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Jett Williams, the daughter of country legend Hank Williams Sr. and the half-sister of Hank Williams Jr., was arrested early Tuesday morning for DUI in Lebanon, Tennessee. The 61-year-old Jett Williams Adkinson was observed by Lebanon police swerving in between lanes in a 1998 Jaguar when police pulled her over at 2:30 AM. According to police, Jett smelled of alcohol, and had slurred speech and admitted to drinking two beers. She failed a field sobriety test, and was arrested.
Williams was also cited for not wearing a seat belt and for no proof of insurance. She was later released from the Wilson County Jail on $1,000 bond. According to police, her current address is Hartsville, TN, just north and east of Lebanon.
Jett is a country music performer and the co-executor of the Hank Williams estate. She is the daughter of Hank Williams Sr. and Bobby Jett, who Hank had a brief relationship with between his two marriages. She was born five days after Hank’s death, and was adopted by Hank’s mother, Lillian Stone after her birth. When Lillian passed away in 1955, Jett became a ward of the state before being adopted, and lost touch with her Hank Williams lineage. In 1985, she was found by the Alabama State Court to be the daughter of Hank Williams, and was awarded a half-share of the estate. Jett’s husband, lawyer Keith Adkinson, died in June of 2013.
Merle. The Hag. Of all the country music greats, Merle’s story might be the most symbolic of the American experience: from growing up in California as the son of Okie parents during The Depression, to spending time in prison, to becoming a rags to riches story. His legacy is sometimes overshadowed by his peers like Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash, whose influence has spread much farther than country’s borders. But when it comes to influencing country music itself, few this side of Hank Williams can say they’ve left a bigger footprint.
Here’s 10 moments that make Merle Haggard one of country music’s most preeminent badasses.
1. Being Born In A Boxcar
Now if that ain’t country….
James Francis and Flossie Mae Haggard moved from Oklahoma during The Depression after their barn burned down in 1934, and settled in an apartment in Bakersfield with Merle’s two older siblings Lowell and Lillian. Merle’s father got a job working for the Santa Fe Railroad as a carpenter, and soon went to work converting a boxcar parked on a piece of land in Oildale, CA, just outside of Bakersfield that eventually became the family’s homestead. Merle Haggard was born in that boxcar on April 6, 1937. The Haggard’s eventually purchased the land around the boxcar, and expanded it to include two bathrooms, a kitchen, and a breakfast nook.
2. Telling Off A CBS Records Executive for Firing Johnny Cash
In 1985 Merle released the song “Kern River” and it reached #10 on the country charts. But if it was up to CBS Records executive Rick Blackburn, the song would have never been recorded at all. Blackburn hated the song, and apparently went out of his way to tell Merle as much at every opportunity he had. Then at some point, Merle had enough. Blackburn mouthed off to Merle about it, and Merle lost it.
“That’s about the third time you’ve told me that.” Haggard said, “It’s more like five times. Well, I’m about five times short of telling you to go to hell.”
Then Haggard continued:
“Who do you think you are? You’re the son-of-a-bitch that sat at that desk over there and fired Johnny Cash. Let it go down in history that you’re the dumbest son-of-a-bitch I’ve ever met.”
3. Watching Johnny Cash Play at San Quentin Prison
Johnny Cash’s most famous prison appearances were in 1968 and 1969 at the Folsom State Prison and San Quentin Prison, but these concerts weren’t the first time Johnny Cash played at a correctional institution. His first ever was New Years Day 1958 at San Quentin in California, and a 20-year-old Merle Haggard was in the audience. After a few other run-ins with the law, being arrested for the first time at age 11, and after having participated in multiple of jailbreaks (see below), Merle Haggard got sentenced to 15 years for burglary in 1957 to the notorious California lockup. He was just 18.
Merle ended up only serving two years of his sentence though, in part because the Johnny Cash concert changed his life. At the time, Haggard was conspiring with his cell mate “Rabbit” on an escape plan, but Merle’s fellow cell mates convinced him he had a brighter future in country music. Rabbit eventually did escape, killed a cop, and ending back at San Quentin on Death Row.
“He had the right attitude,” Merle recalls of Johnny Cash;s appearance. “He chewed gum, looked arrogant and flipped the bird to the guards—he did everything the prisoners wanted to do. He was a mean mother from the South who was there because he loved us. When he walked away, everyone in that place had become a Johnny Cash fan.”
4. Escaping From Jail 17 Times
That’s right. As impossible as that sounds, this is what Merle Haggard claims. His criminal record over the years has been a source of much debate about just how hardened the young Merle was. More than likely most of his crimes were quite petty hooliganism stuff, and were bred out of growing up and not having a father to keep him in line, and not having any money and resorting to stealing for his daily bread. But apparently he became pretty adept at giving the local jailers the slip, and that’s why he eventually ended up at San Quentin.
“I was scared to death,” Merle recalls. “I was just 19 at the time, and I’d already been in a lot of jails. San Quentin is the last place you go. I wasn’t really that bad a guy. They just couldn’t hold me anywhere else. I escaped 17 different times, so they sent me there because I was an escape risk. When I walked out on the grounds of San Quentin, I was scared. I was there two years and nine months.”
5. Recording Tribute Albums to Jimmie Rodgers and Bob Wills
It’s one thing to record a tribute album to one of the greats of country music’s past. It’s another to do it at the height of your professional career when your talent and attention could be more financially lucrative elsewhere.
After landing his first #1 hits “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive” and “Branded Man,” and before releasing his big 1969 hits “Workin’ Man Blues” and “Okie From Muskogee,” Merle Haggard released the 1969 LP Same Train, A Different Time: A Tribute to Jimmie Rodgers — a massive, two-record tome of 25 Jimmie Rodgers songs recorded to critical acclaim. The project took a total of 6 months to complete and is given credit for a revitalization of interest in the Singing Brakeman’s career.
Same could be said for Bob Wills, when Merle made time to record and release A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World the very next year. Even more cool, Merle rustled up the last 6 remaining members of Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys—Johnny Gimble, Alex Brashear, Johnnie Lee Wills, Eldon Shamblin, Tiny Moore, and Joe Holley—to participate in the record along with Haggard’s backing band The Strangers.
6. Kicking Cancer’s Ass
Merle Haggard was diagnosed with lung Cancer in May of 2008. Not wanting to make a big deal or publicity stunt out of the matter, he kept it hush hush. On November 3rd, 2008, Haggard had surgery to remove part of the upper lobe of his right lung that had a lemon-sized tumor growing on it. Five days later, he finally spilled the beans to the public about his diagnosis and treatment. Merle had been a smoker early in his life, and had quit cigarettes in 1991, and marijuana in 1995. But doctors said smoking had nothing to do with Merle’s condition.
How did Haggard pull through? Less than two months later he was playing shows at The Crystal Palace in Bakersfield. “I feel like I’ve extended my life,” Merle said at the time. “I’m in better shape than when I went in.”
7. The “Me and Crippled Soldiers Give a Damn” Protest Song
Merle Haggard has written and recorded many politically-charged songs over his career spanning both sides of the isle. From his conservative-leaning anthems like “Fighting Side of Me” and “Okie From Muskogee” (though he’s said this song was written to be a somewhat humorous portrait), to the more recent anti-war song “America First.” But “Me and Crippled Soldiers Give a Damn” might be his crowning, politically-charged moment.
Incensed by the Supreme Court’s decision to allow flag burning under the First Amendment, Merle penned this controversial tune in 1989 and tried to release it, but his label CBS Records refused. So Merle, determined to have the song see the light of day, bought himself out of the stipulations of his CBS contract simply so he could release the song. And just so nobody was confused of where Merle’s heart was in the matter, he gave all the proceeds from the song to the Disabled Veterans of America.
8. Recording Pancho & Lefty with Willie Nelson
Merle Haggard isn’t known especially for being a legendary duet partner, but when he paired up with Willie Nelson in 1983 to record Pancho & Lefty whose title track is the famous Townes Van Zandt song, a strange magic ensued. The song “Pancho & Lefty” went straight to #1, and so did the album. It also launched another Top 10 hit, “Reasons to Quit,” written by Haggard. Willie & Merle went on to be named the Vocal Duo of the Year by the CMA in 1983.
9. Helping to Define The Bakersfield Sound
As the bean counters on Music Row out in Nashville decided that for country music to survive, strings and choirs needed to be added, and that they needed to “refine” the sound of this rural art form to appeal to older audiences, the country music rebels out in California said “screw that” and we’re slinging their telecasters around, playing way too loud, and pushing boundaries. Right beside Buck Owens at the forefront of this movement was Merle Haggard with his hard-driving, hard-edged sound, embellished by Ralph Mooney’s blaring steel guitar.
Not only did The Bakersfield Sound keep Nashville’s “Countrypolitan” in check, it also showed many of Bakersfield’s rock and roll neighbors in places like LA and San Francisco that country music could be cool, and next thing you know you have bands like The Byrds and The Grateful Dead cutting country records.
10. Recording 38 #1 Hits… 38 OF THEM!!!
- “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive” (1966)
- “Branded Man” (1967)
- “Sing Me Back Home” (1968)
- “The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde” (1968)
- “Mama Tried” (1968)
- “Hungry Eyes” (1969)
- “Workin’ Man Blues” (1969)
- “Okie from Muskogee” (1969)
- “The Fightin’ Side of Me” (1970)
- “Daddy Frank” (1971)
- “Carolyn” (1971)
- “Grandma Harp” (1972)
- “It’s Not Love (But It’s Not Bad)” (1972)
- “I Wonder If They Ever Think of Me” (1972)
- “Everybody’s Had the Blues” (1973)
- “If We Make It Through December” (1973)
- “Things Aren’t Funny Anymore” (1974)
- “Old Man from the Mountain” (1974)
- “Kentucky Gambler” (1974)
- “Always Wanting You” (1975)
- “Movin’ On” (1975)
- “It’s All in the Movies” (1975)
- “The Roots of My Raising” (1975)
- “Cherokee Maiden” (1976)
- “Bar Room Buddies” (with Clint Eastwood) (1980)
- “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” (1980)
- “My Favorite Memory” (1981)
- “Big City” (1981)
- “Yesterday’s Wine” (with George Jones) (1982)
- “Going Where the Lonely Go” (1982)
- “You Take Me for Granted” (1982)
- “Pancho and Lefty” (with Willie Nelson) (1983)
- “That’s the Way Love Goes” (1983)
- “Someday When Things Are Good” (1984)
- “Let’s Chase Each Other Around the Room” (1984)
- “A Place to Fall Apart” (with Janie Frickie) (1984)
- “Natural High” (1985)
- “Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Star” (1987)
The grandson of Hank Williams and the son of Hank Jr. falls in line with the other country artists covered in Saving Country Music “10 Badass Moments” series by being a rough and tumble character both on and off the stage, but also in showing great character by giving back and using his famous name for good.
Here’s 10 Badass Moments from Shelton Hank Williams III, or Hank3.
1. Playing Charity Concerts for Homes For Our Troops
When you heard that The Marines had been called to the Hank3 concert at The Meridian in Houston, TX in March of 2010, you could only expect the worst. After all, the son of Hank has been known to throw some pretty rowdy shows. But the occasion that called for a military dispatch including a Marine Color Guard was not an unruly crowd. It was meant to honor Hank3 for donating all the proceeds from the concert to the charity Homes For Our Troops that provides housing to wounded veterans. And this wouldn’t be the last time. Hank3 has also done other charity shows for Homes For Our Troops, as well as animal rescue organizations (see below).
Pretty cool moment before The Meridian show:
2. Playing For 5 Straight Hours at The Valarium in Knoxville
Hank3 is known for his long, sometimes 3-hour+ shows with only a 5 to 10 minute break between his country and his punk/metal lineups, but this particular set was one for the record books.
