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***NOTE: This story is being updated.
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.
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.
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
We did this a while back for bands in country music, taking Music Row’s rigorous requirements and running bands through them to illustrate that there are many accessible acts out there that could improve the genre right now if only given a chance. Though Americana may be a less-institutionalized and much smaller genre that tends to have better music and promote artists that are easier to respect, sometimes it can seem almost as exclusive as Music Row, as was seen in the latest list of AMA Award nominees. So here is a list of artists that even considering Americana’s heavy requirements, could make it big and improve the Americana world if only given a chance.
The only reason Possessed by Paul James isn’t big in Americana right now is because of exposure. If his music, recorded, but especially live, could be put in front of the right people, he would positively explode in the Americana world. He has all the right Americana tools: excellent songwriting, skilled musicianship, a message, and he exists in a no-man’s land; not really country or folk or blues or punk, but a true amalgam of them all, a wholly unique performer with a style all his own. He doesn’t just simply channel the emotions and energy from music and evoke them on stage, he becomes a manifestation of that energy, a creative quasar exploding right before your very eyes with beams of positive energy, inspiration, and emotion shooting into you as they bound off the walls and ceiling until they have penetrated you from every angle and you are a changed person. If you listen to the stories of people whose whole worlds have changed at a Possessed by Paul James show or if you are one of those people yourself, it is hard to look at a list of Americana talent and say it is anything but incomplete without him on it.
Austin Lucas is custom tailored to fit into Americana, because like most Americana artists, he doesn’t fit any where else, though his talents are undeniable and are worthy of a much higher level of support and attention. He’s too much punk and rock to be considered true country, but he too country to be considered folk. First and foremost he is a songwriter and a performer and an excellent singer who has some tremendous skins on the wall considering he’s unknown to many, including cutting records with Chuck Ragan, and touring on the Country Throwdown tour and sharing the stage with the likes of Jamey Johnson and Willie Nelson. Though it’s hard to see where Austin Lucas’s home is, it’s easy to say with that level of talent, once he finds it, he could explode. If Americana was smart, they would snatch him up before someone else does.
Out of all the artists on this list, Caitlin may be the most well-connected to break into the Americana inner-circle some day. Adored around her hometown of Nashville, and from a songwriting pedigree from her mother Liz Rose (the brainworks behind Taylor Swift’s early songwriting success), Caitlin sits in the awkward, not-exactly country, but not really indie-rock, rootsy world where Americana is supposed to rise up and fill the void. She brings the hip, indie-rock-esque new school approach to old country and roots music; the exact shot of youth, energy, and relevancy the graying Americana world needs without straying away from its principles. In her mid-20′s, time is still on Caitlin Rose’s side and her upside seems tremendous.
Whitmore may be the artist in a position of least need of the Americana stamp of approval seeing how he’s signed on the well-respected ANTI label with artists such as Tom Waits and Gillian Welch, but he may be the best example of how Americana, not just the artist, could improve their lot by being more inclusive. A one man show just like Possessed by Paul James, with punk cred just like Austin Lucas, he’s the songwriter without a real home who incorporates blues, folk, and some country with tinges of a punk attitude that can appeal to a wide swath of the enlightened music-listening population. It is pretty amazing where you can put William Elliott Whitmore and he works, and how many people are into him despite their diverse music sensibilities.
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Some other good candidates would be the emerging Shovels & Rope, Rachel Brooke (though some could argue she’s more country/neo-traditional), and though they’re older performers, it would be great to see Charlie Parr and Otis Gibbs get some Americana love. Willy Tea Taylor would be another great candidate, though I think he looks at music more as a gift than an occupation.
Who are some artists you would like to see more incorporated in Americana?
When an artist rises to such other-worldly status as the one Willie Nelson enjoys, you’re never really sure when listening to a new album if there’s actually some real substance behind the new music, or if you’re simply so wooed by the legacy and mere sound of the man’s voice that he could sing a shopping list and you’d love it.
America experienced this sensation first hand during the Super Bowl this year when Willie’s signature warble showed up in a random Chipotle commercial. It was Coldplay’s song “The Scientist” Willie was singing? Who cares, it was Willie, and we get to relive that moment when that same song caps off his latest record, Heroes.
Popular media has been portraying Heroes as Willie’s pot opus. He initially wanted to call the album “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” for the album’s second track featuring Snoop Dogg among other guests. I’ve said my peace about how I hope Willie Nelson’s legacy is remembered for more than marijuana, but as a song, the “Roll Me Up” title track runner-up is a really fun, witty vintage Willie song. But let’s not bury the lead here about the best thing Heroes has to offer, which is a full scale collaboration between Willie and his singularly-talented son Lukas Nelson, who appears so much on this album, he really should get his name in small type somewhere on the front cover.
