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Much ado has been made about Rolling Stone giving accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev rock star treatment by putting his mug on their latest issue. Though it’s a free country with free press and I would fight for the right of Rolling Stone to put whatever they want on their cover, here are some simple, friendly, and current alternative ideas of what could have graced the front of Rolling Stone‘s July 2013 issue.
A country music superstar who won wide cross-genre appeal despite his heavy traditionalist sound, and who’s currently in the struggle of his life after suffering a major heart ailment and subsequent stroke, who better deserves to be on the cover right now than Randy?
One of rock & roll’s most legendary bands just released a comeback record called “13″ that both critics and fans are raving about, produced by studio extraordinaire, Rick Rubin. This story is custom made for the Rolling Stone cover.
He just released a career album in Southeastern that has critics falling all over themselves. The former Drive By Trucker is beginning to be recognized as one of the great songwriters of our generation, and a Rolling Stone cover could help solidify this distinction and broaden his audience. (In fairness, their last issue did have a story on Isbell).
Mavis is a force of music nature who is seeing a massive resurgence in interest in both her work as a Staple Sister and a Gospel Goddess. She’s worked with folks as wide ranging as The Band, George Jones, and Ray Charles, and even made an appearance on a Johnny Paycheck tribute album. Mavis just released an album called One True Vine, and would be a good candidate to grace the Rolling Stone cover.
Because he’s Willie Nelson. And yes I know he’s been on the cover before. But again, he’s Willie Nelson. Nuff said.
Caitlin Rose & Country’s Inspiring Women
Rolling Stone justified their use of Tsarnaev on the cover saying that he was at an age that their readers could relate to. Well so is Caitlin; a young, budding starlet with a very interesting story of how her mom is the woman who helped write many of Taylor Swift’s hits. Caitlin’s music has a fresh and relevant take, and if Caitlin isn’t big enough for you, consider including all the women that have made a splash in country in 2013 that have many proclaiming (including former Rolling Stone senior editor Chet Flippo) 2013 the “Year of the Woman” in country music.
I don’t know if there is a neotraditional artist that has benefited from such a meteoric rise like Pokey LaFarge in the history of music. Pokey’s now got Jack White pushing him, and he just played Letterman. Pokey’s crossing genres, and surely deserves a bigger spotlight.
After all, Chet was a towering personality in music journalism, and called Rolling Stone home starting in graduate school, working his way up to Rolling Stone‘s New York Bureau Chief, and eventually to Senior Editor in 1974. He wrote books about The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, David Bowie, and Hank Williams, and having passed away last month, could have surely been a worthy choice for the cover.
The Town of West, TX
If you want to delve deep into the anatomy of a tragedy, the toll it takes on a community and the psyche of its people, and end it with a positive statement on the resiliency of man, there’s no better example than here.
The People of Boston
For being courageous and persevering through and unspeakable tragedy foisted upon them unexpectedly.
What good is your revolution if there’s no one there to tell the rest of the world about it?
In the mid 70′s when country music was in upheaval from a new crop of rough shot artists thinking they should be able to write their own songs, record with their own bands, and keep creative control of their music, Rolling Stone Associate Editor Chet Flippo hit the streets of Nashville to help chronicle what was happening. Not nearly as off-the-wall as his more famous Rolling Stone counterpart Hunter S. Thompson, but just as willing to take an offbeat approach and embed himself amongst his journalistic subjects to get the whole story, Chet Flippo became the eyes and ears for the rest of the world enraptured by country music’s Outlaw revolution.
Beyond writing features for Rolling Stone, Flippo lent his pen to the very music of the Outlaw movement, writing the preambles and liner notes to both Wanted: The Outlaws, the first platinum-selling album in the history of country music, and Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger, arguably country music’s most influential album of all time, and many other albums of country music’s Outlaw era.
Flippo was an editor and writer for Rolling Stone until 1980 when he left to write a biography of Hank Williams, but continued to contribute to the magazine over the years. From 1991 to 1994 Flippo was a lecturer in journalism at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, before moving to Nashville. From 1995 until 2000, he was the Nashville Bureau Chief for Billboard, leaving in 2000 to become the Country Music Editor for Sonicnet.com.
But Flippo was known more recently for his work on CMT.com in his always-enlightening Nashville Skyline columns. For 12 years he oversaw editorial content for CMT. A writer who had seen it all with the courage to say what he believed, Flippo had the ability to stimulate discussion like none other in his field. Though he never seemed exactly at home on CMT with his more traditional country mindset, Flippo’s air brought a sense of legitimacy to the whole CMT operation.
Chet Flippo, whose influence wasn’t just confined to country, was the author of 7 books including
- Your Cheatin’ Heart, a Biography of Hank Williams
- On The Road with The Rolling Stones
- David Bowie’s Serious Moonlight – World Tour
- McCartney: The Biography
- Everybody Was Kung-Fu Dancing: Chronicles of the Lionized and the Notorious.
His library illustrated his all-encompassing perspective of the artists he chose to cover, and the intimacy with which he was afforded from the respect the artists had for the Chet Flippo name.
Flippo was born in Fort Worth, TX, and was a veteran of the Vietnam War, serving in the U.S. Navy. He went to college at the University of Texas in Ausin, and after working as Contributing Editor for Rolling Stone magazine while in graduate school, he became Rolling Stone’s New York Bureau Chief in 1974, rising to senior editor after Rolling Stone moved its offices from San Francisco to New York in 1977.
