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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)
The last few weeks might go down in history as one of country music’s most feud-laden moments. From Gary Allan going off about country music and indirectly accusing Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood of not being country, to Zac Brown calling out Luke Bryan’s song “That’s My Kind of Night,” and Jason Aldean calling out Zac Brown in Luke’s defense.
Though country music feuding may be on a sharp rise here recently, it is not an uncommon or recent occurrence in country music by any stretch. Many artists have had a beef with the Grand Ole Opry over the years, including Johnny Cash and Stonewall Jackson. Curb Records has been in the middle of many feuds, most notably with Leann Rimes, Hank Williams III, and a big one with Tim McGraw that pitted cross-town heavyweights Mike Curb and Scott Borchetta against each other. But nothing gets folks talking like a good old artist on artist donnybrook. Here are some of the most infamous over the years.
Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner were one of country music’s most legendary pairings, but when Dolly wanted to leave the Porter Wagoner camp in 1974, things turned heated. Parton did the best she could to leave Porter’s side in an amicable way, even penning and performing her legendary song “I Will Always Love You” for her long-time singing partner. But Porter turned around and sued her for $3 million in a breach of contract suit in 1979.
However, the two made up eventually, and Porter performed with Dolly on her TV variety show in 1988. Dolly Parton was also by Porter Wagoner’s side when he passed away in 2007.
In the midst of Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achy Breaky Heart” success, Travis Tritt was asked what he though about it, and always willing to be a lightning rod, Travis Tritt responded, “I haven’t seen his show so I can’t say anything about that. I haven’t seen the man personally, so I can’t say anything about him personally. I haven’t listened to his albums, so I can’t make a statement about that. But I have seen the video and I have heard “Achy Breaky Heart”, and I don’t care for either one of them. It just seems kind of frivolous. The video doesn’t appeal to me because it shows him stepping out of a limousine in front of thousands and thousands of fans, and nobody’s even heard of this guy.. Garth Brooks didn’t even do that. It doesn’t seem very realistic to me.”
Travis Tritt recalled in his autobiography Ten Feet Tall and Bulletproof, “I apologized to Billy Ray, told him I hoped he sold ten million copies of the record. Went home. I sent Billy Ray a peace lily and a get well card because I heard he’d been feeling bad enough to cancel his Fan Fair appearance. Headline in the local paper the next day. ‘Travis Tritt Trashes Billy Ray Cyrus.’ The more I said about it, trying to rectify the situation, the worse it got.”
Waylon Jennings really didn’t like Garth Brooks, and wasn’t very good at hiding it. Though in the portions about Garth in Waylon’s autobiography he was careful not to use Garth’s name, during interviews in the 90′s Waylon would regularly let his anti-Garth anger slip. For example in an interview with The Inquirer form September, 1994, Waylon said about Garth, “I think he’s the luckiest s.o.b in the world. He’s gotten more out of nothing than anybody I can think of. I’ve always accused him of sounding like Mr. Haney on Green Acres.”
There’s another Waylon quote about Garth that goes something along the lines of “Garth Brooks did for country music what panty hose did for finger fucking.” But there has yet to be a verifiable attribution of the quote.
Still to this day, not much is known about the exact details of the feud between these two men, but in the mid-70′s you couldn’t find two artists more tied to the hip than Waylon and Tompall. Tompall was the proprietor of Hillbilly Central in Nashville—a renegade studio where Waylon mixed and mastered his album Honky Tonk Heroes, and recorded his album This Time. Waylon and Tompall appear together on Wanted: The Outlaws—country music’s first million-selling album. The two became close friends and were kindred spirits from their hated of Music Row’s business practices. They would spin long hours battling each other on pinball machines or picking out tunes or playing pranks on each other. But when the friendship went south in the late 70′s, it went south hard, and the two men never resolved their differences before their respective deaths, despite both men still insisting on their deep love and appreciation for each other.
The crux of the beef between two of country music’s most famous sons is that Hank3 felt Shooter Jennings stole his persona. Hank3 had a song called “Dick In Dixie” that included the line, “I’m here to put the Dick in Dixie, and the cunt back in country.” Shooter, who previously had been in a rock band called Stargunn, came out with his first country record entitled Put The ‘O’ Back In Country in 2005, and Hank3 perceived the title was a little too close for comfort.
If you wanna go down that road and rip us off, mutherfucker, I’ll see you in ten years and five thousand shows down the road.” Hank3 said. We’ll see where the fuck you’re at. You know, I called him out and just flat out said, “fuck you if you’re gonna rip us off like that on your first release.”
Shooter for his part seemed unwilling to reciprocate the feud, saying “You know what, I don’t even comment on these things, really. I don’t even know him. I met him once, I think, for a second. And somehow all this stuff started about how he hates me. I don’t know. It’s, like, stupid.”
In fairness to Shooter, Carlene Carter had used the line “If that doesn’t put the cunt back in country, I don’t know what will” at a show in New York in 1979 when her mother June Carter and father-in-law Johnny Cash were in attendance. Eventually Shooter and Hank3 reportedly buried the hatchet.
Hank3 is the legitimate son of Hank Williams Jr., but Hank Jr. was not Hank3′s everyday father. Hank3 was raised by his mother, and usually only saw Hank Jr. once a year when growing up. In 2001, Hank Jr. began collaborating with Kid Rock in songs like “The ‘F’ Word” and others, and Hank Jr. often referred to Kid Rock as his “rebel son.” This stimulated a rumor that Kid Rock was in fact Hank Jr.’s biological offspring. Though both men denied it, the urban myth grew legs, and Hank Williams III began to be asked by people if Kid Rock was his brother, which didn’t sit too well.
Then the situation escalated when Kid Rock accosted Hank3 at a show in Detroit, trying to patch up the strained relationship between Hank3 and his father. “He kept trying to come on the bus, you know, him and Pam Anderson, and all that shit,” Hank3 recalls. “And I said, ‘Tell that motherfucker I got nothing to say to him,’ and then he finally get his way back in there and tells me how I need to be treating my father, and I’m like, ‘All right, you crossed the line motherfucker.’ And I don’t know how many times I have to say it: No, he’s not my fucking brother . . .”
The altercation eventually led to the line in Hank3′s song “Not Everybody Likes Us,” “Just so you know, so it’s set in stone, Kid Rock don’t come from where I come from. Yeah it’s true he’s a Yank, he ain’t no son of Hank, and if you though so god damn you’re fucking dumb.”
It is considered one of country music’s most legendary moments—when Charlie Rich took out his lighter at the 1975 CMA Awards and burned the envelope announcing John Denver as Entertainer of the Year while Denver watched via satellite. Rich had clearly been drinking, and his antics were taken as an act of defiance against the intrusion of pop influences into country music, and have since become a rallying cry for country music purists.
Recently when video surfaced of the incident, people began to question what Charlie Rich’s true intentions were because Rich didn’t appear to look as malicious as the moment had been materialized in many people’s minds without the aid of the archived footage. Though historians and the Country Music Hall of Fame clearly spell it out as being considered a conflict at the time, Charlie’s son Charlie Rich Jr. says that his father was simply trying to be funny. So maybe there was a Charlie Rich vs. John Denver, or maybe there wasn’t, but the moment still makes for great country music lore.
Probably not much more than the names of these two needs to be said to to infer that they wouldn’t get along. Maines started the scuffle in response to Toby Keith’s song “Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue” saying, “I hate it. It’s ignorant, and it makes country music sound ignorant. It targets an entire culture—and not just the bad people who did bad things. You’ve got to have some tact. Anybody can write, ‘We’ll put a boot in your ass’ … ”
Toby Keith’s response? “I’ll bury her. She has never written anything that has been a hit…” Maines kept up the heat, wearing a shirt with the letters F.U.T.K. on the 2003 ACM Awards. And of course, all of this was exacerbated when Maines criticized President George Bush at a concert in London a month before.
Keith was the one to publicly bury the hatchet, saying in August of 2003, “You know, a best friend of mine lost a two-year-old daughter to cancer. I saw a picture of me and Natalie and it said, ‘Fight to the Death’ or something. It seemed so insignificant. I said, ‘Enough is enough’ People try to make everything black and white. I didn’t start this battle. They started it with me; they came out and just tore me up. One thing I’ve never, ever done, out of jealousy or anything else, is to bash another artist and their artistic license.”
Toby Keith vs. Kris Kristofferson
It sure made for a juicy story at the time, but according to both of the named belligerents, it was a feud that never was. In April of 2009, actor Ethan Hawke published a story in Rolling Stone that without naming his name, accused Toby Keith of saying to Kris Kristofferson at Willie Nelson’s 70th birthday in 2003, ““None of that lefty shit out there tonight, Kris.” According to Hawke, a rolling argument ensued that ended with Kris Kristofferson saying, ““They’re doin’ to country music what pantyhose did to finger-fuckin’” (see Waylon Jennings vs. Garth Brooks above.)
However, according to both Toby Keith and Kris Kristofferson, the incident never happened. Even more damming to Ethan Hawke and Rolling Stone, though Toby Keith became famous from his flag-waving songs, he’s a registered Democrat, making the likelihood Kieth saying to Kristofferson “lefty shit” very unlikely. Ethan Hawke and Rolling Stone stood by their story, but the press who perpetuated it got an earful from Toby about it at the 2009 ACM Awards.
