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On February 5th, Saving Country Music posted an article detailing why Valory Music Group artist Justin Moore should be disqualified from the ACM Award’s “New Artist of the Year” category for which he is nominated along with seven others. Stipulated clearly in the Academy of Country Music’s rules, artists who’ve sold over 500,000 copies of any previously-released album are not eligible for the “new artist” award. Justin Moore has two such albums: Justin Moore from 2009 with 550,000 copies sold, and Outlaws Like Me from 2011 with 577,000 copies sold.
Saving Country Music was first tipped to this oversight of the rules by Windmills Country on Twitter, who on February 5th appeared on Connecticut Country 92.5′s “Electric Barnyard” radio show to discuss the rules oversight. What happened next was an acknowledgement by Justin Moore’s label Valory Music—an imprint of Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Records—of the apparent rules violation, and apparently an effort to suppress that information. This leads to further questions of why the Academy of Country Music continues to not address this issue, and other potential improprieties clouding the ACM nomination process.
After Country 92.5 posted the audio of Windmills Country’s appearance on the station’s website, they were contacted by The Valory Music Group and asked to take the audio down as can be seen in this Twitter thread.
So the next question is, “Why?”
Accusations of block voting, vote swapping, and other behind-the-scenes gaming of the Academy of Country Music nomination and voting process have been around for years. In 2011, country radio personality Jimmy Carter spoke specifically on how labels decide which artists they want to push through the ACM’s, saying:
It’s crazy political. . . You have to just say, “OK, these awards are what they are. They’re bragging rights, they’re an infomercial for the record label.” And like I was told off the record yesterday…that Miranda Lambert got all those nominations because the record label had to decide. Are they going with Carrie Underwood this year, or Miranda Lambert? Both are on the same label. They figured it would help Miranda more than it would help the career of Carrie Underwood.
Once again Miranda Lambert leads the 2014 ACM nominations with seven, despite not having released an album in over 2 years. But the Justin Moore eligibility issue specifically might be the first time a label and/or the Academy of Country Music have been caught red-handed showing favoritism to a particular artist; the first concrete evidence of impropriety in the nomination and voting process of one of the industry’s biggest awards.
Valory Music and the ACM’s may hope that this issue just blows over, but the removal of the Windmills Country audio has arguably exacerbated it, and fed the suspicion some country fans have surrounding the awards process. If there is an explanation for the discrepancy between Justin Moore’s eligibility and his nomination, the fans of country music have yet to hear it. And if there is no explanation, the Academy of Country Music and its label partners are allowing the legitimacy of these awards to be called into question.
The eligibility rules for the awards are written by the Academy of Country Music, and there’s no reason they cannot change them if they see fit. If the ACM wanted to nominate Justin Moore for the 2014 awards cycle, they could have written out the 500,000 copy provision, or increased the amount of copies in the rule for Justin Moore to maintain his eligibility. Furthermore, the Academy of Country Music has a history of doing this very thing. In 2009, the ACM’s reduced the amount of copies an artist must sell to be eligible for the Album of the Year category to 300,000. The reason for this was so that Jamey Johnson’s critically-acclaimed album That Lonesome Song could be included in the nominees. More importantly, the ACM’s also delayed the announcement of the Album of the Year nominees that year while they finalized the rule change, making sure they did not violate their own rules by announcing their nominees too early.
Out of the respective entities in this issue, Justin Moore might be the least culpable. As he said in November of last year, his exclusion from award shows up until this nomination, including not being asked as a performer or even a presenter, has been quite curious when compared to his overall commercial impact in the genre. At the same time, his exclusion speaks to the collusive nature of country music’s top awards, and the narrow cast of names country’s awards continually draw from.
As unfair as it might be that Justin Moore has been excluded from the awards show process, as Windmills Country points out in their own article on the subject, it is even more unfair to the truly “new” artists that got excluded from this year’s nominee list because of the inclusion of established artists like Justin Moore and Lee Brice. The issue is especially exacerbated because of all the concern with country music’s inability to develop new female talent. Only one female artist, Kacey Musgraves, is included in the category, as the lack of female representation in country music has been making major periodical headlines left and right.
If the Academy of Country Music wants to keep a level of integrity around their awards and the process of determining nominees and winners, this Justin Moore eligibility issue must be addressed in a public manner. If there is an explanation, if a rule change needs to be made, then make it. Until then, it is fair, if not imperative on the country music community to question the legitimacy of the ACM’s nomination and voting process, and thus, the awards themselves.
Slain Outlaw country music artist Wayne Mills will be remembered in a new exhibit at The Hank Williams Museum in Montgomery, Alabama called “Alabama Outlaws” to be unveiled in special ceremony on Sunday, February 9th, 2014. The ceremony is free and open to the public, and will transpire between 1 PM and 4 PM. It will be attended by Wayne’s widow, Carol Mills, and his young son Jack.
The exhibit will feature many personal items from Wayne Mills, including Wayne’s signature hat, his cowboy boots, and his Alabama football jersey. Mills was from the small town of Arab in northern Alabama, and aside from being a noted musician and performer, played football for the University of Alabama.
The artifacts to be put on display at the Hank Williams Museum were personally collected from the stage display at Wayne’s funeral on December 8th, 2013 by another Alabama country music artist, Jamey Johnson. The Montgomery native personally delivered the items to the Hank Williams museum, and the performer has also offered space in his display at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville to showcase Wayne’s legacy. Wayne Mills and Jamey Johnson were close friends, and had played shows together the week of Wayne’s killing.
Wayne Mills was gunned down on November 23rd, 2013 at the Pit & Barrel bar in Nashville while attending an after hours gathering. Chris Ferrell—the owner of the Pit & Barrel—faces 2nd Degree Murder charges in the case. The 44-year-old singer and songwriter was once a mentor to Jamey Johnson, as well as to CMA Entertainer of the Year Blake Shelton, and American Idol winner Taylor Hicks, and had over 15-plus years of touring experience. Mills received the Guardian Award from the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame a month before his death to recognize his “hard work and unwavering commitment to their music and their fans and best exemplify the tradition of those who came before.”
On March 2nd, The Outlaw Music Association will be holding a Wayne Mills Benefit at The Limelight in Nashville.
Aaron Lewis may know a little something about what country isn’t. He spent the first 16 years of his music career as the emotionally-distraught and misanthropic frontman of the alternative rock band Staind before deciding in 2010 to record a “country” EP. The project was released in 2011, and included the single “Country Boy” that despite the participation of George Jones and Charlie Daniels, still felt like what Aaron Lewis had been doing with his acoustic shows for over a decade, except for trying to brow beat the listener into buying into how country he was.
2012 saw the release of Aaron’s second single, “Endless Summer,” which along with other misdeeds, name dropped Jason Aldean of all people. It was looking like Lewis was falling right in line with the procession of other country music outsiders fleeing to the country genre in the twilight of their careers to find commercial strength. But when his full-length album The Road was released in late 2012, it was actually a pleasant surprise to hear just how country and non-commercial it was.
While talking to The Marion Star in Ohio ahead of an upcoming show, Aaron decided to let his disdain for the direction of country music be known.
“I think there’s enough beer on the beach, partying on the tailgate, driving around in a pickup truck, moonshine songs,” Lewis said. “I think that everything has been pretty well beaten to death. And I’ll opt for my usual … making sure the song has emotion and feeling and means something… I don’t know what it is that country radio is playing these days. I’m really not quite sure. There’s a song out right now that’s a big single for a big act, and at the very end of the song you can hear a banjo come up in the mix for four measures. And you’re like, ‘Oh, there’s the country aspect of it. Now I get it.’ But that is not country music, I’m sorry.”
Lewis also says he doesn’t like to be lumped in with Kenny Chesney when he mentions he plays country.
“It’s funny because people hear Aaron Lewis and country they often think Kenny Chesney when they should have thoughts of Jamey Johnson and David Allen Coe. It’s country like Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, George Jones and Johnny Cash … I almost even like the fact that I’m having all of this success without the machine really embracing me. And I’m not sure that it would have been as valuable to me as an artist to have the very first song I ever delivered to country go straight to the top of the charts and never have to work for it, so I never had to start out in the honky-tonks and where it should start. And man, I’ve sold out every honky-tonk place in the last few years and it’s where it should start. I believe in building a foundation and then building your house on top of that.”
Maybe Aaron is bitter because the country industry didn’t embrace him, or maybe he’s come around to the side of dissent for other reasons. But despite where Aaron Lewis and country music began or where it eventually may be going, at the moment he seems to be making the effort to understand that making country music means embracing more than just the name.
Oh Kacey, what are we going to do with you?
Mid January is the season that most of the big mainstream country music acts unveil their touring plans for the year, and as Blake Shelton was announcing the “Hide Your Daughters” tour presented by Taco Bell, and Jason Aldean announced the “Overlords of Auto-Tune” tour with Florida Georgia Line and Tyler Farr, country music critical favorite Kacey Musgraves announced she would not be touring with one of her country music bunk mates, but of all people, the buxom purple-haired pop star Katy Perry. Kacey is reportedly writing with Katy too.
Some Kacey Musgraves’ supporters were disappointed, or even outraged, just as many of those same supporters were disappointed last year when she went out on tour with Kenny Chesney. As if Kacey, who despite her disposition of being slated beside artists like Jason Isbell instead of Jason Aldean, and Brandy Clark instead of Brantley Gilbert, isn’t still very much an artist existing in the highest reaches of the mainstream country music industry and all the trappings thereof. Maybe in some fan’s music brains she belongs on the club and theater circuit so they get to see her in a more intimate setting. But to Kacey’s label, there’s money to be made, and an artist to launch so she can eventually go on her own arena tours.
Others see this as an opportunity to spread the country music gospel—the ol’ theory of music osmosis that we sometimes see assigned to artists like Taylor Swift and Florida Georgia Line. As if some 15-year-old girl is going to hear Taylor Swift and be inspired to lip sync in front of a full-length mirror to Ralph Peer’s primitive recordings of The Carter Family, or similar circumstances might transpire amongst the glitterfaced crowd at a Katy Perry concert because Kacey Musgraves looks so good in hot pants up there on stage. Sure, Kacey will likely win more fans for Kacey Musgraves, and ultimately that’s the point. But let’s tap the brakes on thinking this will be some monumental step for country music.
More importantly, what this concert pairing seems to allude to are important trends in both country music, and the career of Kacey Musgraves.
If it wasn’t clear that Kacey’s label Mercury Nashville had no idea what to do with her before, it is pretty evident now. The one thing we do know about Musgraves is that she enjoys the utmost in label support—arguably unparallelled and unprecedented in the industry. Remember when Kacey was nominated for the ACM for Female Vocalist of the Year in 2013 before she had even released a album or had a Top 10 single? Or how about at the 2013 CMA Awards when she received 6 nominations, as many as Taylor Swift and more than anyone else? Kacey is also up for 4 Grammy Awards here in 2014.
Of course Kacey’s work as a songwriter helped pad these numbers, and not to allude that she didn’t deserve these nominations—they were much deserved, and a sign of the righting of the country music ship in 2013. But a brand new artist like Kacey Musgraves does not receive these types of industry-leading accolades, especially when they’re not backed by sales numbers, without the undying and tireless support of a label looking to launch an artist they believe in both as an artistic and commercial success.
But that has been the biggest problem with Kacey—the commercial success. Compared to many of the other critical darlings Musgraves was amongst on various outlet’s “Best of 2013″ lists, Kacey’s sales are astronomical. But compared to her country industry peers, they’re paltry. Kacey’s album Same Trailer, Different Park has just barely peaked over 300,000 copies sold. For comparison, all the other albums nominated for the CMA Album of the Year in 2013 have at least sold 1 million copies.
Kacey has also yet to have a Top 10 single, with “Merry Go ‘Round” coming the closest at #14. Her latest two singles “Blowin’ Smoke” and “Follow Your Arrow” both stalled out at #31 and #28 respectively, despite a big radio push and big budget videos. Still not bad numbers, but nowhere near the level Mercury Nashville must be wanting, or expecting from an artist that has achieved such industry accolades and undying label support.
