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It was November of 1985. Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash—long-time friends who traced their intertwined stories all the way back to when they shared an apartment together just outside of Nashville—were as close as ever, and sharing the stage as part of the supergroup The Highwaymen with Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. The song “Highwayman” had been one of 1985′s biggest hits, cresting at #1 and holding on the Billboard charts for 20 weeks on its way to becoming a Top 5 song of the entire year.
Amidst their success, Waylon had agreed to be a part of a “roasting” in Georgia to benefit the Spina Bifida Association of Atlanta, and all of his fellow Highwaymen, including Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter Cash were scheduled to attend. Reporter Jack “Hawkeye” Hurst wrote briefly about the event on November 28th, 1985, and placed Johnny and June in Atlanta with Waylon, because that is where they were supposed to be according to the billing. But in truth Johnny and June were not there; they were in Jamaica. The Cash’s had a home called “Cinnamon Hill” on the Caribbean island which Waylon and his wife Jessi often visited, and while hiding away in their Jamaican home, Johnny and June missed the Atlanta roast. How do we know this?
As part of the liquidation of Waylon’s Arizona estate currently underway, a letter from Johnny Cash to Waylon has been made public for the first time. To make it up to Waylon for not attending the roast, Johnny Cash (or someone on his behalf) took to a typewriter, and in the spirit of a proper roasting, wrote a letter to Waylon that was equally apologetic for missing the event as it was pointedly sarcastic toward his old friend.
The Johnny Cash letter to Waylon Jennings is a testament to the friendship and closeness the two men shared, and the respect each man felt for respective wives.
The letter, along with hundreds of personal effects, including reams of other written paper matter, is scheduled to be auctioned off by Guernsey’s Auctioneers on Sunday, Oct. 5th.
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Waylon, this roast shouldn’t hurt you too much tonight, because your brain is already fried. Seriously, I wanted to be there so bad, but I have been told that the only way to get from Jamaica to Atlanta is to travel. I sincerely hope you will accept this honest reason. We miss you and Shooter. Did you ever find out who Shooter’s mother is . . . . . I love you, Jessi, don’t I June? Jessi, you are one of the few truly great women I have met in my entire life. As soon as we get home, we want you to find Waylon’s clothes that he is going to wear that day, then show him where the car keys are, and come to see us. Waylon, I love you, don’t I God? Just remember if you’re ever down to your last dollar, if all your old friends turn their backs on you, if you’re so low that you wish you could die, just remember, I’ll always be . . . . . . . . .
Warning: Some Language
At this point, Florida Georgia Line has settled quite nicely into being the great American sedative of our generation. Just as producer Joey Moi did with Nickelback before them, this music affords a vacation from self-reflection or truly beneficial thought. ISIS is beheading people in the Middle East and engaging in horrific genocide, the economic disparity between social classes continues to increase and has never been more pronounced, even stalwart institutions of American culture like the NFL are leaving the populace in doubt. But that’s okay, you can put on the latest Florida Georgia Line single and all the girls are hot, all the guys get laid, and libations and narcotics are at your beck and call. This is the type of vacationary audio lubrication that keeps the engine of corporate America purring along just fine. Don’t get down; get high and buy shit.
Florida Georgia Line would be perfectly happy with continuing to put out Bro-Country “dirt road, beer, tailgate” schlock. After all, they’ve let it be known multiple times that they’re dumfounded by all the Bro-Country critcism. If stadiums are filling up then it must be working and will work forever, but Scott Borchetta put out a company memo to leave that stuff with Dallas Davidson and Chase Rice to sink with, so what we get instead from Florida Georgia Line’s new single “Sun Daze” is a reversion back to the stupid-ass beach bum singalongs—aka the same garbage Bro-Country replaced. Hell, “Bacardi” and “flip flops” are much easier to find things to rhyme with than “tailgate.” Screw that we’re actually heading into the Winter, it’s always sunny in shitty country music la la land.
The diehards will never admit it, but when you boil down the music of “Sun Daze,” it’s pretty much harmless. Of course it’s not country, but at this point, pointing that out feels like a clichĂŠ in itself. Imagine the music that’s playing when “The Fool” of the Tarot deck goes carefree stepping off the side of a cliff. That’s “Sun Daze.” But it’s not terrible. In fact there’s an extended dobro solo at the end of the song, which is just about as much or more solo instrumentation than you will hear in most any country song these days. This is a stupid song, but there’s space in the music world for these type of mindless hum-alongs.
Where “Sun Daze” turns aggressively awful is in the lyricism. Now to be fair, there’s nothing in “Sun Daze” that we haven’t been hearing for years in pop radio or in Parental Advisory fare, so let’s not freak out about the downfall of civilization. But the problem is that country has now taken over as the leader in raunchy innuendo and overt lyrical references. Time was country music was the safe location on the dial, and KISS-FM is what your 4-year-old didn’t need to hear. Now the pop station is playing inspirational and confidence-building tunes from Lorde and Meghan Trainor, and country is the home of the unfettered smut fest.
If Iâm lucky, yeah, I might get laid.
The way that itâs goinâ that keg gonâ be floatinâ.
All I wanna do today is wear my favorite shades and get stoned.
Kris Kristofferson with the help of Johnny Cash in 1970 already crossed the Rubicon of calling themselves “stoned,” and the result was the CMA for Song of the Year. But there was also a story behind their references, and a deep and dour feeling of self-loathing and reflection, if not a diagnosis of the moral depravity one found oneself in. The simple fact is “Sun Daze” needs this bawdy language of “get laid” and “get stoned” because that’s all it’s got to separate itself from vapid nursery rhyme. “Sun Daze” farmed a melody that was so Mother Goose, they needed to gussy it up with something controversial to have at least something that would pass for “edgy.” Talking about getting laid and stoned in a country song is simply a cry for attention, and is demographic pandering to the repressed suburban boys and girls this stupidity appeals to.
The second verse of “Sun Daze” takes it to another level.
Stir it up as we turn on some Marley
If you want you can get on Harley
I sit you up on a kitchen sink
Stick the pink umbrella in your drink
Well you’ve been anything but coy up to this point in the song fellas, why don’t you just come out and say it? You plan to stick your penis in her vagina … but all of a sudden you don’t have the testicles to spell it out.
What rank immaturity. And it does seem to make it a little worse that they’ve decided to do their pink umbrella sticking on the Lord’s day. Not to get too preachy or anything, but that is the everlasting dichotomy of country music: let loose on Saturday night, and atone on Sunday. Now let’s screw that tradition all up as well since it makes for catchy, purposely-misspelled crud jargon for Ăźber douches whose “religious” ideals are only as skin deep as their $700 bicep tattoos of Gothic crosses that are more about marketing than expression or reverence.
There’s much worse out there folks, which is sad to say in itself. That’s the evil genius about Joey Moi and Florida Georgia Line. They passed on the song “Burnin’ It Down” which the duo co-wrote (and was cut by Jason Aldean), and I don’t care if it shot to #1 because the label sent a Brinks truck over to Clear Channel driven by hookers with cocaine—”Burnin’ It Down” is a polarizing song that is destined for the waste bin of country music history because deep down it’s just really bad. But “Sun Daze” is America’s next ear worm. Of course it sucks, but Florida Georgia Line once again proves its ability to craft an engaging melody to enrapture America’s gullible middle. And the descent of country music registers yet another low water mark.
Two guns down.
(aka, any points for melody construction are erased by the transgressions in the lyricism)
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And P.S.: Quit naming of monogenre strings of artist together like, “Rock a little bit of hip-hop and Haggard and Jagger.” That’s now as clichĂŠ as pickup trucks and beer.
“Sun Daze” is written by Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley, and Cary Barlowe, Jesse Frasure and Sarah Buxton—who should all know better.
“When people ask me who I admire most in the world, I always have the same answer: Muhammad Ali.” –Waylon Jennings
The occasion of Waylon Jennings’ Arizona estate being auctioned off on October 5th by Guernsey’s Auctions has given us the opportunity to sit back and be awed at the remarkable life this poor boy from Littlefield, TX lived. The artifacts that Waylon accumulated over the years tell the story of a man who lived an incredible life, and one with a little more refinement than what there appeared to be on his rough, “Outlaw” surface. The presence of a letter to Waylon from John Lennon speaks to the breadth of Waylon’s influence and respect in the music world, but outside of music, there was another acquaintance, just as remarkable in its strangeness, but even more astounding in its depth. I’m speaking of Waylon’s undying friendship with Muhammad Ali.
Two heavyweights from different disciplines coming together in friendship is one thing. But the respect these two men had for each other is something so erudite and unexpected, it can give you chills.
“I thought he was too smart-ass for his own good when I first heard of him,” Waylon said in his autobiography with Lenny Kaye. “But after I realized what he was doing, he left-hooked me quick. Muhammad talked about himself with a grand sense of humor, but it helped that he was probably the most gracefully flamboyant boxer of our lifetime.”
Waylon was introduced to Muhammad Ali by Kris Kristofferson in 1978. “I met him back in the ’70s, after I did ‘A Star Is Born,’ and he’d seen the movie,” Kristofferson tells Men’s Journal. “We’ve been close since. I remember that Waylon Jennings, who wasn’t impressed with anybody, wanted to meet Ali. I introduced them at some restaurant in Los Angeles, and I was worried because that’s when Waylon was really messed up. He looked like death eating a soda cracker â his hair was all greasy and he’d been up for a month, I think. But they became great friends too.”Â
Kristofferson says of Ali, “I’m still close with Muhammad, and he’s probably the biggest hero in my lifetime.”
In Ali’s dressing room during a fight is where the deep friendship between Waylon and Ali was forged. “Kris brought me back to his dressing room the night he won the belt back from Leon Spinks. Before the fight, he was the most calm man you ever saw, sitting on his trainer’s table, waiting, sure it was a done deal.”
Muhammad Ali’s September 15th, 1978 fight with Leon Spinks wasn’t just your typical boxing match, or even your typical heavyweight title fight involving Muhammad Ali. Earlier that year in February, Spinks became the first man to defeat Ali in the ring to claim boxing’s heavyweight belt. Seven months later in Louisiana the rematch ensued, held at the Superdome and immortalized as the “Battle of New Orleans.” Ali, who hadn’t taken the first bout seriously, won the rematch solidly in 15 rounds by a unanimous decision. Once again, Muhammad Ali was the Heavyweight Champion of the World, making him the first ever three-time champ.
“When I left, he simply said ‘Waylon,’ and gave me a big hug,” Waylon recalls, but that was not all he gave Waylon. Whether it was a token of his friendship, or repaying Waylon for being his good luck charm that night, Muhammad Ali gave Waylon the white terrycloth robe he wore before the fight, and the training gloves from the bout as a gift. At that moment, a robe that already was a priceless artifact of the boxing world also became an important artifact in the country music world, bestowed with such honor by the friendship between the two men.
“We had lunch in L.A. a few months later,” Waylon remembers. “And after Shooter (Waylon’s son with Jessi Colter) was born, I called him and told him we were having a christening. ‘We’d love to have you,’ and sure enough, he showed up and flopped down on the couch. ‘I’m here to integrate this joint,’ he said with a smile.”