Chet Flippo’s wife Martha Hume, also a noted music journalist and author, died on December 17, 2012, and today we got the unfortunate news that Chet Flippo has now joined her in the great newsroom in the sky.
Every third year the Country Music Hall of Fame inducts a non-performer into its exclusive ranks. If there was ever a journalist that deserved to be included amongst the artists he covered so dutifully for so many years, it would be Chet Flippo.
RIP to an inspiration to music journalists from across the world, and across the sonic landscape.
2012 was a high profile year for Halls of Fame. From the kilted screecher Axl Rose pulling like a Sex Pistol and telling the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to kiss off, to the Baseball Hall of Fame not inducting a single member as the steroid era falls like a shadow on the eligibility timeline. Similarly to baseball’s Hall of Fame, and in polar opposite of its rock & roll counterpart, the Country Music Hall of Fame has kept its legitimacy and honor over the years by being an exclusive get.
The Country Music Hall of Fame inductees are selected through a committee process appointed by the CMA. Since 2010, the selection process has been split up into three categories. 1) Modern Era (eligible for induction 20 years after they first achieve “national prominence”). 2) Veterans Era (eligible for induction 45 years after they first achieve “national prominence”). 3) Non-Performer, Songwriter, and Recording and/or Touring Musician active prior to 1980 (rotates every 3 years). With a musician, Hargus “Pig” Robbins selected in 2012, and songwriter Bobby Braddock selected in 2011, it will be a non performer (ie producer, record executive, journalist, etc.) that will be eligible for induction in 2013.
Since 2001 when there was a whopping 12 inductees, anywhere from 2 to 4 names have been added to country music’s most prestigious list each year. Usually one name from the above mentioned categories makes it per year, but if no name gets enough of a majority vote, a category may not be represented in a given year. Or, if two names get enough votes for a single category, then both may come from that category.
Modern Era Possibilities
Modern era inductees are usually big, high-profile names in the first few years of their eligibility. In 2012 it was Garth Brooks. In 2011 it was Reba McEntire. These are performers who would have risen to prominence between 1968 and 1993.
Alan Jackson – This is the big name this year that could be inducted in his first year of eligibility like Reba and Garth. Jackson would be a solid pick as a pretty strict traditionalist who experienced lots of commercial success and still remains relevant in country today.
Ricky Skaggs – Along with Kenny Rogers, Ricky Skaggs was one of the names that felt right on the bubble of being inducted last year. Skaggs has bookened his career as a mandolin maestro, studying under Bill Monroe and now firmly ensconcing himself as a country music elder. In between then, he had tremendous commercial success in the 80′s when country was searching for its next superstar. This would be another pick that few could argue with.
Kenny Rogers – He must have been only a few votes from induction last year, and it only seems like a matter of time before The Gambler gets in. The month after the 2012 inductees were named, Rogers was named the Hall of Fame’s “Artist in Residence,” possibly signaling that Kenny was close, but not quite there. Some purists may complain that Kenny started in rock and also helped usher in a more pop-influenced era in country, but you will find few who can argue that eventually Rogers doesn’t belong in The Hall.
Hank Williams Jr. – Could also be considered a veteran candidate depending on where you start your timeline, and another man who will be a hall of famer at some point (with 2 CMA Entertainer of the Year awards under his belt). The question is, is this the year? Last year Jr. seemed like a strong possibility, and then a political brushup that cost him his long-standing gig as the singer for Monday Night Football seemed to sour Hank Jr. sentiment with some. With so many eligible names and so few slots, if there’s any little reason to leave a name out until next year, it’s likely to be passed over. Hank Jr. has become a polarizing figure, and the selection committee may look for someone who can build more consensus.
Brooks & Dunn – Brooks & Dunn was a commercial powerhouse whose career is somewhat shadowed by the success of Garth and their strange place as a non-familial country duo. Their first album Brand New Man sold 6 million copies, and they won the CMA for Vocal Duo of the Year every year between 1992 and 2006, except 2000. They’ll be in eventually, but is the list of names in their field still too strong for this to be the year? Their success is not debatable, but did they have the type of influence it takes to be Hall of Famers this early in their eligibility window?
Toby Keith – Officially eligible because his “Should’ve Been A Cowboy” was released in 1993, but it wasn’t until the 2000′s when Keith really became a dominant force in country music, both commercially and influentially. He’s a long shot, but a possibility.
Other possibilities: Ronnie Milsap (saddled by his “crossover” status), The Judds, Randy Travis (bad news year for him), Clint Black (and his disappearing act for the last few years), Tanya Tucker, The Oak Ridge Boys, Crystal Gayle, and Mickey Gilley.
Veterans Era Possibilities
It is much harder to compile a field of candidates in this category because the time period is so wide, and the possibilities are so endless. So instead of trying to name off every possibility, here are some serious contenders, and some interesting names.
Gram Parsons – The push to put Gram into the Hall of Fame has been going on for years, but with a wet finger sticking up in the air, I think this year may be the one that if he’s not fully inducted, there will at least be enough votes for him through the induction process that he will really have to be looked at in coming years as a serious candidate. Influential country writer Chet Flippo featured Gram’s influence in August. What once looked like a ridiculous notion, now seems like a real possibility, and that is a victory for the Gram Parson camp in itself.