Feuds that involve accusations of songs getting ripped off can get especially nasty, and this was the case when Jason Isbell took to Twitter to accuse Dierks Bentley of ripping off his song “In A Razor Town.” “‘Dierks’ has officially ripped off my song ‘In A Razor Town.’” Isbell fired off. “Dierks is a douchebag. The song of Dierks is called ‘Home.’” Isbell continued to pummel Dierks through Twitter, even getting political because of the flag waving nature of “Home.” Dierks in his defense referred to an interview one of the song’s co-writers Dan Wilson did with ASCAP that explained how the song came together.
The result? Though Isbell went silent after he said he was told to do so by his lawyer, if there was ever litigation over the song, the results were never made public. Isbell has since in interviews blamed his heavy drinking at the time for his Twitter tone. Though the two songs do sound similar, whether it was truly a ripoff or not seems to remain inconclusive.
Robert Earl Keen put Toby Keith in his crosshairs when he believed Keith lifted the melody from his song “The Road Goes On Forever” for his 2010 song “Bullets In The Gun.” Keen recalls, “I got all these calls from my friends. They were saying, ‘This is ridiculous. What are you gonna do? I felt like this individual had been picking on me for a long time, and I was sick of it. So instead of getting really ugly about things—I don’t really believe in lawsuits or threats—I took the Alexander Pope road and answered this guy in song.”
Keen recorded “The Road Goes On And On” as a shot at Toby Keith (though he never mentions his name), with lines that included:
You’re a regular jack in the box
In your clown suit and your goldilocks
The original liar’s paradox
Your horse is drunk and your friends got tired
Your aim grew weak and uninspired . . .
Toby Keith has never formally responded to the accusations.
This battle of heavyweights ensued when Eric Church was quoted in Rolling Stone in late April of 2012 saying, “Honestly, if Blake Shelton and Cee Lo Green turn around in a red chair, you got a deal? That’s crazy. I don’t know what would make an artist do that. You’re not an artist. Once your career becomes about something other than the music, then that’s what it is. I’ll never make that mistake. I don’t care if I starve.”
Miranda Lambert, who is married to Blake Shelton and also has a reality show past, came out swinging, saying through Twitter, “I wish I misunderstood this . . .Thanks Eric Church for saying I’m not a real artist. You’re welcome for the tour in 2010,” referencing Church’s opening spot on one of her tours.
Eventually Eric Church apologized, saying, “The comment I made to Rolling Stone was part of a larger commentary on these types of reality television shows and the perception they create, not the artists involved with the shows themselves. The shows make it appear that artists can shortcut their way to success… I have a problem with those perceived shortcuts, not just in the music industry…I have a lot of respect for what artists like Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, and my friend Miranda Lambert have gone on to accomplish. This piece was never intended to tear down any individual and I apologize to anybody I offended in trying to shed light on this issue.”
As some have pointed out since, Eric Church apologized to Miranda, but never apologized to Blake.
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Eric Church also created a firestorm with Rascal Flatts in 2006. While playing in an opening slot, he purposely played too loud and for too long after numerous requests to respect the tour’s wishes, resulting in him being kicked off the tour. It also resulted in a young starlet named Taylor Swift getting a chance to open on the big tour, which many experts give credit for helping Taylor’s meteoric rise.
Blake Shelton vs. Ray Price
When Blake Shelton’s comments about how he considered country music’s traditional fans “Old Farts and Jackasses” came out, Country Music Hall of Famer Ray Price shot back, saying, “Every now and then some young artist will record a rock and roll type song , have a hit first time out with kids only. This is why you see stars come with a few hits only and then just fade away believing they are God’s answer to the world. This guy sounds like in his own mind that his head is so large no hat ever made will fit him. Stupidity Reigns Supreme!!!!!!! Ray Price (CHIEF “OLD FART” & JACKASS”) ” P.S. YOU SHOULD BE SO LUCKY AS US OLD-TIMERS. CHECK BACK IN 63 YEARS (THE YEAR 2075) AND LET US KNOW HOW YOUR NAME AND YOUR MUSIC WILL BE REMEMBERED.”
Blake Shelton later apologized, saying, “Whoa!!! I heard I offended one of my all time favorite artists Ray Price by my statement “Nobody wants to listen to their grandpas music”..And probably some other things from that same interview on GAC Backstory.. I hate that I upset him.. The truth is my statement was and STILL Is about how we as the new generation of country artists have to keep re-inventing country music to keep it popular. Just EXACTLY… The way Mr. Price did along hid journey as a main stream country artist.. Pushing the boundaries with his records. “For The Goodtimes” Perfect example with the introduction of a bigger orchestrated sound in country music.. It was new and awesome!!! I absolutely have no doubt I could have worded it better(as always ha!) and I apologize to Mr. Price and any other heroes of mine that it may offended.”
Ray also later apologized to Blake Shelton for being so harsh, and along with wife Miranda Lambert, they attended a Ray Price show in Oklahoma to patch things up in person.
If you’ve been wishing for a print magazine that would cover cool up-and-coming country artists right beside the big names, and not just focus on the here and now but take the time to look back on the past greats of the genre, well you may just have received your wish. From the same people that have been publishing England’s high quality and highly-circulated Classic Rock Magazine since 1998 comes Country Music Magazine presented by Classic Rock, with the inaugural issue being released September 11th.
The first issue features a cover story on Johnny Cash and how he fought back from depression and drug addiction to release his two greatest albums At Folsom Prison and At San Quentin. The issues also includes features on Leann Rimes and her new album Spitfire, Kacey Musgraves, Guy Clark, Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, Wanda Jackson, Tony Joe White, and an exclusive interview with pedal steel guitar legend Buddy Emmons.
And best of all, right beside these big names are features on Sturgill Simpson, Austin Lucas, Fifth on the Floor, UK’s My Darling Clementine, Case Hardin, Carrie Rodriguez, and more. UK-based or not, its hard to look at this first issue and accuse them of not knowing their way around country music. The 132-page magazine will also feature a free 15-song CD of the artists it included in each issue.
“The magazine will feature the best writers, photographers, and will document Americana and roots music at its coolest,” says Country Music Magazine Editor, Ed Mitchell. “If it twangs, whines or breaks your heart, it’ll be in the pages of Country Music Magazine”.
There will also be a two hour, weekly radio show that will launch on Sunday September 8th on TeamRock Digital One radio. Hosted by Rob Hughes, who has a wealth of experience presenting country on 6Music as well as contributing to the magazine’s Johnny Cash cover story. The shows content will largely reflect the content of the magazine, playing the songs by the artists interviewed each quarter.
Once again, leave it to European-based organization to take up the slack where the American market has lapsed in covering its own indigenous art forms. As Country Music Magazine is proving, the appeal for true country music from the past and present is international, and deserves more attention. And who knows, you may see some contributions from some of your favorite country music writers you’re already familiar with .
Country Music Magazine can be pre-ordered now for £9.99 (roughly $15 US). Stay tuned for more info about US availability and distribution.
If one sets out to make a documentary about the recently passed “Cowboy” Jack Clement, it certainly can’t be straightforward. As long-time Jack Clement friend Walter Forbes observes, “Cowboy gets the most nervous I think when a parade is going all in a straight line. He just can’t stand it…There’s got to be something he can do to change the rhythm and mess that sucker up.”
It was with that spirit that Shakespeare Was A Big George Jones Fan: Cowboy Jack Clement’s Home Movies was made in 2005 to document Jack’s life, and the wild environment swirling around his legendary home studio, the “Cowboy Arms Hotel and Recording Spa.”
Like any good documentary film does, even if you don’t care who Jack Clement is, you do by the end, and take away from it the important information about the accomplishments in Jack’s life. But since Jack Clement was there during so many important and historic events in the chronology of country music and early rock and roll, and because he claims to have spent over a million dollars making home movies, Shakespeare Was A Big George Jones Fan delivers you so much more; particularly an astounding array of archived footage capturing candid and important moments with some of country music’s biggest stars and most important people.
Some examples are Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner singing together for the first time in 20 years, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Townes Van Zandt all hanging out in the same room, and Johnny Cash having a smoke with the Father of Country Music, A.P Carter. And this is all interwoven with other archived and never-seen-before footage like moments from 2 never-released and never-finished Jack Clement TV specials (one with special guests Waylon Jennings and Jessi Coulter), or Charley Pride playing the Astrodome in Houston. And for a little extra character, there are little snippets of Jack Clement talking to a sketch of William Shakespeare (who among other attributes, has the voice of Johnny Cash), that give even more insight into Jack Clement’s creative mettle.
The celebrities appearing in the film in various contexts include but are not limited to:
- Johnny Cash
- Waylon Jennings
- Charley Pride
- Porter Wagoner
- Dolly Parton
- John Prine
- Kris Kristofferson
- George Jones
- Del McCoury
- Jim Lauderdale
- Jerry Lee Lewis
- Sam Phillips
- Marty Stuart
- June Carter
- Townes Van Zandt
- Jessi Coulter
But there’s really not one complete, uninterrupted musical performance in the entire hour-long movie. That’s not what this is about. And it’s not even about conveying all the big details of of Jack Clement’s life—his work with Sam Phillips at Sun Studios helping to launch the careers of Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash, or his launching of Charley Pride and John Prine, or his work with Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings. It is about capturing the spirit of the man—the whimsy that he approached the creative process with, and how it was his spirit that coaxed out some of the most memorable recordings in country music history from some of its most memorable performers.
And though this film was released 8 years ago, it still does a poignant job at the end touching on the mortality that surrounded “Cowboy” Jack in later years, all the way up to his own passing. All his best friends—Sam Phillips, Waylon Jennings, and especially Johnny Cash—had all passed away, leaving Jack behind as the last of the breed.
