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Tuesday was the release of Jerrod Niemann’s dumb new album High Noon, and before we’ve even had a chance to really delve into just how much of a mockery it makes of country music, Niemann’s already out there on the defensive, preaching to us how country “purists” really don’t know what the hell country music is all about, and how he’s just carrying on the traditions of Willie and Waylon by pushing the boundaries of the genre.
High Noon‘s first single “Drink To That All Night” drove country more in the direction of EDM than ever before, to the point where I’m not sure what’s country about it aside from the stupid, formulaic, country stereotyping lyrics. The second single from the album called “Donkey” promises to take this trend to a place many shades worse, and very well might go down as the worst song in the history of country music in this bear’s opinion—but that’s another story. A further perusing of High Noon‘s wares shows a lackluster effort of EDM and hip hop pandering veering towards a pop wasteland with little redeeming value afforded to distressed ears searching for any single reason why it shouldn’t be considered any more than some EDM/country mashup side project instead of a premier solo effort from an established country artist.
But that hasn’t stooped Jerrod Niemann from naming himself amidst country music’s Outlaw pioneers.
“When people think about country music, and they use the term ‘Traditional Country,’ they’re talking about something that has happened in the past,” Niemann tells Billboard. “But, when those songs were out currently, they were the freshest thing on the radio. Nobody was saying ‘Let’s go record traditional country.’ They just wanted to record music that meant something to them. Willie and Waylon were getting flack for being progressive at the time because they were mixing it with rock and the outlaw thing.”
Sorry Niemann, but that’s bullshit. Were there some voices saying that Willie and Waylon were pushing the boundaries of country music too far back in the day? Sure there were, and Saving Country Music has pointed this out before as well. But…
1) This had just as much to do with the fear people had of Willie and Waylon because they were shaking up the established Music Row system as it had anything to do with their music.
2) Willie & Waylon’s new take on country music was nowhere near outside the boundaries of country compared to what some artists are doing today. The musical equivalent to High Noon if Willie and Waylon would have done it would have been to cut straight up Disco records with country lyricism and called it country—and then thrown it back into the faces of critics before they even had a chance to raise a peep because Hank Williams was criticized too.
3) Oh an sorry Jerrod, but yes, Waylon and Willie did say, “Let’s go record traditional country.”
For example: What was Willie Nelson’s breakout album during the mid 70′s Outlaw era? Red Headed Stranger—the consensus pick by critics as the greatest country album of all time. What was the biggest single off of Red Headed Stranger, and really the only single of note from the album? It was a song called “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.”
“Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” was a traditional country standard when Willie cut it. The song was written by Fred Rose, originally recorded by Roy Acuff in 1945—30 years before the release of Red Headed Stranger. It was also cut by Hank Williams in 1951, Ferlin Husky and Slim Whitman in 1959, and Bill Anderson in 1962 among others. Red Headed Stranger also had other classic country songs such as Eddy Arnold’s “I Couldn’t Believe It Was True” and a hymn called “Just As I Am” that get this Jerrod Niemann, was written in 1835, making it over 140 years old when Willie cut it. So saying that Willie didn’t say, “‘Let’s go record traditional country,” is completely bogus. One can make the argument that’s exactly what Willie said, and it resulted in arguably country music’s greatest contemporary work.
Meanwhile Waylon may have had a touch more rock in his sound compared to Willie or his other country artists of the time, but the backbone of his music was the steel guitar of country veteran Ralph Mooney, and Waylon was cutting songs like “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?” and “Bob Wills Is Still The King” that paid homage to traditional country greats. Then take a look at the lineup of The Dripping Springs Reunion—the gathering that arguably put the power of Willie and Waylon on the map. It included Bill Monroe, Buck Owens, Loretta Lynn, and other aging country greats that at the time were being forgotten by Music Row. Even as Willie and Waylon were rising in prominence, they were paying homage to the ones that came before them.