Then there was the controversy about “the look” Kacey was caught giving while they were announcing the candidates for Female Vocalist of the Year at the CMA Awards, and more recently, the Twitter brushup she got into with influential Clear Channel DJ Bobby Bones. As some pointed out, Bobby Bones at the time had more followers on Twitter than Kacey did, speaking to both the powerful influence of Bones, and the lack of wide support behind Musgraves. In the social network era, it’s not enough for an artist to release good music. Like the modern day NASCAR driver, they’re expected to be media savvy, not just skilled at their discipline to achieve at the top level.
Hence, a change of plans for Kacey. Some new scenery. Maybe country and specifically country radio is not going to be as receptive to Kacey as first thought. Maybe they’re not ready for the paradigm shift just yet. Maybe she’s too edgy. So go out there and find some more fertile ground. And hell, both her and Katy Perry have songs about kissing girls….
And this is where Mercury Nashville and Kacey seem to be miscalculating. Though Kacey is well-recognized as a critical success and symbolizes a new type of country star, they’re falling back on their old habits of how to present her to the masses by using marketing points. They release “Blowin’ Smoke,” hoping to capitalize off the popularity of pot in popular culture, despite the song not referencing reefer directly. “Follow Your Arrow” seemed to be released to radio not for its underlying message, but because the edginess of the content might stir controversy and create interest in the song and Kacey.
Instead of handling Musgraves like the next Loretta Lynn, leading the way by addressing deep cultural issues, they’re trying to make a her a one-trick pony to be popularized through buzzwords and politicization. What happened to letting the music speak for itself, and what happened to all the momentum built up by the success of “Merry Go ‘Round”?
Mercury Nashville was also at the helm for the lost opportunity with another artist that was a critical success and achieved the highest industry accolades at awards shows, but ultimately didn’t stick in the wide public perception: Jamey Johnson. Granted, Johnson is in the midst of a contract dispute and has been sitting on his writing hands now for years. But this was another artist that country fans clamoring for more substance in the genre could get behind, but so far has yet to make a long-term impact in the mainstream industry. The career of Jamey Johnson right now is very much adrift.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t all Mercury Nashville’s fault. You can’t say they aren’t trying, and trying in an industry that is notoriously suspicious of change and slow to implement it, and that is looking to appeal to what are many times simple-minded fans who don’t want to look for the deeper meaning in songs.
Kacey Musgraves is too good for mainstream country, while at the same time maybe too edgy for the rank and file of country music’s traditional arm. Like Scott Borchetta of Mercury Nashville rival Big Machine Records said recently, the industry must dig a little deeper, and Kacey Musgraves is a positive sign of the industry committing to that. And it’s not like Musgraves hasn’t made back the investment her label has made in her, but the stretch of the Katy Perry pairing makes it appear like they want more from that investment.
What this all speaks to is a deeper, more fundamental issue: If Mercury Nashville, or any other label cannot create successful, or at least mainstream-sustainable careers out of these critically-acclaimed artists, and are forced to reach to outside of the country genre for support, then what is the motivation for these labels and the industry to continue to burn attention and capital on them?
In this respect, Kacey Musgraves must work, and the Katy Perry concert tour must be successful in Kacey’s pursuit of her true fan base. Because if not, Kacey could set the precedent for the rest of the industry of why to not invest in substance.
Meanwhile, all Kacey Musgraves wants to do is write, record, and perform songs. And if she is ultimately going to be successful, that is what she must focus on.
On November 23rd, Outlaw country music artist Wayne Mills was shot & killed at the Pit & Barrell Bar in Nashville, TN by the bar’s owner, Chris Ferrell. After a prolonged investigation, Ferrell was eventually indicted by a Grand Jury on 2nd degree murder charges and then released on bond December 16th and is currently awaiting trial.
One of the reasons the shooting death of Wayne Mills was so tragic is because of where Wayne was in his career when the killing occurred, and where he was going. Mills released a total of six albums during his career, but the only one that continues to be readily available and widely distributed is his last release from 2010, The Last Honky Tonk. But that is not the last album Wayne Mills made. When he was killed, he had just finished up a brand new album called Long Hard Road, and was actively working on getting the album released and distributed.
Long Hard Road was not just another Wayne Mills album. This was the album that Wayne was hoping would be a game changer in his career. It was a collaboration with legendary producer Denny Diante, and the 12-track album included 7 songs co-written by Wayne, with an impressive list of songwriting contributors including Wayne Mills friend Jamey Johnson, Brent Cobb, and Erica “Sunshine” Lee. Press materials had even been drafted and distributed for Long Hard Road . The press release for the album states,
Songs featured on the album include the upbeat “I Need the Country” with a sing-along chorus, the hard-hitting outlaw anthem “Whiskey Bent and Jail Bound” and the title track “Long Hard Road” which tells the lonesome tale of a man making bad decisions and working through the consequences. “My music is the combination of my country roots with the real world I have come to know,” explains Mills. Long Hard Road is a chapter in the songbook of Wayne Mills’ life: leaving no stone unturned when it comes to lyric and life.
Since the death of Wayne Mills, interest in his music and career have dramatically increased, but Long Hard Road remains unreleased and its future somewhat uncertain as the Wayne Mills family and Wayne’s close associates deal with more pressing matters in the aftermath of his passing. But just because Wayne Mills is no longer with us does not mean Wayne is done forging his music legacy, and that his now much larger fan base don’t have new music to look forward to.
Long Hard Road Track List:
Chris Ferrell, the owner of the Pit & Barrel Bar in Nashville, and the man accused of 2nd degree murder in the shooting death of Outlaw country musician Wayne Mills, was in court for the first time today (12-16) in a hearing to determine if his $300,000 bond was fair, and if Ferrell was a flight risk. Ferrell attorney David Raybin argued the bond should be set near $25,000, and that Ferrell could have “run for tall weeds” after the shooting, and didn’t. Assistant District Attorney Rachel Sobrero referenced Ferrell’s history of prior arrests, family ties to different states, charges of domestic assault and interfering with an emergency call that were dismissed this year, and that Ferrell has an upcoming hearing on a vandalism charge. The judge eventually reduced the bond to $150,000, and later Chris Ferrell was released with tight restrictions on his movements, and a court order to stay in close contact with his bail bondsman. Ferrell was also ordered to give up his extensive collection of guns. He was released at 6:54 PM.
Further details came out about the case in the hearing, including that Chris Ferrell not only told officers that the altercation between Wayne Mills started with an argument over smoking in a non-smoking section, but that Wayne came to the Pit & Barrel to “rob and kill” Ferrell. Two guns were found at the scene when police arrived: An empty revolver and a semi-automatic handgun. A private investigator hired by Chris Ferrell, former city homicide detective Larry Flair, also found an additional bullet lodged in a wall of the Pit & Barrell, beyond the shots that struck Mills, including the fatal shot to the back of the head according to numerous reports. The indictment of Chris Ferrell came down before the additional bullet was found, and information on whether the bullet was from the same gun used to shoot Wayne Mills, and whether Chris Ferrell is asserting that Wayne Mills was armed has yet to be made available.
More details of the crime scene also emerged. When police arrived at the crime scene, they found a trail of blood from the parking lot to just inside the front door where Mills was laying, breathing but unconscious. There was broken glass surrounding the crime scene, and the two guns were sitting on tables. Chris Ferrell was cooperative with police. What did not come out in the hearing is why it took nearly 10 hours for police to properly identify Wayne Mills, instead believing he was songwriter Clayton Mills.
It also came out today that country artist Shooter Jennings was there on the night Wayne Mills was killed. Shooter Jennings and his manager Jon Hensley had been hanging out with both Chris Ferrell and Wayne Mills earlier in the night and in the days prior to the shooting, along with country performer Jamey Johnson. Shooter Jennings had performed at a show with Wayne Mills two nights before the shooting, and Jennings also performed at the George Jones tribute at the Bridgestone Arena that both Wayne Mills and Chris Ferrell attended together the night before the shooting. Jennings and his manager claim they left right before the shooting occurred.
When Ferrell arrived in court, he was wearing a yellow jumpsuit, meaning he has been placed in protective custody in jail. Ferrell stated that he’s received as many as a dozen death threats from text messages, social media, and voicemail, and that he resorted to wearing a bulletproof vest before turning himself into authorities after the Grand Jury indictment on December 6th.
About this time of year virtually every magazine, website, and blog is bombarding their readership with end-of-year lists of which artists they feel are worthy of the highest praise for their 2013 effort. The whole practice has become a little nauseating for the consumer as the redundancy on many lists and the sheer number of them being pushed through social media erode the underlying concept of the lists: to help listeners break through the din of an overpopulated music landscape to discover the best stuff. Then there’s the ethics questions if music should be approached as competition at all. Ultimately the reason there are so many lists is because they are effective and appealing in helping listeners determine what to listen to.
Included on many, if not virtually all of those 2013 lists, especially in the independent country and Americana realms is the latest effort by former Drive By Trucker turned solo artist Jason Isbell called Southeastern. Seen as the current watermark of his career and a captivating songwriting effort capturing a clear-eyed, post-rehab Isbell at his apex, Southeastern is one of those rare consensus builders amongst critics as one of the year’s best.
Nipping at the heels on some lists, and overtaking Southeastern on others is the debut album High Top Mountain from former Sunday Valley frontman, Kentucky’s Sturgill Simpson. A much more country effort compared to Isbell, but just as bold of a songwriting project, Simpson has many people labeling him as a country music savior, and the artist they have been waiting years for to emerge in the independent country scene.
And not to be outdone is the dark Canadian singing-songwriting vixen Lindi Ortega, and her tantalizing album Tin Star that has also found its way at or near the top of many 2013 lists; an album highlighting her rising voice and remarkable gift for story and composition.
Though the sound of these three respective albums is fairly disparate, their influences are certainly not the same, the artists are from different locales, and the genres they represent are varied shades of the country music theme, they all have one thing in common: a virtually unnoticed and rarely heralded behind-the-scenes producer named Dave Cobb.
Just as the prevalence of year-end lists has grown in recent years, so too it seems has the trend of performing artists getting into the producer game, and big, franchise name producers like T Bone Burnett being heralded more and more for their producer services. Not that someone like Jack White or even Justin Townes Earle can’t make a great producer, or that T Bone Burnett is some kind of slouch. But for some projects, it becomes more about the name on the back of the album in the fine print instead of the name on the front. A producer’s name can be used as a marketing tool, and to create interest from fans and media venues. “The new album produced by the same producer of The Civil Wars!” “The T Bone Burnett-produced debut album, produced by T Bone Burnett!”
The best producers are usually the ones who prefer to remain subordinate to the artists they work with. Similarly, the best producers don’t come in and mold an album to their sound, but help the artists they work with develop their own. Producers aren’t supposed to be noticed. Critics may sometimes mention a producer’s name and how they may have influenced a certain project, but everyday fans just know when they like an album or not. Noticing the production of an album is like noticing an offensive lineman in a football game. It’s rarely a good thing. The focus should be on the music itself.
But that doesn’t mean producers shouldn’t be heralded or receive credit, especially when they’ve had a banner year like Dave Cobb’s 2013. Cobb has enjoyed some other successful albums, and good years in the past too. Similar to how Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, and Lindi Ortega have become critical darlings in 2013, Jamey Johnson’s last two original albums that graced the top of many end-of-year lists, That Lonesome Song and The Guitar Song, both featured Dave Cobb at the helm. The Secret Sisters’ self-titled breakout album was also produced by Cobb, and so were Shooter Jennings’ first four records. And his list of producer credits goes on and on from there.
But you would never know all of this unless you went poking around, looking for producer credits and connecting the dots. Dave Cobb is not out to perpetuate his cult of personality through his producership role. He’s just looking to make good music. And in 2013, he certainly did.
- Wayne Mills funeral will be held on Sunday, December 8th. A memorial service will be held in his hometown of Arab, Al at the Arab High School auditorium. Visitation will be held from 9AM until 1PM CST, with the memorial service beginning at 1:30PM, followed by a private burial.
- Investigation into the Mills death is ongoing. Investigators have met with District Attorneys.
- Autopsy conducted on Wayne’s body. Results could take weeks or months.
- Wayne Mills shot three times, once in the back of the head.
