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The legendary Outlaw country documentary Heartworn Highways, featuring Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, David Allan Coe, Rodney Crowell, Gamble Rogers, Steve Young, The Charlie Daniels Band, and many more, has finally been released completely remastered for digital on-demand viewing and download. Filmed in late 1975 and early 1976, but not released until 1981, Heartworn Highways captures the country music Outlaw movement and some of its most important contributors in the infancy of their careers. Some of the scenes and music have gone on to become some of the most memorable moments of country music lore.
The new remastered, online version of the film was released on December 25th, (2012), but because of the holidays, went virtually unnoticed. Original copies of Heartworn Highways, including copies of the 2005 DVD release regularly sell for $90 and over on eBay and Amazon, speaking to the wild demand for the movie. The DVD included additional scenes not in the original movie. The new remastered version is available on Amazon, iTunes, YouTube (see links below), and other online streaming services. The filmmakers released a statement on Christmas for the re-release.
As part of the small filmmaking team, this release is extremely special, one we’ve been cautiously anticipating a very long time. Despite the initial favorable reviews and enthusiastic response at festivals, our film did not make it at the theatrical box office when it was initially released over 30 years ago. Few people understood it back then. So, it has been deeply gratifying to watch the film, which somehow survived underground, until the DVD was released 10 years ago. There is now a burgeoning community of folks who love the film for its timeless pleasures, honest evocation of that moment in American history and of the lives & music of such extraordinary talent. Thanks to your awareness and support we have been able to digitally save and clean the original release negative so that today we can finally bring it to you fully remastered: here it is, Heartworn Highways, in HD and Stereo, enjoy & share it.
Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays from Graham Leader, Producer, and Phillip Schopper, Editor.
On Sunday February 10th at 2 PM EST, the filmmakers will be participating in an online chat on Facebook about the film. A brand new trailer for the film can be seen below, followed by one of the film’s most iconic scenes.
Stay tuned for Saving Country Music’s review of the remastered Heartworn Highways.
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The long-rumored, long-awaited Hank Williams III / David Allan Coe collaboration may finally be in the offing. The song called “The Outlaw Way” was recorded early last year at Hank3′s home studio in east Nashville when David Allan Coe was in town. Hank3 first spoke about the collaboration in a live chat last February, when a fan asked if he would ever participate in a remake of the famous Hank Williams Jr. / Waylon Jennings duet “The Conversation.”
Well me and David Allan Coe have taken on that, and it will be coming out in about another two months or so. That’s just one of those songs that no matter who did it, it will never be the same, it will never be as cool as it was. It was a really special song for Hank Jr. and Waylon. Who knows what will happen in the future, but what David Allan Coe and me did will be the closest thing to something like that.
Hank3 also mentioned the project a month later when talking to The Entertainment Nexus.
Yeah, we’re getting ready to have that come out here soon. It’s just making sure that everything is correct like it always has been… on a good relationship with him. The song will be coming out soon and it’s an honor to be able to work with David again. He’s like a grandfather to me as far as advice and saying hey and all that good stuff. We’ve got a song called ‘The Outlaw Way” that’ll be coming into play before we know it and I’m looking forward to that.
Since then there’s been no word on “The Outlaw Way” but numerous bits of unconfirmed chatter over the last few days has the song being released in a limited-edition 2,000-run vinyl format, with the song also being made available for download.
This wouldn’t be the first time David Allan Coe and Hank3 appeared in the same song. The pair traded off vocal duties in the song “Get Outta My Life” from the Pantera / David Allan Coe, metal / country fusion project Rebel Meets Rebel.
These days you can’t go a few minutes listening to modern mainstream country radio without hearing a “Laundry List” song in the rotation. Usually with little or no plot or story, they simply spew out easily-identifyable elements of country culture (ice cold beer, pickup trucks, dirt roads, etc.) in an attempt to appeal to mostly non-country demographics that can live the country life vicariously through the shallow lyrics.
Another common thread through country checklist songs is how they are used to convey country pride, and help their listeners identify with their side of the urban vs. rural, liberal vs. conservative, religious vs. non-religious culture war. Nostalgia is also a big player.
Like most of the overused song formulas employed by Music Row songwriters, the laundry list likely started with some good, creative, innovative tunes. But once something works, it is called upon again and again by Music Row until all creativity is spent and it becomes cliche. Such is the evolution (or devolution) of the country checklist song.
What is the “first” country music laundry list song?
Though there were others before it, David Allan Coe’s “If That Ain’t Country” comes in as a strong candidate from the way Coe lists out the things from his past that make him “country” and the continued popularity of the song today.
What is the first MODERN country music laundry list song?
Though Rebel Son, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and some other artists may have something to say about it, Rhett Akins “Kiss My Country Ass” is a solid contender for where songs about country pride went from conveying stories to simply being vapid lists of country artifacts and behaviors.
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Below is a list of songs that likely contributed or played an important role in the formation of the modern country checklist song from the legacy era, and a list of songs in the modern era that could be called the “first” laundry list song. I don’t pretend for this list to be complete, so if you feel there is an omission, please add your 2 cents in the comments.
THE LEGACY ERA
Merle Haggard – “Okie From Muskogee” – 1969
Leather boots are still in style for manly footwear. Beads and Roman sandals won’t be seen. Football’s still the roughest thing on campus. And the kids here still respect the college dean.
Unlike the modern laundry list song, Merle spends most of the time in “Okie From Muskogee” spelling out what people from the country (or Muskogee) don’t do, but the idea of country people using a song to delineate themselves from the other side of society in the culture war through lists of artifacts and behaviors was born. And so was the “Proud to be” lyric that is so prevalent in laundry list songs today.
Bob Seger – “Night Moves” – 1977
Out past the cornfields where the woods got heavy. Out in the backseat of my ’60 Chevy.
Bob’s first breakout song, and Rolling Stone Magazine’s “Best Single of 1977″ (it was released in December of ’76), it has had huge reverberations in modern country despite being released in rock. The laundry list lyrics are clear, and so is the nostalgia that is an essential element to many modern laundry list compositions. I’ve said before that the majority of modern country songs can be traced back to “Night Moves”. Listen to the best-selling country song from 2011, the Brantley Gilbert/Colt Ford-penned “Dirt Road Anthem” and you will spy the nostalgia of “Night Moves” all throughout it.
David Allan Coe – “If That Ain’t Country” – 1977
With 13 kids and a bunch of dogs, a house full of chickens and a yard full of hogs. Spent the summertime cutting up logs for the winter.
If you’re looking for the first true laundry list country song that started the whole trend, this might be the most solid candidate. But unlike the modern laundry list song, this one actually has a story and theme to convey, and is truly autobiographical. “If That Ain’t Country” was Coe attempting to prove his country cred to critics who said his music wasn’t, which is what many modern male pop country stars must do because they aren’t. It also features the lyric “Kiss my ass” that becomes a big player in the laundry list song’s evolution.
Hank Williams Jr. “Country Boy Can Survive” – 1982
“I live back in the woods you see, the woman and the kids and the dogs and me. I got a shotgun, a rifle, and a 4 wheel drive, and a country boy can survive.”
One of Hank Jr.’s seminal songs and all self-penned, it spells out the pride and resilience of people from the country like few others. But many elements of “Country Boy Can Survive” are misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misappropriated in the modern checklist song. Resilience is replaced by fear, self-reliance by materialism. Country and Southern pride are at the heart of many Hank Jr. compositions, but few resonate like this one still does today. “Country Boy Can Survive” and Hank Jr. are referenced specifically in many modern laundry list songs.
THE MODERN ERA
Marcus Hummon “God’s Country USA” – 1995
Looking back at my one cop town, skinny dipping drinking Royal Crown. And thinking about year long days, and rowdy ways, and best friends lost and found. Remembering my half back moves, night games and backseat blues.
This song may be somewhat obscure, but may be the missing link between the old-school and modern-day laundry list country songs. Marcus Hummon is a big, behind-the-scenes songwriter in Nashville that has written #1 hits for Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts, The Dixie Chicks, Sara Evans, and has numerous Top 40 hits to his name. Hummon was 14 years ahead of his time with this song that sounds just like the checklist songs of today.
Lynyrd Skynyrd – “That’s How I Like It” – 2003
Like my women hot and my beer ice cold. A real fast car and my whiskey old. Like a slow drive down and old dirt road. That’s how I like it.
Even more surprising than how similar the lyrics to “That’s How I Like It” are to today’s laundry list songs is how similar the sonic structure is. Lynyrd Skynyrd is a Southern rock band, meaning they could get away with rock beats and overdriven guitars in 2003 when this would have been crossing a line in country. Of course today in country, anything goes. From the unplugged intro, to the rhythmic power chords, to the almost rapping style of lyrics in the chorus, “That’s How I Like It” is the sonic template many present-day laundry list songs are derived from.
Rebel Son – “Redneck Piece of White Trash” – May 2005
I like to dip, I like to spit. I like talking on the phone when I’m taking a shit. I’m proud to be a redneck piece of white trash. If you don’t like that pucker up motherfucker you can kiss my ass.
This song from a relatively-obscure, but well-loved band with a very loyal fan base virtually writes, trumps, exposes, and lampoons all modern pop country laundry list songs all at once, even though it was written way before most of them. Aside from the “kiss my ass” lyric from David Allan Coe, if you want to find the truly “first” original modern checklist country song, look no further. Rebel Son relies on humor, while at the same time portraying cold-faced reality in songs meant to be hysterical and completely serious at the same time.
Rhett Akins – “Kiss My Country Ass” – October 2005
Tearing down a dirt road, Rebel flag flying, coon dog in the back. Truck bed loaded down with beer and a cold one in my lap.
Probably the more obvious and more-accepted advent of the modern laundry list country song (as opposed to Rebel Son), “Kiss My Country Ass” appeared on Rhett’s 2007 album People Like Me, but was released as a single in October of 2005. The song mentions Hank Jr.’s “Country Boy Can Survive” directly, and was re-recorded by Blake Shelton for his 2010 Hillbilly Bone EP. If you’re looking for the smoking gun, the primary culprit for the modern laundry list song’s popularity and its move from telling stories to simply conveying lists of countryisms, “Kiss My Country Ass” is the probably strongest candidate.
