver in there and the Steeldrivers to put more people in there.”
Marty and his Moonshine Sauce weren’t particularly well-known to the Outlaw music crowd when he showed up to the festival last year. But by the end, he knew most of them on a first name basis. “All the other food vendors pulled out and went home because it was 20 degrees. And I stayed. And that automatically made me friends with all of these people, because they actually had food and somebody cared enough to stay. Now did I lose my ass? Of course I did. But good food makes good friends.”
Marty Shine saw the potential these unheralded Outlaw artists had, but knew he had to figure out a way to get people’s attention. “I told Dallas Moore, ‘It’s my job to put asses in seats. It’s your job to make fans out of these people.’ I put the people there, you make them fans. And then next year the other names will draw more people than they did this year.”
The term “Outlaw” carries so much baggage these days, and has been corrupted and misappropriated by Music Row in Nashville so many times it’s hard to count (including the title of a recent title of a Mötley Crüe country tribute album), but Marty believes it’s worth challenging those misnomers by offering up a true example of the Outlaw approach instead of running away from the term. “To me the term ‘Outlaw’ is the epitome of what Waylon Jennings did. It’s not selling out to corporate anybody. It’s not necessarily a genre of music as it is a way of life. You hear the term ‘Outlaw’ and it conjures up different things to different people. And were doing our best to let people know it’s just the way these people do their music. They do their own thing.”
What started out as a way to promote his barbecue sauce has turned into a full blown 4-day festival with over 40 bands. Already the festival was forced to move from its original location of the Wishbone Rance to Edgehill Farm because of the expected turnout. “Our goal on the whole thing is that if we break even, then there will be an Outlaw Fest 2015. Everybody wants it to be an annual event and that’s a good thing. Because people see that we’re doing everything we can do to do it up right. I don’t know anything else to do that we’ve not done. But the long-range goal is to make this an annual event that will rival anything else out there.”
What the forces that would sway popular American music to only focus on youth fail to regard is where simply the tone of a voice and the visage of a legendary performer can evoke such a reverence and place such immeasurable weight of an entire remarkable career behind it that an immediate elevation of whatever music being performing occurs in a measure that could never be challenged by the simple exuberance of youth.
2014 has been a retrenching of sorts for many of country music’s legacy artists. Dolly Parton and Billy Joe Shaver have released albums after multi-year hiatuses from the studio, and to high praise and successful chart performances. The release of Johnny Cash’s lost album Out Among The Stars treated classic country fans to an entire album’s worth of unheard material and collaborations with stars who’ve passed on, including Waylon Jennings and June Carter.
The song “It Ain’t You” off of Ray Benson’s album A Little Piece continues this trend of offering both something unheard, but something wrought during the living era of a legendary artist, and paid forward with reverence and care by those still around who are inspired by their legacy.
Originally written by Waylon Jennings with Gary Nicholson, “It Ain’t You” was never recorded, and was relatively unknown except to a select few for many years. When Asleep At The Wheel frontman Ray Benson was looking for material to release on his first solo album in a decade, the song was suggested to him by Sam “Lightnin’” Seifert who co-produced the effort with Lloyd Maines. Benson was blown away that nobody had ever recorded the “undiscovered gem,” and he called up Willie Nelson who agreed to do the song with Ray. Willie recorded his part in his Western ghost town of Luck, TX. With Ray being 64, and Willie being 81, but both performers being very much in charge of their faculties and charging forward with their music careers, the pairing was perfect to embody the theme of “It Ain’t You” about growing old but staying young.
“It Ain’t You” is exquisitely written, and makes one wonder how this song went unheard for so long. It has the similar self-reflective and age-recognizing tone of other Waylon-performed songs like “Memories of You And I”—pondering one’s own mortality and how age sees the sifting of abilities through your fingers. At the same time there’s a defiant strength woven through the lines; a reassurance that even though wrinkles may appear on the surface, the soul of a man continues to become refined over time.
The music, and both Ray Benson’s and Willie’s performances are chilling enough, but the video for “It Ain’t You” takes it a step further, fully understanding what’s at the heart of the song, and pulling out all the stops to not only do the song justice, but enhance the experience through the visual medium. The wisdom of knowing what the simple sight of Willie’s battle-worn hands can stir in the beholder, while crafting a way to capture the spirit of the long-time friendship between Ray and Willie so purely is worth watching even if the song itself doesn’t strike a particular chord with the listener.
Even without the legacies of Ray Benson, Asleep At The Wheel, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Gary Nicholson behind it, “It Ain’t You” would still be a song for the ages. Like the song’s writers, caretakers, and performers, it is destined to grow in stature over time.
Two guns up!
41 years, 26 albums, 11 different record labels, and one Outlaw country legend who had never experienced a charting album beyond a mere blip on the Christian charts a few years ago …. until now. Billy Joe Shaver, and his first album in seven years entitled Long In The Tooth has gone where no other Billy Joe Shaver album has gone before—to the Top 20 of Billboard’s country album’s chart. Coming in at #19, it marks Shaver’s first entry in the album chart ever, and his placing at #157 in the all-genre category is his first appearance in that chart as well.
The news comes after a strong push for the album that sees Billy Joe’s old friend Willie Nelson lend his voice to the opening track, “Hard To Be An Outlaw”. Willie Nelson also featured two Billy Joe Shaver songs on his recent album Band of Brothers, fueling the flames of Shaver interest. Fans waited seven years for the 74-year-old Shaver to finally put out another album of original music, and Long In The Tooth finds Billy Joe sitting tall in the saddle, shouting and spitting, brandishing his fists and taking potshots, and shining in moments of unexpected sentimentality.
Billy Joe Shaver joins a resurgent crowd of country music greats who’ve enjoyed renewed chart success recently, including Willie Nelson whose Band of Brothers album became his first #1 in 28 years, and his highest showing ever on Billboard’s all genre Billboard 200 chart, coming in at #6. Dolly Parton’s May release Blue Smoke gave Dolly her first Top 10 on the Billboard 200 of her entire career when she came in at #6. She also charted at #2 on the Country Albums chart. Johnny Cash’s posthumous release of his lost album Out Among The Stars also saw surprising chart success, debuting at #1 in country, and #3 on the Billboard 200.
Why all the surprising chart success for older country music artists in 2014? It’s partly because the fans of older country music stars actually buy albums instead of streaming them online, or just downloading individual songs. This makes older artists more lucrative for labels, and allows the artists to outpace their much younger competition on the charts. It proves that country music’s older artists can deliver when they’re given a chance, even without radio play.
Meanwhile Willie Nelson’s Band of Brothers album remains in Billboard’s Top 25 of country albums for an eighth straight week, coming in at #22 this week.
Forget all the Johnny Come Lately’s ladies and gentlemen. If you want to witness the last remaining vestige of what once was the high flying revolutionary original Outlaw movement in country music, if you want to see the last remaining example of the piss and vinegar, the cowboy poetry, the tried and true rebellious nature that defined what an original country music Outlaw really was, Billy Joe Shaver is the last living true specimen of the genre. He’s the one who never came down off that mountain, who never gave up the ghost, who is still fighting tooth and nail every day and night for what he has, and hasn’t given up one speck of ground when it comes to energy and appetite for the music over his legendary career.
