- Music Row's Studio A likely to be saved
- Willie Watson on NPR's Mountain Stage
- Fader Interviews Lucinda Williams
- Chuck Mead on NPR's Mountain Stage
- Apple Reportedly In Talks with Majors for Cheaper Music
- Backstage Pass: Enjoy a Bit of Bradford Lee Folk Lore
- If You Missed It: Lucinda Williams on Fallon 9-30
- SXSW Probably Isn't Going Anywhere But Big Changes Loom
- Revisiting Cowboy Jack Clement, Country Music's Jester and King
- Audiobook Review: Tom T. Hall "The Storyteller's Nashville"
- Mac Wiseman Featured in The Wall St Journal
- Live Nation Moving Off of Music Row
- After SiriusXM Success, The Turtles Take on Pandora
- American Songwriter reviews new Sons of Bill album
- Cool Music Photos from New "Still Moving" Picture Book
- The Telegraph "Sturgill Simpson: Space Cowboy"
- Jambands Reviews Cory Branan's "No Hit Wonder"
- Zoe Muth at WAMU's Bluegrass Country
- A night in the life of Austin City Limits ringleader Terry Lickona
- Review: Sturgill Simpson At Leaf Cafe, Liverpool, UK
- Can the people Nashville hopes to attract afford to move to Nashville?
Country music in 2013 feels like the best of times, and the worst of times. While a few top male performers perpetrate untold atrocities on the integrity of the genre, the rise of independent music and infrastructure in the marketplace is now almost to the point where it equals its corporate counterpart. Quality songs and worthy artists are beginning to see more and more support, while current events and new outlets create avenues for substantive music to find its way to hungry ears. It is so easy to focus on the negative because it still seems to pervade the popular consciousness. But here are twelve reasons it is looking up for country music in 2013.
Yes, Kacey Musgraves. Even if you see her as some Music Row machination meant to offer an alter ego to the Taylor Swift’s of the world (Taylor equals Kacey’s noms with 6 herself), at least mainstream country is now offering a choice to consumers. What Musgraves’ symbolizes is that you don’t have to prove overwhelming commercial success to get noticed. Her biggest hit “Merry Go ‘Round” didn’t even make the Top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100 Country Songs. Musgraves is a songwriter in a traditional sense, even if some of her best, and most-heady material didn’t make her big debut album. The reason she was able to rake up so many nominations is because of her songwriting credits, accounting for half of her CMA considerations. Kacey Musgraves’ 6 CMA nominations proves that regardless of how stupid country music’s leading males are trying to make the genre, in 2013, songs matter.
Yes ladies and gentlemen, it is getting dirty out there, and the more artists that speak out, the more other artists gain the courage to join the chorus. And not to shy away from the fight, Kacey Musgraves could be characterized as leading the charge, coming out multiple times to complain about where country music is headed. Alan Jackson also had some choice words recently, as did Gary Allan, Tom Petty, and most recently Zac Brown. Country music may be crossing more unfortunate lines than ever, but at least it’s genuine artists are being vocal about their dissent.
Yes, it was bad that Blake Shelton had to disrespect large segments of country music listeners when he ostensibly called them “old farts and jackasses,” but the backlash that ensued became a unifying element for disenfranchised country fans. Ray Price wrote a blistering letter to Blake Shelton, resulting in Blake having to make a public apology. Dale Watson wrote a song about the whole incident which has since become one of the most popular numbers of his show. An “Old Farts & Jackasses” group on Facebook boasts over 93,000 “likes,” and the list goes on from there. Blake Shelton awakened a beast, and gave it a rallying cry. Who would have thought in 2012 that people would be proudly calling themselves “Old Farts & Jackasses” ?!?
The days of inducting traditionally-leaning artists and bands seemed to be over with the Grand Ole Opry’s recent membership invitations to Darius Rucker, Keith Urban, and Rascal Flatts. But lo and behold, the Grand Ole Opry can still get it right, inducting an act that has paid their dues many times over, and deserve to be recognized as one of the forefathers to the re-popularization of string bands that has seen the rise of bands like Mumford & Sons, The Avett Brothers, and The Lumineers. The news is not only good for Old Crow Medicine Show, but other artists who may not be top tier names in country music, but deserve the distinction.
It’s so easy to read the headlines and see the top of the Billboard country charts and say that all is lost in the genre. But as long as Sturgill Simpson is out there touring, you can’t say country music is dead. Out on tour with Dwight Yoakam, playing the Grand Ole Opry, inspiring critics from coast to coast and overseas to sing his praises, Sturgill Simpson is giving hope for the future to country fans that has a value beyond his music specifically.
Yeah, I’m not too much for the silly cliffhanger drama-laden plot lines either, but Nashville has become an invaluable teacher of how the music business works, specifically on the songwriting side of things. An educated consumer makes better choices, and if they see and understand how backroom politics stultify the creativity and freedom of artists, and how a song goes from inspiration to the big stage, they just may make better choices, and think about where the music they enjoy comes from. Furthermore, Nashville has become a music outlet to a nationwide audience that may otherwise not be exposed to the music of independent artists like Caitlin Rose, Lindi Ortega, Ashley Monroe, Shovels & Rope, and so many more.
There are many good, independent country bands that are enjoying a rise in interest in 2013, but there may not be a bigger rags to riches story (so to speak) than Hellbound Glory landing an opening spot on a Kid Rock arena tour. Going from playing half-empty bar rooms to sold-out arenas, Hellbound Glory is seeing the recognition their quality country music has been deserving for years. And the opportunity has been paralleled by bigger crowds and better support even after the arena tour ended.
Caitlin Rose, Valerie June, Lindi Ortega, Austin Lucas, Amanda Isbell, Cory Branan, Jonny “Corndawg” Fritz, and so many more that call east Nashville home (or at least to some extent) have seen career watermarks and burgeoning interest in 2013. Forget Music Row or the circus downtown, Nashville, not Austin, is the new vibrant epicenter for independent music, and the artists there pushing and supporting each other is fostering a creative environment that regardless for how long it lasts, will be looked back upon fondly in the future as a time and place that got it right, and set the bar for artistry and substance. Add on top of that already-established and influential artists like Jack White and Dan Auerbach, and Nashville is the place to be in 2013.
“Cowboy” Jack Clement and Bobby Bare Inducted Into the Country Music Hall of Fame
Yes, two very important players in the rise of country music’s “Outlaw” movement finally got their due this year, and it was especially timely for “Cowboy” Jack Clement who would pass away only a few months after the announcement. Though there is still a long list of worthy inductees that many fans worry will never get in, these two men prove that the Outlaws will not be forgotten, and move other important country music icons one step further to being inducted themselves.
If you feel like the Outlaws of country music have not been dealt a fair deal and they need need a new institution to give them the support and recognition they deserve, your wishes were granted in 2013 when it was announced there will be a new Outlaw Country Music Hall of Fame in Lynchburg, Tennessee coming soon. Nashville may have swept their legacy off the streets like common refuse, but at least somewhere the Outlaws will ride eternally.
If you desire more validation that 2013 is the “Year of the Song,” then behold the overwhelming breakout success of Jason Isbell in 2013. Bolstered by his manager Traci Thomas, a bulldog of the Thirty Tigers group, Jason Isbell is becoming the defining songwriter of our generation. If you ever wished you could go back and re-live the heyday of Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt in their prime, watching Jason Isbell and his 2013 tear is the next best thing.
With radio becoming less and less accessible through every measure of consolidation by Clear Channel and Cumulus, new outlets must open up to support independent music. And they are in 2013, and sometimes in the most uncanny places. David Letterman not only has been giving his stage over to artists like Dale Watson, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Pokey LaFarge, Shovels & Rope, and so many more, he’s been seeking out this talent to play his show as a fan of the music. Where big network TV debuts for independent artists seemed to be a thing of the past, now they seem to be a weekly occurrence.
In 2013, there is only one music artist who can say they’re officially banned for life from country music’s most storied institution: the Grand Ole Opry. No, it’s not David Allan Coe, Hank Williams III, or some other hothead, firebrand artist quick to call out the Opry and other mainstream country music institutions at any perceived slight. No, the offending party is none other than alt-country luminary Neko Case.
This may not be completely surprising seeing how Neko got her start in music as the drummer for a punk band, and has regularly collaborated with artists and bands outside of the country fold like The New Pornographers. But like many of the artists making up the alt-country movement in the mid 90′s, it can be argued that Neko had more respect for the roots of country music, and for country music institutions like the Grand Ole Opry, than many of country music’s artists did at the time, and certainly do today.
In October of 1998 when Neko’s first album The Virginian was blowing up in the alt-country realm, the Las Vegas Sun interviewed the young songstress, where she professed her philosophy behind country music, and her love for the Grand Ole Opry, in an article appropriately titled “Neko Case’s Quest for the Grand Ole Opry.”
I don’t play “alternative country” music; I just play country music. I want to have the same outlets, the same goals that all my heroes in country/western music have had. I want to play the Grand Old Opry in my grandmother’s lifetime, you know what I mean? I want to be played on mainstream radio. I’m not willing to change my music to get there faster, but I’ll fight for it anyway. I don’t think anyone gives a shit about country radio. It’s bullshit. It just makes me mad that (country radio) is using the term “country music,” when it doesn’t belong to them.
I think now is the time for change in country music; hopefully it’ll change for the better. It really burns that all the bands that inspired me were part of a national country music culture that was really admirable and fairly diverse at one time. I want to have the same avenues open to me. It’s like having this beautiful old building in your neighborhood and coming back to find that they’ve torn it down and built a Wal-Mart in its place.
Neko Case would get close to having her Grand Ole Opry wish granted when she was invited to perform at the Grand Ole Opry Plaza Party just outside the Grand Ole Opry House in the summer of 2001. Playing the Plaza Party was seen as a precursor to being able to play the Opry proper, and is the place where many Opry mainstays like Old Crow Medicine Show and Dale Watson got their Opry starts. With the respect Neko Case had for the Opry, she was excited for the opportunity.
“People who have gone to the Opry or are on their way to the Opry come by and check you out while they’re coming and going,” Neko explained to the Denver Westword that summer. “You get to go backstage at the Opry, which is the really cool part.”
Everything seemed to be going well for Neko and her Opry dream until one afternoon performance in July at the Plaza Party that was especially sweltering. The stage the Opry had set up for their Plaza performers was black, and right beside it was a barbecue pit that was pouring heat out onto the performers. With dreams of making it onto the Opry’s main stage, Neko Case persevered through the heat during her show, but it began to get unbearable and she started to wilt.
Neko Case started making requests for water from surrounding staff, but they went unfulfilled and she began to get dizzy. As Case began suffering from the effects odf heat stroke, she asked the staff if she could take a short break, and was told no. The situation became desperate for Neko, who was on the verge of passing out or suffering from some serious, long-term damage if she couldn’t resolve her rising body temperature. So in a panic, Neko removed her shirt to help cool off. As you can imagine, the family-friendly Opry did not look favorably upon this.
Exacerbating the shirt removal was the weight of Neko Case’s past in music and her statements about country, seeming to imply to the Opry and others that this wasn’t just an instance of heat exhaustion, but that Neko was making some symbolic statement by bearing her womanhood in public (though she still had a bra on beneath). As the stories swirled about Neko’s shirtless set, it was taken by some as an obscene gesture to cause a sensational outcry, or to stand against the direction of country music, or some other counterculture statement.
But that wasn’t the case.Â I wasn’t trying to be sexy or rebellious — I was just getting heatstroke up there,” Neko later explained to Rolling Stone. “I didn’t do anything obscene. I wouldn’t want to see me with my shirt off, either.” But the explanation didn’t do much good, and the incident resulted in a lifetime ban from the Grand Ole Opry—the institution Neko cherished so.
Neko has since come to peace with her fate. “I was pretty depressed for a couple of months after that happened, but I got over it,” Neko told The Guardian. Neko later memorialized the incident by naming her 2002 album Blacklisted.
She still hopes to return to the Opry some day and fulfill her dream. “They’ll forgive me one day,” she told Fairfax Digital. “I still love them.”
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Neko Case just released a new album, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You.
A big battle ground in country music right now is the presence of so many songs about trucks. Everywhere you turn, there is a song being released by a big country music personality that drones on and on about tailgates, Chevy’s, lift kits, mud flaps, etc. etc. Though this recent popularity trend seems especially sinister in its simplistic, incessant nature, it is not necessarily unprecedented in country. From the early 60′s into the mid 70′s, songs about semi-trucks and truck drivers were all the rage, with big names like Merle Haggard, Del Reeves, and Buck Owens getting in on the action, and professional country songwriters writing songs to specifically to capitalize off the trend similar to what is happening in country music today.
The difference of course was many of these classic trucker songs were considered very well-written, with many of them delving into deep issues like death, loneliness, loss of family, etc. Country music’s new crop of truck songs and their respective songwriters and performers could learn a thing or two about storytelling and soul from these traditional country truck driving songwriters and performers.
Maybe the best known of the country trucking crooners, with the most-recognized, most-covered trucking song in “Six Days On The Road,” Dave Dudley is an overlord of the country music truck driving music subset. Holding an honorary solid gold membership card to the Teamsters Union, he broke out with “Six Days On The Road” in 1963 and never looked back. Other great country trucker classics like “Truck Drivin’ Son-Of-A-Gun,” “Trucker’s Prayer,” and “Keep On Truckin’” are also attributed to Dudley, but like many of the old truck singers, he had his standard country hits too. Dave Dudley was actually the first to cut Kris Kristofferson’s song “Viet Nam Blues” that first put Kristofferson on the songwriting map, and Dudley’s only #1 song was the Tom T. Hall-written number “The Pool Shark.” Dudley had hits for over a decade, with his last big single “Me and Ole C.B” peaking at #12 on the charts in 1975.