Waylon once wrote a song for Muhammad Ali called “Here’s To The Champions,” but never got to sing or record it for him. But at a Parkinson’s Fund dinner in Phoenix in 2010, Kris Kristofferson sang the song with Waylon’s widow Jessi Colter for Ali. It reportedly brought tears to Ali’s eyes. The yellow piece of paper Waylon wrote the lyrics to Ali’s song on, as well as other pictures of Ali from Waylon’s estate will be a part of the upcoming Waylon auction along with the robe, and the gloves given to Waylon by Ali.
After attending Shooter’s christening, something else happened that showed the deep friendship between Waylon and Ali. “I had just bought the bus we called Shooter I,” Waylon recalls. “It wasn’t even furnished yet; I don’t know if it had license tags. Muhammad asked me for the keys, drove it to Louisville to see his momma, and then brought it back. He could have kept it for all I cared. He means that much to me, and the world.”
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Call it Bro-Country, call it just plain bad, but Merle Haggard apparently prefers to call the puss oozing from the open sore that is modern-day radio country “Boogie Boogie Wham-Bam.” And hey, he’s Merle freaking Haggard, so he can call it whatever the hell he wants.
While speaking with David Menconi of Chapel Hill’s News Observer ahead of his show at UNC-Chapel Hillâs Memorial Hall Saturday night, when asked if he listens to much modern country, Merle Haggard said:
“Iâve gotta be honest, I donât really listen to the radio at all anymore. Once in a while, Iâll scan it and I donât understand what theyâre doing. I canât find the entertainment in it. I know these guys, occasionally play shows with them and theyâre all good people. But I wonder if that record theyâre making is something they can actually do. Too much boogie boogie wham-bam and not enough substance. Itâs all the same musicians, too, probably eight to ten musicians play on every record you hear. For a musician hearing things that way, you can tell when a certain guitarist is playing. I know more about the musicians than the artists, actually.”
It’s all the same eight to ten songwriters too, and this is one of the many reasons most modern-day radio country sounds the same. Merle’s observation that “I wonder if that record theyâre making is something they can actually do” is similar to Tom Petty’s recent observations about modern music and the infiltration of electronic elements when he said, “You put your name on it, but you didnât do that.”
Though Merle says the “lack of radio play for the new stuff makes it difficult,” he is still working on new music, and has multiple projects planned.
“Weâve got four different album projects that are all almost finished, and weâll bring them out in continuity … You know, if they put on a new song of mine, theyâve gotta take off ‘Mama Tried.’ So Iâm kind of fighting myself on new releases.”
Merle has also been rumored to be a part of a “Three Musketeers” project with Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson.
Merle is not known for being as outspoken about the direction of country music as some of his elder country peers, but he has been known to get heated in the past. In one legendary moment, he told CBS Records executive Rick Blackburn, “Who 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
In early August it was revealed that Guernseyâs Auctions out of New York City was preparing to auction off 2,000 items from the Waylon Jennings estate in Chandler, Arizona, with the proceeds going to the Phoenix Childrenâs Hospital. The items are being offered for sale by Waylonâs widow, Jessi Colter, who was married to Waylon for over 30 years. The auction is set to transpire on October 5th at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. Now even more details of the auction items have been revealed as the auction house has made a detailed auction guide available for pre-order.
The items will be made available for preview in Phoenix at the Musical Instrument Museum starting on October 3rd. Out of the 2,000 items, there will also be 500 lots, or groups of items that will be auctioned together. Telephone and online bidding will also be available.
Included in the auction is a pair of ornate leather boots once worn by Hank Williams. Thereâs also an authentic set of Willie Nelsonâs famous Indian braids given to Waylon in 1983 by his long-time Outlaw friend to celebrate Waylonâs newly-found sobriety. Thereâs also the original contract signed by Waylon that officially formed The Highwaymen supergroup with Willie, Kris Kristofferson, and Johnny Cash, and a letter to Waylon from John Lennon. Thereâs also a leather-clad Telecaster being sold (though not the main one Waylon played). But the crown jewel of the collection will be the Ariel Cyclone motorcycle previously owned by Buddy Holly, and given to Waylon Jennings as a birthday present in 1979 (read more).
Though Waylon was originally from Littlefield, TX, his Phoenix history runs deep. Waylon got his start as a solo performer at JDâs in Phoenix. Owner Jimmy D. Musiel pattered his club around Waylon and his Waylors as the house band. Waylonâs Arizona estate in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler is where he spent much of his time, and where he passed away on February 13th, 2002.
For more information on the auction, visit www.guernseys.com.
Braids Willie Nelson gave to Waylon after he found sobriety.
“Storms Never Last” Bronze Bust
Waylon’s Stage Chair
Waylon’s Personal Rolex Submariner Watch
Porsche Design Sunglasses & Case
Porsche Design Sunglasses
Partner Desk Given to Waylon by Johnny Cash in 1985
Original contract forming the supergroup The Highwaymen.
Photo Display from the Music Row Museum
Muhammad Aliâs Training Gloves
Muhammad Aliâs Ring Robe Presented to Waylon Jennings by Ali in 1978
Letter from John Lennon To Waylon
Original Black Crayon Drawing of Johnny Cash by William Nelson
Hat Worn by Hank Williams Jr. During a Live Performance
Nomination Plaque for âMamas Donât Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboysâ
Fender Custom Shop Waylon Jennings Telecaster
Waylonâs Favorite Pair of Lucchese Boots
Engraved ST Dupont Black Chinese Lacquer and Gold Lighter c. 1970s
Hank Williamsâ Custom-made Nudie Cowboy Boots
Costume Worn by Jennings in Sesame Streetâs Follow That Bird
âThe Buddy Holly Daysâ
Baume Mercier Watch
Nashville Rebel Poster with Autograph
Autographed Nashville RebelÂ Poster WITH ORIGINAL SHARKEYâS POSTER
1943 Martin Guitar 00021
The Highwayman Goes Gold
Ariel Cyclone motorcycle previously owned by Buddy Holly, and given to Waylon Jennings as a birthday present in 1979.
Every day tens of thousands of people put on the police uniform and put their lives on the line to protect and serve the citizens of the United States, and do it with a servant’s heart and a sincere desire to protect their local communities. But others step over bounds, grow power hungry in their positions, and some communities have dealt with corruption and brutality in policing for decades to where over the years it has become an eternal theme in American music, and in country music specifically.
Many country music songs deal with characters being incarcerated, being sent on the lamb, or being killed for things they have done that are wrong. However the following songs are ones that question if anything was done wrong in the first place, or decry how the system doesn’t allow previous wrongdoers to truly rehabilitate.
Here are 10 country songs criticizing the police state.
Johnny Cash – San Quentin
Many of Johnny Cash’s songs speak out about the inequality and ineffectiveness of America’s jails and the police state in general, and he punctuated this sentiment throughout his career with his legendary prison concerts. But no Johnny Cash song spells it out more clearly than “San Quentin”.
“And I leave here a wiser, weaker man. Mr. Congressman, you can’t understand.”
Kris Kristofferson – “The Law Is For Protection of the People”
From Kris Kristofferson’s first, self-titled album from 1970 which also included iconic Kristofferson-written tunes like “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” “Me & Bobby McGee,” and “Help Me Make It Through The Night,” “The Law Is For Protection of the People” is arguably Kristofferson’s most powerful counter-cultural, anti-authoritarian statement of his career. Another song from the album, “Best Of All Possible Worlds” also carries a strong message about the police, but one where Kristofferson admits to his own drunken culpability.
“So thank your lucky stars you’ve got protection
Walk the line, and never mind the cost
And don’t wonder who them lawmen was protecting
When they nailed the savior to the cross.”
J.J. Cale – “If You’re Ever In Oklahoma”
Native Oklahoman J.J. Cale’s calling out of middle America’s aggressive police state has also been covered famously by Cody Canada & The Departed, and by numerous bluegrass bands including the Yonder Mountain String Band and the Hutchinson Brothers. It is from J.J.’s 1973 album Really.
“They got fines, they got plenty. They’ll hold you up for days on end. Threaten your life, take your money. Make you think you’re there to stay.”
Waylon Jennings -”Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Got Out of Hand”
The song is about Waylon’s cocaine arrest in 1977 for conspiracy and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. A courier tipped off Federal agents that a package sent to Waylon from his lawyer/manager Neil Reshen contained 27 grams of cocaine. As authorities waited to obtain a search warrant, Waylon flushed the drugs down the toilet, and the charges were later dropped. Waylon blamed the whole episode on the marketing of his music as “Outlaw.” The song includes one of the best lines of any country song decrying the police state.
“I’m for law and order, the way that it should be. This song’s about the night they spent protecting you from me.”
Waylon Jennings -Â “Good Ol’ Boys” (Dukes of Hazzard Theme)
“Just some good ol’ boys, never meaning no harm…”
Waylon says in his biography, “They thought that was good but said all it needed was something about two modern-day Robin Hoods, fighting the system. So I wrote, ‘Fighting the system, like two modern-day Robin Hoods,’ and they didn’t even know they wrote the damn line. It was my first million-selling single.”
Merle Haggard – “Branded Man”
Speaking out about the difficulty felons find in the world after they’re released from jail, this classic country tune was the title track off of Merle’s fourth album released in 1968. Though there is no shortage of prison songs in country music complaining about how tough it is in the clink or once you get out, “Branded Man” speaks specifically about the inability of the police state to rehabilitate and re-indoctrinate ex convicts back into society.
“I paid the debt I owed ‘em, but they’re still not satisfied. Now I’m a branded man out in the cold.”
Wayne “The Train” Hancock – Johnny Law
One of Wayne Hancock’s signature tunes about being pulled over for doing nothing wrong, “Johnny Law” is something most any American can relate to.
“You ain’t nothin’ but a bully withÂ a star on your chest.”
The Bottle Rockets – “Radar Gun”
The cowpunk/alt-country entry into the list, “Radar Gun” was The Bottle Rockets biggest hit, reaching #27 on Billboard’s rock charts. It was released on their album The Brooklyn Side in 1994, later re-issued by Atlantic Records in 1995.
“Schedule 19 on a special election
Got our money problems right in hand
Droppin them limits like a hot potato
50 down to 30, oh man, oh man.”
Johnny Cash & Bruce Springsteen – “Highway Patrolman”
Though “Highway Patrolman” is seen by many as being against the police state, its message is much more subtle than most. Written and performed originally by Bruce Springsteen on his 1982 album Nebraska, it tells the tale of a Highway Patrolman who regularly looks the other way when his brother does wrong in the local community the officer is charged to protect. Johnny Cash covered the song on his album from the following year, Johnny 99—titled from another Bruce Springsteen song off of Nebraska.
“Well if it was any other man, I’d put him straight away
But when it’s your brother sometimes you look the other way.”
James Hand – “Old Man Henry”
When the 97-year-old Henry refuses to relinquish his land for a highway being built through town, he gets shot down by police who think he’s reaching for his rifle when he goes to pick up his cane. “Old Man Henry” off of Jame Hand’s 2012 album Mighty Lonesome Man is based partially off of true events.“40 rifles raised, from 40 men half crazed. As the bullets struck all around him, his house it caught ablaze. 40 rifles then, raised and fired again. As the fatal bullets hit him, Henry fell across Mary’s grave. A man of 97 years, lay dead upon the ground. As his soul winged up to heaven, a gentle rain came down. Henry laid across his Mary, their little home a pile of ash. Nothing left but the memories, they got their damned highway at last.”