As I said in my review of Lukas’s latest album, he is the offspring most rich with Willie blood, with top-shelf guitar playing abilities all his own to boot. If you want to know what a rock & roll version of Willie would be, look to Lukas. Close your eyes when Lukas is singing, and you can almost see Willie, with Lukas’s natural, high-register tone, and perfect pitch and control that doesn’t ape Willie, but evokes his memory. You put these two men together in a song, and it’s a country music audiophile’s orgasm. It is a super-pairing employing skill, legacy, and a cross-generational storyline into a sublime musical experience.
But the Willie/Lukas collaboration is not by far where Heroes stops giving. From a songwriting perspective, this album has some amazing compositions, from the eloquent to the witty, from writers as far ranging as Eddie Vedder, Fred Rose and Bob Wills, to Tom Waits. Once again Lukas shows up prominently in the songwriter notes, contributing three songs himself.
Some have said this album lacks focus. I say it scores points for variety and freshness. From the heart-wrenching songs of love sung by the Lukas/Willie pairing like “The Sound of Your Memory” to the fun, yet poignant and uplifting “Come On Back Jesus (and pick up John Wayne on the way)”, the album touches on all the moods you want to hear from Willie. I’m so glad they decided to roll with with the Heroes title for this release; a much more classy choice that gives an extra shout out to Billy Joe Shaver in the only song Willie wrote by himself on the album.
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. Lukas, Jamey Johnson a couple of times, Kris Kristofferson, Snoop Dogg, Merle Haggard, Ray Price, Billy Joe Shaver, Willie’s other son Micah, the omnipresent and overexposed Sheryl Crow, they all appear, and this doesn’t even mention all the musicians. Sure, many of these names we love, but there’s too many of them, diverting focus from any one pairing or performance. At times in this album you want to clear the room and just hear Willie, for the same reasons he can single-handedly make a Coldplay song sound like a masterpiece (the Coldplay song is the only one on the album where Willie rides solo).
It’s Willie’s nature to invite anyone and everyone into the process, and his big heart is one of the reasons why we love him so. But at some point you reach a limit with collaboration, especially since Willie likes to sing in such an unusual, off-tempo pentameter that makes him not the best duet partner, and because this album is in no way presented as a “duets” release. I love the cover of Heroes though. Willie’s inspiring and calming countenance speaks countless words and stories, and the plaintive cover allows his visage to speak for itself without interruption or embellishment. It recollects to the etching on the front of his magnum opus Red Headed Stranger.
This album is good both because it is Willie, and because it is good. After years of navigating through a gray area in his career and having to dabble with some record labels probably less able to do a Willie release justice, he’s back with the same company who released Red Headed Stranger, and back to making albums worthy of the world stopping down to pay attention to.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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Eric Church has been stirring the pot quite a bit lately, calling out Blake Shelton & Miranda Lambert amongst others in a recent Rolling Stone article for their reality show past, before issuing an apology that was curiously devoid of an apology to Blake Shelton, the main protagonist of Church’s criticisms.
Now as Church continues to make the media rounds in support of his current tour with Brantley Gilbert, he stopped to talk to American Songwriter where the topic of being an “Outlaw” came up. Church is regularly lumped with the crop of “new Outlaws” that can include people as varying as Justin More and Gretchen Wilson, to Jamey Johnson.
Justin Moore famously proclaimed himself an “Outlaw” on his album Outlaws Like Me, to the chagrin of many. But Eric has been smart heretofore of straddling the Outlaw line, allowing others to use the term when referring to him, but stopping short of using the term on himself to be insulated from any backlash. For example, at the CMA awards in November, Brad Paisley introduced Eric as “country’s latest Outlaw” before his performance.
These award shows are so choreographed and exquisitely planned, it is ridiculous to think that Church’s management was not at least briefed on how he would be introduced. Church has certainly never refuted that term when it has been used to describe him. Until now:
American Songwriter: People have been calling you an outlaw. Is that an image you’ve tried to create for yourself?
Eric Church: Oh god. No! Not at all. I think we get thrown into that category because of our career path. For a long time, it wasn’t cool to play the kind of music we did. It wasn’t cool to talk about what we talked about. We were pariahs, and when we got fired from the Rascal Flatts tour, we were troublemakers. I think that’s where the outlaw name comes from, but I prefer to think there’s already been an outlaw movement, and I think we can leave it at that. I’m not into branding what we do, because that just sensationalizes things, when it should be about the music.
Yet as one Saving Country Music reader named Chris easily sniffed out, a quick check of Eric Church’s website finds a whole page dedicated to “Outlaw” branding, with “a brand new “Outlaw T-Shirt” now available for sale in the online store, which features Eric’s signature Skull logo. Be one of the first to own it!”
Ouch. Sucks to miss that one. And these products were added in July 2011, so there no back pedal of saying there was a breakdown in communication with his merch store.