Red Sovine was known for his trucking songs, but his particular twist was how he would talk in prose instead of singing his songs in rhyming verses. Sovine’s speaking style would have significant influence on the rest of country outside the trucking sub genre, while his trucking songs set the bar for emotional impact and storytelling. Sovine’s #1 “Teddy Bear” is right up there with Dave Dudley’s “Six Days On The Road” as one of the most well-recognized country trucking songs, and Sovine also charted another #1 with “Giddyup Go.” His song “Phantom 309″ wasn’t a huge hit, but it found a new audience when Tom Waits included a live version of it on his album Nighthawks At The Diner. Sovine also had a non-trucking #1 hit in a duet with Webb Pierce in 1955 with the song “Why Baby Why.”
With a patch over his right eye,Â Dick Curless was considered a throwback even in his own time. He was one of the pioneers of country trucking music, with his first big hit “A Tombstone Every Mile” making an appearance as a top five country hit in 1965. Songs like “Traveling Man,” “Highway Man,” and “Big Wheel Cannonball” established Dick’s persona as a man constantly on the move, and won him a spot on the nationwide Buck Owens All American tour. Like many of country’s trucker song stars, Curless spent a lot of time in California and was signed to Capitol Records, though he was known to frequently go back to his home in Maine to recover from a grueling schedule of touring and performances.
While Red Simpson may have not had the huge hits of his trucker song counterparts, he was also the one most dedicated to the specialized version of country. With only a few exceptions, virtually all of Red Simpson’s songs are about trucking or the highway patrol. He was the trucker songwriter other trucker songwriters listened to, and wrote many trucker hits for other artists. Based out of Bakersfield, he co-wrote songs with Buck Owens, and became a hot commodity when trucker songs became popular. The trucking song “Sam’s Place” that went on to become a #1 for Buck Owens was written by Red, and in 1975, Red landed his own big hit with “I’m A Truck.” At 79, Red is the last of the original country trucker song stars still around. In 1995, he recorded two duets with Junior Brown, “Semi Crazy” and “Nitro Express.” He is still recording, recently doing a duet with underground country artist Bob Wayne, and rumored to have an album called The Bard of Bakersfield in the works.
C.W. McCall got a late start in the trucking genre, joining the second wave of the movement in the mid-70′s. But his contribution was significant, especially with his #1 hit, the trucking song standard and generally epic “Convoy.” The song inspired a movie of the same name that starred Kris Kristofferson in 1978, and McCall was regarded in some circles as the “Outlaw” of the country trucker song performers. “Convoy” became so big, some consider McCall a one hit wonder, but he had numerous successful songs, inside and outside the trucking realm. His first charting single was “Old Home Filler-Up an’ Keep On-a-Truckin’ Cafe,” and he also had a #2 single with “Roses For Mama.” C.W. McCall’s popular career was pretty short, ranging from roughly 1974-1978, but his impact, especially with “Convoy” cannot be understated.
Though Del Reeves is known for contributing much more to the country music genre than just trucking songs, his two significant cuts, the #1 hit “Girl On The Billboard” from 1965, and the top 5 hit “Looking at the World Through a Windshield” from 1968 make Del Reeves and honorary trucking song god if there ever was one, and an important performer in the development of the sub genre. Reeves also put out an album called Trucker’s Paradise in 1973.
…and to an extent their sister band Asleep At The Wheel deserve honorary mention for being inspired and a part of the 70′s-era trucker song revolution, though it is widely considered they were somewhat on the outside looking in. Nonethess, Commander Cody’s second album that consisted mostly of covers called Hot Licks, Cold Steel & Truckers Favorites from 1972 might be one of the most prized albums of the sub genre.
Not really known exclusively as singer of truck driver songs, but his albums The Truckin’ Sessions (1998) and The Truckin’ Session, Vol. 2 certainly deserve mention, with the first one considered by many to be the album that launched Dale’s career. Dale has also been known to drive trucks and his own bus upon occasion.
Another artist not primarily known for trucker songs, but Junior Brown has them scattered throughout his discography, including the title track off of his 1996 album, Semi Crazy. Junior’s signature song “Highway Patrol” rekindles the symbiotic relationship between trucker songs and highway patrol songs first started by Red Simpson, who he recorded two duets with in 1995.
Aaron Tippin may be best known for his more patriotic songs, but he’s peppered trucker songs here and there throughout his career. In 2009, Tippin released an album called In Overdrive that included many truck driving cover songs and closed out with two originals. His truck driving cred is helped by the fact that he was a real-life truck driver before launching his career in country music.
A lesser-known underground country artist, but one who includes trucker songs (usually of a pretty seedy nature) on every one of his albums, including his 2nd album 13 Truckin’ Songs. Bob Wayne recently performed and recorded a duet with Red Simpson after re-discovering him in a Bakersfield trailer park.
Merle Haggard & Buck Owens as part of the Bakersfield Sound both had quite a few big trucker anthems. One of Jerry Reed’s signature songs is “East Bound & Down” from the Smokey & The Bandit movies where he played a trucker. Tom T. Hall wrote and recorded a few trucking songs. And there’s many other artists who’ve recorded more than one trucker song. Who are some of your favorites?
On Monday night the Twitterverse blew up around the occasion of songwriter Jason Isbell recording an upcoming episode of Austin City Limits. The taping was streamed live online, and drew a remarkable amount of attention and praise from the online participants who took the time to tune in. Usually music confined to the online format is at such a distinct disadvantage, it is barely worth your time, and though Austin City Limits’ production value is world-class, this wasn’t what made the event special. Jason Isbell is quite the capable singer, and since he started out as a guitarist for the Drive By Truckers, it’s hard to denounce his musicianship either. His band The 400 Unit was sensational as well, and so was his wife Amanda Shires who sang and played fiddle for the set. But none of this is why the event became a singular experience for those who tuned in.
It was Jason Isbell’s songs and his songwriting that made so many online watchers walk away with one of those feelings you get after watching a stellar movie—where your mind gets so immersed in the experience it is hard to return to the real world. Jason’s songs are also why the event was able to cross traditional barriers of genre and taste. Jason Isbell is on a meteoric rise right now, and even though he finished off the night’s performance with a mostly instrumental cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” Isbell’s ability to evoke story is at the center of his success.
Another artist who is seeing success in 2013 is Sturgill Simpson. I once dubbed Sturgill the “Stevie Ray Vaughn of Country Music” because of his incredible guitar playing. But one of the keys to Sturgill’s rise has been his decision to set the Telecaster down and retool his music to be more about his songs.
Everywhere in the independent music world you’re seeing songwriters who have struggled for years finally starting to get signed to record labels and releasing career-caliber albums: Valerie June, Caitlin Rose, Austin Lucas, Amanda Shires, and the list goes on from there, and they are all in the middle of this emerging and relevant rise of independently-minded Nashville songwriters that more established songwriters like Jason Isbell and Justin Townes Earle are the leaders of. Whereas other sectors of the music industry seem to be gripped by the fear that digitization and streaming may ultimately doom the business of music, talented songwriters are benefiting from the search for the next writer to break out with bold and fresh material, and a renewed belief by the independent industry that songwriting is important, even if it is marginally profitable. Nobody wants to pass up the next Jason Isbell.
The biggest divide between active and passive music listeners might be the conscious awareness of songwriting. Passive listeners just subconsciously connect with a song either physically or emotionally without giving it much thought, while active listeners attempt to determine why. Popular music consistently offering less and less choice and substance is not hindering this trend, it is enhancing it as many listeners are fleeing the mainstream ranks for more thoughtful music, and in turn are becoming aware of what truly makes a song worth hearing. Even ABC’s new prime-time drama Nashville broaches the subject of how songs are written on a regular basis—many times delving into great detail on the process—making consumers more enlightened and engaged about how a song is constructed and why songwriting is important.
The Nashville show has also become a new outlet for original songs as the industry attempts to address the dramatic glut of songwriter material worthy of a wider audience. Many Nashville songwriters in this new, up-and-coming crop were featured on the series’ inaugural season, including Caitlin Rose, Lindi Ortega, and Shovels & Rope. Sales of music may be declining sharply, but royalty rates, especially for songwriters whose material appears on television and movies, remain substantial. And this songwriter resurgence is not just confined to the independent music world. Even in the mainstream, songwriters with more substantive material like Kacey Musgraves and Ashley Monroe made their big debuts in 2013. David Letterman has been featuring more songwriters on his show, including ones who’ve never had a network TV break like Ray Wylie Hubbard, Dale Watson, and Pokey LaFarge.
For every era in music, there is a defining element that sets the standard of what is tasteful and relevant. It could be the presence of a powerful guitar riff, a certain style or tone to the music, a specific thematic thread like feelings of melancholy or happiness, or even a stylistic visual element that has little to do with the music itself. In 2013, in the independent music world and beyond, that defining element appears to be the well-written song.
Of all the people you could have picked to become an outspoken dissenter to the direction of country music, Rodney Crowell would have been pretty far down the list. Not that he doesn’t have the skins on the wall to say such things and have them carry weight, or that he doesn’t practice what he preaches when it comes to his own approach to music. Rodney is in the direct lineage of legacy-caliber songwriters like Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt, and came up playing in Emmylou Harris’s “Hot Band.” He and Emmylou recently released a duet’s album together, but he always seemed to be more of a reserved soul when it came to such things as saying country music is headed in the wrong direction.
Well he’s not being very reserved at the moment, taking his second opportunity in the last month to decry the direction of country in a recent interview:
I watch these young country artists come in and burst onto the scene, and I always have to remind myself that these artists didnât experience Hank Williams Sr. or Big Joe Turner or Kris Kristofferson, who was able to bring the bedroom and sensual poetry into country music. These artists came from a different set of archetypal images. If I took the old school curmudgeon approach, I would say these guys are really missing the boat.
A couple of weeks ago, Crowell made similar disparaging remarks about the direction of country, carefully worded, coy, and cunning in the way the words cut right to the heart of the problem, saying in part:
Ever since country music entered the back door of main stream commercialityâmost noticeably in the early sixtiesâthe debate over who possesses the more noble heart, the purists or the popular entertainers has never stopped. (Remember the credibility scare of the late 80â˛s.) Generally speaking, the purists make the more timeless music.
Pop culture is a disposable culture, therefore it stands to reason that those who want the big bucks and the power are inclined to produce slick and disposable music. I donât see anything wrong with artists getting rich by pigging out at the trough of poor taste.
Rodney Crowell may be no Dale Watson when it comes to the temper he brings to his country music dissent, but the more voices speaking out and reaching different audiences, the better. By saying many of today’s pop country artists are “missing the boat,” Crowell is showing the leadership country music needs to help right the ship.
Welcome to Saving Country Music’s 2013 Pickathon LIVE blog! We will out at Pickathon just outside of Portland, OR all weekend, leaving our thoughts, posting pics, and other bits of information from the fest all weekend.
Check The LIVE Blog below for comments, reviews, and pictures!
The 2013 Pickathon lineup includes names many folks are used to seeing around Saving Country Music, names like Dale Watson, Wayne “The Train” Hancock, Sturgill Simpson, Devil Makes Three, Caleb Klauder, JD McPherson, and many more. But the best part about the Pickathon experience is discovery of new bands. Somehow Pickathon always seem to put together the best combination of artists you already know and love, artist you’ve heard of before and want to check out, and artist you have no idea about but once you give a chance, make you a fan.
It’s also a great mixture between country, bluegrass, folk, rock, indie, jazz, Cajun, and everything else. The other unique thing about the Pickathon experience is there are multiple stages that each has its own specific character, and every artist that performs at Pickathon performs at least twice, and some three times. This makes it hard to miss someone you want to see, while the artists you really want to experience, you get a chance to see them in multiple settings. The Mountain View and Fir Meadows Stages are what you would maybe consider your typical big festival stages, except at Pickathon, you feel like you’re walking around in one big piece of art. The Woods Stage as it sounds, is out in the woods. The Galaxy Barn is like the intimate venue space where all the energy is captured between artist and crowd. And the Workshop Barn is where artists and patrons can interact and you can ask artists questions.
***Please note, all times are Pacific Time. We won’t be offering a play by play of the entire fest, but will do our best to offer frequent updates.
Monday 12:35 PM: Thanks to Terry, Zale, the entire Pickathon crew, all of the hundreds of volunteers, all the amazing bands and artists that once again made the Pickathon the most enjoyable festival experience out there. Aside from getting pretty hot on Sunday, this year’s Pickathon had the best weather of any Pickathon I’ve been to over the years.
They continue to find creative ways to deal with people problems. Their use of projection screens for The Galaxy Barn and supplying monitors for artists and workers backstage kept you engaged with the music even when you couldn’t be right in front of the stage. One of the big concerns last year was dust, which you’re going to have at any festival. This year seemed to be an improvement, and this was probably helped by the weather leading up to and during the fest. Still more could maybe be done, but it was certainly better than last year. Their new performance space, the Pickathon Cafe was probably too much of a success to the point where it needs to be bigger. Instead of being a relaxed environment where people could sit, drink coffee and listen to music, it became like a bullpen as folks scrunched in to watch the music.
But aside from these very minor concerns, they continue to astound you in the forward-thinking and intelligent design of their fest, both in the grounds, and in the lineup and scheduling.
Two guns up!
10:15 PM: Welp folks, we have officially left Pickathon for 2013. Later tonight or tomorrow, we will post some final thoughts. Thanks everyone for following along!
8:52 PM: Bradford Lee Folk & the Bluegrass Playboys in the Galaxy Barn putting the “pick” in Pickathon.
8:49 PM: Tift Merritt wins the award for “Best Guitar At Pickathon” 2013. It isÂ Gibson, probably B25. They started out cherry red, but fade to the color seen over time. The color might be my favorite part about it besides the holes.
6:06 PM: The Felice Brothers tearing up on the main stage right now! Lake Street Dive and Caleb Klauder coming up in the Galaxy Barn.
6:00 PM: We’ve been running around like crazy, taking in as much music as we can before we have to leave town. Below is Leo Rondeau who played an inspired set earlier today in the Galaxy Barn. He had the folks dancing!
4:07 PM: Bradford Lee Folk & the Bluegrass Playboys in the Galaxy Barn were real good. They have a a T-shirt that says, “Sex, Drugs, & Flatt and Scruggs.”