Jerry Lee Lewis – Jerry Lee has received a big push this year, and is a definite possibility for induction. He may be held back some since he came from rock & roll, and his antics on The Grand Ole Opry and other places over the years. But his contributions as one of country music’s preeminent piano players cannot be denied. If Elvis is in the Country Hall (and he is), his old Sun Studio’s buddy can’t be that far behind.
Jerry Reed – Such a great ambassador over the years for country music from his work with Smokey & The Bandit to Scooby-Doo, but Jerry Reed should be inducted for his stellar and influential work as both a performer and a musician. There weren’t many better guitar pickers back in the day than Jerry Reed.
Lynn Anderson & Dottie West – Lynn and Dottie are the two ladies that probably lead the field for female veteran inductees. The question with Dottie is if she’s known more as a duet performer. The question with Lynn Anderson is a few DUI arrests over the years. Still, both of these ladies are right on the bubble, and would not be surprising as the 2013 veteran pick.
John Hartford – I admit this is a long shot pick, but I believe he deserves induction. As I said in last year’s prognostications, “The Country Music Hall of Fame works like a timeline as you walk through the displays that weave around the massive archive in the center of the building. As you start from the beginning, each artist and their impact is displayed on a plaque that includes their Hall of Fame induction date. When I came to the John Hartford display on my last visit to The Hall this summer, he was the first to have a display, but no Hall of Fame induction date.”
The Maddox Brothers & Rose – The Maddox Brothers & Rose was a name I’m sure was not on anybody’s radar, until this year. With their prominent place at the very beginning of the Hall of Fame’s current Bakersfield Sound exhibit, it is hard not to see how important their influence was on country music, especially West Coast country, and the flashy dress of country performers that still influences the genre today. I agree it is a long shot, but if groups like The Jordanaires and The Sons of the Pioneers are in The Hall, certainly The Maddox Brothers & Rose should be.
Johnny Paycheck and David Allan Coe – These names come up every year from hard country fans, and are names regularly held up as evidence of the Hall of Fame’s illegitimacy. The simple truth is that with these two performer’s shady pasts, Hall of Fame induction is going to be difficult. Johnny Paycheck has a more distinct possibility than David Allan Coe, because Coe could create a public relations nightmare for the Hall of Fame from people (correct or not) who label Coe a racist, sexist, etc. etc. Patience mixed with persistence is what Coe and Paycheck fans need to see their heroes inducted, as time heals all wounds. Eventually I think both men should be in, but they may have to wait for a year with a weaker field. Seeing Hank Jr. go in may be the sign the Paycheck and Coe’s time is coming.
Other possibilities: Johnny Horton, Bobby Bare, Jimmy Martin, Ralph Stanley, June Carter Cash, Tompall & The Glaser Brothers, and an endless list of other possibilities.
Non Performer Possibilities
Possibly the hardest category to prognosticate, I would put Fred Foster as a producer candidate, music publisher Bob Beckham as another candidate, and Chet Flippo as a candidate for a music writer. Chet Flippo wrote the introduction to Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger and Wanted: The Outlaws, and was seminal in spreading the influence of country in the 70′s with his writing in The Rolling Stone.
Really, Mike Curb‘s name should be in the discussion. He is the namesake of the conservatory that greets you when you walk into the Hall of Fame. But with his shenanigans the last few years battling both artists and other labels in the courts, Mike Curb may be waiting a lot longer for Hall of Fame induction, if not forever.
Saving Country Music’s Picks
If I had a vote…
Modern Era: Ricky Skaggs
Veterans Era: Gram Parsons, Jerry Reed, John Hartford, Maddox Brothers & Rose, Johnny Paycheck. If I had only one? Give me Gram and we’ll worry about the others next year.
Non Performer: Chet Flippo
Yesterday (1-6) the track listing and contributors for the second installment of the Waylon Jennings tribute “The Music Inside” was released to the public to a few grumbles from Waylon fans who were unhappy to see names like Colt Ford on the list, who is known for mixing country music with rap, and Justin Moore, who even legendary music journalist Chet Flippo who covered Waylon and the rest of the country music “Outlaws” back in the 70′s for Rolling Stone has inferred is a “fake Outlaw”.
Now Saving Country Music has learned from a reliable source close to Waylon Jennings’ estate that the estate has “distanced” from the choosing of some of the artists on the tribute, especially on the second disc. Waylon’s estate, made up of Waylon’s widow Jessi Coulter and his son and artist Shooter Jennings are said to have limited involvement in the project at this point, consisting of the tracks they have contributed themselves, and a few other “select choices”. Both Shooter and Jessi appeared on The Music Inside Vol.1 released in February, and Jessi appears on this second volume due out January 24th.
The Waylon Estate source also says the selection of the contributors has a lot to do with the labels releasing these volumes. Big Machine Records, Justin Moore’s record label released Vol.1, and label Average Joe’s Entertainment whose releasing Vol. 2 is home to Colt Ford and Montgomery Gentry. The Music Inside project is being managed by producer Witt Stewart (read interview with him here about the project).