Exactly what happened at The Valarium in Knoxville, TN on July 15th, 2009 that stimulated Hank3′s marathon, 5-hour set depends on who you talk to. But when Hank’s manager, assistant manager, and five other people were arrested for “disorderly conduct,” Hank3 felt the best way to protest the injustice was by playing one of the longest sets in the history of country music. Without any break, Hank3 held forth with his “Damn Band” staring at 10:00 PM Wednesday night, and the music didn’t stop until almost 3 AM Thursday morning. When Hank3 ran out of material with his band, he switched to an acoustic show and kept on going.
The show went so long, an after party at the adjacent Cider House featuring the local band J.C. and the Dirty Smokers didn’t start until 2 AM, and nobody was there. “Basically, I said, ‘Since we’re already set up and already have a stage, we might as well work on a couple of originals,” Dirty Smokers frontman J.C. Haun said at the time. “So we ended up having a rehearsal, basically.”
And as if Hank3 hadn’t already done enough, he called Valarium owner Gary Mitchell after the show to apologize for not playing the Assjack metal portion of the show. “He felt like he’d stiffed his hardcore fans,” Mitchell told the Metro Pulse.
3. Playing Charity Concerts for Animal Rescue
For years Hank3 has been playing charity concerts to benefit animal shelters in his home of middle Tennessee. “We are thrilled that Hank3 would support our mission,” says Kat Hitchcock, who has worked with numerous animal shelters in the area. “He doesn’t just support it, he lives it. He is a genuine advocate for animal welfare. We are extremely fortunate. We can’t thank him enough.”
The 4th show Hank3 played to benefit Happy Tails Humane in Franklin, TN was on August 3rd, 2012 at the Marathon Music Works in Nashville, and raised a whopping $18,000 for the organization. A DVD was also made of the event, and you can watch the entire footage of the concert below:
4. Taking In Stray / Abandoned Animals
Beyond throwing benefit concerts over the years for animal rescue, Hank3 has been known to pull his tour bus over to check on stray animals, and take them in if the proper owner can’t be found, or use his famous name to help find the furry friends a new home. Hank3 goes beyond the call for animals, and over the years it has become his pet issue (arf arf). Check out this PSA he made a couple of years back.
5. The “Fuck Curb” Campaign
Hank3′s entire 14-year career with Curb Records was filled with turmoil. The first major conflict arose over an album called This Ain’t Country. Hank3 turned it into Curb, just to have Mike Curb deem it was not fit for release. Curb shelved the album, and then released it after Shelton left the label and after he’d fulfilled his contractual obligation for the number of releases. It was a way for Curb to squeeze another album out of Hank3′s contract.
Hank3′s 3rd album Thrown Out of the Bar was slated to be released in late 2004, but Curb refused to issue it. This prompted Hank3 to start a “Fuck Curb” campaign that included T-Shirts, stickers, and the words “Fuck Curb” written prominently on Hank3′s guitar. Hank3 also took Curb to court, and like so many other artists with Mike Curb grievances, the court found in favor of Hank3 and made Curb issue the album that was later reworked into the album Straight to Hell. Curb also delayed the release of Hank3′s 4th album Damn Right, Rebel Proud for undetermined reasons, and since Hank had signed a non-defamation clause to his contract to get Straight to Hell released, he couldn’t even speak out against Curb’s actions.
At the time Hank3 was seen as a foul-mouthed yob. But since then, public issues arising with Curb Records and many of its artists, especially Tim McGraw, shows that Hank3 was ahead of his time, and that his salty language was warranted.
6. Including Three Songs by Wayne “The Train” Hancock On His First Record
On Hank3′s first solo record Risin’ Outlaw from 1999, he included 3 songs from one of his early mentors and heroes, Texas singer-songwriter and the King of Juke Joint Swing, Wayne “The Train” Hancock. By including “87 Southbound,” “Thunderstorms & Neon Signs,” and “Why Don’t You Leave Me Alone,” it introduced Wayne Hancock to a whole new generation, and a whole new segment of fans. It also would help Wayne with what songwriters call “mailbox money”—royalties from song credits—for years to come.
7. Calling Out Kid Rock
In his song “Not Everybody Likes Us” from the album Straight to Hell, Hank3 calls out Kid Rock, saying:And just so you know, so it’s set in stone, Kid Rock don’t come from where I come from. Yeah it’s true he’s a Yank, he ain’t no son of Hank, and if you though so goddamn you’re fuckin’ dumb.
The anger was stimulated when Hank3′s father, Hank William Jr., began to refer to Kid Rock as his “Rebel Son” around 2002. At the time, Kid Rock and Hank Jr. were collaborating together on music. The “Rebel Son” talk stimulated rumors that Kid Rock truly was another son of Hank Jr., and Hank3 got tired of answering the rumors. It all boiled over one night at a show in Kid Rock’s home of Detroit when Kid Rock and his fling at the time Pamela Anderson tried to board Hank3′s bus to patch things up between Hank3 and Hank Jr.
Hank3 told Blender Magazine in 2006:
…he kept trying to come on the bus—you know, him and Pam [Anderson] and all that shit —and I said, “Tell that motherfucker I got nothing to say to him,” and then he finally gets his way back in there and tells me how I need to be treating my father and I’m like, “All right, you just crossed the line motherfucker.” And I don’t know how many times I have to say it: “No, he’s not my fucking brother…
8. Recording The Album Straight to Hell DIY Style
Considered Hank3′s opus, Straight to Hell released in February of 2006 was recorded on a $400 consumer-grade Korg D-1600 machine in Hank3′s steel guitar player’s house. It was the first true DIY recording made outside of the conventional studio setting to ever be released through a country music major label and the Country Music Association. It was also the first album to be put out through the CMA with a Parental Advisory sticker.
The point was not just for Hank3 to gain control of his own music, but to inspire a generation of new artists to do the same thing, to see that they didn’t need to sign big deals and have lots of money to make and release music. And that’s exactly what it did.
9. Standing Up to the Grand Ole Opry
For years Hank3 has been trying to get The Grand Ole Opry to show respects to his grandfather by reinstating him into the institution he loved so dearly. Hank Williams was kicked out of the Opry for drunkenness and missing rehearsals with the idea that once he sobered up, he could be reinstated. Unfortunately Hank Williams never got that opportunity. He died on New Years Day, 1953 as an ostracized member of the institution he helped bring to prominence. All Hank3 is asking is a symbolic gesture be made to the legacy of Hank Williams by reinstating him to the Grand Ole Opry, also known as Reinstate Hank. The issue has also come to symbolize the fight to keep the purity of The Grand Ole Opry institution alive.
10. Shaking Every Hand And Signing Every Album After Shows
This may not sound like some altruistic task for some artists whose shows stretch to top 75 attendees, but when you’re constantly selling out concerts with hundreds of tickets sold, and every one of those people wants to meet you, this simple gesture has become one of Hank3 signature symbols of showing how he’s willing to go the extra mile for his fans, sometimes patiently spending many hours after two and three hour performances to shake hands, sign autographs, and take pictures.
BONUS – 11. Playing Bass for Phil Anselmo’s Superjoint Ritual
Showing that the show didn’t need to be all about him, while Hank3 was fighting with Curb Records and trying to get his album This Ain’t Country released, he took his friend Phil Anselmo—the former lead singer of Pantera—up on the offer to join his band Superjoint Ritual on bass. Between 2002 and 2004, Hank3 could be seen banging his head on stage as a side man in concerts across the country. When Superjoint Ritual shut down around 2004 and Hank3 returned to the country world and released the album Straight to Hell, he showed legions of punk and heavy metal fans the virtues of traditional country music and created many country music converts.
The grandson of Hank Williams and the son of Hank Jr. is having to deal with yet another post-contract release from Curb records, this time called Rambin’ Man, slated for release on April 1st. Insert your April Fool’s jokes here. The album will include 8 tracks of outtakes, unreleased material, and cover songs Hank3 contributed to tribute albums and other projects during his Curb years. Most of the music is stuff Hank3 fans have already heard, repackaged to look like a new album.
Hank3 entered into a 6 album contract with Curb in the late 90′s after a child custody suit and a judge forced him to get a “real job”. Curb was able to stretch Hank3′s album count to 7 by releasing Hillbilly Joker in 2011; a “hellbilly” album Curb initially rejected, but released after Hank3 had fulfilled his contract at the end of 2010. Then Curb released an outtakes album in 2012 called Lone Gone Daddy that brought the total of Curb releases on Hank3′s 6-album contract to 8. Ramblin’ Man would make it 9.
With the news of the release of Long Gone Daddy, Hank3 fans knew Curb still had unreleased material from the 3rd generation star, because a cover of Johnny Paycheck’s “I’m The Only Hell (My Momma Ever Raised)” that was rejected on his Damn Right, Rebel Proud album had yet to surface. Though Curb decided at the time that the cover song was not fit for public consumption, similar to how they rejected Hank3′s Hillbilly Joker album altogether, they see perfectly fit to release the song now on this new record.
Hypothetically, Ramblin’ Man would be the last of Hank3′s material from the Curb era, though the inevitable “Greatest Hits” card has yet to be played by the label.
Some other interesting notes from the track list: “On My Own” was a song from Hank3′s previous Curb record Risin’ Outlaw. “Ramblin’ Man” is a song by Hank Williams that Hank3 once recorded a cover of with The Melvins, as was Merle Haggards “Okie From Muskogee”. “Fearless Boogie” is a ZZ Top song Hank3 once covered on the tribute Sharp Dressed Men. “Marijuana Blues” originally appeared on Rare Breed: The Songs of Peter LaFarge.
Hank3 has previously encouraged fans to burn these albums and share them instead of buy them. He’s also indicated intention to release new material in 2014.
Ramblin’ Man Track List:
- Ramblin’ Man
- Fearless Boogie
- Okie From Muskogee
- The Only Hell (My Momma Ever Raised)
- On My Own [Full Length Version]
- Marijuana Blues
- Hang On
- Runnin’ & Gunnin’
Membership to the Grand Ole Opry is seen a one of the most prestigious accolades a country music artist can be bestowed, and the recognition is sought after by performers both big and small, mainstream and traditional because it is one of the hardest gets in music.
The Opry currently has 66 members, and as older members pass on, newer ones are recruited. In 2013, the only new addition to The Opry was old time string band Old Crow Medicine Show—one of the few traditional-leaning bands to be asked into the institution in recent memory. Before Old Crow, it was a cavalcade of mainstream pop country music stars that as Grand Ole Opry historian Byron Fay points out in his 2013 Year In Review are not fulfilling the Opry obligations they signed up for when the accepted their invitations.
The exact requirements to keep your Grand Ole Opry membership active have been updated and altered over the years. Original Opry members made dozens of appearances a year as a matter of course. Today, artists that have “retired” like Garth Brooks and Barbara Mandrell are not always expected to make appearances, but retain their membership, mostly because of the dues they paid prior to retiring. But some artists that have just signed on are not meeting the most minimum of Opry requirements either.
In April of 1963, The Opry implemented a rule stating that members must make at least 26 appearances on the show per year to keep their membership active. Over the years, the amount of required appearances per year has dropped, though the appearance rule is hypothetically still in effect. In 1964, Opry management dropped the amount of required performances to 20. Then in 2000, they dropped the requirement to 12. Today, Opry General Manager Pete Fisher has set a goal of 10 appearances a year by each Opry member. Members, especially popular country stars, can also receive extra appearance credits by appearing on a weekend. Friday or Saturday appearances country as 3 performances according to some accounts of the current Opry rules.
