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When it comes to the preservation of the history and sound of country music, you can make the case there is nobody who does it better and with more passion and dedication than Marty Stuart. Tireless and true to his convictions, from his music, to his archive of memorabilia, to his presence on television and the Grand Ole Opry stage, and to some of the thankless things he does well out of the public eye, Marty Stuart embodies everything behind the idea of Saving Country Music, and is a badass of the genre if there ever was one.
- 10 Badass Willie Nelson Moments
- 10 Badass Waylon Jennings Moments
- 10 Badass Johnny Cash Moments
- 10 Badass Merle Haggard Moments
1. Paying His Dues with Johnny Cash & Lester Flatt
Unlike many of the country music prima donnas who’ve set up shop in country music recently, Marty Stuart comes from the school that believes you have to pay your dues in country music before it’s your turn in the spotlight. Marty Stuart started playing professionally as a sideman in Lester Flatt’s bluegrass band in the early 70′s at the tender age of 14 under the tutelage of legendary mandolin player Roland White. Marty stayed with the band until 1978 when it split up because of Lester’s failing health.
After spending a couple of years working with Vassar Clements and Doc Watson, Marty joined Johnny Cash’s band in 1980, and stayed there for half a decade as both a sideman and a studio musician. Stuart also married Cash’s daughter Cindy in 1983. The two divorced five years later after Marty left Cash’s band to pursue a solo career.
2. Keeping One of the Biggest Archives of Country Music Memorabilia
Marty’s vast collection of country music memorabilia is one of the biggest in country music. It has been featured at the Tennessee State Museum, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and pieces are regularly loaned to the Country Music Hall of Fame for exhibits.
“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 thatâs just as important if itâs 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 theyâre getting away fast.
“Everything was changing in country music. The look of it, the sound of it, and this stuff was just a throwawayâŚThe 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), âWell I want to do that, but they tell me I have to be like so and so.â But weâve already got one of those. Be who you are, at any cost.” (read full story)
3. Inviting Cool Artists Onto The Grand Ole Opry
Playing the Grand Ole Opry stage is one of the biggest thrills and highest honors any artist within the country music realm can be bestowed, but it is not an easy one achieve. One way to grace the stage is to be invited up by a standing member to play during their set, and that is how young, up-and-coming stars like Sturgill Simpson, to one of the oldest living country stars still around, the 90-year-old Don Juan Maddox of The Maddox Brothers & Rose both made their first appearances on the hallowed stage of the storied institution. Marty was also the man who officially invited Old Crow Medicine Show recently to become The Opry’s newest members; the first traditional -leaning band to be invited in the last half decade.
4. Hummingbyrd & The Clarence White Guitar
As explained above, Marty Stuart has many pieces of country music memorabilia, but none of them may be as prized as his guitar affectionately called Hummingbyrd. The 1965 Fender Telecaster was originally owned by famous guitarist Clarence White—a studio musician, member of The Kentucky Colonels, and most-famously, the guitarist for The Byrds (hence the “Y” in the name).
Hummingbyrd is no ordinary guitar. It was the original prototype for what is know as a “B-Bender” guitar—a custom job invented by Clarence White and Byrd drummer Gene Parsons, who happened to also be a machinist. The point of the custom job is to be able to mimic the moaning sounds of a steel guitar by bending the B-string up a whole tone through a series of levers activated by pushing on the guitar’s neck, body, or bridge. When Clarence White passed away, his wife sold the legendary guitar to Marty Stuart, who uses it as his primary instrument.
Included on Marty’s 2010 album Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions is a instrumental called “Hummingbyrd” where Marty Stuart puts on a clinic on how to use this unique instrument. The song went onto win the Grammy for Best Country Instrumental Performance. Hummingbyrd shows both Marty Stuart’s passion for the preservation of country music’s history, and his prowess as a guitar player matched by few in the genre.
5. Standing Up To CBS / Columbia For Dropping Johnny Cash
A running theme in these 10 Badass Moments has been the firing of Johnny Cash from CBS Records in 1985. Merle Haggard mouthed off to CBS Executive Rick Blackburn about the firing, saying, “Youâre the son-of-a-bitch that sat at that desk over there and fired Johnny Cash. Let it go down in history that youâre the dumbest son-of-a-bitch Iâve ever met.â
When Marty Stuart left Johnny Cash’s band, he signed to Columbia (previously CBS), and in 1988 recorded his second album for the label called Let There Be Country. However Columbia refused to release it. Though some have surmised it was because Marty’s first self-titled Columbia album didn’t sell well, in James L. Dickerson’s 2005 book Mojo Triangle, he explains Columbia didn’t release the album because Marty Stuart had a heated exchange with a Columbia record executive about the Johnny Cash firing. Columbia shelved the album in retribution, and Marty eventually left the label without recording another album for them. Marty then signed to MCA where he had his greatest commercial success, and amidst this success, Columbia decided to finally release Let There Be Country in August of 1992.
6. Hosting The Marty Stuart Show
Patterning itself around the classic country music variety shows of the past like The Porter Wagoner Show, Flatt & Scruggs, and Hee Haw, The Marty Stuart Show is one of the last bastions for true, classic country music on television. Carried by RFD-TV, this weekly show features Marty and his Fabulous Superlatives, his wife Connie Smith, and just about the coolest variety of country music artists you can see on TV—artists from the new generation like Justin Townes Earle, Brandy Clark, Sturgill Simpson, Hank3, and The Quebe Sisters, to older artists like Don Maddox, Del McCoury, and Stonewall Jackson, and to artists in between like Jim Lauderdale, and Corb Lund. If they’re good, they appear on The Marty Stuart Show, and after five seasons, it has become its own country music institution, and an important distinction for the artists invited to play the show.
7. Playing with Lester Flatt on the Porter Wagoner Show at 14
Are you kidding me? That’s Marty Stuart folks, playing mandolin and singing!
8. Releasing Badlands: Ballads of the Lakota
Similar to his mentor and hero Johnny Cash who released what was arguably the first country music concept album with his tribute to the American Indian called Bitter Tears in 1964, Marty Stuart released a concept album also in tribute to the American Indian called Badlands: Ballads of the Laokota in 2005. Recorded with his backing band The Fabulous Superlatives, it focused on the struggle of Native Americans, and was entirely written by Stuart except for one song, “Big Foot,” written by Johnny Cash. It was also recorded at the Cash Cabin in Hendersonville, TN, with John Carter Cash as co-producer.
But this album wasn’t just Marty patterning himself after Johnny Cash. Stuart has spent much time in the Dakotas learning about the Lakota Sioux, including studying at the Oglala Lakota College. For Marty, the poor treatment of Native Americans is a very real issue.
9. Marrying Connie Smith
Why would a handsome young Marty Stuart marry a woman 16 years his senior? Well first off, have you seen Connie Smith? Aside from how good time and country music has been to her, she is bona-fide country music royalty and one of the most familiar faces of the Grand Ole Opry. But this isn’t some celebrity sham marriage, the matrimony speaks to Marty’s undying appeal for all things country music and the love between the two country stars is deep. Together, they’re a classic country dynamic duo that is hard to stop (and I have my suspicion at night they dress up as superheroes and do battle with Music Row’s most evil villains).
10. This Quote:
âToday the most outlaw thing you can possibly do in Nashville, Tennessee, is play country music.” –Marty Stuart
To hear the warm, familiar voice of a legendary country music great again here so many years after they have unfortunately passed on in a new, unreleased and unheard song is a gift from the country music heavens hard to put a true measure on. But to hear two of those legendary voices come back to life, and together no less, is downright country music divinity.
Between 1981 and 1984, Johnny Cash recorded an album with the legendary Hall of Fame producer Billy Sherrill called Out Among The Stars that was subsequently shelved by Columbia Records and lost to the world until the masters were recently discovered during a search for archival Cash material by Johnny Cash’s son, John Carter Cash. The album in its entirety will be released on March 25th, but ahead of the release we’ve been bestowed a prelude track— a duet of Johnny Cash with Outlaw country legend Waylon Jennings, breathing new life into the Hank Snow-penned train tune “I’m Movin’ On.” A version of “She Used To Love Me A Lot” was also released from the album in mid January.
Beyond the track itself, the archivists were gracious and wise enough to leave some of the studio banter hanging onto the beginning of the recording, really helping to re-evoke the the warmth that Johnny Cash could bring to a room, disarming the studio with laughter to make sure a relaxed take would make it on tape. The track itself is a cooking little tune, just as much in the period style of Waylon as it is Cash, with a half-time hitch in the middle of the song for character, and some great backing instrumentation.
Hall of Famer Hargus “Pig” Robbins can be heard laying down a piano bed, and though Nashville A-Team studio guitaristÂ Jerry Kennedy likely makes a heavy appearance on the track, I could swear in the second guitar solo I hear the signature styling of Marty Stuart, who was there for the original sessions, and is one of the musicians along with Buddy Miller who helped “fortify” the tracks for this unique release.
This is no world-beater, but it was likely meant to be the up-tempo change in the album and performs this task admirably. Really, Waylon and Cash could both throw a pair of their dirty jockeys in the middle of the studio and we’d probably think it sounded like genius just from the virtue of hearing their voices again. From sharing an apartment together in the 60′s, to having heart surgery at the same time and in the same hospital in the 80′s, to bookending the legendary Highwaymen into the 90′s, there’s just something right about these two men in tandem.
Waylon & Cash, together again.