Directed and produced by Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville, Shakespeare Was A Big George Jones Fan is one of the most entertaining, informing, and well-made documentaries on country music you can find, and rose to the challenge of chronicling a character who future generations will unfortunately only be able to know through music and film.
Two guns way up!
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Country Music Hall of Famer, legendary producer, songwriter, musician, and cosmic music man “Cowboy” Jack Clement has died according to the Nashville newspaper The Tennessean. Jack Clement was just inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame this year. He was 82.
Jack Clement got his start working at Sun Studios in Memphis under Sam Phillips while playing steel guitar in college. He would later use this important position to become a seminal figure in the formation of both country and rock and roll music in the mid 50′s. Sam Phillips hired Jack on as an engineer, and Jack would arrange such hits as Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” and write Cash’s “Ballad of a Teenage Queen.” Jack discovered Jerry Lee Lewis when Sam Phillips was away on vacation one time, and many of those early Sun Studios recordings have Jack Clement’s fingerprints on them.
Clement would later go on to operate a renowned studio out of his home called the “Cowboy Arms Hotel and Recording Spa.” Similar to Tompall Glaser’s “Hillbilly Central” studio, Jack Clement’s house became a symbol of country music’s Outlaw revolution, facilitating a relaxed environment where creativity and free expression were encouraged and cultivated with country music’s progressive artists—a sharp contrast to the authoritarian studios of Nashville’s Music Row. At Clement’s home studio, Waylon Jennings’ Dreaming My Dreams was produced and recorded, as well as albums by Johnny Cash, Townes Van Zandt, Charley Pride, John Prine, Bobby Bare, Dolly Parton, and many more. The studio was destroyed in a fire in late June of 2011, taking with it many priceless recordings and photographs.
Jack Clement’s mystique only grew over time. In 1987 he was asked by U2 to produce tracks at Sun Studios. Though Jack had no idea who U2 was at the time, he accepted. He also hosted a radio program on Sirius XM’s “Outlaw Country” station all they way up to his death. A 2005 documentary Shakespeare Was a Big George Jones Fan chronicled the environment of Clement’s Cowboy Arms Hotel and Recording Spa, and captured his cosmic approach to music that facilitated so many heirloom recordings from music masters.
Jack Clement was also an inductee to the Songwriters Hall of Fame, The Music City Walk of Fame, and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. He was considered a close friend and spiritual confidant to many country music performers.
He passed away in the remnants of the Cowboy Arms Hotel and Recording Spa this morning. Cowboy Jack was suffering from liver Cancer, and is survived by two children, a daughter, Alison, also a singer and writer, and a son, Niles, an engineer and photographer.
During Johnny Cash’s legendary concert at San Quentin Prison in 1969, photographer Jim Marshall said to Johnny backstage, “John, let’s do a shot for the warden.” The result was the photograph above that mostly remained under wraps until 1998. That is when producer Rick Rubin decided to use the iconic photo in an ad in Billboard magazine decrying country radio’s lack of love for Johnny’s second album on Rubin’s American label called Unchained. Despite no industry support, Unchained went on to win the 1998 Grammy for “Best Country Album.”
Since then the image of the angry face and the raised middle finger has become an iconic symbol of defiance against the direction of country music. As indecent as a raised middle finger happens to be in the first place (and the propensity for some seedy country fans and artists to over-saturate its use in every single photo of them), it has come to mean much more than its vulgar connotation in the fight to save country music.
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Willie Nelson’s middle finger photo was shot by a photographer named Sean Moorman on Willie Nelson’s tour bus on July 26, 2002. The title of image is “Willie Nelson Sending Jim Marshall Regards.” Both the Jim Marshall photo of Johnny Cash and the Sean Moorman photo of Willie stimulated litigation when Urban Outfitters printed up Johnny Cash middle finger T-shirts without permission, and Spencer Gifts did the same with Willie.
Dale Watson doing his best Johnny Cash impression:
Hank Williams III and David Allan Coe in younger days:
Jonny (Corndawg) Fritz telling a fan they’re #1 (Kayley Luftig – Photographer):
Bob Wayne, adding the stink eye for extra emphasis:
Jeff Austin of the Yonder Mountain String Band doing the double bird (Chad Smith Photography):
Keith Richards’ middle finger is insured for $1.6 million. Yes, that one he’s point at you. And no, I’m not kidding.
The wet cigarette of country music, Kid Rock. And Saving Country Music friend “Pointer” from a downtown Nashville excursion in 2011 getting his picture with Kid Rock on the front of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge.
Townes Van Zandt, from the back cover of his 1972 album The Late Great Townes Van Zandt.
Kellie Pickler telling Kanye West “Fuck You!” for not liking country music (see video).
Lenny Kravitz giving the crowd at the 2013 CMA Fan Fest the double bird because they “couldn’t get with love” during his elongated set that left the crowd underwhelmed.
A sign hanging up in the Johnny Cash themed bar and music venue in Austin, TX called the Mean Eyed Cat.
The ad Rick Rubin placed in Billboard Magazine after Johnny Cash won the 1998 Grammy for Best Country Album:
You’ve all heard about the “Million Dollar Quartet”—the recording session at Memphis’s legendary Sun Studios on December 4th, 1956 that compiled the talent of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash. Well if there was an equivalent to the Million Dollar Quartet in the songwriting world, it would be the one night in January of 1969 when Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Graham Nash, and Shel Silverstein all spent an evening at Johnny Cash’s home in Hendersonville, TN on the banks of Old Hickory Lake, swapping songs and stories from their respective spheres of the music world. The music that was showcased for the first time ever at the intimate songwriter circle became the soundtrack for a generation, and the gathering would go down in history as one of the most potent assemblages of songs showcased for the first time in one place.
The Who and Why
Johnny Cash was in the midst of recording his famous The Johnny Cash Show at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, and Bob Dylan was in the studio in Nashville recording his landmark country album Nashville Skyline (that Johnny Cash appears on). Bob was staying at Johnny’s Hendersonville house at the time. Meanwhile Joni Mitchell was in town recording an appearance on The Johnny Cash Show (she appears on the 1st & 6th episodes of the 1st season in 1969) and was currently dating Graham Nash who tagged along for the adventure. Kris Kristofferson and Shel Silverstein were in the habit of showing up anywhere where their songs might be heard by big name performers, and together they all formed one star studded songwriting circle.
Johnny Cash was the glue of the whole thing, bridging the differences between the dispirit music realms the 6 participants came from with The Johnny Cash Show being the catalyst. Performers on the show regulary stayed at Johnny’s Hendersonville home. “Music is for everybody,” Johnny Cash explained when telling the story of the legendary night to David Letterman in 1985. “And although I’m known as a country artist, [The Johnny Cash Show] was a network show, and I wanted to see some people on it that I knew the people wanted to see.”
“That night in my house [was] the first time these songs were heard…” Johnny Cash went on. “Joni Mitchell sang ‘Both Sides Now,’ Graham Nash sang ‘Marrakesh Express,’ Shel Silverstein sang ‘A Boy Named Sue,’ Bob Dylan sang ‘Lay Lady Lay,’ and Kristofferson sang ‘Me & Bobby McGee.’ That was the first time any of those songs were heard.”
David Letterman’s poignant reaction to Cash’s run down of talent and songs was, “Did you have snacks?”
All five songs became very successful charting singles. “Me & Bobby McGee” went on to become a #1 hit for Janis Joplin (awarded posthumously), and “A Boy Named Sue” a #1 hit for Johnny Cash. “Both Sides, Now” has now been recorded by over 70 artists, including Frank Sinatra, Willie Nelson, Bing Crosby, and Jimmie Rodgers. Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” is considered a country standard, and has been recorded by artists as varied as The Byrds, to Duran Duran, to Ministry.
There is one minor correction to Johnny Cash’s recollection. Even though Joni Mitchell most likely sang “Both Sides, Now” that night, the song was first recorded by Judy Collins in 1967, meaning the first time it was heard would not be that night at Johnny’s house in Hendersonville. And though “Marrakesh Express” wasn’t released until May of 1969, some reports have the song being recorded in 1968 for Crosby, Stills, & Nash’s self-titled album.
Nonetheless, the music showcased that night all in one place by the original songwriters is something to behold, and certainly was one of the most diverse, most star-packed, and most hit-packed songwriter circles in the history of popular music.
It was later memorialized by The Highwaymen in “Songs That Make A Difference” from their 1990 album Highwaymen II.
Shel Silverstein – “A Boy Named Sue”
Joni Mitchell – “Both Sides, Now”
Kris Kristofferson – “Me & Bobby McGee”
Bob Dylan – “Lay Lady Lay”
Graham Nash – “Marrakesh Express”
Like a great sage that only speaks his wisdom once every few years, when Guy Clark releases an album, you stop down, and you listen.
Like the tone of Willie Nelson’s guitar or Johnny Cash’s voice, a Guy Clark song has become an ineffaceable institution of American music. Even if you’re only familiar with his songs though the performances of others, or songs he’s influenced by others, Guy Clark’s handiwork is embedded in the very ethos of what we know as songwriting in American music, even if that influence is imperceptible to the average listener. If you need any more evidence of the influence of Guy Clark, just appreciate he’s the only one that has the legitimate ability to claim himself the honorary fifth Highwayman, and that he was a primary influence on one of his best friends, Townes Van Zandt.
Guy Clark paid off his penances to the world through his song contributions many years ago. But like a wily old tinkerer who can’t stop tooling on those cars out in the yard, and finding new motivation to express himself from the recent passing of his wife and fellow songwriter Susanna, Guy Clark has released a very personal album called My Favorite Picture Of You, filled with reflection and forlornness, without forsaking the stories of rough characters and other country interludes that make a Guy Clark album very personal to his devout listeners.