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Thanks to frequent SCM commenter “tontoisdrunk” for asking about the evolution of the laundry list song.
Alright, so we’ve all now had our yucks over this story of a naked Randy Travis being arrested, and I am certainly not above guilt, but I am seeing some fairly alarming rhetoric surrounding this story that I feel is unhealthy to the country music environment. The details of the story may be funny, but the incident is not. Celebrity or no, Randy Travis is a human being who is clearly going through a moment of crisis in his life. And just because he engaged in some illegal behavior shouldn’t give him some additional cred in country music, or somehow means he’s now a country music “Outlaw.”
We expect our celebrities to live larger than life, so that we can too, through them, vicariously. Forget that most artist and performer types are already predisposed to being more susceptible to things like substance abuse and self-destructive behavior, society also sells to them that as artists, they must suffer for their art to be inspired and authentic. It is true that much great art has come from suffering, but it is also true that great art comes from dedication, perseverance, and sweat. And as much as society likes to perch celebrities up on unrealistic pedestals, we also love to tear them down when they trip, in moments of empathetic vacuousness, clawing at them with our jealousy and spite to feel better about ourselves. This is the vicious pop cycle I like to allude to upon occasion, and just like Taylor Swift once said in a famous song, “The cycle ends right now.” Or at least it does here for me.
Are we so diseased in country music that we actually think more of our stars when their lives become a wreck to the point where they’re laying naked in the middle of the road and making death threats to law enforcement? Is this behavior cool? Is this a fate you would wish upon yourself or any of your friends or family? Getting drunk and doing stupid shit may sound like a country song, but facing felonies and a ruined career and loss of a sense of self-worth are very real issues. It is one of the reasons we have a 27 Club, and why suicides and overdoses are such a heavy burden on the celebrity population.
And us lay civilians love to sit back and say, “Oh yeah, you have it real tough with all that money and fame.” But money and fame are broken promises, and many times don’t help pad a celebrity’s fall, they fuel it.
And for the folks saying Randy Travis’s recent troubles make him an “Outlaw” are only fueling the misconceptions of what a country music Outlaw is. I conceded long ago that accurately defining the “Outlaw” term will be a battle of evermore, but trust me, Randy Travis is no more an Outlaw now than he was in 2011, before his drunken behavior was writing headlines.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, a country music Outlaw has nothing to do with legalities. The original Outlaws–Bobby Bare, Tompall Glaser, and Kris Kristofferson–were not lawbreakers, nor was Willie Nelson until later in life when he was hit with a few stupid and unnecessary pot arrests. Waylon Jennings positively hated the term “Outlaw” and blamed it for his legal woes when the federalies trailed a package of cocaine from New York to the studio where he was recording, later memorialized in the song “Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit Done Got Outta Hand?”
A country music Outlaw is one that bucks the traditional Music Row, old-guard way of music production by writing their own songs, recording with their own bands, and calling their own shots. Lyrical content and personal behavior are not completely autonomous to the “Outlaw” country image thanks to artists like Johnny Paycheck and David Allan Coe, but the foundation of a country music “Outlaw” has to do with the business of music, not behavior.
Furthermore, the ignorant assertion that personal behavior does influence a country artist’s “Outlaw” status is what is partly fueling this ridiculous and slanderous use of the term by the crop of “new Outlaws” (Eric Church, Justin Moore, Brantley Gilbert, etc.) who think just because they drink too much, talk about fighting, and put women with big tits in their videos they’re carrying on Willie and Waylon’s legacy. Please. Willie Nelson is a pacifist, and probably respects women more than most women respect themselves these days. Being an Outlaw in country means being yourself, and bucking the trends instead of pandering to them. As Sturgill Simpson says, “The most Outlaw thing that a man today can do is give a woman a ring.”
And through this incident, were seeing the rewriting of Randy Travis’s music legacy. Some folks who come to country from the outside looking in are all of a sudden giving his music another look after laughing him off as pop before just because they recognized the name and it wasn’t Johnny Cash, while judgmental types are saying they always knew there was a screw loose with him and they wouldn’t bring themselves down to listening to him again.
This incident didn’t change Randy’s music one bit. Randy has never received enough credit for spearheading both the new push of neo-traditional country and the commercial resurgence of the genre in the late 80′s. One can make the case he set the table for Garth Brooks and country’s return to the stadium and superstar status, without selling out himself.
Randy Travis has given a ton to the country music community, and now in his time of need, it is time for the country music community to give back in the form of support, forgiveness, and understanding.
Whatever is troubling Randy Travis, I hope he works through it to continue to provide the world great country music, and to grow as a person, and as an artist.
Thank you Randy Travis for your music and your service to country music. And even if you’re called home tomorrow, rest assured your legacy is secured in country music, and that it is a positive one.
There’s never been a question in anyone’s mind if Johnny Cash actually shot a man in Reno just to watch him die. But that lyric, and Johnny’s song “Folsom Prison Blues” have gone on to become an iconic piece of country music history. This language was nothing new in 1955. Murder ballads and gunslinger tales trace back to the very roots of country music and America’s Gothic, violent identity.
Stretching the boundaries of lyrical content was something at the very foundation of the early Outlaw movement in country music. As has been pointed out many times before about American culture, violence is perfectly acceptable, but sex can be taboo. Nobody batted an eyelash at “Folsom Prison Blues”, but when the original Outlaw Bobby Bare recorded Tompall Glaser’s “Streets of Baltimore” with it’s fairly docile and veiled reference to a man leaving his wife, it caused a controversy.
Kris Kristofferson pushed the limit for drug references with his song “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” Johnny Cash later cut the song himself, and despite the “stoned” lyric, the song went on to be the CMA’s Song of the Year in 1970. The boundaries are continuously being pushed in country, until now in many respects country has lost most of its family friendly identity.
In underground country, racy lyrics have been at the very foundation of the movement, though in no way are they required. Hank Williams III’s Straight to Hell album was the first to ever be released under the CMA with a Parental Advisory, but the salty content is many times misunderstood as being autobiographical, or condoning the behavior being sung about. Sometimes it is, but sometimes, just like with “Folsom Prison Blues” it is telling a story with the real language and themes people face in modern day life.
“There’s just a little misconception…” Hank3 told IBWIP on their 5th Anniversary episode. “All the Williams’ have had a rowdy crowd, whether its Hank Sr., Jr., or myself. Most of my songs have been, you know I’ve lived a lot of them. And once in a while I’ll kind of put myself in other people’s shoes. Like the song “#5″ was some friends of mine that have been hung up on some really hard stuff, you know with the heroin and stuff like that. I just put some hopeful songs out there. Once in a while I’ll put out a little bit of a fantasy out there like the dedicated song to GG (Allin). Those kind of songs I haven’t done anything like some of the topics that hit on that song. I can just project, or put myself in that mode for a little bit.”
“One of the reasons I sing about smoking and drinking and all that stuff so much is because I try to create a partyin’, good time atmosphere when people come to see me. I’m not trying to bring them down, I’m trying to lift them up so they can forget about all their problems and all the stuff that’s happening in the world. And for two or three hours, they can come out to a show and just have some fun. And I always try to tell folks to pace it out as much as possible.”
When reviewing Bob Wayne’s recent album, the topic came up in a heated debate Bob Wayne participated in personally. “…So you’re telling me DAC (David Allan Coe) killed a women in TN then broke out of jail… I think a lot of his songs a true man… But I think he is also a storyteller,” Bob replied to critics. Bob Wayne regularly sings about drinking and drugs while in real life remaining completely sober, just like many underground country artists with racy lyrics like Joe Buck Yourself and Lonesome Wyatt.
It is hard to fault country music fans who do not want to see foul language or hard themes in a genre so tied to traditional values. Just like any genre of music, this is the reason well-defined lines are important so people can steer clear of content they may find offensive. But it is also unfair to fault artists carrying on the same storytelling traditions Johnny Cash and Hank Williams did while modernizing the language no different than how it’s being modernized in the mainstream of country. It’s also unfair to say singing songs you haven’t lived somehow makes them invalid. Street cred, dues, skin’s on the wall, or however you want to phrase it will always be important in country music, but the should never be essential to telling a story.
Hard language presents a challenge to underground country and its aging demographic. Most underground country fans are now in their 30′s. When Hank3′s Straight to Hell came out they were in their 20′s, and could relate better to many of the racy themes. Now, like many of the artists themselves, the fans have grown up, taken real jobs, have kids and spouses, sobered up possibly, and sometimes the hard language songs can come across as immature or hard to relate to.
Barring something similar to the Middle East’s Islamic Revolution, the trend will always arch towards the breaking down of moral barriers to artistic content in culture. With this freedom comes a responsibility to make sure people are only presented with questionable content when they want to be. Instead of looking at other people’s tastes and judging them, maybe we should feel fortunate we live in a time when censorship is lax and people can enjoy the music they find appropriate and appealing without it being run through a filter of other people’s opinions, tastes, or views.
And let’s all hope that the country music themes of morality vs. sin, good vs. evil, sober vs. imbibing, and law vs. the outlaw remain eternal in country music until kingdom come, because this eternal struggle is what we all face every day, and the reason country music speaks to us like nothing else.
Over the years I’ve been a big Bob Wayne proponent, and to some folks he’s been a very hard sell. I’ve always counseled to look beyond the persona to the songwriting. With his new album Till The Wheels Fall Off, Bob Wayne frankly makes that task much harder. At the same time, he’s put out his most enjoyable album yet.
Since the beginning, there’s been two sides to Bob Wayne: the introspective songwriter side, and the “Hellbilly” side. In between are his storytelling songs that tend to draw from both worlds. Despite the bandana and salty language, what Bob is doing is not much different than what Johnny Cash did. Johnny didn’t shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die, or take a shot of cocaine before shooting his wife. It was a persona created to tell a story. Bob has maybe modernized some of the language and themes, but country music songs on the sinful life are a staple of the genre.
What he has done as his career has progressed is tip the scales from the more introspective material to the more hellraising material, and this is where he’s left some listeners scratching their heads. With his first few albums, songs like “Blood To Dust,” “27 Years,” and “The Final Walk” made it easy for the music brain to understand Bob, and then enjoy the hellraising songs right along with the crowd who may see a song like “27 Years” as too artsy.
