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If you need any more proof that corporate country music has become so milktoast that the backlash against its homogenized format and fashion plate stars has become an indelible and easily-identifiable element of American culture, then look no further than the recent blockbuster video game Grand Theft Auto 5 from Rockstar Games. Featured in the third-person, open world game that shattered industry sales records by earning $800 million in the first 24 hours and $1 billion in the first three days is a radio station called “Rebel Radio” that is described as playing classic Outlaw country that “reminds listeners that corporate country sucks.” The station’s tagline is “Because country has gone sissy.”
Rebel Radio is hosted by The Dancing Outlaw Jesco White, made famous from the Dancing Outlaw movie first shown on PBS, and his subsequent appearances in various documentaries, including most recently The Wild & Wonderful Whites of West Virginia. The soundtrack for Rebel Radio includes Johnny Paycheck, Waylon Jennings, Hank Thompson, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Hasil Adkins among others (see full playlist below).
Illustrating the great care for detail game makers go through these days, Rebel Radio has its own logo, and even has its own location in the game in the Grand Senora Desert in Blaine County on a hill near the Redwoods Lights Motorcross Track. 13 total minutes of Jesco White commentary are mixed in with the 11-song soundtrack to give players the feel of listening to a real radio station, and Jesco even makes an appearance in the game as a “hidden Easter Egg” doing his famous Outlaw tap dancing routine.
Grand Theft Auto 5′s use of radio stations speaks to the opening of new outlets for music as traditional radio continues to narrow formats in the face of consolidation at the hands of big corporations like Clear Channel and Cumulus. Big companies have been buying up stations all across the country, implementing and institutionalizing nationalized programming. Grand Theft Auto 5 boasts a total of 15 different radio stations players can tune into, with over 240 officially licensed songs making up the game’s entire soundtrack. The game is also the first in the series to solicit an original score.
Ivan Pavlovich, the Soundtrack Supervisor for Grand Theft Auto 5, points out that the music licensing for the game is the equivalent to 20 movie soundtracks—a tremendous investment for a video game. Other celebrity DJ’s for the game’s various channels include Bootsy Collins for an 80s funk station, Pam Grier hosting a soul station, and Kenny Loggins for the classic rock station. The soundtrack is also available for sale in multiple volumes.
Grand Theft Auto 5′s Rebel Radio Playlist:
- Ozark Mountain Daredevils – If You Wanna Get To Heaven (1973)
- Hank Thompson – I Don’t Hurt Anymore (1954)
- Johnny Paycheck – It Won’t Be Long (And I’ll Be Hating You) (1968)
- Johnny Cash – General Lee (1982)
- Willie Nelson – Whiskey River (1973)
- Jerry Reed – You Took All The Ramblin’ Out Of Me (1972)
- Charlie Feathers – Can’t Hardly Stand It (1956)
- Waylon Jennings – I Ain’t Living Long Like This (1979)
- Waylon Jennings – Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way (1975)
- C.W. McCall – Convoy (1975)
- Hasil Adkins – Get Out of My Car (1966)
A big battle ground in country music right now is the presence of so many songs about trucks. Everywhere you turn, there is a song being released by a big country music personality that drones on and on about tailgates, Chevy’s, lift kits, mud flaps, etc. etc. Though this recent popularity trend seems especially sinister in its simplistic, incessant nature, it is not necessarily unprecedented in country. From the early 60′s into the mid 70′s, songs about semi-trucks and truck drivers were all the rage, with big names like Merle Haggard, Del Reeves, and Buck Owens getting in on the action, and professional country songwriters writing songs to specifically to capitalize off the trend similar to what is happening in country music today.
The difference of course was many of these classic trucker songs were considered very well-written, with many of them delving into deep issues like death, loneliness, loss of family, etc. Country music’s new crop of truck songs and their respective songwriters and performers could learn a thing or two about storytelling and soul from these traditional country truck driving songwriters and performers.
Maybe the best known of the country trucking crooners, with the most-recognized, most-covered trucking song in “Six Days On The Road,” Dave Dudley is an overlord of the country music truck driving music subset. Holding an honorary solid gold membership card to the Teamsters Union, he broke out with “Six Days On The Road” in 1963 and never looked back. Other great country trucker classics like “Truck Drivin’ Son-Of-A-Gun,” “Trucker’s Prayer,” and “Keep On Truckin’” are also attributed to Dudley, but like many of the old truck singers, he had his standard country hits too. Dave Dudley was actually the first to cut Kris Kristofferson’s song “Viet Nam Blues” that first put Kristofferson on the songwriting map, and Dudley’s only #1 song was the Tom T. Hall-written number “The Pool Shark.” Dudley had hits for over a decade, with his last big single “Me and Ole C.B” peaking at #12 on the charts in 1975.
Red Sovine was known for his trucking songs, but his particular twist was how he would talk in prose instead of singing his songs in rhyming verses. Sovine’s speaking style would have significant influence on the rest of country outside the trucking sub genre, while his trucking songs set the bar for emotional impact and storytelling. Sovine’s #1 “Teddy Bear” is right up there with Dave Dudley’s “Six Days On The Road” as one of the most well-recognized country trucking songs, and Sovine also charted another #1 with “Giddyup Go.” His song “Phantom 309″ wasn’t a huge hit, but it found a new audience when Tom Waits included a live version of it on his album Nighthawks At The Diner. Sovine also had a non-trucking #1 hit in a duet with Webb Pierce in 1955 with the song “Why Baby Why.”