A Guy Clark album, and a Guy Clark song doesn’t need much. Once he’s written the words down and sketched the shape with an acoustic guitar (that Guy Clark the luthier likely built himself), his job is pretty much done. Maybe bring in a few instrumental accompaniments and some harmony contributions from the bevy of famous female voices always willing to lend a harmony line to one of Clark’s empirical offerings, and you’re done. Don’t bother with drums or any of that nonsense, Guy Clark’s words and acoustic tones are clothing enough. This lends to his compositions doing what they do best: going out into the world, influencing other songs and songwriters, melding to the personal narratives of his listeners, and being graced with enough ambiguity where other performers can take Guy’s spark of inspiration and make the songs their own.
When you boil it all down, Guy Clark’s greatest gift is his ability to use words to describe feelings and memories that most humans are confounded in being able to express. Take the dichotomy of the hero for example, how they seem to lift us up as much as they disappoint us. “Heroes” from this latest album is not just another troop tribute, it is a testament to how the frailty of the human condition grips even the best among us. “The High Price of Inspiration” deals with another dichotomy; how many times we must suffer to find our muse. “Hell Bent On A Heartache” is one of those songs begging to be picked up and recorded by someone else with a full band, while a song like “Conrmeal Waltz” is just plain fun.
If you’re looking to get your face melted off, then you’ve come to the wrong place. But when you’re looking for world class songwriting, you can never go wrong with Guy Clark.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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For many up-and-coming country artists, simply getting to meet their country heroes is thrill enough. Getting the honor of portraying them in a big theatrical production? That is the thrill of a lifetime.
Adam Lee of Kansas City’s Adam Lee & The Dead Horse Sound Company is getting that very chance by apprising the role of Johnny Cash in the Chicago-based production of the critically-acclaimed and Tony-nominated Million Dollar Quartet—a musical based around the legendary Sun Studios recording session that transpired on December 4th, 1956 and included the star power of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash.
Adam Lee, who has one of the most pure and natural country bass voices you will find—as low as Cash’s legendary pipes—joined the stage show live last Wednesday (7-3-13) after weeks of preparations and rehearsal.
“It kind of came out of the blue,” Adam Lee explains. “Back in Spring I was on tour—me and my buddy Matt Woods were out at South by Southwest—and I got an email from the people at the show. I knew one of the fellas from the show, a guy named Lance Lipensky who plays Jerry Lee Lewis. We met during another tour I was on up in Chicago. They said they were looking for somebody to maybe take over Johnny Cash, and asked if I wanted to audition. It’s certainly a different kind of thing. It’s something I never expected. But I figured what the hell, I’ll come up and see about it.”
The Million Dollar Quartet musical has been running now for 5 years. It was co-written by renown American music biographer and historian Colin Escott, and the musical arrangements were handled by Chuck Mead of BR549 fame.
“I thought if anything I go up there and get a chance to meet these guys and sing in front of them. So I came up the first week of April and did an audition. They seemed happy with it. I’d never acted or anything, and they told me that day they weren’t going to have anybody act, they were just looking for people to sing. So I went into the audition and Colin, Chuck, and some of the producers were there, and I sang. Then they asked me, ‘Well can you act?’ So I read some lines and I left. I didn’t really hear much back. And then they called me 3 months later and asked me if I wanted to come up here [to Chicago]. This past Wednesday was my first show. I’ve got 8 shows under my belt now, and I’m feeling pretty good. 5 days a week, 8 shows a week. It’s a lot of fun.”
Adam Lee has been a touring musician on and off since 2008 when he released his first album with the Dead Horse Sound Company called Ghostly Fires. That album and 2010′s When The Spirits Move Me are favorites amongst traditional country fans familiar with Adam Lee. Playing the role of Johnny Cash, especially since Lee had never acted before was intimidating. But as Adam explains, they weren’t looking for an impersonator.
“It’s obviously quite an undertaking. One thing I really like about their attitude with their show is that it’s not like a legends show. It’s not a tribute artist act where they want you to impersonate this person and fake it. It’s more about trying to take the person’s attitude and persona, and filter it through yourself. You’re definitely encouraged to be yourself, and bring yourself to the table.”
And Adam says his training as a musician helped, especially because the focus of the Million Dollar Quartet is not just the stage show, but the music, and his knowledge and appreciation for Johnny Cash came in handy.
“All the music in the show is live. All the actors play all the instruments and sing. It’s an interesting mix of a live rock show, and theater. It’s a very different show in that regard. Normally you have musicians, and then you have actors. But for this show they have to find people who can do both. Chuck Mead’s arrangements are fantastic. I had to learn some of the breaks, and some things that they do that were not necessarily the way I had learned the songs. But it was a lot of fun. I definitely felt like I was getting to exercise some muscles I don’t usually use. We do a couple gospel songs. There’s four and five part harmony gospel singing, so I get to do some bass harmony singing, which is a lot of fun. I’m definitely learning a lot. The whole acting thing is new to me, but I’m having fun with it.”
The Million Dollar Quartet runs shows at Chicago’s Apollo Theater Tuesday through Sunday, with two shows on Saturday and Sunday. There is another production of the play currently running in Las Vegas, and another that tours the country.
Authenticity and dysfunction are regularly celebrated in country music, and what better way to celebrate that than to look back in time a some of the most notable mugshots and arrests of country music’s most notable stars.
Cash was arrested twice. The first was after a trip to Mexico when he tried to hide 1,163 Dexedrine and Equanil tablets in his guitar case while crossing the border near El Paso, TX in 1965. Since the drugs were prescription instead of illegal narcotics, Cash received a suspended sentence. He was arrested again in 1966 in Starkville, Miss. for … get this … picking flowers late at night. The property owner pressed trespassing charges, and Johnny spent time in the Starkville County Jail, resulting in the song of the same name.
Though Cash was famous for his concerts at Folsom Prison and San Quentin, he never served time in anything bigger than a city jail (the bottom mug was just for show).
The trouble started for Willie Nelson way back in 1960 when he was arrested for speeding in Pasadena, TX (near Houston). And then came the pot busts:
- 1974 – For possession in Dallas, TX.
- 1994 – For possession in Hewitt (near Waco) when Willie pulled his Mercedes off the side of the highway for a siesta and an officer found a joint in the ashtray and eventually a bag of marijuana. The judge ruled the evidence inadmissible and the charges were dropped.
- 2006 – For possession in St. Martin Parish, Louisiana for one-and-a-half pounds of marijuana and 3 oz. of hallucinogenic mushrooms. Willie, his sister Bobbi, and Willie’s manager were all arrested, eventually receiving 6 months probation.
- 2010 – For possession of 6 ounces of marijuana at the Sierra Blanca, Texas border checkpoint. Willie eventually only had to pay a fine.
Jerry Lee Lewis
In the dead of night in November of 1976, a drunken and armed Jerry Lee Lewis showed up to the gates of Graceland demanding to see his fellow Sun Studios alum Elvis right then and there. The guard rang Elvis who refused “The Killer’s” request, and then rang Memphis police when Lewis began waving a gun around.
Hank Williams Jr.
You may think because Hank Jr. was the last of his rowdy friends to settle down that at some point he would wind up in the pokey, but it turns out his mugshot was for a bunk charge from a 19-year-old in March of 2006 that said Jr. put her in a choke hold after she refused to kiss him. Jr. turned himself in, and after finding out the girl was looking to cash in big on the accusation and that there was no real evidence of the altercation, the charges were dropped.
In November of 2003, Glen Campbell was arrested at his home near Phoenix, AZ after hitting and running while drunk in his BMW. Then while Campbell was being processed, he kneed an officer in the leg, which added an aggravated assault of a police officer charge. Campbell pleaded down some of the counts, and eventually spent 10 days in jail.
Domestic abuse charges landed Rodney Atkins in front of the police camera in February of 2012, but the news about the charges didn’t come out until his wife filed for divorce a few weeks later. The news also came on the heels of Rodney re-signing with Curb Records. The charges were later dropped as part of the divorce settlement.
An indelible image of country music’s first superstar in this midst of his downfall in 1952, leaving the jailhouse in Alexander City, Alabama.
Billy Joe Shaver
Notable country music songwriter Billy Joe Shaver sits on the witness stand stemming from an altercation behind Papa Joe’s bar near Waco, TX in 2007 when Shaver shot a man non lethally in the face with a .22 pistol. The incident became a piece of country music lore when Dale Watson wrote a song titled “Where Do You Want It?” allegedly for the question Shaver asked his victim before he pulled the trigger. The high-profile trial incuded Willie Nelson showing up as a Shaver character witness, and eventually all charges were dropped against when it was ruled Shaver was acting in self defense.
In 2003, daughter Judd was pulled over for speeding and subsequently blew a .175, lading her in jail before she posted a $500 bail. It all happened right down the street from Music Row, so maybe it’s true what they say about the country music industry driving artists to drink.
Just like the “Wet Cigarette of Country Music” to get arrested at a Waffle House. In October of 2007, Kid Rock and his crew stopped into the DeKalb County, Georgia eatery where they proceeded to brawl with gawking patrons. Other members of Kid Rocks posse were also arrested. Rock was found guilty of simple battery. It was his 4th chance to strike the perp pose over the years for various charges.
David Allan Coe
You better believe DAC would be here, but unfortunately this is the biggest photo we can drum up of David from his time in the Ohio State Penal System.