The issue with big, new artists reneging on their Opry responsibilities first came up after Blake Shelton made controversial comments about country music’s classic country fans, calling them “Old Farts & Jackasses.” Opry historian Byron Faye called for the removal of Blake from the Opry ranks, not just because of the comments, but because Blake Shelton hadn’t made a single appearance in an entire year prior to his comments in clear violation of the membership rules. Shelton only became an Opry member in September of 2010, and was already shirking his responsibilities. Subsequently, Blake Shelton did make two weekend appearances on the show, but that would still put him well below the required ten appearances, even with the extra weekend credits.
Darius Rucker was the big name to be invited to the Opry in 2012, but only made four appearances on the show in 2013. Rascal Flatts and Keith Urban were The Opry’s big additions for 2011. Though Rascal Flatts appeared a moderate seven times, including some weekend shows, Keith Urban made a total of two appearances throughout 2013. Two appearances were all recent Opry members Brad Paisley and Trace Adkins could muster as well.
On the other side of the spectrum, there are older Grand Ole Opry members who would love to make more appearances if only asked, but they are getting squeezed out by younger, and non-member performers. As Byron Fay accounts for on his blog, there were a total of 227 guest appearances on the show in 2013, and a total of 42 appearances by cast members of ABC’s TV Show Nashville that receives funding and other material support from the parent company of the Grand Ole Opry, Ryman Hospitality. Guest appearances on the Opry can be a big honor for up-and-coming artists and are an important part of the Grand Ole Opry culture. But they are not meant to supplant established Opry members.
Another interesting note is that long-time Opry member Dolly Parton has been absent from the Opry stage for an extended period. Though there has been no specific word of a beef between Dolly and the Opry, a theme park deal between the two parties dissolved in 2012 when the Opry was part of a sale to Marriott in the restructuring of Gaylord Enterprises to the new Ryman Hospitality Properties.
We do know that The Grand Ole Opry is willing to drop living members, or at least they did in the past. They famously threw out Hank Williams in August of 1952 for alcoholism and missing rehearsals, and Neko Case was once banned from the institution for removing her shirt. If The Grand Ole Opry membership is going to maintain the prestige that all the members approach it with when they are asked to join the institution, the rules governing membership must be maintained both by members, and the institution.
It is sometimes easy to get swept up in moments and convince yourself that it has never been as bad as it is now. But one thing is hard to argue: the amount of loss that occurred in country music in 2013 was to a degree the genre has rarely, or never experienced before. From the death of one of the most legendary country music performers of all time in George Jones, to the unexpected passing of Willie Nelson’s guitar player Jody Payne, 2013 seemed to be a year of suffering through one unfortunate news story after another. To illustrate this, just appreciate these three facts:
- Braxton Schuffert died the same day George Jones died, April 26th.
- Chet Flippo died the same day Slim Whitman died, June 19th.
- “Cowboy” Jack Clement, Jody Payne, and Tompall Glaser all died within a week of each other in early August.
Below find a collection of the unfortunate obituaries Saving Country Music was forced to write this year, and a commentary on the passing of Mindy McCready that many give credit as being one of the best-written articles on SCM in 2013.
Mindy McCready – February 17th, 2013
The dead American celebrity–whether occurring quickly and unexpectedly, or slowly over time in a downward spiral of self destructive behavior–is an eternal narrative of the American popular culture, and an everlasting disgrace on our legacy. From jazz greats overdosing on heroin, to Hank Williams dying on New Year’s Day 1953 in the back of his powder blue Cadillac, to Jimi, to Janis, to Jim, Kurt, Michael Jackson and now Mindy McCready, as long as the American culture has been united through media, we’ve been willing accomplices to murder by the act of our unhealthy obsessions with humans we both unfairly canonize and unnecessarily criticize in the idolatrous pop culture cycle.
Instilled in all of us at birth is the idea that becoming a celebrity is the apex of the human experience. We feed this philosophy to our children. We perpetuate it through media. We’ve made it a vital building block of our economy. It is enshrined and institutionalized in our educational system in the form of popularity contests. It has infiltrated our religious institutions. Yet nowhere is the philosophy of wealth and celebrity being broken promises given equal time. Nowhere are the eternal narratives held up as evidence that fame doesn’t resolve personal problems, it exacerbates them, and that wealth doesn’t resolve the downward spiral, it fuels it. We take individuals already predisposed to addiction, depression, suicide and other self-destructive behavior, and then we expect them to deal with these issues in the public eye for our entertainment.
I would be lying if I said I was a fan of Mindy McCready’s music, and I would feel remiss if I recommended it. It would also be disingenuous of me if I regurgitated certain facts here in some heartlessly-compiled obit and acted like I knew the ins and outs of Mindy McCready’s career over time. The truth is I shielded myself from Mindy McCready’s celebrity, as well as the drama that plagued her later life that played out in popular media. I did so from an inherent personal belief that this voyeuristic pursuit was unhealthy for both Mindy and myself.
Did we kill Mindy McCready? No, Mindy McCready killed Mindy McCready.
We simply sat back and watched.
Braxton Schuffert – April 26, 2013
Whether you want to go as far as to say Braxton Schuffert “discovered” Hank Williams depends on your perspective, but that Hormel delivery driver was certainly seminal to setting Hank Williams on the path to super stardom, shepherding the young man as a musician and songwriter, making critical contributions to the rise of Hank, and helping Hank as a close friend all the way up to his death in 1953. “I’d like to say I helped him out, but I didn’t give him that voice and I didn’t teach him to write those songs. That’s something you get from God.”
Braxton Schuffert was a local musician in Montgomery, AL that had his own band and a standing gig at local radio station WSFA where he would play and sing, just him and his guitar every morning from 6:00 – 6:30 AM before his Hormel deliveries. Since school was out at the time, Shuffert asked young Hank if he wanted to come with him the next day on his deliveries. “I told him we’d sing all day. That’s all he needed to hear. He was for anything to do with music.”
One of Hank Williams’ first songs “Rockin’ Chair Daddy” was co-written by Schuffert. As Hank began to get bigger, Braxton helped form Hank’s Drifting Cowboy band, and was a revolving member of the band and was part of Hank’s inner circle throughout the country star’s career. Braxton Schuffert was his own accomplished country music singer, and worked to help keep the legacy of Hank Williams alive, performing as lately as last year’s 33rd annual Hank Williams Festival in Georgiana at the age of 96. Schuffert has his own display case at the Hank Williams Museum.
George Jones – April 26th, 2013
While in the midst of his 60-date farewell tour, Jones was hospitalized for running a slight fever and for having irregular blood pressure, canceling shows in both Atlanta, and Salem, VA. A family member told TMZ, “”He has been on oxygen for a long while now and his lungs finally just couldn’t do it anymore and they collapsed and he passed away. He couldn’t breathe anymore on his own.”
George died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. He was survived by four children and his wife of 30 years, Nancy. Jones was married a total of 4 times, including to fellow country music legend Tammy Wynette from 1969 to 1975.
George Jones was born in Saratoga, TX, and went on to record more than 150 country albums and have 14 #1 country hits. Dubbed “The Possum” by some for his marsupial look, and “No Show Jones” by others for a well-documented period of alcohol and drug abuse, George had one of the smoothest voices to ever grace country music. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992, had been a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1956, and was awarded a Kennedy Center Honor in 2008.
Chet Flippo – June 19th, 2013
In the mid 70′s when country music was in upheaval from a new crop of rough shot artists thinking they should be able to write their own songs, record with their own bands, and keep creative control of their music, Rolling Stone Associate Editor Chet Flippo hit the streets of Nashville to help chronicle what was happening. Not nearly as off-the-wall as his more famous Rolling Stone counterpart Hunter S. Thompson, but just as willing to take an offbeat approach and embed himself amongst his journalistic subjects to get the whole story, Chet Flippo became the eyes and ears for the rest of the world enraptured by country music’s Outlaw revolution.
Beyond writing features for Rolling Stone, Flippo lent his pen to the very music of the Outlaw movement, writing the preambles and liner notes to both Wanted: The Outlaws, the first platinum-selling album in the history of country music, and Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger, arguably country music’s most influential album of all time.
Flippo was born in Fort Worth, TX, and was a veteran of the Vietnam War, serving in the U.S. Navy. He went to college at the University of Texas in Austin, and after working as Contributing Editor for Rolling Stone magazine while in graduate school, he became Rolling Stone’s New York Bureau Chief in 1974, rising to senior editor after Rolling Stone moved its offices from San Francisco to New York in 1977.
Slim Whitman – June 19th, 2013
Yodeling became deprecated in popular country music by the late 1950′s, but not before Slim Whitman who passed away on June 19th mastered the craft and made the world a timeless catalog of it in the country music context. Slim may not be given as much credit of the formation and popularization of country music as Hank Williams or Jimmie Rodgers, but he sold a surprising 120 million records worldwide, primarily by appealing to Europeans just as much, if not more than the American audience.
Though Whitman never scored a domestic #1 (he did have a couple of #2′s), his song “Rose Marie” held the record for the longest UK #1 for 36 years, spending 11 weeks at the #1 spot. Whitman was right-handed, but was a left-handed guitarist, stringing the guitar upside down; a practice later adopted by Paul McCartney after seeing Whitman playing guitar on a poster. Whitman’s influence far outlasted his popular music popularity, and so do his songs that illustrate an astounding, enchanting control of the human vocal range.
Oh, and let’s not forget that moment in 1996 when Slim Whitman’s music single-handedly saved the world from invading Martians when a Kansas teenager discovered through his grandmother that Slim Whitman’s yodel would melt the brains of the invaders, eventually leading to the military broadcasting Slim around the globe, destroying the Martians.
“Cowboy” Jack Clement – August 8th, 2013
Country Music Hall of Famer, legendary producer, songwriter, musician, and cosmic music man “Cowboy” Jack Clement died at the age of 82, the same year he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Jack Clement got his start working at Sun Studios in Memphis under Sam Phillips while playing steel guitar in college. He would later use this important position to become a seminal figure in the formation of both country and rock and roll music in the mid 50′s. Sam Phillips hired Jack on as an engineer, and Jack would arrange such hits as Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” and write Cash’s “Ballad of a Teenage Queen.” Jack discovered Jerry Lee Lewis when Sam Phillips was away on vacation one time, and many of those early Sun Studios recordings have Jack Clement’s fingerprints on them.
Clement would later go on to operate a renowned studio out of his home called the “Cowboy Arms Hotel and Recording Spa.” His house became a symbol of country music’s Outlaw revolution, facilitating a relaxed environment where creativity and free expression were encouraged and cultivated with country music’s progressive artists—a sharp contrast to the authoritarian studios of Nashville’s Music Row. At Clement’s home studio, Waylon Jennings’ Dreaming My Dreams was produced and recorded, as well as albums by Johnny Cash, Townes Van Zandt, Charley Pride, John Prine, Bobby Bare, Dolly Parton, and many more.
Jack Clement was also an inductee to the Songwriters Hall of Fame, The Music City Walk of Fame, and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. He was considered a close friend and spiritual confidant to many country music performers.
Jody Payne – August 10th, 2013
Payne was part of Willie Nelson’s legendary “Family Band” for over 3 decades until he decided to retire from the road and began teaching guitar. He was born in in Garrard County, Kentucky where he began singing at six years old. Jody first played professionally with Charlie Monroe in 1951, and then was drafted into the army in 1958. After two years of service, he settled in Detroit where he initially met Willie Nelson in 1962, but did not start playing with him until years later. Throughout the 60′s Payne played bass for Ray Price, and also played with Merle Haggard among others before eventually joining Willie in 1973.
Payne was married to country singer Sammi Smith. The couple eventually divorced. They had a son Waylon Payne who is also a musician, performer, and actor. He is also survived by another son Austin Payne, and his wife Vicki who he married in 1980.