1 1/2 of 2 guns up.
Merle. The Hag. Of all the country music greats, Merle’s story might be the most symbolic of the American experience: from growing up in California as the son of Okie parents during The Depression, to spending time in prison, to becoming a rags to riches story. His legacy is sometimes overshadowed by his peers like Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash, whose influence has spread much farther than country’s borders. But when it comes to influencing country music itself, few this side of Hank Williams can say they’ve left a bigger footprint.
Here’s 10 moments that make Merle Haggard one of country music’s most preeminent badasses.
1. Being Born In A Boxcar
Now if that ain’t country….
James Francis and Flossie Mae Haggard moved from Oklahoma during The Depression after their barn burned down in 1934, and settled in an apartment in Bakersfield with Merle’s two older siblings Lowell and Lillian. Merle’s father got a job working for the Santa Fe Railroad as a carpenter, and soon went to work converting a boxcar parked on a piece of land in Oildale, CA, just outside of Bakersfield that eventually became the family’s homestead. Merle Haggard was born in that boxcar on April 6, 1937. The Haggard’s eventually purchased the land around the boxcar, and expanded it to include two bathrooms, a kitchen, and a breakfast nook.
2. Telling Off A CBS Records Executive for Firing Johnny Cash
In 1985 Merle released the song “Kern River” and it reached #10 on the country charts. But if it was up to CBS Records executive Rick Blackburn, the song would have never been recorded at all. Blackburn hated the song, and apparently went out of his way to tell Merle as much at every opportunity he had. Then at some point, Merle had enough. Blackburn mouthed off to Merle about it, and Merle lost it.
âThatâs about the third time youâve told me that.â Haggard said, âItâs more like five times. Well, Iâm about five times short of telling you to go to hell.â
Then Haggard continued:
âWho do you think you are? Youâre the son-of-a-bitch that sat at that desk over there and fired Johnny Cash. Let it go down in history that youâre the dumbest son-of-a-bitch Iâve ever met.â
3. Watching Johnny Cash Play at San Quentin Prison
Johnny Cash’s most famous prison appearances were in 1968 and 1969 at the Folsom State Prison and San Quentin Prison, but these concerts weren’t the first time Johnny Cash played at a correctional institution. His first ever was New Years Day 1958 at San Quentin in California, and a 20-year-old Merle Haggard was in the audience. After a few other run-ins with the law, being arrested for the first time at age 11,Â and after having participated in multiple of jailbreaks (see below), Merle Haggard got sentenced to 15 years for burglary in 1957 to the notorious California lockup. He was just 18.
Merle ended up only serving two years of his sentence though, in part because the Johnny Cash concert changed his life. At the time, Haggard was conspiring with his cell mate “Rabbit” on an escape plan, but Merle’s fellow cell mates convinced him he had a brighter future in country music. Rabbit eventually did escape, killed a cop, and ending back at San Quentin on Death Row.
“He had the right attitude,” Merle recalls of Johnny Cash;s appearance. “He chewed gum, looked arrogant and flipped the bird to the guardsâhe did everything the prisoners wanted to do. He was a mean mother from the South who was there because he loved us. When he walked away, everyone in that place had become a Johnny Cash fan.”
4. Escaping From Jail 17 Times
That’s right. As impossible as that sounds, this is what Merle Haggard claims. His criminal record over the years has been a source of much debate about just how hardened the young Merle was. More than likely most of his crimes were quite petty hooliganism stuff, and were bred out of growing up and not having a father to keep him in line, and not having any money and resorting to stealing for his daily bread. But apparently he became pretty adept at giving the local jailers the slip, and that’s why he eventually ended up at San Quentin.
“I was scared to death,” Merle recalls. “I was just 19 at the time, and Iâd already been in a lot of jails. San Quentin is the last place you go. I wasnât really that bad a guy. They just couldnât hold me anywhere else. I escaped 17 different times, so they sent me there because I was an escape risk. When I walked out on the grounds of San Quentin, I was scared. I was there two years and nine months.”
5. Recording Tribute Albums to Jimmie Rodgers and Bob Wills
It’s one thing to record a tribute album to one of the greats of country music’s past. It’s another to do it at the height of your professional career when your talent and attention could be more financially lucrative elsewhere.
After landing his first #1 hits “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive” and “Branded Man,” and before releasing his big 1969 hits “Workin’ Man Blues” and “Okie From Muskogee,” Merle Haggard released the 1969 LP Same Train, A Different Time: A Tribute to Jimmie Rodgers — a massive, two-record tome of 25 Jimmie Rodgers songs recorded to critical acclaim. The project took a total of 6 months to complete and is given credit for a revitalization of interest in the Singing Brakeman’s career.
Same could be said for Bob Wills, when Merle made time to record and release A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World the very next year. Even more cool, Merle rustled up the last 6 remaining members of Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys—Johnny Gimble, Alex Brashear, Johnnie Lee Wills, Eldon Shamblin, Tiny Moore, and Joe Holley—to participate in the record along with Haggard’s backing band The Strangers.
6. Kicking Cancer’s Ass
Merle Haggard was diagnosed with lung Cancer in May of 2008. Not wanting to make a big deal or publicity stunt out of the matter, he kept it hush hush. On November 3rd, 2008, Haggard had surgery to remove part of the upper lobe of his right lung that had a lemon-sized tumor growing on it. Five days later, he finally spilled the beans to the public about his diagnosis and treatment. Merle had been a smoker early in his life, and had quit cigarettes in 1991, and marijuana in 1995. But doctors said smoking had nothing to do with Merle’s condition.
How did Haggard pull through? Less than two months later he was playing shows at The Crystal Palace in Bakersfield. “I feel like I’ve extended my life,” Merle said at the time. “I’m in better shape than when I went in.”
7. The “Me and Crippled Soldiers Give a Damn” Protest Song
Merle Haggard has written and recorded many politically-charged songs over his career spanning both sides of the isle. From his conservative-leaning anthems like “Fighting Side of Me” and “Okie From Muskogee” (though he’s said this song was written to be a somewhat humorous portrait), to the more recent anti-war song “America First.” But “Me and Crippled Soldiers Give a Damn” might be his crowning, politically-charged moment.
Incensed by the Supreme Court’s decision to allow flag burning under the First Amendment, Merle penned this controversial tune in 1989 and tried to release it, but his label CBS Records refused. So Merle, determined to have the song see the light of day, bought himself out of the stipulations of his CBS contract simply so he could release the song. And just so nobody was confused of where Merle’s heart was in the matter, he gave all the proceeds from the song to the Disabled Veterans of America.
8. Recording Pancho & Lefty with Willie NelsonÂ
Merle Haggard isn’t known especially for being a legendary duet partner, but when he paired up with Willie Nelson in 1983 to record Pancho & Lefty whose title track is the famous Townes Van Zandt song, a strange magic ensued. The song “Pancho & Lefty” went straight to #1, and so did the album. It also launched another Top 10 hit, “Reasons to Quit,” written by Haggard. Willie & Merle went on to be named the Vocal Duo of the Year by the CMA in 1983.
9. Helping to Define The Bakersfield Sound
As the bean counters on Music Row out in Nashville decided that for country music to survive, strings and choirs needed to be added, and that they needed to “refine” the sound of this rural art form to appeal to older audiences, the country music rebels out in California said “screw that” and we’re slinging their telecasters around, playing way too loud, and pushing boundaries. Right beside Buck Owens at the forefront of this movement was Merle Haggard with his hard-driving, hard-edged sound, embellished by Ralph Mooney’s blaring steel guitar.
Not only did The Bakersfield Sound keep Nashville’s “Countrypolitan” in check, it also showed many of Bakersfield’s rock and roll neighbors in places like LA and San Francisco that country music could be cool, and next thing you know you have bands like The Byrds and The Grateful Dead cutting country records.
10. Recording 38 #1 Hits… 38 OF THEM!!!
- “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive” (1966)
- “Branded Man” (1967)
- “Sing Me Back Home” (1968)
- “The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde” (1968)
- “Mama Tried” (1968)
- “Hungry Eyes” (1969)
- “Workin’ Man Blues” (1969)
- “Okie from Muskogee” (1969)
- “The Fightin’ Side of Me” (1970)
- “Daddy Frank” (1971)
- “Carolyn” (1971)
- “Grandma Harp” (1972)
- “It’s Not Love (But It’s Not Bad)” (1972)
- “I Wonder If They Ever Think of Me” (1972)
- “Everybody’s Had the Blues” (1973)
- “If We Make It Through December” (1973)
- “Things Aren’t Funny Anymore” (1974)
- “Old Man from the Mountain” (1974)
- “Kentucky Gambler” (1974)
- “Always Wanting You” (1975)
- “Movin’ On” (1975)
- “It’s All in the Movies” (1975)
- “The Roots of My Raising” (1975)
- “Cherokee Maiden” (1976)
- “Bar Room Buddies” (with Clint Eastwood) (1980)
- “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” (1980)
- “My Favorite Memory” (1981)
- “Big City” (1981)
- “Yesterday’s Wine” (with George Jones) (1982)
- “Going Where the Lonely Go” (1982)
- “You Take Me for Granted” (1982)
- “Pancho and Lefty” (with Willie Nelson) (1983)
- “That’s the Way Love Goes” (1983)
- “Someday When Things Are Good” (1984)
- “Let’s Chase Each Other Around the Room” (1984)
- “A Place to Fall Apart” (with Janie Frickie) (1984)
- “Natural High” (1985)
- “Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Star” (1987)
At the 56th Annual Grammy Awards Sunday night, country legends Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Merle Haggard performed a medley of songs together along with Blake Shelton, with the occasion being Kris Kristofferson receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award and having his first self-titled album inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. But this grouping wasn’t accidental, or an augmented version of the supergroup The Highwaymen that Willie and Kris were once a part of with Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings.
