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Yeah, I remember the first time I heard marijuana referenced in a song and thought it was cool. It was a song by the New Riders of the Purple Sage called “Henry” from their 1971 self-titled album. More of a smuggling song than a drug song, the story and the suspense of the song is what made it intriguing, with the marijuana more of just a backdrop. This inspired me to try and discover similar songs which led me to the Arlo Guthrie smuggler’s song “Coming Into Los Angeles.”
Gram Parsons somewhat challenged the stuffiness of the country establishment when he sported a Nudie suit with marijuana leaves embroidered on it in the late 60′s, but at the time he was considered more of a product of the rock world. And then of course there’s Kris Kristofferson’s iconic “Sunday Morning Coming Down” whose somewhat veiled reference to marijuana is given credit for stretching lyrical boundaries in country music on its way to being named Song of the Year by the CMA in 1970.
But 2013 very well may go down as the year when referencing marijuana and other drugs in your songs is no longer cool as much as it is conformist—a lyrical hook, a well-recognized buzz word made for marketing an artist or song just as much as anything else. When a former Disney star like Miley Cyrus is out there talking about “Dancing with ‘Molly’” and “Trying to get a line in the bathroom,” and the 80-year-old Willie Nelson is singing a duet with the 42-year-old Snoop Dogg called “Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die,” there ceases to be either the generational gap, or the exclusivity of drug references in music to make them “cool.”
Where the current trend of mentioning cannabis in your country song seems to be cropping up is in the unlikely place of country music’s songwriting females. This dynamic and inspiring group of women who are regularly referenced as the last bastion of substance in country music’s mainstream seems to be the epicenter of country music’s marijuana bloom: Kacey Musgraves with the songs “Merry Go ‘Round,” “Blowin’ Smoke,” and “Follow Your Arrow.” Ashley Monroe with the song “Weed Instead of Roses.” Brandy Clark and the song “Get High.” And The Pistol Annies with songs like “Takin’ Pills” and “Hush Hush.”
The differences between these song’s marijuana and drug references and the trends on the male side of country music to reference pickups, tailgates, ice cold beer, and dirt roads, are very subtle. Sure, many of the pot references come within the context of a more in-depth story. But just like pickup truck references, they’re used to grab the attention of demographics and sell music to listeners.
Just look at the graphics below taken from Amazon’s MP3 popularity ratings. For a marijuana song like Ashley Monroe’s “Weed Instead of Roses,” it positively dominates the popularity contest compared to her other songs. Same goes with Kacey Musgraves’ three most popular songs (though in fairness, “Blowin’ Smoke doesn’t reference pot directly). One might argue though that these songs are more popular because they are also the artist’s radio singles. But this speaks even deeper to the current marijuana trend. If you want to be a mainstream female songwriter and have the A&R folks pay attention to your music, you may want to include a song with marijuana references.
Ashley Monroe’s Tracks from the album Like A Rose:
Kacey Musgraves Tracks from the album Same Trailer, Different Park:
Just like with the country rap trend or the pickup truck trend, when a lyrical theme works, it almost becomes a requirement for mainstream artists. And just like the male tailgate songs that sound so cliche to distinguishing music listeners, marijuana references appeal to bored suburban types who listen to country music as a form of escapism.
Back in the 90′s marijuana references and imagery became popularized by big music acts like Cypress Hill, Pantera, Snoop Dogg, and Green Day. But then the trend became sort of passé amongst bands on the fringes of the mainstream when marijuana references began to work themselves into the content of Top 40 pop songs. It was no longer cool.
Country music was a late bloomer to the marijuana marketing trend because it’s traditionally conservative-leaning audience. Artists like Hank Williams Jr. and Charlie Daniels referenced pot in the 70′s and 80′s, but this was far from the mainstream. Waylon Jennings’ “Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Got Out of Hand,” Hank Jr’s, “O.D’d in Denver,” take it a step further into the cocaine realm. But as modern mainstream country artists step into the marijuana and drug realm, independent and cutting-edge artists seem to step away. For example Hank Williams III started his career in country music with heavy marijuana imagery and references, but has veered away from it in recent years.
Women are not the only ones referencing marijuana in the current mainstream country market. Eric Church sells T-shirts with pot leaves on them and had a hit song in “Smoke A Little Smoke.” Luke Bryan’s mega-hit “That’s My Kind Of Night” says “I got that real good feel good stuff up under the seat of my big black jacked up truck.”
The political environment surrounding marijuana also plays into the pot music debate. The stigma around the drug has been significantly diluted by the passing of laws decriminalizing the plant, making it legal for medicinal purposes, or legalizing it in full which has happened in some states. Marijuana is a very commonly-used substance throughout American society, and as the stigma around the plant subsides, so does the potency of the references to it in popular culture.
There’s nothing naughty or cutting edge about a pot reference in a song anymore. It’s conformist. It’s marketing. It’s mainstream. Not all the time of course; sometimes it comes up naturally in the context of a song. But just like many so many other musical elements, marijuana and drug references have been co-oped by the mainstream, spoiled, and exploited.
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.
Authenticity and dysfunction are regularly celebrated in country music, and what better way to celebrate that than to look back in time a some of the most notable mugshots and arrests of country music’s most notable stars.
Cash was arrested twice. The first was after a trip to Mexico when he tried to hide 1,163 Dexedrine and Equanil tablets in his guitar case while crossing the border near El Paso, TX in 1965. Since the drugs were prescription instead of illegal narcotics, Cash received a suspended sentence. He was arrested again in 1966 in Starkville, Miss. for … get this … picking flowers late at night. The property owner pressed trespassing charges, and Johnny spent time in the Starkville County Jail, resulting in the song of the same name.
Though Cash was famous for his concerts at Folsom Prison and San Quentin, he never served time in anything bigger than a city jail (the bottom mug was just for show).
The trouble started for Willie Nelson way back in 1960 when he was arrested for speeding in Pasadena, TX (near Houston). And then came the pot busts:
- 1974 – For possession in Dallas, TX.
- 1994 – For possession in Hewitt (near Waco) when Willie pulled his Mercedes off the side of the highway for a siesta and an officer found a joint in the ashtray and eventually a bag of marijuana. The judge ruled the evidence inadmissible and the charges were dropped.
- 2006 – For possession in St. Martin Parish, Louisiana for one-and-a-half pounds of marijuana and 3 oz. of hallucinogenic mushrooms. Willie, his sister Bobbi, and Willie’s manager were all arrested, eventually receiving 6 months probation.
- 2010 – For possession of 6 ounces of marijuana at the Sierra Blanca, Texas border checkpoint. Willie eventually only had to pay a fine.
Jerry Lee Lewis
In the dead of night in November of 1976, a drunken and armed Jerry Lee Lewis showed up to the gates of Graceland demanding to see his fellow Sun Studios alum Elvis right then and there. The guard rang Elvis who refused “The Killer’s” request, and then rang Memphis police when Lewis began waving a gun around.
Hank Williams Jr.
You may think because Hank Jr. was the last of his rowdy friends to settle down that at some point he would wind up in the pokey, but it turns out his mugshot was for a bunk charge from a 19-year-old in March of 2006 that said Jr. put her in a choke hold after she refused to kiss him. Jr. turned himself in, and after finding out the girl was looking to cash in big on the accusation and that there was no real evidence of the altercation, the charges were dropped.
In November of 2003, Glen Campbell was arrested at his home near Phoenix, AZ after hitting and running while drunk in his BMW. Then while Campbell was being processed, he kneed an officer in the leg, which added an aggravated assault of a police officer charge. Campbell pleaded down some of the counts, and eventually spent 10 days in jail.
Domestic abuse charges landed Rodney Atkins in front of the police camera in February of 2012, but the news about the charges didn’t come out until his wife filed for divorce a few weeks later. The news also came on the heels of Rodney re-signing with Curb Records. The charges were later dropped as part of the divorce settlement.
An indelible image of country music’s first superstar in this midst of his downfall in 1952, leaving the jailhouse in Alexander City, Alabama.
Billy Joe Shaver
Notable country music songwriter Billy Joe Shaver sits on the witness stand stemming from an altercation behind Papa Joe’s bar near Waco, TX in 2007 when Shaver shot a man non lethally in the face with a .22 pistol. The incident became a piece of country music lore when Dale Watson wrote a song titled “Where Do You Want It?” allegedly for the question Shaver asked his victim before he pulled the trigger. The high-profile trial incuded Willie Nelson showing up as a Shaver character witness, and eventually all charges were dropped against when it was ruled Shaver was acting in self defense.
In 2003, daughter Judd was pulled over for speeding and subsequently blew a .175, lading her in jail before she posted a $500 bail. It all happened right down the street from Music Row, so maybe it’s true what they say about the country music industry driving artists to drink.
Just like the “Wet Cigarette of Country Music” to get arrested at a Waffle House. In October of 2007, Kid Rock and his crew stopped into the DeKalb County, Georgia eatery where they proceeded to brawl with gawking patrons. Other members of Kid Rocks posse were also arrested. Rock was found guilty of simple battery. It was his 4th chance to strike the perp pose over the years for various charges.
David Allan Coe
You better believe DAC would be here, but unfortunately this is the biggest photo we can drum up of David from his time in the Ohio State Penal System.
Coe was also arrested in 2008 after an altercation in a casino when a misunderstanding about a jackpot resulted in security officers and police wrestling Coe to the ground. Coe countersued in 2010 for false arrest and assault. The entire altercation was caught on tape.
Yes, we know that some of the younger generation of country performers don’t want to pander to the “old farts and jackasses,” but maybe Billy Currington took it a little too far when he threatened a 70-year-old boat captain for coming too close to his waterfront property in Tybee Island, Ga. Currington was cited in April of 2013 for making “terroristic threats” and “abuse of an elder.” Case is still pending.
Johnny Paycheck spent 4 years battling an aggravated assault charge after shooting a man in a Hillsboro, OH bar during a brawl. Though multiple appeals kept Paycheck out of prison for a while, he was finally sentenced to the Chillicothe Correctional Institute in 1989 where he served two years before being paroled.
In May of 2008, Louisiana country star Chris Cagle got in a tussle with his girlfriend Jennifer Tant at the Player’s Bar in Nashville before the couple took the bout home. Cagle wielded Jennifer’s purse. Jennifer weilded an umbrella, and they both ended up in the big house. Police said they were both too drunk and disorderly to press any serious charges.
When the underground country band from Austin, TX went to release their first album, they chose their mutual mugshots from the same Williamson County roundup to make up the CD art.
No mugshots of George Jones’s numerous run ins with the law during his drinking days have ever surfaced, but video did a few years ago from a George Jones documentary.
Get well Randy! …. but we couldn’t make this list without you. Travis was forced to pose for police camera twice in 2012; once after a drunken fight at a church, and the other after driving drunk….and naked.