Tompall Glaser – August 13th, 2013
Tompall Glaser was born Thomas Paul Glaser on September 3rd, 1933 in Spalding, Nebraska. He got his start in country music with his two brothers Chuck and Jim backing up Marty Robbins. They went on to form Tompall & The Glaser Brothers and eventually became members of the Grand Ole Opry. The family band released 10 albums and had 9 charting singles before breaking up in 1975.
But Tompall came to be better known for his work as one of country music’s original Outlaws. As one of Nashville’s first renegade studio owners, he was seminal to the trend of artists winning creative control of their music in the early and mid 1970′s. His “Hillbilly Central” studio became a hangout for artists like Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and many others that eventually would lead country’s Outlaw movement to country music prominence.
Tompall most prominently appeared on the compilation Wanted: The Outlaws that became country music’s first platinum-selling album. His contribution “Put Another Long On The Fire” written by Shel Silverstein became his highest-charting hit. He released 15 solo albums over his long career, but had disappeared lately from the country music scene.
Wayne Mills – November 23rd, 2013
Wayne Mills was an Outlaw country music artists and songwriter who was shot fatally on November 23rd at the Pit & Barrel Bar in Nashville by the bar’s owner, Chris Ferrell. Originally from the very small town of Arab in Northern Alabama, he attended Wallace State Junior College as a baseball player, and eventually played football for the University of Alabama. Mills earned his degree in education and formed the Wayne Mills Band which became one of the hottest college bands on the honky tonk circuit.
Though Mills never rose to become a household name, his influence on country music cannot be overstated. He was close personal friends with Jamey Johnson, and was on tour with Jamey the week before he died. Jamey once opened for Wayne when he was making his way up in the ranks, so did future CMA Entertainer of the Year Blake Shelton, and American Idol winner Taylor Hicks. Mills also shared the stage with Blackberry Smoke, and toured both Europe and Australia during his 15-plus years of touring experience. Mills received the Guardian Award by the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame just last month to recognize his “hard work and unwavering commitment to their music and their fans and best exemplify the tradition of those who came before.”
Ray Price – December 16th, 2013
Ray Price was born in Perryville, TX and served in the United States Marine Corps for 3 years before joining the “Big D Jamboree” show in Dallas in 1949. He then went on to manage Hank Williams’ Drifting Cowboy band after the untimely death of Hank in 1952. In 1953, Ray Price formed his own band, the Cherokee Cowboys, which had many notable members over the years, including Willie Nelson, Roger Miller, Johnny Paycheck , Johnny Bush, and steel guitar player Buddy Emmons amongst others.
Ray scored his first #1 hit in 1956 with the song “Crazy Arms” written by steel guitar player Ralph Mooney, and later became seminal to the 1960′s “Nashville Sound,” scoring a total of eight #1′s, including “My Shoes Keep Walking Back To You,” “City Lights,” “The Same Old Me,” “For The Good Times” in 1970 written by Kris Kristofferson, and “I Won’t Mention It Again” in 1971. One of his most well-known songs is “Heartaches By The Number” released in 1959.
He released over 50 albums over his career and became a legend of country music, being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996. Ray won two Grammys, two ACM Awards, and a CMA Award for Album of the Year from 1971. Ray continued to perform all the way up to this year, and released his last album Last of the Breed with good friends Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard in 2007.
Other Notable Country Deaths:
- Cal Smith – best known for the song “Country Bumpkin”
- Jack Greene – Singer and performer, and first ever CMA Male Vocalist of the Year
- Patti Page – Singer of “Tennessee Waltz”
- Billy Joe Foster – Bluegrass Boy fiddle player for Bill Monroe & others
- Tony Douglas – Louisiana Hayride star that once turned down a contract for the Grand Ole Opry because he didn’t want to leave Texas.
- Johnny MacRae – Songwriter
- Patty Andrews – Of The Andrews Sisters
- Claude King- Singer, original member of the Louisiana Hayride
- Lorene Mann – Singer and songwriter
- Gordon Stoker – for The Jordanaires
- Sammy Johns – Songwriter of “Chevy Van” and other songs.
Every New Years as revelers across the country celebrate the symbolic reset of the calendar, a much more somber anniversary passes in the realm of country music. On January 1st, 1953, Hank Williams passed away in the back seat of his powder blue Cadillac somewhere on the road near Oak Hill, West Virginia of heart failure, forever robbing country music of its first superstar at the age of 29. Hank’s death has gone on to become one of the most storied, and most intriguing moments in country music lore, somewhat shrouded in mystery because some of the facts surrounding his death are not known and never will be, and because of the weight the passing of Hank Williams put on the heart of country music.
The death of Hank Williams has taken on a greater reverence, and a deeper importance in the last year with the passing of some of the most important characters in Hank’s life, and in the story of his death. Braxton Schuffert, the man who arguably discovered Hank Williams, passed away earlier this year in April. Charles Carr, the driver of Hank’s powder blue Cadillac on that fateful trip and the last person to see Hank Williams alive, passed away in early July. A movie loosely based on Hank’s final days called The Last Ride was released June 6th. And this year marks 60 years after Hank’s death, and 90 years after his birth.
In remembrance of these significant events, milestones, and passings, traditional country artist Joey Allcorn has assembled a collection of songs in an album called Midnight – The Death of Hank Williams. The theme of the album is to relive the tragic passing of Hank Williams through music, though not all the songs are specifically about Hank. For example the album starts off with some words from Braxton Schuffert—only fitting because he was there at the very beginning of Hank’s career. Then the first song performed by traditionalist Jake Penrod is “Rockin’ Chair Daddy,” a song written by Schuffert with Hank Williams. Near the end of the album is a song called “Song For Charles” for Hank’s driver Charles Carr, written and performed by Bobby Tomberlin.
In between are songs that have great significance to the Hank Williams death narrative, including “The Death of Hank Williams” that as Joey Allcorn explains really inspired the project. “To me it was an interesting song because it was the very first Hank Williams tribute,” says Allcorn. “Nowadays, doing a Hank Williams tribute is just sort of par for the course.” The “Midnight” title track is a duet between Allcorn and Jake Penrod, and the traditional “Death Is Only A Dream” pairs Allcorn with Rachel Brooke. Other songs that were written about the death of Hank Williams include “Is There Something You Can Do (New Year’s 1953)” told from the perspective of Charles Carr, written and performed by Arty Hill, “A Legend Froze In Time” written and performed by David Church, and “Fallen Star” by Andy Norman.
Another interesting note about Midnight is the final track is a contribution by the recently-fallen country artist Wayne Mills who was shot and killed on November 23rd in Nashville. Along with Wayne’s guitar player Kyle Wilson and Joey Allcorn, they revitalize the Waylon Jennings tune “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way.” This was the last track that Wayne Mills recorded and officially released for sale before his death.
Midnight is not your typical album project, and should be approach with that understanding and reverence. The point is to help the modern ear reconnect with those somber moments in the wake of Hank’s passing, and with the love each track is approached with, it carries this task admirably. The vintage audio of Braxton Schuffert starting off the album and DJ Nelson King of WCKY making the announcement of Hank’s death on the radio, along with the vinyl effect on the song “Death Is Only A Dream” help to set the somber mood and send you back to that time and place.
This album is not available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, or anywhere else. The only way it can be purchased is through the Hank Williams Museum in Montgomery, AL, with the proceeds going directly to the museum. This is not an album that will suck you in with groundbreaking original music; that is not the point. But as a commemoration of Hank’s death for the purpose of helping to keep his legacy alive through the museum, it grades high on all marks.
Two guns up.
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Country music star Alan Jackson has been known for being a staunch traditionalist, and a man who has stood on principle and for protecting the roots and legends of the music throughout his career. One of the most famous moments in country music lore involves Alan Jackson at the CMA awards show in 1999 when producers told George Jones he would have to perform an abridged version of his song “Choices.” George refused, and boycotted the awards altogether. Then in protest, during Alan Jackson’s performance of his song “Pop A Top,” he reversed course and started into George’s “Choices” in solidarity with the country legend.
But this wasn’t Alan Jackson’s only moment of protest during a prime time awards show apparently. Years earlier, at the 1994 ACM Awards, Alan Jackson pulled at stunt that has gone unfairly under-recognized in that annals of country’s finest moments of rebellion and protest.
The 1994 ACM Awards were in many ways Alan Jackson’s oyster. Held at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles on May 3rd, Alan walked away that night with the Top Male Vocalist award, and co-hosted the event with Reba McEntire. But when it came to performing what would be his upcoming #1 single and one of the signature songs of the era “Gone Country,” Alan Jackson couldn’t sit right with the charade most country award shows pull on their audience.
Alan Jackson walked out for his performance wearing a Hank Williams sleeveless shirt, which in itself was quite irreverent and newswrothy in 1994, when country award shows were still predominantly black tie affairs. Executive producer Dick Clark in a backstage interview during the show asked Alan, “I should ask you a significant question. Here you are on television in front of millions of people. Why do you have a Hank Williams T-shirt on?” Jackson’s response was, “Well, I love Hank, and a fan…I get a lot of gifts on the road playing, and a fan gave me this shirt, and I just saw it in the closet before I came out here this weekend and I grabbed it and said, ‘I’m gonna wear it for my song,’ you know, ‘Gone Country.’ Hank’s country.”
But it wasn’t just Alan’s Jackson’s shirt that caught people’s eye and no doubt drew the worst ire of the ACM producers. Before the show, producers had told Alan that he had to play to a pre-recorded track, which Jackson clearly felt was tantamount to lying to both his fans and the audience. So instead of playing along with the charade, Jackson tipped off the audience to the subterfuge by telling his drummer Bruce Rutherford to play without sticks. So as the performance transpires and everything sounds perfect, there is Alan Jackson’s drummer, swinging his arms like he’s playing the drums, but with no sticks in his hand.
The performance certainly must have raised a stink at the time, but information and news stories about the incident are virtually non-existent. Dick Clark and the other ACM producers may have hoped only a few people noticed, and decided rather to ignore it than to shine a spotlight on the practice of pre-recording performances.
In the last few years, the amount of re-releases, rare recordings, and other such reconstituted music material we’ve been bestowed by the Johnny Cash and Hank Williams camps and others has made the announcement and release of archival material somewhat of a mundane event. It’s not that there isn’t material on these albums that is worthy of ears, but they’re usually only good for maybe a few individual tracks that you must find by sifting through outtakes and alternative versions to get to. Sometimes these releases are padded with material that has been previously released, or has been put out in bootleg form before. And with so many of these releases, the mystique of hearing something new from a deceased artist has ironically become commonplace. Sometimes the release dates for these projects come and go and you don’t even notice despite your loyal fandom.
That will not, and should not be the case for the upcoming Johnny Cash album Out Among The Stars set to be released on March 25th, 2014. Instead of a hodgepodge of live or radio recordings or other such discarded studio fodder, Out Among The Stars is a complete album that was recorded between 1981 and 1984 by Cash, with songs that were meant to be together, but never saw the light of day. A true “lost album” if there ever was one. It was produced by Country Music Hall of Famer Billy Sherrill, renown as one of the architects of the countrypolitan, or Nashville Sound. But this wasn’t 1965, and Johnny Cash wasn’t just some artist looking to soften his sound with strings and choruses. Sherrill was also the president of CBS Records at the time, and the pairing was meant to create something special; something that could re-ignite Johnny Cash’s career.
It was the early 1980′s and Cash’s label Columbia was not sure what to do with him. Like so many other golden-era, aging country artists at the time, Cash was seen as cold product, and eventually Columbia dropped Cash in 1986, shelving Out Among The Stars, even though they released some other recordings and albums that were made after the album. It is pretty obvious that Columbia executives didn’t think much of the project, but as we’ve come to find out over the years, from back then and today, just because Music Row doesn’t approve, doesn’t mean it is bad.
Apparently when Cash was cut from Columbia, June Carter stashed the masters for Out Among The Stars amongst other archival recordings. The masters weren’t even found until last year when the family was going through the material looking for potential archival releases.