A long-planned, and even longer-rumored album and grouping of Willie, Merle, and Kris called “The Musketeers” has been in the works for years. Saving Country Music first reported on the potential supergroup in January of 2011 when the three men were assembled as part of Merle Haggard’s recognition by the Kennedy Center Honors. Haggard told Rolling Stone at the time:
We got to eat a little something together. We didnât know what the hell this food was, but we thought it was funny. We (Merle and Willie) talked about doing that together, but with the presence of Kris, we talked about the three of us doing it. Iâm sure if weâre healthy and live to do it, weâll do it. We thought about the title: the Musketeers. You know, because thereâs the three of us. Weâll come up with some little way of describing ourselves I guess and put it together into a show.
“The Musketeers” might just be a placeholder for the eventual name, but apparently the three Country Music Hall of Famers are still serious about the idea, and are working on music. When asked by Billboard before The Grammy Awards if a collaboration between the three men could be in the offing, Willie Nelson responded, “We’re working on one now.” When asked when fans could expect something, and if it could be this year, Willie responded, “As soon as we get it together. Could be.”
Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson have toured together in an acoustic show numerous times since 2009, and Willie Nelson worked with Merle Haggard in 2007 on the album Last of The Breed. Willie and Merle also collaborated on the Townes Van Zandt classic “Pancho & Lefty.”
Finally stimulating The Musketeers to go from talk to actual tracks might be the recent revelation from Kris Kristofferson that he’s beginning to experience memory issues.
Aaron Lewis may know a little something about what country isn’t. He spent the first 16 years of his music career as the emotionally-distraught and misanthropic frontman of the alternative rock band Staind before deciding in 2010 to record a “country” EP. The project was released in 2011, and included the single “Country Boy” that despite the participation of George Jones and Charlie Daniels, still felt like what Aaron Lewis had been doing with his acoustic shows for over a decade, except for trying to brow beat the listener into buying into how country he was.
2012 saw the release of Aaron’s second single, “Endless Summer,” which along with other misdeeds, name dropped Jason Aldean of all people. It was looking like Lewis was falling right in line with the procession of other country music outsiders fleeing to the country genre in the twilight of their careers to find commercial strength. But when his full-length album The Road was released in late 2012, it was actually a pleasant surprise to hear just how country and non-commercial it was.
While talking to The Marion Star in Ohio ahead of an upcoming show, Aaron decided to let his disdain for the direction of country music be known.
“I think thereâs enough beer on the beach, partying on the tailgate, driving around in a pickup truck, moonshine songs,” Lewis said. “I think that everything has been pretty well beaten to death. And Iâll opt for my usual … making sure the song has emotion and feeling and means something… I donât know what it is that country radio is playing these days. Iâm really not quite sure. Thereâs a song out right now thatâs a big single for a big act, and at the very end of the song you can hear a banjo come up in the mix for four measures. And youâre like, ‘Oh, thereâs the country aspect of it. Now I get it.’ But that is not country music, Iâm sorry.”
Lewis also says he doesn’t like to be lumped in with Kenny Chesney when he mentions he plays country.
“Itâs funny because people hear Aaron Lewis and country they often think Kenny Chesney when they should have thoughts of Jamey Johnson and David Allen Coe. Itâs country like Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, George Jones and Johnny Cash … I almost even like the fact that Iâm having all of this success without the machine really embracing me. And Iâm not sure that it would have been as valuable to me as an artist to have the very first song I ever delivered to country go straight to the top of the charts and never have to work for it, so I never had to start out in the honky-tonks and where it should start. And man, Iâve sold out every honky-tonk place in the last few years and itâs where it should start. I believe in building a foundation and then building your house on top of that.”
Maybe Aaron is bitter because the country industry didn’t embrace him, or maybe he’s come around to the side of dissent for other reasons. But despite where Aaron Lewis and country music began or where it eventually may be going, at the moment he seems to be making the effort to understand that making country music means embracing more than just the name.
It can be easy to overlook just what kind of impact Rosanne Cash has had on American music over the years. She seems to always be overshadowed by her father, by other famous sons and daughters of country legends, measured against them, and dogged by preceding labels that don’t always allow her to be judged on her own merit, while her musical accomplishments veer towards being somewhat misunderstood because she’s not always been nestled smack dab in the country realm as people want, expect, or anticipate.
Awareness of Rosanne in the public realm has also waned here recently because it’s been a full eight years since she put out an album of original material, and five years since she released The List—an interpretation of 12 classic country songs referred to her by her father. But Rosanne’s critical and commercial accomplishments are far more than complimentary, they define a very successful career: Eleven #1 country singles, twenty-one Top 40 singles, and thirteen Grammy nominations is nothing to sniff at, and ultimately might at least get her mentions as a potential Hall of Fame inductee.
The River & The Thread is an album that was worth waiting for. Produced and co-written with Rosanne’s husband, accomplished musician John Leventhal, this album is exhaustive, thematic, all-encompassing, and compromises nothing when it comes to desiring the highest degree of quality in songwriting and production.
The style of The River & The Thread refers very heavily to the current Americana approach, and will slide very nicely as bumper music between Terry Gross stories on NPR, and into the Americana Music Association selections come May. It has that slickness, that sophistication, that almost urbanity and upper-crust appeal despite the sometimes dirty, Southern themes the record is laced with. That “white people’s blues” sound is stamped in this album indelibly, and though this will make NPR/Americana crowd lick their lips, country listeners may wish that a little more grit was rubbed into this album beyond the words.
The beauty of this album is how it conveys with such reverence the spirit of the river region, with Rosanne’s birthplace of Memphis very much the fulcrum. The River & The Thread doesn’t discriminate in its description of human lives and the landscape in which they live amongst. They are all bound together into this universal body, connected by a cohesive filament sewn into the fabric of every life, artifact, and element, which in turn constitutes a tapestry that unfurls out like a linear story. The River & The Thread is the soundtrack to that story.
“Modern Blue” is the song on the album that will draw most folks in with its delicious, guitar-driven melody, but songs like “A Feather’s Not A Bird” and “World Of Strange Design” are the songwriting standouts in how they relay the unique, curious, and sometimes contradicting aspects on Southern life. “Night School” is the buried little masterpiece, with it’s sparse, almost early Tom Wait’s-esque atmosphere and excellent composition, both lyrically and sonically.
The River & The Thread is embossed by an impressive barn of players and harmony singers, including Rodney Crowell, Kris Kristofferson, Tony Joe White, Allison Moorer,Â John Prine,Â Derek Trucks, and John Paul White from The Civil Wars; not just adding a cast of celebrity names to help spread interest in this record, but endowing it with the honor and lineage these names bring that very much speaks to the thematic vision this album is approached with.
The concerns about the slickness, almost trending towards predictability in the production of this album are certainly here, especially during its first few listens. But in the end, the songwriting and overall effort are weighty enough to erode these worries and reveal a gem that should be the talk of the Americana world in 2014.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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What made Johnny Cash the ultimate badass was his ability to bridge people together regardless of taste in music, cultural differences, or political ideology. Johnny Cash could tackle some of the most difficult issues facing a tumultuous American society as it saw the emergence of rock and roll and the counterculture because they man had such an air of respect about him. When he spoke, everyone quieted, and listened. Great music and musicians dominate genres. Legends transcend genres. It’s is quite the daunting challenge to find someone who doesn’t have something nice to say about Johnny Cash regardless of sex, race, creed, status, or cultural background.
1. Intercepting the News of the Death of Joseph Stalin
That’s right, the first American to hear about the death of the ruthless Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and report it to the United States government was none other than the Man in Black. Johnny Cash spent 4 years in the Air Force, rising to Staff Sargent, and working in Landsberg, West Germany for the Air Force Security Service. The name of Cashâs first band was âThe Landsberg Barbarians,â an homage to the German town he called home.
While stationed in Landsburg, Cash was working as a Morse Code Intercept Operator, monitoring transmissions from the Soviet Army. Around March 5th, 1953, he was translating Morse signals when can came upon the important information. At the height of hostilities during the Cold War, this intelligence was considered crucial.
Cash was honorably discharged from the Air Force in July of 1954 to pursue his career in music.
2. Recording “Sunday Morning Coming Down”
It was the song that made Kris Kristofferson a household name, but it wasn’t Ray Stevens’ version of it in 1969 that stalled at #55 on the charts, or Kristofferson’s own version which didn’t chart at all that made it such an iconic part of the American songbook. It was Johnny Cash’s take on “Sunday Morning Coming Down” that took it all the way to #1 in 1970, and eventually to being named Song of the Year by the Country Music Association.
It’s because only Johnny Cash had the credibility and undying loyalty of the country music community to sing what was a controversial song at the time, and have people listen through the controversy to the heart of the story that Kristoffersoon had so eloquently captured.
Johnny Cash wasn’t a country music Outlaw in the traditional sense, but he was an honorary Outlaw in every sense, and when he sang “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” he took Kristofferson from a barely-known songwriter to a national celebrity.