As one of the primary members of country music’s “Class of ’89″ that’s regularly given credit for veering country music into a too commercial direction, Alan Jackson seems to never be given enough credit for being one of the genre’s staunch traditionalists that has stood up for the roots and the legends of country music arguably more than any other mainstream star, and just as much (if not more) than The Outlaws of the 70′s did. When you sit back and reflect on his now legendary career that has seen the sale of over 80 million records and seen Alan amass dozens of industry awards, there is no question Alan Jackson deserves the distinction of being an ultimate country music badass.
More in this series:
- 10 Badass Waylon Jennings Moments
- 10 Badass Johnny Cash Moments
- 10 Badass Merle Haggard Moments
- 10 Badass Wanda Jackson Moments
- 10 Badass Marty Stuart Moments
- 10 Badass George Jones Moments
- 10 Badass Hank3 Moments
- 10 Badass Billy Joe Shaver Moments
- 10 Badass Kris Kristofferson Moments
1. Starting His Career in the TNN Mailroom
Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings got their start in music as DJ’s. Kris Kristofferson started out as a janitor in the Columbia studios. For those with music in their blood, they will do whatever it takes to get their foot in the door of the music business. For Alan Jackson, it was getting a job in the mailroom of The Nashville Network’s offices.
Jackson was born in Newnan, Georgia, and grew up in a house built out of his grandfather’s old tool shed. Jackson’s mom still lives in the house to this day. Jackson had been married to his high school sweetheart Denise for 6 years before deciding to move to Nashville to pursue music full time. Once they hit Music City, Jackson needed to do something to support the household, and TNN was hiring. He later met Glen Campbell and the rest is history.
2. Wearing a Hank Williams T-shirt on the 1994 ACM Awards
Today this would be no big deal. In fact it would probably be considered an upgrade from some of the ridiculous regalia many modern-day country stars get duded up in on award shows. But in 1994, country music’s prime time presentations were still very much black tie affairs. And here comes Alan Jackson walking out for his performance wearing a Hank Williams T-shirt with the sleeves cut off. It would pale in comparison to what would happen next on the show (see below), but Alan bucking the black tie dress code was scandalous on its own, and was probably meant as its own protest against the ACM’s stuffy atmosphere and a presentation that showed little reverence to the roots of the music.
Executive producer Dick Clark in a backstage interview during the show asked Alan, âHere you are on television in front of millions of people. Why do you have a Hank Williams T-shirt on?â
Jacksonâs response was, âWell, I love Hank, and a fanâŚI get a lot of gifts on the road playing, and a fan gave me this shirt, and I just saw it in the closet before I came out here this weekend and I grabbed it and said, âIâm gonna wear it for my song,â you know, âGone Country.â Hankâs country.â
3. Protesting The Backing Track on the 1994 ACM Awards
The 1994 ACM Awards were in many ways Alan Jacksonâs oyster. Held at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles on May 3rd, Alan walked away that night with the Top Male Vocalist award, and co-hosted the event with Reba McEntire. But when it came to performing what would be his upcoming #1 single and one of the signature songs of the era âGone Countryâ, Alan Jackson couldnât sit right with the charade most country award shows pull on their audience.
Before the show, producers told Alan that he had to play to a pre-recorded rhythm section track, which Jackson clearly felt was tantamount to lying to both his fans and the audience. So instead of playing along with the charade, Jackson tipped off the audience to the subterfuge by telling his drummer Bruce Rutherford to play without sticks. So as the performance transpires and everything sounds perfect, there is Alan Jacksonâs drummer, swinging his arms like heâs playing the drums, but with no sticks in his hand.
Trust the ACM’s never asked Alan Jackson to play to a backing track again. And this wouldn’t be the last time Alan Jackson would pull a fast one on award show producers….
4. The “Pop A Top / Choices” George Jones CMA Awards Protest
Just before the 1999 CMA Awards, George Jones was asked to perform an abbreviated version of his song “Choices”. George, feeling that he wasnât a âbaby actâ as he put it, refused, and boycotted the show. And in a super act of class, Alan Jackson, while preforming his song âPop A Topâ, cut his own song short, and launched into Georgeâs âChoices”.
ââWe were all so nervous,â Alan Jackson later recalled. âThe guitarist had this solo in the middle of âPop a Topâ, and the song sort of modulates up at the end of the solo. I signaled to him that we were going to do it, and he just stopped. I looked over at him and he was sweating. The boy looked like he was going to bite his lip off. Then I hit that C chord to start âChoicesâ. â
As you can see in the video, the crowd began to roar and rise to their feet when Jackson launched into the George Jonesâ comeback hit.
5. Releasing Under The Influences Tribute Album
During the height of Alan Jackson’s commercial success, he decided to do something rarely seen in modern day country from a superstar: he released an album made entirely of classic country covers. Including two songs from Johnny Paycheck, a cover of Merle Haggard’s “My Own Kind Of Hat”, and Hank Williams Jr.’s “The Blues Man”, Jackson’s label heads must have thought he was crazy. The album was Jackson’s way of pushing back against the pop-ification of country that was becoming a hot topic in the genre at the time.
What was the result?
It was a big success. Though it can be argued that an album of more original music might have done better, Under The Influences went Platinum, and included two hit singles. Nat Stuckey’s “Pop A Top” ended up at #6 on Billboards Country Songs chart, and Bob McDill’s “It Must Be Love” first made famous by Don Williams went all the way to #1. Alan Jackson proved that the classic country sound was still relevant, and commercially viable if given a chance.
6. Recording and Writing “3 Minute Positive Not Too Country Up Tempo Love Song”
Not since Willie Nelson’s “Sad Songs & Waltzes”, and arguably no other song since has protested pop country’s propensity for commercialization and shallowness as well as this loquaciously-titled song written by Alan Jackson himself for his 2000 release When Somebody Loves You.
7. Recording “Murder On Music Row” with George Strait
Arguably one of the most important country music protest songs in the history of the genre, “Murder On Music Row” written by Larry Cordle and Larry Shell became a big success when Alan Jackson joined up with George Strait to release the song in 2000. The duo first performed the song in 1999 at the CMA Awards, and the next year the performance won the CMA for “Vocal Event of the Year.” Then the following year when it was released on George Strait’s Latest Greatest Straitest Hits album, it was awarded the CMA for “Song of the Year.” That’s right, a song talking about how country music had been murdered on Music Row walked away with the genre’s highest distinction for a song.
Even though the song was never released as a single, unsolicited airplay still saw the song chart on Billboard at #38. At George Strait’s final concert in June of 2014, the duo performed the song again to the largest crowd to ever see an indoor live music event
8. “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)”
In stark contrast to the inflammatory nature of Toby Keith’s post-911 Ăźber hit “Courtesy Of The Red, White, & Blue”, Alan Jackson did his best to humanize and come to peace with the tragedy of 9-11 through song, and it resulted in both his most critical and commercial success of his career. Written by Jackson himself, when he first played it for label executives, there was complete silence in the room for a full minute after it stopped. Jackson was scheduled to perform his current #1 song “Where I Come From” at the 2001 CMA awards in November, but mere days before the presentation, he decided to play “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” instead. The four CMA heads were not happy about this decision until Jackson’s tour manager Nancy Russell played the song for them. They were all crying by the time the song ended.
After Jackson played the song on the CMA Awards, demand for it skyrocketed. The song was so new, his label hadn’t officially released it as a single yet, but stations already with a copy started playing it, and the song shot to #25 on the Billboard Country Songs chart almost immediately. By the next week it was at #12, and by the end of the year, it was #1 where it stayed for five weeks. It also charted on Billboard’s Hot 100 at #28.
Jackson’s label couldn’t make the song a commercial single fast enough to meet demand, so they instead decided to move up the release date of his album Drive from May of 2002 to January 15th. When the album was released, it went to #1 on both Billboard’s country and all-genre charts, and stayed there for four weeks off the strength of the song. “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” eventually won both the “Single of the Year” and “Song of the Year” from both the CMA and ACM Awards, as well as the Grammy for “Best Country Song.” It also helped propel Alan Jackson to be awarded both “Male Vocalist of the Year” and “Entertainer of the Year” by the CMA Awards in both 2002 and 2003.
Jackson said about the song, “I think it was Hank Williams who said, ‘God writes the songs, I just hold the pen.’ That’s the way I felt with this song.”
9. Being Nominated For The Most CMA’s Ever In One Year
Bolstered by his song “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)”, Alan Jackson received a total of ten CMA nominations in 2002—the most in CMA history. Jackson won five of them.
- 2002 Album of the Year – Drive (Won)
- 2002 Male Vocalist of the Year (Won)
- 2002 Entertainer of the Year (Won)
- 2002 Single of the Year “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” (Won)
- 2002 Song of the Year “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” (Won)
- 2002 Song of the Year “Drive (For Daddy Gene)” (Nominated)
- 2002 Single of the Year “Drive (For Daddy Gene)” (Nominated)
- 2002 Vocal Event of the YearÂ – “Designated Drinker” w/ George Strait (Nominated)
- 2002 Video of the Year “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” (Nominated)
- 2002 Video of the Year “Drive (For Daddy Gene)” (Nominated)
10. Keeping Virtually The Same Band & Producer Throughout His Entire Career
Every single one of Alan Jackson’s 15 major label album releases has been produced by Keith Stegall. Even when Jackson switched labels from Arista, Stegall stayed on board.
Jackson has also kept virtually the same band the entire time, aside from using a few bluegrass ringers for The Bluegrass Album. The loyalty Alan Jackson shows in his people, and his people’s loyalty in him, is both a sign of integrity and success.
- Monty AllenÂ â acoustic guitar, harmony vocals
- Scott ConeyÂ â acoustic guitar, tic tac bass, banjo
- Robbie FlintÂ â steel guitar
- Danny GroahÂ â lead guitar
- Ryan Joseph – fiddle, harmony vocals
- Bruce RutherfordÂ â drums
- Joey SchmidtÂ â keyboards
- Roger WillsÂ â bass guitar
More in this series:
Since the Johnny Cash Museum opened in downtown Nashville in May 2013, it has become one of Music City’s must-see spots and an international destination point for country music fans and Johnny Cash fans alike. Barely a year has passed since its initial opening and the museum is already tackling its first new addition. On August 15th, the museum will unveil its “Legends of Sun Records” exhibit celebrating the legendary Memphis studio that gave rise to Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and of course, The Man in Black himself.
âJohnny Cash began his musical career at Sun Records,” says Johnny Cash Museum Founder Bill Miller. “Sun was the launch pad for several young men whose music would forever impact the world. Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Johnny came from similar backgrounds and humble beginnings. Once they walked through the door at the Memphis Recording Service, their lives would never be the same. We are proud to showcase Johnny’s labelmates from this historic period in rock and roll history.âÂ
The Legends of Sun Records exhibit will showcase many artifacts and much information about the original class of Sun Records stars, but one man, and one particular piece of memorabilia might be worth paying a little bit of extra attention to.
W.S. “Fluke” Holland is not a name that is as familiar to music fans as the other big Sun Recordings stars, but his significance to early country and rock & roll cannot be overstated.
W.S. Holland was Johnny Cash’s drummer for 40 years, and is considered by many as the “Father of the Drums.” When he joined Johnny Cash’s band in 1960, the famous “Tennessee Two” officially became the “Tennessee Three,” but it was a fluke the drummer joined the band at all, leading to his now inseparable nickname.
