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Wayne Mills was like that warrior that refuses to come off of the mountain. With defeat eminent and inevitable, he would rather raise his fists in the air and rage against the dying of the light then let it overtake him sitting down or sulking. He was like that old honky tonk that refuses to sell as strip malls, condo complexes, and highrises get built up all around it; the one lone holdout swearing off the money that selling out would impart on the principle that everything real, everything worth cherishing is disappearing, and with it, the ties to who we are as people, and the culture that we come from.
In the culture war, Wayne was that painted up, passionate warrior that rallies the troops with his sword held high, stern faced and stubborn as the waves of change sweep over and ultimately destroy all of what once was; victims of progress and the cult of priority.I’ll be there when they burn the last honky tonk down In body, mind, and spirit, under the table, or under the ground The fading echos of a barroom band might be the only sound I’ll be there when they burn the last honky tonk down
These are the words that form the chorus of the title track, and the theme of Wayne’s 2010 album with The Wayne Mills Band called The Last Honky Tonk. Both thematically and sonically, the album and Wayne are like a big stick in the mud and a finger in the eye of the forces severing country’s roots, drawing heavy from the Waylon Jennings-inspired half beat and electric sound, then floating towards the Willie Nelson waltz and acoustic rhythms, and by the end of the album, touching on and paying homage to most of the country music textures that are seen today by Music Row’s money-driven perspective as outmoded.
The second song on the album,”One Of These Days,” is about losing friends too early, reminiscing back on their lives, and using it as a reflection on his own. “My friends lost their lives, but I remember their dreams,” is what Wayne says leading into the the first chorus that talks about the promises we rarely keep to ourselves.
The infectious hook and groove of “Same Old Blues” makes it one of the most fun tracks on the album, while “It’s Just Not My Style” speaks to the personality of Wayne to just do things his way, and lead by example. “Old Willie Nelson Song” and “Friendly Companion” pay homage to Wayne’s musical heroes, but not in the pandering, name-dropping manner of many modern day country songs, but in the context of a heartfelt story. Then “The Truce” duet with Presley Tucker draws inspiration from the famously tumultuous relationship between Tammy Wynette and George Jones.
“Don’t Bring It Around” speaks to the sobriety many Outlaws attempt to embrace later in life, that is regularly hindered by the insistence of the culture and people that surround them, while the epic “Homeward Bound” is about coming come, and coming to peace, putting a period on an album that when listening to in the midst of the recent news of Wayne’s passing feels hauntingly foreboding and poignant.
True country music artists always seem to hold on to life much more precariously than the rest of us, and that vulnerability, and the perspective afforded by walking that line between the dead and the living is what gives them the insight to speak about such things the rest of us struggle to put into words. Wayne Mills was not the most well-known, nor the most prolific of artists. But he was one of the most pure and honest of the breed, unwavering in his country music principles, evidenced by The Last Honky Tonk, and his music that will live on well beyond his passing.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the George Jones Playin’ Possum – The Final No Show LIVE Blog. Since tonight’s festivities will not be televised, we’re going to try to do our best to make folks that could not be in attendance for this historic event feel a part of it by providing a place to listen along, share thoughts, and hopefully post pictures as they come in from attendees. Over 100 performers are scheduled to make an appearance. So get your refresh fingers ready and please feel free to chime in below in the comments section.
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11/23 12:30 PM: Here’s some bootleg video from last night. Good, multi-camera quality for final Alan Jackson song, Martina McBride & George Strait right before the finale, and though there’s a few Gremlins in the audio, you can catch the vibe of the Jamey Johnson / Megadeth song. You can also see Big & Rich on their riding lawnmowers singing “Love Bug,” and Jamey Johnson singing “Tennessee Whiskey.”
11:32 - Thanks everyone for stopping by! Thanks to the George Jones Twitter Page, Country Weekly, and other random attendees for the pictures! Thanks to The Tennessean, and other folks on the scene for filling us in on all the songs and performers and other information. Make sure you also check out the Tennessean’s Live Blog for more coverage, and their photo gallery of the event (apparently, Big & Rich did their song on riding lawnmowers).
And remember, music always sounds better when it’s shared!
11:30 - From The Tennessean about the end of the concert:
A tribute concert to George Jones would not be complete without “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” Alan Jackson does the honors.
Then he invites Nancy Jones on stage and invites the audience to sing along.
“This is the greatest country song by the greatest country singer, Mr. George Jones,” Jackson says, as he again launches into the chorus of “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
“Thank you all so much,” he says, “George we love you.”
Leaving the stage, his arm around Nancy Jones’ waist, he stops to set the rocking chair on stage in motion. As the chair meant for Jones rocks slowly back and forth, the crowd claps and cheers begging for more.
But it is, indeed, the end.
George Jones’ tribute is complete.
The audience has made it clear that, like his chair, it truly rocked.
11:26 - Apparently the whole arena was singing along to “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” led by Alan Jackson.
11:24 - Well folks, that may be all she wrote. 4 hours! We’ll do one last scan for some cool pictures, quotes, or info we missed!
11:19 - Let’s see if we have people come on stage for a finale.
11:18 - And of course, as it should be, Alan Jackson comes out to close the show out by performing “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
11:15 - Apparently Reba lost her voice, and was unable to perform. As you can see from the lineup picture below, she was sceduled to play before George Strait. Here’s Reba’s post from Instagram.
11:12 - So about the joke Bill Anderson told earlier, and the performance afterwards, here’s the account from The Tennessean:
Tied up on Old Hickory Lake boats owned by Anderson, Jones, record producer Billy Sherrill and others. Jones’ was the only one that had a small dinghy boat tied to the back.
One day, Anderson said, he was trying to dock his boat and the wind blew his boat into Jones’.
From that day on he was known as “the man who put the dent in George Jones’ dinghy,” Anderson said with a laugh.
After groans and chuckles, Anderson is joined on stage for another historical group number with Bobby Bare, Jim Ed Brown, Jimmy C. Newman, John Conlee, Larry Gatlin, Ray Stevens, and Stonewall Jackson. Pioneers who paved the way for so many, the group sings “When the Last Curtain Falls,” and “Still Doin’ Time.”
The boys still clearly have a few good jokes in them. “I fell down but I’m good,” Jackson said from his seat on the stage, before their final number “Some Day My Day Will Come.”
11:09 – Martina McBride joins George Strait on stage to sing “Golden Ring.”
11:05 – Reigning Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year George Strait takes the stage to sing “The Grand Tour.”
11:01 - Suzy Bogguss and Miranda Lambert backstage. SEE PICTURE
11:00 - Vince Gill takes the stage to perform “Slipping Away.”
10:56 - Dierks Bentley apparently called tonight the Country Music Awards meets the Field of Dreams.
10:52 - Patty Loveless takes the stage to sing “Blue Must Be The Color of the Blues.” No picture of Jessi and Shooter yet, I’m not being bias . The biggest names of the tribute are coming up!
10:48 - Mike Huckabee has the coolest quote of the night so far: “You’re going to remember where you were Nov. 22, 1963.” Because you were at the George Jones tribute. Yep, 1963.”
10:45 - We’ll try to get the names of the others who joined Thompson Square. Meanwhile Shooter Jennings has taken the stage.
10:42 - Thompson Square & others play “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes”
10:40 - Former Arkansas Governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee introduces Thompson Square to the stage.
10:37 - Another interesting quote from Dave Mustaine of Megadeth: “Heavy metal is all about rebellion and George was definitely a rebel. Thank you for welcoming us into this beautiful family.”
10:33 - Stacy McCloud who is the entertainment reporter for Nashville’s Fox 17 is the new emcee. According to the Tennessean, she was the last reporter to interview Jones. “I will never forget he walked out and said, ‘Hey there, young lady. I think I’ve been dreaming about you.’”
10:32 - Montgomery Gentry takes the stage to do “The Race Is On.”
10:26 - Rodney Atkins has taken the stage.
10:22 - “Country music transcends barriers, it has come into my world and so many other worlds.” – Dave Mustaine
10: 19 - Jamey Johnson leaves Megadeth backstage to trash the dressing room, and performs a solo acoustic performance of “Tennessee Whiskey.”
10:14 - By the way, the Jamey Johnson / Megadeth collaboration was on “Wild Irish Rose.”
10:11 - Bill Anderson on stage right now telling a “funny story.” (Wish we could hear it!) SEE PICTURE
10:09 - Cool picture of Charlie Daniels warming up backstage during Act 1.
10:07 - Jim Lauderdale & The Roys playing “Why Baby Why” on stage right now. SEE PICTURE
10:03 - Jamey Johnson. Megadeth. George Jones. Rawk.
10:01 - Cool Picture of Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert from earlier. Working on getting a Megadeth / Johnson photo.
9:59 - Social network channels exploding with disbelief as Megadeth takes the George Jones tribute stage with Jamey Johnson. But remember, for better or worse, Dave Mustaine recently put out a “bluegrass” song.
9:53 - Travis Tritt delivers an “incredible” performance of “Closing Of The Door” to open the 2nd act. Brad Paisley on stage now playing “Corvette Song.” SEE PICTURE.
9:48 - According to George’s wife Nancy, he knew he would not make this tribute that was originally scheduled to be the final show of his final tour. “I said, ‘Why are you agreeing to everything?’ ” Nancy Jones remembers. “He said, ‘’Cause I’m not going to be here. I’m going to agree to anything they ask. Promise me you’ll make a tribute show out of it, and I’ll see it from heaven.’ ”
9:44 - The emcee for Act 2 has changed from Ralph Emery to Keith Bilbrey, the weatherman on the Ralph Emery show for 21 years.
9:39 - As you can see from the list below, we missed bluegrass group Dailey & Vincent playing with Baillie & The Boys. But unlike the list, we remembered the additional ‘I’ in Baillie. Megadeth with Jamey Johnson should be quite entertaining.
9:35 - From The Tennessean: “Wow what a show,” Ralph Emery says. “Back stage we’ve got a movie star and we’ve got a former governor, and we have all kinds of entertainment here as we salute George Jones.”
9:28 - Well look what I found. Apparently Act 2 is about to commence. From Little Rebellion’s Music Photos on Facebook.
9:21 - Apparently there is a short intermission going on right now, and more music is coming up in mere moments. Here is Little Jimmy Dickens sitting in the George Jones rocking chair from Country Weekly’s Twitter feed.
9:17 - It’s not much to look at, but you can hear the tribute in the background, and see the scene on lower broadway from the Tootsies Orchid Lounge Live webcam.
9:14 - Apparently Little Jimmy Dickens has made an appearance on stage to sit in the empty George Jones rocker. He’s about the only one who could pull off such shenanigans.
9:10 - Also part of the Tracy Lawrence, Suzy Bogguss, Colin Ray, T Graham Brown, and TG Sheppard group from earlier was Jett Williams. THey performed the songs “The Love in Your Eyes” and “Wine Colored Roses.”
9:05 - Craig Morgan plays the deep George Jones cut “Finally Friday,” and then hops off the stage to hug Nancy Jones afterwards.
9:02 - Josh Turner now on stage singing “One Woman Man.” Picture of Blake Shelton & Miranda Lambert.
8:59 - Power couple Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton now on stage singing “These Days I Barely Get By.”
8:55 - People watching the tribute show outside of the Bridgestone Arena. It is also being broadcast at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge down the street.
8:54 - Our second group of the night is now on the stage, made up of Tracy Lawrence, Suzy Bogguss, Colin Ray, T Graham Brown, and TG Sheppard.
8:52 - There are also emcees as part of the event that are working in shifts. The first was Larry Black. Right now it is Ralph Emery.
8:46 - Gatlin sang “Good Year For Roses.”
8:45 - Larry Gatlin on stage now!