3. Concerts and Albums From Folsom and San Quentin Prisons
Probably the most obvious of Johnny Cash’s badass moments, but ones that cannot be understated in their significance both musically and culturally, Johnny Cash performed at The Folsom State Prison and the San Quentin Prison—two notorious lockups in California—in 1968 and 1969 respectively, with the live recordings taken from the concerts becoming significant and commercially successful live albums that are given credit for being some of the best ever in country music.
Johnny Cash played two shows at Folsom Prison on January 13, 1968, resulting in 15 live tracks for the At Folsom Prison Album. At San Quentin was recorded on February 24, 1969 and was more of a linear recording of the event, though the original LP took out some songs because of space restrictions. The two albums are given credit for resurrecting Cash’s career, while raising awareness about the issues facing individuals in incarceration, and bridging cultural differences between music fans during a tumultuous time in America. If people were not aware before, Johnny Cash’s prison albums announced to the world inside and outside of country music that he truly was a badass.
4. Having A Smoke With A.P. Carter
Depending on who to talk to, the father of country music is either the singing brakeman Jimmie Rodgers, or the patriarch of the Carter Family, A.P. Cater. Seeing how Johnny Cash married into the Carter Family, he would probably say the answer is the latter.
Producer, songwriter, and cosmic music man “Cowboy” Jack Clement was famous for shooting home movies when hanging around his musical friends and cohorts, and he was fortunate enough to have captured the moment Johnny Cash decided to drive out to the grave site of A.P. Carter at the Mount Vernon Methodist Church Cemetery in Virginia to have a smoke with the man responsible for the first ever commercial country music group. The clip below comes from the movie Shakespeare Was A Big George Jones Fan: Cowboy Jack Clement’s Home Movies.
Johnny Cash’s efforts to help the less fortunate throughout his life have been well-documented, and on June 10th 1978 at the annual United Nations Citation Dinner in New York City, he was presented with the United Nations Humanitarian Award.
6. Hosting the Million Dollar Songwriter Circle
Youâve all heard about the âMillion Dollar Quartetââthe recording session at legendary Sun Studios in Memphis 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 Cashâs 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. âThat night in my house [was] the first time these songs were heardâŚâ Johnny Cash explains. âJoni Mitchell sang âBoth Sides Now,â Graham Nash sang âMarrakesh Express,â Shel Silverstein sang âA Boy Named Sue,â Bob Dylan sang âLay Lady Lay,â and Kristofferson sang âMe & Bobby McGee.â That was the first time any of those songs were heard.â (read more on the Million Dollar Songwriter Circle)
7. Sharing an Apartment with Waylon Jennings
Before Johnny Cash married June Carter, and before Waylon Jennings married Jessi Colter, and the two men were picking up the pieces from recent divorces, they shared a pad at the Fontaine Royal Apartments in Madison, Tennessee, just north of Nashville. At that time in the mid-60′s, Johnny Cash was a star, but Waylon was still a newcomer. By all accounts, the two men would barely see each other, and would be in and out at all manner of the day and night, leave on tour, come back, be out the next morning for a studio session, usually while taking trucker pills and sleeping very little.
Stories abound about some of the happenings at Fontaine Royal, with some considering it to be the equivalent of a country music “stabbin’ cabin.” One story says as the two men would walk by the swimming pool on their way in or out, throwing money into it for the neighborhood kids to dive in and retrieve. Oh, to be a fly on that wall….
8. Releasing Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian
Many artists and people talk and good talk about supporting the so often wronged American Indian, but Johnny Cash stepped up to the plate and did so in a big way when he released this concept album paying tribute to the stories and struggles of the American Indian. Johnny Cash had Cherokee blood in his family, and claims this was one of the inspirations for the album.
Aside from the music, this album is significant in so many other ways. Though Willie Nelson’s conceptualized albums Phases and Stages and Red Headed Stranger are often given credit for being the first conceptualized albums in country music, Bitter Tears came out in 1964; a decade before those Willie records. Furthermore the album was released ahead of the popularization of Native American issues that happened in the late 60′s as part of the counterculture movement. Way more than a trendy work looking to exploit a pet issue of guilt-riddled baby boomers,Â Bitter Tears was a groundbreaking approach to the album concept in country music that carried a sincere concern and reverence for the American Indian, illustrating Cash’s dedication as a humanitarian throughout his career.
9. Inviting Bob Dylan on the Johnny Cash Show
The Johnny Cash show was badass enough in its own right in how Johnny reached out to every corner of the American music world to create magical, legendary moments on a weekly basis from the Ryman Auditorium. The Johnny Cash Show Ran from ran from June of 1969 to March of 1971 on ABC, featuring a total of 58 episodes and not a bad one in the bunch.
But if one episode stood out, it was Bob Dylan’s appearance in 1969 around his recording of his Nashville Skyline record. It symbolized the confluence of two music worlds, and two titans of them and the results were magic. From the original Rolling Stone article covering the event:
The Dylan appearance was no secret in Nashville, fortunately. It goes without saying that Cash fans are as baffled by Dylan’s emergence here as Dylan freaks were startled at the news of this new axis. But they all lined up outside the Opry: businessmen and their wives, country boys, bald heads, acid heads, bee-hive bouffant blondes, drawling teenyboppers and other assorted traveling wonderers. There is no doubt that a good part of the audience was there just to see Cash and didn’t know what all the fuss was about. But the seats and aisles of the Opry were full, and Dylan did not lack a fine representation of people familiar with his work.
10. Recording “Hurt” From NIN’s Trent Reznor
There were many songs, especially from Johnny Cash’s American Recordings era that The Man In Black took from great to legendary, but none resonated so deeply with a generation like this one. “Hurt” off of the Nine Inch Nails’ album The Downward Spiral from 1994 was nominated for a Grammy in 1996, but wasn’t an especially well-known song outside of the industrial music mindset. It certainly wasn’t on the radar of country fans when Cash cut it in 2002, but it became arguably his last big hit, and the doorway for an entire new generation of fans to find love for Johnny Cash, helped along by an iconic video.
11. (Bonus) Flipping The Warden The Bird
Johnny Cash’s famous middle finger photo was shot at the Cash concert in 1969 at Californiaâs San Quentin prison by photographer Jim Marshall. The pose was the result of Cashâs response to the request: âJohn, letâs do a shot for the warden.â Marshall has since said it was âprobably the most ripped off photograph in the history of the world.â
But the picture remained relatively obscure until 1998 when Johnny was working with legendary producer Rick Rubin on his American Recordings albums. The second American album Unchained won the 1998 Grammy for Best Country Album. But could you hear Johnny Cashâs music on the country radio? Not so much. Rubin called country radio a âtrendy scene,â and decided to fire a shot right at Music Row. Rubin dug deep and pulled out $20,000 to take a full page ad out in Billboard Magazine. The ad featured the famous Cash bird flipping, and the caption: âAmerican Recordings and Johnny Cash would like to acknowledge the Nashville music establishment and country radio for your support.â (read more on the middle finger photo)
Between 1981 and 1984, Johnny Cash recorded an album with the legendary Hall of Fame producer Billy Sherrill called Out Among The Stars that was subsequently shelved by Columbia Records and lost to the world until the masters were recently discovered during a search for archival Cash material. The album in its entirety is scheduled to be released on March 25th, and ahead of the release we have a chance to hear the song “She Used To Love Me A Lot,” written by Dennis Morgan, Charles Quillen, and Kye Fleming.
Learned country fans will recognize “She Used To Love Me A Lot” as a David Allan Coe single released in early December of 1984 off his album Darlin’ Darlin’. That version of the song also emanated from Columbia Records, with Billy Sherrill as producer, though it’s probably not fair to call Cash’s version a cover of David Allan Coe because Cash’s version was very likely recorded first.
In the mid 80′s, David Allan Coe was experiencing a resurgence of interest in his career, and Darlin’ Darlin’ was a strange project for him, heavily produced in the Billy Sherrill style, and consisting mostly of songs written by others. Sherrill’s approach with Coe was to showcase his often-overlooked vocal prowess through the selection of compositions, and Coe’s version of “She Used To Love Me A Lot” lives up to that charge, with a stellar vocal performance that communicates a great sense of pain through the song’s structure and the dark, minor chords, overriding any concerns about the heavy production hand Sherrill employed. The song eventually reached #11 on the Billboard country charts.
If Out Among The Stars had been released in its time, David Allan Coe many have never cut “She Used To Love Me A Lot,” and it would be Cash’s version that all others would be measured against. But instead it is Coe who defines the established expectations and prejudices our ears cling to when we become comfortable with a version of a song.
Cash’s interpretation is certainly a more earthy, acoustic, and grounded take, driven by a fingerpicked acoustic guitar and a spirited mandolin handled by a young Marty Stuart, with the drums completely spared for some light percussion. Coe’s version hinged more on a thumping, Outlaw-esque bass drum beat and driving electric bass guitar, with the acoustic guitar along for the ride and drums filling the chorus. Coe is also more active in the verses with his cadence and range, where Cash seems to focus more on the conveyance of the story.
There’s the potential that some parts of the Cash recording were “fortified” after the fact, as archivists have said happened in a respectful manner as this album was being brought back to life. But the production and approach to “She Used To Love Me A Lot” is both tasteful and timeless; not striking the ear as indicative of any era as sometimes can be the concern with archive recordings.