Coe was also arrested in 2008 after an altercation in a casino when a misunderstanding about a jackpot resulted in security officers and police wrestling Coe to the ground. Coe countersued in 2010 for false arrest and assault. The entire altercation was caught on tape.
Yes, we know that some of the younger generation of country performers don’t want to pander to the “old farts and jackasses,” but maybe Billy Currington took it a little too far when he threatened a 70-year-old boat captain for coming too close to his waterfront property in Tybee Island, Ga. Currington was cited in April of 2013 for making “terroristic threats” and “abuse of an elder.” Case is still pending.
Johnny Paycheck spent 4 years battling an aggravated assault charge after shooting a man in a Hillsboro, OH bar during a brawl. Though multiple appeals kept Paycheck out of prison for a while, he was finally sentenced to the Chillicothe Correctional Institute in 1989 where he served two years before being paroled.
In May of 2008, Louisiana country star Chris Cagle got in a tussle with his girlfriend Jennifer Tant at the Player’s Bar in Nashville before the couple took the bout home. Cagle wielded Jennifer’s purse. Jennifer weilded an umbrella, and they both ended up in the big house. Police said they were both too drunk and disorderly to press any serious charges.
When the underground country band from Austin, TX went to release their first album, they chose their mutual mugshots from the same Williamson County roundup to make up the CD art.
No mugshots of George Jones’s numerous run ins with the law during his drinking days have ever surfaced, but video did a few years ago from a George Jones documentary.
Get well Randy! …. but we couldn’t make this list without you. Travis was forced to pose for police camera twice in 2012; once after a drunken fight at a church, and the other after driving drunk….and naked.
Recently Brad Arnold from the rock band 3 Doors Down told Billboard he’s planning to “Go Country” on his first solo album. In 2013, stories of entertainers that “go country” are routine occurrences instead of reasons for surprise, intrigue, or outrage, because country music has officially become the default repository for talent fleeing the collapse of mainstream rock or the place to find strength in the twilight of a dying entertainment career.
Here are some of the most notorious “gone country” moments over the years.
Even the traditionally pliable, easily-wooed pop country fan saw through this one. When Jessica Simpson told the world she wanted to go back to her roots, she unfortunately didn’t mean skipping her weekly peroxide treatments. Though curiosity factor and a catchy single in “Come On Over” garnered her some minor attention, her first (and only) country album, 2008′s Do You Know only sold a grand total of 173,000 copies, and Simpson quickly scrapped her “gone country” charade. Simpson’s low point was reached when fans at the Country Thunder Festival in Wisconsin notoriously booed Simpson virtually off the stage.
When the pop world got tired of her teen icon bit, her boobs were no longer buxom enough for Playboy, and after she was the very first contestant to get booted from, get this, “Hulk Hogan’s Celebrity Championship Wresting,” 80′s flash-in-the-pan Tiffany turned to country music to try and stop the circling of the drain known as her entertainment career. Remember her 2011 country debut Rose Tattoo and its lead single “Feel The Music”? Yeah, me neither. How did Tiffany promote her first country release? By going on tour with another 80′s teen idol, Debbie Gibson, in a retrospective dubbed “Journey Through The 80′s” that featured the two rehashing 80′s pop songs as well as performing Broadway show tunes. Now if that ain’t country…
Alright, so the punchline here is that the bald-headed goofball who regularly runs himself out of breath during highlight reel on Fox’s NFL broadcast actually did have a career in country music. But you know what, the 4-time Super Bowl winner and Football Hall of Famer wasn’t half bad when he belted out his version of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” Believe it or not, the song peaked at #17 on the country charts in 1976. Two Bradshaw country albums in 1980 had not nearly the success though, and Bradshaw eventually dropped back 20 yards and punted on his dream of being a big time country star.
Worst “gone country” story ever? Lionel is in strong contention for not even offering up original material, but simply taking the track list from his “Greatest Hits” album and rehashing it into pseudo-country songs with the help of a cavalcade of pop country puppets…and Willie Nelson. Country music rolled out the red carpet for Lionel like no other pop gone country performer before, with the ACM’s giving Lionel his own prime time special. The result? Richie’s “gone country” album Tuskegee was the best selling album in all of country for the first half of 2012, despite not one song on the album being anything the public hadn’t heard before, and without the album producing even one single with any significant radio play. And for this, yes, we did use the most unflattering picture of Lionel we could find.
Can you get any more pompus than superimposing yourself on the set of The Johnny Cash Show, sharing the stage with the Man In Black? Well that’s what Everlast, the front man for the 90′s rap group House of Pain did back in 2008 when he remixed Johnny’s “Folsom Prison Blues” with House of Pain’s only hit “Jump Around.” This wasn’t Everlast’s first run at country rap. In 2004 he released an album called White Trash Beautiful that had a country-rap feel; his first on the rap label Def Jam. The album was panned by critics, was a commercial flop, and Def Jam dropped him.
When the whole late 90′s angst “children of divorce” bit had run its course, singer Aaron Lewis of the depresso rock band Staind shed the eyebrow ring and started playing solo acoustic shows and calling them country after his rock radio support dried up, and despite the songs sounding no different from his acoustic rock solo work. His lead country single “Country Boy” was laughable at best, with self-aggrandizing lyrics and a silly self-righteous video. His second single, the formulaic “Endless Summer” had the dubious distinction of being the first song to name drop Jason Aldean.
Things did improve slightly on Lewis’s first LP, The Road.
Sheryl Crow is like a bad rash that spreads everywhere and won’t go away. It was only a matter of time before she brought her bland mix of genero pop and lame rock to the country airwaves, despite there being little to no difference sonically between her pre and post “gone country” material. It’s not that Sheryl Crow’s music is terrible. It’s the everywhere nature of her persona always being shoehorned into every televised music event, album compilation, awards show, etc. etc., regardless of genre or context. We get it. It’s Sheryl Crow. Enough already.
Kid Rock has been accused of “going country” many times from incorporating country elements into his songs, including with Sheryl Crow on their successful 2002 duet “Picture.” But Kid Rock has always flatly denied wanting to be part of the genre itself.
Darius Rucker, aka Hootie from Hootie & The Blowfish blew the rock scene for greener country pastures in 2008. However bland Hootie’s country music might be, he’s done a fair job over the years keeping his nose clean and not releasing anything too offensive. Some folks were up in arms when he was inducted to the Grand Ole Opry, but that is more on the Opry than Rucker.
Bing Crosby was actually the first pop star to go country. In 1944 he released a version of Al Dexter’s “Pistol Packin’ Mama,” and because Billboard had just launched a dedicated country chart, it became country music’s very first #1.
Bon Jovi became the first rock band to top the country charts with their song “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” featuring Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland. That enticed the hair-era band to cut the album Lost Highway in Nashville. It included guest appearances by Big & Rich and Leann Rimes.
Metallica‘s song “Mama Said” off their 1996 album Load featured steel guitar and a cowboy-hatted James Hetfield in the song’s video. Hefield also covered Waylon Jennings’ “Don’t Y’all Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Got Out of Hand” for the 2003 tribute album I’ve Always Been Crazy.
Mike D of the Beastie Boys, under the persona “Country Mike” released a country record in 2000 called Country Mike’s Greatest Hits, but he only made it available to friends and family. Bootlegs of the album are available, and copies of the record on vinyl bring top dollar on eBay.
Kevin Bacon, along with his brother Michael Bacon, have a band called The Bacon Brothers that play country rock. Since the brothers have been playing music with each other since they were kids, it’s hard to characterize them as “going country” even though Kevin is primarily known as an actor. The brothers also work together for music on TV shows and soundtracks.
Lady Gaga released “Born This Way (The Country Road Version)” in March of 2011, making tabloid writers run to their laptops to declare The Fame Monster was “going country,” but it was more a ploy to continue to drive sales for that one particular song.
Jewel, Kelly Clarkson, Smash Mouth’s Steve Harwell, Kevin Costner, Olivia Newton-John and Michelle Branch are some other non-country stars that have “gone country.”
“In America, one of the great things to do is listen to Mickey Newbury sing.” –Waylon Jennings
It always seems like the most creative among us are never fit for the masses. Their gifts are too blinding, too rich for the wide palette, and so it takes an interpretation of their genius through others to find the broader audience their artistic expression deserves. These creative originators may not be fit for everyone, but for those tragic musical junkies who have built up such a tolerance to the interpretations and derivatives peddled on repeat radio for these very many years, seeking out and discovering the musical headwaters of a movement is like the discovery of untold wealth; a second chance to enjoy music like you’re listening to it for the very first time.
Mickey Newbury would certainly qualify as one of these musical specimens, if not the ideal case study. Mickey was nothing short of a legend amongst his songwriting brethren, but was an artist whose own performance career was never graced with significant attention like many of the artists he lent his song material and inspiration to. A somewhat reclusive character who lived on a houseboat just outside of Nashville before moving away to Oregon to purposely get as far away from the music industry as possible, the case could be made that Mickey Newbury was one of the very first, if not the first true American country music “Outlaw.” Mickey was the first to be released from his contract with the intrusive RCA label and win the stipulation to be able to produce his own albums or choose his own producer—years before Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings would accomplish the same from the Nashville recording establishment, partly inspired by Newbury’s story.
Just like Willie, Waylon, and Kris Kristofferson, Mickey Newbury was originally from Texas. Famous country DJ Ralph Emery calls Mickey the first “hippie cowboy.” And though Willie Nelson’s Phases and Stages from 1974 is usually given the credit of being one of country music’s very first concept albums, Newbury’s 1969 Looks Like Rain might be the more worthy candidate.