3:07 PM:Â This front man for The Builders and the Butchers reminds me of Austin Lucas. Not just because he looks like him, but because he sings straight from the gut.
2:55 PM:Â Foxygen canceled, so we’re getting a set by the Builders & The Butchers from Portland!
1:34 PM:Â Hanging out with Dale Watson’s band watching Leo Rondeau in the Galaxy Barn. That makes 5 Austin bands seen in 24 hours at Pickathon. Gift Merritt coming up on the live stream.
12:12 PM: Stuff to look forward to today: Leo Rondeau in the Galaxy Barn, Tift Merritt and The Felice Brothers out on the main stages, and if we hold out that long, Lake Street Dive and Caleb Klauder back in the Galaxy Barn! Shinyribs playing right now!
11:00 AM: After 10 PM at night, Pickathon shuts down its main stages and opens the Starlight Stage in the main field by the food court. Sometimes this is an intimate performance, but last night Kurt Vile & The Violators destroyed it on the Starlight stage. Cool band.
10:53 AM: Some more followup from last night.
I want to hate Shinyribs. I really do. I saw them at the Lone Star Music Awards a few months back, and didn’t get it. Watching an old man with a rotund gut swinging around trying to be sexy and playing funky rock & roll just isn’t my thing, and his band looks like it is cobbled together from castaways from the Red Dirt scene (they’re good, but seem out-of-place). It’s just a silly concept that on so many levels doesn’t work. Hell they cover TLC’s “Waterfalls.”
But they have a big following that’s getting bigger, and I’ll be damned last night if they didn’t pull me in. Kev Russell just knows how to put on a show and make you enjoy the music for enjoyment’s sake. They had the Galazy Barn rocking. Great show. (Sorry for the cell phone pic.)
10:34 AM: Camera found! Below is Cedric Watson and Bijou Creole from last night in the Galaxy Barn. Pickathon makes sure to represent all the different parts of the roots world, and you can’t do that without some Cajun music. Cedirc plays accordion and Cajun fiddle (cradling it in his arm, not under his chin), and sings in both English and Creole French. The girl playing washboard also sang a little bit. Good band!
One cool feature they added this year was projection screens outside the Galaxy Barn. At night, the Galaxy Barn would get so packed, not everyone could see. Also this is where they normally have a fire pit, so folks can relax outside around the fire, and watch the music going on right inside.
1:30 AM: Funny picture of Wayne Hancock from Hearth Music: http://instagram.com/p/ckTGrKQtD6/
12:35 AM: The Austin music scene is dead? With Shinyribs, that makes four top-notch acts from Austin that played Pickathon today.
Also, the Saving Country Music official camera is officially lost at the moment. Fault of a faulty zipper on the official Saving Country Music backpack. Maybe it will find its way back, but that piece of gear should have probably been put out to pasture a while ago. The worst part was losing the Cedric Watson photos and a few others. Got some other pics save on the phone, so we’re not dead in the water. We may procure a new camera for tomorrow.
11:00 PM: JD McPherson delivered once again. As much as the punk inside of me wants them to let loose even more, what is cool about JD is he goes right up to the line of punk, but never crosses it. Straightforward, no frills rock & roll, all analog, old school, and awesome.
10:20 PM:Â Great Cajun music going down in the Galaxy Barn with Cedric Watson. Shinyribs from Austin is watching, ready to go on next. Devil Makes Three just finishing up on the Woods Stage. More pictures coming up!
9:35 PM:Â JD McPherson and band positively murdered it! Wow.
8:35 PM:Â Really enjoyed d Andrew Bird’s stuff with Tift and the band. His solo stuff come across as a little too self-indulgent for my tastes.
6:50 PM: Shakey Graves from Austin, TX is a really cool music specimen. Like fellow Austin musician Lincoln Durham, sonically he probably belongs in the underground roots scene. He’s a one man band who plays a suitcase for a bass drum, and bules-style fingerpicking guitar. But he’s grown up outside of those Deep Blues, or underground roots scenes, and if his crowds at a music festival outside of Portland are any indication, his name is getting out there quite well. Pickathon booked him in the their two smallest venues–the Workshop Barn, and the Pickathon Cafe, which is supposed to be a small little spot to relax, drink coffee, and listen to music. Both places were as packed as they could be. I don’t think Pickathon appreciated the draw of Shakey.
6:45 PM: Some follow up from the Dale Watson set: He also said, “We love coming to Pickathon. Every year they seem to improve something.” He also played a new song “Jonesing for Jones” (or at least that’s the lyrical hook). It is a tribute to George Jones.
4:37 PM: We got Shakey Graves coming up! And don’t forget Andrew Bird & JD McPherson are going to be coming up on the broadcast starting at 7:20 PM Pacific!
4:30 PM : Dale Watson just put on what might be one of the best sets so far at this year’s Pickathon. I normally don’t think of Dale Watson as a festival guy. His haunt is more the honky tonks. But being used to playing for three straight hours at The Broken Spoke, or some other honky tonk in Texas, Dale can condense his set down to a potent hour of non-stop fun and country music. And the best part might be that he took time to do his silly Lone Star Beer bit, and a couple of other things to keep the crowd laughing. He went in depth about the whole “Old Farts & Jackasses” story, and explained Ameripolitan for folks. Excellent, excellent set in the Galaxy Barn, which if Pickathon had a honky tonk setting, that would be it.
2:44 PM: Pickathon has a new performance space this year called the Pickathon Cafe. It is between the main field and the Woods Stage, right before you enter the woods around a gaggle of food vendors. Amidst the brambles are The Cactus Blossoms, a great neotraditionalist-style country band. They came recommended by “Lunchbox” down in the comments. Excellent stuff!
2:40 PM: For those of you that missed Wayne Hancock on the live stream, here’s a couple of shots of him on the main stage. The second one is for the bass player’s sweetheart Gigi whose been watching the live blog. That’s Jimmy Karow on bass.
2:36 PM: Tift Merritt was excellent. Another example of women leading country music in the right direction. Amazing band too, great listeners. Perfect, tasteful arrangements to her songs. Also loved her old Gibson guitar.
2:25 PM: Look what just arrived a while ago on the Pickathon grounds! Bunch more pictures and info from around the fest coming up!
12:00 PM: Remember all those pictures we saw from a recent Kenny Chesney concert and all the trash? Well Pickathon generates no trash. None. At all. Maybe a granola bar wrapper here and there, and that’s it. They have all reusable dishes. It’s also a great place to bring your kids, with dedicated kids activities all day.
11:00 AM: Things just getting stirring in earnest around the Pickathon site. Today we’ll be checking out Tift Merritt, Shakey Graves, Dale Watson, JD McPherson, and most importantly, some artists we’ve never heard of before. If you’re watching the live stream: You can find a link to the broadcast schedule above, but most notably don’t miss Wayne Hancock at 1:30 PM Pacific, then Andrew Bird at 7:20 PM, and JD McPherson at 8:40! And don’t forget, part of the Pickathon experience is discovery, so try and watch some folks you don’t know as well!
9:15 AM:Â No sleep ’till Sunday! We’re shaking the cobwebs out and getting ready to take in Day 2 of Pickathon.
First, some more pictures from last night. Andrew Bird on the Wood’s Stage was phenomenal. Maybe a little fey for some, but he’s a fiddling bluegrass maestro who has one of the best use of dynamics you will find. You also won’t find a better whistler in bluegrass. Joining him on stage for the set was Tift Merritt, who will be playing her own set of music today.
Since we arrived late to the show, we could only get far away and very close up, but hopefully it captured the vibe of a bluegrass show in the deep Pacific Northwest woods at night.
Andrew Bird on Wood’s stage. Tift Merritt with her back to the camera.
1:50 AM: JD McPherson tearing it up at the Galaxy Barn! Hope some of you are watching out there.
12:05 AM: Big picture dump!
Wayne “The Train” Hancock in the Galaxy Barn. Two lead guitar players, and a trumpet. One of the best bands I’ve seen him use outside of Austin. The younger guitar player is Zach Sweeny. Wayne shares him with Lucky Tubb. Zach continues to be one of the best, most unheralded guitar players out there.
The Pickathon canopy over the main stage when it is lit at night.
Devil Makes Three delivered a perfect set. They really deserved this headliner position. Over the last few years they’ve really polished up their live show presentation, and have become one of the most enjoyable bands to see. Simple and honest string music, with just enough of a punk attitude and kick.
Members of the Foghorn String Band and Caleb Klauder Country Band administrated a country square dance in the main field after Devil Makes Three left the stage.
11:00 PM:Â Been a crazy last hour and a half! Will be dumping down a ton of pictures here in a while. Devil Makes Three for those who missed it live, Andrew Bird, and much more. For those late night revelers, JD McPherson will be coming up on the live stream at 1 AM.
9:30 PM:Â I’ve seen Devil Makes Three go though some phases. They are on it more now than ever. They also gave a cool shout out to Sturgill Simpson from the main stage.
9:05 PM: Wayne Hancock just let out, heading over to see Devil Makes Three! Will post some more pics soon!
7:30 PM: Caleb Klauder just finishing up in the Workshop Barn, and we’re headed over to the Galaxy Barn to save our spot in front of the stage for Wayne Hancock!
7:22 PM: Pictures! Sturgill Simpson chopped his hair. So did the rest of the band. Pics from Pickathon’s Woods Stage.
Lake Street Dive really killed it on the Woods Stage.
6:20 PM:Â I didn’t think it was humanly possible for Lake Street Dive to be better than they were last year, but they are. They said they’ve had the best year ever last year, and it started with last year’s performance at Pickathon.
6:00 PM:Â Wayne Hancock coming up at 8PM, and for those watching online, at 8:50 you will be able to see Devil Makes Three.
5:45 PM:Â Shakey Graves was so packed, couldn’t get in. We’ll have to catch him at his next set tomorrow. Back at the Woods Stage to see the great Lake Street Dive. They were one of the biggest takeaways from Pickathon 2012.
5:00 PM:Â Watching Sturgill Simpson tear it up on the Woods Stage. No lead guitarist, it’s just a three piece.
3:20 PM: To wet your whistle a little bit, here is a video I took of Sturgill Simpson in Sunday Valley from Pickathon 2011 in the Galaxy Barn: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RAtbG4l6AiE
3:15 PM : Here’s a cool video of how the main Pickathon grounds look from the air:Â http://youtu.be/BL7yrB7PVjM
During Johnny Cash’s legendary concert at San Quentin Prison in 1969, photographer Jim Marshall said to Johnny backstage, âJohn, letâs do a shot for the warden.â The result was the photograph above that mostly remained under wraps until 1998. That is when producer Rick Rubin decided to use the iconic photo in an ad in Billboard magazine decrying country radio’s lack of love for Johnny’s second album on Rubin’s American label called Unchained. Despite no industry support, Unchained went on to win the 1998 Grammy for “Best Country Album.”
Since then the image of the angry face and the raised middle finger has become an iconic symbol of defiance against the direction of country music. As indecent as a raised middle finger happens to be in the first place (and the propensity for some seedy country fans and artists to over-saturate its use in every single photo of them), it has come to mean much more than its vulgar connotation in the fight to save country music.
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Willie Nelson’s middle finger photo was shot by a photographer named Sean Moorman on Willie Nelson’s tour bus on July 26, 2002. The title of image is “Willie Nelson Sending Jim Marshall Regards.” Both the Jim Marshall photo of Johnny Cash and the Sean Moorman photo of Willie stimulated litigation when Urban Outfitters printed up Johnny Cash middle finger T-shirts without permission, and Spencer Gifts did the same with Willie.
Dale Watson doing his best Johnny Cash impression:
Hank Williams III and David Allan Coe in younger days:
Jonny (Corndawg) Fritz telling a fan they’re #1 (Kayley Luftig – Photographer):
Bob Wayne, adding the stink eye for extra emphasis:
Jeff Austin of the Yonder Mountain String Band doing the double bird (Chad Smith Photography):
Keith Richards’ middle finger is insured for $1.6 million. Yes, that one he’s point at you. And no, I’m not kidding.
The wet cigarette of country music, Kid Rock. And Saving Country Music friend “Pointer” from a downtown Nashville excursion in 2011 getting his picture with Kid Rock on the front of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge.
Townes Van Zandt, from the back cover of his 1972 album The Late Great Townes Van Zandt.
Kellie Pickler telling Kanye West “Fuck You!” for not liking country music (see video).
Lenny Kravitz giving the crowd at the 2013 CMA Fan Fest the double bird because they “couldn’t get with love” during his elongated set that left the crowd underwhelmed.
A sign hanging up in the Johnny Cash themed bar and music venue in Austin, TX called the Mean Eyed Cat.
The ad Rick Rubin placed in Billboard Magazine after Johnny Cash won the 1998 Grammy for Best Country Album:
If you needed any more proof that The Svengali of Country Music, one Shooter Jennings is all about creating a cult of personality and pursuing his name as product, just sit back and appreciate that in this recessionary economy when many artists are slashing ticket prices and making themselves more accessible, Shooter is now asking his hard working fans for $85 simply for the opportunity to shake his hand right before his show and walk away with a tote bag. Yes, quite a hefty price tag for someone who has recently been touting himself as a proponent for independent, grassroots music.
Announced a few days ago, “VIP meet & greet packages” are being offered at many of Shooter’s upcoming appearances, including at the Muddy Roots Festival this late August. What do you get for your $85? A T-shirt, a tote bag, 5 guitar picks (that grand total will cost Shooter less than $12-$15 wholesale), and this is my favorite one, an “Invitation to pre-show private shopping experience.” That’s right folks, for your hard earned $85, you get the exclusive opportunity to spend even more money on Shooter’s merch. What you don’t get for $85? Actual admittance to the show. That will cost you extra. So will the tacked on fees for buying the VIP ticket. After a transaction and convenience fee, the actual cost for a Shooter photo op is $90.64.