With a patch over his right eye, Dick Curless was considered a throwback even in his own time. He was one of the pioneers of country trucking music, with his first big hit “A Tombstone Every Mile” making an appearance as a top five country hit in 1965. Songs like “Traveling Man,” “Highway Man,” and “Big Wheel Cannonball” established Dick’s persona as a man constantly on the move, and won him a spot on the nationwide Buck Owens All American tour. Like many of country’s trucker song stars, Curless spent a lot of time in California and was signed to Capitol Records, though he was known to frequently go back to his home in Maine to recover from a grueling schedule of touring and performances.
While Red Simpson may have not had the huge hits of his trucker song counterparts, he was also the one most dedicated to the specialized version of country. With only a few exceptions, virtually all of Red Simpson’s songs are about trucking or the highway patrol. He was the trucker songwriter other trucker songwriters listened to, and wrote many trucker hits for other artists. Based out of Bakersfield, he co-wrote songs with Buck Owens, and became a hot commodity when trucker songs became popular. The trucking song “Sam’s Place” that went on to become a #1 for Buck Owens was written by Red, and in 1975, Red landed his own big hit with “I’m A Truck.” At 79, Red is the last of the original country trucker song stars still around. In 1995, he recorded two duets with Junior Brown, “Semi Crazy” and “Nitro Express.” He is still recording, recently doing a duet with underground country artist Bob Wayne, and rumored to have an album called The Bard of Bakersfield in the works.
C.W. McCall got a late start in the trucking genre, joining the second wave of the movement in the mid-70′s. But his contribution was significant, especially with his #1 hit, the trucking song standard and generally epic “Convoy.” The song inspired a movie of the same name that starred Kris Kristofferson in 1978, and McCall was regarded in some circles as the “Outlaw” of the country trucker song performers. “Convoy” became so big, some consider McCall a one hit wonder, but he had numerous successful songs, inside and outside the trucking realm. His first charting single was “Old Home Filler-Up an’ Keep On-a-Truckin’ Cafe,” and he also had a #2 single with “Roses For Mama.” C.W. McCall’s popular career was pretty short, ranging from roughly 1974-1978, but his impact, especially with “Convoy” cannot be understated.
Though Del Reeves is known for contributing much more to the country music genre than just trucking songs, his two significant cuts, the #1 hit “Girl On The Billboard” from 1965, and the top 5 hit “Looking at the World Through a Windshield” from 1968 make Del Reeves and honorary trucking song god if there ever was one, and an important performer in the development of the sub genre. Reeves also put out an album called Trucker’s Paradise in 1973.
…and to an extent their sister band Asleep At The Wheel deserve honorary mention for being inspired and a part of the 70′s-era trucker song revolution, though it is widely considered they were somewhat on the outside looking in. Nonethess, Commander Cody’s second album that consisted mostly of covers called Hot Licks, Cold Steel & Truckers Favorites from 1972 might be one of the most prized albums of the sub genre.
Not really known exclusively as singer of truck driver songs, but his albums The Truckin’ Sessions (1998) and The Truckin’ Session, Vol. 2 certainly deserve mention, with the first one considered by many to be the album that launched Dale’s career. Dale has also been known to drive trucks and his own bus upon occasion.
Another artist not primarily known for trucker songs, but Junior Brown has them scattered throughout his discography, including the title track off of his 1996 album, Semi Crazy. Junior’s signature song “Highway Patrol” rekindles the symbiotic relationship between trucker songs and highway patrol songs first started by Red Simpson, who he recorded two duets with in 1995.
Aaron Tippin may be best known for his more patriotic songs, but he’s peppered trucker songs here and there throughout his career. In 2009, Tippin released an album called In Overdrive that included many truck driving cover songs and closed out with two originals. His truck driving cred is helped by the fact that he was a real-life truck driver before launching his career in country music.
A lesser-known underground country artist, but one who includes trucker songs (usually of a pretty seedy nature) on every one of his albums, including his 2nd album 13 Truckin’ Songs. Bob Wayne recently performed and recorded a duet with Red Simpson after re-discovering him in a Bakersfield trailer park.
Merle Haggard & Buck Owens as part of the Bakersfield Sound both had quite a few big trucker anthems. One of Jerry Reed’s signature songs is “East Bound & Down” from the Smokey & The Bandit movies where he played a trucker. Tom T. Hall wrote and recorded a few trucking songs. And there’s many other artists who’ve recorded more than one trucker song. Who are some of your favorites?
I’ve been saying for years that the greatest untapped sound in country music is groove. There’s a country funk hybrid sound out there somewhere just waiting to be gobbled up by hungry ears eager for that infectious approach.
The past has seen a few dalliances with a funky style of country from a select group of artists, most notably from the Outlaw side of country, including songwriter Larry Jon Wilson who leads off the Outlaw country documentary Heartworn Highways with one such number. Tompall Glaser also tried his hand with a groove-based form of country in 1977 on the album Tompall Glaser & His Outlaw Band. Jerry Reed was also known for bringing a groove to country.