“They never threw anything away,” Cash’s son John Carter Cash tells The Tennessean. “They kept everything in their lives. They had an archive that had everything in it from the original audio tapes from ‘The Johnny Cash Show’ to random things like a camel saddle, a gift from the prince of Saudi Arabia….We were so excited when we discovered this. We were like, my goodness this is a beautiful record that nobody has ever heard. Johnny Cash is in the very prime of his voice for his lifetime. He’s pitch perfect. It’s seldom where there’s more than one vocal take. They’re a live take and they’re perfect.”
Out Among The Stars features 12 tracks, including a duet with Waylon Jennings, and two duets with Cash’s wife, June Carter Cash. The recordings feature Country Hall of Fame keys player Hargus “Pig” Robbins, and a young Marty Stuart. And for better or worse, Legacy Recordings had Marty Stuart, Buddy Miller, and Jerry Douglas “fortify” the recordings for this release. No, this is not the dusting off of some old demos to have fans who will buy anything Cash dig into their pockets yet again. Great care was taken with this project from beginning to end, and the result may mean the continuance of the surprising and sustainable interest Johnny Cash enjoys well after his passing.
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Below is a clip of the song “She Used To Love Me A Lot,” written by Dennis Morgan, Charles Quillen, and Kye Fleming, and originally recorded by David Allan Coe with producer Billy Sherrill in 1985.
Before there were reality show contests and overnight sensations in country music, artists were expected to pay dues in music before they could hit the big time. They had to prove their muster as performers, musicians, or songwriters before making it to the spotlight, and one of those proving grounds was behind an established musician, holding down a spot in their band. When it came to the band of the recently deceased Ray Price called the Cherokee Cowboys, that proving ground has a pretty remarkable list of alumni that made their way up the country music ranks with the help of Ray.
Much can be written about the influence and impact Ray Price had on country music. But there may be no better evidence then the list of performers who felt honored to play behind Ray during their rise. Here’s some of the most notable Cherokee Cowboys that went on to bigger fame.
In 1961, just as Willie Nelson was beginning to make it big as a songwriter with Faron Young cutting “Hello Walls” and Ray Price Recording “Night Life,” Willie heard that Ray’s bass player was leaving and applied for the gig. “Ray didn’t ask if I knew how to play bass, which I didn’t,” Willie recalls. Willie’s stint in the Cherokee Cowboys was not very long, but it was legendary. Willie would take his $25 wage and songwriting royalties and upgrade his hotel rooms to suites to throw big parties, and pay for commercial airfare instead of riding the band bus. Willie bought Ray Price’s 1959 Cadillac and gave it to his then wife Martha. But as Willie became a hot songwriting commodity, he moved on from Ray’s band. The man Willie replaced on bass was known as Donny Young, whose real name was Donald Lytle, later to be known as Johnny Paycheck.
Johnny Paycheck was known simply as Donny Young during his Cherokee Cowboy days, and he had a lasting impact on the band and Ray Price before being replaced by Willie Nelson. Just like Paycheck did when he played in George Jones’s band, he was not only a capable bass player that also could also sit in on steel guitar, Paycheck brought a tenor harmony to the table that made him an invaluable and influential resource to any band he played in. Paycheck’s tenor is given credit for heavily influencing George Jones’s singing style, and Paycheck’s harmonies can be heard on early 60′s recordings by Ray Price, Faron Young, and fellow Cherokee Cowboy Roger Miller.
Roger Miller’s career path was quirky to say the least, but just like Willie and Paycheck, it ran through Ray Price. After starting as a songwriter and collaborating early on with George Jones during his Starday Records era, Miller moved to Amarillo to become a firefighter. Of course Miller was a horrible firefighter, and made his way back into the music business and out to Nashville by becoming a Cherokee Cowboy in 1958. Miller wrote the Ray Price hit “Invitation to the Blues,” and sings harmony on the recording. Ray Price returned the favor in 1982, singing harmonies on Roger Miller’s final hit, “Old Friends,” which was the title track of a collaborative album between Roger and former Cherokee Cowboy Willie Nelson.
Picture of Ray Price and Roger Miller on the Grand Ole Opry. rogermiller.com
Talk to anybody familiar with the history of the pedal steel guitar in country music, and they’ll tell you Buddy Emmons is one of the gods of the instrument, if not the best to ever play. He was the founder of Sho-Bud, and the innovator of the “split-pedal” setup of the steel guitar in 1956 which revolutionized the instrument and is still in practice with most steel guitar players today. After doing stints in the bands of Little Jimmy Dickens and Ernest Tubb, Buddy joined the Cherokee Cowboys in 1962, recording and touring with Ray Price until about 1967. He plays the famous steel guitar break on “Night Life,” and became Price’s bandleader during his tenure in the Cherokee Cowboys, contributing many of the arrangements to Ray’s most famous songs from that era. Lloyd Green once said of Buddy Emmons, “He is probably the most intelligent and talented musician who’s ever played the instrument. He’s like Picasso or Michelangelo.” And when he joined Ray’s band, he replaced another steel guitar virtuoso, Jimmy Day. Emmons left the Cherokee Cowboys to move to California and work for fellow Cherokee Cowboy Roger Miller.
Honky tonk country singer and performer Darrell McCall grew up in Ohio with Donald Lytle, aka Donny Young, aka Johnny Paycheck, and the two moved to Nashville as a duo. When the duo thing didn’t work out, McCall, just like Paycheck, ended up in Price’s Cherokee Cowboys, both in the session recorder and touring band member capacity as a backup vocalist in 1958. A year later, McCall was contracted to be part of the band The Little Dippers, and a year after that, he was signed to Capitol Records as a solo artist, becoming a performer in the honky tonk style of country, and later in the Outlaw country realm.
The legendary Texas performer and songwriter whose most famous for penning Willie Nelson’s signature song “Whiskey River” joined Ray’s Cherokee Cowboys in 1963. Like so many artists before him, the opportunity Ray Price bestowed to Bush led to greater success, and made lifelong friends of fellow Cherokee Cowboy artists. Johnny Bush also spent some time in one of Willie Nelson’s first bands, The Record Men, and Willie was a financial backer for Bush’s first record in 1967, The Sound of a Heartache. Bush was signed to RCA in 1972, but vocal problems kept Bush from being the huge star his talent afforded. To this day, Johnny Bush is a big star in his native Texas.
Other Notable Members of the Cherokee Cowboys:
- Jimmy Day
- Pete Wade
- Steve Bess
- Jan Curtis
- Shorty Lavender
- Buddy Spicher
You won’t see Reno, Nevada’s Hellbound Glory at the top of anyone’s ‘Best Of’ lists this year, unless it relates to touring or live performances. Leroy Virgil & the boys didn’t leave much time for recording and releasing albums in 2013; they were too busy ripping off one of the toughest, busiest, and arguably the most notable touring schedules in 2013 from an independent country act. It started in February as an opening band on Kid Rock’s “Rebel Soul” arena tour of which a retooled Hellbound Glory did two legs of, all the while playing smaller shows here and there when possible, and then revisiting many of the same areas afterwards on their own bills in the proceeding weeks and months.
Then most recently Hellbound went on a breakneck, two month tour with The Supersuckers, covering 40-something dates spanning the US. When Leroy Virgil rolled into Austin, TX on Friday Dec. 6th to play a quick set at the Empire Control Room downtown, he’d been rode hard and put away wet, and Hellbound Glory had not a familiar face from the members who had started out with him at the beginning of the year. However he’d recruited the very capable guitarist ‘Metal’ Marty Chandler, and drummer Chris VonStreicher from the Supersuckers, and Adam Kowalski from North Carolina on bass and band manager duties.
Aside from the music, the night was weird all around. They started at 9 PM, which is very early for a weekend show in Austin, and a few straggling fans missed some of the set. Hellbound was supposed to play outside, but 20-degree weather and a stiff north wind scrapped those plans. The Empire Control Room was more ambient for a rave than a real country show, with pacifier-sucking, glowstick-twirling visuals projecting onto the walls, and a mandate on Hellbound to stop after an hour so a DJ could spin house music to an entirely empty room. This was all quite in contrast to Leroy’s prominent “Hank” suspenders strapped over his shoulders, and his beer chugging honky tonk tunes.
But when Leroy Virgil and Hellbound Glory 4.0 hit the stage, none of that mattered. Leroy started with a blistering, amplified version of Hank Williams’ “My Buckets Got A Hole In It” that reinvented and revitalized that tune originally learned by Hank Williams from Rufus Payne in the mid-30′s, and made it feel like an iconic 70′s-era Southern rock anthem. Not 30 seconds into the first song, and you could tell that Leroy had played so many shows in front of so many big crowds in 2013, that being on stage was second nature, and a downright showman had emerged from a man who is known as a songwriter first. Not that Leroy was a stiff before, but now he had a swagger about him—a sway and arm motions—engaging the crowd and carrying songs to another level with his ability to be completely uninhibited with the music.
Leroy’s electric guitar sounded horrible. It was a black and white Squier Stratocaster that had “$100″ written on the pick guard in permanent marker like he’d just bought it off the side of the road. It’s the kind of guitar you buy your 14-year-old son when you know he’s only going to ignore it, with stock pickups that sound like the smell of ass. But Leory was just holding down the rhythm anyway, and then getting out of the way for ‘Metal’ Marty to rip into some of the juiciest solos Hellbound’s music has ever been graced with. Despite the ‘Metal” addendum to his name, Marty referred to a heavily influenced and versed knowledge of country guitar modes and licks that he displayed with confidence and abandon. It was a high volume, electric country show, and more than a stone’s throw from the days of Leory sitting on a bass drum, playing it with the back of his heel while strumming an acoustic guitar.
Leroy played a lot of his more well-known Hellbound Glory songs, a few more covers like his rendition of Hank Jr.’s “Women I’ve Never Had” and Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire.” He was also featuring a ferocious growl that punctuated parts of songs and overall became one of the highlights and takeaways of the set. Leroy’s voice has become tattered around the edges like a cheap blue tarpaulin pulled over an apartment’s worth of shit made susceptible to the wind on a cross-country move, and then marinated by a thousand shots of whiskey lined up all across the front of the stage by well-meaning fans. But like an old tinker, Leroy has taken what he’s been given, and made it into one of his finest tools: a road-worn and weathered bellow with which he can unfurl and blow a crowd away with.
Forget how many new players make up the Hellbound Glory cast, when Leroy gave a subtle hint to whatever song he wanted to play next, his band was right there behind him, hitting every change, and holding every sustain as good or better as any Hellbound Glory lineup. Leroy has never been good at keeping new material a secret, and the set featured a few new songs, and so did the half hour or so after the set when he pulled out his acoustic guitar and gave a personal concert to all who stuck around on the side of the stage.
Whenever Hellbound Glory’s name is mentioned these days, the next question you hear is, “When’s the new album coming out?” Though I wasn’t able to glean that specific intel from Leroy, I can tell you he’s recently been doing some recording in Aberdeen, WA. I wouldn’t hold your breath on hearing the results of that anytime soon, but if the new songs Leroy’s been playing are any indication, when new music does emerge, it promises to be worth the wait.
Until then, you can use the below Leroy Virgil recap of the last year or so to tide you over.
Two guns up.
So Eric Church, you think that genres are dead? Well then why don’t you turn in your Country Music Association Album of the Year trophy, your Academy of Country Music Album of the Year trophy, your Academy of Country Music award for Best New Solo Vocalist from 2011, and your Academy of Country Music award for Vocal Event of the Year that you won with your country-rapping douche buddies Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan as you march your aviators-wearing ass straight out of the non-existent country genre that has made you millions upon millions of fucking dollars and see if the rock world will embrace your “Outsiders” Bon Jovi rehash and bestow awards, coast to coast radio play, and industry support to your ungrateful, arrogant ass.