Johnny Cash is blessed like few others with a warmly familiar timbre to his voice making anything he touches sound like mastery. To be afforded any new music from Cash a decade-plus after his death feels like a blessing in itself and best not heavily scrutinized. Nonetheless, even with a critical ear, there’s little to not love with this song.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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Back in July of 2012, I placed my chips on the square that said that sometime in the future pop star Ke$ha would be a big player in the country music realm, and that when she did, she would be huge. Ke$ha’s mom is country songwriter Pebe Sebert that wrote the #1 hit “Old Flames (Canât Hold a Candle To You)” for Dolly Parton amongst other notable compositions, and Ke$ha has professed her love for country music, and specifically Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, and Townes Van Zandt.
It’s hard to call “Timber”—her current collaboration with Latin rapper Pitbull—a country song, but it’s just as hard to ignore that this song is trying to capture a country/Americana vibe through its production. In many respects, “Timber” is the perfect mono-genre specimen. Take a Latin hip-hop artist, an LA pop star via Nashville, inject elements of American country culture like harmonica, the line “swing your partner, ’round and ’round,” reinforce it in the video with choreographed line dancers wearing cutoffs carousing in a honky tonk with a jug band playing in the background, and you’ve got yourself a bona fide mono-genre master work.
And the results of their attempt to touch on every element of popular American culture without pigeonholing the song into any specific genre speak for themselves. “Timber” is now the #1 song in all of music, and it’s video has received 61 million+ hits at the the time of this posting. This is the kind of results that can be garnered when your music has no limits based on traditional lines of genre, culture, race, or even geography.
The video for “Timber” was shot in two primary locales. Pitbull’s portion of the was mostly filmed in The Bahamas, while Ke$ha caught a more country vibe by filming in a honky tonk in Miami and a ranch outside of the city limits. Horses, chickens, and bikini’ed Ke$ha chopping wood (a day’s work is never done, apparently) are all featured in the video, and so is, of all things, a relatively-obscure, but worthy-of-your-ear band from Orlando called The Bloody Jug Band.
The Bloody Jug Band is a true jug band (yes, they have a jug player) that features very traditional instrumentation around an otherwise very progressive Americana sound with a dark, macabre approach. At first glance one might think this is a gimmick band, but their compositions reveal great depth in both theme and structure, constituting their debut album Coffin Up Blood to be nominated for Saving Country Music’s Album of the Year in 2012.
“It was just one of those opportunities that fall in your lap,” says Bloody Jug Band frontmanÂ Cragmire Peace. “I got a call on a random weekday, and one of the producers of the video got me on the phone and said, ‘This is going to be a weird conversation.’ She went on to say they were looking for a jug band type of sensibility in the video—instrumentation of some of that old-timey music—because that’s what they considered fit well with the kind of Americana vibe of the song. And when they looked up jug bands, not only did we come up, but we’re also in Florida. So they pretty much loved the ready-made package.
“Everything in the video that we wore and played, down to the stickers on the washboard, that was all us and they had no problem with us being us in the video, which was one of our stipulations up front. If we were going to show up and do this, we were going to be ourselves, and they had no problem with that. They knew what they were getting.”
The inclusion of The Bloody Jug Band in the Ke$ha/Pitbull video speaks to just how far the video’s producers were willing to go to capture a country/Americana vibe in the shoot. “They could have easily cast four assholes to be extras in this video, and it wouldn’t have been The Bloody Jug Band and it wouldn’t have meant anything,”Â Cragmire Peace says. But they didn’t.Â Though you would definitely have to categorize “Timber” as hip-hop or hip-pop first, producers were trying to be inclusive to the rising popularity of country music, and even bands like Mumford & Sons. At the same time, the use of The Bloody Jug Band speaks to another trend in music that is helping out many independent bands.
“You hear a lot about this in TV and the licensing of music,” Cragmire explains. “They figured out it was way cheaper and way more mutually beneficial to instead of having composers you hire for the music, to actually co-opt independent bands and put them in the credits. I think it is more typical in TV right now than it is in music, or popular music, but I think it opens the door for people. It’s a window into another type of music. “Timber” has sort of the Americana vibe to it, and that’s probably a little different for Ke$ha and Pittbull to have done. So the fact that they introduced into the listener’s ear, for people to realize that there’s dynamic music in this genre going on, I think it’s a great door opener for people to hopefully step through, and they can be turned on to this other type of music. And hopefully pop culture realizes that to take a chance on an independent band, and feature them in your video, or to use these bands in some other way, it helps the band out, it opens people’s eyes, and ultimately I think it’s not bad business.”
Cragmire Peace says he’s no fan of pop music, Ke$ha, Pitbull, or “Timber” specifically. “It’s easy to beat them up. But if it means more exposure for The Bloody Jug Band or Americana music, I don’t care what door they came through. The end result is what matters, not how they got there. Even if people don’t know who they’re looking at, if they’re somehow captivated for the 5 to 8 seconds that we’re actually in the video, then that’s cool. To be exposed this way but have people respond to it like they have, I think that’s very powerful and validating for any artist, but certainly what we’re trying to do with The Blood Jug Band.”
Meanwhile the resounding success of “Timber” likely means we can expect more blending of country/roots/Americana elements into pop and hip-hop music, while rap elements in country music are now a mainstay of the genre, and Jerrod Niemann’s recent single “Drink To That All Night” adds the world of EDM and dance music into the mix. The autonomy of American music genres remains in full retreat in mainstream music, and 2014 promises to be the most brave year yet for breaking rules, blending genres, and toppling borders.
(The Bloody Jug Band have a new EP out, Murder of Crows, and a new album planned for later this year.)
2014 promises to be another great year for music, and the first part of the year might just be one of the busiest seasons for anticipated releases we have seen in quite a while. From a lost Johnny Cash album, to a new one from his daughter Rosanne, to Jason Eady, a big re-issue from Lucina Williams, and releases from Scott H. Biram and Robert Ellis, there’s enough here to get your music taste buds salivating.
Saving Country Music’s most anticipated album for 2014,Â Out Among The Stars is a complete album that was recorded between 1981 and 1984 by Cash, with songs that were meant to be together, but never saw the light of day. A true âlost albumâ if there ever was one. It was produced by Country Music Hall of Famer Billy Sherrill. READ MORE.
Rosanne Cash – The River & The Thread (January 14th)
NPR says: “Each song is rooted in the Southern soil connecting the old Cash homestead in Arkansas to the family’s ancestral Virginia homeland, expanding to survey the family’s artistic roots in Alabama and Tennessee. Some narratives are fictional, while others mine family lore.”
You’re not seeing double, this is Lucinda Williams’ critically-acclaimed 3rd album from 1988 that many give credit for launching her career. The album went out-of-print and is finally being re-issued by Thirty Tigers. It also comes with an album of live tracks. Just like Johnny Cash, this is not just another re-release, and stands as one of the most anticipated releases of 2014.
Doug Paisley – Strong Feelings (January 21st)
As we found out in 2013, Canada can do country, and do country right. And this Canadian has recruited an impressive list of his Canadian musician buddies including Garth Hudson from The Band to make one of the most-anticipated Canadian country releases of 2014. Did I say Canada enough? Canada Canada. That should do it!
Ray Benson – A Little Piece (January 21st)
Our generation’s King of Western Swing takes some time away from his full time duties as the front man for Asleep At The Wheel to release this solo project through his record label, Bismeaux.
If you love real country, you will love Jason Eady and Daylight & Dark. Following up his critically-acclaimed AM Country Heaven, Eady proves you can serve up country straight, and still have it sound fresh. This album was written with a linear story that runs through all the songs.
Hard Working Americans (Todd Snider) – Hard Working Americans (January 21st)
Yes, this is a band emanating from the unsettled mind of songwriter Todd Snider, and coaxing Neal Casal (Chris Robinson Brotherhood), keyboardist Chad Staehly (Great American Taxi) and Duane Trucks (King Lincoln) on drums to join him.This is a cover album of many songs from Snider’s alt-country/Americana friends.
This spellbinding, solo songwriter and performer from Minnesota is one of these criminally-underappreciated guys because he would never be a part of self-promotion or flashy presentation. Being released on Chaperone Records.
Dolly Parton – Blue Smoke (New Zealand, Australia – January. United States & Europe – May)
Yes, strange prioritizing on the release date, but it’s Dolly, so hush up! The release parallels her Blue Smoke World Tour and will be released on “Dolly Records” in conjunction with Sony Masterworks.
Hide the women and children, the “Dirty Ol’ One Man Band” is back out on the loose with a brand new one from Bloodshot Records that promises to be a bloody good time. Country punk stomp blues at its best!
Suzy Bogguss – Lucky (February 4th)
Suzy doing a Merle Haggard tribute record? This could be cool. “Merle is one of the most masculine songwriters Iâve ever heard, and Iâve been watching boys cover his music for years. I just thought, âWhy couldnât a girl do this?ââ
Whiskey Myers – Early Morning Shakes (February 4th)
Texas Monthly says: “Early Morning Shakes” may not be destined to make a big impression on a country music audience that’s currently obsessed with pickups, blue jeans, and moonlight, but there are some thrills within for fans of dirty rock and roll.”
This could be Robert Ellis’s year. The young songwriter has a much-anticipated album, and also produced another much-anticipated album that may come later in 2014 from The Whiskey Shivers.
Hurray For The Riff Raff – Small Town Heroes (February 11th)
Alynda Lee Segarra was making waves all throughout 2013, and this album from ATO Records featuring her unique, stripped-down Appalachia sound should be a big one.