But the first established country artist to really do country funk right was Waylon Jennings in 1974 with the song “Louisiana Women” from his breakout album This Time. Most country songs are based on licks or the waltz beat, but “Louisiana Women” was based on the groove, set by one of Waylon’s signature elements: the two note bass line. It was funky, dirty, sweaty, and swampy, but still undeniably country.
“Louisiana Women” was written by a songwriter from Oklahoma named JJ Cale. Cale was known at first as Johnny Cale, and is known mostly to the world for writing Eric Clapton’s big hits “Cocaine,” “After Midnight,” and helping to create Clapton’s “slowhand” style. But JJ Cale was just as much an influence on the country world as he was rock, bringing a groove style from the other side of the tracks to give country some funky spice.
Beyond Waylon’s “Louisiana Women,” JJ Cale wrote “Call Me The Breeze” and “I Got The Same Old Blues” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. JJ’s song “If You’re Ever In Oklahoma” has been recorded by Cody Canada, and was turned into a bluegrass song by bands like The Hutchinson Brothers and the Yonder Mountain String Band. Many Oklahoma-born and Oklahoma-based artists and bands have JJ Cale’s songwriting and stylistic influences all over their songs, and see him as a father and grandfather of Oklahoma and Red Dirt music.
For someone who wanted to discover JJ Cale’s greatness, a good place to start would be his 1976 album Troubadour. It’s the LP that has possibly his most famous song—the drug/anti-drug anthem “Cocaine”—but it is also the album where Cale really delves into the dirty blues/funk country concept the best, laying down some muddy grooves that cross all borders of taste and genre to simply infect human nerves on the most basic level, making you want to move.
Songs like “Traveling Light,” “Ride Me High,” “Gypsy Man,” and “Let Me Do It To You” are some of the best groove songs you can find in music, while a song like “The Woman That Got Away” remind you that JJ Cale was a top-shelf songwriter, asserting huge influence on his peers.
JJ Cale passed away yesterday evening (7-26-13) from a heart attack. He was 74. His influence on music was great. His influence on country music was unfairly unheralded and understated.
Grammy Award winning Country/Americana artist Rodney Crowell took to his social network feeds late last week to voice his displeasure at the current state of mainstream country music. Crowell, who had 5 consecutive #1 singles off of his 1988 album Diamonds & Dirt, and two top 5 hits off of the follow up Keys to the Highway, has in recent years run more in Americana circles, and also works as a producer.
Ever since country music entered the back door of main stream commerciality—most noticeably in the early sixties—the debate over who possesses the more noble heart, the purists or the popular entertainers has never stopped. (Remember the credibility scare of the late 80′s.) Generally speaking, the purists make the more timeless music.
Pop culture is a disposable culture, therefore it stands to reason that those who want the big bucks and the power are inclined to produce slick and disposable music. I don’t see anything wrong with artists getting rich by pigging out at the trough of poor taste.
For the purists, the Americana Music Association is fighting a good battle to see that the work of, say, Guy Clark, is forever in the back of our minds. Go on ITunes and download a few Doc Boggs tunes. Timeless music is more available than ever.
Crowell moved to Nashville in 1972 where he was discovered by Jerry Reed, and later became friends with fellow songwriter Guy Clark. In 1975 he joined Emmylou Harris’s “Hot Band” for a brief period before releasing his debut solo album in 1978. His latest album, a collaboration with Emmylou Harris called Old Yellow Moon debuted at #4 on the country charts and is nominated for the Americana Music Association’s Album of the Year.
Are you forlorn about what has happened to country music? Then look no further than Amber Digby.
Amber Digby’s gift is being able to hand select classic country songs from the past that never became full-on classics, but should have. And then with her band Midnight Flyer, Amber makes these songs classics by the power of her pure country voice. It’s part album making, part archeology dig, and then she adds a few newer offerings and self-penned songs to the mix for good measure. Helping her along the way is an A-list cast of contributors that includes duet partners Vince Gill and Randy Lindley, steel guitar player Lloyd Green, and piano playing Hall of Famer Hargus “Pig” Robbins, just to name a few.
It takes a certain amount of courage to make an album like The World You’re Living In–so unapologetically steeped in the traditions of country music, specifically many of the traditions that set Texas country apart from other classic sounds originating further east or west. Making an album that is so blind to trends or trade industry desires, without a care if 98.1 will show courtesy to it in their rotation is a sign of character from Amber and co-producer Justin Trevino. Besides, she’ll get plenty of love from the Texas country radio stations that matter. Amber Digby’s country music pedigree runs deep, instilling in her the inability to compromise. Her mother, father, and many other members of her immediate family were professional musicians, and an album like this only gets made when a sincere passion for the roots of country is ever-present.
The way to pull off making a successful classic country album these days is to make sure to include the right amount of spice. Amber Digby and company do this and show wisdom on The World You’re Living In in both the song selection and the style of approach for each track. They start with a breadth of material that goes from country Outlaw Johnny Paycheck’s “It Won’t Be Long (And I’ll Be Hating You)” all the way to the classic country pop of Lynn Anderson’s “How Can I Unlove You.” Throughout is a cohesion built from an insistence to build out from the fiddle/steel guitar/true country sound. Amber’s not afraid to mix it up though, like on her rendition of the Jack Greene/Connie Smith number “If It Ain’t Love (Let’s Leave It Alone)” where the Wah-Wah pedal makes an appearance and revives the late 70′s Jerry Reed funky country feel, keeping the album fresh and delivering one of the work’s funnest tracks.