“I’ve always tried to respectfully add a few elements here and there,” Niemann tells Billboard. Are you kidding me? “Drink To That All Night,” Donkey,” and other offerings from Niemann’s High Noon aren’t respectful to anything but his label’s bottom line. Take a look at this video and tell me the non-country elements are just “here and there”:
The problem with Jerrod Niemann, the reason he’s even worse than many of his current pop country cohorts is because he knows better. I have no doubt Florida Georgia Line grew up listening to mixtapes with Hank Williams Jr. on one side, and Drake on the other. To Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw and Shania Twain are classic country. But Jerrod Niemann is 34-years-old. He’s not trying to push limits, this is last ditch effort to get attention from the industry in a no hold’s barred, sellout move to secure his share of the fortune being made off the destruction of country music. And no matter how much he wants to be in front of this issue, how much he preaches falsehoods about how country music once was, he’s simply a sellout in a woman’s Ross Dress For Less discount bin hat—and certainly no progeny of Willie or Waylon.
Jett Williams, the daughter of country legend Hank Williams Sr. and the half-sister of Hank Williams Jr., was arrested early Tuesday morning for DUI in Lebanon, Tennessee. The 61-year-old Jett Williams Adkinson was observed by Lebanon police swerving in between lanes in a 1998 Jaguar when police pulled her over at 2:30 AM. According to police, Jett smelled of alcohol, and had slurred speech and admitted to drinking two beers. She failed a field sobriety test, and was arrested.
Williams was also cited for not wearing a seat belt and for no proof of insurance. She was later released from the Wilson County Jail on $1,000 bond. According to police, her current address is Hartsville, TN, just north and east of Lebanon.
Jett is a country music performer and the co-executor of the Hank Williams estate. She is the daughter of Hank Williams Sr. and Bobby Jett, who Hank had a brief relationship with between his two marriages. She was born five days after Hank’s death, and was adopted by Hank’s mother, Lillian Stone after her birth. When Lillian passed away in 1955, Jett became a ward of the state before being adopted, and lost touch with her Hank Williams lineage. In 1985, she was found by the Alabama State Court to be the daughter of Hank Williams, and was awarded a half-share of the estate. Jett’s husband, lawyer Keith Adkinson, died in June of 2013.
George Jones. The Possum. Possibly the man whose life and story embody the themes of a country song better than anyone. From rags to riches, back to rags, and eventually onto rehabilitation and redemption, George Jones was a man that faced demons more fierce than any of us can imagine, and eventually came out on top. Was he a badass? You bet, and here’s 10 reasons why.
- 10 Badass Willie Nelson Moments
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- 10 Badass Merle Haggard Moments
- 10 Badass Marty Stuart Moments
1. Flipping the Dinner Table at Tammy Wynette’s House
Before George and Tammy were married, George went over to Tammy’s house one night to have dinner with her and her then husband, songwriter Don Chapel. George knew Tammy through their mutual booking agent. While fixing dinner, Tammy and Don Chapel got in a heated argument, resulting on Don calling Tammy a “son of a bitch” in front of George. George, secretly hiding his admiration with Tammy, lost it.
“I felt rage fly all over me,” Jones said in his autobiography. “I jumped from my chair, put my hands under the dinner table, and flipped it over. Dishes, utensils, and glasses flew in all directions. Don’s and Tammy’s eyes got about as big as the flying dinner plates.”
George professed his love for Tammy right then and there, and the country music couple were soon married.
2. Helping To Found ACE — The Association of Country Entertainers
George Jones was never considered an Outlaw, but he participated in one of the most significant precursors to country music’s Outlaw revolution in the mid 70′s. Some know the story of Charlie Rich burning the envelope announcing John Denver as Entertainer of the Year at the CMA’s in 1975, but it was the year prior when the stink had begun about performers outside of the country genre walking away with the industry’s accolades. Olivia Newton-John’s win in 1974 for Female Vocalist of the Year caused such a stir that traditional and even pop-leaning country performers at the time organized behind the acronym “ACE” that stood for “Association of Country Entertainers”.