There’s also questions about the timing of the release of The Music Inside, Vol.2. The series was always intended to be 3 volumes, and a total of 36 songs had been recorded by the time of the release of Vol. 1 in February. June 14th was supposed to be the release date for Vol. 2 (the day before Waylon’s birthday), and Vol. 3 was scheduled for October, along with a rumored “Christmas surprise” from the project. Now we won’t see Vol. 2 until late January, and physical copies won’t be available until February 7th. There is no updated release date for Vol. 3 currently.
Saving Country Music has learned the delay in the release occurred when the original label that signed on to release the albums, Big Machine, refused to release Vol. 2 after physical sales of Vol. 1 did not meet their expectations. Vol. 2 was picked up by Average Joe’s, but only with the stipulation that Colt Ford and Montgomery Gentry from their roster would be added as contributors. Justin Moore and Jewel were included to fulfill the project’s obligations to Big Machine, resulting in a list of contributors that looks to have more to do with Music Row politics than with who is best suited to pay tribute to Waylon Jennings.
Neither Jessi Coulter nor Shooter Jennings have come out publicly against the project, and SCM’s source close to the Waylon Estate says the family still supports the release of these volumes, but if it was left to them, a different set of contributors would have been chosen. Shooter has said in some recent interviews that he, “appreciates that the records have given a podium to many artists from many different walks of life to express their love of my dad’s music”.
Both Shooter and Jessi showed apprehension to the project at first before finally giving approval, as they explained to The Tennessean back in February when the first volume was released:
(Jessi Colter) “Frankly, sometimes it hurts my heart to hear someone do his (Waylon’s) songs.” All of which is part of why Colter was reluctant to green-light a series of three Waylon Jennings tribute albums…If Colter was reluctant to participate in such a project, Shooter Jennings was downright apprehensive … “I was leery of it, and even more guarded than my mom was. I’ve seen people with pure intentions and unrealistic goals, and I’ve seen people with agendas. And I’ve seen a Nashville system that will happily milk the ‘outlaw’ image of Waylon and other people, just so they can sell garbage.”
Please stay tuned to Saving Country Music for more information on this developing story.
Lonesome, On’ry and Mean – Dierks Bentley
Waymore’s Blues – Hank Williams, Jr.
Good Ol’ Boys – Montgomery Gentry
I Ain’t Living Long Like This – Justin Moore
Bob Wills Is Still The King – Jack Ingram
Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line – Colt Ford
Rainy Day Woman – Pat Green
Love Of The Common People – Josh Thompson
Mama – Jessi Colter
Dreaming My Dreams With You – Jewel
Followers of Saving Country Music know that for a while now, I have been calling out the current crop of “new Outlaws” in country music. Nearly 1 1/2 years ago I said:
Since Hollywood has gone country, Nashville has gone Outlaw. Unfortunately the music hasn’t followed suit, it’s only the Nashville suits throwing around music terms to try to move more “units”. Instead of fighting against the REAL country music insurgency, Music Row is trying to incorporate it, assimilate it…
One of their tools to do so is “laundry list” or “calling card” songs. You know the songs I’m talking about, the ones that name off dirt roads, ice cold beers, pickup trucks by the lake, etc. etc. These songs have been a staple of the Music Row hit making machine for the last few years, usually comprising one or two of the songs on a a mainstream Nashville record, especially by male performers.
When self-titled “new Outlaw” Justin Moore released his latest album Outlaws Like Me, I proclaimed it “…the worst country music album I have ever heard, EVER.” And specifically about the laundry list songs, “Usually there will be 1 or 2 of these songs on any given Music Row-produced country album. But Justin Moore has the audacity, the boldness to make an entire record of them, and even worse, make them the most stultifying, stereotyping, unapologetically formulaic songs that have ever been published for mass consumption.
Of course I and Saving Country Music can be written off as polarizing, opinionated, arrogant hardliners, (or maybe should get credit for being over a year ahead of everyone else), but now the mainstream country media is coming out swinging against these calling card songs, and the new Outlaws that perpetuate them.
The first was Chet Flippo, legendary country music writer who covered the original country music Outlaws for Rolling Stone Magazine along with many other beats, and wrote the introduction to the albums Wanted: The Outlaws and Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger. He had some choice words for Justin Moore’s decision to brand himself an Outlaw . From his Nashville Skyline article:
Nowadays, country music seems to have recently gotten outlaws again. Gotten outlaws in the same way that some people have gotten ants or bedbugs or cockroaches. We have a new infestation. To be sure, they’re small outlaws, but they are insistent that they are here.
Justin is a fine new artist, but if he’s a true outlaw, then Miss Piggy is Dolly Parton. How is Moore an outlaw? Well, he’s from a small town — which is very chic in faux-Outlaw circles. Some of the songs on his new album are about rednecks and dirt roads and the like. All those are very essential elements in the faux-Outlaw trend.
Now Peter Cooper, maybe even more influential these days in the world of country music journalism as the Senior Music Writer and Columnist for Nashville’s major newspaper The Tennessean said in a recent column:
All day, you’ve been singing rock songs to me about how country you are. And even country songs about how country you are. It’s been “dirt road” this and “back road” that, and “party in the woods” this and “redneck, hillbilly” that. Then there’s been some stuff about fishing with cane poles, and skinny-dipping in the lake with some two-named girl…And I don’t believe you were on the dirt road to the barn party with your redneck, hillbilly friends. I don’t believe the story about the lake.