It’s hard to gloss over the fact that Vince Gill thinks so highly of Amber Digby that he appears on this album in a duet of The Warren Brothers’ “The One I Can’t Live Without.” The two met backstage at The Grand Ole Opry when Amber introduced herself as a fawning fan, and was floored to find out Vince was a big fan of her. They ended up writing “One More Thing I’d Wished I’d Said” together– a track that appears on this album and Gill’s Guitar Slinger.
As with all classic country albums, you must preface it by saying that it’s probably not for everyone. But the world we’re living in would sound a lot better if The World You’re Living In was the industry standard for what country music was supposed to be.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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2012 was a high profile year for Halls of Fame. From the kilted screecher Axl Rose pulling like a Sex Pistol and telling the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to kiss off, to the Baseball Hall of Fame not inducting a single member as the steroid era falls like a shadow on the eligibility timeline. Similarly to baseball’s Hall of Fame, and in polar opposite of its rock & roll counterpart, the Country Music Hall of Fame has kept its legitimacy and honor over the years by being an exclusive get.
The Country Music Hall of Fame inductees are selected through a committee process appointed by the CMA. Since 2010, the selection process has been split up into three categories. 1) Modern Era (eligible for induction 20 years after they first achieve “national prominence”). 2) Veterans Era (eligible for induction 45 years after they first achieve “national prominence”). 3) Non-Performer, Songwriter, and Recording and/or Touring Musician active prior to 1980 (rotates every 3 years). With a musician, Hargus “Pig” Robbins selected in 2012, and songwriter Bobby Braddock selected in 2011, it will be a non performer (ie producer, record executive, journalist, etc.) that will be eligible for induction in 2013.
Since 2001 when there was a whopping 12 inductees, anywhere from 2 to 4 names have been added to country music’s most prestigious list each year. Usually one name from the above mentioned categories makes it per year, but if no name gets enough of a majority vote, a category may not be represented in a given year. Or, if two names get enough votes for a single category, then both may come from that category.
Modern Era Possibilities
Modern era inductees are usually big, high-profile names in the first few years of their eligibility. In 2012 it was Garth Brooks. In 2011 it was Reba McEntire. These are performers who would have risen to prominence between 1968 and 1993.
Alan Jackson – This is the big name this year that could be inducted in his first year of eligibility like Reba and Garth. Jackson would be a solid pick as a pretty strict traditionalist who experienced lots of commercial success and still remains relevant in country today.
Ricky Skaggs – Along with Kenny Rogers, Ricky Skaggs was one of the names that felt right on the bubble of being inducted last year. Skaggs has bookened his career as a mandolin maestro, studying under Bill Monroe and now firmly ensconcing himself as a country music elder. In between then, he had tremendous commercial success in the 80′s when country was searching for its next superstar. This would be another pick that few could argue with.
Kenny Rogers – He must have been only a few votes from induction last year, and it only seems like a matter of time before The Gambler gets in. The month after the 2012 inductees were named, Rogers was named the Hall of Fame’s “Artist in Residence,” possibly signaling that Kenny was close, but not quite there. Some purists may complain that Kenny started in rock and also helped usher in a more pop-influenced era in country, but you will find few who can argue that eventually Rogers doesn’t belong in The Hall.
Hank Williams Jr. – Could also be considered a veteran candidate depending on where you start your timeline, and another man who will be a hall of famer at some point (with 2 CMA Entertainer of the Year awards under his belt). The question is, is this the year? Last year Jr. seemed like a strong possibility, and then a political brushup that cost him his long-standing gig as the singer for Monday Night Football seemed to sour Hank Jr. sentiment with some. With so many eligible names and so few slots, if there’s any little reason to leave a name out until next year, it’s likely to be passed over. Hank Jr. has become a polarizing figure, and the selection committee may look for someone who can build more consensus.
Brooks & Dunn – Brooks & Dunn was a commercial powerhouse whose career is somewhat shadowed by the success of Garth and their strange place as a non-familial country duo. Their first album Brand New Man sold 6 million copies, and they won the CMA for Vocal Duo of the Year every year between 1992 and 2006, except 2000. They’ll be in eventually, but is the list of names in their field still too strong for this to be the year? Their success is not debatable, but did they have the type of influence it takes to be Hall of Famers this early in their eligibility window?
Toby Keith – Officially eligible because his “Should’ve Been A Cowboy” was released in 1993, but it wasn’t until the 2000′s when Keith really became a dominant force in country music, both commercially and influentially. He’s a long shot, but a possibility.
Other possibilities: Ronnie Milsap (saddled by his “crossover” status), The Judds, Randy Travis (bad news year for him), Clint Black (and his disappearing act for the last few years), Tanya Tucker, The Oak Ridge Boys, Crystal Gayle, and Mickey Gilley.
Veterans Era Possibilities
It is much harder to compile a field of candidates in this category because the time period is so wide, and the possibilities are so endless. So instead of trying to name off every possibility, here are some serious contenders, and some interesting names.