Spearheading ACE was George Jones and then wife Tammy Wynette, and the inaugural meeting of ACE was held at their Tennessee residence. Other participants in ACE included Dolly Parton, Bill Anderson, Porter Wagoner, Faron Young, Conway Twitty, Hank Snow, Mel Tillis, Barbara Mandrell and more than a dozen others. ACE demanded more representation of traditional artists on the CMA’s Board of Directors, and more balance on country radio playlists (does any of this sound familiar?).
Just how successful ACE was can be argued, but it was the precursor to future organizations looking to restore balance and better representation from the CMA, and helped usher in country music’s Outlaw movement and the return to a more traditional sound that the mid 70′s saw in country.
3. Riding a Lawnmower to the Liquor Store
The first and most well-documented lawnmower incident was the late 60′s. George Jones was living 8 miles outside of Beaumont, TX with his then wife Shirley Ann Corley. Jones had experienced a few #1 hits by that time, and his success fueled his wayward ways with alcohol. He was drinking so bad, his wife Shirley resorted to hiding all the keys to the vehicles before she would leave the house so George wouldn’t drive to the nearest liquor store in Beaumont.
But that didn’t stop him. After tearing the house apart looking for a set of keys one time, George looked out the window to see a riding lawnmower sitting on the property under the glow of a security light. “There, gleaming in the glow, was that ten-horsepower rotary engine under a seat. A key glistening in the ignition,” George recalled in his autobiography. “I imagine the top speed for that old mower was five miles per hour. It might have taken an hour and a half or more for me to get to the liquor store, but get there I did.”
The second, lesser-known incident of George Jones’s escapades on a riding lawnmower happened when he was married to Tammy Wynette. Taking a cue from George’s previous wife Shirley, Tammy hid all the keys from George, but George had been down that road before. Wynette woke up one night at 1 AM to find George missing. “I got into the car and drove to the nearest bar 10 miles away,” Tammy recounted in 1979. “When I pulled into the parking lot there sat our rider-mower right by the entrance. He’d driven that mower right down a main highway. He looked up and saw me and said, `Well, fellas, here she is now. My little wife, I told you she’d come after me.’”
The George Jones lawnmower incidents later went on to be memorialized in many country videos, including Hank Williams Jr.’s “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight,” Vince Gill’s 1993 hit “One More Last Chance” that includes the line, “She might have took my car keys, but she forgot about my old John Deere,” and John Rich’s “Country Done Come to Town,” and George’s own “Honky Tonk Song.”
4. Recording “He Stopped Loving Her Today”
Yes, it could be easy to highlight George’s signature song and say it was awesome for him to cut it, but the story behind “He Stopped Loving Her Today” goes much deeper. The song not only saved George’s career, it potentially saved his life, and all of this is from a song that at first he didn’t want to record because he thought it was too depressing, too long, and nobody would play it. It eventually became his first #1 in six years, salvaged his career, introduced him to a new generation of fans, and solidified his place as one of country music’s biggest ever superstars. Jones himself says about it, “A four-decade career had been salvaged by a three-minute song.”
Written by Country Music Hall of Famer Bobby Braddock (who you can argue would not be a Hall of Famer if it weren’t for the song), along with Curly Putnam, “He Stopped Loving Her Today” went on to spend 18 weeks at #1, won the Grammy for Best Male Country Performance in 1980, both the ACM for Single and Song of the Year, and was the Song of the Year from the CMA’s for 1980 and 1981. After George’s death, the song re-entered the charts at #21. “He Stopped Loving Her Today” deserves to be in that elite class of songs that can be argued are the greatest country music songs of all time.