Lake Street Dive – Bad Self Portraits (February 18th)
2014 could be a big one for Lake Street Dive, and they deserve every bit of it from the talent this throwback band packs. Rachel Price, originally from Hendersonville, TN and a product of the New England Conservatory as a jazz singer is a bona-fide superstar waiting to happen. Feb. 18th can’t get here fast enough.
On the heels of her fun EP Boy Crazy, Loveless releases her much-anticipated sophomore LP from Bloodshot Records. Part country, part punk, and all attitude, this Ohioan evokes the best of the original punk-gone-country movement. This one should be fun.
Beck – Morning Phase (February)
Okay, you see Beck and you don’t immediately think country, but he has dabbled in the format in the past (go feast your ears on “Rowboat” and thank me later), and with this one he’s talking about it having a very heavy Gram Parson’s influence, so it may be worth a sniff from country fans.
The former (and current, really) front man for the Squirrel Nut Zippers never seems to receive proper acclaim even though he continually delivers one excellent album after another. Don’t sleep on this one.
- Mary Chapin Carpenter â Songs from the Movie (Jan 14th)
- Blue Highway – The Game (Jan 21st)
- Reverend Horton Heat – Rev (Jan 21st)
- Ronnie Milsap â Summer Number 17 (Jan 28th)
- Rhonda Vincent â Only Me (Jan 28th)
- Laura Cantrell â No Way There from Here (Jan 28th)
- Eric Church – The Outsiders (Feb. 11th) as if you already didn’t know
- Dierks Bentley – Riser (Feb 25th)
- Eli Young Band â 10,000 Towns (March 4th)
- Kevin Fowler â How Country Are Ya (March 4th)
- Martina McBride â Everlasting (March 4th)
- Drive By Truckers – English Oceans (March 12th)
The Rumor Mill
Bob Wayne – Back To The Camper
Bob Wayne is no longer with label Century Media, but word is he just finished up recording an album with Andy Gibson (Hank3) in Nashville and it will be released sometime in 2014. Included on the album will be a song with Elizabeth Cook called “20 Miles To Juarez” and a song with country legend Red Simpson. Stay tuned.
The Goddamn Gallows – The Maker
No info on a release as of yet. Was initially said to be released in late 2013.
The Whiskey Shivers
Currently being record or just finished up, this Robert Ellis-produced album could be The Whiskey Shivers’ breakout moment. They’ve been making tons of noise around Austin, playing ACL fest last October, and scheduled to play the Stagecoach Festival in California this year. They are definitely a band to watch.
His disposition is to record during the winter, and he dropped a hint of working on a new album on Facebook recently. For all we know from the last few release cycles from Hank3, he might drop 7 albums on our asses all at once, including one built from the sound of Black Cats blowing up found items from around his farm.
Justin Townes Earle
He is amid a contract dispute with a new label, but says, “ I will find a way to get new music out very soon. Will write and record a solo EP. Then Find some grown ups to work with.”
Rumor has it a new album is currently being recorded, and will take this underground country cult favorite to the next level. More deets coming.
Slackeye Slim is also working on a new album.
Matt Woods hopes to have a new album out in March.
Who else? Share your intel below!
I first heard about the rambunctious and ribald Bobby Joe Owens through guitar maestro Zach Sweeny—Wayne “The Train” Hancock’s lead guitarist that has also played with folks like Lucky Tubb, Danny Kay & The Nightlifers, and many others. Sweeny appeared on Bobby Joe’s first two albums, including 2010′s Watermelon Tea that prominently featured the Squirrel Nut Zipper’s Jimbo Mathus. Bobby Joe always seemed like an interesting character, but his recent release Liquor, Love & Laughter was my first chance to get a face full of his full tilt sidesplitting musical antics.
Recorded at the famous Cash Cabin—the cabin formerly owned by Johnny Cash in Hendersonville, TN that has been converted into a studio—Liquor, Love & Laughter is not a particularly slick album, with little flubs and hiccups here and there, and some mixing issues. But damn if this album isn’t a real good time and a wild ride from beginning to end.
Bobby Joe Owens is a guy who didn’t even start doing anything in music until 2006 when he started writing songs under the name “Robert J. Thompson.” He doesn’t play an instrument, is probably not going to win any singing competitions, but his songs will jerk tears from you, whether you’re laughing out loud, or relenting to a truly heartfelt ballad. The former Marine Corps veteran names off his occupations as inventor, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and despite all the signs that he comes to the music realm from the outside looking in, his songwriting will kick the ass of many who claim music as their full-time gig.
Liquor, Love & Laughter starts off with with a straight up rockabilly tune called “Hopeless Romantic,” and though the song captures a fun vibe, you start to worry, especially with a backing band by the name of “Retro Deluxe” that getting into this man’s music will require either a quaffed pompadour or Betty Page bangs. But one of the best parts about Bobby Joe Owens and this album is that it is all over the place as far as influence, touching on just about every texture of the American roots world, from straight up country and honky tonk, to singer-songwriter type Americana-feeling tunes, to no holds barred off-color comedy songs.
After the rockabilly intro, Owens careens straight into country music with the cunning and crafty “From Beer To There.” The drinking theme is carried over through most of the first half of the album, including the salty “Long Time Until Next Time” and “Drinkin’ My Heartbreak Away.” And then Bobby Joe takes you completely by surprise with an exquisitely-written, somber and sober ballad evoking the feeling of sincere heartbreak called “Don’t Forget To Forget.” Even if you think this dude is a complete goof, “Don’t Forget To Forget” is one diamond in the rough worth digging for. So is the spatial and mood-drenched “Tennessee Tar” that could come from your favorite songwriting-focused Americana band.
As the album progresses, the comedy songs start coming quick and often. No, “My Dickel” is not about Bobby Joe’s favorite uncle named Richard, but it will leave you in stitches like a head first dive off a couch into the side of the coffee table. “Friends Don’t Le Friends Face Book Drunk” (yes two words for “Face Book”) is the funny song whose off-color wit is what forced Bobby Joe Owens to include a Parental Advisory sticker on this album, and the jokes keep coming (no pun intended) in “Text Me You Love Me.”
Though I spoke about the little recording flubs here and there on this album, it is nothing short of expansive in how it was fleshed out by Retro Deluxe and a cast of mercenary musicians. Every song gets expansive treatment with quality and tasteful musicianship, backing vocals, and those extra treatments like mandolin, or the piano on “Don’t Forget To Forget” that fits the song perfectly instead of using what was easily available.
Not for everyone, but like a Roger Miller-style approach to country, Bobby Joe Owens and Retro Deluxe leave you quite entertained with a combination of wit and substance that speaks to a sincere appreciation for the joy of music.
1 1/2 of 2 guns up.
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In the last few years, the amount of re-releases, rare recordings, and other such reconstituted music material we’ve been bestowed by the Johnny Cash and Hank Williams camps and others has made the announcement and release of archival material somewhat of a mundane event. It’s not that there isn’t material on these albums that is worthy of ears, but they’re usually only good for maybe a few individual tracks that you must find by sifting through outtakes and alternative versions to get to. Sometimes these releases are padded with material that has been previously released, or has been put out in bootleg form before. And with so many of these releases, the mystique of hearing something new from a deceased artist has ironically become commonplace. Sometimes the release dates for these projects come and go and you don’t even notice despite your loyal fandom.
That will not, and should not be the case for the upcoming Johnny Cash album Out Among The Stars set to be released on March 25th, 2014. Instead of a hodgepodge of live or radio recordings or other such discarded studio fodder, Out Among The Stars is a complete album that was recorded between 1981 and 1984 by Cash, with songs that were meant to be together, but never saw the light of day. A true “lost album” if there ever was one. It was produced by Country Music Hall of Famer Billy Sherrill, renown as one of the architects of the countrypolitan, or Nashville Sound. But this wasn’t 1965, and Johnny Cash wasn’t just some artist looking to soften his sound with strings and choruses. Sherrill was also the president of CBS Records at the time, and the pairing was meant to create something special; something that could re-ignite Johnny Cash’s career.
It was the early 1980′s and Cash’s label Columbia was not sure what to do with him. Like so many other golden-era, aging country artists at the time, Cash was seen as cold product, and eventually Columbia dropped Cash in 1986, shelving Out Among The Stars, even though they released some other recordings and albums that were made after the album. It is pretty obvious that Columbia executives didn’t think much of the project, but as we’ve come to find out over the years, from back then and today, just because Music Row doesn’t approve, doesn’t mean it is bad.
Apparently when Cash was cut from Columbia, June Carter stashed the masters for Out Among The Stars amongst other archival recordings. The masters weren’t even found until last year when the family was going through the material looking for potential archival releases.
“They never threw anything away,” Cash’s son John Carter Cash tells The Tennessean. “They kept everything in their lives. They had an archive that had everything in it from the original audio tapes from ‘The Johnny Cash Show’ to random things like a camel saddle, a gift from the prince of Saudi Arabia….We were so excited when we discovered this. We were like, my goodness this is a beautiful record that nobody has ever heard. Johnny Cash is in the very prime of his voice for his lifetime. He’s pitch perfect. It’s seldom where there’s more than one vocal take. They’re a live take and they’re perfect.”