But with Till The Wheels Fall Off, there are very few of those guideposts. Bob’s first album Blood to Dust was weighted in favor of the deep songwriting material. This album is skewed to the “hellbilly” side, giving detractors heavy ammunition to pass off the whole Bob Wayne presentation as a bad bit. Even some of the songs on Till The Wheels Fall Off that are presented to be deep, like the lead single “Get There When I Get There” is more ambiguous in nature than artistic. There’s little of that stone cold hard reality that tears at your heart like many of his previous offerings.
Does that leave Till The Wheels Fall Off vacuous or non-entertaining? Not at all. Not whatsoever. “Devil’s Son” may be the funnest song Bob Wayne has ever put out. And “Wives Of Three,” though on the surface a shallow and silly song, may be one of his best attempts at songwriting.
Let’s take “Wives of Three” as a case study. The first time I listened to this song, I hated it, saying to myself, “Come on Bob, you’re killing me out here!” Then I understood the genius behind it. This song is more David Allan Coe than David Allan Coe. It evokes a whole range of emotions, from creepiness and weirdness, to humor, to sincerity and true love. Most importantly to the success or failure of a songwriter, Bob is able to transport you to a scene where he’s standing in his childhood home with these three women, presenting them to his mother.
You can visualize the whole thing, his mother’s sense of shock and dismay, yet a creepy sense of pride, Bob’s sense of awkwardness and hope that this lifestyle will be accepted, and these three women that in a 3-minute song, Bob is able to present to where you can visualize them, their faces, their stories and motivations. It’s all bullshit that is totally believable and makes your mind explore the inner depths of morality, family, and love.
The words and persona are what everyone seems to focus on when it comes to Bob, but let none of that distract you from the fact that the instrumentation on this album is par excellence. Andy Gibson, Hank3′s steel guitar player and the engineer on all of Bob’s albums, along with an all-star cast of contributors put together an amazing album of music. From conjuring the spirit of Jerry Reed in “Ain’t No Diesel Trucks In Heaven” to the lonesome teardrop steel sounds in “Hunger In My Soul”, this album is a 10 out of 10 on how Bob’s vision was fleshed out.
Your feelings on Till The Wheels Fall Off are going to be based on taste even more so than on most albums. It is my job as a reviewer to divest personal taste for a more true judgement on the work. Do I personally like the strictly hellraising songs like “All Those One Night Stands” and “Spread My Ashes On The Highway”? No, no I really don’t. But I also recognize the appeal and the wit embedded in the songwriting, and won’t let them repeal my love for a song like “Hunger In My Soul”. But not all music is for everyone, and that’s okay. It is not fair to strictly base taste on calling something bad, and it is not fair to call someone’s tastes bad just because they are different from yours. Bob Wayne seems to drive home the importance of these points more than most.
Where I take some points away from Till The Wheels Fall Off is when measuring it against what I know Bob is capable of. He is capable of writing songs that can change people’s lives. If he changes someone’s life with this album, it may not be for the better. There are also issues with the continuity in his storyline. With some of his previous works, his sobriety is a theme, where in this album, it is the breaking of that sobriety. Is this true in Bob’s real life, or an extension of the persona? Either way it is okay, it’s the ambiguity in how you’re supposed to approach these songs that may be the issue.
Instead of just writing on the road, I think Bob needs to get in better touch with his inner dialogue through solitude, so the guideposts leading listeners to the realization of his songwriting prowess are more present.
But this is not a bad album. It is fun as hell. At times you are laughing out loud at some of the lines. Are we so uptight we can’t enjoy music for the visceral experience? Isn’t it fun to go on a vicarious exploration of the id through music and character? This is what Bob Wayne delivers in Till The Wheels Fall Off; an escape, a good time. Sure maybe we, maybe underground country has grown up from most of this behavior, but isn’t that the theme here, that Bob will never change, that he’s going Till The Wheels Fall Off? And there’s nothing wrong with siting back and watching his ride.
1 1/2 of 2 guns up.
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Country music songwriting legend and original Outlaw Billy Joe Shaver will be releasing a loaded 20-song CD package with companion DVD called Live at Billy Bob’s Texas on July 17th, recorded in the “World’s Largest Honky Tonk”. This will be Shaver’s first album in five years after winning a court battle for aggravated assault in April of 2010, and heart surgery in May of 2010, and after taking some time off from touring due to a shoulder issue.
From The Press Release:
The fully loaded special package includes 20 live renditions of some of his most notable compositions on an audio CD and DVD as well as two bonus tracks, and is the first set of new concert recordings since 1995 to be issued to the public. Included among Shaver classics and favorites are two new songs: “Wacko From Waco” (co-written with his longtime friend Willie Nelson) and “The Git Go,” proving that his muse remains as fertile as ever.
As a songwriter, Shaver’s songs have been recorded by Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Kris Kristofferson, The Allman Brothers, Bobby Bare, BR549, Elvis Presley, John Anderson, George Jones, Tex Ritter, and Patty Loveless amongst others. Waylon’s landmark album Honky Tonk Heroes included all Billy Joe Shaver songs except for one.
Billy Joe Shaver will be the 42nd artist to release a “Live at Billy Bob’s” album, company that includes David Allan Coe, Willie Nelson, and Merle Haggard. He recorded the album with his young, rocking band guitarist Jeremy Woodall, drummer Jason Lynn McKenzie, and bassist Matt Davis. Even at 72, Shaver still delivers a very high energy set, punctuated by his punching and personality on stage.
Some of the Shaver songs to be included on Live at Billy Bob’s are:
- Heart of Texas
- Georgia on a Fast Train
- Honky Tonk Heroes
- Old Chunk of Coal
- Live Forever
- Old Five and Dimers
- That’s What She Said Last Night
- Black Rose
- Hottest Thing in Town
- Good Old USA
- I Couldn’t Be Me Without You
- Star in My Heart (a Capella)
- You Can’t Beat Jesus Christ
- Wacko From Waco (studio bonus)
- The Git Go (studio bonus)
Yesterday Hank Williams III whose preparing for an East Coast tour in March participated in a live chat on Yowie.com (watch full session at bottom) where he dropped some interesting tidbits about some upcoming plans and projects, including that he’s planning to tour Europe again June 15th through July 15th playing clubs and some festivals, and will be releasing an unspecified collaboration with David Allan Coe in a couple of months. The project came up in connection with the legendary song “The Conversation” between Hank Williams Jr. and Waylon Jennings, and if him and Shooter Jennings would ever do a remake.
Well me and David Allan Coe have taken on that, and it will be coming out in about another two months or so. That’s just one of those songs that no matter who did it, it will never be the same, it will never be as cool as it was. It was a really special song for Hank Jr. and Waylon. Who knows what will happen in the future, but what David Allan Coe and me did will be the closest thing to something like that.
When asked how fans should approach Curb Records’ upcoming release of Long Gone Daddy, an album constructed of outtakes from Hank3′s early Curb albums, he told people to treat it like another disputed album, Hillbilly Joker, and bootleg it instead of buy it.
I would say do what you did with Hillbilly Joker. All they’re trying to do is take away from my sales. That’s why they keep putting out these records because they’re trying to take me and my organization down. So of course I don’t respect any of it. There might be a song on there that you like, but there’s a lot of things that you won’t like on there. You’ll see in time how some people have taken sides with Curb Records, people that were nobody and I helped them back in the day, and now they’re getting a little respect and they’re sticking with the corporate world. So I don’t have any respect for it. I would say get it, burn it, pass it out. I know I’ll never be listening to it. That’s what YouTube is for.
He also talked about his appearance on the new kids album Farmer Jason & Buddies Nature Jams put out by Jason Ringenberg of Jason & The Scorchers.
Jason & The Scorchers has been a big inspiration throughout the years. For him to have the guts to ask me to be on a kids record had a lot of respect. I think he respects my work ethic. He just called me up and said, “Man, would you be into it,” and I said “Sure!” The song was fun, and to be on a track with one of The Ramones, he’s got a lot of interesting people on that. Who knows what will be in the future but that was my first official kids record.
And as for the status of Reinstate Hank:
The sad part about it is they didn’t do it while the Hank Williams exhibit was open at the Country Music Hall of Fame. That’s really the biggest letdown. They should’ve had the ceremony while the Country Music Hall of Fame was showing respects. All we can do is keep ruffling their feathers.
When I first saw Jonny Corndawg’s Down on the Bikini Line album come across the wires this summer, with this dude’s ironic name, the ironic album cover and title, and a track list of ironic songs, I didn’t even give it a sniff. Go ahead, accuse me of judging a book by it’s cover, but when The Nashville Scene anointed this guy an “Outlaw”, compared him to David Allan Coe and Down on the Bikini Line to Coe’s Penitentiary Blues, I knew I couldn’t avoid taking a deeper look and listen any longer.
Jonny Corndawg, or whatever his real name is, is not a cowboy, he’s a marathon-running hipster making fun of you and me and rural country culture with his ironic getup and cornpone songs. And when I say “hipster” I mean take-your-iMac-down-to-the-local-coffee-shop-and-pontificate-loudly-about-micro-loans-to-battered-African-women-to-get-laid-by-anthropogy-majoring-college-girls-looking-to-rebel-against-their-Judea-Christian-upbringing hipster. It’s all irony folks, the cover, the songs, the hat, the boots, his leather-clad guitar with the Chevy emblem on it, it’s all designed to poke fun at country culture, and not in a way that is either enlightening, respectful, or that carries a message. It’s for attention.
Now, when you cyber stalk this dude, you will find some people defending him, pointing to his serious leatherworking passion or his real-life truck driving experience, or this, or that to say this guy is just a rare bird that can’t be pigeon-holed and nobody should try. All of that may be true, but the two things I know for sure after listening to this album many times is 1) he employs a tremendous amount of irony in his music 2) he’s craves a tremendous amount of attention. And both of those things are fundamental in the ironic hipster culture.
On his own website he says about Down on the Bikini Line that it’s, “in the vein of that obscure ’70s gay country that housewives would discover on a Bear Family reissue in twenty years” on a page that, for irony, uses a soccer ball template for the screen background. Oh, and let me mention that he also used Kickstarter for this album, not to record it, but to promote it: i.e. the need for attention.