I’d rather be hit by a can of your favorite domestic beer than hear you name-check that beer one more time when you’re singing about the party in the woods that you know darn well the three people who wrote the song in a metropolitan Nashville office absolutely, for sure, did not attend.
There is little question now that Justin Moore and his album Outlaws Like Me is where the new Outlaw movement and the laundry list country song went too far. They jumped the shark.
But critics and fans do not always see eye to eye, as can be illustrated by another country music writer, CMT’s Allison Bonaguro. The perennial cheerleader for pop country picked up her pom pom’s and defended this culture of living a country lifestyle vicariously through corporate country music. As maddening as it might be, Allison has a good point, that however or fake or worn out as calling card songs might be, if that’s what the public wants, that’s what the public will get. From CMT:
I agree that maybe there are too many of the same old clichés living inside the lyrics, but I’m not sure what the alternative is. I was not raised with a cane pole near a fishing hole or with country boys and girls getting down on the farm. I drank no jugs of sweet tea or moonshine. There were no buckets of fried chicken or haylofts. I was raised in the suburbs, in a station wagon, going to tennis lessons. I went to parties in other suburban houses. I drank Tab when I was a teenager, Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers when I got to college. I worked at the Limited in a mall. Now, who the hell wants to hear a song about all that? I’d much rather hear the clichés. So go ahead, country singers, lie to me until you figure something else out.
I have no doubt that the country calling card/laundry list songs perpetuated by the new Outlaw movement will go down in infamy like the hair metal phase of rock. It will be shunned and mocked by future generations as an embarrassment. The critics and writers are wise to it now. Only question left is, when will the public be?
And how did we get here? When Taylor Swift won the CMA for Entertainer of the Year, we thought it couldn’t get any worse, and some surmised this would be pop country’s Waterloo, as some will call this the new Outlaw Waterloo. Now with the infiltration of country rap and the rise of the new Outlaws, pop country acts like Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood almost look like a safe haven in a dark era. I wonder if Taylor Swift’s CMA win wasn’t the impetus for this boomerang back to these overly-countrified songs in an attempt to counter-balance Taylor’s virtual country-less approach?
I don’t proclaim to know where country music will go from here, but what I do know is that Justin Moore and Outlaws Like Me has solidified its place in country music history as one of the big bullet points on the timeline that denotes a major event. And that the event it denotes is not a positive one.
And that’s not just my opinion.
Last week, as I predicted, off of the strength of Jason Aldean’s country rap song “Dirt Road Anthem”, his album My Kinda Party took the #1 spot in the country music album charts, and “Dirt Road Anthem” rose to #6 on the song charts. For once, the collusion of country radio rotation managers actually works in favor of country purists, as this is the only thing keeping “Dirt Road Anthem” from being a #1, but the video for the song has been CMT’s #1 video for weeks.
Country rap is here ladies and gentlemen. It has been milling around for a while, but now it is a full-blown chart-topping mainstream-acceptable sub-genre of country, like it or not. So what is a country purist to do? Well I have assembled a survivor’s guide to help you through the inevitable ramp up of country rap parody that Music Row is no doubt manufacturing right now to take advantage of this most ill-conceived of music trends. Here’s your guide to help rebuke some of the ridiculous claims being made by country rap apologists.
Not All Dissension Against Pop Country Is About Race
Without question, many people, if not a majority of the people that have a problem with country rap do so from a very basic reactionary stance based on race. However there are many fundamental reasons to be opposed to country rap that have nothing to do with race at all, and anybody who is willing to speak out against country rap would be wise not to bring up race as the foundation of their argument.
Proponents of country rap are playing the race card as the only reason people are opposed to it. Legendary country music writer Chet Flippo’s article on the subject seems to imply that if you embrace the traditions of country music, you must embrace ALL of them, including the racist ones like blackface comedy and David Allan Coe’s foul-mouthed period. This just simply isn’t true. You can rebuke the racist elements of country, and still rebuke country rap as well.
They also insult the intelligence of country-rap opponents by preaching to them about how the roots of country (as white music) and blues (as black music) are very similar, when many of the elements opposing country rap are the only ones truly embracing the intertwined roots of country and blues. This very site has a blues show on SCM LIVE whose motto is “saving country music with the blues.” The Muddy Roots Festival, the country’s largest independent/underground country music festival, has just as many blues bands in the lineup as country ones, with the fundamental approach of supporting all roots music, regardless of the color of those roots. Hillgrass Bluebilly’s award-winning album Hiram & Huddie put the songs of Hank Williams and Leadbelly side by side. Mainstream country has completely forgotten it’s roots, country and blues, but now brings them up as a convenient truth.
There’s A Difference Between Rapping And Spoken Word
This is the dumbest, and most insulting of the arguments for country rap, that, “Hey, Charlie Daniel’s ‘Devil Went Down To Georgia’ was the first rap song ever because he spoke instead of sang”. Please. Charlie Daniels, Red Sovine, the old cowboy country poets were speaking, and Jason Aldean is rapping, and we all know the difference, and we all know Aldean is rapping because that is the gimmick he’s employed to get people to pay attention to him. Yes, there may be some very minor aesthetic similarities between rap and spoken word, but in no way is “Dirt Road Anthem” an extension of the spoken word tradition of country music, or spoken word in country an originator of rap.