5. Being The Best Male Duet Partner in the History of Country Music
When you have the best voice in country music, your services as a duet partner are going to be called on early and often. And despite George’s body of solo work being worthy of a Hall of Fame career, his work as a duet partner is unparallelled itself. Country music stars young and old, male and female lined up to take advantage of his voice over many decades, and duets accounted for five of the fourteen #1 hits George had over his storied career. Here’s a rundown of just some of the people George performed duets with over the years:
•Tammy Wynette •Loretta Lynn •Buck Owens •Waylon Jennings •Willie Nelson •Johnny Cash •Dolly Parton •David Allan Coe •Jerry Lee Lewis •Hank Williams Jr. •Patty Loveless •Lynn Anderson •Emmylou Harris •Ricky Skaggs •Garth Brooks •Tracy Lawrence •Charlie Daniels •Marty Stuart •Merle Haggard •Ralph Stanley •Randy Travis •Vince Gill •Alan Jackson •Sammy Kershaw •Shelby Lynn •Mark Chesnutt •Travis Tritt •Barbara Mandrell •Brenda Lee •Shooter Jennings •The Staple Singers •Keith Richards •B.B. King
6. Walking out of the CMA Awards
Ahead of the 1999 CMA Awards, George Jones was enjoying yet another resurgence in his career. Jones was slated to perform the song “Choices” on the CMA’s, but when producers insisted he must sing an abbreviated version, he walked out of the ceremonies and boycotted the show.
In a super act of class and solidarity, Alan Jackson halfway through his performance of “Pop A Top,” stopped down and shifted gears to perform “Choices” in protest. The event has gone on to be considered one of the biggest moments of country protest in the history of the genre.
7. Recording “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?”
Throughout his career, George Jones held fast to the ideals of traditional country music, and wasn’t afraid to fight for them, or speak out about what was happening in the genre. And as one of the few artists who registered hits in multiple decades (according to Billboard, Jones had more “hits” than any other country artist), when George Jones spoke, people listened.
George’s song “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes” comes from the 1985 album of the same name, and was written by Troy Seals and Max D. Barnes. It’s a poignant tribute to the history of country music and its previous greats, while calling attention to the abandonment of country’s roots. The song was so potent, the phrase “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?” has become one of the most popular go-to colloquialisms concerning the state of country. The song was also a hit, rising to #3 on the Billboard country chart in 1985.
8. Overcoming His Personal Demons
Some people assume that becoming a rich celebrity solves many of your problems, when for many artists it exposes and fuels their problems. Such was the case for George Jones, who had major issues with alcohol, and later in his career, drugs. At one point in 1979, despite being one of the best-selling artists in the history of country music, he was bankrupt and destitute, living in his car, weighing around 100 pounds and living off of junk food. George spent time in mental institutions tied to his drinking multiple times and had to be straighjacketed on numerous occasions. He became known as “No Show Jones” because he missed so many engagements over his career.
But in many ways George Jone’s bad behavior only helped his reputation. His fans didn’t turn on him, they loved him more because they could relate to him and their own personal struggles, and because he was such a great artist and performer when he would show. Alan Jackson once said about Jones, “…what I like most about George is that when you meet him, he is like some ole guy that works down at the gas station…even though he’s a legend!”
Waylon Jennings and others first helped get George Jones sober in the early 80′s, and the result was a resurgence in his career. However later in life George Jones would fall back into his old habits. George gave up drinking and drugs for good in 1999 after wrecking his car and spending two weeks in the hospital. After the crash he pleaded guilty to drunk driving charges. Jones told Billboard later, “…when I had that wreck I made up my mind, it put the fear of God in me. No more smoking, no more drinking. I didn’t have to have no help, I made up my mind to quit. I don’t crave it.”
9. Wanting to Die Performing
Some artists perform because they want to, others perform because they have to. In March of 2012, George Jones was hospitalized with an upper respiratory infection. The 80-year-old performer was having trouble breathing, and it was thought that he didn’t have much more time before his lungs would fail him. Instead of heading home to recuperate and potentially prolong his life, George set to planning a 60-date farewell tour, culminating in a star-studded event set to transpire at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena in November of 2013 with over 50 special performers.
According to George’s wife, before he even left on the tour, he knew he would not make it to the finale. Doctors said he was in no condition to perform or tour, but he did anyway. On April 18th, 2013 George Jones was hospitalized in Nashville, missing tour dates in Alabama and Salem. He eventually passed away on April 26th, 2013 at the age of 81.