Fans and friends of fallen country music songwriter and performer Wayne Mills gathered on Saturday (11-30) at the Somewhere on the Lake Resort on the shores of Lake Guntersville in Alabama for a remembrance of the artist that was shot and killed November 23rd at the Pit & Barrel Bar in Nashville. The 44-year-old Wayne Mills was originally from nearby Arab, AL, and was once a walk-on for the University of Alabama football team. Fellow native Alabaman Jamey Johnson was one of the notable attendees of the gathering, and a silent auction was held with the proceeds going to the Mills family. Other benefits are set to transpire on December 4th at the Tin Roof in Nashville, and the Knotty Pine
in Cincinnati. The Wayne Mills funeral is set to occur on Sunday (12-8).
Weighing heavy on the minds of the Wayne Mills family, friends, and fans attending the remembrance was the still unresolved nature of his passing. Ten days after, and still no arrest has been made, and no resolution to the death that Chris Ferrell, the owner of the Pitt & Barrel Bar and the man that fatally shot Wayne Mills, says happened in self-defense after an altercation erupted when Wayne was smoking in a non-smoking area. It was 5 AM and The Pit & Barrel had been closed for hours. The two men were hanging out together after attending the George Jones Memorial Concert at the Bridgestone Arena in downtown Nashville earlier that night.
Chris Ferrell is the only direct witness to Wayne Mills’ death. There is no other story corroborating Chris Ferrell’s claims, and Wayne Mills is unable to defend himself either in the justice system or the court of public opinion. Information and details about the killing remain scarce, with more questions than answers so far for those searching for closure and resolution. Why has Chris Ferrell not been arrested or been charged with any crime, or at least been named as a suspect? Why for nearly 10 hours after the shooting and for many hours into the investigation were police working under the pretense that the victim was another Nashville songwriter Clayton Mills, and not Wayne Mills? Why did the witnesses that called the police misidentify Wayne, and why did it take so long for Nashville Police investigators to discover the mistake?
According the the Nashville Police Department, the death of Wayne Mills is considered a homicide investigation, and that investigation is still ongoing. On November 25th, investigators from Nashville’s Central Precinct Department met with the District Attorney’s office to discuss the evidence gathered, and determined that no charges would be brought at that time. Central Precinct detectives remain in close contact with District Attorneys to determine if charges need to be filed as the investigation continues. On November 26th, the autopsy of Wayne Mills was performed, but according to the Medical Examiner’s office, it could be as long as 8 to 14 weeks after the death before any final conclusions are made, and the Medical Examiners Office does not release preliminary conclusions.
Saving Country Music has also confirmed that the fatal shot to Wayne Mills was to the back of the head. Reports that he was shot additional times are unconfirmed. This is the piece of information that many Wayne Mills fans and friends feel clears Wayne from being implicated as being killed in self-defense. How could someone with their back to a shooter be a threat to their life?
Though this may make sense intuitively, forensics and crime scene investigation is a much more complex science, and a shot to the back of the head may not equate to the smoking gun investigators and prosecutors need to make an arrest. If the two men were engaged at close range in a physical altercation, if Wayne Mills was pinning Chris Ferrell around the abdomen, a shot to the back of the head may have been Ferrell’s only option. But Saving Country Music has also learned that the fatal shot to Wayne Mills was fired across the Pit & Barrel bar itself, meaning the two men were on opposite sides of a physical barrier, making an explanation of how a fatal shot to the back of the head was done in self-defense that much more difficult to resolve.
But Nashville Police investigators still need to have probable cause to make an arrest. If Chris Ferrell had made an effort to flee, if he had tampered with the evidence, or otherwise attempted to conceal exactly what had happened, if he had not been cooperative or forthright with the investigators, then the police would have some merit of culpability against Chris Ferrell—that Chris believed he was guilty and was trying to cover his tracks with a self-defense story. But none of that occurred, and there’s no reason for officers to not believe that Chris Ferrell, who was very emotionally distraught after the killing, felt he was in fear for his life.
There is also the fact that the shooting occurred at 5 AM, after both men had been up for hours, and likely drinking. Both men also have prior arrest records. Chris Ferrell has been arrested twice for driving on a suspended license, though both charges were later dismissed. He was also arrested in July for domestic violence involving a bartender he was dating, and a vandalism charge that is pending. Wayne Mills was charged with driving under the influence and for reckless endangerment when he grazed a police officer on the highway in 2010. Then there was the unfortunate airing of the Spike TV episode of Bar Rescue that ironically featured the very Pit & Barrel Bar where the killing occurred, airing on the same week of Wayne’s death and showcasing a belligerent and high-tempered Chris Ferrell. Then FOX 17 in Nashville surfaced a picture showing both Wayne Mills and Chris Ferrell in the same frame, with Ferrell proudly flashing his handgun.
But since most, if not all of the on-the-ground investigation has been concluded, and it could take weeks or months for the full autopsy to conclude, it is hard to see where the breakthrough in the Wayne Mills case could come from. It’s beginning to feel like this may be a case that could take weeks, months, or longer to resolve. Investigators are trying to piece together an evidence puzzle while relying on a potential suspect as their only witness. The fact that the other witnesses, the ones that heard the shots and made the 9-11 call, were also where the misidentification of Wayne Mills originated is also not an idle fact. The mistaken identity of Wayne Mills may be where this homicide investigation hinges, but police must find more evidence or information to make an arrest, or to fully excuse Chris Ferrell from investigation.
Other questions from the investigation still remain. Did Chris Ferrell show any physical evidence, any physical harm done to him—bruises, cuts, etc.—to corroborate that Wayne Mills was being physically threatening? If Wayne Mills was acting aggressively, why did he need to be shot in the back of the head? Wouldn’t another, less fatal part of the body be more appropriate? Was Chris Ferrell drunk at the time of the shooting? Was he on drugs? Was Wayne Mills drunk or on drugs? Why did Chris Farrell not call 9-11 when the situation seemed to be escalating out of control? Why was it the witnesses outside that called 9-11, and not Ferrell after he shot Wayne? Why was Chris Ferrell not able to help resolve the identity discrepancy earlier in the investigation? And why did Ferrell re-open the Pit & Barrel so quickly?
Website The Class Action Lawsuit has looked into the particulars of the Wayne Mills case as they are known at the moment, and has offered some clarifications on how a self-defense claim could be handled in a bar scenario. “Self-defense gives a person the justified right to counteract violence or force, to prevent an injury or harm and to protect oneself,” says the website. “Though a bar room brawl seems like a natural context for self-defense, there are a number of circumstances that must exist before self-defense can function as a valid justification for shooting someone in a place of business.”
The website gives requisites for Chris Ferrell to claim self-defense as:
- Ferrell was not the initial aggressor;
- Ferrell had a reasonable and honest belief that he was in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury;
- Mills never retreated from the fight;
- Ferrell did not consent to Mills’ force; and
- Ferrell used a proportional amount of force.
The Class Action Lawsuit website also says, “It’s unclear whether the amount of force used by Ferrell was proportional to the type of force it was meant to prevent. He went for the jugular, so to speak, when he shot Mills in the head. Ferrell won’t be able to claim self-defense if the gunshot to Mills’ head was excessive. Killing someone with a gun in response to someone who was verbally insulting you, for example, would never suffice as self-defense. But if Mills was also wielding a gun, the ‘fighting fire with fire’ rationale may apply.”
If the case remains at a stalemate, that doesn’t mean that investigators, or the friends and family of Wayne Mills, don’t have options. A Grand Jury could be called to consider the evidence and potentially hand down an indictment. The Grand Jury system is sometimes employed in cases where the evidence and circumstances are complex, and District Attorney’s have difficulty assigning charges. Tennessee is a Grand Jury state, and the Grand Jury / indictment system was just used on another murder investigation in Nashville where a mother was indicted in the death of her 3-year-old son. However, as another indication that the Wayne Mills case may take a while to resolve, the indictment was brought 7 months after the incident.
The Wayne Mills family could address Wayne’s death as a civil matter and pursue a wrongful death lawsuit. Sometimes wrongful death is easier to prove than criminal charges. There was no obvious premeditation in the Wayne Mills killing, at least from what we know, but maybe manslaughter charges are more appropriate in this case, seeing how lethal force was used on what we believe to be an unarmed man, when Chris Ferrell may have had other options to subdue Wayne Mills if Wayne was in fact acting aggressively.
The case could also be elevated to the state level.
Aside from the obligation of investigators to presume innocence and prove guilt, the climate surrounding claims of self-defense has never been more favorable, with stand your ground laws, concealed weapons permits (which Chris Ferrell had), and other laws governing how authorities must handle self-defense claims giving deference to the individuals claiming self-defense.
Most notably the death of Trayvon Martin in Florida resulted in an acquittal of all charges against neighborhood watch coordinator George Zimmerman, despite some evidence that deadly force was not necessary. On November 29th, a Georgia man fatally shot a 72-year-old Alzheimer’s patient 4 times after he knocked on his back door at 4 AM. He has yet to be charged with any crime.
Musician Carter Albrect who used to play in The New Bohemians and was a member of the Dallas-based band Sorta was shot and killed in 2007 after becoming disoriented after drinking and taking an anti-smoking drug, and mistakenly banging on the door of his girlfriend’s neighbor, resulting in a warning shot being fired through the door that struck Albrect. No charges were ever filed against the homeowner.
But none of these cases fall under Tennessee law or are being handled by Nashville District Attorneys, and they all fall under individuals protecting their homes and private property. In a place of business, and specifically a bar is where this case falls into a gray area that may make it hard for prosecutors to bring charges.
10 days after the death of Wayne Mills, and there’s still much anger, confusion, questions, and worry amongst friends, family, and fans of the fallen artist. They want answers and closure. But the story of the death of Wayne Mills, and the path towards its resolution, may have just begun.
***NOTE: This story has been updated. Please see further updates at bottom.
Outlaw country music singer-songwriter and performer Wayne Mills of the Wayne Mills Band has been pronounced dead at Vanderbilt University Medical Center after being shot in the head at 5 AM this morning outside of the Pit and Barrel bar at 515 2nd Ave in Nashville. “God be with us all in this tragedy……” was posted on Wayne’s Facebook page.
44 year-year-old Jerald Wayne Mills was at the Pit and Barrel early this morning when apparently an altercation erupted with the owner, Chris Michael Ferrell, after Wayne was smoking in a non-smoking area. Everyone else in the bar went outside, and later witnesses heard gunshots fired and called police. Ferrell told police he acted in self-defense.The bar owner has a valid handgun carry permit. Chris Ferrell and Wayne Mills were reportedly good friends, and they were hanging out at the bar after attending the George Jones Tribute earlier in the evening.
Earlier today when reports first surfaced, Wayne Mills was mistakenly identified by witnesses as another Nashville songwriter, Clayton Mills, who has written songs for acts like Darius Rucker and Diamond Rio. Wayne was in “extremely critical condition” all day. Wayne’s manager J.R. Smith earlier this evening posted, “It is so hard for me right now to post this. Wayne was shot early this morning by a club owner in Nashville. Things aren’t looking good right now. Please send prayers to Wayne and his family.”
Wayne Mills is originally from the very small town of Arab in Northern Alabama. He attended Wallace State Junior College as a baseball player, and eventually played football for the University of Alabama. Mills earned his degree in education and formed the Wayne Mills Band which became one of the hottest college bands on the honky tonk circuit.
Though Mills never rose to become a household name, his influence on country music cannot be overstated. He was close personal friends with Jamey Johnson, and was on tour with Jamey just last week, playing shows in New Orleans and Tuscaloosa. Jamey once opened for Wayne when he was making his way up in the ranks, so did future CMA Entertainer of the Year Blake Shelton, and American Idol winner Taylor Hicks. Mills also shared the stage with Blackberry Smoke, and toured both Europe and Australia during his 15-plus years of touring experience. Mills received the Guardian Award by the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame just last month to recognize his “hard work and unwavering commitment to their music and their fans and best exemplify the tradition of those who came before.”
Wayne Mills is survived by his wife Carol, and son Jack. A fund has been set up for those wanting to donate to Wayne and his family.
UPDATE (11-24-13 12:35 PM CST): An episode of the Spike TV bar series Bar Rescue that features both the Pit and Barrel bar and bar owner Chris Ferrell is set to air tonight, 11-24. Friends and family of Wayne Mills have asked that the show not air as scheduled. The episode reportedly depicts Chris Ferrell acting out, and he is told to remove the guns from the bar. No update from Spike TV has been given at the moment on whether they intend to air the episode, or not. A petition has been set up to try and stop the airing of the episode.
UPDATE (11-24-13 3:27 PM CST): According to Spike TV, the network has decided to not air their episode on the Pit and Barrel scheduled to air tonight.