Gram Parsons – The push to put Gram into the Hall of Fame has been going on for years, but with a wet finger sticking up in the air, I think this year may be the one that if he’s not fully inducted, there will at least be enough votes for him through the induction process that he will really have to be looked at in coming years as a serious candidate. Influential country writer Chet Flippo featured Gram’s influence in August. What once looked like a ridiculous notion, now seems like a real possibility, and that is a victory for the Gram Parson camp in itself.
Jerry Lee Lewis – Jerry Lee has received a big push this year, and is a definite possibility for induction. He may be held back some since he came from rock & roll, and his antics on The Grand Ole Opry and other places over the years. But his contributions as one of country music’s preeminent piano players cannot be denied. If Elvis is in the Country Hall (and he is), his old Sun Studio’s buddy can’t be that far behind.
Jerry Reed – Such a great ambassador over the years for country music from his work with Smokey & The Bandit to Scooby-Doo, but Jerry Reed should be inducted for his stellar and influential work as both a performer and a musician. There weren’t many better guitar pickers back in the day than Jerry Reed.
Lynn Anderson & Dottie West – Lynn and Dottie are the two ladies that probably lead the field for female veteran inductees. The question with Dottie is if she’s known more as a duet performer. The question with Lynn Anderson is a few DUI arrests over the years. Still, both of these ladies are right on the bubble, and would not be surprising as the 2013 veteran pick.
John Hartford – I admit this is a long shot pick, but I believe he deserves induction. As I said in last year’s prognostications, “The Country Music Hall of Fame works like a timeline as you walk through the displays that weave around the massive archive in the center of the building. As you start from the beginning, each artist and their impact is displayed on a plaque that includes their Hall of Fame induction date. When I came to the John Hartford display on my last visit to The Hall this summer, he was the first to have a display, but no Hall of Fame induction date.”
The Maddox Brothers & Rose – The Maddox Brothers & Rose was a name I’m sure was not on anybody’s radar, until this year. With their prominent place at the very beginning of the Hall of Fame’s current Bakersfield Sound exhibit, it is hard not to see how important their influence was on country music, especially West Coast country, and the flashy dress of country performers that still influences the genre today. I agree it is a long shot, but if groups like The Jordanaires and The Sons of the Pioneers are in The Hall, certainly The Maddox Brothers & Rose should be.
Johnny Paycheck and David Allan Coe – These names come up every year from hard country fans, and are names regularly held up as evidence of the Hall of Fame’s illegitimacy. The simple truth is that with these two performer’s shady pasts, Hall of Fame induction is going to be difficult. Johnny Paycheck has a more distinct possibility than David Allan Coe, because Coe could create a public relations nightmare for the Hall of Fame from people (correct or not) who label Coe a racist, sexist, etc. etc. Patience mixed with persistence is what Coe and Paycheck fans need to see their heroes inducted, as time heals all wounds. Eventually I think both men should be in, but they may have to wait for a year with a weaker field. Seeing Hank Jr. go in may be the sign the Paycheck and Coe’s time is coming.
Other possibilities: Johnny Horton, Bobby Bare, Jimmy Martin, Ralph Stanley, June Carter Cash, Tompall & The Glaser Brothers, and an endless list of other possibilities.
Non Performer Possibilities
Possibly the hardest category to prognosticate, I would put Fred Foster as a producer candidate, music publisher Bob Beckham as another candidate, and Chet Flippo as a candidate for a music writer. Chet Flippo wrote the introduction to Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger and Wanted: The Outlaws, and was seminal in spreading the influence of country in the 70′s with his writing in The Rolling Stone.
Really, Mike Curb‘s name should be in the discussion. He is the namesake of the conservatory that greets you when you walk into the Hall of Fame. But with his shenanigans the last few years battling both artists and other labels in the courts, Mike Curb may be waiting a lot longer for Hall of Fame induction, if not forever.
Saving Country Music’s Picks
If I had a vote…
Modern Era: Ricky Skaggs
Veterans Era: Gram Parsons, Jerry Reed, John Hartford, Maddox Brothers & Rose, Johnny Paycheck. If I had only one? Give me Gram and we’ll worry about the others next year.
Non Performer: Chet Flippo
Over the years I’ve been a big Bob Wayne proponent, and to some folks he’s been a very hard sell. I’ve always counseled to look beyond the persona to the songwriting. With his new album Till The Wheels Fall Off, Bob Wayne frankly makes that task much harder. At the same time, he’s put out his most enjoyable album yet.
Since the beginning, there’s been two sides to Bob Wayne: the introspective songwriter side, and the “Hellbilly” side. In between are his storytelling songs that tend to draw from both worlds. Despite the bandana and salty language, what Bob is doing is not much different than what Johnny Cash did. Johnny didn’t shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die, or take a shot of cocaine before shooting his wife. It was a persona created to tell a story. Bob has maybe modernized some of the language and themes, but country music songs on the sinful life are a staple of the genre.
What he has done as his career has progressed is tip the scales from the more introspective material to the more hellraising material, and this is where he’s left some listeners scratching their heads. With his first few albums, songs like “Blood To Dust,” “27 Years,” and “The Final Walk” made it easy for the music brain to understand Bob, and then enjoy the hellraising songs right along with the crowd who may see a song like “27 Years” as too artsy.