10. Having The Greatest Male Voice in the History of Country Music
- “When people ask me who my favorite country singer is, I say, ‘You mean besides George Jones?’” — Johnny Cash
- “The greatest voice to ever sing country music.” — Garth Brooks
- “The second best singer in America” — Frank Sinatra
- “If we all could sound like we wanted to, we’d all sound like George Jones,” — Waylon Jennings
- “Anyone who knows or cares anything about real country music will agree that George Jones is the voice of it.” — Dolly Parton
It’s that time of year again when we’re on the verge of hearing who the next class of inductees to the Country Music Hall of Fame will be. Though the date seems to be getting later and later each year (last year it stretched all the way to April 10th—2012 was announced on March 6th), as soon as spring starts to break, you can be assured an announcement is coming soon.
It must be said whenever broaching the subject of the Country Music Hall of Fame that it has been The Hall’s desire over the years to have it be an exclusive institutions when it comes to inductees. Where the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and certain sports seem to throw the barn doors wide and accept all comers, the Country Music Hall of Fame would rather take gruff for who is not in the The Hall as opposed to who shouldn’t be, but is. You can always induct someone in the future, but it’s nearly impossible to throw someone out.
The Country Music Hall of Fame inductees are selected through a committee process appointed by the Country Music Association, or 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 a non-performer in “Cowboy” Jack Clement selected last year (though he was a performer and songwriter, it was more for his producer role), it would a songwriter’s turn up to bat this year.
Since 2001, anywhere from 2 to 4 names have been added to the Hall of Fame 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 from a category, then both may come from that category.
Potential Modern Era Inductees
Last year’s inductee – Kenny Rogers
Ricky Skaggs – Ricky Skaggs is the artist that has felt like he’s been right on the bubble of being inducted over the last couple of years. Skaggs has bookened his career as a mandolin maestro, studied under Bill Monroe, and is 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. Few could argue with this pick and Skaggs is very well liked across country music. He was also announced recently as the Country Music Hall of Fame’s “Artist in Residence.” Though there is no official correlation between being named an Artist in Residence and being inducted the next year, that coincidence has happened numerous times, including for last year’s modern era inductee, Kenny Rogers. Skaggs has to be considered a frontrunner.
Ronnie Milsap - Milsap is a name that has probably been on final ballots for the Hall of Fame for going on two decades, and in a couple of years will cycle over to a veteran’s era candidate, if he hasn’t already depending on where you want to start the clock on him. Though his commercial success is unquestionable, the fact that he started outside the genre and found a lot of his success as a crossover star might make him a hard name for voters to pull the trigger on. Having said that, seeing another name who started outside of country and had a lot of his success in the crossover world get inducted last year in Kenny Rogers, might move Milsap one step closer.
Alan Jackson – 2013 was Jackson’s first year of eligibility, and there was a sense he just missed out on being a first year Modern Era inductee like Garth Brooks and Reba McEntire. A huge commercial success in his day who always payed homage to the roots of the genre and the artists who came before him, Jackson is a shoe-in for The Hall eventually, and should be a very strong candidate this year. He’s well-liked, with little to no baggage (there was that whole George Jones “Choices” thing back in 1999 at the CMA Awards, but hey, that was a long time ago). Alan Jackson is a strong contender.
Randy Travis – At this time last year, despite Randy’s fresh eligibility and unquestionable credentials for the Hall, he was facing a string of drunk driving charges, and spinning the unsavory story of trying to bum a cigarette at a gas station naked. In such a crowded field, it was easy to give Travis a pass. But this year the story is much different. After suffering from a heart condition and stroke while in the midst of a strong recovery from his personal issues, Randy Travis has to be considered the sympathy favorite for the distinction. Will it be enough? Maybe not, but Randy will be a frontrunner in the Modern Era until he’s inducted.
Brooks & Dunn – A commercial powerhouse whose career was somewhat overshadowed 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 but one between 1992 and 2006. 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, and with this crowded of a field? And does the fact that they’re no longer a functioning act hurt them, or is Kix with his radio work and Dunn with his brewing country revolution still visible enough? A few more names may have to tick off the list before their turn, but they have to be considered contenders.