Country music savior and critically-acclaimed songsmith Sturgill Simpson has been making waves all over the country with his new breakout album High Top Mountain released on June 11th, and now he threatens to take the high-flying act international by boarding a puddle jumper and puttering over to the Land of the Rising Sun to record the video for his heart-pounding, hot plate, house on fire, country as hell, soon to be hit single “Railroad of Sin.” ‘Godzillabilly’ is what’s he’s patterning the theme, as the Kentucky native and Nashville resident takes a high arching swan dive deep into culture shock.
Johnny Cash may have not been born in Nagasaki, and bullet trains may not be equipped with lonesome whistles, but the Orient is where Hank Jr. picked up his official nickname for Waylon Jennings: “Watashin!” which means, “old #1″ and you’d be hard pressed to find a more modern resemblance to Waymore than one Sturgill Simpson. So keep clear of the closing doors, strap in tight, and get ready to speed away on Sturgill Simpson’s “Railroad of Sin.”
So this weekend we were reading the June edition of Playboy Magazine. You know, for the articles. And lo and behold, Saving Country Music is cited in a feature on Eric Church entitled “The Badass” that proclaims the performer from North Carolina the “new face of country music.”
You know, I could almost like Eric Church if he would quit so doggedly pursuing his persona as product, and Playboy helps perpetuate this persona by writing a puff piece that portrays Church as the edifice of badassery, and plays to the well-worn and indolent stereotype about how country music’s “traditionalists” don’t want country music to change.
“I don’t believe country singers should make the same fucking music over and over.” Eric Church is quoted as saying in the piece.
Well who in the hell is proposing or promoting that? Is Saving Country Music? You can comb through the 2,500+ article archive of this site and not find a single place where this theory is forwarded or implied. There may be a few traditional country fans who feel that way, but I don’t see this “make the same music over and over” theory commonly cited in “traditional” country circles or anywhere else. So why are “traditionalists” perpetually having to fight this assumption every time they say they don’t prefer a certain artist, song, or sonic direction?
Saying that people don’t want country music to evolve is a preconceived argument to a position that doesn’t exist to attempt to couch “traditionalists” as hard-headed, out-of-touch, non-evolving old farts and jackasses. Yes, this is the same argument Blake Shelton has made; Church’s mainstream nemesis after Eric called Shelton out for his involvement in reality TV shows. Saving Country Music has gone out of its way over the years to champion the causes of artists who are specifically attempting to evolve country music in a way that respects the roots of the genre, many of which who are regularly ignored by the mainstream country music industry.
But what exactly is Eric Church doing that is so new? “We’re further into rock and roll than anyone else, and that’s why a lot of traditionalists have a major problem with me…. [It's] not even close.” Oh Jesus Eric, you only wish. Hell, I’ve said many times myself that Eric Church is the last male in the mainstream country music hierarchy that has any sort of creativity to his sound. The problem is he keeps letting his persona get in the way of allowing intelligent listeners enjoy his music, like when he swore off calling himself an “Outlaw,” while at the same time selling Outlaw-branded merch online. But is there some appreciable rock difference between Eric Church, and other country rock acts like Keith Urban or Florida Georgia Line?
And what is so new about mixing country and rock and roll anyway? The Maddox Brothers & Rose were doing it in 1940′s, half a century before Eric Church was even born. Country and rock and roll evolved parallel to each other, and were bred out of the same sound. Ever heard of rockabilly? Elvis was playing it before he was playing rock. Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers were mixing country and rock back in the 70′s. Hank Williams Jr., Travis Tritt, and Marty Stuart were doing it in the 80′s and 90′s with just as much of an edge as anything Eric Church is doing right now. That’s not a knock on Church’s music, but to act like mixing rock and country is something Eric Church innovated, and that he’s the only artist taking it to the edge is just another example of his self-aggrandizing pap that tarnishes the appeal of his material.
But if Church is so enamored with rock and so dismissive of country, why is he even be pushed on country radio and winning country awards? “I didn’t grow up listening to Hank Williams Sr. or Earnest Tubb,” Church told Playboy. “I grew up with rock and roll.” If this is the case and his sound is so rock, why is he surprised when country fans come out and say he doesn’t belong?
Something else interesting in the Playboy article is how it references the rampant outbreak of fights at Eric Church concerts in a positive light. Performer Kip Moore cites a show in Battle Creek, MI where he opened for Church and says that “half of the crowd was fighting.” I’ve been to some of the craziest punk and heavy metal shows, and never seen anything like this. Despite entire venues descending into mosh pits, if someone crosses the line and starts fighting, they tend to be ostracized from the crowd immediately. A concert where half the crowd is fighting is the outcome of this type of shallow, surface machismo that the current new Outlaw country artists attempt to brand into their music.
And make no mistake, this Playboy article and the Eric Church persona are not at odds with the country music establishment as they would like you to believe. It is a purposeful marketing campaign to attempt to re-integrate disenfranchised country fans who left the genre when the likes of Taylor Swift became the country norm.
The Playboy article goes on to specifically cite Saving Country Music (but without using our name), saying:
In the old days, the photo of the 10 top country singers would look like a convict lineup. These days it might look like an Ambercrombie & Fitch catalog shot. Among hardcore traditionalists, this change hasn’t been popular. One highly trafficked country website routinely erupts in insults aimed at handsome singer Luke Bryan who’s apparently perceived as too feminine. The blogger who runs the site referred to Bryan as a woman, claimed the singer has a vagina and alluded to Bryan as gay.
Oh man, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. The above quote is citing a year-old article clearly marked as “fake news,” both in the tags, and in the sarcastic tone of the content. Hopefully Playboy understood this, and was simply using it as an example in the stylistic change country has endured over the last dozen years, and the vehement opposition it has stimulated from certain sects of fans. But Saving Country Music would never accuse someone of being gay or transgender if it wasn’t in a clearly sarcastic light, and wouldn’t in any way characterize the frequency of our off-color commentary on Luke Bryan “routine.”
But as for Eric Church, if he wants to be considered a badass in the same breath of true country badasses like Waylon Jennings, Johnny Paycheck, and David Allan Coe, then he should take a que from them and not participate in self-aggrandizing cult-of-personality building in glossy magazines. Instead, he should do like they did—let the music speak for itself.
Radio station 93.5 KOOK and 1230 KERV in Kerrville, TX, managed by legendary DJ Big ‘G’ Gordon Ames has a radio promo done by Kinky Friedman that simply says, “We play Hank. All of them.” Yes, we all know about country music’s most famous family, and the lineage passed down from Hank Williams, to Hank Williams Jr., to Hank Williams III. But here are the other 5 Hank’s that helped establish the sound of country music (and just like all three generations of Hank Williams, didn’t actually have “Hank” as their legal first names).
Clarence Eugene Snow, aka “The Singing Ranger” is a Country Music Hall of Famer and one of the few old-school country artists originally from Canada. In 1962 Snow was the first performer to take the country classic “I’ve Been Everywhere” to #1—just one of the over 85 singles Snow would have chart over a 3-decade period reaching all the way to 1980. Hank made his first record for RCA Victor in 1936 while still living in Canada. He moved to Nashville in 1945 and became one of the most influential singers of the time, as well as an accomplished songwriter. Snow was one of the primary people responsible for the rise of Elvis, helping to get him on the Grand Ole Opry stage in 1954 and introducing him to Colonel Tom Parker (who later dumped Snow to focus on Elvis’s career). Along with “I’ve Been Everywhere,” some other notable Hank Snow songs are “I’m Moving On”, “The Golden Rocket,” and “Hello Love.”
Lawrence Hankins Locklin from McLellan Florida was one of country music’s first honky tonk-style singer songwriters. Maybe not as well-known as Hank Williams, but he sold an estimated 15 million records worldwide and was a member of the Grand Ole Opry for nearly 50 years. Locklin songs have been recorded by Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Dwight Yoakam, and Dean Martin to name a few. His heyday was in the early 60′s with his most well-recognized song “Please Help Me, I’m Falling” hitting #1 in 1960. His first #1 was in 1953 with “Let Me Be The One” and he released his first charting single in 1949 called “The Same Sweet Girl.” Hank Locklin was an excellent singer, and released a series of tribute albums showcasing songs by Hank Williams, Roy Acuff, and Eddy Arnold. Hank released over 70 singles and 27 albums, including a gospel album as late as 2006. Though he had a hit in 1968 with the song “Country Hall of Fame,” Locklin has yet to be inducted to the prestigious institution.
Henry William Thompson born in Waco, TX was one of country’s most popular stars of Western swing and honky tonk all the way from the late 40′s to the mid 70′s. With his excellent backing band The Brazos Valley Boys, they were responsible for over 80 charting singles, including the iconic country classic “Wild Side of Life,” and the humorous “Rub A Dub,” both hitting #1. The 1987 novel Crazy Heart by Thomas Cobb that was later turned into the 2009 movie starring Jeff Bridges is rumored to have been inspired by many different country music artists. But according to Cobb, Hank Thompson is the true culprit, most notably from using local bands to back him up later in his career after The Brazos Valley Boys disbanded. Hank Thompson also had his own television show for a short period.
Garland Perry Cochran is one of the greatest, most prolific songwriters in the history of country music, who also had his own career as a recording artist. Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces” and “She’s Got You” were penned by Cochran. So was Ray Price’s super hit “Make The World Go Away.” Cochran was active and relevant in country music all the way up to his death, later writing hits for Merle Haggard, Ronnie Milsap, and George Strait. As a performer, Cochran scored 7 singles on the country charts. In 2012, Jamey Johnson released a tribute album called Living For A Song: Tribute to Hank Cochran to critical acclaim and commercial success. Few songwriters are held in as high regard in Nashville as Hank Cochran.
Walter Louis Garland was a country and rock & roll guitar God of the 1950′s and 60′s and beyond. Part of the “Nashville A Team” of studio musicians, Hank’s guitar handiwork appears on recordings from Marty Robbins, Mel Tillis, Patsy Cline, Roy Orbison, Conway Twitty, and many more. But he might be most famous for playing on many of Elvis’s big hits from the late 50′s and early 60′s, including “Little Sister,” and “I Need Your Love Tonight.” Hank Garland is one of those musicians who helped define the sound of an era. In 1961, Garland was in a car accident that left him in a coma, and he later had to re-learn how to talk and play guitar. Though Garland once again became an accomplished musician, he never regain his place as one of Nashville most sought-after guitar players. Despite being known mostly as a side musician, he had a million-selling record with his song “Sugarfoot Rag.”
Pop rocker Sheryl Crow has been spending her 2013 getting poised for a move to country music, taking a nationwide bus tour of country radio stations and showing up at country events ahead of the release of her “country influenced” album Feels Like Home on September 10th.
A move to country is common for aging rockers as their careers begin to diminish. Country music is perceived as a genre that can offer strength and support to artists as they age. But trying to bolster a career in decline apparently is not the only motive behind Sheryl’s country move.