When you watch Billy Joe Shaver perform live, you don’t have to rely on the mythos surrounding the man to enjoy his show. Billy Joe Shaver is no museum piece. He doesn’t come out and ride off of his past accomplishments while sitting on a stool with his laurels stuffed in his back pockets. He puts on a show that kicks the ass of most performers a third of his age—punching and bobbing and singing and performing his guts out like it’s his last performance ever, and all of this from a man who’s arguably known first and foremost as a songwriter, not a performer. If you put a stool out on stage for him, he’d kick its ass during the first stanza of “Georgia On A Fast Train” and then dance a jig around its splintered corpse during the guitar solo. Billy Joe Shaver is what Outlaw country music is all about: never giving in.
We have waited seven damn years for the 74-year-old to finally put out another album of original music, and Long In The Tooth is well worth the wait. The album finds Billy Joe Shaver sitting tall in the saddle, shouting and spitting, brandishing his fists and taking potshots, and shining in moments of unexpected sentimentality.
In some respects this album can be taken as a companion piece to Shaver’s dear friend Willie Nelson’s recent album Band of Brothers. On that album, Willie featured two Billy Joe Shaver-penned songs, “The Git Go” and “Hard To Be An Outlaw”, and those are two of the first three tracks on Long In The Tooth. Honesty, and as you would expect, Shaver’s versions are slightly better, and are sung with such conviction it can give you shivers. Shaver might now be in his 70′s, but his current songwriting output holds up to the lofty standards he set for himself years ago. “The Git Go” and “Hard To Be An Outlaw” are the two biggest takeaways from Long In The Tooth, and for completely different reasons. “Hard To Be An Outlaw” is the bellicose, “climb-the-highest-building-in-Nashville-like-King-Kong-and-shoot-the-double-bird” type of song, while “The Git Go” is pious, poetic, yet still grounded and folksy in its wrinkled wisdom.
Long In The Tooth comes out of the shoot like a bronking bull. Billy Joe Shaver announces immediately that this is not going to be some gray-haired, geriatric affair. He may be 74, but he will still kick everyone’s ass in the room if he has to, and do it in the name of Jesus. As the album proceeds though, there are some astounding moments where Shaver, whose zeal can sometimes exceed his vocal prowess, shows off a set of pipes in love songs that stir the heart with the same ferocity as his boot stompers shake the bones. “I Love You As Much As I Can” and especially “I’m In Love” capture timeless performances from Shaver, whose voice sounds as strong and sincere as it ever did. It’s almost shocking, especially with the throat gravel Billy Joe unearths on some of the other tracks, how remarkably Shaver has held onto his singing voice and the control he displays.
The controversial song on the album (if you want to call it that) is the title track. It has some people (including Shaver himself in certain interviews) saying that he’s rapping, though I’m not sure that’s how I would characterize it. The song is drenched in Crybaby guitar pedals and spit on the microphone as Shaver does his best to scare off old age in a merciless exploration of whatever is left of his id and machismo. If a song like this came from someone like Hank Williams Jr. or another country star who is trying desperately (and embarrassingly) to hold on to their youthful career, we’d be laughing and labeling them a sellout. But Shaver is so far beyond that phase, this song is simply meant to be taken as fun, and it should be. It is good for a few passes, though it certainly is not representative of the best music the album has to offer.
Shaver’s songwriting continues to impress as the album progresses, including with the train number “Sunbeam Special”, and the witty song for the common man, “Checkers And Chess”.
Blame the seven year hiatus for helping to refine his material, blame his immortal spirit that refuses to let him sit down, or blame the talent within him that appears to be bottomless. But at 74-years-old, Billy Joe Shaver is still schooling an army of artists who would love to label themselves Outlaws, but don’t have the acumen to truly understand what the word even means, let alone the skills to pull it off, or the history to back it up.
In Outlaw country music in 2014, there’s Billy Joe Shaver, and everyone else.
1 3/4 of 2 Guns Up
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When the compilation album Wanted! The Outlaws was released in 1976, it became country music’s first million-selling record and made huge stars of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. Jessi Colter was already a big star because of her big #1 hit “I’m Not Lisa”. But why did Tompall Glaser never find the big success his fellow Outlaws did? Why wasn’t Tompall able to ride the Outlaw momentum to become one of the biggest names in country music?
A recently-released biography on Tompall Glaser called The Great Tompall: Forgotten Country Music Outlaw finally looks to tell the life story of one of the most important figures in the history of country music, but one of the most forgotten. Because Tompall’s impact was mostly felt behind-the-scenes, he arguably has never received proper credit for how he revolutionized country music in the mid 70′s with his renegade studio that broke the major label monopoly on country, and allowed creative freedom to finally reign in Nashville.
The new book, written by blood relative Kevin Glaser who is the nephew of Tompall, includes many interviews with important country music figures from today and from the time of Tompall’s greatest influence; people like Kinky Friedman, “Cowboy” Jack Clement, and Marty Stuart. Kevin Glaser also speaks to influential critic and professor Dave Hickey who spent significant time at Glaser Studios in Nashville during the height of the Outlaw movement. In the new biography, Hickey helps explain why Tompall never became as famous as his Outlaw brothers while painting a picture of what the Glaser Sound Studios were like.
From “The Great Tompall”:
Hickey first came to Nashville with an assignment to write a book about Waylon and Willie. He never got around to it since he existed in a “fog of cocaine and dope” during his time at Glaser Sound Studios. He considers the time he spent there as a “studio internship,” and mentioned that because he lived two blocks away, he would sometimes sleep in the studio.
According to Hickey, “Glaser Sound Studio became ‘ground zero’ for the Outlaw Movement (a phrase that Dave claims to have coined), due to the fact that people like Tompall, Waylon, Willie and Neil Reshen were there during this time. This was the moment that country music artists discovered that they didn’t need to ask Chet Atkins’ permission before they could go to the bathroom. The old-time studio system (Acuff-Rose, etc.) could be bypassed. Everyone took control of their own destiny. They had their own publishing companies, studios, managers, etc. They weren’t beholden to record companies or to Billy Sherrill’s idea of what a good song was.”
In Hickey’s mind, the “Rebellious Center of Nashville” during this time included Roger Miller, John Lomax, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Billy Joe Shaver, Tompall, Billy Swan, and Kinky Friedman, among others. However, Tompall was the “improviasrio of the scene” and the scene was very valuable to a great many people. Tompall was a force to be reckoned with, and he was willing to take chances. A lot of studio time was provided pro bono and involved experimental types of activities…
Hickey said that drugs were the culture of this time period (pre-1985). Glaser Studios certainly wasn’t a “drug alley,” but drugs were certainly there. Tompall got into cocaine later in his career, but he (Hickey) doesn’t think that Tompall was into speed the way Willie and Waylon were. Waylon once said that “speed is pot for people who have to work two shifts per day.” Hickey also remembers that a professional cleaning company once came in to clean up all the smoke from pot and cigarettes that had become attached to the underside of the studio soundboard….
In Hickey’s opinion, Tompall didn’t become as well known as Waylon and Willie because “the obligation of having the recording studio created somewhat of a burden for Tompall, and he was not willing to leave and go on the road for eight weeks and live in a bus, etc. It just wasn’t his thing … and that is the thing that makes performers successful. However, Tompall seemed to be comfortable with the way things were.” Also, Hickey felt that Tompall wasn’t really comfortable with the place he found in the group that included Waylon, Willie, and Kris Kristofferson. There there is a tragedy to the story of Tompall, maybe this is it. Hickey compared Tompall’s place in this group to Bill Wyman’s place in the Rolling Stones, opposite of Keith Richards and Mick Jagger.