For an artist of Shooter’s size, and even ones many steps above him on the music food chain, this type of arrogant cash grab from fans is absolutely unparalleled. Furthermore, Shooter Jennings specifically asking to be dealt with in this manner of privilege at the Muddy Roots Festival is a complete insult to the standing culture and spirit of that particular festival, and all grassroots festivals for that matter. One of the things that makes grassroots festivals such an enjoyable experience is that nobody is above anyone, there are no VIP perks, and fans and artists interact freely.
Even more curious, the Muddy Roots Festival is one of the few events that Shooter has decided to purposely promote this $85 package for.
In May of 2011, SCM interviewed the Galaz brothers who are the promoters of Muddy Roots. They spoke specifically about the access the festival gives fans to the artists:
Anthony: The fans and bands were together. There was no barricade, no barrier, no VIP sections backstage. And thatâs what gave the people who made the pilgrimage to Cookeville from whatever state or country such an experience, because all the bands they listen to, they could just go up and talk to them and hang out with them. Thereâs was nobody that was âtoo cool.” There were no pedestals.
Jason: I like that, there were no pedestals. It wasnât, âHey, thereâs rock stars, letâs look at them, but we canât talk or touch them.”
In August of 2011, SCM interviewed Zale Schoenborn, the promoter of the Pickathon Festival in Portland that this year is featuring Dale Watson, Wayne Hancock, Sturgill Simpson, Caleb Klauder, and many other country acts in a diverse lineup. Zale spoke specifically on how separating artists from fans and setting up VIP perks erodes the festival experience for everyone.
We designed the (Pickathon) space to where you come in and relate to the space without a lot of barriers. And that includes the artists. We donât wall them off, we donât have VIP sections, but we do create some communal spaces, and when the artists come out theyâre part of the audience. Itâs very common sense type stuff. Itâs like what you would do if you were hosting people at your house. When people are planning it from Xâs and Oâs, those decisions about the human element fall to the numbers side. Itâs unfortunate because those little things are what people tend to take away.
At last year’s Muddy Roots fest, the 86-year-old country music icon Ralph Stanley stayed after his set and signed every piece of memorabilia brought before him, and took pictures with anyone that wanted one, with no time limit, and no money changing hands for the autographs or photos. So did many of the other bands that played the festival. At Pickathon, after each performer plays, they go to a designated merch area where fans can get memorabilia signed and take pictures with the artists.
The meet and greet marketing tool is traditionally only reserved for large corporate country music festivals and top headliner names way beyond the sphere of Shooter Jennings who is a mid-level club draw at best. Many artists selling out arenas don’t even ask for this type of cash for meet and greets, if they even give their fans the option at all. Many times the meet and greet is for certain members of a fan club or an artist’s message board who have proved their fandom over the years. Even Taylor Swift has a system that rewards the loyalty of fans instead of wealth. At each concert, Swift has a team of people that fan out across the venue looking for attendees that show the most spirit, and hand select them for a free meet and greet opportunity after the show.
Kid Rock made headlines recently announcing he was charging only $20 for tickets for his summer tour, and was also working with venues and promoters to lower prices on food, beverages, and merchandise. “It’s gotten out of hand, price of concerts, the price of entertainment, period,” Kid Rock says. “I’ve been very fortunate, I’ve always tried to keep prices what I think are fair, and I’ve always said I’m proud that I can walk around with my head held high and look someone in the eye, knowing that I haven’t taken an un-honest dollar from a working man. I make a lot of money, I can take a pay cut. All my friends are taking pay cuts, that are in unions, that are farming in Alabama, whatever it is. I can surely take a pay cut, too.”
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Expect the next thing from Shooter to be an explanation of how this was all the result of a snafu between him and his marketing arm, or that he will offer even more incentives now, drop the price, or donate the proceeds to charity, and make a big point of shaking people’s hands at shows who didn’t pay the exorbitant fee, because like all of Shooter’s gross missteps, they’re always followed by a cavalcade of excuses and explanations that his surrogates, sycophants, and toadies always believe, while his underlying approach to selling himself as product and using the names of others as stepping stones remains the same.
Like I have always said to independent and underground music entities, you don’t need Shooter Jennings, Shooter Jennings needs you. Like a politician, Shooter has been out kissing babies. Taking artists out to Chuck E Cheese and buying bloggers drinks, playing artists on his radio show and shaking hands with fans over the last few years was simply setup to an opportunity to cash out on the backs of well-meaning underground roots artists, fans, and entities. And if this latest evidence doesn’t prove this to Shooter apologists, nothing will.
I once heard the worse thing a man could do is draw a hungry crowd
Tell everyone his name, pride, and confidence, but leaving out his doubt
Iâm not sure I bought those words, when I was young I knew most everything
These words have never meant as much to anyone, as they now mean to me
Since Saving Country Music is in tune with the plight of the common man, and know many of Shooter’s fans would love to get their picture with him but can’t pay the exorbitant fee, we are manufacturing a life-sized, transportable photo-op of the picture below, to be provided at Shooter Jennings’ live performances. Poor, hapless Shooter fans and their friends can simply stick their faces through the provided holes, and have the next best thing to getting their picture taken with the Country Music Svengali himself. And it’s all free! (sorry, no tote bags will be given away)
(7-11-13 9:20 PM CDT): Shooter Jennings and/or his management have decided to drop the offer of VIP packages at festivals. As I said above, “Expect the next thing from Shooter to be an explanation of how this was all the result of a snafu between him and his marketing arm,” and on cue, Shooter surrogate Jon Hensley explains, “There was a miscommunication between myself and the company that makes these VIP upgrades possible.”Â You can read Jon Hensley’s entire statement below.
With no malice or mincing of words, I commend Shooter Jennings and/or his management for seeing that these VIP upgrades at grassroots festivals were unfair, unfeasible, and against the spirit of independent country and roots music. Though I still believe the price Shooter is asking for his VIP upgrade is egregious and unparalleled for an artist his size, and that the whole culture of VIP treatment has no place in independent roots music, the elimination of the option for festivals helps preserve the camaraderie and the independent spirit that makes these festivals so enjoyable for fans, and gives them a unique experience in music where all patrons are treated equal.
Jon Hensley’s statement:
Just to clarify…we are not offering any VIP ticket upgrades at any festival Shooter Jennings is playing this year or any year. There was a miscommunication between myself and the company that makes these VIP upgrades possible. But, they will ONLY be available for club and theater dates. To any son of a bitch that has a problem with us offering these upgrades you should talk to any of the fans that have actually purchased one. Ask them if they felt like their money was well spent. It is totally laughable that some stupid asshole hiding behind a computer thinks he has the right to tell Shooter’s fans how they should or should not spend their own hard earned money. This is a business and at the end of the day we all have to make smart business decisions to survive. Offering an optional concert ticket upgrade to loyal fans is not wrong or unheard of and no matter what anybody thinks about it we will continue to offer the upgrades until the world comes to an end. And, if any “blogger” has a problem with them they can address it face to face. All you have to do is purchase the ticket upgrade and see us at the meet and greet.
I have no problem meeting someone face to face and explaining my grievances with Shooter’s VIP package, but to act like not doing this initially is some sort of move of cowardice is pretty high school. Where is Jon Hensley at the moment? Is he within driving distance? I don;t have a problem meeting him, but maybe the matter is more practical to deal with through the miracle of internet. Also, nobody is hiding behind a screen. Last weekend I was out in public at Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic for 12 straight hours. I’ve been at 4 of the last 5 Pickathon Festivals, the last 2 Muddy Roots Festivals, SXSW a dozen or so times, and live events on a regular basis. If someone wants to come and speak to me in person, I am very accessible, wherever I am. And I don;t say anything on this website that I wouldn’t say to anyone’s “face.”
With such a glut of great roots music material starving for bigger outlets, it was only a matter of time before new avenues began to spring up to meet the demands of both substantive artists looking for more love, and salivating fans seeking something real. Surprisingly, television has become one of those new outlets, with shows like ABC’s Nashville featuring artists that never before would be given a shot in prime time, and late night perennial David Letterman giving a leg up to artists who previously had never been afforded a national television opportunity.
And Letterman’s recent run of supporting independent country and roots artists like Ray Wylie Hubbard, Dale Watson, Shovels & Rope, and many more is not the result of some crack team of publicists and booking agents working together to peddle these artists to the right people, it is coming from David Letterman himself listening to these artists and wanting them to be featured on the show. In other words, David Letterman is a fan of roots music, of artists like Dale Watson and Ray Wylie Hubbard, and is reaching out to them, wanting to give them an opportunity, just like he did last night (6-24) to Austin, TX’s Dale Watson.
“I don’t remember exactly if Dave heard Dale on Sirius XM or on “All Things Considered,” but it was one of the two, and they called us up and said, ‘We want Dale Watson on the show, and we want him to play “I Lie When I Drink.”‘ explains Beth Friend of Red House Records–the label that released Dale Watson’s latest album El Rancho Azul. “It was such a surprise because you try for years to get the attention of people, and then all of a sudden you receive a phone call from them. It’s a really happy story for us. We love Dale.”
Ray Wylie Hubbard tells a similar story, how it was Letterman reaching out to them, not vice versa, and that Letterman requested Ray play a specific song.
“About 4 months ago my booking agent receives a phone call and this girl said she was Jennifer from Worldwide Pants, and Dave would like to know if Ray would do his show.”Â Hubbard explains. “She didnât know what Worldwide Pants was so she goes, âDave who?â And Jennifer goes, âDave Letterman, January 9th.â And the booking agent goes, âWell let me make sure heâs not playing a happy hour gig in Waco, those things are hard to re-schedule.â So Dave said he wanted us to play the song âMother Bluesâ but we only had 3 minutes and 35 seconds. So we take out a couple of verses and then we get up there and after we finish and he says, âThank you, goodnight,â he asks if weâll do âScrew You, Weâre From Texas.â And I said, âMan, youâre from Indiana.â And he said, âYeah, but I like the attitude.â So we did the extra song for the website which was really really cool of him.”
The opportunity to get to play to a national audience is one thing, but when Letterman is not simply announcing the band slotted to play, but one he purposely sought out from a sincere love of the music, this is the type of endorsement that can not only give an artist more exposure, but can give them a sense of validation that this craft they have been working at for years is worthy of a greater audience.
“Once people hear the music, they love it.” says Beth Friend from Red House. “They just need the opportunity.”
Over the last few months we have finally begun to see a few success stories be made of some excellent songwriters that sat under the radar for way too long—folks like Sturgill Simpson and Leroy Virgil of Hellbound Glory. If you were looking for another name of a songwriter that’s been criminally overlooked for too long, and has that uncompromising honky tonk sound like Dale Watson and Whitey Morgan, then the man you seek is North Carolina’s Eric Strickland, and his backing band The ‘B’ Sides.
Eric Strickland is Country with a capital ‘C’ and couldn’t make a bad album if he tried. He may be more locally-oriented than the other big names in honky tonk music, but gives up nothing to his more well-known comrades when it comes to cutting songs and records.
At the heart of Strickland’s appeal is his ability to take what on the surface may seem like tired, clichĂ¨ country themes, and give them a fresh, new feel. Take “whiskey” for example, maybe the most worn out word in country music. His last album Honky Tonk Till I Die ends with the song “Drinkin’ Whiskey” that went on to be nominated for SCM’s 2012 Song of the Year. Strickland starts off I’m Bad For You right where the last album ended, with the excellent booze-drenched “The Whiskey Seems To Always Change My Mind,” pulling you in with its walking bass line in the chorus and cutting, true lyrics.
Strickland serenades even harder stuff later on the album with another standout, the chicken-picking “Methamphetamines.” This leads into the album’s best ballad, “Brandy On My Mind” written by ‘B’ side guitarist and harmonizer Gary Braddy. The song “I’m Bad For You” is another great honky tonk classic belted out with just as much bravado as honesty.
The album concludes in two rousing live tracks–a real treat because as Eric Strickland fans can attest, as good as his albums are, his live show may even be better. His backing band The ‘B’ Sides are more seasoned than some bands that play 280 shows per year. All you you need to do is listen to their rendition of Little Richard’s “Lucille” and you’ll hear it for yourself. It’s got some of those moments that make it feel like a feather is being raked on the back of your neck. It’s followed by an excellent live version of “18 Wheel of Hell On The Highway” from Eric’s last album.
One concern with I’m Bad For You is that after the first song, the album slows the tempo down, and stays there for quite a while. No song is bad, but this doesn’t really allow the album to suck you in. But with the overall line up of stellar songs on this album, it rivals any other released so far in 2013.
Real deal, true blood, hard driving, but daring to be sweet in moments, Eric Strickland and The ‘B’ Sides are doing their part to save country music. Now it’s time to do your part by giving them your ear and attention.
Two guns up.
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This Saturday, April 20th is the 2013 installment of Record Store Day–the annual event started in 2007 to help struggling independent record stores. As the event has grown over the years and has expanded to include an event on Black Friday before Christmas, artists and labels have stepped up to help with the cause, releasing limited-edition collectible pieces of vinyl to entice the public into visiting their local mom and pop music sellers.
2013 has some juicy releases, including some super rare Willie Nelson demo sessions, a split with Waylon Jennings and the Old 97′s, some cool live albums from Gram Parsons and Sarah Jarosz, and a re-issue of Justin Townes Earle’s first album, the Yuma EP. The below list are Record Store Day’s country and country-ish releases in alphabetical order.
Black Jack EP
Format: 7″ Vinyl
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
Previously unreleased recordings by this guitar master
Midnight, Boo Boo Stick Beat, Blackjack, Blue Moon of Kentucky
Music From CMT Crossroads
Format: 7″ Vinyl
Label: Warner Music Nashville
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
Limited edition split single. Randy Travis covers the Avett Brothers’ “February”, The Avett Brothers covers the Randy Travis song, “Three Wooden Crosses.
The Last Waltz
Format: 12″ Vinyl
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
3 180 Gram LPs, Numbered RSD Edition. All original packaging with Embossing and two foils. All original inner sleeves plus 12-page booklet. Out of print for more than a decade.