Sources close to the Sheryl Crow camp have confided in Saving Country Music that part of Sheryl’s country move is politically motivated. Sheryl is a staunch environmentalist, and has championed specific issues over the years, most notably in 2007 when she advocated the use of only one square of toilet paper during restroom visits to conserve trees and increase global oxygen levels, saying:
I propose a limitation be put on how many squares of toilet paper can be used in any one sitting. Now, I don’t want to rob any law-abiding American of his or her God-given rights, but I think we are an industrious enough people that we can make it work with only one square per restroom visit, except, of course, on those pesky occasions where 2 to 3 could be required.
Crow later clarified her statements, saying they were somewhat of a joke, but according to our Sheryl Crow source, she still takes the toilet paper issue very seriously, and plans to use her move to country music as a Trojan Horse to unleash her opinions about toilet paper conservation on what she believes to be one of the biggest consumers of Angel Soft and Charmin in the US: country music fans.
“The country music demographic consumes about 8 million squares of toilet paper a day,” the Sheryl Crow source explained. “That’s 22% more than hip hop fans, and 18% more than rock fans. Sheryl feels if she can reduce the amount of toilet paper used by country consumers, it would make a difference of about 1 1/2-degrees in temperature of the oceanic sea levels.”
And just how exactly is Sheryl Crow expecting country fans to listen to her one square mantra? “In a country single,” the Sheryl Crow source says. “And this will not be some small PSA. This song was put together by top notch Music Row songwriters to be a big hit, and is being produced by T Bone Burnett.”
That’s right, once Sheryl Crow has established herself in country music, she’s planning to release a single, purportedly a duet with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, aka “Elaine” from the 90′s sitcom Seinfeld, called “Can You Spare a Square?”
Not to be outdone, apparently Hank Williams Jr. has caught wind of Sheryl Crow’s plan, and plans a counter-single called “Wipe You Ass With A Spotted Owl.”
Ironically, both Sheryl Crow and Hank Jr. have previously released songs with Kid Rock, who completely swore off cleaning himself after bowel movements in 2003. Some people are already dubbing the impending conflict the “Great Toilet Paper War of 2013.”
It’s about to get nasty out there folks. Real nasty.
(Elaine Benis could not be reached for comment.)
Before this album, I’d been mostly opinion neutral on Holly Williams. Being the granddaughter of Hank Williams, the daughter of Hank Jr., and the sister of Hank3 appointed her music the respect of more than a cursory look. The pedigree runs too deep in that family to handle her otherwise. But Holly only seemed to have only one foot in the music business, unsure if it was the way she wanted to spend her life, though aware that her family’s lineage was probably her quickest way to success.
Her first two albums The Ones We Never Knew in 2004 and Here With Me in 2009, both released on major labels, left one wondering about Holly’s true music identity. Neither were particularly commercially successful–she’s yet to have a single hit the Top 50 threshold–but she really didn’t seem to align with the independent world of music either. She was neither here nor there, and with a lack of scene support her career sort of drifted. The Highway, released on her own Georgiana label, changes all of that.
Produced by Holly and Charlie Peacock, and written mostly by Williams herself, The Highway puts Holly Williams smack dab in the middle of this revolutionary crop of young women that threatens to completely shake up the country music world and mindset. Along with Kacey Musgraves, Caitlin Rose, and Ashley Monroe, Holly Williams now has a career-caliber album that exemplifies the leadership and creativity coming from country’s young women.
The Highway takes a more Americana route than a country one, with sparse arrangements and a focus on deep lyricism. The music stays soft while the words are cutting. There’s a few exceptions like the twangy, steel-guitar soaked “Railroads,” but mostly The Highway takes advantage of the emerging commercial viability of Americana by bringing a refined ear to the compositional process and focusing the listener on the art of the song.
There’s still a lot of meat here though for the country music fan. The music might be refined, but the words come from the downtrodden life, with a lot of depression, addiction, and sorrow in the stories. “Drinkin’” is the track that other songwriters will listen to and beat themselves up for not writing. Its unconventional structure reels you in while Holly’s voice strikes that healthy balance of conveying country inflections without felling like a “put-on” act.
The biggest takeaway from The Highway might Be Holly’s voice. Not really known as a notable singer heretofore, Williams embarks on a discovery of her vocal strengths on this album, learning to accentuate the unique aspects of her tone, and even to take her vocal weaknesses and turn them into strengths such as great singers like Emmylou Harris have done in the past. There are a few Emmylou-like moments on this release, with Holly’s earthy tones and strain in her voice emphasizing the emotion of the story. “Gone Away From Me” is where this is exhibited best, while a song like “A Good Man” featuring a trailing vibrato has enough soul to be found on an R&B chart if it weren’t for the fiddle.
About the only hiccup on The Highway may be Holly’s propensity to write in a 3rd-person male voice that sort of confuses the perspective of some of the songs, most notably the anthemic final track, “Waiting on June.” This issue is short lived though, as you understand that when listening to the story it is more honest and true because it is being told from the male perspective instead of Holly attempting to augment the inspiration for the song to fit a female voice.
Where Holly Williams’ career and releases left her neither here nor there before, now she has found her voice, has found her place, and that place is amongst the talented women doing what they can to return the greater country music world to a place of substance.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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2012 was a high profile year for Halls of Fame. From the kilted screecher Axl Rose pulling like a Sex Pistol and telling the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to kiss off, to the Baseball Hall of Fame not inducting a single member as the steroid era falls like a shadow on the eligibility timeline. Similarly to baseball’s Hall of Fame, and in polar opposite of its rock & roll counterpart, the Country Music Hall of Fame has kept its legitimacy and honor over the years by being an exclusive get.
The Country Music Hall of Fame inductees are selected through a committee process appointed by the CMA. Since 2010, the selection process has been split up into three categories. 1) Modern Era (eligible for induction 20 years after they first achieve “national prominence”). 2) Veterans Era (eligible for induction 45 years after they first achieve “national prominence”). 3) Non-Performer, Songwriter, and Recording and/or Touring Musician active prior to 1980 (rotates every 3 years). With a musician, Hargus “Pig” Robbins selected in 2012, and songwriter Bobby Braddock selected in 2011, it will be a non performer (ie producer, record executive, journalist, etc.) that will be eligible for induction in 2013.
Since 2001 when there was a whopping 12 inductees, anywhere from 2 to 4 names have been added to country music’s most prestigious list each year. Usually one name from the above mentioned categories makes it per year, but if no name gets enough of a majority vote, a category may not be represented in a given year. Or, if two names get enough votes for a single category, then both may come from that category.
Modern Era Possibilities
Modern era inductees are usually big, high-profile names in the first few years of their eligibility. In 2012 it was Garth Brooks. In 2011 it was Reba McEntire. These are performers who would have risen to prominence between 1968 and 1993.
Alan Jackson – This is the big name this year that could be inducted in his first year of eligibility like Reba and Garth. Jackson would be a solid pick as a pretty strict traditionalist who experienced lots of commercial success and still remains relevant in country today.
Ricky Skaggs – Along with Kenny Rogers, Ricky Skaggs was one of the names that felt right on the bubble of being inducted last year. Skaggs has bookened his career as a mandolin maestro, studying under Bill Monroe and now firmly ensconcing himself as a country music elder. In between then, he had tremendous commercial success in the 80′s when country was searching for its next superstar. This would be another pick that few could argue with.
Kenny Rogers – He must have been only a few votes from induction last year, and it only seems like a matter of time before The Gambler gets in. The month after the 2012 inductees were named, Rogers was named the Hall of Fame’s “Artist in Residence,” possibly signaling that Kenny was close, but not quite there. Some purists may complain that Kenny started in rock and also helped usher in a more pop-influenced era in country, but you will find few who can argue that eventually Rogers doesn’t belong in The Hall.
Hank Williams Jr. – Could also be considered a veteran candidate depending on where you start your timeline, and another man who will be a hall of famer at some point (with 2 CMA Entertainer of the Year awards under his belt). The question is, is this the year? Last year Jr. seemed like a strong possibility, and then a political brushup that cost him his long-standing gig as the singer for Monday Night Football seemed to sour Hank Jr. sentiment with some. With so many eligible names and so few slots, if there’s any little reason to leave a name out until next year, it’s likely to be passed over. Hank Jr. has become a polarizing figure, and the selection committee may look for someone who can build more consensus.
Brooks & Dunn – Brooks & Dunn was a commercial powerhouse whose career is somewhat shadowed by the success of Garth and their strange place as a non-familial country duo. Their first album Brand New Man sold 6 million copies, and they won the CMA for Vocal Duo of the Year every year between 1992 and 2006, except 2000. They’ll be in eventually, but is the list of names in their field still too strong for this to be the year? Their success is not debatable, but did they have the type of influence it takes to be Hall of Famers this early in their eligibility window?
Toby Keith – Officially eligible because his “Should’ve Been A Cowboy” was released in 1993, but it wasn’t until the 2000′s when Keith really became a dominant force in country music, both commercially and influentially. He’s a long shot, but a possibility.
Other possibilities: Ronnie Milsap (saddled by his “crossover” status), The Judds, Randy Travis (bad news year for him), Clint Black (and his disappearing act for the last few years), Tanya Tucker, The Oak Ridge Boys, Crystal Gayle, and Mickey Gilley.
Veterans Era Possibilities
It is much harder to compile a field of candidates in this category because the time period is so wide, and the possibilities are so endless. So instead of trying to name off every possibility, here are some serious contenders, and some interesting names.
Gram Parsons – The push to put Gram into the Hall of Fame has been going on for years, but with a wet finger sticking up in the air, I think this year may be the one that if he’s not fully inducted, there will at least be enough votes for him through the induction process that he will really have to be looked at in coming years as a serious candidate. Influential country writer Chet Flippo featured Gram’s influence in August. What once looked like a ridiculous notion, now seems like a real possibility, and that is a victory for the Gram Parson camp in itself.
Jerry Lee Lewis – Jerry Lee has received a big push this year, and is a definite possibility for induction. He may be held back some since he came from rock & roll, and his antics on The Grand Ole Opry and other places over the years. But his contributions as one of country music’s preeminent piano players cannot be denied. If Elvis is in the Country Hall (and he is), his old Sun Studio’s buddy can’t be that far behind.
Jerry Reed – Such a great ambassador over the years for country music from his work with Smokey & The Bandit to Scooby-Doo, but Jerry Reed should be inducted for his stellar and influential work as both a performer and a musician. There weren’t many better guitar pickers back in the day than Jerry Reed.
Lynn Anderson & Dottie West – Lynn and Dottie are the two ladies that probably lead the field for female veteran inductees. The question with Dottie is if she’s known more as a duet performer. The question with Lynn Anderson is a few DUI arrests over the years. Still, both of these ladies are right on the bubble, and would not be surprising as the 2013 veteran pick.
John Hartford – I admit this is a long shot pick, but I believe he deserves induction. As I said in last year’s prognostications, “The Country Music Hall of Fame works like a timeline as you walk through the displays that weave around the massive archive in the center of the building. As you start from the beginning, each artist and their impact is displayed on a plaque that includes their Hall of Fame induction date. When I came to the John Hartford display on my last visit to The Hall this summer, he was the first to have a display, but no Hall of Fame induction date.”