Numerous country artists have been tweeting their sadness at the passing of Wayne Mills, and the support for his family. Blake Shelton tweeted out last night, “Extremely sad to hear about the death of my old friend Wayne Mills… Rest in peace brother. Love you Carol.” Jamey Johnson tweeted out R.I.P @WayneMillsBand such a sad day.
UPDATE 11-24-13 11:55 PM CST): On Sunday night Fox 17 in Nashville aired an in-depth report about the shooting that included footage and interviews from a gathering of Wayne Mills friends. In the report, a picture surfaced that shows Wayne Mills and Chris Ferrell in the same photograph, with Ferrell casually showing a gun. Chris Ferrell is 3rd from the left with the gun, and Wayne Mills is peering over the crowd in the near right of the photo.
Ferrell has also been arrested twice for driving on a suspended license, though both charges were later dismissed. Wayne Mills also has an arrest history. He was charged with driving under the influence and for reckless endangerment when he grazed a police officer on the highway in 2010.
UPDATE 11-25-13 6:20 PM CST): The sister of Wayne Mills, Paula Lemons spoke to an Alabama Fox affiliate about the shooting.
“I want the truth and I want this man to be held responsible for his actions….I want him to know that in five seconds he changed so many lives that can’t be undone. I trust God. I don’t understand it but I trust God and I know that God loved Wayne more than anyone on this earth….He always wanted to play for Alabama. It was his dream and he made it come true. He was a walk-on and got to play. And then while he was going to Alabama, he starting picking the guitar and he started playing music….He was very funny and loved his family and his friends.”
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.
It’s so easy to get swept up in stereotyping mainstream country as being completely void of anything worth your time these days, but in truth there’s still a lot of great music in the popular music world, however a small percentage it might be of the total package. Saying the mainstream has nothing good to offer is narrowing your musical experience no different than saying that music is bad because it’s not popular. Life is too short to impose unnecessary limitations on your music perspective, and a strong case could be made that mainstream country has actually become better over the past few years when it comes to mainstream country’s females.
Some quick ground rules: Not included here are legends who still might be considered part of the mainstream but are obvious even to independent fans like George Strait, Alan Jackson, Vince Gill, Reba, and even more contemporary names like Martina McBride and Lee Ann Womack. They go without saying. Many consider Eric Church and Miranda Lambert as exceptions to the mainstream rules, but they’re both sort of their own case studies. Same could be said for the Pistol Annies who it is unclear if they even still exist at the moment. And of course if you think there’s a mainstream artist worth listening to not mentioned here, please feel to leave their name below in the comments. And just to clarify the term “mainstream,” consider it an artist that is on a major Nashville label, or has been on a major Nashville label recently.
In many respects you can’t blame independent fans of being a little suspicious of a former American Idol contestant signed to Sony who just won Dancing With The Stars. But Kellie Pickler’s staunchly authentic album 100 Proof was so damn good, Sony dropped her and she became the poster girl for taking back the music in 2012. Since then Kellie Pickler has done nothing but re-affirm her career path of doing things her own way and fighting for the integrity of the music, measuring success not by album sales, but how true she is being to herself. Pickler may not top the Billboard charts, but she’s become a critic’s favorite and an inspirational story of what can happen when a mainstream artist stands up for themselves.
I’m not sure what is more miraculous, that Easton Corbin is able to get away with being as country as he is in the mainstream, or that’s he’s actually been able to find some commercial success with that sound. Though some independent fans might find him a little cheesy, it is hard to deny that Easton Corbin’s music has substance, and the songwriting and traditional approach to his music is refreshing. Even his big #1 “A Little More Country Than That,” which some may decry as a laundry list song is at least country as it lists out its countryisms, and was written by Roy Lee Feek of the traditional group Joey + Rory. Singed to Mercury Nashville, Easton Corbin deserves as much credit as anyone for trying to keep the mainstream honest.
Though her much-anticipated debut album maybe have been a little more cautious than what her long-time fans know she’s capable of, Kacey Musgraves still remains the symbol of how songs and songwriting are making a resurgence in 2013. Though she has yet to have one Top 10 single, with support from her label Mercury Records, she has reached the very top echelon of female performers in the country music industry, somehow becoming a perennial shoe-in for the “Female Vocalist of the Year” nominations from both the CMA and ACM Awards seemingly overnight, and getting nominated for more CMA Awards in 2013 than anyone except for Taylor Swift who she equals with 6. Though Musgraves still needs to prove her muster as a country superstar by delivering a big single, she has already proven to be a fan and critic favorite, and has springboarded to the very top of the business despite her underdog status.
They may be signed to the Country Music Anti-Christ Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Records (same as Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts, etc.), but you won’t find a better, and at times, more outspoken artist and band than Raul Malo and the Mavericks. In 1995, The Mavericks won “Vocal Group of the Year” for both the CMA’s, ACM’s, and the Grammy’s, but their hard-to-define sound proved to be too much for mainstream country to handle on its journey south to pure pop. But The Mavericks remain solid members of the mainstream world, even working as the house band for the 2013 CMT Awards. Their latest album In Time is as good as any.
The vixen-esque career songwriter with eyes the size of Cajun tires has been slaying audiences for years with her solo material and her work with the Pistol Annies, and now that she’s unleashed her much-anticipated solo album Like A Rose through Columbia Nashville, Ashley symbolizes the one glimmer of what could be considered traditional country in mainstream channels. As expected, with music as authentic as hers, the industry has been timid to get behind her and deliver the radio plays and awards she deserves, but she still remains one of traditional country’s biggest mainstream champions.
Because Gary Allan has always resided just one tier shy of country music’s top names, it’s easy to be mislead just how much commercial success he’s seen over the years. Over his 17-year career with Decca and MCA Nashville, he’s been awarded two platinum records, two gold records, eleven Top Ten hits, and four #1′s. Yes, he’s had some singles that are clearly courting of mainstream radio, and he himself would tell you his sound is just as much, if not more rock than country. But Gary Allan is one of those guys that can still get attention from country radio without making you gag, while album cuts show a real sincerity to his music. He also has been outspoken about the state of country music recently (though he did back peddle somewhat afterwards).
Say what you will about one of the co-writers of “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk,” Jamey Johnson was able to take a very traditional sound and authentic country songs and make it to the very top of the charts and industry awards in a business that is usually unforgiving to this type of true style. His double album opus The Guitar Song sneaked its way all the way to #1 on the Billboard charts upon its debut, and his song “In Color” won Song of the Year accolades from both the CMA and ACM Awards in 2009, and was nominated for a Grammy. Though his original output has slowed as of late and he’s apparently not writing and frustrated at his contract situation, his 2012 Hank Cochran tribute still charted #3 on the Billboard Country Albums chart.
After Zac Brown recently made some inflammatory statements about Luke Bryan’s song “That’s My Kind of Night,” his own country career came under intense scrutiny. Brown has always been out front saying he believes he is more Southern rock than country, but appreciative of all the support the country industry has given him, which has been huge to the tune of being a perennial contender for Vocal Group awards at both the CMA and ACM’s. Songs like “Chicken Fried” and his numerous beach tunes leave him open to criticism, but it is still hard to not name Zac Brown as so much better than your average mainstream country music fare.
When discussions are broached about mainstream country artists that still have substance, Dierks’ name invariably comes up. Throughout his career, he’s strived to create a balance between courting radio and creating a music legacy that isn’t devoid of creative expression. With albums like Up On The Ridge, Dierks progressive and traditional fans glimmers of hope. But then he will turn right back around on you and put out the biggest cry for commercial attention, giving listeners a headache of where they’re supposed to be with him. In the end it’s best to resolve that Dierks will likely always be a mixed bag, but is worth appreciating when he does decide to do country music right.
In the constant, eternal, and sometimes nauseating back and forth argument about the direction of country music, it is easy to focus in on the big celebrity franchise names who sing and perform the songs as the primary culprits for the consternation about what country music has become. But it may be short-sighted to think that these select few celebrities, or even the industry professionals behind them, are singularly to blame, or even deserve the majority of criticism.
In Zac Brown’s recent disparaging comments about Luke Bryan’s hit “That’s My Kind Of Night,” Zac went out of his way to lay as little blame as possible on Luke Bryan. Instead it was the song itself, and its songwriters that drew the brunt of Zac Brown’s ire. “You can look and see some of the same songwriters on every one of the songs,” Zac said. “There’s been like 10 number one songs in the last two or three years that were written by the same people and it’s the exact same words, just arranged different ways.”
Though Zac didn’t name any names, the likely target of Zac’s criticism was country songwriter Dallas Davidson. Davidson was one of three songwriters on “That’s My Kind Of Night,” and is one of Nashville’s hottest songwriting commodities with a string of major hits to his name.
As one of the primary originators of the current country checklist / tailgate craze in country music, as well as the trend of instilling urban jargon and themes into what is traditionally considered rural music, you can point to Dallas Davidson just as much as the artists that perform his songs as one of the primary drivers of country music’s current mainstream sound.
Dallas Davidson is the reigning ACM Songwriter of the Year, was the 2011 Songwriter of the Year for BMI, and has also received 3 CMA “Triple Play” awards, which recognize songwriters for having three #1 songs in the same year, including six #1 songs in 2011 alone. As songwriters go, Davidson is as decorated as any at the moment. Dallas isn’t just one of the most influential songwriters in Nashville, he’s one of the most influential individuals right now in the entire country music business, with his songs dominating the charts and influencing the current direction of the format.
Davidson’s first breakout song was “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk,” co-written by Jamey Johnson and Randy Houser. The troika wrote the song in 2004 when hanging out at a club together, and reportedly completed it in an hour. When Trace Adkins released it as a single in 2005, it became a huge commercial success. “Honky Tonk Badonka Donk” is given credit for launching the careers of all three of its songwriters, but where Jamey Johnson would veer towards becoming one of the mainstream’s few traditional-leaning singer/songwriting performers, and Randy Houser would go more in the pop country performance direction, Dallas Davidson stuck to being primarily an off-the-stage and behind-the-scenes writer of hits.
“Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” could be counted as mainstream country’s first major country rap hit, making Dallas Davidson one of the first country rap hit songwriters, predating Colt Ford and Cowboy Troy. But Davidson wouldn’t stop there. Here 8 years later, Davidson is responsible for both the #1 country rap singles of 2013—the aforementioned “That’s My Kind Of Night” performed by Luke Bryan, and Blake Shelton’s “Boys ‘Round Here.”
In between, “Honky Tonk Badonka Donk” and today, Dallas Davidson had Luke Bryan cut his country rap dance tune “Country Girl (Shake It For Me),” and wrote many other prominent singles that have made it onto the Billboard charts, including Luke Bryan’s 2010 #1 “Rain Is A Good Thing,” Lady Antebellum’s #1′s “Just A Kiss” and “We Owned The Night,” Justin Moore’s #1 “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away,” Brad Paisley’s #1 “Start A Band,” and Billy Currington’s #1 “That’s How Country Boys Roll.”
Dallas Davidson has accumulated more songwriting success in the last 3 years than anyone, but his output would probably be better characterized as potent as opposed to prolific. He’s not one of these songwriters who seems to have half a dozen singles on the charts at any given time, but the songs he contributes to tend to have demonstrative success and impact on the sonic and lyrical direction of country.
Another prominent songwriter who is contributing to the sonic direction of country music and the emergence of country rap is Luke Laird. Luke was the writer of Jason Aldean’s “1994″ and Trace Adkin’s “Hillbilly Bone.” At the same time, Luke Laird has worked intimately with many other stars from a wide swath of the country music world. Laird co-wrote the majority of songs on Kacey Musgraves’ recent album Same Trailer, Different Park. He co-wrote 3 songs on Eric Church’s 2012 CMA and ACM Album of the Year Chief, he co-wrote Little Big Town’s big hit “Pontoon,” and 10 songs for Carrie Underwood in the last 5 years. In fact it might be easier to list the artists Luke Laird has not worked with than the elongated list of artists that he’s contributed lyrics to since starting in 2005.
Same could be said for the ultra prolific professional songwriter Shane McAnally, who co-wrote Kacey Musgraves’ “Merry Go ‘Round” with Luke Laird and Kacey, as well as 8 other songs on Musgraves’ Same Trailer, Different Park. He also co-wrote “Mama’s Broken Heart” with Musgraves and performed by Miranda Lambert, giving McAnally two songs in both the Single and Song of the Year nominations for the 2013 CMA’s.