But the thing that really gives him away is the pentameter and the higher register that he sings in, which when you strip all the visual things back, is the undeniable mark of indie hipster music and can’t be explained away by other things that may or may not exist in his schtick. And even if he truly isn’t a hipster, I don’t know if it matters because this is an instance where perception truly is reality, and my perception of Jonny Corndawg is that he is making fun of you and me, and I can’t get that feeling out of my head to submit to this music.
And just to clarify, there is nothing specifically wrong with hipsters, hipster culture, irony, or irony in music or country music specifically. There are a lot of indie bands and acts I appreciate, but I appreciate them in their element and when they’re represented authentically. And even when irony is brought to country music, it can work as long as it feels like there’s still that underlying element of respect there, or if there’s a message, like making fun of modern pop country for example. Just a few weeks ago I reviewed an album from Some Velvet Evening that employed irony rather well, and whenever these comedy/ironic albums come up, I always refer back to one of the best ever done, Ween’s 12 Golden Country Greats from 1996.
Now the next thing you probably expect me to do is wizz all over Jonny Corndawg’s music specifically. Well unfortunately folks, I am unable to do that. Because despite all that was said above, when you clean the slate of all the irony and hipster-rific schtick, what you have here is some pretty amazing music and intelligent, funny songwriting, and a lot of well-executed and engaging country instrumentation in songs that are just undeniably great.
From Outlaw to gospel and everything in between, Corndawg displays himself as a master of his craft, a brilliant artist and a tireless student of his medium who understands timing, tones, and texture. As you listen to this album, you begin to understand that the quirkiness of the Jonny Corndawg character is an outside symptom of the brilliance of the artist inside of him, bursting with creativity no matter where it is expressed: music, leatherwork, or in the case of the “Jonny Corndawg” music persona, character creation. The dude seems to be like a cultural sponge, soaking up Ameriana, and not only understanding the modes of how it works, but picking up on the nuances that engage people and make them laugh.
The 1/2 time Outlaw-esque “Shaved (Like a razor)” I hate to love. The upbeat and rocking “Chevy Beretta” and “Red on the Head” get your heart pumping and have you laughing out loud. The spatial “Night Rider” is delicate and intelligent. And even the songs that are more indie hipster rock instead of country like “Undercover Dad” still work within their element.
So did I come to an epiphany on Jonny Corndawg eventually and “get it”? Well, no, no I didn’t. And I am usually one of those guys that does “get it” and tries to tell others they should as well. Because for even how engaging I find this music, I can’t detach the hipster irony from it enough to thoroughly enjoy it without reservation.
In the end what you have here is a mixed bag: great music from an ironic hipster weirdo. I wouldn’t go to battle if anyone told me this was the most brilliant country album in a long time (though make no mistake, he’s no Outlaw). Nor would I go to battle with someone who asserted it was awful and insulting. So for now, Jonny Corndawg remains an enigma for me. And I have a feeling he would be OK with that, if that wasn’t his plan all along.
1 gun up for excellent music and songs. 1 gun down for excessive hipster irony.
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For folks that care about these type of things, Josh Hedley, who regularly plays violin for Justin Townes Earle appears on this album, as does Caitlin Rose in a backup vocal role.
Listen to complete tracks here:
One of the reasons the the Country Music Hall of Fame is one of the most revered and respected Halls in all the land and specifically in music is because it is so hard to get into. It is always better that you look at a list of Hall inductees and wonder why certain names are not in, instead of looking and wondering why certain names are. Sure, just like everyone, I could look at the Hall inductees or a year’s specific class and opine how it should be different, but I have 100% faith in the the Country Hall’s process, and their dedication to always looking big picture when it comes to the preservation of the roots and history of country music.
The 2012 inductees will likely be announced in the next month or so. I anticipate this year’s list to be heavily laden with big names, and light on names from the legends era and behind-the-scenes types. Garth Brooks, Kenny Rodgers, and Hank Williams Jr. could all get in this year. The Oak Ridge Boys, Ricky Skaggs, and Ronnie Milsap are also strong contenders. June Carter Cash seems to be the only serious name for a legend on people’s lists, and Don Rich, Ralph Mooney, Hank Garland, and Johnny Gimble would be strong candidates for musicians who might make consideration.
Garth Brooks will be in the Hall of Fame. Though a few years ago, this might have driven many purists crazy seeing how he is the poster boy for commercial country, the modern day country landscape is shining a much more favorable light on one of the best selling artists ever, only rivaled by The Beatles and Michael Jackson. The question with Garth is not if, but when. We can wait on Garth’s induction because it’s inevitable, and give someone else a chance this year. However the rekindling of his career in Las Vegas and Reba McEntire’s induction last year I think does move Garth closer to induction.
Hank Williams Jr. is another shoe-in for the Hall eventually, but with his 2011 political side show, voters may side step him this year and hope for calmer publicity waters before making it official.
In many ways, Ricky Skaggs is the best of both worlds. The has the purist and roots vote for his unquestionable support and background in bluegrass, but he also played country music superstar for Music Row in the mid 80′s when there was a massive talent shortage. It is hard to make a case of why Ricky shouldn’t be in, and be in this year.
Kenny Rodgers may have started in rock and may carry mainstream baggage for purist voters, but his role in movies and television along with his huge mainstream country hits made him one the 80′s biggest country ambassadors. Weird face and chicken franchises be damned, I think Kenny makes it in, and this year.
2012 Hall of Fame Inductees Predictions
- Ricky Skaggs
- Kenny Rodgers
- On The Bubble – Garth Brooks, Hank Jr. , Jerry Reed, Oak Ridge Boys, Ronnie Milsap, Don Rich
If I had a vote
I do think that both Johnny Paycheck and David Allan Coe deserve to be in, and that it would be nice to see Coe be inducted before he passes. However, both men’s criminal pasts are going to be the long-standing road block against them. Though Coe may be the more recognizable name, I think Paycheck has the better chance as an “Outlaw” based out of Nashville instead of Texas, and how he carried the blue collar banner in country for years.
Another person I think that should be considered seriously is Ralph Mooney. From Buck Owens to Wynn Stewart, from forging the early Merle Haggard sound to touring with Waylon Jennings for 20 years, Ralph Mooney and his lonesome pedal steel guitar sound defined what people think of when they think of country music. He was wildly influential in his discipline. Those first few notes of Merle’s “Mama Tried?” Yeah, that was Ralph Mooney. I know he will not get in this year and maybe not anytime soon. But when the discussion is broached of who should be in The Hall, I believe it is the responsibility of all real country fans to help inject Ralph Mooney into the mix.
Since I believe to keep the Hall pure, no more than 3 inductees should be added in a given year, I’m only allotting myself 3 votes.
Here are my 3 votes:
Gram Parsons – The student in Emmylou Harris was inducted in 2008, now it’s time to induct the master. Simply put, there was never another artist that introduced more people outside the genre to country music than Gram Parsons. He turned The Rolling Stones into country fans. He discovered one of the most important women in country music history. Since Gram died young in 1973, he never got a chance to be prolific, or to settle into his proper place in country music history. But Gram Parsons was way much more than “that guy who played in the Byrds.” His impact is still being felt today. And for all he has done, country music owes him a debt of gratitude.
John Hartford – I understand this is a long shot pick, but as a songwriter, musician, and father of his own sub-genre in newgrass, it is difficult to make the case against him. Let me explain it like this: The Country Music Hall of Fame works like a timeline as you walk through the displays that weave around the massive archive in the center of the building. As you start from the beginning, each artist and their impact is displayed on a plaque that includes their Hall of Fame induction date. When I came to the John Hartford display on my last visit to The Hall this summer he was the first to have a display, but no Hall of Fame induction date. And then you had to go past many other artist’s displays, into the late 70′s-eartly 80′s before you found other artists given recognition on the great country music timeline without an induction date. John Harford is an indelible piece of country music history, and deserves to be a Hall of Fame inductee.
Jerry Reed – There is and was only one Jerry Reed. With an unmatched energy, style, groove and taste, he took honest to God country music and infused it with a groovy, relevant, and funky style that stole the human heart and sent it racing. An ultimate performer and character, his work from Scooby Doo to Smokey & The Bandit made him one of the 70′s best country ambassadors. But if Jerry goes in, he should go in as a guitar player first. With a wholly unique style matched by impeccable technique, he is as close as country music comes to a guitar god.
Before we get started here, let me just address the folks that will say the only reason I’m doing a review for this album is because Hank Williams III included some of Ray Lawrence Jr.’s songs on his latest Ghost To A Ghost/Guttertown release. Well of course that’s the only reason I’m doing this review, and it’s the only reason I know Ray Lawrence Jr. exists, and it’s the only reason this album exists.
And I’ll even take it step further and say even though I liked the songs entitled “Ray Lawrence Jr.” on Hank3′s album as maybe a bootleg or something you nab off of YouTube, I didn’t think they were worthy of including on a serious release. Frankly, these days I’m apt to look at many Hank3 decisions with cocked head, like a cocker spaniel looks at you when you loudly pass gas. But what the Ray Lawrence/Hank3 tracks did was got us to pay attention to this artist, and after listening to Raw & Unplugged, it is hard to say anything except that Hank3 once again deserves credit for playing pusher for another relatively unknown artist who wholeheartedly deserves the recognition.
As the title of this album implies, this is Arizona-based singer/songwriter Ray Lawrence Jr. with just him and his guitar. The album was quickly put together after Hank3 released Ghost To A Ghost, to meet the demand Hank3′s exposure created. It is in this context you must judge and listen to this album. Some albums are recorded raw and unplugged as a purposeful approach to create a desired aesthetic. This one is done more out of time and necessity.
However you want to look at the approach, this is some of the best true country songwriting I have heard all year. I am floored folks. I’ll be honest with you, knowing the context of this album going in, I didn’t think it had much chance to charm my little music heart, but that is exactly what it did. Ray’s songs are just so true, honest, well-written, and authentic, it makes his adeptness at song craft absolutely undeniable. And screw the fact that there’s no accompanying instruments here, who needs them. The strength of song is enough to make this album accessible despite it’s sparseness.
Ray is an example of how songs about truck driving and divorce will never get old in country music, as long as they’re being sung by someone who sings from personal experience, and with heart. Songs like “Check’s In The Mail” and “Just Kick My Ass To Texas” work in that timeless country manner of conveying simple wisdom through wit. “There’s Another Cheatin’ Heart” was my favorite track from the album, from the way Ray uses the simple countryism “off somewhere” to draw you in with it’s authenticity. And songs like “My Hurtin’ Will Be Done” show that Ray isn’t just about engaging lyrics, but also has a great ear at structuring the music around the mood he wishes to convey.