W.S. Holland never intended to be a drummer. He was raised in Bemis, TN and worked for an air conditioning company after high school. He was a big music fan, and would go out after work to see Carl Perkins play with his two brothers at a local bar. Holland used to beat his hands on the side of the upright bass to the rhythm of music, and on a whim the Perkins clan invited Holland on a trip to Sun Records, and told him to borrow a drum set to play. One thing led to another, and W.S. Holland became one of Sun Records’ go-to session drummers.
W.S. Holland was the drummer for the famous “Million Dollar Quartet” session that matched up Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Lee Lewis (he got paid $11.50 for the gig—union scale at the time). He played on many other famous Sun Records recordings, including Johnny Cash’s “I Walk The Line”, “Folsom Prison Blues”, and “Ring of Fire”, not as a member of Johnny’s band, but as a session player. Holland also played on many other famous Sun recordings, including “Blue Suede Shoes.”
Later W.S. Holland would take the same drum set used in many of those famous Sun Studios sessions, and they would become the first full drum set ever used on The Grand Ole Opry. Though Bob Wills back in 1945 brought his Texas Playboys to the Ryman, including their full-time drummer, The Opry forbade Bob from playing the drum set on stage. An argument ensued, and eventually The Opry caved and allowed the drummer to play a partial set behind a curtain. It’s said that Bob at one point said, “Move those things out on stage!” and the drums made a quick and controversial appearance, barring Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys from the Opry for life. But the set owned by W.S. “Fluke” Holland, and the set that is on display as part of the Johnny Cash Museum’s “Legends of Sun Records” is the first full drum set, and the first officially approved set to ever grace The Grand Ole Opry’s hallowed stage.
The biggest “fluke” occurred for W.S. “Fluke” Holland when he was hired by Johnny Cash to play a quick two week run of shows in New York and Atlantic City. That two weeks lasted 40 years in Johnny Cash’s band, and the rest is history. Later when Johnny Cash formed The Highwaymen with Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson, W.S. “Fluke” was the supergroup’s full-time drummer. “Fluke” also played on Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue” and “Sunday Morning Coming Down”, played on the Live at Folsom Prison and Live at San Quentin albums, and was also the session player for Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline record.
The quaint, four-piece drum set on display at the Johnny Cash Museum could be considered the most important drum set in this history of country music—and rock and roll music for that matter, or American music in general. Along with all the other important artifacts that make up the “Legends of Sun Records” exhibit, it makes this new museum addition a worthy visit for music fans of all stripes.
W.S. “Fluke” Holland still plays drums and tours today in his W.S. Holland Band.
Photos by Jarrett Gaza
Guernsey’s Auctions out of New York City is getting ready to liquidate a massive 2,000-piece collection of items owned by Waylon Jennings from his Arizona estate, with the proceeds from the auction going to the Phoenix Children’s Hospital. The items are being offered for sale by Waylon’s widow, Jessi Colter, who was married to Waylon for over 30 years. The auction is set to transpire on October 5th at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix.
What can collectors expect from this rare chance to own a piece of authentic Waylon Jennings memorabilia? Well for starters, there’s a pair of ornate leather boots once worn by Hank Williams that are adorned appropriately with a Phoenix on the front, and an ‘H’ in the middle for “Hank”. There’s also an authentic set of Willie Nelson’s famous Indian braids given to Waylon in 1983 by his long-time Outlaw friend to celebrate Waylon’s newly-found sobriety. There’s also the original contract signed by Waylon that officially formed The Highwaymen supergroup with Willie, Kris Kristofferson, and Johnny Cash, and a letter to Waylon from John Lennon. There’s also a leather-clad Telecaster being sold (though not the main one Waylon played). But the crown jewel of the collection will be the Ariel Cyclone motorcycle previously owned by Buddy Holly, and given to Waylon Jennings as a birthday present in 1979.
Waylon Jennings played bass for Buddy Holly right before he died in the plane crash in 1959 that was later memorialized in the Don McLean song âAmerican Pie”. Waylon was supposed to be on that flight, but gave his seat up to The Big Bopper. 1 1/2 years before in May of 1958, Buddy Holly and his original Crickets flew in to Dallasâs Love Field airport on a connecting flight back to Lubbock after a big tour. But instead of flying, the three decided to purchase motorcycles and drive back.
âThen they went over to Millerâs Motorcycles, which specialized in English bikes,” Waylon recalled in his biography with Lenny Kaye. “There, Joe B, and J.I. (Allison) bought a Triumph each, a TR6 and Thunderbird, respectively, while Buddy picked out a maroon and black Ariel Cyclone, with a high compression 650cc Huntsmaster engine. They paid cash, bought matching Levi jackets and peaked caps with wings on them, and rode home through a thunderstorm.â
Then in 1979 for Waylonâs 42nd birthday, the two remaining Crickets Joe B. and J.I. tracked down the 1959 Ariel Cyclone, bought it back, and had it hand delivered to north Texas where Waylon found it sitting there in the middle of his hotel room after walking off stage that night.
âWhat else could I do? I swung my leg over it, stomped on the kickstarter, and it burst into roaring life. First kick. It was midnight, and it sounded twice as loud bouncing off the walls of that hotel room. I knew Buddy wouldnât mind.â
The motorcycle was eventually put on display at Waylon’s home in Arizona.
Though Waylon was originally from Littlefield, TX, his Phoenix history runs deep. Waylon got his start as a solo performer at JD’s in Phoenix. Owner Jimmy D. Musiel pattered his club around Waylon and his Waylors as the house band. Waylon’s Arizona estate in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler is where he spent much of his time, and where he passed away on February 13th, 2002.
An auction catalog with detailed descriptions and pictures of each item is expected to be made available to the public for $32 from Guernesy’s later in August, and the items in the auction will be available for preview in Phoenix at the Musical Instrument Museum starting on October 3rd. Out of the 2,000 items, there will also be 500 lots, or groups of items that will be auctioned together. Telephone and online bidding will also be available.
Along with making the Phoenix Children’s Hospital lots of money, let’s hope some of the more important items end up where they can enjoyed not just by the high bidder, but by all of Waylon’s fans.
The health status of Randy Travis still remains very much in question, but that is not stopping the Randy Travis camp and Warner Bros. from releasing the second installment of his Influence: The Man I Am series on August 12th. The first album in the series was released on September 30th, 2013—a few months after Randy suffered a serious heart condition and subsequent stroke. Travis had to undergo brain surgery, and has been taking part in significant rehabilitation and physical therapy ever since the health episode.
Randy’s Influence series of releases looks to chronicle the classic country songs that went into the sound that may Randy Travis one of the most popular and influential country music artists of the late 80′s and into the 90′s and beyond. The new collection includes covers of Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On”, Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down”, Hank Williams’ “Mind Your Own Business”, and Waylon Jennings’ “Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line”. It also includes the Randy Travis tribute to George Jones “Tonight I’m Playin’ Possum” written by Keith Gattis. Randy’s performance of the song at the 2013 CMA Fan Fest was one of his last public performances before his health issues (see below). Travis recorded both volumes in the Influence: The Man I Am series before last year’s health scare.
The extent of Randy’s paralysis after his stroke and surgery, and if he will ever sing again have been a topic of great speculation in the tabloid press, with multiple unnamed and named sources leaking conflicting information about Randy’s health status, while pictures of Randy appearing in public continue to surface. Last week yet another story citing an unnamed source surfaced in Closer Magazine, saying, “He hasnât plateaued in his recovery, which is always a big fear. He really faces a long, tough battle.â The story also cites songwriter and Randy Travis friend Bonnie Paul who says, “Heâs taking great strides and getting better. Heâs a cowboy! If he gets back his strength, then anything is possible.â
Meanwhile any true health information about Randy’s status remains unclear, and his camp has yet to release any official statements about his prognosis or rate of recovery.
This Influence: The Man I Am series gives Randy Travis fans something new to listen to while Randy continues his hard-fought recovery to better health.
When the compilation album Wanted! The Outlaws was released in 1976, it became country music’s first million-selling record and made huge stars of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. Jessi Colter was already a big star because of her big #1 hit “I’m Not Lisa”. But why did Tompall Glaser never find the big success his fellow Outlaws did? Why wasn’t Tompall able to ride the Outlaw momentum to become one of the biggest names in country music?
A recently-released biography on Tompall Glaser called The Great Tompall: Forgotten Country Music Outlaw finally looks to tell the life story of one of the most important figures in the history of country music, but one of the most forgotten. Because Tompall’s impact was mostly felt behind-the-scenes, he arguably has never received proper credit for how he revolutionized country music in the mid 70′s with his renegade studio that broke the major label monopoly on country, and allowed creative freedom to finally reign in Nashville.
The new book, written by blood relative Kevin Glaser who is the nephew of Tompall, includes many interviews with important country music figures from today and from the time of Tompall’s greatest influence; people like Kinky Friedman, “Cowboy” Jack Clement, and Marty Stuart. Kevin Glaser also speaks to influential critic and professor Dave Hickey who spent significant time at Glaser Studios in Nashville during the height of the Outlaw movement. In the new biography, Hickey helps explain why Tompall never became as famous as his Outlaw brothers while painting a picture of what the Glaser Sound Studios were like.
From “The Great Tompall”:
Hickey first came to Nashville with an assignment to write a book about Waylon and Willie. He never got around to it since he existed in a “fog of cocaine and dope” during his time at Glaser Sound Studios. He considers the time he spent there as a “studio internship,” and mentioned that because he lived two blocks away, he would sometimes sleep in the studio.
According to Hickey, “Glaser Sound Studio became ‘ground zero’ for the Outlaw Movement (a phrase that Dave claims to have coined), due to the fact that people like Tompall, Waylon, Willie and Neil Reshen were there during this time. This was the moment that country music artists discovered that they didn’t need to ask Chet Atkins’ permission before they could go to the bathroom. The old-time studio system (Acuff-Rose, etc.) could be bypassed. Everyone took control of their own destiny. They had their own publishing companies, studios, managers, etc. They weren’t beholden to record companies or to Billy Sherrill’s idea of what a good song was.”
In Hickey’s mind, the “Rebellious Center of Nashville” during this time included Roger Miller, John Lomax, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Billy Joe Shaver, Tompall, Billy Swan, and Kinky Friedman, among others. However, Tompall was the “improviasrio of the scene” and the scene was very valuable to a great many people. Tompall was a force to be reckoned with, and he was willing to take chances. A lot of studio time was provided pro bono and involved experimental types of activities…
Hickey said that drugs were the culture of this time period (pre-1985). Glaser Studios certainly wasn’t a “drug alley,” but drugs were certainly there. Tompall got into cocaine later in his career, but he (Hickey) doesn’t think that Tompall was into speed the way Willie and Waylon were. Waylon once said that “speed is pot for people who have to work two shifts per day.” Hickey also remembers that a professional cleaning company once came in to clean up all the smoke from pot and cigarettes that had become attached to the underside of the studio soundboard….
In Hickey’s opinion, Tompall didn’t become as well known as Waylon and Willie because “the obligation of having the recording studio created somewhat of a burden for Tompall, and he was not willing to leave and go on the road for eight weeks and live in a bus, etc. It just wasn’t his thing … and that is the thing that makes performers successful. However, Tompall seemed to be comfortable with the way things were.” Also, Hickey felt that Tompall wasn’t really comfortable with the place he found in the group that included Waylon, Willie, and Kris Kristofferson. There there is a tragedy to the story of Tompall, maybe this is it. Hickey compared Tompall’s place in this group to Bill Wyman’s place in the Rolling Stones, opposite of Keith Richards and Mick Jagger.