8:41 - Dierks Bentley singing “Always Get Lucky With You.” Now the Oak Ridge Boys are on stage singing “Same Ole Me.”
8:38 - There is a lot of buzz about Eric Church’s cover of “Choices” as well. Dierks Bentley on stage now.
8:37 - More on the Sam Moore rendition of “The Blues Man” from The Tennessean: “The crowd clearly connected with this performance, throwing up cheers mid-performance. It is easily the most emotion-filled of the night so far.”
Sam Moore received a standing ovation.
8:35 - Well we know there will be video for this for the future, because they are broadcasting the event outside of the Bridgestone Arena on big screens, and Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge right done the street is also broadcasting it.
8:32 - Tommy Shaw of Styx is now on stage performing “She Thinks I Still Care.”
8:28 - Eric Church on stage now playing “Choices.” Here is Kathy Mattea performing “I’m A Long Gone Daddy.”
8:25 - Kathy Mattea played “I’m A Long Gone Daddy.” Up on stage right now is Clay Walker playing “Things Have Gone To Pieces.” For those of you counting, that is the 13th performance tonight in under and hour!
8:21 - Kathy Mattea on stage now!
8:18 - Sam Moore is on stage right now singing “Blues Man,” and from the web chatter from the stadium, it is a stirring, heartfelt performance, one of the best of the night so far. SEE PICTURE
8:15 - The Kentucky Headhunters keeping it classy and playing “High Tech Redneck.”
8:12 - Baillie and the Boys on stage right now singing “I’m Ragged But I’m Right.”
8:10 - For those of you wondering who all was in the “Ladies of Country Music,” it was Leona Williams, Emmylou Harris, Jan Howard, Jeanne Pruett, Janie Fricke, and Jeannie Seely. They sang “I Am What I Am,” “Tender Years,” and “I’m Not Ready Yet.”
8:07 - With 112 performers and how quickly they are going to have to run through them, I hope there is time to make each performance count. It’s great to see so many legendary faces, but nothing beats that one special moment music can bring to a tribute. And someone better be recording.
8:03 - Charlie Daniels playing “Me & Jesus.”
8:02 - Lee Ann Womack just played “Once You Had The Best,” and Charlie Daniels is now on stage!
7:57 - Big & Rich opened with “Love Bug.” Garth and Trisha sang “Take Me,” and the Ladies of Country sang “If My Heart Had Windows.”
7:54 - On stage moments ago “The Ladies of Country Music” with Emmylou Harris singing.
7:51 – Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood on Stage. SEE PICTURE
7:48 - So it’s not looking good for even an audio feed of tonight’s event folks! We’ll do our best to try and make you feel a part of it nonetheless!
7:46 - Big & Rich were the opening act for the tribute, and now Kid Rock is singing “White Lightning.”
7:44 - George Jones’ rocking chair on stage:
7:40 - Nancy Jones in her seat, ready to take in in the tribute.
7:38 - Word is Megadeth. Yes, Megadeth is on site and will be performing tonight.
7:32 - Folks, on the WSM website, it says they are broadcasting the NO Show tribute, but right now I’m listening to the Friday night Opry. We’ll keep monitoring and see if we can at least find an audio feed.
7:30 - They have George Jones’ rocking chair set up on stage so he can be there in spirit for this historic concert. SEE PICTURE
7:29 - Here is what the inside of Bridgestone Arena looks like for the tribute. SEE PICTURE
7:28 – Folks filing into the Bridgestone Arena. Photo by Colby Peel on Twitter.
7:24 - The fact that tonight’s show is not being televised has been a source of much talk. It is not out of the question that it will be televised in the future, and certainly camera will be there. George’s widow Nancy Jones has said she wishes that every George Jones fan could participate. The event was sold out months ago, and was originally supposed to be a part of George’s final tour. They have set up screens outside of the Bridgestone Arena so fans can watch along. They also made an additional 500 tickets available at the box office last minute.
7:20 - The list of performers has swelled to 112 at last count, including some “surprises”. Here is the latest list we can tally:
Alabama, Alan Jackson, Baillie & the Boys, Big & Rich, Bill Anderson, Blake Shelton, Bobby Bare, Brad Paisley, Brenda Lee, Chad Warrix (Halfway to Hazzard), Charlie Daniels, Collin Raye, Craig Morgan, Dailey & Vincent, Daryle Singletary, Dierks Bentley, Eddy Raven, Emmylou Harris, Eric Church, Eric Lee Beddingfield, Gary Morris, George Strait, Greg Bates, Gretchen Wilson, Jamey Johnson, Janie Fricke, Jeanne Pruett, Jeannie Seely, Jessi Colter, Jett Williams, Jim Ed Brown, Jim Lauderdale, Jimmy C. Newman, Jimmy Wayne, John Conlee, John Michael Montgomery, Josh Turner, Kathy Mattea, Kentucky Headhunters, Kid Rock, Larry Gatlin, Lee Ann Womack, Lee Greenwood, Leona Williams, Lisa Matassa, Little Jimmy Dickens, Lorrie Morgan, Lynn Anderson, Mandy Barnett, Mark Collie, Martina McBride, Megadeth, Miranda Lambert, Montgomery Gentry, The Oak Ridge Boys, Pam Tillis, Patty Loveless, Ray Stevens, Reba McEntire, Rodney Atkins, Ronnie McDowell, The Roys, Sam Moore, Shooter Jennings, Stonewall Jackson, Suzy Bogguss, T. Graham Brown, Tanya Tucker, Teea Goans, TG Sheppard, Thompson Square, Tracy Lawrence, Travis Tritt, and Vince Gill.
A monument dedicated to country music legend George Jones was unveiled today (11-18-13) in Nashville at the Woodlawn Roesch-Patton Funeral Home and Memorial Park at 660 Thompson Lane in the Berry Hill portion of southern Nashville. The event was open to the public, and also included a special presentation by George Jones’ widow Nancy Jones announcing the establishment of a scholarship fund for Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) on behalf of George. George Jones died on April 26th, 2013.
The monument features a tall arch made in the likeness of a guitar fretboard that reads “Jones” at the very top, with a large mantle across the face of the monument that reads “He Stopped Loving Her Today” in tribute to one of Jones’ signature songs. On the left of the monument is an image and eulogy to George Jones, while the right of the monument is reserved for his wife Nancy. In the center is a guitar with a placard with George’s most-famous nickname, “The Possum.”
The monument was first announced in June to honor George Jones’ “life and contributions to country music.” Initially there was a plaque in the place where the new monument sits with an artistic rendering of the monument and the note, “Thank you for all your love and support shown to George and to me. God bless, Nancy.”
The unveiling comes days before a star-studded tribute to George Jones that is set to transpire on Nov. 22nd in Nashville at the Bridgestone Arena called “Playing Possum, The Final No Show” with over 70+ performers scheduled to appear.
Photo is from Chris Cannon of NBC 5 in Nashville.
It has been just over six months since we lost one of country music’s most singular and influential voices in George Jones, and though nothing will ever fill the void left in the heart of country music by the George Jones passing, our memories of his music just got a little easier to recall and share.
Reserve Records, an imprint of Secret Stash Records, has just reissued one of the most timeless and treasured pieces of country music history on vinyl: George Jones’ very first LP from Starday Records. The album has never been reissued in its entirety until now, making original copies of the album one of the most collectible records in history. 14 songs capturing George Jones in his most pure form come to life on this treasured new release that is also accompanied by a 45 of “Thumper Jones,” which was George Jones’ early rockabilly alter ego.
Starday Records was located in Beaumont, TX, and its name was taken from the two last names of its primary proprietors, Jack Starnes and Pappy Daily. Pappy was George’s first producer and mentor, and they originally cut records in Jack Sterns’ living room. George Jones had his first big hit with “Why Baby Why” in 1955, and wanting to capitalize off the interest, Starday issued George’s first LP in early 1957, which incidentally was Starday’s first record that wasn’t a single. “Thumper Jones” came about when Jones tried the rockabilly route in response to the popularity of Elvis Presley in 1956. Jones subsequently went on to become one of the biggest names in the history of country music, but it all started with Starday.
In conjunction with this vinyl reissue, and the historic tribute “Playing Possum, The Final No Show” set to transpire on Nov. 22nd at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena with 70+ performers, Saving Country music is giving away a set of the George Jones first album reissue and “Thumper Jones” single. All you have to do to enter is to leave your favorite George Jones song in a comment below. “But I can’t pick just ONE George Jones song!” That’s okay, list all your favorites! Just make sure to leave your real email address when prompted by the comment forum so we can contact you if you’re the winner. The winner will be announced on Nov. 22nd when the George Jones Tribute transpires.
And if you can’t wait to partake in all of this classic country goodness, you can order yourself up a copy right now!
Yes, it was still 2013, and it was still a modern country music awards show, and so traditional and independent-minded country music fans still had plenty to look sideways at if they were brave enough to watch. But that doesn’t mean that the 47th Annual Country Music Association Awards wasn’t a retrenching of the roots and substance in the genre’s most important institution, and a sign of hope for country fans who’ve simply been asking for years for balance to be reinstated into the mainstream country format.
Luke Bryan, who was the big winner at the ACM Awards in April, was completely shut out. So was Jason Aldean. Florida Georgia Line wasn’t, but this was understandable because of the historic success of their song “Cruise,” but they were bested by Kacey Musgraves in the New Artist of the Year category. And in the end, George Strait, King George, bested everyone by taking home the most coveted trophy in country music, the CMA for Entertainer of the Year.
Was it a parting gift for Strait after announcing his final tour? Of course it was. But it doesn’t mean it wasn’t deserved, and it doesn’t mean it isn’t sweet, both for George, and for traditional country fans, even the ones who may not mark themselves as big George Strait supporters. Strait’s win marks the first time in a decade a true country artist has won the trophy. Alan Jackson, George Strait’s duet partner for “He Stopped Loving Her Today” during a stirring George Jones tribute, was arguably the last traditional-leaning artist to win the award in 2003.
Which leads us to the performances of the 47th Annual CMA Awards. Along with the somewhat abridged, but heartfelt George Jones tribute, there was a tribute to Kenny Rogers, who was presented with this year’s Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award—an award that was founded last year. Lo and behold, a steel guitar made an appearance early in the presentation during Kacey Musgraves’ set, despite the disappointment of the lyric “roll up a joint” in her song “Follow Your Arrow” being censored out. Taylor Swift of all people, offered a stripped down acoustic set that featured Vince Gill, bluegrass maestro Sam Bush, Alison Krauss, and not just as backing musicians. Both Gill and Krauss took turns on verses, no doubt stimulating not a few younger fans to take to Google to figure out who these artists were, facilitating that important initial spark of discovery.
Even Luke Bryan, whose performance of “Country Girl (Shake It For Me) on the 2011 CMA Awards seemed like the pinnacle of indecency for a country awards show at the time, offered a somewhat stripped down, heartfelt performance that featured songwriter Chris Stapleton. In fact, there wasn’t really any performances that seemed gratuitously over-the-top. Apparently there was a moratorium on choreographed backup dancers for the 2013 CMA’s, and about the only pyrotechnics aside from Eric Church’s over-the-top performance of “The Outsiders” were some sparks streaming from beneath the wheels of a simulated boxcar during Jason Aldean’s song “Night Train.” Even the cross-genre moment was when the well-beloved Dave Grohl joined the Zac Brown Band on drums—a stark contrast from the rappers and Kid Rock’s of the world that have somehow become regular fixtures of country award shows recently.
What does this all mean? For one, it means there is a reason to be positive. Whether it is because of the collective crying out about the disenfranchising of country music’s traditional and independent fans through events like Blake Shelton labeling them “Old Farts and Jackasses,” or whether it is the tangible demographic data that shows that country fans as a whole want more traditional country in the country format, someone, somewhere is listening, and some of the change fans have been clamoring for in recent years is finally being enacted.