You’re right Eric, genres are dead, and it’s because assholes like you have killed them by making murky, soulless, rootless pap to appeal to the wide masses while the roots of music wither, and there’s no better evidence of that than your latest rock opera being rammed down the throats of what are supposed to be country consumers, throwing the homogenization of the American culture into hyper drive so that you can hold on to your mainstream relevancy and make even more money stained with the blood of what country music once was.
If you want to play rock music because you think that country is too restrictive, then by all means Eric, do your worst. Play the music you want. But then stay the hell off of country radio, don’t perform at the country awards shows, and forfeit your trophies to the runners up if the country genre is meaningless to you or meaningless in general. Who do you think laid the groundwork for people like you to have untold success? Did you not notice the names as you were trouncing on the way to the top? You can’t use the legacy of country music to make it to the top of the hill, and then disregard it once you’re there.
Eric Church is a hypocrite ladies and gentlemen. From saying he’d never call himself an Outlaw while simultaneously selling Outlaw merch, to now saying genres are dead while shamelessly reaping the rewards of one. Remember the Eric Church song “Lotta Boot Left To Fill”? Remember the lines “I don’t think Waylon done it that way. And if he was here he’d say Hoss, neither did Hank,” and “You sing about Johnny Cash. The man in black would’ve whipped your ass”? What would Hank, Hoss, and Cash have to say to someone claiming the genre they worked their entire lives in and shed their blood for didn’t matter? I know what they’d say. “Eric who?”
And the sad part is yes, when talking about the very top of mainstream country males, Eric Church outpaces his peers as far as quality and innovation, his latest “The Outsiders” single rocketing up the charts notwithstanding. But that may say just as much about the lack of quality in his peers as it says about Eric. It’s his damn attitude, the arrogance bordering on downright hubris, and the uncaring if he completely tears down the country genre, or really anything on his way to the top as long as he gets his.
The death of genres in mainstream music means the death of contrast, and this is something that shouldn’t be regarded flippantly, something that shouldn’t be celebrated just because it secures the financial success of mono-genre artists like Eric Church for the future. It means that music will have that much less color and diversity moving forward and be much more about commercial success than making an artistic mark.
And that’s a sad commentary.
This is a guest post from Austin-based singer-songwriter Slaid Cleaves. Slaid recently was featured on Saving Country Music after making some critical comments about modern country music in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, and he wanted an opportunity to elaborate on his statements. Slaid’s latest album, the critically-acclaimed “Still Fighting The War” was released in June.
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I’m a lucky bastard. Driving out of Austin to my home in Wimberley on a Friday afternoon, I don’t curse the horrendous traffic, because this is what I hear on the radio on my way home: It starts on KDRP with some 1990s Steve Earle, new music from local writer Nathan Hamilton, and then Virginia’s Scott Miller, followed by the latest Mark Knopfler (Privateering – coolest six and half minute song I’ve heard in a long time) and then Hank Williams’ Honky Tonk Blues (which sounded clear and punchy and vital, like it was recorded yesterday down at Gruene Hall). As the signal fades out in the low water crossings of Driftwood I switch over to KNBT coming up out of New Braunfels and catch the intro to my own Still Fighting the War (which I had help in writing from my friend and neighbor, Wranglin’ Ron Coy) followed by the (real, live) DJ back-announcing Lyle Lovett, John Prine and Kevin Fowler. Coming up after the break: Sonny Landreth, Tift Merritt and Adam Hood. Pulling into my driveway I was tempted to sit in the car and listen, but dinner was waiting. (BTW, even the commercial breaks on stations like KNBT tend to be pretty easy to take. They are mostly locally produced ads for local businesses, relevant to the community and tastefully done.)
I’m not exposed to Nashville country music very often. But when I come across it I have a visceral negative reaction to it. It seems like a false picture of life. It doesn’t resonate with me at all. I don’t know, maybe there are places where there are dudes in $100 designer jeans driving brand new $40,000 pickup trucks, constantly surrounded by partying swimsuit models, all trying to out-redneck each other. But that’s not a world I’m familiar with, and when I see it on TV it just seems fake to me. The vocals and music itself are so overproduced and smoothed over and glossy, like it’s been run through a bunch of computers and focus groups. I predict someday Chinese engineers will discover the algorithm for Nashville country music and begin mass producing hits from a computer in Shinzen.
Sorry, I’m ranting. Judging from the comments following the posting of a portion of my recent Chicago Sun Times interview, I’m preaching to the converted. But in the end, what’s the use in talking about music we don’t like? The fact is: lots of people like this stuff. Lots of people go to Kenny Chesney shows. I don’t understand why. And those people probably don’t see what I see in Adam Carroll. It’s like two different tribes, and each is seeking a different experience. I wouldn’t pay a dollar to see Kenny Chesney or any other Nashville star. Likewise, a Kenny Chesney fan would have no fun at all at one of my “listening room” gigs.
And no, it doesn’t matter that Clear Channel plays Chesney and not me. My music doesn’t translate in a mass market situation. Can you picture me singing in a hockey arena? My kind of music works in the little local music club and on the community radio station where people present only the music they are passionate about, and the audience fits into a room that’s smaller than Keith Urban’s drum riser. My music works for people who want a more intimate connection to music, and are more interested in the subtleties of songwriting and the depth of storytelling you can find only in the “artisanal” country music being made today.
There’s no reason to despair. There’s an embarrassment of riches to be found on the edges of commercial music today. And even if you live in a “food desert,” where there’s nothing but Piggly Wiggly and Clearchannel radio, you have no excuse. Because dozens of great, locally programmed radio stations across the country are available online and even via smartphone apps. Sure it takes a little extra effort, just like ordering a chicken breast sandwich (which is not boneless) at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack in Nashville takes a bit more effort that ordering a dozen McNuggets at the drive-thru. If you like Nashville country music, all you gotta do is spin the radio dial till you hear people hitting the “redneck” buzzwords of the day. But if you want to hear a song you’d actually care to hear more than once, one that will sound as good 10 years from now as it does today, a song made by independent artists working hard to make a decent living, artists making music for the people of their community, you need to put a little extra effort into it. Download an app. Sign up for a mailing list. Share your new find with friends. Go to a show at the local club. Stop talking about the music you don’t like, and talk about the music that does make your heart race or your throat choke up or makes you want to sit in the car and keep listening in the driveway.
If you haven’t done so lately, put a Kitty Wells LP on the turntable, or a Hank Williams 78 on the old Victrola. Or seek out Robbie Fulks’ brand new release, Gone Away Backward. It’s worth the extra effort. You’ll hear a fellow human voice, imperfect and glorious, singing in a room, accompanied by the sounds of wood and gut string and enhanced only by some little coils of copper wire. You might hear a story that resonates with your very own. And that’s what it’s all about.
The inaugural inductees to the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame set to open in the Spring of 2014 in Lynchburg, TN have been unveiled. In an event carried live during a 3-day concert in Altamont, TN, the 17 initial inductees were announced in two different categories: Pioneers/Innovators (Pre-1970), and Highwaymen (1970-1990).
Along with the official inductees, the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame also announced Guardian Award winners. The Guardian Award is not a Hall of Fame induction, but a one-year award meant to honor an artist’s hard work and unwavering commitment to their music and their fans and best exemplify the tradition of those who came before them. The Hall of Fame also announced that fans will be able to vote on Guardian Award winners in the upcoming years.
OUTLAW HALL OF FAME INDUCTEES
- Hank Williams Sr.
- Loretta Lynn
- The Carter Family
- Bobby Bare
- Chris Gantry
- Willie Nelson
- Waylon Jennings
- David Allan Coe
- Kris Kristofferson
- Merle Haggard
- Johnny Cash
- Johnny Paycheck
- Sammi Smith
- Steve Young
- Jessi Colter
- Hank Williams Jr.
- Billy Joe Shaver
- Dallas Moore
- Wayne Mills
- Hank Williams III
- Jamey Johnson
- Whitey Morgan
The Hall of Fame is dedicated to those artists, both musicians and songwriters, whose work best exemplifies the qualities of the Outlaw movement that first began in the 1970′s and has gained renewed momentum as an alternative to the current Nashville pop country scene. In doing so it will place the spotlight on music firmly attached to the roots of country. Moreover, the Hall of Fame will educate the public about Outlaw country, memorialize founders of the genre—such as Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Jessi Colter—recognize current Outlaw artists, and provide a platform for them and for the independent record labels who currently have little if any voice in the industry.
The facility, due to open in spring of 2014, will encompass more than 5,000 square feet and feature a state-of-the-art layout, including interactive displays. There will also be a studio to allow for live broadcasts to be streamed over the Internet. Located on the town square in Lynchburg, the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame will sponsor a concert series each April to November to showcase independent roots country artists.
The son of Hank Jr. and the grandson of Hank Williams known as Hank3 is poised to release two new albums next week, and embark on an extended tour of Texas, the West Coast, and upper Midwest. Brothers of the 4X4 and A Fiendish Threat come on the heels of an extended touring hiatus after Hank3′s drummer Shawn McWilliams required shoulder surgery. Hank3 was gracious enough to talk with us ahead of the tour and releases to let fans know what they can expect, and about other issues around the independent music world.
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.
Trigger: On Octobers 1st you’ll be releasing two new albums, Brothers of the 4X4 on the country side of things, and A Fiendish Threat on the punk side. These come out of an extended period when you were not touring because your drummer needed shoulder surgery. Was it your plan to put out new albums now, or did they come out of the tour void?
Hank3: Basically, I always record records in the winter time. So since Shawn was down for a while, I picked up the pen at the end of January and everything was written and recorded and done by April on both records. So they came pretty naturally. A couple of the songs that in my eyes are more of the traditional roots, songs like “Loners For Life” or “Deep Scars,” we’re getting a little more old school. “Possum In A Tree” was specifically written for Leroy Troy, a clawhammer banjo player. I had him in mind when I wrote that song, and went over to his place and had some fun and captured the sound we were going for. At least on Brothers of the 4X4, it gives you a a couple of the old roots ones, it gives you a couple of songs like “Lookey Yonder Commin’” that at least the first part of the song has some of the bluegrass feel on the drive of it. And then you have a couple of songs that are not necessarily country, like “Ain’t Broken Down” is almost like your Spaghetti Western / Pink Floyd kind of sounding song. So there’s quite a few different moods on it.
With your last country-ish album Ghost to a Ghost, you went out of your way to say that you really didn’t think it was country. With Brothers of the 4X4 you’re saying there’s traditional country tracks on it. Can people expect to hear something more similar to what they heard on your earlier records as opposed to the more recent ones, or is that simplifying it?
I still think every record has its own different sound, and a different approach. The players change, I change. Even though it’s different, it will have the roots on it. If you put it up against and pop country radio song, yeah, it has a lot more of a traditional feel in my eyes. I always make sure I have the banjo and the stand up bass, stand up steel guitar, the acoustic, and fiddle, and just have that foundation there.
As time has gone on, you have assumed more and more responsibilities in your album making process to the point where now you’re doing most everything on the country record except for playing the lead instruments. You’ve talked before about how you hate producers. Do you feel like you’re missing out on something by not engaging in the collaborative process of music, or do you feel like you work best by yourself?
I don’t hate producers. I hate it when people are trying to tell you, “You need to do this to make your song better.” I’m totally in to people who know a million things about sound and all that stuff. But I know my sound, I know my songs, I write songs for myself. Buzz from The Melvins is the exact same way. He totally agrees with that same philosophy. Some people don’t want to have anything to do with the songwriting process, and want people to tell them, “Hey, do this.” But when you’re dealing with someone as creative as me or as creative as Buzz, we know our sound, we know our riffs, we know what we’re going for. So that can be a problem. If I wake up at 5:30 in the morning and I’m ready to start playing drums, especially on the punk rock record where there’s pretty intense moments, if I have to wait two hours for somebody to show up, then the spark is usually gone by the time they get there and get everything set up. I like being able to play when I’m ready to play. And sometimes I pull some pretty long days. That’s pretty much the reason, for now, I’m taking on everything. Some producers are good to work with, and some aren’t. It just depends the environment. But most of the time I’m into just going for it.