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“Garth Brooks did for country music what pantyhose did for finger fucking.”
This is the quote that has been attributed to Waylon Jennings that you are likely to see in much greater frequency now that Garth Brooks has come out of retirement. For some, it is the totality of their argument against Garth. Forget all his music, past and future, whatever merits his music might have beyond the flashy stage show, however much the test of time has validated his music or not. To tens of thousands, or maybe hundreds of thousands of people, the totality of their Garth hatred, the alpha and omega of their anti-Garth argument, rests on this quote. And if you don’t believe me, just mention Garth’s name in the right (or wrong) company, it it will come flying out at you unsolicited.
The problem is there’s no verifiable records of Waylon ever saying it. And if he did ever say it, that he is the originator of the quote. But just like the urban myth that Kentucky Fried Chicken had to legally change their name to KFC because the birds they use are so genetically altered they can’t be classified as chickens, if you parrot something enough, people take it as fact.
If I had a hunch, not based on fact or research whatsoever, I would say that at some point Waylon Jennings probably did utter those words about Garth, and they probably made it out to the greater world through his son Shooter Jennings. But I’ve also heard from some who say that Poodie Locke—Willie Nelson’s long-time stage manager and one prone to such humor—was the first to say it. Maybe Waylon picked it up there. But I can’t verify that Poodie Locke said it either. There are records of the “_____ did for ____ what pantyhose did for finger fucking” phrase being used for other purposes way before Garth Brooks had even released his first album, so is it really fair to attribute the analogy to anyone?
When you start to try and find the origination point of the quote, and any factual information on if Waylon truly said it or coined it, you start finding a tremendous amount of fiction. The simple fact is the quote is so juicy, and many people just want it to be real so badly, they’re willing to look the other way and proffer it up for human consumption regardless of the truth.
The first record of the quote being used goes back to of all places, Willie Nelson’s 70th Birthday Party in 2003, and from of all people, actor Ethan Hawke. In April of 2009, Ethan Hawke penned a feature on Kris Kristofferson for Rolling Stone. In the feature, Ethan Hawke recounts a story from 2003 where Kris Kristofferson and Toby Keith get into a verbal argument, and Kristofferson says the Waylon quote in response to Toby Keith’s demand, âNone of that lefty shit out there tonight, Kris.â
Here’s the complete interchange from Rolling Stone, as dictated by Ethan Hawke:
âUp from the basement came one of country musicâs brightest stars (who shall remain nameless). At that moment in time, the Star had a monster radio hit about bombing Americaâs enemies back into the Stone Age.
âHappy birthday,â the Star said to Willie, breezing by us. As he passed Kristofferson in one long, confident stride, out of the corner of his mouth came âNone of that lefty shit out there tonight, Kris.â
âWhat the fuck did you just say to me?â Kris growled, stepping forward.
âYou heard me,â the Star said, walking away in the darkness.
âDonât turn your back to me, boy,â Kristofferson shouted, not giving a shit that basically the entire music industry seemed to be flanking him.
âYou ever worn your countryâs uniform?â Kris asked rhetorically.
âDonât âWhat?â me, boy! You heard the question. You just donât like the answer.â He paused just long enough to get a full chest of air. âI asked, âHave you ever served your country?â The answer is, no, you have not. Have you ever killed another man? Huh? Have you ever taken another manâs life and then cashed the check your country gave you for doing it? No, you have not. So shut the fuck up!â I could feel his body pulsing with anger next to me. âYou donât know what the hell you are talking about!â
âWhatever,â the young Star muttered.
Kristofferson took a deep inhale and leaned against the wall, still vibrating with adrenaline. He looked over at Willie as if to say, âDonât say a word.â Then his eyes found me. âYou know what Waylon Jennings said about guys like him?â he whispered.
I shook my head.
âTheyâre doinâ to country music what pantyhose did to finger-fuckinâ.â
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Yes, as a traditional country fan, maybe you’re pumping your fists. “Hell yeah, you tell ‘em Kris!” The problem is, Ethna Hawke’s story is, and was, complete bullshit, including the Waylon Jennings quote. And this was verified later by both Kris Kristofferson, and Toby Keith.
In the aftermath of the Ethan Hawke story, Kris Kristofferson told The Tennessean: âI have to say, I have no memory of talking so tough to anyone at Willieâs birthday party â least of all to Toby Keith, (if thatâs who the nameless star is), for whom I have nothing but admiration and respect.”
As for Toby Keith, he was a little more heated about the situation, as can be seen in this clip from the 2009 ACM Awards that happened right after the story was published.
But the damage had already been done. The Waylon quote was so juicy, and the clarifications about the story so buried compared to the reach of the original Rolling Stone article, the quote became a matter of public record. In fact some people want the Waylon Jennings quote about Garth Brooks to be true so bad, as well as the fictitious Toby Keith vs. Kris Kristofferson interchange, that they say the clarifications by Toby Keith and Kris Kristofferson are just saving face, and if fact both the quote, and Ethan Hawke’s story are still true.
Of course beyond Kris and Keith’s clarifications, Ethan Hawke and the story’s defenders also have to figure out how to resolve the fact that Toby Keith, flag waver or not, is and was a registered Democrat. So for Keith to say “None of that lefty shit,” seems very unrealistic. Also the quote from Kris from the story, “Have you ever killed another man?” seems to allude that he has. But this gives into the common misconception that Kris Kristofferson saw combat as a helicopter pilot in the Army when in fact he was stationed in Germany during The Vietnam War, and never exchanged live fire.
Though Ethan Hawke’s fictitious story had the Waylon Jennings quote about Garth Brooks going down in 2003, it wasn’t until 2005 when we find the first documented source of the quote in print—at least that can be found on the internet. It comes from an East Bay Express feature on Shooter Jennings, but interestingly, Shooter isn’t giving the quote, it is used to preface the Shooter interview and is recounted by the author of the story. This was 3 1/2 years before the quote would wind up in Rolling Stone and become a matter of public record. Again, it’s very likely that Shooter probably did hear his father use the quote, but was Waylon the originator?
This also opens up the second problem with this supposed Waylon Jennings quote, which is that it is no longer relevant in the forum of public discourse. For example, in the 2005 feature, Shooter says he thinks country music became more about show through Garth. But later in 2013 in an interview with the Charleston City Paper, Shooter says,
“Garth Brooks is as country as shit. Back then it was like, what the fuck is going on. This guy is terrible. This isn’t country music.”Â Jennings says. “I would take that any day now. That means the bar has been lowered so far that we’re like, please. I would listen to only Garth Brooks all day if that’s what I could get.”
As Saving Country Music once spelled out in detail, time has been kind to the music of Garth Brooks, and this change of heart by Waylon’s son has played out in the hearts of many country fans over time. In fact when Shooter first spoke on Garth in 2005, Garth had already been retired for half a decade. Garth hasn’t even been around for 13 years to hate on. But some, including many who have the Waylon quote top-of-mind and at-the-ready any time Garth’s name is uttered, use it as a crutch to continue their war on Garth Brooks.
Another die-hard Garth Brooks hater turned apologist has been singer-songwriter Todd Snider. Todd had a beef with one of Garth’s songwriters after a dispute over the song “Beer Run”. Todd also interfaced with Garth’s alt. rock character Chris Gaines at one point, and told defaming stories as part of his stage schtick for years. But in Todd’s new book released in 2014 called I Never Met A Story I Didnât Like, Snider reconciles his Garth hatred, and says from his personal interactions with the entertainer, he was more kind to him than most in the music business.
I loved Garth Brooks. I was, and am, a very big fan. I think Garth Brooks fucked up country music for a while, through no fault of his own: he made music so good and so successful that tons of people came along after him trying to imitate what he did. Garth fucked up country music like Kurt Cobain fucked up rock.
Because of Garthâs massive success, thereâs a bit of a push and pull in Nashville about him. When you sell more records than anyone has ever sold, you tend to make more people jealous than have ever been jealous of a singer.
Itâs a crock that I think prevails in this country: we bully the people who entertain us. We get on the computer and bully them. We buy magazines with pictures of them where they look fat or drunk or imperfect. And we suppose that those peopleâs success excuses our meanness.
Another interesting thing about the Waylon quote about Garth, and something that leads to speculation if it’s true or not, is that the exact same quote has been attributed to different people. It has been attributed to Willie Nelson and David Allan Coe for example, and to Kris Kristofferson directly because of the Rolling Stone piece.Â In 2012, the alt-country band Deer Tick took to Facebook and attributed the quote to Merle Haggard, illustrating the urban myth nature of the Waylon/Garth quote.
Interestingly, in January of 2012, Merle Haggard was read the supposed Waylon Jennings quote by 11th Hour, and Merle’s response was,
Well. I think, Waylon got dumber with age. I donât know. I love Waylon, but he was awful critical of different things. He just got grouchy. I love listening to Waylon and Willie and Johnny. They still set my ears to burning … I think what Waylon meant by that statement was that somebody ought to be able to walk out on a stage with a guitar and put on a good show that people can enjoy. We donât really need explosions to enjoy a concert do we?
Whether the quote is completely true and coined by Waylon Jennings himself, was borrowed by him from someone else, or the entire thing is a total fabrication of urban myth, the simple fact is that the Waylon quote about Garth is no longer a statement that in any way does the complex perspective that one needs to understand Garth Brooks any bit of justice. Garth started his career a quarter century ago, and hasn’t released a new album in over 13 years. And Waylon Jennings has been dead for a decade.
Here’s some quotes that can be verified that they actually came from Waylon Jennings because they can be found in his autobiography. They’re nearly 20 years old, but relevant as ever to the conversation.
Of course, the next generation better not believe everything they hear. At this point, I’ve been accused of all manner of carousing. Mostly, it’s something that I might have done, or would have done, or couldn’t even imagine doing. Pretty soon it’s etched into stone. If I led the life that people think I did, I’d be a hundred and fifty years old and weigh about forty pounds …
The thing is, we’re in this together, the old, the new, the one-hit wonders and the lifetime achievers, the writers and the session pickers and the guy who sells the T-shirts. The folks that come to the shows, and the ones that stay at home and watch it on TNN. Those who remember Hank Williams, and those who came on board about the time of Mark Chestnut, who named his baby boy after me …
My friends. This town is big enough for the all of us.
Kris Kristofferson may have never shot anyone or spent time in prison, but when you look at his life and accomplishments, it is an absolute marvel of the American experience. From starting off as a Rhodes Scholar, to becoming a helicopter pilot in the Army, to being responsible for a Hall of Fame career in country, to becoming a Hollywood superstar and dating singers and actors to making daring moves to further his career, Kris Kristofferson is not just a country music badass, he’s one of the most badass Americans to ever be born.