All that has been asked for is balance—a place at the table for alternatives to pop country—and though the ratio may still be somewhat out-of-whack, some balance was reinstated during the 2013 CMA Awards. If there was another winner during the event beyond the award winners, it might be CMA producer Robert Deaton. Deaton told the Tennessean on Nov. 1st, ““I think the biggest thing I want to strive for is balance. I’m talking about balance of who we are as a music and a genre because we are a lot of different things, you want to be current but you also want to pay tribute to the shoulders that we stand on.” And Robert Deaton backed up those words in the presentation. As much as the censoring of Kacey Musgraves may be a black eye of the 2013 CMA’s, it was done to make sure families and traditional viewers were not offended.
Furthermore, the proof that balance works is in the ratings pudding. The ratings for the CMA Awards was up by 21 percent over last year’s telecast in viewers and 24 percent in the key demographic. The growth was particularly big among young males, with ABC touting a nine-year high among men 18-34.
In September, Saving Country Music published 12 Reasons To Be Positive About Country Music in 2013, and the 47th CMA Awards was yet another one to add to the list. However slowly, however incrementally, and however offset by the continuing lows of some of country music’s mainstream males, things are changing. It had been years since true country fans felt a reason to stand up and cheer and had a reason to feel represented at the CMA Awards. But the 47th installment offered a few of them, and one very big one.
Oh the irony that the man whose name is on the tip of many people’s tongues as the one who brought country music to its knees and made it more about money than music, could also be the man in the best position to ultimately help save it.
Yes ladies and gentlemen, I’m talking about Garth Brooks.
Over the past few weeks and months, Garth has been dropping hints to fans that the future will hold some big announcements, and big events. Last week he released the cryptic message, “The sevens have aligned. It has begun… Thank you for believing… love, g.” He also announced recently that he will be ending his Las Vegas residence, and that his last show on November 29th will be televised on CBS. Rumors and conjecture are swirling, but so far there has been little information that is either concrete or confirmed about Garth’s future.
In truth there’s a lot less mystery here than some would like you to believe. What’s going to happen is that here very soon, either on his November 29th TV special or shortly before or after, Garth will announce a new album, and plans for a subsequent arena/stadium tour in support, and it will all transpire in 2014. As much as Garth may want to get everybody buzzing with speculation and anticipation, this is exactly what he said he was going to do when he quote “retired” from country music in 2000. He said then that he wanted to take more time to be with his family, and that once his kiddos were done with school, he’d ponder a return. And lo and behold, his youngest daughter Allie is now 17, and scheduled to graduate High School this year. So yes, 7′s are aligning, or whatever.
This is 2013, and everything surrounding the name “Garth Brooks” has changed. If you’re taking to some social network channel to beam, “Hey you know what? With the crap that’s out there today in country music, Garth Brooks doesn’t even sound half that bad,” then you are already a couple of years behind the relevant opinion curve. Whatever Waylon Jennings said or didn’t say about Garth, pantyhose, and a certain element of foreplay that Garth was the equivalent to, it’s all virtually irrelevant at this point. The simple fact is Garth Brooks, despite a nearly 15-year absence from the full-time music hustle, is as poised as any to make major waves in the country music world, and to do so his way.
In many ways the 7′s have aligned for Garth, and not just because of the particulars of his personal life. Last year George Strait announced he would end full-time touring, and he’s making his final rounds on the arena/stadium circuit as we speak. Both Alan Jackson and Vince Gill have recently accepted their fate that they’re no longer top tier concert draws, and have gone in a more rootsy direction and taken their places as country music legacy acts. Even Kenny Chesney said recently he’s going to take a break from touring. All of this leaves a massive void in the country music touring realm for a big-drawing, well-established artist.
But just what shape will Garth’s triumphant return take? That is really the only question left to answer. We really don’t have much intel or insight into this subject this early in his phase of returning, but what I do feel confident in going on the record as saying is that I don’t see Garth getting involved in either the country rap or laundry list lyric craze, or any other current pop country trend. As much as Garth’s detractors hate to admit it, one of the reasons he retired, and one of the reasons his regrettable Chris Gains era reared its ugly head is because Garth was bored, and didn’t want to chase trends. Garth wanted to make his own trends, and his own music. Whatever Garth does, it will be true to Garth.
And Garth also won’t do anything unless he knows it’s going to be successful, both with its reception and its financial reward. He’s already voiced concerns about how the digital age will effect his ability to release music. If/when he does release music and go on tour, he will have all bets hedged, and it will be huge.
And even if Garth gets out on stage and acts like a jukebox of his Greatest Hits with some new material mixed in, this will offer such a stark contrast to country music’s current flavors, it will immediately constitute a positive counter-balance, swinging the scales in whatever degree back to the true sound of country music. Look at what Garth has been doing at his Vegas shows. He’s been stripping them back, just him and his acoustic guitar, playing songs from Merle Haggard and George Jones. I don’t expect to see this specifically from his reboot, but I do expect it to be traditional and substantive in nature compared to the current country mainstream. Garth isn’t going to be able to fool anyone. He can’t fit in Luke Bryan’s skinny jeans. He’s going to get out there and be Garth, and by the sheer draw of a man who’s bested only by Elvis in album sales in music history will create a dramatic amount of interest, and assert a tremendous amount of influence.
Country music in the second half of 2013 is going through some of the most historic changes the format has ever seen, with hip-hop influenced songs, albums, and artists dominating the charts, female artists being excluded like never before, and a litany of songs with laundry list lyrics or that are purposely written to be stupid garnering the lion’s share of attention. The ever-present erosion of what the term “country” defines has never been greater, and the charge of preserving the roots of country music has never been more dire.
As a symptom of all the change and upheaval, big-time artists are speaking out about the direction of country music like never before. We’re not talking about the usual suspects of country criticism like Dale Watson and friends, we’re talking about artists at the very top of the mainstream country food chain. Over the last three months, an average of 3 artists per month have spoken out about the direction of country—an overwhelming number when you consider these bouts of outspokeness would usually happen only a few times a year. And there’s no reason to believe this trend won’t continue.
So below we have aggregated a timeline of some of the music world’s top artists speaking out against the direction of country. In all likelihood, this timeline will continue to grow.
Speaking to American Songwriter, Kacey Musgraves said:
“My voice is undeniably country, and I love country. Do I love what it’s turned into? No, not all the way. It’s a little embarrassing when people outside of the genre ask what I sing and I say country. You automatically get a negative response, a cheese factor. My favorite compliment ever is when someone says, ‘I hate country music but I love your music.’”
During an in interview with Rolling Stone, Tom Petty said:
“Well, yeah I mean, I hate to generalize on a whole genre of music, but it does seem to be missing that magic element that it used to have. I’m sure there are people playing country that are doing it well, but they’re just not getting the attention that the shittier stuff gets. But that’s the way it always is, isn’t it?
But I hope that kind of swings around back to where it should be. But I don’t really see a George Jones or a Buck Owens or any anything that fresh coming up. I’m sure there must be somebody doing it, but most of that music reminds me of rock in the middle Eighties where it became incredibly generic and relied on videos. I don’t want to rail on about country because I don’t really know much about it, but that’s what it seems like to me.”
When asked by GQ what music trend needed to die out immediately, Kacey Musgraves said:
“Anyone singing about trucks, in any form, in any song, anywhere. Literally just stop – nobody cares! It’s not fun to listen to. I thought dubstep was cool for two seconds - but that can go away now too. It sounds like a malfunction of some kind.”
Kacey also said when asked what the best-dressed men in Nashville are wearing these days, “Nothing by Affliction. Just burn the warehouse down. It’s just douchey and really gaudy.”
While speaking with Reuters, Sheryl Crow, who just made a move to the country format and released a country album called Feels Like Home, said about her country move:
“The country format is more pop than pop was when I came up two decades ago,”
In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, Alan Jackson said:
“Right now, it seems like it’s gone. It’s not that I’m against all that’s out there. There’s some good music, good songwriting and good artists out there, but there’s really no country stuff left. It’s always been that constant pop-country battle. I don’t think it’s ever going to change. What makes me sad today is that I think the real country, real roots-y traditional stuff, may be gone. I don’t know if it’ll ever be back on mainstream radio. You can’t get it played anymore.”
During an interview with Larry King, Gary Allan was asked if Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood were country, and he said:
“You know, I would say no. I would say they’re pop artists making a living in the country genre. I also feel like we lost our genre. I don’t feel like I make music for a genre anymore, and I did, you know, 15 years ago. But I think since the Clear Channel’s and the Cumulus’s and the big companies bought up all the chains, now it’s about a demographic. You know, so they’ve kind of sliced everything up, feeding it to the public in demographics.
“Like if you want to get to the young kids, you put it on the alternative station. We’ve sort of ended up in this…we’re nicknamed the soccer mom, like 35 to 45 year-old woman I think is what our demographic is. So it’s very different. You used to be able to turn on the radio and you knew instantly it was the country station just by listening to it, and now you’ve got to leave it there for a second to figure it out…. To me, country music is still Monday through Friday, and pop’s about what happens on the weekends.”
Gary Allan later clarified his statements, saying his words were taken out of context, and that he appreciated country radio and everything it had done for his career.
When speaking to Barbara Beam of 93.7 JR FM in Vancouver, Canada, Zac Brown said:
“I love Luke Bryan and he’s had some great songs, but this new song is the worst song I’ve ever heard. I know Luke, he’s a friend. ‘My Kind Of Night’ is one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard. I see it being commercially successful, in what is called country music these days, but I also feel like that the people deserve something better than that. Country fans and country listeners deserve to have something better than that, a song that really has something to say, something that makes you feel something. Good music makes you feel something. When songs make me wanna throw up, it makes me ashamed to even be in the same genre as those songs.
“If I hear one more tailgate in the moonlight, daisy duke song, I’m gonna throw up. There’s songs out there on the radio right now that make me be ashamed to be even in the same format as some other artists. You can look and see some of the same songwriters on every one of the songs. There’s been like 10 number one songs in the last two or three years that were written by the same people and it’s the exact same words, just arranged different ways.”
When speaking to “The Barnyard Show” on 92.5 in Connecticut about why there is so few women on the country music charts, Sheryl Crow said:
“I do think that in the last ten, fifteen years art has gone the way of commerce. Whenever there’s money involved, then you figure out what’s going to bring in sponsors, and what’s going to resonate with people and what’s going to sell records….I’d love to see that change.”
When talking to Rolling Stone about his new album, Jake Owen said:
“We need more songs than just songs about tailgates and fuckin’ cups and Bacardi and stuff like that. We need songs that get ourselves back to the format that made me love it . . . [like] when guys like Randy Travis released songs like ‘He Walked on Water’ – songs that meant something, man!”
When speaking to Country Weekly about country rap, Toby Keith said:
“You hear the hip-hop thing start kicking in, and you start going, ‘Is that what we gotta do now to have a hit?’ I don’t know how to do that. Is that what I need every one of my songs to sound like now?…You start playing [deep songs] to a twenty-something audience, and it’s like, ‘Naw, man, there ain’t no mud on that tire. That ain’t about a Budweiser can. That ain’t about a chicken dancing out by the river. That ain’t about smoking a joint by the haystack. That’s about somebody dying and sh-t.’”
Gone are the days of the legendary duet pairings in country music like George and Tammy, Loretta and Conway, right? Well they may not boast beehive doos or lamb chops, or grace the stage of the CMA Awards or come beaming into your home or buggy via the miracle of Clear Channel radio, but the Austin country scene’s power couple of Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay have revitalized the country duet concept album in a smart, brilliant, hilarious, and sweet offering called Before The World Was Made.