Country Rap is Not Evolution, It’s Devolution
DO NOT fall prey to the idea that country rap is part of the natural evolution of the genre, and that “purists” have always been against “change”. Yes, there were some that fought the electrification of country or the introduction of drums, but rap is not a newly-introduced take on instrumentation, it is a 35-year-old artform being introduced as a last ditch effort to save a dying industry. Country rap is not evolution, it’s devolution by definition. Country music has been trying to evolve for years, but these elements have been pushed into alt-country and Americana, independent and underground channels, as mainstream country favors the quick fix that has done nothing but stultified the music and created an environment of economic uncertainty for the industry.
Country Rap IS Pop Country
Country rap is not an evolution, or an extension of spoken word, it is a version of pop country, and it is important to understand this from a fundamental level. Maybe not ALL country rap is pop country, but the country rap they would play on the radio or you’d see in the charts most definitely is. Music Row knows “pop country” is a bad word to a growing demographic, so they are disguising it, re-branding it as country rap and “new Outlaw” music. But it is still a pop country derivative, and should be approached as such.
Country Rap Is Not Diversity, It Is The Death of Diversity
With the corporate consolidation of radio, we have already bled most of the local and regional flavor off the airwaves to the point where no matter what city you go to, you hear the same songs on the same formatted stations. Now it is getting to the point where you hear the same music no matter what station you’re on. How this can be sold as diversity? Diversity is keeping the differences between genres strong, and celebrating our differences instead of attempting to resolve them.
I’m sure many people think that concern for the infiltration of country rap is tilting at windmills, but the diversity issue is where this becomes about more than just music. America’s “melting pot” ideal is often cited as a primary reason for the strength of the United States. Compromising that diversity could cause social problems and economic problems beyond the world of music.
Not All Country Rap Is The Same
Do not diminish the arguments against country rap by lumping all country rap together. I am sure there has been in the past, and will be in the future, some blends of country and rap that are respectful to the roots of the music, and enjoyable to listen to while not insulting the intelligence of the listener. These projects will likely be ignored by the radio and the industry, but it is not fair to the honesty and heartfelt approach of these artists who are breeding originality through bridging artforms to lump them in with the Jason Aldean’s of the world.
Understand How History Will Judge Country Rap
In the end, the joke will be on them. Look at what happened with the mainstream blending of rock and rap. “Limp Bizkit” is now a punch line, and rock is no longer a viable mainstream genre of American music. The wise will understand that in the future, mainstream country rap will be looked back on and mocked like the pet rock or parachute pants of country. But it is still important, however symbolic, to make a stance against it, especially because of the threat that just like rock music, the infusion of rap could be the last hoary gasp of a dying genre.
This was a bad week for country. It started at the end of the week before, when Gerry House, legendary morning DJ for Nashville’s WSIX-FM announced that after 30 years he was retiring. You could almost sense the next question was “why?” with people anticipating scathing remarks on the direction of country music, but Gerry was a professional simply saying, “I wanna sleep late, contemplate and feel great.”
So the scathing remarks were left for another legend of country music coverage, Chet Flippo, who in his Nashville Skyline column, laid down heavy criticism of WSIX’s parent company Clear Channel, and country radio in general. Flippo is not one afraid to pull the trigger with criticism, but I’ve never seem him so willing to name names and lay the criticism down so heavy.“I never fully realized how hard it is to do really good morning country radio until some years ago when I was doing a lot of business travel and listened to country radio around this nation. I pretty damn quick realized how truly awful or, at best, mediocre most morning drive shows are on country radio stations. BubbaBubbaBubba! And worse. That’s what you hear.” “Gerry was jacked over by his parent company Clear Channel last year when CC abruptly sacked two of his longtime show staffers, Al Voecks and Duncan Stewart, apparently without his knowledge. I heard he considered quitting then, but stayed on. I am not surprised he is leaving now. If the most highly-regarded country DJ in the country is not well-respected at all by his parent company, then what’s left in radio?” “As radio conglomeration has decimated radio station staffs, genuine on-air radio talent is sadly disappearing.”
Flippo even went on to blame the fall of local radio programming to the destruction of community orientation, and specifically cited its use during crises.“One of the problems Nashville authorities found with local residents getting news warnings about the recent disastrous flooding here was that some Nashville radio stations are programmed by syndication, have no local news, and therefore there was no one even at some stations to take phone calls on the weekend when the flooding happened. The stations’ listeners heard nothing but automated programming broadcast from somewhere else.”
Then on Wednesday a report came out showing country sales fell further than the rest of the industry. Put aside all the arguments of what is country or not, country music has insulated itself from some of the recent deterioration of music sales by incorporating pop and rock elements under their expanding tent. Country was also helped last year by rising superstar Taylor Swift.
Which led us to Thursday, when Taylor let fly a couple of mediocre live performances at the NFL kickoff game. Some are not worried that country sales are falling, because Taylor and a slew of other big names still have albums to release this year. However as time goes on, it is being exposed that Taylor Swift just can’t sing. And as record sales dwindle, the one fall back the music industry has is the money-making power of the live performance, something that Taylor has proven numerous times she can’t deliver in a strong manner.