Looks Like Rain was the first installment in what would become an album trilogy from the gifted songwriter between 1969 and 1973, later to be christened An American Trilogy after arguably Newbury’s most memorable song of the same name. Though Newbury was best known as an original songwriter, “An American Trilogy” was a medley that included parts of the Confederate Anthem “Dixie,” the Bahamian lullaby “All My Trials,” and the Union army’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” It became Newbury’s signature performance piece, showcasing his incredibly powerful voice, and ability to conjure moments in music that haunt you well after the last refrain.
In 2011, the three albums of Looks Like Rain, ‘Frisco Mabel Joy, and Heaven Help The Child, along with 15 demo songs, rarities, and unreleased recordings were assembled together in hopes of presenting Newbury’s music to a new generation, and reminding an older generation of Newbury’s contributions. When you think of “Outlaw” songwriters, you think of rough and tumble characters like Billy Joe Shaver or David Allan Coe, but Newbury and his American Trilogy has a sparse, almost genteel approach, leaning more on organ and strings than steel guitar, giving it a reverence and a lifting action like nothing else heard in country music, then or now.
The first album Looks Like Rain works like one continuous track, spelling out a very personal narrative, with wind chimes seamlessly creating a bed in between songs, pulling you into the album’s depths; into the little proprietary world Mickey creates, and enhancing the entire experience beyond the allure of the individual songs themselves.
‘Frisco Mabel Joy may be the most complete and accessible album of the collection, with the “An American Trilogy” opening song setting the mood. It loosely follows a young Southern man on a journey to find a lost love that traverses the American continent, and seems to tell the country’s story along the way. “An American Trilogy” captures such an inspired performance, it deserves to be considered right beside the greatest American compositions of all time like “Ode To The Common Man” and “This Land Is Your Land.” The album ends with the plaintive, but very enjoyable “How I Love Them Old Songs,” marking one of the trilogy’s most country compositions.
Heaven Help The Child illustrates the ever-present evolution, transformation, and insistence on growth and understanding that Mickey Newbury’s life was an exemplar of, while once again highlighting his propensity to create a seamless album experience and memorable moments. All three albums were recorded at Cinderella Sound in Madison, Tennessee, so the albums all work seamlessly between each other as well. You don’t skip around to select tracks on An American Trilogy. You push play and allow yourself to get lost in the music.
The American Trilogy era from Mickey Newbury’s body of work has become an absolute wellspring of musical material for other artists, and one that helped lay the groundwork for country music’s Outlaw era. Penning First Edition’s (Kenny Rogers’ first band) “Just Dropped In” is what made the world aware of Newbury, but after he released the first trilogy album Looks Like Rain, both David Allan Coe and Waylon Jennings covered the songs “San Francisco Maybel Joy” and “The 33rd of August.” Johnny Cash and Bobby Bare both covered “I Don’t Think Much About Her No More,” from the trilogy’s 2nd installment, and all of a sudden a who’s who of performers in Nashville were listening to Newbury and trying to figure out how they could give their own unique take on his landmark recordings.
Tompall Glaser, and the venerable Bill Monroe would go on to cover Mickey’s “How I Love Them Old Songs,” Elvis Presley did his own version of “An American Trilogy,” and the seemingly never-ending list of songwriting accolades for Newbury continues from there, including 8 cover and tribute albums released to him over the years.
Songwriters like to say that their songs are like children. If that is the case, Mickey Newbury is a father, grandfather, and great-grandfather many times over. His An American Trilogy is an indelible, essential work of the American songbook, from which many branches of American music sprout from.
Two guns up.
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Mickey Newbury’s An American Trilogy is available in a 4 CD box set, a 4 CD fold out with 24-page companion booklet, or in MP3 form. All tracks have been remastered from their original tapes. It includes a total of 41 songs.
“If there is one thing I can respect more than anything, it’s individuality in music. And I think back in the early era of country music that was so apparent. Like you could really tell your Johnny Cash from your Waylons from your Merles. They all had a distinct thing happening. And they were all really great at what they did. It was really important for me to etch out my own thing as a student of that.” — Lindi Ortega
Exquisitely antiqued and strikingly original, old school country singer and native Canadian Lindi Ortega is the northern emissary for country music’s current female revolution. A class act all around that is regarded just as highly for her self-penned songs as her heavenly (or devilish) voice, Lindi is a creative maelstrom that sends the room spinning from her ability to expose the most blinding beauty from life’s inherent darkness.
Now living in Nashville, and benefiting from some song placements in the new ABC drama series named after her new home, Lindi is starting to pack venues across the country, leaving a trail of broken hearts and positive buzz. After a rousing show at Austin’s most legendary listening room The Cactus Cafe on Monday (7-1), the gracious and arresting songwriter was kind enough to sit down and explain the inspiration behind her music.
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Trigger: There’s sort of two burgeoning movements in country music right now, and you’re part of both of them. Last year and this year we keep getting great albums from Canadians. How is it being a Canadian playing country music, as a perspective?
Lindi Ortega: I never really think about that when I do what I do. I just know what I listen to and what I’m inspired by. I don’t think about the fact that I wasn’t born in the southern United States and raised on a farm. I feel like maybe in a past life I might have been. That’s why it speaks to me. My mom was really into country music when I was growing up. She sort of planted the seed in my mind; a seed that grew into a great love and appreciation for especially old school country; you know Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn, Waylon and all of them. So I don’t really think about the fact that I’m from Canada when I’m writing songs, or paying tribute or homage to that music. I just happen to be.
Trigger: You’re also part of this revolution of young, beautiful, talented women that are giving country a shot of substance and showing respect to the music’s roots. There’s a lot of people talking about 2013 as the “Year of the Woman” in country music. Names like Caitlin Rose and Kacey Musgraves are brought up, and so is Lindi Ortega as an example. Why do you think the women are outpacing the men right now as far as substance in country music?
Lindi Ortega: I don’t know, but I’m glad that it’s happening. It’s so great because when I started doing country-inspired music in Toronto, I didn’t know anybody who was doing it. I didn’t even hear it around me. Then the more I was doing it, the more I would hear about it. And then of course I moved to Nashville and it’s all around me. It’s so great that people are appreciating the old school way. It’s nice to know that that art of live off-the-floor recordings, and not a shitload of Auto-tune and fancy stuff is going on. I’m glad that’s not a dying art. And I’m glad that females are doing it.
Trigger: So back in Toronto, you’re playing music and you had the nickname “Indie Lindi.”
Lindi Ortega: I still do!
Trigger: So you’re playing this music, and you weren’t in a scene in Toronto of rootsy musicians?
Lindi Ortega: Yeah I was a little bit autonomous. I was kind of anti-social to a fault I guess. I just stayed in my room and wrote songs. I wasn’t really part of any scene. There was a scene. When I was doing music there was much more of an indie rock scene. Now it’s a bit different, there’s a little more variety there. But there’s wasn’t a whole lot of alt-country back then. Now it’s everywhere.
Trigger: Is that what you consider yourself? Because you said “country-inspired” before and you’re saying “alt-country” now.
Lindi Ortega: Well there’s so many labels for it and I don’t know I guess. Some people don’t think I’m country at all. And I guess if you’re listening to the radio, I don’t sound country. I like to say I’m very much inspired by old-school country. And what kind of country that is in this day and age in the modern era, I don’t know. Hey, you can call it whatever you want. As long as people are listening to it is all that’s important to me.
Trigger: Did Cigarettes and Truckstops feel like your breakout album?
Lindi Ortega: In a way, yeah. I feel like there were a lot of things that led to having successful shows. One would be the Social Distortion tour that I did; the crazy pairing with me and Social D and I did two tours with them and it exposed me to a wide audience. Amazingly they were very accepting of me and the music I’ve done. And of course the Nashville TV show, and having a few song placements on there helped.
Trigger: Have you physically seen a bump from the Nashville TV exposure?
Lindi Ortega: Yeah. People tell me at shows, “I heard your song on Nashville and I checked you out.” I think it’s amazing that it was able to resonate that way. It actually led to people coming out to shows which is great.
Trigger: Attractive women are not supposed to be as talented as you are. Usually if someone is strong in one suit, they’re not strong in another. You just don’t see a lot of beautiful women that are creative dynamos. (READ if this part of the question offends you.) Where does your motivation to make music that may not appeal to everyone come from?
Lindi Ortega: You’re too kind to me. I spent my whole day going, “I’m getting old!” But my motivation comes from my influences, and people that have stuck to their guns. I read a lot of biographies. If there is one thing I can respect more than anything, it’s individuality in music. And I think back in the early era of country music that was so apparent. Like you could really tell your Johnny Cash from your Waylons from your Merles. They all had a distinct thing happening. And they were all really great at what they did. It was really important for me to etch out my own thing as a student of that.
I don’t care about money. I honestly don’t. I don’t give a shit. I could stay at a shitty motel, I think it’s more fun. And I like riding in little vans and I love doing it that way. I think there’s a story in that, and I write songs that are stories and that tell stories. My influences inspire me to have integrity and to do what I love and be passionate about it. I don’t care about making millions or any of that. Of course if it happens, like everyone says it’s icing on the cake. But I’m happy doing what I do. I love what I do, and this is a beautiful existence for me. I get to tour. I get to go to different cities and see the world. I can’t imagine a better existence than this.
Trigger: Are you a road dog?
Lindi Ortega: I love it. I get antsy when I’m not on the road. I start to miss it and I can’t wait to get back out. It gets to a point where hotel rooms feel more like home.
Trigger: How do birds inspire your music and image?