More in this series:
- 10 Badass Waylon Jennings Moments
- 10 Badass Merle Haggard Moments
- 10 Badass Wanda Jackson Moments
- 10 Badass Marty Stuart Moments
- 10 Badass George Jones Moments
- 10 Badass Hank3 Moments
- 10 Badass Billy Joe Shaver Moments
1. Becoming a Rhodes Scholar
Kris Kristofferson is a smart one to say the least. The Rhodes Scholarship is an Oxford University postgraduate distinction that is considered the world’s most prestigious academic scholarship and scholastic accolade. Created in 1902, and the first international scholarship program of its kind, Rhodes Scholars are considered to have any job available to them throughout their lives, and many have gone on to be Presidents, Prime Ministers, and prominent business leaders. Only about 80 scholars are selected each year from around the world, and Kris Kristofferson was one of them to be bestowed with the Rhodes Scholar honor in 1958. While at Oxford, Kristofferson studied literature at Merton College—the same college J.R.R. Tolkien was a professor at during the period. Kristofferson also earned his “Blue” in boxing as a collegiate athlete.
It was at Oxford that Kristofferson first tried his hand in the music business. He recorded for a label called Top Rank Records under the name Kris Carson, and was dubbed the “Yank at Oxford”. But the pursuit didn’t go anywhere after a record company in the United States claimed they owned Kristofferson’s rights.
2. Flying Helicopters as a Captain in the Army
Possibly country musicâs most well-known veteran, Kris Kristofferson came from a strong military family. After college at Oxford, his parents pushed him to enlist and Kristofferson went into the United States Army as an officer, attending Ranger school and achieving the rank of Captain as a helicopter pilot. Kristofferson received his training at Fort Rucker, Alabama before being deployed to West Germany as part of the 8th Infantry Division. After serving out his tour of duty, Kristofferson was scheduled to become an English Literature professor at West Point, but decided to pursue a career in songwriting instead. The American Veterans Awards named Kris Kristofferson âVeteran of the Yearâ in 2003. His first successful songwriting hit was called âViet Nam Bluesâ originally recorded by Dave Dudley.
Kristofferson later flew helicopters commercially, especially in Louisiana, traveling back to Nashville to pitch songs. He wrote “Help Me Make It Through The Night” on an oil platform in the gulf, and “Me & Bobby McGee” also while in Louisiana.
3. Taking a Janitor Position to Help Become a Songwriter
Being from a proud military family, Kris Kristofferson was not only expected to do his duty to his country during his youth, but to follow a military career throughout his life. Flying helicopters and spending five years in the military apparently wasn’t enough, and when Kris relayed his plans to move to Nashville and become a songwriter, Kristofferson’s family officially disowned him. They never completely reconciled.
Cut off from his support network, Kris Kristofferson struggled. This Rhodes Scholar and Oxford graduate that could fly helicopters resorted to taking a janitorial position at the studios of Columbia Records simply to be one step closer to his dream of becoming a songwriter. Kristofferson was in the studio when Bob Dylan was cutting his album Blonde on Blonde, but was too bashful to approach him. He did get the courage to befriend Johnny Cash, who was warm to Kristofferson and considered some of his songs, but never took the young songwriter seriously until….
4. Landing a Helicopter on Johnny Cash’s Lawn to Deliver Demos
At the time, Kristofferson was working as a janitor at the offices of Columbia Records where Johnny Cash was signed. Kristofferson had met Cash a number of times, in the studio and backstage at The Grand Ole Opry, but Cash wouldnât show any attention to young Kristoffersonâs songwriting aspirations. Kris would slip Cash demos of his work, or give them to June Carter or Luther Perkins when he had a chance, but according to Cash, he would take them home to the Hendersonville house and toss them into Old Hickory Lake.
Kristofferson took part-time work with the National Guard to help pay bills, and desperate to get Johnny Cashâs attention, decided to deviate from his flight plan while on a training run and land his helicopter in the Hendersonville propertyâs front yard. What happened next depends on who you ask. According to Cash, Kristofferson came sauntering out of the helicopter with a beer in one hand, and his demo tapes in another, demanding to be heard. But Kristofferson paints a more subdued picture. âYâknow, John had a very creative imagination,â Kristofferson recalled. âIâve never flown with a beer in my life. Believe me, you need two hands to fly those things.â In fact Kristofferson doesnât even remember Cash being at the house at the time, though he does say, âI still think I was lucky he didnât shoot me that day!â
What was the result of Kris Kristoffersonâs aeronautical attention grab? It got Johnny Cash to invite him up on stage at the Newport Folk Festival later that year, which put Kris Kristofferson on the country music map.
5. Writing “Sunday Morning Coming Down”
There are songs that are hits, and then there are songs that change the whole course of music. “Sunday Morning Coming Down” was one of those songs, and it cemented Kris Kristofferson’s place in history. Simply about the lonliness of a Sunday morning when you have no friends or family and the bars don’t open until 1 PM, the song touched a nerve and in a poetic way country music had never done before.
Ray Stevens was the first to cut the song in 1969, but it stalled at #55 on the charts. Kristoffersonâs own version didnât chart at all. It was Johnny Cashâs take on âSunday Morning Coming Downâ that took it all the way to #1 in 1970, and eventually to becoming the Song of the Year by the Country Music Association. 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.
6. Opening Up Country Music To More Risque Themes
Where Kris Kristofferson played a seminal role in the history of country music, and specifically in the Outlaw movement of the early 70′s was by opening up the music to new themes that previously had been considered risque in the family friendly environment of country. Though country had contained risque and adult themes previously, the Countrypolitan movement taking over Nashville at the time looked to appeal to the opposite crowd of the counterculture, and anything suggestive was regularly written out of country songs, if they even got cut at all when they including something thought to be objectionable.
It wasn’t just the “stoned” word in the song “Sunday Morning Coming Down” that Johnny Cash helped Kristofferson normalize in country music when Cash performed the song on his The Johnny Cash Show. Other suggestive lyrics like “Lay your warm and tender body close to mine” from the song “For The Good Times” stretched the boundaries of country music, and allowed other songwriters and performers to tackle subjects previously off limits.
Many of Kristofferson’s songs were banned from country radio early on. But as his performance career suffered, his peers continued to push to be able to cut Kristofferson songs until the rules keeping Kristofferson’s songs down had been completely broken.
7. Dating Janis Joplin and “Me & Bobby McGee”
We all know Janis was the one to make Kris Kristofferson’s “Me & Bobby McGee” into an American standard, but their relationship went much deeper than songwriter and performer. Before Kristofferson fell in love with Rita Coolidge, and right before Janis would eventually die of a heroin overdose, the two Texas natives engaged in a wild relationship with “Me & Bobby McGee” as the backdrop.
Kris and Janis were introduced by songwriter and performer Bobby Neuwirth. Kristofferson had just played in Greenwich Village, and Neuwirth suggested they fly out to Larkspur, California where Janis was currently staying. The three ended up residing there for weeks, and Kristofferson immediately became the apple of Joplin’s eye. “I’d a split there,” Kris recalls. “I dug her, but I had itchy feet. I’d get up intending to get out, and in she comes with the early morning drinks and pretty soon you’re wasted enough and you don’t care about leaving. She’d definitely let ya know when she was being abused, and she thought so a lot. She was always jangling around talking about how everybody was living off of her, but she had people she’d bring into the house and then she’d bitch because she was giving them bed and board.”
It was 1970, and Kristofferson was finally beginning to make it as a songwriter. He wanted Joplin to cut “Me & Bobby McGee” to help pay bills, but sources close to the steamy couple insist Kristofferson didn’t shack up with Janis simply to convince her to record the song. Joplin truly loved the song, and decided to release it on her next album, which ended up being her last. After Kristofferson left, Janis fell back into heroin use. Kristofferson tried to come to her aid, but Joplin’s demons ran much deeper than her short-term relationship with Kris. “You won’t be around,” Janis retorted to Kris. “None of ‘em will be.”
Joplin recorded “Me & Bobby McGee only a few days before her death in October of 1970. When her final album Pearl came out in January of 1971, and “Me & Bobby McGee” became Joplin’s only #1 hit.
8. Winning a Golden Globe for Best Actor
There are a lot of actors who have become musicians, and musicians who have become actors. But few have excelled at both disciplines to the point where they’re awarded some of the highest distinctions the respective industries can bestow. Already a decorated Captain in the Army, already a Rhodes Scholar, already a winner for the CMA’s Song of the Year, Kristofferson gets into acting, and eventually is given the Golden Globe of Best Actor to put on his mantle.
Kristofferson’s acting credits are too numerous to list, and depending on who you talk to, they rival if not exceed his musical contributions. But in 1976, Kristofferson delivered the performance of his lifetime across from Barbara Streisand in A Star Is Born. Though the film was a remake and had been released two times previous, it became a blockbuster and made $80 million, partly from the savvy casting right as Kristofferson was coming into his prime as a Hollywood heartthrob. The movie sent his hunk status into hyperdrive, and Kris became ‘A’ list material. The film also won four other Golden Globes, and an Academy Award.
Kristofferson loved receiving the distinction, but he hated making the movie. He later expressed it was “worse than boot camp.”
Overall Kris Kristofferson has acted in over 100 films.
9. Playing The Very Top Mob Boss in the Movie Payback
In the 1999 movie Payback starring Mel Gibson, Mel’s character Porter is looking to get the $70,000 owed to him after an underling of a criminal syndicate does him wrong in a deal. As the movie transpires, Mel keeps killing off underlings and bosses in the syndicate, working higher hand higher up the chain looking for his payback. “One man. You go high enough, you always come to one man,” Porter keeps saying throughout the movie. Eventually Porter does get to the very top, and who does he find? None other than Kris Kristofferson, playing the role of Bronson, the very top mob boss.
What makes the role work and the scene where the top boss is finally revealed so powerful is because of the weight that the simple sight of Kris Kristofferson holds.
10. Having Over 450 Artists Cover His Songs
Just think about that. When you talk about imitation as the sincerest form of flattery, it doesn’t get any more flattering than that. Some of the most notable artists that have covered Kris Kristofferson songs include:
Dave Dudley, Janis Joplin, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Faron Young, Roger Miller, Ray Stevens, Ray Price, Waylon Jennings, Sammi Smith, Bobby Bare, Joe Simon, Patty Page, O.C. Smith, and pretty much any other performing artist who has any taste in music.
“The great thing about being a songwriter is you can hear your baby interpreted by so many people that have creative talents vocally that I don’t have,” Kris once said.
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He’s been an army helicopter pilot, a Highwayman, and Hollywood A-lister, and one of the most heralded songwriters in the history of country music. And now Kris Kristofferson will be playing a historic figure in an upcoming eight-hour miniseries on The History Channel.
Kristofferson has been cast in the role of Andrew Jackson, the 7th President of the United States, in the miniseries Texas Rising, set to chronicle the Texas Revolution against Mexico in the mid 1830′s, and the rise of the Texas Rangers—the longest-standing law enforcement agency in North America. The United States and Andrew Jackson had a very limited role in the Texas Revolution, favoring to avoid direct U.S. involvement in the conflict, but Jackson was a mentor to Texas General and eventual President of the Texas Republic, Sam Houston. Bill Paxton, a native Texan like Kristofferson, will be playing Sam Houston in the series.
“This iconic story and role really needed an American who is able to command the screen and captivate audiences,” Leslie Grief, the CEO of the production company Thinkfactory Media told The Hollywood Reporter. Thinkfactory, along withÂ A+E Studios and ITV Studios America are handling the making of the series. Leslie Grief was also behind the successfulÂ Hatfields & McCoys‘ miniseries. “For me, Kris was an obvious choice. There aren’t too many actors that are able to embody this character and the stature, strength and liberty to play the part.”