Ray’s guitar playing is great for the solo acoustic context; not just cord strumming, but not over noodling either. Good walks up and down, and the rhythm and cords are always present. And his voice is one of those aged, authentic instruments of song that so many a young man can try and duplicate, but aside from William Elliot Whitmore, can never match. In places the edges of the notes are frayed just so from the years of drink and smoky bars, but there is still a strength to it, and a desert twang that Ray wields with confidence. There is a little David Allan Coe to his vocal delivery.
I don’t mean to keep going back to the context of Ray’s Hank3 connection, but something I can’t drive home enough is how country this album is. This isn’t some Hellbilly kick or punk meets country as some may assume from seeing Hank3′s name, this is an album you could play for your grandmother, and you know what, she might like it. No hard language, just simple, universal country themes and stories that touch your heart from their authenticity.
Is this album like a “best of” from a songwriter whose been going at it for decades, and put all his top notch material together making a follow up an inevitable letdown? Will Ray exploit this opportunity Hank3 has given him as artists like Lucky Tubb, Bob Wayne, and Those Poor Bastards did before? Time will tell, but what I am hear to tell you right now is Raw & Unplugged is top notch. And as a pure country singer/songwriter album, I highly recommend it.
Two guns up!
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In about a week, Hank Williams III, or Hank3, will be releasing an unprecedented 4 albums via his own independent label, and then heading out on a West Coast tour. The albums can now be pre-ordered at hank3.com.
Ahead of the releases and tour, I talked with the head hellbilly himself about the new albums, the sordid legacy of fatherhood in the Hank Williams lineage, his role as one of the founding fathers of the country music underground, Shooter Jennings and his XXX movement, and how he feels about the unfinished songs of Hank Williams project. The full 30-minute interview can be listened to or downloaded below, and the major points are transcribed under that.
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Triggerman: There’s a lot of Cajun influences in this new music. I know you’re friends with Phil Anselmo of Pantera and Down, and Kyle Turley who played for the New Orleans Saints. Also when the Grand Ole Opry kicked Hank out, the Louisiana Hayride stuck with him. Did any of that have an influence on your Cajun approach, or was it simply a love of the music?
Hank3: Yes, Hank Williams had a deep connection to Louisiana, had a lot of friends from there that were really close to him. My dad was born in Baton Rouge. I used to go to Louisiana a lot as a kid, and get back in the swamps and some of the Cajun honky tonks. For me, that style of music, when I’m in a very unsettled place, the old Cajun music like Nathan Abshire and all these guys, the old recordings helped me out tremendously. There was something really magical about the way they recorded that stuff back in the day. It’s more friend and family oriented. A lot of raw emotion comes through some of those older recordings. And to me it was trying to do something that was just a little different.
Triggerman: Some of the songs you’re singing in French. Did you study Cajun music and French in preparation for this album, more than just listening to the stuff you’ve been hearing over the years?
Hank3: Just over the years I’ve got to meet a lot of people. There’s not just one style of it, there’s many, and it just kind of depends on what part you’re in. Yeah, there was a little bit of studying and a lot of my friends know how to go there. It’s more of a feeling than anything. It was a lot of fun. In the daytime I would be serious, from about 9 AM to 6 PM. Then from about 7 PM to midnight I’d be breaking the rules and letting things flow a lot more easily. My take on these new country records is there’s only five or six songs on there that I would consider country.
Triggerman: You’re saying a lot of this stuff isn’t country, and I would tend to disagree. It may not be country in a traditional sense, but I don’t know what else you would call it. Tom Waits appears on this album, and he’s kind of made a career of making music that is hard to define.
Hank3: I’m just saying that out of respects to my fans. Some of the Cajun stuff has a country feel. But I at least have to say that to my fans, because it’s a new line for a Hank3 country record.
Triggerman: Your dog Trooper is also featured prominently on this album. As I’ve been following the career of Hank3, Trooper makes these occasional appearances. How’s Trooper doing these days, he must be getting old?
Hank3: He’s getting up there, he’s about 12. But he’s hanging in there for me. He’s one of my #1 dogs. This is the 3rd record he’s been on. He was on “H8 Line”. He was on “Karmageddon”. Now he’s on “Trooper’s Holler” which I think is a crossover song that I think a lot of kids are gonna identify with. Even when David Allan Coe heard it he said, “That’s a little different, huh?” Then you’ve got “Trooper’s Chaos”. He would sing to that song every time I’d be working on it, so I just put him on the recording. My dogs have been like family to me. My music and my dogs have always helped me through my darker hours.
Triggerman: There’s been a lot of made about you leaving Curb. That’s a 15 year relationship that has come to an end. But the whole reason you got involved with Curb is you had a lawsuit brought against you from a one night stand and you were forced to sign the Curb contract. But through that time you were unable to see your son, but you had to pay for him.
Hank3: They were very rude about it. They served me papers on stage. I was opening up a show for Buzzoven, 5 metro officers walked in to serve me papers. I held up my end of the deal and made sure I wasn’t a deadbeat dad. He never saw that money. Most of that money went to her. Nowadays I’m able to be there for him, talk to him on a good or bad day. I’m glad it finally made a full circle, and that we got connected.
Triggerman: On the song “Guttertown” there’s a line, “Had me a friend in Birmingham, got a 20 year sentence for a one night stand. At least he did the time for his son.” I surmise that is autobiographical, but when you think about it, Hank Sr. died when Hank Jr. was very young, you’ve been pretty open about how Hank Jr. hasn’t been very involved in your life. Was it a purpose of yours to at least attempt to break that fatherhood cycle that the Hank Williams lineage was in?
Hank3: Yeah, it’s very important. Most Hank Williams didn’t have a father around, even Hank Sr.’s father wasn’t around much. My main thing is (for him to know) that we can talk about anything. I’m just trying to be there for him as much as I can.
Triggerman: There were some others before you, but before you started doing things differently in country, there wasn’t really an “underground” in country music like there was in punk music. There was the mainstream, and sort of the honky tonk circuit. You helped create this underground, probably at the start of your career, but especially in earnest when you release your album Straight to Hell. Do you feel like you’re aware of that fact, and just how many bands you’ve inspired, and do you feel like you’re aware of what’s going on in this movement?
Nowadays I can run a bus and a crew and keep ticket prices at $24 to $28 maximum. These people charging $250 a ticket is just ridiculous to see a live show. That’s not what country music is about. It’s about emotions, and being connected to your fans, and those working men and women out there. All in all I’m just out here, doing what I do, trying to inspire those bands out there to record themselves. Nowadays the independents have an opportunity they didn’t have 20 years ago. You don’t need a major label. All my new records are done on that same D1600 machine Straight to Hell was done on.
Triggerman: Are you aware of this movement Shooter Jennings started called XXX? And if you are, what are your opinions on it?
Hank3: No. I’m on the go so much, I haven’t listened to anything current. I’ve just been having to get everyone on my team on the same page. I don’t have no management, no secretaries, nothing man. It’s 24/7, full-on, doing it all myself. I haven’t been able to listen to a radio show in a long time. It’s just because I’m so busy right now. I might have heard of it, but I’ve not heard it. I don’t know what it involves or what it entails, or any of that stuff.
Triggerman: And you’ve had a feud over the years with Shooter. What are your feelings on Shooter right now, or are you aware enough of what he’s doing to have any feelings about him?
Hank3: Well back in the day I had to just call him out because he was clean shaven and wanted to be a rock band and all that. That was back in the past, now it’s the present. He knows I’ve had to say my peace. As Phil Anselmo would say, yesterday don’t mean shit. That’s just where it is right now.
Triggerman: You’re pretty famous for calling out pop country over the years, as well as fighting with Curb Records. Tim McGraw is going though a big battle with Curb Records right now. As ironic as it is, do you feel some sense of camaraderie with artists like Tim McGraw, LeAnn Rimes, and Clay Walker that are coming out against Curb, and do you feel some sense of relief, because I’m sure some would portray Hank3 as a troublemaker, and now the problems are across the board with Curb’s artists.
Hank3: I’ll say most people who thought I was riding coattails now know I’m a real musician, and I play music because that’s what I do and I love it. It goes back to greed. Look at how many millions of dollars Curb Records made off of Tim McGraw. I didn’t make them that much money. It just goes back to not good business. Curb is just a better politician than he is a musician. And it doesn’t matter if it’s the music business or the racing business, once people get involved with him, they usually don’t have anything good to say about him in the end. Look at the money some of those acts have made him, and it’s still not enough? Yeah, that’s some pretty serious greed. And that’s pretty non-Christian if you sit down and think about it. That’s a shame he’s not respecting the musician.
Triggerman: There’s an album coming out with Bob Dylan taking unfinished Hank Williams songs and handing them out to personalities to finish. You’ve said in other interviews you weren’t asked to finish any of these songs. If you had been asked to finish one of these songs, would you have done that?
Hank3: I don’t know, that’s a tough question. I’ve always just wanted to stand on my own two feet and be recognized as Hank3. What amazes me is how upset it’s making my fans. That’s what’s really impressive to me is how they feel so offended, and feel like it’s so wrong. I’ve got nothing against Bob Dylan. He’s been an amazing songwriter and done his thing for many many years. When you’re dealing with unfinished Hank Williams stuff, that’s a pretty heavy topic. To give someone that opportunity, I just don’t know man, that’s pretty tough. But I’ve never been asked (to appear) on much. The fans are very upset, and I guess I’ll just let them do my speaking for me. Because I can’t go and say something against Bob Dylan. That’s just not right man. I’d say maybe they need to scope out Hank Jr. a little more than me.
Last week, as I predicted, off of the strength of Jason Aldean’s country rap song “Dirt Road Anthem”, his album My Kinda Party took the #1 spot in the country music album charts, and “Dirt Road Anthem” rose to #6 on the song charts. For once, the collusion of country radio rotation managers actually works in favor of country purists, as this is the only thing keeping “Dirt Road Anthem” from being a #1, but the video for the song has been CMT’s #1 video for weeks.