But in classic Eric Church fashion, he keeps open the idea of plausible deniability by not directly calling himself an “Outlaw”. Or as I’ve said before Eric Church Wants It Both Ways.
Meanwhile the beautiful “Outlaw” term and how it pertains to country music continues to be besmirched where even the most loyal “Outlaw” fans want to take the term behind the barn and put it out of its misery like an old dog with cataracts and arthritis in its legs and a tumor the size of a tennis ball clogging its airway.
It’s a shame, because when it comes to country radio, there is much worse than Eric Church. But his continuing missteps and insistence on image, Outlaw or otherwise, continues to make him very hard to like.
Here in 2012, we live in a wickedly polarized environment, especially with the United States being in an election cycle. There seems to be very little that is gray. Either someone is saving the world, or you’re stenciling a Hitler mustache on them and posting it to Facebook. A musical parallel to this was illustrated when Jason Isbell blamed Dierks Bentley for ripping off his song “In A Razor Town”. The fervor quickly became political on Isbell’s side, with the former Drive By Trucker lumping Dierks in with all of country music’s pop-oriented fare, even going as far as saying he hopes that people that come to the defense of Dierks “don’t vote” through his Twitter feed.
Certainly a little perspective seems to be called for. Though I happen to agree that Isbell has a great case for “In A Razor Town” being ripped off by Dierks’ “Home”, the assailant is likely not Dierks, but the other songwriter Dan Wilson. Furthermore, lumping Dierks with the Justin Moore’s and Rascal Flatts’ of the world and calling him a “douche” makes Isbell come across as bitter, and more importantly, uninformed. Trust me, I’ve called many a pop country star a “douche” over the years, but I have also gone out of my way to say it is important to draw distinctions when talking about pop country stars.
And that’s what leads us to Dierks Beltley’s Up On The Ridge from the summer of 2010, an album I’ve been asked to review many times, because despite the “where” and the “who” it came from, shows remarkable heart, progressiveness, and independence.
When I’ve given positive reviews to some mainstream country albums, many times I’ve had to gerrymander the system to factor in that they were made under the very obtrusive and controlling Music Row environment in Nashville. The elements of safety and formula go without saying for these types of albums. But Up On The Ridge doesn’t have that feel. If anything, it feels like it originated from the alt-country or Americana world, with a lot of progressiveness, and a “clean” aspect more indicative of play for the NPR demographic than mainstream radio.
The idea is that this is a “bluegrass” album, but Flatt & Scruggs fans shouldn’t get their hopes up too much. Though there is some straight up bluegrass here like the song “Rovin’ Gambler”, most of the music is more of a progressive take on bluegrass, incorporating drums for example. Nonetheless, it is fervently true to it’s concept, and to a fresh approach. There’s virtually no electric instruments on the album. That in itself is supremely bold for modern-day Music Row fare.
This album started off as a side project that grew into something more, and with the tremendous amount of collaboration in it, that can be seen. The Punch Brothers and Chris Thile appear numerous times. Del McCoury, Rob McCoury, Ronnie McCoury, Kris Kristofferson, Alison Krauss, Sam Bush, Miranda Lambert and Jamey Johnson are some of the other names that might get you excited just by seeing the list of contributors. This album is very much a collaborative effort. Though Bentley is not given sole songwriting credit on any song, he’s given some credit on all of the album’s standout tracks, including “Up On The Ridge”, “Rovin’ Gambler”, “Draw Me A Map”, “You’re Dead To Me”, and “Down In The Mine”.
Instead of taking a myopic view on one bluegrass approach, Up On The Ridge takes a world view and attempts to hit on most aspects; more a bluegrass primer, meant for the unfamiliarized masses than the devotees of the sub-genre, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Because of this approach, I sense there might be some cherry picking of it’s tracks contingent on listener’s tastes, but this also means this album has a lot of spice and keeps the ear attentive, and makes you appreciate the different styles even if they’re not normally your flavor. Dierks bluegrass take of U2′s “Pride (In The Name Of Love)” with Del and The Punch Brothers is something I’d probably not be up for normally, but the way the song illustrates the parallels between bluegrass and classical composition is brilliant.
“Down In The Mine” has the essence of an Old Crow Medicine Show song, with it’s overt message and language. “Draw Me A Map” feels like the Alison Krauss-style of bluegrass: mainstream sensibilities without compromising a tie to the roots. Only two songs on this album felt like they didn’t work: a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)” that wasn’t necessarily awful as much as it was out of place, and the Miranda and Jamey collaboration “Bad Angel”. If there is a play for commercial appeal on this album, this song is it.
Is this a great bluegrass album? Of course not. But a great bluegrass album would also not be a vehicle to introduce a generation of people to Del McCoury, Kris Kristofferson, and bluegrass music in general. Is it the album that Dierks set out to make without commercial consideration or label meddling? I kind of think it is, and it’s moderate sales seem to reflect that.