But with Till The Wheels Fall Off, there are very few of those guideposts. Bob’s first album Blood to Dust was weighted in favor of the deep songwriting material. This album is skewed to the “hellbilly” side, giving detractors heavy ammunition to pass off the whole Bob Wayne presentation as a bad bit. Even some of the songs on Till The Wheels Fall Off that are presented to be deep, like the lead single “Get There When I Get There” is more ambiguous in nature than artistic. There’s little of that stone cold hard reality that tears at your heart like many of his previous offerings.
Does that leave Till The Wheels Fall Off vacuous or non-entertaining? Not at all. Not whatsoever. “Devil’s Son” may be the funnest song Bob Wayne has ever put out. And “Wives Of Three,” though on the surface a shallow and silly song, may be one of his best attempts at songwriting.
Let’s take “Wives of Three” as a case study. The first time I listened to this song, I hated it, saying to myself, “Come on Bob, you’re killing me out here!” Then I understood the genius behind it. This song is more David Allan Coe than David Allan Coe. It evokes a whole range of emotions, from creepiness and weirdness, to humor, to sincerity and true love. Most importantly to the success or failure of a songwriter, Bob is able to transport you to a scene where he’s standing in his childhood home with these three women, presenting them to his mother.
You can visualize the whole thing, his mother’s sense of shock and dismay, yet a creepy sense of pride, Bob’s sense of awkwardness and hope that this lifestyle will be accepted, and these three women that in a 3-minute song, Bob is able to present to where you can visualize them, their faces, their stories and motivations. It’s all bullshit that is totally believable and makes your mind explore the inner depths of morality, family, and love.
The words and persona are what everyone seems to focus on when it comes to Bob, but let none of that distract you from the fact that the instrumentation on this album is par excellence. Andy Gibson, Hank3′s steel guitar player and the engineer on all of Bob’s albums, along with an all-star cast of contributors put together an amazing album of music. From conjuring the spirit of Jerry Reed in “Ain’t No Diesel Trucks In Heaven” to the lonesome teardrop steel sounds in “Hunger In My Soul”, this album is a 10 out of 10 on how Bob’s vision was fleshed out.
Your feelings on Till The Wheels Fall Off are going to be based on taste even more so than on most albums. It is my job as a reviewer to divest personal taste for a more true judgement on the work. Do I personally like the strictly hellraising songs like “All Those One Night Stands” and “Spread My Ashes On The Highway”? No, no I really don’t. But I also recognize the appeal and the wit embedded in the songwriting, and won’t let them repeal my love for a song like “Hunger In My Soul”. But not all music is for everyone, and that’s okay. It is not fair to strictly base taste on calling something bad, and it is not fair to call someone’s tastes bad just because they are different from yours. Bob Wayne seems to drive home the importance of these points more than most.
Where I take some points away from Till The Wheels Fall Off is when measuring it against what I know Bob is capable of. He is capable of writing songs that can change people’s lives. If he changes someone’s life with this album, it may not be for the better. There are also issues with the continuity in his storyline. With some of his previous works, his sobriety is a theme, where in this album, it is the breaking of that sobriety. Is this true in Bob’s real life, or an extension of the persona? Either way it is okay, it’s the ambiguity in how you’re supposed to approach these songs that may be the issue.
Instead of just writing on the road, I think Bob needs to get in better touch with his inner dialogue through solitude, so the guideposts leading listeners to the realization of his songwriting prowess are more present.
But this is not a bad album. It is fun as hell. At times you are laughing out loud at some of the lines. Are we so uptight we can’t enjoy music for the visceral experience? Isn’t it fun to go on a vicarious exploration of the id through music and character? This is what Bob Wayne delivers in Till The Wheels Fall Off; an escape, a good time. Sure maybe we, maybe underground country has grown up from most of this behavior, but isn’t that the theme here, that Bob will never change, that he’s going Till The Wheels Fall Off? And there’s nothing wrong with siting back and watching his ride.
1 1/2 of 2 guns up.
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One of the reasons the the Country Music Hall of Fame is one of the most revered and respected Halls in all the land and specifically in music is because it is so hard to get into. It is always better that you look at a list of Hall inductees and wonder why certain names are not in, instead of looking and wondering why certain names are. Sure, just like everyone, I could look at the Hall inductees or a year’s specific class and opine how it should be different, but I have 100% faith in the the Country Hall’s process, and their dedication to always looking big picture when it comes to the preservation of the roots and history of country music.
The 2012 inductees will likely be announced in the next month or so. I anticipate this year’s list to be heavily laden with big names, and light on names from the legends era and behind-the-scenes types. Garth Brooks, Kenny Rodgers, and Hank Williams Jr. could all get in this year. The Oak Ridge Boys, Ricky Skaggs, and Ronnie Milsap are also strong contenders. June Carter Cash seems to be the only serious name for a legend on people’s lists, and Don Rich, Ralph Mooney, Hank Garland, and Johnny Gimble would be strong candidates for musicians who might make consideration.
Garth Brooks will be in the Hall of Fame. Though a few years ago, this might have driven many purists crazy seeing how he is the poster boy for commercial country, the modern day country landscape is shining a much more favorable light on one of the best selling artists ever, only rivaled by The Beatles and Michael Jackson. The question with Garth is not if, but when. We can wait on Garth’s induction because it’s inevitable, and give someone else a chance this year. However the rekindling of his career in Las Vegas and Reba McEntire’s induction last year I think does move Garth closer to induction.