In a time that calls for bold ideas, fresh blood, and innovation, country has decided to stick even more vehemently to their unimaginative formulas, while cutting costs ahead of unnecessary contraction to keep ill-conceived infrastructure in tact. Country is not void of talent, far from it. It is void of ideas of how to mine and evaluate that talent, and then educate its consumers on what to listen for, like listening at all. I listened to Taylor’s performance, but could barely hear anything.
Remember back when Taylor Swift won the CMA for Entertainer of the Year? We thought it couldn’t get worse for country music. There was a lot of surmising of where country music might go next after that win. Would there be a traditionalist backlash? Would country become even more pop oriented to try to mimic Taylor’s success?
No, try a sinister option #3: Take the fervor for a traditionalist backlash and roll it into even more pop oriented, cliche riddled radio ready songs that further trash the soul and name of country music. With new artists like Josh Thompson, and new albums like Gretchen Wilson’s I Got Your Country Right Here, Music Row proved that the depth of their shrewdness cannot be measured.
But maybe the have gone too far this time. Nashville’s collusive reality tunnel has blinded them to the fact that they are becoming the brunt of jokes, literally. And not just in the seeing-eye core of country fandom, but in the overall culture. People who always hated country, are now wondering what the hell is going on with country.
But don’t take my word for it.
Chet Flippo, long time country music writer, whose been a senior editor for Rolling Stone and wrote the introductions to the classic Outlaw country album Wanted: The Outlaws is now getting into the fray. In a Nashville Skyline article, Chet calls out the same Josh Thompson and Gretchen Wilson songs that I’ve been ranting about for weeks:
“Junk songwriting and shallow lyrics and shorthand shopping lists of objects that supposedly should be desired by country fans have always existed in country songs, but I don’t think they’ve ever been as celebrated as they are now. Or as ubiquitous. Or as successful. . . One reason is that there seem to be no — or very few — musically-knowledgeable people at radio because of radio consolidation and perhaps because the bosses don’t want anyone messing up the process with talk of quality or of good songs.”
“Another reason is the old cycle of record labels recording artists and songs that radio says it wants, and that usually calls for the lowest common denominator. And for songs that test well with the right demographic. And then that means songwriters have to write the kinds of songs that will actually get recorded and played. And that cycle repeats over and over.”
Chet doesn’t name names, but with his “shallow lyrics and shorthand shopping lists of objects that supposedly should be desired by country fans” he is clearly talking about the Josh Thompson and Gretchen Wilson songs that rip off the Black Crowes and rip off each other.
But Chet is still part of the country music fold, so let’s take a broader look. A recent Wall Street Journal Article about the Pulitzer Prize awarded to Hank Williams wondered if the award was also backhandedly criticizing the creatively bankrupt culture of modern country:
“The acknowledgment of Williams comes at a time when country music seems under assault from within, as its biggest stars promote glossy, cookie-cutter hybrid that owes more to pop than acoustic country and its writers have reduced to a litany of well-worn clichés the kind of lyrical insight Williams displayed. Though Williams was a star in his day who understood the power of image, at the core of his work was his ability to write and sing lines that resonated not only in the mind but deep in the heart of his listeners – which is why his songs so easily cross genres for other performers: His words speak of what we know to be true.”
A lot of people would say people who are not knowledgeable about country music have no right to criticize it. Chet Flippo has said that much himself, and I disagreed with him. But when something becomes so obvious that even people not paying full attention to the country music world can see how ridiculous it has become, how far it has gone, this is the perfect sign that it has gone too far.
When I was down at South by Southwest a few weeks back, I was in a restaurant, and saw this sign below, completely by random. Whether it’s this sign, a Pulitzer Prize, or a Wall Street Journal article, there’s no more need for debate, the signs are everywhere throughout our culture: Country music has lost its way.
Yeah I know, you have no intention to watch the CMA’s. It doesn’t represent what you believe to be country music, and last year you were blinded for two weeks by the sheer whiteness of Carrie Underwood’s teeth. But I will be watching, and I’ll tell you why:
First, if you’re new to the game, and want to know the scoop behind the CMA’s, why they are by far the most important awards in country music, and read about the corrupt way they do business, you can check out my three part series on them from last year.
But the reason that I will be watching is because this MIGHT be the most important CMA Award show in our generation, or at least this decade, or even more specifically, in the last 8.6 years. Let me explain:
Those of you who’ve ben around a while know that I love to draw parallels between country music and the question “Will The Circle Be Unbroken?” taken from the old revival song of the same name, and the central theme on which the Country Music Hall of Fame is built around. The idea is country music works in a circle, moving to a more contemporary or pop angle, and then back to its roots.
I know I am not the first to submit this theory, but a while back, one of the most influential country music writers ever, Chet Flippo, produced a similar theory, not based on The Circle, but on cycles that last 8.6 years, taken from a mathematical formula. You can read it by CLICKING HERE. I don’t really agree with the cycles that Flippo articulated, I mean where are the Outlaws? Wasn’t this one of the most obvious turns of the cycle? But I do agree that there will never be another Taylor Swift, and that she exemplifies an extreme edge of the circle, or cycle.
“There will likely not be Taylor Swift Twos and Threes and Fours because the original Taylor pretty much Hoovered up the market for teen girl angst songs by a peer group singer-songwriter. It was a brilliant move, one of the smartest ever by a shrewd music artist, and it will not likely be repeated.”
