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This week the music world was agog that Lady Gaga topped the charts with her latest album Born This Way selling over 1 million copies, though some are crying foul because 440,000 of those album were bought on Amazon for only .99 cents, making NPR wonder if this is the end of the album as we know it. It makes me wonder again if there is too much free music.
But I was neither shocked nor appalled that Lady Gaga made #1. What blew my mind was to see the post-contract Hank III release from Curb Records called Hillbilly Joker crest #10 of the Billboard country charts last week, and it still sits in the Top 40.
The nearly 10-year-old album was rejected by Curb for release when Hank III turned it in originally because of concerns for the commercial viability of the content, which begs the question of why it’s OK to release it now that the music is 10-years-old, and not germane to Hank III’s current sound? Curb is in a legal battle with Tim McGraw right now over his album Emotional Traffic, with the label saying the songs are too old to use. But the release of Hellbilly Joker proves that Curb has no problem publishing old songs, and a Top 10 album by a much more underground artist than Tim McGraw proves that old songs can still be commercially viable and culturally relevant.
By waiting to release Hank III’s Joker until after his contract has expired, Curb was able to squeeze an extra album out of Hank III’s deal. Is there any question that is Curb’s aim with Tim McGraw?
But how did we get to this point? How could Hillbilly Joker crack the Top 10 when Hank III himself has not been promoting it, has been avoiding any media interaction, positive or negative, in fear of drawing attention to the album, and even told his fans “Don’t buy it, but get it some other way and burn the hell out of it and give it to everyone.” And Joker has been circling around Hank III’s fan base and the underground for years as a free bootleg. So much of Hank III’s fan base already had it.
One of the reasons might be is that for the first time for a Hank III release, Curb actually promoted it, putting up displays in Hastings and other small chain and independent record stores touting it as Hank III’s “new album”. And for some inexplicable reason, the XXX movement, which claims to be for promoting and representing artists who haven’t gotten a fair shake from the mainstream, including Hank III, are touting the album on their website, against the wishes of Hank III, and in the face of a boycott of Curb Records.
In some respects it is heartening that a virtually unknown, underground artist can crack the Billboard Top 10, but he cracked the Top 10 for all the wrong reasons. If you’re reading these very words right now, you know the scoop about Hillbilly Joker, but thousands of people who simply saw the album advertised in their local record store, or for sale for $3.99 on Amazon, bought it and took the word of Curb that it was new material.
Maybe Hank III should have been more active in trying to get the word out, maybe Saving Country Music should have been, but in the current media world, the sick reality is that may have encouraged people to purchase it simply for the car crash factor. People now pay attention to music because it is bad instead of in spite of it (ie Rebecca Black & “Friday”), or just to see what all the hubub is about, or because it’s only $3.99, or .99 cents. This creates a situation where a Top 10 by Hank III, or a #1 by Lady Gaga doesn’t really help the music world judge the popularity, creative aptitude, or commercial viability of those artists.
Right now the music industry is in the equivalent of a drunken stupor, searching for the horizon in an attempt to figure which way is up and down. And if it cannot right itself, the next thing that will catch its eye is four horsemen descending from the clouds. Meanwhile Hank III must be wondering what Curb’s success with Hillbilly Joker will do to his career, and so must Tim McGraw.
Okay the only reason I cannot like this album is because the name on it. I bought this to hear Hank III not Assjack. I have an old bootleg of “This Aint Country” witch is a better version of this (with other songs). The tracks on here are more punk/metal than they were on the previous recording. It is good if it was Assjack but I didn’t buy Assjack.
Preordered and wish I didn’t. Not like Hank iii albums at all. Sounds like assjack which is not bad but not what I wanted. Oh well really don’t like the 3 mins of donkey sounds.
That’s right! I feel like the jokes on me. That’ll teach me to pre-order anything.
I love Hank 3′s Country stuff, can tolerate a little bit of Hellbilly & turn off Assjack.