Being a hardcore Dierks fan of any stripe might be a little maddening. If you’re a fan of pop country, you might see a project like this and wrinkle your nose at it, while if you love this album, the potentially-Isbell ripped-off song “Home” may make you feel betrayed or embarrassed. I don’t know if to characterize it as a balance or a war, but Dierks’ career has been a tale of commercial appeal and artistic concerns all intertwined. The greater lesson is that it is rarely fair to pigeon hole an artist or their music against a polarized ideal. It would not be fair to Jason Isbell, and it is not fair to Dierks. Up On The Ridge proves that.
1 1/2 of 2 guns up.
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The 2011 installment of the CMA Awards is coming up in a week, and with a series of articles, we’ll be getting you ready for the biggest night in country music how only Saving Country Music can: with wildly-opinionated, ultra-idealistic bitch rants bordering on narcissistic rage. And where I think I’ll start is with the question:
Where in the hell is Jamey Johnson in the Album of the Year nominees?
Now look, let me level with you. I am not the biggest Jamey Johnson fan, and I have been vocal about that here over the last year or so. But I am also not against Jamey Johnson. I do think he is the real deal, and an honest, talented songwriter, and the best thing that mainstream country music has going for it. He just may not be the most natural or engaging entertainer. Some find that endearing about him, and I can’t blame them for that.
But even someone who is tepid on Jamey can see that The Guitar Song deserved a CMA nomination for best album. Of course it wasn’t going to win; that is not the point. The point is that if mainstream country music is going to accept Jamey Johnson into the fold, then they needed to recognize that this double album was his opus, his best shot, his marquee release, laying it all out. If they are going to use Jamey to say, “Look, we do have traditional artists that we accept and promote,” then they need to follow through with it. Many artists only have one marquee release like this in their lifetime. This may have been Johnson’s only chance at a CMA Album of the Year nomination, and the powers that be blew it.
And it isn’t like The Guitar Song is anchored down by obscurity. I have never seen such a positive consensus from country music critics about a modern album than what I saw for The Guitar Song, and that takes into consideration that my review was mixed. But it wasn’t just a critic’s favorite either. The Guitar Song was certified gold back in February, and has had steady sales since. And doesn’t his co-headlining tour with Willie Nelson on the Country Throwdown this summer count for anything?
But before the conspiracy theories start flying, there are a couple of very legitimate reasons The Guitar Song was not nominated, the first being timing. Being released in September of 2010, it was released too late to be considered for a 2010 nomination, yet it’s been over a year since the release. As the system works, it still should have been considered with the same weight as all the other albums from that period, but I think some “out of sight, out of mind” was in play here, that might have been helped if The Guitar Song was receiving more continuous air play or stronger sales than it has been.
And speaking of sales, that leads to the second reason, and probably the real reason Jamey got the snub: Jason Aldean. The massive, unpredicted success of Aldean’s album My Kinda Party completely disrupted order in the nominations, and is likely the culprit for Jamey getting knocked out. Aldean’s dominance of the nominations, and how he is poised to sweep the awards will be a theme throughout these Saving Country Music CMA previews.
I’m sure if asked, Jamey would say he doesn’t care about these awards with his common “aw shucks” attitude, and whether Jamey is telling the truth or not, country fans should care, because either Jamey Johnson is a legitimate A-list country music entertainer, or the country establishment needs to stop parading him around as one to answer criticism from traditionalist fans.
One of the standouts in 2011 so far has been Bloomington, Indiana-based singer/songwriter Austin Lucas, and his album A New Home in the Old World. And apparently this isn’t just my opinion, as Austin was able to land on this summer’s Country Throwdown tour’s exclusive lineup.
On July 4th, the Country Throwdown and Willie Nelson’s long-running 4th of July Picnic’s collided in Ft. Worth, TX’s historic stockyards at Billy Bob’s Texas. Of all the amazing talent amassed on that historic day, at the top of my list for folks to interview was Austin. He was kind enough to sit down with me for about a hour to discuss his experience on the Country Throwdown and touring with Willie Nelson, how he got into country music after starting in the punk/metal scene, the business of songwriting, and how his goals are measured and focused on the art of songwriting first, above his own popularity.
Find the full audio of out interview below, and the big points of the interview are transcribed below as well. Austin will also be on tour later this summer and into fall, including some dates with Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, so check at the very bottom for those dates.
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Triggerman: How’s the Country Throwdown tour been, and how did you get on it?
Austin Lucas: It wasn’t a shock to me to be on the Country Throwdown because my booking agent had said it was very probable to be on the tour. The shock for me was because last year the headliner was Montgomery Gentry, and this year Willie Nelson was the headliner. I mean how many opportunities does a person like me, especially from a totally far off distance scene but of course has been a Willie Nelson fan his entire life, get the opportunity to tour with Willie Nelson, an American Icon? I’ve told people that I peaked on this tour. I don’t know that I’ll ever do something as great as standing on stage with Willie Nelson. I’ve sang with him many times on this tour. At the end of the show we all get up on stage and do gospel. I’ve done it exactly six times, not that I’m counting (laughing).