What’s quizzical about McAnally’s output is how he seems to be all over the map in regards to his tastes and influences. On the surface he seems to be a writer who works with more substance compared to Luke Laird and Dallas Davidson, but he’s also given credit for co-writing Florida Georgia Line’s “Party People,” and Lady Antebellum’s ultra-saccharine “Downtown.” But then McAnally turned around and wrote Wade Bowen’s recent single “Trucks,” which pokes fun of Music Row’s recent country checklist trends, perpetrated by songwriters like Dallas Davidson.
But more importantly, you put these three songwriters together, along with a handful of select few others, and they constitute and impressive block of what makes up mainstream radio’s playlists, while populating many of the top spots of the country music charts. The faces of the performers may change, but the names of the songwriters tend to stay the same. Where it is seen as counterproductive by the music industry to have an artist with multiple singles on the radio at the same time competing with each other, songwriters don’t have such restrictions, blending into the background and rarely being regarded by the mass public.
The mass public may also be perplexed why the songwriting process always seems to happen in 3′s. Dallas Davidson is from Georgia, and is a member of the industry famous “Peach Pickers” songwriting team with co-writers Rhett Atkins and Ben Hayslip. A long-standing tradition in country songwriting called “Third For A Word” makes it possible for songwriters and performers to simply contribute one word to a composition and be awarded an equal share of credit and royalties for the song. Recently this trend has seen some big name performers jumping on to contribute very little to a song, but snatching up lucrative royalty compensation for their small contributions. Songwriters might allow this to happen so their compositions will get cut by big celebrity performers. Similarly, if songwriters like Dallas Davidson, Luke Laird, and Shane McAnally have their names on a song, it can mean a significant spike in interest from labels and performers since they are such hot commodities.
Country music is a copy cat business, as can be seen in the continuance of using the same songwriters over and over in songs that sound very similar both sonically and lyrically. As explained in a recent article about the science behind music, popular music is losing its diversity. It is easy to single out the artists who are performing these songs, but many times they are simply following orders. Some artists are given certain latitude in picking the songs they will cut, and some like Miranda Lambert, or artists on Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Records may have more latitude than others. But as industry professionals attempt to spy trends and exploit them commercially through a label’s talent roster, more and more the songwriting process becomes very streamlined, relying on formulas and professionals who know how to optimize ideas for optimum radio play.
But beyond the process, the songs coming out of the Nashville / Music Row system are stimulating a backlash from their lack of quality like never before. Since the beginning of country music, there has always been sects that believe country is being influenced too much by other genres, but in the last few weeks, artists who have reached the very top of success in the industry are speaking out in greater numbers. As much as Music Row and certain artists may want to laugh off this criticism, it speaks to the larger issue of substance in the genre, and how it could jeopardize the long term viability of the format.
In responding to Zac Brown’s criticism of the current state of country music, songwriter Dallas Davidson said, “We write about what we know about. What I know about is sitting on a tailgate drinking a beer. Hell I live on the river. When Luke called me to tell me about what happened, I was literally smoking Boston butts on my homemade cooker at my 800 square foot river house with about four of my buddies with their trucks backed up, sitting on a tailgate.”
Davidson’s comments reaffirm what an independent Texas songwriter named Possessed by Paul James told Saving Country Music in a recent interview. “When looking at the majority of music, it’s not a cultural voice of change, it’s just a reflection. It’s not encouraging us to do anything, it’s just reflecting, like on my ‘Red Solo Cup.’”
Songs about tailgates are not inherently bad, and certainly every song does not have to be about a deep subject. It is the monopolization of the format with the same homogenizing subject matter where it becomes a problem—where one tailgate song leads into another tailgate song, and yet another, regardless of the song’s performer because the person or persons that wrote the song are the same, or are being influenced by similar trends.
Whether it is a financial portfolio, and educational environment, or an environmental eco-system, diversity is always championed as the key to a healthy balance and to long-term sustainability. As the pool of songwriters contributing to mainstream country’s sound continues to narrow, it leaves country’s future resting on the output of a few select pens.
On August 15th, the plans for the upcoming Outlaw Country Music Hall of Fame and an accompanying Outlaw Music Association were made public. 5,000 sq. ft. of space has been allocated for the new Hall of Fame in Lynchburg, TN, and a Board of Directors has been formed that includes Jeremy Tepper of SiriusXM, Terry Jennings of Korban Music Group, author of Outlaws Still At Large Neil Hamilton, Joe Swank at Bloodshot Records, mayor of Lynchburg Sloane Stewart, Professor of Entertainment Law David Spangenburg, architect Thomas Bartoo, and CEO of Sol Records Brian DeBruler.
The announcement stimulated a lot of speculation about what direction the upcoming Hall of Fame would take, but not many serious answers. So Saving Country Music reached out to Gary “Sarge” Sargeant, the spearhead of the Outlaw Country Hall of Fame, to try and clear up many questions about what folks can expect from the upcoming institution.
Sarge is also putting on a charity event coming up October 25-27 for Troy Rector who suffered a debilitating medical accident. The event will be at Chopper Hill in Altamont, TN (More information). The inaugural class of inductees to the Outlaw Hall of Fame will be announced during the event.
You can listen to the entire interview below. For those who prefer a written form, the meat of the interview is transcribed below as well.
Gary Sargeant: I’m a lifelong fan, 55 years old, of Outlaw music, independent artists and labels, and just firmly believe in people who stay true to themselves and their music, and don’t compromise. It all started at a David Allan Coe benefit that I attended back in June. He was in an accident and wasn’t able to tour. I was kind of upset that David Allan Coe required a benefit. That at 73, he had to tour just to pay his bills because back in the day, things happened and he doesn’t own his catalog. And I was trying to think of a way we could support legends, and recognize people like David, or any number of people that have contributed so much to this music, and have never compromised. I wanted to make sure we had a place to recognize those folks who will never get recognized by anybody else, and then also be able to support today’s Outlaws—the Pete Berwick’s, the Gurf Morlix’s. Its time has come, and we’re going to do this.
When you announced the Outlaw Country Music Hall of Fame, you included a Board of Directors. Why have a Board of Directors?
Well, again it goes back to me being just a fan. I’m a fan with an idea. But I knew if we were going to do this and be taken seriously, and if it was going to be successful, I needed to put together a group of industry professionals.
The term “Outlaw” has already been taken by Music Row and used for marketing purposes. It’s safe to say that there’s music consumers out there that think Outlaw means Justin Moore, Eric Church, and others. How do you distinguish yourself from Music Row’s version of Outlaws when Music Row’s reach is so vast?
Nashville can tell somebody to dress in black jeans, grow a five day stubble, put on these boots, act all bad boy. That doesn’t make you Outlaw. Outlaw to me is not a genre of music. Outlaw is an attitude. Outlaw is a refusal to compromise your music or your beliefs in order to make a dollar. It is traveling up and down the roads, thousands of miles a year, traveling 500 miles to play a $150 show. True Outlaws are doing it for the love of the music only. I believe there’s going to be a lot of defections from Nashville music once the Outlaw Music Association and Hall of Fame are established and up and running. The definition of Outlaw should be made by those that are truly Outlaw, not some publicist sitting in an ivory tower in Nashville thinking that this will sell records.
Some may say the term Outlaw is outmoded because Nashville is taking it and using it with very prominent artists like Justin Moore—that the term doesn’t hold the same sway or meaning it once did. Are you saying that term needs to be fought for?
I’m saying it needs to be clearly defined. Of course Nashville is going to try and take anything successful and try to co-opt it. But them jumping on the bandwagon doesn’t make them independent artists. They’re playing to a formula. But the formula doesn’t work. Listen to the stuff coming out of Nashville.
How do you feel about Dale Watson’s Ameripolitan movement, and how does it fit in your plans for the Outlaw Music Association? Will there be overlap? Could there be potential conflict? Is it splitting the independent-minded or Outlaw populous of country music into two segments?
I wouldn’t think so. My hope would be that people going in that direction, because that’s very narrowly focused right now, I hope they would go, “Hold on a second, here’s something that has come along, that is exactly what we’re trying to do, but encompasses even more people, and hopefully is a very inviting and open Association.” Because I believe if we start putting restrictions on who is going to be in it, then we’re no better than the CMA or anybody else. Great music is great music, whether it be Texas Swing, or Southern rock country, or traditional country. If you’re an artist and you believe in what you’re doing, and you’re good at what you do, we’re going to give you all the support in the world, whether it be Dale Watson, or Shooter Jennings who can go off in different tangents and experiment with different music, or Hank3 who is so excellent. There’s so many artist out there that don’t have a place to call home, and that’s what the Outlaw Music Association is gonna be. It’s gonna be a place where independent labels and artists can receive support, promotion, and have a place they can call home and feel welcomed for who they are instead of something somebody else wants them to be.
We’ve seen in the past, for example with Shooter Jennings’ “XXX” movement and Dale Watson’s Ameripolitan movement, there’s been a lot of conflict and dissension with these attempts to unify the music behind a common purpose. I think that may be what is at the root of some fear and concern of what the Outlaw Music Association and Outlaw Country Music Hall of Fame will become. There’s a history of trying to find a uniting element apart from the CMA in the history of country music. Back in the 70′s there was “ACE” that was set up after Olivia Newton-John and John Denver had won CMA Awards. Traditional country artists met at the house of George Jones and Tammy Wynette and tried to form a new thing. The Academy of Country Music was set up because West Coast entertainers felt like the CMA was bias against California country artists. ACE never really took off, and the ACM just became a doppelganger of the CMA….
…and you forgot to mention the AMA, the Americana Music Association.
Sure, which I personally have said in the past is very narrow in focus, even though a lot of the artists they help promote are great artists.
I couldn’t agree with you more. To me, there is an extreme hunger and thirst out there to have an alternative to what’s being pushed down everybody’s throats by Nashville, the record labels, and the conglomerate of radio stations that are out there. Our focus is not narrow. I don’t care if it’s Dale Watson, or Hellbound Glory, or Jamey Johnson, it doesn’t matter. There’s a whole group of artists out there that deserve to be supported. We are not going to impose conditions. If you’re talented, and your music speaks for itself, and your music speaks to fans, our goal is to make sure that we support you. We’re not guaranteeing success for anybody. But we’re not going to say, “You’re not worthy.” Everybody’s worthy if they’re a musician, and they work hard, they write their own music and stay true to it, and they have some fans and are successful, we’re going to make sure they have an opportunity to be even more successful. We are a non-profit. Our proceeds go to supporting the legends, and also supporting the independent artists of today.
The narrowing of perspective seems to be a really big challenge of independent music right now, whether it is with the Americana Music Association, or just these little scenes that have popped up in independent music. How do you insulate yourself from that trend?
Technology is changing by leaps and bounds every month, let alone every year. The money to be made in today’s world is through touring…touring and merchandise. So we are going to support tours. As a non-profit—it’s kind of being dubbed the Outlaw iTunes—where independent artists can upload their music, and we will turn around and allow it to be downloaded for 99 cents a download, and we give all of it back to the artists while not taking 63 cents. We will be asking for a small donation that will go back to the legends. Technology is changing so quickly, and we have some very good people who are up to speed on today’s technology and the future of music distribution. Those are the areas we want to educate independent artists and labels on, and assist them in giving them an outlet to distribute their music, and use the Hall of Fame to support tours, and get [artists] out in front of the people. Are we going to be the savior? Hell no. But are we going to do everything that we can to help these folks who are working so hard and believe in what they’re doing? Yes, we’re going to do everything we can. Is it guaranteeing success? No. Is it guaranteeing effort? Yes.
There’s a lot of people out there touring and writing their own songs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that their music is valuable enough to be heard by the masses. What’s to keep people who may not embody the Outlaw spirit from just becoming part of this if there’s no governor to keep anybody and everybody from applying?
The fans of Outlaw music are by far the most discerning fans in the world. Otherwise, these artists wouldn’t have any success. An artist will make it if his fans want him to make it. The fans are going to decide if you make it or not, not the Association.
The assertion about Music Row is that they choose who is going to be the stars, and then they push that to the fans. What you’re saying with the Outlaw Music Association is the fans would choose the stars, and the OMA just gives them the platform and the support so that the fans can make that choice.