You’ll be sorely disappointed if you’re in the mood for sappy sonnets serenading the human love quotient. This is a love album for lovers who hate each other, and love each other all the same. It’s not that sentimentality doesn’t show its face here, but just like the real world, Before The World Was Made is not afraid to delve into the turbulence of love, to tickle the funny bone, and to tell it like it is.
This album is the perfect soundtrack to an “it’s complicated” relationship status, with ingenious songs like “Breaking Up Is Easy,” “Breaking Up and Making Up Again,” “Be My Ball and Chain,” and “Let’s Don’t Get Married.” Yes, it sounds like a gloomy outlook, but underlying every song of this “on again, off again” album is a sweet love story that you can’t help believing mirrors Brennen Leigh’s and Noel McKay’s real-life narrative.
You can relate to their silly little squabbles and how they plot to resolve them with a positive ending. The way these songs work is both classic and fresh. Even walking in to Before The World Was Made with a deep appreciation for the songwriting chops of both parties, you are still perplexed at how Brennen and Noel wrote this entire album themselves, simply from the strength and the “instant classic” caliber of these songs.
Even the more straightforward love songs like “The Only Person In The Room” and “Salty Kisses In The Sand” are so fresh and clever, they fit right in to the cunning style of this record. “Let’s Go To Lubbock on Vacation” is downright side-splitting (sorry Lubbock readers), while still at its core being a nectarous little love story.
Before The World Was Made doesn’t let up for one moment, and it’s not just all about the words. The album is bolstered by tasteful, classic country arrangements, edified by producer extraordinaire Gurf Morlix. This is a neo-traditional country album at its heart, and the music offers tasty accompaniment to these high-caliber compositions.
Can’t say enough about Brennen, Noel, and Before The World Was Made. They may not be willing to commit to each other, but the music they make together is definitely a keeper.
Two guns up.
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Listen to album below.
On August 15th, the plans for the upcoming Outlaw Country Music Hall of Fame and an accompanying Outlaw Music Association were made public. 5,000 sq. ft. of space has been allocated for the new Hall of Fame in Lynchburg, TN, and a Board of Directors has been formed that includes Jeremy Tepper of SiriusXM, Terry Jennings of Korban Music Group, author of Outlaws Still At Large Neil Hamilton, Joe Swank at Bloodshot Records, mayor of Lynchburg Sloane Stewart, Professor of Entertainment Law David Spangenburg, architect Thomas Bartoo, and CEO of Sol Records Brian DeBruler.
The announcement stimulated a lot of speculation about what direction the upcoming Hall of Fame would take, but not many serious answers. So Saving Country Music reached out to Gary “Sarge” Sargeant, the spearhead of the Outlaw Country Hall of Fame, to try and clear up many questions about what folks can expect from the upcoming institution.
Sarge is also putting on a charity event coming up October 25-27 for Troy Rector who suffered a debilitating medical accident. The event will be at Chopper Hill in Altamont, TN (More information). The inaugural class of inductees to the Outlaw Hall of Fame will be announced during the event.
You can listen to the entire interview below. For those who prefer a written form, the meat of the interview is transcribed below as well.
Gary Sargeant: I’m a lifelong fan, 55 years old, of Outlaw music, independent artists and labels, and just firmly believe in people who stay true to themselves and their music, and don’t compromise. It all started at a David Allan Coe benefit that I attended back in June. He was in an accident and wasn’t able to tour. I was kind of upset that David Allan Coe required a benefit. That at 73, he had to tour just to pay his bills because back in the day, things happened and he doesn’t own his catalog. And I was trying to think of a way we could support legends, and recognize people like David, or any number of people that have contributed so much to this music, and have never compromised. I wanted to make sure we had a place to recognize those folks who will never get recognized by anybody else, and then also be able to support today’s Outlaws—the Pete Berwick’s, the Gurf Morlix’s. Its time has come, and we’re going to do this.
When you announced the Outlaw Country Music Hall of Fame, you included a Board of Directors. Why have a Board of Directors?
Well, again it goes back to me being just a fan. I’m a fan with an idea. But I knew if we were going to do this and be taken seriously, and if it was going to be successful, I needed to put together a group of industry professionals.
The term “Outlaw” has already been taken by Music Row and used for marketing purposes. It’s safe to say that there’s music consumers out there that think Outlaw means Justin Moore, Eric Church, and others. How do you distinguish yourself from Music Row’s version of Outlaws when Music Row’s reach is so vast?
Nashville can tell somebody to dress in black jeans, grow a five day stubble, put on these boots, act all bad boy. That doesn’t make you Outlaw. Outlaw to me is not a genre of music. Outlaw is an attitude. Outlaw is a refusal to compromise your music or your beliefs in order to make a dollar. It is traveling up and down the roads, thousands of miles a year, traveling 500 miles to play a $150 show. True Outlaws are doing it for the love of the music only. I believe there’s going to be a lot of defections from Nashville music once the Outlaw Music Association and Hall of Fame are established and up and running. The definition of Outlaw should be made by those that are truly Outlaw, not some publicist sitting in an ivory tower in Nashville thinking that this will sell records.
Some may say the term Outlaw is outmoded because Nashville is taking it and using it with very prominent artists like Justin Moore—that the term doesn’t hold the same sway or meaning it once did. Are you saying that term needs to be fought for?
I’m saying it needs to be clearly defined. Of course Nashville is going to try and take anything successful and try to co-opt it. But them jumping on the bandwagon doesn’t make them independent artists. They’re playing to a formula. But the formula doesn’t work. Listen to the stuff coming out of Nashville.
How do you feel about Dale Watson’s Ameripolitan movement, and how does it fit in your plans for the Outlaw Music Association? Will there be overlap? Could there be potential conflict? Is it splitting the independent-minded or Outlaw populous of country music into two segments?
I wouldn’t think so. My hope would be that people going in that direction, because that’s very narrowly focused right now, I hope they would go, “Hold on a second, here’s something that has come along, that is exactly what we’re trying to do, but encompasses even more people, and hopefully is a very inviting and open Association.” Because I believe if we start putting restrictions on who is going to be in it, then we’re no better than the CMA or anybody else. Great music is great music, whether it be Texas Swing, or Southern rock country, or traditional country. If you’re an artist and you believe in what you’re doing, and you’re good at what you do, we’re going to give you all the support in the world, whether it be Dale Watson, or Shooter Jennings who can go off in different tangents and experiment with different music, or Hank3 who is so excellent. There’s so many artist out there that don’t have a place to call home, and that’s what the Outlaw Music Association is gonna be. It’s gonna be a place where independent labels and artists can receive support, promotion, and have a place they can call home and feel welcomed for who they are instead of something somebody else wants them to be.
We’ve seen in the past, for example with Shooter Jennings’ “XXX” movement and Dale Watson’s Ameripolitan movement, there’s been a lot of conflict and dissension with these attempts to unify the music behind a common purpose. I think that may be what is at the root of some fear and concern of what the Outlaw Music Association and Outlaw Country Music Hall of Fame will become. There’s a history of trying to find a uniting element apart from the CMA in the history of country music. Back in the 70′s there was “ACE” that was set up after Olivia Newton-John and John Denver had won CMA Awards. Traditional country artists met at the house of George Jones and Tammy Wynette and tried to form a new thing. The Academy of Country Music was set up because West Coast entertainers felt like the CMA was bias against California country artists. ACE never really took off, and the ACM just became a doppelganger of the CMA….
…and you forgot to mention the AMA, the Americana Music Association.
Sure, which I personally have said in the past is very narrow in focus, even though a lot of the artists they help promote are great artists.
I couldn’t agree with you more. To me, there is an extreme hunger and thirst out there to have an alternative to what’s being pushed down everybody’s throats by Nashville, the record labels, and the conglomerate of radio stations that are out there. Our focus is not narrow. I don’t care if it’s Dale Watson, or Hellbound Glory, or Jamey Johnson, it doesn’t matter. There’s a whole group of artists out there that deserve to be supported. We are not going to impose conditions. If you’re talented, and your music speaks for itself, and your music speaks to fans, our goal is to make sure that we support you. We’re not guaranteeing success for anybody. But we’re not going to say, “You’re not worthy.” Everybody’s worthy if they’re a musician, and they work hard, they write their own music and stay true to it, and they have some fans and are successful, we’re going to make sure they have an opportunity to be even more successful. We are a non-profit. Our proceeds go to supporting the legends, and also supporting the independent artists of today.
The narrowing of perspective seems to be a really big challenge of independent music right now, whether it is with the Americana Music Association, or just these little scenes that have popped up in independent music. How do you insulate yourself from that trend?
Technology is changing by leaps and bounds every month, let alone every year. The money to be made in today’s world is through touring…touring and merchandise. So we are going to support tours. As a non-profit—it’s kind of being dubbed the Outlaw iTunes—where independent artists can upload their music, and we will turn around and allow it to be downloaded for 99 cents a download, and we give all of it back to the artists while not taking 63 cents. We will be asking for a small donation that will go back to the legends. Technology is changing so quickly, and we have some very good people who are up to speed on today’s technology and the future of music distribution. Those are the areas we want to educate independent artists and labels on, and assist them in giving them an outlet to distribute their music, and use the Hall of Fame to support tours, and get [artists] out in front of the people. Are we going to be the savior? Hell no. But are we going to do everything that we can to help these folks who are working so hard and believe in what they’re doing? Yes, we’re going to do everything we can. Is it guaranteeing success? No. Is it guaranteeing effort? Yes.
There’s a lot of people out there touring and writing their own songs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that their music is valuable enough to be heard by the masses. What’s to keep people who may not embody the Outlaw spirit from just becoming part of this if there’s no governor to keep anybody and everybody from applying?
The fans of Outlaw music are by far the most discerning fans in the world. Otherwise, these artists wouldn’t have any success. An artist will make it if his fans want him to make it. The fans are going to decide if you make it or not, not the Association.
The assertion about Music Row is that they choose who is going to be the stars, and then they push that to the fans. What you’re saying with the Outlaw Music Association is the fans would choose the stars, and the OMA just gives them the platform and the support so that the fans can make that choice.
Eloquently put. And shouldn’t that be the way it is? Shouldn’t the fans be able to say what they like and don’t like? They shouldn’t be told what’s good and not good. With the focus being so narrow and money dictating who is going to be the next star, we’re all robbed. The fans are robbed, the artists are robbed, everybody is robbed of the next potential star. It’s not my job to decide who is good and who’s not good.
Tompall Glaser recently passed away. Right after he died, I posted a quote that came from him back in the 70′s that goes, “Damn it, the fight isn’t in Austin and it isn’t in Los Angeles. It’s right here in Nashville, right here two blocks from Music Row, and if we win–and if our winning is ever going to amount to anything in the long run–we’ve got to beat them on their own turf.” And I’ve heard some similar criticisms about Dale Watson’s Ameripolitan genre where it seems like, “Okay, were going to give up on Nashville and country music, and we’re just going to call it what we want to call it.” What would be your rebuttal to that as far as setting up something that’s apart from Nashville and Music Row?
Lynchburg, TN is not but 55 miles south of Nashville. It’s close enough to pull resources from the Nashville area, but still far enough away and separated enough to say, “Hey, this is separate. This is an alternative.” The people, the demographics that are visiting Lynchburg on a daily basis are the same people that are going to visit our Hall of Fame. It’s all about inclusion. This country is based on freedom, and I believe artists ought to have the freedom to practice their music the way they want without the almighty dollar driving their product.