The Maddox Brothers & Rose – The Maddox Brothers & Rose was a name I’m sure was not on anybody’s radar, until this year. With their prominent place at the very beginning of the Hall of Fame’s current Bakersfield Sound exhibit, it is hard not to see how important their influence was on country music, especially West Coast country, and the flashy dress of country performers that still influences the genre today. I agree it is a long shot, but if groups like The Jordanaires and The Sons of the Pioneers are in The Hall, certainly The Maddox Brothers & Rose should be.
Johnny Paycheck and David Allan Coe – These names come up every year from hard country fans, and are names regularly held up as evidence of the Hall of Fame’s illegitimacy. The simple truth is that with these two performer’s shady pasts, Hall of Fame induction is going to be difficult. Johnny Paycheck has a more distinct possibility than David Allan Coe, because Coe could create a public relations nightmare for the Hall of Fame from people (correct or not) who label Coe a racist, sexist, etc. etc. Patience mixed with persistence is what Coe and Paycheck fans need to see their heroes inducted, as time heals all wounds. Eventually I think both men should be in, but they may have to wait for a year with a weaker field. Seeing Hank Jr. go in may be the sign the Paycheck and Coe’s time is coming.
Other possibilities: Johnny Horton, Bobby Bare, Jimmy Martin, Ralph Stanley, June Carter Cash, Tompall & The Glaser Brothers, and an endless list of other possibilities.
Non Performer Possibilities
Possibly the hardest category to prognosticate, I would put Fred Foster as a producer candidate, music publisher Bob Beckham as another candidate, and Chet Flippo as a candidate for a music writer. Chet Flippo wrote the introduction to Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger and Wanted: The Outlaws, and was seminal in spreading the influence of country in the 70′s with his writing in The Rolling Stone.
Really, Mike Curb‘s name should be in the discussion. He is the namesake of the conservatory that greets you when you walk into the Hall of Fame. But with his shenanigans the last few years battling both artists and other labels in the courts, Mike Curb may be waiting a lot longer for Hall of Fame induction, if not forever.
Saving Country Music’s Picks
If I had a vote…
Modern Era: Ricky Skaggs
Veterans Era: Gram Parsons, Jerry Reed, John Hartford, Maddox Brothers & Rose, Johnny Paycheck. If I had only one? Give me Gram and we’ll worry about the others next year.
Non Performer: Chet Flippo
Curb Records’ talent roster continues to contract. The latest defector is Jo Dee Messina, whose charted 9 #1 hits and sold more than 5 million records worldwide during her 18-year career. The reason? Just like Tim McGraw, Hank Williams Jr., Hank Williams III, Clay Walker, Lyle Lovett, and LeAnn Rimes to name a few, Jo Dee Messina is fed up with Curb refusing to release her music.
After releasing 3 records in the first 4 years of her contract, the big Nashville-based music label put on the brakes on releasing new music like they’ve done to so many of their artists. Messina’s last full-length release was 8 years ago, 2005′s Delicious Surprise. In the fall of 2006 she recorded the album Unmistakable that was originally scheduled to be released on November 6th, 2007. But Curb shelved the album, slowly releasing a number of singles from it in 2008 and 2009, but waiting 3 years after the album’s original release date to make it public, and then it was released it as an “EP Trilogy” with two of the extended plays only made available in MP3 format.
“For me, my fans just want to hear the music,” Jo Dee told Chicago Now. “Do you know what I mean? They just want to be able to get it. And it’s been such a struggle for the last… eighteen years. I signed when I got out of high school. So for eighteen years I’ve been just kind of struggling with the label and having them release stuff or not release stuff. Now, we’re pretty much just free to do whatever we want with this new project so I’m very excited.”
Both Hank Williams III and Tim McGraw went through high profile fights with Curb near the end of their respective contracts. Curb’s modus operandi for the last few years seems to be to refuse to release artists’ last contractually obligated album to keep the artist signed to the label virtually indefinitely. Though Curb has lost most all of the court battles they’ve fought with artists trying to leave the label, their “catch and not release” program seems to still be in practice.
Many believe the character Marshall Evans, the controlling and manipulative record executive from the new ABC drama “Nashville” is based on Mike Curb. Marshall Evans continuously threatens actor Connie Britton’s character Rayna Jaymes with releasing a “Greatest Hits” album. Mike Curb famously released no less than 7 Greatest Hits albums for Tim McGraw while he was trying to keep McGraw under Curb contract.
Jo Dee Messina will be releasing a new album in 2013 on a new label.
Because Dwight is just so damn cool, and because it’s been quite a while since his heyday, it’s easy to forget that at one point he was one of the biggest things going in mainstream country music; selling out arenas, and shaking up the sound with his neotraditional, Bakersfield-fueled tunes. Yoakam has sold over 25 million records and charted 30 singles, but you don’t think of him as a mainstream success, he’s the man you shake your fist at, but love all the same because he will always be cooler than you.
7 years is a long time to be absent from an original release, though Yoakam has plenty of excuses and been plenty busy with numerous movie appearances. He says the long lapse was not planned, but after coming off the joyride that was the mid 80′s through the early 2000′s for Dwight, crowds and sales were beginning to dwindle. Where he once played arenas, he was now headlining county fairs and releasing albums on smaller labels like Koch and New West.
Now he’s back on Warner where his career started in earnest after coming up playing mostly in rock and punk circles and being branded too “out there” by Nashville. You probably won’t see Yoakam’s name on your local arena’s marquee (he plays a lot of concert-catering casinos these days), but it feels like the Yoakam hiatus allowed his career to baste and simmer until now he’s re-emerged as a younger, but bona fide country music legend; a much more appetizing alternative to grasping to hold on to your youth and mainstream relevancy (see Hank Jr.). 3 Pears debuted at #3 on Billboard’s country chart, and was helped along by a top-notch media push by a big label.
It would have been impossible to screw up 3 Pears. With Dwight’s molasses voice, all you have to do is cut open a live mic in a studio and magic will happen. What’s the old saying about singing the phone book? When Johnny Cash has cited you as his favorite country singer, you know the talent is natural. All it needs is an outlet.
After giving 3 Pears an extended listen, I was curious of why even though I liked all of the songs, only a few of them seemed to grow on me to the point of where I craved them. I think this is a product of the production. Though none of the approaches to the songs are necessarily wrong, some feel like they are stretching, like they are trying to make sure the songs sound hip and fresh instead of letting them breathe and find their own path.
For example, the very first song, “Take Hold of My Hand” starts off with a very hip bass line. This is a song that Yoakam had been sitting on for 20 years and reached out to Kid Rock to help finish. No offense to bass guitar (or Kid Rock), but when I hear a Yoakam song, I don’t want to notice the bass. I want to be grabbed by the collar by Yoakam’s voice and have everything else compliment it. Similar bass action starts of the song “Trying”, an otherwise excellent song and one of the best on the album. But despite whatever production miscues, the strength of the material rallies.
Beck also helped out on 3 Pears, collaborating and recording two songs at his Malibu studio, “Missing Heart”, and in my opinion the gem of the project, “A Heart Like Mine”. This song is where everything comes together. Where some of the tracks on 3 Pears come across as a little too polished, here the guitar is dirty, the words a hard to make out, and that’s the way I want my Dwight. If I can’t understand the words because Yoakam’s voice is in that sweet spot for his drawl and inflections, that’s perfect, because that means I can feel them.
One of the hardest things for an excellent singer to do is to write to their vocal strengths. That’s one of the reasons Dwight has released 4 cover albums, and why some of his biggest hits were version of recognizable songs, (ex: “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “Streets of Bakersfield”). Yoakam finds that magical combination of originality and his singing sweet spot a few times on 3 Pears. He also let’s fly a great cover of the oft-covered “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke” that has its roots in the original Bakersfield Sound that Dwight helps carry on and that is being showcased right now (and that song specifically) at the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Bakersfield Sound exhibit.
Dwight Yoakam is an important figure in the quest to save country music. He’s authentic, real, and original. Yet he’s also successful, accepted, proven, palatable to the mainstream, and perfect for outreach with his acting career. He’s country’s king of cool (despite what he looks like without a hat), and 3 Pears is a solid contribution that will hopefully re-ignite interest in this iconic, one-of-a-kind country music talent that generations deserve to hear.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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These days you can’t go a few minutes listening to modern mainstream country radio without hearing a “Laundry List” song in the rotation. Usually with little or no plot or story, they simply spew out easily-identifyable elements of country culture (ice cold beer, pickup trucks, dirt roads, etc.) in an attempt to appeal to mostly non-country demographics that can live the country life vicariously through the shallow lyrics.
Another common thread through country checklist songs is how they are used to convey country pride, and help their listeners identify with their side of the urban vs. rural, liberal vs. conservative, religious vs. non-religious culture war. Nostalgia is also a big player.
Like most of the overused song formulas employed by Music Row songwriters, the laundry list likely started with some good, creative, innovative tunes. But once something works, it is called upon again and again by Music Row until all creativity is spent and it becomes cliche. Such is the evolution (or devolution) of the country checklist song.
What is the “first” country music laundry list song?
Though there were others before it, David Allan Coe’s “If That Ain’t Country” comes in as a strong candidate from the way Coe lists out the things from his past that make him “country” and the continued popularity of the song today.
What is the first MODERN country music laundry list song?
Though Rebel Son, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and some other artists may have something to say about it, Rhett Akins “Kiss My Country Ass” is a solid contender for where songs about country pride went from conveying stories to simply being vapid lists of country artifacts and behaviors.
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Below is a list of songs that likely contributed or played an important role in the formation of the modern country checklist song from the legacy era, and a list of songs in the modern era that could be called the “first” laundry list song. I don’t pretend for this list to be complete, so if you feel there is an omission, please add your 2 cents in the comments.
THE LEGACY ERA
Merle Haggard – “Okie From Muskogee” – 1969
Leather boots are still in style for manly footwear. Beads and Roman sandals won’t be seen. Football’s still the roughest thing on campus. And the kids here still respect the college dean.
Unlike the modern laundry list song, Merle spends most of the time in “Okie From Muskogee” spelling out what people from the country (or Muskogee) don’t do, but the idea of country people using a song to delineate themselves from the other side of society in the culture war through lists of artifacts and behaviors was born. And so was the “Proud to be” lyric that is so prevalent in laundry list songs today.
Bob Seger – “Night Moves” – 1977
Out past the cornfields where the woods got heavy. Out in the backseat of my ’60 Chevy.
Bob’s first breakout song, and Rolling Stone Magazine’s “Best Single of 1977″ (it was released in December of ’76), it has had huge reverberations in modern country despite being released in rock. The laundry list lyrics are clear, and so is the nostalgia that is an essential element to many modern laundry list compositions. I’ve said before that the majority of modern country songs can be traced back to “Night Moves”. Listen to the best-selling country song from 2011, the Brantley Gilbert/Colt Ford-penned “Dirt Road Anthem” and you will spy the nostalgia of “Night Moves” all throughout it.