Blitzen Trapper Deluxe Reissue
Format: 12″ Vinyl
Label: LidKerCow, LTD
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
Blitzen Trapper’s debut album from 2003 will be available for the first time on vinyl in celebration of it’s 10th Anniversary.Â The record was remastered by Bruce Barielle and the lacquers were cut by Jeff Powell at Ardent Studios in Memphis, TN.Â A very limited edition run, the record is pressed on 180g vinyl with a free digital download of the entire record with five previously unheard bonus tracks from the original sessions.
Format: 12″ Vinyl
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
Includes songs from ALGIERS as well as the Calexico catalog recorded live in Germany in June 2012 with theÂ Radio Symphonic Orchestra Vienna andÂ the Deutsches Filmorchester Babelsberg.
Format: 12″ Vinyl
Label: Sugar Hill
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
A staple of the Americana genre, this release marks the first collaboration for these Australian husband-and-wife superstars. First time on vinyl.
Complete Paramount and Brunswick Recordings
Format: 12″ Vinyl
Label: Tompkins Square
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
All sides recorded in New York, 1929. Liner notes by Poole authority Kinney Rorrer
I Lie When I Drink
Format: 45 Vinyl
Label: Red House
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
Featuring fan-favorite songsÂ “I Lie When I Drink”Â andÂ “Thanks To Tequila,”Â 3,500 copies of the record were pressed on high quality red vinyl. The free 45 is only available at select independent record stores on Record Store Day.
Tecumseh Valley b/w Pancho & Lefty
Format: 7″ Vinyl
Label: 31 Tigers
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
“Tecumseh Valley” b/w “Pancho & Lefty”
Studio versions of both artists covering Townes Van Zandt. They originally performed these songs on Late Night with David Letterman
Too Pretty To Work
Format: 7″ Vinyl
Label: Cooley Records
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
Record Store Day 7″ featuring 2 live tracks recorded at shows in 2012.
1 â Self Destructive Zones (3:36)
2 â Get Downtown (3:12)
Format: 10″ Vinyl
Label: Bloodshot Records
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
Previously released debut EP from Justin Townes Earle, now on vinyl for the first time. 10″ vinyl. Colored vinyl (opaque gold). Limited to 1000 copies, for RSD.
The Ghost of Virginia, You Can’t Leave, Yuma, I Don’t Care, Let the Waters Rise, A Desolate Angels Blues
Alejandro Escovedo/Chris Scruggs
78 rpm 10
Format: 10″ Vinyl
Label: Plowboy Records
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
78 rpm 10″ A/B single release of two covers of Eddy Arnold standards by Alejandro Escovedo (A side) and Chris Scruggs (B side) for upcoming “You Don’t Know Me: Rediscovering Eddy Arnold” album project due in May 2013
a side : “It’s a Sin” by Alejandro Escovedo – B side: “Just A Little Lovin’ (Will Go A Long Way” by Chris Scruggs
Format: 7″ Vinyl
Label: New West
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
This is a single A-side 7â pressed on heavyweight vinyl.Â The vinyl is black, hand-numbered 1-500, and Patty will sign Side B on 25 of the records, which will be randomly distributed. This song is from her forthcoming album, American Kid, due out 5/14/13. This will come in an all white sleeve with a stamped logo and a stickered UPC.
Live At The Troubadour
Label: Sugar Hill
Release type: ‘RSD First’ Release
Recorded in August of 2012, Live at the Troubadour finds the Grammy-nominated acoustic wunderkind in pristine form and marks Jaroszâs debut live recording.
TRACK LISTING: 1. Tell Me True 2. Kathyâs Song 3. Mansineedof 4. Shankill Butchers 5. Broussardâs Lament
Format: 7″ Vinyl
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
SIDE A: Fire Bug / SIDE B: A Gentle Awakening
Format: 12″ Vinyl
Label: Yep Roc
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
4-song 12″ featuring an unreleased track, a live track and two acoustic tracks from Traveling Alone. Covered with a tactile cross-stitched/embroidered record cover.
Live at Bull Moose
Format: 10″ Vinyl
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
“””I Will Wait”” “”Ghosts That We Knew”” “”Where Are You Now”” “”Awake My Soul”” — 3 or 4 songs from their bull moose instore – CD version”
Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die
Format: 7″ Vinyl
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
7″ Green Colored Vinyl, Numbered.
Side A – feat guest vocals by Snoop Dogg, Jamey Johnson & Kris Kristofferson
Side B â previously unreleased Willie solo version
Crazy: The Demo Sessions
Format: 12″ Vinyl
Label: Sugar Hill
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
When Willie first got to Nashville he cut some demos for Ray Price and Hal Smith’s publishing company, Pamper Music. Though these cuts were used to pitch songs to artists (including ‘Crazy’ for Patsy Cline) and producers, many weren’t released. These 1960-1966 tracks are raw, real and really good, clearly the work of an artist/songwriter headed for stardom.
Old 97s/Waylon Jennings
Format: 7″ Vinyl
Label: Omnivore Recordings
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
2 x 7″ Two tracks from Old 97s sessions with Waylon Jennings, and two additional Old 97s demo tracks. Cover art by Jon Langford of the Mekons and Waco Brothers, and famed painter of country icons.– Iron Road, The Other Shoe, Visiting Hours (1996 demo), Fireflies Take 2 (1996 demo)
Gram Parsons & The Fallen Angels-Live 1973 7
Format: 7″ Vinyl
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
Originally released in 1982 as a bonus 7″ EP to Sierra Records “Live 1973″ LP release of Gram Parsons with Emmylou Harris with full color sleeve.
Side One: Medley- Bony Moronie, 40 Days, Almost GrownÂ Side Two: Conversations, Doing It in the Bus, Broken EBS Box, Hot Burrito #1
Format: 7″ Vinyl
Label: New West
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
This is a single A-side 7â pressed on heavyweight vinyl. Â This song is off of the releaseElectricÂ (2/5/13). The vinyl is black, hand-numbered 1-500. Richard will sign Side B on 25 of the records, which will be distributed randomly.
Yonder Mountain String Band
Format: 12″ Vinyl
Release type: RSD Exclusive Release
Available for the first time on vinyl.
Interstate 35 runs like a zipper down the gut of Texas, and acts like an unofficial border where the American South meets the West. The highway is also a musical corridor, being the main conduit in and out of Austin, TX, aka the “Live Music Capitol of the World.” Willie Nelson’s hometown of Abbott resides right beside I-35, and so did his massive truck stop/music venue/and museum called Willie’s Place near the town of Carl’s Corner, that has since been retrofitted into a much less impressive and generic Petro station.
Carl’s Corner also was the home to a few of Willie’s famous 4th of July picnics, and a place many musicians made a habit of stopping at over the years. Same can be said for the Czech Stop bakery in West, TX a few miles down I-35 from Carl’s Corners, with many autographed photos of famous musicians lining its walls.
Up and down that ribbon of I-35 are places that have been regaled in song by the musicians who’ve passed by them or had memorable experiences there. Some of these places take on the lore of those songs until they become living monuments of the songs themselves. Here are a few.
Papa Joe’s from Dale Watson / Whitey Morgan & The 78′s “Where Do You Want It?”
1505 Interstate 35, Waco, TX, 76705
The best country songs write themselves, and that’s what happened when Billy Joe Shaver shot a man behind Papa Joe’s Texas Saloon, just south of Waco on the Interstate 35 access road. On March 31st, 2007, Billy Joe was in Papa Joe’s 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 handgun. Shaver later testified in court he actually said, “Why do you want to do this?” to Coker, but eventually Shaver shot Billy Coker in the face and 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 called as a character witness. Dale Watson wrote the song, but Whitey Morgan & The 78′s were the first to cut it on their self-titled album with Dale’s blessing. Dale’s latest album El Rancho Azul includes his version.
Dorsett 221 Truck Stop from Scott H. Biram’s “Truck Driver”
15201 I H 35 Buda, TX 78610
Off of Scott H. Biram’s 2005 record Dirty Old One Man Band is one of his signature songs called “Truck Driver.” Whenever Hiram Biram plays the song live, he dedicates it to “all of the truck drivers down there at the Dorsett 221 Truck Stop in Buda, TX.” Yes, the Dorsett 221 Truck Stop actually exists, or at least it did until 2005 when it was closed down. Opened in 1979 just south of Austin and right on I-35, Dorsett 221 was a trucker’s favorite and was famous for its chicken fried steak, breakfast tacos, and because it was built to look like a castle with parapets and corner towers.
Started by Tim and Lenora Dorsett, it was operated by their four sons who each were in charge of a specific part of the truck stop. The restaurant was a nice place for families to come and eat, but as time went on Dorsett 221 became somewhat famous for its crop of lot lizards that could be found lounging around. The existence of “glory holes” that Scott Biram refers to in “Truck Driver” could not be independently verified, but over time Dorsett 221 became one of central Texas’s most famous truck stops for its endearing character, and the characters it attracted.
It all went downhill for Dorsett 221 when a fire was started in one of the restrooms. During the restoration process, the four sons quarreled on how to proceed. Eventually one son took sole possession of the embattled truck stop and decided to close it. But the memory of Dorsett 221 still lives in Scott H. Biram’s song, and can still be seen on the side of the east side of the interstate as you’re passing through Buda, TX.
The Snake Farm from Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Snake Farm”
5640 Ih 35 S New Braunfels, TX 78132 – Photo courtesy mysanantonio.com
Did you hear what Scott H. Biram also referenced in the song above, and what shirt he was wearing? Yes there actually is a Snake Farm, and it went by the simple name “Snake Farm” for many of its 40 years in operation until settling on the much more docile, “Animal World and Snake Farm Zoo.” Located right off the Interstate 35 access road, the strange attraction and Texas landmark opened in 1967 (when I-35 was still Route 81) and currently sees around 400,000 annual visitors perusing its more than 200 species of snakes. The Snake Farm now features other exotic animals in its petting zoo and outdoor area, including monkeys, lemurs, hyenas, parrots, and a pond filled with alligators and crocodiles.
Ray Wylie Hubbbard’s album from 2006 is named Snake Farm, and includes the song “Snake Farm,” but Hubbard wasn’t the first musical homage to the reptile house. The Ramones discovered the Snake Farm when on tour in Texas in the late 70′s, and regularly wore Snake Farm T-shirts as part of their garb on and off stage. Oh, and did you notice the name of the female character in Hubbard’s “Snake Farm”? Yes, the Snake Farm has truly come full circle, and coils its way down the spine of good American music as an indelible artifact.
On February 4th, Outlaw Magazine published an interview with Dale Watson where the Texas-based honky-tonk singer submitted his plan for how to deal with the problem of what to call “country music” since, according to Dale, that term has been co-opted and irreversibly corrupted by Music Row in Nashville. Dale’s been throwing around his “Ameripolitan” term for years, but as Outlaw Magazine finds out, Dale is now working to organize behind the name.
“Iâve felt for a long time that the nomenclature, not just the name but the entire genre was successfully changed right under our noses and we couldnât stop it,” Dale tells Outlaw Magazine’s Brandy Lee Dixon. “There is absolutely no way to get Nashville to stop calling their music country. They believe that it is a natural progression of country music and itâs theirs. I thought if our music is going to be allowed to grow it needs a new genre. Americana is original music with prominent rock influence, Ameripolitan is original music with prominent ROOTS influence.”
When asked why we should abandon the “country” term and not fight for it, Dale responded…
“Nashville has that term and it has been forever tainted. The reason I insisted that the new name NOT have the word country in it, is because it would always be thought of as a step child to Nashville Country.We need to start fresh. Also itâs not just about traditional country music either. Ameripolitan embraces Rockabilly, Western Swing, Hillbilly, Honky Tonk, Soloist, Duos and Instrumentalist. I think they all relate to each other and share the same roots whereas New Country has itâs roots planted in mid air and came from someones wallet.”
The main idea behind Dale’s Ameripolitan at the moment is the formation of an Ameripolitan awards show that would transpire in February 2014 in Austin, TX. The awards would be voted on by three divisions: 1) Fans. 2) Industry. 3) 100 Ameripolitan “captains.” More specific rules and a website are currently in development.
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Saving Country Music’s thoughts on Ameripolitan.
To begin by playing a little devil’s advocate, Ameripolitan could be a slightly confusing term. “politan” as a suffix means “city,” and “city” is the antonym of “country.” The suffix “politain” has also been used before in country in the term “countrypolitan.”
Countrypolitan was an offshoot of The Nashville Sound created in the 1960′s that featured heavy, polished production with strings and choruses. Countrypolitan was producer Billy Sherrill’s version of The Nashville Sound that competed directly with Outlaw country, similarly to how The Nashville Sound competed with The Bakersfield Sound.
The term “Ameripolitan” may lead some to think that the roots of Ameripolitan music are in country’s countrypolitan past. Countrypolitan showcased artists like Charlie Rich and Charley Pride, as opposed to Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson that rebelled against the polished countrypolitan sound.
At the same time, one lesson we’ve learned over the years of trying to find a new name for true country music is that no term is going to be perfect. You just have to find one that fits, and go with it. Americana continues to fight to define itself (or to defy definition), yet it has seen tremendous growth over the last few years and has built remarkable consensus and infrastructure despite the ambiguity. A term Saving Country music once can up with, “Anti-Country” had its baggage too. In the end, to hold back the idea of unifying the music under a common term until a perfect term can be agreed upon is probably not smart, because that perfect term may not exist.
Shooter Jennings’ now defunct “XXX,” though not in the same sonic vein as “Ameripolitan” sonically, was a logistical mess and caused fracturing and chaos in the country music underground it was meant to unite. After its initial formation over two years ago, Shooter’s givememyxxx.com website was only updated twice in a 1 1/2 year period, and now the site is completely offline, neglected like the lark many charged Shooter would treat XXX as when it was initially proposed. The idea created more drama and infighting than consensus, and never even came close to forming the nationwide “XXX” radio format that was at the heart of the idea.