Well this release sounds mostly like ASSjack. Only Hank’s Assjack fans will appreciate this material.
I’m 57 years old and mostly listen to 50′s and 60′s honkytonk. When I discovered Hank III’s country stuff, I thought I had a new favorite artist and I bought everthing he had out. Some songs sucked but most rocked. I pre-ordered this without waiting for samples to hear. Joke was on me! There is not a single track that is not awful from my perspective. There is nothing that resembles country here. Could be metal, could just be noise? All the same to me. I should know better than to buy without listening. This object lesson should keep me from doing it again.
Feeling a little ripped-off. Hillbilly Joker should have been released as an Assjack project (the III’s thrash noise band). I would never call Hank III “country” but this isn’t even close to other releases under the Hank III name. At least at his live shows, I can walk out when he switches into Assjack-mode. No such luck with this release. You got me, III. I should have listened to the sound bites before clicking the buy button. At least I got it at the Amazon $3.99 price. If you are out of ideas, why not cover Wayne Hancock and maybe even Unknown Hinson for your next Hank III release and leave this mess for Assjack fans?
Curb Records continues to keep all challengers at bay for the spot of “Most Evil Label on Music Row” by dogging artists even after they have left the label, and not allowing others to leave at all.
The situation with Tim McGraw has gone from dysfunctional, to immoral, to ironically funny, to now outright insane. The country music star and part-time perfume magnate’s troubles started with Curb in 2008, when the label decided to release a Greatest Hits album instead of new music McGraw had sitting on the shelf. Curb released no less than 4 individual Greatest Hits compilations in 2008 alone, and has released 7 since the year 2000. The incessant Greatest Hits releases spawned parody press coverage, that was chased by then yet another Greatest Hits release in 2010, Tim McGraw’s Number One Hits.
McGraw spoke out in 2008 about Curb’s unusual practices, saying, “I am saddened and disappointed that my label chose to put out another hits album instead of new music… I had no involvement in the creation or presentation of this record… the whole concept is an embarrassment to me as an artist.”
Now Curb is refusing to put out his last album on his record deal, called Emotional Traffic, and won’t even give it a release date, despite the album being done since the Fall, and Tim currently being on a concert tour called “Emotional Traffic”. This prompted public words about his feud with the label today. From the Associated Press:
All the songs have been done for a long time, and the label has had it. It’s the last album that they have of mine, so they’re trying to hold on to it as long as they can. Whenever Mike Curb decides he’s going to play fair, it will be out.
He also called it his “absolute last album” with Curb if it kills him.
Hank Williams III, who is now officially done with Curb, had similar issues with Curb refusing to give his 2005 album Straight to Hell a release date. It finally took a court order in Hank III’s favor to get the album to the public. But even though his contract is done, Curb is still giving Hank III fits. On May 17th, Curb will be releasing Hillbilly Joker, an album Curb refused to put out when initially handed over to them in the early 2000′s. By not releasing the album until Hank III was free of his contract, it gave Curb another album above what Hank III needed to fulfill his Curb obligations.
Curb has put up displays in Hastings stores and other retailers promoting the new album, which has confused many Hank III fans into thinking the album is new material. Hillbilly Joker has been circulated as a bootleg called This Ain’t Country for many years. Not wanting to give Curb any more free publicity than necessary, Hank III has stayed mostly mum about the release, though he did tell fans through Facebook when the Hillbilly Joker news initially broke, “Don’t buy it, but get it some other way and burn the hell out of it and give it to everyone.”
Curb Records has also had public feuds with LeAnn Rimes, with Clay Walker, and squandered the Hank Williams legacy by getting sideways with Hank Williams Jr., who was a long time friend of Mike Curb and helped build Curb Records into the largest independently-owned record label in Nashville. Jr. is also leaving at the end of his contract.
The small promotional idea that has now become an international event every Spring called Record Store Day is picking up steam for it’s 2011 edition. Observed on April 16th this year, far from just a good excuse to locate and patronize your local record store, it has also become a good excuse for many bands around the world to promote themselves with limited edition vinyl pressings, and “split” projects with different bands to help introduce different artists to different fans.