Hank Williams Jr. is another shoe-in for the Hall eventually, but with his 2011 political side show, voters may side step him this year and hope for calmer publicity waters before making it official.
In many ways, Ricky Skaggs is the best of both worlds. The has the purist and roots vote for his unquestionable support and background in bluegrass, but he also played country music superstar for Music Row in the mid 80′s when there was a massive talent shortage. It is hard to make a case of why Ricky shouldn’t be in, and be in this year.
Kenny Rodgers may have started in rock and may carry mainstream baggage for purist voters, but his role in movies and television along with his huge mainstream country hits made him one the 80′s biggest country ambassadors. Weird face and chicken franchises be damned, I think Kenny makes it in, and this year.
2012 Hall of Fame Inductees Predictions
- Ricky Skaggs
- Kenny Rodgers
- On The Bubble – Garth Brooks, Hank Jr. , Jerry Reed, Oak Ridge Boys, Ronnie Milsap, Don Rich
If I had a vote
I do think that both Johnny Paycheck and David Allan Coe deserve to be in, and that it would be nice to see Coe be inducted before he passes. However, both men’s criminal pasts are going to be the long-standing road block against them. Though Coe may be the more recognizable name, I think Paycheck has the better chance as an “Outlaw” based out of Nashville instead of Texas, and how he carried the blue collar banner in country for years.
Another person I think that should be considered seriously is Ralph Mooney. From Buck Owens to Wynn Stewart, from forging the early Merle Haggard sound to touring with Waylon Jennings for 20 years, Ralph Mooney and his lonesome pedal steel guitar sound defined what people think of when they think of country music. He was wildly influential in his discipline. Those first few notes of Merle’s “Mama Tried?” Yeah, that was Ralph Mooney. I know he will not get in this year and maybe not anytime soon. But when the discussion is broached of who should be in The Hall, I believe it is the responsibility of all real country fans to help inject Ralph Mooney into the mix.
Since I believe to keep the Hall pure, no more than 3 inductees should be added in a given year, I’m only allotting myself 3 votes.
Here are my 3 votes:
Gram Parsons – The student in Emmylou Harris was inducted in 2008, now it’s time to induct the master. Simply put, there was never another artist that introduced more people outside the genre to country music than Gram Parsons. He turned The Rolling Stones into country fans. He discovered one of the most important women in country music history. Since Gram died young in 1973, he never got a chance to be prolific, or to settle into his proper place in country music history. But Gram Parsons was way much more than “that guy who played in the Byrds.” His impact is still being felt today. And for all he has done, country music owes him a debt of gratitude.
John Hartford – I understand this is a long shot pick, but as a songwriter, musician, and father of his own sub-genre in newgrass, it is difficult to make the case against him. Let me explain it like this: The Country Music Hall of Fame works like a timeline as you walk through the displays that weave around the massive archive in the center of the building. As you start from the beginning, each artist and their impact is displayed on a plaque that includes their Hall of Fame induction date. When I came to the John Hartford display on my last visit to The Hall this summer he was the first to have a display, but no Hall of Fame induction date. And then you had to go past many other artist’s displays, into the late 70′s-eartly 80′s before you found other artists given recognition on the great country music timeline without an induction date. John Harford is an indelible piece of country music history, and deserves to be a Hall of Fame inductee.
Jerry Reed – There is and was only one Jerry Reed. With an unmatched energy, style, groove and taste, he took honest to God country music and infused it with a groovy, relevant, and funky style that stole the human heart and sent it racing. An ultimate performer and character, his work from Scooby Doo to Smokey & The Bandit made him one of the 70′s best country ambassadors. But if Jerry goes in, he should go in as a guitar player first. With a wholly unique style matched by impeccable technique, he is as close as country music comes to a guitar god.
Leroy Virgil is one of the best songwriters in all of country music right now, and the 2010 album from his band Hellbound Glory called Old Highs and New Lows was good enough to get attention from mainstream news outlets, along with being named Saving Country Music’s 2010 Album of the Year.
Old Highs and Hellbound came into my music world at the same time, so attention for their first major release from 2008, Scumbag Country, got pushed aside for the more up-to-date project. But having recently seen the band at South by Southwest, and experiencing them Live From The Cracker Swamp, it spurned me to go back and really delve into the recorded versions of these songs they were kicking ass with in concert. And I dare say, as much as I’ve showered Old Highs with praise, Scumbag Country might even be better, or at least just as good, which still means it’s grade A, legendary material.
They say you have your whole life to write your first album. That must mean Leroy Virgil can write a lifetime’s worth of good songs in a year. A great album must have hits, and it must be solid throughout. It must be fun to listen to, but also hit you deep and be done with soul. It must have some spice: a degree of diversity to keep each song fresh to the ear and impactful to the mind. And to be a great album, not just good, it must be truly original, and when you dig deep in it, convey a theme. With Scumbag Country, it is check, check, check, check, and check!
Good picking and playing helps too of course, and this album has plenty of that evidenced in the first four high tempo songs that come at you like a bull out of the gate. If you’re going to write a theme song for your band dammit, it better be good, and that is exactly what the song “Hellbound Glory” is. Though Leroy Virgil and the boys might be best known for excellent songwriting conveyed with a Waylon-like approach to country, I hear a lot of Jerry Reed in Scumbag Country. Waylon made his hay in half time. Jerry did it in double. And with parallel double lead guitar lines like can be found in the very fun songs “Hello Five-O” and “Chico’s Train”, Leroy proves he’s studied country in all it’s forms, and he defies any pigeonholing.