The other issue is the idea of relinquishing the term “country” to Music Row. I would be lying if I said this is something that I am comfortable with. At the same time I can’t see why Ameripolitan can’t move forward while the battle rages on for the heart of country music in a different theater. The fight for country music has always been one to transpire on multiple fronts, and Ameripolitan might create the infrastructure and strength in numbers true country needs to finally create a counter-balance or a legitimate alternative to Music Row.
A lot is still to be determined, but Dale Watson’s leadership has created an opportunity. By giving Ameripolitan a 1 year lead time to form a system gives Ameripolitan the benefit of a broad, unrushed perspective. By setting simple guidelines to make sure Ameripolitan’s formation has constructive input from fans, the industry, and a select group of people who will keep a watchful eye on the purity and direction of the term gives it strength and a pathway to consensus building.
Ameripolitain will not be perfect, but nothing is except the airbrushed faces and Auto-tuned voices of Music Row, and who wants to hear or see that? We should all move forward with an air of pragmatism and an understanding that discussion and constructive criticism is necessary to creating a healthy environment, but I don’t see any reason not to give Ameripolitan a chance to develop.
“Country must evolve” is the way it is sold to the country music public when pop and hip-hop influences are invited into the country music fold. What these folks fail to point out is that country has been trying to evolve for 30 some odd years right under their noses, and instead of incorporating this creativity and innovation into country that could spurn a broadening of the country music tent, these artist who’ve crafted ways to both respect the roots of country yet push them forward have been excommunicated for years to alt-country, and are now being gobbled up by the all-encompassing “Americana” term, robbing country of some of the most premium talent the roots world has to offer.
And when you look at the gaggle of artists that are combining the country roots of the past with the present and future, it tends to be strong, beautiful, and talented women leading that charge. Where the trend started may depend on who you ask. I would point to Emmylou Harris‘s Wrecking Ball era with the atmospheric approach, but I’m sure some other jumping off points could be found. Lucinda Williams, Gillian Welch, Neko Case, and Iris Dement certainly deserve some credit as well. The men of progressive country, like BĂŠla Fleck and the current-era Punch Brothers are impressive specimens of musical aptitude no doubt, but tend to lack the accessibility the women are able to display without compromising artistic expression or prowess.
Many of these women started out as young promising talents, many specifically as musicians, before being forced out by the mainstream country genre that seems to be obsessed with male machismo and the women that pander to it. There are strong women in country no doubt, but in the progressive country world, strong women rule the roost.
Are you looking for true progress and evolution in country music? Look no further than the list of women below.
The former fiddle player with Chris Thile (The Punch Brothers) in Nickel Creek, Sara put out an excellent progressive country album in 2012 called Sun Midnight Sun that showcased progressive elements mixed with classic country roots influences, maybe best displayed in the opening instrumental track, “The Foothills.” Sara shined amongst the boys, but away from them, she bloomed.
As the gentler half of the Americana super couple with Jason Isbell (I think they also secretly fight crime in their free time), Amanda Shires was a country music fiddle prodigy that veered toward Americana as she matured. Amanda has become a major influence of how to integrate a true love and passion for country’s roots with a new-school, progressive understanding of where roots music is going. You couldn’t take the country out of her voice if you tried, and integrating it with an atmospheric approach to music stimulates sheer wonder.
With her song “Merry Go ‘Round” stuck in the Billboard charts for what seems like an eternity, and a summer tour coming up with Kenny Chesney, Kacey Musgraves proves that progressive country can be commercially viable if it is only given a chance. Kacey Musgraves gives you hope for country music, and the non-conforminst, non-formulaic music that she composes.
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This sister duo from Sweden is an example of how country is missing out on a lot of commercial potential and the possibility of creating beach heads in other countries and cultures. Seen as pop stars in Scandinavia, their ability to conjure up the close harmonic bliss of The Carter Family in songs that still communicate new-school, relevant sensibilities, First Aid Kit can appeal to country fans of all ages.
The “Queen of Underground Country” whose risen with her last album A Killer’s Dream to become one of Americana’s most promising upcoming women, Rachel’s timeless voice could be a tireless resource for country music on her own music, and as a contributor to the music of others. Influenced just as much by Hank Williams and The Carter Family as Tom Waits and The Beach Boys, Rachel Brooke proves there’s still many avenues under the “country” umbrella still left to explore.
Coming from a strong songwriting pedigree (hit maker Liz Rose is her mother), Caitlin Rose and her singular voice is capable of stunning the listener, while their heart is captured by Caitlin’s sincere stories. Steel guitar and a strong country background mixed with influences from the indie rock world create Caitlin’s unique approach that is only limited in commercial success by the power brokers on Music Row letting it through.
Like Amanda Shires and Sara Watkins, Abigail Washburn is a musician first; a master of the clawhammer banjo discipline who steered toward the more progressive side of country as she came up through the ranks. Starting off in the all-girl quartet Uncle Earl on Rounder Records, and then releasing her first solo album Song of the Traveling Daughter produced by BĂŠla Fleck, Washburn is an example of how country instrumentation and a more reserved, intelligent approach can intermix into a sustainable future for country music that integrates more refined listeners.
Yet another young female fiddle prodigy who was the youngest invited fiddle player ever on the Grand Ole Opry, she grew up sharing the stage with Willie Nelson, Asleep At The Wheel, and Dale Watson. Ruby has now moved to the more progressive side of the roots world as possibly one of the one of the most-talented violin players in the world. Her potential is endless.
The smoky, jazzy, Houston, TX native with a unique voice has an impressive catalog of songs that illustrate the heavy handed, yet spatial mark of progressive country. A founding member of the Be Good Tanya’s, Jolie Holland is the artist other progressive country artists listen to, winning the praises of many of her peers, including fellow ANTI label mate, Tom Waits.
Another young, up-and-coming artist whose worth watching, Paige has played for years in her family band Anderson Family Bluegrass as a front person and a flat-picking guitar maestro. Her latest project with her brother and sister called The Fearless Kin just released a new EP. Having played the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival and on Chuck Ragan’s “Revival Tour,” Paige Anderson is versatile if nothing else, and when it comes to writing songs, she pulls from a varying tapestry of influences–the mark of the progressive country approach.
The Austin, TX native has already signed to Sugar Hill Records and been nominated for a Grammy at only 21. A superb talent on the mandolin that can also handle the banjo, guitar, and just about anything with strings, her debut album Song Up In Her Head featured Chris Thile, Stuart Duncan, Darrell Scoot, and Jerry Douglas. BĂŠla Fleck appeared on her follow up, Follow Me Down. An excellent songwriter, Sarah has a bright future in the realm of progressive country.
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Other women helping to evolve country music: Zoe Muth, Lydia Loveless, Lindi Ortega, The Trishas, Kasey Chambers, Brandi Carlile, Star Anna, The Secret Sisters, Those Darlins….
Who are some other women leading the evolution of country?
If there’s one guy you can count on in country music, it is Dale Watson. No, he’s not going to lick his proverbial finger and stick it in the air to find out what to say or what to play. He’s going to be himself no matter how much money it makes him, or how many enemies he garners. Suave, slick, super-cool and confident. Maybe even a little bit arrogant. But he can afford to be, because the ghosts of country music have his back.
Take when Blake Shelton decided to make some disparaging comments about the “old farts and jackasses” that populate Dale’s side of the country music world. Dale and his Lone Stars were mere ticks away from having to embark on a 20-day European tour, and Dale figures out how to squeeze out an anti-Blake song and post a video for it before his boarding time at ATX. No Mr. TSA officer, that ain’t a six shooter setting off the metal detector, those are Dale’s big steel cajones hanging down in his Texas tweeds.
You know what you’re going to get with a Dale Watson album–good old-fashioned honest-to-goodness honky tonk country music. He never veers off the path too far. There was his last album, the Cash-esque Sun Sessions, and the long-rumored Dale/Elvis concept album Dalevis that apparently is finally going to see the light in February. But a Dale Watson album usually holds few surprises. You aren’t going to see him in hipster glasses chasing the uke and Theremin craze to expose a lot of “vulnerability” in his music. Dale Watson is all about keeping the honky tonk traditions alive, and that is what he channels in El Ranco Azul.
Bred for dancing, El Rancho Azul is taken straight out of the honky tonks Dale Watson plays 8 nights a week while home in Austin. Drinking and heartache are the prevailing themes, and maybe not just because this is a country album, but because Dale just recently went through a breakup and a divorce himself. “I Lie When I Drink” and “I Drink to Remember” reinforce the idea that these eternal country themes will never wear thin, while Dale’s supple country drawl delivered with breadth, emotion and control breathe new life into old, familiar narratives.
Maybe Dale is being sarcastic, but one of the fun songs on the album is “We’re Gonna Get Married,” chased by one of the album’s standouts, the tearful and touching “Daughter’s Wedding Song.” Then it’s on to two songs whose purpose for dancing is thinly veiled, “Quick Quick Slow Slow,” and “Slow Quick Quick” meant for two-stepping and waltzing respectively. Then it’s on to more drinking songs, then a few more drinking songs, and another drinking song to close the album out. But the direction never feels stale because of Dale’s country gold voice, and the little bits of character Dale adds to each one of his compositions.
Another El Rancho Azul offering worth note is “Where Do You Want It?” A story song about the time Billy Joe Shaver shot a man at the Papa Joe’s Bar in Waco, TX, it originally was given to Whitey Morgan & The 78′s. Since it has become one of Whitey’s signatures, the Dale version may come across a little strange to an ear used to the other, but nonetheless it is a cool edition to this song’s legacy from its original writer.
My concern about Dale has always been that he writes so many songs and releases so many albums, not one song or one album stands out as a signature. At the same time, it’s hard to find a bad Dale Watson album or song. You certainly won’t find one here with El Rancho Azul, only the genuine, real deal country music that Music Row has forgotten, and all of Blake Shelton’s “old farts and jackasses” crave.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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For years fans of Dale Watson have been anticipating an album release from a Dale’s alter ego called “Dalevis,” a mix of Dale and Elvis. Well friends and neighbors, the wait is over. Dalevis is now officially available digitally, with physical copies to be made available in mid February. It includes 12 new songs recorded at the legendary Sun Studio in Memphis. Along with Dale, the album also features Chris Crepps on upright bass, and Mike Bernal on drums among others.
This is not the first Dalevis album Dale Watson has released. As he told Saving Country Music in October of 2011, “Back in 2000 I did a Christmas record there (Sun Studios). I didnât make a big deal about recording at Sun, itâs just what we did. Then I did a little vanity project I just sold off the stage, 1,000 copies of a thing called âDalevisâ, kind of like what Chris Isaak is doing, but raw, more in the style of old Sun.”
Dale Watson’s last record The Sun Sessions was recorded at Sun with a distinct Johnny Cash vibe. “Elvis and Johnny were the biggest influences on me of the Sun folks. When I wrote the songs I kept that in mind.”
Dale’s latest release El Rancho Azul is also being released today (1-29-13).
1. Big Frank
2. I Love Too Much
3. That’s All
4. It Was Us
5. Lord I’m Proud
6. Color Me Gone
7. Forever Valentine
8. Rich In Love
9. You Can’t Undo The Wrong
10. I’m Gonna Start Livin’
11. You’ll Cry Too
12. Hit The Road
The reigning Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year and reality TV personality Blake Shelton made some disparaging remarks about traditional country fans in a recent interview with GAC as part of their Backstory series. The “Hillbilly Bone” singer and judge on NBC’s The Voice made the remarks as part of an update to the original GAC Backstory episode to include more information on Blake Shelton’s continued success. In connection with Blake’s first CMA for “Male Vocalist of the Year” award in 2010, Blake Shelton said,
If I am “Male Vocalist of the Year” that must mean that I’m one of those people now that gets to decide if it moves forward and if it moves on. Country music has to evolve in order to survive. Nobody wants to listen to their grandpa’s music. And I don’t care how many of these old farts around Nashville going, “My God, that ain’t country!” Well that’s because you don’t buy records anymore, jackass. The kids do, and they don’t want to buy the music you were buying.
The new version of Blake Shelton’s GAC Backstory aired first in mid December 2012, and will be airing numerous times in February.
Blake Shelton’s comments are not only hurtful to classic and traditional country fans, they are incorrect. According to a study of country radio conducted by Edison Research and released during last year’s Country Radio Seminar in Nashville, listeners actually want more classic country on radio, and the lack of it has been given credit for the contraction being experienced in the radio format. Edison Research President Larry Rosin last February said,
I believe that we as an industry have really made a mistake in our conception of our own stations. While many people donât want to listen to classic country music, some still do, and weâve let them float awayâŚWe run the risk that we just are more and more pleasing to fewer and fewer people until all we are is ecstatically pleasing a tiny, unsustainable number of people.â
Blake Shelton also specifically mention “records,” but statistics shows that older music listeners are the ones that still by music in physical formats, while younger listeners (aka “kids”) tend to download music illegally, stream it at very low margins for artists and their labels, or purchase individual songs.
Furthermore Blake Shelton brought up the common misconception that classic and traditional country fans do not want country music to evolve. Though this may be true for some traditional fans, as Saving Country Music pointed out in a piece titled Progress Vs. Traditionalism in Country Music, the progression of country music while still keeping it tied to its roots is the foundation of Americana which has benefited from tremendous growth over the last few years.
Blake Shelton has landed in hot water before for making inflammatory comments, especially on his infamous Twitter account. In May of 2011 Blake got in trouble for seemingly advocating violence against gays by re-writing the words to a Shania Twain song. The singer later apologized.
1-24-13 (11:43 AM CST): Country music legend Ray Price has just responded to Blake Shelton’s comments through his Facebook page.