Country has been the very last of the major genres to embrace the revitalization of vinyl, with one exception: Hank Williams III, who has been releasing his records on vinyl for years, and has his full catalog available in the format. In conjunction with Record Store Day this year, 700 limited-edition colored vinyl copies of his albums Risin’ Outlaw, Lovesick Broke & Driftin’, Straight to Hell, Damn Right Rebel Proud, & Rebel Within will be made available.
In theory they will only be available through local record stores, but I have said this before about Hank III vinyl and then turned out to be wrong. Some stores will probably stock them on shelves, some you might be able to pre-order the editions through.
However, just like the controversial Hank III release Hillbilly Joker, these albums are not being done with the blessing of Hank III, but are being released by Curb Records to continue making money off an artist that is no longer on their label, and by selling music many fans already have. This puts Hank III in a moralistic jam. If they buy these sought after albums, they are supporting their local record store, but at the same time they are supporting Curb Records, and going against the wishes for the man whose name is on the front.
“Don’t but it, but get it some other way and burn the hell out of it and give it to everyone.”
…is how Hank III has asked his fans to handle Hillbilly Joker
Other country projects on vinyl as part of Record Store Day:
Justin Townes Earle – Move Over Mama 7″
Steve Earle – I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive 7″
Ryan Adams & The Cardinals – Class Mythology EP 2 x 7″
William Elliot Whitmore – POS 7″
Other Recent Vinyl Projects:
Sitting on a shelf somewhere inside the Curb Records complex was an album called This Ain’t Country that Hank III had turned into them for release. The ensuing legal battle over the release of the album is where the cold war between Curb and Hank III became hot. Curb sat on the album, never releasing it, and refusing to allow Hank III to release it independently or on another label. Now Curb has decided to release it many years later, as well as possibly other shelved recordings as a title called Hillbilly Joker. It is due out April 5th, 2011 and can be pre-ordered through Amazon. It appears it will be available on vinyl, as well as CD & MP3.
This Ain’t Country would probably be best described as a blend of Hank III’s country band, and his heavy metal band Assjack. Hank III regularly performs a ‘Hellbilly’ set between the two distinctly different live sets, and the This Ain’t Country material takes from that middle set. This Ain’t Country has been distributed in the underground for years as a bootleg, and some of the songs appeared on Hank III’s heavy metal Assjack release. The name ‘Hillbilly Joker’ comes from This Ain’t Country’s opening track.
The album was recorded in the early 2000′s, and once Curb would not release it, an online petition was started that read in part:
Music is probably the most widespread form of expression throughout the world, crossing many boundaries of race, religion, and gender. When an artist is not allowed to have his or her voice heard because of oppression from those with different views, I consider this a sad and unrighteous act by those who won’t let them speak out.
The purpose of this petition is to bring to light the voices of those people who would like to have a fair chance to listen to the recorded material by Hank Williams III and Assjack known as “This Ain’t Country.” By having Curb Records release this material as an album available to us, the consumer, the true diversity and talent of the performing artists can finally be heard.
I believe that Curb records and fans of Hank Williams III would both benefit from the release if this proposal were accepted, the records would sell and the public would not be denied what we want to hear; it’s the right thing to do financially and morally. Thank you.
Hypothetically this release is the resolution of this petition. I am very curious to find out what Hank III feels about this. He might be happy that it is finally getting released, or he may not appreciate Curb making money off of him now that he has left.
Hank III is saying “Don’t buy it, but get it some other way and burn the hell out of it and give it to everyone.”
The cover art and track list has also been added:
|1. Hillbilly Joker|
|2. I’m Drunk Again|
|3. Life Of Sin|
|4. 10 Feet Down|
|5. Pistol Packin’|
|6. Tennesse Driver|
|8. Now He’s Dead|
|9. Drink It, Drug It|
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