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Willie Nelson, who just released his latest record Band of Brothers on June 17th though Sony’s Legacy Recordings, has crested at the very top spot on Billboard’s Country Music Album’s chart, landing at #1. It is Willie’s first #1 in 28 years, since his 1986 album The Promiseland. It is also his second-best showing ever on Billboard’s all genre Billboard 200 chart, coming in at #6. Band of Brothers is only the third time Willie has cracked the Billboard 200′s Top 10. He came in at #2 with Always On My Mind in 1982, and his last album, a duets project To All The Girls came in at #9. Willie sold roughly 37,000 copies of his new album to land the top spot.
Willie Nelson now has a total of ten #1 records to his name in an unprecedented country music career. He joins a resurgent crowd of country music greats who’ve had renewed chart success recently, including Dolly Parton’s May release Blue Smoke. It gave Dolly her first Top 10 on the Billboard 200 of her entire career when she came in at #6. She also charted at #2 on the Country Albums chart. Johnny Cash’s posthumous release of his lost album Out Among The Stars also saw surprising chart success, debuting at #1 in country, and #3 on the Billboard 200.
Band of Brothers is Willie’s fourth album with Legacy Recordings, all of which have been produced by Buddy Cannon. The album is the first from Willie in 17 years to feature mostly self-penned, new material, and also features a duet with Jamey Johnson on Billy Joe Shaver’s song “The Git Go”, and contributions from Vince Gill and Bill Anderson.
Why all the surprising chart success for older country music artists in 2014? It’s partly because the fans of older country music stars actually buy albums instead of streaming them online, or just downloading individual songs. This makes older artists more lucrative for labels, and allows the artists to outpace their much younger competition on the charts. Once again with Willie hitting #1, it proves that country music’s older artists can deliver when they’re given a chance, even without any radio play.
Let’s face it. Willie Nelson could take his sweaty, old man-smelling headband off, slingshot it out to center stage, and it would still be more enriching than what most of modern country radio has to offer. Simply the tone of his voice immediately puts the inertia of nearly a century of noble contributions to country music behind whatever he does. A few plucks of his guitar “Trigger,” and the woody tones can can make you break out in bone-deep shivers. Just the visage of Willie—the Pocahontas braids and the folds of wisdom feathered by white whiskers enveloping one of the world’s most respected faces—commands immediate reverence, and a warm feeling usually reserved only for the proximity of close family.
Band of Brothers finds Willie Nelson once again united with producer Buddy Cannon for their fourth offering on Sony’s Legacy Recordings imprint. Where the first album Heroes felt like a significant retrenching for Willie, the subsequent Let’s Face The Music & Dance and To All The Girls felt a little more forced in their premise, though undoubtedly delivering some fine music. Band of Brothers comes across much more like an inspired, purposeful effort, with the point being to showcase the 81-year old’s continuing proficiency as a songwriter—the skill that got him into all of this country music nonsense in the very first place. Though Willie has written and recorded many original songs recently, this is the first album in some 17 years that finds his own handiwork featured in the majority.
And where Willie’s last two albums were a little more refined and light, which can only be expected from such an aged performer, Band of Brothers has some piss and vinegar to it; some balls, and even some bawdy, bellicose language. In many respects this is a hard, true country album in the material, if not exactly in the tone, which finds Willie sticking close to his established sound: light drums, his own leads, and Mickey Raphael’s familiar harp fleeting in and out.
Though the rhetoric around this album is about how much of it Willie wrote, the contributions mark many of the album’s most noteworthy moments. While some of Buddy Cannon’s albums can be a little too collaboration happy, Band of Brother’s sole duet is on the Billy Joe Shaver-penned song “The Git Go”, where Jamey Johnson shows up to sing a few lines. This troika of country music talent makes the rendition well worth your attention, and the smoky, lounge-like take on this song does the original justice. Shaver also shows up in the songwriting credits for “Hard To Be an Outlaw”, which features a straight up country protest line in the second verse.Some super stars nowadays, gets too far off the ground Singing about the backroads, they never have been down They go and call it country, but that ain’t the way it sounds It’s enough to make a renegade want to terrorize the town
You combine this with the adulterous sentiment of “Wives and Girlfriends,” the very entertaining and adventurous “The Songwriters” by Gordie Sampson and Bill Anderson, and the S-bombs Willie drops in the Dennis Morgan-written “I’ve Got a Lot of Traveling To Do,” and you’re surely made aware that Willie still has plenty of fire left in him.
Where Band of Brothers shines brightest however is in the introspective song “The Wall”. As was said in the song review, isn’t it interesting how we look upon Willie Nelson as such a saint of not just music or country music, but of the nation and world, and here he is releasing a song that instead of reveling in his accomplishments and resting on his laurels, catches the 81-year-old country legend looking back upon his past mistakes, self-deprecating and pensive, yet understanding how those mistakes made him the man he is today. Though some aspects of Willie’s recent Buddy Cannon pairing seem like taking it safe—like Cannon showing up as a co-writer on all of Willie’s original songs for this album, almost like it was mandated by Sony or something—the production of “The Wall” spreads its wings, and the song benefits from it.
The opening song “Bring It On” is quite good too, and fresh-feeling, with Willie puffing his chest out, inviting a good challenge. “I Thought I Left You” shows that classic love songwriting is still running thick in Willie’s blood, and is rivaled by Vince Gill’s “Whenever You Come Around,” which was a worthy inclusion, despite a rough beginning in Willie’s vocals. The album’s theme song, “Band of Brothers”, rekindles that old “On The Road Again” sentiment of camaraderie.
Having seen Willie Nelson numerous times recently, the case could be made that a slippage of skills is slowly starting to catch up with him, which can only be expected. And some of those moments get captured on this album. Though Buddy Cannon never seems to completely wow you, he’s consistent. This really is a great collection of songs, despite some soft patches, and a few well-trodden paths that are tough for holding the attention. However incrementally diminished his skills might be, Willie Nelson shows a lot of spirit, a lot of fight in Band of Brothers, and any swan song seems far off.
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1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
Well it’s about time we had some established country artists take up the trend of country protest songs, and give modern country their what for. As the lead single from Billy Joe Shaver’s upcoming album Long In The Tooth scheduled for release on August 5th, the long-time, storied country Outlaw songwriter has teamed up with his old buddy Willie Nelson to release a duet called “It’s Hard to Be an Outlaw” that puts new school, fake country Outlaws and other country music interlopers in its crosshairs.Some super stars nowadays, gets too far off the ground Singing about the backroads, they never have been down They go and call it country, but that ain’t the way it sounds It’s enough to make a renegade want to terrorize the town
Though these types of protest songs have become standard fare, if not cliché in their own right these days, coming from the powerhouse pairing of Billy Joe Shaver and Willie Nelson makes this one especially memorable. In fact, according to Shaver, they could have gone a step further. “It’s not harsh enough, I don’t guess,” Shaver told Rolling Stone. “He and I both feel the same way about that. We text back and forth, and we figure we’re the only ones over 70 years old that text. I’m sure that’s not right, but I know Kris won’t. Kristofferson won’t do it. I mentioned this title to Willie and he said, ‘Man, you oughta write that.’”
“It’s just stupidity,” Shaver continues. “It’s like walking down a hall and seeing a Picasso and saying, ‘Damn, that thing’s old! Let’s throw it out.’ Fortunately, you can’t burn songs. You can burn pictures, but a song will live forever.”