Out Among The Stars features 12 tracks, including a duet with Waylon Jennings, and two duets with Cash’s wife, June Carter Cash. The recordings feature Country Hall of Fame keys player Hargus “Pig” Robbins, and a young Marty Stuart. And for better or worse, Legacy Recordings had Marty Stuart, Buddy Miller, and Jerry Douglas “fortify” the recordings for this release. No, this is not the dusting off of some old demos to have fans who will buy anything Cash dig into their pockets yet again. Great care was taken with this project from beginning to end, and the result may mean the continuance of the surprising and sustainable interest Johnny Cash enjoys well after his passing.
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Below is a clip of the song “She Used To Love Me A Lot,” written by Dennis Morgan, Charles Quillen, and Kye Fleming, and originally recorded by David Allan Coe with producer Billy Sherrill in 1985.
The modern-day music video is a really strange enterprise. Lots of money is spent by artists, and sometimes labels to produce something special; something that really represents the spirit of a song well. But when you look at what people watch, especially when it comes to independent musicians, many times it’s the fan video captured on a consumer-grade piece of technology that draws the most interest. Meanwhile mainstream music videos, especially from male stars, are the epicenter of country music’s decline.
It was just announced that CMT has picked up a whopping 7 new reality shows for their upcoming season. It looks like the era of quality music videos continues to be in decline. But there are still a few artists, and film/video makers out there committed to the art of music videos, and to doing it right.
10. Kacey Musgraves – “Follow Your Arrow”
Okay I’ll admit it, I wouldn’t like this video half as much if Kacey Musgraves didn’t look so good in blue hot pants.
9. Kenny Chesney Concert PSA
In the aftermath of the massive mess and 73 arrests at the Kenny Chesney / Eric Church concertÂ June 22nd at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field, resulting in shocking photos at the amount of litter left by fans, benstonium.com posted this hilarious parody of the crying Indian PSA. Don’t ask what a “Yinzer” is.
8. Caitlin Rose – “Only A Clown”
Caitlin Rose is one of the few artists that has a nose for the offbeat, engaging video. Last year’s “Piledriver Waltz” video was a standout as well.
“The video for ‘Only a Clown’ is executed with great vision by Michael Carter, resurrecting the VHS format for texture and capturing the thin line between fun and forlornness that accompanies the freedom of the 20-something existence.” (read full review)
7. Sturgill SimpsonÂ - “Sturgill Simpson – “You Can Have The Crown / Some Days” (Live at Sun King Brewery)
What scripted videos usually lack is that ability to capture a magical moment in time where it all “clicks” and you get the shivers that only a live experience can afford. This two-song video from the Sun King Brewery has a few of them.
6. Sturgill Simpson – “Railroad of Sin”
“Sturgill 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.’ âGodzillabillyâ is whatâs heâs 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 youâd 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 Simpsonâs ‘Railroad of Sin.’” (read full review)
5. Jason Isbell – “Elephant” Live at SiriusXM Outlaw Country
Capturing the true emotion and inspiration behind a song is what we all want from a video. Yet it so often becomes elusive by the superfluous additions in the production of a full-blown music video. Sometimes all you need is just the man and a guitar.
4. Fred Eaglesmith – “Johnny Cash”
This video stimulated a little controversy when it was released in March. Is Eaglesmith being too harsh, too judgmental? Maybe, but it’s hard to argue that he made one hell of a video.
“When the prevailing image of Johnny Cash in culture is one of him flipping the bird, the argument can be made that itâs the wholesale reduction of a man of such towering accomplishments and time-tested faith. At some point the imagery and cult-of-celebrity of Johnny Cash trumped the man himself, and society lost sight of his greatest contribution: his noble and charitable spirit.” (read full review)
3. Lindi Ortega – “Tin Star”
This video of Lindi’s Song of the Year Nominee “Tin Star” captures the spirit and theme of her emotionally-drenched foray into the realities that many independent-minded musicians face so well.
2. Matt Woods – “Deadman’s Blues”
The point of any video is to get you to pay attention to an artist and their song. One of the problems with many videos is they take an artist’s song and try to interpret too literally, eroding the mystery from the song, robbing it of its ability to mean different things to different people. The video for “Deadman’s Blues” is quite literal, but done so well and with such heart, it bucks this trend. Though I put “I’ll Sing About Mine” a step ahead, it really is #1 and #1A with these two videos. They represent really listening to the songs and then interpreting their messages in the visual format.
1. Josh Abbott Band – “I’ll Sing About Mine”
“The best part about Josh Abbottâs âIâll Sing About Mineâ video is the faces of the people. Iâll guaran-damn-tee you all of these people are real folks from real places. Whatâs even better is these scenes theyâre in are the same scenes you see in pop country videosâthe back of pickup trucks, out on the farm, on a tractor or 4-wheeler, at a football game. But the scenes are 100% real. These people are so ragingly authentic and their faces tell such gripping stories, you want to take every single one of them and put them in your pocket so you can feel the honest, simple goodness in their souls all day long. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then a face is worth a million.” (read full review)
So Eric Church, you think that genres are dead? Well then why don’t you turn in your Country Music Association Album of the Year trophy, your Academy of Country Music Album of the Year trophy, your Academy of Country Music award for Best New Solo Vocalist from 2011, and your Academy of Country Music award for Vocal Event of the Year that you won with your country-rapping douche buddies Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan as you march your aviators-wearing ass straight out of the non-existent country genre that has made you millions upon millions of fucking dollars and see if the rock world will embrace your “Outsiders” Bon Jovi rehash and bestow awards, coast to coast radio play, and industry support to your ungrateful, arrogant ass.
You’re right Eric, genres are dead, and it’s because assholes like you have killed them by making murky, soulless, rootless pap to appeal to the wide masses while the roots of music wither, and there’s no better evidence of that than your latest rock opera being rammed down the throats of what are supposed to be country consumers, throwing the homogenization of the American culture into hyper drive so that you can hold on to your mainstream relevancy and make even more money stained with the blood of what country music once was.
If you want to play rock music because you think that country is too restrictive, then by all means Eric, do your worst. Play the music you want. But then stay the hell off of country radio, don’t perform at the country awards shows, and forfeit your trophies to the runners up if the country genre is meaningless to you or meaningless in general. Who do you think laid the groundwork for people like you to have untold success? Did you not notice the names as you were trouncing on the way to the top? You can’t use the legacy of country music to make it to the top of the hill, and then disregard it once you’re there.
Eric Church is a hypocrite ladies and gentlemen. From saying he’d never call himself an Outlaw while simultaneously selling Outlaw merch, to now saying genres are dead while shamelessly reaping the rewards of one. Remember the Eric Church song “Lotta Boot Left To Fill”? Remember the lines “I don’t think Waylon done it that way. And if he was here he’d say Hoss, neither did Hank,” and “You sing about Johnny Cash. The man in black would’ve whipped your ass”? What would Hank, Hoss, and Cash have to say to someone claiming the genre they worked their entire lives in and shed their blood for didn’t matter? I know what they’d say. “Eric who?”
And the sad part is yes, when talking about the very top of mainstream country males, Eric Church outpaces his peers as far as quality and innovation, his latest “The Outsiders” single rocketing up the charts notwithstanding. But that may say just as much about the lack of quality in his peers as it says about Eric. It’s his damn attitude, the arrogance bordering on downright hubris, and the uncaring if he completely tears down the country genre, or really anything on his way to the top as long as he gets his.
The death of genres in mainstream music means the death of contrast, and this is something that shouldn’t be regarded flippantly, something that shouldn’t be celebrated just because it secures the financial success of mono-genre artists like Eric Church for the future. It means that music will have that much less color and diversity moving forward and be much more about commercial success than making an artistic mark.
And that’s a sad commentary.
The inaugural inductees to the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame set to open inÂ the Spring of 2014 in Lynchburg, TN have been unveiled. In an eventÂ carried live during a 3-day concert in Altamont, TN, the 17 initial inductees were announcedÂ in two different categories: Pioneers/Innovators (Pre-1970), and Highwaymen (1970-1990).
Along with the official inductees, the Outlaw Music Hall of Fame also announced Guardian Award winners. The Guardian Award is not a Hall of Fame induction, but a one-year award meant to honor an artist’sÂ hard work and unwavering commitment to their music and their fans and best exemplify the tradition of those who came before them. The Hall of Fame also announced that fans will be able to vote on Guardian Award winners in the upcoming years.
OUTLAW HALL OF FAME INDUCTEES
- Hank Williams Sr.
- Loretta Lynn
- The Carter FamilyÂ
- Bobby Bare
- Chris GantryÂ
- Willie Nelson
- Waylon Jennings
- David Allan Coe
- Kris Kristofferson
- Merle Haggard
- Johnny Cash
- Johnny Paycheck
- Sammi SmithÂ
- Steve Young
- Jessi Colter
- Hank Williams Jr.Â
- Billy Joe Shaver
- Dallas Moore
- Wayne Mills
- Hank Williams III
- Jamey Johnson
- Whitey MorganÂ
The Hall of Fame is dedicated to those artists, both musicians and songwriters, whose work best exemplifies the qualities of the Outlaw movement that first began in the 1970â˛s and has gained renewed momentum as an alternative to the current Nashville pop country scene. In doing so it will place the spotlight on music firmly attached to the roots of country. Moreover, the Hall of Fame will educate the public about Outlaw country, memorialize founders of the genreâsuch as Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Jessi Colterârecognize current Outlaw artists, and provide a platform for them and for the independent record labels who currently have little if any voice in the industry.