Other notable cast members for the film include Ray Liotta, Brendan Fraser, Michael Rapaport, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Thomas Jane, Olivier Martinez, Chad Michael Murray, and Max Thieriot. Written by Leslie Greif, Darrell Fetty and Ted Mann. Texas Rising is set to premier in 2015.
Country music artist Collin Raye’s career accomplishments can fly under your radar if you’re not careful, because he was never as flashy as some of his contemporaries like Garth Brooks. But with sixteen #1 hits and five platinum albums earned after becoming a solo artist in 1991, Collin Raye is a more decorated artist than most.
The singer recently released a memoir called A Voice Undefeated, and in the book he speaks candidly about his detest for what is currently happening in country music. “They’ve largely abandoned the reality-based moral message for the common man that made country music a strong cultural force for good,” Raye says, and then continues to say how he’s worried some of the most gifted people in Nashville are watering down their talents to appeal to the lowest common denominator just to sell records.
In a recent interview with Fox News (see below), Collin delves even further into his dissent about the direction of country music.
I’m passionate about it because I love our genre. I got into country music not to make a buck. I did it because I love it … I grew up at a time when Merle Haggard was writing stuff like “Mama’s Hungry Eyes” and “Sing Me Back Home”. Kristofferson was writing “Sunday Morning Coming Down” and “Me & Bobby McGee” and stuff like that. It was poetry. Country music has never been about the chord progression or the complexity of the music. It’s always been about lyrics and stories, and real life slices of life. And the one common thread has always been poetry. It’s like American Shakespeare in a way, and that’s what it’s supposed to be. From Hank Williams, to before Hank Williams on up, that’s this beautiful thing we all love so much, and so many of us got into the business knowing we could never be as great as those guys, but we always tried to live up to that standard that they had set.
And I’m really depressed in how it has dumbed down to basically a one-dimensional “Let’s party in the truck, gonna drink some cold beer!” There’s so many of those, and I’m not begrudging anybody their living. It’s not really the artists I blame, and it’s not the songwriters I blame because they’re just trying to make a living. It’s the gatekeepers quote unquote that we used to have in Nashville which are the label heads who used to decide what was good enough to put out and what was not. And now they’ve just totally given into that.
Collin Raye is not known for traditional country music, but for very contemporary-sounding country, including some music that made use of keyboards and synthesizers. But the lyrics still achieved a standard that is virtually vacant on today’s country radio.
The topic of Collin Raye’s book also raised eyebrows on Clear Channel’s syndicated morning program The Bobby Bones Show in late March. Bobby Bones, while professing his fandom for Collin (they’re both from Arkansas), diagnosed Collin with “old man syndrome” for criticizing current country music. “Luke Bryan—you can see things you shouldn’t be able to see on Luke when he dances because his pants are so tight.” Bobby Bones said. “And that’s not trashy, that’s juts how he does it … That’s just the culture now … It’s called old man syndrome. It’s that group going to the next group.”
Or it speaks to the steady decline of culture that Collin Raye seeks to raise awareness about with his comments; a decline that has seen the general erosion of the value of country music to deliver something more than catchy lyrics and an infectious beat.
You can’t go long talking about badasses in country music without bringing up the one, the only Billy Joe Shaver. Though he may have never received the recognition of Willie, Waylon, or even Coe or Paycheck, his influence is arguably just important. When you have Elvis cutting one of your songs, Willie Nelson calling you his favorite songwriter, have Bob Dylan name dropping you, and had none other than Waylon Jennings record an entire album of your work, there’s no doubt you’re a badass.
Here’s 10 Badass moments from Billy Joe Shaver.
- 10 Badass Willie Nelson Moments
- 10 Badass Waylon Jennings Moments
- 10 Badass Johnny Cash Moments
- 10 Badass Hank3 Moments
- 10 Badass Merle Haggard Moments
- 10 Badass Marty Stuart Moments
- 10 Badass George Jones Moments
1. Growing Up In Honky Tonks …. Literally
If Billy Joe Shaver is anything, he’s the real deal, and as clichĂŠ as it may sound, his life was like a country song if there ever was one. Shaver was born in Corsicana, TX, and his dad left his mom before he was even born. Left to fend for herself, Shaver’s mother would leave him with his grandmother in Corsicana so she could work in honky tonks in Waco, but sometimes the young, impressionable Shaver would accompany his mother to the big town.
For a while Shaver’s mom ran a Waco honky tonk called Green Gables. According to Waylon Jennings, “She was a good-looking woman, red-headed and tough, and it was a classic dive, a dance hall with sawdust on the floor, spittoons, and a piano in the corner.” Billy Joe would run around the place bumming nickels from soldiers from nearby Fort Hood, and by the time he got a little older was known as quite a dancer and ladies man. His whole Green Gables childhood experience was later recapped in the song “Honky Tonk Heroes” that became the title track of Waylon Jennings’ famous 1973 album featuring all Billy Joe Shaver songs except for one.
2. Getting Four Fingers Lopped Off At A Lumber Mill
Talk about tough and gritty, Billy Joe Shaver has the scars to prove it. He didn’t get involved in music seriously until he was nearly 30, and it’s partly due to a lumber mill accident he suffered back in the 60′s when he severed off a good portion of two fingers and parts of two others when his right hand got hung up in a piece of machinery. A post-accident infection eventually made it even worse. Since Shaver was a right paw, it made him virtually worthless as a general laborer, and so he turned to music as a living.
According to Waylon Jennings, Shaver has a sense of humor about his missing digits.
“He was sitting on a bed one time playing guitar,” Waylon recalls. “And a guy who worked for me came in and said, ‘Billy Joe, if you don’t mind me asking, what happened to your fingers?’ Billy started glancing around and digging in his pocket. ‘Damn,’ he said. ‘They were here just a while ago.’”
3. Hitchhiking to Los Angeles … and ending up in Nashville.
When Billy Joe Shaver decided to give country music a serious go, he got advice from old friend Willie Nelson to head out to Nashville. But Billy Joe Shaver didn’t listen, and instead decided to point his nose towards Los Angeles. Not having a car, and without any money for a bus, Billy Joe stood on the side of Interstate 10 in Texas, waiting for someone westward bound to pick him up. And he waited, and waited, and nobody stopped. Eventually Shaver got so frustrated, he switched over to the other side of the highway heading east. The first car that passed him stopped, picked him up, and took Shaver all the way to Memphis, TN. He then made his way to Nashville, where he soon had a job writing songs for $50 a week. The rest is history.
The experience was later recalled in part in the Billy Joe Shaver song, “Ride Me Down Easy”.
4. Threatening to Kick Waylon’s Ass If He Didn’t Record His Songs
Waylon Jennings decided to record an entire album of Billy Joe Shaver songs in 1973 called Honky Tonk Heroes, and that was the turning point in both men’s career. Waylon was finally flexing his creative freedom, and Billy Joe would forever be on the country music map. But it didn’t happen pretty. Bobby Bare introduced Shaver to Waylon and after Waylon heard “Ride Me Down Easy,” he fell in love with Shaver’s music and first floated the idea of recording an entire album of his songs. Later at the Dripping Springs Reunion in Texas, Waylon heard “Willie & The Wandering Gypsy,” and loved that one too. But for one reason or another, Billy Joe was always one step behind Waylon, even though Waylon insisted he loved Billy Joe’s songs and wanted to record them, it was beginning to look like it was never going to happen. At one point Billy Joe Shaver began to bug Waylon so bad, he reportedly offered Billy Joe $100 just to leave him alone.
“…I was always in a meeting or on another call or ‘not in.’” Waylon recalls. “This went on for months….He caught me one night at RCA recording. ‘I got these songs,’ he said, ‘and if you don’t listen to them, I’m going to kick your ass right here in front of everybody.”
“He could have been killed there and then by some of my friends lining the walls,” Waylon continues. “But I took Billy Joe in a back room and said, ‘Hoss, you don’t do things like that. I’m going to listen to one song, and if it ain’t no good, I’m telling you goodbye. We ain’t never going to talk again.’ Billy played me ‘Old Five and Dimers,’ and then kept on going. He had a whole sackful of songs, and by the time he ran out of breath, I wanted to record all of them.”
5. Being The Father of Eddie Shaver
The name may not ring a bell to you right off the bat, but for those familiar know that Billy Joe Shaver’s son was one of the best country music shredders to ever fill the spot. Aside from being his father’s right hand man for many years, Eddie Shaver studied under Dickey Betts of The Allman Brothers, played with Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Guy Clark, The Eagles, and was Dwight Yoakam’s guitar player for the first two years.
It’s only because of Eddie’s untimely death that he’s not better known. He was scheduled to release his first solo album in 2001 when he died of a heroin overdose on New Years Eve of 2000. Though Billy Joe Shaver is known most for his songwriting, and Eddie as a guitar slinger, it only takes a glimpse at either to see that the musical talent runs very deep with the Shaver clan.
6. Surviving the Death of His Mother, Wife, and Son In a Very Short Period
Shaver has been tested many times in his life and suffered through some rough patches, but few have suffered through what shaver did near the turn of the Century. In 1999, Billy Joe Shaver lost both his mother, Victory, and his wife, Brenda, to Cancer. The next year is when his son, guitar player, and right hand man Eddie Shaver died of a heroin overdose. It was a very dark period for Shaver, and it became even darker when he was performing at Gruene Hall in Texas on Independence Day in 2001 and suffered a massive heart attack on stage. Shaver nearly died, and had to undergo quadruple bypass surgery.
But he soldiered on, releasing a new album called Freedom’s Child in 2002.
7. Shooting A Man in Self Defense at Papa Joe’s (“Where Do You Want It?”)
Shooting a man in the face could be either very badass, or not badass at all depending on how you look at it. But when you take into account Billy reportedly did it in self-defense and was so found by a jury of his peers and acquitted of all charges, it’s hard not to include the story here, especially seeing how the whole incident inspired its own famous song.
On March 31st, 2007, Billy Joe was in a saloon called Papa Joeâs in Waco, TX drinking when a man by the name of Billy Bryant Coker came up to Shaver and stirred Shaverâs drink with a knife. After some words were exchanged, Shaver decided it was time to leave, and Billy Coker followed. Out in the parking lot, Billy Joe Shaver was overheard asking Coker, âWhere do you want it?â while brandishing a small handgun. Shaver later testified in court he actually said, âWhy do you want to do this?â to Coker, but either way, eventually Shaver shot Billy Coker in the face.
The news made it down to Austin where Dale Watson decided to write a song about it. âWe were making jokes about what kind of song heâd write about this âcause he writes songs about everything,â says Gloria Tambling, the owner of Papa Joeâs thatâs been an I-35 landmark for around for 19 years.
Billy Cokerâs wound was not life-threatening, and Shaver was arrested on April 2nd, 2007 for aggravated assault, later to be found not guilty for acting in self-defense in a trial that saw Willie Nelson and Robert Duvall as a character witnesses. Dale Watson wrote “Where Do You Want It?”, but Whitey Morgan & The 78â˛s were the first to cut it on their self-titled album with Daleâs blessing. Dale later cut it on his album El Rancho Azul. Willie Nelson also wrote a song about the incident called, “I Want My Bullet Back.”