Itâs a shame that I have spend 63 years in this business trying to introduce music to a larger audience and to make it easier for the younger artists who are coming behind me. Every now and then some young artist will record a rock and roll type song , have a hit first time out with kids only. This is why you see stars come with a few hits only and then just fade away believing they are Godâs answer to the world. This guy sounds like in his own mind that his head is so large no hat ever made will fit him. Stupidity Reigns Supreme!!!!!!! Ray Price (CHIEF âOLD FARTâ & JACKASSâ) â P.S. YOU SHOULD BE SO LUCKY AS US OLD-TIMERS. CHECK BACK IN 63 YEARS (THE YEAR 2075) AND LET US KNOW HOW YOUR NAME AND YOUR MUSIC WILL BE REMEMBERED. â Ray Price
1-24-13 (11:55 AM CST): After receiving numerous comments and posts of this story and others, Blake Shelton took down one of his Facebook fan pages. SCM is also attempting to confirm reports that numerous radio stations are pulling Blake Shelton songs from their rotation. SCM also asks that people be respectful to Blake in their comments.
1-24 -13 (4:14 PM CST): Blake Shelton has responded through Twitter:
Whoa!!! I heard I offended one of my all time favorite artists Ray Price by my statement “Nobody wants to listen to their grandpas music”..And probably some other things from that same interview on GAC Backstory.. I hate that I upset him.. The truth is my statement was and STILL Is about how we as the new generation of country artists have to keep re-inventing country music to keep it popular. Just EXACTLY… The way Mr. Price did along hid journey as a main stream country artist.. Pushing the boundaries with his records. “For The Goodtimes” Perfect example with the introduction of a bigger orchestrated sound in country music.. It was new and awesome!!! I absolutely have no doubt I could have worded it better(as always ha!) and I apologize to Mr. Price and any other heroes of mine that it may offended.. I meant every word I said. Country music is my life and it’s future AND past is important to me. I’ll put my Lo(v)e and respect and knowledge About it up against anybody out there… ANYBODY…
1-24-13 (5:56 PM CST): Ray Stevens has also joined the fray saying, “I just heard Blake Sheltonâs remarks about âold farts and jackassesâ and all I want to know is how he found out the title to my next single because itâs been a closely guarded secret here at the âHome.â It will be available on vinyl or 8-Track at your nearest Tower Records store.â Brandon Fulson beat Ray to it though, recording a song “Old Farts and Jackasses.”
Dale Watson has also chimed in: “Ray price is the best voice in country music period !!!! And some supremely Mediocrre voice like this fuck Blake Shelton should whince!â He is the Lance Armstrong of country music !! HYPE, Mr. Miranda Lambert!â
1-25-13 (11:31 AM CST):
A few of Blake Shelton’s music peers have risen up to defend him. Martina McBride posted on Twitter, “Just catching up on this. We all know where your heart is Blake. Love you.” Chris Young posted on Twitter, “Love what you meant by your quote buddy. Know how much you love country music history. Love your music brother and who you are.”
Dale Watson has written a new song inspired by Blake Shelton’s comments
1-26-13 (3:14 PM CST): Country Music Hall of Famer and Blake Shelton friend Bobby Braddock weighed in on Facebook saying in part:
I think his point recently was that to be viable, country music has to keep reinventing itself. It’s clear from his statements that he’s terribly sorry that he’s offended his heroes like Ray Price. I think what’s controversial is not what he said but the way he said it. That was just Blake being Blake, going for the outrageous and trying to get a rise out of people.
1-26-13 (4:24 PM CST): Jean Shepard is the latest to chime in, saying, “âWeâve got a young man in country music who has made some pretty dumb statements lately. What did he say? That traditional country music is for old farts and jack-you-know-whats? Well, I guess that makes me an old fart. I love country music. I wonât tell you what his name isâŚ.but his initials is BSâŚ.and heâs full of it!â
Ray Price’s Facebook page was apparently blocked because of his Blake Shelton comments. “HELLO FOLKS, SINCE I MADE THE COMMENT ABOUT BLAKE SHELTON, FACEBOOK HAS BLOCKED ME FOR 30 DAYS FROM ACCEPTING FRIENDS REQUESTS.
1-29-13 (10:41 AM): In response to Blake Shelton’s comments, Willie Nelson has renamed his current tour the “Old Farts & Jackass” tour. Also, on the 26th, Ray Price accepted Blake Shelton;s apology, saying in part, “I HAVE ACCEPTED BLAKE SHELTON’S APOLOGY TO ME PERSONALLY. I think Blake is a fine young man with a big future in Country Music. I AGREE that he should be given a chance to restore his credibility with the MILLIONS OF FANS who were deeply offended by those HURTFUL WORDS AND RENAMING US ALL AS…..well, you know what he said. I would regret it if the words I have spoken would in any way harm Blake personally or his career and his chances for the future.”
2-1-13 (12:20 CST): Country Weekly reports that Blake Shelton met with Ray Price prior to Ray’s performance at the Choctaw Casino Resort in Durant, Oklahoma on Thursday (1-31). Price also invited Blake Shelton up on stage where he warmly introduced him to the audience. Durant is about an hour from where Blake Shelton lives with Miranda Lambert, who also attended the Ray Price performance. See Photo of Blake, Ray, and Miranda. and Photo on Ray’s Bus
2-6-13 (8:20 CST): Joe Don Rooney of Rascal Flatts has weighed in on Blake Shelton’s comments, saying in part, “Country music does have to evolve and it has evolved to where it is, and it’s going to keep evolving into whatever it’s going to be. I think that’s kind of his point, from my side, being serious, he’s kind of right. But, he didn’t have to be so edgy about it.”
Evangelist Records has posted a new “official” video for Dale Watson’s song “Old Farts & Jackasses.”
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Blake Shelton’s comments can be seen at the very end of this video. UPDATE: THE VIDEO OF BLAKE SHELTON MAKING THE COMMENTS HAS BEEN REMOVED DUE TO COPYRIGHT CLAIM.
Thanks to Greg Morris for the tip on this story.
Anti-Nashville, anti-Music Row, and anti-pop country songs have a long and proud tradition in country music that stretches almost all the way back to the beginning of the genre. As long as there’s been country music, there’s been folks arguing about how to define it, what it should sound like, and speaking out when they think it’s going in the wrong direction.
The amount and the approach of protest songs seems to parallel the trends in country music. When the genre begins to move more in a pop direction, country’s traditional artists pipe up in song. After compiling this list, it was clear the majority of them were written around the early 2000′s. This was the heyday for anti-Nashville sentiment, though there’s been a recent rash of new anti songs here recently.
Let’s look back at some of the most memorable country music protest songs, and below that is a semi-complete list of all of the protest songs we could aggregate from around the web in no certain order. If you see one that is left off, please pipe up in the comments section, and if it is a song whose existence can be verified, we’ll add it to the list. And the song needs to be at least somewhat “country,” and needs to be mostly about speaking out; not just a line or two in a song. And no, this doesn’t include parodies.
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Dale Watson – Country My Ass, Nashville Rash, Real Country Song
Maybe the king of the country protest warrior poets, Dale Watson’s arsenal of anti-Nashville songs rivals anyone’s. All three of his big ones appear on his 2002 album Live in London…England. He’s since moved on somewhat from his early 2000′s orneriness, though you can still hear light jabs at Music Row in most all of Dale’s 20+ albums.
Larry Cordle – Murder on Music Row
Arguably the most successful country protest song of all time, it was written by Larry Cordle and Larry Shell, and originally appeared on an album of the same name with Cordle’s band Lonesome Standard Time in 1999. It was made popular as a duet between Alan Jackson and George Strait, first being performed on the 1999 CMA Awards, then awarded the 2000 Vocal Event of the Year award by the CMA, and then winning the CMA Song of the Year in 2001. “Murder On Music Row” was never officially released as a single, but still charted #38 on Billboard’s country chart. In 2006, Dierks Bentley and George Jones recorded a version of the song only made available on a Cracker Barrel compilation.
Hank Williams III – Trashville, Dick in Dixie, The Grand Ole Opry (Ain’t So Grand)
Probably the loudest and the most foul-mouthed of the anti-Nashville bunch, the grandson of Hank Williams pulls no punches. No, “Dick in Dixie” ain’t about a guy named Richard, nor is that what Hank3 suggests Jimmy Martin would tell the current Opry managers all to “suck” if he were still around in the song “The Grand Ole Opry (Ain’t So Grand).” Immature or not, Hank3 made tremendous strides in raising awareness about many of the issues arising in Music City.
Waylon Jennings – Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?
One of the earliest country protest songs and possibly the most potent. With two chords and the truth, Waylon lays the wisdom down thick about how country music had lost its way in 1975 while in the midst of the “Nashville Sound” era. The song became a #1 hit, and spent 16 weeks on the Billboard country chart. It remains one of Waylon’s most signature songs, and the standard bearer for country protest songs, with the lyrical theme being reworked many times (and many replacing Hank’s name with Waylon’s) in modern songs of protest. Waylon was not known as a prolific songwriter, but he wrote this one himself.
Other Waylon Protest Songs: If Ol’ Hank Could Only See Us Now, Nashville Bum, Nashville Rebel
Darrell Scott / The Dixie Chicks – Long Time Gone
Everyone got so swept up in the political blowup surrounding The Dixie Chicks, they forgot they were a serious, substantive country roots group. Their excellent album Home included the most commercially successful country protest song of all time, and the 2nd best in chart performance, only rivaled by Waylon’s “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way.” Written by Darrell Scott and originally appearing on the album Real Time with Tim O’Brien, the song tells the story of a farm boy that moves to Nashville, become disenfranchised, and moves back. It became a #2 hit on Billboard’s country chart, and #7 on Billboard’s Hot 100.
The bridge begins the protest portion of the song, followed by the pointed 3rd verse: “Listen to the radio, they hear what’s cooking, but the music ain’t got no soul. Now they sound tired but they don’t sound Haggard. They’ve got money but they don’t have Cash. They’ve got Jr. but they don’t have Hank…”
George Jones- Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?
The most subtle of the protest songs, George Jones asks who will fill the shoes of all the country greats of the past. It was the title track on his 1985 release from Epic Records, and reached #3 on the Billboard country charts, written by Max D. Barnes andÂ Troy Harold Seals. The song was also accompanied by a great video.
List of Songs of Country Protest
- Tom T. Hall – The Last Country Song
- Hank Williams Jr. – Old Nashville Cowboy
- Eleven Hundred Springs – Hank Williams Wouldn’t Make It Now in Nashville, Tennessee
- Josh Abbott Band – I’ll Sing About Mine
- Robbie Fulks – Fuck This Town
- Dough Sahm – Oh No, Not Another One
- John Hartford – Tear Down The Grand Ole Opry
- BR549 – Movin’ The Country, A-1 On The Jukebox
- Jesse Dayton – Hey Nashvegas!
- Alan Jackson – Three Minute Positive Not Too Country Up-Tempo Love Song
- Jason & The Scorchers – Greetings From Nashville
- Cory Morrow – Nashville Blues
- The Carter Family III – Maybelle’s Guitar
- Willie Nelson – Sad Songs & Waltzes, Write Your Own Songs
- Sturgill Simpson – Life Ain’t Fair & The World Is Mean
- David Frizzell & Bobby Bare – Cowboy Hat
- Vince Gill – Young Man’s Town
- Jason Eady – AM Country Heaven
- Brad Paisley, Bill Anderson, Buck Owens, George Jones – Too Country
- Dallas Wayne – If That’s Country
- Marty Stuart – Tip Your Hat (not really a protest song, but very close)
- Brigitte London – Mr. Nashville
- Hellbound Glory – Waylon Never Done It Their Way
- Jello Biafra & Mojo Nixon – Let’s Burn Ole Nashville Down
- Shooter Jennings – Outlaw You, Solid Country Gold, Put The ‘O’ Back In Country
- The Waco Brothers – Death of Country Music
- JB Beverley & The Wayward Drifters – Dark Bar & A Juke Box
- Barbara Mandrell – I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool
- Tom VandenAvond – Wreck of a Fine Man
- Cross Canadian Ragweed – Anywhere But Here, Record Exec.
- The Geezenslaws – Bad Rock and Roll
- Austin Cunningham – 15 Songs
- Corey Smith – If That’s Country
- Houston Marchman – Viet Nashville
- Kenneth Brian – Something’s Wrong with the Juke Box, Nashville Line
- Laney Strickland – Ca$hville
- The Hackensaw Boys – Nashville
- Jamie Richards – I Guess They’ve Never Been to Texas
- Those Poor Bastards – Radio Country
- The Rounders – That Ole Jukebox
- Joey Allcorn – In Nashville, Tennessee; This Ain’t Montgomery
- Brent Amaker & The Rodeo – Sissy New Age Cowboy
- Joe Buck Yourself – Music City’s Dead
- Emily Herring & Henpecked – Has Country Gone To Hell
- Heather Myles – Nashville’s Gone Hollywood
- The Skeeters – Country Pop
- Erik Koskanen Band – Ain’t No Honky Tonks
- The Gin Palace Jesters – Nashville Penny
- Tommy Alverson – Purty Boys
- Ronnie Hymes – Dueling Kazoo (a Finger for Trashville)
- John D. Hale Band – Outlaw Groove
- Bobby BareÂ – Rough on the Living
- Marty Stuart – Sundown in Nashville
- Merle Haggard – Too Much Boogie Woogie
- Josh Thompson – Too Country
- Daryl Singletary – I Still Sing This Way
- Gary Gibson – I’ve Had All of Nashville I Can Stand
- John Anderson – Takin’ The Country Back
- Keith Whitley – Buck
- George Jones – Billy B. Bad
- Will Hoge & Wade Bowen – Song Nobody Will Hear
- Jackson Taylor & The Sinners – Country Song
- Jarrod Birmingham â Whereâd You Go Country Music
- Reckless Kelly – New Moon Over Nashville
- Red Eye Junction – Living Proof
- Rebel Son- Stereo
- Lance Miller – The Beach
- Audrey Auld – The Next Big Nothing
- Pale Horse – Outlaw Breed
- Lummox – New Country
- Tim Hus – Country Music Lament
- Tex Schutz – Put The Country Back in the Music (and the Rock Back in the Ground)
- Roger Alan Wade – Jingle Jangle Angel
- The Deep Dark Woods – The Won’t Last Long
- Tom Russell – The Death of Jimmy Martin
- Jamey Johnson – The Last Cowboy
- Jerry Kilgore – Ain’t Got One Honky Tonk
- Whitey Morgan & The 78′s – If It Ain’t Broke
- The Divorcees – You Ain’t Gettin’ My Country
- Wesley Dennis – Country Enough
- Rodney Hayden – Goodbye Country Music
- Davey Smith – Country Went to Hell
- Ernie Clifton – Goodby Country Music Hall of Fame
2013 is already shaping up to be an excellent year for real country music, with some of the heavy hitters slating new releases before we even hit Easter. Just announced, Dale Watson and his Lone Stars have a brand new album titled El Rancho Azul to be released January 29th through Red House Records, featured 14 original songs and being touted as his “honkiest tonkiest” album yet of his 21-album career.