Speaking of collaborations, you recently had a song come out with David Allan Coe. It seemed like a long time coming, but it finally did. How did “The Outlaw Ways” come about?
I’ve known him since I was a child. I’ve always looked up to him on stage and touring, and he’s been a good friend to me, and a hero. Basically we talked about it, and over time we were able to get some lyrics where we wanted them, he came by the house, and we got it sounding how he was envisioning the song. It was a fun process, and glad to be able to give back to one of my heroes.
I’ve only heard a couple of people talk about it. It is what it is. Hopefully they’ll get it up and running. I know opening up any kind of business is always tough to do. Good luck for them, and hope for the best for it.
Have you heard about Dale Watson’s Ameripolitan movement, and have any thoughts on that?
I’ve been kind of out of the loop just trying to get all the new players and new drummers and trying to get the road crew, and everything lined up for the tours. That’s been basically 24 / 7 so I’m kind of out of the loop on that right now.
Despite going on some pretty long tour hiatuses over the last few years, you still seem to be drawing pretty consistently live—still selling-out decent-sized venues. What do you attribute this to?
I would just say hard work, paying respects to the fans, and always keeping the hard working men and women in mind on the money. Trying to give them the longest show for the cheapest ticket price. I’ve always gone out of my way to fight for that. A lot of times when you show respect, you get respect back in return. I would just say a hard work ethic has paid off.
Along those same lines, Shooter Jennings recently started charging people $85 for meet and greets before his shows. Is that something you would ever do?
No. The old country way is you do your show and you say “hello.” That’s the way I’ve done it ever since I’ve been on the road. Why would I change it now? I think if I did that, my fans would definitely would be like, “What’s this?” I’ve always done the show, and after I shake every hand, take every picture, and I make my fans feel connected to what we do.
You seem to be a guy who is really big into artifacts, whether it be your boots that you wore for a long time that you had duct taped, I know you had a hat that was important to you stolen a few years back, and you’ve been wearing the same pants and vests. Why do you think you have such a draw to artifacts of your life?
It’s just like a frame of mind. A lot of different people and crews have worked on those. You got a lot of drifting kids, a lot of train kids. Basically it’s just like art. You create, and then you destroy. So a lot of people over the years have helped me rebuild a lot of that stuff. So it has a lot of heart to it, and a lot of meaning to it. Those are my work clothes for right now.
I recall a recent comment of yours that there might be some upcoming activity on your attempt to get Hank Williams reinstated into the Grand Ole Opry. Do you have any updates for us?
All we can do is just talk about it. As long as we talk about it, you know, we’re not asking for a $100,000 statue, we’re just asking for one night, paying some respects, and that’s basically it. As long as we talk about, sometimes people come and go in the business, and all it takes is one person to be re-hired in a position, and there you go, it could happen as simple as that.
(Full list of winners below)
The 2013 Americana Music Awards once again transpired in Nashville at the historic Ryman Auditorium as part of the week-long Americana Music Conference. Top winners were Shovels & Rope with two awards for Emerging Artist of the Year and Song of the Year, and Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell with two awards for Album of the Year and Duo/Group of the Year.
Delbert McClinton lead off presentation with Hank Williams’ “Hey, Good Lookin,’” leading into MC Jim Lauderdale giving a poignant introduction that included the line, “The past matters, traditions matter, even when we explore ways to have those traditions extended and expanded.”
Hank Williams was named the recipient of the President’s Award, presented to his granddaughter Holly Williams by filmmaker Ken Burns who is currently working on a documentary about country music. In the acceptance speech, Holly said, “Hank would be Americana if he was alive today.” She then played “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” on the same stage that her grandfather graced so many times.
This was followed by a performances by John Fullbright and Shovels & Rope, and then Jim Lauderdale presented the Lifetime Achievement Award in Songwriting to Robert Hunter. The famous songwriting counterpart to Jerry Garcia then played an acoustic performance of “Ripple.” It was his first public performance in nearly a decade.
Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison played their duet “Border Radio,” followed by Richard Thompson performing “Good Things Happen To Bad People,”eventually leading into prominent Nashville resident Dan Auerbach from The Black Keys presenting the Lifetime Achievement Award for Performance to Louisiana’s Dr. John. JD McPherson followed this up with a performance of his song “Northside Gal.”
Billy Bragg and Tift Merritt awarded Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell with the Duo / Group of the Year. “We were Americana before it had a name,” Emmylou said in her acceptance speech. This was chased by The Stellas (the two young girls from ABC’s “Nashville” show) singing The Lumineers “Ho, Hey!”
Guitar player Ry Cooder presented Jack Emerson with the Lifetime Achievement Award for Executive. Then Jim Lauderdale introduced the newest members of the Grand Ole Opry, Old Crow Medicine Show, who proceeded to play the song that has since become a #1 for Darius Rucker, “Wagon Wheel.” This led to actor/comedian Ed Helms presenting Old Crow with the Trailblazer Award—a WW2 Harmony guitar with the lyrics of “Wagon Wheel” written on it.
Nicki Bluhm and Sam Bush presented the 2013 Artist of the Year award to Dwight Yoakam, who was not in attendance, but Sam Bush said he accepted it on Dwight’s behalf and wore the “tightest pants I have.” This was followed by a performance from the Milk Carton Kids, and the Americana house band led by Buddy Miller, with Jim Lauderdale joining in with a song from the duo’s recent album.
BBC Radio’s Bob Harris presented the Lifetime Achievement Award for Instrumentalist to Duane Eddy. “Hank Williams was my mentor, though he didn’t know it,” Eddy said in his acceptance speech, and then played his most famous song, “Rebel Rouser.”
Shovels & Rope and “Birmingham” won the Song of the Year award, followed by a performance by Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell. Emerging Artist of the Year was presented next to Shovels & Rope by members of Wilco, making Shovels & Rope the first multi-award winner of the night. The Spirit of Americana Freedom of Speech award went to Stephen Stills, who played the signature Buffalo Springfield hit “For What It’s Worth” with Kenny Wayne Shepherd joining in.
And handing out the final award, Rosanne Cash and Alejandro Escovedo presented the Album of the Year to Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell for their album Old Yellow Moon. Dr. John led the final song, “Leaving Louisiana In The Broad Daylight,” with Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, and many more joining the band.
Emerging Artist of the Year
Shovels & Rope
Album of the Year
Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell’s Old Yellow Moon.
Artist of the Year
Song of the Year
“Birmingham” by Shovels & Rope
Duo/ Group of the Year
Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell
Instrumentalist of the Year
Lifetime Achievement in Songwriting
Lifetime Achievement Award for Performance
Lifetime Achievement Award for Instrumentalist
Lifetime Achievement Award for Executive
Old Crow Medicine Show
Spirit of Americana Freedom of Speech Award
The underground country movement initially formed around the mid 90′s not because somebody launched a website or a record label. It wasn’t because of a festival or because someone came up with a special name for a new genre. It wasn’t because some personality who was bestowed a famous name took the reigns and began promoting music. The strength, the support, and the fervor that went into forming underground country and the bonds and infrastructure that is still around today came from the songs artists were writing, recording, and performing; songs that spoke very deep to the hearts of hungry listeners. In the end, all leadership and must come from the music. A good song will solve its own problems. Like water, it will eventually find a path to thirsty ears, and funnel support to the artist and infrastructure that surrounds it.
This isn’t necessarily a list of the greatest underground country songs, or even the most influential. It is simply 12 songs that were so good, they helped create something where there was nothing before.
Wayne “The Train” Hancock – “Juke Joint Jumpin’”
Wayne Hancock is one of the fathers of underground country, and he’s also the King of Juke Joint Swing, so it’s only appropriate to include one of his signature songs here. The very first song on his very first album Thunderstorms & Neon Signs from 1995, it made listeners wonder if they were hearing the ghost of Hank Williams. Later Hancock would perform the song as a duet with Hank Williams III.
Hank Williams III – “Not Everybody Likes Us”
Hank3 has probably written better songs, but not that speak to the spirit of underground country so well. “Not everybody like us, but we drive some folks wild” epitomizes the philosophy behind the country music underground—that it doesn’t matter if the masses like your music, only if you and your friends do. Add on top of that a big dig at country radio, and “Not Everybody Likes Us” has become a rallying cry of underground country music.
.357 String Band/ Jayke Orvis – “Raise The Moon”
This song is so good, it has been released twice, been played regularly by three different bands, and still is not tired. Written by Jayke Orvis, “Raise The Moon” originally appeared on the .357 String Band’s first album Ghost Town in 2006. When Jayke Orvis left .357 for a solo career and a spot in the Goddamn Gallows, the song appeared on the Gallows’ album 7 Devils. 7 years later and the song still remains a staple of Jayke’s live show, and a defining sound of underground country.
The Boomswagglers – “Run You Down”
Authenticity is such an unattainable myth in modern music these days that it is nearly impossible to find a truly original and untainted sentiment. But that is what The Boomswagglers serve up with “Run You Down.” It is one of those songs that immediately sticks in your head and stays with you for a lifetime. Defying style trends, it is simply good, and its story, like much of The Boomswagglers music, is deceptively deep. Songs like this withstand the test of time.
Hank Williams III – “Straight to Hell”
The title track off of Hank3′s magnum opus Straight to Hell from 2006 was the “hit” of underground country if it ever had one. It has risen to become one of Hank3′s signature songs, and he regularly uses it to start off his live shows.
Bob Wayne – “Blood to Dust”
Bob Wayne may be best known for his wild-assed party songs laced with drugs, loose women, and running from the cops, but that doesn’t mean he can’t write a deep song when he wants. As Bob will tell you, every word in this song is true, and the personal and poignant nature of the story makes it very hard to not be affected emotionally when it is listened to with an open heart. “Blood to Dust” speaks to the broken nature of many of underground country’s artists and fans. The song appears on Bob Wayne’s very first album of the same name, and his first big release Outlaw Carnie on Century Media.
JB Beverley & The Wayward Drifters – “Dark Bar & A Juke Box”
Underground country isn’t just a sound, it is a sentiment; a feeling that something is wrong in country music, and something needs to be done about it. This is the foundation for the title track off of JB Beverley & The Wayward Drifter’s 2006 album. At the time JB Beverley may have been better known for fronting punk bands. But unlike many of the underground country bands that would come along later, blurring the lines between punk and country, JB Beverley serves “Dark Bar & A Juke Box” up straight, in a sound that refers Wayne Hancock’s throwback style.
Wayne “The Train” Hancock – “Johnny Law”
If “Juke Joint Jumpin’” is Wayne Hancock’s signature song, then Johnny Law is his defining jam. This song has become a showcase for some of the greatest musicians in the history of underground country during the extended breaks for both the guitar and upright bass player. It might also go down in history as one of the most requested songs in underground country.
Dale Watson – “Nashville Rash”
For a precious time in the late 90′s ans early 2000′s, the triumvirate of Wayne Hancock, Hank Williams III, and Dale Watson looked like they were going to take the country music world by storm. It was because they were willing to speak out, and lead by example, both sonically and lyrically. Dale is still leading today, and his legacy of country protest songs like “Nashville Rash” still gets you pumping your fist.