In closing, I would just like to say to all the fans of Outlaw country music, thank you, and if you really want to make a difference, you have an opportunity. But you have to express your voice. You can’t just sit in your truck or in your house and say, “This sucks,” and expect it to change. If you want change, this is your opportunity. This is a grass roots movement. This is your Hall of Fame. This is your Association. If you want to support artists that made the music what it is today, and those that are continuing in that same vein, support the Hall of Fame, support the Association. Let your artists know that you support us, that you support them by supporting us. This is only going to work if the average fan stands up and says, “I’ve had enough. I want a hand in what I listen to.”
These were the words spoken by reigning Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year Blake Shelton as part of his broader, now notorious “old farts and jackasses” spiel first spoken on a GAC special, and then later published by Saving Country Music in late January of 2013, sparking off a public uproar.
Well George Jones may haves something to say about that, even though he’s been deceased for nearly 4 months.
George’s 16 Biggest Hits album was certified platinum yesterday, meaning it has now sold 1 million copies according to the RIAA. This comes 15 years after the album was initially released, and 11 years after the album was first certified gold for selling 500,000 copies.
Right after George Jones passed away, sales of his music skyrocketed, and have stayed curiously strong since. 16 Biggest Hits re-entered the Billboard 200 Albums chart at #42 the week after George’s death, and six other George Jones albums also re-emerged on Billboard’s “Hot Country Albums” list.
But as much as George Jone’s death was to blame for the spike in sales, so was George Jones’s older fans who are one of the last bastions of CD-buying consumers. Most younger music consumers, i.e. Blake Shelton fans, stream their music, or download individual songs—a practice that means much less revenue for both labels and artists.
As was asserted when first publishing Blake Shelton’s “old farts and jackasses” comments, Music Row is ignoring one of the last segments of the American market that actually buys physical music, and one that makes up one of the largest segments of consumers. Announced last month, music sales are at historic lows, while a recent analysis by country DJ Charlie Cook shows that country radio continues to ignore older consumers more and more as time goes on.
But George Jones’s postmortem sales success was not all due to older country music consumers.
As big as the success of George’s 16 Biggest Hits has been, one of his signature songs, “He Stopped Loving Her Today” enjoyed an even greater resurgence, re-entering Billboard’s Hot 100 Country Songs chart at #21 the week after George’s death—33 years after the song was initially released. But how would this be possible if a majority of George Jones fans are technologically-illiterate elders? Nobody is selling 45′s of “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
It is because younger, technologically-savvy consumers were also participating in the George Jones revival, buying up 34,000 digital copies of “He Stopped Loving Her Today” the week after his death, and streaming it a whopping 783,000 times. So it wasn’t just old farts and jackasses, it was download-savvy Gen X’ers and Spotify-streaming millennials wanting to listen to George Jones.
Another album crafted by gray-haired guys and featuring old music—Vince Gill and Paul Franklin’s cover album Bakersfield—also had surprising success last week, coming in at #4 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart. So bereavement isn’t solely to blame for consumers buying up classic country music. When given a reason, and when given an album worth listening to, classic and traditional country fans of all ages are turning out to purchase music.
As the music industry continues to contract and deal with the dwindling revenue foisted on them by the emerging age of streaming music, they can’t afford to ignore any segment of the music buying public. Of course the younger demographic is always going to be the biggest driver in the music marketplace, and country music must evolve to stay relevant. But country also must offer choice, and balance if it expects to survive the expanding adversity the music industry faces.
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George Jones is set to release a posthumous Gospel album called George Jones- Amazing Grace on September 10th through Bandit Records.
If one sets out to make a documentary about the recently passed “Cowboy” Jack Clement, it certainly can’t be straightforward. As long-time Jack Clement friend Walter Forbes observes, “Cowboy gets the most nervous I think when a parade is going all in a straight line. He just can’t stand it…There’s got to be something he can do to change the rhythm and mess that sucker up.”
It was with that spirit that Shakespeare Was A Big George Jones Fan: Cowboy Jack Clement’s Home Movies was made in 2005 to document Jack’s life, and the wild environment swirling around his legendary home studio, the “Cowboy Arms Hotel and Recording Spa.”
Like any good documentary film does, even if you don’t care who Jack Clement is, you do by the end, and take away from it the important information about the accomplishments in Jack’s life. But since Jack Clement was there during so many important and historic events in the chronology of country music and early rock and roll, and because he claims to have spent over a million dollars making home movies, Shakespeare Was A Big George Jones Fan delivers you so much more; particularly an astounding array of archived footage capturing candid and important moments with some of country music’s biggest stars and most important people.
Some examples are Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner singing together for the first time in 20 years, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Townes Van Zandt all hanging out in the same room, and Johnny Cash having a smoke with the Father of Country Music, A.P Carter. And this is all interwoven with other archived and never-seen-before footage like moments from 2 never-released and never-finished Jack Clement TV specials (one with special guests Waylon Jennings and Jessi Coulter), or Charley Pride playing the Astrodome in Houston. And for a little extra character, there are little snippets of Jack Clement talking to a sketch of William Shakespeare (who among other attributes, has the voice of Johnny Cash), that give even more insight into Jack Clement’s creative mettle.
The celebrities appearing in the film in various contexts include but are not limited to:
- Johnny Cash
- Waylon Jennings
- Charley Pride
- Porter Wagoner
- Dolly Parton
- John Prine
- Kris Kristofferson
- George Jones
- Del McCoury
- Jim Lauderdale
- Jerry Lee Lewis
- Sam Phillips
- Marty Stuart
- June Carter
- Townes Van Zandt
- Jessi Coulter
But there’s really not one complete, uninterrupted musical performance in the entire hour-long movie. That’s not what this is about. And it’s not even about conveying all the big details of of Jack Clement’s life—his work with Sam Phillips at Sun Studios helping to launch the careers of Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash, or his launching of Charley Pride and John Prine, or his work with Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings. It is about capturing the spirit of the man—the whimsy that he approached the creative process with, and how it was his spirit that coaxed out some of the most memorable recordings in country music history from some of its most memorable performers.
And though this film was released 8 years ago, it still does a poignant job at the end touching on the mortality that surrounded “Cowboy” Jack in later years, all the way up to his own passing. All his best friends—Sam Phillips, Waylon Jennings, and especially Johnny Cash—had all passed away, leaving Jack behind as the last of the breed.
Directed and produced by Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville, Shakespeare Was A Big George Jones Fan is one of the most entertaining, informing, and well-made documentaries on country music you can find, and rose to the challenge of chronicling a character who future generations will unfortunately only be able to know through music and film.
Two guns way up!
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If it seems like Saving Country Music is running a story every other day about an artist speaking out on the state of country music, it is because we are, and it’s because they are more and more frequently as modern pop country strives to set a lower standard for itself seemingly every day.
Tom Petty is the latest, fielding a slow lob right over the plate in an interview from Rolling Stone reporter Patrick Doyle posted today, and hitting it out of the park. Following up on an anti modern country rant Petty delivered from the stage of the Beacon Theater in New York City, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer said in a story whose subtitle is “Singer also discusses songwriting and criticizes modern country music…”
Well, yeah I mean, I hate to generalize on a whole genre of music, but it does seem to be missing that magic element that it used to have. I’m sure there are people playing country that are doing it well, but they’re just not getting the attention that the shittier stuff gets. But that’s the way it always is, isn’t it?
But I hope that kind of swings around back to where it should be. But I don’t really see a George Jones or a Buck Owens or any anything that fresh coming up. I’m sure there must be somebody doing it, but most of that music reminds me of rock in the middle Eighties where it became incredibly generic and relied on videos. I don’t want to rail on about country because I don’t really know much about it, but that’s what it seems like to me.
Petty, whose music has always carried country influences despite being labeled as rock, spent a portion of his set at New York’s Beacon theater explaining his country roots after polishing off a version of The Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil.” Petty said the country music he listened to was “not like it is today, like bad rock with a fiddle.” Then Petty and The Heartbreakers played Conway Twitty’s “The Image of Me.” It is a song he plays somewhat regularly live, and is included on his Live Anthology Box Set.
Along with Florida Georgia Line blowing off Tom Petty’s comments on Twitter, country songwriter and performer Chris Stapleton has also chimed in, penning an open letter to Petty. Stapleton is the former lead singer for the SteelDrivers, and a #1 hit songwriter for artists like Kenny Chesney, George Strait, and Darius Rucker.
Dear Tom Petty,
I think it’s safe to say most modern country artists, including me, would list you as an influence. Your recent comments lead me to believe you see room for improvement in modern country music. I, for one, would like to see you put you money where your mouth is in a tangible way. So, in the interest of making Country music less “s–tty” (your words), I suggest a collaboration. I’m extending an open invitation to you to write songs with me, produce recordings on or with me, or otherwise participate in whatever way you see fit in my little corner of music. In the event that you actually read this and are interested, look me up.
Authenticity and dysfunction are regularly celebrated in country music, and what better way to celebrate that than to look back in time a some of the most notable mugshots and arrests of country music’s most notable stars.
Cash was arrested twice. The first was after a trip to Mexico when he tried to hide 1,163 Dexedrine and Equanil tablets in his guitar case while crossing the border near El Paso, TX in 1965. Since the drugs were prescription instead of illegal narcotics, Cash received a suspended sentence. He was arrested again in 1966 in Starkville, Miss. for … get this … picking flowers late at night. The property owner pressed trespassing charges, and Johnny spent time in the Starkville County Jail, resulting in the song of the same name.
Though Cash was famous for his concerts at Folsom Prison and San Quentin, he never served time in anything bigger than a city jail (the bottom mug was just for show).
The trouble started for Willie Nelson way back in 1960 when he was arrested for speeding in Pasadena, TX (near Houston). And then came the pot busts:
- 1974 – For possession in Dallas, TX.
- 1994 – For possession in Hewitt (near Waco) when Willie pulled his Mercedes off the side of the highway for a siesta and an officer found a joint in the ashtray and eventually a bag of marijuana. The judge ruled the evidence inadmissible and the charges were dropped.
- 2006 – For possession in St. Martin Parish, Louisiana for one-and-a-half pounds of marijuana and 3 oz. of hallucinogenic mushrooms. Willie, his sister Bobbi, and Willie’s manager were all arrested, eventually receiving 6 months probation.
- 2010 – For possession of 6 ounces of marijuana at the Sierra Blanca, Texas border checkpoint. Willie eventually only had to pay a fine.
Jerry Lee Lewis
In the dead of night in November of 1976, a drunken and armed Jerry Lee Lewis showed up to the gates of Graceland demanding to see his fellow Sun Studios alum Elvis right then and there. The guard rang Elvis who refused “The Killer’s” request, and then rang Memphis police when Lewis began waving a gun around.
Hank Williams Jr.
You may think because Hank Jr. was the last of his rowdy friends to settle down that at some point he would wind up in the pokey, but it turns out his mugshot was for a bunk charge from a 19-year-old in March of 2006 that said Jr. put her in a choke hold after she refused to kiss him. Jr. turned himself in, and after finding out the girl was looking to cash in big on the accusation and that there was no real evidence of the altercation, the charges were dropped.
In November of 2003, Glen Campbell was arrested at his home near Phoenix, AZ after hitting and running while drunk in his BMW. Then while Campbell was being processed, he kneed an officer in the leg, which added an aggravated assault of a police officer charge. Campbell pleaded down some of the counts, and eventually spent 10 days in jail.
Domestic abuse charges landed Rodney Atkins in front of the police camera in February of 2012, but the news about the charges didn’t come out until his wife filed for divorce a few weeks later. The news also came on the heels of Rodney re-signing with Curb Records. The charges were later dropped as part of the divorce settlement.
An indelible image of country music’s first superstar in this midst of his downfall in 1952, leaving the jailhouse in Alexander City, Alabama.