Willie Nelson and Billy Joe Shaver have remained good friends since their early days as original country music Outlaws in the mid 70′s. When Shaver was on trial for shooting a man in self-defense in Waco, Willie Nelson showed up as a character witness. The title track of Willie Nelson’s 2012 album Heroes is about Billy Joe. And the two stars collaborated recently on another Billy Joe Shaver-penned duet, “Wacko From Waco“.
“I feel like that I’m still doing the same thing I always did, it just got lost in the shuffle because all this new stuff came in,” Billy Joe told the Ft. Stockton Pioneer in November. “There’s a lot of money behind these people…It’s just people trying to make money, that’s all it is and I can’t begrudge anybody for trying to make money. We’re all trying to make a living and do the best we can. I feel that the art part of it just went out the window…but every once in awhile you will hear a good song. I can’t say that it’s all bad, it’s not. It’s just most of it’s bad…It’s kind of gotten way out of hand right now I think, but the solid foundation is still there.”
While premiering the new “It’s Hard to be An Outlaw” song, Billy Joe Shaver also mentions something about rapping on Long In The Tooth‘s title track. “I didn’t know it was that easy. I took a crank at it and went crazy and did it.”
Isn’t it interesting how we look upon Willie Nelson as such a saint of not just music or country music, but of the nation and world, and here he is releasing a song that instead of reveling in his accomplishments and resting on his laurels, catches the 81-year-old country legend looking back upon his past mistakes, self-deprecating and pensive, yet understanding how those mistakes made him the man he is today.
Willie Nelson’s next album Band of Brothers is set to be released June 17th, and his latest original song in a legendary, if not unparalleled songwriting career is simply called “The Wall.” Band of Brothers breaks from Willie’s recent output of albums of mostly covers by including nine Nelson-penned tracks as part of the 14-track album. The covers include Billy Joe Shaver’s “The Git Go” (a duet with Jamey Johnson), Vince Gill’s “Whenever You Come Around”, and “Songwriter” by Bill Anderson and Gordie Sampson. As with the last few Willie Nelson releases, the producer duties are being handled by Buddy Cannon.
Like the words, the chord selection of “The Wall” helps give rise to memory and reflection, and shows that Willie has lost little in his ability to convey a feeling in his advanced age. Long-time harmonica-playing compatriot Mickey Raphael adds the color to the composition, as does the familiar tone of Willie Nelson’s nylon string guitar in a rather stripped down track whose beat is kept with simple brushes that rest at the beginning of the chorus to give the song an extra little emphasis. Though Willie’s voice can sometimes be hit or miss in the live setting these days, it is as strong as ever here, holding that singular tone that looms so large in the ethos of classic country fans.
Where Willie Nelson’s two 2013 albums with Legacy Recordings—Let’s Face The Music and Dance, and To All The Girls…—felt somewhat like side projects, with little truly new material, Band of Brothers is already beginning to look more like 2012′s Heroes— Willie’s first with Legacy Recordings, and an album that very much felt like a retrenching.
The accompanying video for “The Wall” works counter-intuitively from the song, running down a list of all of Willie’s biggest accomplishments as Willie reflects, “I took on more than I could handle. I bit off more than I could chew, I hit the wall. I went off like a Roman candle. Burning everyone I knew, I hit the wall.”
With no discounts for age or sliding scales because of his legendary status, Willie Nelson’s “The Wall” still captures the heart and stirs the memory, and makes for quite an enjoyable piece of music.
Two guns up.
Jackson Taylor & The Sinners are the best hard-driving country band you’ve never heard of. How do I know you’ve never heard of them? Because nobody has, except for the people that have, and as those people can attest, nobody has heard of them. Hell even when despite all their unknown-ness, they were somehow nominated for one of those Dale Watson Ameripolitan Awards a while back, at the awards banquet in February the presenter called them “JASON Taylor and the Sinners” when reading off the names of nominees. For the people in attendance who knew about the band, it seemed every bit appropriate. Why? Because nobody knows about them. Here they were amongst friends, and they were still unknown. “And the winner is…” the presenter then continued, and someone yelled out from the crowd, “Jason Taylor!” Unfortunately for them neither Jackson Taylor nor Jason Taylor won. But dammit, everyone in attendance that night will remember Jason Taylor from here on out, while Jackson Taylor remains sandwiched in some sort of weird no man’s land between Red Dirt, underground country, and Southern rock & roll.
It ain’t from a lack of sweat equity that Jackson Taylor & The Sinners aren’t any better known. They’ve paid their dues and then some. Maybe it’s because the uptight crowd that would usually get into their hard country sound don’t like the cussing, and the underground cusses don’t care to pay attention to anything outside of their Facebook feeds. But the jokes on them, because Jackson Taylor & The Sinners is one hell of a good time. Just ask the people who know about them.
Don’t take it that Jackson Taylor & The Sinners are like the sisters of the poor. They’ve had their days in the sun, and it certainly must be a proud achievement for them to be featured a part of the prestigious, critically-acclaimed, world-renown, and long-running album series called Live At Billy Bob’s Texas right beside names like Willie Nelson, David Allan Coe, Billy Joe Shaver, and on and on from there. Created by Rick Smith some years back and recorded at the “World’s Largest Honky Tonk” in Ft. Worth, it’s a high honor to be asked on the series even if you get up there on stage and lay an egg.
Luckily we don’t have to worry about that outcome with Jackson Taylor. They come out swinging like Joe Frasier with some of their most lethal haymakers right out of the gate like “Jack’s Drunk Again” and “Old Henry Rifle”. And when they’ve pinned you to the ropes only four songs in, they shift gears into some of their more subdued, songwriting material like “The Mirror” and “Sunset”.
Something cool to note about this set captured live in both excellent audio and full concert DVD is that it all transpired on July 27th, 2013, only a few months after the passing of the Ol’ Possum, Mr. George Jones. So despite this being very much a signature set of Sinner’s music, No Show is there in spirit and is given a healthy tip of the hat when they cover “He Stopped Loving Her Today” (capped off with some of Jackson’s alternative lyrics), as well as their song “No Show” early in the set.
Jackson Taylor is one of these guys you can’t take too seriously or you lose touch with the total enjoyment you can get from him, while at the same time he can be deceptively deep when you read between the lines, or when he performs a song like “Faulkner By Dashboard Lights”—a true and personal track from Jackson and one of the standouts from the set.
Can you really still be unknown and have your own Live At Billy Bob’s release? That wouldn’t seem right, and this 16-song disc/DVD combo that includes an interview with Jackson is probably the perfect introduction to a band for someone who isn’t scared off by the warning that Jackson isn’t shy about cussing a little and getting a little strange, or mixing some over-driven rock guitar into his country. But Jackson Taylor & The Sinners is still country no doubt with the Johnny Cash train beat behind most everything they do, and they do great justice to the weight behind the Live At Billy Bob’s stamp that marks this album’s cover.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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Country music isn’t just a genre of music, it is a musical religion, a way of life, a cultural lineage passed down from generation to generation and preserved through the blood and bond of its performers and fans. That’s why it seems country music performers so very often tend to turn out to be the parents of country music performers themselves.
Let’s take a look at some of country music’s greatest sons and daughters.
Justin Townes Earle
Son of alt-country pioneer Steve Earle, and middle namesake of the man who was good friends with his father and considered one of the greatest songwriters ever, Justin Townes Earle has spent the last seven or so years trying to live up to the lofty expectations of both names, and has done so valiantly. Releasing a startling debut EP in 2007 called Yuma, Earle and his obsession with the craft of songwriting have led to critical success for the five albums he’s released through Bloodshot Records. Considered by many as one of the biggest names in the new generation of alt-country/Americana performers, Justin has done it not by being a chip off the old block, but by forging his own path.