Country rap is here ladies and gentlemen. It has been milling around for a while, but now it is a full-blown chart-topping mainstream-acceptable sub-genre of country, like it or not. So what is a country purist to do? Well I have assembled a survivor’s guide to help you through the inevitable ramp up of country rap parody that Music Row is no doubt manufacturing right now to take advantage of this most ill-conceived of music trends. Here’s your guide to help rebuke some of the ridiculous claims being made by country rap apologists.
Not All Dissension Against Pop Country Is About Race
Without question, many people, if not a majority of the people that have a problem with country rap do so from a very basic reactionary stance based on race. However there are many fundamental reasons to be opposed to country rap that have nothing to do with race at all, and anybody who is willing to speak out against country rap would be wise not to bring up race as the foundation of their argument.
Proponents of country rap are playing the race card as the only reason people are opposed to it. Legendary country music writer Chet Flippo’s article on the subject seems to imply that if you embrace the traditions of country music, you must embrace ALL of them, including the racist ones like blackface comedy and David Allan Coe’s foul-mouthed period. This just simply isn’t true. You can rebuke the racist elements of country, and still rebuke country rap as well.
They also insult the intelligence of country-rap opponents by preaching to them about how the roots of country (as white music) and blues (as black music) are very similar, when many of the elements opposing country rap are the only ones truly embracing the intertwined roots of country and blues. This very site has a blues show on SCM LIVE whose motto is “saving country music with the blues.” The Muddy Roots Festival, the country’s largest independent/underground country music festival, has just as many blues bands in the lineup as country ones, with the fundamental approach of supporting all roots music, regardless of the color of those roots. Hillgrass Bluebilly’s award-winning album Hiram & Huddie put the songs of Hank Williams and Leadbelly side by side. Mainstream country has completely forgotten it’s roots, country and blues, but now brings them up as a convenient truth.
There’s A Difference Between Rapping And Spoken Word
This is the dumbest, and most insulting of the arguments for country rap, that, “Hey, Charlie Daniel’s ‘Devil Went Down To Georgia’ was the first rap song ever because he spoke instead of sang”. Please. Charlie Daniels, Red Sovine, the old cowboy country poets were speaking, and Jason Aldean is rapping, and we all know the difference, and we all know Aldean is rapping because that is the gimmick he’s employed to get people to pay attention to him. Yes, there may be some very minor aesthetic similarities between rap and spoken word, but in no way is “Dirt Road Anthem” an extension of the spoken word tradition of country music, or spoken word in country an originator of rap.
Country Rap is Not Evolution, It’s Devolution
DO NOT fall prey to the idea that country rap is part of the natural evolution of the genre, and that “purists” have always been against “change”. Yes, there were some that fought the electrification of country or the introduction of drums, but rap is not a newly-introduced take on instrumentation, it is a 35-year-old artform being introduced as a last ditch effort to save a dying industry. Country rap is not evolution, it’s devolution by definition. Country music has been trying to evolve for years, but these elements have been pushed into alt-country and Americana, independent and underground channels, as mainstream country favors the quick fix that has done nothing but stultified the music and created an environment of economic uncertainty for the industry.
Country Rap IS Pop Country
Country rap is not an evolution, or an extension of spoken word, it is a version of pop country, and it is important to understand this from a fundamental level. Maybe not ALL country rap is pop country, but the country rap they would play on the radio or you’d see in the charts most definitely is. Music Row knows “pop country” is a bad word to a growing demographic, so they are disguising it, re-branding it as country rap and “new Outlaw” music. But it is still a pop country derivative, and should be approached as such.
Country Rap Is Not Diversity, It Is The Death of Diversity
With the corporate consolidation of radio, we have already bled most of the local and regional flavor off the airwaves to the point where no matter what city you go to, you hear the same songs on the same formatted stations. Now it is getting to the point where you hear the same music no matter what station you’re on. How this can be sold as diversity? Diversity is keeping the differences between genres strong, and celebrating our differences instead of attempting to resolve them.
I’m sure many people think that concern for the infiltration of country rap is tilting at windmills, but the diversity issue is where this becomes about more than just music. America’s “melting pot” ideal is often cited as a primary reason for the strength of the United States. Compromising that diversity could cause social problems and economic problems beyond the world of music.
Not All Country Rap Is The Same
Do not diminish the arguments against country rap by lumping all country rap together. I am sure there has been in the past, and will be in the future, some blends of country and rap that are respectful to the roots of the music, and enjoyable to listen to while not insulting the intelligence of the listener. These projects will likely be ignored by the radio and the industry, but it is not fair to the honesty and heartfelt approach of these artists who are breeding originality through bridging artforms to lump them in with the Jason Aldean’s of the world.
Understand How History Will Judge Country Rap
In the end, the joke will be on them. Look at what happened with the mainstream blending of rock and rap. “Limp Bizkit” is now a punch line, and rock is no longer a viable mainstream genre of American music. The wise will understand that in the future, mainstream country rap will be looked back on and mocked like the pet rock or parachute pants of country. But it is still important, however symbolic, to make a stance against it, especially because of the threat that just like rock music, the infusion of rap could be the last hoary gasp of a dying genre.
On Thursday (4-27-11) a judge in Iowa ruled that 71-year-old David Allan Coe could continue a lawsuit that stems from an incident in June 2008 at the Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Altoona, Iowa, that resulted in Coe being arrested. Coe had been gambling with his girlfriend, now wife, and not performing. The altercation happened after Coe hit the jackpot on a slot machine. There was confusion as security guards gave him orders that he did not comply with because, as he states, he couldn’t understand them because of hearing loss. The situation escalated until Coe was tackled by two sheriff’s, detained, and eventually jailed briefly.
Charges of “Disorderly Conduct” and “Interference with Official Acts” were dropped against Coe in 2008, but he took out a lawsuit in 2010 against numerous parties for “False Arrest”, “Assault”, “Malicious Persecution”, and “Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress” according to the Des Moines Register. The reason for Thursday’s court date was because Coe and his attorney had neglected numerous requests for information from the defendants in the case. Coe says he’s “not a computer person”, is often on the road, and only checks his post office box “once every three months or so”. Coe also says the result of the altercation is that he now has to walk with a cane, and sit down to perform; limitations he did not have to deal with before.
Judge Robert Blink on Thursday ruled that Coe must pay some of the defendants legal expenses incurred by not responding to their requests, but said his lawsuit could continue, though he also told Coe, “I think you’re going to have to have some way to make yourself more available to counsel. Otherwise, frankly, this suit is going to falter.” No court date has been set yet for Coe’s lawsuit.
David Allan Coe spoke to a reporter after leaving court on Thursday.
I thought we had moved on from the “new Outlaw” era, to pop country stars trying to be the next Taylor Swift. Well apparently not. Now Miranda Lambert’s hubby Blake Shelton wants in on the fun, releasing a song called “Kiss My Country Ass”, an unapologetic, unveiled attempt at the Music Row “Laundry List” songwriting formula (written by Rhett Atkins apparently), that takes it to another level by rehashing David Allan Coe’s “If That Ain’t Country” and introducing “Outlaw” Blake to the spoon-fed masses.
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Gretchen Wilson’s Body Odor has more country boy in it than you do Blake Shelton. I do hope David Allan Coe hunts you down and drives a motorcycle square up your ass. At least the other “New Outlaws” like Eric Church and Josh Thompson have a shred of country cred. All you got is a drummer that looks like he belongs dancing at Chippendales, and a $400 Affliction shirt with sparkly fairy wings on the back.
Marlboro cigarettes and Wrangler jeans? Is this a country song or a fucking commercial? So I have to smoke Marlboro Reds to be country? What does brand loyalty have to do with being country? If you want a cigarette Blake, I got a butt you can suck on.
I hear you mention a “Rebel Flag” but I don’t see one. Is that because the makers of this video identify the stars and bars with hate and not heritage? And then I love this: “Well there’s a whole lot of high class people out there that’s a lookin’ down on me.” Oh fucking please Blake, you have more money than 95% of Americans. You’re trying to manufacture some sense of oppression so you can feel the pride of being identified with a lower social class than you actually are; a selfish, pathetic conceit that is insulting to people that really are kept down in life because of prejudice.
And it gets even better. “Don’t wear no fancy clothes, no ties or three piece suits.” What do you think I’m stupid? I’m watching your video right here, the video for this very song, and your guitar player is wearing a fancy dress vest from a three piece suit, and your drummer is wearing a flaming lipstick-red necktie, looking like he should be a cage dancer for Oingo Boingo.
As for these idiots in the crowd shots of the video, sorry folks, but you can’t claim any country cred from living in a KB Home or Toll Brothers tract house. I actually tried to get in this video, but they told me I didn’t qualify unless my megachurch was big enough to have its own Starbucks. These clueless sheep in this video are seriously pissing me off more than Blake Shelton. Look at these assholes rubbing their backsides together like a bunch of blue-assed baboons. I’ve seen more rhythm in a random orbital sander. And if you’re going to disgrace yourself and country music, stay the hell off the steps of the Ryman, for serious. There’s nothing wrong with being a suburban sissy puppy, until you lie to yourself that you’re not, and engage in this type of subversive escapism-style culture worship.
And as for Blake saying, “If you’re not down with my “Outlaw” crowd…” I love how these “new Outlaws” go all the way up to the line, but don’t have the balls to cross it. Are you saying you’re an Outlaw Blake Shelton, are you? Or not? Actually I used to care about people calling themselves “Outlaws” while completely misunderstanding the term, but now I understand that anyone listening to this song thinks the country music started with Garth Brooks, so the point is moot.
Look Blake Shelton, up to this point I had no excuse to bring your name up. So why cross that line now? Why sell your dignity, alienate your purist fans and rocket up the Saving Country Music shit list? The American rural culture is not for sale so the suburbs can stay satiated, subdued, and consuming. Well actually, yes, yes it is. You song and video is a perfect example of this.
Two guns down!
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(This rant was written by The Triggerman, who lives his mom’s basement, has no friends, and wants to invite terrorists to American and teach your children about homo sex. He also thinks that all guns should be illegal. His name is ironic, like a hipster’s curly-end mustache. He wrote this rant exclusively because he is jealous of Blake Shelton.)