Recorded at Willie Nelson’s legendary Pedernales Studio in Austin, Dale used his own band of Chris Crepps on upright bass, Mike Bernal on drums, Don “Don Don” Pawlak on pedal steel, with Danny Levin sitting in on piano and fiddle.
Originally it was announced that the album would be titled I Lie When I Drink (the opening track) when the first single from the album “Daughter’s Wedding Song” was released in late August of 2012. âIâm often asked to recommend a song for the father/daughter dance,â Dale says. âI usually say Merle Haggardâs ‘Farmers Daughter.’ The only problem is that, in the song, the mother is gone. So one day I told this couple I would write one special for the dance.Â While writing, I drew on my two daughters for inspiration and started crying halfway through it. I figured if it hit my heart strings, maybe itâll hit the heart strings of fathers and daughters everywhere.â
The recently-divorced Dale takes the listener on a journey through love and heartache in El Rancho Azul. As you can expect with Dale spending most of his time entertaining Texas two-steppers in Austin’s dancehall haunts like The Broken Spoke, the album includes some songs written specifically for dancing. “Quick Quick Slow Slow” is a two-step tune, while the following “Quick Slow Slow” is a waltz.
|1. I Lie When I Drink|
|2. Where Do You Want It|
|3. I Drink to Remember|
|4. Cowboy Boots|
|5. We’re Gonna Get Married|
|6. Daughter’s Wedding Song|
|7. Quick Quick Slow Slow|
|8. Slow Quick Quick|
|9. Give Me More Kisses|
|10. Drink Drink Drink|
|11. I Can’t Be Satisfied|
|12. I Hate to Drink Alone|
|13. Smokey Old Bar|
|14. Thanks to Tequila|
The underground country movement started roughly in the mid 90′s on lower Broadway in Nashville that at the time was a run down part of town. Young musicians from around the country, some from punk backgrounds, came together from their mutual love of authentic country music to create a counterbalance to the pop country that was prevailing on Music Row a few blocks west.
Underground country started with mostly neo-traditionalists like Wayne “The Train” Hancock, Big Sandy, and Dale Watson, but spread to the punk and heavy metal world through acts like Hank Williams III and Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers. This list does not just consider the appeal of these albums, but also the influence they had on other underground artists and albums, and on country music and music in general.
Please understand that this list is just for underground country albums. This means artists better defined by the Deep Blues like Scott H. Biram or Possessed by Paul James, or Texas artists like James Hand or Ray Wylie Hubbard, or country artists who may work on the fringes of underground country but would not necessarily be considered underground like BR549 or Roger Alan Wade, are not included. Americana acts are not included. This is strictly underground country’s opportunity to bask in the spotlight.
Please feel free to leave your own list below.
16.Â The Boomswagglers- Bootleg Beginnings – 2011
This very well may be the most authentic album of music put out in the modern era for any genre. The Boomswagglers have always been and continue to be more myth than reality, with original Boomswaggler Lawson Bennett long gone and a cavalcade of replacements shuffling in an out with Spencer Cornett. Even if they never put out another album, The Boomswagglers made their mark, and it is a deep one.
“The music is wildly entertaining and deceptively deep. If youâre going to be a Boomswagglers song, someoneâs got to die, and likely a woman. Some may find this silly, monotonous, or even offensive, but you have to listen beyond the lyrics, and unlock the carnal wisdom that is hidden in these songs.” (read full review)
15. JB Beverley & The Wayward Drifters – Dark Bar & A Juke Box – 2006
Dark Bar & A Juke Box was an instant underground country classic, and so was the anti Music Row song that the album got its name from. JB and his Wayward Drifters grit out a superb selection of songs displaying taste, restraint, and a sincere appreciation for the roots of country music, which may have surprised some who knew JB more for his work with heavy metal bands like The Murder Junkies and the Little White Pills. Dark Bar & A Juke Box also boasts appearances from the famous son and grandson of a country music royal family, who due to contractual issues had to work incognito (wink wink).
14. Lucky Tubb & The Modern Day Troubadours – Del Gaucho – 2011
Some (including Lucky himself) may point to Hillbilly Fever as being the seminal Lucky Tubb album with its big budget and appearances by Wayne “The Train” Hancock. But Del Gaucho is where Lucky Tubb came into his own, found his sound, and the unique musical flavor only he has to offer the world. Dirty, rowdy, rocking, but still steadfastly neo-traditionalist country, Del Gaucho scores off the charts when it comes to style points. When you’re talking about some of the greatest neo-traditional country albums and artists of all time, Lucky Tubb and Del Gaucho deserve to be in that conversation.
13- Bob Wayne & The Outlaw Carnies – Blood to Dust – 2008
They say you have your whole life to write your first album, and what makes Bob Wayne’s Blood to Dust so special is how true and touching he told his life’s story through song. His subsequent albums aren’t too shabby either, but with signature songs like “Blood to Dust”, “Road Bound”, and “27 Years”, this still stands out as his signature album, and a signature album of the underground country movement. It was performed, produced, and recorded by an all-star cast of contributors that included Donnie Herron, Joe Buck and Andy Gibson, and brought Bob Wayne out from behind-the-scenes as Hank3′s guitar tech, and made him one of the movement’s most well-known songwriters and performers.
12. Jayke Orvis – It’s All Been Said – 2010
This is the album that launched Farmageddon Records, and that launched Jayke Orvis as a formidable, premier front man in underground country. One of the founding members of the now legendary .357 String Band, Jayke was asked to leave the band because of irreconcilable differences and almost immediately began touring with The Goddamn Gallows and trying to make this album happen. The result was a slick, tightly-crafted LP showcasing excellent songwriting and instrumentation. From ballads to blazing instrumentals, Jayke Orvis has proved himself to be one of the singular talents of underground country roots.
11. Lonesome Wyatt & Rachel Brooke – A Bitter Harvest – 2009
This album was destined to become an underground country classic. The mad genius music mind of Lonesome Wyatt of the Gothic country duo Those Poor Bastards has the uncanny ability to procure the absolute most appropriate sounds to evoke the desired dark mood in his music. Then you combine that with one of the best voices not just in underground country, but in all of music in Rachel Brooke, and magic was bound to happen. The creativity on A Bitter Harvest is spellbinding. More of an artistic endeavor than a toe tapper, Lonesome Wyatt and Rachel create a soundtrack to human emotion and despair. For people looking for a place for country music to evolve, A Bitter Harvest shows how you can take authentic country themes and an appreciation for the roots of the music, and envelop it in layers of textural color culled from the wide experience of human sounds.
10. Justin Townes Earle – Midnight At The Movies – 2009
Midnight At The Movies was Saving Country Music’s 2009 Album of the Year. Today it would be difficult to characterize Justin Townes Earle as underground country because the quality of this album launched him into the inner sanctum of Americana.
“Justin Townes Earle has done an awesome thing with this album; he has figured out a way to unite all the displaced elements that make up the alternative to mainstream Nashville country, while still staying somewhat accessible to the mainstream folks as well. You might even catch the bluegrass folks nodding their head while listening to it. Folkies like it, and thereâs a few tunes blues people can get into. This isnât just the REAL country album of the year, it is the âAlt-countryâ album of the year and the âAmericanaâ album of the year.” (read full review)
9. Slackeye Slim - El Santo Grial, La Pistola Piadosa – 2011
“Every once in a while, an album comes along that changes everything. Itâs an album that inspires other albums, and dynamic shifts in tastes and approach throughout a sector of music, while at the same time dashing the dreams of other artists, as the purity and originality are way too much to attempt to rival. Slackeye Slimâs El Santo Grial, La Pistola Piadosa is one of those albums.
“El Santo Grial is a masterpiece, exquisitely produced, arranged, and performed. This is a patient, uncompromising album. You can tell time was never introduced into this project as a goal. The goal was to flesh out Slackeyeâs vision without ever settling for second best, and that goal was accomplished.” (read full review)
8. Wayne “The Train” Hancock – That’s What Daddy Wants – 1997
Thunderstorms & Neon Signs is the Wayne Hancock album most people gravitate towards as their favorite because it was their first, and the first to showcase Wayne Hancock’s unique blend of country, Western Swing, rockabilly, and blues. But pound for pound, That’s What Daddy Wants is just as good of an offering, boasting some of The Train’s signature songs like “87 Southbound” and “Johnny Law”. Wayne Hancock has never put out a bad album, and distinguishing between them is difficult. But it’s not difficult to say that the underground country movement would have not had as much class if That’s What Daddy Wants hadn’t seen the light of day.
7. .357 String Band – Fire & Hail – 2008
“They were all the absolute best possible musicians you could find at their respective positions, each challenging each other, pushing each other to keep up with the bandâs demands for artistic excellence in both instrumental technique and creative composition.
“Listening back now at Fire & Hail, with so much talent in one place, no wonder the project was untenable, and no wonder the respective players have moved on to become their own trees instead of respective branches of the same project. Still, the loss of .357 String Band may go down as underground countryâs greatest tragedy.” (read full review)
6. Hank Williams III - Lovesick, Broke, & Driftin’ – 2002
BR549 and Wayne âThe Trainâ Hancock spearheaded the neo-traditionalist movement in the mid 90â˛s, but Hank Williams III was the one to carry it into the oughts and introduce it to a brand new crop of fans he brought along from his dabblings in the punk/heavy metal world. After having to tow the line somewhat for his first album Risin’ Outlaw, Hank3 was unleashed and able to showcase his own songwriting, heavily influenced by Wayne Hancock and Hank3′s famous grandfather, but still all his own. His voice was wickedly pure with a heart wrenching yodel and commanding range. The songwriting was simple, but powerful. This is a masterpiece, and remains an essential title of the neo-traditionalist era.
5. Hellbound Glory – Old Highs & New Lows – 2010
Hellbound Glory had already been around for years, but they burst into the underground with this magnificent, hard country album highlighted by head man Leroy Virgil’s world class songwriting. Despite the “hell” in their name and the hard language in their songs, Hellbound Glory hadn’t gone through any retooling as post punk refugees. They were pure country through and through and Old Highs & New Lows combined excellent Outlaw-style bar stompers and ballads with some of the most wit-filled songwriting since Keith Whitley. As far as honky tonk albums go, it may be years before this one is trumped. And when it is, it might be Leroy Virgil and Hellbound Glory doing the trumping.
4. Dale Watson – Live in London…England – 2002
Dale comes out on stage and starts slinging guitars, cutting classics, and speaking the truth. Before Dale was the hometown boy and house band for Austin, he was pissed off and willing to sing about it. Dale’s anti-Nashville classics âReal Country Songâ, âNashville Rashâ, and âCountry My Assâ can all be found here, but Live in London isnât all pissing and moaning. Songs like âAinât That Livinââ showed off Daleâs superlative voice and suave style. Honky tonk albums are sometimes hard to make because it is hard to capture that live, sweaty energy in the recorded context. So what better way to solve that problem than making a live one? Live in London remains the best Dale album to date.
3. Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers – Cockadoodledon’t – 2003
This was one of the first albums to bust out of the burgeoning music scene on lower Broadway in Nashville where one can argue the undergorund country movement started. It showed the world what kind of mayhem could be created by mixing country, blues, and punk music together without compromising taste and soul. It is the album which acts as a guidepost to the eclectic, yet intuitive and inter-related mix of influences that you will find in underground country: honest to goodness appreciation to the roots of American music, with a punk attitude and approach. And if you ever wondered why Joe Buck is considered part of underground country, appreciate that he played most of the music on Cockadoodledon’t.
2. Wayne “The Train” Hancock – Thunderstorms & Neon Signs – 1995
There are two albums that you can look back on an make a serious case that if they did not exist, underground country music may not exist–the album below this one on this list, and Wayne Hancock’s Thunderstorm & Neon Signs. There are two types of music artists: originators and imitators. Sometimes imitators can be very successful, and very creative artists themselves. But it always takes the originators to set the plate for the imitators to do what they do. Thunderstorms & Neon Signs was an original album from one of America’s most original country roots artists of all time. It doesn’t get much better or more influential than this.
1. Hank Williams III – Straight to Hell – 2006
This album isn’t underground country’s Red Headed Stranger. It isnât underground country’s Honky Tonk Heroes. It is both. It is the album that both was a novel concept, a breakthrough sonically and lyrically, and had a massive impact on the business side of music, for artists winning control of their music and inspiring and showing artists how to do it themselves. The deposed son of country music royalty had taken on a major Nashville label, and won, and all while being one of the first to successfully bridge the energy and approach of punk and heavy metal music with traditional country, all while keeping the music solidly country in nature.
It was the first album to be put out through the CMA with a Parental Advisory sticker. It was the first to ever be recorded outside of a traditional studio setting. Of course only a select few were paying attention, but it broke through many barriers that to this day have changed music in significant ways, sonically and behind the scenes.
The approach also had wide-ranging impacts outside of underground country and country music in general, to rock music and punk and heavy metal, inspiring thousands of rock kids to put down their electric guitars and AC/DC records, and pick up banjos and Johnny Cash records. The impact on mainstream music may have not been seen, but it was felt, and just like all great albums, itâs legacy will grow and be more appreciated and understood as the future unfolds.
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