For the record, Flippo has come out defending pop country numerous times, and Taylor Swift specifically, which is why I have had a love /hate relationship with this writer who also covered the Outlaw movement more than anyone else in the 70′s, and wrote the introduction to the Wanted! The Outlaws album.
What I’m mostly interested in seeing tonight is if Taylor Swift will win Entertainer of the Year. Yes I know, who cares. Well I do, because as you can read in Part 3 of the series above, in 1975 when pop performers won prominent awards, it caused a HUGE backlash from traditional country performers, which led to one of these cycles turning, and it allowed to Outlaws to come to fruition. If Taylor wins, pop country could win the battle, but it could be the beginning of the end for their reign. I emphasize COULD.
I know a lot of you think that the circle is already broken, and there nothing left to salvage, and that we should just enjoy the music we have and be happy for that. But I can’t help it, I’m intrigued. No other genre of music has this kind of drama, steeped so deeply in tradition.
So I will be watching, though all of Carrie Underwood’s wardrobe changes, through Jamey Johnson and Kid Rock’s duet, through the criminal Keith Urban’s guitar wank-offs, and to see if I can catch some sort of glimmer or hint that the circle, or cycle, is beginning to turn.
When Newsweek published an article calling out pop country a while back, I declared this was an important moment: a mainstream news outlet shining a big light on the sham of Nashville. Another reason I knew it was important was because Nashville took it like a shot right across the bow and came out swinging.
CMT roasted Newsweek and the author, and long time country music writer and critic Chet Flippo wrote THIS ARTICLE, entitled Country Music as Defined by “Others”, implying that anybody who had qualms with the current state of country music was an “Other” or somehow an outsider.
The first sentence of the article read: “Isn’t it fun reading a self-styled expert expounding on what country music really is?” At first I thought Chet could be talking about me, but he was talking about Steve Tuttle over at Newsweek, though Chet did reference me indirectly when he said “articles are frequently written by supposed expert commentators who don’t seem to have quite as firm a grasp on country music as they think they do.”
I want to set the record straight that I do not consider myself a country music expert. I am a country music fan, and there are thousands, possibly millions like me, from many different walks of life, that feel that country music has completely lost its way. We cannot be explained away as a bunch of pointy-nosed, chin in the air, holier-than-thou types with incorrect facts. Sorry.
I will be the first to admit, I can’t name you the title of one Taylor Swift song. When Vern Gosdin died a few weeks back, I openly admitted I had never heard of him. When it comes to the Outlaw country scene back in the day, or the Austin scene, or the modern REAL country scene, I’d like to think I know about it more than most, but at my heart all I am is a fan. A fan. And without it’s fans, country music is nothing. Don’t attempt to marginalize me or my readers, or the thousands of disenfranchised country music fans by saying we’re a bunch of misinformed bastards with bad facts.
We are country music: the fans that is. It is amazing that no matter where you are in the country, no matter who you are with, you can always find someone in some bar or at some sporting event saying, “Man, this modern pop country SUCKS.” When Steve Tuttle wrote that article for Newsweek, he did so as a fan. At no point did he expound that he was an expert.
Since Chet Flippo wrote his rebuttal to Newsweek, I have seen this same argument against REAL country music fans popping up on the comments of other blogs and articles. They say: “Who are you to say what is REAL country and what is not?” There’s no need to get into specifics about how many fiddles there are or the twang factor, you simply just need to say “I’m a country music fan, and I know country when I hear it. And that ain’t country.”
Also in the Chet Flippo article, by attempting to explain away the transgressions of pop country, he actually spelled out the problems. In the article Chet said: “. . . it’s (country music) become the dominant American popular music. . .” and “But even as modern country replaces rock as the music of mainstream America, a true maverick like Jamey Johnson can still make his mark with genuine, baptized-in-the-blood country music.”
THAT is the problem in a nutshell my friends: Country has become the dominant, mainstream genre of American music. Instead of being a music rich and proud with great talent and tradition, it has become a duiluted umbrella term and the trash can for undefinable music played by white people, just like the term “hip hop” has become the default genre for black people. There used to be multiple major genres of music in America. Now in new music there is only country and hip hop, black and white. Everything else is backlist or underground. THIS is a textbook definition of the homogenization of culture, and this is the thing I try to fight every time I peck at the keyboard, or pick up my poison pen.
And of course Chet Flippo paraded around pop country’s lame excuse for variety, Jamey Johnson, AS I PREDICTED THEY WOULD IN THIS ARTICLE.
At first the pop country power brokers tried to ignore the REAL country music fan. Now that our voices are growing louder and our numbers are swelling, they are trying to explain us away with nonsensical arguments.
I actually have a tremendous amount of respect for Chet Flippo, though I disagree with him about as much as I agree. He is a lightning rod, always has been, and I also hold a lot of respect for him because he was one of the major Nashville writers that covered the rise of the Outlaws in the 70′s.
But as far as I am concerned, his argument holds about as much water as Hank Williams’ bucket.
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My name is the Triggerman and I am a country music fan, and there are thousands more like me who are willing to fight for the music we love and believe in.
We are not going anywhere, and we won’t be scared or explained away. We are here to stay.
Hear us roar.
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