The first thing you need to appreciate about Outlaw Carnie is that it is country. Forget that it’s on a metal label, and that Hank III’s name is being put out there for context. There’s no fusing of metal and country here. There’s no sludgy BC Rich or Flying V guitars, no screamo, cookie monster lyrics. There’s banjo, fiddle, dobro, upright bass, brushes on snare, if there’s any drums at all. A third of these songs don’t have any electrified instruments whatsoever. This isn’t today’s country, this isn’t even your daddy’s country. This is your grand daddy’s country, and if it’s close to Hank III, it’s the Hank III circa 2000-2005, not 2008-present.
The lyrics are where one might say there is a “metal” or “punk” approach, but this is just on some of the songs, and even then, these songs don’t stray too far from what you might hear from Johnny Cash, Johnny Paycheck, or David Allan Coe. The album cracks open with a solitary banjo from Daniel Mason (Hank III), and the second song opens with the fiddle of Billy Contreras, leaving no doubt this is a country project. There is no lip service paid to metal fans or anybody else to assuage you that country can rock. On Outlaw Carnie, Bob puts his country songs out there with a bold “take it or leave it” attitude.
I don’t envy Bob and producer/engineer Andy Gibson (Hank III steel player, too many other accolades to list) for taking on the task of trying to one-up songs that many core Bob Wayne fans have come accustomed to the original versions of. Only a handful of the tracks are totally new to the world. And honestly, the talk of, “Ah, we cut those old versions quickly in the back of the motorhome and sold them in Ziploc bags” made me bristle. I happen to like those home spun recordings, and home spun recordings in general. One could even make the case that the underground country movement was created from the interface of artists and technology that allowed them to record DIY. The heart of the song is what I’m after. I guess a good recording is better than a bad recording, but make sure you mine the heart of the song above all. The rest is aesthetics.
Without question, the new versions of the songs are much more full, much cleaner and polished, fleshed out and thought out. If you listen to the new version and then the old one right after, you get a similar effect of looking through a dirty windshield vs. a clean one. But this is dangerous territory. It’s not unusual for me to use the term “polished” as a negative thing, but I have to say, overall, the new versions are better. Much better. And what is remarkable is it’s the same artist, same engineer, and some of the same players of the older versions. I think this is what gave Bob Wayne an advantage. Put him in an antiseptic studio with a bunch of strangers and we may of watched these songs die before our very eyes. Put him in Andy Gibson’s house with Andy Gibson calling the shots, and they thrived. Andy knows these songs. He recorded them the first time, he’s played them live out on the road. He knows where they need to be, and the proof is in the finished product.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Bob Wayne may be the best pure songwriter of our generation. But you have to listen. I know that sounds obvious, but the key to appreciating Bob’s music is taking the time to listen to it. There’s two versions of Bob Wayne: the rowdy version, and the introspective version. If you just take a whiff of his music, you’ll probably end up in the “meh” camp who just heard one of his rowdy songs and thought he was hokey. I’ll put the songwriting of “Blood to Dust” and “Reptile” up against any. “Estacata” is a track easy to overlook, but illustrates that Bob is not only good, but versatile and multi-dimensional as a songwriter. Where most of his songs deal in stark language with a bellicose approach, “Estacata” proves he can work in subtleties and deep soul as well. Even a song like “Road Bound” might be mistaken as simply a rowdy ego trip, but lyrics like “All my friends are family, my family is my life,” prove Bob can work in depth no matter the context.
Bob is a storyteller. Whether the story is totally true, like in “Blood to Dust,” or fictitious like in “Work of the Devil,” he has a confident knack of being able to create characters, make you care about them, and then have them do all manner of crazy things, and usually in less than five minutes. Don’t let the “meth snorting, running from the cops” lyrics or the aviator sunglasses and bandanna cloud your judgment. What is going on here is on the Robert Earl Keen, Kris Kristofferson level of songwriting. Yes, Bob has many more skins to hang on the wall to keep that company, but in his short sample, this is the caliber of the quality.
I’ll be honest with you. I’ve always been more for the deep Bob Wayne songs than the devilish ones, and on the whole, the middle child of his three independent releases 13 Truckin’ Songs was my least favorite. But man, this version of “Mack” made me understand what he was getting at with this song, and may have even risen my estimation of all his rowdy songs by proxy. “Everything’s Legal in Alabama” is a silly song, but clever and engaging nonetheless. And how cool is it that Wayne “The Train” Hancock lent his name to this song and this project, and that it was co-written by Derek Dunn of the .357 String Band, once again highlighting the influence of that band that once backed Bob on a full tour.
The Bob Wayne naysayers are really going to hate me for this one, but I think Bob understands good and evil and the relationship between them from a heightened level, in many ways like Johnny Cash did, who Bob gives some credit to for helping save his life. The Cash-esque song “Reptile” is probably the easiest example of this, but God is not referenced in this album just to be damned, but is given credit, for saving his life, or having a master plan, or allowing him to move on from previous sins. A song like “Driven by Demons” marks the antithesis maybe, but that is where Bob resides, somewhere in the struggle between good and evil. He’s a felon and a drug addict, a former drug addict that is. He’s sober now, but willing to sack anything with a heartbeat. Good and evil wrestle for his soul, and the souls of the characters he creates, and this is what makes the Bob Wayne musical perspective so original, insightful, and entertaining.
One thing that drove me a little crazy was it felt like Bob was over-singing at times. Maybe this is a symptom of my brain bending to the worn, comfortable grooves of the older song versions, or maybe a symptom of Bob trying to outperform the old and occasionally over-emphasizing, but if this is the case, this may be the singular place where old vs. new came into play. I’ve never been much for compilation or tribute albums because the first version of a song that I hear is usually to one I like best; it fits like a broken-in pair of boots and the offshoots usually just feel weird. But I was surprised how quickly I latched onto these new versions and wonder now if I could go back. This also speaks to all the great players Bob assembled to flesh these songs out.
From a behind-the-scenes standpoint, this is a very important album. As former and current metal kids flock to these type of hard country bands that are filling the vacuum that Nashville’s pop approach has left in the heart of America for authentic country music, and meanwhile the music industry is going through uncharted contraction and reorganization, how this album is received according to many different parameters might spell how labels and artists proceed for years to come. I’ve seen the comments of metalheads whining that this project found its way on to their beloved Century Media. In some respects I can’t blame them–we fight for purity around here too. But the key to Bob Wayne is you must listen, I can’t emphasize this enough. It’s not metal; no need to be a master of the obvious. The question is, is it good?
I would assert that Outlaw Carnie is better than good. It is great, and worthy of affording Bob Wayne the much wider audience that his music deserves.
Two guns up!
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Also, to fully understand Bob Wayne, you have to let yourself succumb to his sense of humor.
A while back it was brought to my attention that industrial rocker Shooter Jennings, along with No Depression blogger Adam Sheets had crafted the idea of starting a new genre of music, or more specifically, a radio format, called “XXX” after the nomenclature found on the front of moonshine bottles. The idea is to give a home to music that “is too rock for country, and too country for rock.”
I’ll start off by saying that I respect Adam Sheets as a writer, though I don’t always agree with him, and that I like what is at the heart of this idea. Finally, FINALLY, an artist is trying to show some kind of goddamn leadership, in some capacity, whatsoever. Back in the mid-2000′s artists like Shooter and Hank III and Dale Watson created this huge army of loyal fans of which this website grew out of, but then sometime in ’07-’08, the leadership when completely silent, and this massive army of supporters has been bivouacked, willing and ready to march but with absolutely no guidance whatsoever. I also appreciate that this idea is meant to bring disparate elements together under a big tent, to organize, which is another needful element I’ve been preaching about for years.
The problem is, is that there are many problems with XXX. The main one, and the one that is the deal killer for me, is that this focuses on radio. Why do we give a shit if radio is playing this music or not? I mean yes, it would be great if the “too country” and “too rock” crowd got more radio play, but radio is a dying industry that is fighting massive contraction while hemorrhaging money. Why are we coveting what they have? Why would we moor ourselves to that sinking ship?
Radio is the past, and they are fighting shrinking revenues by making the same mistakes that got them in this pickle–homogenizing formats and bleeding regionalism out of music. Shooter should know this, he’s a satellite guy, though satellite is having their own problems. And it also plays right into the hands of Shooter’s critics who say that he’s a whiny, spoiled rich kid who when he doesn’t get his way, throws a temper tantrum; that’s why he left his country label and put out an album which at times was filled with pretentious envy bordering on self-righteous rage. This idea seems to be born out of anger and envy instead of innovation.
Podcasts, virtual concerts, things like SCM LIVE, and the few independently-run radio stations like KOOK with robust online listenerships are the wave of the radio future. People will be listening on their computers and smart phones. Screw radio, we’re too good for them. And why set the ceiling so low as to say all we want is a place at the radio table? The problems with the infrastructure for good music of any genre is much more widespread. Swing for the fences.
And then there’s these lists of bands that have been populated for XXX. So you’re telling me Arson Anthem and the Avett Brothers are in the same genre? I love Black Joe Lewis, but he’s retro soul/funk. Hell, I can’t even get past the ‘B’s’ and I can tell this won’t work. And I also don’t like all this language about “southern bands.” The south is so choked by pop country these days, a lot of the great bands are coming from California, the Pacific Northwest, and the Upper Midwest. Whitey Morgan & The 78′s from Michigan are on the list, and so are The Devil Makes Three from California. I’m not really understanding this.
The band list looks like it was populated by a few select people asserting their own music tastes, instead of taking a step back and a broad look at the full musical spectrum that would create this genre or “format” by its own designated parameters. Where is the .357 String Band? They are the definition of “too rock for country.” Where is The Reverend Horton Heat? One could make the argument that he was vital to the formation of music that is too rock and too country. To know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been, and I see little homage paid to the mid-90′s scene on lower Broadway in Nashville where the vast majority of these band’s sound sprouted from. BR549 isn’t on here, but James McMurtry is, but Ray Wylie Hubbard isn’t? I’m totally confused.
And then on the list of bands that “Came Before Us” you have Pantera, but their side project with David Allan Coe “Rebel Meets Rebel” is on the current bands list. And Loretta Lynn and Merle Haggard are artists that bridged rock and country? These lists are all over the road like a drunk bloke who could blow a 2.0. And let’s not give up the fight for the term “country” so easily. What’s wrong with saying Whitey Morgan is country, and the crap they play on the radio is not?