Justin’s relationship with his father has been rocky over the years. Steve Earle left Justin and his mother when Justin was just 2-year-old, and the younger Earle had a tumultuous, troubled, and at times, drug-fueled childhood. But he has soldiered on to carry a name all his own.
The son of Willie Nelson’s long-time guitarist Jody Payne and Grammy Award-winning country music singer Sammi Smith, Waylon is named after his Godfather, Waylon Jennings. Raised by his aunt and uncle due to his parents’ heavy touring schedules, Payne attended seminary after high school and was on track to become a minister before catching the music bug. For a while Payne was part of the popular Eastbound and Down country night at the King King Club in Hollywood where performers would swap classic country songs. Payne later released the album The Drifter in 2004 through Republic Universal.
Music isn’t Waylon Payne’s only creative calling though. He may be known more as an actor than a musician. In the award-winning Johnny Cash film I Walk The Line, Payne played Jerry Lee Lewis. He also played country great Hank Garland in a small film called Crazy, along with making numerous television appearances, including on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
Hank Williams III (or Hank3)
The grandson of Hank Williams and the son of Hank Jr., if there was ever a spitting image of country music’s first superstar, it would be him. He not only carries the visage and build of Hank Sr., but also the voice and writing style when he wants to go in that direction. The youngest Hank though has a hankering to delve into the wild side of music as well, and has released multiple punk albums during his career that has now stretched into two decades.
Hank3 started out playing drums and guitar in underground punk bands, with no real drive to be a part of the country music machine. But when a paternity suit put him in court, he decided to sign with Curb Records, and entered into a tumultuous period with the label that at the least resulted in multiple landmark records, including the neo-traditional country stalwart Lovesick, Broke, & Driftin’, and his double album opus Straight to Hell. Hank3 is now an independent artist, and carries on the family tradition of doing the music he wants and defying expectation.
The granddaughter of Hank Williams, daughter of Hank Jr., and half sister of Hank Williams III has had a somewhat strange musical journey, but one that has seen her bloom recently to become one of the leading females in country/Americana, keeping the music true to its roots while moving it forward.
Holly’s early career saw her sign to major labels like Universal South and Mercury Nashville, trying to break into the big time, but always seemingly with one foot in, and one foot out of that mainstream approach to music. She was also seriously injured in a near fatal crash in 2006 along with her sister Hilary who also is a performer. Then in February of 2013, Holly released The Highway independently, and since then has become a critical darling and a live performer not to miss. Though there were some that at times wondered if Holly was just a famous name, she’s proven recently that she’s so much more.
The son of Merle Haggard and an official member of Merle’s legendary backing band The Strangers, Ben is a chip off the old block when it comes to slinging Telecasters and perfecting the West Coast, twangy Bakersfield tradition of loud and electric country music. Patterned in the mold of the pioneer of the craft, the under-appreciated Roy Nichols, Ben can be seen plying his craft and staring at the back of his father on any given night out on the road. This isn’t just your usual slot filled by a family member on stage. Ben’s skills are regarded by his musician peers as being standalone from any famous name.
The only child of Waylon Jennings and Jessi Coulter, Shooter started his musical journey in the rock band Stargunn before signing with Universal South in 2005 and releasing his first country record, Put The ‘O’ Back In Country. He subsequently released two more country records infused with some Southern rock & roll before putting out his rock opus, the experimental album Black Ribbons. Shooter re-established his country roots with the 2012 album Family Man, followed up by 2013′s The Other Life.
Like many of country music’s famous sons and daughters, Shooter Jennings marches to his own drum, but always seems to come back to the country music fold.
Jubal Lee Young
Son of legendary Outlaw country songwriter and performer Steve Young (Lonesome, Onry & Mean, Seven Bridges Road), and songwriter Terrye Newkirk, Jubal Lee Young from Muskogee, Oklahoma put out an album in 2011 called Take It Home that included the song “There Ain’t No Outlaws Any More” that loudly proclaims, “Here comes another badass sellin’ Nashville rock and roll, long hair, denim and tattoos, lookin’ on’ry and mean. Singin’ songs about that lonesome road, some of ‘em might even be true. But there ain’t no outlaws anymore…”
Hank Williams Jr.
The most obvious and most successful of country music’s greatest sons, Hank Williams Jr. is very likely a future country music Hall of Famer, and has won multiple CMA Entertainer of the Year Awards and sold millions of albums. He started out his career as a virtual impersonator of his famous father, but rebelled against this preordained future to become so much more. Hank Jr. took a precipitous fall off of Ajax Mountain in Montana in 1975, landing on his face, and having to go through multiple surgeries before he could return to performing. And when he did, he quickly became known as “Rockin’” Randall Hank as he emerged with a sound that was just as much Southern rock as country.
In the mid 80′s, Hank Williams Jr. was one of country’s biggest stars, and now sits as a legend in the genre. He also is responsible for two other famous country offspring: Hank Williams III and Holly Williams, and a 2nd daughter Hilary Williams has also been a performer.
The only daughter of the country music super pairing of George Jones and Tammy Wynette, Georgette was said to have a recording contract on the day she was born. She recorded her first song at the ripe age of ten with her dad called “Daddy Come Home.” From there Georgette began singing backup for her mom, and she has gone on to become an accomplished songwriter and solo performer herself. Georgette has released numerous albums, including three for Heart of Texas Records. Her latest album Til I Can Make It On My Own is a tribute to her mother.
Georgette also appeared in the TV Series Sordid Lives and recorded numerous songs for the soundtrack, including Tammy Wynette tunes. She also recently released a memoir called The Three of Us: Growing Up with Tammy and George, Georgette Jones.
Daughter of David Allan Coe, Shelli was born in Nashville and raised in Austin, and appeared at the tender age of 3-years-old on her father’s Family Album project. She later worked as a backup singer for her father before landing in Branson, MO for a while where she performed in clubs, collaborated with other songwriters and appeared on the album Branson Songwriters Out in the Streets. Shelli subsequently returned to Austin where she is known to perform off and on. Her first full-length CD A Girl Like Me was released in 2010, and is worth a listen for folks that like traditional country music.
Surrounded by a bevy of musical siblings and one awfully famous father, the argument can be made that Lukas was the Willie offspring that received the most potent douse of Willie’s musical genes, and has a powerful voice to match his father’s. A dynamic, top-flight performer with a sound that trends much closer to rock than country, but still has an earthy, rootsy feel nonetheless, Lukas is on a fast track to becoming a superstar all his own.
From his towering leg kicks, to playing the guitar with his teeth, at only 23-years-old, Lukas could already be crowned as a guitar god. Leading his band The Promise of the Real, they’ve made waves in the music world on big tours. About the only thing holding the young star back is that rock music is in a weird spot right now, and guitar blazers are not what the masses are particularly looking for. But like his father, Lukas is not worried about anything but following his heart, and he promises to have a very bright future ahead of him with a tower of talent to draw from.
Son of Outlaw country legend Billy Joe Shaver, Eddie Shaver was one of the best country music guitar shredders to ever take the stage. Aside from being his father’s right hand man for many years, Eddie Shaver studied under Dickey Betts of The Allman Brothers, played with Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Guy Clark, The Eagles, and was Dwight Yoakam’s guitar player for the first two years of Dwight’s career.