Lindi Ortega: Yeah, I’m a bird lover. And recently I guess ravens have been my thing. But I love all birds. I have a tattoo that says, “Bird On A Wire.” It’s a Leonard Cohen song. The image of a bird on a wire and that whole song just speaks to me. Something about flying in the sky and that type of free existence resonates with me. I always think my style’s a little bit of Frida Kahlo meets Wonder Woman meets Johnny Cash. The Johnny Cash thing is of course the black thing. I always think of that movie and the line and the manager saying to him, “Johnny, why are you wearing black? You look like you’re going to a funeral.” And he’d say, “Well maybe I am.” And I was like, “Oh, that’s brilliant! I want to go to that funeral too!” I’m half Mexican, so that whole Dia de los Muertos thing, and dying and death and the whole fleeting of our existence is always running through my mind. And I don’t always think of it in a morbid way. I guess I think of it in the more Mexican way, the colorful aspect.
Trigger: You mentioned Frida Kahlo and I saw a picture of your guitar case and Frida Kahlo is all over it. How did she influence your music?
Lindi Ortega: Well I saw the movie a long time ago. That was the first thing that inspired me because she was such a character. And then I learned more about her life and read biographies about her. And I thought in the midst of all her emotional pain she was so full of life, and it was so interesting to me. And her art was so incredible. Her self-portraits I found most fascinating because the expression on her face I felt was very familiar to one I’ve seen in the mirror a couple of times; moments of loneliness and it spoke to me. I love her. I think she’s an incredible artist and a strong woman, an inspiration and I’m slightly obsessed, and I have a song about her on my next record.
Trigger: Speaking of that, is there any hints of new stuff that you can tell us? Do you have a new album coming out?
Lindi Ortega: I do. I have a new one coming out hopefully in the fall. I’m really excited about it. Dave Cobb was the producer. He did Secret Sisters and Jason Isbell. We had a blast, it was a lot of fun. Everyone that played on it was awesome.
From the “not for everyone” file, but nonetheless an excellent offering, comes Year of the Dragon from the ultra mod, space cowboy audio curiosity known as Brent Amaker and the Rodeo. This may be your first interfacing with Brent Amaker, but the Seattle-based throwback/futuristic country innovator has been around since 2005, and is responsible for such underground country cult hits as “Sissy New Age Cowboy,” “I’ve Got A Little Hillbilly In Me,” garnering a strong cult following over the years especially in and around their Pacific Northwest haunt.
Though good for a laugh and a toe tap, on the surface Brent Amaker may come across as a band lacking any long-standing depth. There’s a lot of gimmick and show surrounding the endeavor. Brent and The Rodeo dress up in either all white or all black suits, sometimes wearing Lone Ranger-like masks, sometimes accompanied by burlesque dancers on stage. Amaker sings in one of the most monotone ranges you can find in music, and with nearly every song employing the same horse gallop or train beat, the casual listener may regard the band favorably for a few songs, but overall see it as a short-lived stunt.
But whether our own misgivings kept us from seeing the genius behind Brent Amaker and the Rodeo before, or this new project just represents a big step forward, Year of the Dragon is a wickedly creative, well-written, brilliantly orchestrated, and an infectiously entertaining surprise that offers stiff competition to the gaggle of albums being regarded as the year’s best.
If someone asked me to pony up an example of how in 30 years from now when we all have jet packs and flying cars, how country music could still respect and represent its roots, but still offer a relevant sound, I would hand them over a copy of Year of the Dragon. But the style of this project doesn’t resort to simple-minded, catchy beats to appeal to kids, it takes the fantastic, comic-book, idealistic take on the future and embeds it in the audio context. It is The Ventures / David Bowie approach to country music.
Year of the Dragon strikes that always-elusive balance between substance and wide-ranging appeal. Though the appeal will be hidden from some for the aforementioned reasons (monotone lyrics and similar rhythms between songs), once you delve beneath the surface, this album offers succulent melodies and catchy moments that make it downright addicting beyond the intellectual appeal of the artistry and lyricism. Similarly to how a recent project from Slim Cessna’s Auto Club called Unentitled took traditionally pop modes and engineered them into a more artistic format, so does Brent Amaker & The Rodeo, allowing Year of the Dragon to tickle all of the sensations on the music listener’s palette.
This album just sounds good. Its effort was painstaking: The mix, the left to right panning, the little percussive elements and cattle whistles all over it adding texture to every corner of the music, with the instrumentation defining the term “tasteful,” embellishing Brent’s compositions warmly without ever showboating. By the end you not only don’t mind Amaker’s small vocal range, you crave it.
All of this may make the poetry in Year of the Dragon feel like an afterthought, but in songs like “I Put My Boots On,” “Troubled Times,” and “One Idea,” Amaker flashes both his wit and wisdom, without getting in the way of the corporeal appeal of the music. It’s not just the simple beats and underlying country bones of the music that have many comparing Brent Amaker to a futuristic version of Johnny Cash, it’s also his trend toward the cautionary tale and conveying a moral through his music, while not being afraid to throw a little subversive humor in for good measure.
The consistently dark hue of the music might start to erode at your attention span a little bit by the end of the album, but another asset to Year of the Dragon is the brevity of the songs, with no track on the album trespassing past the 4-minute mark. The album sucks you in, holds you, and ends too soon like it should.
Again let me issue the cautionary note that this type of offbeat artistry is not going to be everyone’s bag, but for those evolved music listeners, including those who may see country as a subordinate genre in their world, Year of the Dragon is an absolute sense-fulfilling joy.
Two guns up!
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Country music savior and critically-acclaimed songsmith Sturgill Simpson has been making waves all over the country with his new breakout album High Top Mountain released on June 11th, and now he threatens to take the high-flying act international by boarding a puddle jumper and puttering over to the Land of the Rising Sun to record the video for his heart-pounding, hot plate, house on fire, country as hell, soon to be hit single “Railroad of Sin.” ‘Godzillabilly’ is what’s he’s patterning the theme, as the Kentucky native and Nashville resident takes a high arching swan dive deep into culture shock.
Johnny Cash may have not been born in Nagasaki, and bullet trains may not be equipped with lonesome whistles, but the Orient is where Hank Jr. picked up his official nickname for Waylon Jennings: “Watashin!” which means, “old #1″ and you’d be hard pressed to find a more modern resemblance to Waymore than one Sturgill Simpson. So keep clear of the closing doors, strap in tight, and get ready to speed away on Sturgill Simpson’s “Railroad of Sin.”
Yes ladies and gentlemen, Joe Diffie—the mulleted, cop mustached 90′s semi-star—has released an “answer” song to what many consider the worst song in country music history, Jason Aldean’s country rap “1994.” Diffie’s new song is called “Girl Ridin’ Shotgun,” and it is as embarrassing as puberty.
Listen, Joe Diffie. Seriously man, I hate to break it to you, but Jason Aldean has no idea who the hell you are. And neither does his body spray-drenched Tap Out T shirt-wearing corporate country fan base. Aldean is just reading lyrics off of a teleprompter, waiting for the concert to end so he can get down to his real passion: plowing through the line of 20-year-olds waiting backstage to give him hummers.
Just sit back and appreciate this folks: These two dudes are releasing tribute songs to each other, yet they’re not friends, they’ve never met, or even conversed according to reports. There was speculation that Aldean and Diffie would share the stage at the ACM Awards in April where Aldean was scheduled to perform “1994,” but nothing came to pass. They spent the effort to erect this…
…yet couldn’t pony up for a Fun Fare on Southwest Airlines to get ol’ Diffie and his mustache to be part of the presentation.
How much money has this Joe Diffie song made Jason Aldean, yet Jason is too busy getting fitted with wallet chains and having his jean pockets embroidered with glitter thread to call Joe on the damn phone? Aldean told radio station 107.7 GNA when asked if he’d ever talked to Diffie, “No. My booking agent Kevin Neal who is a mutual friend of ours, I think he’s talked to him. But I haven’t actually talked to Joe yet.”
Aldean thinks that maybe a mutual friend talked to Joe? What the hell is all this Joe Diffie, “1994″ nonsense about then? You’ll tribute the man in song, but won’t shoot him a text message? Is it because Aldean isn’t paying tribute to Joe, his mullet, his mustache, his pudgy face, or his paltry singles catalog that they pilfered for “1994″ lyrics, he’s actually making fun of it? Maybe Joe Diffie is the jester for their little modern-era, ultra-ironic, making-fun-of-country-music’s-past radio hit, not the king.
And so what does Joe Diffie do about it? Does he bow up? No, he jumps on the bandwagon and begins riding this wave of shitty music and anachronistic fallacy to its fatalistic end by releasing his own country rap song, and with all people, the absolute toilet hole of musical expression, the creatively bankrupt and bottomfeeding D. Thrash from the Jawga Boyz. What, were Colt Ford and The Moonshine Bandits too busy bankrupting a Chinese buffet? No, like Aldean, they didn’t answer Diffie’s calls because they knew this would turn out to be an embarrassment.
Using anything touched by the Jawga Boyz for anything other than removing the result of a bowel movement from your backside is the textbook definition of “slumming.” They are the music equivalent of a bright yellow XXXL Tweety Bird T shirt from Wal-Mart with dried spaghetti caked on the front.
The beats for “Girl Ridin’ Shotgun” sound like they were composed by a 7th grader who just snorted his ADD meds, just like all of the beats of the Jawga Boyz’s bombastic and trashy tracks. The beat doesn’t even get five seconds into the song without going off meter. There’s biscuit crumbs in Joe Diffie’s mustache that could compose a better beat. And then D Thrash’s first line doesn’t even rhyme. Are you effing serious with this song? “Girl Ridin’ Shotgun” makes me want to make out with my cousin and bet on a dog fight.