Other Possible Modern Era Inductees:
- The Oak Ridge Boys – Another Strong Contender
- The Judds
- Dwight Yoakam – You’d think with 25 million records sold, his name would be more associated with this distinction. Maybe in the coming years.
- Keith Whitley – Garth Brooks a couple of years ago said he deserved induction before him.
- Clint Black – If it wasn’t for his career’s disappearing act, his name would be right up there with Travis, Jackson, and Brooks & Dunn
- Toby Keith – Officially eligible because he had his first success in 1993, but probably on the outside-looking-in for the next few years
- Charlie Daniels
- Tayna Tucker
- Crystal Gayle
- Gene Watson
- Mickey Gilley
Potential Veterans Era Inductees
Last year’s inductee – Bobby Bare
Predicting the Veterans Era nominees is notoriously foolhardy because they pull from such a wide field of potential inductees. It’s made one measure harder by a general lack of chatter out there surrounding potential nominees compared to previous years. But here’s a few educated guesses.
Jerry Lee Lewis – He’s a definite possibility for induction, and with the lack of a clear front runner, this might be his year. 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 Studios buddy can’t be counted out.
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, songwriter, and a musician. There weren’t many better guitar pickers back in the day than Jerry Reed. And his work as a session musician with so many of country music’s big names made him a well-known and likable character throughout the genre.
Hank Williams Jr. – It’s somewhat hard to know if Hank Jr. should be considered a Veteran or Modern Era candidate because of the double-era aspect of his career, but he’s a contender either way. However despite his two CMA Entertainer of the Year awards and millions of albums sold, you don’t get the sense it’s his time just yet. Only playing around 18 shows a year these days, and generally being once removed from the moving and shaking of the country genre while he pursues a quasi political career, Hank Jr. could be passed over this year others pushing harder for the distinction.
Lynn Anderson & Dottie West – Lynn and Dottie are the two ladies that likely lead the field for female veteran inductees. Both of these ladies are right on the bubble, as they have probably been for many years. Since there wasn’t a woman inductee last year and there’s no strong female contenders in the Modern Era category, the pressure to include a woman from the veteran field in 2014 might be greater.
The Maddox Brothers & Rose – The Maddox Brothers & Rose was a name that probably wasn’t on many people’s radar until the last couple of years. 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, especially West Coast country, and the flashy dress of country performers that still influences the genre today. It may be 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. And it would be great to see happen while the final member, the 91-year-old Don Maddox, is still around.
Gram Parsons – Gram’s inclusion here is always a topic of great discussion. In 2013 there was a greater push than ever to induct him, with influential Country Music writer Chet Flippo personally making the case for him, and other chatter that 2013 might be his year. But it wasn’t, and it may be years before it is, but his name is always in the field for this accolade, and looking at the influence Gram had showing millions of rock and roll fans the beauty of country music, it should be.
John Hartford – This is a long shot pick, but he deserves induction. As I said in my prognostications from a couple of year ago, “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.”
Tompall Glaser & The Glaser Brothers – Probably another long shot, but one that has to be considered a more legitimate contender in 2014 with the passing of Tompall last year. It probably helps that his brothers-in-Outlaw-country-arms Bobby Bare and “Cowboy” Jack Clement were inducted last year, moving folks like Tompall and other Outlaw-esque country music personalities one step closer in the process.
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. One positive sign for them is the induction of Bobby Bare and “Cowboy” Jack Clement last year. This means the CMA committee is willing to pick Outlaw artists and personalities for the Hall, and those two inductions move Paycheck and Coe two steps closer.
Randomly, I also think there’s a strong chance that the next major rotating exhibit at The Hall could be a feature on the Outlaw era of country, which might also give people like Paycheck, Coe, Tompall, and others a chance to be featured at the Hall of Fame beyond induction.
Other Possible Veterans Era Inductees:
- Jimmy Martin
- Vern Gosdin
- Ralph Stanley
- Johnny Horton
- The Browns
- June Carter Cash
- Wynn Stewart
- Jim Ed Brown
Potential Songwriter Inductees
Last songwriter inducted – Bobby Braddock in 2011
The 3rd category rotates between a musician, a non-performer (executive, producer, journalist, etc.), or songwriter on different years. 2014 would be a songwriter year.