It’s only because of Eddie’s untimely death that he’s not better known. He was scheduled to release his first solo album in 2001 when he died of a heroin overdose on New Years Eve of 2000. Though Billy Joe Shaver is known most for his songwriting, and Eddie as a guitar slinger, it only takes a glimpse at either to see that the musical talent runs very deep with the Shaver clan.
Though one might first think of June Carter as more of a mother of famous country artists instead of a daughter of them, June Carter is arguably the first daughter of country music. Her mother is “Mother” Maybelle Carter, given her nickname for being the mother of her performing daughters, and arguably the mother of country music. June began performing at the age of ten in 1939 as part of the landmark country outfit The Carter Family. It was through their mutual love of country music that she would eventually meet and fall in love with Johnny Cash, and the two went on to be one of country music’s powerhouse couples. June Carter was a muti-instrumentalist with a classic voice, and defines the nexus between country music’s primitive, classic, and modern eras.
It can be easy to overlook just what kind of impact Rosanne Cash has had on American music over the years. She seems to always be overshadowed by her father, by other famous sons and daughters of country legends, measured against them, and dogged by preceding labels that don’t always allow her to be judged on her own merit, while her musical accomplishments veer towards being somewhat misunderstood because she’s not always been nestled smack dab in the country realm as people want, expect, or anticipate.
But Rosanne’s critical and commercial accomplishments are far more than complimentary, they define a very successful career: Eleven #1 country singles, twenty-one Top 40 singles, and thirteen Grammy nominations is nothing to sniff at, and ultimately might at least get her mentions as a potential Hall of Fame inductee.
The only offspring between the country music super marriage of Johnny Cash and June Carter, John Carter Cash has spent his time as a singer and performer, but many of his important contributions to country music have come behind-the-scenes as a producer, songwriter, author, and general champion of the Cash estate and all things country music. It’s remarkable how many places you see John Carter’s name attached to projects as his puts effort out to make music happen in whatever capacity he can help in. Like his father, he has that selfless streak of service that surfaces in some of the most generous and cool ways.
Bobby Bare Jr.
Born in Nashville, TN to the original Outlaw Bobby Bare, Bobby Bare Jr. grew up next door to Tammy Wynette and George Jones in Hendersonville, and was nominated for a Grammy next to his father for the Shel Silverstein-written song “Daddy What If” from his father’s tribute album to Silverstein. Fronting roots rock bands like “Bare Jr.” and “Young Criminals Starvation League”, Bare’s career has been the result of avoiding “working a real job at any cost,” despite earning a psychology degree from the University of Tenessee, and not really getting deep into his own music until later in life. His high energy on stage and dark sarcasm in his songs have won him fans worldwide.
Other Famous Sons & Daughters:
Pam Tillis – 1994 CMA Female Vocalist of the Year, and daughter of country great Mel Tillis
The Carter Family Daughters – Carlene Carter, Helen Carter, Anita Carter, Rosie Nix Adams.
Jett Williams – Daughter of Hank Williams that found out about her famous father later in life. Jett has been a performer and plays an important role as one of the executors of the Hank Williams estate.
Jesse Keith Whitley – Son of Lorrie Morgan and Keith Whitley
Marty Haggard, Noel Haggard, and Scott Haggard- More performing sons of Merle.
Dean Miller – Son of Roger Miller
Lilly Hiatt – Daughter of John Hiatt
Chelsea Crowell – Daughter of Rosanne Cash and Rodney Crowell
Paula Nelson – Leader of The Paul Nelson Band.
Tyler Mahan Coe – Guitar player and writer who spent years touring in his father’s band.
Folk Uke – Made up Willie Nelson’s daughter Amy, and Arlo Guthrie’s daughter Cathy.
Whey Jennings – The son of Terry Jennings, and grandson of Waylon Jennings.
Lucas Hubbard – Son of Ray Wylie Hubbard who often plays lead guitar with his father.
Lucky Tubb – Not technically a son or daughter, but a great nephew of Ernest.
Bluegrass – There are many performing sons and daughters of famous bluegrass musicians, but for fear of forgetting some and getting yelled at for it, this sentence is in dedication to them all. You rock! Or pick, or strum, or pluck! Go YOU!
You can’t go long talking about badasses in country music without bringing up the one, the only Billy Joe Shaver. Though he may have never received the recognition of Willie, Waylon, or even Coe or Paycheck, his influence is arguably just important. When you have Elvis cutting one of your songs, Willie Nelson calling you his favorite songwriter, have Bob Dylan name dropping you, and had none other than Waylon Jennings record an entire album of your work, there’s no doubt you’re a badass.
Here’s 10 Badass moments from Billy Joe Shaver.
- 10 Badass Willie Nelson Moments
- 10 Badass Waylon Jennings Moments
- 10 Badass Johnny Cash Moments
- 10 Badass Hank3 Moments
- 10 Badass Merle Haggard Moments
- 10 Badass Marty Stuart Moments
- 10 Badass George Jones Moments
1. Growing Up In Honky Tonks …. Literally
If Billy Joe Shaver is anything, he’s the real deal, and as cliché as it may sound, his life was like a country song if there ever was one. Shaver was born in Corsicana, TX, and his dad left his mom before he was even born. Left to fend for herself, Shaver’s mother would leave him with his grandmother in Corsicana so she could work in honky tonks in Waco, but sometimes the young, impressionable Shaver would accompany his mother to the big town.
For a while Shaver’s mom ran a Waco honky tonk called Green Gables. According to Waylon Jennings, “She was a good-looking woman, red-headed and tough, and it was a classic dive, a dance hall with sawdust on the floor, spittoons, and a piano in the corner.” Billy Joe would run around the place bumming nickels from soldiers from nearby Fort Hood, and by the time he got a little older was known as quite a dancer and ladies man. His whole Green Gables childhood experience was later recapped in the song “Honky Tonk Heroes” that became the title track of Waylon Jennings’ famous 1973 album featuring all Billy Joe Shaver songs except for one.
2. Getting Four Fingers Lopped Off At A Lumber Mill
Talk about tough and gritty, Billy Joe Shaver has the scars to prove it. He didn’t get involved in music seriously until he was nearly 30, and it’s partly due to a lumber mill accident he suffered back in the 60′s when he severed off a good portion of two fingers and parts of two others when his right hand got hung up in a piece of machinery. A post-accident infection eventually made it even worse. Since Shaver was a right paw, it made him virtually worthless as a general laborer, and so he turned to music as a living.
According to Waylon Jennings, Shaver has a sense of humor about his missing digits.
“He was sitting on a bed one time playing guitar,” Waylon recalls. “And a guy who worked for me came in and said, ‘Billy Joe, if you don’t mind me asking, what happened to your fingers?’ Billy started glancing around and digging in his pocket. ‘Damn,’ he said. ‘They were here just a while ago.’”
3. Hitchhiking to Los Angeles … and ending up in Nashville.
When Billy Joe Shaver decided to give country music a serious go, he got advice from old friend Willie Nelson to head out to Nashville. But Billy Joe Shaver didn’t listen, and instead decided to point his nose towards Los Angeles. Not having a car, and without any money for a bus, Billy Joe stood on the side of Interstate 10 in Texas, waiting for someone westward bound to pick him up. And he waited, and waited, and nobody stopped. Eventually Shaver got so frustrated, he switched over to the other side of the highway heading east. The first car that passed him stopped, picked him up, and took Shaver all the way to Memphis, TN. He then made his way to Nashville, where he soon had a job writing songs for $50 a week. The rest is history.