The video for “Girl Ridin’ Shotgun” meets the demands of the song by being completely devoid of substance, theme, intelligence, or creative expression. Instead we get trucks, chicks, mud, and hot rods, like we haven’t seen this same idiotic shit used over and over.
And the saddest thing for poor old Joe Diffie is that “1994″ has already petered off the country music charts, and never really mounted much of a charge to begin with. It was too awful, too transparent, and Joe Diffie too much of an unknown quantity to the mainstream country listener for it to hold anyone’s attention. So even though Diffie heard the song and got dollar signs in his eyes and delusions of a big career comeback, “Girl Ridin’ Shotgun” will be confined to a narrowcasted YouTube phenomenon (just like the rest of the Jawga Boyz’s songs), appealing only to poor white rural folks who’ve cast off their indigenous culture to take part in corporate cultural front running, and curiosity seekers looking for comedic relief.
Sorry Joe. I’ll still go to bat for you and say who had a few cool songs back in the 90′s, and that your bluegrass album wasn’t half bad, and neither is your chorus for this song. But country rap, and the Jawga Boyz? This is a prayer for relevancy guaranteed to go unanswered.
Two shotguns down!
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.
There are songwriters, and then there are songwriters; those folks that so effortlessly set words to the moods and moments of life and that can make you weep like a baby or wildly happy to be alive. These songwriters are there for us, creating a soundtrack for our most enduring memories, making the most of the life experience by enhancing it with music.
But the best of the best songwriters can do something even more. They can set our lives on a completely separate path by showing us the way to discovering ourselves. Something that they say can make us quit that bad job, leave that bad relationship, start a new relationship, or rekindle lost love. It’s not always about preaching or teaching, it’s about showing us a new, better path by touching something inside of us through song. He are a few songwriters who are capable of such magic.
If you only have time for one name of a songwriter that could change your life, I would go with Willy “Tea” Taylor. As a solo artist and the co-frontman for the California-based Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit, Willy’s song catalog works like a medicine cabinet for the soul, with a cure at the ready for any type of emotional ailment. Like the antidote or vaccine for the most common and debilitating of human inflictions, it should be an international imperative to spread the songs of Willy “Tea” far and wide. Willy “Tea” Taylor is where your quest to find the best music you’ve never heard ends.
This Canadian country star is a master craftsman with words, but unlike many of his songwriting counterparts that tend to ace only one aspect of the human condition, Corb Lund can tickle the full palette of human emotions. He has the bone-splitting wit of Shel Silverstein, the cutting emotion of Townes, and the common man understanding of universal struggles of Willie Nelson. And the most unfair part about Corb’s songwriting is that he makes it all seem so damn effortless. Corb Lund is a Canadian treasure the whole world can share in.
You want a musical experience that will change your life? Then get your ass front and center at an Austin Lucas show and watch the man spill his guts out right in front of you in an experience that can be one of the most life-altering mixtures of music and emotion. Whether he’s playing for thousands of people like he did on the Country Thunder Tour in 2011, or a last-minute house show for 7 people on the outskirts of Baton Rouge, Lucas and his songs can leave you speechless. It’s not just about the song with Austin, it is also about the evocation of the emotion and inspiration behind it. This Indiana native now living in Nashville is poised to blow up in 2013. Get on the bandwagon now.
The great thing about Chris Knight is that he’s not some wildly gifted wordsmith who seems to call upon a limitless fountain of vocabulary brilliance to stagger the mind, he’s the everyman poet that works with raw and real language that you can relate to no different than the words of your brother or your neighbor or your best friend. Chris Knight’s authenticity is as real as wood, and when he writes a song, the characters he conjures seem to be culled right from your own world, going through the same struggles, sharing the same simple pleasures. There is a warmth and familiarity of Chris Knight’s music that is unparallelled.
Fans of the .357 String Band already knew Joseph Huber was a skilled composer, but when he stripped it all down after the departure of .357 where it was just Huber and his thoughts, a shimmering brilliance emerged, evidenced on his first solo record Bury Me Where I Fall, and the follow up Tongues of Fire. Huber takes an overarching sorrow and impales it with wisdom to the delight of the mournful and yearning ear.
Arguably one of the greatest American songwriters that nobody has heard of, the enigmatic and influential Will Oldham who performs and records under the stage name Bonnie “Prince” Billy is a songwriter that songwriters listen and look up to. Johnny Cash performed Will’s song “I See A Darkness” on 2000′s American III: Solitary Man, but that is just where Will’s songwriting credits and influential clout begin. You’ll struggle to find a song composer in the greater alt-country/Americana world who doesn’t take the Bonnie “Prince” Billy name with reverence.
If there is one many who can completely lose himself in the music and let it take over every fabric of his being, and then commune that complete loss of self with the crowd to where the experience borders on the religious, it is Texas school teacher turned music madman and spiritual medium Possessed by Paul James. With PPJ, it’s not just about the music and words, it’s about the entire human experience, the bubbling up of emotion and memory with music simply being the excuse. You will walk away from a Possessed by Paul James experience a changed person.
Others songwriters that can change your life: Billy Don Burns, Olds Sleeper, Joe Pug, McDougall, Charlie Parr, Jason Molina, Justin Townes Earle, Tom VandenAvond, Micah Schnabel of Two Cow Garage, and….
The April 28th issue of Country Weekly features Saving Country Music’s 2012 Artist of the Year Marty Stuart and his legendary 20,000-piece archive of country music collectibles, clothing, instruments, and other memorabilia. As Marty Stuart tells the magazine, his passion for preserving artifacts led to his career in country music.
When I was in John’s [Johhnny Cash's] band, the first time I went to London, I ran into a guy named Issac Tigrett who was the co-founder of Hard Rock, a Southern guy. And I went to the first Hard Rock and I saw The Beatles, The Stones, Otis Redding, The Who, all their stuff on the wall. And in my mind I went, “Well that’s just as important if it’s Porter Wagoner, Hank Williams, George Jones, and who on.” And so when I came back to America, I made it a mission. I mean it became my whole focus at that time. Get a record deal, start a band, make them look cool, and get all of the country music artifacts you possibly can and preserve them, lock them down, because they’re getting away fast.
Marty says he would find boots, suits, and other sundries from country music legends just sitting in thrift stores and second-hand shops in Nashville, forgotten and unwanted from the changing times.
Everything was changing in country music. The look of it, the sound of it, and this stuff was just a throwaway…The ultimate mission is not just to preserve this stuff, protect it, promote it, save it, but to get the music into the hands and hearts of young people that are coming through and [saying), “Well I want to do that, but they tell me I have to be like so and so.” But we’ve already got one of those. Be who you are, at any cost.
In the early 90′s Marty Stuart was singed to MCA Records and had multiple hits. Along with Travis Tritt, the two were known as “No Hat” acts. Then as the 90′s wore on Marty’s mainstream popularity waned.
It’s a lonely life sometimes, but it’s rewarding. I wouldn’t trade what’s going on in my life these days for what happened in the 90′s when the records were hitting and popping. I wouldn’t trade it for any amount of money because this is the real stuff.
This is not just country music history, this is American history. And you cannot just dismiss this stuff because it doesn’t matter to anybody’s chart anymore or anybody’s demographic. It’s bigger than all of that.
Much more on Marty Stuart and his collection can be found in this week’s Country Weekly, and in the videos below. You can also check out a recent Marty Stuart interview with Eddie Stubbs.
The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, TN has just announced their 2013 inductees. The new members to country music’s most prestigious institution are “Cowboy” Jack Clement, Bobby Bare, and Kenny Rogers.
Honorary host Bill Anderson made the announcement from the Hall of Fame rotunda Wednesday morning (4-10). 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).
“Cowboy” Jack Clement (non-performer) is one of country music’s most legendary songwriters, producers, and personalities. Clement got his start at Sun Studios, helping record and produce the original hits for Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins. Later he would start his own home studio, where greats such as Waylon Jennings, Charley Pride, and Townes Van Zandt recorded with Clement in the producer’s role. He also wrote successful songs from Dolly Parton, Bobby Bare, and Jim Reeves. “I’ve been chosen for the Country Music Hall of Fame?” Clement said. “I thought I was already in the Hall of Fame, I could have gotten in there any time I wanted. Kyle [Young] (Hall of Fame President) gave me a key.”
Bobby Bare (Veteran’s Era) is the original country music Outlaw. Bare was one of the very first to fight for creative freedom in country music, and also pushed the limits for lyrical content in country when he released the song “Streets of Baltimore” written by Tompall Glaser. Glaser recognized Jerry Reed in his speech at the announcement. “Reed played on every hit I ever had. He was kicking it in the ass.” His son Bobby Bare Jr. is also a musician.
Kenny Rogers (Modern Era) aka “The Gambler” is one of country music’s greatest ambassadors. Kenny became a country hitmaker beginning in the late 70′s with the song “Lucille.” His work in movies like The Gambler and Six Pack, as well as collaborations with Dolly Parton and Dottie West helped sell country to new fans and a new generation.
- ChrisLewisLouie on Cole Swindell’s Horrifically Generic “Chillin’ It” (A Rant)
- Trigger on “Achy Breaky 2″ Becomes A Big Hit Because It’s So Bad
- Phil on Cole Swindell’s Horrifically Generic “Chillin’ It” (A Rant)
- Trigger on Dierks Bentley’s “Riser” (Review & Giveaway)
- Phil on Cole Swindell’s Horrifically Generic “Chillin’ It” (A Rant)