Eloquently put. And shouldn’t that be the way it is? Shouldn’t the fans be able to say what they like and don’t like? They shouldn’t be told what’s good and not good. With the focus being so narrow and money dictating who is going to be the next star, we’re all robbed. The fans are robbed, the artists are robbed, everybody is robbed of the next potential star. It’s not my job to decide who is good and who’s not good.
Tompall Glaser recently passed away. Right after he died, I posted a quote that came from him back in the 70′s that goes, “Damn it, the fight isn’t in Austin and it isn’t in Los Angeles. It’s right here in Nashville, right here two blocks from Music Row, and if we win–and if our winning is ever going to amount to anything in the long run–we’ve got to beat them on their own turf.” And I’ve heard some similar criticisms about Dale Watson’s Ameripolitan genre where it seems like, “Okay, were going to give up on Nashville and country music, and we’re just going to call it what we want to call it.” What would be your rebuttal to that as far as setting up something that’s apart from Nashville and Music Row?
Lynchburg, TN is not but 55 miles south of Nashville. It’s close enough to pull resources from the Nashville area, but still far enough away and separated enough to say, “Hey, this is separate. This is an alternative.” The people, the demographics that are visiting Lynchburg on a daily basis are the same people that are going to visit our Hall of Fame. It’s all about inclusion. This country is based on freedom, and I believe artists ought to have the freedom to practice their music the way they want without the almighty dollar driving their product.
In closing, I would just like to say to all the fans of Outlaw country music, thank you, and if you really want to make a difference, you have an opportunity. But you have to express your voice. You can’t just sit in your truck or in your house and say, “This sucks,” and expect it to change. If you want change, this is your opportunity. This is a grass roots movement. This is your Hall of Fame. This is your Association. If you want to support artists that made the music what it is today, and those that are continuing in that same vein, support the Hall of Fame, support the Association. Let your artists know that you support us, that you support them by supporting us. This is only going to work if the average fan stands up and says, “I’ve had enough. I want a hand in what I listen to.”
Outlaw country icon David Allan Coe went to war with a semi-truck, and lived to tell the tale. The 73-year-old performer suffered broken ribs, bruised kidneys, and head trauma on March 19th when his 2011 Suburban was broadsided by a semi at the intersection of Silver Springs Boulevard and Pine Ave. in Ocala, FL. The incident landed Coe in the Ocala Regional Medical Center for 4 days, but from the pictures of the wreck, the country singer was fortunate to be alive at all.
Now David Allan Coe is back performing, and on the 4th of July made the trek to Billy Bob’s Texas in Ft. Worth to participate in Willie Nelson’s 40th Annual 4th of July Picnic—an event that Coe has been a mainstay at for years. It was one of his first shows since the accident.
“They had come on the news and said that I’d died,” Coe explained to a packed Billy Bob’s. “A lot of people were calling my wife and saying that they’d heard that I’d died.”
When Coe told the crowd he’d been out of the hospital now for a month and a half, Billy Bob’s erupted in applause.
“I’ve got to tell you that everybody quit me, except my wife.” Coe went on. “She’s the only one that didn’t quit. My road manager of 35 years, he quit me. My band quit me. This is a brand new band, this is a brand new me.”
David’s wife, Kimberly Hastings Coe, said right after David left the hospital, ““David being David, said to me before leaving the hospital; ‘Well, now I have an opportunity to write another great song. A lot of fans tell me that my songs have given them strength to get through difficult times. This accident has given me another subject in my life to write about that will hopefully help others.’ ”
Coe’s new band lineup is a rather avant-garde approach for country, with two keyboards and lots of percussion. “I’m going to play you some old songs, and I’m going to play you some new songs,” Coe told the 4th of July crowd. “And I’m glad I can play you any songs at all.” At the end of the Picnic, Willie Nelson invited Coe, along with Jamey Johnson, Gary Allan, and other performers onto the stage to close the night out singing gospel songs.
Coe also penned a personal letter to all of his fans who supported him through the incident, made available through his wife.
(11-9-13): David Allan Coe’s son and former guitar player Tyler Mahan Coe has responded to David Allan Coe’s take that his band “quit on him” and other issues.
Here is the entire post, originally posted on his Baby Black Windows blog.
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My father told me I was a member of his band when I was 15 years old. We were in the back of a stretch limo on the way back from his picking me up at the Orlando airport. I’d been visiting my mother in Tennessee, not having seen her in the year since I left home after finding brochures to military schools in our mail.
“You been practicing your guitar chords?”
‘Yeah.’ <— LIE
“Good. I’m recording a live album in three days. You’re on it.”
Little family chats like that are how you lose a decade of your life.
I was now the “rhythm” guitar player for the David Allan Coe band. “Rhythm” because that’s the label that stuck despite the wild permutations of its reality. Initially I played a six-string acoustic, seated, cheat sheets of the chord progressions to every song taped to the floor beneath me. With a full band, my contributions to the show were insignificant, to be sure.
I was, however, determined to get good at my instrument. I eventually did, only to discover that it didn’t matter how well I performed any given night. If my father decided the show wasn’t going to go well then it wasn’t going to go well. Thanks to his practice of introducing me as his son at the end of nearly every show and then leaving while I stayed behind to help load out, I became the unofficial Complaints Dept…
- “Your/his guitar is too loud!“ You’re right. It is. My father has hearing loss and refuses to hire (or heed advice given by) professional audio technicians because that would make it much more difficult to pretend there is a problem with the sound, which he would do, without fail, every night, for reasons ultimately known only to himself. His guitar amp is the loudest thing I’ve ever heard. Some people will tell you that my guitar amp is the loudest thing they’ve ever heard. That would be because they were standing directly in front of my amp, which was at a volume sufficient to allow myself to be able to hear it beneath my father’s.
- “Everything sounds distorted!“ That’d be the volume again. The man you saw running around the stage putting his head in front of various speakers was doing his best to make things sound okay but he was not a professional sound tech. Even if he was, he was being asked to perform an impossible task. A “band” comprised of three electric guitars and a drummer is just not going to sound like anything you’re used to, especially in “country” music. I developed a technique of playing bass notes with my thumb and cranked the lows on my EQ but there’s only so much that can be done.
- “He didn’t play his own songs!” This is and isn’t a valid complaint. I don’t want to spend a lot of time on it. Briefly: I loved playing all the Waylon Jennings songs that we played. They are great songs and Waylon isn’t around to do them anymore. Conversely, I hated playing songs by, say, Toby Keith, because there was no reason for us to be doing that. It was frustrating but ultimately a life lesson on what you can and can’t control.
- “He only played pieces of his songs!” Same as the last. The medleys were a lot of fun when the transitions felt organic. Other times, they felt like a deliberate attempt to keep the show from going well. I know this could seem to you as if I’m bitterly saying these outlandish things but ask anyone who’s ever played for David Allan Coe and they’ll confirm what I’m saying. Too, I am so emotionally detached from everything being discussed on this list. They weren’t my decisions.
- “He didn’t play any songs!” While an obvious exaggeration, yes, there were nights it seemed he took the stage only to rant and complain about never having received his just rewards from critics, etc. I probably found this more annoying than anyone else because as it happened I was standing on stage, in front of everyone, doing nothing, like an asshole, with a heavy Gibson SG hanging from my neck.
- “It’s hot!” I know. My father’s skin and vocal chords are sensitive to the sudden changes in temperature found in air conditioned environments. I seem to have inherited this from him so I can say it is a valid requirement for him to perform.
- “He only played an hour and they said it was a two hour show!” They lied.
- “He’s late!” I know.
- “That vocal effect he’s using sounds terrible!“ I know.
- “That woman sounds terrible!” I know.
So, okay, you deal with all of that for years because it’s your father and family is family. And I would have kept dealing with all of it. I would have fought uphill until my father said, “Enough.”
To be fair, I don’t like her. So I’ve told you that up front…
There is a photocopy of a letter being posted throughout cyberspace. A letter written in my father’s hand. The implication is that every person in his life, except his wife, abandoned him after his recent auto accident. Certainly, it doesn’t make sense to me that every person in someone’s life would take a hike because that person had a little accident. Must be something else going on there…
A Lesson in Subterfuge – The first thing you want to do is get in close with the target. Then you do everything you can to erode the stability of every standing relationship the target had previous to your arrival. First, lower employees, pawns. They’re easy. A small maneuver and they’re history. Then, you’re chipping away at the back row. Anyone who has decision making capabilities has to go. Anyone who controls money has to go. Friends who may take it upon themselves to offer advice to the target have to go. Family? This may prove difficult, as some family will no doubt see what you’re doing, but family absolutely must go. The target has to believe that you are the only person who has their interest at heart. Never relent and you will succeed in your task.
Back to that weird letter then…
Bruce and Linda Smith are good people. They did NOT steal anything from my father. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar or was lied to by a liar. Bruce Smith dedicated more of the time and energy of his life to my father than did any other living person, with no exception, including myself. That’s a fact. Bruce did quit his position as management for my father. In my opinion, he made a respectable decision to withdraw himself from a situation where his honor had been called in to question one too many times by a person whose own sense of honor seems non-existent.
The members of the David Allan Coe band did NOT quit their positions or abandon anyone. Steve Wood and Jake Stringer did not “abandon” their employer in a difficult time. They weren’t even contacted about continuing in their positions as touring band members. Let no person call into question their professional integrity.
I did NOT quit my job working for my father. The last contact I received from David Allan Coe was a text from him telling me that he was going to play some shows by himself, without a band, to get back into the swing of things and then we’d figure things out from there. That was in response to a text that I had sent him, telling him that I would do everything that I could to keep him touring with a good band. After he told me that he was going to do some solo shows, I contacted him with some information about a record label in Europe who is hoping to reissue some of his older material. I received no response about that and shortly thereafter found out that he was performing shows with an entirely new band. My feelings were deeply hurt when I learned that he was announcing onstage that his entire band had quit him and everyone had “abandoned” him when this was not the case. It became clear that my attempts to contact him were being deliberately ignored and I have no idea why.
So that’s what happened.
Make no mistake. This is not a tirade or reproach. I’m simply getting rid of the weight of keeping this shit a secret. I’m moving ahead. I’m going back to Nashville to be around the rest of my family. I have zero desire to be in another touring band at this time. I want to make the next SoC album. I want to spend time with my wonderful girlfriend. I want to put distance between myself and those who would piss on the legacy of my surname.
Today is my birthday. I’ve been breathing for 29 years.
-Tyler Mahan Coe – See more at: http://babyblackwidows.blogspot.com/2013/11/so-this-is-what-happened-or-becoming.html?spref=fb#sthash.a1X6A8WF.dpuf
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.”
Country music loves to pride itself in supporting the troops and the cause of the military more than any other genre. Though some of it may be bravado meant more for marketing, there are many legends in the country music ranks that served their country as young men. Here’s a list of country heroes who served the county.
Possibly country music’s most well-known veteran, Kris Kristofferson came from a family that pushed him to enlist after attending Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and graduating with a degree in literature. Yes, Kristofferson was a smart one to say the least, and achieved the rank of Captain in the US Army as a helicopter pilot and Ranger. He received his training at Fort Rucker, Alabama before being deployed to West Germany as part of the 8th Infantry Division. After serving out his tour of duty, Kristofferson was scheduled to become an English Literature professor at West Point, but decided to pursue a career in songwriting instead. The decision meant he was disowned by his family, but that didn’t stop the American Veterans Awards from naming Kris “Veteran of the Year” in 2003. Kristofferson’s first job in music was sweeping floors at Columbia Studios. His first successful songwriting hit was “Vietnam Blues” recorded by Dave Dudley.
Willie Nelson may be known as one of the world’s greatest pacifists, but he grew up in an era when military service was expected of young men, and the draft was in full force. So he voluntarily joined the Air Force in 1951 in the midst of the Korean War, wanting to be a jet pilot. He received his first basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, but it was concluded Willie was too “absentminded” (as Willie puts it) to be in the cockpit of a jet. So the Air Force shipped him to Shepherd Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, TX, and eventually to Scott Air Force Base in Illinois for more basic training. Eventually they made him a medic, but years of bailing hay in Willie’s hometown of Abbott, TX had given him a bad back condition and he was discharged after 9 months of service.