The experience was later recalled in part in the Billy Joe Shaver song, “Ride Me Down Easy”.
4. Threatening to Kick Waylon’s Ass If He Didn’t Record His Songs
Waylon Jennings decided to record an entire album of Billy Joe Shaver songs in 1973 called Honky Tonk Heroes, and that was the turning point in both men’s career. Waylon was finally flexing his creative freedom, and Billy Joe would forever be on the country music map. But it didn’t happen pretty. Bobby Bare introduced Shaver to Waylon and after Waylon heard “Ride Me Down Easy,” he fell in love with Shaver’s music and first floated the idea of recording an entire album of his songs. Later at the Dripping Springs Reunion in Texas, Waylon heard “Willie & The Wandering Gypsy,” and loved that one too. But for one reason or another, Billy Joe was always one step behind Waylon, even though Waylon insisted he loved Billy Joe’s songs and wanted to record them, it was beginning to look like it was never going to happen. At one point Billy Joe Shaver began to bug Waylon so bad, he reportedly offered Billy Joe $100 just to leave him alone.
“…I was always in a meeting or on another call or ‘not in.’” Waylon recalls. “This went on for months….He caught me one night at RCA recording. ‘I got these songs,’ he said, ‘and if you don’t listen to them, I’m going to kick your ass right here in front of everybody.”
“He could have been killed there and then by some of my friends lining the walls,” Waylon continues. “But I took Billy Joe in a back room and said, ‘Hoss, you don’t do things like that. I’m going to listen to one song, and if it ain’t no good, I’m telling you goodbye. We ain’t never going to talk again.’ Billy played me ‘Old Five and Dimers,’ and then kept on going. He had a whole sackful of songs, and by the time he ran out of breath, I wanted to record all of them.”
5. Being The Father of Eddie Shaver
The name may not ring a bell to you right off the bat, but for those familiar know that Billy Joe Shaver’s son was one of the best country music shredders to ever fill the spot. Aside from being his father’s right hand man for many years, Eddie Shaver studied under Dickey Betts of The Allman Brothers, played with Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Guy Clark, The Eagles, and was Dwight Yoakam’s guitar player for the first two years.
It’s only because of Eddie’s untimely death that he’s not better known. He was scheduled to release his first solo album in 2001 when he died of a heroin overdose on New Years Eve of 2000. Though Billy Joe Shaver is known most for his songwriting, and Eddie as a guitar slinger, it only takes a glimpse at either to see that the musical talent runs very deep with the Shaver clan.
6. Surviving the Death of His Mother, Wife, and Son In a Very Short Period
Shaver has been tested many times in his life and suffered through some rough patches, but few have suffered through what shaver did near the turn of the Century. In 1999, Billy Joe Shaver lost both his mother, Victory, and his wife, Brenda, to Cancer. The next year is when his son, guitar player, and right hand man Eddie Shaver died of a heroin overdose. It was a very dark period for Shaver, and it became even darker when he was performing at Gruene Hall in Texas on Independence Day in 2001 and suffered a massive heart attack on stage. Shaver nearly died, and had to undergo quadruple bypass surgery.
But he soldiered on, releasing a new album called Freedom’s Child in 2002.
7. Shooting A Man in Self Defense at Papa Joe’s (“Where Do You Want It?”)
Shooting a man in the face could be either very badass, or not badass at all depending on how you look at it. But when you take into account Billy reportedly did it in self-defense and was so found by a jury of his peers and acquitted of all charges, it’s hard not to include the story here, especially seeing how the whole incident inspired its own famous song.
On March 31st, 2007, Billy Joe was in a saloon called Papa Joe’s in Waco, TX drinking when a man by the name of Billy Bryant Coker came up to Shaver and stirred Shaver’s drink with a knife. After some words were exchanged, Shaver decided it was time to leave, and Billy Coker followed. Out in the parking lot, Billy Joe Shaver was overheard asking Coker, “Where do you want it?” while brandishing a small handgun. Shaver later testified in court he actually said, “Why do you want to do this?” to Coker, but either way, eventually Shaver shot Billy Coker in the face.
The news made it down to Austin where Dale Watson decided to write a song about it. “We were making jokes about what kind of song he’d write about this ’cause he writes songs about everything,” says Gloria Tambling, the owner of Papa Joe’s that’s been an I-35 landmark for around for 19 years.
Billy Coker’s wound was not life-threatening, and Shaver was arrested on April 2nd, 2007 for aggravated assault, later to be found not guilty for acting in self-defense in a trial that saw Willie Nelson and Robert Duvall as a character witnesses. Dale Watson wrote “Where Do You Want It?”, but Whitey Morgan & The 78′s were the first to cut it on their self-titled album with Dale’s blessing. Dale later cut it on his album El Rancho Azul. Willie Nelson also wrote a song about the incident called, “I Want My Bullet Back.”
8. Singing the Opening Theme to The Squidbillies
When Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim launched a series about anthropomorphic hillbilly squids living in the Appalachian portion of Georgia, who better to contract for the theme song than Billy Joe Shaver? The song itself is actually called “Warrior Man.”
9. Being Deemed a Hero by Willie Nelson
Long-time friend Willie Nelson has never turned his back on Billy Joe, even in his darkest hour. When Billy Joe was accused of shooting a man in Waco, Willie offered himself up as a character witness. Willie has called Billy Joe Shaver his favorite songwriter. A couple of years ago Willie offered his services up to cut a duet with Billy Joe called “Wacko from Waco.” And Willie proved his love and loyalty for his long-time friend on his 2012 comeback album on Sony called Heroes. The default title track of the album “Hero” not only features Billy Joe Shaver, but is about Billy Joe Shaver and how it seems he’s been forgotten by time.
10. Being The Most Badass Country Music Performers in His 70′s
If you have seen Billy Joe Shaver perform recently, you know what I mean. And if you have never seen Billy Joe Shaver perform, you better get on it.
At 74, with a replaced knee, bum shoulder, and quadruple bypass, Billy Joe Shaver comes out kicking, punching, gesticulating like crazy, putting on one of the best, most-energetic country music shows from a performer of any age. It isn’t one of those shows with a solitary spotlight shone on a stool at stage center, it is full tilt country rock, rowdy and rambunctious, fueled by one of the best young bands you will find backing up a legend.
How to stay fiercely and authentically in touch with the roots of country music, yet do something that still feels fresh here some 60-plus years after the country genre was formed is the challenge that faces every band or artist that doesn’t simply want to be like a museum piece, or a live juke box rehashing country classics, and that would never have the wherewithal or disposition to run with the young bucks trying to capture mainstream popularity by running away from what country music once was. So many artists think that being country is only about extending your drawl or overdubbing steel guitar and miss that the spirit of the music is about original self-expression.
This is what The Ben Davenport Band understand, and approached their debut album Slow Start with, distributed trough Lone Star Records in 2013. It’s been a while since I’ve heard such great texture and diversity in a record that still clings tightly to its country roots. But one question that I had when I was cueing this album up and thumbing through the liner notes was, “Who is Ben Davenport?” Looking at the credits and listening to the music, the heart of the band seems to revolve around singer and songwriter Jim Yoss. No Ben Davenport is to be found.