David Allan Coe – “If That Ain’t Country” – 1977
With 13 kids and a bunch of dogs, a house full of chickens and a yard full of hogs. Spent the summertime cutting up logs for the winter.
If you’re looking for the first true laundry list country song that started the whole trend, this might be the most solid candidate. But unlike the modern laundry list song, this one actually has a story and theme to convey, and is truly autobiographical. “If That Ain’t Country” was Coe attempting to prove his country cred to critics who said his music wasn’t, which is what many modern male pop country stars must do because they aren’t. It also features the lyric “Kiss my ass” that becomes a big player in the laundry list song’s evolution.
Hank Williams Jr. “Country Boy Can Survive” – 1982
“I live back in the woods you see, the woman and the kids and the dogs and me. I got a shotgun, a rifle, and a 4 wheel drive, and a country boy can survive.”
One of Hank Jr.’s seminal songs and all self-penned, it spells out the pride and resilience of people from the country like few others. But many elements of “Country Boy Can Survive” are misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misappropriated in the modern checklist song. Resilience is replaced by fear, self-reliance by materialism. Country and Southern pride are at the heart of many Hank Jr. compositions, but few resonate like this one still does today. “Country Boy Can Survive” and Hank Jr. are referenced specifically in many modern laundry list songs.
THE MODERN ERA
Marcus Hummon “God’s Country USA” – 1995
Looking back at my one cop town, skinny dipping drinking Royal Crown. And thinking about year long days, and rowdy ways, and best friends lost and found. Remembering my half back moves, night games and backseat blues.
This song may be somewhat obscure, but may be the missing link between the old-school and modern-day laundry list country songs. Marcus Hummon is a big, behind-the-scenes songwriter in Nashville that has written #1 hits for Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts, The Dixie Chicks, Sara Evans, and has numerous Top 40 hits to his name. Hummon was 14 years ahead of his time with this song that sounds just like the checklist songs of today.
Lynyrd Skynyrd – “That’s How I Like It” – 2003
Like my women hot and my beer ice cold. A real fast car and my whiskey old. Like a slow drive down and old dirt road. That’s how I like it.
Even more surprising than how similar the lyrics to “That’s How I Like It” are to today’s laundry list songs is how similar the sonic structure is. Lynyrd Skynyrd is a Southern rock band, meaning they could get away with rock beats and overdriven guitars in 2003 when this would have been crossing a line in country. Of course today in country, anything goes. From the unplugged intro, to the rhythmic power chords, to the almost rapping style of lyrics in the chorus, “That’s How I Like It” is the sonic template many present-day laundry list songs are derived from.
Rebel Son – “Redneck Piece of White Trash” – May 2005
I like to dip, I like to spit. I like talking on the phone when I’m taking a shit. I’m proud to be a redneck piece of white trash. If you don’t like that pucker up motherfucker you can kiss my ass.
This song from a relatively-obscure, but well-loved band with a very loyal fan base virtually writes, trumps, exposes, and lampoons all modern pop country laundry list songs all at once, even though it was written way before most of them. Aside from the “kiss my ass” lyric from David Allan Coe, if you want to find the truly “first” original modern checklist country song, look no further. Rebel Son relies on humor, while at the same time portraying cold-faced reality in songs meant to be hysterical and completely serious at the same time.
Rhett Akins – “Kiss My Country Ass” – October 2005
Tearing down a dirt road, Rebel flag flying, coon dog in the back. Truck bed loaded down with beer and a cold one in my lap.
Probably the more obvious and more-accepted advent of the modern laundry list country song (as opposed to Rebel Son), “Kiss My Country Ass” appeared on Rhett’s 2007 album People Like Me, but was released as a single in October of 2005. The song mentions Hank Jr.’s “Country Boy Can Survive” directly, and was re-recorded by Blake Shelton for his 2010 Hillbilly Bone EP. If you’re looking for the smoking gun, the primary culprit for the modern laundry list song’s popularity and its move from telling stories to simply conveying lists of countryisms, “Kiss My Country Ass” is the probably strongest candidate.
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Thanks to frequent SCM commenter “tontoisdrunk” for asking about the evolution of the laundry list song.
If I had to describe this album in one sentence it would be, “Bocephus walks into a studio, cuts on a mic, and begins to blow hard.” Old School, New Rules is a self-important, self-promoting, self-gratifying opus of an American doofus offering no real depth, wisdom, originality, or creative engagement. It is the Shock n’ Y’all of 2012; a political album that relies on the same old tired Hank Jr. modes, and marks a moment of egotistical grandstanding future generations will look back on with embarrassment.
The problem is Bocephus has bought into his own ethos even more than some of his hardcore fans. He truly believes he’s a mad genius with an arsenal of witty one-liners ready to let fly at any moment when in truth he’s in the throes of an egotistical mind fog. I love how the man wants to preach about how we should all live and how the government should run, yet he’s had how many divorces? Jr’s been a part of how many public embarrassments? Been to rehab how many times? And is currently estranged from his son and name sake? Same can be said for Steve Earle and other artists who like to lecture us on the liberal side of things. How about before you preach about the way things ought to be you get your own house in even some minor semblance of order?
This album isn’t just bad, it’s downright painful to listen to in places. Bocephus has adopted this singing style over the years where he sings the first half of a phrase, and then talks the second half for emphasis with these wild up-and-down inflections that are caustic to the ear. Listen:
This album was dated before it even came out. You can hear Jr’s voice grinning as he’s makes points that he thinks are genius when in reality they fall flat, or are cliche, or in some instances, don’t even make sense. Saying “keep the change” in reference to Obama was tired 2 1/2 years ago, but Bocephus calls upon it multiple times in this album. Old School, New Rules creates its own set of cliches by the end, relying the same dumb lines and points over and over.
There’s also this alarming lack of congruency or flow in some songs like the opening track “Takin’ Back The Country,” which goes from his Fox & Friends debacle, to sampling two different Hank Williams songs, a horn section, Obama and EPA bashing, Facebook & Twitter all in a sonic structure that is horrifically Hank Jr. cliche. Good gosh man, just tell a story and try to relate it to some folks. At the end of this song, you feel like your brain was in a blender.
His flag-waving formula song “We Don’t Apologize For America” has the same problem. It starts off as one song and subject, and then becomes another. So does “Cow Turd Blues” where Jr. takes an okay song and ruins it by adding a completely embarrassing self-gratifying diatribe about himself in reference to his ESPN/FOX debacle, about how “There’s some things in this country you don’t mess with. And I am blessed to be on that short list.”
Who the hell says this about themselves?
The song “That Ain’t Good” is sold as some deep-minded treatise on modern-day American struggles when no single line really sells itself. “Old School” might be the most palatable take on the album, but broken down is just a vehicle for Bocephus to brag. Out of all of the songs, “Three Day Trip” is the absolute worst. Take the horrifically over-worn formula of the Kenny Chesney island song, add some humor as flat as a 3-week-old 3-liter of Pepsi, call a woman a “bitch”, and this song should be offensive to just about any and all real country fans.
Did Hank Jr. forget his old routine with Kid Rock where Jr. says in country music, “We don’t say ‘bitch’ we say ‘ma’am’”?
A lot of folks are going “Wow, I just heard “I’m Gonna Get Drunk And Listen To Hank Williams” on the radio, what a great song!” when this is the same song formula as “Whiskey Bent & Hell Bound”, and the same song Jr’s put on every single one of his albums since the history of ever. Take drinking and combine it with Hank song titles and walla, you’ve got a spot filled on the Hank Jr. track list.
Two cover songs, Hank Sr.’s “You Win Again” and Merle Haggard’s “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here And Drink” offer a little respite from the rest of the album, but are excellent examples of when cover songs are unnecessary and really offer no new value to an existing composition.
I understand why people find appeal in Hank Jr. and in this album. It is because they identify with him and his message. I get that, I really do, but in no way is this album helpful to your cause or anyone elses. Instead it speaks to the very cause of the divisiveness in this country. In one breath, Bocephus is talking about how he refuses to give up his big V8, and then in another says he can’t explain why terrorists blow themselves up. Did he ever stop to think that the two might be interconnected? Instead he takes pride in his ignorance saying, “I don’t know.”
And I understand this is supposed to be a “fun” album, but with the massive politicization of the material, it is hard to have fun unless you agree with every word he says. And in fairness to Hank, he’s always put out these types of songs about being an old school, simple man who has difficulty relating to the modern world, almost to the point of making fun of himself. But for every “Dinosaur” song he’s released over the years, he’s released an “All in Alabama.” There used to be depth and balance, with one or two of the funny, opinionated songs per album. Now that’s most of what you get. Hank Jr has become a series of bits and cliches; a bad impersonation of a stereotype of himself.
These political albums rarely work, either for swaying public opinion, or as a piece of art. Neil Young’s Living With War or virtually anything from Todd Snider are also great liberal examples of this, but at least the points in these albums are lucid, and the material is original. It feels like Hank Jr. rushed this album out to profiteer off the election cycle, hindering some of his ideas that with a little more time and thought, could have come across with much more wit.
Hank Jr. got the wrong impression that bawdy political rancor is a positive way to create attention for yourself when the negative publicity from his Fox & Friends interview shined a spotlight on him.
Look, I still consider myself a Hank Jr. fan, and I will fight anyone who says his career back in the late 70′s, early 80′s wasn’t filled with some great songs. But this is a completely wrong direction to start off his post-Curb Records career. I’m not going to choose sides about whose at fault for the political state of America, but what I can say is that neither Obama, Bush, Romney, Hank Jr., Bruce Springsteen, or anyone else has more effect on your life or your state of affairs than you do. Talking down to the other side, which Jr. does with alarming ease on this album (“two and is four, do you get it?”) speaks to the mentality that if someone disagrees with you, they’re inherently stupid. This is exactly why the United States is wickedly polarized and in the midst of one of its biggest political stalemates in history: a fundamental lack of respect and simple-minded reactionary attitudes.
How about speaking to everyone? How about using subtly to talk about political struggles? How about trying to find common ground and understanding? How about simply telling a story that relates to the universal human condition and makes you feel something? Hank Jr. didn’t take one moment out of his political grandstanding and re-hashing of classics and cliches to do this. He should be better than this, and we all should be better than supporting it. This is beyond music. This isn’t Republican vs. Democrat, this is reactionary polarization against rationalization.
And I know what side I want to be on.
Two guns down!
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For years, the principals of the Hank Williams estate (Hank Jr. and Jett) were warring back and forth, and this kept the treasure trove of Hank Williams’ legacy recordings relegated to bootlegs and listening parties for the select few with access to the Acuff/Rose archive. But the last couple of years have seen a dizzying dump of previously-unheard material from country’s first superstar, enough to make navigating and delineating between the various projects a little difficult.
This week yet another new release of music was announced, called the Lost Concert Recordings set for release on October 2nd. The collection includes two live concerts, one from Niagara Falls, NY on April 25, 1952, and another from Sunset Park in West Grove, PA on July 13, 1952. The collection also includes the only known live recording of “Are You Walking and A Talking,” and a rare radio interview conducted on September 14, 1951 (see more details below).