And just when you you think this album is going to be all up-tempo, rowdy songs with screaming guitar licks, here comes possibly the best Hellbound Glory song ever, “The Ballad of Scumbag Country”, slowed down, deep fried, smothered and covered in soul. Great albums are smart in how they approach song order, and the way the first four songs set the table for this ballad is brilliant.
Songs like “Livin’ This Way”, “I’ll Be Your Rock (At Rock Bottom)” are superb in their own right, though naysayer might point out that they work in the very classic mold of “songwriter” country songs: taking a line and then folding it back in on itself for the appeal of irony. When it’s done right, it should always be enjoyed. When it’s all that a songwriter can do, it becomes exposed. Leroy Virgil, with a song like “The Ballad of Scumbag Country” proves he can work without a net, without a formula, and still give the song impact in the heart of the listener.
Scumbag Country‘s songs are always honest, never bombastic, even though they may hold a lot of bravado. That balance is not easy. I swear it seems like on every album, even the great ones, there’s one song I just can’t like, and “Get Your Shit And Go” is the one from this album. I guess this is why God created the fast forward button. Some purists might grumble at “Are You Sure Hank Done It Their Way”, but to the respect of Hellbound Glory, Waylon is given full credit for the song, and I think the intention of the song is pure.
Just like Old Highs, Scumbag Country is superbly recorded and produced, without the flubby, homespun feel that may hold other projects back in the eyes of the wider public. Once again Leroy Virgil proves he is a multi-dimensional artist by being able to play the producer’s role with his own songs better than anyone else could for him. I wouldn’t second guess any decision on this album, and fellow Hellbound members Chico Kortan (drums), Johnny Fingers (lead guitar), Frank Median (bass), and Adam Jaffe (pedal steel and banjo) do an excellent job fleshing out Leroy’s vision.
What else can I say except for that if you liked Old Highs and New Lows, then Scumbag Country is essential. And though the drug references are here, they are not as prevalent as in Old Highs, which in the end might even make this album more accessible.
Two guns way up!
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Scumbag Country can also be purchased directly from Hellbound Glory at hellboundglory.com
I have had a ton of people asking me about this, so please help me spread the word.
For those of you that haven’t heard, Hank III’s new album Damn Right, Rebel Proud is going to be released in limited quantities in a record version. The record will also include a copy of the CD. A lot of people have been wondering how they can order a copy.
HERE’S THE DEAL: The only way you are going to be able to order this record is through a LOCAL RECORD STORE. Unless something changes in the future, it is not going to be available online anywhere, or at any major retailer.
Because the release of this record, as well as the video for Long Hauls, Close Calls is part of a promotion to try to help the struggling local record stores. That’s why the video was released on recordstoreday.com. This is something Hank III is trying to do to help the common man. This is a good thing.
I know there are a lot of frustrated people because they do not have a local record store near them. Well first, this is part of the problem, that these places are becoming extinct, and Shelton is trying to help with that. Another thing to note is the big corporate stores like Wal-Mart SUPPORT POP COUNTRY music, but rarely carry lesser-known artists. Wal-Mart was actually a BIG reason the Straight to Hell took so long to get out, because Curb Records had to produce a ‘clean’ version for Wal-Mart shelves.
So if you want an LP copy of DRRP, find a local record store somewhere.
I’m lucky that I got two record stores in my town. I went in there an explained what Hank III was doing, and the owner got really jazzed about it. When you go to order your copy, try to convince the people that they need to order more for the store, because Hank III is trying to support them. I’d already pre-ordered a copy of DRRP through Amazon, but I’ll just give that away to someone who needs to be introduced to the music.
Jerry Reed RIP
The GREAT Jerry Reed, a REAL guitar player, actor, session musician, songwriter died yesterday in Nashville. I was introduced to Jerry when I was a kid, through none other than:
Man I loved that song at the end. Jerry had a really cool boogie woogie back beat to a lot of his stuff. I never liked his big hit ‘When You’re Hot You’re Hot,’ I thought it was a bit song that was a little too over the top. But I’ve always known Jerry as one of the best, but also non-traditional finger pickers in Nashville. Watch him school his good friend Chet Atkins:
Elvis was recording Jerry’s ‘Guitar Man’ on an album, and couldn’t get the sound he was looking for. So Elvis called up Jerry who was out fishing and told him to get up to the studio. Only Jerry had that non-traditional style that made the song work.
Jerry also acted in one of my favorite scenes in a movie ever. I tried to find it on YouTube, but couldn’t. It’s from Smokey and the Bandit , which he also sang the theme song to. He’s hanging out at a bar. Some biker smarts off to Jerry’s hound dog, so Jerry bows up and starts throwing. Of course all the bikers gang up and beat his ass. He slunks back to his semi-rig, all hunched over, but then he looks up to see all the motorcycles parked right in front of him. He cracks a smile and barrels over all of them in his rig.
Payback is hell.
Good ol’ Jerry Reed. A TRUE COUNTRY HERO, and he will truly be missed.
PS: If you’re wondering what happened to my last blog, I’ll address that hopefully tomorrow. I’m running long here.
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