“I spent 13 years working on the railroad as a trackman and living the life that went along with it out on the road,” Jim Yoss explains. “I would introduce myself to the ladies with names out of songs—Willie Lee, John Lee Pettimore—kind of as a joke but also to prevent my death from the hands of my now ex-wife. (I can laugh about it now, she’s still pretty sore about it. hah)
“One night in February ’05 I was staying at my friend’s place in Northern Ohio drinking Jack Daniels and eating a week old bowl of chili. We were watching Season 1 of The Dukes Of Hazzard and there was a scene where Cooter Davenport (Ben Jones) rode his motorcycle through the front door of The Boar’s Nest. My friend paused it and said ‘Ben Davenport, that’s your new name!’ So I stumbled to the bathroom, rehearsed it a couple times in the mirror and agreed. Chad was a great drummer and we said that when we’d start a band [we would] call it ‘The Ben Davenport Band.’
“That day never came. Chad was killed in an accident the day after Memorial Day that year. My son and I were the last ones from home to see him and give him a hug and tell him we loved him and we’d see him soon. I’ve had people tell me to change the name because it’s confusing. I told those people to kiss my ass.”
Ben Davenport’s album Slow Start feels like a victory. Reflecting back on a lifetime of memories, accomplishments, failures, and the fortunes and lessons that come with both, it is a self-critique and cathartic, fiercely personal, and an album you can tell Jim Yoss made for himself, be damned if anyone else likes it; a bookend on his life exposing vulnerability, toughness, honesty, and frailty—an album he had to make so the next chapter in his life could begin.
The opening track “Hell of a Day” refers heavily to a Southern rock influence, and features deft guitar work by Ben Davenport’s Josh Serrato who helps to set the tone of the band’s sound and also helped produce the album. The first song also features a soaring chorus with two part harmonies tastefully arranged, and a theme throughout Slow Start is going the extra mile to give each song the little bit of extra love and attention that it calls for.
Straight up country is what you get with the second song, “Ain’t Lovin’ Me;” a classic cheating song that in that authentic country spirit can speak to the heart of the cheater and and cheated in the same breath. What Slow Start does that so many other albums fail at is keeping you completely engaged in the music by being bold; keeping you on your toes for what is coming next.
One gem of Slow Start is “Don’t Know,” a total gear shift from the first few songs, tugging at the heart strings with piano, and haunting, multi-layered female vocals, and exquisite mandolin by Wesley Holtsford. This is followed by a stripped-down “Ball Drop” featuring just Jim Yoss and his guitar, exposing the songwriter’s skillful evocation of soul divested from any need of accompaniment.
As soon as you try to pigeonhole The Ben Davenport Band as hard-edged country rockers, they shake it up, and deliver something completely unexpected. This album has a poem on it, “My Ode to Billy Joe” (Shaver). Jim Yoss is no Shel Silverstein, but the plain-spoken approach and honest sentiment captured on the track make it one of the album’s standouts. “Ol’ Ghost of You” despite the dower story is a surprisingly bright-sounding arrangement with a free-spirited mandolin weaving and darting between verses. The album concludes with a song written and performed by a man named Russell Patterson; an oldtimer that once taught Ryan Bingham slide guitar, and played with Bingham for a few years.
Slow Start scores the highest of marks on production, arrangement, and originality. Some may find Jim Yoss’s vocals a little too rich and wish his inflections could be a little more understated, but it is the strength of composition and the overall production value of this album that suck you end and delineate it from the herd, while the diversity of content delivers something for everyone across a wide swath of country sensibilities.
This is a good one.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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Billy Joe Shaver is getting ready to record and release his first studio album in 7 years, according to the 74-year-old Outlaw country songwriter and performer. Shaver released a couple of live albums last year, Live At Billy Bob’s Texas and the Live from Austin, TX: Austin City Limits – August 14, 1984, but this will be the first album of new material since his 2007 predominantly Christian album, Everybody’s Brother.
“I’m doing my first studio album in seven or eight years and I’ll be doing that I think December first, second or something like that,” Shaver told the Fort Stockton Pioneer ahead of a show in Alpine, TX. “Hopefully getting it out in a couple of months. It’s all new too and different…There are some political things. The songs are so different then what’s on the radio now. It’s either going to change things around or get kicked out. One or the other. I’m hoping that this here will, as a matter of fact I know it will, it’ll kick ass…it’s going to be a good one.”
Shaver, who got his big break in country music when Waylon Jennings’ breakout album Honky Tonk Heroes included all but one Shaver-written song, also couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do a little sabre rattling about the current state of country music.
“I feel like that I’m still doing the same thing I always did, it just got lost in the shuffle because all this new stuff came in. There’s a lot of money behind these people…It’s just people trying to make money, that’s all it is and I can’t begrudge anybody for trying to make money. We’re all trying to make a living and do the best we can. I feel that the art part of it just went out the window…but every once in awhile you will hear a good song. I can’t say that it’s all bad, it’s not. It’s just most of it’s bad…It’s kind of gotten way out of hand right now I think, but the solid foundation is still there.”
Billy Joe Shaver has had a tumultuous last 7 years. After coming out of a period where his wife, his son and guitar player Eddy, and his mother all passed away in a span of 2 years, Shaver battled a bad shoulder injury, and charges stemming from a shooting at the Papa Joe’s bar near Waco in 2007 that resulted in an assault trial against the songwriter, and a song chronicling the event by Dale Watson called “Where Do You Want It?” Shaver was eventually acquitted when it was found he acted in self-defense, with help from character witnesses Willie Nelson and Robert Duvall.
The inaugural inductees to the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame set to open in the Spring of 2014 in Lynchburg, TN have been unveiled. In an event carried live during a 3-day concert in Altamont, TN, the 17 initial inductees were announced in two different categories: Pioneers/Innovators (Pre-1970), and Highwaymen (1970-1990).
Along with the official inductees, the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame also announced Guardian Award winners. The Guardian Award is not a Hall of Fame induction, but a one-year award meant to honor an artist’s hard work and unwavering commitment to their music and their fans and best exemplify the tradition of those who came before them. The Hall of Fame also announced that fans will be able to vote on Guardian Award winners in the upcoming years.
OUTLAW HALL OF FAME INDUCTEES
- Hank Williams Sr.
- Loretta Lynn
- The Carter Family
- Bobby Bare
- Chris Gantry
- Willie Nelson
- Waylon Jennings
- David Allan Coe
- Kris Kristofferson
- Merle Haggard
- Johnny Cash
- Johnny Paycheck
- Sammi Smith
- Steve Young
- Jessi Colter
- Hank Williams Jr.
- Billy Joe Shaver
- Dallas Moore
- Wayne Mills
- Hank Williams III
- Jamey Johnson
- Whitey Morgan
The Hall of Fame is dedicated to those artists, both musicians and songwriters, whose work best exemplifies the qualities of the Outlaw movement that first began in the 1970′s and has gained renewed momentum as an alternative to the current Nashville pop country scene. In doing so it will place the spotlight on music firmly attached to the roots of country. Moreover, the Hall of Fame will educate the public about Outlaw country, memorialize founders of the genre—such as Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Jessi Colter—recognize current Outlaw artists, and provide a platform for them and for the independent record labels who currently have little if any voice in the industry.
The facility, due to open in spring of 2014, will encompass more than 5,000 square feet and feature a state-of-the-art layout, including interactive displays. There will also be a studio to allow for live broadcasts to be streamed over the Internet. Located on the town square in Lynchburg, the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame will sponsor a concert series each April to November to showcase independent roots country artists.
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