Triggerman: You’re not out here with a band. What they’re doing to showcase the up-and-comers is these Nashville Rounds where you’re with other songwriters. How’s that been as an experience, not just as a songwriter, but as a performer?
Austin Lucas: Most of the people on this tour are not performers, they’re Nashville writers. Of course some of them are artists, but the focus of their career thus far has been to write hits for people. And I’m the only one that doesn’t live in Nashville. So what’s cool about this tour is people are like, “Oh, so you live in Nashville?” and I’m like “No, I’m from the Midwest”. I’m from southern Indiana and honestly the common people there believe themselves to be from the South. But geographically speaking, I’m definitely an outsider.
Triggerman: When it comes to the underground country scene, it seems like there’s a lot of bands coming from the Midwest and Upper Midwest, and I’ve always wondered why that is. There is a lot of great Southern bands as well. Some people think I have a conspiracy against Southern bands because I’m always covering people from Indiana, or Michigan, or Minnesota.
Austin Lucas: The potential reasoning for that could be, and it’s really unfortunate, but Southern culture has been so substantially mined for stereotypes, and exploited. Everybody expects certain things from Southern bands. Obviously not all Southern bands provide that thing that they’re looking for. A lot of the markets there are looking for a certain thing.There’s still a lot of radio hanging around, so there’s a lot of effort to produce hits. Like whereas when you’re coming from Indiana, you’re not trying to produce hits, you’re just trying to make a record and write songs. There’s no hope for us to have hits, so we write the songs that we want, and play music for us.
Triggerman: You said before that you’ve been touring for 15 years, and you’ve been working for 5 years on this project specifically. Where did you come from? Explain in brief your music career, where you first picked up a guitar, and are now sharing a stage with Willie Nelson.
Austin Lucas: I started with my dad as a very small child, making music with him. I didn’t get serious about it until I was 12 or 13 years old, and that was playing in punk bands. I ruined my voice singing in punk bands and then later metal bands. I was in that scene very deeply, I still am actually and I still do tours, like my band Guided Cradle, were on hiatus right now technically. The guitar player also plays in a band called Hellshock which is a very famous band in our scene. We’re just waiting to get the steam to do something else. But basically in 2000 I was singing in a band called Rune, which is a grindcore band that was on Relapse Records, and I just kind of stopped doing it and stated playing acoustic music. So I’ve actually been at this project for 11 years, but it took me 5 years before I got my voice back.
Triggerman: What was the inspiration for going to acoustic music?
Austin Lucas: For me, it was really hinged on the fact that I was really tired of only hearing that type of music, the metal and punk and stuff. I lived in a house with the other guys from Rune, and literally all they played was Morbid Angel and all these really heavy bands. I just woke up one day and was like “I’m over it.” I didn’t want to hear it anymore, and so I stopped wanting to play it as much. I still do play it and I love playing it, it is a part of myself that’s very intrinsic for my soul. But I didn’t want to focus on it anymore. I wanted melody and songwriting. So all the country and bluegrass that I’d been hearing for my whole life basically, I just started trying to write like that. And honestly, Bloomington, Indiana is a big indie rock town, and there was a songwriter Jason Molina of the Magnolia Electric Company, and some of his records were the biggest influence on me. I saw him play for the first time in 2001, and it literally changed my world. He was so dark and evil, but at the same time so beautiful, and that is what I wanted. My last record had two guys from Magnolia Electric Company on it.
Triggerman: You’re in the beginning tier of the Country Throwdown tour in these Nashville rounds. You’ve told me you like to set the bar low and that you might have hit your peak. Could you see yourself in the Lee Brice or Jamey Johnson role on this tour in the future? Or do you even desire that?
Austin Lucas: That’s actually a difficult question to answer. My booking agent came to one of the shows and said we should look into getting you out with these guys and I told him, “Don’t get me wrong, I love these guys, but I don’t think I want this.” I would love to go on tour again with Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, Jamey Johnson, but I just don’t want to ever be in a position where a record label is telling me what to do. And honestly, I don’t want to ever walk into a mall and have anyone freak out. Let’s put it like this: If I could put myself in the place in my career where I could put out my Red Headed Stranger, and have it be the amount of success that it was, and get the attention and garner the type of following Willie was able to garner, which was a very open-minded segment of country music, then I would be interested in it. (But) I don’t know that I want to be as famous as Willie Nelson ever was.
Triggerman: When you first started describing your music to me, you mentioned Americana. Do you feel like that’s your niche or where you feel more comfortable?