In 1950, a year before Willie Nelson made his way to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio to enlist in the Air Force, future fellow Highwayman Johnny Cash did the same. Cash spent 4 years in the service, rising to Staff Sargent, and becoming a Morse Code intercept operator working in Landsberg, West Germany. Johnny is given credit for intercepting the first radio transmission announcing the news of the death of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. The name of Cash’s first band was “The Landsberg Barbarians,” an homage to the German town he called home. When Cash was honorably discharged in July of 1954, he returned to Texas to marry his first wife Vivian Liberto who he’d met at a roller rink when in basic training.
Before Shel Silverstein penned “A Boy Named Sue” for Johnny Cash, “Put Another Log on the Fire” for Tompall Glaser, and many other country hits, and before he’d go on to sell over 20 million children’s books, he was an illustrator for the Pacific Stars & Stripes military publication. Silverstein was drafted into the Army in 1953 and served in both Korea and Japan. When it was clear Silverstein was not fit for combat, he began illustrating an article series called Take Ten, amusing service members with his drawings and anecdotes about military life. Later his cartoons would be featured in two books: Take Ten and Grab Your Socks!, becoming big sellers for Ballintine Books, and introducing the world to Shel’s illustrative and comedic genius.
There’s many “new Outlaws” in mainstream country music right now walking around with dogs tags, but Jamey Johnson is the only one with actual military cred to back the fashion accessory up. After dropping out of Jacksonville State University, Johnson enlisted in the Marine Corps where he served for 8 solid years, rising to the rank of corporal as a mortarman in the 23rd Marines, 3rd Batallion. During his Marine Corps stint, he was known for playing his original songs for bunk mates, and two of the songs on Jamey’s first self-released album mention the Marines. By coincidence, Johnson was discharged from the military 1 week before his unit deployed to Iraq, but he’s been to both Iraq and Afghanistan multiple times since, making regular appearances on USO tours.
George Jones was enlisted in the Marine Corps in the early 1950′s during The Korean War, stationed in San Jose, California until he was discharged in 1953.
Roger Miller enlisted in the Army and served in the Korean War to avoid being arrested for stealing a guitar when he was 17.
Wayne “The Train” Hancock was in the Marines, and gives credit to his time in Okinawa for endowing him with his love for the steel guitar sound.
George Strait was enlisted in the Army from 1971 to 1975, stationed in Hawaii for the later half of his career as part of the 25th Infantry Division. He performed in an army-sanctioned country band called “Rambling Country.”
Songwriter Billy Don Burns was a paratrooper from 1968-1970.
Charlie Louvin of The Louvin Brothers served in both World War II and The Korean War.
Hank Thompson served in the Navy in Word War II.
Texas country traditionalist Jason Eady served in The Air Force for six years as a translator.
Jamey Johnson’s latest album, Living for a Song: Tribute to Hank Cochran was nominated for “Best Country Album” at the 55th annual Grammy Awards, but the long-bearded country singer was nowhere to be found at the ceremony on Sunday night. Instead he’s on tour in the Midwest, playing a show in Chicago the night before the awards where he caught up with Rolling Stone reporter Dan Hyman and had some revealing things to say about the future of his music and a brewing contract dispute.
“Financially speaking, they treat me worse than they ever did the Dixie Chicks,” Johnson explained to Rolling Stone. “I feel pretty used by the music industry, in that my contracts are written in such a way that I don’t get paid.”
Johnson is signed with Mercury Records Nashville. The label picked up his album That Lonesome Song in 2008 and signed him to a multi-record deal.
“It’s time for us to regroup and it’s time for us to look at these contracts,” Jamey says. “The problem is, I don’t trust any of the people that I’ve worked with so far. I believe they’ve all hidden the truth from me or lied to me or deceived me in one way or another. Because the end result is that no matter what they said or did or what they said they did, I didn’t get paid… As a musician I never studied music law. I can’t even read the contracts I’ve signed. But I’m fairly sure they don’t say what I thought they said.”
When it was announced that Johnson would be releasing a tribute album of cover songs, some wondered if an artist who is primarily known as a songwriter was in the midst of writer’s block. As Jamey explains, his contract issues have hindered his creative process, and fans shouldn’t expect any new, original material from him anytime soon.
“Well, I wish I could tell you that I am writing. I’m not. I wish I could tell you I’m gonna go home next week and record another album. It’s not likely to happen. We haven’t reached such a gridlock that we can’t continue to do work with them in the future. But we can’t do anything right now until that gets resolved.”
This is not Jamey Johnson’s first issue with a record label. Signed to BNA in 2006, Johnson released his first single “The Dollar” to moderate commercial success. But when the second single, “Rebelicious” failed to chart, he was dropped by BNA.
Sunday night is the most important night in music of the year as the 55th annual Grammy Awards will be transpiring in Los Angeles. Independent-minded music consumers can go back and forth about just how important Grammy night is, but regardless if you like the winners or even care to pay attention, what transpires Sunday night will have effects on the entire music world.
And in 2013, the effects on roots music could be greater than they have ever been before, with artists like Mumford & Sons, The Black Keys, and The Lumineers up for some of the night’s most prestigious awards. Sunday night could be the crowning of “roots” music as the most influential force in popular music right now, whether roots fans like it or not, or feel the artists who will be bestowed with awards truly represent the essence of the modern roots world is all about.
Another primary interest will be the Taylor Swift performance that will start the show. Rumored to be her smash bubblegum pop hit, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” Taylor will once again test the will of country-dom to continue to number her amongst their ranks despite the parade of pop songs she has released from her latest album, including her latest single, “22.”
Oh, and then there’s the ever-present possibility that Taylor Swift bombs the performance like she did New Year’s night. But on Sunday, Taylor will not benefit from half the press core vomiting into toilets while the other half holds their hair back. All eyes and ears will be on Taylor, with vivid memories of her awful 2010 performance on these very Grammy Awards very much front of mind.
Here’s some observations, and half-cocked predictions.
Best Country Album
If you need any more evidence that the Grammys do their best to reward not just commercial success, but artistic substance, look no further than this list of Best Country Album candidates. The Time Jumpers? The Jamey Johnson Hank Cochran tribute? Sure, it wouldn’t be my list. I would have Kellie Pickler’s 100 Proof on here to start, but it’s certainly interesting. Zac Brown would be the pick for an album that both performed well commercially, and has some good points artistically. But this is a peer-voted award, and the sheer number of collaborators on Living For A Song, and the friends of those collaborators might put it over the top. I believe this is how the Guy Clark tribute won Album of the Year at the Americana Music Awards. Despite Hunter playing most of the instruments on his album, he would be the commercial pick.
Uncaged — Zac Brown Band – 2nd
Hunter Hayes — Hunter Hayes – 3rd
Living For A Song: A Tribute To Hank Cochran — Jamey Johnson – 1st pick
Four The Record – Miranda Lambert
The Time Jumpers – The Time Jumpers
Best Country Solo Performance
Okay, all those nice things I said about the Grammys and rewarding substance? Strike that. This list is awful. Jason Isbell claimed in the past that Dierks Bentley stole “Home” from him. Once again we see Hunter Hays has powerful friends. Blake Shelton might win another award based solely on his reality show celebrity status from The Voice. And however powerful “Blown Away” is, it’s in no way country. Ronnie Dunn should probably win, but does he have enough buddies in Grammy land to pull it off? I’m fearing a big night for Hunter Hays.
“Home” — Dierks Bentley
“Springsteen” — Eric Church
“Cost Of Livin’” — Ronnie Dunn – Let’s hope
“Wanted” — Hunter Hayes
“Over” — Blake Shelton
“Blown Away” — Carrie Underwood
Best Country Song
We should all hope that Will Hoge finally gets recognized for the brilliant songwriter that he is. This list isn’t nearly as bad as the “Best Solo Performance, but Eric Church’s “Springsteen” summer anthem, though catchy, doesn’t belong being nominated for anything. It wasn’t even the best song on his own album.
“Blown Away” — Josh Kear & Chris Tompkins, songwriters (performed by: Carrie Underwood)
“Cost Of Livin’” — Phillip Coleman & Ronnie Dunn, songwriters (performed by: Ronnie Dunn) - One to root for
“Even If It Breaks Your Heart” — Will Hoge & Eric Paslay, songwriters (performed by: Eli Young Band) – One to root for
“So You Don’t Have To Love Me Anymore” — Jay Knowles & Adam Wright, songwriters (performed by: Alan Jackson)
“Springsteen” — Eric Church, Jeff Hyde & Ryan Tyndell, songwriters (performed by: Eric Church)
Best Country Duo/Group Performance
I was surprised “Safe & Sound” didn’t win at the CMA’s. It feels like a strong contender here, but with The Civil Wars on indefinite hiatus, voters may want to give their nod to a project with a brighter future. Even if it doesn’t win, Don Williams’ “I Just Came Here For The Music” already scores a victory for simply being noticed. An excellent song, and an even better performance by Don and Alison. “Pontoon” is a borderline joke song, and it is an embarrassment to country music it was even nominated. Are The Time Jumpers the 2013 Grammy sleeper? With all these nominations, they could rise up and be one of the big winners of the night.
Even If It Breaks Your Heart” — Eli Young Band
“Pontoon” — Little Big Town
“Safe & Sound” — Taylor Swift & The Civil Wars
“On The Outskirts Of Town” — The Time Jumpers
“I Just Come Here For The Music” – Don Williams Featuring Alison Krauss – Feel Good Story
Best Americana Album
This is the toughest to handicap. By sales, impact, and influence, Mumford & Sons should walk away with this easily, like them or not. But since they are the favored for the more prestigious (and televised) Album of the Year, will voters favor another candidate here? The runner up would be The Lumineers, but they are up for the “Best New Artist” as well. Meanwhile there sit The Avett Brothers who were actually making this type of music when Mumford and The Lumineers were still going through puberty, and it wasn’t cool or commercially successful. And don’t count out Bonnie Raitt. She has a lot of friends with Grammy votes. John Fullbright is a real feel good story, but I’m not sure he stands a chance in this strong of a field.
The Carpenter — The Avett Brothers – Deserve it way more than the Johnny Come Lately’s
From The Ground Up – John Fullbright – The Underdog to Root For
The Lumineers – The Lumineers
Babel – Mumford & Sons
Slipstream – Bonnie Raitt – Powerful friends and many of them
How important was Hank Cochran as a songwriter? I’ll let Willie Nelson tell you.
Well, really, when you start talking about songwriters, you’ve got to say his name first. Then you start talking about everyone else.
Jamey Johnson’s Living For a Song is a tribute to his musical hero; a man he met in 2008 when Cochran was already suffering from pancreatic cancer. Johnson would visit Cochran regularly in the hospital, and according to Hank’s widow Suzy, “Jamey was there when a lot of people weren’t coming around.” Hank Cochran died on July 15th, 2010. Cochran’s death is said to inspire this project.
I’ve always had great respect for Jamey Johnson the man, and his dedication and desire to see this project through elevates him yet another notch. It’s hard not to regard him as one of the most sincere and authentic men in country music today, and the hope is that this project will elevate the name recognition of one of country’s greatest songwriters.
And you will find no more critically-acclaimed performer in country music at the moment, or in the last half-decade than Jamey Johnson. And though I appreciate Jamey the person and his honest, traditional approach to the music, in both the recorded and live context, I’ve found his music to be fundamentally lacking energy, enthusiasm, or the ability to engage the ear in virtually any manner. And unfortunately, Living for a Song falls into that same category.
This is what I don’t get about this album: We are sold this idea that Jamey Johnson is the best songwriter of our generation. But here it is over two years after his last album release, and this superlative, prolific songwriter is putting out an album of someone elses songs. Granted, his last album The Guitar Song was a double album, but like I pointed out when the The Guitar Song was released, there was a curious amount of covers and co-writes there as well.
I understand this is a tribute album, but most tribute albums are side projects; something you do outside of your normal album cycle as an artist. Living for a Song however is Jamey Johnson’s newest major release in his country music career. Can anybody tell me what other hits or critically-acclaimed songs Jamey Johnson has written for other artists since The Guitar Song’s release? What I’m getting at here is I think our generation’s best and most-prolific songwriter is in the midst of a multi-year writers block. That’s the only explanation I can come up for releasing this album as his sole recorded contribution to music in the last two years, aside from some guest spots.