Some folks who may have been listening to the Hank’s Mother’s Best bootlegs for years may see these new box sets as pricey extravagances, but Time Life has done a remarkable job putting together collections to appeal to various people and that make great gifts filled with extensive liner notes and photos. Whether you have the inclination to purchase them or not, it is good to see Hank’s complete legacy now finally available for all the world to hear.
Here is a complete list of Hank Williams’ recent legacy recording releases.
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Release Date: October 28, 2008
This was the first of the Hank Williams legacy recordings to be officially released by Time Life, and includes 54 songs that Hank recorded as part of a Mother’s Best Flour-sponsored show on WSM in Nashville weekday mornings during 1951. When Hank was out of town on tour, he would pre-record the shows on an acetate format. The acetate discs remained on the shelves of WSM for years until they were thrown away and a studious WSM studio worker rescued the recordings in a dumpster. After an 8-year court battle, the Williams estate finally gained ownership of the recordings. This first collection only includes a potion of the much-larger Mother’s Best collection, but also includes some of its choicest cuts. The Complete Mother’s Best recordings would be released later (see below). A bootleg of the Mother’s Bestrecordings was circulated for years before this official release.
It is available on vinyl, as well as CD and MP3 format.
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Release Date: May 5, 2009
Another collection culled from The Mother’s Best Recordings, but is only one, 15-song CD showcasing the best gospel cuts from Hank’s weekday morning show.
- I’m Gonna Sing
- I Heard My Savior Calling Me
- Precious Lord, Take My Hand
- I’ve Got My One-Way Ticket to the Sky
- Thirty Pieces of Silver
- When God Dips His Love in my Heart
- Farther Along
- From Jerusalem to Jericho
- When the Fire Comes Down
- Drifting Too Far from the Shore
- The Old Country Church
- Lonely Tombs
- Where the Sould Never Dies
- Where He Leads Me
- I Saw the Light
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Release Date: November 3, 2009
This is the second 54-song installment of the original Mother’s Best recordings, and like the first, comes with 3 discs and a 40-page booklet in the physical form, but this one is not available on vinyl.
One of the highlights from this collection is it showcases Jerry Rivers and Hank’s Drifting Cowboy Band on multiple tracks. This box set has sold significantly less copies as the first Unreleased Recordings and wasn’t as heavily promoted, possibly because the cuts are deeper into the Mother’s Best sessions. However for serious Hank Williams fans, Revealed holds just as many audio treasures.
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Release Date: April 5, 2011
This is the mother load of the Hank Williams Mother’s Best recordings, all 365 tracks, 143 songs, on 15 discs and one DVD. The collection comes in a collector’s “radio box” with an embedded sound chip, and includes a 108-page hardcover book with information and photos, an introduction by Hank Williams Jr. and an afterward by Jett Williams, and a poster that chronicles Hank’s 1951 touring schedule. The collection went on to be nominated for a Grammy.
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Release Date: September 13, 2011
Another release by Time Life, but the first not to include recordings from the Mother’s Best acetate collection. Instead this 3-disc set includes 8 15-minute recordings from his first real syndicated radio program, “The Health and Happiness Show” sponsored by Hadacol, 4 previously-unreleased recordings from 1940 that Jett Williams bought at an auction from a collector, and recordings from 1938 when then teenager Hank Williams recorded his first ever songs in the kitchen of DJ Uncle Bob Helton in Montgomery, AL. on acetate. This collection includes truly the earliest and most-rare Hank Williams recordings, including his first ever recorded song, a blues number called “Fan It”.
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Release Date: October 4, 2011
This is the most controversial of Hank Williams’ legacy releases, and the only one not released by Time Life but rather Bob Dylan’s label. The Lost Notebooks takes unfinished song sheets from Hank found after his death and combines them with big names in music today to finish them like Jack White, Sheryl Crow, and Alan Jackson. In a story very similar to the acetate recording from Hank Mother’s Best collection, 17 songs from these “lost notebooks” were allegedly found thrown away by an employee at the offices of music publisher Sony ATV (previously Acuff/Rose). The employee then sold them to a collector and after an extended legal battle, Sony ATV re-acquired the lost songs.
Allegedly as part of The Country Music’s Hall of Fame’s Williams Family exhibit, Bob Dylan was given the songs to finish them, though Saving Country Music discovered Dylan had been in discussion to finish the songs as early as 2004. Dylan finally decided to hand the songs out to various folks to finish. There continues to be questions surrounding The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams project, but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming one of the best-selling of Hank’s recent legacy projects.
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Release Date: October 2nd, 2012
This collection includes two live concerts, one from Niagara Falls, NY on April 25, 1952, and another from Sunset Park in West Grove, PA on July 13, 1952, and boasts the only known live recording of “Are You Walking and A Talking,” and a rare radio interview conducted on September 14, 1951. In between the songs, Hank shares personal anecdotes about himself, his band members and his songs.
Niagara Falls, New York: April 25, 1952.
1. Comedy with Hank and the Drifting Cowboys
2. I Can’t Help It
3. Jerry Rivers and the Drifting Cowboys: Orange Blossom Special
4. Why Don’t You Love Me
5. Are You Walking and A Talking
6. The Funeral
7. Hey Good Looking
8. Cold, Cold Heart
9. Lovesick Blues
Sunset Park, West Grove, PA: July 13, 1952.
11. Hey Good Looking
12. Comedy with Hank and the Drifting Cowboys
13. Jerry Rivers and the Drifting Cowboys: Fire On The Mountain
14. Lonesome Whistle
16. Long Gone Lonesome Blues
17. Half As Much
18. I Saw The Light
19. Lovesick Blues
20. Interview: Hank interviewed by Mack Sanders, KFBI, Wichita, Kansas, September 14, 1951.
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Release Date: June 25th, 2013
Another Time Life release that includes songs from the original Mother’s Best acetate recordings, the one disc Sacred Songs II features tracks that can be found on other Mother’s Best compilations, but focuses on the gospel selections that Hank loved to sing. Sacred Songs II also includes the bonus of a complete radio show from 1951 finishing the album Hank Williams singing his hit Lovesick Blues among others.
When Mike Curb first set up shop in Nashville, he had a strategic advantage over his competition: he was local, and he was independent. One of the reasons many major label country artists have such weak control over their music compared to artists in other genres goes back to how the major labels moved into Nashville during the advent of commercial country. Since most of the record labels were based in New York or Los Angeles and owned by larger parent companies, the Nashville offices were managed from afar, with tight controls on cost and content.
Mike Curb didn’t have to work with these restrictions, and this enticed a bevy of talent to his roster. Hank Williams III, maybe Curb Record’s biggest opponent over the years says this factored into him signing with the label even in the late 90′s, with his manager Jack McFadden telling him, “Shelton, I want to deal with Mike Curb because he’s in Nashville more than he’s in California or New York.”
Yesterday Tim McGraw announced in a press conference that he had signed with Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Records after a 20-year career and protracted legal battle with Curb. The symbolism and significance surrounding the signing was striking, and spoke to the titanic shifts that are rearranging the country music landscape in Nashville at this very moment.
McGraw and Borchetta initially signed the new deal at Nashville’s Greyhound bus station to symbolize the new beginning. Tim had arrived as a young man from Louisiana with a suitcase and guitar in hand some 20 years before by Grayhound. One of the first people in the music business McGraw was to meet in Nashville was Scott Borchetta’s father, Mike. Mike Borchetta was the man responsible for signing Tim McGraw to Curb Records.
The press conference announcing the new deal was held at the Country Music Hall of Fame, an institution decorated with the Mike Curb name, as are many Nashville landmarks. Holding the presser there was almost like holding it in the belly of the beast, with Borchetta openly criticising Mike Curb, saying that Tim’s first album would be entitled Greatest Hits 4, humorously referring to the incessant greatest hits releases Curb was comically known for towards the end of McGraw’s contract. Soon the Curb name may not be as synonymous with the Hall Of Fame as the one of “Swift”. Taylor Swift, the first artist Borchetta signed in 2005 when he started Big Machine just made a $4 million dollar donation to The Hall of Fame for a new education center, eclipsing any single donation ever made to the institution previously, including any from Mike Curb.
The theme of the McGraw/Borchetta press conference seemed to be the freedom of the artist, with Borchetta insisting that Tim would be able to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants; a trademark of Big Machine, and the big criticism of Curb. For 15 minutes, it seemed the Mike Curb approach to the music business was on trial, and found guilty. “It’s time for Tim to take over,” said Borchetta. “This is about music. It’s music business. That means music comes first. And that’s what we’re gonna do.”
And that may not be where the grenade lobbing stops between these two Music Row demigods of Curb and Borchetta. Borchetta left the idea very open, if not hinted that Big Machine would be willing to release competing singles from McGraw’s new material to counter the singles being released by Curb from McGraw’s final album Emotional Traffic that Curb delayed for years, and only decided to release after losing in court. “It’s going to be sooner than later,” Borchetta said about McGraw’s new music. “It’s going to take a nation of millions to hold us back.” This could create a country radio dog fight between Curb and Big Machine to a caliber Music Row has never seen.
Just like Hank3, Lyle Lovett, Hank Williams Jr., and the majority of other artists leaving the Curb label, there was a dramatic sense of relief in the face of Tim McGraw. From the music of Hank3, to the cover of Lovett’s last release with Curb, the Curb Record’s restrictionary approach to their artists has become an indelible artifact of the country genre in this time period, one that the future will be able to reflect back on, to an era when artists were forced to sometimes wait half a decade to get their music to their fans.
But that era is coming to a close. Mike Curb is no longer the Titan of Tune Town. His roster is depleted, his relevancy is waning, and with Tim McGraw joining a stable that includes Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts, and The Band Perry to name a few, it is hard not to label Scott Borchetta and Big Machine as the most dominant label in Nashville, and in all of country music right now. In no uncertain terms, Tim McGraw was a massive, maybe historic acquisition.
Scott Borchetta and Big Machine Record’s success speaks to two things: talent evaluation, and freedom for the artist. Artistic freedom is one of the cornerstones Big Machine is built on, and where much of their success is derived from. In a copycat business in a copycat town, it is encouraging to think that Big Machine’s success and Curb Records’ failures will breed a new era of artistic freedom throughout Music Row.
However similar things were likely said about the rise of the independent, and locally-based Curb Records. Money and power are very effective at eroding values over time. And Big Machine holds no values or promise for the forces fighting for the purity and integrity of country music itself. Looking up and down the Big Machine roster, it is hard to find any true country music at all. How ironic it is to finally see artistic freedom trending upwards on Music Row, yet true country music being left out of that trend in favor of country pop.
Make no mistake about it, there is a new king on top of the country music hill, and his name is Scott Borchetta.
Whatever your country music question is, Marty Stuart is the answer.
Are you looking for more twang? Look to Marty Stuart. Do you want music that respects the roots? You want Marty Stuart. Are you searching for that one artist that can appeal to the young, to the old, to the hardcore country fans, to fans of country from the outside looking in, and whose appeal spans from gospel fans to punk kids? Then Marty Stuart is your man.