Austin Lucas: I feel more kinship with Americana artists, or what people call “Americana” artists. If I could pick one singer/songwriter I’d like to go on tour with, I would say Gillian Welch. I feel a little bit more in touch with that kind of scene that really cares about songs.
Triggerman: Anything else you want to add?
Austin Lucas: I’m going to be going on tour soon, and I hope people add me on Facebook, ReverbNation, MySpace and Twitter. If you add me, then you’ll know what I do. And I need you to know what I do because I need you to come and see me play. Because honestly, if you don’t come out and see me play, then I can’t keep coming out and doing it.
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August 20, Columbus, OH @ Rumba cafe
August 21, Groten, NY TBA
August 22, Boston, MA @ Great Scott
August 23, Brooklyn, NY @ Union Hall
August 24, Asbury Park, NJ @ Asbury Lanes
August 25, Washington DC @ the Black Cat (backstage)
August 26, Shepardstown, WV @ Blue Moon Cafe
August 27, Durham, NC @ Motorco Music Hall
August 28, Charleston, SC @ the Tin Roof
August 29, Charlotte, NC @ the Milestone Club
August 30, Atlanta, GA @ 529 Club
August 31, Opelika, AL @ Eighth and Rail
September 2, Oxford, MS @ Blind Pig
September 3, Little Rock, AK @ the White Water Tavern TWO COW GARAGE 10th anniversary party!!!
w/ Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band
Sun/Sep-11 Colorado Springs, CO @ Black Sheep
Wed/Sep-14 Denver, CO @ Bluebird Theatre
*Fri/Sep-16 Missoula, MT @ The Badlander (AL&tBP Headline show)
Sat/Sep-17 Salt Lake City, UT @ The State Room
Mon/Sep-19 Seattle, WA @ Tractor Tavern
Tue/Sep-20 Portland, OR @ Dantes
Thu/Sep-22 San Francisco, CA @ Bottom of the Hill
Fri/Sep-23 Hermosa Beach, CA @ Saint Rocke
Sat/Sep-24 Los Angeles, CA @ The Mint
Mon/Sep-26 San Diego, CA @ Soda Bar
Tue/Sep-27 Tempe, AZ @ The Sail Inn
Wed/Sep-28 Albuquerque, NM @ Low Spirits
Fri/Sep-30 Austin, TX @ Emos
Sun/Oct-02 Dallas, TX @ House of Blues – Cambridge Room
Tue/Oct-04 St. Louis, MO @ Cicero’s
Wed/Oct-05 Carbondale, IL @ The Hangar
*/Oct-06 Normal, IL @ Firehouse Pizza & Pub (AL&tBP Headline show)
Fri/Oct-07 Springfield, IL @ Marly’s
Tue/Oct-11 Nashville, TN @ Exit/In
Yesterday I was fortunate enough to attend the most talent-rich event I have ever been to, as the convergence of Willie Nelson’s 38th Annual 4th of July Picnic met up with the finale of this year’s Willie Nelson Country Throwdown tour at the largest honky tonk in the world, Billy Bob’s Texas, in the historic Ft. Worth stockyards.
I will have many observations about the specific bands and artists below, but aside from a few hiccups, I grade the whole thing two guns up for sure. Holding what is supposed to be a picnic in a giant honky tonk may not be in the spirit of the event, but on a 100+ degree day, giving folks the ability to take a respite from the heat inside made for a much more enjoyable day of music that stretched to over 12 hours from David Allan Coe’s downbeat to Willie’s encore.
Nepotism was nigh at the picnic, as Willie’s family all got choice spots on the air-conditioned inside stage during the day, and the legends like Coe, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and Billy Joe Shaver had to brave the heat. But many folks braved it with them, and all performers gave it their all.
One bit of drama came from some folks being disappointed after the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram newspaper posted Leon Russell as one of the top five acts to see, when he was not scheduled to be there. Also rumors swirled that Merle Haggard was the “special guest” on the schedule. He likely was at some point, but might have canceled due to illness.
Below are my reviews of the acts I caught.
Amy Nelson & Folk Uke
Knowing I had a dozen hours of music ahead of me, I arrived at the picnic fashionably late, missing David Allan Coe (who I can see anytime living in Texas), Johnny Bush, and Drake White, but just in time to see Any Nelson and her lilting, eepish, yet extremely raunchy folk duo with Cathie Guthrie (daughter of Arlo Guthrie) called Folk Uke. Songs like “Motherfucker Got Fucked Up” and “I Miss My Boyfriend (Will You Hit Me?)” contrast nursery-rhyme music with adult-themed content in a very original approach. It’s a bit, but a good one. As they finished with the latter song, I literally saw three pairs of mothers with children clasped at the ears heading for exits.