Billy Joe Shaver
Notable country music songwriter Billy Joe Shaver sits on the witness stand stemming from an altercation behind Papa Joe’s bar near Waco, TX in 2007 when Shaver shot a man non lethally in the face with a .22 pistol. The incident became a piece of country music lore when Dale Watson wrote a song titled “Where Do You Want It?” allegedly for the question Shaver asked his victim before he pulled the trigger. The high-profile trial incuded Willie Nelson showing up as a Shaver character witness, and eventually all charges were dropped against when it was ruled Shaver was acting in self defense.
In 2003, daughter Judd was pulled over for speeding and subsequently blew a .175, lading her in jail before she posted a $500 bail. It all happened right down the street from Music Row, so maybe it’s true what they say about the country music industry driving artists to drink.
Just like the “Wet Cigarette of Country Music” to get arrested at a Waffle House. In October of 2007, Kid Rock and his crew stopped into the DeKalb County, Georgia eatery where they proceeded to brawl with gawking patrons. Other members of Kid Rocks posse were also arrested. Rock was found guilty of simple battery. It was his 4th chance to strike the perp pose over the years for various charges.
David Allan Coe
You better believe DAC would be here, but unfortunately this is the biggest photo we can drum up of David from his time in the Ohio State Penal System.
Coe was also arrested in 2008 after an altercation in a casino when a misunderstanding about a jackpot resulted in security officers and police wrestling Coe to the ground. Coe countersued in 2010 for false arrest and assault. The entire altercation was caught on tape.
Yes, we know that some of the younger generation of country performers don’t want to pander to the “old farts and jackasses,” but maybe Billy Currington took it a little too far when he threatened a 70-year-old boat captain for coming too close to his waterfront property in Tybee Island, Ga. Currington was cited in April of 2013 for making “terroristic threats” and “abuse of an elder.” Case is still pending.
Johnny Paycheck spent 4 years battling an aggravated assault charge after shooting a man in a Hillsboro, OH bar during a brawl. Though multiple appeals kept Paycheck out of prison for a while, he was finally sentenced to the Chillicothe Correctional Institute in 1989 where he served two years before being paroled.
In May of 2008, Louisiana country star Chris Cagle got in a tussle with his girlfriend Jennifer Tant at the Player’s Bar in Nashville before the couple took the bout home. Cagle wielded Jennifer’s purse. Jennifer weilded an umbrella, and they both ended up in the big house. Police said they were both too drunk and disorderly to press any serious charges.
When the underground country band from Austin, TX went to release their first album, they chose their mutual mugshots from the same Williamson County roundup to make up the CD art.
No mugshots of George Jones’s numerous run ins with the law during his drinking days have ever surfaced, but video did a few years ago from a George Jones documentary.
Get well Randy! …. but we couldn’t make this list without you. Travis was forced to pose for police camera twice in 2012; once after a drunken fight at a church, and the other after driving drunk….and naked.
Much ado has been made about Rolling Stone giving accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev rock star treatment by putting his mug on their latest issue. Though it’s a free country with free press and I would fight for the right of Rolling Stone to put whatever they want on their cover, here are some simple, friendly, and current alternative ideas of what could have graced the front of Rolling Stone‘s July 2013 issue.
A country music superstar who won wide cross-genre appeal despite his heavy traditionalist sound, and who’s currently in the struggle of his life after suffering a major heart ailment and subsequent stroke, who better deserves to be on the cover right now than Randy?
One of rock & roll’s most legendary bands just released a comeback record called “13″ that both critics and fans are raving about, produced by studio extraordinaire, Rick Rubin. This story is custom made for the Rolling Stone cover.
He just released a career album in Southeastern that has critics falling all over themselves. The former Drive By Trucker is beginning to be recognized as one of the great songwriters of our generation, and a Rolling Stone cover could help solidify this distinction and broaden his audience. (In fairness, their last issue did have a story on Isbell).
Mavis is a force of music nature who is seeing a massive resurgence in interest in both her work as a Staple Sister and a Gospel Goddess. She’s worked with folks as wide ranging as The Band, George Jones, and Ray Charles, and even made an appearance on a Johnny Paycheck tribute album. Mavis just released an album called One True Vine, and would be a good candidate to grace the Rolling Stone cover.
Because he’s Willie Nelson. And yes I know he’s been on the cover before. But again, he’s Willie Nelson. Nuff said.
Caitlin Rose & Country’s Inspiring Women
Rolling Stone justified their use of Tsarnaev on the cover saying that he was at an age that their readers could relate to. Well so is Caitlin; a young, budding starlet with a very interesting story of how her mom is the woman who helped write many of Taylor Swift’s hits. Caitlin’s music has a fresh and relevant take, and if Caitlin isn’t big enough for you, consider including all the women that have made a splash in country in 2013 that have many proclaiming (including former Rolling Stone senior editor Chet Flippo) 2013 the “Year of the Woman” in country music.
I don’t know if there is a neotraditional artist that has benefited from such a meteoric rise like Pokey LaFarge in the history of music. Pokey’s now got Jack White pushing him, and he just played Letterman. Pokey’s crossing genres, and surely deserves a bigger spotlight.
After all, Chet was a towering personality in music journalism, and called Rolling Stone home starting in graduate school, working his way up to Rolling Stone‘s New York Bureau Chief, and eventually to Senior Editor in 1974. He wrote books about The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, David Bowie, and Hank Williams, and having passed away last month, could have surely been a worthy choice for the cover.
The Town of West, TX
If you want to delve deep into the anatomy of a tragedy, the toll it takes on a community and the psyche of its people, and end it with a positive statement on the resiliency of man, there’s no better example than here.
The People of Boston
For being courageous and persevering through and unspeakable tragedy foisted upon them unexpectedly.
When looking at the historical timeline of country music, many times it is big events that set the wheels of change in motion, for the good and the bad. Whether it is intrusion of pop or rap into country, or the ill-treatment of country music greats, here are some of the most embarrassing moments in country music history.
Shuttering of the Country Music Mother Church
The Grand Ole Opry needed a bigger home and the move was inevitable, but the result was the complete shuttering Ryman Auditorium, also known as the Country Music Mother Church, for 20 years. Aside from being opened by special permission to shoot videos for folks like Jason & The Scorchers, John Hartford, and for parts of the Coal Miner’s Daughter movie, the venue was abandoned between 1974 and 1994, also allowing the surrounding lower Broadway area to be overrun with strip clubs and dirty bookstores. It wasn’t until Emmylou Harris recorded a live album at the Ryman that a renewed interest in the historic venue was sparked, eventually leading to its restoration and re-opening.
Garth Brooks Goes Flying Over Texas Stadium
In 1993 at the old Texas Stadium in Irving, TX, Garth Brooks does a video shoot and decides to pull a Sandy Duncan and go flying over the crowd suspended with wires. Though it was a one-off demonstration, it illustrated Garth’s influence of turning country into more of a commercial, arena-rock presentation.
Jessica Simpson plays the Grand Ole Opry
You already forgot that reality star Jessica Simpson had a stint trying to be a country performer, didn’t you? Her career lasted weeks, but that was long enough for the Opry to decide to give her an opportunity to be on the sainted Opry stage on September 6th, 2008, while many other more worthy performers still wait indefinitely in the wings for the distinguished Opry opportunity.
Unfinished Hank Williams Songs Turned Into Lost Notebooks Album
Publisher Sony ATV cashed in on a collection of lyric sheets left behind by Hank Williams—some unfinished, and all without music—by doling them out surreptitiously to Bob Dylan, and a bevy of undeserving artists including Jakob Dylan and Sheryl Crow, to finish and record. The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams raised the ire of many, including Hank’s daughter and Williams estate executor Jett Williams who said about the project, “It was like ‘here are some lyrics’ instead of trying to think, “If Hank Williams was sitting here with me and it’s got his musical footprints all over it.” You would think that when you heard the song being sung by the artist, that it would have some kind of (Hank) feel to it, which I’m not feeling it myself.”
DeFord Bailey Fired from the Grand Ole Opry
Harmonica player and Country Music Hall of Famer DeFord Bailey was one of the early stars of the Grand Ole Opry, and was an official member from 1927 to 1941 when a dispute with BMI-ASCAP wouldn’t allow him to perform his most famous songs on the radio. Instead of standing behind one of their founding performers, the Opry fired DeFord. This ended his performance career and DeFord shined shoes for the rest of his life to make a living. DeFord did not play the Opry again until 1974 when he appeared on an “Old Timers’ Show.”
Jason Aldean Performs “Dirt Road Anthem” with Ludacris on CMT Awards
“History has been made baby!” Ludacris declared from the stage in June of 2011 when country music saw its first rap performance on an awards show, and the first live mainstream collaboration with a rap artist. This event and “Dirt Road Anthem” hitting #1 would open the country rap flood gates.
Olivia Newton-John and John Denver Winning CMA Awards
Olivia Newton-John’s CMA for “Female Vocalist of the Year” in 1974, and John Denver’s CMA for “Entertainer of the Year” in 1975 symbolized the historic intrusion of pop into the country format in the mid-70′s. The trend was staved off the next year when Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings ushered in the Outlaw movement in country.
Taylor Swift Wins First CMA for Entertainer of the Year
The date 11/11 was not good luck for country music in 2009, when Taylor Swift took home her first Country Music Association “Entertainer of the Year” award along with three other trophies on the night. Teen pop had now taken center stage in country music.
Induction of Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts, & Darius Rucker Into The Grand Ole Opry
The Grand Ole Opry had already been wanting to appeal to a younger, more youthful crowd, but in recent years they have ratcheted it up another notch, completely ignoring older country stars worthy of induction for pop country’s latest trends.
“Struggle” Turns Waylon Songs Into Rap
It was bad enough when rap infiltrated country music. Now it has gone back in time to overwrite the songs of country greats that have passed on. Waylon Jennings’ grandson-in-law nicknamed “Struggle” (his real name is Will Harness, and his real grandfather is Duane Eddy) took 7 Waylon Jennings songs, and rehashed them into rap songs in an album entitled I Am Struggle released in May of 2013. It was an unprecedented intrusion of rap into country music’s past, perpetrated by one of the few people who could get the blessing of the Waylon estate to do so. (read more)
Stonewall Jackson Stonewalled by the Grand Ole Opry
After having his performances on the Grand Ole Opry cut back so much that he lost his health benefits, Stonewall Jackson sued the Opry claiming age discrimination against Opry General Manager Pete Fisher. Stonewall claimed the Opry breached a long-standing code that if stars performed a set number of dates each year, even when they could make more money playing tour dates, they would always have a place to play at the Opry even in their older age. The lawsuit was eventually settled in court, and though the specific details of it were never revealed, Stonewall was happy with the outcome, and his performance schedule increased afterward.
Garth Brooks Becomes Chris Gains
In 1999, a bored Garth Brooks created a fictional dark pop character from Australia called Chris Gaines and released an album called The Life of Chris Gains. It gained Garth one Top 5 hit, “Lost In You,” but Brooks’ Chris Gaines idea met with very heavy criticism and confusion from fans, and after only a few weeks, Chris Gains rode off into the sunset and Garth Brooks re-appeared before a planned movie The Lamb could go into production.
The Grand Ole Opry’s Refusal to Reinstate Hank Williams
Even though there is a Hank Williams impersonator to greet Opry attendees at the door, the institution has refused to reinstate one of country music’s most legendary icons, and one that made the Opry an internationally-known institution, even in a symbolic gesture. Hank was dismissed from the Opry in 1952 for missing performances and rehearsals due to alcoholism, and was told he could return once he sobered up. Hank never got that opportunity, dying on New Years Eve of that year. A movement called Reinstate Hank looks to reinstate the country star back into the institution.