8. Singing the Opening Theme to The Squidbillies
When Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim launched a series about anthropomorphic hillbilly squids living in the Appalachian portion of Georgia, who better to contract for the theme song than Billy Joe Shaver? The song itself is actually called “Warrior Man.”
9. Being Deemed a Hero by Willie Nelson
Long-time friend Willie Nelson has never turned his back on Billy Joe, even in his darkest hour. When Billy Joe was accused of shooting a man in Waco, Willie offered himself up as a character witness. Willie has called Billy Joe Shaver his favorite songwriter. A couple of years ago Willie offered his services up to cut a duet with Billy Joe called “Wacko from Waco.” And Willie proved his love and loyalty for his long-time friend on his 2012 comeback album on Sony called Heroes. The default title track of the album “Hero” not only features Billy Joe Shaver, but is about Billy Joe Shaver and how it seems he’s been forgotten by time.
10. Being The Most Badass Country Music Performers in His 70′s
If you have seen Billy Joe Shaver perform recently, you know what I mean. And if you have never seen Billy Joe Shaver perform, you better get on it.
At 74, with a replaced knee, bum shoulder, and quadruple bypass, Billy Joe Shaver comes out kicking, punching, gesticulating like crazy, putting on one of the best, most-energetic country music shows from a performer of any age. It isn’t one of those shows with a solitary spotlight shone on a stool at stage center, it is full tilt country rock, rowdy and rambunctious, fueled by one of the best young bands you will find backing up a legend.
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.
THE 56th ANNUAL GRAMMY AWARDS
â˘ When: 7 PM Central, 8 PM Eastern, 5 PM Pacific on CBS.
â˘ Where: The Stapes Center, Los Angeles, CA.
â˘ Host: LL Cool J
THINGS TO WATCH FOR
More Traditional Country Than One Might Expect
â˘ Though the Grammy Awards are all-encompassing, there will be quite a bit of country, including classic country on the night with Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson scheduled to perform. Just like we saw with the CMA Awards in November, there is a renewed push to at least include something for classic country’s often-overlooked fans. There will also be a tribute to the recently-passed Phil Everly. See a complete list of the country performances below.
Kacey Musgraves To Push Boundaries…again.
â˘ Similar to the CMA Awards, Kacey Musgraves will be performing her song “Follow Your Arrow.” At the CMA’s, the line “roll up a joint” was censored by ABC. We’ll see if CBS follows suit. She is also up for Best Country Album, Best Country Song for “Merry Go ‘Round,” and the all-genre Best New Artist. With her status as a critic’s favorite, and the propensity for the Grammy Awards to traditionally be more about artistic appeal than commercial success, Kacey should at least be considered a strong nominee, at least for the country awards. The 56th Grammy Awards could be where the Kacey Musgraves experiment sticks if she walks away with the top prizes.
THE COUNTRY PERFORMANCES
â˘ Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, and Blake Shelton will all perform a medley of songs together (which one of these things is not like the others?). The performance will begin with Willie and Kris singing the Jimmy Webb-penned song “The Highwayman.” Then all the men will sing a version of “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” and end with Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee.”
â˘ Miranda Lambert & Billie Joe Armstrong will perform a Everly Brothers tribute. Phil Everly recently passed away, and Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day recently released a tribute album to the brother duo with Norah Jones. No word why Miranda is the duet partner and not Norah.
â˘ Kacey Musgraves will reportedly be performing her current single “Follow Your Arrow” that had the “roll up a joint” line censored by ABC during the CMA Awards in November.
â˘ Hunter Hayes will be performing a brand new anti-bullying single called “Invisible.”
â˘ Taylor Swift is rumored to be performing “All Too Well.”
â˘ Keith Urban will be performing with John Legend in a salute to the Beatles.
â˘ Hunter Hayes, Zac Brown, and Martina McBride will be award presenters.
â˘ See the list of the non-country performances below.
These awards have already been given out as part of The Grammy Award’s per-televised events.
â˘ Kris Kristofferson was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
â˘ Kris Kristofferson‘s first, self-titled album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
â˘ Dolly Parton‘s song “Jolene” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
COUNTRY AWARD NOMINEES & PREDICTIONS
The most shocking story of this Grammy Awards season was the snub of Jason Isbell from even being nominated for the Americana Album of the Year. This is a perfect example that the Grammy community is very much on the outside looking in when it comes to country music, especially the sub-genres like Americana and bluegrass.
At the same time, The Grammy Awards have a better history of picking artists based on their artistic merit as opposed to their commercial success. Remember it was the Grammy Awards that recognized Johnny Cash’s comeback during his American Recordings years when the country music industry was still ignoring him. Similarly the Grammy Awards tend to vote more down political lines, like when they recognized The Dixie Chicks after their blackballing from country music. This all sets up well for an artist like Kacey Musgraves.
The Grammy Awards are notoriously hard to predict, but I’ll do my best.
Best Country Album
I see this as a two horse race. Though the women of country are such underdogs these days, Kacey Musgraves as the critical favorite, and Taylor Swift as the commercial favorite, have to be considered the likely winners. There’s an outside chance for Blake Shelton because of his high profile from The Voice, but he would be an upset. Aldean & McGraw have no chance. In the end I think Swift will take it, but don’t rule out Kacey.
- Jason Aldean, Night Train
- Tim McGraw, Two Lanes of Freedom
- Kacey Musgraves, Same Trailer Different Park – Other Potential Winner
- Blake Shelton, Based on a True StoryâŚ
- Taylor Swift, Red – Winner
Best Country Solo Performance
Probably a race between ‘I Drive Your Truck” that won the CMA, or Darius Rucker’s version of ‘Wagon Wheel.’ Outside chance again for Blake Shelton because he’s so well-known, and there will be pressure to give him something. Understand this award is mainly for the performance, not the song. But if ‘Mama’s Broken Heart’ wins, it would be a noteworthy win for songwriters Kacey Musgraves and Brandy Clark, and if ‘Wagon Wheel’ wins, for Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show, and Bob Dylan. Remember when Darius Rucker said he better be nominated or “Country Music’s Screwed“?
- Lee Brice, âI Drive Your Truckâ – WinnerÂ
- Hunter Hayes, âI Want Crazyâ
- Miranda Lambert, âMamaâs Broken Heartâ
- Darius Rucker, âWagon Wheelâ – Other potential Winner
- Blake Shelton, âMine Would Be Youâ
Best Country Duo/Group Performance
The Civil Wars have been Grammy darlings in the past, and may still win despite the band dissolving last year. Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton would be the sentimental vote, but they should be considered a long shot. We may see Scott Borchetta assert his power here and have ‘Highway Don’t Care’ walk away with the hardware. It is cool to see a lot of good country names in this category, including Vince Gill. This is a very hard one to pick.
- The Civil Wars, âFrom This Valleyâ – Other potential Winner
- Kelly Clarkson feat. Vince Gill, âDonât Rushâ
- Little Big Town, âYour Side of the Bedâ
- Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift & Keith Urban, âHighway Donât Careâ – Winner
- Kenny Rogers with Dolly Parton, âYou Canât Make Old Friendsâ – Other potential Winner
Best Country Song
Another wide open field. Lee Brice once again has to be thought of as a front runner, but this very well may be Kacey Musgraves’ moment. This win would arguably mean more to her than any other nominee. And remember, Kacey and Brandy Clark also win if Mama’s Broken Heart’ is ultimately selected. I don’t really see Taylor Swift or Blake Shelton having a chance with this one.
- Taylor Swift, âBegin Againâ
- Lee Brice, âI Drive Your Truckâ – Other potential WinnerÂ
- Miranda Lambert, âMamaâs Broken Heartâ
- Kacey Musgraves, âMerry Go âRoundâ – WinnerÂ
- Blake Shelton, âMine Would Be Youâ
All Genre Awards
- Taylor Swift’s Red is the sole country album up for Album of the Year, and it is my pick for the winner. The other strong contender would be Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories.
- Kacey Musgraves is up for Best New Artist, but it is hard to see her outlasting Macklemore + Ryan Lewis, Kendrick Lamar, or Ed Sheeran.
AMERICANA & BLUEGRASS NOMINEES
Once again the Americana genre is saddled by its very narrow perspective in nominees. And except for Sarah Jarosz, they are all older artists this year. Compare this with last year when John Fullbright, The Avett Brothers, Mumford & Sons, and The Lumineers were all nominees. The Americana nominees really show how much the Mumford backlash took root, and how that was very much last year’s trend. Jason Isbell got completely screwed, and so did many other deserving artists.
Not going to make any predictions for these awards because they are all wide open fields. Anybody could win here. These awards will be given away before the televised portion of the awards, so check the Saving Country Music LIVE blog for winners.
***UPDATE – In the pre-televised Grammy presentation….
- The Grammy for Best American Roots Song went to Edie Brickell and Steve Martin for “Love Has Come For You“.
- The Grammy for Best Americana Album went to Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell for “Old Yellow Moon“.
- The Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album went to Streets of Baltimore from the Del McCoury Band.
- And the Grammy for Best Folk Album went to My Favorite Picture of You by Guy Clark.
Best Americana Album
- Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell â Old Yellow Moon
- Steve Martin & Edie Brickell â Love Has Come For You
- Buddy Miller And Jim Lauderdale â Buddy And Jim
- Mavis Staples â One True Vine
- Allen Toussaint â Songbook
Best Bluegrass Album
- The Boxcars â It’s Just A Road
- Dailey & Vincent â Brothers Of The Highway
- Della Mae â This World Oft Can Be
- James King â Three Chords And The Truth
- Del McCoury Band â The Streets Of Baltimore
Best Folk Album
- Guy Clark â My Favorite Picture Of You
- The Greencards â Sweetheart Of The Sun
- Sarah Jarosz â Build Me Up From Bones
- The Milk Carton Kids â The Ash & Clay
- Various Artists; Chris Strachwitz, producer â They All Played For Us: Arhoolie Records 50th Anniversary Celebration
Best American Roots Song
- “Build Me Up From Bones”
- Sarah Jarosz, songwriter (Sarah Jarosz)
- Steve Earle, songwriter (Steve Earle & The Dukes (& Duchesses))
- “Keep Your Dirty Lights On”
- Tim O’Brien & Darrell Scott, songwriters (Tim O’Brien And Darrell Scott)
- “Love Has Come For You”
- Edie Brickell & Steve Martin, songwriters (Steve Martin & Edie Brickell)
- “Shrimp Po-Boy, Dressed”
- Allen Toussaint, songwriter (Allen Toussaint)
OTHER GRAMMY PERFORMERS
- Beyonce and Jay Z will open the show with “Drunk In Love.”
- Gary Clark, Jr.
- Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue
- Sara Bareilles featuring Carole King
- Daft Punk featuring Nile Rodgers, Stevie Wonder and Pharrell Williams
- Kendrick Lamar and Imagine Dragons
- Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
- Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr
- Metallica featuring Lang Lang
- Nine Inch Nails, Queens of the Stone Age, Dave Grohl and Lindsey Buckingham
- Katy Perry featuring Juicy J
- Pink featuring Nate Ruess
- Robin Thicke featuring Chicago
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.
- 10 Badass Waylon Jennings Moments
- 10 Badass Merle Haggard Moments
- 10 Badass Marty Stuart Moments
- 10 Badass George Jones Moments
- 10 Badass Hank3 Moments
- 10 Badass Billy Joe Shaver Moments
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 Kristofferson 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)
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