The facility, due to open in spring of 2014, will encompass more than 5,000 square feet and feature a state-of-the-art layout, including interactive displays. There will also be a studio to allow for live broadcasts to be streamed over the Internet. Located on the town square in Lynchburg, the Outlaw Music Hall ofÂ Fame will sponsor a concert series each April to November to showcase independent roots country artists.
For years the top tier of country music coverage was simply a cloistered and closed-minded exercise in recycling the same already-established names in puff pieces proselytizing the virtues of pop country and very little else. As independent music as a whole continues to gain market share from the mainstream, it’s becoming more and more pertinent for big news outlets to pay attention to the rising tide of independent music, and the renewed interest in legends of the genre. CMT created CMT Edge to cover Americana, bluegrass, legacy artists and other independent acts, and other outlets have stepped up their independent coverage in one capacity or another. But that one mainstream outlet that really gives equal footing to artists regardless if they have the big money of a major label behind them has remained elusive…at least in country music’s traditional stomping ground of the United States.
Once again the Europeans out class their cross Atlantic counterparts with the newly-launched Country Music Magazine from Team Rock—the same people who’ve brought the UK the long-running and widely-distributed Classic Rock Magazine. Despite the generic name, this magazine is anything but, with 132 extra wide (8 Â˝” x 12″) glossy full-color photo-showcasing pages, accompanied by a free, 15-track CD with music from the likes of Sturgill Simpson and Guy Clark.
Amongst its content is a full 60 pages of in-depth features on folks like Johnny Cash, Tony Joe White, Kacey Musgraves, Sturgill Simpson, steel guitar player Buddy Emmons, Kris Kristofferson, Guy Clark, LeAnn Rimes, Steve Martin, Wanda Jackson, and many more. There’s also a rundown of “69 Must-Have Classics of Modern Country” and smaller features on Fifth on the Floor, Austin Lucas, Jack Clement, and others. The last 30 pages of the mag are dedicated to dozens of album reviews and a buyers guide of releases and re-issues complete with ratings from a wide swath of the country music world. Even the few, unobtrusive ads in the mag are for cool country folks like Daniel Romano and Laura Cantrell. Both the current and archival photos for the respective artists are astounding in their full page context.
When I first heard about this magazine and saw the lineup of who they were planning to feature, I was interested to see how it would all play out once it went to print. It sounded almost too good to be true, but Country Music Magazine seems to be determined to do right by the country music name.
And to be fair, the mag doesn’t ignore bigger, mainstream artists. There’s album reviews for Florida-Georgia Line, Blake Shelton, and Brad Paisley because they’re part of the country music community too. But the reviews for these big names are right beside reviews for people like Bill Kirchen and Patty Griffin. And it can’t be stressed enough how much content is here. It’s a magazine you can’t put down, but seems to take forever to get through because past every page turn is something you want to read, and read again.
About the only base that maybe wasn’t thoroughly touched was the Texas/Red Dirt side of country, but from mainstream to Americana and independent country, they have it all covered. Another concern would be that they set the bar so high with this inaugural issue, it will be interesting to see if they can match it at quarterly intervals. Nonetheless, this is the country music magazine we’ve all be waiting for.
Two guns up!
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Country Music Magazine is edited by Ed Mitchell, with contributions by Grant Moon, Emma Wicks, and Max Bell. Comes shipped in an outer protective cover that includes the magazine and free CD. The magazine costs ÂŁ7.99 in the UK, ÂŁ9.99, which is roughly $15.00 US to have it shipped to the States.
Yes, Miley Cyrus. That sledge hammer-licking slut. Did you see her on the VMA’s with that foam finger? And then riding that big wrecking ball wearing nothing? Let’s all wag our fingers, shield the children from all the spectacle, position ourselves as self-righteous and above it all….and then watch her latest video 4 times in a row once the kiddos go to bed.
Is it shocking and disappointing that the girl who once was America’s biggest teen star and role model turned out so? Of course it is. Is it also painfully predictable? Most definitely. But Miley is almost so shocking and disappointing, our outrage goes without saying.
It may be just as disappointing that Miley forever ruined the cool factor of drug references in songs with her recent single “We Can’t Stop.” And though we all may want to act shocked at what little Hannah Montana has turned into, putting drug references in your songs is just about the most conformist thing an artist can possibly do in 2013—country music included.
Though Sinead O’Connor had some brilliant points in her primary open letter to Miley Cyrus, as we saw later with subsequent Sinead letters, brilliant points or not, Sinead could nearly match Miley blow for shave-headed blow when it came to the crazy department.
Somewhere within the numerous and ever-present melees that have surrounded what is right now the most popular and influential artist in American music is that Miley Cyrus is a woman, and artist, and a daughter. No, I have no desire to leave my take on the multiple threads of whether Miley is exploiting or empowering herself as a woman with her recent antics. Even broaching the subject just lends to Miley and her marketing team’s underlying goal, which is to keep her name in the headlines and her singles high on the charts.
What I found interesting is when her father Billy Ray Cyrus recently opened up to Arsenio Hall about his daughters recent antics, he said, “Miley is very smart. She’s thought this thing out in advance of where she was going and, again, going back to her heart and her roots of the music and doing it because that’s who she is. She grew up around the greats. Waylon Jennings, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash.“
Really? Miley Cyrus grew up on Waylon and Cash? Even regular CMT pop country pom pom waver Alison Bonaguro called foul on such a crazy assertion. After all, Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings would never reference cocaine in their songs, would they? In Miley’s song “We Can’t Stop,” she says things like, “We run things, things don’t run we. We don’t take nothing from nobody,” and “It’s my mouth I can say what I want to.” Sure, the times change, and so does the nomenclature and context. But maybe there was a little more Waylon and Cash in there than we were willing to believe.
Miley hosted Saturday Night Live over the weekend, and while half the earth was waiting to see if the foam finger would re-appear, and the other half was manning the Miley Cyrus rehab watch, she tripped everyone up by coming out and performing two distinctly live, stripped down, heartfelt performances with no electronic accoutrements. Yes, Miley Cyrus can actually sing quite well; singing is supposed to be the point of all of this. Right at the apex of when the world was rooting against her to fail as washed up at 20-years-old with nothing but shock to create attention for herself and no substance or talent behind her music, she proved that somewhere deep inside her was a nugget of forte that was dramatically underestimated. Check mate.
At the end of the second song Miley performed on SNL—the drug-laced and defiant “We Can’t Stop,” accompanied only by acoustic guitars—Miley showed one brief moment of sincerity when the crowd erupted with applause. She was truly shocked and grateful, showing a wide, unguarded, bright-eyed smile that harkened back to her innocent Hannah Montana days—a character she ironically ceremoniously killed off during the same SNL episode. It still amazes me why stars don’t go to the stripped-down performance more often. It certainly gives them the ability to deliver a more memorable moment than some of the big stage productions.
Another performer who regularly calls on shock to draw attention is Marlyn Manson. In his take on Patti Smith’s 1978 song “Rock ‘n Roll Nigger,” he adds the line, “Cause I am the all-American antichrist. I was raised in America, and America hates me for what I am. I am your shit.”
As much as we may like to shame Miley Cyrus, or Billy Ray Cyrus for raising such a monster, or Disney for manufacturing such a pop monstrosity, the simple fact is Miley Cyrus is a product of who we are. She is a child of the American culture. For better or for worse. From her embarrassments to her virtues. She was raised on Waylon and Cash, by the guy who sang “Achy Breaky Heart,” starring in a show from Disney. It’s never smart to underestimate anyone—financially or artistically. At the time that Miley seemed to be unraveling right before our very eyes, she was the most in control. I wonder if Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash had similar moments in their careers?
Sometimes you can find wisdom and beauty in the strangest places.
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.Â 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)
- HankÂ 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, Iâll see you in ten years and five thousand shows down the road.” Hank3 said. Weâll see where the fuck youâre at. You know, I called him out and just flat out said, âfuck you if youâre gonna rip us off like that on your first release.â
Shooter for his part seemed unwilling to reciprocate the feud, saying “You know what, I donât even comment on these things, really. I donât even know him. I met him once, I think, for a second. And somehow all this stuff started about how he hates me. I donât know. Itâs, 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 Iâm like, ‘All right, you crossed the line motherfucker.’ And I donât know how many times I have to say it: No, heâs 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 cultureâand 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, “âNone of that lefty shit out there tonight, Kris.â According to Hawke, a rolling argument ensued that ended with Kris Kristofferson saying, “âTheyâre doinâ to country music what pantyhose did to finger-fuckinââ (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.” ââDierksâ has officially ripped off my song âIn A Razor Town.ââ Isbell fired off. âDierks is a douchebag. The song of Dierks is called âHome.ââÂ 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, âThis 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 thingsâI donât really believe in lawsuits or threatsâI 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? Thatâs crazy. I donât know what would make an artÂist do that. You’re not an artist. Once your career becomes about someÂthing 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 toÂ Rolling StoneÂ 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 Godâs 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 âOLD FARTâ & JACKASSâ) â 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 âNobody wants to listen to their grandpas musicâ..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 EXACTLYâŚ The way Mr. Price did along hid journey as a main stream country artist.. Pushing the boundaries with his records. âFor The Goodtimesâ 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 andÂ 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.
âThe 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 Magazineâ.
There will also be a two hour, weekly radio show thatÂ 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 magazineâs 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 ÂŁ9.99 (roughly $15 US). Stay tuned for more info about US availability and distribution.
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