George Jones “Choices” & Other CMA Performances Cut Short
At the 1999 CMA Awards, George Jones was asked to perform an abbreviated version of his song “Choices.” George refused and boycotted the show, and in response Alan Jackson, while preforming his song “Pop A Top,” cut his own song short, and launched into George’s “Choices.” (read more)
This was actually the second time an artist boycotted the CMA’s. In a much less publicized event, Waylon Jennings refused to perform an abbreviated version of “Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line.” Waylon recalls, “They told me not to get smart. Either I did it or I got out. They said, ‘We don’t need you.’ I decided that was true and left.”
It was November of 2008 at the annual Country Music Association Awards, and Kid Rock came out on stage to perform “All Summer Long,” a remixed rap rock song that borrows from Lynyrd Skynyrd and Warren Zevon. Never before had such a non-country genre-bending song been performed on the CMA stage, but considering Kid Rock’s strong ties to the country music industry, the performance seemed par for country’s course of slowly contemporizing away from its traditions….except for one curious thing.
Trailing Kid Rock out on the stage was hip-hop icon Lil’ Wayne. It was curious that Lil’ Wayne was there, but not completely surprising. Lil’ Wayne had performed “All Summer Long” with Kid Rock only 2 months before at MTV’s VMA Awards. But instead of rapping like he did at the VMA’s, Lil’ Wayne just sort of stood there, pretending to strum a guitar that clearly was not in the mix.
Why was Lil’ Wayne there? Nobody was quite sure, but at the time Saving Country Music surmised that this was an act of desensitization from Music Row in Nashville. Facing nearly a decade of declining sales and needing something to shake up the landscape, allowing rap to infiltrate country’s inner sanctum could be a way to grow country’s fan base, entice younger listeners, and maintain the commercial viability of the industry. The country music industry would have to warm the country fan base up to the idea first. So bring Kid Rock out, and Lil’ Wayne with him, but don’t allow anyone to rap just yet. There would be time for that down the road.
Just 2 weeks after the 2008 CMA’s, country rap king Colt Ford released his first major album Ride Through The Country, and soon small but well-supported independent country rap outfits like the LoCash Cowboys and Moonshine Bandits began to emerge, creating a substantial country rap underground that saw significant success in the YouTube realm, garnering 5 and 6 million hits on some videos despite having no initial label support, and no radio play. Country rap had already been around way before 2008, with Cowboy Troy releasing his debut album Loco Motive back in 2005, and many other independent artists dabbling with the genre blending concept years before. But Colt Ford began to open the door of acceptance for country rap in the mainstream by collaborating with country artists like Jamey Johnson, John Michael Montgomery, and Brantley Gilbert. Country rap songs were still not receiving radio play or award show accolades though. The country rap commodity was just too risque for mainstream labels and radio programmers to get behind, and it remained a very small sliver of the greater country music pie.
Then came Jason Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem,” a song that initially appeared on Colt Ford’s first album and co-written with Brantley Gilbert, and everything changed. A mild-mannered song compared to most country rap, and coming from a polished Caucasian performer that the mainstream country community was already comfortable with, country rap was able to finally find it’s acceptance on the popular country radio format. In early June of 2011 at the CMT Awards hosted by Kid Rock, Jason Aldean came out to perform the quickly-rising single, and hip-hop artist Ludacris joined Aldean on stage, this time to actually rap. “History has been made baby!” Ludacris declared from the stage, and it had been. Mainstream country now had its country rap cherry officially popped, and rap was now a viable, accepted art form in country music.
And it would become a commercially successful one too when “Dirt Road Anthem” eventually hit #1 on the Billboard charts in late July of 2011. The effects of “Dirt Road Anthem” hitting #1 were significant. Radio programmers who had been reluctant to bring country rap to the airwaves for years had officially waved the white flag. At the time Saving Country Music also predicted:
Just like how you can blame a blizzard on a rash of births nine moths later, the Music Row machine undoubtedly is being retooled to meet the burgeoning country rap demand, and we will be seeing the results in the upcoming months. The only question is, in what form will it be? Will we see established artists adopting the new style? Or will it be the popularization of the Colt Fords and Moonshine Bandits of the world?
The prediction of Music Row retooling to become a assembly line for country rap was correct. What was not correct was the timeline. Apparently 9 months lead time was a little too optimistic, and after “Dirt Road Anthem” dominated the charts, country rap went somewhat dormant in mainstream country for nearly 1 1/2 years. “Dirt Road Anthem” was the best selling single in all of country in 2011. But in 2012, country rap was virtually absent from the mainstream country scene. As Saving Country Music explained looking at 2012 end-of-year sales numbers:
Rap sales were significantly down in 2012, bucking the trend of being one of the few areas of strength during music’s decade-long decline. Similarly, unlike 2011 when Jason Aldean’s country-rap “Dirt Road Anthem” was the best-selling single in all of country, 2012 did not see a dominant country-rap single, album, or artist. Rap is still asserting itself as an influence in country, but may not be finding the commercial strength it needs to stick. 2012 mono-genre songs like Tim McGraw’s “Truck Yeah” underperformed to expectations, never cracking Billboard’s Top 10 on the country chart.
Then came 2013, and “1994,” Jason Aldean’s follow-up country rap to “Dirt Road Anthem.” Though the song was a little too fey for mainstream country ears and topped out at #10 on the Billboard charts, it was the spearhead to what would become a massive and historic influx of country rap songs and influences flooding the country music format heading into the summer of 2013.
Blake Shelton, the reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year and influential personality from his work on the popular reality TV show The Voice, released his own country rap song “Boys ‘Round Here” that quickly became a #1. Country duo Florida Georgia Line who regularly incorporates Ebonic verbiage in their songs achieved a #1 single with “Cruise” that is currently poised to become the best selling song of 2013. When the duo remixed the smash hit with hip-hop star Nelly, it created yet another chart-topping country rap collaboration.
All of a sudden, hip-hop influences were, and currently are dominating the top of the country music charts, asserting just as much influence, if not more than indigenous country influences, with a bevy of new country rap tunes from numerous artists ready to be released, and mainstream artists lining up to try and be a part of the trend. Brad Paisley and LL Cool J made waves by collaborating on the country rap song “Accidental Racist.” 90′s country star Joe Diffie, the muse for Jason Aldean’s country rap “1994,” has released an “answer” song called “Girl Ridin’ Shotgun” with the Jawga Boyz to attempt to exploit the renewed attention for his career. And Luke Bryan has recorded a country rap song with Auto-Tune maestro T Pain to be released soon.
But the infiltration of country rap is not just confined to underground circles and mainstream collaborations, it has touched the very foundations of country’s traditions and history. In May of 2013, the rapping grandson-in-law of Waylon Jennings named “Struggle” released an album with 7 of the 9 songs being Waylon tunes with Struggle rapping over them. The country rapping LoCash Cowboys have a song called “Best Seat in the House” from their new self-titled album that includes a collaboration with the recently-deceased George Jones—an icon of traditional country fans who traditionally do not favor the influx of rap influences in country music. The country rap collaboration is possibly the final track George Jones ever recorded.
Other artists that are traditionally seen as respites from the commercial trends in Nashville like Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and their mutual band The Pistol Annies have participated in the country rap craze, leaving mainstream country fans that are looking to avoid the trend few options. The Pistol Annies appeared in Blake Shelton’s country rap song and video “Boys ‘Round Here,” and Miranda Lambert participated in the “celebrity remix” of the song, even though at one point she took to Twitter to proclaim that remixes “pissed her off.”
Ashley Monroe appears in a just released acoustic version of the Macklemore rap song “Thrift Shop.” June of 2013 has been jam packed with new country rap song and video releases, with new collaborations rumored seemingly every day as artists and labels scramble to figure out how to capitalize on the country rap phenomenon.
Which begs the next question, is this a craze that will show a predictable lightning-fast life span and quickly fizzle, or are we seeing the long-forecasted dramatic, wholesale, long-term change in the traditional genre formats of American music, where all genres coalesce into one big mono-genre where contrast and diversity between disparate art forms will be resolved, leaving no true regionalism and no cultural separation, just one homogeneous corporate American music culture?
That remains to be seen. But wherever country rap goes, we can say with confidence that the way country music sounds in the summer of 2013 is very similar to the way the mono-genre would sound like if it is realized in the long-term.
Potential Ramifications of Rap’s Infiltration of Country
The benefits of the emerging mono-genre can be the breakdown of musical prejudices across genre lines, but the main impetus is the broadening of markets of music consumers for record labels to take advantage of. Though traditional genres can be helpful to consumers by classifying the style of the music so they can choose if it is worth their time, genres limit the scale of potential consumers for a given music franchise.
The problem with the mono-genre, especially for country music is the potential loss of autonomy and control over the music by the genre, both sonically and through the genre’s infrastructure and institutions. During music’s lost decade of the 2000′s when the industry bobbled the move to digitization, country music weathered the storm much better than other genres because it had its own built-in institutions like the CMA and ACM Awards shows, and the Country Music Association itself which unites US radio broadcasters around the country format. And unlike hip-hop or rock and roll, country music is heavily steeped in tradition, with legacy institutions like The Grand Ole Opry acting as pillars for the music. But if the term “country” can’t define a well-recognized sound, it risks diminishing the effectiveness and viability of these country music institutions in the long term.
Since the beginning, country has taken a submissive role to hip-hop in the formation of the mono-genre. Though you may find some small exceptions, country influences have not encroached on the mainstream hip-hop format virtually at all, and certainly haven’t risen to the point of dominating the hip-hop charts, like hip-hop influences are now dominating the country charts. Helping this trend along is Billboard’s new chart rules that take into consideration sales and plays of music from other genres in rating country artists. So country artists whose songs cross over to the pop or hip-hop formats gain extra points compared to their pure country counterparts.
Hip-hop is in the cat bird’s seat in the mixing of the two genres. Artists like Ludacris, Nelly, and Lil’ Wayne can benefit from the exposure the country format gives them, but hip-hop doesn’t have to return the favor. The reason there are no country-influenced songs at the top of the hip-hop chart is because the hip-hop community would not allow it.
Hip-hop as a genre is secure and confident in its standing with young demographics, and in its future, while country seems to be constantly wanting to apologize for itself and find new ways to attract younger listeners. Hip-hop artists are just sitting back, waiting for the managers of mainstream country artist to call looking for collaborations, and all of a sudden the hip-hop artists’ name and music are exposed to an entirely new crowd.
Some mainstream country artists like Tim McGraw and Taylor Swift have participated in hip-hop collaborations not featured in the country format, but the collaborations are almost always done on hip-hop’s terms, with the purpose of exposing hip-hop artists to a wider audience primarily, instead of vice versa.
The debate about the encroachment of rap and other hip-hop influences into country is much broader than disagreements based on taste. To maintain the autonomy and integrity of country music’s institutions, the genre music keep in check influences from other mediums. The argument regularly made for allowing hip-hop influences to infiltrate the format is that country music needs something new to continue to grow and appeal to new audiences and younger people. What this argument fails to recognize is that rap in itself is an over 30-year-old art form, and that it has a dubious history when mixing with other genres at the mainstream level.
When rap mixed with mainstream rock in the mid 90′s with acts like Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park, it was seen as the beginning of the mainstream rock format losing its identity, and the diminishing of rock music’s control over its radio format and institutions. This gave rise to “indie” rock, and punk and metal undergrounds that purposely avoided mainstream rock avenues and robbed talent from the mainstream ranks. Soon rock ceased to be the catch-all term for guitar-based American music, and country and hip-hop emerged as the more dominant and influential genres. Eventually rock artists like Darius Rucker, Sheryl Crow, Aaron Lewis of Staind, Kid Rock, and many more had to solicit country for support in the aftermath of mainstream rock’s implosion.