With all respect to Shooter and Adam Sheets, this thing looks like it went off SO half cocked. Why not solicit for ideas from a spectrum of core thinkers before submitting it for public consumption? Not to sound like an arrogant bastard, but why not consult me? I talk about most of the bands on their lists all the time. When Shooter made the switch from country/southern rock to more industrial-style rock, what was the one outlet who covered that story, even in the face of whining fans who swore I was a liar? It wasn’t No Depression. Who was the first to review his new album Black Ribbons? I was the media outlet for Shooter, because I saw the importance in covering his transition, and because nobody else was. And what happened to Shooter now calling himself Black Country Rock?
And this isn’t my first time at the rodeo talking about creating new music formats. 10 months ago I proposed a very similar thing called Anti-country, but I did so not by asserting my reality-tunneled ideas without any outside help, I submitted it to my readership as a question, asking for their feedback. I have not written off the Anti-Country idea, I’m just waiting for the right time or the right angle. The principle difference between the two ideas is that XXX is mostly concerned about radio, while Anti-Country would focus on all aspects of supporting music.
But they both have a problem with the names themselves meaning different things to people. Yes, XXX is also the notation for pornography, just like Anti-Country could be misconstrued as being against country music, or even against the United States.
I don’t want to completely dismiss this idea. If you go to givememyxxx.com, and what you read speaks to you, then by all means sign the petition. (And that’s another thing, who are we petitioning exactly?) Give this idea at least a chance, because at its heart I do believe there is some good stuff. But I will not be signing it, at least for the moment. I see a LOT of work to be done here, tweaking the message, fixing confusing lists of artists, which at this point I don’t even know if such lists are important. So much more should have been done before putting this out for the public.
But people who are anti-Shooter (and there are a lot of them) should not just wholesale write off this idea just because Shooter is at the helm. I do think long-term Shooter’s involvement could hold the idea back, but XXX should be judged on its own merit. If it’s a good idea, it should be allowed to fly, and at least Shooter is trying to do something and show some bit of leadership.
My thoughts. What are yours?
Today is the 4th of July: the birthday of The United States. It is also arguably the birthday of the Outlaw movement in country music.
Nailing down an exact date when the Outlaw movement started depends on who you talk to, but a popular one is when Willie Nelson’s legendary 4th of July Picnics started in 1973. The Dripping Springs Reunion happened the previous year, but this was held in the Spring, and was marked by classic country performances from people like Bill Monroe, Loretta Lynn, and Roy Acuff. 1973 is when native Texans Willie, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson famously reunited to headline the festival.
There’s been a lot of questions on what really makes a country music Outlaw swirling around lately, especially with the controversy surrounding the “New Outlaws” (Eric Chruch, Josh Thompson, Gretchen Wilson, etc.) Misconceptions abound. That is why the original Outlaws hated the term, and why new artists as well as fans use the term incorrectly. So I thought I would clarify:
Being a country music Outlaw has nothing to do with having tattoos. It has nothing to do with motorcycles, or how much you cuss in your music or reference drugs. It has nothing to do with rock influences in your music, nothing to do with if you “party” a lot or live an “Outlaw” lifestyle. Being an Outlaw has very little to do with the music itself. You can play traditional country, neo-traditional country, country-rock. There is NO definable Outlaw country sound. As long as it is country music, it can be Outlaw music.
“Outlaw” is a business term more than anything. Yes, all the above can be and have been elements of the overall Outlaw culture, but neither Willie, Waylon, or Kris had tattoos, rode motorcycles, and none of them were big drinkers. What they had in common with Outlaws that WERE big drinkers like Johnny Paycheck, or that rode motorcycles and had tattoos like David Allan Coe, was that they had all fought for creative control of their music from the country music establishment, and won it. THAT is what makes a country music artist an Outlaw.
And just for the record, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, and George Jones were never considered Outlaws, though you could say that Cash became an Outlaw near the end of his life with The Highwaymen project, and the Rick Ruben American Recordings later on, and he did have many dealings with The Outlaws over the years.
The original Outlaw was Bobby Bare, who was the first to fight for creative control of his music, and the first to open up new themes that before were taboo in country. This is typified by the 1966 song Streets of Baltimore, which very subtly is about a woman leaving her man to become a prostitute. The song was written by Tompall Glaser. Another taboo hurdle was cleared by Kris Kristofferson’s Sunday Morning Coming Down, which references wanting to be “stoned.” But Tompall started the Outlaw revolution in earnest when he built a renegade recording studio called “Hillbilly Central” on 19th Ave in Nashville.
At the time almost everything in Nashville was controlled by a few men: mainly RCA producer Chet Atkins, and the Acuff-Rose Publishing Company. Nearly all music coming out of Nashville was recorded at RCA’s “Studio B”. The songs recorded by artists were written by dedicated songwriters, and selected and arranged by record label producers. All studio musicians were selected by the producer, and were unionized so as no outside musicians (say from an artists touring band) could be used.
Enter not a musician, but a slick lawyer from New York named Neil Reshen. Reshen helped two disgruntled RCA artists, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, break their RCA contracts and wrestle control of their music. (You can read more about Reshen HERE.) Willie and Waylon were inspired to do this by watching Bobby Bare and rock musicians have almost unilateral control over their music. Willie left RCA, and eventually singed with Atlantic, a rock label, with complete creative control. Waylon stayed with RCA, but established control over his music the likes of which had never been seen inside Music Row.
The first thing Waylon did was record an album in 1973 of Billy Joe Shaver songs, Honky Tonk Heroes, at Tompall’s Hilllbilly Central. This was one of the most significant moves in country music history, because after Reshen’s legal maneuverings, it broke the back of the Music Row monopoly, and opened a floodgate for artists to be able to record their music outside of RCA’s “Studio B” (or Studio A) and without using union studio musicians. It also ushered in a period where label-owned studios became virtually extinct, and independently-owned studios thrived.
The next significant move was Willie Nelson releasing Red Headed Stranger in 1975, considered by many as the greatest country music album ever. It was done in a small studio in Garland, TX with Willie’s own musicians on a shoestring budget. The next year RCA released Wanted! The Outlaws, which became the first million-selling album in country music history. All the songs on those two albums were recorded with the artists having the final say.
So when Josh Thompson says to blame his Outlaw ways on Waylon, meaning his college-style coed drinking antics and pop-style “partying,” I have to object. Waylon’s “Outlaw Ways” would be to insist on not putting out music that was tooled from beginning to finish by industry producers. I also have to object when someone thinks being an Outlaw means getting a skull tattoo and interjecting devil and drug references into their music.
“Outlaw” is a state of mind; an approach based on strong-willed principles. Anything beyond that is lesser qualifying points based on opinion or simple elements of culture.
On Saturday (April 17th), Outlaw country legend David Allan Coe decided to make it a six pack, and get married to long time girlfriend Kimberly Hastings. It is Coe’s sixth marriage at age 71, and Kimberly’s second at age 48. The couple has been dating for over ten years, and Kimberly regularly joins Coe on stage as a backup/duet singer.
You can see the couple performing “Ain’t That The Way” together at Billy Bob’s Texas, the biggest honky tonk in the world (and where I first saw DAC) by CLICKING HERE.
The ceremony was at The Little White Chapel in Las Vegas, and the Ford Truck Man, Toby Keith, was the official witness. The wedding was also attended by “several close friends.”
When asked why he decided to get married again, Coe responded “I got tired of making decisions for myself.”
I get lots of CD’s sent to me to review, and unfortunately I can’t review them all. And of course, a few are not worth reviewing, and I only write bad reviews in extreme cases. So I’m going to start going through my stack of CD’s regularly and at least mentioning the ones I think are good, and giving full blown reviews for the ones that really stand out.
First I want to mention a couple of folks who sent me demos. Dog Bite Harris sent me a bunch of songs with just him and a beat up guitar, and a guy who will occasionally leave comments around here, the Suicide Driver Robert Perez, now known as Junction 10 sent me some live tracks. Both of these projects had great songs, showed a lot of potential, and I hope they both take the time in the future to make full blown albums of their stuff because it’s worth it. Make sure to check out the song “Walking Sideways” on the Junction 10 MySpce, it’s good stuff.
But the CD that stood out from the crowd this time was eponymous release from The Shivering Denizens from Washington State. Man are these guys good.
The Shivering Denizens belong in Austin, TX circa 1973. They have that high energy, up-tempo feel that is full tilt honky tonk with a pinch of western-inspired swing. Think of Commander Cody with a modern day hellbilly upgrade. Sure there’s a lot of new bands popping up who want to be “real” country, but not all of them have a unique sound, and then can back it up with solid lyrics and top-notch musicianship. When you listen to the Denizens, it makes you want to say out loud, “See THIS is what I mean when I say REAL country.”
As the Denizens say, they have songs about women, songs about prison, and songs about women in prison. That pretty much sums it up. With songs like “Cell Block 69″ and “Good Times at the Gates of Hell,” if at least one of the Denizens hasn’t spent time in the pokey, I’ll eat my hat. The even have a song call “Twister,” which is about a twister . . . hitting a prison. But the repetitive theme is endearing, not annoying, though one of my favorite tracks is incarceration-free “Candidate 4 Change:”
“I’m a candidate for change brother give me a dime. Help me legitimize this cardboard sign.
I’m a Vietnam Vet, I’d surely work for food. But my body’s broke I got the homeless blues.
The bank came over just to change the locks. They gave me zero down on a cardboard box.
Fed at the mission, I ain’t gonna lie. I’m gonna take the money and I’m gonna get high.”
The Denizens have played with people David Allan Coe, James Hunnicutt, and Bob Wayne. They list their influences as people like Hank Williams and George Jones, but I hear a lot of Bob Wills and Jerry Reed in there as well, with tempo and guitar tone. There is a tear squeezer on the album though, “Humptulips,” which is a great example of the maturity they approach the music with, and their Hank/George/Johnny influence.
Simply put, The Shivering Denizens are fun to listen to, and you’d be doing yourself a favor and work them into your rotation.
Oh, and an interesting side note, lead singer Ron E. Banner is also a member of the punk/metal group Zero Down.
You can preview all the tracks, and buy or download the album on CD Baby HERE.
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