What is Jamey Johnson known as? As a performer? As a singer? No. He might be capable at these two tasks, but he’s known primarily as a songwriter. So how am I supposed to get excited about him singing songs written and popularized by someone else? Do we really think he can sing “I Fall To Pieces” better than Patsy Cline? Is what we really need in a demonstratively-glutted music world milder versions of songs we’ve already heard?
And for all the Jamey Johnson fans who sell him as the solution to how to get folks re-engaged with traditional country, how does this album do the trick? Are any of these songs radio singles that can compete with Taylor Swift? They’re songs that will make the kiddos put their hands over their mouths in the universal sign of sleepy time. Jamey Johnson is like the country music sedative. His super power is the ability to make any country music song boring. He’s the exact reason fans of Brantley Gilbert and Colt Ford say country needs to evolve. And in this instance, they are right.
What is the cliche about good cover songs? That the covering artist “made it their own.” At no time on Living for a Song does it feel like Jamey Johnson makes a song his own. Granted, these songs are country. They’re very country. They’re so country, they’re cliche. But just because something is country doesn’t mean it’s good. As I have said about other Jamey Johnson projects, I believe that people are so used to hearing country that doesn’t sound like country, when someone actually plays country music they’re charmed into thinking it’s superb.
If this was a side project cover album, such criticism may not be appropriate. But this album is being so ballyhooed by critics all over the place that it creates the need for a little perspective. Even when looking at Living for a Song as a tribute and a tribute only, the album feels way too busy. It makes the same mistake Willie Nelson’s last album Heroes does of having too many guests. And may I point out that both albums were produced by Buddy Cannon. Like I said about Heroes:
Where the album may come across as too busy or unfocused is the amount of contributors to each composition, and to the album as a whole…Sure, many of these names we love, but there’s too many of them, diverting focus from any one pairing or performance.
It’s difficult to focus on Hank Cochran’s songwriting–the purpose of this album–because the people singing switch back and forth so often. Every song but one is a duet, and one song has three singers, one four singers, and one five. Some songs feel mere steps away from “We are the World”.
Willie, Merle, Emmylou, Kristofferson, Bobby Bare and others, these are all great names and I don’t doubt for a second the love for Hank Cochran all the Living for a Song contributors have. But the music is diminished by the sheer number of contributions. For Jamey, this may be a sincere tribute, but to the label, it feels similar to the Hank Williams Lost Notebooks project, like an excuse to showcase talent and shovel money towards Sony/ATV who owns the publishing on these songs.
Aside from the excessive singing parts, there’s nothing wrong with this album. But there’s nothing right either. All the musicians and singers do excellent jobs. The issue is with the approach.
God bless Jamey Johnson for putting together a heartfelt tribute to a country great that has passed on. But Living for a Song is about as lifeless as traditional country music gets. If you want to listen to a great classic country album released in 2012, listen to Don Williams’ And So It Goes. It resides in the same tempo, but brings a uniqueness and a soul that Living for a Song lacks. Or even better, go listen to Hank Cochran’s originals, or the original songs others made hits. These do a better job at selling Cochran’s legacy than this.
If Jamey Johnson wasn’t sold to us so hard, I might begin to appreciate his music on some level. But shoot me that I like my pulse raised when I put on an album.
1 gun up for a beautiful tribute to a fallen country great.
1 gun down for an album that is too busy, overproduced, and downright boring.
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Love ‘em or hate ‘em, it’s hard to dispute that the CMA Awards are the most important night in country music every year. The nominations announced last week had a few interesting wrinkles, so let’s take a in-depth look at what’s coming up on November 1st and make some predictions.
Kelly Clarkson for Female Vocalist of the Year
Yeah, this is a very confusing nomination. As pop artists go, she may be one of the the good guys, but a CMA nomination? Yes she’s dabbled slightly in some crossover material like her ”Don’t You Wanna Stay” duet with Jason Aldean, but unless I missed the memo, Kelly has never put out a country album, doesn’t bill herself as a country act on tours, and doesn’t run primarily in country circles. Sure, I think we all anticipate Kelly making a country move soon, but it hasn’t happened yet.
But don’t worry, Kelly Clarkson has no chance of winning this award, and if she did, it would be a PR nightmare more than a gift (You think Carrie Underwood fans are crazy now?). It would have been good to see a name like Kellie Pickler get the attention, even though she would have little chance of winning it. There wasn’t another name they felt met the caliber of the other nominees in country, and so they reached out to pop.
“Roll Me Up And Smoke Me” with Willie Nelson & Snoop Dog for Musical Event of the Year
I both love and hate this nomination. Yes, we should be happy that Willie’s name, along with Jamey Johnson’s and Kris Kristofferson’s who also collaborated on the song are even being mentioned in connection with the CMA’s. And no, I do not see this as some watershed moment in the mono-genre just because of Snoop Dog’s involvement. “Roll Me Up…” is still solidly a country song. It just once again reinforces Willie’s identity with pot instead of all the other great things he could and should be known for (including his marijuana advocacy), and it seems like a nomination stretch to attempt to be showy by the CMA. Nonetheless it is a very fun song done by some very cool people, and there’s much worse things that could have be given this recognition.
Down Year For Taylor Swift
Her last album Speak Now is pretty long in the tooth at this point having been released almost 2 years ago, and she hasn’t had a hit single in a while. Her new album Red will have been out for less than a month when the CMA’s hit, and her new single “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” may be a little too pop for the CMA’s tastes, leaving them reluctant to vote for her. I’m sure in 2013 Swift will again be the CMA’s darling, but 2012 may take a Taylor Swift breather.
We’re Lucky There’s No Lionel
Except for a buried mention in the “Musical Event of the Year” category, Lionel Richie and his album Tuskegee didn’t make any of the major lists; a pleasant surprise. Despite lacking a major single, the album has been one the biggest blockbusters of 2012 so far. But don’t worry Richie fans, I’m sure the ACM’s who’ve whored themselve for Lionel plenty, including throwing him an unprecedented hour-long special on CBS, will reward the commercial success of Tuskegee greatly.
***UPDATE (10-31-12) Jason Aldean’s Cheating and Taylor Swift’s Chart Success
It will be interesting to see how the CMA votership reacted to the news about Jason Aldean being photographed with a woman that wasn’t his wife in an LA Bar. The news broke on September 30th, and the final round of voting for the CMA’s commenced on October 4th. Aldean, who’s up for the most awards this year, may see his support diminish because of the scandal.
Similarly, Swift has been making headlines since the last round of voting started. With Billboard changing their chart rules, she now has a firm grip on the #1 spot on the country charts with her pop anthem “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and two other songs charting in the top 20. Does this increase her chances of taking home a trophy, or will there be a Taylor Swift backlash because of the overtly-pop aspect of her new hit songs?
Entertainer of the Year
- Taylor Swift
- Brad Paisley
- Jason Aldean – Winner
- Blake Shelton
- Kenny Chesney
Slight chance Taylor Swift could walk away with this, or maybe even Blake Shelton based on his work with NBC’s The Voice, but I think it’s Aldean’s to lose. His was the monster album this last cycle that kept churning out singles.
***UPDATE – As I said, it was Aldean’s to lose, but he may have lost it with his cheating scandal back in September. Also Taylor Swift now has to be considered a serious contender from the strength of her Red album becoming the best-selling debut in a decade, and the chart success of her song “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”. Or, these two big events could cancel each other out, and Blake Shelton could find himself the beneficiary. In the end though, I still think Aldean has the greatest chance, but it all of a sudden it is a much tighter race.
Male Vocalist of the Year
- Jason Aldean
- Luke Bryan
- Eric Church – Second Choice
- Blake Shelton- Winner
- Keith Urban
This is a three horse race, with Blake Shelton inching ahead from the strength his realty TV personality gives him. This may be where Eric Church’s smack talking comes back to bite him. In a neck and neck race, folks will remember how he called out Miranda Lambert, Blake Shelton, and others and will give the nod to the nominee with a cleaner nose. Aldean’s My Kinda Party has been such a commercial success, it’s hard to rule him out completely, but it’s rare an artist wins both Entertainer and the top gender category in the same year.
Female Vocalist of the Year
- Carrie Underwood – Winner
- Taylor Swift
- Kelly Clarkson
- Miranda Lambert
- Martina McBride
This might be the biggest toss up of the major awards, but I think the other contenders might split the difference and leave Carrie Underwood with the win. Again, it’s an off year for Taylor, but she can never be completely counted out. Miranda is the other solid contender. I’m not sure if her album Four The Record or the supporting tour were strong enough for the nod this year, but when you combine it with her Pistol Annies material, it’s a pretty impressive body of work.
Album of the Year
- Chief – Eric Church - Winner
- Four The Record – Miranda Lambert
- Home – Dierks Bentley
- Own The Night – Lady Antebellum
- Tailgates & Tanlines – Luke Bryan
I just don’t think the other albums have shown the remarkable strength Chief has. It’s been stalled out in the Billboard Top 5 for what seems to be eons. This will override any concerns about Eric’s extra-curricular gum flapping off-stage.
Single of the Year
- “Dirt Road Anthem” – Jason Aldean – Winner
- “God Gave Me You” - Blake Shelton
- “Home” - Dierks Bentley
- “Pontoon” - Little Big Town
- “Springsteen” - Eric Church
This is a pretty tenuous prediction because “Dirt Road Anthem” is so late in the calendar cycle. And though it angers me so that it may be the front runner to win, if you are going to give it to the most successful and influential song in country for this calendar cycle, it’s hard to dispute it. “Home” is also a little late in the cycle, and let’s not forget Jason Isbell claims it’s his. “Pontoon” and “Sprinsteen” as singles are a little early in the cycle, so give me Blake Shelton’s “God Gave Me You” as a runner up.
Vocal Group of the Year
- Eli Young Band
- Lady Antebellum
- Little Big Town
- The Band Perry
- Zac Brown Band – Winner
Where’s Rascal Flatts? They’re just as bad as these other bands. If they’re bitching, they have a legitimate beef. If I were Zac Brown, I’d be ashamed to be in this company.
Vocal Duo of the Year
- Big & Rich
- Love and Theft
- The Civil Wars
- Thompson Square
If The Civil Wars ever had a chance, it would be this year, but I’d still only make their odds 1 in 5. Sugarland hasn’t done much this year. Beyond that, it’s a total toss up.
Song of the Year
- “Even If It Breaks Your Heart,” Will Hoge and Eric Paslay
- “God Gave Me You,” Dave Barnes
- “Home,” Dan Wilson, Brett Beavers, and Dierks Bentley
- “Over You,” Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton – Winner
- “Springsteen,” Eric Church, Ryan Tyndell, and Jeff Hyde
Seeing Will Hoge win a CMA would be a small, cool victory. “Over You” might edge the others from the star power involved and the sentimentality that tends to dominate this category.
New Artist of the Year
- Lee Brice
- Brantley Gilbert – Winner
- Hunter Hayes
- Thompson Square
Brantley and his bad Affliction T-shirt will probably take it, and the world will be a worse place for it.
Musical Event of the Year
- “Dixie Highway,” Alan Jackson and Zac Brown Band
- “Feel Like a Rock Star,” Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw
- “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” Willie Nelson, Snoop Dog, Kris Kristofferson, Jamey Johnson
- “Safe and Sound,” Taylor Swift and The Civil Wars – Winner
- “Stuck on You,” Lionel Richie and Darius Rucker
This may be both The Civil Wars’ and Taylor Swift’s best chance at a 2012 CMA, boosted by The Hunger Games’ commercial success.
Music Video of the Year
- “Come Over,” Kenny Chesney
- “Over You,” Miranda Lambert
- “Pontoon,” Little Big Town
- ”Red Solo Cup,” Toby Keith
- “Springsteen,” Eric Church
If “Red Solo Cup” wins, look for even more mainstream country fake-viral videos.
Musician of the Year
- Sam Bush – mandolin
- Paul Franklin – steel guitar
- Dann Huff – guitar
- Brent Mason – guitar
- Mac McAnally – guitar
- Gaahl on EDM Replacing Rap As The Scourge of Country Radio
- Seth Putnam on EDM Replacing Rap As The Scourge of Country Radio
- olajean on Josh Abbott Admits to Infidelity, Asks For Forgiveness
- Trigger on “Achy Breaky 2″ Becomes A Big Hit Because It’s So Bad
- Eli Locke on Dierks Bentley’s “Riser” (Review & Giveaway)