Though there may be some artists that would technically qualify for induction under this category like Keith Whitley, Townes Van Zandt, Billy Joe Shaver, or any number of other artists that have extensive songwriting credits, this category is meant for behind-the-scenes songwriters who would never be inducted if not for this category. Though the award might go to someone with a little more modern success as a songwriter to go along with their storied history, here’s two interesting names that deserve strong consideration.
Hank Cochran – Hank would be a worthy inductee, and it just might happen for him as a songwriter of both critical acclaim and commercial success. It can’t hurt that Jamey Johnson also recently release a tribute to Cochran, making him front-of-mind when voters are thinking of songwriters who deserve this distinction. Cochran should be considered a front runner.
John D. Loudermilk – A cousin to The Louvin Brothers that had great commercial success as a songwriter in the 60′s and 70′s, he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1976, and certainly deserves consideration for this distinction. Nonetheless, it’s probably a long shot.
Shel Silverstein would be another interesting name.
Picks and Predictions
Who I Think Will Be Inducted
- Ricky Skaggs or Alan Jackson – Modern Era
- Jerry Lee Lewis, Vern Gosdin, or Jerry Reed – Veterans Era
- Hank Cochran – Songwriter
Who I Think Should Be Inducted
- Ricky Skaggs – Modern Era
- Maddox Brothers & Rose / Tompall & The Glaser Brothers – Veterans Era
- Hank Cochran – Songwriter
After releasing a total of seven Greatest Hits releases in an attempt to keep Tim McGraw under contract indefinitely, after refusing to release his last album on the label Emotional Traffic, after insisting McGraw owed them yet another album and losing virtually every court case and decision while in a protracted legal battle with both McGraw and his new label Big Machine Records, finally releasing Emotional Traffic after they had found out they had lost, and releasing a duets album in an attempt to counteract Big Machine’s first Tim McGraw release, Curb Records is releasing yet another album from Tim McGraw; an artist that hasn’t called Curb Records home officially for over 2 years.
The album will be called Love Story and will feature Tim McGraw’s “12 biggest love songs,” two previously-unreleased recordings, and will be released exclusively through Wal-Mart on February 2nd, 2014.
Mike Curb and Curb Records have a long list of transgressions against their artists, refusing to release music in a timely manner to keep artists under contract, repackaging music to mislead consumers, and releasing music against the wishes of their artists. Along with Tim McGraw, Frank Zappa, The Beat Farmers, LeAnn Rimes, Hank Williams Jr., Hank Williams III, Jo Dee Messina, Clay Walker, Lyle Lovett, and others help comprise a long list of Mike Curb’s transgressions against artists.
- It’s You Love – Featuring Faith Hill
- Just To See You Smile
- My Best Friend
- When The Stars Go Blue
- She’s My Kind Of Rain
- Not A Moment Too Soon
- Watch The Wind Blow By
- My Little Girl
- Tiny Dancer
- I Just Love You (Previously Unreleased)
- What About You (Previously Unreleased)
You won’t see Reno, Nevada’s Hellbound Glory at the top of anyone’s ‘Best Of’ lists this year, unless it relates to touring or live performances. Leroy Virgil & the boys didn’t leave much time for recording and releasing albums in 2013; they were too busy ripping off one of the toughest, busiest, and arguably the most notable touring schedules in 2013 from an independent country act. It started in February as an opening band on Kid Rock’s “Rebel Soul” arena tour of which a retooled Hellbound Glory did two legs of, all the while playing smaller shows here and there when possible, and then revisiting many of the same areas afterwards on their own bills in the proceeding weeks and months.