Brantley Gilbert & Lee Brice
I swear up to Brantley Gilbert walking on stage I thought he was a girl. I vote for no more asexual names in country music. His backwards-hat bravado and canned checklist lyrics were not my bag at all. Probably didn’t help his chances that he co-penned “Dirt Road Anthem” with Colt Ford, but giving him an honest try, I didn’t find much.
Unlike Brantley, Lee Brice came across as a genuinely good guy, and his songwriting prowess is undeniable. He’s penned mega hits like “Beautiful Every Time” and “Love Like Crazy” that are not really my speed, but are not the objectionable Music Row formulaic fare either.
Lukas Nelson & The Power of the Real
After Brantley and Brice’s outside shows, I headed inside for Lukas Nelson & The Power of the Real. As simple as you can put it, Lukas Nelson stole the show that day. He was the highlight of the Willie Nelson 4th Picnic/Country Throwdown mixer, and in many ways the event felt like a coming out party for him. He is a talent all his own, not just carrying on the family business, though he might be the best poised to. Tremendous energy, a spectacular guitar player, and a sincere passion for music and performance. Willie’s roots are deep in him, and when he sings in the high register, it carries memories of Willie’s vocal tone in his prime. His psychedelic and roots-inspired rock is deeply infectious and universally appealing.
Lukas also played the entire sets with Jamey Johnson and Willie, and offered a spark to both. I think we will be hearing from him much more in the future, or at least we should, and I will be searching out his latest album for review. He should learn to work some subtlety into his pot anthems though. Power of the Real is an awesome lineup of talent as well. Two guns way up for Lukas.
Billy Joe Shaver & Ray Wylie Hubbard
I can’t think of two guys to better illustrate how older country music legends can still have universal and even young appeal, and I saw this in the reaction of the crowd to both Billy Joe and Ray.
Billy Joe Shaver was and is the first punk of country music, and still brings a tremendous amount of energy and spunk to his show. Shaver was favoring the right shoulder that kept him away from touring for a while, but he was still punching and dancing, and brought the same amount of energy as he did the last time I saw him two years ago. Also have to give him props for referencing Cowboy Troy’s big black cell phone on stage. Shaver got some of the biggest crowd reactions all day.
Though I’ve seen Ray Wylie Hubbard a few times live, this was my first opportunity to see him with a fully fleshed-out band that included his perennial drummer Rick Richards on a full set, studio maestro George Reiff on bass, and Hubbard’s son Lucas on lead guitar. Once again Ray proved why he’s the Wylie Lama of Texas, putting on an excellent roots-infused rock n’ roll show full of fresh and relevant material. Hubbard also can’t be overlooked as a showman and storyteller. Flanked on all sides of the stage by Bud Light signage, he was savvy enough to swap a Coors reference in “Drunken Poet’s Dream” to the on site sponsor.
There were 3 big surprises that I took from the whole event, and #3 was the younger Lucas Hubbard. He didn’t put on a dexterity clinic, but in regards to taste, his guitar solos were something many of the other overplaying guitar slingers of the day could have learned from.
Austin Lucas & Caitlyn Smith
One of the cool parts about The Country Throwdown tour is that it showcases some of the up-and-coming, young songwriters in what they call “Nashville Round” sessions. Austin Lucas, whose latest album A New Home, In The Old World is a Saving Country Music Album of the Year candidate, was featured in one of these picking sessions. This is a very demanding environment for a musician, leaving you out there naked with only a guitar. Austin won the crowd over with his energy and his honest songwriting. This video will give you a glimpse into these Country Throwdown rounds:
The other highlight from the one Nashville round session I caught was Caitlyn Smith. She would be my #2 surprise of the day. Caitlyn had the best voice of the whole event, and well-penned songs to compliment that voice, as well as dynamic and energetic guitar playing. Beautiful girl, and certainly one to watch. And hey, she has a cut on the new Jason Aldean record! Yes, Aldean’s tentacles are were all over the Country Throwdown portions of the day.
What more can you say about Ray Price than that he is the utmost of class, and a true tie and testament to the golden era of country music. With a 5-piece fiddle section all dressed in white and a grand piano, Ray’s performance legitimized the whole event as a true extension of all of the modes of country music, not just the cowboys meet the hippies, or the new school Nashville songwriting crop. Of course not the heart pumping experience of the other bands, but his style and authenticity still won over the crowd, and he received some of the loudest applause all day.
Listen folks, I know that Jamey Johnson is a polarizing figure, and I know no matter what I say about him, good or bad, will cause a strong reaction. But you come here for my opinions, raw and unfettered, and I do my best to be as honest as I can be with you. Jamey Johnson was my #1 most anticipated person to see that day, and trust me, I wanted to like him. The guy is an excellent songwriter, there is no denying that. I think he is a class act. I do not think he’s “sold out” or doing one of these “new Outlaw” bits to monopolize on a trend. But the simple truth is I simply found his set boring, and I feel confident in saying I wasn’t the only one.