Rachel Brooke & Lonesome Wyatt – “Someday I’ll Fall”
Rachel Brooke, The Queen of Underground Country, and one of the founding fathers of Gothic country, Lonesome Wyatt from Those Poor Bastards, teamed up in 2009 for the landmark album A Bitter Harvest. The album, and specifically the song “Someday I’ll Fall” symbolize the collaborative spirit inherent in underground country—where two artist come together to become greater than the sum of their parts. “Someday I’ll Fall” is also a great example of taking old school influences and embedding them in a new, fresh approach.
Joe Buck Yourself – “Planet Seeth”
One of the men responsible for helping to revitalize the hallowed ground of lower Broadway in Nashville in the mid 90′s delivers this bloodletting of a song where the audience is actively encouraged to release their hate in Joe Buck’s direction. Though the language and music may be too hard for most, the concept and execution of “Planet Seeth” is nonetheless genius. It embodies the participatory aspect of underground country, where the crowd is as much a part of the show as the artist, giving back in energy what they receive from the performer in a symbiotic relationship.
Wayne “The Train” Hancock – “Thunderstorms & Neon Signs”
Few songs can evokes mood and reminiscent memory like Hancock’s “Thunderstorms & Neon Signs.” It set the standard for the old-school style of country swing that was so seminal to the formation of underground country. The song’s legacy was cemented when Hank Williams III covered it on his first album Risin’ Outlaw, introducing Wayne Hancock to a whole new audience, and vice versa. “Thunderstorms & Neon Signs” helped cement the underground country movement.
Of all the people you could have picked to become an outspoken dissenter to the direction of country music, Rodney Crowell would have been pretty far down the list. Not that he doesn’t have the skins on the wall to say such things and have them carry weight, or that he doesn’t practice what he preaches when it comes to his own approach to music. Rodney is in the direct lineage of legacy-caliber songwriters like Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt, and came up playing in Emmylou Harris’s “Hot Band.” He and Emmylou recently released a duet’s album together, but he always seemed to be more of a reserved soul when it came to such things as saying country music is headed in the wrong direction.
Well he’s not being very reserved at the moment, taking his second opportunity in the last month to decry the direction of country in a recent interview:
I watch these young country artists come in and burst onto the scene, and I always have to remind myself that these artists didn’t experience Hank Williams Sr. or Big Joe Turner or Kris Kristofferson, who was able to bring the bedroom and sensual poetry into country music. These artists came from a different set of archetypal images. If I took the old school curmudgeon approach, I would say these guys are really missing the boat.
A couple of weeks ago, Crowell made similar disparaging remarks about the direction of country, carefully worded, coy, and cunning in the way the words cut right to the heart of the problem, saying in part:
Ever since country music entered the back door of main stream commerciality—most noticeably in the early sixties—the debate over who possesses the more noble heart, the purists or the popular entertainers has never stopped. (Remember the credibility scare of the late 80′s.) Generally speaking, the purists make the more timeless music.
Pop culture is a disposable culture, therefore it stands to reason that those who want the big bucks and the power are inclined to produce slick and disposable music. I don’t see anything wrong with artists getting rich by pigging out at the trough of poor taste.
Rodney Crowell may be no Dale Watson when it comes to the temper he brings to his country music dissent, but the more voices speaking out and reaching different audiences, the better. By saying many of today’s pop country artists are “missing the boat,” Crowell is showing the leadership country music needs to help right the ship.
Country music throwback Joey Allcorn, known for his classic style and appreciation for traditional country, is putting together a benefit album for the Hank Williams Museum in Montgomery, AL. Also slated to appear on the album are the Queen of Underground Country, Rachel Brooke, Jake Penrod, David Church, Arty Hill, Andy Norman, and Bobby Tomberlin.
This will not be your usual artist tribute album that includes covers of original songs of the artist being paid tribute to. Instead the project with the working title of Midnight: The Death of Hank Williams will focus more on songs that touch on Hank’s final days and death, and on the other people that surround the Hank Williams death narrative, including Braxton Schuffert, one of Hank’s very first musical mentors, and Charles Carr, the driver for Hank Williams on his famous last ride, and the last person to see Hank Williams alive. Both men passed away earlier this year. Bobby Tomberlin and Arty Hill’s contributions to the project are tribute songs to Charles Carr for example. Braxton Schuffert’s “Rockin’ Chair Daddy” will also be on the album, as well as “Midnight,” which was the last song ever sung by Hank.
As Joey Allcorn explains, the death of Charles Carr, and the very first tribute song ever written to Hank Williams is what inspired the project.
“I stopped by the museum after Charles Carr had died, and they had the lyrics in there to an old song by Jack Cardwell called ‘The Death of Hank Williams.’ “ Allcorn explains. “This is a song that is available now on iTunes, but before iTunes, you couldn’t find this song anywhere. To me it was an interesting song because it was the very first Hank Williams tribute. Nowadays, doing a Hank Williams tribute is just sort of par for the course. This particular song that we’re centering the project around, it just captures a very basic feeling that happens after some sort of tragic event. The lyrics that are on display [in the museum] tell a similar story, because it was a woman in Montgomery who heard the words on the radio as a child, and they meant so much to her that she wrote them down. If you go to the Hank museum, they’re still sitting there by Hank’s Cadillac. It’s the handwritten lyrics of this little girl wrote after hearing this song, and when she was upset or sad.
“So then I had the idea that it would be fun to record that song. I really don’t want to put it on one of my records. I don’t feel like it would fit in. But then I thought I could do it for the museum, and do it as a fundraiser. So I called Beth Petty [at the Hank Williams Museum] and she said that was great because everyone that comes in the museum and reads those lyrics asks where they can get that song on a CD. And the answer is, ‘Nowhere.’”
Joey Allcorn goes on to explain that this benefit album is being released at the nexus of some very important Hank anniversaries.
“This year marks 60 years since Hank’s death and 90 years since his birth. And this year we lost Braxton Schufert who was one of Hank’s mentors, and Charles Carr who was the last person to ever see Hank Williams alive. And the song that me and Rachel [Brooke] are going to do is “Death Is Only A Dream,” which is a really obscure, old Gospel song that Hank said was one of his favorite songs in one of his last interviews. It’s kind of a way to expose the songs within the Hank Williams canon for people who may have not studied it to that level.”
Joey Allcorn has launched a $4,000 indiegogo campaign to help pay for the costs of the tribute album, with the incentives coming from the Hank Williams Museum that the album is going to benefit.
“Every penny of it is going to go to the Hank Williams Museum. The museum is going to be the only place you can get the CD. We’re not going to put it on iTunes or anything like that. You actually have to order it from the museum. I think that crowd funding is a fantastic avenue for projects like this. Personally, I would not want to fund one of my albums this way because I made the choice to be an artist and a singer, and therefore it is my responsibility to find ways to fund my career. I hate to say that because it sounds very disparaging of people that do that, and I understand that not everybody has avenues to get private funding for their albums or whatnot. But to me it seems a lot more honest of a venture if its going to a cause as opposed to an individual.”
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UPDATE: (9/17/13): The Hank Williams Commemorative Album was successfully funded through Indiegogo, raising $5,370 of a $4,000 goal. Today, on the 90th anniversary of the birth of Hank Williams, Joey Allcorn has released the “Death of Hank Williams” song.
After a six year wait to release an album of original material at the mercy of Curb Records’ career-shattering and sometimes illegal talent retention program, prolonging the release process for artists on their final album with the label nearly indefinitely, the embattled and bruised LeAnn Rimes has finally released Spitfire—a diverse country pop record with a few interesting moments, a few moments that are not so interesting, but an intriguing mix of content and influences that is worth a deeper sniff than your average Music Row fare.
These days with so many of country music’s women setting the bar higher and higher in regards to quality and progressiveness of content, you almost can’t discount any country female project without a closer investigation. As the men try to outpace each other in their headlong dash to see who can reach the newest low in country on a daily basis, the women are doing everything they can to keep country out of the dirt road ditch. And after all, you have to be a pretty hard critic to not hear some of those very first LeAnn Rimes hits like “Blue” and not feel a stirring in your country heart and keep hope that LeAnn will at some point in her career re-discover her original, unblemished magic.
But LeAnn Rimes has been her own worst enemy over the past few years. A big glossy magazine cover story cheating scandal erupted for her a few years ago, and more recently a strange story about her tipping off photographers to where to snap her wearing a bikini in hopes to draw positive pub. When you’re a bona-fide superstar at 14-year-old, it can do strange things to the psyche, and that is what we’ve seen with LeAnn over the years. One minute she wants the cameras to respect her privacy, and another she wants their focus.
The chatter around Spitfire has been polarizing to darn near bellicose, with the main focus being the album’s lack of commercial appeal. While in the mainstream world this accusation might be poison, to independent country fans this is a flag that maybe this album is one of those rare Music Row gems, similar to Kellie Pickler’s 100 Proof from 2012. But what you get with Spitfire is an album that is neither here nor there, resting in sort of the demilitarized zone of country music where neither the mainstream nor independent world really want to claim it or sing its praises.
But when stripped down to just the songs, there is still some material on Spitfire worthy of both mainstream and independent ears. The second song on the album “What Have I Done” is surprisingly mellow, subtle, and artistic, without being sappy or mawkish like many mainstream ballads can veer towards. It’s a sincere little song right off the bat that let’s you know that Spitfire is not going to be some cookie cutter album. It also sets the tone in the album of LeAnn directly addressing her now well-chronicled infidelity, giving Spitfire a personal feel. And then how does LeAnn follow this up? With another song that delves into these very same subjects, and with a similar understated and artistic approach in “Borrowed” that is brushed with mournful steel guitar.
But in between these songs is the busy and overdone “Gasoline and Matches.” Just like the title track of the album, it tries too hard to evoke this overused theme in modern pop country of badass women oversinging songs that always involve fire in some way and that completely sap any soul out of a composition. As complimentary as one can be about female country in 2013, this audio equivalent to three snaps in a ‘Z’ formation is as unsavory as it gets to the active music listener, and so is the oversinging that usually accompanies it. This formula rears its ugly head again in the very rhythmic, almost rapping “You Ain’t Right.” Though you can hear how the lyrics would be a fun listen for some women, these songs illustrate that in female pop country in 2013, it’s not what you sing, but how you sing it, squeezing in silly, acrobatic vocal runs that ruin the story of the song, ignore the sweet spot of the singer’s range, and stretch the song’s pocket until it just comes across as saccharine diva-ish show-offidness. It’s the singing competition show influence on popular music.
Another song from Spitfire that has some people talking is “I Do Now.” The track mentions Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, and delves into how you may love classic country artists and their songs when you’re young, but never really understand the subject matter until you’ve lived through the themes yourself. Though the story of the song works very well, once again LeAnn’s vocal approach centers your attention around her singing, and will keep traditional country fans that the song would otherwise appeal to at arm’s length.
And that is pretty much how Spitfire goes. It may be too heady for a wide mainstream audience, but there’s a little too much fluff to enact a resurgence of LeAnn’s traditionalist roots. Or, if you want to see the glass half full, there’s a little something for everyone. Maybe this album was destined to be misunderstood, and seeing how it has fallen pretty precipitously in the charts, this would seem to be a proper diagnosis (though it may be just as much a commentary on Mike Curb’s eroding powerbase). But instead of letting one song or LeAnn’s personal missteps outside of music turn you off of this album, if you’re subject to liking some of the music coming from the mainstream when it’s not positively awful, you may want to give Spitfire a fair glance and decide for yourself.
1 1/4 of 2 guns up.
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Two guns up on the two songs below.
- Gaahl on EDM Replacing Rap As The Scourge of Country Radio
- Seth Putnam on EDM Replacing Rap As The Scourge of Country Radio
- olajean on Josh Abbott Admits to Infidelity, Asks For Forgiveness
- Trigger on “Achy Breaky 2″ Becomes A Big Hit Because It’s So Bad
- Eli Locke on Dierks Bentley’s “Riser” (Review & Giveaway)