Then most recently Hellbound went on a breakneck, two month tour with The Supersuckers, covering 40-something dates spanning the US. When Leroy Virgil rolled into Austin, TX on Friday Dec. 6th to play a quick set at the Empire Control Room downtown, he’d been rode hard and put away wet, and Hellbound Glory had not a familiar face from the members who had started out with him at the beginning of the year. However he’d recruited the very capable guitarist ‘Metal’ Marty Chandler, and drummer Chris VonStreicher from the Supersuckers, and Adam Kowalski from North Carolina on bass and band manager duties.
Aside from the music, the night was weird all around. They started at 9 PM, which is very early for a weekend show in Austin, and a few straggling fans missed some of the set. Hellbound was supposed to play outside, but 20-degree weather and a stiff north wind scrapped those plans. The Empire Control Room was more ambient for a rave than a real country show, with pacifier-sucking, glowstick-twirling visuals projecting onto the walls, and a mandate on Hellbound to stop after an hour so a DJ could spin house music to an entirely empty room. This was all quite in contrast to Leroy’s prominent “Hank” suspenders strapped over his shoulders, and his beer chugging honky tonk tunes.
But when Leroy Virgil and Hellbound Glory 4.0 hit the stage, none of that mattered. Leroy started with a blistering, amplified version of Hank Williams’ “My Buckets Got A Hole In It” that reinvented and revitalized that tune originally learned by Hank Williams from Rufus Payne in the mid-30′s, and made it feel like an iconic 70′s-era Southern rock anthem. Not 30 seconds into the first song, and you could tell that Leroy had played so many shows in front of so many big crowds in 2013, that being on stage was second nature, and a downright showman had emerged from a man who is known as a songwriter first. Not that Leroy was a stiff before, but now he had a swagger about him—a sway and arm motions—engaging the crowd and carrying songs to another level with his ability to be completely uninhibited with the music.
Leroy’s electric guitar sounded horrible. It was a black and white Squier Stratocaster that had “$100″ written on the pick guard in permanent marker like he’d just bought it off the side of the road. It’s the kind of guitar you buy your 14-year-old son when you know he’s only going to ignore it, with stock pickups that sound like the smell of ass. But Leory was just holding down the rhythm anyway, and then getting out of the way for ‘Metal’ Marty to rip into some of the juiciest solos Hellbound’s music has ever been graced with. Despite the ‘Metal” addendum to his name, Marty referred to a heavily influenced and versed knowledge of country guitar modes and licks that he displayed with confidence and abandon. It was a high volume, electric country show, and more than a stone’s throw from the days of Leory sitting on a bass drum, playing it with the back of his heel while strumming an acoustic guitar.
Leroy played a lot of his more well-known Hellbound Glory songs, a few more covers like his rendition of Hank Jr.’s “Women I’ve Never Had” and Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire.” He was also featuring a ferocious growl that punctuated parts of songs and overall became one of the highlights and takeaways of the set. Leroy’s voice has become tattered around the edges like a cheap blue tarpaulin pulled over an apartment’s worth of shit made susceptible to the wind on a cross-country move, and then marinated by a thousand shots of whiskey lined up all across the front of the stage by well-meaning fans. But like an old tinker, Leroy has taken what he’s been given, and made it into one of his finest tools: a road-worn and weathered bellow with which he can unfurl and blow a crowd away with.
Forget how many new players make up the Hellbound Glory cast, when Leroy gave a subtle hint to whatever song he wanted to play next, his band was right there behind him, hitting every change, and holding every sustain as good or better as any Hellbound Glory lineup. Leroy has never been good at keeping new material a secret, and the set featured a few new songs, and so did the half hour or so after the set when he pulled out his acoustic guitar and gave a personal concert to all who stuck around on the side of the stage.
Whenever Hellbound Glory’s name is mentioned these days, the next question you hear is, “When’s the new album coming out?” Though I wasn’t able to glean that specific intel from Leroy, I can tell you he’s recently been doing some recording in Aberdeen, WA. I wouldn’t hold your breath on hearing the results of that anytime soon, but if the new songs Leroy’s been playing are any indication, when new music does emerge, it promises to be worth the wait.
Until then, you can use the below Leroy Virgil recap of the last year or so to tide you over.
Two guns up.
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.
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