Marty Stuart is on an amazing roll ladies and gentlemen. What he’s doing right now with lead guitar player “Cousin” Kenny Vaughan and The Fabulous Superlatives is stuff that legends are made of. You know those periods in an artists’ career that you look back on like they can’t do wrong, churning out amazing songs and albums one after another? Hank Jr. from Whiskey Bent & Hell Bound to The Pressure Is On, Willie & Waylon after they’d shaken loose from the grips of RCA in the mid 70′s. That’s the kind of epic and influential period were in the midst of right now with Marty Stuart, and what a blessing it is to realize this and to be able to experience it all in the present instead of trying to relive it through the past.
Everything is firing on all cylinders, from Marty’s live show, to The Marty Stuart Show on RFD-TV, to his last album The Ghost Train, to now Nashville Vol. 1 – Tear The Woodpile Down. Say what you want about the Marty Stuart of the past, and who knows what the future will hold, but right now, as simply as it can be said, Marty Stuart is single handedly saving country music.
And this is no accident. Oh no. Marty knows exactly what he’s doing, and he knows exactly why it needs to be done. At some point he identified the need and then decided to roll up his sleeves, reach down deep into the roots of the music, and resurrect them with such fervor that nobody could ever accuse the music of being boring or outmoded or in need of progress.
First and foremost this is guitar music. Over-twangy, too-loud, sexy, dirty, evil, beautiful, in-your-face, unapologetic guitar music punching and kicking its way into you by-God American country soul until sitting down or standing still is no option. The dueling Telecaster work between Marty and Kenny Vaughan is something so tasteful and technically superior, it transcends the entire country genre to elevate these two men and the groove they evoke into the guitar god stratus.
Songs like “Tear The Woodpile Down”, the instrumental “Hollywood Boogie”, and the mandolin-driven “Truck Drivers’ Blues” (which you have to listen closely for the Mick Jagger-like “Uh!” in the intro) have the stones enough to make country converts out of rock fans. Marty’s gospel fan club may not want to hear it characterized like this, but there’s sex embedded in this music from its swagger. Its got balls, and don’t be thrown off by the silver hair, Marty brings a young, enthusiastic approach, winding you up in the intros, and then letting you go like a spinning top in a swirl of dizzying, Jerry Reed-style close guitar harmonies and hot lick tradeoffs.
But all this is just noise without the gift of good songwriting. Even the slow songs bring such passion, conveyed in the studio in no less measure than they would be live. That is what you get in songs like the subtle, but stabbing indictment of Music City “Sundown in Nashville” written by Dwayne Warwick, and sad songs like the Stuart-penned run that takes you toward the end of the album from “Going, Going, Gone” to “A Song of Sadness”. I can’t help but hear a little of the Dwight Yoakam, West Coast approach in these songs, and in the tear-jerking, swinging waltz “A Matter of Time”, the usually-composed and perfect Marty Stuart let’s his voice crack with emotion in one of the most stirring vocal performances I’ve heard from the man. With every one of The Fabulous Superlatives boasting superlative abilities at composing and performing harmonies, the only way to characterize the caliber of vocal performances on this album is “unfair.”
Something else remarkable about Nashville Vol. 1 is how similar it is to his previous The Ghost Train. Traditionally this is an unwise decision, but when you’re in such a groove and hitting on all cylinders, why shake it up? At some point the need for change will present itself, but for right now ride that groove until it’s worn out. What Marty has found with The Fabulous Superlatives is too good not to.
One of the great things about Marty Stuart is that he can be all things to all people. The gospel crowd can’t help but love him. Mainstream and young fans can’t help but pick up on the guitar work if they’re exposed to it. And even the punk and heavy metal country converts can find what they’re looking for here. Marty helps point them the way by including Hank Williams III on the final track, “Pictures From Life’s Other Side” written by Hank Sr. A perfect gospel tune sung with such heart and grace by both men, it chills your bones with the stark, ancient country language portraying a haunting, unveiled moral. Even without the loud Tele or the original songwriting that defines most of this album, this might be one of the album’s best tracks.
But let me waste no more time slaving away with mortal words trying to describe this music, just go listen. Get this album, listen to it loud and frequently, and save your country soul.
Thank God for Marty Stuart! (Please, somebody put that on a T-shirt. I’d buy two.)
Two guns way up!
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This is a quote attributed to Waylon Jennings, and one that’s hard to argue against. But over time, Garth Brooks’ music has fallen more into favor with traditional country music fans who once revered him as the country music anti-Christ. Why? Because country music’s current decline has revealed Garth’s music as not being as bad as once thought, and in sharp contrast with today’s music, it’s actually country.
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The 80′s were kind of a mess for the mainstream country music world. Fans had to stare at Hank Williams Jr.’s decapitated head levitating in the middle of a Confederate flag, or squint real hard to make a superstar out of Ricky Skaggs to come away with any memorable 80′s-era icons.
And then came Garth. A lot of country purists may be reluctant to admit it, but when Garth Brooks first came onto the scene, they probably had no problem with him. There was no reason to. Unlike a lot of the crossover successes from country music’s past, i.e. Olivia Newton-John or John Denver, and the current crossovers like Lady Antebellum and Taylor Swift, Garth Brooks was country, and good. And in many ways, he was just the shot of adrenaline the declining country genre needed.
And then Garth got big. Real big. Bigger than any other musical act all time other than the Beatles and Elvis. Then he passed the Beatles.
The reason the Waylon quote speaks so deeply to the heart of many country music purists is not necessarily because of Garth’s music, but because of the man, and the impact he made on the business of country. To many, Garth Brooks was good until his music became an inlet for millions of interlopers into the country genre. He sold millions of albums in Asia. He seeded country music into football stadiums, and over-saturated the culture with his songs, while his albums monopolized the top of the music charts for years at a time. Garth and his music became easy to hate from a purist or artistic standpoint as the masses bought into it in droves.
Structural changes to the business of country music were really what Waylon was referring to in his quote. As an old-guard Outlaw, Waylon could see the erosion of all the principles of self-governance for the artist that he and the other Outlaws had fought for, as Music Row retooled and obsessed over finding or manufacturing the next “Garth”. The hyper-attention to the here-and-now this created also interrupted country’s long-running order in how it dealt with its aging talent like Waylon and other “legacy” artists.
And then there were a lot of the specific things that Garth the OSU advertising graduate did, like emulating KISS in his stadium shows and flying out across the crowd on wires, his battles with Blockbuster Music for selling his used CD’s and other ultra-protective practices that made a man who had sold over 100 million albums look greedy, his somewhat-failed “Chris Gaines” crossover gimmick, his bullying of the Super Bowl, and his “retirement” in 2001 that seemed to fly in the face of the idea that musical artists make music out of love. And after signing an exclusive deal with Wal-Mart to sell his music, it seemed easy to surmise that Garth Brooks had only ever been in music for one reason.
When it was announced that Garth Brooks would be one of the 2012 Country Music Hall of Fame inductees in his first real year of eligibility, it was hard to call it a surprise, and getting mad over it seemed like getting mad at a young puppy for soiled carpet. Garth’s impact on country music was so deep and indelible, his induction was unmistakeably inevitable, however unfortunate some might see it.
In the end, Garth’s stage antics and sales numbers and behind-the-scenes impact are not going to be what fans focus on. They’re going to focus on the music, and what has really injected Garth’s music with redemptive qualities has been the steady decline in mainstream country music over the era that Garth Brooks arguably initiated.
Folks say all the time about Waylon Jennings and other country legends that they would never make it on country radio today. But the same could easily be said for Garth Brooks. He’s too good, and too country. Compared to most of mainstream pop country today, Garth would be classified somewhere between honky tonk and hard country, and would be playing a club circuit. Compared to the “new Outlaws” and their laundry list songs, you could classify Garth as “real”. Taylor Swift may be the most real artist in country right now, but she’s not country at all. Garth Brooks was over-produced for sure, but does this mean he was inherently “fake” compared to what that term in country music means today?
Autotune wasn’t even around in Garth’s heyday. It’s hard to push Garth as an expert musician or an amazing songwriter, but he had enough of a hand in both that he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2011. He may have been country music’s biggest sellout, but did Garth ever sell perfume? When people start to preach about what country music should be, much of Brooks’ music fits that model, with fiddles and steel guitar and heartfelt songs.
That doesn’t mean Waylon’s quote about Garth was unfounded. Regardless of how “good” Garth’s music was or is, it’s irrelevant to the adverse effect he had on the country music business, and how his music might have effectively muted many other artists that were still measures better.
And just like every artist, Garth had bad songs and bad albums as well. But another move that might have helped Garth is that early retirement some use to say his heart was never in the game. If his heart was not in it, at that time or ever, wasn’t retirement the more noble course than continuing on? Garth’s Chris Gaines skit is much maligned, but maybe this was Garth’s attempt to stay engaged with a business more and more he was feeling estranged from. Maybe Garth saw the moves to pop that country was making, or how shallow his own presentation was, and was unwilling to continue.
Garth is 50-years-old and about to enter his legacy era, where you not only enjoy the fruits of your labors, it’s also where you forge the true nature of what your legacy will be. True country music legends like Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash not only enjoyed a resurgence of interest in their music, they became elder statesmen of America, creating indelible legacies beyond the music world.
The question for Garth Brooks now will be what legacy he will create for himself in the next 20 years. But if country music itself continues down the path of abandoning its roots, the legacy of Garth Brooks’ music will likely only continue to brighten.
Yesterday Hank Williams III whose preparing for an East Coast tour in March participated in a live chat on Yowie.com (watch full session at bottom) where he dropped some interesting tidbits about some upcoming plans and projects, including that he’s planning to tour Europe again June 15th through July 15th playing clubs and some festivals, and will be releasing an unspecified collaboration with David Allan Coe in a couple of months. The project came up in connection with the legendary song “The Conversation” between Hank Williams Jr. and Waylon Jennings, and if him and Shooter Jennings would ever do a remake.
Well me and David Allan Coe have taken on that, and it will be coming out in about another two months or so. That’s just one of those songs that no matter who did it, it will never be the same, it will never be as cool as it was. It was a really special song for Hank Jr. and Waylon. Who knows what will happen in the future, but what David Allan Coe and me did will be the closest thing to something like that.
When asked how fans should approach Curb Records’ upcoming release of Long Gone Daddy, an album constructed of outtakes from Hank3′s early Curb albums, he told people to treat it like another disputed album, Hillbilly Joker, and bootleg it instead of buy it.
I would say do what you did with Hillbilly Joker. All they’re trying to do is take away from my sales. That’s why they keep putting out these records because they’re trying to take me and my organization down. So of course I don’t respect any of it. There might be a song on there that you like, but there’s a lot of things that you won’t like on there. You’ll see in time how some people have taken sides with Curb Records, people that were nobody and I helped them back in the day, and now they’re getting a little respect and they’re sticking with the corporate world. So I don’t have any respect for it. I would say get it, burn it, pass it out. I know I’ll never be listening to it. That’s what YouTube is for.