It is unfair to completely hypothesize what will happen with the mixing of country and hip-hop by what happened in the past because of the tremendous flux the music industry is experiencing due to the ever-evolving technology quotient. Everything an educated guess at best these days in music. But what we do know is that we will discover what the effects of the mono-genre will be because it is unquestionably upon us. The next question is, will it stick around, or will the mono-genre break back down into its traditional genres in the future? How country music as an institution will endure the changes remains to be seen, but country would be wise to keep open a debate on influence, tradition, and autonomy, with a very long-term perspective always in mind. Because if not, country artists could be finding themselves searching for another genre for support, just as rock artists did in the aftermath of hip-hop infiltrating its genre.
The individuals who see the roots of country music as a trip hazard on their way to tapping the American consumer for as much cash as possible through the forum of country music fail to comprehend the weight that a single phrase, the title of a song, or the name of a country music legend can have when those words and names have been baptized in the rich, marinating waters of country music tradition until they hold such levity that their simple utterance can evoke primordial shivers.
Such is the aspect of the name “George Jones,” his nickname “The Possum,” and the many titles of his songs and the lines they contain that enriched our lives so deeply over the years when George was still counted amongst the living. Now that The Possum has moved on to that big Opryhouse in the sky, I dare say his name and the words that he imparted to us with his singular vocal tone hold an even a thicker weight if such a thing is possible.
We like to make fun of how so many country songs are about other country songs, but the reason it is so common is because it works so well at revitalizing those roots that are so deeply intertwined with our personal fabrics and story lines. The songs of George Jones and others offer a soundtrack to our lives that nobody can take away from us. Even if the music disappeared from the face of the earth, it would still play sweetly in our mind’s ear until kingdom come.
It is with this understanding, and with just as much a selfless desire to canonize George Jones as to selfishly attempt to alleviate some of the grief of his passing that Randy Travis, with the help of Joe Nichols, composed this tribute song to the dearly departed Possum.
Not a world beater, but one that rises to the importance of the occasion and imparts the sorrow of the moment, “Tonight I’m Playing Possum” is a more than touching tribute, and through the vehicle of song, exemplifies why the roots of country are so cherished. To the country music onlooker, the phrase “He stopped loving her today” may seem inane or even out-of-place. But to those in the know, it can incite tears.
Written by Keith Gattis.
Two guns up.
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Yes ladies and gentlemen, that is a picture of Hank Williams performing live on The Grand Ole Opry with the word “DUMMY” emboldened in all caps across his chest. The picture was taken at the CMT Awards last Wednesday by Raul Malo, the outspoken front man for The Mavericks who performed at the CMT Awards’ as the house band. The image incensed the singer so much he took to Twitter, posting, “Do we really need to say anymore about the country music establishment? This image ran for three days at the arena.”
Though the picture was likely a test image for the display used as part of the CMT Awards presentation, it symbolizes the palpable lack of respect and understanding for the traditions and artists of country music who sweated, and in the case of Hank Williams, died for the music, and built the legacy that modern institutions like CMT and the CMA now benefit from. Test image or not, how hard would it have been for the image to read “TEST” or to use an image of something else instead of Hank Williams?
But that’s only where the fallout from decisions made at the annual CMA Fan Fest conducted last week begin. Both the CMT Awards and the CMA invited rocker Lenny Kravitz to make appearances as part of the festivities. Though up-and-coming country acts like Ashley Monroe and Kree Harrison were only given 30 seconds to perform on the CMT Awards, Kravitz was given a full slot to execute the classic rock cover “American Woman.” Once again an incensed Raul Malo took to Twitter, saying, “So Lenny Kravitz demanded the AC be turned off in the arena before he came out. We should’ve demanded he turn off his mic…!” and later going further, “So when is country music going to grow some balls and close its legs to every has-been, asshole Rockstar that wants to be on tv? Yes ladies and gentlemen this is the leader of the house band for the CMT Awards tweeting these things.
It got worse, much worse for Lenny Kravitz on Saturday night when he took the main stage at LP Field (the biggest stage of CMA Fan Fest) and proceeded to spare the crowd to death with his rehashed rock tunes, culminating in an excruciating 15-minute rendition of “Let Love Rule” that saw Kravitz pleading with the crowd to sing along.
At one point Kravitz ran out amongst the audience to try and engage them, then ran back on stage to flail his arms around ineffectively, finally giving up 10 minutes after his appointed set end and chiding the crowd for “not being able to get with love” before, ironically, exited the stage while flipping double birds with his back turned to the crowd. Lenny’s antics cost country performers stage time.
The CMT Awards and the CMA Fan Fest are also catching flack for not showing more respect to country legend George Jones who recently passed away. Though on Friday a panel of artists including Jamey Johnson and Randy Travis convened at Music City Center to discuss the passing of the country icon, the CMT Awards only spent 30 seconds in tribute to Jones on their broadcast, stimulating an angry letter from Naomi Judd that she sent to The Tennessean.
George Jones is to country music what The Beatles are to pop, the Rolling Stones to rock, Elvis to rockabilly, Mozart to classical and Aretha to soul. Yet, the “Country” Music Television awards show allowed only a “by the way” mention of Jones’ death and legacy. Incongruously, they chose alternative music group the Mavericks to perform their short version of George’s “The Race Is On.”
True country music fans are a loyal bunch and are passionate about our roots and heritage. Every year, CMT includes artists of unrelated genres, many of whom some country music fans don’t even know. I suggest the CMT Awards show change its name. Perhaps to “the Multi-Genre Awards Show, Featuring Artists under 30.”
I realize speaking out will cause me to now be forever banned by CMT. But I’m tired of folks messing with my country music. Especially when it involves my dear friend George Jones.
Country music loves to pride itself in supporting the troops and the cause of the military more than any other genre. Though some of it may be bravado meant more for marketing, there are many legends in the country music ranks that served their country as young men. Here’s a list of country heroes who served the county.
Possibly country music’s most well-known veteran, Kris Kristofferson came from a family that pushed him to enlist after attending Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and graduating with a degree in literature. Yes, Kristofferson was a smart one to say the least, and achieved the rank of Captain in the US Army as a helicopter pilot and Ranger. He received his training at Fort Rucker, Alabama before being deployed to West Germany as part of the 8th Infantry Division. After serving out his tour of duty, Kristofferson was scheduled to become an English Literature professor at West Point, but decided to pursue a career in songwriting instead. The decision meant he was disowned by his family, but that didn’t stop the American Veterans Awards from naming Kris “Veteran of the Year” in 2003. Kristofferson’s first job in music was sweeping floors at Columbia Studios. His first successful songwriting hit was “Vietnam Blues” recorded by Dave Dudley.
Willie Nelson may be known as one of the world’s greatest pacifists, but he grew up in an era when military service was expected of young men, and the draft was in full force. So he voluntarily joined the Air Force in 1951 in the midst of the Korean War, wanting to be a jet pilot. He received his first basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, but it was concluded Willie was too “absentminded” (as Willie puts it) to be in the cockpit of a jet. So the Air Force shipped him to Shepherd Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, TX, and eventually to Scott Air Force Base in Illinois for more basic training. Eventually they made him a medic, but years of bailing hay in Willie’s hometown of Abbott, TX had given him a bad back condition and he was discharged after 9 months of service.
In 1950, a year before Willie Nelson made his way to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio to enlist in the Air Force, future fellow Highwayman Johnny Cash did the same. Cash spent 4 years in the service, rising to Staff Sargent, and becoming a Morse Code intercept operator working in Landsberg, West Germany. Johnny is given credit for intercepting the first radio transmission announcing the news of the death of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. The name of Cash’s first band was “The Landsberg Barbarians,” an homage to the German town he called home. When Cash was honorably discharged in July of 1954, he returned to Texas to marry his first wife Vivian Liberto who he’d met at a roller rink when in basic training.
Before Shel Silverstein penned “A Boy Named Sue” for Johnny Cash, “Put Another Log on the Fire” for Tompall Glaser, and many other country hits, and before he’d go on to sell over 20 million children’s books, he was an illustrator for the Pacific Stars & Stripes military publication. Silverstein was drafted into the Army in 1953 and served in both Korea and Japan. When it was clear Silverstein was not fit for combat, he began illustrating an article series called Take Ten, amusing service members with his drawings and anecdotes about military life. Later his cartoons would be featured in two books: Take Ten and Grab Your Socks!, becoming big sellers for Ballintine Books, and introducing the world to Shel’s illustrative and comedic genius.
There’s many “new Outlaws” in mainstream country music right now walking around with dogs tags, but Jamey Johnson is the only one with actual military cred to back the fashion accessory up. After dropping out of Jacksonville State University, Johnson enlisted in the Marine Corps where he served for 8 solid years, rising to the rank of corporal as a mortarman in the 23rd Marines, 3rd Batallion. During his Marine Corps stint, he was known for playing his original songs for bunk mates, and two of the songs on Jamey’s first self-released album mention the Marines. By coincidence, Johnson was discharged from the military 1 week before his unit deployed to Iraq, but he’s been to both Iraq and Afghanistan multiple times since, making regular appearances on USO tours.
George Jones was enlisted in the Marine Corps in the early 1950′s during The Korean War, stationed in San Jose, California until he was discharged in 1953.
Roger Miller enlisted in the Army and served in the Korean War to avoid being arrested for stealing a guitar when he was 17.
Wayne “The Train” Hancock was in the Marines, and gives credit to his time in Okinawa for endowing him with his love for the steel guitar sound.
George Strait was enlisted in the Army from 1971 to 1975, stationed in Hawaii for the later half of his career as part of the 25th Infantry Division. He performed in an army-sanctioned country band called “Rambling Country.”
Songwriter Billy Don Burns was a paratrooper from 1968-1970.
Charlie Louvin of The Louvin Brothers served in both World War II and The Korean War.
Hank Thompson served in the Navy in Word War II.
Texas country traditionalist Jason Eady served in The Air Force for six years as a translator.
The long-rumored, long-anticipated Hank Williams III and David Allan Coe collaboration was a long time in the making and even longer coming. But it’s here, and though some may have been wishing for a few songs or even an entire album, clocking in at over 7 minutes, “The Outlaw Ways” will satiate your Hank3/David Allan Coe collaboration jones just fine.
It is easy to get over-hyped about a pairing such as this. History shows that these collaborations don’t always match the sum of their celebrity parts. Sometimes they fall flat, and sometimes they become part of country music lore, like the legendary pairing of Waylon Jennings and Hank Jr. in “The Conversation.” “The Outlaw Ways” is loosely based around this same lyrical structure, with the two country music Outlaws trading lines and coming together for the chorus. Both Hank Jr. and Waylon are also mentioned in the song. But instead of conversing about Hank Sr., Hank3 and David Allan Coe converse about each other and their friendship over the years, and about the authentic “Outlaw” identity that flies in the face of the faux Outlaw movement on Music Row these days.
“The Outlaw Ways” is no world beater, but it is a fun song with some cool moments in the verses that will be a treasure for the artists’ respective fans. With the most obvious focus being the pairing of the two men and the words, the music of “The Outlaw Ways” could have become an afterthought, but instead it is one of the songs strengths, starting off with a country fiddle riff, falling to half time in the ol’ Waylon style in the versus, and featuring a tasteful steel guitar solo in the middle.
When David Allan Coe was hospitalized after an accident in Florida, and with the recent passing of George Jones, it makes collaborations like this that much more prized and valuable. We let our country music heroes into our hearts and homes because we can connect with them so closely. It’s even more cool when they connect with each other.
1 1/2 of 2 guns up.
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(6-10-13) UPDATE: “The Outlaw Ways” has just been made available on Red 10″ Vinyl at Hank3′s web store.
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