Most performers put out some bit of energy. You don’t have to be like Lukas Nelson, diving off the drum riser. Waylon Jennings and Whitey Morgan are excellent examples of emitting energy and stage presence without acting a fool or moving around. Jamey Johnson not only doesn’t put any energy out, he is an energy drain. His stage presence is somewhere between unanimated and disinterested.
Every song was slow and droning. He began almost every song with a quiet, acoustic solo and low singing that you could barely hear over the distracted crowd talking amongst themselves. He had a percussionist in his band to add emphasis, but it seemed out of place, and his steel guitar leads sounded like Stratocaster, with little twang or sustain. The way Jamey flicks at his guitar with the pick is visually distracting, like he’s trying to depose a bugger from his baby finger.
I don’t know what else to say except I would take any other performance that day over Jamey’s. Parts of the crowd seemed to respect him for his songwriting skins, but there was no passion there, at all. I just don’t know what else to say.
What else can you say about Willie Nelson, except that he’s Willie Nelson. He appeared to be fighting off a cold, sniffling and blowing his nose at times on stage, but he brought it as big as ever, taking mere seconds between songs if that, and playing longer than he needed to. The “Family Band” was all there, sister on piano, Mickey Raphael on harp, Bee Spears on bass, and Paul English, having suffered a mild stroke recently, would come out and play brush snare during the slower songs. Lukas Nelson and Ray Benson were on stage for the whole set, and Micah Nelson and elements of Promise of the Real made appearances on and off as well.
At one point all the Country Throwdown performers came out on stage for a gospel medley, and it was one of the highlights of the night.
When Warped Tour organizers announced they were putting on a country tour, I admittedly was a little suspicious, wondering aloud about the viability of the idea, and just how much true underground/independent/up-and-coming artists would be emphasized. Some of my fears were realized last year when the tour was forced to cancel shows, including the Dallas stop I was planning to attend. The word is attendance has been OK this year, but under expectations.
The songwriters rounds are good, but I would like to see a little more emphasis on finding those amazing bands in country that are flying under the radar, and outside of the Nashville corridor, and giving them a chance beside the bigger talent. What I will say for the Throwdown that can’t be overlooked, is that all the participants are songwriters first, every one of them, even Brantley Gilbert. That’s seems to be their niche, at least for this year, and that in itself is commendable.
During yesterday’s raid of Osama Bin Laden’s compound, numerous documents, computers, hard drives, etc. were confiscated from Bin Laden’s personal quarters. Slowly, US intelligence officials are sifting through the new data looking for leads about what is left of Al Queda’s command and control structure. During the process, the CIA discovered one very curious bit of information that it leaked exclusively to Saving Country Music: that Osama Bin Laden believed American pop country star Taylor Swift’s recent country hit “Mean”, which has caused months of speculation of who it is about, was indeed about him.
Bin Laden made the claims to a local Pakistani cultural writer who had been studying the effects of Western music on the local Pakistani nightlife. The CIA obtained a correspondence between Bin Laden and this reporter, where he pleaded his case.
Of course it’s about me. Duh, It’s called “Mean” and I’m freaking Osama Bin Laden, leader of Al Queda. I’ve blown up buildings and shit, killed thousands of people. You can’t get any meaner than that!
Apparently Bin Laden was a big fan of American country music, and a staunch purist of the genre.
What, you think that Jamey Johnson and I have the same beard on accident? Gray highlights and all? Please. This pop country crap is infecting country music like infidels are infecting the Holy Land, and Taylor Swift is the worst! She’s got a voice only Allah could love. Somebody needs to take a burqa and shove it down her pie hole! I’d rather listen to a camel giving birth than that racket. Give me the good stuff, some old Waylon, or some Hank . . . one, two, or three!
And what’s up with these “New Outlaws”? Let me tell you, you’re no Outlaw until you’ve been eating rocks in Tora Bora as Uncle Sam lobs handfuls of bunker busting bombs at your ass like they’re Jolly Ranchers at a 4th of July parade. The worst thing to ever happen to Justin Moore and Eric Church is the shitter on their tour bus backing up. Greenhorns.
And Bin Laden had some opinions about the other potential candidates for the subject of “Mean.”
I have a lot of respect for Bob Lefsetz. Really, I do. I’ve subscribed to his Lefsetz Letter for years, and even missed a dialysis session right after 9/11 so I could make sure to secure the latest copy. But let’s face it, he’s the music equivalent of an ambulance chaser, and though he’s sneaky about it, he’s an attention whore. And as for The Triggerman? The dude is the biggest music elitist I’ve ever seen, and that means A LOT coming from me. That self-absorbed, arrogant prick only wishes “Mean” was about him to inflate his already bloated ego. But sorry “Trig”, the song is about me. I already confirmed it with Taylor. We’re friends on Facebook.
Jamey Johnson’s beard could not be reached for comment.
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