He also talked about his appearance on the new kids album Farmer Jason & Buddies Nature Jams put out by Jason Ringenberg of Jason & The Scorchers.
Jason & The Scorchers has been a big inspiration throughout the years. For him to have the guts to ask me to be on a kids record had a lot of respect. I think he respects my work ethic. He just called me up and said, “Man, would you be into it,” and I said “Sure!” The song was fun, and to be on a track with one of The Ramones, he’s got a lot of interesting people on that. Who knows what will be in the future but that was my first official kids record.
And as for the status of Reinstate Hank:
The sad part about it is they didn’t do it while the Hank Williams exhibit was open at the Country Music Hall of Fame. That’s really the biggest letdown. They should’ve had the ceremony while the Country Music Hall of Fame was showing respects. All we can do is keep ruffling their feathers.
One of the reasons the the Country Music Hall of Fame is one of the most revered and respected Halls in all the land and specifically in music is because it is so hard to get into. It is always better that you look at a list of Hall inductees and wonder why certain names are not in, instead of looking and wondering why certain names are. Sure, just like everyone, I could look at the Hall inductees or a year’s specific class and opine how it should be different, but I have 100% faith in the the Country Hall’s process, and their dedication to always looking big picture when it comes to the preservation of the roots and history of country music.
The 2012 inductees will likely be announced in the next month or so. I anticipate this year’s list to be heavily laden with big names, and light on names from the legends era and behind-the-scenes types. Garth Brooks, Kenny Rodgers, and Hank Williams Jr. could all get in this year. The Oak Ridge Boys, Ricky Skaggs, and Ronnie Milsap are also strong contenders. June Carter Cash seems to be the only serious name for a legend on people’s lists, and Don Rich, Ralph Mooney, Hank Garland, and Johnny Gimble would be strong candidates for musicians who might make consideration.
Garth Brooks will be in the Hall of Fame. Though a few years ago, this might have driven many purists crazy seeing how he is the poster boy for commercial country, the modern day country landscape is shining a much more favorable light on one of the best selling artists ever, only rivaled by The Beatles and Michael Jackson. The question with Garth is not if, but when. We can wait on Garth’s induction because it’s inevitable, and give someone else a chance this year. However the rekindling of his career in Las Vegas and Reba McEntire’s induction last year I think does move Garth closer to induction.
Hank Williams Jr. is another shoe-in for the Hall eventually, but with his 2011 political side show, voters may side step him this year and hope for calmer publicity waters before making it official.
In many ways, Ricky Skaggs is the best of both worlds. The has the purist and roots vote for his unquestionable support and background in bluegrass, but he also played country music superstar for Music Row in the mid 80′s when there was a massive talent shortage. It is hard to make a case of why Ricky shouldn’t be in, and be in this year.
Kenny Rodgers may have started in rock and may carry mainstream baggage for purist voters, but his role in movies and television along with his huge mainstream country hits made him one the 80′s biggest country ambassadors. Weird face and chicken franchises be damned, I think Kenny makes it in, and this year.
2012 Hall of Fame Inductees Predictions
- Ricky Skaggs
- Kenny Rodgers
- On The Bubble – Garth Brooks, Hank Jr. , Jerry Reed, Oak Ridge Boys, Ronnie Milsap, Don Rich
If I had a vote
I do think that both Johnny Paycheck and David Allan Coe deserve to be in, and that it would be nice to see Coe be inducted before he passes. However, both men’s criminal pasts are going to be the long-standing road block against them. Though Coe may be the more recognizable name, I think Paycheck has the better chance as an “Outlaw” based out of Nashville instead of Texas, and how he carried the blue collar banner in country for years.
Another person I think that should be considered seriously is Ralph Mooney. From Buck Owens to Wynn Stewart, from forging the early Merle Haggard sound to touring with Waylon Jennings for 20 years, Ralph Mooney and his lonesome pedal steel guitar sound defined what people think of when they think of country music. He was wildly influential in his discipline. Those first few notes of Merle’s “Mama Tried?” Yeah, that was Ralph Mooney. I know he will not get in this year and maybe not anytime soon. But when the discussion is broached of who should be in The Hall, I believe it is the responsibility of all real country fans to help inject Ralph Mooney into the mix.
Since I believe to keep the Hall pure, no more than 3 inductees should be added in a given year, I’m only allotting myself 3 votes.
Here are my 3 votes:
Gram Parsons – The student in Emmylou Harris was inducted in 2008, now it’s time to induct the master. Simply put, there was never another artist that introduced more people outside the genre to country music than Gram Parsons. He turned The Rolling Stones into country fans. He discovered one of the most important women in country music history. Since Gram died young in 1973, he never got a chance to be prolific, or to settle into his proper place in country music history. But Gram Parsons was way much more than “that guy who played in the Byrds.” His impact is still being felt today. And for all he has done, country music owes him a debt of gratitude.
John Hartford – I understand this is a long shot pick, but as a songwriter, musician, and father of his own sub-genre in newgrass, it is difficult to make the case against him. Let me explain it like this: The Country Music Hall of Fame works like a timeline as you walk through the displays that weave around the massive archive in the center of the building. As you start from the beginning, each artist and their impact is displayed on a plaque that includes their Hall of Fame induction date. When I came to the John Hartford display on my last visit to The Hall this summer he was the first to have a display, but no Hall of Fame induction date. And then you had to go past many other artist’s displays, into the late 70′s-eartly 80′s before you found other artists given recognition on the great country music timeline without an induction date. John Harford is an indelible piece of country music history, and deserves to be a Hall of Fame inductee.
Jerry Reed – There is and was only one Jerry Reed. With an unmatched energy, style, groove and taste, he took honest to God country music and infused it with a groovy, relevant, and funky style that stole the human heart and sent it racing. An ultimate performer and character, his work from Scooby Doo to Smokey & The Bandit made him one of the 70′s best country ambassadors. But if Jerry goes in, he should go in as a guitar player first. With a wholly unique style matched by impeccable technique, he is as close as country music comes to a guitar god.
Back in 2005 when Hank Williams III entered into a public feud with his label Curb Records and it’s owner Mike Curb, it might have been easy for many to laugh off the young tattooed musician as an ungrateful punk with no respect, and overlook the cause he was taking up. It may have been more difficult to overlook when the courts sided with Hank3 and forced Curb to release his album Straight to Hell, but the event still remained obscure aside from Hank3 fans and a few industry types.
Now with the very public brush-up between Curb and Tim McGraw, and with McGraw winning a crucial court battle, both anti-Curb sentiment, and the knowledge of Curb’s very restrictive business practices has gone mainstream. As thousands of Tim McGraw fans searched for answers to why his Emotional Traffic album was yet to be released, they learned about Hank3′s story, and the stories of LeAnn Rimes, Hank Williams Jr, Clay Walker, Jo Dee Messina, and many more artists who’ve had major problems with the Nashville-based label.
And maybe even more alarming is the fact that these public feuds between Curb and artists may just be the tip of the iceberg. Many currently-signed Curb Records artists may be afraid to speak out like Hank3 and Tim McGraw did, in fear their projects and careers could be further restricted. As part of the ruling for Hank3 to have his Straight to Hell album released, he made a concession in his contract that said he could not publicly criticize Curb Records. There may be some, or many Curb artists with similar clauses in their contracts right now, and unlike Tim McGraw, they cannot get their story out to their fans or to the public.
I don’t think it is a stretch to surmise that many, if not the majority of Curb’s artists at this point are engaged in some point of conflict with the label. After the Tim McGraw ruling, LeAnn Rimes fired off on Twitter: “Omg, I am doing the happy dance like its going out of style. Congrats Tim McGraw!!!!!!” Unlike McGraw, Hank3, and Hank Jr., LeAnn Rimes is still under the thumb of Curb, who seems very content with waiting a prohibitive 5 years between it’s artist’s album releases, to keep them on the label as long as possible.
When in Nashville this summer, I took the opportunity to walk downtown Nashville. All of it, with a map in my hand, walking around every city block, observing the buildings, the improvements, how everything was related and laid out. Then I walked down to Music Row and did the same thing. As the Holy Land of country music, every square foot of the downtown Nashville corridor could be considered as important to the country music legacy as the artists and songs themselves.
I compiled a few observances from my walk, and a few concerns. One of the concerns was how much I saw Mike Curb’s name. I saw his name more than I saw the name of Hank Williams. From his star on the Music City Walk of Fame, to the “Mike Curb Conservatory” and “Mike Curb Courtyard” that are an integral part of the front of the Country Music Hall of Fame right across the street, to his ownership of the whole block surrounding 16th Avenue and South Street on Music Row where the Curb headquarters are, the name “Mike Curb” is everywhere as the millionaire has been been unloading his war chest over the last few years to proliferate it all over the city.
And let’s not forget the “Curb Center” at Vanderbilt University, the “Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music,” “Curb Event Center,” and “Curb Cafe” at Belmont University, the “Curb Family Music Center” at the Harpeth Hall School, or the numerous other Nashville landmarks that as a token, or a consequence for taking Mike Curb money, must embolden his name in columns and cornerstones to be seen forevermore.
Don’t get me wrong, I do not want to criticize the practice of philanthropy, or any of these specific entities that partook of Mike Curb money. My question is with the motivation, and the long-term outcome for some of these institutions. Many have opined that Mike Curb’s motivations for manipulating artists like Tim McGraw are not about money, but about power and legacy. I think it is fair to ask, where did the money come from for these building projects, from manipulative contracts and manipulating artists? From overpriced music and overbearing business practices? And in the current tax scheme, many times ultra-wealthy people are better served to donate their money as a tax write-off, which pays off in etching their legacy on landmarks, instead of simply getting a paper receipt from Uncle Sam.
And what makes the Mike Curb story that has unfolded in the last five or six years that much more disturbing is that Mike Curb is supposed to know better. The fundamental reason country artists based on Music Row have always been dealt with differently than artists from other genres is because most Music Row labels are subsidiaries of bigger companies that have to answer to folks in New York or LA, so a restrictive environment is insisted upon to keep costs in line and a system in tact; to keep the big bosses outside of Nashville happy.
But as a Nashville-based, independent label, Curb was supposed to be the musicians savior from the traditionally-restrictive Music Row culture. As Hank3 explains, he signed with Curb Records because his manager Jack McFadden wanted to deal with someone local, instead of someone splitting time between Nashville and one of the coasts. Now Mike Curb is arguably the poster boy for the restrictive, combative, and sometimes outright illegal practices by Nashville-based music labels.
As Nashville and Nashville-based entities are erecting what will be landmarks, and looking for funding for capitol improvements, before taking money from Mike Curb, or maybe when negotiating the terms of how that money changes hands, maybe they should take to heart the headlines that have hounded the Mike Curb name over the last few years, and ask themselves if that name is a legacy their building, their institution, or the City of Nashville wants to tie their future to.
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